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

31 May 2008

Supporting Actress Smackdown

I will again be participating in StinkyLulu's Supporting Actress Smackdown this June. This month we are revisiting all of the Supporting Actress nominees from 1939.

Stinkylulu's announcement is here.

30 May 2008

Best Pictures

So I read today that Mike over at Goatdog's Movies has seen all but nine of the movies nominated for Best Picture.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences has been nominating movies for its highest honor since 1928. A total of 463 films have been nominated for Best Picture. It's totally crazy to think that this guy has seen that many of these movies.
I have long held it a goal of mine to see all the movies ever nominated for any Academy Award (I have seen them all every year since 1999), but there is no category that I am even close to being done with. This is mostly because I get distracted by watching good movies and often the Academy does not exactly nominate movies I know I will love (The Greatest Show on Earth, anyone?). So I watch old Japanese stuff or brilliant films like The Spirit of the Beehive because I know I will like them instead of sticking to my goal and renting old BP nominees like The Hollywood Revue of 1929.

Anyway, after reading that Mike is so far along on this list, I thought I would look and see how many Best Picture nominees I had left to see...

77! Seems like a lot. Over half of those are from 1930s, too. Strange that I have seen so few.

Compare that with how many of the Best Director nominees I have still to see: only 35 out of the 396 nominees.

This is all nonsense, of course.

28 May 2008

The Apocalypse

I read Philip Ridley's play Mercury Fur today. For fun (ha ha). And I'm wondering. I don't think I much dig visions of the apocalypse.

Maybe I have trouble imagining dystopias. Or maybe I just don't buy them. I believe I had a similar reaction to José Rivera's Marisol (which I think is kinda boring.)

Mercury Fur is a dystopian vision where everyone is young. There is a lone female character (whom the boys all call the "Duchess") and she is their mother, around thirty-eight years old. Everyone else in the play is younger, the oldest being twenty-three and the youngest ten. The sexuality in the play is strange (could it be anything other than strange in a world populated only by young men?) but the play's content is—in a word—horrific. The young men are throwing a party where the young boy will be eviscerated by a paying customer and a meat hook.

The play is good, and I found it emotionally wrenching, but... I don't know why I need to qualify it. The thing is, I loved Children of Men, certainly an apocalyptic vision of the world, but one that seems possible to me. Or maybe it's that Children of Men is a movie, and I can believe it more easily because I can easily see it. For some reason, I find the apocalypse on stage to be something I can't quite embrace fully. I dunno.

P.S. Any ideas what the title Mercury Fur refers to? I can't figure it out. And Google isn't being much help.

Midsummer, Bitches!







26 May 2008

Because I Am Procrastinating...

I am supposed to be re-reading Hamlet so that I can teach it next week. But I don't really feel like working, and tomorrow is a day off... at least until rehearsal at 6:00p.

Anyway, a few movies that I have watched recently but not yet written about:

I had been missing Bette Davis. I have seen a ton of her movies (by which I mean twenty-two), and since I usually only rent films I haven't seen before, Bette is generally on my backburner. Still, there are a couple of classics I haven't seen and since I hadn't seen Edmund Goulding's The Great Lie (1941) or Anatole Litvak's All This, and Heaven Too (1940), I rented them and had a mini-Bette Davis fest at my house. Both films are quite enjoyable. The Great Lie is a kind of high society soap opera with a husband who "dies" in a plane crash and a baby who Bette passes off as her own. Mary Astor won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing the "other woman" in the scenario. The film is cute and funny, but Bette's character isn't all that much fun. She's earnest and sweet and always tries to do the right thing. Still, it's a good movie. The leading man is George Brent, and he's appropriately dapper. All This, and Heaven Too is much better. It (of course) is also a soapy melodrama, but All This takes place in France, where Bette is a governess to four children who love her dearly. They are the children of a duke and duchess in France (Charles Boyer [so gorgeous] and Barbara O'Neil [over the top.]) Anyway, Charles begins to fall in love with Bette (he isn't in love with the wife anymore, because she's a total nutjob), but they never act on anything and are always above board and proper about things. Of course, all this is doomed to end in tragedy. The thing is, the tragedy in ll This, and Heaven Too really works. I found it sweet and rather moving. Boyer and Davis are both very good in the film, and the story succeeds on its own merits. I liked it rather a lot, and I think it's worth the rental. Not as good, perhaps as The Letter, from the same year, but still quite good.

Dans Paris (Inside Paris) is a Christophe Honoré film (the guy who brought us Ma Mère). Dans Paris, however, is much more engaging than Ma Mère, and I liked it quite a bit. It's a small film, with not too much to say, but it says what little it has to say with panache and verve. It stars Romain Duris and Louis Garrel as brothers who live with their father and are trying to solve the problems of Duris's depression (which mostly has to do with how much he loves his ex-wife. It's an interesting little story about sadness and parenting and brotherhood. Worth the rental if you're into off-beat French stuff with fairly greasy young men (like I obviously am.)


Michael Apted's Gorillas in the Mist: the Story of Dian Fossey was appropriately dry, melodramatic and rooted in 1980s politics. I was mostly bored but I didn't hate it. It's a serviceable kind of thing that runs out of steam and has nowhere to go. I've seen worse.

Also from 1988, today I saw Beaches. I had never seen it. It's a big movie in gay culture, right? I'm not quite sure why it's such a big movie in gay culture, but I liked it a lot. The direction is absolutely terrible (Garry Marshall wasn't good in the 80s either, turns out) but Beaches is a surefire tearjerker. Let's be honest about things. I was crying way before we got to the end.

I think the reason I was so sensitive to Garry Marshall's inadequacies as a filmmaker while I was watching Beaches was that Ryan and I watched Zabou Breitman's The Man of My Life (L'Homme de Sa Vie) this afternoon and it's just lovely. It's a very showy film in terms of movie-maker's tricks, but also very beautiful. L'Homme de Sa Vie is the story of Frédéric, a man with a wife and little son who is on vacation in Provençe (or somewhere) for the summer but has a long conversation one night with his gay next-door neighbor, and the neighbor just gets under his skin. A bit like that Éric Rohmer film Ma Nuit Chez Maud. But The Man of My Life tells the story sort of backwards. We never see the whole conversation between the men. Instead, we move forward with the story and then as Fred thinks about his life, etc, he remembers the conversation in little bits and pieces. It's quite interesting and I recommend it to anyone who likes showy movies... or pretty movies.

One more flick. After seeing his brilliant George Washington, I rented David Gordon Green's All the Real Girls, and I want to move it to my list of all-time favorites. It's ponderous and sweet. I have been feeling affectionate toward love stories of late and All the Real Girls is a really nice one: very cute but never cloying. And I am totally in love with Paul Schneider. I want him to marry me.

23 May 2008

Some News

I have been nursing some back pain here in Talla-classy for the last week. It was unbearable a couple days ago, but I visited a chiropractor this morning and I feel on the mend. (This is after visiting a massage therapist on Wednesday that didn't help me very much at all.) The class I'm teaching is going very well. I'm not getting much of my own work done at all because I am so busy with Midsummer, but working on a show is fun and I have been watching a lot of movies lately... and not talking about them. So, here goes:

About a week ago I saw my first Susan Hayward movie. It has a ridiculously campy title for an almost equally campy film: Smash-up: the Story of a Woman. Cute, right? Susan Hayward is a supportive wife and mother who starts drinking too much. Important life-lessons ensue, of course, but not before several musical numbers (this is also a sort-of half-way backstage musical). Feel free to skip this one. It's an over-the-top mess with a lot of moralizing about how alcoholism is a disease tacked on for good measure. I was bored.


And I did not like Lewis Milestone's 1962 remake of Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando, Trevor Howard and Richard Harris. Instead of the original's good story and well-done melodrama (with Franchot Tone, Clark Gable and Charles Laughton), this retelling (which is longer by fifty minutes) focuses on absurd notions of honor. And instead of valuing human life as the film pretends to do, this new screenplay only keeps its characters alive long enough to make other characters do the contrived things it wants them to do. Trevor Howard is good, as always, and Richard Harris is too, but Brando's accent sounds really weird and he never really kicks it into gear until act two. It's a strange, bloated film, that never needed to be made.


I will talk more about the rest of the stuff I've seen over the last week later, but I just finished Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones and I feel like talking about it since it is fresh in my mind. Carmen Jones is a film version of Oscar Hammerstein's musical, and it stars Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte and Pearl Bailey. I was liking it in the beginning. All of the songs are the same songs as in Bizet's opera Carmen, but Hammerstein has reorchestrated the songs and given them new lyrics so that they (allegedly) fit black culture in the South. The trouble is, this doesn't work. Some of the songs are fun and memorable, but most of them I have already forgotten. The opera is already, of course, indelibly burned on my brain (and a good many other people's, I'd wager). The film loses its way, too, focusing on more characters than it ought to for a 100-minute movie. The weirdest part, though, is Preminger's inability to create or build tension. I never had any real fear in my head even though I knew how it would end, and the film approaches both its climax and its finale without energy. It's a strange movie. Harry Belafonte is hot in it. (Who knew?) Dorothy Dandridge is unequivocally fabulous in the movie—smoking hot and wickedly funny—and Pearl Bailey is not far behind, sporting some totally outrageous costumes and an attitude to match. Still, Preminger's lackluster direction means that this film never takes off the ground and its tragic finale leaves little impact.

17 May 2008

"It's Certainly Cheaper Than a Tranny"

Last night on my way to safety meeting, I went to turn right and suddenly my car wouldn't go anywhere. I thought maybe I had accidentally bumped the car into neutral, because that's what it felt like. I shifted the car into neutral and then into drive, but the car wouldn't move. I shifted into reverse: nothing. Back into drive: nothing. So I shifted it into neutral, got out and pushed the car into a parking lot, sort of steering the wheel and pushing at the same time. I don't know how I got the thing over a curb by myself, but somehow I did. Then I walked over to the bar (it was only about a block away) and got two of my friends to help me push the car the rest of the way into the lot.
All of this shifting meant that I was pretty sure it was the transmission that was the problem. So I had the car towed to my usual mechanic. They open at 8:00a on Saturdays, so I figured I'd leave them the key with a little note in their night drop-box and then call them around 8:15 or so to tell them about the car.
They called me at 8:05 to tell me that it wasn't the transmission at all, but the right axle, which they could fix for $200.00. "Certainly cheaper than a tranny," he said. He called me again at five minutes after nine to tell me that it was fixed and I could pick it up whenever I was ready.
So no new-car shopping for me this week. My car is just fine. It is a piece of junk, of course, but as the AAA man wisely said to me as he hoisted my Honda Civic onto his tow-truck, "They all have their problems."
True story, tow-truck man. True story.

15 May 2008

Working

As you probably know, I do not watch television (except for the occasional American Idol episode. Okay all of them.) But a couple days ago there was some television news worth sharing. The cast for the new 90210 spinoff has been revealed:

All the way to the right: my friend from college Michael Steger.

So exciting!! Hopefully this means that my boy is about to make it big.

Tiny Update

Rehearsal still going very well. Slight hiccup today with one of the actors (who decided not to pay attention to his call time). But still a very good rehearsal. I am having a blast. And it isn't even that good of a play.

The class is going well too. All of the students passed the quiz on Hedda, which means all of them read it. My only problem here is: what on earth am I going to teach them tomorrow? I honestly don't know. Some of the days on my calendar we have nothing to talk about. I guess that means I let them go super-early.

13 May 2008

Scary Movie Night #2 & #3

In 2005, a guy named David Lee Fisher decided to remake the 1920 German film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Fisher's remake used all the Expressionistic sets from the original silent, but recast the film with English-speaking actors and reshot the film with a script that he penned himself. Now, I have never seen the original film in its entirety, but I suspect I would like it a lot. Not just because of the cool set and lighting effects, but--I imagine--because of the very intriguing plot twists and psychological drama. For 1920, I am sure this was all extremely cool. The 2005 remake, however, is terrible. The dialogue is stilted and awkward. The characters are far prettier (very Los Angeles) than they ought to be. The pacing is too slow. And there is a serious disconnect between the (admittedly, very cool) old two-dimensional set behind the actors, and the bad acting and false emotion in the three-dimensional world we're asked to focus on. All that to say: stick to the original movie. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 2005 edition, is a total mess.

Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist, however, still works like gangbusters. The effects are not as cool as we're all used to in 2008, but this film from 1982 boasts some great performances, a fantastic, troubling score by Jerry Goldsmith, and some disgusting, really awesome sequences. There were plenty of times when I was completely, totally creeped out, and at least three or four times where I was scared out of my wits. I really liked it.

Last night, I missed the first film from Scary Movie Night #3 because of rehearsal, but all signs point to its having been really bad, anyway, so I'm not too sad about it.


But after the bad movie, we all sat down to watch Alejandro Amenábar's The Others, which I had never seen. It's a spooky film set in the early half of the twentieth century in a house where Nicole Kidman lives with her two kids, who have some kind of photo-sensitivity where they can't be in the light or they will get really sick. So all the curtains have to be shut all the time. It's creepy and it works for the most part, but it's not quite as scary as it could be. I expected to really jump a bunch of times, but there are only one or two big jumps, and the film ends up being more of a mystery that the audience needs to figure out à la The Sixth Sense. Amenábar's film is not so much a rip-off, but it has similar elements and it seems to welcome comparisons. Anyway, The Others was alright.

Midsummer & Script Analysis

For some reason, I don't feel guilty just sitting down and watching one movie after another at home if other people are doing it with me. Lately, because my roommates are obsessed and because the rest of the grad students stuck in Tallahassee have next-to-nothing to do, we have been celebrating scary movies at my house. Shutting off all the lights and watching one and then another scary movie and then all dispersing into the nights thinking about creepy children and ghosts and mysterious spiritual entities. But before I get to the rest of the scary movies I've been watching, a small report:

I am teaching a class right now. It meets Monday through Friday, five days a week, from 11:00a-12:15p. The class period is a little long, but so far I am having a lot of fun in the class. All of the students are theatre majors, so they have been trained to be talkative and share their opinions on things. The class is called Script Analysis, so it is supposed to be a class where we learn how to analyze plays. I don't know about you, but I am of the opinion that you don't need to learn HOW to do this, you need to DO it. So, in this six-week course, we are reading twelve plays. That's two plays a week. And I am giving them a quiz each time I assign a play, to make sure that they read the play. I have also made the quizzes worth 45% of their grade. So they basically HAVE to read, or they will not do well in the class. Since the most important thing in the class is whether they read or not, I wanted to put a little teeth in my request that they do all the reading.
Anyway, the class is going well so far (we have only met two days as of yet). Today we talked about Gustav Freytag and his analytical model of exciting force, rising action, climax, falling action, catastrophe, etc. Best part of today: one of the students mumbled something to her friend and I called her out on it. She apologized and then I said, "No, it's not that I don't want you to talk, I DO want you to talk; I just want everyone to be able to hear it." Turns out, she had mumbled something about Bambi. Everyone giggled and then I got the idea to have the class make Bambi fit into Freytag's analytical model. Of course, it does. So we talked about Bambi for at least fifteen minutes. And we all laughed. And then I asked them to talk about Iron Man in the same way. We debated it. The class was alive and excited. It was really fun. And they completely understand Freytag's model. It was really cool. And tomorrow, we're talking about Hedda Gabler. I am having a really good time.

Speaking of good times, I had my first rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream last night. This is going to be fun for sure. I haven't directed anything in over a year (since last February!) and I'm not sure I totally remember what I'm doing, but half the cast met last night and we started working through the lovers' story and the Oberon/Titania plot. Our rehearsal was three hours. I was never bored. And I even got them on their feet at one point and started blocking them. I only have five weeks to put this show together, but I think I can manage. The actors are all quite good and all excited about the show. Some of them are still a little skeptical of me, but they will come around.

09 May 2008

Horror Movie Night!

A bunch of the grads who are still in Tallahassee had a horror movie night a couple nights ago and we rented two movies I had never seen. First:

Roman Polanski's 1968 feature Rosemary's Baby (love that poster!) which I had ridiculously never seen. It was shocking and horrible and the ending was creepy and disgusting. I completely loved it.
And then we rented Teeth, the comedy-horror film about a woman who has vagina dentata, or to be blunt: she has teeth inside of her vagina. They are some seriously powerful teeth, too.
Teeth is hilarious in a "2 girls 1 cup" kind of way. It's totally tasteless, vile, relentlessly campy, and very very funny. The film tries very hard to be a feminist piece, as well. For starters, the heroine's vagina only attacks men who attempt to sexually abuse her in some way, which is cool. The film isn't about hating men; it's about how much men hate women and feel like they can take advantage and abuse them whenever they feel like it. The vagina dentata attacks when the woman is being sexually violated. And she is sexually violated constantly through the film. It got me thinking about how much women have to put up with. How constantly, women have to battle men who think that they have earned the right to exert sexual power over women. Teeth really upset me in a way, because of this.

Of course, I am analyzing the film rather more deeply than it is probably asking to be analyzed. I mean, Teeth is also crass and shocking, totally hammy and utterly shameless. There are some ridiculous shots of pseudo-vaginas: a tree trunk with a wide opening, a dripping scorpion's mouth, etc. And lots of making fun of groups that preach abstinence. But be warned. Men get their penises cut off in this film and the filmmakers are not afraid to show severed penises in their movie. Teeth is not for the faint of heart. I thought it was hilarious fun, but I could see how it could be very troubling to some.

07 May 2008

I Have So Much Time!

Well, not really, but still. I wish I could spend every day watching at least one movie. It would be great.
I spent most of today painting the new roommate's room. His name is Ryan and he is an MFA director here and a very good friend. The last roommate Tim had done a little damage to the walls of the room, so it needed to be repainted and we spent the day painting it a lovely rich brown color called "Crunch Granola." We're all about the Earth.

BUT, I wanted to talk abut the movies I've seen recently, because there have been some good ones.

First off, I saw Jon Favreau's blockbuster Iron Man on Sunday morning for $4! And I really liked it. Those kinds of movies are not usually my kind of thing (Transformers, Spider-man 3, and even better ones like Casino Royale) because they don't have enough action in them. They get bogged down in sentiment and romantic subplots. The studios have also tended to cast very young actors in the parts lately, as well. And I lose interest when Superman and Lois Lane look younger than me. For my money, Iron Man fell into none of those traps. I thought it was nicely plotted, interesting, and never boring. There were about two minutes total of sentimentality. It wasn't always action-packed, but the times when stuff wasn't blowing up were filled with suspenseful moments and good acting. I liked this movie a lot. I know it made millions of dollars last weekend and hardly needs my blessing, but I think it deserves its millions. I'm a fan.

And a couple days ago I watched Edward Dmytryk's film noir (I've been on a kick lately) Crossfire. It's a kind of whodunit story where we know who the killer is after the movie is about half over. The rest of the film is about catching the bad guy: trapping him in his own lies. The film stars Robert Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Robert Young, George Cooper, and Gloria Grahame. What's cool about this film (from 1947) is that it's a movie about anti-semitism. Robert Young has this fabulous monologue near the end of the film that talks about hate and how it is like a loaded gun waiting to kill someone. I was worried that it was going to be preachy (like 1947's Best Picture winner, Gentleman's Agreement) but it's not; it's really great. I got a little teary-eyed during the speech, because it's about anti-semitism specifically, but it's also about homophobia or racism or prejudice of any kind that makes people hate one another instead of allowing people to live freely in the way they wish to live. Robert Ryan (who plays the film's main bigot) got an Oscar nomination for his work in the film, but Mitchum and Young are both great and Gloria Grahame is fabulous. My favorite performance in the film is a much smaller one from a much lesser-known actor, though. His name is William Phipps and he had a long career in television after this film, but his work in Crossfire is excellent and I wish he had made more films.

I also caught the great Lindsay Anderson's first film This Sporting Life, which stars Richard Harris as a British footballer who knows all the rules on the field, but can't seem to figure anything out off the field. It's a classic angry-young-man film and a really great one. I totally loved it.

03 May 2008

Auto Insurance Drama, Spiderwick & George Washington

So I spent a lot of time yesterday trying to figure out some auto insurance. Turns out, if you let your auto insurance lapse, you have to pay a penalty (what they mendaciously call a surcharge) even if you go with a new company. That is dumb. Anyway, I changed auto insurance providers yesterday. I was with GEICO, but I am going to save $115 every six months with AAA, so I am changing. It's the exact same coverage for so much cheaper! I am all about it. I am having the laziest week! When the most exhausting thing you do all day is change auto insurance providers, you are definitely living the high life in Talla-classy. Today I am going to Costco. That might be the most exciting thing I do all day.

Two movies:
I finally saw David Gordon Green's 2000 feature George Washington and it is flat-out brilliant. I completely, totally loved it. If you haven't seen it, it's a poetic meditation on a small, impoverished town in the South, following five kids as they poke around during a summer. The film also features Paul Schneider (who I loved so much in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Lars and the Real Girl). The film has one real gasp-worthy moment that works brilliantly, but mostly its just a slow, poetic piece of cinema that I was completely in love with after the first ten minutes. Not to be missed, if you haven't seen it. Green's next feature, All the Real Girls is on its way to me right now, so I will review that one soon.

I was cool with The Spiderwick Chronicles for most of its length. It's an unpresuming kid's film intended to scare and be sweet, starring Freddie Highmore, Sarah Bolger and Mary-Louise Parker, with Nick Nolte, Seth Rogan, David Strathairn, Joan Plowright (!), and Martin Short. It's a cute story about goblins and fairies and a magic book and all of this business that we are all very used to. The trouble with Spiderwick is that it does not play by its own rules. This didn't bug me at all until the film's last three minutes, when Joan Plowright turns into a little girl and walks off with her dad to fairyland. It was a sweet moment, but completely impossible in the world of the film. One of my companions said "But it's a Nickolodeon movie! There are fairies and goblins. And you won't accept that she turns into a little kid?" My answer to that was that I will accept a film on its own terms. In the world of Spiderwick there are fairies and pig-demons that eat birds and griffins and salt has magic powers and all that. I buy into all of that, but when a film tells me that there is no time travel and that certain things cannot happen because there is no time travel and then someone goes back in time without explanation, I cry foul. The trouble is that once I start thinking about something that makes no sense in a movie, I start thinking about other things that make no sense in the movie. And then I start to get bugged by the movie's shoddy storytelling. All this to say that Spiderwick is not that great, really.

P.S. I still like Freddie Highmore a lot. I haven't really liked many of his movies, but I still like him.

01 May 2008

Sunburnt Barbary

I've been nursing a sunburn the past couple of days, but I've been working too. I have almost finished my syllabus for my Play Analysis class that I begin teaching on May 12th, and I finished cutting the script for Midsummer, which has its first rehearsal on May 12th.

I've also watched a couple films. First, Torch Song with Joan Crawford as a crazy bitch actress/dancer/singer woman who hates everyone and is mean to everyone. Then a blind piano player walks into her life and everything changes. And by everything, I mean nothing. But she loves the piano player. It's a weird movie because it isn't that interesting, and the whole blind love-interest thing comes across as more token than anything else. Director Charles Walters doesn't understand points of view, either, and he gives us Joan's and then her lover's and then the other people in Joan's world. Because of this we never really feel for Joan and her bitchy self; she just comes across as a gorgon. There is a bizarre blackface number that might be worth the price of a rental, though. Joan sings a song called "Two-faced Woman" in blackface with a chorus in blackface and I have no idea why.

P.S. Marjorie Rambeau was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Joan's mother in this movie. Again, there is no explanation that suffices. The part is no more than a cameo and Rambeau's acting is hardly remarkable. So strange.

Today I watched Henry Hathaway's Kiss of Death from 1947 with Victor Mature and the late Richard Widmark. It's a fairly good noir about a crook who decides to go good and rats out some other criminals, specifically Tommy Udo, a grinning, giggling murderer of old ladies played by Widmark. The plot of this film is cool and Hathaway does a great job with both light and tension, but the dialogue doesn't quite sparkle, the plot lags near the halfway point, and it felt a tad predictable at times. Still, the performances are really superb. Victor Mature gives what is probably his best performance (the scene when he first squeals is extraordinary) and it gets better the more I think about it. Richard Widmark has the flashiest part and his is the one you really remember when the picture is over. This one is definitely worth the rental if you're into film noir.