Tuesday, June 9, 2009


We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
Mad Men: Season 1
Choke, Star Trek, Love Liza

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Star Trek

I loved it. It made me happy. I know it's silly, optimistic nonsense. I know J.J. Abrams runs the risk of making watered down science fiction. But I thought the casting was great and fun. I liked how the Enterprise looked like an Apple store. And it made me proud of my dad who watched every rerun of every iteration of the franchise.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Endless Love, Scott Spencer
Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton
Happy-Go-Lucky, Pride and Glory, Elegy

Monday, March 23, 2009


Lush Life, Richard Price
American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld
Three Junes, Julia Glass
Six Feet Under, Season 5
Cadillac Records, Heartburn, Nights in Rodanthe, Postcards from the Edge, P.S. I Love You, St. Elmo's Fire, Slumdog Millionaire, Terms of Endearment, The Thin Red Line, Two Lovers, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

Movies like He's Just Not That Into You help me understand why some people say women are stupid. I sound rigid and severe, I know, and I run the risk of making the same vapid generalizations I will eventually accuse this movie of making. But any attempts to be moderate or polite would take titanic effort, and I would much rather put my energy into being as unfair and bleak as I believe this movie was.

As can probably be surmised from the title, He's Just Not That Into You is about a group of women needing to realize that their men (who vary from first dates to long-term boyfriends to husbands) exhibit behavior that can only suggest one thing--right, you guessed it, he's just not that into them. There is Gigi who laps after every guy who buys her a vodka tonic and who develops an implausible relationship with Lothario Alex who is also best friends with Conor who lusts after Anna who is sleeping with married man Ben who is ambivalent about his wife Janine who is best friends with Beth who can't get her boyfriend of seven years, Neil, to agree to marry her.

I can get on board with the premise. Let's find a way to encourage women to stop having cranky, boring conversations with themselves and their friends about guys who aren't responsive. I want to believe that what this movie (and the book upon which it was based) meant to do was give women the freedom to trust themselves, to believe in themselves enough to ditch guys who aren't receptive and whose unavailability makes them more appealing. Instead of crying over the guy who isn't calling us, we should be more honest, open our eyes, and devote our attention to the guy who is returning our phone calls.

Sounds fine and good, but it doesn't work. This movie should have been titled He Is Just That Into You- after watching these women get crapped on for two hours, somehow most of the scenarios result in a happy ending or sense of romantic completion. There is the usual set-up, during which the context and conflict unfold, but after flimsy happenings, Beth gets Neil to propose, Gigi has Alex knocking on her door in the middle of the night, and Anna receives countless calls from Ben even after he fucked his wife with her in the next room. Awww, so sweet. And while Janine does leave Ben after his infidelity and starts to take baby steps towards her new found freedom, everything else is so pitiful and annoying, it doesn't even matter. This movie teaches us the opposite of its original premise. It takes everything it sets up in the first hour (don't call him if he's not calling you; be suspicious if he stops having sex with you; if he's married, chances are he's just with you to get some tail; if he doesn't marry you now, he never will) knocks it down and asks us to ignore it all. Ladies, he is just that into you- you just have to break up with him to get him to realize it.

We don't even get the Sex and the City camaraderie. We never see the women providing real support. Sex and the City- an episode of which provided the nugget of pure genius that inspired this movie- did a much better job of showing the ways in which platonic love was real, necessary, and just as crucial as any sort of romantic partnership. At the very least, it reminded us that some of the joy to be derived from difficult moments is related to the ability to discuss it with the people who love you and know you better than you know yourself.

But He's Just Not That Into You preferred to play on the surface of things. And- in a way that hearkens back to Sex and the City- to get on board with its suggestions is to buy into the idea that romantic love is only for white, straight pretty people with good teeth and bouncy hair. I won't say too much about the gay characters in the movie (sex-crazed men only around to offer advice to the straights in distress) or the people of color (the two black finger-snappin' sistahs extolling the virtues of ribs and ice cream as a way to overcome their sadness, or the unspecified African women sitting around a fire explaining that the reason he didn't call was because he was eaten by a lion). But I will say that this movie, and the idiots who made it, ought to be hanging their heads in shame.

I don't blame He's Just Not That Into You for not telling the truth. Romantic comedies aren't here to elucidate all that doesn't make sense in the world, but this could have been better. It could have held onto its main idea and still hewed to the romantic comedy statistical mean (yes, there's trouble in paradise, but love will find a way) without turning into a pile of raw, stank crap. It could have had tighter dialogue, characters that made sense, and a plot that actually went somewhere. It could have been a movie about love that actually had a heart. It could have been like many other movies that come out- vapid but fun, superficial but whimsical, and not utterly annoying and stupid.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I like little, slow movies. I like those stories that don't really revolve around a story at all-- nothing really happens, the soundtrack and establishing shots seem to do as much work as the actors, and the protagonist (usually one who is mopey or eccentric or depressed or full of self-sabotage) meanders her or his way from Point A to B. Think Thumbsucker or Lonesome Jim or Broken English or Before Sunrise or All the Real Girls. Even when stuff happens in these movies, it takes its time to happen, and almost everything plot-related seems subservient to character development. Dedication probably belongs in this category of movies. It is the story of Henry (Billy Crudup), a slightly misanthropic children's book author, who is the mourning the death of his best friend, nearest confidant and collaborator, Rudy (Tom Wilkinson). In order to complete a series of books he is contractually obligated to finish, Henry is paired up with Lucy (Mandy Moore), a sweetheart of an illustrator who falls for Henry.

I found it easy enough to be pulled into the movie. Dedication is a sensitive portrayal of intimacy and loss, and it is as much about a man missing a piece of himself as it is about a man missing his friend. As Henry and Lucy grow closer, and as we learn more about Henry and Rudy's relationship in flashbacks, we get to see the pain and pleasure of people growing close and growing apart. I think Billy Crudup is one of the best working actors around and his performance feels instinctive and relaxed. His Henry feels like a real person thinking real thoughts and I bet if the film had been shot four days ago, his performance might be totally different. Mandy Moore is a cutie (although I liked her better in Saved) and I always think Tom Wilkinson is a good addition.

But the movie kind of flops along. It feels as though the writer (David Bromberg) and director (Justin Theroux) made a decision beforehand about the tone of the film. Dedication feels schticky and intentionally quirky. Henry suffers from committment issues, trust issues and getting along with people issues. He is ornery, sadistic and gets off on insulting his fans (children under the age of ten). He is obssessive compulsive-- can't drive a car without a helmet, lays around his apartment with piles of heavy books on his chest, has a fear of certain numbers. All of those things sound peculiar and unconvential, and seem like they could be compelling character traits, but they just come across as contrived and kind of flimsy. Henry's mixed bag of neuroses feels less like the organic idiosyncracies that result from living in a complicated and complex world, and more like a concerted effort to demonstrate "kooky character."

I'm also not totally sure Crudup and Moore have any chemistry. You root for Henry and Lucy to work out because you're pretty sure their union is where the film is supposed to land. But I didn't feel any real draw between the two, and, like so many other lame-ass love stories, you can never really put your finger on what it is they see in each other. Lucy is extremely patient and understanding with Henry and she has some quirks of her own that make her cute (money problems, man problems, crazy landlord mom always threatening to evict her), but she doesn't feel like a real, textured character. Her interest in astronomy is supposed to be endearing and special, I guess, but it just feels like one of those tacked-on traits characters are given in lieu of real development.

But again, I think the movie has its moments. If you can get past the hokey love story, it might be easy to enjoy the ideas of learning to get over yourself, leaving yourself alone and giving in to someone else.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
The Office,
Season 3
Brideshead Revisited; Dedication; The Duchess; He's Just Not That Into You

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Underrated Actors

Maybe the term “underrated” isn’t exactly accurate here—the very fact that these guys are paid, working actors in an industry that is virtually impenetrable is a testament to the ways in which their talents and assets have been recognized. I simply mean to suggest that it would be nice to see more of these actors—I would love to see any of these guys try their hands at Leonardo DiCaprio’s Frank in Revolutionary Road, Matt Damon’s Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting, or Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden in Fight Club.


  • To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar; Moulin Rouge; Carlito's Way; Romeo and Juliet (1996); Spawn; Summer of Sam


  • Million Dollar Baby; She Hate Me; Haven; Half Nelson; Notorious (2009); We Are Marshall


  • Chasing Liberty; Imagine Me and You; The Look-out; Matchpoint; Brideshead Revisited (2008); Watchmen


  • Antwone Fisher; Pieces ofApril; Biker Boyz; Friday Night Lights; Lions for Lambs; Catch a Fire; Miracle at St. Anna; Definitely, Maybe


  • American Dreamz; Harold and Kumar go to White Castle; The Air I Breathe; Smiley Face; American Pie; In Good Company


  • Without Limits; Waking the Dead; Jesus's Son; Almost Famous; Big Fish; Trust the Man; Stage Beauty, Watchmen
My favorite of the bunch. I know he's already famous and was in the tabloids for ditching his pregnant girlfriend, but Billy Crudup always seems to mean what he says, no matter how shoddy the script, direction or co-star. I would watch him read the phone book.


  • All the Real Girls; George Washington; Elizabethtown; The Family Stone; The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford; Lars and the Real Girl


  • Tigerland; Minority Report; Phone Booth; Daredevil; The New World; Miami Vice; Cassandra's Dream; Alexander; Ask the Dust

I don't care what anyone says, I stand by my choice. I've gotten into more than one debate over whether or not Colin Farrell can actually act. I say objectively, hands down, he is one of the best working actors out there. The only reason I include him in this list is because his personality seems to loom larger than his skill. I understand why the drinking and the drugs and the porn are distracting, but his John Smith in The New World was heartbreaking. And I'm not just saying that because he's cute.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Gregory Crewdson

"What I'm very, very interested in is a moment that hovers between before and after. A moment that is unresolved, that remains a question. And necessarily, I think the ultimate meaning needs to remain a mystery for myself. Else, it wouldn't be as interesting."
Gregory Crewdson interview, Day-to-Day interview

Lately, I have found myself more and more intrigued by color photography, which sounds amateurish, I know - I like color pictures - but my unexperienced little eye needs to start somewhere. I went to a bookshop a few months back looking to spend twenty dollars and found "Twilight," a collection of staged, color photography by Gregory Crewdson with an introduction by one of my favorite writers, Rick Moody.

Crewdson's pictures revolve around seemingly ordinary people and places animated by something slightly disordinary. The suburban landscape and all of its curiosities and questions are foregrounded in his photographs, and they are at once lonely, beautiful and cinematic. I like the way he uses light to tell stories, how his images are moments difficult to pin down, and how, as Rick Moody explains in his foreword, "the twilight photographs we have before us both seem to be easy to interpret and very difficult at the same time."

Open car doors, wandering wildlife and people staring at something just beyond the eye of the camera are some recurring motifs. What I find to be most eerie are the pictures depicting something very elaborate happening in one section of the photograph (a young girl in her pajamas stands outside her house watching a man climb out of an empty school bus), while other people in the photo are seemingly unaware (the girl's parents are sitting in the living room watching television).

More Gregory Crewdson images can be found here and here.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Outliers, Malcom Gladwell
Carnal Knowledge, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Darjeeling Limited, Outsourced, Torn Curtain

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fantasy Movie Soundtrack 1

Lotta Love, Nicolette Larson
Strange Magic, ELO
Strawberry Letter 23, Brothers Johnson
The Year of the Cat, Al Stewart
Have You Ever Been Mellow, Olivia Newton John
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, The Band
Dancing in the Moonlight, King Harvest
Wishing on a Star, Rose Royce
If You Could Read My Mind, Gordon Lightfoot
Wildfire, Michael Martin Murphy
I Just Got To Be Free, Minnie Ripperton
The Darktown Strutter's Ball, Alberta Hunter

I see New England, summer, late 1970's. I see bicycles and wraparound porches with swings on white houses at the end of a street. I see the families that only come up for the summer, martinis, crossword puzzles, wood-paneled station wagons with cloth seats. I see bare feet and men in short shorts and ice cream and cousins visiting from out of town and embarrassing photos. I see dogs without collars.

I see halter tops that tie above the belly button and beach umbrellas and a job at the restaurant on the pier, the restaurant that always smells like fried clams, even in winter, I see moms with too much time on their hands.

I see girls with ideas, girls with agendas, girls lying in the sun eating fruit, I see a family fight through a picture living room window. I see pastels, ginghams, ribbons. I see a gray morning. I see one sibling teaching another how to dance, packages in the mail, a new family being created, sitting on the hoods of cars, learning to smoke, learning to drive, kissing, tearing up. I see being excited to get back home.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lakeview Terrace

(This entry contains spoilers...)

When I first saw Crash back in 2005, I was kind of annoyed. I liked the idea of a movie laying bare all the intricacies we try to keep hidden about race, identity and discrimination, but I found it too dogmatic, too contrived and difficult to relate to. I wanted something that didn’t feel like such a sledgehammer, something that didn't assault me with its point leaving me no choice but to throw my hands up: “I get it, I get it. Racism lives everywhere.” Because racism, and its pernicious effects, do indeed exist everywhere, but I think in order to get people to identify it in themselves, they need to do thinking on their own. Crash felt like the opposite of self-thought and self-reflection- it wanted to do too much of the thinking for the audience.

I had similar misgivings about Lakeview Terrace, a suburban paranoia thriller (think Pacific Heights) animated by the issue of race. Lakeview Terrace is the story of Abel Turner (played by Samuel L. Jackson), an aging, widowed black LAPD officer who seems out of touch with the times- his kids don't quite get him and his methods at work feel dated and out of sync. Abel has developed an allergy to his new neighbors, a newly married interracial couple. Chris (white) and Lisa (black) exhibit all the requisite eye-rolling trappings of liberalism- a Prius in the driveway, home decor lifted from the pages of Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware or Crate and Barrel, and hip hop playing on Chris's car stereo. The direct source of Abel's rancor is never really clear. We just know he doesn't like them. And so what begins as passive aggression quickly becomes harassment which gives way to deliberate hostility and Abel's eventual death.

Lakeview Terrace is supposed to be a reminder of our close proximity to racial and social disharmony. The movie wants us to keep making correlations between societal progress and persistent obstacles. This intention is fine, but it's hard to buy as you watch the movie unfold. Abel is likable, humorous, and even sympathetic at times, but his concerns and feelings about race are construed as tantrum-like. We begin to root for his failure as he becomes increasingly unreasonable and irrational in his dealings with the Chris and Lisa (slashing their tires, flooding their bedroom with florescent light, trying to frame Chris with video footage of strippers). By the time Abel hires a drug dealer to ransack their home, any allegiance we might have had with him has vanished. His actions become the manic ravings of a lunatic. There is no validity or truth to his rage, it just feels displaced and disproportionate to the “Aw shucks, I’m a nice guy” shuffle of Chris.

The end of the movie is a true tragedy. After countless instances of harassment, Chris discovers that Abel has orchestrated an attempted robbery that leaves Lisa wounded. Abel realizes that Chris is onto him and tries to kill him. Some punches are thrown, Lisa shrieks and unsuccessfully tries to stage a getaway, and Abel is eventually gunned down by the police. And so what we are left with at the end of a movie that is ostensibly promoting racial understanding is another black man shot in the face by police officers. We are left with the image of Abel Turner, a near caricature at this point, laid down by the LAPD in the street in front of the house it took him eight years to save for, leaving behind two orphaned children.

What the filmmakers intended to do, I can only hope, is argue for a way of life that doesn't feel so color-coded and race-specific. A world in which everyone is free to marry and befriend whomever they choose without having to answer for it. But in order to do that, the logic of the film seems to posit, there need to be efforts to increase discourse and dialogue. When Abel and Chris unexpectedly meet in a bar and Abel (in a moment that is supposed to explain his biases) confesses that his dead wife was probably having an affair with her white boss, we are supposed to recognize this as one of the first necessary steps towards understanding. But even that scene doesn't really hit its mark, because what the movie shies away from is the notion that Abel doesn't need a reason to dislike Chris. His very whiteness is reason enough. The movie has featured a black protagonist, all the while refusing to acknowledge a difficult and thorny truth about racism: black people have issues with white people for their very whiteness and all it connotes, just as white people are uncomfortable with the blackness of black people.

Lakeview Terrace should have taken better advantage of Lisa as a central character. She and her understanding and involvement in both black and white worlds could have been more emblematic of the film's multiracial agenda. But instead, most of her screen time revolves around trying to get pregnant.When she does try to address the racial disparity issue with Chris, it takes the form of a warning about Abel: "He's a brother." In other words, "He isn't a safe black like me."

Sigh. I wonder what drew director Neil LaBute to this project. After making Nurse Betty, Your Friends and Neighbors, The Shape of Things, In the Company of Men and countless stage plays featuring dynamic characters exploring the stains of the human condition, I am curious as to why he decided this was a good way to portray the face of race relations in the United States. Lakeview Terrace doesn't feel edgy or new or even controversial and uncomfortable. It just feels unfair and frustrating, and worst of all, seems to reinforce many of the very assumptions it was seemingly designed to dismantle.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


A Cry in the Dark, Doubt, Let the Right One In, Married Life, Milk, Out of Africa, Revolutionary Road, The Way We Were

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I won't make any of the requisite apologies so often expected after viewing movies that prominently feature suburban teenage girls in peril and vampires. I think it is enough to say that my appreciation for both young adult fiction and Buffy the Vampire Slayer convinced me that Twilight would keep me smiling for days. And while Twilight is no Buffy, I am okay, comfortable, and even a little relieved to admit that it has become, as one of my friends put it, "The guiltiest of my guilty pleasures."

Twilight (based on the four-part book series by Stephanie Meyer) is the story of Bella Swan, a high school junior from sunny Arizona who has recently arrived in droopy Washington to live with her father. Like so many contemporary female characters nowadays, Bella is smart and her beauty is powerful, but she is haunted by self-doubt and the notion that she is a failure at everything she tries. And, like so many contemporary plot lines nowadays, it takes the right man to reveal the arresting pieces of Bella that have remained hidden for so long. Enter Edward Cullen: a fellow student described in the book as "devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful" who also happens to be a vampire. The two fall in love, despite conflicting fantasies about the future, and their struggles between human and vampire, restraint and gratification sit at the center of a story featuring, among other things, vampires playing baseball, Native Americans with a grudge, one near car accident, and James, a bad vampire with a bad ponytail.

Director Catherine Hardwick (Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown, and The Nativity Story) has made something beautiful to look at. Granted, the coastal lines and forests of the Pacific northwest don't need much help making a visual impact, but the mood and weight of the movie are heavily influenced by the environment. When the some of the writing and acting falls flat (which it tends to do), the action is saved by the sweeping shots of Washington. Some of the cheesier dialogue - "there was a part of him...that thirsted for my blood"- can be forgiven when you see Edward carry Bella on his back across treetops and mountains. And while it is hard to ignore some of this questionable writing, I found Twilight the movie to be waaaaay frigging better than Twilight the book. And I don't feel like too much of a snob for not being sure if I can get through 500 pages of prose like this:

He turned then, with a mocking smile, and I stifled a gasp. His white shirt was sleeveless, and he wore it unbuttoned, so that the smooth white of his throat flowed uninterrupted over the marble contours of his chest, his perfect musculature no longer merely hinted at behind concealing clothes. He was too perfect, I realized with a piercing stab of despair. There was no way this godlike creature could be meant for me.

Like a Harlequin romance novel without the payoff. Stephanie Meyer has said that a lot of her work is inspired by some of the classics, and Pride and Prejudice loomed large during her work on Twilight. But it is hard for me to see an immediate comparison between Elizabeth Bennett, who feels like a fully realized, complex three-dimensional character, and Bella Swan, who just seems flat and kind of dopey. Again, I thought movie Bella was cooler than book Bella, if for no other reason than actress Kristen Stewart injected the role with some huzzah. But Twilight (both renditions) is probably a little sexist, in that it is hard for Bella to do anything other than blame herself for everything and desire to be rescued by her boyfriend.

But enough boo hiss. The part of me that likes to have fun, the part of me that forever feels seventeen years old- that part of me loved Twilight. What could be better than re-imagining your aching teen years with a hot guy and supernatural excitement? Because Twilight is also, very simply, a story about the pain of adolescence and the trauma of growing up and making decisions. Being a teenager wouldn't be so existentially angsty if we all had Bella's secret- a special someone who could recognize the beauty of our inner, subjective selves. If each of us had our own little vampire - one who walked, talked, and smoldered like Edward Cullen- to see the things that made us exceptional, high school might not have been such a hellhole.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Today is my first day

Hello, hello and welcome to Sweet Ollie- a silly little addition to daily internet musings. My suspicion, despite some of my grander ambitions, is that Sweet Ollie will simply be a history of my interaction with the things that seem interesting in my world right now. Movies, books, and the occasional television show are what I find myself coming back to, and instead of just commenting on the creative processes of others, I figured writing about them would give me the semblance of doing something noteworthy of my own. At the very least. Smile.

And so because it's always better to just do things instead of always talking about doing them, because yesterday was a Monday but felt like a Saturday, because the winter is coming, because although I am still learning about computers, I do love my Netflix subscription and feel ready ready ready, because I don't have a 9-5 job, because life feels good every once in a while, and because reading a good book/watching a good movie makes the day feel better than Christmas morning, I am excited to write Sweet Ollie.