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

16 December 2008

Slumdog / Narnia

Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire is everything you've been hearing (I assume you've been hearing about it; even my father is talking about it and he's never heard of Danny Boyle and I'd wager never saw 28 Days Later...)

The movie follows a young slumdog, an extremely poor orphan named Jamal, who, along with his brother, has scraped out a life in the streets of Mumbai. Jamal, while he is very young, falls in love with a young girl named Latika, who is also a poor orphan. They are separated by an evil mob boss and by many other circumstances.

Slumdog Millionaire follows the story of Jamal as he is about to win 20 million rupees on the Hindi version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." The movie then flashes back to explain how it came to be that our boy Jamal knows the answers to all of these difficult questions.

The film is about fate and the convergence of circumstances. It's a fairy tale, of course, but is also about the universe and hope and working as hard as you can to get what you want. It's beautifully shot--in typical, gorgeous, Danny Boyle style--and edited at a fast pace. Slumdog Millionaire is sweeping, romantic, occasionally heartbreaking, and always fun. This is a must-see picture and seems to be getting enough good buzz that it will be getting an Oscar nomination (in the Juno/Little Miss Sunshine/Chocolat slot.)

I also made time for Andrew Adamson's Chronicles of Narnia sequel: Prince Caspian which I expected to like, but which left me a little cold. It's a weird little movie, actually: far too many protagonists for any coherence (at least The Lord of the Rings always had Frodo...); complicated and ill-explained exposition; weird narrative structure; anti-climactic ending. It's not a bad movie, really, but it doesn't really cohere very well. I imagine that the next one will be a little better: if I remember correctly, the plot is a little more linear and there are fewer focal characters.

More movies to come. I am in Los Angeles, now, and trying to see as many as I can

11 December 2008

Summing Up 2008

1. What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before? Presented at a conference. Went to New York City.

2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I actually can't remember if I made any, but I shall make some for the new year for sure.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? No, but my sister-in-law Rosie and my brother Michael are expecting their first child (Cruz Antonio Thomas) before the year is out.

4. Did anyone close to you die? Nope.

5. What countries did you visit? None. I was in Talla-classy most of the year.

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008? Two roommates for the whole year.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? November 4th. Election day. I spent the day excited and on edge, and I spent the evening with friends watching the results come in and drinking gin.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Getting my Master's Degree / Finishing my thesis.

9. What was your biggest failure? I have had a lot. Mostly I would say my teaching is the biggest failure of the year, but there is much to learn, time to grow, and I will get better.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Yeah. Weirdly enough I threw out my back at the beginning of summer and had to go to a chiropractor and get it fixed. Much better now, though.

11. What was the best thing you bought? My book-organizing software. Now I won't buy things I already have. I have so many books; it was about time I found some way to catalogue them.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? So many people! My friends Mike and Brandee got married, and my friends Isaac and Christina got married. I am so happy for both couples, though I was unable to go to the weddings since I am stuck down here in South Georgia. But also my friend Wahima, who moved to the Big Apple this summer and is making her way in a big new city.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? My parents and everyone else who voted Yes on Proposition 8 in California, Proposition 2 in Florida, Proposition 102 in Arizona, and the Adoption Ban in Arkansas.

14. Where did most of your money go? Costco Wholesale. I love that place.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? My production this summer of A Midsummer Night's Dream

16. What song will always remind you of 2008? This is absurd, but "Low" by Flo Rida, featuring T Pain.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
b) thinner or fatter? Fatter
c) richer or poorer? Poorer (Yikes. 3 for 3. Not good. Tallahassee did not do me right this semester.)

18. What do you wish you'd done more of? Watching movies. Visiting my friends.

19. What do you wish you'd done less of? Teaching.

20. How will you be spending Christmas? With my friends and family in Los Angeles and with my parents in Colorado.

21. Did you fall in love in 2008? About this. I mean, technically no, I guess, but I sure did a good job convincing myself that I was. Maybe I should just chalk it up to a "yes."

22. How many one-night stands? One.

23. What was your favorite TV program? "Slings & Arrows."

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year? I don't think so. Maybe.

25. What was the best book you read? Easy: the one-two punch of Gender Trouble and Bodies That Matter: on the Discursive Limits of Sex by Judith Butler.

26. What was your greatest musical discovery? Joshua Schmidt's musical adaptation of Adding Machine.

27. What did you want and get? A boyfriend, but then I didn't want him after all as it turned out.

28. What did you want and not get? For the boy I loved to love me back. A PhD program that paid attention to me.

29. What was your favorite film of this year? So far it is Tarsem Singh's The Fall. But there are many more movies to see and I will see them all in Los Angeles when I get there!

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 27 and I cannot remember what I did. It was Spring Break, so most everyone was gone for the week. I did take a trip to a dairy farm that week, and that is one of the highlights of my year. My friends Kate, Ruth and Maria and I had a delightful time and a goat chewed on my shoulder.

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? A better car.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008? Polos and jeans.

33. What kept you sane? Fabulon: my new favorite website. Ryan. Liz.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Neil Patrick Harris. Zac Efron. Adam Sandler.

35. What political issue stirred you the most? The billion dollar bailout debacle.

36. Who did you miss? Michael Stablein. Wahima.

37. Who was the best new person you met? The queers I met at ATHE this year. Such great people: Michelle and Cassidy and Glenn and Brent and Nick and Jennifer and David.

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008: You must take care of yourself. Sometimes you need to make decisions that other people do not like so that you can have time for yourself.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year: No song lyrics this year. 2008 has been pretty rough. I am hoping for a better year next year.

05 December 2008

Oscar Season Is Officially Here

Today is the first official day, when the important awards groups start speaking. The buzz will become even more concrete in the next few days. Today is the National Board of Review. The Golden Globe Nominations come out next Thursday the 11th, Los Angeles speaks on Tuesday the 9th, New York the day after that, and then Thursday the 18th the Screen Actors Guild nominations come out. Things will be looking pretty set by that point, I would imagine. So start making lists of cool films you want to see.

The National Board of Review is a bit of a mess, of course. Who the hell are they, for starters? But they start the buzz train really rolling, so they are always exciting. To wit:

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Top Ten Movies:
Burn after Reading
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
The Dark Knight
Gran Torino
(they obviously love Clint Eastwood)
The Wrestler

Best Foreign Language Film: Mongol (ineligible for this year's Oscar)

Top Five Foreign Films:
The Edge of Heaven (also ineligible)
Let the Right One In (also ineligible)
Roman de Gare (also ineligible)
Un Secret (um, also ineligible)
Waltz with Bashir (the only eligible one)

Best Actor: Clint Eastwood, Gran Torino (did I mention they love Clint Eastwood?)

Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married

Best Supporting Actor: Josh Brolin, Milk

Best Supporting Actress: Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire
Viola Davis, Doubt

Best Director: David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Spotlight Award: (How is this different from "breakthrough?" I guess it doesn't matter.)
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Melissa Leo, Frozen River

Best Screenplays:
Simon Beaufoy, Slumdog Millionaire
Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Nick Schenk, Gran Torino

Best Animated Feature: WALL·E

Predictions? What does it all mean?

03 December 2008

Seen This Yet?

My favorite is Jenifer Lewis. I fricking LOVE her. But you will probably recognize a lot of people, including the love of my life Neil Patrick Harris.

30 November 2008

Lies We Tell One Another

I am feeling sentimental today (and procrastinating about my paper on sentimental comedy), and I am trying to work some thoughts out in my head...

Something odd about relationships is, perhaps, that we don't always know why they end. I broke up with someone recently and I had reasons for doing so. I told him some of those reasons, but I had more reasons in my head than the ones I shared with him. I am not sure why I held those reasons back, but I did. Maybe I thought he couldn't handle those reasons. Maybe I thought I was being nice, polite, in keeping those reasons to myself.

Or maybe I actually don't know all of the reasons that he and I cannot work out. I was sure that I did not want it to work out and that's all I can say that I knew for sure.

I don't know about things like this. And I wonder, when I am in a relationship that ends, if I have ever really gotten the truth out of the other guy. Which leads to more questions:

Is the truth really important? I mean, why do I need to know why this person does not want me anymore? or Why does he need to know why I do not want him anymore? And...

Is the truth even possible? I don't even always know why I don't want someone anymore. Sometimes I just cannot explain it. It is just that I don't want him anymore and that is that. There must be a thousand reasons for and against a relationship continuing. Sometimes we make up our minds about what we want and we don't even know why...

But it isn't the why that matters, see. It is that our minds are made up. The why, sometimes, doesn't matter at all.

29 November 2008

Seen Around Talla-classy #4

I had a fabulous Thanksgiving as usual here in Talla-classy. Many of the people in the theatre department are really good cooks, and I really like spending the entire day drinking wine and eating food. I made my Baked Macaroni & Cheese (the one with jalapeños in it, yum) and Cranberry Relish. Other people brought twice-baked potatoes, yams, corn pudding, stromboli, green beans, stuffing. I can't remember what else, but we deep-fried a twenty-one-pound turkey and it came out delicious. And there was lots of cheese and crackers to start off the day. And then of course there was lots of dessert. I didn't eat any of that, really. I never really want dessert on Thanksgiving. I only really want carbohydrates.

I was quite full by about 8:00p, so I decided to take a little walk around the neighborhood, where I stumbled upon this:

Now, I know the picture is kinda dark. It was evening, and the flash was having issues (for some reason it didn't want to pick up the huge trailer; it was more interested in the security signs in front of the house.) But this is someone's driveway.

I don't know about you guys, but I can think of no reason to have a trailer in one's driveway that advertises for Thomas' English Muffins. What is the story here? Any ideas?

I helped some friends move on Friday morning (I was not hung-over at all, amazingly), and on the way to their new digs, I caught the following with my camera phone:

I cannot tell you how much I love this picture. I only noticed this sign because I thought to myself: fifty cents for an ice cream sandwich! That is a fantastic price for such a delicious little item! And then I thought: oh, wow, that must be a pretty old sign if they are that cheap. And then I looked again: SANDWICHS. Right. Or maybe the person selling them is just an idiot.

One more. After work the other day, I spent most of the ride home behind a guy with the following bumper sticker:

I love geese, too. I wonder if we are having one for Christmas dinner...

28 November 2008

Australian Epic Is Derivative, Boring, and Goes on Forever

Baz Luhrmann, who hasn't made a full-length feature since 2001's manic Moulin Rouge! dropped a bomb this weekend. That bomb is called Australia. (I am not sure why this one doesn't have an exclamation point at the end.)

Australia is a film about a young Australian boy in the 1930s and the two people who come to see themselves as his parents. The young boy (whose name is Nullah) narrates the film and tells us that what is really important in life is storytelling. He will, therefore, tell us a story.

The story he tells us is one you've heard before. Uptight British lady comes to the Australian desert and lets her hair down, learning a lot about herself and the land in the process. She also falls in love with the rowdy, unkempt-but-incredibly-sexy ranch-hand who drives her cattle. Sound familiar? It isn't just that the general plot of Australia is completely predictable. Any audience member with half a brain can see every single plot point a mile away: to wit the sexy ranch-hand (Hugh Jackman) is immediately repulsed by the snobby British lady (Nicole Kidman); but then she impresses him with her occasional ability to stop her snobbery; she proves herself the equal of a man; she is allowed in to drink at the men-only bar (that's a plot point in Out of Africa too!); WWII arrives; everyone presumes one another dead; no one turns out to be dead; it all ends happily. And in case you are at any point confused as to the plot (as if you could be), Luhrmann provides stodgily written narration to help you along. This lasts two hours and forty-five minutes.

Not all of it is boring. There is a lovely sequence where the small boy (who falls in love with the song "Over the Rainbow") goes to the movies for the first time and gets to see The Wizard of Oz. Actually, Australia quotes The Wizard of Oz several times and whenever it does, the film tends to work just a little bit better. There is a rather funny sequence where Nicole Kidman sings "Over the Rainbow" and there is much talk of wishing, dreaming, rainbows, and going home. Australia, however, doesn't really want to be The Wizard of Oz; what it really wants to be is Gone with the Wind. It is neither.

The acting is rather bad all around; Hugh Jackman is passable, but the characters are all so stilted and cartoonish that it is hard to find any honesty anywhere in the film. The costumes are beautiful—easily the film's best attribute. The score is intelligent but it never really works emotionally. Almost nothing in the movie really works.

Two more things about the film, both of which have to do with Peter Jackson. While I was watching Australia, I kept thinking that Luhrmann had made a movie after Moulin Rouge! but I could not think of it for the life of me. The movie I was trying to think of was King Kong. As you know, this is not a Baz Luhrmann movie, but Australia reminded me of Jackson's King Kong a lot. Both filmmakers are clearly obsessed with CGI. But, see, the CGI in King Kong looked real to me. The CGI in Australia almost never looks real. There are long shots of landscapes and wide arial shots of the North Australia shore and the Northern Territories' night sky, but they always look computer-generated and they never look believable. It actually becomes quite distracting. It's as though the cartoony plot and cartoony acting bleeds into the landscape and that becomes cartoony, as well.
The other thing Australia has in common with Peter Jackson's brand of filmmaking is both directors' insistence on a Manichaean worldview. The good guys in Australia are so very good, and the villains are the most reprehensible, unforgiveable, horrible people you can imagine. Even when the director has the opportunity to introduce nuance he avoids it. He will not allow these characters to be complicated in any way. The bad guys are bad guys and the good guys are good guys who just need to learn a lesson or two.

There is more to say, of course. The film is racist in a lot of ways. It claims, for instance, to be a picture about inclusiveness and anti-prejudice, but Luhrmann's camera always turns its focus toward the white people in the story. Black people should be given equality in Australia, but not equality in the frame.

But there are worse things to say about Australia than its vaguely racist sensibilities.
Australia is boring.
And really long.
And you've seen it before.

25 November 2008

Clint Eastwood 2008 Film #1

I finally scrounged up enough time to go see Clint Eastwood's Changeling last week. I figured it will be out of theaters soon and I would miss it if I didn't go soon.

I liked this picture. It is not going to be for everyone and it isn't a great movie by any means, but it is a very respectable picture; well shot, nicely staged. In discussion, I keep calling Changeling a "quality" film. It is a good script (by J. Michael Straczynski) and it is very well acted by a company of talented folks (helmed by the luminous Angelina Jolie, but including Michael Kelly, John Malkovich, and Jeffrey Donovan). A young man named Eddie Alderson gives a great performance—one of the best in the film—as a young murderer who is roped into killing Angelina Jolie's little boy (maybe).

Changeling is not without its problems. The lead character lacks a strong narrative arc and the plot occasionally follows various subplots that feel out of place and ill-motivated. Still, the subplots converge well enough, and each has an emotional payoff. The movie is never boring and it's filled with a bevy of intriguing villains and seedy elements as well as a noble heroine.

As far as Oscar, I think the film is not really going to catch hold. I love Angelina Jolie, but I don't think the Academy is really on the bandwagon. She was fantastic in last year's A Mighty Heart, had tons of early buzz, and still didn't get a nomination. And, as the title of this post hints, Eastwood has another movie coming out this season (Gran Torino) that is also getting very good reviews. Changeling, therefore, may only end up getting some below-the-line buzz (costumes, cinematography, art direction, screenplay) and may not even get those.

Still, this is quality filmmaking, and I found the film emotionally satisfying, well directed and intelligent.

12 November 2008

Rachel Getting Married

Jonathan Demme's new movie Rachel Getting Married (his return to narrative features after four years) is a movie about, well, a wedding. But like so many weddings, this wedding is not all about the bride.

The movie starts with the bride's dour sister Kym (Anne Hathaway) getting out of rehab and getting picked up by her father and stepmother (theatre veterans Bill Irwin and Anna Deavere Smith). Kym is irritable and selfish from the first moment she is onscreen. The wedding is being held at the family home and the house is, of course, filled with preparations for the wedding: musicians, people arranging flowers, decorators. At the center of this wedding bustle is the bride, Rachel (Rosemarie DeWitt, in a fabulous, award-worthy performance).

Kym descends on this wedding, which appears to be a stress-free occasion but for her presence. All are, of course, happy that Kym is able to come to the wedding, but her acid tongue and consistently selfish attitude create awkwardness throughout the weekend that the film documents.

Rachel Getting Married is a family drama written by Jenny Lumet, daughter of legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet and the script is reminiscent of wedding/family dramas like The Celebration, After the Wedding and (more obviously, perhaps) last year's Margot at the Wedding. And the problem with Rachel Getting Married is that though it recalls all of these films it is not as good as any of them. Margot at the Wedding, in particular, is an extremely intelligent film with a fierce central performance. And, I guess what I'm saying is that Rachel Getting Married seems, more than anything else, like a Noah Baumbach tribute film that is not as good as a Noah Baumbach film.

Still, there are some lovely performances in the film. Rosemarie DeWitt (as I already mentioned) is tops as the "good" sister. Bill Irwin as the longsuffering father to these girls is really brilliant, particularly in a family confrontation in act two. Anna Deavere Smith is given very little to do, but it is nice to see her, at any rate. Oh yeah, and the girls' mother is played by Debra Winger (!) She is also very, very good, although I think her role might be a little too small for Academy consideration. Truth be told, I don't think this film has much chance of any recognition by the Academy except as a screenplay: the main character is just too abrasive. I spent the entire film wanting to lock her out of the house.

10 November 2008

Seen Around Talla-classy #3

This one is a little late, but:

Now, what is this person thinking? I actually can't figure it out. Does this driver like Sarah Palin? The sticker is obviously sexist and demeaning toward Mrs. Palin, but what I think is weird is that I think the sticker might be in support of the McCain/Palin ticket. So strange.
Of course, I put this question forward to one of my (heterosexual male) students and he said—and I quote—"That person definitely supports Palin; MILF is never a derogatory term." I disagree, certainly, but I take his point. Weird.

The other sign I wish to share with you is from my ride home from work:

I have nothing to add. I can sort of make out "milk," "beer," and "bread," and it also looks like they were at some point selling 32 oz. sodas (what gas station doesn't?) but what in the hell is the rest of it?

07 November 2008

Don't Ask If You Don't Want to Know

I have been playing a dangerous little game with my parents in regards to Proposition 8. See, I know my parents are homophobic people but I don't know that they're homophobic people. You know what I mean? I don't know because I don't ask about their homophobia and they don't tell me. And I've been attempting to avoid any and all knowledge about this homophobia because I want to like my parents.

Today, however, my little sister accidentally told me that my parents voted Yes on Proposition 8.

the news of the day is that my parents are bigots.

I talked to my dad on Monday afternoon, too. We had a nice conversation and we laughed and joked. He told me he would call me on Wednesday to check in about the election and I promised him that I wouldn't gloat too much about Obama being elected. And my dad said that he was actually looking forward to it in a lot of ways. He said he wasn't going to be too disappointed about Obama's win. I thought it was magnanimous of him and was rather looking forward to our chat on Wednesday.

We missed each other on Wednesday. He called me while I was in class and I called back while he and my mom were out walking. I can't call him back today after hearing this. I am too angry but mostly too hurt. I did not want to know this about my parents. But this is hate. This is bigotry and hate and—no matter what they say—this time they have directed their hate at me.

And anyone who knows me knows that I do not want to get married, that I have no intention of ever getting married. I told my last boyfriend that if I were to ever get married for insurance purposes or tax purposes I would want to keep it a secret: no wedding, no "Mr. & Mr.," no "my husband is at the grocery store." I am a good libertarian: I don't like marriage as an institution and I don't think the government should sanction it. But, as it happens, the government does sanction it. And at least 18,000 lesbian and gay people in California want to be married to their partners. They want this for many reasons and these people should be able to do what they want to do.

My parents evidently feel as though these people (me included) should not be allowed to do what my parents themselves are able to do. My parents believe that I am not as valuable as they are. That I do not deserve to be able to exercise the rights that they have exercised. They believe that they are somehow better than me.

This, to me, is unacceptable. A vote in favor of Proposition 8 is hateful and bigoted, and both of my parents cast that vote.

I have no idea what I am going to do about this and I wish this had not happened.
I could've lived with the don't-ask-don't-tell policy for at least a little while longer, but I don't know if I can live with this.

It is unacceptable. There is no excuse.

03 November 2008

Funk Over

I think my bad mood is officially over. I am feeling much better for some reason. Perhaps it is the death rattle of the Bush presidency that is putting a spring in my step.

My computer crashed on Tuesday, by the way, and I have not yet recovered all of the data from the main drive. So that's a bummer. But everyone assures me that the data are recoverable; it will just take time. I am (strangely) doing okay.

I still hate this semester of graduate school and cannot wait for it to end, but the end—as they say—is in sight and I am excited to visit California.

So: a few movies. I have continued my trend of frivolity. This means that I, of course, caught Kenny Ortega's High School Musical 3: Senior Year. Frankly, I liked it better than the first two. I thought there were some nice, sentimental moments. Little Efron is becoming a much better actor than he was when he started in the business, and the plot is not heinous. This one, too, feels more like a musical than the first two. There is a dancing-on-the-rooftop number that is true movie magic. The songs in HSM3 are, like the songs in films one and two, largely unmemorable, but I didn't mind at all. The film has enough life and excitement to be worth enjoying. I am positive the film would be better served with alcohol, but I liked it quite enough without a martini in my hand.

I liked Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, too. The film, by the way, has nothing to do with The Thin Man This is a sweet romantic comedy about teenagers who love music. It's very fun. The dialogue is clever, but not overly clever, and the lead couple is engaging. Ari Graynor, who plays the sidekick of the main girl, is a drunk hot mess for most of the film, and she gives a truly hilarious performance that is nuanced and realistic. Michael Cera is adorable as usual, but the entire film is filled with memorable, silly characters, including Cera's bandmates in the film, who are both gay and spend the evening trying to think up a better name for their band The Jerkoffs. Anyway, this is charming and totally worth seeing.

24 October 2008

A Couple of Movies

I have been having a terrible week in grad school, mostly all to do with how much improvement I need as a teacher, so instead of focusing on work when I get home, I have been spending time watching movies. Admittedly, this is probably not the best decision that I could have made, but that's what I've been doing.

First, I finally got to see Guillaume Canet's French thriller Ne le Dis à Personne (Tell No One) starring François Cluzet and Marina Hands among others. The film is a very American-style movie (at least to my mind), but it is an exciting murder mystery and I found it always interesting and often very, very cool. I should also point out, that the movie kept me guessing until the end and there was at least one point in the film when I looked at my friend and said "I have no idea who those people are or what they are doing": usually a good sign when a movie is filled with creepy villains. The film also stars Marie Josée-Croze, Nathalie Baye (fabulous) and Gilles Lelouche. But my favorite performance in the movie is from Kristen Scott-Thomas (love her) who plays the very cool lesbian best friend of the male lead. She is wonderful as usual, and her glances say a million things at once, sometimes even negating what she happens to be saying, She is amazing and I can't wait to see her in her next 2008 movie, Il y a Longtemps que Je T'aime, for which there is already talk of an Oscar nomination.

It is probably best that we say very little about the fact that I saw Dennis Dugan's You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Even less should be said about the fact that I actually thought it was mildly funny and interestingly antihomophobic.

And I found Adam Sandler kinda sexy. Even with that ludicrous haircut. OK I will stop. It's too much.

The other movie I saw recently was another movie I should probably be ashamed of: the low-budget gay comedy The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green. It looks like it was shot over a period of two weeks, the plot is ridiculous and predictable, the acting is less than brilliant, but...

the lead boy is very cute and, well it's really a rather lovely little comedy; my roommate and I loved it. We laughed out loud several times, and Meredith Baxter plays a great supporting character. If you are not gay, you should definitely skip Ethan Green, but if you are, you should probably rent it, because I can bet that you will like it.

16 October 2008

Paranoid Park

I like Gus Van Sant. I was probably one of the only people in the world who really liked Gerry, his two-handed film with Matt Damon and Casey Affleck in 2003. And I loved his film Elephant, which a meditative and fascinating riff on the Columbine High School killings.

Van Sant has been working in the same style as those films for a while now (on and off, of course), but I liked his Kurt Cobain movie Last Days considerably less than those earlier two movies.

This year's Paranoid Park is another meditative, quiet film, this time about a murder and a skateboarding teenager. It's a character study, but...

well I didn't really like it all that much. I mean, I guess I liked it. I love the style. I am glad Van Sant is still working like this. I particularly love the photography and I dig his unconventional use of music, too. But this movie doesn't really have much to go on in terms of content. The plot just isn't that interesting. Paranoid Park is also hampered by uneven acting. By which I mean that some of the supporting players, simply put, are bad. There is a young lady named Lauren McKinney, in particular (Paranoid Park is her first movie) who is terrible. Whenever she is onscreen she pulled me out of the narrative and away from my emotional involvement with the fascinating lead actor (Gabe Nevins, also in his first movie).

The use of non-actors in films occasionally pays off, but I find sometimes that these performers are too conscious of their own performances to be believable onscreen. Quite a few of the actors in Paranoid Park (McKinney is not the only one) did this to me, and so I just couldn't quite buy into this film the way I fell for Elephant and Gerry. Van Sant is still doing good work, but I wish he would use a more experienced talent-pool.

14 October 2008

Things We Lost in the Fire

I took some time out to watch a movie this afternoon. I am so behind on my 2008 movies! So I watched one of the Netflix DVDs that have been sitting on my TV table for the last three months:

Last year's Things We Lost in the Fire is the first English-language film by Danish director Susanne Bier. (If you look at my list for 2007, you will see her other 2007 feature After the Wedding hanging out at #11. Briefly, I found After the Wedding to be a powerfully moving meditation on death, doing the right thing and parental responsibility. Quite frankly, I loved it, and I feel that it fully deserved its Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language film.)

Things We Lost in the Fire retains all of what I love about Bier. The film stars Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro as the wife and best friend of a man who has recently died. It's a very intelligent film about themes similar to After the Wedding. Fire centers around fascinating, quirky characters dealing with deep grief and attempting to cope with one another in addition to their loss.

The film is superbly acted, and Bier has a way with Realistic storytelling that gives us just enough to keep us riveted to the story without having to wallow in self-pity or sentimentality. The most moving scene in the film is actually one of the film's happiest. The family go around the table remembering things and quizzing one another on what they remember about their absent father/husband/friend. It's an incredible scene: totally simple and at the same time devastating.

I think what I like most about Bier's movies, though, is their intelligence. In its meditations on addiction and parenthood, Fire is a very smart film. Bier never takes the easy way out with her narratives. These lives have been disrupted by an act of violence and her film knows that things don't just go back to normal ever. But what Things We Lost in the Fire does give us—and what After the Wedding gives us, too—is the hope that human connection can help us cope with life's many tragedies. Things aren't going to be perfect, but they can be better.

13 October 2008

New Conference News

I sent in an abstract for a panel at the American Society for Eighteenth-century Studies annual conference and I heard back from them a couple weeks ago:
Hello Laura, Liz, and Aaron,

I am impressed with your proposals for my ASECS panel, "Too Exquisite for Laughter," and would like to include your papers in the session. The papers appear to fit rather neatly together, which is quite the bonus.

Aaron C. Thomas, Florida State University, "'Perish the Baubles': the Conspicuous Unimportance of Wealth in Sentimental Comedy"
Liz Harbaugh, Florida State University, "(Re)historicizing Richard Cumberland's
The West Indian"
Laura J. Rosenthal, University of Maryland, College Park, "The Sentimental Gesture in
The West Indian"

I'm looking forward to a provocative discussion. If your plans (or working titles) have changed since submitting your proposals, please let me know as soon as possible.
So it appears that I will presenting at a conference this Spring. Here is the conference website.

And here is the abstract I submitted:
Though the traditional theatre history narrative commits to a linear development of the sentimental comedy from Cibber to Steele on through to Cumberland, more recent scholarship has aimed at the destruction of a strict division of genres for eighteenth century comedy. Many scholars (Robert Hume and others) have explicitly attacked the notion that Goldsmith and R.B. Sheridan formed a united front against the sentimental comedy, returning laughter to comedy and recalling its glory days.

But even if we are free to explode the notion of the sentimental comedy as a genre that is useful to us now, it is important to explore what all the fuss was about simply because the eighteenth century Britons thought it such an important topic. To Steele, Dennis, Sheridan, Goldsmith, and Garrick, debates and discussions about sentimentalism were real, serious, and had material consequences.

My paper explores the material consequences of the debates about comedy by looking at eighteenth century characters’ sentimental ideas about money. In particular, I plan to investigate how wealth in sentimental comedies—from Steele to Sheridan—is both disavowed by the characters and central to the characters’ successes.

My title is taken from Oliver Goldsmith’s
She Stoops to Conquer, where the fashionable Hastings professes his love for Miss Neville whether or not she comes to him with her dowry of jewels. Hastings does not (he says) need money to be happy; he needs only his beloved. But the secondary plot of the play hinges completely on whether or not Hastings and Miss Neville will be wealthy in addition to being happily in love. The characters in these comedies say that money is unimportant to their happiness, while the entirety of the play’s action is consumed with the question of whether or not the main (male) characters will get both the girl and the money. It is this denial that I find most fascinating about British comedy during the eighteenth century.

Moving beyond attempts at a generic taxonomy for eighteenth century comedies, this paper sees the sentimental as a shift in the bourgeois moral ideology of the dramatists and audiences of the eighteenth century rather than a shift in genre. This shift is evident most tellingly in the comedies’ (sentimental) attitudes about money. From Farquhar and Steele to Cumberland and Sheridan, the playwrights romanticize the impoverished and censure the affluent, while simultaneously the plays reject poverty and celebrate wealth.
Wow, upon re-reading it, that sounds really smart. I hope I am smart enough to write it.

05 October 2008

Seen Around Talla-classy #2

I am continuing this series of amusing signs that I have photographed around Talla-classy.

Summers Realty, evidently, has figured out something that hardly any of us can figure out:

Evidently, if you buy your home through Summers Realty, you won't have any fights at home.

Next, we have Carlos' Cuban Café, where they have a fascinating new beverage item on their menu:

I imagine mojitos con camarones and mojitos con jamón and mojitos con albóndigas. Gross.

This next photo is an honest advertisement that doesn't really have anything wrong with it, but:

I mean, aren't all Vera Bradley patterns retired? I feel like anyone who carries a Vera Bradley purse is already attempting to look like they collect social security.

...And I meant to get a photo of the bumper sticker I saw last week that said "Chicks 4 Palin: God, Family Values, Guns, & Lipstick" but I was camera-less on that occasion.

24 September 2008

Hamlet Dos

I haven't posted about Andrew Fleming's Hamlet 2 because I kinda didn't like it. It is supposed to be a kind of Waiting for Guffman-style parody of high school theatre, I guess, but it never really succeeds.

The movie stars Steve Coogan as a kind of closeted (we all assume) drama teacher who can't seem to get his wife pregnant and appears to have no talents of any kind. Suddenly a whole bunch of kids join his drama class, which has had only two students for many years, and he decides to write an original show for them to perform.

The show is not original at all, it turns out. It is a sequel to William Shakespeare's Hamlet.

The real problem of the movie is that the idea of this fantastic show hangs over the entire film. And Hamlet 2 the play totally delivers. Those are a sublime twenty minutes or so. But, unfortunately, nothing before it is really funny at all, and Coogan overplays his hand. His character is a total fucking nutcase and a complete depressive and he's a little hard to like.

It seems odd to say that I liked the play better than I liked the movie, but, quite seriously, those final twenty minutes where the cast actually performs Hamlet 2, to pop songs sung by the Tucson (or is it Sedona?) Gay Men's Chorus, are brilliant. There is this whole musical number called "Rock Me Sexy Jesus" which is totally inspired. There is a time machine and all kinds of other nonsense, too. It's really quite a great sequence. If only the rest of the film were up to the play.

22 September 2008

The New Coen Brothers' Movie

I really liked Burn after Reading. It's classic Coen Brothers' humor and more than worth the watch. I may even see it again. Joe Morgenstern called the movie a "cheerful trifle" and "forget after seeing," and I understand how people can thing that Burn is rather inconsequential when compared to the Coens' most recent powerhouse of a feature No Country for Old Men, but there is a lot to be said for funny, and Burn is hilarious.

In Coen fashion, it's absolutely ludicrous. The characters are figures of deep ridicule, making inane (and hilarious) decisions, and the whole film is a riff on the real spy movies of the 1960s and 1970s and all of those pseudo-spy movies of the 1990s (and even more recently—I should mention—the unbearable Charlie Wilson's War). Burn never takes itself seriously even when it is pretending to do so. The thing is, it pretends really well, and it is the very pretense which is so funny. We know we aren't supposed to be taking this seriously from the get-go, and so every ridiculous nuanced character trait that these characters have becomes hilarious. I thought it was great.

Oh yeah, the film stars George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich (who is brilliant), Tilda Swinton, Richard Jenkins and JK Simmons. The best part, though, is Brad Pitt. He is absurd, and his acting is flawless. I am laughing just thinking about his moronic behavior in this movie.

15 September 2008


The Angelina Jolie vehicle Wanted, which stars James McAvoy as well as Morgan Freeman (who, I'm increasingly inclined to believe, does not turn down any role he is offered) is a derivative, inane, piece of junk of a movie.

When I say that Wanted is derivative, I mean, specifically, that Michael Brandt & Derek Haas's script is a complete and total rip-off of the Wachowski Brothers' 1999 feature The Matrix. Nearly all of Wanted's plot points faintly echo the exploits of Neo and Morpheus and Trinity. And it should not surprise you at all that Wanted totally pales in comparison to the film it copies. Its accusatory politics, its moral high ground, and its smug message of carpe diem all seem lifted from 1999. If any of this were interesting I'd tell you, but none of it is. Wanted is totally absurd and laughably bad. And Angelina Jolie is not even in it enough for it to be a vehicle worthy of her abilities.

13 September 2008

New Allen; Same as the Old Allen?

Many have remarked that Interiors—one of my favorite Woody Allen movies—is Allen's Bergman movie. So totally is Interiors a tribute, a loving homage, to Bergman, that it is impossible not to see Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Allen's newest feature, as a tribute to a man who is clearly one of Allen's new favorite filmmakers.

For Vicky Cristina Barcelona is obviously a loving homage to that master of camp, that brilliant genius of storytelling: Pedro Almodóvar. Allen has adopted a kind of feeling of Almodóvar for his newest film, and the moments when this Almodóvage shine through Allen's script are the film's best.

I liked Vicky Cristina Barcelona quite a bit, but I also feel the same way about it that I felt about Allen's other 2008 feature. The problem, see, is that Allen still has really great stories to tell, he just isn't so great at telling the stories anymore. As such, Vicky Cristina Barcelona knows a lot about human nature, love, relationships, desperation, and passion. In this way it is a smart, even wise, film from an aging, brilliant director. But most of Allen's formal devices don't work well at all. The entirety of the film, for instance, is framed by a narrator telling the film's audience all about the characters and their weaknesses and foibles. The benefits of this are manifold: the exposition is easily, cleverly delivered, and is immediately dispensed with; conflicts are created without dialogue; glances and gestures become immediately much more meaningful. But the narration sacrifices something incredibly important. We know the characters extremely well from the beginning of the film due to the narrator's voice, but he (it's a man's voice) also creates a distance between us and the characters. So we become better than them, smarter than them. We know their weaknesses and so we don't need to discover them. This gives the whole film a cynical, rather glib air, and our affection for the characters suffers for it.

One more thing needs to be said about Vicky Cristina Barcelona, though, and that is that I must tell you that Penélope Cruz is a revelation. I can't remember her sexier or funnier or more fabulous, even in an Almodóvar film. I think that may be because Almodóvar's films usually have several fabulous, sexy, funny women in them, and Allen's movie has only Miss Cruz. As it is, Allen has written Penélope Cruz one of her best roles ever, and easily her best English-speaking role. Cruz is a firestorm: a wicked, fantastic, cruel creature who destroys everything she touches but is incredibly vulnerable and sad. It's a great performance in a film that, the more she is on-screen, seems to exist only to showcase her. Cruz takes over this movie. She is the only thing anyone will be talking about when they leave this movie. It's a tour-de-force, not to be missed, and I hope she gets nominated for an Oscar. She's that great.

04 September 2008

Tel Aviv?

I had this interesting dream last night. In it, I had gone on a bunch of job-interviews before getting accepted to the PhD program. Two of these interviews—for some reason—had happened in Israel (this part of the dream was in the past). In the dream itself, I was talking to a woman who was offering me a job for the U.S. government. It was related to Israel in some way, but I wasn't going to have to move to Tel Aviv or anything. The job they were offering me was in Mobile, Alabama. And they were going to offer me an enormous salary. And I was considering it.

Here's where the dream kinda went off the rails. The woman offering me the job was a kind of older, heavier woman à la Miriam Margolyes, but with a more butch haircut. She had also brought a kind of entourage with her, which included at least one man who looked like Craig T. Nelson—this man might have been her husband, but I'm not sure; she could easily have been a lesbian. At some point, though, all these people, as well as my parents (oh yeah, my parents were there) dressed up like characters in The Rocky Horror Show. Then they danced for me. And then they danced for the camera. By this, I mean, that my point of view in the dream shifted and it was as though I were watching a musical episode of television. I wasn't watching an episode of television, but the staging of the musical number resembled television musicals so much that I immediately recognized it as such. Strangely, I can't remember what song they sang.

Then Craig T. Nelson and my dad got into a huge physical brawl. Both men were wearing fishnets and hideous silver lamé dresses. There was biting involved. And my dad tried to tie Craig T. Nelson's wrists with zipline, but Craig T. Nelson overpowered my dad (he was from the U.S. government, so I assume he was some kind of CIA agent or something).

Craig T. Nelson left my dad on the dining room floor and went to go start up his cessna, which was parked in the backyard. And in order to start his cessna, he had to spell words using tiles from a game of scrabble.

And then I woke up.

26 August 2008


How grossly, how devastatingly inadequate is language to express what we sometimes wish to say. How wondrous, too, it must be said, that our language (this one in particular) can say so much, that it possesses such nuance, that it is so supple, so skilled at parsing even slight differences.

We even debate semantics. I prefer "client" over "resident" or "teaching assistant" over "classroom facilitator" over "discussion leader."

But so often I find that there is simply nothing to say. There is nothing clever enough, sincere enough; sometimes there are no words. Surely it isn't because I don't know the words; I know so many. I am inclined, rather, to think that it is—instead—that we have failed to invent words for so much of what we feel.

Worse yet, so much of the vocabulary we use to describe how we feel about people has, through overuse (disuse?), become clichéd and trite.

There is only one way out: we must invent more words.

Or perhaps we could paint. Or sing. Or dance.

25 August 2008

Back to la Escuela

Today will be the first day of my third year of graduate school, the first day of my PhD program. And I hope to be posting on here more often.

I may even (finally) post a review of Woody Allen's new feature Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

It's been raining here seemingly forever. The heavens began to empty on Friday morning, and the deluge lets up here only periodically, for an hour or so, and then it begins again. The power has stayed on at my house, though, at least for now. (I heard others in the Hassiest of Tallys lost theirs for several hours.) And now I've heard that the rain wil not stop until next Sunday: next Sunday. We are to have an entire week filled with lots of rain.
But it is the first day back to school and I suppose this is better than sweltering heat...

06 August 2008

My Intro Class Is So Clever!

My students all have to do a project (in groups of four) that has a creative element to it. A group that presented today gave me the following:

05 August 2008

24 July 2008

Evelyn Waugh Dream

Lat night I dreamed I was part of a doomed (but passionate) love-affair in an Evelyn Waugh novel. We were sneaking around, trying not to get caught by our parents (I was in college or whatever it is those boys did when they went to Eton or Oxford or whatever... why don't I actually know that information?). This part was the good part: I would be delighted to be in a passionate love-affair, even if it were a doomed one. The weird part is that I knew the ending of the novel or at least I knew part of the future. I could see us getting caught in bed together at his parents' house (by which I mean mansion, of course). I knew that we would get caught and that we would be separated forever.
So when I got caught by the butler/security guard person while I was sneaking into the house, I was relieved because I knew then that I really should leave. This way I would leave and our affair could continue and neither he nor I would get caught for anything serious. The security guard kicked me out. (They didn't really have security in early 1900s England, did they? Surely not. This security guard was black, too... just like the movies.) But as I was sitting in the snow, thinking about what I was going to do, I saw that my lover threw a letter out of his window and I ran to get it, but it fell down into the hands of these two guys who also went to school with me and whoever I was in love with (I have no idea what he looked like). I ran to grab the letter from them, but before I got it away from them, they read enough to learn our secret.

Then I woke up.

It's rather clear to me what this dream likely means, which means that I am obviously delusional. I am not having a passionate-but-doomed love-affair with anyone.

23 July 2008

Broken Lance

I quite liked Edward Dmytryk's Western Broken Lance. It stars Spencer Tracy as a modern-day King Lear with four sons, played by Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark, and two other (obviously lesser important) guys. This is mostly a drama about race, though. Tracy is married to Katy Jurado in the film, and Robert Wagner, with a darker tan than I've ever seen him sporting (brownface?), is their "half-breed" son.

I forget that people really used to talk like this about other people, and so it is a little jarring to hear, but the film is quite interesting. Wagner fights prejudice throughout--especially when he falls in love with some old white man's daughter.
Tracy is in fine form, although, he is supposed to be an aging old patriarch, so he tends toward the feeble at times. I am actually starting to really like ol' Spencer Tracy. I wonder what I had against him for so long... I disliked him for years, but I guess I have no explanation for that. As for Wagner, I grew up with him on "Hart to Hart" (my mother was obsessed with that show: hi mom!) and of course I've seen him in other things before. I consider him a rather limited actor. Still he is fine in the role. Widmark and Jurado are both very good (she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress that year). I love both of them, if I haven't mentioned that before.

Anyway, Broken Lance didn't change my life, but it is a solid Western.

18 July 2008

The Greatest Show on Earth?

Cecil B. DeMille's 1952 movie The Greatest Show on Earth may be one of the strangest movies I've ever seen in my life. Stranger still, it kinda works. The Greatest Show on Earth is your standard melodramatic plot structure: girl (Betty Hutton) loves boy (Charlton Heston); boy loves work more than girl; girl finds new boy (Cornel Wilde); boy pretends he doesn't care; boy learns to love girl more than work; girl gets boy. This plot, which is totally ridiculous, but somehow totally intriguing, is interspersed with extremely long performance sequences featuring various circus acts. The movie is filled with elephants and horses, acrobats, tight-rope walkers, clowns, lions, you name it. The majority of these sequences has nothing to do at all with the romantic plot. There is also an intrigue plot, featuring a scheming guy in a suit. I never figured out what any of the guy-in-the-suit's machinations were about. It was totally incomprehensible as far as I am concerned. Making the whole combination even more strange, the movie is filled with documentary-style sequences where the audience learns about the circus and all that goes into producing this show. These documentary sequences are narrated by DeMille himself and are basically a commercial for the circus. The film even ends with a huge musical number exhorting everyone to come out and see the circus when it comes through town.

There is a little more to it: there's a huge train wreck near the end of the movie, that looks like it was done with model trains, and there is some good acting... by Gloria Grahame. (Funny, I just finished hating on her for her work in Oklahoma! and here I am loving her again.) The actor who plays Charlton Heston's rival (Cornel Wilde) is gorgeous. I'm not normally into really muscular guys, but for him I'd make an exception. Oh, and Dorothy Lamour is in this movie too for no reason at all. The film totally forgets about her after awhile and she is given no plot at all. And I forgot: Jimmy Stewart is in the movie too. He is a clown with a secret past. His plot is boring.

I'm telling you though, the movie is not half-bad. It's a weird patchwork of a movie and it's too long, but I rather enjoyed its histrionics.

And speaking of clichéd plots. Walter Lang's With a Song in My Heart is the true-life story of Jane Froman, played in the movie by Susan Hayward. Zzzzzz. Oh my lord it's boring. The worst part of it is that it's a musical, and Jane Froman's real voice is used for all the sequences (much like the producers of The Jolson Story did with their movie) but Jane Froman's music is boring. She'd take an interesting song and make it slow and flavorless, I swear. The plot is hideous, too. There's a husband who can't get a break and he spends the whole movie moping about it. Skip this one for sure.

I saw three more movies the last couple of days. Luis Buñuel's Robinson Crusoe is some of the most racist shit I've seen in a long while. Do not see this unless you feel like getting pissed off.

And I saw two gay movies: André Téchiné's Les Témoins (The Witnesses) is a story of Paris in 1984 during the free-love period right before the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Les Témoins is the story of a very young man and his platonic relationship with an older man and the older man's married friends. It's a very interesting, movie with an intelligent, queer sensibility, and the married couple (Sami Bouajila and Emmanuelle Béart) are both wonderful in it. I loved them both. The movie sort of loses speed near its end, but it's still worth catching. It's not on the heartbreaking level of Longtime Companion, but it's intriguing to see the Paris side of the war on AIDS anyway.

I also watched the 1919 silent film Different from the Others (§ 175) which is a pro-gay propaganda film from Germany directed by Richard Oswald, and engineered by Magnus Hirschfeld. It's interesting, but I didn't watch it to enjoy myself; I watched it to see what they were up to in 1919. It's a fairly standard thing: blackmail plot, gay suicide, etc. And there are (of course) long sequences where we hear about how gay people can't help it (they're born that way!) and how Paragraph 175 ought to be repealed. It's a pretty cool thing, all told. It's 1919 for heaven's sake!

13 July 2008

Been Busy

My dear Intro students had their first paper due on Friday, and so I've spent the last two days grading 40 papers.

I didn't see Hellboy II this weekend, though I meant to. But I did watch a couple movies at home. First, Kimberly Peirce's soldier story Stop-loss. I had a strange journey watching this movie. It has stars I like (Ryan Phillippe, Channing Tatum, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Victor Rasuk) but I didn't get into the movie until around the thirty-minute mark. It's just so hetero. Soldiers, buddies, (Texans), supporting one another and getting into bar-fights and coming home to their fiancées. And then there's the war itself. The war in Iraq is fucking depressing. I don't know, the whole idea of the film made me kinda bored and turned off. Maybe I wasn't really thinking about what I knew the movie was going to be about, but I was surprised when (of course) Ryan Phillippe's character is stop-lossed and then he goes AWOL. The drama gets really great from this point and the movie starts to become the kind of anti-war film I would expect from Kimberly Peirce. It's still very Texan, and the characters don't all become likeable or redeemable. The truth is that this isn't really my kind of war film. I'm a Thin Red Line, Kingdom of Heaven, Jarhead kind of guy: I want pretty pictures and poetry. But I was very, very moved by Stop-loss. There's a rather long sequence in a hospital where Phillippe goes to visit Victor Rasuk, a guy who was in his platoon, that had me in tears through the whole thing. This is an excellent movie. The acting is top-notch all around, with memorable performances from everyone named above. Leading lady Abbie Cornish is quite good, too, and there are some fabulous performances even among most of the side players: Ciarán Hinds, Linda Emond (love her), Mamie Gummer, Laurie Metcalf, and Troy Kittles. Don't miss this one.

09 July 2008

God Bless Criterion

Yesterday I sat down and watched The Thief of Bagdad: an Arabian Fantasy from 1940. Now, I don't know how I would feel about this movie if I saw a bad print of it or saw it in a dimly lit theatre (like the crap Talla-classy theatre in which I saw Tarsem's The Fall), but thankfully, Criterion has come along and saved the day for this movie.

The new DVD of The Thief of Bagdad is gorgeous. The movie is from 1940, but the colors are extraordinarily clear and the beautiful cinematography shines through almost seventy years later. It's lovely.

Mentioning Tarsem's The Fall is actually quite appropriate to The Thief of Bagdad: they'd make a nice double feature.

Thief is short on themes and short on good acting (most of the performances are downright awful, really), but it's eye-popping and fun with some special effects that look nowhere near realistic now, but must have been exciting in 1940. What's really amazing about the whole thing is how truly enjoyable the film is all these years later and despite all of the drawbacks I've listed. Thief is a true pleasure to watch, filled with suspense and magic and shady morals. And the central performance by Sabu, while I wouldn't say it is realistic or believable has an excited, infectious quality that makes it clear why the young man became such a big star.

08 July 2008

I Have No Idea What Is Going On

Oooooooooooooooooooooklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.

Um, I had never seen Fred Zinnemann's 1955 film version of Oklahoma! by Rodgers & Hammerstein. Until today. And, well, it's Oklahoma!

I liked it. But then I like the show. I haven't always liked it, but I have for several years. I like the songs. They are catchy and fun and I think rather brilliant (both the lyrics and the music, if you can believe it).

The film is not great, though. Gloria Grahame plays Ado Annie, and while I like Gloria Grahame (I think she's cute and sassy and unconventional. Like Jennifer Tilly) she's a terrible Ado Annie. Too nervous about her singing ability to be funny. Or something. It's a funny role, but you wouldn't know it from the film version. Grahame is almost dead on screen. It's actually difficult to watch. Frankly, I was none to keen on any of the performances in the movie. Even Gordon MacRae, who has a lovely voice seems a little too old for Curly; jaded where he could've been earnest or hopeful.
I dunno. I was soft on the whole thing. Still, it's Oklahoma! and the film gave me new appreciation for more than one of the old songs. And there aren't too many things better than MacRae gorgeous rendition of "Oh What a Beautiful Morning."

07 July 2008

Seen Around Talla-classy

I spotted this one on the way home from the coffee shop I frequent. Note the many abilities of the sign's owner:

I am confused what that word "Jamaican" is doing there, though. I assume it's Jamaican barbecue (yum) but is William's last name Jamaican?

I don't know why I found the following sign funny, but this is from my way into work:

Perhaps what I found funny is the implication of buffalo testicles that the sign seems to offer...

And now for my favorite:

The quotation marks around "prayer" make me envision a little man making quotes with fingers around each side of his head as he says "prayer". It's as if prayer doesn't even exist and though the sticker claims that it works, it knows the claim is hollow and can only be said with irony.

06 July 2008

A Kids' Movie?

As predicted by Julie, I loved Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which upped the ante on James Cameron's first (1984) Terminator by focusing more on character development, increasing the special effects and taking advantage of 1991's better visual effects technology. Arnold Schwarzenegger, merely menacing and indecipherable in the first film, emerges as a comic talent, essential to the second film, where he was only incidental in the first.

Edward Furlong is also great as the young John Connor, who learns to trust and love Schwarzenegger's Terminator. Cameron crafts these scenes so well that long before the heavy-handed voice-over explicitly states it, we realize that the cyborg gas become an important father-figure to the young boy. The only real problem with Terminator 2 is Linda Hamilton's overly serious performance as Sarah Connor. She's great in the first film, where she spends a lot of time running and screaming and, well, responding to all of the crazy plot twists provided in The Terminator. But in the second film, Hamilton is asked to drive entire sections of the movie, and her intensely earnest portrayal of what could be a diva-esque role makes her scenes irritating or even slightly painful when they could have been wickedly fun.

And today I watched René Clément's 1952 French film Jeux Interdits, which goes by the (rather salacious, if you ask me) title Forbidden Games. This is a movie about games played by two children and the English language title implies slightly scary sexual play to me. Anyway, my problems with the English title notwithstanding, Jeux Interdits is an excellent little film about a young girl named Paulette whose (civilian) parents are killed in one of the Nazi bombings of France. Paulette is immediately adopted/befriended by a little boy named Michel, who brings her home and insists that his family take her in. The jeux in the title refer to the pet cemetary the two children begin to construct after Paulette decides to bury her pet dog Jock, who was also killed by the Nazis.

Jeux Interdits didn't make me cry per se. It isn't sentimental in that way (I did cry at Terminator 2 in case you were wondering), but Clément's film gnaws away at you in a different way. The film's ending is absolutely devastating. It's a sock-in-the-jaw, merciless way to end a film that feels honest but heartbreaking. I'm not going to give the ending away, but for me the ending makes or breaks a film and Jeux Interdits' ending unequivocally makes this one.

04 July 2008

On How I Am a Sap and Other Tales of Silliness

I often think of myself as cold-hearted or mean. (My dear friend Wahima likes to describe me that way, certainly.) But then I sit down to watch an old sentimental movie like George Stevens' I Remember Mama and find myself totally overwhelmed with emotion, crying as though I have the softest heart in the world.

I Remember Mama is the story of a Norwegian immigrant family who live in San Francisco and the wise matriarch (played by Irene Dunne) who presides over the family. It's touching and sweet and I found it very beautiful. The tone of the movie is often silly and sometimes veering on the cartoony (Oskar Homolka as the crazy uncle gives a particularly ridiculous performance), but all of this is okay because the story is told from the point of view of a young girl who is coming of age. The fantastical does not seem so out of place as seen through her eyes. Anyway, I loved it.

And now for two more films I really liked. It's been a good week...

Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1986 movie 37°2 le Matin which was released in the U.S. as Betty Blue is wonderful. It's a sexy, quirky tale of two lovers who try to stay together as one of them (Betty) deteriorates under the weight of what become severe mental problems. I have no idea why the movie was called Betty Blue in English, nor do I have any idea what a literal translation of the film's French title might mean: 37.2 Degrees in the Morning. (What is that about? Is it idiomatic?) The film is not really the story of Betty, though. It is the story of the couple (his name is Zorg) and their life together. I can't say enough good things about the movie. Both lead performances are excellent (Béatrice Dalle plays Betty; Jean-Hugues Anglade plays Zorg) and both of them are incredibly sexy. Anglade, in fact, has to be one of the sexiest men I've ever seen in my life. Betty Blue is long (it runs a little over three hours), but because it delves so deeply into the minutiae of the relationship, the movie's impact is all the greater.

And last night I saw Michael Patrick King's big-screen version of Sex and the City, which is a film all about clothes. There isn't much else to the movie. There are breakups and some life-lessons that seem totally obvious from the movie's get-go, and barely the ghost of a plot, but I really liked this movie. The performances are serviceable, there are several funny jokes, there is loads of bitchiness and plenty of camp. But chiefly Sex and the City is a film about clothes. Did I say that already? To my mind, the clothes make the entire experience not only worth the price of a ticket, but totally unforgettable.

02 July 2008

I Miss Barbra.

The sad part about WALL·E's liberal quoting of Gene Kelly's Hello, Dolly! is that though the song "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" opens the movie and we hear Michael Crawford's clear, lovely tenor voice, the song fades out during all of the parts where Barbra Streisand sings in the song. In the copy of the soundtrack I have, Babs starts singing at the 1:15 mark. It looks like WALL·E's soundtrack (for sale everywhere) also omits Barbra, since the "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" track lasts only a minute and seventeen seconds.

Now, I'll admit that Hello, Dolly! is not the best musical in the world. In truth, it's probably not in too many people's top ten. And Gene Kelly's film is a problematic behemoth of a movie, as well. The fact that it stars Barbra Streisand in the first place is controversial (and perhaps not the best decision.) I should also mention that "Put On Your Sunday Clothes" is not exactly the best song Jerry Herman ever wrote, either.

But I really like Hello, Dolly! for all its faults and grandeur and silliness. It's warm and loveable and sweet, and Herman's music is infectious and fun if not necessarily groundbreaking. And my favorite part of the movie is Barbra herself. She is larger than life, and she's not exactly acting her heart out, but she's brassy and fabulous and clever. And that twinkle in her eye makes me fall in love with her.

I know, I know. This is the gayest post ever. But I am about to make it a little gayer because I want to talk some more about Andrew Stanton's WALL·E. I am still thinking about it because everyone on earth is talking about how much they love it. Now I love that WALL·E begins by quoting a movie every musical-loving queen will know. But one of the things that I really disliked about WALL·E is that the robots WALL·E and EVE have such clearly defined genders. Why do they have to be male and female? I mean, robots don't have genders. They don't have genitals for Chrissakes! And they don't have sex. Or children. Or societal norms. So it seems really heteronormative and unnecessary that WALL·E and EVE's genders are so obvious.

I could go on about how holding hands is a heteronormative obsession, too, but I guess I should probably stop being down on the feel-good movie of the summer.

This doesn't really have anything to do with Barbra Streisand, I guess. But all through WALL·E I kept waiting for Barbra to make an appearance, and when she didn't I was definitely disappointed.

30 June 2008

A Not-so-brief Update

I am almost finished with my big project for the weekend, which was cataloguing all of my books into my home library database. It took me quite a while (I have a lot of books), but now I will be able to search all of my books to see whether I have something or not. This will also make referencing things much, much easier. I am going to be in school for another three years or so, so I needed to start this now before I amass another three years worth of books.

In other news, my second six-week summer session started today. I am teaching Introduction to Theatre for Non-majors with another grad student. We had 80 seats in the class and every single one of them filled up. I think the dean was expecting about fifty, but the class is evidently popular. It should be fun. It is mostly (i.e. 80%) filled with kids who will be freshmen in the Fall. They take a summer class before their first real semester and so they get acclimated to campus life and get a headstart on coursework. These kids are the best students ever. I had them last summer, too. They work hard and are on their best behavior. And they want to participate.

I've been watching a lot of movies, too. I just haven't felt like writing about them. I will be brief about most of them. Actually, for the less cinematically inclined among you, I will start with the high-interest stuff and move toward the obscure so you can tune out when you get bored:

Okay, so call me crazy (or cynical or bitter) (and maybe I need to see it again) but I was not head over heels for Andrew Stanton's WALL·E, the latest from Pixar. I know everyone else is nuts about it and all that, but... well. Let me start at the beginning. At the beginning, I loved it. The opening seconds are pure genius, with a shot of outer space and then Michael Crawford's voice ringing out loud and clear "Out There... there's a world outside of Yonkers!" I laughed out loud and couldn't stop. Why is this movie beginning with a clip from Hello, Dolly!? WALL·E is really sort of brilliant in that moment. It stays brilliant for a long time, too. But then our loveable robot takes a trip into space following his lady-love (do robots have genders? they do in this film). I started to get bored when the humans on the spaceship Axiom started to show up. They are these blobby humans living a Matrix-like existence, spending their whole lives tapped into the internet and laying around on moving recliners. The movie by this time became a kind of action movie that didn't have any more jokes left in it, only plot points. The movie's politics are questionable, too. I am not sure I even understand them. Does the film want us to all be farmers? Still, WALL·E is brilliant for at least half of its running time and its second half is harmless if less than stellar.

But I loved Tarsem Singh's new movie The Fall. Tarsem previously made the bizarre but visually stunning film The Cell. Remember that? If you do remember it, you remember that the film's subject matter was dark and dirty, but the art direction was eye-popping and unforgettable. The Fall is just as stunning, maybe more so. The story is told from the point of view of a little girl (Catinca Untaru) in a Los Angeles hospital in the 1920s. She befriends a movie star (Lee Pace) who has lost feeling in his feet because of a mysterious fall. The beautiful cinematic pictures that Tarsem creates are products of the young girl's imgination as the hospitalized man tells a story. It's an extraordinary film with tons of heart, but it's also very, very smart. The people in the film are real characters with faults and unhappinesses. I found it incredibly moving and astoundingly beautiful. Young Catinca Untaru is the cutest thing ever and the relationship between the young girl and the injured man becomes really powerful.

I also really liked David Schwimmer's silly comedy Run Fatboy Run. It's not very smart, but it's quite funny. It's another in the long line of men-who-learn-how-to-grow-up films for which Judd Apatow is now so famous. Still, Schwimmer's touch is light and the humor is often dry and clever rather than overtly silly. Best of all, Run Fatboy Run doesn't need to get cheap laughs from puke jokes or disability humor. Run Fatboy Run is totally worth watching. And I love that Simon Pegg.

So is it ridiculous that I've never seen James Cameron's 1984 movie The Terminator? Yes, yes it is. I haven't seen Part 2, either, but it is on its way from Netflix. Well, I ought to be forgiven for this oversight since I was very heavily into church at the time the movie came out and had no time for Linda Hamilton or killers from the future or naked men who travel through time. Anyway, I quite liked the movie, of course. It's really fun in a kind of horror-film-meets-sci-fi-film-meets-action-film kind of way. I am excited for Part 2.

I also really liked Grigori Chukhrai's 1959 film Ballad of a Soldier, which follows a nineteen-year-old Russian soldier in World War II as he travels back to his mother on a six-day leave. On his way he meets all sort of people and sees the effect of the war on the people of the Soviet Union. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking film, and the young man who plays the lead and the young lady who plays his girlfriend are truly lovely to watch.

John Ford's Arrowsmith (from 1931) has a lot of problems. It is one of the first films to portray black people in roles other than slave or servant roles, but it's still not a very good film. The movie stars Ronald Colman and Helen Hayes. Netflix says that it also stars Myrna Loy, but don't believe them. She is in it for about three minutes altogether. Arrowsmith follows a doctor named (conveniently) Arrowsmith and his wife as Arrowsmith invents and experiments and tries to cure cancer. He doesn't (naturally) but he does come up with some pretty good antibacterial stuff, and then he travels to the Caribbean to help people there who are suffering from the plague. Still, there isn't much to this movie, and it isn't very well made, either, although one can see the germs of what will be John Ford's greatness in some of the photography on the island.

We don't really need to talk about Walter Lang's Can-Can, either. It stars Frank Sinatra, Shirley Maclaine, Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan and I quite liked it, but it is a fluffy musical with very cute costumes but not much for either memorable music or memorable characters.

What else? I thought Tony Richardson's film The Entertainer, based on the play by John Osborne, was quite good. I know I am often hard on Laurence Olivier and his boring Shakespeare performances, but he is great in this film.

I also really liked Hal Ashby's biopic of folk singer Woody Guthrie, Bound for Glory. David Carradine is the film's star and he's quite compelling as Guthrie. I dug the film's politics and its free spirit, too.

Lastly, I just watched the Hong Kong musical (which is more of a Hollywood film than anything else) Perhaps Love. All I can say is Perhaps Not. I rented this film, of course, because it stars the most gorgeous creature to ever walk on two legs: Takeshi Kaneshiro, but the film is a total mess. It operates on three levels. The present: on the film set of a big Honk Kong musical; in fantasy: in the musical itself; and in the past of the film's stars. Kaneshiro is beautiful, but the movie doesn't work at all and I was awfully bored. Perhaps Love was also never released in theatres in the U.S. and this shows in the subtitles used for the DVD release I watched. The English has obviously never been tried on English-speakers before. I don't speak Mandarin, but the English used for the subtitles was at times incomprehensible. This may be one of the reasons I liked this movie so little, but mostly I think it's because the movie was boring.

29 June 2008

Supporting Actress Smackdown 1939

Head over to Stinkylulu's blog to see the Supporting Actress Smackdown for 1939, including my contribution. My favorite performance of the year was Geraldine Fitzgerald's in Wuthering Heights, but not too many agreed... Check it out.

25 June 2008

Romance Is in the Air

I am obviously a sucker for a romantic film. I watched two movies today and both of them were romantic and both of them made me cry.

Actually, I just finished re-watching the 1939 Leo McCarey film Love Affair with the delightful Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer. I quite honestly sat curled up on my sofa clutching a pillow and sobbed at this movie. I'd seen it before, of course (there aren't many films from 1939 that I haven't seen), but I didn't remember it as quite this good of a film. Love Affair is really wonderful. It's tightly scripted, very romantic, and the ending is really powerful and beautiful. Both of the lead actors are fabulous. It's a classic.

...And I watched a little gay romance by Jonah Markowitz called Shelter, too. It's about a surfer boy in San Pedro, CA who falls in love with his best friend's brother but is pulled away from his new-found love by the fact that he is the sole care-giver to his five-year-old nephew. I am all about gay romances. Most of them suck, as you probably know. So, when one comes along where the acting is not totally wooden and the plot is not completely, utterly predictable, I am happy. Shelter is (surprisingly) well acted and I found it sweet. It's also well shot and the script is intriguing and introspective if slightly predictable. It's not Love Affair or The English Patient, but it's cute and gay and heartwarming, so I liked it.

24 June 2008

Oh, Woody.

I dreamed about my old job at the airport last night and my old boss the CEO. This probably has to do with me worrying about money and wishing that I were still making lots of it (comparatively) instead of working for pennies at Florida State. I miss the job itself, too, actually.

Yesterday I watched Woody Allen's first 2008 film (the second one is called Vicky Christina Barcelona and will be out later in the year). This first one is called Cassandra's Dream, which is the name of a boat in the movie, but is, of course, a reference to the mythological Greek character Cassandra and her dream of the destruction of Troy, which is ignored by everyone else in the city. There are only a couple other references to ancient Greece in the film, but it is structured like one of the old plays and so the title fits rather well.

I liked Cassandra's Dream or, rather, I wanted to like Cassandra's Dream, but it doesn't work. This is because it thinks it is a suspense film à la Match Point, but it isn't a suspense film at all. What the movie could have been is a really interesting character study. Cassandra's Dream focuses around two brothers: Colin Farrell (love him) and Ewan MacGregor (love him, too), their financial difficulties, and the murder they eventually decide to commit in order to help themselves out of their financial difficulties. MacGregor's character is fine with the murder, it upsets him slightly, but he focuses on the future and lets it go. Farrell's character is affected deeply by the murder and becomes depressed, irrational, uncontainable. You can probably guess where this is all headed and the movie (up until the very last minutes of the film) is incredibly straightforward and is almost boring in its predictability. Unlike Match Point, I always felt like I knew what was going to happen in this film. My point is that there is no suspense. We know what is going to happen. The characters, however, are fascinating, and turning a focus toward the study of character—and the excellent acting talent of the film's leads—would have been the way to make this film worth watching. As it is, Allen (one of my favorite directors of all time, in case you didn't know) focuses on suspense that never builds and tension that never rises.

Cassandra's Dream, unfortunately, is almost a total misfire. Well acted, well conceived, but ill executed.

22 June 2008

Get Stupid

Peter Segal's film adaptation of the television series Get Smart is terrible. It's filled with idiotic fat jokes, vomit jokes, homophobic jokes, disability jokes and an insipid, predictable plot that's never actually interesting. Or funny. I saw it with my friend Kate, who used to love the TV show. We both hated it.

P.S. I've decided I don't really like Anne Hathaway. I know she was in Brokeback Mountain, but she's clearly one of those big stars that I just don't get. I mean, Becoming Jane, The Devil Wears Prada, those ridiculous Princess Diary movies. Is she ever good in anything? She seems to be riding on charm, but I must be impervious to it. I always think her performances are flat. Like she can only ever respond to people. She has no ability to drive a scene. I've never seen an Anne Hathaway performance I liked.

20 June 2008

Lebanese Lesbianas

Today I watched what is easily my favorite film of 2008, so far. (Now, I know I haven't watched that many 2008 films as of yet, but I plan to remedy that—at least slightly—next week when I don't have to teach class every single day.) At any rate, Caramel, Nadine Labaki's 90-minute romantic comedy is wonderful.

It's a chick-flick, no question about it. Caramel follows the lives of six women in Beirut whose lives intertwine because of a beauty shop that is central to their lives. It's about what are ostensibly women's issues—aging, infidelity, love, attraction, loneliness—but I found it incredibly moving. I also found it sweet and sour, hopeful on occasion, circumspect about its hope, and open-ended (just like life).

There is a little bit of a lesbian love story in Caramel, too, and it made me really, really happy. It's not overt at all, and in fact it is never mentioned explicitly, but I picked up on it immediately, and I imagine most queer people would have the same experience.

Overall, this is a smart, moving movie about Lebanese women, their lives, loves, traumas and friendships. It's only about their men tangentially, except for a single phone call scene, which you will fall in love with immediately when you see it.

This is a renter. Check it out.

16 June 2008

Memories of the Bomb

I loved Alain Resnais's 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour, which I saw last week.

The plot (such as there is one) centers around a French actress from Nevers, France, who has a brief affair with a man from Hiroshima, Japan in the late 1950s. The couple fall in love gradually, but spend the entirety of their time together talking about both Nevers and Hiroshima. They exchange memories of their beloved cities and memories of the war that separated the two countries in the 1930s and 1940s. In this respect, the film is a lot like Resnais's L'Année Dernière à Marienbad because it is about memory and how memories of the past bleed into life lived in the present. The film is filled with imagery of the city of Hiroshima and its people, both ravaged by the destruction of the atomic bomb. Strangely, Hiroshima Mon Amour is as much a film about horror as it is one about passion. There are some terrifying images in the movie, but it is mostly a story of letting go, of love and of pain.

If you love Japanese cinema you must see it. It is basically a Japanese movie made by a Frenchman. Highly recommended.