Thursday, December 16, 2010

"True Grit" review

Tonight I had the chance to see “True Grit” at an early showing at the Angelika, and was surprised. Most movies I loved this year have been ones I had little expectations with beforehand: Inception, Scott Pilgrim, and the social network are three examples.

This movie did not transcend the genre of a western movie but sank into it, grew into a massive tree, and people took it as a part of the historical landscape of fine place to visit. The movie felt human, American, and deeply honest in what it saw as the world these people found themselves in; their lack of self-awareness was incredibly refreshing and most likely accurate. Having grown up in the cities and terrain where the movie is set, I felt the call of my past (my family has lived in AK, LA, MS area since the Civil War) sit down on my back porch and tell the story. And telling stories is what the characters did. In the American South we do that sort of thing, sit around and talk in our own distinct way. There was violence in the movie, yet the talking is what stood out, the characters were so articulate it was stunning to watch. The idea that we are far more advanced than previous times is absurd, especially if we read the common letters written by people of earlier times. Obama might be an articulate president, but he is nothing compared to most presidents of the 19th century when it comes to delivering a speech or communicating. Back then it was a subject like anything else, and the tremors of this are felt in the characters of the movie, speaking in arguments and points and rebuttals. We live in a time when language is changing from globalisation in a way it hasn’t before, yet we still don’t have the grasp of language as they did 150 years ago. People communicated in the movie, and the main character, a fourteen year old girl from Arkansas could run circles around most her age today, though I’ll admit her character is an anomaly in the world in which the movie takes place.

The story is of a young girl whose father is killed by a somewhat well known thug of the day and she hires a marshall to find him and kill him. She fights people all along the way and in many forms to stand up for what she sees is good, and largely prevails with a bleedingly hard effort and resolve as the underpinnings of her work. The man she hires is a drunk and a man nearly as filthy as the men he hunts and arrests, but there is a distinction between him and the villains that comes out and is crucial. The exteriors may be similar, but when pushed to it, we show who we are and what we care about. The difference between the good characters and the bad are this resilience that is often hidden side of love we have trouble facing in our day.

Every character except a few, some on the good side of the law and others not, have dignity in this movie, a trait often missed in our reading of previous times. People have morals, even the worst of them, and they see each other as human, and because of it can see when someone is being less than that. It’s clear in the movie. The villains aren’t monsters, they’re confused, impulsive, erratic creatures who are bad- sometimes it’s best to let it stand at that. When you meet the bad men they’re chasing it’s obvious they are not a sophisticated assassins (the good make far better executors than the evil), but scared men who flee. Their running is what must be overcome because it is their strength and they know it, for when they are caught most of their power is extinguished.

The performances were excellent with Bridges’ portrayal being a bit too much at times (though it works) and Hailee Steinfeld playing the leading role of Mattie Ross takes the show. She is a joy to watch, and her work on being Mattie Ross sits in your mind long after the movie ends. Matt Damon does well in a supporting role as many of us don’t doubt he would. He’s a versatile actor and shows it here.

The striking part of this movie, though, and anyone who studies 19th century American culture will inevitably have to face is the vein of religion running through it. The word “Methodist” is mentioned at least three times- circuit riders, preachers, and other references to the denomination are accurate- it was the dominant Protestant denomination of the 19th century in the US. People unabashedly mention God with a backbone and real meat on it, mentioning the name like they’d spent their lives with it as they did. The Coen bros. do this well and I appreciate that about them- they let religion out of its cage without putting a leash on it or beating it unjustly. I can think of several movies they’ve directed that involves religion as a significant part of the plot. Religion is much better as a supporting actress than a lead. The glare is overwhelming when it becomes the main and only topic of a story. Religion loves its members more than itself.

I highly recommend this movie.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

listen to the lyrics

I exchanged "last CDs" with someone about two months ago and apart from it being a revealing thing to do with someone I've known for a good while, there was an interesting distinction that arose when I listened to music other people chose or when we talked about why we like certain songs. Like my dad, I hear only the music and hardly ever the words. I feel stupid saying so, like I'm missing a big part of it, though when I listen to classical music I really get what the composer is trying to convey, or at least I think I do. I think there's a lot of truth in saying a song is sound apart from the meaning of the lyrics, though I don't know if I'll agree in saying the lyrics are the higher part of a song. I will admit that I feel like I'm missing a big part of a lot of today's music, though I see it as like getting a hotel room that I can enjoy with ease just by being in it, and if I want to use go down to the bar, or drink whatever is in the fridge and I'll be charged for later, then fine. I feel like I'm being lazy, though I don't think it's that. It's like two people experiencing an event and walking away with two impressions of it, largely because they saw what they value and embraced it when it was there. I know I'm missing out on a big part of many songs, in fact there are songs with its only great strength as its lyrics (I'm thinking of a lot of country music when I say this), or hip hop, so maybe this will be my new resolution for the next week or so. Listen to the lyrics. Yes. Listen to the lyrics.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

bad habits

The Art of Manliness blog entry for this morning had to do with bad habits, well more exactly it had to do with breaking and making habits. Unfortunately we live an existence that easily forms bad habits (very little effort is required for their acquisition), but to make any good ones it requires weeks and weeks of work. Sixty six days according to the blog. That's a long time especially when I was told 21 days by a friend, but when it comes to settling into reflex behaviors, I'll side with the bigger numbers. Some good advice on the blog though said to avoid changing too many habits at once, seeing how it could overload the system. Good point. I've made that mistake many a time. I'll sit down like I did this morning and make a list of behaviors I want to lose and another list of behaviors I want to take on. Why not do it all at once? The simple reason is that you can't, or you most likely won't. So, I made my list but chose one good habit to replace a bad habit. What were they?

Spending too much time with people.

Reading at night.

Can you guess which is the bad habit? The "too much" gave it away. Yes, it's that I love hanging out with people and I tend to do it so much that it grows to be immoderate, inefficient, and irresponsible. Who wants those in their life? I don't. And I knew this was my big bad habit because there was immediate anxiety at changing it. The thought ran like this:

"Oh no! If I cut back on that part of my life, I'll never have friends and I'll be stuck in my apartment watching 'Friends' reruns all weekend." Most would agree that is a sad existence, but to say I'll jump from social life security to the abyss without a trace of detection on my part is a stretch and unreasonable. So, instead of hanging out with people I will read for a few hours in the evening. So far it's gone well. Next up on the list: video games.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Humbling to say the least

I read on a Catholic blog once that a good practice of mortification is to ask three close friends what they would change about you if they could. I asked three friends and they gave nearly the same answer: emotions. They wouldn't change my emotions per se, but how I express them, or I should say the lack of expression. Of course I get angry and I get sad and I get all the other things a person without asperger's would show, but there is something different about the way I do it, or don't do it.

When I heard the answers I was surprised in a way because I don't think of myself as someone who doesn't show emotions. I laugh all the time, and I do plenty of other emotional things, but there is a learning curve in seeing that what I think I look like is in fact much different than what other people see. Oh yes, this has become very very clear. And this may be why I'm drawn to Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg. Sure, he is a monster in the movie, but all the good things he possesses are the same things I value on a personality level. The guy is an outright atheist and a run of the mill dude/heathen (at least in the movie he is), but the way he talks to people and the way he handles himself is frighteningly similar. The movie was a caricature, though I hear he isn't much different in person, which makes me think that he is an INTP or something very close to it.

Ok, I didn't make a 1600 on the SAT (I didn't even take the SAT) and I am no prodigy at anything as far as I can tell, but if there was a Mark Zuckerberg ballpark, I'd be in it. Oh yes I would. But how does this tie in to emotions?

He walks over people, sees them as objects, operates according to principles, is insensitive, blah blah blah. There's a scene in the movie where his emotion shows itself in an odd way. The opposing lawyer asks him if he has his full attention and Mark responds by saying, "It's raining." You can see how sad he is at what's happening and the Mr. Spock persona is cracking under the pressure of all the talk about the court cases and his past infractions. For a moment it peeked. That's a start.

But for anyone who is like Mark, it makes perfect sense. We hate rom coms and overly sentimental blathery because it's nothing but feeling and the last thing we want is to be thrown around the room by someone's poor portrayal of life as this awkward, smily, teary something that life is in those films. It's soggy cereal that's become one with the milk and formed a blob of dull gray goldenness in a bowl.

I won't begin to worship my emotions like many seem to do, I don't think that's possible for me. That's the fear, but it won't get that far. Where does one begin when this task is before them? I asked three friends what they would do that change me, but they can only point to it while I have the work ahead of me. I don't know if it'll be all that bad.