18 posts categorized "Movies"

Best actor of any gender

Not since the last century have I used the term "actress," though I don't attribute the non-habit to any personal forward-leaning virtue.

I became sensitive to the quagmire and the politics of the word from professional actors I knew; from observing how they referred to themselves and each other.

But the Oscar nominations, when announced, still fall into actor and "actress" categories.

Best actor of any gender

What's more, even media outfits like NPR, which you might think might think critically about gender-privileging conventions, still list, in reporting, "best actor" nominees first, and "best actress" nominees second.

Am I personally gender neutral in my own likes and preferences? Hell no. Though I thought Christian Bale was fantastic in American Hustle, I'll pick Amy Adams to be the focus of the scene at every turn.

Still, it makes no sense to judge acting and give awards by gender!

Here's how I'd re-work the "best" categories for a century of transition:

  • Best actor in a female role
  • Best actor in a male role
  • Best actor in a transgender role

American Hustle v. The Wolf of Wall Street

Spoiler alert: don't read this post, if you don't like knowing about plot elements in movies before you see them and you haven't seen these movies yet.

American Hustle is the best new movie I've seen in quite a few years.

New-images-from-the-hobbit-american-hustle-and-the-monuments-men-142354-a-1375953418-470-75It's a narrative that's quite cinematic: a Kodachrome-like light from the late 1970s pervades everything. The clothing and manners are right.

The actors are gorgeous, of course, because they are A-list Hollywood actors; but the characters they play, while stylish, are decidedly less than beautiful (Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence exempted). Christian Bale sports a smooth, naked belly in every domestic scene, perhaps to signify that a con is not currently in play. Robert De Niro, in an uncredited cameo, looks his age, his hair thinner than anywhere else he appears these days.

It's a caper story, too, with a sweet plot twist.

The camera is fluid, too. I don't mean that the editing features a lot of jump cutting. Instead I mean that the camera swipes and turns and walks in and backs off as characters collide in hotel rooms, restaurants, banquet spaces.

The Wolf of Wall Street has no such merit. Check that, the movie may do a credible job of capturing light that looks more like the 1980s.

The Wolf of Wall Street is essentially a series of disconnected pranks and set pieces. The characters have less dimension than Clutch Cargo animations.

And there is no story, no development. This happened. And then this happened. And then this happened. As if the central character's life were interesting.

Actually, I doubt that any human life can be that un-interesting. The filmmakers had to work hard to flatten all life out of the picture.

Why compare the two movies?

Well, though set about a decade apart, both are about confidence tricksters in New York who get caught up with the law.

I want to compare the two, however, because the two movies drop us off in very different places.

The despicable character in American Hustle turns out to have been the overly ambitious, un-self knowing, rogue FBI agent. Is the lesson of his fall that vanity and self-loathing exposes one to being a sucker?

There is no lesson in The Wolf of Wall Street. There is no character to empathize with. It presents a banal world without passion or romance.

American Hustle by contrast is romantic and sexy.

Birthday bits and pieces

Apologies to Doug Cornelius for borrowing the tagline he uses for his miscellanea posts.

The essential spirit for a Man About Town

Found Rittenhouse Rye!

6a01156e3d83cb970c019b01dc381b970d-580wiSince returning from Manhattan after having a Man About Town (or two) at the Gramercy Tavern, I've been on a quest to find Rittenhouse Rye in a Seattle retail liquor store.

I knew I should be able to secure it close to home, because the spirit seems to be in most bars around town. Bartenders At Manhattan on 12th, Barrio on 12th, and Matt's in the Market at Pike Place Market, have all made the cocktail for me, having the Rittenhouse in stock, though needing my instruction. (A bartender at Cannon also made something like a Man About Town for me, but, he didn't have Rittenhouse and otherwise didn't seem that open to hearing my recipe.)

At home, I've been making do with a specialty rye recommended by a knowledgeable, helpful person at Esquin. That rye was fine. But, too many notes of vanilla and caramel, and way too sweet.

Rittenhouse is the right stuff. It's spicy and sharp, and holds the sweetness of the cynar and vermouth in balance.

Every winter, I get together with a group of former employes of Who's Calling, where I served as General Counsel for two or three years. We meet next week. These guys are in for a treat, as I got a whole bottle of Rittenhouse just to make Men About Town for them.

William Kentridge show at the Metropolitan Museum

Another good reason to go back to Manhattan soon: the Metropolitan Museum is reinstalling The Refusal of Time, a 30 minute, five screen, musical performance that Helen and I saw in a train station warehouse in Kassel, Germany as part of dOCUMENTA (13).


This piece is really extraordinary.

Cornell women's basketball

I heard from an alumni mailing that the Cornell women's basketball team was playing in a tournament at Seattle University, so Helen and I walked over to watch.


It was great fun! I think we will do it (walk over to SU to watch basketball) again. The competitiveness and athleticism is high, but you don't have all the commercial trappings of professional sports. It was way more fun to watch the college women's teams play than I recall the few Seattle Sonics games I went to, years ago, being.

Casablanca backup

On our way home from basketball, we walked by Central Cinema and wondered why so many people were gathered around the ticket counter.

11137445895_e8f6f2d266_cWhen we got home, we got a call from a couple we'd been thinking about and hoping to see. Turns out they had gone to Central Cinema to see Casablanca, but, the projector had broken, dashing their evening plans. So the crowd at the ticket counter, that was the process of doling out refunds.

They figured they would stop by and we figured we would make them consolation cocktails.

Into the second round of Men About Town, it occured to me, we could project Casablanca and watch it just as well at home. And so we did. We used a sheet draped over a curtain rod to make a screen probably seven and a half feet square. Looked great! 


I turned 52 yesterday. This post ends up summarizing how I spent the day. It was a great birthday.

Picture of The Refusal of Time as installed at dOCUMENTA (13): A-C-K / Flickr.

Gravity is a state of mind

I like this new movie, Gravity, very much.

It is carried by two Hollywood stars perfectly cast as themselves, or at least as the screen personas they project (and we cherish) across projects.

Sandra_desktop_1280_1024The spunky, indefatigible, brash and inventive character Sandra Bullock always plays is admittedly less broad here than typical. She's given a backstory to deal with that would depress anyone; and she has to shed the blue collar affectations to stand plausibly as a NASA research scientist.

George Clooney, on the other hand, gets to be exactly the same Buzz Lightyear character he plays in Michael Clayton and The American and probably every other George Clooney movie, except the one where he is a harried single dad managing real estate in Hawaii.

They, the actors, were terrific, and yet somehow did not overwhelm the quietness of the movie's design.

The smartest choice the moviemakers made was to not have any other actor, besides Bullock and Clooney, on-screen speaking in the movie. Not even when Bullock returned to earth.

Turned out the art design of the film, the setting of nearly all the action in near earth orbit, stood in for the existential human condition. Gravity is a state of mind.

"A lovely piece of hardware"

"I predict the lovely couple here will be leaving any minute now," Frank says to Robot as they case a joint they mean to rob, the house of a obnoxious, wealthy young couple.

"I don't think so, Frank," Robot says, watching with what would appear to be perfectly undistracted attention. Frank patters on.

Frank and Robot casing a joint

Within a minute, the couple do, indeed, get up to leave the house. "Like I thought," Frank says.

"Impressive. I missed the pattern," Robot concedes, it dawning on him that planning a heist is doing more to improve Frank's mental health than nutrition, exercise and conventional games.

"That's right," Frank says. "The human brain. Lovely piece of hardware."

In many ways, Robot and Frank is a formulaic movie. Most of the characters are types and not really needed in the film. But the chemistry between Frank Langella and Peter Sarsgaard, playing the voice of Robot, that is really special. Excellent performances.

Vertigo San Francisco locations 55 and a half years on

Last week Helen and I hired Jesse Warr to give us a private tour of key, in-city locations used in the filming of Vertigo, the Hitchcock classic starring Kim Novak and James Stewart. It was a great tour, and we took plenty of photos.

When I next screen the film, no doubt I'll keep an eye out for screenshots I can pull to do some side by side comparisons. but I'll share some notes now on the pictures we took last week. If you don't recall the names of the main characters, just remember that Madeline was played by Kim Novak, and Scottie by James Stewart.

Madeline apartment

This first picture is of Madeline's apartment on the northeast corner of Sacramento and Mason Streets. This looks pretty much just like it did in the movie. I took some shots that are clear of the car's window frame, but decided to use this one, with the shadow of the frame intruding, because it suggests a Scottie-like point of view.

Mission Dolores facade

And here's the facade of Mission Dolores, which I understand to be the oldest structure in San Francisco, spared the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. It also look very recognizable from the movie, though the light on the day of our tour was very different. I'd attribute that to the difference between the spring, April light of our tour from the fall, September or October light from the location filming in 1957, but, I've read that Hitchcock used some pretty heavy duty filters in shooting around Mission Dolores, so, maybe Hitchock bent the same light to get the mood he wanted.

Door in chapel

Speaking of contorting light, I used one of those silly, in-app "effects" to manipulate this shot from inside the chapel, to show the door from which Madeline leaves to go into the graveyard.

Mission Dolores graveyard

The graveyard, you can convince yourself is the same location, but it's very hard to reconstruct any of the sight lines from the graveyard scenes in the movie. Note the redwood in the center. Unless I'm mistaken, that tree was not in the graveyard when the scene was shot in 1957. That means that big tree is less than 55 years old.

Palace of the Legion of Honor

Next is the Palace of the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park. The facade here seems the same but there's the reminder, too, of course, that laws and security protocols have changed. You can't quite casually sidle your car up to the curb at major landmarks anymore (as I think Madeline and/or Scottie do before we follow Madeline inside; this is where she views the portrait of Carlotta).

Fort Point location

Now here's the money shot: the spot at Fort Point where Madeline goes into where the San Francisco Bay meets the Golden Gait Strait and Scottie dives in to fish her out. To come to this location is to commune with a place that is unmistakeable, gorgeous, and timeless. The light must in some sense be always the same here. I don't think you can see the Golden Gate Bridge without thinking of Vertigo, and vice versa.

Scotty home on Lombard

I'll sign off for now with an anti-climatic picture and the disappointing news that Scottie's apartment on Lombard Street has been grossly defaced. It is almost unrecognizable. "Although the door has been repainted, the entrance is easily recognizable save for a few small changes to the patio," Wikipedia reports in notes on Vertigo locations. "The doorbell and the mailbox, which Madeleine uses to deliver a note to Scottie, are exactly the same as they were in the film." But that is no longer true. If I remember correctly, our guide Jesse told us the defacement has occured within the last 6 months or so.

Best actor

I'm glad Daniel Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar this year for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln in Lincoln.

I'm going to see the movie again and I hope so many other people will, that Hollywood titans at the top of their craft will make more movies rooted in American history.

Imdb-lincoln-movieWhether or not Day-Lewis captured the essence of how Lincoln, the human being, projected himself in real life, he did conceive and bring forth a very compelling interpretation that makes Lincoln less God-like, and all the more remarkable. A performance like that makes what Lincoln said, and what you read about him, more accessible.

Also gratifying to see the movie won the award for best production design. There was more creativity to the movie in that regard than you find in the magical fantasy movies or cartoons.

My favorite moment in the movie, now with the distance of 3+ months from first viewing, is when Lincoln bends down to tend the fire in a fireplace in a small room in the White House, while he is talking things over with William Seward, played by David Strathairn.

Here's my initial review of Lincoln, the movie. And here's my treatment of a Lincoln-inspired movie-to-be, about a singular moment in the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, as told by Edmund Morris.

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