Thursday, February 26, 2009

Terror and such

In my favorite film of the past year, Frost/Nixon, there's an exchange that you may have seen in the preview as well where Frost asks Nixon if he is saying that the president can do something illegal? Nixon responds, forcefully, "I'm saying, that when the president does it, it's not illegal!" Frost, stunned, sort of stammers, "I'm sorry?"

Today I'm studying for my Civil Liberties and the War on Terror class, and reviewing the Commander-in-Chief powers of war and whether/how the Bush Administration's attempts to expand Commander-in-Chief powers conflicted with Congress.

The U.S. Department of Defense issued a "Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism" in April 2003. It lists the Commander-in-Chief authority as a legal doctrine that could "render specific conduct, otherwise criminal, not unlawful."

Just in case you were wondering.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

My fave five

Well, we have made it to the top five. Do you think you have guessed my number one flick of 2008?

5. Stop Loss
Thoughtful film that exquisitely captures "the rest" of the United States, i.e. not New York and L.A. The performances are spot on and it touches on many issues of who joins the military and what happens to them, in addition to the main egregious issue of what is happening to the boys fighting in Iraq, all depicted through their arrival back home in Texas and a road trip and one soldier's struggle to not be re-enlisted against his will. It really bothered me throughout the year that people kept dismissing any Iraq-war-themed film. Mostly it bothered me because the people who shamefully, criminally overlooked these issues are the very ones who needed to hear the message, the very people who spent eight years saying there was nothing they could do to stop or prevent such horrors.

4. Burn After Reading
Oh, the twisted humor! Oh, the unstoppable performances! Oh, the madness! Dark, dark, dark but more laughs than any other film of the year, each one smart and earned. And Brad Pitt should have been nominated for this role instead.

(Have you guessed my number one yet? It's an Oscar nominee...have you got it...?)

3. The Wrestler
Not quite number one, although Mickey Rourke's triumphant return is probably my number one performance of the year. This film is heartbreaking and wonderful. When I try to think of something else to say about it, I just feel compelled to tell you again that it is heartbreaking and wonderful.

2. In Bruges
What a surprise, a fine fine film! Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson together are just all kinds of fun, but there is certainly some heartbreaking-wonderful strewn throughout here as well. I adored the script, and I will do back flips if it wins this Sunday. (It would have to triumph over not just my beloved Frozen River, although I'd be OK with that, but also Happy-Go-Lucky and here's the real competition Wall-E and Milk.) In fact it is one of the greatest screenplays ever, matched with pitch-perfect performances. There are moments of that film that stay with me still, and even though the running joke is that Bruges is this random city that might be boring and suck, god does it make me want to go there!

Speaking of movies I want to win for Best Screenplay, only this time Adapted, here it is, are you ready, my number one film of 2008!

1. Frost/Nixon
Ta-da! SO unbelievably good! It's just a slew of amazing performances, not stopping at Best Actor nominee Frank Langella, but Michael Sheen! Sam Rockwell! Kevin Bacon is stupendous! Oliver Platt, my hero! And how nice is it by the way to see Kevin and Oliver together again. All of these guys are magnificent and the film is smart, funny, dramatic, political, vibrant, entertaining. It also does the near impossible: it successfully translates a play to the screen. Triumphant!

Well, those are my favorites. Granted, there are a bunch of 2008 films I have not had the chance to see yet and no list is perfect. But that's my report for now. Enjoy the Oscars this weekend, and don't forget that on Saturday you can see all five Best Picture nominees at an AMC theater for just $30 total, including free popcorn! What better way to spend the day before the Oscars!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Here we go number ten!

Fittingly, on this Presidents Day holiday, we begin with a movie about a man who thought he was our president!

10. W
Of course, Dubya was never my president and never legitimately President at all, but his father George Sr is in this film, too, so there is at least one president in there. When I first heard Oliver Stone was next tackling George Dubya I felt so happy inside. All I have asked over the past eight years is that you people (er...I mean, we the people, of course) do just a tiny bit of critical thinking, but that appears to have been too much for, among others, about 50% of the populace and 99% of the mass media. Because a tiny bit of critical thinking would have led to outrage about the war in Iraq back in 2003 when I was outraged by it and it would have led to the election of anyone but Dubya Kerry in 2004. A tiny bit of any thinking, critical or otherwise, and we could have had some outrage in 2000 when all this nonsense started and the Supreme Court selected Dubya to go to the White House. Instead, we got an eight-year nightmare which all too many were willing to endure, lying down and rolling over and taking all the crap given by the Bush Administration. And you know what? It IS totally satisfying to watch this film depict the story of this guy who should never have left baseball but instead changed the world for the worse, and it's satisfying partly because it's totally understated and not strident and gives me more sympathy than I've ever had for him and it STILL SHOWS how wrong anyone was to ever listen to anything he or any of his maniacal cronies said or did. I am so smug about what I've always known about Bush and not afraid to admit it. Oliver Stone is not so smug in this flick, so go watch it. With the exception of Thandie Newton as Condoleezza, who is just caricature, each character is perfectly done. Hurrah!

9. Revolutionary Road
So I think all this "bleak, depressing" talk is from people who are in denial of their own feelings about that "hopeless emptiness" discussed in the film. I love films that are smart and thoughtful and intense and just talk to you on and on about how messed up everyone is. These people do not listen to one another, and they lie to themselves and to their mates, and they all screw up their lives, and the crazy guy is the only one who offers the sane, shrewd analysis, and it's all just harsh and fantastic. Loved it!

8. The Visitor
This brings a little tear. I relate to a lot of this film, as it reminds me of the last year or two of my life: New York, subways, Union Square, Queens, and immigration law. But I do not relate to the sad story of Tariq, who did nothing wrong but is unfortunate enough to encounter our justice system anyway. Everyone is so likable and it's so realistic about what happens. Richard Jenkins is astounding in a subtle performance as the professor who needs to be jolted awake; he nails it. A true little gem, this one.

7. Tropic Thunder
It's not only Robert Downey Jr who is excellent, although he is and he completely deserves his Oscar nomination. What if he ties with Heath? Won't that be ten kinds of awesome? Tropic Thunder has so much to say, and I'm sure a lot of it will be lost on a bunch of people. From the fake previews to the agent's response to "Amanda"/a panda, from the repeated oh-so-dramatic shots of the choppers soaring over the jungle to the twigman Oscar, it is all pure genius, and it satires Hollywood brilliantly. I love Jack Black. I love the stunt guy! I pretty much love every second of this film. Oh my I forgot to say I love Nick Nolte. See? Every second.

6. Frozen River
It's so hard to make a top ten list. (Kudos to Dave Letterman eh!) (joke) Anyway, while I do agree with Roger Ebert that trying to make a list of 1-20, with each movie ranked just above the next, is in some ways a ridiculous endeavor and nobody watches and enjoys movies that way, I also do enjoy the challenge of it. Furthermore, when I think about if I had to send you out to rent just one movie tonight (or, preferably, to add just one movie to your Netflix queue tonight) (which is of course in itself nonsensical, unless your queue is full as mine so often is, but let's just pretend you could add only one for the sake of my hypothetical, OK?) (this is what we do in law school: play with hypotheticals all day) ... catch your breath after all those parentheses ... and I had to choose between Tropic Thunder and Frozen River, I would probably sigh and tell you to see Frozen River, and that is why it places just above Tropic Thunder. This film is beautiful. It features at least two wondrous performances, from Melissa Leo (nominated!) and Charlie McDermott, as her son. It features a meditation on justice. It is entertaining, suspenseful, dramatic, small, and powerful. If you live under an Oscar-nominations-lacking rock, you may not know that it, too, ponders immigration as Melissa Leo's struggling-to-pay-the-bills dollar-store employee in upstate New York somehow comes to be driving aliens across the border from Canada. But there is oh-so-much more going on here. Parenting, policing, economic struggles, apologies, the tribal council: all of these are considered in the film and you just might walk away with a new perspective on what you thought you knew about the rules. But before that you will be totally engrossed.

Ready for the top five tomorrow?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More top films: #15 -11

Yesterday I began posting my top 20 films of 2008 to this blog. Now, the countdown continues:

15. Hancock
Totally entertaining. In a year bloated with superhero movies this one poked fun at them while also providing a popcorn fun flick. It was fun to see these actors (Will Smith, Charlize Theron, Jason Bateman) in such a fun movie, but under the surface throughout are some questions about personal responsibility and relationships. The first (only?) summer movie I enjoyed.

14. Milk
So it was a little tiny bit predictable, not because one knows how the story of Harvey Milk ended in real life, but predictable in the sense that you know what the filmmaker is going to do next to elicit the next required emotion. OK, dramatic struggle, check. Galvanizing moment, check. Time for an interpersonal relationship upheaval, good, next? That sort of thing. But, Sean Penn and many others were fantastic in their performances. Let me just say (and this won't be the first time you hear it!) that Josh Brolin is one of the best things we've got going on in cinema right now. If you were a teacher and this film were a student's assignment, you'd just have to give it an A, because it did everything just right, very well. But you couldn't quite give it an A+; it just misses that something special to make it spectacular. That said, I'm pretty sure that many people who have given zero thought in their lives to political struggle, being galvanized, and interpersonal upheaval, let alone the gay rights movement, just might be blown away by all it teaches them. Note to all newcomers to enlightenment: welcome, we've been waiting for you.

13. Rachel Getting Married
Ahh, my favorite number, lucky 13, for a very unlucky anti-heroine played by Anne Hathaway, sprung from rehab to be at her sister's wedding. I rather enjoyed this whole thing, and I like how Jonathan Demme put it together. I'm not gonna lie: I had to find out what he's actually done between The Silence of the Lambs and now. Turns out, a few things! Guess I didn't quite realize he directed Philadelphia -- sorry, buddy, caught up in the mesmerizing Tom Hanks hullabaloo that year! Anyway, this film couldn't be more different plotwise from ol' Hannibal the Cannibal, but there is all kinds of good stuff going on here, too: fragile family ties stretched to their snapping points, realistic portrayal of the aftermath of addiction, and a pile of characters who drift in and out and you don't necessarily know why they are there or how important they are going to be, just like in life. I love films with great scripts and performances that let you sort of luxuriate in the visuals while still making you think. When quirky or dark dramas try to do that they tend to be either really good or horrid. This was really good!

12. Man on Wire
If you missed this gem about the tightrope walker who managed to dance on the air between the World Trade Center twin towers back in the 1970s when they still existed, you have missed an exhilarating couple of hours, and a whole mess of things to ponder about life and the way we pursue our dreams. Makes you laugh, makes you think, makes you wonder of what other unimaginable feats we are capable.

11. Che
Soderbergh. Benicio. Che! Cuba! Any one of those things could draw me to a film, but all together in one giant four-hour-plus epic? I was so there. The Cuba parts thrilled me, of course, but the whole thing was a grand cinematic construction and Benico del Toro honestly becomes Che so thoroughly. It was politically profound and gorgeous. I could have watched four more hours of this, easily.

Tomorrow, it's onto the top 10!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Antarctica and my top 20

Last night I watched Encounters at the End of the World, a documentary film that is up for an Academy Award but is probably going to lose to Trouble the Water (or possibly Man on Wire?) In Encounters..., Warner Herzog takes us to Antarctica and contemplates life, the planet Earth, human life, the end of human life, mistakes, survival, volcanoes, penguins, and more, plus what Antarctica tells us about these things, but he does it so subtly that at first you think you are just watching really amazing visuals of vastness. Then you realize, why shouldn't amazing visuals of vastness lead me to contemplate such things?

There's more than just the amazing visuals of vastness, however. There are also interviews with a lot of the folks who are there in Antarctica living at the McMurdo station and/or doing various kinds of research. These people rule. They're like, the ultimate off-the-beaten-path type. I ache to be among them. As one guy put it, you've got "PhDs washing dishes, linguists in a continent that has no languages..." All these travelers who needed something more than just strapping on a backpack and galavanting about Europe (or Southeast Asia...) And they got it.

I've said more than once and only half jokingly that I want to be the only person I know who first visits the other six continents and does Europe last. Honestly, for as long as I've wanted to go to Antarctica I've always held it as the farthest off dream goal, the one I'll surely need to make my first million before I can actually do it. This film has suddenly, irrevocably made me reconsider the impossibility of it.

Films. This week, inspired by Film Comment, Brian and I made our lists of the Top 20 Films of 2008. I will share them with you, countdown style. Maybe you will be able to guess my number one? Here we go, number twenty:

20. Vicky Cristina Barcelona
The best thing about this flick was Penelope Cruz as the wonderfully crazy Maria Elena, but the other performers such as Javier Bardem are also good, especially when they are interacting with her. Woody Allen is hit or miss for me, and I found the narration tiresome, but overall it's marvelously entertaining and really makes me want to go to Spain. (Right after Antarctica, of course.) It was one of the most artsy/earthy/travel-as-life-y depictions of Spain I've seen.

19. Happy-Go-Lucky
Mike Leigh is also hit or miss for me. I wasn't sure what to do with this film. It's so well-done, and it's so well-done-by-him: he plucks actors (and in particular here actresses) and tends them with his weird, understated, improvisational style, and they blossom. There is no plot (seriously - don't go looking for one). What's interesting about this movie is that it has many elements I often love in indie dramas: quirky, a freely moving pace that is the antithesis of action-flick-ratcheted-up pace, interesting visuals, performance-driven, unforgettable moments, makes you think. And yet, I didn't like it as much as an indie drama and I worry that the only reason I didn't is that it's a comedy. I'm the person who finds Poppy (Sally Hawkins' relentlessly chipper but also truly happy character) annoying. I'm totally the dark and brooding bookstore employee in the opening scene who just wants her to go away. So I have to be objective and realize this isn't a problem with the film; in fact, I daresay the film is telling me it's a problem with me!

18. The Reader
A lot of this film is blah-blah-blah post WWII blah blah formative sexual relationship blah blah horrible Nazi war crimes blah blah. Then all of a sudden it gets philosophical in unexpected ways and it gets really good. I liked it more than I thought I was going to, especially the law school seminar parts and the fact that it is kind of a meditation on literacy and human connection. Note to all captives to the mass media: yes, I think this film deserved a Best Picture nomination more than The Dark Knight.

17. Slumdog Millionaire
It's just fun. Well-crafted fun, although at the same time so serious, with poignant statements about society and wonderfully composed moments. But for the cringe-inducing "outhouse" scene early on, I might love it. (I literally had to close my eyes.) And yes, it makes me want to go to Mumbai, but I was already plotting my passage to India anyway.

16. Definitely, Maybe
Yes, after everything I just said I have now listed a random February romantic comedy above both The Reader and Slumdog. I am nothing if not a study in contradictions. Anyway, this movie so pleasantly surprised me! A friend had told me one of the three girlfriend characters reminded her of me, and then randomly two days later it was shown on my plane, so I had to watch it. I really liked it! I even got a little tear at the end! Both Ryan Reynolds and Abigail Breslin are delightful, and I absolutely LOVE stories about people figuring out what to do with their lives. Thumbs way up! (And the aforementioned character did remind me of me, too.)

Coming tomorrow: numbers 15 through 11.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why it's important to take internet surveys

In the last week I have learned some very important things about myself via this glorious ol' internet. Last night I took a quiz that informed me I "might have" mild adult ADHD. This diagnosis was based on my answering "just a little" or "somewhat" to questions such as whether I find myself thinking and worrying about too many different things and whether I have trouble tackling all my tasks in the order I set out to do so. I think the result should have read "You might have a mild case of being a law student." A few days ago I took the enlightening Best Places quiz to determine which metropolitan area is the place in which I should live. My top five best places apparently are:

1. San Francisco
2. Boston
3. Los Angeles
4. New York
5. Washington D.C.

For this we needed a survey? Then again, perhaps this quiz result needs an even larger grain of salt because it also said that my sixth choice? Is Long Island! Ack! The horror! Everyone knows that come May 18 I plan to never set foot in Nassau or Suffolk County for the rest of my life. Maybe the algorithm accidentally calculated my results in reverse. I think the real problem is that the rankings give Long Island an A+ for culture. Oh my.

I think I was better off when I stuck to "Which Grey's Anatomy character are you?"

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Real Things

So, I liked Rachel Getting Married. I don't think it was perfect, but I liked it a lot. I just thought it was so real. I liked the screenplay, although it was flawed. I liked the story and how real it was. I read one assessment of it that it "added something new to this overdone genre." I could sort of get behind that statement. I'm not sure I agree with the premise that this is an overdone genre, but I have from time to time thought that there are a lot of gritty, independent movies out there that come off as very knowingly provocative about drug use and it's annoying, like, "Ooooh, I'm going to show someone shooting up and it's going to be so EDGY and daring and AWEsome." This movie has zero of that, but not just because it's about the recovery side of addiction but also because I feel like that attitude is entirely missing: it's saying real things about the addict and, crucially, her family instead of just trying to be all knowing about the worldliness of drug use.

In fact, I would say this film does a lot to point out that for all her being "out there" the addict didn't get too much out of her worldly life, whereas the non-addict sister seems to have truly seen the world.

I liked the performances. I am not really in the Anne Hathaway camp, but I at least like her a little better when she's all dressed in black and messed up instead of this princess/sweet girl nonsense. I am going to have to draw a line, however, on the "fat" thing. Anne Hathaway is not fat, and this is the second movie in a row (did she do anything between this and The Devil Wears Prada?) where she prattles on about being fat, and then it's sort of "part of the story" as if she really is not fat but maybe a few pounds over whatever ideal weight she has in her head. It's crap. In this one, it was all "Oh, rehab makes you fat" and it's passed off as just this character's neurotic thing, but it's suspiciously similar to Devil...Prada when she is, ostensibly, the "fatter" one compared to Emily Blunt's character who's on a starvation diet. No wonder people have unrealistic bullshit body image concepts if they go around accepting the likes of Anne Hathaway as overweight. It bugs me. It has no purpose in either movie whatsoever. It tries to pretend it does in each case, but I swear it's like Anne putting it in there or something.

Anyway, bonuses include Robyn Hitchcock in the movie, and he sings! plus a fun blue elephant wedding cake.

I am nearly through with the "major" categories of the Oscar noms. Still two more Best Actress to see, Angelina Jolie in Changeling and Melissa Leo in Frozen River, and they are waiting atop my Netflix queue for when they are released on DVD the next two Tuesdays. In theaters, I still have to see Happy-Go-Lucky (screenplay), Defiance (score), and whatever foreigns and shorts I can get.

So that's the movie update. What else? Finished Ishmael (see my literary supplement)and am trying to get all caught up and ahead in my law school things so I don't have to worry about school. I am totally opposed to worrying about school right now; I just want to coast along in my senioritis learning but not fretting.

However, I have to do a great deal of fretting about where/how to get a job. How tiresome. I'm leaning more and more toward moving to a cheaper city as soon as humanly possible, but then it's like, why am I taking the bar exam in New York? Not that I know where else to take it -- so that's why I'm taking it in New York. It's a big vicious circle.

Oh yeah, and I find it really hard to care about the Grammys. But I am on the verge of officially becoming a fan of Taylor Swift. Just putting that out there.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

I swear I see my shadow

February. I think I have been in one of my driest of dry spells, posting-wise. Something about the last semester of law school? I don't know if it's just that. There is that, of course. I have a weird kind of senioritis. I want to figure out how to get away with doing as little as possible, except I've somehow put myself in five writing classes. By writing classes, I mean that I have to RESEARCH and write a 20+ page paper. I feel like I should call them "research classes" instead, because "writing class" sounds like something I would actually want to do. The reason to call them anything at all is to distinguish them from "final classes" which is the more typical thing: one exam at the end to determine your grade for the entire course.

So, how did I end up in so many writing classes? It's that whole pesky taking-subject-matter-in-which-you-are-interested thing. I was quite tempted to take a three-or-four-class schedule, just a couple big ol' four-credit lectures with monster finals like Evidence and Business Organizations (aka Bizzorgs) and such. But no. Here I am in seven two-credit classes, mostly seminars, for a total of 14 credits, even though I need only 12 credits; I'm still trying to decide which one to drop. My plan at this point is essentially to drop the class of whichever paper annoys me the most. I have another week or so to drop a class without a 'W.' Not that I'm particularly scared of a 'W,' at least, not on my transcript. I'm plenty frightened of that other W (Dubya).

I do have two finals classes, Nonprofit Organizations and Death Penalty. I am highly interested in the subject matter and the not having to write a paper, so those classes are not in the running to be dropped.

Meanwhile on the personal front, Brian and I have just returned from the trip to Michigan for his grandmother's funeral. It was a wonderful service and I will say more about it at a later moment. I'm glad we got to go and that Brian got to be there with all the cousins/aunt/uncles etc. to remember their wonderful grandmother.

In Pennsylvania we drove by the exit for Punxsutawney but decidedly ignored Phil. Also, in Michigan the night we were on the way there (and so close!!) we had an unfortunate icy road conditions incident, and we got into a drifted bank and then we got upsought...more on that later, as well. To entertain you in the meantime, I did add some musings to the literary supplement, about my latest novel read, which is not a great book by any stretch of the imagination but is definitely giving me some severe hippie longing.

Any day now, any way now, I shall be released...