How do you sum up the British Sci-Fi television series Doctor Who in a few sentences?
The Doctor is a Time-Traveling Alien
The Doctor is an alien time-traveler who travels in a broken time machine that has been begrudgingly stuck in the shape of a British police box. The Doctor almost always has an earthling companion, and he (or she) has a penchant for the human beings of planet earth. The show is at its heart a story about saving the heart of humanity — seen through the perspective of someone who is not us — but who is madly in love with us, silly, stupid, harmful humans. In tonight's episode, part four of a Dr. Who mini-series entitled The Flux, the Doctor meets a devastating bind; by saving the life of a human, she falls into a trap. And viewers were left on the edge of their seats with quite a crazy twist.
Jodi Whitaker's Doctor Finds out More About Her Past — At a Cost
The Doctor is about to find out more about her past — more about the past that even pre-dates the narrative history of the show itself, the past the Doctor lived before they were our Doctor! The show has toyed with this idea for a dozen episodes so far, with the big reveal in Season Thirteen that the Doctor is not indigenous to the race of the Time Lord — the race they thought they were — but a "Timeless Child," whose regeneration properties the Time Lords retrofitted to their own purposes.
And much of the Doctor's deep past on Gallifrey was wiped out from their mind — and what we know of the Doctor, as television viewers might be just a glimpse of a cosmic history of a character who already seems larger than life — so I have to say I am excited for the next two episodes of the show.
Can the Doctor Escape the Weeping Angels and the Division?
Will The Doctor be able to get out of this pickle? How will her friends get out of their pickle? Last season ended with the Doctor imprisoned by the Judoon and Jack Harkness came to the rescue — but I am not so sure the Doctor is going to escape Weeping Angels so easily. And then there is the Division. Who are they? And how much will they reveal about the Doctor's past?
Are you a fan?
Let me know your thoughts on tonight's episode in the comments.
The 2013 Norwegian short film "Reckless" is the work of director Bjørn Erik Pihlmann Sørensen and writer Einar Sverdrup. I saw the film in 2013 and passed it off as a public service announcement about the need to rein in irresponsible teenagers. But as you will notice as I write about the movie, my views have changed a bit since I last saw it. To give you a brief rundown, the movie is about a teenage girl who has to babysit her younger child-age brother - and through a series of related events tragedy strikes. I thought maybe the movie was funded by parents who want their adolescent-aged kids to take better care of their siblings. However, I recently watched it again and the short made me think more about what message it is trying to convey. I haven't read much about the movie online nor have I talked to anyone else I know who has seen it. I am going to take a critical plunge and articulate in a flat-footed way what I think the movie might be suggesting about adolescence, sexuality, and responsibility. It's also a movie about the absence of authority.
Review of Frederick Wiseman's "High School" (1969) and Jean-François Caissy's La Marche à Suivre (2014)
|La Marche à Suivre (2014)|
|High School (1969)|
|Absolute Brightness is a young adult novel.|
by James Lecesne
Paperback, 352 pages
Published May 31st, 2016 by Feiwel & Friend
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
I am reviewing the gay YA novel, Absolute Brightness by James Lecesne.
The Amazing Life of Leonard Pelkey
In the late 90s, James Lecesne raised awareness about gay teen suicide. He wrote a novella that was adapted into a short film about a precocious boy who feels rejected by his family and attempts suicide - only to be rattled back to his senses by a cute candy striper at the hospital. This was back in 1998. Trevor lives. Almost as a counterpoint, in Absolute Brightness (2016),* James Lecesne tells the story of a teenager, Leonard Pelkey, who is murdered in Neptune, New Jersey.
Leonard is characterized as a nice, talkative fourteen-year-old boy. When he first arrives at his aunt's house - to move in - he is met with derision by his cousin, Phoebe, who is also the narrator of the story. Leonard seems oblivious to the fact that Phoebe does not take to lightly to his fashion decisions - pink and lime-green capri pants and a "too small T-shirt." However, for Phoebe, Leonard was "way too different." And it is this aversion to difference that Lecesne grapples with in this book.
Leonard has all the Packaging of a Gay Stereotype
While he is never outright labeled as gay, Leonard carries all the packaging of the gay male effeminate stereotype. He is characterized, in the novel, like Dorothy - "more the type to be heading toward a place like Oz, as in The Wizard of." He never gets there. And the novel turns directions.
|A boy learns to face his fears (© Focus Features)|
In the book Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim lays out a psychological argument that fairy tales are useful in helping young children understand adult fears. Fairy tales are couched in childlike verse, but beneath the surface lies deeper, troubling psychological truths.
For example, why is every stepmother in fairy tales evil? Well, according to Bettelheim it is because it is all about the fear children have that our parents don't love us. But. This is too much to bear for the children, so the storyteller replaces this fear with a substitute - the stepmother.
In J.A. Bayona's fantasy flick, A Monster Calls, the logic works similarly. However, the metaphor is not as thickly veiled. There are no evil stepmothers; but, there is a strident grandmother (Sigourney Weaver).
The story, based on a novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, centers on a young boy named Conor (played sensitively by Louis MacDougall), a waifish boy attuned to the visual arts but prone to being bullied at school. He is dealing with the impending tragedy of his mother's death.
While his family seemingly falls apart all around him, Conor falls deeper and deeper into a sullen depression. In one scene, he destroys his grandmother's sitting room, tearing the furniture apart. The boy is distraught and anger is an easy anodyne.
In order to help Conor deal with the reality of his grief, every night around midnight an anthropomorphic yew tree monster voiced by Liam Neeson) uproots itself from a nearby cemetery to dole out three fairy tales to the lad. The tales - à la Bettelheim - are meant to help the young boy deal with the very real fear of his mother's death.
That's all fine and dandy. There are lots of films and books that help children deal with the reality of death - take My Girl and Bridge to Terabithia as potent examples.
A Monster Calls is a little different because the plots rend open a deeper and more destructive fear. The inevitable death of Conor's mother also triggers within Conor a kind of death drive. The yew tree monster's stories are meant to help the boy realize his own wish to die and to counteract this drive with a life-giving "yes" living.
So it's intense material. I won't go into the content of the tales - but suffice it to say the film's visuals are stunning and I think the movie succeeds in driving home its central psychological thesis.
I am not one to censor films; however, I would caution against viewing this film with young children. I think the deeper themes of destruction and not-so-subtle hints about suicidal ideation should give parents pause. However, if parents know the content of the film deals with these themes, it could prove to be an enriching experience for both child and adult.
If Bettelheim is right, then fairy tales are meant to ease the more horrific facts of life - death, murder, suicide, decay, entropy, and estimated taxes - and, thus; films just may be our twenty-first-century version of sixteenth-century Grimm's fairy tales.
|Charlie Rose supercut|
Anyway. A supercut is a kind of new media -- someone gets an idea like "What if I cut out everything in news media clippings of Donald Trump speaking except for when he utters "China"? You get the idea. Or a supercut of just blah blah blahs from across cinematic history. I posted that one on this blog. I must be obsessed with supercuts. I have wanted to create my own but never had the tenacity nor have I yet lighted upon a good idea.
This supercut from the Charlie Rose show was imagined as "if written by Samuel Beckett." By just paring down an episode on technology to a few buzzwords and phrases the creator has managed to create a nonsensical interview with Charlie Rose and himself. Here it is.
True story: I now utter "Google" nonsensically in public places. Thank you very much.
"Charlie Rose" by Samuel Beckett from Andrew Filippone Jr. on Vimeo.
|Jo (Rita Tushingham) in A Taste of Honey (1961)|
Fantastic! It's both queer and interracial!
Director Tony Richardson's A Taste for Honey (1961) is a fantastic! addition to the tradition — it boasts both a gay character (Oh My!) and interracial romance (Oh Gee!). And I am pretty sure the Smith's song "This Night Has Opened My Eyes" shares an aesthetic family resemblance. The plot offers nothing new in terms of what we're used to seeing on the big screen, and maybe I have seen enough movies from the 1960s to think that A Taste For Honey does not capture my attention because of its capacity to take on controversial topics. Charles Silver likened the protagonist Jo to Antoine Doinel from Truffaut's auteurist masterpiece. And while I did see the film first in Silver's Auteurist History of Film exhibition at MoMA (full disclosure), I tend to agree with this assessment. Tony Richardson's adaptation of Shelagh Delaney's play takes full advantage of Jo's (Rita Tushingham) soulful eyes beaten down by the soft ideology of work (which is why I say the song resembles the Smith's song). Could she have been a poet? The movie ends on an ambiguous note. Jo, replete with child, welcomes in her ousted mother Helen (Dora Bryan) inadvertently saying goodbye to Geoffrey (Murray Melvin), the titular gay boy. The ending shot of the little boy giving Jo the sparkler is touching, and I wondered at the movie's close if Geoffrey would return to be a gay uncle or if Jimmy (Paul Danquah) would ever show up again.
Mother Daughter Sister LoverThe movie leaves us with the question of Helen and Jo's fate. The mother and daughter pair share a strained intimacy, and we're left to wonder what it would be like if Jo had been able to move on without her. In an earlier scene, Helen bathes in the tub and tells her daughter she is now a married woman (which we suspect is probably her sixteenth proposal). The scene shows the relationship between the two women, while comfortable standing in the bathroom while her mother bathes (a form of intimacy), it is apparent that Helen will never be able to give the maternal care that Jo deserves. And when Jo becomes pregnant, and her mother has run off to live with her new husband Peter (a drunk), Jo cobbles together her own version of family with Geoffrey and fantasizes about her "dark prince" Jimmy. I liked the movie's careful way of showing us Jo with Jimmy, her first love, then Jo rebuffed by Helen, and then Jo thinking that she might be able to build something authentic with Geoffrey. It becomes clear that the Jo and Geoffrey story was a substitute for something else. For Jo, it was a desire to be cared for, and maybe for Geoffrey, it was a need to be accepted. He was kicked out of his own apartment for sleeping with a man (was it rent controlled?) and when he moves in with Jo, he quickly takes on the role of the mother figure, even obtaining a fake baby to help Jo learn the rudimentary skills of motherhood. It's not surprising Jo throws the baby to the ground, and while we can probably guess the source of Jo's anger, we also realize (and maybe she does too) that motherhood will be foisted upon her no matter if she wants it or not and this pattern has had a long history, not only with her mother but a powerful narrative that tells women that motherhood is natural and should be accepted. Helen is loathe to tell Jo of her biological father, except that they share the same eyes, and he was a simple man. This codes for Jo that her father was a half-wit, and her mother, even though she may have loved her father for an afternoon, the relationship did not sustain a family.
1.) Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett is tragically diaphanous in Woody Allen's newest cinematic addition.
2.) The Bling Ring
Sofia Copola shows us the beauty of the Los Angeles hills and a vicarious glimpse into the celebrity rich through the lens of the children who rob them.
You may remember Tye Sheridan in The Tree of Life. He gets his chance to shine in this coming of age tale set in Louisiana.
A Nazi family try to escape capture at the end of World War II in this drama directed by Cate Shortland.
5.) West of Memphis
Damien Echols, one of the falsely accused "West Memphis Three," gets his chance to tell his story in this revealing documentary directed by Amy Berg.
I spent more time looking at the spiraling Earth than the actors, but this movie is cosmic and terrifying.
Spike Jonze is one of my favorite directors. Her adds to my admiration. I've been waiting for a movie about computer love for a long time. It's finally here.
8.) The Spectacular Now
This understated movie ends differently than the novel it's based on, but I thought the two young actors were superb in their vulnerability.
9.) Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
Sam Fleischner allows us to follow a young autistic boy who runs away from his home in Far Rockaway to travel the New York City subway alone right before Hurricane Sandy crashes on shore.
|Ryan O'Neil and Allie McGraw in Arther Hiller's Love Story (1970)|
Allie McGraw projects beauty in this movie and the ability to engage in playful rapporté — not quite a femme fatale, however, since beneath her brilliance lies a fragility that marks the film and gestures towards its intrinsic theme, namely the fragile nature of relationships thwarted by circumstances often beyond our control. Despite their outward differences, the two come together because of a shared sameness. The movie takes turn portraying Ryan O’Neil’s character as vulnerable, for example when his father shows up unexpectedly at a Harvard hockey match and Allie McGraw’s character is there to support him, to hold him up. On the way to visit his parents, Ryan O’Neil eases her apprehensions about the visit. Of course, the movie is set up to be about the oscillation between loneliness and fragility. The opening shot, if I recall, is the former Harvard jock looking out onto an empty ice skating rink in Central Park. We as viewers do not know the significance of this scene until much later when we learn that our intractable, confident heroine has contracted leukemia. Preppie skates the rink in solitude while she looks on from the bleachers, both aware of the fragility of their soon to be broken apart bond. The editors chose to superimpose Allie McGraw’s image over that of Ryan O’Neil as he skates. For me, this was unnecessary for I think it dismisses the impact of the loss to come. We are reminded of the playful moments of their relationship earlier in the film: for example when both make snow angels and build a snow fort at Harvard. Director Arthur Hiller mentions in a documentary on the film, that this scene was serendipitous in that there was a record snowfall that day, but he decided to film anyway. Since he had made it clear he wanted Allie McGraw and Ryan O’Neil to portray what lovers do when they are new in love, he just had them play naturally in the snow. Here we see the two without words, without intellectual sparring, or agonizing over class difference. It is in other scenes that we see the intellectual difference between the two. She is graceful and brilliant in music and he is stalwart in achieving success cut off from the breast milk of his rich upbringing. The movie would be mediocre if we knew from the outset that our heroine will die. We only know this later; and, we can then feel for their loss. We are meant to project our own emotions and our own memories of love and love lost onto our formal lovers on screen. Perhaps this is why the movie was so popular, nominated for seven academy awards — not to forget the original score that is transcendent in its tonal representation of love and loss. I don’t think Love Story is a great film, but I do feel it would have been a lesser film if not for the work of our two stars who truly embody on screen the give and take of living with one another, the give and take, ease and struggle, life and loss, separation and link of conversation and togetherness.
(2010) Directed by Jee-woon Kim
Starring Byung-hun Lee, Min-sik Choi and Gook-hwan Jeon
It was an incongruous pairing for me this weekend: Jim Hensen's muppets and a Korean film depicting gory revenge. After previewing Hensen's charming eight minute exploration on resisting time (at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria), my buddy Airplane and I took in the last film showing offered in the museum's theater. I Saw The Devil is most certainly not a sight for Miss Piggy. Or for Kermit.
If one takes Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment to the next level it might be close to this movie. At the outset I knew it would be bloody and disturbing. The first few minutes is a graphic abduction and beheading of the protagonist's fiancé.
Protagonist may be too strong of a word. The film calls into question the concept of villain and hero. The narrative runs revenge style. Man kills man's love so man seeks out to destroy man. The movie takes us on this horrific journey but twists it to the extent that at the end we are not sure who is good or who is bad.
Neither apologetic nor dogmatic, director Jee-woon Kim's impeccably filmed story of sadism and torture is not a movie for the faint of heart. Hoping to rest on a human ending, this tale ends with questions disturbingly left unanswered about man's inhumanity to man.
Revenge is bad is the film's mantra. The typical good versus evil movie usually ends with evil overturned by the good. Not this movie. [spoiler alert] While evil does get vanquished by the plot's end, so does good.
It seems to me after a couple of hours of maiming, blood lust, and chopped up corpses, all we are left with is the question why?
The gist seems to be a Chinatown addendum where the path down the rabbit hole leads to only one place: a seizing, inescapable void.
The Time That Remains (Al Zaman Al Baqi) (2009)
Director: Elia Suleiman
Starring: Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri, Zuhair Abu Hanna, Samar Tanus, Ayman Espanioli, Shafika Bajjali
The Time That Remains is Elia Suleiman's autobiographical account of his Palestinian family in Nazareth who lived under the post-1948 sovereignty of Israel. The film opens with the events that led Nazareth to surrender to Israeli forces in 1948. An Iraqi soldier runs through the streets of Nazareth after the Arabs surrender. White sheets of paper rain down from the sky announcing the details of the Israeli/Arab armistice. Fuad (played by a handsome Saleh Bakri), who we later learn is Elia Suleiman's father, is suspected of distributing arms to Arab fighters during the war and is tortured.
|Citizen Kane, anyone?|
Now, don't go worrying about whether the plot of the Social network is accurate or not. A simple Google search will reveal some of the plot is contrived, most notably the first scene that pretends to create the imbroglio that starts TheFacebook, namely, a break-up. The film is not too slow to remind us that its protagonist is not very likable. In fact, he is a jerk. Sexist, as well, and has a penchant for younger Asian girls, albeit an unnerving social awkwardness stereotypical of boys who write programming code. Aaron Sorkin's masterpiece is not really about Facebook, per se, but rather, an opportunity to elaborate on an American myth. Sure, we will believe -- or shall I say — can believe — Mark is painted to be the kind of guy who would sell out his friends. The lawyer at the end of the films acts as the audience when she tells Mark, “Myths need a devil.” Give us — the audience — enough details and we will gladly fill in the rest.
Facebook as an American Fantasy of the Garden of Eden
Parable of Genius
The Social Network
I read the Gutenberg Elegies in 2006 back when books were still being read in print (har har). The statistics were grim for the written word, but new studies indicate that the written word may be back but will reading survive in the long run? The eReader phenomenon had not yet hit critical mass even a few years ago, but we had been facing a problem at the library: students were not coming into the library. But, hits on the library web site had increased. Students had stopped coming to the library and had instead started doing all their research on the internet; they were checking the library's catalog online, using databases online (an awesome tool, by the way).
Fast-Food Restaurant Library
Students were not using the library to come and stay: we had become more of a fast-food restaurant: come and buy and go. I was working at the time with a colleague, B., and she was telling me how she predicted back in the 90s that book would eventually be replaced by flexible devices that would allow readers to peruse books as if they were "print." I laughed at the time, even though Sony had come out with eBook readers, and so had a few other companies - but these clunkers were expensive and not amenable to a large selection. So, I read Sven Birkert's book, which is a philosophical musing on reading, words, language, and the art of the medium. At the time I was very nostalgic for books - even though books had not yet left the party. I could not imagine a life without physical books: the smell, the binding. the print, the presence of an actual book. But, then, as time went on, and Google announced its Books service, Amazon announced its Kindle, and now Apple, the iPad, I have come to realize that it is not "books" per se that we should be championing but READING.
Will I read my child Where the Wild Things Are from an electronic device or from a book? Maybe both? What about WRITING. Or both: reading and writing. It is one thing to elegize on the loss of the book, but as Birkerts points out, it is a sadder thing to lament the loss of reading. Will the fast production of eBooks toss out reading? Probably not. Will blogs eliminate writing? Probably not? I think the divide is not necessarily due to books versus digital media, but rather, a divide between permanence and impermanence. Books represent permanence. Working in a library you come to know this especially when a patron comes in looking for a book he or she once read: they, panic-stricken, come to the circulation desk, "Where is the book I read twenty years ago?! It is not here. I remember it was right there," they say, pointing to a space in the library that is now reserved for computer terminals. Books are supposed to be permanent; they are supposed to be dogeared, yes, but they must persist; Sometimes people are not too happy to discover their book had been relegated to the basement, replaced by a PC - and some people even lament when their favorite book has donned a new cover art. The gods must be crazy. If the book is not to be found, a worker would have to be sent to request for the book at another location, have it sent by courier, and voilá here was the book, albeit a different jacket cover than they had remembered, but so what. Or better yet: let us say the book had been discarded?! If it had been tossed to the Friends of the Library book sale? What then? What if I had said, "Well, you can read the book on our eReader? Or you can print the entire book on a printer? Or, well, we have to inter-library loan that book from Fresno." The patron would have been unhappy. Maybe furious. We want our physical books like we want our web pages: now, and at this very moment. We want permanence but we want our permanent print like want our Safari to load: instantaneously. I am frustrated that people are so nostalgic for the superficial when they should rather be proactive for the right reasons. It is one thing to lament the loss of the physical book, but I find people are not putting their money where their hearts are. Is this an elegy for the book, or is it rather, an elegy for intellectual curiosity? What scares me more is not the loss of the physical book, but something deeper and scarier: the loss of critical thinking. If the book is only meant to be a fetish for nostalgia, then, it defeats the purpose. Books will be around for a while. Sure. As long as reading = pleasure. But, there will also be Kindles, etc., right alongside of them. What I worry about is access to new and interesting stories, information, words, language, pleasure. Will there be egalitarian places where people can read? Not everyone can afford a Kindle (and for that matter, not everyone can afford a book). Will libraries be places with free access to Google Books and usage of eBook readers? Google states once they open their databases of copyright and out of print in-copyright books by subscription, public libraries will be granted a terminal with free access.
What if I want to read the Chronicles of Narnia at home but cannot afford the twenty bucks? In America, access to reading is taken for granted. We forget that it is a mark of a democratic society that champions unmediated, free access to knowledge. Will there continue to be places where people can write out their thoughts (like here on Blogger, which infamously deletes blogs for no apparent reason). Will proprietary devices create an elite upper class? I think impermanence is what we are scared of. We are afraid the loss of the book is the loss of civilization as we know it. What scares me more than anything is the middle-class person who says: "I don't have time to read" when there are people who really cannot afford to read. That scares me more than, "I want an iPad." Or, when I give students a list of books to read, and one of them says, "None of these stories interests me." But, then again, what am I hoping for? Have things really changed? Are people reading less in 2010 as they did in 1956? As they did in 1888? Actually, people are reading more, just not in print. But, the strange paradox is the advent of choice: I am sure today there are so many options to choose from when it comes to reading: just look at the number of books published every year; the number of news blogs, websites, etc. But, is every class of society given the opportunity to read? Who are the people reading more? The next thing to gage is writing. Are Americans writing more? Now, it may come back to permanence and impermanence. Is it the loss of something we are afraid of? If it is, what is that something? That's what I want to know. I will not sing an elegy for the book, but I may begin to sing an elegy for thought. If we are reading more, what are we reading, and if we are writing more, what are we writing.
Start Memorizing a Book Like the Book People in Fahrenheit 451
Should I do a Fahrenheit 451 and start memorizing my favorite book or should I go out and buy an iPad? Maybe, I should do both. But, what I think should be done is this: people need to ensure that reading is always made available to everyone in society. Budgets for information centers, books in braille, one book one city programs, writing workshops, poetry circles, lending libraries, etc., should not be cut. I lived in a posh city where citizens voted to not approve the library budget? What were they thinking? People said they just buy their books. They don't need a library. As we speed into the information age, we cannot make the mistake of denying reading to the masses just because books are like an iTunes song: 99 cents.