Archive | October, 2013

Have you heard that Washington’s football team has a controversial name?

9 Oct

In this post I will give my thoughts about a topic that every person on the internet has already given their thoughts about. I don’t spend much or any time reading those thoughts. I do read Uni Watch every day, and Paul Lukas has lately been posting a daily summary of news on the topic. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone make this argument exactly, so here it is.

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine a hypothetical world in which the team has always been called the Washington Hawks or whatever. Imagine that now in 2013 the moribund Jacksonville Jaguars franchise has decided to move to Los Angeles. This is a pretty plausible scenario. Imagine that the team wants a whole new start in LA. New colors, new logo, new name. Sounds reasonable. They’ll lose the alliteration of Jacksonville Jaguars and their team colors and uniforms are terrible. Imagine that there’s a fancy press event to unveil the team’s new identity. Everyone, say hello to the LA Redskins!

This would never happen. Why? Because calling your team the Redskins is obviously and flagrantly racist and no one today would even consider it as an actual possibility for a team name. It would be the largest PR blunder in history.

All the pro-Redskins arguments I’ve heard are about tradition or pride or “Native Americans aren’t actually offended by it” or some other kind of nonsense. I wish someone would make an actually intellectually honest case: “Yes it’s racist and no I don’t care.” Fine. I could at least respect the honesty of that.

Here’s another point. Maybe the most common pro-Redskins argument is the “Native Americans aren’t actually offended by it” one. It makes sense to me that that’s the case. When people refer to the Washington Redskins, they aren’t using the word pejoratively. In modern discourse, the NFL team is by far the most common source of that word’s use. I imagine most Native Americans have heard the word redskin used to refer to the football team much more frequently than in any other context. This has caused to word to lose a lot of its power to offend, and has over time become more and more innocuous. That argument makes logical sense. That doesn’t mean it’s a good argument. Let’s take it a step further. By the same logic, it would be a good idea to rename the team the Washington Niggers. Hey, there are a lot of black people in DC, and after fifty years or so the word nigger will stop being so offensive. Great idea, right? Obviously not.

So those are my thoughts. HOT SPORTS TAKE. OUT.

Film review quarterly: 2013 Q3

6 Oct

My Q2 review didn’t get as much traction on Google as Q1. Disappointing. But I’m still doing it. I wrote about all of these movies individually when they were released. I’m too lazy to link to all of them here. Search for them in the search box if you’re interested. I also slowed down a bit on seeing movies in the last couple months. A lot of movies are starting to run together. Even the ones that are good. It’s so disappointing to me that small independent movies are starting to get just as boring and formulaic as big blockbusters. Maybe I’ll catch some on Netflix or whatever. If you feel passionate about a movie I missed let me know in the comments jklol no one ever reads these let alone leaves a comment.

Much Ado About Nothing
I still feel great about this movie a couple months later. It’ll be interesting to see if it gets any awards heat. I doubt it.

Fruitvale Station
I was a little disappointed that this one didn’t seem to catch on much with a big audience. Maybe if you’re not from the Bay Area it doesn’t resonate as strongly. Either way, I hope this becomes the template for movies like this. Avoiding moralizing and overreaching. I was impressed with Ryan Coogler. Looking forward to more from him.

Computer Chess
This is the kind of weird movie I wish there were more of. I don’t even know if I would call it good, but it was totally captivating.

Blue Jasmine
I wonder what someone would think of this if they’d never seen a Woody Allen movie before. Would they love it or hate it? What would they think of all the little Woody Allen things? Maybe I’ll try to get my sister to watch it on DVD or something and ask. She’s probably one of millions of twentysomethings who’ve never seen a Woody Allen movie. This horrible younger generation etc.

The Canyons
I’m still amazed at how bad this was.

In a World…
Fine. Entertaining. Some good performances. Etc. This is a pretty good example of the formulaicity I was talking about.

Closed Circuit
Sort of the spy movie version of In a World… .It was good and everything, but what’s memorable or interesting or unexpected about it?

The Spectacular Now
Shailene Woodley is a star. I heard she had to turn down the lead in Fifty Shades of Grey because of a scheduling conflict. That would have been interesting. But that movie will probably be interesting regardless.

Short Term 12
Maybe the best case scenario for this kind of suburban Landmark Theaters-friendly independent movie. Brie Larson and Kaitlyn Dever were great.

Prisoners
The New Yorker blurb compares this one to Mystic River and Zodiac. Zodiac is a good comparison, in a general feel/tone/Gyllenhaal way. Zodiac is the better movie. I actually watched Zodiac again recently. It was nominated for zero Oscars. That seems dumb to me, especially after the way everyone loved Argo last year for being a big expensive good studio movie. It wasn’t anywhere near as good as Zodiac. Maybe it was as good as Prisoners. I should stop thinking about Argo.

The New Yorker: September 30, 2013

2 Oct

Cover
Breaking Bad is kind of a cool thing to put on the cover, but combining it with a Syria commentary is dumb. Like, is it supposed to be funny? Hard to take it too seriously as political discourse when you start adding TV characters.

Front
The paleo running thing kind of grabbed me. In that running actually barefoot seems crazy. Without any of the little sandal things you always see joggers wearing now. The big thing is that it forces you to strike with the balls of your feet, which is supposed to be biomechanically superior. I tried that in my (pretty minimalist) running shoes this week and it feels unnatural. Hard to do for more than several strides. And I don’t think I could run barefoot in my neighborhood. There is a LOT of broken glass on my usual routes. Shoutout to East Oakland.

My note on the Harry Dean Stanton piece: looking up guys like him on imdb is fun. He’s been in a lot of notable movies/TV shows in the last ten years. And also shows like Bonanza, The Untouchables, and Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. Amazing.

Middle
I liked Xan Rice’s Letter from Somalia. Somalia seems like a fascinating place. I’d rather see TNY run recurring reports from there than Syria etc.

Cora Frazier’s had some good S&M (this is my funny new Shouts & Murmurs abbreviation) pieces of late. This was about as it gets in the “series of statements that connect into a comedy piece” genre. I also liked the illustration.

I am almost incredulous about Josh Eells’s report on Las Vegas dance club DJs. How can they be so popular? Maybe this is just an indication of how profoundly not fun I am, but going to Vegas to party at an 8,000-capacity dance club playing dubstep sounds like just about the least fun thing in the world to me. More evidence that people are terrible, I suppose.

Dexter Filkins deserves note for his tightly put-together, well-reported piece about the Iranian operative controlling Syria. I say this every time TNY runs a Middle East report, but it’s just so depressing. The main takeaway is that the more the US is involved in anything, the more fucked up it gets. The secondary takeaway is that essentially no one in the US government has any kind of clue what’s going on over there or how to effectively advance US interests.

Ariel Levy’s profile of gay marriage plaintiff Edith Windsor was pretty standard stuff. The highlight was the picture of her late spouse in Suriname wearing a pith helmet at a jaunty angle. One for the ages. I wish someone in my family was in a picture that cool so I could hang it on the wall.

Fiction
Really good one this week from Joshua Ferris. The formal gimmick isn’t that new or noteworthy. I’d even say that to use something like that you really need to be on point otherwise it looks amateurish. His execution of it was just about flawless. The strength of the story is the way he was able to capture how fragile the emotional harmony of a relationship can be. His structure added to that and was the cherry on top.

Back
I’m always excited to see Louis Menand in the TOC. He was terrific as always this week.

The main thing I took away from Anthony Lane’s Rush review is that he seems to know more about the characters than Ron Howard does. This bit introducing the racing storyline needs to be quoted in full:

Never was battle joined with more fury than in 1976, when the outcome was decided in the final minutes of the final race, and settled by a single point. In the words of Tom Rubython, whose timidly titled book, “In the Name of Glory: 1976, the Greatest Ever Sporting Duel,” covers the same ground as the film, “No Hollywood screenwriter could have scripted such an ending or described the human drama of such a dramatic season.” That sound you hear is the nibbling of an author’s fingernails, as he waits for a producer to call.

The best.

Cartoons
“Bread torn into little pieces” on page 32. HA. Taco at a burrito fight is also funny. Page 68. Special note to the waves on page 80. I wish there were more weird cartoons like that.

Caption contest entry
“Cool robe!”

Prisoners

1 Oct

There are spoilers in this. And this is a movie with actual stuff to be spoiled.

I really enjoyed Prisoners. It wasn’t anything spectacular or unusual or especially ambitious, but who cares. It was two and a half hours long, and held my attention for the whole time. Not only that, but it did a very good job of building and releasing tension, staying unpredictable, and doing all the other things that successful thrillers need to be successful.

I don’t have much to say about the plot. I don’t think it was watertight, but I’m not interested in dissecting it. It won’t go in the pantheon of thriller plots, but I don’t think that’s necessary for a successful movie. I think the goal was to have a character-driven rather than a plot-driven movie. That’s generally a good idea, because there’s a lot more room to maneuver with characters than the plot. If you make the plot the centerpiece, it needs to be perfect and memorable and you need some kind of hook etc. Inception is probably the standard-bearer. If you go down that road people start picking it apart, and no one remembers the acting performances, and if your gimmick or big reveal or whatever isn’t totally mind-blowing and amazing, you’re left with Shutter Island and all people remember is the gimmick. So Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are thrust to the forefront. That’s really the focus of the movie, and I have some comments about each of them.

Hugh Jackman doesn’t usually do the kind of movies I like, so I haven’t seen a lot of his work. I’ve only seen two or three of his movies. I hear he does a lot of stage work. Musicals and such. That really isn’t my thing, but I suppose that’s impressive range. I was not impressed with him in this movie. I can’t decide how much was him and how much was the script. His character is wildly unlikeable. For me at least. That kind of Real America white male who knows that all of society’s problems would be solved if everyone were just more like him. Those guys are out there. I’ve known a few. They’re the worst. I don’t know if we’re supposed to relate to or sympathize with this guy, but I definitely didn’t at any point. Mr. Jackman sure didn’t bring any nuance to the role. A lot of aggressive blustering and self-righteousness, but no sign that he’s acting with any kind of thought and never a hint that he stops to consider that he might be wrong about anything or that anyone else might have a better idea of what to do than him. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re supposed to delight in him getting thrown in the pit under the car. But the movie isn’t set up that way. I don’t think that was the intent at all. With a character like that, you’re either dispositionally drawn to him or not. For those of us who aren’t, Mr. Jackman didn’t do anything to get us on his side. Obviously he’s not exactly a hero, and the director, Denis Villeneuve, wants us to stay skeptical of everything, but on some level it has to be the actor’s job to make us understand why his character is doing what he’s doing. The only reason I can think of is that deep down inside, all he is is a jerk.

On the other hand.

I’m a big Jake Gyllenhaal fan. I think he’s great. He doesn’t seem to get a lot of respect from critics or moviegoers, but I don’t understand why he’s not seen as a heavyweight. Maybe he’s still living down Bubble Boy. I haven’t seen all of his movies, but Zodiac, Brokeback Mountain, and End of Watch are three big-time Movie Star level performances off the top of my head. I think the reason he’s so good playing cops in End of Watch and Prisoners is that he doesn’t have the same air of impenetrable hardness that Mr. Jackman tried so hard to affect throughout this whole movie. He brings the sense of underlying vulnerability that these men always have. He communicates it so well without needing to say anything. His eyes, the way he carries himself, the considered way he speaks, all the subtle things that don’t draw attention to themselves. That’s where he really separates himself. That he’s able to do all that and simultaneously project the kind of authority that makes him believable is something that not many actors can do. He should be getting better roles and winning awards.

Two smaller roles of note were played by Melissa Leo and Paul Dano. Melissa Leo is another actor who doesn’t get the kind of credit she deserves. And I really like Paul Dano. He didn’t have a lot to work with here, but I think he made it as believable as it could be. And poor Viola Davis. I say Mr. Dano didn’t have a lot to work with–he had far more than Ms. Davis. She deserves better than this. Come to think of it, I would have much rather seen the movie focus on her and Terrence Howard than Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello. Oh well. And one plausibility note. Guys like Hugh Jackman’s character don’t have black friends. That’s all there is to it.

Also of note was the cinematography by Roger Deakins. He’s a treasure. Cinematography is one of those things that I have to consciously focus on and in an absorbing movie like this I miss a lot of it. But this movie looked terrific. The sequence shot from inside the car while Jake G. was driving to the hospital in the rain was amazing. I loved everything about it. That was the highlight of the movie for me.