Thursday, January 28, 2016

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past two weeks.

GIRLFRIENDS (1978)
Interesting movie about a photographer in New York (Melanie Mayron) whose roommate and best friend moves out to get married, leaving her feeling alone and abandoned as she tries dating, has a brief affair with an older married man, and works on her first gallery showing. Directed by Claudia Weill, whose documentary approach to the film brings an emotional honesty to the film; it doesn't feel manufactured, and even though I felt a bit like an outsider looking in (I'll never know exactly what it feels like to experience things as a woman, obviously), it was a fascinating glimpse at something intelligent and sensitive. ***

JOHN HENRY (2000)
Finally got to see this Disney short. Beautiful color palette with lots of shades of pink and blue, as Alfre Woodard tells the story of John Henry's race against a steam drill. Short, but powerful. ***1/2

LORENZO (2004)
Another Disney short I've waited forever to see, One of five segments produced for the sadly-canceled third Fantasia movie (and, alongside Destino, one of two that were projects begun during the studio's golden age), this one depicts a pampered, mean-spirited cat whose tail is hexed so that it dances him to exhaustion. Gorgeous animation that evokes paint and chalk, and the use of dark, even blank backgrounds and deep shadows makes the blue Lorenzo stand out. Lorenzo himself is expressive; his character comes through in his manner and expressions. I just loved this. The music is "Bordoneo y 900," a tango written and performed by Juan Jose Mosalini. ****

ONE BY ONE (2004)
Another short for the unproduced Fantasia 2006, featuring music written and performed by Lebo M. The music was originally written for The Lion King, but cut from that film. The short depicts children in a South African village flying kites, fluidly animated. I like how it starts out dusty and becomes more and more colorful as the children's kites take flight and the music becomes brighter. ****

TICK TOCK TALE (2010)
Disney short that played at Annecy. I tend to not be enamored of shorts about anthropomorphized objects (in this case, clocks) having existential crises, but the computer animation techniques here are very good. I wish they had been in the service of a better story. **1/2

TANGLED EVER AFTER (2012)
Short featuring characters from Tangled, with Rapunzel and Flynn or Finn or whatever getting married. The short mainly focuses on the horse Maximus and the chameleon Pascal and their adventures trying to get the wedding rings back after they lose them. It's cute; it plays like a short unto itself rather than a scene cut from the movie, which is more than I can say for a lot of the DVD-exclusive Pixar shorts. I'm never going to really love Tangled, but this was cute little epilogue. ***

GET A HORSE! (2013)
Another Disney short I've been very excited to see, and probably my favorite thing Disney's done in the last half-decade, at least. This plays like an old Mickey Mouse cartoon (complete with Walt Disney's actual voice and that old barnyard gang--including Horace Horsecollar, finally!), animated in black and white with that rubber hose style, until Pegleg Pete throws Mickey through the movie screen. Outside of the screen, everything is computer animated and color. But Mickey has to save Minnie from Pete's clutches, and it's very inventive and fun the way the animators play with the two different media and the idea of film itself and even the tropes of the old shorts. There's even an Oswald cameo! I love this thing like crazy. ****

FROZEN FEVER (2015)
I like Frozen, but it sure became over-appreciated very quickly. Again, at least this short feels like its own story rather than just a curtain call or a cut scene, but it also manages to contain, in just a few minutes, everything that's fun but way, way too precious about Frozen (except for those stupid trolls, thankfully). That said, I love those little snowman guys. The short's about Elsa trying to throw Anna a birthday party, but Elsa gets a cold and loses control of her powers... but, you know, in a funny way. I don't know; it's always going to be about Elsa, even on Anna's birthday, I guess. ***

FRANKENHOOKER (1990)
Surprisingly funny take on Frankenstein with a med school dropout who attempts to put his dead fiancee back together after an accident, having to harvest some of the body parts from, well, hookers. It's gory and silly and gross, but has a genuine absurdism that made it a hilarious breeze to watch. ***

TALES FROM THE HOOD (1995)
I really dug this anthology horror movie. It's styled like an old EC Comic, with Clarence Williams III as a very eccentric undertaker telling four stories with horror twists to a group of gangsters that come into his funeral home to recover some stolen drugs. What I found so interesting was that each story touched on real social issues--cops abusing their authority, domestic violence, reparations, prison conditions, and gang violence--but commented on them through pulp horror styles. I found it very involving. Disappointed I hadn't really heard more about this one. ***1/2

UNFRIENDED (2014)
Very effective horror flick, filmed in real time and taking place completely on a computer screen, as teenage friends find themselves haunted by a ghost in the machine on the one-year anniversary of their friend's suicide. Judging from some of the reviews, teens being terrorized on social media is something I guess we're all supposed to immediately think is stupid, but I thought it was quite a ride, and some of it resonated with me, because even though I'm a grown man, I've been cyberbullied by idiots. ***1/2

INTO THE WOODS (2014)
Well, yes, Meryl Streep is very, very good. So was Emily Blunt, an actress I usually don't like. Otherwise, I just didn't care for it. I've never seen this musical in any form, but I have listened to different recordings of it, and I didn't care for the way the film sanded off so many of the rougher edges and the wit. Most of the actors were okay, but I can't look at Johnny Depp in a twee hat without wanting to vomit in annoyance anymore. Very, very long, and the muted color palette is a drag to look at. It's all sort of... arbitrary, which is my problem with a lot of modern movie musicals. They're just not very imaginative or visually innovative, and like so many before it, there's just no emotion to it. There's no heart or passion, it's just plugging actors in to roles singing words and that's it. It's a covers album with noncommittal shrugs for visuals. I wish there had been more grandeur and more humanity. But, yeah, James Corden sings fine, even if his charm has been overstated. **1/2

THE MORTAL STORM (1940)
Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart are German peasants in 1932 who watch in horror as everyone they know changes drastically while Hitler rises to power. Typical Hollywood casting, but the movie is so earnest and stark in its depiction of the confusion when most of the people you know become thugs, bullies and racists that the casting doesn't really matter. One of the most interesting movies I've ever seen about the Nazi rise, because based on everything we know now, we can see that the movie is depressingly realistic and almost doesn't go as far as it could have. There's a sense that the real nightmares are hiding just below the surface. ****

HIROSHIMA MON AMOUR (1959)
Another celebrated foreign film which I was finally able to see. (Thank the gods for Turner Classic Movies.) The film is about a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) and a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) who have been having an affair while she is making a movie about Hiroshima, which has become a symbol for them of loss, temporality, the failure of relationships, and memory, which is both unreliable and inescapable. I won't do it justice describing it, but it's one of the most beautiful, lyrical films I've ever seen, creating a dreamscape in the middle of reality where these two people exist and their feelings become alternately tethering and freeing. ****

NIGHT AND FOG (1955)
Directed, like Hiroshima mon amour, by Alain Resnais, this one a short documentary about the Holocaust. Only 32 minutes long, it is perhaps the most horrifying film I've ever seen on the subject, juxtaposing contemporary shots of the Nazi death camps, and archival Nazi footage, most of which you've seen in various other documentaries. Somehow, it all seems so stark and cold here. There's something all-too-human in the "scientific" and "ordered" cruelty of the Nazi plan. We simply watch as the ideology and methodology of the Nazis are described. The real horror of the Nazis for me has always been that their Holocaust has never seemed something humans would be incapable of... the film itself, coming just ten years after the liberation, asks--after a half-hour of reminding us that many turned a blind eye to what was happening--who was responsible, and ponders whether such an evil was an aberration, or something which lurks inside humanity itself. A very powerful movie. ****

JUICE (1992)
A story of four friends in Harlem and how they're torn apart by violence. Q (Omar Epps) dreams of being a DJ, but Bishop (Tupac Shakur), tired of feeling powerless and not getting anywhere, is inspired when he sees someone he knows committing a robbery. He acquires a handgun and pushes the other three to join him in robbing a grocery store, and as time goes on and Bishop becomes more confident in his new role, it's inevitable that something tragic will occur. Tupac Shakur is intense as the would-be ringleader, and I think it's important the way the movie never takes guns for granted, constantly reminding you that these are objects of terror and violence. The film plays out like a nightmare, but asks a very important question about whether someone surrounded by violence can avoid being shaped by it. ***

MAME (1974)
Wow, that is really unwatchable. Just... totally unwatchable. *

EXECUTIVE DECISION (1996)
Also unwatchable. Although kind of fun now, 20 years later, because it's a veritable sea of That Guy's, but this thriller wants to be Die Hard so goddamn bad but forgets to have any sense of its own ridiculousness, so the whole thing is just... tedious. *

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Goodbye, Princess

Yesterday a little after five in the morning, my Princess Sparkles had a heart attack in my arms and passed away.

We first brought Princess home from an animal shelter nearly four years ago. Since then, she and I have spent a lot of time together. I've been unable to work and so we spent all day long together. Today is the first day I've truly been home alone in nearly four years, and it feels weird. Sometimes I think I feel her or notice her out of the corner of my eye. Every time I get out of my chair, I look around to see where she is. When I'm done eating, I look around like I expect her to walk over and want me to pet her. She was so much a part of my daily life.

Princess took care of me a little. It didn't take her long to figure out that (because I'm, well, a low-functioning mental case) Becca's in charge around here, so Princess kind of looked out for me by coming over to spend time with me or comfort me, especially when I was having an emotional breakdown or when I was really sick or even really depressed (particularly last winter, when I was medicated again). I miss the comfort of just petting her. I'm glad I got to spend Sunday petting her a lot, because it was her last day alive.

She's old for a rabbit. We only had her for the second half of her life; she spent her first four years with children, and as a result she loved to be petted but hated being handled or picked up. (They're the ones who gave her her name.) 8 is very old for a rabbit. We thought she was slowing down because it was that time, but she actually had developed pneumonia, and by the time we caught in (on Thursday) it was very advanced. She was having real problems breathing, and didn't want to walk around anymore because of the physical exertion. We were giving her medicine every 12 hours and feeding her with a paste because she just couldn't eat with her breathing difficulties. She was starting to eat on her own on Sunday, just a little bit of hay and fresh greens, so we thought she was getting better, but having to wrap her in a blanket and lift her up for medicine was just too much for her. Her heart gave out yesterday morning before we could even give her any; she just started breathing hard and then she shook; we put her down to see if it was the stress of being held, but she couldn't stand. She crawled an inch, then her head hit the floor, her entire body flopped over, and then she took a few more hard breaths and lay completely still, eyes open. We put our hands on her, but her heart had stopped. It was horrible and sad, but she's not in pain anymore. And I do genuinely feel like we did everything we could have done. She was just very, very sick and very old. I'm glad we were with her at the very end.

We adopted her fairly soon after Thumper had to be put to sleep when his cancer made it impossible for him to walk. I wasn't really ready for another bunny so soon, but Becca really wanted her. I remember the first time we saw Princess, Becca put her hand in the cage and Princess bowed her head down to be petted. That made me feel like she was ours. We brought her home and it was a learning process, and sometimes she could be infuriating, but I loved having her here every day. We loved each other so much. She was my family.

I think we gave her a good home. When we adopted her she was startled by every sound. Her fur was coarse and dark; she was totally brown with a little white spot on her paw, but as she lived here and ate better and became part of our family, her fur became thick and soft and that white spot on her paw became an entire crest that went all the way up to one shoulder. She seemed happy and even if she was demanding of attention sometimes (she was a princess, after all), she was always family.

I'm so sad that she's gone, but I'm so glad she was here. We gave her a home, but she helped make it a home.

This has been such a hard year, especially for my wife. 2015 was our financially hardest year ever. Last January, Becca's grandmother died. In August, one of her two best friends moved to Vegas. In December, the state stopped my medical benefits (although that looks like it's being rectified). The next day, Becca's mother died suddenly. David Bowie, my lifelong hero, died. And now Princess. Becca is distant from her family and feels like, except for me and her other best friend, she has no family left.

Personally, I'm depressed. I feel like just going to bed and never getting out of it, like my Mom did when I was a kid. She stayed in bed for days at a time. I just want to do that. All of my caregivers, even my pet, are dying or moving away. Having to care for Princess gave me a reason to get up in the morning. The only reason I made sure to get up today--even as I see her empty cage and her untouched food--is because I feel like she would want me to. So I'll just keep getting up every day. I can be sad and still live. I won't be sad forever. But I'll love her forever.

I'll miss you, Princess. I remember when Thumper died, and I said I had resisted getting a pet for so long because I didn't want to have to feel the emotional devastation when that pet inevitably died. I understand now that you can't have the love and companionship without the goodbye, and that a thing isn't beautiful because it lasts. I wouldn't trade my time with Princess or with Thumper just to not have to feel this sadness.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Song of the Week: "You Belong to the City"

1985 Aesthetic: The Song. From the Miami Vice soundtrack, all over the radio when I was 9, and to this day I love it. I know a lot of people think it's cheesy, but... well, yeah, that's what makes it so tasty. Cheese is good on everything. RIP Glenn Frey.