[1983] The Big Chill

The true horror of the sprint towards my own death has not yet set in. I still feel I am jogging through the spring of my own life and refer to those older than me as that – older. Maybe wiser and certainly more cynical (cynicism for cynicism’s sake, it seems), but older. Perhaps I live an insulated life, balancing school with my desire to do nothing. It creeps along.

But I do have friends and even when I don’t see my friends for long periods of time, when we do meet, it’s as though nothing has changed. We’re older, collectively, and we no longer complain about the same things, but we have each other and we have our stories to find comfort in them. Since we’ve left each other’s daily company, we’ve had time to breathe, and while we don’t share the same experiences, we experience together. The dynamic seems to be cyclical in that we continue to learn from one another’s separate experiences. Though separated by 200 miles, we have phones, email, social media and any other way to replicate the experience of being together. It doesn’t take an event to get us together. The Big Chill replicates 70% of my experience. Continue reading

[1988] The Accidental Tourist


This post will be in two parts within this block of text. I’ve decided to undergo a thought exercise: what can I parse about this movie based on the title? How right/wrong will I be after I watch it? What does it mean if I can or cannot guess at certain plot points before the fact? Does predictability mean anything?

The Accidental Tourist will play as a deterministic expose on what it means for a man to portend a comfortable existence in a stable environment. He will be a man of some importance, either to his place or to his cast of characters and an event – something – will call to attention what it means to stand for something of importance, taking into account the particular nature of this man’s relationship to his place, as I assume “tourist” means someone who is unfamiliar with a particular physical location. He will be “accidental” because this movie will demonstrate, through somewhat obvious technique, that our main character, the Tourist, will in fact be quite familiar with his place or places. The title will become more meaningful as a metaphor and the inexact science of balancing relationships with people and place will help shape the outcome of a man’s fate as he grows emotionally. The unfamiliar situation that constitutes “accidental” will, further, in his life become a representation of wantonness and loose-living that helps him form even stronger bonds.

I assume a love interest will play a huge role. Continue reading

[1974] Chinatown

I broke my own rule on this one because I’d seen this film a few times before. But they’re my “rules” and, truthfully, it doesn’t matter, because I was interested in taking this film on as a corollary to my education as an urban planner. A professor of mine had mentioned in passing that Chinatown was the best “planning” movie ever made. If I can extrapolate a little further, what Professor Landis meant was more along the lines of “Chinatown is the best movie ever made in an urban setting whose main plot piece revolves around zoning and water/land use,” two issues dear to every urbanist’s heart. To the passing urbanist – an effete young worker in a sea of tall buildings and traffic congestion – issues of environmental justice and invisible infrastructure mean very little, yet are continuously essential to the maintenance of a thriving city. Most movies assume the standardization of the proxy: by translating the image of what the reader knows to frame the story onto the screen, there exists no need to redefine the space. This is the very fact upon which “dystopian” story exploits. Chinatown is not set in a dystopia – in fact the very opposite.

What makes Chinatown so lauded and versatile is its complete indulgence in verisimilitude. Truthiness and embedded authenticity therein is often understandably relaxed (by both the film maker and by the reader of a work of art) to serve the higher purpose to entertain; and that’s fine. But Chinatown is doggedly determined to exploit truth in the face of the story to give it the semblance of real life, working in tandem with the urban(e) truths of city building benefiting the few at the expense of so many. The “justice” in environmental justice provides the motivation for several of the characters to act as they do. Planners are intimately (or should be) entwined in creating a space for the benefit of every aspect of city life and even informally trained planners (read: humans) understand this concept, whatever they may exude in conversation or in ideology. This movie displays in perfect cacophony the levels to which people will elevate to indulge delusion of this concept. That’s what makes the famous quote “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown” so anti-dramatic.  Continue reading

[1955] Picnic

Raise your hand if you’ve heard or seen the following framework before, then after you’re done put your hand down if you’re under the age of eighty:

The plot behind 1955’s Picnic, directed by Joshua Logan (of Sayonara fame, for one) seems innocuous enough. A rough-and-tough outsider blows through town with nothin’ but ambition and a loose connection (the “why here?” question, answered). This man spreads goodwill through a simple reading of people and immediate need; one can assume that the man’s whirlwind entrance was not his first, perhaps iterated many times while looking to pass the time before society deems him old and/or crusty enough for pity. It’s a surface plot with some predictable landmarks to hit to keep interest alive. There’s always a pretty girl bursting to get out of this small-town livin’, said girl’s parents draw their morals from the lore of generations’ ghosts.

Then there’s an event that’s the centerpiece for plot drive. The drifter inevitably gets into a situation out of which he cannot easily slither – and on to the next town – and either everyone’s lives change for the better, or they’re ruined. Somehow this story introduces enough of an environment for there to be a resolution, for what in the non-film world, would most likely be at least days of confusion and anger, or a period of calm and organization.

I use this seemingly arbitrary age marker for a reason. In 1955, the year of Picnic‘s theatrical release, an eighty year old would be right around seventeen, which is old enough to presumably understand complex human emotion, but not too old to not understand how to get online. Give or take a few years. Continue reading

[2014] Boyhood

Hey loyal reader(s)! Back after a long hiatus – school beckons. I’ve got some free time now and I’ll try to post 2-3 a week. Let’s start with 2014’s Boyhood, a movie some consider “runner-up” to 2014’s eventual winner Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). I’ve had a fair few conversations where the main point of contention was anything less than a win for Boyhood would be (before the Awards)  or was (after) a direct insult to the novelty of longitudinal film making. That said, it is a good exercise to begin to understand the cagey genius of Boyhood. Although an entertaining film to say the least, levels of inauthenticity continue to plague how I remember the film.

The gist of the film is that the events play out in a splice version of real-time. Director Richard Linklater managed to keep a cast and production team together over the course of over a decade to semi-script evolving relationships as the characters and the world grows up and shifts semi-expectedly. Young Ellan Coltrane plays a boy on-screen, but he’s also just a boy off-screen. His acting is himself playing a version of himself. There’s something exploitative but heartwarming about a boy transitioning to manhood on-screen. The fact that the character develops self-awareness as fast as the actor does cures what could be thought of as a diorama rather than drama. The young boy is as authentic as he is allowed to be, two steps from real life, and three from the generation about whom he is supposedly documenting. But it doesn’t change the fact that the rest of the world plays house while the director tinkers over missed connections and predictable abusiveness.

The story, while heartwarming on the surface, feels like an amalgam of expected human vices sewn together for clarity’s sake – in realty, no life is a neat set of explanatory variables converging along a path. There is no line of best fit and statistics be damned at the expense of waking up on every other morning and breathing in the fresh air for just five minutes. Where are these moments in Boyhood? Are we just expected to believe that the only important or life-changing parts of the boy’s life are those of drama or coincidence? The dilemma of documenting life in so many layers is the nuance takes a backseat for storytelling clarity. For a movie that pitter-patters discussing a life “worth living” from “moment to moment” feels much like the embodiment of a home-schooled child tattooing “Carpe Diem” on the inside of her arm as she watches Boyhood from the couch in her basement. Boyhood, for what it’s worth, lets this girl know that it’s okay to just be. But Boyhood also attempts to capitalize on the serial failure of the human spirit. It’s all a little too real –  and that’s what makes Boyhood triumph beyond the long shadow of exploitation and questionable humanistic storytelling. Continue reading