Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Shame



Exchanges with friends about the reporting of the Ferguson crisis has made me wonder if what so many people loathe about Fox News is the apparent lack of shame on display. The barometer that used to help us gauge our behavior toward family, friends and strangers seems to be disappearing (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shrinkwrapped/201103/shame-third-pillar-civilization).  Shame kept us from telling lies or misbehaving for fear of discovery and humiliation. Being accused of being unfair or unkind was enough to elicit apologies or requests to make amends. Now, such accusations are noise lost in the ether. Caught in a lie? We were misunderstood or taken out of context. Caught in wrongdoing? Blame others. Offend someone? It's their fault for being sensitive or for provoking us. Do what earns. Scapegoat. Spew utter nonsense and walk away, much like Philip Seymour Hoffman's character in The Master. The scene in which Hoffman's Lancaster Dodd had the luckless, rageaholic Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) walk back and forth from a wall to a window in a ridiculous search for meaning was a chilling representation of shameless mind-control and puppetry. That was fiction. What we are seeing on display on TV is real and heaven help us.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Boyhood


Richard Linklater's films (my favorites are Before Sunrise and Waking Life) are about transcendent moments, some strung together into a life and others isolated, singular but no less important. His remarkable new film, Boyhood, is a collection of transcendent moments in the life of a Texas kid, Mason, played over the course of the movie's 12 years by Ellar Coltrane, in a performance that will certainly be recognized as special come award season. That Linklater and the principal members of the cast (Coltrane, Patricia Arquette as Mason's mom, Ethan Hawke as his ragtag father and Linklater's own daughter Lorelei as Mason's pain-in-the-ass sister) committed a dozen years to this project is enough to get the attention of serious filmgoers ready to marvel at such a feat and to forgive narrative holes and continuity gaffes. The surprising thing about Boyhood, which opens on a daydreaming 6-year-old Mason and closes with a buzzed and uncharaceristically cogent 18-year-old Mason, is virtually free of such lapses. What an achievement. Because the 2 1/2-hour film tracks Mason's formative years, it is, by necessity, episodic. But the episodes are rich and resonant, funny, frightening, unsettling, sad and always thought-provoking. Yes, the film is about Mason being shaped by the folks in his life -- most of them terribly unhappy people -- and the complex and, understandably, dour and listless young man he seems to become. But it is also about human imperfection. In fact, the film, to me, is about those beautiful imperfections in the people we love and who love us, the imperfections in the moments the universe gives us that can, nonetheless, be satisfying. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy


James Gunn's Marvel-ous story of intergalactic upheaval, menace and piracy, Guardians of the Galaxy, answers the question "what does a 'comic' genius do after creating scores of heroic characters who battle evil across time, space and dimensions?" Increase the wattage, spoof what has come before and add a sticky Top 40 soundtrack to underscore the chaos. Guardians is the latest in Marvel Comics Hollywood barrage of cartoons to cinema and stars a perfectly affable, though peculiarly familiar, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, a scavenger / thief who is chasing a mysterious orb that a half dozen other unsavory creatures and fiends are also hunting. When I say Pratt is familiar, I don't mean he's a familiar face though he is that, best known for Parks and Recreation. I mean he has a familiar affect -- I call him "hip, white dancing dude. " The film itself traces Pratt to his most obvious progenitor -- Kevin Bacon in Footloose.  He's rascally, glib, slick and irrepressible. Though ostensibly about space travel and epic battles, Guardians is actually more interested in reflecting modern society back to itself. Nearly everything in the film has a "real world" referent, and most of the fun of the film, at least to this viewer, was making the connections. I mean, honestly, what are we to make of a barbarous alien being who does not understand nuance, irony or metaphor (David Bautista)? We are to go with it, reveling in the construct of a humorless, brutal literalist and thinking if we put a Roman collar on him he might pass for clergy. What are we to make of a living tree (voiced by Vin Diesel) whose only words are a simple statement of his existence -- "I am groot" -- but who can be understood only by his trusted companion, a bad-ass, amped-up talking racoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper)? Love comes in all shapes and sizes. And what of the pea-green assassin (Zoe Saldana) who is drawn to Quill's '80s AOR mixed tape but resists his pelvic seduction? I'll leave that one open. It's all fabulous and fun. Highly recommended with a body count in the billions and billions.

Yesterday

  Director Danny Boyle's hummably insightful morality tale, Yesterday, is a sure starmaker for amiable Hamish Patel, who plays ...