The Importance of Being Younger Than Successful People

Lena Dunham

So, I’ve been watching HBO’s new series, Girls. I’m not particularly excited about it, I just find it OK. Maybe a little too hip for me, but it’s funny, witty and sick enough to get me hooked thanks to morbid and awkward situations.
Anyway, by the fourth episode I noticed that each one of them was directed by the same person: Lena Dunham. So I googled her and… THE HORROR. She’s the creator, the writer, the showrunner, the director, the leading actress. In short, she’s the HBO version of Tina Fey. But the real point is: she’s younger than me. Seriously, she was born in 1986 and I was born in 1985.
And here we go, existential crisis. A 25-year-old girl has her own HBO show… I can’t even afford to own a car, let  alone a house. Or a TV show. I don’t feel the same way about Tina Fey, because she’s in her forties and she makes me feel like I still have time to… grow (old, rich, talented, mature, lucky… Go pick one).
I had to find a solution to this new depression, so I read Lena’s wiki. Well, she happens to be the daughter of a famous New York photographer and a famous New York painter. Alright, I said to myself. Nevermind. I’m from a small town in the north of Italy and my parents are sort of blue-collar workers. Still, I won a scholarship and got into Berkeley for a year. Not bad.

But Lena Dunham is younger than me. Bummer.

Quality Overdose?

So, HBO’s Luck has recently been cancelled. Despite high expectations, pedigree and promised quality.
Some say that the show was plagued by fightings between director Michael Mann and writer-producer David Milch, added to raging animal-rights groups which condemned the horses’ treatment (three of them reportedly died). That surely didn’t help, but the real point is that nobody watched the show – 500.000 is actually a number too small even for advertisement-free HBO.

I have to be honest: I tried to watch Luck, but I just couldn’t even get to the end of the pilot. I could say that nothing happened, but that’s not a good reason. Even in Mad Men nothing really happens… on the surface. In fact, I felt that the problem with Luck was that nothing lied beneath the absence of action. There was no promise of great things ahead and all I could see was a display of technical proficiency. That was all.
So I wonder: HBO is the flagship channel of Quality TV. What if what we have here is a case of Quality Overdose? I think that the Premium network has taken to extremes the features that made it popular.
A month ago, Ryan McGee wrote on online magazine AV Club: “The first three and a half hours of Luck are installments in the nine-hour story that is that show. Events happen, but they are shaped to the season first and the episode second. It’s one thing to have a goal toward which everything is progressing. But episodes need to have goals as well. It’s the difference between making people anticipate where the show is going, and making them wait for it.”. That’s right: I didn’t want to wait for it anymore. I was giving HBO a 50 minutes chance to entertain me and hook me. To make me desperately want to watch episode 2. Sorry to say that, but HBO failed.

You can’t ask entertainment to pay the price for “quality”.

Related articles:
Did The Soprano do More Harm Than Good? HBO and the Decline of the Episode, Ryan McGee
The Vulture Transcript: Michael Mann and David Milch Open Up About the Cancellation of Luck, Matt Zoller Seitz

Hugo Cabret (2011)

Yeah, I do reckon that this post comes a little late. But you know… Italian releases and my dissertation are not helping me out on this one. Anyway, Hugo Cabret has finally come out in here too and I’ve also finished writing my grad thesis, so I’m ready to come back to my blog-life. And yep, I’ve been missing you all, guys!

I saw Hugo Cabret on Valentine’s Day and I must say the timing was perfect. I mean, I spent the night of Love’s Day (which I usually despise, but that’s another story) with Martin Scorsese. I spent the night of Love’s Day with George Méliès. I spent the night of Love’s Day with a little boy who, just like me, is absolutely crazy about movies. Summing it up: I spent the night of Love’s Day with my Love for cinema.
Surely it’s not a flawless film – a little too long, sometimes even to sappy, editing not as perfect as you expect from a Scorsese movie – but overall, I enjoyed it. I felt like a little kid watching The Magic happening on the screen. Yeah, I did feel like Hugo so, dear Mr. Scorsese, mission accomplished: through that kid you perfectly represented all of us film-lovers. You perfectly represented yourself. By the way: not only this movie made me appreciate Valentine’s Day (at least for a little more than a couple of hours), it also made appreciate 3D. It was actually kind of painful because I forgot to wear lenses so I had to wear two pairs of glasses for 137 minutes. But that’s just me to blame. So, do you know why I enjoyed it, nevertheless? Because the film was made for 3D. Apart from the technical perfection, I felt like Mr. Scorsese made us put on our supercool and super-21st century 3D glasses in order to watch the 1930s viewers on the screen watching us back. And, as we viewers watch each other, we feel like two reflections of a mirror. As if to say that, you know, love for films is transcendent, no matter where and when you live.

That’s why Hugo Cabret is a great love movie.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)

Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilley,  Ezra Miller

Kids can really be scary and disturbing. Take Joshua, for instance: he’s a little wicked demon cast inside a seemingly normal family. And there’s nothing more threatening than normal things turning out to be the opposite. But, you now, you take movies like Joshua just for what they are: thrillers/horrors. For thought they may be creepy and disturbing, you see their cinematic and fictional effects. You see the plot.

Then there are other movies, like We Need to Talk About Kevin. In short, and in IMDB’s words: “The mother of a teenage boy who went on a high-school killing spree tries to deal with her grief – and feelings of responsibility for her child’s actions.”
The story is entirely told through her memories and perspective.  As she tries to start a new life, metaphorically cleaning up the new house, she scratches the surface not only of those walls, but also of her memories’ walls. Through her flashbacks we gradually find out what really happened and, above all, like her we strive to understand why and how.
Kevin is clearly a disturbed child, right from the beginning. She knows that something is wrong with him. We know too. Her husband, instead, doesn’t notice and that makes her feel like an unfit mother – also because that little ass wants her to feel like that. So she’s deeply conflicted about the evil that she sees in her son and the natural love of  a mother. She knows, but she doesn’t really act. And that makes you wonder, at the end, whether things could have gone differently if she had said to her husband: “We need to talk about Kevin”.
In many ways, Kevin’s character is as disturbing as Joshua’s. But, as I said, this is a quite different movie. Though it’s not a true story (it’s an adaptation of 2003 Lionel Shiver’s novel), it conveys that precise feeling. The way is told, through rough and uneven memories, makes it so real. Like reading a diary. Or looking inside someone’s mind. Plus, it totally engages the viewers: as we embrace the mother’s perspective, we perfectly understand what she feels. And, like her, we start to feel guilty as well. We start to look for reasons and someone to blame but, in the end, it all comes back to Kevin himself. Who is just innately evil.
A painful drama, a gripping psychological thriller, a great movie.

“It’s like this: you wake and watch TV, get in your car and listen to the radio you go to your little jobs or little school, but you don’t hear about that on the 6 o’clock news, why? ‘Cause nothing is really happening, and you go home and watch some more TV and maybe it’s a fun night and you go out and watch a movie. I mean it’s got so bad that half the people on TV, inside the TV, they’re watching TV. What are these people watching, people like me?”

The Ides of March (2011)

Director: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffmann, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei

Gosh, I love when Good and Evil mingle so as you can’t tell anymore which one is which. ‘Cause actually there’s no difference, they just live inside everyone not as separate, but as complementary ways of being. Not that I’m going to lecture you about philosophy, religion or whatever, I just need to underline this to make you understand how awesome The Ides of March is. See the movie poster? That’s a double face. Yeah, they’re different persons. Yet, they’re still the same. But they’re not. Also because one is real and one is on paper. Yeah, that’s kind of complicated, but that’s why even the movie poster is so awesome. Clooney brings competition, corruption and bad deeds not only inside the same person, but also right inside the same team. Inside the same party. A party which has a public façade made of liberal values, positive will of change and honesty. Well, that’s politics baby.
Technically, The Ides of March is perfect. Clooney’s direction mingles television style and classic cinema, putting a particular emphasis on a pop-artsy composition. The cast is just impressive: Ryan Gosling, Clooney himself,  Phillip Seymour Hoffmann, Evan Rachel Wood, Paul Giamatti, Marisa Tomei… The good thing is that you don’t actually see the “stars”: the actors disappear and you just see the characters. That’s real talent, I think. All this, needless to say, supported by a very well-written story by Clooney and Grant Heslov (right from Goodnight, and Good Luck).Did I say that I really loved this film? 

“We’re gonna be fine. We have to do it, it’s the right thing to do and nothing bad happens when you’re doing the right thing”
“Is this your personal theory? ‘Cause I can shoot holes in it”

PS: If you can read Italian, there’s a great review a friend of mine wrote here.

50/50 (2011)

Director: Jonathan Levine
Starring:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anna Kendrick, Bryce Dallas Howard, Angelica Huston

Here we are. After spending weeks reading enthusiastic reviews about this movies, I finally saw it too. Not thanks to a miraculous italian release, if you know what I mean. Anyway, yes, I do agree with all of you – at least all of you who have praised it.
The story is pretty straightforward: a 27-years-old guy suddenly learns to have cancer and starts to struggle against the disease. On the forefront, social relationships: his parents, his girlfriend, his best friend, his therapist. True story.
Overall, the movie is what you expect from a contemporary indie flick. It’s extremely bittersweet and tragicomic. Whether it wants to make you laugh or cry, it does its job perfectly. Personally, what I liked the most is the interaction between Gordon-Levitt and Rogen. No surprises from their characters, they both play what you’d expect them to play: the former is a sort of hip/average guy (500 Days of Summer style), the latter is just his sex-obsessed buddy. Do you remember when i talked about Billy Wilder and the harmony he manages to create among all of his characters? If you don’t recall the post, here’s a couple of hints: click here and here. Well, I was saying that those characters are complementary. And that’s what happens between Levitt and Rogen. They’re so different, yet they complete each other. The dialogues between them are brilliant and rhythmic duets. Though they pretty much stay themselves, they stay as separate worlds, they do not collide. Ever. They just spin around each other and “dance”. Which can only be achieved through a very well written story.

“She doesn’t want to fuck me. I look like Lord Voldemort!”

On Adaptations

Sometimes I just take it up again and flip through it, until I end up lingering on a quotation, a paragraph, a page. I’m talking about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but I could apply the same rule to most of my favorite books. Here’s what’s special about them: though you know them already, they can still surprise you when you randomly open them. I read The Road for the first time three years ago, when I was about to go to the 2008 Venice Film Festival for the premiere of its adaptation, John Hillcoat’s The Road. I remember starting to read at around 10 am, and not dropping the book until the same night. That was love and pain, two of the feelings that can get you hooked in a heartbeat. Yes, The Road is short. But those 100 pages are dense, deep and highly painful. It’s about a dark and dry world, as dark and dry as its inhabitants. You can find no reason for them to keep on living and no reason for yourself to keep on reading since you know that there can be no hope. But you go on nevertheless, like them. Because, like them, you’re human.
Then came the film. By the time I saw it, the book was one of my favorite already, so you know how hard it is to be objective. I tried not to think about those 100 pages, but it was impossible. Parts were missing, parts that I had so vividly pictured in my head and that never got out. Then the movie ended and I felt like I had just finished reading the book once more. The feeling was the same, though some things were missing or different (Viggo Mortensen was also sit three rows behind me so yes, the broader frame was definitely different). The movie could have never been like the book. But it was good, it created the same atmosphere and conveyed the same feelings. The soul of the book was somehow there. The same thing happened to me with Barney’s Version. Let’s be honest, that book is almost freaking impossible to adapt. I like to picture Charlie Kaufman trying to do it and getting crazy as he did in Adaptation. But the movie is actually good, though different.
So that’s the secret of good adaptations, I guess: being a compromise. There’s no way a book can become a movie and stay as it is. It will always disappoint you. But the best a film director of a film writer can do is to take up the spirit, the soul of the book and turn it into images. Only then, even if you haven’t seen the part that you had pictured in your head while you were reading, you can end up saying: “Yes, that’s how I felt when I read the book”.

“Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone”