Friday, November 23, 2012


Just watched Diner -- wow, what a great little movie.

I had seen it years and years and years ago (it came out in 82), and I was nervous that it wouldn't hold up.

But, being a period piece, and being inherently steeped in nostalgia, it didn't just hold up, but got better with age.

The actors, Guttenberg, Bacon, Rourke, Reiser, and Barkin, were all so young -- their youth is almost painful to look at. Something I of course couldn't appreciate at the time because they were all older than me. But now they seem like just kids.

And that's what Diner is about, a group of boys, arrested adolescents in modern parlance, who are floundering in their young adulthood, unable to really thrive or pick up any traction with their lives, so they gravitate around each other in what has become known as a bromance.

The movie has a few plot strands, but really it's about the hanging out, the bonding, the feel of the group. Each of the characters is looking for more, perhaps, than the diner crowd, but at the moment they are content with where they are. The bittersweet thing is that the viewer knows that the eventually, sooner rather than later, life will sweep them up, that this charmed time will not last.

Back to the Future

The other night I watched Back to the Future on an HBO channel. I missed the beginning, and came in right where Marty and the scientist are being chased by "Libyans". Right before he lands in the past.

I had of course seen this in 85 when it came out and thought it was a very fun well-done movie back then. And actually it holds up. Silly and broad in ways, and cliche, it still has an engaging plot and moves at a good pace, so I never got bored or irritated. I was always uncomfortable about the sexual attraction between Marty and his mother in the 50s, but other than that, it's a sweet fun flick.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Wizard of Oz

I caught The Wizard of Oz on TBS last night. I missed the first twenty minutes, the black and white part in Kansas, and tuned in just as Dorothy was first stepping in Oz.

It is such a wonderful kids movie. I remember loving it so much as a child. It was fascinating, and gorgeous, and really scary and intense and sad. The scenes with the witch were so, so scary, and it was so disappointing the times that Oz let them down.

Of course, after seeing it so many times and being an adult and all, it doesn't have the same hold on me. But it's still a great story, and I was sorry I missed the beginning.

I wonder if kids today like it as much as my generation did. I remember I had a wonderful toy Emerald City, that closed into a box and had dolls of all the main characters.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Public Speaking

Last night I watched Public Speaking, a documentary by Martin Scorsese about Fran Lebowitz, that consists primarily of an extended interview with her spliced with segments of her, well, public speaking.

I had not known much about Lebowitz. Was aware of her as a NYC public figure, a hip figure, a literary figure. But I didn't know anything specifically.

Wow, is she a formidable woman. So fucking smart, so wry and cutting. So refreshingly and unapologetically elitist. I came away from the documentary really impressed with her and interested in reading her two main books of essays. Also, I would love the opportunity to some day see her speak.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Game Change

I thought Game Change was just okay. It is interesting and engaging, but not really anything that leaves you thinking.

It follows the decision to choose Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate on McCain's ticket, and focuses on her during that campaign. It's crazy how little knowledge she had, and at times you even feel sorry for her.

The acting -- Ed Harris, Julianne Moore, and Woody Harrelson -- was impeccable. Ed Harris's McCain was a true statesman and gentleman, and Julianne Moore's Palin was spot on.

Game Change touched on how she vitalized the far right fringe of the Republican party, but didn't really go into that aspect, how she roused the wing-nuts...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Descendants

Alexander Payne's The Descendants is a warm, slightly quirky, mildly funny, definitely poignant drama about a man trying to bring his family together at a time of grief.

The wife of the character played by George Clooney is in a coma and it is time to pull the plug. At this time, Clooney discovers that she had been having an affair. He has to deal with the mixed feelings of loss and rage and betrayal, and the narrative arc of the movie centers on him trying to find her lover to let him know that she is dying.

The pacing and acting of The Descendants is breezy and relaxed. The action takes place on the Hawaiian islands, where the family owns land, and the music and beauty of the surroundings seep into the sorrow of melodrama, keeping it from reaching any kind of screeching or overwrought notes. This was a good thing. However, sometimes the actors seemed too casual for the circumstances, and there was something strange about the lack of intense crying (one character had a moment at the end that was pretty amazing).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Storm King

I spent the day at Storm King Art Center in Moutainville, NY. Two hours leisurely strolling the extensive grounds allowed us to see a lot of wonderful sculpture, but only a fraction of the total work. 

The art worked wonderfully with the landscape, which gave majesty to many of the pieces. I enjoyed the iconic di Suvero pieces, as well as some of the modest Calder works. There was a Buddha whose face was submerged in the ground with suspended giant feet (Three Legged Buddha, by Zhang Huan) that was a lot of fun, and a couple of interesting pieces low to the ground by Nam June Paik called Waiting for UFO. Indoors there was a wonderful Louise Bourgeois made of small pieces of granite spread on the floor. But I decided that my favorite work of the day was two sculptures by Chakaia Booker, each made of black rubber. I think what I enjoyed about it so much was the thick, feathery texture of the pieces.

Friday, November 9, 2012


Greenberg is a tense movie by the director of Margot at the Wedding, another movie about difficult people struggling to connect.

Greenberg stars Ben Stiller as an angry, frustrated 40 year old man whose life hasn't worked out as he had hoped. He is house-sitting for his wealthy brother, and reconnects with friends from his past. He also develops a relationship with his brother's assistant. But he pushes everyone away with his self absorption, his irritability, and his hostile outbursts. Most intriguing, disturbing, and somehow charming, was the connection between Greenberg and the assistant, Florence. Although he was abusive toward her, and you don't really want her to be with them, there was something sweet and promising there as well.

Although the movie includes some amusing moments, for the most part I found it too uncomfortable and unsettling to really laugh.

Death by Fire

Today I watched the Frontline episode, Death by Fire, about the Cameron Todd Willingham case. Willingham was executed in Texas for the arson-murder of his three baby daughters. The forensic evidence at the time of the deaths was apparently conclusive, but years later, as he was on death row, other more sophisticated arson experts scrutinized the case and concluded that there was no evidence of arson.

He was executed anyway, and his case has been used by death penalty opponents as proof that an innocent man was executed.

I had been familiar with this story because a few years ago I read an excellent article in the New Yorker about him, and the documentary didn't add too much to it, although it presented interviews with people that remained convinced of his guilt...

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Plea

This week I watched The Plea, a Frontline documentary about the plea bargaining process in the criminal justice system.

With 90% of all criminal cases plea bargained, and only the remaining 10% going to trial, it is important for people to be aware of the injustices in this process, and the institutionally acceptable forms of bullying and coercion that are rampant. The Plea looks at several specific cases, all of them people who are innocent of the crimes they ultimately plead guilty to. This was compelling. However, it would be interesting to explore cases of guilt as well -- which would be a more difficult documentary, really getting at the complexities of the issue.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Schindler's List

Although at first I was a bit bored with the pacing, I soon became fully engaged in Schindler's List, Steven Spielberg's 1990s film about the Holocaust.

Filmed beautifully in black and white, Schindler's List is about a German industrialist who starts off exploiting Jewish labor during the Nazi regime, and ends up so deeply affected by the brutal, brutal treatment and eventually extermination of the Jews that he uses his entire fortune to save them.

It is a moving and memorable and important story. In many ways Spielberg did a brilliant job rendering it. But in spite of the subject matter I couldn't help but feel there was something schmaltzy about it, overly sentimental. The artistic cinematography worked against gritty realism, and sentimentalized or stylized the content. Other than the three leads (Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley) who were outstanding, the characters and the acting was rather two-dimensional and even corny.

I know it's kind of sacrilegious to criticize Schindler's List... I admit I'm dehydrated from crying throughout the entire last hour.