30 March 2011

"Life is Far Too Important a Thing to Talk Seriously About." - Oscar Wilde...I Do it Anyway

Show up and do the right thing.

I was talking to a former colleague today who is going through a rough patch in his life following the death of a parent. I've had a bit of experience with hard times myself. We all have to some degree or another. It's unavoidable. There's no use comparing with what other people go through either. Just because some people have it worse does nothing to ease our own suffering.

My friend also told me of a former student of ours who recently drowned in Mexico while on a cruise. He was as bright, mature and nice a young man as you'd ever want to meet and is gone before seeing his 25th birthday.

I've had about a dozen former students who died of gunshot wounds. In some cases it was no surprise. Other times it was evidence that life can be grossly unfair. I've had former students matriculate at all eight Ivy League schools and many of the leading public universities in the country. Some have gone on to be doctors, professors and film stars. One is on death row for a double homicide. So it goes.

Anyway I started talking about rough patches that we stumble through in life. I was going through my worst when I was rescued by a 12 step program. Other people are "saved" by religion. Still others benefit from counseling, or medication or even just meeting the right person or changing careers. Sometimes bad times just pass and we experience enlightenment in their wake.

Pain and suffering are not to be ignored. They are what builds our character and inner fortitude. Our ability to persevere sets an example for others. Through coming out of the tunnel we find light and happier days. Better days. But neither should we dwell upon our misfortune and use it as an excuse for inaction or anger. How easy it is to surrender to ill feelings and wrap ourselves in a cloak of despair. Just as one can drown in their own resentments and regrets. Life is constantly teaching us. Although it can often be akin to taking the test before receiving the lesson.

We owe to ourselves and those that love us a commitment to seeing out whatever demons plague us and meanwhile remaining a part of our family and community.
Grabbing a firm hold of hope is a critical step. As is letting go of those things that are out of are control. Raging impotently at forces beyond our grasp is a fool's errand and a sure way to misery.

It's always worth remembering the many gifts we should be thankful for. Being a living, breathing member of the human race is a gift all in itself. I know I've learned to appreciate my ability to participate in this wild and mysterious dance of life. Sure it brings occasional heartache, but it should always be recognized as a thrill to be a part of the human race. How the angels envy us!

I tried to tell my old friend that just hanging in until better times is crucial. It can be like telling a child stuck inside on a rainy day that the sun will be back. It's just a lot of words. I suppose what's needed is faith. Faith that those words have truth imbued in them. Better days are always ahead for those who look for them.

One of the most difficult things I've had to learn to live with is happiness. Given my checkered past I all too often have found myself thinking that if happy I must be doing something wrong, that surely I do not deserve such joy. Of course such thinking could quite literally ruin my fun. It was like a self fulfilling prophesy. Embracing life's victories and treasures and good moods is an essential survival skill. Seizing those moments, luxuriating in them, can add meaning too. We should not just learn through pain but through happiness as well. What a cynical notion that we can only learn through suffering.

Good times and happiness are often the result of what we choose to label as luck. But luck is a residue of design.

Life is paradoxical. It is at once infinitely complicated and very simple. Sadly, too many people complicate the simple while failing to simplify the complicated.  Here's a simplification that I think is useful: show up and do the right thing, good times are coming.

The Color Purple, and Burnt Orange and Electric Lime....My Controversial Post on Favorite Hues

As some of you may recall I recently wrote a post called, My Favorite Colors. It was linked on the Internet Color Database (ICDb). As a consequence I had more than the usual number of reader many of whom left comments. For those of you who missed the post and comments I am re-printing it here.

My Favorite Colors

Here is a list of my seven favorite colors.
1. Blue
2. Forest Green
3. Goldenrod
4. Mulberry
5. Sepia
6. Razzle Dazzle Rose
7. Jet Black


Ulysses said...
Great list but where's Vivid Violet?

Anonymous said...
There are no new colors here! It's like there haven't been any new colors in the past 25 years!

Hortense said...
Hello.. shocking pink!

Elderberry McGruff said....
What a terrible list, have you even seen a color before?

Quo Vadis said...
Wild watermelon
Atomic Tangerine
Brick Red

Ichabod said...
Dude, you're blogg is really okay. But whatever.
No fuchsia!? Be real or dont blog. Seryously.

Petrograd Pete said...
Pacific Blue is my all-time favorite. I don't necessarily blame you for leaving off neon carrot but it is really awesome.

Charlize Theron said...
Why won't you leave your wife for me? She can have my Oscar!

28 March 2011

I Wish That Just Once I Could Say: "According to My Contacts in the Underground" Anyway, Herein is a Weather Report, Audience Complaints, and Discussion of Another World War II Movie

We've had a lot of rain here lately. Unlike most everyone else, I've loved every drop. I just now enjoyed some of the fruits of all that precipitation. I sat in the backyard under a clean blue sky. The ground was still damp from all the rain and the ground was a lustrous green. In spots bare of grass there was moss. Birds sang happily and a squirrel cavorted about. The air was warm and felt soft and caressing. I alternately enjoyed my surrounding and read Christopher Isherwood's Lion and Shadows, an autobiography as novel or novel as autobiography, I forget which.

This was time too perfect. So somewhere on our block a car alarm went off. Wonderful invention the car alarm. I wonder what the ratio is to the number of times they go off inadvertently to the number of times they prevent auto thefts. Anyway it was time for me to come in and write something. One occasionally just feels a strong urge to put pen to paper or rather to put finger to keyboard. So here we are....

Yesterday I saw Winter in Wartime (2008) a highly acclaimed Dutch film just now being released in this country. I hadn't been in a theater in a couple of months and forget how different it is to watch a film in public as opposed to the comfort of one's own home. A gentleman sat behind who insisted upon digging treats out of a large paper bag. Judging from the cacophonous munching, he had brought homemade popcorn. To my right was a couple who intermittently dug through a plastic bag for their vitals. In front of me was someone struggling to open a candy wrapper. Further back there was a couple who loudly whispered a few times until finally someone shushed them.

None of these vexations afflict the home movie goer. Then again the screen is bigger....

I believe it was Brad Pitt who said that Quentin Tarantino had effectively killed of World War II movies with Inglourious Basterds (2009). He, of course, meant it as a compliment and testimony to the exclamation point that Basterds put on the genre.

In fairness Winter in Wartime was released before Basterds and it's safe to assume that WWII movies will continue to be released (books on the Nazis alone had their biggest year in 2010, a testament to the everlasting fascination we have with Third Reich). But surely there's less and less material to explore. I felt I'd seen most elements of Winter in Wartime several times before.

Based on true events, the story revolves around a male adolescent in occupied Holland in January of 1945. The war was all but lost but the Nazis did a lot of their killing in the war's waning months, just ask any Holocaust scholar.

Our young hero, Michiel, becomes involved with the rescue of a downed British flyer. Indeed, after a series of arrests he's the whole show until he finally enlists the aid of his older sister.

There is much daring do, near escapes, mean Nazis (they really were, you know) betrayals, tensions and yes of course, our hero coming of age. This was a much celebrated film in The Netherlands and that's understandable. it's a compelling tale well told. For me it was just all a bit too familiar.

As I've detailed here any number of times, particularly in this post from several years ago, which I followed up with this post a few months later, the Second World War is a never ending source of films. The scripts write themselves. There are ready-made heroes and villains and all manner of dramatic material replete with explosions, gunfire and blood.

At this point, with so many stories having been told, one really needs something new, mostly in the way of telling it. As Tarantino did. He had the wonderful audacity to create a separate reality. It's hard to see anyone daring to try that again. Then again Hollywood is positively teeming with people who make a fortune recycling really good ideas and turning them into rot. I'd never underestimate those bastards with two"a"s.

I've spent a lifetime watching WWII films and reading non-fiction books about the Nazis. I'll reiterate a point recently made on this blog that its instructive for anyone to make at least a cursory study of the crimes of the Nazis and to engage in some serious reflection about them.

In terms of WWII films,  I can't say that I've had my fill yet but I rather doubt there's much else I can be moved by. Go ahead filmmakers, prove me wrong.

23 March 2011

So You Want to Start Watching Hitchcock Films, an Introduction

So You Want to Start Watching _______is an occasional feature here at Streams of Unconsciousness. It is a guide to anyone unfamiliar with a particular star, director, genre, or time period in films. After a brief introduction, I will provide a sampling of films to watch. Although I will always strive to include the best possible films for each chapter in the series, I will also look to present representative work. I'll say a little bit about each film, all of which will be provided in chronological order. This is the third of the series. In the first I provided an introduction to the films of Humphrey Bogart the second was an intro to screwball comedies in the third I introduced films of the 1970s and the most recent was an introduction to Westerns.

So you're new to Hitchcock, eh? Unless you're under, oh let's say 22 years old, or have spent most of your life rafting down the Amazon, I'm quite frankly amazed. Then again I'm somewhat envious. You are about to embark a journey which will lead you to many great discoveries. Kind of like that trip down the Amazon.

Hitch was a prolific director who made films from the silent era through the 1970s. Hitchcock began his career in his native England and moved to the U.S. in 1940. Name a film star from 1930-1970 and she or he most likely starred in one of his films. Cary Grant, James Stewart, Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Paul Newman, Joel McCrae, Doris Day, Robert Donat, Henry Fonda, Joseph Cotten, Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, Sean Connery, Janet Leigh...I could go on. He has been the subject of myriad books (just check out Amazon -- the website, not the river). There are books on his body of work, individual films and straight bios. The one I find indispensable is Francois Truffaut's interviews of Hitchcock. Every film Hitchcock made through 1964 is discussed, some at great length.

Many critics, film makers and cinephiles consider him the greatest director of all time. It's an arguable point but one cannot dispute that he made one helluva lot of feature films and an amazing percentage of them are today considered classics, or at least widely admired. If you've not seen much of Hitchcock's work I hope you're young. There's a lot there and very little to bypass. Plus there are many you'll want to watch again and again. Anyway, I hope this helps get you started. It is not a list of what I consider -- or even a general consensus necessarily considers -- his best films, nor is it a list of my personal favorites. The ones I've chosen represent 43 years of film (not the entirety of his career, mind you). I tried to give a variety of types of films, with a variety of stars' locales etc. Call it a sampler.

Rear Window (1954) I normally make a point to list films in this series in the order they were released. However in this case I'm suggesting you start with Rear Window. It's classic Hitch. A fair number of folks (not including me) consider it his best, or at least their favorite. I think it's a litmus test though. If somehow you don't care for Rear Window you may as well as forget the whole thing. If you like it...fasten your seat belts. Rear Window is classic Hitchcock suspense. It has most of the trademarks of his films. Specifically suspense, mystery, suspicion, voyeurism and a gorgeous blonde (Grace Kelly). Jimmy Stewart is the wheelchair bound photographer who thinks he's on to a murderer and Raymond Burr is his suspect. Try it, you'll like it.

Blackmail (1929) I start here rather than with a silent film because quite honestly I've not seen enough of them to choose one. This is a good starting point, nonetheless. Indeed it is Hitchcock's first talkie and he got off to a rousing start. Not surprisingly the story centers around a case of blackmail, but as with all good Hitch films, the enjoyment comes from how the story is told. With black and white films Hitch was masterful at using shadows and in his color films, the colors are often deep and lush and accent the story. Blackmail is the first of many Hitchcock films to feature a climactic scene in a famous place, in this case The British Museum.

The 39 Steps (1935) In my not always humble opinion, this ranks right up there among Hitchcock's best. It presages a lot of what you'll see throughout the rest of his career. Innocent man accused of heinous crime, on the run, involved with blonde woman, daring escapes and of course a McGuffin. A McGuffin is a plot device, such as the secret formula, that is the reason our hero is in trouble. Hitch never spent much time working out the McGuffin, he was more interested in how characters dealt with the circumstances they caused. In The 39 Steps Robert Donat is the hero, falsely accused of murder and being pursued by nefarious enemy spies in addition to the police. Here he travels through a large part of Great Britain. Just as Cary Grant would cover a lot of U.S. territory some 25 years later in North By Northwest (1959). Donat brings the kind of wit and charm, along with cunning and daring, that would come to exemplify the Hitchcock hero.

Foreign Correspondent (1940) Joel McCrea is a crime reporter sent by his American newspaper to cover the forthcoming war in Europe. He has all manner of adventure, some of which are carried out with a fair maiden (Laraine Day). There are nasty double agents, attempts to kill our hero and drama aplenty. Any director could make a decent film out of such a story but Hitchcock made a classic. Whether with windmills or umbrellas, he created some indelible scenes and moments. As with most of Hitchcock's films there's a dose of humor. In this case much of it comes courtesy of Robert Benchley. The stellar cast also includes George Sanders, Herbert Marshall and Edmund Gwenn as a hit man (Santa as a hit man?). Don't be put off by this bizarre but apparently true tidbit: Joseph Goebbels loved this film. Go figure.

Notorious (1946) You can't do much better then Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman starring and Claude Rains in the key supporting role. I dare you to try. This is one of the most exquisitely filmed movies ever committed to celluloid. The shot from the top of the staircase that ultimately focuses on a single key in Bergman's hands is the best of many examples. Please see this post of mine from two years ago.

I Confess (1953) Every artist has a production or two that is underrated. That is, it was neither a box office smash nor an award winner. In some cases the film is, like I Confess, highly thought of though seldom seen or talked about. Here again we have a man falsely accused, this time it's Montgomery Clift who plays a priest who is in fact the real killer's confessor. A mind blowing idea for a story. In the hands of a craftsman like Hitchcock, it is at once enthralling and beautiful to look at (filmed largely in Toronto). Here is a classic example of Hitchcock's wizardry at telling a dramatic story all the more dramatically through his choice of camera angles, lighting and perspective.

Vertigo (1958) You'll see this on many greatest films of all time lists. Frankly I can't believe you haven't seen it yet. I've tried to write about Vertigo many times before but for me it always defies description. I suppose this is largely because it is so visually dramatic. Calling it a psychological thriller somewhat downplays the power of the story. If you must know its about an ex-police detective (Stewart) suffering from vertigo who is hired by an old friend to track his beautiful young wife (Kim Novak). There is all manner of mysterious behavior and of course Stewart falls in love with Novak. Then it gets complicated or weird or psychedelic. You see and decide for yourself. See it a few more times too. You'll want to.

Psycho (1960) Maybe you've heard of it or maybe you were literally born yesterday in which case your precocity is truly astounding. Let's assume for a second you've neither seen nor heard of it. Psycho follows a young woman (Janet Leigh) who absconds with her employer's dough and hightails in the direction of her boyfriend. This illicit road trip takes her to the Bates Motel which is run by a charming if quite eccentric young man named Norman (Anthony Perkins). Eventually she takes a shower and this is where the film takes a turn into cinematic history. Psycho was ground-breaking over 50 years ago. Today it holds up very nicely.

The Birds (1963) I toss and turn late some nights worrying that Peter Jackson is going to direct a re-make with giant birds descending upon the Golden Gate Bridge. The original is part horror story, part mystery. It features one of the great endings in film history. In the years since the film was released there have been any number of movies about animals gone wild wreaking havoc on poor little ole humans. As far as I can tell most of them, you should pardon the expression, suck. One of the great things about The Birds is that Hitchcock doesn't even bother trying to create some hackneyed explanation for this avian attack. There is no hidden moral lesson just below the surface either. What there is, is seriously scary. The cast includes Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren.

Frenzy (1972) The last really good film Hitchcock made. Lo and behold we have a murder suspect but he's the wrong man. The setting is London (it was shot there) and at large is a necktie killer who's preying on women. There's really nothing terribly special about the story but again it's the way Hitch tells it that matters. The camera work is excellent and serves to builds suspense and illuminate emotion and thoughts. Frenzy also suggests what Hitchcock might have done had he not spent the vast majority of his career inhibited the rigorous censorship of the production code (not that it kept him from making some of the greatest films of all time).

Other Hitchcock films I can recommend are: Seriously, there are like two dozen of them. I got you this far....

22 March 2011

I'd Like You to Meet Three Friends of Mine....

Left to right this is Francis, Woody and Martin. Guys, I'd like you to meet the readers of this blog (both of them).

21 March 2011

Do Moose Ever Suffer Constipation? My Poetic Response to Harsh Comments

This morning I awoke to find that IMDb had linked one of my post's from last week on their daily hit list. (Thanks guys.) As usual this resulted in some really nice people posting really nice comments. (Awww.) But as often happens, there were some people, all of whom called themselves anonymous (ain't that always the case) who posted some not nice comments. In this instance they all related to the fact that in naming movie characters I'd like to hire as professionals, if such a magical power were truly possible, I'd not mentioned a single one who appeared in film made these past 34 years. We are all by now familiar with how many young movie goers consider anything from the 1990s ancient history and don't know Mae Clark from Clark Gable. Their loss.

I was not the offended in the slightest by their comments, nor even, at this advanced stage of film loving, even saddened. To the contrary I was inspired to wax poetic. I responded to each comment in verse. Not on the original post but right here. In all three cases I present the comment followed by a short response in rhyme. Please enjoy.

Have you seen a movie in the last 50 years?

No I stopped going in 1961
I liked it for awhile but then it was no fun
I've lied about those I've said I've seen
I know, right, I'm really mean

It's too bad they haven't made movies in the past 40 years, then maybe some people could understand this stupid article.

Yes, it's a shame they stopped in 1971
Look how many more films could have been done
The article is stupid this is true
That realization has left me feeling blue
And you?
Are you twelve years old, sent home from school?
Do you slobber do you drool?

How about someone on this list who is either a) still alive, or b) still in possession of a driver's license?

How about a life better lived?
How about the joys we could have gived?
How about someone still alive
Seriously, I mean it, no jive
Maybe someone young, hip and cool
Like Charlie Sheen, that wacky ghoul
Spring is coming and baseball too
Lots of outdoor things we can do
Living a life filled with rhyme
And watching great films from another time

17 March 2011

If I Could Hire Professionals From the Casts of Films...

Imagine a world in which you could hire people from right up there on the big screen -- or the little one if you're watching on TV. Characters you've come to know and perhaps love can act as your servants or professionals. Sounds great to me too. True, they may not all be as skilled as those who currently get their mitts on our hard-earned dough, but they'd probably be more entertaining.

I made my personal choices based not only on professional acumen, but on stellar performances in excellent films.

Psychiatrist Dr. Constance Peterson as portrayed by Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound (1945). You see the attention she gave to just one patient (Gregory Peck)? That's for me. Dr. Peterson adds the...uh, "personal touch" to her work.

Dentist Dr. Christian Szell as portrayed by Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man (1976). Okay so his methods are a little unorthodox particularly with the inconsistent application of pain killers and he's got a somewhat shady past. He's clearly experienced and most meticulous.

Lawyer J. Cheever Loophole as portrayed by Groucho Marx in At the Circus (1939). If I ever get in a jam who better than someone like Loophole who can talk circles around anyone? He's also got at his disposal an Italian chap and a silent curly-headed friend that form a crack support team. They may not clear me legally but we'll have a lot of yucks.

Nurse Lola Hart as portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck in Night Nurse (1931). C'mon do I even need to explain this one? Hubba hubba. Besides, she's one tough cookie even willing to stand up to Clark Gable as a bad guy.

Private detective Philip Marlowe as portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep (1946). Most important he's a damn good detective, but he also comes equipped with a great sense of humor ("she tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up").

Banker George Bailey as portrayed by James Stewart in It's A Wonderful Life (1946). No way I'm taking my money to Old Man Potter -- the fink! George Bailey is my kind of banker, warm blooded.

Insurance investigator Vicki Anderson as portrayed by Faye Dunaway in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). If nothing else she could teach me to play chess.

Doctor Josiah "Doc" Boone as portrayed by Thomas Mitchell in Stagecoach (1939). Yes he's got a drinking problem but in clutch situations he came through with flying colors. And he posses a grand sense of humor and plenty of wisdom. Plus I could always steer him towards an AA meeting.

Press Agent Sidney Falco as portrayed by Tony Curtis in the Sweet Smell of Success (1957). You may be aware of the fact that my name rarely finds its way into the newspapers. Problem solved if I hire Falco. He's wonderfully ruthless. Plus I understand he's buddy buddy with the columnist J.J. Hunsecker.

Chef Sabrina Fairchild as portrayed by Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954). She trained at a very highly regarded cooking school in Paris so she must be good. If not, well she's still as cute as a button.

Spiritual Advisor Tomas Ericcson as portrayed by Gunnar Bjornstrand in Winter Light (1963). He'd be perfect for me. We've got the same sort of doubts, frustrations and angst. So who better to be a sounding board? We'd probably depress the hell out of each other but at least he wouldn't be trying to sell me a bill of goods.

Paid "companion" Gloria Wandrous as portrayed by Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8 (1960). As my darling wife will attest I do not require nor have I ever called upon the services of a, shall we say, professional date. I'm just saying that if in the extremely unlikely event that I did, the curvaceous Ms. Wandrous would do rather nicely.

Bicycle Messenger Antonio Ricci as portrayed by Lamberto Maggiorani in Bicycle Thieves (1948). I know his work is in the field of putting up posters but I can't imagine that this would be a stretch. So long as he can hold on to the bike I think he'd be fine. I'd buy him a lock.

Butler Godfrey as portrayed by William Powell in My Man Godfrey (1936). Here's why he'd be so good: in a pinch, he could always stake me to a loan. Remember, the guy's filthy at the beginning of the film, but then we find out he's filthy rich!

16 March 2011

Words to Live By From a Departed Friend

In January my friend, Tim Moellering, died after a two and half year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a long-time coach and teacher who dedicated his life to serving the community in which he grew up. I wrote briefly about his passing two months ago.
The gathering of over 600 people at his memorial service (there was later a separate service at Berkeley High School, where he had been teaching, that also drew a large crowd) helps illustrate the breadth and depth of the friendships he developed. I worked with Tim for almost 15 years and could go to him for the latest updates on the whereabouts and doings of scores of former students. Tim seemed to keep in touch with and be friends with just about everyone with whom he became acquainted. His was a life well lived.

I'd like to share Tim's rules to live by. I think that, considering how true he was to them, they give one the sense of why he was so special to so many people. Along with the manner in which he touched so many lives, they are part of his legacy.

Tim Moellering’s Ten Rules to Live By 

1. Have empathy for everyone.

If you remember or read, “To Kill a Mockingbird” you’ll learn from Atticus Finch. “Crawl in someone else’s skin and walk around in it.”
2. Tell the truth.

When you tell the truth you have less to remember. You know you never lied and eventually everyone will trust you.
3. Be reliable.

Do what you say you are going to do, even if it means showing up on time. People will trust you.
4. Assume positive intent.
Assume everything everyone does is with good intentions. If they are incompetent, so be it, but it doesn’t hurt you to assume they are doing their best. You will be able to understand their actions when you don’t judge.
5. Be physically active.

It’s better than any drug. It’s fun; it can be a big boon in your social life. If you are running an errand, walk or ride a bike because you will feel better. It may not be obvious at first, but it adds up.
6. Just do it.

If the choice is between sitting around and doing nothing or doing something, do something every single time.
7. Don’t blame anyone.
This is key. No one is to blame for anything. Only you can change what you do. If you blame someone else then you can’t solve the problem… instead, you are telling someone else to solve the problem. If you don’t blame other people then you will be able to take control.
8. Your possessions can be replaced.

People are obsessed with their possessions. It’s a terrible way of living by letting your possessions control you. When you let go of your possessions, you become free. There’s little relationship between wealth and happiness.
9. Carpe Diem.
“Seize the day.” 
Accomplish something everyday, otherwise you are wasting time. There’s always something wonderful to experience, go do it.
10. Solve your problems.
Some people like to have problems so that they have something to complain about. Don’t waste time. It also gives you something to do, something to strive for.

12 March 2011

Ramblings After Drinking a Double Latte

Completed my five film tour of Darren Aronofsky's directorial efforts today with The Wrestler (2008). Using the IMDb 1-10 scale, this is how I'd rate his films: Requiem for A Dream (2000) 10; Black Swan (2010) 9; The Wrestler 8, Pi (1998) 7, Fountain (2006) 4. That's one stinker mixed in with some real gems. Next up he's directing one of those Wolverine films with Hugh Jackman. According to Aronofsky it's not a sequel but a stand alone piece. Can't say that I'm excited that he's doing something based on a comic book. Moreover I can say that I'm decidedly undecided. But then I'm quite the old curmudgeon. (Here's my recent post on Requiem and a post from last December on Black Swan.)

Before The Wrestler, I'd watched two real stinkers. Always disappointing when I find that I've wasted a couple of hours on a dud. Usually I have the sense to cut my losses and hit the stop button before too many precious moments from my life have been wasted. But I stuck with the aforementioned Fountain until the end and also gutted out A Bullet For Joey (1955). I watched the former because I was curious to see all of Aronofsky's films, the latter because it starred Edward G. Robinson, one of my faves. Robinson couldn't have saved this film with a naked Kim Novak (shame on me).

I thought I had a sure thing recently with a film called Buffalo Bill (1944). The great William Wellman directed and it starred Joe McCrea with a supporting cast featuring Thomas Mitchell and Linda Darnell. I stuck it out for 40 minutes before seeing the error of my ways. Recommend Buffalo Bill to someone you secretly despise.

Speaking of despising....How about all the guff those chowderheads at Fox are giving teachers these days. Of all the professions to demonize. They portray us as greedy. Most of my colleagues own a modest home (if they have a working spouse, preferably one with a better paying job) and a car, maybe two. Teachers make enough to help support a family but must plan on continuing to work to put the kiddies through university. Vacations are usually of the backpacking, or Disneyland variety although every few years a major production number involving flying across the proverbial pond is possible. The health benefits help make the job tolerable. Most people who enter the profession do not last three years. I can tell you from 20 years experience, its a grind. No we do not, as one conservative dimwit (oxymoron?) said, end our days at 2:30 -- what school gets out that early anyway? There are papers to grade, lessons to plan, parents to call or email, meetings to attend, paper work to fill out, research to be done, etc. What's exhausting is how much one spends thinking about work. You have five classes, maybe 130 students and a whole school to contemplate. You're constantly reviewing the day you just had the day you have coming up. It's a helluva sacrifice to go into teaching because, unlike many of your friends, you're not going to get rich or even close to it. You do it out of dedication, love, a belief -- and now it teacher's who have to sacrifice. I thought it was a sacrifice just going into the profession. And at a time when resources to schools are shrinking and class sizes are expanding. Good luck finding the next generation of teachers after you're done defecating on today's.

Now I'm going to get really controversial. Miley Cyrus hosted Saturday Night Live last week (I believe it was on Saturday) and did a really good job and I rather like her (as a performer, you twit!). I now await a deluge of outraged emails, letters, faxes, telegrams and inner office memos. Bring 'em on.

Speaking of women I like...Dorothy Parker. A tad last famous then Ms. Cyrus and considerably less alive. I've been reading The Portable Dorothy Parker and loving it. She never wrote the great American novel she dreamed of (gee, I wonder what that's like) but she produced a boatload of wonderful short stories, poems and articles. She was, of course, a founding member of the famous Algonquin Round Table. May I be so bold as you recommend her works, particularly if you are unfamiliar with them.

I'm also reading yet another book that has to do with Nazi Germany. The Nazis are both endlessly fascinating and increasingly repellent to me. I keep wanting to go back and time and reason with them. But how would that work? Hey Adolph, that's racist! Yeah, what's your point? I firmly believe that any understanding of humanity and history will be immeasurably enhanced by a study of the Third Reich. You do realize that they just eked into power and came to enjoy widespread support? It's amazing how many willing accomplices they had to their dirty work. Quite frightening, actually.

On a lighter note: A hamburger and a french fry walk into a bar. The bartender says, "I'm sorry we don't serve food here."

Here's something that I might also make you laugh, then again it could make you cry. My good friend's at the website Listserve recently offered a list of Lesser Known Jimmy Stewart Movies. You'll see that the list includes The Naked Spur (1953), You Can't Take it With You (1938) and The Shop Around the Corner (1940). What exactly are theses films supposed to be less known than? Abraham Lincoln? But sadder still are the comments at the end of the list. I invite you check them out. Here's a sampling: "uummm yeah, i don’t know the guy. The guy seems to have had a lot of talent. I’m not a fan of classics or people who where famous before i was born" and "I don’t really know Jimmy Stewart, but the list was entertaining nonetheless." and finally "jimmy who?"

My latest get-rich-quick-scheme: rotary cell phones. It can't miss!

10 March 2011

Divine Decadence, Thoughts on Cabaret, Ole Chum

I watched Cabaret (1972), one of my all time favorite films, for the zillionth time yesterday. However this was my first viewing since having read Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories upon which the story is partly based. I love Isherwood's writing. Simple elegance. The "I am a camera" objective style.

Of course, Cabaret is only very loosely based on on Isherwood's stories. If you're terribly fussy about films replicating the books or events they're inspired by you'll be hugely disappointed. But cinematically it's nigh on impossible to create a better story. Isherwood's stories are a nice companion piece to appreciating the film even further and well worth reading for their own merits.

I was struck this viewing with the extent to which Cabaret foretells the rise of the Nazis. They start the story as minor players being bullied out of the Kit Kat club and before you know it they're beating up the proprietor and becoming a most visible presence. This is analogous to their presence throughout Berlin and Germany. It's amazing how, if anything, films have been quite accurate in their depiction of Nazis. They were plain and simple thugs who relied on brute force to gain and especially to hold power.

Cabaret also features the dramatic scene in a park where the Nazi youth starts singing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" (surprisingly, it was not a real Nazi anthem but written for the film). I once saw Cabaret in Finland and aside from subtitles, of course, the only difference was the song being sung in German. Even without understanding the language, it made the scene even more powerful. The Nazis came into power without majority support, but one of the ways in which they quickly attained it was by playing on the citizenry's patriotism. They made great use of iconography as well. The scene in the park captures this.

Michael York plays Brian Roberts, a character who bears a resemblance to Isherwood. His sexuality is more ambiguous than the homosexual Isherwood and makes for one of the story's more dramatic elements. He of course becomes smitten with Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli in an Oscar winning performance) with whom he has his first successful heterosexual experience. Nonetheless he also has a dalliance with a man, a Baron who is also screwing Sally.

The frankness of the sex was relatively knew when the film came out and, while tame by today's standards, it serves the story quite well. The whole screw the baron, I have and so have I exchange is still powerful today. Indeed, Cabaret is a movie that holds up quite well and likely always will.

Among other things Cabaret is about a doomed relationship. Brian and Sally are meant to be the good friends they start out as, but marriage and children is not in the cards. This is not meant to surprise us. We've all been in relationships in which we pretend its going further then we know it possibly can. Like Brian and Sally's.

I don't generally care for musicals. I mean there's often a rather nice story being told and suddenly everyone bursts into a choreographed song accompanied by orchestration. Fine, perhaps, for you. Just not my cup of tea. That said, I love a good Astaire and Rogers movie, perhaps because its them doing the dancing. Also their numbers often are part of the story and not a separate reality. All the songs in Cabaret are in the night club and enhance the story telling process. Besides that they're all either very good or bloody wonderful numbers. Minelli and the title song have a lot to do with that but there can be no under estimating the performance of Joel Grey as the master of the ceremonies (he too won an Oscar).

He is truly one of the more...hmmm, let's say, interesting, characters in film. This despite the fact that every line he speaks is from the stage and is either part of a song or is spoken as part of his emcee duties. I have variously found him creepy (that tongue directed at Sally) charming, delightful, and menacing. He is a very broad character yet one we can draw our own conclusions about.

Cabaret is one of those films that, if you'll excuse the cliché, works on so many levels. It is a toe tapping musical, a love story, a history lesson, a vehicle for the incredible talents of Minelli and Grey. Bob Fosse directed and neither he nor Minelli nor Grey ever did anything to match Cabaret on film. That is, to turn a phrase on its head, criticizing them with faint damnation. You could certainly hang your hat on this film and call it one helluva career.

Here's a post I wrote about the film in 2009.

06 March 2011

The Poignant, the Piquant and the Painful, Great One Liners From Films

It's time again for movie one-liners. Long time readers of this blog (both of us) are well acquainted with my fondness for great lines from movies. Recalling a quip, stirring statement, probing question or insightful observation from a film can evoke an entire scene or indeed the feeling of the film itself. On six previous occasions I have published some of my favorite lines. I draw your attention to the right side of this blog (as your facing the computer, if you're looking from within your computer it would, of course, be on the opposite or right side) for links to previous additions, all in the category of Quotes.

In the past I've had lines strictly from males or females and once solely from Woody Allen. But like some previous editions, this is a hodgepodge. So here they are, 20 lines from 20 different films.

Take Hitler and stick him on the funny page. - Cary Grant as Walter Burns in His Girl Friday (1940).

The Apaches, sir, are neither to the north nor the east. Nor are they in their encampment. But if you'da been watching the dust swirls to the south, like most of us, you'd see that they're right there! - John Wayne as Captain Yorke in Fort Apache (1948).

Now listen to me you benighted muckers. We're going to teach you soldiering. The world's noblest profession. When we're done with you, you'll be able to slaughter your enemies like civilized men. - Sean Connery as Daniel Dravot in The Man Who Would Be King (1975).

"Fanny" is Faneul H. Peabody, just the kind of man I've been looking for, lots of money and no resistance. - Aline MacMahon as Trixie Lorraine in Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933).

I'm dead, Bill. I just want to stay that way for awhile. - Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady in The Parallax View (1974).

Your imagination! You think every girl's a dope. You think a girl goes to a party and there's some guy in a fancy striped vest strutting around giving you that I'm-so-handsome-you-can't-resist-me look. From this she's supposed to fall flat on her face. Well, she doesn't fall on her face. But there's another guy in the room, over in the corner. Maybe he's nervous and shy and perspiring a little. First, you look past him. But then you sense that he's gentle and kind and worried. That he'll be tender with you, nice and sweet. That's what's really exciting. - Marylin Monroe as The Girl in The Seven Year Itch (1955).

I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you've lost. - Gena Rowlands as Marion Post in Another Woman (1988).

Well sure there is, it comes complete with diagrams on page 47 of how to be a detective in 10 easy lessons correspondent school textbook and uh, your father offered me a drink. - Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1945).

I'd be lost without the weight of you two on my back. I ain't going anywhere. - Jennifer Lawrence as Ree in Winter's Bone (2010).

You know, you two girls have everything. You're tall and short and slim and stout and blonde and brunette. And that's just the kind of a girl I crave. - Groucho Marx as Captain Spaulding in Animal Crackers (1930).

What have I done? - Alec Guiness as Colonel Nicholson in Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

Look, maybe we could do something else together. Mrs. Robinson, would you like to go to a movie? - Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate (1967).

That'll be the day. - John Wayne as Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (1956).

Love has got to stop some place short of suicide. - Walter Huston as Sam Dodsworth in Dodsworth (1936).

Yeah, I'm fine. I snapped my chin down onto some guy's fist and hit another one in the knee with my nose. - Woody Allen as Allan in Play it Again, Sam (1972).

Conscience... that stuff can drive you nuts! - Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954).

Oh, I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here, poor devils. - Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949).

All I want is to enter my house justified. - Joel McCrea is Steve Judd in Ride the High Country (1962).

There's only one thing you can do with a girl like this. Walk naked into the sea together as the sun sets. Make love once... Then die. - Malcolm McDowell as Mick Travis in If...(1968).

It's becoming ridiculous the way you grab attention. Whenever I start to tell a story, you finish it. If I go on a diet, you lose the weight. If I have a cold, you cough. And if we should ever have a baby, I'm not so sure I'd be the mother. - Carole Lombard as Maria Tura in To Be or Not to Be (1942).

04 March 2011

Amazing Grace, I Finally Watch Requiem for a Dream, How Sweet the Film Twas Viewed By a Wretch Like Me

Now that you've been born the best we can do is try to make you as comfortable as possible until the inevitable. Just think of family and all the friends you make throughout your journey as hospice workers.

Once in recovery, junkies and drunkards come to be happy with the simple notion of being alive and able to participate in the day-to-day. Taking life on life's terms. There is much gratitude at having a daily reprieve from drugs and alcohol. You really need to hear the stories of those who hit very low bottoms to appreciate the miracle of being clean and sober and functioning. It's all very humbling.

Films have a rather mixed record at dealing with most any topic you can name and addiction is no exception. It's easy enough to find a ham actor to play a drunk. These performances can be quite humorous or overly broad and silly. But the film drunk is usually just a highly amusing stage prop. If they are true abusers of booze, it's seldom dealt with. A lot of shaking, vomiting, self recrimination, overwhelming guilt and blistering headaches are not exactly cinematic. Let's just stick to slurring words and stumbling about.

More than ten years after its release I finally saw Darren Aronofsky's Requiem for a Dream (2000). Oh my....

It was my admiration for Aronofsky's film Black Swan (2010) that finally quit me hemming and hawing (what on Earth was the delay all about?). It made a very slow climb up my Netflix queue these past few months until finally arriving this week. As much as I appreciated Black Swan (and I did, a lot), Requiem makes it look like student film. Which is only to say that I found Requiem to be a positively brilliant film. (I did not hesitate a millisecond in using the "b" word to describe it.)

It reminds me a little bit of Half Nelson (2006) in its depiction of drug use, only cranked up 1000 more degrees. Full throttle.

I was in the wonderful position before viewing of knowing next to nothing about Requiem aside from the following: Ellen Burstyn was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in it, it dealt with drug use and it was considered by most folks to be depressing. About that last point...I can find nothing depressing about a work of art that so elevates our understanding of the human experience, least of all when its style is so unique and utterly compelling.

Movies can turn a mirror on the world, reflecting people, times places. Most admirable. But movies can also bring you along for the ride, inviting you to join an experience. No, there's no physical pain, but you feel less a distant observer and more a passenger. With Requiem I felt like I was sitting right on the driver's lap.

Requiem focuses on a widow (Burnstyn) her junkie son (Jared Leto, a sort of Anglo version of Gael Garcia Bernal), his girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly) and his buddy (Marlon Wayans). It's not surprising that the three young folks are heroin addicts, but during the course of the film, Mom also develops a powerful addiction. In her case to prescription drugs. It's no use trying to summarize the plot. If you've seen Requiem you know it and if you haven't seen it, you don't need to. I didn't. In any event this is not a film in which plot points are crucial. Life isn't about plot points either. This film, like life, is about the journey and how to describe it. Aronofsky may not use every trick in the director or cinemaphotographer's book, but there's not many left. All the gadgetry in the world is useless unless done in service of the story telling. It's so easy for slow motion or special effects to be a distraction. Depicting drug abuse practically cries out for grumbling refrigerators, walls collapsing and quick montage cuts. All this is to say Aronofsky got it right.

I was wonderfully, happily uncomfortable at times. Reminded of that ugly desperation, that orgasmic relief and the emptiness of a life based on altered consciousness. I writhed and squirmed and wondered at it all. How some of us do these things to ourselves and a few of us even live to tell the tale. But also how that story can be told in such a bravura style.

Life is utterly fascinating if you give it half a chance. It's full of characters and events that defy description, yet we have the best damn time describing and imagining them. Nothing we make up is as truly astounding as what we actually do. From the soaring heights of human invention to the plummeting pratfalls of our buffoonery. Our intellects are capable of creating machines through which we can instantly communicate with the other side of the world. We can also conjure an endless variety of methods by which to murder and torture one another. We are capable of the deepest love and the vilest hate. We have God within us.

Through art we can understand, illuminate and entertain. It is all a wonder. The best of art, such as in a few films, can get us thinking about all of this. Examining our own existence and pondering the previously imponderable. By God, look what kind of mad mind trip Requiem for a Dream has sent me on.

I choose to live within the confines of the serenity prayer and hope that God will grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Here is a film that reminded me of the primacy of this dictum.

What a movie. What a world. Grace, amazing as it is, be on to you my dear reader.

02 March 2011

IMDB Users Say the Darndest Things - Or - Everybody's A Critic

The Internet Movie Database provides message board space for all movies and TV shows. This allows people to initiate a discussion on a movie or ask questions or post a comment. Back in July 2008 I published a post called 'Everybody's Entitled to an Opinion' in which I posted verbatim comments from IMDb users about some films, all generally well regarded. A month later I posted comments made about foreign language films. Two and half years was too long for part three of this series, but then better late then never I always say (really, I go around saying it constantly to the extent there's talk of institutionalizing me).  

All comments are copy and pasted replete with the original author's boo boos, if any. And yes, it's true that I've only included negative comments. I suppose I just find them more amusing.  And just for the record, these are all movies that I adore. I hope you enjoy.

Chinatown (1974) I'll probably have a hoard of film lovers out to flame me for posting this, but I seriously just don't get the purpose of this movie. What does it suggest? What is the point? Is it just some sort of representation of police corruptness in those times?

La Dolce Vita (1960) I dont know why people like this ? I saw it for one hour and i couldnt finish it ,it shows that this movie isnt powerful. Im going to believe that some movies are in the list of tops because MEN like that.I dont like a very long and boring movie about the debaucheries of a man and i dont know whats in this is great. Chinatown (1974)

Persona (1966) I usually give a film around 30 minutes before I decide if I want to continue watching. Kubrick once said that you have around 20 minutes to draw the viewer into a film before they'll lose interest. This is the third Bergman film I've watched. I started with Winter Light, then watched The Seventh Seal and finally this one. Does Bergman at all try to entertain the audience? I really want to like his films, but he puts NO effort into making me care at all. The "golden rule" of film-making (and writing) is "show, don't tell". And all Bergman's films are talking. Talk, talk, talk. And then a shot of a tree or something.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972) I've been going back and watching a lot of old movies in the IMDB top 250 in the last few months. 
I have really liked classics such as Apocalypse now, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, the Sting, Dr Strangelove etc. I have no Bias against old movies or movies where the special effects and sound quality aren't as good as modern movies. 
Therefore, I decided to watch Aguirre de Zorn Gottes. I watched it in German with English subtitles. 
Firstly, I found many scenes very flat and boring. For example the part where one of Aguirre's prisoners escaped from the cage is not shown. They simply wake up the next morning and find the guards dead body. There is little emotion, simply a couple of dull lines. You never see that character again, his fate becomes as unresolved issue. 
Then you have a scene such as when Aguirre commands that the horse be chucked off the boat. Not only is the scene extremely unprofessional in video and audio but it is just stupid. The character of Aguirre as I understood at that part of the movie, would have been more likely to kill the horse and eat it. 
Another thing, If Aguirre was so power hungry why did he appoint that fat, useless, nobleman as leader? In the reality of the jungle the title of nobleman would have meant nothing. I really couldn't envisage that. 
And the whole thing of taking a cannon on rafts and through thick jungle seemed really dumb to me as well. Its like they were insane before they even started the trek. 

No Country For Old Men (2007) I cant believe my boyfriend likes this movie! We watched it together last night at his place and OMG I was so bored. I mean, nothing's explained at all! This guy steals this satchel full of cash, chancing on it at random, then there's a truck shooting at him for no reason, then there's this nutjob that likes to do the coinflip gets in on the action and other randoms. And then you got the old town sheriff hanging around moaning and groaning. Huh??? In the end nothing is resolved. I just dont see what the praise is all about here. And my boyfriend going crazy over this and getting all into some of the silent stalking scenes is beyond me. UGGGHH!

The Searchers (1956) 8 out of 10 i was expecting to be blown away by this film. The story might have been interesting if it were not for the lame script, poor acting, annoying characters and general dullness of the film. It just seemed rather run of the mill, i can appreciate the scenery , yes its very nice but that doesnt make a great film. 
Some people are saying this is the greatest western ever made - well it doesnt compare to any and i mean any of the Clint Eastwood westerns and Shane is far better. In fatc i can think of 20 westerns better than this straight away. 
id welcome someone telling me why this is a great film as i have mentioned the 4 fatal flaws already, is there something ive missed ?.

Milk (2008) no offense to the fans of this movie but overall i think the birdcage 1996 starring robin willaims was a way better movie then milk

Casablanca (1942) It has a few memorable lines and I really like both Bergman and Bogart; and after hearing all the hype about this movie, I couldn't wait to see it! But after I saw it, I was really dissapointed. To me it's just one of those average movies from the 40s with a good reputation. I don't want to start an argument, I'm just curious for your everybody's thoughts. I'm open to anything! 

Annie Hall (1977) The writing reminds me of a 14-year-old dropping vocabulary words like "Freud" and "Kafka-esque experience" in his Gaia Online arguments in a failed attempt to sound intelligent, and I literally cannot imagine how anybody who isn't a New York intellectual in the 70s could even pretend to understand a lick of its conceited jokes. It is the least timeless movie I have ever seen, and it did not deserve to beat Star Wars at the Oscars. Actually, it doesn't surprise me that the movie was apparently shot as a mystery first with the romance element as a subplot, but with the mystery angle ultimately edited out for the final feature, because that's what watching the movie feels like - a subplot padded into a feature-length production. Just a bunch of one-note scenes playing one after another with little flow or dynamic.

Seven Samurai (1954) This movie was great "FOR ITS TIME". People get over yourselves. this movie is waaaaaaaaay overrated. 
Don't get me wrong, it had its good moments, and i enjoyed some the good script and characters. 
But this film DOES NOT DESERVE TO BE IN THE TOP 250. and yet it is ranked in the top 20!!! 
I can't even start with the tons of films that are ranked lower and are better than this one. 
I really like foriegn films and I usually give independant and foriegn films extra credit, but this film was just too long and too boring. 
3 1/2 hours of what?? even at the end that guy that was showing his ass died in a really not clear way. 
It was like "what the hell happened? where did that butt naked guy go? WHAT?!! HE DIED??!! WTF???!!! 
so please be realistic when you vote for the films you've seen

His Girl Friday (1940) It seems to me that anything mediocre, decent, or even passably OK is revered in our society as something incredible and amazing.
His Girl Friday is a decent movie ... its entertaining. But lets be candid here: the dialogue trick of overlapping lines is used WAY too much, the banter between them is really the stuff of sitcoms. There are a couple of good lines, and some good set-ups and back and forth bickering, but mostly this is corny, undeveloped, one-dimensional characters.
What irks me more about this than anything is that the movie truly makes Cary Grant's character to be "GOOD" even though he is a total prick and *beep* and should have been imprisoned on several occasions. America roots for cads and scumballs based on our Greek / European heritage -- the myth of Ulysses (Odysseus) as told in The Oddessy. Ulysses was a jerk and lied and did whatever he could to survive so he could achieve his goals. In the end he is considered "good" and widely admired because he prevailed. Walter (Cary Grant) is just liket that character.
Cary Grant may have been trying to publish the truth, but all of his actions were personal and selfish (get the girl, sell newspapers, retain power and wealth). Unfortunately, he didn't follow any classicly good values or virtues: he lied, cheated, pushed people around on his own whim, he yelled and screamed and bullied others, he manipulated and had criminal associates. And we're supposed to cheer that "he got the girl?" I found Grant's character to be -- quite simply -- nasty. 

Psycho (1960) just watched it. i didnt find anything so amazing or great about it. just a murder mystery with a twist. YEAH, THATS IT. just like those sleek serial killer movies of 90s. 
nothing 'out of world' in it. i guess, even if the movies are old, they should stand the test of time. this movie might have changed they way of making movies or 'revolutionized' movies but watching today , it doesnt leave any expression on mind. but if u look at some movies like shawshank redemption or raiders of last ark , they have stood the test of time. even if they are old, they still great. 
i cant say that about this movie. also godfather series still looks great, even watching today.