Wednesday, February 27, 2019

...and the Oscar goes to

In my prior blog (scroll down to see it if you haven't read it), I gave my ever so brief reprise of this season's Academy Awards.

Perhaps one of the greatest controversies is which movie won "best picture."  As you know, Green Book won. Various critics have suggested that it was a "feel good movie" and that it "got race wrong." That it was a new iteration of Driving Miss Daisy, but this time the white person in the front and the black man in the back.

Here's the issue--the Academy Awards purport to be about the best. The best in each category across the entire spectrum of movie making.  But, frequently that is NOT the way the voting works. Obviously, preference is a personal thing. What I like, you may not. And the Academy is made up of people voting. So, you get the most popular, not necessarily the best.

Remember the list of which movie won in the previous blog? Here are the answers.  The winner is in bold italics.

  • The Ten Commandments             Around the World in 80 Days
  • Ordinary People                        Raging Bull
  • L.A. Confidential                        Titanic
  • The King's Speech                     The Social Network
  • Chicago                                      The Pianist
  • Zero Dark Thirty                          Argo
  • Goodfellas                                  Dances with Wolves
  • Brokeback Mountain                    Crash
  • How Green was my Valley          Citizen Kane
The last one is, of course, indicative of popularity winning out over quality. When various movie buffs are surveyed and asked--what is the best movie of all time?  Citizen Kane frequently tops that list. Yet, it is edgy, enigmatic, pure genius, and sometimes depressing. So feel good wins over quality.

Going to the Movies

...not so much.

If you have been reading this blog for several years, you may recall that I love movies and try each year to write about some of the movie contenders for Academy Awards.

This year has been a dry season. First, not that many of the movies sounded interesting. Second, we just didn't get out to see that many.

  • Bohemian Rhapsody--NOPE
  • The Favourite--NOPE
  • Black Panther--NOPE
  • BlacKkKlansman--NOPE
  • Green Book--YUP
  • Vice--HOPE
  • A Star is Born--NOPE
  • Roma--NOPE

So, you can see--a real drought of movie seeing. Oh, we did see Mary Poppins Returns-which got piddling nominations, and we saw The Ballad of Buster Scruggs--which was fun, funky and a Coen brothers typical (if there is such a thing for the Coen Brothers) movie.

So, Green Book was it. 

I was very pleased when Mahershala Ali won for best supporting actor. I have admired his work in all of the movies he has been in.

I had no opinion on the other "best actor/actress" in the respective categories--best actress, best actor, best supporting actress.

I confess--it was a bit strange watching the Academy Awards. You may recall that I have been watching this award ceremony most every year since 1964. YIKES!  A long time.

So, two questions--why didn't we see more movies?  And what did I think of Green Book?

The main reasons for not seeing more movies might simply be inertia. Or distraction--too many other activities. Or alternative entertainment. We have been watching Victoria. Also watched The Crown. And we watch various series, almost always ones from the UK.  

Pathetic, right?  Oh, well.

OK--Green Book.  I liked the movie--in fact I enjoyed it very much. I know the various criticisms. Other movies were better--maybe, but that happens with some regularity at the Oscars. Remember Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan.  All you need to do is search for "which movies won Best Picture that shouldn't have".

Do you want to try your hand at which ones won? Here are ten (gleaned from a website).
Pick between the two--which one won:

  • The Ten Commandments             Around the World in 80 Days
  • Ordinary People                          Raging Bull
  • L.A. Confidential                        Titanic
  • The King's Speech                       The Social Network
  • Chicago                                      The Pianist
  • Zero Dark Thirty                          Argo
  • Goodfellas                                  Dances with Wolves
  • Brokeback Mountain                    Crash
  • How Green was my Valley           Citizen Kane

....and go. Pick the winners.

OK, folks.  I will keep you in suspense. Answers--tomorrow.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

The Year in Books

You may recall that one of my New Year's resolutions was to read more. And to help keep me motivated, I vowed to reprise them as I go. So here are the first four.

EDUCATED by Tara Westover--
I am a bit cautious in rating this book. First, on one hand the story is stunning--painful, extraordinary, a testament to the human spirit and the will to survive, and in the end triumphant. On the other hand, the story is deeply troubling--the power of brainwashing, the dangers of extremism, the sheer lunacy of the family's story.
My caution is also fueled by having read past books that were so breathtaking enthralling me with the story, that I was crushed when the story turned out to have been ... not true? Made up? Understand, I am NOT saying that is what this book is. It is just that the events are so alien to my existence, so astounding, that it is hard for me to imagine their veracity much less believe it.
I will forgo the details of the story--many reviewers describe them.
Eventually, I just got tired of reading of the lunacy of Westover's parents and the ways they subjected their children to what would be called child abuse. I applaud her surviving. And her triumph in pursuing education as a pathway to a new life.

THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen--
The Sympathizer is a very challenging read. At times brutally violent, at times almost humorous, at times satiric. All the while, the book is infused with the love of one's country. The reader gets a mix of history, political conflicts, personal insight--and a deeply moving story about BOTH sides in the Vietnam war. Both north and south are portrayed. And, not surprisingly, the U.S. as well--when the war ended many Vietnamese came to the U.S. as refugees. 
So the narrator's observations about life in the U.S. give the reader an insight into the experience of those who fled Vietnam. Another way the reader gets an insight into the U.S. is through the telling of the narrator's work as an advisor when a famous Hollywood (clearly Coppola) makes a movie about the Vietnam war (clearly "Apocalypse Now".  It is not an insight the reader expects--instead of making an authentic representation of the war, the director makes a HOLLYWOOD acceptable portrayal of that war. 
The core of the book is the narrator (unnamed), and his experiences. He is a North Vietnamese agent who has infiltrated the South Vietnam's army. He is a double agent.  When he too flees to the U.S., it is for the express purpose of being a deep agent, sending news of the potential South Vietnamese effort to retake the country. The narrator--never named--has a handler to whom he sends coded reports.
Eventually, the narrator decides to return to Vietnam--where he is still masquerading as a loyal South Vietnamese. He is captured, imprisoned, and forced to be reeducated. He has to write a confession--which he eventually re-reads, after a nervous breakdown. He has a final epiphany--and the reader is left with the understanding of the futility of the ENTIRE venture--from the Chinese dominance of Vietnam, to France, to the U.S., to the South Vietnamese who want to retake their homeland.
My epiphany as a reader is that when the narrator is rereading his 300 some page confession--it is really the book that I am reading that he means. At least, that's how I took it.

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON by Elizabeth Strout
My Name is Lucy Barton is a very low key incisive portrayal of a mother/daughter relationship. The title character--Lucy--is in the hospital following an unnamed procedure after which she acquired a bacterial infection. Her stay in the hospital is extending far beyond what she expected. She and her husband have two small daughters--that fact alone makes it difficult for her husband to visit her.
Lucy yearns for someone to talk to--so her husband calls Lucy's mother. Mother and daughter have been somewhat estranged, though still civil.
Lucy awakens to find her mother in the hospital room with her. And they begin to talk. Over the several days of the mother's visit, they talk about all manner of things. Family dynamics--with some deep issues only hinted at: poverty, abuse, a sibling who is homosexual. Additionally, they talk about former friends and neighbors. These are the "whatever happened to so-and-so" that we sometimes have with family members.
Through the course of the book, a great deal of Lucy's life is explored. She does recover and is discharged from the hospital. Her mother has returned to her home. Her husband and children reconnect in her life--this was one of the puzzling things for me, the almost complete absence of any sense of family relationships in Lucy's current family.
At the close of the book, Lucy Barton completely owns her own story, even though there is recognition that this could be so many women's stories.

I began reading this book with great enthusiasm. I am a tree lover....maybe even a tree hugger. I periodically battle, gently, with a neighbor about trees. We have many trees bounding our property. Some extend branches across the property lines. And my neighbor, whose yard is ALWAYS spotless, hates raking leaves or having to remove anything that vaguely resembles dirt. One day, a tree trimming truck rolled, and began to prune OUR tree. Well, I do understand why. But I did exchange a few words with the neighbor. I ended rather inelegantly by saying "We need trees, because they provide us with oxygen."
So, with that frame of mind, I read THE SECRET LIFE OF TREES.  In many ways, it is a scientific work written for non-scientists. At times it is circular and repetitious. Eventually, I got to the point where I was thinking "all right, already, trees are living organisms. Got it!"  
I enjoyed it, but also got tired of it.

Off to continue the reading for 2019.