Yo La Tengo had it then and still has it now

Georgia Hubley. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

Last Sunday I went to see Yo La Tengo at Cat’s Cradle near Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  They’ve been one of my favorite bands for a while and I’ve been waiting for a chance to see them live.  The band is made up of Ira Kaplan (guitar, vocals), Georgia Hubley (drums, vocals) and James McNew (bass, vocals).  Yo La Tengo means I have it in Spanish.

“They look like parents!” a friend I went with said when they came out.  And sure enough, the three members of Yo La Tengo do, and they should, as they’ve been together since 1984.  Since they’ve been around that long they’ve recorded numerous songs under multiple genres, anything from instrumental, rock, slower and down-beat music, all of it alternative.  But even though they may look older, they sure know how to rock.  Ira Kaplan, the lead guitarist, would get down on his knees or drop quickly to the floor, bend over and keep playing his guitar.

Georgia Hubley. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

Before they began the show, Yo La Tengo brought out a Wheel-of-Fortune looking wheel, based on one of their album covers.  They chose someone in the audience to spin to see what kind of songs they’d be playing for the night.  I’m guessing they chose to do this to narrow down their selections because they have so much music.  For our show, the wheel stopped on “Songs beginning with ‘S’.”  They have plenty of songs beginning with ‘S,’ enough to fill a whole set list.  But it was funny, in the middle of the show Yo La Tengo ran off stage for 20 minutes to write up a new set list.

While they played many songs, I do wish they’d have played some of my all-time favorites, such as “You Can Have it All,” “Season of the Shark,” “Today is the Day,” “By the Time it Gets Dark,” “Our Way to Fall” and “Be Thankful for What You’ve Got” and more.

William Tyler opened for Yo La Tengo and kept expressing how grateful he was to be on tour with them.  He held his own, despite being shy.

William Tyler. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

His instrumental guitar songs lasted anywhere from three to 20 minutes, although he cut them shorter for his opening act.  It seemed like we traveled to India for one of his songs, which was amazing since he was only using guitar.  His techniques were very interesting and exciting.  He used a violin bow to strum across the guitar strings, at times.  He also mixed his guitar and then played over it, keeping the mixing going for minutes on end.  Check out this song to hear what his music is like.

In the interludes, he said softly into the mic, “I’m sorry, you have to understand, there’s not much to say when you play instrumental music.”  It seemed sad, at the time, but true.  His music spoke for him.


When parents fight each other: Kramer vs. Kramer

Photo courtesy of Google Images.

A story about a family that gets broken up, Kramer vs. Kramer is a film about divorce and becoming a parent.

Joanna Kramer, played by Meryl Streep, yearns to do more with her life than be someone’s wife, someone’s mother.  She has a desire to find her calling and work.  So she leaves her husband and seven-year-old son, Billy, played by Justin Henry.

Husband Ted Kramer, played by Dustin Hoffman, must find a way to move away from being a workaholic and also be a dad to his son.  The ensuing relationship they form is very strong and moving.

Eventually, Joanna returns and wants her son back to herself and begins a court case battle for custody of Billy.  She says she believes she, as the mother, is the most fit and best for Billy.  But Ted fights against Billy being taken from him, from his home.  The ensuing court case is a great dramatic scene.  I won’t give away the ending or who wins the court case, but I truly encourage you to watch the movie to find out and to watch the amazing acting of younger versions of Hoffman, Streep and Henry.

Kramer vs. Kramer is as much about divorce as it is about finding your priorities, as it is about learning to be as good a parent as you can be, as it is about learning to take time for your child and truly listen to him.  It’s about learning that not every accident is your fault, as a parent, and that when parents divorce the child usually blames himself or herself, which must be remedied by making sure the child is told it is not his fault.  Hoffman as Ted does his best to let his son know it was his own fault that his wife left him.

Watching seven movies in sixteen hours

by Marlena Chertock

Last Monday, Dec. 13, I was sitting in my dorm room, finished with final exams and waiting for my ride home the next day.  I decided to go to the library and pick out a few movies to help me pass the time.  I was drawn to the independent and foreign films and ended up picking out seven movies total.  I planned on watching as many as I could before the next day.  I want to give a bit of a review or my thoughts on the films.

Here was my list:

  • Live from Baghdad
  • Helvetica
  • The Squid and the Whale
  • The Lemon Tree
  • I Heart Huckabees
  • Something Like Happiness
  • How to Be

While Something Like Happiness or Stesti in Czech wasn’t the first movie I watched, it became my favorite out of the bunch.  The film is in Czech with English subtitles, and the language barrier wasn’t a hindrance at all.  I feel like I could have watched the movie without subtitles and understood it completely fine, or very close, because there was such raw emotion in the film and that the actors portrayed and I feel that emotion is language-less.

Underneath all the layers and confusion of kids growing up into adulthood, the film really is a romantic movie in an unexpected setting.

I really liked the area the movie was filmed.  The setting helped to bring out the emotions and gave them context.  The economic status of the characters seemed to be lower or lower-middle class, and the locations that the film was set help to portray this.  Two of the characters, Monika and Dasha, live in a rundown apartment complex and another, Tonik, has moved out to live with his aunt in her dilapidated and crumbling farmhouse.

The film centers on four best friends.  One, Monika’s boyfriend, flies to America in the first scene of the movie.  Ever after that, Monika hopes he will send her a ticket so she can join him.  Dasha has two kids and several unfit boyfriends.  And Tonik, a poorer boy who lives on a farm.

I spotted Tonik, played by Pavel Liska, early on as my favorite character.  I’m planning on watching his The Country Teacher next.  Liska is a very strong actor.  He is one of the most recognizable actors in the Czech Republic, along with Tatiana Vilhelmová who plays Monika.  For his performance in this film, Liska won a Czech Lion, the highest film award in the Czech Republic, according to the Film Movement website.  He performs his character so well — a man who’s trying to figure out how to live and stay happy in the Czech Republic.  Throughout the film, his relationship with Dasha is tested as her mind falters and Monika and he must take care of her children.  His relationship with Monika also grows, and the audience sees that Tonik wishes something more could develop between them.

While the movie doesn’t tie up loose ends and end like an American or British romantic film, I like it better than those.  The movie left me hanging and making up endings for the characters.  It left me longing for them to feel something like happiness.  This film is more than a romantic movie, a story of four friends, a story of growing up or a search for meaning and happiness — it is filled with more emotion, more complexity, more longing than most other movies that are shown in theaters.  I truly recommend this film.

The Squid and the Whale is another favorite movie of mine.  I watched it many years ago with my mom and stepdad but they didn’t know it was rated R, so when the sex scenes came on the screen they quickly conversed, “Should we cover their eyes?”  “Yeah, probably,” and then slid their hands over my sister’s and my eyes.  So since I didn’t get to see all of it clearly I wanted to see it again.  And it was worth it.

The Squid and the Whale is a very powerful movie about divorce and the confusion, difficulties, emotions, fighting and learning and growth that comes with it.  It is based on director Noah Baumbach’s parent’s divorce.  The film makes you want to hate parents and dads, makes you wonder how much of your parents you really come to be, how much they can and do influence you.  Looking back, I can see why this film would interest me so much, as my parents divorced when I was very young, five years old.

The film focuses on the selfishness of the parents and how much they really don’t understand their kids.  It shows you how adults don’t have all the answers and are trying and failing just like children.  The children going through the divorce, Walt and Frank (played by Jesse Eisenberg and  Owen Kline), truly portray all the confusion and anger and countless other emotions that children going through their parents’ divorce face.

The movie looks like it was filmed in the 1980s, which is when it is set, but it was actually made in 2005.  It looks like it was filmed with older cameras to give it that effect.  The cars look older, the New York buildings and apartments look older — but I guess that’s what they’re so good at in the movie business, making it all seem real.

I would recommend this film to anyone who has gone through divorce, who has divorced parents, or anyone who wants to see a movie about growing up to become or fighting against becoming our parents.

Helvetica is a documentary about text, font, typeface and how pervasive the particular font has become in our world.  Director Gary Hustwit traveled to the United States, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium.  I found the documentary funny and filled with characters, graphic designers, text designers and more who are very passionate about their job.  It is also funny that now when I look at signs I realize how many are really in Helvetica font.

It’s a light film but it also opens your eyes into how words and signs infiltrate and run our lives and how the font choices behind them are so important.

Live from Baghdad is a powerful, very captivating movie.  It’s a movie about covering war in the news and broadcast television.  It’s movies like this that make me proud that I’m going into journalism, that assure me more and more that it’s the right career for me.  (Note: Look forward to a coming blog post about my favorite journalism movies).

The movie was very action-filled and it also explained the process of gathering news to broadcast, I don’t think it was all perfectly accurate, but it gave a nice overview.

The movie shows how dangerous journalism and reporting is, especially during war.  The story follows a team of reporters, cameramen, sound operators and TV directors as they report in the Gulf War.

The Lemon Tree is another movie from the Film Movement.  The film is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it is also not.  The film offers the Palestinian side a lot more emotion, which you don’t often see or get in the news or other movies, it gives the whole concept of “other” a face, a human side.  It is important to have this and give the “other” this so people don’t become countable objects who are easy to destroy and murder and shoot and kill.

The movie is a lot about hope in a country and area where sometimes there seems to be so little or where there seems nothing else can be done.  But the film is inviting, telling people to not think of the other side as an other but instead to look at them as people, as equals.

I Heart Huckabees is a really weird comedy movie.  I learned a lot about philosophy, mostly about existentialism, the philosophy I seem to keep going back to and wanting to learn more about, the one that seems to draw me in the most.

I will advise one thing, don’t go into this movie wanting to see pure comedy or a movie that has a simple plotline, because the comedy in this movie is outrageous and abstract and random.

In the movie, a husband and wife are existential detectives, played by Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin.  They solve other people’s existential crises — crises that disrupt relationships and workplace functioning and everyday life.

So the setup of the movie is wacky in itself.  The detectives explore the metaphysical meaning of the world, of life, and of several characters.

If you’re looking for a movie that will leave you laughing out of its comedy or just sheer strangeness, this is the movie for you.

How to Be is a funny and interesting coming-of-age-esque film.  It stars Robert Pattinson as Art, a very uncool guy who’s trying to find what he believes in, what gives him joy, what is his direction, what he should do in life … he’s searching for himself and having a hard time finding himself.  His parents have always been nasty to him and don’t offer any support.  It is funny to see Pattinson in such a movie, it is a very different film than the Twilight series and Harry Potter-esque movies.  Pattinson plays a more natural and real-life character in this movie and the audience sees him as not cool at all, as a normal or actually very not normal guy.

The film is another look at family life and how much parents influence their children.  For example, Art’s mother grew up in a very strict house with set meal times and other rules.  As a result, she didn’t impose such rules and meal times on Art.  Art’s father is emotionally distant and will sit and read for hours without speaking to someone.  He grew up in a house where his father made him read classic literature and then explain the meaning to him, so now he seeks solace in books as an adult but does not nurture Art.  The idea reminds me of The Squid and the Whale.

While Pattinson isn’t the greatest actor and can’t quite pull of the complexity of the character, I think the plot and idea of the movie is good enough that I would watch it again.

Documenting four babies and culture

by Marlena Chertock

Photo courtesy of Google Images.

Exclamations of “aww” and “so cute” filled the air on May 27 as eight women watched the new movie “Babies” in a Maryland theatre. The women were the only viewers during the 8:40 p.m. showing.

The documentary, directed by Thomas Balmes, offers a unique perspective on the first year of four babies. Balmes followed Bayarjargal (Bayar) from Mongolia, Ponijao from Namibia, Mari from Tokyo and Hattie from San Francisco for two years while they passed through the stages of development.

The documentary is unique in other aspects, as well. There is no narration throughout the entire film. In fact, the only words in the film are Hattie’s mother reading her a book, the parents cooing to their children or the babies’ first words. This interesting technique gives a personal and first-hand feel to the film. It is as if the viewer is watching the events unfold right before him—uncut, unedited and real.

The cuts in the film show vast differences and similarities among the cultures. While Hattie plays with dolls in her toyroom, Bayar crawls among the cattle and grass. Ponijao tastes everything on the ground, from plastic bottles, to rocks to her siblings’ or friends’ hair, while Mari eyes a rattle her father shakes over her head. The babies experience temper-tantrums and crying fits along with tranquil moments when they stare in awe at the city moving around them, a rooster creeping across the house floor or a dog panting in the heat, depending on their respective cultures.

“I love the drama,” one viewer said during the scene where Mari attempts to put a round wooden toy through a wooden stick. Once she does so the round toy slides down the stick and falls to the ground, setting her off in a burst of tears and screaming. Other scenes are shown next, but this scene returns, showing Mari on the ground, kicking and crying.

Although most of the film remains devoid of music, the moments of music work well with the film. When Bayar learns how to stand and keep his balance, slowly lifting his hands off the ground and standing up straight, the music swells, adding to the feeling of his successful moment. The song used for the trailer and in the film is Sufjan Stevens’ “The Perpetual Self, ‘What Would Saul Alinsky Do?’” The song’s underlying guitar, quieter voices and repeated phrase of “Uh oh” gives it a younger feel, matching the music and images on the screen.

The other songs in the film score were composed by Bruno Coulais. Coulais chose not to use overpowering lyrics but rather to make the music mostly instrumental. This unobtrusiveness adds to the feeling that the viewer is watching the events first-hand.

The best parts of the film, and the moments that caused the audience to laugh the most, were instances of cultural differences. In one scene an doctor visits Bayar’s family, places him in a contraption made out of shorts with straps and a scale on top to weigh him, while Hattie is placed on a typical American baby scale. Ponijao’s mother and the other women in Namibia remain unclothed on their tops for the entire film, while the other mother’s remain clothed unless they need to breast-feed. These slight to major cultural differences offer a bit of understanding for viewers. There should have been more of a focus on the distinct cultures. The first year of life is certainly interesting, but perhaps more fascinating are differences in culture among the first year.

If Balmes travels back to these same children and creates “Toddlers” the movie, women all over the world will most likely see the film. It is the mother-child relationship that draws women in to watch such films over and over again.