Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Private Benjamin

So I'm on an 80s comedy kick. And a Goldie Hawn kick. Put them together and you've got Private Benjamin, a middlebrow comedy about a Jappy girl who enlists in the army because she doesn't know what to do with her life. The movie is full of cliches, and nothing exceptionally funny happens. But Private Benjamin is saved from being ridiculously bad by Goldie Hawn's charming, pitch-perfect performance.


Conover's Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing is an excellent account about a year spent as a corrections officer in the New York State prison.

The journalist went undercover, and was trained and employed like any other CO. His story highlights the dehumanizing effects of prison on everyone: the inmates, the officers, the officers' families, the inmates' families, and, by extension, entire low income communities.

Observations and descriptions are excellent and the story is told with a lot of heart.

No Matter How Loud I Shout

Humes' No Matter How Loud I Shout: A Year in the Life of Juvenile Court explores a range of issues plaguing the juvenile justice system. Humes spent a year in a court system in LA county during the mid 90s, and this work chronicles a number of cases in depth, in addition to providing profiles of key players in the courtroom work group, including the prosecutor, a judge, and a defense attorney.

Humes' overall point is that the system is woefully inadequate in meeting the needs of troubled young people, letting many slip through the cracks (oddly, he blames this in part on the landmark Gault decision which give constitutional protections to juveniles); at the same time he faults the system for being impotent in its ability to sufficiently and severely punish cold blooded young murderers.

Although he mentions that more than half the cases seen in juvenile court never come back (ie, are possible success stories), and that two thirds of kids put on probation never commit another crime, his emphasis is on the failures of the system, and the need for more resources to be spent on intervening in the lives of young people.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gaultier at the de young

The other day I saw From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk: The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier on view at the de young museum.

The exhibit was wonderfully curated, with theatrical lighting and settings. The couture was fascinatingly aggressive and sexy, very bold and artistic. The mannequins had hologram faces that moved and spoke, which was kind of kitschy but also kind of worked.

I really enjoyed the designs that were at times very costume-y. And thought it was a great show. The only thing, sometimes fashion writers try to hard to make fashion seem more socially and culturally relevant than I think it is.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole
is an intimate, claustrophobically focused anatomy of grief. It examines a couple living through the aftermath of their 4 year old son's death. The film takes place eight months after the accident, when the pain is still raw.

The movie is slow, carefully following Nicole Kidman's actions and her range of icy, hopeless, quietly enraged emotions. The tension she generates in all her interactions is palpable and pitiful. You don't necessarily like her, but you feel the brittle edges and terrible depth of her pain.

There were many fascinating, poignant, difficult scenes, such as those between her and her mother and sister. The difficulties between her and her husband seem somewhat more cliched, but that is okay. Because Rabbit Hole isn't about relationships as much as it is a portrait of grief, and as such, it is very well executed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Your Friends and Neighbors

The other night I watched Neil LaBute's misanthropic Your Friends & Neighbors. I didn't realize it was LaBute, and was expecting a sort of indie romantic comedy. But Your Friends & Neighbors is dark and disturbing, looking into the relationships between unhappy and unpleasant people.

Every relationship -- and there are numerous overlapping ones -- has a sour quality to it. Like each character has something nasty in their heart. There are two exceptions: Aaron Eckhart and Nastasya Kinski don't have the abrasive narcissism that the others do. Their personality flaws, their neediness and cluelessness, complement the biting cruelties of their friends and lovers.

Did I like this movie? I think I did. The characters' coldness, dissatisfaction, self-absorption, and bitterness was fascinating in a way. But I'm not sure exactly what LaBute was going for, what he wanted the audience to take away from it. So I was left kind of stunned.

Bad Kids

Barry Feld's Bad Kids: Race and the Transformation of the Juvenile Court provides an excellent analysis of the history of juvenile justice since the Progressive era, exploring the problems inherent in the construction of youth, and offering a radical solution to the problems facing the courts.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Being Elmo

Last night I watched Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey. This sweet, simple documentary about the man behind the famous Muppet is incredibly heartwarming.

Kevin Clash fell in love with Sesame Street as a nine year old when the show first aired in 1969, and became entranced with the Muppets. He just loved them so much and wanted nothing more than to create them and work with them.

He began making his own puppets, doing local puppet shows for neighborhood children, and never abandoned his hobby but instead became more and more immersed in it, developing his talents. As a teenager he managed to get work doing puppets on a local children's show, and from there his career took off.

When he began work on Sesame Street he felt that he had fulfilled his life's dream. And then he had the opportunity to develop a character for the little known small red Muppet. He brought love to the character, transforming Elmo into the most beloved Muppet and a cultural icon.

Being Elmo has wonderful early footage of the first children's shows, as well as of the Clash family, but what makes Being Elmo so special is the personality of Kevin Clash. He is such a sweet likeable man that his success fills one with naches.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

High Art

Last night I watched High Art, a wonderful film directed by Lisa Cholodenko, which I hadn't seen in at least a decade. I loved it the first time I saw it and was just as impressed this time around.

The story takes place in two realms of the New York City art world -- the art magazine industry, with one ambitious character looking to have an impact; and the druggie world of a formerly successful photographer. Both converge in apartment building, and a very interesting, sexy, at times subtle (at times not so much) relationship builds between these two characters. The tensions and desires are very well executed, and though I don't usually like junkie flicks, this surpassed the cliches of the genre.

Ally Sheedy was wonderful as the tense, complex and conflicted photographer. Her performance was really incredible, and the rest of the cast was great as well.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Look at Me

I really wanted to like Look At Me, a novel by Jennifer Egan. I had loved a visit from the goon squad, and was excited to read more of her work.

Look at Me starts off promising enough. Interesting characters who have a sort of hard, self-reliant edge to them, characters whose story lines intersect, character who are not necessarily likable but still engaging, who do surprising things. And the writing, for the most part, is very good.

But somehow it lost me. It went in directions that didn't draw me in, and the theme -- about really being seen, beheld, recognized, or known by another person -- began to seem like an idea that was being tortuously executed. Plus, certain story lines (the important back story of a mysterious character, the development of an online reality series) just plain bored me.

Maybe it's just that Look at Me is overwritten, too long for what what it is.

The New Jim Crow

I was very impressed with Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. It makes a strong and disturbing argument that our current system crisis of incarceration is a new form of racial oppression, following slavery and Jim Crow. In particular she identifies the War on Drugs as targeting African American men who are then imprisoned -- caged -- and rendered second class citizens after their return to the community when they are legally discriminated against in terms of housing and employment and experience a civil death, no longer able to vote or serve on juries.

Alexander writes forcefully and persuasively, making a very strong case for scaling back the drug war and opening up an honest dialogue about race in this country.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Last week I watched Vertigo on Watch Instantly. I have to say, I really disliked it. I know Hitchcock revolutionized cinema with many cinematic and narrative techniques, but I found this story so preposterous and rather sexist. The cinematography, though innovative for the time, seemed cheesy and cliched to me, and the acting stiff and formal.

Again, I really did not like this movie.