Movie memes: Cross-pollination of mainstream flicks


First things first. I share Jada Pinkett Smith and Spike Lee’s consternation over this year’s #OscarsSoWhite snub. Seems to be a pattern. A baffling black-white one.

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Will Smith in “Concussion,” proof Hollywood is not an even playing field

And I was so looking forward to seeing Concussion, certain that Will Smith would be nominated for his transformation into a serious Nigerian. The trailer alone — that small furrow of his brow — seemed award-winning. Nothing’s stopping me from seeing the movie still … except time. Can’t possibly cram it in this month if I don’t hafta. This controversy puts the “cuss” in Concussion. On MLK Day, no less.

Four days since nominations were announced, my movie-viewing score stands at 8/37+0/15, or 22%. In the past few days, I rewatched Spotlight and Steve Jobs (to share the experience with my parents) and picked up Brooklyn, The Big Short, The Danish Girl and Room.

Besides acting inequities and lily-white actors, other patterns are popping up from film to film.

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Comedian Amy Poehler voices the Joy character, who goes through a roller coaster of emotions, in “Inside Out.”

For instance, the name Joy. Not a common female name, yet three honored movies feature Joy protagonists: Inside Out, Joy, obs, and Room. In the latter two, Joy seems ironically named, as neither character is particularly joyful, though I have yet to experience Joy.

In Inside Out, Sadness plays a vital supporting role to Joy — brings to mind Stevie Wonder’s hit Joy Inside My Tears. The Disney/Pixar animated feature is  a teaching tool to help kids name and access their emotions and realize there is no joy without sadness.

Speaking of kids, another echo is the 5-year-old‘s perspective, from Jack in Room and when we first meet Lisa in Steve Jobs. Also, remember when Lisa weaves through the puffy-cloud racks of tutus backstage at one of her dad’s dog-and-pony shows? That dreamy indoor landscape is echoed by a tutu array at Ulla’s humble theater in The Danish Girl. I’ve looked at tutus from both sides now.

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The spotlight is on gender-identity and sexual-abuse issues in “The Danish Girl” and “Spotlight,” respectively.

Another theme/meme, this time between The Danish Girl and Brooklyn: Lili (Eddie Redmayne) finally blooms, abandoning the painter she was and finding frilly work as a sales counter girl, gossipy and giggly with the other gals, selling perfume … same as Irish immigrant Ellis (Saoirse Ronan), eventually a no-nonsense accountant who first struggles to fit in through a department store job, selling nylons and such — nylons! Lili’s gateway drug! Eventually both fair-skinned lasses feel comfortable in their own skins, but they’re like sisters on the journey. Ellis hardly speaks and Lili mostly whispers.

Then there’s the iPodThe Big Short opens with narrator Ryan Gosling introducing us to banking ghoul Lewis Ranieri: “You might not know who he is,” he drones, “but he changed your life more than Michael Jordan, the iPod and YouTube put together.” Hey! Point for an African-American icon! A historical montage flashes past, with images of — hello! — the first Macintosh, which is a co-star of Steve Jobs; the first iMac, also making a cameo in Steve Jobs; and a haunting image of the WTC twin towers with a large bird (is it a plane?) dodging past.

No spoilers here, but the dawning of the iPod in Steve Jobs was an emotional peak for me. The device did, in fact, transform my life. Seems poignant, with 2015’s streaming music wars all but killing our beloved iPod. And though the twin towers are but a footnote both in The Big Short and Spotlight, they register melancholy whenever glimpsed.

Visual and thematic cross-references like these, themes and memes, likely jump out only to Oscar marathoners — proof there’s nothing new under the sun, nor the Klieg lights, in the same awards season. It takes cluster viewing to suss out creative parallels.

Can one get a concussion from watching too many movies too fast?

Light reading: Why my new Kindle lights my fire

The first time I fell in love with technology was that last Christmas I pretended to believe in Santa Claus. I had confided in brother Andy, two years my wiser, that I knew it was our parents doling out the year-end bonuses. He persuaded me to keep quiet about it as they’d probably already sewn up that season’s shopping; we could always break it to them gently later.

I later calculated it wasn’t fair that we both “came out” as non-believers at the same time, as he had accumulated two extra years of goodies. But what I found gleaming under the tree that year made up for any petty score-keeping: a Japanese-made, sleek Craig tape recorder model No. 2603, with “Solid State Automatic Level Recording.” This was my version of the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, aka coveted BB gun, from the now-storied A Christmas Story.

craig2603My Craig tape recorder and I were inseparable. I taped everything in sight.* (*Awk. construction.) Dinner conversations, birds out back. I would position it by the radio with a mini-mic and fresh cassette, typically TDK brand, and trigger the play lever while holding down the red record button at the start of every song, preferably after the disc jockey had stopped jabbering. If I didn’t like that song, I’d navigate to “stop” and engage the rewind toggle to cue it up again. Eventually, I’d acquired an entire 30 minutes of my favorite 1972 chart-toppers. Included on that first mix tape, I recall, were such gems as Alone Again, Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan and I Can See Clearly Now by Johnny Nash.

Ever since, mix tapes have been my calling card. They are audio journals, spanning every technological platform that followed, from the Sony reel-to-reel to the LightScribe CD burner, whose products I dub “Byrnished Memories.” These mini-soundtracks plot the high, low and medium points of my life. Still, I wasted a lot of dollar-a-dozen CDs getting the song order and transitions just right.

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RIP my engraved “TEB tunes” iPod 20GB Click Wheel, December 2004-January 2011.

That’s why my second love affair with technology came in 2004, with my late-to-the-party adoption of the Apple iPod 20GB Click Wheel. I could rearrange songs to my heart’s content and even stretch the playlists beyond the 1.2 hours that fit on a typical 700MB CD. That iPod, outdated as it quickly became, lasted me until last year, when it suffered the click of death. I have not had the courage to fall in love again.

Until now.

I had been bedeviled by technological flings. My reluctance to spend money on the next big thing had kept me sorely behind on cool gadgets. My husband tried to keep me in the game by gifting me an iPad 2. But something about the iPad only fed my discontent. The glare and eye strain irritated my dry-eye condition. There’s no curling up with an iPad, unless you count bicep curls, which is what it took to read in bed. As much as such Apple products resemble the universal device presaged in Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I couldn’t feel the love, and just couldn’t fake it.

The problem with today’s Apple products — yeah, problem, you got a problem with that? — is they aim to be the end-all be-all solution. If technology is dominating your life, distracting and detracting from the act of living, then you’re doing it wrong. The best of technology comes in the form of the right tool for the job, like a corkscrew or an apple corer.

In terms of reading, I have found one good purpose for the iPad. It is the perfect paperweight to hold open your place in an actual book.

IMG_1089[1]Yesterday, I fell in love at first sight with a Kindle Paperwhite e-Reader that showed up, surprisingly, at my door in a smiling box. This device took my breath away. In its unassuming simplicity, it fills a technological void.

Compared with the iPad, it is not a burden but featherweight, even next to such actual tomes as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Its pages look like a book’s. It reads like a book. Doesn’t hurt my eyes with piercing light rays nor does it overstimulate my brain. Doesn’t beckon to me to check my e-mail or Facebook notifs or to play another round of Angry Birds. It lets me escape and focus on an actual book.

Of all the e-books I had downloaded onto my iPad in nearly two years, I managed to finish only one. For me, the famous “i” prefix stands for “incomplete.” But taking my night-light Kindle Paperwhite to bed last night gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I’m no Luddite, but this device combines the best of both worlds — the old and brave-new.

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Thanks, Santa Andy. iOU. i♥U.

Takes me back to those good ol’ days of Christmas past, when FaceTime (TM) meant something else entirely.