Friday, May 28, 2010

Transformers 3: The Love Bug. (Part Two)

[Apologies to any Internet traveller who ended up here thinking that I would have a rant regarding Michael Bay, robots, or any topic semi-related to the recent blockbuster films created based on plastic toys.]

"Wherever you are, whenever it's right
You'll come out of nowhere and into my life
And I know that we can be so amazing
And, baby, your love is going to change me
And now I can see every possibility..."

 -- Michael Buble, Haven't Met You Yet

So here we are, gathered around our little campfire, with the logs of Love, Transformation, Expectation, and Compatibility all ablaze.  And I'm trying to balance this equation:  in a loving relationship, what is the proper mix of accepting of your partner as they are, desire to transform, acceptance of oneself, and desire to be transformed.

The short answer is, of course:  Whatever works!  But I'm audacious enough to suppose that there is a particular view of the equation that is more inclined to work for most people.  To figure that out, you need to decide how much you support the following assumptions:

- Love, by its very nature, should transform people and situations
- People in loving relationships should care as much (or more) about their partners as themselves
- Everyone has things about themselves they would like to change
- No one likes to feel that they are being forced or coerced into changing
- People are always changing - whether they realize it or not

I know this will come as a shock - but I think there is a great deal of truth in these assumptions.  So how does that end up balancing the equation?  I would summarize it this way:

- People should enter into loving relationships accepting their partners as they are
- People should enter into loving relationships trying to be the best they can be

I find the attitude that "My partner should accept me as who I am, no matter what" to be an excuse for bad behavior*.  It seems to me that, if we want our partners to accept us for who we are, we should at least be attempting to put our best foot forward.  I don't feel that it is being dishonest to "be on your best behavior". 

The danger, I think, is in trying to distort our "true" selves in the hope of making ourselves attractive to a partner.  I don't believe that such a performance can be sustained over the long haul.  I think this type of deception (of both oneself and your partner) is distinctly different from recognizing things about yourself that you would like to change - and looking for a partner that can help you make that change.

So where does that leave our equation?

Here's my opinion:  The most stable relationships will exist where partners are most accepting of each other as they are.  The impetus for change should not come from one partner desiring to change the other - but a partner who desires to be changed through the love and influence of their partner over time.

After all, isn't the amazing thing that people can sustain long-term, loving relationships at all?  If, as I suspect, people are changing constantly (whether they notice it or not), how is it that all couples don't eventually become estranged?

Maybe it's because their love for one another is continually transforming them.

Or something.

Take care.

PS:  I won ANOTHER iPad today.  No sh*t.  I probably should have played the Lottery too.
PPS:  I did NOT compose this post on my iPad.  But it is still really cool.

*It has long been my view that bad behavior can be understood or tolerated - but not excused.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Transformers 3: The Love Bug. (Part One)

(Note: I really am blogging in bed this time - and Unmitigated Me is sleeping beside me. Uneasily perhaps, given that I could always be writing about her - but sleeping nonetheless.)

I have written before about the dangers in relationships that can be caused by expectations, especially those unrealistic ones. A particular strain of this disease is the "I'll marry him/her and eventually change him/her into Mr/Mrs Right". I have criticized this approach -and it does seem to offend the modern sensibility which so readily subscribes to the idea that we should be accepted for who we are (no matter how reprehensible) and any attempts to better us are misguided.

Over the past week, I've been trying to reconcile those thoughts with another idea: if we are in a truly loving relationship with someone, shouldn't that experience change us? Shouldn't we expect to be transformed?

Think on that - and we'll talk more about it next time.

Take care.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The medium is the message

I am composing this blog entry from my bed - because I can. I know what you're thinking - "Blogging in bed? That's the best he can do?" (And, clearly, the answer is "Yes".)

But the cool part is - I'm using my new iPad to do it (write the post, I mean). And before you think me a complete loser for dropping five bills on the latest gadget du jour, let me clarify. I'm using the new iPad I won in a drawing at a seminar I attended last week. Or to put it another way: I'm using my FREE iPad.

I would include a picture - but that would mean I'd have to get out of bed.

So I guess I'll just hit the Save button and get some sleep. (You'll notice that this new technology has not improved my ability to actually compose a satisfying post...)

Quality improvement is an issue for another day.

Take care.

Friday, April 9, 2010

You have all the time there is

I used to think that, as time went on, the pieces of my life would fit together more closely.

Here's what I mean:  I've always felt my life was highly "compartmentalized".  I have a work piece, and a church piece, and a family piece (divided into my mother's side of family, my father's side of the family and my wife's family).  I have friends from school, friends from my old job, friends from the martial arts school.  But there isn't much overlap between the compartments.

From time to time, maybe everyone feels that their life is like that.  But when you're trying to devote a meaningful part of yourself and your time to each facet - and the only common thing in the facets seems to be you - scheduling alone is a b*tch.

I imagined that, as I grew older and...wiser (Oh God, make them stop laughing - someone's going to burst a blood vessel), I would find ways to better integrate these aspects of my life.  I don't imagine that anymore.  I realized yesterday, as I was working a couple extra hours in the office again, that my life is just as segregated as it ever was.

I work harder when I'm working, so that I can relax more (and/or longer) when I'm relaxing.  I constantly make decisions about what activity or aspect of my life will get a little less attention today, so that another part can get the attention it needs.  And, although I still am rather hopelessly overcommitted, I truly have gotten better at say "No" to things and stopping activities that were not enriching.  So why does it still seem such a struggle?

Here's my latest insight on that question:  Because as time goes on, the things we must do always get more difficult - not less.  The older you get, the more experience you have, the greater expectation there is - from others and from YOURSELF - of how much you can do and how quickly you can do it.  And I believe that expectation outpaces your actual ability to deliver.  Not that you can't do more things and do them better, faster, whatever - but that your abilities can't necessarily keep pace with expectations.

Let's face it - as time goes on, people don't ask you to do easier things, do they?  We start with the easy stuff and (theoretically) move on to things that are more difficult and complex.

So what can we do?  Well, I'm going to cut myself a little slack.  'Cause being distracted and tired never helped anybody be a better husband, or Dad, or boss, or friend.

I think that all made sense.  Time to go to work.

Take care.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Belated Blogoversary: Let the yawning begin

  • The Blogoversary for speaking in CAPS was a week ago.

    I'd like to be able to tell you that I was prevented from actually posting to my blog due to the mind-numbing debauchery in which I was engaged to celebrate that auspicious occasion. But I'd be lying to you. I spent the time either watching TV or sleeping. 'Cause that's the way I roll.
  • Those of you who have been following my blog for a while (which seems to mainly involve waiting for me to actually post something) know that I've harbored the desire to acquire a newer, nicer television for quite some time. It arrived two weeks ago in a really big box.

  • It is an LG 55LH90 55-Inch HDTV that is both large and beautiful. Although I made the purchase through Amazon, the actual seller was OneCall. The company's Director of Business Development, Larry F., contacted me directly following the order to let me know that the fantasticly low price I had obtained on the TV was due to an error - but they were going to honor the price...because no one else on the planet had purchased the television during the few fleeting moments that the erroneous price was posted. I have not yet had the opportunity to watch an entire movie on my new TV - but I am looking forward to receiving my first couple of blu-ray discs from Netflix for viewing this weekend. There'll be more about the TV later - it's sure to be the focus of a majority of my free time for the next few months.

  • At the beginning of this hockey season, I made a bet with my friend, The Phantom, that the Detroit Red Wings would go farther in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs than the Chicago Blackhawks. I entered into this arrangement before the Wings entered into the long, dark abyss of player injuries that became the hallmark of their 2009-2010 regular season. But in the last couple days, the team's strong play following the Olympics paid dividends - and the team has made the playoffs for the 19th consecutive year, the longest streak in professional sports. Despite the rough year, no other hockey team is relishing the idea of being matched with the Wings in the first round of the playoffs. Right now, that opponent would be...the Vancouver Canucks. Looks like Captain Dumbass and me may be on another collision course this year.
  • I love my children but...

    I feel that it is extremely important that your grown children (mine are 20 and 18) live with you long enough to reveal, in stark detail, every one of your parenting failures; not just once - but repeatedly. This is necessary to ensure that, when they do leave home, you will not be seized with any maudlin nostalgia or regrets, but instead a wave of relief will pass over you as you consider that you will no longer have to be reminded that: your children don't remember when to flush the toilet; that they often finish the last bit of (cereal, cookies, pop tart, etc) and fail to throw away the empty box or container; that their idea of a well-balanced meal is a large saucepan filled to overflowing with macaroni and cheese or buttered pasta.

    When they leave the house, you are at peace. And the rest of the world will need to deal with these issues.
  • At the end of this month, the Middle-Aged Woman and I are going to Vero Beach, Florida for a week. And a couple of my high school buddies have convinced me to make my first ever trip to Vegas at the beginning of June. I'm going to be the Traveling Man this year.

    Let's hope I don't forget how to post to my blog.

    Year Two has begun.
Take care.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Limping towards Blogoversary:
T-minus 7 days and counting

I'm used to being busy. I am often extremely busy - as in, busier than most people (i.e. anyone else I can think of at the moment) care for. That doesn't normally affect my ability to focus myself; in fact, oftentimes having too much to do focuses me into a living laser. But I've been rather scattered lately.

My Dad's cancer diagnosis and surgery moved things into a different realm since the last weekend of February. Not because there was so much more to do - the change was due more to that fact that I ended up spending a good deal of time away from home (which meant less time to deal with all my normal commitments) coupled with a new set of issues which occupied my mind but concerning which there was little that I could actually do (other than prayer and remaining calm).

This probably makes it sound as though I was more worried about the whole situation than I felt (on the whole). Although I had a few dark moments, I felt that things would turn out OK - and knew that maintaining my composure was the right thing to do, even if the worst should happen. I had long ago steeled myself to the fact that my father (an overweight smoker with high blood pressure) could take his leave of this mortal coil with little or no warning - so facing that real possibility wasn't something I had never considered. Still, I like the world a lot better with my Dad still in it - so I'm quite gratified that his surgery was (seemingly) so successful.

He still has chemotherapy in his near future. In the weird logic of modern medicine, once he is healed up from this major surgery, his oncologist will begin to introduce toxic chemicals into his system to attack any cancer-like cells. Let's hope that the chemicals attack the "bad cells" and leave the "good ones" relatively undisturbed.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting my groove back. I need some exercise. I need some sleep. I need to get prepared for Easter. I need to prepare the basement for our new TV.

And I need to write a few more decent posts before my Blogoversary.
T-minus 7 days and counting.

Take care.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

RTT: Limping towards Blogoversary

  • As of next week, I will have been doing this for a year. And when I say "doing this", I mean "having a blog" rather than "writing a blog"- cause my track record on the latter has been pretty weak since October*.

  • My dad has lung cancer. (If you read the Middle-Aged Woman, you probably know that already.) To be more precise (or maybe the word is "optimistic"), my dad HAD lung cancer - but the surgeons removed it - along with half of his left lung and some lymph nodes. (Hopefully Dad will cut me some slack on this egregious HIPAA violation...) He was released from the hospital yesterday - the fifth day following surgery! That was good news - but rather a surprise, since he thought he would be in the hospital for a week to ten days. I am expecting to visit him in Dayton again this coming weekend - if the Lord's willing and the creek don't rise.

  • I had every intention of completing my mini-reviews of the last three films viewed as part of The Plan (The Blind Side, Avatar, and The Last Station - which were all good, by the way) but as more time has passed since the Oscar telecast, I wonder if anyone is still interested. I may do it for my own strange reasons, of course - but my motivation has not been good lately.

  • I bought a large TV last week. (If you read the MAW, you know that already too.) I really do owe debt of gratitude to Larry at OneCall for his consideration regarding the purchase. Amazon advertised an incorrect price for the TV - and I was the only person on the planet to place an order for that item during the few minutes that the erroneous pricing was in place. Larry and OneCall could have decided to nix the sale - but they decided to honor the advertised price despite the error. Once I take delivery on the set, I plan to do a more lengthy writeup on both the TV and OneCall to point out the excellent service they provided me - despite selling the TV at a loss.

  • As a result of buying the new TV and a Blu-Ray player to go with it, I'm planning to give my Roku player to my dad so he can stream Netflix movies and my Major League Baseball subscription to his TV. My Blu-Ray is able to stream Netflix, so I shouldn't need the Roku anymore.

  • I was the master of ceremonies at a fund-raiser on Sunday for the Joy-Southfield Community Development Corporation, an organization spearheaded by my church (Second Grace United Methodist) not quite 10 years ago. One of the major initiatives of the JSCDC was establishment of a free health clinic that was originally housed in our church and later moved to a new building constructed across the street. It was a wonderful occasion - and appropriate that our event should take place that Congress finally enacted comprehensive health care legislation. Plus I bought a nice bracelet for my wife at the silent auction.

  • Did I mention that my TV is currently in Fridley, Minnesota?

Take care.

PS: Go visit Keely at the Un-Mom willya?!

Please? Come on - do it for me. Do it for Keely!

* I should probably go all the way back to August. But I did hit (low) double-digits for my posts in October.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Plan: Four down...three more to go

The Plan: I have decided to see these seven films before the Academy Awards broadcast on Sunday night, March 7 -

An Education [I saw this one on 2/21- click the link for my review]

☐ Avatar

☐ The Blind Side

Crazy Heart [I saw this one on 2/20- click the link for my review]

☐ District 9

The Hurt Locker [I saw this one on 2/26- click the link for my review]

☐ The Last Station

Last night, I saw...

District 9 - (Jim Styro's mini-review)

Whoa Nellie!

Director Neill Blomkamp's first feature film is a concoction that is part "prison break", part "man-on-the-run", part "bank heist", part "concentration camp" and part "documentary" sprinkled liberally over a bed of sci-fi (including homages from everything to David Cronenberg's The Fly to The Phantom Menace to Close Encounters of the Third Kind). It's got everything - plus the kitchen sink! All this with an underlying rumination on apartheid - to be more accurate, the question: If the creature is different enough from you, is it OK to treat him (her, it) like crap?

There's a lot going on in District 9, which is both a blessing and a curse. The film hurtles you directly into a world where mankind's first encounter with an alien race occurs in Johannesburg, South Africa - which gives a whole new meaning to the term "third world". The hectic nature of the movie's opening will be hard for some viewers to take in (I kept reminding myself that I was watching a film nominated for Best Picture) - but if you like a flick that is crammed full of ideas, you won't be disappointed. The "little green men" here (OK, they're really big ugly-looking bug-things) haven't come to be take over our planet - or be our friends - they just ran out of gas on their way home. And by the time we humans get around to cutting them out of their mothership, most of them are dead or dying. As a result, Soweto gets a new ghetto, this one filled with aliens, called "District 9".

I won't even attempt to outline the plot (beyond my helpful hints in the opening paragraph). This is a messy film - in every sense of the word. But once we get inside District 9, the action does begin to draw you in for a bumpy ride. The movie does have a number of gross-out moments - but the overall effect of District 9 is so unreal that, at times, it's like watching someone else playing Halo (or some other first-person shooter video game). And the movie features a good performance by Sharlto Copley as Wikus, who goes from being the bumbling husband of the boss' daughter put in charge of an operation beyond his abilities to a man desperately trying to retain/reclaim his humanity. He also gets style points for trying to imbue the word "f*ck" with the most dramatic impact since The Big Lebowski.

If you're a sci-fi fan, you're probably gratified that the Academy has recognized District 9 with a Best Picture nomination. I don't put it in the same level with the other nominees I have seen so far - but some of that is just a matter of taste, after all.

Take care.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Plan: Three down...four more to go

"Previously on Speaking In CAPS..."

I have decided to see these seven films before the Academy Awards broadcast on Sunday night, March 7 -

An Education [I saw this one on 2/21- click the link for my review]

☐ Avatar

☐ The Blind Side

Crazy Heart [I saw this one on 2/20- click the link for my review]

☐ District 9

☐ The Hurt Locker

☐ The Last Station

Last Friday night, I saw...

The Hurt Locker - (Jim Styro's mini-review)

There are certain types of movies that I don't necessarily look forward to seeing: anything with scenes of extreme violence or gore, horror films, and (most) modern gangster or war films. I admit it - I'm squeamish. And I shy away from films where you can tell something bad is going to happen sooner or later (oftentimes the badness arrives early and often) and the only remaining questions are: when will it occur and how bad will it be?

But a Best Picture nomination still carries some weight with me (although not as much weight now that there are ten films nominated rather than five*), so I steeled myself in preparation for viewing The Hurt Locker, knowing that there would moments in the film that would be difficult for me to watch - but hoping that the film would be worth the trouble. As Don Henley once asked, "Are you with me so far?"

The Hurt Locker follows a three-man bomb disposal squad through the last month and a half of a year-long tour-of-duty in Iraq. Staff Sgt. James, the team leader, is a man who seems to know no fear. He works instinctively, with little regard for protocol - and loves his work in a way that even he does not understand. Sgt. Sanborn is a soldier of nearly equal experience - but he rankles at the unnecessary risks which his team leader seems to thrive upon. Specialist Eldridge is the youngest and most impressionable of the trio. Although he has known and worked with Sanborn longer, he is drawn to James' bravado and seeming invincibility. As their remaining days in Iraq dwindle down, the sense of tension mounts. How long will their luck hold out in the face of such carnage?

Director Kathryn Bigelow has crafted a film was doesn't seem crafted at all. Rather, it makes the viewer a participant and creates the sense of being present in the action, with the sense of danger and foreboding that are an everyday part of the team's work. While the movie certainly has a point of view, it does not have an overt agenda. It does not seem to judge the soldiers, the Iraqis, or even the conflict itself. The only objective is survival - in an environment that seems to make that objective an impossibility.

Although the performances in The Hurt Locker are uniformly excellent, the three leads (Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) must carry the picture - and their work together makes us believe that these very different young men comprise a team so tight-knit that we civilians can scarcely comprehend the nature of their brotherhood. The film portrays a type of warfare unique to our present day, with three men going into battle seemingly (and, in some cases, quite literally) alone. The isolation of The Hurt Locker's action stands in stark contrast to what we would expect in a World War 2 or Vietnam era film, where these exploits would feature groups of 6, 10 or a dozen men. Here, the indelible image is of one soldier walking into certain danger with only a couple of other men to watch his back.

Although it seems ludicrous to me to call The Hurt Locker an "enjoyable" film - it is a memorable movie and one well worth seeing. I won't be surprised to look back and see that this film is viewed as the iconic portrayal of the Iraq war(s) [as some might say of Apocalypse Now and Vietnam, or Saving Private Ryan and World War 2]. It's strong stuff - so be prepared.

Take care.

* It just seems like a blatant move to get more people into the theaters. I mean, were there really twice as many amazingly excellent movies made this year than last year?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

RTT: Lies, all lies...

  • Yesterday, I claimed that I would be posting a review of The Hurt Locker today. But that was clearly b*llsh*t - 'cause you can look as hard as you want and you won't find any review of that film here today.

  • I'm beginning to realize that, whenever I think that I'm getting caught up with all the things I need to do, it's just because I've conveniently forgotten a bunch of stuff.

  • I really did intend to write a review of The Hurt Locker for today. I don't want you to think that I planned all along to disappoint you. I had good intentions.

  • I gave blood this morning. I have O Negative blood (anyone can use it) so I'm very popular with the Red Cross (and bleeding people everywhere). I was once told that my blood is so "clean" (free from contaminants / antibodies that wouldn't be harmful to adults - but would cause problems for children) it can be given to infants.

  • I promise that I'm going to write a review of The Hurt Locker very soon - maybe even tonight.

  • I had planned to write a blog post last night - but I'm on-call this week. So I spent nearly two hours on the phone trying to help someone with remote access to our company network after they went out and purchased a new laptop with Windows 7 that wasn't being cooperative.

  • Did I mention that I have really good veins? For giving blood, I mean. All the Red Cross workers compliment me on my veins.

  • Look - I'm sorry about The Hurt Locker review thing, alright?! Give me a break!

  • The MAW told me last night she has a job interview of Friday (this was quite unexpected). I'm probably not supposed to mention anything about it here - because she may be writing about all that on her blog soon. But I guess it's too late 'cause I already mentioned it.

  • I don't have a job interview this week.

  • But I am planning to write a review of The Hurt Locker. In case that is of interest to you.

Take care.

PS: Go visit Keely at the Un-Mom willya?!

Please? Come on - do it for me. Do it for Keely!

Monday, March 1, 2010

In like a lamb...

Well, winter is about half over where I live. Oh sure - we're having a unexpectedly nice day today.

[Please note the high temp in the 5-day forecast (in the upper right corner) vs. the current actual temperature.]

I'm going to enjoy the day - but I'm not getting my hopes up. March 31st is very likely to feature our biggest snowstorm of the year.

But MORE IMPORTANTLY: Today is my Grandmother's 99th Birthday!

I would say more - but I need to call her now and wish her a Happy Birthday.

Tomorrow: We return to "The Plan" and Jim Styro's mini-review of The Hurt Locker...and much, much more.

Take care.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Plan: Two down...five more to go

Let me explain. No...let me sum up:

I have decided to see these seven films before the Academy Awards broadcast on Sunday night, March 7 -

☐ An Education

☐ Avatar

☐ The Blind Side

Crazy Heart [I saw this one Saturday night - click the link for my review]

☐ District 9

☐ The Hurt Locker

☐ The Last Station

Sunday night, I saw...

An Education - (Jim Styro's mini-review)

Do you ever have those moments when you feel that you are viewing life through a particular prism where all of the common elements in things stand out very distinctly and you see how everything seems interrelated - and its not because you're on drugs or anything - but the patterns in events and people and things just seem to blend together in a rich tapestry that seems utterly clear to you...?

Well, even if you don't - there are some common elements between the films Crazy Heart and An Education which, despite significant differences in setting, style and point of view, stand out clearly - especially when having watched the movies on back-to-back evenings. Chief among these is the notion of "Romance gone wrong" - the feeling that the relationship being portrayed cannot (perhaps, should not) last. In Crazy Heart, we see this played out primarily from the point of view of a 60+ year-old man; in An Education, our protagonist is a 16-year-old (soon to be 17) girl, Jenny. In Crazy Heart, the romantic relationship seems like it may be a last chance at redemption for our hero; in An Education, it is clearly a first love - with the potential to deliver Jenny from (what she views as) the stifling environs of 1961 Great Britain*.

The movie is filled with wonderful performances from Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, Emma Thompson (in a small but important role) - to mention only a few - but most impressive is Carey Mulligan as Jenny. The success of the entire film rests on her ability to strike the right balance between the bliss of youthful naivete and the single-mindedness of an adolescent mind certain that she is not understood by those around her, that the future being planned for her is a trap. Her performance seems so natural that we are drawn on her emotional roller-coaster ride (or, should I say, helter skelter?). I found the movie quite moving - and this is due in large part to Mulligan's performance.

Mulligan and Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State & Kinsey), who plays David, the older man that wants to expose Jenny to the finer things in life, make an attractive couple - and the movie does a great job of capturing the look and feel of Britain and Europe in the early 60's - like Breakfast at Tiffany's set in London or Paris. But, like Crazy Heart, though you think you know where the film is going (and may even be right about its final destination) the path it takes will likely hold at least a few surprises.

I know it seems like I'm easy (though I'm not cheap) - but I have to say:
An Education is one class I think you'll be glad you sat through.

Take care.

* Setting the film in that year may have simply been staying true to the original article, written by Lynn Barber, upon which the film is based. But it seems entirely fitting - even necessary - that the story take place in a pre-Beatles England - before the Fab Four began to thaw Britain out of its post-World War 2 malaise - and give the Baby Boom its boom.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Plan: One down...six more to go

To recap: Saturday morning, I decided that I would try to see the following seven films before the Academy Awards broadcast on Sunday night, March 7.

An Education
The Blind Side
Crazy Heart
District 9
The Hurt Locker
The Last Station

Combining these with three previously-viewed films that have been nominated for Best Picture this year (A Serious Man, Up!, and Up in the Air) would give me a tally of having viewed:

8 of the 10 Best Picture nominees, and
3 of the 5 nominees in each acting category (except Best Supporting Actor)

[Side note: I wish I could find a way to see Invictus - but it's not playing in theaters anywhere I can find - and it's not out on DVD either.]

Why do you care about any of this? I don't know Because I've promised to feature mini-reviews of the movies after I see them. And you don't think I'm completely full of crap value my opinion.

Saturday night, I watched...

Crazy Heart (Jim Styro's mini-review)

I love seeing movies without having a lot of expectations. I'm almost always pleasantly surprised. Of course, I wasn't surprised by another Oscar-worthy performance by Jeff Bridges. He's become one of my favorite actors over the years - not only delivering wonderful and varied performances - but picking great movies in which to appear. And Maggie Gyllenhaal is no slouch either (I particularly loved her in Stranger Than Fiction).

Bridges plays an chain-smoking, alcoholic country singer/songwriter, "Bad" Blake, who is past his prime and headed for an early grave. While traveling from one sorry gig to another, he grants an interview to Jean (Gyllenhaal), whose youth and unpretentious beauty pierce through the haze of his dreary, booze-soaked existence. Against her better judgement, Jean starts to fall in love with Bad (which makes the thing sound more cliched than it is, IMO) and he begins to form a bond with both her and her pre-school-aged son. For me, the movie stirred up memories of another great little movie - Tender Mercies (which earned Robert Duvall - whose appearance in Crazy Heart is almost an homage to that earlier movie - a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actor) which featured a similar cast of characters.

But, apart from a shared faith in human endurance, the similarity between the films does not run that deep. Although Bad and Jean genuinely care for each other, their relationship never feels quite right (as perhaps it should not). And Bad's nickname is well-earned - it is not clear until near the end of the film whether he can or will change his ways. Although the story feels familiar, the plot line and performances don't necessarily take you where you might expect them to go. Even so, it is a wonderful journey - with great music (Bridges sings and plays the material himself) and fine performances all around.

Crazy Heart is a film well worth seeing.

Take care.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"'s all...part of The Plan"*

I wanted to be random today - I really did. But all I've got is The Plan. I decided I needed The Plan Friday night. Saturday morning, I began to craft the details. And I will soon reveal all to you, Gentle Reader.

The Academy Awards are on March 7 this year. There are 10 films nominated for Best Picture this year (I will rant about them expanding the field from 5 to 10 films another time - I need my beauty rest). The nominees are (in an order that will become clear momentarily):
  • Up! (The last Pixar movie - I saw it soon after it was released)

  • A Serious Man (The Coen Brothers latest. I saw it soon after it was released. It does for late 60s Hebrews what "Fargo" did for Minnesotans - kind of)

  • Up in the Air (Jason Reitman's hot streak continues. George Clooney's too. A movie near and dear to many here in Detroit. I saw it - twice.)

  • Avatar (James Cameron's latest epic. It's supposed to be more that just great special effects.)

  • An Education (As of Saturday morning, I didn't know anything about this movie - except that it had been nominated for Best Picture)

  • The Blind Side (As of Saturday morning, the only three things I knew about this movie were: it had been nominated for Best Picture, Sandra Bullock was in the movie, and it had something to do with football)

  • District 9 (This is a sci-fi flick I've heard a little about. More importantly, I have the DVD in my possession courtesy of Netflix.)

  • The Hurt Locker (This is a contemporary war flick that The Boy compared with Platoon. I expect to have the DVD in my possession later today - courtesy of Netflix.

  • Precious (I don't know much about this film - other than the fact that it, too, has been nominated for Best Picture - and appears to star a large black woman. If the advertising is in any way accurate.)

  • Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino's latest. Still trying to play violence for humor, from what I've heard. That rarely works on me.)

In addition to these Best Picture nominees, there are a couple of films (Crazy Heart and The Last Station) that feature more than one performance nominated for an Academy Award.

So I decided that I needed to see seven of the nine films above prior to Oscar Night (I know there are twelve films mentioned - but remember, I've already seen three of them). I further decided that - in protest of them expanding the Best Picture field to ten films, I would NOT try to see all the nominees in that category (Precious and Inglourious Basterds are out) - but I'm going to fill in with Crazy Heart and The Last Station so that I will be well-informed regarding the acting nominees.

This weekend, I began to put The Plan into action - and I will post brief (?) reviews of the films taken in on Saturday and Sunday...just a soon as I write them. Hopefully tomorrow.

Take care.

* R.I.P. Heath Ledger

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Song Is Over

"I drank for four days and four nights...
and then I fell through a window.
I was bleeding - but I was forgetting."
-- Oscar Madison (from Neil Simon's The Odd Couple)

People who are involved in theater productions - be they actors, technicians, directors, stage managers, you name it - these people are all familiar with a phenomena akin to postpartum depression.* Since being in a play is not as intense or solitary an experience as pregnancy (or so I imagine, having never been pregnant myself), the let-down afterward isn't nearly as severe - and, the sense of emptiness is eased because it is common to everyone involved. But, as with all good things that must come to end, there is still a feeling of loss, a void that must be faced.

For me, being cast as the lead in a really good play was a dream come true. And to be cast as Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple was like being able to hand-pick the dream. The play had it's original run on Broadway when I was a pre-schooler - so I can't remember a time before the archetypes of Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison existed. I grew up with the movie and the TV show. I loved these characters in the way a child can truly love a fictional character, half-expecting to perhaps meet them one day, like a favorite sports figure or a movie star.

"Of course - if you're going to kill yourself,
where's the safest place to do it?
With your friends"
-- Oscar Madison

Can't get any better than that, right? Actually, it can. The way you improve on perfection is to share your dream with good friends. So you ask one of your closest friends, a guy you've know for nearly 30 years, to audition for the role of Felix. And he gets cast in that part. And you get another friend, who you've known for about 20 years, to audition - and he gets the role of Oscar's policeman buddy, Murray. Now, since the play only has eight different roles, you've got an excellent shot at a stellar cast. After all, the director has already shown her good taste in casting the leads and one of the supporting players. But she does even better than that - she casts all eight roles flawlessly. [In the end, you even forgive the director for not casting your wife in one of the two female roles; since she ends up being even more valuable to the production by handling props, setting dressing and being the stage manager - all in one!]

"Don't say 'Alright'! I want you to promise me
you're going to try and have a good time..."
--Oscar Madison

So the (dare I say it) stage is set. But you've still got to learn the 456 lines of dialogue. You've never done anything close to that before. You've got to learn to work together with the other actors - the ones you've worked with before and the ones you haven't; some who are already your friend and others who will become a new friend. You get to take off your pants on-stage. And throw plates of fake linguini. And figure out how to rip apart bags of potato chips so they make a nice mess and open cans of beer (OK, really just Diet 7UP) so they will spray everywhere. You pick out pre-show music (from the early to mid-1960s, heavy on Henry Mancini and Frank Sinatra) to put the audience in the mood.

And then you get to perform it all in front of a bunch of people - and try to get them to laugh.

But you only get to do that six times over two weekends.

Because, eventually, you have to allow your life to revert to being just "mostly out of control" rather than "completely out of control". More's the pity. Still, it was really fun while it lasted. And there's always the chance you'll get to do it again somewhere down the road.

"How about next Friday night?
You're not going to break up the game, are you?"
--Oscar Madison

Tuesday night, four of us got together to strike the set. We removed all of the remaining props and costumes from backstage, we loaded all the furniture that had been loaned for performances into the back of the MAW's Pacifica and delivered each piece back to the owners. We removed every trace of Oscar Madison's apartment from that stage.

I got home and turned on Turner Classic Movies in time to see the end of Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot. Then they did a nice segment on Sidney Poitier. I should have been writing a blog post or balancing the check book. Or sleeping.

But The Odd Couple came on. I watched the whole thing. Again.

Take care.

* If you've ever really suffered from postpartum depression, cut me some slack.
I did say "akin", not "just like".

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

RTT: "Back from the Dead" Edition

  • Waiting a month and a half between posts really provides a lot of material. I should have enough stuff saved up to post every day for...a month and a half (I guess). Don't hold your breath on that one.
  • The last of our six performances of The Odd Couple took place Sunday afternoon. It was great fun and I will miss the opportunity to perform with and for friends. The cast party at our house following the show was cool too. I wish you coulda been there.
  • The MAW gave me a birthday/anniversary present on Jan. 21. She found a source who provided a 5-DVD set of the short-lived TV series, Frank's Place. My favorite episode was a 22-minute reimagining of Death of A Salesman. I have a special prize for anyone who remembers the month/day of my birth and my marriage (the usual disclaimers for family members, etc. apply to this contest).

  • Almost exactly one month before opening night of The Odd Couple, I was diagnosed with bronchitis. "No sweat", thought I. "I've got a month to kick this thing." Two 10-day courses of antibiotics later, I had kicked it. Then, less than five days before opening night, I got the stomach flu. Because being the lead in a play isn't exciting enough all on its own.

  • I resigned as President of the Motor City Youth Theatre Board recently. It really makes the MAW happy when I quit stuff. She would have me believe that my doing less would result in more sex - but I don't think she can back up that claim. ("Back up" that claim - did I really write that?!)

  • I wish you could have seen what fantastic work the MAW did with props and set dressing for The Odd Couple. In fact, I will make sure that you do see it - once I get a hold of some of the pictures from the show (there are literally hundreds on Shutterfly). The stamina and tenacity she exhibited made me proud.

  • I saw the film, Up In The Air, twice in January. I'm rooting for it to win the Best Picture Oscar this year.

  • The role of Oscar Madison has 456 lines in The Odd Couple (lines could be anything from a couple of words to a paragraph long monologue). The play has three acts (although we performed it as two) and lasts about two hours. Oscar is on-stage for all but about 5 minutes of that time. I'd rather play Oscar Madison again than Hamlet (wait - I've never played Hamlet; I'd still rather play Oscar again).

  • I enjoy being busy - but the thought occurred to me tonight (for the first time ever) that part of my desire to be busy is so I don't have to think about the things in my life over which I have no control. And having both an acute and (I believe) realistic view of the things over which I have no control doesn't make things any easier.

    It's not much of a post - but hopefully it'll do until something better comes along.
Take care.

PS: Go visit Keely at the Un-Mom willya?!

Tell her you were honoring the request of Jim Styro - actor, eater, blogger.