Waxing [Cinematically]: The Ending of ‘Short Term 12′

I saw Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 three months ago. It hasn’t left my mind since. It’s a movie that sticks with you — thanks to a brilliant cast, great pace, and most of all, a focus on storytelling.

That’s no more evident than in the movie’s final scene. You can find that scene here — and it has the rare distinction of not being a spoiler for the movie at all really. In fact, it’s a bit of a departure from the movie’s main plot lines, yet still embeds itself (rather deeply) in the film’s themes and purposes.

It’s an astoundingly powerful scene of storytelling. It can stand alone, really, which is all the more of an amazing feat for a movie’s final scene. Yet, you can feel the familiarity in it — both with the characters themselves and then with those characters and the subject matter of the story. This is evident when one person asks, “Marcus drinks cappuccino?” and you understand that there are preconceptions being broken here.

John Gallagher Jr. does a brilliant job moving through this story. He nearly chokes up at the end, which is the perfect cap to this story and the perfect mirror to Brie Larson’s character’s reaction. What they must have felt during the actual event of this story come back in this retelling and we bear witness to this first-hand, but belated account. And we can still see how important it is & was to these characters.

As for Larson, this was a role that she OWNED. It was one of the best lead performances I’ve seen this year and she handled the depth and vulnerability so perfectly. She truly captured the mess that comes when your life is surrounded by fucked-upness and you have dedicated yourself to helping others move past that. It’s tricky, and complicated, and to stay positive you need a few wins which is what we see from her in this scene, in its most subtle glory.

Check her out at 1:54 and then again at 2:14. This is the most important 20 seconds of the film, both for it at large and for her character. And she doesn’t even speak. Instead we get a few close ups of her and we can read into her about just the true power of this story and its meaning. So brilliantly acted, we see that this is what it all comes back to. Marcus at the coffee shop. Her work, her soul, her tears, it’s this. This is the win. This is the beauty of her surviving past her own shit to help others get through theirs.

It’s as powerful of non-verbal acting as I’ve seen. And it closes down a movie full of this kind of beauty, acting, and storytelling.

(SPOILERS, wanna see Marcus in action? Check this scene out for one of the movie’s most powerful scenes)

Peter Sagal’s Moth Story ‘Keep Going’

This one is worth a listen or two. Peter Sagal, a radio host, breaks down a story of overcoming adversity.

His story is set against two backgrounds — his own divorce and the environment that has created AND his agreement to help a visually impaired man run the Boston Marathon.

Both are significant, but the latter background is what really makes the story special. For one, the adversity of running the country’s hardest and most famous marathons. And, as you start to suspect as the story carries on, it happened to be that Boston Marathon that this story takes place during. Yep, that one.

Sagal is a storyteller, so he understands that these situations need to mirror each other. He does this well and he centers it around the Churchill quote that people love to repeat, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

It’s one of the better Moth story sessions you’ll hear.

It’s also one of the more common quotes you’ll hear, too. But what does that really mean?

Churchill, of course, held his power during a time of war in the world. He saw a lot of hell, his soldiers saw more of it. The hell would end, he hoped.

The question, then, is if the quote can hold a universal status. I doubt it. Some people continue to go through hell, or else choose to define it differently. And that, instead, might be where the quote comes in to be useful. If you’re going through hell, change your mind — or change your idea of hell.

It gets better if you maintain your positivity, perhaps.

That’s not necessarily Sagal’s point here — his is of a more basic inspiration. Let’s keep going on with and through the difficult things we face. His race partner did it, and, as you find out, it made a significant impact on his life and his partner’s. It also presents another “hell” that people can hopefully get past — the horror of people trying to end others’ lives. We must move past that, but move past it by changing, by growing, by loving.

Waxing [cinematically]: The One I Love

The billing sold me first. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss.

And then I read it was really only those two. Ted Danson is in there. For, what, a minute? Two?

So we have two favorites. 90 minutes. With just them.

And what a ride it was. It’s not just them two, it’s them two times two. That’s the trick. The trailer won’t tell you that and (SPOILERS) that’s what the movie hinges on. Ethan (Duplass) and Sophie (Moss) meet each other’s nearly-Platonic form in a guest house that plays as an alternate world (and as the movie tongue-in-cheeks itself “some weird version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”).

The two actors (playing themselves and then their other “forms”) are really in sync here. You can see them play both sides of the coin — coy and new love, and disrupted, stretched-out romance. In this, we see how easily these sides are divisible from each other in life, through the lenses of these characters. They can be happy together, it would just take some kind of drastic change on their parts (and, then, even, who gets the person they want to be with? Who doesn’t?)

There’s a lot of compelling reasons to see this movie. It’s unique. It’s well acted. It’s got lessons on love, relationships, and, I think, most of all, communication.

That’s what really struck me here. Both characters knew something strange was happening, and there’s some base level communication about what’s happening there. But after that? Nothing.

The Ethan and Sophie that are on rocky terms do almost nothing to describe to each other how the other acted in the guest house. Sophie has a chance and, in what becomes a terse moment for any onlooker, kind of lets it go. My guess is that her character doesn’t think she owes Ethan anything (and for good reason).

Communication is so disruptive in its absence here. Both characters choose to stay silent (Sophie more than Ethan) and turn the widening gyre of their reality into what’s happening in the guest house. Without communication, and with this distance expanding, Ethan panics and loses his cool. And, yet, still, NO communication. He can’t even explain to Sophie why he’s upset. He can’t bring himself to that vulnerable of a place (which is necessary). It’s not in his character, and a wall of history stands between that.

Not all couples are built to last, one supposes. But there was something, some golden bowl you saw once. What was that? And what if that came back? The movie asks these questions and more.

Worth the watch.

Emma Watson’s UN Speech on Gender Equality

“I want men to take up this mantel. So that their daughters, sisters, and mothers can be free from prejudice. But, also, so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too. Reclaim those parts of themselves that they abandoned. And, in doing so, be a more true and complete version of themselves.”

I don’t know much about Emma Watson, and that’s probably okay. But the young lady gave one great speech recently at the UN on gender equality.

What set Watson’s speech apart, and indeed what is guiding the efforts of the group she is representing, is there inclusion of men in the struggle for equal rights for women. The HeForShe group and movement is certainly going to see some momentum from Ms. Watson’s speech and I have to say I’m thrilled to see it.

As she points out in her speech, feminism, by definition, is the equaling of rights for women that men enjoy. To do this, to really truly do this, it’s going to take some buy-in from that other group (men), focusing on that equality for their counterparts. If there is no buy-in, there is a power struggle and men have been historically (and, sadly, currently) very good at keeping this imbalance in part.

For all the pro-women groups that have popped up, there have been equal movements within men’s groups to deny the want for equality. Why? Because men often see the world as a power game. It’s biologically programmed into us, if you believe in evolutionary theory and psychology. That’s how we act. When we see a threat to the power we hold, our reactions are either of violence, or of oppression. This has played out WAY too many times in history.

(Side note: I know that Republicans very recently denied a bill on Capital hill that would guarantee equal pay for women in the same jobs as men. They voted it down because, they claimed, it was just a ploy from Democrats to win votes for November. It was a politics show, they said. That’s fine and all — I know that election-year politics can get kind of silly — but what baffles me is the assurance on their part that an equal-pay bill would NOT help (the Repubs) in their own districts. Are they catering to such a specific crowd that this is bad. Do they not want the vote of what should be a large majority of an already existing majority of American people???)

Watson, in the quote above, is so spot on though. Men need to join in this initiative not just because it will help the women around them, but it will also help the next generation of men to see that and not to have equality be a fleeting thing.

I’m excited to see where this goes and have signed me name up for the initiative. Let’s equal this thing out and live in harmony. There isn’t one single compelling reason I’ve heard for the way things are.

Is ‘A Cambrian Explosion in AI’ Coming? And What Does That Mean?

Wow, that was a great read.

I saw him speak in Chicago a few months back. Really intelligent guy and a good speaker. Had a lot of interesting points about the future of technologies and how disruptive they’ll be across so many industries. (He was also the one that encouraged Chicagoans in the startup scene to “focus on technology, not coupons” which was a great knock at Groupon).

I think he’s right. It’s coming. His points are too hard not to imagine happening.

It’s interesting to even use the language of “assistant” when dealing with AI like that. It’s not really an assistant, but an assist-or. It’s non-human, so there’s no need to classify it as an assistant (a singular being that assists) — and it will really be able to do anything you want. I wonder if “assistant” will continue to exist with robots.

the other thing that this made me wonder about is my own preferences. My own preferences are built so around convenience I’ve experienced before. I like shoe shopping on Zappos because it’s seamless and I can return things if I don’t like them. One way brands are able to grow is by offering new routes on these conveniences which build loyalty. If AI is making that all seamless (in which it stores certain preferences), do we even differentiate with preference anymore? How does a robot take marketing into account?

Communication is going to be so interesting later on. Like right now, ZAs can have TONS of info on their client. A lot of actions can be executed by the ZA on behalf of their client. BUT, sometimes things arent communicating effectively enough (which can happen to the fault of either side) and an action is not executed properly, or executed at all. With AI, we’ll face the same challenge. You’ll have to communicate quite precisely. People will need training in that. It’ll change our lexicon forever.

Lots of thoughts on this one. I think a “cambrian” explosion is certainly possibly, especially as robots can learn from each other. Where does that first start to take hold? Consumers? Big business? Public safety? What’s going to be the big project that uses robots (not robotics, but actually tangible robots that act, or can act with the ability to learn) and breaks through the mold?

So many exciting unsolved problems about the future. What’s our place in that future? I have no idea.