Like: A Single Man

January 27, 2010

What if someone who had never seen a film before decided to direct a movie?

Well, if it was explained to them how a camera works, how scenes should more or less look together, how to edit, and how certain cinematic devices can be used, then what would that movie it look like? What could we truly expect? The answer is probably crappy, but there would certainly be a fresh approach. They would not be aping the latest hit film, or referencing their favorite directors. They would think about something in their life ore experience they would want to capture it as if it had been capture for the first time. And that has innate value.

Now let us then suppose that that person is an artist, even someone who is truly familiar with the notion of image, texture, textile, and movement. What would that film be like?

It would be something like A SINGLE MAN, the new film by fashion icon Tom Ford. Oh of course Tom Ford has seen movies, but there is a clear and palpable innocence to his approach. He’s not trying to do any discernable impersonation of a film, which is often the cardinal sin of first time directors. It is simply as if the man who’s been designing fashion lines and photo shoots for the last eternity is finally free to explore a new plane of existence. It’s all a new palette to him. He constantly plays with color, time, framing, slow-motion, and contrast editing. He has incredible appreciation for his new ability to “sculp in time” (tarkovsky’s phrase) and construct a fully-realized story. In that regard, it’s really like he’s never seen a film before and delights in the popular cinematic devices as if they’re the first time they’ve ever been done. The result is often tangential and possibly amateurish (picture a roomful of film school students rolling their eyes “doesn’t he know that he DOESN’T have to do a whole slow mo shot of the little girl’s dress??!!”), but it’s it all feels so impossibly genuine.

It’s also a startlingly good film.

Do not assume this is a movie of vignettes or passing fancy of a director obessessed with doing camera tricks. It is a completely coherent and concentrated story; a single day in the life of a middle aged man who lost the love of his life. Sure the fact that the relationship is a homosexual one is somehow the conversation piece of the film, but that’s completely off-base to me. Even if it sometimes touches on the plight of being an unspeakable, “invisible minority” in the 60’s, that could hardly be less of the central focus. It is a-political. This is a film wholly about the universal nature of profound loss.

I know the novel was deeply personal, but speculation on the personal nature to ford is both obvious and inconsequential. What’s important is that it completely feels personal. That one can immerse themselves into Ford’s beautiful perspective and Colin firth’s broken spirit. Because it’s so wonderfully written, Colin Firth is gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from him. He cracks with wounded resolve (the phrase makes sense when his plans become apparent) and there is a crystalline focus of his world. While it’s stylistically tangentially the reveals in story and character If movies are about drawing you into a character, than this film succeeds unquestionably.

But if you’re someone who believes that films should follow certain rules, or that any good film has the sense to cut A, B, and C (and I often am on both counts) than you might find A SINGLE MAN to be a annoying bore. You’d be angry with it’s cinematic dalliances (the same way lots of folks are annoyed by the brilliant film THE NEW WORLD). But I think the movie transcends the limitations of it’s own innocence.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what makes it great.


I Write a Dumb Blog…

January 23, 2010

I write a dumb blog. The syntax of this statement is purposefully atrocious, but I embrace the grammatical horror with the same warmth that I embrace the concept of this blog itself. You see, even though I may want to be a writer, this blog does exemplify the merits (or even highlight the goals) of that desire. It instead serves a completely different function in my life: I tend to write compulsively, with constant ebb and flow throughout my day of work, emailing friends, or arguing sports, or posting lame observations. And rarely, if ever, is it because I want to tell people things. It is because the mere act is wholly satisfying. There is conversation going on constantly inside my head, one that seems of grave importance, but usually being about nothing more superfluous than surprising aptness of certain films or the lacking qualities of certain people. But if I do not share these things, they are somehow lost. An argument inside my head is nowhere for it to live. It should breath. It should be expressed and crafted. And maybe if it is lucky it should be ever so lucky as to be read by a single eyeball; because inherently the passing thoughts and notions inside one’s head are horribly lonesome things.

It’s not an alien notion. It is why people with absolutely no writing talent blog in various forms and why they share the most menial and useless details of their lives. The motive is not different from the most eloquent thoughts an essays of some of our great writers. When they think, or wonder, or develop a passing material fancy then one simply wants to feel like someone is coming with them. This is not to say this exercise is sad or pathetic, but just ultimately necessary. We tend to chastise those who share every detail of their lives as conversely having “no life” or probably lacking someone to share it with, but I find that to be a false appraisal. I have a wonderful significant other with which I share my life and hope to til the end of our days, but quite honestly, if I were to assault her with the daily pointless musings on “stuff” that pass through my head with alarming regularity, she would have long since obtained, loaded, and fired a shotgun directly into my person. And it would be wholly justified. Our significant others are there to enjoy the wonderful quiet and happy moments of our lives, not to listen to our needless crap, be our punching bags, or let us blow off steam. They are to be cherished. And so I write a dumb blog to bring people through the inherently lonesome and terrifying journey of trying to figure “stuff” out. Which I admit, makes it all the more strange that most of my arguments and theories are wholly declarative in nature. If I was really wondering or entertaining notions my blog would be far more nebulous and obtuse. It often reflects a cocksuredness that is completely absent from my actual mental dialogue. And such is a function of my own limitations.

And they are limited. I truly consider the quality of this blog to be substandard. I often rush out posts with one menial edit simply because it makes no sense spending infinite amounts of time crafting some thoughts that are wholly disposable. Which is not to say the thought or reasoning behind them is invalid, or that I’m not proud of some posts (the feminism one is rambling but I actually thing stands as pretty insightful. It certainly gets the most attention and emails to me). But I wholly assure you that all my best work sits in the litany of unfinished drafts that seem to outnumber the posts I already have on here. Mega Part 2’s that were promised, detailed analysis of tax policies, and the logical fallacies of a sub-standard health care system. It’s all my best work, yet all hopelessly half done and untimely (posts with some perceptive 2008 election coverage anyone?).

But the ultimate point is this: this blog is going to change. It’s going to become even more obtuse and superfluous. But only because I’ve already started, and going to start  another blog which will be far more serious and professional in its aims.

The first blog which has already started is called www.foodilikeandfoodidontlike.wordpress.com and it evaluates food, restaurants, and culinary philosophy with far more seriousness than is often found in there. I hope to make it informative and fun, but wholly admit it’s core audience will be foodies and those with mild food curiosity.

The second blog is going to something else entirely. Devoid of gimmick or pomp, there will be actual, serious journalism comprised of interviews, profiles, and long form non-trivial essays. And I’m determined to make it actually good.

I will continue to post on stuffilike for sure. And I hope it will be entertaining. For example, I’m currently planning a long reoccurring series about sexual icons of yesterday and today and why there has to be a way to talk about them with an apt social and totally-non-sexist context.

So why talk about this? Is it really important to announce a paradigm shift in philosophy for a stupid blog? Well sort of, because this blog is surprisingly popular. Not mega popular “did you hear about it on so and so?” kind of of way, but in the way that I have a decent amount of actual readers who are not my family (or even friends!) and hundreds of people coming in the form of float-in-traffic every day (side-note: the search engine terms people use to find this blog are absolutely fucking hilarious). And I really do appreciate those who take the time to read. I truly do.

So I just wanted to give a heads up. Hope to keep seeing you.

Thanks to all,

Mike


Don’t Like (Comparitively): Up In The Air

January 11, 2010

UP IN THE AIR is fairly pleasant and technically well-made. The stars and interactions are amiable. I liked what it was trying to do and what it was trying to say. It is even timely in a tad on the nose, but still completely respectable way. I fully recognize that it has some worth in the landscape of poopy movies out there. So why don’t I like the movie? The problem is that central conceit of UP IN THE AIR doesn’t really make sense whatsover, which means the entire movie is basically an irreconcilable trick.

There is one central question which highlights this problem: why does George Clooney like isolating himself from people and spending most of his time on an airplane? Seriously, why? The only substantial answer the film seems to give is because he does, that’s why! By all accounts the character is amiable, genuine, and well-intentioned. He likes to get away from his family, but in all scenes with them he is warm, kind, and means well. He can’t help falling into perfect comfort and ease with his female counterpart. Within a day they act like they’re in a full blown relationship despite the fact that they’re both no. So when he gives his speeches about wanting to accumulate 10 million miles, burning your backpack of a life, and how comforting the lonesome travel routine is to him… well… it seems completely out of left field for his likable personality type. That person is not like that. That person is even real. Hell, I know that person. That person is slightly Aspergian. That person is unadjusted. That person doesn’t get why their job is evil, or why it’s actually so important that actually connect with other human beings. And as such that person does not behave like George Clooney. Conversely George Clooney is one of the only people who can make that character likable and thus enjoyable for the audience to watch, but does not doing that completely undermine the entire conceit of the movie? His character is really doing nothing but going through the motions of dissasoiation. No matter how hard he tries to sell it, we never buy it for a second. Not from George Clooney. UP IN THE AIR is really nothing more than an irreconciable premise, well executed.

So it comes down to a question of logic, and if you engage that question, the movie can’t help but fail. (Note: this isn’t a plot hole kind of thing. Plot holes you can ignore much, much easier to forgive than a hole in character. Then again some people don’t agree with that, but I really believe we will follow and forgive a character for doing anything plot-wise if they are true to “themselves.” If a character bends their will merely for the sake of plotting, or another character’s development and not their own individual reveal, it just never truly works.)

Similarly there is a development in the film that highlights this exact same failure in logic, and this is a MEGA SPOILER so be wary… okay here’s the spoilier… When Vera Farmiga’s character is revealed to be married it is both the most obvious thing (because they way they shoot the build up to the scene) and similarly the most left-field nonsensical thing for her character. Aside from one singular part of the film, she never for a second behaves as if she’s married. Or someone who is the married type. Why would she behave in such “relationship-y” way with George Clooney’s character? Despite a few in-your-face lines, it is obviously not just a sexual fling for her. Why would she go to his wedding, and to his high school, and go down all those roads if he’s just her “escape” from her marriage? Why would she be so helplessly at ease with him when he’s getting wisty with and attached to her? It makes absolutely no fucking sense. It’s merely a story telling trick to set you up for her eventual reveal (ie “betrayal”). And if that’s part of her game or modus operandi than she is simply an evil, callous, and use-a-term-again Aspergian human being… which the film does not seem to be indicating whatsoever. So there.

The end result is this: UP IN THE AIR is a slick, detached hollywood production that is trying to say something worthwhile and timely about wounded and detached human beings, but can only do so by hoodwinking you with dishonest charm.*

* it should be noted Anna Kendrick’s character, despite being the most cartoony of the bunch, actually made sense and was therefore the best part about the movie. Like I said, I will forgive anything if the charcter’s actions and behaviors are emotionally valid for the character.


Like, Best of the Decade (Sports): The 2004 ALCS

January 5, 2010

The best sports events of the decade in some order… Please keep in mind I have no interest in (or feeling of some authority for) doing a list of sports events that is anything but  a matter of personal taste…  Meaning yeah, they’re all pretty much Boston sports related.

1. The 2004 ALCS – The Red Sox always let you down. This was common knowledge. There is some debate among sports fans about what kind of dynamic is worse, when the team you love is a constant bottom dweller who can’t muster together a payroll or any substantial interest, OR when a team you love constantly gives you hope then always (and in heartbreaking fashion) ends up letting you down and playing second banana. I’m really not sure. But for 86 years the 2nd banana routine of the Boston Red Sox really sucked. Sure I was only around for like 22 of those crappy years, but still, no one ever let you forget. It permeated everything. Way-too-angry and bitter dads would coach you into thinking a ball going between your legs was the most unforgivable thing in the universe. I watch grown men chew little children out over this on more than one occaision (the underreported aspect of the Buckner fallout). Bostone was defined by this kind of losing and anger. Seriously. The most happy go lucky player could come into town and within weeks, the attitude seeped into them. Everything thinks we can’t win when it matter. They’re here. They’re cheering. The love us. But they hate us too. The don’t think we can’t win. It was a disease of expectation. The Red Sox always let you down.

So what has to happens to reverse all that? To literally turn around the fortunes of an entire city?

How about the greatest comeback of all time? This may seem to be hyperbole at first glance, but I am fairly confident that this is an unquestionable fact. In the history of American sports there has only been two teams who have come back from 3-0 to win a seven game series. One of them was the Boston Red Sox in 2004 (the other occured in professional hockey with the 1975 New York Islanders). What’s more significant is that it was done against the perennial franchise enemy and part of the most popular rivalary in all of professional sports. The comeback was executed in the most spectacular fashion possible with two games all-time great games (game 4 and 5) and two excellent games to finish the series. Most of these single game comebacks were made against the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, and those who think he bested him in his twilight years it was 5 years ago and he just had another dominant performance this last season. The series made an absolute star out of David Ortiz and it cemented the Red Sox as a nationally beloved team for the next several years on. It was one of those truly great sports moments not just of the decade, but in the history of sports. And it was defined not by a singular blink-and-you’ll-miss-it occurence within the game, but a story of micro-evolotion over the course of a week or so. It was long but graceful pendulum swing of a series, defined by a fulcrum moment in which Dave Roberts executed a hair-line must steal to turn the tide of game 4. It’s a singulary small moment that encapsulates a change in flow. Everything that happened after was purely a result of that successful steal. Somehow, everyone seemed to understand it at the time. There’s something innate and palpable in the air. An energy. Everyone instinictively understood what this meant. And it would be echoed in the years that followed. We were the red sox “and then Dave Roberts stole second”…  I watched every single second of this series (even ducking out of much-anticipated concert to see game 6), and it was truly an experience.

It will forever define my love of sports.

2. The 2002 Superbowl (for 2001 season): remember when the Patriots were the good guys? The scrappy underdog who bested the Greatest Show on Turf with an absolutely improbable win? The team that symbolically represented the country (e.g. “Patriots”) in the wake of the greatet modern national tragedy in 9/11? Remember that team? Seems like a long time ago. But it should be noted that this win was far more significant for Boston than it often gets credit for. It sort of gets lumped in with the other two super bowl wins and Adam’s other great winning kicks, but for Boston sports fans of a certain age (late 20’s, like me), it defined the first championship moment of our lives. We were very young for the Celtics champtionships, too young to fully understand them. I was fully cognizant for the team’s waning years, when they was ailing and injured and simply too old to win it all. So for all intents and purposes, 01-02 Patriots suberbowl win was my first real championship. It was pure elation. I had no idea what to do with the feeling, so I just went nuts and ran around my college dorm a lot… which is exactly the reason that so many people love sports. It gives normally level-headed and carefully constructed people the ability to get outside themselves and participate in a completely unfiltered moment of total joy. And there’s nothing better than that.

3. Pedro Martinez in 2000 – This would technically include his 1999 year as well, but watching Pedro during these two years will go down as the sing most exhilarating individual performance I have ever seen from an athlete. Unreal. JUST UNREAL. Look at those seasons. A 1.74 ERA and a .71 whip IN THE STEROID ERA. And the guy is, like, my size. I’ve detailed my love for him a bunch of times on this blog, but all of it is deserved. For a few years he was doing something no one else could do on the planet. And everyone knew it. Before the days of the non-stop sell-outs getting tickets for a Pedro game was the thing to do in Boston. It was the best example I can ever give where watching sports felt like an actual privledge. Unfortunately, everyone knew it couldn’t last. Pedro’s frame was never meant to handle that kind of torque and absurd arm positions (try throwing a curveball like he does with any kind of effectiveness. I’m convinced it’s impossible for anyone else). No matter what, I will always remember Pedro’s years of dominance as the greatest singular performance of the decade.

4. The 07-08 Celtics Part I: The Kevin Garnett Cavaclade – Basketball has maybe become my favorite sport. (I’m really surprised how much PED scandals have diminished my ability to enjoy the Baseball. I did think it would matter. Turns out it did. Likewise with sabremetrics. They were fascinating at first, but have gotten so accurate and telling in their analysis that they have literally come to define the game for all intents and purposes… it sort of ruins the fun. Think I’m joking? The NBA changed the hand-check rules because of it and viewership instantly shot up as a result). But oh yeah basketball. I loved it as a kid and teen, but fell out of love with it post-jordan as the league’s young superstars got paid too much too soon, and defensive dominance became the standard of the league (note: you want defense to the be the hallmark of a few teams, not the entire league. Play and functionality suffer in that scenario). The fact that the Celtics continued to be unfathomably terrible just helped ensure my growing disinterest. Anywho, fast-forward to 2007 and I begin watching basketball again as the arrival of foreign players made it terribly exciting, the suns were fun as all hell, and I get to watch Kobe operate in total dysfunction. To boot, the atrocious celtics were finally in the running for kevin durant sweepstakes (I never understood the Oden love. Even then. Durant was always going to be THE GREAT one of the two. Why it was even a debate was beyond me).  So the warriors have an amazing upset over the mavs, we’re treated to some excellent textbook basketball from the spurs, and ping pong balls go and the celts don’t get a shot at durant. So they put their chips all in and manage to aquire ray allen and Kevin Garnett. Well now then… The great thing abouts sports is we get to talk about intangibles and how important they are to impossible legnths (watch espn. 90% of what they’re talking about is completely circumstantial and prognostication and it’s still pretty fun). So getting to see Kevin Garnett bring a host of intangibles to a team of veterans and young guys was just exhilerating. The buzzwords used were “he changed the culture.” It went beyond that. He changed how his teammates played the game. He changed their focus. He changed the reasons WHY they even played. It it brought the team just an excellent championship. I’ve maintained that certian hallmark teams of a sport should always be good. Not necessiarly win it all, but should always be good. The Yankees should always be good. The Canadians should always be good. The Steelers should always be good. They’re institutions of the sport and should always be represented as such. They’re there to be beaten. To be an obstacle. To be the standard bearer. And for nearly two decades on of the NBA signature fanchises was a complete and total joke. No one felt good about it… Until Kevin Garnett changed it all just by showing up and being himself.

5. The 07-08 Celtics Part II: The Pierce/Lebron Duel – Part of the 2008 playoff run. Game 7 of the 2nd round. The game came down to who would outperform who down the stretch. These are just the best part of basketball. And Pierce, one of the great underrated scorers of all time (not that he’s known as being under-rated but that he’s under-rated for his relative offensive greatness) had his moment to show that he was one of the NBA’s elite. He would carry it into the finals to earn Final’s MVP. Watching him toil on those shitty Celtics teams then get his moment to shine was just a joy.

Best non-Boston sports moments:

-2001 world series – Diamondbacks beating the yankees. Symbollically one one level it sort of sucks: a flash in the pan midwestern expansion team beats the standard-bearer of the sport… On the other hand, it proved great pitching truly does win in the post season. It won two all time great starters their first ring. And it overthew a dominant team from a recent string of titles. A great series. (I was obviously less-happy w/ the marlins result… though it did get the Red Sox as shot at Josh Beckett.)

-Warriors and their round one upset of the Mavricks 2007 playoffs – perfect storm of nellie-ball, beards, and uncalled-for MVPs.

-Texas/USC, 2006 Rose Bowl – I was in LA for this one. What a doozy.

… There’s a bunch of others I’m going to leave off this list, because they will be mentioned below and I don’t want to double up on anything.

The Best Athletes I loved watching:

1.Watching Pedro Martinez in 2000 – Mentioned above.

2. Watching Peyton Manning/Tom Brady (tie) – I fully admit that over the last four years the story has changed on this one. It used to be that manning was the great performer who couldn’t win the big one and Brady was his foil. Now it’s seemingly the opposite. They two are still the greatest quarterbacks of our era and part of a wonderful, intrinsic rivalry. Even though he’d still be one superbowl shy, if Manning wins this year he will be the greatest quarterback of all time.  His performance and value is immersurable.

3. Watching Allen Iverson – Wait, what? Iverson? Yeah. Iverson. Why him? Because he was the most exciting offensive player to watch this decade. LeBron is a better all-around player. I’d rather have KG on my team. But when it comes to watching from a non-fan distance, nobody had more insane and jaw-dropping moments then AI. He was a 6’1 skinny pitbull of ferociousness. Yes he took a lot of shots, but he also never had a supporting cast (people seem to forget how good Pippen was because of his 2nd banana status. Some people argue he was the 2nd best player of the Dream Team). Well AI made it to a finals when he was the only good guy on the team. Good for him. He had a crazy persona sure, but a lot of antiquated folks had a problem with his thug style first and foremost. He about the fact that he wasjust  exhilerating to watch.?

4. Watching Roger Federer – wait, WHAT? Tennis? Yeah. Tennis. I don’t really watch it. But when I do, I stop to watch Federer. He’s nearing the waning days, but for a good solid run he was the best there was and maybe the best there ever will be (considering his ability to stay healthy in a converse relationship to modern tennis). Check out this amazing DFW article on him.

5. Watching Manny Pacquiao – There hasn’t been a boxer this exciting since young Tyson. I’ll stand by that. De La Hoya was (and Mayweather is) a wonderful technical fighter, but none of them can match paq man’s sheer ferocity, spirit, and determination. The guy is an animal. But unlike most bruisers, he (like Tyson) can focus into a singluar moments of sublime combat. And unlike Tyson, he has speed, durability, vitality, endurance, and a rocky-like sense of invincibility and hard headed-ness. Yikes… Go back and watch him in the Cotto fight. Every significant Cotto punch was countered not just with an excellent shot, but an almost taunting-like resolve from paq man egging him on.  Can’t wait for Paq/Mayweather.

6. Watching Kobe in 2009 – This is by far kobe’s best season. Why? Cause he finally gets that basketball dominance is about taking over only when you really need to. Congrats to Kobe. The best player in the league in 2009. There I said it.

7. Watching Usain Bolt – Usain scares the shit out of me. Why? Because he hasn’t started trying yet. Really. I have yet to see him finish one of his world record setting runs  IN FULL SPRINT AT THE END. He trails off cause he’s already dominating. It’s ridiculous. True, I’ve often been quick to downplay his achievements as world records in olympic events get broken constantly. His records won’t last too long and it’s part of an evolution, but that’s all just in the grand scheme of things. The fact of the matter is that he’s breaking by such alarming margins and not even really trying yet… frightening.

8. Watching Tiger Woods – Sure he’s the most dominant and amazing athelete of the decade. He should be at the top of this list… I’m just not crazy about watching golf. I like golf. I like playing golf. I like watching him play. I just can’t sit there and watch him play all day long. Hence, he’s lower than the rest of these guys. Which is more a function of my enjoyment of TV golf and not Tiger.

-And not watching Lance Armstrong… good for him and all, I just can’t get into cycling.