I've talked in the past about how unconscious bias works—and how it's an aspect of some very healthy parts of our brains and bodies. For very good reasons, we all navigate by intuition, habit, and practiced behaviors every single day. Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer have written about these neurological facts beautifully and well. Every parent knows how time-consuming it is to have to articulate and teach habits we don't even realize we navigate by. Walk on the right and pass on the left. The fork goes here and the knife and spoon go there. It's not polite to say that in public. You can't take that until you pay. Turn your head this way to breathe while you're swimming. That truck means that person delivers the mail.
As some of you know, there is far more to the Tibetan diaspora than the Dalai Lama. More than 200,000 refugees are living, sometimes stateless, in other countries. Tenzin Dorjee, whom I've mentioned here before, is the director of Students for a Free Tibet and one of the next generation of Tibetan leaders in exile. Last week, he wrote at TheHuffington Post about an incredibly moving art project, conceived after activist and artist Tenzing Rigdol's father died in exile longing to see his homeland one more time:
Starting with its generic title, predictably eclectic cast, and cornball opening tune ("Volare," for Pete's sake), To Rome With Love looks like it's going to be another of Woody Allen's paint-by-numbers late-life divertissements. Those picture-postcard settings? In the bag. Not to mention that loose ensemble of coatrack characters—which bauble of your genius will you hang on me, Woody?—among whom he can parcel out his latest idle thoughts on art, love, and fate while indulging his septuagenarian fascination with the mating habits of comely young people.
He that hath children hath given hostages to Disney, as Francis Bacon would no doubt have put it if he'd lived in our time. That's why the latest reason I'm glad little Thomasina Carson doesn't exist—there are many, and Justin Bieber's existence is the least of them—is the woe I'd feel at watching her innocently toddle off to see Brave.
It's not that the movie's bad, understand. After a shaky start and despite some later missteps, it turns into one of Pixar's best, and definitely one of the most surprising. In the wake of, among others, Up and Wall-E—well, the latter's first half, anyway—presumably we can all agree that's no trivial claim.
Premiering tonight on the channel that just got through bringing us Season Two of Game of Thrones—believe me, you'll miss its brute realism—41 couldn't be a tenderer, more wart-free portrait of George H.W. Bush if one of his grandkids had put it together for a private screening on Poppy's 88th birthday. Which was, as it happens, Tuesday, and many happy returns. But that's no excuse for HBO to air nominal documentarian Jeffrey Roth's (who is he, you ask? Beats me.) feature-length Hallmark card.
We've all been hearing that the U.S. future depends on developing more technological talent, so we can keep up with China, et al. And since half the country's potential talent pool is female, that means making sure girls don't end up as innumerate as I am. Both my parents were math majors. My mother took on math with a fury when she was told, in first grade, that girls weren't good at it: She loved it with a passion and was determined to beat every boy at it, which she did, until she met my dad, whom she therefore married. And so she laments the fact that her two daughters absolutely, mulishly refused to study math beyond junior high. God knows they tried to make us, but we balked. We were idiots.
In the last few years, many different kinds of communication technologies have been democratized. For instance, up until not too long ago, making a film that didn't look amateurish was impossible without a whole bunch of equipment whose expense made it out of reach for almost everyone, not to mention the technical expertise required. But today, you can buy a professional-quality HD video camera for a couple thousand dollars and video editing software like Apple's Final Cut Pro for a couple hundred, and presto, you can make what looks to be a "real" movie. That means that a kid with a dream to be the next Steven Spielberg can see that dream realized. It also means that a crazy person with a conspiracy theory can see his dream realized.
Which brings us to two new movie previews for anti-Obama films that, when you look at them, seem remarkably like "real" movies...
When I was a kid, I was plagued by nightmares. One scary TV show, and boom, I'd wake up paralyzed with terror after a night in which animal-headed people tried to kill me all night, or Nazis pursued me through the streets of New York. After awhile, my little brothers knew to protectively chase me away from the television if something even faintly Hitchcockian came on; while they'd watch, I'd hunker down in my bedroom with Anne of Green Gables or, later, Tolstoy. My basic aversion to, or caution about, horror movies and scary books lasted well into my adulthood, until I learned how to tune down the fear and sleep through the night. But horror is a taste that I've never fully developed.
Awhile back, I wasted an evening watching the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre, something that every former lit major should avoid. I loved the novel for its depiction of the vivid, rich inner life of a proud introvert who is passionately engaged in her life despite the fact that she knows it to be outwardly pathetic. The movie, unable to reproduce the character's inner liveliness, reduced the story to a melodramatic and utterly unlikely romance between a poor orphan and an arrogant nobleman. I had wasted marital chits on a movie that I hated as much as my wife knew she would. (Sports movies, here we come. Sigh.)
Is it callous to call the Titanic’s sinking everybody’s favorite disaster? No doubt, but you know what I mean. Considering how oodles of the tragic minutiae no buff can do without bump up against the climax’s unknowns, April 15, 1912, is like an ideal cross between the assassination of JFK and the Alamo.
Since the MegaMillions jackpot is now at a record $540 million, I thought it'd be a good time to link back to an interview interview I did in 2010 with the brilliant filmmaker Jeffrey Blitz, whom you may know from his Oscar-nominated documentary "Spellbound," or his excellent feature film "Rocket Science." I interviewed him about his film "Lucky," which offers portraits of lottery winners to see how their lives changed after coming in to millions of dollars. The film doesn't offer simple answers to the questions it poses, but overall it's not a pretty picture. Here's an excerpt:
You have one subject who had his siblings put a hit out on him (unsuccessful, I should note). Were there any other depths of human depravity this subject exposed that surprised you?
That was a winner named Buddy who, indeed, had his siblings try to kill him. Once was through a hit man. Buddy also told us that the bolts were taken out of his car and that he was given arsenic twice. And while this gives the movie some really wretched moments, I tried hard to not make a film that just fed into an audience's built-in sense of resentment toward people who had won money they didn't deserve...
Thanks to a nasty bug last week, I'm still emptying my South by Southwest notebook.
A documentary about a musician's fall is sure to be particularly powerful stuff at a festival known largely for launching bands to stardom. Perhaps that's part of what made Beware of Mr. Baker such a favorite at South by Southwest, where it won the coveted Grand Jury Award. The documentary, after all, tells the tale of talented, rakish drummer Ginger Baker, who has finally become old, sitting at home in South Africa, low on cash, short on friends, and far removed from his heyday.
Unlike the last young adult sensation, Twilight, The Hunger Games is actually easy to understand for those who missed the initial hype. The novel, by Suzanne Collins, takes place in a future, post-apocalyptic North America, where war and ecological disaster have left the population under the control of a totalitarian government. To maintain order, the leaders of Panem—from the Latin panem et circenses, or bread and circuses—have instituted an annual contest, where 24 young people ("tributes") are chosen from each of the twelve districts, and forced to fight to the death in a contest that is some combination of Lord of the Flies,The Most Dangerous Game, and the cult Japanese film Battle Royale.