Tag Archives: movies

Calm Down; Go to a Movie

From Chicago Art Institute. Artist Lawrence Weiner.
From Chicago Art Institute. Artist Lawrence Weiner.

1917 (I MEANT 2017 OF COURSE but 1917 witnessed two Russian Revolutions, U.S. entered WWI and J.Edgar Hoover went to work in the Justice Department so maybe it’s a model) is already a completely crazy year and only a month has passed. Much of this of course is due to the-shyster-at-the-top, maybe all of it, even the things that don’t seem directly attributable. Yesterday the post office lost my package (the all-important blog-book of my 2015 travels), then found it. I lost my phone, made trips back to the office and finally, in desperation, bought a clock and took a pill to sleep. Back at work this morning, I found the rascal tucked into a big fat file in another office. I blame the shyster for already destabilizing the post office and for adding a massive layer of stress to my life that makes bad things happen—never mind the actual death and destruction he’s determined to bring forth. There that’s all out of my system for a few hours.

About films and books. There are already a million reviews out there of everything…why am I writing about them on an obscure blog read by 12. Silly (just realized I can’t use these one word sentences anymore because guess who’s the master of one word sentences and I do not want to resemble that slimy-creature-from-the-black-lagoon in any way).

I think adding a few more posts about my 2017 movie marathon is okay but then it’s time to…once again…put this blog on a long, possibly forever, hiatus. A few words about The Eagle Huntress, Jackie, and Manchester by the Sea. The Eagle Huntress was one of the docs mentioned for Oscar consideration and, according to me, should have made the final cut. A Mongolian girl wants to be an eagle hunter, a vocation usually reserved for males. Her family supports her completely, especially her father who teaches her everything he knows. She makes it. This is a documentary put together with more than the usual amount of love given the struggle it must have taken to film; it is an authentically heart-warming tale in a grand and glorious landscape. I loved it for all the filmic and scenic reasons, and I loved it because I was in Mongolia in 2015 for a few days—out on the steppes in a yurt. That made the story a little bit mine didn’t it?

Couldn’t every one of us around 70 years old, or a little less or a little more, write a book about that day in 1963 when Camelot came to its bloody end? On November 22nd, 1963, I was at my friend Betty Jo’s apartment in North Branch, Minnesota with three-year-old son Scott. I was staying with mom and dad up north while waiting for orders to join my husband in the Philippines. Baby Steven was home with mom so I was on a holiday of sorts. Betty Jo and I had probably put our boys down for naps so we could watch As the World Turns… and turn it did. Some time into everybody’s favorite soap, Walter Cronkite appeared with news that the President had been injured and then “President Kennedy died at 1pm Central Standard Time.” Camelot was over. But in Camelot, Camelot/Those are the legal laws./The snow may never slush upon the hillside./By nine p.m. the moonlight must appear./In short, there’s simply not/A more congenial spot/For happily-ever-aftering than here/In Camelot. Not true it seems.

 Jackie is a remarkable piece of filmmaking. Somehow Pablo Larrain, director, and Natalie Portman “Jackie” have made a film that has brought back every emotion I’ve ever felt about that day in the form of a dark drama both revealing and so seemingly true in its mix of sorrow and anger, weakness and strength. I was transported, partly because of course I was there—an adult, alive, watching, disbelieving, horror-stricken that it could be happening in America, and so very sad because I loved JFK. I also believe this film could make that day real for the first time to generations since who have grown up with shooting as the all-American sport and aren’t even shocked that this could happen. So far Jackie’s my favorite but then I haven’t seen so many of the Hollywood nominees yet. I’m sure it also has something to do with how intimately that day still plays out for me.

Manchester by the Sea is atmospheric…the best visual depiction of small snowy towns in the north of the country I’ve seen. It looked like January Minnesota and I felt every cold nose, cold toes, and painful ear lobes. Let me also say that Casey Affleck is the best brooder I’m ever seen on screen (although Natalie Portman does that well too). I almost loved this movie—it’s powerful in story, acting and cinematography. Maybe the reason I say “almost” is because I’m not so very partial to brooding, sensitive, fucked-up loser stories. These (usually) guys are so grungy and rude and reliant on “fuck” to get their point across—I understand this is a type appealing to many but honestly, I find sensitive troubled guys with clean jeans, a PhD, and extensive vocabulary more appealing.

 

 

Bingeing for the OSCARS

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Back to blogland and the movies. It’s Sunday night and I’ve just spent a perfect day. There’s Sunday morning book club—not your everyday normal book club, and then heading off to Manchester (by the Sea) which wasn’t far enough away so I moved on to Antarctica before running out of energy and returning home to leftover gluten-free pizza and morning’s warmed up coffee.

Where was I in the Movie Marathon before dropping out for some life things (such as the March in DC and work and sleep)? The goal as usual is to see all of the nominated Hollywood and foreign films and documentaries before the Oscars. I’m not so far along but February is movie-binge month and the chance to catch up. Before the small hiatus I managed Moonlight and A Man Called Ove, both among the nominees, and Queen of Katwe, not nominated but definitely worth seeing. I did talk about them already at https://mneset.com/2016/11/20/avoiding-the-real-world-not-really/.

Here are my latest movie stories, and stories they are. I’m not film-savvy enough to write actual critiques but since I love stories I can comment from that perspective. The best theaters for the best stories (in my opinion) are the Guild, a small arthouse on Central Avenue focusing on foreign, cult and far-from-mainstream films and documentaries, and High Ridge, an older theater/semi-arthouse on the east side of town showing the more interesting of Hollywood films along with a few foreign films and docs as well. Both theaters have a following, but especially the Guild which comes as close to having a brother who’s a serious film aficionado and shows movies every night in his living room as you can get (without that particular brother). It’s really the best of all film experiences to hang out there on a Sunday afternoon which is what I did yesterday for Antarctica: Ice & Sky: “… a stirring portrait of French glaciologist, Claude Lorius, whose groundbreaking research in Antarctica gave us the first clear evidence of man-made global climate change…Through remarkable archival footage and stunning drone cinematography, Antarctica: Ice and Sky is an epic tale where science and adventure meet, equal parts contemplative memoir and an ardent call to action.”

I am almost positive that in a previous life I was an Arctic/Antarctic explorer or perhaps a polar bear or an iceberg or at the very least an Antarctic Midge. My love for and interest in the cold ends of the globe has increased exponentially over the last years. Three young people were sitting just behind me, one having returned from work in Antarctica in the not too distant past, so I butted in on their conversation just to name drop Greenland and express my love of all things ice. As a result another person talked to me on the way out about my desire to go to Antarctica; they were lovely small town exchanges one never has at the multiplexes.

 To be continued with observations about my Sunday morning book club/salon, The Eagle Huntress, Jackie, and Manchester by the Sea. I would talk about The Lobster as well but it’s too painful to think about this early in the morning…in case you were thinking about checking it out for free on Amazon or Netflix…it is not worth the price.

 

 

 

AVOIDING THE REAL WORLD? NOT REALLY

20161113_172142Here’s what I’ve been paying attention to in my world to avoid the nonsensical but-far-from-funny farce of Washington DC. A MOOC about history and constitutional issues in the Muslim world; books about the controversial Mitford Sisters in the war years and about troubled detectives and dastardly deeds in darkest Scandinavia; a Netflix series, The Crown which is the most enticing period drama this year, almost better than Downton, about the world as lived by Queen Elizabeth in the early years of her reign and…finally…movies. All chock full of a real world far less tawdry than our current DC drama.

Three movies have stood between me and despair. Enticing, thoughtful, heartwarming movies. Let’s begin with Moonlight because it is surely Oscar material and also the most difficult to describe. I’m sure it’s clear, or at least will be when you read this, that I am about as far from an informed movie reviewer as one could get—on the other hand I do love them and I go on this annual winter movie binge so why not share some thoughts?

Moonlight is basically about a black kid growing up in the Liberty City ghetto of Miami. A Gay Black Kid. And we all know if there’s one nasty prejudice that’s been shared by all races, colors, creeds, it’s homophobia. It’s not an easy story but so immediate, so hating, so loving, you come away profoundly affected, not the least because the acting is absolutely top form.  I’m attaching the link for the excellent NYT review so please read it. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/21/movies/moonlight-review.html?_r=0

I want to share some thoughts that may or may not make sense. Moonlight is a coming-of-age story in the best and deepest sense of the word. A vulnerable gay kid growing up under the most bleak of circumstances. What struck me rather forcefully is that because this film is not about a black kid growing up gay and there’s an accompanying story with white people around, and it’s not about the great divide between blacks and whites, and it doesn’t give us any messages about race—it becomes this moving, thoughtful, beautiful, gay-kid-growing-up story. It’s so tender and personal and insightful with all of the characters, places, situations. So how to say this: To Me: because it all takes place within the black American world it simply becomes about this kid and his story. Like Boyhood plus. I loved this film. Second film in a row on Sunday and I never moved a muscle—almost shed a tear now and then but it’s not really a sentimental film either. It’s just really really fine moviemaking.

Queen of Katwe. Here’s where I can do some travel name-dropping. I’ve spent a few days in Kampala, Uganda with my friend Jill so of course I took this all very personally. I admit to not seeing slums quite as dire as Katwe but did see a variety of situations from comfortable middle-class to pretty grim housing situations. Queen of Katwe is the classic feel-good story. Poor kid makes good under the most difficult of circumstances. What makes it most interesting is that it takes place in the Ugandan slums of Katwe (whose fascinating history you might want to check out on Wikipedia), and that everyone except the two stars (Oyelowo is British Nigerian and Nyong’o is Kenyan Mexican) is Ugandan. No whites of African or European origin are thrown in for good measure and middle class Ugandans have major roles as well as the dispossessed of Katwe. So I loved this film too. It’s not quite as powerful as Moonlight but it made me happy—and that’s okay once in awhile. And of course the actors, both Hollywood and local, are brilliant. David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o…need I say more. Also Madina Nalwanga, not a name yet but really fine.     http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2016/10/05/496425623/photos-theyre-  all-kings-and-queens-of-katwe

A Man Called Ove. Okay so I felt very much at home here. Old cranky but good-hearted Swedish guy (old cranky Swedish guys are a lot like old cranky Norwegian guys) has life tragedies of the universal sort: fired from his job, deceased wife to whom bad things had happened, annoying neighbors, a deep desire to kill himself—well maybe that latter isn’t universal but you see where I’m going. May as well say this up front, It’s a solid film of the sentimental sort but…of course…I enjoyed it especially because It Is Scandinavian. And there were a lot of old white people in the audience that looked just like me—not like the evil-voter kind of old and white! It’s a nice film, but maybe one you don’t have to see right away, although don’t miss it forever unless you really dislike cranky old white guys—oh dear, we have a new government full of them don’t we? Ove is much smarter and nicer than that though.

 

SHOWTIME

So it’s movie ‘season’ for me. Time for the 20 or 30 films of all Hollywood, Foreign and Documentary variety that will prepare me for Oscar night on February 26th 2017. In a way my joy/pleasure/motivation/sustenance for daily life comes from books (all of the time), movies (during the ‘season,’), Netflix and MOOCs and other online classes. In other words the excellent quality of my life is far more dependent on STORIES, real or imagined, than on everyday food, shelter, work or even people.

Remember I grew up in a very small house in the far north woods of Minnesota where the need to escape January and/or the silence of life among the trees and mosquitoes practically demanded STORIES. Then the escape route was all books but I’ve kept the habit and added movies and cyberspace as a source for my stories over the years.

This annual entertainment/thoughtful-film-viewing splurge will launch tomorrow at the High Ridge Theater with Queen of Katwe the story of a young Ugandan girl who becomes a chess champion. It’s listed in the also-rans of Oscar possibilities but I would want to see it under any circumstances so the fact that it’s in the running just adds to the impetus.

Monday night, it’s the Guild for A Man Called Ove, Sweden’s entry in the foreign film category. It’s getting good ratings but is considered a long shot.

So…I’m excited. I love films of all genres but can’t sustain an interest year round—only by making it all into a project. Projects require lists and schedules and discussions and blog posts, my favorite things…okay then…IT’S SHOWTIME. Tune in for reviews.

*Finally watched Citizen Four, 2015’s best documentary. It is brilliant and frightening, and probably should be required viewing for all political science and history classes. It does leave one with a rather hopeless feeling about the possibility of such a thing as ‘good government’ but best not to go there just before the sleaziest election season in U.S. history—and there’s some serious competition out there—comes to an end.

 

More Prancing Ponies, Fewer Bare Butts

Not a movie horse exactly  but living out his pretty pink years at the Crazy Horse Museum in the Black Hills
Not a movie horse exactly but living out his pretty pink years at the Crazy Horse Museum in the Black Hills

SOMETIMES WE GOT TO GO TO THE SHOW. We didn’t call them movies or films or talk about the cinema. We just drove into town and went to the show. Usually westerns I think. But since all of the shows worth my 10-year-old while revolved around horses maybe I’ve just blanked out the occasional musical or romantic comedy to which I must have been subjected.

Have I written about this before? How I tore a picture of Janice Rule out of Susie Olson’s movie magazine and then claimed otherwise.

How I could go to the same show six times when I stayed with my cousin Audrey who sold tickets at the Royal Theater in Northome, Minnesota. Ah…so many Westerns, so many horses, so many years ago.

Now it’s 2014 and there aren’t nearly enough horses in the movies anymore. The Oscar nominees this year were full of bare butts and stupid people tricks, a stolen baby and a rambling old man, a goofy romantic in love with an imaginary girlfriend and a Minneapolis limo driver dramatically in tune with his imaginary cousin, a Somali pirate. And the worst movie of all—full of floating debris and floating Clooney and floating Bullock. And the best movie of all, “Twelve Years a Slave,” which, by the way, was the only one with horses!  See what I mean. Okay so “Dallas Buyers Club” had horses but they couldn’t save it for me—too much Texas all around them.

The second annual Oscar/Food party of 13th Street is now over and a pretty good time was had by all. The food was excellent as was the company. And seeing the pretty Hollywood people is always fun. Somehow though it all seemed rather anti-climatic after two months of cinematic gorging and the frantic last minute viewing of “Her” unfolding at my house as the beautiful people started down the red carpet in California.

Maybe this year I’ll show up at my neighborhood theater once in awhile and avoid a January 1915 binge. Or not.