Sunday, February 26, 2012

Movie Review: My Week with Marilyn

I usually don’t go in for too many of the Academy Award worthy movies, not because I don’t enjoy artsy movies, so much as they often feel forced, like you know they were made solely to win an award, and not really to tell a story.  I realise that there are some really terrible movies that get made that are made solely to make money, but that’s not the case with this movie, or any of the Academy worthy movies, or that’s how I see it.

The story of this movie follows Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl.  I am sure, like many of you, what I know about Ms. Monroe, I know through that Elton John song, Candle in the Wind.  Ms. Monroe was known for her substance abuse and general lack of self-confidence.  What makes the story so compelling and memorable is that during this time, she displays both the truth and the fiction about her true self.  Ms. Monroe comes on set with Sir Laurence Olivier, who is enamoured with her, but quickly discovers she is impossible to direct and comes with a host of issues.  Ms. Monroe can barely arrive on time for filming, let alone knowing her lines or being able to play the part at all.  The story follows Ms. Monroe as she spirals into drug abuse and falls in love, for a moment, with a young production assistant.

The movie is based on a book, or pair of books, I’m not sure, and tells the story from the production assistant’s point of view.  Colin Clark leaves his family’s home to go off and work in movies, and the first break he gets is on the movie The Prince and the Showgirl.  In it, Sir Laurence Olivier casts the American starlet Marilyn Monroe in the lead part.  What follows is an arduous juggling act for the entire cast and crew as they try to get Ms. Monroe to do what they need her to do.

Michelle Williams portrays the fragile and insecure Ms. Monroe perfectly, and holds her own against Great Britain’s best actors, the likes of Kenneth Branagh, Dame Judi Dench and Julia Ormond, all Academy Award winners or nominees.  Eddie Redmayne plays the production assistant who ‘rescues’ Ms. Monroe for one short week, giving her the unbridled support and love she feels she lacks.  Both Emma Watson and Dame Judi Dench steal scenes from the main cast with their quiet portrayals of a costume assistant/love interest to Colin and co-star/Dame Sybil Thorndike.  The latter plays the beautifully envious role of admirer of Ms. Monroe, helping her ease into what ultimately is a fractious cast and movie.

The movie has a quiet sort of brilliance to it, I didn’t realise I was being completely and utterly sucked into its thrall until it was far too late.  The cast was perfect.  I was really surprised by how well Michelle Williams performed.  I know this isn’t her first Academy Award nomination, and won’t be her last.  She was brilliant as Ms. Monroe, and that window into the way Ms. Monroe behaved was just tragic and magical.  While this isn’t a movie I could say I recommend, in the sense that it made me sad, it also gives you that quality that fewer and fewer movies these days: make you believe in the magic around cinema.  After I watched this movie, I felt, better, and also regretful.  I don’t know much about Ms. Monroe, but to see someone who is so electrifying, and see that the cost to her to be that way was so great, it killed her, in the end.  There was no one that was enough for her.  There was a great line from Dougray Scott, who played her then-husband Arthur Miller, ‘she is devouring me.’  To be a star that great and that acclaimed, didn’t come without a price, and this story depicted it in a way that makes it accessible, you see Ms. Monroe in all her glory and all her shame in two short hours.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Tale of Two Coaches

It has been at least a week since my last sports-related blog, so I think I’m allowed a little wallowing in the sports world.  Last night, the Washington Capitals fell to the Carolina Hurricanes 5-0.  On the surface, some might think this is an aberration, but in actuality, this is par for the course for the Capitals.  Since the Capitals sent their coach packing in November, the Capitals have been inconsistent and abysmal.  There is no cohesion and each player is too busy trying to do someone else’s job that he can’t do his.  On the other side of the spectrum you have former Capitals’ coach Bruce Boudreau.  The former coach is doing for his new team what he did for the Capitals when he joined them, just plain winning.

The Washington Capitals, according to the ‘experts’ are a talent laden team.  Two games ago, we had one of our most talented defensive players return to the line-up, with mediocre results.  Dale Hunter, former Capital with his number hanging in the rafters, has had no effect as the new coach.  He has led his junior league team to impressive results, but in the NHL, has nothing to show for his efforts.  Hunter claims that he preaches a solid fore-check and good defence, but neither have made an appearance under his reign as head coach.  To George McPhee, the GM, and Ted Leonsis, the owner, this is a failed experiment.  It was a fun idea while it lasted, but the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes, and in the same time Hunter has had control of this team and they’ve gotten worse; Boudreau has pulled the Anaheim Ducks into the discussion about the playoffs.

I know, as a sports fan, when I hear playoffs I think of Jim Mora and his famous rant about playoffs.  With two months to go, each and every game count, yet if you watch the games, the match-ups always favour the Capitals, but only on paper.  On ice, the team is schizophrenic.  They can’t decide whether they want to play good defence or good offence; whish is leading them to play neither.  In every phase of the game, they are getting beaten, and there is no solace in this.  Not for the fans, and certainly not for the players.  But after each additional devastating loss, there is no call to order, there is no team meeting.  I think we finally have seen the true colours of the Washington Capitals.  The team follows its captain, and the captain is a petulant child, so too is the rest of the team.

On the other side of the country, there is a new world order being put into place in the Anaheim Ducks’ organisation.  Not two days after Boudreau was fired by the Capitals, Anaheim fired the only coach they’d had to bring Boudreau on.  Initially, the team played to mixed reviews, but since the start of the New Year, the Ducks have been winning more games than losing, and have put together very respectable winning streaks.  What Boudreau brought to the Ducks was a winning attitude and positive spin on things.  This is in complete contrast to Dale Hunter of the Capitals, who preaches one thing, but nothing is ever seen of his so-called teachings.  Boudreau has taken the ailing Anaheim Ducks and in two short months turned them into a winning team.

I think McPhee and Leonsis need to take a moment and step back and marvel at their own creation.  They have one of the most talented teams in the NHL, and have nothing to show for it.  Come April, when the playoffs start, the Washington Capitals will, most likely, be watching from home.  McPhee has managed to bring together some very talented players.  Seven years ago, he did the unthinkable, signing Alex Ovechkin to a massive contract, but what has he gotten for his money?  At the end of the year, if the Capitals can’t turn things around, Hunter will be gone, McPhee will be fired and the dreaded word ‘rebuilding’ will be mixed in.  With the trade deadline fast approaching, it would be foolish not to think the Capitals should have a fire-sale, but to what end?  The team is in complete and utter disarray, a tailspin of epic proportions.  In all this confusion, the Capitals will once again squander a perfectly good chance at winning Lord Stanley’s Cup and this may be the last chance the team has before the entire roster will be re-tooled and a new coach brought in.  Good try, McPhee, but I think you and your star-studded roster will be out in the cold come playoff time and Leonsis will be left with nothing to show for it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Supernatural Spotlight: Season Five

As you may be aware, I sometimes accumulate more than I can handle, and of all varieties of items.  The gaming queue is no joke, but my DVD/Blu Ray queue is ten times worse.  When I managed to finish 21 games last year, what I failed to say is that time I used to game, was not used to watch DVD’s, so while I kept buying my favourite shows and games, only one queue was being reduced.  Which comes to the point of this blog, I’ve only just now finished watching Supernatural Season Five, which has been on DVD for over a year, maybe even two.  But what is just as compelling is how amazing the entire season was and how great the show continues to be despite its age.

If you’re unfamiliar with Supernatural, I’ll do my best to give you a crash course in less than five sentences.  The show follows the exploits of two brothers: Sam and Dean.  Sam is estranged from the family, but is brought back into the fold when their father disappears.  Sam and Dean were trained by their father to do what others couldn’t, or wouldn’t, fight monsters and demons.  After their father dies, Dean tries to protect Sam, but both boys die at least once in the course of the five seasons.  Sam eventually succumbs to the darkness that is within him and releases the Devil, which catches up to the fifth season.  A lot of other stuff did happen, but that is the main storyline.

The fifth season begins right where the fourth season left off, with Sam and Dean in a church where Lucifer is about to be set free from his cage.  The two miraculously get out and are placed on a plane, though they have no recollection of how they got there.  The season continues where the other seasons had left off, Dean being funny, but also reserved, knowing that the end is nigh and his brother, whom he can no longer trust, is responsible for it.  Sam continues his troublesome ways, putting the world in peril and being indecisive and self-involved.  I know, you can tell which brother I identify with and admire and which I’d like killed off, but Eric Kripke knows the key to his success is the combination the two brothers have on one another.

The story of Supernatural weaves its way through all kinds of folk lore, bringing things to life that most of us would consider unreal, while also broaching the subjects of responsibility, family and identity.  The crux of the story is the contention between the two brothers, ably described by the conflict in the fifth (and what should have been the final) season of Supernatural.  The show uses mythology about angels and has both angels and demons needing vessels to possess people in order to walk on Earth and be heard by people.  In this season, Sam is to be Lucifer’s vessel and Dean is to be Michael’s.  As the show indicates, Dean, the older brother who follows his father’s orders to a fault, like Michael, will face off against Sam, the younger brother who has made many mistakes, but was really their father’s favourite, like Lucifer.  This is all following the lore of the show, not actual Christian beliefs; though I’m sure they borrowed heavily from the ‘good’ book.

As the season comes to a close, Dean comes to terms with the fact that he can’t be Michael’s vessel and refuses to bring upon the apocalypse.  It is a constant mystery, to me, why this was so difficult.  For dramatic effect, it makes sense that Dean and Sam don’t want to comply, knowing that the angels are doing all of this without God’s consent.  But as the season progresses and the audience learn that God doesn’t feel it is his problem to intervene, it is there that I felt like Dean should have stepped forward.  The trouble with this battle is that no matter what, based on what they know, the apocalypse will cost many, many lives.  But in the end, that wasn’t the case, making the ending somewhat anticlimactic.  Sam’s decision to avoid Lucifer makes more sense, though he is a seriously flawed character and Lucifer promises him the world, Sam is at least smart enough to know that this isn’t a promise he can put much stock in.

What frustrates me most about Sam is best captured in the season five episode Dark Side of theMoon.  In that episode, two hunters find Sam and Dean and kill them, sending both to heaven.  All of Dean’s memories are with his family; either his father, mother or brother.  All of Sam’s memories are about him not being with his family.  I may over-identify too much, but Sam is always whinging about how his father was mean or his life unfair, but Dean spends all his time trying to keep his view of life, which family is an integral part of, intact.  Sam is an ungrateful child, Dean is the responsible adult.  And what are the rewards for the two?  At the end of the season, Sam supposedly dies, while Dean loses his brother and has to live with that forever.  The levels of sadness that Dean exhibits in a few short moments after Sam plummets into the cage are honest and indicative of Dean’s true desire to have a normal, family-oriented life.  The contrast between the two brothers makes for great drama, but also makes for more realistic characters.

The show closes with Sam, who should be dead, looking at Dean as he joins a former lover and takes up life with her.  It is at this ending that I was convinced that there wouldn’t be the same show the following year, but indeed seasons six and seven have basically continued, always another major crisis and one of the two brothers forced to make a major sacrifice.  The most notable, for me, is when Dean is forced to have his girlfriend’s and son’s memories wiped so they never remember him, once again an instance of Dean sacrificing what he wants for his brother Sam.

The show is great for a one-hour horror show, but I wonder if the show didn’t ‘jump the shark’ a long time ago.  There are great one-off episodes that don’t ‘fit’ in with the rest of the seasons, much like this past week’s episode that was as forgettable as ever.  But I wonder if Eric Kripke will let this show have a great ending as it deserves once he’s finally run out of stories.  If you’ve never watched Supernatural, you literally are missing out on a wonderful, thoughtful show that fills the gap left by Buffy, X-files and the like.  The first six seasons are on DVD and I’m debating jumping the DVD queue to bring season six up now that I’ve finished season five, but I might need a break, from Sam.

I’ve only scratched the surface on this show and could go on for pages and pages about this show.  Look for more blogs on this, and other TV shows, as I struggle through the winter months and Mass Effect.

Friday, February 10, 2012

You're So Vain; You Probably Think This Blog Is About You

I’m usually the internalising type.  I don’t like to talk about myself, mostly because I think no one cares.  But that word, ‘cares’ is really ambiguous.  People say they care about one another all the time, but it is just lip service.  You know it, I know it, my stuffed Charmander knows it.  But I have been struggling with those low moments, you know the ones, like that episode of Simpsons where Lisa feels depressed and is sad.  It’s a cute episode where Marge tries to get her to put a fake smile on and realises that it flies in the face of Lisa’s sadness.

I don’t have anything to be sad about.  Not really.  I mean, I could list all the things I have in my life, not least of which are a job, multiple degrees and a home, but I still feel unsatisfied, unappreciated, ignored and dismissed at times.  We all get that way, life gets overwhelming, stress mounts, things around you go in the opposite direction you’d like.

It seems petty, even as I type it, it seems petty, but that doesn’t make those feelings any less real, does it?  No, of course not.  And I want to look around and point fingers at everyone else who’s annoying me, or as I say when I’m driving, getting in my way. 

But it isn’t anyone else’s fault that they make me feel bad.  A great example that we can all latch onto is the general rudeness that pervades our society.  People will say and do things and won’t think about the effect those words have.  In the written form I’m much less careful then when I say things out loud.  I also have the wonderful knack of making everything sound like a joke, so there is a good chance I can side-step a major pitfall just by smiling.

Even on this site I see people being completely thoughtless and utterly self-involved.  And my response to that is a smile and a laugh.  I mean, come on now, this is a video gaming site: contemplate getting over yourself.  Or, try this one on for size, we all have a lot to deal with, so instead of wallowing in your own pity parade, look around you, you may notice something.

Today I had lunch with a friend of mine who was treated unfairly at work.  And when I say unfairly, I mean, she had to take a demotion, pay cut and transfer to keep her job basically because someone didn’t like the way she did things.  Was she violating any rules?  No.  Was she being inappropriate?  No.

She was handling the situation, a rather unfortunate situation, with a great deal of poise.  It is rare to see someone literally be given lemons and make lemonade.  I know, I think that saying is stupid too, because you literally can’t just convert lemons into lemonade, other ingredients are required.  Plus, I’m perpetually on a diet, so how would you make real lemons into a diet version of lemonade. 

I may have lost the point of this blog before it began, but the sad feelings I had dissipated ever so slightly when I saw someone else in greater distress.  This won’t replace how I feel when people are rude, arrogant or controlling, as most people are in my life, but it gives me a way to cope.  And what’s so odd about it is the person who needed the help, to me, wasn’t me at all, but someone else, but by being around someone who was in worse shape, and me being supportive of that person, that person was supportive of me, without realising it.

And isn’t that what being in the world is all about?  We can put blinders on and focus on ourselves, as most of my family seems to do, or you can stop and see everything around you, as it really is, and realise you’re a part of it, but not the central part.  Being self-involved can be easier at times, but I find it costly as well.  Instead of being melodramatic and narcissistic, why don’t we all try, just once, to shut up and help someone else instead of griping and complaining about your life and your psyche.  You may feel bad, but I am sure someone else feels worse.  Be the bigger person and support someone else and you may be rewarded for your efforts.