Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

30 December 2011

Brief Review

I really liked The Lincoln Lawyer. It probably has a few too many plot twists for the film's own good, but so what. Matthew McConaughey gives a great, confident central performance – the kind only a movie star can really give – and his supporting cast is wonderful, particularly Marisa Tomei. The Lincoln Lawyer also features an excellent opening credits sequence, it's beautifully shot, expertly edited, and was – most importantly – fun to watch. The Lincoln Lawyer isn't trying to be L.A. Confidential, and it doesn't need to be. It's doing great at what it's trying to do: entertain. I had a very good time with this movie.

29 December 2011

La Streep

There are so many fabulous things about this Kennedy Center tribute to Meryl Streep, but my favorite is the set and song (!) from the Mike Nichols film Ironweed, which came out in the late 1980s and which this tribute devotes something like a full five minutes. I loved this entire thing. (And I love Meryl Streep. Obviously.)

28 December 2011

Silence and the Artist

The Artist is a gimmick. And I think it's going to win Best Picture, or rather, I should say that I hope it wins Best Picture, because if it is a gimmick (and it is) it is the most clever gimmick I've seen in years.

See, The Artist is a silent film. It's made in black and white and also in the old 1:37 aspect ratio. There is a gorgeous Old Hollywood score undergirding the whole thing (just like silent pictures of old) but we don't actually get to hear the actors (Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell) actually speak.

And it works. It works like gangbusters. Of course, silent movies worked too, and many of them still work, a fact to which anyone who has seen Sunrise or 7th Heaven or The Gold Rush can attest. The Artist is delightful: movie magic from start to finish, drawing particular attention to an aspect of the cinema that is not given a lot of attention on its own (think of how very much we always comment on camerawork, or editing, or acting, and how little on the audio in a movie!).

Ludovic Bource, who scored the film, has, as far as I can tell, never scored anything this enormous, but his music is great: instantly hummable, was nominated for a Golden Globe, and seems destined to be nominated for Best Original Score come January.

The acting in this movie is also wonderful. It is impossible not to fall in love with Dujardin and Bejo. They're simply the most lovable pair I can think of. Dujardin in particular has such a charismatic way about him that it is hard for me to imagine anyone else achieving anything anywhere near what he does in this role. I was in love with him within the film's first ten minutes. He's simply astounding.

The film is indebted, of course, to Singin' in the Rain – any film about the transition from silents to talkies is bound to be – and the plot is heavily dependent on the iconic plot of A Star Is Born, but none of that matters in The Artist. If it's derivative, it puts such an original twist on its source material that I didn't mind one bit. Instead, I went along for the ride, mesmerized by the audacious filmmaking, the sheer cleverness, and the sheer magic up on that screen.

(Just as a sidenote, I can't help but think of last year's silent film, The Illusionist, and how much I absolutely loved it. And, as you can probably tell, The Artist is also (as people are so fond of saying) a love letter to the movies, but Michel Hazanavicius's love letter is so much more interesting than Scorsese's. (I know, I know. I should leave Marty alone. I'll stop now.))

Whitman Whednesday

Song of Myself - §6

A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands,
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation,
Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what anyone supposed, and luckier.

26 December 2011

Plays into Movies So Frequently Signal Disappointment

This isn't always the case, of course, and War Horse may turn out to be a fascinating exception to the rule of 2011, but if The Ides of March and A Dangerous Method set the rule, then the rule is disappointment.

These two films also belong together because they're both made by wonderful directors. But Ides of March is nothing like George Clooney's other two films, and A Dangerous Method seems a wide departure from David Cronenberg's last two films. Both directors have taken on projects this year that are really interesting to them thematically, but which (to my mind) had scripts that basically did not work.

To start, the chief problem with both of these movies is that they depend almost exclusively on talk. The emotional, narrative, and thematic life of these movies is so heavily dependent on dialogue that I actually got tired during both of these films. Shut up!!, I kept thinking. Why must they continue to talk about everything? Doesn't anyone simply have a feeling without describing it in the dialogue? Ides fares better in this department than does Method, but not much better.

There are some good sex sequences in A Dangerous Method, but even these are very brief, and in a film about masochism and sexual freedom, it seems odd not to tell at least part of the story through the sex sequences (as Steve McQueen's Shame does so brilliantly).

I blame the source material. I saw Christopher Hampton's play The Talking Cure many many years ago and didn't think much of it, and when I saw Beau Willimon's play Farragut North a couple years ago I couldn't figure out why anyone even produced the thing in the first place, much less why big stars were in it and why it was being made into a movie.

The main problem with Ides (and Farragut) is that one can't really care too much about these characters – Ides is a very cynical film about rather idealistic people. The main problem with Method is that even if we may care about these characters (and I did! – if you know me you know that I went into the movie already loving Sigmund Freud) we never really understand why they do the things they do. Method trades on the idea that we know a whole lot about the characters that Cronenberg never actually tells us. I feel like I know a lot about Freud and Jung, but I never really felt like I understood all of what was going on in this movie.

There is more to say, of course. The acting is very good in both films. Ryan Gosling, Max Minghella (I love him), and Marisa Tomei are all great in The Ides of March and Michael Fassbender, Keira Knightley, Vincent Cassel, and especially Viggo Mortensen are all great in A Dangerous Method, but neither film works, and all the acting – and this may be because of the source material as well – feels a little bit like overacting.

Let me say once again that I love David Cronenberg as a director, and I might love George Clooney as a director even more. I think these two men are original, fascinating, important talents. I just think their offerings for 2011 were not very good.

21 December 2011

Whitman Whednesday

Song of Myself - §5

I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.

Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.

I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn'd over upon me, 
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach'd till you felt my beard, and reach'd till you held my feet.

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love, 
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the field,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap'd stones, elder mullein and poke-weed.

17 December 2011

Troubled Women

This is going to be three movie reviews in one, and the films struck me as similar in some ways because of their troubled lead female characters.

I'll start with the least interesting first. Another Earth is the story of a young woman who makes a very bad decision and kills two people. She then proceeds to make many more bad decisions over the course of Another Earth's running time. Another Earth is also about this planet that is a second Earth that is somehow (this is unexplained in the film as far as I can tell) orbiting near the Earth's own orbit. The sci-fi stuff is somewhat intriguing, and also very much a retread of the grief-fantasy that forms the title of John Cameron Mitchell's film Rabbit Hole. In any case, the sci-fi stuff is not really a part of the plot hardly at all. In reality Another Earth is a two-person melodrama with the backdrop of this enormous scientific/space breakthrough that is (eventually) unrelated to the film's dramatics. There is a lot with which one could be annoyed with in this film, but I found its star Brit Marling interesting and didn't mind the movie too much.

Melancholia, Lars Von Trier's new film, also involves a planet moving toward the Earth, although this time the planet will actually crash into the Earth and (probably) destroy it. In a way, Melancholia's science fiction also takes a backseat to the film's real dramatics, but Von Trier is much, much better at personal wounds and melodrama, and Melancholia is always interesting, even when one is irritated with the film's main characters or frustrated with their private pain. One of the things I love about Melancholia is that I didn't quite understand a lot of it. I really like that. The film is deliberately obtuse at times, and there is much that feels very fleshed out for the actors and director, but which was lost on me. Fine. In a way, it seems to me that this is how sadness/grief/melancholia works, i.e. that there is much that outsiders simply cannot comprehend; there are things that don't translate, that sound trivial or stupid when put into language. (Also, I love that we are allowed to use the word melancholia here instead of the more medicalized depression.)

Melancholia also ends up being about that planet crashing into the Earth. I am not sure what all of that is supposed to mean or do, but I found it compelling. I do have a big gripe with this film, though, and that's that the soundtrack consists chiefly of the same seven-minute (or so) sequence from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. Now, I don't remember the plot of T&I very well, but I don't and didn't need to know the plot to be distracted by the music, which recurs more than five times throughout. And whenever it did I was thinking What does this have to do with Tristan and Isolde? Is there going to be a suicide for love here? The film is so fundamentally not about love, that I found this music choice very confusing.

Last one, and I think I liked this one the best of the three. Martha Marcy May Marlene is about a young woman who becomes quite disturbed after living with a cult in upstate New York for two years or so. Her cult experience is disturbing, but the film also asks if what we see onscreen is real. Is this woman disturbed because of what happened to her or are we seeing what we see because she is disturbed. The film does this in a very clever way, and the storytelling here is excellent. The whole thing is interesting from the start, and Elizabeth Olsen, who plays the main character (Martha Marcy May Marlene) is superb.

Hugh Dancy and John Hawkes are also great (Hawkes is doing his usual creepy-man thing to terrific effect), but the whole ensemble is scary and very interesting. This is a psychological thriller, I guess, and it's a film that uses the (now tired) convention of questioning whether what we're watching is real in new and very smart ways. And the end of the film is perfect, asking us to rethink several other key scenes. It's a superb ending that makes this fairly good film a much better one because of its superb ending. I left the theatre a little shaken, and I have to say I've thought about this film many times since. It's stuck with me.

14 December 2011

The Skin I Live In

Almodóvar is awesome. I am literally in awe of the audacity of his films.

I saw The Skin I Live In about a week ago and I cannot gets insanity out of my head.

I wasn't really crazy about Almodóvar's last picture, Broken Embraces. I have felt, recently, as though the Almodóvar style has been getting in the way of the content. Broken Embraces, Volver, and Bad Education have all felt to me like very personal, almost self-critical projects. I liked Volver and liked the other two less, but who knows? I mean, the truth is, the pictures are astounding no matter how you slice it. There are so many good movies that even when the latest one is not my particular cup of tea, I am still in awe of the master.

And, actually, I have been watching some older Almodóvar films just to catch up on the oeuvre before The Skin I Live In came to my neighborhood. (Law of Desire is particularly outrageous and fun, if you haven't seen it.)

This is too much of a preface. Sorry. The Skin I Live In is absolutely fucking outrageous. It is sensational and totally insane. It is brilliantly colored (like his pictures always are), and it boasts astounding performances by Pedro's old muses Antonio Banderas and Marisa Paredes. And there are some great actors who are new to Almodóvar, too: Elena Anaya, Jan Cornet, Susi Sánchez (from The Milk of Sorrow) and particularly Roberto Álamo.

I can't really say too much about this movie without spoiling its absolutely batshit-crazy plot points, so I will not bother. Suffice it to say that there is a plastic surgeon who has invented a new kind of skin by using transgenesis and combining human genes with the genes of a particular kind of animal. And he is keeping a woman prisoner in his house on whom he operates regularly, grafting this new skin onto her. But those are just the given circumstances, really. The plot goes off the rails, back in time and then way back in time. But Pedro Almodóvar, as he always does, manages every bit of this deftly, creating an extreme amount of tension and, as always, avoiding the predictable. Even if and when you figure out what is going to happen or think you know what is going on, watching these characters unravel their predicaments is fascinating.

Like Law of Desire, The Skin I Live In is interested in why we love who we love and how we deal with loving people who are morally reprehensible and how and if we are allowed to escape those desires. I absolutely loved this picture. It was creepy and weird and beautifully shot, and also has a way of constructing moral quandaries that I can't seem to shake. I moved it to #2 for the year.

Whitman Whednesday

Song of Myself - §2

Have you reckon'd a thousand acres much? have you reckon'd the earth much?
Have you practis'd so long to learn to read?
Have you felt so proud to get at the meaning of poems?

Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all poems,
You shall possess the good of the earth and sun, (there are millions of suns left,)
You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the spectres in books,
You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me,
You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.

13 December 2011

Reading Eve

I finished my first draft of Chapter Two of the dissertation, and I only have about ten other things to do before I leave for California tomorrow morning, so I (obviously) didn't do any of those things this afternoon, and decided instead that I would finish a book that I've been reading before bed at a slow pace.

The book is A Dialogue on Love by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. The book is about EKS's therapy for depression. It's also about realizing she is going to die and also dealing with grief for several of her friends. It is, then, about childhood, sexuality, EKS's parents, her feelings of transference for her therapist, all kinds of things. It's a lovely, generous, extremely open book that about the author's self in the extreme – deeply private thoughts – and yet, I related to this woman in so many incredible ways. The book also includes her therapist's own notes about the sessions, and A Dialogue on Love itself moves in and out of haiku; so at times the prose elevates itself into haiku and then drops back into a kind of prose that still feels, vaguely, like poetry because of the beauty of her own writing. The whole experience of reading this book was rather extraordinary to me.

The part I want to share is so amazing that I immediately called my friend Michael and read it aloud to him. EKS begins reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead as a way to deal with her own dying and the deaths of her friends. And she comes to the following realization:

I used to think it was embarrassing, in a religion like Buddhism, to have images of divinity scattered all over the landscape. It had that whiff of idolatry.
But I was reading this book, and I happened to look around my living room, and what was there? Like, twelve or fifteen stuffed pandas and pictures of pandas.
Not because I view them as gods! Not because I believe, even, in God—like my belief mattered.
But because to see them makes me happy. Seeing self and others transmogrified through them—the presence, gravity, and clumsy comedy of these big, inefficient, contented, very endangered bodies. With all their sexual incompetence and soot-black, cookie-cutter ears. It seems so obvious that the more such images there are, the happier.
And it means a lot, to be happy.
It may even mean: to be good. Ungreedy, unattached, unrageful, unignorant. Far different from the pharisaism that says, "I am lucky and happy because I am good," a modest occasional knowledge: I'm good, if I am, because I'm lucky enough to be happy (if I am).
It never seems sensible to pass along moral injunctions. I sometimes think that beyond the Golden Rule,
the only one that
matters is this: if you can
be happy, you should.

I want to be Eve Sedgwick when I grow up.

12 December 2011

Summing Up 2011

1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?
I went to a Florida State Seminoles' football game. And it was awesome. And I swam in a lake. Unfiltered water is a little creepy, I have to admit. But it was fun. Also I drove to Chicago and, for the first time, presented some of my work on the discourse surrounding male/male rape.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
My New Year's resolution for 2011 was to have an approved dissertation prospectus. I crossed that hurdle in early November. 2012's resolution will be a degree in hand.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes. I have a new niece! Sofia Isabella was born on August 23rd. I built a lot of her baby furniture this summer, but I haven't met her yet. I will get to when I am in Los Angeles in December. She is so beautiful. I cannot wait.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Thankfully, no.

5. What countries did you visit?
I was in Montréal, QC this Fall for the American Society for Theatre Research's annual conference. It is a gorgeous city.

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
A new job.

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
On July 3rd I got to officiate at the wedding of my two dearest friends Justin Abarca and Elizabeth Triplett (I have always covertly referred to them on this blog as R&J). It was an incredibly special day – actually an entire weekend of fantastic times. The wedding was beautiful, and they threw a great party in the evening. An experience like this is so humbling and precious. I cannot tell you how meaningful it was to me. It feels so great to have been such a large part of such a special day.

I also had an absolutely great time in New York this May 13th at the reception for my friends Catie and Graeme's wedding. So many people I love were there and I had a great time drinking and dancing and wishing the bride and groom well. Bonus points for the impromptu afterparty we had drinking bud light and generally being raucous in the lobby of the hotel in Hackensack New Jersey.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Hm. It's hard not to feel accomplished this year. I passed my comprehensive exams and I have an approved dissertation prospectus. I have to say, though, that I continue to be most proud of my role as a teacher. It remains the most satisfying career I can think of. Being a teacher also means continually feeling proud of the work of my students and their achievements as learners. I have some truly extraordinary students.

I should also mention that I was extremely proud of the LGBTQ preconference we held at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education's annual conference. We held it at the Leather Archives & Museum in Chicago. Our keynote speaker was the amazing Sharon Bridgforth, and for our keynote performance, my friend and mentor Brian Herrera performed his one-man show I Was the Voice of Democracy. It took a lot of planning, but my co-planner Jason Fitzgerald and I ended up really proud of the entire day.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Well, there are many many miniature failures of which I accuse myself every day, but I guess that if I have to pick a single big one, I would go with not publishing either of the two articles I wanted to publish this year. I will send them other places and maybe they will get published, but these kinds of things do make one feel like a failure.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

11. What was the best thing you bought?
My buddy Rick was talking up rice-cookers one day when we were on the phone, and I had a gift-card to Williams-Sonoma, so I got myself one. It is a magic miniature devil. I always used to burn rice. No more. This little guy makes perfect rice every time.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My friend and former workout buddy Sean, who moved out to Los Angeles not knowing anyone.
My friend Kalon, who covered an entire dining-room table with nachos.
My friend Elizabeth, who is living her dream of being a writer.
My friend David, who put up a reading of his first play, MMF.
My friend Linda, who deservedly made full professor this year.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I was absolutely disgusted by anyone and everyone who made the so-called "Anthony Weiner Scandal" into a scandal this summer. The sex-negativity surrounding this brouhaha made me angry beyond belief. A legislator with great ideas is actually driven out of office because he tweets a few pictures of his clothed penis? Are you kidding me?

14. Where did most of your money go?
This is boring but true: my mortgage.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Geoff and Ashley's visits to Tallahassee. Elizabeth and Justin's awesome wedding. The fourteen hours I got to see spend with Julie and then Caleb and then Michael in Manhattan and Brooklyn in May.

16. What song will always remind you of 2011?
Irving Berlin's "You Can Have Him" sung by Nina Simone. I discovered this on Michael's laptop this summer and fell in love.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter? About the same.
c) richer or poorer? Poorer.

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Drinking beers with George McConnell.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Grading papers. Worrying about things over which I have no control.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?
Headed to Los Angeles to see my family in just a few days. I am very excited.

21. Did you fall in love in 2011?
I didn't fall, but I spent a lot of time falling for a very handsome guy this summer. He's such a good man, and I am grateful to know him.

22. How many one-night stands?
The big zero this year. I'm getting old, I guess. Ha.

23. What was your favorite TV program?
I finished The Wire finally this summer. And I've been watching Oz regularly – I am done with the first four seasons – for my dissertation. But I have to say that I think the show is awful, so calling it my favorite television program is decidedly less than accurate.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
You know, I don't think I do. I must be getting more generous. I will hope that's true.

25. What was the best book you read?
At the beginning of the year I finished Nicole Krauss's amazing Great House, the praises of which I have been singing since. You really must read it. It's wonderful.
Another of my favorite things I read this year is Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question. And I really liked Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
My friend Bryce Page introduced me to James Blake this summer. And then Blake released a second (6-track) CD for 2011 called Enough Thunder, which includes a track with my other 2011 obsession, Justin Vernon.

27. What was the best piece of theatre you saw?
I mostly saw student theatre here at FSU this year. Probably a production of Doug Wright's I Am My Own Wife done by two of my students this Spring. I was really excited to finally be able to see a production directed by my friend Michael Stablein in Brooklyn, though, so seeing Stand: an Autumn Play was a highlight for me in 2011.

28. What did you want and get?
A Blu-Ray player. Finally broke down and bought one recently. It's so pretty.

29. What did you want and not get?
An iPad. But who can afford that? I ain't complaining about it either. I do not need one; I just wanted one.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?
So far it's Terrence Malick's mindblowing The Tree of Life. I can't imagine anything being better than this picture this year.

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned thirty. I celebrated by going to my friends Ashley and Geoff's wedding here in Tallahassee. It was so much fun and I love them a whole lot, and it was kind of a delight to be celebrating something other than my own birthday as I turned thirty. Also, a whole bunch of my friends made me an amazing (and hilarious) DVD wishing me happy birthday. It was coordinated by my friend Mark, and it made my birthday really special.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I cannot think of anything that would have made my year immeasurably more satisfying. The year has been very satisfying. I would have liked the year a lot better if I had been living somewhere other than Tallahassee, but the work gets done, and the world spins forward. It is no good to regret things beyond my control.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
I am starting a new policy of dressing up much more frequently. But this is not a 2011 fashion concept. It is only a lesson I learned this year, which will be implemented in the future.

34. What kept you sane?
Talking to Michael, Ryan, Mark, Catie, and Jaime on the phone (the people in my life who just understand). Hanging out with Drew and George and Ashley and Geoff and Walter and Jeanne and Matt and Jenny in Tallahassee.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Armie Hammer. (Even if I did trash his new movie.)

36. What political issue stirred you the most?
I think I got the angriest about the so-called Anthony Weiner scandal. I was also completely delighted by the performance art of Herman Cain and his phony bid for the Republican presidential nomination. I remain fascinated by the 99% Movement.

37. Who did you miss?
I missed my friend Jaime in Seattle. I missed my friend Michael in Brooklyn. I missed my best friends in Los Angeles. I missed my boys Dayne and Dexter in London. I missed my friends David and Catie in Astoria. I missed my friend Wahima in Sunnyside. I missed a lot of people.

38. Who was the best new person you met?
Chad Larabee, obviously.

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011:
I am learning, this year – and this is a process, of course – to worry less about things over which I have no control, and to spend more time working on the things I can affect on my own. Again and again I am finding that if I buckle down and do my work, if I work hard at producing things of quality and remain a perfectionist with my own tasks, the things I want to happen will follow of their own volition. Other valuable life lessons I learned: about living in the present, and about balance.

40. Share an important quote from 2011:
My friend Geoff Kershner said something to me this year that I am never going to forget. I was telling him how one of my life goals is to make myself smaller.
That's so interesting, he said to me, I see my goal as making other people bigger.

11 December 2011

Marty's Kids' Movie. In 3D!

The more I think about Hugo the less I like it. I have mentioned before that I have never felt like Scorsese movies really have anything that connects them – there have been a lot of good movies, but he doesn't have an aesthetic voice like Spielberg or, say, P.T. Anderson or Nolan or the Coens. When I watch one of their movies I know I'm watching one of their movies, whereas Scorsese's movies sometimes feel to me like they could've been directed by a whole variety of people. (This might be a good thing. I am not criticizing; just noting.)

I said earlier on here, also, that I kept thinking Tintin Hugo was an animated film. It's not. Well, it's partially not. There is so much CGI in Hugo that at times I thought it would've been better as an animated film. Hugo is also as candy-coated as Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, but lacks the real magic of that picture.

Hugo follows a small orphaned boy who repairs clocks in the train station in Paris. And he lives in the train station and scrounges for food and tries not to get caught by the local security guard (played by the impossible-not-to-like Sacha Baron Cohen). He is trying to repair a little metallic automaton who he thinks can write him a message from his dead father, so he is stealing little machine parts from the toy vendor in the train station.

There are all kinds of charming side characters, as well, not one of whom is developed beyond a line or two. This is a particular shame because they are played by Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Christopher Lee, and Emily Mortimer.

Okay, well, the plot begins to revolve around this mystery. Who is this toy-maker (Ben Kingsley) really and what secrets does he hold? The trouble with this is that we know that Ben Kingsley knows the solution to the mystery from the beginning of the film. So all of the machinations of the film, the running around, the near-death experiences, the crying, the run-ins with Sacha Baron Cohen's giant dog, could easily be avoided simply by coming clean to Ben Kingsley about what they know. Instead, Hugo and his playmate do not, and we have a movie. I say this to say that I spent the whole movie waiting for Mr. Scorsese to tell me the information that I knew he was keeping from me. This made the whole thing excruciatingly predictable.

Hugo has been referred to as a love letter to the movies by many critics, and they are right. There are long sequences where we watch very old films. All of those sequences work like gangbusters. They are fabulous. And I would've preferred them put together in a documentary film narrated by Martin Scorsese instead of in this film that looks, for all the world, like a film by Frank Capra.

There is much more to say about this picture, I suppose. I loved Helen McCrory in it, and Dante Ferretti's production design is just gorgeous, occasionally breathtaking, even. Howard Shore's score is lovely and may even be nominated for an Academy Award (His scores for Scorsese are almost always disqualified by AMPAS because Marty uses well-known music in all of his films for the really important sequences. He does that only once in Hugo, as far as I could tell, using one of Erik Satie's Gymnopédies at a key moment.) Mostly, though, I just thought this film was slow, like its timing was just off for the entirety of the picture. It was pretty, and the old films were nice, but it was more predictable than Thor.

07 December 2011

Hillary Clinton's Game-changing Speech on the Humanity of LGBT Persons

This is worth watching in its entirety. Even if you already agree with most of what she says in this speech, it is exhilarating to hear her say these words.

I think my favorite thing that she says is this: "Progress comes from changes in laws. In many places, including my own country, legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights. Laws have a teaching effect. Laws that discriminate validate other kinds of discrimination. Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality. And practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before fears about change dissipate."

Whitman Whednesday

Song of Myself - §1

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

06 December 2011

The Descendants

I've been going to the movies again! I am excited about it.

This weekend I got to see Alexander Payne's The Descendants, and I am pleased to report that I think this might be Payne's best movie.

To be honest, I have never really liked Payne's films. I have probably told everyone this by now, but I always think they are smug. His movies are funny and they are played for laughs, but I always think they have a tone of real meanness underneath them, as though his characters are only there for us to laugh at. And how stupid they are! And how clever we are for making fun of them! I usually feel a bit, well, icky after a Payne movie.

But, I should stop talking about this quality of Payne's films in my discussion of The Descendants, though, because the truth is, I found this film to be extraordinarily generous.

The Descendants has its share of characters worthy of ridicule, plenty of them, actually, but the film always takes a point of view that sympathizes with these characters, that can see their side of things, even when they are being stupid or ludicrous.

My own response to The Descendants was established very early on. Clooney is doing a voice-over where he explains the given circumstances of the film. He goes through information quickly, telling us what we need to know. His wife is in the hospital and he's been sitting with her for 3 weeks. She's in a coma after a head injury. He has two daughters who he's trying to wrangle. He owns a whole bunch of land that is in a trust and he has to decide how to dispose of it in a couple of weeks. He tells us all of this in a kind of flat tone. And then there is a slight pause. And he says something like "Elizabeth is gonna be alright. She's gonna wake up and it may be a long road of recuperation, but it's gonna be worth it and I'm gonna work less and spend more time at home with her and the kids and we can work on things." It is an absolutely extraordinary moment: as though if he says everything he wishes were true immediately after all of the other true things, then his wishes will all come true.

The acting is great. The film is very funny at times. There are wonderful sequences featuring Beau Bridges (!) and Robert Forster (!). I really, really liked it.

04 December 2011

Music Share

I know I'm not really a music person, but I am obsessed with this song right now.

Also, Chris Thile is 20 days older than I am. Literally. What am I doing with my life?

Thoughts on Movies 2001-2010

~ ~
Across the Universe (2007)
After the Wedding (2007)
Ajami (2010)
Alexander (2004)
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
All the Real Girls (2003)
American Gangster (2007)
Animal Kingdom (2010)
Another Gay Movie (2006)
Another Year (2010)
Apocalypto (2006)
Art School Confidential (2006)
Ask the Dust (2006)
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)
Atonement (2007)
August Rush (2007)
Australia (2008)
The Aviator (2004)

~ ~
Babel (2006)
Bad Education (2004)
The Ballad of Jack and Rose (2005)
Barney's Version (2010)
Becoming Jane (2007)
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Being Julia (2004)
Beowulf (2007)
Black Book (2007)
The Black Dahlia (2006)
Black Swan (2010)
The Blind Side (2009)
Blood Diamond (2006)
Blue Valentine (2010)
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)
The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
Breach (2007)
Brick (2006)
Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Broken English (2007)
The Brothers Bloom (2009)
Brüno (2009)
The Bubble (2007)
Bug (2007)
Burn after Reading (2008)
The Butterfly Effect (2004)

~ ~
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2006)
Caramel (2008)
Carandiru (2004)
Cars (2006)
Casanova (2005)
Cashback (2007)
Casino Royale (2006)
Cassandra's Dream (2008)
Changeling (2008)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Charlie St. Cloud (2010)
Charlie Wilson's War (2007)
Chéri (2009)
Children of Men (2006)
The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008)
The Chumscrubber (2005)
The Class (2008)
Clean (2006)
Click (2006)
Closer (2004)
The Constant Gardener (2005)
Control (2007)
Coraline (2009)
The Counterfeiters (2008)
Country Strong (2010)
Crash (2005)
C.R.A.Z.Y. (2006)
Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)

~ ~
Dan in Real Life (2007)
Dans Paris (2007)
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Days of Glory (2007)
Death at a Funeral (2007)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2006)
Defiance (2008)
The Departed (2006)
The Devil Wears Prada (2006)
District 9 (2009)
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Dogtooth (2010)
Don't Tell (2006)
The Dreamers (2004)
Dreamgirls (2006)
Duck Season (2006)

~ ~
Eastern Promises (2007)
The Edukators (2005)
Elizabeth: the Golden Age (2007)
Enchanted (2007)
L'Enfant (2006)
Eragon (2006)
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Evening (2007)
Evil (2006)

~ ~
Fair Game (2010)
The Fall (2008)
The Family Stone (2005)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Fateless (2006)
Feast of Love (2007)
The Fighter (2010)
Finding Neverland (2004)
Fish Tank (2010)
Flags of Our Fathers (2006)
For Your Consideration (2006)
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
The Fountain (2006)
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007)
Friends with Money (2006)
Funny Games (2008)
Funny People (2009)

~ ~
Gabrielle (2006)
Gerry (2003)
Get Smart (2008)
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)
The Golden Compass (2007)
Gone Baby Gone (2007)
Good Morning, Night (2005)
The Good Shepherd (2006)
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

~ ~
Hairspray (2007)
Half Nelson (2006)
Hamlet 2 (2008)
The Hangover (2009)
Happy Feet (2006)
Hard Candy (2006)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)
Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (2009)
Head-on (2005)
High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008)
Hot Fuzz (2007)
The House of Sand (2006)
How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Howl's Moving Castle (2005)
The Hurt Locker (2009)

~ ~
I Am Love (2010)
The Illusionist (2006)
The Illusionist (2010)
I'm Not There. (2007)
Imagine Me & You (2006)
In Bruges (2008)
In the Land of Women (2007)
In the Valley of Elah (2007)
Inception (2010)
Into the Wild (2007)
Iron Man (2008)
Iron Man 2 (2010)

~ ~
Jarhead (2005)
Joyeux Noël (2006)
Junebug (2005)
Juno (2007)

~ ~
The Kids Are All Right (2010)
King Kong (2005)
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
The King's Speech (2010)
Kinsey (2004)
The Kite Runner (2007)
Knocked Up (2007)
Kontroll (2005)
Kung Fu Hustle (2005)

~ ~
Lady Chatterley (2007)
Lady in the Water (2006)
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
Last Days (2005)
The Last King of Scotland (2006)
The Last Kiss (2006)
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
The Libertine (2005)
Little Children (2006)
Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
The Lives of Others (2007)
The Lookout (2007)
Love in Thoughts (2005)
The Lovely Bones (2009)
Lust, Caution (2007)

~ ~
Ma Mère (2005)
The Man of My Life (2007)
Manderlay (2006)
Margot at the Wedding (2007)
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Me and Orson Welles (2009)
Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
Melinda and Melinda (2005)
Memoirs of a Geisha (2005)
Michael Clayton (2007)
A Mighty Heart (2007)
Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008)
Monster House (2006)
The Mother (2004)
Mother and Child (2010)
The Motorcycle Diaries (2004)
Munich (2005)

~ ~
The Namesake (2007)
Never Let Me Go (2010)
The New Twenty (2009)
The New World (2005)
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)
Norbit (2007)
Nine (2009)
Nine Lives (2005)
Notes on a Scandal (2006)
No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Number 23 (2007)

~ ~
Once (2007)
127 Hours (2010)
Outside the Law (2010)

~ ~
The Painted Veil (2006)
Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
Paprika (2007)
Paradise Now (2005)
Paranoid Park (2008)
Paris 36 (2009)
Paris, Je T'aime (2007)
Persepolis (2007)
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
Pirates of the Caribbean: at World's End (2007)
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)
Ponyo (2009)
Poseidon (2006)
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
The Prestige (2006)
Pride & Prejudice (2006)
The Princess and the Frog (2009)
The Promise (2006)
A Prophet (2010)
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

~ ~
The Queen (2006)

~ ~
Rabbit Hole (2010)
Rachel Getting Married (2008)
Ratatouille (2007)
Rescue Dawn (2007)
Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2006)
Run Fatboy Run (2008)
Running with Scissors (2006)

~ ~
Salt (2010)
The Savages (2007)
Saving Face (2005)
Scoop (2006)
The Sea Inside (2004)
The Secret in Their Eyes (2010)
Sex and the City (2008)
Shark Tale (2004)
Shelter (2008)
Sherlock Holmes (2009)
Shooter (2007)
Shopgirl (2005)
Shortbus (2006)
Shrek the Third (2007)
Sin City (2005)
A Single Man (2009)
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
The Social Network (2010)
The Son (2003)
Sophie Scholl: the Final Days (2006)
Spider-man 3 (2007)
The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)
Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith (2005)
Stardust (2007)
Steamboy (2005)
Stop-loss (2008)
The Strangers (2008)
Sugar (2009)
Summer Storm (2006)
Sunshine (2007)
Superman Returns (2006)
Surf's Up (2007)
Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2006)
Syriana (2005)

~ ~
Tangled (2010)
Teeth (2008)
Tell No One (2008)
Thank You for Smoking (2006)
There Will Be Blood (2007)
Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)
13 Tzameti (2006)
300 (2007)
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Three Times (2006)
Thumbsucker (2005)
Time (Shi Gan) (2007)
Time to Leave (2006)
Tony Takitani (2005)
The Town (2010)
Toy Story 3 (2010)
Transamerica (2005)
Transformers (2007)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Tron: Legacy (2010)
Tropical Malady (2005)
True Grit (2010)
Tsotsi (2006)
28 Days Later... (2003)
2046 (2005)
2 Days in Paris (2007)

~ ~
United 93 (2006)
Unstoppable (2010)
Up (2009)
The Upside of Anger (2005)

~ ~
V for Vendetta (2006)
Venus (2006)
Vera Drake (2004)
Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
La Vie en Rose (2007)
Volver (2006)

~ ~
Waitress (2007)
WALL·E (2008)
War of the Worlds (2005)
Water (2006)
The Way Back (2010)
The White Countess (2005)
The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2007)
Winter's Bone (2010)
The Witnesses (2008)
The Wolfman (2010)
Woman Is the Future of Man (2006)
The World (2005)

~ ~
X-men: the Last Stand (2006)

~ ~
Yes (2005)
Yesterday (2005)
You Don't Mess with the Zohan (2008)

02 December 2011

Attack the Block

Hey, so, Attack the Block came out in July. Have you seen it? It's on DVD now, so you should get on that as soon as possible.

I feel like I am always posting here about movies that I haven't really liked very much. (Dear J. Edgar, I like you less the more I think about you and the more I talk to my gay friends about you.) And I think one of the reasons I post about movies I didn't like very much is that there is, well, more to say about them. I feel like it simply is not that easy to write six or seven paragraphs on something that I love. My good reviews all end up being something like "Go see this; it's really good." Maybe that's just me. Who knows.

But allow me to do that exact thing yet again. Attack the Block. Rent it!

This is a genre picture: a violent adventure film about killing aliens that invade Earth. Except this movie stars junior-high kids who live in a London project. It's a film that is smart about race, as well.

And let me just say that I find it a relief to watch a movie about black people that doesn't also feel the need to be a movie that's really about white people.

But the thing that is great about Attack the Block is, well, nearly everything. I loved this movie. The aliens are interesting and cool-looking. The plot is surprising and fun. The heroes are complex, attractive, and clever. The dialogue is witty. It's also suspenseful, violent, and very, very funny. Please allow me to recommend this movie to you. It's definitely going to be in my top ten for the year.

30 November 2011

Whitman Whednesday

Starting from Paumanok - §19

O Camerado close! O you and me at last, and us two only.
O a word to clear one's path ahead endlessly!
O something ecstatic and undemonstrable! O music wild!
O now I triumph—and you shall also;
O hand in hand—O wholesome pleasure—O one more desirer and lover!
O to haste firm holding—to haste, haste on with me.

(I love it when he talks sexy.)

Citing My Sources

While writing my dissertation I am making it a point to always go back to the original source. I am quoting hearsay, viewers' experiences of certain pieces of theatre, that sort of thing, and reviews are paraphrased and taken out of context and made to appear more positive than they originally were – all sorts of things. Biographers and other writers are trying to tell their own stories, so it makes sense that they would place things in a certain light.

Which is why it's always good to go back to the source. (Plus, the Chicago Manual of Style says to.) I've always thought, incidentally, that when authors used the old parenthetical phrase "quoted in..." that it betrayed a kind of laziness on their parts, and I am interested, generally, in always projecting my own hyperproductivity. (Just keepin' it real, y'all.)


When Pamela E. Barnett quoted Amiri Baraka in her book Dangerous Desire: Literature of Sexual Freedom and Sexual Violence since the Sixties, which is a fascinating read, I looked up her source. She is quoting Baraka's essay "American Sexual Reference: Black Male," which begins (provocatively) "Most American white men are trained to be fags. For this reason it is no wonder their faces are weak and blank, left without the hurt that reality makes—anytime. That red flush, those silk blue faggot eyes." Etcetera.

Silk blue faggot eyes. I've got to read the rest of this.

Except that this is what Barnett's source looks like.
Aside from the fact that Sidney J. Lemelle spells his name with an m and not an n and that both he and Robin D.G. Kelley are usually cited with their middle initials, their book does not include Baraka's essay – under the name LeRoi Jones or any other name. And anyway Baraka's essay is not from 1994; it's from the mid-1960s: an enormous difference.

I cannot tell you how many times this same thing has happened while I have been working on this dissertation. And I have only been working for a couple months so far. Issues of journals are dated incorrectly. Pages numbered wrong. Titles wrongly reported. It happens all the time.
Last month I came across a quote about John Osborne where the author had inserted into the quote the brackets [African-American playwright] John Osborne. Osborne is neither African nor black nor even American.
And a book that has impacted me in a huge way cites an essay by Warren Beatty Warner from Diacritics 13.4. I always thought it was weird that this guy was named Warren Beatty Warner and it wasn't until I looked it up that I realized that that isn't his name at all. It's William Beatty Warner. (P.S. I love Warren Beatty.)

I am not sure where this post is headed, really, but, well, all of this inaccuracy sort of bowls me over. I clearly do not want to write this chapter on which I am working. Instead I am posting about other people's bad record-keeping.

This post is absurd. I'll stop now.

27 November 2011

Hope, Whiteness, and James Earl Jones

I watched this a while ago, and I just wanted to share how much I really loved The Great White Hope. It's an old movie made from an even older play, but it's really excellent.

The Great White Hope also boasts some superb performances. James Earl Jones is just outstanding, and his later fame in other roles is completely obvious when looking at his work in this. He was already a master in 1970. The performance is big and brave and powerful.

I have to admit to being a little baffled as to why they didn't just call the character in the movie Jack Johnson. The Great White Hope is so clearly based on Johnson's life-story that it seems odd to provide any subterfuge. The film calls him Jack Jefferson, which makes the subterfuge seem even sillier to me.

One thing the fake name did do for me is that I kept asking "Did that really happen?" "They didn't do that to him, did they?" "They couldn't have ended up in Budapest performing in a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin could they have?" That's probably not all bad. I mean, I ended up looking Johnson up and spending an hour reading about him after the movie was over.

The Great White Hope is a boxing movie only partially. Much of the boxing happens off screen – a choice that would probably never be made by a filmmaker working today and probably a formal device left over from the original play – and instead the focus is on the ingenious methods these racist jackasses in the United States invented as a way of punishing Jack Johnson for being a powerful pugilist and for loving a white woman.

But TGWH is, even more than that, one of those 1970s lonely-man films of which I am so fond, where the protagonist's morals are questionable and when the film ends he goes off into an uncertain, confusing future, but faces that future with a characteristic unflappability and fortitude. TGWH is a character study and an absolutely fascinating one. The writing is also excellent, though as I noted above, it's often a little too stage-y.

Jane Alexander is also great in the movie, and TGWH also boasts a fierce performance by Network actress Marlene Warfield (god I love her) and an appearance from the amazing Beah Richards.

One more thing. I have watched two James Earl Jones movies recently (the other was 1974's Claudine, which I loved), and both appear in this hilarious mashup, which my friend Walt showed me this summer. Enjoy:

26 November 2011

Grad School

I'm reading James Dickey a lot lately (for chapter 2 of the dissertation), and so tonight I was reading an interview he did with Playboy in 1973.

I really was reading Playboy just for the articles.

So Dickey is a ridiculous liar for the most part, but the interview is pretty great and about midway he gets to talking about graduate school. This is what he says:

"In my little bit of graduate work in American literature twenty years ago at Vanderbilt, I was a kind of two-bit Melville scholar. That was my only claim to fame after a year or so of working in graduate school, in those dark satanic mills."

Graduate school has been good to me, sure, but I do often think of graduate school as a dark, satanic mill. Strong work, JD, strong work.

Time Out, Please

Andrew Niccol's In Time is, frankly, a bunch of cheez whiz.

I didn't dislike this movie so much as I was bored by it.
And I didn't object to the film so much as I thought that it wore out its welcome.

The premise starts out rather interestingly, I must admit. In the very distant future (a future which looks, frankly, exactly 2011, although it has to be many, many years in the future because) humans have been genetically modified to stop ageing at age 25. From age 25, they have one year on their clocks. This year of time is a life-clock as well as currency. So if you have only a half hour on your clock, you will be literally dead if your time runs out. But, see, everything also costs time, so you have to spend your own lifeline in order to get things: coffee, a ride on the bus, a shot of tequila, you get the idea.

So when a small girl says to Justin early in the film: You got a minute? She means, Brother, can you spare a dime? And time zones are really class sectors. Most importantly – and this might be the film's only real insight – working-class people run places and wealthy people walk. Some of us have time to spare. Others only have just enough time to make more time.

The movie looks pretty (you will recall that Niccol's Gattaca also had a gorgeous look to it), and it is exciting at times – there is a poker game that is really fun to watch and an arm-wrestling match that is equally bracing – but mostly the film is filled with half-baked political theories about where money goes and who has it and how rich people keep poor people poor.

It's not that I object to social equality – I do not – it's that I object to generic notions of what that equality might mean. I also object to any political theory about capital that does not also include a political theory of labor. In Time stretches any question of its believability and loses itself in abstract notions of universality that argue that we all should die and no one should live forever and rich people upset the balance of things by making some people die younger and living longer themselves. Except that this isn't the problem with the world. The problem is not that rich people ought to die as well as poor people. The problem is that rich people are rich and poor people are not.

It seemed to me as I was watching the movie that perhaps quality was the real problem instead of quantity, but In Time wasn't really interested in that either, frankly ignoring people's working lives and focusing instead on trying to stay alive. The movie is smart to equate the two, perhaps, but In Time is short on analysis and long on moral abstractions. The whole thing is rather stupid.

Still, it had redeeming qualities. Colleen Atwood's costumes are gorgeous if not at all futuristic, and Justin Timberlake is, as always, fun to watch. Amanda Seyfried runs at full speed for half of the movie and does every bit of this running in heels. I admired both her speed and her commitment to fashion. A lesser woman would surely have ditched those fabulous shoes in order to pick up the pace. It just goes to show you that even when time is money and even when running out of time means losing your life, there are some sacrifices that just ought never to be made.