Tag: Do the Right Thing

My Movie List For July 4th

There’s something about July 4th that usually gets me feeling contrary. It feels like such an aggressive, bombastic holiday, demanding emotions from me that I refuse to feel simply because they’re demanded of me.

My response to it has been to counter-program it, in my own quiet way, by watching movies that air my grievances about my usually-better-in-theory-than-in-practice country of origin. (It’s very Festivus, I know.) I sometimes let this go when my country and I are on better terms, but as you may have noticed from recent posts, our relationship has become strained recently.

So here’s this year’s list, which I quite enjoyed.

  • The Pentagon Wars
  • Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
  • Do The Right Thing
  • Network

I traditionally include All the President’s Men in this list, but I’ve been watching it too much lately.

So ends the airing of grievances. Now for the feats of strength.

2014: The Year In Things That Didn’t Suck

The general consensus is that 2014 sucked for many reasons. My lame list includes everything from the Congressional election results, to money woes, to the Oakland Raiders’ Commitment to Excrement, to my recent bout of shingles.

But 2014 didn’t serve up only stinkburgers. There were some aspects of this year that I actually liked. I’ll list the ones that might have some meaning for you here.

Favorite Movie (blockbuster): I haven’t seen Guardians of the Galaxy, so I can’t join the chorus in support of that flick. Instead I’ll sing a note for Live, Die, RepeatEdge of Tomorrow. It’s still a rotten title for a very good, and refreshingly original, sci-fi action movie.

Favorite Movie (non-blockbuster): Among the movies I saw in the theater, I’d have to go with The Obvious Child. But of the movies 2014 introduced me to, I’d have to go with one I’d inexplicably left unseen for a couple of decades: Do the Right Thing. I’m sure Jenny Slate won’t mind losing out to Spike, just this once.

Favorite Book: Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. One of the best books I’ve read on the many ways we fail to recognize what’s in front of us. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

Favorite Public Policy Initiative: The Affordable Care Act. This was the year that my health insurance allowed me to see a doctor without sweating the bill, which came in handy because, for the first time in some time, several issues came up for me that required a medical mind. All of them have improved, and none of them hurt me financially. It’s not the greatest health care arrangement I can imagine–as Han Solo would say “I can imagine quite a bit”–but it’s way ahead of where we were a year ago. Thanks, Obama!

Favorite New (To Me) Comedian: Jenny Yang was winning this going away right up until November, when I saw someone else lurking in the Seattle comedy scene who I hope will eventually become too expensive for me to watch: Tyler Smith. This guy killed at the benefit for Mona Concepcion’s son. His set was tight, and his bit about consulting with an old woman on her first legal weed purchase made me laugh hard. If you get a chance, check him out.

Favorite New (To Me) Youtube Channel: Steve Shives. I’ve linked to some of his stuff over the last few months. His 5 Stupid Things series is incredibly addictive. And his Steve and Stuffy videos make me feel less odd about the voices I assign to my teddy bears. (Yes, you read that.)

Party I Actually Liked Attending: Kristen Young’s annual pig roast. Great food, great weather, social without being overwhelming or exhausting. Thanks, Kristen.

Favorite New Friends, Associates, Cronies, People on Social Media I Actually Hardly Know, or What You Will: Eileen Goudge, Scott Whitmore, Casey Raiha, Tiffany Wan, Nina Burleigh, Barry Crimmins, Kelly Carlin, Julia Sweeney, the Woman Known To Me As Penny Dreadful, and Mrs. B. Natural.

And of course the incomparable Venice Buhain, who kept me alive.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget Inklings bookstore in Yakima, WA. If I had a thousand people like their events manager, I’d be ruling the world right now.

If you got to know me this year and you’re not on this list, you should ponder all the ways you might have disappointed me.

Happy 2015, everybody!

42 Since ’71 (Part 2)

Click here for Part 1.

Last week I covered the first ten of the list of my forty-two favorite movies made since the year of my birth, 1971. Here’s the next part of that list.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: I know this movie was meant to be an homage to the old chapter play movies from the pre-television era, but because I hadn’t seen those before catching Raiders, I didn’t relate to this movie that way. It was, instead, just pure action fun with the smart, determined, yet often bruised Indiana Jones pitted against his smoother, more cultured French rival and a battalion of Nazis. Once you start this movie, I defy you to stop watching it.

Saturday Night Fever: Thanks to the poster art, and the trailer, you’d assume this movie is a high spirited disco celebration, similar to the various 1980s Shabba Doo dance flicks. Instead, Saturday Night Fever a grim vision of economic desperation, bigotry, sexism, depression, and Tony Manero’s desire to find a way to transcend it all, not through dancing (which serves him primarily as a temporary escape from life’s darkness), but through his recognition of his (grievous) flaws, and his fumbling towards smarter choices.

Dog Day Afternoon: Ever had one of those days? You start out with a simple plan. You think things couldn’t possibly go wrong, much less spiral out of control. Sonny Wortzik has. His plan was to rob a bank to pay for his lover’s sex reassignment surgery. Unfortunately, he’s not a professional bank robber, so what plans he did make quickly go awry. When they do, Sonny’s predicament seems to draw every current of the 1970s toward it–television insta-fame, Vietnam, anger at authority, economic stress, worries about crime, the nascent LGBT liberation movement, Stockholm syndrome. With this movie and Network, Sidney Lumet joined Scorsese and Coppola as one of the most vital directors of the era.

Taxi Driver: Speaking of Scorsese, this is the movie where he introduced us to a character who’s become an archetype for alienated paranoia: Travis Bickle. As played by Robert De Niro, Bickle is a socially awkward ex-Veteran who, unable to find a place in normal society, becomes evermore attracted to extreme violence. He plans to unleash this on a political candidate, but, thwarted, instead attacks a pimp and achieve heroic status. Viewers were quick to imagine that the end of the movie was a kind of death-fantasy of Bickle’s, but no. He really did get those glowing press clippings for rescuing the prostitute played by Jodie Foster. What we’re left with is the question of how to feel about that, and I’m still not sure I know.

Moonstruck: Nicholas Cage and Cher are both widely known for the cheesier aspects of their performance careers, and that’s fair in a way. But we need to acknowledge the subtle, smart work they’re capable of in a movie like Moonstruck. At the center of a strong ensemble, Cage and Cher manage to take what could have been a broad ethnic romantic comedy and ground it in something stronger and more specific to their individual characters. In most romantic comedies, the would-be lovers have to overcome plot contrivances. In Moonstruck, they have to overcome a much tougher opponent: themselves.

Unforgiven: Clint Eastwood’s work has always been strongest for me when he’s taken his persona–a taciturn man who breaks whatever rules he wants–and questioned how much we should admire it. His Will Munny is an aging gunfighter who’s tried his best to repudiate his past as a drunken gunslinger, but his needs, and his incompetence as a pig farmer, lead him to chase a $1,000 dollar reward for killing a pair of farm hands who mutilated a prostitute in the town of Big Whiskey, Wyoming. The moral code Munny’s been living by erodes as he approaches the town, and after he guns down five men avenging the murder of his friend and partner in crime, he uses the money to take his kids to San Francisco and open a prosperous dry goods store. As was the case with Travis Bickle’s happy ending, we’re left unsure how to feel about this.
Trainspotting: While Trainspotting spares us nothing when it comes to the ugly side of heroin addiction–withdrawl, death, and swimming in the filthiest toilet in Scotland–it also makes clear what its attractions are: friends, humor, fun times, amusingly aimless conversations, the thrill of chaos. I never want to live in that world–I recently lost a cousin to it–but Trainspotting makes it easy to understand why people enter it, and why–addictive properties of the drugs aside–they stay.

Pulp Fiction: Speaking of films about escaping the addictive lives its characters lead, here’s Pulp Fiction, a film that brilliantly essays both fun and attraction of the life of crime and the urgent need of some of its characters to find an escape from it. The film takes pains to paint its violent killer characters as cool, then questions how desirable it is to be cool. We don’t know if Jules ends up abandoning the role of hired killer and becomes like Kane in Kung Fu, but I’d like to think he does.

Do The Right Thing: Brooklyn on the hottest day of any year is probably enough to bring the asshole out of anyone, but on this day, in this time of already heightened racial tension, it lights a long slow fuse to an explosion. It starts over a seemingly small thing–the local pizzeria doesn’t have any pictures of black celebrities on its wall. Spike Lee brilliantly builds the tension through the next two hours as people react to the situation, then to each others’ reactions. Where it ends feeling painfully inevitable. If you haven’t seen it, see it. If you have, see it again.

Fargo: From the hottest day in Brooklyn to the perpetual cold of the Upper Midwest, Fargo is a film about the toxic combination of greed and stupidity, and how it poisons everyone it touches. There are so many brilliant performances here that I don’t have space to list them, but for me the film’s success comes down to two smiles, the simpering desperation of William H. Macy and the friendly grin of his nemesis, Frances McDormand.  Macy’s simper is a mask that keeps threatening to slip, and behind it is nothing but incompetence and the fear of being proven incompetent. The mask holds together during his first encounter with McDormand, but after McDormand meets an old classmate whose mask is revealed as a mask, she recognizes what Macy’s character is. She breaks him down until the mask slips, the simper fades, and what’s left is swearing anger and the need to run. I could watch Fargo all day.

That’s all for now. Next time: Schindler’s List, This is Spinal Tap, Goodfellas, Being There and six more.


The Things I’ve Seen (April 2014 Edition)

Here’s what I viddied on a screen in April 2014.

Gravity: A spectacular real-time (or close enough) story of survival. I admired Sandra Bullock’s performance as a rookie astronaut struggling to live long enough to make her way back to Earth after one disaster touches off a regularly scheduled spate of subsidiary disasters. Definitely worth seeing.

Advise and Consent: An all-star cast affair from the early 1960s about a close confirmation battle in the U.S. Senate. Henry Fonda plays a Secretary of State nominee with a radical past that he wants to keep concealed. Charles Laughton plays the reactionary southern senator who’ll resort to any means to expose him. It’s a tricky film where, as in real politics, everybody ends up looking a little dirty, and it’s hard at the end to figure out exactly what was accomplished. It’s worth seeing primarily for the performances, and for those who want to know how accusations of homosexuality were seen not too long ago.

Do the Right Thing: I somehow missed this film when it came out in theaters. (I remember seeing a lot of movies in 1989–the better to avoid my college roommate–but somehow I missed this.) I’m glad I finally corrected this mistake. Spike Lee’s film, like a Greek tragedy, unfolds on a single day in Brooklyn, the hottest day of the year. Over the course of the day, long simmering resentments boil and end in a series of shocking, though inevitable feeling, violence. It’s amazing how many finely layered performances Lee managed to bring together here. If you somehow missed this movie when it came out, or you’re too young to remember it, check it out.

Quest For the Lost City (a.k.a The Final Sacrifice): Rowsdower! The movie that stands as a rebuke to all those who think that being lumpy and bewhiskered or skinny and ineffectual are barriers to save the world from bloodthirsty Canadian cults. This is one of the masterpieces of late season MST3K. Do not drink liquids while watching unless you enjoy the sensation of spraying them from your nose.

Until May is over…