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Top 3 films of 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

I’ve been mentally drafting this entry since I saw this film back in April. It’s technically a 2013 movie but it was released so late and hit most theaters in 2014. It’s an art film, for sure. It had a limited release. It’s by Jim Jarmusch, who’s has had one of those careers I can only envy. I don’t think I’ve had such a visceral attachment to a film since David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2004). I think I would have loved it regardless of who was cast as the two vampires Adam and Eve, but Tilda Swinton is just such an otherworldly and beautiful creature that you don’t doubt for a second that she is an actual vampire. This is a strange film. I don’t really care about the story, or the mythology of vampires in this universe. It’s not about that. It’s a true film about the human condition, told through the eyes of a pair of vampires who consider themselves above humanity. And that’s the only way to analyze humanity these days. Short of being a satellite circling the Earth, it’s only cold, immortal creatures who can ultimately pass judgement on what the fuck is going on. Like all classic vampire films, it touches on the beauty and pain of being alive. I saw this movie as a matinee with my husband on some random weekday we both had off, disappearing into the cool dark theater while the world was buzzing outside. We both had the same experience in that empty auditorium, separately. When the credits rolled and the lights came on, he turned to me and said, yeah. And we walked wordlessly, hand in hand, into the hot Hawaiian sunshine.

Begin Again (2014)

SONG 01400.nefI have a bias. I love Keira Knightley. I love her so much, I almost want to see her fail because it’s not fair that someone is this beautiful and talented. In this movie she is supposed to sing. I thought that was awesome because she’d probably be bad at it. She is not. She is, in fact, great. I now love her even more because I have accepted that she is perfect. I think I went into this movie blind. I didn’t even see the trailer. It’s about a British girl finding herself in New York because her musician boyfriend got a record deal (he is Adam Lavine but try not to hold that against him.) The success changes him. The movie is also, and maybe more, about an aging, idealistic record producer who just wants music to sound good again. Played by Mark Ruffalo, who is great, but you almost don’t notice because he’s great in most things in that way that he is still an actor and less a movie star. I do love this premise for a movie, and it’s really well executed. The emotional journey of the characters ring true, and it’s just cheesy enough to make you feel good. My favorite part is probably the soundtrack and the lyrics. I don’t know if I would like them as much if they weren’t attached to this movie and I’ll never know, but I like the songs a lot. I like the struggle for art to have more meaning and personality, and less commercialism. I don’t think this movie is on a lot of top 3 lists for 2014 but it’s on mine because it just stuck with me. I want to watch it again now.

Boyhood (2014)

boyhoodlinklaterI put off watching Boyhood for months because I thought I would like it just fine and that I would appreciate it for what it was – a 13 year long film journey and that’s different and new and deserves to be recognized. It’s all of that. I liked the first half hour. I really like the kid who plays Mason (the boy). I like watching him grow. I appreciate the less than perfect family dynamic. About an hour and thirty minutes in, my husband calls and I complain to him that it’s just so long. It somehow feels a lot longer than its 2:30 running time. I prepare myself to leave a not glowing review, but I’m still engaged in this story. Then Mason becomes a sullen teenager and I almost embarrassingly hear too much of myself in his voice and views of the world. I prepare to disregard all of this. It’s just a stupid film, it doesn’t mean my views are childish just because they are coming from a fictional teenager, etc. Then I think this filmmaker, Richard Linklater, has been doing these films for over 20 years. And I start to feel really good. Because that means, and I already knew this, that there are brilliant people and artists out there who feel exactly like I do. And one day, that might change the world, but in the mean time it is giving us great stories to connect us all. And then the last chapter of Mason’s journey begins, and although it is a happy one, I begin bawling and I keep doing that until the credits. Because life, man. Because life.

This has been such a good year for film. In between all the super heroes and remakes (that are good in their own way) there is some serious storytelling being told. I loved The Theory of Everything (Eddie Redmayne for Oscar!) Luc Besson’s Lucy (Scarlett!) and Tim Burton’s Big Eyes, and although I’ve yet to see some of the huge award contestants (Birdman, The Imitation Game) I feel pretty confident about my list as it is. Interstellar broke the mold on cinematography and special effects (that worm hole! Just leave me in it. That’s where I want to be.) The Hunger Games franchise is also quickly becoming my favorite dystopian tale, even better than the books. Jennifer Lawrence is magnetic and has all the qualities of a true movie star. I think the film world might be ok after all.

True currency is time and love

You know that old bullshit saying ‘time is money’? Uh, no. This is a rather short addition to the 10 Steps, but it might be one of the most important. Realize that the only true currency is time and love. Money is an illusion but it can get you in some deep trouble so live within your means. You have build thick skin in order to resist advertising and focus mostly on needs, and only the occasional wants.

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Human beings are the only species that have to pay in order to live on this planet. The powers to be figured this out long before the rest of us and found the perfect system of control – money. If we don’t play by their rules we go to prison, which robs of us the only two things of true value in this life – time and being close to those we love.

Imagining a world without money is actually a really hard mental exercise, but very rewarding. You immediately run into the most obvious downsides – anarchy, chaos, violence – but keep at it. Will a one world order ever work without massive, total control? isn’t it better to have autonomous communities of like-minded individuals but global guidelines that prohibit violence against another tribe? Who would enforce that? Nobody has the answers to these questions yet but if we keep on having these dialogues at every opportunity, I think we will eventually figure something out.

Lately, there has been some focus on the psychology of poverty, which I think is incredibly important. Oxfam recently released a study that concluded by 2016 (next year!!) 51% of all wealth on the planet will be owned by the 1%. I’ve noticed some people refute this by saying, “oh, that’s silly, if you make more than $34,000 a year, you belong to the 1%” but I think that only makes that study even more insane! That means that nestled in there with the world’s 500 billionaires and thousands of millionaires, only a handful of people are making a decent salary anymore. 40% of Americans are now living under the poverty line. 2/3 are living paycheck to paycheck with no safety net. 1 in 5 children go hungry to bed. These are crazy, crazy numbers and the policies of austerity and “welfare for the rich, free market for everyone else” in the US and Europe are only going to escalate these mind-boggling statistics. No banker has yet to go to prison for their crimes and the banks still consider themselves too big to jail, or even investigate. Clearly, in a society such as this, money is a complete joke. It has no basis in reality. But it still dictates the way we live our life. The stress and worry about making ends meet is sending us all to an early grave.

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Angelina

I was 17 when I became infatuated with Angelina Jolie. It was 2001 and Tomb Raider was about to come out. Hollywood, the media, tabloids, everything seemed a little different back then. It wasn’t so immediate around the clock. There was less internet and no social media. An half hour interview with the celebrity you liked still had to be scheduled on MTV and taped on VHS. Magazine clippings actually mattered. And I settled in to watch MTV At the Movies: Tomb Raider, and I met my spiritual soul mate. I did tape it, and I watched it over and over. It wasn’t just how beautiful she was, or the things she got to experience while filming Tomb Raider in Iceland and Cambodia; it was the tone of her voice when she got excited. It was how she talked about love and her husband Billy Bob Thornton. It was that, for some reason or the other, she had managed to carve out a life for herself in which she was absolutely free, and I had never met anyone like that before.

angelina-1999-2500-wallpaperI’ve always been searching for female role models. I come from a small family and I’m the oldest girl in my generation, so I guess, subconsciously, I’ve been looking for a big sister. The first was Buffy, at 13. But as I got older I needed someone more real. And the universe, in its infinite wisdom, tends to deliver what you don’t know you need just when you need it. Angelina only had a couple of tattoos at the time. One was of a window from the inside looking out, and the other was a Tennessee Williams quote: ‘A prayer for the Wild at Heart kept in cages’. That more than resonated with a girl who used to spend most of the long summer evenings sitting in her bedroom window looking down into a peaceful valley in southern Norway where nothing ever happened, dreaming of being anywhere but here, dreaming of adventure. Angelina had just turned 26. She had loved and learned. She had been married twice. She had won an Oscar. She had a fantastic versatile acting career. She was beautiful, introspective and fun. She was open about darkness and overcoming it, stepping into the light. She was only 7 years older than me. How was it possible to cram so much life into such short time?

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Painting the snowflakes red: The insanity of capitalism in 500 words

Alice in Wonderland strikes again. Over the past 65 years, millions of children have marveled at the absurdity of the Red Queen making her minions paint the white roses red, or lose their heads. Unfortunately, the same children grew up and became mindless consumers of plastic junk, not giving a second thought as to who made their peculiar trinkets.

But this Christmas, a stunning article by Oliver Wainwright at The Guardian made it impossible to ignore. No art director in the world could come up with more unforgettable images of Santa’s workshop from hell. Wainwright writes: “Wai is 19. Together with his father, he works long days in the red-splattered lair, taking polystyrene snowflakes, dipping them in a bath of glue, then putting them in a powder-coating machine until they turn red – and making 5,000 of the things every day. In the process, the two of them end up dusted from head to toe in fine crimson powder. His dad wears a Santa hat (not for the festive spirit, he says, but to stop his hair from turning red) and they both get through at least 10 face masks a day, trying not to breathe in the dust.”

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And this is just one among countless displays of the insanity of blind capitalism we are subjected to every year. When is it going to truly sink in?

There is not a single person on this planet who can claim that red Styrofoam snowflakes so greatly improve their quality of life, to the point that young, faceless men and women have to sacrifice their health and lives to produce them. I mean, sure, you could claim that, but then you also have to admit to being a terrible human being with no empathy or compassion for others.

Because this is what it comes down to. Most of us actually don’t know the true cost of the things we buy. If we did, we would buy less and pay more.

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Humanity is pretty good at arguing about pretty much everything. But there are some infallible truths. 1) we need this planet to survive. 2) we need other people to survive. 3) we need a fair system in which to distribute goods and services.

So when designing such a system those are things to consider, in that order. Planet. People. Profit.

My article Why ‘voting with your dollars’ doesn’t work received a lot of attention. Some people agreed that we need to change our values before what we purchase really matters, and others disagreed vehemently, saying that voting with our dollars is all we can do and that the power lies with the consumer. I respectfully disagree. The power lies within the system itself, and who can manipulate it the most. But change is possible.

Consumers have a responsibility to demand ethically produced goods. Companies have a responsibility to produce goods within standards set by society at large. Lawmakers have a responsibility to pass laws that benefit, and ideally, improve the planet and people’s quality of life. Currently, we have a handful of consumers who work tirelessly to advocate and implement change in their communities. The rest are perhaps just trying to get by. We have a handful of small companies that are local, sustainable and ethical. We have massive, global corporations that are above the law, trash the planet, abuse workers, and destroy communities to make a sale. And we have a bunch of puppet politicians who allow it all to happen.

Sustainability starts with changing your values. Until then, everything else is business as usual.

Review: The Goddess of 1967 (2000)

Picking a movie to watch is sort of like going on a blind date; you’re never complete sure what you’re going to get. I’m not a film snob or a very harsh critic – I usually give most movies a passing grade just for effort – but I do ask to be taken on a journey to somewhere I’ve never been before. It’s just usually never as literal as The Goddess of 1967.

goddessof1967posterMy movie picking process occasionally goes something like this. [insert actor] is really cute. I like her. I’m going to see what other movies she has on Netflix. In this particular case it was Rose Byrne. At the time she had three movies. One was called The Goddess of 1967 and had a gorgeous cover of a pink sky and a pink car with a couple inside. My brain snaps to judgement: ok, so it’s about a guy who meets an amazing girl in the year 1967 but it looks kinda indie so maybe it will be an insightful and pretty road trip movie. Oh wait, it’s from 2001. Rose Byrne must have been very young then. It’s Australian? I thought she was English. Hmm, IMDB says she’s Australian. I feel like I should have known that. I’ll put it in my queue.

And then it sits in the queue until Netflix says it’s going to remove it the very next day so I’m forced to watch it.

It opens with a man living a very strange and lonely life in a blue-toned Tokyo. This is not at all what I expected. I get a little bored. Then I kinda get into it. I find myself consciously taking pride in being a person who truthfully enjoys indie movies and celebrate the moments when I connect fully with someone’s unusual attempt to tell a story. But most of the time my brain shifts into tech mode and I’m just breaking down the elements, imagining the script, imagining the set, and what choices I would have made. Very quickly I gather that the movie is not set in 1967 and that the Goddess is, in fact, a car. Now I really have no idea what I’m in for so I silently congratulate the filmmaker (who is a woman!) and settle in for the ride.

I won’t be giving away any of the story elements in this review because that would be opening the present for you. You should go in with absolutely no expectations, even the ones I’m going to build up. It is a road trip movie, in the present and into the past of a girl (played by Rose Byrne who gives a stellar performance.) It deals with difficult subjects like abuse and helplessness. Every single character is broken in some way. But it is the rare type of movie where the sum is greater than its parts. The director infuses the film with the very intangible element that is movie magic that can only happen because film is art in 3-D. It’s unlike anything else. It uses moving pictures and sound to create an experience that can last forever. The Australian outback becomes a character. It’s vast, lonely, hard and beautiful. The Goddess becomes a character.

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It’s a brave movie. It is the kind of movie that only this particular director could make. I pause halfway through the film because I have to know who Clara Law is. At the time of the making of this movie she was in her 40’s. She is a filmmaker born in Macau, China, with a degree in English literature and now she lives in Australia. Her husband is a writer and they co-wrote the film together. Well, that sounds absolutely lovely. I’m jealous, and impressed.

There is a dance scene about halfway through the movie and it actually gave me goosebumps. In the context of the story, the music and Rose’s courage and lack of inhibition elevate the film to art and it’s able to sear itself into your emotional history. This film is now part of how you define human emotions.

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The whole film is dream-like, really. Characters enter and exit without explanation, but it doesn’t bother you the way it would with a less skilled director. They are all just pieces to tell the story, the same way not every single person that means something to you stay with you your whole life, but that doesn’t make their presence any less important in your story. I’ve only ever experienced the same dream-like state while watching David Lynch movies, especially Mulholland Drive, which is one of my very favorite movies and the reason I thought I belonged in film in the first place. I saw it when I was 18 in a near empty theater, I felt it on so many levels, and it finally clicked with me that I can’t do exactly this, but I can do something like this. It occurs to me now that I feel The Goddess From 1967 is the female counterpart to Mulholland Drive. The disturbing essence found in many Lynch movies is there, stirring under the surface, but it is softer, comes packaged in pink clouds, whereas Lynch’s horror sometimes peaks out from around the corner and shows its face.

It’s been over a week and I still can’t stop thinking about it. I’m not saying everyone will have the exact same experience as me, but I definitely recommend you give it a try. The movie is not on Netflix US anymore but you might be able to find it in some other regions. You might be able to find it on YouTube, I saw a copy subtitled in French, but it’s really a movie that deserves a high definition than YT’s 480p.

Old Hollywood on the page

A well-written biography is the intersection between life, story and truth – my three absolute favorite things. To follow someone’s journey through their whole life, their highs and lows, regrets and lessons learned, is a very intimate thing. And unlike fictional stories, it feels more intimate because it is all true. Sure, they can’t all be gems, and it’s up for debate whether the fault lies with writer or subject, but the really good ones – oh gosh. It really is like gaining a friend. You come to know this person. You laugh with them at their silly stories, you read the poignant moments over and over, marvel at their perfection, and ultimately, you cry when they die, no matter how rich and wonderful a life. Mainly, because it was so rich and wonderful.

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In October I went to Hollywood for a few days to hang out with my favorite girls – Rita Hayworth and Gene Tierney – and I took a tour of the Warner Bros lot to get the feel of a historic film studio. The tour was fun but it focused mainly on current sitcoms, which I don’t really watch. I’m in full-on research mode for my next project and I’m devouring old Hollywood biographies like they were oxygen. The amount of love found in the writing of these books is astonishing. It’s radiating off the page. I’ve never come across more richly crafted characters. I find myself not wanting to finish the books because I don’t want to say goodbye. I dread it because I know I won’t find another book with these characters – because they’re not characters at all, just a bunch of artists who lived in a crazy place called Hollywood 60-to-90 years ago.

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Terrorize this

Can we just take a moment to appreciate the irony of all the world’s leading governments  “taking a stand against terrorism” by launching the most massive surveillance apparatus the world has ever seen. And the perpetual warfare in countries with vastly different cultures than the West and victory is only declared when the countries more or less resemble the Western ideal of the corporate state. And if that’s not bad enough, how about those flying killing machines called drones that they like to launch over countries not even declared war upon, making sure that for every civilian killed, 20 more revenge-bent “terrorists” pop up. And let’s not forget about the West’s own citizens, in their desire to protect us against dark boogeymen, every ounce of privacy awarded us through the ages are wiped out in less than a decade “for our own protection”.

Hey, sociopaths in charge, guess what? Living has always come with certain risks. One of them is death from unexpected events. Like falling in the shower. Or getting shot by your gun-crazy neighbor. These things happen. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your neighbor, or the shower, is conspiring against you. That just means they are careless and/or morons. Considering that dying at the hands of terrorists in a Western country is smaller than the chance of getting struck by lightning, maybe there is some disproportionate use of resources we need to discuss here. Unless of course, this isn’t about terrorists with 30 year old Kalashnikovs and spotty internet connection at all.

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So fucking special

I think my life would be a lot easier if I wasn’t obsessed with truth. Truth in all things. I badger the people I love about getting to the bottom of things – why did you do that, why do you think that, why, why, why.

Sometimes it feels inevitable that my life took this turn. A writer asks questions. A writer tries to make sense of human nature. And what bigger question is there than who runs the world – who creates reality?

In no way do I think I am unique in asking these questions. I think a lot of people do, and I think that’s why all these ‘truther’ movements are popping up. As marketing and image-obsession increasingly seep into all aspects of our lives, people are eventually bound to start craving truth, honesty and beauty, which all used to be found in art. But even art is an endless marketing campaign now. Maybe it always was, who knows.

So then the artist turns to reality – how can I shatter these walls around me? How can I make a space that is bigger and more free?

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Will the 3D revolution be sustainable?

 

Are you excited about 3D printing? I sure am. As I continue to peel back the layers of what is cultural integration and what is actually natural laws of being alive, I find so many absurdities among our current mindset. Why is it that a handful of people “own” the world’s oil supply that we all depend on to survive? They weren’t around 200 million years ago when all that stuff got made and, as far as I can tell, their maximum life span is 100 years, same as the rest of us. They are no more or less special than anyone else, except they have the arrogance to assume they can own a large chunk of a life sustaining planet on which they are only visitors. And now they are trying to buy the planet’s fresh water supply, too, with the absurd commodity called “money”, which may be the most useless object in the world, when you really think about it. Old, bacteria-ridden crumbled pieces of dirty cotton. Good luck trying to drink that!

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But as long as this group of people remain powerful in our minds, they will remain powerful in the physical world, too. I certainly don’t see a way to overthrow this diseased system in my lifetime. Maybe in a couple of hundred years, when our minds are more evolved. If we live that long, of course, although I’m sure no matter what happens with climate change, some of our species will survive.

Welcome to the world of an environmentalist. It may look like a pretty bleak place to reside, but I actually find it the opposite. With the impending collapse (financial, societal, or environmental, or most likely, a combo) all but certain, it really frees your mind to think  in radical new ways. Or old ways, as they were. Indigenous tribes all over the world have historically always considered themselves visitors in this world and the idea that man could own nature was absurd to them.

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To own something is supposed to equal security. To firmly know, in the eyes of gods and men, that this piece belongs to me is really just another way to ward off the inevitable – death. To know that you have a safe place to farm, sleep and live must have been so reassuring to those living thousands of years ago. It increased the chance to live and procreate, and to see your children grow up. And the world was endless, with plenty of space for everyone to grow and multiply. The world is not like that anymore. The world is full and we designed systems of haves and have nots. This system is not a natural law, but we pretend it is because how else could we, the haves, sleep at night. When I was little and I asked my mom, “Why do people starve in Africa?” she told me what most parents tell their kids, “I don’t know. That’s just the way it is.” Well, I’m grown up now and I call bullshit. Read More

Your story matters

Who else is feeling like the world just imploded this summer? Gaza, Syria, Iraq, America’s reentry into Iraq, so many refugees, an endless stream of people with nowhere to go… every place is “full” and the money supply is always dwindling as the 0.1% keep stuffing their secret bank accounts with more billions each month.

And it’s all there, right in our face on social media. It’s exhausting just to keep up with all the senseless suffering. But then I had this thought. What if social media is eventually going to put a stop to all this? When enough people have had enough and join together in a massive show of civil disobedience of this bullshit system of war and profit over people and peace. Wouldn’t that be something. Soon, everyone under 20 won’t know a world without social media. Soon, it will be impossible to justify war when its true face is in our face every single day.

Stories have the power to change the world.

One visionary photographer, Brandon Stanton, was recently unemployed when he began to  take street portraits of strangers in the summer of 2010. Armed with his camera, he began crisscrossing the city, covering thousands of miles on foot, all in an attempt to capture New Yorkers and their stories.  The result of these efforts was a vibrant blog he called “Humans of New York,” in which his photos were featured alongside quotes and anecdotes.

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It’s an incredible project, and it’s more than just photos. Every day, millions of Facebook users are introduced to a handful of strangers, along with some of their most intimate secrets and stories. When you follow the page long enough, you begin to see what a revolutionary idea this is because it makes you understand, on a molecular level, that every single person alive is fighting their own struggle and that their moments of sadness and joy may not be felt across the world, but once they are put out there, they resonate with hundreds of thousands of people across the world. And that’s never really happened before, not as intimate, not as instantaneous, as it is now on social media.

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Last week, in partnership with the United Nations, Brandon set out on a “world tour” to capture photos and stories of people outside New York. He started in Iraq and his posts so far have been heartbreaking and sensational. Because Brandon holds a very rare currency these days – the internet’s trust – and when he shows us stories from refugees, in their own words, of fear, love, despair and courage, we listen. We feel. We become connected. And that’s the only thing that can make this bleak present become a brighter future, globally.

This is one of the stories he posted today.

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“The fighting got very bad. When I left Syria to come here, I only had $50. I was almost out of money when I got here. I met a man on the street, who took me home, and gave me food and a place to stay. But I felt so ashamed to be in his home, that I spent 11 hours a day looking for jobs, and only came back to sleep. I finally found a job at a hotel. They worked me 12 hours a day, for 7 days a week. They gave me $400 a month. Now I found a new hotel now that is much better. I work 12 hours per day for $600 a month, and I get one day off. In all my free hours, I work at a school as an English teacher. I work 18 hours per day, every day. And I have not spent any of it. I have not bought even a single T-shirt. I’ve saved 13,000 Euro, which is how much I need to buy fake papers. There is a man I know who can get me to Europe for 13,000. I’m leaving next week. I’m going once more to Syria to say goodbye to my family, then I’m going to leave all this behind. I’m going to try to forget it all. And I’m going to finish my education.” (Erbil, Iraq)