Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Prescription for Cinematic Amnesia (Movies I've Watched Recently), Pt. II

The Lover (L'Amant)

Some movies are borderline porn. Like, if you were having nice coffee chat with an alien and were trying to explain to it the difference between something like Pirates (aka that really high budget porn version of Pirates of the Carribean... not that I've ever seen it) and some very sexually explicit movies like The Lover (or Lust, Caution or Unfaithful or Last Tango in Paris), it may be really difficult to articulate the difference, even if you know that there is a difference.

I'm not saying this as something derogatory. In fact, Lust, Caution is one of my favourite films, and I enjoyed The Lover as well. The story here is very simple and the characters don't even have names. The Girl is a French teenager in colonial Vietnam whose family has lost everything financially, but they still cling to some level of social status due to their Frenchness. The Chinaman (seriously, that's his character's name in the credits) is a wealthy ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam. He's what you'd have called a "dandy" in the 19th century: a young man with no particular skills except in traveling and spending his family's money.

What's most interesting about this movie is the fact that while The Chinaman is significantly older and wealthier than The Girl, he is still beneath her in some way because she is French and he is Chinese. In colonial Vietnam, that makes a big difference and they both know it. In one telling scene, she asks him if he's ever been with a French girl before (since he was recently in Paris). He says only prostitutes, because that's all he's allowed to "have." So the movie is more complex than simply a story about an older rich guy taking advantage of a helpless teenage girl, but rather, how two people navigate a crumbling and shifting society using the advantages given to them.

Definitely don't watch this with your parents in the same room

2014 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

It's not only sad to think of all the movies you'll never get to see, but it's even more of a downer to think of all the documentaries, shorts, and animated shorts that you'll never watch either. So I took the chance recently to go to a showing of the 2014 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts. The shorts are very diverse, ranging in tones from sarcastic, creepy, charming, and cute. There's one set in a steampunk robot city where a citizen adopts a dog (Mr. Hublot), one about a witch and a cat who make friends while flying across the land (Room On The Broom), and one where two umbrellas fall in love (The Blue Umbrella).

My favourite was Feral because it was spooky and heartbreaking. It's about a wild wolf-child and the artwork is unique in a nightmarish way, reminiscent of a Francis Bacon painting.

Mmm, Bacony

The Squid and the Whale

Growing up, I always wished my parents were the type to try to relate to me and talk to me as if we were pals. But then I watch movies like this and thank god that they weren't. Yikes, could you imagine having the Jeff Daniels character as your dad? He's the type who'd sneer at you if you talked to him about some girl who didn't reciprocate your feelings, then go on to talk about all the hot chicks he had, or could've had, when he was your age. All while throwing around quotes from Saul Bellow and William Faulkner.

The Squid and the Whale is a movie about a divorce and how two sons (the elder one played by Jesse Eisenberg) deal with it. The parents are super-educated members (or wannabe members) of the literati who live in Park Slope and discuss the merits of A Tale of Two Cities at the dinner table. This isn't exactly the most relatable demographic in the world, but most people will be able to identify with the divided loyalties that the two brothers face. I didn't like Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming, but this movie was better. Even though it was very autobiographical, it felt less like an exercise in self-obsession ("Look at me and my over-privileged wannabe literary friends because we matter!") and more honest and painful because hey, we've all known what it's like to love, hate, and be disappointed by our parents.

The corduroy signifies his "down with it-ness"


I've always thought that Mitt Romney was a good enough guy who was possibly one of those people who just wasn't meant to be a political leader. He may be a management whiz, loving father, and valuable member of his church community, but those things don't make you a good presidential candidate. Remember that it wasn't just Democrats who loathed him. It was his Republican rivals like Rick Perry, John McCain, and Rick Santorum who just despised him on a personal level. And it was London Mayor Boris Johnson who joined in on the anti-Mitt fun (after Romney's ill-advised comments on London's preparations for the Olympics) when he had no real dog in the race. There's just something about the guy.

Mitt rescues his image the best way possible, in my opinion. Romney is not inspiring because he doesn't have a greater vision other than the fact that he'd be great for America because he made a lot of money at Bain Capital. But that doesn't make him a bad person, and it's nice to see him surrounded by those who love him, as opposed to those who would love to see him fail (aka many fellow ambitious Republicans).

What most impressed me about Romney was how self-aware he is. Even back in 2006 or so, he's aware of his own weaknesses in terms of public perception, as he dubs himself the "Flippin' Mormon." Even after his knockout first debate performance that revitalized his post-47% presidential campaign, he calmly tells everyone that first debates are always won by the challengers and that President Obama will be way better next time.


I'm kind of a Jeremy Lin fanatic. Ever since he joined the Houston Rockets, I've watched almost all of their games, and as a result, I could tell you that in his first month or so as a Rocket, sportswriters were legitimately wondering if he and Harden could be the best backcourt in the league. But then he went into a funk, mainly due to the knee injury that sidelined him for the Knicks' playoff series against the Heat. He hit his stride after the all-star break, only to play very poorly (like the rest of the team) in Game 1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs. Then he got injured in Game 2, allowing Beverley to come in and play well. Then this season, Beverley was named the starter because he is tenacious defender and a good 3pt shooter, and Lin's skills were seen to be somewhat redundant when pared with James Harden's. Lin adjusted to the 6th Man role pretty well and even had some monster games that exceeded anything he did in his Linsanity run. He had a very bad January, however, the lowest of which came against a pair of losses against the Memphis Grizzlies. But then Harden got injured and Lin was thrust back into a primary role, and he found his groove again. Recently, he got his first triple double and is now back to balling as a 6th Man.

But Linsanity is about the beginning. For someone like me who's watched all the highlights and interviews on Youtube many times, there's nothing too enlightening about this documentary, but I do appreciate the greater social commentary provided by his high school and college coaches. It's also quite harrowing to listen to Lin and his family's account of the days leading up to that first breakout game against the New Jersey Nets, and how that was almost certainly his last chance to make an impression before he got cut permanently from the NBA.

It was outplay Deron Williams or go home, permanently

Over at Deadspin, they have this great series on the history of Black QBs in the NFL. I've always thought that Jeremy Lin was a natural successor to someone like Warren Moon or Doug Williams (former was the first Black QB to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the latter was the first Black QB to win the Superbowl). Nowadays, it's pretty common to see Black QBs. Russell Wilson just won the Superbowl and it's as though people forgot that he wasn't some White dude who grew up in Idaho. Many of the next gen young QBs are also Black: Cam Newton, RG3, Colin Kaepernick, and the aforementioned Russell Wilson. In fact, if you're a racist fan, you're pretty much having to pin all your hopes on Andrew Luck once the Manning-Brady-Brees-Rodgers group fades away.

In those Deadspin articles, they talk about older Black men who pinned so much of their hopes on the likes of Warren Moon and Doug Williams because they help inspire others, especially those of their own race, to confidently discard stereotypes that were so ingrained in our society that many people, even Black people, sort of believed in them. Because in the end, it's not about being quarterback or point guard; it's about being told that you're inherently incapable of doing something because of your race, and then making a fool out of anyone who told you that.

Anyway, very enjoyable and uplifting, especially if you haven't rewatched the highlights to death as I have. The interesting thing is that you could easily make another documentary about that weird offseason when the Knicks let him go, and that topsy-turvy first season in Houston when everybody expected him to fall flat on his face.

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