Jun 6 2017

Culture Consumption: May 2017

May was an interesting month, in that it was full of fabulous travels. Still managed to read and watch quite a few great stories.

Books

I adored Bone Gap by Laura Ruby a subtly speculative novel about Finn and Sean O’Sullivan, two brothers surviving in small town full of gaps that people slip through all the time. First, their mother abandons them for a new life, then Roza — the young woman who shows up in their barn and brings light into their lives and the lives of the whole town — vanishes. The story and characters and magical realism and the setting of a small town (where everybody knows everything about everyone, even if they always get the story wrong) is gorgeous. Also, the audiobook narrator Dan Bittner does a fantastic job of bringing each of the characters to life, making them feel distinct when the POV shifts.

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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.

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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.

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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.



Mar 7 2017

Culture Consumption: February 2017

My reading continues to be sloooowwww, but at least I finished a few things this month — along with seeing a TON of movies.

Books

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll was a favorite read from this month. This beautifully illustrated collection of scary stories, involving ghosts and wolves and other stranger monsters explores the dangerous things hidden in the dark that can steel one’s life and/or self away. The art uses bright vivid colors with a mixture of line styles to create a sense of tension and unease while reading — some scenes are vividly terrifying.

ThroughTheWoods-EmilyCarroll

I also loved reading Jessie Carty’s collection, Shopping After the Apocalypse. In this collection of prose poetry, the narrator begins a journey across an apocalyptic landscape. Contemplative and beautifully written, each poem builds on the next forming an interconnected story of isolation in an abandoned landscape. The result is a more contemplative exploration rather than the violence and terror expressed in most apocalyptic storylines. I really enjoyed this collection so much that I interviewed the poet about her writing process.

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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

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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.