Monday, March 30, 2009

A bump on the head

Oh yes, the veg-out continues. I've figured out I'm more productive if I alternate activities: Hulu, sort through Census data, Netflix, read one scholarly article, meet up with friends, research state policies, Boggle online, work on paper outline, Scrabble online, read about survey methods, meet up with friends, etc. . . .

I realize that The Squid and the Whale got rave reviews, but I found it boring. The portrait itself was believable and tragic -- a couple divorces, and their kids become part of the battle terrain as well as side-takers on it. All the snide, under-the-breath comments that people make about family members or exes were very real and depicted very succinctly. But the movie was just that: people being cruel to each other. There was no before or after, and very little sense of why else it was tragic.

We nev
er saw the family when it was supposedly happy, so I didn't find myself caring all that much when it became fractured. Jeff Daniels (though he looked uncannily like my father, with his beard) was great as the arrogant literature professor; but then again he was pretty arrogant, so I found it hard to empathize. Likewise with the eldest son, who is only just learning to navigate a relationship. Laura Linney was okay as an up-and-coming writer whose looming success threatens the ego of her famous ex-husband. But the youngest son was the only one of the family that evoked any sympathy from me: in trying to be fair to all of his loved ones, he ends up hiding his own suffering and acting out in various self-destructive ways.

Also, I'm kind of not a fan of films where the title has to be explained in a monologue towards the end of the film itself. It reads like a bad short story assigned for a high school class. ("In the story, what does the squid represent? The whale?") Most of the time, I think subtly is the best approach. It's better if viewers aren't smacked on the head with it.

Last weekend, Xtina found out that someone she knew was in Northeastern's production of The Vagina Monologues, and we managed to book it across Boston in a record 45 minutes to buy tickets and get seats. It's always a good show, and I hadn't seen it in a few years. It's also one of those shows that I think is best seen as a college or community theatre production (the last time I saw it was an all-Asian American cast). Somehow the subject matter, both raising awareness about violence against women and celebrating female sexuality, are more poignant and personal that way.

A coworker suggested Eat Drink Man Woman. I hadn't realized it's the same plot as Tortilla Soup (also in my queue): widower chef with three daughters deals with their problems as well as his own aging and loneliness. I got SO HUNGRY watching the endless scenes of Chinese food being prepared and served and eaten. The story itself was generally predictable but cute; it was obvious which men, if any, the sisters would marry or hook up with. And my coworker gave away who the father ends up remarrying, so that wasn't a surprise either. Still, it was cute. And unlike Squid, the food metaphors didn't have to be explained.

Lastly, Living in Oblivion. Films about the film industry always seem like inside jokes I'm not quite allowed to get. But this one worked! Steve Buscemi is an indy film director trying to make a movie on a shoestring budget. He is perpetually thwarted by vain or frustrated actors and the bizarre mishaps that arise from a cheap set.

I liked the dream-within-a-dream-within-a-dream sequences. It lent another layer of dissection to the notion that the film industry is a "dream factory" where both our fantasies and fears are embodied.

And again, it didn' t smack the viewer over the head with anything.

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