Law School > This Blog

•December 8, 2009 • 1 Comment

There will be more posts in a week or two. I promise. My wife is in law school and we only own one computer. Since studying for finals and taking said finals require a computer, this blog has gotten pushed to the back burner (and rightly so). But once those finals are over on the 14th (or so), I’m taking back the computer and will post ASAP. For now it’s back to the ol’ pen and paper.

Stop watching *@#*&%^ “Lost”!

•November 29, 2009 • 6 Comments

Gary Vaynerchuk told me to stop watching @!&*$^% Lost!

Where have I been?! Holy crap. It’s been a long time. I have to admit that my lack of presence on here can be attributed to my recent obsession with “Lost.” I watched the first season a couple of years ago and sort of left it at that. Recently Netflix had 4 of the 5 seasons available to watch instantly. So naturally I seized the opportunity. I have finished all 5 seasons now (yes, the viewing of the 5th season wasn’t what you could call “legal”) and have returned to my regularly scheduled movie watching and blogging.

Some recent viewings include:

  • Away We Go
  • Guess Who‚Äôs Coming to Dinner?
  • 12 Monkeys
  • Amelia
  • Men Who Stare At Goats
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Tell No One

I’m also working on my top 10 of the Decade list as well as the top 10 of 2009. Any suggestions?

Ahhhh, it’s good to be back. ūüôā

Goodbye Solo – 5 stars (loved it)

•October 29, 2009 • 4 Comments

goodbye soloRamin Bahrani has the ability to do so much with so little. His budgets are small. His stories are intimate. His actors are unknown. Despite what lesser filmmakers see as obstacles, Bahrani is able to push past any sort of problems and continually make great films. The first movie I saw directed by him was “Chop Shop,” a small powerful film about a brother and sister attempting to overcome extreme poverty. His latest film, “Goodbye Solo,” is just as powerful.

Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane) is a cab driver living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Bahrani’s¬†homeland). He is an immigrant from Africa that has dreams of becoming a flight attendant. No, this isn’t a comedy. Solo lives with his girlfriend, Quiera (Carmen Leyva),¬†and her daughter, Alex (Diana Franco Galindo), who he has accepted as his own. He and his girlfriend are expecting but having a rough go at the relationship. Eventually she throws him out because of what she considers his foolish dream. During the course of his cab driving, he meets an elderly man named William (Red West).

William is one of his regular¬†customers although he doesn’t like small talk and is a little abrasive to Solo. Solo tries his best to break down the wall that William has put up, and he is surprised one night when William offers him $1000 to drive him to Blowing Rock where it is said the wind blows straight up into the sky. The only catch is that William needs only a one-way ticket.

Solo is concerned that William wants to kill himself so he brings it upon himself to befriend him and convince him to do otherwise. After he is kicked out of his girlfriend’s home, Solo talks his way into staying with William in his hotel room. Eventually the wall begins to come down and they enter into a strange but genuine friendship.

The movie is full of heart.¬†Bahrani doesn’t mind simply letting the camera linger on after a scene is over, and the effect is strangely powerful. It allows us to step back and observe what is happening without stopping to explain everything to us through unnecessary exposition. Solo never comes out and says he thinks William is going to kill¬†himself, but we know that he does. By doing this Bahrani is allowing us to become intimate with his characters. We’re getting to know them instead of being told about them.

As the movie goes on we learn more and more about William and his motives for going to Blowing Rock, and we learn more and more about Solo, too. Solo is an intelligent, caring and persistent man with a smile that could penetrate Darkness itself, and William is quiet, thoughtful, and a deeper man than we realize at first. The two living and riding around together make for some funny and extremely touching scenes, but Bahrani keeps it from becoming parody or comedy with an African immigrant and an old crotchety man striking up a friendship a la “The Odd Couple.” And Alex continues to stay close to Solo after he moves out and eventually becomes close to William, too, viewing him as a grandfather figure.

None of the actors are known and many are appearing here in their first performances. They are all exactly right for their roles. The screenplay (by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi) and direction by Bahrani are superb. He takes such a small story and breathes life into it. When the credits roll at the end we hope that the cameras continue to follow the characters. We care about them and want to see where their lives take them, and it’s all because of Bahrani.

If you think I’m drooling over Bahrani a little too much, it is obvious that you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing one of his films. He is the next great American director. “Goodbye Solo” is a great place to start if you’ve never seen one of his films. His lingering cameras and slow unraveling of his stories may take some getting used to at first, but stick with it. It’s worth it. “Goodbye Solo” is one of the best films of the year, and you don’t want to miss it.

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 91 minutes

Starring: Souleymane Sy Savane (Solo); Red West (William); Diana Franco Galindo (Alex); Carmen Leyva (Quiera)

Directed by: Ramin Bahrani; written by Bahrani and Bahareh Azimi; produced by Bahrani and Jason Orans. A Roadside Attractions release.

Paranormal Activity – 3 stars (liked it)

•October 28, 2009 • 7 Comments

paranormal activity

Dear Dad,

I’m really glad that you and Mom were able to come down this past weekend. Missy and I had a great time, and I especially liked the spontaneous trip to the movies. Missy hates scary movies and I know Mom does, too, so I thought we should seize the opportunity to go see “Paranormal Activity” together.

You may not realize it, but my love of movies comes from you. Sure, you may not be¬†a “cineaste,” but you have always influenced my movie viewing. Everything from Westerns (“High Noon,” “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”) to war movies (“Bridge on the River Kwai”) to action flicks (“Terminator,” “Die Hard”) to scary movies (“Silence of the Lambs,” “Deliverance”), you have introduced them all to me. So who better to see “Paranormal Activity” with than you?

We got to the theater just in time for the previews and the theater was pretty full. We were both fairly surprised considering the movie had already been showing for a week. I thought we were going to get annoyed because everyone was restless and talkative, but once the movie started the restlessness turned to excitement. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a movie where the audience was so engaged with the movie as they were at “Paranormal Activity.”

The movie started out a little slow, but I think it was the best way to introduce the characters and the story. The two main characters, Katie and Micah, recently moved in together (I know you don’t approve. They’re unmarried.) and strange things began to happen in the home. Just like you or I would do (I remember the story of you in college setting up a tape recorder in an office to see if you could capture anything on it. To your surprise, you caught the sound of the door opening and closing. Only then did you realize that it was security.), Micah buys a video camera to document everything that’s happening, and that’s when things start to pick up.

He captures footsteps, strange voices, Katie “sleepwalking,” and eventually a Ouija board moving itself and bursting into flames. That’s the point they started to lose you. I think you were absolutely right when you said that it was the one big mistake that writer/director Oren Peli made. Up to that point everything was as believable as a movie about a demon haunting a home could be, but the burning Ouija board took it too far over-the-top.

Everything else had been small, quiet, unexplainable happenings, but then Peli threw that understated mood away for one scene and took it too far. In a film full of mostly correct choices and smart writing/directing, this was its big mistake. The other problem I had was with its pacing. At times it had a smooth rhythm, going back and forth between the images captured at night in the bedroom to Katie and Micah discussing their discoveries the next day. But there were times when things seemed to slow to a grueling pace. The movie did manage to regain its footing eventually, and the pace shifts into overdrive.

We find out that the girl has been haunted by this demon her entire life, but this time it’s different. The activity is getting more and more intense.¬†A picture is smashed, doors are being slammed shut, something unseen is “breathing” on the girl, and in the scariest¬†and most intense scene the girl is drug from her bed and down the hallway. It’s just the kind of stuff we like in our horror movies. There’s no teenage serial killer or excessive gore or any of the torture-porn that’s become so popular. It’s simply full of ¬†small, quiet moments that leave more to the imagination than is actually shown on the screen.

After the movie ended, we both agreed that what exists in our imaginations is exponentially scarier than anything Hollywood could ever concoct. That’s what made “The Blair Witch Project” so scary and it’s what lingered with us both after we saw “The Sixth Sense.” What if we find ourselves lost in the woods? What if we begin to see ghosts? The “what ifs” are what make¬†a scary movie a good scary movie, and “Paranormal Activity” was a good scary movie.

I know you didn’t know much about the movie going in, but you seemed like you enjoyed it. We had a pretty good time getting scared together. That’s all the movie intended to do and scare us it did. I’m really glad I was able to see it with you. It’d been awhile since we’d been to a movie together, and I don’t remember the last time it was just me and you at the movies.

We’ll have to do this again soon. You can choose the next one. Maybe Eastwood, one of your favorites, will have a new movie showing. It’ll be like old times watching movies in the living room together. I’m a little too big and old to sit on your lap, but we can still share the bowl of popcorn.

Love you, Dad.

Matt

MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 86 minutes

Starring: Katie Featherstone (Katie); Micah Sloat (Micah); Mark Fredrichs (The Psychic)

Directed by: Oren Peli; written by Oren Peli; produced by Jason Blum and Peli. A Paramount Pictures release.

Quantum of Solace – 2 stars (didn’t like it)

•October 27, 2009 • 12 Comments

quantum of solaceMaybe it’s because I just did not care enough, but “Quantum of Solace” made no sense to me. An organization exists that everyone knows exists but no one knows the name of the organization or who runs it or how many members it has. In fact the only thing anyone seems to know about it is that they know nothing about it. Then suddenly at the end of the movie, James Bond (Daniel Craig) mentions its name – Quantum. When did he find this out? No one seems to know or care – especially the makers of the film.

“Quantum of Solace” was one giant excuse to put James Bond in as many roof, hotel, car and plane chases as possible. The plot was thrown in to keep it from being a silent film. It is one of the most confusing and contrived movies that I have ever seen. To even try and explain the plot would give me a migraine. The action scenes were almost as confusing as the plot with an average shot length just above a nanosecond. All of the humor and innuendo of the Bond franchise seems to have been tossed to the wayside in order to capitalize on the Bourne franchise formula and success. But James Bond is not Jason Bourne and we don’t want him to be.

This movie is a perfect example of the Hollywood mentality: what movie/movies have been successful recently and how can we cash in on it? By copying them, of course. James Bond is one of the most beloved characters and franchises in movie history, but Hollywood has managed to forget this and conform it to their cash cow mentality. I don’t blame Daniel Craig or Judi Dench (M) or Olga Kurylenko (Camille) or Giancarlo Giannini (Rene Mathis) or Mathieu Amalric (Dominic Greene). They all did the best they could with the material that they were given which leads us to the writers (Neal Purvis, Paul Haggis and Robert Wade) and director (Marc Forster).

What happened with this movie? This group of filmmakers should not have messed this movie up as bad as they did. These men have made movies that are good. Movies like “Monster’s Ball,” “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Finding Neverland,” “In the Valley of Elah,” “Crash,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” etc. So how is that the men responsible for these wonderful films made such a disappointing Bond movie? The dialogue was arbitrary. The action sequences were confusing and conducive to seizing. The sexual tension and innuendo commonplace in the Bond movies was inexplicably missing. There were no over-the-top gadgets or vehicles. It was all very…plain. And if James Bond is anything, it’s not plain.

It’s clear that there were obvious missteps and mistakes in “Quantum of Solace.” It’s just unexplainable how they happened – especially with writers and directors that we know are talented filmmakers. I think it all comes down to the studios. Hollywood studios fight tooth and nail to reach the top of the box office charts and, in order to do so, they often “borrow” from other successful franchises. Movies like the Bourne trilogy or “The Transporter” series are all studio responses to the Bond franchise. So how did the producers or studio heads forget that “Quantum of Solace” was a Bond movie and not one of their carbon-copy rip-offs? I don’t know the answer, but I do know that if you are in the mood for a Bond movie, skip this one and go rent “Goldfinger.”

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 105 minutes

Starring: Daniel Craig (James Bond); Olga Kurylenko (Camille); Mathieu Amalric (Dominic Greene); Judi Dench (M); Giancarlo Giannini (Rene Mathis)

Directed by: Marc Forster; written by Paul Haggis, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade based on a character by Ian Fleming; produced by Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. A Sony Pictures release.

Where the Wild Things Are – 5 stars (loved it)

•October 20, 2009 • 2 Comments

where-the-wild-things-areA funny thing happened during “Where the Wild Things Are.” The theater was largely adults, but directly behind our seats was a family with two children both around 5 or 6 years old. The father and mother were getting restless about halfway through, and the father was making comments about how bad the movie was. But the children were enamored. They were laughing, gripping their seats with fear, excited, and by the end, they were in tears. They understood. They felt what Max felt.

This is the essence of “WTWTA.” You can read into all of the Freudian subtexts (My, that’s a lot of metaphors for the womb!) you want, but writer-director Spike Jonze is more concerned with the emotions packed throughout his latest film. “WTWTA” is based on a little children’s book (Seriously little. It’s 8 sentences long.) by Maurice Sendak and has been adapted beautifully for the big screen. It focuses on Max (Max Records), clearly reeling from the effects of a divorce and a big sister that has newer, cooler, older friends and doesn’t have time for kid things. Max does what most children in this situation often do. He acts out.

He¬†truly is a wild thing. He dresses like a wolf and chases the dog through the house and stands on the kitchen table and screams at and eventually bites his mother. From the beginning we’ve seen Max trying as hard as he can to get someone to pay attention to him. Should he be punished for his behavior? Should his mother ground him or send him to time out or spank him? The movie isn’t concerned with these trivial questions. His mother is doing what she can in a situation that has placed a heavy burden on her, as well as the rest of her family. Maybe the best thing to do is to let Max run around in a wolf costume. Where’s the harm in that? Eventually it takes its toll and she reacts. Max is frightened by her sudden burst of anger and runs away, and this is where the movie truly takes off.

Max flees to the woods and begins hacking away at unseen monsters with a stick and before you know it, he’s on a boat sailing in the sea to a far off land where the Wild Things are. We immediately see Carol (James Gandolfini) destroying the Wild Things’ huts (remember those wombs I mentioned earlier?) because his beloved friend, KW (Lauren Ambrose), has found newer and cooler and better friends in Bob and Terry (two¬†characters that add some wonderful comic relief later in the movie). The other Wild Things let Carol wreak his havoc and¬†we are slowly introduced to Douglas (Chris Cooper), Alexander (Paul Dano), Judith (Catherine O’Hara), Ira (Forest Whitaker), and The Bull (Michael Berry, Jr.), all of whom are obvious manifestations of Max’s conflicting internal emotions and thoughts (with the exception of KW, who represents his mother).

Upon his arrival Max declares himself King of the Wild Things, finally getting the attention he’s been seeking. Instead of helping the Wild Things, however, Max slowly unravels the many layers of his personality and begins to see the flaws in himself. Anger, back-talk, selfishness, and isolation all emerge for the first time to the forefront of Max’s mind and all in one big heaping pile of sleeping Wild Things (there’s that womb again). For a while Max realizes that he has control over these emotions and he wills them to do his work building a huge complex for them all to reside in. Before long, however, the Wild Things begin to rebel and separate to their respective sides and Max realizes that it’s not as easy to control them as he originally thought. Things begin to spiral out of control and he urgently needs to escape.¬†Essentially, he needs his mom. And this is what the movie is all about.

Don’t let the lack of narrative structure or the lackadaisical plot throw you off.¬†Jonze and co-writer David Eggers are not worried about plot. They are¬†concerned with emotions and feelings and reminding us what it was like to be a child slowly beginning the process of self-revelation. I think kids will connect more with this movie than adults will, and I worry that some adults will read reviews and think it’s too heavy or subtle for children. Please, if you are reading this and you have children, take them to see this movie. It doesn’t matter if you don’t “get it.” They will. And plus, the movie is beautiful. The Wild Things are an amazing sight to behold. At one point, I’m fairly certain that I saw Alexander purse his lips. Was that computer generated or just the mastery of the costumes designed for the movie? Jonze undertook an ambitious project that has been in the works for over a decade, and he turned all expectations on their heads and gave us more than we had hoped for.

Max learned from the Wild Things that sometimes people behave badly and sometimes those people are yourself. Sometimes you don’t know how many of you are inside of you pulling you in all sorts of directions (Be mad! Be sad! Go hide under the covers! Don’t take that from her! Lash out!) and it’s all very confusing and you don’t understand and you just want to cry and be held. By the end of the movie, the little girl in the row behind me understood this and she just wanted her mommy to hold her and to let her cry. She was confused and scared, just like Max. But she knew the answer to it all existed inside of her mom’s arms and while she was there nothing could hurt her – not even herself.

Note: I mentioned very little about the performances, but they are rock solid. The voiceover work is well-done, and the performances by the actors in the Wild Thing suits are nothing short of amazing. But the stand-out here is Max Records as young Max. He, like the character he portrays, wears his emotions on his sleeve and you never doubt for an instant that he is Max, King of the Wild Things. And the soundtrack by Karen O is phenomenal. It adds perfectly to every single scene. Seriously, what are you waiting for? Go see this movie!

 

MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 94 minutes

Starring: Max Records (Max); Catherine Keener (Mom); Mark Ruffalo (Boyfriend); James Gandolfini (Carol); Lauren Ambrose (KW); Chris Cooper (Douglas); Paul Dano (Alexander); Catherine O’Hara (Judith); Forest Whitaker (Ira); Michael Berry, Jr. (The Bull)

Directed by: Spike Jonze; written by Jonze and Dave Eggers based on the book “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak; produced by Sendak, John Carls, Tom Hanks, Vincent Landay, and Gary Goetzman. A Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Werewolves and Roger Ebert – Lessons from Second-Grade

•October 18, 2009 • 14 Comments
Drawing by Stefan, age 13. Click the image to see the rest of the gallery.

Drawing by Stefan, age 13. Click the image to see the rest of the gallery.

  

Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Pollack. You have most likely heard of these men and can immediately recall countless images created by each, and chances are you can recall specific feelings you’ve had viewing their creations. Happiness, sadness, contentedness, maybe even anger (“What’s so great about Pollack? My kid could paint that!”). But odds are that you’ve never heard of Chris Burden. Don’t feel too bad. I hadn’t heard of him until a couple of days ago when Roger Ebert wrote a blog entry about him and his little-known work.¬†¬†

If you don’t follow Ebert’s blog you need to do yourself a favor and start. Not only is he a well-spring of information about all things film, he also writes from the heart and often muses about his childhood or God or metaphysics or Darwinism v. Creationism. Or sometimes all of the above. His latest post involves a little bit of God sprinkled with a healthy amount of art and¬†its personal effects on people. Before you read any further here, please go to his blog and read the entry.¬†¬†

It’s obvious that different pieces of art mean different things to different people. That’s the beauty of art. One single piece can create thousands of unique experiences. The really good artists, the Van Goghs and Monets and Picassos and Pollacks, have that rare ability to reach to the heart and soul. But what of the painting that your child or grandchild or even your younger self made? The ones hung¬†carefully¬†by alphabet magnets on countless refrigerators – those made-to-order household museums? Yes, “The Great Ones” have the ability to reach to your heart and soul, but those closest to you have them in their grasp.¬†¬†

An illustration (a comment I made on Ebert’s entry):¬†¬†

“I vividly remember a picture I drew and colored in second grade. It was of a werewolf (remember – second grade). After I had finished I was of the belief that it was a remarkably good and detailed drawing of a werewolf. To me it looked like something that could be hanging in a gallery. Less than 2 years ago I found it in a box in my parents’ house. It was what I would expect a drawing of a werewolf from a second grader would look like. It was nothing like I remembered it or what I thought of it at the time. I was honestly embarrassed by it. How could I have ever thought that looked good? That single piece of terrible artwork has had a lasting impression on me from the moment that I finished it. I have never forgotten it. But it was crap. I’ll leave art to the professionals.”¬†¬†

 

I should have expanded on that last sentence. No, I’m not an artist and I have no talent in the realm of drawing (not even close). But that little piece of crap drawing that I made way back in second grade obviously struck a chord in me. It’s the first drawing that I can recall by memory. I’m sure there were many drawings before then, but why can’t I remember them? Because at the time it was the first drawing I thought was actually good. I mean really good. I cared about it enough to bring it home from school (I can even remember the desk I sat at when I drew it. Crazy how memory works.). And it quickly found its place on the refrigerator and eventually into the box of memories that my parents proudly keep tucked away in my old bedroom. Remember the heart and soul I mentioned above? Apparently that little werewolf struck something in my parents, too. Maybe they saw how proud of it I was. Maybe they kept it because they kept everything my brother and I ever made (Seriously. Countless¬†macaroni Santas sit in that box.). Whatever the reason, the fact that they kept it for all of these years shows just how personal even the smallest, most insignificant piece of art can be.¬†¬†

After posting my comment, Roger Ebert had this to say in response:  

Ebert: It looked good when you finished it. That was its only purpose. If you’d saved your second-grade prose, would you have a blog today? ¬†¬†

Now, damn you, sit down and draw a werewolf and post it on your blog and I’ll link it here. Remember the rules: Finish every drawing you begin, and keep every drawing you finish.¬†¬†

 

Well, I have answered the call and drawn a werewolf. Truth be told, it doesn’t look much different than the little werewolf I drew in second grade. I’ve actually had it done since Friday afternoon, but I am admittedly embarassed to post this. After my soul searching earlier in the week and realizing that even seemingly insignificant pieces of art aren’t so insignificant, I’m still embarassed to post this. But I’m sucking it up and posting it for all to see. So look at it, meditate upon it, and let it speak to you. Even if all it’s saying to you is, “Wow. My kid could draw that.”¬†¬†

matts werewolf 

¬†Update: There appears to be a minor controversy stirring around my recently drawn werewolf (above). When I sat down to draw it, I did a Google image search for a werewolf and came across this image (http://www.narniafans.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/pc_werewolf_9-24-07.jpg). I left it on the screen, freehanded my drawing, and closed the computer screen thinking nothing of it. Now a recent commenter is claiming that I tried to claim this drawing as my own original piece of artwork. That was not my intention. I drew this picture based off of the other artist’s image. The image was used simply as a template for my drawing, or as real artists put it, “inspiration.” The only reason the link was left off is because I didn’t have it, and honestly, I didn’t think it was a big enough deal to go searching for it. I’m not profiting off of this drawing. It’s not for sale (unless you want to make an offer). And I’m certainly not bragging about it. The original image is clearly superior to my drawing and I’m fairly certain it was done using computer generated images. Mine was done with a #2 mechanical Bic pencil on 8×10 white computer paper. I feel ridiculous for even having to clear this up, but I want to do away with any sort of accusations that this has caused. I hope this settles it.¬†

And to clear up any further confusion about which drawing was done when: the drawing above was done in October of 2009. The link below is the drawing I did in 2nd grade. Seriously, I don’t think I should have to clear that up as it seems obvious, but some commenters seem to have trouble reading the full post.¬†

P.S. The second-grade werewolf is being hunted down diligently by my parents. When they find it, they are sending it to me and I will post it. Update: The second-grade werewolf has been discovered. My parents and brother were gracious enough to scan it and send it to me. I present it to you here in its originial, unedited form. Enjoy. 

second-grade werewolf