Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Raindrops on Roses (Part Nineteen): Frances Ha


The coming-of-age genre has always felt to me like it’s deliberately tearing itself apart towards two extremes. At its core, it breaks down childlike wonderment, presenting a cynical view of reality with a very firm “This is the way the world is” message. But it also -- more often than not, it seems -- comes with a happy ending attached. The “comer-of-age” grows up and adapts to the world, finding things to replace the ideals they left behind.

By those metrics, Frances Ha would be a relatively standard coming-of-age film. But there is a key difference here. The protagonist of these sorts of stories is normally a teenager, matching their mental turn towards adulthood with their physical one. The titular Frances is twenty-seven. This may not seem like much, but it means Frances has wildly different issues she has to overcome. Compare this film, for example, to writer and star Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film, Lady Bird. While Saoirse Ronan’s character is dealing with the trials and tribulations of her final year of high school, from friendship drama to relationships to her equally strong-willed mother, Frances finds that all of her friends are moving away while she’s trapped in a career she no longer finds satisfying.

One might note, though, that the basic structure remains the same. Despite her age, Frances Halladay still has a lot of ideals that just don’t work in a cynical world. Some might read that as a failure on the part of the writing, creating a woman-child who might as well be just out of college if she’s going to act like she does. But that’s part of the point, I feel. One of the major lessons that Frances needs to learn is that life is perfectly fine moving on without her.

There’s also a charm that goes into the various episodes of Frances’ life, another thing that extends to many coming-of-age stories. There isn’t really an antagonist. There are low points, yes, and characters fight, but everything is mended by the end with that same resolution I mentioned at the beginning: Frances grows up. And yes, there’s some melancholy attached to that. But there’s a hopefulness to it as well. She’ll figure it out.

-F

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

One And Done

This is going to be another one of those “I think it’s interesting that this phenomenon exists but I don’t have too much more to comment about it other than saying, ‘Look at this cool thing.’” But its neatness is also why I’m talking about it. So temper your expectations, I guess, but not too much.

I think it’s weird how often I go one-and-done with movies. Like, I go to a cinema, stare at a screen for two hours -- maybe more, maybe less -- reflect on my experience a bit, and that’s it. That’s the entirety of my experience with a movie. Sometimes I’ll talk about it later, generally in a, “Oh, have you seen this,” sort of way, but once I’ve left the theater, it’s very likely I’m not going to see that movie again.

Take Madeline’s Madeline from that top five/six I did last year. Or even The Proposal, which I just wrote about. I found both of those movies to be very affecting and occasionally technically impressive. Both of them are also ninety minutes I’ll never experience again unless I get exceedingly lucky and come across them by chance. It won’t be by myself, either; I’ll be forcing these movies on a friend or family member.

I bring these instances up in comparison to a similar phenomenon: the idea of “wanting to unwatch something so as to experience it for the first time again.” How I understand this concept (to be really clinical about it) is people yearn for their stronger positive reactions to things, given that they’re impossible to recreate even on a second viewing. Their glee at a season or series finale, for example, or their shock at a particular twist.

This isn’t something I’ve experienced myself. Not because I’m not really into certain pieces of media, just because, well, I don’t know. Maybe because of how seldomly I rewatch things? But even in terms of music, songs that I listen to over and over, I don’t think I have thought of any of that. As rad as the intro to Justice’s Genesis is, I don’t ever think I’d wished it was the first time I’d heard it.

I also don’t think I don’t have very strong reactions to things. I mean, I spent almost an entire blog post selling The Proposal to anybody who would listen. Every post on my now-defunct review blog was about a film that I enjoyed. What I like, I really like. The only other cause I can think of, though, is just because of the number of movies I’ve seen over the course of, say, a month has only increased. The idea there being that each viewing of a new movie is a new chance for those highest of high moments.

But that seems a little elitist when read like that. It reads like, “Oh, you people just need to watch more movies/read more books/listen to more music.” And I don’t think that was my intention at all. If anything, I’m all for that feeling. The way I experience these movies, I wonder if there’s a hint of “art is disposable” mixed in there in a way that I don’t think was intended by the artists. Not everything has to be a complex sandcastle just waiting to be washed away by the waves, right?

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t know what any of this really means. I just think it’s a neat dichotomy of ideas. It’s always useful, I think (and if you excuse the pretentious phrasing), to consider just how one goes about consuming media.

Come back next week to, ironically, read about a film I have watched a couple times.

-F

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Moving Experience

I guess after mentioning last week that I was helping a friend move I should talk a little bit more about it here, huh?

I’ve noticed a sort of apathy towards helping a friend move that I’m not entirely sure I understand. Like, I get the “waste of a Saturday” sort of deal that I guess if I was working a nine-to-five I might disagree with, but on the other hand, like, they are still your friend, right? There are literally t-shirts and jokes to that effect. “A friend is someone who helps you move a sofa,” they all say.

The punchline generally is, “A true friend is someone who helps you move a body,” and maybe I’m not entirely comfortable with that, but I think my overall point still stands: one of the key features of friendship is that friends help each other. There’s value in that relationship. So yes, I did spend my Tuesday last week hauling a mattress and some chairs and a desk or two up a flight of stairs.

But at the same time, maybe there’s such a thing as too much help? I’m not trying to suggest that (a hypothetical) someone doing all the work while everybody else can only look on helplessly is a good or bad thing, no. Instead, I noticed that there wasn’t always something for me, personally to do. Once all the boxes had been marched up, it slowly became more of a “waiting to be told what to do” sort of deal.

And maybe that’s my fault for not taking the initiative. But if that’s the case, there was a whole lot of not-initiative-taking going on. A lot of the moving-in process was deemed by the tenants as “something we’ll do tomorrow/later” so trying to find something, anything to do became a bit of a process. You couldn’t ask, “What do you need me to do?”, you had to outright state, “I’m going to do this.”

Eventually, I helped build a bookshelf.

Look, I don’t want to be completely negative about the whole thing. Like I said at the start, I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also wonder about the experience. When I left that evening, exhausted though I was from the work I did do, it seemed like there was a lot more that needed doing.

-F

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Last, Best Escape Room

I spent the day helping a friend move into a new apartment, so I'm pretty exhausted. I wouldn't say too exhausted to actually write something down, but I guess it's close enough that at this point it might as well be an off day. As with the other times this has happened, though, I don't want to leave you with just this paragraph of excuses, so here's a semi-story I haven't shared on this blog yet.

Escape rooms are still popular, right?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Champion Of The New

I don’t really think of myself as a film critic. I watch a lot of movies, yes, which I think inevitably means that opinions are going to change and develop as I express them, and there was that one time I tried to have a weekly review blog that we don’t really talk about anymore, but, I don’t know, I guess the label just never really stuck.

But one thing I have realized I enjoy doing from that whole process is telling people about movies they otherwise wouldn’t have heard of. Not in an “If you haven’t watched this movie you haven’t lived” sort of way (see below), it’s more of an “I don’t think this movie gets the respect it deserves” idea.



I think that’s why critics like to do Top X pieces. There are other reasons, sure (lists are both easy to make and easy to consume, search engine optimization and clicks are the driving moneymakers in the gig economy, etcetera), but at least ideally, there’s also the drive to promote. To take from Anton Ego at the end of Ratatouille, “The new needs friends.”

So with all that said, let’s talk about something new.

The Proposal (2018) is a documentary about an art installation, the installation itself about an artist and their relationship with their own artwork after their death. That’s its primary question, one that features prominently in its trailer: “What happens after the death of the author?” But that message has two meanings. The first is the obvious: An artist’s work is their legacy, but art can be a commodity. So what happens to that legacy when someone just… buys all of the art? And doesn’t let anyone see it?

The second, question, though, is a bit more physical: Does their body reach similar sacred heights? Filmmaker and visual artist Jill Magid has an answer to both questions already in mind. Her goal is, by taking you through the same steps she did, by showing you the same pieces of architecture that she has seen, she wants to guide you to that same conclusion. Or, at the very least, think harder about why your answer might differ.

But presenting a perspective and defending it is an obvious selling point for documentaries. What makes The Proposal stand out is just how pretty everything looks. Luis Barragán’s work is treated with the reverence it deserves, with special lingering looks at his Satelite Towers and his El Bebedero fountain, and they emphasize certain voiceover moments as perfect moving images.

One thing I want to point out specifically is how Jill Magid seems to take special pains to try and always film herself from behind. By doing so she becomes an observer, just like her audience, even if she herself admits that by even presenting this story she is forever changing its history and future. She also makes an aside towards the more controversial aspects of her project (“I know my offer is unorthodox” she says in the opening narration). I mention these because, again, depending on how you view the questions the movie poses, you might find yourself hesitant to view further after a little research.

I don’t know how easy or hard this movie will be to find after its limited theatrical run. The way I figure, you’ll probably forget this post by the time this movie re-enters your consciousness. But if you haven’t forgotten it, I hope that this sways you to watch it.

Really, that’s all I can do.

-F

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Things To Do Instead Of Writing A Blog Post

It’s an odd situation to find oneself in, only remembering a deadline you’ve set pretty hard for yourself only after the fact. But let’s not dwell too hard on the past and instead focus on things that could be done instead of focusing on deadlines -- the things I was doing instead.

1) Sleeping in! I do this especially after having to close at work, where I just sort of plow through the next morning and straight into the afternoon. There are a lot of other factors, especially in the summer when it’s less likely that I’ll have scheduled obligations in the morning, but it certainly happens.

2) Grocery Shopping! This kind of happens on a by-need basis. I guess that’s just what happens when there are two stores just down the street. This also means I tend to shop a little light. After all, I can always go back and buy more.

3) Seeing a Movie! I saw Meeting Gorbachev, a film by Werner Hertzog and Andre Singer exploring its titular subject over the course of three interviews. It’s an interesting watch, I think. Hertzog at this point is known for his narration and affect which translates well, and the subject matter is something I’ve been tangentially interested in (or interested in because people I know are interested in it). What the film doesn’t do, really, is display too much content from the interviews themselves, so if that’s what you’re looking for, I’d suggest steering away. If you’re looking for an (admittedly biased) overview of Cold War Russian history, though, this is a good one.

4) Cooking! People around me say I’m good at it but I’m not so sure. Like, I can, and it (mostly) tastes good, so I suppose if you call “anyone who cooks,” then yes, I’m a cook. But in terms of personal identity, I don’t know. I’ve never thought of myself as “a cook” even if I do the things a cook does on occasion.

5) Writing Other Things! I have other things! I can’t show you them yet (or, for some of them, ever (sorry!)), but I have talked about some of them in the past. For example, just last week I talked about a sort-of memetic lighthouse and that, well, that still hasn’t gone away. That’s kind of the point of it, really.

One does have to eventually buckle down and get back on schedule, though. That’s what this is for: a list of excuses and a promise to do better. And hey, if you go by the timezones on Blogspot -- a Pacific Time Zone company -- I technically wasn’t late just yet.

 I’ll see you next Tuesday, for real next time.

 -F

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Terraforming (Part Four): The Lighthouse

I’ve recorded in the past how I tend not to remember my dreams and how that’s lead to them becoming something of a minor fascination of mine. Most of that is still true, though I do occasionally catch glimpses now. I remember having them, at the very least. This post is still about a fictional dream, but it’s one that pervades my thoughts and demands a setting to be placed in.

It’s been a while since I’ve written here about Naviim, that fictional kingdom I throw so many ideas into, throwing worldbuilding elements into it like they’re all magnets on a fridge, rearranging them as I see fit. That’s what happens when you’re working with two or three periods in the kingdom’s history. In this case, I imagine this particular element as a sort of bridge between the two.

What I imagine is this ethereal lighthouse haunting people’s dreams, a sort of eldritch location that just shows up. It doesn’t do anything malicious (at least, not yet), but it does seem to cause people to obsess about it, desperate to find its physical manifestation even though one might not exist.

Now, astute readers might notice how in the first paragraph I introduced the lighthouse as something that “pervades my thoughts,” while later introducing the same elements into the fictional world as well. One might presume that it’s sort of memetic trap similar to, say, The Game (the one you just lost) or Roko’s Basilisk (don’t look that one up). But I don’t think so. It’s probably just me. Though that’s probably what they always say right before it starts.

In any case, because of its probable lack of, you know, corporeal-ness, it could easily withstand the apocalypse. As long as there is somebody to look for it, it exists. What happens after that? Well, I haven’t quite figured that part out yet. I just wanted to get something about it written down. I’m sure I’ll let you all know, though.

-F