Archive for Johnny Depp

The Oscars You Didn’t See

Posted in Asides with tags , , , , on 2010/03/08 by mattermind

Yeah, she’s hot. And also gifted. Deal with it, boys.

While I salute the Academy for shattering barriers at this year’s ceremony by bestowing the Best Director award on a talented and well-deserving woman (congratulations, Kathryn Bigelow!) as well as the first African American (how has Spike Lee not won this thing?), I’m more than a little miffed by a letter (okay, a mass mailing) I received from Michael Moore highlighting the best films he saw in 2009.

This is not about political agendas, people. Besides, isn’t it a given that Hollywood is the last bastion of left-leaning radicals who are all aligned with Sean Penn in a Commie plot to turn America into a socialist country? As a matter of fact, the more you think about what I’m trying to say here, the scarier it gets. Because if Hollywood is supposedly so radical and out to destroy America, why haven’t I heard about any of these films? Why wasn’t I even given a choice?

Alice in Wonderland is playing on, like, a gazillion screens. While I have my own issues about making Johnny Depp the center of a film that ostensibly is about the imaginary journeys of a little girl (who has precociously — and creepily — been sexualized in a generic way for this telling), I’m more upset about the lack of diversity in the availability of what’s out there to watch.

And I live not too far from LA. It’s rather sad. And makes me wonder how many great films both left and right of center I am missing simply for not having a say in the matter.

I have little doubt that were I to ask the manager of the local cineplex, he or she would tell me ad nauseum about how people just aren’t interested in those alternative movies, that they want their Hot Tub Time Travelers and whatnots. That this is a capitalist society and we vote with our wallets every day. But that’s where Michael Moore’s list hit upside the head. Cause I don’t know about you, but I was never given much of a choice about whether or not I wanted to see a single one of these films.

I present Michael’s list without any commentary of my own to add to his. I hope people don’t mind, and realize that this is not about furthering an agenda, but questioning choice and availability. The films seem diverse and fascinating to me. I’ve already added the majority of them to my Netflix queue.

If there’s another list out there somewhere featuring well-made movies on the right that didn’t make it to my cineplex either, I’ll be more than happy to post a list of those as well. I repeat, this is not about favoring one side of the story. It’s a question about access, and the corporatization and homogenization of the voices and visions we’re able to see, hear and think about in 2010 America.

Michael’s List:

1. “Troubled Water” (see http://www.michaelmoore.com for comments)
2. “Everlasting Moments” – A wife in the early 20th century wins a camera and it changes her life (from Sweden).
3. “Captain Abu Raed” – This first feature from Jordan tells the story of an airport janitor who the neighborhood kids believe is a pilot.
4. “Che” – A brilliant, unexpected mega-film about Che Guevara by Steven Soderbergh.
5. “Dead Snow” – The scariest film I’ve seen in a while about zombie Nazis abandoned after World War II in desolate Norway.
6. “The Great Buck Howard” – A tender look at the life of an illusionist, based on the life of The Amazing Kreskin starring John Malkovich.
7. “In the Loop” – A rare hilarious satire, this one about the collusion between the Brits and the Americans and their illegal war pursuits.
8. “My One and Only” – Who woulda thought that a biopic based on one year in the life of George Hamilton when he was a teenager would turn out to be one of the year’s most engaging films.
9. “Whatever Works” – This was a VERY good Woody Allen film starring the great Larry David and it was completely overlooked.
10. “Big Fan” – A funny, dark film about an obsessive fan of the New York Giants with a great performance by the comedian Patton Oswalt.
11. “Eden Is West” – The legendary Costa-Gavras’ latest gem, ignored like his last brilliant film 4 years ago, “The Axe”.
12. “Entre Nos” – An mother and child are left to fend for themselves in New York City in this powerful drama.
13. “The Girlfriend Experience” – Steven Soderbergh’s second genius film of the year, this one set in the the post-Wall Street Crash era, a call girl services the men who brought the country down.
14. “Humpday” – Two straight guys dare each other to enter a gay porn contest — but will they go through with it?
15. “Lemon Tree” – A Palestinian woman has her lemon trees cut down by the Israeli army, but she decides that’s the final straw.
16. “Mary and Max” – An Australian girl and and elderly Jewish man in New York become pen pals in this very moving animated film.
17. “O’Horten” – Another Norwegian winner, this one about the final trip made by a retiring train conductor.
18. “Salt of This Sea” – A Palestinian-American returns to her family’s home in the West Bank, only to find herself caught up in the struggles between the two cultures.
19. “Sugar” – A Dominican baseball player gets his one chance to come to America and make it in the big leagues.
20. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” – A smart, adult animated film from Wes Anderson that at least got two nominations from the Academy.

Each Thing’s a Thief

Posted in Timon of Athens with tags , , , on 2010/02/04 by mattermind

Timon of Athens, Act IV: Scenes 1-3

I wish I were reading this fourth act in grad school, because it lends itself to great discussion. Not content to dismiss poor Timon to his cave in a fit of laughable (or lamentable) madness, Shakespeare instead (ouch, I hate to use the following word, so please pardon) “problematizes” the very nature of misanthropy by presenting him a series of challenges to his worldview.

Like five temptations they come, to test Timon in his current loathing of humankind:

  • 1st: While digging for edible roots, he discovers a trove of gold instead. Though you would think this might cheer Timon up (“Hey, I can get all my old stuff back!”) he surprisingly views this discovery as merely a variation of the diseases that plague human life. More on this later.
  • 2nd: Alcibiades swings by on his way to kick Athens’s ass, bringing along two of his mistresses for the show. Alcibiades feels for Timon, though Timon feels nothing for him. The women are appalled by Timon’s state of wretchedness, but he merely tosses them gold and bids them do their whoring best to bring Athens low.
  • 3rd: Apemantus appears, and herein the most fascinating discussion of the lot. Shakespeare must love the irony of these two characters now facing each other at reverse ends of the spectrum. Or rather, Apemantus hasn’t moved whatsoever. It’s Timon whose circumstances have swung to the polar opposite side.
  • 4th: A small band of thieves appears in search of the rumored gold (doesn’t take long, does it?). There’s a great deal of unexpected humor here, as Timon gladly gives them what he has and bids them success in their future thievery. One of them says: “Has almost charmed me from my profession by persuading me to it,” a line I can hear Johnny Depp or one of the Pirates of the Caribbean delivering.
  • 5th: Finally, Flavius. Timon’s trusty steward shows up to tend to his decaying master. Loyal to a fault, Flavius finds himself having to justify even that with the ol’ man who’s clearly losing it. Timon bids him take the gold and make a merry life of it. But for his part, Timon no longer believes that money can buy happiness, but that the very premise of life is flawed.

Now we come to the part about the discussion I wish we could have. For all of these arguments and counterarguments beg for a corner table at Starbucks.

If I could pass out bluebooks, here is what I would offer you by way of essay questions:

Choose one of the following questions and answer in depth, citing the text wherever possible to reinforce either your opinion or that which you believe a close reading supports:

A) Timon seems to be most distraught by the dog-eat-dog quality underlying nature. Nature, as Tennyson described it, “Red in tooth and claw.” But Timon also claims to have lost all faith in human institutions as well: religion, commerce, love. Everything from piety to virginity is dubious. Why do you think Timon has allowed his own misery to extend out so far? Does this tell us more about Timon, or reveal more about us? Explain.

B) Epimantus presents to us one of the most curious riddles of the play. He challenges Timon to restore his situation by becoming the flatterer instead of the flatteree. But does he mean this, or is it just a test? Timon declines — but why? At one point Epimantus says, “I love thee better now than e’er I did,” yet it only provokes more of Timon’s cursing. Is Epimantus a self-aware, Socratic character, or merely hardened to his misery, unlike Timon, as Timon states? What is the nature of their relationship throughout the play and how does it change? Discuss.

C) Is Timon sympathetic, or merely a pathetic character? How would you have responded had he asked you for money? What grounds in the text gives you reason for doing so? Elaborate.

90 minutes, open book, open note. No secondary sources allowed.

Well, that’s the test I would give, anyway. And in case you’re wondering, I only ask because I’m asking myself the same things.