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Last night, I needed to detox from a really emotionally stressful week, so I stayed home and watched TV with the cats. I watched "Forrest Gump" and the SNL 40th anniversary special, switching back and forth between channels. Here are some of the random thoughts that occurred.

Thoughts on Forrest Gump, its actors and its historical contextCollapse )

Thoughts on the SNL 40th anniversary showCollapse )

And in the midst of all this rumination and observation, I found myself noticing that SNL premiered somewhere in the 1970s and that Forrest Gump probably never watched it. His Jenny almost certainly did.
This year, instead of attending the full festival, I attended the Sunday afternoon encore, which featured all the films from the festival the previous day that had won awards, been runners' up or were judge's choice. Here's what we saw--and let me note that people who are interested in awarding the Hugo to true short films really need to see some of these:

The Looking Planet (Dir.: Eric Law Anderson, USA, 17 min.) (link goes to the trailer and official website)
During the construction of the universe, one young engineer decides to alter the design of one particular planet. This beautiful little origin story is just a delight, told with humor, epic visuals, and great affection for its characters.

Caldera (Dir.: Evan Viera, USA, 11 min.) (link goes to full video)
A young woman puts aside the medications she takes regularly to experience the world in a whole new way. This film won the grand prize of the festival. While I think it's visually beautiful, it made limited sense to me.

The Nostalgist (Dir.: Giacomo Cimini, UK 18 min.) (link goes to the trailer and official website)
A man tries to protect his son from the outside world, but also from the fearsome truth about their lives together. I loved this beautiful, Kickstarter-funded, steampunk short film. It's stylishly produced, offering a contrast between its filigreed prettiness and its hard-edged, super-slick danger. And the actor who plays the father is not only kind of gorgeous, he's also very good indeed.

Time Travel Lover (Dir.: Ben Mirosseni, USA, 10 min.) (link goes to full video)
A first date goes awry when the couple receives a visit--well, several visits--from the young man's future self, with news of how their relationship turns out. Entertaining and occasionally sympathetic-wince-inducing, this short film is light fluff, but it also offers some real truth about how insecure we can all be, and about how badly 20-20 hindsight could be turned around by the invention of time travel.

Little Quentin (Dir.: Albert 't Hooft and Paco Vink, Netherlands, 9 min.) (link goes to full video)
Oswald Bunny gets help from his friends to cover up a terrible crime. Taking a twisted page from "Toy Story," this short film offers a dark, funny glimpse into the harrowing world of toy noir. You'll recognize analogs to beloved cartoon characters and childhood toys. The end offers a great twist.

Gumdrop (Dir.: Kerry Conran and Stephen Lawes, USA, 8 min.) (link goes to full video)
A robot auditions for a plum cinematic role. This short won the Douglas Trumbull Award for Best Visual Effects, and I suspect that more technically savvy eyes than mine will understand precisely why, though I thought there were more eye-popping visuals in other films we saw that afternoon. I found it to be another light bit of fluff, though when the robot starts spouting its assigned monolog, I admit that I kind of laughed my head off at the material chosen for her to read.

Wanderers (Dir.: Erik Wernquist, Sweden, 4 min.) (Link goes to full video)
Narrated by Carl Sagan, this short film offers a vision of the universe as imagined based on the most current science about interstellar environments. I sat there completely gobsmacked watching this film. Completely amazing.

In the Beginning (Dir.: Arthur Metcalf, USA, 3 min.) (Link goes to full video)
One little girl takes a key role in the creation of the universe. Ever wonder why bees are what they are? This delightful, giggle-inducing little film provides one marvelous theory. This film won the Audience Choice award at the festival and the reason will become obvious when you watch it.

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The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

Elizabeth and I went to see The Hobbit last night. My goodness, what a lot of CGI! And the truth about the movie is that, at its heart, is IS about people, but Peter Jackson has become so enamored of relying upon special effects--and so sure that what worked for the Lord of the Rings films will work here--that the heart of the movie gets lost. Apparently, in every film, we need to see Legolas do something physics-defying and therefore elfish. We need to see crane shots of magnificent landscapes. We need to see overhead shots of people running across narrow bridges that span harrowing depths. We need to see hordes of barbarians massing for battle and the butchery that follows. We need flocks of sinister-looking flying creatures (in this case, bats) menacing our band of stout heroes from the sky. And we need hero shots of heroic men looking heroically across landscapes, their ropey locks blowing heroically in the wind. Yes, I could have predicted all of it.

From my perspective, the best things about the movie (besides the darkly handsome and talented Richard Armitage and the brilliant Martin Freeman) are its quietest moments--between Tauriel and Kili, between Bilbo and Thorin, between Thorin and Bard, between Legolas and Thranduil. In those moments, Jackson lets his actors actually, you know, act, and we see who these characters are and why any of this matters to them at all. But it's all so swallowed up by the CGI monsters and the padding over of aging that the truth gets kind of lost.

Glad the series is over. Glad to have seen it. Done with it now.

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Movie commentary

Bless me, LJ, for I have sinned. It's been more than a week since my last blog post, mainly because there's been a lot of terrible stuff going on in my social circle and I've had a hard time figuring out how to say what I want to say about it. So instead, I'm going to make some notes on a bunch of pop culture stuff and repress the tougher stuff . . . or at least give it more time to percolate before I figure out how to say what I want to say.

Disney's Star Wars teaser trailer: It's out there, circulating around the internets like the viral video Disney knew it would be. I have to admit that, given how little is actually there, it looks pretty good. The one droid we see looks like it's built by magic because it doesn't make mechanical sense, but I'll try not to let that bother me too much. (It's just so Disney, though. I might feel better if this were a Pixar endeavor.) The sight of the Millennium Falcon soaring through space in ways it never did in the original films warmed my geeky heart. So there's that.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, part 1: Saw this the other night with varina8 and enjoyed it. I think it's a very faithful adaptation of the book and looks just terrific. Jennifer Lawrence is better than the material--and the material is pretty darn good. Watching Philip Seymour Hoffman playing the smart, observant, sardonic Plutarch Heavensbee is both wonderful and heartbreaking. Woody Harrelson steals virtually every scene he's in. Josh Hutcherson's--Peeta's--transformation is really something to see. And I think that Elizabeth Banks' performance as Effie Trinket has been completely overlooked; she gives heart to a character who, superficially, looks pretty heartless, and I love that Katniss sees through her carefully constructed facade. The satire on the media continues apace, well done without being too heavy-handed. I know the film has received criticism because it's part one of two and the end is obviously a "To be continued." There's some validity to this criticism; at the same time, we knew this criticism would come the moment it was announced that they'd break the last book into two parts. (Thank you Harry Potter series. :: sigh :: ) It is what it is. I'm looking forward to Part 2; I know it'll be a year before we get it. But, really, in the end, the movies have been better than their source material, and I think they've all been worth waiting for.

Interstellar: This year's big, momentous Science Fiction Film. It's hard for me to say I liked the movie. I enjoyed the experience; I thought it was well-made; I liked watching Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain. I liked seeing real science being explained on the big screen as though the script trusted the audience to get difficult concepts. I liked seeing a story in which women made decisions that altered the course of the story in powerful ways. I liked seeing them solve problems that men screwed up. I'm not sure how I feel about scientists spending their time trying to get us off the planet and run away from the problem rather than staying here to try to solve the problem. I had some trouble with the timey-wimey stuff at the end; I feel like there was some magic injected into what was supposed to be science fiction, but I could chalk it up to the fiction side of the equation if I don't want to think about it too hard. The father/daughter stuff kind of nailed me. Did I like the film? For some reason, that's hard for me to say. Did I appreciate it? Yes, I did. And yeah, there's a gulf between those two distinctions.

Love, Actually: Rented this film on the recommendation of JB who posted an article about it on Facebook, saying we should all watch it with someone we love. At the most superficial level, I enjoyed it. Here are all these charming actors being charming. How can you not like Hugh Grant, Kira Knightley, Alan Rickman, Martin Freeman all being adorable? Here is a parade of romantic gestures that many of us would like to make. But I had these moments that really bothered me. I hated how thick girls were put down as a matter of course (sizeable ass, Miss Dunkin' Donut 2003); apparently you're only worthy of love if you're thin (though Natalie does get the Prime Minister in the end). I disliked how Emma Thompson was dressed so unstylishly--the middle-aged mother contrasted with the sexy, fashionable assistant, as if women give up any notion of their own attractiveness once they're parents. She's the only character who shows any, well, character in the film and she's badly wardrobed and treated like a doormat by her husband. I disliked how Laura Linney's character, being the good sister, sacrifices her own life and happiness for her mentally ill brother; at the same time, I disliked how the film punishes her for her selfless act of love by denying her the romantic love that is clearly the film's ultimate reward for behavior it deems acceptable. I mean, if the object of her desire doesn't have the character to see what she's doing and admire and support her for it, instead of feeling cockblocked by her dedication to family, then he's not worth her time anyway (it's unclear, though, if he feels cockblocked and walks away, or if she chooses not to pursue him given her commitment to her brother), but the film leaves her miserable about it. Her character is stuck in this lose-lose situation. Now, to be fair, she makes these choices, and there is power in that, but it's like she's being punished for having agency. I dislike how so much of the movie is from the male point-of-view, especially given that the two women whose POV we get are substantial people, worth further attention. I did like Liam Neeson's father-son storyline, but parent-child stories will always get me. I did like Bill Nighy's storyline--it was good to see the love between friends get some coverage here (though part of me wishes it had been friendship between women rather than men, but that's another post for another time). I did like Emma Thompson standing up to her husband when she discovers his deception. I admit that I'm wildly conflicted about the movie overall, mainly because its manipulation is so complete that I like the movie in spite of myself. Because I like the idea of the romantic gesture (though, having made them more than once, I know that they don't all end well). Because I like what the film is attempting to do, which is make quick observations about different kinds of love and how it's difficult and messy and scary, and how a romantic gesture can get you an answer about the person you're interested in--one way or the other. But does it make the argument that love is wonderful? Not really, because love doesn't seem to make many people very happy in this movie (except the friends and the kids). But there's more here. The film has lasted precisely because there's so much there to pick apart. I'm aware that critics have picked apart the film pretty thoroughly, but I wanted to write about it before I went and read commentary, because I'm curious about how my impressions align (or not) with what's already been written.

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The weekend behind, the week ahead

It was a remarkably productive weekend in a number of ways. The fact that the weather was absolutely summer-like certainly helped. (Really, yesterday I could have gone to Golden Gardens and laid on the beach without a second thought. I did get some color when I took my walk yesterday.) I took a slew of books to the used bookstores for credit trade-in (instrumental to holiday gift planning). I got some writing done. I napped quite a bit. I got some walking in. I did a little decluttering.

I also saw Enter the Dragon for the first time, and on the big screen. It was shown as part of the film festival celebrating the reopening of Seattle's beloved Egyptian Theater by SIFF, as well as part of Bruce Lee Day, thrown by the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in honor of its new exhibit about Lee. oldmangrumpus treated me, astonished that I'd never seen the movie and determined to fill this hole in my cinematic education. I enjoyed it well enough and, having seen it, understand why it's such a landmark in a particular genre of film. It is by no means the greatest movie I've ever seen, but I understand a little more about Bruce Lee's legacy and appeal. And, of course, it was a good time spent with friends, so all in all it was a worthwhile evening.

The week ahead includes a davidlevine/kateyule level of mad travel, between a trip to Portland for a corporate off-site event and a trip to Northern California for a wedding both in the space of eight days. I depart for the first tomorrow morning. I keep looking around the house and wondering what I need to do to prepare for it all, and realizing that, beyond a certain point, there's little to do besides prepping the cats, packing, and actually going. Neither of my cat sitters cares particularly about the level of clutter in the house. I'm the only one who cares whether or not I do things like take out the garbage or make my bed. It's part of my process, apparently, to make myself a little crazy about things that don't matter before departure. ::sigh::

So I suppose I ought to get to it. It's going to be a big week. I need to make sure to get more sleep. I'm going to need it.

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Calvary

oldmangrumpus very graciously invited me to join him to catch a free screening of Calvary starring Brendan Gleeson, a film made in Ireland. Gleeson gives the performance of a lifetime in an extremely challenging and beautifully made film, about a priest whose life is threatened in the very first scene. The rest of the film is about his journey through the week from threat to confrontation. Generally speaking, the movie has gotten excellent reviews--and deserves them all--but I found it so upsetting it actually made me cry. I wept all the way home from the theater. If the sign of successful art is that it evokes emotion and provokes thought, this movie certainly does that. But the price is pretty high, for me at least.

oldmangrumpus said that it was a very Irish film, and a very Catholic one. I can't argue either of those points; he's correct. The movie is called "Calvary" for a reason. I felt like there was a lot of spiritual--and in some ways literal--torture here. It's a hard, hard movie--despite some funny moments--and I find myself wondering in the end what the point of it all is. If the film has a failing, that's it. What are we moving towards? What resonance has been found? What truth has been revealed? The answer to that last question is pretty depressing and pretty bleak.

One of the things I said after I left the theater was that I don't want to see movies like this anymore. I'm not sorry to have seen Gleeson's masterwork--and it really is that. But the kind of darkness that this film packs isn't darkness that I want a part of anymore. As a serious movie-goer I may not be able to avoid it, but my theater-going may shift a bit after this.

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Epic cinematic battles

This week I went to see two summer blockbusters, Dawn of the Planets of the Apes and Guardians of the Galaxy (the latter at a press preview through the kind offices of my friend SA, who is a film critic for a number of major outlets). Both films are excellent and well worth seeing.

With regard to Dawn, I continue to be impressed with Andy Serkis as an actor and a craftsman. His characters have great depth. He's invented a new form of acting. Someone needs to give him a special Academy Award. I saw that one critic said that this film i's better than it has any right to be. From my perspective, films are as good as their teams make them--and this team worked very hard to make an excellent film about the change-over between dominant species, at least in the San Francisco area. It's got a strong story and strong characters. If you buy the premise, you buy the flick--and it's well worth the purchase.

As for Guardians, I haven't had that much fun at a movie in a very long time. It's a terrific adventure and the film has great heart. You actually care about the people and creatures who star. And it's a fun story. I laughed a lot and left the theater vastly entertained. Groot is my new favorite fictional character, at least for this flavor of film; he's marvelous.

Interestingly, I experienced something with both films that I haven't experienced before. As summer action-adventure movies, they each include the de rigeur battle sequences. I don't think it's a spoiler, really, to say that Dawn includes a pitched battle between humans and apes, and that Guardians includes a couple of fight scenes, both hand-to-hand and spaceship-to-spaceship. But at the beginning of each fight scene, I found myself thinking, "OK, here we go; let's get this over with" and impatiently settling in, mildly gritting my teeth until it was all done. Given that I had this reaction to each film, I can't say it's a fault of the movies; something has changed in me.

I don't know if it's age or years of working with story or what, but lately my patience for the epic battle has dwindled almost to nothing. If I watch the Lord of the Rings films, I speed through those sequences. They're remarkable technical achievements of filmmaking but they're just, well, boring. They don't advance character. They only mechanically advance story; the outcome is often predictable given which side our heroes are fighting on. Some of this is my changing taste, I think; I'm still and always will be a SF and fantasy fan and reader, but the portrayal of battle on screen has just lost me.

Have you had this experience? I wonder what folks think and what their experience has been.

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"Life's a bitch and God's an iron, and I need a drink and a rubdown."--suricattus

That pretty much sums things up right now. My state of mind is the result of two pieces of e-mail I received last night. I'm not going to get into detail about either one, except to say that one was my fault (or at least it feels that way) and the second sort of exacerbated the feelings produced by the first. I received them both relatively late in the evening. I had a shot of whiskey and went to bed.

Weather: I wake this morning facing showers and thunderstorms in Seattle, suitable to last night's personal storms and to the dramatic urge. While the area needs the rain--it's been a very dry summer--I don't welcome the return of the darkness. It's always hard for me to take.

Movies: In other news, I saw "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" last night. Not only is it a remarkable technical achievement, it's just a really good movie. I want to see the next film in the series, like, tomorrow. (And yes, it's coming. The director of "Dawn" has already signed on.) Somebody, please, give Andy Serkis the special Oscar he so richly deserves. He has invented a completely new form of acting, and he's a master. (In the meanwhile, it looks like he's going to be in the new Avengers and Star Wars films. Glad to see him so busy and in such high-profile projects.) Tonight, I'm seeing a press preview of "Guardians of the Galaxy" with SA, my friend the film critic. I could use something light. Here's hoping the movie succeeds.

The last ten days

It's been . . . rough. There's been goodness, but the tough stuff has been . . . pretty tough: Jay's departure, the shootings at SPU. Still, I want to focus on good things; good things are where life reaffirms itself.

The last films of SIFF: Well, these are notes about the last films I saw at SIFF; many more than this played. First, I want to note that I missed two films for which I had tickets because my mind was, predictably, elsewhere: Seeds of Time, a documentary about the seed bank beneath the Arctic Circle, and Garden Lovers, about a Finnish couple and their garden. The films I did see included To Be Takei about actor/activist George Takei's life and career, which was utterly charming, and House of Magic, an animated film about the adventures of an abandoned cat who finds himself in an enchanted house, embraced by its kindly owner but rejected by the owner's other companion animals. As I said on Facebook, clearly created for the younger set, its logic did not bear close examination and it was obviously manipulative. The good guys and bad guys were painted in broad, clear strokes. At the same time, it was sweet (with all the predictable messages about the importance of honesty and friendship), entertaining and pretty. And it had a cat so, there you go.

The house and the new appliances: The new fridge, dishwasher, and range are now in the kitchen and all the old ones have been hauled away. In prep for the installation and so on, I'd moved furniture and removed things from the wall to ensure space for movement and that nothing got broken. As often happens, having deconstructed a couple of rooms, I find myself examining everything with a fresh eye and thinking about a complete reorganization of the main floor. I've rehung some of the art that I took down, but--yeah--I suspect that more changes are afoot.

Visitors: I had a lovely visit with davidlevine this weekend. Between seeing movies, taking a sun-drenched mini-hike at Carkeek Park, and attending papersky's reading at University Bookstore, we kept ourselves busy, out and about. My allergies got in the way of our lounging around on the balcony in the way we'd hoped, but all in all--an excellent time. If anything lacked, it was that I didn't get a little more of a proper visit with papersky, but we did get to see each other and at least say hello. It was all good.

The Sekrit Project: Work continues on the Sekrit Project, which I and my co-conspirator hope to announce in a timely fashion. I'm pretty pleased with the way it's turning out thus far. There have been a couple of glitches, but they're working themselves out, one way and another.
I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story
Caroll Spinney is one of the original Sesame Street puppeteers. He's made a career of playing Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Narrated by the man himself, his wife, friends, family, and coworkers, this documentary tells the story of Spinney's life via home movie and video (his life has been remarkably well-documented) as well as clips of his work, so we not only get to hear but also see snippets from his original forays into puppetry, his eventual hiring by Jim Henson, and everything that came after. One thing I learned: As a way to get children excited about space and science, NASA invited Spinney, as Big Bird, to go up in the space shuttle. The trip was cancelled because the costume was too big. NASA, still wanting to get the attention of kids everywhere, invited a teacher instead. Remarkable. He's lived an amazing life. It's a sweet and very loving documentary, and I was glad to share it with snarke, with whom I saw what I think of as its companion film, Being Elmo, which I reviewed as part of an epic post in 2011. (I want to note that the film had one unexpected effect for me personally in that Spinney, in some scenes, bears an astonishing resemblance to dochyel, so I had the disconcerting experience of watching a complete stranger who looks like a late, beloved friend on the screen. snarke saw the resemblance too. It was uncanny.)

A Street in Palermo
This Italian dramedy is set in, predictably, a narrow street in Palermo, where two strong-willed women find themselves face to face, their cars blocking each other's right of way. Their companions and the neighbors all get involved in the stand-off. There's no question that some of it is intended to be funny. Ultimately, though, the grim determination of each of these women turns what might have been a more lighthearted story into a battle of wills. The stalemate seems pointless, but each woman has her own reasons for standing her ground, neither of which actually has much to do with the other. It's an effective exercise in character for all involved: each of the women, their companions, and the one or two neighborhood types who get involved.

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Good girls go to heaven.
Bad girls go everywhere.
--Mae West

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