Sunday, March 15, 2015

Unfinished business: Movies

I've been binge-watching shows on Netflix and Amazon lately, instead of watching movies online. However, I've seen a surprising number of movies in actual theatres in the past few months.

I wasn't the biggest fan of Wild the book, and I was less a fan of the movie. For starters, I don't think Reese Witherspoon was the right actress to play Cheryl Strayed: she's too delicate-looking and tiny and wholesome-seeming. The movie also left out quite a lot of the book that detracted from Strayed's personal journey. Her ex-husband's role in the movie is reduced to a simply supportive character rather than a best friend who becomes a casualty of her grief and rage; her stepfather is completely absent; her mother comes across as flighty instead of complex.  I really don't know how this got nominated for Best Picture.

Fury was a pretty by-the-book WWII movie. I grew up watching them, so it was fairly predictable. The audience is initiated into the horrors of war through the experience of the young soldier who wasn't supposed to be on the front lines: he has to be taught to kill, has to be shown by his commanding officer how to interact with civilians amid chaos,  has to learn how to be part of a team in order to survive. It wasn't the greatest or most poignant war movie (though it tried to be), but it was a decent addition to the genre.

Dear White People was a movie I would have really related to when I was 21 or 22. Because it definitely reads like it was written by people fresh out of an elite private college. (It's clearly supposed to take place at a Harvard clone.) The basic plot revolves around a largely white fraternity hosting a racist Halloween party, and the events that lead up to it: attempts by the college administration to get rid of a historically all-black dorm, the role of money in higher education, and media depictions of blackness. The film attempts to explore nuances of African-American identity, which I as someone who isn't black don't feel I can critique as heavily; I feel I can say, however, that that is the most intriguing part of the movie. It reminded me of Spike Lee's Bamboozled, but set on a college campus and filled with angsty young adults trying find themselves amidst a cloud of hormones, historical race relations, and the influence of money. I left the theatre with long-buried, unsettling flashbacks to my own college experience, but feeling that the movie tried too hard with too much material. It could have been a more powerful statement on race in higher education. In the moment, I appreciated certain scenes in the movie; but stepping back it was barely even a surface-scratching look at a very serious set of issues.

Mi Hermana and I ran out to watch the third movie in the Hunger Games series. As a huge fan of the books, I was a huge fan of this movie. The third book in the trilogy is split into two movies, and Mockingjay: Part I was pretty amazing. Friends who saw it before me told me that the communications team (following Katniss around bombed-out areas of Districts supporting her revolution) reminded them of me, which is rather flattering but funny. And weeks after seeing the movie, I was a little horrified to hear the remixed version of Katniss' inspiring a cappella call to revolution: "The Hanging Tree" all beat-ified is actually playing on mainstream radio stations.

Mi Hermana, who hasn't read the HG books, was highly disturbed by the scenes of Peeta's psychological struggles. She said she's been watching too much Dora the Explorer, Super Why, and My Little Ponies in the past few years to dive full-scale into a movie about violently overthrowing an oppressive system...

... and yet she was completely fine watching The Eagle, a highly forgettable movie about the 9th Legion in Britain. We watched it on Netflix back-to-back with Centurion, so we might have overdosed on B-quality films about the famous Roman legion lost to time somewhere in the mists of Scotland. The unexpected role of Jamie Bell (who we last saw in Billy Elliott) was one of the only highlights. Like most stories about Roman Britain, it had to bridge the political and cultural divide between occupier and occupied with some sort of hint that the eventual melding of the two would solidify into what we now see as the indomitable British bulldog spirit.

While I was critiquing the history, Mi Hermana the linguist was critiquing the lack of adequate explanations as to how all the different characters from the polyglot Empire were actually communicating.

Fun times.

Friday, March 13, 2015

O me! O life!

A little late with the New Year's reflections, but it's still pretty close to Chinese New Year so I figure I'm only kind of tardy.

Notable "firsts" in 2014:
  • My first mountain summit outside the United States
    It rained cats and dogs on me most of the time, but I loved every minute of it. Mt Snowdon kicked off my solo Welsh hiking trip -- and infected me with the destination hiking bug. If all goes well in 2015, I'll be on to two more international summits!
  • My first Sounders fan trip outside Seattle - to Canada! 
    There was a lot of unanticipated drinking involved. I had packed a nice little sandwich and nalgene bottle for the bus ride up to Vancouver, and was completely unprepared for the total boozefest that the 16-hour adventure turned out to be.
  • I swear, sheep can stand sideways. This one
    was in the Brecon Beacons on my toughest
    hiking day, which included 4 summits.
  • My first 10K!
    This experience also came with my first taste of GU gel at the halfway mark, which was kind of gross but did indeed provide an extra sugar boost. The course was completely flat, which helped.
  • First trip to Dallas
    I was at a conference for work. Got to see the JFK memorial and a few other touristy sights in downtown Dallas.
  • First time going to a roller derby match
    Or whatever they're called. The rules are still somewhat of an enigma, but it was still fun to watch a new sport.
  • First time camping on a beach
    Not just any beach -- the ocean! The Pacific Ocean!  Our campsite was mere yards away from the shore. A cacophany of barking seals kept us up all night. It was awesome. We had to hike three miles across sand during low tide  -- and then I actually volunteered to walk an extra six miles when we ran out of wine -- but it was worth it.
2014 was pretty cool. Here's to 2015 and the Year of the Sheep, and all the "firsts" in store!

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
                                             -- Walt Whitman