Saturday, December 15, 2012

Friday, December 14, 2012

Regarding the Deaths of Children Today

I'm sure you've all been made aware of the ongoing school massacre in Connecticut today. I can't process what I feel; I work with little kids all the time in schools, but I also stopped rooting for humanity a few years ago. I just can't articulate my feelings today. But I think my friend Sam put it best just now: "I get so confused about whether I'm supposed to love people or hate people when this happens."


TV Report, Kinda

Okay, I thought The Big Bang Theory was cute last night, but I have one continuing issue with this show. Its one aspect that pisses me off is the way it continues to see geeky activities as somehow a sign of arrested adolescence. What bothered me about last night's episode is what's bothered me in the past on this show, which is the way that it too often comes down to this idea that being a geek is somehow childish. Penny too often seems annoyed when Leonard won't spend his every moment of existence devoted to merely being her boyfriend, and it reinforces this negative idea that wanting to read comics or go see superhero movies or play Dungeons & Dragons is all supposed to be stuff that boys only do in lieu of having contact with women. Were you basically told that as a kid? I sure was. That when you grow up you're supposed to be all about getting married and being an "adult," and D&D is only for losers who can't get anyone to marry them. Anything fun you like to do that involves dwarves and Batman is a mere placeholder until you can, y'know, become a REAL PERSON.

So as much as I appreciate Melissa Rauch the sexiest I've ever seen her, bouncing around in that red dress and oozing sex all over the room, it just bothers me to see a show about nerds that sometimes seems like it's reinforcing the idea that the geek equivalent of watching the Super Bowl is something Leonard shouldn't be interested in anymore simply because he has a sexy girlfriend who only occasionally deigns to take an interest in his pastimes. It was especially nice to see Leonard just continue playing and not really address it. I still can't figure out why we're supposed to think these two are a great couple.

I don't know, I'm always seeing these characters on TV shows and in the movies who are lifelong sports fans, and their lifelong fandom of (but not actual participation in) any sports team is always a point of pride, because men and sports or whatever. But a grown man who takes pride in being a lifelong Star Trek fan. Oh, lawd, when is that boy going to grow up?

Give me a break.

My feelings last night had me thinking a bit more about this year's premium geek topic of stupidity, the "Fake Geek Girl" meme. I think that kind of cliche that can too often pervade pop culture--that geeky pastimes are often seen as childish--is one of the things that feeds that meme. I still think the meme is wrongheaded, sexist bullying, but I can understand how being told as you're growing up that liking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead of playing baseball makes you immature and totally unappealing to females makes it hard to accept that there are women out there who have an opinion on which Turtle has the coolest weapon and whether or not the red masks are better than the multicolored masks. But if you react to that with anything other than surprised joy, I can't really help you.

Seriously, though, the same way that The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises making more money than Greece did in 2012 means that we don't get to act like comic book fandom is hidden in the shadows, the fact that midnight releases of video games make the nightly news means that I don't want to hear anybody's shit about how playing Dungeons & Dragons with your friends is something that only scared man-children do because they don't know how to maintain adult relationships.

:: In a somewhat similar vein, I saw the Golden Globe nominations. Not many surprises, but I don't care any more than I ever already didn't. I did want to say the reaction to Benedict Cumberbatch's nomination for Sherlock is profoundly stupid. I've seen a surprising number of people who are so surprised anyone notices their pet show. Can we please get over this thing in fandom where you think the fans of a TV show you like are just you and a dozen or so other people. I don't know what internet you're using, but Sherlock seems pretty freaking popular, and it's mostly a quality show ("Hound of Baskerville" notwithstanding). It's pretty clearly not just a cult hit.

What is a cult hit is Community, and I kind of wish people would just get over that and enjoy the time they have left with this show they love. I didn't like it, and clearly enough people didn't like it to make it into the hit show its fans want it to be. It happens. It sucks, but it happens. I felt the same way when Farscape was canceled. It's my favorite TV show of all time, but it apparently didn't get the kind of numbers it needed to survive. But now I get to watch the whole series on DVD whenever I want to, and I'm extremely grateful for what I have. Do I wish more people had watched it and liked it? Sure I do. But they didn't, and now it's history. I've been able to move on with my life instead of talking about it constantly like the rest of the world was too stupid to find it appealing. Don't let your final season be tainted with anger and sadness and ranting about it; just enjoy the damn thing while you still can.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Xmas: Wonderful Christmastime

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #12. I've finally made peace with the McCartney version, but I love this one. I'm a little wary of calling something so recent an "essential" Christmas tune for me, but it has been on my Christmas mix for four years now. It confirms what I've always thought about this song, which is that it could be rather wonderful. (I just never dug McCartney's production.) I will always be in love with Demi Lovato's voice, at any rate.

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Here. **1/2

IN TIME (2011)
Interesting SF concept--people are genetically engineered to die at age 25, so time itself (which can be added or removed genetically in a way I didn't bother to question, since the movie doesn't work at all without this central conceit) becomes currency. It could've been an interesting study of the way society overvalues youth, but mostly it becomes a so-so action thriller with an attractive cast. Ultimately not very compelling. Cillian Murphy's pretty good in it, though. **

Creepy creepy creepy. The creepy-creepy-creepiest Lifetime movie I've ever seen, which is saying something. Jason Gedrick gives a truly creepy performance as the real life Max Factor heir who was tried and convicted on 87 counts of drugging and raping young women. Just... seriously, I needed a shower after it was over. Unusually visceral, even for Lifetime. **1/2

NOW IS GOOD (2012)
Here. ****

A short film/Sigur Ros music video featuring Elle Fanning as a daughter searching for the father (John Hawkes) who has left her behind. Super dramatic in a very bombastic way, but the music is compelling and, honestly, I just love watching Elle Fanning move. She does these things with her hands and her body that make her seem like an alien sometimes, as if she's never been in a human body before and isn't sure how it's supposed to work. Like she's finding her way through it. I love that about her; it reminds me of how fascinated I was when I was a kid by mime and dance and strange, ethereal movement. It's why I've always been so interested in puppets and special effects creatures and movies like The Dark Crystal. Elle is a special effects creature all on her own. I find her totally fascinating to watch in things like this. And she does ballet in it, which is another thing she's incredibly good at. What she and Jim Henson might have done together... ****

I never heard of this French movie until I saw a list of the best-reviewed films of 2011. I can see why it topped the list. It's hard to describe this movie without making it sound like that feel good bullshit I hate, but hey, it made me feel incredibly good. It stars the very, very good-looking Omar Sy as a man looking for a job (more accurately, looking to get back on welfare) who is hired by a rich tetraplegic man (Francois Cluzet) to be his live-in caregiver. It's immediately an unconventional relationship--Sy has no training and at first isn't really interested in doing the job--but the deep care that grows between the two is so natural, their chemistry so unforced, and the actors are so good in the roles, that it's just a joy watching these two bond through their shared situation. Like I said, it made me feel good, but not in a way that felt cheap or unearned. It's a very easy to like movie, but it's genuine. ****

Clint Eastwood as an aging baseball scout who bonds with his distant daughter (Amy Adams) while on a scouting trip. Creaky, but solid; likable, but maybe a little on the long side. It's very low-key, but Eastwood and Adams are particularly good as a father and a daughter with a vulnerable, bitter gulf between them. Eastwood continues to age gracefully on film. ***

Finally: that over-serious, dark, gritty, film noir retelling of Deep Throat I never asked for. *1/2 for obvious Sasha Grey-related reasons.

Surprising, honestly. It's not the silly old-people-having-sex-is-funny comedy that it advertised itself as. It's a perceptive movie about the ways an adult relationship can grow stale that doesn't resort to big, dramatic moments (though some of the comedy feels forced). There's a refreshing candor to that, because I am sick of those awful Nancy Myers movies about idiots acting like idiots. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep give brave, emotionally honest performances as a couple married for 31 years who have slowly grown further and further apart. He thinks there's nothing wrong and doesn't realize they way he can bully her; she feels like their marriage is coming to an end and frets that he doesn't want her anymore ("Like two friends who share the same house," she says). Steve Carell is assured, gentle, not big and flashy, as the relationship therapist who draws out their inner turmoil. Perhaps the movie is, in the end, a little too subdued for its own good, because it never quite catches fire the way you want it to. It doesn't grab you the way great acting can, which means the resolution isn't quite the triumph it should be. But I also like its tone and the way it knows that even emotional highs can take sudden sour turns. ***

Fun-but-dumb action thriller; too good and exciting (and, in Philip Seymour Hoffman's case, well-acted) to be described as by-the-numbers, but not one of the great action flicks, either. It's just fun-but-dumb, well-directed with some truly gripping action sequences. I wouldn't mind seeing another one (which is good, because there's another one to see), but I don't really consider this series essential or anything. Does anyone? I dug the first movie (I'm in a rather small grouping on that one) and didn't like the second one at all (too forced; you're not James Bond, Tommy). Good, ephemeral, preposterous fun, like a combination of Return of the Pink Panther and a mid-nineties Bond flick, but in a good way. (Also, glad to see Ving Rhames with a bigger role in this one than in the second.) ***

Don't Know About Anyone Else...

... but I'm feeling Barney and Patrice far more than I'm feeling Barney and Robin.

Ravi Shankar 1920-2012

I'm sorry to read today that Ravi Shankar died yesterday at the age of 92. Among his many albums, two of them (from the 1960s) are among my favorites: Improvisations and The Sounds of India. It would be nice if I had either one... I do have The Essential Ravi Shankar, so maybe I'll throw that on today.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Anya's Ghost

Becca checked this out from the library a couple of weeks ago and told me I might like it. She said it was about a high school girl who falls in a well and comes out with a ghost best friend. So I sat down with it, and I've just finished it, and I really think as many people should read this as they can. It's a wonderful, simple (but not simplistic), emotional story about Anya, a high school girl who is very worried about fitting in, and how her life changes when she secretly becomes best friends with a ghost--and then realizes far too late that the ghost may have her own reasons for wanting to get close to her.

It's a masterful work, and one of the most enjoyable graphic novels I've read in a long time. I especially recommend it if you're looking for a holiday gift for teen or pre-teen girls. It's an involving and positive work about self-esteem, individuality, and becoming comfortable with yourself. But more than that it's just a compelling, gripping, well-written (and drawn) story. I loved it.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Now Is Good

Spoilers, etc.

The trailer for Now Is Good promised me only half of what I'm feeling right now, after having watched the film this morning.

The trailer previewed the story of a kid, dying from leukemia, who was trying to fit in a lifetime's worth of love and experience into the short amount of time she had left. The song in the trailer was "Do You Realize?" by the Flaming Lips. It's the exact same song that was playing in the car when I drove to see my sister Ellen on that day in 2006 after my Dad called and told me she had died.

And that's the other half of what I'm feeling right now. Because this movie brought it all back; all of the grief and desperation and anger and sadness and terrible resignation of that time in my life that was the end of my sister's.

I have a hard time with cancer movies, especially child cancer movies. Not because they put me back in that place, but because they gloss over it too much, romanticize it too much, and manufacture emotions that never approach the reality. I hated My Sister's Keeper because I felt it exploited emotions that, as depicted, felt phony. They felt "big" and "dramatic" and not organic. It was about a medical science fiction situation, and I didn't like the way it used emotionalism to get to obvious conclusions. It never felt like a movie about a little girl who was going to die. I know, because I've been there, and it wasn't familiar to me. It was... well, it was a movie, and a movie I just didn't like.

Now Is Good gets a lot of things right about having this happen to someone in your family. It gets the emotions right and, more importantly, deals with them. It gets all of the reactions right: the family member who flees because it's too hard to watch and confront; the family member who immerses themselves in all of the science of cancer and the lore of alternative treatments; and the patient herself, who can only accept that, yes, she will die one day, and it's terribly unfair, but it's going to happen. There's a love story, there are scenes of holding on to new experiences and knowing they will never happen again, but it never feels like bullshit to me. I'm not sure if that's because I remember the way I felt and it seems genuine, or because I want Ellen to have had moments like that somewhere during all of the horrible illness and the terrible chemo and the awful illness that chemo itself brings.

Like the girl in the movie, Ellen stopped treatment, too. She didn't live very long after that. Like the girl in the movie, she died in her sleep. She went to bed and didn't wake up one morning. My Dad was with her. I remember driving there, and hearing that song, and what it was like arriving and seeing her in bed, dead, and cold, and kissing her head and touching her hand. I remember that. What I don't remember is driving back home at all. It's just not there. How strange not to remember that.

Not every movie brings me back to that. I loved 50/50, and I saw a lot in it that I recognized, but this one was much more personal. What destroyed me, then, was this scene:

This moment destroyed me. The moment, after she's learned that she's going to die very, very soon, when her father (Paddy Considine), breaks down before her and tells her "I only ever wanted to help you. I don't want you to leave. I can't bear it. Take me with you." Because that was once me, pleading with God, praying, screaming, demanding that he take me and not her. Yes, I had that moment. The atheist at the end of his rope, totally desperate, confronting his beliefs and not sticking by them because, damn it, if there was a chance that the inevitable could be avoided, I would have recanted everything I'd ever said. And then finding his beliefs cemented and reaffirmed in the worst way possible.

This would be a sad, touching movie, anyway, but, just remembering that... Death in movies is different to me now than it was 15 years ago. Since 2000, I've lost my grandmother, three aunts, one uncle, my pet rabbit, and my sister. I can't see a funeral scene or a hospital scene in a movie and not know the weight of that, the feel, the smells, the grimness and lightness that can come. I know you all know, too. It's a part of life, a part of growing up, a part of getting older. But it stings more when it's someone younger than us, someone with their whole lives in front of them.

What this movie made me think about, which I never really had before, is that the hardest part of knowing you're going to die must be imagining all of the things you'll never experience. The things you want to do and never will, because you won't be there. And having to make peace with that knowledge. It sounds terrible. I wish Ellen had never had to contemplate it until she was much, much older. Instead, she was 13.

And here it is, six years later. I'm still not over it. You never get over it. It just hurts a little less each year. And sometimes something triggers it all again and you cry and you sob and you feel the deepest despair. And then you put it into perspective and slowly find the peace you've made with it and know that, as time moves on, that peace is a little less contentious and is a little easier to maintain.

There are just days, and for me, today is one.

It's a beautiful movie. I'm not sorry it made me feel like this. But I may never be able to watch it again. I'm just glad I saw it once.

Song of the Week: "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #11. I just love the dramatic staging of this song, and of course Bing's voice. I think his voice is what makes the emotions sincere inside all of that dramatic orchestration which could have made it overly self-important. I never actually knew that this song was written in 1962 as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis. But when you're a kid, you kind of assume every Christmas song is really, really old. Turns out when I like this as a kid, it was only barely 20 years.