Fantasy and Reality: Oscars 2018

Fact vs. myth. Reality vs. fantasy. Vengeance or forgiveness. Sunny spring or snowy nor’easter. The first weekend in March is the time for the shiny node of Los Angeles to parade its sun and glitz to the world, a perfect contrast to the blizzards of the northeast and a stark reminder of the unreality of the movie world. It’s Uncle Oscar’s birthday!

That unreality was pushed even further by the triumph of this year– the Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. The win has prompted some heated debate in the household. We all liked the movie when we saw it, and my 20-year-old daughter was particularly delighted as she’s been a del Toro fan since Hellboy.  My wife said it really made her think about how they took the “fish out of water” idea and explored it from so many angles. But then, she wrote a short story called “Fish out of Water,” so I guess she oughta know.

Shape of Water, Oscar Best Picture, caricature drawing
Shape of Water cartoon courtesy of Los Angeles Magazine

Best Picture?

Despite what I am about to say, The Shape of Water is an excellent movie, interesting, sophisticated, innovative in its way, and worthy of an award. This award? Well, I don’t know. This is the second year in a row where a fantasy has been close to the top prize, and between La La Land and this movie, I am wondering if there’s a new category of adult fantasy that’s started some sort of trend. Continue reading “Fantasy and Reality: Oscars 2018”

Figure Skating’s Trail of Broken Dreams

I Tonya movie still, broken skate
I, Tonya
courtesy of Entertainment Weekly

The Olympics start in nine days, but this is not–strictly speaking–a post about the Olympics. This is a reflection prompted by seeing the movie, I Tonya, which cleverly insinuated itself into movie screens early enough to put itself in Oscar contention for 2017 but late enough to be seen right before the start of the Pyeongchang Games. The mockumentary-style film is worth seeing as a drama even if you’re not a skate fan. It also reveals the quirks in skate judging that result in odd results, perhaps to Harding, but to so many more that Olympic skate results are practically a conveyor belt of unfair outcomes.

Bashing Someone’s Hopes

Margot Robbie is terrific as Tonya Harding*, the powerful but feisty skater who won the U.S. Nationals but wanted more. Her manipulative and abusive husband launched a plot to scare her competition and his cretinous cohorts improvised with a crowbar to Nancy Kerrigan’s knee. Harding became a national joke and an international disgrace. I thought the film clearly showed Harding’s culpability in covering up the plot after the fact, lying to the FBI, and suing to keep her Olympic spot.

But afterward I heard some say that they thought the movie showed Harding was robbed, that she should have won a medal, shouldn’t have been pilloried by the press, and deserved more. Harding’s interview with the New York Times this month suggests she still thinks she was mistreated. The film–assuming its accuracy–does make one thing clear: when you are abused by your loved ones, as Harding was by her mother and husband, you come to feel that the world is against you and that you bear no responsibility for whatever happens. Continue reading “Figure Skating’s Trail of Broken Dreams”

Under the Covers of Murder at the Orient Express

A lot of angst-filled snippets are filling social media over Kenneth Branagh’s new version of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express.  People don’t want to see it because no one could be a better Poirot than David Suchet. Or they loved the 1974 production with Albert Finney so much, what could surpass that? Branagh’s moustache looks silly. Who does he think he is? Why mess with the “original”….etc. etc.?

Time out. Let’s talk about covers.


The Beatles Love It When Other People Do the Beatles

A cover is a remake.  It should be different but pay homage to the original. There’s an interesting side discussion about whether the word “cover” was specific to white bands covering black artists’ material which you can read here . Let’s bypass that issue; the notion of a cover is more generic in today’s vernacular. Mozart covered Bach. West Side Story covered Romeo and Juliet. Continue reading “Under the Covers of Murder at the Orient Express”

‘Tis a Mystery: Where Do Mysteries Come from?

Sherlock Holmes playing the violin while puffing on a pipe, gray smoke misting the air like thoughts of inductive reasoning… Hercules Poirot sipping on his tisane while musing with his little gray cells…Mr. Monk framing the room with his hands… Columbo, hand to his forehead, dripping cigar ash on his raincoat…such detectives have captured popular imagination for centuries and are among the most famous of our modern heroes. Mysteries have nearly eclipsed novels as popular reads. Agatha Christie is called the world’s best-selling author with two billion sales of her 66 detective novels.

How did we get here?

Most discussions of the history of the mystery define the universe as related to detective fiction — a premise I grant — and suggest that Poe’s “Murder in the Rue Morgue” was the beginning of the mystery. But let’s go back a little further. How does Poe’s 1841 short story about a detective, C. August Dupin, arise into existence? What were detectives before then? Didn’t anyone write short stories? Didn’t anyone write stories about people who investigated things? Continue reading “‘Tis a Mystery: Where Do Mysteries Come from?”

How to Get Away with Binge-Watching

20170913 group How-to-get-away-with-murder

I didn’t grow up binge-watching shows. I grew up waiting for the final episode of M*A*S*H* and speculating over an entire summer about Who Shot JR? But in a day and age when there are hundreds of shows, both current and past, and with libraries helpfully stocking entire seasons and series, it is a distinct and guilty pleasure to watch an entire season. When a courtroom/ detective show bucks, twists, and turns like a raft down the Colorado River, it almost has to be watched in a handful of sittings. At least, that was my sense from enjoying the first season of How to Get Away With Murder.

In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
–Stanley Kunitz, The Testing Tree

Why murder mysteries? We humans have such a penchant for mysteries with all the books, movies, and television shows! I believe I’ve been shown more dead bodies over the years than your average homicide detective. Lucky for me, I’ve never seen a real murder in person. Knock wood, let’s keep it that way. We need our escapist entertainment. This was a particularly good week to divert attention and keep the mind off giant hurricanes barreling towards family members.

Before going further, it must be said, How to Get Away with Murder is a flawed show. Every episode included close-ups of characters ripping their clothes off — not just euphemistically — but literally pulling down pants and whatnot.  I like a good lusty heyho as much as the next person, but not every half hour and not when it gets in the way of the dead bodies falling. Plus, nearly always in public? What’s up with that? “How did you know we were having an affair?” various characters ask. Well, gee, the parking lot, your car on the street, the pub’s bathroom…how could I not know?

That is the beauty of binge-watching, though. Fast forward and move on. And suspend your disbelief. Forget that these are law students and lawyers committing acts of legal foolishness or relying on rules that don’t occur in the real legal world. I object, Your Honor, law school students wouldn’t be working on current real cases or be told to miss other classes in order to watch one teacher in court. Fast forward and move on. Suspend your disbelief.  As Henry James said, “Grant them their donnee.” Take the premise that this is a juicy potboiler of a murder mystery. You’re going to have some ridiculous conversations and plot twists. Move on. Continue reading “How to Get Away with Binge-Watching”