Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 28th

Three years ago, at six in the morning on his 77th birthday, my grandfather died, surrounded by his family, his wife, two of his children, his one grandchild, and their partners. We have all missed him very much ever since.

Everyday I think of him and almost as often something else reminds me of him. Like how he would have liked my gerry-rigged Christmas light set up. Like the Christmas song my uncle's boyfriend told us about, "I Farted on Santa Claus." Like thinking of him or my grandma looking for something in a store when I decided to follow through on helping a little old Asian lady who was looking for Christmas cards yesterday in the birthday card section. She was probably somebody's grandma and they would want to know that a (somewhat) decent person didn't just walk away.

I really miss you Grandpa. If there is a heaven, I hope you and Grandma and Knothead and Butch and your mom all are there together. I love you and I'll never forget you.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

If You Think That I Could Be Forgiven

I was 15 when the Counting Crow's song "A Long December" was released. While my memory might not be accurate, it seemed like the video was in heavy rotation during the late fall and seemingly constantly by the time December rolled around. I loved the song, in the melancholy way I loved most songs back then, and I often cried when I heard the song or watched the video. Every year since, in the time period between Christmas and New Year's, I've sought out the song, to me a call to contemplate the year that is passing and plan for the year ahead. I guess it's my sadder version of Auld Lang Syne.

I drug it out tonight during the car trip home from Christmas dinner at my uncle's, on a mix disk made for me by Sir. "And if you think that I could be forgiven, I wish you would." Hmpt. Early on in our long-distance over-the-phone courtship, I had told him how much I loved that song. His response made me tear up: "You know the line about looking across a crowded room to see the way that someone lights up, stands out, when maybe no one else really sees it? That's how I felt when I first met you." It was probably one of the sweetest things anyone had every said to me.

I haven't written about it here yet, though I plan to, but a really good friend of mine, I'll call her Miss Kee, died recently, suddenly, unexpectedly, not from an accident or outside force, but seemingly from what I'm choosing to call a massive sudden body failure. As with anyone who dies, I wish I'd spent more time with her, though we were both kinda flakey and moody so it was difficult for us to both get our shit together enough at the same time to hang out. And, stereotypically, I've tried to evaluate things in my life that I want to change, so I make my own life more meaningful, more happy, more how I want it. Also, with one less living friend, it makes me wonder about getting back in touch with friends I've lost touch with. Or lost through my own stupidity.

"And if you think that I could be forgiven, I wish you would." This is where Sir comes back in. When I heard that line tonight, I thought of him. I wondered if the power of a song we shared, of that line, might break through the "you're dead to me" Sicilian mindset that his family has for those they feel have wronged them. But, well, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I wasn't really sure I wanted forgiveness for what he feels is the wrong I've done him. For those just joining the soap opera in progress, I revealled on this blog, which I knew Sir's current girlfriend read, that he was seeing someone else and that he had also cheated on her with me. I'm fairly certain that Sir felt this was all done out of jealousy, that I always wanted to be back with him, never liked his girlfriend, and, in a bipolar snit, put his business online to break them up. And I won't say that's all untrue. I would contend that I thought he and this girlfriend were a bad match for several reasons and that him moving even further away from where she lived, where he then met another woman, didn't help matters. I can also say that, while I"m not sure exactly what was going on at the moment, I am sure that things with BT and I, who were married at the time, were dramatic and I had probably just found out that he had lied about or was hiding something I felt significant. Since getting married, Sir and I had not had the friendship we had once had, so I didn't feel the loyalty needed to keep a secret of that kind. Most of all, I was tired of what I felt like was rank hypocrisy on his part. Mr Ethical, Mr Sexual-Intercourse-Virginity, Mr Do-the-Right-Thing took a weekend holiday with his new girlfriend while still maintaining the supposedly-exclusive relationship with the first girlfriend. The write-off text from a man who said he'd see me through anything was that I'd "burned that bridge." I probably should have handled it differently, but I think he'd have prefered I didn't handle it at all, didn't call him on his bullshit. I think that was my real sin to him and that's one I cannot repent.

But despite that, it hurts me to think he's mad at me, that he'll feel perpetually wronged by me. Hey, A, self-important much? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Think about the people you un-friended in real life, no matter how long ago, or not long ago, and I'm sure you'll find someone that you are still mad at, where you still grind your teeth when you think of them. Granted, that's not everyone, but it's someone. And I don't want to be that for Sir. I also know that I'm more the person now, inside, that I wanted to be when he and I first met, when we spent hours talking about who we wanted to become, than ever before, though I'm not sure how it happened or when it happened. I'm not the person I was when I burned the bridge, even if I still think what he did was wrong and what I did wasn't the worst thing ever. And even though I realize how limiting many aspects of our relationship were, hell how limiting many aspects of his worldview are/were, and I realize that I disagree with a great many things I let slide when we dated and when we were friends, I do miss him, his friendship. (The dating ship has sailed for both of us, I'm sure.) I miss him because it's damn tough to find someone smart enough to talk with and harder still to find someone you can laugh with as well. It's hard to find a very logic based person who can and will apply that to real life situations and be honest about that.

So, audience, what do you think? Should I ask for forgiveness, or, to paraphrase another band (Barenaked Ladies) ask him to just forget if he can't forgive? Do we think he misses my friendship as much as I miss his? Should I go straight to him with my plea?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life as Majority

(NB: Anything that is enclosed in brackets [x] inside of someone else's quoted work is my added opinion.)

So I've recently had some drama in my life, even if it is more of an internal struggle over my current situation. While I had hoped I'd be disciplined and kind enough not to open my mouth and spread the misery, I've already failed at that so I figured, fuck it, I might as well write about how I see this playing into a larger social narrative as well as how my past influenced this moment and where I'm pointing my compass from here.

In the last post that I wrote, I brought up the concept of PRIVILEGE. I'd like to start by talking a bit more about that. So last time, I wrote that wikipedia defined privilege this way: "A privilege is a special entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. It can be revoked in certain circumstances. In modern democratic states, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By contrast, a right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth."

Now I want to add a bit from Tim Wise, one of the foremost (white) American anti-racist thinkers out there. It's from "Denial - Privilege and Life as a Majority." Now I'm going to quote a great deal of it, but it's also worth it just to go to the page and read the whole thing.

"Sometimes it can be difficult, having a conversation with those whose political
views are so diametrically opposed to one's own.

But even more
challenging, is having a discussion with someone who simply refuses to accept
even the most basic elements of your worldview. At that point, disagreement is
less about the specifics of one or another policy option, and more about the
nature of social reality itself.

This is what it can be like sometimes,
when trying to discuss the issue of white privilege with white people. ...

Of course, what is ultimately overlooked is that denial of one's
privilege itself manifests a form of privilege: namely, the privilege of being
able to deny another person's reality (a reality to which they speak regularly)
and suffer no social consequence as a result."

For those who don't know, I am white and that is one of the areas in which I do have privilege. But I think that is why what Tim Wise writes speaks to me. I know I have this white privilege, knew it somewhere inside me long before I knew what the word meant in this context. Maybe I've always been a bit too overly empathetic, but even as a pretty young kid, I hated when things were unfair or unequal. These emotions became magnified when I was 7 and my family moved to a suburb just south of large Midwestern city. Unlike the large but mostly white student population of my former elementary school, black students made up probably 25% of the student body at the small private Christian elementary school outside of the large Midwestern city when I began attending. (The mix was probably 50-50 by the time we moved.) I had a big culture shock, as I'd never really been exposed to black culture. I wouldn't call my family racist, but, like many people of all colors, we tended to partake in culture that reflected us, or at least our skin tone. I could have sang you the soundtrack to the Big Chill, having listened to the tape so often in my mom's car, but I didn't even know what rap was. While the powerful white students in my class didn't give you a second thought if you weren't up to their level of pretty and well-dressed, my black classmates, even the most popular and powerful, would let you in with them, but only after you endured the push-pull of gaining their trust, which meant showing you didn't have a racist molecule in your body. Looking back, I wonder if it wasn't the friendship version of "you either like me for me & don't act like I should be any different, or you never really liked me at all and don't deserve my energy," something my mom drilled into my head about romance with boys, which I wonder if the black students' parents, kids during the Civil Rights Era, drilled into their heads. While I won't say that I left that school with a fully developed racial consciousness or a complete understanding of the psyches of black children, I do credit it with teaching me that minorities are both just like whites and not at all like whites, that every kid I knew was just as deserving of respect as me, whether they were white or black, but that the black students had a different reality, from our history of injustice to minorities to the higher incarceration rates of their older family members to how teachers treated them. It wouldn't be until college that I would actively try to develop my race consciousness, right alongside the gay consciousness I snuck in while in high school and the feminist consciousness that had bloomed during my first Women's Studies course. It's something I'm still working on today and probably will be working on until the day I die.

But being more aware of things means I see more, whereas before I might have had that little "something's off" itch, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Even having read just the same amount of things I have by authors of color, women authors, gay authors, disabled authors, about the ways they have been made to feel less than, about the horribly intrusive and ignorant behavior they've been subjected to, I have started to see that all around me, recognize it, felt my own heart hurt. But I've been a 'humorless, too sensitive, too PC, stick up her ass bitch' for as long as I can remember and I started calling people on using words like "gay" and "fag" as derogatory terms when I was a senior and just coming out. By my senior year, I had a modicum of respect from my classmates because I was the go-to study-buddy girl. I also came armed with facts. So when I challenged them saying it, bringing up that it often felt to a gay person like the equivalent of kike or the n-word, I also told them that, in this classroom with 15 people, statistically, there would be 1.5 gay people. If I was the .5, as a bi-person, who was that other person that they probably just hurt, that they probably dug the knife in everyday? Look, I have no delusions that it changed what they said when they were in the hall or another class. But it got the speaker to think and, if there was another gay person in that classroom, I hope they got the message that they were worth being stood up for.

But now I'm older, have less clout, am a bit less likely to open my mouth. In part, it's because of this nifty little trick we blog people call derailing. This page, Derailing for Dummies, which is completely hilarious, sums it up pretty well:

"You know how it is. You’re enjoying yourself, kicking back and relaxing at the
pub or maybe at the library; or maybe you’re in class or just casually surfing
the internet,
indulging in a little conversation. The topic of the conversation is about a
pertinent contemporary issue, probably something to do with a group of people
who fall outside your realm of experience and identity. They’re also probably
fairly heavily discriminated against - or so they claim. The thing is, you’re
having a good time, sharing your knowledge about these people and their issues.
This knowledge is incontrovertible - it’s been backed up in media
representation, books, research and lots and lots of historical events, also
your own unassailable sense of being right.

Yet all of a sudden
something happens to put a dampener on your sharing of your enviable intellect
and incomparable capacity to fully perceive and understand All Things. It’s
someone who belongs to the group of people you’re discussing and they’re Not
Very Happy with you. Apparently, they claim, you’ve got it all wrong and they’re offended about
that. They might be a person of colour, or a queer person. Maybe they’re a
woman, or a person with disability. They could even be a trans person or a sex
worker. The point is they’re trying to tell you they know better than you about
their issues and you know that’s just plain wrong. How could you be wrong?

Don’t worry though! There IS something you can do to nip this
potentially awkward and embarrassing situation in the bud. By simply derailing
the conversation, dismissing their opinion as false and ridiculing their
experience you can be sure that they continue to be marginalised and unheard and
you can continue to look like the expert you know you really are, deep down

Congratulations You Have Privilege!

Just follow this step-by-step guide to Conversing with Marginalised
People™ and in no time at all you will have a fool-proof method of derailing
every challenging conversation you may get into, thus reaping the full benefits
of every privilege that you have."

Of course, the dynamic also gets trickier when you are a privileged white person telling another privileged white person to please stop using a specific word. It's difficult enough to be, say a gay person politely asking a straight person to please stop using "gay" when they mean "stupid," with the tried and true "but gay people do it!" and "well, I didn't mean it that way, you know I love gay people." When you aren't a part of that marginalized group and can't speak for a majority of ALL OF THEM being offended, and you really don't want to say they are racist, which you might not believe anyway, well, sometimes it just feels like a losing battle. I think this video by J Smooth sums it up pretty well.

But finally, sometimes you just don't want to be the educator, the activist acting civilly. Though Sparky, writing at Womanist Musings, is writing about being a gay man trying to educate straight people, I think it's just as fitting for people educating on ablism, feminism, or racism. (Emphasis mine, not the authors.)

"The point is, I knew where this conversation was going within the first 10
minutes - gods, the first 5 minutes. The opening lines, even. I knew that I was
heading into a long, unpleasant and awkward conversation that was likely going
to throw a lot of straight privilege at me, push a lot of painful buttons and
generally leave me frustrated, tired and feeling like shit. In short, within 5
minutes of the conversation starting I wanted it to end.

How do I know this? Because I've had exactly the same conversation and
variations of this about a squillion times before. All completely
unoriginal, all tiring, all painful and all immensely frustrating. And I'm quite
sure over half have been utterly, completely pointless wastes of my energy and
mental health

My point?

My point is sometimes I can't do it. And that's a shame because, even if
most failed, I know some of these conversations HAVE worked. I know some
ignorant people who bought a clue, listened and did their best not to do it
again. Yes, it can be productive. Yes it has worked. Yes calmly and reasonably
answering all the ignorant questions you've answered a thousand times or
politely objecting and explaining why something was offensive can and does work.
It's half the reason I ramble so much about sexuality on this LJ.

And sometimes I can't do it. Sometimes I'm tired, I'm in a bad mood or I'm
just sick to the back teeth of the whole damn hetero-normative world, it's
ignorance, it's insensitivity and it's endless reminders that I don't
belong. Sometimes I'm annoyed because it should be damned OBVIOUS
why I don't find that joke funny, or why I get angry at being called

These conversations are painful and tiring and frustrating. They're
very personal (they can't help but be
), they force me to confront
homophobia and homophobic ignorance head on. They force me to endure it and slog
through it. They force me to be vulnerable. They force me to expose that
vulnerability to someone who, at best, may clumsily trample all over me and at
worst may deliberately do some stomping

And I'd like to add that I shouldn't have to do that with my friends, with people who know me. Wait, let me sort of take that back. If I have a friend who actually wants to have a conversation about these things, I'm usually up for it. But, when it's not going to be a conversation, when I ask you to please stop using a word, at least around me, especially when you know that there's nothing you are going to say that's going not make it hurt me and nothing I can say to change your opinion about the propriety of that word, do me a favor and just don't fucking say it anymore. "I didn't mean it offensively/racist/sexist/homophobicly" doesn't really matter to me in that context, because intent is not all. Effect factors in and it did hurt or offend someone. And "I'm sorry you were offended" is not actually an apology. It's a deflection which says that the offended party is the one with something wrong, being overly sensitive, reading too much into it, not having a sense of humor, etc. Real apologies admit wrongdoing. Don't try to offer an apology when you aren't actually sorry and/or think you did nothing wrong. I could go on and on, but, in the end, I still get the very clear picture that I'm just an overly sensitive, too PC, humorless bitch. And if you think that's what I am, why would you want to be friends with me?

A friend recently seemed upset that I would want to go out and find friends who shared the same political and social views as me. Her assertion was that she wouldn't want to be friends with people only like her. I agreed then and I still do, in that I wouldn't want all my friends to be replications of myself. (Anyone who thinks that would be cool should see the movie Moon, where Sam Rockwell's character gets into a knock down drag out fight with his... well, I'll just say a man who looks just like him.) But that's not what I want. I just don't want the paragraph above this and I'm hoping that won't happen with people on my own wavelength. Don't know if it'll work out, but I gotta try.

"I've lived in this place and I know all the faces
Each one is different but they're always the same
...I'm moving on"

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Character-Building Conflict

[I'm going to be introducing some new words. Yes, new words. This includes invented singular pronouns, so instead of using 'they' to describe a single person of either sex, I'll use one of these pronouns. SO: Ze=He or She (subject), Hir= Him or Her (object) and His or Her (possessive determiner), Hirs= His or Her (possessive pronoun). Here's the wiki page.]

The ghost of someone's tragedy
How recklessly my time has been spent
They say that it's never to late but you don't get any younger
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness and feed the hunger
-Watershed by Indigo Girls

So if you hadn't noticed, I haven't really been writing much except my own weird movie reviews. I think in many ways it has been because I haven't had anything to say. I won't say that I haven't been inspired to write, though I haven't been, because, if fiction writing and poetry writing classes have taught me anything, it's that you'll write very little if you only write when you are "inspired." Sometimes you have to create your own inspiration. But there has been nothing really...interesting? No, that's not it. I got it! It's that there has been so little real conflict in my life. Plenty of angst and pity and bickering and pointless arguing. But no real, for lack of a better term, character-building conflict in my life lately. Which has mostly been my fault. I haven't challenged myself. I let everything go. Let my muscles atrophy, including my brain. Until this week, I really haven't let myself face any challenges, other than the challenge of my vacation, which did teach me a great deal about myself, about the friend I travelled with, and helped me get to a better, more independent frame of mind about traveling. And though my anxiety about the outcome of all this sometimes threaten to overwhelm me, I have more energy and feel happier than I have in a long time.

Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize til your agony's your heaviest load
-Watershed by Indigo Girls

When I decide to do something, I just jump in. (Have you heard/read the story about how I got married?) The hardest part of taking a chance, of trying to do anything, for me, is to get over my fear of failing, especially because my previous failures have set me back behind where I started. Right now, with the employment things I'm trying to do, I don't have to worry so much about failure because I will only end up back in my current situation. I recognize the great privilege I have in that I don't currently worry about having to financially provide for my housing, bills, clothes, or transportation. But I'm also taking some romantic chances and the why's and how's are a bit more complicated and less...positive character traits driven than I think my friends realize, than even I realized or wanted to admit to.

You think I wouldn't have him
Unless I could have him by the balls
You think I just dish it out
You don't think I take it at all
You think I am stronger
You think I walk taller than the rest
You think I'm usually wearing the pants
Just 'cause I rarely wear a dress
Well...when you look at me
You see my purpose, see my pride
You think I just saddle up my anger
And ride and ride and ride
You think I stand so firm
You think I sit so high on my trusty steed
Let me tell you
I'm usually face down on the ground
Whenever there's a stampede
-I'm No Heroine by Ani DiFranco

Last summer, I remember MP and I talking about love and sex advice columns. He and I are big fans of Dan Savage. He said that ultimately most of the situations people wrote in about could be solved if people knew they could be happy on their own. If people knew a happiness in being alone, they could then compare it to what their current relationship gave them and leave if it didn't meet or exceed the happiness they had being alone. Also, if they weren't afraid to be alone, then it wouldn't be fear that made them stay in a relationship, but a real desire to be with that person and make that relationship work. It can also give a person leverage in hir situation because ze can tell hir partner that, if things don't change, ze'll leave and mean it, knowing that ze will be alright if hir partner says "ok, bye."

This really range true to me, both then and now. It is also in line with the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment, which Wikipedia defines as, "a state in which a person overcomes his or her attachment to desire for things, people or concepts of the world and thus attains a heightened perspective." A quick google led me to this quote, "Without any fear of losing what we have, without being pushed and pulled by our inner likes and dislikes, we begin to find increased equanimity and genuine affection," from Urban Monk.

And, just to clarify, I don't think that MP favors being alone over being in a relationship. In fact, as he's been in relationships the whole time I've known him, sometimes several at the same time, I think he prefers them to being alone, but I think that he's suggesting not being so invested in the idea of being with this one person who is the only one and you just can't be alone and no one will every love you again after this person. I also don't think that it means to walk away from relationships you have invested time and energy in just because at that moment you are unhappy. Even the best relationships have unhappiness. Just that a person should look clearly at the relationship, if ze can still be happy with the problems of the relationship, if those problems can ever be solved, when deciding if ze should stay in a relationship, while leaving out a fear of being alone.

If you're not angry
You're just stupid or you don't care
How else can you react
When you know something's so unfair
The men of the hour can kill half the world in war
Make them slaves to a super power and let them die poor

But his perspective is from his life and comes with a great deal of privilege attached to it.

Let me stop a minute. I'm trying to be more consistent in what I talk about and how, so I'm also trying to introduce the best descriptive terms into what I write and how I talk. So let me introduce PRIVILEGE. Here's what wiki says: "A privilege is a special entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. It can be revoked in certain circumstances. In modern democratic states, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By contrast, a right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth." This can come in the form of male privilege, white privilege, temporarily able-bodied privilege, heterosexual privilege, class privilege, and I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting. But it has to do with getting "an up" in the world, not because you earned it, but because you are white or straight. Part of privilege is that ze doesn't see the advantage ze has. I just wanted to give a quick overview before I talked about it in this context.

Now to go back to MP. His "be happy being alone so you can just leave" comes from a place of class privilege, mixed with a little male privilege and temporarily able bodied privilege. While his life hasn't always been as financially comfortable as it is now, he's had enough money or few enough financial needs that he actually could just leave for much of his post-collegiate adult life. As a heterosexual male, it is statistically far less likely that he'll be a battered partner, not be able to fend off an attacking partner, or be physically prevented by his partner from leaving. Last we talked, he was able-bodied enough to pack up, move, and leave of his own accord, as well as continue to work to support himself. That is a luxury that many people don't have. If I didn't have my family to fall back on financially, I probably wouldn't have that luxury, no matter how happy I was to be alone. I'm not faulting him for this, just pointing it out.

We don't say everything that we could
So we can say later
Well you misunderstood
I hold my cards up close to my chest
I say what I have to and I hold back the rest
-Anticipate by Ani DiFranco

Baby I love you
That's why I'm leaving
There's no talking to you and there's no pleasing you
-Out of Range by Ani DiFranco

Yes, I do have the privilege to end a romantic relationship at any time. I can't in all honesty say that I am happy being alone, well, not exactly. I'm not invested in having a "relationship" in the traditional sense, don't feel I just have to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. I want to have sex consistently. I would prefer that be with one person, a person who I am friends with, can talk with, can have fun outside the bedroom with. If a more traditional relationship develops from that, I'm going to try not to run from that, but I really try not to push it there if the other person isn't there. But I do push for honest, upfrontness (is that a word?), and full disclosure, on where my partner wants things to go, on where ze is now. While I may need to be less interrogative, I don't think it's too much to ask for.

But I realized that I'm terribly lonely when I probably don't need to be. And that I'm lonely not by my choice but by the choice of another that I'm not supposed to question. I also realized that, no matter how much I love someone, if we fight much of the time, having the same arguments over and over again, I am hurting myself when I don't need to. (I also believe I'm hurting him, but it is not for me to decide for him that he should not be with me.) I've spent so much of my life in relationships that I knew would never work, wasted so much time and energy. I don't want to do it again. I want to move forward, to a better place, to be a better person. And I'm so not a good person to him right now. Pretty sure he thinks I'm a pretty shitty person, in fact. And from where he stands, I'm not sure I disagree with him.

But do you ever wonder through and through
Who's that person standing next to you
And after all the night's apart
Is there a home for a travelling heart
But if I weren't leaving you
I don't know what I would do
But the more I go it seems the less I know
Will the fire still burn on my return
Keep the path lit on the only road I know
Honey all I know to do is go
-Leaving by Indigo Girls

Now we get to the part that doesn't reflect so well on me. Tonight, listening to this song, I also realized that there was probably something else. I've always been restless. Hell, the biggest reason I'm seeking employment right now is so I can save money to move later, when my family doesn't need me here, so I see other places as a citizen not a tourist. One of the things I loved about BT was that I felt he understood, and shared, that restless streak, that wanderer's soul. And, as he wanted to go back to general Army, instead of National Guard, I expected that we'd get shipped around, was happy about it. Being with TyRoy, I knew our relationship had an expiration date, when he got a new billet and had to move. Recently, I thought his actions meant he was pulling away, in anticipation of him leaving. Maybe that was just my hope. Unless asked point blank, TyRoy doesn't talk about when he might leave and he never acknowledges how it would change our relationship, which eventually made me worry he was being all ostrich-y about it. But what I realized tonight is that what I subconsciously always found so attractive in these military men is that they either take you with them to some place new or they leave without you and you get to start a new adventure without the stigma of having your relationship having fail. Yep, horrible but true.

So, in summary, I'm feeling great and inspired, introducing new words and concepts to my blog. I'm excited about job hunting, most of the time, though I don't have much risk in it. I am taking a risk in leaving my romantic situation (unless something miraculous happens) because I'm tired of being lonely, ok (if not happier) with being alone (though I might not be that way for long), and because I'm kinda a bitch who feels more comfortable leaving places and people than sticking around. Hmm. That doesn't sound very inspiring, does it? Oh well.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Ignorant American Watches Some Foreign Films

Waltz with Bashir (2008)
Written & Directed by Ari Folman
Animated (but adult themes, content, and cartoon nudity and sex)
Voiced (sometimes by the real people identified in the movie)
Ron Ben-Yishai as himself
Ari Folman as himself
Yehezkel Lazarov as Carmi Cna'an
Mickey Leon as Boaz Rein-Buskila
Watched July 29, 2010

Gomorrah (2008)
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Cast includes
Gianfelice Imparato as Don Ciro
Salvatore Cantalupo as Pasquale
Salvatore Abruzzese as Toto
Carmine Paternoster as Roberto
Based on a "nonfiction novel" by Roberto Saviano
Watched August 5, 2010

A few weeks ago, when I was bored, I told Red Envelop Movie Rentals to bring up movies for me to review, since I thought I'd probably seen movies that I hadn't reviewed on their site, which helps them recommend movies to you. Well, the site started bringing up movies that they had sent to me and that I'd sent back. And I realized that I had not watched so many of them! (The dvd fairy made me backup copies and sent them back, and the dvds await watching.) I also realized how many of those films were foreign language films. (Stupid American, with no foreign language skills.) There's a reason behind this, though not a particularly good one. See, before I decided to blog all the movies I watched, there were many movies I would watch with only one eye, while I did something else, but paying attention with my ears. That means that I didn't watch very many foreign language films. I have been trying to rectify that.

But sometimes watching a category of film you don't typically watch can highlight areas in which you are not educated. This was definitely the case with both of these films, which is why I'm blogging about them together. While these are both very different films on very different subjects, they both highlighted, for me, my lack of knowledge on political and sociological issues of other countries. (My subsequent cursory self-education, via imdb and wikipedia, highlighted how little free memory I have, but that's another issue.) While I doubt that either of these movies were made with a great deal of thought as to if foreign audiences with my same lack of fore-knowledge would be able to easily understand it, I will be giving some thought to that. This is not to say that I think that foreign filmmakers should always, or ever, make sure that stupid American audiences will easily understand their films, though I do wonder how easy our films are to understand to foreign audiences, which does matter as many of our films, especially big budget action movies, make huge profits overseas. Then again, Hollywood action movies aren't typically made for us to stretch our minds.

I watched the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir first. It is an animated film, but a very adult-oriented animated film, complete with deaths in war, nudity, and even animated sex. But the medium of animation is well-suited to a film about the nature of memory where character recount what they remember about a war that happened over 20 years ago. The film is re-creates filmmaker Ari Folman's journey to either recover his own memories of or to be told what happened around him during the 1982 Lebanon War. He starts this journey after a friend recounts a recurring dream in which his own role in the war haunts him. While Folman tells his friend that he doesn't remember hardly anything about the war, the friend says that it is Folman's duty as a filmmaker to tell this story. That night, Folman has his own dream about the war, just a fragment of a memory, which is the thread that he follows in an attempt to regain knowledge of what he was involved in. Of course, there's a reason that he blocked out all of these memories, as he witnessed and did nothing to stop an atrocity that this war would be known for. For me, this movie was beautiful, imaginative, and moving, though not in a way that leaves on feeling good afterwards. While it did deal with recent Israeli history, which is an area fraught with emotions and opinions and contradictions, I felt that it was much more about the journey of these men, but especially Folman, to regain memory, to acknowledge their role(s) in the war and atrocities of it, and, if possible, process that knowledge. The movie makes no attempt to assert that this war, or any war, is a "good war." The movie also doesn't make an assertions or take positions about Israeli politics. It just focuses on these memories of this small group of men.

Early on, the viewer gets the idea that this movie is about a conflict in which Israeli forces were in Lebanon and that it happened in the 1980s. But there is no overarching exposition. Folman does not in his voice over say, "So I went to see Carmi, who I'd served with in the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon War." When he mentions the Phalanges, he doesn't elaborate on who they are or how they fit into the war, because his movie's target audience is other Israeli's who already know all this history. I think that if you are a viewer who comes to the film just to be "entertained," you might have some issues with this, but I do think that it only takes a bit of viewing (instead of reading) comprehension to put together enough of the pieces for it to make sense. I think that the movie is perfectly enjoyable to someone coming in with very little knowledge of Israel's recent military history, as long as they don't mind thinking just a little bit. In a way, as the movie is about (re)gaining knowledge, it seems appropriate to me to be putting these pieces together while Folman puts together the pieces on screen.

On the other hand, I found putting the pieces together less rewarding as I watched the Italian film Gomorrah, though that might have been a matter of expectations. Gomorrah is a movie about gang life in Naples, which leads one to expect a sort of typical "mafia movie." I've seen it compared to the movie City of God. Ummm, yeah, not really either of those. While it is based on a nonfiction novel which follows several different people who either work for or are somehow involved with the Camorra crime family. The movie follows five of these stories, which don't overlap or interact, which I think most (American) viewers would expect. I did think that the movie presented a gritty criminal underworld well, but it felt without context to me. I'm sure part of that was just my ignorance of the socioeconomic situation of Naples and Italy in general, but the movie does not provide any sort of exposition or context for those not in the know. One of the stories centers on a middle-aged money man, who we see visiting various apartments, giving them money, which most do not seem particularly thankful for. It is never explained WHY he is giving this money to people. (One imbd commentor said it was money paid to those who had lost relatives to death or jail because of their involvement with the crime syndicate, which sounds like as good of an explanation as any.) Towards the end of the movie, a war breaks out between the main crime group and what the subtitles identify as "secessionists." Once again, being lazy, I'll rely on the imdb commentors who said that this is in reference to a real gang war in the 1980s between different alliances or clans within the larger crime family. But I think that a great deal of this movie was lost on me because I don't live with this in my papers everyday. While this movie got quite a bit of critical praise, it just didn't strike me. Maybe I'll get the book, read it, then rewatch the film. Right after I watch all the other films the dvd fairy left me.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

2012 (or how I learned to stop thinking and love disaster)

2012 (2009)

Directed (and co-written by) Roland Emmerich

Cast includes
John Cusack as Jackson Curtis
Amanda Peet as Kate Curtis
Chiwetel Ejiofor as Adrian Helmsley
Danny Glover as President Thomas Wilson

Running time: 2 hrs 38 mins (to paraphrase the movie's tagline: You were warned!)

Watched alone on DVD, early morning July 27, 2010

I got this movie from RedMailMovieRental (yeah, you know who I mean, but I'm trying for no free press) because my parents say the preview and said they would like to see it. I'm a sucker for an easy way to please my parents, what can I say. While my parents initially watched it without me, I thought I'd pop it in and watch it before I returned it. For those who don't know what this movie is about, it's pretty simple: The world is going to end and a mostly decent guy who's come up short with his family goes to heroic lengths to save them and others that they stumble upon along the way. This time the world is being destroyed by... um, I'm not really sure, but I think it's mostly the earth's tectonic plates/crust shifting, causing volcanoes and earthquakes and tsunamis. And the governments all over the world have pitched in money, artwork, rich people, and good genes to make some huge ships to save enough of humanity to rebuild society, but of course only a few people know about it and the plan only saves a small percentage of people.

I'd like to take a really quick sidebar to say that I never have, and probably never will, claim to be consistent in my little reviews of movies. As of right now, I'm not a professional film critic nor am a professional film scholar. And, not that I have to tell my RL friends but, my mood and events at the time really effect how I see any and all works of art. Also, for me, I try to take into account what the movie is trying to accomplish vs what I think it accomplishes, in addition to if I think the movie is good as a film, as a work of art. For example, I think that Inception was a better, more thought-provoking, more beautiful, more crafted film than 2012, but I also know that wasn't what 2012 was trying to be. On the other hand, as cheesy and emotionally obvious as 2012 could be, I still felt something during it, almost cried a couple times, whereas I didn't feel that emotion investment in Inception. I just wanted to be clear that I do not claim to be consistent. Or rational. Ever. Just take that into account.

So back to the movie. As I put the movie in, I saw the running time and thought, "Oh, shit. What have I gotten myself into? This is going to be so long and tedious and ugh. Oh well. What else am I doing?" Early on, I noticed things in the movie that just.... wouldn't happen. In one scene, though much later in the movie, one of the US bigwigs going to the ships, in semi-rural China, gets a call on his cell from his friend in India's cell. This is after most of the US and probably Europe has been wiped out. Um... I don't think so. Ok, so things like this and other too-coincidental incidents made me just throw all notions of "I know I need to suspend a bit of disbelief but it still needs to be realistic" out the window, so I just enjoyed what it was, CGI-destructo-fest. At which point, I actually enjoyed it. It was pretty good CGI of things we'll never see, as even if this scenario played out, there's very little chance we'd see all the things we do in the movie before we died. So if you want to enjoy a disaster action movie and are willing to suspend all disbelief, this is a pretty good movie. Later on that morning, I realized that day would have also been my grandmother's birthday. I really think she would have enjoyed this movie. While she complained about them making movies "too loud" these days, she always really liked action movies, even action movies these days, though she often "tutu"-d the crassness and everything-out-there-ness of most comedies and dramas "these days," after maybe 1985 or so. This movie is probably definitely for those people (like my parents and my grandma) who always asked me why I couldn't just enjoy the goddamn move, why did I have to think about it.

BUT I do want to touch on something that a few critics pointed out at the time the movie hit theaters. Though I can't remember who it was, I do remember the movie being called "disaster porn" by one critic. I will readily admit that while I watched the movie, I thought that more people in the movie should be more sad that almost all of humanity and all land-based creatures were dying, often in really horrible ways. There were times during the movie when I was sad about the general loss of life happening, even when the movie wasn't pointing that out, was instead pointing out all the really cool action happening. I completely understand what that critic meant. On the other hand, there are many things I enjoy, in all kinds of different weird ways, seeing, but would never ever ever want to happen in real life. Yeah, I got a kick out of seeing Los Angeles destroyed with all that cool CGI, but I no more want that to happen than I want people to be able to navigate my dreams or even for Kristen Bell and Josh Dumiel to find happiness and love together. I love a good horror movie, but I don't actually want killer bloodsucking vampires in real life or ghostly/demonic possession or spree/serial killers. That is one part of the thrill of movies, for me and for many other people as well, so I'm trying not to write this "disaster porn" off too quickly.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Orphanage

The Orphanage (2007)

Spanish film - both in language and location

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

Cast includes
Belen Rueda as Laura
Fernando Cayo as Carlos
Roger Princep as Simon
Geraldine Chaplin as Aurora (yep daughter of "that" Chaplin)


So I watched this last night and I'm still thinking about it. Overall, I did really like it, as it built the suspense, didn't use cheap scare tactics (that much), and didn't give definative answers to the "supernatural or not" question until the very end. The story is this: Laura and her family buy the orphanage she grew up in to turn into a home for special needs children. **Spoilers after here** Her and husband's son is adopted and is HIV+. When they move to this new place, their son has two imaginary friends, but he quickly gains six more. At the welcome party for the new home, the son disappears. Laura blames his imaginary friends. Big surprise - the people around her start to think she might be a bit crazy.

Here's what is bothering me: The wrap-up, "happy" ending, is Laura committing suicide. She gets what she wants, to be with her son again. Now, I know why, in the context of the movie and everything that is revealed, this makes a sort of sense and leads to what is probably the happiest ending possible for everyone involved (except Laura's now-widower husband), but I still feel uneasy about the ending of a movie that leaves suicide as the best option. For those who know me, it should be obvious why I feel this way. Of course, this has nothing to do with the merits of the film as a film, but it still effects how I view the movie.

But, for the most part, good, suspenseful, not overly gory, subtitled horror film.

Walk Hard

Walk Hard : The Dewey Cox Story (2007)

Directed by Jake Kasden

Written by Judd Apatow and Jake Kasden

Cast Includes
John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox
Jenna Fischer as Darlene, Dewey's second wife and soulmate
Tim Meadows as Sam, the drummer, who always ends up paying for the drugs
Kristen Wiig as Edith, Dewey's first wife
and a crap ton of cameos of different actors playing different famous rock figures

The movie is a mockumentary, following the life of Dewey Cox, a rock singer/guitarist, from his start in the 1950s to his redemptive re-discovery in the 2000s, with all the trappings of rock stardom along the way: multiple wives, children, legal battles, drugs, the evolution of his music, and interacting with other actual rock stars. If you've seen Ray and/or Walk the Line, you know the territory. With a few quick exceptions (That's Amore), all the songs on the soundtrack are originals, hilarious but fitting for the eras they represent.

Even though this movie can go a bit overboard at times, I really enjoyed it, laughed quite a bit. You know, I actually think it's probably my favorite Apatow movie so far. Usually, my biggest problem with Apatow movies is the schlubby male protagonist who I never believe could pull in the hottie he ends up with and their relationship is usually the main focus of the movie. In this movie, while I know it's an obvious, over the top parody of rock biopics, hell of the life-arc of rock musicians in general, I believe that Dewey can and does do these things because I've seen the other biopics, know that other musicians' lives did follow this path. Though, on the other hand, because it is such an in-your-face parody, I don't need to believe that this could happen, know that it can't happen, that it's just an exageration of real life. It worked for me, especially when many of the "parody" movies lately have been so mind-numbingly stupid, just throwing together bits from all the latest popular movies and real-life celebrity scandals in the loosest possible story. I definately recommend this, especially for people who know the evolution of early rock'n'roll and don't mind it lampooned a bit.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

District 9

District 9 (2009)

Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Cast includes
Sharlto Copley as Wikus van der Merwe
lots of cgi aliens

I just watched this movie earlier today on DVD. When it first came out last year, I really wanted to see it, thought it sounded very unusual. But I think that this was definitely a case for me where ignorance might have been bliss, as I've read so many commentaries and blog posts, especially questioning whether the racial allegory was really as redeeming as it might seem on the surface, that it ruined the cool, new factor of it all. Then again, I also made the mistake of watching it with my folks and my step-dad was kinda a spoil-sport. Boo. Just Mom is a much better movie companion.

Alright, so for those of you who don't know about the movie, here's the plot. An alien ship comes to Earth in 2001 and hovers over Johannesburg, South Africa. After three months of nothing happening, the government busts into the ship, finds severely malnourished aliens, who they shepard into a holding area, which quickly becomes fenced in, militarized, and then slums called District 9. For years, there is a sort of stasis, with the aliens living in their district, scrounging for trash and cat food, but never really doing anything to leave. While most of the humans consider the aliens the lowest of the low, no one in the government or the company in charge of relating to the aliens (which is primarily a weapons manufacturer who want to take advantage of alien technology) seems to know how to get them to go back home. Hell, no one seems to even be trying to learn the alien language, though the aliens seem to understand ours. Things come to a head when it is decided that the aliens must be moved out of their current slums into a specially built refugee camp hundreds of miles outside of the city. While serving the evictions, a dweeby bureaucrat becomes "infected" and starts to turn into an alien. He teams up with an alien trying to put a ship back together to go home to solve both their problems.

I think that, in the beginning, what made this movie different was that it falls into the category of oppressed alien movies, which is a smaller category than the scary aliens who come to Earth to take over and kill or enslave humans category of science fiction movies. Now, originally, I was going to add the word "sympathetic" to "oppressed aliens," but I think this is another place where the movie tries to do something it thinks is great, but it misses the mark for some people. The movie presents the aliens as more of a worker bee class, who resort to base instincts when they don't have a command presence, so they steal (not that they have an opportunity for legitimate work), fight, and scavenge. This behavior makes it difficult for many to root for these aliens to live in free society. This is often used as the excuse to segregate and hold back those of other classes and races, "Look what they do in their own neighborhoods? Look at how many of them are criminals?" without taking into consideration the lack of legitimate opportunites. Especially coming from and setting the film in South Africa, I'm sure that the writers and director were acutely aware of this. But sadly, the film never really changes that view of the aliens. The alien who helps Wikus, named by the government Christopher Johnson, only works to be the exception that proves the rule, the smart black or poor man who makes good and gets out. In the end, the aliens are still just rabid, destructive animals that must be herded together, far away from humanity. (And, yes, there is a name that the humans call the aliens, one that the movie even calls a derogatory term, though all the characters use that term thereafter. As I see that word, in the coontext of the movie, as the same as other words used to refer to other minority groups, I will not use it to refer to them any more than I would use the n-word.)

I think the bigger theme, one all too common in scifi movies these days, is how much bullshit everyone will accept from the government, large corporations, and the mainstream press, so that it is easier for them to go on with their everyday life. But that's not really anything new.

Oh, but I did really like the aliens. The farther we get away from humoid aliens in movies, the happier I am. I recently read an article that said scientists have found higher levels of methane loss than there should be on Mars and one of their hypostesis is that there may be methane based lifeforms on the planet. (FYI: Lifeforms on our planet are carbon based.) Reading that made me wonder how methane based lifeforms might look different from us and what other elements could be the basis for lifeforms. Hmmmmm.......

So I'm not sure whether or not I recommend it. If you've read this, you can decide for yourself. Just don't blame me either way.


Inception (2010)

Written and Directed by Christopher Nolan

Cast Includes
Leonardo DiCaprio as Cobb
Ellen Page as Ariadne (perhaps after her)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur
Tom Hardy as Eames
Ken Watanabe as Saito

I'll try to avoid major spoilers, but, as the commercials have been pretty big on visuals but light on plot, I'm not sure I can avoid not giving anything away.

As for plot, I think Tim, the movie blogger behind Antagony & Ecstasy, really gets it perfect: "Here's the story: Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a master thief with a shady past, given an opportunity by mysterious businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) to redeem everything he's ever done, and in the process reunite with the children he left in the U.S. when he was forced for shady reasons to flee the country. Saito's offer includes completing an impossible mission, for which Cobb must assemble the best team ever compiled for such a mission. Everything else is just details." Ultimately, at it's heart, this is a heist film and a con film. It being set in a world of dreams and dreams within dreams adds amazing visuals and the undercurrents of what is really real versus what is just a dream, but that is all just icing on the cake for me.

Hmmmm, I guess I don't have a great deal more to say about it than that. I think I need another viewing. I was impressed visually. I thought the action was good. But....I'm still left kinda deflated. Maybe it was the movie since then, which i'll get to in the next post. I think I just need to watch it again..... I think if you saw Dark Knight and weren't disappointed by it after the hype, you'll probably be good to see this movie and I'm not really sure that the large visual pieces will translate as well to your tv, so you might want to catch it while it's on the big screen, even if it's at a cheaper twilight show.

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone (2010)

Directed and co-written by Debra Granik

Cast Includes
Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly
John Hawkes as Teardrop
Kevin Braznahan as Little Arthur
Garrett Dillahunt as Sheriff Baskin

Saw at twilight showing at local art house theater July 14th, 2010, along with a dozen other people, mostly senior citizens

I thought this was a great, low-budget mystery movie, with something very real at stake. The movie is set in The Missouri Ozarks, not the partying by the lake area of the Ozarks, but the backwoods area that most people think are backwards, where many people live on and off of the land and woods. Especially when the small towns can't offer enough employment and those who live off of the land and the woods can barely eek out a living, these rural areas become havens for all kinds of illegal trade and creation. During prohibition, this meant moonshine. Nowadays, it means meth. Seventeen year old Ree lives with her nearly catatonic mother and a younger brother and sister in a small cabin surrounded by what her uncle calls "hundred year old woods." She has quit high school to take care of them, though she obviously values their education, quizzes them as she walks them to school. She dreams of going into the army, not to get away from her family, but to use the sign on bonus to care for them and to take them out of the Ozarks with her. She's a fairly straight arrow in a bad situation which soon gets worse. The local sheriff lets her know that her father is due in court the next week, but no one can find him, which is now Ree's problem since her father put up their house for his bail. Now this tough girl must find and confront her father's known associates, many of whom she's related to, in at least a distant way, and all of whom are involved in shady illegal activities that may come to light if Ree finds her father. All the while, Ree also tries to figure out what she'll do if, when, she loses the house and her family has no place to live. I thought this was a very good movie, harrowing in a everyday, down-to-earth way, just a young poor woman, struggling on the edge of homelessness, pushing against other people who were once in a situation like hers and chose illegal means to make a living.

Not that it's difficult for me to find something in a movie to relate to, but this movie did make me wonder how close my life might have been to this movie if just a few decisions were made differently. Now there were four people, two hetro couples it appeared, sitting in front of me, who "oh my" and "ugh"-d during scenes of backwoods life, like Ree showing her brother and sister how to skin a squirrel, so they could eat if something happened to her, or she wasn't around. I got he distinct feeling that these four sixty-something suburbanites felt they were above eating any such thing. Now I have eaten squirrel and I'm pretty sure it was killed by a family member. I've also eaten rabbit and quite alot of deer. After a bit of being a brat as a kid, I've gotten over not eating something because I thought I was too good for it. This would go double if I was in Ree's situation. Which is a situation that is pretty close to situaitons that some of my relatives have probably had. Much of my maternal grandfather's family still live in and around a small town in Southeastern Missouri where my grandfather's parents built their house. But none of these relatives have log cabins and large plots of land. Those who do have their own property live in a trailer on a small plot of land. I remember going to a funeral for one of my grandfather's brothers several years ago, before my grandfather passed. Afterwards, we went to my grandfather's sister's house, a trailer which could have been pretty nice if it didn't have too many people with too many clothes and school books scattered everywhere. My great aunt was taking care of four or five (or more maybe) of her grandchildren because their parents couldn't due to alcohol or drug addictions. Now what would happen to those kids if, when, my great aunt dies? Last I had heard, from my grandma, before she passed, my great aunt was taking care of even younger children, a baby or an infant that her youngest daughter had given birth to while she was clean from cocaine, before she got hooked on meth, the meth that my great aunt said was ravaging the area faster and more thoroughly than alcohol or any other drug had before. Watching this movie, especially watching one character who's face reminded me so much of my own grandfather, hollow, grisled, with that beak-nose, I wondered how my life might have been different if my grandparents had moved back to that small town after he got out of the army, if my grandfather had made it a regular habit to drink as much as his brothers, if, if, if. But a different decision here or there can change so much. Things might not always look so great right now, but I know that I am fortunate in so many ways, fortunate that my life isn't tougher, isn't closer to that edge. I just gotta try to be thankful for that more often.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Gasland (2010)
Documentary by Josh Fox
Watched on July 4, 2010 at home on HBO OnDemand

(post written longhand on July 12, 2010, while on vaca and away from my computer)

I've put off writing about this because I thought time would bring clarity but it has really done the opposite. I'm more ambivalent than ever.

Gasland is a documentary by Josh Fox, following his fourney to understand how hydraulic fracture natural gas drilling has effected the lives of people who lease their land to be used to frilling, as Fox himself is asked to do in the beginning of the film by a natural gas company hoping to frack for gas in Pennsylvania near the Delaware river. With the aid of colorful but simple graphics, he gives an overview of the hydralic fracturing processes and the largely unregulated and not completely retrieved chemicals used. The audience is also treated to footage of Fox's efforts to contact first well-known figures in major natural gas drilling companies in the US, then just someone, anyone who will talk to him, but he never really gets anywhere. Instead, he relies on local reporting, both in print and on television, in locales where drilling has been going on for years to guide him to locals who might talk to him. The audience follows Fox as he meets and gets to know families who's natural gas contaminated well-water can be lit on fire as it comes out of the tap, who have physical illnesses (usually either neurological problems from water toxicity or respiratory problems from chemicals that have evaporated into the air), who's water wells have exploded. These average, working-class folks, hardly people who are anti-corporations or anti-oil and gas (at least before these things), cheerfully show Fox their homes, land, and animals, most relating their stories with a mix of "if you didn't laugh, you'd have to cry" attitude and a sense of disbelief that no one, not the government or the companies, either will or can help them. They also allow Fox to take water samples from their wells. Fox also attends a NY state congressional committee meeting on opening up more land in NY state for drilling in which the men from the natural gas companies testify again and again that it has never been proven that their drilling processes harm the groundwater or the people, animals, and plants around the drilling sites. If I remember right, there were four representatives from the natural gas companies and only one environmental scientist, who was largely ignored when he disagreed with those in the oil company reps. He also talks to the head of the department of environmental protection in PA who steps around much of Fox's questions but does admit that compromises must be made so that people get the energy they want while we try to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Also, while he won't say that the wells people claim are contaminated are actually contaminated, the bueracrat won't drink any of the water from any of the wells that Josh Fox as collected during his travels. In the end, Fox has no real hard answers, though the knowledge that he gains leads him to decide against leasing his lands for any future drilling, no matter how much money they offer him.

By the end of this movie, I was overwhelmingly sad. Not mad, which is what I would have been in previous years, as I'm sure the filmmaker might have anticipated, a sense of righteous indignation that might drive the audience to push politicians and bueracrats to tighten and enforce regulations and to pull back our energy use. Nope, just really sad. And completely helpless. How can I actually change any of this? I don't live in a drilling area. I doubt I could convince my parents to switch from natural gas to another energy source, not that it would help as electricity here is made from burning dirty coal. I have no say in PA or NY where the current debate on to frack or not to frack is happening. Sure, I can vote on representation in and from my state but is there any chance that anyone who is pro-regulation and strong oversight really win in a conservative area in a conservative state, especially given the current pro-corporate stance of the Republican party? If that person did win, would they be able to get any laws through? The same, and then some, goes for the president.

I recently read an op-ed article in the NYT in which the writer suggested that we should think less about whether we want kids but more about if the world needs more kids, that it would be nice for individuals to forstall a kid or two to help not contribute to worldwide overuse of resources and to overpopulation. The writer specifically stated that he didn't want a mandatory government program of any kind, just a voluntary thoughtfulness. Now, I'm pretty sure I do not want any children, for a variety of reasons, but, though I've usually kept this to myself, I've also questioned the wisdom of growing the world's population, especially as we worry about how our way of life harms the planet and the population. So I'm on board with the guy who wrote the op-ed. But after watching this movie, feeling so sad and helpless, I wondered if just not having kids wasn't enough? How about a mass die off? Sometimes this happens to animals accidentally - their population grows too fast for the area they live in to sustain them, their waste pollutes their water supply leading to illnesses, etc. The black plague is often credited with thinning the human population in Europe, but large wars also help humans thin our own herd.

Ok, ok, so I know that by now you are saying, "A mass die off is too extreme. It could lead to genocide, since the majority would pick a disliked minority group to do most of the dying, or people with the 'worst' lives, whether through discrimiation or socioeconomic situations, would volunteer, creating a defacto genocidal situation. Plus, we are working as hard as we can on new energy sources and we can always cut down on our use. And it's not like you're the epitome of environmentally friendly." And I'm not. But I guess I have a harder time staying motivated for these things when I see larger forces working against it. There are people working on 'green' technological advances, but those companies in Gasland, and other large corporations, who make their huge profits on non-green, dirty energy sources, have more money, more lobbying power, more clout with politicians on both sides who have recieved large campaign contributions from them, and can quickly buy off the little guys who are hurt. They have a vested interest in keeping the energy status quo and blocking green energy and I feel helpless in the face of that. There was a day when I would have found this documentary a call to arms. Now I feel that I can't help the situation in a big picture way and I continue, in my own little way, to make it all worse, just by my everyday living.

A friend recently told me that, to her, in many instances, ignorance is bliss and that's why she doesn't watch the news. She doesn't worry about going into a neighborhood that others have told her are "bad" because she doesn't want some crime stat, or someone's opinion of what a bad neighborhood is, to get in the way of her living her life. Somedays, I do wish I could be more like that.

Gasland's movie site

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bug, the movie

****Spoilers Ahead******

Bug (2006)

Directed by William Friedkin

Cast includes
Ashley Judd as Agnes White
Michael Shannon as Peter Evans
Harry Connick, Jr, as Jerry Goss

You know sometimes you'll see something with bugs crawling on a tv show or you get surprised by a spider or bug or rodent in your house and then you feel like something is crawling on you the rest of the night?

You know how sometimes you'll read an article or a book or hear a talk show about the Bilderberger Group or Obama's FEMA camps and then you start to obsess on these big conspiracies that you could probably do nothing about, even if they were true? Well, unless you are Jesse Ventura and some cable network gives you a show so you can go harass those people and places at the heart of the conspiracies.

Basically, this movie is both of those, wrapped up in a big folie a deux (madness shared by two.) It is a tense brutal movie that takes place almost entirely in a small, slightly grimy motel room in Oklahoma. When Agnes' only friend brings the quiet but seemingly nice Peter over before a party, he and Agnes start their brief but intense, co-dependent relationship. In an extra on the DVD, actor Michael Shannon, who plays Peter, says that he thinks this is really a love story, though a love story between two very damaged people. I would agree with that, but have to add the caveat that it isn't the uplifting, make your life all better kind of love we usually think of. It's the kind of all-consuming, irrational, dangerous love which often leads both people on a downward spiral fueled by their own neurosis, false beliefs, and weaknesses.

I keep thinking of the true crime story about a 'vampire clan' led by Rod Ferrell. I'm not sure that they all really believed they were vampires, the Dracula or Lestat or Jean-Claude variety who must drink human blood to survive and can't go out in the daylight, but there was a kind of group-mind that happened, just like in any other cult, where a part of you knows that what's going on is wrong or too far, but you are so far in that you don't know how to get out.

Obviously, this movie is also about paranoia. It never really answers what exactly propels Peter's delusions and it even leaves some doubt that they are suffering from a delusion. But, as with all mental illness, there are really only a matter of degrees between real life conspiracies, what we view as typical paranoid conspiracy theories, and the ravings of delusional people. Are there parasites in our bodies? Well, there can be. There's even a show on cable, on Nat Geo, I think, about people getting parasites. Has the US government done testing without consent on people? Sadly, yes. Does our government spy on us? Yeah, it's called Echelon and if a person says certain keywords in their phone conversations, it is flagged so a human agent can listen to it. So when this is the truth, who's to say this guy is so crazy? What is more interesting is why how a grown world-weary woman could so easily start to share this same delusion.

I would definately recommend this movie, as long as you don't mind the seeing the scratches and gouging and..., well, that spoils too much, that come when you think you have bugs under your skin.

The Twilight Saga (So Far)

***Spoilers ahead***

Ok, so before I actually start writing about seeing the three movies in The Twilight Saga (so far), I feel like I should add two things about movies and how I view them.

The first is the Bechdel Test. This comes from an episode in a comic strip called Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel. In it, one of the characters says that she only goes to movies that have 1) two named female characters who 2) talk to each other about 3) something other than a man. (Website with list of movies and icons to identify how they fair on Bechdel Test.) Now, don't get me wrong. Movies that pass this test aren't feminist or feminist-friendly, but I find it hard to believe that a movie that doesn't pass this test could be feminist or feminist-friendly. When you start to think about this test, you might start to realize how many movies with big female heroes (think Alien/s or Terminator 2) never have two named female characters talk to each other. Also, I would love to find a comparable test for non-racist or non-homophobic or non-hetrocentrist movies. Maybe that a mainstream movie has to have two named minority characters in which they talk to each other but not about a white character? I'll have to think on that. But I'm using this to draw a larger point. I try to look at movies (and books and tv shows and all other types of media) as both entertainment and as a part of the larger society's discourse.

Which leads me to the second thing I wanted to write about my movie viewing habits. What I wrote in the last paragraph about how I view these things - yeah, that IS how I enjoy them. Please don't read what I might say about a movie (or other piece of media/work of art) and tell me/write to me that I should "Just sit back and enjoy it," implying that I shouldn't analyze it or think about it, because that to me is a contradiction. I am trying more and more to accept the contradictions in the things I like, that a really funny comedy seems to be kinda racist or that I like Chinatown even though I think Roman Polanski should immediately go to a US prison to serve a term for rape, but I have to first acknowledge the problem aspects as well as the better aspects before I can come to terms with the contradictions. Now, when I tell my parents about a movie and include any of those bits, my step-dad always asks me why I can't just enjoy a movie for once. I could never really find a good answer for that, until I read a blog post, which I sadly can't find now for the life of me though it was either on a feminist blog or a blog that deals with race & pop culture, in which the author explained just what I wrote above in such a simple straightforward way that I felt stupid for not having thought of it earlier. I guess this is my way of saying that if you don't like looking at movies this way, which is perfectly fine, you might not like my opinions on movies.

So with that out of the way....

The Twilight Saga (so far): Twilight (2008), New Moon (2009), Eclipse (2010)

Directors (respectively): Catherine Hardwicke, Chris Weitz , David Slade

Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan
Robert Pattinson as Edward Cullen
Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black
Billy Burke as Sheriff Charlie Swan
Anne Kendrick as Jessica
Nikki Reed as Rosalee Cullen
Alice Greene as Alice Cullen
Jackson Rathbone as Jasper Cullen
Elizabeth Reaser as Esmee Cullen
Rachelle Lefevre/Bryce Dallas Howard as Victoria
Peter Facinelli as Dr. Carlyle Cullen
(ok, that was a pain, you get the picture)

So last night I went to see the first three movies in the Twilight saga, in a row, in a proper theater. I had seen the first movie previously, with a friend, on DVD, on a less than theater-sized screen and had read the first book before that. I wasn't too impressed with either. But I still felt like I should bear witness to this pop culture phenomenon, especially when it was less than $5 a movie, all on a big screen. There are some good things to the movies, but I'll let others talk about those things. The biggest thing that I took away from these movies is that this series seems to be a primer in creating a dependent, sad-sack young woman who accepts (and participates in) emotional manipulation and is attracted to aggressive, possessive passive-aggressive men. To me, many of the things that happen within these relationships seem to spell out the possibility of an abusive future relationship.

In this vein, there are two events in the movies that really stuck out to me. The first is in New Moon and is pure, but very disturbing emotional manipuation on Bella's part. ***Spoilers Ahead*** After Edward abandons her, after exacting a promise from her that she won't do "anything reckless," Bella proceeds to do reckless things, once she figures out that Edward will appear to her when she does them, in an attempt to stop them. Her last act of recklessness is cliff diving, fully clothed, into freezing cold water, which leads to her near drowning and her would-be killer almost getting ahold of her. Now, maybe you haven't heard this one before, but to me it sounds like, "If you don't come back, I'll kill myself. See, I've got the razor blade out. I'm serious. Come stop me." But not only does Edward not come back but he also doesn't contact anyone to tell them that Bella needs serious help. He also doesn't seem to see that, by appearing to her every time she does something reckless, he is only rewarding her bad behavior, thus driving her to more and worse behavior so that he will pay attention to her again. Take it from someone who's been there: This is not healthy!

While the second event comes from a particular scene between Bella and Jacob, I think that this speaks to the possessive, aggressive nature of the men Bella won't just leave alone. In Eclipse, after Bella breaks the news to Jacob that she is planning on being turned into a vampire just after graduation, Jacob throws a wrench and tells her, "Better you be dead than one of them." I should acknowledge that, as a teenager, I dated a guy who liked to punch walls and trash bins that were near me when he was mad, as opposed to hitting me. Humans can make horribly bad relationship decisions, especially when they are teenagers. Why should I expect Bella and Jacob to be different? I guess I don't expect the teen heartthrob of the moment ("Team Jacob! Woooooo!") to seem like he's on the verge of becoming an abuser while still having our female protagonist want to be with him. (In New Moon, Jacob explains his trepidation in dating a human by telling Bella how his pack leader's fiancee got so injured: the leader got upset, lost his temper for just a moment, and she was too close. While Jacob does say that the pack leader feels horrible and guilty, no one seems to equate this with physical domestic abuse.) This physical violence is reciprocated in the next scene when, after Jacob kisses Bella without her consent, Bella punches him in the face, which, as he's a big buff werewolve, results in Bella getting the injury, a sprained hand. But still Bella kinda sorta pursues something with Jacob, while still committing to Edward, who starts to back down and loosen up on his possessiveness. In the end, when Bella decides to be with Edward, not Jacob, it isn't because of the actions of their men. It is simply because she loves Edward more than Jacob. Now, in real life, I would probably just throw up my hands and let humans be humans. But hundreds of people have worked hard to create these stories, many of them agonizing over these decisions. And I bet not one of them would want their daughter to consider a guy who said he'd rather she be dead than a part of another group. To them, I'm sure that disqualifies that guy for the affection of their daughter. So why are they selling this crap to our daughters?

Now, especially when we are talking about children's or young adult literature, I assume that there are 'lessons' that can be learned from the text. While I read a recent quote from (adult? regular? literature) writer Ian McEwan, "Psychological realism demands that sometimes the wicked prosper," I do not think that the same sentiment prevails in...well, most forms of entertainment, to be honest, but especially in literature pointed towards non-adult readers. Think about all the 'lessons' in Harry Potter books (acceptance of and promoting the welfare of minorities 'Mudbloods' and house elves) and all the positive character traits Harry either already possesses or that he develops as the story moves along. While I think there are supposed to be some morality imparted in the Twilight movies, our protagonist only seems to demonstrate any of these through self-sacrifice, never through actual achievement. Other characters also do things that might get them killed or harmed, but they do it through fighting as opposed to giving up, running away, hiding out, or delivering themselves to their enemy. Midway through the second movie in our triple feature, I realized the real reason why I prefer my smutty supernatural books, like the Anita Blake series, to the Twilight series, and it's not the sex, which is what I was citing as my reason. It is that Anita Blake started out as a badass woman with her own skills and talents, whereas Bella seems to possess none of those things. Yes, I know, the reason Bella is beloved by readers is because she's just like them, average, with some flaws, thrown into a crazy world she doesn't fit into as she falls into love. But if you want to think that you are just like her, so you could be her, well.... don't you want to be able to think of yourself as having something special and unusual about you? Throughout the Blake books, Anita grows in power and self-knowledge, though even in the first book I think many women could relate to a young woman who is up and coming in her career, but sometimes finds it a cold and alienating boy's club. I think that in the start of the books, she's only in her early 20s. I've also read the first two books in the LA Banks' Vampire Huntress Legends, about Damali, a spoken word artist and kickass vampire and demon hunting teenage woman, coming into her own, both in terms of power and sexuality. While both these series are popular, they are obviously not as popular as the Twilight series, obviously not popular enough to get their own movies. But I would argue that these are much better female role models than Bella.

Sigh. Alright, so I'm tired. If this was a formal, classroom /published essay, I'd come up with some bullshit at the end. But this is it. These are my theories about these movies. As for moviegoers who don't want to think about this stuff, well, they get better as they go along, though the pale vamp makeup still looks stupid. (How can they make the werewolves look so good in CGI but their makeup looks so bad? Ugh.) The second and the third movie have decent romance elements and the third movie has some pretty great fight scenes. There is no horror or scare value, despite the vampires and werewolves, but at least there is some (intentional) comedy in the third movie.

PS Among the things I didn't get to are the disappearing minorities in the movie, as the series starts out with quite a diverse cast both in the town and in Bella's high school, but these elements are quickly stripped away to leave the almost all white cast of vampires and Indian werewolves, most not played by Native American actors. And I think that all the color, other than Indian werewolves, in the second and third movies are vamps of color who are quickly killed off. I'll let you think on that.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Movie Catch-up

Ok, so I know I promised to blog about every movie (new to me movie) I watched and I've been kinda lax about doing that in a timely manner. So here are my reviews of the movies I've seen recently, though they might be shorter than usual.

Get Him to the Greek (2010)
Saw Saturday 6/19/2010 at local multiplex with my mom
Directed by Nicolas Stoller
Cast includes
Jonah Hill as Aaron Green
Russell Brand as Aldous Snow
Sean "P Diddy" Combs as record label head Sergio Roma
Rose Byrne as Jackie Q
and tons of celebrity cameos

This was a pretty hilarious send up of current pop/rock/celebrity culture, with a very healthy dose of rauch and gross humor. I was skeptical at first that a movie about a minor supporting character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall would work, but, upon further thought, Brand's Aldous Snow was probably the least whangsty introspective, but still funny, part about that movie, so I guess it was a good call to make a summer comedy about him. I do have to say that I think my favorite bits in the movie come from Byrne's Jackie Q, the raunchy popstar ex-wife of Aldous Snow, and the "The Jeffrey"/furry wall drug sequence. I hope that "The Jeffrey" makes its way into our illegal drug lexicon, though I'm not sure it really exists. I definately recommend it if you like other comedies directed or produced by Judd Apatow, though with some less sad-sack guys featured.

Oh, and sidenote: Rose Byrne's British accent was really good. I'd watched her on Damages on FX and just felt "meh" about her, but I found her really funny in this movie. Until I saw it, I guess I just assumed that she was American, but it turns out she's Aussie, so she seems pretty good at those accents to me. Also, in one scene, at Snow's very Brit themed NY apartment, Green wakes up using what looks like a British Union Jack flag as a blanket, which made me wonder if they have real quilts that are made out of soft fabric but look like the Brit flag. If so, I want one.

Black Is...Black Ain't (1994)
Watched on DVD Monday 06/21/2010 at Miss Kee's house
Directed by Marlon Riggs
Documentary including commentary from Riggs himself, Angela Davis, bell hooks, Barbara Smith, and Cornel West

Hmmm so I'm kinda speechless about this movie, unless I'm talking to someone else who has also seen this movie and is interested in the topics it brings up. So the short of it is that it's a really... interesting doesn't quite cover it but I guess it'll do, interesting nontraditional documentary about African-American life, touching on how it intersects with feminism and homosexuality and gender identity. But that doesn't quite seem to cover it. It was produced, directed, and featured Marlon Riggs, a gay African-American poet, filmmaker, and activist, who would die from AIDS before the film could be properly finished. It was sorta amazing to Miss Kee and myself that this was done back in 1994, but many of the issues haven't really changed. I think that to me, the most exilarhating part was getting to see Angela Davis and bell hooks talk about their personal experiences of being young black women. But I think I most liked it because it dealt with these issues in a very upfront, honest, but personal matter.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)
Ok, so it wasn't the first time I saw it. I originally went to see it with TyRoy at a local art house theater about a month ago. I'd read the book it is based on, the first in a series of three internationally bestselling Swedish novels, and TyRoy was reading it at the time. Miss Kee called me last week, asking if I'd heard about a movie that she'd been told about by a customer at work. This movie. So we went to see it together. She liked it.

I still liked it, though a second viewing allowed me to wonder about how much is lost on someone like Miss Kee, who hasn't read the books and probably isn't going to. It's a big story to fit in a two and a half hours.

A part of me is always interested in audience reaction when I see a movie in a theater. Or even with friends at home. When TyRoy and I went to see this movie, we were a bit worried for the audience. There are several brightly-lit scenes of sexual violence. We observed many.... um, how to put this nicely.... older people there. Many who looked older than my mom, who's in her early 50s. Now, because there is a good story, I think I might recommend it to my mom, but only with very strong warnings about the sexual violence. TyRoy and I heard some of the people talking about having read the book, so they should have known what they were in for, though I still contend that this movie shows the sexual violence in a more brightly-light, unblinking way than most American movies. But many of those older people talked solely about the rave reviews the movie recieved from the local paper. (Oh, yeah, and obviously we were eavesdropping.) We had read the review and it didn't warn about the violence. We were worried about these folks. But not as many people left as I thought. One woman my age left during one brutal scene, which I didn't blame her for. I'm starting to think that there should be a "Trigger Warning" website, just like many religious people go to movie review websites that tell them how in line (or not in line) a movie may be with their religious and moral beliefs, before they let their kids watch them or even watch them themselves. The second time I saw it, on a weekday afternoon, there were considerably less people there. But during the last major brutal scene of sexual violence, one older man left the theater, via the exit up front, by the screen. Miss Kee and I discussed the possible reasons for his departure after the film ended. She shared my first impression, that he had left solely because this scene involved sexual violence against a man, unlike the others. I thought that we should allow room for the explanation that he had just seen several scenes of sexual violence and thought that rest of the rather long movie would be like that, though it isn't after that scene.

Ok, well, that's it. I'm caught up. Nighty-night.