Monday, January 23, 2012

Arden, my dog, continues to live and love.

Arden was diagnosed with an extremely large tumor last June. The tumor is growing between his lungs and heart.  The vet suggested I alert my daughter (who was away at camp at the time) and let her know that Arden may not be alive by the time she got home.  I took Arden to a specialist and after a better X-ray they told me that, indeed, there was a massive tumor.  There was nothing that could be done about it.  He'd probably have a heart attack, or suffocate to death as the tumor got larger and larger.  I was told to expect him to possibly faint, or I could possibly wake up one morning and find him dead, having perished in the night.  It was suggested that he could not go on walks, or rather, on only very short walks.  I was given a medication for him to take to reduce his coughing.

Well, now it's late January.  Arden and I still go on our 2.4 mile walk almost daily (down from our old 3 mile-r) and he's feeling pretty good.  He seems happy and relaxed.  He must've had that tumor for a very long time and it must be very, very slow growing.  He is having problems here and there - every once in a while a limb seems to get numb.  His breathing is weirdly erratic from time to time.  He's a lot more subdued.  A LOT.  But overall, he's in good shape.  I think he'll live for quite some time.

Even though all those above-mentioned possibilities still loom like a dark sky.

I'm very late posting my December lists, and I do feel guilty about that.  I'm promising myself that my January lists will get written up more promptly.  I'm not exactly sure why posting these lists causes me to feel so organized and in control.  But somehow it does.  And so, without further adieu...

Here are the movies that I watched in December:

1.)    Stage Coach, dir. John Ford, 1939
2.)    J. Edgar, dir. Clint Eastwood, 2011
3.)    Young Adult, dir. Jason Reitman, 2011
4.)    The Help, dir. Tate Taylor, 2011
5.)    A Dangerous Method, dir. David Cronenberg, 2011
6.)    The Descendants, dir. Alexander Payne, 2011
7.)    War Horse, dir. Steven Spielberg, 2011
8.)    Moonstruck, dir. Norman Jewison, 1987
9.)    Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, dir. Stephen Daldry, 2011
10.)  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, dir. Tomas Alfredson, 2011
11.)  Uncle Bonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, dir. Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010
12.)  The Shop Around The Corner, dir. Ernst Lubitch, 1940
13.)  Days of Heaven, dir. Terrence Malick, 1978
14.)  Tree of Life, dir. Terrence Malick, 2011
15.)  Blossoms of Fire, dir. Maureen Gosling & Ellen Osborne, 2001
16.)  Contagion, dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2011
17.)  How The Grinch Stole Christmas, dir. Chuck Jones & Ben Washam

It was a big month for movies, many which I loved, and others which I not only didn't enjoy, I would go as far as to say I detested them.  So, among this list, of these particular movies which were released in 2011, I would give my best movie award to: Tinker, Tailor.   Second best is a tie between Contagion and The Descendants.

Even though I mostly had no idea what was going on in Tinker, Tailor, I was still enthralled and filled with a deep happy wonder at the unfolding story.   The look of the film, how the scenes built on each other, the performances, the subject - I drank it all up - as if I'd been thirsty for this drink, this taste precisely.  And yet, I hadn't known I was so thirsty for it! I want to see the film again, especially now that I know what the basic story is.  Gary Oldman must be nominated for an Oscar.  Sadly, I wonder if he will be.

There are movies that are impossible to fully experience the first time around. I think Tinker, Tailor might be one of them.  I have no idea why everyone is ignoring it for awards - so far anyway.

I felt The Descendants has been slightly over rated by critics, but only slightly. It definitely grew on me.  The movie got better in the week after I saw it, frankly - as I reflected and turned scenes up and back in my mind.  I appreciated how Hawaii was presented, as a real place where real people really live.  I think Contagion is very good too, why isn't it being nominated so far?  I don't get it.

The worst movies (of the 2011 releases) that I saw in December are:  Worst of all:  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  Tie for second worse is between: War Horse and J. Edgar.    Now, as far as Extremely Loud goes - frankly I have such deep contempt for that movie,  I feel to explain why gives it more attention than anyone should ever give to this film.  The kid was so annoying, kids like that are not endearing to me, they're just oblivious jerks.  I know he was supposed to have Aspberger's Syndrome, but then he also showed startling emotional intelligence and insightfulness which is not a characteristic of Asberger's and I felt this was in the film just to cheat, to make the audience like him.  I also did not buy Tom Hank's character and wondered why he thought up absurd mysteries for his son to solve when there would be such joy in investigating things that were real - and when I say real, I just mean that make logical sense and adhere to actual physical rules instead of the gobbeldygook that we were to watch and I guess, admire.

Incredibly Loud: Award for Most Manipulative.

Well, wait.

I take it back.

War Horse gets the award for MOST openly and clunkily manipulative.  And from a director who knows better.  This is the same guy who made Munich? (My personal favorite Spielberg movie.)  I felt the play was also overly sentimental and manipulative, but it was also haunting and beautiful and complexly sad.  The film was not.

Here's an example: In the play the boy's father is an erratic alcoholic who, for mostly egoistic and impulsive reasons buys a horse he cannot really afford, nor take care of.  His son does.  Bad things happen.

But in the movie, we are treated to "why" the father's an alcoholic. He was hurt in a war.  He's wounded.  In fact, he was a hero!  Who has medals hidden away!  So now we're supposed to understand why he drinks.

To me this greatly diminshes the impact of the boy taking over the care of the horse.  He's not giving the horse guidance and protection that he was not given himself, he's now a boy who just doesn't get that his father really is a good guy.  Plus, Spielberg left out the mournful, lone Gaelic singing (which was in the play) and I feel that was a mistake.

J. Edgar missed by a mile for me too.  I kept thinking of the movie that could have been made.  It was excruciating to watch as well. Oh where is that wonderful director of Unforgiven hiding?

I have to say, "The Help" is not worth even considering amongst the list of terrible movies.

Wow.  I'm cranky about movies today.   Cranky and a bit inarticulate.


Okay, I didn't hate "A Dangerous Method."  But I didn't love it either.  Many of my friends, friends who mostly have a similar film sensibility as myself, just loved it.  I dunno.  Maybe it was the time I watched.  I may need to give that film another go.

Also, not a fan of "Young Adult." Even though I think Patton was fantastic and should be nominated for an Academy Award.  And Charlize Theron was great too.  But, I don't think I'm ultimately a fan of Diablo Cody.  I want to be!  There's so much about her spunk and drive and insightfulness that I really enjoy.  But I feel she took the easy way out with this script by making the Theron character so completely unsympathetic.  I felt she was just trying to shock people with her brutal honesty  and unforgiving candid eye, but truthfully - in the end she just wrote about an underdeveloped, unlikable character that somehow we're supposed to...


to what?

I'm not in any way averse to unsympathetic characters.  In fact, I like them.  I just felt that there was so much more she could have mined.  I felt she hadn't done her homework.  Here's an example: in the final scene where Patton's character's sister gives her this speech about how small town life is so dumb and boring and Theron's character's life is so wonderful and great - why couldn't it have been more realistic and insightful?  Why didn't the sister character say something like: "You don't get to have it all.  You got a life that's exciting in many ways that life here is not."   But instead Cody's written a speech that makes everyone in the small town seem like rubes.  And Theron, although unlikable, is still cool and hip and successful.  To me that was the take-away from Young Adult.  Cody is telling us: "I have a great career that doesn't require that much effort.  So fuck you all in small towns everywhere.  I may be depressed and mean, but I'm really cool while I do it!"

This is too much time in the negative, let's go positive.

Let's turn to some movies that have - by any standard - stood the test of time.  First of all "Stage Coach" is a masterpiece. In fact, my daughter Mulan is home from school today, sick, and I just may insist that we watch "Stage Coach."  I think that's the finest movie, overall, that I watched all month.

Well, "The Shop Around The Corner" is a perfect movie too.  Yes, it's perfect.  We watched it on Christmas day with my mother (who was visiting) and my dearest friend Gino who also spent the day with us.  For me, to watch The Shop Around The Corner on Christmas Day is a great Christmas Day.  In fact, I think it's required Christmas viewing.   For the record, I've never seen "You've Got Mail."  I'm just too afraid that my beloved movie has been mangled.

I wasn't enthralled with "The Tree of Life."  But there were parts I did love, many many parts.  Jessica Chastain is great - along with Brad Pitt.  But the film is a confusing mess to me.  I felt that the point of view of the director was: "We are all part of a plan, a plan we don't understand but naturally yearn for."  I think it would've been much more powerful and poignant if I got the sense that the film's creator felt this slightly (okay greatly) tweaked and different way:   "Evidence shows that the world has no plan, and it's a tragedy of human existence that we keep yearning and seeking a plan, or reasons, or meaning when there ultimately may not be any."

I still think you could have kept most of the movie the same!   Lose the ending with dead people in heaven walking on a beach.  The dinosaur scene were I guess we are supposed to witness the beginnings of compassion was weird and wrong.  In fact, in keeping with Malick's theme, he could have done a scene with the beginnings of love in humans - motherly love! That truly is the alpha and omega of love. We're bonded because we give birth to completely helpless beings who get their evolutionary advantage through culture which is transmitted by doting and caring parents, most of whom are the mothers of those helpless beings.  That would've still been in the theme of his film!  Oh!

Why don't directors like Malick consult with me before they begin shooting? Honestly!


I will say that watching "Days of Heaven" I expected to love it - I loved it when it came out.  But really - that movie is truly a masterpiece.  That is a perfect film.  Not one frame, not one word is off, in my not-exactly-humble-I-admit opinion.  Days of Heaven is sublime.  Much better than I remembered, and I have such happy memories of that film.  I saw it when I was in college.  I sat in the movie theater for some time afterwards, just absorbing what I saw.  And yet, the film was even better than I could have understood at the time.  (Come to think of it, Day's of Heaven's directorial theme is the one I articulated above, the one I wished Malick still held.)

I suppose that makes three perfect movies for last month: Stage Coach, The Shop, and Days.

Now on to books, and finally I'll write a word or two about Victoria Jackson.

I only read three books last month.

1.) A Mother'sWork: How Feminism, The Market, and Policy Shape Family Life, written by Neil Gilbert
2.) Shockaholic, by Carrie Fisher
3.) The Sexual Paradox, by Susan Pinker

I enjoyed all these books tremendously.  Fisher's chapter on spending Michael Jackson's last Christmas with his family was riveting and insightful and hilarious as only she can be.  Gilbert's "A Mother's Work" was enlightening. I have such a different view of how our culture should be helping frame the idea of motherhood in our society than I ever did before and much of it is in alignment with Gilbert's views.  But I won't go into this here, because I'm putting this in my book.   The Sexual Paradox is full of good information as well.  But, again, I won't get into that here.  

Now, onto Victoria Jackson.  Many people, more than I would have ever expected, have written me to ask me if Victoria Jackson is for real.  The way she appears, the views she espouses, and how she espouses them, is very confusing.

It's true. I've felt this way from the beginning.  Imagine if Steven Colbert were actually the character he plays: Steven Colbert of "The Colbert Report."  Would that not be highly confusing?  We enjoy Steven Colbert because we see there is a genius inside him that can see all the hypocrisy and inanity of our political system as well as the media, and he's so focused, smart and funny that he plays with it all - he's like Mozart playing tunes from notes out of our deeply dysfunctional system of government and media.  But Victoria.  Victoria.

So, to answer the question that many have asked me.... Yes.  She is for real. She really does believe all the things she says. To my knowledge, there will not be a day when she says: the jig is up.  It was all a performance piece.

What bothers me is that she wants to have it both ways at once. She wants to get the laughs that are there for characters who are kooky and dimwitted, but then she also wants to use this persona to make real points and arguments.  Points and arguments that are not ironic, they are completely naked and honest and forthright.  But she'll take the laughs.  I don't know why those on the right let her be part of their media-pushes.  To me it would be like, like if there was a "comedian" who's character was a Marxist-Leninist. He wears a beard and small round glasses and all black and he says things like:  The Government should own all the land!  People should not be allowed to own any money!  Free Enterprise should be stopped!

And then he has a soap box that he carries around with him, and he puts it out there - and it even says "Soap Box" on it, and he gets on top of it and yells and gesticulates like a cartoon of communism.

And he's on talk shows and everyone laughs at how nutty he is.

Only he really believes what he's saying.  He may be somewhat confused about why people are laughing.  But he doesn't care enough to analyze it, he really just wants the laughs.  He hears the laughs, and he'll happily take the laughs.

Now, wouldn't you have a certain contempt for this person?  Wouldn't you think: if they know people are laughing at them, doesn't that reduce their credibility?  Doesn't it make it seem as if the point of view they have is being compromised by the very laughs they're receiving?

I suppose it comes down to a demarcation in comedy.  You are laughed at, or you are laughed with.  Most comedians dabble in both ways of getting laughs.  In fact, it's a good exercise.  The next time you watch a comedian, just say out loud, as they get the laugh - "at"  "at"  "with" with."  It's very educational.

But you expect that when a comedian is getting an "at" laugh, that they know they're getting it.  More specifically, they know WHY they're getting it.  They are the wiser.  Their act is planned out in this way.

This is the thing: I don't think Victoria's act is planned out that way.  It's for real.

She's not Andy Kaufman (as many emailers have asked me.)   The "there" you think is "there" is not "there."

As far as I know.

I had someone forward me a song that Victoria has recorded and is up on You Tube, about - well, I suppose it's about me. It's about a fellow cast member who's an "atheist" (I personally prefer the term: non-believer)  and she wrote a song about it.  Here's her complaint with me: I talk about it all the time.  There's a chorus where she sings, "And she goes blah blah blah about it ALL DAY LONG."

That's a very weak argument.  This is an argument that my own mother might've used.  Did use, come to think of it.  "Why do you have to talk about it?"

Seriously, what kind of argument is that?  That's not an argument.   You may as well say, "She's a non-believer and she wears poorly constructed shoes."  What do the shoes have to do with anything?

But, really, what is that argument?

This is the argument of shut up.  The argument of be quiet.  The argument of why-are-you-talking-about-something-that-makes-me-uncomfortable.

Personally I don't think I talk too much about religion. In fact, I seriously think I talk about it too little. But my talking more or less about it is not an argument in favor of, or against the quality of my arguments.

I mean, duh.

I am now feeling like I over ranted over this topic that is not consuming very many people. In fact, it may be extremely few people.  But still, since some people had written and asked, I figured I'd explain a bit.

Or something like that.


Okay, that's all I have to say on this subject for now.....