Silver Linings Playbook (movie, 2012) & the Oscars

Silver Linings Playbook (as a story, anyhow) is not really in the same league as some of the other 2012 Best Picture nominations—especially Beasts of the Southern Wild, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln, and Life of Pi.  However, I am impressed that somebody found Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, The Hunger Games, etc.) a reasonable transition-from-teen-star to interesting-young-woman project.  I hope no-one got too much money casting the also-excellent Julia Stiles as Lawrence’s older sister, though, because I thought of Stiles the very first time I saw Lawrence (in Winter’s Bone).

In addition:  People, you should watch the actual movies, not the damn Oscars show!  In the 4-6 hours you’ll waste on that broadcast and surrounding filler (not to mention the extended water-cooler chit-chat time on Monday), you could have watched 2 or 3 of the actual movies.  I still have Les Misérables and Amour to watch, and, as I don’t have TV, I’ll instead be watching those two movies tomorrow evening.

Nine contenders is too many!  As a Canadian, I find Argo deeply flawed and misleading, I didn’t find Django Unchained to be nearly as good as Tarantino’s last movie (Inglourious Basterds), and so on.  So, there probably should have been more like six (possibly even only five) nominees.

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Life of Pi (movie, 2012)

I guess I’m OK with the fact that they made a movie of Life of Pi, because at least it didn’t suddenly end at page 115 and get divided into three movies over 2.67 (or 3.14) years. I hope more people read Yann Martel’s book now, though, because it’s really pretty amazing.

Arguably, Ang Lee’s movie (scripted by David Magee) crosses the line into visually taking sides too much vis-à-vis the mystery of the “religion/imagination vs. reality/science” conundrum that I take to be the main point of this particular, peculiar survival story. I was also amazed that Gérard Depardieu got such prominent billing, given that he only spends about two minutes on-screen as “himself,” followed shortly thereafter for an additional five or six minutes “as a hyena.”

I’m going to have to go over the movie again to assess Mychael Danna’s award-winning, heavily world-music-influenced score.

“Come on, Children” (teen documentary, 1973)

I just watched Allan King’s sublimely weird documentary Come on, Children (1973), which includes young Alex Zivojinovich (i.e., Alex Lifeson, Rush’s guitarist) living in a rural Ontario farm house with nine other teenagers for ten weeks. It’s the winter of 1971, and Alex turned 17 the previous summer and became father to the first of his two sons, Justin, in October of 1970. He did not go back to finish high school (grade 12) during the 1970-71 school year and also seemed to be split up temporarily from his girlfriend Charlene: Justin’s mother, then apparently living on welfare. (Alex and Charlene did end up together, though, getting married in 1975.)

The movie is like “reality TV” (but 35 years ahead of time), because there are actually almost no interview elements in it at all! The part of it I had seen before (excerpted in the 2010 documentary, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage) features a family-visit day, during which Alex argues with his parents, etc. about his decision not to go back to finish high school the following year, as he doesn’t plan on going to university. He mentions that the band (never named, I think) will be able to make $240 ($80 each) per gig starting that fall.  Dissertation aside: By the fall of 1971, the band members (which didn’t include Neil Peart until the summer of 1974) would all be 18 and thus able to play in bars, because the drinking age in Ontario was set to be lowered to 18 in the summer of 1971 (it would later be raised to 19).

The parts of the movie involving Alex that I hadn’t seen before have him being relatively “grown up” compared to some of the others (cooking, making the others clean up, not really being into drugs that much anymore, I think, and so on) and having a bit of a fling with one of the girls in the group. Musically, he plays bluesy acoustic guitar (sometimes along with one or more of the other three musicians in the group, such as on John Hamilton’s performance “Mr. Bojangles”), or–more to the point–doing loud and distorted Jimi Hendrix-like instrumental electric guitar solos (including a BAD attempt at “The Star-Spangled Banner”) or blues-rock Clapton/Cream-like improvisations, etc.

The movie’s worth a look, too, for the relative freedom re teenage drinking (sometimes to excess), smoking (Alex included), drugs (pot, hash, LSD, speed, and even heroin), etc. in that period. Alex is very tame in those regards (only one of the ten abstains completely), although it could have just been edited to look that way.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

I just saw the new, David-Fincher-directed “Hollywood” adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s book, Män som hatar kvinnor (Men Who Hate Women, which is a much more apt title than the English version: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). [No plot spoiler follows!] I didn’t find Lisbeth Salander (by American actress Rooney Mara) to be all that different from in the 2009 Swedish version (by Swedish actress Noomi Rapace), mostly because her troubled, hacker-investigator character is so vividly present in the “Millennium Trilogy” books themselves. I personally find Daniel Craig rather “beefcake-y” to be playing mild-mannered Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist, so Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist (from the first adaptation) makes way more sense to me. The primary settings remain in Sweden, but almost all of the characters speak in English, despite the fact that a fair bit of the background audio and images are in Swedish, so it is by no means obvious that English would REALLY be spoken. Both versions deviate from the book in several ways, and sometimes the same ways. The synth- and effects-heavy score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross works pretty well. It makes the most sense for Lisbeth’s “indie” (pierced, inked, etc.) aesthetic and “odd” mental state and for the quick-cuts that happen in the first half of the film–before she and Mikael start working together.

“Black Swan” (movie, 2010)

I like Darren Aronofsky’s movies, including pi, Requiem for a Dream, and even his relatively obscure “flop,” The Fountain. The Wrestler was a much more mainstream type of thing.

Black Swan strikes an effective middle-ground between arty and commercial. Natalie Portman is quite good with the material, including channeling her actual childhood ballet experience.  However, the character goes quite easily off the deep end, with “body”-obsessed fantasies, etc. (including what her rival, played by Mila Kunis, calls a “lesbo wet dream”) that seem inspired by David Cronenberg’s more bizarre things of the 1980s, but without the movie really ever providing an explanation (other than the character having an unpleasant mother, played by Barbara Hershey) for why or how she may be mentally ill in the first place.

I actually thought that the director’s space- and time-shifting meditation on life and love, The Fountain, was great, even though it failed commercially and had a very difficult production life (e.g., a drastically-slashed budget and Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz replacing Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett).

“The Social Network” (2010)

I like good movies much better than I like Facebook, even a good movie about Facebook. Even if only 20% of The Social Network is “true” (and it’s probably more like 60%), Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker are still grade-A douche-bags. I liked screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s comment to Stephen Colbert last evening that he doesn’t use Facebook and would rather call someone about having just had a great cupcake. Good one!

The movie was competently directed by David Fincher (Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, etc.), but despite its hi-tech sheen and recent setting, it’s really just an old-fashioned morality tale about greed and selling out your friends. (See one theater over for Wall Street 2.)

The Social Network covers the early years of Facebook (2003-04) extremely well, as adapted by Sorkin from Ben Mezrich’s nonfiction novel The Accidental Billionaires (2009). The soundtrack is suitably hi-tech and somewhat coldly electronic, by Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) and Atticus Ross.

Facebook is NOT web 2.0: it is, at best, web 1.5. In a related matter, people who don’t want to hear about cupcakes (or somebody making lasagna for dinner, painting their bedroom, or becoming single) should check out the professional career-networking website LinkedIn.

Classicized Rock (Music and Culture – Podcast 1)

I’ve just launched my series of Video Podcasts, called “Music and Culture.” Podcast No. 1 is entitled “Classicized Rock: Heavy Metal, Progressive Rock, and Chamber Music.” A full, podcast version (MPEG-4, for iTunes, iPhones, etc.) will be available from my website. The complete presentation is 30 minutes long. However, I’ve also posted it on YouTube in two, slightly-edited halves: Part 1, Part 2.

“Classicized Rock” is about selected heavy metal and progressive rock bands (Black Sabbath, Genesis, Rush, and Metallica) and some of their songs (“War Pigs”, “The Fountain of Salmacis”, “The Spirit of Radio”, and “Master of Puppets”) adapted into classical chamber music (involving early music, pianos, violins, and cellos) by Rondellus, Ingve Guddal and Roger T. Matte, Rachel Barton, and Apocalyptica.