Friday, October 29, 2010

The Lovely Bones.

The Lovely Bones (Peter Jackson, 2009)

Category: Sad movie about murdered children. Let’s face it, adults: kids can be pretty annoying. From their inability to feed and clothe themselves to their ignorance of basic social etiquette (Emily Post definitely did not approve of crying in public places, let alone defecating), it’s clear that children are a handful, and usually not as fun to hang out with as grownups. However, it’s not really their fault, I guess, and, hey, some are actually pretty cute! (OHHHH LOOK AT THE BABY.)  So it’s generally considered to be poor form to murder them.

Srsly though, how terrible is it that this ever happens? It’s really inexplicable and quite sad. And like all things that are really inexplicable and quite sad, it’s often the basis of movies and plays and books and stuff. (That’s entertainment!) Such movies include Mystic River and The Pledge.

My familiarity with this issue: I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m very good with kids. A few summers ago I worked at a program for gifted kids (“nerd camp,” as I called it on my off-days), and was quite popular with the 9- and 10-year-olds that I supervised. They called me Mr. John. We did lots of science experiments, made fun things out of construction paper and pipe cleaners, and I took them on tours of the National Zoo and the Natural History Museum, during which I often told them outrageous lies. (For example, buffalo wings are made from the American buffalo, and our nation’s insatiable desire for wings is what caused the buffalo’s near-extinction.) We grew to be very close, the kids and I. None of them were murdered. I probably would have been sad if any of them had been.

As for my familiarity with the source material: I have not read Alice Sebold's 2002 book on which this movie is based. I do know that it is really, really popular, and therefore I assumed it probably sucked, as I do for most things that are really, really popular (Nickelback, Two and a Half Men, Twilight, etc). I have been assured by several friends (of the blog) whose opinions I trust that the book is actually good, while a few others disagreed. So that's something.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “A 14-year-old girl from suburban Pennsylvania who is murdered by her neighbor. She tells the story from the place between Heaven and Earth, showing the lives of the people around her and how they have changed all while attempting to get someone to find her lost body.”

What I thought of the movie: I have a confession to make. I couldn’t finish this movie. I just couldn’t. I watched it for an hour and five minutes (about half its running length) before I just had to stop. And honestly I don’t really care if you’re judging me for this because it’s my blog, and you didn’t have to watch this movie, and Jesus Christ it was terrible. (I read the Wikipedia entry for the movie so I know what happens in the rest of it. Suffice it to say I’m not second-guessing my decision.) I gave up on it when Susan Sarandon (as the alcoholic grandma) came to live with the (still-grieving) family, and Peter Jackson goes with a humorous montage of her trying to do housework but being a drunken, tobacco-addicted biddy instead, set to “Long Cool Woman” by the Hollies. At that point, I said, really loudly, “That’s it. I’m done.” Roommate of the blog Steve Pennartz was sitting in the other room and rushed in, alarmed.

So yeah. I hated it. Like, REALLY hated it. It was so awful. It was manipulative and fake and reprehensible and tone-deaf and so, so awful. It made me angry. I don’t know if the book was like this, because if it was, then what the hell? So many people like this book! Maybe it's just the movie. But to me, the whole premise of the book/movie just seems... wrong! I'm really puzzled by all of it.

And the execution in the movie is even worse. It felt like every choice Peter Jackson made was wrong. The narration, the pacing, the sequencing of scenes, the visual effects, everything. I guess the acting is fine; Saoirse Ronan is believable enough as the girl, Dirk Diggler Mark Wahlberg seems fine as the dad, and Stanley Tucci (Oscar-nominated for this role) is kind of over-the-top as the creepy killer, but I guess that’s what the role requires.

(Entirely too long side note: I distinctly remember this from this year’s Oscars: after they showed a clip of Tucci’s performance in the course of announcing the nominees, the camera cut to him, and he ROLLED HIS EYES. And then he mouthed something to the person next to him that I can only imagine was, “God what a terrible movie.” It was awesome. You can watch it here in this dodgy clip I found, starting at about the five-minute mark, and then – bonus! – you can watch Christoph Waltz be awesome right after the Tucci thing.)

But even good acting really can’t make up for the groaning, cloying, desperate bullshit that comprised the first sixty-five minutes of this movie. And it was only going to get worse. I'd seen my fill of Jackson's special-effects-laden vision of the afterlife. He piles on magnificent vista after magnificent stupid vista, mountains and valleys and seas and deserts, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. From what I've read there's a lot more of that in the second half. AWESOME.

How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: This is a movie about a child who is murdered. A sweet, innocent child who is also depicted as a really cool, nice, even heroic girl. That should be enough to make us feel sorry for her when she inevitably gets murdered, right? But no. Jackson (and presumably Sebold) make it so that the last thing that the girl does before up and getting herself murdered on the way home from school is to have the boy she's had an impossible mondo '70s middle school crush on confess that HE has a crush on HER too! And ask her on a date! And she comes thisclose to having her first kiss! As if we're supposed to say, "Oh no. Now it sucks even MORE that she gets murdered."

A detail like that is really reflective of why I could not relate to this movie at all. Because it so thoroughly botches material that would inspire really profound empathy in just about anyone, even if we were just watching it on the news. It does this to the point where I got angry that they were desecrating the memory of this poor, dead, fictional girl. I legitimately cannot understand how anyone could fall for it, how anyone could be moved by it at all. I know that making a movie is a tremendous undertaking, but you’re not supposed to see the work. You’re not supposed to be able to imagine the beads of sweat on Peter Jackson’s forehead as he tries way too hard to make us feel… something, anything. You’re supposed to relate to the characters, to empathize with them as they go through something so, so terrible, something that is difficult to even think about happening to anyone I know, something that I pray I never have to go through. But you’re just so distracted by all the bullshit, and you feel it eat away at your soul and it gets worse and worse and eventually you just switch it off and scream, “That’s it. I’m done” to no one, and then you have to explain to Steve why it's so bad, which only makes you madder, and then you go drink an iced tea and sit down again and start angrily typing run-on sentences.

How I felt after the movie ended: I’ll never know.

How I felt after giving up on the movie halfway through it: I felt guilty at first. But now I'm just so excited for the opportunity to do anything else at all other than finish that movie. Yeesh.

UPDATE: In retrospect, I realize I should have more directly acknowledged the fact that it's not fair to judge the movie based only on its first hour or so. So yeah. If the second half of the movie is a lot better, then hey it's my loss, isn't it? Also I'm sorry if I offended anyone who liked this movie, especially if they particularly liked the second half which I couldn't be bothered to watch. Oof.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sadness Update #2.

Sadness Update #2 (October 8 – 26)

Films/games watched by me: The Fall, 127 Hours, 2010 ALCS Game 3, Away From Her
Films watched by friends of the blog: Schindler's List 

First, let me apologize for my infrequent posting of late. Many of you might consider this something to be celebrated, not apologized for, which I think is a bit rude. But I promise to pick up the pace in the coming weeks, and introduce more fun exciting gimmicks to the blog. (More celebrity guests! Music reviews! Fake tournaments that are in extremely poor taste! Etc.)

It’s been going more slowly of late because, as you may recall, I recently got a job, and can no longer fill my days with watching sad movies. My days are occasionally still sad though, beyond the standard soul-crushing tedium of a 9-to-5:30 office job. Without getting too specific here, I work for a nonprofit organization that is devoted to a certain rare and incurable disease. Before the development of new treatments in the past ten years, patients afflicted with this disease could expect to survive for only a few years, and while the new treatments do help, the prognosis for many patients is still quite grim. I have only been here for a little over two weeks, and already I have received staff-wide e-mails about patients that we work with who have taken a turn for the worse, or, in one instance, passed away. I don’t mean to make it seem like it’s a really sad place to work; the staff is really nice and positive and enthusiastic, and there are plenty of smiles and good mornings and how was your weekends and all of that. But occasionally the reality of what we’re dealing with creeps in and casts a pall over the whole office for a few minutes, and it kind of sucks.

At the end of the day, though, I continue to be relatively unaffected, personality-wise, by this experiment/this other new sad thing in my life. This could be a function of the movies I’ve watched, the continued resilience of my awesomeness, or some other factor. But we’ll be taking it up a notch soon.

I wanted to use the majority of this post, however, to discuss other, semi-related blog issues. Namely, the haters. (I feel like Kanye West. Or Pruane.) In the month since I’ve started this blog, two friends have told me, rather bluntly, that they are refusing to read it. (In one case, I hadn’t asked; she told me this out of the blue.) Both of them generally took issue with the conceit of the blog; one asked, “Why would you want to be sad?” I’m sure that this critique is in fact shared by plenty of other people (or would be shared, if more people read it). And it’s almost a fair critique. But it’s actually not really, or at the very least it misses the point. First, it’s generally never a good idea to dismiss something out of hand without actually seeing if it actually is what you imagine it to be. I think this is particularly true of this blog; I’d imagine my friend’s baseless conception of it does not include the many wildly inappropriate jokes that have appeared herein.

Second, and most importantly, despite the fairly sensationalistic subheadline that I threw up here on the first day (used entirely because of my enjoyment of the wordplay, and not because it accurately describes the blog), I really don’t think I’m actively trying to "descend into sadness." If this truly is a social "experiment," in the high school science class type way that I'd like it to be, ideally, then there’s no intended outcome here. We can all submit hypotheses or whatever beforehand, but the real guts of the experiment here is "the collection of data through observation and experimentation," in as controlled an environment as possible for a 24-year-old guy who really likes to watch sports.

So here I am, watching all of these sad movies about all kinds of different things, and seeing if they make me personally sad too. I don’t really see the problem here, especially because it’s not like no one goes to watch these movies.

[Quick sidebar: here is a list of all of the movies we’ve covered, in order from most to least profitable (in terms of worldwide box office grosses, with frequent wild guesses and caveats included):
  1. Schindler’s List: $299 million (cost $22 million, made $321 million).
  2. The Pianist: $85 million (cost $35 million, made $120 million). These first two movies prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Holocaust is box office gold.
  3. Steel Magnolias: Somehow, the budget of this movie is a mystery, unable to be found anywhere on the Internet. C’mon now. It made $95 million worldwide. The most expensive things in the movie were probably the hair products, so it couldn’t have cost that much overall. I’m slotting it here.
  4. Boys Don’t Cry: $9.5 million (cost $2 million, made $11.5 million). One of those low-budget indie hits. I’d imagine this made most of its money after Hilary Swank won her Oscar.
  5. Away From Her: $5.6 million (cost $3.4 million, made $9 million).
  6. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days: Welp. The budget for this film is listed on IMDb and Wikipedia in Romanian lei, not US dollars. I actually tried to work out the exchange rate, even reading the Wikipedia article on the Romanian leu (FYI, in 2005 the leu was briefly the world’s least valued currency unit). Life’s too short. It didn’t cost very much at all, probably less than a million dollars, and it made about $10 million worldwide, since it did well at Cannes and tore up the international art-house circuit or what have you.
  7. 127 Hours: Not yet released. I bet it will make money though. If there’s one thing people love more than Danny Boyle, it’s watching someone cut his own arm off.
  8. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape: -$1 million, kinda (cost $11 million, made $10 million in the US). No worldwide figures available for this one. This quick sidebar is taking me a goddamn hour to research.
  9. The Fall: Again, no budget information, although Wikipedia says that Tarsem Singh largely self-financed the film, which as you’ll recall was made in like 85 different countries. It made $3 million, so it almost certainly lost a good amount of money.
Well Jesus Christ that was annoying.]

Anyway. My point here is that a lot of sad movies make money. People actively choose to go see them. So it’s hardly like I’m going on a hunger strike here.

What I mainly take issue with, I suppose, is a concept that I really want to explore in greater depth throughout this blog: that is, that “happiness” and “sadness” are two mutually exclusive and separate states of being. More specifically, I don’t buy the notion that these emotions are like two separate paths that go off in opposite directions. (I really didn’t pay attention at all in any of my college philosophy classes, but I’m sure this has been written about extensively in the past.) It’s already happened a few times in watching films for this blog, and I’m sure that it’s happened to you in the past: the emotional reaction that we have to any really good movie is far too complex to reductively classify as either “happy” or “sad.” This is especially true when we relate these movies to our own lives. 

(For example, I would argue that, to some people, romantic comedies are as depressing as Holocaust movies. They can be a nice diversion, but when the movie’s over, and the two attractive people have sorted through all the often-unrealistic problems that the movie arbitrarily threw in their way and decided to fall in love and live happily ever after... you can't help but think about the fact that it can't possibly be that easy, or witty, to actually do something like that. Furthermore, the world can seem like a really lonely place if you’ve never experienced something like that, or if you don’t look like Julia Roberts or Hugh Grant or whoever. And the sadness that we might experience in this instance is no more or less valid or justified than the sadness we feel after watching Schindler’s List.)

My point is, I’m not actively seeking sadness, and even if I were, who knows if I'd really be able to find it just by watching movies. I really don’t know how this is going to turn out. But for the time being, I’m still doing just fine, thanks. More updates to come. 

(Also a special thank you to known master thespian and friend of the blog Josh Benjamin, for his shout-out to Taste My Sad during this past weekend's production of James and the Giant Peach at GW. Josh is hereby invited to write a guest post about any sad film score of his choosing.)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Away From Her.

Away From Her (Sarah Polley, 2006)

Category: Sad movie about Alzheimer’s disease. Named for the German doctor Alois Alzheimer, who “discovered” the disease in 1906, Alzheimer’s disease is described (on Wikipedia) as the most common form of dementia. (I feel like diseases are like continents. People don’t really discover them; they’ve been around all along. Yeah OK Columbus.) Alzheimer’s disease affects 26.6 million people worldwide, and most famously afflicted former president Ronald Reagan. I really can’t think of a sadder disease. Well of course all diseases are sad. I guess it’s not for me to say if it’s any more or less sad than, say, cancer. Hey here’s an idea: coming soon to this blog: a poll where you, the readers, will decide what the saddest disease is. We’ll do it like March Madness. I’m already preparing a list of sixty-four diseases. Look for diabetes to pull one of those sneaky 12-5 upsets. (Known tall man and friend of the blog Sam Fox-Hartin chimes in on this plan: “No. You cannot make diabetes the Gonzaga of this tournament. That is bullshit.” Thanks, Sam.)

Anyway. Alzheimer’s has also gained a lot of recent attention through its depiction in books and movies, including Iris and The Notebook. (I intend to watch the latter film for this blog, so as to prove to the ladies how sensitive I am. Also Rachel McAdams is way foxy.)

My familiarity with this issue: I am very lucky to not know anyone who has Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, I have been blessed with a very sharp memory. I say this not to mock, but to really express how much I can’t imagine having to deal with this illness. Memories are pretty important to us. Just about everything that’s ever happened to us happened in the past, except whatever’s going on right now, in the present, which will already be the past by the time you finish this sentence. It troubles me to think that I will one day forget how to play the piano, or what Bernie Williams hit in 1998 to win the batting title (.339). I cannot even think about the idea that I may forget the people I love: who they are, what we did together, and the reasons why I loved them. So thankfully, short of the things I’ve read about this disease, it has not touched my life in any personal way as yet.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Fiona and Grant are an Ontario couple who have been married for over 40 years. Now, in the oncoming twilight of their years, they are forced to face the fact that Fiona's "forgetfulness" actually is Alzheimer's disease. After Fiona wanders away and is found after being lost, they agree she must go into a nursing home. For the first time in the five decades their relationship has spanned, they are forced to undergo a long-time separation since the nursing home has a 'no-visitors' policy for the first 30 days of a patient's stay, so they can adjust to their new surroundings.”

What I thought of the movie: A bit slow, but really good. And sad. Ohh the sad. Bleak too. The acting is really quite terrific. Julie Christie, who was a real looker back in the day (HOTCHA HOTCHA), really knocks it out of the park. And Gordon Pinsent, who I had never seen in anything before, is great too, as a man whose wife is gradually being replaced by a stranger. They are totally believable as people who have been married for forty-four years, something that is probably really difficult to convey in a two-hour movie. The story is more interesting than just your standard Alzheimer’s story, too. That sounds kind of mean; I just mean that it’s not just a story about how the wife has Alzheimer’s, it’s more generally about their marriage and stuff, too. Interesting stuff, and really brought off well by the actors.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: For a movie about old Canadian people, I actually related it to pretty well. The way the movie depicts the disease feels natural; even though I don’t have any personal experience with this illness, it feels like the way this is the way this sort of thing happens. It’s probably generally true that when a movie is written and acted well, we can relate to it even if we don’t have any personal connection to it.

The real important thing for me, and this may sound weird, was these were some good-looking old people. We’ve touched on Julie Christie and her ‘60s hotness, but she’s doing well even now. She rivals Helen Mirren in her silver foxiness. I decided shortly into the movie that I want to look like Gordon Pinsent when I get old. What a distinguished looking dude. Look at that beard! That’s quite a beard. How could you forget a beard like that? That might have been an insensitive remark. I’ll stop now.

How I felt after the movie: Pretty sad. Alzheimer's really sucks. There's really not much more that I can say about it without getting sadder. I think it’s best not to dwell on something like Alzheimer’s, or any disease really. We know that they exist, and that one day we might be unlucky enough to have to deal with one of the really nasty ones. But in the meantime I think we should embrace our healthiness (even those of us who have diabetes). Also, please submit your suggestions for sad diseases in the comments. We’re so doing this.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

2010 ALCS Game 3: Rangers 8, Yankees 0.

2010 American League Championship Series, Game 3: Rangers 8, Yankees 0.

Note: We’re expanding here at Taste My Sad. Don’t worry about it. I’m sure many of you out there aren’t baseball fans (which is just silly), so I will attempt to write about this game, and baseball in general, in a way that isn’t too, well, “inside baseball.” Also coming this weekend: Taste My Sad’s first foray into sad music. (Or not. Who knows when I’m ever going to do anything in my life. I haven’t even done Simon Birch yet and I’ve been promising that for weeks.)

Category: Sad baseball game. (Not to be confused with sad baseball movies, one of which we may cover later in this blog. I’m thinking Field of Dreams, which isn’t so much sad as weepy.) Baseball is famously considered to be America’s “national pastime.” (This is really a misnomer; most people who like to watch baseball don’t actually play it, as it’s much easier to sit on a couch and yell at a highly paid professional athlete for striking out than it is to actually step into the box and try to hit a 90 MPH fastball. That’s why softball was invented.) Pastime or not, I think that baseball is a pretty essential part of the experience of being an American, a concept that much older and smarter people than me have written about at length. The particularly sad thing about baseball (the 2002 All-Star Game notwithstanding) is that every game has a winner and a loser. Having been called a “loser" many times (often by loved ones), I can authoritatively tell you all that it's quite a sad thing to be.

My familiarity with this issue: There are very, very few things that I love in this world more than baseball. I have loved it for basically my entire life. I have thousands of baseball cards still in my old room dating back to 1990, the year after I learned how to read. I used to imitate different players’ batting stances in the backyard: Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, pre-steroids Barry Bonds, and of course Bernie Williams, my favorite player. I have a connection with the sport that predates my conscious understanding of such things; I loved it before I knew what it meant to love something. It is something that I am drawn to innately, not by choice. I cannot, and will not, escape it.

The issue that many of you may have with my authority on writing about sadness and baseball is that I am a devoted fan of the New York Yankees, a franchise that has been (seriously) described as “the Evil Empire.” Major League Baseball, unlike the other major professional sports, does not have a salary cap, which means that teams are free to spend as much money as they want on the salaries of their players. The Yankees generate the most revenue of any MLB team, and although they do have to distribute some of their money to the poorer teams under the league’s revenue-sharing agreement, they still have the highest payroll in baseball by a considerable margin, and have had this distinction every year since 1997. (In 2010, the Yankees spent $206 million in player salaries; the Red Sox’s payroll of $162 million was second-highest, and the Pirates’ $35 million was lowest.) The Yankees have the ability to pay players who are free agents (those who have finished their contracts with their current teams and are free to sign with any team) more than just about any other team, and have done so  extensively in the past decade or so. (For example, before the 2009 season, the Yankees signed three major free agents, pitchers CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira, all of whom were major contributors in their World Series run, and all of whom earn salaries of over $16 million a year.)

So yes, being a Yankee fan is not easy to reconcile with my anti-capitalist and pro-underdog worldview. But some things are more important than politics. I decided I was a Yankee fan in 1993. Dion James, a light-hitting outfielder who would only hit 32 home runs in his 11-season career, was at the plate. I was watching the game with my dad on Channel 11 and I said, “he’s gonna hit a home run.” And sure enough, on the next pitch, he did. And that’s when I became a Yankee fan. You don’t think about politics or economics when you’re seven and you’ve just magically caused something to happen on TV. You just fall in love, and you stick with it through thick and thin, and you deal with the ramifications later.

It’s been a good run. The Yankees have won the World Series five times in my life (1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009), more than any other team in that span. Fans of other teams have criticized me for complaining about the team, and will no doubt criticize me for this post, both because of the Yankees' competitive advantage and their unmatched degree of recent success. I acknowledge all of these concerns. But it’s not a competition. Just because you’re sad about your team doesn’t mean I can’t be sad about my team. I do not begrudge the fact that fans of the Red Sox (who, you'll recall, have the second-highest payroll in baseball) are upset about how this season turned out. Live and let live, folks. Moreover, I empathize with those teams who never even sniff the playoffs while the Yankees are expected to make it every year. I cannot imagine how much that must suck. But at the end of every season, 29 teams end up not winning the World Series. The Yankees have been that team many, many times in my life. There is enough room for everyone at the sad table when it comes to baseball. 

And trust me, I’ve known sadness as a Yankee fan. We were three outs away from winning the World Series in 2001, and, unfathomably, we blew it. And I cried. In 2004, we were up three games to zero on our hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox, one game away from making the World Series, and the Red Sox won the next four games. That was the first time in history a team had done that. I had just started at college, in a dorm filled with obnoxious Red Sox fans and Yankee haters, and I just hid in my room for like a week. (I literally cannot think about that series without getting mad or depressed. I am both of those things right now, just typing these sentences.) So while the Yankees may represent everything that’s wrong about baseball (a charge that I find pretty ridiculous, but whatever), they’re still my team.

(For those of you not aware of how the baseball playoffs work: there are three rounds of playoffs. The Yankees, having beaten the Minnesota Twins in the American League Divisional Series, are now playing the Texas Rangers in the American League Championship Series. The winner of this series will go to the World Series and play the winner of the National League Championship Series, either the Philadelphia Phillies or the San Francisco Giants.)

Game summary yoinked from “[Cliff Lee] went through the New York Yankees like a buzzsaw again, striking out 13 and pitching the Texas Rangers to an 8-0 victory Monday for a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.” (For a while I was widely known as John “The Buzzsaw” Krizel. This is bullshit.)

What I thought of the game: It sucked.

How I, John Krizel, related to the game: There’s an old saying in baseball, attributed to known master of malapropisms Casey Stengel: “Good pitching will always beat good hitting, and vice versa.” This statement, ridiculous on its face, is actually so much more accurate than 99% of what is written/said by baseball writers and TV commentators. One of the great things about baseball is that nothing always happens. Good players have bad games, bad players have good games, the Yankees don’t always beat the Royals, etc. But baseball’s chattering classes consistently find it necessary to tell us what is and is not possible on the baseball field, particularly in the playoffs. Many seem to believe that it is an incontrovertible fact that good pitching will always beat good hitting (minus the vice versa) in the playoffs. And that drives me insane. Especially in the instances when they are right.

Cliff Lee is an excellent pitcher, one of the best in baseball. He is not (as nearly everyone who writes or talks about baseball for a living suggested leading up to this game/series) invincible, unhittable or not-human. Sometimes he doesn’t pitch well, and sometimes the Rangers lose even when he does pitch well. Unfortunately for me, yesterday was neither of those times. From the first inning, you could tell that Lee was on his game. You could also figure this out from the near-orgasmic praise that the TBS announcers lavished on Lee for the entire game. Lee got the first eleven Yankees out, striking out seven of them, before finally walking Mark Teixeira. This ensued:

ANNOUNCER: (sarcastically) Wow, if I'm the Rangers, I’d get someone warming up now, huh? (general laughter)
ME: (in my living room) Shut up, ASSHOLE.

One of the most wonderful things about baseball is its infinite possibilities. There’s no clock, no timer; a baseball game could, conceivably, keep going on and on for eternity if a team just kept getting hits or fouling off pitches. One of the saddest things about baseball is, in spite of its infinite possibilities, how it can sometimes be just so hopeless. I’m sure I was not alone among Yankee fans in feeling that, so long as Cliff Lee was in the game, we would never score a run, ever. (This is a rare feeling to have about the Yankees, who scored the most runs of any team in the league this season.) Rationally, I knew that Lee wasn’t invincible, and that as he threw more and more pitches he would start to get tired, and maybe make a mistake and our hitters would pounce on it. For much of the game we were only down by two runs, a deficit that is anything but insurmountable. And in the later innings I started to have some hope. Lee had thrown 122 pitches through eight innings, and thus would almost certainly not be coming back out for the ninth. The Rangers would probably bring in their closer, Neftali Feliz, a formidable pitcher in his own right, but still a rookie, pitching in Yankee Stadium in the playoffs. The Yankees had come back from a five-run deficit in Game 1 of this series. And in baseball, anything is possible.

And then the Yankees gave up six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and that was that.

How I felt after the game ended: Angry and depressed and annoyed all at once. It wasn’t fun. But then I went to sleep, and I woke up today, and I thought, Game 4 is on tonight. And baseball is still awesome.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

127 Hours.

127 Hours (Danny Boyle, 2010)

Note: A bit of a treat today on the blog, as known FOTB Micah Lubens, thanks to his web2.0 savvy (he’s all over the tweets) snagged us two tickets to an advance screening of this movie (which opens November 5), followed by a Q+A with director Danny Boyle. (I was escorted from this Q+A after breaking into a loud rendition of the song “Danny Boy,” featuring slightly modified lyrics, as he began answering the first question.) My previously lax SPOILER policy is hereby unlaxed for this post alone. However, let’s get this out of the way: 127 Hours is based on a true story. Anyone who knows anything about the story knows why it is notable, why it has been made into a movie, and how it ends. I kind of have to talk about it, to a certain extent (although I won’t go into that much detail). If you somehow don’t know what I’m talking about here, but still want to see this movie, I’d advise you to stop reading right now. And also to quit being such a weirdo.

Category: Sad movies about extreme outdoorsy types and the consequences of their extreme outdoorsiness. I recall the first X Games happening when I was younger. I also vaguely recall, at some point, a controversy in which parents were worried that kids were going to go recreate all the stunts on their skateboards or whatever. In retrospect, this all seems like a classic case of parents not understanding the fact that prohibiting things only makes them more attractive to kids. I say they should’ve let the kids watch, especially the gruesome accidents. (Also, does anyone care about the X Games anymore? Did anyone care in the first place? I sure didn’t.) Yet there are many among us who are driven to push their bodies to the limit. These efforts often result in tragedy (although my mother would probably say that they deserved it for being so stupid, a view that I find myself agreeing with more and more as I get older). Other films that capture these (arguably) tragic stories are Into the Wild and Grizzly Man.

My familiarity with this issue: I lived in a double-wide trailer in the woods of southern West Virginia for a year. But make no mistake about it: this experience was the exception to the rule that is my life. I am not an outdoorsman. I am on record as having the goal of staying indoors for as great a percentage of my life as is humanly possible. I don’t even like to sit outside at restaurants. As for pushing my body to the limit, I often feel like the mere act of getting out of bed in the morning does this. I am a frail, sickly, weak, pale shell of a man, and I have more ailments and diseases than most eighty-year-olds. My recent foray into a local rec soccer league has left me at death’s door during and after each of our three games so far. I'm starting to look into this whole "iron lung" thing.

But srsly though. I frequently become indignant at what I perceive to be the arrogance of the outdoorsy community. Maybe this is just my own hypersensitivity talking, but I have known many people who flaunt their adventurousness, and look down on us calmer folks who don’t have the energy or desire or pretentiousness to commune with nature or run three triathlons a month or whatever. As if these people are somehow better or wiser or more attuned to things than the rest of us. It’s a load of bullshit. Even the terminology here bugs me: “thrill-seeker,” for example. Since when did base-jumping lunatics corner the market on seeking thrills? Don’t we all do that? Isn’t that kind of what life is all about? Some find thrills in climbing a mountain, others find them at Chipotle. Different strokes. And furthermore, this is America, a country founded on the principle of I don’t have to do a goddamn thing if I don’t want to. Don’t even get me started here.

What I thought of the movie: (The one SPOILER thing I was talking about earlier is in this paragraph.) Oh boy. Ohhhh boy. That was some intense stuff. Really emotionally exhausting and gripping and all that, if not strictly sad. I really don’t want to talk too much about it because I think you all should see it. James Franco is really awesome as Aron Ralston, and it’s a good thing that he is, because the success of the movie is pretty much entirely based on his performance. (I’m not just saying this because I have a man-crush on James Franco that is only rivaled by my man-crush on Jon Hamm. Some fine men, those two.) I was really impressed by it, and I really think that those of you out there who aren’t too squeamish should see it. (There were a number of such people in the theater. I could tell from the frequent loud groans and gasps and loud utterances of the people around me. Now, without giving too much away, let me acknowledge that it is not an easy movie to watch. But you have to know going in that it is about a man who LITERALLY CUTS HIS OWN ARM OFF. And so there are certain people who shouldn’t see it. This isn’t a hard concept. For example, I don’t like eating, praying, or loving. None of those three. You know where this joke is going.)

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: We’ve been over my own lack of physical prowess. So it should come as no surprise here that I had difficulty relating to this movie/Aron Ralston. Even before the terrible ordeal that lasts the titular amount of time, Ralston does about a dozen things that I could never even remotely do. Biking, hiking, wearing a baseball cap without fussing with his hair every five seconds. Stuff like that. And so then he got stuck down there, and we were down there with him for quite a long time, at least half of the movie, and… yeah. I couldn’t even imagine. It actually did make me upset.

127 Hours is the kind of movie that demands that you ask yourself the question, “How would I fare under such conditions?” It forces us to put ourselves in his shoes because of how thoroughly it describes his shoes, so to speak. And in so doing it forced me, at least, to confront my own shortcomings as a human animal head-on, not in a glib way like I did a few paragraphs ago, but real nitty-gritty-like. I have never had to deal with a situation as dire as Aron Ralston’s, and Lord willing I will never have to. I’m not saying that we all should, or could, have the fortitude or cojones or whatever it is he had; it wouldn’t have been as remarkable a story if that were the case. And I’m pretty certain that I will never be stranded in a remote canyon for five days with no food and barely any water, miles and miles from other human beings, with my arm trapped by a giant immovable rock (a situation that, my mom would argue, was entirely of his own making). But what about if I was in a fire, or a car accident, or a plane crash? What if I walking down the street and witnessed a fire or a car accident or a plane crash? What if I was in some situation that forced me to think quickly and act bravely to save my own life, or the lives of others? What would happen then? And I don’t know. Maybe some people know, but I don’t. I really don’t. And that, to me, is troubling.

How I felt after the movie ended: I mean, we all know how the story ends. And for a while after it ended (at least all throughout Danny Boyle’s delightfully charming Q+A), I was kind of uplifted. It’s an emotionally exhausting kind of movie; you feel physically relieved when it’s over. But then I got to thinking about the stuff in the previous paragraph, and it did kind of make me depressed, maybe as depressed as I’ve felt after any movie I’ve watched so far.

It’s funny how that is, isn’t it? Not to use a cliché here, but this is a story about the triumph of the human spirit. And the human spirit triumphing is all well and good, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes people die. Sometimes people aren’t heroic. Sometimes they’re cowardly, and because of that, people die. We can’t all measure up to heroes like Aron Ralston; that’s what makes them heroes. And while most of us go through our lives lucky enough to avoid having to actually deal with this, some of us, at some point or another, will have to answer the call. So all I can do in response to a movie like 127 Hours is just steer clear of big, unstable-looking rocks, and hope for the best.

Monday, October 11, 2010

GUEST POST: Schindler's List.

[It’s time for a guest post, ladies and germs. Why? Because we just can’t believe it ourselves. I do hope you enjoy this post. If you enjoy it more than the regular Taste My Sad posts written by yours truly, feel free to read HIS social experiment blog. OH WAIT it doesn't exist. (But feel free to catch up on his now-defunct blog, which I believe is comparable to the TV show Freaks and Geeks. Except Freaks and Geeks was, like, canceled. Judd Apatow didn't just one day give up on it because he was too lazy to keep writing it. And plus at least three people liked Freaks and Geeks. But never mind.) Let's get to it. Your guest blogger for today is a fellow GW alum, a proud Pittsburgher, and a left-wing pinko Commie Hollywood type, but most important of all, a friend of the blog: Mr. Joe Kirkwood. Take it away, Joe:]

Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

First, a word:

I’m Joe Kirkwood, and this is a guest post. I will behave as I normally do when I’m a guest: I will fail to notice everyone else taking their shoes off at the door, I will think it smells funny in here but not say anything, and I will not know whether to pantomime prayer to fit in or stand by my beliefs during Grace. But this blog post isn’t about Protestants, Hindus, or Protestants respectively: it’s about Jews.

I'm not Jewish, and I wasn’t best friends with any Jewish people in grade school, believe it or not. That’s why I had to double up on Protestant in the first paragraph. I made up for this fact by NOT MEETING A SINGLE GENTILE IN COLLEGE, owner of this blog included (a scurrilous accusation!) [Editor’s Note: My lawyers are looking into this.] But it’s that kind of Jew-outing that got Germany in trouble back in the day, and I believe this movie will detail that sort of thing.

See, this sort of levity is the way I’ve always approached the Holocaust, not out of disrespect to the victims, their families, or the continuing battle against the legacy of Anti-Semitism, but based on the obviousness I find in the understanding that this atrocity was so beyond the pale of human comprehension, so wrong and sad and indefensible, that the proper, completely straight, appropriate emotional response to the Holocaust will never do justice to the event itself, and if it could, would invite enough sadness into someone’s consciousness to ruin them. For instance, have you ever seen someone get appropriately indignant about the Holocaust? Of course not, it’s impossible. Even if someone got so mad upon learning about it that they started ripping their own skin off their body with their fingernails, no one would say, “Calm down, man, it’s just the Holocaust.”

No, I joke about atrocities on this scale to pay tribute to the capacity for cruelty within the human soul and to cower from and deny its reality. It’s the only way to get through your day, at a certain point. My viewing of this film, in keeping with the core concept of this blog, will be an experiment in human grief and coping. I will meet its ideas and realities on the level, and see what happens to me. I have clipped my fingernails in preparation.

Of course all of this will not be on the same level as viewing the real pictures and footage, but if this blog isn’t kept to narrative films specifically, pretty soon John will be murdering relatives in cold blood just to comment on how horribly his remorse eats at his insides. [Editor’s note: Documentaries to come soon. Relatives have been warned; many have fled the country.] And I’ve met some of them (his relatives, not his insides. Or have I? Eh, John?) [Editor’s note: That’s what I’m sayin’]; they’re good people. The flame that is the potential for the continued production of his mother’s lasagna must not be snuffed out. But on to the post. You’re asking, “Wait, the post hasn’t even started yet?” I know. Don’t think about it any more, you’ll get mad.

Category: Holocaust films. First of all, I know. I’ve never seen Schindler’s List. Boo. I’m not the only one though. It’s the go-to unflinchingly sad movie reference, and no one references it in more detail than that because then you’re comparing your thing to the events of the Holocaust and your joke isn’t funny and you look like an asshole, so I’ve been able to skate by. But now I admit it. Would you please drop it? Besides, this fact allows this saddest of sad films to be entered into the experiment of Taste My Sad despite blogger John Krizel’s glaring lack of cultural ignorance.

My thought on Holocaust films is that “film” is the only term you can use here. “Holocaust Movie” makes it sound like you’re chomping popcorn and giggling. “Holocaust Flick” is worse, and “Holocaust Porn” is first of all a misnomer, second of all off-topic, and third of all what the hell is wrong with me. I feel this observation serves adequately as my comment on the genre.

My familiarity with the issue: Never been there.

“To the Holocaust?” you ask? Why, yes. And I say that flippantly but mean it sincerely.  I wasn’t there. I find it impossible to identify, but attempting to is all I can do and is also the point of this post. I’ve seen Life is Beautiful, been to the Anne Frank House, and my parents names are Anne and Frank. But no, I’ve never been to the Holocaust. Not even a holocaust, let alone The.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Oskar Schindler is a vain, glorious and greedy German businessman who becomes unlikely humanitarian amid the barbaric Nazi reign when he feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. A testament for the good in all of us.” As a bonus, “Plot keywords: Jew / Factory / Businessman / Jewish / Death.” Sign me up! (Also, “Jew Factory”? I thought this was set in Europe, not New York City! Oy!) …you know what? I’ll just shut up and go watch the movie now.

What I thought of the film: Wow, that was great. But I expected to be sadder. That sounds bad. What I mean is, this film is about survival and the triumph of the good in humans, and that’s not what the Holocaust was about at all. The Holocaust was human failure at its pinnacle. Because the Nazis were humans. That’s the sadness to be dealt with here, and Schindler’s List doesn’t. So it’s not a sad film. Maybe I even mischaracterized it as a Holocaust film, on a certain level. I was most upset by Schindler’s grief that sacrificing his entire life’s riches was almost miniscule compared to the massive, massive evil perpetrated by other human beings. If I saw a film with more moments like that, it would be more appropriate for this blog. As it is, I am left troublingly uplifted.

I thought the film was beautiful, don’t get me wrong. And the indiscriminate shooting was rough stuff. But I remember pictures of starving bodies and untenably cramped living conditions affecting me deeply as a child. I’m not saying I wanted to see this on the screen. More to the point, I want all of this never to have happened. I didn’t want a snuff film, but I did want the depths of depravity of the human soul to be explored and reckoned with more. Nazis are portrayed as psychopaths, which was probably true of leadership, but does not explain the brainwashing of the rank and file. And that’s the important point of the Holocaust, to recognize this potential within our species and within ourselves, and to be ever vigilant against it. Politically, socially, even internally.  This sort of loud, yelling, angry hate is rising up in our country now, and while I’m not comparing anyone to Hitler, we can’t afford to allow a joke on The Daily Show to be adequate therapy for this sort of thing. It needs to stop before it starts, always. Ever vigilant.

How I, John Krizel, related to the film: Hard to answer that question, as I am Joe Kirkwood, but I’ll try: John thought this movie was good but had, like, a LOT of Jews for one sitting. [Editor’s Note: Oof.]

No but srsly, this movie made me, Joe Kirkwood, feel more about loss and grief and survival than I usually do. And it did allow me to start to think about the Holocaust in a more sophisticated way than “Wow, can you believe those assholes?” Secondly, this isn’t a movie rating blog but I was amazed at the subtlety of Schindler’s transformation. There wasn’t a cliché “Ah-Ha!” moment that would have cheapened the product. I hope to ever be able to pull that sort of thing off as a writer, even 10% as well.

How I felt after the movie ended: Schindler’s List most drove home for me the value of a human life. And strangely, all of the death of the first two hours of it didn't do it for me.  I was still in that shell that I spoke of in my pre(r)amble, thinking, “well of course all these people are getting shot, it’s the Holocaust,” but not considering what it is for a person to have life in them, how that is literally everything there is in this universe. What drove this home for me was the white text at the very end of the film, which says “There are more than six thousand descendants of the Schindler Jews.” I mean, come on. How awesome is that?

So I didn’t feel sad, like I expected. In fact, I can say this with all confidence (and when I say “Schindler’s List” here, I mean Schindler’s List, not The Holocaust, so calm down): Schindler’s List is nowhere near as sad as the 2009 film Where The Wild Things Are. The message of Where The Wild Things Are is this: Nothing is ever going to be OK. With this film, Spielberg begs to differ, for which I suppose I thank him.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Fall.

The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2006)

(Note: Never listen to me when I promise that something is coming up next on the blog. Scheduling conflicts prevented me from watching the film Simon Birch with known friend of the blog Steve Isaac this weekend. It will be watched at some future date. Those hoping for guest insight and analysis will not be disappointed, however, as I am watching today’s film along with, and at the behest of, Micah Lubens and Zach Gibson, fans of the film and friends of the blog.)

Category: This is a tricky one. It’s important to note that the film is not primarily a sad movie, like the other films we’ve covered. While it is certainly sad, it is more notable for being a visually striking fantasy epic than sad. As such, it’s more difficult to categorize than most of the other films I will watch. As the film progressed, I decided it could best be considered a sad film about sick/dying people telling stories. These movies are often sad because a) the people are sick/dying, and b) the stories they tell are either about themselves when they were younger, and thus imbued with melancholy and regret, or they're some kind of sad allegory for death or whatever. Two other films that more or less fit into this category are The English Patient and Big Fish. (As noted earlier, it can also be considered a sad visually striking fantasy epic film, but these seem rarer.)

My familiarity with this issue: Not great. I have never really had a near-death experience. The closest I’ve ever come to dying was after the last time I ate a Baconator from Wendy’s. And you can be sure that while that was happening, I was in no mood to tell a story. (However, I have been described as “visually striking.”)

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “At a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s, Alexandria is a child recovering from a broken arm. She befriends Roy Walker, a movie stunt man with legs paralyzed after a fall. At her request, Roy tells her an elaborate story about six men of widely varied backgrounds who are on a quest to kill a corrupt provincial governor. Between chapters of the story, Roy inveigles Alexandria to scout the hospital's pharmacy for morphine. As Roy's fantastic tale nears its end, Death seems close at hand.”

What I thought of the movie: It was hard to hear what was going on over Micah and Zach’s guttural grunts of sexual ecstasy at the film’s visual beauty. (Here they are now with some guest insight and analysis. Micah: "Unnnnhhhh," Zach: "Ohhhhhhh." End of guest insight and analysis.) No but srsly, it was really quite a bewitching movie. Tarsem Singh is famously quite the auteur, and really pulled out all the stops for this, his second movie (his first was The Cell, starring former global superstar Jennifer Lopez). The Fall, which purportedly features no computer-generated imagery, was filmed over a period of four years in over twenty countries. Twenty! Most Americans haven’t even HEARD of twenty other countries. It really has to be seen to be believed.

The stark contrast between the movie’s depiction of the story that Roy tells to Alexandria and the reality of their situation is the most emotionally resonant aspect of the film. At the end of the film, Roy is a broken man thwarted in his attempt to take his own life using the pills that Alexandria has stolen for him, and reveals to her the end of his story. This is very sad and hopeless and such. But then things get a little better, kind of. It’s all very cool. It’s a really cool movie. It's rarely a good idea to trust Micah and Zach, as they are both quite unsavory characters. But they did well here.

How I, John Krizel, related to this movie: Well, it’s not really the sort of movie you relate to, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s often quite dreamlike, but the dreams I have are usually far more mundane and less expensive-looking than the movie. The story that Roy tells was very epic and exciting and involved a quest, which is always good. I have often fancied myself an epic, questing type, a sort of Don Quixote type figure, only less senile. Plus, my quests are almost always fast food-related. But I was definitely feeling the sad stuff. It reaffirmed my fear of being a stuntman during the silent film era, and of being confined to vaguely creepy hospitals.

How I felt after the movie ended: I definitely like the idea of watching movies for this blog that are not considered to be primarily “sad movies.” It remains to be seen if these sorts of movies will have a similar effect on me as the others. In this case, while I certainly do feel a bit melancholy, the real takeaway from The Fall is, as mentioned earlier, not so much the sadness as it is the feeling that you haven’t really ever seen a movie like it before. Which is pretty awesome, actually.