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

30 June 2008

A Not-so-brief Update

I am almost finished with my big project for the weekend, which was cataloguing all of my books into my home library database. It took me quite a while (I have a lot of books), but now I will be able to search all of my books to see whether I have something or not. This will also make referencing things much, much easier. I am going to be in school for another three years or so, so I needed to start this now before I amass another three years worth of books.

In other news, my second six-week summer session started today. I am teaching Introduction to Theatre for Non-majors with another grad student. We had 80 seats in the class and every single one of them filled up. I think the dean was expecting about fifty, but the class is evidently popular. It should be fun. It is mostly (i.e. 80%) filled with kids who will be freshmen in the Fall. They take a summer class before their first real semester and so they get acclimated to campus life and get a headstart on coursework. These kids are the best students ever. I had them last summer, too. They work hard and are on their best behavior. And they want to participate.

I've been watching a lot of movies, too. I just haven't felt like writing about them. I will be brief about most of them. Actually, for the less cinematically inclined among you, I will start with the high-interest stuff and move toward the obscure so you can tune out when you get bored:

Okay, so call me crazy (or cynical or bitter) (and maybe I need to see it again) but I was not head over heels for Andrew Stanton's WALL·E, the latest from Pixar. I know everyone else is nuts about it and all that, but... well. Let me start at the beginning. At the beginning, I loved it. The opening seconds are pure genius, with a shot of outer space and then Michael Crawford's voice ringing out loud and clear "Out There... there's a world outside of Yonkers!" I laughed out loud and couldn't stop. Why is this movie beginning with a clip from Hello, Dolly!? WALL·E is really sort of brilliant in that moment. It stays brilliant for a long time, too. But then our loveable robot takes a trip into space following his lady-love (do robots have genders? they do in this film). I started to get bored when the humans on the spaceship Axiom started to show up. They are these blobby humans living a Matrix-like existence, spending their whole lives tapped into the internet and laying around on moving recliners. The movie by this time became a kind of action movie that didn't have any more jokes left in it, only plot points. The movie's politics are questionable, too. I am not sure I even understand them. Does the film want us to all be farmers? Still, WALL·E is brilliant for at least half of its running time and its second half is harmless if less than stellar.

But I loved Tarsem Singh's new movie The Fall. Tarsem previously made the bizarre but visually stunning film The Cell. Remember that? If you do remember it, you remember that the film's subject matter was dark and dirty, but the art direction was eye-popping and unforgettable. The Fall is just as stunning, maybe more so. The story is told from the point of view of a little girl (Catinca Untaru) in a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s. She befriends a movie star (Lee Pace) who has lost feeling in his feet because of a mysterious fall. The beautiful cinematic pictures that Tarsem creates are products of the young girl's imgination as the hospitalized man tells a story. It's an extraordinary film with tons of heart, but it's also very, very smart. The people in the film are real characters with faults and unhappinesses. I found it incredibly moving and astoundingly beautiful. Young Catinca Untaru is the cutest thing ever and the relationship between the young girl and the injured man becomes really powerful.

I also really liked David Schwimmer's silly comedy Run Fatboy Run. It's not very smart, but it's quite funny. It's another in the long line of men-who-learn-how-to-grow-up films for which Judd Apatow is now so famous. Still, Schwimmer's touch is light and the humor is often dry and clever rather than overtly silly. Best of all, Run Fatboy Run doesn't need to get cheap laughs from puke jokes or disability humor. Run Fatboy Run is totally worth watching. And I love that Simon Pegg.

So is it ridiculous that I've never seen James Cameron's 1984 movie The Terminator? Yes, yes it is. I haven't seen Part 2, either, but it is on its way from Netflix. Well, I ought to be forgiven for this oversight since I was very heavily into church at the time the movie came out and had no time for Linda Hamilton or killers from the future or naked men who travel through time. Anyway, I quite liked the movie, of course. It's really fun in a kind of horror-film-meets-sci-fi-film-meets-action-film kind of way. I am excited for Part 2.

I also really liked Grigori Chukhrai's 1959 film Ballad of a Soldier, which follows a nineteen-year-old Russian soldier in World War II as he travels back to his mother on a six-day leave. On his way he meets all sort of people and sees the effect of the war on the people of the Soviet Union. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking film, and the young man who plays the lead and the young lady who plays his girlfriend are truly lovely to watch.

John Ford's Arrowsmith (from 1931) has a lot of problems. It is one of the first films to portray black people in roles other than slave or servant roles, but it's still not a very good film. The movie stars Ronald Colman and Helen Hayes. Netflix says that it also stars Myrna Loy, but don't believe them. She is in it for about three minutes altogether. Arrowsmith follows a doctor named (conveniently) Arrowsmith and his wife as Arrowsmith invents and experiments and tries to cure cancer. He doesn't (naturally) but he does come up with some pretty good antibacterial stuff, and then he travels to the Caribbean to help people there who are suffering from the plague. Still, there isn't much to this movie, and it isn't very well made, either, although one can see the germs of what will be John Ford's greatness in some of the photography on the island.

We don't really need to talk about Walter Lang's Can-Can, either. It stars Frank Sinatra, Shirley Maclaine, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan and I quite liked it, but it is a fluffy musical with very cute costumes but not much for either memorable music or memorable characters.

What else? I thought Tony Richardson's film The Entertainer, based on the play by John Osborne, was quite good. I know I am often hard on Laurence Olivier and his boring Shakespeare performances, but he is great in this film.

I also really liked Hal Ashby's biopic of folk singer Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory. David Carradine is the film's star and he's quite compelling as Guthrie. I dug the film's politics and its free spirit, too.

Lastly, I just watched the Hong Kong musical (which is more of a Hollywood film than anything else) Perhaps Love. All I can say is Perhaps Not. I rented this film, of course, because it stars the most gorgeous creature to ever walk on two legs: Takeshi Kaneshiro, but the film is a total mess. It operates on three levels. The present: on the film set of a big Honk Kong musical; in fantasy: in the musical itself; and in the past of the film's stars. Kaneshiro is beautiful, but the movie doesn't work at all and I was awfully bored. Perhaps Love was also never released in theatres in the U.S. and this shows in the subtitles used for the DVD release I watched. The English has obviously never been tried on English-speakers before. I don't speak Mandarin, but the English used for the subtitles was at times incomprehensible. This may be one of the reasons I liked this movie so little, but mostly I think it's because the movie was boring.

29 June 2008

Supporting Actress Smackdown 1939

Head over to Stinkylulu's blog to see the Supporting Actress Smackdown for 1939, including my contribution. My favorite performance of the year was Geraldine Fitzgerald's in Wuthering Heights, but not too many agreed... Check it out.

25 June 2008

Romance Is in the Air

I am obviously a sucker for a romantic film. I watched two movies today and both of them were romantic and both of them made me cry.

Actually, I just finished re-watching the 1939 Leo McCarey film Love Affair with the delightful Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. I quite honestly sat curled up on my sofa clutching a pillow and sobbed at this movie. I'd seen it before, of course (there aren't many films from 1939 that I haven't seen), but I didn't remember it as quite this good of a film. Love Affair is really wonderful. It's tightly scripted, very romantic, and the ending is really powerful and beautiful. Both of the lead actors are fabulous. It's a classic.

...And I watched a little gay romance by Jonah Markowitz called Shelter, too. It's about a surfer boy in San Pedro, CA who falls in love with his best friend's brother but is pulled away from his new-found love by the fact that he is the sole care-giver to his five-year-old nephew. I am all about gay romances. Most of them suck, as you probably know. So, when one comes along where the acting is not totally wooden and the plot is not completely, utterly predictable, I am happy. Shelter is (surprisingly) well acted and I found it sweet. It's also well shot and the script is intriguing and introspective if slightly predictable. It's not Love Affair or The English Patient, but it's cute and gay and heartwarming, so I liked it.

24 June 2008

Oh, Woody.

I dreamed about my old job at the airport last night and my old boss the CEO. This probably has to do with me worrying about money and wishing that I were still making lots of it (comparatively) instead of working for pennies at Florida State. I miss the job itself, too, actually.

Yesterday I watched Woody Allen's first 2008 film (the second one is called Vicky Christina Barcelona and will be out later in the year). This first one is called Cassandra's Dream, which is the name of a boat in the movie, but is, of course, a reference to the mythological Greek character Cassandra and her dream of the destruction of Troy, which is ignored by everyone else in the city. There are only a couple other references to ancient Greece in the film, but it is structured like one of the old plays and so the title fits rather well.

I liked Cassandra's Dream or, rather, I wanted to like Cassandra's Dream, but it doesn't work. This is because it thinks it is a suspense film à la Match Point, but it isn't a suspense film at all. What the movie could have been is a really interesting character study. Cassandra's Dream focuses around two brothers: Colin Farrell (love him) and Ewan MacGregor (love him, too), their financial difficulties, and the murder they eventually decide to commit in order to help themselves out of their financial difficulties. MacGregor's character is fine with the murder, it upsets him slightly, but he focuses on the future and lets it go. Farrell's character is affected deeply by the murder and becomes depressed, irrational, uncontainable. You can probably guess where this is all headed and the movie (up until the very last minutes of the film) is incredibly straightforward and is almost boring in its predictability. Unlike Match Point, I always felt like I knew what was going to happen in this film. My point is that there is no suspense. We know what is going to happen. The characters, however, are fascinating, and turning a focus toward the study of character—and the excellent acting talent of the film's leads—would have been the way to make this film worth watching. As it is, Allen (one of my favorite directors of all time, in case you didn't know) focuses on suspense that never builds and tension that never rises.

Cassandra's Dream, unfortunately, is almost a total misfire. Well acted, well conceived, but ill executed.

22 June 2008

Get Stupid

Peter Segal's film adaptation of the television series Get Smart is terrible. It's filled with idiotic fat jokes, vomit jokes, homophobic jokes, disability jokes and an insipid, predictable plot that's never actually interesting. Or funny. I saw it with my friend Kate, who used to love the TV show. We both hated it.

P.S. I've decided I don't really like Anne Hathaway. I know she was in Brokeback Mountain, but she's clearly one of those big stars that I just don't get. I mean, Becoming Jane, The Devil Wears Prada, those ridiculous Princess Diary movies. Is she ever good in anything? She seems to be riding on charm, but I must be impervious to it. I always think her performances are flat. Like she can only ever respond to people. She has no ability to drive a scene. I've never seen an Anne Hathaway performance I liked.

20 June 2008

Lebanese Lesbianas

Today I watched what is easily my favorite film of 2008, so far. (Now, I know I haven't watched that many 2008 films as of yet, but I plan to remedy that—at least slightly—next week when I don't have to teach class every single day.) At any rate, Caramel, Nadine Labaki's 90-minute romantic comedy is wonderful.

It's a chick-flick, no question about it. Caramel follows the lives of six women in Beirut whose lives intertwine because of a beauty shop that is central to their lives. It's about what are ostensibly women's issues—aging, infidelity, love, attraction, loneliness—but I found it incredibly moving. I also found it sweet and sour, hopeful on occasion, circumspect about its hope, and open-ended (just like life).

There is a little bit of a lesbian love story in Caramel, too, and it made me really, really happy. It's not overt at all, and in fact it is never mentioned explicitly, but I picked up on it immediately, and I imagine most queer people would have the same experience.

Overall, this is a smart, moving movie about Lebanese women, their lives, loves, traumas and friendships. It's only about their men tangentially, except for a single phone call scene, which you will fall in love with immediately when you see it.

This is a renter. Check it out.

16 June 2008

Memories of the Bomb

I loved Alain Resnais's 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour, which I saw last week.

The plot (such as there is one) centers around a French actress from Nevers, France, who has a brief affair with a man from Hiroshima, Japan in the late 1950s. The couple fall in love gradually, but spend the entirety of their time together talking about both Nevers and Hiroshima. They exchange memories of their beloved cities and memories of the war that separated the two countries in the 1930s and 1940s. In this respect, the film is a lot like Resnais's L'Année Dernière à Marienbad because it is about memory and how memories of the past bleed into life lived in the present. The film is filled with imagery of the city of Hiroshima and its people, both ravaged by the destruction of the atomic bomb. Strangely, Hiroshima Mon Amour is as much a film about horror as it is one about passion. There are some terrifying images in the movie, but it is mostly a story of letting go, of love and of pain.

If you love Japanese cinema you must see it. It is basically a Japanese movie made by a Frenchman. Highly recommended.

13 June 2008

Funny Phone Conversation

A young man called me yesterday to ask me to donate money or time to help defeat an anti-gay-marriage measure which will be on November's ballot in Florida. We conversed for several minutes. Our conversation is about politics and volunteering, of course, but underlying this there is the fact that we are both gay men. I mean, he doesn't know for sure that I am gay and I don't know for sure that he is either, but we were both assuming it.

Then he asks me for my address. So I give it to him: 1998 Summer Meadow (this isn't my real address, but bear with me; I gave him the real one).
Me: "1998 Summer Meadow."

Him: "Hummer Meadow?"

Me: "No, Summer Meadow... but Hummer Meadow sounds like a nice place."
What would Freud say?

Four Movies, One of Which Pissed Me Off Incredibly

So after watching The Jazz Singer, I rented the Al Jolson biopic, unremarkably titled The Jolson Story. And after liking Anton Corbijn's Control so little, I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed The Jolson Story. As it happens, the plot of The Jolson Story (i.e. the story of Jolson's life) begins identically to The Jazz Singer. Jolson's father is a cantor at the Jewish synagogue and little Asa Yoelson runs away from his family to be a singer and changes his name to Al Jolson. In The Jolson Story, though, the parents are supportive after about five minutes of wrangling. Soon they are being used only as a device to tell us where Jolson is touring and how long it has been since he left home as a little boy to sing.

There is lots of blackface performance in this movie, as well (in 1946 no less!) but it feels less offensive since it is a historical story and Jolson, of course, performed in blackface in reality. But The Jolson Story also totally fudges with history, renaming Jolson's wife (for reasons I can't quite figure out). But the movie ends with Jolson and his wife getting divorced and for this I really liked the movie. It didn't go all the way to Jolson's death (he was still alive, anyway) for one, but I appreciate the filmmakers for having the guts to end a film with a kind of show-must-go-on attitude that treats Jolson's divorce without sentimentality.

I also watched Danny Boyle's zombie flick 28 Days Later..., which I thoroughly enjoyed. I know everyone else has already seen this movie, so I guess I don't need to talk about it, but I thought it was great, of course, and loved all the performers involved: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris. I kind of wish Boyle had used Naomie Harris in Sunshine, a picture I loved, but which noticeably lacked black people in its vision of the future (unlike, say, Solaris, a movie which isn't nearly as good, but cast the brilliant Viola Davis in a great role).

Anyway, I totally dug this movie. I loved the zombies and how fast they ran. I loved that zombies were created by a virus and not magic or the devil. I loved the puking. And the screaming. And the way the movie is shot, of course. I have remarked before about Danny Boyle's intense visual style and it works extremely well here.

The extremely well-reviewed film from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 Luni, 3 Săptămâni şi 2 Zile), which won the Palme d'Or last year finally came out on DVD this week. It never did come to Tallahassee's independent/foreign movie theatre, so I've had to wait until the film's DVD release to see it. I liked it a lot. It's the story of a woman who decides to help her friend get an abortion in Romania in 1987, behind the Iron Curtain, where such procedures were illegal. It's a riveting but simple film with a straightforward plot but plenty of twists and lots of drama. It is slightly indebted to Spielberg in its tactics for building suspense, but I liked it very much all the same. It is politically smart, emotionally powerful, and really drove home to me the importance of freedoms we probably should not take for granted in the west such as freedom of reproductive rights and the freedom to move around a city without constantly being asked to show identification. Definitely worth watching. It's nowhere near the emotional ride of, say, The Lives of Others, but it is a different kind of film, depending more on material circumstances than emotional connection for its dramatic effect.

And now for the film I hated: Michael Haneke's Funny Games. It is ostensibly a horror film, or at least a kind of scary movie akin to, say, What Lies Beneath. I have even heard comparisons to this month's The Strangers. But Haneke's movie is a political statement before it is anything. The film started by pissing me off. It begins with Tim Roth and his wife Naomi Watts playing various cds of classical music in their car as they go to their summer home. The wife asks the husband to guess what is playing on the cd player and he can't guess which piece by Händel she has chosen. These are people who are, obviously, far too snobby for their own good, the movie seems to say. As the film proceeds, the family is tortured and eventually murdered by two effete, obviously upper middle class young men who may or may not be gay (the audience I saw it with--college students--didn't seem to have any doubts). Haneke never directly shows us an act of violence committed against the family, though. The camera is always out of the room or focused on something else when someone is murdered or injured. We only see the results. This is, one supposes, a critique of the USAmerican obsession with violence in our media. I was bored. And then I was infuriated. Haneke taunts us with our own complicity in the violent acts occurring on screen. The killers goad us, talking to the camera as though we are conspirators. We are constantly reminded of our own viewership, our positons as scopophilic witnesses to this family's pain. This is hammered into us as we watch the killers taunt their victims. So much so that I yelled "fuck you" to the screen at one particularly ridiculous point in the movie.

Funny Games also seems to believe that this middle class family deserves to be destroyed. That they've earned this punishment simply by being rich, by feeling secure, by following bourgeois rules of decorum and politeness. They deserve to die because they have a cute little kid, because they teach him how to sail, because they enjoy golf, because they want to barbecue with friends. And this assumption goes unquestioned by Haneke. And call me irredeemably bourgeois, but I disagree. The middle class is not completely and totally without value. There is at least some modicum of value in, say, loving your kid and not wanting him to die or respecting your neighbors' privacy or being friendly to people you don't know all that well. Why are these things to be ridiculed? Why are the people who abide by these societal laws to be tortured and slaughtered? I'm supposed to enjoy this? The whole thing made me furious, and I seriously debated getting up and walking out of the theatre. Fuck this movie.

08 June 2008

In Black and White

The old 1927 silent/talkie The Jazz Singer is most definitely racist, but not in the way I was expecting. I new that Al Jolson sang the song "My Mammy" in blackface, and that that was one of the film's central sequences. I mean, performing in blackface is inherently disrespectful and racist, but the film's main racist thread is its anti-Semitism. The main character, Jakie Rabinowitz, changes his name to Jack Robin and becomes a famous jazz singer. Jack, in doing so, goes against the wishes of his father who is a cantor at the synagogue. Papa Rabinowitz wants little Jakie to grow up to be a cantor, too, but Jack's dedication to his career means he says nix to the cantor gig and goes off to Chicago to make his own way in the world.
The film's treatment of this Jewish family is incredibly Orientalist. Jack's mom, who is an entirely sympathetic character is played by May McAvoy and looks about as Jewish as I do. But the other Jewish characters (the ones we're supposed to like less) look extra Jewish and in case you can't tell the difference between their "race" (which is what the film calls Judaism) and ours, a starkly "Jewish" soundtrack plays underneath the entrances of both Jack's uncle Moisha Yudelson and Papa Rabinowitz. I found it actually shocking.
The script is, of course, written by a Jew (Alfred A. Cohen) and is based on a play by Samson Raphaelson.
The Jazz Singer is an important film, of course, for demonstrating how much audiences would go crazy over talking pictures, but I couldn't help disliking its silly moralizing and its barely-masked racism.

And evidently I'm a philistine. Everyone else loved Anton Corbijn's film Control about Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis. Maybe I'm just not that into post-punk. (I'm not.) But I was bored during this film. It's shot beautifully in black and white and the lead actor (Sam Riley) is interesting and enigmatic. But the script itself is a bunch of silliness. It's a melodrama: crafted like every other biopic of a rock singer out there. Singer meets girl. Singer depends on girl to become who he is. Singer becomes famous. Singer starts to forget about girl. Singer meets new girl. Drama and fighting ensue. And Control, for all of its punk rock sensibilities and beautiful photography is never really better than any other of these movies.

Of course, all of this would probably be a little more enjoyable for me if I liked Joy Division's music, but (as I say) I'm a philistine and it just isn't my thing.

07 June 2008

So Old, So Silly

[The] Arizona Senator took aim today at the world's most popular video came. In a speech to Christian conservatives McCain blasted the game's publisher Rockstar Games. "I don't care how good it is for the economy, teaching kids to steal cars is wrong."

The Senator called "Grand Theft Auto IV is a sin against God" . He also said that he feared the game would distract the nation from the War in Iraq, gas prices and the looming economic crisis. [src]


05 June 2008

Little Sense

Tomorrow we are having a movie day in my class. I am showing the students The Lady in Question Is Charles Busch, the documentary about the theatre performer and playwright. I'm screening it because I am having them read Nicky Silver's Pterodactyls for Friday and I want to give them a notion of style. This way they can see some campy performance traditions and also learn about an important artist I don't have time to discuss properly in my class.

Today I rented the Max Reinhardt / William Dieterle film of A Midsummer Night's Dream from 1935 with Olivia de Havilland, Mickey Rooney and James Cagney. But I found it, quite frankly, unwatchable. I shut it off after about an hour. I just couldn't handle it. It's a terrible, terrible film. It's drawn-out and overly long and there's lots of maniacal laughing that makes no sense. Cagney is funny as Bottom, but there is nothing else to recommend the movie and I couldn't bear it for more than an hour. You know how I feel about bad Shakespeare.

Speaking of bad Shakespeare. I had my first truly bad rehearsal of my own Midsummer production tonight. Of course both my roommates had to be in attendance. I am almost positive I can fix all of this evening's problems in the six rehearsals I have left before we open, but it was more than a tad embarrassing for them to come see a show this unpolished. Of course I start to wonder if I know what I'm doing at all, and worry if I really have enough ability to take a directing class with the professor here in the fall... and all other sort of ego-driven questions run through my brain. But a good shower and a Stella Artois (or two?) have cured me of that for now. And I will just worry about fixing the show.

01 June 2008

The Lord

If you know me well at all you know I am very particular about the phrases "with the Lord" (which means that whatever you're describing is religious in some way) and "from the Lord" (which basically means "Heavenly").
If I bake a cheesecake and it tastes good, that is from the Lord.
If we're--for example--talking about a boy who says he's straight but we all know he'll come out of the closet soon, and we wonder aloud why he's still in the closet even though he loves musical theatre and always wants to go shoe shopping, someone or other might say "oh, it's 'cause he's with the Lord" and then we would all nod understandingly.

To review:
Chik-fil-A is with the Lord (they're closed on Sundays).
Good espresso is from the Lord (it tastes good and it wakes you up).
In N Out Burger is both with the Lord (religious) and from the Lord (delicious).

Got it?

I have been using these phrases around school, of course, and my colleagues are slowly but surely picking it up. To wit: The following is an email I got from a colleague this evening from one of the MFA technical directors:
I visited Dxxx at Glimmerglass this weekend. Last night, as we were sitting around the campfire, we got to talking about women we found attractive. One particular name came up, and I said, "Too bad she's with the Lord." And then Dxxx said, "Yeah, but her body is from the Lord." And then we toasted your name.

Miss you. Hope your summer's going well.

That's what I'm here for, people.

P.S. In case you didn't know: I'm an atheist.

Getting Behind Again...

I have been having a weekend this weekend. This is the first weekend this summer session that has really felt relaxing. And I think what has really made it feel like a weekend is the fact that I've been able to relax enough to read a book: Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism. It's angry and smart and poetic (even though it is a polemic) and it strangely re-energized and excited me. Post-colonial theory is not my specialty (as you know) but this was a good, interesting read.

And I am obviously not used to seeing this many movies. I just keep getting behind.

First, another Carmen narrative. This one is Carlos Saura's 1983 film Carmen, which is filled with dancing. I haven't seen a lot of Saura. I love his film Tango, but a good many more of his films feature another kind of dance: flamenco. Carmen doesn't always work. Actually, I lie. Where the narrative falls apart is near the end. I just never believed that the choreographer would actually kill Carmen. But up until that point, Carmen is riveting. It's filled with flamenco dancing, and they spend much of their time rehearsing in the dance studio. Saura films long sequences of a play-within-the-movie, the most exciting of which is Carmen's very first fight with the other women in the sewing shop. The dance features about thirty women, and it's amazing. This sequence alone is worth adding this movie to your Netflix queue. The print is great, too. This DVD is a new Criterion release, as part of their Eclipse Series. So the picture doesn't have any of the darkness or haziness of most 1980s films. The picture is clear, without any grit or murkiness. Which is great, because the fashion (as I am sure you remember) is bright and mismatched, and you wouldn't want to miss any of that.

Yesterday afternoon I sat down with Ken Loach's Palme-d'Or-winning film from 2006, The Wind That Shakes the Barley. It is about the Irish War for Independence and the Irish Civil War in the early 1920s. And it's great, if pretty much a downer. Cillian Murphy is the film's star. He plays a doctor who joins a local band of fighters for the IRA. This movie made me really angry in a good, political kind of way. I was reading Aimé Césaire, so I was already feeling pissed about Colonialism, and this movie came along at a good time. I know very little about Irish independence or the current state of political warfare over in Ireland, so I am not going to write anything about it here, but both The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Discourse on Colonialism made me think about Iraq and what we are doing over there. We are, more or less, currently a colonial power in the Middle East. It is all fine and well to say that we are there protecting them or protecting our own interests, but people deserve to have sovereignty over themselves. They deserve to be free. And when a group of people (e.g. the USAmerican military complex and its private contractors) is given immunity from prosecution by the elected goverment of the people of a free state, that state really isn't free.

I've added two movies to my 2008 list this week, too (bringing the total to a paltry six):

This week I saw the playwright Martin McDonagh's first feature-length film for free at FSU's student cinema. Um. I liked it well enough, I guess. I like Colin Farrell more and more with every movie of his I see, that's for sure. The film... well, it's very Martin McDonagh. Does that say enough about it? It's horribly violent, occasionally racist and homophobic, but it's also quite funny at times. And it has its own sense of justice that I'm not sure I agree with, but is interesting food for thought (maybe). I am equivocating a lot because I don't think I'm recommending this movie to anyone. As I said, I liked it, but it doesn't really work. It's a comedy about murder and violence. And, since it's McDonagh, the violence and murder are serious issues in the film that the characters struggle with. So the film yo-yos from being a sort of madcap farce to a serious drama about the consequences of taking another human's life. Consequently, the film never hits its stride. I feel like this careful McDonagh balance works much better in his plays (The Pillowman, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lonesome West, etc.) than it does here. But if you like McDonagh, you will probably dig this.

Finally, last night Julie (after many shenanigans) took me to see Bryan Bertino's The Strangers. I don't normally go to see scary movies, but Julie loves them. Normally she finds other scary movie buffs to accompany her, but as it is the summer, there really isn't anyone. Anyway, I rather liked it. But I'm still not sold on the whole scary movie thing. I mean, why is this fun for anyone? The Strangers is a kind of fluff... like a romantic comedy or a fantasy movie that has nothing at all to say, but gets its job done, diverting enough without being deep. The Strangers has a couple of really great scary moments, but as Julie points out, all of this is made exponentially creepier by the fact that the killers wear masks the entire time they are terrorizing Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman.