Are you low impact?

No Impact Man is a documentary about a family that embarks on a year-long project to live without making an environmental impact. The movie evolved from the clever, informative blog No Impact Man written by a man who believes that efforts like reducing waste and eating sustainable food should not be about deprivation, but about making the world a better place to live, which will ultimately make us happier than all that stuff anyway. I found myself nodding in agreement throughout the entire movie.

It may be tricky to give up toilet paper, but it’s not so hard to bring your strawberry cartons back to the farmer’s market to reuse, or just to start shopping at a farmer’s market, or to eliminate household chemical cleaners, or just to think about each purchase.

Suffice it to say, there are about a million things you can do shrink your impact if you want. Here’s No Impact Man’s Top Ten Eco-Lifestyle Changes to get you started. Or you could just rent the movie for inspiration. It’s a balanced portrayal of the project (they have plenty of critics) and an honest profile of a marriage in the midst of a stressful experiment. Their 2-year-old daughter is perhaps the most natural environmentalist, comfy in her cloth diapers and squealing in delight at the worms in the compost. She didn’t complain about reading by candlelight and taking the stairs; she thought cleaning the laundry by stomping on it the in the bathtub was the most fun a girl could have. Perhaps, then, the key to being a good friend to the planet is to reclaim your 2-year-old self and find joy in the everyday. 

I love you, New York, I Love You

Catching a matinee in the middle of the day is a holiday well spent, I always say. Actually, I never say that. It’s true though.

Critics hailed Paris, Je T’aime, a compilation of vignettes about the city offered up by several directors, but I attest New York, I Love You was better. Extrapolate, if you must, taking that as a vote for New York over Paris, but I couldn’t say. Never been to Paris. I’d hazard a guess that Paris may have more twinkly lights, but New Yorkers have better stories.

Of course, these are fictional shorts, but they feel authentically New York: a man and woman hook up after drinks, a bickering octogenarian couple share a tender moment at Coney Island, a pickpocket gets his pocket picked. While many are simple slice-of-life glimpses, several of the pieces surprise with an O. Henry ending, and there’s nothing I like better than being surprised by a movie. Unless it’s a surprise Wes Craven style in which case I’ll take my tidy ending.

 

new york i love you

 

Tyson

Early on in James Toback’s documentary Tyson (yup, it’s about Mike Tyson), I found myself warming to the big galoot. Sure, he was violent, but the poor guy was bullied as a child. He was afraid. Other people hit him. He was a lover, not a hater. All he needed was a hug.

Then my boyfriend reminded me that he went to jail for raping a woman and that he bit a guy’s ear, not once, but twice.

Oh, right. 

Tyson, who sports a Maori tattoo on his face still looks menacing, but he’s surprisingly self-aware and articulate. Well, maybe more talkative than articulate. Though he did blow me away by using the word “skullduggery.” Who knew Tyson could one-up me in the vocab department?

Anyway, even if, like me, the last thing you think you want to watch is a documentary about an unstable boxer, check it out. It’s a well done, revealing portrait of a man who just wants to be loved. And who occasionally gets angry and bites off a chunk of a guy’s ear.

Where the Wild Things Are

In anticipation of the release of Where the Wild Things Are today (hello, childhood), I wanted to share a little story by Maurice Sendak that Jack Kornfield relates in his book The Wise Heart. The book, by the way, is an excellent, accessible exploration of Buddhist psychology peppered with thoughtful anecdotes. And I must mention that Kornfield’s has another book that should win an award for its title alone: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

Anyway, here’s Kornfield writing about joy:

When we live in the present, joy arises for no reason. This is the happiness of consciousness that is not dependent on particular conditions. Children know this job. Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, tells the story of a boy who wrote to him. “He sent me a charming card with a drawing. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters—sometimes very hastily—but this one I lingered over. I sent him a postcard and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, ‘Dear Jim, I loved your card.’ Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

Here’s to loving something so much you want to eat it.

where the wild things are

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

I watched a documentary about Donkey Kong this weekend. That’s right. I’m sure you’re having the same reaction my boyfriend had when I proposed it.

“Wait, you want us to watch a movie about people who play the video game Donkey Kong?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah, but I read all these reviews that say it’s really good,” I said. “Really.”

He gave me a look that said, Oh, you and your obscure movies. What I must tolerate.

Yeah, it was as weird as we expected, but was also, as the blurb promised, curiously compelling. Apparently, within the already, um, interesting subculture of video gamers is a group that’s hellbent on breaking records, so much so that they videotape themselves playing so that their scores can be verified by a referee. All gamers aim to achieve the highest score possible, I suppose, but these people mean business in a way that says, I will dedicate my life to conquering Kong, even if it means installing an arcade size game in my garage and playing for a billion hours straight till my eyes resemble Super Mario.

Anyway, the story focuses on a nice guy who’s trying to break a 20-year record held by a strange guy who wears skinny ties with American themes and hair straight out of the 70s—a style that prompted my boyfriend to ask four times, Hold on, when was this made?

Whether you’ve ever played Donkey Kong or not, you’ll feel the tension in this movie, evidenced by the fact that said boyfriend paused it when he got up to get some pie because he didn’t want to miss anything. I stifled an I told you so.

Donkey Kong screen


Good review, bad movie

My boyfriend and I saw Cold Souls recently (hello, free passes), and while the premise was clever (what if you could store your soul?) and the movie poster and website were inventive (I don’t know why I think this is an indicator of movie quality, but I do), the movie fell short of what we expected. The flick was something along the lines of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which explored the idea of removing memories, but didn’t quite hit that level in terms of execution. OK, maybe it’s not fair to make such comparisons, but the concept was so similar, it’s hard to avoid measuring one against another.

After the movie, I went as I always do to The New Yorker. You can’t do this before you see the movie because the reviews are so comprehensive and revealing it’s like seeing the movie. The other thing about New Yorker reviews is that they’re so insanely well written, they’re often better than the movie. In this case, it was especially true, even though the reviewer appreciated the movie more than we did. The review has such gems as “Paul Giamatti, who is never going to be mistaken for Danny Kaye, plays himself—or, rather, he plays a convincing version of himself called Paul Giamatti . . . ” and this description: “We may not know what Paul’s soul consists of, but we do get to see what it looks like: a poor, pale squib of a thing, no bigger than a molar, in a glass jar.” Such good writing would have been nice to see in the movie.

cold_souls_poster

Thoughts on the Oscars and the ubiquitous Slumdog Millionaire

I bought into all the hype about Slumdog Millionaire and was eager to see this movie that everyone’s calling a heartfelt love story. “Uplifting” is the word that’s been floated around. Well, I am a sucker for uplifting love stories. And let me tell you. This is one of those movies—if you find poverty, violence, abuse, and death to be uplifting. 

The Oscar nominees were announced this morning, and Slumdog was nominated for Best Picture. Well, what do I know?

I wish, instead though, that the Academy had recognized The Visitor or Elegy, two great little films, but they didn’t draw the numbers that the Brad Buttons or the Frost/Nixon movie did—though has anyone actually seen Frost/Nixon

Anyway, the race for me is in the Best Actor category. The competition is fierce, but my vote goes to Richard Jenkins for The Visitor. His name came as a surprise in place of guys like Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood, because his performance was pitch perfect. 

In the Best Actress category, isn’t it an unwritten rule that you just hand the statue to Meryl Streep? That works. She scared me in Doubt.

Good nominations and bad, I’ll be glued to my TV Feb. 22. eating it up.

Nicholas Sparks. Why?

I saw a student reading the new Nicholas Sparks novel the other day and my snobbery kicked into high gear. “What are you doing?” I yelled. I grabbed the book and read the first few lines. Ugh. An overreaction to bad literature? Perhaps. “It’s pleasure reading,” the student said guilt-free. Well, of course, I thought. It wouldn’t be assigned reading. But pleasure? It’s all relative, I suppose. 

So, no, I’m not a Nicholas Sparks fan. I will admit here though that despite also being a movie snob, I went with a friend to see Nights of Rodanthe last month, a movie based on another Sparks novel, because I was wooed by Richard Gere and Diane Lane; unfortunately, their characters could not convincingly woo each other. The best part though was a tender moment when the two are close, talking about her keepsake box filled with trinkets. “What do you keep in your box?” Gere asks.

“My children,” Lane answered.

Well, that was it for my friend and me. We fought to contain laughter. She keeps her children in the box! we whispered obnoxiously. That’s ridiculous!

In that sense, you could say Sparks is pretty entertaining; I do love to laugh. I think the people around us, however, may not have appreciated our snickering as they sniffled into their tissues. That too, I found entertaining.

Enlightenment Guaranteed

Last evening, in search of answers to life’s greatest questions, I caught a German film called Enlightenment Guaranteed and thought: perfect. If I watch this movie, the universe will be revealed to me.

In actuality, the film has lingered on my Netflix list for a year now in the no-man’s land of Availability: Unknown. After enjoying How to Cook Your Life last year, a quiet, humorous take on cooking through the lens of Buddhism, I was excited to see that the MFA was hosting a Doris Dörrie’s retrospective. Yup, these are the things that excited me. Plus, enlightenment was guaranteed, so I figured if I didn’t have a spiritual awakening, I could get my money back. 

The premise was this: two brothers embark on a spiritual journey, one willing, the other not so much, but their path to enlightenment is littered with obstacles that frustrate, enlightenment drifting farther and farther away. Overall, it was enjoyable watching two bumbling guys navigate chaos in their quest to find serenity; the woman behind me, however, made me feel like I was missing the absolute hilarity as she belly-laughed through every single scene. Her enthusiasm was remarkable in its endurance, really; for her, enjoyment was guaranteed.

He’s just not that into you

Remember that annoying book that spelled out for women how to know when a guy isn’t interested? I saw a preview this week of a movie inspired by that book and almost choked on my popcorn. How that book could inspire anything eludes me, but a whole lot of actors got sucked in to the project: Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly…

I don’t know; I’m just not that into it.

Banging the drum for The Visitor

The Visitor is one of those small films that makes you angry at the way the world works but that still satisfies because you witness how one man changes when forced to examine his sad, staid life. That change, which is really the foundation of every good story, film, or book, is not always sweeping, but no less important for its incremental nature.

Walter is a widower who phones in the one economics class he teaches while making little progress on the book he’s writing. When he returns to his rarely used New York City apartment for a conference he’d rather not attend, he’s confused to find an immigrant couple living there. Despite the awkward situation, the couple grows on him and Walter finds himself slowing taking on the couple’s cause; how they help each other is humanizing to watch.

Walter’s change is small but gratifying: a quiet, seemingly rhythmless man, he learns to play the drum in a way that makes you want to learn too. By the end, you may feel you’re helpless to save the masses of people who struggle to make it in America, but maybe learning to make music is something in itself, and maybe helping just two people, like Walter did, is a start. But if that’s not enough, maybe getting a drum and beating the hell out of it will help.

“Smart People” is like, not smart

The characters, plot and themes of Smart People are reminiscent of the clever, funny The Squid and the Whale that came out a couple of years ago—a mix of an intellectual parent or two, hyperverbal children, the academic drive to publish, and family dysfunction. While my friend and I laughed throughout the movie, it was mostly due to the comic relief of a character played by Thomas Haden Church. Ellen Page (the naturally hyperverbal actress from Juno), does her part as well, but it’s hard to buy that Dennis Quaid, who plays a widower and unfeeling academic with shaggy eyebrows who shuffles around while presumably wearing a prosthetic stomach, could attract one of his former student played by Sarah Jessica Parker. She may be one of the smart people, but she’s not blind.

Other flaws include underdeveloped characters, only the tiniest of character growth, and a couple scenes that seemed rudderless. But. Two scenes were brilliant. The first comes after the prof discovers that his brother and daughter have cleaned out the closet of his wife who’s been dead for years and donated her clohtes to Goodwill. The next scene cuts to him roaming the aisles of Goodwill with a shopping cart, scouring the racks in an effort to buy back his wife’s clothes.

Anyone who’s been on a bad date can relate to the other memorable scene: Dennis Quaid’s character and his former student (Sarah Jessica Parker, who’s now a doctor) are on their first dinner date. His bombastic treatise on literature has taken them through to dessert and she’s had enough. “Forty-five minutes,” she says. He stops and looks puzzled; she explains that it’s been 45 minutes since she last uttered a word because he’s been prattling on oblivious to her presence. It’s a tactic I’ll no doubt have the opportunity to employ on future dates.

So, all in all, a mixed bag. It’s not bad; it’s just that if you’re gonna make a movie so similar to another, it should obliterate the original. Rent The Squid and the Whale and laugh at the uber-pretentiousness while knowing you made a smart choice.

Run, Schwimmer, run

Great movie titles, like boyfriends, should be chosen carefully. Something like “Gone Baby Gone,” was catchy and apt, and I enjoyed tagging any sentence I could with that line for months.

Friend: Do you know where Matt is?

Me: Oh, he’s gone, baby, gone.

But why directors think it’s a good idea to give movies ridiculous names is beyond me. Bad movie titles could be its own blog topic, so I’m gonna focus on just one: “Run Fat Boy Run,” a movie out this week that despite its unfortunate title, was a smash in Great Britain.

David Schwimmer, who played the goofy paleontologist Ross from “Friends,” makes his directorial debut with this lowbrow comedy. To recount the plot would be embarrassing, but suffice it to say, there’s a guy and he runs and sweats a lot—for love. In an interview in The Boston Globe, Thandie Newton, who stars in the movie, said of Schwimmer, “he bleeds with intellect.” Yeah, clearly.

In his own words, Schwimmer makes it sound like he makes intelligent films. “I believe that films are dumbing down in general,” he said. “They play to the lowest common denominator, rather than giving the audience enough credit for their intelligence.” Schwimmer, you just directed a movie called “Run Fat Boy Run,” and you’re throwing stones? He adds,”I can’t believe, especially in the last couple of years, the big successful comedies are so…base, in terms of their humor and their language…Instead of coming up with really strong, character-driven comedy, and intelligent joke writing—like, smart joke writing—it’s all about…really, it’s back to Greek comedy. It’s scatological humor.”

True, I have not seen the movie, so I can’t confirm that it’s as lame as I suspect. But glancing at the first two reviews I came across, they confirm my suspicions. The movie “doesn’t provide a marathon of laughs,” says Daniel Kimmel at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. “It doesn’t even sprint to a few good chuckles. It runs out of steam—and you’ll likely run out of interest—long before the finish line.”

Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe, who incidentally, was not the Globe staffer who interviewed Schwimmer, gave it one star and writes, “What can you say about a movie that features both the blinding loveliness of Thandie Newton and the sight of a man soaked in the contents of a giant foot blister? Stay home.”

I’d wager that even if you wanted to see this movie, despite the less than stellar reviews, by the time you made it to the theater it’d be gone, baby, gone.

Hello, it’s the Grim Reaper

I’ve been reading “How We Die,” a nonfiction account of…fill in the blank, after seeing Dr. Sherwin Nuland on Charlie Rose. It’s a national book award winner and probably in the library of most doctors yet is a very accessible book on “life’s final chapter,” as the tagline says. No surprise: it’s depressing. To balance out the grim descriptions (it pulls no punches), I scarf down some cake while reading. But the sections on clogged arteries are too much to bear, so I toss the book aside. (Alzheimer’s was the next chapter, so there was really nothing to look forward to.)

I stumble upon a little book next, “The End of the Alphabet,” drawn in by its design. Good story, but the main character is dying right out of the gate.

I knew “The Savages” would be tough to watch—it’s about a brother and sister putting their estranged father in a nursing home—but I went anyway. Here I expected the death theme—hard to avoid in such a film, though it was a comedy. Oh death, you’re so funny.

I try a new book, “The Sea” by John Banville, winner of the Man Booker Prize. A cover with a beautiful, but darkly colored seascape can only portend one thing. I learn immediately that the main character is a widower. Of course he is.

I was at a cafe for a couple hours this afternoon where no one died. I come home though to spot a dust-up of feathers floating by the window. I look out to see a hawk pinning a pigeon to the ground, throttling it with its talons. The pigeon, probably the same one I berate for hovering on my skylight, now flaps its one free wing helplessly.

I’ve had enough.

But in all this, I did take away this lovely passage in “The Sea” about happiness. “Happiness was different in childhood. It was so much then a matter simply of accumulation, of taking things—new experiences, new emotions—and applying them like so many polished tiles to what would someday be the marvellously finished pavilion of the self.”