Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

29 December 2007

Another December Day in Los Angeles; Another Great Movie

Today I saw There Will Be Blood, the new Paul Thomas Anderson film. PTA is the director of four very good films to date (Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch-drunk Love), but There Will Be Blood is a huge departure for Anderson, who has used most of the same actors and musicians in the last four films. Blood is a Western, and a strange, intense, fucked-up Western at that.

Daniel Day-Lewis is a fiercely competitive oil magnate, who is also almost psychotically misanthropic. The role fits Day-Lewis to a tee, but its Anderson's style (in both writing and directing) that really make There Will Be Blood the bizarre masterpiece that it is. I actually don't want to say too much about the film. It's an intensely weird experience, and it may not be everyone's cup of tea. It certainly isn't as irreverent or sad as Anderson's other movies, and it doesn't hook you emotionally in his usual ways. Instead, Blood is creepy, suspenseful, chilling.

It reminded me, more than anything else, of Jean-Pierre Melville. If the opening ten minutes of There Will Be Blood is like the opening ten minutes of any other film I would say it is like Melville's Le Samouraï, and it isn't just because it lacks dialogue for so long. Blood begins with a bizarre, confusing sound, which I can only imagine is intended to jar its audience, much like the out-of-focus opening of Le Samouraï.

I don't want to say anything more about There Will Be Blood. I need to see it again. And probably a third time.

27 December 2007

"This World" by Mary Oliver

One of the few gifts I received for Christmas (for my family doesn't do gifts anymore) is Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. I am reading it as slowly as I can, but I am still already over halfway through. Anyway, I thought I would share one of the poems. This one is called "This World" and it's on p. 27:
I would like to write a poem about the world that has in it
nothing fancy.
But it seems impossible.
Whatever the subject, the morning sun
glimmers it.
The tulip feels the heat and flaps its petals open
and becomes a star.
The ants bore into the peony bud and there is the dark pinprick well of sweetness.
As for the stones on the beach, forget it.
Each one could be set in gold.
So I tried with my eyes shut, but of course the birds were singing.
And the aspen trees were shaking the sweetest music out of their leaves.
And that was followed by, guess what, a momentous and beautiul silence
as comes to all of us, in little earfuls, if we're not too hurried to hear it.
As for spiders, how the dew hangs in their webs even if they say nothing, or seem to say nothing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe they sing.
So fancy is the world, who knows, maybe the stars sing too, and the ants, and the peonies, and the warm stones,
so happy to be where they are, on the beach, instead of being locked up in gold.

26 December 2007

Demon Barbers and Little Liars

Brittney and Wahima and I went, the other day, to see Tim Burton's film of Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It's a good Tim Burton film, too, but I don't think much of it as a production of Hugh Wheeler and Stephen Sondheim's play. See, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, good actors though they are, just cannot sing the roles for which they are cast.
The result of this lack of singing ability is that the film never really gets off the ground. The really emotional songs seem flat or American Idol-esque in style. The funny songs seem far too serious, and the stuff that's truly insane seems explainable. My favorite song "Epiphany" is almost completely lacking in power.
It's an odd mix. Burton's technique is excellent and his ways of making the play more cinematic sometimes work well. At other times, though, he can't quite imagine directing a musical, and the film gets stuck in that barber shop. Burton has, for instance, cut all of the crowd sequences: "More Hot Pies," the crowd sequence with Pirelli, and my personal favorite, the madhouse stuff where all the inmates sing "rats in the streets" or whatever that song is. I can imagine a couple of very clever ways of doing each of those sequences that film would facilitate rather than hinder, but Burton has decided to cut them out completely. Because of this, the film (paradoxically) seems smaller than stage show, as though London were a city inhabited by only ten or twelve people.
A couple of things work very well, though. Tobias has been recast as a younger boy, about twelve or thirteen, and this choice is great. The young man is instantly loveable and it allows a real relationship to develop between him and Mrs. Lovett. I also really liked the second "Johanna" number, which is one of my favorite songs in the show. The camera follows Antony as he searches for Johanna in the streets, and then cuts back and forth between Sweeney in the barbershop and the beggar woman below. I liked the film alright, I guess, but I would never listen to the soundtrack. Thankfully I can listen to Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury when I get back home.

Today I saw Joe Wright's Atonement and I'm moving it to the top of my list. It's epic, romantic, and powerful. I think it's a good film about the ravages of war, but the romantic plot is an incredibly moving saga. I cannot tell you how many times I cried watching this film, and I know when I see it again I'll probably cry even more. Wright's Pride & Prejudice was a great movie, and it was in my top ten a couple years ago, but Atonement is superb. His skill as a filmmaker should, by now, be evident to everyone. Atonement is subtle, slick and builds slowly and comically, with a sweet, romantic tension. And then the movie shifts and becomes a powerful epic about trying to make a life together amid tragedy. I loved it. Go see it. Bring a handkerchief.

22 December 2007

Northern Lights

It's what I get, I suppose, for reading Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass before seeing Chris Weitz's film version. After telling everyone I've seen in the last week how absolutely great the book is, how it is a must-read for anyone who likes fantasy books, after how happy the book made me, I was bound to be disappointed in the movie.
And, surprise, surprise, The Golden Compass just did not measure up. I think, though, that this is not a case of the novel simply being too rich or detailed or interior for film, but just bad storytelling. Instead of working at creating powerful moments or important relationships, The Golden Compass is too busy making sure we understand the terms of the world the movie lives in. The book is almost all exposition, too, so I don't understand why the movie decided it needed to work in another way. The book, in fact, starts with us knowing absolutely nothing, and then learning what we learn about the world of the novel as we go along. Things are explained when they need to be explained and never before. The entire book, actually, is more an unfolding of things we don't know than a series of events. It's action-packed, of course, but the narrative works because we figure things out as we go along. The movie of The Golden Compass, however, turns out to be a lot like the film of another book I love, A Home at the End of the World: just a series of plot points strung together. So the movie hits all of the points in the plot, sure, but none of the events really has any power because we don't really care about any of the characters.
Sam Elliott was cool in the movie, and watching the polar bears fight was fun, but the movie didn't really get off the ground until we met Iorek Byrnison and by that time I had already checked out.

20 December 2007

Oh that Jason Reitman

I really liked Thank You for Smoking, but Jason Reitman's new movie Juno is easily one of the best of the year. The screenplay is absolutely superb, of course, and Diablo Cody, Juno's now-famous scribe deserves all the accolades she's getting, but Reitman's cinematic sensibility is really something to talk about, I think. He has a way with scathing satire that gets under your skin and makes you really care about the characters he wants to skewer.
His blend of comedy and drama is, to my mind, a unique one. Exceedingly clever, dark humor with moments of genuine beauty.
Easily one of my favorite films of the year. Juno is a really great movie, with a central, acerbic performance from actress Ellen Page that is impossible not to love. The supporting cast is great too, with Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, Alison Janney, Olivia Thirlby, J.K. Simmons and Jennifer Garner. I absolutely loved it. It's quirky, fun, moving without being sentimental, and has the wittiest dialogue you'll hear in a movie this year.

17 December 2007

Happy Holidays

Ok, so these are not all holiday movies, but I am in Los Angeles now and in the seasonal spirit. It's colder here (than in Florida; I guess that isn't saying much) and the leaves are all multi-colored and covering the ground. It's quite lovely, actually. The movie-watching has begun. I have been spending time doing things for pleasure instead of work since Tuesday night and only this morning did I pick up a book I'm reading for my thesis. On the plane ride over, in fact, I didn't even look at Violence and Its Causes or Reading Rape or Sweet Violence, all of which I need to be read-up on before I go back to Tally. Instead, I read Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass which is easily the most fun I've had reading a book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows... maybe even a little more fun because I know there are two more books in the series. The Golden Compass is a must-read: fun, imaginative, action-packed, beautifully written and very, very smart.

The first movie I've seen since school got out is Kevin Lima's Enchanted, which I liked but didn't love. It has a lot of very funny moments, but at times it's cloyingly sweet and sometimes the princess played by Amy Adams seemed a little too much like Forrest Gump for my comfort. Enchanted works best when it is committed to being a musical. The central park number "How Does She Know?" is by far the best set piece in the show. James Marsden is absolutely brilliant, too. He should be getting tons and tons of work. He was a hit in Hairspray, too, I thought. The guy obviously has talent to spare.

I also caught Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, and the best way I can describe it is to say how smart it is. Baumbach understands families incredibly well and his portraits of deeply neurotic people and their equally neurotic dependencies on their families are scathingly intelligent. The thing is, I'm not sure that this kind of precise, clever storytelling makes for a very enjoyable moviegoing experience. I felt this way about The Squid and the Whale, too. I respect both of these films enormously and I find them engaging and well-crafted, but I don't really like any of the characters, and so I don't really like the movies as much as I think they are good. I need to mention here, though, that Nicole Kidman is perfect in this role. And she gives a knockout performance. She's a smart actress, so it makes sense that she would flourish in Baumbach's world, but I think this is Kidman's best performance in years. Truly great. I don't think she's picking up much awards traction for this little movie (the writing is really what the movie showcases, and most likely what will grab the Academy's attention), and I think that's rather a shame. She's doing excellent work here.

...and for a little Christmas cheer, my sister and cousin and I watched Holiday Inn (1942) with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It's a bizarre little film that, I guess, most people have seen before. I hadn't. It's also the movie that gave us the song "White Christmas," but I have to say I like the film White Christmas much, much better than Holiday Inn, which has an inane (and slightly sexist) plot. Most of the songs are forgettable, too. There is one song that is completely unforgettable, though, and that is the song that Bing and Marjorie Reynolds sing for Lincoln's Birthday... in blackface. It's called "Abraham" and aside from being totally catchy, it's also jarringly dated. Watching Reynolds as a pickaninny, that old racist stereotype of black children, is jawdropping. I was aghast. The Independence Day number is also rather jawdropping. It's a blatant piece of war propaganda shoved into the middle of a film that is ostensibly a musical comedy. Bizarre. But every time Fred Astaire hits the dance floor, I forget about the rest of it. Astaire's character is a total heel in the movie, but his dancing is impeccable and at times almost transcendent. There is a fabulous number called "Easy to Dance With" that comes early in the film, but the highlight is easily Fred's drunk number. He performs this with Marjorie Reynolds all the while dancing as though he is almost dead drunk. It's exhilarating to watch.

I'm in Los Angeles, now, so more movie reviews to come.
P.S. I'm here for three weeks, so let's hang out if you're in the city.

11 December 2007

The Oscar Race

So now that I have a little time, I thought it might be interesting to discuss some of the critics awards that have been released over the last couple of days. Everything will change very visibly with the Golden Globe nominations on Thursday, but here is what everyone's talking about right now.

American Gangster
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Bucket List
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
Into the Wild
The Kite Runner
Lars and the Real Girl
Michael Clayton
No Country for Old Men
Sweeney Todd
There Will Be Blood

It seems very likely that no other film will emerge as a frontrunner for awards, and that the five Best Picture nominees will come from this list. It's a huge list, so that shouldn't be too shocking. Most frequently mentioned here are No Country for Old Men, of course, and The Diving Bell and Butterfly, which is getting mentioned as most critics' Best Foreign Language selection. It is ineligible for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, but it could emerge with a Best Picture nomination. If it's lucky. This seems unlikely.

Paul Thomas Anderson (L.A.)
Tim Burton (Nat'l Board of Review)
The Coen Brothers (N.Y., San Francisco)
Julian Schnabel (Boston, L.A.)

The additional directors mentioned by the BFCA are: Sidney Lumet (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead), Sean Penn (Into the Wild) and Joe Wright (Atonement). The top four here are Anderson, the Coens and Schnabel. I expect Lumet to get an Oscar nomination too. Not sure about slot five.

George Clooney (NBR, San Fran)
Daniel Day-Lewis (L.A., N.Y.)
Emile Hirsch (NBR)
Frank Langella (Boston, L.A.)

The BFCA also includes Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd), Ryan Gosling (Lars and the Real Girl) and Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises). Viggo Mortensen's performance is one of the best of year--no question. Not sure if he can score a nomination, though. I think Hirsch's chances are iffy, too. He is very young for a Best Actor nomination. Could James McAvoy (Atonement) place?

Julie Christie (NBR, L.A., N.Y., San Fran)
Marion Cotillard (Boston)
Anamaria Marinca (L.A.)
Ellen Page (NBR)

THE BFCA adds to this Amy Adams (Enchanted), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth: the Golden Age) and Angelina Jolie (A Mighty Heart). They aren't included here, but I think Laura Linney (The Savages) and Keira Knightley (Atonement) could also place.

Casey Affleck (NBR, San Fran)
Javier Bardem (Boston, N.Y.)
Hal Holbrook (L.A.)
Vlad Ivanov (L.A.)

The BFCA adds Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War) and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton). The field is not completely wide open here, but only Bardem is really set in stone here. And everyone was talking about Max Von Sydow (The Diving Bell and Butterfly) last week...

Amy Ryan (NBR, Boston, L.A., N.Y., San Fran)
Cate Blanchett (L.A.)

The only name anyone is mentioning is Amy Ryan and this is stupid. Not because she's bad in the movie (although I wasn't particularly over the moon about her performance), but because the critics have a chance to influence the discourse. The only actress anyone wants to talk about is Amy Ryan, and they could be choosing instead to promote some other cool performances. The BFCA adds Catherine Keener (Into the Wild), Vanessa Redgrave (Atonement) and Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton). But what about Kelly Macdonald (No Country for Old Men), Charlotte Gainsbourg (I'm Not There.) or Leslie Mann (Knocked Up). I can think of another three or four actresses whose supporting work impressed me. It is a little ridiculous that no critics organizations can think of any.

Summing Up 2007

1. What did you do in 2007 that you'd never done before? I had a one-night stand. Went to New Orleans.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? My New Years' resolution last year was to have a one-night stand. I am happy to report that I did it. Let me get philosophical for a moment: We put so much value on long-term relationships, and I certainly want one, but short term relationships can be fulfilling to. Having my first one-night stand was one of the best decisions I ever made. Not because it made me feel liberated or powerful—though it did make me feel those things—but because sex has the ability to be really fulfilling in and of itself. It doesn't always need true love to do that.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes. My dear friend Madison had a baby girl named Savannah Belle. One of my professors just adopted a baby, too.

4. Did anyone close to you die? An acquaintance of mine named Judy Arnold died a couple of weeks ago of a heart attack. I worked with Judy when we both worked for the Centre in Vancouver.

5. What countries did you visit? None. I stayed in Tallahassee most of the year.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007? A better car would be nice. But I'd actually rather have a better wardrobe. I kind of hate everything I own right now.

7. What dates from 2007 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 8/25/07 My brother and his wife got married. The wedding was a total blast and the ceremony was beautiful.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? I am proud of a lot of stuff this year. I directed a show called The New Musical Project which my friend Gretchen produced. My thesis is on its way, by which I mean that I have some really strong and exciting ideas and I've started actually writing them down. I'm also really happy with a paper I just finished writing called "Othello and the Pornographic Imagination" and I got my Caroline, or Change paper accepted to a conference. I'm feeling pretty good.

9. What was your biggest failure? This year, I think I have been particularly impatient. I often lack the ability to sympathize with other people's difficulties. I am trying to be warmer and more understanding.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? I don't think so. It's been a healthy year. I've been doing a lot more yoga.

11. What was the best thing you bought? Vosges.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? My friend Jaime, who graduated from college this year. My friend Derek who constantly amazes me. My friend Marcos, who came out to Tallahassee to visit me! My roommate, who is really smart. Ron Paul.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Alberto Gonzalez, as usual. George W. Bush, as usual. Larry Craig.

14. Where did most of your money go? My mortgage. Grr.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? Visiting California (all three times). Seeing my friends. The Oscar nominations (as usual). The Association for Theatre in Higher Education conference.

16. What song will always remind you of 2007? Sufjan Stevens' album "Come on Feel the Illinoise" (I know, I'm behind) and the song "Sailing" from A New Brain (also way behind).

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter? Fatter (ugh)
c) richer or poorer? Poorer

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Drinking gin, directing, eating fabulous meals, cooking, watching movies (didn't get to do that enough this year), making out.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Sweating my ass off in Tallahassee, working on The Tamer Tamed, reading passages from Bernard Dukore, that shit puts me to sleep.

20. How will you be spending Christmas? With my family and many of my friends in California.

21. Did you fall in love in 2007? No sir, I did not.

22. How many one-night stands? This makes me smile. Two.

23. What was your favorite TV program? Planet Earth. It's the only show I watched, and I watched every episode. Genius.

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? I don't think so. I guess I have become slightly more generous this year. (I'm probably lying. I just can't think of anyone in particular.)

25. What was the best book you read? Elizabeth Grosz: Space, Time, and Perversion; Michel Foucalt: The History of Sexuality; Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway; J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; David Edgar: Pentecost; Mark Ravenhill: Some Explicit Polaroids; plus I read six or so plays by the brilliant David Rudkin this year.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery? Sufjan Stevens. The Real Group. Kate Walsh. I've also spent the year becoming even more obsessed with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Philip Glass and Alexandre Desplat.

27. What did you want and get? The Sarasota boy. :-)

28. What did you want and not get? To direct more. An extra visit to California.

29. What was your favorite film of this year? So far No Country for Old Men, Sunshine, The Lives of Others, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, but I expect the list to change a little when I visit Los Angeles next week.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 26. We didn't celebrate in Tallahassee, although Julie did buy me Godiva!

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? I'm doing pretty well. Making money would make the whole thing feel like my work was useful, but I still feel like I am producing a lot of work.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2007? I'm a total mess. I never go shopping any more and my wardrobe is aging badly, I'm afraid.

33. What kept you sane? Jaime. Gin. The Fug Girls. The Coffee Pub.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Brody, James Mardsen, Emile Hirsch.

35. What political issue stirred you the most? American policy in Iraq. Torture policies in this country.

36. Who did you miss? My awesome friends in California. Ryan and Alison in Sarasota. My parents and my brother and sister.

37. Who was the best new person you met? Joe Fabal, Trent, Anne, Joel, Candace, Kevin, Greg, Michael Stablein Jr., John, David Ian Rabey. Lots of people this year.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2007: Don't be in such a hurry. You will get there; there's no need to make it go faster.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: "I want a little sugar in my bowl"

08 December 2007

American Musical Theater

I just got a notice from a conference I sent an abstract to at the end of August. Check it out!
Dear Mr. Thomas,
We’re pleased to accept your paper for the conference, American Musical Theater, at the CUNY Graduate Center in April 2008. The conference will begin on Wednesday, April. 2 and continue through Saturday, April 5. We’ve scheduled papers to last no more than 20 minutes, with 10 minutes of discussion to follow.

We will be posting the program on the web in early January – first with just the titles of sessions and papers, later with abstracts, program details, and brief biographies of the presenters. So we’ll need your final title by January 3 and the final version of your abstract and biography by February 15. We will send you the web address as soon as the website is up and running.

We look forward to seeing you in April.

The Program Committee
John Graziano
bruce mcclung
David Savran
Stacy Wolf
The paper I sent them is called "The Legacy and Reclamation of the Mammy in Caroline, or Change." Here's the abstract:
Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's 2004 musical Caroline, or Change has been hailed as a triumph of musical theatre as well as a shrewd social commentary. Critically ignored, however, has been a crucial component of the musical's subject matter: an exploration of the legacy of black women working as domestic servants to Southern white families. This paper explores Kushner's musical in the context of its place in a history of devastatingly harmful representations of black women on the American stage. The value of this historicity, finds Kushner's heroine to be a fully-formed portrait of black woman; she exhibits the characteristics of the traditional mammy, but emerges as a complicated, multi-dimensional character. Kushner re-imagines the stereotype of the black American mammy and finds new and vibrant life in her story both as a mother figure to the white children she raises and as a profound force for change in her own household.
Fun, huh?

01 December 2007

Semester Over?

With the kind of program I'm in, there is no such thing as being done. My last class day is on December 6th. I have a presentation on The Tamer Tamed that night, a Spanish translation test on December 8th, and then I present my final paper for history (It's titled "Othello and the Pornographic Imagination") on December 11th. That's my last official assignment for the semester. I am leaving Tallahassee on December 12th in the early afternoon, but as for taking a real break... doing that is not actually going to be possible.

See, I need to defend my thesis in front of my committee at some point in mid-March, which is, if I'm counting correctly, three and a half months away. That's three and a half months to write four chapters for my thesis and make sure they pass muster. I have four committee members, but the scary one is my advisor/major professor. (I chose her, of course, so it is my own fault.) I think I need a little hand-holding right now, and she isn't really willing to give me any.

At any rate, all of this means that I need to get a good jump on thesis chapter one before I leave Tallahassee (in other words, I should be doing that right now instead of blogging), and that I'm going to need to spend some of my supposed break working on thesis chapters.

Bluefield Breakdown: Poem for Today

"Bluefield Breakdown" (From Toward Any Darkness, Word Press, 2007)
By Rick Mulkey

Where are you Clyde Moody, and you Elmer Bird,
"Banjo Man from Turkey Creek," and you Ed Haley,
and Dixie Lee singing in that high lonesome way?
I feel the shadow now upon me...
Come you angels and play those dusty strings.
You ain't gonna work that sawmill Brother Carter,
nor sleep in that Buchanon County mine. Clawhammer
some of that Cripple Creek song. Fiddle me a line
of "Chinquapin Hunting." Shout little Lulie, shout, shout.
I need to hear music as lonesome as I am,
I need to hear voices sing words I've forgotten.
This valley's much too dark now.
Sunset right beside us, sunrise too far away.
I haven't heard a tipple creak all day,
and everyone I loved left
on the last Norfolk & Southern train.

29 November 2007

Not There.

You've probably already heard about how Todd Haynes' new Bob Dylan movie works. In I'm Not There. Bob Dylan is played by six different actors: Heath Ledger, Richard Gere, Christian Bale, Marcus Carl Franklin, Ben Whishaw and... Cate Blanchett.

So the film is basically more of a cinematic exercise than a movie. And I think this is okay because the whole thing is fascinating. I mean, the Richard Gere part is kind of boring, but even that has one of the nicest musical moments in the whole movie.

The acting is great all around. I was particularly fond of Heath Ledger and Charlotte Gainsbourg. Cate Blanchett is excellent, although I'm not sure the performance ever really jells completely, by which I mean that everything about her sequences always feels artificial. (The Ledger and Franklin sequences are not hampered by this problem.) The Blanchett stuff is filled with Felliniesque touches; there are lots of cool references to that feel absolutely perfect for this bizarre dream of a movie.

My favorite sequences, though, are the scenes with Marcus Carl Franklin, who plays Woody Guthrie, the eleven-year-old Bob Dylan, who (as I understand it) represents early Dylan, finding his sound, learning the blues and training himself, and finally, learning to sing about his own time. Franklin is adorable, with a wicked grin and wise eyes. He lights up the screen whenever he's in a scene, and I found myself wishing he would come back later in the film when were focusing mainly on Blanchett and Gere.

Basically, I'm Not There. is not to be missed, especially if you are fond of Fellini. It's difficult, and I'm not sure it works in total, but there are some brilliant, gorgeous, sequences, and it's one of the coolest movies of the year.

25 November 2007

More Othello fun...

I am having a lot of fun writing this paper. This is all textually supported, but I am saying some pretty ridiculous things:
After Iago first puts the idea of the affair into Othello’s head, the general complains to Iago: “What sense had I of her stolen hours of lust? / I saw’t not, thought it not, it harmed me not, / I slept the next night well, fed well, was free and merry; / I found not Cassio’s kisses on her lips.” Othello, understandably, would rather know for certain his wife was unfaithful than be forced to wonder at her fidelity. Instead of certainty, though, his imagination torments him further. He says that when he kisses Desdemona he finds Cassio’s kisses on her lips. The meaning of this statement is not quite clear. Does he mean that when Desdemona speaks, he imagines Cassio kissing her? Is he saying that he feels himself kissing Cassio when he kisses his young wife? What, after all, does Othello know about Cassio’s kisses?

I do not mean to be flippant here, but rather to point out that in a society such as the Elizabethans’, where young men are interchangeable with young women, Michael Cassio is not only a desiring sexual subject, but a desired sexual object.

Shakespearean Conundrum

When Othello imagines Cassio and Desdemona in bed together does he imagine the boy playing Desdemona in bed with the boy playing Cassio?

The answer is, of course, that he imagines nothing at all. Stanislavski hadn't been born yet. But what does the audience imagine?

And what does the audience imagine when we imagine Cassio and Iago in bed together?

I am writing a really fun paper right now.

I Got Work Done Too; I Promise.

Three movies so far this weekend. (I may get in another one tomorrow, too.) In reverse order of how good they are:

I didn't really understand Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. I mean, I get it; I'm just not sure why I'm supposed to care. Devil is a mess, too, and for lots of reasons. My friend Rick remarked that the movie didn't know if it was a Greek tragedy or some kind of neo-noir. I thought it was going for the former, but the film just doesn't work out that way. It's got all of the elements, too, except for characters that are in any way redemptive or even likable. I lie. I really liked Marisa Tomei, but though she is easily the most interesting thing in the movie, her function in the film is baffling and her presence becomes almost gratuitous. I will give it this, Devil is never really boring. But it's never really interesting either.

I make sure to see Kim Ki-duk's movies when they're released in this country, ever since he made the extraordinary Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter ...and Spring three years ago. Time (Shi Gan) is the thirteenth film from the prolific director and it's fascinating if difficult. The movie is about a woman who is so incredibly jealous of her boyfriend and terrified that he'll fall in love with someone else, leaves him abruptly telling no one where she's going, has plastic surgery to change her face, and then meets him again and gets him to fall in love with her all over again. It sounds really fucked up, and I assure you that it really is. It's a very pretty film, and there are some lovely poetic moments. The thing is, to want to do something like I just described, a woman would have to be totally fucking crazy. The main character in Time is obviously completely nuts. And you know there has to be something wrong with a boy (however cute he is) who is in love with a nutcase like this girl. I found myself muttering "this bitch is so crazy" throughout half the film.
Still, it's very interesting, and the philosophical questions Kim is interested in are baffling, weird conundrums that make you think hard. The questions, eventually, are more interesting than the film, though.

And then there's the Coen Brothers' new movie No Country for Old Men, which I've moved to my top slot for the year. It's a fabulous, violent, at times hysterically funny movie. It has a brilliant central performance by Tommy Lee Jones with some exceptional work all around: Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson. I enjoyed the Hell out of it. It's a blast to watch and a total thrill ride. Absolutely not to be missed. I am seeing it again as soon as I can.

22 November 2007

Olde English in 3D

Julie wouldn't go with me to see Robert Zemeckis's Beowulf, so I went by myself. And I have to say, I don't think I've ever seen anything like it. It's certainly one of the coolest things I've seen all year.
The whole thing is animated, first of all. (I didn't realize that when I went in, I guess.) But Zemeckis is doing the motion-capture thing he did with The Polar Express (a movie I thought was kinda cute). Beowulf is three years after The Polar Express, though, and it shows in the work. Though the facial features of some of the humans can at times be a little wooden, the film's ability to capture the actors' work is really, really cool. This is particularly the case with Anthony Hopkins and John Malkovich, whose work we are probably the most familiar with. The animated characters look, move, and speak like the actors we know.
But all of this is beside the point. Beowulf is in fucking 3D and it's very, very cool. Spears fly out at you in the audience, coins roll toward your face. And the camera can go anywhere, of course, because it's all animated, so we can look up at the underside of Grendel while he bleeds down onto us and blood comes into the auditorium. Or we can fall from the back of a dragon down toward a giant spike as the spike basically comes at us in a third dimension. The whole thing was unbelievably cool.
The script is basically idiotic, let's be honest. It's very much all about tits and fighting, but I actually didn't care all that much. There's a fabulous dragon battle with Beowulf riding on the dragon and stabbing him in the throat. (This is, obviously, a bit of a change from the source material, where Beowulf's last battle is with a giant wyrm and not a dragon, but a flying, screaming reptile looks cooler in a movie than an overgrown snake who breathes fire.)
Frankly, I can't really say enough good things about Beowulf in 3D. It's an absolute must-see. Do not miss it. Know that you're going in to a movie geared toward teenage boys, but the wow factor is just too big to skip it. It' s an absolute technical marvel.

August Rush

Kirsten Sheridan's August Rush is another in a line of movies with Freddie Highmore where little Freddie is way cuter than the movie he's in. August Rush isn't quite as bad of a movie about music as, say, Mr. Holland's Opus, but it's pretty bad. It includes every lost child cliché you've ever heard, along, I think, with every child prodigy cliché you've ever heard. And Robin Williams is in it, over-acting up a storm. Jonathan Rhys Myers is in it, too, and he's cute as always. Keri Russell does her best with a terrible script. Terrence Howard is also in the movie, for some reason.

But boy this film is a one-note mess. There are long, ridiculous voiceovers about how the music is all around us. Zzzzz. I can't even continue writing about it. I'm moving it to near the bottom of the list: right below Spider-man 3.

20 November 2007

My Poor Friend

me: Are you feeling better?
Ryan: no
me: oh dear.
Are you seeing a doctor?

Ryan: i hate being sick like this
he said it is a viral pink eye

me: when does it go away?
Ryan: he didn't say. it just really hurts and i can't go to school because it is contagious
me: Jesus Christ.
What a pain in the ass!

Ryan: i'm both bored and in pain
me: Are you on drugs?
Ryan: yes. they gave me these drugs for my eyes. the drops burn like acid in my eye
me: oh my lord.
Ryan: i feel like bette davis in dark victory
me: hahahahahahaha

19 November 2007

My Kid Could Paint That

Amir Bar-Lev's documentary My Kid Could Paint That is a film about a four-year-old who paints abstract art and whose paintings sell for thousands of dollars. The movie starts out like a human interest story, but what it becomes after an hour or so is an intriguing meta-film about making stories and making art.

The whole thing is complicated, of course. What is the value of abstract art, anyway? What does it mean? Does it mean anything at all? And if a child can do it, what is its value? Why would I pay millions for something a child can do?

Bar-Lev interviews art critics and art collectors. One art critic in particular really has his pulse on the meaning of art, and the film, for a while is a meditation on art in the abstract and modernism in general.

Then the filmmaker becomes a part of the movie. The story becomes about telling the story: how we fashion stories and how we make art out of documents. My Kid Could Paint That is a story about a family--this little girl and her parents--but it is also a story about the writing of history, what we choose to tell people, the narratives we're accustomed to, the dramatic tropes we look for when we tell stories, and the things we leave out. Storytelling, Bar-Lev comes to understand, is in a lot of ways a lie.

This one is a definite renter. Not to be missed.

18 November 2007

Ryan Gosling and the Blow-up Doll

Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl is—dare I say it?—a heartwarming film about a boy who deludes himself into believing that an anatomically correct and very life-like sex doll is his disabled girlfriend whom he met over the internet. I liked this film. It's funny and sweet and has a couple of really great scenes. It's blackly humorous and resists being sentimental with all its might. It doesn't really succeed at this last goal, but it tries very hard and for that I give it lots of credit. The actors are wonderful: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider (a new favorite of mine), and the always dependable and excellent Patricia Clarkson. It's, as you might imagine, a very cleverly written piece of work, penned by former "Six Feet Under" scribe Nancy Oliver.
And finally the film is about growing up, letting go of our fears of being children, and what it means to become a man. A passage from I Corinthians read near the end of the film was a perfect fit and I thought it resonated nicely:
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

If I think about the film too hard, though, the whole thing becomes a little sinister. This boy creates a woman for himself in order to escape dealing with his family, sex and growing up. In a sense, he is always in control of this phony woman. Still, Lars and the Real Girl is really sweet and the performances and very smart script make it worth seeing. Gillespie handles the comedy deftly, and it finally becomes rather difficult not to feel some affection for the doll. She means so much to him and we become so fond of him, that is difficult to resist.

17 November 2007

Poem for Today by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

This is an old one, but one of my favorites.:

Loss and Gain

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.

I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

16 November 2007

Casey Affleck Double Feature

Last week Julie and I went to see Andrew Dominik's ostentatiously titled The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It's a film heavily influenced by Terrence Malick, which means, of course, that I was very fond of it. It's an extremely slow-moving film, and because of this, is able to take every moment and allow tension to build between characters. The suspense that Dominik is able to achieve with the movie is remarkable simply because he's decided not to hurry his way through the plot. So the movie becomes scary, dangerous, taut. It's also incredibly beautiful. The score is sweet and slow, and each shot is gorgeously designed. It's poetic and loving, in a way, and seems exquisitely choreographed. But the truly remarkable thing about James/Ford is the acting. A slow movie like this is obviously a character-driven thing and Dominik has chosen actors who prove fascinating studies. Brad Pitt is scary and unpredictable as Jesse James, and gives an excellent performance, but attention must be paid to Casey Affleck, who gives what is probably going to be my favorite performance by an actor this year. He's nervous and skittish, while maintaining arrogance. He is, obviously, a coward, too, and Affleck isn't afraid of being viewed like this, he lets us see every nervous, disgusting twitch in Robert Ford's eyes. The rest of the cast is fabulous, too. Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell (!), Paul Schneider, and Garrett Dillahunt are all wonderful. It's great ensemble work, and the way Pitt plays off of them is masterful. Affleck's role is the flashy one—and, as I said, my favorite—but I should make clear that the movie's center is Pitt. He is all-powerful in every scene he inhabits. Pitt makes acting look easy, which is probably why he gets as little notice as he does. I never knew what his next move in James/Ford was going to be, and it is a testament to his work that someone as famous as he is can still constantly surprise.

At a new friend's encouraging I also saw Gone Baby Gone, which stars Casey Affleck, Michelle Monaghan, Ed Harris and Morgan Freeman. The film was directed by Ben Affleck. The direction is smart and Affleck's sense of timing and storytelling are very good. I am excited for his next movie. Gone Baby Gone is a mystery story based on a novel by Dennis Lehane (who penned the less-interesting, much less tightly woven Mystic River). Casey Affleck and Monaghan are private investigators who are asked to look into the disappearance of a little girl. Performances are great all around. It's a genre picture much like Mystic River was, but it is interesting and surprising and maintains engaging throughout. It also turns on a powerful moral question that Casey must answer at the end of the film. This works as a moral conundrum for the audience as well. What is especially fascinating, I think, is the way Ben Affleck handles this turning point. Politically, the film has its heart very much in the right place. It's very intriguing morally. Another point about Affleck's direction that I want to make is that the actors aren't Hollywood-pretty. He's shot the film in the streets of Massachusetts and he's made sure to shoot people who look like real people as extras in his film. To my mind, it's a smart move, and the film seems more honest because of it. A quick shout out about my favorite performance in the film, which is by Amy Madigan, Ed Harris's wife. She has a thankless role that disappears halfway through the film, but her characterization is excellent and she creates the film's most beautiful emotional moments.

15 November 2007

Extended Absence?

Updating once a week is not blogging. I'm sorry. I will try to be better. I think the problem is that there really doesn't feel like there's anything to report. There is, though. Of course. I just need to write it down...

I finished my prospectus last weekend. That is, I finished the first draft of my prospectus. I don't know if I told you all, but I am writing about David Rudkin and Mark Ravenhill (playwrights) and I will be focusing on the intersections of queer theory and violence. A small sample:
Following Fromm, then, I understand violence to be an impulse of destructive aggression that culminates in an act of violation committed on the body of the subject or the body of another. On a stage, this violence is always simulated, whether performed realistically for the audience or created through language. These representations of violence, of damage to bodies, hold considerable power and, as Sierz says, have the ability to “go beyond words.” So this is not a study about queer killers, per se. I am much more interested in violence as a single but important component of the ways in which we perceive queer bodies interacting in a theatrical space.
Because of the ways in which Rudkin and Ravenhill approach their subject matter, my focus is not queer murderers, or even queer suicides, but the queer as a subject participating in societies that are violent. The plays I have chosen for this study certainly portray queers who commit acts of violence, but I am interested in how these queer characters are represented as in-teracting in the matrix of their societies.
That last paragraph is too short. I will need to fix it later...

But with the prospectus momentarily out of the way, I am working on a paper for my history class. I wrote my teacher a proposal describing how I was going to write a paper about the liver and desire in Shakespeare (remember how they always told us that you fall in love with your liver in Shakespeare?) but once I started researching it, I got bored. The liver? Zzzzz.
Mostly it wasn't sexy enough. So now I think I am going to write about that old war horse Othello, which my friends and I did in college. It's going to be a paper about male friendship in Elizabethan England.

What else? I need to write about The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, which I saw last week. (I loved it.) But I think I am going to catch Gone Baby Gone tonight, so maybe I'll wait and do a Casey Affleck double feature post.

Haven't been reading a lot of fun stuff in any of my other classes. Not since David Edgar's Pentecost a couple of weeks ago.

Oh yeah, and I am coming to California on December fifteenth! I will be there for three weeks. I am very excited.

05 November 2007

Thesis Exhaustion

This week I have spent writing. I sat down last Sunday and just started writing the thesis. Technically, what I am writing is my prospectus, which has to be approved before I can write the rest of the thesis. But the prospectus becomes the introduction to the thesis, so I am approaching writing the thing as if I am writing the introduction to a book. Albeit, a clunky book with a huge review of literature in the middle of it.
That said, after writing for a week or so, I have about fourteen pages of the thing. Not to jinx it or anything, but I think it's looking good so far.

On the movie front, I saw Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton, which is a serious drama/thriller. I found it tension-filled and very, very smart. George Clooney is great in it, and the film boast an Oscar-bait performance by Tom Wilkinson. The cast is rounded out by Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack (!). But what, you ask, is Michael Clayton about? This is the film's main problem, really. It's a kind of big-business/legal drama and the stakes are all about business and capital. Michael Clayton is also very much about living with ourselves and the decisions we make, and "doing the right thing" (whatever that means.) The stakes sound kind of bogus, I admit, but the film is acted extremely well, and it's also very well-made technically. (It feels very much like a film made by Steven Soderbergh--who was one of the film's producers.) I enjoyed it very much and I expect that if audiences can commit to caring about the stakes of the film, most people will like it.

I had insomnia (actually, that isn't true; I had too much coffee) the other night and instead of tossing and turning, I popped in the new Criterion DVD of Hiroshi Teshigahara's sixties film Woman in the Dunes. It was not at all what I was expecting. I have been watching a lot of old Japanese movies this year, and I was expecting something contemplative, poetic and understated. But Woman in the Dunes is scary. A man gets trapped at the bottom of a sand dune at the beginning of the movie, and learns to live there. It's occasionally horrifying, always beautifully shot, and really, really creepy. Definitely one to rent.

And then last night I saw Ang Lee's new movie Lust, Caution, whose title I hate. I really liked the film, though, and I might even bump that up to "love" the more I think about it. It's a spy/drama/love story set in 1940s Japanese-occupied Shanghai and Hong Kong. It stars the amazing Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Joan Chen and two younger actors who weren't previously on my rader: Tang Wei and Wang Lee-Hom. All acquit themselves very well. From the trailer, I had assumed that Joan Chen wasn't going to be in the film much, but I was delighted at how much she was in it. This movie is a lush, well-acted prestige-type movie with some very interesting things to say about the impact of sex on our lives, and the ways it ties us to one another, even to people we may hate. It's really fascinating. It's also rather explicit (which is why it has an NC-17 rating, I guess). It's not explicit on the level of, say, Shortbus, but maybe on the level of The Lover. To my mind, though, the sex scenes are incredibly valuable to what the film is doing. Lust, Caution is long-ish and a little slow to start, but I think it's definitely worth seeing. I should also mention that the score, by Alexandre Desplat, is absolutely beautiful.

28 October 2007

Two More for 2007

I have been fairly good here about trying to see the new 2007 releases of late. I know that if I don't do it, I'm going to be way behind by the time Oscar season starts, so I'm trying to keep on top of things even though the thesis is calling my name. I even had to go by myself on Thursday night...

Sean Penn's new movie Into the Wild is pretty great. It stars Emile Hirsch, who I am a big fan of, and features supporting work from William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Hal Holbrook, Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker and Vince Vaughn. The way Penn has crafted the film's narrative is particularly of note. It's the story of a lone traveler, who basically goes into the Yukon Territory to commune with nature and live there by himself. How do you tell a story about a person who is all by himself for the majority of the film? The answer is of course: voice-over. But Penn (who also wrote the screenplay) has developed numerous inventive ways of avoiding the traditional (and dreaded, at least by me) voice-over. This is a cleverly filmed, beautiful odyssey of boyhood, manhood, community and principle. I respected the film a hell of a lot, but I also really enjoyed it, and found its insights very moving. Into the Wild also boasts an award-worthy performance by Hal Holbrook (an Oscar nomination should be an incredibly easy get for whoever's selling this movie to the Academy), and I was also very move by Catherine Keener's work. That woman can do no wrong. Into the Wild is a sad, contemplative, and rather long movie, but definitely worth your time.

And Wes Anderson's new movie The Darjeeling Limited is also worth your time, though it is considerably shorter. Darjeeling stars Anderson staple Owen Wilson, as well as Adrien Brody and Rushmore star Jason Schwartzman. I pretty much loved this film, and it gets better in my head the more I think about it. It's your standard Anderson fare, but this one is more a story of brotherhood than anything else. The music is fantastic, incorporating music from four old Satyajit Ray movies and four Merchant-Ivory movies as its own score. It's an intriguing move and the soundtrack gives the film a timeless quality that it wouldn't have had otherwise. As usual for Anderson, the set designs are exquisite: characters all to themselves. The performances, too, are wonderful, and beautifully created. I want to say that Adrien Brody stole the movie, but it's not really a fair statement. He emerges as the most lovable of the brothers, and the most easy to identify with, but Schwartzman and Wilson have an impossible-to-ignore effect on the movie, and I couldn't help loving all of them. A must-see.

Hard at Work

Every thesis and dissertation ever written should begin with the words "Sex and violence." That's how my first draft starts. I feel kind of blessed.

25 October 2007

The Golden Age

Tim and I went to see Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth: the Golden Age last night, which, as you probably know is a sequel to his 1998 film Elizabeth. There are a lot of things to say about the film...
The good first: the costumes are gorgeous, enough of a reason to see the movie in and of itself. Cate Blanchett looks amazing.
Some of the sequences are shot rather beautifully, too—Mary, Queen of Scots' beheading, in particular.
The acting is fine. Cate is chewing the scenery somewhat, but it's not too bad, and there are some really beautiful acting moments in the movie, even though it becomes a camp-fest a lot of times. Samantha Morton is actually really good in the film, despite playing a role that's barely in the movie.
The bad: this film is the campiest movie I've seen all year.
The historiography is a bit suspect. Tim and I kept asking each other whether things happened in the order we were watching. Compressions of time are expected in movies, of course, but the times when the film really goes off the rails are when it shows entire sequences of utter fiction: Elizabeth in full armor talking to troops on land while the Spanish Armada sails up behind her.
Worse, the film is mostly a melodrama, and turns Elizabeth into a bitchy queen who keeps doing things because of how weak she is.
It's more of a costume and light-fest anyway, of course, but it becomes that most of the time, to the point where the narrative really has no bearing on what is happening on screen.
Kapur shoots the film the exact same way he did the first Elizabeth, too: so there are lots of sequences we see through a translucent pane of glass or where 90% of the frame is obscured by some wall hanging or something. He even shoots the important love scenes like this. It's all the more shocking when he actually does show something without media between us and the action. It becomes, in those moments, startlingly clear, that Kapur doesn't really have a sense of a mise-en-scène or how to make pretty pictures that don't involve really expensive costumes.

22 October 2007

Memory Lane

I had my senior high school yearbook out a couple days ago and I was looking over it and shaking my head in shame, and I thought it might be fun to share some of the ridiculous things that people wrote in the yearbook, so here goes; just for fun. Please note that I have left in all of the spelling (and factual) errors in the messages for effect.
what's up champ!
Congradulations on graduating and your accomplishments in High School. Good luck in college and life. I'm sure I'll see your gorgious ass again.
later sweetheart
Brendon J.

Hey Sexy Boy,
How's the love of my life? Thanks for the help in Econ. & Gov. Good luck at work taking messages & picking up lunch. Stay cute, cause' you'll always be GGGAAAAYYY!!!

I'm sorry that I didn't get to know you better. Your a cool guy. Thanks for letting me copy off you in math the other year. When you turn 18 im gonna take you to a strip club. Hurry up and bone Kim. SHE WANTS YOU BAD. Ken K.
Ken also included his phone number. Kim, if you were wondering, was my girlfriend in high school.
you need sum bitches, I mean new one's, since your such a pimp that won't be hard to do. don't have fun in college J/k
Well take it easy and member play em' don't love em'
John E.
I think John had an inside joke with me about calling me "Erin," at least that's what I seem to remember. My favorite message, though, is this one:
Nice Knowing You!
This is particularly hilarious because Derek is easily one of my best friends in the world. I guess he was feeling a little tight-lipped that day.

21 October 2007

Revenge Tragedy. The Beatles. Cashback. High & Mighty.

I have been reading some serious revenge tragedy. I swear, this history class takes up most of my time. I don't know how I have time to do anything else at all.
Last Wednesday it was my turn to be in charge of the day's topic. So I lectured on the transvestite theatre in Elizabethan England. And I did pretty well. It was the best I have felt all semester. I worked my ass off for it, so I guess that is what happens when I hunker down and do hard work. I get especially excited when I get my fellow grad students excited about things. It was a good day.

Of course, what I need to be doing is working on my thesis, but I feel like the universe my major professor is conspiring against me to keep me from my thesis. I don't know when I'm going to do any work on it. I spent yesterday doing reading in the topic of violence, but it all feels so removed from what I should actually be working on. I just don't know. I have watched a couple of movies since last I updated, though, so I might as well share those:

The High and the Mighty is an old John Wayne movie and one of the first disaster films. It's directed by William A. Wellman (a genius) and I liked it as far as these things go. The pilots are all attractive and the acting is campy (Claire Trevor is especially fabulous).

And I finally saw Julie Taymor's Beatles tribute Across the Universe, which—it turns out—is a total mess of a movie. The characters are confused, and the film never gels, despite some really excellent sequences. In particular, the number set to "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is absolutely superb. There are other good numbers, too, but it just doesn't work, and most of the movie is downright boring. Also hampering the film is the desperate earnestness of Evan Rachel Wood as the movie's heroine. Virtuous earnestness is not something that ever attracts me to a woman, and it doesn't work here at all. Ms. Wood spends most of the film crying. Still, there are fun moments: Bono sings "I Am the Walrus," and Salma Hayek makes a cameo as quintuplet nurses during "Happiness Is a Warm Gun." Still, if you want to see a cool tribute to John, Paul, George and Ringo, go see Cirque du Soleil's LOVE in Las Vegas and skip Across the Universe.

And this morning I rented Sean Ellis's Cashback, which had a cool trailer, but mostly bored me to tears and spent too much of its time objectifying women for me to really enjoy it.

And now I am off to work on the thesis. Really.

On The Purple Rose of Cairo

From Woody Allen on Woody Allen by Stig Björkman:

I wrote a story based on only this: that a woman's dream man comes off the screen and she's in love with him, and then the real actor appears and she's forced to choose between reality and fantasy. And of course one can't choose fantasy, because that can lead to madness, so one has to choose reality. And when you choose reality, you get hurt. As simple as that.
Don't know why I've been thinking about this movie, but it's been in my head lately.

I should post a real update on my life. Maybe tomorrow.

17 October 2007

Monty Clift

Because of my über-busy schedule, I am not able to participate, but everyone should go check out the Montgomery Clift Blog-a-thon, which is happening over at the Film Experience.

Clift is a favorite of mine, giving great performances in a number of classic films, the best being George Stevens' A Place in the Sun. His matinee idol face has been my representative since I started this blog.
So if you don't know Monty, you should check him out, and be sure to hang around the blog-a-thon. Nathaniel will be there all day with new links.

11 October 2007

somewhere i have never travelled

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

09 October 2007

Picture Share

Note the check engine light. My mechanic says I must learn to live with it. I believe him, and I shall.

I am feeling (a little) better this week. Thanks to all who sent me words of encouragement (and chocolate). You guys are the best.

06 October 2007

Revengers Travesty

Alex Cox's updated version of Cyril Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy (or is it Thomas Middleton's?) is a big huge mess. It stands on the shoulders of other adaptations of English Renaissance plays, of course. Derek Jarman's Edward II (1991) comes to mind, as well as Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet (1996), Julie Taymor's Titus (1999), and Michael Almereyda's Hamlet (2000), but Revengers Tragedy (the definite article and the apostrophe are both jettisoned for the new title) isn't as good as any of its predecessors.

Christopher Eccleston is fine as the aggrieved Vindici, but Derek Jacobi's Duke is imagined as an early modern Karl Lagerfeld with dark purple lipstick. It's a bizarre film that doesn't seem to be about much of anything, and lacks depth of any kind. There are strange (and misplaced) references to Princess Diana, the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II and the bombing of Hiroshima. It's a near-useless pastiche without focus or a clear narrative, and a moral landscape that defies sense altogether. Skip it absolutely.

I should also mention that last night we (most of the MAs) all went to see Florida State's production of Lanford Wilson's A Sense of Place. I don't want to say anything about the production itself, because the production doesn't matter at all. The play should never have been chosen to open this or anyone's season. It is a truly useless play with nothing to recommend it. Why it is opening our season, and utilizing the time of some of our best designers is completely beyond me.

03 October 2007

This Week Is Amazing.

Playing in Friday in Los Angeles:
The Darjeeling Limited, Into the Wild, My Kid Could Paint That, Michael Clayton, Lust Caution, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Playing Friday in Tallahassee:
The Seeker: the Dark Is Rising, Feel the Noise,The Jane Austen Book Club

This week's negative energy continues untrammeled. My car broke down yesterday.

Just finished Caryl Churchill's Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?, which is a play about Jack (the UK) and Sam (the USA) and their love affair. It's an intriguing, economical piece that I decided to read for pleasure.

I'm feeling better, but I think I might be delusional because I don't think I'm doing better.

02 October 2007

Oh, School.

Remember how I got through the first year of grad school without a major breakdown?

Well, we are rapidly heading toward one right about now.

I need a fucking break. Like, two days. Or even one. I need a couple of days where I don't worry about all the motherfucking work I have to do.

30 September 2007

Feast of Love

Last night's movie was Robert Benton's Feast of Love, which stars Greg Kinnear, Morgan Freeman, Radha Mitchell (so hot!), Selma Blair and Jane Alexander. There's a bunch of other people in the movie, too, but I didn't recognize any of them.
Feast of Love is a total cliché-fest, but I kinda liked it. I mean, it wasn't the second coming of The English Patient, it was more like a straight version of The Broken Hearts Club (I am well aware that that description makes no sense.) Cliché-fest is actually the best description. Love conquers almost everything and Morgan Freeman gets to do nice voiceover that sounds really sweet but is mostly lacking in substance. Still, he's sweet and Greg Kinnear is sort of wonderful in his earnestness. He says these really trite lines in the script with feeling and I honestly believe every word he says in the movie. It's good acting if I've ever seen it: making the clichés sound honest.
There is a lot of nudity in the movie, too, which (as you know) I approve of. A couple of questions, though: why does Selma Blair get work. She is boring. Oh yeah, and did I mention how hot Radha Mitchell is? I am still thinking about her. I think she's sort of fabulous in the movie, too.
Let me make this clear. I am not recommending Feast of Love, but I liked it, as overbaked and silly as it is.

29 September 2007

Terry Gilliam Is Crazy

Last night after we got home from having dinner, Tim, Trent and I decided to watch a movie. Now, The High and the Mighty and Lilies have both been sitting on top of my DVD player for, like, two months, but Tim didn't want to see the John Wayne movie and I didn't think Trent would like Lilies very much (just a hunch). At any rate, we decided to watch Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which I had never seen. (Tim and Trent had both seen it multiple times.)

This movie's almost twenty years old, so I expect most of you have seen it too, but I loved it. I thought it was crazy and fun. I thought the art direction was amazing, I loved how it was shot, and I loved how absolutely outrageous it was. Most of the story is completely and totally ridiculous. I had a total blast. I am not a big fan of the whole middle section on the Moon with Robin Williams (I am not much a fan of Williams' manic energy, as you probably know), but even that was mitigated by the fabulous presence of Valentina Cortese.

Anyway, I thought it was very fun.

28 September 2007

Broken English

Quick review of the new Zoe Cassavetes movie. I don't know about you, but when I saw the trailer for Broken English, I thought it looked really funny and cute. The movie isn't really cute, though. It's actually rather frustrating and painful.
The main point to make, I think, is that the main character Nora (Parker Posey) is a frustrated thirty-something with very little direction who spends almost the entirety of the film being absolutely miserable. Posey is funny when at all possible, and the film is quirky and (I think) tries to be funny on occasion. There is, for instance, a silly sequence early on with Justin Theroux as a womanizing, ridiculous movie star who clutches a pillow and talks about the craft of acting. But instead of playing up how laughable the situation is, Cassavetes directs the sequence very earnestly and points up how pathetic poor Nora is. It's all rather depressing, in fact.
The lighter stuff starts when Nora's French love interest Julien comes on the scene. He's played by Melvil Poupaud, who I loved in François Ozon's Time to Leave. Still, though Broken English lightens up, it never really gets off the ground. Julien seems to really like Nora, though it is a complete mystery why. She is a total mess and continues to be for the rest of the movie.
I suppose this is a film about growing up, about taking control of your life and making changes that give your life meaning. But Broken English just doesn't work. It's far too depressing to be a comedy, and too quirky to be really taken seriously as a story of an anxiety-ridden thirtysomething. Parker Posey continues to demonstrate her considerable talents, but skip this flick.

Administrative Hell

So I've just spent two hours trying to schedule meetings with sixty grad students who are all busier than god would be if there were a god. The problem is that they all need to fit into a 60-minute window on a Monday afternoon (not so bad) or a 90-minute window in the middle of the day on a Tuesday (near-impossible). I'm doing pretty well with the scheduling, actually...

...except that there's nowhere for them to meet.

Now I have to do some research for The Tamer Tamed. The director requested a bunch of stuff about two weeks ago and I haven't looked at it since (to be fair to myself, I was a little busy trying to do research for my seminar on Gender in the Spanish Golden Age). But today, instead of writing for my thesis, I will be researching The Tamer Tamed. The thesis will have to wait for another day.

On an up note, I don't have another seminar to facilitate for another three weeks, I am two weeks ahead of my assignments in British Theatre, and the reading for History this week will be light (only about 170 pages). Perhaps I will have time to work on the thesis on Sunday or Monday.

24 September 2007

Two Movies for the Weekend

I know I'm really busy with school and all that sort of thing, but Fall movie season is upon us, and this weekend I had a minor panic attack that I wasn't getting to see any of the movies that are coming out. I have this fear that we'll get to December and I won't have seen anything because I've been sequestered at Florida State.

Long story short, I decided to go to two movies this weekend. Molière and Shoot 'Em Up were my third and fourth choices for the weekend, but they didn't happen. Instead I saw 2 Days in Paris. Julie Delpy directed this movie, and it works, sort of. It's a comedy about a French woman who takes her American boyfriend to Paris for a quick stop-over to meet her parents (and four or five of her ex-boyfriends). The boyfriend is Adam Goldberg, who I love (although I am used to seeing Delpy paired with Ethan Hawke) and Delpy's father and mother play the father and mother. It's kind of like a deeply personal film that doesn't really get under the skin at all. It's a very silly comedy that is sometimes very funny and sometimes more irritating than anything else. I liked it, but just barely. It's not a terrible movie, it just isn't really about anything. And to top it all off, Goldberg's character is a hypochondriac, constantly whining about a headache or his sinuses or an infection of some sort. Paranoia is not my favorite thing in the world as it is, but whining is just not good drama.

The other film I saw was the new Cronenberg, Eastern Promises. Story: I have a very specific memory of seeing A History of Violence. My friend Justin and I went randomly to the movie, and at one point in the film, Viggo Mortensen smashes some guy in the face with a coffee pot. Cut to the guys mangled, bloody face leaking gore onto the floor of the diner. It was a total gross-out moment, after which Justin said "Thanks, David Cronenberg." There were about ten of those moments in Eastern Promises. Cronenberg just does not shy away from showing the horrific things that people do to one another. It's audacious and exciting. The movie is a superb thriller, occasionally a little slow (this is Armin Mueller-Stahl's fault), but excellent. Naomi Watts is very good. Vincent Cassel (I freaking love that guy) gives a great supporting performance that manages to be both pathetic and moving. And Viggo Mortensen is absolutely wonderful. He gives an enigmatic, scary performance that is impossible to predict. He always keeps you guessing and you never have any idea what's going on in his head. It's really excellent.

21 September 2007

The Chine / Garlicked and Crisped

From The Writer's Almanac:
Poem: "Family Reunion" by Maxine Kumin from Our Ground Time Here will Be Brief. © Viking Press, 1989. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Family Reunion

The week in August you come home,
adult, professional, aloof,
we roast and carve the fatted calf
—in our case home-grown pig, the chine
garlicked and crisped, the applesauce
hand-pressed. Hand-pressed the greengage wine.

Nothing is cost-effective here.
The peas, the beets, the lettuces,
hand sown, are raised to stand apart.
The electric fence ticks like the slow heart
of something we fed and bedded for a year,
then killed with kindness's one bullet
and paid Jake Mott to do the butchering.

In winter we lure the birds with suet,
thaw lungs and kidneys for the cat.
Darlings, it's all a circle horn the ring
of wire that keeps the raccoons from the corn
to the gouged pine table that we lounge around,
distressed before any of you was born.

Benign and dozy from our gluttonies,
the candles down to stubs, defenses down,
love leaking out unguarded the way
juice dribbles from the fence when grounded
by grass stalks or a forgotten hoe,
how eloquent, how beautiful you seem!

Wearing our gestures, how wise you grow,
ballooning to overfill our space,
the almost-parents of your parents now.
So briefly having you back to measure us
is harder than having let you go.

17 September 2007

The Lives of Others & L'Eclisse

I don't really re-watch movies. It's sort of an unwritten rule for me. Every year I watch maybe one or two movies (I re-watched both All About Eve and Network a couple months ago) but I generally don't do it. There are just too many movies I haven't seen to spend time watching something I've seen already. That said, the free movie theatre on campus decided to show Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others) last week and I decided to go see it again.
If you haven't seen The Lives of Others you should, of course, go see it. It's a drama about a Stasi interrogator/spy in 1980s East Germany who starts to develop affection for the man and woman that he's spying on, which leads him to quietly change his whole life around.
One of the things about not ever watching movies for a second time is that because I hardly ever revisit films I hardly ever think about them apart from their plots. So a tightly woven film that is all about plot, like The Lives of Others can have a huge impact on me using only its plot devices.
The Lives of Others is ("nothing more than" doesn't seem appropriate for a film this good) more than anything else, a really well-told melodrama. It's a personal story of betrayal and information and private meanings. Everything hinges on the plot and all of the emotional impact (the film packs a wallop) depends on the way that the plot hangs together. I didn't really recognize this the first time I saw it, but this time I noticed just how brilliantly crafted the script is. It's a small marvel of intrigue and cleverness. As I said, it's also a very moving film and works on all levels with characters that cannot help but make you love them. Don't skip this movie.

I also finally watched Antonioni's L'Eclisse this weekend. It's easily my new favorite of Antonioni's films. If you don't know this director, than you don't know quite how much this means. Antonioni's movies are always near-brilliant, and L'Eclisse completely knocks it out of the park. It's almost a silent film, filled with interior explorations and urban disaffection. The plot is really easy to describe: the main characters (Monica Vitti and Alain Delon) love one another, he chases her, she chases him, and then they kind of get bored with one another. The plot synopsis on IMDb says something about their relationship not working out because he is focused on material gain or somesuch nonsense, but that explanation misses the point of the film completely. L'Eclisse is a movie about wanting to find love and finding out that love isn't what you wanted, or that love doesn't really satisfy. The characters are dominated by their surroundings, their relationship mediated by the spaces they inhabit. It's a fascinating, gorgeous film with what has to be one of the best endings ever put on film.

13 September 2007

How We Change.

It's funny how much different we can become. How many years ago was it where every other day I was talking about having a baby? Does anyone remember? I was obsessed with that.

And now...

Today I went to a social for the Congress of Graduate Students and it was sort of an older crowd (by design). The majority of people who went were older grad students with families and a lot (a whole bunch, actually) brought their kids to this event. These families were getting out of their cars and minivans and sport utility vehicles and I thought to myself "Wow, I am so glad I am spared from having to do that."

I'm not sure if I really mean that, but right now in my life the idea of having a child is completely unthinkable. Like, completely and totally ludicrous. But I can't even honestly see it in my future either. I just don't want one anymore. I bet this happens to people who have kids all the time. They really want a kid around age 23 or so (like me) so they actually have one. Then they get to be about my age now and they don't want kids at all but they already have one (or three).

What's worse, if I were heterosexual, I would probably already have a kid. I'm pretty positive about it, actually.

A Trip to Cost Plus

So this week I tried to order some chocolate from my favorite Vegas chocolatier Vosges Haut Chocolat, but when I got to the checkout screen, my $7.00 order rang up as $35.00. It seems that because I live in a hot climate (no kidding) Vosges will only ship to me UPS Next Day Air. Well, I was not about to pay $35.00 for a chocolate bar, so I vetoed that order and did a little search on the website to see if I could purchase Vosges in a store somewhere close to me. No such luck. No Vosges retailers within 150 miles of Tallahassee. Big surprise. I had to let that go.

Now, I have totally become obsessed with Kettle Foods' Krinkle Cut potato chips. My favorite flavor is the Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper (the tagline "the yin yang of spice" might be a bit of an oversell, but these are damn good chips.) And of course these chips are practically nowhere to be found in Tallahassee.

...Except at Cost Plus World Market, the store that seemingly has every imported food item I want. I still can't find a store that sells fresh Thai basil, but one can't have everything; it's Tallahassee. We don't have a Trader Joe's either. At any rate, back to the matter at hand:
I went on a little errand run to the World Market and the gas station and to the FSU library. At World Market I stocked up on the essentials: Czechvar lager, Thai red curry paste, this amazing mustard with horseradish that I love, the best iced tea ever, and my beloved krinkle cut chips. I can't find this stuff anywhere except World Market. But I walk into World Market and there it all is. It's fantastic!

And while browsing in the store, what did I come upon in the chocolate aisle, but a chocolate bar called Red Fire. By Vosges. They also carry the Creole bar. They don't carry some of the other awesome candy bars (I really want to try the Bacon one and the Oaxaca is better than Red Fire) but this completely and totally made my day. Vosges in Tallahassee. Who woulda thought?

12 September 2007

From the Trenches

I wish there were something to report. I feel like all I do is study and read and work at my new cushy office job (where I happen to be right now). I am finding a little more focus. I plan to write about two playwrights in particular: David Rudkin and Mark Ravenhill, but I am still a little unsure as to where all this is headed. I think it will all become clearer as I start writing in the next ten days.

I think my biggest issue is that what I really want to do is a kind of giant critical survey, the kind, of course, that I do not have time to do for a thesis (it's only supposed to be 80-100 pages). I think what needs to happen is that I really just need to hunker down and do a very narrow critical study on my two playwrights and why I think they're interesting in terms of queer violence. I know, this is all dry, philosophical stuff. I'm sorry I don't have anything more intriguing to talk about, but research has become my whole life again.

I watched The Lives of Others again last night. I will write about it tonight, hopefully.

09 September 2007

3:10 to Yuma

It's like a Gladys Knight song whenever I write the title of James Mangold's new movie 3:10 to Yuma.

He's leaving
On that midnight train to Yuma.
I'd rather live in his world
Than live without him in mine.

I liked 3:10 to Yuma, but not all that much, I have to be honest. The movie looks really great (snow on the desert = great visuals) but it is a longer movie than it should be, and it wrings sentiment out of its scenes like so much whiskey. Still, there are a lot of good things to be said about it. The performances are uniformly good. Christian Bale and Russell Crowe are top-notch. Crowe is doing his movie star schtick, but it's as charming as ever. Bale is a little more earnest than he should be, but he's great as usual (and ubiquitous - he sure does work). Gretchen Mol has a couple really good scenes, too. And Peter Fonda has an excellent supporting role that suits him just right. My favorite performance in the film is by Ben Foster (of X-men 3 fame), who plays Crowe's right-hand man. It's a bold, crazy, hip-swinging performance that reminded me a lot of Tim Roth's murderous turn in Rob Roy (for a lot of reasons).

The film had me hooked for quite a while, actually, it's just that the third act of 3:10 to Yuma doesn't make a damn bit of sense and takes a turn toward the unapologetically sentimental when it should be hard-bitten.

05 September 2007

Buzz Buzz

Hello everyone,
I am sorry I have been so busy and those lovely friends of mine who have called me, I am very sorry I haven't called you back.
I am once again in the black hole of grad school at least for another week or two. I haven't yet figured out how to manage my time well and there already seems so much to do!
I work in the office here in the School of Theatre now, too. That's where I am now, killing time until I get off for lunch in forty-five minutes.
I am, of course, reading a lot still. There already seems so much reading to do and I still also have to work on this thesis. (And there is still a lot of reading to do for that particular project, as well.)
It is early in the semester, certainly, but if you know me very well, you know that I've already started to be anxious about whether or not I can fit all of this work in my days.

Ah well. I will figure it all out. Call me or email me if you feel like a chat.
Much love,

29 August 2007


Just a brief mention of some movie madness before I troll off to bed. (Grad school, as you might have guessed, has begun all over again and all of a sudden there is a lot of work to do...)

Saw Jules Dassin's Night and the City, which is really good except for a weirdly emotional second act that doesn't really ring true. The plot is about a loser small time con artist who has big plans to take over wrestling in London. It's totally a film noir thing, which is great. But there's all of this father drama and personal love drama that just felt strange to me. Richard Widmark is the star and he's great, but Gene Tierney is wasted as his love interest. I like her better as a bitch than in this movie, where she's really more of a Loretta Young wannabe. Still, the movie is worth seeing for noir fans. Jules Dassin is a great filmmaker, though this film is not up to the standards of, say, The Naked City.

Also caught Hot Fuzz which is easily the year's funniest movie. You probably know all about this movie already, but it's a satire of the buddy cop movie. And it also is a buddy cop movie, with about a dozen cool cameos (including Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan and Cate Blanchett) and a totally fantastic performance by Timothy Dalton. This movie is hilarious, raunchy, ludicrously violent, with some wonderfully executed action sequences. It's an action movie and a comedy and it's damn good at being both. Do not miss it.

26 August 2007

Supporting Actress Smackdown

I participated in this month's SUPPORTING ACTRESS SMACKDOWN at Stinkylulu's blog. All of Oscar's Best Supporting Actress nominees from 1971 were screened by the participants. And then we discuss which performances we liked best, etc. This is my first time playing and it was great fun.
Most interestingly about this lineup is that some of the films were horrible. It's sort of amazing that the Academy knew enough (or was kind enough) to disregard how bad the films were to recognize the good work done by the actresses on the edges of these movies.
Please visit here.

23 August 2007


Another slightly uneven film from 1971 that was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. This time, the movie is from Britain and was written by Harold Pinter. Today's film is called The Go-Between and is based on the novel of the same name by L.P. Hartley.
The film stars Julie Christie (slightly miscast and with nothing to do) and Alan Bates (as good-looking as I think I've ever seen him), and concerns a young lower-class boy transplanted to an upper class manor for the summer. The boy becomes a letter-carrier between Christie and Bates, who are carrying on a secret affair. The film is full of nostalgia and symbolism and is told from the perspective of the boy after he has reached middle age and can look back on the story with forty-five or fifty years of perspective.
The film's best performance is from Julie Christie's mother in the film, played by Margaret Leighton. It was she who received the film's single nomination from the Academy, and it is a well-deserved nomination and a chilling, rather fabulous performance of great skill.
This is a fairly good film, although as I said, it is slightly uneven. The direction is rather strange. Pinter's dialogue is, of course, distancing and cold, leaving lots of room for interpretation and getting nuanced performances from the actors. But the director shoots almost everything in long shots, an odd choice for a film concerned with nostalgia and memory. The distance works in the dialogue, but the camera's distance gives the film a less immediate feel.
This film was made in 1970, but as I was watching The Go-Between, I kept thinking what James Ivory might have done with this book somewhere around the late eighties or early nineties. He would have focused much more on the class issues of course, and I think the film would have had a richer, subtler quality that The Go-Between rather lacks. Still, it is a good film, and there really is no reason in the world the film hasn't been released on DVD. Perhaps those long shots would have made more sense in widescreen.

20 August 2007

Four Weddings and a Funeral It Isn't

Frank Oz's Death at a Funeral, which looked from the trailer to be a very funny, very silly British comedy about a funeral, doesn't quite achieve its ambitions. Now, I love me some funerals; they can be great opportunities for hilarity in the movies. And the movie has a cool cast: Matthew MacFadyan, Rupert Graves, Peter Dinklage. But the execution is less than deft. Frank Oz just isn't a very good director (what was that last movie of his—The Score?—what crap). The scenes don't hang well together, and the various plots have very little to do with one another. There is a tired old gag about hallucinogens being mistaken for valium. And, worst of all, lots of humor having to do with an irascible old man (you know how I feel about old people) and one joke having to do with this old man needing to go to the toilet.

It's not a bad movie, and it's mildly funny on occasion. I didn't hate it. But I liked Shrek the Third better and it had waaaay more tasteless jokes.

18 August 2007

Fists in the Pocket

I know that I frequently complain on this blog about movies about disaffected young people who don't have any direction and mope about their houses. I recently complained about Jean-Pierre Melville's Les Enfants Terribles for doing this, and my distaste for Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers is well documented.

But recently I saw Lindsay Anderson's If...., a very cool story about kids who are unhappy with their status quo and rebel, and today I watched a film by Marco Bellocchio called Fists in the Pocket from 1965. It's about a young man who lives in a villa in the mountains with his younger sister, blind mother, and retarded younger brother. He is sick of this family life and so he rebels against it in an intriguing, vaguely horrifying way: by pushing his mother off a cliff. The boy is such an interesting character, too. I mean, he's obviously pathologically disturbed and all of that, but he's quiet and sad and Bellocchio pays very close attention. We watch his every move and never have a clear idea of what he's going to do. He could really kill anyone at any given moment in the film. It's a very interesting character study.

The extras on the DVD include some cool interviews with the cast and director, and a tribute to the film by Bernardo Bertolucci, which is a fascinating watch.

16 August 2007

Becoming Bored

I've seen bad remakes before, but this takes the cake. Tonight, I went and saw Julian Jarrold's Jane Austen nonsensical biopic Becoming Jane and... it's terrible.

It's unrelentingly boring, there isn't a single surprising plot twist in the film, and the acting is mostly tepid. The reason for all of this is that while you are watching Becoming Jane you may have the sneaking suspicion that you've seen all of this before. That would be true. You have: if you've watched any of the filmed versions of Pride & Prejudice (the 1940 classic, the very good 2005 remake, or the 1995 BBC miniseries). The writers of Becoming Jane thought it would be funny or clever or something to just invent a little story of how Jane Austen came to become Jane Austen.

In case you're wondering how you write a book like Pride & Prejudice, the answer is that first you must live it. All of this turns out to be incredibly boring. Austen's literary talent would seem to be reduced to simply re-writing events in her own life. I call bullshit.

The acting in this movie is pretty poor as well. Julie Walters gets one scene which she uses to terrific, if predictable, effect. James Cromwell is unremarkable. James McAvoy (so great in last year's The Last King of Scotland) is boring here: earnest and unromantic. Anne Hathaway's casting is a total mystery. Her dialect isn't really good enough to pull off Jane Austen, and the role is so poorly written, that though the actress is plucky, she's working too hard for it to be enjoyable. Maggie Smith is funny in all of her scenes, but she is given very little to do, and (as with all the characters in the movie) I watched Judi Dench play that same part two years ago in a far superior film. I should take time out to make note of Helen McCrory, though, who gives the best performance in the film as the novelist Ann Radcliffe. It's only a cameo, really, but as the camera moved away from McCrory, I knew I had seen the best acting this movie had to offer.

If you love yourself, you will avoid this total nonsense of a film and rent Pride & Prejudice. Becoming Jane feels like nothing better than a community theatre version of a film that's not even two years old.


I think I figured out why this movie is so bad! The director's name is Julian Jarrold. 6 letters in Julian. 7 letters in Jarrold. Plus Jane Austen.
That's 6 + 7 + 4 + 6. It's the number 23 again! Actually, I liked Becoming Jane even less.

14 August 2007

Who Is Harry Kellerman?

Today—as a part of the Supporting Actress Smackdown, which is fast approaching—I screened Ulu Grosbard's 1971 film Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?.

Wow. Dustin Hoffman. Um... so I am of the opinion generally that Dustin Hoffman is an irritating performer. I feel this especially in Barry Levinson movies (okay, mostly just Sleepers). And actually my objection is just that Hoffman is so damn actor-y, as if we can't tell that he's acting and he needs to make sure we know.

Now, don't send me a bunch of evil comments just yet. I like Hoffman a lot in movies like The Graduate and Marathon Man and Lenny. Okay, there are actually a lot of old Dustin Hoffman movies that I like. It's just that a lot of times he's working so hard up there onscreen that I get tired in my chair watching him.

Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me? is also just a really bad movie. It's a surreal drama (I guess) that wants to be funny (I think). It boasts a very nice performance by Barbara Harris, but Jack Warden is in it in what has to be his most annoying role ever (he plays a psychiatrist who keeps appearing to the main character in different costumes.)

This movie isn't on DVD yet. So I had to get myself a VHS copy. Chances are you probably don't have easy access to this film, and, well... that's okay. Feel free to skip this one.