Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas! and Movies!

Since we last talked..since you last read know what I mean, since then I have seen The Fighter and Black Swan. Interesting pairing, to be sure, and not just because Darren Aronofsky was/is connected to both. I didn't see them on the same day. I liked The Fighter better. I didn't dislike Black Swan, but I didn't love it. For something that is getting a lot of breathless wow-that's-so-amazing talk, it's pretty predictable. A lot of it is shocking - but very little, if anything, in it is surprising.

Natalie Portman, who used to bug me, officially does not annoy me anymore, because she has been entirely swept away by Anne Hathaway, whose very existence at this point is like the proverbial nails on a chalkboard for me. That said, in this movie, Natalie Portman is kind of annoying, in a psychotic-annoying way. You want to slap some sense into her, tell her to stop with the high-pitched little girl voice, tell her to speak from the thoracic diaphragm (the same diaphragm we later get to see prodded and poked like a water balloon), and tell her to run far, far away from her equally(?) psychotic mother and the decorated-in-pink bedroom in mother's house. Of course, if Natalie Portman's "Nina" did any of these things, we wouldn't have a movie, so you don't really want to tell her to do them.

But what you really DO want to tell Natalie Portman, Darren Aronofsky, and any sound mixers who might be listening, is to knock it off with the sniveling fear breathing in Every.Single.Scene. You know - that quick inhale kind of thing like when the about-to-be-offed horror movie character is slowly walking down the dark basement stairs and isn't saying anything, but you know they're scared because of their quick, quiet, shaky inhales. Natalie Portman does an awful lot of that in this movie. I'm sure all her acting was heartfelt, but when you watch the film it comes out more like a remix of all the times she did that one on top of the other, like you might see in a Daily Show collection being forwarded around You Tube of every time Fox News said some crap over a month.

I rather enjoyed The Fighter. I liked the Massachusetts-ness of it and the way certain lines and bits and ideas were hit pitch perfectly, and I liked that it made me care about what goes into a boxing match (because nothing previously in life has made me care about this), and I liked hearing "Saints" by the Breeders, which catapulted me back to the mid-1990s. But most of all, I liked Christian Bale. Whoa! Christian Bale, man! He absolutely, completely, totally, 100% blew me away with the awesomeness that he brought to this performance. There is one confrontation scene between him and Amy Adams that is close to perfection. I'm a little sad that he is going to be, obviously, put out there as a Supporting Actor, because he was really more of a co-star in the film, but you know how it is.

Melissa Leo and Amy Adams might both get supporting actress nominations, and I'm not sure who would win out of those two. Perhaps they'll cancel each other out and Jacki Weaver will win. I really don't think Mila Kunis should win. No offense to Black Swan, but just no. It was really quite fluffy in a way, a kind of Baby-Jane way. Not lighthearted by any means, but not totally seriously dark, if you see what I mean.

This is my Christmas Day prediction of which films will get the ten Best Picture slots, roughly in the order I am sure (roughly!), with the ones I've seen in bold:

The King's Speech
The Kids Are All Right
The Social Network
127 Hours
The Fighter
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone
Black Swan

Part of me thinks The Town replaces Black Swan on this list. Maybe tomorrow I will post another list with that prediction. I don't think either one should get a Best Picture nom. Here are the films I think SHOULD get Best Picture nominations, admittedly only out of what I've actually seen:

127 Hours
The Fighter
The Social Network
Inside Job
The Ghost Writer
Exit Through the Gift Shop
Maybe Winter's Bone

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Ghost of Awards Season Past

Sometimes it is hard to see the Oscar-nominated documentaries until they are released on DVD. It is sad but true that many theaters don't play the Oscar-nominated documentary films, even during awards season. Those that do play in theaters have brief stints and are rarely promoted much, so you probably missed some of this year's possible nominees such as Restrepo, Exit Through the Gift Shop, Inside Job, or even Waiting for Superman (which did get more attention than others, since everyone likes to complain about public schools and suggest that abandoning them for charter schools is a "solution.")

Anyway, if you're feeling sad to not be watching this year's potential Academy Award-nominated documentaries, I suggest you do yourself a favor and watch an Oscar nominee from last year, the excellent The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers. It tells an essential story about our remarkable recent history that has been all-too-soon forgotten. I can only offer my profound thanks to Daniel Ellsberg, who is still out there trying to right wrongs, and to those who are helping to spread his words and other truths - including truths about our government.

In light of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, the Dubya & Co. lies that have killed hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our government's continuous stream of lies to the American people about military destruction around the world, you owe it to yourselves to watch this film. If you're on Netflix, you can stream The Most Dangerous Man in America on "Watch Instantly." What are you waiting for?

For those who (for some inexplicable reason) don't believe my recommendation, I'll share a few quotes from the film, which are eerily similar to things you are hearing in the media right now about Iraq, Afghanistan, and attempts to prosecute Julian Assange under the Espionage Act. There are also great bits in the film where you see four presidents in a row lie about the importance of us fighting in Vietnam to support "democracy." Ahem. The U.S. government is still up to those same rhetorical shenanigans.

  • For the anti-WikiLeaks crowd, you have a tricky leader, who is not a crook - right?
    "Now listen here: printing top secret information - I don't care how you feel about the war, whether they're for or against it-you can't and should not do it. It's an attack on the integrity of government, and by god I'm going to fight that son-of-a-bitching paper. They don't know what's going to hit them now." - Richard Nixon
  • For those who voted for Dubya (or failed to vote against him in 2004), who believed the U.S. media's WMD cheerleading in 2003, who accept Obama's decision to keep Guantanamo open and who look at all the evidence of torture and still say our soldiers and spies are "defending our freedom," this one's for you.
    "I staked my freedom on a gamble: if the American people knew the truth about how they had been lied to, the myths that had led them to endorse this butchery for 25 years, that they would choose against it. And the risk that you take when you do that is that you'll learn something ultimately about your fellow citizens that you won't like to hear, and that is that they hear it, they learn from it, they understand it, and they proceed to ignore it." - Daniel Ellsberg
  • For everyone:
    "The courage we need is not the courage, the fortitude, to be obedient in the service of an unjust war, to help conceal lies, to do our job by a boss who has usurped power and is acting as an outlaw government. It is the courage at last to face honestly the truth and reality of what we are doing in the world and act responsibly to change it." - Daniel Ellsberg

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's High Time to Talk About Flicks!

Movies, movies, movies! What's the only thing that's better than going to the movies? Going to the movies during AWARDS SEASON!! It's that time of year, and I'm happier than a pig in slop. (Hey, this is still a family blog. A Communist family, maybe, but a family nonetheless.)

Those of you not keeping up with all the jokes/allusions/sardonic wit in the previous paragraph, this one's for you: behold, my first crop of 2010 Award Nominee movie recommendations. I will now share my opinion about the Golden Globe-nominated films I have seen thus far.

  • 127 Hours: This movie was better than I thought it was going to be. And I wasn't expecting anything too shabby. This movie worked on so many different levels. This movie was about so much more than That Scene - you know the one, the one everyone is writing about and clearly I'm guilty now, too. But here's the thing: after all the build up for That Scene it actually went by so fast I was like, "Oh, is that all?" Which is not to say James Franco was not all kinds of awesome in every second of the film, including That Scene. Anyway, the canyonlands are beautiful, life is beautiful, humans are capable of amazing things, humans connect in amazing ways, Jesus Lord & Savior had nothing to do with it, and Danny Boyle sure knows how to make a film that says all that. And you should all run right out and see it.
  • Inception It's between this and 127 Hours for my favorite 2010 flick so far. Inception was intelligent and gorgeous and intriguing and riveting and I was so spectacularly impressed at how well it pulled off everything it did. I was breathless and I could barely move while sitting in the theater watching it. We all overuse "riveting" but this one really was.
  • The Social Network: I don't have much to add beyond what anyone else has said - yes it was great and witty, yes Justin Timberlake is really an actor, yes all but, like, two of the females were depicted as stupid/sluts/stupid sluts, but the larger point there is that the World of Big Business still functions that way and that's part of the deathly competitive b.s. problem, you see, of all the male venture capitalists who think everything and everyone is their property... I will add that Andrew Garfield is quickly becoming one of my new favorites. Between this and Never Let Me Go he blew me away this year. I had thought no one was paying enough attention to him, but now I see that the drunk Hollywood Foreign Press has been paying attention to him, so good for them!
  • Winter's Bone - This movie just kind of quietly sits there, and then certain piercing moments reach up and grab you and shake you up a little bit, and then you mellow out again but you're a tiny bit on edge, now, and wary of everyone around you, and you contemplate loyalty and fierceness and survival, but it's still all so understated, which I really like. Yes, Jennifer Lawrence is great. I don't think she'll win an Oscar or anything, but I like the way everyone in this movie really comes across as how people really are. Which includes, for many of us, messed up but struggling along the best we can.
  • Animal Kingdom - I hadn't really thought about these two having anything in common, but now that I think about it both Winter's Bone and Animal Kingdom explore the concepts of family, survival, and family survival all intertwined with family loyalty. Good stuff. Good performances, nothing particularly mind-blowing about the story, but well crafted and holds your interest and builds the drama and all that. I liked it. You really feel the tension at certain points and want so desperately for the characters who have had the misfortune to stumble across this creepy world of crime to get out alive.

(which does not mean the same thing as "I didn't like it")
  • The Kids Are All Right The singing Joni Mitchell dinner scene? Stunning. I liked many things about it, but I was actually weirded out by how people were falling all over themselves to praise it the most. It was like they were really proud of themselves for loving it, which is really ironically funny in light of the magnificent scene in the film in which Annette Bening's character takes overly-proud-of-themselves-organic-farmers'-market-shoppers to task. I loved her character. Julianne Moore's character was a flighty bitch who I daresay does not deserve the forgiveness she asks for. Good flick. Just everyone try not to pat yourselves on the back quite so much when you walk out of the theater after seeing it.
  • The Town So like, I wanted to love this, but I did not love it. The main plot, the thrust of the drama, the I'm-not-spoiling-anything-because-this-is-the-entire-premise, that these two characters fall in love is - um - why? Why are they in love again? We have no idea. They have no idea, and we have no idea, and it really kind of ruins what otherwise might be a great movie. Jeremy Renner is wild. Lots and lots of guns, especially at the end there - hoo boy! I enjoyed knowing from personal experience exactly where in Boston they were pretty much every scene.
  • The Tourist Oh, Angelina and Johnny, you barely held my interest. At least you had sweeping vista-like shots of Venice to help take our breath away. It's hard to say which is the crazier move on the part of the Golden Globes, nominating this for Best Picture or putting it in the Comedy category.
  • Red Also inexplicably nominated, also inexplicably in the Comedy/Musical category. I'm not even sure that Helen-Mirren-holding-a-gun is enough for me here, as it apparently is for many, but she does do that, if that's enough for you. I kind of wanted this to be better, like I wanted it to be even more fun-better. It held my interest better than The Tourist, though, I'll give it that.
And yes, that's all I've seen, of the Golden Globes anyway. I'll be kicking into Awards Season high gear soon. Like, this week and next. I'm kind of in denial about the animated movies I have to see - Tangled will surely get an Oscar nom, and I've actually never seen any Toy Story and now I have to figure out whether I watch all three, or just this one, or what. But I am all kinds of eager for this new animated feature from The Triplets of Belleville dude that is just coming out and which I hope gets the third nod.

I love awards season!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Let's Get a Few Things Straight

Red herrings abound! Julian Assange sits in prison on sexual assault charges that may have been cooked up by a CIA operative, and now we are all supposed to stop talking about truth and the imperialist U.S. and write off WikiLeaks and call Assange a bad man? Not so fast. But also not so fast: those of you who hurl the word "feminist" around as some sort of accusation? You disgust me too. To be clear, the disgust goes in basically this order:

1.Rapists, murderers* and other torturers are the most digusting
(*please note: "murderers" includes those in charge of the war in Iraq etc.)

2. Anyone, CIA or otherwise, who would use a bogus rape charge to distract the rest of us from an issue is an affront to actual rape victims everywhere

3. Slightly below them are jingoist, knee-jerk right-wingers who never met a false dichotomy they didn't like and have divided the world neatly into with-us/against-us or Christian/terrorist or "pro"-military/anti-military categories (that last category being highly suspect, since the "pro"-military people are also apparently the ones who want the troops to keep getting killed in bullshit operations in Afghanistan and Iraq? yes, that part is definitely confusing)

4. Anti-feminists in general - I would rank them higher, but so many of them fit into one of the above categories that I needn't bother

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Afraid to Speak Truth to Power

During most of my daily activities, I have very little occasion to feel fear. Even when I have a bizarre, creepy dream - ahem, last night - in which two giant tarantulas take up residence in my bedroom and Stephen King comes over to help me deal with them, I wake up not so much afraid as just shaking my head at what it all means.

Yes, I am aware that this makes me extremely lucky. There are people all over the world, here in the U.S. and in every other country, who feel fear every single day. I live a remarkably easy life, even when it's not being compared to that of someone who is abused, trafficked into slavery, denied basic human rights, or subjected to bombing/marauding/killing by military forces.

In light of the foregoing, I find it interesting that the thought that makes me a little afraid today, the only thing kicking in those stomach butterflies of trepidation, is: what will my government do to me if I speak my opinion about WikiLeaks? The answer is supposed to be nothing, right? We're all supposed to have freedom of speech, and we're supposed to be able to express our opinions without any government law stopping us. We're "free." Right?

It's disgraceful that I am afraid of what U.S. government forces are going to do to people who speak out in favor of WikiLeaks. I have not done anything illegal. I am not a "hacktivist." I haven't even read most of the leaked cables. But I can't believe the campaign of bullying and intimidation being used to try to stop WikiLeaks from releasing information.

INFORMATION. Words. Speech. What is the U.S. government so afraid of in those leaked cables? What could be worse than the video of murder by Apache helicopter soldiers that was released last April? Although, seeing as there is apparently Guantanamo info in upcoming cables, I hesitate to even ask that question. You'd think it couldn't be any worse than what we already know about torture by the military and CIA, but who knows? And why do all these "patriots" like Sarah Palin, Mitch McConnell (who called Julian Assange a "terrorist") and apparently every mainstream news editor issue a nonstop stream of I-bleed-red-white-and-blue rhetoric while overlooking the fact that speaking an opinion in favor of WikiLeaks is now seriously frightening?

I think about human rights defenders around the world (including those featured in Speak Truth to Power) who face the fear and speak out anyway, often resulting in harsh punishment, "disappearance," and death. I admire their courage.

I hope everyone continues to speak the truth and calls out the intimidation of WikiLeaks (and Amazon, and PayPal, who apparently succumbed to the bullying) for what it is. Three cheers for Daniel Ellsburg for boycotting Amazon and calling for a whistle blower to reveal the intimidation that led to them barring WikiLeaks from the site.

I feel a little afraid. Interestingly, we're planning to go see Fair Game later today. That is probably not going to make me feel any better.