Sunday, June 19, 2016

To My Father...

My father used to be a yard stick
By which I measured manhood
And myself
Often unrealistically
Always unfavorably

Through his eyes, I projected my own weakness
Assumed his judgment in his silence
And shirked away, afraid of the false evidence
I wrongly perceived in his every word and gesture

Then, one time and then another, he said, "Me, too"
He said I am what you are
I have been where you have been
And the difference it made was slow and infinite
As my mind and spirit grew to understand the vastness
Of his love

So my father was no longer a yard stick and instead he became
A cement mixer
Not with a large rotating cylinder on the back of some ponderous truck
But a personal, manageable barrel
Sturdy and strong
From which his manhood was mixed, poured, and leveled
All by his hand
And made into a walking path for his life
After it was earned
Once it was filled
With hard work
Personal strength
Integrity
Independence
Straight-forward speech
And a gentle steadiness that embraces everything but yields to nothing

And while the barrel needs to be filled
Up to the highest line marked by my father before me and his before him,
I know from him that I am free to mix it
With my own contents in my own way
With my own hard work
As long as it is hard work
My own personal strength
Because another's strength won't hold
My own integrity
Born out of honest choices I alone make
Then with independence and true speech and steadiness
Like stones sprinkled in for texture and color
But, always in the amounts and in the order that work for me

My father's mixture is his own and cannot be mine
Should not be mine

But, he gave me the barrel to use and showed me how to fill it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

What-To-Watch Wednesday - A Girl Like Her (2015)

The first thing one needs to know about A Girl Like Me is that in order to get anything out of the film one must accept a premise that is at times pretty far-fetched.  It uses the documentary format to help unfold its narrative.  And, while the approach is generally effective and ultimately allows for a powerful climax, it bends the "rules" usually associated with a documentary by giving the viewer access to situations a true documentary wouldn't have been able to provide.  If you get hung up on these narrative sidesteps, you will miss the bigger points the film is trying to make.

A Girl Like Me tackles one of the hot button issues of the day: bullying.  A teenage girl, Jessica Burns, is relentlessly bullied at school and finally attempts suicide to escape her fear and pain.  Her chief tormentor, Avery Keller, comes across as the typical popular mean girl whose taunts and harassment take the form of direct hallway confrontations and social media assaults.

Given this description, the film sounds little better than a Lifetime movie-of-the-week.  What elevates it though are two very good central performances by the lead actresses and how the narrative technique eventually allows the director, Amy S. Weber, to make some very powerful points about the origins and ramifications of high school bullying.  These two qualities allow the film to avoid becoming just an issue movie full of empty sentiment and no point of view to offer.

I can't say too much about the latter without ruining the film, but I can say that Weber uses the documentary format to show a potential way of dealing with the bullying crisis, one that might actually work in ways that school policies and rhetoric have failed.  She doesn't so much offer a prescribed method of solution as she illuminates an approach to the problem that refuses to reduce either party to a stereotype or two-dimensional figure.  How that is accomplished in the film is one of the most powerful parts of its story, so I will say no more about it.

As for the performances, Lexi Ainsworth and Hunter King as Jessica and Avery respectively portray their characters with an emotional authenticity that one wouldn't necessarily expect from actresses so young.  Although slightly older than their characters, both actresses embody real teenagers, the kind I feel like could be in my classroom and probably have been.  At no point does either performance have a false note or a moment that doesn't quite work, and you are drawn in by them as the story unfolds in the choppy, rough cut documentary format.

I found this movie, like I have so many others, by chance on Netflix.  At a running time of about 91 minutes, it's a quick viewing, but I have been thinking about it all day.  I am curious to know what other people think, so I hope you watch it and feel inclined to comment.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What-to-Watch Wednesday - Idiocracy (2006)

What does it mean when reality starts to reflect in alarmingly accurate detail a satirical film full of exaggeration and biting commentary on where civilization is headed? As the current presidential race has progressed and Donald Trump has emerged as the Republican candidate, Mike Judge's Idiocracy has sprung to mind more than once. But, elements of the film that were once amusing are now not so funny anymore as I see them being brought to life one by one by the current political climate.

The film is about soldier Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson) who is selected for a suspended animation experiment along with a prostitute named Rita (Maya Rudolph). Inevitably, something goes wrong with the experiment, and both Joe and Rita wake up 500 years later to a society that is run by corporations and a population that is laughably stupid.

This is a world where the president is a loud-mouthed, pro-wrestler type TV star named President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho, who flaunts his ignorance like a badge of honor and openly mocks people for their intelligence and skill.


Making any connections yet?

In one scene after another, Joe is called "fag" and "queer" because he displays average intelligence and can speak in complete sentences. This is a society that disdains any hint of intellectualism. Of course, what makes this all the more humorous, at least at first, is that Joe shows no particular intellectual gifts outside of normal common sense and courtesy. It's only that he is surrounded by those so mentally stunted that these traits make him seem like an abnormality.

Of course, the plot involves Joe and Rita trying to get back to their right time and maybe prevent what has happened to society from occurring. The humor comes about in that Joe and Rita are able to use common sense and average reasoning skills as though they were Jedi mind tricks on the populace in order to escape capture and other dangers. There are also efforts to improve the state of things, including one funny sequence where Joe reveals that plants need water to grow, not energy sodas. In one scene after another, modern trends are taken to their extremes to highlight how ridiculous and harmful they are. The fact that the movie makes you laugh while doing it makes it all the more brilliant.

However, in considering the film and comparing it to today's world just ten years after it was released, I cringe more than I laugh because we are moving closer to the "idiocracy" featured in the movie. We are a nation in which a significant portion of the population are blinded by their emotions because they are too dumb and lazy to pick up a book and fill their minds with something other than their personal beliefs and prejudices. We are a nation that is coming alarmingly close to electing what is essentially our first pro-wrestler as president.

The only real flaw in Idiocracy, as far as I can see, is that Mike Judge sets it 500 years in the future and therefore did not realize just how close to the present the film actually is.




Note: I was inspired to write this W2WW when I read that Mike Judge was re-teaming with Terry Crews (who played President Camacho) to make a series of anti-Trump ads.  I assume that Crews will be in character as Camacho, and I eagerly anticipate what response these two have to Trump's inexplicable candidacy.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

What-to-Watch Wednesday - That Thing You Do (1996)

Since watching the entire series of CNN's The Sixties, this small film from megastar Tom Hanks kept coming to mind, particularly when music became a focal point in the series.  That Thing You Do! is by no means a great picture.  In fact, it has barely registered in my thoughts since I first saw it back in the 1990s.  But, it does capture a sweet, innocent tone that we have come to associate with the early 60s, before the counter-culture movement got into full swing and before darker, grittier attitudes started to emerge on the social and political scene.

That isn't to say the film is nothing but nostalgia and light-hearted whimsy.  The story, about a small town band, the Wonders, that strikes it big with one hit song, takes a cold hard look at the flash-in-the-pan insignificance that many music groups of that era faced once their songs left the charts.  Where the movie finds its heart is by making us care about the four group members and the people who surround them so that we get caught up right along with them in the excitement and the joy.

One scene in particular captures this joy as they hear their song played on the radio for the first time.  It's done in a nonstop moving shot as first one character hears the song and then runs to the next to share the news and then the next and the next.  By the end of the scene, they are ecstatic and jumping around gleefully in the middle of a local store.  It is moments like this that make us like the Wonders and route for them to succeed.

That Thing You Do! was written and directed by Tom Hanks, his first directing effort.  His direction is sure-footed and shows a real love for the time period.  Also, he wisely cast the film with then-unknown actors, including Liv Tyler and Charlize Theron in early film roles.  These unknown, likable actors, more than anything, are what invest the audience in the story.  The kooky, young guys who make up the Wonders are believably blindsided by their sudden success and aren't quite sure what it means or what to do with it.  Through it all, they crack jokes, they fight, all without realizing just how fleeting their success will prove to be.

And, finally, there's the title song, the one that launches the Wonders into their sudden success.  Written by Fountains of Wayne bassist, Adam Schlesinger, the song does the nifty trick of actually sounding like a 1960s hit without becoming a cloying irritation from its repeated playings throughout the movie.  On top of that, the song also connects to two of the characters in the story.  It is one of the most masterfully written songs for a film.

Like I said before, That Thing You Do! isn't a cinematic masterpiece, but it is an enjoyable and well-meaning film.  A good, solid film from start to finish.



What-to-Watch Wednesday - The Nines (2007)

If a movie gives me something to think about then I can forgive it almost any flaw.  Such is the case with The Nines , a film that ponders...