Goodfellas, Avatar & Korra

Goodfellas – Martin Scorsese’s crime masterpiece is the best the genre has to offer. Ray Liotta stars as Henry Hill, a real-life throughout the 70s and 80s. The movie opens with Hill, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), and James Conway (Robert De Niro) stabbing a man in the back of their trunk. You then hear Hill narrate that he had “always wanted to be a gangster.”

That moment sets the tone up for the film perfectly. This is not about a good man who gets sucked into a life of crime. This about someone who wanted to be a gangster and who enjoyed being a gangster. There may have been less glamourous parts, but he wanted this lifestyle and he enjoyed it.

At no point is Henry Hill a good person. He acts for himself and his own interests, and while you root for him in some sense, it is very clear what type of person you are dealing with. Goodfellas asks questions about what type of people get into this profession and what lengths people will go to protect their friends and ultimately themselves. 

Scorsese is a master at crafting a story about men in power struggles and what that reveals about them as people. The performances from the cast are great, but this is a movie about the writing and it shines. A must-watch that is now on Netflix. A-

I had a twitter thread recently about some shows and things I have been enjoying during the lockdown. Avatar: The Last Airbender (Avatar) and The Legend of Korra (Korra) were both high up on my list. Both are phenomenal in separate ways. Avatar is a kids’ show and can be a bit tough to get through for an adult. The Fire Nation starts out as a bogeyman and it can be exhausting with the dialogue being so kid-friendly. Once you get through the first half of the first season, the show becomes magical. The show matures greatly throughout its three seasons, and by the end is an epic tale of friendship and adventure. This is the type of television I wish I could have watched as a kid.

Korra is for young teens and adults, and the sequel to the series. Whereas Avatar is about defeating an enemy throughout the three seasons, Korra is four different stories about growth and change. Korra is much darker in tone, but still excellent. It also explores political themes in an interesting way and builds on the fantasy world created for Avatar in interesting ways.

Both shows are great examples of fantasy television. They offer great adventure and find time to explore deep themes within the characters. They are both terrific shows and ones that I recommend for anyone looking for enjoyment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay Safe everyone!

Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a beautiful film

*The following post contains spoilers for Portrait of a Lady on Fire*

Portrait of a Lady on Fire opens with a blank canvas. Paint streaks the white background, as Marianne then tells her students to focus on her. The blank canvas appears throughout the movie, a motif of discovery. While I’d be the first to admit that a film about a Lesbian romance would not be at the top of my must-watch list, Portrait of a Lady on Fire shocked me with its beauty and brilliance. It is a beautiful film that covers many topics, from navigating gender roles to the meaning of love. At its core, it is a story of how art can help us discover what we love and who we love.

The film centers on the developing love between Marianne and Heloise in the 18th century. Marianne is assigned to paint a portrait for Heloise, a daughter of an elite family living on an island off of the French Coast. If Heloise’s suitor likes Marianne’s painting of Heloise, he will marry her. At first, Marianne is told to keep her task a secret, as Heloise exhausted the last painter and refused to pose for him. Eventually, Marianne tells Heloise that she is painting her and Heloise agrees to pose for Marianne. As the painting becomes more realized, their intimacy and compassion for each other grow.

This movie is in part meant to change and play with the idea of the male gaze, but for me, this movie is mostly about the creative process. After Marianne is done painting the first painting of Heloise, she eventually fesses up that she is secretly painting her and shows the painting to Heloise. The painting is very basic, and while well-made, does not really capture Heloise’s essence. Heloise criticizes Marianne for the painting, telling her it is sad Marianne cannot even find the painting creative or personal. Marianne then destroys the painting for herself, because she knows she can do better.

During the second attempt to paint her, there is a great scene where Marianne and Heloise begin to see how close they have become. Marianne notes Heloise’s common behaviors from the view of the painter, and Heloise then tells Marianne similar small details about her behaviors. The implication is that both begin to understand each other through the creative process. The task of painting is not just the painter understanding the subject, but the subject understanding the painter as well.

As Marianne and Heloise spend more time together, they not only fall in love but create a society that is impossible elsewhere. Part of their ability to do this is because Heloise lives on a remote island, and after the first attempt to paint Heloise fails, her mother leaves, leaving Marianne, Heloise, and their maid Sophie by themselves. It allows them to navigate their roles and society differently.

Watching both Heloise and Marianne come to the realization they will never see each other again is so painful, and so brilliantly executed it is hard to not be moved otherwise. At one point Heloise is reading the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The story ends with Orpheus looking back towards Eurydice as they are escorting her out of the underworld, breaking his promise and leaving her stuck there. The maid Sophie upon hearing this is incredulous, believing that Orpheus damned her for no reason other than his selfishness. Heloise and Marianne interpret it differently, saying that he chose the memory of her. Marianne goes on to say that he made “the poet’s” rather than the lover’s choice.

I tend to agree with Sophie in this regard, as all Orpheus had to do was wait. But Sophie and Marianne are trying to make sense of what will happen once their time together is over, and Marianne has to leave the island. How will they choose to remember each other? They know that they may never see each other again so they do not have a choice. As Marianne begins to leave, Heloise beckons her to look back and she does. Marianne and Heloise make the poet’s choice.

The ending of the film makes it clear that while Marianne and Heloise can wish to be together, it would be almost impossible in 18th century France. They have no other choice but to make the poet’s choice. They continue the memory of each other even when society will not allow them too.

Why I voted for Joe Biden

Today, I voted for Joe Biden for the Democratic Nominee for President of the United States. While he is not the perfect candidate, he is the best equipped to lead Americans out of the current populist movement, and create an America that is more rewarding and welcoming. He is the best candidate available, even if he is far from perfect.

For one thing, Biden’s position most closely aligns with my own. He is a capitalist who is socially liberal. He acknowledges climate change and has effective plans to stop it. He also understands that the answer to populism is not more populism, it is less. While it is no secret that some of his past political experience is full of missteps, including the 1994 crime bill and his endorsement of segregationist senators among other things. He has evolved and made efforts to change and understand as a person. I do not condone everything he has said and done in his career, but I praise his continued involvement in politics and his willingness to stand up for what he thinks is right.

In addition to my alignment with Biden on political views, I also wanted to stop Bernie Sanders from being nominated and to avoid the normalization of the socialist policies that Bernie Sanders argues for. If I have learned anything from Trump it is that the President controls the views of the party, for better and for worse. Trump’s behavior and his views have become normal within the party, and I do not want that to happen to the democratic party. Trump has changed the Republican party from one of free trade and deficits to one of Trumpian Nationalism. The last thing we need is another one of our parties being led by a Socialist. While all of his policies may not be inherently Socialist, much of what he argues for and stands for is worrisome if he would be able to act on it effectively.

I also find many of his positions outside of economics to be troubling. Part of me is very proud that Sanders is a Jewish American who is running for President and doing well. I am also nervous about Sanders’s anti-Semitic cohort and his lack of support for Israeli funding. I also find his lack of support for AIPAC troubling. So while I can understand potentially voting for him in a general, I will do whatever I can to stop Bernie Sanders from winning a primary. 

Regardless of who you vote for, I encourage you to vote. Educating yourself and participating in our democratic process is one of the most important things you can do as an American. If you have not voted yet, there is still time to do so and regardless you should definitely vote in the election in November.

With that, if you have any questions about why I voted the way I did, I would be happy to answer them. Enjoy the weather and REMEMBER TO WASH YOUR HANDS!

 

 

Good Time, Snowpiercer, & Bam Adebayo

Good Time – This pick was inspired by the Oscars. After watching and loving Uncut Gems, I thought I would give their earlier film Good Time a try. It is also quite good, and although not quite good as Uncut Gems, it successfully merges the two obsessions of the Safdie Brothers: New York City and men who take advantage of the people around them. The story revolves around the Nikas brothers, Connie who is a criminal, and Nick who is mentally disabled. Connie and Nick rob a bank, and Nick is arrested while Connie escapes. Connie then decides he has to spring Nick from jail.

Robert Pattinson does an excellent job playing Connie. He takes advantage of so many people at times it can be upsetting to watch, but part of you always wants to root for him. He makes a good anti-hero. The film is a bit too zany for my tastes and wanders at points but the core story of the film is very enjoyable. A definite recommendation. B+

Snowpiercer – This pick was also inspired by The Oscars. Before Bong Joon Ho won Best Picture for Parasite, he wrote Snowpiercer. It was his English language debut, and it still is quite good. It like 1917, feels like a video game, but it is much more fun as the setpieces and scenarios are increasingly wild and outrageous. It is a good movie filled with interesting political commentary, but much of it is a bit too silly for it to really mean much. Parasite is a better film, it is more subtle and more fun to watch. I would still recommend Snowpiercer, but not my favorite Bong film. B-

Adebayo is heading to his first All-Star Game. He is in line for a huge contract once his rookie deal expires. He has reoriented Miami’s present and future. “He’s the Zo [Alonzo Mourning],” Riley says. “He’s the UD [Udonis Haslem]. He’s the Dwyane [Wade]. They were standard-bearers. Bam is that person. He is the real deal.”

This is a fantastic profile of The Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo by Zach Lowe. Even if you have a small interest, I recommend you read it.

I am working on a piece about my grandparents which I hope to be out these next couple of weeks and I just preordered Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, which I am very excited to read. I am also currently watching Breaking Bad so there will be plenty more to come on all of that!

Bojack Horseman’s Phenomenal End, Cheer’s brutal physicality, Joker, and The Farewell

Television is in no position to tell you what to do. What it can do is show you that you’re not alone—and that there is a way up, if you can find it for yourself.

Bojack Horseman ended a few weeks backs, and it was near perfect. Bojack really solidified in my mind its genius and incredible bravery. To me, “The View from Halfway Down,” and the finale “Nice While it Lasted” captured the need for accountability. Too often, characters are able to be terrible without any real-world consequences. Bojack had to come to terms with that in a biting and brilliant finale. An arrest for breaking and entering is a perfectly weird way for Bojack to finally deal with his actions, and he then has to come to terms with the friends and people he has hurt. I truly loved it, and it is so sad that the show is over. The show ended with the song Mr. Blue, and it broke my heart. Thank you, Bojack Horseman, for being the best show in the past decade.

Another fascinating Netflix series to watch is Cheer. The show follows cheer powerhouse Navarro College as they prepare for their national championship. One thing the show does an excellent job of is showcasing the physicality and danger with cheerleading. Brutal injuries and microphones capture the pain and intensity of the sport. With nothing but bones to catch girls flying up in there, it never occurred to me just how dangerous the sport is. The director, Greg Whiteley (Last Chance U) described the Navarro cheerleaders as the toughest he has ever filmed, and it is easy to see why. They put their bodies and lives on the line every single day.

Another reason why this is a fascinating watch is the discussion around this series. Much of it centers around the coach of Navarro College cheer, Monica Aldama. Aldama is a mother to many of these athletes but also puts her athletes in danger. An article from Amanda Mull does an excellent job of placing Cheer into a wider context.

It’s true that she is hardly singular in the way she interacts with her college students, but in refusing to cast a critical eye at the way this approach to power has always endangered athletes, the docuseries bows out of a crucial component of Navarro’s story, and of the story of sports in America.

I think I take a less harsh stance on Monica, but I agree that Monica is incredibly similar to coaches I have had in the past. That you have to go past your limits and that we should be thankful for the opportunity. I also loved Monica at certain points. When one of her athletes got threatening messages and revenge nude photos posted of them online, she immediately took the athlete to the police station to get it sorted out. When all of her athletes talk about Monica it is very clear they admire her.

However, in one scene she makes an athlete with an injured back practice until he is crying on the mat. That scene and others made me shudder. I think Monica should not have that power over her athletes. But I can understand and appreciate the admiration and love she gives her athletes. Nevertheless, Cheer is a must-watch. It is a fascinating study of athletics in America, and incredibly binge-able.

Joker – I am watching the Oscars as I write this, and I know that Joker could win big. I am not a huge fan. I think I will write more about this in the future, so I will keep this short. I do think a big part of the movie is dumb. I found the connections to the Wayne family fascinating and Phoenix’s performance riveting if not great throughout. I find the ideas in this movie to be pho-intellectual, and while I commend Todd Philips for taking a risk, I think more sincerity should have been taken with this film. C+

The Farewell – The Farewell is an excellent examination of family dynamics and cultural differences. The movie is about a family who has to lie to their Grandmother about her Cancer diagnosis when they all visit her. Billi, the main character, finds it hard to believe they should lie. The rest of her family does so because they think it is best for their Grandma.

It manages to examine family dynamics and troubles, while also creating plenty of interesting drama. It is not perfect, but I really enjoyed plenty of it. I also thought Awkwafina was fantastic. A great watch if you are interested. B+

King of New York, Standoff at Sparrow Creek, & The Outsider’s Effective Horror

King of New York – This was a movie recommended by Quentin Tarantino on The Rewatchables podcast. Quentin Tarantino is someone I will generally take recommendations from. King of New York was a very influential movie for him, as it was revolutionary for its time in terms of how much sex, violence, and profanities it displayed. Frank White is a very good character and the movie is fun and explosive. It just fell flat for me at certain points. I really enjoyed parts of it, so that pushes it into the B-range. However, this is a film that was largely forgettable. B-

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (Available on Hulu) – This debut from studio Cinestate and Henry Dunham is electric. When an incident of open fire occurs at a police funeral, members of a militia go into hiding. When they discover one of their guns is missing, they suspect each other. Chaos ensues. My biggest complaint about this film is that it is a bit too tight. It is incredibly economical with its dialogue and run-time. The movie is less than an hour and a half long, a miracle in today’s ecosystem of longer and longer films. It is so tight and compact, it can be hard to follow what is happening. However, the more time I have spent on the film, the more I realize how much I like it. Sparrow Creek does so many things right and is pulsating right until the very end. It is a film I admire almost as much as I like, and I am very happy Cinestate took this risk. The product is a thrilling result. A-

When I first heard about HBO’s The Outsider I figured it was something I would avoid. I am generally fairly squeamish, and a show about a shapeshifting killer seemed like a bad idea for my sensibilities. I am now four episodes in and I enjoy it. It is not my favorite thing ever, but its ability to capture Stephen King’s tone of dread and horror works really well. I enjoy how they have turned a traditional true crime genre and given it a horror aspect. Much of the drama rests in the characters coming to terms with a potential supernatural being in their midst. It is quite enjoyable and while it is hard to recommend, if you enjoy horror it is worth a watch.

 

Track Race Reflection & Kobe Bryant

 

*Race Reflections are going to happen every time I compete this year. I think it will be helpful to process my running and see how I can get better.*

Date: 01/25/2019 SVSU Jet’s Pizza Invitational

Events Run: 400 Meter Dash and 4×400 meter dash

Times: 58.13, and 57 split

I ran fairly well for taking a big break last semester. I am still disappointed with my times yesterday. I think my effort level, specifically on the open 400, needs to be better. I felt like I still had more to give at the end and that should never be the case. On the relay, I ran much better. Although I was much slower than most of the guys around me, it was good to at least show that I had some fire and heart. At a certain point, I can only worry about what I can control, so running hard in the relay is good and important. Nevertheless, I have to do better.

It is a long season, so there will be plenty of opportunities to get better and get back to my PR of 54. Right now though, this feels a little disappointment. My next meet will be at Findlay. Hopefully, I will be better by then.

Kobe Bryant’s death is shocking. You never want this to happen to everyone, and it happened all too suddenly. You get on a plane and suddenly you’re gone. It is hard to put into words. No one should have to lose their life so suddenly. 

As a Clipper fan, Kobe drove me crazy on the court. He killed the Clippers and I knew it. However, I could not help but respect him. His dedication and respect for his craft were second to none. It is hard to put this into words. The only thing I can do is to thank Kobe for everything. Even though Kobe drove me crazy, he helped grow basketball and make it better. Kobe taught us patience, persistence, and dedication.

Rest in peace, Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, and the others that died on that plane.

David Benioff’s City of Thieves

After finishing Game of Thrones, I was interested in reading the book written by one of the show’s principal writers, David Benioff. I am pleased to report that the book is excellent.

City of Thieves is a book inspired by the true events of his Grandfather and takes place during the siege of Leningrad. After his Grandfather Lev is taken in by the Russian police, he meets an army deserter named Kolya. The colonel at their prison offers them a way out, to find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding and get freedom and ration cards. If not, they would be back in prison for as long as they lived.

Benioff’s story is fun and heartbreaking, managing to weave humor with horrifying aspects of Leningrad during siege time. The prose is also easy to understand and deft. It is a short book but an incredibly fun and fascinating read. This is an excellent historical fiction book.

Atlantics, 1917 is not a good movie & Looper

Atlantics (Netflix) – This was an incredibly surprising movie. It starts as an African Romeo and Juliet type story. Then things quickly change. I do not want to say too much about this film, but it manages to combine realistic horror with fascinating themes and character building. This is an excellent foreign film overflowing with themes and ideas about what makes a person to how people can haunt us. While the film drags at points, this is a really excellent examination and a great example of storytelling. I do not want to say much else other than watch it if you have a Netflix account. A-

1917 – This year’s war movie is so bland and uninventive I am genuinely shocked it has won any awards. 1917 uses one-shot technology to make you feel as though you are present with the soldiers, and it does not work. Rather than add to the film or make it more exciting, it makes you feel like you are watching a first-person shooter video game. Viewers are held captive as watching as each successive “boss battle” gets harder and harder, only for there to be little reason to care. Frankly comparing this movie to a video game is insulting to some video games, as there are many with better stories than this.  It is distracting and unnecessary and forces the story to contract in a way that is not beneficial for the viewer. It just seems like a way to mask bad storytelling.

While I understand people will love this movie for the cinematography alone, the story is why I go to the movies. This movie fails completely in this regard. The characters are uninteresting. The story is unrealistic. The choices the characters make are hard to explain.  While the one-shot gimmick could have worked, poor storytelling makes it difficult to justify the movie’s existence. 

For the record, the cinematography is stunning. The one-shot does work very well at certain moments. There is one shot where a character is running across a battlefield. It is beautiful and moving. Then again, I found it hard to care and was just hoping for the movie to be over. There will be plenty of people who like this movie, but I am not one of them. The fact that this movie was nominated over Uncut Gems is insulting, and if 1917 wins Best Picture I will have a hard time justifying my interest in The Oscars. 1917 is one of the worst critically acclaimed movies I have seen in years, and I really hope no Academy Award member votes for this film. C+ 

Looper – Looper is set in 2044. Time travel has not been invented yet but it will be in 2074. It is outlawed and only used by major crime organizations. When crime organizations want targets eliminated they zap them back to 2044 to people called loopers who shoot them and eliminate them. One Looper, Joe, is given a target who is him 30 years later and lets him escape. Chaos ensues.

The concept of this movie alone is brilliant. The writing sends this film over the top for me. Rian Johnson does such a good job of making genre fiction new and exciting, and this film is a great example of how to embrace the paradoxes of time travel and tell a terrific story with it. Every part of it is perfect, from fast editing to terrific performances. This is one of my favorite films I have seen in a while. A+

It Comes at Night & Fleabag is so ****ing good

*The following post contains spoilers for Fleabag.*

It Comes at Night – Horror is not generally my cup of tea, but Night is taut and sharp without being over the top. I do enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction and this finds a way to nail a feeling and a moment. While it is a bit lacking at points, the story is quite good. It is told on a small scale and is more impactful than you would expect. If you are not into horror films, this is a good one to try. B

“Love is awful. It’s awful. It’s painful. It’s frightening. It makes you doubt yourself, judge yourself, distance yourself from the other people in your life. It makes you selfish. It makes you creepy, makes you obsessed with your hair, makes you cruel, makes you say and do things you never thought you would do. It’s all any of us want, and it’s hell when we get there. So no wonder it’s something we don’t want to do on our own.” – Hot Priest

Fleabag (Amazon Prime) is an incredible work of art, with terrific writing and innovative style. While Season 1 is excellent, the second season is its best. It is so inventive and heartbreaking, some of the scenes took my breath away.

Where the first season is focused on building the Fleabag character as she tries to live with herself, the second focuses on how she and a priest try to live with themselves together. Fleabag questioning her past choices and the Priest questioning his faith.

Both manage to shake up each other’s faith. The priest even begins to notice how Fleabag addresses the audience. Suddenly, she can no longer escape each moment, she has to live in it fully with the priest. She has to be honest with him. She can no longer hide from others. The priest is the only one who sees Fleabag for what she is and changes her for the better.

The priest also has to live with himself. He loves God and his faith, but Fleabag makes him question it. He also falls for her and breaks his vows, forcing him to live in conflict. How can he preach love to God if he broke his vows?

The conflict and pain within these characters are so beautiful and real. I had not watched Fleabag before the end of the last year but it easily would have made my top 10 best shows of the year and of the decade. It is a remarkable piece of art, and with only 12 episodes of 20 minutes each, it is rather binge-able. Please take the time to watch it. It is phenomenal.