10 April 2013

Run Lucas, Run


About a year ago, I put on some sneakers one day and decided to go for a run, something I hadn't made a conscious effort to do since 1996. I ran 0.7 miles through the woods in 10 minutes and thought I might die. I did it again the next day. And the day after that. And the day after that. I put it out on Facebook and Twitter that I would do 20 days in a row and encouraged everyone to yell at me if I failed.

I realize now that maybe wasn't the greatest idea.

As you might guess, I got hurt. I re-aggravated the knee injuries that got me to stop running in 1996.

I used to run a lot when I was younger, dozens and dozens of cross-country races. I have vague memories of times and places and courses. I remember running through a lot of fall foliage, across trails of pine needles, through fields, and once in a downpour in Rhode Island for Regionals. I was faster than I am now, naturally, but I don't think I ever won a race. I ran because my friends ran and then I ran to get in shape for basketball season. I want to say I would run 6 minute something miles when I was 8 or 9, but I can't say for sure. In my Senior Year, my body caught up to my growth spurt and I had a pretty good stretch that had my coach wondering if I could sneak into the top 5 at States.

And then I got hurt.

I ran the last 2 miles of my last race in excruciating pain. Hobbled is probably a better verb. I finished dead last. I haven't run a race since.

So why start again? Simply, because I'm not getting younger and it started to be clear my metabolism wasn't getting it done anymore. I was feeling fat and sluggish and I hated it.

So for those first 7 days, I took the dog out in the woods with me, and we ran. She ran ahead, then lagged behind. She loves the woods. It felt less like running and more like playing with the dog. After the first day, she'd start taking shortcuts and getting ahead of my on the trail, as if she were encouraging me to keep going. She was my coach and she got me over that initial hump where I felt like an idiot.


I transitioned to the roads, where I didn't dare take Echo. Slowly I added miles. I ran through the bike trails in Pittsburgh, along desert roads in Vegas, through parks in Boston, through the snow in Maine. I got my 5K time down to 25:09. The knee injuries flare up regularly. I now have a nice collection of knee braces.

I still haven't run a race. More by scheduling conflicts than design.

And because I respond better with a goal, I talked myself into running a half-marathon in May. I'm nothing if not crazy. I figured I'd put my crowdfunding knowledge to use and raise some money for the Animal Rescue League. I don't think I'd be running without Echo, and while she isn't a rescue dog, she can sympathize. Sometimes, she goes a whole week without a bacon treat. More importantly, there's hundreds of animals who would love nothing more than to help a person over a rough patch like Echo did for me, and organizations like ARL make that possible.

It's a pretty passive campaign with a small goal, but it'll do some good for some animals in need and the lives they can go on to brighten after they've been adopted. Either check out the campaign or, better yet, find an organization near you that does similar things. They could use all the help they can get.


And if you're wondering, I'm hoping to run the half in under 2 hours. But mostly I'm hoping to survive.

05 February 2013

The 10 Best Films of 2012 (Part 2)



This is Part 2. Click here for Part 1.

6. Girl Walk // All Day (Jacob Krupnick)



Easily the most infectious film of the year, or maybe the last 10 years, Girl Walk // All Day is a paper thin narrative wrapped around dance sequences in New York City. I should hate this movie. I really should. Thing is, it's so much fun. They pretty clearly stole every single shot in the movie, filming all over New York, surrounded by confused extras everywhere they went. The music is great. The dancing reminds you of the world's greatest one person flash mob. It's a joy to watch. It might just become my default movie to watch when I'm having a bad day.

7. Argo (Ben Affleck)



For the record, I like Lincoln. It'd probably end up in the 11-15 range. Silver Linings Playbook is wildly overrated and Zero Dark Thirty is far too flawed to really consider. Les Mis is, well, one of the worst films I saw this year. That leaves Argo as the last Best Picture nominee standing. It's a riveting, compelling political drama that's probably a little hemmed in by it's "based on a True Story" credentials. There's nothing wrong with it, exactly, and Affleck does a superb job on both sides of the camera. It's just missing that spark a film needs for greatness. This…this is supremely well-crafted, but it's not great. Should it win Best Picture, it'd be a second-tier winner. I'm rooting for it.

8. Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)



My expectations were low. I was at a Redbox kiosk and the pickings were slim. Really, really slim. And so I grabbed Ruby Sparks, thinking maybe it would help me fill out the actress category in my Muriels ballot, or maybe it'd have a cinematic moment I could cite. Sometimes it becomes a question of volume. I wasn't expecting something this clever, this inventive. Zoe Kazan did what every actor thinks they can do but almost none actually can: she wrote herself a showcase role and then she nailed that role. But beyond that, she wrote a very smart film about authorship. It's a really fantastic little romantic comedy.

9. Goon (Michael Dowse)



The list of awesome hockey movies is short. There's Slap Shot and, um, Mystery, Alaska and, um, that's about it. Which is weird, because hockey is colorful and visceral and violent. It's should translate better to film. Enter Goon, one of the better hockey films of all time, centered around the story of Doug, a bouncer who improbably becomes a hockey goon when he knocks out a player who climbs into the stands to fight him. Yeah, you read that right. It's one of those things you give the filmmakers because the rest of the film is just so much damned fun. Sean William Scott gives perhaps the performance of his career (which isn't saying much, I know), and Jay Baruchel steals every scene he's in with a manic obsession. It's bloody and it's violent, but so is hockey.

10. Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier)



Less fun is Joachim Trier's film about a day in the life of an addict as he visits his old stomping grounds. It's a very lived-in film, meaning it feels authentic, like maybe Trier just found a real guy, the way the Italian Neo-Realists would have. That alone will tell you something about the film's core performance by Anders Danielson Lie. It's a small film, melancholy down to the bones, and not all that much happens, exactly, but it grows on you. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure why, but I was riveted, just watching this guy fight his demons. But what greater, more universal battle is there? On some level, we've all been there.

04 February 2013

The 10 Best Films of 2012 (Part 1)

moonrise kingdom 1

According to Letterboxd (which I'm officially obsessed with), I saw 73 of the 2012 releases. That's not as high as it should be, but it's not terrible. I'm usually able to avoid the vast majority of the dreck, which keeps the total down but my sanity in check, and while I'm able to get screeners on occasion, I'm still largely dependent on location and such. Basically, I have trouble getting to the Oscar limited release stuff before the Muriels deadline (January 31st). Netflix Instant helps. A lot.

Some notable films I missed: Amour, Django Unchained, It's Such a Beautiful Day, Searching For Sugar Man, Life of Pi, The Cabin In The Woods, and Promised Land.

Having said all that, here are the 10 best films I saw in 2012, in 2 parts:

1. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)



At my core, I'm an Auteurist. I think the Auteur Theory is probably one of the smartest things ever written about film. And nowhere is the Auteur Theory more evident than in the work of Wes Anderson. You don't even need the credit anymore. You know instantly you're watching a Wes Anderson film. You also know what you're getting: twee art direction, actors in the center of the frame, Bill Murray. And yet, Anderson's seventh film is his deepest, richest exploration of childhood yet, like he's finally gotten it right.

2. Sleepwalk With Me (Mike Birbiglia)



To me, this is the surprising gem of the year. How it isn't getting more award consideration is beyond me. It's a funny and inventive debut. Honestly, my expectations were low. I fully expected this to be one of those Sundance films that loses all appeal once it leaves Park City, but it's possible it was undersold. Whatever Mike Birbiglia does next, I'm on board.

3. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr)



According to IMDb, there are 30 takes in The Turin Horse. Three-zero. The film is 2 hours and 26 minutes long. There's almost no dialogue. There's four names in the credits and one of those is the horse. Wrap your head around that for a minute. It's a bleak, relentlessly dismal view of humanity from one of the masters of cinema. And it's riveting. A lot has been said about the opening shot, but the final one is just as powerful, only for completely different reasons. And the other 28 aren't so bad either. Actually, there isn't a frame of the film that couldn't tell a story all by itself. When was the last time you could say that?

4. Alps (Giorgos Lanthimos)



Not nearly as strange and unnerving as Dogtooth (but what could be?), Alps plays out quite a bit more conventionally, but it ain't exactly a romantic comedy either. It's strangely compelling in a completely different way, as Giorgos Lanthimos gives us, ultimately, a film about acting, about the process of becoming someone else. It's not a film that's going to blow you away, instead Lanthimos gets under your skin somehow and before you know it, you're hooked.

5. Indie Game: The Movie (Lisanne Pajot & James Swirsky)



This might only be interesting to me, but there's more Kickstarter films on this list (2) than there are Best Picture Nominees (1). What does that say about the state of film these days? Well, I think it means that great filmmaking can quite literally come from anywhere, which has always been true in theory, but now it's a lot easier to get those films over the hump and into existence. Which, in a way, is kind of what Indie Game is about. They've finished marching around Jericho. It's time for the walls to come down. This is a fascinating look behind the scenes of indie video games, chronicling the obsession behind creating something. It's a must-see for anyone who fancies themselves an artist.

To be continued...

30 January 2013

28 January 2013

The Best and Worst of the Dance

CONCUSSION-starring-Robin-Weigert

Combining Sundance and Slamdance, I saw somewhere between 15 to 20 features this year in Park City. I went to a lot fewer parties than last year and not once did I get in a fight with someone over anything, which is really saying something. I also figured out which bartenders at the free events will ignore the menu and just give you Johnnie Walker Black on the rocks if you ask nicely.

The easiest way to start a conversation with someone in Park City is to ask them what they've seen and what they're favorites are. Sometimes a person will start gushing about a film and then you make sure you add it to your schedule. That's how I ended up seeing Concussion (pictured above).

So in that spirit, here's my favorites (and my least favorites).

5 UP

Before Midnight

This is really on everyone's favorites list, and for good reason. Richard Linklater finishes off his trilogy with the strongest film of the three. By now we're so heavily invested in Jesse and Celine and their lives have gotten so much more…complicated, which is exactly how it should be. A common refrain in town was that we all kind of see ourselves in this relationship. There's something universal about it. I'm already in line for part 4 (please please please do another one in 2022).

[Review on Letterboxd]

Ain't Them Bodies Saints

There aren't very many filmmakers with the confidence and maturity to make a film like Ain't Them Bodies Saints and one of them is Terrance Malik. Another is David Lowery, who's second feature (yes, second) is a masterful film about Casey Affleck breaking out of prison to rejoin his wife and daughter. It's a film full of strong performances and glorious cinematography, a film that takes chances, a film that should be around for a long, long time.

[Review on Letterboxd]

Upstream Color

In the line for Upstream Color, I tweeted that I was already confused. I didn't really get less confused after the film started. And even so, I think I understood it better than some people. I'd tell you about the plot, but there's no point. Carruth's film is enigmatic and then some, but it's also very well shot and edited and Amy Seimetz isn't getting nearly enough credit for a performance that anchors the film in some sort of something. I found the film mesmerizing, even if I only understood some of it. Your experience may vary. It almost definitely will.

Concussion

Robin Weigert has been one of my favorite actresses since she started cussing up a storm in Deadwood. And I actually didn't even know she had a film in Sundance this year until I saw her across the room at a party (I try to know as little as possible about a film before I see it). In Concussion she plays a bored lesbian housewife who takes up prostitution as something of a hobby. I know, that sounds either horrible or like the plot of some pornography or both, but Weigert sells it, infusing her character with sensuality and fear and joy and sorrow. It's a fantastic performance.

Joy de V.

From the top of the hill at Slamdance comes Joy de V., Nadia Szold's debut feature about a guy who's wife goes out in the morning and doesn't come back. He goes looking for her. The first act plays like the movie Cosmopolis was trying to be, and lead actor Evan Louison is basically Robert Pattinson but with acting ability. It's a unique look at New York City. It's almost as if the film just organically came to be on a sidewalk somewhere, it feels that authentic. And hey, it features a nice supporting performance from the one and only Claudia Cardinale.

And now, the flip side.

3 DOWN

Kill Your Darlings

A complete and utter miscalculation, made by people who don't seem to understand a damned thing about the Beat Generation. It's clinical and stale when it should be sporadic and vibrant. I can't fathom how people let it happen. If Jack Kerouac were still alive, he'd burn every copy he could find and have a really wild party around the flames and everyone would just go go go with girls and wine and great music and just look at them swing blow man blow all night long until we passed out in piles on the bed on the floor just everywhere and then get up the next day and do it all again.

Fruitvale

My mom will love Fruitvale. Thing is, my mom has terrible taste in movies. Fruitvale is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a black guy who was killed by a white cop in the vicinity of a bunch of camera phones. It's a terribly complex situation and the title suggests the film will take a multi-faceted look at the different perspectives and issues behind the tragedy. It doesn't. Instead, Fruitvale is white-washed bio pic, a Lifetime Movie of the Week with better acting and more uses of the n-word. The film is littered with mistakes. The script is so blatantly manipulative. There isn't an ounce of subtlety in the film. Everything is completely on the nose, full of cliches and coincidences and a hundred other crutches of mediocre filmmakers. The story is endlessly compelling. The film is not. A lot of very smart people can't seem to tell the difference.

The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman

And I liked it more than most people. This movie by commercials director Fredrik Bond stars Shia LeBeouf as a guy who has some weird pixie thing go into his chest or something and then talks to his dead mother who tells him to go to Romania. Or something. And people hated it. Go figure. It's a super-stylish thing that's way too long and essential pointless and has no business whatsoever being at Sundance in any capacity. It's wafer-thin and makes more mistakes than I can count. But if I were drunk and it was on TV? I'd probably watch it again. At least I'd watch some of it, assuming Duck Dynasty isn't on.

18 January 2013

Sundance '13: Circles


Starring: Aleksandar Bercek, Leon Lucev, Nebojsa Glogovac, Hristina Popovic, Nikola Rakocevic, Vuk Kostic
Written by: Srdjan Koljevic, Melina Pota Koljevic
Directed by: Srdan Golubovic
112 min, Narrative, Serbia/Germany/France/Croatia/Slovenia


CIRCLES is a film about, well, circles. More accurately, it's about the ripple effect, how a stone tossed in a lake will create circles that spread farther and farther out, affecting the entire surface. If the stone is big enough, they'll spread all the way to shore.

Srdan Golubovic tells the (true) story of a Serbian soldier who was killed protecting a Muslim during a war. I knew this because I read it in the press materials. Also, it's on the poster. So it's kind of a spoiler and it kind of isn't. It's hard to say for sure.

It's an important bit of information, as it's the splash that creates all of those circles. Every single thing in the film is dependent on that event. There's 2 parts to it: the confrontation, which we see in the beginning, and the murder, which we don't get until the very end. The murder is the important part.

Here's what ends up happening. The film start with this soldier as the main character. He stops some fellow soldiers from killing a muslim shop keeper. Then, flash forward 12 years. Suddenly, he's not in the movie anymore. After a while you figure out he's dead, but that takes a long time. Honestly, I thought maybe a scene was just missing from the movie. And that would be a cool narrative trick if it accomplished anything. We aren't talking about an event that everyone has a different view on or has some revelation about how it really happened. We don't even learn that the motivations behind it were different. Every character in the movie knows exactly what happened and why. It informs their actions throughout the film. It's a really important scene. And it's at the very end, for seemingly no other reason than, you know, circles are round. You could move that scene back to the beginning and the film would be substantially improved.

And it's a shame, because this has the potential to be a fascinating film about redemption and trying to live together after a horrific ethnic war, wonderfully shot and acted. Instead, it's just confusing for no good reason.

CIRCLES plays in the World Dramatic competition at Sundance.


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