A Few Items for Sunday and the Start of 2016

It’s Sunday, and there’s nothing terribly urgent to say, but this weekend won’t let me leave it without writing something. Three weeks into the new year. Good excuse as any to process some stuff.

Does it feel longer than three weeks to anyone else? I don’t say that with negative connotations; maybe it just feels long because a lot has happened. Actually, not even that much has happened. But I think I sensed a shift between 2015 and 2016, more than I usually would as the years change. 2015 wasn’t a dud by any means, but nothing really new happened. And I get it. Years will go by in life where nothing really new happens. It’s not bad. But I sense 2016 holds some action. Who really knows what yet.

As the year starts to reveal what it will be, I’ve noticed one priority emerge: Keeping better track of everything. Not just physical items, though it would be great if I stopped losing my MetroCards…but ideas, articles, photos, songs – anything that, when I read/hear/see/listen/otherwise consume, immediately catches my eye. If I don’t save it in the moment, I’ll forget to save it at all (or worse, remember it but without the spark of the original inspiration).

So far, this is happening in a semi-makeshift way; I’m mostly saving items to a Gmail folder and working to keep better track of them with tags and titles. Not pretty, necessarily, but always with me, easily navigable, and free. I also use Pinterest, tumblr, and the Notes app on my phone.

Ideally, I’ll look back on this folder at the end of the year and recall a clear picture of everything that inspired me. “Inspired” may be too strong a word, though I’d say even at this early point there are a few items that fit that bill. Anything that captures how I feel in a moment, enlightens me, makes me smarter, intrigues me, opens me to a new person or idea, provokes me to dance…I want to remember what it was and what it made me feel.

Here are some of the items I’ve documented so far:

Interviews with Elizabeth Banks and Sarah Silverman on Vanity Fair’s “Little Gold Men” podcast. This podcast debuted somewhat recently and I’ve found each episode I’ve listened to extremely insightful. It’s fun to listen to people who love movies and awards season as much as I do – but who actually know what they are talking about, and have informed reasons for thinking this woman will win Best Actress or why the Hollywood Foreign Press will probably give the Golden Globe to this person. Their recent interviews with Elizabeth Banks and Sarah Silverman were particularly notable. The Vanity Fair writers who host ask such precise, revealing questions. I loved Elizabeth Banks talking about two real-life women she has played lately – Melinda Ledbetter Wilson, wife of Brian; and Laura Bush – explaining how she tried to connect to a real-life part of each woman, while understanding she could never 100% “be” them. And the Sarah Silverman conversation; I can’t point to as many specifics, but I found her to be so self-deprecating and smart and loved hearing a first-person account of some of her experiences as an actress.

New York Times Bowie obituary. David Bowie was never part of my music education, to be honest. Of course I knew who he was, but my parents didn’t listen to him and I never picked up an appreciation in any other part of my life. But we’d been talking at work about wanting to go see Lazarus, the Bowie musical that had been off-Broadway. And then on a Monday morning a few days later, news broke that he died. I couldn’t take part with any truly personal tribute, but I enjoyed following the remembrances. His obit in the Times contained an electric line, and in my mind, I can’t think of any other way someone could want to be described: “infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking.”

Emma Thompson on Alan Rickman. This one really upset me. It might sound silly, but in my deepest dreams of someday writing a movie and seeing it made…Alan Rickman could have been in the movie. I would have written for him. I loved watching him. And now he is gone. My mourning will not be complete until I hold a special viewing of Sense and Sensibility. In the wake of his death, my favorite tribute came from Emma Thompson, his friend and frequent co-star (who also wrote for him). Read the entire statement, but this line seemed to reveal the purity and knowingness of their friendship: “…the clarity with which he saw most things, including me…”

Movies. I haven’t seen as many new films at this point as I would have liked to, but it’s too early to be discouraged. I’ve been underwhelmed with this year’s Oscar season choices (I like anything I saw this summer, from The End of the Tour to Love and Mercy and Trainwreck more than anything from the fall/winter, with the exception of Spotlight) but have at least found a lot to value in The Big Short and Carol. And I’m still excited for the Oscars ceremony. Movies aside, there will be glamour and gossip and people writing the first line of their obituaries.

I have recently enjoyed re-watching a couple films – first, Adaptation, which I watched a few years ago. Listening to Charlie Kaufman’s interview on WTF with Marc Maron made me want to revisit it (Kaufman to Maron, about finding the story: “What if I write about me being stuck?”), and I learned a lot viewing the film with that backstory in mind.

The second recent re-watch, which I enjoyed just last night with my roommate when we decided we were not going out in any more of this blizzard madness: Guys and Dolls. I watched this movie tons as a kid (I think my mom first showed it to me because my dance class performed to “Bushel and a Peck,” a song from the stage musical which actually isn’t in the film) but hadn’t seen the whole thing in ages. It’s so witty and brilliant, and I never picked up on any of that as a kid. One-liners galore. And I can finally say I understand that the crap game is not literally floating.

And with that, there are just a few minutes to Monday, so these Sunday thoughts aren’t worth a lot anymore. But there they are. More to come in 2016.

 

Thoughts on “Saving Mr. Banks”

Since it’s 2014 and I resolved to blog more, I’m going to start with the kind of post I wish I’d written more of last year: thoughts on movies.

I saw “Saving Mr. Banks” yesterday, and while I didn’t LOVE it, I enjoyed it quite a bit – and have enjoyed thinking about it in hindsight even more.

I want to say that I first heard of the movie shortly after the Oscars last year, in some kind of “What Movies Will Contend in 2014” slideshow, but it may have been later in the year. At any rate, I remember reading a positive early review of the film this past October. I had high expectations: It’s got Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson, it’s a movie about the movies, Disney made it, and who doesn’t like “Mary Poppins”? It was on my shortlist of movies to see in advance of awards season.

As more reviews came out, my expectations dulled – it seemed like more of a kids’ movie, and I wasn’t sure I’d like the backstory about P.L. Travers’ childhood in Australia, which the film used to explain the inspiration behind the Mary Poppins character.

We ultimately know how “Saving Mr. Banks” ends, because “Mary Poppins” is an actual movie we all watched as kids. But “Saving Mr. Banks” makes you think for awhile that there’s no possible way P.L. Travers will hand Disney the rights to turn her book into a movie. That’s what I liked least about this film – it drags on a little with scenes showing how much she resents what Disney is trying to do with the story. And, while I ended up liking the use of flashbacks to her childhood, I thought those were also a little repetitive. The movie turned to flashbacks when something P.L. Travers encountered during her trip to Los Angeles reminded her of an event from childhood. They weren’t forced attempts at moving the story along, which I appreciated. Plus, I thought Colin Farrell was quite good as her father.

Many of the scenes depicting the author’s objections to Disney’s plan for a film adaptation occurred in a rehearsal room. Travers sat around a table with songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman and screenwriter Don DaGradi, listening to and summarily shouting down their ideas. This creative trio – with Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak as the Sherman brothers and Bradley Whitford (!) as DaGradi – became my favorite part of the film. Here are three guys who probably expected Travers to come in and fawn over all their brilliant songs and scripts. But even when her dismissiveness annoyed them to the core, they kept at it and found a way to please her.

And when they finally did please her, with the song “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” it was wonderful. For those few minutes, as the Shermans, DaGradi and Walt’s secretary perform the number for her, I was smiling wide and absolutely loving the film. The Shermans and DaGradi are just so happy – and probably relieved – to se P.L. Travers happy. Jason Schwartzman, who I’d say played my favorite character in the film, was especially wonderful it in that scene. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this video is taken down soon for some copyright violation, but here’s the scene I’m talking about.)

But really, let’s all have a good laugh at Josh Lyman singing and dancing to songs from Mary Poppins! Oh, it just kills me. Bradley Whitford didn’t make or break this movie for me, but every time he was on screen, I thought to myself, “This is the man who delivered the ‘bring me the finest muffins and bagels’ speech.” Same guy.

My final thought: Seeing it with a full theater audience provided an interesting commentary on how central Disney movies have been to American entertainment. You know the line, “Close your mouth please, Michael, we are not a codfish,” from “Mary Poppins”? There’s a line in a flashback scene that obviously hints at it, and everyone in the theater laughed knowingly. Disney can make “Saving Mr. Banks” so meta because everyone’s already seen and loved “Mary Poppins.” This movie seemed self-indulgent at times, but I didn’t care because I was entertained. Disney knows how to entertain pretty well.