Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Paterson (2016)

Not all films are for everyone, nor should they be.  Some films tell very specific kinds of stories that resonate with only certain individuals whose own experience renders a film understandable in a way that others just wouldn't get.  To truly get what Paterson is about, one needs to be a writer.  And not just someone who once wrote a story or poem, but someone who absolutely knows the creative process one undertakes when writing as well as the daily accumulation of details gathered by those who constantly seek to put feelings and experiences into words.

If you are not such a writer, I bet you will find Paterson slow, uneventful.  The struggles of the eponymous main character to create a poem while going through his day-to-day routine of waking up, working as a bus driver, and loving his sweet, but scatter-brained wife will seem small and somewhat pointless.  But, this is where the movie gets it right.  For most writers, there is the external life, filled with responsibility and real world interaction, and then there is also the internal life, populated with overheard conversations between strangers, quiet observations, and the ceaseless attempts to wrestle meaning out of the world.

Within the first ten minutes, I loved this film.  And, as the story progressed and I learned more about Paterson and his life, the film didn't fail to meet my hopes and expectations, which were pretty high at that point.  The end result was that the climax of the film both thrilled me as a film aficionado and pained me as a writer since I was absolutely able to empathize with the tragedy that befalls Paterson.

A second viewing recently made me more keenly aware of the gifted performance Adam Driver delivers as Paterson.  On one hand, he is a dull blank slate taking in the world around him but seemingly unaffected by it.  On the other, he is capable of passionate displays of affection like when he creates a love poem for his wife.  This is a man whose primary outlet for expression is his ability to put words together, and he would be largely cut off if he ever lost it.

Driver is directed by the enigmatic Jim Jarmusch, whose work I have been aware of but haven't really paid close attention to.  That will definitely need to change as Jarmusch seems hellbent on being as truthful in his storytelling as possible, something that is becoming increasingly rare.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Ice cream and a Spider-man comic
Crouched on the floor by the passenger seat
In a parked car, cold and still,
Feeling hidden from the cooling air of dusk in late June
And the deep-fried scent of French Fries creeping through the opened windows
Trailing behind the sudden rise and fall of voices from the ballpark outside

Light gradually dims and slowly gives the images on the page less distinction
Exchanging detailed lines for a heightened tone of greater stakes
A childhood imagination sparked
The ice cream melts and runs down grasping fingers
A quick tongue catches the run and smooths the remaining cone
Red and blue become almost indistinguishable in the fading light

The outside world there at arm’s length
Or a car door’s width
A state of connected solitude
Awareness and retreat all at once
Knowing enough to pay attention
Seeing enough to stay put

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - On Golden Pond (1981)

On Golden Pond is one of the first non-kid movies I can remember seeing in the theater.  My mother took my older sister and me to see it at the old Layton movie house in Seaford.  Her friend and co-worker, Shirley, joined us.  I don't know what possessed Mom to take a nine year old and a six year old to a movie about an older couple dealing with family strife at a quiet lake retreat, but nonetheless we went.

As I recall, the Layton was one of those small town theaters that showed only one movie and had fold-down wooden seats.  It was one of two movie theaters in Seaford at the time.  The other was the Twin Cinema, and it showed TWO movies, hence the name.

Both are gone now as is much of anything that was memorable or worthwhile in Seaford.  Nowadays, the town seems only able to support fast food restaurants and a Walmart.  One has to drive nearly fifteen miles south to Salisbury, Maryland to get to the closest movie theater and bookstore.

If my nostalgic trip down memory lane while lamenting the loss of what once was seems out of place for a movie review, it really isn't when it comes to examining On Golden Pond.  That idea is a central theme in the film and is explored to varying degrees by the circumstances of every character in the story.

In Norman and Ethel Thayer, the elderly couple at the center of the story, we see the results of a long term marriage in which the two people have an almost preternatural understanding of one another, especially Ethel towards Norman.  Here are a husband and wife who are comfortable with each other and in their routine, but that comfort doesn't denote staleness in the relationship; there is obviously a deep love between the two grown out of years of shared experiences and forging a life together.  Soon into the story, we learn that Norman's health is failing, and he is lamenting no longer being the man he used to be, coping through sarcasm and pitiful humor.  This serves as another reason for the two to cling so close to each other.

There is also Chelsea, their only child, who as a grown woman wrestles with feelings of resentment and inadequacy due to not receiving the love and support she feels she should have gotten from her father.  She yearns for a past that cannot be changed and later shifts her focus to try to connect with her ailing father in the present.

At this point, everything I've told you can be found in both the film and the stage version upon which it is based.  What the film offers is the chance to see two screen legends, Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn, still at the top of their game, bringing Norman and Ethel Thayer to life in ways I doubt could have happened on stage.  Fonda, in his late seventies at the time of filming and also in bad health, brings a frailty to Norman that I don't think could have been accomplished on stage for the simple fact that an actor would require significant stamina to maintain the energy for a live performance and, therefore, wouldn't be able to get across Norman's diminished physicality quite as effectively.

As for Hepburn, her persona of being strong and independent flows into her portrayal of Ethel resulting in the central conflicts becoming more nuanced and powerful.  In scenes where she could easily have been the put-upon-wife, Hepburn instead creates a sense that Ethel is using her inner strength to support a man she deeply loves and to help keep him from falling away into old age and senility.  For the moments in which she appears to referee the resentment between Norman and Chelsea, she manages to be a guide that allows each to find his and her own way towards reconnection.  Again, these are qualities that would not readily come across in the stage version.

Of course, none of this assessment occurred to my six-year-old self while I watched the film in that dark theater so many years ago.  Only subsequent viewings and an inkling of life experience have allowed me to understand the deeper complexities of the film.  All I knew at the time was that I liked Ethel and I was afraid Norman was going to die at the end.  All very simple, visceral reactions to what I saw happening on the screen, which is, I believe, the point of it all anyway.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Summer Singing...

Today, I had a first. I sang at St. Peter's today, and, as usual, I hung back after the service to avoid the crowd of people heading out the door. People are gracious and sometimes approach me afterward to say how much they enjoyed my singing, but it always makes me a little uncomfortable to be approached and singled out in church. Today, however, I braved the crowd to find Mother Carlyle, who has just returned from a trip to Europe and is celebrating her 40th year of ordination.

As I made my way out to the patio outside the fellowship hall, I was greeted very kindly by several people who wanted to express their gratitude for my participation in the service. I smiled politely and thanked them for their kind words, but I continued on my way towards Mother Carlyle. When I finally reached her, I told her how good it was to see her back with us and congratulated her on this major milestone in her career as a servant of God. That being done, I took my leave and headed back to my car.

My car was parked in the bank parking lot across the street from the church. I walked briskly to my car to get out of the heat and to call my father to wish him a happy Father's Day. As I was fiddling with my phone in my car, in my upper periphery I noticed a car coming to a stop on the street directly in view of my windshield. I paid little attention to it until I noticed the driver, a woman, waving at me somewhat frantically.

I rolled down my window and stuck my head out to see what she wanted. She yelled out to me, "I just wanted to tell you what a wonderful job you did in church today. You have a beautiful voice."

I thanked her. Quickly. Since she was stopped in the middle of the street after all, and went back to making my phone call. She drove on.

While I would never want to seem ungrateful for anyone's appreciation of my efforts, I truly don't see anything I do as worthy of coming to a halt in the middle of a somewhat busy street. Still, does this mean I can now say that my voice legitimately stopped traffic?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Thor & Spiderman Trailers Show Too Much! (2017)

Jeff tackles a topic near and dear to his heart: spoilers.  It is a joking point of contention between the two of us as I am more of a journey man while he is a destination sort of guy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What-To-Watch Wednesday - Training Day (2001)

When Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Training Day, I remember it was considered something of an upset as Russel Crowe had been the critical darling that year for his work in A Beautiful Mind.  Crowe had the more conventional Oscar-bait role, playing real-life mathematician John Nash, and he had racked up a slew of awards for his performance going into the Oscars ceremony that year.  But, it was Washington who took home the Oscar, becoming (at the time) only the second black actor to do so and currently the only one to have won two (Washington's first Oscar was for his supporting role in 1989's Glory).

I was in complete agreement with the Academy that year as Washington's performance in Training Day is a prime example of an actor, at the height of his creative powers, making the most out of a role.  

Washington plays Detective Alonzo Harris, a Los Angeles police officer.  Harris is a bad cop who patrols his turf like a power-drunk warlord.  In the hands of a lesser actor, Harris would be as over-the-top as a comic book villain.  But, Washington manages to imbue Harris with a world weariness and even a hint of a core morality that he willfully ignores.  In Washington's hands, Harris becomes a complex character that engages the audience and makes us wonder whether or not there is a hope of redemption for him.

But, Harris is the villain of the piece, make no mistake about it.  And, it is really something to see Washington tear into those moments where Harris is at his most evil.  The way he coldly wields a sawed-off shotgun or the glint in his eyes as he reveals his master plan to the rookie, Jake (played by Ethan Hawke), who he has been trying to corrupt throughout the whole film.  Washington makes Harris a sinister presence while giving him all the allure and charisma you might find in a vampire movie.

And, that might be the most apropos comparison to make about this character.  Harris is a vampire in the metaphorical sense; he feeds off the fear and pain of others while slyly manipulating the events around him.  Washington seems to understand this and makes his performance grandiose and theatrical in just the right modulation so that a line like "King Kong ain't got shit on me" comes across as a genuine threat rather than the ridiculous thing it is to say.

I don't mean to imply that there isn't also subtlety in Washington's portrayal.  When you watch the film, listen for the very deliberate verbal switching that Washington uses when talking with different characters. With Jake, he is the learned, articulate veteran cop imparting his knowledge and experience to a newbie.  With a drug dealer, his language becomes street vernacular, speaking in a quick shorthand vocabulary to make his meaning clear.  And, with his crew of corrupt cops, he sounds like a military leader, issuing orders like a general on the battlefield.

I know I have spent this whole review talking about Washington's performance, but it is truly the centerpiece of a very effective and gritty crime drama.  And, it is also a great achievement in screen acting.

Note: I missed doing a review last week as my time got away with all the end-of-the-school-year craziness.  Such is the life of a high school teacher!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

WONDER WOMAN's Villains are Perfect (2017)

Jeff provides some observations about the upcoming Wonder Woman film.  A great video!  And, I can't wait for June 2 to get here!

A Note For the Cast & Crew of Driving Miss Daisy

So, the run of Driving Miss Daisy at Possum Point Players has been finished for almost two weeks now.  My sense is that it was a success ...