Sunday, January 29, 2006

Should I stay or should I grow?

Nostalgia: that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when dwelling fondly in the past, usually accompanied with a goofball grin and a vacant stare. Memories are cobbled together, a patchwork of different ages: 3, 8, 11, 14 and so on, flitting around as the stupid grin stretches further across your face. It was a time that only remains in the mind. A time when life was less complicated and the problems of the world belonged to creatures known as grown-ups.

When does the point occur when you’re no longer a kid? Suddenly, you have crossed that threshold and you’re a grown up. It isn’t a moment you can pinpoint exactly, although adults will give you plenty of potential benchmarks to choose from: turning 18, graduating high school, getting your first car, turning 21, graduating university, getting your first apartment, etc. None of these fit snuggly and yet sure enough, seemingly from out of nowhere, the weight of the world is on your shoulders and the only escape is nostalgia.

Anything can trigger this wistful state. A movie, a song, a TV show, a photo, whatever sends you back to a place, a time, a feeling. Lately, it has been a DVD set of a childhood favorite, “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.” For my international readers who are clueless to what I am speaking of, the series focused on the misadventures of a pair of redheaded brothers. The show perfectly captures the magic of being a kid. It has the spirit and tone right. It is particularly good at plastering silly grins on my face. I’ve been watching it a lot lately, perhaps because I feel that piece of my life slipping further away.

I keep trying to avoid the inevitable. The most recent strategic move was grad school, but with each passing day there are fewer moves and checkmate to childhood seems imminent. The truth of the matter is I am an adult. No matter how I fight it. No matter how many adventures I share with my redheaded compatriots. After grad school there will be only one place to go: the real world with its real job, real problems and real adult life. What’s a guy perpetually stuck in daydream to do? Is it the beginning of the end?

No. There doesn’t have to be this great divide. Childhood isn’t a Technicolor Oz to a sepia-toned real world. Youth doesn’t have to be relegated to mere nostalgia. The weight of the world doesn’t have to come crushing down on my adult shoulders. It is a frightening, transitional time, but it is far from the end. I am not going to get trite and say it is a new beginning because it isn’t. The characters are just developing and the plot thickening.

Life would be pretty dull if we are all a bunch of stiff, so-called adults. Honestly, we can’t be mature all the time and who would want to be? Being an adult is all a show. We do our jobs, we pay the bills, but deep down we are all still just kids. Ultimately, this is the key of surviving adulthood. The minute that connection to youth is snapped then all really is lost. I will be an adult for all intensive social purposes, but a kid on the inside and occasionally I’ll let that kid out to play. Then again, perhaps this is all just the naïve ramblings of a nostalgic fool with a bad case of Peter Pan syndrome. Who knows?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Mini Review of Rumor Has It

I'd say stop snickering that tabloid favorite Jennifer Aniston is starring in a movie called "Rumor Has It," but that irony is one of the funniest things about the film.

To be fair, that isn't exactly true. There are about 45 minutes of a good movie stretched across "Rumor Has It," which claims the events that took place in "The Graduate" were based on real people.

Aniston stars as the granddaughter of the inspiration for the famed Mrs. Robinson, played here with scene-stealing zest by Shirley MacLaine. When Aniston discovers the rumors about her family are true she seeks out the real Ben Braddock (Kevin Costner). Awkwardness ensues when Aniston becomes the third generation to sleep with him.

Aniston is an engaging lead and Costner shows a quiet sense of humor and charm that many viewers may have forgotten. Sadly, both Costner and MacLaine are underused as the film shifts to sticky romance. Director Rob Riener, once one the best American directors working, wastes a funny premise by losing sharp comedy in a mess of tired, formulaic clichés.

While there are some laughs for fans of "The Graduate," those unfamiliar with that film should stay away.

A mini review of Syriana

Corporate corruption, oil and terrorism all intertwine in the controversial, but important "Syriana."

Loosely based on Robert Baer’s book "See No Evil," "Syriana" is a complex film that doesn’t shy away from tough issues. With President Bush downplaying Middle Eastern oil issues, at the same time he’s fighting a war in the region, this film is practically a Godsend.

George Clooney and Matt Damon lead a large cast and both give performances that linger in the mind. Clooney, who won a Golden Globe, even suffered back injuries while shooting a torture scene that is not for the squeamish. The supporting cast is populated by familiar faces, who all have memorable moments, especially Tim Blake Nelson, who gives an already infamous speech about corruption,

Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan, the film takes the same multiple characters/plotlines approach as his screenplay for "Traffic." "Syriana" isn’t casual viewing and even the most astute viewers may feel lost. That’s what Gaghan wants. The audience is dropped in the middle of an intricate plot and, like the characters in the film, are left to pull together the threads. The film’s pace is deliberately slow, but stick with it as the overall journey is worth the extra effort.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Golden Globes are not a laughing matter

The Golden Globes, which have a tendency towards awarding fluff, showed some progressiveness this year by awarding controversial, challenging films like “Brokeback Mountain” and “Syriana.” Sadly though they continued their recent trend of ignoring comedic work.

Unlike the Academy Awards, the Golden Globes has a category specifically for comedy. The catch is this category also includes musicals. This most likely goes back to the vaudevillian tradition of musical comedy, but it feels out of place today.

With the musical genre all but dead for two decades, the musical of the Comedy/Musical categories didn’t really make a difference. The word just dangled at the end looking awkward. But then the 2002 ceremonies ushered in the return of the musical with “Moulin Rouge.”

“Moulin Rouge” won Best Picture in its category that year and Nicole Kidman won Best Actress. That year was a particularly good year for female comedic work including Renee Zelleweger’s turn as “Bridget Jones,” Thora Birch in “Ghost World” and Reese Witherspoon in “Legally Blonde.” Kidman’s work in “Moulin Rogue” was certainly award worthy, but was dramatic, so what if she happened to be singing?

The following year brought “Chicago,” which like its predecessor took Best Picture. A Best Actor award went to Richard Gere, while Nicholas Cage and Hugh Grant’s fine work in “Adaptation” and About a Boy” respectively was passed over. A case can be made that “Chicago” is just as much a comedy as a musical, so I am willing let this one slide.

The latest development in the past two years is far less excusable. Last year Jamie Foxx won Best Actor in “Ray” for his portrayal of Ray Charles. This year “Walk the Line,” the bio-pic of Johnny Cash took Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress. All of these were under the Comedy/Musical categories.

While films like “Moulin Rogue” and “Chicago” are clearly musicals and have a claim on the category, “Ray” and “Walk the Line” are dramas about the lives of musicians. While, given their subject matters, these films obviously feature music that doesn’t make them musicals.

When it comes to movie award ceremonies, there’s this idea that drama is more award worthy than comedy. The Academy Awards certainly rarely pays comedy notice and instead focuses on hard-hitting drama. The Golden Globes in the past gave a nod to comedy, but with the new popularity of musician bio-pics, that has fallen to the wayside.

If you look at the 2005 nominees list, three of the five spots for Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical were filled by musician bio-pics. In addition to Foxx in “Ray” this included Kevin Kline’s takes on Cole Porter in “De-Lovely” and Kevin Spacey as Bobby Darren in “Beyond the Sea.” This left Jim Carrey in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and Paul Giamatti in “Sideways” to represent comedy.

Debatably, the two funniest movies of the 2004 were “Anchorman” and “Dodgeball.” Sure, they were rude and crude, but why not go out on a limb and nominate them? Award shows are supposed to be representing the best work in a year. Why must everything be high-brow, even comedy?

As for 2005, Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in “The Wedding Crashers” were comic gold, and yet received no nominations. Even if they had been nominated they wouldn’t have stood a chance against the heavyweight work of Joaquin Phoenix in “Walk the Line.”

It would be a good idea to just drop the musical from the Comedy/Musical categories and place musicals in their proper categories. “Phantom of the Opera,” clearly a drama. “The Producers,” clearly a comedy. Odds are that will not happen, so at the very least let’s put the dramatic bio-pics where they belong and give comedy a chance again.

Final thought: thankful nothing remotely looking like a musical came out in 2003 so that Bill Murray was able to win for his brilliant work in “Lost in Translation.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

That quiet fellow in the corner sings (Revised)

Everyone has at least one secret talent. I roam open mics and acoustic nights silently waiting to unleash my hidden ability on the unassuming world. They never see it coming. Why would anyone think that quiet fellow in the corner with no musical instrument would be performing?

I sing with no musical accompaniment, a feat that always gets statements like "Wow that takes courage." People are dying in wars and my feeble attempts at singing are deemed courageous. Go figure.

Every time I do it I am terrified. I run through all the anxious cliches. My guts twist into knots. My palms sweat. My mouth goes dry. My nervous bladder will send me rushing to the bathroom several times. Then it will happen. I will be up. I walk up with my stack of lyrics. I look out into the audience, only to be blinded by spotlights.

Being in front of crowds makes me nervous and when I get nervous I shake uncontrollably, so much so it probably looks as if I am having a seizure. Oddly enough, it never affects my voice.

I can't imagine what people think as I quake from head-to-toe attempting to sing from a pile of papers. It can't be that visually appealing. The reception is either a puzzled, obligatory clapping or an equally baffled, but enthusiastic applause.

I am well aware that I must confuse the hell out of people. It must be mystifying to hear an a cappella version of "London Calling." And it must be dumbfounding to hear a solo, purely vocal version of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Yet, somehow I manage to not butcher these songs. If the uproarious cheers are any indication I must be doing them justice. So, now I am the baffled one for I have no musical training. It is just something that comes out of me.

What inspires a quivering non-singer to suddenly start singing, in front of crowds no less? I discovered the cathartic release of singing just last summer. It doesn't matter if I am any good. It's a pure emotional expression that I need to share. I may use other's word, but it is my soul on display.

We spend most of our lives hiding behind facades. We wear different masks depending on the situations and people involved. It's a defense mechanism, a way of letting only certain people in. Singing is the removal of my mask.

I pour myself into the songs and when people respond to them positively I feel connected to something greater than myself. Through singing, I find an understanding of myself that I am able to share with others. Of course, compulsive shaking aside, on the most basic level it is fun.

I was once asked: "Is that a joke or serious?" To that I said, "Well what do you think?" Whether it is laughter, cheers or a mixture of both, I don't care. Do with it what you will. The rush is the same either way.

Any performer will tell you of the natural high of being in front of an audience. It is frightening and exhilarating at the same time. And so I keep doing it. In spite of my nerves. In spite of my fears.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Woody on Point- A review of "Match Point"

In interviews Woody Allen has often stated he wished his talent for writing and filmmaking had been dramatic rather than comedic. Allen has said comedy comes easy to him and so since 1977's "Annie Hall" he has struggled to make a dramatic film of substance. On a few occasions (1986's "Hannah and Her Sisters," 1989's "Crimes and Misdemeanours" and 1992's "Husbands and Wives") he has, but even these films had comedic undertones. Now after a relative creative dry spell Allen gives us "Match Point," quite possibly his strongest straight drama.

The film is a notable departure for Allen in many respects. New York, the beloved setting for nearly all of Allen’s film has been replaced with London. The “Woody” persona of the nebbish neurotic is nowhere to be seen. There’s not a laugh in the script and like “Crimes and Misdemeanours” before it, the film goes to dark, sordid territory. On the surface, “Match Point” seems nothing like a Woody Allen film and while it is certainly a distant relation to his first film, 1969’s “Take the Money and Run,” fans of the filmmaker are certain to see familiar themes regarding faith, life and morality.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars as Chris, a pro tennis player turned tennis teacher who takes full advantage of the offers of upper mobility placed in front of him through Tom (Matthew Goode), a wealthy playboy. Tom’s sister Chloe (Emily Mortimer) becomes quickly smitten with Tom, which leads to marriage and a cushy job at daddy’s firm. The only thing that stands in the way of Chris’ happiness is his lust for Tom’s fiancé Lola (Scarlett Johansson). Their affair leads to complications and Chris decides to take drastic measures.

As is often the case in Allen’s drama there’s a distance and shallowness to the material, that being said, this time Allen seems to be using that flaw to his advantage. Although it should be said there’s a palpable chemistry and sexual tension between Johansson and Meyers the likes of which have never been seen in an Allen film. The movie covers familiar territory regarding class and infidelity, and while Allen develops these elements well, that’s not what makes the film interesting.

The film opens with narration on how people take luck for granted and even though hard work counts, sometimes life comes down to nothing more than luck. The rest of the story works like a proof of that statement as if Allen were to say, “Okay let me give you an example.” In that respect, even when some scenes seem a bit flat and purely functional, the film works quite well.

Allen makes his point with a rather ingenious and unexpected twist. You may not agree with it, but Allen makes a valid and well-supported point by the end of the film. Allen’s thoughts on luck aren’t exactly the stuff of happy endings. For Allen good luck can happen to bad people and bad luck to good people. Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation, but still there’s a cold truth to it that rarely gets put to film and that is refreshing.