A Fugue of Sex and Love Addiction: Shame

I waited, as I read some of the reviews of Shame. I watched all of the major reviewers sort of dance around trying to figure out if they got what was going on, what this movie was really about. Watched for the two words: Sex addiction.

Sadly, I saw them nowhere.


But this movie is to Sex Addiction what Days of Wine and Roses is to alcoholism. Ever wanted to know the sordid details behind a sex addict’s mind? Here you go. The lies, the hidden pornography, the near-constant masturbation. The near destruction of one’s own life, while being in complete denial about it. All here.

What (also) isn’t talked about is how his (Michael Fassbender, as our protagonist) sister (Carey Mulligan) suffers from a concurrent love addiction. She bounds into his life from who knows where, and opens up a door on his behavior. Make no mistake, they are cut from the same cloth.

They are both from New Jersey. Brother dear now lives in NY. When sister arrives, she has somehow booked a singing gig at a club. She does a gut-wrenching version of “New York, New York” that also makes her otherwise unfeeling brother tear up.

It’s also interesting to me that the first time you see both of them completely naked, it’s not in a sexual way. He, because he’s taking a piss. She, because she’s in the shower.

Also, to director Steve McQueen’s immense credit (which also other reviewers seem to have missed), it’s incredibly hard to show all the sordidness of a sex addict’s life, and not make it seem sexy. He does this partly through the script, and partly through excellent camera work and editing.

Sex addiction, for those not savvy to it, makes every person a potential sex object. The sex addict is skilled, like a sexual viper, always able to conquer their prey. But it’s a nameless faceless game. Know as little about someone as possible. Give away as little of yourself as possible.

So when the phone starts ringing early on, I was puzzled. Not like a sex addict to give out their phone number. Of course, it turns out to be his sister.

Later, he meets someone and goes on an actual date. She asks him how long his longest relationship was, “Four months,” he says.

Being present is also a very difficult thing for any addict, but especially a sex addict. So when he asks his date what time period, past or future, she’d like to live in, she responds: “Right now.” He’s completely perplexed. But she is, indeed, very connected, very present, very in touch with her emotions.

You see this in another way. You’ve seen his addictive sex in many ways. But when he beds this gorgeous emotionally connected black woman, she touches his face, lovingly. He can’t go on. He knows nothing of this kind of sex.

But, his sex addiction fuse having been lit, it has to be finished. You see him, moments later, with someone that he picked up from somewhere. Doesn’t matter. It’s another drug, and he’s scored.

The purging that he does after that experience is equivalent to what anyone has to do when they get sober. Alcoholics pour their drink down the sink, drug addicts destroy their paraphernalia, sex addicts throw away all the morass of their secret stashes. Yes, even their computers.

He has his emotions opened up now. He has a big blowout fight with his sister. It’s quite compellingly shot from behind as they sit on a couch. Sex addict vs. love addict, mano a mano. It’s brutal, and painful.

He caps his words with a night of sex bingeing that gets quite ugly.

And, in the morning, he is sobbing on the beach. Someone on Twitter said, “Oh big deal, so he cries on the beach.” They missed the whole point. It IS a big deal that he was sobbing on the beach. The way for a sex addict to heal (or any addict) is to actually feel their feelings. And yes, that usually does initially involve a lot of crying.

I was hoping that it would all end with Brandon getting into recovery. But that’s probably too pat and predictable an ending.

The way it actually ended was with one of his sex toys on the train, a married woman who constantly flirts with him. Once he ran out of the train, following her and lost her. This time, she starts flirting, and he remains seated, not taking the bait.

I looked behind his head. In the shot, is a poster for a place called “The River NYC.” Not exactly a recovery place, but its website said this: “Our goal is to create a warm and welcoming space where we can develop a genuine spirituality.” Yep. Sounds like recovery to me. All you have to do is look around, and find it.

A much better ending.

ADDENDUM: Roger Ebert mentions it in his review.


Moneyball: Way too on the money

Do you love a good baseball movie? Does thinking about Field of Dreams or Bull Durham just get you all wistful? Or The National? Yeah, me too. Moneyball is none of those.

Or were you stunned and amazed by Russell Crowe’s mathematical brilliance in Beautiful Mind? Well, me, not so much.

But this movie is kind of a combination of those two. If you’re going for a rousing baseball movie, you’d best stay home. Ditto if the sight of math (especially math on a screen) starts putting you into heaves.

I just don’t know what to make of this movie. There are so many reasons I wanted to like it.

For instance, I attended with my friend who (GASP!) had never even HEARD of Aaron Sorkin, much less cottoned to his patented “walk and talks.” Sorkin, though, is the second credited writer on this. After Steven Zaillian. Now, if one has a discussion of the top ten living screenwriters today, it’s pretty assured that both of those names would be on the list.

Still, the script pretty much left me cold.

Part of it was the script (or lack of it), part of it was the ham-fisted direction by Bennett Miller. You can just read the page in your mind: “and he tears up, hearing his little girl’s voice. He decides to stay.” CUT TO: Tears in his eyes.

No joke. The final (supposed to be poignant shot, I guess) was a close-up of tears in Brad Pitt’s eyes. I wanted to barf.

And you would think that with eight (and counting) little brats of his own, that he’d be able to convey this fatherliness that warrants the end tear-up. I musta missed it.

Also, while his team is out there, struggling it out, Brad Pitt’s character is anywhere but on the field or watching. He’s working out, he’s in his office, he’s driving, far away. Why? Well, if you rustle your popcorn at the wrong time you’ll miss it, but his little tyke at one point says, “You’re not gonna jinx it, go back.”

From this, I guess, that you are supposed to glean that he’s afraid of jinxing his own team. That’s why he stays away. And, to hammer that point home, he returns when they have an 11-point lead. The other teams starts scoring. It ends up tied.

Do we cut to the drama on the field? No, been there, done that. Instead, we get Pitt, agonizing in the locker room about whether or not he’s jinxing them. Yikes.

Maudlin crap like that.

So, the direction was dreadful. But let’s get back to the story.

Now, if it’s a good baseball movie, it should be understandable by anyone who watches it, whatever their level of baseball knowledge.

And I love baseball. I wouldn’t claim to be intimate with all its arcana, though.

The premise here is that MLB had gotten too full of its britches, offering million-dollar contracts to people who really didn’t deserve them. And that some Yale dude had figured out a mathematical way to know who deserved to be hired and who didn’t. Based on how often they got on base. Mathematically.

Jonah Hill does the best with this that he can. Coach Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who still wants to coach baseball his way, adds some fire to a nothing role.

But to me, in the end, baseball is really about those guys out there on the bases. Not the money men counting out their worth in back rooms. This movie dealt far too much with those guys. Did this new way of “counting” change baseball? Apparently so.

Do we care? No matter how many close-uped tears you shoot, the answer is still no.

Young Adult Is Infinitely Missable

The central problem for why “Young Adult” is so terrible is that its protagonist is loathesome.

I dunno. Maybe it’s just me, but I no longer find someone drinking too much, acting out when drunk, or acting out when seriously love-addicted, to be a funny thing. I cannot root for this person, other than to root that they seriously find rehab soon.

Our lead, Mavis Gary, is hell-bent on her own destruction, chasing down her “true love,” who is happily married and just had a child. She plans to steal him away. This never goes well, nor is it a viable plot premise anymore, I would argue.

(I found Julia Roberts similarly reprehensible in “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” though her guy was not quite married yet in that one. No matter, same conniving horribleness at hand.)

So, beautiful statuesque Charlize Theron (who does give this part the old college try) drinks way too much. In real life, if someone drank as much as she did, she would not be in any semblance of shape, certainly would not have the flawless skin that she has (no matter how many facials she received; the movie shows us no less than three times that she gets manis and pedis and spends a lot of time with her hair and face). No, in fact a woman who drinks like this would be already developing that bulbous red nose thing that many full-blown alcoholics get.

But then, this is a romantic comedy right, with the guy who’s not the guy she’s chasing whom she’s supposed to fall in love with. And SPOILER they don’t. She spends most of her time bending his ear about her totally-in denial love addiction plan. He tells her she’s crazy and needs therapy (true!). After making a complete fool of herself later, she consents to sloppy last-stand sex with him, and leaves him and his sister (“Take me with you!” she demands; Mavis doesn’t, with the cold line, “No, you’re good here.” Here being their vapid small town.)

Just a loathesome person from start to finish, who learns nothing along the way.

Other actors: Patrick Wilson as the “true love” is wonderful. Elizabeth Reaser (what is with her as “the other woman”? Between this and “The Good Wife,” sheesh), but she’s also wonderful as the man’s wife.

Even Patton Oswalt, getting more and more juicy roles in cinema, is quite the charmer.

I loved “Juno.” Normally, I like Diablo Cody. Didn’t like this. Normally, I like Jason Reitman, the director. Didn’t like this.

(Although the nihilistic end of the world Kendra-Kardashian double bill on her TV screens was a wonderful touch.)

This movie is really best avoided. Unlike you like loud mouthy desperate out of control love-addicted alcoholics. Then, you might find this a laugh riot. Me, I like to like my protagonists.

Or, you might wanna really punish yourself. Go see this on a double feature with that sex addiction movie, Shame. Fun times!

Love and Other Drugs Goes Cold Turkey

Amid the crush of holiday releases and Oscar hopefuls, there are many many great pictures out right now. “Love and Other Drugs” is not one of them. The more I think about it, the more it bugs me.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays a brash handsome manipulator who beds women, uses them, spits them out (the usual). Anne Hathaway plays someone who’s seen it all. She’s been on the receiving end of such men, and as such, she’s hardened, crass, cynical, guarded.

Both of these characters, for reasons described, are annoying and not fun to watch. He’s thinking of ways to use people (easier, better, faster). She’s thinking of witty comebacks to cut them down to size. Did I mention that this is not fun? This, despite the fact that both of them get naked a lot. Really. It’s boring.

Who can he bed to sell his products? How can she avoid commitment? Wackiness ensues. No, not really. Boredom ensues.


The supposed serious part of this is the increase in pharmacological assistance through depression drugs like Zoloft and Prozac, the salesmen who hawk them, and it all comes complete with a splashy song and dance number. And when Gyllenhaal’s company (Pfizer) comes out with Viagara… well, you can imagine what that does to Lothario’s drug sales.

The wrench in all this is that Hathaway has Parkinson’s disease (note shaky hand a couple of times). This is why she knows all the drug salesmen. And comes the speech: “You’re not gonna love me cause I have a disease!” (*pouts* *stomps feet*) She’s way too self-deprecating in this movie. Mean to herself and others.

He has received a horror story of the progression of the disease from someone at a conference, so suddenly it’s “Nope, I’m shallow. I don’t love you. Bye.”

Blech. At this point, who cares? She’s shrill, pouty and annoying. He’s still glib, uses sex to get his way. Who cares?

The fact that anyone anywhere mentions this dreadful movie in the context of Oscars is sad. No one in this movie (though I do love director Edward Zwick and actor Oliver Platt, but seriously…) deserves anything that has the word Oscar attached to it.

Really hated it. Don’t waste your time. Many other great movies out there instead.

Creative fever dream Swans into Best Picture

Reviewers who write about movies for a living, who have to slog through every paint-by-numbers adaptation, seem to have difficulty with two things: spirituality in movies, and the creative process in movies. Mind you, there aren’t that many movies about either of those two things because they are also ephemeral streaks of lightning to capture in the film bottle.

What I had read about “Black Swan” prior to seeing it fluctuated on the spectrum from horror flick to Grand Guignol theatre to thriller to scary movie. In short, I really didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps it will be one or some of those things to you, too.

How I perceived “Black Swan” was more like a dream. The dream, the central focus for this ballerina, is to be perfect. And she studies and she plies and she does everything she thinks she’s supposed to do.

But when the company leader decides to do “Swan Lake,” he presents her with this challenge: “You’d be great as the White Swan.” But, essentially, she doesn’t have enough of a dark side to do the Black Swan justice. (This lead character in the ballet performs both sides of a complex persona.)

“Black Swan,” then, is about this striving-for-perfection ballerina figuring out what it takes to reach her own “dark side.” What she discovers is that passion and the thrill of life often lie in its imperfections. As we travel with her on her journey, we also discover what is at the heart of the creative process, how far someone can push themselves for their art.

It is a stunning bravura performance. Prior to seeing the film, I posited on my podcast that Natalie Portman was going to take every award in sight this Oscar season. I think so even moreso after seeing the film. Like Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique last year, every other Best Actress contender this year can just sit down. It’s Natalie Portman’s year. Her work in this movie is stunning. In fact, I can’t remember the last time an actress was so stunning and superb and affecting. Brilliant work.

Her supporting cast is also affecting and may glean some supporting nominations: Vincent Cassel as the ballet company director, Barbara Hershey as her mom, Mila Kunis as a fellow dancer. Winona Ryder takes an especially inspired turn, making a droll commentary on her own life, that elicited laughs in our industry screening.

People have also made reference to an “All About Eve” subtext. That is only there in as much as fearing other people taking roles you covet is part of the creative process. It’s really and truly not about that.

In fact, I think where reviewers get into trouble with this role, and even the screening I saw this at, the questioner had the same problem–is dissecting it too much. Think of it as a dream. Roll around with the images, go with the flights of fancy. True creativity isn’t that far from the dream state, and true creativity borders on that part of the brain near psychosis too. But don’t let that analysis hinder you.

As Nina had to learn, with sex, with dreaming, with life, sometimes you just have to let it flow over you and become part of you. So, too, with “Black Swan.”

Made in Dagenham: Let’s hear it for the women!

Sometimes, with all the demonizing hate-filled Republican propaganda that fills our airwaves, sometimes one wonders why it is again that unions are relevant. They have been portrayed as terrible things that are ruining our lives. (Just don’t look at the big corporations that are pulling the strings to make those statements…)

How far have we gotten from the struggles for the 40-hour week? Or the hard-fought-for half hour lunches and ten-minute breaks, legal by law, yet in this new corporate world where everyone is doing five people’s jobs, hardly still maintained. Does anyone even remember that it was the unions that fought for these things? For these rights for us working stiffs?

Or has this bad word “socialism” (since that other trumped-up bad word, “communism” doesn’t really work anymore, appearing hopelessly dated) really colored everything for so many? So many who voted their corporate keepers back into power, though they decried the influence of the big bad banks? Just makes ya sick, sometimes.

Well, here’s an antidote to the corporate-cash big money Tea Party election we just stomached. Here’s a pleasant reminder of exactly what unions can do, and why we need them so, in these crazy times. “Made in Dagenham” takes place in England, in the mid-60s. It’s a true story.

Sallie Hawkins, a sure Oscar contender, is one of the strike leaders. Miranda Richardson has a noble turn herself. (Both were in attendance at the AFI screening.) This film is easily one of my favorites of the year.

Women, working at a Ford plant as machinists, start out the movie wanting to be the same pay grade as men, to be classed as “skilled,” rather than “unskilled.” Simple enough. Fair enough.

They encounter many obstacles along the way, not the least of which is that they aren’t taken seriously because they are “just women,” after all. We won’t even talk about the other shop violations which they don’t even talk about in the movie: the water pouring down on the workplace, the fact that many women work in their bras because it’s too hot in the shop (those rights are things American workers fought for, and are still enforced).

But the big battle for the women ultimately becomes: “Equal pay for equal work.” That is what they fight for. Don’t wanna spoil the movie. I’ll just say that it had a positive ending in Britain, and many other countries because of the women of Dagenham.

It made me uncomfortably squeamish, though, to realize that here in America in 2010, women still make only 74% of what men make for the same job. Oh yeah. That’s why we need those “socialist” unions. I remember now.

Endurance Cinema: Conviction, The Way Back and 127 Hours

One of my pet theories is that leading Oscar contenders reflect a current mode of our times. Last year’s “Up In the Air,” for instance, hit hard on the layoffs that touched so many. This year’s theme, it seems, is enduring, despite overwhelming odds against you.

In the wonderful “Conviction,” Hillary Swank’s character battles for years to free her innocent brother from prison. You see her battle setback after setback. And still she hangs on. Believing that she can do it.

In the beautiful “The Way Back,” we have prisoners from a Soviet concentration camp, first exiled to Siberia. Then some of them decide they’ve had enough, and endeavor to escape (all of this being in the trailer, I’m spoiling nothing; also this happens in the beginning of the film). They do escape, and begin their trek. I suppose they are heading toward that nebulous “freedom.” Their path seems to go from Siberia to Mongolia to Tibet to India. On foot.

Needless to say, of the ones who start on the journey, not all of them make it, for various reasons. But it’s a battle. A struggle to survive. A struggle to make it to the other side. A struggle to be free.

It seems that many of us, with millions of Americans unemployed, are struggling just to survive, too. Hanging on. Trying to make that meager unemployment check last just a little bit longer. Piecing together rent with odd jobs, believing, against all odds that that next job is somewhere around the corner. I really believe that hanging on and believing you’ll make it is the new American dream.

No more streets paved with gold, we’d be happy to get a paycheck regularly. And this “endurance cinema” reflects that. Hang on, hang on, hang on, just a little bit longer.

“The Way Back” isn’t quite as bleak and despairing as last year’s “The Road,” but it’s a tough go. The ending brought tears to my eyes, but boy! was it a long slog to get there. Mind you, I do love Peter Weir as a director. His “Dead Poet’s Society” remains one of my favorite films. And visually (thank you, Russell Boyd), “The Way Back” is stunning to look at. Vast landscapes that include icy snow-covered peaks, as well as vast deserts.

In “Conviction,” though, it was clear what the motive and struggle was. In “The Way Back,” they put themselves though lots of dangerous situations, and it’s kind of unclear why exactly. They talk at the beginning about how “there’s a bounty on your heads,” from neighboring villagers, but this threat is never bourne out, or even hinted at, once they escape.

It’s enough of a stretch to believe that people one day just say, “Hey! Let’s walk across Mongolia!” but that they do it without ANY help from villagers along the way strains credulity a bit.*

I watch “Survivor” pretty much every week since it started (a few missed seasons here and there). The parts I love the most are the way people interact with each other (there is much of that in this movie). The parts I REALLY dislike vehemently (OK, I admit, I’m a city girl, and I’d never survive in the wild) are the parts where chicken’s heads are lopped off, or animals are otherwise killed for food. Sadly, there is also a lot of that in this movie.

Sure, I understand, they are starving, they need to eat. Do I really need to watch it, though?

Another endurance movie is looming on the horizon, one that I am distinctly NOT going to see: “127 Hours.” People in our office this week spoke again of people fainting at screenings. Know this, anyone who plans to go see this one: the hiker goes by himself into the wild, and ends up CHOPPING OFF HIS OWN ARM. And they show it. GRAPHICALLY. Why are people surprised about this? Every screening has someone fainting.

I don’t intend to faint. I don’t intend to see it, Oscar-worthy or not. I’ve had enough of endurance films for this season.

ADDENDUM: * I know it’s based on a true story. I know people actually did this. Still…

“Social Network” prism as multifaceted as Zuckerberg himself

Two things are the most fascinating after watching “The Social Network,” easily the most fascinating movie of this year. One: most of the people involved with making this movie don’t have a Facebook page themselves.

Two: People can see the exact same movie and come away with totally different viewpoints on who did what. Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter, wasn’t kidding when he likened this movie to “Rashomon.” It is an incredible script, one that is sure to garner Sorkin a long-overdue Oscar. It is as easy to understand if you are a longtime Facebook user, or never even looked at Facebook in your life.

It is a machination of plot, spinning around the transcripts of real court cases. Friend against friend, classmate against classmate. And yet, it speaks to the quintessential question of our techie age: how can we create a cool app/product/website that everyone is going to love and use and make us rich in the process?

What a strange dichotomy that someone who seems to have such difficulty making friends creates the most social product out there.

My friend viewed this movie and came away with an image of Mark Zuckerberg as a “manipulative asshole.” I saw the same movie and saw, finally, the whole story laid in front of me. Saw how Zuckerberg pretty much had to do what he did. I don’t fault him at all, and I was rooting for him. In fact, in finally paying the amounts in question, he did right by his friends. Saverin is back on the Facebook masthead. All is now right with the world.

And just to be safe, he donated to some New Jersey schools on the day the movie opened. No, I see Zuckerberg as a good guy here.

Incredible director David Fincher also excels. The movie is stunningly shot. Harvard has never looked so good. Jesse Eisenberg, in the lead, does a fantastic job of walking us through the story. His best friend, Eduardo Saverin, played by the new Spiderman, Andrew Garfield, really makes you feel the pain he’s going through. Justin Timberlake is just perfect as Sean Parker, creator of Napster.

It’s like a multi-faceted prism. You can see each side clearly, as well as how they are all battling to be most beautiful, or in this case, most right. Wars of class and culture come into play. And out of all this morass, we have the incredible Facebook.

If there is anything faulting this movie it is Sorkin’s lack of knowledge about Facebook. And the fact that really, its key battle: the privacy wars, was completely neglected in this story. Maybe they are saving that for “Social Network 2: Privacy.” I can only hope they have someone who really knows the Internet writing about it this time.

Cause here’s the thing. Nora Ephron got it wrong too, when she wrote the almost instantly dated, “You’ve Got Mail.” It’s different when you live here. When you live on Facebook, online, on Twitter. There are nuances and details that it’s obvious this writer, though brilliant, missed though he combed through mounds of testimony and facts, and got an incredible story fashioned out of it. He missed the heartbeat of Facebook.

This is Facebook basically from the genesis of the idea until it starts branching out into other countries. Then the storyline drops the Facebook part, and focuses on Zuckerberg battling the court cases. By which time, he’s already a billionaire. You’re just not really sure why, if you aren’t already on Facebook.

I can just imagine the Twitter movie. Sigh. I heard Craig Ferguson (who used to mock Twitter himself until he actually got on it and used it) talking to two celebrities this week (on the same show). Both celebrities used the tired old canards: “why would anyone care that I’m getting a haircut? or eating a sandwich? or blah blah blah…” Obviously, they don’t get it. It’s like that with this Facebook movie too.

And, I’m sad to say, that’s what keeps it, for me, anyway, from being one of the best movies ever. It’s like Sorkin was so busy making all the partners dance that he kinda forgot what the party was there for. I’ll bet, if you asked him right now, he couldn’t even explain why Facebook’s growth was so incredible (and continues) and MySpace got huge and stopped growing. That’s pretty key to this story, and would’ve served him well as a screenwriter.

So much of the story is built around the “college campuses” idea, it doesn’t even really branch out into when other people besides colleges started using it. Or why. Why moms and grandmoms are suddenly on it. There is really a deep rich story there, too.

But for now, if we want the Facebook genesis story, this is it. I think it’s a wonderful film. I think it’s going to win the Best Picture Oscar and an Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Aaron Sorkin, and it’s deserved. Go see it!

If Not Money, then What, Oliver?

Perhaps it started with “Inception.” Or “Toy Story 3.” Or those lonely souls who’ve already viewed “Winter’s Bone.”

But for me, the Oscar derby begins in full swing with Oliver Stone’s latest, and most successful opening, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”


I entered the film with trepidation. I mean, here we are, a depressed people, our country gutted by these slime like Gordon Gekko who played fast and loose with our money. Why on earth would I want to see a movie that glorifies him and makes like he’s the hero?

For me, the answer to that is: it helps us understand. Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street 2” gives us a little morality tale. It turns out that greed isn’t really good, even Gordon Gekko tells us that. But greed “is systemic, in everything.” And by everything, he means, not only the money he and those of his kind played fast and loose with, but also the suburban housewife who bought a nice house beyond her means, or those whose eyes are constantly moving up to the next hot thing.

He’s right about that. And in the end, it’s Gordon Gekko, challenging us. If the system is to change, we all must change.

Sadly, the script doesn’t really bear the conviction of its words. (For a minute, it does really make us think, though.)

There was a scene that really bothered me, which is representative of what I’m talking about. Gordon Gekko’s daughter, played by the Oscar-nominated Carey Mulligan (for “An Education”), is the hippie environmentalist. She doesn’t care for this money thing, she shuns it at every turn. Yeah, ok. Doesn’t wanna be like her dad. Get it.

Her fiance, Shia LeBouef, buys her a quite gorgeous diamond engagement ring. It makes her uncomfortable, all that ostentation and money and stuff. So sometimes, she takes it off. And in one of these moments, she grabs a Cracker Jack package. Opens it, BY HERSELF while her fiance is watching TV. Inside is a plastic ring (to say nothing of the reality that Cracker Jack stopped putting rings into prizes before this girl was born). In any case, she puts the plastic ring on her own hand, and proudly wears that one around in front of family and friends.

Wow. Isn’t she making a statement now?

Well, no.

Look, I’m a hippie environmentalist who eschews diamonds too. But here’s the thing. Nobody, even the brokest among us, is going to say or think that a cheap plastic ring from China is going to be better on one’s hand than a solid ring. It just makes you look stupid. Besides, it’s much more likely to break. Isn’t an engagement ring supposed to signify permanence?

Secondly, SHE takes it out of the package and puts it on her own finger. That whole thing just grosses me out. It’s supposed to be a token of a union between TWO people. He put the diamond on her finger, that’s the ring she should keep. That’s the one that signifies the bond between them.

Really, can you imagine the conversation (which never occurred in the movie), “Hey honey, do you mind if I don’t wear this ring you paid hundreds of thousands for? I’m just gonna slum it with this plastic Cracker Jack piece of crap.” Yeah, right. In what universe? Sorry, didn’t buy that at all.

Also, one would think the Michael Douglas character learned something in prison. Perhaps a bit of humility and concern for others. It’s a concept.

When the big reveal happens, it’s a sucker punch. Really? He learned nothing? Same old, same old? Sad.

And then, worse, he turns around and gets repentant, though there’s really no justification for this in the script. He just shows up one day after double-crossing them, and says, “OK, take me back now. I wanna be a dad again.” Really? And it’s that easy?

I hated that part of the movie. I liked the fact that it showed that life is about more than money moving around. I like that it opened up some emotional bonds between father and daughter and son-in-law. But it really didn’t seem to know what to do with those emotions. None of them seemed real.

Along the way, I enjoyed watching Carey Mulligan, Shia LaBouef and Michael Douglas in their machinations. Austin Pendleton was great, as always. Josh Brolin was a great bad guy, the motorcycle scene was awesome to watch. Frank Langella has a stunning cameo turn. He’s almost like if the Jimmy Stewart character in “It’s a Wonderful Life” had grown up and was still running a bank. Sad to see what happens there.

But I would’ve liked this movie better if it took a position and stayed there. Do we hate rich people? Or don’t we? Do we celebrate the money manipulators? Or don’t we? Is family more important than anything? Or isn’t it?

It will get some people talking. Oliver Stone is certainly a master director. But I’m still not sure I liked it.

Shoveling the Great Music at Ya, And Some Lobster Too!

“It started as a lobster fest with music. It’s become a music fest with lobster.” —Mark Sovel, former music director at beloved Indie 103.1, now music curator extraordinaire, expounding on Lobster Fest 2010

It was my first time at Lobster Fest in San Pedro. I’m not much for crustaceans dropped into boiling water. Sounds brutal. But I kept reading the band names. Envisioning them in my head. There’s no way I couldn’t go to this.

Three days of all kinds of fun and frivolity: pirates cavorting, carnival rides, food, drink, lobsters. For me, it was the music that made me drive to San Pedro for two of the three days.

The first night, though curated by Mister Shovel (aka Mark Sovel), had the prominent logo of the Station That Will Not Be Named (aka It Wishes It Were Indie 103.1), so I decided to skip it. Although I’ve never seen Spider Problem, I can vouch for Venus Infers and Saint Motel. Both are bands worth a drive to see.

Indie 103.1 was the kind of station where you wished you could hear every single song played (at least, that was my experience of it). I knew, for sure, that I would want to see every single band on Saturday and Sunday. I truly regret that my schedule didn’t allow it.

On Saturday, I missed Judson & Mary, Leslie Stevens & the Badgers, the Gram Rabbit side project: The Country, and We Barbarians. I am truly sad about that.

I knew that come hell or high speeding ticket, I had to be there to see AWOLNation. The always-must-see band Under the Influence of Giants had morphed into this new band, AWOLNation. Their hit single, “Burn It Down” was burning up the charts. It is one of the most requested songs on my podcast.

They did not disappoint, providing a raucous danceable set. Chairs had been set out discreetly for the crowd to sit and view the bands, but starting with AWOLNation, through all the rest of the bands on Saturday, people wanted to be up and dancing.

The Growlers, another local favorite, got an extended set. The dancing pirates dug them a lot.

Gram Rabbit, themselves possessing a strong local following, did not disappoint. Although for Gram Rabbit’s set, it was a battle of the headgear, of sorts. Imagine a Wisconsin cheesehead, except with lobster claws. Many people were sporting these over the weekend. Gram Rabbit’s signature prop, of course, are rabbit ears. Pretty funny to see the rabbit ears mixed in with the lobster claws in the crowd.

The Gram Rabbit show, which often sports bloody bunnies or bunnies bouncing through the crowd, was a bit subdued this time. They went more for an alien spaceship bunny dancing on stage.

It was about this moment, three bands in, that the feeling set in that remained the entire weekend. Each band was a tasty morsel unto itself. Each band offered a dramatic or fun or interesting stage show. Each band, as they left, you were feeling like you wanted to see more of them.

I have to say that this scenario is unusual for a festival, to say the least. My friend just asked me who was “the best” at Lobster Fest. I was dumbstruck. Running the slides of the bands in my head, it was impossible to choose just one, I was just really really glad I had been there for it.

I need to take a moment here to praise the curator of this festival, Mark Sovel. We’ve had a lot of festivals over the summer: Sunset Junction, for example, filled with bitter acrimony from townsfolk and bands alike. Cries of “overpriced” and “crowded” mixed in with disdain for some of the bands playing. Or the now KCRW “Also I Like to Rock” fest, moniker and vibe borrowed from Indie 103.1, and still it left you feeling like something important was missing. Both of these fests, and others I can think of this summer, all with the same thing in common: the bands are hit or miss. Some bands you like, others so-so, others you despise and won’t sit through.

Maybe it was the sleepy oceanside town of San Pedro, with its gentle wafting breezes. Maybe it was the super delicious food and drink available, with enough time between sets to get some and get comfortable again.

No, I truly believe that the fluke that was Indie 103’s music, a heartbeat crafted by Mark Sovel, was here carried out again at this festival. A throughline of cohesion and care. The music cognoscenti in the audience seemed to agree.

Let me just continue.

Fitz and the Tantrums, all sparkle and shine. Song lyrics in French. Active crowd participation. Way fun.

Dengue Fever, one of the uniquest bands on LA’s landscape, with a Cambodian singer and band members. Rock mixed with Cambodian music from the 50s. Danceable, poetic, so much fun.

Saturday evolved as a rocking good time. I don’t know about anyone else, but I was itching to get back to the music by Sunday morning. Still (sadly) missed Devon Eisenbarger and the Tijuana Panthers (so bummed about that).

Local favorite (formerly known as The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra) Walking Sleep kicked out some jams under the hot midday sun. It was hotter on Sunday, and more crowded.

Miss Derringer, another local band with a strong fan following, had them up and rocking.

It’s really crowded now. Nearly every seat was taken and most of the lawn. Words cannot describe the awesomeness of The Section Quartet, who do Radiohead covers on violins and cello. The crowd was rapt, totally into it.

At first blush, when one heard about “classical music” in the middle of Sunday’s schedule, it might have seemed odd. Maybe we should just learn to trust Mister Shovel by now, because it was just perfect.

It wasn’t even that one band was better than another. It’s just that, on both days, they evolved, of a piece. One into the next into the next. Every next band made sense from the last one. And really, how often to you see that at a festival?

By the time that John Doe and Excene Cervenka of the band X came onstage (to a capacity crowd), I was blown away by the real musical genius of Sovel putting these bands together. Didn’t really get it from reading the poster. But oh, to be there! To be experiencing it! Amazing. Truly amazing.

I support and encourage local music. I try to see it as often as possible, including various festivals. Perhaps John Doe’s words can echo through the community. He spoke of the former “rivalry” of San Diego and Los Angeles in a past music scene, and that he now wanted to extend an olive branch to San Diego: “Cause we’re all brothers and sisters.”

I wish the various people booking festivals around town could extend an olive branch to each other. Lots of great music in this town. It’s wonderful to showcase it. The community is always grateful for your efforts. But you must realize, if you don’t already, that Mark Sovel does music curation better than anyone in this town. Lobster Fest 2010 was proof of that.