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!