I love football movies of all kinds (though I strongly dislike watching actual football games) -- The Blind Side, Little Giants, Remember The Titans, Jerry McGuire, Forest Gump. Bring on the sentimentality and the cliches because I love them all! But Rudy (1993) based on a true story starring Goonies alum Sean Astin, which I watched for the first time last night, is the current contender for #1.
10 minutes into this movie and I'm already crying. It has all the right ingredients for an American football film icon: an unlikely hero from a working class town with a heart of gold, a big seemingly unachievable goal for higher education, a constant chorus of you-can't-do-its, college branding, fall colors, and wide-angle shots of quiet misty mornings. It's got it all. Needless to say that I was an emotional mess by the end of it. Sean Astin was absolute perfection in his acting, along with Jon Favreau as the sidekick who never gives up and a young Vince Vaughn as an arrogant jock who Rudy ultimately inspires. I gave Rudy a 5-star review on Amazon streaming, tissues still in hand.
Out of 709 reviews, 85% were 5-stars, 8% 4-stars, 4% 3-stars, 1% 2-stars, and 2% 1-star. What cruel people would give this wonderful heartwarming film a 1- or 2-star review? What could they possibly hate about it?
Most of the negative reviews concerned technical challenges -- the DVD was broken, the streaming quality was bad, the sound was too low, and etc. One person complained that there was too much "potty mouth." Another expressed his dislike that the characters "took the Lord's name in vain." Someone else said Rudy was a "pathetic" character with an unhealthy obsession for Notre Dame, which 12 people found helpful on Amazon.
But one 2-star review in particular stood out:
Unremarkable. Trying to make a hero out of someone who was just dishonest. Read up on the guy and he actually was dishonest in business after college as well.
A quick Google search confirmed the bad news: in 2011, Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger along with a dozen associates were charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors. It was a "pump and dump" scheme for a sports drink company named "Rudy." It's tagline: "Dream Big! Never Quit!"
“Investors were lured into the scheme by Mr. Ruettiger's well-known, feel-good story but found themselves in a situation that did not have a happy ending,” said Scott W. Friestad, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “The tall tales in this elaborate scheme included phony taste tests and other false information that was used to convince investors they were investing in something special.”
The New York Times wrote about the fraud, here. Forbes did too, here.
First Disney and now this. Is there nothing we can believe in anymore? It's hard to not get angry. Where's the responsibility of the filmmakers? The writers? The book publishers? The people peddling his brand? Who's fault is it? Rudy's fault? Big business'? Notre Dame's? Hollywood's? Evil corporations'? The finger pointing can go on and on.
And on and on it goes.
Such is the story of man's folly in The Garden of Eden. When God asked who took the fruit from the serpent, Adam pointed the finger to Eve, "She made me do it." And out they both go...condemned to suffering for all of eternity.
We have Adam and Eve to blame for this too. So at least there's that.
I have many questions and no answers. Instead, I'll leave you with a quote from Father Cavanaugh's character from Rudy, which I think encapsulates the ironies:
"Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: There is a God. And I'm not Him."
When I watch films on the touchy subject of multiculturalism, I am often frustrated by the tendency of the writer/director towards easy stereotypes, predictable bad guys, and victims with no agency of their own...in other words, propaganda. Thankfully, this is not one such story.
Originally released in 2003, Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom, Gaelic for "My Name Is Yu Ming," is a splendid short film with a poignant take on language, heritage, and belonging. Available to watch for free on Youtube. I won't spoil it for you, but I recommend it. 13 minutes of your day well spent.
A nod to writer and director, Daniel O'Hara, for this masterful piece of storytelling. Bravo.
The name "Jordan B. Peterson" inspires either great awe or great ugh. A bearded middled-aged man is not exactly what we all think of when we think of a Youtube Sensation in 2018. His channel recently surpassed more than 1 million subscribers, his talks at rock star-style concert venues from earlier this year were sold out, and when he posts one ordinary picture of an overcast street on Instagram, 18,000 people go to like it. Makes you wonder, does he know about Insta filters?
His newest book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote To Chaos, is currently the No. 1 International (as well as National) bestseller on Amazon. Its antecedent, a post on Quora, has generated almost 5 million views to date. By the way, Jordan B. Peterson is not a musician or a celebrity -- he's a professor of Psychology -- with a camera on his home computer.
For those unfamiliar with his brand, JBP was kicked into stardom in late 2016 when he publicly denounced the gender pronoun law in Canada, citing a conflict of morality (and of philosophy) between democracy and tyranny. A couple of videos surfaced online shortly thereafter of university students shouting him down at a rally. It went "viral," as the digital-age saying goes, and a star was born.
I don't actually dislike him. I've read his book cover to cover and I admit I like it. I also admit I read Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code cover to cover and liked that too. I mean, JBP is no Dostoyevsky or TS Elliot (both of whom gets frequent mentions in his lectures), but he is as good (or maybe even pretty great) of a writer for a clinician and academic. Clean up your room, he says! Last Sunday I spent 8 hours straightening out my apartment from top to bottom like I'm back living with my parents again. Stand up straight, he says! He sounds more like my college ballet instructor than some devilish patriarch. Any moment I expect he'll post a video reminding me to not talk with my mouth full.
For all the forthrightness however, JBP also has his moments of weakness. On his much watched interview with Cathy Newman (which just passed 10 million views) he stumped Newman when she asked, "Why should your freedom of speech trump a trans person’s right not to be offended?” His response, “Because in order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. I mean, look at the conversation we’re having right now. You’re certainly willing to risk offending me in the pursuit of truth. Why should you have the right to do that? It’s been rather uncomfortable.” Newman was suddenly dumbfounded. She couldn't formulate the words back to him. But instead of letting the viewer decide in that moment, he slides in a snide, "Gotcha." It was one of the few unsportsmanlike moment I've witnessed from JBP, though to his credit, he did keep his cool during the remaining 30-odd mins of the heated interview.
Peruse the Youtube comments that follow and very quickly you'll see them degenerate into vulgarity and petty jabs at Newman. What a conundrum this must be for a man who believes in individual transcendence and freedom of words. What a pity. But this is not to say that JBP's videos are not also full of positive comments. Just as a casual observer, his followers often leave very intelligent and thoughtful notes, more than the vast majority of channels I follow elsewhere. So there's that too.
Love him or hate him, he is a product of our time, in every sense of the word. With the democracy of Youtube, viewers now choose their own content of consumption. 1 million + people have chosen JBP with more flooding in. He has a book deal. He's touring the world on talks where ticket prices average around $50 a pop. He is no friend of the Far Left. He is vehemently opposed to being with the "Alt Right." For all the decries from the University of Toronto, it looks like JBP's position as professor is more than secure. According to Reddit, he surpassed $66K annually from the online membership platform Patreon. What to make of him? If only there was a singular narrative.
In more than one interview, Peterson himself said that traditional media was dead. He's living it. And that's something worth noting.
I like to say that I was raised by three parents, the third being the 50's era sitcom I Love Lucy. Like most latchkey US children with a house to themselves and no babysitter, television was my portal into the world, however flawed that method of childrearing might be. And who dominated the public TV airwaves more than Lucy? She was on Mondays through Fridays before and after the news, and again on weekends...at least on channel 11 here in Los Angeles. Love her or hate her, I Love Lucy is as much part of American culture as oversized Cadillac cars and free candy on Halloween. Sure Lucy McGillicuddy's (Lucille Ball) behavior is more than obnoxious at time, and yes, Ricky's (Desi Arnaz) man-of-the-house dominance leaves a viewer in 2018 totally nauseous, but I hope we're smart enough as modern TV-watchers to remember that these fictional characters on this show aired more than 60 years ago. Much has changed in the half century since, including our views on acceptable roles and partnerships. And if you feel a gnawing discomfort at watching Ricky deny Lucy an allowance, then that's terrific--it means we as educated individuals have come a long way!
The thing I always loved the most (and still do) about the show was Lucy's strong will, in spite of what Ricky or the world wanted from her as a housewife. To me, a newly arrived foreigner born into a totally different set of gender expectations, Lucy was nothing less than an eye-opener. Even as a little kid in the 90's, I wanted to be subversive just like her. While Ricky paraded his success and cockblocked her career (at times with so much cruelty it was degrading), Lucy, with the help of Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance), would always manage to claw her way to the limelight. Remember that time she ate too much spaghetti when meeting William Holden? When she stole a grapefruit from Richard Widmark's house just to meet him? How she "spooned her way to health" to get in front of the camera for Vitameatavegamin to prove she had talent? Or when she finagled her way to perform "Cuban Pete" with Ricky's band? By the way, the woman can dance!
Lucy didn't always win, but when she did, it was meaningful. And even when she lost, like in her bet with Ricky about whether she would buy a new hat or he would lose his temper first, she won in her own way--eating crackers in bed, loudly, obnoxiously, and on purpose. Compare her to other television wives I grew up with, say, Peggy Bundy from Married With Children or Jill Taylor from Home Improvement (both of which I love), Lucy is a far stronger character.
What strikes me the most now as I watch old episodes is Ricky's insecurities on the show, and how it corresponded with Arnaz's own shortcomings in real life. It is no secret that he was often unfaithful, that he was an alcoholic, and that he was resentful of her success. I'm sure the writers, Madelyn Pugh-Davis and Bob Carroll Jr together with Ball, observed this dynamic in real life and turned that into part of Lucy and Ricky's characters on the page. Of course like any good writers would, they leave it up to us, the viewers, to see the irony.
After six years on air, two homes, one baby (on the show at least), and many many adventures together, I Love Lucy ended in 1957. In real life, the formal partnership between Ball and Arnaz (as well as the marriage), similarly came to a close. Ball filed for divorce, bought out Arnaz from Desilu Productions, and went on to produce more work with Vance. Arnaz on the other hand took a more secondary role away from the camera. In his memoir, Arnaz wrote that he still adored Ball, though by then both had remarried and were living separate lives.
Lucy was never meant to be a universally-liked character. Even the title of the show, I Love Lucy, uses a subjective personal pronoun. Hate her, mock her, despise her all you want, but she is an iconic figure that will outlast any critical essays about her. At the end of the day, it is Lucy who was the star of a show about a woman who wanted to be a star. And golly, she succeeded.
If anyone's gonna make a movie about a hand job and call it Art, it would be Wong Kar Wai. Cigarette smoke, Nat King Cole, moody interiors, and much (much) brooding over a glass of whiskey, neat--an escapist's dream come true. Spaces are cramped and, everyone has excellent hair all the time.
As one of WKW's lesser-known films, The Hand (a nod to Alexandre Dumas' La Dame aux Camélias) is a must for the self-proclaiming aficionado who likes to imagine herself among colorful wallpaper and form-fitting cheongsams. A short film at only 40 ish minutes long, The Hand is packed with color-obsessed scenes and signature WKW unrequited love story (because if it was requited, it would be called "marriage" and that's obviously not worth making a movie about, but I digress).
Miss Hua (Gong Li) is the high-end call girl with a taste for expensive clothes and Zhang (Chang Chen) is the naive tailor who....well...gets the hand job. Two, to be exact. Over the course of the film via Zhang's POV, we find that Miss Hua is losing her appeal (and her clientele). Her finances are a mess, she has a lover on the side who ditches her after she gets pregnant, and all the while Zhang continues to visit her for her fittings. We overhear her undignified calls to her past clients and we see that with each fitting her waistline grows. Finally, she falls from grace, whores herself out at the docks, gets sick, and dies of TB (while still looking good in a cheongsam).
Like Francois Truffaut, WKW's artistic skills really comes at portraying sensitive subjects with a subtle hand. We are never told that Miss Hua is pregnant and we never see any of her clients (except in one scene when we catch the back of a man storming out of her apartment). Even towards the end when she's bringing back men from the docks, all we see is a shot of her foot at the edge of a shaking bed frame. WKW trusts his audience enough to pick up on visual cues and to connect the dots for themselves throughout the film. The result is a piece layered in complexities--making art out of cultural taboos..
Of course there are some plot hole questions to point out (from the POV of a 2018 viewer). For example, why doesn't Miss get herself a roommate to help with the rent? What is she spending her money on that she has to sell all her jewelry she doesn't look like she eats that much? What happened to her baby? And is Zhang a virgin or something I mean, he looks like he's at least 35?
Francois Truffaut seems to question many relationship conventions in Jules et Jim (1962), of which, "Can we love more than one person at a time?" "Can a woman love as freely as a man?" "Can we overcome jealousy?" and most importantly, "Are bros really before hoes?"
In this messy intrigue of ménage à trois, Jules and Jim's friendship are put to test when Catherine shows up to ruin the frat party. At one of their first outings as a trio in such the cool girl of Victorian era fashion, she dresses up in menswear and calls herself Thomas. She ends up fooling a passerby into giving her a light to prove she is one of the boys, but not before the camera pans to her pulling off a silk stocking just before the transformation. Both Jules and Jim are smitten of course--she seems to be the girl of their dreams: fun, feminine, and so full of manly bravado,
Then the war happens and Jules is sent back to fight for Austria while Jim fights for France. Jules (who is by now dating Catherine) writes her adoring love letters while also mentioning how much he's afraid he might end up killing Jim by accident (the two countries were at war). After the fact, Jules marries Catherine and Jim takes up with one girl after another, all the while secretly harboring feelings for Catherine. When the trio reunites again (now with Jules & Catherine's little daughter as well), it is like nothing has changed. The four frolic happily on the beach together and for a while, "The sky seemed so close."
The story takes a turn when Jules finally convinces Jim to hook up with Catherine because it's worse to lose her, but then Jim gets jealous that she hooks back up with Jules, her husband. Meanwhile, Jules tells Jim that Catherine has a third lover, a guitar-playing Albert from down the street. He is Catherine's most current lover in her succession of lovers since Jules married her.
Confused yet? I wouldn't be surprised if this is confusing even for Maury Povich. Not surprisingly, it all ends tragically, but I won't spoil it for you. Do watch it for yourself. It's available for rent on Amazon for $3.99.
While watching this film, I couldn't help but realize how terrible Truffaut must have thought of women. Both male characters are fully developed with moments of great tenderness and vulnerability between them, but Catherine is something of a beautiful two-bit narcissist. From an auteur as great as Francois Truffaut, I would expect a little more empathy for the opposite sex. Catherine isn't the only passive woman in the film--there's the girl at the bar who hooks up with strangers for sleeping accommodations with her cheap cigarette trick and Jim's girlfriend who doesn't seem to have any agency over his philandering. I can't even remember her character's name!
In spite of its shortcomings, Jules et Jim is still a piece of art. It's Francois Truffaut, after all! I have much respect for him as an artist, a visionary who created groundbreaking continuous shots in The 400 Blows and infused Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 with cinematic life. It's just that with the lens of a viewer in 2018, I question some of Truffaut's character choices. Why are we made to feel sorry for Jules when it was he who set up the whole tryst? He's a pathetic man! And was Jim really all that innocent that Catherine could seduce him? As memory serves, he was the one who idolized Catherine all those years, not to mention he kissed her first. All she did was reciprocate.
Catherine, I think, is the real victim in all of this. A woman who was played by the men who she thought loved her. She didn't know Jules knew about her infidelities. She didn't know Jules encouraged Jim to go after her. Once she fell in love with Jim (and I believe she really did), she didn't know that Jim kept confiding in Jules for advice on how to deal with her (that's two against one!). You knew what you were getting into, bro!
I don't deny that Catherine's character is a narcissist. But so is Jim, who had a girlfriend back in Paris. So is Jules, who didn't want to let Catherine go so he arranged the entire affair. Maybe both should have just left her alone in the first place.
A quote from Fitzgerald'sThe Great Gatsby comes to mind. It is from another passive woman character: Daisy Fay Buchanan recounting having just given birth, "[The nurse] told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. 'All right,' I said, 'I'm glad it's a girl. And I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool."
In the end of Truffaut's ménage à trois, nobody's happy. Though it does make for good cinema.
Bits & Pieces
A place for experimentation, a place for pieces unpolished and unpublished, a place to work out thoughts and ideas for larger collections. Typos aplenty. Enjoy (or not).