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Green Book: why?

9 Jan

Ever since I saw the first advertisements for Green Book, I was turned off. My reaction was visceral. In the year 2018, a movie where a white man learns that African-Americans are a-okay, who stops being racist because of his friendship with a black man, feels very outdated. And yet rave reviews poured in for this movie.

I was puzzled. Was I not giving it a fair shot? Green Book stars two talented actors, Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali. But it was directed by Peter Farrelly, of Dumb and Dumber fame. The movie was written by the son of the real-life white protagonist. When I learned this, it confirmed my suspicions that Green Book is more about a white man’s transformation than a gifted black musician, who mostly serves, it seems, as a vehicle for his chauffeur’s redemption. Black characters at the service of a white story.

And then I watched the Golden Globes, where Green Book won for Best Screenplay and Best Comedy. I was bewildered. Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post helped to articulate what feels so wrong about this throwback tale receiving so much praise: because it is happening in a year when Black Kkklansman by Spike Lee, Blindspotting by Daveed Diggs, Sorry to Bother You by Boots Riley, If Beale Street Could Talk by Barry Jenkins and Black Panther by Ryan Coogler were all released. So many films were made by black filmmakers with black people at the heart of the story, with fresh, original takes on race and racism. And yet Green Book gets all the praise? It feels strange, and unfair.

Needless to say, I will not be seeing Green Book. But I look forward to seeing If Beale Street Could Talk this weekend.

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Bold (a poem)

3 Jan
Progressive women of color

Progressive women of color

Standing tall,

They rise

One by one

With the winds of change at their backs.

Determined

From across the land they rise:

Minnesota

Michigan

Kansas

Boston

Atlanta

New Mexico

The Bronx

The labor of a century,

To vote,

To advocate,

To represent,

Realized.

The women of this nation are rising.

I know why the caged Birdbox sings

2 Jan

While dutifully working from home today, I watched Birdbox on Netflix (I’d seen the memes). Watching a tense thriller with the blinds open, sun shining through, is the only way for me to do it (though I discovered that when I turned away from the screen, I faced the mirror closet in our entryway. Still saw everything!).

I was hesitant to watch it, not only because it promised to be scary, but because I’ve had my fill of post-apocalyptic hellscapes. I read Parable of the Sower and Station Eleven last year. I’m very familiar with The Hunger Games. The genre has kind of jumped the shark. What does Birdbox add to this overcrowded genre? Is it a fable about global warming? A prophecy that women and people of color will inherit the earth? Does it tell its survival story in new and interesting ways?

No, as far as I can tell, Birdbox doesn’t say much, nor does it add much to the post-apocalypse genre. And although I watched some scenes from behind a pillow, what I did see was impressive turns by John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, and of course Sandra Bullock. I love a good survival story against faceless foes. Despite its flaws, I liked Birdbox. You should see it with eyes wide open.

What are you looking for?

1 Jan

I started the day off with a first date, a breakfast date. A bold move for a new year. It’s comforting, as I get older, to embark on a date and call it that, to not act like we have something extremely casual with zero pressure, just two buddies meeting. So while it’s refreshing to jump right into the important stuff, I still stumble when asked “What are you looking for”?

My instinct, as always, is to answer with humor. To deflect. But what am I looking for? It’s certainly not what I was looking for ten years ago. Also, I’m not looking, at least not actively. I’m waiting for love to show up, announce itself, ready, easy (though it’s never easy). I told my companion that I’m looking for a man with whom I’m compatible. Compatible is one of those words that’s hard to define. I think of it as comfort. Comfort in someone’s presence. Feeling at ease, sharing a worldview. Not having to explain yourself, being able to just be. Now put that in a dating profile.

Were the gentleman from this morning’s coffee date and I compatible? Somewhat. It’s hard to say. Another date is in order. With him, and with others. And the beat goes on.

Top 5 Movies of 2018

21 Dec
Sorry to bother you

Sorry to bother you

It’s December, the Golden Globe nominations are out, and oh, I still can’t get the song “Shallow” out of my head. It’s a time to reflect on the past year, and that includes looking back on a particularly great group of movies that I saw this year. Before reading my very eclectic list below, check out my picks from previous years: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Sorry to Bother You: What a weird, wonderful movie this was. I imagine that watching Pulp Fiction in 1994 was a little bit like watching this, knowing that you’re watching a fresh, original voice express a bold vision onscreen. Boots Riley, of Oakland rap group The Coup, directed this story of Cash Green, a young telemarketer who finds success using his “white” voice. The vision of a not-so-distant future where people opt in to slavery is bold, but the struggle of whether to stand by one’s friends or sell out and make money? That is timeless.

Crazy Rich Asians: This romantic comedy was like many others- money and family threatens to tear apart two lovers. But Crazy Rich Asians was groundbreaking in several ways: an all-star Asian cast, including a charismatic performance by the Cary Grant-esque Henry Golding, a lush Singaporean setting, and clever, sure direction by Jon Chu. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Place Publique: In-flight movies do two things for me-they either lull me to sleep or keep me awake. As I flew over the Atlantic this summer, Air France gave me the opportunity to watch a plethora of French movies. Place Publique, directed by Agnes Jaoui, was exactly my kind of light, breezy summer movie- the entire film takes place during a party populated by producers, TV weather girls, YouTube celebrities, and starstruck yokels, among others. It’s both very funny and very insightful about the nature of fame and celebrity.

A Star is Born: Some people scoff at anything that is popular and successful. They figure only obscure art with limited appeal can be good. A Star is Born is a remake of a remake of a remake; a timeless story about fame, addiction and love. I can’t compare this version to any of the previous ones. But to me, the music- country, pop ballad and dance pop-along with expert pacing and direction by Bradley Cooper make the story sing. That, and phenomenal acting by Cooper and Lady Gaga, at whose altar I worship.

Roma: Alfonso Cuarón has directed two masterpieces- Children of Men and now Roma. Though named after the Mexico City neighborhood where Cuarón grew up (and which I know well), the movie title evokes the languid cinema of Italian directors. Based on the director’s memories of childhood, the story unfolds more as a series of remembered moments than as a traditional, linear narrative. The roar of planes flying overhead. The panic of losing sight of a child on a crowded street. The clunky old car that never quite fit in the garage. These moments are told with arresting visuals. But more than the sights and sounds of 1970’s urban Mexico, Roma is about the intersecting lives of two women, Sofía and Cleo, but more specifically Cleo, as both are abandoned by men. Roma is a story about gender, class, the startling brutality of political violence, and the way we remember the past, both personal and political. I thought it was stunning.

Croatian vacation

23 Sep
Trsteno Arboretum

Trsteno Arboretum

I’ve just returned from a beautiful place. You can see it in the photo. The morning after my return from Croatia, as I walked through the cold, windy streets of San Francisco to work, I could still see that brilliant blue sea in my mind. I hadn’t gazed upon it since leaving the coastal city of Split several days prior. My Mom and I had a long trek home- Friday heading north to the Croatian capital, Saturday west to Paris, and Sunday morning we left Paris, and after 12 hours in suspended animation, we were in San Francisco, technically only 2 hours after we’d left Western Europe that same morning.

The details from the last days of our trip are more in focus than those from our earliest days. When asked to talk about Croatia, I initially felt unprepared. Which was my favorite place in Croatia? I wasn’t sure I had a favorite. Would I go back? No. I loved the country, but I feel like I have seen it now, so I don’t need to see it again. I did love the country, more and more each day, so that as our plane departed Zagreb, I felt a twinge of sadness. I knew I was leaving an enchanted little place I’d likely never see again.

Why do I love Croatia? What were my impressions? Why did I even go? I admit some embarrassment over my initial interest in Croatia. It’s because I learned that many of the most scenic parts of Game of Thrones are filmed there. That was what lit the spark for me and prompted me to learn more about the country. I wanted to travel to Europe this year, but somewhere in Europe I’d never been. Northern Europe? I wasn’t particularly interested in the efficient countries of Scandinavia. I didn’t want frigid waters. I wanted the blue Mediterranean, terra cotta roofs, medieval lanes. Including Zagreb in the itinerary would give me the taste of Central Europe I craved. I bought Lonely Planet Croatia. I had the whole summer to plan, and research, and daydream.

Walking the streets of Zagreb on our first night, I felt giddy. Back in Europe for the first time in six years, I strolled among street vendors selling roasted chestnuts, musicians playing traditional tunes, students at bars, families with babies. We witnessed people in a beautiful, peaceful city halfway around the world living their lives, one of the joys of travel. And then, the next day, we headed to Dubrovnik, the walled city jutting out into the Adriatic that I had been envisioning for so long.

The physical setting around Dubrovnik is breathtaking. Shimmering blue ocean dotted with islands; my Mom and I had to take a 15 minute bus ride from our hotel into the Old Town every day, and we’ve both confessed that that scenic ride, rumbling past beaches and resorts and banks and supermarkets and sweeping ocean views, was one of the highlights of Dubrovnik for us. Seeing how locals live amidst the beauty of that town. It was also nice to get this window into local life before entering Old Town Dubrovnik which, while picturesque and lovely, was very, very touristy. Not many locals live there any more, both due to high rents and the fact that no one would want to live in a place that was all souvenir shops and mediocre pizzerias and bumbling tourists toting cameras. I focused on the beauty of the place- the many alleys, the stone carvings etched into the sides of ancient churches, the evening light over the cobblestones.

Next we headed north to Split, the second biggest city in Croatia and the major hub of the Dalmatian coast. I was curious to experience Diocletian’s Palace, the ancient heart of the city and one of the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhoods in the world. For three days and four nights we made our corner of Diocletian’s Palace our home, greeting the restaurateurs and shopkeepers with “Dobar Dan”, the Croatian “Good Afternoon” which we heard so often during our stay. We marveled at the confluence of Egyptian, Greek and Roman influence in the quarter, we strolled along the Riva, the city’s waterfront promenade, watching the passing scene, playing “Tourist or local?” as we peoplewatched. We took a day trip to the mountains and traipsed around the Upper Lakes of Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is studded with turquoise lakes and rushing waterfalls. We ate local prosciutto, local cheese, drank local wine. Those last days in Split were languid and low-key. I smell the sulphur of the main harbor (this is supposedly what drew Diocletian to the city), I hear the commotion of people walking by under our window early in the morning. I recall the warmth and humor of the woman who owned a restaurant near our hotel- I had a wonderful lunch there our first day, and we chatted with her for the rest of our time in Split.

For after all, a country is more than its castles and churches and museums and national parks. The impressions that last, the memories that linger after we fly home, are the people we meet. So yes, I think of the owner of that restaurant. I think of Marija, the bubbly young Dubrovnik local who lead our Game of Thrones tour (from which the photo above was taken). I think of Bari, our guide through Plitvice Lakes, and his wry sense of humor and easy smile. I think of Dabor, the Zagreb native who drove us from Split to Zagreb and shared with us stories about life in Croatia and discussed the travails of raising a teenage daughter. Towards the end of our trip to Plitvice Lakes, Bari gave us some parting tips for enjoying the rest of our stay in Croatia and humbly asked us to “tell people back home about our country”. The Croatians that I met were proud people who were happy to share their lovely country with us, and I think they’re pleased that the country’s profile has been elevated so much in recent years. Mentioning their national soccer team doesn’t hurt either. All in all, I took home wonderful memories from the jewel of the Adriatic. Hvala, Croatia.

Going Viral

8 Jul

I wrote a viral post on this blog years ago about the encroachment of social media on our very minds- the notion that we were beginning to mold our thoughts and observations according to what would garner the most likes once shared. The whole post, now that I reread it, seems quaint- it was before I owned a smartphone, when I would wait to get home to log in to Facebook from my laptop. Now, social media apps are a click away, in our purses, pockets, and within reach at all times. You can share your thoughts, your photos, your life as it unfolds. You can even share other people’s lives as they unfold. Who needs privacy when real life drama is all around you?

I refer of course to the viral hit of a few days ago, known as planebae. A woman and her boyfriend sat behind two attractive strangers on a plane and livetweeted their flirtation to an audience of thousands. People loved the story- who hasn’t wished to sit next to the love of their lives on a plane- and it blew up. I admit, I followed it. And then, I felt guilty. When I heard that the “pretty plane girl” was refusing to go public with her identity, I thought, good for her! She didn’t ask for her private conversation to go very public. And now, her wish for privacy has been violated, since some committed internet sleuths have doxxed her, and she’s shut down all of her social media accounts.

It seems that to some young, extremely online people, life is one big Instagram story. Pics or it didn’t happen. We’ve all gleefully agreed to make ourselves famous for 15 minutes, or try. Add the filter to your selfie that will get you to 1,000 followers, to 1000 likes. Each new notification from social media is like a little hit of dopamine. I’m liked. I’m loved. More, more. I don’t think the woman who livetweeted the budding plane romance did so maliciously. But she did so without any concern to the privacy of those two people. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I would not want my private moments unknowingly shared with thousands. Yes, there is face recognition technology out there that captures us virtually anywhere we go. Hackers across the globe can monitor your actions online keystroke by keystroke. Is it too much to ask that we have some privacy when we’re in public spaces? Or will our lives inevitably become someone else’s content? If your dream is to end up on Today and Good Morning America, super. If not, brace yourself.