Friday, May 13, 2011

Weekly Quotes Part 19

Tolstoy and the Purple Chair

Forgiveness is an elevated form of acceptance, an acknowledgement that life is not fair . . .  (86)

Not sure I necessary agree that it is an “elevated form of acceptance” because pure acceptance would lack the judgment where forgiveness is needed.  Nevertheless, I found this lovely.

We are unique in how we are loved.  (127)

By extension, we are unique in how we give and receive love.

Even when I read a book where the story had nothing to do with an experience of my own, I found resonance from recovered memories.  (183)

A book doesn’t have to be part of the canon of great literature to make a difference in the reader’s life.  (186)

Garland of Love

Forgiveness does more than merely erase the terrible thing; it is an act of moral courage, a process of self re-creation.  (May 13)

It always interests me when these quotes seem to follow a coincidental theme.  Reading from different books I found two quotes on forgiveness that I liked enough to share.





Simple Abundance

Perhaps now—of all times—when I am nearly bowed under physically, emotionally, and psychologically by the minutiae of the mundane, is the very moment I need the reverence of poets who bear witness to the sacredness of the ordinary.  Then perhaps I shall see . . . all the beauty, joy, and abundance that literally lies at my feet.  (May 7)






Eros the Bittersweet

Your story begins the moment Eros enters you.  That incursion is the biggst risk of your life.  How you handle it is an index of the quality, wisdom, and decorum of the things inside you.  (152)

When you fall in love you abandon the forms of ordinary life.  (160)

Gods know why things are, necessarily, the way they are.  (162)

Eros is always a story in which lover, beloved and the difference between them interact.  (169)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Movie and Television Reviews for April Part Three


The Executioner’s Song

Another choice based on the fact that I once read the book.  I didn’t like the novel and refused to read anything else my Normal Mailer after reading it but the movie is good in that it has all of the novel’s presumed strengths, enhanced by excellent performances.  Unfortunately, these types of movies, based on real-life crimes, leave a horrid taste in my mouth.  I find them perverse and not far removed from the presumably amoral attitude of the criminal typically portrayed.  The titillation one experiences, the ridiculous pretense of trying to get into the psyche of the psychotic, is as heinous as the crimes that are inspired by these things.  When I think of the victims, the family members whose grief is ongoing, I am especially disturbed by the choices we make in how we entertain ourselves, whether reading a novel “based on a true story” or watch a movie inspired by murder.  Tell the story of those who live with the loss if you must tell any story.  Justice wasn’t served and exploring the story is a further injustice for everyone involved.

Snow Falling on Cedars

A lovely, evocative novel that unfolds with the delicacy of a flower blooming, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could create this into something that would work on film.  I should have known we were in for a rough attempt at art when I realized that the cinematographer chose to be “creative” by filming things in muted tones and with talented actors wasting their efforts to elevate this movie to meet the quality and eloquence of the novel is simply too painful to describe.  Read the novel.  It is slow but that pacing works on the page and just becomes dull beyond tolerance on film.  This should have been and could have been a great movie.



Frankenstein

In my endless pursuit of watching movies based on books I’ve read, I figured what the hell . . . after all, I adored Vincent Perez in Cyrano de Bergerac.  But I haven’t seen him in anything else that’s good and this made for television movie is no exception.  The description was a red flag, what with Frankenstein figuring out how to live for over 200 years and all, but so be it.  I was hoping for a miracle and it didn’t happen.  This was just dreadful from beginning to end and obviously meant to be a pilot for a show that never saw the light of day. This movie shouldn’t have seen the light of day.  Bleh.



A Home at the End of the World

I read this book on a flight home once when I had already finished the books I’d brought along on the trip and wanted something to read.  I grabbed this novel because I’d heard praise for another book by the same author.  I remembered liking the book but not loving it.  The movie is actually very good with a great soundtrack.  The acting surprised me as I never expect much from Robin Wright or Colin Farrell. It shouldn’t be too difficult to take a good book and make it into a good movie, although my previous choices would suggest otherwise.  Thankfully, I can honestly say that I liked this movie.  I found it poignant without being maudlin, a delicate line to tow and everyone involved in this movie did a good job.  Great soundtrack too.


Claudine

In an era when any movie that had a predominantly African-American cast automatically falling into the Blaxploitation oeuvre, this movie stands head and shoulders above the rest with a surprising relevance.  Okay, so some of it feels a little “dated” but it is so nice to see a couple falling in love, a family struggling to hold itself together, and still get a sense of the times in which the movie is firmly rooted.  Excellent cast who immerse themselves so fully in their roles that you forget sometimes where else you’ve seen them.  Is that really Darth Vader?  “Boom Boom” Washington?  Dominique Devereaux?  I saw this movie ages ago on television and I have long wanted to see it again.  After watching it again, I see why.  The ending is ridiculous but there is much meat within this comedy to chew upon.



The Tudors, Seasons 1 & 2

Remember when I said that I was watching stuff that wouldn’t distract me?  What better choice, then, than this oh-so-pretty interpretation of an historical period with which I am pretty familiar.  Of course, I’d already seen it so that also helped.  I really had it on more for background as I stitched my way into oblivion.  And watching this again I appreciated all the more the truly fine performances.  I mean, you simply cannot deny that beneath the lush costumes and pretty jewelry, there is some damn fine acting going on.




Firefly

And of course, I must needs get my Joss Whedon fix in at some point.  My mother-in-law gave me Serenity on dvd so I figured before I watched it I would rewatch the television series. It all goes back to the simple fact that Fox really screwed up when they aired and then canceled this show because they didn’t make it easy for fans or anyone else to follow along and then, because the fans were lost with the erratic scheduling of the original air dates, the show was canceled long before its time.  Thankfully, a movie was made and now there are comics.  But I still feel deprived.




Serenity

Naturally, I wanted to watch the movie after I watched the television series.  Rob and I watched it together.  Then I listened to the commentary tracks by myself because Rob loves me but even he can only go so far before I become a scary, obsessive person.  So he lets me immerse myself as far as I need to go and stands on shore, waiting to wave me back to the land of reality where people don’t really know or care what a Reaver is or what “two by two, hands of blue” signifies. It’s hard for me to fathom that there are such people in the world.  Is it any wonder I prefer my depths of strangeness?



DIY or Die:  How to Survive as an Independent Artist

I chose to watch this with my daughter.  While we watched, she drew and I stitched.  It’s always interesting to me to listen to different artists discuss their work and what it means to be an artist.  Albeit, some of the people interviewed come off as self-involved narcissists who are more self-righteous than relevant.  Nevertheless, I found the documentary interesting and a week or two later I discovered that someone had stolen some of my daughter’s artwork for a youtube video.  That wouldn’t have been a problem except that 1) the person didn’t ask and 2) the person gave themselves credit for the work.  Wow!  I pointed it out to my daughter and the video is now gone.  Why do I share this story in connection with this documentary?  Because, when I brought this video to my daughter’s attention, I reminded her of some of the things that were said by the artists about integrity and the importance of respecting their work, etc.

Flashforward

I wanted to watch this again because I wasn’t surprised the show was canceled and I wanted to see why I enjoyed the show enough to watch it but not enough to care that it was gone.  I think the premise was doomed because how many times could the entire world wake up after a blackout and deal with visions they had while unconscious?  I don’t know if there were just too many characters or the characters were not well developed or what.  Most everyone in the show was more a situational character than a fully fleshed person.  In other words, the personalities were virtually interchangeable and the only thing that defined them was their relationship to another character.  Husband.  Wife.  Friend.  Daughter.  Coworker.  Sponsor.  Etc.  I still want to read the novel upon which the show was based but my library doesn’t have copy.

Valley Girl

Of course this is something I’ve seen before.  I always thought that most of the actors looked far too old for their respective roles and the premise was silly beyond words.  The music is perky and cute.  My favorite part of the movie?  Elizabeth Daily.  I just loved watching her quietly observing, knowing more than most of the other characters.  She’s adorable and sexy and I would bet you that most of the teenaged boys who were dragged to the theater by their girlfriends to see this were not as enamored of “Julie” as they were of “Loryn” or perhaps I’m merely speaking for myself.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Movie and Television Reviews for April Part Two


The Four Seasons

The premise is simple: three couples meet every few months to enjoy one another’s company.  They cook nice meals, go on a boating trip, visit their children at college, etc.  They also get on one another’s nerves as foibles come out and flaws within the individual marriages reveal themselves.  It should come as no surprise to hear that the script, which was written by Alan Also, occasionally sinks into sentimentality and pendantic preachiness.  Alda has a mid-life crisis point to this movie and he’s going to make sure that he shoves it down your throat through his carefully crafted characters.  And in spite of this, I did enjoy this movie.  Go figure.  Perhaps because as soon as I saw that Alda had written it, a part of me sighed internally and got ready for the self-righteous ride.

The 24th Day

Morality play meets the 21st century.  In a post HIV/AIDS awareness world, we still seem to have dramas where one man’s sin is played out as a caution to the audience.  Of course, now we also have a bit of noire mixed in.  Commendable performances in a claustrophobic drama in which one pretty boy takes another hostage.  Add a bit of melodramatic back-story.  In spite of this, the actors make the whole thing work.  Not brilliant but it is interesting and it had me wondering about morality plays in general and how they have evolved over time.  I suppose the screenwriter and director et al wanted me to think about STDs but my mind was elsewhere.



Prince of Persia:  The Sands of Time

Once upon a time I read a graphic novel which I thought was silly and overwrought with cliches.  It was not the graphic novel upon which this movie was based.  It was, however, written by the same person as the one who wrote the graphic novel upon which this movie was based.  Is it really any surprise that this story is also full of predictable plot devices, two-dimensional characters, etc.?  Pretty effects and costumes can’t salvage this from being more than a bit of cotton candy fluff.  I love Jake Gyllenhall.  I didn’t love this film.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s cute.  I don’t know why it was vilified as much as it was when it was released.  I’ve seen worse the past few weeks.  (See above!)


The Cake Eaters

I have no clue what the title means even after watching the movie but I do love a quiet, understated, typical indie movie and this one lived up to my expectations with a lovely performance by Kristen Stewart.  She continues to impress me, probably because I avoid the Twilight movies altogether.  She just surprises me every time I see her on camera and I love her more and more.  She once again does a lovely job and she almost makes me want to watch those other movies.  Almost, but not quite.





The Three Musketeers

I remember going to see this as part of a school trip.  Years later I got my hands on a few of Alexander Dumas’ novels and went through a phase of reading everything he and his son wrote.  Unfortunately, I forgot most of it.  I do, however, remember thinking that this particular version of his d’Artagnan novel was closest to the original in intent and such.  For one thing, this young boy gets around and sleeps with a lot of women throughout the first novel.  And, of course, there is the “church bad / state good” plot that doesn’t even do the real political intrigue justice.  (You gotta love the hypocrisy of a Cardinal who gives the king a lover even though the king is married and the lover male.)  The character of Athos has always been a favorite and Oliver Reed does such a lovely job of portraying this complex character.  Not so much in this film version, where the plot focuses mostly on the first part of the novel but the conclusion of this movie has a trailer “coming soon” promoting the next movie so . . .

The Four Musketeers

I wish I could remember the novels better because it does seem to me that these movies are a bit ridiculous, nearly frivolously humorous.  I don’t know.  I wish I could remember the novels better so I could tell whether or not these movies are compromising the integrity of the original.  I mean, I remember reading the novels and being surprised by how much d’Artagnan slept around.

The Guild, Season 4

Okay.  So today I was talking with a friend and she said, “What is wrong with men?  I mean, what is it about Lord of the Rings?”  I stopped her practically mid-sentence and explained that I am probably not the right person to talk to about his.  I told her about my as yet unspent gift card and how I am thinking of buying the soundtrack–not just the soundtrack but the expanded soundtrack even.  I said, “You probably want to talk to a real girl.”  So what does this have to do with this show?  I am sitting there and I said, “Oy.  That’s Crusher.  Wil Wheaton.  I think.  Maybe.  Looks totally like him.  Is it?”  Did I stop watching to find out?  No.  I waited for the credits.  I’m so pathetic.  Pathetic for watching this and more so for recognizing Ensign Crusher.  Yep.  That’s me.

Kramer vs Kramer

I’d seen this in the theater and I remember that when it was released it as quiet a scandalous look at marriage and divorce and, most especially, parenthood.  After all, what loving mother would leave her child behind to find herself?  Of course, history has many examples of women who boldly left kith and kin behind to get in touch with something else.  If you focus on the edginess of this movie, its relevance is lost.  But relationships, especially the one between the father and son, are timeless and when this movie is watched for the purpose of appreciating that, it stands up.  Sort of.  The problem is, I don’t know what the message is.  It seems, on the surface, to be a feminist movie in the sense that it shares the story of a sensitive man, a hard-working and driven individual who nearly loses it all–his wife, child, and home–before he wakes up and realizes what it is he’s missing.  During the course of the film he learns to juggle the different aspects of his life, a juggling act women have been managing for a lot longer than most people seem to recognize.  The professional compromises he makes are measured against the personal gains so is that the lesson here? You can’t have it all because in order to have one you must sacrifice the other?  I don’t know.  This is the sort of film I would have loved to pick apart in a film class to try to get to the bottom of what it was saying then and what it is saying now.

The Stand

You can count the number of Stephen King books I’ve liked on one hand.  This is one of them.  It’s funny, however, that I now realize how much I had forgotten about this story.  Not the characters or the action so much as the spiritual subtext that was splashed around with the subtlety of a Warhol image.  Good versus evil will not suffice.  You must have virgin sacrifices and crucifixions and even demons that morph into birds while “the magical black man”—here a woman—works the ultimate miracle as the hand of God.  This made-for-television version of the book reminded me of how choked the story was with symbolism and it is interesting that what lasts in my memory is not the spiritual weight of the story but the characters who fill the pages.


East of Eden

I seem to go through times of immersing myself thematically.  What is the theme between this and the previous?  Mini-series?  Associations between kinky sex and evil?  Books I’ve read?  Definitely it is that last one although the other two are valid observations as well.  Unlike the previous example, however, the blatantly Christian themes in this novel are so beautifully woven into the very core of the story that one can’t remove the spiritual message without compromising the integrity of the plot.  The characters are inspired by Biblical archetypes and, yet, stand up on their own merit to such a degree that, even to this day, I will easily and without hesitation announce that if I were to meet any fictional literary character, it would be Steinbeck’s Lee from East of Eden.  Unlike the James Dean movie, this attempt at telling the full story does the novel’s vision justice.  Too much is lost if you don’t try to at least carry the generations from one to the next.  Yes, some of the perversions are lost as evil is left to be more understood than fully realized.  I guess these are the sacrifices one makes for translating a book like this to the screen.  I doubt another version will ever see the light of day.  And why should it?  Jane Seymour as Katherine/Kathy/Kate is utterly brilliant.  The facets of the story that were dropped from the script are not necessary for what is left is enough to tell a brilliant and powerful story.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Movie and Television Reviews for April Part One

Because I was trying so hard to finish my mother's gift before my trip, I watched a lot more television than usual.  Unfortunately, I did not finish the gift and I didn't watch many foreign films or things that would cause me too much distraction.  You'll see the end result in my choices.  And this is why I am breaking down the reviews into parts because I truly watched too much to dump into one blog post.


Scott Pilgrim vs The World

Okay.  If I were honest, and I do try to be, I’d have to confess that I actually watched this movie in March.  So why is it here, in the April movies?  Because I loved this movie!  It made me chuckle from the opening credits to the very last moment.  Awesome music and so many geeky jokes that I couldn’t help but fall in love with this one.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Michael Cera is in it playing the same dorky puppy character he always does but he does it so damn well.  But seriously, if you ever were into fighting games (Street Fighter, Tekken, Mortal Kombat) and remember them with fondness (I never did so I have no fond memories) then you’ll love this movie.  What?  I never played these games and I still found this movie charming and funny?  Yeah.  What can I say?  My nerdiness is not limited to my personal experience, apparently.

My So-Called Life

I never watched this when it originally aired but I really loved Claire Daines in Romeo and Juliet so I finally gave into the curiosity.  What was it about this show, that lasted only one season, that kept it alive in the hearts of those who did see it?  So much so that Juno alludes to it?  Well, for one thing you have a really great cast.  Yes, some of the characters are a bit cliche they never ring false.  I don’t know if I identified with Daines’ Angela because of her awkwardness and undeveloped innocence or if I identified more with the character of Rayanne for her outrageous quirkiness.  I think I fall somewhere in the middle.  Even now.  The story lines are more intelligent than one would expect in a teen-drama, problems often rolling from one episode into the next rather than resolving themselves by the closing credits.  At the time, this wasn’t usual for family dramas on television at the time.  For me the problem lies in attempting to capture too broad an audience.  The title suggests that the show will focus on one character’s life.  Instead, we learn a lot about her life and that of her friends and even of her parents.  Teenagers who might have watched the show certainly didn’t want to see Angela’s parents getting frisky in the bedroom or struggling with financial or marital issues.  And often the narrative goes beyond her home, family, and life to look at the lives of other characters, their experiences beyond her “so-called life.”  I think the show should have been more successful and would have been with a minor change in approach.  Focus on one person, mostly Angela but allow other characters to take over an episode.  They do this to some extent twice during the one season.  It would have been more effective if they had done it a few more times, rotating from Angela to Shannon, Brian, Rayanne, Rickie, Jordan, and yes, why not an episode here and there from a parental perspective although I would strive to avoid it.  Show the lives intersecting, the shifts in perception as outsiders give an objective view to what the subjective narrator sees.  Angela’s life, as seen through her own narrative, is different from what others see and her perception of their lives is likewise skewed.  I think that would have been an interesting approach, one that would have perhaps kept the show alive.  Or caused it to implode before season one even ended.

Company

I love Stephen Sondheim’s music.  Anyone who sings appreciates the complexity not only of his lyrics but his melodies.  I can easily sing along with most songs the very first time I hear them.  I rarely can do this with Sondheim because he doesn’t follow typical melodic phrasing and creates the kind of complex music one rarely hears.  I may be mistaken but I thought I heard a melody within this musical that was not unlike one from Sweeney Todd.  It could also be, however, that I recognize enough songs from this musical that I am confusing the two.  In any event, a really interesting and, for the most part, well directed video of the stage production.  There were a few times when, while watching, you have the sense that there’s something happening off camera that you’re missing out on.  When watching musicals, I often wonder if what I am watching could be made into a movie.  Sometimes I think yes.  In this case, I don’t think so.  Not unless you remove the songs altogether.  And then, what would be the point?

Julia

I saw this movie when I was a child and remembered more of it than I would have anticipated.  I also remembered that there was some controversy surrounding the story, that there was some suggestion that Lillian Hellman, who wrote the story upon which this film was based, had taken creative liberties.  The movie is delicate as it weaves in and out of memory.  Sometimes it is hard to appreciate Fonda and Redgrave in the flashbacks, especially when they are meant to be college aged.  Diffused camera focus is not enough to leave the actresses looking entirely too old.  Better to have allowed the young actresses who play the same characters mature or something.  Still, it is an interesting movie.  Whether it is factual or not is open to debate.  I rarely turn to film for truth myself.

Agora

And again, some truth but not much.  Hypatia existed and she did teach.  She was hated by the Christians in the community.  The scene with the menstrual rag is apparently true, or as true as some history ever can be, and she was Cyril, one of the Church Fathers, was particularly responsible for her fall from grace, as it were.  There the movie departs from the facts but it must be reiterated that ancient history is so complicated with rumor and myth that it is impossible to truly know where and how truth picks up where conjecture finally falls away.  So there are relationships added and plot twists that seem more Hollywood than history.  I think it would have been interesting to show more of how Cyril is known for his views on Mary and juxtaposing this with his stance towards Hypatia’s role within the Alexandrian community.  Perhaps that would have been too ambitious for a movie and would have been better played in a novel.  I disliked the “Christians = bad” simplicity of this movie and, yet, I probably would have been disappointed if they had tried to apologize for some of Cyril’s less than Christian actions.

Toy Story 3

I had the rather stupid idea that this would be a good movie to watch on my birthday.  Why not?  I’d liked the previous two very much.  And I wanted to watch a family movie on my last day of having my son at home with me.  But seriously, what was I thinking?  The movie is about Andy, the boy who loves his toys so much in the first two movies, going off to college.  He has outgrown his beloved past and is moving on.  So there I am, wedged between my husband and my last son to move out of my home, bawling by the end of it so badly I don’t think I saw the last few scenes.  It was like my trying to read the last story in The House at Pooh Corner because I can’t do it.  Every time Christopher Robin starts saying good-bye to Pooh and the others . . . well, it’s hard to read through tears.  Anyway, this wasn’t a smart choice for me and I ended up really disappointed in the movie because I was too caught up in my own emotional subtext to watch this objectively.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (the movie)

Somewhere along the way it occurred to me that I really like the show but I distinctly recall disliking the movie.  Why?  I couldn’t really remember.  So I figured, why not?  Stupid.  I knew I didn’t like it before.  What made me think I would like it now?  I didn’t.  And I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make this stupid movie into a television series.  But I’m glad they did.  Obviously, it worked.  I have no idea how.  Given that the movie had everything wrong from lighting to music, from casting to styling, it is remarkable that such a clever and interesting television show could be rooted in this film.



Soundtrack for a Revolution

If I were teaching, I can easily see using this documentary to discuss the power of rhetoric, of how music (poetry) is used to inspire, and the idea of civil disobedience, speech as a means of moving emotions, and more more more.  What interests me is the choice of singers.  Understandably, most are African-American.  Joss Stone is included.  The choice is intriguing.  I adore her voice and I think she is an excellent choice but she seems to be a token nod, allowing for some inclusion but not really embracing the idea.  Ironic, given the message of this dvd, showing how this was a fight for equal rights that not only freed the black community but freed white people as well—free from ignorance, from being stuck in narrow thinking, etc.  Watching how communal the marches were and then seeing only one Caucasian singer has me pondering the significance of things.  As I said, if I were teaching, I would love to use this dvd for many reasons and it would be interesting to me to see how the students would respond.  Would they notice and, if so, how would they feel about it?  And frankly, does it even matter?

About a Boy

Seriously, only I could choose a romantic comedy that ends up being more depressing than not.  And what an utter waste of talent.  There are some very good actors in this movie, none of whom shine.  I kept looking at the kid and thinking he reminded me of one of the actors in Skins.  Ends up, it’s the same kid.  (I am referring to the original and not the American remake.)  I just don’t understand why this is called a romantic comedy.  I’m assuming the story line is closely based on the novel by the same name.  If so, add this to the list of books I never ever want to read.  Ugh.