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

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.