May 5 2017

Culture Consumption: March and April 2017

My, my. I have gotten rather behind, haven’t I.

Books

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

I delighted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the audio book of which is read by the author herself, who does a wonderful reading. The novel is told from two points of view — Ruth, a writer on a remote island who finds a mysterious packet in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, containing a journal and letters and other items, and Nao, living in Tokyo, whose story is told through the journal itself.

There are so many layers to my love of this novel. The characters and their stories captivated me. Nao, who has faced such levels of bullying at school and sorrow at home, relates her decision to end her life in a straightforward manner. To her it is the only logical solution to what she’s been through (and she’s been through a lot). In her journal, she presents her life with a sense of self-depreciating humor. After all she’s been through, and despite her resolution, there is an underlying strength to her. It’s an interesting balance between depression, sorrow, and enjoyment of small moments.

Ruth is also fascinating to me. Her life is marked by less overt drama, and her story relates more of the small moments, the routines of her life that both provide her with contentment and feel like traps. As she explore’s Nao’s story through the journal and tries to seek a way to help this girl who lives across the sea, she finds certain threads of her own life loosening, creating their own minor havocs.

This novel is also so meta. One could start with the writer character, Ruth, who shares her name with the author of the book, which suggests the potential of the autobiographical slipping in even if none of it actually is such. Even the title A Tale for the Time Being has double meaning — as in both, a tale for a person who lives in time, and also a tale for right now. I don’t want to get too much into the ways this is a meta narrative, since a lot of it comes at the end, but I will say that it had me thinking about the creation of art and degree to which the reader participates in the creation.

I think this is one of those books I’m going to have to reread many times.

Continue reading


Apr 26 2017

Watching the Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds_of_Sils_Maria1

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

When I finished watching Clouds of Sils Maria all I could do was sit in stunned silence, letting myself exist in that space a little longer. A few minutes after the credits rolled to a stop, the tears came. I’m not sure how to describe what I was feeling, except that I knew I had seen something beautiful and I wanted to immediately watch it again.

The trailer sucks, by the way. Although it shows clips from the movie, they’re so out of context that it comes off as a completely different movie. And I get it, Clouds of Sils Maria is full of subtleties and is a hard movie to sum up in a simple, marketable way.

On it’s surface it’s about an film actress starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career — now in the role of the older woman. She has to face how time has shifted and she has shifted with it. The more she delves into the role, facing the character’s pain, the more her own insecurities come to the surface.

clouds_of_sils_maria2-juliette-binoche

It’s about the relationship between stars and their personal assistants, that weird line — on the one hand it’s an employer/employee relationship, and on the other hand, the state of constantly being with your employer, answering their phones, and so on creates an intimacy. Sometimes that leads to friendship, sometimes it leads to weirdness. As the central relationship in the movie, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart spend a vast number of scenes alone together. They both provide phenomenal performances, with great chemistry together.

clouds-of-sils-maria-kristin-stewart

The movie is also about art and what it means to different people. Most of the conversations involve discussions about the theatrical play — analysis of who two women in the play are and what they and their literary relationship stands for. These conversations illustration how the meaning of art changes from perspective to perspective, whether from person to person or from one person at different stages of their live. And as these conversations about a fictional play takes place, it brings attention to the question of the two main characters in this movie and what they stand for (will this movie have the same emotional resonance to me ten years in the future as it does now?).

The movie leaves space for quiet moments and some questions unanswered. It’s a movie I feel strangely protective of this film — I want to tell everyone to watch it, but I also am a bit afraid family and friends might not connect with it the way I did. But then, I suppose that’s all apart of different people understanding art through different perspectives.



Feb 28 2017

Oscar Best Picture Showcase 2017

The Academy Awards were presented yesterday. I didn’t watch them — funny, since I spent so much time making sure I saw the Oscar nominated short films and Best Picture nominees over the course of the past two weeks. (I was playing with my toddler niece and nephew instead and don’t feel a bit bad about it at all.) I’ve meant to do the following write ups BEFORE the Oscars happened, but never got around to finishing them, so here they are now, all in one go.

For anyone interested in the Red Carpet fashion from the event, I recommend Genevieve Valentine’s rundown, which is quite charming.

And the winner was…

Moonlight

Received 8 nominations and won for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali).

In Moonlight presents three stages in life of an African-American man, from being a young kid who finds an unexpected father figure, to a teenager experiencing his first love with one of his friends, to becoming an adult. I don’t know if I need to say what almost everyone who has seen it has been saying, since it won the Oscar for Best Picture and all, but I’ll go ahead an reiterate it anyway — Moonlight is a beautiful movie. The cinematography, acting, and story all come together in what feels like an incredibly moving dream of an experience.

I was thrilled to learn that Moonlight won Best Picture, because the title is well deserved. It’s too bad the announcement occurred the way it did, with the Oscar gaff of the lifetime. The initial mistaken announcement of the winning film does not in any way take away from the accomplishment of director Barry Jenkins and his team in creating this phenomenal movie. But it did unfortunately take away from their moment to shine on the Academy Awards stage, their thank you speeches punctuated with confusion. Nevertheless, Moonlight and it’s a wonderful movie and well deserved.

Moonlight.

Moonlight.

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The rest of the noms…

Arrival

Received 8 nominations and won for Sound Editing.

Arrival was probably my favorite movie of 2016. Seeing it a second time around only cemented my love for this beautiful first contact movie, in which a linguist and a scientist work together to decipher the language of an alien race. The cinematography and sound editing are amazing, the editing jumping back and forth through time skillfully draws out the emotional impact of the storyline, and the aliens are truly alien. I love this movie so much.

If you loved the movie as much as I did and are interested in the process behind screenwriting and moviemaking, The Blacklist has a fantastic podcast interview with Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter who adapted Ted Chiang’s story into a script.

Amy Adams in Arrival

Amy Adams in Arrival

Hidden Figures

Received 3 nominations and won for Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer).

Hidden Figures is the true story of the black women computers that performed mathematical calculations as part of the space program at NASA. These are incredible women and the movie, which hits all the right notes in terms of humor and perspective, has me wanting to learn more about them and the other women of science who have often been overlooked.

Hidden Figures.

Hidden Figures.

Lion

Received 6 nominations (no wins).

Lion is the true story of a little boy who accidentally ends up lost in Calcutta thousands of kilometers from his home. When authorities are unable to find his mother or brother, he is adopted by an Australian family who raise him. As an adult, memories of his childhood in India come back to him and he begins a search using Google Earth to find his birth mother. It’s an incredible story. So many feels.

Lion.

Lion.

Manchester by the Sea

Received 6 nominations and won for Original Screenplay and Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Afflek).

There were some issues with the theater a couple of Saturdays ago, so I showed up a half hour late to Manchester by the Sea. Nevertheless, it was still a great movie, a moving story of grief and family and trying to overcome the past. It felt anchored in its location, which was almost a character itself.

Manchester by the Sea

Manchester by the Sea

Fences

Received 4 nominations and won for Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis).

In Fences, Troy Maxson, an African-American man working as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh, works to raise his family while railing agains the challenges of poverty and racism. It’s clear that this is based on a stage play, from the first scene with its constrained setting and long, eloquent monologues. The writing is beautiful, not so much focused on realism of the moment, but rather evoking a heightened sense of poetry. The writing is backs up with phenomenal performances from the entire cast, who bring these characters to life and handle these lines with amazing power and grace.

Fences

Fences

Hell or High Water

Received 4 nominations (no wins).

Two brothers begin robbing banks after their mother’s deaths in order to preserve their family’s land. They specifically take on the bank chain that holds the loan against the property, a kind of clever revenge. Hell or High Water starts right in the middle of the action and drives through to the end, with just enough breathing room to get to know the brothers and the officers hunting them. The movie is great — not quite on the same caliber as some of the other best picture noms — but still great.

Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

Hacksaw Ridge

Received 6 nominations and won for Film Editing and Sound Mixing.

Desmond T. Doss was a U.S. Army medic who served during WWII. As a conscientious objector, he refused to carry a gun into battle (something that created significant challenges during his training). The story that unfolds and what Doss does is so unbelievable that it made sense for the movie to end with a mini-documentary, as if to clarify some of the history.

Hacksaw Ridge was good for a war movie, which is not generally my thing. The style of this in terms of cinematography and storytelling felt old, by which I mean it presented the typical look of big budget Hollywood films. I think if I had watched this one first out of the whole set, I would have been fine with it. But since I had already seen a number of the other best picture noms — most of which were more creative or experimental in their style and tone — this felt old fashioned.

Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge.

La La Land

Received 14 nominations and won for Director, Cinematography, Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone), Original Score, Original Song (“City Of Stars”), and Production Design.

La La Land is fun and all for a musical about two beautiful young people trying to make it big in Hollywood. The cinematography was pretty for the most part and the music was great — but otherwise it was pretty mediocre. I like both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who are great actors, but not great dancers or singers. The story is a bit light on emotional depth, as well. Nostalgia seems to be the greatest factor driving many people’s love for this (that and maybe how much Hollywood loves its own mythology), although it doesn’t quite live up to the classic musicals it’s meant to be in homage to. Fun enough to entertain, but nothing special.

La La Land

La La Land

* * *

In related news, the Razzies — which I don’t normally pay attention to — announced their “Worst” awards in film, with Hillary’s America garnering Worst Director, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, and Worst Picture. And that’s kind of awesome.


Feb 21 2017

Going to the Movies by Myself

Going to the Best Picture Showcase has become a tradition for me. I love seeing the movies all at once and seeing good storytelling on the screen. But this year has been a strange one, in that circumstances aligned in such a way that I was not able to go with the usual group and no one else seemed to be available. My options were to either skip the showcase this year or to go by myself.

So, I went by myself — both to the first half of the showcase and a double feature of the Oscar nominated short films. It was fun. Although I didn’t have a gathering of friends to chat about the movie afterward, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience.

Plus, I got the chance to meet a little old lady who sat next to me in the theatre. She was all sass and talking about it being one of those days where nothing goes right. White curly hair. Wearing a rain coat exactly like the one I inherited from my grandmother.

She was funny as hell. At one point, she was talking to her sister about her doctor, and the sister said, “Does he have a good bedside manner?”

My little old lady replied, “I bet he has a good bed manner.”

She said she would be showing up for the second part of Best Picture Showcase, so I guess I’ll have one buddy (for at least a movie or two of the marathon anyway). Maybe I’ll make some other buddies, too.

What I’m Reading

I’m still reading Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. It’s fantastic, but I’m plodding along slowly because of all the other distractions going on.

What I’m Writing

The rejections came piling in last week, so a large portion of my time was chocking down disappointment and spinning submissions back out into the world.

Goals for the Week:

  • Get more poems edited
  • Hot potato my submissions to at least two more journals/publishers

The Running Life

I was struggling a bit last week, completing only two runs and the one being more of a long walk than an actual run. Sometimes the mood swoops away from me and it’s a stuggle to get any running in at all. Always feels good to get out and move, though.

Longest Run Walk of the Week: 4.11 miles (
Total Miles for the Week: 6.16 miles

Total Miles for 2017: 35.43 miles

Linky Goodness

Seyward Darby explains how What America Needs Now Is Horror Movies: “Good horror movies reflect immediate social anxieties and abiding fears that humanity, in both the individual and collective senses, is under threat. The great ones go even further: ‘[I]t isn’t just that these traumas trigger these films,’ film historian Tom Gunning once said, ‘but that we understand these traumas through these films.’ My favorite fright-fests adjust the lens one additional time. They pose the provocative question: What if you’re the monster?”

The 16 Most Anticipated Horror Books of 2017

“I’ve never felt bullied or unwanted in Geek spaces. I definitely think that as geeks, we’re in a struggle together,” says Minnesota Playwright and Poet Saymoukda Vongsay in an interview with Twin Cities Geek

Poetry To Pay Attention To: A Preview Of 2017’s Best Verse


Feb 17 2017

Some Thoughts on the 2017 Oscar Nominated Short Films

I love short films and am fascinated with how they are able to tell compelling stories in tiny spaces. I’ve been wanting to watch the Oscar nominated short film showcases that play every year, but haven’t had people to go with or the timing was off. This year, I made it happen, taking time to see both the Animated and Live Action selections, and it was fantastic. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to also see the documentary shorts and I don’t think I’ll be able to this year. But I’m making it a goal for next year.

As a quick note, it was interesting to discover that all of the live action shorts were significantly longer than the animated shorts (with one exception), being 15 minutes to 30 minutes in length. I tend to think of short films as being in the 3-15 minute range, maybe due to the number of shorts I’ve seen through YouTube of Vimeo. I’m sure cost and time is a part of the reason why the live action movies were longer, with animation taking more time to create cell by cell. The differences in length might also have to do with how people connect with animation compared to live action. I’m not sure. But it’s interesting that the animated shorts were often able to provide as complete and moving of stories as the longer pieces in a shorter amount of time.

My thoughts are below, with links to trailers provided.
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The Animated Shorts

Blind Vaysha, directed by Theodore Ushev (8 minutes/Canada) – Blind Vaysha is a strange folk tale about a girl who is born with a strange infliction, in which she can see only the past out of one eye and only the future out of the other, essentially making her blind to the present. It’s a bit more talky than most of the other animated shorts, but the art is beautiful with a heavy-lined graphic style and strong-toned colors. I loved the way some images overlapped, stretched into impossible shapes, or presented sketchy, swirling images. A little more intellectual than emotional, but it’s my favorite of the animated films.

blind-vaysha_f

Blind Vaysha

Pearl, directed by Patrick Osborne (6 minutes/USA) – A girl and her dad tour the country in an old hatchback, busking and making music and facing life. Although the animation is somewhat blocky and not as dynamic or perfect as some of the other offerings, this is a moving story filled with music telling a sweet story with almost no dialog.

Pearl

Pearl

Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer (6 minutes/USA) – This story of a baby piper bird facing his fear of the ocean is funny and adorable in that predictable Disney/Pixar way. The animation is technically perfect and beautifully rendered, worth watching for that alone.

Piper

Piper

Pear Cider and Cigarettes, directed by Robert Valley and Cara Speller (35 minutes/Canada/UK) – There are parts of Pear Cider and Cigarettes that are gorgeous, the animation slick and stylish with hard angles that reminded me of certain comic book drawings. In the story, which is based on a real human, a man describes the dynamic personality of his friend, Techno, who eventually became a hardcore alcoholic. This is the most adult of the animated films, presenting a complex and straight look at sex, drugs, alcohol, and the fall of a friend. It’s also the longest out of any of the short films I watched. Although the last third of the film was moving, the first two-thirds were a little slow going for me and I think it could have been cut down a bit while still maintaining its powerful effect.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Borrowed Time, directed by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj (7 minutes/USA) – A sheriff returns to the site of his father’s death. The CGI animation is good, but the story didn’t connect with me, despite a few genuinely surprising moments.

Borrowed Time

Borrowed Time

Highly Commended

Due to the adult nature of Pear Cider and Cigarettes, the screening showed three additional animated films in order to give parents time to bring their kids out of the theater, if need be.

The Head Vanishes, directed by Franck Dion (9 minutes/Canada/France)

Once Upon a Line, directed by Alicja Jasina (8 minutes/Cyprus)

Asteria, directed by Josh Crute (5 minutes/USA)
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The Live Action Shorts

Timecode, directed by Juanjo Giménez (15 minutes/Spain) – One of my favorite shorts of the night, Timecode is the story of two parking lot security officers who begin communicating with each other in an usual way. This utterly delighted me. It’s wonderful and a bit weird. It probably is not going to win, but it’s the one I’d watch again and again without hesitation.

Timecode

Timecode

Sing, directed by Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy (25 minutes/Hungary) – A girl comes to a new school and is delighted to join the school’s award-winning choir — only to discover that the choir is not what it seems. It’s a wonderful story about friendship and people coming together in quiet revolt against unfair systems.

Sing

Sing

La Femme et le TGV, directed by Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff (30 minutes/Switzerland) – A bit of a quirky tale and almost-but-not-quite romance in which an older woman set in her routine. Every day she waves a flag at the passing TGV train, which leads to a mysterious answer from one rider. It’s sweet, even if the ending felt a bit abrupt.

La Femme et le TGV

La Femme et le TGV / The Woman and the TGV

Ennemis Intérieurs, directed by Sélim Azzazi (28 minutes/France) – An educated, Algerian man applying for French citizenship finds himself confronted with a young immigration official whose examinations grow more and more invasive. This is essentially just a movie of two men sitting in a room talking, but the writing and acting are stellar, making this intense and captivating as each man tries to gain control, although the power is clearly skewed in favor of the young immigration official. There’s a lot going on in this, reflecting the current issues surrounding immigration and prejudice against Muslims. I’d like to watch it again and think about the layers some more.

Ennemis Intérieurs

Ennemis Intérieurs / Enemies Within

Silent Nights, directed by Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson (30 minutes/Denmark) – A woman working at a homeless shelter begins a romance with a homeless refugee from Ghana. Although the acting is great and it’s well done, there were aspects of this that annoyed me in terms of how the young woman approached him, more as someone to save instead of as a whole person. I also really didn’t like the ending (which I won’t talk about because of spoiling).

Silent Nights

Silent Nights