Wednesday, January 30, 2008
"real leadership is about candor, and judgment, and the ability to rally Americans from all walks of life around a common purpose"
I am so sick and tired of spin, of elected leaders who tell us what they think we want to hear rather than level with us about what we need to hear, of candidates who will say anything and do anything to win the next election. I honestly believe that Obama is different. He has already shown that he is different. The man does not change his tune to suit the audience. He has stood in front of a hall full of Democrats, when it would have been easy and welcome to trash Republicans, and he has instead talked about the importance of working with them. He has stood in front of a teacher's union and said he thinks there may be some merit to merit pay. And time and again he has been inclusive of gays and lesbians, not just in his general stump speech, but when he spoke at Auburn University, and when he spoke from Martin Luther King's pulpit at Ebenezer Baptist Church. (Compare and contrast with Hillary Clinton, who doesn't utter a word that's not poll-tested and focus-group screened. She speaks a big game when in front of the Human Rights Campaign, claiming she would overturn the ban on gays in the military, and yet she is already sitting on the Senate Armed Services Committee, in the ideal position to do something about it, and has done nothing. I think it's clear we can expect Hillary to pander to the gay community when she needs our votes, but then throw us under the bus once elected, just as her husband did. Bill Clinton courted the gay vote, then not only gave us the Don't Ask Don't Tell compromise, but he signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Why should I expect Hillary Clinton to be any different?)
The level of politics in our country has sunk so low, that I would so much rather have someone who is honest, candid, and straightforward, even if I don't agree with all of his specific ideas, than someone who will spin, lie, and obfuscate. I'd much rather have someone who takes the high road, rather than someone who believes the end justifies the means (for instance, Hillary's willingness to break her pledge and change the rules on the Florida and Michigan primaries, which shows the only "principle" she's familiar with is "whatever it takes to win"). I look forward to being able to travel abroad and have a president I can be proud of rather than ashamed of. I hope that the rest of the country is as hungry as I am to restore the greatly damaged credibility of the presidency, and to elevate the tone of politics in Washington, by electing someone who can be trusted to speak openly and honestly. I think Obama is that man.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
[Mild spoilers ahead… in case you're worried that you won't guess how the story turns out, skip this next paragraph...]
Jane's 11th hour switch of affections comes from what, exactly? Fond memories of a drunk one-night stand? And Kevin -- who knows whether he truly is a sweet romantic guy hiding behind a mask of obnoxious cockiness, or is he really a cynic spinning sentimental crap? He doesn't know himself, neither do we, so how is Jane supposed to figure it out? Was Kevin smitten with Jane from first sight, or was he initially out to exploit her and then had a change of heart? (And if a change of heart, when, how, and why?)
The problem is that the writer just didn't think this character through coherently, so that Kevin's apparent motivations spin like a weathervane from scene to scene, with no explication except that he does what is needed to propel the plot. There are a few hints of dimension (that he was left at the altar in the past, that he did once cry at a wedding), which are just teases at how much more compellingly this character could have been written if given his due complexity. (And the ironic potential of a wedding-cynical reporter assigned to the wedding beat is missed, serving only as a bare plot contrivance.) What meagre crumbs of complexity Kevin has are tossed away by the director, whose lack of romantic vision didn't help. Perhaps director Anne Fletcher is guilty of what Kevin accuses Jane of: she doesn't want a relationship so much as she wants a wedding. But much as it pains me, I blame writer Aline Brosh McKenna for this film not living up to its full potential. This was especially surprising as she had written the screenplay for The Devil Wears Prada (as the 27 Dresses promotion machine constantly reminded us), where she did a stellar job, that very rare achievement where the screenplay actually improved on a great book (and the improvement came from deepening the characters). Based on Prada, I'd be willing to give McKenna another shot in the future. And I'd love to see Heigl and Marsden in a better story. They were like vintage burgundy and black truffles used to make meatloaf. Mind you, meatloaf's fine for a weekday meal. So if you go with appropriate expectations -- just wanting to be entertained rather than inspired, looking for something amusing for an evening rather than memorable for a lifetime -- 27 Dresses is good cute fun.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Monday, January 14, 2008
Fairly early in the film, there is a scene where the professor is drilling the students on enunciation by making them answer a catechism while holding a radish in their teeth. The prophetic catechism (which makes a poignant reprise later in the film), goes like this:
Prof: "Who is the Judge?"
Students: "The judge is God."
Prof: "Why is He the judge?"
Students: "He decides who wins and loses; not my opponent."
Prof: "Who is your opponent?"
Students: "My opponent does not exist."
Prof: "Why does your opponent not exist?"
Students: "He is a mere dissenting voice to the truth I speak." *
** Apparently, the Harvard part was a fictional embellishment. In the real life story, the historical debate was between Wiley College and University of Southern California. California leading the nation again, but then I suppose Harvard makes for better drama.
Catty gay postscript: In addition to being an impressive actor, Nate Parker is fine, easy on the eyes.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Since the Golden Globes are cancelled (and possibly the Oscars too), and since I'm in a look-back-on-the-year mood, I thought I'd make some of my own awards. Since it was the Year of the Musical, we'll start on that note and go from there:
- Most made me tap my feet and want to jump up and dance: Hairspray
- Most made me want to buy the soundtrack: Once (I also bought Hairspray, and may buy a few tunes from Enchanted and Juno)
- Most made me laugh out loud: Death At A Funeral, with Enchanted a close second, and honorable mention for Stardust and Outsourced.
- Most made me cry: Once, with The Namesake a close second.
- Most made me think: The Bubble
- Most entertaining story: Stardust, Enchanted, Juno
- Most made me want to hop on a plane: Outsourced
- Most visually beautiful film: After The Wedding (Susanne Bier is Bergmanesque in her filmmaking), Outsourced (a visual valentine to India, though not in the same league as Water), Love In The Time of Cholera (Mike Newell's filming of the decaying Spanish colonial splendor of Cartagena helped bring Garcia-Marquez's magical realism to the screen), Atonement (a classic English manor house, vivid wartime France scenes, and Sioarse Ronan's eyes)
- Strongest sensibility: After The Wedding (intensely psychological visual expressionism), Hairspray (Adam Shankman's kitschy Baltimore 1960 tone is pitch-perfect), Juno (quirky perky and totally coherent marriage of nostalgic values and hip young attitude), Atonement (Joe Wright makes us feel the space inside Briony's head)
In fairness, it should be noted that we didn't get to nearly every film we'd liked to have seen. Notable films we missed include La Vie En Rose, Lust/Caution, Lars and the Real Girl, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Into Great Silence. Films we may yet catch from the year-end rush-and-tumble of releases: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, The Kite Runner, Sweeney Todd, The Golden Compass.
We look forward to see what 2008 brings.
Monday, January 07, 2008
Even though, with one or two notable exceptions, I can't recall making New Years resolutions that have stuck, I nonetheless make resolutions every year. Hope springs eternal. If nothing else, it's a good excuse to pause on life's path, take stock of where you are, where you'd like to be, and what changes you'd like to make. That being said, here are my resolutions for 2008, most of which are retreads from last year(s).
- Fit some volunteer work back into my life. This one should actually happen this year. Several years ago, I spent a couple hours each week in a great program called Wonder of Reading, that provides one-on-one tutoring for elementary school children. It was a great experience, but after my first year, my job situation changed, and I didn't continue. It's been in the back of my mind to get back to that for a while now, and at the end of last year, an email came across our Echo Park neighborhood mailing list that the local branch of the LA Public Library was looking for tutors for their adult literacy program. I thought, that's my cue. So I responded, spent a Saturday before Christmas taking their training, and now am just waiting to be matched up with a student. I'm looking forward to it. I like the idea of making a meaningful contribution to my local community, in a form where I can be effective with just a few hours a week.
- Sit up straight. This one's been nearly a lifelong struggle. I have a great personal trainer who helps me out, but I need to do more on my own. It's a constant struggle against what I call "computer back". Somehow the screen has a magnetism that draws my head forward inexorably until I'm totally hunched over. I must learn to resist. I think this cartoon pretty much says it all:
- Exercise. This one dovetails with the previous. I'm been going for walks nearly daily, but I some days I let myself get too absorbed in work. I need to be more dedicated about getting out at least once and preferably twice a day. (In addition to the exercise, it's good to break up the day from sitting too long at a stretch in front of the screen.) And daily ab exercises and stretching would be awesome. I can dream, can't I? (Yes, I can dream. But can I actually exercise daily? Let's see…)
- Entertain a bit more. Last year, we had friends over for dinner once in a while, but not very often. And it's been over a year since we've had a party at our place. It's not hard to have one or two friends over for a weeknight dinner, a couple times a month. And we should have a few barbecues or something this summer.
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Actress Ellen Page gives Juno a winningly persuasive performance of a teenager who thinks she knows it all at the same time as she knows that she doesn't. (Much as I loved Amy Adams in Enchanted and Nikki Blonsky in Hairspray, I think Ellen Page has my vote for best actress in a comedy/musical.) Michael Cera more or less reprises his character from SuperBad, although he's gone to the Hugh Grant school of acting, so he's a bit more deer-in-the-headlights stammering, kinda dorky, but kinda cute and vulnerable. It works for Hugh Grant though, and here it works well for Michael Cera's American teenage version of it. Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner are both strong as the apparently-perfect yuppie couple, her determined but apprehensive about becoming a mother, and him stifled in his dreams of being a music star instead of composing jingles for TV commercials. J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney give life and fun as Juno's father and step-mother.
It was interesting seeing this film after seeing Atonement. Both of them are very subjective films, although with Atonement the subjectivity is an integral part of the plot, while with Juno it's an integral part of the sensibility. Juno's views of her parents and her peers makes you laugh, but it has an underlying sophistication that sneaks up on you. It wasn't until late in the film that it really dawned on me how much we'd been seeing the other characters as colored by Juno's perceptions. That comes into focus late in the film when she has a loss-of-innocence moment, forcing her to find her way back to her core values (or forward to her self-discovery). The film has funny moments, poignant moments, and is ultimately reaffirming that even amidst the crazy disfunctionality of contemporary social life we can still hold on to the values we grew up with, but in our own way.
Friday, January 04, 2008
(Obama's speech in Des Moines, December 27. Text here.)
Thursday, January 03, 2008
The story, taken from the book of the same name by Ian McEwan (I haven't read it, but heard it's great), is a novel and intriguing story, both in its plot and in the creative way that it is unfolded. I'm not sure how it went in the book, but Christopher Hampton's screen adaptation does some wonderfully clever plays on subjectivity and viewpoint, showing us a scene through one character's eyes, and then revisiting, Rashomon style, the same scene through another character's eyes. Sometimes it is signaled by a visual link, such as a dropped earring, while other times it is intentionally unmarked, so that you only realize partway through that the timeline has folded on itself. The scenery is as lush as you would expect for an epic of this scale, with the first part of the movie shot on a sumptuous Victorian manor estate (actually, an old pile semi-restored from harder times that this film is probably helping to save), and the latter part with vivid depictions of Normandie, London, and Dover during World War II. Many of the images are the sort of beauty that stay in mind long after the film: close-ups on Saiorse Ronan's face and eyes, soldiers walking through a French apple orchard and later finding the beach, both Keira Knightley and James McAvoy diving into the water at various times. The music by Dario Marianelli is pitch-perfect for the tone of the film, and brilliantly incorporates the sound of an old Corona typewriter throughout (as well as piano performances by the masterful impressionist interpreter Jean-Yves Thibaudet). And there's a very effective use of utter silence as "score" in Vanessa Redgrave's scene as the older Briony, where the absence of music and sound creates an intense vacuum, signifying the emotional weight of Briony's guilt. (The technique is unusual, but can be used to great effect -- Bob Fosse's All That Jazz comes to mind.)
One thing I didn't expect, and that ever-so-slightly disappointed me, was that I found the film a bit cold and detached. Everyone was talking about having tissue handy, and I cry at the slightest provocation, yet this film did not make me cry. (Okay, my eyes moistened a few times, but the tears never flowed.) In retrospect, I think the fault was mine rather than the film's, in that I was just expecting it to be something other than it was. The romance between Cecilia (Knightley) and Robbie (McAvoy) was never really explained, but then that wasn't really the point. It wasn't about them, so much as it was about Briony. The title of the film is not "Love In Wartime", it's "Atonement", and that should have been a big clue to me. That's not to say that there aren't some very poignant scenes of the lovers, separated by events including the war. But the director made a choice not to cue up the violins and make any gushy scenes, instead keeping a taut psychological tone throughout, building the pressure for the ultimate need for atonement. Appreciated for what it was meant to be, rather than what I expected, it was a brilliant film.