Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Diagnosis: Cancer. Prognosis: Promising


There's been a lot of press about The Big C on Showtime with Laura Linney as a woman newly diagnosed with cancer and her choice not to tell anyone. Read the New York Times review and the New Yorker review if you want the professional opinions. The verymarkmccormick opinion after one episode is that it's better than I expected and I think you have the opportunity (again!) to start at the beginning instead of waiting for a season or two then playing catch up on DVD (you know who you are).

The premise is a bit of a cliche: Linney's character is uptight. She finds out she has cancer. She learns to live a little.

Yes, we're familiar with this scenario, but it's the writing and the acting that carry the show. Her particular choices are surprising and entertaining: start eating onions, build a pool in the front yard, spill wine on her sofa ("I want to be the spilling wine on the cushions type, not the flipping the cushions type," she says to her husband), befriend a cranky neighbor, play a gruesome practical joke on her brat of a son.

My favorite scene though is when she tells off her student (we are led to believe she is an ineffectual teacher), played by Gabourey Sidibe (yay there is life after Precious for this talented actress). She says (paraphrasing): "You can be mean or you can be fat, but you can't be both. Fat people are jolly because fat repulses people but jolly attracts. So take your pick: stop with your mean jokes or be a skinny bitch." Later she agrees to pay her $100 per pound if she can lose weight without smoking.

Another casting choice that makes me very happy: Oliver Platt as her (kinda) ex husband. I think he's delightful always. 

I'm not a huge Laura Linney fan, but I recognize good acting, like at the end when she does a soliloquy about how she really feels. We wonder: is she really finally telling someone about her cancer?  This would be the psychologically correct option according to her young HOT oncologist who she may or may not be flirting with and who may or may not be flirting back. Answer, and this is not a spoiler alert, because the whole point of the show is she's NOT going to tell anyone, all season, according to the press: no. But it's a believable speech and kind of cute when we see what she's talking to.

There is a sort of thematic bludgeon going on: "how would you live if you only had a year to live?" Oh god, we've all seen that movie! But I found myself a little exhilarated, because like the show is accomplishing something that I think good art and good cooking aspire to do: take something simple and feed it to you in a different way so it tastes different.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Family Affairs or The Blog is Alright

Alright, alright, alright, I'm back. This slog will rise again.

But you won't believe what got me here, what cultural artifact pulled me back to verymarkmccormick.com. This entry started to be about the TV show Parenthood, because I felt like it had to be publicized, lionized, analyzed or at least attended to.  I can't believe it myself. The premise is so hokey, but yet the show is so original. It's like a west coast Brothers and Sisters, and its solidly in the tradition that goes way back to Family (or maybe even The Waltons) and continued through to thirtysomething.

So that inspiration started me back blogging here, but I started an entry and didn't finish. . . then I saw Lisa Cholodenko's new movie The Kids Are Alright and then I saw I Am Love, and then Cyrus, and . . . well a theme emerged: families.

Why did I stop blogging? Last fall I went to India for three months and blogged about that.  Several hundred people read that blog, so apparently more people care about India than about (mostly) US culture.

I stopped slogging here (slow blogging) because no one was reading. I had a committed audience of 30 or so readers, and I was working so hard on these articles. . . .so if you like this blog, get your friends to read, okay?

Okay. On to the family theme.

These three movies and the TV show Parenthood are all exceptionally good, and they all say something different about families, but in each there are universal truths.

The Kids are Alright is a must see. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play middle-aged lesbians with two sperm-donor-conceived teenagers (one who was in In Treatment, but she's much better here). Their relationship is ruffaloed (hee hee) big time when the kids contact the sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo). He is a very laid back guy, who kind of falls in love with this crazy little dysfunctional but loving family. He makes mistakes, they all make mistakes, and chaos ensues, but it's a touching sort of predicament they find themselves in, and you leave the movie with that great feeling that you've seen something special and that you've never seen this movie before--it's original.

A movie that is much much more beautiful aesthetically but way more challenging emotionally is I Am Love, an Italian movie by Luca Guadagnino  with Tilda Swinton as Emma Recchi. She's such a goddess, you're not even surprised that she speaks Italian. It's like "of course she speaks Italian, probably Lithuanian too. . . ". This film is about a wealthy family in Milan, but it's really Emma's story: about her oppressed sexuality, awakened by the sauces (literal and figurative) of an earthy chef, best friend of her eldest child. It's operatic--again literally and figuratively--and the composer John Adam's bombastic score (many pieces from Nixon in China) is like another character. I melted into this film, the sights, sounds, and tragic story.

Finally, consider Cyrus, a great little film--couldn't be more different than I Am Love in look and feel. Again, it's about people trying to find love, to find family. There's so much press about this movie I don't need to repeat it, but just consider that like The Kids are Alright, here's a movie that is a complete original: you've never seen it. It's got a fantastic cast: (not always my favorite) John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei (why can't she be in more movies?) and the obesely talented Jonah Hill who is in everything these days. I loved how the characters in this movie talk to each other and how they are all reaching for 100% honesty, but 90% of the time they fall a little short, so when they do hit it, you feel it in your gut and a swelling behind your eyes. This movie is not afraid to be dark and light, flipping back and forth in mood sometimes within a few seconds (like when the two male characters--Tomei's lover and son--declare war on each other).

Speaking of tears, Parenthood, the new TV show (1st season soon to be in reruns if not already): It makes me cry. Every time. How great is that? You sit down to watch TV at the end of the day and suddenly you're all weepy about a fictional family. But I really love it when authentic writing about unexpected but universal situations plays out by talented, beautiful actors, beautifully shot in idyllic towns and houses, then music swells and suddenly you're mourning your lost childhood, missing your own dysfunctional family, wanting to be a better person, and feeling completely totally drained. I love that!

I will pick the blog back up, but you have to help: encourage friends to read the blog. Post it on your Facebook wall or something clever like that.  Thanks!