Thursday, February 28, 2013

Blessings #7

Yuna - Yuna (2012)

They found him in a hay field outside of Kansas. Hard to believe, right? Such a cliche, no? When Rachel Daugherty spotted him, she had no idea what she was about to discover. She was photographing for an article about family farms in the mid-west and the loss of the great agricultural heritage of the nation. She spotted him through the lens and the camera opened up to him. Before long she had him in her studio in New York and the rest was a blur, a mix of pleasure and delight and creativity that launched his presence upon the world. He became an icon, a face that everyone fell in love with and that's when he slipped from her fingers. The universe wrapped its tentacles around him and pulled him into the vortex. Rachel was happy for him but she also felt like something special came and went before she had a chance to really experience it. She was also worried about what might become of him. The machine has a way of destroying such innocence. But the amazing thing about it was that he came out of it all unscathed. She saw him ten years later and he was still pretty much the way that she remembered him. By then, he was even more famous than she ever imagined he would become. Her  life had changed dramatically, as well. She was still an active photographer but she was now married with children. He was a star while her life had grown more subdued but that night he never made her feel like he was better than her. He was still so grounded and she couldn't fathom how someone who came from such humble beginnings would catapult into fame only to come out with his soul intact. He didn't really know either. He simply shrugged his shoulders and gave her that smile that made everyone swoon.

Winter's Bone - Debra Granik (2010)

Rural Missouri, forgotten and desperate, where people push against the fringes just to earn a living. A teenager looking at a future without hope has learned to stand up for herself in order to survive, to fight. When a father, who is no longer part of her life, goes missing and must be found so that they don't lose their home, she steps out into the rugged and dangerous community full of backwater gangsters and farmhand drug addicts. No one will help but determination goes a long way with people who are simply trying to lie beneath the surface. It'll either get you dead or some sense of respect. Ree Dolly has no choice. If she can't find her father, she'll end up homeless and on a path that will lead to nowhere real quick with people who rely on her also tumbling along the way. If she can find him, then at least she will still have a roof over their heads for the time being. So she follows the twisted and violent path to its bitter end because these stories always end that way, especially in the cold woods of modern day Missouri.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Blessings #8

Miike Snow - Happy To You (2012)

"I've never heard so much grace in one person before. I listen to the sound of your voice and it's lilting off your tongue. I catch each step that you take and I can only imagine the way that your body moves. I listen to you so close...and it's there, even in the way that you breathe." She grew up dancing, a path laid out by her guardians and for the longest time, she didn't even question the steps that she took. But now she was in her late teens and the pressure had been building for years. The relief valve was somewhere in her head, between her ears and the cartoonish image of clouds of steam coming out of her ears was not so comical anymore. The headaches came on in waves then would depart just as quickly, like the tides rolling along because of something unknown and powerful force that orbited around her. Fortunately, she never felt the pain when she performed. During those moments she was always free from the pressure and the eyes that watched her. People had been watching her for a long time, with a trained eye. Her talent, her beauty and her future. She had come to despise those eyes that laid upon her with all of the sick ambition that came with their twisted minds. Perhaps that was one of the reasons that she came to enjoy his presence. He was so different than her. Large and bulky, a giant of a man but he had a certain grace of his own. He moved quickly and fluid even though the world around him was dark. He was blind, had been since birth, but he had a way of perceiving her far better than anyone else that she had ever known.

 Meek's Cutoff - Kelly Reichardt (2010)

They were alone, split off from the main group at the request of their guide, Stephen Meek but things were turning bad. His confidence for direction was no longer obvious to the travelers. Had they put their faith in the wrong man? Only time will tell. Meanwhile they had to preserve water, food and they hoped, prayed. The environment was beginning to close in on them and they struggled with the untamed landscape, the harsh world under the glare of the sun. Somewhere over the horizon lies the security they long for but it's becoming more and more clear that their guide doesn't know where they are going. Small mutiny rises in their midst, led by the strong-willed Emily and soon they are debating on how best to move on. Then a strange twist falls into their circle. A native who they cannot understand or who does not understand them. Is he a fierce warrior who will lead them to their demise or will he help set them upon the proper way? Meek has only one response. The man must be killed but his voice no longer carries value and Emily, who is becoming a leader, begins to trust the native man. They shall follow him without knowing their destination but how is that any different than where they began? They can follow one who has proven a fool or follow one whose heart they will only discover when they reach the hour of their destination. 

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Sunday, February 24, 2013

Blessings #9

Metric - Synthetica (2012)

They said that she was incapable of feeling love, that when she was manufactured there was nothing wired into her DNA to provide those sort of feelings. She was only programmed to cause fear, an unstoppable force that changed the way battles were waged. She went out into the world and performed the services that were required of her. But how can you not love once you are able to perceive the beauty that is all around? Each moment that came, only a brief glimpse at first, began to change her. A shudder within the flower. A golden ray of light upon a person's face. A note of music weaving inside her like a dream. A taste of perfection on the tip of her tongue. A touch of magic in the hands of someone who really looked at her. Her reflection in the mirror. The memories that came the longer she survived. Day after day, she experienced life in new and wonderful ways and this allowed her to evolve into someone who is suddenly aware of a different life. Like the soft light that reaches beyond the eastern sky in the morning, she came into being. She found love in everything. She was connected. With this realization came great responsibility. No more hate. No more fear. No more destruction. But one day her life would end. There was a finality programmed into her DNA, a time when she would shut down. Nothing could change that but now that she knew the meaning that so many others knew, she was no longer concerned with mundane notions like death. She had found purpose that was hers alone, beyond the lab, beyond the engineers and they would never know the true perfection of their experiment.

Certified Copy - Abbas Kiarostami (2010)

She was intrigued by what he had to say but did he truly believe in his thesis. Could the copy be just as valuable as the original. Could the fake evolve into meaning. Why not play with the idea and see where it goes. A walk in the Tuscan sun, amongst cobblestones and statuesque fountains. A conversation that twisted into a history that others can perceive in the way they look at one another or walk together with arms clasped. But it can change in an instant, shift into memories that provide tears instead of laughter or resentment instead of appreciation. That's the difficulty of improvisation, the more you explore the more you learn about those who dance along with you. Eventually it may lead to an ultimatum that can become something magical or be lost in the way the wind can take a sound far from your grasp. The bell tolls for all relationships, even those lifetimes that grow and descend within a day. No one truly knows how they will turn when the choice is laid bare before them. To let go with the soft caress lingering on the tip of a finger or to hold on tight, with the type of intensity that lasts forever. Somehow, no matter how it unfolds, the potential for beauty lies within.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Blessings #10

The Head And The Heart - The Head And The Heart (2011)

He met Eve at the Bonnoroo Festival in Tennessee, outside the Head and the Heart show. Just one look and they knew that they would be together. So he took her hand and they waded through into the thick of the music. It was euphoric and their minds went numb and they danced next to each other and felt the heat burn from their bones. They traced the day and the night in each other's arms and felt the blessings of finding a kindred soul. Though he was from New York and she hailed all the way from Seattle, it was like their roots were connected below the earth and the flowers of love were meant to bloom. But it wasn't until they woke the next morning that their true story began. It was cold, which was strange because it was the beginning of summer and the night before had been perfectly warm. They decided to cuddle together for awhile and fell asleep again. By the time they woke again the sun was high in the sky and it was still chilly. Then they began to notice that it was really quiet when there should have been quite a bit of noise coming from their fellow campers packing up to leave. Everyone was supposed to be gone today but there was no way that everyone could have left while they were sleeping. Yet that's exactly what it looked like when they stepped outside. Not only was no one around, the entire place had been cleaned up and cleared away. It was just the two of them, standing next to a meager tent in the middle of a giant field. They looked at each other like with one of those WTF expressions that young people get these days and after much confusion, they decided to explore to see if there was anything they might discover. Right away, the landscape seemed different and even though they were convinced that they had walked far enough, they couldn't find a highway or a car or a building of any sort, no matter what direction they took. Now, they were getting exasperated but what the hell were you going to do when everything about your world had been turned asunder. After spending another night holding each other, shivering and doing everything they could to find a little comfort, they found the same scenario the next day. They were alone. God had cast them out of the garden. All they had was each other but that wouldn't scare Adam because he was a survivor.

Tiny Furniture - Lena Dunham (2010)

I was thinking about the show "Girls" the other day, which we've been watching for the past couple of months, and I was trying to remember a scene from one of the early episodes but what I was really thinking about was a scene from this movie, "Tiny Furniture". It makes sense, it is a prequel to "Girls" in a way. Lena Dunham plays Aura, a young woman who moves back into her mother's house in New York after college. She's creative and trying to find her bearing in this life, which means she needs to learn how to earn a living and navigate the currents of relationships. Sound familiar? Don't get me wrong, I love "Girls" because of the unflinching way that it addresses a young woman's uncertainty in our culture, while also providing characters that are empowered to express their true confidence, as well. It's just that when I saw all of that here, in "Tiny Furniture" it felt like taking in something truly refreshing. It was so sincere and hard. How often do we see honest roles for women that don't devolve into some form of flattery so that us viewers can sigh and sink into our preordained acceptance of patriarchal norms? We're so used to it that we never have to question the entire structure, even if it is coming from "liberal" Hollywood. But it's such a big bore and we all know it. Why do we need to watch some mindless romantic comedy with the exact same statue actress placed upon the pedestal of standard beauty concept? Does anyone really get off on that representation anymore? Or is it just some sick drug that has seeped into our veins turning us into zombies? No wonder everyone loves "Girls"! It's the only thing keeping us from becoming the walking dead. Lena Dunham is a true hero. Well, if you like "Girls", then go check out the prequel, because it is just as entertaining and eye-opening.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Blessings #11

Heartless Bastards - Arrow (2012)

When we first came to the mountain we were terrified but also excited. We knew from evidence that there were great riches up in the high hills but knew also that it would be extremely difficult to set up some semblance of community. We labored hard those early years but eventually homes and a town sprang up in the harsh climate. By then we were making great headway into a vein we discovered that was our gateway into the heart of the mountain. It provided much bounty for us and by the time our children were old enough to work, our community was thriving. Many of our initial fears had been replaced with more mundane concerns by then, so we were not prepared to endure the horror of what came next. I cannot speak of exact knowledge about what we found deep in the mountain, for I never saw it with my own eyes, but it was something that should have remained buried. I lost my two boys early to the terror that came forth like a cloud of locusts to devour everything that we built. Most of those who survived fled quickly, thankful to be spared, but some us tried to stay and fight. After the town burned to the ground, we set up a camp up on the ridges looking down, hoping to have a more prosperous advantage point when the beast decided to venture forth once again. Perhaps it had been satiated because we saw or heard nothing for almost three months. Then in the heart of winter, Klaus went missing. I discovered his trail down near the mother lode and to this day, I am certain that something was watching me when I stumbled upon the blood. Klaus was a large man and that may be the only reason I am here still to tell this tale. The two brothers, Peter and Harold, and I managed to close the vein with a dozen sticks of dynamite and a whole lot of gumption. We surely would have perished if we tried to kill the monster and I've never felt more accomplished in my life than in that moment, staring at the rubble. I hoped and prayed that I would never feel that type of fear for the rest of my life. I've stayed close enough to watch over the mountain, to know if there was a chance that someone might unlock the key to the cage that held such a destructive force. Now, amidst my ninety-third year upon this earth, I am astonished to see massive equipment being loaded up the mountain, fracking gear. Oh, good lord, how can this be happening and no one is interested in listening horror stories from an old man. But as I live and breath, I know with a doubt that what they are doing up there will bring about the destruction of all that we know.

The Last September - Deborah Warner (1999)

Following the 'Great War' in the early 20th century, Ireland fell into a delicate balance between the occupying force of the English army and the inhabitants, a mixture of wealthy elite who helped support England's rule of their homeland and the commoners, who hold the English occupancy in contempt. There was a fine line between keeping the peace and rising up in resistance. "The Last September" is a film adapted from the novel of the same name that was written in 1929 and it is a keen insight into the atmosphere of the country at the time. It follows the story of Lois, the niece of Sir Richard Naylor and Lady Myra Naylor, as she visits for the summer with her cousin Laurence. They grew up spending summers in the region and are acquainted with many of the residents but now they are coming of age, which, along with the aftermath of the war, creates much drama. Lois is being courted by Gerald, a young Black & Tan officer, but she only has eyes for Peter, a boy she grew up with who is now part of the resistance. Warner does a wonderful job at creating some of the anxiety caught up in the interwoven story. You truly get a sense of Lois's conflicted feelings and responsibilities. She wants to trust her heart but also is acutely aware at how much pain it may bring. Though it is light at first, almost to the point that it's hard to believe that their is great tension between these two nations that just fought for years, as the film leads toward more serious decisions, the tale becomes more and more somber. With each step Lois takes toward adulthood we are faced with greater truths about the nature of life and death, a solemn tale with which we all can relate. This movie addresses a part of history that we don't normally discover and it's told with a magnificent eye for cinematic storytelling, along with many great performances from some of the greatest English actors of our era. In the middle of it all is Lois, played by Keeley Hawes, who is one of the great heroines ever set upon the silver screen.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Blessings #12

Oh Land - Oh Land (2012)

She lived as a cloud for about three centuries and that informed much of her perspective when she took this form down here on earth. She was flighty, a dreamer, people said, but she also carried herself with a dignity that could overcome any obstacle that hurtled toward her. It was as if she was aware of a bigger truth and when she spoke, her words came down from a higher place, a higher self. She couldn't remember any part of her experience as a heavenly body, of course, but there were moments when an essence of something would trigger an overwhelming desire in her. For what? She didn't know, but this urge to connect came from deep within her, in the marrow of her soul. When the rain began to fall, light with mist that covered everything in a sheen of gloom, she desperately stumbled out the door in a daze and wandered along the coast where she lived. When the day turned dark from the heavy choking turmoil above her head, she couldn't sit still, had to scream, to beat at the air until her shuddering form was found curled in the corner of the room. When a ray of sun broke through and fell upon her face, she stopped and waited for the enlightened air to provide its beautiful message, her feet lifting off the ground and floating through the rest of the day. She fell in love easily and broke away from intimacy without notice. She could live anywhere and often moved wherever the whim led. Through it all, there was a fulfillment that surrounded her, an aura that refracted light in a strange way and many people wondered if she was truly an angel that had descended to earth.

Broken Embraces/The Skin I Live In - Pedro Almodovar (2009/2011)

If you were ever concerned that there are no more original filmmakers in the world, that the stories on the screen are simply something old retold, that the imaginative creative force of humanity is waning terribly when it comes to this medium, then you need to watch more Almodovar films. These two are his latest. "Broken Embraces" traces the tale of a blind screenwriter named Harry Caine as many events that occur in the present bring up seminal events from his past. Many of the mundane situations that inform who he is today are caught up in this twisting story told through flashbacks connecting a film that Almodovar made years ago to this alternative universe. Almodovar mastery often comes from these crooked avenues that transform events that seem so ordinary into a magical story full of intrigue and delight. The fact that he used one of his most successful works into this film just shows how much joy Almodovar has for the process of filmmaking. "The Skin I Live In" is one of the most twisted films I have ever seen but I was enraptured. A doctor, played by Almodovar veteran Antonio Banderas, conducts secret surgeries in a clandestine clinic that he built in his house. Many of these operations are simply to earn some money through this underground network that he's created but he also uses it for his own personal experiments and research. When the film starts, he is developing a new artificial skin to help burn victims, but he is conducting his trials by experimenting on a young woman locked in a room of his house. The real story is found in the reason this woman came to his home to begin with and what will come of her. It is incredible and one of the most unique visions I've ever seen on film. Almodovar has been making films since 1980 and he is universally loved in Spain. We are fortunate that they aren't keeping him for themselves because when you have access to a director of this magnitude, you should take every opportunity to experience his art while you can.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Blessings #13

The Black Keys - El Camino (2012)

No band today seems to embody the heart of Rock n Roll than The Black Keys. They have taken the world by storm, yes. They have played live with Johnny Depp, yes. They are stylish and dapper young men, yes. They are gifts that make us feel good, yes. Their sound is timeless, hearkening back to the roots of electric guitar blues. They create a melodic groove that harmonizes and crunches with distortion. It's a blessed blend of music that sounds like a bunch of covers from the seventies but they are also incredibly original. The one thing that I keep coming back to when I listen is that they just know how to play music with such precision and splendor that I slip down into the artistry of it all. This album has become a staple for me and pretty much epitomizes the year 2012. It was difficult and rocky and beautiful and massive. It was a turbulent time filled with turbulent personalities and it will affect us all for years to come.

Alamar - Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio (2009)

Some movies are so small but have such a big heart that they overwhelm the senses in a way that a big studio blockbuster will never fulfill. "Alamar" is that movie. Such a blessing! When I was thinking about the theme for my countdown for the year, I came up with the idea of blessings. We are given so many wonderful expressions of art that we are blessed by the presence of such beauty. I'm sure that this movie was in the back of my mind when I came up with that theme. A humble tale of a father who is spending one last moment with his son before he moves away to another continent with his mother. The father lives a simple life out on the Banco Chinchorro, the largest coral reef in Mexico, earning a modest living by catching various sea life in the reef and passing it along until it probably ends up on the tables of our restaurants here in San Diego. He teaches the boy the way of life out on the ocean, so that he might carry some of that with him to his new destination. It's a heart warming film that has so much to say without saying hardly any of it with words. There's very little dialogue as the camera follows these two souls who will be forever linked. I simply love visual displays such as this and believe that is the true purpose of filmmaking. Yes, we can be entertained and there's nothing wrong with a fast-pacing story with a magnificent plot but to bring poetry into the lives of human beings elevates us into a higher realm and allows our spirits to evolve. That is the magic of art and Alamar is a perfect example of how to do it with film.

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

Blessings #14

Roommate - Guilty Rainbow (2011)

He was a friend of a friend or maybe a roommate of that friend's friend. She wasn't really sure. The first time she saw him was that night they went camping. He was really cute, would be handsome some day but not quite there yet, still holding on to the dashing boy that was always grinning at the playground. Everyone spent the afternoon getting to know one another, half the people meeting at least someone new. She kept looking his way even though it seemed like nothing would ever happen but as they drank more then smoked some marijuana, the two of them eventually gravitated toward one another. They stayed up after everyone else went to bed, the fire dancing off their faces, smelling the smoke on each other's skin. They didn't kiss for long before he was trying to take off her shirt and she kept feeling eyes on them coming from the tents set up all around them. So she took his hand and led him off into the dark. They didn't have to go far before they found seclusion and she could hardly contain herself, wanting to feel him so bad. Earlier in the night a long debate had spread around the campfire about the decorum of condoms. She had fallen on the mandatory side until one was truly in a relationship, even glanced his way when she spoke but then, when he reached for his wallet, she couldn't fathom the idea. She had to feel him up against her. She craved that more than anything. So she pushed his hand away and pulled him into such intimacy that tears sprang from her eyes. Now she was in a bind and needed to get ahold of him. Crazy to think that after that night they didn't even try for something more permanent but once they were done, they went back to their own tents and sleep separated them. The next morning they seemed to be a thousand miles away and then she was packing and leaving, thinking to herself that if she needed to see him again then she could find him. Christ, what was she going to tell him. She was more scared now than when he first touched her, when his want came flooding out of his eyes. What if he said no? Could she take this journey alone? Did she even want to take this journey with him? Right now, she still had so many options but once she said something to him, then everything would change. But something inside her needed to let him know, wanted to be connected to him forever, regardless of what that meant. She wanted to watch him grow handsome someday, even if it was only in the face of his child.

127 Hours - Danny Boyle (2010)

Danny Boyle is a very good filmmaker. He's done some pretty crazy stuff and has never been stuck in one form or genre. He appears to be interested in trying different things and some of them work to perfection, while a couple haven't performed so well. Lately, he's been getting it right. This movie is the first undertaking since he made the world swoon with "Slumdog Millionaire" and it's pretty impressive. Not very many directors can make a film about a guy stuck in a ditch for three-quarters of the movie and have you completely mesmerized. And not many actors can be stuck in one position for that long and cause you to feel so much empathy for him. That's why James Franco's performance ranks up there with one of the best that I've seen. "127 Hours" is based on the true story about a man who takes a journey out into the wilderness for a day and gets stuck between a rock and hard place, literally. For the next 127 hours he waits and waits and waits for someone to come and save him because there is absolutely no way he is getting out on his own. Meanwhile he reflects on some moments in his life, some choices he's made and prepares for the worst. Eventually he must do something absolutely stunning in order to get out of his predicament and live to tell the tale. I thought it was a very intimate portrayal of a terrible situation and as you watch the movie, you can't help but put yourself in this man's place.Would you have the determination and will to get out alive? So hard to know but somehow this guy did it.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Blessings #15

Scout Niblett - This Fool Can Die Now (2011)

Do you want to live forever? These were the type of questions from my best friend when we were little. She was the type who always took my hand when she was excited. It made perfect sense when we were kids but later, when we became teenagers, I didn't know how to react. It became awkward between us but that was probably only me. She never seemed to mind or notice but eventually she gave up on me. It wasn't long before I began to miss that twinkle in her eye. By then we were in college on other sides of the country and I was dating the woman who would become my wife. I still thought about my childhood friend often but never managed to find out where she disappeared to all those years later. It wasn't until the era of facebook hit us that I finally discovered her again. She was single, raising a child on her own and living somewhere on the east coast. I never imagined that anything would ever come of it but then my divorce happened. I began to write to her about the good ole days and an invitation to visit followed. Was it meant to be? I don't know but I've discovered that she never gave up that light that came from her eyes. Our children grew old around us and there were many days that provided more magic than I ever imagined possible. Those were the days when I felt like I could live forever. But now...If only she would stay by my side. I can't imagine life without her. As I sit by this bed, warming her cold hands, I hope for the moment that she'll open her eyes again and give me that special look that comes from the days of our youth. Please...just once more, my good friend.

Water Lillies - Celine Sciamma (2007)

It's so refreshing to watch a movie about a young teenager coming of age, learning about her sexuality without it being horribly provocative so that it just turns into some male lens fantasy made by some men who never truly matured in life. "Water Lillies' is that film. It follows a trio of girls during one summer as they deal with the awareness of their first sexual encounters. The backdrop is in the confines of synchronized swim teams as they compete in the pool and for the hearts of those for whom they long to connect. The beautiful girl, Florianne, is still a virgin though she plays the opposite for all the other girls who think she's just a slut. She confides in the awkward girl, Marie, who is infatuated with Florianne and does just about anything in order to be close to her. Marie's best friend, Anne, becomes resentful of Marie's new friendship. All the other girls laugh behind her back, because Anne is overweight and doesn't seem to care about being pretty. But she has more than enough confidence to go around, which eventually gets her into bed with the cute boy who has repeatedly been rejected by Florianne because she can't seem to get over the hump of going all the way. Before long Florianne allows Marie to get more intimate but is it simply because she knows that she can control her? The paths taken by these three characters is a genuine expression of a difficult time for adolescent girls. None of it is about glowing nubile bodies or magical ideas of sex. There are no pat resolutions that make everyone feel good. It's about growing up and doing your best to deal with conflicting and strange emotions that have taken control of your life. The girls may all seem a little older by the end but it all came from the natural flow of some real world experiences.

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