Archive for July, 2012

Two To See

Friday, July 27th, 2012

It’s been a good week in film—good in the “worth seeing” sense, since the first film is very, very frustrating. But still accomplished. And smart.

It’s Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, about a young married woman fighting the intense temptation to cheat. Polley manages to make the prospect of cheating simultaneously incredibly enticing (via multiple smoldering non-sex scenes between her principals, Michele Williams and Luke Kirby) and repellant, since the marriage seems to be/have been a happy one and since husband Lou (Seth Rogen) is easy to like.

The film is about the fantasy of escape, even from something basically good, vs. the reality of having to work on the thing you currently have (or watch it flail and fail). And while the movie ultimately says that the fantasy is exactly that—not reality and not going to last—it spends so much time making the fantasy pantingly appealing that you end up feeling at least a little jerked around. That’s part of the point, but aaaaaaargh.

There is a flaw, which is that Williams’ character is a) not adequately developed and b) not even a little bit likable. Yes, part of b) is that she doesn’t take responsibility for her own happiness, or for the success of her marriage, even as she seems to love her husband, and no amount of characterization is going to change that. But the bigger problem is that we don’t have a sense of anything about her except that. What did she grow up wanting? What does she want now? What does she like to do with her time, even, other than mope and sigh? It would be good to know.

ETA (8/10/12): I was musing about this film (still, yes) the other day, and I remembered that we are given what is supposed to be a defining fact about Margot near the very beginning of the film. I found the writing here too self-consciously symbolic, so I mostly blocked it out, but now that I remember it, I remain appalled. Because the one thing that Margot does that distinguishes her from others is juvenile, entitled, and, well, unethical. Yuck.

Also worth mentioning: This film has been art-directed to within an inch of its life. I wanted to criticize that, too (It’s fun to correct others!), but it’s part of the point—i.e., the fantasy of the perfectly artful home, with every magazine clipping and half-painted banister and hipster doodle and weathered photograph in its perfect place. Sigh.

The second film, Richard Linklater’s Bernie, is essentially sheer pleasure, although it’s a sad story in the end. Hilarious, compassionate, and manifested beautifully in the details, it’s a great little look into a small Texas town and a sweet, troubled man. Poor Bernie!

Are You My Mother?

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

I have a friend who feels that Alison Bechdel’s new book is self-indulgent.

I can see where she’s coming from. It’s certainly self-referential; Bechdel calls it a meta-book, a book about itself, and it is. From the beginning, Bechdel makes it clear that she has struggled with the writing and will share that struggle with us—not least because the story she’s telling, of her relationship with her mother, is still in process. That’s a sticky enough wicket to send Bechdel into paroxysms of neurosis, which she documents in detail.

So on the one hand, it does feel like a book that wouldn’t exist if Bechdel were more at peace with herself and her mother. Or, even simpler: I suspect that the book might not exist if Bechdel even knew she was angry at her mother, which she has every right to be (but isn’t).

Still. I enjoyed it. I found it very brave of Bechdel, to lay so much of herself bare, such that a) we can see more than Bechdel can (I say humbly), and b) her mother will disapprove. Her mother disapproves of/is too threatened to properly acknowledge any of Bechdel’s achievements, as she continues to demonstrate with maddeningly curt dismissals of early drafts of this work. They’re tangled up in pain, those two, and Bechdel keeps going anyway.

I also think Bechdel deftly handles quite a few layers of meaning—the story of her relationship with her mother, the story of exploring that relationship in therapy, the story of origins of psychoanalysis, the story past relationships with lovers, the story of writing the book, the story of writing her previous book (about her father), the story of other writers trying to write books—all woven together in beautiful and arresting illustrations.

I liked it, is what I’m trying to say.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Today in Highly Recommended: this fantastic movie. (The trailer won’t ruin it for you, as they so often do.)

I tend to think that the less you know about it, the better, so you can be transported, as we were. What I’ll say is that it’s something I’ve never seen before, told beautifully, with deep intelligence. There were several moments in particular where I was particularly grateful that the script did not over-explain.

It’s also very stirring, despite its dark content. I left feeling okay about the collapsing world—inspired, in fact, by the human capacity to survive it.

Mulch: A Tragicomedy

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

We had a sweet July 4: a walk, lunch in downtown Berkeley, some lounge-y time, and some house-related chores. For a couple of hours in the afternoon, I read Alison Bechdel’s new book (good) while John worked in the yard. Eventually I made my way out to see what he was doing, and whoah.

Because what was he doing?

He was dumping huge pieces of bark onto the front-side lawn, surrounding the scraggly blueberries bushes he’d planted in the spring. And these were not little, mulchy-looking scraps of bark, the way you see in, ahem, normal yards. These were big, honking pieces of bark. FOOT-LONG pieces of bark. Suddenly, our yard looked like a giant sequoia on its side.

M: Hey, Sweetie.

J: [Happy as a clam.] Hi, Love!

M: How’s it going?

J: It’s great!

M: Thanks for all the work you’re doing. You’re putting in some serious hours.

J: It’s fun!

M: I really appreciate how much you’re doing for us.

J: I like it!

M: And . . . so . . . this is the mulch?

J: Yeah!

M: It’s going to . . . keep looking like this?

J: Well, the bushes will grow and be all happy and big.

M: But the mulch is . . . this?

J: Yeah!

M: Okay.

J: Okay.

M: Except . . . I hate it.

J: What?

M: I’m really sorry. It’s just . . . [whispering] it’s kind of ugly.

J: What?

M: I mean, it’s really ugly. It’s just very unattractive. Ugly. Very ugly.

J: It’s bark. I told you I was going to use the bark from the side of the house.

M: But I was imagining small bark. Bark chips.

J: I told you it was kind of big.

M: I did not hear that.

J: I did say it.

M: Okay, but I did not hear it.

J: Well anyway, it’s great mulch.

M: But it’s not great mulch. It’s actually kind of horrible mulch. Because it’s really, really ugly.

J: It’s so good for the plants!

M: It’s really bad for my eyes.

[Two people pass by.]

Passer-by: What’s with that mulch?

M: Exactly!

J: [Silent.]

M: She was the first person to see this mulch, Sweetie. The first person. And she sees how bad it is.

J: It’s not bad. It’s good. It’s good for the plants.

M: It’s very, very bad.

J: Who cares how it looks? Don’t you like messing with people?

M: Yeah, but . . . no. Actually, no.

J: Isn’t it fun to have a yard that doesn’t look like everyone else’s?

M: I want to have a pretty yard. It’s okay if it looks different, but it still has to be pretty.

J: [Silent.]

M: It’s like this, Sweetie. You know how when we walk around Berkeley and Oakland and look at other people’s yards, I always point out the ugly ones?

J: Yeah.

M: Well now, we have one of those yards.

J: [Looks at M.]

M: [Looks at J.]

[Collapse into hysterical laughter.]

M: It’s true! We have a shameful yard! I am ashamed!

J: [Laughing too hard to speak.]

M: I can’t live like this! I can’t!

J: [Recovering.] This is really good mulch, though.

M: But it’s so painful.

J: The bushes are going to be really happy.

M: Maybe we should go inside and watch a movie.

J: Good idea.