Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind & Charles Murray’s The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – I was hesitant to watch this movie because I simply assumed it would use a clever convention to tell a different permutation of the same rom-com story. This movie differentiates itself by investing in the characters, those in and outside of the main relationship. What kind of people would do this and what kind of people would perform these procedures? All of these questions are tackled in unique perspectives, and the twists at the end create for a satisfying narrative. That being said, I found this film slightly lacking emotional bite, which I think may have been solved by watching this in a theater. Regardless my experience was never quite as impactful as I hoped, bringing down my overall score. It is still worthwhile, and I have a feeling with the right audience it would be incredibly impactful. 8.5/10

“If something about your prospective spouse bothers you, but you think that you can change your beloved after you’re married, you’re wrong” (135).

Charles Murray was caught up in a wave of controversy in 2017, as his book The Bell Curve became a source of seeming unending controversy at universities, including the University of Michigan. While I did not attend the event with Charles Murray, it was a sad state of affairs for everyone involved. While I understand the implications behind his study, and why people would be concerned, I have no reason to believe the data collection was done incorrectly. Regardless, the reasoning for including racial IQ scores does not seem to have been entirely thought through, which makes me feel slightly uneasy about him. We all make mistakes, and I feel as though he is important to still listen to, even though some of his past work may be questionable at best.

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead had been sitting on my desk for a while and I was not sure how to really look at it. However, after reading through it, I found parts of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to be genuinely enlightening, and it has left me with many thoughts and questions to ask. Tips about testing yourself and thoughts about non-judgmental society have left me in deep contemplation, and I hope to get to ask him questions about it in the future and write a review on it. While I was not as enthralled with the advice on how to present yourself in the workplace, other sections make this book important reading for all 20 year-olds. This one of the more important books I sat down to read, and even if you hate Charles Murray, you will find something in here that is valuable.

My Guide to 2018

I am a bit late on this but I thought it would still be a good idea to go over my year in smaller tidbits. It was a year of personal growth and change, and while many seem to despise 2018 I could not have asked for a more incredible year. Here are some highlights.

Favorite Movie: Minding the Gap – Bing Liu’s masterful documentary struck a cord with me I could never quite shake, as its chronicles of skateboarders transitioning into adulthood are joyous and heartbreaking. I used to skateboard when I was little, and so I understood the motivation these three people felt. It was a way to break rules and to rebel from what was expected of you, or to challenge yourself in new ways. The underlying motivations for skateboarding turn to their home situations and also towards domestic abuse, creating a powerful portrait of life in America. A must watch. I gave it a 9.7 and I think that is modest if anything.

Runner-up: First Reformed – Paul Schrader’s haunting tale of a Reverend having a crisis of faith is the most topical and relevant film to come out in 2018. It is slow and intentionally still, creating an austere sense until it breaks its own rules. Amanda Seyfried is most impressive, as she plays the woman who can most understand the two men who are at the focal point of this story. Please do me a favor and see it. It is truly special.

Favorite Book: When Breath Becomes Air – A book I picked up off of my uncle’s shelf quickly turned into one of the most searing and poignant books that I read this year, as the pain, trauma, and delight of a neurosurgeon in his final days was a beautifully rendered story. It is tough and heartbreaking, but it finds a way through sheer determination to find its voice, and for Paul to get the auto-biography he always deserved. A book I loved and I think others will as well.

Runner-Up: A Storm of Swords – While I am still not finished with this book, George R.R. Martin continues to amaze me with his deep and empathetic take on characters most of us would have looked away from. This was the first in the series to dig deep into many of the villains of this story, and it makes for incredible reading and deep emotional thought. Certain scenes killed me, and the major deaths in this story keep the incredible shock-value, but what I was consistently amazed by was Martin’s care for everyone in the story.

Favorite Moment: NIRCA National Championship Meet – It is hard to overstate how incredible my experience was running in freezing cold Shelbeyville, Indiana with my club track team. All of our hard work came to fruition, and we had a blast while doing it. I can not thank my team enough for all they have given me and I hope to get to go to more incredible meets in the future.

Defining Change in Character: Openness – So much of my time before 2018 I spent my time in a bubble, resulting in stereotypes about people who live outside of my own. After spending a year away from home and traveling the midwest as well as meeting people from all over, I had the incredible opportunity to meet people from the furthest corners and reaches of the midwest and beyond. This has allowed me to be much more open to new experiences and new people, and my slight fear of breaking my bubble has turned into exuberance to discover others.

What will define 2019: Resolve – 2019 looks to be a year that will be hard, with a lot of goals set and plenty of things to achieve. My hope is that by the end of 2019 I can be in an even better spot than I am now, and that will take strength and resolve to get through it. I know I, as well as you can, but it will take time. To an amazing 2018 and an even better 2019.

Vice Review, Jane, & Inception

This movie often seems to equate clever filmmaking with good historical commentary, and that simply is not the case.

This is from my latest Michigan Review article, a movie review (I can see how shocked you are) of the movie Vice. If I had to give a score out of 10 it would be a 3. No I was not a fan, and much of that is due to its aimlessness and lack of clear ideas. My review is essentially a hybrid of Brian Tallerico’s review and Kyle Smith’s review. Kyle Smith also does a fact-checking article which for those of you looking for a conservative perspective may want this take.

I also watched a few other movies, Janethe terrific documentary on Jane Goodall, and Inceptionthe trippy and brilliant Christopher Nolan genre-blender. One thing I loved about these films was there differences in scale and approach but both do a marvelous job of bringing out their subjects. While Jane Goodall is real and the people in Inception are not, what makes both films exceptional is there sincerity towards finding out their characters motivations. Each of these films could have become distracted but neither did.

Perhaps why I am saying this is to address my problem with Vice. It never gets an argument and it never takes time to truly develop the characters, which makes the film dull and lackluster. It is disappointing, especially with such a great cast and crew. Regardless, Vice did not impress me as the other two I mentioned did. I would give a 9/10 to both Jane and Inception.

 

No End in Sight & First Reformed

No End in Sight – In preparation for a film review I am writing for The Michigan Review on the movie Vice, I decided to watch this documentary about the Iraq War. This is the best critique of the Iraq War I have ever watched, as it interviews public officials who were in charge of implementing policy and change in Iraq. It shows the numerous misfires and missteps, and focuses particularly on the months before and following the invasion. It shows an inexplicable level of ignorance, by those at the heights of power. I was impressed with how thorough and honest it was, it never felt like I was watching a Michael Moore film. For anybody interested in knowing more about this period in our history, this is a must-see. 8.7/10

Will God forgive us for what we have done to his creation?

First Reformed (Available on Amazon Prime)This quote comes from Paul Schrader’s latest effort First Reformed, a haunting portrait of our present moment in America. Reverend Ernst Toller loses one of his parishioners in a suicide due to his anguish over climate change, and that begins a crisis of faith for our Reverend. The movie is meticulous and almost shockingly still, but evokes a calm that disturbs and cuts deep. Ethan Hawke is terrific, in his pained performance, and the earnestness of this film ultimately comes through. Of all the films to come out in 2018, this is perhaps the most important. It captures religiosity, our changing world, and what happens when we are left behind. It is necessary viewing.   9.6/10

Also I know I have been late to it but I will do a guide to 2018, so stay tuned for that if you are interested!

Andrew Sullivan’s The Poison We Pick & Isle of Dogs

Opioids are just one of the ways Americans are trying to cope with an inhuman new world where everything is flat, where communication is virtual, and where those core elements of human happiness — faith, family, community — seem to elude so many.

The following is from a brilliant article by Andrew Sullivan regarding the Opioid epidemic, and one I cannot commend enough for its scope and brilliance. Andrew Sullivan is a terrific writer, but what makes this piece particularly special is his understanding and compassion toward users and abusers of opioids. It paints a picture of a country that has lost its way, and that has left people behind. Empty voids can be filled in devastating ways, and this is no different. If you want to understand the United States today, look no further than this brilliant piece of journalism.

 I couldn’t get past Anderson’s usual clumsiness when dealing with minorities. This is a film where a character is literally whitewashed, an act that makes him more agreeable afterwards. “Isle of Dogs” treats this as a sight gag. It plays more like a confession.

This is from a review of the movie Isle of Dogs by Odie Henderson, a great writer for the Roger Ebert site. The review dwells over a few characters including  who are deemed as culturally problematic, most notably a girl in the film named Tracy who is perceived by Henderson to be the “white savior” of the film.

To me, while there were oblique symbols used that may have been misappropriated, I really do not know understand why we have to look at Tracy’s race before dealing with her as a character. Anderson could have been more careful, but this is his world and he choose to have a character with unique story and connection to the case in order to make it palpable. If she was of color I do not think that would have changed anything, and she did not have to be if Anderson did not see it that way. I do not think characterizing it as cultural appropriation is fair, as it is a slippery term to begin with and directors should be able to write their own stories without fear of fitting into a narrow cultural frame.

I liked the movie overall, but was a bit underwhelmed at points. I think Wes Anderson is an incredibly creative mind, and I love much of his work. The animation in this film is particularly astounding including a terrific voice cast. Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Bryan Cranston are just a few of the voices for this film, and that is not even the tip of the iceberg. While this film could have been more well thought out, it is hard to be too angry when this film is as fun as it is with so many great performances. 8/10

The Favourite, Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse, & David Brooks’s Favorite Articles

The Favourite – Yorgos Lanthimos’s snide and narcissistic comedy about two women fighting to be Queen Anne’s confidant is hilarious and biting. Much attention has been paid to Olivia Colman as Queen Anne and rightfully so, but I was more impressed with Emma Stone as Abigail. Watching her duke it out and manipulate those around her in a way Machiavelli would be proud was terrific, and she makes the absolute most of her role. It ends in slightly odd and precarious way, but that does not take away from the overall quality of this movie. It is a very fun time, even if it is imperfect. 8.7/10

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Like me, I am sure many of you have Superhero fatigue, and yet this movie finds a way to be incredibly fresh and exciting as a superhero film. Cleverly written, it takes joy in playing with narrative and structure, showcasing different Spider-men and women from different dimensions. It makes for some of the most refreshing thrills in years, and allows for a unique take on a comic book staple. The animation is also incredible, as it literally brings comic book pages to life. Miles and the other spider-people seem to move at hyperkinetic speeds while also keeping a unique artistic quality that beckons comic books of old and new. It is hard to think of a movie more fresh and fun than this one, and one that I highly encourage you see in theaters. 9/10

Finally in this piece, David Brooks quotes some of his favorite long-form pieces of journalism, and all of them are worth a read. I would highly recommend both Andrew Sullivan pieces mentioned, as they are both terrific.

Film Blast!!

I have watched too many movies over the past few days and still have other things I want to write for this website and the Michigan Review. I still have other movies I want to see before I make my final list! So brace yourselves, here as your amateur film critic I will try my best to complete these tasks! Here are the three films I have seen in the past four days.

Annihilation – I saw this on the plane and yet I still was gnawing at my hands as the tension unfolded in the shimmer. This movie is a feat, a technical and storytelling marvel, one that seems to ask more questions than it answers. It is deeply dark and disturbing, and yet it is nearly perfect. It can be confusing, and my only negative is that my experience was clouded in plenty of “oh my god” and “what the ****” than I would have liked, but this is one of the most impactful films I have seen. There are scenes I simply cannot let go of, and now the song “Helplessly Hoping” has a whole new meaning. Simply put, watch this movie if you can stomach it. 9.3/10

Roma – While I commend Netflix for financing this incredible film, there strategy for releasing it simultaneously in theaters and on their service seems designed to lose money. Regardless this film is incredible, a small story told on an epic scale, that makes it perhaps the most remarkable thing to come out in recent memory. Alfonso Cuarón paints this film and this story with beautiful black and white, as well as unbelievable cinematography. The story, deals with not only the maid Cleo but also the men in her and her family’s lives and their impacts on them. If you can see it in theaters, you absolutely should, but regardless, this is a film that simply needs to be watched. One of the year’s best. 9.5/10

The Lobster This was a film I had read about and I had extremely high expectations for once I saw it on Netflix. Unfortunately, it did not live up to those lofty expectations, and perhaps that is part of my criticism. This film, about a society where single people have to go to a hotel and find a mate in 45 days, or otherwise they will be turned into an animal, is clever and absurd. It raises fascinating questions about the value of polygamy and monogamy, as well as what happens when society has an active say in what happens. My biggest problem with this film is its tonal register is confusing, and it simply just did not impress me as much as I would have liked. That being said, this is an experience that many will enjoy, and one I think for the right audience can be considered a masterpiece. 7.5/10

Free Solo & Meru should be watched together

When I went to see Free Solo I was amazed, bewildered, and shocked. It was a film so deep and emotional, something seemed to separate it from so many other films of its kind. Alex Honnold, Free Solo climber, someone who climbs without ropes or a harness, sets his sight toward El Capitan, a rock so huge it had never been free soloed let alone climbed before. The film follows the preparation and the people around Alex as he attempts to make one of the most incredible climbs in human history.

What is great about this film is not whether or not he makes it, but rather its focus on Alex’s preparation and difficulties as well as how the people around him deal with the possibility of him falling to his death. It is gripping and fascinating stuff, but the true star is not Alex but rather his girlfriend Sanni McCandless, as she becomes our voice to Alex in many ways.”I do not understand why he wants this.” When she asks would you rethink your climbing priorities with me he bluntly says “No but I appreciate your concern.”

Watching him climb is gripping and thrilling stuff but going through Alex’s life is what sets this film apart. The director Jimmy Chin, who after Alex finishes his climb says, “That is a huge weight off my shoulders.” In order to understand that weight you should watch Meruavailable on Netflix. Jimmy Chin directs as he and his friends Conrad Ankman and Renan Ozturk attempt to climb a Mountain that has never been summited before, the Shark’s Fin at Meru. Jimmy this time gets more personal focus and his family dynamic is once again fascinating. It is just as if not more brutal than Free Solo, but just as captivating. It gives the insight into not only Jimmy’s life but the climbing life as well.

I encourage you to watch both films as they are great showcases of not just the sport of climbing, but also the human experience. The highs, lows, trials and tribulations all add up to an incredibly brilliant set of documentaries that I think go together incredibly well. For Free Solo I give a 9.5, and for Meru I give up an 8.5. Free Solo is a better film but both are great in their own way and I recommend watching both together.

Also there are plenty of great reviews on Free Solo but my favorites are from David Sims and New York Times Columnist Bret Stephens!

My Latest Michigan Review Article & Teen Sex

After shocking many and winning the NCAA title, it would have been easy to stop and rest in his laurels. For Ben, however, he felt the passion and drive to keep going.

This is from my latest Michigan Review article about National Champion Ben Flanagan! I had an absolute blast interviewing him and you should definitely check it out here!

In other words, in the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t.

This is from the fascinating article by Kate Julian regarding sex levels today. A seeming paradox is at the heart of her article, why teens are having less sex despite the seemingly increasing methods to have it. Her article attempts to draw some through-lines, and at times try to draw correlations that are simply hard to prove. Regardless, I would highly recommend giving it a read and listening to her appearance on the wonderful 2038 podcast in which she makes the argument for why sex will continue to decline 20 years from now.

I begin to wonder whether this is a good thing, as loneliness and something will be missing from many relationships. It would not surprise me, given all we know, that people maybe more hesitant to have sex. However, I still think much of society will participate, as there is some value from doing so. I am curious what your thoughts are on this as this maybe something I would like to investigate in the future. Let me know in the comments!

Kareem Hunt & Tua Tagovailoa

A video surfaced of Kareem Hunt pushing a 19 year old women, and it is not nearly as shocking. The NFL has once again shown itself to be incompetent to actually investigate its own problems, and the rash punishment of Kareem Hunt shows that no one, not the Kansas City Chiefs nor the Players and Owners, have changed when it comes to the subject of Sexual Assault.

The NFL currently has $14 Billion in revenue and yet they are absolutely powerless to actually get and obtain footage that would be tangible to actively see if there players behave in such a way. Instead they have punished people without evidence of anything taking place, and not taken action when they could have in the cases of Ray Rice and Kareem Hunt.

In a statement released by the Kansas City Chiefs, they apparently were alerted about the situation in February and the NFL “conducted an investigation” with law enforcement. How and in what world the NFL with $14 Billion dollars in revenue could not get the tapes but TMZ did is utterly absurd, and while the Ray Rice tape is objectively worse, this does not make the situation any better. The fans of the NFL who care about the character of the league should be outraged and should demand a response from the NFL.

He can go 15/15 and if he throws a pick it’s the worst game

This is a quote from a piece that came out on College Gameday describing Heisman candidate Tua Tagovailoa and his “ohana” or family. The piece starts with his dad Galu explaining that he made his son throw lefty even though he was a natural righty so that his son could be similar to him. They then go on further to admit that at home he learned from “bible and belt” and would be whipped if he did not perform well. The quote above is him describing his “discipline” toward Tua for lack of performance. The piece then went on to discuss that his Dad made the decision for him to commit to Alabama and they moved to Alabama with him.

Yes you read that right. Tua and his family admitted on a televised piece on College Gameday that they beat Tua and that it was all apart of their family character. This story reported by Tom Rinaldi, is a ridiculous display of a puff piece, one that does not accomplish its goals and attempts to make (albeit some) light or positive out of a family situation that is clearly toxic. While that could have been a story about familial ethics that could have been made fascinating, it became a shameful promotion of bad parenting. I do not have a child but if I did I would be horrified that this piece was displayed.

For the record I used to love Tom Rinaldi and he is a reporter I still respect. However, he should know better, and this promotion of toxic home dynamics should have been avoided. While I want to critique Tua’s dad, I will not tell him how to parent, however as someone who used to be an avid watcher of College Gameday, I would have hoped ESPN had better judgment. However, for at least that piece, they did not. ESPN and parents are allowed to do what they want, but we can and should question the reasoning and merit when we do not think something is up to parr. This piece deserves heavy scrutiny and I hope ESPN will make better decisions in the future.