28 April 2011

Royal Wedding Widower Writes About Various Things With No Promises About the Content Though He Hopes You'll Maybe Giggle

What are you lookin' at? I suppose you came by to read something about movies. Well I haven't anything to write about movies today. Not in the mood. In fact I don't feel like writing anything at all. Just don't that's all.

Don't look at me like that. I'm not a trained seal, ya know. If you must read something of mine why not go digging through the archives. I've got over 570 posts to chose from. Admittedly some aren't very good. A lot of them are just fluffy little things life fer instance about my favorite films featuring a flatulent flautist (enuff already with those kinna movies Hollywood!).

I was thinking of writing an open letter to Donald Trump. He thinks America should thank him for his efforts that led to President Obama finally showing the long form of his birth certificate. 'Preciate it, Don. A hearty thanks to you and all the others who have created an unnecessary distraction. Trump the Grump also thinks that Obama's birth certificate should be carefully investigated. I agree. it should be investigated as thoroughly as has the birth certificate of every preceding president. The Smithsonian has the fine tooth comb which went over President Eisenhower's birth certificate. I recently read about the going over that President Benjamin Harrison's birth certificate got. Wow!

Trump recently spoke about how well he gets along with "the blacks." I'm not quite sure what to say in response. I've thought of: "atta boy" or "how very broad-minded of you" or "seriously, Don, the blacks?" I also understand that the Trumpster is not so open-minded when it comes to, let us say "the gays." He's against gays getting hitched or even enjoying the benefits of civil unions. Hey buddy, one step at a time, getting along with "the blacks" is enough for now. Take it slow.

Hey speaking of things that'll piss a person off, how about the increasing gulf between the wealthiest and poorest Americans? And how about the maintenance of the Bush tax breaks for the richest 2%? Kind of makes you one to take a sledge hammer and do some damage to some of those idjits who are forever selling a bill of goods to the American public. Kind of makes you want to take that same sledge hammer to the dopes who buy this malarkey. But Dr. King taught us that violence begets violence (not that most Americans pay the slightest bit of attention to what the great man actually said). So we'll have to use our words. Here goes: YOU F*CKING IDIOTS!!!

That outta do it.

I am currently a Royal Wedding widower. The missus has been going gaga over the forthcoming nuptials since before time began. She's in quite a state (California is a helluva place). I think it's wonderful. I love the British and all their pomp and accompanying circumstance. Traditions that do no harm are grand things that help define civilizations and maintain cultures. Events like these bring people together as they enjoy a shared sense of community through the magic of television (the idiot box is good for some things, ya know). Jerry Seinfeld recently popped off about what a load of bunk he thought the whole thing is. I'm generally a fan of the comic. who co-created and starred in the greatest sit com of all time. But he's all wet here. Ya just sound like a sourpuss, Jer.

Hey! You read all the way to the bottom of the post! Or did you start here? Do you do that? Do you read from the bottom up? That's weird. C'set la vie.

(Actually that's not the bottom anymore because I'm adding this paragraph.) If you want I'll write about movies next time. Or a movie. I'm excited to be going to see a film at the Pacific Film Archives on Saturday that I've never seen before: World on a Wire (1973), a film from Rainer Fassbinder that was originally on German TV. I may write about it later. I may write about something else instead. I may write about something before Saturday. I don't know. Quit pressuring me. Sorry I was so short you with. I'm only 5'7".

26 April 2011

A Free Day is Not to be Wasted Not Watching a Movie

It was a hard, mean dream that woke me up confused. Gas masks and riot police and darkness too early. Quarrels with friends over silly things. So I sat up sluggishly and rubbed the ache in my shoulder.

No work today. Less money in the bank. Another worry. A long hot shower would help some. And did.

Cold cereal and hot tea to get started. As usual the news was almost all bad. More young people shot dead. More bombs being dropped in faraway places. More people suffering publicly and unashamedly. To dwell on it all would be a quick route to the blues. Didn't need that. Running errands would make more sense. Feeling productive is a salve to the psyche.

Visited big brother in the hospital. Day after his knee replacement surgery. His spirits were clear and steady. Purposeful about the pain and rehabilitation ahead. Twice the man I am. Hell if I'm half that I've got something to brag on.

Long idle phone chat with the missus. She's at work and busy but takes the time hear me bitch about little things. Am I the unwisest person I know or is it just that I'm wise enough to surround myself with the sagacious? Another fucking question that I can't answer. So many.

Problems with the cable box. Exchange it for one that doesn't work at all and there you have it, another dollop of aggravation. Didn't need to watch any TV anyway. What a vast sad wasteland it is. Clutters my brain with nonsense.

So here I am at early afternoon. Searching. Where's that movie I want to watch? There's got to be one. Always is. I've got near 200 so there's always one that needs watching. Plus Netflix instant has a couple of dozen beckoning me.

I wish I had something productive to do right now. Writing can sure feel good but is so isolating. You do it all alone (insert joke about adolescence here) and often don't get any feedback. You've got just yourself usually to tell yourself: that was okay. Hmm, that's all ego, what your soul feels is important and mine tells me good things after I write.

But I still don't know what movie to watch and my soul doesn't seem to have an opinion on the matter. Could it be I'm not meant to watch a movie right now? That's crazy talk. I'll sort this out. A free day is not to be wasted not watching a movie. Outta be a law.

I'll sit in the back and read for awhile. The birds will inspire me to make the right choice. Chirp.


24 April 2011

Scenes From a Blog

I wanted to write about Scenes from a Marriage (1973) which I saw for the first time yesterday. But my life got in the way.

It's always interfering with my plans. Life is.

I want to do this. Then that happens.  I really hate that old saw about a sure way to get God to laugh is to make plans. You've got to make plans. You can't just wander about life aimless (though I've tried it). And what kind of God is that laughs at us mortals because we have goals, aspirations, hopes and means of trying to execute them? Does God burst into giggles because we tell someone: today I plan to catch up on my letter writing, then go grocery shopping and maybe watch a movie. That's cold.

Actually life is endlessly entertaining simply because it's so unpredictable. Wow, didn't see that coming, can be a lot of fun. Or not.

Life is really interesting if you can discuss it in an interesting way. That's one thing I got out of Scenes. It was directed by Ingmar Bergman. He was really really good at directing  seemingly ordinary people in that he made them interesting. Look, if you can make something compelling out of the story in Scenes you're something special. I mean the title says what it is. That's it. You follow a married couple. They're more interesting perhaps than most. But still....

A lot of directors today, hell, most directors today, can't tell an interesting story even if they employ explosions, car crashes, aliens or gun fights. You ever had an earnest child tell you a story in which there are all kinds of scary monsters and wild action scenes? It can be cute and a sign the child is perhaps precocious, but really you're mostly indulging the child (and rightly so). That's what a lot of filmmakers are like. "And then this happened and then that, and then this and then that. Pow. Boom." Yawnsville.

So I'm not getting into detail here, but Bergman proved with Scenes (as he did with many other films) that just observing human interaction can be fascinating. Even if none of the people has super powers or is a murderer or has two heads. Erland Josephson and Liv Ullman starred in Scenes. Ullman I could watch read the phone book in Swedish without subtitles. By the way, I thought Scenes from a Marriage was terrific.

I never did get to writing about it though. I had a lovely dinner with my family. I walked to a bookstore. I suffered through horrific results in sports events watched and attended. I washed tons of dishes. I listened to Chet Baker and Bill Evans (not live, they're both dead, it was a CD). I wasted time on the internet (that's just way to easy to do). I sat on our back deck and read Hemingway.

None of this was filmed by Bergman or anyone else. Though if the Swedish director was around and a camera was handy he'd have doubtless made a pretty good film of it. Imagine, me a star!

So I'm sorry that I didn't get around to writing about Scenes From a Marriage, though you may have noticed that in a roundabout way I sorta did. Kind of.

22 April 2011

Actually I Blame Myself...Not Loving the Film, Hating the Audience An Aging Filmgoer Grumbles

I'm really annoyed with the cinematic experience these days.

Sunday the missus and I went to see Jane Eyre. The theater is a historic one which has  been showing films since 1917. Of course well enough couldn't be left alone and following a national trend the conversation was made some time ago from a movie palace to cinemaplex. In other words the balcony was sealed off, cut in two and screens were wedged into each.

Jane Eyre was playing in one of the closets, rather than downstairs in what is still a nice place to watch a film.

It was crowded. The person sitting in front of me was approximately eight feet tall. I had to stand perfectly erect to see over the tip top of his head. Thank God he didn't sport an Afro.

I've mentioned before that I'm getting increasingly annoyed by people who treat a bag of pop corn as the first meal they've had in three days or those who chomp their snacks rather than chew or rifle through the treats bag brought from home, ripping and tearing open bags of goodies. They were out in full force.

The movie itself was, from my perspective, the very embodiment of a mediocrity. I found it generally diverting but forget about it once the closing credits had at long last closed. Speaking of closing credits, why so long? I think it should have been a clue that they were getting excessive when a second song needed to be tacked on to them. I understand why we should be shown who the casting director and key grip and make up artist was, but the caterer? The driver? The on set medic? How about the aroma therapist and the dog whisperer?

I met a a friend for coffee the next day and we shared our increasing displeasure with going to films as we approach dotage. We swapped stories of rude audience members and ways to avoid crowds. He goes to the very last showing on a weeknight. I try to go to midweek early matinees.

I went to a matinee yesterday to see In a Better World. Just as I hoped, I walked into the theater to find I was the only one there. This continued through the ads (there's another indignity, we must suffer through ads before enjoying a film, without benefit of the mute button) and the previews. Then just as the film started a couple walked in and preceded to argue about where they were going to sit. I took out a gun and shot them. (Okay I made the part about the gun up.)

My experience is that people who arrive late to a film are far more likely to be inconsiderate yakking morons than those of us who are prompt. These yokels were a case in point. When someone talks during a film, they not only take you out of the moment but the next few moments as well. Particularly if you find yourself contemplating a course of action such as moving to another seat or sushing them.

After some initial whispers the couple was mostly silent the rest of the way. Mostly can be good in some circumstances but when it comes to being quiet in a movie theater only totally and completely will do.

In a Better World is a Danish film that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film two months ago. I feel confident in saying that this could no more have been the best foreign film of 2010 than A King's Speech was best English language film. I suppose its nice to see that the academy has taken to opting for lesser efforts in foreign films as well. Why get all snooty about films from other countries when you don't give a toss what Americans or Brits are making? If only I had read this from the Village Voice's Ella Taylor before deciding to see In a Better World:
If The King’s Speech was a comfy middlebrow choice for Best Picture of 2010, how much more depressing was the Academy’s squandering of Best Foreign Language Film on Susanne Bier’s In a Better World? Displaced tykes and bullies both macro and micro abound in this relentlessly pandering drama about a saintly Danish doctor (Mikael Persbrandt) who ministers to feuding Africans in a refugee camp while failing to notice that the suffering child (Markus Rygaard) of his broken marriage courts danger back home. Slick moralizing grows exponentially as the plot, wrapped in travelogue photography, transparently expository dialogue, and cheap thrills, drives home spurious parallels between the first and third worlds. Can’t we all get along? Bier surely means well, but the road to compassion porn is paved with noble intentions, laced with a nakedly commercial appeal that flatters moviegoers with a vision of the West as Africa’s savior from itself. 

But I didn't and I was out eight bucks when I could have stayed at home and enjoyed something from my DVD collection.

I am not quite ready to give up going to movies in theaters. The Pacific Film Archives is a perfectly wonderful place to see a movie. No food allowed. No ads. The sort of film goers who don't spoil the experience for others. With other theaters I will just have to be more careful and more selective. I'm generally a lot better at picking movies. The worst I usually endure is something mediocre, rarely subjecting myself to something I genuinely dislike (last Summer's The Kids Are All Right was an exception). My increasing annoyance with fellow film goers will necessitate being especially careful that the movie will be enough to offset boorish audience behavior.

This afternoon I will enjoy a film from the comfort of my own sofa. If an earthquake or bombing raid interrupt I can always hit the pause button and resume when given the all clear signal. This evening oldest daughter and I are off to the ballpark. There I will be perfectly happy for people to make all those noise they want and eat to their hearts content at full volume even. (Plus, when the game ends I don't have to sit through closing credits.)

19 April 2011

Love is Many Splendored Thing and a Con Artist in Love Makes for a Many Splendored Movie

H.L. Mencken said that "love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence." Evidently Steven Jay Russell, presently serving out a life sentence in a Texas slammer, possessed, in his prime, simply oodles of love, imagination and intelligence.

His adventures are detailed in the film I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009). Jim Carrey stars as Russell and Ewan McGregor plays Morris. It's a gay love story. Sort of.

ILYPM is a slightly fictionalized account of Russell's escapades. Only slightly, because these kind of escapades need no frills to make for an entertaining story. In fact, the filmmakers must have been tempted to tone it down so audiences wouldn't spend the film making a lot of "yeah right!" remarks.

You couldn't make this stuff up. Well, you could but people would say you were daffy.

Lesse...he cons his way into a job as the CFO of a large company (then bilks them out of $100,000s), he convinces the courts he's a lawyer, he...Hey, wait a second, I don't wanna ruin the movie for you. Suffice to say I've only scratched the surface of Russell's chicanery. (Just wait'll you see how he escapes from prison. Classic.)

But Russell, at least as depicted in the film, lacks enough self awareness to avoid his most egregious con -- himself. It doesn't help that as a child he discovers he was adopted, then spends enough years deep enough in the closet to marry (a woman) and father two children. Russell is a doer not a thinker. He immerses himself so much into being someone or something else that he neglects examining who the deuce he is. This is a theme that I touched upon last week in a post about Color Me Kubrick (2005), another film about someone who isn't what or who he appears to be.

Con artists are a film staple, from Trouble in Paradise (1932) through The Sting (1973) through Catch Me If You Can (2002) they make for delightful film characters, especially as their victims are usually stuffy upper crust types or crooks themselves. Sometimes the flim flammer falls for a dame or a dude. But rarely is the love as passionate as in ILYPM. And I defy you to find a con artist film in which the lovers are Gay.

You can argue that the sexual preferences of the screen lovers is irrelevant and I'd agree with you. But as a society we're still new enough to accepting homosexuality (hey! it's only 2011!) so it still can titillate, or more importantly add a dramatic edge to stories. That the film is set in the South which, aside from perhaps Miami Beach, is not known for being at the forefront of the Gay rights movement, adds another dimension.

In ILYPM the lovers meet in prison. So yes this is also in some respects a prison love story. (What, another?!) Carrey and McGregor are wonderful in this film. I always have mixed feelings about Carrey. He's just so much of whatever the hell it is he is, but that's exactly what's called for in playing Russell. I've never known McGregor to do anything but enhance the films he's in. This is a case in point.

ILYPM was a hit in Europe where it was released a full year before hitting these parts. In the U.S., not so much. I don't know the whys and wherefores, but do find it interesting that the Old World took to it and the States didn't. I'm sure part of it has to do with it being released among all those blockbuster/prestige films in December, then slipping out of theaters before you could say I Love You Phillip Morris. Hell, I didn't even catch it. Thanks Netflix for sending it today.

So I had to write something about it. And, in fact, I'll write some more: sweet, engaging, audacious, entertaining, funny as hell and even thought provoking. I like having my thoughts provoked. Gay love stories about con artists, especially true ones, those I'm a sucker for.

17 April 2011

I May Be Getting Older But I'm Also Getting Butter, I Mean Better, Although I Could Do With Some Margarine

The photo is of my Mom and Dad in New York circa 1945.


Most of the young are bored most of the time -- if they have any spirit at all. That is to say, they are outraged -- and quite rightly so -- because life isn’t as wonderful as they feel it ought to be. - From Down There on a Visit by Christopher Isherwood.

It has come to my attention recently that, chronologically speaking, I am getting older. Oh I know that one starts getting older immediately upon being born, if not sooner, but there is an indeterminate point at which one stops maturing or growing up and begins to age.

Fortunately I do not feel old or older. I'm physically in top shape and still think of myself as a member of a younger generation (I say "a" rather than "the" as a demonstration that I'm not deluded enough to fancy myself one of today's younger set). Nevertheless I do find myself afflicted with certain diseases of aging. These include bouts of sentimentality. Occasional wistfulness. Pangs of regret. Burnings of yearnings. Severe fits of nostalgia.

All too often I begin sentences with the following words: I remember when I was a kid.... Of course there are other variations, such as: when I was in high school, or when I was in college. Usually I'm recalling how things were cheaper, simpler, less commercial or comparatively unsophisticated. My children roll their eyes. There is a lot of eye rolling in our house. Even the cat is fed up with my reminisces. Animals can sense these things, you know.

One of the reasons I like getting together with my big brother is so that we can jaw about the old days. We enable one another's journey's back to the old days. In those there are recollections of rotary telephones that were big black monstrosities and could not fit in one's pocket. Days when movies cost 50 cents (for a double feature matinee) and could only be seen in theaters or sliced and diced on TV. We remember when you could get a burger, fries and soda for around $1. But make no mistake, these were not the good old days. People smoked everywhere for one thing. For another, while we didn't have to deal with the over reaction that is political correctness, racial slurs were common and gays were either deep in the closet or called fairies.

Still I often put a golden hue on days of yore. Nostalgia is a way of making the normal of 30 years ago seem quaint and interesting. The time when we were young seems to belong to us. We are that generation and can be quite possessive of it. So we romanticize. This is not unusual.

Of course the trap I fall into is supposing that somehow those days can be relived. That I can go back and correct all our mistakes, take the knowledge and wisdom I've accumulated and employ it in the service of leading a better, perhaps even perfect life. I, for example, would have been ever so much nicer to Deborah, a high school flame.
I'd not of spend so much of my childhood watching Hogan's Heroes or my young adult years in a stupor. I'd have been nicer and more productive. Surely by now I should have won a Pulitzer Prize and spent decades hobnobbing with Hollywood stars.

Perhaps there is a form of reincarnation that allows for this. A second time through. But one can hardly count on it. We can, however, count on the here and now. Today is all we have, life's one guarantee. Mental meanderings in our halcyon days are all well and good but should not be overly romanticized or sentimentalized.

Such thinking can lead to misery. Happiness is a byproduct of acceptance and embracing who we are and what we have -- today. How easy to ignore the riches life has bestowed upon us and focus on what we don't have, have not achieved or once possessed.

We must also assume that a string of tomorrows await us and that we can take full advantage of. The phrase, it's never too late, may sound trite but it is also true.

It's said that youth is wasted on the young. As if there is meaning in having everything at once without labor. Generally we got what we need when we need it. Fighting that is futile. And while acceptance is important, but should never be confused with resignation. There is much we can alter and sorting that from those matters out of our control is essential.

I had spent a number of years fighting the reality that I was rapidly getting nearer the end than to the beginning. Death was unthinkable. Literally. But recently, as I've watched a friend day with incredible courage and previously seen my dear old Dad fight for his life to the end, I've changed my thinking. Now I have accepted that life on Earth is terminal, it thus has all the more meaning and provides ever so much joy and satisfaction.

Given the odds against being born in the first place, one should perforce embrace every second. Especially when seeing all the walking dead. Those people in perpetual fogs who cannot appreciate being part of the great game of life. Many blur their brains with drugs or alcohol. Others submerge themselves in hate and anger (they are easy to find on the internet, leaving messages here and there). Some sad sacks live their lives vicariously through television programs thus failing to live their own life. Legions of our fellow travelers spend their waking hours in one way or another mentally numb. Some are emotionally toxic.

Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." Clearly many people either disagree or fail to heed that message. Regularly taking a good hard look at who we are, what we've done, what we're doing and how we feel, allows us to at once appreciate our time here and make better use of it. Learning, after all, is a life-long endeavor.

So I'm not getting any younger. There is no point at which that was the case. I accept that I am getting older and other than the fact that I'm losing a bit of my boyish good looks, I'm quite fine with my lot. I'm happy to be here. 

15 April 2011

I've Been in My Mind, It's Such a Fine Line

Color Me Kubrick (2005) the true story of a man a con man named Conway who conned. Con vinced people that he was the great director. This in London during the early Nineties (19 not 1890's). John Malcovich pretended to be Conway but he was acting and not trying to fool people except for while they watched the movie. But even then....

Was quite a do in its time, the Conway business. As it is whenever someone successfully masquerades as a famous other. But aren't so many people so often acting like something they're not? Putting on a show, you might say. Acting. Self important buffoons making themselves out to be really special or be in special circumstances or having a special event. We're all special so don't need to act that way. But we do. Exaggeration one of the greatest games of deception we play. Mostly don't get caught.

In my early 20's, after having been in England for a bit and being pretty good with accents, I used to go to bars and pretend to be from London. Thought it would help me pick up girls. It did. But it never ended in anything better than a one night stand. Sorry.

Yeah so the film entertained. Word I used in telling the missus about it was "charming" I may have substituted delightful if I'd told someone else. I guess I'm telling you. By the way, "hi."

But besides being charming and delightful, Color Me Kubrick got me thinking about the degree to which people avoid being themselves. Sometimes so much so that they take on a whole different persona. Woody Allen's Zelig (1983) does a wonderful job of exploring this theme. Usually though we just take our essence and tweak it. Often to make ourselves more interesting or appealing. Usually both. Truth is so hard to live. Doing it is rewarding. Even beautiful. Definitely liberating. But many people spend their whole lives running away from the truth of their selves. Sad really.

Hey, just be yourself. In job interviews? On dates? At parties? When meeting old friends? You can try. Beats starting to believe your own lies.

-- Subject change --

I just got back from the gym and my endorphins are tangoing. This is good. I ran four miles on the tread mill and lifted weights. In the sauna I was astounded by one of those (negative adjective) who thinks that this is the place to exercise. No (negative adjective), that's what the rest of the gym is for.

I showered and changed. Once again I wished that I could share a locker with Victoria Secrets models rather than men, many of whom in no way resemble Greek Gods. I swear to you that I would do nothing inappropriate if my shower and changing area were populated by female models. I'd just appreciate the view a lot more. And by the way guys of the Berkeley YMCA, no offense.

Took the bus home. Sat across from a high school girl who looked like the kind of girl I would have gone out with when I was in high school. Some girls look like the kind who I would have had a crush on but would not dared to talk to. Others look like the kind of girls who had a crush on me but I was not interested. This stuff happens.

I looked out the window at one point and saw a young couple, probably college students, walking arm-in-arm all lovey dovey. I remember being that age and in love and feeling like the greatest most important and happiest person on the planet. I also remember being head over heels in love with someone who I wasn't sure felt the same about me. Exquisite torture it was. Hard to sleep, hard to concentrate on anything. An ulcer waiting to happen. Young love, whether fulfilled or unrequited is an all consuming flame. Being dumped is hell on Earth.

Today I am married to one of those women I had a mad crush on. Requited. I try not to take it for granted. I try to appreciate this remarkable gift. I try to be worthy. That's all I can do.

There was a fat middle aged woman on the bus loudly chewing and smacking her gum. Loud gum chewing is one of least attractive sights in our civilization. Have you ever met a really intelligent person who chomps gum loudly? Neither have I.

The bus ride was wonderfully quick and entirely devoid of accidents. Shortly after entering my house I sat down at the computer. Then I wrote this.

12 April 2011

Touches of Evil, Interesting Villians

Loathsome.

Awful people who you want to see vanquished, killed, put in their place, exposed, got rid of, reformed, defeated or just given their comeuppance.

Thankfully films are full of them. Sadly the vast majority are veritable cardboard cutouts. Sneering Simon Lagrees or moustache twirling Captain Hooks. Not really odious at all. The truly frightening or sickening ones feel quite genuine. They either recall actual people we have known or who are infamous enough for us to have heard of. Or there's something in them that strikes a chord. A chord of doom, disaster or dastardly diabolical deeds.

What makes a vivid film character, whether good or evil, is the same thing that makes  for a good movie -- truth. Art is best when it is shining a light on the reality of our existence. The truth is that evil, however we choose to define it, lurks everywhere. There are small doses of it in everyone. By infusing characters with a more evident evil, we can understand better that which we have experienced or even, perhaps, felt within ourselves.

I've been blogging frequently enough these past three years that I've actually already written a post on some of film's best villains. Indeed I followed up with another post focusing on evil women. Suffice it to say there are plenty more worth looking at, which this writing I hope will prove.

Bishop Edvard Vergerus as portrayed by Jan Malmjso in Fanny and Alexander (1982). Worse step father ever. Strictness squared. We come to love the title characters of the film. They are two children who excel at just being kids. Exploring, laughing, discovering and playing. Then their widowed Ma marries this repressive oppressive man of the cloth. He specializes in stifling imagination and meting out punishment.
Hans Landa as portrayed by Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds (2009). Nazis were some of the worst creatures to walk the Earth but they've been a positive boon to films. They're ready made villains. The evil Nazi has been a film staple since before the second world war even started. Remarkably, Waltz was able to bring the arch type to a whole new level. He was charming, intelligent -- spoke four languages -- and other than the uniform, a handsome bloke. That sort of skill set in the service of evil is particularly frightening.
Anton Chigurh as portrayed by Javier Bardem in No Country For Old Men (2007). Glory be to first Cormac McCarthy and then to the Coen Brothers that they didn't kill him off. Chirgurh is ever so much more interesting still out there. He is also destined to be an iconic character for generations to come. What the deuce is he? A relentless, merciless and uncompromising killing machine for one. A killer with his own peculiar moral code who cannot be bargained with. He's like a great white shark: equally fascinating and frightening.
Hans Beckert as portrayed by Peter Lorre in M (1931). Like many of those who commit heinous acts, Beckart is pitiful. It doesn't serve to make him any less awful, just adds creepiness to the package. This is as bad a package as exists, someone who preys on little girls. An able bodied adult would have nothing to fear from Beckert, but it is our children he makes us fear for.
Done Lope de Agurirre as portrayed by Klaus Kinski in Agurirre: The Wrath of God (1972). A little megalomania brings out the worst in anyone. Kinski's Aguirre is utterly mad with evil. His lust for gold and power and his willingness to sacrifice others in the pursuit of it, make Aguirre deserving of the fate that ultimately befalls him.
Dan Logan as portrayed by Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast (2000). This is the same guy who played Ghandi, for crying out loud. It's a striking performance because it verges on being over the top. As a lesser actor would have made a meal of it. Sir Ben's Logan is one scary m*therf*cker and his raw anger and eccentric persistence is a personification of evil.
Marcus Licinius Crassus as portrayed by Laurence Olivier in Spartacus (1960). He may have plied his trade in Ancient Rome, but this is a textbook power mad dictator the likes of which still walk the Earth. He rules his people ruthlessly and cruelly. And Antoninus unhesitatingly exploits anyone at his disposal. For him, this is virtually everyone. Olivier gives the character dollops of rage to go with an articulate and even philosophical evil man.
Hank Quinlan as portrayed by Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (1958). The corrupt cop. There is very little in this world as distasteful. And my goodness Quinlan, the fat mumbling slob, is as noxious as they come. Welles the actor was surpassed only by Welles the director in this film.
Senator Ralph Owen Brewster as portrayed by Alan Alda in The Aviator (2004). There's one moment alone in The Aviator that qualifies Alda's Brewster for this list. Knowing that Howard Hughes, who he's about to have a business lunch with, is germophobic, he methodically places a large finger print on Hughes's drinking glass. What a rat. Brewster is of course based on the real Senator of the same name. He is portrayed as being in the pocket of a major corporation. Now I ask you, who ever heard of such a thing?
Judah Rosenthal as portrayed by Martin Landua in Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). One of the worst things about Rosenthal is that he suffers no consequence for his actions. Indeed at the end of the film he is still a happily married wealthy and highly respected member of his community. With a clear conscience no less. He's the kind of evil who really commits only one horrible act (okay, two if you count the infidelity) and is otherwise clean as a whistle. Director/writer Woody Allen asks: How many of us are capable of the same? Chilling.

10 April 2011

I Share A Collection of Thoughts That Are Not At All Random

I'm quite concerned about the power this Simon fellow has over people, particularly children. People will do seemingly anything on his command and are sent off for committing acts that he did not order. "Simon says raise your hand" and people do it. What if this Simon fellow turns out to be in league with Osama Bin Laden? Then we're all in a spot of bother.

I'm curious about this religion or philosophy that believes that if "you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around, that's what it's all about." I want to know more about their beliefs.

I must admit to some confusion about a common expression. When someone says to you: "don't do anything I wouldn't do" how are we supposed to know everything that they would not do? Perplexing.

I think I made a mistake ten years ago when I stocked up on typewriter ribbons.

How come adults don't play tag? Or for that matter, hide and go seek?

I can't wait for the wealthiest Americans to begin using their tax breaks to start businesses that will create lots of jobs and stimulate the economy so that we'll all enjoy prosperity. America is a great country.

I'd like to reiterate a point made by the late great George Carlin. If sex between consenting adults is legal and giving someone money for services rendered is legal, why isn't prostitution legal? Do pimps have a powerful lobby that keeps politicians from even considering legalizing prostitution?

Sometimes I feel sorry for inanimate objects. Like our tea kettle. Everyday, often several times in the morning alone, it is subjected to searing heat. And don't get me started on the suffering that a toilet goes through.

I like the idea of the no fly zone that has been imposed over Libya. I just don't understand why we can't have one here. Flies are awful pests that sometimes carry disease and to prohibit them seems to make a world of sense.

Why is that no matter what you're seeing the doctor about they always start out taking your blood pressure? You could go in to settle a bill and they'd immediately have you rolling up a sleeve.

Everyone who believes in reincarnation seems to think that they were a prince or queen of explorer in a past life. No one ever says: "In a past life I was serf in 16th century Russia who died at age 21 when I fell in a river."

Brits are always referring to people as clever but you never hear Americans use the world at all. Let's change that. Speaking of words, unless you're watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you never hear the word bashful anymore.

I often hear variations on someone having "too much time on their hands." What is the correct amount of time to have on your hands? Why isn't this posted somewhere?

Can you imagine if God had a website? Think of the FAQ section. The bio! The photos! What links to other sites would God have?

Has anyone ever rejected condolences? You always hear people say: "please accept my condolences" or sympathies. But you never hear anyone reply: no thanks.

I'm still waiting for someone to come forward with financing for my rotary mobile phone idea. Anyone? Hello! Someone?


09 April 2011

Three Examples of Lumet's Brilliance

Legendary director Sidney Lumet died today at 86. Here are clips from three of his greatest films that demonstrate the Lumet touch.







05 April 2011

Part One of My Exclusive Interview With a Boozy Ole Flirt Who Used To Be In Show Business

This is part one of my exclusive interview with a boozy ole flirt who used to be in show business. Her name is Ann McAdam, or at least that's her current alias. Due to ongoing litigation I cannot reveal her real identity. But what I can do is print my recent interview with her verbatim on this blog. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance who thought Ann's ravings might be of interest to the general public

Ms. McAdam is of an indeterminate age, but suffice to say middle age is in her rear view mirror. She's been a fixture of the local nightlife for eons (no, literally, she's been around that long). Albeit much of her renown comes from having passed out in every two bit joint in the Bay Area and for that matter most of California...oh hell, most of the US. Annie is a fountain of stories about show business in the halcyon days when, as she puts it, "men swabbed bryclream all over their hair (a little dab'll do ya) and women wore pearls, gloves and nylons." Back then, she adds, "Martinis were more popular than energy drinks, singers crooned into mikes, they didn't prance around stage. Comics delivered zippy one liners, not foul-mouthed rants." Ann knew all the stars, or at least knew of them, one can't always be sure. In any case she was kind enough to sit for this interview, provided the drinks were comped.

This interview was conducted in a booth at Leo's Bar and Grill on Main Street, Anytown USA.

RW: Thanks for --

Boozy Ole Flirt: You got a ciggy, hon. I'm just dying for a Pall Mall.

RW: Sorry I don't besides --

Boozy Ole Flirt: Time was a decent gal like me could puff away in a bar or anyplace for that matter. Don't let anyone tell you all change is for the better.

RW: Duly noted. Tell me about your fling with Sinatra, that must have been an exciting experience to have a dalliance with a member of the Rat Pack.

Boozy Ole Flirt: Now darling this was Frank Junior. But don't kid yourself. He had every bit as much charm as his dad. Plus, my God, I remember like it was yesterday, the love handles. I'll never forget ripping that cummerbund off him and then letting nature take its course.

RW: I see. You also did a lot of singing yourself.

Boozy Ole Flirt: Oh God, lots, hon.

RW: What were some of your more memorable gigs?

Boozy Ole Flirt: Listen sweetie my drink needs a little freshening. Do you mind?

RW: Go right a-

Boozy Ole Flirt: Hey Gus! Another Seven & Seven and make it a double this time.

RW: About your singing engagements.

Boozy Ole Flirt: Oh I was engaged to several singers, hon --

RW: No I meant performances.

Boozy Ole Flirt: Oh of course you did, hon. Let's see. I sang at the Can Can Club in Topeka. You know it?

RW: Uh, no.

Boozy Ole Flirt: A real dive. But believe you me you had to wow 'em there or they'd practically throw you off the stage.

RW: And did you?

Boozy Ole Flirt: Did I what?

RW: Wow 'em?

Boozy Ole Flirt: I've still got an aching bone in my rump from where I landed. (Laughs.) But I was a hit at the Safari Room in Moosejaw. Course now, I had to burlesque it up a little there.

RW: You mean you stripped?

Boozy Ole Flirt: In a word.

RW: Did you take your clothes off in public often?

Boozy Ole Flirt: Oh all the time, dear. Course usually I was bombed out of my mind and not getting an nickel for it.

RW: Did you ever appear on TV?

Boozy Ole Flirt: The Tonight Show back when Steve Allen hosted.

RW: Did you just sing or were you a guest?

Boozy Ole Flirt: No hon, I was in the audience. The camera caught me just howling at one of Louis Nye's lines.

RW: I see. But you never actually performed on television.

Boozy Ole Flirt: Not that I can recall. I was pretty well loaded through much of the early Sixties so there's no telling what I did then.

RW: But you did a lot of acting too, didn't you?

Boozy Ole Flirt: Folks say I act up quite a bit, yes. Fact I've been given the heave ho from several dumps for my acting up.

RW: Actually I meant acting like playing a role.

Boozy Ole Flirt: Oh I see you whatctya mean. Yeah some guys are into that kinky stuff. I say sex is sex and who needs to --

RW: No I mean --

Boozy Ole Flirt: HEY GUS! WHERE'S THAT DRINK? Scuse me, hon, I've got to go powder my nose....

To be continued....












03 April 2011

Annoying Gym Singer, Too Much TV, Harlow & Clarke, A Lighter Shade of Bergman And An "Interesting" Film

Today in the gym there was an awful sounding racket emanating from a woman's mouth. It suggested a wolverine drowning. Several of us looked over in her direction only to discover that this woman was "singing" in accompaniment to her IPod.  Her shoulders were shimmying, apparently in response to the music. These movements looked to be less a rhythmic reaction to pleasant sounds and more an upper body seizure. Our performer was a greying woman on the downhill side of middle age. No one wants such distractions when trying to lift weights. Least of all disagreeable ones. There's one bloke I see at the gym all too often who hums incessantly. We don't need that. Then there are those who go beyond the expected grunts and groans huffs and puffs that normally accompany vigorous exercise. There's one chap who when running on the treadmill sounds like a winded water buffalo. It's heard to imagine a human can make such a sound. And don't get me started on all the whistling in the locker room....

I'd been pushing myself physically recently and keeping generally quite busy besides. So I designated yesterday as a day to stay off my feet and do nothing more taxing than operating the remote control. I ended up watching three movies, a soccer match, part of a baseball game, part of a hockey game, an episode of HBO's The Ricky Gervais Show (absolutely love him and the show) and glimpses of the NCAA basketball tournament and a few other shows including the first half hour of Saturday Night Live. All this in a span of 14 1/2 hours. Yikes! Talk about binge watching. Besides the visit to the gym I'm doing some serious reading and writing today to balance the scales a bit, although it'll take several days, if not weeks, to offset so much time in front of the idiot box.....

The first two films I watched were part of TCM's pre code Forbidden Hollywood set. They were Red-Headed Woman (1932) starring Jean Harlow and Waterloo Bridge (1931) featuring Mae Clarke. I'd seen both films before but only once and in each case a good five years or so ago. Like gazillions of other people I love Jean Harlow. As she did on occasion, in Red Headed Woman she plays a right proper stinker. She was as a subtle as jackhammer in her use of men for riches and attendant comfort. Harlow was even better playing sweetie pies. Her life was cut way, way, way too short at age 26. Yet she still appeared in Red Dust (1932), Hell's Angels (1930), Platinum Blonde (1931)Bombshell (1933), Dinner at Eight (1933), The Public Enemy (1931), China Seas (1935), Libeled Lady (1936) and Wife vs. Secretary (1936), plus whatever the hell slipped my mind. That's all in an eight year span. It's mind boggling to think what more she'd have done in another 30 or so years.....

Much as I love Harlow, I preferred the second feature of my matinee yesterday. Mae Clarke, best known for getting a grapefruit facial from James Cagney in the aforementioned Public Enemy, was -- and I hate myself for overusing this word -- underrated. If you're unfamiliar with Ms. Clarke, just watch Waterloo Bridge (and for God's sakes don't waste your time with the saccharin re-make). She plays an out-of-work chorus girl in WWI London whose had to turn to prostitution to make ends meet. A naive young solider from a wealthy family falls for her and she tries to do what she envisions is the right thing. The -- oh my God here it comes again -- underrated James Whale directed. Douglass Montgomery, who didn't have much of career otherwise, was wonderful as the love struck 19 year old. Waterloo Bridge is quintessential pre code viewing and indeed a must see for any film lover. Yes, I think it's underrated.....

Last night the missus and I watched Ingmar Bergman's Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). It is much lighter fare than the great Swedish director typically made. It is a ribald comedy chock full of mistresses, adultery and illicit liaisons. Quite the thing for the mid 1950's. Virtually every great director can successfully make a film in another genre. I'd wager that Martin Scorsese could make a jim dandy Western if he'd a mind to. Smiles was the inspiration for one of Woody Allen's lesser efforts, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982). You could argue that Allen successfully adopted many of the aspects from Smiles in other of his films. But I tend to believe that Smiles is the type of movie Allen would and has naturally made and in many cases better. In any event, Smiles is a delight and while a joyous romp still introduces themes of life and love that Bergman dealt with quite seriously in other films....

Ever hear anyone refer to a film as "interesting"? What they're generally saying is that the picture wasn't all that good but boasts other merits, such as a star playing against type, or a unique visual style or an eclectic cast or the first of its kind. "Interesting" movies are usually badly flawed but not a waste of time as watching them serves another purpose. You just had to see so-and-so in a musical, or what's-his-face's first film or the unique pairing of him and her. Sometimes you don't know in advance that you're going to watch an "interesting" film. You go in looking forward to seeing something special and finish being satisfied that, well at least it was "interesting".  So it was the other day when I watched a film called The Law (1959) directed by Jules Dassin. The cast featured Gina Lollobrigida, Marcello Mastroianni, Melina Mercouri and Yves Montand. Not too shabby. The Law was set in Italy with a primarily Italian cast but directed by a Frenchmen and spoken in French. Of course. It was a howlingly adequate film, though at two hours pushes the boundary of how long a film can be mediocre before it slips into bad. Ms. Lollobrigida was at her loveliest, which is much like saying that the sun was at it's hottest. Fifty years ago she could be gorgeous doing push ups with a baggy grey sweatsuit on. Mastorianni was charming as ever and there were all manner of interesting characters and incidents but thrown all together it just didn't work. It was like putting a lot of really tasty ingredients together to make a bad stew. Except that it was "interesting"....

Now I ask a personal favor. If anyone is acquainted with a woman who makes noises akin to a walrus in heat whilst listening to the music on her IPod. Please do us all a favor and tell her to put a sock in it. At least while she's out in public. Cheers.