Love Is Blindness

Anna Karenina movie posterSuppose it’s possible to become addicted to another person.  Or, addicted to the way that person makes you feel.  Suppose this pseudo-addiction is as strong as an actual physical addiction to something powerfully destructive like heroin, for example.  Supposing that’s possible, what kind of a relationship do you think one could have with the object of his/her addiction?  I would assume it’d be an unhealthy one, to say the least.  But I don’t have to speculate because I’ve now seen Anna Karenina.  Anyone who has seen the film or read Tolstoy’s novel will tell you: the relationship is capable of destruction of epic proportions.

I walked into it blind, never having read the famous novel on which it’s based nor seen any previous film adaptation.  I had a vague idea that it was a love story but otherwise, knew no details.  Set in 19th-century Russia high-society, it follows aristocrat Anna Karenina (Keira Knightley) as she enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).  Anna begins the story happily married and settled in her role as wife to the upstanding Karenin (Jude Law) and mother to their young son.  While visiting her brother and his family, she happens to meet the charming Vronsky and is immediately attracted to him.  She resists him at first despite his aggressive pursuit of her but eventually gives in and what ensues is an affair so wholly destructive, it’s actually a little painful to watch.

The films depicts three possibilities of love: that of Anna and Vronsky – the kind of all-consuming love that gets each participant to abandon everything, even themselves, leaving them wandering like a ship without anchor in dangerous waters; that of Oblonsky and his wife Dolly – the shallow kind of love that offers a sense of security and purpose but never any real satisfaction; and that of the third couple the films depicts, farmer Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and the pretty, young socialite Kitty (Alicia Vikander) – a love that is simple and true, albeit passionless, giving a moderate amount of relative happiness.  And this is the film’s greatest success: comparing these varying relationships without favoring one over another.  Director Joe Wright has no interest in telling us which is best, or most right.  He simply lays each of them out for us to watch and the conclusions we draw are our own.

I found it difficult to relate to Anna because of the many terrible choices she made.  I understand the intoxication of falling in love and how it consumes you, so her choice to engage in the affair didn’t cause my disconnect.  But her willful refusal to understand or even acknowledge the pain she caused her husband and her child and her petulant behavior toward the man for whom she sacrificed everything kept me from ever becoming really invested in her.  Her obsession with Vronsky seemed to me symbolic of addiction, reminding me of an alcoholic’s love and need for booze or even of Gollum’s love of The Ring – they can’t give it up even though it only causes them pain and destroys all else that they hold dear.

The costumes and make-up are stunningly beautiful.  Keira Knightley is absolutely gorgeous and one damned talented actor.  HarAnnad as it was for me to relate to Anna, I still found myself liking her and wanting her to find some happiness, which I attribute to Knightley’s passionate portrayal.  Jude Law, Matthew MacFayden and Aaron Taylor-Johnson all give excellent performances.  MacFayden provides the comic relief as Knightley’s brother, Stiva Oblonsky, who loves his wife but can’t resist the temptations of the flesh of the young, pretty women around him.  The social commentary there, in the contrast of the complete lack of consequence to Oblonsky’s many affairs to Anna’s loss of absolutely everything in response to hers is nicely constructed and yet another reason I’m grateful to have been born in a time and place where women aren’t so wholly discriminated against.

The set design is beautiful and entirely original, staged like a play with the convenience and ease that allows one scene to be that of a frigid outdoor train station and right through the door to the next, the warmth of Karenin’s elaborate home.  I’m not sure why they chose to have the set design like this and while it is gorgeous and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a feature length film, I can’t say that it worked, entirely.  I get the whole “All the world is a stage” idea but I felt like it kept me moderately detached from the narrative.  The scenes between Anna and her son in particular felt too removed.  The stage, empty of all but the boy’s bed, felt too cold and empty to allow much emotion in.  Such detachment worked to my advantage at other times, though, particularly at Anna’s lowest points, where it kept me from falling into utter despair right along with her.

Anna Karenina is worth seeing for the compelling performances and gorgeous sets and costumes alone.  It isn’t a story I’ll soon revisit but the ideas put forward about love and relationships are ideas we, as human beings, have been consumed with for centuries.  The question of whether it is better to sustain moderate happiness or blindly walk into what could potentially be the decimation of everything sacred and dear for the possibility of a greater joy.  The choice is yours.

~Nikki

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Oh lovely readers, I am so sorry to have been silent this long.  This past week was a bear at work and rather busy otherwise and this whole month, in fact (typical for this time of year) has simple overwhelmed me.  But I haven’t forgotten about you.  Quite the opposite; sitting down to write a little something here on this blog is a favorite pastime of mine and it feels so good to finally get back at it.  We have a great many things to talk about, so let’s dive right in, shall we?

First and most importantly, like all othervigils in this nation and probably the world over, we here at rms are mourning those lost and wounded in Newtown, Connecticut during the recent atrocity.  There have been so many conflicting reports in the media that we won’t try to speculate on what led to it.  We’ll simply say that like all of you and countless others, our hearts are broken and we’re hoping for brighter days for the families and friends of those who’ve suffered such tremendous loss.

Homeland has completed its second season, and what a season it has been.  You know I’ve been a fan of Rupert Friend’s Peter Quinn from the start, but his stand against David Estes wherein he called Carrie the “best intelligence officer” he’d ever known and promised to target Estes should anything happen to Brody was one of the most powerful scenes the show has given us.  I didn’t know if Brody would live or die or if he’d turn completely and swear vengeance for Abu Nazir’s death but I did think this whole not knowing where his loyalties lay thing had to end.  How could they plausibly keep it going?  Silly me.  They found a way, and a good one.  Did Brody have anything to do with the bombing at Langley?  Was he willing, once again, to risk his own life in order to slaughter those chiefly involved in the drone bombings that killed Issa?  He told Dana he’d changed, that he wasn’t the same man who wore that suicide vest.  But his body language seemed to contradict his words.  He didn’t move to hug or touch his daughter – he was rigid and cold, keeping a reasonable distance.  He spent the night with Carrie and appears genuine in his interactions with her but we know he hasn’t abandoned his faith in Islam, not in itself an indication of guilt but perhaps a sign that he is still the man he became while imprisoned by Nazir.  Does he love Carrie or did he use her to find an escape route?  Estes is dead, which puts Saul in command and Carrie the youngest station chief in CIA history, which is where season 3 will likely pick up.  I cannot wait.

Speaking of Saul Berenson, my thanks to the gods of the Golden Globes for nominating Mandy Patinkin for his truly exceptional performance in the role.  He consistently exercises controlled restraint in his portrayal of Saul, quietly and calmly commanding your attention while allowing his facial expressions to say what his mouth doesn’t.  Patinkin is a total pro and I have no reservations in championing him for the win.

Speaking of the Golden Globes, Tina Fey & Amy Poehler are hosting this year and you can tune in here as we liveblog the event, Jan 13, 2013.

I know this was made and released last year on Christmas but I love it so much, I thought I’d post it again.  (Note to Donald Faison: if I weren’t already married, I’d want to marry you and call you Turk in the boudoir.)  Seriously, I want to hang out with these guys ALL THE TIME.

And finally, the world did not come to an end yesterday, as anyone with even half of a functioning brain could have guessed, but the media’s determination to willfully misinterpret and misrepresent the Mayan calendar did give us this fantastic gem, courtesy of Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Emma Watson, Michael Cera, David Krumholtz, Martin Starr, Mindy Kaling and probably more.  Basically, the majority of the most talented comedic actors currently alive.  Enjoy.

Happy Holidays!

A Little Vision Of The Start And The End

There’s this project I’ve been working on for years.  I’ve taken breaks from it, sometimes very long, extended breaks, but I keep coming back to it.  Keep tweaking, re-imagining, changing this detail or that one.  A couple of times, I’ve all but wiped the slate clean and started anew.  It’s the kind of project that has become a staple in my life – more than a decade of sweat, blood and tears poured into it with a very specific goal in mind.  And more than once, I’ve come within arm’s reach of that goal.  Gotten so close but never quite arrived.  Felt the excitement, the blazing beam of light as the door to what I want opened before me, and retreated into the shadow of disappointment when one obstacle or another got in my way.  And now, dear reader, I find myself back in that place.  Once again, I’ve come so very close only to have been blocked, turned away, rejected.  And once again, I find myself making a new game plan.

I am resilient, if nothing else.  At no point have I seriously considered walking away.  Every let down brings constructive criticism which leads to new ideas, a fresh perspective, an opportunity for growth.  And I feel I’ve taken those opportunities, used them to my best advantage.  I’ve been disappointed, sure.  I’ve taken breaks and allowed time to clear my head.  But I’ve always come back determined to get it right.  And I do genuinely believe the project has become better, stronger, more focused and refined because of it.

I must admit, though, that I’m beginning to feel like this is a project that will never end.  In a way, it’s good because I’ve reached this level of expertise with it that can only serve to make it better.  At the same time, though, I’m growing tired of working on variations of the same project over and over.

More than anything, I feel like the end goal is within reach and all I need at this point is persistence.  With every criticism and subsequent alteration, I feel like the project has only gotten better.  As always, though, I am impatient to reach my goal.  It’s weird; I’ve never felt more encouraged, more certain that what I want is not only possible but probable (if I keep at it).  But at the exact same time, I’m weary of the whole thing, ready to try something entirely different.

So today I ask you, how do you find inspiration?  How do you come up with the tireless kind of energy required to see something big, something that takes years to perfect, through to its completion?  How do you, my dear reader, keep going?

~Nikki

Through Each Life Of Misery, Everybody’s Got A Hold On Hope

SLPHave you ever watched someone self-destruct?  Have you listened to their irrational, nearly incoherent rants and tried in vain to make them see reason?  Have you stood helplessly by as they allowed one opportunity for real growth after another to pass by and chose, instead, to give in to old, destructive habits?  If you’ve never witnessed any of this, watching the film Silver Linings Playbook will likely give you some insight into that world.  And afterward, I’m sure, you’ll count yourself lucky.

It’s a difficult thing to watch someone effectively destroy his/her life, especially if you happen to care for that person.  Such are the circumstances for Pat and Dolores Solitano (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver, respectively), whose son, Patrick, Jr. (Bradley Cooper) has just come out of an inpatient mental health facility.  Eight months prior, Patrick suffered a violent psychotic break after finding his wife in the shower with another man.  Spending eight months in an inpatient treatment center was the bargain he made to get out of jail time.  This is where SLP begins.  Patrick returns home to his parents’ house in Philadelphia and really seems to be holding his own.  He clings with almost manic desperation to the optimistic outlook he learned in treatment – to find the silver lining and focus only on it in any and every situation.  He’s determined to win back his estranged wife, Nikki, through optimism and exercise.  The plan is to show her, by taking such good care of himself and sticking to his new positive outlook, how well he’s doing.

The only hitch, Nikki has taken out a restraining order against him, one that’s strictly enforced by local law enforcement.  Before long, Pat meets Cooper -SLPTiffany, the sister of his best friend’s wife, a young woman who’s recently had some mental health issues of her own.  Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) lost her husband not long ago and subsequently fell into a severe depression, which caused her to act out sexually and become the talk of the town.  Also determined to turn her life around, she agrees to help Pat contact Nikki under the radar of the restraining order in exchange for his help in realizing a dream of her own.

The plot is interesting, though simple enough and the outcome can be predicted from pretty early on.  What makes SLP work so well is a combination of excellent dialogue courtesy of David O. Russell (writer/director) and Matthew Quick (writer of the novel on which the film is based) and the authentic, engaged performances of all the key players.  The dialogue is whip-smart and loaded with clinical mental health terminology but not so much that it goes above any heads or pokes fun at its audience.  It isn’t ironic or overly dramatic.  It’s genuine and infused with enough humor that is never takes itself too seriously.  This movie is actually pretty funny; I laughed out loud a lot, despite the heavy subject matter and sometimes painful realism.  Director David O. Russell constructs every scene to feel completely natural and evokes some of this year’s finest performances from his cast.  Bradley Cooper has never been this good.  Ever.  Robert DeNiro hasn’t been this good in some years and damn, is it refreshing to see him having fun Lawrence -SLPand fully engaged in a role again.  More than once during the flick’s two-hour run time, I thought: This is why I love him so much.  Jacki Weaver plays the doting mother perfectly and supporting roles from Chris Tucker, Paul Herman and John Ortiz solidify the “we’re all in this together” tone.  If I had to pick just one stand-out, though, it would be Jennifer Lawrence.  She plays Tiffany with a fierce authenticity, nailing that combination of vulnerability and willfulness perfectly.  I asked earlier if you’ve ever had to watch someone self-destruct.  I have and I’m guessing Jennifer Lawrence has, too, because she wholly inhabits the role of someone with self-destructive tendencies.

David O. Russell fully captures the family dynamics at play between someone with emotional instability and his family.  Everything about the film works -the working class neighborhood, the simultaneous affection and tension between father and son, the worried but sympathetic mother, Patrick’s bi-polar mood swings and Tiffany’s willful stubbornness.  Silver Linings Playbook may not be the most complex tale ever told, but it will make you laugh, make you cringe (sometimes simultaneously), break your heart with its realism but also give you hope because amidst the struggles and the heartache, there is the community of family and friends, the promise of better days ahead, and the joy brought from the ones you love who love you back.

~Nikki

We’ll Make Out Better Than Okay

I watched the series finale of Roseanne on TV today.  I loved Roseanne, practically grew up on it, and will still watch reruns now even though I’ve seen every episode a few times already.  A friend once said to me that she didn’t like the show because it was just too “low rent” for her.  I guess it was low rent.  But that’s also what made it different, what madRoseannee it ballsier than other shows and part of what made it work.  I also grew up watching The Cosby Show and Growing Pains and Who’s The Boss and I loved those shows, too, but my family did not look like the families in them.  I didn’t grow up in a double income home and the one income there was certainly did not resemble that of a doctor or lawyer or psychiatrist (or advertising exec or news anchorperson).  I grew up working class, blue collar in a relatively small but industrialized city.  We had playgrounds and backyards but not acres of untouched land nor any of the perks of big cities like NYC.  Nope.  The city in which I was raised looked more like the Illinois town in which Roseanne was set.  And my family looked like the Connors, too.  Well, not physically, but economically and in the way we talked and interacted with each other.

The series finale got a lot of hate from critics and fans alike and I kind of understand why.  It flipped the last season of the show on its head.  Backtracked and reversed both major and minor plot lines.  But for me, it was one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen.  For me, it worked.  Allow me to explain why:

1. It returned the show to its roots.  In the final season of Roseanne, the Connors won the lottery and the whole dynamic of the show changed.  They weren’t struggling working class anymore; they were millionaires.  Up until the start of that 9th and final season, the focus had always been on the family.  They struggled to make ends meet, to pay their bills and give their kids a life better than their own.  But they had each other.  And that’s about all they had.  After becoming rich, the focus became their altered lifestyle and extravagant luxuries.  A sort of fish out of water theme.  It didn’t work.  Everything about the show that I had connected with, that I loved and that felt like home to me, had disappeared.  In the show’s finale, Roseanne reveals that the whole last season had been a figment of her imagination.  That she’d been writing a memoir and when she’d lost her husband, she’d also lost her way and wrote an alternate ending for herself as a coping mechanism.  In the final few minutes of the series, Roseanne returned her show to the ideas and themes that had made millions of people love it.  I thought it took balls, personally, and I admired her for it.

2. It restored Dan Connor.  In the last season, after Dan’s heart attack, his character went through some major changes, as often happens Danfollowing a near-death experience.  But his changes were not for the better.  He alienated his wife and children and even had a brief affair with his mother’s nurse.  (I don’t remember if he actually engaged in sexual congress with the nurse or if he’d just fallen for her but never acted on it.  Either way, it’s cheating.)  If you’d watched the whole series as I did, you’d know that such behavior was uncharacteristic of Dan.  He was kind of the perfect husband in that he’d always backed his wife.  Even if she was wrong.  Even if she was acting irrationally or out of anger.  He’d tell her later on that she’d been a fool but when it mattered, he had her back.  Period.  The final episode revealed that everything Dan had done in that last season had been a work of fiction, something Roseanne made up to vent her emotions while grieving his loss.  She reveals that in reality, he’d died from that heart attack at the end of the previous season.  Roseanne had felt betrayed and abandoned by him, she’d been angry and lost.  In the shows final moments, Roseanne said: “When you’re a blue collar woman and your husband suddenly dies, you lose every sense of security.”  Those things Dan had done in the last season were simply a fictional expression of the insecurity brought on by her grief.

3. It worked, creatively speaking.  As a writer, I connected to nearly every word of that last monologue given by Roseanne during those final minutes.  She said that writing had been her way of working through her grief, her many emotions, her turmoil.  She’d changed things in her memoir not to rewrite history or alter the past, but in an effort to right the wrongs.  Through her writing, she’d discovered herself.  Her opinions, her values, truths she hadn’t seen before.  She discovered who she really was.  It reminded me of a quote from 20 century British writer E. M. Forster: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”  As a writer, I know that emotions are voiced and vented through words and through the act of writing.  I know that sometimes I am surprised at my own hidden thoughts and opinions when they come out while I’m writing.  Writing makes you think about things in ways you previously haven’t.  It’s an outlet and a means of discovery for all writers, including Roseanne Connor.

~Nikki

Made To Suffer

All right.  Here it is: I like The Walking Dead.  Really, I do.  But every episode is a bit of a struggle for me.  For every five awesome things about it, there is at least one bad thing.  Like, one seriously bad thing.  And lately, the best and worst things all have to do with Michonne.

First, the good things: the feeling of unity in this episode is stronger than it has ever been.  The group pulling together to rescue Glenn and Maggie and Rick’s sturdy leadership throughoDaryl and Merleut the entire intense, dangerous and desperate mission is outstanding.  They really aren’t just a group of random people bound together for a better chance at survival anymore.  They’ve become a family.  And they will risk it all the save a member.  This is the most solid they’ve been as one unified group and I’ve never loved them more.  Further testament to that was Daryl’s choice to stay and fight with them over seeking out his biological brother, Merle.  In all honesty, I kind of like Merle.  Not his actual character so much as the level of conflict he brings to the show.  He’s a damned good antagonist.  And since Shane died, the show needed another antagonist.  I don’t know how Daryl got caught nor do I have any idea how he’ll liberate himself, but it sure would be interesting if he and Merle both escaped and rejoined the group together.  (Note: Daryl had better escape.  While killing him off would be one ballsy move, my heart just couldn’t take it.)

Back at the prison, the addition of Tyrese and his crew adds some excitement to the mix and allows Carl yet another opportunity to behave like the disillusioned, adept, overly mature man-child he’s become.  All remnants of innocence and childhood are gone from Carl; he’s a seasoned, even burdened, veteran of the zombie apocalypse and he does what he has to with a cold kind of sadness that breaks my jaded heart every f**king time.

And finally, Michonne.  Danai Gurira is a complete and total badass and her fight with The Governor was almost too much to take.  Never before have we seen such a cut-throat, balls out, bloodthirsty battle between two people on The Walking Dead.  These two weren’t just defending themselves.  They weren’t trying to subdue or capture one another.  There was no mercy, no hesitation, no semblance of The Governora conscious in either of them.  This was two people trying their absolute hardest to kill each other.  Period.  The fact that she sat in his office and waited, oh so patiently, for him to return shows a cold, calculated determination within her.  Michonne is more than capable of taking care of herself and of killing anyone and everyone who gets in her way – The Governor included.  But not yet.

Which brings me to the things about this episode that did not work.  First of all, you know she had to have put together that this group of people is most likely the very same group to which Andrea used to belong.  Michonne knew that Merle and Andrea knew each other and then when she saw Merle kidnap Glenn and Maggie, she overheard Merle and Glenn reference their shared past.  A woman as sharp as Michonne would not have neglected to put that together.  Yet, at no point did she ask Rick or any of the others if they knew Andrea.  Are we supposed to believe that it simply never came up?  This is lazy writing, pure and simple.  Along the same lines, after Andrea stops Michonne from killing The Governor, not a word is spoken between them.  Seriously?  Why didn’t she say something?  Anything?  “He tried to kill me.”  “He kidnapped Glenn and Maggie and planned to kill them.”  “I found your friends.”  “He had his f**king zombie daughter locked up in a cubby hole.”  Nope.  Instead, they stare at each other for a few long, pregnant moments and then Michonne leaves, allowing another opportunity to close a rather large communication gap to pass idly by.  I just don’t buy it.  I know she isn’t a talker.  I know she’s dark and cryptic and I love her for it.  But this level of silence borders on absurd.  At least, without explanation, it does.  It’s simply bad writing.  And in a show where we’ve some of the best writing currently on television, there’s just no excuse for it.

Also bugging me these days is Andrea’s complete 180 from last season.  At the close of season 2, she was this whip-smart, strong, independent woman who’d taught herself how to use a gun and practiced until her shot could rival that of any of the men around her.  These days, she’s a lovesick girl who does as she’s told.  Did the severed zombie heads in fish tanks send up any red flags?  It seemed so for a minute, but then she stayed with him.  What about seeiThe Walking Deadng Daryl alive again and captured by her new boyfriend – did that feel wrong to her at all?  If so, she chose to stand by in terror, mouth agape but motionless.  Because that’s always better than taking action.  Who is this broad?  Where is the Andrea we got to know during the past two seasons?  My plea to the writers/producers of the show is to return Andrea to the willful soldier she used to be.

The Walking Dead returns Sunday, February 10, 2013.  You know where I’ll be.

~Nikki

Whispers In The Dark

Just finished re-reading The Hobbit – the first chapter book I remember reading as a child.  My dad read it to my brother and me when we were in single digits and even then, I fell in love with Gollum and all the darkness he represented.  Riddles In The Dark is one of the finest pieces of writing ever written and I am tweaking like a meth-head in anticipation of seeing it up on the big screen courtesy of Peter Jackson and Andy Serkis.  As a kid, I was fascinated by Gollum; I wanted to know how he’d come to live in that mountain and why he’d stayed there.  Why did he speak of himself in third person and call himself “precious”?  Why did he ask himself questions as if some other part of him would answer and what was the deal with his sick obsession with that ring?  Much later, in college, I read The Hobbit again and marveled at Tolkien’s skill in creating a creature so wholly vile and repulsive yet worthy of pity.  A creature whose behavior and mannerisms, whose thoughts and physical attributes coincide so perfectly with a being who’s lived in nearly complete isolation and darkness for decades or more.  A cave-dwelling creature whose one friend is this precious ring, which has served him well, allowed him success as a hunter, thereby saving him from starvation or capture (by the goblins) but which has also caused a level of destruction from which there is no return.  Reading The Hobbit as an adult, Gollum reminds me of a heroin addict living in the sewers, thieving and mugging enough to maintain but never getting even half a step ahead because the need and the absolute love of that which is killing him is too strong to fight.

I feel such gratitude to Peter Jackson and the brilliant Andy Serkis (and anyone else who was involved) for making the CGI version of Gollum in their fantastic adaptation of the LotR trilogy every bit as sad, disgusting, insane and pitiful as Tolkien intended.  I was nervous, scared even, as I walked into the theater back in 2001 to see The Fellowship of the Ring that Gollum would be misrepresented, that they’d have neglected some detail or exaggerated others.  But the Gollum I saw made me fall in love with the character all over again – a perfect visual translation of the creature Tolkien created.

Now, less than two weeks away from the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I feel no trepidation.  Only eager excitement to see Gollum again and to watch that most beloved sequence of events that compiles Riddles In the Dark, my favorite chapter in the whole tale (from The Hobbit to The Return of the King), unfold onscreen.  I cannot wait.

~Nikki