Two Cents: Stressed Out Edition

My dad has been in the hospital and I’m been stressed out. I find solace in movies so here’s what I’ve been watching lately.

Avatar: I’m not a James Cameron fan so Avatar escaped my attention. But it’s a movie that keeps coming up in all areas of my life. My film professor mentioned it. My international politics professor mentioned it. My comparative religions professor mentioned it. It comes up in a discussion of social justice. I can understand why. Avatar is a luminous film that relates so well to the modern world. If you haven’t seen Avatar I suggest you go rent it.

Suicide Squad: This was one of the big comic book movies of last summer. I agree with everyone else that Jared Leto’s Joker was underused. But I really enjoyed the camaraderie between the Suicide Squad members but I wish there had been a better villain to interact with the DC rouges gallery. And I really enjoyed the eye candy of Joel Kinnaman and Jay Hernandez.

Florence Foster Jenkins: This wouldn’t be a film I’d typically watch but it was pretty enjoying. I don’t think that Meryl Streep can make a misstep at this point of her career and it’s always great to see Hugh Grant on screen.

All About Eve: This is a cinema classic starring the legendary Bette Davis and it includes the famous “fasten your seatbelts” quote. All About Eve is an epic film about fame. It’s a must watch.

Kill Your Darlings: I won a copy of the Blu-ray edition years ago and it has sat on my desk ever since. I’m doing a little spring cleaning, a little downsizing so I decided to finally open it and watch. Kill Your Darlings is a true story of a murder involving members of the Beat Generation including Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs. I had never heard of this event so I found the film fascinating. And to see Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Potter himself, having gay sex was a treat.

The Adjustment Bureau: This was a thought provoking movie about freewill and chance. I really don’t know how to describe it.

Dancer: A remarkable documentary about ballet dancer Sergei Polunin.

Along with movies I’ve been binge watching TV.

Homeland, season 1: Great premise of what would happen if an American Pie had been turned and released by the enemy to become a sleeper agent. It’s intense. 

Code Geass, season 2: I watched the first season of Code Geass in anime club when I was at Macomb. That season ended on a cliffhanger so I’ve been meaning to watch for almost a year. The basic premise is that there’s this guy named Lelouche and he’s the emperor’s son. His mother dies and Lelouche vows to seek revenge for her death. He has the power of Geass which allows him to mind control a person by looking them in the eye. Using his Geass power he dons a secret identity, Zero, in order to seek the aforementioned revenge.

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Two Cents: DVD Binge

I watch a lot of movies and my tastes are divergent. Here is my two cents on what I’ve recently watched.

Dick Tracy. This was one of the few movies that I remember seeing at the theater. I’ve been studying comic book movies. Dick Tracy was one of the first. I remember how excited I was to see it because Madonna is in it. The film has not aged well. Most of the character portrayals are over the top. Warren Beatty was too old to play Dick Tracy. Al Pacino and all the rest of the rogues gallery are hidden under tons of makeup that look like cheap Halloween masks. Madonna gets a bad rap as an actress but she really sells it as Breathless Mahoney. Madonna and Mandy Patinkin make the movie enjoyable because the music still holds up.

Shane. My dad is a huge Western fan so I vaguely remember watching Shane when I was a kid. I wanted to watch it because Logan is heavily influenced by Shane. I know that Shane is a well regarded film but it’s too slow for me. I found it boring.

The Searchers. Another Western, this time courtesy of my film class. It’s a John Wayne classic and it has Natalie Wood in it. I enjoyed it but I think it’s probably over hyped. The American Film Institute ranked it #12 of the 100 greatest American films. There’s no way that’s possible in my opinion.

Trainspotting. There was a period of manic depression around 1995/1996 that lasted almost a year and a half where I probably watched almost every movie released in theaters. Trainspotting fell in this era and I remember watching it. The sequel comes out in a few weeks so I wanted to reacquaint myself. I’ll be honest and admit I’m surprised how well this film has held up. It’s probably because the tragedy of heroin use is universal. And my crush on Ewen Bremner (Spud) is still strong after all this time.

The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. I recently bought this on Blu-ray and I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to watch it. It’s probably in my top 5 of all-time favorite films. If I had a dollar for ever time I have watched this movie I’d be a millionaire. As much as I love this movie I don’t know what my mom was thinking when she let me watch it the first time or the fourth time or the twentieth time. The subject matter flew over my innocent seven year old head but, essentially, the movie is about prostitutes and their Madame, Miss Mona (played by Dolly Parton). A television watchdog reporter turns the camera on Miss Mona and the Chicken Ranch. The sheriff, Ed Earl (played by Burt Reynolds) asks Miss Mona to lay low until things cool off and she agrees until she remembers that the Chicken Ranch traditionally plays host to the winner of the Texas A & M and the University Of Texas Thanksgiving game. I have to talk about the post-game locker room scene. There’s often a discussion among LGBT folk around the subject of when we knew. The fact that I was watching a movie about a whorehouse went over my head because I wasn’t even sure what a whorehouse was but that locker room scene was the definite moment when I knew. I didn’t have a name for it and I wasn’t sure what it was but those athletic guys in their football jerseys and jockstraps stirred something within me. We didn’t even have the unedited version. We had a recorded from ABC version complete with classic 80’s commercials. We had a crappy VHS version of the film that I wore out with multiple viewings. I wasn’t able to see the really good stuff until I turned 13. And here’s the thing about The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. I know the plot by heart. I can quote dialogue when I’m watching. I should be impervious to the emotional wreckage this movie causes but I cry like a baby each viewing. When the girls start singing “Hard Candy Christmas” and the bus turns down the road I lose it. Fuck, I’m tearing up writing about it.

Two Cents: Disney Renaissance

With the upcoming live action version of Beauty And The Beast opening next weekend, I wanted to revisit the 4 Disney films that are considered the start of the Disney Renaissance.

The Little Mermaid (1989). My family wasn’t much to go to the movies unless my brother and I begged my dad and cajoled my mom. If I unpack that I’d probably figure out the reason why I now go to the movies as much as I can. I didn’t see The Little Mermaid when it came out but I practically wore out my older brother’s VHS copy whenever I would watch my nephews. It’s not only one of my favorite Disney movies but it’s one of my favorite all-time movies. I found a parallel with Ariel watching the humans and wanting to be part of their world to the young kid reading in secret about the LGBT community and wanting to be part of that world. And, seriously, who doesn’t love Ursula?

Beauty And The Beast (1991). There are things that I either ignored/dismissed in my previous viewings that I couldn’t suspend this time around. If the Beast’s curse becomes permanent when the Beast turns 21 and he’s been cursed for 10 years then that means he was 11 when the witch cursed him. Who does that? Every 11 year old, prince or pauper, is going to be a little snarky and surly to an old woman showing up on their doorstep in the dead of night. And where was/is his parents? I have the cynicism of an adult when watching now. I still love the music though. Angela Lansbury singing the title track is a wonder. But, honestly, I don’t know how this film was nominated for Best Picture. It’s a good film but not good enough to be nominated as one of the top 5 best films of 1991.

Aladdin (1992). As an adult I identify with Aladdin. I often find myself singing the lyrics to “One Jump Ahead”. “One jump ahead of the breadline. One swing ahead of the sword” is the truth when I’m trying to adult. I think Aladdin holds up well. The story is still gripping and Jafar, especially after he gets the lamp, is downright frightful. Robin Williams is at top of his game voicing the Genie. My only disappointment was a homophobic joke tossed in.

The Lion King (1994). This is the only one of the Disney Renaissance era films I actually watched in the theater. I watched it with my cousin at the Grundy theater and cried when Mufusa died. I’d forgotten how dark The Lion King is. I didn’t enjoy it. I found it slow paced. In my memory I thought Rafiki was featured more but he barely shows up. The music is on point though because Elton John is timeless.

Two Cents: Logan

I had too much on my mind so I decided to catch a late matinee of Logan. I’m a huge X-Men fan and I think Logan was a proper finale to the Wolverine and Professor Charles Xavier character while setting up a new, refreshing direction to the X-Men franchise. 

I love how the X-Men movies are filled with self-deprecation. This particular film is set in the near future, 2029. There are some funny bits featuring the comic books. And there’s a great throwback/reference to the great western, Shane.

I’m curious about where the X-Men franchise goes from here. X-Men: Apocalypse ended with the setup of the Weapon X program and Logan heavily features the end of the Weapon X program so I don’t know what happens next.

Weekend Recap & Monday Motivation

My connection group as been reading The Book Of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu. Because I’m studying forgiveness, I was invited to attend a play on Saturday about forgiveness at the First Congregational Church Of Detroit.

Desperately Seeking Forgiveness was an entertaining look at forgiveness. It features two families and the secrets and lies they’ve been keeping from each other for years. It was confusing at times and it probably needs a good edit to workaround the truly melodramatic parts of it but, overall, I enjoyed myself. The actress who played the part of Chocolate had me and the rest of the audience laughing. And the guy who played the counselor had little to do but he looked fine so I was appreciative of the eye candy.

After the play we went to dinner at Traffic Jam and Snug. I’ve been in the neighborhood of Traffic Jam and Snug but I’d never ate there until Saturday. I had the beef brisket panini and it was as big as my arm. So delicious and I was able to bring some of it home.

Sunday morning was the first Sunday of Lent. I went to church and really appreciated the sermon that Rev. Roland gave. His sermon was directed to those that are spiritual but not religious. I recognize that I have an untraditional spiritual path and Rev. Roland illustrated that there are many paths out there. It was really refreshing to hear.

I have several cinematic traditions. One of those traditions is to watch 40 Days And 40 Nights. It’s an early aughts (2002) starring the luscious Josh Hartnett and Shannyn Sossamon. Josh Hartnett plays a guy recently broken up with his girlfriend who decides to give up sex for Lent.

I don’t have a specific day that I watch as long as it falls somewhere during the Lenten season but I think I’m going to earmark it for the first Sunday of Lent.

I didn’t get enough sleep last night so I’m a little tired this morning. Because of Lent, I’ve been spinning the prayer wheel daily and meditating on whatever it lands on. This morning it landed on a Jack Kornfield Buddhist prayer.

There is only one time
when it is essential to awaken.

That time is now.

It’s the first Monday of the month. It’s another time that we can set our intention for the day, the week, the month. It doesn’t matter what happened an hour ago, a day ago, a month ago or even a year ago. The only time is now.

Two Cents: The Shack

‚ÄčI watch a lot of movies, first run movies, but I’m not a critic. I know what I like and I know what I dislike. A lot of people ask me what my thoughts are so I’ve decided to start a new segment called “Two Cents” that’ll give you my two cents on any given entertainment topic.

Years ago, I read a book by William Young called The Shack for my connection group. Now, it’s been turned into a movie starring Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer and Sam Worthington. My current connection group decided to take a field trip to see it.

I’m not going to spoil the book for you but I’ll quickly give a synopsis. Sam Worthington plays a guy named Mack. He’s not particularly religious but he’s married to a devout Christian named Nan and Nan likes to refer to God as Papa. Mack and Nan have 3 children and a beautiful life. An incident occurs which makes Mack lose what little faith he had to begin with. He’s left alone during a blizzard when he receives a note in his mailbox inviting him to visit a shack the following weekend. The note is signed Papa. Because this shack is the focal point of the aforementioned incident, Mack decides to take Papa up on the offer. He visits the shack and does meet Papa and Jesus and a personification of the Holy Spirit named Sarayu.

Now, I’ll be honest and admit that I usually don’t enjoy “Christian” films. I attend church on a regular basis. I host connection group most Wednesdays. But all that doesn’t stop me from thinking that many “Christian” films I’ve seen are a bit heavy handed. Instead of focusing on the merits of the story, most of these films are thinly veiled pieces of propaganda. 

I loved the book and I loved the movie. I loved how the Holy Trinity was conveyed. I love how there was an emphasis on the fact that God is always with us but sometimes we are blinded by our fear, our anger, our grief, our whatever to recognize it. I loved that it presented God in a way that people could understand without being pushy and preachy about it. 

If you consider yourself a Christian, I’d recommend watching The Shack. If you consider yourself spiritual but not religious, I’d recommend watching The Shack. It’s one of those movies that will have you talking about it for weeks to come.

And The Oscar Goes To….

The Academy Awards come on tonight. I’m a big movie fan so I’ll definitely be watching. I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve only seen 2 (Hell Or High Water and Moonlight) of the 9 films nominated for Best Picture. Award shows, like any other event that tries to judge art, are subjective. That said, here are my picks for the top six awards.

Best Picture: God, I hope Moonlight wins but I’m afraid we’re going to have another Brokeback Mountain situation where the Academy isn’t ready to recognize a gay film so La La Land will probably win.

Best Director: Damien Chazelle has been this year’s it boy. He’ll win for La La Land and become the youngest director ever to win the Oscar.

Best Actor: I think the controversy surrounding Casey Affleck and his alleged mistreatment of women will prevent him for winning for Manchester By The Sea so Denzel Washington will win for Fences. That said, I wonder if it’s fair to judge a performance on the actor. If a totally douchebag (and I’m not saying Casey Affleck is one) pours his heart into a role is it then unfair to judge the performance by the performer. It’s called acting and I’m not sure if an actor’s real life actions should affect honoring a good job on screen. Food for thought.

Best Actress: I would be floored if Emma Stone didn’t win for La La Land. She’s the frontrunner and it’s her time to shine.

Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali has to win for Moonlight if there’s any sense in this world.

Best Supporting Actress: This is, by far, the hardest choice. It’s a coin toss between Viola Davis for Fences or Michelle Williams for Manchester By The Sea. I told my friend Devon that I picked Michelle Williams but I really didn’t know.