‘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.

2012 Year In Review

Here we are on the last day of 2012. A year that went by fast, and looking back, it was a mix of good and bad. Now is the time I am looking through my notes to see what happened in the year expiring soon. Here’s a summary of what fun things I did, what I liked and didn’t like, and the notable things that happened in my life in 2012:

Movies: I counted them all, in 2012 I watched 83 movies, that is an average of 1.6 movies per week. During the Independent Film Festival of Boston I would see up to three movies a day, but generally I go to the movies at least once a week. It turns out this year I saw plenty of classic and old movies at the Brattle, and finally did the wise thing and acquired a Brattle membership, which saves me some money. The movies I liked best this year were ‘The Kid With A Bike’, the Belgian movie by the Dardenne brothers; ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ a documentary about the Japanese sushi master Jiro Ono; Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’; the offbeat, different ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’; the heart breaking ‘Take This Waltz’; the tough and incredibly moving ‘Oslo, August 31st’; the touching ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’; and the fascinating documentary ‘The Imposter’. A quick note to mention ‘Lincoln’ for the superb acting by Daniel Day-Lewis, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’ for the visual beauty. I also liked a lot Bradley Cooper and Robert De Niro in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’. The movie that creeped me out the most, made me feel extremely uncomfortable and wish I had not seen was Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘The Skin I Live In”. Oh, and I am not seeing ‘Les Miserables’ because I absolutely hate musicals.

Music: I went to 18 live shows this year. Some shows stood out, like the Radiohead show, the Mogwai show, which finally happened after two prior cancellations, and the Saint Etienne show at the Paradise, where everyone was dancing happily away. I saw the most interesting lighting and staging at the Grizzly Bear show at the Orpheum. The worst show? The Jesus and Mary Chain, no contest. The Paradise still remains the best venue in the area to see live music. I just wish it was located somewhere in Camberville. I can’t say there was a band or album this year I adored, but I did listen to some music I liked a lot, like Tanlines, Alt-J, Beach House, Lower Dens and Beach Fossils. After seeing Frank Ocean and the Dirty Projectors making everyone’s best music of the year list, I tried to listened to them, but I find them unbearable. Frank Ocean’s music is plainly boring, and the Dirty Projectors singer sounds like your friend who keeps singing along to every song he hears, and he is always off-key.

UPDATE: I can’t believe I forgot to mention this but my favorite song this year was Japandroid’s ‘The House That Heaven Built’. Yeah.

 

Theater: Not too much theater in my life this year. I mostly went to plays my friend TMB was in, like ‘Measure For Measure’, ‘Waiting For Lefty’ and ‘Anne of the Green Gables’. I also saw an interesting production of ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Apollinaire Theatre in Chelsea, and David Adjmi’s ‘Marie Antoinette’ at the ART, a play I found was trying too hard to be witty.

Art: I visited the ICA and the MFA a couple of times each. I liked the exhibition Degas and the Nude the best, because I really, really like drawings. Really. Also at the ICA I saw Sam Green’s live documentary ‘The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller’ with live music by Yo La Tengo. And I love Yo La Tengo.

Food, Drink: I liked Casa B in Union Square in Somerville, a space with unique and pretty cool interior design and delicious tapas. I finally made it to Santarpio’s where I discovered the best pizza in town. I also liked Strip T’s in Watertown, West Bridge, and Belly Wine Bar in Kendall Square. I was impressed by the food at the Garden at the Cellar, which might be Cambridge’s best kept secret. The food is amazing, how come I didn’t know? I also paid many visits to iYo the new frozen yogurt place in Davis Square. The square will soon be fro-yo central, as a second fro-yo place opened, and there are plans for a third. I had some very good cocktails at Stoddard’s downtown, and at Brick & Mortar in Central Square.

Travel: Nothing extraordinary travel-wise. I spent three lovely days in Provincetown, I love this happy and laid back place, and the amazing beaches. Speaking of beaches, I discovered Duxbury beach this year (the best beach area is south of the bridge), pretty much one of the best beaches around Boston (sorry, North Shore beaches, no comparison, really). I went to Greece for a couple of weeks to see family and friends, eat well and swim in the Mediterranean, and that’s always pretty neat and relaxing. I also visited my brother and his family in Germany. I finally got to meet my nephew, who is a very cute baby, and got to see my niece again, who is a very cute toddler.

Exercise: In the beginning of 2012 I found myself ten pounds overweight, and ten pounds is a lot for a person of my size. I had a hard time shedding off the extra pounds just by eating less. So, I started eating less and exercising more,  the magic combination that always works. After hating running for as long as I remember, this year I followed a 5k training program, and after eight weeks I was pleasantly surprised to see I could comfortably run 3 miles. I participated in my first 5k race in December, and completed the race in 28 minutes. I also started taking tennis classes, and I loved it. I can’t wait to start new classes again. I biked a lot, as usual, and I took a bicycle repair class at the Broadway Bicycle School.

A couple of other notable things from 2012: I refinanced my mortgage and once again discovered how inept the people who work in this business are. After twelve years of living here I finally decided to apply for citizenship, and became citizen on September 11. I voted for the first time, and was happy with the results. I got to meet Elizabeth Warren, the new senator from Massachusetts, so now I have met both Senators from MA in person. Oh, and being a citizen means I can now run for office, but don’t worry, I don’t plan to.

In 2012 I experienced some disappointments, but no reason to talk about that now. I do not have any major new year’s resolutions, but I will definitely try to do certain things different: I will try to visit places I haven’t been to before. I would love to have someone willing and able to travel with me, but I am also willing to travel by myself. I will try to read more, and after many years I have cancelled my New Yorker subscription in order to free up time to read the untouched books in my bookcase. I will try to get back to creative things I used to like, like drawing.

Above all, in 2013 I will do my best to find time for all the small and big things that make happy. Happy New Year.

My Year in Review

The end of the year is approaching and I haven’t compiled my end-of-the-year lists. Not that they would be interesting anyway. Nonetheless, what I would like to do is look back in the year and think about small, and maybe big things that stood out, things that made 2009 special for me. Here’s my brief review of the year.

Films: I like going to the movies a lot and I like movies, both documentaries and narrative features. Unfortunately lately it has become almost impossible to love a film. The feeling is that they don’t make great films anymore. Still, I saw 58 movies this year and some were better than others: “O’ Horten” was a Norwegian film with absurd and edgy humor & amazing cinematography. I admired the scenes, I laughed at the lines, it touched my heart; that’s what I want a movie to do to me.  Other interesting ones were “An Education” (seductive & lovely), a “A Serious Man” (always interesting and surprising) and “Everlasting Moments”, a Swedish film about a housewife turned photographer (my blog post about it is here). The guilty pleasure of the year was “(500) Days of Summer”: the critics hated it, but I enjoyed it. Best acting of the year: Christian McKay as Welles in “Me and Orson Welles”. Documentaries I liked the best: “It Might Get Loud”, “Food, Inc.”, “We Live in Public” and “La Danse”. I sort of felt that documentaries were more compelling than narratives this year.

Live Music:  This year I saw the Muffs, Andrew Bird with Loney Dear, Mogwai, A.C. Newman, The Bad Plus, The Shins with Delta Spirit, PJ Harvey & John Parish, the Flaming Lips with Explosions in the Sky, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, The Psychedelic Furs, Neko Case, Sonic Youth and the Feelies. I also saw a handful of local bands, and was glad to discover Arms & Sleepers, and the Motion Sick. I saw the Muffs at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, and at Southpaw in Brooklyn, which was a pretty awesome venue. I wish Boston had a venue like Southpaw, on the small side, with plenty of character and good sound.

A very interesting show combining both film and music was Split/Signal at the Armory, a new arts center in Somerville. The silent short movies shown were accompanied by live bands, and it was a pretty neat event.

Music: I’m so old-fashioned, I still buy CDs. I won’t bore you with what I listened to, but only with what was in heavy rotation this year: the amazing compilation “Dark Was the Night”. Also Andrew Bird’s “Noble Beast”, Arms and Sleepers’ “Matador” and Florence + the Machine’s “Lungs”.

Theatre: I managed to see some plays this year: Boeing Boeing  (on Broadway), Endgame, Fool for Love, the Superheroine Monologues, A Winter’s Tale (by a local theatre group in a church basement), Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Orfeo’s Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), the Comedy of Errors (Shakespeare on the Common), Fences, the Big Broadcast War of Worlds, and Sleep No More. Sleep No More was unlike anything I’d seen before, an interactive deconstructed Macbeth set in an abandoned school. I loved it, it was a unique experience and I’m going to see it again tomorrow for the second time.

Art: In my two trips to New York City back in January, I saw Pipilotti Rist’s video installation “Pour Your Body Out” at MoMA, the William Eggleston and Alexander Calder exhibitions at the Whitney and the Kandisky one at the Guggenheim. Here in Boston I saw the Shepard Fairey exhibition at the ICA twice and wrote about it here , Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese at the MFA, which was exceptional, and I really liked the Dutch Seascapes at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Dining: I am a person who doesn’t cook and food really does not matter to me that much. Having said that I eat out quite often and I can tell when I had a good dining experience or a bad one. My best dining this year was at Craigie on Main. Everything was delicious, the service was superb and if I was rich I guess I would eat there more often. The worst dining experience of the year was at Addis Red Sea in Cambridge and I wrote about it here. The weirdest dining (more like non-dining) moment was when we attempted to have brunch at the West Side Lounge: The place was pretty much empty. We walked in, the host showed us to our table, and we looked at the menu. When we were ready to order nobody was coming. We were looking towards the host, the bartender, the three waitresses, did not get their attention, they didn’t acknowledge us.  Did I mention that there was just us and one other table in the whole place?! The employees were chatting with each other, and seemed to intentionally ignore us. I thought I was in a candid camera kind of a show. Really strange and rude. If they didn’t want to serve us, they shouldn’t have seated us. So after waiting for about 5 minutes in vain for somebody to take our order, we decided to leave. And as we were leaving the waitress who was by the door, didn’t even bother to say anything. I don’t think I’m going to the West Side Lounge again any time soon.

A couple of other interesting things happened this year: I went to Greece for vacation for two weeks and it was pretty awesome, I took figure drawing classes, and video shooting and editing classes at the Cambridge Community TV. I was part of the team that created a short documentary about the Out of the Blue gallery in Central Square. I liked the experience. Oh yes, I also got a new laptop, an iPhone and got addicted to Twitter.

All things considered, 2009 was good to me. Despite the tough economic times I was able to enjoy the things I like doing.  There were some moments where I felt my job was threatened, and some more tough times could be ahead. I don’t want to be a pessimist though. Biking and yoga gave me a little bit of energy. I also tried to be somewhat creative with drawing, photography and writing, and hopefully this will continue in the new year. I have no real new year’s resolutions, just a hope that the good things will continue and I’ll be content.

Movie Theater Manners (or Lack Thereof)

Watching movies in a movie theater (read big screen) is an experience that I love and much enjoy. But one that can be easily ruined mainly by other people. I don’t know what expectations these people have when they go to a movie theater, but to me, when in a theater I try to keep to myself and minimize my impact on my surroundings.

When I say surroundings I mean people, seats, floor, food, everything. Oh, yes, food. How did chomping on popcorn become associated with movie watching? What compels people to purchase overpriced bad popcorn and ridiculously diluted soda? What compels people to chomp and slurp? How can they not realize it is annoying?

Bad habits, yes.  Generations of people being brought up with the conviction that the world is theirs to conquer. An attitude evident from the movie-going crowd to the foreign policy. It might be useful to boost youngsters’ self-confidence telling them they can be whatever they want to be, but it can also be useful to teach them that they should respect other people, because unfortunately, we have to share this world. I know, it sucks, but that’s how it is. There’s a fine line between ruthless go-getters, and obnoxious. Evidently some people think the world is their playground, but sorry to have to break it to you, the movie theater is not your living room. No, you cannot be as comfortable as you are in your livingroom. Until the time comes when movie theaters feature couches, you cannot stretch your legs while seating in a movie theater. Putting your feet up the seat in front of you is gross. (And, by the way, you are wearing these freaking stupid clogs, while you’re not a Dutch peasant and while is not Halloween). All I want to do is turn to you, smile and say as politely as I can “Would you mind putting your feet down? I’m afraid they smell really bad. Thanks!” How humiliated would you feel? Would that put the message across to your brain?

Probably not. Cause probably you were never taught good manners. Or you chose to erase them from your brain. Whether you like it or not you live in a society, meaning you have to respect some rules; this is not a desert island. It’s the same attitude that makes people yelling “liar!” while the President addresses the Congress, the same attitude making that god awful Kanye West snatching the mic away to say his sorry bit. It’s the same attitude of feeling entitled. You shouldn’t though, simply because you are not actually entitled. Not more than anybody else.

So while you take your feet off the seat in front of you, make sure that you keep quiet. Yes, you heard me, quiet. Resist the urge to turn to your companion every 5 seconds and comment or question or sigh loudly or exhale loudly. You can save it for later. And it would save us some aggravation.

And now that you masticated like a lovely bovine and the movie is over and it’s time to leave, can you take your trash with you? I mean really, what’s with leaving it behind? Is it some kind of animal territorial marking behavior, like leaving b.o. or urine behind? Unnecessary.

Unfortunately this obnoxious behavior is noticed in every theater: urban, suburban, arthouse, blockbuster. And actually it extends outside of the theater: people not covering their mouths while yawning, people talking while eating, eating with open mouth, eating like pigs while not in the confines of their house, driving without using the turn signal while turning, picking their noses while driving (yes, though you might be alone in your car, you can actually be seen by others outside your car), people cutting you off while talking, people talking endlessly and loudly…

The bottom line is that we do not have to sustain behavior that encroaches into our spatial, visual, aural space. Manner bullies, cut it out. Please. Thank you.

The Best Films of the Decade

Paste Magazine is asking its readers to vote for the best films of the decade, which is slightly curious timing since 2009 is not over yet. They provide a list of the best films of the decade, with the smallest font possible, and of course you can add films you think are missing from the list.

My favs: The Lives of Others, Lost in Translation, Half Nelson, The Squid and the Whale, You Can Count On Me, Once, The Station Agent (which is not on the list, wtf Paste Magazine?), No Man’s Land, The Whale Rider, Kill Bill V. I & II