Yes, that time of year again

Hey blog fans! How’s it hanging?

Rather than a long introduction as to why it’s been an embarrassing amount of time since my last post, let’s all just agree with my good friend Lauren when she so eloquently and correctly said, “You suck at blogging.” Indeed, indeed.

And so, what have I been up to? And why would I come back to this failed experiment, you may ask?

It’s simple – soon, I’ll no longer be employed.

Let me take you back. For some time now, I’ve been working as a transcriber for Hybrid Films, a documentary production company and, incidentally, a five-minute walk from my front door. My job entails watching unedited footage from the show Parking Wars and Dog the Bounty Hunter and transcribing the dialogue. Jealous? I thought so.

Of course, my job was always temporary, but I’m sad that it has to end so soon. Having somewhere to be during weekdays makes me feel almost adult. Not to mention, my coworkers rule. Nothing was more bittersweet than last week’s pumpkin carving contest. This was our team’s entry:

Yeah, I know. Awesome.

But now I have to consider my next step. Unfortunately, it’s full of uncertainty.  Freelancer? Sure. Waitress? I could do that. Bee keeper? Let’s not shoot for the moon my first time out.

So what’s next for me?

Hell if I know. I’m not even sure where I’m going with this blog post. Maybe I just wanted to show off my death star pumpkin. Yeah, that sounds like me.

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#95 – The Last Picture Show…Thank God; Also, #94 – Pulp Fiction

So, you’re back at this, huh Colleen? After your well-deserved vacation from nothing, you’ve come back to the project you claimed excitement about not two weeks ago?

Well, yes.

I took a break from the writing when the family came into town (what a blast), and then, miracle of miracles, I’ve been working! That’s right, working temporarily at home doing testbook editing. The glamor and excitement of doing paid work coupled with an attempt to keep job searching with the same vigor has thrown me off a bit, but don’t you worry, I haven’t forgotten.

To tell you the truth, I watched these movies about a week ago with my good buddies Michele and brother John. We began with The Last Picture Show, a 1971 classic starring Jeff Bridges and Cybill Sheppard in a poignant, bittersweet drama about small town America. It has numerous accolades and overwhelming acclaim from critics. Here are a few things those critics had to say on Rotten Tomatoes where it scored a 100 percent rating:

“A lot of films bill themselves as ‘Classics’, but here’s one that actually deserves the title. As entertaining today as it was in 1971.”

“Moving, understated, beautifully filmed story with memorable acting by all.”

“Bogdanovich’s perfect recreation of the sense of time and place, and his ability to mix wit with poignancy that make this such a charming, timeless film.”

“One of the all-time great coming-of-age movies.”

And here’s a sum-up of the reaction from our three-person audience courtesy of my brother John immediately following the viewing:

“That was the worst goddamn movie I’ve ever seen.”

Where’s the disconnect?

It’s something I feared most about this list – some of the most critically-acclaimed “good” movies can be incredibly painful to sit through. This movie was interesting, reflective of American society in the 50’s, tearing at the fabric of southern culture, and blah blah blah. It’s a two hour (seems like three) movie where three unlikable characters get together and nothing happens (what film-makers/writers call “slice-of-life”).

The movie begins with an unnecessarily extended opening of a bleak, dusty town (shot in black and white just in case the bleakness wasn’t obvious enough). Oil rigs, dusty roads, country music, child labor – we get it already, it’s 1950’s Texas.  The heavy accents take some getting used to, as does watching a young Jeff Bridges (what is “the Dude” doing in a Texas high school?). The main characters include Sonny, his buddy Duane (Bridges) and the rich, pretty girl Jacy (Sheppard). Without much of a story, the movie slowly unveils how the town is dying economically and culturally. The picture show, the last thing to do in town, closes at the end of the film (get it? It’s a metaphor!), and they all go about their lives in uninteresting and unsurprising ways.

I have so many more complaints, but I’ll keep it brief. The main character, Sonny, is a completely bland character who doesn’t seem to care about anything, just passively stands by as things happen (or don’t happen) around him. Cybill Sheppard’s character makes no sense unless the movie was trying to show that all pretty women are callous and manipulative for no reason. There are many explicit sex scenes, but they are all so painfully awkward you could never say they were anything close to pornographic.

In the end, I did think the narrative was interesting. The decade where small town life was supposed to be idyllic was when many small towns, especially in the South, were no longer sustainable. But the movie fails because it seems to bring a novel to life when it should have stayed in print. It probably would be a good book, but in movie form, it’s just painfully, painfully dull.

My recommendation? Just don’t watch it. You have better things to do.

After that snooze-fest, we needed a breather. Thank God for the next movie on the list – every dorm room’s go-to movie poster – Pulp Fiction.

I’m sure most people reading this have seen the movie, or at least know of many of the iconic scenes. Perhaps my favorite line about this movie ever: “I saw it on a plane once, it’s cute. It’s a thirty minute film about a group of friends who like cheeseburgers, dancing and the bible.”

Here’s my quandary – why do I like this film so much? Why is such an inappropriate film so delightful?

Like the above film, it’s not about much at all. Gore and advant-garde film-making aren’t my favorite things in the world. Yet when I watch this movie, I find myself not just liking it, but downright enjoying it.  There are a few things I can pinpoint:

1. Stellar pacing. I like a movie that gets where it’s going and keeps it interesting.

2. The characters. Even though the characters are gangsters/cheats/drug addicts, they are strangely likable.

3. The look. Highly stylized without losing substance.

4. The writing. This is what really brings it all together. Mixing humor and gratuitous violence in a nonlinear story is somehow pulled off with memorable lines that make the film obnoxiously iconic. It makes sense that the film was nominated for seven oscars and only won one – Best Original Screenplay.

Really? This guy?

Anything I didn’t like? Definitely, but it may just come down to personal taste. Like all of Tarantino’s movies, there were moments where it seemed he was just shocking and perverse just to make sure we know it’s edgy. Blowing someone’s brains all over the backseat of the car? Well, maybe it was important to a quirky escapade… but anal rape? Crucial to the movie? Not my cup of tea, but perhaps I’m not the edgiest person.

Although I always enjoy Tarantino’s cameos. It’s funny watching a movie with dialog for gangster’s and drug dealers, riddled with the n-word and the like, and then comes a scene starring the film’s writer. To me, he always looks more like the office IT manager or the dorky dad who thinks he can dance, not the boundary-pushing director/screenwriter who teaches me the importance of not mixing up cocaine and heroine and writes lines like, “Any of you f**king pricks move, and I’ll execute every motherf**king last one of ya!”

My only real confusion about why I like this movie is my basic reaction to it. When the credits roll, I’m not thinking about how clever the writing is or how innovative the director is. I truly think it’s a fun film to watch. It’s funny and engrossing, even cute at times, which is really strange given the subject matter. Does that make it a good movie, or does it make me a strange individual?

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#97 – Blade Runner, #96 – Do the Right Thing

You might ask, why have I lumped a cult classic sci-fi film and an 80’s commentary on racism in America?

Well, there’s a common theme here. I don’t really know how I feel about them or what I should say. This is an odd feeling for me, opinionated as I am. I had a feeling this “open mind” approach would get me into trouble.

First up, Blade Runner. It stars young and hunky Harrison Ford and was originally unsuccessful due in part to its simultaneous release with E.T. and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan in 1982. Gotta hurt. Since then, it has won several accolades and is considered ground-breaking and influential in modern science fiction.

The film takes place in 2019 Los Angeles where these biologically engineered humanoid beings called “replicants” are illegal on earth due to a violent uprising (but totally cool on our off-planet colonies). It’s the job of the Blade Runners to hunt them down. Ford plays Rick Deckard, a retired Blade Runner, who gets recruited for one last job of hunting down four escaped replicants and that gives us the plot.

So why is it any good?

The basics of decent story and good action are definitely there. Beneath that is a layer of interesting philosophical, moral and religious themes that make you think if you feel so inclined.

It also has a pretty good look to it. The set design and special effects that brought a futuristic, dystopian Los Angeles to life have that rare combination of cool without being cheesy, something you don’t see often in 80’s movies (although there was some sweet Kenny G.-like saxophone in the soundtrack).

Sounds okay, so why am I on the fence?

You know when parts of a movie are so over-quoted or parodied that it’s lost its meaning? Like when you watch a Few Good Men and Jack Nicholson says, “You can’t handle the truth!” It was probably powerful and riveting at one point, and now it’s just annoying.

The same is true about a movie so influential that you’ve seen things just like it in other films. It’s almost tiring. That’s no fault of the movie – in fact it’s a credit to it – but I think it lessened my enjoyment.

This is especially true when it came to those interesting themes I mentioned. I mean, come on, how many science fiction shows or movies are about the hubris of science or what humanity really means? Yes, I know that’s been a common theme in this genre long before this movie, but my point stands.

The worst part of the film was definitely Harrison Ford’s narration. It gives unnecessary information and Ford sounds like he’s bored out of his mind. Further research told me that Ford was actually kind of ticked about recording them and thought they ruined the movie. Director Ridley Scott agreed and there is now a Final Cut version that doesn’t have the film noir-wannabe feel.

So here’s my recommendation – if you want to get into science fiction films, this is a good place to start. If you’re a nerd about sci-fi and haven’t seen this, watch the film that heavily influenced later projects like The Fifth Element and Battlestar Galactica. If you’re neither, maybe just skip it.

One more thing before I move on – in all older movies that portray the future, we’re supposed to have flying cars and colonies in outer space, but they didn’t think we’d have color computer monitors? What’s up with that?

Okay, now on to Spike Lee’s 1989 movie Do the Right Thing.

Unlike the above movie, I’m not actually torn as to whether or not it’s a movie to see. It is good, and I highly recommend it. I’m just not really sure what to say about it.

The movie takes place in Brooklyn and explores racial tensions between an owner of an Italian restaurant and the black neighborhood it resides that eventually culminates into violence.What is remarkable about the film is how it explores racism through multiple viewpoints and addresses its complexity. The movie has believable and dynamic characters that move the plot and drive the point home. It’s especially chilling when the dust clears from the violence at the end and Spike Lee puts up two quotes, one from Martin Luther King Jr. about the importance of nonviolence and one from Malcolm X on the necessity of violence to defend yourself. Poignant stuff.

My only difficulty is that I feel horribly inadequate to comment on the realities of racism in America. As anyone will tell you, I’m the whitest human being on the planet and have spent much of my life in the fairly non-diverse Midwest. I did just talk about how well the film mirrored racial tension, but honestly, how the hell would I know? I live in a center of multiculturalism now, but everyone seems to get along just fine so far as I can tell.

To sum up – pretty sure it’s an excellent film, but I’m probably out of my element here.

Although there is one thing I have to say about late 80’s/early 90’s TV and movies. Isn’t it hard to take things seriously when everyone is in neon? Or is it just me?

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#99 – Toy Story, #98 – Yankee Doodle Dandy

My Sunday was filled with laughs, heart and obnoxious patriotism. Good times.

I’m combining these two films into one blog post because, one, sheer volume will probably require this now and again and, two, there’s not much to say about Toy Story. If you haven’t seen it by now, are you really ever going to?

1995’s Toy Story, Tim Allen’s only real movie success and Disney/Pixar’s first venture together definitely deserves its spot on AFI’s list. Not only was it the first full-length movie to be made entirely it CGI, but it’s also just the bees knees.

Now, ordinarily, I tend to pick apart things in movies that don’t make sense. If Buzz thinks he’s a space ranger, why does he follow along when Andy plays with him? Who has decided these arbitrary rules for the toys come to life? Why must they be motionless when risking their lives or the lives of others, but can suddenly throw off all the rules in the name of a dramatic climax? And why does Andy create these worlds of his own and imaginative stories with his toys when I’m sure he has a perfectly good television set?

But the truth is, this movie is so damn delightful that it deserves all the suspension of disbelief you can muster. Seriously, when this film came out it was using state-of-the-art technology and could have made a decent profit just banking on audiences’ love of a visual spectacle rather than actually caring about the movie being very good. Instead, it also has witty dialog, likable characters and a story about the fickle love of a child we all can enjoy (suck it, Avatar). It’s one of those rare film that’s critically acclaimed, technically ground-breaking and still manages to be fun to watch.

But enough gushing. Let’s talk about #98 on AFI’s list, 1942’s Yankee Doodle Dandy.

The movie is supposed to be a musical biography about George M. Cohan who wrote and performed many classic songs like “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Grand Old Flag,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” and the World War I smash hit “Over There.” In the end, it was so far from the actual story that when Cohan himself saw the movie, he asked, “Who was that about?”

The film begins with James Cagney as older Cohan sitting down with the president. Then he tells him about his life (born on July 4th, no joke), which gives us the bulk of the movie. From his politically incorrect childhood days of black face and child-beating to him making it big on Broadway. That’s pretty much it.

My first complaint is that not only is the plot a little thin, there isn’t really one to speak of. No real conflict, just his ease into success with most of the time being filled with flag-waving numbers and Cagney’s fancy footwork. The only real action is probably when World War I starts (saw it coming) or his father’s death, both skated over fairly quickly in time for another show-stopper.

In case you haven’t gotten my subtle hints, the biggest flaw comes down to the in-your-face Americana in the movie that makes you want to throw up stars and stripes forever. Thank God it was in black and white; I might have been overwhelmed by the sparkle and pizzaz of hundreds of American flags on screen.

However, it’s an appropriate tribute since real and movie George Cohan was presented a Congressional Gold Medal for his rousing World War I jingles. Basically, a thanks for the toe-tapping propaganda to get people excited about an unpopular war.

Before I upset loyal fans of the movie or get accused of communist sympathies, I do understand why the film embraces super-duper patriotism. Only a few days into filming, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Afterward, they made many changes to make it as uplifting and patriotic as humanly possible. And of course, when it opened Memorial Day 1942, it was a huge hit and won immense acclaim, probably why it has kept its status as a memorable film all these years.

And not to say this movie didn’t have it’s moments. Cagney really can dance like nobody’s business, some of the numbers weren’t bad and it certainly is delightful through and through. And even though I was shameless in saying this movie had no depth, there were moments that tug at the heart string.

At the very end, older Cohan leaves the White House to see a parade of WWII soldiers singing “Over There.” He marches alongside them as a young soldier says, “Hey old man, don’t you remember this song? Join in!” When he starts singing along, marching alongside our country’s heroes as a tear runs down his cheek, maybe I was touched.

Still, Toy Story was better.

 

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#100 – Ben-Hur or The Fast and the Furious: Chariot Drift

So it’s Friday night, time for excitement. Crack open a beer, sit back and watch 1959’s epic film Ben-Hur. Oh yeah, I know how to live it up right.

Now it’s Saturday night and I’m finally finishing this film up. What can I say, it’s a long, long movie. But overall, not bad.

So the plot, one fairly easy to follow – Anglo-American actor Charlton Heston plays the Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur.  Things are going okay for him, until one day when he’s hanging out with his Roman buddy from days past who says, “Rome is awesome,” and Ben-Hur is all, “Um, maybe not, but let’s wait this out.” His buddy doesn’t like this at all, so he enslaves him and imprisons his mother and sister.

Ben-Hur gets super mad and vows to seek vengeance. Spoiler alert – he gets it in the end but realizes maybe there’s more to life and we all learn a valuable lesson. Jesus is around too to help the story out, but it’s subtle. There’s more to the story than that, but our friends at Wikipedia and IMDB do a much better job than I do.

It’s obvious why this film is on the list with 11 Academy Awards, unmatched until Titanic (#83 on the list, very excited about that one). But more than that, this is a truly epic film. Grandiose, majestic, spectacle – yeah, all of those things.

Honestly, when you think about the day and age this was made, it’s incredible. The chariot race alone – the best part of the movie, hands down – used 15,000 extras on an 18 acre set with 78 trained horses and actors that were actually racing honest-to-god chariots. Impressed? I know I was.

So all in all, simple plot, gorgeous set and truly epic sequences.

What I didn’t like much?

Well, in this endeavor I’m really trying not to be overly critical, which I’m told I can be from time to time. This is especially true of lengthy films. So let me just say that I thought this film was very good, a deserving classic and all that an epic should be.

However, if your patience is like most of my generation, it may be hard to sit through. You can imagine with a simple plot and three and a half hours to fill, there’s going to be some dragging. Pretty and carefully crafted dragging, but dragging nonetheless.

The other thing that took me out of the movie from time to time was the acting. Now, I don’t know much about acting, granted. But when I see Charlton Heston say a line, any line, it seems incredibly hammy. His “Is this the way into town?” has the same melodrama and fervor as “Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!”

At the same time, you can kind of see why Heston is such a legend. Not only did he take it upon himself to learn how to drive a chariot, he wasn’t too hard on the eyes either.

Conclusion – if you like splendid cinematography, a dash of religion and a whole lot of Heston, this is the film for you. If you don’t, see it anyway if you’ve got four hours to kill.

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New Approach

The last time I wrote a blog post, it was just over a week into unemployment. Since then, while I’ve had every intention of keeping to the blog (honestly, it’s been an unchecked item on several to-do lists), my regular updates never came.

Given the amount of spare time I have, you might ask, how did you let this happen?

Pretty simple. I’m still looking for work over a month later, and you know what? It’s pretty dull. Somewhat depressing, but mostly just really, really dull. I send in applications most every day (okay, weekday), and I’ve barely had any feedback. I’m definitely nearing over a hundred applications sent out with just one – count it, one – interview. It’s a proverbial kick to the crotch for my self-esteem.

Now, imagine a blog dedicated to whining about unemployment. You’re bored and uncomfortable just thinking about it, aren’t you? Newsflash to self – it’s a tough economy, I picked a ridiculous profession and many people are much worse off than myself.

So why am I writing now? After talking to many people who are or were in a similar predicament to me, the general consensus is that it’s difficult not tying your self-worth to your ability to find a job. You start out thinking you’re smart enough and have a carefully crafted resume; who won’t be banging down your door? Then, as time passes and that’s not the case, you start to lose it ever so slightly. All this time you should be taking advantage of you somehow end up wasting. Not to mention, you aren’t super pleasant to be around.

My long-winded point is this – I was determined to be better at the beginning of 2011, and this situation threw me a curve ball. One that I really should have seen coming a mile away, granted. So now, I’m going to accept that it may take a long while yet, but be better anyway! The one remaining problem – after a long day of job searching, an unpleasant task to say the least, there is nothing I’d rather do than nothing at all. But, for new and improved Colleen, this is unacceptable.

The obvious thing would be to take up a hobby. But I have no patience to learn a new skill, so what then? Well, I like watching movies and having opinions about things I don’t know much about. Can I write about that?

Indeed I can and will. It’s with this reasoning that I’ve decided to go about the nonsensical task of making my way through the American Film Institute’s Top 100 films (the 10th anniversary edition) and track my journey from #100 to #1.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, the AFI top 100 is a list they make by polling more than 1,500 artists and leaders in the film who chose from a list of 400 nominated    movies (more information on the Wikipedia page). When organizing this list on a handsome Excel spreadsheet, I was astonished that I hadn’t seen 65 of the 100. Some I can’t believe I haven’t seen (Schindler’s List, Rocky) and many I hadn’t even heard of (Swing Time, The Deer Hunter, The Wild Bunch, Yankee Doodle Dandy…should I be embarrassed that I don’t know these films?).

It begs the question, why? Why, Colleen, would you devote so much of your time to such a silly thing? Why aren’t you doing something more productive or interesting? And seriously, why should we care what you think about movies when you’re too much of a snob to like Avatar or Inception?

All good points, hypothetical conversation. The truth is, thanks to Netflix, it’s not an expensive endeavor and my funds are short. I’ll be practicing my writing and it will be fun to do. I will approach each movie, even those I’ve seen before or are not really my taste, with as open a mind as possible. Maybe this whole idea will crash and burn, maybe it will be awful, but hey, you never know until you try!

On that note, any criticism or notes you, my five or so readers, would like to offer is all very welcome. To start, it’s Ben Hur at #100. Only three hours and twenty minutes long…what fun?

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Unemployment – not as fun as it used to be

Last week, my internship officially came to an end. It was bittersweet; the office took me out for drinks and showered me with compliments. They even said I could come back and freelance, which we all know is where the money is. I felt good about this start on my life, ready to take on another resolution!

It’s one week later, and I fear for my sanity.

It’s difficult budgeting your own time, especially when you have only one thing to do and a thousand ways to go about it. I’ve spent much of this week compiling tailored resumes and cover letters, spending hours on documents that will get looked at for ten seconds if I’m lucky. Many of them I am probably not experienced in and about 90 percent of the writing jobs are for journalists with experience in business and technology. Don’t you think if I was versed in business or technology, I’d be smart enough not to be a journalist?

This is a graph of how effective certain job-searching approaches are. A majority of my effort falls into the green piece of the graph. Perhaps I need a new strategy...

It hasn’t been all bad, but I could really use a hobby. I tend to distract myself with totally necessary side projects, like organizing my closet by color, type and assigning the appropriate hanger, as you do. Whenever I feel like I’m going stir crazy by being in the apartment all day, I relax myself with an episode of Hoarders. Terrible guilty pleasure show, but always makes me feel normal. The city isn’t going to condemn my living space, and I don’t have boxes upon boxes of Jesus-related paraphernalia collections. I’m doing just fine.

Even though I’ve whined to anyone who will listen (sorry K-mart cashier), it’s occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I need to get over by dramatic reaction to being bored and restless. I should be grateful for the luxury of time to get a job. Seriously, how lucky am I? I’ll use this disdain for unemployment as the ultimate motivation.

Besides, I have these dreams of me getting punched in the face by an actress turned cater waitress living in a Brooklyn studio apartment with five of her friends. Let’s be honest, I’d have it coming.

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