Home Alone

Written by Matt Zoller Seitz on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.


Duck Season (Temporada de Patos)

Directed by Fernando Eimbcke

 

 

A master class in doing more with less, Fernando Embcke’s delightful Duck Season finds a whole world inside a small, cluttered Mexico city apartment, where two barely-adolescent pals, Flama (Daniel Miranda) and Moko (Diego Cataño) are spending the day alone. Flama’s newly-single mom is gone for the day, and he and Moko plan to pass the time by playing videogames, ordering a pizza and drinking lots of soda. The only wild card is the surprise appearance of their upstairs neighbor Rita (Danny Perea), who has come over to bake a cake in their kitchen.

 

When the power goes out, all bets are off. The boys order a pizza, but the moped-riding pizza guy Ulises (Enrique Arreola), who had to climb multiple flights of stairs because the elevator was out of commission, is 11 seconds late, which prompts the boys to play hardass and refuse to pay him.

 

 

Ulises, a good man who’s reached the end of his rope, announces he’s not leaving until he gets paid, and to the boys’ astonishment, he actually means it. Between the deadpan stare-downs, newly-forged relationships, ghastly silences and continually shifting allegiances (Rita invites Moko to help her bake a cake so she can do something about her crush on him and Ulises gives Flama the mix of tough love and philosophical affection his absent father can’t provide), we feel as if we’ve entered delightfully unfamiliar territory.

 

Like the three principal characters in Rebel Without a Cause, the four inhabitants of this apartment enact an affectionate but sexually messed-up parody of a nuclear family, with Rita and Ulises standing in for Flama’s absent mom and dad (who are not yet done with their bitter divorce) and Moko standing in for the brother Flama never had.

 

 

The first thing to admire about Duck Season is its droll tone. Some reviews have invoked Jim Jarmusch—the go-to comparison for any black-and-white movie with quirky characters and a lot of static camera setups—but the comparison only goes so far. Eimbecke and cinematographer Alexis Zabe take the comedy to a higher level by reinforcing verbal gags and revealing character moments with compositions that reinforce the story’s narrative arc.

Duck Season‘s visual scheme changes as the characters get to know each other, moving from stasis, loneliness and inertia (signified by many locked-down, symmetrical master shots) to curious, active engagement (as the story unfolds, the filmmakers shift to asymmetrical shots and handheld, moving closeups that follow the actors bodies and gesturing hands). The strategy is pursued so unobtrusively that it isn’t until much later that you realize how intimately the images join with the script. Note, for instance, the dialogue pertaining to palindromes—words comprised of mirrored words which, when split in half, reflect each other; they’re of a piece with the mirrored shots—not just the symmetrical masters, but medium shots in which a character confronts his own reflection. The idea of "reflection" is further deepened by naturalistic monologues that let characters flash back to small but significant moments in their lives (another type of reflection).

 

 

I hope that in dwelling on the filmmaking, I haven’t made Duck Season sound like a dry, academic movie. Except for an ill-advised, just-in-case-you-didn’t-get-it monologue explaining the significance of the title (a mural showing ducks in migration that’s the object of a mama/papa dispute), Eimbcke rarely calls attention to the movie’s cinder-block density.

 

 

Every minute there’s a small, perfectly judged moment of human behavior: the boys pouring two sodas and making sure each glass contains exactly the same amount; Moko and Rita sneaking hits of Reddi-Whip; the four exhausted characters lounging around in the living room, eating cake with their hands. It’s a multifacted crowd-pleaser that can be enjoyed as a teen romance, a coded domestic drama or an existential comedy, and it never gets so wrapped up in its own intricacies that it forgets to amuse you.

 

Home Alone

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.


The worst thing in the world is that someone’s suffering should go unacknowledged,”
Terence Davies told a New York Film Festival press conference back in 1989. He was explaining the
motivation for his extraordinary, highly affecting film Distant Voices, Still Lives,
about the fearful home atmosphere that his mother and older siblings endured. It was a grim yet exultant
movie musical. There was no doubt where Davies felt sympathy (and joy). But he also recognized his
tyrannical father’s personal torment. Davies’ artistry—his humanity—extended
a harsh pity to the monster that was in his blood.

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda provides a similar testimony in Nobody
Knows
. Not autobiographical like Davies’ film, Nobody Knows is based on an actual
1988 news item called, “Affair of the Four Abandoned Children of Nishi-Sugamo.” Kore-eda reports
on that event, but this film is emotional and highly creative, not a fact-seeking documentary work.
Kore-eda re-imagines a young single mother Keiko (played by the actress known as YOU) raising her
four children, each fathered by different men. After sneaking three of them into a regular family
apartment complex in Tokyo’s Nishi-Sugamo district, Keiko begins a surreptitious family life:
the oldest boy, 12-year-old Akira (Yûya Yagira), goes to school while the youngest children,
daughter Kyoko (Ayu Kitaura), second son Shigeru (Hiei Kimura) and girl toddler Yuki (Momoko Shimizu),
hide out at home.

They’re made into hermits, fugitives from social workers and the Ministry
of Education. But they’re still family. Kore-eda shows that Keiko’s unstable arrangement results
from her own immaturity and bad choices. Instead of harsh pity, Kore-eda applies mercy towards
Keiko’s erratic nature that is reflected in the behavior of her children who are respectful, shy
and intimidated by the outside world. Wary of being separated, the children’s circle is bound by
a loving interdependence. Keiko leaves Akira in charge whenever she goes out with men, eventually
abandoning her brood altogether.

As a record of the small family’s suffering, Nobody Knows is
only inadvertently a story of abuse; it’s primarily the intimate, inside view of a social statistic.
Keiko’s like so many young women not ready for the responsibilities of motherhood, plus she’s unwilling
to commit herself to the necessary sacrifices. Although she’s more benign than Terence Davies’
ogre-like father figure, she endangers the family through her own failings—selfishness,
exhaustion and anxiety about the carefree life that eludes her. We face the devastating fact that
this mother of four feels robbed of her youth.

That insight shows Kore-eda has something of Davies’ understanding
about complex family tragedy. He acknowledges Keiko’s misery—her detachment from Japanese
custom—and sees it as the root of his drama. Nobody Knows goes beyond the issue of
single mothers to observe the troubling phenomenon of adults who don’t know how to be parents—or
fully functioning people. This generational folly, an advent of both the post-war baby boom and
the spread of industrial capitalism around the world, becomes apparent when Keiko returns from
“work” drunk, waking the kids to give them a surprise sushi meal. In this stressful, impromptu party,
they all seem to be playing house. Both older kids Akira and Kyoko are nearly Keiko’s height, so the
three of them can look each other in the eye, but they avoid sharing the same thought: They know the
game is a ruse and that the illusion of family stability is soon to collapse.

How Kore-eda attends to the clan’s alternating happiness and sadness
sets Nobody Knows apart from other films about children who are thrust into adulthood.
Coppola’s The Outsiders represents the American paradigm; it winningly (and hysterically)
romanticized adolescent deprivation. References to Gone With the Wind alluded to Coppola’s
glorification of the American individualism and the allure of the juvenile delinquent as found
in each young male protagonist—the most impulsive (Matt Dillon) and the most conscientious
(C. Thomas Howell).

But Kore-eda daydreams differently, focusing on mundane details like
a washing machine’s hum-and-thump that signifies domestic stability or the loud outbursts of
the tyke Shigeru that could be just an excess of boyish energy or chemical imbalance. Kore-eda’s
poetic, but his minutiae has an authentic resonance. Where Coppola aimed for pathos, Kore-eda
subtly suggests that the modern tragedy he addresses can sometimes be paradoxical; it may contain
moments of unexpected beauty. Davies showed the same thing whenever his beleaguered family members
broke into song and Kore-eda’s knowledge also makes for some remarkable moments: Akira wrestles
with his math homework, largely to communicate with Keiko; he gives in to a superficial intellectual
challenge in order to feel intimate.

Nobody Knows recalls the dilemma of “babies making babies”—the
tragedy that results from social disintegration. (“I hope you will look out for us,” Keiko appeals
to a pair of older tenants who are never seen again.) Fittingly, the film’s four-seasons structure,
used to reveal the children’s yearning, is uncannily lyrical. This film could be a dark yet gentle
rap-poem—from the opening sequence of the smallest children being smuggled-in through
Keiko’s luggage to a later, complementary scene of Akira and a friend (the lonely school girl Saki
played by Hanae Kan) hauling the same pink suitcase through a Tokyo airport en route to a burial.
These haunting images evoke a young family’s struggle with its own innocence, a small but great
effort happening at the periphery of society’s awareness.

I did not expect such lucidity from Kore-eda, whose previous U.S. release,
the unaccountably lauded After-Life, I thought barely tolerable. After-Life indulged a too-precious conceit in which dead people were allowed to choose a memory to sustain
them through eternity. It seemed a pedantic version of ideas already made pithy in Albert Brooks’
Defending My Life or profound in Spielberg’s Hook. Kore-eda’s film just seemed
strained. What a surprise to see his artsiness become relevant in an age that commonly reduces this
film’s scandalous subject to tabloid sensationalism. I now realize that After-Life appealed
to a nascent agnostic prejudice in today’s film culture. In Nobody Knows, Kore-eda re-connects
to good ol’ fellow-feeling.

There’s a wonderful scene where Akira walks at night with his sister
Kyoko into the world that ignites his curiosity and they pause to observe a monorail, lit from within
and zooming along the rails overhead. It recalled the freight trains I used to hear as a kid lying
in bed at night but it also equaled the significant, immortal train imagery that is linked to youthful
wishing in Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali and as recently as Alirezi Raisian’s Deserted
Station
. I value the sensitivity and compassion in such Kore-eda observations. A shot of two
different hands playing Kyoko’s red toy piano is poignant for its image of unspecified communion.
Another scene shows Akira drawing a childlike smile on the back of a cancelled water bill. Little
Yuki enjoys a gift of Apollo Choco candies then closes the box lid (“I’ll save it for later,” she says
with grown-up rationality). And a superb sequence where Akira visits two of the babydaddies with
which he’s familiar shows his different reactions to the contrasting personalities of two men—his
own remote father and the jock-like man he admires. These regular Japanese guys are like Keiko,
surprised parents who treat Akira as an equal because they lack the parenting faculty. And Kore-eda
ends the sequence by leaving us with the image of Akira trying to imitate one of them, desperate for
a role model.

By mixing his characters’ hope and suffering, Kore-eda creates an ambivalent
view of urban pressure and precarious family unity. Nobody Knows is consonant with the
rap-era’s hard and soft estimations of how people persevere in a cold society—the paradox
found in such distinctive modern rap recordings as Jay-Z’s “You Must Love Me” and “Song Cry.” Similarly,
Kore-eda gives his young characters’ feelings the lilting, forlorn quality we associate with
fable even while understanding that this family’s dilemma is part of a larger social tragedy. Kore-eda
has come up with a film whose style is equal parts emotional fable and political tragedy. He’s acknowledged
private suffering in the best public way.

Home Alone

Written by David Corn on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.



But both
Al Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton, on their not-so-excellent (and competing)



adventures,
will do much to shape the legacy of the man they are each trying to escape,
for how they fare in their respective campaigns will partly determine how Clinton
is viewed in the years to come. If his partner-in-politics and his number-one-defender
are rejected by the voters, that will constitute a judgment of Bill Clinton.
You can toss into the mix the fact that when Clinton arrived in Washington,
his party had firm control of Congress. When he departs, that will likely not
be the case. At best, the Democrats may wrest back the House, albeit with a
slim majority. (The recent Democratic giddiness concerning their prospects in
the House is premature.) As for the Senate, no one in Washington believes the
Democrats can overthrow the Republicans there.


Regarding
the legacy matter, one question is, who will be left standing with the President
at the end of the Clinton era? If you believe the current polls, it will not
be his number two, and it will not be his wife. Granted, these surveys don’t
mean much at this time, but both Clinton spin-offs have shown more problems
than promise in their initial efforts. Gore, of course, had little choice but
to run for president. He was bred to be a presidential candidate. When he worked
at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1970s, his colleagues created a timeline
for Al that had him going for the White House in 2008. Luck–if you can
call it that–made him the party front-runner at the end of the Clinton
years. (In a recent poll conducted for Hotline, the political tip sheet,
39 percent of the respondents identified Gore’s "association with
Clinton" as his biggest problem; his personality ranked second, with 26
percent.) Hillary, though, had options.


By announcing
she will announce, she has defied the naysayers who were predicting she would
chicken out, such as Clinton friend-turned-foe Dick Morris. (My theory: she
went for it just to prove Morris wrong. Another theory: Morris was trying to
push her buttons so she would enter the race and then be humiliated. The Hillary
show is politics as soap opera.) But Hillary, with her recent declaration, has
not achieved independence from her husband. In fact, she has just volunteered
to be something of a stand-in for him, the vehicle for that final political
judgment of Bill Clinton. The wiser course would have been to distance herself
before running for anything. Vacate the White House in 2001. Do television.
Be a university president. Work with the UN. (Jimmy Carter could have provided
some useful suggestions.) Maybe even reside in the state where she wants to
seek public office. Then return to the electoral arena. But that would
have required patience.


Instead,
Hillary elected to capitalize on the victimization that lifted–temporarily,
it appears–her popularity. Had it not been for Monica, Hillary probably
would not now be memorizing the names of Adirondack towns and the lineup of
the Knicks. But being cheated on will only get you so far in New York politics.
That boost is long gone. Rather than running as a Clinton victim, she will be
running as a Clinton. That means she will be carrying much carpetbaggage. With
each day, Clinton’s Monica foolishness and the GOP’s impeachment foolishness–both
of which might have prompted some New Yorkers to regard Hillary favorably–recede.
More and more, this Arkansan-Illinoisan who has never campaigned as a candidate
has to run in New York on her own record and life story, which are intricately
bound to the man she married. A house in Chappaqua does not a separation make.


The day
before Hillary said she definitely would flee the White House for meet-and-greets
in Syracuse, Morris predicted to Paula Zahn that Bill Clinton would be supportive
of his wife’s pre-campaign campaign for a month or two and then, before
it was too late, convince her to bail, so she does not end their White House
days as a spurned senatorial candidate. With her announcement, Hillary indicated
she was not playing by Morris’ imagined script. She took the plunge. Now
she can’t get out without looking all wet. But given how this could well
end, she and Bill might want to listen to Morris one more time.



Knicks Are for Kids?

When I was 11 years
old, I wanted to be Bill Bradley. After all, I was a nerdy hoop-loving white
kid who couldn’t jump, living in a suburb outside of New York City, where
my teachers and parents were already drumming into me the above-all importance
of an Ivy League education. Bradley was a Princeton-educated member of an NBA
championship team whose basketball success was due more to his diligence and
how-to-move-without-the-ball smarts (hey, I had some of that) than innate physical
ability (which I lacked). I was realistic to know I had no chance of growing
up and becoming Wilt Chamberlain. But Bill Bradley…well, that seemed a fantasy
within reach.



It would
be swell to be cheering Bradley on three decades later–especially as he
campaigns to the left by calling for expanding health insurance coverage, campaign
finance reform and gun registration. My inner child would be pleased. But Bradley
has made it hard to believe in him as I once did. It’s not only the memory
of my first encounter with him. (During college, on my first visit to Washington,
I toured Capitol Hill with a friend and stopped by Bradley’s Senate office.
As we gawked at the Knicks-era photos on the wall of the reception area, he
emerged from his office and happily greeted us. But once he learned we were
from New York, not potential voters from New Jersey, his demeanor changed and
he walked away abruptly without saying goodbye.)


It’s
not only that he voted for Contra aid and Reagan’s budget cuts in the 1980s.
It’s not only that when he was a senator he chose not to raise the bold
and progressive issues he now hawks as a presidential candidate who must court
left-leaning Democratic primary voters. It’s not only that he petulantly
refused to name any of his favorite books when I asked him to do so while covering
him in New Hampshire earlier this year. There’s something else. Bradley
is a pain. He can be funny, self-deprecating, inspiring, insightful. He comes
across as damn earnest. But he appears to hate to be challenged. He wants to
play by his rules. (In the Senate, he rarely worked in coalition with progressive
Democrats or citizens’ groups. His attitude, one senator told me, was,
since I know best, I can go my own way. Question him about an action and he
strikes a quiet but sharp how-dare-you stance. I’m not sure I want to be
on a team with a fellow who believes he’s smarter and better than the rest
of us and beyond all reproach.


Here’s
a case in point. Recently, the Center for Responsive Politics released a report
noting that Bradley is a leader among the presidential contenders in accepting
"bundled" campaign contributions. These are donations that usually
come from corporate executives. On the campaign trail, Bradley often slaps himself
on the back for not accepting contributions from political action committees,
many of which are affiliated with corporations. He makes a big deal of this
to prove he walks his talk of campaign finance reform. PACs can give $5000 to
a candidate, and that limit was designed to curtail the influence of any particular
PAC on a candidate. But with bundling, Bradley and other candidates easily evade
this limit. They do so by collecting individual contributions from the top dogs
of a corporation. Often, they find a CEO or another influential executive who
will hit up his or her fellow execs for donations. It’s hard to say no
to the boss. The result is a "bundle" of individual checks that allows
a candidate to gather far more from a corporation than $5000. The largest bundle
of the year so far–$209,500 from executives of Goldman Sachs, the investment
firm–went to Bradley the Reformer. (Bradley, who has staked out the left
in this campaign, has done exceptionally well shaking the money-trees of Wall
Street. Go figure.) Texas Governor George W. Bush placed second in bundling,
with $185,100 from the Houston law firm of Vinson & Elkins.


Bradley
has banked bundles from other companies, and during his Senate years he was
a master of bundling. He certainly is for campaign finance reform and he has
justifiably tried to remind voters of the campaign finance sleaze in which Gore
participated in 1996. Still, Bradley is not shy about exploiting a loophole.
What stinks is that he’s not straight about that. When a reporter asked
him last week to explain why bundled contributions should be considered different
from the PAC contributions he eschews, Bradley replied, "I certainly do
see them as different… It’s a zero problem… It’s often a charge
that’s made that’s without substance because no one can say to me
what [bundling] means."


That’s
not an honest answer. Why decry $5000 PAC contributions, when you are snatching
hundreds of thousands of dollars from people associated with the PAC’s
parent? And anyone who knows anything about campaign finance can explain a bundle.
Prominent campaign finance reform advocates do consider bundling a problem.
But not Bradley. He could say, "I have to play by the rules that now exist
in a sorry campaign finance system and would like to see those rules changed."
However, such an explanation would conflict with his above-it-all sales pitch.
He is unwilling to concede he engages in a problematic activity. Now that certainly
doesn’t render him unique among politicians, and it might be unfair to
turn on him for such an infraction. But Bradley claims to be running to set
a higher standard. Thus, it’s reasonable to hold him to higher standards.
Consequently, his doubledribbles are more disappointing than those of his competitors–and
especially disappointing to one who used to root for him.


..