Sunday, February 26, 2017


It's hard to write about Moonlight. From the very first moment through the last there is a particular tension, the omnipresence of fear. The film style was amazing. Captivating. Suffocating. Beautiful.

Moonllight is the story of a child/teenager/man who is exceptionally quiet, deeply ill at ease, and profoundly lonely. His environment in the projects in Miami is both empty and overflowing. Empty of avenues of escape, of opportunities to explore, of forms of relief. Largely empty of love. But it overflows with a rhythm of community life that unfortunately pulses with suffering and potential violence. Little/Chione/Black experiences a few key moments of connection, that perhaps because of their rarity, seem to accentuate and amplify his isolation. But in these moments you see his character breathe, and it's the most beautiful thing in the world.

Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark

I like Trevor Noah. The clips I've seen from The Daily Show are good. But Afraid of the Dark fell a little flat for me. His perspective is wonderful, conveying the insignificance of white American lives and highlighting our arrogance and our reliance on stereotypes. He is brilliant at enacting various racial, ethnic, and national stereotypes in a way that exposes our hypocrisy. He is also a master of accents and a very good impersonator. But his timing is off and some of his bits just took too long to get to the punch line, and once they did you already knew what it would be. I particularly felt this way in the section that imagined a conversation between Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. I knew exactly how it would land. My favorite part was his Russian accent and his jokes about the fear it inspires in others.


I'm glad I watched Selma, because I was only vaguely aware of this significant march and the events surrounding it. But I didn't think it was that great a movie. I would have preferred a documentary. This had a biopic feel, and I never like biopics (exception: Before Night Falls). There is always something forced about them as they try to dramatize events and relationships to give a movie-like experience. The story itself is incredible, I just would have rather have watched a documentary about it.


Ghostbusters was terrible. Total schlock. Not one funny moment. I felt stupid for renting it (I might actually have bought it). I thought it would be entertaining because I love the actresses in it and thought there would at least be a couple of hysterical moments that would make it worthwhile. Boy was I wrong.

The Civil War

A couple of weeks ago I watched all nine episodes (11 hours!) of Ken Burns' The Civil War. This sprawling documentary is breathtaking. Richly informative and detailed, it is also has a powerful and consistent emotional core, always coming back to the brutality of slavery, the horror of war, the daily struggle with deprivation. It focusses very much on battles and military strategy, which is only so interesting to me, but these come to life through the characters -- McClullen and Grant and Lee as generals, and the intimate and descriptive letters of several soldiers.

Some things that stayed with me: how religious American society was at that time; the writings of Frederick Douglas; Lincoln's oratory and determination; the violent carnage; the oddity of people being loyal to their state (Lee didn't care about secession or slavery, he cared about remaining loyal to Virginia); the sheer numbers of dead and wounded; the technological and social advancements that developed quickly out of necessity; the evocative and so effective way still photography was used (I watched it in HD)...


Ann Patchett's Commonwealth is deeply lovely. The story of broken families and a blended family, it focusses on the relationships between the siblings and step siblings, and is remarkable in the compassion the characters have toward each other. Patchett wrote each character with love, and it is surprising, refreshing, how good a novel can be without a villain or significant conflict. There is some conflict, and a painful tragedy at the heart of Commonwealth, and that pain is made sharper by the innocence and forgiveness of everyone in the book. Some of the scenes, such as the party in the first chapter, the children visiting in Virginia, the gathering in the Hamptons, are so well conveyed that I was at times just amazed at the damn good writing.

I Am Not Your Negro

I had heard a few people mention how amazing I Am Not Your Negro is, but hadn't heard details about it or read any reviews. I was expecting a biographical documentary about James Baldwin. Instead, I Am Not Your Negro brings to life 20 pages Baldwin had been working on about the lives and deaths of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Medgar Evers. The narration (by Samuel L Jackson) is a reflection on racism in the 60s and 70s, but images and footage of violence from the civil rights era are juxtaposed with images and footage of recent instances of police brutality and murder. The violence that is used to enforce racial oppression is like a crackling fire throughout the documentary. The silence in the theater was tense and mesmerized, and when Martin Luther King Jr was murdered I and others gasped. Even though of course we knew he was murdered, the filmmaker did such a marvelous job of conveying the conflicts of that era and the narrative of the fierce fight for justice, that King's death hit us in the stomach in a freshly powerful way. From that moment until the end of the film tears were running down my cheeks and you could hear others crying. When it ended, even though just a movie, everyone burst into applause. I actually wanted to stand up and give it an ovation. We all sat stunned and shaken during the credits, no one quite ready to put on their coat and return to the rest of their lives.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

After watching Seinfeld, a turned to Curb Your Enthusiasm, a show that I watched more recently (last four years?). Like Seinfeld it totally holds up.

Larry David's persona and the shenanigans driven by his neurosis and self-absorption are both hysterical and fascinating. The supporting cast is perfect, the way they complement or foil or encourage him.

The only thing, as brilliant as Curb is, it's not a great "binge" show. There is a lot of yelling and the cadence of the show, if you're watching one after another after another, can be abrasive and grating. But one or two on their own is very entertaining. Smart, slightly mean-spirited, awkward comedy.


Last month I watched the entire nine seasons of Seinfeld. I hadn't seen it in about a decade I think. I wasn't sure if it would hold up.

It totally did!! Very funny, consistently funny. It was enjoyable watching an old school sitcom, where there isn't any character development or too much of an larger narrative arc. The combination of broad physical humor with New York style neurosis works perfectly. I saw my own anxieties in some of the absurdities of the characters' annoying little concerns. The acting and the chemistry between the four of them is really just so fun. Great show.

My Seinfeld Year

While immersed in reruns of Seinfeld, I read Fred Stoller's short Kindle memoir, My Seinfeld Year, about working on the show. He writes in a straightforward, somewhat complaining way, and I couldn't tell at times if he was saying things for laughs or if he was serious. If serious, he came across as a little too bitter and self-pitying. I really like the loser-ish aspect of his on screen persona, but didn't think it worked so well in writing. I was interested in the different anecdotes about working on the show, and was a bit disappointed, although not at all surprised, to learn that Larry David is an asshole.