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Jul. 6th, 2009


Brideshead Revisited (1945)

I spent the last two days reading Brideshead Revisited and just finished a few minutes ago. So great to find a novel that you can just sink into. Beautiful, tragic, British people suffering in the 1920s and 30s - nothing better. I have never seen the famous miniseries, but now I think I'll rent it. And read more Evelyn Waugh, which I haven't done before. I avoided him because I caught a few minutes of a mediocre Masterpiece Theater production of Scoop a while back and this gave me a bad association with him. I also watched Stephen Fry's film of Vile Bodies, called Bright Young Things, and that wasn't super great, either. Now I want to try a lot of his books.

Lately I've been reading a lot of those "Britain between the Wars" books and for some reason I really love that period. I often wonder what it must've been like to live during WWI and WWII when the whole world was falling apart. I don't know if I could've handled it - things got bad enough with the Bush Administration for me.

Jun. 28th, 2009


Cleo from 5 to 7 (1961) and Vagabond (1985)

Since I live in LA I've decided that I should actually try to take advantage of the film stuff here and yesterday I went to a double show of two Agnes Varda films, Cleo from 5 to 7 and Vagabond, at the Aero Theatre. Agnes Varda was actually, there, too, and she spoke between the films (not bad for 11 bucks!)


I had never seen either film before. Cleo from 5 to 7 was good -but I didn't really get engaged with it. Cleo is a French pop music star who is waiting for test results to know if she has cancer or not. She goes to a fortune teller, hangs out with her maid, visits a friend, wanders around Paris, etc. For the first half of the movie she's basically a petulant child, but in the second half she grows up. Although it was very well done, I never warmed up to it.


Vagabond, though, was fantastic. This film is about Mona (Sandrine Bonnaire) a young girl who prefers traveling by herself to having a normal life (job, home, etc.). Although the movie follows Mona as she sets up her tent in fields, hitches rides, and tries to find food - we never really know why she does what she does. The movie is done in a half fiction/half documentary style. A character will see Mona - sometimes knowing her for a few weeks, or sometimes just glimpsing her for a moment - and later they talk to the camera and tell us their impressions of her. Inevitably, how they feel about Mona says more about them than it does about her. For some people, Mona is dirty and repulsive - for others she symbolizes freedom and romance.

Even though Mona is always a bit of a mystery - you care about her. Towards the end of the film Mona has several very bad experiences and it's tough to watch. My own thoughts about her (which say more about me than Mona) is how vulnerable she always seems - she keeps to herself but she is dependent on others a lot of the time for food, shelter, etc. She tries to be free, but it's almost impossible.

Jun. 18th, 2009

Lynn Hanson artist

The Bride Wore Black - La Mariée était en Noir (1969)

The Bride Wore Black was on TCM tonight. It was one of the few Truffaut movies that I've never seen because for some inexplicable reason you can't netflix it. It was...very disturbing. Definitely the most disturbing film of Truffaut's that I've seen. Jeanne Moreau plays Julie Kohler, a woman whose husband was killed on the church steps right after their marriage ceremony. Julie is devastated by her husband's death and she blames, rightly or wrongly, five very different men. The movie follows her as she attempts to track down and kill each one of them.

It's one of Truffaut's Alfred Hitchcock homage movies, but as with La Sirene du Mississippi (Mississippi Mermaid), the more Truffaut imitates Hitchcock, the less Hitchcockian it becomes. I wish I knew more about film techniques because I have a hard time pinning down exactly why it's so different from Hitchcock even though Truffaut uses a lot of the same kinds of shots and also hired Bernard Hermann to do the score. It's like you notice all the underlying differences between Truffaut and Hitchcock because the superficial things are all the same.

Jeanne Moreau is just fantastic in this. At first she goes about her mission with a lot of determination and very little emotion showing. But by the the time she reaches her fourth murder, she knows that each time she kills she's destroying herself as well as others but she can't stop.

The film plays a lot with movie convention and voyeurism. Some characters were extremely sympathetic and I wanted them to live, while others were unsympathetic and I didn't really care whether Julie killed them. And this alone started to get pretty disturbing for me fairly early on. My sympathies switched back and forth between Julie and her victims very quickly - sometimes you feel bad for her, sometimes you feel bad for them, and often you feel bad for both. At many points the viewer is equated with Julie. There's a great, creepy sequence where the camera (and the viewer) becomes Julie's point of view as she follows a mother and her son walking home from the boy's school. The boy keeps glancing back at the camera as it follows him home and the entire thing made me feel extremely questionable! While I think the ending of the film could've been better- the rest is so interesting that it makes up for it.

May. 3rd, 2009

3D, doctor

Doctor Who (1963-?)

Doctor Who, which ran in the UK from 1963 to 1989, was re-launched in 2005 and has become a phenomenal success in the UK (like it once was in the 1970s). I never watched the first incarnation but I love the new version.

The show has a couple of ingenious conceits. One is that the Doctor (who has been played by ten different actors so far) is a Time Lord – one member of a race of people who mastered time and space travel. He has a TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space) machine which he “disguises” as a British 1950s police telephone box. In the TARDIS he travels through space and time, usually with one or two human companions, having daffy, scary, and occasionally tragic adventures. The most brilliant conceit of the show is that the reason he can be played by ten different actors over forty-some years is because every time he dies (which is usually when an actor wants to leave the show) he “regenerates” into a new version of himself.

The new Doctor Who, which launched in 2005, owes a lot to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in its blend of humor, overarching love stories, monsters, and occasional philosophy. What makes it different, though, is the enormous history that the show has in the UK and how the Doctor so often embodies British ideals and British history.

A shot from an episode set in 1913 England.

In the first series of the new Doctor Who, the Doctor was played by Christopher Eccleston as a somewhat tortured and morose man (in the new Who, the Doctor is the last existing Time Lord – his home planet was consumed in a war, so this adds to his angst sometimes). In the first episode he picks up a teenage traveling companion, Rose Tyler. Rose lives in a council flat with her mother, has a nice but static relationship with her boyfriend Mickey, and works as a sales girl. She is also tremendously bored with her life. Then she meets the Doctor, of course, and is suddenly crisscrossing the universe on a regular basis. The first series is mostly about how Rose abandons her old life and family for the Doctor, while the Doctor comes to rely on her as a friend. At the end of series one, Eccleston left the show and the Doctor regenerated into a new version of himself played by David Tennant.

Tennant’s Doctor quickly become a big favorite in the UK. It’s easy to see why. His Doctor is full of humor, quirks, and silliness – but at the same time he can be steely and authoritative. He has no respect for rules and while he often suffers losses – he rarely wallows. He’s also pretty suave and able to solve almost any problem. He’s kind of like James Bond if James Bond were also the geeky class clown. The show was all right with Eccleston, but it really gets going when David Tennant shows up.

I have to admit to really loving his version of the Doctor. I feel about him the way I imagine most British kids feel – that here is a guy you’d follow anywhere. He’s pure fun and unlike most superheroes he tries desperately not to kill anyone or anything (even the things that are often trying to kill him). There’s also something very comforting about the Doctor in that what he admires most is curiosity, compassion, and intelligence – and he often recognizes these qualities in the people society dismisses. I wish I could have watched this show as a kid because it’s tailor made for outcasts and misanthropes.

Here’s a clip of the Doctor being Doctorish in front of his second companion, Martha Jones:

Tennant’s Doctor began as a relatively angst-free, happy guy, but over the years he’s become lonelier and more isolated. In series two he had a romantic relationship with Rose which ended with her trapped in a parallel universe (as can happen). In the third series, the Doctor became a bit flintier and often treated his new companion Martha Jones (played by the lovely Freema Ageman) cavalierly (Martha fell in love with the Doctor and pined over him while he took her for granted).

In the fourth series the Doctor got his best companion yet in Donna Noble (sketch comedienne Catherine Tate). Donna appeared earlier in a one-off episode as woman hell bent on living an aspirational life – she read celebrity gossip magazines, worked as a clerical temp, and desired more than anything to get married. Of course during her first adventure with the Doctor Donna’s priorities changed and when we see her again all she wants is a life filled with exploration and meaning. Donna is not only the most poignant companion, she's also the funniest. Here’s the beginning of an episode where Donna and the Doctor solve a wonderfully silly murder mystery with Agatha Christie:

Donna is the first companion in the new series who wants to travel with the Doctor not because she loves him (they have a very cute bickering friendship) but because she wants to make her life about something bigger. Donna is my favorite character on Doctor Who because I really relate to her. She’s spent her life in one dead-end job after another, she’s completely unfulfilled, and she has a huge self-esteem problem. There are a couple of heartbreaking episodes near the end of series four which demonstrate how Donna views herself and they are some of the best stories the show has ever done. The tragedy of Donna is that she thinks she’s “nothing” and depends on the Doctor to make her life interesting and special. She solves a lot of problems, but each time the Doctor admires her brilliance, she negates it. Her story doesn’t end well, but hopefully she’ll appear again somewhere down the road.

Right now, in the real world, David Tennant has announced that he’s leaving the show at the end of the year. This year, there’s not a full series of episodes, but just five specials (so far two specials have been shown and the last three will be aired in the fall and at Christmas time). The Doctor, after losing all his companions, is now traveling solo and in each special has a new celebrity companion. The remaining specials will concern his last adventure and will end in his “death” so he can regenerate into a new actor (Matt Smith). It’ll be interesting to see how the show handles all of this. As legions of British fans freak out about David Tennant’s departure, I’ve got to say that I’m right there with them. But even if the show can’t recover after he leaves, it’s been a great run.

Apr. 10th, 2009


Bob & Rose (2001)


Bob & Rose was a six part ITV series about a gay man falling in love with a straight woman. The premise sounds like it could be pretty sensationalistic, but luckily Bob & Rose establishes strong characters and lets moments unfold the way they might in real life.

Bob Gossage (Alan Davies) is a single English high school teacher in his mid-thirties. He's also gay and has been ever since he was aware of his sexuality. One night, after a failed one-night stand, he waits for a taxi and meets Rose Cooper (Lesley Sharp), a woman who just left one taxi because the driver was freaking her out and is waiting for another one. Rose is an office worker at a big car repair place and is also involved in a long-term relationship with a guy named Andy. She is miserable in this relationship, though, because Andy is a nice guy and she thinks she should love him but she doesn't.



Bob and Rose instantly like each other. Confused by his attraction to her, Bob doesn't mention he's gay and Rose thinks that he's straight for a while. By the time he reveals that he's gay, they've kind of got a thing going. Bob always, even as he falls in love with Rose, insists that he's not bisexual but gay. As he describes it he's attracted to men and to one woman, Rose.

The six episodes mostly involve the fits and starts of their relationship. At first Rose doesn't know if she should be with Andy or with Bob because Andy is the safe traditional answer. And Bob is pretty scared and confused by his attraction and love for Rose and often tries to pull out of the relationship. What really complicates things, though, is that Bob has a best friend, Holly (Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson) who's been in love with him for 12 years and now, as he falls in love with a woman who isn't her, begins to sabotage Bob and Rose's relationship.


Holly at first seems like a cliched manipulative female character, but as the show goes on she becomes sadder and sadder. She's let her life become totally about one guy, and he never sees it. Bob and Holly's friendship is amazingly unhealthy for both of them, but while Holly seems to understand how messed up it is, even as she goes to great lengths to have Bob all to herself, Bob is so used to being oblivious to Holly that he never notices her incredible machinations. By the sixth episode, Holly's plots begin to seem less like a way to ruin Bob's relationship and more like a cry for help.

In fact, the show should really be called Bob & Rose & Holly because it's not really about a gay man falling in love with a straight woman, but about extricating yourself from the traps life can put you in. At the start of the series Rose reveals to Bob that she sometimes wishes that Andy's car would crash as he's coming over to her place because she can't see her way out of this "nice" relationship. Holly is equally trapped in her lonely love for Bob. Bob & Rose is on the one hand very positive because it portrays a successful love story for the two lead characters, but it also suggests that most people do not find what Bob and Rose have found. They are unconventional but very lucky.

Mar. 28th, 2009


Duplicity (2009)

When critics talk about Tony Gilroy, the writer and director of Duplicity, they mention the Bourne films and Michael Clayton but what they usually leave out is that he wrote The Cutting Edge. This, to me, is an unimaginable oversight. The Cutting Edge is one of the most watchable films EVER - and I know this not just because as a teenager I used to watch it all the time with my sister (that film along with Romancing the Stone and Batman Returns made up a large part of my childhood, which is kind of sad, I guess, but who cares?) but also because I've met quite a few other people from various walks of life who, for whatever reason, watched The Cutting Edge all the time at one point in their lives - it's just that kind of movie. Not mind blowing or thought provoking, but fun and silly in a low-key, formulaic kind of way. If you're depressed or bored, it's a great thing to have playing on the tv.

Duplicity is Tony Gilroy's first romantic movie in a while, and it stars the wonderful and sigh-worthy Clive Owen and (the less wonderful) Julia Roberts. The two of them play former government spies who now work in corporate espionage. Half the movie happens in the present, as Owen and Roberts try to figure out what new product Tom Wilkinson's soap company is going to put out, and the other half is flashbacks that show the ups and downs of their long-term relationship. As we see over and over again, they are attracted to each other because they can't trust each other, but this causes problems because, well, they can't trust each other.

It's not a great film, but it's enjoyable and cute like The Cutting Edge. I think, actually, if it weren't Julia Roberts it would have been extremely cute, but she detracts a bit. There's a hardness to her she never quite loses - she doesn't really know how to be charming in a sultry, spy sort of way. Clive Owen, though, is very sexy and sweet and he more than makes up for her. So while it's not as good as a 1930s romantic comedy, at least it's aiming for that kind of thing and lands somewhere in the vicinity. Unlike other romantic comedies they supposedly make for women nowadays, it's fun.

Mar. 15th, 2009


Ashes to Ashes (again)

I watched the 2nd episode last night. I am really liking this show. American tv doesn't have characters like Alex Drake - a female cop who's going a little crazy, but still having a lot of fun. She's an actual, imperfect, interesting woman.

In this episode she and Gene were trying to prevent a bombing and along the way they run into the 1981 version of Alex's mother (a defense lawyer). Her scenes with her mom were sad because she was trying so hard to impress this woman and failing miserably every time. Eventually her mother viewed grown up Alex as an incompetent idiot who was throwing feminism out the window in an effort to fit in on the police force. I liked the acknowledgment of how transitional the 1980s were for women in the workplace - women were beginning to get footholds as policewomen, lawyers, etc. but it was still pretty hellish for those women on a day to day basis. Her mother is clearly as tough as she is because there's some massive shit to put up with.

I think part of the reason this series gets to me is because, like Alex, I was a little kid in the 80s and I also watched my mother go to work (in clothes VERY similar to Alex's mother) as a stockbroker. And my mom also had a hard time. . And I sort of associate the 80s clothes with the "adult" world because that's what the adults were wearing then. The show is definitely a nostalgia trip.

Also, it has the best 80s cop theme song:

Mar. 12th, 2009


State of Play (2003)

David Morrissey and John Simm

So I've been on a British TV kick recently and this is the latest thing I netflixed. State of Play is a six episode British series about a politician involved in a scandal and the journalists who are trying to get the scoop. Stephen Collins (David Morrissey) is a normal MP who was having an affair with his research assistant, Sophia Baker. One day she's run over by a train and their entire affair comes to light. He thinks he just has to weather the storm caused by her suicide, but it soon becomes apparent that she was murdered. But by whom? The main journalist who's seeking the truth of the story is Cal McCaffrey (John Simm) who used to be Stephen's campaign manager and is still his friend. As Cal and his coworkers dig deeper, her death is linked to some very high levels of government. Bill Nighy, Kelly Macdonald, and James McAvoy also star in it as Cal's colleagues and Polly Walker plays Stephen's wronged wife who Cal has always carried a torch for.

State of Play has a big reputation as one of the Best British miniseries in recent years...And it didn't really live up to its reputation. It's very engrossing, but there's not much to it. When it's about solving the mystery it's very good, but then it tries to make comments about political corruption and they fall flat. Also, none of the characters are quite as well-developed as they need to be. If it were just about 5% deeper, it would have been really fantastic.

And irrelevant sidebar - I just looked it up on IMDB and discovered that they've remade State of Play as an American movie which will come out later this year starring Russell Crowe as Cal and Ben Affleck as Stephen. Ben Affleck replacing David Morrissey is like asking Miley Cyrus to fill in for Dolly Parton - insane! One cool thing is that they're having Helen Mirren take the Bill Nighy role as the saucy editor-in-chief of the newspaper. That should be pretty good.

Mar. 7th, 2009


Ashes to Ashes (2008-09)

I watched the first series premiere of this on BBC America tonight - and it was surprisingly good. It might even be better than the original (although I do miss the wonderful John Simm). The plot is basically the same as Life on Mars - Alex Drake (played by Keeley Hawes) is a police detective (and a single mother). She gets shot and wakes up in 1981 London - which is the time and place where her parents were murdered. She instantly finds herself styled as an 80s cop and meets DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister) and his colleagues. She then has to figure out how to get out of her delusion and back to her daughter in 2008.

Like Life on Mars the first episode is a lot of fun. There's tons of 80s music (the good New Wave British stuff) and 80s clothes (the beautiful and outrageous New Romantic stuff) and even the film quality seems 80s-ish. Also, Keeley Hawes is clearly having a lot of fun with the role and she has good chemistry with Philip Glenister (maybe not quite as good as he had with John Simm, but that was something else entirely). I'm glad they made this series about a woman - and a smart woman with a good sense of humor besides. The Onion A.V. Club reviewed Ashes to Ashes today and they disliked the show's new dynamic of "will they/won't they" between Gene and Alex - but I like it so far. It's been used a few thousand times because if it's done right, it's a lot of fun.

This looks like a keeper. And it's always a plus when the BBC America shows something besides Cash in the Attic.

Feb. 28th, 2009

blackpool, peter & natalie

Blackpool (2004)

"I was a fine idea at the time; now, I'm a brilliant mistake."

Blackpool, a six-part series from the BBC, combines a gritty murder mystery with lavish musical numbers, a romantic love triangle, and a brilliant character study. Set in the tacky and faded seaside town of Blackpool, it focuses on an arcade owner, Ripley Holden (David Morrissey), who has grand plans to build a Las Vegas-style casino hotel. Blackpool is trying to reinvent itself as a gambling destination and Ripley believes (or says he believes) that his future casino will be at the center of it. Dragged along for Ripley’s ride are his put-upon wife, Natalie (Sarah Parish), and two teenage children, Shyanne (Georgia Taylor) and Danny (Thomas Morrison).

Ripley’s “perfect” life and future plans are disrupted, though, the day after the grand opening of his latest arcade when a corpse is found in his “family establishment”. Both Ripley and his son met the deceased on the night he was killed, and it doesn’t look good that the body was found on Ripley’s property. Sent to investigate the murder is D.I. Peter Carlisle (David Tennant), a wry Colombo-ish detective who suspects Ripley from their first interview. And after Peter meets and falls in love with Natalie, he’s even more convinced Ripley is guilty and doubles and redoubles his efforts to put him away.

Ripley and Peter

In much the same way the Sopranos used the Mafia as a slight misdirection from its true nature as an American family drama, Blackpool begins with a murder mystery that is really an excuse to study three characters and the nature of self-reinvention. When Blackpool begins Ripley is basically a prick. He ignores and cheats on his wife, he bullies his daughter’s boyfriend, he insults his son, and he seems to be living in a state of complete shallow gratification. As he repeatedly says, he came from nothing, changed his name and his self, and is now a “winner.”

However, with each episode things get worse for Ripley – his money runs out, his wife starts to stray, and the police keep closing in. And as the crises pile up, Ripley lets down his mask a bit. He has a strange sort of friendship with Hallworth (David Bradley), a religious man who spends his days protesting the godlessness of Ripley’s establishment. Although the two men are at cross-purposes, Hallworth is one of the few people Ripley is honest with and at one point, Ripley asks him if there's a way he can “get back on speaking terms with God.” It’s moments like these, when we see how truly adrift Ripley is in the midst of his ambition, that make him sympathetic in spite of himself.

In addition to Ripley, Natalie and Peter are also very well-drawn and well-acted characters. Peter comes to Blackpool as the detective who’s got everyone’s number, but as soon as he meets Natalie he’s thrown for a loop and begins to commit more and more ethical infractions in order to get close to her. Natalie at first blush seems pretty lackluster - she's someone who's grown used to being overlooked. In an attempt to escape the shallow commercialism of Blackpool, she spends her time volunteering at a suicide hotline and it's the only thing she has in her life that means anything to her. In the first episode, it’s hard to believe that she and Ripley were ever on the same wavelength long enough to date, let alone marry. But as Peter pursues her, she comes alive, gets some fire back, and even her affection for Ripley resurfaces.

Natalie and Peter

All three main characters antagonize, seduce, and change each other in various ways. In the show’s musical numbers, duets between Natalie and Peter will be joined by Ripley and vice versa. My favorite part of Blackpool was how the three of them interrelate and balance one another. There’s a one-off sequel to Blackpool which just starred David Morrissey as Ripley and I think the large part of why it didn’t work was because Ripley’s desperate energy needs to be counterbalanced by Natalie’s begrudging love and Peter’s manipulative sarcasm.

I think I’d need many more words to really get into Blackpool’s biggest conceit, its lip-synced musical numbers, but all in all they work. I wish some had a bit more justification for existing (they often feel unnecessary) but there are a few that are really great and overall they fit the tone perfectly. The best numbers are usually the opening montages when all the characters take turns singing different lines in the same song. One opening number uses Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler” and the way the characters blend the song’s ridiculousness with genuine reflection sums up Blackpool perfectly.

Jan. 1st, 2009


(no subject)

I can't do a ten best list because I only saw a few movies made this year. Here's my everything list:

1. Happy-Go-Lucky - excellent

2. Wall-E - beautiful

3. Twilight - better than expected and much better than the dreck book - the director did a nice job creating the girl's interior world

4. Iron Man - so-so

5. 27 Dresses - okay

I regret not going to the theater more - but there's also very little that motivates me to go and pay the money. Also, I just hate those stupid commercials they put before the previews - they make it so difficult to talk to the people you're with.

Dec. 29th, 2008

Lynn Hanson artist

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

This isn't a book I would have normally chosen to read. While at the airport on Saturday I went into a bookstore and browsed first paragraphs to find a good book. The back blurb said Never Let Me Go was about three friends who grew up together at a boarding school and meet again as adults. The first few sentences made me think that the narrator, Kathy, was a caregiver to the sick and elderly.

Well, a few pages into it, I realized she is most definitely not a normal health care worker. The book is set in an alternate reality. It takes place in an England in which most things are the same but a few are radically different. I don't want to spoil it completely, so I'll just say that Kathy and her friends live in an obscured part of society, they are all without family, and they are all unable to have children of their own. They look like everyone else, but they're considered separate from "normal" people.

Kathy's childhood is spent in an idyllic, but also slightly creepy, boarding school. Her two best friends are Ruth, an insecure person who often treats Kathy badly to make herself appear cool, and Tommy, a kind boy with a bad temper. He's always nice to Kathy, but can occasionally blow up when he's teased by the other kids. When they become teenagers, Ruth and Tommy start to date, and although Kathy has strong feelings for Tommy, she never comes between them because she loves Ruth so much. At about age 18, all three fight, go their separate ways, and do not meet again for several years.

That's some of the personal plot of the book (but definitely not all of it) - but there's also the entire outer world that Kathy lives in - first the rules and secrecy of her boarding school and, later, the social and political structure of the world at large, which severely limits her choices, and the choices of everyone like her. For Kathy and her peers, there are only two career options, and neither one is particularly cheery. (Ruth's rather sad dream of working in an office is treated as though she wants to be a movie star.) By the end of the novel Kathy's interior world and the outer one are completely bound together - and her relationships with those she loves are sacrificed to society at large.

Two things struck me when I was reading this while in airport limbo for eight hours - one, the book's incredibly sad. And, two, I became really frustrated by the lack of rebellion in the characters. They have a horrendous lot in life, but they accept it with very little anger or doubt. But the more I thought about it, the more I think this is a real strength of the book. At one point, Kathy muses about the way information was parceled out to her as a child. The boarding school, Hailsham, gave her bits of knowledge about her future, but always at an age where she could know what it meant, but not truly understand it. She and the other children accepted things - thought of them as normal - before they could really understand and question them. By the time they're teenagers, they had a conception of the world, and a belief in their place in it, that they can't alter.

On Saturday as my flight got delayed and I tried to fly stand-by and then found out I couldn't leave Chicago until Monday - I was reading this novel and becoming more and more sad. I finished it around 2 AM, when I was back at my Dad's house, defeated by weather and American Airlines. When I finished it, I was really, really sad and I cursed the fact that I chose it instead of a happy romance novel. But now, a day or so later, I keep thinking about it. It's a beautiful book. Today, back home, I listened to an interview with Kazuo Ishiguro online where he discusses how the book is partly a metaphor for the way we grow to understand the world and the way we deal with loss. I wanted Kathy to be smarter, and angrier, than she was - to at least resent society - but his comments made me realize that in a certain way Kathy is living in the present without negative emotions. I think a lot of the tension in this book is between whether we should fight and struggle (most likely futilely) - or if we should be at peace with the status quo. Kathy doesn't waste time being angry at the world - but should she? There's no definite answer.

Dec. 19th, 2008

Lynn Hanson artist

Kelly Hogan - Papa Was a Rodeo

Nov. 2nd, 2008


(no subject)

I just wish this frickin' election was over already. There was a great article in the NY Times on Friday about how Democrats are just freaking out right now. It was nice not to feel alone in my craziness. Most of my co-workers are Liberal, too, but most of them are much more optimistic than I am. The article mentioned how many Dems are playing around with the electoral maps and trying out scenarios. I was messing around with NPR's map today and came up with one where Obama and McCain each get 269 electoral votes! If that happens it goes to Congress to decide. Jesus, why is our system so weird? And I just HATE how everyone is assuming Obama's going to win - I feel like it's jinxing him. And I know they say NC and Indiana are up for grabs - but can that really be? I keep remembering how hard it was when I thought for sure Kerry would win and then the horrible, crushing disappointment when he didn't. Mostly, of course, it was disappointment in living in a place where 50% of the people still thought Bush was a good idea.

Also, today, crazily, I bought tickets to go to England in January. When I'll no longer have a job. I've wanted to go there since I was about six years old, though, so why not go now before the whole economy craters?

Oct. 29th, 2008

3D, doctor

The Inimitable Jeeves, Carry On, Jeeves, Very Good, Jeeves, etc., etc.

Last month I picked up a few Jeeves and Wooster books at the library and I've been addicted ever since. They are such the perfect antidote to all the crap in the news and unlike a lot of "funny" books, these actually make me laugh. Today I was on the bus and I came across a sentence where Bertie is describing his Uncle Tom as someone "who always looked a bit like a pterodactyl with a secret sorrow" and I don't know why but that image just about killed me. So far I've basically been exploring the Jeeves stuff (I read one of the Blandings Castle stories and didn't like it quite as much) and what I love most about the Jeeves stories is Bertie's narration. I know Bertie is supposed to be a "twit" but I would love to pal around with him, even and in spite of his tendency to land himself and his friends in the soup. He's the perfect example of David St. Hubbins'"fine line between stupid and clever."

Oct. 26th, 2008


Happy-Go-Lucky (2008)

Poppy (in the green skirt) and her friends after a night on the town.

Happy-Go-Lucky is the story of Poppy Cross (Sally Hawkins), a primary schoolteacher, as she goes about her life for a few weeks. While at first Poppy seems to be a very silly person (she's constantly giggling and making ridiculous jokes, she wears lacy stockings and boots no matter what the occasion) as the film slowly shows her at work, with her friends and family, and most of all, with her unhappy driving instructor, it's revealed that Poppy is an extraordinarily strong person who just knows what to laugh at and what to take seriously.

I thought, after hearing about the film, that Poppy might be an insular person who lives her life blithely without letting the world penetrate. But she's not that simple, Poppy notices everything - one of her pupils hitting another, a homeless man on the street, her driving instructor's borderline insanity and deep misery - and she tries to help people when she can and when she can't she still has great sympathy for them.

I've met a lot of people like Poppy, who work as teachers, as civil servants, or in nonprofits and it's so nice to see a film acknowledge how great these people are. I read an interview where Mike Leigh described this film as a story about the people who still have enough hope in the world to teach children. There are several teachers in this film. Besides Poppy, there's her flatmate and best friend Zoe who is also a primary schoolteacher, Poppy's dramatic Flamenco dance instructor, and Scott (Eddie Marsan), her deeply unhappy driving instructor. All of them, in their way, are trying to help people be prepared to interact with the world. Even Scott, who's a nutter, wants to teach people to be responsible drivers. Unfortunately, Scott himself is largely ill-equipped to deal with the world and this interferes with his teaching methods.

In most Mike Leigh films there are the people that can deal with life (like Poppy) and the people who can't (like Scott). In Secrets and Lies, Cynthia (Brenda Blethyn) is one of those who can't deal most of the time and her brother Maurice (Timothy Spall), says that she is the crazy way she is because she never "got enough love." That line can apply to many Mike Leigh characters throughout his films (and to most unhappy/crazy people in the real world, too).

I don't think that Happy-Go-Lucky is offering up the usual Oprah psycho-babble about how we control our own realities and destinies and if we're just positive then everything will be fine. How other people treat us, especially when we're children, affects our whole lives. Some people are born with more strikes against them than others. And although we don't know that much about Scott's history, we can guess that he hasn't had the greatest life. But at the same time, becoming paralyzed with anger and sadness is a choice.

I've always been one of those people who gets very upset about the world and the state of things. I asked a friend once about what to do about hopelessness and anger and she gave me the advice that Poppy basically lives in this movie - acknowledge problems in a constructive way. It's idiotic to ignore what's going on, but it's also stupid to mire yourself in misery. (Unfortunately, I still haven't found the trick, or the strength, to not get depressed and angry about world events.)

There's not really an easy answer in this film - the Poppys of this world aren't going to be able to save the Scotts, and the Scotts probably aren't going to dramatically change into happy people. However, Happy-Go-Lucky did make me want to be more like Poppy - a strong and positive force.

Aug. 9th, 2008


March by Geraldine Brooks (2005)

I wanted to read this book, and I stupidly mentioned this fact to my co-worker. She then lent it to me and now I've got to finish it before I return it to her. How did this win the Pulitzer Prize? Not only is the prose bad (sometimes fairly laughable), but there's not one original or interesting idea in the entire novel.

March is based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. It follows the father of the Little Women, Mr. March, (Geraldine Brooks doesn't give his first name) in 1861 and '62 as he acts as a chaplain for the Union army and later as a teacher to emancipated slaves. The story is told in first person and alternates between his war experiences and his memories of his earlier life. Unfortunately, as told by Brooks, March is a sanctimonious prig (I'm hoping this is intentional and that he'll stop being so insufferable by the end). As an example, he supposedly loves his wife deeply, but most of his memories of her involve him "curbing" her temper and letting her know how a good wife should behave.

In the present narrative, he runs across a lot of terrible Southerners and Union soldiers and is always pleading for justice and kindness with no success. He's almost completely ineffectual at helping people. In Geraldine Brooks' afterward she talks about how she based him on Louisa May Alcott's father, but I hope Amos Bronson Alcott was not such a boob. (One small thing that really bothers me - March is a vegetarian and he's always refusing meat and things cooked with meat or lard. Now, he's in a serious situation and other people around him are starving, and he's turning up his nose at food because it's cruel to eat meat? It's just a bit too nice. I'm also a vegetarian, but this galled me.)

The language in March is very pained and worked over. Here's how Brooks describes a romantic encounter between Grace, a former slave, and March when they meet again after 20 years:

I took Grace's face in my hands and looked into her brimming eyes. She broke away from me.

"What is it?" I whispered.

"It's too late," she said, her voice trembling. "You are not the beautiful, innocent vagabond walking toward me under the dogwood blossoms, with his trunks and his head full of worthless notions. And I am not the beloved, cherished ladies' maid..."

Who describes someone as a "beautiful, innocent vagabond"? And EVERYONE in the book talks like this. Each character sounds not only pompous and erudite, but also like he or she spent weeks working out exactly what to say.

And the plot is so predictable. Every time March arrives at a new place in the South, you just know that some kind of inhuman cruelty is going to take place soon, and then, like clockwork, it does. There is nothing interesting in this book. Nothing that hasn't been shown (in better movies and novels) about a thousand times. The Civil War is pretty well covered territory in the U.S. consciousness, and I think an author should have some kind of new take on it if she's going to write a novel about it. Unfortunately, Geraldine Brooks is not only unoriginal, she's also got the sensibility of a melodramatic teenager. What the reader is left with is a juvenile story riding the coattails of a much better book.

Aug. 7th, 2008


Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy (1953)

I was at a great used book store in Glendale last week and happened to pick up this British novel from 1953. It is exactly my kind of book - it takes place in 19th Century England so there's lots of British people wandering around in it (any book about 19th Century British people has at least a 10% advantage from the get-go), it's unobtrusively well-written, and it's very bittersweet.

Troy Chimneys is one of those "found manuscript" books, where characters in the novel discover historical letters or a memoir that tell an interesting story. In this case, what is found is the autobiography of Miles Lufton, written in 1818 when he was 36 years old and at an impasse in his life. Miles grew up in a nice family, with great parents (and in particular a wonderful mother), generous siblings, and enough money to attend good schools. His problem, though, is that this was never enough for him. He wanted to be an important person (his father is just a parson and not wealthy) so he continually put his ambition ahead of everything else. He rises up in the world, but he's never really happy about it. Miles is so conflicted about his actions, that he divides his psyche into two halves: he calls his ambitious and politic side "Pronto" and his sensitive and "true" side "Miles." He considers Pronto to be a bastard and Miles to be his better nature, but by the end of the book this delineation is muddied.

Most of what he describes in his life is loss: his mother's death, his friend's impressment into the Navy, his rejection by the love of his life. Nothing is ever catastrophic, but it all adds up into a yearning for the way things could be but never really are. Margaret Kennedy's writing is just beautiful and it never calls attention to itself, it just flows. Here's a good passage:

'She was there, reading by the window. I took the book from her, ascertained that it was Crabbe, and was making some remark about his work when she objected, with a trace of impatience, that we had been discussing Crabbe for eleven years. I suppose that we had, and it was ridiculous to begin upon the subject as though we had just met. But I could not explain that Pronto's discussions did not count.

"I will tell you something about him," said I, "which you never heard before, from me at least, because I only learnt it lately myself. I hope you don't know it."

I told her how Crabbe had taken the manuscript of his poems to Edmund Burke and was then unable to leave the spot where his fate might be decided. All night he paced up and down in the vicinity, watching a light in a window of Burke's house, and playing with the fancy that the great man might be sitting up, reading his poems.

"And so it was," I concluded. "The light was in Burke's room. He did sit up all night. He was reading the poems."

I got another golden look.

"I wonder if we should like it," she said, "if the world were always as well managed as that! I believe we might think it dull. Such a story is pleasing because it is rare. Tell me another."'

Troy Chimneys is hard to define, and I like the fact that I don't entirely understand it. Towards the end of the book there are several references to King Lear and they add a layer of complexity to the story. Like Lear, Miles loses everything and because of it he comes to some hard won realizations, but there are no real answers.

Jul. 30th, 2008


Gypsy (1962)

I watched Gypsy again on TCM tonight. I used to think that it was a mediocre adaptation of a great show, but the more times I watch it, the more I like it. Rosalind Russell can't sing, but she can act, and for the film they took Russell's voice and combined it with Lisa Kirk's so she sounds like she's in tune.

Mervyn LeRoy directed Gypsy and he was such a great workhorse director - not an "auteur" but always competent. And maybe it's just the strength of the material, but I always feel the isolation of all the characters really strongly in this version. Rose with her insane ambition that nobody else understands, and poor Louise, trying to please her mother and carve out her own small identity at the same time. The scene where Rose sings "Everything's Coming Up Roses" to Louise in a desperate bid to keep their musical act going is pretty harrowing (this is the original version of Russell's voice with no dubbing, she can't really hold a tune but the acting is good):

It's also one of the few movie musicals adapted from a stage show that isn't insanely boring, too.

Jul. 24th, 2008



In an effort to be more positive, here are my top ten things I love about Los Angeles:

DASH Buses - They go everywhere downtown for just 25 cents!

Indie 103.1 - although it's insidiously corporate, it does have some good djs like Steve Jones and Henry Rollins.

Fruit Guys - If only every city had guys with carts loaded with fresh fruit!

LA Public Library - beautiful building (and packed with public art), friendly staff, and an amazing collection.

Brand Art Library in Glendale - a public library (in a haunted mansion) devoted to music and art books.

Los Burritos on Hollywood Blvd. - their blackberry smoothie is the best.

Bob's Big Boy - My (and David Lynch's) favorite restaurant in LA.

LA County Arboretum - Strutting peacocks!

KUSC - great classical music station.

The Weather

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