Cultureguru's Weblog

Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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Movie review: Get Out

We saw this movie only recently, though it was released in February (and is now available on DVD / streaming). What convinced me to go despite horror not being one of my go-to genres was its 99% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, along with:

mv5bnte2nzg1njkznv5bml5banbnxkftztgwotgyodmymti-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_All this advance research proved correct. Of course the movie had violence, but not much more than you’d see on network TV. It was about suspense, not gore.

And yes, the startling moments, the twists, the laughs, were more enjoyable with a crowd to share them (though this was a sparsely attended showing).

It is a good movie. Just on the surface level, it’s fun trying to figure out the plot, and it does have a good mix of humour in with the mysterious goings-on. The lead character, Chris, is going to spend the weekend with his girlfriend’s family for the first. She’s white; the family does not know that he’s black.

She assures him that it will not be a problem, but in fact, his interactions with the family are uncomfortable, whether by over-compensating (“my man!” exclaims her father) or by thinly veiled hostility of her brother. As well, the few black people in the area behave rather strangely, almost zombie-like. Things only get weirder and, for Chris, more alarming from there.

So if you want to get analytical, there’s also a lot to work with here: issues of cultural appropriation and white liberal racism and even gender issues (the victim here is not the pretty white girl). One of the smarter movies out there.


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Hidden Figures

In my continuing series of trying to find movies Jean will like, we went to see Hidden Figures, the story of three African-American women whose mathematical and engineering skills contributed greatly to NASA’s space program, during a time of segregation.

While I have not seen all of this year’s Oscar-nominated films, based on those I have, I agree with the assessment that this was the most conventionally filmed. While its based on true stories, you can just feel how reality has been condensed and combined to make for a better narrative arc. Like, as Jean pointed out, the “convenient” fact that the three women whose achievements were most impressive in the end happened to all commute to work together in the beginning. And every moment of victory is signalled with a soundtrack of another inspiring, uplifting song.

But hey, if a formula works, it works, and we both really liked this movie. (It also did the best box office of all the Oscar-nominated films.) Most of us did not know this history before this movie was made, and it is pretty amazing one. NASA felt so much urgency to catch up with the Russians on space exploration, they didn’t have the time to waste the talents of brilliant women just because of their skin tone.

But that didn’t mean any of it was easy, and the movie shows the challenges of trying to succeed in a segregated world. Having to run three-quarters of a mile to use “your” restroom. Seeing your coworkers flinch when you touch “their” coffee pot. Having to steal the FORTRAN book from the white section of the library, because they won’t let you borrow it. Doing the work of a supervisor, without the pay or the title.

These women earned each of their inspiring, uplifting songs!

Hidden Figures is on DVD and on-demand now, as well as still on some art cinemas (where we saw it). Definitely worth a view.

 


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Roundup: Riverdale, Lala Land, Malcolm Gladwell, and more

I haven’t done anything major of late, but I’m still keeping busy with a number of minor items, such as…

Watching Riverdale

A very buzzy show right now, playing on CW in the US and on Netflix in Canada. Beforehand, I liked the idea of a dark, Twin Peaks-y take on Archie Comics, and I’ve been generally happy with the results. The tone is still somewhat uneven—sometimes exaggerated Gothic, sometimes gritty realism—and Jean does tend to roll his eyes at the drama, drama of some scenes. But we’re both pretty entertained by it, overall.

Doesn’t hurt that he took an instant shine to Betty, while I am seriously crushing on Jughead… On Jughead, yeah. This is not like the comics! Sure, Archie is handsome, but also a jock and a bit bland, and Kevin is cute, but not  in that Adam Lambert way. But Jughead is a writer, he’s sensitive, he’s moral, he’s troubled (poor and bullied; alcoholic father)—and also, so pretty!

jughead

[SPOILERY] There’s been considerable Internet discussion about whether the Jughead character would be asexual / aromantic as in the comics, so I was curious how that would play out. I can’t say I’m personally disappointed with the decision, but it is certainly a missed opportunity to do something groundbreaking.

Finding a movie Jean likes

Back in December we went to see Office Christmas Party, an over-the-top, light comedy we both found kind of fun. But then we followed withe Loving and Moonlight. These are both quality films that I enjoyed. But they are also slow-paced, character-driven dramas, and Jean was somewhat bored by both. So I took a pass on going to Fences and Manchester by the Sea with him—I’ll catch up on those myself.

The Lego Batman Movie seemed like it should be a good bet, though, right? And while it was not quite as good as the original Lego Movie, I was still very entertained by it. But while Jean wasn’t exactly bored, he was just kind of meh on this one. He just didn’t catch all the digs at the Batman lore that made the movie so clever.

And Lala Land? (“Did you know this is a musical?” he asked, walking in. Umm…)

But hey Mikey, he liked it! (Me too. It’s fun, and beautifully filmed.)

Fretting about details of a party we’re hosting

Usually late at night, when I should be falling asleep.

“Huh,” said Jean, when I reported this. “I don’t think about that at all.”

But he definitely helps me work on whatever aspect I’m most recently fretting about.

I guess that makes us a good partnership. Though I do envy his ability to just assume that things will be fine and work out.

Learning from Malcolm Gladwell

Revisionist History is a podcast series, available on iTunes and Google Play.

Each week, over the course of 10 weeks, Revisionist History will go back and reinterpret something from the past. An event. A person. An idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood. Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.

I’ve listened to 8 out of 10 so far, and find them all fascinating. Like:

  • The Lady Vanishes, on how one woman (or African-American, or gay person) achieving breakthrough success doesn’t necessarily pave the way for more.
  • Thanks to The Big Man Can’t Shoot, I now understand that my very disinterest in looking athletic (a hopeless endeavour, anyway; I am simply not athletic) made me a basketball free-throw champion. (It was literally the only thing I was ever better than anyone else at in gym class.)
  • Hallelujah explains the creative process and unlikely series of fortunate events that turned Leonard Cohen’s original un-listenable song into the iconic tune it is today. (Though I think KD Lang should also have earned a shout-out in this piece.) And as a bonus, introduced me to a new Elvis Costello tune.

Listening to women

I’ve always been a feminist, of course, but the US election has made it all feel more acute. My Twitter feed has been feeling gender unbalanced, so I’ve been seeking out more women’s voices:

  • @robyndoolittle, who’s been working on an important series for the Globe and Mail on how many sexual assault cases in Canada are labelled unfounded. (The first: Unfounded: Why police dismiss 1 in 5 sexual assault claims as baseless)
  • @AKimCampbell, first woman Prime Minister of Canada, and also a really hilarious person. (And very active retweeter, but I’ve learned you can follow a person’s tweets but not their retweets.)
  • @kashanacauley, humorist and now writer at The Daily Show.
  • @tagaq, wherein singer Tanya Tagaq provides an interesting, First Nations perspective on the day’s issues.

I’ve also been listening to more music by women. This has led Spotify, who previously recommended me a whole lot of dance club music (thanks to following Adam Lambert, and perhaps enforced by a bout of listening to show tunes) to conclude, well, maybe I would enjoy some Indigo Girls and Melissa Ethridge as well.

I kind of do like their music, though, so it’s all good. And also, the songs by these strong women:


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Movie reviews: Doris, Ricki, and Bathsheba

It struck me recently that all the movies I’ve seen recently have starred women—in two cases, women over 60.

Hello, My Name is Doris is the closest to a current release, and I did see it at the theatre. Doris, played by Sally Field, lives on Staten Island in the home of her recently deceased mother, whom she’d cared for many years. When she meets the handsome, newly hired art director at work, John (played by Max Greenfield), she develops an almost instant crush. Aided by the 13-year-old daughter of one her friends, she inches her way into his life, with an initially feigned by finally honest appreciation of the same music. Surely this can never be more than a friendship? But Doris can’t help hoping…

I appreciated this film’s rare recognition that an older woman can still have desires. And it is fun watching Doris and John’ friendship develop. Though courtship remains a long shot, Doris blossoms. She’s better able to cope with the other stresses in her life and ultimately get her life on a new trajectory. You can’t help rooting for this woman.

Hello, My Name is Doris trailer

By contrast, Ricki, from Meryl Streep’s Ricki and the Flash (2015), decided to pursue her dreams and passions long before the film’s start—even though this meant leaving a husband and three children. Her hopes of becoming a rock star were not realized, but she’s almost making a living performing in a house band, supplemented by cashier job at a health foods store.

Ricki returns to visit the family she hasn’t seen in years after her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) informs her that her daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s daughter) has become suicidal over the collapse of  her marriage. The family has moved on to a different world than the one Ricki inhabits: upper class and straitlaced. The degree varies, but everyone in the family is a little hostile toward their absentee  mother.

I didn’t think this movie was quite as original or successful as Doris, but I still enjoyed it. That music played a prominent role didn’t hurt. The relative realism of the start is somewhat undermined by the determination to make this a feel-good movie. But it is nice to feel good. (And it was fun to see Rick Springfield as Ricki’s boyfriend / guitarist.)

Ricki and The Flash trailer

Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) is about a young woman in Victorian times, Bathsheba Everdeen (Cary Mulligan), who has a refreshing independent streak.  She has no need of a husband, she declares, and this proves true when she inherits her own farm. But this doesn’t men from trying to woo her—and from a modern perspective, it’s almost hilarious how marriage proposals are offered without much preamble, let alone anything like a first date.

At any rate, through the course of this film Bathsheba has three suitors. That she doesn’t always choose wisely among them is disappointing, but admittedly, pretty much necessary to create drama. This is a gorgeous-looking movie, with typically great British acting. I can’t compare it to either the Thomas Hardy novel or the earlier film version, having not read or seen either. But it certainly wasn’t bad viewing after a weekend of appalling current events.

Far from the Madding Crowd trailer


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Pretty Woman (talk a while)

I’m not one for analyzing my site stats, as that might interfere with my goal of being self-indulgent as to what I write about.

grid-cell-6661-1389547445-13But my husband, he likes to explore the numbers. And he was noticing that a surprising number of people were trying to access an old essay of mine about the movie Pretty Woman. And that this kept happening, week after week. Odd.

He got curious enough about it this weekend to dig into it more. He discovered that there’s a college in Buffalo whose curriculum (on film studies, I guess?) was linking to my old essay as an example of what students in the course would be expected to produce.

Interesting, and somewhat flattering, I guess.

I had a look at the essay again, and reproduced in on my newer site: Pretty Woman: A Fantasy Theme Analysis. (I also left the older page up. Those people are having trouble enough finding it as it is.) I had completely forgotten that it was actually an oral presentation, not a written paper, so it’s much more conversational than most of my academic writing.

I also marvelled at all the pop culture research I’d managed to do for it, in those pre-Internet days.

And noted that I was awfully judgmental about sex work. (And also that I called it prostitution instead of sex work.)

But, I did no latter-day revising. I just fixed a couple typos, and took advantage of the web’s existence to add some photos and a YouTube video.

(Bonus: 19 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Pretty Woman. My essay includes items 3 and 16. I wish I’d included something about item 4. But I was still years from seeing La Traviata…)


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Magic Mike marathon

When it comes to binge-watching, I’m a real lightweight. (I don’t really get how anyone watches TV for hours on end. Don’t you people have shit to do?) So this “binge” meant that I watched the first Magic Mike movie on Saturday night, and Magic Mike XXL on Sunday night. (In case wondering: Jean was otherwise occupied both nights, and therefore has no opinion on either film.)

Both movies are about male strippers. “Magic” Mike, played by Channing Tatum, stars in both.

magicmikelasvegas

In the usual critical terms, the first Magic Mike is the better film (80% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s directed by Stephen Soderbergh (something I didn’t realize til I saw the credits at the end). And it’s fairly gritty, showing there’s a certain hollowness to selling your body for money—even if you’re a man. We see how Mike has trouble forging a real, committed relationship with a woman. How he dreams of running his own custom furniture business, but keeps getting distracted by the easy money of stripping—though his stockpiles of cash do nothing for his credit rating and loan eligibility. And how an 19-year-old who joins the troupe (The Kid, played by Alex Pettyfer) quickly and dangerously gets caught up in the drug trade.

The most fun parts of this movie are the dance performances. In terms of lighting, costumes, and effects—not to mention how very handsome this particular troupe of male strippers are—it’s probably not so realistic. But that’s also likely why the movie became the surprise hit it was.

This “Honest Trailer” for Magic Mike perfectly captures its sad story / hot dancing dichotomy

Magic Mike XXL is not directed by Stephen Soderbergh. And in the “usual critical terms,” it’s not that great a movie (62% on Rotten Tomatoes). The plot is super simple: It’s three years later! The guys are reuniting for one last big strip show! Road trip! Yet it nonetheless often doesn’t make much sense. Why are they stopping at this house? What is that girl from the beach doing there? What is the timeline of this movie?

And yet, and yet. In a world where so many movies are made for teenage boys, it’s hard not to have fondness for a movie so clearly made just for women. (Straight women, anyway.)

magic-mike-a-435

The first movie focused mostly on Mike, The Kid, and MC Dallas (Matthew McConaughey). The Kid and Dallas aren’t in the sequel, so everyone else in the troupe gets more time, especially Matt Bomet as Ken and Joe Manganiello as Big Dick Richie. And what men they are: strong, gorgeous, masculine, but also sweet, sensitive, and funny. None of them have wives / girlfriends at the moment, so they are able to devote themselves to the goal of making women of the world happy.

And they’re very inclusive and non-judgmental about that goal. You kind of plain? That won’t stop Richie from doing a big dance number just to make you smile. Racial diversity comes in after they visit club whose clientele are mostly African-American women (and they pick up a couple African American men to join the group). A bit old to get out to strip clubs? No worries; the men will come to your house to show you “it’s still your time”. Larger-size women get the same worshipful on-stage treatment as their thinner counterparts—and nobody throws their back out. There’s even a scene in a gay club, just so it’s clear these guys don’t have a problem with that, either.

giphy

Richie working the pop machine in a bid to entertain a grumpy shop girl

The stage performances are such a blatant attempt to appeal to women’s fantasies, it’s almost hilarious. Into rock stars? Here’s Ken, singing (nice voice, too), then stripping! Want to be married to a bad boy? He’s Richie in a tux with a big ring: but after the “wedding”, he’ll take off his clothes and throw you in a sling! Want to be painted? Have some guy lick whip cream off your thighs? Or just dance with a guy who looks like Tatum Channing? Done, done, and done!

So, you want a decent movie with a side of hot guys? Then Magic Mike could do the trick. But if you’d rather shut your brain off and enjoy a fantasy, just go for Magic Mike XXL.

Magic Mike XXL official trailer


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Oscar round-up

I expect I’ll tune in for Chris Rock’s opening monologue tonight, but can’t see me sitting there for the following 3+ hours watching it live, with commercials. Even though I do have some opinion about what I’d like to see happen (though mostly, it won’t).

Best picture / Directing

I rented Spotlight from iTunes last night. It is indeed a very good film. I was only vaguely familiar with the story—of the extent of the Catholic Church’s covering up pedophile priests in Boston—so I was along for the ride as the reporting team’s investigation uncovered more and more disturbing facts.

So I’ve now seen five of the eight Best Picture nominees, and three of five Directing. The Revenant I have no interest in ever seeing. Three hours of Leonard di Caprio going through horrible experiences in the bush. Yeah, no thanks. Bridge of Spies—I know nothing about that movie, really. Room—definitely want to see it. I was able to handle the book; should be able to handle the movie. (But Jean wasn’t so sure he could, so this wasn’t a theatre outing for us. Same as Spotlight.)

best-picture

But how to rank what I have seen?

If I went with my heart, it would definitely be Brooklyn. It was just so lovely, and the only one from a woman’s point of view.

With my head, maybe Spotlight with a slight edge over The Big Short?

Though for pure entertainment, hard to beat The Martian. So suspenseful. And overall liked it more than Mad Max: Fury Road, even though that one did manage to keep me interested in a big car chase, which is no mean feat.

And I really think Mad Max: Fury Road was the most impressive directing job of these.

Other film categories

Inside Out had better win Animated Feature Film, and I stick to that despite not having seen any others in this category. That was just one of the best pictures of last year, period. I note it’s up for Best Original Screenplay, too.

95114614770e1f8118804bc009d4ff88767d6ce8c81180cc618ab8f645ab4fe4-370x492I can’t be quite as categorical in the Documentary category, where again I’ve seen only one of the nominees: Amy. Will say that it is very good, though. Wasn’t particularly an Amy Winehouse fan walking in. Certainly was walking out.

Haven’t seen a single one of the Foreign language film nominees!

Acting

Here I’ve really missed a lot of these movies, though I hope to catch some eventually. And there are definite favorites for these, right? DiCaprio best actor; Brie Larson (Room) best actress; Sylvester Stallone (Creed) supporting actor, and Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) supporting actress.

At least on that last one, I can wholeheartedly support. She was amazing. See:

The Danish Girl movie clip: I want my husband

And I really liked Soairse Ronan in Brooklyn, though can’t compare her to Brie Larson.

Brooklyn movie clip: You don’t sound Irish

Best song

I only know three of them, and I think Lady Gaga’s “Til It Happens to You” might be the best of the bunch. Powerful.

Then all those other categories…

Sound mixing, animated short films, makeup and hairstyling, film production.. Lordie. This is why the Oscars go on 3+ boring hours.