Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Scenes from winter.


The four of us entered the warm cafe last Saturday morning; our cheeks red with cold. We were all smiling and exclaiming in greeting despite the frigid air we just escaped. Our eyes focused on the birthday girl woman and slid down to her growing belly, trying to tell the difference from when the each of us saw her last (me, one week). She's the first of us, and we are learning. We noticed new, flattering glasses on one of us and discussed the raw wound of a new heartbreak and there were heated (but loving) disagreements on a novel we'd read. The birthday woman described some information about pregnancy none of us understand yet; she knows to disseminate the knowledge as we are all eagerly listening for that maybe, someday.

And I write like this now because we are 'we.' We are sisters, and we are all different, but most of the time, like that Saturday morning, we all move in unison and speak in that language that only we understand. We laugh at the jokes that are impossible to understand if overheard. We know to rely on each other when we need to, and we know happiness isn't a status but each other.

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"Your skin isn't dry?"

I wasn't sure what the manicurist was so confused about, which is why she probably continued: "For months, every single girl has dry skin because of winter. Why are your hands so soft?"

Apparently my new winter routine, which I enacted after noticing my scaly skin in Panama, has been somewhat successful. The Beauty Department posted a Dry Brushing 101 tutorial, and I was intrigued by the dry brushing concept and benefits, and the whole moisturizing with body oil before a shower (and after). So, to Amazon I went - buying a body brush and body oil. Surprisingly, body brushing doesn't hurt, but rather feels invigorating, especially in the morning. And the oil feels great, something I wasn't sure my texturally-hyper-aware and non-sticky sensibilities would like. My skin feels wonderful and I'll be sticking to this routine through to warmer weather.

That's the one winter beauty tip that I can pass along.

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Jesse arrived in Minneapolis last week on a day in which the high was 0 degrees. New York's had a few 'feels like 0' days, though. We've been sharing a lot of chapped kisses these days, but it's been nice to have him close on the cold nights. We don't usually watch a lot of television together, but we've snuggled close for True Detective and the BRILLIANT Broad City and now we're amidst The Returned (which is a French show that is not associated with that new U.S. show Resurrection, lest you heard wrong). I hope we'll be able to venture out more often (not that we've been exactly hibernating - can you truly hibernate in New York and stay sane?), but at least in a couple of weeks we'll be sunning ourselves at a wedding in warmer climates. I can't wait.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thinking about Panama.


I've been remiss, yet again. I flew south and forgot my routine when back in the cold. I spent nine glorious days nearer to the equator, nearer to my far-flung family, nearer to a sun that could scorch your core if you weren't careful.

That's one thing Panamanians understand: the strength of that blinding yellow sphere. There's nobody lounging uncovered on a towel on the beach; the sand is empty and the people are either in the water with t-shirts or in the cabanas under the shade of trees. Nobody wins a fight against the sun in that belly of the world, even if you're wielding SPF 90. The sun's much too uncomfortable down there, too. I wanted to sit in a chair, feel the heat on my legs as I drifted into Didion's Salvador--I like to match my vacation reading to the locale--but two minutes, maybe less, and I was moving that chair under a tree again. The sun in Panama burns in the way a stove might sear your dinner or those first few layers of skin; it's the devilish half to its northern personality.


My grandfather (Abuelo) turned 86 while we were there in January. He christened me Popsicle when I was younger, because I always wanted a cool, sugary treat from the corner store when visiting in the summers. He'd escort me and my brother (Abuelo nicknamed him Peluso for his untamable hair), and buy us 'boli' ice pops for five cents each. Popsicle is one of the few English words he knows, and he still holds my cheeks and says it in greeting.

Abuelo's wrinkles were always part of his face in my memory, and his eyes squint out from them when he's smiling, just as mine already do (minus the wrinkles -- but I'm sure I'll get there one day). Last year his health ebbed at times, in a borderline scary fashion, and I worried about him so far away, but my mother at least flew in to help. He's better now and in January he still called me Popsicle and I sat with him on the couch, holding his hand and remaining silent for the most part but still smiling. He's never been a man of many words.


My mother and father were there too in January and we spent a few days on a beach that not many souls know about and I read many books and played cards with cousins and helped gather firewood for the evening bonfires. It's desolate in grand fashion; it's expansive and gorgeous and we're the only people taking up a small bit of it's seemingly infinite space. On the first night there my father told me to come see the stars away from the cabana lights and Jesse and I walked out towards the tide line, which had pulled back into the ocean and we walked where earlier that day we had struggled to stay afloat. We looked up and the entire universe was overhead. The milky way, a cool blue star, something red, all breathtaking. We are but specks and it's always there on that beach that I feel it most, gazing into other worlds.

One day we drove into the mountain area named Volcan for the dormant volcano nearby, and the breeze took the bite out of that sun and we were surrounded by lush greenery and Panama's agricultural center of farms and silos and greenhouses and animals. Everything seems much more vivid in that country of my birth. When we flew between cities the coastline's blues and greens were bordered by jungle and not even near Panama City did I witness too many of the resorts that pepper every beach in the United States like the ones last year we saw descending into Tampa or even San Francisco. Panama's beauty is still vast and there are those who don't venture past its capital -- for now. I visit every other year and there's a fear I'll come back to a ruined nature of things as I knew them. I held my breath this time as we rounded corners--for just a second, though, because everything is still lovely and some things even improved.


Time with my family is always full of laughter, jokes, easy camaraderie, and love. My godmother and mother's twin, Tia Lita, always putting others before herself and making sure Jesse had air conditioning in the room that's usually hers. Always practicing her English with us and making sure we know how happy she is that we are there. My Tia Belly, the young rascal who used to model and wants everyone to think that she's my sister, not twenty years older. My Tio Neco, serious and efficient sometimes, but just the opposite when he decides to let loose. He brought over his two new kittens to the house because he knew how much I wanted to meet them. My Abuelo and Abuela, together forever in that same house since I was a babe. There are many, many others. I think of them and I feel warm again.

On our last night in Panama City, all my cousins took us out for an evening on the town, finding a craft beer bar that Jesse would appreciate. They spoke in English and I practiced my Spanish--we all seemed to speak with more ease once we started imbibing. My cousins are all of my generation and we are most curious about each other's lives in different countries and we talk about pop culture and politics and our family and our differences but our surprising similarities. At the end of the night, it was hard to say goodbye to my Panamanian counterparts, as a few hours seemed too few for all we wanted to say to each other. 


My mother is in Panama for another month; it was her birthday yesterday and we're able to text, but I really can't wait to see her again. For now I can only imagine myself next to her and my family out there on that abandoned beach; I've transported there several times in my mind, especially today as I battled the snow into work and on my way home.










Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More cinematic thoughts.


Of course, there are movies I haven't seen yet from 2013 that had to be omitted from my list. The biggest miss I think has been Nebraska, but I hope to fix that tonight. There's also The Spectacular Now (when I finally finished the somewhat terrible book it was already out of theaters - but bad books tend to make good movies? At least I know this one will), Stories We Tell, The Act of Killing (my documentary game was way off this year - docs are more TV-watchers for me than paying a movie ticket for...), Dallas Buyers Club (too much info floating around about the 'true story' really about a self-interested homophobic arse, so...), Captain Phillips (meh), Saving Mr. Banks (Walt Disney played by Tom Hanks? Meryl lays it out...), The Butler (Lee Daniels doing something straight-laced? And also Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan? Hm.), You're Next (how do I see this movie?), Kings of Summer, Philomena, In a World, etc.

I'm a bit wary of feature films "based on true stories" given the liberties taken by movies like The Hurricane and also because perhaps it would've been more compelling as a documentary than a dramatization and also I don't have a need for films to be 'realistic.' But sometimes it works out as in two of my Top 10s - 12 Years a Slave is just an out and out masterpiece with a story little have heard or been exposed to in such a way and Fruitvale Station begins with the actual video, and takes artistic license in the day in the life Oscar Grant. The point being that it was a relatively normal day. I wish that more movies started out like American Hustle, warning, "Some of this actually happened." At least The Wolf of Wall Street didn't campaign or tout much of it's true story, because that man is a terrible person and gee gosh darn makes a cameo in the film because I guess his life is still pretty awesome now that he's buddies with DiCaprio and Scorcese. He's a bad person (swindler, wife-beater, rapist), but life turned out great for him anyway -- and that's probably the most succinct way of telling you why I didn't like that movie or its message.

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Tomorrow are the Oscar nominations, and though I'm always disappointed, every year at least there are some surprises! Here are some of my far-fetched hopes for tomorrow:

Her and Before Midnight are nominated for Best Film. I think Her has a better chance, but you never know. All the indie lovers may gear their votes towards Nebraska instead. Here's my best guesses for at least five of the Best Film nominees: 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, Gravity, Captain Phillips, and Nebraska.

Spike Jonze (Her) is nominated for Best Director. This may be hard given that I think think the locks are Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave), David O. Russell (American Hustle), Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips). That leaves one iffy spot and Martin Scorcese (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Alexander Payne (Nebraska). Scorcese is Scorcese so I'm thinking he'll get the last spot, but maybe Greengrass will be left off? At this point I think Russell should be shunned for making those comments about Jennifer Lawrence's Hunger Games schedule being like 12 Years of slavery. Oh really? No wonder George Clooney vowed never to work with him again after making Three Kings...

Brie Larson and Julie Delpy are nominated for Best Actress. This is going to be especially hard because the Academy loves Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett (and obviously Meryl Streep, but she's not much of a lock from what I can tell). I think Amy Adams is pretty deserving for American Hustle, and Sandra Bullock and Emma Thompson probably as well as far as the other locks go. But could they drop off Dench possibly for Larson or Delpy?? Maybe?? Pretty sure that won't happen. (Also, Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Enough Said! And Greta Gerwig for Frances Ha!)

Michael B. Jordan nominated for Best Actor. Definitely not going to happen. This one belongs to Chiwitel Ejiofor (who I hope WINS), Bruce Dern, Tom Hanks (always there), Robert Redford, and Matthew McConaughey. I'd place a vote for Joaquin Phoenix on my personal ballot too, because that dude is a straight chameleon.

Scarlett Johansson nominated for Best Supporting Actress. Because, as Jesse said the other day, she somehow holds together the movie Her with just her voice. But I'd actually nominate her for Don Jon -- she gets the role perfectly. I think JA says it best. However, I'm hoping Lupita Nyong'o takes the statuette home, because she definitely nailed the best supporting role this year. Jennifer Lawrence, she's a great actress, but I was not overly impressed by her in American Hustle; Adams stole the show for me.

James Gandolfini nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Posthumous, but worthy. He most likely won't be nominated, given that he passed away, but Heath Ledger recieved one a few years ago... That said, I think the locks are Barkhad Abdi, Jared Leto, Bradley Cooper (meh), and hopefully Michael Fassbender. Another worthy longshot is Keith Stanfield who played Marcus in Short Term 12.

We shall see tomorrow! Like most years, the films I tend to like most don't get nominated or are solely nominated in screenplay categories. It's the way of the industry -- money talks.

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Okay, time to meet Jesse for Nebraska!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

My Top Films of 2013.

As you know, I'm quite an avid movie watcher. Movie-goer. Film fanatic. If you meet me in the street, start talking about a movie and we'll be there a while. I'll invite you to the nearest coffee spot. Maybe we'll have a piece of pie. I could talk about movies for a bit. The below was a hard list to curate and rate. There were a lot of movies I liked in 2013, and some days I like one movie more than another. However, I'm pretty solid in this list - especially after watching my #1 film the other night again, for the third time (first time on DVD), this time with Jesse who hadn't seen it yet. I exclaimed at the end, "This is it! This is definitely the best movie I saw in 2013!"



01 BEFORE MIDNIGHT

I've long loved the previous two films in this series -- I made Jesse go with me on a walking tour of Before Sunset when we went to Paris last year. I plotted it out myself. I saw Before Midnight twice in theaters; one time by myself in which I cried a whole lot, and the second time with two girlfriends in which I laughed a lot. Last week Jesse and I watched the DVD together, when I was wondering which movie I loved the most this year. We watched the movie about Jesse and Celine, and we paused at times because we felt we had the need to say something right at that moment. Whether it was about the relationship we were seeing displayed or about a certain line they said or just an idea mentioned, Jesse and I stopped and talked about it. There's power in a script that can do that. It was the best script of 2013. Which isn't to say that that was the only superb thing about it -- the directing, cinematography, setting, and the actor/screenwriters themselves are all perfection. Watch Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and then this - perhaps the best trilogy ever made.



02 12 YEARS A SLAVE

I've long heralded the amazing work of director Steve McQueen - from first witnessing his debut film Hunger and being completely awestruck, and then once again marveling at his perspective and hauntingly visceral work in Shame. From that first movie he was already a GREAT director. Here is an important story; I went into the movie telling myself that at least the main character depicted was able to escape long enough to write down his story for publication. The film is unflinching and needn't be, because there's no reason to make a story like this easy for people to watch. This is a tale that people actually had to live. I've never seen a movie like this; it's a story of slavery from the point of a view of a slave (played by the best actor of the year, hands down, Chiwetel Ejiofor - nobody comes close), a rare story because slaves were not allowed to read and write. The narrative is ghastly, haunting, and superb. The acting across the board (including newcomer Lupita Nyong'o) are all at the same level of perfect. And of course, McQueen's visuals astound.



03 HER

I am so happy for filmmakers like Spike Jonze, who, like Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman, and to an extent P.T. Anderson, is able to create a film that is unlike anything else out there. I mean, it's essentially a sci-fi movie, but nobody would really categorize it so. He made a concept and plot that seems so weird on paper relatable. It starts with a future that's different, but doesn't seem so far off. We're all currently in relationships with our technology (just look around a restaurant these days - more than half of us are on our phones at any given moment), and this just takes it a bit further. The film is truly beautiful in how it looks, and what it says about love and intimacy and relationships.



04 FRANCES HA

This one took me a bit my surprise. I started watching it and I didn't even know if I liked it. But something happened a little ways in; I realized I was watching a movie that was not about the normal tropes evident in most movies about a young woman -- this wasn't a movie about said woman finding a guy. It was about herself, but also about her closest friendship. As someone with close girlfriends, all of whom I could not live without, Frances resonated with me. And that Greta Gerwig! I never got Greta Gerwig before this; I even went back and tried to watch her last collaboration with director Noah Baumbach, Greenberg, and that was terrible. But she co-wrote Frances Ha with him, and I can't wait for her next writing effort based on this. I loved the black-and-white filming, the harkening to French New Wave styles and Woody Allen, and I especially loved the script. It's a movie where you journey with this woman through her embarrassing, trying, and eye-rolling moments, and yet I loved her. Because maybe we haven't all been there, but, I get it. And you have to pay attention to that well-written script, because it all comes together in the end and I laughed giddily to myself as the credits rolled.



05 SHORT TERM 12

Just looking through stills of this movie to use with this post nearly made me weep as I recalled the film. The movie takes place at a foster care center for at-risk teens, and despite that setting, it never veers into that dreaded sentimentality. At its center, and its heart, is twenty-something supervisor Grace, played by Brie Larson (in an award-worthy performance - I'm hoping to see her name nominated on Thursday!). She takes care of the kids that come in more than she takes care of herself, and those teens have some gut-wrenching scenes of their own. The pacing is wonderful and I love the way it's shot; I'm looking forward to more from young writer/director Destin Cretton. If you haven't seen this, do yourself a favor.



06 GRAVITY

I'm not sure what much else I could say that everyone hasn't said already. Though the film was hyped - nobody lied. I rarely watch movies in 3D, but it was my only option at the time, and Alfonso Cuaron (like Ang Lee last year) was able to use the dated technology in an interesting, innovative way. Sandra Bullock once again proves her abilities as an exceptional actress - the woman can do drama and comedy effortlessly! At least it looks effortless. A film that felt like a true cinematic experience of sight and sound. The minimalism of the script was more intriguing than lacking to me, and I'm obviously someone that places a lot of esteem in a screenplay.



07 FRUITVALE STATION

Michael B. Jordan has had a great career so far in television - from The Wire to Friday Night Lights and with a memorable guest stint on Parenthood. His turn as Oscar Grant, a man shot and killed by the Oakland police a few years ago (no spoilers: the actual video footage of his accosting opens the film), marks the start of what I'm sure will be an illustrious career in film; he's brilliant. Octavia Spencer and Melonie Diaz are also great here. I remember the sounds in the theater as this movie ended: nobody was speaking, and there were only stifled sniffing of noses, and wet faces around me. My own face was shiny and tear-streaked. It's one of the most powerful films of the year.



08 SPRING BREAKERS

Yes, I loved this movie. I went into the film thinking, oh I am going to hate this. When the film began I thought, yes this is everything that I hate. And then I was laughing. I was enjoying myself. And then it gets darker without losing it's panache. It's about crime and women and youth culture but mostly it's about The American Dream. Hey, there's those antiheroes people love like Tony Soprano and Walter White, I'd say maybe Brit, Cotty, and Candy should be grouped alike. They get mixed up, they do what they want anyway, and it's all filmed in dazzling neon bursts. I didn't know Harmony Korine could make a good movie.



09 DON JON

This film had a small budget, but debut writer/director Joseph Gordon-Levitt packs a wallop of human behavior observation. I've always liked Gordon-Levitt as an actor, but I didn't know he had this in him. It's a great film that surprises continually; I enjoyed Scarlett Johansson and Julianne Moore in their roles immensely. My girlfriend and I walked home together after watching the movie talking about men and women these days, sex films and romantic comedies, and the role of the internet amongst it all - maybe a little similar to Her in that last respect regarding technology these days. But the best part of the movie? Where it ends up -- completely unexpected.



10 SIDE EFFECTS

Damn! Steven Soderbergh's last feature film?! I hope it ain't so, because I love that man's work. I love this film for what everybody thought it was going to be and what it ended up truly being. You think it's going to make this big serious condemnation and it's just so much more glossy and gleeful than that. Soderbergh was asking "Why so serious?" and I was enjoying his work. Here's an adult drama that keeps you guessing, and looks great to boot. The cast is wonderful as well, and I've never seen Jude Law act so well. I think Rooney Mara is still killing it with each role she gets, and I keep hoping that her and David Fincher will re-team for a sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

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Honorable Mentions: these are the movies I kept on putting in and taking out of my Top 10 and then were left off as I wrote this post (but could very well be considered in my Top 10 of 2013 at some other moment of reflection) --

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
ENOUGH SAID
THE HEAT
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING


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Good stuff:

BLACKFISH
HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE
STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS
PRISONERS

UPSTREAM COLOR
THE CONJURING
ABOUT TIME
THOR: THE DARK WORLD
AMERICAN HUSTLE
IRON MAN 3
WORLD WAR Z
THIS IS THE END
PACIFIC RIM
WARM BODIES


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Just okay:

THE BLING RING
ROOM 237
ELYSIUM
ENDER'S GAME
THE EAST
NOW YOU SEE ME
47 RONIN
THE WORLD'S END
JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
WE STEAL SECRETS
MAMA

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Disappointments: films I held to a higher standard because of their directing or writing or acting pedigree and I failed to like --

BLUE JASMINE
STOKER
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
THE GREAT GATSBY

Sorry, Leo.

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The Worst.

MAN OF STEEL
CARRIE
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES

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The absolute worst movie of the entire year: ONLY GOD FORGIVES

I love debating with people who have differing film opinions than me. What a bleak world it would be if we all had the same opinions. I love conversations about Spring Breakers. But I seriously question anybody who defends Only God Forgives. I respect everyone's opinion, but this film barely respects human beings, acting, or narrative.

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What were some of your favorites of 2013?



Some of my past top film posts: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012

Monday, January 13, 2014

1243

Sometimes I write things and then the next day it changes. So I don't have my Top Films of 2013 ready yet, because last night I was paying most of my attention to the Golden Globes and Twitter. Alas, I've made some time tonight to work on that long (and fun!) post.

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Speaking of, though, Best Dressed last night was definitely Lupita Nyong'o in Ralph Lauren Collection. In the "My Fantasy Life" pin board I manage I had pinned the very dress from the runway show 17 weeks ago with the caption that I'd "wear to the Oscars when I feel like getting a rise out of Gwyneth." Lupita showed up in my dream dress, and I applaud her. She looked radiant from head to toe. If this is what Lupita wore to the Golden Globes, I'm excited to see what she's planned for the Oscars.


Can I also say that she was far better in 12 Years a Slave than Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle? I hope the Academy Awards give Ms. Nyong'o the statuette she deserves.

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Another thing that has changed? I finished Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch a month ago and I'm still thinking about it a lot. Like, a lot. If that's not a mark of a good book, then what is? I initially gave the book four stars, but now it's five stars. And I think it may be one of my favorite books ever? I just can't seem to let it go yet, and I still look at all the quotes I saved from it a couple of times a week.

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Okay, I better go work on that best films list!