the oscars are coming! the oscars are coming!

February 19th, 2015 § 1 comment § permalink

8 movies made it to the dance.

8 films that register a notch above the field because of their cinematography. their group acting. their direction. their message. their ability to inspire awe, move emotions, and cause conversation.

8 stories rise above the hundreds released in 2014 vying for the best picture award of a little man named Oscar.

i used to love film more. i even created a spreadsheet of all the best picture nominations since the beginning of the awards to track my progress in seeing all of them. somewhere along the way, though, i discovered the beauty of television.

Lost lead the way and, somewhat embarrassingly, 24 helped suck me into the world of seasons instead of sequelsBreaking Bad took me through a character’s life. his motivations. his desires. his transformation as a person in a way that 2 hours of film just cannot capture. movies took a backseat because they were too short. they resolved too quickly. the characters weren’t deep enough. the medium no longer able to instill anticipation. i let movies become an afterthought. a nothing to do on a friday night event.

until this year.

they announced the 8 films, of which i’d heard of maybe two. i sighed at the decline of film and wrote it off as a waste of time. a movie about MLK, a cocky drummer, a burnt out actor, a little boy, Stephen Hawking (science? bleh), and another Wes Anderson film just didn’t sound exciting. i’ll pass. maybe after February 22, i’ll see the best picture just to reinforce the disintegration of film and the overpowering genius of television.

but then a friend said Birdman will blow your mind.

another friend said, Whiplash, best picture by far.

Richard Linklater, director of Boyhood, was on the WTF podcast talking about his film.

American Sniper’s trailer played every three commercials during the NFL season.

these became must watch. i devoured them in about 4 or 5 weeks, pushing two, sometimes three movies into a week. going out on weeknights and even going to movies by myself. it wasn’t a question of will i see these films, it was how fast can i see all these films?

on Sunday, i completed the viewing of all 8. i watched some that were up for smaller categories – best actress (Gone Girl), best actor (foxcatchter), etc – wanting to have an opinion on every category. the Oscars did their job, sucked me in, and took my money.

i’ve ranked the films in order from 8 – 1. 1 being the best picture of 2014 in my opinion. i welcome your insight, thoughts, or overall hatred towards my opinions.

disclaimer: i don’t take points away for violence, swearing, or sex. all three of these are a part of life, and i accept that. surprisingly, other than swearing, most of these don’t bother this violence or sex scenes to entertain. unless pertinent to my opinion, i’ve removed the overall story elements in favor of succinct opinions. if you haven’t seen a film and don’t know much about it, just click the movie title to jump over to the website.

oh. also… SPOILERS

8. THEORY OF EVERYTHING

Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce and Anthony McCarten

i didn’t know Stephen Hawking had a sense of humor. he is a physicist obsessing over where life begins, and yet he’s funny. i’m not sure why these things should be mutually exclusive, but there we are. Eddie Redmayne played a young French Revolutionary in Les Miserables and somehow managed to put that off to become a brilliant britishman and portray Professor Hawking reminiscent of how Daniel Day Lewis pulled off Christy Brown in My Left Foot. i’ll law down on a pile of rubbish in his honor. well done, boyo.

Theory is a story of human commitment, of love that surpasses physical condition. as one friend said, Jane is a superhero. she cares for, loves, and remains faithful while she watches her husband deteriorate, mostly unable to help with their three children.

despite divorce, it lets you walk out of the theatre feeling happy and amazed at the life of one of the smartest men of our generation. that’s really all it offers, though. a look at a life i thought was boring and am refreshed to find out there’s something more there. while the makeup was stunning at time, it failed to adequately age any of the characters. i was left floundering to figure out the timing of events, and while Eddie was mind blowing, the rest of the cast was average compared to its competition.

7. SELMA

Christian Colson, Oprah Winfrey, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner

David Oyelowo got snubbed. in most other years, Oyelowo gets an oscar nomination for his captivating portrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. i squirmed in my seat throughout Selma, uncomfortable at the idea that humans could do that to humans. the terrors Selma displays and the realities of how our world responds to awful things wasn’t eye-opening, but it was a side of the Civil Rights Movement that hasn’t been portrayed much in cinema – in large part because MLK is an American folk hero to many of us. Selma changes that. it takes a caricature and makes him human. from fearless leader, to a man just trying to do God’s will in a broken world.

Selma touches on MLK as a human, but doesn’t dive in unabashed, and that’s where it lost me. it presents an idea of MLK that i longed to connect with, but dissolved into a documentary biopic more than something to discuss, ponder, and think deeply on. what it says is simple: racism is disgusting, and we still aren’t out of it.

6. AMERICAN SNIPER

Clint Eastwood, Robert Lorenz, Andrew Lazar, Bradley Cooper and Peter Morgan

there’s this moment where the Sniper – Chris Kyle – is looking down the sights of a sniper rifle at a little boy and a woman. he thinks he sees a grenade being passed between them and running at his squadmates as they move up the road. he’s forced to decide if he should fire and kill this enemy, or if the boy is just a boy running around.

this is the crux of the entire trailer, and it echoes throughout the film. what does it mean to go to war? what does it mean for your wife? your son? your brother? do you ever come back from war? when have you completed your duty?

American Sniper portrays war as an awful evil. something that ripples through every relationship, every decision, every moment of a soldier’s life. even when Chris is home, he’s at war. he hears gunshots, mortar explosions, and orders shouted. when he’s there, he’s never comfortable just doing his job – he’s looking for one more thing to accomplish. one more way to save his squadmates lives. one more way to make it all stop and protect America. something shown as noble, but horrendous.

Sniper falls short of best picture because of the old hat nature. perhaps that is unfair. perhaps that is cold hearted, but war is war. director Clint Eastwood has an obsession with capturing this reality of war, whether it’s current, or scenes of The Great War, it’s still the same message: war is atrocious. while it’s a new and compelling window to view this concept.

 5. WHIPLASH

Jason Blum, Helen Estabrook and David Lancaster

here’s a stick. here’s a round thing with some fabric stretched across it. make music. GO!

in theory, drumming is about as exciting as a toddler with a spoon and his mommy’s pan collection. noise. noise. noise.

until whiplash.

Whiplash made me care not only about drums, but about jazz – something i hadn’t thought about since i read Toni Morrison’s book of the same name. in a lot of ways, the movie can be reduced down to jackass teacher v. jackass student. Whiplash shows the sacrifice of an obsession to be the best at something, and the potential payoff of that obsession. it captures the complicatedness of reaching beyond your upbringing, and making your father proud to another level. one that leaves typical college students’ desires on the cutting room floor.

JK Simmons – yeah the guy that’s in all those Farmers commercials – shreds. like, it’s a shame he doesn’t get more roles, shreds. like i don’t understand why you’re known for insurance, shreds. he takes jackass and turns it into mentor. he takes obsession and turns it into a drive to push others beyond their limits. he takes insanity and makes it acceptable if it means achieving legendary.

4. GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL

Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson

most movies have a similar feel. a compelling element of realism captured for us to witness and feel emersed. Director Wes Anderson mostly says screw that in his films. Budapest starts with a man revealing to the audience that he was told a story, from a story teller, who learned the story from a bellhop, which told him this story over dinner.

confused?

immediately Budapest gains merit with me because it explores the element of storytelling. it breaks a fourth wall – or perhaps a fifth wall? – and adds the reality that most great tales are passed on, not created, and then, of course, it creates a crazy story.

Anderson tends not to believe in typical performances or assumed dialogue. he creates this weird arms-length feel to everything with a matter-of-factness that can be offputting, not allowing the viewer to fully immerse themself in his world. yet, that’s why the opening works so well. i’m going to tell you a story, that was told to me by a man that was told the story by a bellhop over dinner, and the dialogue suddenly feels very natural, and the acting captures this feel and sucks you in.

in a lot of ways, Budapest climbs the ranks because of its uniqueness. it doesn’t feel like the other movies feel. it moves through scenes, and sets that have a look of storybook rooted in reality, letting realism fall away and sweeping you into another world. to accomplish this while still being set in our world is quite a feat.

Budapest also gains ground by being entertaining, something a lot of oscar nominated films forget about. to be a great film, you must entertain audiences, and Budapest does this by taking the heist element of Ocean’s 11 and mixing in themes of love, friendship, legacy, and warmth in a quirky narrative. beautiful on all the levels.

3. IMITATION GAME

Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky and Teddy Schwarzman

Benedict. Cumberbatch.

oh right, yes there was a cast around him. i’d forgotten. Cumberbatch takes Sherlock, added a stutter, incorporated a complicated life of secrecy, and a drive to outsmart the world in a way Sherlock only fantasizes about between cases.

Game sets Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) up as slightly off, someone who doesn’t fit in. whose intellect puts him ahead of the class, and in a world far removed from social cues, and social requirements. it creates an image of Alan that develops from a cock-sure twenty something, to a man with friends he not only cares about, but cares what they think of him. Game depicts the transformation of a person through one of the most horrific time periods of this world’s life.

and then it spits in his face.

if Selma made me uncomfortable and disgusted in humanity, Imitation Game made me want to violently strike out. with pills of hatred, humanity wrecked the life of someone on the level of Hawking. on the level of Einstein. on the level of something greater than you or me, and people like us forced him to blow it to pieces.

Imitation Game entertains through suspense, and engulfing audiences in World War II to a degree that hasn’t been explored to date. MI6 comes to life rather than a playful Bond joke, and it’s this intrigue that carries the movie to the point of social commentary that isn’t preachy. it doesn’t scream from rooftops that treatment of homosexuals is wrong, or deserve this that or the other. Game simply says here is a gay man greater than than the sum of British’s greatest minds, and here is how humanity wrecked him for being different.

2. BOYHOOD

Richard Linklater and Cathleen Sutherland

this movie will disappoint you. it doesn’t have explosions. it lacks suspense. it doesn’t pose a world altering threat. it simply just is. and within that is something magical. something that captivated me through two hours and forty-four minutes of life.

shot over twelve years with an evolving script, Boyhood depicts a life both foreign to me – my parents are still together, and were a lot more hands on in their upbringing – and incredibly relatable. it captures simply – a thing foreign to film these days – the transformation of a boy through moving, his mom’s abusive boyfriends, and a real father that shows up at his convenience until the end of the film.

boyhood captures a broken family through ups and downs, and it captures life as it is. Linklater, the director isn’t exploring something life shattering, he’s exploring the passage of time and the effect it has on all of us. whether we’re a mother prone to abusive relationships due to self worth issues, or a daughter that just seeks to slip through untouched and unphased. it captures family as it is, and moves it through time in a way that is both familiar and yet looks through that familiarity with a different lens.

throughout it holds this promise of a life unlived. of something that can still be changed, or discovered. of a life trapped in brokeness escaping to something greater. or maybe it doesn’t escape into something greater. maybe it just is what it is, and maybe that’s OK. maybe sometimes life is a simple thing we get through, savoring the goodness despite the badness.

add to it the unique nature of shooting a film over 12 years, workshopping the dialogue and being able to take advantage of scenes rooted in those years not because they’re contrived but because that’s just what is available.

when it was over i wanted to cry, but i couldn’t. there was no reason to. i just had this sense that crying would be the right thing to do. a mourning for the moments passed and the friendships forgotten, but a celebration for how they all formed me in some way.

1.BIRDMAN

Alejandro G. Iñárritu, John Lesher and James W. Skotchdopole

if you can explain the trailer and its relationship to the actual movie, you’re one step ahead. i’ll give you a cookie for being a genius.

90 percent of the films is shot in one take. you’re literally the camera – a fly on the wall – experiencing this backstage look at forgotten actor trying to build and leave a legacy. add on the layer of family dynamics, wanting to connect with his daughter, his ex-wife, his current girlfriend. then there’s the layer of can you leave a legacy in film, or is true acting on the stage? the layer of identity, and in acting (or any medium) is there more living than in your real life?

this doesn’t need to drag on. it’s simply the best, most complete, and innovative film. from the acting, to the cinematography, to the writing, to the set design, to the highly bizarre way it entertains and keeps you yearning to see these characters connect and wake up out of their lives. it’s oddly mesmerizing, leaving you discussing for days, and giving you dreams of flying through New York.

***

there you have it, those are my rankings. a lot could be argued between 3 – 8. depending on my mood, i could mix it up and still feel good about them. in the end, it comes down more to what you value in a film, and how any film executes that value. when it does so sublimely, that’s when it takes home your top seed.

***

all pictures were taken from http://oscar.go.com/. visit them for more information on who’s nominated, and watch them on ABC on Sunday, February 22, 2015.

i am a runner

November 22nd, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

45 laps.

9 laps to a mile.

5 miles.

7, 357 steps. about.

my shoes have holes where my heel rubs against the back and now it’s just sock on plastic. the laces used to be hard to tie and now i can pull them tight, double knot them and still have giant bunny ears flopping over the sides.

it never used to be this way. running. this horrible act that gets you no where. accomplishes nothing. running for the sake of running. silliness.

the track is at the college gym. i get in for free because of my wife. when it’s raining, or the temperature drops below fifty fahrenheit and my breathing becomes troublesome i go there. i flash my badge at whoever is looking and take the steps one at a time to the track – delaying the pain.

sports are a reason to run. basketball. baseball. football. even neighborhood games like hotbox or free the bunch. these things justify the act of running. running just to run. what is the purpose?

they painted the SRC (sports and recreation center) orange with navy accents to match the school colors. i’m not sure who signed off on it, but they should be fired. it takes a glorious facility and makes it chinsy. a word that should never be associated with my alma mater. inside, where they hide the track, it is now familiar.

my wife insists on punishing herself most mornings. she wakes up early and she does this running thing. when i started my beer hobby she insisted that i work out in some capacity. the easiest and cheapest form of exercise is running for running’s sake. as depressing as it is, i started.

there’s a sign on the railing that borders the interior of the track – a giant oval cutout over looking three different basketball courts that are used not just for basketball, but indoor baseball practice, lacrosse, and a rock climbing wall – that points that day’s direction. there are people already in flow. i pull the jacket off, double check my armband, and merge into oncoming traffic. i have no counter and rely on my memory. with each step i mentally say the words. lap one. one. one. one. one.

my first mile after not having a gym class in years was brutal. thank the maker i didn’t record it. eventually it got easier, and i tacked on distance. winter came and i went to the SRC with a friend. we upped our distance to 2 miles running and went almost daily. then to three. all in the name of my beer hobby.

the first two miles go quickly. a phrase i never dreamed i could say. two miles. quickly? still, 18 laps later i feel good and i have time. all the time. i decide 4 is my new target, pending lap 28 – a lap that causes a mental block. there’s something in me that needs this, though. today, i need 4. i need 36 laps. 36 defined ovals that just require a mindless foot in front of the other. i can do this. i’m doing this.

three is my sweet spot. i’m still slow, but three is where i live. on a bad day it takes 30 minutes. on a good day, under 27. reliable timing. not too much of an inconvenience. the outside route is now familiar and i know how to pace myself. 27 laps when indoor running is required is enough to avoid insanity. three. i like three. three is enough to feel like i’ve worked out, but few enough that i’m not a runner. i’m enabling a hobby. three is good.

i started running around 11:00am, having woken at 6:30. i knocked out a list of tasks, including a delightful americano, but forgot the part about food. this works to my advantage as lap 28 comes and goes. no cramping. legs are fine. breath is good. 36 will come quickly. i entertain the thought of 5 miles. 5 would be good. haven’t run 5 in a long time.

a friend convinced me to a to do a 10 mile race. i agreed, and i trained. i roped Dad and the whole family into it. the only way i’d finish. as a family event i maintained that i was not a runner. this is a family event. bonding.

lap 36. my mind blanks. there’s nothing left to think. just the numbers. 3. 6. 3. 6. right, 3. left, 6. i’ve zoned out the podcast squawking in my ears without realizing it. i stare ahead, footfall after footfall, and dream of lap 45.

when we trained, i dreamt of chocolate milk. always chocolate milk. a giant cold glass of it. smooth and rich. maybe i’d have a second glass? i’d probably need a second glass. each footfall brought that glass closer. training – running – sucks.

at 40 these young goons enter the track. they’re younger and they’re quicker and that is the most annoying. they lap me. i scowl. 5 laps to go. nothing i can do.

after the race, i kept at it. habit forming and what not. i reverted back to three because three is my sweet spot, and then if i’m only running 3 miles 4 – 5 times a week, i’m not a runner.

lap 45 is my favorite lap. it’s the final lap. all the energy left in my legs is let loose. my legs are long and i use them. i push my strides longer and i feel lighter. i pass the three goons as i round my final ninth of a mile. the air changes around me as i pick up speed all i see is the end. let me get to the end.

it’s time i own up to it.

i am a runner.

that tastes like skunk mixed with a lysol baby wipes. bleh. i am a runner? disgusting. the trouble is…

it’s true.

i rearrange my schedule to get runs in. in the summer, when i can run outside, i run 7 days a week. in the winter, it goes down to 5-6 because of the track’s availability but that’s still a lot of days. a lot of miles. a lot of running. when my personal plans interfere, i rearrange my work schedule to get the miles in. to get the laps in. to get running in.

it’s despicable, really. a terrible drug. there’s this idea of a runner’s high floating around runner’s circles. there’s no high with running. if there was, maybe i wouldn’t feel so sick at the thought of it. it’s torture, really. each stride makes me hate myself a little bit more, but i need it like i need to breath. i have to get it in. i can’t miss days. i need the running. if someone would like to have an intervention, i’d gladly allow it. please, take this running from me.

i finished the 45th lap and started walking to cool down. i caught myself wondering if i can fit a run in between 2-4, the open track hours on sundays, tomorrow. foolishness. too much going on. still, it’d be good to get it in.

uffda. i am a runner.

because the cold isn’t that bad

November 12th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

i can see my breath. it puffs out in a heavy cloud that fights gravity.

my coat is zipped tighter, and my mittens are out of hibernation trapping the heat and making my fingers sweaty. the air is damp and works its way through my layers. past the overcoat, between my neck and sweatshirt and down my spine. it nips at my ankles because i refuse to not wear ankle socks.

it isn’t cold yet. it’s preparing, but right now it awakens. the darkness boasts dreams of the sleepless variety, and endless possibilities. a world devoid of color opens up the lines for the imagination to color in. the chill pulls the synapses into focus and everything seems more alive.

there’s an endless silence, as if the world quits when the daylight goes. you hear the chatter. the ones saying ooooo daddy! it’s cold! and here we go again. as they shimmy out the office doors taking longer strides hoping to escape the wind before it works its way between their scarves and under their hats. i’m no better. my strides elongate and i walk tense. every muscle pulled tight as if this will help trap the heat. to some degree it must work as it is instinctual.

at night, though, it’s different. at night i step outside and there’s a calm. a hush. there’s that empty masterpiece waiting to be penned, waiting to be painted, waiting to be discovered. it floats out there. out in the darkness and in the vapors and the mists. it floats in with each inhale and takes shape with each exhale. it encourages action. a push in the pants to not sit still. to strive for more. to do something.

so i do something. i walk a little faster. i find a keyboard more often.i finish the books in my endless stack of to reads 

i find a home inside a sweatshirt and deep inside slippers, and when i’m done with the doing, i find refuge in a blanket and a beverage. there is nothing quite so cozy as the warmth inside, while the world outside slips below freezing. and when you’re there, in that perfect position cocooned inside all the layers and the fabric soft against your skin, you slip away into the best of sleeps. into the sleeps that hold you close, never wanting to let you go because all is as it should be.

mornings with oma

November 1st, 2014 § 1 comment § permalink

memory transforms through the passing of time. it takes what was and morphs it into clips and snapshots that are lodged in some lobe, taking shape when we hear a name, or see a place, or a smell waffs into our nose.

sometimes there are too many. sometimes you hear a name and your brain overloads and it pushes that energy out in a salty mix and you can only sit and let it happen.

Oma and Opa. always Oma and Opa.

we visited them in Canada and for 22 years that was the only time i’d ever been out of the country. Oma and Opa had a Fievel stuffed animal and we kids scoured the house for it as soon as we finished welcome hugs. in my memory i always won, despite what my sister and brother might say. we took turns sleeping with Fievel each night we were there.

she always had salt and vinegar chips. not the kind you get here, but Old Dutch. they came in boxes of 2 bags. maybe it was like Costco, or maybe that’s just the way the Canucks do things. there was also coffee crisp. i was doomed to love coffee from the age of 7 or some such. we would freeze them and then we would savor them.

i was always one of the first ones up, and i get that from Dad who gets it from Oma and Opa. she would be up at 5 brewing a pot of coffee. in later years, when they moved to Minnesota to be near their kids and grandkids, i would stay with them. i slept on a cot in Opa’s office next to their bedroom. hearing her stir, i’d wait a few minutes then give in, slipping down stairs to Oma at the kitchen table with her coffee and a piece of toast. toast and homemade raspberry jam. always raspberry jam.

she stopped making it maybe 10 years ago. i came home from college and visited them before they moved into their retirement home, and she had a smile on her face – the one that meant she had a surprise waiting. basement freezer, she said, her eyes with a sparkle of mischief. i ran to the basement and popped the freezer and like a lighthouse it stood: the last jar of raspberry jam. she found it when she was cleaning out the freezer and she saved it. she always saved things for grandkids. she always took care of us.

we’re Siewerts. german in origin and there’s always been a weird struggle with the word love. i remember calling Oma for her birthday one year in college and saying that i loved her, and she didn’t know quite what to do with it. for her love was something done not said. it was raspberry jam, and homemade strudel or crapes. it was a puzzle book that we worked on together, or the late nights of doing puzzles. it was being there for Christmas with stockings for each of her grandkids.

near the end i’m not sure that i said it enough. i couldn’t do anything for her. i couldn’t do the dishes after a meal, or refill her water pitcher in the fridge. there was no lawn to mow, or cookies to bake alongside her. there was only the words. i love you. so we went and we sat with her and we said i love you. Opa still did things. he fed her, and wet her lips with a little sponge. he talked to her and he loved her so much. he loved her so very much.

dad and i visited a few months ago. she was in a separate part of the retirement home where she had 24/7 care. she was still up and sitting then, in a wheelchair. i saw her and my heart shattered. i held her hand and i cried. it came out of nowhere, but i knew she wasn’t my Oma anymore. not the one that took care of me and held me. i cried because even then i knew we were losing something so precious. now she’s really gone, and i miss her.

i will always miss her.

home

October 3rd, 2014 § 4 comments § permalink

it is october and muggy. the air is thick and catches in your throat and nostrils when i walk outside. there’s a promise of rain that’s afraid to deliver.

air conditioning has been switched off because autumn came early, or so i thought, and i’m reliant on the windows to provide air flow.  i returned from the united kingdom on wednesday and my body begs for sleep before i want to let it. i’m afraid my wife will get too cold if i open up all the windows overnight, so i just pull the one in our bedroom, figuring she can close it when she returns for the night. her days are filled with work she loves, and her nights are filled with her passion. sometimes i envy her go ability. an ability that takes her sleep deprived body from event to event. from memory to memory. she lives a poetic life that i constantly try to interrupt with moments of rest.

i pop a pill to keep me asleep all night. a jet lag recovery tactic that usually works. the fan blows the air in from the window over my body and the manufactured waves crash over my eyes as i drift away into a river of dreams i’ll never remember.

at 5:00, i wake. about two hours from my normal routine. there’s the perfect patter of rain outside my window and i savor the sound. kristin sleeps as if the world is turned off. i toss and turn hoping to grab an extra hour of sleep, but it is no use. my body thinks it’s 11am and i’ve wasted the day already. i kiss her sleeping beauty face and slide out of bed. the world awaits.

coffee is a different word in Europe. it means espresso and care, most of the time. it also means instant poison at other times and i haven’t quite understood that dichotomy. the early morning and the espresso beans from a trip to kansas city and the espresso machine from my mom and dad gives me time to make coffee as  Europe defines it this morning. a treat i may have to turn into habit.

i crack the windows and let the rain wake me up before the aroma of coffee will take me to a lake, a dock, and a sunrise from my youth. the memories of smells and moments forever intertwined. a stream of consciousness out of my  control.

it is in this setting. the world dark. the sky crying tears of sadness for the end of summer, and tears of joy for the coming winter slumber, and coffee hot enough to burn even my father’s tongue that i find time to type. time to remind myself of my passion. time to find myself, my God, and my peace.

it is Friday, and the weekend is off to a great start. i hope yours will do the same.

cheers,
eric

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