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

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.