Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Anderson Poll: Who's watching Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps?

Anderson Class of 2012 (and friends),

Please respond to the poll below to give me a rough headcount for a Wall Street movie outing:

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Read at Tribeca: Less Than Zero

I mentioned in my Tribeca recap that I'd burned through a lot of reading material in the rush lines. Included in that pile was the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero, a portrait of vacuous, drug-addled L.A. youth culture. One of the book blurbs calls Ellis a (more) modern Salinger, but I'd say he's more of a hipster Hemingway. His narrative is similarly constructed from stacks of simple declarative sentences and little bits of two-word dialogue. Interior life was addressed obliquely if at all, a technique that was either affecting or annoying. I still can't decide which.

While reading this I did feel the hollowness of Ellis' characters seeping gradually into my own moods, which is perhaps an elegant illustration of how easy it is to fall into that pit. I felt a weird relationship to them. I was happy that my life isn't nearly as fucked up as theirs, yet I envied their rock-bottom-ness. If that makes any sense.
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Country Wisdom: Friday, May 8

First of all, hello to friends of the Goots. Since my mom got wind of this blog, it's been shared proudly -- like a piece of digital macaroni art on the fridge -- and many of you have been very kind in your praise.

Several new readers mentioned the Country Widsom, which I take to mean that it's somewhat entertaining. I was starting to get bored of it, but the outpouring of support (literally pairs of messages!) has convinced me to continue. The new idea is, this will be a regular Friday feature that cites the most memorable Southernism from the previous week, along with any honorable mentions. (Southernism, by the way, is a term coined separately by two Goot friends; maybe a name change is in order too.)

But enough dilly-dallyin' -- y'all give it up for yer new Country Wisdom of the Week(s):

I'm gonna be busier than a set of jumper cables at a family reunion. [May 2-3]

Yeeeeeeeeeehaw! Now that is some good goddamn country wisdom. It rolls off the tongue. It's funny. It's offensive in that "you can't get away with this if you're not from the South" way. And it's an expression that's vastly improved with a lugubrious sheeeit appended to the front. That's always a bonus. I will be uttering these words in regular conversation within the next month. That is a solemn vow.

Other notables:
Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you. [Apr 25-26]

(But most times, you and the bear passively avoid each other out of fear and mutual misunderstanding.)

He's so poor he can't afford tears to cry. [Apr 24]

(Thus explaining why it's so heartbreaking when a solitary tear rolls down someone's cheek. It's not just the sadness, but the level of poverty implied.)

She's as unwanted as a burnin' house. [Apr 29]

(Perfect for describing crazy ex-girlfriends. Also known as the "Left Eye" Lopez Principle.)

When asked if you're going to attend a party, you might say ...
Yep, if the good Lord's willin' and the creek don't rise. [Apr 30]

Them young 'uns can act so goofy you'd swear they were born on Crazy Creek.
[May 4]

(The two-for-one creek expressions special.)

If you're tired of repeating yourself, you might say ...
I don't chew my tobacco twice. [May 5]

(Don't think I could get away with this one, but I would definitely wet my pants if it was said to me. The speaker would definitely be a man with a chiseled jaw, a prickly five o' clock shadow and a comfortable relationship with physical violence.)

He's tighter than the bark on a tree. [May 7]

(Yessssssssssss! This was the exact expression I remember my grandma using, which I mentioned in my rationale for buying this calendar. Maybe there's hope for this thing yet!)

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Friday, May 8, 2009

My Star Trek Prediction

I heard our building security guys chatting about the movie earlier this week. These dudes are not Trekkies. $90 million, minimum.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lessons from Tribeca

I've just gone through my well-worn festival program and determined that I saw 12 films in 11 days. It was a gluttonous feast. And satisfying. While I didn't love everything I saw, there wasn't an outright stinker. (Wait, there was. But I've nearly forgotten it!)

Since this year was the deepest I've ever sunk myself in the event, I figure I should summarize some of the things I've learned (both to remember them myself and to help future TFF goers).

1. Consider a festival pass if you plan to binge. I jumped into Tribeca planning late -- about a week before it opened -- and most of the interesting movies (including anything with a name actor or director) were sold out online. I finished nearly two books waiting in rush lines. While there was something Zen and communal about that experience, I wouldn't sign up for it again. If you want to see a lot of festival movies, mark your calendar for mid-March and sign up for one of the multi-ticket packages that allow you to reserve seats before the general online sale date. The premium you pay for these (about $20 instead of $15 for regular single tickets) will be well worth the time you save. If you're an AmEx member, definitely take advantage of your early purchase privileges. Assholes.

2. Skip anything with an imminent wide release.
I didn't necessarily do this, and I wish I had. It just doesn't make sense to kill yourself getting into something at Tribeca when it's going to screen in a regular (probably half-empty) theater in a few weeks. For example, why did I endure a fruitless 90-minute wait for The Girlfriend Experience when it's out in New York on May 22? The only reason to see something like that at Tribeca is so you can be the douchebag who tells all your friends you saw it four weeks early. That's not a good reason. I'd look on Yahoo! Movies (or whatever source you prefer) and cross off anything with a release inside of three months.

3. Stick to documentaries and foreign films. This is part individual preference, part savvy analysis of the film market. First, the subjective. I feel like you go to a film fest to discover cool stuff you'd never see otherwise. To me that means the newest thing by the Turkish master of zombie horror. Or a portrait of the lives of truffle farmers. Not a quirky romantic comedy with second-tier American TV actors. Which leads to the second point. Among indie movies trying to promote themselves in spring, Tribeca is third in the festival line behind Sundance and SXSW. The projects with the best pedigrees have already been skimmed off the top. Tribeca will still have some fun American stuff, but why cast about for the one decent title among 10 duds? I suppose the pecking order affects foreign and documentary fare as well, but the Hollywood popularity contest seems more strongly in play with the U.S. narratives. That said, my favorite movie this year (TiMER) was a quirty romantic comedy with second-tier American TV actors. So maybe you should ignore everything I've said.

Finally, allow me to suggest a bit of Tribeca etiquette. This has less to do with your enjoyment of the festival than improving the collective experience.
  • Cutting is a reality in the rush line. I wish the Tribeca organizers policed this to ensure complete fairness, but since that's never going to happen, I encourage all festival goers to limit place-holding to one or, at most, two friends. Letting in three or more is just egregious. To the few people who did this, I have no doubt that karma will catch up with you and it will be a bitch.
  • If you have extra tickets that you can't use, do the right thing and donate them or sell them to the front of the rush ticket line (or, in the case of selling, the first person willing to pay). Sure, you could walk down the line and play Santa Claus with the guy who looks like your brother or the girls in cute tank-tops, but that's a real kick in the balls to the person who's been standing there for two hours at the front of the line. A little decency goes a long way.
See you in 2010!

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Tribeca: TiMER

First of all, I want to dedicate this review to my friends Kelsey and Laura, who waited in the rain for this movie but then let me join them late and take the last rush ticket ahead of them. Wow, writing that out makes it sound way more heartless than it seemed at the time. Anyway, they are awesome.

Now, to the rambling introduction after the unnecessary preamble. In the course of 11 days of Tribeca movie binging -- not just seeing a bunch of films but talking about them in the rush lines, with friends, etc. -- I've become sensitive to the powerful, I would argue primary, role of expectations in your moviegoing experience. Before the festival there were two films that I thought I was sure to love: The Girlfriend Experience (Soderbergh + call girls) and American Casino (shadenfreudish polemic against banking greed). Thanks to the frothy buzz accompanying the first title, I wasn't able to see it (expectations can be contageous). I did get into American Casino and found it ... average. It was well done, made some interesting points; it just didn't blow me away.

On the other hand, one of my favorite screenings was a Russian shoot-'em-up called Newsmakers that I saw on a complete whim. (I'd planned to see Transcendent Man but got cold feet about a brainy doc full of deep thoughts.) Newsmakerswas not an exceptional film, but it was pulpy and brisk and just what I needed at the time. I'd describe it as a Russian Die Hard; it had that same cheesy but endearing quality. However, if I'd gone back in time and told myself it was an awesome Russian Die Hard before the screening, non-future-me would have grumbled over the insane holes in the plot, the buffoonishly inept special ops soldiers, the evil bureaucrat's Act 3 awakening of conscience. I would have left the theater deflated (not to mention deeply suspicious of my future self's integrity and possibly time travel in general). It's all about expectations.

What does this have to do with TiMER? This is the Tribeca movie I enjoyed probably more than any other, and it's because I was certain it was going to butcher its story in an unspeakable way. I'm going to quote the entire short description from the Tribeca program:

  • Finding true love is easier than ever thanks to the TiMER, which counts down to the exact time people meet their soul mates. Love-starved Oona (Emma Caulfield, TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is pushing 30, but her TiMER hasn't even started counting yet. Worse, she's falling for a guy who's set to meet his true love in four months. This smart romantic comedy leaves behind the burning question ... would you want to know?
Intriguing, no? But when you think about it a second, this is the type of high-concept premise that invariably leads filmmakers astray, especially in comedies. Kelsey compared it to Freaky Friday. I prefer to call it the Idiocracy principle. It states, when you start with a crazy idea, you're tempted to make a crazy movie. You end up with cheap laughs, unrelatable behavior and lots of silly, antic scenes that lead nowhere. That's what I expected here; if this hadn't shown up in the top-10 in audience voting, I never would have waited in line for it.

TiMER never falls prey to the high-concept traps. It takes its weird alternate world, in which everyone wears wristbands that tell them when to fall in love, and fills it with utterly human characters who react the device in believable ways. They feel like people you just saw at the coffee shop down the street. The script is ballsy and precise, boring relentlessly into the paradox of dating: We want the excitement and mystery of finding a partner but not the risk of getting hurt. The movie asks us to consider, if we experienced neither of these feelings, would we miss them?

One climactic exchange gets at the heart of the issue. A TiMER-less guy attempts to profess his devotion to the very pragmatic, lovelorn heroine. "What do you want from me?" he asks.

She says, "I want a guarantee."

It's a chilling moment. What person who's spent even a few weeks on the dating scene can't relate to her character. The soulless system of quasi-arranged marriage wrought by the TiMER no longer seems preposterous; it almost seems desirable. That's the near-impossible trick this movie pulls off. Its exotic circumstances, instead of obscuring reality, bring it into sharper focus. The TiMER universe invites us to consider our own feelings about love and commitment from a different angle.

I also credit TiMER immensely for allowing its complicated story to unwind toward a messy, somewhat uncomfortable ending. The movie's power could have been skewered in an instant by a lazy deus ex machina. (This is very high praise from me; I usually nitpick movie endings to death.)

I just wish someone had told the filmmakers that In Good Company (another love story that surprised me pleasantly) had already used Iron & Wine's "The Trapeze Singer" as its bittersweet fade-out song. Still, when a movie's first glaringly unoriginal beat happens at the closing credits, you can expect to feel pretty happy about it.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Tribeca: My Dear Enemy

I went into this movie knowing it would remind me of my ex. It's a Korean film about two former lovers who are thrown together again in an all-day errand. My ex is half-Korean. I think it's impossible to properly evaluate a movie to which you feel such a personal connection. You end up thinking it's brilliant because of all the "Wow, that was just like me/us" moments. But those moments don't say much about the quality of the film. They just make you feel ... understood. Or soothed that what you went through was normal and universal. I don't know. I gave it a 5 (of 5) on my Heineken Audience Award ballot, but I'm not sure I could name three reasons why.

Maybe I'll give it a shot anyway:

1) It's a great premise. How many love stories have been told onscreen? Thousands? Tens of thousands? It's not easy to find a new way to do it, and this structure probably wasn't brand new either, but it was clever enough that I didn't feel like I'd seen the same movie 10 times before. The guy, charismatic but profligate, has borrowed $3500 from his estranged love and disappeared. A year later, she shows up to collect. Within 5 minutes, the dramatic tension is established -- she wants her money; he must find a way to get it -- and it keeps the story moving steadily without the need for crazy twists or subplots. The payback quest allows the couple's real story to emerge casually, almost unintentionally, since it's not burdened with driving the action. You're not sitting there waiting for the kiss/proposal/breakup. Instead you can enjoy each little clue into the characters' romance as it emerges. As a viewer, it keeps you in the moment without being completely bored.

2) The characters are really interesting. Never mind how I might or might not have projected myself onto him, the lead guy is undeniably fascinating. He's broke yet carefree. He wields an irresistible charm with women yet comes across as wholesome, almost asexual. He's confident yet nearly devoid of typical male pride or aggression. He suffers repeated insults and embarrassments yet remains preternaturally sunny. It's a unique sketch that defies easy interpretation. Do you dismiss him as a pompous grifter or take him at face value as a hapless dreamer? In struggling to assess this complex man, you come to sympathize with his one-time love, who finds herself in the same situation. Fiercely practical, she marches stolidly through the film with emotions gurgling just below the surface. As old feelings flare up and threaten to disrupt her purposeful but potentially lonely existence, she comes to embody the classic head-versus-heart debate. And it's a credit to the nuanace of the film that right up to the last minute you're not sure which side you're rooting for. You want both characters to be happy, but you're never sure how to make that happen. There are no easy answers.

3) It touches on universal themes. I've alluded to many of these already. How do you reconnect with a lost love? Should you opt for rationality or romance? How can a couple seem well matched and completely incompatible at the same time? These questions are addressed skillfully, without ham-fisted symbolism or stilted epiphanies. They're woven into an honest, well-told love story, a precious commodity in itself.

But the most interesting theme to me, and this is perhaps where my interpretation becomes overly clouded by personal history, is that of the modern woman confounded by the notion of inverted gender roles in a relationship. With the exception of his apparently extensive dating history, the male lead demonstrates no characteristics that would be respected as masculine. The woman, meanwhile, is strong, silent, stoic, practical, career-oriented. She's successful and holds down a respectable job. He relies on flirtation (and even, it is implied, semi-coerced sexual availability) to get by. It is not a huge leap to see their circumstances as A Streetcar Named Desire in reverse (though the outcome of this movie is far different). While the woman wrestles with a number of misgivings about rekindling the relationship, this is clearly one of them.

The woman, dejected over unknown troubles at the beginning of the movie, finds herself buoyed by the man's nurturing and emotional support. However, the man's situation -- penniless and imprudent in business -- is cited (not so much by her as by secondary characters) as an impediment to any continuance of the relationship. During a conversation late in the second act, a group of characters agrees that a man must be wealthy and successful in order to keep a woman. At several earlier points, it is implied that the woman left originally when the man's business fortunes went south -- a charge she accepts and for which she expresses guilt. This seems to invite the possibility that she could get past those hangups this time around. Nor does she seem particularly drawn to the idea of a traditional marriage, as illustrated by a scene in which she tenses in disapproval as an aggressive, high-powered man with whom they are drinking humiliates his wife. Nonetheless, the woman resists any overtures her old flame makes to reconnect and seeks to keep herself at a safe emotional distance.

Their relationship is portrayed as long and complex and would surely carry a lot of baggage besides his ability to act as breadwinner. Still, that issue lurks constantly throughout the narrative. Can a woman be truly happy playing the "man" in the relationship? What interests me about this is it's a dilemma I observe (or intuit -- it's not a thing that's often discussed) pretty regularly among successful, independent women I know in New York. Yet I rarely see the issue depicted in American media, except maybe played for macho humor (i.e. laugh at the pussy who's dependent on his high-earning wife).

I don't think this film set out to address this subject in any way, and I suspect the director would find most of my analysis preposterous. Hopefully he'd take it as a compliment to the story's quality that a random blogger can find deeply resonant themes that were never intended. If not, he can at least be stoked about the 5 I gave him.

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