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About sittingpugs

Bamboo is my favorite plant to eat. I can write with both hands. The Atlanta Falcons are my favorite football team.

Framing Spencer

Don’t think for a second that you’ll be treated to a biopic or historical-events-as-flashback in the vein of this Naomi Watts number or this Madonna-produced drama should you decide to watch Spencer (Pablo Larrain, 2021).  If you’ve seen Larrain’s previous work Jackie (2016), arguably more biopic-ish in premise, you may have a better tonal reference point for what it’s like to watch this sometimes tense and inexplicably alluring meditation on how to deal with trying to adhere to stifling standards.

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Self-identified as a fable, per the on-screen text at the start of the film, Spencer is a textbook example of how to employ shot scale, composition, camerawork, sound design, and musical score to conjure a suffocating and disquieting atmosphere where the main character, who married into the royal family of royal families, is trying to make it through a Christmas weekend.  Kristen Stewart may not be the first actress you envision as portraying said main character, but in performing this role, she has shed those signature traits of annoyed exhales, severe shoulder drooping, and fidgety limbs for anxiety-induced panting, expressive gazes, and a certain grown-up-ness that many of her post-Twilight roles hadn’t required.

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Does it help that the wardrobe department did a very good job to make it easier for the viewer to stop seeing Kristen Stewart on screen and start seeing her playing Diana?  Oui.  Does it help that she doesn’t talk like she normally does?  Oui.  Does it seem like there are certain scenes where she’s self-aware in channeling a different persona through speechUn peu.  But it works.  I watched this film twice in a row after I got the DVD and fifteen minutes into the second viewing, I ceased seeing an actress of whom I’m incredibly fond and started seeing a woman desperate for meaningful defiance.

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Larrain’s film isn’t supposed to be scary, and yet, it succeeds in presenting psychological unease through elements of the mise-en-scene, the music, and the many close-ups around Diana’s face.  If you’ve seen Spencer and remember this dinner scene with the soup and the pearls, you’ll know what I mean.

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The director talks about this scene with The New York Times:

Kristen Stewart talks to Howard Stern about the accent:

I’d wanted to see this film in the theatre so badly a few months go but waited for the DVD because I knew I wanted subtitles and that I’d get it on home video anyway.

I might add Spencer to my quasi-annual Xmas movie-watching tradition.

Pic creds: Amazon, IMDB

Timing Counts

Being in the right place at the right time can lead to many positive and meaningful experiences:
~ An interception return for a touchdown that puts your team ahead with only one minute left in the fourth quarter.
~ An interaction with one of the many loves of your life.
~ An introduction to someone who will end up (in)directly ushering fortune your way.
~ A sense of acknowledgment by and connectedness with a wild animal.
~ Relief as you obtain a much-needed retail item.
~ Bikers being awesome.
~ And perhaps the most coveted, random acts of kindess that saved you time, effort, or money or any combination of the above, and that didn’t happen for likes and more subscribers.

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I was in the right place at the right time twice today while I was on a grocery errand.  The first instance was in the parking garage as I was circling methodically a few aisles to find a desirable parking spot.  I had almost reached the end of one of them when I saw an SUV turn in and stop because a car had its reverse lights on.  I assumed the SUV would park where that car was about to vacate, but the woman driver motioned for me to take the spot.  The second instance happened as I paused to decide how best to get a six-pack of 1-liter water bottles from the top shelf and into the cart.  A woman and her possibly-fifth-grader son were looking at products near me and must have interpreted my pause as an indication that I may need some assistance.

Before I could even take a breath and re-orient both hands to shimmy the pack off the shelf, I hear, “Do you need some help?” I responded in the affirmative, to which the woman said, “I’m not much taller than you, but….”

I made a move to cradle the waters after she brought them down but she put them into the cart.  I thanked her and she assured me it wasn’t a problem.  She was indeed probably a couple inches taller than I and maybe a dress size smaller, and yet she got that six-pack down faster and with more grace than I would have.  She saved me time and energy just because she could.

In many situations, unsolicited assistance leads to double the work because you have to redo something, and other times, you accept because you don’t want to seem ungrateful when you really could do something by yourself.  So, when the goddesses grant you this kind of unsolicited assistance, the kind you really do need, it feels like you passed a test…like you’re worthy of it.  Like you did something right and are being rewarded…even when you were just at the right place at the right time.

Love & Basketball — The Criterion Edition

The Criterion Edition of Love & Basketball (Gina Prince-Bythewood, 2000) came out last year, and though I’ve had the DVD within spitting distance for a few months, I didn’t really feel like watching it until tonight.

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I really liked this film the first time I watched it and I like it just as much now.  My previous analysis still holds and for this viewing, I have a few additional musings:

~ I forgot Alfre Woodard plays Sanaa Lathan‘s mom.
~ Monica (Lathan) and Quincy’s (Omar Epps) friendship is borne out of humility, friendly competition, and strong opinions.
~ Sanaa Lathan is so good.  She’s incredible at conveying discomfort around others and self-disappointment.
~ The film delves into many layers and does so very well: dynamics between friends, parents and kids, dealing with insecurity, and rivalry.
~ Why would Quincy treat Monica that way?  Is it because he’s afraid to let her down where it truly matters so he’d rather she hated him for being a jerk or short-sighted than for anything resembling vulnerability?  Or did he perceive her priority, her reasonable priority of basketball over him as abandonment?  He wouldn’t walk her back to her dorm, is he justified in being so upset (or could they both have come up with a better solution in the moment)?
~ I completely forgot Tyra Banks was in this movie.
~ I don’t remember getting teary-eyed in that scene in the kitchen between Monica and her mom…the one where they talk about basketball and the spring dance.
~ Would a person who doesn’t like sports movies or basketball enjoy the non-sports components of Love & Basketball?  I doubt it.  Although the film deftly explores Monica and Quincy as people, but mostly Monica, basketball is so integral to the themes and storyline that if you actively dislike the depiction of game-play or conversations about being an athlete, then maybe you could still have a good time if you’re die-hard fans of Sanaa Lathan, Omar Epps, or want to watch a movie directed by a woman and in which there are zero cell phones.

What I learned from the making-of featurette:
~ The director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, was a shy child but playing basketball gave her an outlet to be more confident.  Her parents encouraged her and her sister to play sports.  She also always liked writing and telling stories; becoming a filmmaker made sense.
~ The Sundance Labs liked the script for the film and then invited Gina to do the director’s lab.
~ Sanaa Lathan did not give the director the best first impression…but nailed it in the reading to a full audience.  Apparently, people with theatre training do a “reading” for more mechanical reasons, unlike someone with a film/TV background who would put much more heart into it.  Hence, the initial not-great impression.
~ Omar Epps had played athletic characters four times before Love & Basketball, so he was apprehensive at first, but he loved the script.
~ The director wanted to cast a ball-player who could act but kept Sanaa “on hold” because her auditions were so good.  She was given trainer to help her become a basketball player in more than athletic abilities.  Colleen Matsuhara was the basketball advisor.  It took about four or five months of Gina trying to finalize casting before Sanaa got the part.  She realized that her movie was about love first and then basketball second.  After all, “you can fake a jump shot, you can’t fake a close-up.”
~ The WNBA did not exist when the director started writing the film.  By the time she was in production, there was a WNBA.

If you like this movie and haven’t gotten your hands on the Criterion version, do it, and watch all the special features.

How did I not pay attention to the music in this movie before?  Je ne sais pas.

Pic creds: Criterion Collection

Stetson Bennett’s Teammates Love Him

I didn’t exist yet the last time the UGA Bulldogs won a college football national title.  Cortez Hankton, pass game coordinator and wide receiver coach for UGA, didn’t exist either.  Well, they did it tonight against the Alabama Crimson Tide, winning 33 to 18.

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Here’s the google chat log I had with a friend during the final couple minutes of the game:

Me: UGA’s QB’s teammates love him. They’ll cry happy tears with him.
Friend: you’re watching?!

Me: I started watching at the bottom of the 2nd quarter.  I was watching movies before then.  I’ve had the game mostly on mute, though, cause I’ve been listening to music on YT.  I know, it’s been a while since I watched a college game.
Friend:  you picked the right game to watch.  you’re watching history. first UGA national title since 1980

Me: But, I did watch the failed 2pt conversions of both teams in the 4th and then UGA putting two back-to-back TDs up. Of course, I was going to watch at least the second half of the game..,i know how big a deal it is.  the rivalry. I used to watch quite a bit of college football in the yrs after I got my MA. I know a lot of people don’t see the big deal with competitive sports, participating or watching.  But, it really is important… where else does society get to see young men get to experience and express supreme joy and disappointment? Where else does society get to see young men convey so many emotions so publicly? nowhere.  And…in some very subtle way, football hasn’t been commodified to quite the same degree as basketball.  Basketball players in the spotlight, with endorsement deals and commercial value, are depicted much more like musicians than football players.  Football players, even household names, multiple conference or league winners, are more like… Miss America winners? Same with baseball players.

Friend: how happy must a braves and UGA fan be in these last 3 months?
Me: And how awesome the World Series happened before Omnicorn was a thing. This was very good vicarious joy.

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Get game summary, stats, and play-by-play here.

Penetrating Personal Space in Juice

I’ve had the 25th anniversary edition of Juice (Ernest R. Dickerson, 1992) for a few years and finally watched it today.  I was suddenly in the mood.

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According to the making-of featurette, the director had envisioned making a film adaptation of Claude Brown’s autobiography Manchild in the Promised Land, and upon graduating from NYU, he conceived of the film as a film noir with high school kids in Harlem.  Co-written by Gerard Brown, Juice follows a brief period of time in the lives of a group of friends Quincy aka Q (Omar Epps), Bishop (Tupac Shakur), Steel (Jermaine Hopkins), and Raheem (Khalil Kain) and the consequences of one of their actions.

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As I watched the film, three contemplations occupied my mind:

~ Penetrating personal space is an act of intimacy or menace, depending on the situation.  A person who threatens someone else invades personal space faster than a person will inflict gestures of lust onto another person.  You can desire someone else with much intensity and do nothing that would suggest that’s the case.  The viewer might know that two charaters are not going to kiss just because their faces are that close together, but there is a moment when the passion that underlies an act of domination could become one of passion…if the genre and plot were different.

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~ Quincy is you — everyone sucks here.  One gun in a friend group is no good.  Everyone having a gun isn’t that much better (unless you’re in a western, I suppose).

~ During the first day of intro to film in college, the professor brought up The Matrix (Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski, 1999) and how we, the audience, know that Neo is the protagonist.  Aside from casting choices, costume, lighting, and the story, how does one determine that this person is supposed to have our support?  I thought about this question when watching Juice and how we know that Quincy is this character.  For me, it was because he’s the only one who has a hobby that can be monetized within the story world.  Q is an amateur DJ and the film spends a considerable amount of screen and narrative time on it (not to the extent that there’s a hidden “sports film” in there, but it’s important).  His friends aren’t given the kind of potential that he has in a conventional sense, which makes two of them disposable…after the film establishes which of his friends is the antagonist.

Watch some of the making-of clips here.

Pic creds: IMDB, Amazon