Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What I've Been Doing

Hi all. I know I've been missing for awhile. Mostly I've just felt like I don't have much to say. I've mostly been staying at my Gram's house, taking care of this house and my Gram's very old but still kooky dog. My uncle stays here when he needs to, like when he has doctors appointments or for his semi-monthly experimental chemo treatments. During that time, we both take care of the house. But my uncle wants to live his life, see his friends, and he has his own home six hours away from Gram's that he has to take care of as well. So I end up being alone for many days in a row, over a week at this point, with little to officially do.

Having very little to officially do combined with not having anyone around to see if I do it or not has proven to be a recipe for... well, not a recipe for disaster, more a recipe for slackertude. Actually, that might not be the best description either. Shit. Ok, so officially, this past week+ while my uncle has been gone, I only had to care for the house and dog. I've done that. The house is clean. The flowers outside are watered and healthy. The dog is fed, watered, and petted. My mom asked me to go through, sort, and donate my grandma's clothes and to also clean up, arrange, etc, Gram's computer desk area. But as going through the stuff of someone you've lost can often be difficult and traumatic, Mom said to only do it as I felt up to it. I haven't touched the desk at all. It just seems so daunting. Last Monday, I did finish sorting through and bagging up Gram's clothes to donate. But I still haven't taken them to the donation drop off. Over a week later. FAIL.

On the other hand, the fact I haven't dropped off the donations is not just me being a slacker, but also due to my erratic sleeping schedule, or lack of schedule. I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm the nocturnal house(not)wife. That works for many things, most things these days. I can clean and cook (yes folks, I've been cooking a bit lately) anytime. I'm up by dinnertime, which means I can cook that for my uncle and I, when he's here. I also water the plants late in the evening. I can even do the shopping, as we have several 24-hour grocery stores and Walmarts in our area. I was even able to drag myself out of bed early enough to go to a Happy Hour sponsored by a local lesbian group held actually in the Slightly Larger Midwestern City. (Gram's house is in the suburbs of said city.) What I haven't been able to do it get up and go to the art museum, a matinee art house flick in the city, go swimming at the neighbor's house, or get my Gram's clothes to the donation center. Sigh. Ah, well, at least I still have stuff to do if I've ever up during the day.

Obviously, this rather uninteresting life doesn't necessarily lend itself to a ton of posts about my life. And I'm blaming drugs for my (fiction) writer's block.

But I'm not completely cut off. I have the internet here (which means liberal blogs) and cable tv with DVR. Ah, DVR, how I love you. We had just gotten a DVR at my parents' house before I left but only on the tv upstairs, the one my parents watch until they go to sleep, the only one with digital cable (=BBC America, G4, Logo, On Demand channels) and HBO. Downstairs, I have expanded basic cable on a jerry-rigged connection we don't officially have with two VCRs hooked up in tandem so I can tape two shows and watch a third all at the same time. Gram's system is pretty nice. Despite not having HBO (which means I have to catch up on True Blood whenever I visit my parents' house), Gram's system allows me to DVR a ton of shows and watch them anytime on whichever tv I want. In addition to DVRing regular shows, I've been recording quite a few movies, mostly from the Sundance Channel. So I thought I'd share ideas I had about movies I had seen. But beware *****SPOILERS AHEAD*******

Wallander: One Step Behind (Season 1, Episode 3) (PBS Mystery)
I really wanted to like this. I wanted a more contemporary British mystery series to get addicted to, especially one that I could watch when I was without BBC America. But it turns out this isn't a British series. It is based on a Danish mystery series, set and filmed in Denmark, though they plopped a very tired and old-looking Kenneth Branagh along with a bunch of dark-haired very British people into. It was confusing.

My biggest complaint was their use of what I can only term as the "transgender killer" gimmick. Sadly, that same week, one of my favorite shows, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, did the same type of thing with the same insensitivity. I think that mainstream television is getting away from reflexively showing gay, lesbian, and bisexual people as necessarily having something mentally wrong with which causes them to be a criminal. Unfortunately, they have a long way to go in how they portray transgender people, who they all turn into Norman Bates from Psycho. Not only is it not true, it's insulting. Though it's been awhile since I've seen it so I might be wrong, I think a good example of a procedural crime drama with a plot that dealt with the transgender community, including having a killer who is transgender is CSI: Ch-ch-changes (Season 5, Episode 8), which shows a variety of lifestyles that transgender people live and issues that they deal with in a compassionate manner and without making it seem like the murderer killed because she is a scary, pathologically evil deviant.

I'm a Cyborg But That's Ok (Sundance Channel)
Yeah, the title got me too. In fact, I DVRd it on the crazy title alone. Happily enough, it turned out it's directed by Chan-wook Park, this crazy Korean director. The films of his that I'd seen previously were part of his vengeance trilogy (I recommend Oldboy), which are dark, gritty, violent, and bloody. That's why I was surprised at the relative lightness of this movie. The premise is that a young woman, distressed by her Alzheimer's-stricken grandmother's institutionalization, comes to believe she is a cyborg on a mission to kill the "white coats" who locked up her grandmother. Of course, her beliefs land her in a mental institution filled with other colorful characters. It sorta reminds me of the lightness and quirkiness of Amelie, though in a mental institution, directed by a guy who focuses on fear, violence, and pain. It doesn't have a Hollywood ending, but that's ok.

My favorite part involves how they patient who has a crush on the cyborg convinces her to eat, as ensuring that patients eat is a big deal in mental institutions (believe me). She tries to lick batteries and such to recharge, but that isn't working, both in that she doesn't have alot of energy and that the "white coats" are trying to force her to eat. Our cyborg is afraid that she'll rust if she puts human food in her body. So the man crushing on her convinces her that he has created a device, which he then implants in her, that will transfer human food into energy that will recharge her cyborg body. It is a very tense but happy set of scenes.

Sadly, this movie is not available on DVD in the US yet.

Obscene: A Portrait of Barney Rossett and Grove Press (Sundance Channel)
This hilarious documentary focused on how Barney Rossett, a Chicago-bred, socialist schoolboy, ran the controversial publishing outfit Grove Press that published, and went to court to continue to publish, the first American editions of Lady Chatterly's Lover and Tropic of Cancer. Grove Press was also the American publisher of Samuel Beckett, as well as the publisher of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Rossett's office was bombed the day that Grove Press' literary magazine published the first chapter of Che Guevara. Rossett brought I Am Curious Yellow to the US, showcasing the new style, politics, and frank sexuality emerging in Swedish film in the late 1960s. He spent his life bringing works of art, mostly literary, that he found interesting, stimulating, radical, and worthwhile to the American public.

Oh the other hand, Grove Press was only profitable for a handful of years. Rossett was eventually pushed out of the company. He is pretty much a broke, elderly man, living in an apartment several flights of stairs up from the street.

Maybe the end is kinda sad. Guess that's why they add the footage of him playing with his dog. But it's still really interesting to learn the story, and to have it told to you in part by this old man who I can barely imagine being called a smut peddler and deviant back in the day.

Vanishing Point (1997 version) (Fox Movie Channel)
I'd been slightly interested in seeing the original 1971 flick since I watched the Deathproof half of Grindhouse. I recorded this to watch while I drifted off to sleep, as I figured that the remake wouldn't be nearly as good as the original, not even realizing at the time that the 1997 version was a made-for-tv movie.

For the most part, it was kinda lame. Some decent car chases, but way too much trying to combine Catholicism with Native American traditions to guide the guy back home in a way that avoids the cops. But some of the underlying politics really piqued my interests. The main character, speeding cross-country to be with his wife who's in labor, being chased by police just for speeding, becomes a folk hero in large part to a radio DJ, named The Voice and played with unintentional hilarity by Jason Priestly, who tells all his listeners about the plight of this one good man trying to evade the big bad government. Now I think that The Voice's radio callers are supposed to sound like cranks and nutjobs, that this driver is supposed to be the one conspiracy that The Voice gets right. But to me, these guys sound like any caller to a (usually right-wing) radio talk show. Well, if the host actually let them talk long enough to say more than "I dis/agree with you." Of course, it also reminds me of the recent govt report warning of a rise in right-wing extremism and the furor that it was met with. This film was made during the Clinton era, after the Oklahoma City bombing, and it portrays the FBI as trigger happy to label anyone as part of a violent militia. It seems interesting that a mainstream television network would make a movie with that kind of a sentiment- that the government is coming after you, even if you are a (mostly) law-abiding citizen. Then again, I guess it was Fox that made the movie. It seems like an interesting snapshot from that era.

That Obscure Object of Desire (Sundance)
Speaking of time capsules...
There are some things in this movie that I'm hoping can only be explained by the time period.

Let's go back a step. This is a 1977 French movie by Spanish expat director Luis Bunuel, who's films have always had a surrealist bent and pointed out flaws and hypocrisies in religion, the upper classes, and contemporary life and mores. This movie follows a wealthy old Frenchman's tale to his train car mates about his romantic pursuit of the young bruised woman they had all just seen him dump a pail of water on before the train left the station. He explains to them that he'd pursued this young woman, gave her and her poverty-stricken mother money to live on, but that he'd grown increasingly frustrated when she would not have sex with him. At one point in his story, he even attempts to rape her and is only stopped by her chastity belt briefs. In the end, the morning after a particularly bad argument in which she says she doesn't love him and proceeds to get naked with a much younger man in front of him, the Frenchman beats the woman and makes plans to leave town, which is where our story started.

The biggest thing that struck me was the the Frenchman's train mates think this is all perfectly ok. These are all upper-class people - a psychologist, a judge, and a well-to-do mother with her child. While they think that it is curious that the Frenchman would dump the water on the woman, they didn't necessarily think it wrong. The Frenchman tells the story to show why he'd have been justified in killing her and they agree with him by the end of his story. Yeah, nothing wrong with that.

Upon further thought, though, maybe Bunuel was using this to point out that the morals of these upstanding upper-class members of society are a bit out of whack. None of them seem to think it wrong that this man is trying to seduce a much younger woman who he refuses to marry. Bunuel also seems to point to the flexible morals of the religious with the actions of the mother of the young woman. The mother is a devout Catholic, who attends Mass frequently, and doesn't want her daughter to work because she has heard of the temptations that young woman face out there. But she happily departs the house, to go to church, as soon as the Frenchman arrives, leaving him alone with her daughter. Of course, she takes the money the Frenchman gives her first. The mother also seems very happy to allow her daughter to go live with the Frenchman, without any promises of marriage, but an envelop of money in her hand. It seems like the mother turns a very blind eye because of the man's class and money.

But the coolest thing about this movie was that Bunuel used two different actresses to play the main female role. Both women are thin, dark-haired, and in their early 20s, but they look different enough that you notice - different hair texture, facial structures, temperaments. The actresses do a whole scene, don't change in the middle of a scene. There's no real rhyme or reason as to which scenes a particular actress is in. At first, I wasn't even sure it was happening. I read online somewhere that some viewers don't ever notice. When asked in an interview why he did this, Bunuel said that one of the actresses walked out mid-movie and he didn't want to reshoot her scenes. On the other hand, Bunuel was known to lie about his method and the ideas behind his directing. The info about the movie on the cable box said that the woman had split personalities, but I don't think that's the reason for the two actresses because that's never presented in the movie and the woman doesn't actually present two different and distinct personalities, much less personalities that correspond to the different actresses. I wonder if it wasn't in part to show how changing and volatile people of that age are (the woman says she's 18), as well as pointing out the artifice of film, that the actresses you see are never really the characters they portray. But this method of having more than one actor play the same character in a movie is still quite out there more than 30 years later when we hear about I'm Not There and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Sundance)
This movie left me kinda empty. It was on all the critic's must-see lists a year or two back and it's on an important topic but... I don't know. I guess I already know the lesson this film is supposed to teach.

In 1980s Romania, a college student helps her roommate get a very illegal, very dangerous abortion in a hotel room. Yeah, that's all I have to say about it.

This is England (Sundance)
I never thought I'd write this, but I think I want to learn more about British skinheads.

Set in 1983, this movie is about a 12 year old boy who just lost his dad in the Falklands War and falls in with an older group of kids (16-19) who just happen to be skinheads, though one of them is black. (Yeah, yeah, I'm sure we can all see where this is going already.) I recognize the brick red tall Dr Martens and the tight rolled-up jeans, mostly from tv docs I've seen with American skinheads, but I've also seen them on (archival-hehe) footage of ska kids and sometimes punk kids in the 80s and early 90s. While I can't remember the name of this damn song, I remember Sir telling me once that this ska song we.... Shit, I finally found it. Ok, so the song is "A Message to You Rudy" by the ska band The Specials, which he'd previously thought was just a message to someone they knew named Rudy. But it really had to do with "rude boys", originally a slang term for juvenile delinquents in Jamaica that traveled to the UK and started to mean someone who was involved in the ska subculture. Sir said that the it was the band's message to the racist skinhead ska faction to stop with all that, though, looking at the actual lyrics now, it doesn't say that anywhere in the actual lyrics. Oh well. Also, looking at wiki a bit, it looks like skinheads really started as a branch off of British mod culture, when young people, even working class young people, started to have a bit more disposable income and spent it on their own style. Originally it had nothing to do with politics and wiki speculates that the men cut their hair that short because it would be dangerous to wear long hair in industrial jobs and in fights and also because middle-class kids were currently growing their hair long. That's all very interesting. I'll really have to read up more on that.

Anyway, I also found this to be an interesting movie in how you see the small ways in which this kid starts to fall into this group and how an older more politically motivated skinhead exploits this kid's loss to get his loyalty. It's kinda scary how little it can take when a person is young and/or vulnerable. (I hope I don't meet a cult leader anytime soon or I'm done for.) Overall, great period piece.

Well, that's all I have for you right now, kiddies. I'll try not to stay gone so long again.


Anonymous said...

Should have told everyone about the hot girl on girl on girl beefy cheese action that got denied by the corporate yeahoos or potentially private owning yeahoos who shut down the eat in portion before sundown. I can see why. If a weapon was shoved in my face, I would have to think twice about how much I want to keep that dollar in my pocket. But back to the potential for hetero male fantasy of girl on girl on girl action. May not be #1 like two girl on male. But it is in my top ten. I had a bunch of special thoughts about that prospect.

But seriously, don't be so down on yourself. Get up. Dust yourself off. Get out there. I know you have to push yourself to do things. But keep pushing. I have seen a change, a good change. I know it is hard. But you are doing better, in my opinion.

But my opinion doesn't mean anything. You have to make YOU happy. Do the things YOU enjoy.

I want you to continue to thrive, YOUR way.

OK, I will talk to you later.

Ava said...

Ok, so what TyRoy is refering to is that I went to a Happy Hour sponsored by a Lesbian Meetup group, where I met two nice women. After the Happy Hour, I followed them to a local fast food restaurant where we were going to pick up something to eat, but apparently they closed their dining room at 8pm. No, this is not in some rural area but, yes, they closed their dining room at 8pm. So parted ways, defeated, when, in TyRoy's mind, we were just one hamburger away from a fff threesome. But I see nothing there as a real accomplishment, so I didn't really add it into my post.