Monthly Archives: February 2015
It is cold. Not back-east or up-north cold but cold. It’s dry brown boring cold. That time in the middle; ‘the time of no paid holidays’ it’s called, between New Year’s Day and Memorial Day.
Let’s review the big events that get us through this long five months. Possible snowstorms, Downton Abbey season, Oscars, new House of Cards, my birthday, warm walking mornings arrive, San Diego visit, and finally to Memorial Day and Minnesota. Since I don’t have a Valentine and I’m not a Christian I have left Valentine’s Day and Easter off My Calendar.
My Big 2015 Trip is still expanding and contracting, with the Russian/Mongolian middle practically cast in concrete and the beginning (Norway) and ending (South Korea) still malleable.
So far I have my calendared plans, a new medium-size REI backpack and a vest I intend to wear every single day with pockets for passport, cards, and Smartphone. I have a new Costco raincoat and a gift card for travel shoes from Benders in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
My whole family is getting through February with flying colors: Robert and Marsha are not depressed because they’re in Florida and their dog is healthy. Scott and Sandra are biking and hiking and zumba-ing, young Steven is job hunting and Teresa is selecting her grad school—eliminating Virginia Tech due to its location in a rural land of ice and snow, moving on to Chicago this weekend. Steven and Michele are working working exercising exercising, Patricia is hostessing and studying in West Texas and Sara is now driving her own car to non-stop cheering activities.
Didn’t really start this post to do a family report but it’s happened. So I should have some family pics to put with it—but I don’t.
How about February in Albuquerque at North Fourth Art Center?
A Cranky Critique of Oscar Night
Last movie word I promise. Oscar night was good at my place. Nice movie-smart friends brought delicious Oscar-themed food, the apartment was warm and cozy, the wine was fine. Perfect, yes?
But then came the actual show. The Academy Awards. Didn’t it seem like there was more than an average number of puffy white and pastel dresses, sort of faux-50’s-prom-like? Then the standard red-carpet blather. Then the sly and initially funny Neil Patrick Harris. Then the boring Neil Patrick Harris. Then underwear-clad Neil Patrick Harris. Slight depression set in. I was longing for Downton Abbey but my film friends came over to visit Hollywood…not the Abbey. THEN the momentum of the commercial breaks increased. And Neil Patrick Harris was babbling—but at least he had his pants back on. Those of us still hanging in there were tired but we had too much time invested not make it to the grand finale.
The awards had been piling up for Birdman. I was pouting. I had a stake in Boyhood. It’s my story. My sons’ story. It’s ours dammit. Boyhood is a quintessential American story and yet it feels almost European. It take its time. No Flash-bang. No frills. Just an ordinary story of time and family.
Oh well. Eventually I had to accept that Boyhood was not going to win. That it was going to be Birdman was unavoidable. Hey Birdman is a good show. Fast and furious and fun and games. The other BP nominees felt flatter and flatter over the course of the evening. Selma lost its righteous glow; The Imitation Game stayed solid…meaningful… maybe a little dull…; The Theory of Everything showed that in spite of your hideous disease you can share your genius with the world and be a bit of an egocentric jerk besides; Whiplash proved…well nothing really. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a crazy romp through some nasty history. It actually is a bit special. But it lost too.
So My Movie Did Not Win. Bad Hollywood. Bad Academy. I won’t play next year because I’m mad at you. So there.
Enough With the Movies
And then there was Selma, Last Days in Vietnam, Finding Vivian Maier and Ida. All important, intelligent and wildly different. Selma, an engrossing film from any political historical perspective. Martin Luther King Jr. and Lyndon Baines Johnson as flawed but powerful men. MLK was steadfast in his quest for voters’ rights for African Americans…pretty much. President Johnson was supportive but reluctant…maybe. And yes, as one critic, said, it is more political maneuvering than action, much like Lincoln two years ago, which is a welcome change. Still I wasn’t quite as engaged as I had hoped to be.
Which leads me to Last Days in Vietnam and Finding Vivian Maier. Already talked about Virunga—the best of all—and missed Citizen Four at the Guild. Can’t find The Salt of the Earth. While Last Days in Vietnam is exactly what it says; it is less gripping than one might imagine given all of those old newsreels. It avoids the politics of the era altogether which seemed a little strange to me. Finding Vivian Maier was delightful. There is this ordinary nanny/brilliant photographer, completely unknown, generally rather unlikeable, who collected a mass of photographs of everyday people going about their various businesses that is almost unbelievable in quantity and quality.
Ida, a Polish Jewish Nun. Yes that’s what I said. A haunting tragic story. The Jewish orphan saved and deposited at a Catholic nunnery by the Polish farmers who murdered the rest of her family during the reign of the Nazis. She is in the process of becoming a nun when she learns the truth through a relative. It has the look I always expect from foreign films, maybe because I see too few. None of the emphasis on speed and action and too-muchness of many American films. Ida was the one foreign film I managed to see. I must keep my eyes open and make dedicated plans to go to the Guild more. The only place to see almost anything outside of the main stream in this town. I will. I will. I will. I’m voting for Boyhood for sentimental reasons and Selma for meaningfulness. And The Grand Budapest Hotel for fun-with-history.
More Movie Thoughts
CLOWNS, PUT OUT TO PASTURE.
Something for everyone. My favorite of this lot was The Grand Budapest Hotel which I wish I would have watched in a theater instead of the smallness of my living room—the grand scenes of derring-do warranted a bigger screen and popcorn. New Yorker critic, Richard Brodie, believes this is the best of the eight best picture nomination but that doesn’t have a chance for an Oscar because people like their “historical politics at simplistic face value.” Which makes sense since history is hardly taught in schools at any level. Although I understand most of the deciders in the Academy were students back in olden times when the likes of history and geography and literature were considered serious subjects most younger moviegoers don’t have a clue. Guess what audience corporate Hollywood is after.
Birdman is the only other Best Picture nominee that might be brilliant. There are layers and layers and layers in both Budapest and Birdman (as an ad for Birdman repeats ad nauseam) but now that I think about it I prefer layers about history versus layers about ego-maniacal performers.
The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything are movies about very smart people who overcome…achieve…and, one way or the other have or are meeting tragic or unpleasant ends. I liked them both. They were excellent AND ordinary.
Then there’s Whiplash. Which was certainly intense—but I think. New Yorker’s Brodie says it best:
Whiplash” is a classic Sundance script: the plot is so tight that it leaves out the story, the characters so simplistic that they leave out the people. It appeals to Hollywood self-pity; the drummer goes through a masochistic hell as an underling and finally gets ahead as a defiant noisemaker. It depicts success as abject self-abasing obedience followed by a triumphant fuck-you. The movie is too narrow-bore for Best Picture, though. The New Yorker/February 17, 2015.
Evening now: Just watched “The Judge” on Direct TV because Robert Duvall is up for best supporting actor and because I feel mildly awful. Good enough movie. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall were pretty spectacular actually. But nothing quite gripping enough about this particular down-south lawyer story to make it worth thinking a lot about. Okay so it took place in Indiana—it felt down-home, down-south-like.
Did I tell you I once stole a picture of Janice Rule from my friend Susie’s movie magazine? It may be the only thing I ever just flat out stole—and you don’t even know who Janice Rule was do you? An actress (later psychoanalyst!), who looked like I wanted to look. Very all-American pretty face, tall and slim, with glossy long brown hair—which didn’t exactly happen—although I was prettyish and tall and slim but the hair was always all wrong and insubstantial, wasn’t it? I must have seen my heroine Janice in a movie but I have no idea what or when. In any case I loved her. And stole her picture right out of one of the Photoplay Magazines Susie had somehow acquired.
I still love movies but it is a love to which I am very untrue. I grew distant during a period of time when I had three jobs, two kids and almost no money. Since then I’m afraid my passion only reappears when I’m lonely in a foreign city or just before Oscar’s time.
Here I am then, less than a week before the big Academy blowout—the red carpet and the glamour and the maudlin funny awkward serious bizarre speeches of gratitude. I love it, at least until sometime before the end when I don’t. Since my friend Susanna and I have tried to see every nominated film and as many foreign films and documentaries as possible, it should be a fairly engrossing viewing year.
And we’ll have our party. Remember. My house. Around 5. A few movie fan friends, each bearing a movie-related food item. Small disagreements, the ballots, un vin ou deux and our stars will appear…and disappear as quickly. The magic moment.
Here’s my list so far of the big boys I’ve seen:
Birdman, Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The imitation Game, Whiplash, Selma—tonight is The Theory of Everything on Direct TV. Then there are Into the Woods, Ida, Unbroken, Finding Vivian Maier, Last Days in Vietnam and Virunga.
I’m skipping American Sniper—whether as a protest over American gun-love in war-form guise or over a fat Bradley Cooper—it’s hard to know.
Way Home Today
See this documentary. If you have little to no knowledge of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and you want to know something, see VIRUNGA. It is not the same as reading books or paying political attention or going there but it is a factual, moving, and very well presented overview of the tragedy that is so much of Congolese history and present. Two stories move along simultaneously against the background of the war. One the struggle to preserve Virunga National Park and the mountain gorillas and other wildlife; the other the struggle against the British oil company SOCO, a company with zero interest in anything except profit.
No surprises of course either in the desperation and dedication of those attempting to keep the park out of the hands of the rapacious and violent national and guerilla armies or the equally rapacious and violent employees and subcontractors of SOCO.
The film is told primarily through an African park employee whose very life is dedicated to the gorillas and a brave French reporter digging up the dirt on SOCO—and my god, there is some extremely filthy dirt to dig up.
The countryside and the wildlife are given the chance to show off their beauty in some absolutely breathtaking nature footage. And we get to meet good and evil up close and personal.
BE ASHAMED, BE VERY ASHAMED, IF YOU DO NOT TAKE THE SMALL AMOUNT OF TIME NECESSARY TO INFORM YOURSELF ABOUT A BEAUTIFUL, TRAGIC, BRAVE AND IMPORTANT PART OF THE WORLD.
VIRUNGA is streaming on NETLIX. DO IT.