Review: The Hateful Eight

Review: The Hateful Eight

Jan 23

The Hateful Eight (2015)
Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Damian Bilchir, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern.  Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino.

(I’m writing this so as not to spoil anything about what I think is a film worth avoiding spoilers for, even though I don’t recommend the film)

theEight men (and one woman) are trapped in a haberdashery in a violent blizzard. Some of them are bounty hunters.  Some of them claim to be lawmen.  Some fought for the Confederacy; some fought for the union.  One of them is black.  This is the perfect setting for Quentin Tarantino’s love of storytelling, dialogue, and suspense, and The Hateful Eight is some of the director’s best film-making.  You know that Christopher Walken scene in Pulp Fiction, where Walken’s character gives the young Butch character his father’s watch?  There are a few scenes like that, extended monlogues that take the viewer out of the cabin and into whatever tale is being told, and although some of it gets long (and even boring), most of it is quite well done.

hatefulEnnio Morricone, my favorite movie soundtrack composer ever (he did all those Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns, and the unforgettable soundtrack for The Mission), composed the film’s score, and it’s beautiful and magnificent, and probably destined to lose out to John Williams for Star Wars in the Oscar race this year.  That score is fantastic, but this one’s just as good.

eightThis being a Tarantino flick, there are also generous doses of violence and blood, and here is where the film is kind of ruined for me.  I have a feeling I’m going to have to see it again in order to see it better, but I was made very uncomfortable by some of the violence done to one of the characters.  The character has done some terrible things (it seems they all have), probably much worse than what he or she receives during parts of this movie.  At first, it looks like some kind of torture porn, one use of the medium I think is inherently evil, but Tarantino’s a better (and more enlightened) writer than that.  Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I believe he’s trying to make a statement about people’s attitudes toward violence, possibly about violence in his movies in particular.  If just one aspect of the character were different, I think, my discomfort with the violence would nearly be eliminated.  Is this one of Tarantino’s points?  If it is, it’s effective, and I think I’m convinced, but that doesn’t change the fact that I was horrified by what I saw, so uncomfortable that my horror outweighed all the other good stuff put together.

Roger Ebert wrote that if you’re trying to make a parody of porn, even just to make a statement, you’re still pretty much making porn.  Tarantino made me endure something I was very uncomfortable with, then held up a mirror, and gave me something to think about.  But I still resent having to endure, and unless I can get over that with a second viewing, I can’t like this movie.


Resolution Hill

Resolution Hill

Jan 18

wk 2First, I am going to say what I always say: it doesn’t matter whether or not I ever succeed in keeping to my New Year’s resolutions. What matters is that I’m in a constant state of introspection, evaluation, and improvement. I am always, always in some stage of trying to make myself better at something, better in some way. It’s the only way to approach life, with a belief that I’ve got a long way to go, but that I’ve come a long way, too. People who don’t make resolutions have no hope. They will call themselves “realistic,” but what they really are is cynical at worst. At best, they are just party-poopers, adding something like, “I don’t need the new year to inspire me to self-improvement.” Psssh. Of course you don’t NEED it. But it’s a great time for it. You can celebrate the new year on some other night than the 31st of December, but you’re just doing it to urinate on everyone else’s celebration, and we’re probably better off without you.

I feel less resolute this year than most, I think because I’ve had kind of a downer of an end to 2015. Over all, it was a great year, but it ended on a stressful note, and the self-loathing in this house was thick enough to choke on, which I often found myself (figuratively) doing.

So let’s resolve to do something about that. I already mentioned one of my goals: 75K steps weekly, possibly to be increased as the year progresses if I find it too easy to manage. I’m finding it pretty easy lately, but I walk slowly, which means this is time taken away from other stuff I might need to be doing. It’s still a bit unclear to me how I might maintain this, but I want this to be part of my lifestyle, at least until I’m back in the water on a regular basis. We’ll call this my physical health resolution.

I have very slowly been getting my house tidied. It’s taking really long, but I’m making baby steps. In recent years, I’ve tried to set schedules for having certain parts of the house tidy enough to show visitors (if ever I decide to have visitors), but that hasn’t worked, so I’m going with something more like the walking goal. Let’s call it two-and-a-half hours of tidying per week, to be increased if I find it sustainable, and this will be my mental health resolution. It averages to half-hour bursts five days per week. I’m going to go easy on myself some days, if the task I choose is especially unpleasant.

For example, the other night, I finally went through a shopping bag full of stuff R left for me. There are more than just the shopping bag, but this one was different. She was about to move to California, and I helped her clean out her house and put stuff in storage, and this bag contained some of the half-used stuff from her kitchen, stuff I typically used on a regular basis, like boxes of brown sugar, a bag of flour, and some bottles of spices.

That was more than ten years ago, and I’ve never opened the bag. I have enough experience with stuff like this (tales of horror for some other day), and I knew what I would probably find: tiny holes chewed into the plastic zippered bags, and the corpses of multiple generations of bugs that had been born in that stuff, lived their short lives there, and then died, leaving whatever was left for their progeny.

I don’t know exactly if that’s what I found or not, because I didn’t inspect the items very closely. But they are tossed out. I didn’t just toss the shopping bag and its contents in one blind swoop, in case there was something else in there (CDs I might have lent her, or some memento from some night out), but everything ended up in the trash one item at a time except for a half-consumed bottle of brandy, which I might still toss, but it deserves some thoughtful consideration before I decide.

Anyway, that didn’t take thirty minutes. It took ten years and fifteen minutes, I guess, but the real fifteen minutes of effort it took was considerable, and so I’m counting that as half an hour.

There is a third resolution, something related to creating content, but I’m not going to think seriously about it until I have my living room and hallway tidy, which will hopefully be within three weeks.

Review: Aloha

Review: Aloha

Jan 17

Aloha (2015)
Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe.

alI’m going to address, as succinctly as I can, the controversy stirred up by Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, and then review the film on its own merits, which of course it deserves as an artistic creation for its own sake.

Emma Stone is Allison Ng, an air force captain stationed in Honolulu. She has a half-Chinese father and a half-Hawaiian mother, making her half Caucasion, a quarter Chinese, and a quarter Hawaiian. In Hawaii, that’s not an unusual mix, and Crowe has stated that this character was always meant to look Caucasian and to have issues about not looking Hawaiian. This, too, is not unusual; in fact, it demonstrates a deeper understanding of Hawaii’s mix of ethnicities than Hollywood is known to represent.

oI admit that I’m still confused about the controversy, but if I get most of it, The two major issues among complainants are (1) that very few characters in leading roles in mainstream films are Asian or Pacific Islanders, so when a prominent character like this comes along, it should be given to an Asian or Pacific Islander actor, since Asian and Pacific Islander actors almost never get a fair shot at ethnically non-specific parts, and (2) that Stone doesn’t look at all Chinese or Hawaiian, and therefore is undeserving of the part. Boiled down to its essence, the problem with casting Stone is that (1) she isn’t actually Hawaiian or Chinese, thus taking a role someone else should get, and (2) she doesn’t look Hawaiian or Chinese, thus representing these ethnicities poorly, or white-washing a character of color.

I agree with where the first complaint comes from, but I do not think a director should cast a lesser actor merely because he or she is descended from certain people. In much of the published outrage when Aloha was in theaters were lists of actors from Hawaii who would have been great. The sentiment is admirable, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the assessment of those actors’ chops. Emma Stone is a very, very good actress, with a presence and likability matched by very few actors her age. If you first saw her in Superbad, as I did, you know what I’m talking about. Even in that minor role, she had the presence of a star. Sure, she’s had a few bad films and bad performances, but it’s tough to argue against her talent. To be clear, I am not saying those local actresses are not good. I am saying that what I’ve seen of them does not tell me they are clearly better choices for a starring role opposite Rachel McAdams and Bradley Cooper. And yes, I understand the irony of not being able to picture those actors in these roles when those actors have never been given a shot at these roles. It’s a problem I don’t deny, but I will repeat my assertion that even in small, supporting roles, Emma Stone gave every indication that she would someday be the star she is today.

haI’m less objective about the second complaint, which implies that Hawaiian-ness or Chinese-ness must be represented by a certain look. Like the Allison character, I am of mixed ethnicity, and I’ve been told my whole life that I don’t look Caucasian. I’m totally okay with that assessment, but it’s unfair to deny me my racial identity, as some have, just because I don’t look a certain way. My sister looks much more Caucasian than Asian, and I’ve seen the way some people treat her with a certain mistrust because of it, a treatment I have never received despite the fact that our lineage is identical. Stone looks as Asian as I look Caucasian, so I don’t see a disconnect between her appearance and this character’s racial composition, and neither should anyone who spends even a little bit of time in Hawaii.

It is a conversation worth having, because representation is no small issue. I wrote my Masters thesis on sex representation in children’s literature, so I am sensitive to the cause. Still, a concern about the issue doesn’t have to be expressed in outrage, especially not the sort that implies an artist’s responsibility to serving any issue other than the realization of the artist’s vision. If the writer-director’s vision says Emma Stone will best serve his art, he owes an explanation to nobody. If it succeeds, the success belongs to him and the other contributors to the film’s production. Likewise if it fails. And if it fails, maybe it is because he didn’t cast a more Hawaiian-looking actress in the role, but that’s his decision to make, with no apology. It’s unlikely Crowe would tell you how to make your film; why is it your place to tell him how to make his?

So strong are my feelings about art for art’s sake that the more I read about the outrage, the more determined I was to liking Aloha. Alas. Despite my fervent efforts, that just isn’t meant to be, because Aloha is a bad movie, and the casting of Emma Stone is a huge, huge reason.

But it’s not because Stone isn’t Hawaiian or Chinese. It’s because she hasn’t spent enough time in Hawaii. Her pronunciations, which are mostly okay in a textbook sense, sound forced, as if she’s just learned them and is auditioning for a part. The syllables are all there, but the inflections and rhythms are all off, and while someone not from Hawaii might not recognize a mispronunciation, just about any reasonably attentive moviegoer can recognize a struggling actor, and that’s where Stone’s performance fails.

I was convinced of this during a few scenes near the end, when Stone is forced to reach into that place actors go whenever they really have to emote sincerely. For those short moments, you see the actress she usually is, and you see why Crowe thought she was right for this part. Unburdened with unfamiliar ethnic backgrounds, Cooper and McAdams are their usual magnetic selves, with McAdams performing especially well. As well as possible in a pretty bad story, anyway.

I’ll spare you too much of a summary, but the guts of it look like this: Cooper is a former military pilot hired to work with a billionaire in launching a satellite from Hawaii. He needs the permission of a native Hawaiian group (modeled after an actual group), and because he’s friends with the group’s leader, he’s well suited for the job. But the military doesn’t trust him, so Allison Ng is assigned to tag along and keep him out of trouble. Meanwhile, he reconnects with a former lover (McAdams), now living on base with her pilot husband (John Krasinski) and two children. She’s unhappy with her marriage, and it seems Cooper has come along at just the right time for the saying of long-unsaid things.

Crowe tries to do a lot with this script, most of it admirable but misguided. He calls this film his “love letter to Hawaii,” and it’s a sincere letter, but it betrays an insufficient relationship with the fiftieth state for what the movie tries to do. Casting Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray in cartoonish roles exaggerates the story’s lack of authenticity, and there are a few silent exchanges between Cooper and John Krasinski that are well imagined but cartoonishly executed. Combined, these missteps remind me of those maddening days in the Sunday funnies, when the inking is off by just a few millimeters, bleeding over the black lines meant to give them their purpose.


Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Review: The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Jan 13

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Dev Patel, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie. Written by Ol Parker. Directed by John Madden.

secondbestI blame Ol Parker, the writer of this film.

All the pieces from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, save one or two characters, are here in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, including the writer and director. Yet the first film was gentle, sweet, and ernest, while this sequel takes the worst part of that film, a kind of cheap and sudden plot device, and runs with it here. Where the original was character-driven and took its time, the sequel is plot-driven and feels like a frantic rush to the finish line, clearly a bad decision.

exoticmarigoldThe actors are fine. They’re great, even, and when I reviewed the first movie and wished there were more scenes with just Judi Dench and Maggie Smith, it’s like Parker heard me, because we get a lot more of that here, and just about every time, it’s wonderful. However, although the acting is terrific, most of the characters are annoying, beginning with Dev Patel’s Sonny and including Bill Nighy’s Douglas. Douglas is still lovable and charming, but he’s caught up in some weird kind of wishy-washiness that seems to have come out of nowhere, and it spreads to Judi Dench’s Evelyn. Sonny is the same character, but with more of his annoying side and less (a lot less) of his sincerity.

I was sure that if anything was going to derail this film, it was going to be the introduction of an aging American played by Richard Gere. Gere, as a representative of a hotel chain interested in working with Sonny, is actually quite pleasant, a nice breath of fresh air who brings a two-dimensional character from the first movie, Sonny’s mother, to life in a way I wouldn’t have predicted.

hotelInstead, what really brings this film down (and I don’t mean way down; just down to good-not-terrific status) is too much emphasis on the wrong stuff, and not enough on letting these great actors inhabit their great characters, with the exception of the relationship of Carol and Norman, two characters in the first film who were interesting but kind of a subplot. In this sequel, theirs is the best story, one which remains true to the spirit of the original.

It’s not a bad movie, but it definitely suffers from having its predecessor as comparison.


In with the New

In with the New

Jan 12

I rang in the new year quietly and by myself, pretty much exactly the way I wanted it. In fact, I went to bed early and dragged myself out at about a quarter to midnight, so I could be there when the year changed. That means something to me, for some reason, and I hate to miss a thing like that. Then I called my parents at about half past midnight, as is my tradition.

A couple of weeks before the new year, I started going on long walks, to see if I could sustain some kind of schedule or weekly step-count goal. Ten thousand steps per day isn’t really that difficult a goal, but when you get busy with work and stuff, you often have to make time to get out and walk somewhere, and it’s easier just to have a taco or watch The Brady Bunch or something.

I’ve managed to do it. I did 72,000 steps the week straddling the old and new years, and then 79,000 for the first full week of the new year. I think 75K is a reasonable goal, but I honestly don’t know how sustainable that is. One night, I went out with Penny for dinner and ice cream, and I wouldn’t have come anywhere near a decent step-count for the day if I hadn’t walked home from Ala Moana, where the ice cream place is. It’s a little over four miles, which lately is beginning to feel like not that long a walk.

I decided on a weekly goal because it allows for missed days, or days of incredible lethargy. So I guess this might be sustainable as long as I don’t schedule too many things with others in any given week. Which is pretty much fine by me.

I turned forty-seven (holy freaking moly) last week, and spent it mostly lying in bed. That’s not really what I had in mind, but I was feeling really run-down all week, and didn’t get myself finally up and about until after four in the afternoon. I know: crazy. I returned a few text messages offering many happy returns, and then took myself to the movies. Although I was hoping to catch Joy, the show times worked out better for Sisters, especially since I wanted to leave enough time for The Hateful Eight, which had a 10:45 screening. Reviews forthcoming.

And then I walked home, stopping at Zippy’s for a late night (as in three in the morning) dinner I didn’t really want.

I’m really behind on a few things I get paid to do, which worries me a little, so I blocked off most of today and this evening to get on it. I still have to do a little bit of work on some personal things (such as this entry), too. I really, really, really need to use my time better. I’m already a person who has great difficulty managing my time without the regular dictation of a school bell. Combine that with my vampire-like tendencies and I can really lazy myself behind the eightball on work.

Resolutions next time. I’ve already figured them out, but I’ll articulate them some time before I break them.

Review: To Brew or Not to Brew

Review: To Brew or Not to Brew

Jan 09

To Brew or Not to Brew
by Joyce Tremel (2015)

2 brewI was in the mood for a mystery series I hadn’t tried yet, so when I saw To Brew or Not to Brew on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, I was instantly intrigued. It’s the first book by a new writer, in an anticipated new series. Getting in on the ground floor is always appealing. If it turns out to be great, I can say I was there at the very beginning.

Greatness may not be forthcoming, but this first story of Maxine “Max” O’Hara, a Pittsburgh native returning home to open a brewpub after years of studying the craft in Germany, has some potential. Max is likable and smart, passionate about brewing and (a requirement in murder mysteries of this sort) stubbornly independent. She makes friends easily with her neighboring entrepreneurs, providing (also a requirement) a colorful assortment of supporting characters. Her family ties are strong, and her family is large, and of course there is the best friend of an older brother, on whom Max has had a lifelong crush but who sees her only as a kid-sister figure. Uh huh.

In addition to the hassle of settling a menu, hiring and training a staff, and getting her building ready for final inspection, she has to deal with someone who doesn’t want her to open, as evidenced by the murder of one of her employees. Max’s father is a detective with the police department, but when the death is officially ruled an accident, it’s up to Max to figure out who the culprit is.

It’s mostly a by-the-numbers mystery with the usual parade of secondary characters. I don’t find the family members especially endearing, and Max’s business-owner friends are still flat, with no genuinely attractive qualities. Remember when you read A is for Alibi and you were first introduced to Kinsey’s landlord Henry, and how much you liked him? Or how you wish you knew someone like Rosie, the owner of the local tavern? There’s nobody like that here, although Max’s friends are certainly likable enough. The love interest situation isn’t bad, but the character isn’t developed well enough to say anything meaningful about him.

Still, it’s good enough, mostly on the strength of Max’s efficiency as a manager and her good radar for good people. She’s admirable, which (after likability) is one of the most important qualities in mystery series central characters, and she’s easy to root for. Count me in for a few more.

Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Dec 28

Me & Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon.  Written by Jesse Andrews (based on his novel).  Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

meandAlthough Greg and Rachel know each other, they were never exactly friends, but Rachel has leukemia.  Now Greg’s mother insists that he give her a call and offer to spend time with her.  It’s awkward, but Greg is smart and funny, and Rachel is droll and nihilistic, and this is how a friendship is born.

earlandGreg has skated through school without being noticed.  He’s learned to float past cliques on campus, offering exactly the right level of conversation and involvement to allow him not to be sucked in or to be rejected.  It’s a lack of dedication that’s consistent in the rest of his life, too, and the only thing he’s passionate about is watching European art films, and then creating parodies of those films with his “coworker” Earl.  So averse is Greg to commitment that he’s unable to call Earl a friend, even though Earl is the only friend he has, until Rachel.

thedyinggirlGreg doesn’t really want to go to college, but Rachel makes him apply.  He doesn’t want to make a movie for Rachel, but the prettiest girl in school, part of Rachel’s lunch clique, makes him begin filming one.  When someone confronts Greg with the underlying cause of his lack of commitment, his relationships fall apart.  Time heals most wounds, but how much time Greg has left with Rachel is impossible to know.

Stories whose intended audience is American teenagers seem to have a small number of meaningful, high-stakes conflicts from which to choose: a threat to a parent’s safety, getting into college, finding a date for the prom, and dying are about all they’ve got.  When you’re old, not only does your heart die, but these stories begin to look and feel the same.  When you’re a teen, the previous generation’s versions of these stories aren’t yours, and you’re entitled to a handful of movies that belong just to you.  This is why I’m willing to ignore the feeling that I’ve seen most of this before, and appreciate the film for its likely appeal to young adults.

The acting is good, the characters are well imagined, and the music is excellent, going the atmospheric route rather than the usual teen-friendly-cool-band approach.  The grownups in this film are wonderful caricatures–tragic and comic illustrations of where we’re all headed once we give in to growing up.  Although Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is less rewarding than the better movies in the genre, it’s difficult to see any real growth in the main characters, so it’s difficult to find inspiration), Teens are likely to appreciate the cool, emotional payoffs at the end and should find a lot here to attach themselves to.


Review: Dope (2015)

Review: Dope (2015)

Dec 27

Dope (2015)
Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Zoe Kravitz, Chanel Iman, Kimberly Elise.  Written and directed by Rick Famuyiwa.

doMalcolm should not be in the club.  He’s under-aged, he’s not invited, he’s turned away at the door by the bouncer, and he’s only there to spend time with a young woman who’s involved with the neighborhood’s charismatic but dangerous Molly dealer.  Every choice Malcolm makes after he gets into the club is potentially deadly, morally questionable, certainly illegal, and somehow the least of all evils, and it is difficult to condemn him for his actions in most of the story.  You have to go way back in the film to this early decision if you’re looking for a way to blame him convincingly, but this is definitely where you can say it’s all his fault.

pThat young woman, though.  She (played by Zoe Kravitz) is beautiful and flirty, and Malcolm is a nerdy high-school senior with a Harvard interview in a few days, a black teenager at a public school in Inglewood, so geeky about 1990s hip-hop that he sports a Kid ‘N Play fade in the 2010s, and every seventeen-year-old, nerdy or not, has made a bad choice or two in the name of getting close to a beautiful, flirty woman.  

eHis guidance counselor believes Harvard is a pipe dream, saying that everything about his circumstance lines up against him, despite his academic record.  Whether the counselor is right or wrong is the heart of this film’s message.  If Harvard wants the best, brightest young minds, is it willing to take them from Malcolm’s neighborhood?  Except for his one excursion to the club, Malcolm has spent his life staying away from trouble in order to get into the Ivy League, yet he is told that it’s not enough.

There are several ways you could comfortably pigeonhole Dope, but if you change its setting and characters, and delete the what’s-the-moral final two minutes, you still have a good story that makes the film more than just one title in a category.  The acting is solid, even if the plot relies on a few coincidences too many, and the pacing is excellent.  It’s a funny, tense movie worth bumping up the queue.


I Just Wanna Know: Are They Catching What I Say?

I Just Wanna Know: Are They Catching What I Say?

Dec 26

(I wrote this part on November 26)

After mentioning that I was far, far behind on my NaNo word count, I had a couple of really productive days, got as close as 5,000 shy of the pace.  I’m back up to about 10,000 words behind, but I’m now confident that I’ll go over the finish line sometime this weekend.

I’ve written very little in my NaNo scrivenings that’s very inspiring or worth keeping, but a couple of sections are definitely the germinations of something I might use later, as when my main character confesses to his romantic interest that he’s shy in the restroom, an admission that leads to his being connected to a couple of other classmates who are also bathroom bashful.

I once was asked by students why I wasn’t doing a certain something that the school said I was supposed to do, opting instead for something a little more private (and a little less convenenient for students).  When I explained that I was trying to respect the privacy of students who are shy about going to the bathroom, I was met with stories by several students over the next few days about how they never, ever used the restroom in school, or only used it when they could go during class and there would be a smaller likelihood that they would be in there when someone else was.

When I was in high school, I found a way to use one of the faculty restrooms with no rebuking by the faculty.  I’ve gotten over most of my issues with using a shared restroom, but I still really, really dislike (and avoid) using one if others are in there.  Urinals don’t count.

So there might be something in this bad novel worth exploring later.

Went to mom and dad’s for Thanksgiving.  My nephew had another commitment later in the day, so we had our family dinner at about noon, and it was a nice, low-key affair.  I exercised quite a bit of restraint, eating more salad and broccoli than anything else, although I did have a piece of Ted’s Bakery’s macadamia nut cream pie a couple of hours later.

There were three football games on, and I was able to enjoy them.  I’m in a four-way tie for first in my fantasy league, with Don, Marshall, and Kendrick.  Marshall’s team has been supremely lucky all season (he beat me by one point in the week I had my highest score all season), and Kendrick’s is almost sure to falter somewhere between now and the end of our season.  I’m mostly afraid of Don, whose team I play today.  And his guys who played today stunk it up, while mine were outstanding.

(okay, back to today)
On November 29, I still had about 9,000 words to write. I plodded my way through 2000 of them while watching the football games, then walked to the Starbucks down the hill, where I wrote the rest. Officially I was at something like 50,052 words for November.

I’m not going to post it. Sorry. It’s not that it sucks; I don’t mind sharing stuff that sucks. It’s that I wrote many long passages about stuff I’m not comfortable sharing. It was fun to write, and I think I learned a lot in writing about it, but geez. It’s just not something I want with my name on it in a public place.

I woke up Christmas morning tired, as I always do, and extreme introversion was the dominant mood. I did everything I could to delay heading over to mom and dad’s, but I knew there was really no graceful way to avoid going over. And removing myself from my own consciousness, I could see the forest and I knew that I wanted to be there more than I didn’t want to be there. I packed up the gifts and headed for the bus stop.

It wasn’t bad. Everyone was in a pretty good mood. I got my sister something I’ve been wanting to get her for years, a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, which was on sale at Costco. It’s a bit outside the range we usually spend on each other, but I really, really wanted her to have it. She seemed a bit overwhelmed.

I got my parents a gift certificate to have their car detailed, and I offered to make the appointment and take it in for them. For the niece and nephew, I got thirty-two-ounce HydroFlasks.

No, I haven’t seen Star Wars yet. I’m waiting until after the new year, when I might be able to find a time and place to see it with minimal company of strangers.

It’s been a pretty good season, and mostly I’ve been able to avoid going to the Dark Side, but there are moments of deep sadness, maybe once or twice a day for a few minutes. I still buy gifts for R, even though I kind of let them pile up and only give them to her every few years. There’s a musician she and I both like, a guy named Steve Taylor (I named my college radio show after one of his albums). He hasn’t put out a new album since before R and I were together, when she still lived in Japan and I had just transferred to UH-Hilo.

That’s twenty years ago.

Then this year (or was it last year?), he finally put a new album out. I backed it on Kickstarter, which was a no-brainer–he went over his goal in mere hours, and then show way, way past it. Yeah, he’s got a rabid following, and I think his other fans and I had given up hope for a new album. He’s been focusing his energies on directing film (he directed that adaptation of Blue Like Jazz and earning a Masters degree in film production or something.

Anyway, there it was, a new album. I got mine early (because of Kickstarter) and then when I did my Christmas shopping, of course I bought one for R. I haven’t mailed it to her yet, and every time I look at it, it makes me sad. When she receives it, will she receive it merely as the new album of a musician she enjoys? Or will it come with nice memories of us appreciating his songs and talking about them, going all the way back to high school? The sadness is compounded by my not being sure which I would prefer.

If I had to be right, I would predict that she won’t even listen to it.

I haven’t even listened to it.

Review: Pitch Perfect 2

Review: Pitch Perfect 2

Dec 21

Pitch Perfect 2
Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Hailee Steinfeld, Brittany Snow, Skylar Astin, Elizabeth Banks. Written by Kay Cannon. Directed by Elizabeth Banks.

pitcThere are a thousand stupid things in Pitch Perfect 2. I would list them, but that would be depressing, and encountering them as the film played before me was depressing enough. But as implausible and stupid as many of the plot devices are, for this movie series (and only this series!), the only things that really matter are likable characters and great music. Since the film brings back all of the good characters of the first film and introduces us one new one (Hailee Steinfeld as the first-year Barden Bella, pretty and magnetic in a performance that should lead to starring roles in future sequels), the characters can pretty much skate by on previously earned goodwill, which they mostly do.

hperfWhile the music isn’t quite as interesting, creative, or catchy as the music in the first film, it’s still pretty dang good, and it excuses most of the stupid plot, because if that’s what we have to endure in order to get to it, I guess we’ll take it. What’s disappointing, if you let yourself dwell on it, is that there are a few really good, really well-done moments, including a scene with Beca and Fat Amy alone in their dorm room that’s goofy, heartfelt, and real in a way that doesn’t seem nearly as contrived as the other scenes in the film that are supposed to be goofy, heartfelt, and real but are none of the three.

ect2If there is one thing in the sequel that’s better than in the original, it’s the lessening of the fat humor. Rebel Wilson is a funny, funny actress, and I understand that her physical appearance is an element of that humor, at least for some. One of my biggest problems with the first movie is that my fellow audience members were laughing so loudly at the not-funny fat jokes that they didn’t hear the really funny other jokes that often came right after. In the sequel, Fat Amy is allowed to be funny other ways, characterized primarily by a certain audacity and fearlessness, underscored by a certain insecurity and undeniable musical talent. If I’m encouraged by one thing in this sequel for the future of this franchise, it’s this.

If I’m encouraged by a second thing, it’s the emergence of Hailee Steinfeld as an actress who can sing. Her acting chops are legit; now you can add some comic ability and better than decent singing skills.

I would never have predicted it, but Pitch Perfect 2 was more financially successful than its predecessor, and since there’s already been an announcement for a third installment, there doesn’t seem to be any reason not to expect more of the same, and as long as the music and characters continue to be great, more is okay with me.