I caught The Flick last night. It’s Annie Baker’s latest (amazing!) play, currently in previews at Playwrights Horizons. (Check my blog after March 12 for a full review.) It takes place in a movie theater and features film geeks trying to stump each other with six degrees of separation challenges.
One of them went unanswered and so I stewed over it all night:
Connect Richard Pryor to Angelina Jolie.
I finally figured it out: Pryor to Craig T. Nelson in Stir Crazy; Nelson to either Rachel McAdams or Luke Wilson in The Family Stone; McAdams to Vince Vaugh in Wedding Crashers or Wilson to Vaughn in Old School and others; Vaughn to Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith.
That’s four connections, total. Can you connect them in fewer steps?
BuzzFeed featured an article by “whoiswillo” listing the Ten Best Episodes of The West Wing. I’ve been obsessed with this show since it began airing and constantly quote it and relate real-life to The West Wing’s world. Upon seeing the BuzzFeed post, my friend asked, “Do you agree with this list?”
OK. First of all, I’m nearly tearing up remembering all those episodes and key moments.
Second, in my opinion, there are some glaring omissions, namely “17 People,” which is one of the finest examples of storytelling - ever. It’s part of a troika of amazing episodes: “The Stackhouse Filibuster,” “17 People” and “Bad Moon Rising.” (Basically, I think season two is one of the finest seasons of scripted episodic television.)
I don’t necessarily think any of the included episodes should be left off (though if I was making a list, I’d probably stick to the Sorkin seasons), but I don’t know how you exclude “Noel” or “Bartlet for America” (though the author does acknowledge their excellence). Or even “20 Hours in America, Parts 1 and 2.” Not only do those episodes feature Johnny Gallagher(!) and Amy Adams, as well as CJ saying, “I LOVE dry rub!” but they exemplify Sorkin’s ability to tell a story, to mix the funny with the touching, and there’s great character development. And there’s hardly anything from season three. What about “The Women of Qumar” and “Dead Irish Writers”?
Truly, though, bravo to BuzzFeed and whoiswillo for being able to whittle it down. I think I’m too close to the show to make such a short list.
What episodes would you add or remove?
Without knowing it was the film’s tagline, the first note I wrote about Chronicle is “what are you capable of?” (I guess I “got” the flick.) I then went on to consider not only what people might be capable of - psychologically speaking, but at what cost and for what cause. In my opinion, this is the film about great power and great responsibility.
These three teens - one an outcast, one kind of a misfit and one semi-popular - discover some thing out in the woods in Seattle, and this thing imbues them with super telekinetic powers. They can move objects with their minds and they can fly, but they can also make themselves impervious to pain and destruction - or they can cause it. It’s all about how these high schoolers use their powers. (It’s also about how power is defined - is it strength (of muscle or of character), is it having a majority on your side, is it special skills, is it doing the right thing or something else entirely?)
What was most interesting was watching Dane DeHaan’s character, Andrew. Andrew’s journey is a dark, tragic take on the revenge of the nerds fantasy (though it may be more accurate to describe Andrew as a loner, or just different from the mainstream kids). DeHaan (The Aliens, In Treatment) expertly shows what happens when a tortured soul gains the upper hand, sort of like in Carrie, except not as schmaltzy.
I was surprised by how thought provoking this efficient sci-fi film was, and can’t stop thinking about how I would handle the responsibility of such great power.
Woody Allen struck gold with Midnight in Paris so when To Rome With Love came on the scene, expectations were high. While Rome didn’t soar to the romantic comedy heights of Paris, it’s actually a much better movie than it received credit for.
I found it to be a fun romp through the eternal city. It shows tales of regrets, asking what might have been if only we’d known better - yet it’s the mistakes that make us who we are. There are tales of discovery and excitement; tales of making the most of your life by hearing and seeing what you want, and the wonderful enablers who bolster you along the way; and tales of the price of fame and the simultaneous ridiculousness and terrific perks of being a celebrity.
With a game cast that includes Jesse Eisenberg, Alec Baldwin, Allen, Alison Pill, Roberto Benigni, Alessandra Mastronardi and the vivacious Penelope Cruz, To Rome with Love is funny, light and full of Allen’s signature neuroses.
Did To Rome with Love make you want to jet off to Italy?
Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother) makes his second go at filmmaking with Liberal Arts. It’s a decent film and boasts a beautiful performance from Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene) and a memorable appearance by Allison Janney, but I came across two challenges in trying to connect to the film.
Challenge 1: The theories Radnor’s character, Jesse, espouses come from a specific point of view and set of experiences. This is totally expected and acceptable (you have to write what you know, and you must have a point of view, lest your work meander all over the place and come off as unfocused and bloated), but it’s not my point of view. Jesse romanticizes college, proclaiming it students’ time to explore, to lie in the grass and pontificate on heady, worldly matters. I’m sure some college students do have the time to do this, but it’s a luxury. Anyone who had to work in college, or was taking an unusually large or difficult course load, or was involved in extracurricular activities did not have the time wander around wondering about life. If you are afforded that luxury, great – take the time and explore. But that wasn’t my experience and this made it difficult for me to connect with the characters’ experiences.
Challenge 2: A mini debate had by Zibby (Olsen) and Jesse is sparked by Zibby’s choice of books and it sparked in me a defense of television. Jesse mocks Zibby’s choice of a Twilight-like book, claiming it is awful and has no literary merit. Zibby challenges him, asking who’s to say whether it is or isn’t good.
I can understand this, to a point. It reminds me of Jason Lee’s rant in Almost Famous when he talks about the virtue of popular music. Lee’s Jeff Bebe defends being popular, arguing that popularity and artistic gravitas are not mutually exclusive. I buy that argument. But popular is different from good. Much like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose a book’s (or song’s or show’s) “goodness” is inextricably linked to the reader’s impetus for reading. But certainly, there are objective criteria (good writing, complex ideas, palpable creativity) that separate the cream from the dreck. Not everything is good just because the consumer liked it. But that’s only part of my beef.
In challenging her choice, Jesse asks why she decided to read it – or anything – at all. Zibby replies, “It wasn’t TV.” This really gets me. This comment (the sentiment of which is not new) makes the argument that any book – because it’s a book – is better or somehow more intellectually hefty than a TV show. What a bogus argument.
Yes, there is a lot of trash on television these days (see almost anything on the ironically named TLC, nee, The Learning Channel), but there is also a lot of really great television on the air these days. There have always been standout shows, but we are in a true television renaissance.
Just look at shows like Breaking Bad, The Good Wife, Homeland, Girls, The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire, Modern Family, Downton Abbey – even Parenthood. These are shows that boast incredible – some of the best – writing put out for public consumption. They represent expert storytellers; they are filled with round, dynamic characters (seriously, watch Jesse (Aaron Paul) evolve and Walt (Bryan Cranston) devolve over the course of Breaking Bad) brought to life by actors at the top of their game and enhanced by visionary directors (Martin Scorsese, Rian Johnson).
These shows make us feel, think, laugh, cry and so much more. They stimulate our minds and challenge us to pay attention. Some of them inspire us to greatness. Are you telling me that reading Twilight (which I’ve never read) or The Hunger Games (I’ve also never read this but am told that the writing is terrible) is somehow loftier because you’re reading them and not watching them?
I’m not a reader (i.e., I don’t read novels on a regular basis), but I am a consumer of culture and I am a smart, thoughtful person who loves engaging in discussions on a wide range of topics. Advocates of reading say that reading is good for you because it transports you to another world and challenges your brain. While I don’t deny some books can do that, I offer that other mediums can do that, too. I can’t begin to tell you the ways in which I’m transported when I listen to my favorite song, see transformative theatre or settle in to watch a brilliant episode of a lauded television show. Some television does what some books do: inspire us, engage us, entertain us and stimulate our brains.
I do not deny the power of books or that reading a book is a worthwhile way to spend time. But let’s not get all high and mighty and look down on television while reading. It’s not that Philo T. Farnsworth’s invention is an idiot box, it’s that there is some idiotic programming on the box. But check out the shelves of Barnes and Noble. Just as not every TV show (mercifully) is Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, not every book is Catch-22.
I’m not wild about these beasts. It seems every year the academy (and some critics) latches on to some indie flick and to show how outside-the-box they can be, throw it some Oscar nomination love, raising the film’s profile…and also people’s expectations. You can’t help but be disappointed.
After all the buzz surrounding Beasts of the Southern Wild (it’s a multiple Oscar nominee, garnering nods in the Best Picture, Best Directing, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Lead Actress categories, and Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers has raved about it), when I sat down to watch it I was expecting some glorious treatise on purpose and empowerment.
What I got was essentially another coming of age story. Yes, the details here are different from most stories (for example, the character coming of age is a girl, played by nominee Quvenzhane Wallis, who was six when the film was shot, and there is some mystical, if not so subtle, imagery mixed in (that would be the literal wild beasts)), but the journey is ultimately the same and doesn’t shed any new light on inner growth and strength, and circumstances of the story are too manipulative to forgive the lack of originality and just get caught up in the narrative.
Moreover, while Wallis, now nine, was good, she wasn’t so impressive that I think she’s necessarily worthy of her Academy Award nomination. There’s no ill-will here because I don’t feel like her nomination was at the expense of some uber-worthy-but-snubbed contender (though many thought Marion Cotillard’s performance in Rust in Bone, which I haven’t seen, was deserving), but, as Kevin Costner reminded us at the Golden Globes, award shows elevate the profile of films and performances and this one, both the film and performance, just doesn’t strike me as deserving of such elevation.
Did you find this to be groundbreaking in any way, or at least impressive?
I watched Prometheus because I like Michael Fassbender (Shame) but never did I think it would provoke the kinds of philosophical and theological questions it did. Meant as a sort of prequel to Alien, which I’ve never seen, Prometheus is a science fiction adventure that asks questions about the origin of man.
The lead scientists aboard the titular ship, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green), think they’ve discovered a map that points to another planet, a planet that was home to a race of organisms that just might have created us. These explorers are on a quest to meet their maker.
But why would you want to do that? Shaw and Holloway express that they want to know why they were created. Fassbender’s David (a robot that is human-like in all regards except that he does not have a soul and is immortal) asks Holloway why his people (i.e., humans) created David and Holloway replies, “Because we could.” Though David doesn’t have a soul that can be stung by that comment, he turns it around and asks Holloway how he’d feel if these creators they’re after gave the same reason.
And thus the big question of life remains unanswered. Why meet your creator? Do you think it would illuminate the meaning of life? (We know that answer, already: finding a place for your stuff!) What would confirming other life forms, confirming that we come from these other life forms, mean with regard to people’s religious beliefs? Shaw wears a cross around her neck and when she’s challenged on it, given the theory of these alternate creators, she retorts, “Who created them?”
Even if meeting and having an audience with your creators isn’t your idea of noble, exploring the unknown certainly is. Humans are meant to be explorers because we walked out of the cave and asked, “What’s next?”
What would you ask if you met your creator? What would entice you to explore the unknown, risks and all?
The 18th Annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards were handed out last night. Herein, the winners in select categories (reviews are linked to in the first mention). For the full list of winners, visit criticschoice.com/movie-awards. (Below, winners are notated by an asterisk and boldface type.)
Excellent choice, film critics!
Another good choice. This slate is the same as for the Oscars, with the exception of John Hawkes’s exclusion from the academy’s list of nominees. Note that Bradley Cooper was also nominated for Best Actor in a Comedy for Silver Linings Playbookand won that award. I wonder if that contributed to him not winning this one. (Same goes for his co-star, Jennifer Lawrence.)
Agreed. Chastain was phenomenal.
Best Supporting Actor:
Best Supporting Actress:
I was hoping the critics would be the one voting bloc not on board the Anne Hathaway express, but it wasn’t meant to be. I thought she was good in Les Miserables, but I’d like to see some love for the oft-nominated Amy Adams.
Best Young Actor:
Best Acting Ensemble:
Woohoo! On the same day that the academy so grossly snubbed Affleck by not nominating him for a Best Director Oscar, Affleck won this award and when he stepped up to the podium, he quipped, “I’d like to thank the academy.”
Best Original Screenplay:
Best Adapted Screenplay:
Bravo. Any writer who can write a play called The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures has my vote.
Best Action Movie:
Best Actor in an Action Movie:
Best Actress in an Action Movie:
Best Actor in a Comedy:
Best Actress in a Comedy:
Best Sci-Fi/Horror Movie
I thought Greenwood’s score for The Master was incredible. I had hoped the critics would think so, too.
What do you think of the critics’ choices?
Herein, some thoughtful and funny quotes from my friends and some public figures:
From my friend Joshua Collins: “Same-sex marriage affirmed in Maryland, Maine, Washington State [and Minnesota]. America’s first openly gay senator elected tonight. Said it once and I’ll say it again - this is one of the big reasons the GOP can’t crack 35% of the 18-35 demographic. You can’t win without that. Gay babies won’t stop being born, y’all. Adjust to this century.”
From Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone contributing editor: “the Republicans’ 32-year experiment with Reaganism goes on the shelf next to Astroturf, laserdiscs & ska.”
From my friend Christine Reeves: “Election night is over, time to unite. $6 billion was spent in this election cycle. Imagine what disease could be cured or what poverty could be overcome with $6 billion. All this is to say, after celebrations for President Obama, let’s roll up our sleeves as a united country and get to work helping each other.”
From Broadway’s Max von Essen: “To gay & questioning youth, your parents may not understand you, your church may reject you, but your president LOVES you & BELIEVES in you!”
From comedian Patton Oswalt: “‘2016. Get ready.’ — Hillary Clinton, texting quietly to Cory Booker”
And my final thought: Yesterday, we exercised our right as Americans and voted for our leader. As a reaction to the outcome, the worst we have to deal with is obnoxious Facebook and Twitter updates. No one is rioting or staging a violent coup because in this wonderful if imperfect Republic, we express ourselves through speech. It’s a beautiful thing.
In a researched and reasoned article, The Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci argues “We Need to Reboot the MPAA,” the board responsible for giving movies their ratings.
Herein, some annotated excerpts:
“…that keeps non-industry censorship away from our movies.” Eh, barely. The MPAA - the people who actually rate the pictures these days - are hardly industry folks and yet concerns over what they’ll rate a movie causes the industry to censor itself. True, I’d rather have Quentin Tarantino decide the alternate cuts and scenes in his films than anyone else, but why should he be censored at all? The whole problem with the ratings - not the system but the ratings themselves - is that different ratings translate into different box office numbers. For example, PG-13 movies invariably do better than R movies because 15-year olds can go see them on Friday night without a hitch. Similarly, many cineplexes won’t show movies that are unrated, as they don’t generate nearly as much revenue as rated films. This means that fewer people will even have the chance to see the movie.
“…how the MPAA works. It’s a studio backed organization and when the studios decide they need leniency, they get it.” Not always. Remember a couple of years ago when The King’s Speech was saddled with an R rating, despite having absolutely no sex or violence? The only objectionable material was the king’s speech that involved a torrent of “fuck”s. That’s why that film received an R rating. There’s a quota for expletives in PG-13 films and The King’s Speech surpassed it, bumping it up to an R. No need to look at the context, of course (which fully justifies the repeated F-bombs). Harvey Weinstein was not happy with the R rating, and lobbied the MPAA to change its mind. Harvey Weinstein is a BIG DEAL in Hollywood, and the MPAA didn’t budge. It wasn’t until the film won Best Picture (which it shouldn’t have; that honor should have gone to The Social Network) and Weinstein and co. made some edits that the film was re-released with a PG-13 rating. (To his credit, Faraci does go on, however, to point out the illogical way the R rating is applied, noting that sexual content and language are much more offensive than violence in the eyes of the MPAA, citing The King’s Speech as an example.)
“The actual ratings aren’t the only problems in the MPAA ratings system; there’s the secrecy…” Agreed. There’s also no reliable precedent. You can make some good educated guesses regarding what rating your movie will receive, but there are no guarantees. As Faraci points out, often times big studio movies are rated differently from independent movies, regardless of the similarity in content. Moreover, you seemingly never can tell just when the MPAA is going to throw a fit over a tit, if you will, or look the other way when presented with violence.
But here’s my biggest gripe about Faraci’s new proposed rating system: Why do the ratings have actual restrictions on them - why they can’t simply be guides?
My birthday is October 7. Years ago when I turned 17, what was different about me on the 7th that made me better equipped to handle, let’s say, Pulp Fiction, than on the 6th? And why is a secretly-put-together panel allowed to decide that my 16 year old mind works the same way as yours? You could argue that if, at 16, I had wanted to see Pulp Fiction, my parents could have taken me. But what if my parents think it’s okay for me to see yet don’t care to see it themselves? Why can’t I, with my parents’ permission, go by myself to see it? These ratings should really be guidelines, a tool decision makers - whether it’s a parent, guardian, babysitter or someone else - can use when making decisions?
Think about live theatre. Certainly, Equus and The Book of Mormon, with their nudity and constant stream of expletives, respectively, are in a different category from more family-friendly fare like Mary Poppins. Yet, a 12-year old can buy a ticket for The Book of Mormon. No one is getting up in arms about that - and rightly so. (Most theatres do have a policy that they don’t allow children under a certain age into the theatre - but that typically has more to do with the fact that no one wants crying toddlers in their audience.) A majority of shows have suggestions regarding for whom the show is intended.
I remember one of times I saw Hair there was a young kid walking in with his mother. One of the ushers stopped the mother to confirm she knew what the show was about, and that it contained nudity. The mother said she did and she was fine with her child seeing it. Now, the usher wasn’t about to deny the mother and child entry; he was simply making sure the mother was making an informed decision. Shouldn’t we all be allowed to do that?