Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Oscar round-up 2017

For the sixth year in a row, I attended the AMC Best Picture Showcase on Oscar weekend. So here's my quick round-up of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, in the order that we saw them.

Manchester by the Sea - I liked Casey Affleck's performance, although I was even more impressed with Denzel Washington's in Fences. I didn't think there was anything very original about the movie though. I spent most of it fending off thoughts about how it paralleled my own experience with a catastrophic house fire (and how lucky I was in comparison). It was an emotional and poignant story, well-told and competently shot, but the fact it's on the list is an indication of how weak a year this was.

Fences - There were so many things to admire about this stage play turned movie: powerhouse acting, authentic characters, an engrossing story. The only complaint I have is that it feels too much like watching a play and not a movie, vis a vis the lack of background actors and how it feels like outdoor scenes are happening in a ghost town. I believe that the magic of movies is not to make you feel like you're at the theater, but rather that you're in a different world altogether. But Denzel gets major props for both his acting and directing performance.

Lion - This was probably my favorite movie of the bunch, and the first one I'd consider buying on disc when it comes out. The first of three based-on-true-events movies, it is a beautifully shot and emotionally uplifting film that captivates throughout and ends with a bang. I'm really disappointed that it didn't win any awards, but I chalk that up to the lack of marketing by the studio.

La La Land - This was one of the movies I was most anticipating and maybe it was a bit of a letdown due to high expectations. It was enjoyable but also kind of fluffy. I compared it to An American in Paris meets Mulholland Drive. I even thought Emma Stone's performance in Birdland was more impressive than she was here, and Ryan Gosling didn't deserve his acting nomination. I loved the director's previous effort (Whiplash) and, while I didn't love this movie, I certainly admire the spirit in which it was made.

Hidden Figures - This certainly felt like the blockbuster that it is and as I was watching it I joined in with cheering the story about three Black women who made huge contributions to NASA during the space race. However, afterwards I found out that the white filmmakers had fabricated certain key scenes (deviating from the source novel) that toned down the racism that these women had to overcome and making the white characters appear more enlightened. I was thoroughly disgusted that this deceptive, "white-friendly" version of the story was allowed to supplant the truth: that NASA restrooms were not officially desegregated, that Katharine Johnson did not actually enter mission control to watch John Glenn's launch into space. Embellishment is part of any movie about true events, but when those embellishments undermine the very struggle that the movie is trying to portray, it's just poor filmmaking. I'm glad the movie wasn't further rewarded (besides being the highest grossing of the nominees) with any Oscars.

Moonlight - Luckily, Hidden Figures was followed by a very authentic story that hasn't been seen very often. It's the only one of the nominees I'd seen before and it was even better the second time around. I appreciated the quietness of the movie, and I could enjoy it more knowing the ending because I usually expect movies like this to end badly ("Dead bro walking" is a thing).

Hell or High Water - This is the movie that made me think that stories about Black women who are geniuses and of national importance get to be worthy of the same honor as stories about foolish bank robbers who are white men. I personally don't enjoy watching witless characters and up until the last 10 minutes that's what you think you're watching. So I enjoyed the twist but this was definitely my least favorite of the nominees.

Hacksaw Ridge - This was the year's American Sniper, a gory, violent tale based on the incredible true story at the battle of Iwo Jima. It was hard to watch but it was also a profoundly inspirational story of courage. My gripe is that we've seen so many of these kinds of war hero movies already, both real and fictional, and I wish there were more variety and innovation in the movies that are made and nominated. There were shots that looked exactly like We Were Soldiers that starred Hacksaw's director, Mel Gibson. When we get these similar movies showing up year after year like American Sniper, Zero Dark Thirty, Saving Private Ryan and others, they start feeling like Oscar bait.

Arrival - Admittedly, I was getting pretty drowsy by the time this one started at 6:10 am so I will probably have to defer judgement about it but my initial reaction is that it's the same story as Robert Zemekis' Contact (one of my favorites) but less focused on politics and conspiracy and more on communication. I found it a little slow and hard to follow (again, possibly due to sleep deprivation) so the ending's impact was a bit lost on me. I will definitely give it another look in the future.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Wrapping up 2016

Happy 2017! I only just realized that I missed my traditional year-end posts, plus I haven't updated since before Samhain. I should mention that the amulet I chose for this year is a pattern called the Flower of Life wrought in silver over a disc of rainbow-colored abalone shell. To me, it's the natural extension of my tree amulet last year where I wanted to symbolize the growth of my relationships with the people closest to me. This year I'm looking for that growth to blossom and intentionally create interconnectedness between individuals.

I'll spare a few words to hit the highlights:

11/1-5: Led a group to see the newly restored 4K print of Tampopo at the theater and then dinner at Ramen Ya. Kacey, Chris, Storm, Puck, Jen, Eric, and Low came out that night, which had a nice craic to it, mixing new friends and old. Jen and I visited the New York Audio Show that weekend, where we got to listen to Carver's Amazing Line Source speaker system, an impressive horn system by Sarduri Acoustics, big electrostatics by Martin Logan, among other pricey items. But overall, the show was a lot smaller than it has been in years past and I was disappointed because it was the first time I've actually gone with someone.

11/6-12: Of course the election took the wind out of everything this week, but we managed to have a nice outing at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Brooklyn to see The Handmaiden on Thursday. This time Storm brought Ariel, and Kacey invited Matthew.

11/20-26: For Thanksgiving, Jen and I drove up to Troy to have dinner with her family, then on Black Friday we continued north to Montpelier to visit Puck's family at Ella and Alex's house, which turned into a fun board games night with the other guests. The next day we did some touristy things, like visiting Ben & Jerry's and a maple/cider press store before Puck, Jen and I headed home.

12/4-10: On Monday night, Jen helped me host Open Love NY's first Poly Videogame Night at the Postmark Cafe, where Chrissy's husband Charles won the trophy for the MarioKart competition. Friday night Rebecca joined me and Jen at SBSC to watch Battlestar Galactica, which Rebecca and I have been watching together. Saturday we dropped Rebecca off at home and tried to pick up Puck from Pigtopia (Natalia and Matt's apartment, where they have been living while they apartment-hunt) but we missed them because their phone was off, so we continued on to Liz's annual Ugly Mug Party. It was quite a smash this year, with about 30 guests. I brought a Star Wars ugly sweater mug that Victoria coveted (and luckily managed to hang onto) and I left with a substantial mug that Lytle got from Sur La Table (she brought the Star Wars mug last year that I unwrapped, but got nicked by another guest as part of the game).

12/18-24: On Tuesday Jen and I went to the premiere of Julie Taymor's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute at the Metropolitan Opera, Jen's first visit there. It was a sumptuous production, although I didn't realize it was an abridged version in English, so I rather missed the full overture, and there was a fidgety young boy sitting in front of us in the box. But I think we looked quite dapper in our fancy clothes.

On Christmas Eve Puck got sick with stomach flu so I went to Pigtopia to take care of them. In the evening I met up with Rebecca at Jen's place where they were doing a Jewish Christmas of Chinese takeout and movies. We all have problematic families of origin that makes the holidays a little difficult. Christmas itself hasn't been such a big deal to me since I left New Jersey (I'm not Christian, nor do I like consumerism) but I do like being with people close to me on Christmas.

12/25-31: The final week of the year I organized a happy hour at the House of Brews for my women's group where we could bring our partners to meet each other so Jen and Puck both made appearances. We celebrated Sasha's birthday on Friday with Japanese sushi takeout for dinner and then watching a Russian movie about a eccentric car thief. Saturday the parents left for Baltimore, leaving Puck and me to get ready for our New Year's Eve party, which drew about 14 guests, mostly Puck's friends. Rebecca, Jen and I retreated upstairs for most of the evening to watch Star Wars movies on the projector but I did organize the wish-burning ceremony and the midnight toast.

2016 has been a pretty down year in the sense that I had to leave TSMC and I still haven't found a job. Obviously the election results and the possible ramifications on the lives of women, GLBT people, immigrants, Muslims and other religious minorities, disabled and just about every other population that isn't a rich, White, healthy male means 2016 was a pretty bad year for a lot of people. Plus the year started with a quick exit for the Rockets from the playoffs, leading to the summer of uncertainty with a new coach and the loss of a superstar player.

On this last point, we can start the highlights - the Rockets are playing out of their minds right now, breaking all kinds of offensive NBA records and challenging the top two teams in the West for supremacy. They are also darn fun to watch!

The most positive things I can say about 2016 can be summed up in three words - Puck and Jen. For the first time in our relationship, Puck and I cohabitated for most of the year in Staten Island and it was useful in terms of figuring out what we each need in terms of living space. But if it weren't for them and the generosity of their family, I would be in awfully dire straits right now, and I'm incredibly grateful for that. And of course as you can see from this blog, Jen has completely changed my life as my first new romantic/sexual relationship in six years. She has brought me so much joy and a sense of belonging that will profoundly affect my life in the coming years as we continue to grow together.

For this year's holiday ornament, I chose to honor Hamilton, the Tony-award winning musical that Jen and I saw together and that I've been listening to non-stop all year.