Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Miscellaneous Wins; The Walking Dead, Turn of the Screw, Spartacus

Poor horse. . . 
The Walking Dead, created by Frank Darabont.

So Zombies, finally! I hesitated for a very long time in taking on this show, partly because I'm already committed to so fricking many, but partly also because I knew it would scare me (I won't watch 28 Days Later ever again, nor its sequel because I'm chicken). But, This. Was. Amazing. I'm gonna gush now:

1. One of my favorite sort of characters is an able, attractive policeman (coming in just behind an able, attractive firefighter). This show has one, and damn. There is something ridiculously thrilling about a man with authority having to kick ass or prove himself (Clint Eastwood and Sylvester Stallone choose these roles often and play them skillfully)---and here, Sheriff's Deputy Rick Grimes succeeds. Every time he takes a gun out I get giddy. Bonus for the patriotic theme that peppered the first episode----framed artwork (not Jasper Johns, but a cleaner, more Oprah version of something of his) in the Grimes house on the wall, and American flags throughout the police station. Zombies (Godless, flesh-eating, maniacs with no souls) are very un-American, after all, so what better to unite the country than a tribe of Americans taking them out with rifles? I LOVE IT.

2. The first episode opens with a crazy car chase/shootout, and then has Rick regaining consciousness in a hospital apparently long after the zombie apocalypse happens, stumbling around in a mostly empty town. This is like The Twilight Zone's "Where Is Everybody?" but, much more terrifying since instead of the military doing experiments on him, zombies want to eat him and his wife and son are missing. Whether these hell-creatures are off on their own shuffling around or in groups, they're horrid. Thanks for the nightmares.

3. Morgan and Duane, a father/son pair, have to not only hide out from the zombies casing their house but deal with the fact that one of them is their recently departed wife/mother. Duane's crying into a pillow after seeing her through a window was bad enough, but when Morgan plans to take her out from an upstairs window (with a photograph of her in her smiling, human form hung on the ledge as motivation) and sobs as he can't bring himself to pull the trigger . . . Jeez. There always has to be a parent/child aspect in zombie stories, doesn't there? I could be selfish and wish there wouldn't be, but those closeups, those human connections, and all that emotion just wouldn't be there, then, and a lot of the urgency would be lost. Ask a parent what their worst fear is and it will be some variation of losing his or her child(ren); I'd say losing a child and then dealing with the zombie version of them (or becoming a zombie oneself while a child is in one's care) blows that one right out of the water. Yuck.

What a show.

Turn of the Screw (and other short stories), 1898, by Henry James.

I don't know exactly how to describe these stories as "winning," exactly, as I believe it took me nearly an entire year to finish them and it felt like physical labor every step of the way---but they were very much worth the trouble. But make no mistake----he's treacherously difficult to read, this man, and sometimes my head would hurt with all the effort. For instance:

"My perambulations had given me, meanwhile, no glimpse of him, but they had tended to make more public the change taking place in our relation as a consequence of his having at the piano, the day before, kept me, in Flora's interest, so beguiled and befooled."

And it's literally all like that, every story, 90% of the sentences, the entire book. The fucking commas were out of control. But after probably the fourth story (there were eight) I kind of got used to it and could enjoy whatever the Christ he was blathering about, mostly. The Turn of the Screw is clearly the best in the collection, and genius for what it implies (but never actually confirms), which is most likely child abuse or pedophile behavior. The story scared me very much, mostly in how it had its two enemies hovering around here and there, in all sorts of creepy, disquieting ways. This too, felt to me very much like The Twilight Zone, and how sometimes those enemies would be subtle in their threats, just sort of waiting or lingering, but obviously much, much darker in theme.

I recommend the story highly, but you'll need a lot of patience.

My husband has been strangely giddy and optimistic
since Illythia's triumphant return . . . 
3. Spartacus, Vengeance.

The new Spartacus (Liam McIntyre) is a good one, though every fan of the show's thoughts were obviously on Andy Whitfield and being conflicted about accepting the new guy . . . he's going to be just fine. What better way to come back with a bang than to TEAR UP A WHOREHOUSE, uh, during business hours, as it were. Jeez.

Ilythia is pregs; Lucretia is no longer pregs but alive; Oenomaus is hunted with the rest of the gladiators (where is Ashur?) and Crixus wants his girl back. Spartacus and Mira are now a confirmed item (boo!). Aurellia is out (good riddance, I couldn't stand her). Who were those fools in the arena, and how much longer until Gannicus comes back?

Fridays just got hot again.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Princess Bride

I distinctly remember my best friend's mother championing this film, more than once. She suggested we watch it one day we were over there (probably being annoying, probably wanting nothing other than to make a mess in the kitchen and then watch Clue for twelve hours straight), so we did. And loved it. Down the road some years, during a heated discussion between our mothers and us over the unsightly makeup I'd chosen to wear lately, Lorene asked us if we thought "that actress from The Princess Bride" would ever consider wearing teal or blue mascara . . . and this is turning into another story entirely, but you get the picture.

The Princess Bride, 1987. Directed by Rob Reiner.
Starring: Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon.

"A classic fairy tale, with swordplay, giants, an evil prince, a beautiful princess, and yes, some kissing (as read by a kindly grandfather)." (IMDB)

This film never gets old, never. I love Fred Savage in it, love the way his room is decorated, and always loved that he got to eat lunch in bed while he listened to the story. Also, the action is great, the characters are endearing, and I love the way everything looks, especially Buttercup's princess-y dresses. There are obviously some nice effects (fire swamp), good action scenes (sword fight, torture) and the dialogues are witty and timeless: "You seem a decent fellow; I hate to kill you!"/"You seem a decent fellow; I hate to die!" or "Sleep well, and dream of large women." Or "There's a shortage of perfect breasts in the world, it'd be a pity for you to damage yours . . . "

It's fun. And for the record, my very favorite scene (s) are all about the drunken swordsman, Inigo Montoya. Here's a link to the sword fight, since embedding was disabled by request.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Crow

Am I going to lose all credibility by admitting this was my first viewing of this film? I didn't shun it or anything, I guess I just never checked it out (which is a pity). And this really won't be an official review so much as my general reaction to the film---I almost want to watch it again before I even try to summarize and pontificate as right now I don't even feel the least bit qualified because I'm still reeling from it all.

The Crow, 1994. Directed by Alex Proyas.
Starring: Brandon Lee, Michael Wincott.

"A man brutally murdered comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancée's murder." (IMDB).

This was a rare sort of film experience in that instead of forming the shit I think/want to say about it while watching, like I normally do, I was 100% in the moment. I had no idea what was going to happen or when, nor did I have the narrative figured out (I seldom do this anyway) so I really just was doing this zen film-spectating that really only happens to me in the theater. The only moments I did really stop to think anything were during:

1. Crow shots (either close ups of the bird, avian-cam as it flew around, or perched on Lee's shoulder).
2. Shots of Lee walking menacingly through a threshold, also, bonus thoughts when there were
3. Heavy-reverb guitar accompaniments during Lee's presence on camera.
4. Lee's little metal guitar jam session that ends in his destroying everything. Had to be the coolest thing I've seen all week.

---and the thoughts of course were, "Jesus Christ this is awesome," and "Why the hell am I just now seeing this?" Another film I need to own. Oh, and this line?


(you said it, man). The clip below was my favorite fan-vid, although there were quite a few decent ones.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rosemary's Baby

This is hands-down one of my very favorite films ever made, and unlike some of the others, has real credibility, too. Roman Polanski definitely gets the job done, as does Ruth Gordon (as Minnie Castavet) who won the Oscar for best supporting actress in 1969. This isn't just a horror film, but an all-around brilliant piece of work. If you haven't seen the film and eventually plan to, this will be full of spoilers, just FYI.

Rosemary's Baby, 1968. Directed by Roman Polanski.
Starring: Mia Farrow, John Cassavettes, and Ruth Gordon.

"A young couple move into a new apartment, only to be surrounded by peculiar neighbors and occurrences. When the wife becomes mysteriously pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins controlling her life." (IMDB). 

Clearly the Satanists get all the press in this story, and don't get me wrong---you'll never see the elderly in a more unfavorable light, chanting, scurrying about, cheering "HAIL SATAN!", etc.---but the real enemy in this story has nothing to do with them. . . . it's Guy Woodhouse, y'all, the husband, the actor, the basic slime of humanity. In this film, he:

I dreamed someone was raping me. . .
1. Lies, constantly. "Are you a doctor?" "YES." Rosemary breaks in---"He's an actor." Later, after Rosemary's pregnancy is announced, he lies to her original obstetrician about moving to California. "You know me, I'll tell him something." Say nothing of the royal lie he feeds to Rosemary herself about what really went down during "baby night." Which is worse, admitting (as a husband) you've just rented out your wife's business to Satan for the evening (while an apartment full of creepy old people watched and chanted, *naked,*) or covering it up with a story about how you basically raped her while she was unconscious ("it was kinda fun, in a necrophile sort of way,")---she's just supposed to be all right with that? Nice moral fiber there, Guy.

2. Slaps ass, a lot, and not in a cute or, ugh, sexual way, either because it just makes him come off as an even bigger dick each time he does it. After the night in question, Rosemary, raped and scratched, struggles to awaken and suggests that Guy get his own breakfast . . . "LIKE HELL, I WILL!" he snaps back, smacking her hard on the ass. Insult to injury, much? What a fucker.

3. Agrees to allow his wife to become impregnated by Satan to further his acting career, and then basically resents her for it, refusing to really look at her after the pregnancy is confirmed, belittling her decisions (haircut, relationships with friends, suspicion that the old creeps are after her baby, etc.), ultimately treating her like a child or a crazy person. After the baby is born and taken from her (her doctor lies and tells her it died), Guy expects Rosemary to simply shrug it off as he's done, and focus on the many acting roles that have suddenly popped up . . . in perhaps the most dismissive moment in the entire film, he tells her, "You can have more, Ro, as soon as you're better," and later, after it's revealed that she was correct all along about the Satanists, "They promised you wouldn't be hurt, and you haven't been. It would have been the same if you had the baby and lost it." Then he adds something about how much they're getting in return; Rosemary responds by spitting in his face.

Two of the most meaningful scenes (that deal directly with Guy's not only malleability but shady character) are the dinner scene with Minnie and Roman where the deal is made, as it were, and the collection of scenes where Rosemary decides to have the party against everyone's advice.

Um. Yikes! 
The dinner scene, which seems at first nothing but utter comedy at the codgers' expense is really quite important. Minnie and Roman are presented almost ridiculously----he bumbling around, "I seem to have over-filled the glasses!" spilling vodka blushes on the carpet and jovially going on about his world-wide travels, and she just a witchy, yammering nag (with table manners just slightly better than a two-year-old----check out her cake-eating bit, if you don't believe me) but they're totally playing. As soon as dinner gets going, Roman tests the religious waters by criticizing the pope; Guy agrees, Rosemary hesitates. Next, he flatters Guy's acting work ("I remember being struck by a gesture you did and checking in the program to see who you were . . . ") and sees that Guy immediately takes the bait. After dinner is finished, Minnie gets the goods on Rosemary's fertility background while Roman presumably lays out the plan to Guy in the next room. Apparently he needed next to no time to think over their proposal, as he assures Minnie that Roman's stories are "very interesting," (to which Roman slyly responds to Minnie, "You see?") and agrees to come back and hear more the next evening, inevitably planning what would soon become "baby night," and perhaps perusing chocolate mouse recipes.

When Rosemary decides to throw a party for the couple's younger friends, she stands up to Guy and Minnie as she never had before, which is crucial in showing that despite their manipulation of her, they still have to let her have her way since she's obviously the most important player in their little game. After Rosemary's friends advise her to change doctors, Guy criticizes them and begins a tirade but is interrupted by Rosemary's sudden excitement over first, a stop to her ongoing pain, and second the movement of the baby. Guy hesitantly allows her to place his hand on her abdomen but then yanks it away in awkward discomfort, choosing to sweep the floor while Rosemary smiles and laughs giddily in a chair. When she eventually meets her son (inside a black-draped bassinet above which a silver, inverted crucifix dangles) she again stands up to an entire room of Satanists, first to Roman, "Shut up, you're in Dubrovnik, I don't hear you," and later Laura Louise, "You're rocking him too fast."

While we never get a look at baby Adrian for ourselves, we are left in the film's final scene with the image of Rosemary rocking him, gazing lovingly, with Guy somewhere among the crowd, unimportant.

With any luck, the Satanists pitched him over the fire escape Terry-Gionaffrio style . . . .

Thursday, January 19, 2012


Heat, 1995. Directed by Michael Mann.
starring: Robert DeNiro, Val Kilmer, Al Pacino.

"The lives of two men on opposite sides of the law - one a detective; the other a thief." (IMDB).

Now before I really get going on this one (and I'm gonna go, believe me), yes, it's a pretty long ass film. 170 minutes, to be exact. But call me crazy, I loved every one of those minutes and was almost bummed when it was all over.

Forget for a moment that this was back when DeNiro was in his forties (and smokin' hot). Or that Danny Trejo is not only on the crew, but drives an EL CAMINO. There are so many brilliant things in this film that it's hard to even itemize them, but still, I'll try.

Cast: Unbelievable, both lead and supporting players. Jon Voight, Hank Azaria, and (a probably coked-out) Tom Sizemore were my faves; they were just fun to watch together. Bonus for Voight's long, ratty hair, and Ted Levine (JAME GUM) working probably the greatest mustache ever seen in film.

Mise En Scene: Some nice bits of production---the each-different hockey masks from the armored truck takedown and the subsequent fluttering down of car dealership sparkly blue streamer just after the truck crashes. The boat of a station wagon DeNiro drives through that open lot where he's supposed to make the pickup but gets double-crossed (and the way that damned thing bounces like ten feet in the air over all the bumps in the road). And that shoot-out in the middle of LA is pretty impressive; lots of bullets flying, lots of breaking glass, and sorry, but something about DeNiro in a suit, firing off rounds seriously excites me.

Lines: Al Pacino is a pretty outlandish kind of actor, but he's effective, and his lines are funny. Sing-songing "there'll probably be a note on the door," "You can get killed walkin' your doggie!" and "DON'T WASTE MY MOTHER-FUCKIN' TIME!" . . . not to mention the whole "great ass," exchange with Azaria. Over the top, clearly, but hilarious.

Isn't it funny and frustrating how *nothing* they do goes according to plan? Armored truck---jerkoff guy starts shooting the guards (necessitating an already-lined trunk for his later disposal). Station wagon drop-off, all a ploy. Drilling into the metal place, whoops, cop makes a thump, they walk away. Bank, obviously not a smooth operation. My favorite scene in the entire film is Charlene's (Ashley Judd) tiny motion to Chris (Val Kilmer) to let him know that the cops are waiting for him when he sees her out on the balcony, but the two major scenes between DeNiro and Pacino---first their respective deadpans into the camera after the thump gives them away during the metal heist, realizing suddenly that they've just both been made, and second, their little standoff conversation in the diner----these scenes are pretty damned cool, too. And for anyone who really enjoys this film, I highly recommend it with the subtitles on; I feel like I learned everything I thought I was missing before.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Atari Art (Cross Stitch)

1. Space Invaders. 14 ct fabric, black, 2011. This is my most recent, made for my youngest son, and is probably my favorite one in the collection. By this time I'd learned to work on black fabric instead of filling in the black with floss (as with Miss Pac Man) and larger count fabric, too. My eyes can't handle the small ones anymore! I thought initially that compared to all the others the tones of only green and orange might seem dull, but I was wrong, it's plenty colorful! I played this game frequently with my brother, and always used to get performance anxiety when that last one standing used to go all super-fast-spazzy, whipping back and forth across the screen . . .

For this one I just printed out a screen shot and then drew out the invaders, the shooters, and the numbers for the score. It's a little hard to see in the photo over there, but I messed up on one of the invaders and added like two extra rows to its body, making it look extremely fat compared to the others; can you spot it?

2. Frogger. 14 ct fabric, white, 2010. My very favorite Atari game growing up. We didn't get it until I was in about sixth grade, but I was fortunate enough to have cousins who not only had it for their Atari(s) but were extremely good at playing it; I owe all my abilities to Jill, Heidi, Amy, and Paul---thanks guys! This one was done with them in mind for my youngest daughter and was probably the most fun to make. I tried to find a screen grab that had a challenging traffic scene but didn't want to over-do it on the top level. If I ever get the motivation to do another one I'd probably include the log-snake.

If I could do it all over again, I'd probably do it against a black background (as with Space Invaders), the white just seems to wash it out too much. Maybe cut a few of the cars from the bottom section out, too, but I really do like the way the bright colors resonate down below.

3. Miss Pac Man, 22 count fabric, 2009.

This one was for my oldest daughter (here it hangs in her room next to Princess Leia); she's a girly girl, a princess girl, and Miss Pac Man was the closest thing I could find to the stuff she likes. This is the one that cost me my eyesight, y'all. 22 count fabric was NOT a good idea; nor was doing it on white and then filling in what ended up being solid black after everything else was in place. I started in the middle, with the ghosts (which I drew out first), and then went with the white pellets since you really have to do white before black (or any other dark color) if you don't want the white to get bled into. . . so white pellets against a white background with a tiny count fabric again, was not smart of me. I think I was working on this for over a year. Turned out nicely, but damn. My eyes hurt when I look at it.

4. Pitfall, 28 count fabric, 2008.

My first piece, for my first child and oldest son. I think he may have been going through an Indiana Jones phase at the time. This, too, was way too small a count of fabric and probably ruined my eyes just as much as Miss Pac Man, but it's tight. I did it with two strands of floss, so the x's don't even look like x's but solid color, which is cool. My cousins played this one, also, and getting to the gold and silver bars will always remind me of my cousin, Paul. When I played it, I always had to have him get past the jump-on-the-alligator-heads part for me; I was awful at that. I was thinking of doing another project with the Pitfall elements sometime in the future, like maybe a bell-pull or something with the snake, the fire, the scorpion, and the treasures.

LOST ART (cross stitch)

So these are for the Losties, or anyone else who likes cross stitch. Enjoy knowing intimate details of how I spend my time (when I'm not actually watching the show or other films). I'll now be accepting my nomination into genuine Nerd-dom.

We have to go back! 
1. LOST Island Map, 2009. 22 count. I spent the summer with this one. I love maps and flags, so it was only natural that I throw together a little sampler of my favorite island, right? I debated for a while about including the black and red hieroglyphics, and almost didn't do it, but I think the finished piece would really have been lacking without them as a border and I'm glad I went for it.

I have no idea if the Dharma Stations are in the correct places, I patterned this after a map I found on DarkUFO.

2. Countdown to Death Hieroglyphics, 2010. Felt/embroidery.

I always felt that these were so ominous, only appearing briefly during the show's second season, but still---what they indicated turned out to be pretty major, right? For a while I used to refer to all chaos breaking loose inside my house as, "John Locke forgot to push the button." A great, great story line, wasn't it?

3. Moving On, 2011. 22 count.

There were hardly any decent (full) still images of the stained glass online anywhere, so I had to wait until I was able to get my own LOST box set to really plot this one out. It took a lot more work than anything else I've done---I changed the shape of the outline a bit, it's slightly more boxy than the real stained glass, and there was a pretty major oops on this one (bottom right yin/yang icon) that I took up after um, well, drinking a little bit one evening; you can probably see that it's slanted in a very non-circular way compared to the others, but hey. All part of the experience, I guess.

When I initially framed it, it was just the image on off-white fabric in the frame with the white mat, and something about it just didn't look right---too washed out or sterile or something, so I took it out a few weeks ago, cut the cross stitched image out and then stitched it onto the tan corduroy that it's in now and it looks much better. Does this do enough to cement and confirm that I absolutely loved the show's finale? I hope so.

4. Nine Dharmas, 2012. 18 count.

I originally wanted this to be a sort of tribute to not only the Dharma Initiative but also the blast door inside the Swan Station (that only John Locke sees during the lockdown) but once I got all of them finished, I just really liked the way they looked in a block arrangement so I kept them that way. I'll do a blast door, proper, in the future, don't worry.

When people see the stuff I do, the LOST pieces in particular, I usually get two comments or questions. The first is, "Oh Man! That's so dope that you do all this shit, but I still really hated the ending of that show!" Since I'm non-confrontational by nature, I'll just smile and nod, but just for the record, I did not hate the ending, thought it was brilliant, thought the entire show was brilliant, obsess over it at least once or twice daily (and usually tear up if I think about it too long). Yeah, I'm a crazy-ass fan.

The second bit of feedback, if you can call it that, is to ask me, "WHERE DO YOU FIND THE TIME TO DO ALL THIS?" Valid question, I have kids, I have a part time job out of the house, and I write, so time is always difficult to come by. My younger kids nap at the same time every day, and if I'm caught up on all my writing, I'll cross stitch. On the nights I don't work at my coffee job, I'll catch up on my writing, read whatever I'm reading in the bath for a half hour, turn something on to watch, and cross stitch. It's not just leisure or art, but almost therapeutic for me to do this, and if I go too long without it, I honestly start to get snappy. Most of my stuff was conceived/begun during subzero Minnesota winters, and I'll probably continue to do them until either my hands swell up or my eyesight fails, or both because it's something I just need to do.

There were some near-disasters with this last one, I won't lie; three of the last Dharmas were stitched onto their felt backings with a sick child sprawled across my lap, and the Looking Glass (rabbit) had an unfortunate collision with someone's pink marker but was cropped closely enough for it not to matter . . . but it's all good. I like making things; my kids see me making things and then go make their own things, too. They're not drawing Dharma logos or anything yet, but you know, I'll be extremely supportive should they start.

Should you be interested in getting a closer look of all this business, I'm displaying it at Starbucks, 54th and Lyndale in Minneapolis next Sunday for two weeks.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981. Directed by Steven Spielberg

I guess I happen to think they all deserve a place on this list, well, the first three, anyway---and for the record, Temple of Doom is my favorite---but I'll take this one any day. They're just brilliant and fun. And now that I have kids, this is even more fun because they like them all too, and in addition to the films, a parent can totally get his/her geek on by reading the chapter books or playing the Lego Indiana Jones wii game (which has Indy groaning anytime snakes pop up on the screen). Awesome.

Obviously this is a well made, well-written film, but my two very favorite things about this are Harrison Ford and the music. Props for Marion Ravenwood not being a marginalized female, too. But honestly, tell me there's not a better hero in the world . . . being intelligent and a professor win the nerd vote; being hot, ripped, and commanding (hello, whip?) win everyone else. Some of my favorite moments of production are the reaction shots----running away from the native tribe in the opening and later being overwhelmed by the multiple baskets as he frantically searches for Marion---the camera comes right up to him (or he to it) and he just sort of recoils with disbelief . . . it's cool. And he does it again near the end of Temple of Doom upon realizing the entire sword-wielding tribe of Kali is after him and then it happens to River Phoenix in Last Crusade ("everyone is lost but me!")!!

As for the score, composer John Williams has done a lot of brilliant stuff in his career, but I think this one is one of his best. The main theme is obviously what people remember, but there are secondary themes that get repeated that are pretty sweet, too; I'm thinking of that trumpet/chord-heavy accompaniment that usually plays when he's fighting someone, Nazi affiliated or not. He sort of changed  up the melody for Temple of Doom and had it a lot more Indian and glockenspiel-y but it was still awesome. And who could forget the music during the Nazi book-burning rally in Last Crusade? Damn, what a winner!

And how about the story and its characters?
The tricky effort to acquire the idol/unfortunate end of Sapito.
Pet snake Reggie: "I hate snakes, Jacques! I hate 'em!"
Introduction of Marion, her more than adequate liquor tolerance.
Sallah; "they're digging in the wrong place!"; date-poisoned monkey.
The adventure of the medallion/the asp-filled cavern.
Fighting Nazis/"Don't look at it, Marion!"

Among all the action scenes, which are killer (my favorite is right up there--- the nonchalant/almost annoyed shooting of the sword twirler in the middle of the marketplace) I really think that the film succeeds just as much by the chemistry of its actors. Some action films you just sort of allow for some clunkiness and focus on the doing rather than the being, but not this one. I *believed* all of them. Maybe it's that the script was exceptionally good, maybe the actors just knew how to get it done, or maybe Spielberg just knew how to guide all of it, but seriously.

Bravo to each and every---I will never tire of this series.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


How is it that I've not seen this until now? 
ROADHOUSE, 1989. Directed by Rowdy Herrington.

"A tough bouncer is hired to tame a dirty bar." (IMDB)

I don't know if I spent more time laughing (not with them, but at them) or cringing, but despite being cheesy as hell, this film is pretty good. As in, if you grew up in the eighties, you'll be entertained, probably a lot. Which is also to say that if I had seen this back in the day, it would have clearly been one of my legitimate favorites (no irony or sarcasm involved). But you can't not get lost in the nostalgia; for instance:

Clothing/Hair. You will see mullets. You will see satin/chiffon puffy evening gowns worn *in a bar.* You will see a peroxided young lady perform a strip tease that leaves her wearing nothing on top and a pair of white, lace, waistband-over-the-navel panties, which is meant to be sexy . . . (yeah, it was the eighties, but come on). This is the only film in existence where you will see a medical doctor (Kelly Lynch, also peroxided) sporting a gingham mini-dress, winged hair, and power bangs. And how about those pleated white pants (on the men)? It's fun.

Outlandish Factor. Do fights really break out in bars this often? Maybe, but try having a squad of buffoons pommel around IN A MONSTER TRUCK (submitted most likely for the sole purpose of using it to bulldoze through a car dealership in the film's second half) and having nearly every conflict end in a fiery explosion. Pool stick antics to evoke a fight. Knifings. Giant, stuffed wildlife animals in bad guy's living room. Dialogue snippet---"Prepare to die." Dalton's (Patrick Swayze) response? "YOU ARE SUCH AN ASS HOLE." Seriously, who wrote this? I kind of love them.

Casting: Patrick Swayze teams up with Kevin Tighe (Anthony Cooper from LOST, or the Chop-Poker guy from Tales From The Crypt), Ben Gazzara (Jackie Treehorn from Lebowski), and probably the best smooth-talking biker of all time SAM ELLIOT (Gar from Mask!) . . . there was no way this film could lose with this lot. Tighe is hard to accept as a good guy if you've seen him in virtually anything else he's done, and he did that surprised, egging-it-all-on kind of leery look acting that he always does, but he was pretty spot on---the others were all perfect. Elliot's ratty gray hair was a nice touch, although I do kind of wish they'd given him a bigger mustache.

I need to own this.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski, 1998. Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore.

Like all Coen Brothers films, this one gets better with each viewing. I could go on about the genius of The Dude . . . his lines, his outfits, his reactions (my favorite being stoned in the bathtub and admonishing the Nihilists destroying his answering machine with a baseball bat, "Hey, man, this is like, a private residence . . . !") But what makes this film, in my opinion, AMAZINGLY genius is that special talent of the Coens', the seemingly incongruous character that actually turns out to be comic gold. Leonard Smalls kind of began this way in Raising Arizona; Mike Yanagita in Fargo definitely hit the jackpot . . . and most haters of the Coens will sit and complain about the randomness of such characters, interruptions, etc., but these kinds of things absolutely make the film (s) for me every time, and Lebowski is full of them:

The Jesus: Since there are unfortunately no embed-able clips available, I can't show you my favorite scene from the film, which is the Jesus Quintana sequence, first the action shot of his bowling (preceded by separate shots of his socks, coke-pinky nail, hairnet, and embroidered shirt), the slow motion pan reaction shots of The Dude, Donny, and Walter, and the subsequent "discussion" of his perverted-ness, all with the Hotel California (in Spanish) playing jubilantly as background accompaniment . . . honestly, I don't think film gets much better than that. The timing, the sound, the wide shots, and the colors all seriously thrill me to no end. In a later scene, he violently fumes over Walter's rearrangement of the schedule ("What is this bullshit? This Day-of-Rest-shit?") and while less stylized than the previous, this is also brilliant, and filled with creepy (aptly perverted) sexual innuendo and pelvic thrustings.

The Jesus also sort of speaks to the general environment of the bowling alley and its eccentricities. His purple-shirted partner, Liam O'Brien, seems an odd pairing socially, but in this film, in this bowling alley, it all ends up making perfect sense. The opening sequences of bowling pins, shoes, different bowlers, and the plastic chairs are nostalgic and familiar, and later the exterior lights of the alley become important as both sad and sort of funny punctuation after Donny's heart attack. People love bowling; to have this film take place in a bowling alley (no matter how random and strangely populated) was definitely a winning move.

Marty: The jogging landlord doesn't seem like much at first, but that subtle mention of his dance quintet comes back in a big way (complete with a huge, dramatic score, and costuming). What's more awesome about this situation, that Marty invites the Dude to come and give him notes or that in the middle of all that's been happening (money handoff thwarted, the arrival of the severed toe, loss of the briefcase, etc.) that HE STILL SHOWS UP, with Donny (and later Walter) also in attendance (!?!). What a friend The Dude is! There are obviously several other venues they could have used for the discussion of the fate of Larry Sellers (among disagreements over the finer points of The In-and-Out Burger), but what better one than Marty's Cycle? Come on!

Larry Sellers: No lines are uttered from his lips, he just sort of plops on the couch and sneers for the duration of the scene, but I think the comedy and power of his character comes from the allusions to him (rumpled social studies paper crammed into seat, camaro on street outside his house, "real fucking brat," as revealed to Maude, etc.) and his surroundings, mainly that ridiculous IRON LUNG that holds his father (Arthur Digby Sellers) making him present but helpless during the entire interrogation that happens mere feet away from him in his own home. What should be an uncomfortable scene just becomes outlandishly funny as Walter first professes his admiration for Arthur's work before going to work on the stone faced  Larry---the homework in baggie (presented as evidence) is also hilarious, as is Larry's refusal to react at all ("have you ever heard of Viet Nam, Larry?"). The second best musical interlude comes just after the destruction of The Dude's car; Oye Como Va plays as they sit inside the windshield-less car, Donny and Walter munching In-and-Outs. What a resolution.

(What a film!)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To Kill A Mockingbird, Dirty Dancing

1. To Kill A Mockingbird, 1962, directed by Robert Mulligan.
Starring: Gregory Peck, John Megna, Frank Overton.

"Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice." (IMDB). 

Hadn't ever seen this one, though I'm sure I read the book for Sharon Severson's English class in junior high; it was very good. I liked the kids' constant screwing around over by that Radley house (parents will probably appreciate the fact that even the great and honorable Atticus Finch cannot always keep his children under control), and how that business was sort of juxtaposed with the seriousness of Tom Robinson's alleged crime---also the children (Mary Badham as Scout, Phillip Alford as Jem) were not only cute but pretty decent actors, too. And how about Boo Radley?!? Robert Duvall played some pretty weird misfits before getting to Tom Hagen, Bill Kilgore, and whoever the hell he was on Lonesome Dove . . . after this role he went on to play Charlie Parkes in The Twilight Zone, episode "Miniature," where he fell in love with a doll in a dollhouse (and then just sort of hopped inside to be with her).

Anyway, I enjoyed the this, it obviously influenced many other projects down the road (and won 3 Oscars, best actor for Peck, best art direction, and best adapted screenplay). Scout bumbling around in that giant ham costume had to be my favorite part, and just the sort of implied tenderness between the brother and sister; Jem was always looking out for her, and that made me very warm and fuzzy inside.

2. Dirty Dancing, 1987, directed by Emile Ardolino.
starring: Jennifer Grey, Patrick Swayze, Jerry Orbach.

Now before all my male followers (who are significant) start unsubscribing to this blog in fear that I've lost all street credit, just listen a minute. I'm a girl; I grew up in the eighties; I love pop music. You gotta be willing to give me this one . . . like it or not (and I'll admit that I fully love it), it's an important film.

Important fact #1: whether or not women want to be saved (some do, some don't), I think we're all pretty much all right with being swept off our feet. Before Edward Cullen or Jack Dawson there was JOHNNY CASTLE. True, he was sorta cocky and a little bit rude, but still. What a guy.

Important fact #2: This cat can dance; he's not faking it. In terms of a production, having a talented dancer, one that can sweep the audience off its feet by being able to command scenes that go on for quite a while with very little editing, is a winning lottery ticket even if the story is shoddy. Don't believe me? Turn on Singing in the Rain, and cue it up to MOSES SUPPOSES (I couldn't find any embed-able clips from Dirty Dancing) and observe, 1. how easy Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor make what they're doing look (which is not easy at all) and 2. just how difficult it is to look away from the screen once they really start cutting. Here, check it out:

There are many films out there with interesting choreography or movie stars that actually take the time to learn the steps or put the work in (thanks to film editors) to make it look like a reasonable comparison to what Kelly, O'Connor, or Swayze do effortlessly, but they won't ever come close; there's nothing like a real dancer dancing.

Important fact #3: The music, some of it popular hits from the sixties ("Big Girls Don't Cry," "Do You Love Me?," "Love is Strange," "Cry to Me,") some of it contemporary stuff ("She's Like The Wind," "Overload," "Hungry Eyes," "Time of My Life,") and even some of the instrumentals from the merengue, mambo, or foxtrot scenes in the film----all of it was exciting, well-chosen, and well-matched to what was happening on screen. To say the music made the film might be pushing it, but I really think it did.

Important fact #4: Clearly I missed a lot of this back in 1987 (I was 11), but there's more going on than just dancing: Kellerman's seemed to be a resort that catered to a select group of people, namely wealthy and Jewish. Penny, (a gentile) gets knocked up by Robbie Gould who blows off the situation entirely ("some people count; some people don't'). Baby wants to help, so she procures from her unsuspecting father the money needed to get Penny an abortion, which doesn't go well. Baby is clearly portrayed as a virgin, as apparently is sister Lisa, but hops into bed with the obviously-experienced Johnny, ("have you had many women?") DUH. This is Dallas-calibre soap opera subject matter! (score!)

There are two films in this world that I very much enjoy that my husband refuses to watch, and this is one of them. His main gripe is that it's ridiculous (okay, fine) and uncomfortable (I agree). The difference between us is that I see the uncomfortable scenes in an endearing way----Johnny teaching Baby to grind a little to "Love Man," the "Wipeout" scene up and down the steps as she practices the mambo, and who could forget the infamous "Ga-GUNG," heartbeat explanation scene (that later led into "Hungry Eyes," segment)----I cannot fault it these things, they're a part of my history for Christ's sake!

For some reason, I really got a kick out of the running the hand down the arm/breast area this time around, and how Baby keeps laughing at it, can't stop, and does each subsequent "take" with an enormous smirk on her face . . . reminded me of shooting a video project back in 2000 with my brother and Leah Johnson where each time she had to peal out of somewhere in her Crown Vic and bark the tires (and we made her do it A LOT), Charlie and I would laugh so hard the camera would shake and the audio would be screwed and we'd have to do it over and over again (and we had to stop looking at each other because we just could not handle seeing each other's reactions).


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Thrill Me With Your Acumen: The Silence of the Lambs (repost)

What a perfect film! The Silence of the Lambs, 1991. 
Directed by Jonathan Demme, based on the novel by Thomas Harris.

"A young FBI cadet must confide in an incarcerated and manipulative killer to receive his help on catching another serial killer who skins his victims." (IMDB). 

This is suspense writing at its finest. Certainly it was directed well, acted well (there would not be a picture without Tony and Jody), scored well, and so on, and all that is great. But honestly, it's scary!--- the build ups are tense, intelligent, and are pretty damned terrifying; in the end, they do not disappoint. The film is filled with anticipation. When it's not showing us Clarice Starling having to fight her way through virtually every encounter by proving she can piss with the big boys, the film is leading us eerily down some hall, laying steps one at a time, and revealing just enough unpleasantness to keep us engrossed and on guard for whatever the monster (Multiple Miggs, Benjamin Raspael's head in a bottle, the carving-up of the lieutenants and subsequent manhunt, Jame Gumm's torturous basement, etc.) might be, and it's a new fright each time!

And what of Hannibal Lector? Because Clarice is made to trust him we somehow begin to trust him, too. But never forget that first image we got of him, standing there, erect, poised, and with an almost amiable grin. . . (shiver). He's smarter than any of us. And all the smelling? Seriously. There is something very intriguing about a bad guy ally; he obviously has little regard for human life to do what he did (and apparently is awfully hip to continue doing), but this connection with Clarice, her *special-ness* in winning it? Awesome.  

And at the risk of sounding like a film theorist, this film is also about knowing. Who knows what, who lets who in on what they know, and whether the knowledge is real. Clarice is sent in by Jack Crawford to talk to Lector, who knows things. Jack Crawford also knows things, but he needs what Lector knows, and he knows that Clarice will "stimulate" Lector. Clarice knows things, not about the case, but about death and sacrifice, her way of knowing isn't helpful to Jack Crawford but it piques the interest of Lector. Lector wants to know about Clarice. Jack Crawford depends on getting the Lector's knowledge, but Lector figures it out and feeds him garbage instead. Then, drawing on everything she's picked up, Clarice, the seemingly rookie know-nothing, busts it all open and saves the day.

I saw this in the theater, in March of 1991 with my cousin, Heidi, in Duluth. And I was terrified. I can watch it now without fear, but the moments that get me each time are the camera noises in the funeral parlor, the anticipation of what Lector plans to do to the two cops, and the night goggles at the end, showing the hand reaching out to touch Clarice.

Oscars galore: best actor (Hopkins), actress (Foster), director (Demme), writing/adapted screenplay (Ted Tally), and best picture. Right on. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Titanic (repost).

I suppose I'll be back doing another go-round with this one in April after the 3D rerelease, but since I've already written about it once, why not? My brother saw this in the theater something like twenty times; I only saw it once but true to form, bawled my Goddamned eyes out the whole time. I bawled at the trailer the other night when I was at Young Adult. . . THE TRAILER. Maybe I'm just a giant sap

Titanic, 1997. Directed and Written by James Cameron.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet.

"Fictional romantic tale of a rich girl and poor boy who meet on the ill-fated voyage of the 'unsinkable' ship." (IMDB).

I remember seeing the preview to this film on another rental many months before it actually was released;  what stuck the most was of course one of the final scenes when the ship, vertical, actually sinks with Jack and Rose clinging to the railing. It gave me goosebumps, for probably an entire day, seeing that. And really, this is a fine example of what the film can do vs. what it does lamely: the action scenes are great, the dialogue and love story are merely marginal if not annoying. But as a production, I can't front; it's still amazing.

I don't think Kate Winslet deserved to be nominated for an Oscar for this, I think the Academy just gets aroused when Brits sink low enough to do American accents. I thought Rose's scenes were boring, mostly because I never liked her as a character. This is mostly for personal reasons, and I can see how the class differences between the characters were important to the love story, but still I found her distinctly unlikable. Old Rose, Young Rose, they both rubbed me the wrong way from the very first. "They called Titanic the ship of dreams, and it was. It really was." Then, moments later, "To everyone else it was 'the ship of dreams.' But to me it was a slave ship. . ." YEAH, BOO-HOO, ROSE. You want to jump off the back of the ship? BE MY GUEST. Be careful not to damage the beading on your thousand dollar gown on your way over, hmmm? Every scene she has before she's with Jack kind of makes me want to punch her in the face, but she gets better as the film goes on, I'll give her that.

Leo was a little clunky, far less annoying, and I liked Molly Brown. But by God Cameron can do action. The real film starts once that iceberg hits, and from there it was a tense, well-driven story. Showing how each level of the ship was affected by the water rushing in? Awesome. The scramble to make it under the water-seal doors as they came down? Awesome. The different ways the characters had to backtrack and swim through dead ends and flooded hallways? Awesome. There were two moments in this film when I cried (harder than my ongoing in-general silent tears); 1. the opening, when Horner's instrumental theme came on over the still shots of the ship and 2. when the violinist refuses to leave the deck and reels the rest of the quartet back to play that seriously emotional song (as everyone jumps off, falls, or drowns). The scene of the people desperately hanging on to the priest as he prays also gets me a little weepy, I cannot imagine what an experience like that, chaos and sure death on that wide a scale, would be like; one woman (I think holding onto a child) clung to a structure and just repeated over and over "it will be over soon. it will be over soon." My friend Julie told me when this film was first released that the very worst part for her was seeing the Irish woman telling her children a bedtime story and tucking them in bed, knowing that they would all soon be dead. I didn't have kids at the time like she did, but I do now, and the scene is probably the saddest thing that happens in the film. Heavy. It will be a pretty significant thing, I think, when the rest of my generation (who have become parents since the original release) goes to see it again in 3D. 

It's not a perfect film, but it's definitely an important one. 11 Oscars, many of them well-deserved. And as the person who suggested it aptly mentioned---it's not one I can shut off if I flip to it, I always end up watching it to the end. Here's the trailer, enjoy, because it's a good one. (sniff). 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Inglourious Basterds, repost.

O Quentin, My Quentin: Inglourious Basterds2009, directed by Quentin Tarantino.

"In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as "The Basterds" are chosen specifically to spread fear throughout the Third Reich by scalping and brutally killing Nazis." (IMDB)

This is not Tarantino's finest film. Diane Kruger, blah, Eli Roth, NO (I actually wish he would have been a little calmer) and the scene in the basement pub was ages longer than it should have been, but other than that? Still very enjoyable. Brad Pitt is an excellent buffoon. I loved Melanie Laurent as Shosanna (in fact, would I be in the market for any more children down the road, which I'm not, the name would be Emmanuel (le) were it a boy or girl, after Shosanna's vengeful alter-ego). Music, killer, as always. Good use of the John Ford doorway at Lapadite's place ala John Wayne in The Searchers, ala David Carradine in Kill Bill, or any other outsider who is not *supposed* to come inside. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) however, does come inside.

Oui, Shosanna!
Was there ever anyone so slippery? Or cunning? Every scene he was in gave me goosebumps. It was hard to know how to feel about him, obviously he's evil, but he's brilliant and sneaky too. And as it turns out, not above getting caught in his own web of lies. First he loves his nickname, then he hates his nickname? "You don't know why you hate the rat, you just do," (vermin as some sort of obvious metaphor for the Jewish people, yet, this great Jew-hunter is unable to identify someone he shot at as she sits inches from him?) This fascination I had with him quickly turned to disgust once he started chawin' that damned Apfelstrudel; chewing noises are where I draw the line. Nonetheless, best supporting actor in 2009, I think it was right on the mark.

The greater theme here, as always, is DON'T FUCK WITH ME. This is why I love, love, love Quentin Tarantino. I think he must dig his mother a lot, because he writes such amazing stories and illustrates such powerful scenes of women's struggles, while not taking anything away from the men. After all the talk recently about Dragon Tattoo, rapes, murders, sociopathy, and what not, I think it's reasonable to bring up the fact that yes, these characters are by all definitions violent, vengeful, and well, not right in the head. . . HOWEVER. These are films, stories, fiction. Does anyone really want to watch a film or read a book about someone that follows all the rules? If you try to see Tarantino's films as having any firm basis in reality, you're barking up the wrong tree (clearly this particular tree is one of my personal favorites). And without turning this into too much of a girls vs. boys bunch of blathering, who was it that got the job done in the end? Was it Hans Landa? No. Aldo Rain and the Basterds? In a small way, I suppose, but not really. It was SHOSHANNA, baby, with a bang.