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FILM: MILK! November 30, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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It is a really good movie. Everyone should see it.

*YES It is very much pro-gay and in that way conventional.
*NO That doesn’t make it dull.
*NO That doesn’t mean the gay movement goes unquestioned (I’m certain Milk’s “come out” politics, which was so radical and appropriate for the time, goes down a little rough today)
*YES It beatifies Harvey Milk.
*NO This doesn’t mean he’s one-dimensional (a ruthless politician with a thing for men less powerful than he, for starters).
*YES It is a mostly white movie (with some Latino thrown in).
*NO That doesn’t mean it goes without critique (a notable telephone scene demonstrates the lack of diversity within the movement).
*YES They should have released it before Nov. 4th.
*NO It wouldn’t have made the difference.
*YES I felt politically motivated after seeing it (the film has enough demonstrations of anti-gay hate to move even the most passive observer).
*YES It’s gorgeously shot.
*YES It will get tons of Oscar nominations.

AND…I’m making a prediction!

*YES It will win Best Picture. Well, I really don’t follow these things, and Lord know my predictions are wrong half the time, but none of the other films gunning for the Oscar are as epic (it seems mediocre reviews have killed Australia, and that’s a shame) or historical urgency (Frost/Nixon, even if brilliant, I think will bristle in a post-Bush era). Che and Doubt don’t have as broad an appeal: if I’m reading BoxOfficeMojo right, Milk is on track to earn over $1 million this weekend on 36 screens. That’s a solid open. Gus Van Sant feels deserving after directing so many important and challenging movies. Last, but not least, the Academy should feel ashamed for passing up Brokeback Mountain three years ago, especially now in light of Heath Ledger’s death and Michelle Williams budding career. Milk is, as AfterElton said, the most outwardly gay major motion picture in US History. It will win even if it doesn’t obviously deserve to. But I think it’s plenty deserving.

FILM: Buy A Projector November 17, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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My New Love

In praise of that forgotten home entertainment system, the projector.


A projector in 1958. Photo from the Library of Congress, via bobster1985.

By Aymar Jean Christian

I have no idea why people spend thousands of dollars on a flat screen TVs. Okay, I have some idea: the picture is the clearest and brightest and most colorful in the history of media! I will admit it’s pretty cool to watch sports on these things, and I don’t even like sports. So a flat screen is nice. But I just got a projector this week, and I have to say: I’m in love. That’s right, I’m in love with a machine.

So why am I plugging the projector? Let me explain.

Movie critics and Hollywood alike have been running around like headless chickens fretting the death of the cinema for the past few years. By “the cinema,” I mean being in a movie theater and overspending on tickets and popcorn. They have some cause for concern. Adjusted for inflation, only six of the top 50 highest grossing movies in America were made in the last decade. The most successful one after 2000, The Dark Knight, only ranks at 27 (Gone With The Wind, made in 1939, is still number one, with Star Wars not too far behind.)

What’s the big deal? Well, first, theater tickets are how movies have always made money—that’s Hollywood’s problem. On the other hand critics, and some auteur directors like David Lynch, worry that people aren’t seeing movies the way they are “supposed” to be seen: B-I-G.

I say, stop worrying. First, Hollywood knows DVD sales and international box office returns are compensating for the slack at the domestic box office. But more importantly, I’d argue people are watching movies how they’re “supposed” to be seen (though really, what’s so wrong about watching a film on an iPod, David?). Flat screen TVs are decent enough and provide at least some semblance of a cinematic experience, though I still don’t get all the hype.

Projectors, to get to my point, are a great way to go. Yes, some of them are just as pricey as flat screens, but not necessarily. I bought mine off a colleague for $350; an additional speaker system cost me $100, because what’s the use of a big picture without big sound? For half the price of a smaller flat screen I got an image two or three times the size.

Plus, it hooks up to my laptop. All of a sudden I don’t need to blow money on Apple TV. Last week I streamed an episode of Pushing Daisies from ABC.com to my projector and found out the show was surprisingly cinematic, with lots of color and some fun editing. I can download a TV show or movie on iTunes or even stream movies from Hulu.com or Netflix.com, and watch it B-I-G. My movie-viewing options are now much more varied, much more convenient, and much closer to the “real thing.” Not a bad deal!

There are some drawbacks, don’t get me wrong. Having a projector adds more cords and complicates the viewing process a bit, and the cheaper projectors, like the one I have, doesn’t show a clear picture in daylight.

But the gains outweigh the losses. Projected movies, to me, are about escapism. The room is dark and you don’t have to think about deadlines and drama. And projectors are more social than flat screens. Projected images are an “event” you do with friends, like going to the movies. A grand, majestic screen you can watch with friends that even makes network TV exciting? My new love is a giver.

A flat screen is just a TV.

FILM: Watching Difficult Movies November 13, 2008

Posted by Aymar Jean Christian in Uncategorized.
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A Couple Movies To Fight Over


When in doubt, go to a challenging movie over an easily graspable one.


Sometimes I think the best movies are the most challenging. Sure, a nice Hollywood blockbuster is satisfying, but the movies that stick are the ones that leave me confused, angry or upset. Movies that have left me dumbfounded in the past? From My Dinner with Andre, which is just a 90-minute conversation, to Jacques Tati’s Play Time, which has almost no dialogue and no close-ups, there are some movies that either makes you throw something at the screen or take an aspirin to calm you down.

These days, tough movies are few and far between, but there are some easy ways to spot them.

First, look at the reviews. If a movie has truly mixed reviews, you’ve a got a winner. I’m talking about when a few critics call it the worst movie ever made and a few call it brilliant. Lucky for you, there is one such movie out right now: Synecdoche, New York. Charlie Kaufman is the go-to guy for mindfucks right now, so this is no surprise. Most films have mixed reviews, but sometimes the contrast between those who love and hate it is so stark you have to get yourself to a theater to find out what all the fuss is about.

Of Synecdoche, Manohla Dargis at The New York Times said: “To say that Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York is one of the best films of the year or even one closest to my heart is such a pathetic response to its soaring ambition that I might as well pack it in right now.” Wow, what an endorsement! But The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane—one of my favorite critics—said, instead, that, “there has long been a strain of sorry lassitude in Kaufman’s work, and here it sickens into the morbid…In short, what is Synecdoche, New York about?”

The problem with Synecdoche is that you need to think of Jean Baudrillard to know what it’s about. If you miss this—that the film is actually about debunking the postmodernist impulse to focus on representations, simulacra and how nothing is real—then you’re lost. It’s so obscure. I love it!

Other recent movies like this have been, Miracle at St. Anna, Cloverfield, Southland Tales, Across the Universe, The Matrix Revolutions, Magnolia, Youth Without Youth. These are movies, saddled by high ambitions and too many ideas that people fight over them. What could be more fun?

The second thing to look for is more obvious: the director and screenwriter. Plenty of directors and screenwriters give themselves the license to be ridiculous and overwrought, and their movies are what I want to see. Seeing a film by the late Stanley Kubrick, for example, would almost guarantee you something to talk about, and more recently Terry Gilliam and Paul Thomas Anderson have been satisfyingly challenging.

I would argue that a movie opening in limited release this week, A Christmas Tale by French director Arnaud Desplechin, which I saw at this year’s New York Film Festival, might qualify. I say this because Desplechin provoked me a bit with his Kings and Queen, about a woman who is beautiful but soulless—well, maybe not soulless, but just self-centered, it’s complicated.

I thought A Christmas Tale would be a lovely French family story, complete with cute dinners, scintillating conversation and storybook townhouses. It turned out to be much more complex. Desplechin really makes his audience question what binds families and friends together. The movie jumps from character to character, showing their grudges and anxieties, so much so you wonder if anyone is happy or sane. The eldest daughter, played by Anne Consigny, is the most maddening. She’s angry and bitter for most of the film and we have no idea why.

It was difficult to watch, but I loved every moment.