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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

About that whole 11-11-11 thing

Relax, I'm still reading 11 books in 11 genres by November 11, 2011. I'm just not reading the books I assigned to myself. I'm still stuck on 'Bleak House'. Haven't read one damn book on the list. I've had this complex since I was a kid in school--I hate, hate, hate being assigned books to read. Even if I assign them to myself! Pathetic.
So, I'll just take a look at the books I've read since January 1 and see if I can squeeze 11 distinct genres out of the pile. I suspect I can; it might take some creative accounting, but I think I can do it.
In a few days I'll post the new lineup. Probably after I post my all-time favorite film.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Two: The second lonliest number.

2. Rear Window (1954)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Written by John Michael Hayes. Cinematography by Robert Burks.
Starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr.

Yes, I know, it's about watching, it's an indictment of us moviegoers as voyeurs, blah blah blah. But 'Rear Window' is also about helplessness, weakness. Stewart plays Jeff, a news photographer who is wheelchair-bound after being caught in a race car crash while photographing it. (How cool is that?) There's a scene in which he's being given a therapeutic massage* by his nurse, Stella, and he takes his pajama top off and he looks wretched--like someone who has spent weeks in a wheelchair. I've seen this film at least a half-dozen times and the sight of a shriveled Jimmy Stewart shocks me every time.

That scene establishes that Jeff's accident has left him physically diminished, but it turns out he may have suffered some emotional fractures as well. Later in the film Lisa--Jeff's girlfriend, keep in mind--is across the courtyard being manhandled by murder suspect Thorwald. Jeff and Stella are watching this when Lisa begins screaming to Jeff for help, and Jeff tells Stella to back into the shadows so they can hide from Thorwald. Our hero, everyone! For me, this moment is Stewart at his most unappealing, and I've seen both 'Vertigo' and 'It's a Wonderful Life.'**

Christ, I love Grace Kelly. Not going anywhere with that, I just love her as an actress. My favorite Grace Kelly moment in 'Rear Window' comes when Lisa and Jeff are explaining to Jeff's cop friend about the murder they think has happened across the courtyard. Lisa says "we think Thorwald's guilty" with the same tone you might expect her to say "we're voting Republican" or "we're Lutheran."

To even things out, my favorite Jimmy Stewart moment was when Jeff's trying to convince Lisa about the murder. The camera lingers on a neighbor across the courtyard, the voluptuous Miss Torso, and Jeff says "that'd be a terrible job to tackle." Lisa looks at him and he continues "just how would you start to cut up a human body?"

Couple points: This is as good a place as any to mention that Hitchcock is my all-time favorite director. Also, Jimmy Stewart is the second actor to be in two of my top ten films. This might be the only place where Elija Wood and Jimmy Stewart are ever in the same sentence. Treasure it, Frodo.

*Get your minds out of the gutter.
**Don't believe me? Watch it again; George Bailey is kind of a jerk.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Reason For The Season

Benjamin Harrison to Elbridge Gerry on the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

"I shall have a great advantage over you when we are all hung [sic] for what we are doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air for an hour or two before you are dead."*

 Enjoy the booms and the pretty flashes in the sky.

 I've seen this quote turned around so that Gerry was saying how much he envied Harrison for his (Harrison's) bulk. Either way it's probably apocryphal, but I don't care. It illustrates perfectly the situation the signers were in: they simultaneously committed treason and confessed to it with one stroke of a pen.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The number of the counting shall be three.

3. Almost Famous (2000)
Directed and Written by Cameron Crowe. Cinematography by John Toll.
Starring Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

One of the biggest criticisms that I've seen leveled at 'Almost Famous' is that it sugar-coats the rock n' roll experience of the time. This is grossly unfair because the overwhelming majority of films about the life of rock stars focus on the sex and the drugs. Why do we need one more? After all, why do rock musicians become rock musicians in the first place? The music. Most musicians--like the actors who portray them--go their entire careers without achieving money or glory. Why? They would have a much easier time of it by going to school, getting MBAs, becoming corporate executives and earning enough money to score women and drugs.
But they don't. Because they want to rock. And in 'Almost Famous'--unlike in a lot of other rock movies--being a rock star looks like a fun and rewarding pursuit.

This might be the last time Kate Hudson was good in anything, how sad. I was miffed at the time when she didn't win Best Supporting Actress, but now I realize that it was probably for the best.

This is the last film on the list that I saw in the theater, by the way.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Embarassing omitions

I realize that I should have listed the cinematographers (or directors of photography) for my top ten films, so I'm going to fix that now:

Notorious: Ted Tetzlaff.
Lord of the Rings (All three films): Andrew Lesnie.
Vertigo: Robert Burks.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: Ellen Kuras.
L.A. Confidential: Dante Spinotti.
Silence of the Lambs: Tak Fujimoto.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Douglas Slocombe.

From now on I'll list cinematographers.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

That's what it's Four.

4. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Lawrence Kasdan. Story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman.
Starring Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Paul Freeman, John Rhys-Davies, Ronald Lacey.

 I have no memory of the first time I saw 'Raiders.' I was nine when this came out in the summer of 1981, so I could have seen this in the theater. My dad would definitely have taken me. However, I have a feeling I probably first saw it on cable a year or so later. For the record, this is the only film in the top 10 I saw as a child.

 Every so often I try to convince myself to work 'Raiders' down the list, but then I catch a few minutes on cable or I pop the DVD into the machine and I have such a visceral reaction that reminds me how much I freakin' love this film. 'Raiders'--along with 'Jaws' and 'Star Wars'--is the best possible summer blockbuster. It's got such a great balance of intelligence and a sense of fun. Sadly my reaction to 'Raiders' is so atavistic that I find it difficult to analyze the film. So I won't.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Still not reading 'Bleak House,' everyone.

While I'm avoiding 'Bleak House' I just finished 'Among Others' by Jo Walton. Loved, loved, loved it. Which is odd, because it's really slow and not a lot happens overall; and normally I hate that. In case neither of you has heard of it, 'Among Others' takes place in 1979-1980 and is the story of Mori--yeah, I see what I did there--a fifteen-year-old Welsh girl who gets sent to an English boarding school after her twin sister is killed and she, herself, is crippled. All of which happened when they stopped their mother, an evil witch, from taking over the world.

Relax, you two, these aren't spoilers. All this happens between the prologue and the start of the book proper. The novel is a series of Mori's journal entries in which she describes her life at school, her father whom she just met and her attempts at fitting in.

I guess I enjoyed this book so much because Walton makes Mori so utterly charming and lovable. Walton makes Mori's voice that of a whip-smart, terribly lonely fifteen year old, but that's just the half of it. Mori is so phlegmatic about her situation that one moment you marvel at how strong she is and the next you wonder how much of it is a front. Read it for yourself, it's outstanding.

Source: My local library.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

11-11-11 Challenge Update

I'm not saying that 'Bleak House' is kicking my ass, but I'm coming to the conclusion that this is a novel best suited for reading in installments like it was originally published. And then I read this article that confirmed my suspicions. So, I'm no longer ashamed to be taking my time with 'Bleak House.' I have time to catch up, he said airily.
I'm 118 pages in and not much is happening. We've caught barely a glimpse of the great and all-consuming lawsuit, Jarndyce and Jardyce, that is at the heart of the novel. I don't know if Dickens provides more details about the suit or if it's like the shark in 'Jaws:' the less we see of it, the scarier it is. So far, most of the story is centered on Esther Summerson, an almost impossibly good-natured orphan who is drawn into the world of the lawsuit as a 'Ward of Jardyce.' The purpose of these wards--Esther is one of three--is unknown at this point, but considering we've met an elderly former ward who's since gone mad, I'm not optimistic for Esther.
But I am optimistic that my perseverance will be rewarded.

Note to FTC fucks: 'Bleak House' is from my personal collection.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I can't think of anything clever for Five

5. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Directed by Jonathan Demme. Written by Ted Tally.
Starring Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Ted Levine.
  I am not a horror movie fan. As a result I've never seen a frame of any of the 'Friday the 13th' or 'Nightmare on Elm Street' franchises. Never had any desire to watch 'Scream,' or any of the various torture porn of the last decade or so. You get the point.
  As a result I avoided 'Silence of the Lambs' for at least a year or so after it came out. I finally saw it on VHS after having it recommended to me for the umpteenth time and I really liked it. And over the intervening couple of decades this film kept sneaking up on me. I'd watch it on cable whenever I could, even badly censored for swear words. Eventually I bought it on DVD more of as an afterthought than anything else. Then I'd watch it at least once a year. Then I started a Flickchart account and it shot to #5 fairly rapidly. How often does one of your all-time favorite anythings just tip-toe up on you and nestle into your heart and mind? Not often enough in my book.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Six. Six? Six!

6. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Directed by Curtis Hanson. Written by Brian Helgeland.
Starring Kim Basinger, James Cromwell, Russell Crowe, Danny DeVito, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey.
  I have a weakness for long films that aren't afraid to take their time. Ditto for films that have complex plots and loads of characters. That's 'L.A. Confidential' in a nutshell. I think it's because these type of films replicate the literary experience better than others and despite the amount of space I'm dedicating to movies, I am more of a book person. And most of my favorite films that fit this description are book adaptations: this film, The Lord of the Rings, Zodiac, The Green Mile, The Right Stuff etc. And even the ones that aren't adapted from books, such as Almost Famous or Love Actually*, feel literary.

*Yeah, yeah, I know. I've only encountered three romantic comedies that I truly enjoy: Love Actually, Four Weddings and a Funeral and When Harry Met Sally. I'm not apologizing, just explaining that rom-coms aren't usually my taste. But those three I really like.