30 August 2020

It's Time Again for Streams of Unconsciousness News & Notes, I'm Calling this one, Odds & Edds

 A red panda.
I looked out the window a minute ago and saw a crow walking down the middle of the sidewalk. I’m used to seeing crows walking in the street or or roofs or on lawns or over corpses, but there was something odd about it walking smack down the middle of the sidewalk. Like a goddamned pedestrian.

If you’re in indescribable pain and a doctor asks you to describe it, what do you do?

I can’t be the only one who thinks that the Holy Ghost is badly in need of a better publicist. It’s always God this and God that or Jesus this or Jesus that but when do you ever hear anyone invoke the Holy Ghost except when saying something like, in the name of the father, the son and the holy ghost. Even then sometimes people say “holy spirit.” Maybe the Holy Ghost is lazy.

Aren’t red pandas cute as hell? Why aren’t they more often featured in cartoons? Maybe they need a better publicist too. The fact is they’re endangered. That sucks.

I remember as a kid thinking that all films were shot on location. What mystified me was how they managed to shoot World War II films during World War II in France and other places where battles were taking place. I figured the Nazis must have just let film crews come in. I was a pretty bright kid, but I had some blind spots just like everybody else.

Jacob Blake would not have been shot seven times if he was white. That’s just a fact. This country is racist as fuck.

I drink St. Pauli non alcoholic beer and am starting to develop a crush on the woman on the label. In my defense, she's hot.

I just discovered that Molly Jong-Fast is the daughter of Erica Jong and granddaughter of Howard Fast (hence the last name). Did everyone else know this? I also recently learned that Jason Bateman is married to Paul Anka's daughter.

The missus and I finally watched the mini-series, A Very English Scandal. Cracking good stuff. Again, to prove what an idiot I am, I didn’t realize until after finishing that it was based entirely on actual events. Hugh Grant was brilliant, by the way, and has won my respect. Ben Whishshaw was also very, very good.

Animal facts, lions edition: A lion in the wild usually makes no more than twenty kills a year. The female lion does ninety percent of the hunting.

I could do without ever again hearing the thoughts of sub-humans like Tucker Carlson, Anne Coulter, Tomi Lahren, Aubrey Huff, James Wood, Sarah Palin and Sean Hannity. Sick to death of them and all other racists assholes. Actually you can add Trump and sons to that list.

Word origin (courtesy of the Oxford Royale Academy: The word “quarantine” has its origins in the devastating plague, the so-called Black Death, which swept across Europe in the 14th century, wiping out around 30% of Europe’s population. It comes from the Venetian dialect form of the Italian words “quaranta giorni”, or “forty days”, in reference to the fact that, in an effort to halt the spread of the plague, ships were put into isolation on nearby islands for a forty-day period before those on board were allowed ashore. Originally – attested by a document from 1377 – this period was thirty days and was known as a “trentine”, but this was extended to forty days to allow more time for symptoms to develop. This practice was first implemented by the Venetians controlling the movement of ships into the city of Dubrovnik, which is now part of Croatia but was then under Venetian sovereignty. We now use the word “quarantine” to refer to the practice of restricting the movements, for a period of time, of people or animals who seem healthy, but who might have been exposed to a harmful disease that could spread to others.

I’m really enjoy a podcast I’ve been listening to but the host keeps saying, for example: “the quote unquote dirty secret” rather than, “the quote dirty secret unquote.” Shouldn’t bother me so much but it does.

Here’s a headline from CNN: Yellowstone warns visitors not to get mixed up in elk mating season. I rather think that should go under the category of "it goes without saying." Evidently, however, some people are trying to play Cupid with elk.

Saw this tweet this morning from  @joshgondelman and I'm all about it: "The abbreviations for teaspoon and tablespoon are too similar and NOBODY'S TALKING ABOUT IT!!!!" (Though I could have done with one less exclamation point.)

Collywobbles is an actual word and it means: "sickness or stomach pain from anxiety." Have had a bit of that in my lifetime. In fact our current president is giving much of the country the collywobbles.

It's time once again for me to complain about writers (including some of the best in the world) penning sentences like this: "Bob thought to himself that...." Let's be clear, you can only think to yourself. Perhaps if you're writing science fiction you may have an alien capable of sending thoughts but we're not there yet. Please stop.

Be safe everybody. Wear your masks, social distance, spay and neuter your pets and breeding age Republicans.

28 August 2020

Film Quotes Foreign Language Edition

Monica Vitti in L'Eclisse.
It's time for the 13th iteration of film quotes. Today's is the first to include only quotes from foreign language films. A few of these have previously appeared in film quotes posts.

We spent the whole night talking things over. And for what? I'm so tired and depressed. Disgusted and confused. What can I say? There are times when holding a needle and thread, or a book, or a man - it's all the same. -- Monica Vitti as Vittoria in L’Eclisse (1962).

Worldly wealth corrupts souls and withers hearts. It makes men contemptuous, unjust, pitiless in their egoism. I understand the anger of those who have nothing when the rich feast so arrogantly. —  Philippe Morier-Genoud as Pere Jean in Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987).

We must make an idol of our fear, and call it god. — Max von Sydown as Antonius Block in The Seventh Seal (1957).

You know what kind of plan never fails? No plan. No plan at all. You know why? Because life cannot be planned. Look around you. Did you think these people made a plan to sleep in the sports hall with you? But here we are now, sleeping together on the floor. So, there's no need for a plan. You can't go wrong with no plans. We don't need to make a plan for anything. It doesn't matter what will happen next. Even if the country gets destroyed or sold out, nobody cares. Got it?— Kang-ho Song as Ki-taek in Parasite (2019).

Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It's not my dream, it's somebody else's. But I have to participate in it. How do you think someone who dreams about us would feel when he wakes up. Feeling ashamed? — Liv Ullman as Eva Rosenberg in Shame (1968).

Maribel Verdu in Y Tu Mama Tambien
We do things my way! One more fight and I'm gone for good!... Now we play by my rules. I won't fuck with any of you. Fuck each other, if you wish. 2. I sunbathe naked and I don't want you sniffing around like dogs. 3. I pick the music. 4. The moment I ask, please shut your mouths. 5. You cook. 6. No stories about your poor girlfriends. 7. If I ask, stay 10 yards from me. Or better 100. 8. Obviously, you do all the manual labor. 9. You may not speak of things you don't agree on. Even better, just keep your mouths shut. 10. You're not allowed to contradict me, much less push me. — Maribel Verdu as Luisa in Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001).

If you ever find me face down in the gutter, turn me around to my back. — Antti Reini as Electrician in The Man Without a Past (2002).

If a well is really deep, you can see a star down there even in the middle of a sunny day. — Irina Tarkovskaya as Ivan’s mother in Ivan’s Childhood (1962).

You are everything... everything! You are the first woman on the first day of creation. You are mother, sister, lover, friend, angel, devil, earth, home. — Marcello Mastrioni as Marcello in La Dolce Vita (1960).

As a little girl I learned: "Our Father who art in heaven." I thought it said "who arts in heaven." I imagined my father with an easel painting outside the pearly gates. — Jeanne Moreau as Catherine in Jules and Jim. (1962).

For me it's simple. A golf course is for golf. A tennis court is for tennis. A prison camp is for escaping. — Pierre Fresnay as Le captaine de Boeldieu in La Grande Illusion (1937).

When the child was a child, it was the time of these questions. Why am I me, and why not you? Why am I here, and why not there? When did time begin, and where does space end? Isn't life under the sun just a dream? Isn't what I see, hear, and smell just the mirage of a world before the world? Does evil actually exist, and are there people who are really evil? How can it be that I, who am I, wasn't before I was, and that sometime I, the one I am, no longer will be the one I am? — Bruno Ganz as Daniel in Wings of Desire( 1987).

It's about a society on its way down. And as it falls,it keeps telling itself: "So far so good... So far so good... So far so good." It's not how you fall that matters. It's how you land. — Vincent Cassel as Vinz in La Haine (1995).

Here in America, they value women. It's not like bloody Sweden where they use us like maids during the days and as mattresses at nights. — Monica Zetterlund as Ulrika in The New Land (1972).

You see it, God, you see it. The innocent child's death and my revenge. You allowed it. I don't understand you. Yet now I beg your forgiveness. I know no other way to be reconciled with my own hands. I know no other way to live. — Max von Sydow as Töre in The Virgin Spring (1960).

Ingrid Bergman in Stromboli.
I am your wife. And this is your home, but, I'm not like you. You slept very well last night, huh? But, I didn't sleep. I'm different. I'm very different from you. I belong to another class. I can't live like this in this filth! This is no life for civilized people. Keep on counting your nineteen thousand liras. You need much more for a woman like me. — Ingrid Bergman as Karin in Stromboli (1950).

Skin like satin, like a true courtesan of the Roman Empire. Here's something for your left-wing readers: no undergarments were found in the apartment. — Gian Maria Volontè as Dottore in Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970).

This is the nature of war: By protecting others, you save yourselves. If you only think of yourself, you'll only destroy yourself. — Takashi Shimura as Kambei Shimada in Seven Samurai (1954).

I believe the common people, the lower class people, are less sensitive to pain. Haven't you ever seen a wounded bull? Not a trace of pain. — Patricia Moran as Rita Ugdale in The Exterminating Angel (1962).

A kid? I smoke, I snort. I've killed and robbed. I'm a man. — Darian Cunha as Filé-com-Fritas in City of God (2002).

27 August 2020

By The Book -- NY Times Style Featuring Yours Truly

The Sunday New York Times Book Review has a section each week called, By the Book, which is comprised of a brief author interview. There are series of questions that are chosen from. To date, the Times has not deigned to interview me, so I thought I’d save them the bother by doing it myself here. (You’re welcome, New York Times.) I’ve used some of their standard questions and a typical form of their introduction.

Richard Hourula is the author of Lesson Plan, A Novel, based in part on his experiences as a middle school teacher. His next novel, Threat of Night (Yön Uhka) about a young reporter in Berkeley in 1941 who stumbles upon a group of Nazi spies, will be published early next year.

What books are on your nightstand?
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. Allen Ginsberg’s India Journals. The Benchley Roundup, a collection of Robert Benchley essays. Benjamin Dreyer’s, Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.

What’s the last great book you read?
The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Are there are classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?
Stoner by John Williams.

Can a great book be badly written? What other criteria can overcome bad prose?
No. By definition a great book is well-written. Nothing can overcome bad prose.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
In a comfortable chair on a rainy day in the late afternoon with a great novel, like something by Dickens.

Do you count any books as guilty pleasures? Or comfort reads?
Why would I feel guilty while taking pleasure from a book? I don’t believe pleasures are anything to feel guilty about. As for comfort reads, that would be anything I’m familiar with. Reading a favorite book again.

How do you organize your books?
One side of my book shelf is dedicated to fiction and poetry and the books are separated by author.  The other side of my shelf is a haphazard mix of fiction and non-fiction that I've never gotten around to organizing.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
A book of the world’s best jokes from the 1930s. My brother gave it to me in the early Seventies and it bears an inscription he wrote. It’s a terribly politically incorrect book filled with “ethnic” humor including a section on “negro jokes.” But I view it as a piece of history and it has sentimental value for me.

What kind of reader were you as a child?
I was a binge reader, voraciously devouring a book or a couple of books in a short span, then not reading for a week or two. Now I read consistently and every day.

Who’s your favorite fictional hero or heroine?
Impossible to choose just one. Eugene Grant from Look Homeward, Angel. Sal Paradise from On the Road. Neil Klugman from Goodbye Columbus. Oh and Sam-I-Am from Green Eggs and Ham.

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
Jack Kerouac, Thomas Wolfe and Charles Dickens. I wish I could invite more so that I’d have a better mix. I’d like to have some female writers such as Shirley Jackson, Jennifer Egan and Sylvia Plath and some African-American writers like James Baldwin, Colson Whitehead and Ta-Nehisi Coates and an African American female, Nikki Giovanni. But I couldn't possibly do without Allen Ginsberg or Ken Kesey.

25 August 2020

A Morning Stroll Includes an Unanticipated Stop at a Store

I took this photo today of two of my fellow shoppers.
Went for a walk this morning and found myself near a Target so popped in to buy a few things — been craving Cool Ranch Doritos recently, don’t know why.

It brought back old times to be in a store again. Shelves were full of items, there were people walking about and I have a bank account sizable enough to support a bit of shopping on a whim. Nice.

Last week I went to one of my two favorite Berkeley book stores (hello Pegasus downtown.) That was exhilarating. Rows and rows of books. Browsing. A discovery. A purchase. A satisfied walk home. Very nice.

Anyhoo (as they say at MIT) I found a few items and shuffled over to the check out area. I was at the end of a medium length queue. Given how long it's been since I've had to stand in line, I wasn’t at all bothered by having to wait. Well, not at first. Then I was made quite aware of the downside of public spaces and the presence of my fellow human beings who are not relations or of close acquaintance. First there was the sight of an obese woman checking out who had procured three six-packs of 16 oz. Diet Cokes. It’s akin, really, to seeing an obviously intoxicated person buying bottles of scotch. We see the cause of the problem and that it's not getting better anytime soon. Wasn’t for me to worry about however. There were self checkout “stations” but I eschew them believing they lead to fewer jobs for people who are most in need of employment. One gent in line was not so averse and he asked if he could “squeeze past” me. God, I hate this. There was — never is — any “squeezing” going on. Cousin to this phrase is “can I sneak past you?” No of course you can’t because you just announced that you’re trying to get past me so you won’t be "sneaking" at all. Let's all agree on, "excuse me" from now on.

Back to queueing…..I was soon reminded of one aspect of being in public spaces that I’ve come to hate the most — and goodness me I’ve written about this a million times here before — people yakking on their cell phones. Yes, a seemingly pleasant woman got in line behind me chattering away saying that she was now “into drinking cocoanut water.” I’ll never accustom myself to people blathering on phones while in close proximity of others.

The line moved quickly until a 200 year-old-woman got to the checkout stand. Bless her heart for being so self-sufficient. However…She dutifully waited until her purchase had been rung up before bothering to get her wallet out of her purse. A purse, mind you, that was the size of a 1956 Buick. This took awhile as evidently her wallet was buried beneath debris from the demolition of a high rise. Once the wallet was found it took an inordinate time for her to pull the required bills out of it. She closely inspected several before deciding which to offer the clerk. When her change and receipt were presented Mrs. Methuselah required our further patience as she painstakingly put everything where it belonged. At last she was ready to mosey along and free the checkout stand for the next customer.

The last person before me was dispatched post haste and yours truly had the great thrill of saying yes I needed a bag, then sticking my card into the machine, rejecting the kind offer of cash back, then entering my pin. Approved, the machine told me. Like I said, I'm not utterly destitute. I was on my way.

When I entered the store there was an employee at the door who — I presume accidentally — good morning’d me twice. Rather than point out the superfluous good morning I had responded in kind both times. She made up for it by not good byeing me at all as I exited.

I very much enjoyed my walk. After an overly long heat spell here (one day is overly long for me) we are now ensconced in fog. There is — as so often in these trying times — a however to accompany this news. The many fires raging around the area continue to send smoke our way making breathing hazardous to one’s health. The air was clean enough -- according to the Air Quality Index -- when I left the house but by the time I returned home it was as though one were at a campfire. Glad I got some time in the great outdoors.

Thus concludes the dramatic tale of my morning walk that included an unplanned trip to a store. Am now the proud owner of a bag of Dorito's Cool Ranch chips. Huzzah!

23 August 2020

They Stink, Stank, Stunk -- Ten Great Movie Villains

Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt.
What's a hero without a villain? The proverbial man in the white hat need the proverbial man in the black hat to serve as his raison d'etre. Sherlock Holmes needed Moriarty, just as Superman needed Lex Luthor and Luke Skywalker needed Darth Vader. Of course the bad guy does more than just provide a foil for the leading man. He can also provide an archetype of a real menace to society, be it a serial killer or a corrupt politician. A good film villain shines a light on some of the worst that humanity has to offer, often in sheep's clothing. Villains also provide meaty roles for actors. Scoundrels, sinners, blackguards and evil doers are often flamboyant characters.

After watching Sam Waterson in Heaven's Gate recently, I got the idea to write a post on movie villains. As I began compiling the list the exercise started to feel familiar. I had my archivist (that's me) look into the matter and sure enough nine years ago I posted Touches of Evil, Interesting Movie Villains in which I'd written about ten great (terrible?) bad guys from filmdom. Those mentioned included Hans Landau from Inglorious Basterds (2009), Anton Chiugurh from No Country For Old Men (2007) and Marcus Licinius Crassus from Spartacus (1960). Undaunted by this discovery I reckoned that surely I must be able to easily find another ten stinkers from films. Indeed I did. I've confined myself to men in this time but in a future post will look at ten evil female characters.

Joseph Cotten as Uncle Charley in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) — Serial Killer Evil. Good ole Uncle Charley, comes to visit bearing gifts for everyone. Successful, cheerful and beloved. The evil that comes in disguise. This is a man who marries and kills widows to assume their fortunes. The ultimate sociopath. When his beloved niece and namesake discovers his secret, he even tries to kill her. All while the town he has adopted is feting him for his philanthropy and good character. Revealing quote: "The cities are full of women, middle-aged widows, husbands, dead, husbands who've spent their lives making fortunes, working and working. And then they die and leave their money to their wives, their silly wives. And what do the wives do, these useless women? You see them in the hotels, the best hotels, every day by the thousands, drinking the money, eating the money, losing the money at bridge, playing all day and all night, smelling of money, proud of their jewelry but of nothing else, horrible, faded, fat, greedy women... Are they human or are they fat, wheezing animals, hmm? And what happens to animals when they get too fat and too old?"

Edward Arnold in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Edward Arnold as James Taylor in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) — Political Boss Evil. This type of evil has been prevalent in American politics since before the Gilded Age, if not before. He is like Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers and every other greedy kingmaker who manipulates the electorate to get their man in office. Make that men. It is the type of evil one must be diligent in searching for and exposing. Easier said than done as they work behind the scenes and have the veneer of respectability. James Taylor (no relation to the singer/songwriter) controls the political machinery of an entire state with senators, congressmen and the governor in his hip pocket. He’ll stop at nothing to maintain power, employing muscle or money as needed. He meets his match in Senator Smith (Jimmy Stewart) who is too naive to know what’s going on and too honest and persistent to be bought off or intimidated. Revealing quote: "Aah, he'll never get started. I'll make public opinion out there within five hours! I've done it all my life. I'll blacken this punk so that he'll - You leave public opinion to me. Now, Joe, I think you'd better go back into the Senate and keep those Senators lined up."

John Huston as Noah Cross in Chinatown (1974) — Corrupt Sexual Deviant Evil. Speaking of the the veneer of respectability Noah Cross has that in spades which is what makes this incestuous, grafting, power-hungry monster so truly horrible. That and the fact that he gets away with it, time and again. Cross used to literally own the L.A. area water but he still controls it and wants to use that power to add even more to his power and wealth. By any means necessary. Never mind the cost to other poorer people (actually, everyone is poorer than Cross). He’s also a pervert who raped and impregnated his then 15-year old daughter and want to raise the child who herself is now a teen. Murder isn’t the only thing he gets away with. Revealing quote: "Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water."

Sam Waterson as Frank Canton in Heaven’s Gate (1980) — Big Business Xenophobic Evil. He reminds me of the quintessential Republican of today. He’s a committed xenophobe who scapegoats immigrants, has no empathy for the poor and lives to fill his coffers and those of his cronies. Canton is so utterly ruthless that he helps compile a list of over 100 people to be killed for supposed crimes against the wealthy landowners of Montana of which he is a member. Perhaps in some respects Canton is merely a part of the evil then present as he organizes and participates in the murders with the full blessing of the powers that be up to and including the US President. Perhaps the worst thing about the Canton character and his actions is that they are based on historical fact. Revealing quote: "Mr. Champion, my grandfather was the Secretary of War to Harrison. His brother was the governor of the state of New York. My brother-in-law is Secretary of State. And to you, I represent the full authority of the government of the United States and the President."

Lionel Barrymore in It's A Wonderful Life.
Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — Greedy Old Man Evil. He’s like the mean old neighbor who confiscates your ball if it lands in his yard and barks at you not to play near his house. Except this is a man who, through his wealth, wields great power in his community. Were it not for the brave Bailey family, he’d run the whole damn town of Bedford Falls. Nary a smile every escapes his lips. Laughter is unknown to him. He does not give out compliments nor does he give to charity. He’s a miser whose sole purpose seems to be to get more, more and still more. He is Ebenezer Scrooge without the intervention of the ghosts. Utterly unrepentant. Revealing quote: "Look at you. You used to be so cocky. You were going to go out and conquer the world. You once called me "a warped, frustrated, old man"! What are you but a warped, frustrated young man? A miserable little clerk crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help. No securities, no stocks, no bonds, nothin' but a miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy."

Orson Welles as Harry Lime in The Third Man (1949) — Charming Old Friend Evil. Harry Lime  is the protagonist’s best friend He is an urbane, articulate and intelligent man. But he places little value on human life willingly profiting off the misery of others. Lime steals penicillin from military hospitals, dilutes it, and sells it on the black market, leading to many deaths. It seems all the worse because Lime is full of bonhomie with his friend and rationalizes his evil deeds. Revealing quote:  "You know, I never feel comfortable on these sort of things. Victims? Don't be melodramatic. Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax - the only way you can save money nowadays."

Lee J Cobb as Johny Friendly in On the Waterfront  (1954)— Mobster Union Boss Evil. What does he want? Power! When does he want it? Always? What’ll he do to maintain it? Anything. And that anything includes murder. Our Mr. Friendly — that last name is ironic, n'est ce pas? — does whatever it takes to maintain his total control of the union. Stool pigeons are thrown off high roofs or shot. Beatings are administered to keep underlings in line. There's nothing better for our labor force than good, honest unions and nothing worse than corrupt, gang-controlled ones. Revealing quote: "Where you guys going? Wait a minute! I'll remember this! I'll remember every one of you! I'll be back! Don't you forget that! I'll be back!"

Ezra Miller as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) — Teenage Mass Murderer evil. When we first meet Kevin as a toddler we know there’s something wrong with the kid. He is cold, manipulative and mischievous. This is not Dennis the Menace mischief, this is calculated, dangerous mischief. He’s a bad seed. Kevin grows up to be an intelligent, handsome teen but also a cold-hearted one who cruelly mocks his mother. It is chilling to realize that this reptilian creature is a functioning member of society and the evil that surely lurks within will someday be released on innocents. It is. As he takes bow and arrow to fellow students who he has trapped in the gym. Carnage follows. In the aftermath, Kevin is typically emotionless. Revealing quote:"It's like this: you wake and watch TV, get in your car and listen to the radio you go to your little jobs or little school, but you don't hear about that on the 6 o'clock news, why? 'Cause nothing is really happening, and you go home and watch some more TV and maybe it's a fun night and you go out and watch a movie. I mean it's got so bad that half the people on TV, inside the TV, they're watching TV. What are these people watching, people like me?"

Conrad Veilt in Casablanca. 
Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser in Casablanca (1942) — Classic Film Nazi Evil. The only good thing you can say about Nazis is that they make for perfect film villains and by god have film goers seen a lot of them over the years. They’re made to order for the part and don’t even need to espouse the Nazi doctrine. Just putting on the uniform does the trick. Of course some are depicted as sadists (not a stretch) or capricious or impervious to reason. Nazis first started appearing on the big screen immediately before the U.S. entered World War II. They were a staple of films throughout the war. Of the early portrayals of Nazis this is my favorite and it certainly the most iconic. Strasser comes off as a sophisticate, intelligent and charming and happy to have drinks with his foes. But we know that he is willing and perhaps to use any means including murder to achieve this ends. Revealing quote: "Perhaps you have already observed that in Casablanca human life is cheap."

Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List (1993) — Real Nazi Evil. This was a different sort of Nazi than the type personified by Major Strasser. First of all he was based on a real person. Secondly there was no effort to be charming. There was an ugly reality to this portrayal. His utter contempt for Jews is clearly evidenced by his using them for target practice but what is in someways more chilling is what he says to Jewess he has a crush on. If this isn’t the personification of the purity of Nazi evil, I don't know what is. Revealing quote: “Sometimes, we're both lonely. I mean ... I would like so much to... reach out and... touch you in your loneliness. What would that be like, I wonder? I mean... What would be wrong with that? I realize that you're not... a person in the strictest sense of the word, but….” Not a person 'in the strictest sense.' Wow.

21 August 2020

Life Gets Worse, Elections Are Coming, Animals Including Killer Crocs, Bowdlerize Explained and Breaking Up With Colbert -- All of This in One Post

Fires and resultant smoke ravage California.
All we need now is a cataclysmic earthquake. Due to a couple of trillion fires raging throughout California, many of which are in and around the Bay Area, the air quality here is so bad that walking outside is akin to inhaling from an active chimney. Thus, as above normal temperatures continue, we are stuck indoors with windows closed. Honestly, I thought it was bad enough that we were in the midst of a pandemic. Now I'm not so much nostalgic for the time before the lockdown (seems eons have passed) but for the halcyon days a week ago when we could still take our mask sand venture outside without filling our lungs with soot. In short, it's getting worse before it gets better. Or, it's getting really, really dark before what better be a glorious dawn? To get any worse than this would require an earthquake and we've been longer overdue. Hopefully we'll catch a break.

About the only reason for optimism these days is that Trump is lagging well behind in the polls and there's a good chance Democrats can re-capture the senate. This is almost completely offset by the fact that the pure evil that is Trump and his minions are already trying to sabotage the election. Of course they may not recognize the outcome of the election. We could be in for an awful shitstorm the likes of which this country hasn't seen since the Civil War, in the days, perhaps weeks and maybe even months after the November election. One cannot assume that Trump will accept defeat and go gentle into that good night. We may be looking at riots possibly involving both sides. Of course if Trump manages to cheat his way to victory or otherwise hold office beyond January 20, he will continue to dismantle our democracy and there's no telling how long it would take to undo the damage. Decades perhaps.

One has to feel optimistic that by being smart and organized we can assure a fair election and that Biden can win and that this nightmare will be behind us. We can't let gloom settle in when there are battles to be fought and we have numerical superiority.

Partying in Wuhan, China.
I'm finding it a little harder to be optimistic about this stupid goddamned virus. With idiots all over America refusing to wear masks and not respecting social distancing guidelines, it's hard to imagine how we're going to get Covid-19 under control. Recently in Wuhan, from which the virus supposedly emanated, there was a huge pool party and concert. The fact of this gathering is testimony to the effectiveness of the stringent measures taken. Imagine if Americans had that kind of resolve.

Meanwhile the squirrel outside our window is enjoying a feast and seems oblivious to the dire circumstances affecting this area in particular and the world in general. Birds too are about. Some are on the bird feeder and one land-based feathered friend is joining the squirrel for some cross-species dining. Lucky buggers, not a care in the world -- well, except for predators. As humans we don't have to concern ourselves too much with attacks from large animals -- other than from other people. I like the safety from human-eating animals that urban areas provide. I can't imagine living in a place where one had to be weary of crocodiles. It is estimated that approximately 1,000 people a year are killed by crocodiles. Honestly they need a better press agent. Meanwhile last year sharks could only manage 64 attacks and two kills. Yet anytime a shark so much is comes near a human it's all over the media. But how often do you read about a croc killing a person? It happens about three times a day. As I understand it, sharks do no actively hunt humans, usually mistaking them for seals when they do attack. However crocodiles do indeed seek human meat. Chilling. Yet we're supposed to be afraid of sharks? In reading accounts of crocodiles killing people there are a number of times when one can't help but exclaim -- you idiot, what the hell were you thinking. For example this one: "On September 14, 2017, 24-year-old Financial Times journalist Paul McClean was reported killed by a crocodile near Arugam Bay in Sri Lanka. McClean stopped by a lagoon known as Crocodile Rock to wash his hands when a crocodile bit him and dragged him into the water. The lagoon is known for its large population of crocodiles." You would think a journalist would have more sense than to wash his hands in crocodile-infested water. Besides, how clean are your hands going to get in such water? Fucking moron. Also imagine the horror of seeing someone being hauled into the water by a crocodile. Especially a loved one.

Now I'd like share something from the good folks at Merriam-Webster that I found interesting. Maybe you'll find it interesting too: Few editors have achieved the notoriety of Thomas Bowdler. He was trained as a physician, but when illness prevented him from practicing medicine, he turned to warning Europeans about unsanitary conditions at French watering places. Bowdler then carried his quest for purification to literature, and in 1818 he published his Family Shakspeare [sic], a work in which he promised that "those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." The sanitized volume was popular with the public of the day, but literary critics denounced his modifications of the words of the Bard. Bowdler applied his literary eraser broadly, and within 11 years of his death in 1825 the word bowdlerize was being used to refer to expurgating books or other texts.

Seth Meyers.
I close with news of a break up that occurred last month. After nearly five years together my wife and I broke up with Late Show host Stephen Colbert who we'd been faithfully watching since he took over David Letterman (Dave was the best) in September 2015. It's become increasingly difficult to enjoy Colbert's show as his massive ego keeps getting in the way. Stephen's favorite topic is Stephen, even when he's got an interesting guest on. Tom Hanks was on the show one night and Colbert spent 80% of one segment talking about himself. Since he's been recording the show at home he loves to drag his wife on the show and talk to one of his kids off camera. As a one off it can be endearing but as a regular feature it's just showing off. And my does Colbert love to show off, whether by rattling off the names of his many siblings or the titles of sci-fi books he loves or trivia about Lord of the Rings. Colbert really angered me the night he took on Martin Scorsese's likening Marvel Comics films to amusement parks. Stephen didn't have the balls to say the great director's name instead saying "some people have said...." I've long been sick of hearing him geek out over movies made for 12-year-olds. When I think of Colbert now I see him grinning from ear to ear. No one wants to see that, not during a pandemic. Humor we want but this constant happy face and the never ending references to his drinking -- which includes him actually drinking -- are tedious. If the drinking stuff is a gag it's no longer funny and if it's not a gag then you need to get to an AA meeting. The wife and I have replaced Colbert with Seth Meyers and are much much happier. I highly recommend Seth. He is funny, clever a good interviewer and able to keep his ego in check.

20 August 2020

I Comment on Today's Headlines, Third in an Occasional Series

Kamala Harris at the convention last night.
Last month I came up with the brilliant idea of posting some of the day's headlines from various news sources and following them with comments that were either pithy, snarky, wise or brilliantly on point (or a combination thereof). The response was so overwhelming (thank you Endora Picklepuss of Yazoo City, Mississippi) that I offered readers a second edition on August 1. Since no protests ensued I've decided to grace readers with yet another edition and many more may come.

From the New York Times:

Kamala Harris Takes the Spotlight, a Moment for Her and History

The really significant moment in history will be if she is elected. Harris is the third female VP on a major party ticket and of course there's been one woman atop the ticket. None have won. Here's hoping that Harris can truly make history. I've little doubt that she'll make an excellent vice president. Besides, it's high time we had a San Francisco Giants fan in the White House.

Fires, Blackouts, a Heat Wave and a Pandemic: California’s ‘Horrible’ Month

As those of you not in a coma know, it's been pretty bleak these last few months. Yesterday bad went to worse when I stepped outside yesterday morning and breathed in the smell of smoke. The air quality was so bad we had to keep our windows closed. On a hot day. All we need now is an earthquake. I'm already prone to depression, so all the horrors of daily life in 2020 getting worse was not what I needed.

Why Are Senate Republicans Playing Dead?

Because morally and ethically, they are. It's no act. Such a bunch of thieving scoundrels this country has rarely seen.

From the BBC:

Thom Brennaman: Cincinnati Reds Suspend Broadcaster for Homophobic Slur

He used the word "fag" which virtually every story I've read on the incident has been loathe to mention. It's an ugly word, deriving from faggots which were the sticks of wood used to start fires. Today the word's primary purpose is to insult, demean and degrade people for their sexual preference. According to stories I've read, Brennaman has apologized profusely. That's about all he can do now besides go away. He's got a very long rode back and indeed it's doubtful he'll return to broadcasting. No great loss.

Alexei Navalny: Russian Opposition Leader 'Poisoned'

For all of the problems with the United States both today and throughout its history, I don't recall anyone in a minority party being poisoned (although we shouldn't be giving Trump any ideas). In fact, we're pretty good about not killing or even jailing politicians merely because they hold opposing viewpoints. So there's that.

Flint Water Crisis: Michigan 'Agrees to Pay $600m

Well, it's a start.

From the Washington Post:

Ex-Trump adviser Bannon Indicted on Conspiracy Charges in Alleged Border Wall Fundraising Fraud

I'm reminded of Louie in Casablanca who is "shocked" to discover that there is gambling in Rick's. So you're telling me a former member of Trump's inner circle engaged in illegal activities. Here's hoping they're all rounded up and locked up, culminating with the boss himself who should be due for a trip to the slammer around January 21, 2021.

Judge Rejects Trump’s Latest Bid to Shield his Tax Records from Manhattan District Attorney

See above. The cheating, lying bastard is going to be fully exposed to all manner of criminal charges including malfeasance. Throw away the key.

If Colleges Prioritize Football over Academics During this Pandemic, their True Sickness will be Revealed

God I'm going to miss college football this season. Specifically my trips to Memorial Stadium here in Berkeley to see the University of California Golden Bears. I never miss a home game and it makes my hurt ache that this autumn will be bereft of football. The Pac-12 conference, of which Cal is a member, has postponed football until the Spring, though an outright cancellation of the season seems likely. Other conferences have postponed football too. However, in the Deep South and parts of the Midwest football will continue because in those part of the world football is not only more important than academics, it's also more important than the health of the players or the community. Madness.

From SF Gate:

Woman Filmed Hurling Racist Insults, Denying COVID in SF

I'm sick to death of these morons.  I'm certain that a large percentage of COVID-deniers are also bigots, just as climate change deniers are. How do you combat this kind of reckless stupidity?

Apple Reaches $2 Trillion Market Value as Tech Fortunes Soar

Okay, fine, let's invest some of that money into our communities. Let's rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, let's prop up our struggling schools, let's make sure everyone has enough to eat and that medical bills can't send anyone into bankruptcy. So a bunch of fat cats are getting rich. I'm okay with that. But when they get super rich while people are starving, I say it's time for a revolution. Hopefully a peaceful one will work.

College Students Raise Alarm by Packing Bars, Avoiding Masks

I thought you had to be smart to get into college. Used to be the case.

18 August 2020

The Best of Film Quotes

Marylin Monroe in Some Like it Hot.
Film quotes first appeared on this blog in November 2009. There were six more editions in the next two years but then they mysteriously disappeared for nine years finally returning last March. All told film quotes have appeared ten times and given that number I thought it a good time to present this, my greatest hits. Sort of. Instead of being literally my 25 favorite lines from films this is more like 25 of my top 30 or so. If it were a true top 25 you'd see multiple quotes from a few movies and multi quotes from the same actor. I decided that for this compilation there would be a limit of one quote per movie and one per actor. Okay I cheated on the last one, I have two from Groucho Marx from whom I could easily put together a list of well over 30. I may in fact do that in the future. I could have had multiple quotes from Woody Allen and I did once put together a list comprised entirely of lines from his films and just might do a part two of that some day. Also, I limited myself to English language films,  I may present a list of great quotes from foreign language films soon too. Anyhoo (as they say at the Rand Corporation) here are 25 of the best from the ten previous editions of film quotes. They are offered in no particular order.

With all my heart, I still love the man I killed. -- Bette Davis as Leslie Crosbie in The Letter (1940).

She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up. — Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep (1946).

You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing... oh my, how the world still dearly loves a cage. — Ruth Gordon as Maude in Harold and Maude (1971).

I have here an accident policy that will absolutely protect you no matter what happens. If you lose a leg, we'll help you look for it. — Groucho Marx as Otis B. Driftwood in A Night at the Opera (1935).

Real diamonds! They must be worth their weight in gold! -- Marylin Monroe as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk in Some Like it Hot (1959).

I don't wanna badmouth the kid, but he's a horrible, dishonest, immoral louse. And I say that with all due respect. -- Woody Allen as Danny Rose in Broadway Danny Rose (1984).

Listen up, maggots. You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You're the same decaying organic matter as everything else. -- Brad Pitt as Tyler Durden in Fight Club (1999).

Carey Mulligan in Inside Llewyn Davis.
I should have had you wear double condoms. Well, we shouldn't have done it in the first place, but if you ever do it again, which as a favor to women everywhere, you should not, but if you do, you should be wearing condom on condom, and then wrap it in electrical tape. You should just walk around always inside a great big condom because you are shit! -- Carey Mulligan as Jean in Inside Llewyn Davis (2013).

Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today. -- Bill Murray as Phil Connors in Groundhog Day (1993).

The Uncertainty Principle. It proves we can't ever really know... what's going on. So it shouldn't bother you. Not being able to figure anything out. Although you will be responsible for this on the mid-term. -- Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man (2009).

You missed a very dull TV show on Auschwitz. More gruesome film clips, and more puzzled intellectuals declaring their mystification over the systematic murder of millions. The reason they can never answer the question "How could it possibly happen?" is that it's the wrong question. Given what people are, the question is "Why doesn't it happen more often?"  -- Max Van Sydow as Frederick in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986).

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

I've suffered the tortures of the damned sir, the tortures of the damned. -- Malcom McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971).

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).

Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos. -- John Goodman as Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski (1998).

Rich fellas come up an' they die, an' their kids ain't no good an' they die out. But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people.. -- Jane Darwell as Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath (1940).

On the self-abuse front - and this is important - I don't think it's advisable to do it in the shower. It wastes water and electricity and because we all expect you to be doing it there in any case. And, not on... under the linen... Well... Anyway, if you're worried about anything at all, just feel free to ask and we'll look it up. -- Kevin Kline as Ben Hood in The Ice Storm (1997).

Waiter, will you serve the nuts? I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts? -- Myrna Loy as Nora Charles in The Thin Man (1934).

It made me think of what you once told me: "In five years the Corleone family will be completely legitimate." That was seven years ago. — Diane Keaton as Kay in The Godfather Part II (1974)

Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Just get up off the ground, that's all I ask. Get up there with that lady that's up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won't just see scenery; you'll see the whole parade of what Man's carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so's he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That's what you'd see. There's no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties. And if that's what the grownups have done with this world that was given to them, then we'd better get those boys' camps started fast and see what the kids can do. And it's not too late, because this country is bigger than the Taylors, or you, or me, or anything else. Great principles don't get lost once they come to light. They're right here; you just have to see them again! -- Jimmy Stewart as Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Oh God, how depressing! You're meant to think I'm an international woman of mystery. I'm working on it like mad. --  Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles in Cabaret (1972).

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

You wanna boycott someone? You ought to start with the goddamn barber that fucked up your head. -- Robin Harris as Sweet Dick Willie in Do the Right Thing (1989).

If it was raining hundred dollar bills, you'd be out looking for a dime you lost someplace! -- Barbara Stanwyck as Ann in Meet John Doe (1941).

You know when you hear girls say 'Ah man, I was so shit-faced last night, I shouldn't have fucked that guy?' We could be that mistake! - - Jonah Hill as Seth in Superbad (2007).

You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little fucked up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny? -- Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito in Goodfellas (1990).

It's too late. I've already paid a month's rent on the battlefield. -- Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup (1933).

Positively the same dame! -- William Demarest as Muggsy in The Lady Eve (1941).

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown. -- Joe Mantell as Walsh in Chinatown (1974).

17 August 2020

Twenty-One "Facts" About Myself, Some of Which Might Seem Far-Fetched But All Are "True"

The alien I met, Leonard.
I played bass in the Bill Evans trio.

I am a board certified cock fighting referee.

I’ve never eaten bread.

I can walk on one hand —my left.

I was the inspiration for the man in the yellow hat in the Curious George books.

I had a close encounter of the third kind with an alien named Leonard.

I attended Cardinal Richelieu Middle School.

I once inadvertently high-fived Osama Bin Laden at a chess tournament.

I’ve been told I bear a striking resemblance to John the Baptist.

As a CIA agent I once followed myself for three hours only to lose me at a county fair.

I once stole Richard Nixon’s favorite tie clip.

My doppelgänger is African American woman named Tessa.

I was the original choice to play Lincoln in the Steven Spielberg biopic of the same name but had to drop out because of a scheduling conflict.

A former imaginary friend of mine named Klaus went on to gain fame as the “proctologist to the stars” in Hollywood.

My first novel has been translated into 27 languages including pig latin, Esperanto and Klingon.

I worked my way through college as a village smithy.

With the aid of a Macarthur genius award, I have developed a strawberry-flavored haggis parfait.

My nickname in college was Beauregard Heidelheim Aristotle Magnus Llanfairpwllgwyngyll.

My cattle rustling career was cut short by a pinky toe injury.

I once heard Donal Trump express concern for the welfare of another human being.

I once went to bed so late that I passed myself getting up the next morning.

15 August 2020

Ten Underrated Films From Ten Great Directors

From The White Sheik
At the risk of being obvious, great directors make great films. Sometimes as many as half a dozen and in a few cases as many as nine or ten. These are the films that come to mind when one hears that director' name. For example, John Ford is automatically associated with such classics as The Searchers (1956), Grapes of Wrath (1940) and Stagecoach (1939). He's only slightly less remembered for How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and My Darling Clementine (1946). But Ford directed over 100 films (cranking out about half of those in an eight-year period during the silent era) so inevitably there are some really good pictures he made that, while certainly not forgotten, are little remembered, particularly in comparison with those of his that are part of the Hollywood canon. So it is with all great directors. Terrific films that either were spurned by the critics, did poorly at the box office, failed to garner any awards or -- as is often the case -- a combination of two or all of these factors. In writing this post I've been subjective. I'm determining that a film was underrated based on whether a) I really like it and b) whether it seems a lesser known work of the director. No one can argue with me as to whether I like a film or not but some may take issue with whether a given film is not well-known.

White Sheik (1952)Fellini . Given the string of classics by Federico Fellini that followed, it's understandable that White Sheik is relatively forgotten. This is no crude early work from a director who had yet to find his voice. While White Sheik portended the beguiling style to come from the great Italian filmmaker, it is a wonderful film in its own right with enchanting visuals, endearing characters and an imaginative story line. The great Italian actor Alberto Sordi was typically wonderful in the title role. A just-married couple has come to Rome for their honeymoon where they will be surrounded by the groom's relatives and afforded a chance to meet the Pope. As the staid groom naps, the innocent bride naively seeks her favorite comic book character. But this is a Fellini film so of course she finds him. The premise doesn't begin to convey the magic that ensues. What follows is a charming, delightful, funny and bittersweet story that, in my mind, is among Fellini's best work.

Shutter Island (2010) Scorsese. I'm truly baffled that Shutter Island was not a bigger hit with critics or audiences. Martin Scorsese is of course better known for his earlier work such as Taxi Driver (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990) and of his films this century, it is The Departed, (2006)The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) and The Irishman (2019) that are most frequently noted. However in the last twenty years my favorite of his films are The Aviator (2004) and Shutter Island. The former got a slew of Oscar nominations (11) with five wins. But Shutter Island was shut out at the Oscars and gained no other significant awards or nominations. Why? Beats the hell out of me. It is as visually stunning a film as Scorsese has ever made. A brilliant cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson. It is a compelling story based on a popular novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. It works as a psychological thriller, a modern horror story and as a detective yarn. A truly wonderful film.

From Amistad.
Amistad (1997) Spielberg. Amistad is not only an excellent film, it is an important one. The story of the slave revolt aboard the Amistad in July, 1839 and the subsequent trial  over the fate of the Africans, who had landed on US soil after commandeering the slave ship bound for sugar plantations, is one that deserves to be widely told.  Their trials were a cause célèbre that attracted the attention of Americans of all stripes, particularly abolitionists, one of whom -- former president John Quincy Adams -- tried their case before the Supreme Court. Many big budget low-minded films from Steven Spielberg have been given much more attention, particularly at the box office, but Amistad is among his best works. An excellent cast was led by Anthony Hopkins as Adams along with Matthew McConaughey, Stellan Skarsgård, Morgan Freeman, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Djimon Hounsou as Cinque, the African's leader. It's a film that was generally admired by critics but for some reason didn't catch fire, despite being both historically accurate (for a Hollywood film) and inspiring. This former history teacher recommends it for classroom use.

Face to Face (1976) Bergman. Face to Face seems to have gotten lost among all the great films being released in the mid 1970s and is certainly lost among the prodigious output of great films from Ingmar Bergman. That it wouldn't crack my top ten of Bergman's film is hardly a slight considering the competition. Frequent Bergman collaborator Liv Ullman starred as a psychiatrist married to another psychiatrist. The subject matter isn't exactly light fare (par for the course in a Bergman film) as she suffers a mental breakdown. But also like many Bergman films, it is a beautifully told story that challenges and inspires the intellect. The centerpiece is a wonderful performance by Ullman buttressed by an exemplary supporting cast.

The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) Coens. Joel and Ethan Coen have been cranking out films for over thirty years. Most of them have been excellent, few have flopped and some have been masterpieces (see No Country For Old Men (2007), Inside Llyewn Davis (2013) and The Big Lebowski (1998)). They've also tackled different genres in different times and different places as the three aforementioned films show. With the Man Who Wasn't There they created a modern film noir (fully committing to the atmosphere by shooting in black and white). It stacks up with the best from film noir's post-war heyday. Billy Bob Thornton is excellent as the perpetually stoic and emotionless lead, a barber who gets mixed up in a murder that is ultimately his wife's doing. The fates of characters, like in classic noir, is predestined. The Coens are master storytellers and this is truly one of their best. Far from just an homage to a film style of the past, it is an excellent stand alone movie.

The Long Voyage Home (1940) Ford. You'd be hard-pressed to find a movie with a better opening five minutes. There's not a word of dialogue as the camera pans across a merchant marine ship in dock in the West Indies. It was a brave decision by John Ford to begin the film in such a fashion and he hit a home run. It didn't hurt that he had the great cinema photographer Gregg Toland to work with. Long Voyage Home, based on a series of Eugene O'Neill plays, is set mostly aboard a ship during the beginning of World War II and tells the story of the various crew members as they journey from the Caribbean to Baltimore and then home to England. Thomas Mitchell, Ian Hunter, John Qualen, Barry Fitzgerland and John Wayne (as a Norwegian -- complete with accent!) star. I particularly relate to the film as my father was in the merchant marines during the war (he was at the helm of one ship that was torpedoed and aboard two other ships that were strafed by enemy planes). Long Voyage Home is an engaging film with interesting characters and, as with most Ford films, has striking visuals.

I Confess (1953) Hitchcock. Perhaps less ambitious than many of the films Alfred Hitchcock made around this time, it's about as good a film as some such as Rear Window (1954) and Dial M For Murder (1954) and better than other such as Stage Fright (1950) and To Catch a Thief (1955). Montgomery Clift stars (in the only film he made with Hitch) as a priest who hears a murderer's confession and himself becomes a suspect. The priest's conundrum is that he cannot clear his own name without violating the seal of the confessional. It is a taut thriller, well-paced and featuring a strong cast that includes Anne Baxter and Karl Malden (like Clift, these were both Baxter and Malden's only appearances in a Hitchcock film). Upon its release, I Confess received mostly mixed reviews with many downright negative. This I'll never understand. It is among my ten favorite Hitchcock films.

From Love and Death.
Love and Death (1975) Allen. Love and Death was immediately followed by Annie Hall (1977), Interiors (1978) and Manhattan (1979) in other words the time in which Woody Allen became known as more than a director of silly, if hilarious, comedies. When people think of Allen's early comedies, it is usually Take the Money and Run (1969), Bananas (1971) and Sleeper (1973) that come to mind. Love and Death was a transitional movie. While chock full of gags, wit and slapstick, it also foreshadowed the nods to directors like Bergman and Fellini that would come to typify Allen's work along with the first of many references to Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. It wasn't that Allen was getting more serious with Love and Death but he was clearly adding greater dimension to his comedy. I think for that reason it's an important work in his oeuvre and a very funny movie to boot.

The Fortune Cookie (1967) Wilder. My favorite screen pairing of co-stars Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. And undoubtedly the best film ever to feature footage of a Cleveland Browns football game. While it may not be in a league with such Wilder masterpieces as Sunset Blvd. (1950), Some Like it Hot (1959), Double Indemnity (1944) and The Apartment (1960), it's damn entertaining. Lemmon is, as always, superb here as sports photographer, Harry Hinkle, who suffers a minor injury on the sidelines of a Browns game. His brother-in-law (Matthau), a notorious ambulance chaser, tries to persuade him to feign a serious injury and thus win a big lawsuit. Hinkle is reticent until he sees it as a way to win back his estranged wife. It's funny, touching and entertaining and deserves more recognition.

Death in the Garden (1956) Bunuel. Luis Bunuel made twelve excellent films between 1956 and 1977 and this was the first of those and probably the least-remembered. It is about a disparate group of characters who, for various reasons, flee a fictional Central American village that is in the midst of a revolt against the government after the police exercise extra judicial powers. Those on the run are hotly pursued because they include an accused bank robber and rebels. Along for the ride are a priest, a prostitute and the ubiquitous beautiful young woman. It's exciting stuff with little of the surrealism that would highlight Bunuel's later works. In fact it's barely recognizable as a Bunuel film at all. But the story telling is economic while including the stunning visuals that typify the director's work. Also, like most of Bunuel's films, it is unpredictable. It deserves its place among his more renowned works such as Viridiana (1961), The Exterminating Angel (1962) and That Obscure Object of Desire (1977).

13 August 2020

Film Quotes Returns!

Elliot Gould in Robert Altman's MASH.
In this edition of Film Quotes, all quotes rae from American films of the 1970s.

I want to go to work in one hour. We are the Pros from Dover and we figure to crack this kid's chest and get out to golf course before it gets dark. So you go find the gas-passer and you have him pre-medicate this patient. Then bring me the latest pictures on him. The ones we saw must be 48 hours old by now. Then call the kitchen and have them rustle us up some lunch. — Elliot Gould as Trapper John in MASH (1970).

Loneliness has followed me my whole life, everywhere. In bars, in cars, sidewalks, stores, everywhere. There's no escape. I'm God's lonely man. — Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976).

Well, what I really want is to suck his cock. — Julie Christie as Jackie Shawn in Shampoo (1975).

Bluto's right. Psychotic... but absolutely right. We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part! — Tim Matheson as Otter in Animal House (1978).

My analyst warned me, but you were so beautiful I got another analyst. — Woody Allen as Isaac Davis in Manhattan (1979).

It made me think of what you once told me: "In five years the Corleone family will be completely legitimate." That was seven years ago. — Diane Keaton as Kay in The Godfather Part II (1974).

You only have to lie on the grass at night and look straight up at some great star. And stare at it with all your might. And by and by, you feel you're falling into the sky, miles and miles from your body, which you don't seem to need at all. — Natasha Kinski as Tess in Tess (1979).

Liza Minelli in Bob Fosse's Cabaret.
Oh God, how depressing! You're meant to think I'm an international woman of mystery. I'm working on it like mad. --  Liza Minelli as Sally Bowles in Cabaret (1972).

It's amazing. It's incredible. But, I feel like a criminal 'cause I don't take money. — Al Pacino as Frank Serpico in Serpico (1973).

I'd wake up and there'd be nothing. I hardly said a word to my wife, until I said "yes" to a divorce. When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. — Martin Sheen as Capt. Willard in Apocalypse Now (1979).

Sir, you've been shot! When did you know it was all over? — Howard Cosell as himself in Bananas (1971).

What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got little save pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper! Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited. — Malcom McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971).

Give yourself over to absolute pleasure. Swim the warm waters of sins of the flesh - erotic nightmares beyond any measure, and sensual daydreams to treasure forever. — Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).

I love it. Suicides, assassinations, mad bombers, Mafia hitmen, automobile smash-ups: "The Death Hour." A great Sunday night show for the whole family. It'd wipe that fuckin' Disney right off the air. — William Holden as Max Schumacher in Network (1976).

You make it with some of these chicks, they think you gotta dance with them. — John Travolta as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever (1977).

You know, at one time, I used to break into pet shops to liberate the canaries. But I decided that was an idea way before its time. Zoos are full, prisons are overflowing... oh my, how the world still dearly loves a cage. — Ruth Gordon as Maude in Harold and Maude (1971).

Me, I just want a yacht, a big mansion, a peacock or something to guard me, you know, walk around all day with a bowler hat, silk pajamas, play golf, smoke real Havanas. — Ben Gazzara as Jack Flowers in Saint Jack (1979).

To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down. — Diane Keaton as Sonja in Love and Death (1975).

11 August 2020

From Cats on Roofs to Chinatown and Hippies With a lot of Sharon Tate, The Nine Most Recent Films I've Watched

Let’s check in on the last nine films I’ve watched. You'll  notice a few themes that run through many of them such as Sharon Tate and the Manson family. Tate's husband Roman Polanski will be referenced a few times as well.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) Brooks. Watching this movie is an extremely frustrating experience. The strictures of censorship turned what could have been a great movie into a passable one. Based on the Tennessee Williams play of the same name it features a great cast in top form: Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor (as gorgeous a pair of co-stars as you’ll ever see) Burl Ives, Judith Anderson and Jack Carson. As compelling as the film is, the story was eviscerated by cutting all the play’s homosexual themes, a fact that — unsurprisingly — angered Williams. His artistic vision was ruined and what should have been a strong statement on homophobia and sexism was instead merely a vehicle for great acting. As if that weren't bad enough, studio execs altered the ending of the film to make it more palatable for audiences, something Hollywood bigwigs are want to do. Cat was a critical and commercial success and is certainly still well worth a look, but oh, what might have been.

Shampoo (1975) Ashby. With this my latest viewing of Shampoo it occurred to me that the film is  about the death of hope. The sadness of the film is masked to a great degree by watching star Warren Beatty bed-hopping with various women, namely Lee Grant, Goldie Hawn, Julie Christie and Carrie Fisher — all in a 24-hour period, mind you. Beatty co-wrote the script with Robert Towne (more on him later) about a wildly popular and lascivious hairstylist (Beatty) who wants to own his own shop. The main character is based on two real people, one of whom was Jay Sebring who was killed alongside Sharon Tate by members of the Manson Family. He seeks start-up capital from the husband (Jack Warden) of one of his lovers (Grant). Meanwhile the potential investor is himself having an affair with an ex of Beatty’s (Christie). Shampoo begins on election eve 1968 and the election and its results (a Nixon victory) are no mere window dressing. Shampoo is about the death of the Sixties and  the decadence of America’s noveau riche who partied on while the high hopes of the Sixties died. Shampoo, is a terrific multi-layered film that is not only very much of the time it was set but of the time it was made with a strong Seventies cinema sensibility. Shampoo has less of a Hal Ashby stamp to it then some of the other excellent films he made in the seventies, probably because Beatty essentially co-directed. It's also been said that the script, which had been in development for about five years, was ultimately influenced by the murderous rampage by the Manson Family, the most famous victim being Sharon Tate.

Sharon Tate
The Wrecking Crew (1968) Karlson. Watching a really bad film is only tolerably if a) you know it’s going to be bad and b) there’s a reason beyond enjoying a cinematic experience for you to watch it. I correctly anticipated the Wrecking Crew would be a stinker, although I didn’t know the stench would be quite so bad. There’s no better example than when the film’s star (Dean Martin as Matt Helm) leaps over a hedge, lands on a lawn and the ground ripples. Or when Helm and his leading lady are landing a helicopter and it is evident that the vehicle is being operated by a stunt double who bears only a vague resemblance to Helm. Wrecking Crew’s credibility is not helped by the many scenes in the hills of Denmark (Denmark has no hills) that strongly resemble the hills of Southern California. The fight scenes are boring, the dialogue seems written by a 12-year-old and the plot is beyond absurd. But I was compelled to watch the movie because of Martin’s co-star, Sharon Tate. Wrecking Crew features in Quentin Tarantino’s brilliant film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood where we see Tate (as played by Margot Robbie) enter a movie theater and gleefully watch herself in the film. I’d also been thinking a lot about Tate because of the podcast You Must Remember This which had a series on Charlie Manson’s Hollywood which naturally centered around the murder of Sharon Tate and others by members of the Manson Family. I’ve been “having to watch” Wrecking Crew ever since Once Upon a Time… came out and the podcast was the tipping point. I’m glad I’ll never have to watch it again, though I have to say that for all the film’s faults, Tate was a delight to watch.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019) Sciamma. This one of the rare cases of a film I admire but don’t like. I think its a terrific movie and and understand and appreciate that it's loved by many, particularly feminists and the LGBTQ community. But it didn’t work for me. I couldn't warm up to either main character. I was not at all bothered by the subject matter and indeed thought it was a good story. Portrait was beautifully shot — well, hell, there’s nothing wrong with it, I just didn’t like it. Happens.

Daily Miller
Daisy Miller (1974) Bogdanovich. As mentioned previously on this blog I've recently listened to TCM’s The Plot Thickens podcasts in which Ben Mankiewicz interviewed Peter Bogdanovich. I have subsequently watched all of Bogdanovich’s films (almost all, I passed on a few that were very poorly received). The last of these was Daisy Miller starring Bogdanovich’s then girlfriend, Cybill Shepard in the title role. I’d never seen Daisy Miller before and was suitably impressed. For all its merits Daisy tanked at the box office. As Bogdanovich himself has said it came out at a time when the movie-going public was not interested in period pieces. Twenty years later, he has speculated, it might have been a hit. Based on an 1878 novella by Henry James, Miller is about a young, beautiful, wealthy and obnoxious American woman traveling in Europe and being pursued by various suitors, one of whom is a fellow American who has our sympathies. He is played by Barry Brown and yes, I said “who?” when I saw his name too. Brown was a strange cat who Bogdanovich said liked to read the obituaries in the morning paper. He took his own life five years after Miller, at the age of 27. More’s the pity because based on Miller he was a fine actor, this was his biggest role.

Chinatown (1974) Polanski. There’s so much going on with this film that it deserves a book and indeed there is a new one out and following my latest viewing of Chinatown I ran out (actually my wife drove me to the bookstore) and bought it. The book is called The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years of Hollywood and it's by Sam Wasson. After two days I’m halfway through the book and loving it. I’m not the only person who regards Chinatown as one of America’s greatest films and likewise its screenplay, by Robert Towne as virtually unparalleled in cinema history. I also think it is the quintessential 1970s American film (high praise indeed) despite the fact that there are three others I hold in slightly higher regard (Manhattan (1979), The Godfather (1972) and Taxi Driver (1975)). Previously I mentioned Shampoo is a sad film about the death of hope. Compared to Chinatown, Shampoo is Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There is utter despair in the ending. The rich and powerful are victorious and get away -- literally -- with murder. The woman in the picture, Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) who at first seems something of a femme fatale, tries mightily to protect her daughter (her sister) from a rapacious evil that is capitalism personified in the person of Noah Cross (John Huston) the man who once owned -- literally -- water and now profits of it and directs its path like a god. The private detective J.J. Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a cynic who revels in dirty jokes and happily takes divorce cases but comes to love Mulwray and tries to save her and her daughter (sister). Screenwriter Robert Towne had a happier ending in mind but director Roman Polanski had other better ideas. Still reeling from the murder of his wife Sharon Tate at the hands of Mason Family members, he wasn’t about to put a smiley face at the end of a story about greed, corruption and incest. But Chinatown is not the slightest bit depressing. It’s too damn good for that. It is something of a message film as it is something of a seventies noir and something or a murder mystery. It defies easy classification. What it surely is is brilliant collaboration of writer, director, producer, cast and crew to create a uniquely American expose of America itself and its worst manifestations under capitalism. Can’t wait to finish the book and to watch the film again.

Love and Mercy (2014) Pohlad. This is an excellent film  that deserved more recognition. When I initially saw it five years ago it inspired me to re-visit The Beach Boys music and gain a greater appreciation for the group's leader, Brian Wilson.The film is a showcase for actors Paul Dano and John Cusack who play Wilson at different ages. They were both excellent. (Paul Giamatti gives a masterful performance as the the psychotherapist Dr. Eugene Landy who for years cruelly controlled and manipulated Wilson). Love and Mercy is a celebration of genius which is unquestionably what Wilson is. It is also a look at mental illness which Wilson unquestionably has. (Not the first time those two have gone together.) It is also a story of how the love of another person — Wilson’s second wife Melinda (Elizabeth Banks) -- can have a curative and redeeming effect on a person. It’s a fine movie. (Side note: Beach Boy Dennis Wilson -- Brian's brother -- for a short time hosted Manson Family members in his home.)

Tess (1979) Polanski. Truly one of the most beautiful films ever made. It is an epic tragedy based on the Thomas Hardy novel of the same name. Tess is a victim. She is a victim of rape. A victim of the horribly sexist mores of Victorian society. A victim of her earnestness and of a young man’s capriciousness. Like many tragedies it is full of if-onlys. If this hadn’t happened, if she hadn’t said this or he hadn’t done that. Natasha Kinski then 17, gave a perfect performance as Tess despite not even being British. She is as stunning a screen presence as one will ever see. Tess faces everyone and everything matter of factly and accepts her fates stoically. Clearly there is bafflement at times, shock and disappointment at others but she does not break down. Indeed she keeps going, forever walking through the British countryside (though Tess was filmed in France). Misfortune and the vagaries of relationships including heartbreak do not stop her. Tess is a woman on a mission, though to or for what is not clear. There are scenes of great beauty in Tess: Tess’ suitor Angel carrying her and three companions across a flooded road; Tess’ rapist/benefactor trying to talk reason to Tess at a threshing machine; A group of girls in long pretty white dresses dancing in a field at twilight; Stonehenge at daybreak; A deer approaching a sleeping Tess in the forest; And all those country roads. Tess, of course, suffers a sad fate, one that could easily have been so different. But that’s life, isn’t it. We are at the mercy of chance and at our own decisions, ones often made in haste and in youth. Polanski dedicated the film to his late wife, Sharon Tate who first suggested he make a cinematic version of Tess.

Revolution (1968) O'Connell. For me the most amazing aspect of this film is that I’d never seen it before. Revolution is a documentary (available on YouTube) about the hippie scene in San Francisco in 1967 which was then at its apex. Revolution focuses primarily on hippies in and around Golden Gate Park and the Haight Ashbury district — the epicenter of the hippies. We meet several young hippies, as they talk about love, sex, drugs and defying societal norms. We see hippies tripping on acid (a must for all self-respecting counter culturists of the time) grooving at concerts, frolicking in the nude, engaging in rap sessions, spare-changing and romping around in the park. A few “straights” are interviewed as well to give their perspective on the burgeoning hippie revolution. It is a fascinating time capsule and for me a bit of stroll down memory lane. I was a young teen across the bay in Berkeley which at the time  — particularly around Telegraph Avenue — was also a hotbed of hippie activity. I was a bit of one myself, although at the same time I was a jock. (I was a strange kid.) There is everything hopeful about the people and scenes in Revolution. We are witnessing a clarion call for peace, love, understanding and a rejection of capitalist greed and conformity. Revolution depicts the short-lived golden age of the hippies. Soon the movement would be ruined by profiteers, criminals, drug abuse, the Manson family murders, Altamont and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Still the hippie movement has had a lasting and positive impact on our culture and the documentary goes a long to show what the Hippie spirit was all about.