Thursday, November 27, 2008


The number one rented movie on Netflix is, and has been for the past two years, "Crash."

No way is that possible. Unless hundreds of borrowers have them sitting on top of their DVD players, waiting for the right moment, but they always find something else.

(Not to say I didn't like the movie - I was one of the few who appreciated its Oscar win - but there have been many many many more popular (and less polarizing) films out since.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Un conte de Noel

Yesterday I saw "The Christmas Tale," ("Un conte de Noel"), a French film that has all the standard plot points of a dysfunctional family drama: estranged child returning home, ailing parent, unrequited love, precocious grandchildren, rambling old family home, lingering sibling resentments, new lover/spouse thrown into the mix, and of course, the long-held tradition of a play/musical/variety show as part of the holiday festivities. I think I just described "Dan in Real Life" or "The Family Stone" or about a dozen other films I've seen in the past five years. But, this movie isn't like any of them, and not just because it's French. Catherine Deneuve plays Junon, the matriarch of the family, and we immediately learn that as a young mother, she became pregnant in hopes that the placenta blood would provide a match for her six year old son, dying of leukemia. It doesn't, and little Joseph dies, leaving a younger sister (now suddenly the oldest child), and a newborn brother (Henri, blatantly disregarded by his own mother), and soon, a nearly-ignored much younger brother, Ivan. They're all grown up now, but of course things are not less complicated. Henri (played by the intriguing Mathieu Almaric, of "Diving Bell and Butterfly" and the current Bond film) has been banished from the family for five years on the request of his sister Elizabeth, who is dealing with a schizophrenic son. Ivan's wife Sylvia is inexplicably hated by her mother-in-law (and, ironically, is played by the real-life daughter of Deneuve), and loved-by-afar by another member of the family.

I'm not giving too much away, because this is the setup we get in the first ten minutes, and then the movie takes 2 1/2 hours to unfold. (I had no idea when I sat down in the theater, such is the joyous behavior of a lazy vacation day. I'm glad I didn't know.) It's the way in which it unfolds which is unique - actors speak directly to the camera at various times, voicing their inner thoughts; passages from books are read aloud; flashback narrations are accompanied by drawings or actual photos of the actors as children; the camera moves into new scenes with a narrow round-lens view, sometimes not widening for several long seconds. Oh, and there are odd quirks that I didn't like, as when a character receives a heart pendant on a string and holds it up, and suddenly the pendant is swinging over a sweeping shot of the city. But there is math! Several chalkboards and whiteboards are put to use to attempt to calculate the chance and length of Junon's survival with or without the transplant surgery she herself now needs.

There were times during the movie that I wasn't liking it, but more that I was, and on balance, I enjoyed it. I keep thinking about it, too, which to me is the mark of a really successful movie, something that lingers with you after you leave the theater. (After 2 1/2 hours of French, too, I keep hearing bastardized French phrases in my head. I took 1 year of French in high school, many many many years ago, not enough to even scrape by.)

What I liked most about the film is that there isn't one defining incident that has shaped these people into complicated and flawed individuals. (Even Elizabeth, who we see early in the movie at her therapist's, admits a general feeling of mourning which pervades her life, but says it can't be the loss of Joseph, because that's too obvious.) We never really learn why Elizabeth dislikes her brother so - there's no "a-ha!" moment of discovering something like he abused her or killed her pet rabbit or anything so simplistic. In fact, other characters ruminate over the question, too, much like a real group of people would. That is what I liked most about the movie - it was about real people, without neatly wrapped up endings or drastic turnarounds, or satisfying resolution. But there were small moments of understanding, and connection. And that is all we can hope for from our families, isn't it?

It's the economy, stupid

I'm definitely more scared about the economy than I pretend to be. It's clearly because I now have a mortgage and a job which can't be presumed to be secure - colleagues have been laid off in reason weeks, albeit for reasons that don't apply to me. But the reasons change, of course. The other, deeper reason is that I used to have faith that things could never get that bad, that there were checks and balances and controls, and now there is a real sense of free fall. Too many pundits on TV are jumping up to spout doom and gloom forecasts, in hopes that they are the ones who are right, but that doesn't mean they are wrong, because who was predicting my retirement savings would drop in half? And if someone were predicting that, wouldn't I have ignored him or her?

Ahhhh. I believe in having faith that I can survive whatever befalls me, and I will continue to do so. But I'd still not like to have to.

(This is me, early morning, under a gray morning sky. This is definitely not the me who wandered around in Whole Foods yesterday, idly plopping anything into her cart without caring about the price. Just because.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Catching up

Everything is different. The specter of economic failure haunts everything. I watch TV and there is a storyline about a pompous investment banker and I think, well, that was filmed before. I go shopping and stores are crowded and people are buying, and I think, don't they know? and begin to hope that the dire retail predictions will be disproved. (We will shop for the holidays, fuck it, fuck it all!)

But nothing is really affecting me, except of course the massacre of my retirement funds. But I have 20+ years until I retire, right? So much time to for the economy to right itself and balance to return to the world. I try not to think too much about doomsday predictions about the value of NYC real estate, and how my beautiful happy apartment might actually become an albatross. I'll stick it out, and survive! I will.

I came here to talk about movies and what spills out of my fingers onto the keyboard? I have a headache this morning. Understand, I rarely get headaches (2-3 times a year) so it's momentous when I do. (I am, despite the acid reflux and propensity to gain weight, a very healthy individual, from a similarly very healthy family. We kids grew up without allergies, nosebleeds, ear infections, rashes, or any of the other childhood ailments that plagued our classmates.) I took something (my mother is surprised that I don't know if it's ibuprofen or acetaminophen, but I don't take it enough to recall, and will often have to toss out the bottle because it's past its expiration date) and am hoping it helps. I had wanted to sleep late, but no such luck.

Today is the first of three vacation days, followed by two holidays (our office is closed both Thanksgiving and the day after), creating a solid week (9 days, with weekends) of no-work time. Today's plan is simple: leisurely morning on the computer, workout at the gym, buy some groceries, log in some writing hours, see a movie, catch up on recorded TV shows (almost up to date on "Life on Mars") while knitting a Christmas present, and go to bed early.

The next two days? Pretty much ditto.

Thursday will be a commuter train ride to an extended family dinner, and Friday or Saturday tentative plans with a friend, followed by a dismal Sunday where I recognize how fleeting my free time is before back-to-work Monday.

But, today... still empty and mine.

So, films. I have not been as good about getting out to the movies as I was. But there are still three I've seen in the past month which I haven't written about. Shame on me - and on my memory, which will now be tested as I try to recall what I liked and didn't.

The first, "Happy Go Lucky," is fairly easy, as it's a fairly benign yet satisfyingly entertaining movie, the latest from Mike Leigh ("Secrets & Lies," "Life is Sweet," "Topsy Turvy," etc.) The title refers to Poppy, a brightly-dressed and brightly-tempered teacher who spends her life looking on the sunny side of everything, and the film is mostly about the way the rest of the world embraces or resists her charms. The key resister is her driving instructor, and some of the best scenes are with the two of them trapped in his small car, attempting to maneuver around the city. But it's not all sweetness and light; real things happen to real people, and we watch as Poppy deals with them in her own, sometimes successful and sometimes not, way.

"The Changeling" was a disappointment, not because it's terrible, but because it's just not all that good. It's the story of a woman in the 1920's whose son is kidnapped, and then, a few months alter, she is forced to take in a young boy the police insist is her son. Angelina Jolie gets to play the suffering crazy-not-crazy mom, and it's one of those screeching-for-an-Oscar performances that is so DRAMATIC and EMOTIONAL that it comes across as dull. But worse for me was the pacing of the movie - there is no real emotional arc, but the resolution of a major plot point (is he or isn't he her son?) is followed by anti-climactic climax after anti-climactic climax. (I realize that I felt this with at least one of Clint Eastwood's other films - in "Million Dollar Baby," I was entranced by the first half, but felt like the air had been punched out of the story by the time we were forced to spend endless hours watching Hilary Swank in that hospital bed.) Even in small spots, though, the timing for "The Changeling" was way off - there is a scene where an officer is interrogating a suspect and it's inter cut with memory flashes of the actual crime. The camera in the present lingers on the lengthening ash of the detective's cigarette, juxtaposed with the raising of an axe in the past: two tense moments, waiting for the axe/ash to fall - and yet, it's edited so poorly, its timing so far off, that when the ash finally falls it no longer has any meaning, other than a casual curiosity as to who is going to empty the ashtrays in the squad room.

And then we have "I've Loved You So Long," a French film starring Kristin Scott Thomas (who is, apparently, as well known a French actress as an English one.) She plays a woman who comes to live with her sister and her sister's family after a long, unexplained absence. The movie is, of course, all about explaining that absence, but also about watching her gradually become part of the world again after sitting it out for so long. It's that second part of the film which I found more interesting, especially in the performances of Scott Thomas and Elsa Zylberstein, who plays her younger sister. But there is also a great scene in which the younger sisters confront each other about what happened in the past - what's brilliant about it is that the director chose to start the scene smack in the middle, when the emotions are already high and the characters are on fire, rather than the usual approach of allowing the audience to see the tension grow. It was unusual and off-kilter, but immensely satisfying - seriously, do we need to see one timidly bring up a subject and the other rebuff her, and then the first try again, and then the other explode, and then the first fire back, blah, blah, blah, when we know exactly how that unfolds? Instead we're dropped right in the middle of the moment and it's exhilarating. Less successful for me was the nature of the big "secret." I won't reveal it but to say it's a disappointment in that it's too nice and neat, eliciting too many unanswered questions (like why nobody else figured this out for over a decade.) Ignore that, though, and it's a movie worth seeing.

The longest blog post I ever made?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

And here I am, again, before the sun rises

I structured my work week so that today would be the day I could sleep in - no gym, working from home, and thus the ability to roll out of bed at 8:25 and be at my computer at 8:30. (It's not a 5 minute walk, of course, but one needs some bathroom/kitchen time before settling into the desk chair.)

And, then, I was asked to help at a client event this morning, a request I couldn't say "not" to for various reasons, and worse, it requires me to be in midtown at 7:00 am. I can't roll out of bed at 6:55 am for that.

But at least I am not skipping a planned gym morning, right?

This weekend, which will start a full week off (yay!), I will be ready for much sleep.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Dream #871.

I had a familiar dream last night, one in which I am living in a huge apartment with rooms I keep forgetting I have. In this dream, I was planning a party, and for some reason, had been given a budget from my job to hire caterers, even though it was a party of my own, in my own place. The apartment was, as often in my dreams, in a strange complex on the side of a mountain with connected buildings and large outdoor common areas set into the cliffs with natural water pools and winding walkways and gardens. Right next to my apartment, across one of these courtyards, was a gift shop and a diner, which was filled with people ordering brunch, but I had to get back to prepare for my party. But when I arrived back, the caterers were all panicky because my kitchen ceiling was pouring water from an upstairs leak, so I called my upstairs neighbors but they wouldn't answer, and the caterers had to relocate all of the food onto the balcony and I just hoped that the upstairs neighbors would show up at my party so I could show them the damage.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Several things I need to say right now

1. I saw "Zach and Miri Make A Porno" on Sunday and left the theater feeling the urgent need to shower. Not because of the (dull) sex scenes, but because of the bad dialog and overall writing. One of my least favorite films of all time is "Mallrats" so Kevn Smith, you are on a roll. A bad roll, but a roll.

2. I "befriended" someone from my past on Facebook. (Or as it was told to me today, I "facebooked" someone.) It took some gearing up of nerve to reach out to him, but he wrote back immediately and I was flooded with the realization that I never fully dealt with what happened between us. Two decades later, and I'm not even sure I can tell you what happened between us, but I think I couldn't have told you the day after, either (although it's admittedly much fuzzier now.) I don't know if I can have a casual friendship with him, with all the wondering. It's the stuff therapy is made for, I am telling you.

3. I have 2 Obama t-shirts. I don't know why but it seems very different to wear a t-shirt with the picture of a candidate's face on it, than to wear a t-shirt with a picture of the sitting president on it. I've never been that patriotic. I've always been an outsider, cool by my very disdain of the "establishment." How many others are feeling the jolt of this shift the way I am?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I have a cold.

Maybe it's from my trip home, hours pent up in airplane cabins in close quarters with other people's germs. Maybe it's the change of season. Either way, I am stuffed and sniffly. And about to spend an entire day in a training room of indeterminate temperature.

Going back to work after vacation wasn't as bad as I thought. As much as checking email on days off annoys me (and, on one particular occasion, brought noticeable physical tension to my body after a full day of ignorant bliss), it's a relief to come back to only a handful of unseen emails. So it balances out, somewhat.

The end of daylight savings time means more light in the mornings. It also means guilt that I am not at the gym.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I went to bed, readying myself to go back to work after a week off, leaving the election night coverage at the point where all presumed Obama the winner but still were making themselves say "if" and not "when." Then, scarcely 15 minutes later, lying here in bed, I hear cheering from outside and flick back on the TV and CNN has just declared Obama the winner and the world is going crazy. I can hear it, even now, the residual echoes of celebration.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Away from there

Somehow stumbled onto a wireless internet connection which, while swinging between "Low" and "Very Low" strengths, is enough to keep me online as much as I need to be. I am camped in a friend's basement guest room, listening to unfamiliar squeaks and creaks of the house and its inhabitants. Why is it that homes outside the city seem so much noisier? Is it because the night air around them is so much emptier?
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