Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Brother Born Again

First of all, Ben, thanks for your latest response about the film. I knew I could count on you to at least see it for what it was, even if you didn't like it. I think what you said was right on--she was approaching a difficult subject in a way that felt comfortable to her and that would give her some distance in case things didn't go so well. She could always hide in "director mode," right? Regardless, the comments about self-promotion were bothering me, but I have more important things that I want to share about the film.

I find it unfortunate that the film itself made it difficult for people to engage the material. It's a situation where, more than probably your typical art appreciator, I am willing to put a work in a smaller context and assess it accordingly. It's clear from the start that Julia's not a professional and that the film was low budget, so I was able to get over that pretty quickly and concentrate on the content. This is probably why I like mumblecore as much as I do--I don't begrudge it it's so-called "laziness" (not lazy at all, actually). Adrienne said it was too long, and perhaps it was a little, but I appreciate the moments away from talking heads to take in the amazing setting. Again, taken by an amateur cinematographer, but good enough to evoke the real thing if you've been there, which I have. It's not a great film, but I still think there's plenty to discuss.

One thing I liked about it is part of what made it a not good film. It's so very ordinary--a brother and sister reconnect and it's not what either of them thinks (or hopes) it's going to be, but it's the beginning of a new bridge built between the two of them where previously there was only remnants of an old one. Just like the sort of thing that happens every day in real life--real life not aggrandized like actual reality television and more flashy documentaries. King of Kong, for example, is one of the best documentaries I've ever seen, but it doesn't tell the whole story. As a film, it's great; as a document of the truth, well, who knows? Brother Born Again is probably as close to telling the truth of the situation as a film could--and it ends up being not quite as exciting, because, face it, life isn't exciting most of the time.

So the question is posed, Why do we want to watch this? Obviously, not everyone does. I chose the film because the topic is one that is very close to my heart. I was raised in a conservative Christian home and embraced the faith I was raised with. I went to an even more conservative Christian high school that further pulled me towards the kind of fundamentalism that Julia's brother's community espouses. Sometime in college, the wider world of Christianity (and other faiths for that matter) was opened to me and my beliefs changed pretty dramatically. Over time, the fundamentalism I had embraced became foreign to me. It was almost the opposite of what had happened to the brother. So, to some degree, my present self is like Julia--liberal, open-minded, questioning--while my past self is like her brother. There was something fascinating and eye-opening about watching the two of them interact. Except that I had the advantage over both of them of being able to access simultaneously my experiences from both perspectives.

Since I've been away from that mindset for so long, and feel safer from being sucked back into it again than I ever have before, I've found myself curious about fundamentalism. I want to understand it, but as I am now. I knew many, many incredibly kind and loving and giving and committed people in that world I was in, and I often find myself alone in being able to appreciate them in the circles I inhabit now. It is a paradox--that a person can be "good" and still confine their thinking to a rigid set of guidelines. It is a paradox that choosing to live that way, if you are truly at peace with those around you, can be a valid life choice, and even one that is God-ordained for those that choose it.

This is something that Julia began to understand about her brother, even if she didn't want to accept it. I was struck by her admission that becoming a part of the Farm probably saved her brother's life. I was struck by the thought that for some people fundamentalism (not the violent kind--there is a difference :)) is keeping them from the bottle or wife-beating or bulimia or suicide. And not only that. It takes dedication and discipline to be a fundamentalist. You hold yourself to a high standard. The brother (I should look up his name) mentioned that the rules were difficult to follow sometimes. But for him there was a value in that discipline. It's easy to make the comparison to a monastery because they're all living apart from the secular world at the farm, but there is an element of monasticism to the lives of those who live by such strict rules without the benefit of physical isolation. Even if I disagree wholeheartedly with their beliefs, I have to respect their dedication.

I was struck by the scene where Julia and Marc were talking about heaven, and she was getting on his case for trying to find verses to help him articulate his views. It was probably the pushiest she got through the whole film, and I imagined I was seeing through her self-imposed attempt at objectivity for a few minutes. I kept thinking about his explanation (in addition to feeling sorry at his inability to get her to back down) and how it really did make sense. No one will take me to task for referring to my knowledge of the laws of science to back up my perspective on the natural world, but somehow to refer to a sacred set of scriptures to back up my perspective on the spiritual world is seen as weak or illogical. I really wanted Julia to see that, but she couldn't.

Speaking of Julia, I was less interested in her as a character, but there were still things that made me think. I understood and felt sad because of her desire to be accepted fully by her brother--something that she would probably never experience. To his credit, Marc seemed to be able to separate the "sister" from the "lesbian"--recognizing that he needed to in order to be able to connect with her at all, but it's difficult for me to relate to that ability to cut yourself off from a person in certain ways (sometimes in all ways!) because of a difference in belief.

I was surprised that Marc agreed to go home to see his mother and grandmother; it was a nice, if unnecessary, epilogue to the story. Too bad his mother never was able to be more than a one-dimensional (almost stereotypical) Jewish mother, but her character was ultimately non-essential to the story, so whatever.

At the end of the film, and in real life, a brother and sister have an opportunity to at least begin to try to understand each other, even though they come from completely different worlds. There isn't enough of that in the world I live in, and I like seeing it and knowing it's actually happening. It's beautiful and inspiring.

P.S. The movie makes me think of an excellent series by Morgan Spurlock called 30 Days. In each episode, people from two polar-opposite sides of an issue (pro-choice/pro-life, for example) are put in a situation for 30 days where they are forced to come to grips with each other face to face, with often inspiring results. I highly recommend it, and it's on NWI!

I'm still waiting for Brandon's and Lisa's posts on the film, then I'll choose someone else.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Nice dump, Jeff. I've only seen Late Spring and Good Morning, and I loved them both. Everything you've said about Ozu is spot-on. I didn't know he never married and lived with his mother his whole life. Fascinating.

How did that throw-up taste, Brandon? Like fleeting relationships and ennui? Let me know when you make a movie and I'll tell you how lazy I think your filmmaking is. ;)

Did anyone else see Marriage Material, by the way? John?

I'm saving Brother Born Again for my next post, but here are a couple of other goodies.

American History X (Kaye, 1998). I watched three quarters of this film yesterday morning and couldn't stop thinking about it all day. I stopped right after Derek tells his prison story to Danny, and up to that point was completely absorbed in the film. But the last 25 minutes were the most disappointing of the film. The scene where the father rants about affirmative action and Derek completely caves to his opinion was utterly unconvincing to me, and almost ruined the entire film. And I hated the ending. It just left me feeling angry and hopeless. Yes, I know your sin will find you out and all that, but don't end with that. It contradicts the whole message that it matters that people open themselves up to change. I suppose there's something to leaving the audience to wonder how Derek is going to respond to the last event of the film, but it changes dramatically the direction the film seems to be taken and just left me with a bunch of emotions I didn't know what to do with. Norton's acting is spectacular, though. I won't soon get out of my head the image of his sneering face as the cops handcuffed him and took him to the cruiser.
As a side note, it was interesting to read about Kaye's disavowing of the film due to editing decisions. A friend of mine told me the ending was meant to be even more depressing than it ended up being.

The Tempest (Taymor, 2010). As time passes, I find my feelings on this film fading. I really really wanted to like it, a I myself played Prospero in a college production of The Tempest (fun fact: John's wife was Ariel in that same production) and it is very close to my heart. It makes me sad to say that what I liked best about the movie was the play. That's not to say that there weren't things to like in it--Helen Mirren is amazing at whatever she does, and Russell Brand was entertaining and good for a few laughs. But a number of the special effects were really low-budget looking, and Caliban's character was severely overacted. If anyone knows of a really good film adaptation of The Tempest, please let me know, because I'd like to see one. I LOVED Across the Universe, by the way, so I know Taymor's got some good stuff in her.

Me as Prospero in 2000

Still coming (I hope)--Tabloid!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Movie Dump, part 1: Dec 2011-Jan 2012

Marriage Material (Swanberg, 2012). The  most impressive part of this film is a roughly 15 minute sequence of the couple on the bed talking about her desire to have a child and get married. The scene is broken a little more than halfway by a brief shot of individual polaroid photos of the couple on the chain of the overhead fan twirling around and around. I imagined the photos to be symbolic of the couple themselves, or their life together, twirling around, lazily, comfortably perhaps, not really going anywhere. The final scene where they're doing yardwork, together but apart, seems to cement this notion. The long scene on the bed is lovely, the tension of the conversation the emotional equivalent to a scene in a horror film, where the protagonist is walking down a dark hallway with only a lit candle. I found myself cringing at certain things that were said, hoping they didn't lead where they could possibly, hoping the couple could turn things back around and find some common ground. Swanberg's got something here--it's not perfected, but he seems to understand how to create a palpable emotional environment around his characters that doesn't rely on usual conventions. Thanks for the link, John! Apparently it's only available for a limited time. Here's a nice New Yorker piece on the film. I was pleased to see the writer calling attention to the same segment that really impressed me.

Miracle of 34th Street (Seaton, 1947). I should really watch this again, as I dozed off several times during the film. My son really liked it, though. It was late afternoon, what do you expect? [Available on NWI]

Suspect Zero (Merhige, 2004). The business about remote viewing was really interesting, particularly the special feature where the director tries it. But the film itself apart from that was a little flat, like a TV movie. [Available on NWI, but not the special feature, unfortunately]

Pontypool (McDonald, 2008). Adrienne did a fine job writing about this film in her blog, if you haven't read it already. I don't know that I'd add too much except that it was probably the most original zombie virus origin I've seen so far. For indie movie fans and zombie movie fans alike. [Available on NWI]

The Sitter (Green, 2011). I am so underwhelmed by DGG's last couple of films. Here's my Flixster review.
Argh! So disappointing! I don't find putting kids into dangerous adult situations comedic at all, really. And I have a hard time identifying with a protagonist who does it. Add to that the fact that he's unlikeable, selfish, and incompetent and you've got a movie that doesn't have much appeal for me. DGG, please come back to us!! I know they've kidnapped you and are releasing terrible films in your name and you yourself can't be blamed. But you'll escape and make everything right again, I just know it!
I realized, between Your Highness and The Sitter, DGG seems to be trying to bring reprehensible characters back from the brink and make them somehow sympathetic again. But I need a lot more than an hour and a half to be convinced that these characters could have such dramatic changes of heart. I don't like either film, but I am interested enough in the exploration of that particular theme that I'd still see his next film if he goes there again.

The Curse of Frankenstein (Fisher, 1957) and The Satanic Rites of Dracula (Gibson, 1973). I was going to write a separate post just about these two films entitled "It's Hammer Time," but I just never got around to it and it's been awhile since I've seen them. Don't be surprised if the title pops up again in the future; I think it's pretty clever.
So these were my first two Hammer Studios films and I LOVED them! Frankenstein was just fantastic old school horror--Cushing and Lee's first film together, with Cushing as the scientist and Lee as the monster. Perhaps the most interesting and surprising aspect of the film was how it tracked the dissolution of the friendship between Victor and Paul, his friend and mentor. No matter how deep into madness Victor descends, he's always willing to welcome Paul to join him in his work. The end of the film is heartbreaking, with Paul leaving his once student and close friend to rot in prison without the validation he has so desperately needed through the entire film. Satanic Rites was less impressive, but still solid horror. Cushing and Lee, of course, are the primary and perhaps only reason for that, as the combination of old school horror Dracula with the seventies obsession with Satanism is almost comical at times. The film was the last time Lee would play Dracula, a role he reprised with Hammer studios many times, and the last time Lee as Dracula would face Cushing as Van Helsing, a role Cushing became famous for before another Dark Lord usurped his services and seemingly erased all records of his previous career as an actor. Cushing and Lee over the years developed a wonderful chemistry together that really shows in Satanic Rites. I'm looking forward to seeing more from the infamous Hammer Films.

The Tempest (Taymor, 2010) and Tabloid (Morris, 2010) still to come, I just need to get ready for a meeting right now.

Monday, January 16, 2012

More Clearly

It seems like the phrase "get on people's cases" was a bit of a sticking point for you. How about "playfully pick on while reinforcing that your rightness"? Does that phrase work better? :)

I know you've written about your criteria before, but a lot of it was while I was still new to film club and not paying much attention to that stuff. Truthfully, the most I've ever paid attention was when I put together my 1985 list the other day and saw a couple films on it that showed up on more than one yearly list. My method was pretty much to decide that I wanted those "on the cusp" films to be in my 1985 list (using different criteria for each one) because I don't have lists for any of the surrounding years and liked my list as it was. Maybe if I do a list for 1984 or 1986, I'll move some titles around. But, in general, I still prefer wide release in the country of origin as my current parameters. Or maybe just adding an asterisk for those films that could be placed in two different years for various reasons. So this is an old topic for you, but a relatively new one for me, and I'm just forming my opinions about it. Furthermore, I appreciate your interest in the topic because it's made me think about it as well, and it's not something I would have considered worth worrying about otherwise. It was interesting in making my 1985 list (I used IMDB) to see when and where films had premiered. I enjoyed having my horizons expanded.

As for your "why not's," why not? Let's broaden the palette a bit. I liked your eighties albums list based on most listened to. I liked my Steve Guttenberg list written as if I were still 14. I like the Top Ten Woody Allen lists. Let's get crazy with the list-making, why don't we? Film club LOVES lists, after all.

In Which Jason Makes a New 2011 List and Responds to John's Criticisms and General Curmudgeonry

I'll get a couple things out of the way, first.

Jeff, I considered putting The Black Cauldron in my 1985 list, but I couldn't remember enough of it to warrant its inclusion. It is very much an underrated Disney hand-drawn, though.

Great list, Chris. I like how you did a combo of different methods. I'm hoping it's because you saw merit in both methods, but due to you caving to John about Meek's Cutoff, I fear it may be your people-pleasing instincts taking over.

So, onto my new 2011 ranked Best-of list:

1. Meek's Cutoff
2. Meek's Cutoff
3. Meek's Cutoff
4. Meek's Cutoff
5. Meek's Cutoff
6. Meek's Cutoff
7. Meek's Cutoff
8. Meek's Cutoff
9. Meek's Cutoff
10. (and just for some variety) The Way Back

John, just be a man and admit that you see some merit in my method, or you wouldn't have spent time putting together a list using it. One thing that it does is provide a framework for ALL films seen in a year to be assessed in some way, which I like. I won't think less of you for complimenting me without throwing in an insult to "balance it out," or whatever goes through that crazy head of yours, I promise.

I will concede, after having done my 1985 list, that it is possible for me to rank films in order of favorite pretty confidently. But I stand by my "test of time"caveat. Some films excite and inspire when you see them, but then it can fade over time. You might be pleased to hear me say that while I still think Inception is an excellent film, and innovative and exciting, its impact on me has diminished a little over time. I'd say it takes a good year at least to measure effectively a film's true impact on me. Do I find myself thinking about it out of the blue or wanting to see it again? Do I want to show it to my kid, or my friends? Do I find myself relating events in the film to events happening in my life? These things don't happen right away. I mean, we have to be honest. Film is art, and art's power is in its impact. Sure, you can make judgments about technical skill, but at the level most of us are watching, we're already dealing with the upper echelons. So what's left? Impact. Pure, subjective impact. What's fun about arguing back and forth with each other is that one will point out things that the other has missed, potentially affecting the impact a particular film has had, potentially changing his/her estimation of it.

My point in saying this is to point out that we're already making decisions about which films are best based upon subjective criteria--to be specific, the personal impact a film has had. So why not categorize a film's release date based upon when the film has been in a position to make the most impact, i.e. a wide release date? Or, even better, why not allow for flexibility in the cases where an argument could be made for a film's release (and subsequent impact) happening in two different years? The films in our individual lists get moved around to suit our whims, so why get particular about one aspect of categorizing and not another? Or, should I say, why get on other people's cases for not being particular when a lot about ranking films isn't particular at all? Ranking films by year is as artificial a construct as ranking them at all, anyway. We're arbitrarily setting parameters and framing sets to make the groupings more manageable and to provide a platform for discussion. If quality discussion ensues, then we've accomplished our purposes. So, Chris, if you want to put Meek's Cutoff in your 2011 list, you go right ahead. You said it seems silly, and so it is. But it's not silly for John to do so, and I enjoy reading his lists because basing them on slightly different criteria is interesting and thought-provoking and provides more variety.

Another issue I have with ranking films by year is that, as I mentioned previously, it's like trying to compare apples and oranges. Different films have different objectives, and to lump them all together for purposes of ranking seems to me to diminish them all in some fashion. I would have an easier time ranking comedies of 2011, or dramas...but even then, where do you put films that cross genres, like Cold Weather? That's why it was easy for me to rank superhero films from 2011. Similar subject matter, similar themes, similar objectives in terms of audience response.

And that's all I have to say about that for now. Let the quality discussion ensue.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

1985 (A Year in Film)

I wanted to give the eighties some love, and no one else was, so I'm (gasp!) doing a Top Ten list for 1985. I picked the year for no other reason than it's smack in the middle of the decade. There are a number of films I haven't seen that would probably end up on the list, and it is hard to separate what you loved when you were younger from what was really good. So keep those things in mind. And I don't know how you guys do it, but it's my personal top ten, not what I think are the top ten films of 1985. Make sense? So here goes. Also, I'm going with wide release dates in the film's country of origin, except where it suits my purposes. That makes sense to me.

1. Brazil (Gilliam)
This is one of my favorite films of all time, probably top ten or even 5. It's not only Gilliam's best, but one of the best dystopian sci-fi films out there. And it's got a hilarious cameo by Robert DeNiro.
2. Blood Simple (Coen)
Who could have guessed what a force to be reckoned with the Coens would become? This modern film noir featured a spectacular mood and cinematography. And John's going to say it's a 1984 film.
3. My Life as a Dog (Hallstrom)
One of the best coming-of-age films out there--a beautiful, quiet portrait of a childhood. Ingemar hangs out on the margins--he's not totally alone, but he's not really connected, either.
4. The Breakfast Club (Hughes)
This film had an undeniable and indelible impact on a generation and has influenced teen dramedies ever since. Need I say more? This is a classic.
5. Back to the Future (Zemeckis)
Again, who can truly encapsulate the impact this film has had? It's comedy, drama, and sci-fi all rolled into one. And it's got a frikkin' DeLorean. Also, "flux capacitor" enters the English language.
6. Return of the Living Dead (O'Bannon)
The first and perhaps best zombie satire film. Funny, gory, and spot-on in its parody of zombie films. Shaun of the Dead is a very close second.
7. Trip to Bountiful (Masterson)
Where My Life is a Dog is coming-of-age, Bountiful captures beautifully a similar state of being on the margins at the other end of life. An elderly woman runs away from her unsatisfying life to visit the home of her childhood one more time. John would call this a 1986 film, if I were being consistent with my release date system.
8. Better Off Dead (Holland)
One of the funniest and most offbeat comedies to come out of the eighties. Between the animation and the psychotic paperboy, this film distinguishes itself like few others, even to the present.
9. Pee Wee's Big Adventure (Burton)
1985 saw the eruption into the pop culture film of not only one (counting the Coens together) but two megasuperstar directors. Though the film was not for everyone, it spawned an immensely popular kids' TV show and the popularity (and eventual overuse) of the phrases "mekka lekka hi, mekka hiney ho" and "I know you are, but what am I?"
10. The Goonies (Donner)
The quintissential kids' adventure film, which has also influenced just about every kids' adventure film after it. Great characters, lots of hijinks and humor, and nonstop action.

Honorable Mentions: Mask, Desperately Seeking Susan, Cocoon, St. Elmo's Fire, Re-Animator, Rocky IV, Spies Like Us (maybe), Subway

I  Loved These When I Saw Them as a Kid: Police Academy 2, Brewster's Millions, Fletch, National Lampoon's European Vacation, Transylvania 6-5000, Explorers, Spies Like Us, Bad Medicine

This Belongs in the Toilet: Friday the 13th part V (it's not even Jason, for criminy's sake)

Haven't Seen: Witness, Purple Rose of Cairo, The Color Purple, Ran, Pale Rider, Day of the Dead

Friday, January 13, 2012

mc Response to Brandon

Boring I'll grant you. mc isn't for everyone. Lazy I won't. Is Jackson Pollock lazy because he saw beauty it letting the paint fall where it may? Maybe that's not the best example. Nevertheless, in any category of any sort of art there's good stuff and bad stuff. But I see a director's role in the best that mc has to offer as one of arrangement. Dialogue (and probably some action, what little there may be) in mc could be seen as "found art" and a good director will know how to present it in a pleasing and hopefully significant way. The plots tend to be as close to stream-of-consciousness as you can get while still being narratively coherent (Cold Weather being an exception); a good director will guide that flow and move things out of the way so it's smooth and natural. To some degree, mc creates itself as it goes--I imagine you never know what the end product is going to look like entirely. But you're setting the parameters and paying attention to what happens the whole time, intervening where necessary, but not unless it's really necessary. I watched a making-of special feature for the film My Effortless Brilliance and learned that most of the dialogue was unscripted. But you'd watch the director at work, and she'd set up a scene like, "this happens and you're feeling this and you're going in this direction with the conversation and ACTION." Then another take, and another and another. And she'd pick the best stuff in the editing room and put it in the movie. They had like six or seven people TOTAL making that film. The actors, one cameraman, one sound guy, one director, and one person making meals. And the film was funny, and meaningful, and tense...That's hardcore, man. That's raw. It's inspiring. That's filmmaking at its roots, in my opinion. And it's anything but lazy.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Indulging Jeffrey (Top Ten Woody Allen)

I've only seen 10 Woody Allen films (and one partial), some of them a number of years ago. But, just for kicks, I'll make Jeffrey a Top Ten (or Only Ten) list of Woody Allen films I've seen.

I discovered that I haven't seen Annie Hall! I think I got Diane Keaton from Manhattan mixed up with Diane Keaton from Annie Hall. And I also discovered I had seen A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy. But it was a long time ago, so I don't remember much about it. I couldn't even tell you when I saw it. Probably late at night.

So this is going to be a crappy Top Ten list, but I love ya, Jeff, so here goes:

1. Love and Death (First Woody film that really made an impression on me)
2. What's Up, Tiger Lily (Controversial for #2, probably, but I really get a kick out of this film)
3. Zelig (see previous post)
4. Scoop (loved the chemistry between Allen and Johansson)
5. Midnight in Paris (oh so charming!)
6. Sleeper (funny but a bit too ridiculous)
7. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (may not be accurately placed because I don't remember much)
8. Match Point (I liked the film, but infidelity doesn't really entertain me)
9. Hannah and Her Sisters (his obsessive neurotic stuff does nothing for me)
10. Manhattan (overly self-indulgent as well as obsessive neurotic)

Belongs in the Toilet:
Melinda and Melinda
This movie was so boring I stopped watching it. I couldn't stand it and turned it off in disdain. Only one other film holds that distinction: Super Troopers.

The stuff that's low ranked I didn't necessarily dislike but it wasn't so much to my taste. It takes a lot for me to dislike a film (I'm talking to you, Godard).

My 2011 Films

As I've said many times before, top ten lists make absolutely no sense to me. It's like comparing apples and oranges and grapes and bananas and chicken salad sandwiches and bags of rock salt...I prefer to categorize things in terms of how they've impacted me rather than some kind of presumed objective criteria.

All lists are in no particular order, unless otherwise indicated.

Note: These are ALL of the 2011 films I've seen this year.

Best of the Best:
The Way Back
Cold Weather
Win Win (has anyone seen this? It was really fantastic.)
Meek's Cutoff
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Tree of Life
Tabloid (I want to write about this)

Almost Made It:
Black Death
Source Code
Everything Must Go
Midnight in Paris
Troll Hunter (Brandon, I wanna know what you think of this--watch it)
Super 8
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
War Horse

On the Fence:
Horrible Bosses

One Night Stands (I Had a Good Time, but Don't Call):
Red Riding Hood
POTC: On Stranger Tides
Larry Crowne 
Cowboys and Aliens (I really wanted you to be something more, but I didn't miss you when you were gone)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2 (I liked part 1 so much better)

These Belong In the Toilet:
Green Hornet
Hangover 2
Bad Teacher
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Hall Pass
The Sitter
Your Highness (I have some thoughts on the descent of DGG for a future post)

Couldn't Get Over the Ending:

Special Ranked Superhero Movie section:
1. (tie) X-Men: First ClassCaptain America
2. Thor
3. Green Lantern
10. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
100. Green Hornet (so bad I had to insult it twice)

I Really Wanted to See These Films:
Another Earth
The Future
The Interrupters
Attack the Block
Red State
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
Paranormal Activity 3
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Joyeux Noel

Has anybody seen this? I loved this film.

War Horse

BRANDON, to continue my response to you in a new post, I appreciated what you had to say about War Horse. I agree with most of what you said, though I want to say more about the war scenes. They reminded me of Saving Private Ryan in their intensity, even though they were a lot less gory. Say what you will about the rest of the movie, the first 45 minutes of Ryan are among the most chilling and sobering in film history. 

I have a particular interest in World War I, so War Horse was destined to affect me emotionally regardless of the plot. It was perhaps the most tragic war in human history with the most severe loss of life (10 million casualties!) and yet it lives constantly in the shadow of its younger, more popular brother. Sure, Germany was ultimately held responsible, but that's primarily because they lost. No flashy villains like the Nazis or the kamikaze pilots. Just machines guns mowing down scores of soldiers barely out of the trenches (on both sides) sandwiched between long days of exploding shells and little to no forward movement. Intense. If any of you have read All Quiet on the Western Front you know what I mean. It's one of the only books that made me sob uncontrollably. Some of my favorite war films are World War I films.

Starting from when the horses were pulling the guns up the hill, I was utterly transfixed. The battle scenes, with their sharp contrasts and flashes of light, took on an almost black-and-white quality. The horse rushing through the barbed wire, the soldier walking in silence across the pockmarked landscape to save it, the enemy soldiers with the barest thread of shared humanity holding together a tenuous peace between them...this is good stuff, and like Brandon points out, classic filmmaking. I don't know how anyone can see these things and not be moved. Now think about the bright colors in the beginning and then end of the film. Too gaudy? Perhaps. But not bright enough to overcome the darkness of war. 

Sure, it's a Hollywood film. But don't be fooled by the meaty steaks Spielberg's throwing to the mainstream filmgoing public. Spielberg knows what he's doing, and there's much more to War Horse than meets the eye.

I could say more about what I liked about the story apart from the battle scenes, but that impressed me less. I mean, it's all good stuff, but meaty mainstream steaks--which are delicious, but too much can give you a heart attack.

Since you liked my glasses analogy, Brandon, there's another one you're free to start using as well.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Overwhelmed but Not Quitting Yet

Adrienne's comment about ToL set off a flurry of activity and my head is still spinning!

Let's see if I can remember everything I want to say...

BRANDON, thanks for the response about Cold Weather. I don't think I was comparing them to try to say one was better than the other. I was mostly following suit after the other discussion (which, ironically, I still haven't read). I mean, I liked Cold Weather better, but I acknowledge what's good about Drive. That is to say I LOVED Cold Weather. I see what you're saying about the dark side of mc, but it's refreshing to me. I'll go along with Hollywood dialogue, but so much of it makes me roll my eyes. It's fascinating--nigh unto voyeuristic--to watch people interact with each other and talk to each other the way they do in real life. Katz's work in particular has really won me over, more so than the Duplasses'. I loved Cold Weather and Quiet City was one of the most peaceful and beautiful films I've seen. When my wife and I were dating, we used to talk about a "timeless placeless place" (it was from a Suzanne Vega song, I believe) we'd go to meet each other--not physically, but I think you know what I mean. A mental state. Quiet City captured that better than anything I've seen thus far. Have you seen it, Brandon? You should. Ben liked it, too, if I remember correctly. Also, I think you'd like The Way Back.

All that said, the trumpet scene in Hannah Takes the Stairs is oh so precious.

JEFF, I put extra work into that Woody Allen post hoping to catch your attention! I'm interested in our resident Woody expert's opinion on my assessment of Zelig.

JOHN, I also really liked Rise of Planet of the Apes. It surprised me. I almost wish it wasn't trying to tie itself in with the original because its faults largely had to do with areas I felt the plot was rushed or forced into trying to fit with an established continuity. I didn't mind seeing Malfoy get his comeuppance because I didn't think he got what he deserved in Harry Potter. Him or his slimy father, especially. The Plumber was a crazy, unusual film. I saw it at Houghton, so I'm probably overdue for another viewing. That and PAHR. Thinking more on it makes me sad that Hollywood stole Weir away. A lot of why he's my favorite has to do with his earlier, weirder stuff. And thanks for the carrot. You're not off the hook yet, though.

The truth of the matter, despite my initial reaction to Adrienne's Tree-bashing, is that ToL impacted me on such a deep level that criticism of it doesn't bother me. It speaks to you or it doesn't. You're enlightened or you're not. What else can I say?


No, not the movie. Adrienne's utter dismissal of the masterpiece Tree of Life. Also, tragic. Heartbreaking.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Zelig (Woody Allen, 1983)

The last attempt to write a shorter post didn't end so well, but I'm determined to make posting more consistent and therefore more sustainable this year, so here I go again.

I watched Zelig a little over a week ago, and I think it may be one of Woody Allen's best films. I didn't think so when I first saw it, but I feel somewhat convinced upon further reflection.

I say it's one of his best because it stands out among his films as something different from almost everything else he's done (that I've seen, which is ten films in their entirety). It is proof that he's a talented director who could probably pull off anything he wanted to do if he decided to. That he's stuck with a particular style for several years at a time speaks more to his preference than his ability.

Zelig is an excellent film, and if it's not the first mockumentary, it's got to be pretty close. The humor is distinctly Allenesque, but the presentation of the story makes it drier and more subtle. More to my taste, too, perhaps. I'm entertained by a slight wink and nod as much as a good prat fall, but I think I respect the former more. You have to weave subtle humor more into the fabric of your story and give it less of the spotlight. But by doing so, you challenge your viewers more. Zelig is indeed challenging. You need to be patient with it, but your patience pays off.

I'm even more impressed to see that he made the film in between Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters, two films that represent what I like to think of as his neurotic, self-obsessed period. You can see him playing with similar ideas in Zelig, but the constraints of the documentary format naturally rein in those impulses. And that Allen had the discipline to honor those constraints is noteworthy indeed.

I was also tickled that it took place in the 1920's. It makes a film like Midnight in Paris (there it is again!) more meaningful, because you understand better how much of himself he's invested in the time period. MiP comes across more as a loving tribute to the characters and culture of the twenties using a silly little time-travel story as a vehicle for it, than the other way around.

My favorite part (there were many I liked very much) is the scene where Zelig shows up, after having been gone a while, as a Nazi in Germany, sitting behind the Fuhrer  himself. A Jew wrote this into his movie. That is very impressive to me. Not to mention very funny, when Zelig interrupts Hitler's Polish joke.

The Way Back, A Contention, Peter Weir, Historical (In)accuracy

First off, Jeff, thanks for your response. It was heartening and validating. I knew I wasn't crazy for thinking the way I did about the ending of Drive.

I've watched a bunch of other films that I want to write about before I forget, but feel daunted when I think of throwing them in a long post. So maybe I'll write about one at a time and it will be easier to nibble away at them--as well as more likely that I will actually write about them.

Which leads me to a side note about the manner in which John assesses yearly participation in film club. I take issue, friend, because my posts on the whole, while fewer and further between, tend to be longer. I know that even if I interjected a post here and there that was a link or a YouTube video or a one paragraph response to someone else's post I still wouldn't be able to keep up with the likes of Jeffrey, but it would make my presence more substantial at least. I consider that kind of posting to be on par with Facebook posts, of which I have plenty, and which your accounting this year didn't take into consideration. And where's your promised post where you write all the things that I've been yearning to hear? Are you just setting me up for disappointment again?

Here's a film that we should both agree on, John. I saw The Way Back with Amy a few nights ago and it blew me away. I didn't know much about the source material, which you spurred me on to read more about. Apparently this film is a fictionalization of an account of someone crossing into India from Siberia. That said, since it is a film about walking, there's not much you can do to stray from the reality of a walk like that for anyone. Weir meticulously researched the film, down to details about the gulag officers' uniforms. One would presume that the details about what would be involved in such a long walk would also have been cared for as well. I find that it doesn't matter to me whether or not the characters are real themselves, because the other elements of the film are true.

Saoirse (sur-shuh) Ronan was an interesting inclusion. Her presence did provide for me a clue that Weir tweaked the story (before I knew it was so). I was surprised that there were no sexual overtones in the relationships between her and the men. One could explain plausibly why this was the case, but that fact that it calls for an explanation brings attention to it in a way that takes you out of the film just a bit. The question does eventually succumb (as all questions must) to the relentless nature of wilderness. Perhaps the matter of survival in extreme circumstances overrides all secondary biological urges; that seems to be the most likely explanation of all. When you're considering eating your companions, sex probably is pretty low on your list of priorities. Her character was refreshing, though. And I thought the scene where she travels up and down the line, sharing with the men information about the others they hadn't bothered to find out themselves was not only a creative means of exposition, but also an interesting commentary on the differences in the way men and women relate to each other. I wondered how Weir was going to use the event later, so it was interesting to see how her investment in Mr. Smith's story (and that she related it to Janusz) ended up saving Smith's life. That scene was actually one of the weaker ones for me because it seemed a little contrived, but I appreciated Weir's effort and the principle that he perhaps was trying to present to the audience because of it.

Speaking of relentless, The Way Back is another great example of how setting can be a character in a film. The cinematography is striking, and I'm sorry I missed seeing it at The Little when it was screened there briefly. From bitter cold to extreme heat, our heroes walk on. The land motivates them and beguiles them, and for some, ends them.

The final few minutes were intriguing. I'm sure this is what you meant by "fever dream," John, though I saw it more as an attempt to provide--maybe?--a happy ending rather than a clue that undermines the truth of the entire film. I felt that their arrival in India provided sufficient closure for me. I wish Weir had ended it there. It seems highly unlikely that Janusz's wife would still be unmarried after all those years and living in the same house.  It really did seem tacked on and a bit artificial. Do you have any more thoughts on this, John?

I'd also (with John) call myself a fan of Weir's work, though I haven't seen everything he's done. His earlier stuff is absolutely fantastic, and Picnic at Hanging Rock is in my top ten list of all-time favorite films. It's weird and mind-bending. The Last Wave, The Cars That Eat People, and even The Plumber also have mystical/supernatural overtones.

I would have liked Gallipoli better had I not known how incredibly biased and historically inaccurate it was. It was certainly a moving film, but I really hate it when people mess with historical events in films. One of the worst offenders of that sort was Bobby (Estevez, 2006), but my rant about that is best left for another post. I find that I trust the writer/director too much when it comes to historical movies, and I've been disappointed far too many times. I'm almost obsessive now about checking the internet for the facts after I watch a historical film, so the wrong information doesn't get cemented in my brain. I did it with The Social Network, and you could probably gather from my haiku about it that its factual inaccuracy was a sticking point for me. In light of this, it's interesting that I loved The Way Back so much, even with the knowledge that it was mostly fictional. I'm repeating myself now, but there's very little anyone could do to diminish the impact of the fact of someone walking a few thousand miles to freedom. Not even an Irishman with a Russian accent and a few too many furtive glances.

Weir's post-Gallipoli work is of less interest to me, though it's not to say of no interest. I have not seen The Year of Living Dangerously, Witness (I know), Fearless, or Master and Commander. So I feel that I have less to say about him from then on. The Mosquito Coast was odd and compelling, Dead Poets Society was great but ultimately overrated. Green Card and The Truman Show both unique in their own ways, but Hollywood films for sure. The Way Back is not a Hollywood film (though there are fleeting glimpses of Hollywood here and there). It evokes his earlier, quieter films, but with less of the strangeness. I think the attempt is there (Janusz's reaching-for-the-rock hallucinations), but it's not as raw and unsettling as it used to be. Perhaps he's made Hollywood films for too long. I'd still rank it among my favorites in Weir's oeuvre, and one of the best of 2010.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Generalizations Corrected and Comments Addressed

For the record, I don't only like films with happy endings. I wouldn't be a horror film fan if that were the case! When I have my horror glasses on, I don't expect everyone to live, or anyone in some cases, and I enjoy myself thoroughly. Rather, I struggle with films that are trying to reach into a deeper part of my consciousness and and deeper part of my emotions but then don't to leave any room or hope for redemption. It's one thing to leave an ending open for audience participation, but in Drive, there's not a whole lot for the viewer to work with.

[Spoilers to follow] One thing that bothers me is that he left the money behind. I was counting on him at least managing to get it to the girl, or some of it, so that at least she could have some kind of future to look forward to. Maybe he did, we don't know. But the money shot (so to speak) next to the dead body really gave off a "he left it all there" vibe. It's like he ends up being nothing like the person we're fooled into thinking he is for nearly the whole movie. The "maybe I could come with you" bit was bullsh!#, and he knew it. This guy's not just a killer, but an ass when it comes down to it. He gets a woman's husband killed, further traumatizes her by bashing in a guy's skull in front of her, then goes on a revenge killing spree--and leaves her with nothing. Sure, she's safe, but she's got no money and a kid to support. And now two dead people to mourn. Great job making everything better, Driver.[end spoiler]

Maybe it just goes to show how that tough guy male archetype is a fallacy in terms of its ultimate efficacy. I suppose if I see it that way, the hope lies in the way the audience interprets it rather than in the film itself. Hey, guys, you wanna be tough and aloof and kill people, here's where it leads. Nobody wins.

Again, I'm not saying it makes it a bad film. Just a good film with a stupid ending.

Wendy and Lucy, for a contrasting example, ends rather sadly. But there's hope--hope that Wendy will get her act together and come back for Lucy. Hope that the people she left Lucy with will take care of her. Reichardt leaves room for a number of possible endings. But Drive ends in such a way that reduces the number of realistic outcomes for the characters. There's very little hope. I feed off of hope in films. But I don't necessarily need happy endings.

Hell, even Black Swan ends on a better note than Drive. She's going to die, sure, but she dies having accomplished what she wanted to accomplish, even if it's only in her deluded mind.There's resolution, if not hope. And I suppose I'll take resolution if I can't have hope. I loved the ending of Black Swan. It certainly wasn't happy.

Pass along The Story of Film to me, too, Ben! You could mail a flash drive, right?Contact me on Facebook for my address if you're willing to do this.

You mentioned Doug and Gail's relationship in Cold Weather, Ben, and I forgot to. It was one of the most lovely aspects of the film. I envied their closeness and familiarity with each other. The chemistry was good between the actors, too.

I also read and really liked the essay about Black Swan you linked to. A lot of thought-provoking stuff in there. I'd wager that there are things in the film that a more feminine perspective might appreciate (notice I did not say "male" or "female") than a masculine one. As I mentioned, the melodrama was a turnoff to some but I found it completely appropriate. And, Brandon, my film knowledge is not as extensive as yours, so I didn't find Black Swan to be derivative at all. In fact, I thought it very creatively combined "stock shocks" like you'd find in a horror film with what would have been a boring drama otherwise. This made the film seem fresh to me, and not so gimmicky. As I said, I think Aronofsky has brought the essence of Pi to a big budget Hollywood film and Hollywood is better for it.

A question for everyone: what's a good source for a list of films released in the US in 2011? I know I've asked this before, but it was a year ago and I can't find John's post. I want to do a 2011 recap, since film club seems to like that sort of thing, but I only keep track of my films on Flixster (it's easy, John, and better than nothing!) and there's no way to sort by year :).

Mumblecore Mystery

Portland's been showing up a lot lately in the media I've been ingesting. First in the wonderful sketch comedy show Portlandia (available on NWI, starring Fred Armisen of SNL), then in the podcast WTF (with Marc Maron), when he interviews Gallagher in Portland, but only after a bit of commentary on the city iteself, and finally in the film Cold Weather, a subtle tribute to the city and its surrounds because of its compelling cinematography. I haven't been to Portland in 6 years, but I've got a longing to be there again. It really is a unique city with a very distinctive culture and way of life.

Now that I've seen both films, I understand completely why the Drive/Cold Weather discussion got so much mileage. I have not yet been back to read what you all wrote (there's a lot of it, so it's going to be tricky), but I'm excited to do so. I may offer my own thoughts on the comparison of the two films (I saw them back-to-back, one last night and the other today), but first I want to talk about how much I loved Cold Weather.

Have you ever been watching a mumblecore (I really do hate that term, but it identifies a type of film that's really hard to classify otherwise) film and wondered to yourself, What would happen if these characters actually DID something? On the surface, that might sound like a sarcastic question, but I mean it seriously. One of the things mc (I'm not going to spell it out anymore) does so well is create and facilitate connections with its characters, whether you like them or not. I find myself often genuinely interested and invested in them. The characters spend so much time in a state of being with each other that the audience gets to experience that with them. And everyone has experienced that knowing that comes from just being in someone's presence. Katz is more effective at this in his films, because his characters are quieter and more contemplative, but it may be that I just like them better--contrasted with the Duplasses' characters which are often a bit too self-absorbed for my taste. I still appreciate a Duplass film, but after having seen Katz's, I understand much better why a distinction is made between the two.

So, in Cold Weather, the first half hour or so is spent in traditional mc fashion: we're watching people work and eat dinner and play games sit in silence with each other. We're getting to know our characters much more intimately than lengthy exposition or flashbacks can afford. I read an article that criticized that portion of the film for going on too long, but I can see that only if you're not a fan of that style of storytelling. I, on the other hand, felt it gave me time to connect with Doug and Gail and Carlos so that I not only cared what happened next but had a frame of reference in which to interpret their decisions later on in the film.

Because of this intimate connection with the characters, and because mc dialogue is less scripted and feels more lifelike, when the film took a turn into new genre territory, I was almost unprepared (even if I knew more or less that the mystery was coming). I was still in the typical mc state of mind, and carried into the next part of the film.

I'm not sure if I can express this effectively, but it has to do with the lenses we watch film with. When I'm getting ready to watch a horror film, I put on my horror glasses, so to speak. I get into a specific frame of mind that has to do with the expectations I have for a film, particularly genre films. They all have a different feel to them, you know? I put on my arty film glasses or my drama glasses or my Kubrick glasses. It's why I don't read about films before watching them if I can help it. I like being surprised. And while I knew Cold Weather was a mystery, or involved a mystery, I didn't know the specifics and couldn't really put my mc glasses and my mystery glasses on at the same time because it was just too dark. So here' the fascinating part: I put on my mc glasses because that's what I'm used to from Katz, so for the whole last hour of the film I'm watching a mystery with my mumblecore glasses on. I'm sure I'll get teased  for that statement but the truth is that it was an incredible experience. We put on and take off our different film-watching glasses unconsciously, and it's almost impossible to go into a film without knowing anything at all about it (how weird would that be?), so it's almost impossible to view a film in a genre through the lens of another. You really need help from a director like Katz, who can get you set in a certain frame of mind and then turn the tables on you before you get a chance to change those glasses. And it's not like the film changes completely once the mystery is introduced; we watch Doug and Gail throwing grapes off the top of a building and talking about going on a date right in the middle of our mystery. Or sitting in a car at a stakeout eating Swedish Fish (with a Dragon tattoo?) talking about ex-boyfirends. This is mc behavior, not mystery movie behavior. You don't want to take off your mc glasses because at its heart, Cold Weather is still an mc film.

So what does it mean that I'm watching a mystery with mc glasses? It means that rather than thinking about the plot and what's going to happen next, I'm thinking about the characters and how and why they respond to the events of the film the way they do. I believe that Drive, for example, attempts to do this, but we have our action film glasses on, and the style and pace of the film encourages us to keep them on, so the characters seem more distant and unreal. In Cold Weather, it could be me in that car with the briefcase of money, or me slashing somebody's tires. I mean, Doug doesn't think to do that until he's outside running for his sister's car. This is real people behavior. He's waiting for his sister at the restaurant and he gets out of the car because she's taking too long. Again, real people do these things. Ryan Gosling never gets out of the car. It's because he's a character in a movie, not a real person. He's an archetype. But Doug is an ordinary guy who didn't finish school and works at an ice factory who has this unexpected opportunity to apply what he knows to his circumstances. It's kind of like when that weird hobby you have comes in handy in a way you never thought it would. Granted, Doug wants to be a detective, but in that typical twenty-something way, wanting to do something may just as easily mean thinking you're supposed to want to do something. Forensic science is not really relevant to his life at this stage. But in a situation where he (and we) least expects it, he is called upon to use this knowledge where he wouldn't have ordinarily thought he'd need to. Just like all the rest of us.

I also loved the ending. Staying true to mc parameters, we're not told very much about what's actually going on between Rachel and the guy with the cowboy hat, who he is or why he wants the money or what the money's for or who ultimately is going to get it. Details like this are secondary to being with our main characters in their present situation.

You know it's funny, because ultimately I think that Drive is also character-driven, though Driver is the only character that's really fleshed out in any way. But it's a totally different film. I think it really must come down to the glasses we're wearing, eh?

I hope Katz continues in this vein, but, honestly, now that we know he's capable of this sort of thing, I'll just put on my Katz glasses beforehand. It's gotta be tough to be a director in the critical eye. Anything you do now becomes what you do and so you have to go beyond it in successive films. I'm sure Micahel Bay doesn't have that problem. Regardless, watching Cold Weather was one of the most unique filmwatching experiences I think I've had. I loved it.

Incidentally, Jeffrey, I think you're right about Driver being a killer. He's clearly a professional and the incident in the elevator reveals definitively to the audience that darker side. It's true what they say that even a fool is considered wise until he opens his mouth. Or kicks somebody's skull in.

Waiting in the getaway car:

You Can't Go On, Thinkin' Nothing's Wrong Tonight

I finished Drive a several minutes ago, and I have mixed feelings about it. Well, not really. I hated the ending. It seemed to make the whole film pointless to me. I don't need a happy ending to my films, to be sure, but I like an ending where someone at least get something. And nobody got a damn thing in this film. Girl didn't get the guy, guy didn't get the money, kid doesn't get his dad.

In terms of production and storytelling, Drive really is top-notch. What a fantastic mood Refn created, backing it with a retro eighties-style soundtrack. I really liked the way music and silence was used in the film. It created a tense atmosphere, alternating between suspense and melancholy, using similar music for each. Very effective.

I also get why there are so many Ryan Gosling blogs now. I want to start one. I know, of course, that the best kind of men are the ones who communicate, and emote, and ask questions. But what man doesn't want that total calm control over himself and his circumstances--to be both the gentle protector and lover and the untouchable warrior? Even if I know that it's about cultural messages and societal projection of its insecurities on both men and women, I still feel drawn to that male archetype, and if I'm honest, I like feeling drawn to it. Gosling embodies that so perfectly here.

But remember what I said. I hated the ending. Completely and utterly pointless. I suppose that's a part of this guy's story, so my intellect is saying that it was appropriate and poetic (he's driving at both the beginning and end of the film) and consistent with the character, but my emotion is saying that it sucked and might have even ruined the whole movie for me.

No, not completely. But it really put a damper on it.

I tend to like genre films (except romcoms--it really depends on the picture), and this was compelling because of how it (like everyone says) balances elements of an art film with an action film very well. There were even elements of horror! I couldn't help but think of Friday the XIII during the ocean scene. It was chilling. Gosling's character really was a killer. The girl's probably better off without him. Though, I'd have a tough time  getting over the whole "crush a guy's skull in the elevator" incident, if I were her.

Now let me go read what you all wrote about it many moons ago and see if I have anything else to say.

Oh, and thanks to Ben, I couldn't stop paying attention to that damn jacket!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

NOW Richer Chocolate Taste!

When I was a kid, my favorite candy bar was 3 Musketeers. It started as a decision of utility more than anything else. When you're ten and you have only enough for one candy bar--and you don't know where the next one is coming from--you want to get the most for your money, right? So I would pore over the respective weights of all the candy bars and choose the one with the most in it. Butterfinger (2.1 ounces) and 3 Musketeers (2.13 ounces) were the consistent winners, with Baby Ruth at 2 ounces a close third. Butterfingers were good, but I got tired of getting the candy stuck between my teeth so I settled into a years-long relationship with 3 Musketeers. I loved biting off the thin chocolate shell with my front teeth, leaving a small section of pure nougat that would melt slowly in my mouth. I savored every bit of that candy bar, whether I was nibbling away at it or taking a big bite and chewing furiously, reveling in the sugar rush that ensued. We belonged together, me and 3 Musketeers.

But then I got older, and I got a job, and with it more money and more options. I began to experiment with other candy bars--I could afford to splurge now, after all. What was a half an ounce to me? Or an ounce, even? Reese's Pieces, Twix, Zero, Snickers, Nutrageous--I tried them all. 3 Musketeers was boring. Just chocolate and nougat? No nuts? No caramel? Please. I found myself buying it less and less, until eventually I stopped altogether. Not even nostalgia was enough to keep me coming back. American candy bars in general were starting to get old, and I found myself having to cross international borders to get the same thrills: from Big Turk and Coffee Crisp in the Great White North to Lion and Yorkie in England, I needed more and more variety and originality to satisfy my impulses. It wasn't until I woke up in an alley in Amsterdam, having nearly overdosed on licorice drops the night before, that I realized I'd probably gotten all I was going to get out of mass-marketed sweets.

I came home and nearly gave up candy bars altogether. When I did have one, it was almost out of habit, and there was no joy in it. I turned my attention elsewhere, to soft cookies, brownies, and pie. Occasionally, something good would come along, like a Fast Break, and keep my attention for awhile. But I was never able to commit for very long. Not like I did with my 3 Musketeers.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a Fun Size 3 Musketeers bar in a candy dish somewhere, anywhere (who pays attention to these things?) and noticed something curious written on the wrapper: "NOW Richer Chocolate Taste." I thought little of it as I devoured the tiny piece, but a second or two later took pause as the flavor set in. It was subtle, but disctinct. And decidedly "richer." Could it be? Had my old love been given a new lease on pop-culture relevancy? I ate one or two more Fun Size pieces and relished them slowly, biting off the thin chocolate shell and letting the creamy nougat melt in my mouth. And all the memories came flooding back. How could I have been gone so long?

The other day I stood before the vending machine at work, deliberating, when I saw it. A 3 Musketeers bar, all full-bodied 2.13 ounces, boldly proclaiming its new makeover, seducing me through the fingerprinted and greasy plate glass.

I dropped my coins in the slot.

Baby, I'm back. Will you still have me?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Who Wins, John?

I wrote him haikus
And still John did not notice
All he does is scold

I'll take the Facebook admission, though.

Brandon, I loved Ghost Writer! Maybe I just never got around to writing about it because it was after the discussion was long past.

Your point about Midnight In Paris is well taken. The main reason I loved it is because it was charming. There was a little lesson in there about being grateful for what you have, but it was secondary to the film's primary appeal for me.

I'll be honest, part of what keeps me from writing more is that I'm not often able to get to the theater in time to participate in a major discussion. By the time I do get around to watching, the club has moved on. I loved loved loved Black Swan and would love to talk more about it, but there was no response to my post about it, even though I was a good boy and read what everyone wrote beforehand. Same with Meek's Cutoff. A few nods, but I was too late for the discussion. I'm not complaining, just explaining. What makes posting so worthwhile to me is the feedback. And when I write three posts in a row with little response, I find myself drifting to other things. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a little discouraging. And I can't help but feel jealous about all of you being close enough to watch movies together in person, especially when you tantalized me by saying you'd come up and watch a film at the Dryden with me sometime. And no teasing allowed about this. There's a reason I'm a children's librarian; I like to know how I'm doing and how people like what I'm doing.

I'm talking to you here primarily, John, because you got me into this just like you did Brandon. I'm your Frankenstein monster, and if you don't keep me chained in your laboratory, I'm going to go read some comics.