‘Personal Shopper’ and Kristen Stewart Review

Almost every review of the film ‘Personal Shopper’ features this rather bold proclamation: “Kristen Stewart is one of her generation’s greatest actresses.” As kids from her generation would say, exaggerating much?

Let me explain. I saw the film ‘Personal Shopper’ in a preview screening without having read any reviews beforehand. I thought Olivier Assayas’s film was bad; bad in the way a film is trying to be interesting and imaginative and different, but in the end, it just feels cumbersome.

After I saw the movie, I read three or four reviews. All of them were positive. And they all pretty much shared the same opinions: how Assayas did a wonderful and original work showcasing the grieving process, and how Kristen Stewart is a great actress. In the movie Maureen (Stewart) has recently lost her twin brother. She is a medium and is trying to make contact with her dead brother in the way presumably mediums do. What is so special about this grieving process? The special part is that Assayas chose to make her a medium, thus allowing him to treat the grieving process differently.

One reviewer was impressed with how effectively Assayas used text messages in the film. Let me describe it: we’re looking at her mobile’s text messages screen, as texts are being received and written. Well, how else would you show texts that are part of the plot?

None of the reviewers mentioned anything wrong they saw in the movie. But certain scenes were so plainly ridiculous, some in the audience laughed out loud. For instance, Maureen has gone to a hotel meet a real person or possibly a spirit, we don’t know. The scene shows the lobby of the hotel. The elevator door opens, stays open for a couple of seconds, no one is there, then it closes. The camera pans to the right, we still see nothing, the automatic doors open and close, as if -that’s right!- someone invisible was going through them! Do you get it, audience? The spirit/ghost was there! But, wait a minute, why did the spirit/ghost take the freaking elevator? Or go through the lobby door like a mere living creature that doesn’t possess any supernatural capabilities?

In another scene, Stewart is visiting her dead brother’s girlfriend at the house they used to share. Maureen is having a conversation with the girlfriend’s new boyfriend out in the yard outside the kitchen. He mentions he can feel her brother’s presence. She says she can’t. Then in the background we see her brother’s ghost behind the kitchen window drinking from a mug. Then he’s slowly moving towards the kitchen door while still looking ahead at Maureen’s back (or at us?). He looks like an extra trying to discreetly get out of the background of a scene he mistakenly found himself in. When he reaches the door, he disappears, and the mug falls and shatters on the floor. There were laughs from the audience, deservedly so.

I will omit my thoughts on the awkward wooden dialogue, the clunky plot devices, the unclear weird last scene, and move on to Kristen Stewart’s acting, that everyone is praising hard. I guess she became famous when she was in the Twilight movies. I haven’t seen any of these. I have seen Stewart in ‘On the Road’, ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’, ‘Certain Women’. She was also in ‘Still Alice’, but I have no recollection of her being in that movie.  My problem with her acting is that it is mainly non-acting (which I differentiate from subtle acting). She delivers every line in the same monotone. Her face carries one and only expression, that of endless ennui. When she’s thinking hard or she’s worried, she’s furrowing her brow, seemingly her only facial movement. When she’s nervous she either flutters her fingers, or runs her fingers through her hair. When she slightly parts her mouth, it means she’s lost in deep thought. In every scene she shares with another actor, when they are supposed to be talking to each other, she seldom makes eye contact with the other actor, she doesn’t interact. Her acting is wooden, self-absorbed. Whenever she smiles in a movie, it is always for a fraction of a second, while her eyes remain expressionless and cold. Why not pretend, Kristen, why not act that smile, the conversation?

And that’s how she is in every movie I’ve seen her. I don’t get that great acting so many people see. Perhaps after the Twilight movies people thought she couldn’t do anything else, so they’re rooting for her effort. Which is fine, and good for her, but I certainly don’t see that alleged greatness. There are many other actors her generation who are better, and hopefully directors offer good roles to them, too.

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One week later

It is now eight days after the Boston Marathon bombings of April 15, 2013. It was a beautiful day, and here in Massachusetts we were celebrating Patriot’s Day and a peaceful event, the Boston Marathon. The beauty of the day was interrupted at 2:50pm, when two bombs exploded while runners were still crossing the finish line. Bystanders were killed and injured.

I was getting ready to go play tennis, and after reading some alarming tweets the TV was turned on. The TV news was talking about possible bomb explosions. They showed an empty Boylston Street close to the Marathon finish line. A news helicopter was flying overhead and you can see the red sidewalks, colored red by innocent people’s blood. There were reports of dead people and injured people missing limbs. It was awful, this is Boston, a peaceful, open-minded city, we’re not in a war, why is this happening here?

It was all horrible. It could have been me, it could have been my friends. Like many times before, I could have decided to go down and watch the Marathon up close. The first reported victim dead was an 8-year old, and that turned my sadness to anger. What kind of a world is this when you take your 8-year old to watch the Marathon, and what you are left with is his dead body?

More questions were coming up: who did this? Why would anyone do that? This is terrorism, the enemy is unknown and is targeting innocent civilians. We started speculating, it must have been Muslim radicals, or perhaps white supremacists. But, to me the big question was, whatever your agenda is, how attacking innocent civilians can achieve anything? Who will side with your cause, who will sympathize?

The following days when authorities were trying to identify the suspects, I got angry with the people of 4chan, reddit and twitter who took it upon themselves to identify the suspects, drawing simplistic conclusions, manipulating photos of the bombing scene adding circles around the faces of people they had determined were the culprits. It was disgusting to see them taking it upon themselves, even naming people, who later turned to be innocent. The comments on those sites were pathetic “see this person is running away from the scene, it must be him!”, when everyone around them was running away too, because, you know, an explosion just took place a couple of feet away. The authorities had asked people for tips, clues, information. If you had photos or videos, the authorities had requested that you sent them over, they hadn’t asked of the public to solve the crime. There is a reason why there are authorities, procedures and experts in place, this is not some lawless land, where the masses and mobs can determine the guilty. All those alumni of crime TV shows and movies, took it upon themselves to point the guilty out, and they understandably failed.

On Thursday it was determined by FBI and local enforcement authorities that the bombers were two young men of Chechen descent. I thought that was strange, since as far as I know, the US is not involved in Chechnya. We started learning more about them, they lived in Cambridge, they liked sports. It was revealed the older one, 26 years old, named Tamerlan (after the great Asian warrior, I assume) had become a radical Muslim, saying he doesn’t have a single american friend because he doesn’t understand them, and the younger one, 19 years old, had tweeted “a decade in America already , I want out.”

The young brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev became an American citizen the same day I did, on September 11, 2012. I recall that day and how everyone was happy, because the country we liked and decided to make home, had accepted us as its citizens. I wonder how Dzhokhar felt that day. Perhaps he wanted out already.

The thing about immigrating in this country is that no one is forcing you to stay here. Myself and plenty of others have immigrated here, because we wanted to. If you do not like it here, you can leave. I cannot fathom why someone’s radicalism and frustration must turn into violence against their fellow citizens. The Tsarnaevs would have made a stronger and more fitting statement if they had gone back to Chechnya and fought their battles there. But, I suppose it must have been difficult living in poor, oppressed Chechnya. Here in America everything is free-er, easier.

I missed the incidents of Thursday night. Friday morning at 6:30, my phone rang. It is always something bad when you get a phone call so early in the morning. It was an automated message from the City of Cambridge, advising residents to “shelter in place” due to the on-going police activity in Watertown. I turned on the TV to see exactly what was going on, the fifth consecutive day of “breaking news”: the older brother dead, an MIT police officer dead, shoot outs in Cambridge and Watertown, carjacking, the young brother on the run. I was watching what had happened the night before in Watertown, seemed unbelievable that the young brother could have escaped the shootout and so many police officers. Why wasn’t he captured already?

The MBTA was shut down, no subway or buses were running. I didn’t go to work. Massachusetts Avenue was eerily quiet, nothing looked like a Friday morning. I had the TV on, local news kept recycling their stories, as there was no new development. In the afternoon I was wondering when they were going to capture him, how munch longer can we live in a lock down? The lock down was extended to the City of Boston, which I found a little bit too much. Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of our law enforcement with situations like these, so we tended to overreact. I was thinking that he has to be found soon, most likely he is injured and weak, and he is not a career criminal to use sophisticated methods to elude the police. How far could he go? As the day went on, the lock down felt oppressive, like living in a city at war. At 6pm the lock down was lifted, while the suspect was still at large. A couple of hours later he was found hiding in a boat parked on a Watertown resident’s back yard, and breaking news once again: “Suspect captured”.

There was relief. We could go out again. And this little bastard could do no more harm. I wondered why so many police officers on the scene did not methodically search backyard sheds, garages, boats around the initial escape location. Why was it that a resident saw blood in his backyard and his boat and called the police? The suspect was arrested and put in an ambulance, his face looking bloody. The crowd’s relief turned into celebration, which struck me as a bit premature, flags, cheers, U-S-A U-S-A chants, parents holding their children on their shoulders to cheer.

I think of the many people who were injured from the blasts, who have a long recovery road ahead of them. For those there is little relief. Their lives altered forever, like the lives of those who have lost loved ones. I appreciate how everyone rushed to help any way they could, civilians, first responders, Marathon volunteers.  Solidarity, humanity. I did my little part too, I donated to The One Fund, which was set up to help the victims of the bombings. I also appreciate the efforts from all law enforcement, who analyzed clues, tips, data, photos, video. Who did their best to apprehend the suspects and had one of their own seriously injured, who protected the public and had one of their own killed.

Cambridge Police regularly posts this on twitter: “be informed, not afraid.” I like this message. The violence the city saw does not make me afraid, but makes me more aware. I have chosen to live in this city and the area, because it is safe, peaceful, because there is no violence. I am not going to allow an incident like this to make me feel unsafe. But I also do not want to see any violence again ever, not here, not anywhere.

Buy Now Says Buffett

Well, looks like this it the time to buy, not to hold on to cash. Thus spoke Warren E. Buffett in an op-ed article in the New York Times and who am I to disagree? I’ll start investing again.

His simple rule that dictates his buying: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”

New

I used to maintain a blog about five or six years ago. It wasn’t anything fancy but it felt nice to be able to freely write and see something published, even on-line. I do not remember why I stopped doing it. But vanity crept back and here I am once again. Pretty much everybody is a blogger or has been, and I find it slightly entertaining when people feel compelled to add “I am a blogger” at the end of their list of occupations. 

Curious to find out how long this love affair will be…