Monday, July 15, 2019

Whiplash (2014)

In the realm of watching recent acclaimed films that I'd missed previously, I finally made the time time to watch Whiplash. The dust has long settled on this film, and the freshman effort by Damien Chazelle seems to have increasingly gained respect.

But the stress - I could anticipate it just with the early clips and award season clips that they would show of J.K. Simmons as the abusive jazz instructor named Fletcher. Did I need to see this played out? I decided it was time to cross the top 250 film off my list and sit down for the whiplashing.

As expected, in watching it J.K. Simmons was amazing, as was Miles Teller. I suppose in all the clips I wasn't entirely sure how his character would be played out and Chazelle wrote an interesting character who wasn't as cookie cutter as I expected. His response to Fletcher played out as I would have generally expected, but his own personal drive and way he pursued his goal and challenged the system made him far more dimensional than I suppose I expected.

In many ways the film is a challenging one in the sense that the struggle presented is real -- culturally we speak out of both sides of our mouths suggesting that a self congratulating culture where everyone is a winner is bad. Yet, we talk about developing skills and talents in safe spaces in nurturing and caring ways, ignoring the fact that in the same moments we also admire those that rise from adversity. We consistently fail to give credit to the adversity itself for what it breeds.

And if there's anything genius in the story telling, it's that Chazelle doesn't go preachy and instead drives in the gray zone where his audience is forced, even beyond the last scene whether a line has been crossed and if so, at which point was that line crossed. Some viewers are apt to say that line was crossed early on, where others might see Simmons character as a bizarre anti-hero.

Without a doubt, this is certainly a film that lends itself to discussion, matched with an undeniably compelling performance that deservedly won J.K. Simmons the Oscar for best support actor.

The Wolf of Wallstreet (2013)

I've been kind of lukewarm in my interest to watch The Wolf of Wallstreet, particularly when it first premiered, aware of the general storyline filled with vices (drugs, sex, power, greed) and it's character's related downfall.

My interest has stayed alive as a pending film for me to watch on the top 250 films but was especially revived when the film made news again recently when one of the producers Riza Aziz made his own press coverage in 1MDB scandal (which is so strikingly similar to imdb, but alas, just a coincidence).

All things, considered the film is well crafted and Leonardo DiCaprio is quiet compelling as the real-life Jordan Belfort. For my taste the films tone and language were a little much for me -- the crass language alone is enough to make me underwhelmed, although I can understand how this plays to the culture and presentation in the film.

By far, what I think makes this move work is the energy that is captured in the filming and style of the film, mixed with the narration -- a device that often falls flat, but is well crafted and surprising.

Also working for this film is the fact that it's almost like the American morality tale of our time - the meteoric rise to success after initial failure, the long suffering wife who is left in the dust for an upgraded model, the almost-got-caught moments that culminate in an eventual fall...of yes, and the upgraded wife, she's not so long-suffering.

Will American audiences tire of this type of story line anytime soon -- probably not, especially when the stories are true and told with the style of an artist like Martin Scorsese.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Congratulations, Who Are You Again

I have failed to post much and enjoyed the past two years posting about the books I was reading, and recently (in the sense that recent is this calendar year) finished (and very rapidly at that), the book Congratulations, Who Are You Again? by Harrison Scott Key.

It was one of those books on the "new non-fiction books" section at the Library that beckoned me, but unlike the many I've picked up and put back down again, I was drawn in by the description which outlined that the book was a memoir that some how connected this random guys quest to fulfill his dream  -- the intro mentioned Mark Twain and a verse in the King James Bible about a pelican. It was worth a pick-up.

Once I picked it up off my night stand I was captivated. I don't think there's ever (and I avoid superlatives) been a book that has caused me to laugh out loud so much.

While I did not grow up in Mississippi or have the southern life that Key has had, I felt some strange connection to his dream, my dreams (I don't call them that -- but...maybe out of fear), and the joy in simple life being a comedic journey. I like Key have long wanted to write and more than as a career create something that at least someone would buy and put on their shelf and read from cover-to-cover, and yet part of my fear is not just the labor of the writing (I've done that), or the editing (I hate that), it's the next steps. In this book Key talks about his dream of being an author, and writing his first book (that one is now sitting on my shelf), and the process, not just the writing process but the impact to life process (like the having jobs that make real money process) and the book tour - oh, the book tour.

I am so glad this book caught my eye, it's a rare treat to laugh and find something you can't put down, but an absolutely unique experience to read something by someone who you strangely connect with -- this was pure delight.