Sunday, April 25, 2010

Match Point: 4/5


The basic plot of Woody Allen's Match Point can be summarized thusly:

  1. Chris Wilton wants to have it all: a comfortable life and passionate love.
  2. So Chris marries into a super-rich London family and cuckolds his brother-in-law.
  3. But you can't always get what everything you want, and Chris picks the comfortable life.

It's not a particularly original story, but no story really is.  Many critics and viewers love or hate this movie based on the plot and its twists and tricks.  The plot is interesting, and the idea is interesting (even if not original), but the originality, and the quality, of Match Point lies in its execution.

Poetry is more than rhyming words.  Poetry uses the rhythms of speech to express a meaning deeper and more profound than the denotations and connotations of the words themselves.  Similarly, a film is more than moving pictures with a sound track.  A film uses the power of images, the power of sound, and the combined power of both to tell us something more profound than the plotpoints.

Let me give you an example.  For about the first 2/3 of Match Point, Nola wears spikey heels and sexy outfits while Chloe wears ballet flats and "cute" outfits.  The last time we see Nola, however, she is wearing low, almost kitten-style, heels and a knee-length, flared skirt.  The point: Nola has lost the sexual sway she held over Chris.*

*I'm not trying to say that kitten heels and a knee-length skirt can't be sexy (though I despise kitten heels).  I'm just trying to say that they connote much less sexually than do spikey heels and a tight or short skirt.

Similarly, in almost every scene with the whole family, Chris is apart somehow.  In one scene, he literally stands in a different room.  In another, he merely stands a few feet apart from a close quasi-group hug.  And in one of my favorites, he is physically in the group, but, while everybody else is wearing white, he is wearing black.  He is there, but he is not; he is a part of the family, but we know it is only because he makes Chloe happy.

Which may explain one of the most important idea in the movie.  In one scene, Chris is about to tell Chloe about his relationship with Nola.  He gets as far as admitting that he feels guilty, but can't go any further, can't give any details.  She accuses him of infidelity, but he denies it.  He turns the conversation to their travails getting pregnant.  Fast forward to the haunting penultimate scene: Chris tells the ghost of Nola, "I didn't know if I could do it.  It was hard.  But when the moment came, I could pull the trigger."  Put the two scenes together, and you have a striking juxtaposition: We had been led to believe Chris loved Nola more than Chloe, but he could only "pull the trigger" with Nola.  It was easier for him to kill Nola than to break Chloe's heart.

Which makes it a difficult question: Does he love Chloe too much to hurt her feelings, or does he love his comfortable life so much that he would kill to keep it?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Story within a story

Paul Mariani's sentence from The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane does a great job telling the story with its structure:

In the poem -- one he had the good sense finally to abandon -- he pictured himself as a blind moth raised among butterflies, which for a brief moment had found itself rising upward into the empyrean to behold "Great horizons and systems and shores all along," only to find its wings crumpling and itself falling -- like Icarus -- back to earth.

The natural way we read a sentence, our (inner) voice goes up and up all the way to the comma after "along," then our voice starts falling.  Try reading it again but imagining that the comma after "along" is a period.  You will find a very interesting effect.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

It's that time again!  The time for me to wow you with my fantastically accurate sports playoffs picks.*  What playoff picks?  The NBA Playoff Picks!!  Woo!!  We got next!!

*I think I scored a cool 12/64 in March Madness.

How do I make my picks?  I have a very strict process.  First, I look at their overall records.  Then, I go with my gut.

Alright.  Let's get started.

First Round

EC-1 Cleveland Cavaliers v. EC-8 Chicago Bulls

The Cavs are the NBA's winningest team this year, racking up 61 wins.  (That's 5 fewer than last year, but still second-best in team history.)  The Bulls fought tooth and nail to pull 41 wins and make sure everybody still playing is at least .500.*  So the Cavs have got a 20-game advantage.

*For the sake of my own interest, I find it interesting that if the playoff teams were chosen from the whole Association and not just the conferences, Houston would be in and Chicago out.

What does my gut tell me?  The Bulls hang tough, but the Cavs will eliminate them.  I think it might take 6 or 7 games.

WC-1 Los Angeles Clippers v. WC-8 Oklahoma City Thunder

We all know that the Thunder are on a roll* and the Lakers are on a stroll.  Was that just because the Thunder were trying to make the playoffs and the Makers were bored?  I don't know.  I just know the Nakers finished up with a best-in-the-West 57 wins and the Thunder crossed the finish line with a meager 50 wins, good only for 4th in the Northwest.

*C'mon . . . gimme credit gimme credit.  That's a good one.

So I style this series: Kobe v. Kevin.  And I pick Kevin.  Because I hate the Bakers.  I call a sweep.

EC-2 Orlando Magic v. EC-7 Charlotte Bobcats

The Magic only got 59 wins . . . because they lost to Los Spurs.  The Bobcats set a franchise record with 44 wins.  Defense wins championships, so why do we have two of the three best defenses going at it in the first round?  Because life sucks.  And as much as I want the Michaelcats to beat the Magic, I'm eventually going to predict a black-on-black championship, so I have to pick the NBA's 4th best offense over its 24th best.

WC-2 Dallas Mavericks v. WC-7 San Antonio Spurs

I read recently that the Mavericks are one of only two teams to beat the Spurs in the postseason in like 106 years.*  So there's that.  And there's the Mavericks' 55 times being ahead at the buzzer compared to the Spurs' 50 dominating and merciless vanquishings.  More importantly, there's last night.

*The other is the Pittsburgh Condors.

Seriously, objectively.  The Spurs had more Pythagorean wins (55.2 to 48.7) and win the SRS matchup, 5.07 to 2.67.  The Spurs have the NBA's 9th best offense, just ahead of the Mavericks' 10th best offense (110.0 to 109.2, if you're counting).  The Spurs have the 2d-best defense in the West (3/4 of a point behind the Flakers), and the Mavericks are 12th (overall, 5th in the West), nearly two whole points behind (104.5 to 106.3).  But the Mavericks were 4th-best in attendance, compared to the Spurs' 10th (819,770 to 741,676).  So there's that.

Anything can happen in 7 games, but I'm picking Los Spurs because it's my blog.

EC-3 Atlanta Hawks v. EC-6 Milwaukee Bucks

The City of Milwaukee has every reason to hate the City of Atlanta.  So the 53-29 Hawks better keep their eyes peeled* when the 46-36 Bucks gallop into town.  I have a feeling Brandon Jennings is better than whatever the Hawks have got.  Last year, the Hawks were my team in the East, but this year, I'm pulling for the Bucks.

*Pealed?  Pilled?

WC-3 Phoenix Suns v. WC-6 Portland Trail Blazers

So the Suns think they're all that, setting* on a 54-28 season during which the Trail Blazers only found their way to an even steven 50.  Still, the Blazers have got heart, even if the Suns have got sol**, and I hate the Suns almost as much as I hate the Mavericks and the Cakers.  I love watching the Suns lose.

*You know you like that one.

**I am freakin' awesome!!

EC-4 Boston Celtics v. EC-5 Miami Heat

The Celtics have limped into the playoffs.  Dwayne Wade The Heat have limped into the playoffs.  I mean, really, what's the difference between 50-32* and 47-35?  I dislike Vince Carter and Stan Van Gundy, so I'm picking the Heat.

*First, does anybody else remember Rasheed saying they'd win 70 this year?  And second, did anybody else notice that the Celtics had the worst record among division winners?  The Jazz were next, at 53-29.

WC-4 Denver Nuggets v. WC-5 Utah Jazz

I gotta say, I like the Jazz this year.  Continentaling in with 53 wins to slip past the Blazers and tie the Nuggets.  I'm feeling the music this year.  I'm not feeling the rocks.

Conference Semifinals

I hope that wasn't too confusing about who won each round.  Maybe this will help: snapshot predictions for the rest of the playoffs.

EC-1 Cleveland Cavaliers v. EC-5 Miami Heat.  Remember last year, when the Cavs beat the Hawks beat the Heat?  I fear it'll happen again.  Cavs in 5.

WC-8 Oklahoma City Thunder v. WC-5 Utah Jazz.  Tough call.  These teams are both doing really well and really aren't that far apart in the standings.  But I think I like Malone & Stockton more than Kemp & Schrempf.  Jazz in 7.

EC-2 Orlando Magic v. EC-6 Milwaukee Bucks.  Brandon Jennings is good, but he's not that good.  I hate Vince Carter, but he might pull this one off.  Magic in 5.

WC-7 San Antonio Spurs v. WC-6 Portland Trail Blazers.  Do you really have to ask?  Pythagorean wins: Spurs, 55.2 to 50.6.  SRS: Spurs, 5.07 to 3.18.  Offensive rating: Trail Blazers, 110.8 to 110.0.  Defensive rating: Spurs, 104.5 to 107.1.  Season series: Trail Blazers, 3-0.  It looks like matchups might be a problem, but you already know whom I favor.

Conference Finals

EC-1 Cleveland Cavaliers v. EC-2 Orlando Magic.  Ho hum.  Rematch of last year, when the Magic pulled 4 wins out of a 6-game hat.  This year, they split the season series, the Magic have 2.2 more Pythagorean wins, almost a full point higher SRS, and play 0.2 points better on offense and nearly a point better on defense.  It kinda sounds like Dwight will put the hurt on Shaq.  And maybe quicker than last year's 6 games.

WC-5 Utah Jazz v. WC-7 San Antonio Spurs.  Let's be objective.  Pythagorean wins: Jazz by 0.3.  SRS: Jazz by 0.26.  Offense: Jazz by 0.7.  Defense: Spurs by 0.5.  And the Jazz swept the season series.*

*Very interesting thought I just had: the Jazz may be the objectively best team in the West.

But I said a long time ago I wanted a black-on-black finals, and the Jazz's colors are purple and green.

NBA Finals

EC-2 Orlando Magic v. WC-7 San Antonio Spurs.  This will be the defensive matchup David Stern's been dreaming of.  I predict scores like 67-53, 81-80/3OT, and 36-14.  We'll probably forget what championship we're watching.

But this, my friends, is where amazing happens.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Passengers: 2/5

As part of my quest to see all of Anne Hathaway's* movies, I watched Rodrigo Garcia's Passengers last night.  It had a neat---but poorly executed---premise.  Extremely well acted, rather well written, very poorly put together.

*All the most beautiful actresses are brown-eyed brunettes.

Ms. Hathaway plays Claire Summers (the name sounds meaningful but isn't), a therapist (who is either seeking a Ph.D. or already has one) trying to help the survivors of a plane crash deal with their guilt.  There's a twist, but I won't ruin it for you because the movie depends so heavily on it.*  Basically, it's a confusing 92 minutes that are supposed to be cleared up in the last 3.

*I read a great article recently about how it's the How of a story and not the If that keeps us coming back, but I can't seem to find it.  Something to think about when you're writing your next graphic novel.

And that's fine.  It worked for Shyamalan and countless others, so I don't begrudge Garcia going for it.  I do, however, begrudge the poor editing.  It's a bit like a brilliant philosopher who finds the meaning of life but can't put a sentence together in a meaningful way.  No matter how brilliant he or his ideas are, I'll spend so much time figuring out the trees that I'll miss the forest.

I don't want to lambast Thom Noble too much, but he's been doing this since 1966.  He ought to know that when I see two people talking in a car followed by a cut to what looks and sounds like a car driving on a street, I expect it to be the same car.  Or that I need some kind of visual clue about where I'm at (i.e., is this Claire's apartment or Shannon's or Eric's?).  Or that I get really confused when Shot 1---a daylight shot of one character saying to another "Hey, come check this out"---cuts to Shot 2, a nighttime shot of the same two characters getting on a motorcycle.  Is the motorcycle what she was supposed to check out?  Or is the director keeping something hidden from us?

It's not that my expectations ought to rule the movie.  Instead, when little expectations---like a noun coming at the beginning of a sentence---aren't met, I have to stop and think about what's being said.  I have to translate the visual sentence into something meaningful.  I spent so much of this movie translating the trees that I would have missed the forest if Garcia hadn't burned the whole thing down in a Shyamalanian bonfire.

And I felt played at the end.  What began as a mystery thriller turned into a paranormal thriller in the last act before phasing into a family drama for the epilogue.  I'm just saying.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Definitely Penny's Boat

One of the greatest challenges of filmmaking must be casting.  Whoever picked these two deserves an award.
Just look at the way they share a boat seat. 

All I know is that every time those two are together on screen, it reminds me how lucky I am that The Universe didn't conspire to keep me and The Missus apart.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

I have

This is, quite possibly, my favorite commercial ever.

If you can find a better one, drop a comment.

Friday, April 02, 2010

It Was HIs Sled


Jekyll is HydeNorman did itI see dead people.

When I first read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I already knew the twist. Since then, I've re-read it at least twice and watched several film adaptations.

When I first saw Psycho, I already knew the twist.  Since then, I've watched it a few times, and I'm actually watching it right now.  (Dadgummit, Arbogast, don't go up the stairs.)  I asked for (and got) the DVD for my birthday.

When I first saw The Sixth Sense, I already knew the twist.  I watched it to see the little tricks Shyamalan pulled to keep the twist secret.  I haven't sat down and watched it since.

Another weird pattern.  I enjoy each Stevenson book as its own piece of art.  I enjoy each Hitchcock film as its own piece of art.  But I watch each Shyamalan movie hoping to recapture the magic of The Sixth Sense.*

*For my money, The Village came closest.