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May. 16th, 2012


Dark Shadows (2012)

I feel like people have sort of forgotten how to make movies.  Dark Shadows (which I saw tonight) is slightly fun, but nothing in it means anything and it is almost completely forgettable.  The film (based on the soap opera from the 60s and 70s) is about the Collins family.  Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was cursed in the 18th century by a witch he rejected romantically--she killed his parents, forced his lady love to commit suicide, and then she turned him into a vampire.  Now, it's 196 years later and the same witch is still making life hell for the Collins family.  They have no money, many of them seem to die or leave in mysterious ways, and they're all bitter and unhappy. 

The movie sets up a nice, classic premise.  A downtrodden family--who have in their misery forgotten how to be a family--meets someone who helps them reclaim their fortune and remember why they need each other.  But that doesn't really happen.  There's just a bunch of scenes strung together and no one is established sufficiently with their current problems to make us care if they triumph over them.  Also, the triumph-ing over problems doesn't even happen satisfactorily, either.  This kind of movie doesn't need to be the best, most original thing in the world it just needs to follow the old classic Hollywood formulas and it can't even do that!  Why can't anyone do that anymore?  Just watch some old movies and copy them!  Cliches work for a reason, people.

Not to mention there's the most poorly established, un-rootable love story imaginable in this film.  All they had to do was throw in a few scenes of actual talking between Johnny Depp and his "true" love and I might have cared but there's exactly ONE scene between the two of them. 

Thank god for Michelle Pfeiffer who takes the thinly scripted character of Elizabeth Collins (the family matriarch) and turns her into a real person--someone who's been through the ringer and can take anything the world throws at her (she barely bats an eye when she learns about vampires, witches, etc.).  Also, I will admit that there's a lot of cute little moments in the first 2/3 of the film.  It's not the worst thing in the world, but it could've (very easily) been a lot better.

Dec. 16th, 2011


Wild River (1960)

I've been having such a Montgomery Clift obsession lately.  It started last week when TCM ran From Here to Eternity for Pearl Harbor day.  I had never seen the film before and I couldn't get over how fantastic Clift was in it.  He blows the rest of the cast away, even though they're all doing excellent work themselves.  He's phenomenal.  Previously, the only films I had seen him in were The Heiress and Suddenly Last Summer - neither of which are really my favorites (I always feel I should like The Heiress more than I do because it's so revered, and I can see intellectually why it's a good film, but it doesn't gel with me for some reason) so I had never really considered him before.  But after watching From Here to Eternity I decided to rent everything I could find of his from the library. I checked out I Confess, The Search, The Misfits and The Young Lions.  And he is always good.  Always. 

My favorite so far, though, has been Wild River (which isn't on dvd, but you can watch it on amazon for a few bucks). A somewhat forgotten Elia Kazan movie from 1960, it takes place in 1934 and stars Clift as Chuck Glover, a government man who is sent to convince 80 year-old Tennessean Ella Garth (played by Jo Van Fleet who was actually 43 at the time!) to sell her land before a federal dam project is put into place which will flood everything she owns.  This woman just refuses to budge - she hates the government telling her what to do and she absolutely hates modern progress (she even has something against electricity).  At first, Chuck thinks he can convince her to move, but he quickly sees that it's probably futile (he keeps trying, though).  Things are complicated even more for him because he also starts a romance with Ella's granddaughter, Carol (Lee Remick), who is a widow with two kids and a local fiance.  And on top of that, there is a third conflict because Chuck starts paying black work crews the same wages as white crews and this angers all of the town's assholes. 

Somehow, even with these multiple conflicts, the movie has a very nice leisurely pace.  It's just gorgeously shot (there are lovely scenes like Chuck and Carol floating slowly across the river on a barge as they first begin to realize their feelings for each other).  Also, the scenes between Chuck and Ella Garth have a nice balance to them (neither is presented as an idiot and you can see them slowly acknowledge the other's point of view as the movie progresses). My favorite part was the Lee Remick/Montgomery Clift dynamic, though.  Very, very romantic!  Both Remick and Clift give really solid, grounded performances and you just believe in these people.  They have the best marriage proposal scene I've ever seen in the movies, too.  It's bittersweet, funny, and impossibly romantic all at once.

Sep. 2nd, 2011


The Albatross Modern Continental Library

I received this in the mail from bookmooch today. I was really intrigued by the old Penguin-like cover so I looked up the publisher, Albatross, online. Apparently, the entire style of the class Penguin books was based on the Albatross look! Albatross was a 1930s German publisher of English-language books that was extremely successful until the Nazis shut them down in 1939. Luckily the heads of the company escaped and went on to work for other publishers (one of them in fact wound up in charge of Penguin's American division).

This link has an interesting page about Albatross: http://www.tauchnitzeditions.com/albatross.htm

Aug. 9th, 2011


A Serious Man (2009)

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a practicing Jew who seeks answers from his faith when his life starts to unravel - but every answer he receives is unsatisfactory to him. The best thing about this film is the myriad ways it could be interpreted. As I watched it, I thought it was mostly about the failure of religion to provide an answer to life's chaos - but the ending had me questioning that. It was very funny, too, and Richard Kind has a good role (I'm always happy to see Richard Kind - he never disappoints.)

"Embrace the mystery."

Apr. 10th, 2011


(no subject)

Good article in The New Yorker this week about how male-dominated the film industry is (it's ostensibly an article about actress Anna Faris, but it uses her career to show how much it sucks for actresses, woman writers, woman moviegoers, and basically anyone who would want to see movies of any depth, substance, or entertainment value being made in Hollywood). Kind of depressing, but still good.

Feb. 21st, 2011


(no subject)

I was at the Post Office the other day and I asked for a book of Forever stamps. The clerk started reaching for the Reagan Forever stamps and I said quickly, "Any except the Reagan ones!" and he replied sadly, "Yeah, no one wants them. I can't give those Reagan stamps away."

I know it's because I live in a city with a lot of other liberals - but it's still nice to know that it's not just me. I don't think I would even care really if he weren't so worshiped by the GOP. But they're about one step away from exhuming his corpse so they can display it like Lenin.

Feb. 11th, 2011


I'm Not There (2007)

Finally saw this today. Maybe if I see it again, I'll like it better. That's what happened to me with Todd Haynes' other film about music and fame and past eras, Velvet Goldmine. I'm Not There though, misses having Velvet Goldmine's Arthur Stuart character - the fan who lives through the music from afar, but in a more passionate way than even those who made the music. The perspective of inside and outside the fame bubble really made that movie come alive because that fan passion is how most of us experience things.

The conceit of having six Dylan characters works sometimes, but not very often. There is one section that is beautiful - the evocation of Blood on the Tracks with Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg playing a couple going through a messy and heartbreaking divorce as they remember the beginning and end of their romance. It is gorgeously shot and perfectly captures an entire decade (1964-1974) and the romanticism of Bob Dylan's love songs (and his many "end of love" songs).

The rest of the movie is all about Bob Dylan's various personae of the wandering troubadour, the Western outlaw, and the iconoclast. It mostly falls flat. Fame's a bitch, everyone wants to define him, everyone wants him to speak for the times, blah blah blah. It's kind of boring. It would suck to have all those expectations and hopes thrown on you by millions of people, but I don't really find drug fueled breakdowns and put downs and laments that interesting. Also, when the movie gets into making points about America, or about the obtuseness of the press, it makes very obvious metaphors that are embarrassing to see.

The film is chock full of gorgeous images, though. There are so many characters and montages that I'd have to watch it again just to take it all in.

Dec. 21st, 2010


The Kindle

I just...hate the Kindle. And it's irrational and it's stupid and I'm friends with lots of smart people who love the Kindle for very smart and practical reasons. But I can't shake the feeling that all these e-readers are going to lead to the eventual elimination of real books. Not completely, of course, but practically. In about 5-10 years real books will be like LPs are now to music. Sort of a quasi-elitist footnote to how most people actually interact with text.

I mean, I'm already one of those people who's banging on about how real books "read better" than e-books which just makes me sound like an idiot. I can only imagine how insufferable I'll seem in 10 years. I'm 31 and I already feel obsolete.

Aug. 20th, 2010

Hat FM

Sherlock (2010-?)

The best scene in Sherlock, a modern update of Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, occurs in the first episode. Sherlock Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) have just spotted a potential serial killer driving away in a taxi. Although they are on foot, Sherlock thinks he can outrun the cab and he sprints after it, yelling for John to follow him. They madly cut through buildings, jump over rooftops, and basically leap through a teeming, jumbled, crazy, ancient and modern, 2010 London.

This is the genius of the show. Sherlock doesn't just bring Holmes and Watson into the 21st Century, it makes 21st Century London more like the Victorian version. Instead of the cold and gleaming metropolis most current British movies and tv shows depict - this is a London with adventure, murder, and intrigue around every corner. A city with nooks and crannies and detritus piled on from centuries of use. Rough and tumble, this London contains everything and everyone: international bankers, talk show personalities, circus performers, art smugglers, amateur astronomers, graffiti artists, and, of course, murderers and master criminals.

There is so much to love in this adaptation. First, the performances. Benedict Cumberbatch lives up to his terrific name and is a perfect Sherlock. He's similar to Hugh Laurie's House (who, of course, is based on Holmes) - moody, arrogant, cold, and rude. He's miserable at making friends, and in fact, when we first see him he has none. Then he meets Dr. John Watson, a military doctor recently home from Afganistan, who needs a flatmate.

Martin Freeman's John Watson is rather brilliant as well. He has the more difficult, less showy part, and he quietly anchors the show in reality. His Watson, like everyone else, finds Sherlock Holmes irritating, but he also is attracted to Sherlock's genius and the life of adventure he leads. John is at loose ends, so with nothing better to do, he becomes Sherlock's colleague and they have a ball dashing around London together, solving impossible crimes.

The writing and direction are very snappy and the production and costume design are stunning. Every item of clothing and nearly every set and location, while 2010-ish, also conveys a distinct whiff of Victoriana. 221b Baker Street is beautiful and looks musty, crowded, and cozy - just like an 1880s house should.

But it's the idea of modern London as a glossier and slightly cleaner continuation of Victorian London that truly makes the series great. All good detectives need a fascinating city surrounding them - a place that they fit into and sometimes bite against. And this Sherlock Holmes definitely has his.

Sherlock's first series is just three 90-minute episodes which already aired in the UK and will be on PBS in October.

Jul. 10th, 2010

An American in Paris

The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, and The Brontes Went to Woolworths

I've been reading some British stuff written during, and about, the Between the Wars era. I love this period in novels - things are trivial and silly but with an edge of doom and underlying seriousness attached to everything.

First I checked out The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford. I hadn't read them sooner because for some reason I had thought that they were serious books about serious girls having sad love affairs. When, actually, The Pursuit of Love is about a very fun girl, Linda Radlett, who has sad, but also rather funny, love affairs. This was a really well-written book that made me laugh out loud, but which was also very moving. Linda is frivolous but also earnest. Her love affairs leave her disappointed and disillusioned and confused, but she never stops believing that love exists.

Love in a Cold Climate, although it has a better title, isn't as much fun, or as interesting as The Pursuit of Love. It's still enjoyable, but the main characters aren't as good company. This one is about Polly Hampton, a rather cold fish, who falls in love with her uncle by marriage (a rather gross older man). It definitely had its moments, but it didn't add up to much.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths was a big let down. I had heard about how much fun this book was for a while, but it was actually fairly drippy. Written in 1931 by Rachel Ferguson, it's about three sisters (Deirdre, Katrine, and Sheil) who live with their widowed mother. Katrine is studying to be an actress, Deirdre is a journalist, and Sheil is still in the nursery with a governess. The family is very "fanciful" and they create pretend people to be friends with and have a hard time distinguishing between the real and the imagined. When their mother has jury duty, this starts a pretend friendship they all have with the Judge and his wife. But then one day Deirdre meets the real Judge's wife and tries to make them their real-life friends as well.

This would've been fine except the book is told in first person by Deirdre and is very much "aren't we just so original and creative and sensitive?" all the time. Highly annoying.

May. 14th, 2010


Parks and Recreation

I started watching Parks and Recreation in November because a few friends of mine really, really loved it. And after last night's episode I think it's become my favorite show.

First, it's about local government - and not only do I work for local government, but it's also a thing I deeply love - so a show that celebrates government and its absurdities is just about perfect for me. One fun thing is that often at work someone will ask, "Do you watch Parks and Recreation?" and slowly we've figured out that we ALL watch it.

Secondly, it's main character is a woman. Leslie Knope, played by Amy Poehler, is a bit silly because of her unbridled love for the Parks Department, but she's committed and energetic and forceful. Also, she's quirky in ways that women aren't usually allowed to be in a sitcom. Her house is a total disaster, she says the wrong things, she tends to pull her pants down on tv, etc.

Thirdly, the cast is really, really funny. Amy Poehler can make almost any line funny. Chris Pratt, who plays the dim shoeshine guy Andy has mastered the befuddled stare. And Nick Offerman who plays Ron Swanson, the deadpan head of the Parks Department who also hates government with every fiber of his being, has many hidden depths. Last week's episode saw Ron expertly cane a chair!

And fourthly, the show is centered in the fictional town of Pawnee, Indiana which is becoming a world as richly detailed and crazy as Melonville (SCTV) and Springfield (The Simpsons) were. Pawnee's depths haven't begun to be explored and they show that Parks and Rec has got a long life in it (if people actually start watching).

Apr. 24th, 2010


Glorious 39 (2009)

Anne Keyes (Romola Garai) is a very lucky person. The adopted daughter of wealthy member of parliament (Bill Nighy), Anne has money, beauty, and prestige as well as a family who adores her, a new charming boyfriend, and a promising career as an actress. It's 1939 in Britain and although Europe is falling apart, Anne isn't very concerned - she doesn't worry about politics.

Glorious 39 takes place in the days right before and after Britain declares war on Germany. As the political situation becomes more desperate, one of Anne's acquaintances dies suspiciously and she discovers a few records in her father's office that are filled not with foxtrot music, but with recorded conversations of suspicious meetings. Although her family keeps urging her to concentrate on her acting career, she can't help investigating what these records really mean.

This recent film by Stephen Poliakoff is a real and proper thriller. It feels throughout like something Hitchcock might've made - where the suspense and the danger derive not from outside forces, but from within the hearts of the people you love most. And the truth that Anne is attempting to uncover about a plot within the government is not as devastating as the possibility she is scared to see - that her adopted family may not love her enough.

Stephen Poliakoff manages within the confines of a movie set in Britain over the course of a few 1939 weeks to convey the overall horror of WWII. Anne doesn't just uncover a plot - her whole world slowly collapses into death, bureaucratic callousness, and suffering. There is one scene that evokes the holocaust better than almost anything else I've seen.

It also builds suspense so well - like in most Hitchcock movies, Anne is a vulnerable woman (wearing some great dresses) with no idea who to trust - and so the whole world becomes untrustworthy. By the mid-way point everyone and everything that she encounters becomes sinister, from a truck that passes her on the road to her 8 year old cousin.

The movie's only problem is the last 20 minutes. The mood builds and builds and then it gets lost a bit. Stephen Poliakoff doesn't quite know how to end the story so there are about three endings and the one he finally leaves us with is too tidy. It's only noticeable because the rest of the film is so wonderfully murky. But that's a small problem compared to the movie's pluses. The direction and the cinematography are beautiful. The performances are brilliant, in particular Romola Garai, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith as Anne's aunt, and Hugh Bonneville as a faded actor.

In the end, there are some scenes that I will not forget and other scenes that I'll think about for a long time.

Mar. 28th, 2010

3D, doctor

The Elusive Corporal (1962) and La Marseillaise (1938)

LACMA is having a five week Jean Renoir film series where they're showing nearly all of his films.  I went twice this weekend, first to see the double bill of Grand Illusion and The Elusive Corporal and then to see La Marseillaise last night.

Of course, Grand Illusion is a wonderful film and there's not much I'm able to say about it.  This was my third time seeing it and there's so much character detail that I always get something new out of it (also, I always seem to forget most of the first half of the movie - so watching the first part is almost like a nice surprise!).

The Elusive Corporal I'd never seen before.  It's a lot like Grand Illusion - it's also set mostly in POW camps except it takes place during WWII and things are grimmer.  The plot centers around the Corporal (a really sweet Jean-Pierre Cassel) a loyal member of the French army who refuses, like many of his compatriots, to take it easy in the POW camps, befriend the Germans, and ride the war out.  He wants to escape back to France and he tries to escape over and over and over again.  Grand illusion may have more going as it tackles all of society and almost all of humanity - but the The Elusive Corporal's strength is its narrow focus on just two things  - imprisonment and freedom.

The movie alternates between awful newsreel shots of bombs and explosions, depressing scenes of prison camp life, and, the Corporal's improbable and  hilarious escape attempts.  Even as the Corporal's punishments for escaping become worse and worse, the attempted escapes become funnier and funnier.  By the midway point I wanted him to escape so badly, yet I still laughed whenever it went horribly wrong.  In LACMA's program for the film they had a quote from Renoir, "The Elusive Corporal...is a picture of the solidarity that binds men flung into the melting pot of despair, facing a situation together."  The movie's humorous escape attempts feel like how the Corporal would later tell the story of his latest foiled try to his fellow prisoners - with lots of humor added to make the story seem funny rather than disheartening. 

La Marseillaise was disappointing.  I had wanted to see it ever since I saw a clip of it in Truffaut's Mississippi Mermaid but it didn't live up to my expectations.  The film is about the French Revolution and centers largely around a group of middle-class friends from Marseilles who go to Paris to help their countrymen with the Revolution.  None of the revolutionaries' scenes worked - the acting was rather bad and their dialog was embarrassingly earnest.   Unfortunately, for a film celebrating the Revolution, the only selling points were the scenes with Louis XVI and his Court.  Jean Renoir's brother, Pierre, played Louis XVI, and he makes the king into a hard eating, oblivious, and yet very sympathetic man.  The best scenes come at the end of the film when the King walks among his soldiers to inspire them but they insult him to his face.  He realizes in that instant that it's all over.  Pierre Renoir plays the beaten man so perfectly, your heart goes out to him (even though he's to blame).  Apart from a few great moments, though, the movie is stilted and not really worth sitting through.

Feb. 5th, 2010


Peep Show (2003-?)

Peep Show is a British series centered around the misadventures, disappointments, and fiascoes of two London flatmates.

Jeremy "Jez" Usborne (Robert Webb) and Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell) have known each other since university, and when Peep Show begins Jeremy has recently moved in with Mark after his girlfriend, Big Suze (so named because of her height, not girth) has kicked him out. In this way (and a few others) Peep Show is sort of like an updated version of The Odd Couple. Jeremy is the Oscar Madison-ish one. He's a laid back slacker, a wannabe musician who has no musical talent or drive, and he sponges off of Mark most of the time. Mark is the Felix Unger-ish one - incredibly neurotic and up-tight, Mark is uncomfortable in almost every situation he's put into.

Mark and Jeremy have a semi-sweet/semi-pathetic co-dependency which grows with the seasons. In the beginning they have an almost hostile relationship - but as the series goes on they are much more supportive of each other even as they annoy the hell out of each other. It's a believable, flawed friendship.

Peep Show gets its name from a conceit in which the audience can hear the thoughts of the two main characters and almost every shot is filmed as if it's from one character's point of view. We're supposed to be peeping into Mark and Jeremy's minds. This works sometimes (especially with the voice overs which can be really funny) but a lot of the time it feels superfluous. At the very least, it does create a distinctive look for the show.

The best thing about Peep Show is that the stakes are raised with each season. Peep Show can be cruel, sick, and immature - but usually it's based on a very real premise of disappointment. Jeremy is perpetually discovering that the dream world in his head doesn't quite match reality, while Mark (the more tragic and believable character) compromises so much of himself and what he wants and then he can't even make the compromises work. Mark works for JLB Credit as a boring office drone, pines after women he can't have, and gets stuck with women he doesn't love.

The second best thing about the series is how the best episodes are structured so beautifully that slightly absurd things build into REALLY absurd things until they boil over hilariously. It's hard to pick just one scene from Peep Show to show how funny it is, because every episode is like one long joke and the last few minutes are the punchline. But here's a good clip where Jeremy wants to have a magic mushroom party in the flat but Mark has the flu:

In the first few seasons the plots are mostly just about two bumbling men in their late 20s as they try to land girls, gigs, or promotions - but as the events pile up and Mark and Jeremy slowly reach their mid-30s (they're about to film the 7th season this year) with failed marriages, relationships, and careers behind them things begin to take on urgency. Will they ever be happy?

Although Mark and Jeremy often do rather despicable things - they are more or less decent deep down and you can't help really liking them and wishing that these two idiots would find happiness somehow. Peep Show may be deeply odd and sometimes disturbing - but mostly it's a skewed take on what life is like for the losers (i.e. most of us).

Jan. 9th, 2010


An Angel at My Table (1990)

Jane Campion directed this film, originally intended as a tv movie for New Zealand television, about author Janet Frame.

Janet, born in 1924 in rural New Zealand, grows up in poverty, and suffers from severe shyness. She has a supportive family, but sadly, her adolescence is marked by two tragic deaths. The closer she gets to adulthood, the less able she is to deal with the world. Janet is so shy that she keeps almost totally to herself when she goes college - refusing any offer to go out or even share tea with people. What she does have, though, is her writing. From a very young age she loves to write and she knows she's good at it. Throughout the movie, even during some periods of severe stress, words keep her going. Janet spends years of her twenties in mental institutions (and I'm continuously amazed by how awful those places were in the 40s and 50s) and her writing literally saves her.

The movie could be depressing - but it never really is. I knew that Janet would survive her troubles - not only because I knew she had to eventually become a famous author - but also because even though she's awkward and hesitant - she's not weak. Kerry Fox plays Janet beautifully as a sweet, shy girl who couldn't say 'boo' to a goose but who also always knows she's a smart person and a damn good writer.

Jane Campion crafted the film wonderfully. There's very little exposition and none of that annoying "and then this happened and then that happened" that most biopics unconsciously fall into. As I watched I felt like Janet because I didn't know what was going to happen next in her life. Campion also puts in a great sense of physicality - she includes the bodily functions and dirtiness and unkempt-ness of the world.

Ultimately, the movie is almost triumphant because Janet Frame creates the life she wants for herself, in spite of all the ways the world claims she's deficient. I personally found it inspiring because while I'm not as shy as Janet was - for most of my childhood I came close. There are several experiences that Janet has that are eerily similar to things that have happened to me. But I think that's because a lot of her experiences probably happen to a lot of women. In that way, this is a film for every woman who doesn't fit in - which is probably how 95% of us feel.

Sep. 26th, 2009

Lynn Hanson artist

Bright Star (2009)

When I was in college I had not one, but two, English professors who were in love with Keats. And they quickly inspired me to fall under his spell, too. His poetry is fantastic (my favorite poem is probably "Ode to a Nightingale") and his letters are even better. He's one of the few really famous authors who seems like a genuinely great guy. Funny, brilliant, and kind - you just wish you could hang out with him - but in a way you can by reading his letters which are so wonderful. I often think if I had a religion it might be some combination of William Blake's grandiose and Keats' quieter philosophy. Wordsworth was a bit of a prick. Shelley was a bit of a prick. But Keats actually lived his beliefs.

Last night I went to see Bright Star, Jane Campion's telling of the love story between John Keats and Fanny Brawne. I was a little worried because I have an idea in my head of what Keats was like and I thought for sure the film would disappoint. Well, it was fantastic. Ben Whishaw, who plays Keats, of course played him differently than I imagined him, but still portrayed a man who is funny and sweet and brilliant even though he's surrounded by death. And Abbie Cornish who played Fanny Brawne was just as good, if not better. For me, Fanny Brawne was always kind of a shadowy figure - I haven't read her letters and a lot of scholars over the years portrayed her as a woman who never loved Keats as much as he loved her (when in reality - who could know that?) But in this film, Fanny is every bit as smart as the writers she meets (often smarter), has her own point of view on the world, and loves Keats from the moment she meets him.

The genius of this movie is that it's told almost entirely from Fanny's perspective. We see her world. Her home with her mother and younger sister and brother. Her passion for designing clothes. Her determination in loving a man who has absolutely no money and very little prospects. Her efforts to be taken seriously by his friends. And her grief as Keats becomes sick and dies of tuberculosis. There are so, so few movies or tv shows these days that have a women as protagonists - it's wonderful to see this story told from a point of view I hadn't considered.

And it feels real. So many period films seem so removed - like a doll house version of reality - it's refreshing to watch a movie where stepping into a different time period is like traveling to a foreign country - the people are still recognizable as people - they just live a little differently.

Bright Star is, like the real-life love story, beautiful and heartbreaking. I didn't cry only because I don't seem to be able to cry at movies anymore - but I could hear quite a few people sniffling around me. The movie, like the actual love story, ends tragically but not hopelessly. I'm glad that Jane Campion made this film.

Photo I took of Keats' house in Hampstead on my wonderful UK trip earlier this year.

Aug. 24th, 2009


(no subject)

My Mom's in town so today we went on the Warner Bros. studio tour. I've never been on any studio tour, even though I've lived in LA for three years - so it was really fun to go. It's kind of expensive ($45) and most of the time they don't let you take pictures - but it's thorough. It's 2 hours long and you ride a tram all over the lot, stopping at several sound stages, sets, and the studio museum. Most of it is pointing out where the recent crap has been made (Two and a Half Men, The Last Samurai and other god awfulness), but some of it was pretty neat. I never knew before that the Gilmore Girls' Stars Hollow was also River City in The Music Man! That was probably the coolest moment for me - standing where they sang "Trouble". They also pointed out the cafe where Rick and Ilsa spent their time in Paris and the entire floor of a building that Bette Davis demanded for her "dressing room".

I sort of wish there could be an Old Hollywood tour and a new Hollywood tour and you could chose between them, because the old Hollywood lore kind of got short shrift.

Aug. 23rd, 2009


The Blue Castle - L.M. Montgomery

When I was 11 and 12 I became hugely obsessed with L.M. Montgomery and all of her books. It started with the Anne of Green Gables stories, of course, and soon moved on to other things. Luckily around this time Montgomery's complete catalog of novels and short stories was being republished. I made my way through all of her books, every one, except for Magic for Marigold. I even read the first two volumes of Montgomery's journals, which had a big impact on me. For a woman who wrote such charming stories, she had a very depressing life. There is one point in her journals, after Anne of Green Gables has been published (her first novel) and it's become a hit, that she writes how glad she is that her unhappiness didn't seep into the book - she wasn't sure until the public responded to it, that it really was as pleasant as she wanted it to be.

I think most of her books were her diversion from the disappointments in her own life. You can read a book about Anne Shirley or the Story Girl and just sink into another world where bad things happen sometimes, but mostly everything turns out all right. However, there's a slight edge of nostalgia in all of them for something lost.

My favorite book of hers is The Blue Castle. I can still remember the first time I read it during one weekend when I was 11 or 12. I woke up at 6 AM on a Sunday morning to finish it. Ever since then, it is my go-to book whenever I'm feeling down. I've reread the book so many times, I've practically memorized it.

Its plot is contrived, but it works. In 1920s Ontario, Canada, Valancy Stirling is a desperately unhappy person. She lives with her narcissistic, controlling mother and a weird old Cousin. They are genteelly poor and their poverty, along with their insistence on "ladylike" behavior, combine to force Valancy to live a life of deprivation and misery. Valancy is shy, dowdy, and desperately lonely. She has no one to confide in, and since she's so meek, everyone treats her badly. She's part of a huge extended family and at every family gathering she is teased about being an old maid. The book begins on Valancy's 29th birthday when she at last really gives up hope about ever finding anyone. On this day she also decides to go, secretly, to see a doctor about some recent heart trouble. Two days later she receives her diagnosis in the mail - she has less than a year to live. This news galvanizes Valancy - she decides to start doing and saying what she really wants, and slowly her life becomes wonderful. She first leaves home to become a housekeeper and nurse for a disgraced woman (who had an illegitimate child) now dieing of tuberculosis. And then she falls in love with the town outsider, Barney Snaith, a perfectly nice man who's only crime is that he chooses to keep away from society.

The book takes place at the interesting moment in the early 1920s when the old Victorian ways were crumbling and much more freedom was being taken by women. Valancy's upbringing was decidedly Victorian - her family views the world as a series of things you should and shouldn't do. When she begins to do as she pleases they are horrified by everything - from her spending the night in a broken down car with Barney Snaith to her wearing a dress with no petticoat.

And there's no distinguishing from large and small missteps. There's a great line in the book when Valancy bobs her hair, "This was before the day of bobs and was regarded as a wild, unheard-of proceeding - unless you had typhoid. When [Valancy's Mother] heard of it she almost decided to erase Valancy's name from the family bible." Valancy never does anything truly outlandish or truly wild, but like a lot of woman around this time, she no longer puts propriety above all things. And it's quite clear in the book that propriety, and being a meek proper woman, never got a woman anywhere. Early on in the novel, she spots Barney (before she gets to know him), fixing his clunker car and she envies him from afar, "Neither he nor his car had to be respectable and live up to traditions...Men had the best of it, no doubt about that. This outlaw was happy, whatever he was or wasn't. She, Valancy Stirling, respectable, well-behaved to the last degree, was unhappy and had always been unhappy. So there you were."

I'm not sure if L.M. Montgomery was a feminist - but The Blue Castle is definitely her most feminist work. When Valancy receives her year-to-live diagnosis she spends the night thinking through her miserable memories and regrets, and in the morning she begins her new, non-conformist life by taking a bowl of potpourri (so pointlessly feminine) and hurtling it out the window where it smashes against a poster advertising how a woman can get a "schoolgirl complexion". She then says, "I'm sick of the fragrance of dead things."

The fantasy of doing exactly what you want, and then as a consequence, getting exactly what you want is an irresistible one. It's a wish fulfillment book arguing for freedom. Also, L.M. Montgomery sets the story in Ontario's Muskoka region - filled with lakes and pine trees - and she makes the place seem absolutely beautiful and idyllic. There's an ever-present contrast between the stuffy, indoors world that proper women are confined to and the real world of nature that women could be free in if they find it. The Blue Castle has a slightly silly ending, but it is a romantic fairy tale and if everything turns out a bit too perfectly, it's exactly what should happen.

Aug. 9th, 2009


Local Hero (1983)

Based on a recommendation by my aunt, I tried to watch this movie a long time ago and didn't make it past the first 20 minutes. I rented it again this week and kept watching and my aunt was right, it's a really wonderful film.

MacIntyre (called Mac and played by Peter Riegert) works for Houston-based Knox Oil. When Knox wants to acquire an entire town on the Scottish coast for a refinery, Mac is sent to negotiate with them by Knox's eccentric owner Mr. Happer (Burt Lancaster). Mac's primary qualifications for this job are based on the belief that he's Scottish (he's not). Arriving in Scotland, he meets Danny Oldsen (Peter Capaldi), an actual Scottish Knox employee, and the two set out for the town of Ferness. Once there, they find the locals very eager to sell their property for the money, but as both Danny and Mac slowly fall in love with the town, they begin to have doubts about their mission.

Local Hero is kind of like an 80s version of I Know Where I'm Going! where an outsider discovers what's important by spending time in a Scottish village. Only this time, the locals aren't all paragons and it's the outsider who realizes what they have before they do. It's a film very much rooted in a sense of place, and the importance of place. By the time Mac has spent a few days in Ferness, he's become completely taken with both the sea and the sky - two things he never noticed before. It's really fun to watch him clamor around the beach, like a kid, collecting shells. By the time the movie ends, I felt like Mac does, that I never wanted to leave Scotland. But since every movie has to end, at least the ending is beautiful and it instills the need to feel connected to somewhere.

Jul. 28th, 2009


"Knowing Me, Knowing You" & "I'm Alan Partridge"

I've been meaning to watch these two Steve Coogan shows, in which he plays fictional talk show host and quasi-celebrity Alan Partridge, for quite a while now. They're so legendary that I was afraid they wouldn't live up to the hype. Knowing Me, Knowing You was a bit of a disappointment, actually. It takes the format of an incredibly inane fictional talk show - the first that Alan Partridge has been given to host. In every episode he usually offends his guests and occasionally ruins their lives. The jokes are a little too easy and follow the same format again and again. Alan says something stupid, the guest is put off, etc., etc.

I'm Alan Partridge is very different. It's done in a sort of mockumentary style and takes place after Alan's talk show was canceled and his wife kicked him out of his house. He now lives in a travel lodge halfway between London and Norwich (Norwich is where he hosts an Extremely early morning radio show) and keeps trying to get back on the BBC somehow. While he still annoys everyone around him, Alan seems much more realistic in this show, and at the same time, a lot weirder. In Knowing Me, Knowing You he was just an asshole, in I'm Alan Partridge he's down on his luck and full of eccentricities. One of my favorite moments is when he asks a woman out on a date and his romantic location of choice is the local owl sanctuary. There's another great episode when he's extremely bored and decides to walk to a local gas station and buy 30 bottles of windshield washer fluid to pass the time. All in all, it's a pretty cute show.

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