Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A-Z Movies, K: "The Kings of Summer"

Recommended by:
Patricia (friend)

Movie Stats:
Released 2013 (USA)
American, in English (some minimal translated Spanish)
Director - Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Stars - Nick Robinson, Gabriel Basso, Moises Arias

Plot Summary:
Three boys, Joe (Robinson), Patrick (Basso), and Biaggio (Arias), facing typical teenage troubles, run away from home to live in the house they’ve built in the forest.

Blue language; violence (of the hunting sort) toward animals.

Bad Stuff:
Some of the editing was choppy. I got confused a few times, thinking that the DVD had skipped when really it was a slightly clunky scene change.

Occasionally I felt like it was trying too hard to convince me that it was artsy and deep.

There’s not a lot of resolution to it. By the end, the characters’ problems aren’t wrapped up in a nice tidy bow. While that’s not a problem for me personally, I feel that it would bother a certain set of movie goers.

Good Stuff:
It’s really funny.

While a lot of it is unrealistic (the way Joe’s father, Frank [Nick Offerman], treats the police without repercussion, for example), the important things felt very real. The boys go out in the woods and behave exactly as I would expect boys to, punching each other, playing with swords, and growing wispy facial hair. I loved that, after a pretty nasty fight, Joe and Patrick basically grunt at each other, flip each other off, and their friendship is fixed. That sums up male friendship fairly succinctly.The highlight of the film was the way the boys interacted.

It has so much joie de vivre. Even when things don’t go as expected for the boys, there’s this sense of accomplishment and self-fulfillment that’s infectious.

The Verdict:
This film had me from the opening scene. It’s simply delightful. I laughed a lot. It’s fun and sweet and charming. I really can’t say enough good things about it. This is one of those movies that I would love to own so I can watch it whenever I need a pick-me-up. 

I give it 4.5 stars.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A-Z Movies, J: "Judgment at Nuremberg"

Recommended by:
Nick (friend)

Movie Stats:
Released 1961 (West Germany)
American, in English (significant amounts of German, mostly translated)
Director - Stanley Kramer
Stars - Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark, Maximilian Schell, Burt Lancaster, and many, many others

Plot Summary:
For those of you who don’t know your history, HERE is a link to the wiki on the Nuremberg trials. This movie represents a fictionalized account of those trials. American judge Dan Haywood (Tracy) is called to Nuremberg to preside of the trial of four German judges (one of whom is Dr. Ernst Janning, played by Lancaster) who stand accused of crimes against humanity. Widmark co-stars as prosecutor Colonel Tad Lawson, and Schell as defense attorney Hans Rolfe.

The movie utilizes some actual historic footage of liberated concentration camps, including scenes of naked dead bodies and other disturbing images.

Bad Stuff:
It’s long (3 hours), it’s slow, and it’s dry as a bone.

Some of the camera work was very amateurish. You know that video of the dramatic prairie dog? Some scenes had that same kind of “dun dun DUN” feel to them, to the point that it actually made me laugh.

Sometimes it seemed more like an educational film that a teacher might have shown me in high school than a major motion picture. It was also a little preachy, although certainly not as much as it could have been.

Good Stuff:
The acting is phenomenal. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was good (even William Shatner, as Haywood’s aide Captain Harrison Byers), but my favorites were Montgomery Clift (as trial witness Rudolph Petersen), who was absolutely riveting, Maximilian Schell, and Judy Garland (as trial witness Irene Hoffman), who was unrecognizable.

This is the kind of movie that makes you uncomfortable in the good way. It asks a lot of tough questions about culpability, personal responsibility, the extent of one’s duty to one’s country, and what it means to be a judge who’s sworn an oath to uphold the law when the law becomes amoral. There were a lot of scenes that I cringed through, especially Hans Rolfe’s attempts to defend his clients, but at the same time I was cringing, I was impressed by how masterful they were.

The Verdict:
Honestly, I’m not a big fan of courtroom dramas. Actual court proceedings are boring. To combat this fact, TV shows/movies tend to interject excitement by having judges/witnesses/lawyers make big, dramatic speeches that would never, ever be allowed to happen in a real life court. I find the whole spectacle overblown and tedious and this film was not an exception to that rule.

However, I feel that it is an important movie for everyone to see at least once. I put it in the same category as films such as Schindler’s List and 12 Years a Slave, films that aren’t especially enjoyable to watch but are necessary to see because understanding the past is important. In most history classes, the Nuremberg trials are a footnote. This movie not only gives insight into them, but also into the precarious position of the United States in Germany after WWII, where our brief alliance with the Soviet Union slowly began to collapse and the Cold War took shape.

If nothing else, you should watch it for Montgomery Clift’s 12-minute scene. It’s one of the finest pieces of acting I’ve ever seen. 

I give the movie 3.75 stars.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Up with Geography: The Bahamas

Country Name:
The Bahamas


None; it's an island chain. North America is the closest continent.


The closest neighbors are Cuba, to the southwest; the U.S., to the west-ish; and Turks and Caicos, to the east-ish.

Water Border:
Atlantic Ocean

Total Area(added March 2015)
5,358 square miles

Five Largest Cities:
Nassau, Freeport, West End, Coopers Town, Marsh Harbour

Famous Geographical Point:
700 atolls and cays, somewhat represented on the map by lots of tiny dots

Famous Person:
Kimbo Slice, boxer, MMA fighter, & actor

Book Set In/About:
An Evening in Guanima by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

This is a collection of Bahamian folktales.

Movie Set In/About:
"Thunderball" (1965), directed by Terence Young

This is a Sean Connery James Bond movie, wherein Bond is searching for two stolen nuclear warheads in The Bahamas. It was extremely difficult to find a movie set in or about The Bahamas, or even by a Bahamian director. This was the highest rated one I could dig up.

Headline of the Day:
"The Race Is On" in The Nassau Guardian (this is an article about Loretta Butler-Turner announcing her bid to run for leadership of the Free National Movement party).

Note: When I typed "The Bahamas" in Google, no news stories came up. I then typed in "Bahamas news" and clicked on the first news source provided, The Nassau Guardian. I then chose the first article listed.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A-Z Movies, I: "Indian Summer"

Recommended by:
Mardelle (friend)

Movie Stats:
Released 1993 (USA)
Canadian & American, in English
Director - Mike Binder
Stars - Alan Arkin, Diane Lane, Bill Paxton, and several others

Plot Summary:
A group of friends return to their childhood summer camp 20 years after the fact. Arkin co-stars as the camp director, “Unca” Lou Handler, and Lane & Paxton co-star as two of the returning campers, Beth Warden and Jack Belston.

Very minor blue language; heavily implied sexy times; drug use (marijuana); and one scene with naked female side boob.

Bad Stuff:
It’s kind of boring. It’s a movie about people in their 30s trying solve some fairly typical life problems while hanging out with their old buds for a week. If you’re past the “wild party” stage of your life, think about how boring it would be for someone else to listen in on your conversations with your old friends. That’s what this was like.

I didn’t like that the movie advocated physical violence, albeit in the boxing ring, to solve marital problems. If your spouse won’t hear you out unless you strap on some boxing gloves and KO them, you have far worse problems than you think you have IMO.

The preponderance of mom/dad jeans and long, fluffy hair on both men and women, aka early 90s fashion.

Good Stuff:
Alan Arkin. Enough said.

Although it’s billed as a comedy, I wouldn’t say that I found it especially funny. However, the scenes of the men pulling pranks on each other while giggling madly made me giggle too.

It made me wish I could gather up some of my old friends and go away with them for a week because even though I think it would look boring to anyone spying on us, it seems like a heck of a lot of fun for the participants.

The Verdict:
This is such a 90s movie through and through. I feel like they don’t really make movies like this anymore, just really sweet and a little bit cheesy, meandering and mostly pointless but feel-good, completely lacking in cynicism. In fact, twelve years after directing this, Binder would direct a favorite of mine, “The Upside of Anger,” a movie seething with both anger and cynicism, even though it too is a comedy. Sometimes I miss movies like this. (I think this is why my guilty movie pleasures are cheesy romances and Christmas movies, because I know they’ll be cutesy and they come with a guaranteed happy ending.)

I don’t think this is a great movie, but it is enjoyable. To me it falls in the category of “movies I watch when I’m feeling down about life even though I recognize they're not great.” It can be comforting to watch people onscreen try to figure out the same types of things you’re trying to figure out. 

I give the movie 3.25 stars.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Final Reflections on September 2014

For the most part, I managed to pull myself back together in September. When I turned 39 in July, I promised myself that I would spend the last year of my 30s having fun. So it was pretty disappointing to shortly thereafter fall into one of my periodic depressions. Those of you who’ve struggled with depression will know that it’s pretty much the opposite of fun. When you’re depressed, even the good times don’t seem so good.

It’s been a relief to pull out of the tailspin. I managed it mostly through willpower alone, forcing myself to keep plodding forward even when I didn’t feel like it. I got out of the house and explored more of the metroplex, which you can read about by searching “out and about” in the tags. I also started an exercise regimen. Not only have I been feeling better physically, it’s also improved my mental health and the way I feel about my nearly 40-year-old body.

Additionally, the freelance editor I hired began working on my first novel in September. As long as I get my butt in gear to put my website together and find a cover artist, this means I should be releasing my first novel by the end of the year, which I’m very excited about. I’ve been writing a lot more lately as well. I’m hoping that, by time she’s finished with my first novel, I’ll have the next one ready for my editor to begin working on.

Even so, despite all the recent accomplishments, I still have this feeling of “not quite right.” I know the issue is that I’ve been spending too much time alone. As an introvert, I don’t mind a healthy dose of alone time, but I can definitely tell when I’m getting too much of it, and I’ve been in that zone for a few months now. I’ve joined a group or two that meet during the day, but they don’t do things that I’m interested in often enough to fill the gap.

My instincts are telling me that I need to find some volunteer work, or possibly a part-time job. I’ve been kicking around this idea for a while now but the need for it is becoming increasingly urgent. Now that October is here, I think I’ll be focusing part of my energy in that direction, looking to add some structure back into my life both through a more rigid schedule/routine and through some type of work. 

In short, things are going pretty well, and I’m feeling a lot better, but there are a few areas of my life that currently could use some improvement. That’s my life in a nutshell. If you’re stopping by to read, why don’t you tell me how September went for you.