Sunday, May, 1, 11

Waiting for Superman Part II

Filed under: cinema — theradishpress @ 10:38 am
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by theradishpress

A few months back Sadiqeh and I went and saw the documentary Waiting for Superman. We were both brought to tears by the stories of the children and their parents in the movie. I will admit, that the personal stories did such a number on me, that aside from my annoyance at the director for not naming whiteness and the systemic oppression of poor people and poor people of color, I was swept into the film.

Like my admittance with The Fighter, I am now taking back my love for this documentary. That’s part of the fun of this blog for me, and being in school, learning, re-learning, continued examination and analysis, etc. And being accountable. Public accountability is not easy, even if when there really are only a few consistent readers. But the point is, it’s not about me, it’s about this movie.

My good friend Rebecca, sleuth that she is, and could probably outdo Greg Palast, recently saw the film. She got it on DVD, so she was able to see the special features as well. She told me though, that as soon as the film started, she suspected something was up. She reacted to the director in the same way I did – though, I did not tell her this or say it to anyone because unlike Rebecca, I still get caught up in being called paranoid or being told I am too suspicious. Anyway, what Rebecca saw was that the director, Davis Guggenheim, is experiencing some of that classic white guilt because he can send his kid to a private school. So, to make up for the guilt, but never name it of course, he made this movie. And as Rebecca did her research, she learned about all the corporations and funding the movie, including the likes of Bill Gates. Rebecca shared this great article (The Ultimate Superpower: Supersized Dollars Drive Waiting for Superman Agenda by Barbara Miner) that examines the money funding the film – Paramount Vantage, Participant Media, and Walden – and the money funding certain schools, like hedge funds. Miner even names the various politicians and CEOs invested in charter schools the film praises.

Additionally, Rebecca shared a link to a documentary The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim also directed The Inconvenient Truth). I posted the trailer below. I think it’s fascinating to note the production quality of this film versus Guggenheim’s. It appears that there are no major studios backing this production.

Yes, currently, I am sharing what someone else shared with me. This is how information is dispersed. Do with it what you will. This whole thing is proof of our need to really examine information we are given. To dig deep. To question. Isn’t that what education is supposedly about? And great, we can tear apart the systems that strangle life out of education, including the film industry. (This is why I miss teaching).

Wednesday, April, 20, 11

Dominic Cooper, Are You Arab?

Filed under: cinema — theradishpress @ 10:30 am
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by theradishpress

Dominic Cooper is playing Uday Hussein, the son of Saddam Hussein in Lee Tamahori’s The Devil’s Double. Cooper is also playing Latif Yahia, the man whose memoir the film is based on and who served as Uday Hussein’s double. So Cooper is playing not one, but two Arab men. Is he Arab? I could not find any evidence indicating that he is anything other than English. I guess there is a shortage of Arabs in the world, especially Iraqis, considering the US has been killing them since well, 1990ish.

Tuesday, February, 8, 11

The Social Network

by theradishpress

I did it. I watched The Social Network. All in all, not terrible as I had imagined. The performances are stellar and the writing is intelligent, witty, and fast-paced. I was often reminded of old Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn films, like Bringing Up Baby, or The Marx Brothers movies. What distinguishes these over seven decades older movies is that unlike The Social Network, it is not only men who rule the dialogue and the wit. Even The Marx Brothers met their match in the characters Margaret Dumont portrayed. Grant and Hepburn played off of each other, neither taking the lead so much as trying to make each other laugh. At least, that is the illusion, if not the reality.

So Rooney Mara’s Erica Albright gets to introduce the story by telling off Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), comparing dating him to a Stairmaster. Big fucking deal. The witticism, the downright genius, it is all left to the men in this film. If I am to believe all the dialogue Aaron Sorkin wrote, Mark Zuckerberg is quite possibly the most hilarious and intelligent asshole alive. And great. I did enjoy a great deal of the dialogue. But really Sorkin and Fincher? You start out with an apparent strong female and then leave us Amy (Dakota Johnson), the underwear then nude then towel-clad slam piece of Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) and then give us Christy (Brenda Song), the groupie and eventual psychotic and frightening girlfriend of Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield). Well done gentlemen.

Let’s not forget too that Christy is the only person of color aside from Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) – who by the way is not even part Indian, but he is part Chinese, so his playing an Indian is totally okay by Hollywood standards. All it requires is some brown make-up! – so there she goes making all Asians look bad.

In addition to all this, Zuckerberg’s financial status is often a subject in the film. It got me curious. Turns out that while Zuckerberg is made to seem poor in comparison to his friends his mother is a psychiatrist and his father a dentist. He also grew up in a town with an average household income of over $70,000. He also attended a private school with fencing. Okay, clearly I do not know all the details of his family’s financial situation, these things hardly translate to poor kid from the inner city who got to Harvard on a scholarship and really needs to work hard to maintain it. Considering that Zuckerberg himself seems pretty disinterested in wealth, it is no surprise to me that he was not consulted on the film and Eisenberg was told not to meet him before and during shooting. Maybe Zuckerberg would have a few errors to correct.

Thursday, January, 27, 11

I Remain Corrected

Filed under: cinema — theradishpress @ 1:20 pm
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by theradishpress

I keep thinking about The Fighter as a story about family and survival. Survival within family. And without. There is a strange comfort in seeing a true story about people – adults – who find speaking for themselves so difficult in their family’s presence. It is true what Rebecca says, we are all just children masquerading as adults. On the one hand you have this grown man who throws punches for a living. On the other hand, he is at the mercy of his fame and fortune seeking mother and delusional brother.

That is not to say that Dicky Eklund or Alice Ward are villainous. I would say they are perfect examples of why good intentions mean absolutely nothing in comparison to action. That is to say, Dicky and Alice both think they are doing what is best not only for Micky, but their family. His fighting and Dicky’s fighting is not an individual act or career, but something for everyone to benefit from. At least, that is how they see it. And Dicky truly believes he will return to the ring triumphant. Alice thinks she is doing what is best for everyone. And there is a fierce loyalty in the family. Micky’s sisters hate Charlene without meeting her, because she could break the family apart. Dicky’s drug use is ignored, perhaps falling into that state of mental reservation, where it can be pushed aside as long as it does not disturb the carefully maintained balance.

The universe has a way of toppling things, and forcing life to unravel. Sometimes tragically, sometimes mentally, sometimes physically, sometimes for the worst and sometimes for the better. Micky Ward needed to meet Charlene and needed help finding his voice in a family of so many yeasayers. Dicky Eklund needed to go to prison. And Alice Ward needed her children to question her. For me the most poignant disobedience came from Sherri Ward, one of the seven sisters. She spoke up as an ally for Micky and by protesting the others she stood up for herself. Alice threatens Sherri and changes the subject to being owed money by her daughter. She has now lost the gaggle of supporters.

I come from a family with its own culture of support and community and do not ever disobey or disrespect. I come from a tradition of secret keeping and “everything is just fine”. I don’t think adults realize how literal children can take things. And even when they don’t, their imaginations run wild. These traditions and ways of being raised stick. They are hard to break free from. I learned quickly to keep quiet and not question things. As a result, I have lost my voice in so many situations. I barely enter spaces with a voice. I compensate at times by being overly loud and obnoxious. I otherwise spend time avoiding people, canceling plans, hiding,and doing things like dropping out of school … occasionally dropping out of life. I am not sure what I think the harm would be in speaking up or speaking my mind. There is none really. It is just one pattern of many I have difficulty breaking from, and has become more of an issue with age. Maybe people fear aging because the truth keeps revealing itself more and more and it becomes less easy to hide behind immaturity.

Like so many things, and as I have said time and time again in this public space, I am working on finding my voice. I have said that before, but not really in this context. Family can be the most difficult to be honest and open with. For me anyway. I have been recently inspired by one sibling who stood up for me in a way I have never done for my siblings or myself. Here’s to hoping I don’t shut myself out.

Tuesday, January, 25, 11

I Stand Corrected

Filed under: cinema — theradishpress @ 11:12 pm
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by theradishpress

A while back I had said that The Fighter looked like a made for TV movie. Sentimental dribble practically. And Amy Adams had yet to impress me. All this based on the trailer. Okay, the Amy Adams thought was based on her movies I had seen. Some time passed, some people I trusted saw it and enjoyed it. Spike Jonze called on people to see the film, not as a favor to David O. Russell, but as a friend and believer in its brilliance as a film (slashfilm). I had known that I would eventually see the movie, if not for anything other than Christian Bale.

I decided I did want to see this movie. Sunday I did. Bale did not disappoint. I could have watched him as Dicky Eklund for two straight hours and not grown tired. Melissa Leo amazed me as the overbearing and at times pathetic matriarch of a working class family grasping at fame and fortune. Mark Wahlberg, as my friend Rebecca pointed out, did no grand-standing or space taking. He clearly understood this film was not about him as Micky Ward, but about a family and a community. And Amy Adams, she proved me wrong. I was impressed with her subtle performance as Charlene. She was powerful and quietly the hero of the story. She helped guide Ward to his destiny.

Part of what really drew me into the story and the film is that abso-fucking-lutely everyone involved did a stellar performance. No single actor tried to take attention or inserted themselves over anyone else. It really came across as a collaborative effort. And it really came across is a dysfunctional functioning family. The Eklund/Ward sisters are maybe the best example of actors working together and taking cues from each other. They were believable. They were sincere. It was as if watching a single celled organism move fluidly across the screen. One of my favorite scenes was when Alice Ward and her daughters confront Micky and Charlene. One mass of family attacked a potential threat to their status quo. They act with the only prompt of defense.

Like the HBO special about the harm of crack addiction and its toll on Dicky, but that Dicky seems to sincerely believe is about his life as a boxer and will prompt a comeback, we the viewer learn that The Fighter is not about boxing. As the truth of the HBO special is revealed, the viewer is reminded that we too are not seeing what we may have thought. Before seeing the film I thought about the choice of title: The Fighter. It could easily be The Boxer, or some title with Ward’s name, but Ward is not the only fighter and this is not a boxing story. It is a story about community and choices and survival. I am happy Bale, Adams, and Leo have all been nominated, and as supporting cast. I don’t see any single lead. And it really is about time Bale won.



Tuesday, January, 4, 11

Dear Jason Bateman

Filed under: cinema,letters to emily — theradishpress @ 11:26 am
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by theradishpress

Dear Jason Bateman,

I applaud you sir. You are a great actor. I recently watched Juno after not having seen it perhaps since I first purchased the DVD. I had seen the movie in the cinema and recall really sympathizing with your character, Mark Loring. I watched the movie at least two, maybe three times, again after buying it, and each time I felt like I could relate to Mark. Mark is trapped in this picture perfect – a fact noted by Juno herself, drawn to them by their photo – suburban life with a home that matches everyone’s, a beautiful wife, a stable career, and squashed musical dreams. You play him with such charm and easy coolness. I felt like Juno, drawn to your musical knowledge and awesomely twisted love of gore. I remember feeling the connection between Mark and Juno, seeing it as an admiration on both parts. Juno views Mark as perhaps an older version of herself, someone who gives her hope that her child will have some cultural upbringing. Mark sees Juno as a reminder of his past and who he could still be. So, when Mark leaves Vanessa – played perfectly by Jennifer Garner – I supported him. It was not that I did not like Vanessa, because I did. And I still do. I just saw their incompatibility and Mark’s need to rediscover his creativity.

When I put Juno in last week I saw Mark in a whole new way. He is creepy and even says to Juno “How do you see me?” when she reprimands him for wanting to leave Vanessa and after sharing an intimate dance. It got me thinking Bateman, thinking about how you are a great actor. I already knew this. Well, I knew you could make me laugh a lot. I have also been re-watching Arrested Development and recently watched Smokin’ Aces. I would say that after Chris Pine you are my favorite character in the latter. That whole scene is out of nowhere and ridiculous in a great what the hell is going on sort of way. I suppose you were playing some alternate universe Barry Zuckerkorn. What I failed to realize is how great you are at subtlety. Part of what makes Mark so creepy and off-putting is that he is also charming, not to mention the already obvious handsome. It really unnerved me watching the exchanges between Juno and Mark, particularly the last one. I felt uneasy in my seat. Juno is so clueless. Despite Brenda’s (Alisson Janney) warning, she continues to visit the Lorings, mainly Mark. She even seeks comfort by calling him from school after a particularly hard day.

What bothered me most of all is not Mark or Juno’s interactions with him, after all, she is innocent and acts realistically. I cannot say that at 16 I would have been any smarter or aware. No, what really bothered me is the fact that I failed to see the creep factor the first 3 or 4 times I watched the movie. What the hell does that say about me? If I can’t get a good read on a movie character, someone whose personality is written out for me as a viewer, then how the hell do I expect to make it through life? So, I need to work on myself…as always, and how I read people. But really, I wanted to say to you, well done Jason Bateman. You fooled me like you fooled Juno.


Monday, January, 3, 11

RIP Pete Postlethwaite

Filed under: cinema — theradishpress @ 10:53 am
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by theradishpress

Actor and activist Pete Postlethwaite died 2 January 2011 at the age of 64 from complications due to cancer. I first became aware of him as Giussepe Conlon in In the Name of the Father. Him being unrecognizable to be me made his performance all the more real, and his death as Giuseppe all the more sad. To this day that film and story brings me to tears. While the film is disturbingly beautiful, it does not show half the torture the Conlons, their extended family, and friends suffered under the English government. One of my favorite moments in the film is when Giuseppe is brought into prison with Gerry. A torrent of childhood anger and resentment pours out of Gerry and he delivers one of the most heartbreaking, yet hilarious lines (after relating a story about Giuseppe calling him out for fouling the ball in football: “And I ran out, and I hid, and I wrote your name on the ground — your stupid Giuseppe fucking name. I wrote it in the dirt and I fucking pissed on it.”

After that film I noticed Postlethwaite more. Though, he is a difficult man to miss with such a distinct face, as noted by Ben Affleck’s Doug MacRay in The Town. Postlethwaite plays the Father in Romeo + Juliet, and the ominous lawyer in The Usual Suspects (one of the only draws to an over-hyped film), and more recently I saw him in The Town as a scary Irish mafia boss. Last year I also saw him in the documentary The Age of Stupid, a film that chronicles humanity’s hand in destroying the world, as well as the efforts of individuals and communities to amend our mistakes.

My grandfather died on the 2nd of January as well. In 2002. He was older at the time than Postlethwaite at his death, and also died due to cancer complications. I suppose cancer is one giant complication. I am not really aware of it being anything other than that. Reading about Postlethwaite’s death had an impact because it brought Poppop more to mind than he already has been. Clearly I did not know the actor, but my introduction to him was as a working-class Irishman, struggling for his family’s survival and victim of a corrupt system. Because of our family’s strong tie to our heritage, it made him perhaps more of a hero than one would presume I would see him as. But I did. And I know now more than ever that thanks to Postlethwaite I want to visit the grave of Giuseppe Conlon in Belfast. I want to pay him respects. And I in a weird selfish way, I owe Postlethwaite thanks and respect for keeping Poppop at the top of my thoughts.

Sunday, December, 26, 10

Going Somewhere

Filed under: cinema — theradishpress @ 11:20 pm
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by theradishpress

Life can be cyclical. The same motions, choices, events, places, people, all repeating time after time. Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere explores the idea of life as a circle. A series of events destined to repeat, unless altered by the very people impacted. Stephen Dorff stars as Johnny Marco, a Hollywood actor who lives in the famed Chateau Marmont in LA, partying with his childhood friend Sammy (Chris Pontius), and moving from one film event to the next, and having sex with a series of women.

One of Coppola’s gifts as a storyteller is her ability to present people and places as they are and through hand-held unsteady shots and seemingly sloppy framing create the illusion that the viewer is part of the story. The camera maintains a safe distance, allowing scenes to unfold. The story is not told from any one particular point of view. Music remains primarily diegetic and silence is mostly filled with the film’s environment.

Immediately as Johnny’s story is revealed the use of circles becomes evident. The film opens with a shot of the open road, Johnny’s Ferrari looping repeatedly into the frame and out of it. Is the car going to crash? Is it going to stop? Is this the beginning of the film or the end? Johnny is later in his hotel room, laying in bed with a cast on his arm after having fallen down a flight of stairs. Identical twin dancers perform on poles for him, twirling round and round. The circles repeat.

Johnny’s world of repetition is not even interrupted by the arrival of his daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). He wakes to her signing his cast. Her mother Layla (Lala Sloatman) shot from afar and keeping her self distant from his bed, informs Johnny to not return Cleo late. It is evident that this story, that of Johnny as father, has its own cycle. Cleo spends limited time with him, and he is unaware of her life. Only later when Cleo is forced onto him as a more permanent fixture is Johnny’s routine thrown off. Cleo’s mother leaves her with Johnny, and like his agent Marge (Amanda Anka) becomes a disembodied voice over the phone.

Johnny suddenly has Cleo in his life. He begins to mold her into his routine. She attends a press tour and awards show with him in Italy, witnesses his many relationships with women, and spends time playing video games with him and Sammy. Cleo is not unhappy, but she is also overprotective and wants Johnny for herself. Sammy is family, everyone else an intruder. Cleo makes food and delightedly agrees to read scripts for Johnny. Cleo is no arbitrary name, it derives from Cleopatra, “father’s glory.” She is just that, the saving grace of a lonely man otherwise doomed to act out the same story every day.

Clues are given that Johnny is, despite his current state of wealth, a simple man. He wears old t-shirts and jeans, and even pokes fun at posh women with Cleo. He is a loyal person, as evident by his continued friendship with Sammy. His life of glamor becomes boring. The repetition loses its appeal. Many shots are drawn out, and Johnny literally goes nowhere. He is shown sleeping, showering, having sex, receiving angry texts from a past lover perhaps, and a everything happens over and over again.

The first hint of a change to his routine is when Marge says a paper wants a quote from him on his mother’s latest novel. His reaction is a clear indication that his relationship with his mother is strained. Maybe she was not there when he needed her. Does it matter? What matters is that Johnny is left with his daughter, abandoned indefinitely by her mother. Cleo expresses distress at both parents, both for being distant, both for juggling her back and forth. She is not destined to be victim of their mistakes and their repeat offenses.

Somewhere is not a complex story, and not a complex film. It is slow and simple and delicate. The beauty and the strength lie in the fact that Coppola is not attempting anything new or anything elaborate. She is what so many filmmakers forget, a storyteller. And like all great storytellers Coppola knows the simple truth to an old rule “show, don’t tell.” True to life, there is no clear end, and cycles can be broken. New stories await.


Friday, December, 3, 10

Check out my latest Anatomy post

Filed under: cinema,images — theradishpress @ 11:03 am
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by theradishpress

I have been posting to Street Anatomy regularly as of July, but I am particularly proud of this post.

Monday, November, 29, 10

Help Me Waste Time

Filed under: cinema — theradishpress @ 10:42 am

by theradishpress

Let’s solve this puzzle!

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