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!


Adam S said...

Jeff, when in Boston, did you have a chance to see Shawn? How's he likin' our friggin' snowmageddon out here?

Also, this is old news, but did you catch the documentary "Darkon" yet? I figured if you could mention Cool Hand Luke, then that opens the door for me to mention a movie that's only a couple years old.

Take care,


Tristessa said...

It's breakfast I found myself wishing there was a new Out of the Game to listen to (I often listen to [or watch] podcasts over breakfast). Wandering over to Twitter, I saw you mention it.

Thanks for reminding me about "A Serious Man" -- I keep forgetting about that one.

I usually have a big problem with Shakespeare material. It rarely seems like the cast has any clue what each other are actually saying and doing. Even the Branagh version has many scenes where it feels like everyone is just doing faithful readings at each other, instead of being in a living scenario.

crscheid said...

the branagh version is excellent, if a little bombastic. As I remember, there is actually a 'swing from the chandelier' moment near the end, but perhaps Shakespeare would have appreciated that. There's also a free one on netflix that feels a lot more like a play then a movie, too. Just stay far away from the modern adaptions.

Jonathan said...

Kurosawa made "The Bad Sleep Well" which is a loose adaptation of Hamlet. If you're on a Hamlet kick you should give it a shot.

Unknown said...

Jeff, what's the dealio with "Out of the Game"... I've been reduced to listening to PC Gamer podcasts on my long runs, for Pete's sake! If my training comes to a halt and I never run the New York Marathon, I'm blaming you! I've still got geekbox, but that's only worth about an hour's worth of running each week.

Thanks in advance for your consideration in this matter.

P.S. I you talk to Ashley, tell him to make a new A Life Well Wasted as well... if you see him in person, try to steal his bag of weed so he'll be more productive.

Nelson said...

I am glad that you are back. The long absence had a greater effect on many of us then I think you would have expected, but I can understand your need to "take a break", so to speak.

It's been what seems like forever but a new Greenspeak from you I think is the perfect way to start Spring and I have no complaints.


Joe said...

My browser (Safari) poops itself when I try and get to your EA blog. Every time. I can't even read the mailbag. That site is kinda broken. For me. So. Your non-work writing is all I read. And really, that content should be the most fun to read/write anyway. Thanks for posting.

Unknown said...

I agree with you about Brick. That scene with the Pin's mom is probably the best scene in the movie, and one of the funniest scenes I've ever seen. I love how she's the only one who doesn't speak in Spillanese.

Anonymous said...

I'm lovin' all the Netflix Instant movies on here. I just got it and have been wondering what to watch.

RC said...

I have not seen Avatar, but what you said about the movie makes me think of those people who says the same thing about Crysis. If not for the graphics, the game is very mediocre. So what's so wrong with looking good? Maybe you are approaching the movie the wrong way...

Just a thought.

Cliff said...

Jeff it's alway great read your blogs. But if it becomes a pain to blog then just a short paragragh and you don't even to make it with good grammer.

In the movie Cool Hand Luke the sheriff says the imortal line: "What we have here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach, but that's the way he wants it".

This line is part, or at least at one time, part of our move culture talk. Like Clint saying: "Go ahead, make my day".

I liked 2012 better than Avatar only because LA gets wiped out again.

Again great to hear from you.

moar said...

So when will there be more Out of the Game?

Anonymous said...

I LOVE documentaries:

Harlan County, eh? Hmm, never heard of it. I'll see if I can get it from the library. (Have you ever read 'Germinal' by Zola? I've read it about four times! Great novel. Great novel.)

If you like documentaries, I would recommend ''.

This amazing documentary is about two guys who put together an internet company, only to watch it go down the tubes as the bubble finally bursts.

Another one I watched, just recently, was 'When We Were Kings' - about the fight in Zaire between Foreman and Ali. George Plimpton and Norman Mailer tell the story from the near present day perspective.

I'd also recommend 'Lost In LaMancha' which is a fascinating look at a Terry Gilliam film, which completely falls apart during production. (My understanding is that Gilliam, having re-acquired the rights, recently re-shot the film with Michael Palin taking on the role of Don Quixote).

Hmm, interesting - all those documentaries are about things that went wrong?

Maybe somebody ought to film a documentary of your life, Green? - no, I'm kidding.

Goose out.

dLindner said...

I hadn't read the blog for a while and today I find a whole lotta read!

It's great to know about you and even greater to know that you belong to the secret society that loves those hidden movies.

Big hug

Matt McGraw said...

I watched The Hurt Locker again tonight in preparation for the Oscars on Sunday and I noticed something weird: the movie is set in 2004, but they play Gears of War (which was released in Nov 2006) on a 360 which was released in 2005.

I was wondering if you noticed the same thing? It didn't necessarily take away from the craft or power of the film, but it certainly was a strange anachronism.

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