Friday, July 21, 2017

"Cars 3 - A (Seemingly Unhelpful) Lesson Learned (But What Do I know?)"

I don’t know if I ever saw (what turned out to be) Cars 1; it was a couple of Cars ago and the experience, if there was one, is now lost to my memory.  But I saw Cars 3, along with step-grandchildren Milo and Jack and their parents, who generously invited me to join them. 

And when I did, the usual two things happened in my head.

First, because I’m me, I restructured the first and second acts of the movie, particularly the first act which, for me, was a mess, leaving the third act virtually untouched because now that it was set it up properly, it worked more organically as a payoff.  I don’t know if other retired people second-guess their successors.

RETIRED AIRLINE PILOT:  “I’d have flown lower.”

RETIRED CHEF:  “What?  No oregano?”

RETIRED STREET WALKER:  “Why is she walking that street?”

I rewrite movies in my head, thinking, “If they’d only consulted me.”  Oh, well.  They’ll just have to gross three hundred million “domestic” without me.

The second thing that crosses me mind when I attend kids movies is,

“Why are they teaching kids these lessons?  And by “these” I mean lessons that, when they grow up, will be marginally, if at all, applicable to their everyday lives.”

Do other cultures do that in their chidren’s storytelling? 

ENGLAND

“Alfie and Millicent learned that day that no good comes to anyone who drinks tea.”

SWEDEN

“Viggo and Freja learned that being blond has nothing to do with being Swedish.”

RUSSIA

“Though he had successfully made Boris student council president, Vladimir learned it was wrong to meddle in duly authorized elections.”

I do not believe they do things like that anywhere else – children’s stories teaching morals inconsistent with their future experience.  Can you imagine

Useless:  An Anthology of Children’s Fairy Tales Teaching the Exact Opposite Lessons To What They Will Experience Later In Life”?

I do not see that as a “Best Seller” in children’s literature anywhere in the world.

The Inuit children’s classic:

“Would You Want To Pull That Sled?”

Cars 3 – “Spoiler Alert!” – resolves when the lead character puts someone else’s hopes and dreams ahead of their own.  In other words, “Sacrifice.”

Do you see a lot of sacrificing in the American free market economic system? 

I don’t. 

I do not recall much sacrificing in my personal career trajectory at all. 

Or any even.

How about the other lessons regularly taught in children’s animated features?

“Be Yourself”

(Even if it turns out being yourself means nobody likes you and imminent failure in every possible personal endeavor.)

“Dare To Dream”

(Dismissing all strategies for supporting yourself while pursuing that dream, winding up living in your parents’ basement, next to the furnace.)

“Teamwork”

(Only to find out your “teammates” decided to goof off instead of their doing assigned parts and your completed project is due in the morning and they are going to blame you that it isn’t.)

To name only three. 

The capitalist motto appears to be:  “Go For Yourself!”  (Because, as they rationalize in the musical Li’l Abner:  “What’s good for General MotorsRead:  Me – is good for the USA.”   Read:  Everyone else. 

Why not make children’s animated features more consistent with how things actually are? 

“Logan succeeds spectacularly, grinding his adversaries into the dust, ruthless self-interest triumphantly carrying the day.”

(With appropriate “Action Figure” tie-ins at McDonalds.)

That sounds about right, doesn’t it? 

Why not make a movie about that?

At least kids won’t grow up and go, “What!?!

I don’t know, maybe parents want to protect their children from the harsher realities of life.  Maybe they’d like to believe that the next generation, fed uplifting storylines, will be different.  (Though that has yet to work so far.)

Or maybe fantasy just sells better than reality.  And promoting these inaccurate messages is just the smart, box office-maximizing maneuver.

It just seems odd to me, showing kids a world that exists only in movies.

Does it seem odd to you?

Or am I just a cynical idiot?

I honestly can’t tell.


I guess I’m too close.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"Maudie"

I love “simple.”

I can’t do “simple” but I love it.  (My failure at “simple” due, in part, to my obsessive self-questioning, such as the most recent, “Is it ‘I can’t do ‘simple’, or is it ‘I can’t do ‘simple’ myself’?” “And should the words ‘simple’ in the previous sentence have full quotation marks around them or just half?”  You cannot do “simple” grappling with paralyzing conundrums like the foregoing.   Nor can you use the word “conundrums.”  Or is it conundra?  You see what I’m talking about?)

It’s not that I automatically love things because I can’t do them myself.  (There, “myself” is necessary.  Or is it?  Yeah, it probably is.  I’ll tell ya, I can’t imagine Hank Williams having these problems.  Williams’s best works were described as, “Three chords and the truth.”  I bet he never thought, “I wonder if I should slip another chord in there.”  He just stuck to the three and the rest is history.)

There are definitely things I cannot do myself that I don’t love.  Oregami, for example.  I can’t do oregami but that does not make me reflexively all gaga about it.  I mean, oregami’s fine, if you have time on your hands and an appropriately weighted sheet of paper.  Now that I think of it, origami is also “simple”.  Demonstrating that within “simple”, there lies a subsection of “simple” I care minimally about.

I never thought about that before.  Look at that, a new insight!  And you guys were there at its arrival.  You know, we should all get together and talk about that.  “Do you remember what you were doing when I my illuminating insight showed up?”  That could be a crackling good conversation.

Now, before I spend the entire post on the extraneous “sidetrack” of “simple” – demonstrating if more evidence were required that I’m not – let me tell you about Maudie.

Maudie is unqualifiedly “simple.” 

And it’s wonderful.

Let me also report that Maudie is the best film set in Nova Scotia I have ever seen in my life, and I have seen… another one.   Goin’ Down The Road.  And Maudie’s better than that one.  Though Goin’ Down The Road was not too shabby itself.  Better than anything I’ve seen coming out of New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island, I can tell you.  Or Ontario, for that matter, and they’re supposed to be the English-language, cultural standard-bearers.  And there’s little Nova Scotia, beating it like the proverbial rug.  And they’ve got coal there, to boot!

Maudie is the biographical depiction of Nova Scotia folk artist Maud Lewis, a physically-challenged (juvenile rheumatoid arthritis) painter of her rustic, proximate surroundings – flowers, birds, a team of oxen – who becomes ultimately recognized enough to merit inclusion in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and catch the enthusiasm of vice-president Richard M. Nixon.  (Which triggered a glimmer of respect for the disgraced former president.)

Seeking an escape from the domination of her aunt/guardian, Maudie hooks up with a cold and unbending door-to-door fish peddler named Everett Lewis, insinuating herself into his one-room-and-a-sleeping-loft abode as his personal housekeeper.

The movie portrays Maudie’s developing recognition as an artist, along with Maudie and Everett’s unlikely relationship, which evolves eventually into marriage, although a demonstrably bumpy one.  At one point, after a devastating argument, Everett reveals to his buddy/coworker,

“Well, she left me.”

To which his knowing associate replies,

“What took her so long?”

That’s an example of the pared-down authenticity of the exchanges matching, in its screenwriting predilection, the uncluttered clarity in Maudie’s artwork.  Another example:

Maudie and Everett deliver some post-card-sized paintings to a storekeeper who offers them for sale to the public.  When the storekeeper dismissingly remarks, “My five year-old son can do that” the gruffly protective Everett shoots back, “Well, he didn’t.  Maud did.  And you’re an idiot.”

One final example, because I like it:

Sharing a bed together (‘cause there’s only one bed in the cabin), Everett experiences some inevitable “stirrings”, and as he is about to make his move, Maudie, responding with neither outrage nor trepidation instead calmly inquires,

“Are you going to do that?”

(Spoiler Alert:  He doesn’t.  Maudie demanding a marital quid pro quo.)

Sally Hawkins, whom I have seen and enjoyed before, most particularly in Mike Leigh movies, is – yes, simple – but also credible and beguiling.  Ethan Hawke is too pretty by half – no visible signs of tattoos or eye-threatening fish hook mishaps – but he’s such a consummate actor you come to accept that this admirable physical specimen has not left Nova Scotia behind and traipsed off to Hollywood to find assured fame and fortune as a movie star.

Not to get too “criticky” about things, but Maudie’s photography is frequently “too beautiful”, clashing with the guileless unshowiness in Maudie’s paintings.  It’s almost as if the Nova Scotia Chamber of Commerce said, “While you are filming the movie, could you make it so people will want to come here?”  (My research reveals that Maudie was actually shot in Newfoundland and Labrador, so apparently they couldn’t.)  (Further research reveals the relocation was precipitated by the Nova Scotia provincial government’s rescinding its subsidizing film credit program.  Making me a big smarty-pants.)

Not all movies need to be Maudie.

But I am glad that, once in a blue moon, one of them is.

“Once in a blue moon.”  That’s kind of how Maudie would put things.  Whoa!  Could I have possibly caught the “simplicity” bug?   

Maybe. 

But most likely, it will wear off.


Hey, at least I didn’t say “dissipate.”

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"Language Problem"

In a recent blog post, I theoretically pondered what it’s like for a person to be living in a world they find unacceptably tasteless, offensive and annoying.  I had to approach that scenario theoretically because I am surrounded by people who are apparently fine with everything.  The closest example I can come up with of a person who finds the world unacceptably tasteless, offensive and annoying is me.  Though I generally respond to the hopeless situation with, “Yeah, well, hmph, there you go.”  And I haplessly leave it at that, imagining the Durante-esque, “Those are the conditions that prevail.”  (Accompanied, on rhythmical cue, by airborne arms slapping surrenderingly against his sides.)

In reaction to my theoretical – because I lack concrete examples – blog post, I receive a comment from reader Mike T., who begins his response with “You’re in luck, Earl.  I just happen to be one of ‘those people.’”

Mike T. then reports that growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, his entertainment selections included “pre-1970 TV shows and movies… with contemporary cartoons and (some) game shows also permitted.  Mike T. goes on to explain that

“To this day, that is pretty much all I watch because I can be assured that there will be no swearing, suggestiveness, let alone outright nudity.”

I truly appreciated hearing from Mike T.  He provided precisely the information I was looking for and was theoretically pondering in my post.

And then Mike T’s responding commentary took a provocative “turn.”

“One of the things I like about your blog is that you rarely cross the bad-taste line.  In fact, I was a bit shocked a few days ago when you threw in a particularly unnecessary F-bomb… I’m still here, reading your musings faithfully every day, trusting that your momentary descent into edginess won’t become permanent.”

Being congenitally thin-skinned – though nowhere near Trumpian proportions – led me to reflexively delete Mike T’s comment from my e-mail – all comments appearing concomitantly among my e-mails – almost immediately after I read it.  Then, however, asking myself “Is that really the person you want to be?”, I recovered Mike T’s e-mail, and I decided to write about it.

I do not remember the context of my…

Wait.

Before I forget, I want to thank Mike T. for his forgiving reaction.  I admittedly “crossed the line” – by Mike T’s standards, to which he is unquestionably entitled.  But, despite my “momentary descent into edginess”, he remains forgivingly “still here.”  

Classy.  And I admire and appreciate the gesture.

Second, what Mike T. adjudged as “a particularly unnecessary F-bomb” probably was.  A needless transgression, which I chalk up to accidental sloppiness, encroaching senility and the unseasonable (by Santa Monica standards) summer heat. 

None of which forgives the lamentable “F-bomb” inclusion.  I simply lost focus, perhaps thinking distractedly about lunch.
 
Third, and most importantly, though I will offer a provocative “turn” of my own in a moment, since, as Mike T. correctly observes, I infrequently cross the line into “No-no Land” – I have over the years created an unspoken but proven consistent expectation, that expectation being,

“I don’t do that.”

And then I did. 

And by so doing,

I disappointed a regular reader.   

Which I heartfeltedly regret.

A man receives “shelter from the storm” only to find an unwelcome hole in the roof.

The thing is – and here comes the provocative “turn”…

In the palette of sincere self-expression, I believe there is a legitimate value in the availability of the entire panoply of colors, including the questionably acceptable ones. 

For me, “profanity” is losing your temper, with words.  But with words, upping the emotional ante.  Those words, I herein submit, need to be protected and readily accessible.  Otherwise, you feel anger, outrage, punishing disappointment, unendurable agony, you open your mouth to respond commensurately to the traumatic event, and the only word that emerges is,

“Censored”?

People for whom using profanity is an unconsiderable option – I get it.  I mean, for me, eating pork is literally “off the table.”  But there are other foodstuffs I can easily turn to.  (Although Ko-Jel – kosher Jell-o – tastes utterly vile, and kosher bacon is invariably not crispy.) 

In the case of “passionate reaction”, however, there is no commensurate alternative avenue.  Imagine someone experiencing profoundly intense feelings but the accompanying words meant to communicate those profoundly intense feelings are unilaterally forbidden?

I don’t know, is “Shoot!” really sufficiently cathartic?

Again, as with “offensive programming”, this is not essentially my problem.  Though I’d be equally curious to hear how on a practical level that works.

As for the infraction in question – my gratuitous – maybe in quotes though arguably not – profanitorial misstep, I propose – for myself in the future, and for others, should you be interested – the following strategy:

I recall watching a child-rearing expert, opining on the “hot button” issue concerning the spanking of children.  The expert’s advice on this troubling dilemma was the following:

“If you make the decision that you will never spank your children, you will end up spanking them exactly the right amount.”

Replace “spanking” with “cursing”,

And that is the guiding “North Star” of this enterprise from here forward.

My thanks to Mike T. for obliging me to think about this.  And my appreciation again for his steadfastly sticking around.


You’re a better man than I am, Michael T.