I wrote a post about my bouts with ulcerative colitis on my other blog, The Meager Med Student. But I think it sufficiently qualifies for this blog as well.
In the past, I have written about Movies. Now is the time for Musings.
I am drawn first and foremost to intelligent people. I don’t only mean academics. I hold to the concept of multiple intelligences. 7? 12? Pick whatever number you like. If you apply logic to what you do, I’ll listen rapt at your feet. If you are curious about everything and are constantly learning about things outside your area of expertise, I’ll follow you to the ends of the Earth.
I am drawn to wise people. I know people who believe accumulating information is sufficient, but have no idea how to process it or how to sort out the true from the false. Others merely repeat others’ interpretations without thinking through them critically. But I also know people who know far less, but when given a little information, reason through and apply it well. To paraphrase William Penn, a little wisdom trumps a large sum of knowledge.
To people with ambition. They tend to be creative, another trait I admire. They strive to be different from the crowd. Not out of a prideful desire to be unique. They appreciate and are content with the status quo, but want use their gifts to make every aspect of the world even better. They are comfortable enough with who they are to stand alone. Confidence, excitement and joy radiate from them.
To people who never talk about money. Those who complain about the costs of things usually don’t realize what they’re paying for, and thus betray their ignorance. Those who never bring up a dollar amount do not idolize money and are financially secure. I don’t mean they’re wealthy, necessarily. I know a poor student who lives generously and well with the little he has, and yet never gets into debt.
To people who are not the darlings of the world. In my experience, instantly charismatic people are either fair-weather friends or those masking deep ugliness in their soul. The people I’m closest to rub me the wrong way at first, but reveal deep beauty as I get to know them.
To people who are positive realists. They do not pretend ugliness does not exist in order to maintain their mood, but aren’t depressed or cynical. They see (and long to see) the world for how it truly is. They choose to be happy and kind anyway, and they look to a brighter, happier world in the future to change the one in the present.
To people who give because they have plenty, both in conversation and in money. They don’t demand others do anything for them. Their foremost concern is not their own comfort (though they may take that into consideration), but that of the people around them. Kindness, believing the best in others, and treating people better than they deserve are their signatures.
To people who appreciate beauty in all its forms. To this end, I find taste in art particularly important. Great art makes us more interested in the world and the people around us, and thus improves our heart, mind and souls. Poor art cheapens them. I recall one of the best pieces of marriage advice I ever received, from film critic Roger Ebert: “Never marry someone who doesn’t love the movies you love. Sooner or later, that person will not love you.”
To Renaissance men and women. When someone catches my references to Buddhism, Othello or Seinfeld, I’m happy. There is too much beauty in the world to not want to drink it all in. How sweet it is to enjoy that beauty with someone who appreciates it.
To people who are not victims of their circumstances. I must be careful, because some people have had unbelievably tragic things happen to them, and these things have undeniable effects on the psyche. But innumerable people blame others for what has happened to them, whereas the people I admire are brave enough to point the finger back at themselves. They refuse to be defined by what’s happened to them and focus on what they can change, believing ultimately they decide who they become and that nothing is impossible.
To people who are transparent. When you are secure with who you are, you have nothing to hide or lose. In being completely open, you form deeper bonds with people. I admire filmmaker Kevin Smith, who Tweets everything about his personal life and comfortably talks about it in front of a mass audience. Because of this, he has a large, passionate fan base. We Christians could learn much from him.
To people who seek shalom. They do not compartmentalize their work, love or home lives. They are always the same person, and because of this, they are happier and more stable. In the medical world, I see many doctors who treat patients kindly when they interact with them, and then shred them when they leave the room. Yet I knew a doctor who treated people the same way whether he was in church, in the hospital or at home. He was a jolly soul I admired greatly.
These people recognize the paradox of being both ordinary and extraordinary. Some are intimidated by their presence, but those who interact with them are uplifted even by being near them. Their lives are never boring, even in mundanity. They are fountains of life, ever full and overflowing.
The Movies section of this blog now draws to a close. But before the curtain falls, one last number…
In early 2009, I made a list of the best films of the year. I saved it in my email as a draft, changing the rankings from time to time as a distraction.
What happened next? Laziness. Yes, I had more films to see, more deadlines and eventually two years of medical school. That’s no excuse.
So here it is at last. While I remember the details of some more than others, I still remember how each made me feel. Thus the explanations may be succinct or non-existent, but I know the rankings are accurate.
This may be the last piece of film criticism posted on the Movies section of this blog. My film critic days are over. The Musings section of this blog must take over.
My thanks to you that followed my amateur critic days for the short time I had them. I still dearly miss it. It is not what I was meant to do 24/7, but it helped enhance what I do now and will continue to do.
And so, the list:
1. Synecdoche, New York – A film about our lives: birth, death and how we view the world while we are between those two states. Complex, breaks free of all convention, never confused. The boldest and most meaningful film I’ve seen in a long time.
2. Man on Wire - A documentary that’s part heist movie part inspirational story. Or is it a tragedy?
3. Slumdog Millionaire- I was reminded of Dickens. One man’s incredible journey from rags to riches and girl. The visual depiction of India is surprisingly accurate.
4. The Dark Knight – The most unconventional, conventional mainstream movie of the year.
5. The Fall - The story isn’t new, but the visuals are. There are gorgeous sights in this movie I will never see in any other film. I am shocked that none of them are computer graphics. Full disclosure: I watch my movies with a projector. The film will may have less life on a smaller TV.
6. The Wrestler
7. Rachel Getting Married
8. Tie: W. and Milk
10. Frozen River
Surprise, surprises, there were a few films I liked nearly as much. So here’s your bonus next few picks, though with no explanations.
13. Revolutionary Road
14. Lakeview Terrace
Where’s your Top Ten list?
Let me be clear: I think Top Ten lists are pointless. They provide one useful piece of information: which film is the film critic’s favorite for that year. This gives some insight into the critic’s personal taste. But to argue that a film is “better” than another because it’s ranked at #3 instead of #4 on one’s list is a bit silly.
It is not a critic who usually determines whether a film will last, but time. It’s a Wonderful Life, my best friend’s favorite movie, opened to many negative reviews. Then it got a new life by being aired on television. Now it is on the AFI’s list of the best American movies and is, in my mind, a great film.
I have made my argument. Now the surprise: I will make a Top Ten list. Why? Because this is my first year of film criticism, and so I would like to taste in the tradition at least once. Perhaps I will innovate a new idea for noting my favorite films in the future. But not now.
This list will come later, as there are several movies for 2008 that I have yet to see. These include Milk, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt and Slumdog Millionaire. Many of these films have not been released in my area yet. (I do not get advanced screenings.) A few others I have seen, but not written reviews for yet. I try not to work while on vacation.
You see my dilemma. How could I make a list now without reviewing those titles? Sometimes a single movie can surprise you. For a long time, I thought I had decided on my best film of the year. Then a few weeks ago, I saw a film (I will not say which one yet) that I liked even more. That was the best movie-going experience I had all year. That convinced me that it would be discussed for years to come.
So wait a while. The reviews will be written. The list will come. See you then.
Quantum Of Solace
2 stars out of 4
This piece is an original review never published anywhere before.
I know a critic who gave “Quantum of Solace” a negative review because he was in love with the style of the previous Bond films. He bemoaned the loss of Q and Moneypenney and took issue with the Bond girl’s name, Camille, not being a sexual pun like Plenty O’Toole. He felt the villain’s plan to control Bolivia’s water was lackluster compared to the global domination schemes of villains like Goldfinger. To add insult to injury, he then took a pot shot at the film’s title, claiming it was the second-worst name ever given to a Bond movie.
It is true that the title is not the most evocative, although it is accurate since the movie spends most of its time in action and plotting instead of quiet character moments. But here’s the thing: this new James Bond isn’t the James Bond of films past. He couldn’t be. He is not meant to exist in a cartoon world of buffoonish villains with crack plans to dominate the world, but in a slightly hyperized version of our reality. We want him to deal with our issues. Our problems with the world. And we want him to handle them with that suave Bond style.
So I will analyze the film from that perspective. It begins with a car chase in Italy, which unfortunately is all too telling of the action to come. Shots are fired, cars are flipped and exploded, but it is all edited with quick shots that are seconds long, at most. It’s hard to get involved in an action scene when people are fighting while dangling from ropes, and you can’t tell who’s who.
Anyway, Bond discovers he has captured a member of a secret organization called Quantum, so secret that M says, “We’ve never heard anything about them. And yet, the captured Quantum member says, “We have people everywhere.” Hey, here’s a big revelation! Quantum has agents all over the world, in every government branch! Yet M and the rest of her Secret Service staff don’t act as if anyone they could be talking to are insiders. If they don’t care about the apparent power of this organization, why should we?
And what is Quantum, you ask? Funnily enough, I am still asking the same thing. I think it’s an organization of world leaders who work together to make money off of other countries, but I’m not sure. I’m still confused as to what their solace is.
Whatever they are, I know two things about them. First, they love comfort. They have a hotel with hundreds of rooms in the middle of a desert, even though only a few of them are ever in it at a time. What a use of resources. Second, they’re not particularly intelligent. One of their hideouts is on a harbor dock surrounded by a thin metal fence. All Bond needs to do is stand by the side, and he sees Quantum members walking alongside corrupt officials. The Bond girl, who has met Bond earlier in the film and realizes he’s not on their side, is even walking with them. All she’d have to do is look in front, and she’d see him. Never does. And don’t get me started on Bond giving a letter to the guard in front of the gate to give her.
And the scheme. Oh that scheme. Not the most captivating. When it involves taking control of a South American country’s water supply in order to make profits off of charging them, you need to give much more background to make it important. What will they do with this money? Will they use this power to gain control of Bolivia and of other South American countries? Are they power hungry? What danger do they pose to us?
As for Bond, Daniel Craig accomplishes the strange task of convincing us that he is Bond without always being given the necessary material. Don’t ask me how. Take this classic exchange between the villain and Bond: “My friends call me Dominique.” Bond: “I’m sure they do.” Right.
A good review should give you an idea of the experience of the film. An underdeveloped Bond lacking on Bondesque qualities spends most of his time tracking down an organization we care nothing about, engaging in fights that are impossible to follow and foiling a scheme that has no power or payoff. It feels static and boring when it should be kicking into high gear. This isn’t a Bond movie. It’s an incompetent action film.
Part of the problem with the film must lie with the source material. “Casino Royale” was based on the Ian Fleming novel of the same name and stayed true to its basic events and character development. Say what you want to about Ian Fleming, but at least he understood what made Bond tick. Vesper’s betrayal and suicide at the end of that book effectively completed Bond’s development, making him cold and calculating since the only woman he loved had turned against him, as well as turning him into a womanizer since he wouldn’t love a woman like her again. “Quantum of Solace”, however, is made more or less out of thin air, and it shows. Without giving anything away, it commits the unforgivable sin of undoing the end of the last film in order to make Bond more sympathetic. Bad move.
All this to say, my friend was right. Wrong on his prescription for future Bond films, but right nevertheless about the diagnosis of the film’s qualities. If you were to read his review and wonder whether you would enjoy this new Bond if you were interested in the franchise’s new direction, you have your answer. Perhaps I should have seen it coming. When “Another Way to Die” was announced as the new Bond theme, I criticized it for being low-energy, repetitive and bland. Now I believe it to be an accurate representation of the film.
Zack and Miri Make a Porno
3 stars out of 4
This piece was originally published at the ODU Mace & Crown and is reprinted below.
Kevin Smith’s “Zack and Miri Make a Porno” is rude, lewd, crude, and everything else you’d expect from the title. Compared to his other films, it’s decidedly minor. And yet at the same time it, like its stars, are so warmhearted and loveable you can’t help but like it.
The film stars Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks as Zack and Miri, two childhood friends living together in Pittsburgh. They have a normal working-class existence. He works at a coffee shop. She works at a clothing store. Smith’s direction creates a world that feels normal, even without the current economic woes. He’s unafraid to show details of their lives like cars covered with dirt and ice, or the darkness and dinginess of a low-rent apartment.
Soon, Zack and Miri can’t afford the rent, and their power and water is cut off. Desperate, they decide to make and sell a porn film to pay off their debts. This means they’ll have to have sex with each other, which they’ve never done before. (Zack feels that would complicate the relationship). But they’re willing to do it for the film, and when they do, everything changes. Smith shoots that scene against their faces with no nudity, allowing the actors to show us what they’re doing is more than sex. It’s making love.
Where Smith excels is with infusing the mundane with his witty, honest and unabashedly crass dialogue. Listen to the exchanges between Zack and Miri, and you sense a man in love with his own writing. You can imagine him smiling as he writes about trivial details like high school alumni magazines while referencing everything from the comic strip Ziggy to the Highlander film series and dropping in copius amounts of dirty words along the way.
I enjoyed the movie, but I walked out with more admiration than affection. Why? I offer two observations. First, Smith’s movie is so crude, so dirty and so profanity-laden that we grow acclimatized it. It’s so shocking that it ceases to be. There are laughs, such as a moment involving what I can only describe as a flood. It’s just that the laughs aren’t constant.
Second, Zack and Miri’s story, which is familiar, is so much of the film’s focus that the other characters have little to do but propel the plot forward. Craig Robinson is quite funny by being one of the few people not involved in ridiculous shenanigans, or at least trying not to be. Yet all we learn about him is that he has a wife who he doesn’t get along with. If these other characters had been developed more, Smith could have explored the themes of love and sex in a more in-depth manner.
And yet, like most of Smith’s other films, there is an undeniable sweetness and innocence at its core. A scene between two gay men is quite funny without ever resorting to stereotypes of how gay men supposedly talk. Look past the profanities and the crude gags, and you see a writer with a warm heart and a love for life. If occassionally he says something out of turn, the rest of the film assures you he’s only kidding.