Sunday, February 28, 2010

In Which Our Hero Checks In Again. (Also: The Year of Film, Part 2!)

Wow--I made it at the last minute! Had I not posted today, then the entire month of February would have gone blogless. So sad. When you combine that with no Out of the Game podcasts in months, it would appear that I have gone dark on you people. However, if you do feel that way, then I submit that you haven't been paying attention! Because I have been very busy and prolific, albeit elsewhere than my usual haunts, like this here home of mine on the Internet.

I know that none of us, including me, particularly like blog posts apologizing for not blogging, so, I'm not doing that. However, some acknowledgment is still in order. Why? Because I need to confront a weird demon: For the last few weeks, I've had an outright *aversion* to this page. When I accidentally clicked on it a couple times, I immediately navigated away rather than have to look at it. Baffling. Upon analyzing the situation, though, I realize that while this may have been partly a matter of guilt--my standard emotional response--it, in fact, was maybe more a matter of being stretched too thin lately.

Forget Twitter. That's not the issue. The issue is more that I've been trying to step up my efforts lately in blogging at my workplace,, as well as spending a lot of my time when not blogging sitting in meetings, composing emails, talking to folks ABOUT issues around blogging, social media, etcetcetc. I spoke at a conference about it a little while ago, and I have two more speaking engagements coming up at PAX East in Boston in a few weeks. The point is: I've been a bit tapped out. While I had been kind of informally blogging here on the weekends, over the last few weekends, I have felt the need to tune out entirely. Just: not write. And not be online much.

This was the third weekend in a row--it's now Sunday evening at 5--in which my time was mostly divided between reading (right now I'm plowing thru Kurt Eichenwald's The Informant, an awesome account of the 1990's ADM price-fixing scandal, which then became last year's movie w/Matt Damon...), playing Dragon Age on the PC, and watching movies, both with the family and on my own on Netflix Watch Instantly. In short, I've been hibernating.

Anyway, there's a lot of shtuff I could yabber on about here--like my recent 12 pound weight loss--but instead, before it gets completely out of hand, I will attempt to catch up, somewhat, on my Year of Film mission, which I am hopelessly behind on documenting. In fact, I know I can't date stamp it anymore, which kinda blows in terms of anality. And I know I'm going to forget a couple here and there. And the writeups are going to be perfunctory. But still. THE HISTORY MUST BE RECORDED.

In no order than what pops into my head, here's what I've seen since last we met:

Harlan County USA - An absolutely riveting documentary on the 1973 coal miner's strike in Kentucky. Maybe one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. And if the topic sounds "boring" to you, I guarantee you it is as suspenseful as any fictional thriller, right down to having one of the creepiest "bad guys" in film history. (You'll know him when you see him--he actually pulls a gun on the filmmaker--a woman.)

Big Fan
Not what I expected--but not bad. I was thinking it'd be more funny than sad, since it stars stand-up comic Patton Oswalt and was written/directed by a guy from The Onion, but this story of a grown-up obsessed with the New York Giants, who then gets beaten up by one of the guys on the team, is kinda heavy--reminding me of Frederick Exley's great hilariously pathetic memoir, A Fan's Notes.

Brick -- Very very clever mashup of detective/film noir style/dialog within the confines of a high school story. All the kids sound like they walked right out of a Philip Marlowe novel. I liked it, but didn't fall in love with it like some folks. It never moved beyond feeling more like a stunt than anything else, really. Still, some scenes are just terrific. Like the hardboiled "tough guys" all sitting around the kitchen table, while mom serves them food. Worth seeing on novelty value alone.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
- No-nonsense but thorough and devastating account of the Enron scandal. If you need more reason to hate on wealthy, white corporate execs getting rich of the suffering of others, here's your movie. By the time it ends, you're ready to fry these guys alive. Or dead, in Ken Lay's case.

Crips and Bloods: Made in America
- Another documentary, though I was a bit more "meh" on this one, which surprised me, being an LA native. The movie does a good job of tracing the social conditions/racism/economic realities that led to the rise of the gang culture in LA, and the early footage/info on the earliest gangs is interesting stuff. However, I was disappointed that the movie didn't really get much into the rivalry of the two gangs, which itself is so tragic and pointless--and the movie does get a bit bogged down in endlessly repeating the "it's not their fault, they were born into it" mantra. (True or not, it just makes the film feel more defensive than anything else.) Still, some pretty cool archival footage if ya like that kind of thing.

Cool Hand Luke And now for something completely different. My god, what an awesome movie. At the end of it, it led me to tweet, "What happened to all the 'man's man' movies?" Because, seriously, they don't make them like this anymore. Just a great, balls-out adventure story, with beautiful performances by he-men Paul Newman and George Kennedy, as fellow lowlifes on a chain gang, along with great turns by Harry Dean Stanton and Strother Martin and others. Just one classic scene after another, with a great musical score and that now-gone 60s undercurrent of "fuck The Man" anti-establishment vibe that Hollywood was in love with at the time. (The heroes are the crooks on the chain gang; the bad guys are those in authority. See also: Bonnie and Clyde,, Easy Rider, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, to which this really has a lot in common..) Overall, though, it's just fantastically entertaining--a suspenseful, funny, poignant, action-filled adult drama that seems impossible to imagine being made today.

A Serious Man - Took me awhile to get to the latest Coen Brothers movie, but OMIGOD, what was I waiting for? Goes way high up on the list for me, along with Big Lebowski (of course), Miller's Crossing, and Fargo. I don't think you had to grow up as a Jew in the 60s to appreciate it, but it sure didn't hurt. As usual for the Coen Bros, the film *looked* beautiful, and every bit of casting, down to the smallest part--like the beleaguered faculty member always leaning in Larry's doorway, and, best of all, the insidious "friend" Sy--was inspired genius. Probably my favorite movie of the year now, after The Hurt Locker.

Speaking of which, I finally saw Avatar--and hey, I didn't hate it! Sorry, I know that in the Geek World I was supposed to see this on opening day and love it, but I could never get past the feeling that it was more tech demo than movie. The fact that most people who saw it early defended it by saying, "well, yeah, sure, the story sucks, but it LOOKS amazing!" only really confirmed that for me. If the story sucks---why do I want to see it exactly? But, hey, I finally succumbed, and did it full on--IMAX 3D--and, yes, it is quite the amazing spectacle. As an amazing spectacle, I was thoroughly entertained. Just like I am when I go on Disneyland rides. And just like on those rides, I know that I'm being manipulated, that it's all technology--but it's manipulation and technology in the service of mass entertainment, and, ya know, I'm okay with that. Truly, it was a marvel to look at. I was never bored. I knew exactly where the story was going and how it would end the entire time, and yet I didn't really care. For the time I was in the theater, I was glad I was there. Will I ever see it again? No. Do I think it will hold up in years to come on a TV screen? No. But as An Event, I was happy to take part in it. And when it wins Best Picture, I still won't think it deserves it, but I'll understand more why it did, and won't begrudge it.

And, to catch me up to last night, the only movie on this list actually watched with my daughter: Hamlet, the 1990 version with Mel Gibson, Glenn Close, and Helena Bonham Carter, cuz the kid is studying the play in school, and, hey, Gibson actually doesn't embarrass himself! Zeffereli doesn't do anything radical with the play, but it's a fine mainstream interpretation, and Gibson handles the soliloquies really nicely. I never did like the Olivier version, just because it's so freakin' reductive of Shakespeare's text ("this is the story of a man who can't make up his mind"= ORLY?), and so was glad we saw this one. Others have since pointed out to me the more complete and faithful Branagh version, as well as the recent BBC one with Patrick Stewart, so, duly noted. It's just too bad Kurosawa never tackled this one, though, because both Throne of Blood and Ran are two of my favorite Shakespeare movies ever. Just think of Toshiru Mifune as Hamlet, with samurai swords! It'd be a better world today if that had happened.

Okay, so we're mostly caught up now. Unless I forgot something. I'll think on it.
And this starts and concludes my blogging for February.

Bring on March!