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spring, summer, fall, winter ... and spring (ki-duk kim, 2003)

I'm not a Buddhist, but I think I'm safe in saying this is a Buddhist film. There are few characters, but a couple of the main ones are monks or monks in training. But it's not the narrative that is Buddhist, as much as it is the setting, the pace, the spiritual nature of the film. Most of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ... and Spring takes place in a monastery that sits in the middle of a lake. It is never explained how the floating monastery got there, or even how it floats. On the other side of the lake are large doors through which the camera, and at times the characters, move. But the doors don't serve a concrete purpose ... anyone could just walk around them. In a similar fashion, while the monastery only has one room, there is a door that people go through, even though they, too, could walk around them. There is something respectful about how these doors are treated. It is also part of the overall reality of the movie ... nothing is "real" at all on some level, but it doesn't play as fantasy. It's just a visualization of the spiritual. #938 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time (#173 on the 21st-century list).

At the beginning, we meet a monk and his young apprentice. With the passage of each season into another, time moves forward and the apprentice ages, from teenager to adult to middle age. Finally, he takes on his own apprentice. Kim manages to create a calm film, thanks to the pacing, the beauty of the imagery, and the musical score. It's not that "nothing happens", or even that only "nice" things happen. A broad spectrum of human behavior is seen in the film. The calmness comes from the acceptance that everything is one. Or not ... like I say, I'm not a Buddhist.


tv catchup, part 3

GLOW. It doesn't get much more surprising than this. GLOW, based on a cheesy rassling show ("Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling") from the 80s, is funny, entertaining, and works as drama, as well. Alison Brie and Betty Gilpin are great as the leads, but the whole cast delivers. There is still one more season to go. This is my favorite clip from the show, even though some guys recorded it off their TV and they commentate. Brie's Zoya the Destroya demonstates a possible match, essentially wrestling with herself.

High Fidelity. From a Nick Hornby novel to a film with John Cusack, always very guy-oriented. This version benefits greatly from 1) making the main character a woman, and 2) casting Zoë Kravitz in the role. She's the best thing about it, although the supporting cast is appealing, as well. Never quite essential, but often fun to watch.

The Plot Against America. Anything David Simon does is worth your attention. Here, he and Ed Burns offer a miniseries based on the Philip Roth novel about an alternate history where Charles Lindbergh becomes president in 1940 and America turns fascist. As you can imagine, it feels familiar in 2020. Great cast, great writing, great world creating.

Vida. A show that was ignored by too many people ... I'd say that was because it was on Starz, but Outlander hasn't had any problem getting our attention (and Outlander should be on this list, I can't believe I forgot it). Vida is a Latinx series created by Tanya Saracho with some impressive new-to-me leads: Melissa Barrera, Mishel Prada, and Ser Anzoategui. It's about Latinx culture, and family, and gentrification, with a queer core. Hopefully, it will be discovered in future years.

I'm realizing I need a Part 4, which will cover Outlander, Watchmen, and anything else I've forgotten.


tv catchup, part 2

Devs. A creation of Alex Garland (Ex Machina, Annihilation), Devs is just as ambitious and unusual as those films. It looked great (some of it filmed at UC Santa Cruz), the cast was stellar (especially Nick Offerman and Stephen McKinley Henderson), and while it tended to be obscure, that seemed appropriate for a show that was about philosophical truths. It was also slow moving, if that matters to you (I am much more tolerant of slowness in television series, for some reason).

Euphoria. A show that is right up my alley. Wikipedia describes it: "Euphoria follows a group of high school students through their experiences of sex, drugs, friendships, love, identity and trauma." If that doesn't sound like something I'd like, you don't know me very well. Happily, Euphoria is also good, with a terrific Zendaya in the lead and a breakout performance by trans actor Hunter Schafer. Euphoria is a bit overboard on the brutal details of high school ... if a parent of a high-schooler watched this, they'd want to lock their kid in their bedroom until graduation. Like I say, right up my alley.

Gentleman Jack. Not a show that is clearly up my alley, Gentleman Jack is a based-on-fact historical drama set in England in the 1830s. It's created by Sally Wainwright, who also created the terrific and dark Happy Valley. The lead is played by Suranne Jones, who I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of, despite her acting for 25 years. Well, I've heard of her now, and I won't be forgetting her soon.


liverpool

I think it was back in 2007 when I decided I had to pick some European teams to root for. Before that, there wasn't much to watch here in the States, but gradually, most of the big European leagues were being shown fairly regularly to us, and while it seemed unlikely only a few years before, it got to the point where there was actually too much soccer for an American to watch. I already had our San Jose Earthquakes, although at the time they had moved to Houston and no replacement had yet arrived. I had been following Mexican soccer forever, since the days when it was the only club soccer we could watch, and rooted for Chivas of Guadalajara. I felt a connection to a small club in Wrexham, Wales, which is a different story. But by 2007, it was a cacophony, too many teams, and I thought perhaps if I just chose one team from each major European league, it would be easier to follow, and I might actually learn something about those teams.

I picked teams that were good, with history, but also ones that weren't dominant at the time ... that sounded boring. I tried to avoid the bad teams because they were never on television here. My choices have had various success over the years ... Inter Milan in Italy have won 6 Serie A titles since then, as well as one Champions League title. In Spain, Sevilla is usually in the running for a title, although they never actually win it, but at one point, they won three straight Europa League championships. Werder Bremen of Germany have had the worst of it since 2007 ... they never win anything, and are currently in danger of relegation.

But then there was Liverpool. When I latched onto them, they had won 18 titles at the top tier of English soccer. They had also won 5 European Cup/Champions League titles. Their history was as storied as any in England, but they hadn't won the league since 1989-90, although they always had top players and they usually were close to the leaders.

That first team of the Steven Era (2007-08), Liverpool was managed by Spaniard Rafa Benítez. They were unbeaten through their first 14 league games, but faded and finished fourth. They did get to the semi-finals in the Champions League. Spaniard Fernando Torres scored 33 goals in all competitions, and I became a big fan of the hard-working Dutchman Dirt Kuyt.

Over the years, they finished second in the Premier League three times. Last year, they won the Champions League. But a 19th domestic title eluded them.

Early in the 2015-16 season, they hired German Jürgen Klopp as the manager. Klopp had won two Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund. Klopp is charismatic, and is considered one of the great managers of the modern game. Under Klopp, Liverpool have played an entertaining style, one that leads to plenty of goals. Their defense often suffered, but Klopp and Liverpool signed Virgil van Dijk, arguably the best defender in the game, in January of 2018, and followed that by getting Brazilian goalie Alisson, also a candidate for the best at his position. Those two players shored up the defense, the offense continued to score, and Liverpool were a real threat, as their Champions League victory last year showed.

This season, Liverpool have run away with the Premier League. Their front line of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mané, and Mohamed Salah thrill on a weekly basis, and young Trent Alexander-Arnold has developed into one of the best right backs in the world. It's been a pleasure watching them play.

They would have clinched their first title in 30 years long ago, but the COVID-19 crisis delayed things. Play finally resumed last week, and after a dull 0-0 draw, Liverpool reminded us of what they do in their second match back (the crowd noise is fake ... there is no one in the stands due to the virus):

It may have seemed anti-climactic when Liverpool clinched the title Thursday after Manchester City lost, but I don't think the long-suffering Liverpool fans minded (not a lot of masks or social distancing here):

The club released this video, featuring their theme song, "You'll Never Walk Alone":

Finally, this, after they won the Champions League last season. The fans lead the singing ... it is their song, after all:


tv catchup, part 1

For reasons unclear to me, I don't post much about television any more. TV used to be one of the Big Three, along with movies and music. Now, I'm more likely to have a post like this, where I catch up on a bunch of shows by giving them a couple of sentences when they deserve a couple of posts of their own. Here are ten shows, in alphabetical order, in three posts, that I've liked in the past season or so. Assume that if they are listed here, I think they would be worth your time for your next binge.

The 100. The final season is airing now. It has been my favorite show for awhile, although it's always been too much of a mess to be considered great. But it's made it through almost seven seasons, and it still doesn't stink. I still care about the main characters. And it still puts the post in post-apocalypse.

Agents of SHIELD. Honestly, this show has no business being as good as it is. At the beginning, it was like an afterthought in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the further away it got from the MCU, the better the show became. This final season is a delight, as they use time travel as an excuse for some great looks at the past.

Better Things. These things are in alphabetical order, but this is the best of the shows. If you only binge one series from these lists, this is the one. Pamela Adlon is a genius. And this is a great scene that also shows how far "basic cable" has come in the profanity department.


geezer cinema/film fatales #84: harriet (kasi lemmons, 2019)

Kasi Lemmons has had an interesting career. She began as an actor, appearing in such films as School Daze, Fear of a Black Hat, and Hard Target. The fine Eve's Bayou marked her directorial feature debut, and I was a fan of her Talk to Me. Now comes her latest, Harriet, which won many awards including six Women Film Critics Circle Award, one for Best Movie by a Woman. The movies I have seen of hers strike me as consistently good, if not great.

Lemmons (who also co-wrote the screenplay) does well by refusing to fall into the too-common pitfalls of biopics. As far as I know, Harriet sticks fairly close to the historical truth. While it becomes a bit repetitious, she never overdoes it. One problem is that Harriet Tubman was apparently too good at her job. It is said that she had a 100% success rate at conducting slaves to freedom, and the repetition combined with her skills mean the escape scenes eventually lose the kind of tension you expect in such cases. But Harriet rarely drags.

Another example of where the fidelity to real history causes a problem with the film is due to the fact that Tubman suffered a head injury when young that affected her the rest of her life. She would have headaches and seizures and fall unconscious. Tubman had visions during these times, which she attributed to God. That she was inspired is certain, and the film does a good job of showing how she used these incidents to make important decisions. But since the divine inspiration is never questioned in Harriet, it feels as if God, not Harriet, was the one saving those slaves. Tubman may have thought this was the case, but the power of her life as it comes down to us through history lies in her own very human qualities. Harriet Tubman deserves the credit, not the Lord.

Lifting Harriet above the usual is the tremendous, Oscar-nominated performance in the title role by Cynthia Erivo (Widows). Erivo is always believable as this woman whose commitment to freedom was unstoppable. She doesn't play Tubman as if she were just a person who might one day be on the twenty-dollar bill. Erivo gives us a Harriet Tubman who was a real woman, cutting through the historical figure. It's impressive.

(Here is a letterboxd list of Film Fatales movies.)

(Here is a letterboxd list of movies with African-American directors.)


revisiting train to busan (yeon sang-ho, 2016)

Nothing was going right. I tried to order dinner for delivery and kept failing. We decided to watch a movie, picked Martha Marcy May Marlene, and the Blu-ray didn't work. I threw up my hands and watched Train to Busan again.

I wrote about it three years ago, and I'll cut-and-paste some here:

Train to Busan is constructed like a classic thriller. Right from the start, there are intimations of the horrors to come, but they are only intimations. Still, the suspense is serious (after all, we know the zombies are coming). And once the zombies arrive (fairly quickly), the suspense is replaced with open-jawed thrills.

Two things in particular make Train to Busan impressive. First, there is a dedication to the characters, who are painted in quick scenes but who always feel slightly more than stock from the genre's closet. We care about the characters, which isn't a necessary component to a zombie thriller, but it does lift this movie a bit above the rest. Second, the zombies really are impressive. It's not just that they are fast, it's that they feel real. I don't know how much, if any, CGI Yeon used, but it's very old-school in its presentation, as if instead of going straight to the computer, they actually hired a bunch of extras. Yeon's previous work was in animation, and the zombies have the kind of physics-defying qualities you'll see in cartoons.

The tension is mostly non-stop, with little time to take a breath. I don't suppose Train to Busan will appeal to people who don't like zombie movies, but it certainly ranks high within the genre.

The only thing I'd add is that it fit right in with our times. The zombie breakout is like a virus, and the government pretends everything is OK. It's not. I really like this movie, and enjoyed a second visit.


a quiet place (john krasinski, 2018)

A Quiet Place is very good at what it tries to do: scare the shit out of you. Oddly, though, this is not only what makes the movie good, it's what makes the movie almost unbearable to watch.

I suppose the same could be said of any good horror movie. It's almost a definition of horror that works. If it didn't scare us, we would laugh at it. But something different is happening with A Quiet Place. There is none of the anticipatory glee when you know another scare is right around the corner. In this film, there is no around the corner ... you are always already there.

The film wastes little time in set up. The beginning is ominous ... I settled in for some of that glee. Apparently, everyone is trying to be quiet. There's no explanation. Anticipation builds, and that lasts nine minutes. After that, we know what the stakes are. Here is that opening (spoilers, obviously):

It's a great premise for horror: make a noise, and a monster will eat you. Gradually we learn a little more about the situation and the monsters, but not a lot. The premise is what the rest of the movie addresses.

And when the problem is that you can't make a noise, there is no time for anticipation. I spent the next 80 minutes in fear. Silence is very difficult (in fact, it's hard to figure out how these people have stayed alive as long as they have). Every time someone steps on a leaf, or bumps against a wall, or anything else that might make the tiniest noise, that monster from the first scene is in our minds. As I say, every good horror movie strives for this. But the premise and the execution is so excellent that for me it went beyond the glee of watching something scary. The proper word for what I felt was dread.

In the 1953 movie version of The War of the Worlds, there is a scene inside a basement that is so suspenseful and so frightening that Spielberg copied it for his 2005 remake. But the way that film was constructed, you had the long buildup that grew to something of an explanation, you had some examples of Martian technology, you learned what people were up against, and only then did you get the scene in the basement. After which, the story continued to its apocalyptic ending. A Quiet Place is like that basement scene, extended for the final 80 minutes of the movie. Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn received an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Editing, and that was deserved and very appropriate.

So you've got a movie that accomplishes what it sets out to do, and that's a good thing. But I'm still nervous about watching the sequel.


i will let you down, i will make you hurt

After ten years of working in a factory, I was 31 years old. I had more muscles than I ever had before, or ever had again. I don't want to exaggerate ... the muscles weren't that big, and the job usually wasn't very physically demanding. But still.

It didn't take long for all of that to go away. Once I no longer had to lift heavy shit and run around all day, I settled into the person I am today.

Funny thing is, it took much longer for my mental state to change. Even though I'd escaped, my mind still took me back to those days. Finally I got to where I can barely remember what that job was like.

The last time I taught a face-to-face class was 2002. I taught online classes for a long time after that. But when those "temp" adjunct jobs died out, I happily retired, thanks mostly to my lovely wife, who had a job that paid actual money.

Given my hermit tendencies, and the lack of reasons to go out among people on a regular basis, my real-world actions gradually shrunk to a few close friends, family gatherings, and trips to the grocery store. And sports events, where I could be surrounded by tens of thousands of people while being anonymous to all of them except the people I attended with.

When the quarantine began, I figured to be good at it, and I know there are a lot of people out there suffering far more than I am. But after awhile, I feel the social part of my being shrinking just the way my physical self shrunk when I quit working in a factory. Use it or lose it, I guess.

A couple of weeks ago, our daughter and grandson came to visit. It wasn't my idea ... I don't think we should chance it. But they have been very careful at their home, and my wife and I are careful at ours, so the visit happened.

Now the dam is busted. Yesterday, my wife went to the dentist (I had already cancelled my appointment ... no way I'm going there under the current conditions). And last weekend, my sister and brother-in-law came to breakfast. We picked up food at our local cafe (we've been doing that every Saturday since this started ... you order on the phone and do a curbside pickup ... I drive, my wife picks up, since I have more existing health conditions than she does). We met at a park near our house, and maintained social distance while eating and visiting.

I had lost count long ago, but my wife pointed out that it was the first time in three months that I had gone out to be with people (when the grandson visited, we stayed home). Let me repeat that: three months.

I don't know which is more depressing. Is it that I could go without people for three months and not even notice? Or is it that I am so fucked up, my psyche works overtime to convince myself I don't miss people. Either way, it is disturbing.

Today is my 67th birthday. And I don't know any more than I did when I was 7, or 17, or 27, or you get the idea.