National Board of Review Falls in Love with 'Her'
The National Board of Review, usually the first voice in the year-end movie round-up, but usurped yesterday by NYFCC, went with Spike Jonze's “Her,” starring Joaquin Phoenix and the voice of Scarlett Johansson, as the best movie of the year.
- Best Film: Her
- Best Director: Spike Jonze, Her
- Best Actor: Bruce Dern, Nebraska
- Best Actress: Emma Thompson, Saving Mr. Banks
- Best Supporting Actor: Will Forte, Nebraska
- Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, Fruitvale Station
- Best Original Screenplay: Joel and Ethan Coen, Inside Llewyn Davis
- Best Adapted Screenplay: Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street
- Best Animated Feature: The Wind Rises
- Breakthrough Performance: Michael B. Jordan, Fruitvale Station
Breakthrough Performance: Adele Exarchopoulos, Blue is the Warmest Color
- Best Directorial Debut: Ryan Coogler, Fruitvale Station
- Best Foreign Language Film: The Past
- Best Documentary: Stories We Tell
- William K. Everson Film History Award: George Stevens, Jr.
- Best Ensemble: Prisoners
- Spotlight Award: Career Collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio
- NBR Freedom of Expression Award: Wadjda
- Creative Innovation in Filmmaking Award: Gravity
Unlike the NYFCC list, this is mostly movies I haven't seen because they're either not out yet or haven't arrived in Seattle yet. Immediate thought: “Prisoners”??? Secondary thought: Octavia Spencer? Tertiery thought: Breakthrough performance for Michael B. Jordan? Didn't these critics watch “The Wire? Final thought: Is Forte really better than Leto in ”Dallas Buyers Club“ or Michael Fassbender in ”12 Years“?
The NBR also does a top 10 list, sans ”Her,“ and in lame alphabetical order:
First thought: ”Prisoners“? Second thought: ”Wait. 'Lone Survivor'? The thing with Marky Mark? Really?“ Third thought: Hollywood REALLY needs to do a better job of getting its better movies out a little earlier.
More interesting, but also in alphabetical order, is NBR's list of top 5 foreign-language films and top 5 docs. Good to see ”A Hijacking“ on the former; sorry ”Muscle Shoals“ isn't on the latter:
Top 5 Foreign Language Films
Beyond the Hills
Top 5 Documentaries
20 Feet from Stardom
The Act of Killing
The Board's history is a mixed bag. Counting back to 2000 from 2012, these are its best films of the year: ”Zero Dark Thirty,“ ”Hugo,“ ”The Social Network,“ ”Up in the Air,“ ”Slumdog Millionaire,“ ”No Country for Old Men,“ ”Letters from Iwo Jima,“ ”Good Night, and Good Luck,“ ”Finding Neverland,“ ”Mystic River,“ ”The Hours,“ ”Moulin Rouge,“ ”Quills." A few odd years there from 2000 to 2006.
Hey everybody who isn't in NY or LA: another movie to possibly look forward to.
Movie Review: Before Midnight (2013)
September 4, 2012
First, it was great meeting you and your family in Greece this summer. I was only there a week but I had a blast. Your boy Henry is very sweet and the twins are adorable.
Second, it’s a little intimidating writing a letter to a famous novelist such as yourself. I know, I know, there’s Gore Vidal’s line: “To speak today of a famous novelist is like speaking of a famous cabinetmaker or speedboat designer. Adjective is inappropriate to noun.” Even so, it’s intimidating. I never read your books (sorry!) but I did see the movies based upon them (sorry again!). “Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset,” right? With Ethan Hawke as you and Julie Delpy as Celine? Don’t remember much about them, unfortunately. I remember conversations on a train and walking about in Paris and a reading at ... was it Shakespeare & Co.? Those movies were mostly dialogue about everyday matters. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember them. The everyday goes away.
Anyway, apologies about all that, and apologies for this massive presumption, but it’s the reason for this letter. I wish I’d told you this earlier but now this will have to do. Here it is.
Your wife is crazy.
I didn’t think so at first. I thought, “Ah, another couple dealing with the doodads and crises of parenting in the early 21st century.” I even had a little trouble with you at first. I thought you were too delicate around your son. Like you were seeking his approval when it should be the other way around. Then I remembered you were divorced and he lived with his mother, and it made sense. You’re trying to make up for lost time. In this manner, divorce makes children of parents and parents of children.
It was at dinner that I began to see the pattern. Those dinners were a little odd, weren’t they? A little too Woody Allen during his stilted, pretentious period. I liked the kids enough. And I loved Patrick and Natalia. Her line about how we’re just passing through? And you raised a toast “to passing through”? That was nice. Sure, Stefano couldn’t get away from the topic of sex while Ariadni played her usual game of self-satisfied gender politics, but at least you felt the rules in their relationship. No one ever went out of bounds.
Your wife, Celine, kept going out of bounds.
Someone would say how the meeting story of you and Celine was romantic and you agreed and Celine immediately disagreed. Someone would say how your girls were beautiful and you thanked them and Celine immediately disagreed. Remember when Henry was out and about on the island and he called Celine’s phone and she wouldn’t put you on? I’d never seen that before. Another time she asked you some theoretical question—if you’d met on the train today, would you still talk to her?—and dissed your answer. She said, “I wanted you to say something romantic and you blew it.” But whenever you did say something romantic she dismissed it, so I didn’t see how you could win.
She kept cutting into you with these little cuts, about little things: the amount of housework you did, the attention you paid, how self-obsessed you were. Then she’d take out the cleaver and try to lop off your head. Sorry, but it was brutal to watch.
There was such hate in her eyes. That’s the thing. I couldn’t see the love there. Nowhere. You kept trying to make it work and she would come back at you with hate.
She kept reading two or three steps ahead into everything you said. Does she always do this? And is she right? I’m curious. Because you’d say something and she’d make this assumption about what it really meant, and she’d wind up objecting to something that wasn’t even there. Like after Henry left. You were talking about missing him, and missing his years growing up, and how he threw a baseball like a girl because you weren’t around to teach him—which he totally does—but how there was no solution. Henry wouldn’t be allowed to live with you in Paris and you couldn’t move to Chicago to be with him every other weekend because it would disrupt the lives of Celine and the girls. But that’s what she assumed you meant. And the daggers came out.
Have you talked to her about this? This tendency to read three steps ahead? To assume this much? Because it’s not even a good strategy. To attack someone where they aren’t? Every battle that does that, loses. Or does she do this to prevent you from getting there? She attacks where you aren’t to prevent you from going to that place?
Remember that conversation we had about how men always compare themselves to other famous men? Fitzgerald did this by age X and Balzac by age Y and why aren’t I doing that? That felt true. But then she said something like, “Women don't think that way as much.” WTF? That’s the main neuroses, isn’t it? I’m fat, I’m ugly, my hair is too straight. Or too curly. I’m not wearing the right shoes. I’m not Beyoncé or Angelina or Kate. But she probably meant, you know, women outside of show business, because then she said something like, “The women who achieve anything in life, you first hear about them in their 50s, because they were raising kids before then.” So obviously not Beyoncé. She’s talking about someone like Ruth Bader Ginsberg ... who was arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in her thirties. Or Flannery O’Connor ... who wrote “Wise Blood” in her twenties.
No, I know. She was talking about herself. Because that’s what she does. She was laying out the hope that her achievement in life is not being wife to you, or mother to two girls, but something else. Now to me—and I tried to tell her this—but to me the most important thing men and women can do in this life is raise children, and raise them well, but I’m still a fan of maintaining hope for other achievements, too. It keeps us going. In a way, you and Celine regret opposites: You, who have published three novels, regret not parenting enough, and she, mother of two girls, regrets not “achieving” enough. So there’s conflict. That’s inevitable. But you seem to blame you for not parenting more while she seems to blame you for why she hasn’t achieved more. And she blames you without mercy.
I haven’t even told you the worst part yet.
Celine and Patricia and I went on a hike one day. Celine, again, wouldn’t shut up, just went on and on about herself. At some point she talked about some quote someone put on the refrigerator at work with those poet/magnet thingees. Something like, “Women explore for eternity in the vast garden of sacrifice.” Crap, right? She thought it was meaningful. More, she thought it related to her. Not just her mother or grandmother, or any of the women who lived hundreds or thousands of years ago—but her: a pretty French girl born in Paris in 1970. She thinks she’s spent her pampered life in “a vast garden of sacrifice.” She sees herself, despite all evidence to the contrary, as a symbol of oppressed women everywhere. And she sees you—and this was the really weird part—as a symbol of tyrannical men everywhere. She compared you to Dick Cheney and George W. Bush! She said you were a proponent of “rational thinking” but then so were the Nazis during the Final Solution. I mean, holy fuck. I had to walk away at that point.
I probably shouldn’t even have written this letter. I probably won’t send it. I just had to let it out. In the past, you’ve written about your relationship with Celine, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you write about this summer: How you and Celine were in this beautiful place but stuck in this awful situation, which she kept trying to destroy and you kept trying to repair. Maybe they’ll make another movie about it. “Before Dinner”? “Before Dusk”? “Before the Final Solution”?
Anyway, I hope to see you again. Maybe in another nine years? If so, I hope—and this is a bad thing to hope—but I hope you’re on your own. I hope you’re finally free of Celine and that awful, awful decision you made to talk with her on the train to Paris in 1994. Because no man deserves the amount of grief you’re putting up with. To be honest, it’s a little embarrassing.
New York Film Critics Circle Picks the Best of 2013
So it starts.
The New York Film Critics Circle has announced its 2013 award winners. The only film with more than one award is David O. Russell's “American Hustle,” the best picture winner, which also picked up best screenplay and best supporting actress nods:
- Best Picture: American Hustle
- Best Director: Steve McQueen – 12 Years a Slave
- Best Screenplay: American Hustle
- Best Actress: Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
- Best Actor: Robert Redford – All Is Lost
- Best Supporting Actress: Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
- Best Supporting Actor: Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
- Best Cinematography: Bruno Delbonnel – Inside Llewyn Davis
- Best Documentary: Stories We Tell
- Best First Film: Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station
- Best Animated Film: The Wind Rises
- Best Foreign Language Film: Blue is the Warmest Color
- Special Award: Frederick Wiseman
Not a bad list, from what I've seen. I'll see “American Hustle” next week. I'm still chomping at the bit for “Llewyn Davis.” Review for “Blue is the Warmest Color” up soon.
“American Hustle” cast. L-R: Lois Lane, Rocket Raccoon, Hawkeye, Batman and Mystique.
Chuck Armstrong Retires, Lauded for Never Winning Pennant
Here's AP's story on the retirement of Mariners president Chuck Armstrong. Annotations are mine.
SEATTLE — Seattle Mariners president Chuck Armstrong announced Monday he will retire at the end of January after spending 28 of the past 30 seasons in that position with the ballclub, helping stabilize the team in the Pacific Northwest. 30 seasons, zero penannts. Can't get much more stable.
Armstrong built the Mariners into a contender then faced criticism for the past dozen seasons without a playoff appearance. Oh c'mon. He received criticism way before then. He will retire effective Jan. 31 and the club said it is beginning the process of finding a successor and starting that transition. Ten years late, but what the hell.
“Since day one, he has given his heart and soul to Mariners baseball. And yet ... He sincerely cares about the game of baseball, this organization, this city and this region,” Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said. And yet ... “On behalf of ownership and everyone who has worked here for the past 30 years, I thank Chuck for his tremendous contributions.” Which were ... ?
The 71-year-old Armstrong joined the franchise as team president in 1983 and, outside of a two-year stint in the early 1990s, has been with the club in that role since. Yes, he has. Boy, has he ever.
“This was a very difficult, very personal decision, but I know in my heart that it's time to turn the page and move to the next chapter of my life,” he said. You're a slow reader, Chuck.
Armstrong first joined the club following the 1983 season under then-owner George Argyros. Homonym: arduous. His most famous move during his first stint was making the decision to draft Ken Griffey Jr. with the first pick of the 1987 amateur draft. Well, thanks to Roger Jongewaard and Dick Balderson, but sure. Armstrong left the club in 1990-91 when Jeff Smulyan owned the team and its future in Seattle was tenuous, but he returned to the job in 1992 after he helped in the Baseball Club of Seattle purchasing the franchise, the first step in keeping the club in Seattle. Or in threatening to take the club out of Seattle.
Armstrong was instrumental in getting Safeco Field built (see: threat, above), a move that solidified the franchise and came during the best run of success in franchise history. Nice coincidence, that. Starting with Seattle's stirring comeback to win the AL West in 1995 and run to the AL championship series, the Mariners went to the playoffs in four of seven seasons and three times reached the ALCS. And yet ... Seattle won a record-tying 116 games in 2001, but fell to the New York Yankees in the postseason. In five games ...
“Through all the good times and the not-so-good times on the field since 1984, the goal always has been to win the World Series,” Armstrong said. And yet ... “My only regret is that the entire region wasn't able to enjoy a parade through the city to celebrate a world championship together.” The entire region's regret, too.
The 2001 season was the last time the Mariners reached the postseason and the 12-year drought has brought criticism to Seattle's front office. Again, we were critical much earlier. Fans have soured on a product that has eight losing seasons in the past 12 years. And the worst offense since the advent of the DH: Don't forget that. A club that once sold-out Safeco Field with regularity last year had just one in 81 home games. That lone sellout came on the night the club honored Griffey. Our glory is in the past, and it's not that glorious.
“Thanks to our outstanding ownership, the franchise is stable and will remain the Northwest's team, playing in Safeco Field, a great ballpark and great example of a successful public-private partnership,” Armstrong said. Until they threaten to move again. See: Turner Field, Cobb County. “The team is in good hands and positioned for future success. I am thankful for this important part in my life.” And we are thankful for this speech. Now where's Howard Lincoln's?
Be Like Obama: Give Books for Christmas
Laurie Hertzel at the Star-Tribune has a piece on the book-buying binge Pres. Obama went on over the weekend at Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C.
Two of the 21 books he purchased are all-time favorites of mine: “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow and “My Antonia” by Willa Cather. The rest of his list looks interesting, too.
My reading this year has mostly been non-fiction, but all of the books below (with links to posts about them) are recommended as gift possibilities:
- “Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame,” by Ty Burr
- “Joseph Anton,” a memoir by Salman Rushdie
- “My Pilgrim's Progress: Media Studies 1950-1998” by George W.S. Trow
- “Popular Crime: Reflections on the celebration of violence” by Bill James
- “The House that Ruth Built” by Robert Weintraub
- “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports” by Kostya Kennedy
- “An Athiest in the FOXhole: A Liberal's Eight-Year Odyssey Inside the Heart of the Right-Wing Media,” by Joe Muto
- Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" by Sean Howe
Movie Review: Oldboy (2013)
Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” (2003), starring Choi Min-sik and Kang Hye-jeong, is the one of the greatest revenge movies ever made. Spike Lee’s “Oldboy,” starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, is not.
The new “Oldboy” is both more grounded and less believable. It’s less dreamlike, less cartoonish, less comic, and packs less of an emotional wallop. It give us more of Joe Doucett (Brolin) acting like a drunk asshole, more of Joe imprisoned in the room, and a greater subterfuge about the love interest (Olsen), but it’s not as good, not as clever, and obviously not as original. It corrects some of the mistakes of the Korean version but makes its own. It shortens the length of the movie by 16 minutes but hardly to its advantage. As the climax looms, we think, “Already?”
Admittedly remaking a classic is a tough gig.
Joe Doucett is an ad executive and alcoholic, who, as the movie begins, blows a deal by coming onto his client’s wife. Afterwards, he gets massively drunk, roams Chinatown, buys a cheap Buddha gift for his 3-year-old daughter, throws up on himself, and knocks on the door of the bar of his friend Chucky (Michael Imperioli). Then a beautiful woman with an umbrella appears, beckons him, and Joe disappears. All that’s left behind is the Buddha.
He wakes in a hotel room with the shower running. He assumes it’s the umbrella woman but nobody’s there. His clothes are gone, there’s no phone, no room service. At first he thinks he’s simply locked in; then, as food and vodka appear, he realizes he’s being kept prisoner in the room. We realize, meanwhile, that the Korean version didn’t give us this. It went right to being imprisoned for two months, as its main character, Oh Dae-su (Choi Min-sik), veers between rage and catatonia. Both responses come off as comic. That’s part of the tension in watching: not laughing at this man in his horrible predicament. Spike Lee doesn’t give us this. So there’s less tension.
What does Joe do in his imprisoned hotel room? He drinks, he cries, he jacks off. After this last, gas fills the room, and some time later he finds out via the TV news that his ex-wife has been raped and murdered and the irrefutable evidence points to ... him. He’s now a wanted fugitive.
After a few years he gets serious. He stops drinking, gets in shape, readies himself for revenge. He’s tunneling his way out, a la Andy Dusfrene, but at the last moment gas fills the room again. Except when he awakes, he’s out, he’s free. Where? Korean version: on a rooftop. U.S. version: in a coffin in the middle of a field. OK. And there’s the woman with the umbrella again. OK. It’s amazing how she hasn’t aged. Or maybe this is a different woman.
It’s amazing how he hasn’t aged. Joe actually looks better now than when he went in. He also seems saner. Every one of these points is at odds with the Korean version; every one seems wrong.
He follows the umbrella girl until ... well, now it’s a homeless man, standing in line for free health care, and the volunteer nurse on staff is Marie Sebastian (Olsen), who gets caught up in Joe’s life and story. As does Chucky. As does Adrian (Sharlto Copley of “District 9”), the man who imprisoned him, who sets him on a 48-hour mission to find out the answer to these two questions: who is he and why did he imprison Joe for 20 years? If he can answer these, his daughter, now 23, and a cellist somewhere, will live, he’ll be given evidence to clear his name, he’ll be given, what is it, $20 million in diamonds? Plus he’ll get to watch Adrian put a bullet through his own head. Nice deal. He takes it.
The larger prison
So how else does the U.S. version differ from the Korean version? Well, the owner of the private jail, Park there and Chaney here (Samuel L. Jackson), isn’t tortured by teeth extraction; instead, Joe cuts out bits of his neck and literally pours salt in the wounds. There’s less back-and-forth with him, too. Park and his men keep turning up, Chaney less so.
The backstory of the villain (Adrian/Lee Woo-jin) is also different. Korean version: Lee had sex with his sister at school, Ou Dae-su saw it, told his friend, who told others, and on and on until there was scandal and suicide. So Ou Dae-su, a despicable man, suffers for a crime he didn’t commit. U.S. version: Joe witnesses sex, yes, but between the sister and an older man, who turned out to be the father. Joe didn’t know that then, but he still spread the story, and the girl was still hounded, and eventually the entire family, happily engaging in incest with the father, was forced to flee to Luxemburg, where Daddy finally lost it and killed them all. Adrian was only wounded.
Now before I go on to other changes, let me say, emphatically, to anyone who hasn’t seen the Korean version: Go watch it. Now. It’s streaming on Netflix. If you keep reading this, you will discover one of the great twist endings in movie history. It will be like knowing what Rosebud was. So please, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, leave.
Are we good? Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Another difference is the way the new “Oldboy” presents what happened to Joe/Ou’s 3-year-old daughter. Korea: He gets a slip of paper saying she was adopted by a couple in .... was it Switzerland? She’s out of the picture. In the U.S. version, we see her on television over and over again. She keeps showing up on one of those crappy “unsolved crime” shows, which Joe keeps watching while imprisoned. She grows to be a beautiful 23-year-old cellist. Why this change? One: American children don’t get adopted abroad. Two: the greater subterfuge—and it is subterfuge—is there less to fool Joe than to fool us.
Except ... One of the things I liked about the Korean version is that I suspected briefly who Mi-do (Kang Hye-jeong) was. “He should be careful,” I said to Patricia. “That girl is his daughter’s age. She could be his daughter.” I’m careful this way. I’m good with math. But the thought went away. It flashed in my head, and the story picked up, and I stopped thinking about it.
This has happened to me a couple of times watching movies: flashing on the answer, losing it in the story, and then—boom—there it is. When I first saw “The Crying Game,” I thought maybe the dude was a lady; then it went away; then there it was. With Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” I felt a vibe of assassination. I don’t know why. But then it went away. Then boom. It’s almost a kind of subconscious foreshadowing. It’s one of those mysteries of movies, and if you have it you don’t want to mess with it—it’s actually more effective, more resonant, than completely fooling your audience—but in the new “Oldboy” they mess with it. Since the subterfuge is greater, I can’t imagine anyone new to the story engaging in this kind of subconscious foreshadowing.
In both versions, by the way, the villain tells the hero he asked the wrong question: Not why did I imprison you but why did I let you go? But here’s a better question: Why did I let you go after 15/20 years? The length of time, it turns out, is the whole point.
Park’s “Oldboy” is a great revenge fantasy because the revenge isn’t extracted by the man who was imprisoned but by the man who imprisoned him. And the 15 years isn’t the revenge, it simply sets up the revenge. The 15 years is prelude. Enough time has to pass to allow the revenge to happen: to make Ou guilty of the crime that sent Lee Woo-jin’s sister to her death: incest. That’s brilliant. Equally brilliant, equally painful, is Ou’s reaction. He grovels and acts the dog. He literally cuts out his own tongue to please the man who imprisoned him so he won’t tell the daughter what really happened. The dream has become a nightmare; and unlike Ou’s imprisonment, it won’t ever end.
The U.S. version screws this up, too. Josh Brolin is a good actor but he can’t grovel. And Joe certainly doesn’t cut out his own tongue. Instead, even as Adrian kills himself, Joe takes the diamonds, gives most to Marie along with a carefully worded farewell note, and the rest goes to Chaney so he’ll lock up Joe for the rest of his life. Joe is now his own imprisoner. And he smiles at the camera.
It’s not a bad end. It recalls long-held prisoners who want the comfort of the jail cell again. But it doesn’t resonate the way the Korean version resonates.
I think the biggest mistake in Spike’s version was losing the dream/nightmare quality of the Korean film, the horror/comic fable of it all. This version takes itself a little too seriously. Which I guess is what you do when you remake a classic. But it doesn’t serve the final product.
Or maybe it does. We still have the original version, after all, and the U.S. version, despite the talent involved, is no competition. It will fade, disappear from view, leaving only the Korean classic. That’s the one people should see anyway.
The Worst Movie Review of the Year, Part II
I'm sorry but I couldn't leave this one alone.
There are so many distortions in Kyle Smith's New York Post review of the film “Philomena” that it's hard to deal with them all. It's also difficult to extract the half-truth from the half-lies he's formed around them. But this one is easy.
Near the end of his review he writes:
Philomena spends the movie saying dumb stuff (at the Lincoln Memorial: “Look at him up there in his big chair!”), Martin is rude and dismissive, and we’re meant to laugh, I guess, at her being a rube and his being a journalist. You may be wondering why Coogan felt the need to play a cold and unpleasant a figure who isn’t (like many other Coogan creations) funny, but the answer is simple: Coogan hates journalists.
- Coogan is very funny in the movie, and identifiable. I certainly identified.
- Coogan, I imagine, hates bad journalism, particularly tabloid journalism, particularly the awful tabloid journalism revealed in the phone-hacking scandal that sunk News of the World in July 2011. His own phone was hacked, his own private life revealed to sell newspapers, and he's become a strong voice against the practice. He's testified before the Leveson inquiry into unethical journalism and has written Op-Eds for The Guardian about same.
- The man at the head of the phone-hacking scandal, still unaccountable after all these years, is Rupert Murdoch.
- Rupert Murdoch owns The New York Post, for which Kyle Smith writes his reviews.
Isn't that nice? Look again at the deft, shoddy way Smith raises the phone-hacking scandal without mentioning the phone-hacking scandal. Which, of course, would point back to his boss.
Bloody awful, really.
The Worst Movie Review of the Year
It belongs to Kyle Smith of The New York Post, writing about the film “Philomena,” starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan.
Here's a snippet:
There’s no other purpose to the movie, so if 90 minutes of organized hate brings you joy, go and buy your ticket now.
“90 minutes of organized hate.” I can't remember the last time I ran across such a mean-spirited review about such a gentle, and genuinely heartwarming movie. Here's Smith's full review.
And here's the real Philoemena's defense of the film.
I came across all of this last night after Patricia and I saw the movie, which we both loved. Can the film be read as an attack on doctrinaire (that is, anti-sex) Catholicism and doctrinaire (that is, anti-gay) Republicanism? Sure. But the greater takeaway is a lesson in the meaning of forgiveness, upon which Philomena's open letter to Smith concludes:
Just as I forgave the church for what happened with my son, I forgive you for not taking the time to understand my story. I do hope though that the families heading to the movie theatre to see the film decide for themselves – and disagree with you.
Seven Questions Jon Stewart Should Have Asked Jennifer Lawrence Last Week on 'The Daily Show'
Jon Stewart got teased by Jennifer Lawrence, and then the usual online sources, for his lack of preparation during his interview with her last week. She was promoting “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” which apparently didn't need much promoting (fourth-best opening weekend ever), but he barely asked any questions about the movie or her character in the movie, Katniss Everdeen, or about any future movies she might be in. (Gary Ross is remaking “East of Eden”????) He just showed a picture of a young Helen Mirren and said, “Doesn't that look like you?” Her response? “You are so weird.”
Maybe he didn't think you could ask interesting questions about “The Hunger Games.” But you can. Here's what he should have asked:
- In the movie, your character, Katniss, and Josh Hutcherson's character, Peeta, are forced to put on a show for the masses. They are forced to “go on tour” to promote “The Hunger Games.” How much does what you're doing now, this promo tour, feel like that? In what ways does it differ?
- Katniss and Peeta are forced to pretend for the audience. They pretend, for example, that they are in love. (Well, Katniss does.) You, Jennifer, are considered very straightforward and down-to-earth, but what ways do you feign for your audience?
- The tour in the movie is labeled a distraction by Haymitch, Woody Harrelson's character, so “people forget what the real problems are.” Is that what this promo tour is? Is that what “The Hunger Games,” the movie, is? Is that what “The Daily Show” is?
- In the movie, which people are the ones targeted for distraction by all the gossip and fashion and celebrity? The people in the Capitol, who don't seem to need distraction? Or the people in the districts, who never seem distracted?
- How is Katniss, such a strong character in the first movie, not a pawn in everyone's game in the second?
- In the movie, Gale says to her, “People are looking to you, Katniss. You've given them an opportunity. They just have to be brave enough to take it.” But doesn't the movie show us that they are brave enough to take it? And that it's your character, Katniss, the supposedly strong one, who is dragging her feet?
- For all the new ground it covers (archery, etc.), isn't “The Hunger Games” ultimately the story of a strong-willed woman who has to choose between two men against a backdrop of tragedy? And in this way, isn't it similar to other big box-office hits such as “Gone with the Wind,” “The Sound of Music” and “Titanic”? So what new ground is it breaking?
On the other hand, maybe he wasn't allowed to ask these questions. Maybe the studio didn't want him to draw the obvious parallels between this tour and the tour in the movie. And they are obvious, Miss Lawrence.
“You need to smile ... You need to be grateful ...”
Quote of the Day
“Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. ... Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.
”Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “disposable” culture which is now spreading. ...
“In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
-- Pope Francis in his first apostolic exhortation. You can read more here. Or almost anywhere.
Idiots on the right have criticized Pope Francis and imply someone has “gotten to him.” (“Yeah, Jesus,” came one reply on Twitter.) Idiots on the left say, "Hey, Pope, what about ...? then mention their pet cause.
Me, I'm just happy to have God on my side for a change.
Movie Review: Populaire (2012)
Let him be gay. That’s what I kept thinking.
“Populaire,” a 2012 French romantic comedy that made the rounds in the “Mad Men”-crazy states this year, is an homage to those Doris Day-Rock Hudson romantic comedies of the late ’50s and early ‘60s, where she’s plucky, he’s unavailable, but in the end ... *smooch*.
Or so I’m told. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Doris Day movie. Via “The Celluloid Closet” I did see scenes where Hudson’s character pretends to be gay to throw her off the scent. So you have a gay man pretending to be a straight actor pretending to be a straight character who is pretending to be gay. There’s enough subtext there to crush us all.
In “Populaire,” Rose Pamphyle (Déborah François of “L’Enfant” and “Les tribulations d'une caissière”) is a plucky girl, who, to escape her small village in Normandy in 1958, tries to get a secretary job in Lisieux at the insurance agency of the handsome Louis Échard (Romain Duris of “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” and “L’anacoeur”). Immediately she’s made to feel second-rate by all the would-be secretaries in the waiting room with their cat’s-eye glasses and catty attitudes. Louis is ready to show her the door himself when she spins the typewriter around and begins two-fingered typing at a superfast rate. By the end, she’s flushed, her hair is down, and her bra strap is showing. It’s typing as sex. She gets the job.
Turns out she’s an awful secretary (but plucky!), while he has something else on his mind. Something extracurricular.
No, not that. He wants to enter her in the regional speed-typing competition. He even sets her up in a room in his stately mansion so she can practice more. She assumes he’ll make a play for her—doesn’t speed-typing equal sex?—but he never does. He never even seems to think it. He’s all about the competition. Of course, the less interested he seems the more interested she becomes, and, in this manner, she pouts and frets her way to the regional championship.
Let him be gay
And all the while I kept thinking that thought at the top: Let him be gay. Do something meaningful with the crushingly sad subtext of those Rock Hudson movies instead of giving in, yet again, to the wish-fulfillment fantasies of the love-hungry women in the audience. As you did back then.
Nope. The filmmakers, including writer-director Régis Roinsard, do nothing with that crushingly sad subtext. Rose and Louis even have sex before the national finals a Paris, which she wins. Then, as she becomes a celebrity, he’s squeezed out of the picture, or allows himself to be squeezed out of the picture, by the Japy Typewriter people, who are pushing their new typewriter, Populaire. Oh, and there’s the world championships in New York City against the reigning American champ, who is superior and wears cat’s-eye glasses.
So why is Louis so intent on winning these meaningless typewriter competitions? He was competitive in school, we find out. We also get a bit of backstory. During World War II, he commanded a platoon of resistance fighters, who all died, all his friends, while he ran away. It’s a story that has entirely too much weight for this lightweight thing while never answering the main question: Why is he so competitive? About typing?
As for her talent? She’s just a natural. She’s clumsy everywhere but here. Clumsiness—and the cattiness of other women—is the easy way moviemakers make female movie stars sympathetic. But Rose’s clumsiness never feels real. It was always feels like movie clumsiness.
There are subplots. Louis was always in love with Marie (Bérénice Bejo, who can blame him), but the war screwed up their relationship, and anyway a handsome American, Bob Taylor (Shaun Benson, Ontario), landed on her father’s barn on D-Day, and that was that. Rose’s father is taciturn and against her going to Lisieux and blah blah blah. Louis once gave away a Van Gogh, or allowed its owners to sell it and reap the fortune, for which his father blames him and blah blah blah.
But mostly it’s about them and blah blah blah. The question for all romantic-comedies is “How do you keep the lovers apart?” So it would’ve been brilliant, or at least interesting, if the answer here was, “Well, it’s because he’s gay.” Instead, it’s because he’s just too focused on the competition, the speed-typing competition, to have sex with her.
Let me speak for all straight men here: I’ve never known a man that focused.
He totally should've been gay
I liked the montage with the multicolored fingernails, and the hands typing out of the wall. I liked the title graphics: very of-the-period. I hated that Louis showed up in New York, with his best pal Bob, right before the final round of the world championships, but I liked how, backstage, he told her that he loved her (“Je t’aime”), and how this was translated into all the different ways to say “I love you” by the international crew of speed-typists backstage, all looking dreamy-eyed and swoony. That was cute.
Otherwise, “Populaire” is painful to watch. Patricia and I kept going, “There’s another hour of this?” “There’s another 40 minutes of this?” Time slowed down like it was the last class on the last day before summer vacation, and we just wanted to be free.
Plus he totally should’ve been gay.
Modern Ballplayer Reactions to Joe DiMaggio's 56-Game Hitting Streak
A few thoughts from modern ballplayers on Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak in 1941, culled from Kostya Kennedy's book, “56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports,” pp. 187-88, which I've been enjoying during lunch:
“How big of a deal is DiMaggio's streak? Ryan Zimmerman got halfway there and it was on the front page of every sports section and led every sports highlight show. He was halfway. Halfway! Think about that.”
-- David Wright
“Get a hit for two straight months? It's hard to get a hit for two straight days.”
-- Derek Jeter
“That's one of those Bugs Bunny numbers. People do that in cartoons, not in real life.”
-- Ken Griffey, Jr.
“I'm not someone who follows that. Now someone who follows that, they would know [what the hitting streak record is]. But anyway, what is the hitting streak record? [Long pause after being told.] Man, that is a frickin' long hitting streak.”
-- Gary Sheffield
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