Tag Archives: Hollywood

An Ode to Movies

What’s a Jew to do in December when Hanukkah was, like, so November?

Everybody knows the Jews created the cinema to give their people a home during the Christmas month more widely known as December. (In my own cosmological version of the Universe, the Jews were a little nebulous puff of stardust that popped amidst all that big banging out and said, Let’s film this sh*t.)

This totally works for me, as I’m Jewish and movies are my favorite thing. In truth, there’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting silently for approximately 90-120 minutes and being transported to another world. There’s a subtext to be inferred here: Jonathan, you like movies because you get to escape your life for approximately 90-120 minutes. But, dear reader (Hi, Mom!), I promise I’m not indulging in film as a symptom of depression. I don’t like movies because they distract me from real life. I like them because they illuminate the emotions of real life, particularly the really hard and complex and messy ones.

That Time Someone Sneezed and Workers Left a Factory

Though my aforementioned creation story is unlikely, I think it’s worth mentioning the real history of movies. We’ve come a long way since the carnival novelty that peep-show parlors offered in the late 1800s. From spectacles of the past to full-blown stories of the present day, we’ve changed. A lot.

The history of film in one paragraph. (With videos!) Let’s do this:

The world in the 1890s was full of new things: cities, steam engines, hot air balloons! Motion pictures became a way to capture and record this rapid change. Thomas Edison was one of the first dudes to realize that these moving pictures could attract a paying audience—in April of 1894, Record of a Sneeze premiered in New York.

The Lumiere Brothers then improved upon Edison and showed that logical, organized, minimalist events could reveal a story (e.g., Workers Leaving the Factory)

Editing soon learned the power of a cut (e.g., The Gay Shoe Clerk, Edwin S. Porter, 1903)…

…and then Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin, D.W. Griffith, Buster Keaton, sound, movie studios, Hollywood, the Great Depression, Casablanca, film noir, TV, and Alfred Hitchcock happened. My film history class only covered origins through 1960, so we have to stop at Hitchcock because I don’t know what happened after that.

Kidding.

Meryl Streep and Beyoncé, the two finest actresses of recent decades, happened.

Sitting Is Boring?

My excitement always peaks when I hear one of my creative heroes talk about the allure of movies. Andrew Stanton, a fellow Pixarian, says movies are at their best when they infuse wonder. Martin Scorsese, who I’ve had the privilege of hearing speak a few times in New York, has a more technical answer:

 Light is at the beginning of cinema, of course. It’s fundamental—because cinema is created with light, and it’s still best seen projected in dark rooms, where it’s the only source of light. But light is also at the beginning of everything. Most creation myths start with darkness, and then the real beginning comes with light—which means the creation of forms. Which leads to distinguishing one thing from another, and ourselves from the rest of the world. Recognizing patterns, similarities, differences, naming things—interpreting the world. Metaphors—seeing one thing “in light of” something else. Becoming “enlightened.”

Charlie Kaufman says we like them because our brains are wired to turn emotional states into movies. And me (I have an IMDb page, just like my hero Charlie does!)…I think my attraction to movies is constantly evolving. As of late, I view movies as a mirror to the cycle of life. We’re born a blank slate, ready for experience to color us in. Similarly, when those lights in the theater go down, I take a deep breath, clear my mind, and mentally ready myself to be thrust into another realm—to learn a new world, really. Where are we? What’s the time period? Who are the characters? What are the rules of this world?

More important, there’s a deep and profound satisfaction for me in the knowledge that an ending is going to come—to know that I’m going to get a full story, realized from some subjective beginning to some kind of subjective ending. In that way, movies often take away the anxiety of real life in which the future is unknown and scary. Movies, for me, are sometimes more digestible than real life. I feel this way about all of fiction, really—movies, books, theater. They’re like snippets of life, safe and contained within the confines of the screen or page and stage on which they exist. And, for that, I love them all dearly.

A Year of Movies

In January 2013, I started keeping the ticket to every movie I see in theaters. Though I lost a few of them, my envelope is currently filled with 40 tickets. You know how I feel about recommendations, so I offer the following list as just that—a list of what I’ve seen recently and the impressions these films left upon me, starting with two older films that I just got around to seeing this year:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, 2009 (dir. David Yates)

I haven’t seen this one since it was released in 2009. If you’ve watched all the preceding movies, you may be able to notice something that happens with the actors in this installment: they got good. They’ve all settled into their roles (thank Moses Emma Watson stopped delivering every line with her dramatic huffing and puffing), and it’s really, really pleasant to watch. Plus, the sexual tension makes me giggle.

Stories We Tell, 2012 (dir. Sarah Polley)

Sarah Polley’s documentary is unlike any documentary I’ve ever seen. It transcends its genre as it addresses, in short, the philosophy of truth. The subject is Diane, Polley’s late mother. She’s shown in old home movies; yet, as the story unfolds, the footage becomes questionable and you may just start to wonder what’s real and what isn’t.

Frozen, 2013 (dirs. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee)

“Let It Go.” It’s magic. And totally a LGBT anthem. Just download it on iTunes immediately, okay?

Inside Llewyn Davis, 2013 (dirs. Ethan and Joel Coen)

The latest from the Coen Brothers finds us in the winter of 1961 in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. To watch this movie is to essentially watch Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a struggling musician, as he tries to find a couch to sleep on over the course of one week. The tragedy is that he’s a good musician, but not a great one. What makes me happy: Carey Mulligan (who never smiles), the cat that deserves an Oscar nod for his/her performance, and a young Bob Dylan cameo.

American Hustle, 2013 (dir. David O. Russell)

This one is a story based on the Abscam affair, the criminal investigation of the 1970s in which the F.B.I. called on a swindler named Mel Weinberg to help ensnare public officials. The cast is full of strangers: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence (!!!), Jeremy Renner, and Robert DeNiro. It’s really a work of art. What makes me happy: every scene featuring an F.B.I. supervisor played by Louis C.K.

Nebraska, 2013 (dir. Alexander Payne) 

Payne (Sideways, The Descendents) likes his journey stories. His latest, shot in wide-screen black-and-white, follows old man Woody (Bruce Dern) and his son, David (Will Forte), from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska. What makes me happy: the scene in which the men lounge around and watch football. It just feels so damn real.

Blue is the Warmest Color, 2013 (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

The NC-17 Palme d’Or winner from this year’s Cannes Festival. A 179-minute exploration of Adèle, a high school student learning what it means to love and to be loved. She dates guys until she meets Emma, a girl with blue hair who changes her life forever. What makes me happy: Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (Emma) who act with their faces instead of their words, resulting in two of the most mesmerizing onscreen performances I’ve seen this year.

12 Years a Slave, 2013 (dir. Steve McQueen)

Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) is easily one of my favorite directors. His latest is said to be the greatest feature film ever made about American slavery. There’s a scene I’ll never forget in which Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a freeborn African-American kidnapped into slavery, hangs from a tree with a noose around his neck, supported by only one foot as it barely touches the muddy ground. Lupita Nyong’o plays Patsey in a performance I can’t describe with words. This movie didn’t make me happy, but it did leave me thinking about the thousands who never knew freedom.

Other 2013 notables: Blue Jasmine (for Cate Blanchett), Cutie and the Boxer, Spring Breakers (for James Franco), Don Jon (for Julianne Moore), Fruitvale Station, The Great Gatsby, About Time (for the lovely message about what it means to be a father and a son), The Way, Way Back, and Monsters University (for the DVD bonus features that I got to be in with my Pixar buddies!).

My first Hollywood movie premiere.

My first Hollywood movie premiere.

The End

So why tell stories? 12 Years a Slave offers an answer: because we can. The above films are film at its best. When I left the theater after watching each of these, the world seemed just a little bit heavier. In a good way.

Life for me, as it seems, has really become a series of moments that exist between whatever movies I happen to be seeing that week, month, or year. Movies have changed my life, and I hope that never changes.

I found this picture in a photo album at home in Maryland. The caption read, "Which way to Hollywood?"

I found this picture in a photo album at home in Maryland. The caption extending from the top of my white hoodie read, “Which way to Hollywood?”

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(SHORT NOTES) In Defense Of “Love Actually”

The Thanksgiving dishes have been put away, Christmas lights are out, and Grandma’s bulk order of vitamins has commenced.

It’s December, which only means one thing: It’s “Love Actually” time, and the excitement is palpable.

Let’s get something straight: “Love Actually” is a great movie and is more than just a guilty pleasure. (I hate when people say something is a guilty pleasure. There’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Just pleasures, you know? As Ira Glass says, “Pedophilia is a pleasure a person should have guilt about. Not chocolate.”)

In my world, straight dudes many people shrug it off as chick porn a trivial holiday flick, but it’s really a solid storytelling gem. Look closely at each storyline and I think you’ll be surprised by the emotional complexity that separates them from their Hollywood rom com counterparts—an aging rock and roll legend finds a friend in his longtime manager, an English writer falls in love with his Portuguese housekeeper in spite of a crippling language barrier, a sister struggles to maintain stability as she cares for her mentally ill brother. And then there’s Karen and Harry:

Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Together. Ohhh, let the pleasure of the talking pictures sink in.

Please don’t make a “Love Actually 2” and compromise the sanctity of the original,

Jonathan

(LISTS) Reasons I’m Leaving New York (That Could Also Be Used to Break Up with Someone)

I should be a politician because I’m a fantastic f-ing flip-flopper. I wrote a post in the beginning of the summer that read as a love letter to Manhattan, but two months later I’ve pulled a Mitt Romney and/or John Kerry and totally changed my mind. I spent time in Chicago and California this summer and discovered that happiness—contrary to what anxiety-ridden New Yorkers have taught me—isn’t just a fictional thing projected by Hollywood rom coms.

So, to begin a short series of posts about city life:

Reasons I’m Leaving New York (That Could Also Be Used to Break Up with Someone)

You’ve turned vegan but have no idea why.

You’re stuck in a constant hustle and bustle, always silently screaming, “Yes I hear you, but I really must go now.”

You look kind of shitty in the winter.

You’re too tall.

You only wear black and gray. Ever heard of color?

You think you’re surrounded by nature because of Central Park.

You make it too easy for me to make lists about what’s wrong with you.

You smell like urine.

An (Overly Emotional) Ode to College

What lies below is the second funniest joke in the world:

Once upon a time, you will have the four best years of your life with your best friends in this place called “college.” Four years later, it will end.

(Moment for you to recover from an unexpected bout of intense laughter…)

No but seriously. How are we to compartmentalize the college Experience in our brain places? For me, this conversation has an Emotional and an Intellectual constituent. The Emotion piece posits college as the link between otherwise very different people with very different backgrounds and experiences. Meanwhile, the Intellectual piece refers to how college forms us as academics, thinkers, and doers. (A recent New Yorker article by Louis Menand called Live and Learn: Why we have college asks readers what they would write on evaluations of their college experiences, as if answering a question like “Were course objective clearly explained?” on a typical end-of-semester course evaluation. Most colleges claim to teach students how to “think critically, reason analytically, solve problems, and communicate clearly,” but I’m afraid this doesn’t happen as frequently as it should.)

In this post, though, I’d like to address the former—the Emotional thang. How? Chapter 5 of my memoir. What lies below is an edited version of a letter I sent to my friends upon their graduation from the University of Michigan:

 Chapter 5

Michigan

(Or, A Lesson in Profound and Tear-Jerking Friendship)

I’m an American, which means I’m a consumer of Hollywood. (Note: “Consumer” can be read as “victim” depending upon your physical and mental proximity to that aforementioned Hollywood place.) In turn, I’m a dreamer. The ramifications of this run far and wide, but the most salient in the trajectory of my life’s narrative has been the division of my life into two separate entities: one happening in real-time in real life and the other happening at uncontrollable speeds in my head. Now, if the two were tightly bound as one, I’d have a stressless and anxietyless existence and therefore wouldn’t have the thoughts and feelings I have. (Like: “Yeah so this relationship isn’t going to work because you’re just not, like, James Franco. Ha. Ha. But no seriously. You should probably leave the table now. But leave the bread sticks. And could you cover the tab on this one? I forgot my wallet kloveyouthanksbye.”)

That said, if my time at the University of Michigan was manifested in a Hollywood flick, my feeling is it’d be reduced to a thirty-second montage as a part of the painfully slow second act of a generic drama about a football player who has a traumatic brain injury and is bed-ridden for the rest of his collegiate career. Which is to say it’d be nothing like my time at Michigan. I’m unsure, however, if even an indie drama directed with the heart and soul of someone like Spike Jonze could efficiently and appropriately capture the nostalgia I feel toward the people I met during my time in the heaven that is Ann Arbor.

With consideration to the fact that my name would be changed to Peter, a possible montage from the indie screenplay may look a little something like this:

INT. SUBURBAN CAFÉ – EARLY EVENING

Peter takes a seat at an empty table closest to the window. Hilly landscapes fill the wide expanse outside.

He looks down at his iPad and presses PLAY. A tear-jerking song like “Breath Me” by Sia starts playing. What he sees on his electronic thing fills our screen:

SERIES OF SHOTS

A.            North Campus during winter. A group of friends crowd into a small dorm room and eat Easy Mac while watching the Paris Hilton sex tape.

B.            Group of friends pre-game. Eight shots taken in a row. People begin yelling “Standard 8!!!” which soon turns into “Standard 12!!!”

C.            Frankenmuth, MI. Look of confusion on friend’s faces as they attempt to determine if they’re in a German village, a normal village, or Santa’s Land.

D.            Group drives to Kroger to buy more Easy Mac.

E.            Peter fails to learn the Michigan cheer at a football games because he’s thinking about how the hot straight men are about to start banging into each other.

F.            Group gets rejected from a frat party. They eventually get in and proceed to get disgustingly drunk off beer. Peter dances funnily. People laugh at this.

G.            Peter drives home with parents the summer after freshman year and tries to hold back tears while gripping his pillow like a little girl.

H.            Peter’s goodbye party before transferring to another school. Everyone cries uncontrollably at various moments throughout the night.

Peter presses a button. The film continues in slow motion:

I.            Peter visits Michigan years later and tells everyone he’s gay. Tears and hugs.

J.            Peter visits again a few months later to see his friends graduate. Realizes during a party that he’ll never be together again with those people in that exact time and place.

Peter presses another button. The song stops.

Peter wipes away a tear and begins packing up. We travel through the window and high above the sloppy expanse, past the small café and the town it rests in until–

 FADE TO BLACK.

While my Michigan experience is over and, in truth, I’ll never exist with those people in that exact time and place ever again, I’ll be holding it tight in my head because I have so many fucking great memories from those two years and I’ll never, ever let them go. Even if The Injury or Garden Place (That’s what the aforementioned Hollywood and indie flops will be called, respectively.) tries to reduce them to a montage. Michigan taught me that happiness is inextricably linked to the people with whom you surround yourself and that friends, not your GPA or twelve shots of cheap vodka, define who you are.

——————

And now a sample from Chapter 6:

Chapter 6

 NYU

(Or, A Lesson in Hipster/Homosexuality)

We should get a few things straight from the start: NYU is not a real college, and even if a male student at NYU says he’s straight, there’s an 86% chance he’s lying. While University of Michigan is a real college, I found NYU to be a fictional bubble where an ostensibly large amount of students frolicked around Manhattan like they were made of money and connections.

A sketch of a stereotypical NYU student lies below:

An NYU Student Experiences the Five Stages of Grief in Five Days, and then Experiences a False Sense of Maturity

Day 1: Denial

I’m not a hipster.

Day 2: Anger

I, like, totally hate hipsters and everything they stand for.

Day 3: Bargaining

OK so just to be sure people don’t think I’m a hipster, I’ll stop strategically messing up my hair every morning, but I’m not going to stop charging my Urban Outfitter shopping sprees to my parents credit card.

Day 4: Depression

My. Hair. Isn’t. Messy. Enough. Argh.

Day 5: Acceptance

Who the fuck cares if I don’t really know what irony is?! I’m proud to be a real live hipster!! East Williamsburg, here I come!!!

Sometimes, dear reader(s), I didn’t want to be at NYU and my heart panged for Michigan. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were college dropouts, so why couldn’t I be a dropout? I used to ask myself that, but this thought always followed: Most of us aren’t Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. In the word of Woody Allen: Despair.