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On being random, dismantling and finally updating.

Published June 27, 2016 by mandileighbean

It’s been over two months since the last time I posted, and there’s nothing I want more than to tell you I’ve been doing wonderfully interesting things, that I’ve been really and truly living. But that would be a hyperbole. I’ve been alive, yes, and I’ve done some fun things, yes, but nothing that should keep me from writing.

So let’s catch up, shall we?

I haven’t lost any weight, but I have gained some. I haven’t really been trying, as I’ve felt mostly unmotivated and uninspired lately. Is this summertime sadness? Is this some looming emotional, existential crisis that has finally landed? Am I just melodramatic? Rather than answer these questions, I usually eat a bag of potato chips (the ones that say “Family Size”) and fall asleep on my couch.

I think I’ve identified one behavior that needs to change.

I wish I had a camera that could take quality pictures of the moon and do its beauty justice.

“A heart that hurts is heart that works.”

I don’t fantasize about sex. I fantasize about intimacy; how sad is that?

I think a duck must have a perfect life. They just float on, no matter if the water is calm or choppy. They can take off and fly whenever they want. If the only dunk their heads in the water, they have food. It’s simple and free, and I am envious.

I am done romanticizing broken men, as if loving them adds something noble to my character.

“I don’t hold grudges. I believe that’s the shit that leads to cancer.”

The school year ended on a high note. The senior events I was charged with helping to plan (Mr. Manchester, Senior Prom, graduation) all went off without a hitch. I am proud of the work I’ve done.

“Nothing is ever over.”

I really need to use my upstairs more. I don’t have central air though, so during the summer, the temperature is almost unbearable up there. So I’m in pretentiously self-proclaimed “office,” but it’s dark in here. It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

“I know what I want, and I don’t mind being alone.”

It’s really dark in my house. I’ll say it’s to keep it cool, since I don’t have central air, but in all honesty, it’s because I’ve been too broke to afford light bulbs and now that I do have money, I’m simply too lazy to buy some and replaced the old ones.

This is what a successful adult looks like, no?

The literary agent who requested the first fifty pages rejected me, but my original publisher is still thinking about it. What’s that saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? I’m feeling ambivalent to everything, mostly because I’m sunburned and it hurts so I’m cranky.

I like collecting little, seemingly unimportant details of the people in my life to better craft my characters.

When school was in session, I realized that the worst thing about leaving my house each weekday morning wasn’t having to bid adieu to my comfortable bed and its cozy covers, but that I miss the early sunlight streaming through the windows and lighting the wooden floors. It’s beautiful, and I was sad I could never just sit and admire it. But now I can. I think that’s how life is supposed to work.

I do this thing sometimes where I just sit in my car. I might leave the engine running, or I might shut it off, but either way, I sit in the driver’s seat, scrolling through the social media garbage on my phone or playing Tetris. It’s wasting time, one of the most precious gifts, and I hate it. I don’t know why I do it. Is it exhaustion? Is it moodiness? I abhor how lazy I am. I had an idea for a scene for my third novel, but the details have faded. I remember it had something to do with a modest, upstairs library and someone watching on anxiously as someone else carefully surveyed the titles. I wanted to throw in visiting a favorite author’s grave, but there was definitely more to it, like dancing or something? I need to write things down more often … obviously.

“Wanting it doesn’t make you the monster, taking it does.”

Some days, I just waste the hours until I can go back to sleep.

“You can fail at what you don’t want to do, so you might as well do what you love.”

I’ve been in a miserable sort of funk, so I’m endeavoring to change my life. My friend thinks I need to be comfortable alone before I can be comfortable with someone. She recommended hiking, picnicking, wine on the beach, seeing movies, and getting coffee. I also think I should leave the state. I’ve been dying to go to Key West in Florida. This summer, I’ve decided to dismantle myself from the inside out, rebuilding to be more carefree, more creative, more in love with myself and less dependent on others. Some days, I have to talk myself into getting out of the shower, and even then, I change into pajamas.

But I’m trying to be positive, I swear. I’ve begun keeping a running list of things that make me happy to be alive (in no particular order).

  • fireworks on a summer night
  • driving my Jeep without its roof and doors
  • sunburn (as long as it turns tan)
  • books (even the shitty ones because they’re non-examples for my career)
  • clean sheets
  • hot showers
  • food, glorious food!
  • running and being sweaty after a run because it helps me to love my body
  • good movies
  • laughing
  • the national pride fearlessly displayed by soccer fans

“The effect you have on others is the greatest currency you’ll ever have.”

I recently lost a banana for 24 hours.

“I’m ripe with things to say. The words rot and fall away.”

So, here’s an excerpt from the novel I’m working on. You should hit “play” on the video that follows now, so you can have a soundtrack. Ironically, the song playing is not the one I quote in the paragraph that follows. I wish I knew why I do the things that I do.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said, and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me, I had to make up what it meant.”
– Amanda Palmer

Kelly dropped the box filled with odds and ends concerning the kitchen with an exaggerated, dramatic sigh of relief. The box landed on Charlotte’s tiny, cheaply and poorly made kitchen table, a piece of furniture she had salvaged from her grandmother’s home, a piece that had likely been in the home for forty years – a horrible blend of Formica and putrid pastels. For a moment, Charlotte had been hopeful the weight of the box would crush the table and put the ugly thing out of its misery, but she had no such luck. She watched Kelly similarly drop herself into a chair, sweaty and tired from a day spent moving, a day of manual labor. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” she whined.

Charlotte offered a grin of commiseration. “I know, me neither.” She moved a few steps closer, resting against the back of a chair.

“Then let’s call it quits and do something better.”

“Like what? As you can tell, I haven’t got much of anything.”

Kelly thought for a moment. “You got playing cards?”

“I think so,” Charlotte said. She knew damn well that she did, but she was playing it cool for no other reason than it was a habit turned instinct. It was irrational – there was no way Kelly would give a shit about how those cards came to be in Charlotte’s possession, or how seeing those cards made Charlotte’s dumb heart skip a beat even now, even though she was nearly 1,000 miles away.

Kelly’s face of thoughtful concentration broke into a youthful smile of excitement. “Well, shoot – I’ve got beer and some of them crisps. How’s ’bout you and me play us a few rounds of cards?”

“Sure,” Charlotte smiled. Kelly scurried back to her neighboring apartment to scrounge up some beer and some snacks, and Charlotte headed to her bedroom. At the foot of her bed, upon the creaky floor, sat a box labeled, “PERSONAL.” It had been the only box Charlotte had personally moved, had tucked discreetly in her car and carried hurriedly across the threshold of her new apartment, lest anyone should see and ask about the contents, most of which meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Charlotte (hence the label). It wasn’t filled with lingerie or vibrators or dirty pictures or anything like that. The contents only embarrassed Charlotte because of their innocence, because only a prude would cling to a random assortment of objects that reminded her of people who had long since removed themselves from her life, or had been removed for any number of offenses. The items in the box would mean nothing to a passerby and that embarrassed Charlotte, like there was something shameful and almost juvenile about being anything but obvious.

She squatted somewhat uncomfortably to delicately open the box, lovingly unfold the flaps so that she had complete access to some of her memories, so that the majority of the contents were visible. Charlotte only needed to scan the contents for a few seconds before she found the deck of cards, quaintly contained in cardboard, beaten up from a few years of handling. A smile splayed itself unabashedly upon her lips as she reached into the box the same way a heart surgeon would reach into her patient’s chest cavity. With the same kind of epic patience, she removed the playing cards from the box and began walking back to the kitchen. The youthful, exuberant smile quickly became nostalgic and sad.

The playing cards were white with silver, loopy hearts decorating their backs. The hearts were cute, sure, but there was nothing remarkable about their appearance. They were a treasured item for Charlotte only because of the way the cards came to be in her possession. A few years ago, Charlotte had fallen in love with a beautiful, brilliant, and broken man. As a result, she had developed a constant need to be around him, to be close to him, and so, she invited him everywhere.

One night, she invited him back to her hotel room after a work conference. She and her colleagues had all been drinking for quite some time, right up until the lights came up for last call. The beautiful, broken man had joined them at the bar, at Charlotte’s request, of course. Charlotte had always envied the sort of effortless grace that surrounded him, the way he could suddenly appear anywhere at anytime and be welcomed and accepted. When he strolled into the bar without fanfare or pomp and circumstance, without having attended any of the conference because of a prior commitment, Charlotte was breathless with awe. It was like something of a horribly cheesy and romantic movie made for network television; he could have been walking in slow motion beneath a burning spotlight towards a strategically placed wind machine. The fact that he was walking towards Charlotte smiling was wonderful and she was so happy she could burst apart. She never ever wanted her time with him to end, and her colleagues and friends didn’t want to stop drinking, so a select few decided to buy some beer and return to Charlotte’s room. She turned to her beautiful, broken man and invited him. He played it cool – he was always so goddamn cool – and didn’t really answer one way of the other. Even when they were walking back to the hotel, just across the street, he wouldn’t accept or outright reject the invitation. When he climbed into his car, a lump formed in Charlotte’s throat. She would let him go and hide her disappointment, try and play it cool, so her parting words asked that if he did come, to bring playing cards. He waved somewhat dismissively and drove away. The copious amounts of alcohol she had consumed kept Charlotte’s mood from dipping too low and she scampered back to the hotel among friends, arm in arm, with high spirits.

He sent her a text later saying he couldn’t find playing cards and was just going home. Charlotte sighed heavily and thought her best recourse was to just keep drinking.

About twenty minutes later, there was a booming knock at the hotel room door. It sounded particularly authoritative and Charlotte was worried it was the cops. Were they being too loud? Her one friend raced to the bathroom to hide while the other pressed herself further into the bed, as if the mattress could swallow her whole and conceal her. They had left Charlotte to answer the door and so she did, despite feeling suddenly and incredibly nauseous. She opened it and saw no one. No one was there.

She whipped her head to the right and gazed down an empty hallway.

Looking to the left revealed her beautiful, broken man. He was leaning against the hallway wall like some leading man from Hollywood. His arm was bent at the elbow so he had one hand behind his head and rested his weight against the wall through the point of that bent elbow. His right leg was crossed behind the left one and the toes were pointed down at the plush carpet. In his other hand, he twirled a pack of playing cards. He was smiling, quite pleased with himself and the effect it all had on Charlotte. There was certainly something gorgeous about him, something more than his appearance. His demeanor drove her wild – she would never able to pull off such an entrance, but he had.

And it had been for her. What more could a girl possibly ask for?

But nothing had come of it. He was with some woman with a checkered past and too much makeup. Charlotte’s grandma was worsening, and so she had left it all, run away. But she kept the playing cards to remind herself that for one night, she had gotten exactly what she had wanted, that she had been perfectly happy. The cards symbolized possibility – if it happened once, couldn’t it happen again?

 

On being the Duckie.

Published February 21, 2016 by mandileighbean

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I love 80’s culture; movies, music, fashion – all of it. I’m something like a girl anachronism, born 18 years too late. I should have come of age in that decade of magic, of decadence. It was the last era of wholesomeness (even despite the extravagance). Things really seemed possible then.

One of the greatest artistic – and yes, I used the word “artistic” – endeavors from that decade is the movie “Pretty in Pink.” I wrote a blog post two years ago about when I met Andrew McCarthy and was irrevocably charmed. He was intelligent, charismatic, and incredibly talented. Because of my undying affection for the actor, I can honestly say I’ve seen that film close to twenty times. One such time was Wednesday night, when a good friend and I traveled close to an hour to watch the movie on the big screen. The film was released for a brief second time to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

We knew the lines, we knew the plot, and we knew the music. What sense did it make to pay to see the film? One could argue it did not make any sense at all, but then again, I was shocked to see how many others had traveled to see a movie they’d already seen. I have always had a decidedly human problem of thinking my inclinations and hobbies are unique and singular and special. I’m proven wrong time and time again, but in frustratingly human fashion, I’m still always surprised when I realize my passions are shared.

At any rate, the film as was entertaining as ever, and there was something thrilling about seeing it on the big screen. I could imagine I hadn’t missed my favorite decade, that it was opening weekend and I was enjoying it all in real time for the first time. In danger of overdosing on nostalgia that was never really mine to begin with, my good friend leaned over and asked me if I ever had a “Duckie” while attending high school.

For those of you who may not know, Duckie is a character from the film. He’s hopelessly, shamelessly, desperately, and even embarrassingly devoted to his best friend, madly in love and utterly heartbroken over the unrequited nature of the relationship. He admits he would die for her, stands by and patiently suffers as she chases after another guy, and even lets her go so she can fulfill her wildest, romantic dreams while his remain unfulfilled. It may not be as traumatic and dramatic as all that, but forgive me; I have never had a Duckie.

I’ve always been Duckie.

I’ve always been the friend in the background, lingering and pining secretly – sometimes creepily – for a friend I never really had a chance with. I remember at one high school dance, I was asked by a mutual friend to break up with her boyfriend for her; a boy who was my close friend and whom I had been crushing on fairly seriously. Why I agreed to be the harbinger of such devastation I’ll never know. Maybe it was because I was eager for any excuse to talk to the boy, and maybe because such an episode could escalate and strengthen the friendship. I hope it was because I wanted him to hear it from me, a real friend, because I could soften the blow and handle the whole thing delicately, properly. Whatever the reason, I took a deep breath to steady myself, to prepare myself, and left the gymnasium. I stepped out of the double doors and into the bright hallway, blinking against the harsh fluorescent lights. I looked for my friend, and he wasn’t hard to find.

He had tried to hide himself on the far side of a short but wide trophy case, but his long legs stuck out. He was sitting on the gross floor with his back against the uncomfortable and random brick wall. He was opposite the refreshment table, but despite the flurry of activity, he was looking down at the dirty floor with a can of soda clutched in his hand. He was out there all alone and looking especially despondent, like he already knew what was coming. I breathed a small sigh of relief; my job would be easier. I walked over and sat beside him.

“Hey,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

I figured it’d be best to just come out with it, do it fast like ripping off a band-aid. “Hannah wanted me to-”

“Yeah, I know,” he said. He cut me off, but didn’t say anything else. He took a swig from his can.

“Oh,” I said. I was slightly dismayed by the building, awkward silence. I looked down at my hands and tried to think of what else to say.

“You don’t have to sit out here with me,” he mumbled. He hadn’t made eye contact with me.

“I know I don’t have to. I want to,” I smiled. He looked up and returned the smile.

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation, but I remember we had a good time. So while being Duckie can be limiting and heartbreaking, it’s also pretty awesome because being a friend is awesome. Sometimes a friend is all a person needs.

Or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself as of late.

 

 

On being rich.

Published October 6, 2013 by mandileighbean

The older I grow, the more I believe that life truly does have a rather funny way of helping one out.  I am fortunate enough to find myself in winning situations more often than not.  For example, my dad offered to take me to see a film and then out to eat on Friday night.  My little brother came along, and we saw “Runner Runner” with Justin Timberlake and Ben Affleck.  The movie was thoroughly entertaining (and I found Ben Affleck to be particularly engaging … and handsome) and as we were walking out of the theater, we were all intrigued by a small crowd outside.  They were all females; seven teenagers and two middle-aged women.  Dad, being the ultimate nosey body, asked what was up, and one of the women admitted they were in a bit of a pickle.  Apparently, the women had dinner plans and purchased tickets for the teenagers to see “Prisoners.”  However, because the movie was rated R, the employee who had sold the tickets insisted an adult over twenty-one years of age accompany the girls for the duration of the film and assured the women there would be a theater check conducted to prevent any kind of circumvention.  Dad started laughing because I had in fact argued for seeing “Prisoners,” even though he had already seen it with my little brother a week or so ago.  There I was, offered an opportunity to see a movie I was very anxious to see, for free.  It isn’t a cosmically epic moment that decides the fates of nations or anything as brilliant, but it is a moment nonetheless.  It is also the kind of moment that is readily and often attainable.  I wonder if I shouldn’t chase small smile moments such as those, rather than scenes from silver screens.

I know I’ll chase both.

 

WEEKLY PROMPT #3: “Four men decide to rob a bank.  Two of the men intend to take all of the money, even if it means killing their partners.”

bankrobbery1THIEVES

Harvey sat at the end of the emptying bar, a tumbler of warming whiskey before him.  He held his face in his hands, calloused palms scratched by the thick, rough bristles of hair coating his jawline and chin.  It had been a while since the last time Harvey had shaved, most likely because it had been a while since the last time Harvey had identified any reason to shave.  Pride in personal appearance had a tendency to go by the wayside when one found himself unemployed and miserable.  It was that exact desperation that had led him here, to this seedy bar.  Jeff, a buddy from Harvey’s old job, had stopped by the apartment to see how Harvey was making out.  The accumulated trash and lack of even basic maintenance had concerned Jeff, and so he sat Harvey down and shared a detailed yet outrageous plan to rob the local bank.  Harvey had scoffed until her saw the serious lines of Jeff’s face pull together in an almost convincing display.  Inexplicably outraged, Harvey had leapt to his feet and roared about laws and safety and the improbability of making it out of there alive, let alone with the money.  Jeff had persistent, however, and calmed Harvey down and inspired him with a dangerous kind of optimism that only desperate and miserable men are capable of.  Thus, Harvey had followed Jeff to the Bar Miraculous to meet with the others, some guys named Ben and Matt that Harvey had never seen before.  Ben was big and brawny, an intimidating fellow who seemed to dutifully follow Matt wherever and whenever.  Matt was significantly smaller than his counterpart, and to see them seated beside one another at the bar would have made John Steinbeck nostalgic for his ranchers in Soledad.

The men had sat side by side at the bar, four in a row.  They rarely, if ever, made eye contact with one another, and they talked out of the sides of their mouths, although Harvey hadn’t said a word.  He had only nodded or grunted to show his approval and consent.  The plan had been developed mainly by Matt, with Jeff tweaking and augmenting here and there as he seemed to be more familiar with the area and even the employees.  The next course of action was to meet at Matt’s apartment in two nights, to case the bank the night before.  They would also discuss further details and tighten any and all loose ends; dot the Is and cross the Ts as it were.  Suddenly and simply, Matt and Ben had excused themselves and left.  Jeff clapped Harvey on the shoulder and headed to the restroom.  Thus, Harvey had been left to his own devices, to sit and drink and think.  He wasn’t sure how he felt, how truly on board he was.  Robbers never got away with it, not even in the movies, and they were not professionals by any stretch of the imagination.  They were bums, average Joes who had suffered no great tragedy, but only wanted more than what they had faster than they could acquire it.  Planning to rob a bank did not make them some antiheroes or anything as glamorous.  It did not make them intelligent or brave.  If anything, it defined them as lazy and cruel and dumb, dumb for taking such an absurd risk.  They were no Dillinger, seemingly stealing from the rich.  They were the poor so they would take and keep for themselves; where was the honor in that?  Amidst Harvey’s existential sort of crisis, Jeff returned.  There was the familiar clap on the shoulder and groan of the aged, wooden bar stool as Jeff reclaimed his seat.

“So what do you think?  How are you feeling?”

Harvey shrugged and took the tumbler before him in his hand.  Rather than sip from it, he moved his wrist to swirl the alcohol and he pensively watched the liquid lap against the sides.  “I don’t know, man.  It’s awfully risky.”

“It is,” Jeff conceded, “but look at us, man.  Look at our lives, for Christ’s sake.  We work too God damn hard to be this fucking poor.”  He drank deeply from the bottle before him.  “Shit, they kicked you to the curb.  How long do you figure you’ll kick around, practically begging for a job, any job, even if it’s below your pay grade and skill level?  What way is that for anyone to live?”

“I agree, you know I do, but –”

“Matt has everything figured out, Harvey.  He has it timed to the fucking second, I shit you not.  As long as we stick to the time table, we’ll be fine, just about untouchable.”  Jeff smiled.  “What have you got to lose?”

Harvey was not amused.  “Oh, I don’t know; my life?  My freedom?”  In fact, Harvey was only sarcastic and bitter.

“It’s a solution to a problem,” Jeff persisted.  “We need money, so we take money.  We’re talking enough to get the hell out of dodge and start over.  We can be whoever we want to be.  We don’t have to be losers who go home alone night after night in cars that barely start in clothes off the clearance rack.”  He looked down at the wooden grain of the countertop of the bar.  He lowered his voice.  “And if we knock off Matt and Ben, pin it on them and silence them, we can get away scot free.”

Harvey’s eyes went wide.  “What?”

“The only thing holding you back is getting caught, right?  Of course it is; that makes sense!  So let’s eliminate that and we are suddenly completely uninhibited!”

“Stealing is one thing, Jeff, but murder is another.  I can’t –”

“You’re going to go all noble on me, really?  Do I have to remind you about the office Christmas party?  Nancy was all sorts of messed up, but that didn’t stop you from –”

“Shut up,” Harvey said.  He had intended it to be a command, but it had been more of a desperate plea.  That’s all he was, was desperate.  Jeff knew it, and seized upon the opportunity.

“Come on, man.  They’re nothing to us.  We could be doing the universe a karmic favor.  What do you say?”

Harvey looked at himself for a long, long moment in the cracked mirror above the shelves of liquor.

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On the fear of the forever funk.

Published August 9, 2013 by mandileighbean

Whenever I leave my house to go absolutely anywhere – even to Wawa in my pajamas for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread – the following exquisite scene from an equally amazing film plays over and over in my head, soundtrack included:

Maybe it is because of the crippling disappointment I experience when reality does not match nor even meet my expectations that I haven’t really left the house, or found a reason to get dressed or style my hair for a couple of days.  These are the dog days of summer and no one particularly feels like doing much of anything, but I worry when these moments of complete lethargy and absolute disinterest stretch into a day and then a week.  Everyone experiences these so-called “funks,” but most snap out of it eventually.  I have definitely slipped into a funk that has been going on for what feels like months.  I have been avoiding social interactions, sleeping more, gaining weight, and going from one set of pajamas to another.  I know I recently wrote about how liberating it can be to wake up with an absolutely clear schedule, but after a while, it becomes tiresome. 

I think my apathetic nature will be eradicated once the school year starts, but what if it is only yet another instance of reality falling short of the expectations of a wildly romantic writer?  I thought my life would change in high school; it didn’t, so I thought college would make all the difference.  Everything remained the same, so the key to an exciting and fulfilling life must be in a full-time teaching job.  I acquired the job and am still restless.  Even when my novel was published, it did not inspire the instantaneous and dramatic change I thought it would.  Do I need to lower my expectations?  It seems a simple enough solution, but won’t doing so also eliminate that wonderfully dreamy aspect of my nature that allows to me create and – hopefully- inspire?  I think the real answer is not to depend on change for happiness, though it is a consistent aspect of our lives.

That being said, do I believe one hundred people will show up at my upcoming author events?  No, not exactly; I will be obviously devastated if not a soul shows up, but I know I will be equally as devastated if no romance comes of it.  I don’t limit the meaning of romance to a chance encounter with a handsome stranger – I’m talking about all kinds of romance, like there’s a large portion of the crowd that attends with a battered copy of my novel clutched in their hands, eager for me to sign it because they really did love the story that much.

I started this blog to narrate my writing life and what I have discovered is that my “writing life” is my life; they cannot be separated.  I am still determining whether or not this is a good thing.

I remembered my earlier promise of trying to accentuate the positive, so here it goes: I have an author talk/book signing event at the Manchester Branch of the Ocean County Library on October 15, 2013!  The event should begin around 7:00PM.  I am waiting on confirmation from the program coordinator, but so far, all systems are go! Smile  I hope to see some of you there.

Stay golden. xoxo

On why “Gatsby” is so great, and why you should see it twice.

Published May 17, 2013 by mandileighbean

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Well, I suppose I have put it off long enough; upon seeing the film twice, it is long overdue for me to share my thoughts on the most recent cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby.  However, before I discuss the movie, I must make it known that there are spoilers abound and that I am – as one student charged me – almost unhealthily obsessed with the novel.  I read it every summer and have particular passages committed to memory.  The novel changed my life in the sense that it helped me to decide that I wanted to be a writer and while I struggled in that endeavor I would teach high school English.  The novel also confirmed in my mind that I could be hopelessly romantic and naïve in a dignified sort of way that made me more of a heroine than a sap.

That being said, I left the theater the first time with an uneasy kind of feeling.  I was not sure how I felt about what I had just seen, other than that it was visually stunning and somewhat emotionally moving as I was dabbing at my eyes behind my 3D glasses.  Was it the 3D component of the film which left me unsettled and uncertain about my level of enjoyment resulting from the viewing experience?  I actually tend to avoid movies in 3D as I find them incredibly hokey – call me a snob, but for me, 3D movies lack artistic integrity and forsake story and structure for the almighty dollar.  3D is a gimmick that unfortunately seems here to stay.  Like I said, I am being a total snob and robbing a medium of all of its merit because it does not suit my particular taste, and though doing so is unfair, it is what it is and I will not apologize.  I will, however, advise my readers to take everything I write with a grain of salt, considering the extremities of some of my artistic prejudices.

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But allow me to hobble off my soapbox to contradict myself and explain how the 3D worked so well in the movie.  The scenes that depicted Gatsby’s lavish parties and outrageous lifestyle had to be filmed in 3D, I now realize in retrospect.  Consider the adjectives I just employed; lavish and outrageous.  What better way to convey such excess than through the 3D element?  It did look as if the confetti were raining down upon me, and so helped create the illusion that I was simply another Nick Carraway, within and without in the vast mansion, reveling and sneering at the reckless, careless behavior unfolding all around.  Though Nick did not have to pay for his admission ($13.25?!  Really?!), I believe my doing so was completely worth it – and mind you, I did so twice.  The 3D party scenes helped to create an almost tangible sensation of claustrophobia.  As Nick squeezed through Gatsby’s front doors in an impressive throng of strangers, and as tensions soared and tempers flared with the heat in that cruelly cramped room at the Plaza Hotel, I felt smothered and that I was too close.  Like Nick, I had had enough of everyone.  The way the 3D manipulated my emotions and even level of physical comfortableness was both complete and masterful.  I was impressed.

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So why was I so undecided after the first viewing?  I considered this as my second viewing began, and thought maybe the casting did not quite sit right with me.  However, when Leonardo DiCaprio is first shown in the film, when he turns and offers that glorious smile that Gatsby gave Nick and so impressed him with in the novel, I am smiling and smiling so that my muscles are sore and I am seemingly incapable of stopping.  I must admit though that I have always been enthralled with the idea of DiCaprio playing Gatsby.  Conversely, I was thoroughly disappointed with Tobey Maguire being cast as Nick Carraway, hoping for a larger personality, an actor more likeable.  But I noticed that when Maguire plays Nick as disoriented, disappointed, disillusioned, or drained, I felt the same.  Though I love Jay Gatsby in a way that only a complete and total lonely, melodramatic bookworm can, I was frustrated and disgusted with him when Nick was in the film – performing a complete 180, as they say – and I can only contribute that to Maguire’s performance.  When I read the novel, I am staunchly loyal to Gatsby in an irrational kind of way.  For Maguire to prompt me to question that loyalty after years and years of nothing but is a testament to his talent, and I was too harsh when I first judged his casting.  Joel Edgerton as Tom was flawless and Carey Mulligan played Daisy brilliantly, although I did not find her able to create a more sympathetic character; she was just as repugnant to me on screen as on the page, but I think that is a matter of personal taste.

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Then was it the incorporation of the modern music?  Though many of my students complained about the anachronistic soundtrack and score – which greatly surprised me as I believed it, was engineered with them specifically in mind – I rather enjoyed it.  I love art and I love style and the music aided in putting the film over the top in both respects.  I love the thought behind it, using modern day music of another generation of excess to show the universal, transcendent dangers behind such thoughtless, selfish behavior.  The novel is timeless, so the music does become an inconsequential detail, but to drive that point home with the very same music as the vehicle is genius and daring, and I cannot help but be impressed.  I also compulsively listen to the majority of the soundtrack which means I must enjoy it (unless it is only for its connection to the novel, which is stretched and strained to be honest).

So if it was not the inclusion of 3D nor the cast nor the music, then why was I less than impressed upon the initial viewing?  How could I fall so completely in love with the film after watching it a second time?  Are not first impressions the most important?  Upon pondering these questions, I am left with only one conclusion: my mood.  What had been going on with me?  What had been different about the second night?

I cannot remember being so excited for a theatrical release.  I bought my tickets early online and like a child at Christmas, could hardly sleep the night before.  The day of the film dawned and I was ecstatic.  I wore my shirt with pearls to school, falling short of the zeitgeist aura I was going for, but the students appreciated it, especially the sophomores who had read the novel with me earlier in the year.  They knew that Friday was “Gatsby Day,” and that I had planned my lessons accordingly.  We watched the trailers, noted the visual and auditory symbolism, and tried to decide if Baz Luhrmann assumed those viewing the film had read the book.  I was so captivated I even cheated – for lack of a better term – and showed the trailers to my freshmen classes to inspire them to see the film, read the book, or do both.  I barely survived my weekly hour of home instruction, excitedly and breathlessly discussing my plans for the evening with the student’s mother.  I went to the spring concert for chorus and band at the high school because of a promise to my students, and they seemed genuinely excited to see me and I was genuinely proud of them.  I was beaming and sad to leave a little early, but one student even said to me as I was on my way out, “Aren’t you seeing the movie tonight?”  I was pumped.

The movie started at 9:30PM, but I had planned to arrive at the theater around 9:00PM to avoid crowds, buy snacks and to avoid any anxiety.  I made these plans with my viewing companion whose name has been stricken from the record to prevent any kind of social faux pas.  So when it was 8:45PM, I left the concert (missing the last song, mind you) and called my viewing companion, fully prepared to meet this individual at the theater.  However, I was somewhat perturbed to learn that at 8:45PM, mere minutes before show time, the individual was at CVS with plans to continue on to Wawa.  I let it go though, because I realized that everything was within minutes from home and that I may have been overzealous in planning.  There was no guarantee the theater would be mobbed and purchasing snacks beforehand would be cheaper and would save time.  I relaxed and my viewing companion decided to meet at home just past 9:00PM.  I headed home and waited with juvenile excited.

9:00PM came and went … as did 9:05PM … as did 9:10PM … as did 9:15PM … as did 9:20PM.  We did not head to the theater until 9:30PM.  I was furious, seething.  Having planned meticulously and purchased the tickets, I could not fathom how someone could be so absolutely thoughtless.  To make matters worse, upon arriving at the theater, we had to wait on a lengthy line for our tickets despite being already purchased, and then I was charged twice (but I was handed a cash refund, so really, I can’t complain).  By the time we are actually inside our designated theater, the previews have started and the screen is malfunctioning.  It seemed that nothing could go my way.  Perhaps at that point I did not want to enjoy the movie to aggravate my viewing companion who, ironically, enjoyed it very much.  But that would be cutting of my nose to spite my face, wouldn’t it?

The second time around, my viewing companion who is named Raina, was not only on time, but early!  We went to an absolutely gorgeous dine-in theater in Edison.  We had a drink each, a delicious entrée and shared a delightfully sinful dessert.  Despite the food, I was more aware of my response and involvement in the film, my changing emotions that never failed to match those of the narrator and the way I ached for Gatsby and despised Tom and Daisy.  I felt as though I had taken a long, hard look at myself and those around me.  I was Nick Carraway – observing, within and without – but I wanted to be Gatsby, unfailingly hopeful and tragically romantic.  When I told Raina that I was Gatsby, she agreed without hesitation.  My first viewing companion actually turned back to me as we walked along and said, “You really want to be romantically tragic, and like a hero in a story, don’t you?”

Of course.  That being said, go see “The Great Gatsby.”  And do yourself a favor: see it twice.

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On steak and eggs.

Published October 15, 2012 by mandileighbean

The other day, when I was running, I noticed the road kill had been removed and had been removed quite thoroughly.  Macabre as it may be, I looked intently at the previously gory scene for any kind of remnants, for any kind of tangible proof that the dead possum had been there in the first place.  There was no evidence – the pavement was stained, no organs had been absent-mindedly neglected, and there was absolutely nothing disturbed or out of place.  Admittedly, I was relieved that my eyes did not take in anything that would upset my stomach, but I was also somewhat saddened.  That poor creature had been wiped from existence.  It was no longer living and as far as I know, I am the only who knows and cares enough to write about it.  I understand that the possum was not a sentient being and was not a pet and that to some factions of thought its death is not a tragedy but a mere continuation of the pattern of existence we are all traveling along.  I can understand, acknowledge, and accept all of that and still be upset because I worry and fear that the same fate belongs to some human beings, some that I may even know.  I have already discussed how a wasted life is my greatest fear.

“Looper,” the new science fiction film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis tackles that same theme, in a manner of speaking.  It is about time travel and while that may set off some alarms, the story does not become mired down in hypotheticals and impossibilities and trivial aspects.  Rather, the story focuses on the passage of time as humans grow and age and learn and live.  Time spent on Earth means different things to different people and it even means different things to the same person at different times.  It also reviews and challenges the cyclical nature of time and goes so far as to hint, in my always humble opinion, that it is our responsibility to be cognizant of this cycle, and to sacrifice our own cycle of time to break a cycle in which a neighbor is suffering.  “Looper” was a remarkable film and without a doubt, it is a new favorite.

In the movie, both male leads order steak and eggs for breakfast at a diner.  I did the same today.  Yes, I ordered steak and eggs because I saw it in a movie once.  The eggs and hash browns and toast and coffee were great; the steak was okay.  It wasn’t the best cut as it was very fatty, so I’m going to try the order again at a different diner.  The diner experience was not ruined, however.  I talked with an older man about football and his father’s military service.  I thanked a table of enlisted men for their service.  I chatted with an elderly couple about the economy, employment and the weather.  When the female half of the couple observed me hunched over many sheets of lined paper with a pen clutched in my hand, she correctly assumed that I was an English teacher with papers to grade.  However, I was not grading papers; I was working – or trying to work – on my second novel.  Why didn’t I tell her that?  Why didn’t I explain that I was a young, up and coming author?  Why did I falter?

Maybe it’s because I do not have a physical copy of the book and as such, my dream has not truly been realized.  Maybe I’m afraid that if I say it out loud, it won’t come true because it is still only a wish, a desperate fantasy, a silly girl’s imagination running away.

Who knows?

On hate and the waste of it.

Published July 24, 2012 by mandileighbean

Yesterday, I wrote on the importance of love.  Following that train of thought, it is only logical to arrive at the conclusion that hate is unimportant, in the sense that it is senseless; there’s no point to it.  I’m not just talking about forgiving and forgetting those who wrong us, but also about the bigger issues, such as the prejudices and cruel assumptions that at times can plague society and thereby cripple the brotherhood of man.

Tonight, I watched the film “American History X,” starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, and directed by Tony Kaye.  It tells the story of a reformed neo-Nazi who does his best to keep his younger brother from making his mistakes.  It is incredibly powerful and moving, and offers up an important lesson that at one point or another, we all lose sight of.  If it were up to me, everyone would see this film.  While the language is obscene and some scenes are clearly disturbing, it is never gratuitous or manufactured.  The film is genuine and authentic, and that is where the power lies.  The characters are identifiable and thoroughly developed so there is an emotional investment, regardless of an audience’s personal politics.  Released in 1998, I did not note any antiquated aspects.  The film most definitely holds up some fourteen years later and is still, in my opinion, incredibly poignant and relevant.  The film exhibits art at its best; beautiful and educational.  The cinematography is perfectly juxtaposed against the story, which is penned remarkably well so that a lesson is learned without anything being too preachy or pretentious.  This film is honestly one in a million and were it not rated R, I believe a solid until on tolerance would couple the film with readings of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and Night by Elie Wiesel.  Honestly, if it were up to me, everyone would view this film at least once.  Love is the greatest gift we have and the strongest bond we can form amongst ourselves.  Anything that would belittle or try to destroy that compassion and companionship, such as hate, has no place in our lives.  I understand that sentiment is easier said than executed and may, unfortunately, be idealistic for the environment in which we live.  That does not mean that the sentiment is any less accurate and should not still be strived for daily.

PROMPT: A woman whose husband is killed during a tour of duty overseas decides to turn her home into a boarding house.

PIECE: Diane sat on the edge of her bed, breathing slowly.  She allowed her lungs to fill and she felt the expansion in her chest.  Then, she deflated her lungs and felt her whole body kind of relax and smooth.  Her high-heeled shoes rested firmly upon the wooden floor of the bedroom with strong ankles that did not cave one way or the other.  Her knees came together not only because she was wearing a dress, but because she was terribly knock-kneed.  Her hands, which had finally stopped shaking about a month ago, rested on her lap in a professional and detached kind of way, calmly folded.  Her back was ramrod straight and she was mindful to keep her shoulders lowered from her ears so that the vultures named anxiety and grief would have nowhere to perch; at least not for today.

Beside Diane was the expertly and lovingly folded American flag she had been handed at her husband’s funeral by a white gloved Marine.  She had been unable to without it since the funeral.  It had been a year since and as the flag became a near constant companion, the bedroom had become a stranger.  She had not slept in the bedroom since Nathan had left for Afghanistan and had abandoned it for good when she learned Nathan was never coming home.  Like a ghost, she had traversed the halls of the home silent and numb.  The house was quiet and empty in a way that was rather unsettling.  For three hundred and sixty five days, Diane ate a small breakfast and small dinner at the counter in the kitchen.  The time in between was filled with a blaring television that she looked through rather than watched, prostrated upon the couch.  It was no way to live, but she couldn’t bear to leave the last space Nathan had occupied.  His life insurance allowed her to keep the home and live comfortably, but her father was already discussing the time when the money would run out, which it would eventually because she hadn’t been to work in a year and she had no intentions of returning.

As comforting – or rather, as familiar as it was to wallow in her grief, Diane knew it could not be a permanent state of being.  Nathan wouldn’t be pleased and if she were allowed to keep on living, it had to be for a reason.  Her broken heart hadn’t killed her yet, and as long as the organ continued to beat, she had to continue on.  Thus, she came to the decision she would turn the home she had shared with Nathan into a boarding house.  The silence she despised would be filled by happy travelers and their families.  Life would bustle through the halls once more.  She would be able tp keep her mind occupied and her hands busy with the upkeep on the place, just as the necessary renovations to the home had done.  Diane also realized she could hang Nathan’s picture and his medals near the front door, prompting the patrons to ask questions and allowing Diane to contribute to keeping her husband’s memory alive.  Everything was prepared and today, she was set to recieve her very first customers.

There was just the matter of the flag.  She turned her sorrowful, but gradually lightening, eyes to it.  When Diane left the house, the flag traveled with her, in the passenger seat of her car.  She had spent a solid three months cradling it like an infant.  Her father-in-law had mentioned something about letting go and moving on and to appease him and all those worried about her, she stopped carrying it around.  But wherever she was, so it was.  But she couldn’t have that now, couldn’t be seen carrying it from one room to the other, clutching to it like a drowning victim would a life preserver.  People would find it sad and creepy, and no one would want to stay there.  Diane had decided it was time to deal with the flag.  She had debated buying a case and placing it beside Nathan’s picture near the entrance, but thought such a shrine might be a little too morbid and bring the war too close for comfort to her wearied travelers.  Besides, Diane wanted to feel its cloth beneath her fingers whenever she wanted, as it reminded her of the way it felt to smooth Nathan’s uniform before he left the house.  It had to be discreet yet easily accessible.

She was going to leave it in the closet of the master bedroom but as she couldn’t stand to be in the room and was thereby renting it out, such an option was not logical.  Diane was going to place it somewhere in her bedroom but she feared she’d never leave the room, that she’d be prone to slipping back into her fugue state, simply sitting and stroking the flag, doing no more than wasting away.  Diane liked the tactile features of having the flag in the home, but it was time to move on.

Today, before the first boarders arrived, she would drive the flag over to Nathan’s mother and father.

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