Monday, December 22, 2008
Maybe Santa will bring me a new camera, because a couple weeks ago mine started taking pictures like this. I have no idea how it happened, but I love it. In the meantime, I give you readers this fascinating photo of a ranger station at Henninger Flats in the San Gabriels, taken a couple weeks ago when the sun was so bright I didn't realize how the photos were coming out until I got back to the car.
Have a wonderful holiday, everyone.
And finally, to ring in the holiday season, I finally got around to watching "The Innocents" with Deborah Kerr. It's been on my list for years, since I read "The Turn of the Screw" in college. All I remember about that class (whichever class it was) was having to read five different essays that analyzed the story from five different points of view -- one saying the governess is a basket case, one saying the ghosts she sees are real, one talking about the children and their Freudian projections, and I don't remember what-all else. They were all pretty convincing and I came away with a mild headache and a deep-seated confusion about the story.
So it was really impressive to me that the movie upholds the same ambiguity. You're seeing it all in front of you, but you really can't tell what's going on. Miss Giddens (Kerr) is a fetching young governess who lands her first job ever after a flirty conversation with her cute employer. He explains, though, that she'll never see him -- he lives in London, and she'll be looking after his two young wards at his country estate. Still, she claims to love children, and she really seems to enjoy her work. But there's something weird about the children....
There is of course nothing creepier than creepy children, and the most awesome thing about these kids is that you never know if they're malevolent or not, but they're still utterly creepy. Young Flora prances around singing "O Willow Waly" (which turns out to be a song about mourning a dead lover) and slightly older Miles is just a little... precocious. Are they possessed? Are they just misguided? Is Miss Giddens really seeing ghosts through the windows? Even the ending leaves you wondering. But no matter what you think is going on, you have to enjoy the ride as Miss Giddens slowly loses it. When the ghost brushes past her in the schoolroom, oh my God, the hairs on my neck stood up.
I was also excited about this movie because it inspired Kate Bush's classic song "The Infant Kiss," which itself is pretty ambiguous: "There's a man behind those eyes... Oh, how he frightens me." Is it a love song or a song of terror? The movie walks the same line.
Brr. Let's take our niece and nephew's Christmas presents back to the store!
Monday, December 15, 2008
This all makes Mary a bit jumpy, and it doesn't help that she's already kind of an oddball for 1962. A healthy, intelligent young woman who doesn't want friends, isn't interested in the advances of the loutish tenant across the hall in her boarding house, plays professionally on a church organ but lacks religious conviction... she doesn't seem to fit in anywhere. Her landlady, her boss at the church and her doctor are all slightly baffled by her. You've already got the plot twist figured out, ten minutes into the movie, but it's fascinating to watch: on so many levels, Mary doesn't belong here. She belongs somewhere else.
It's creepy as hell to watch Mary's destiny close in on her. Gorgeous, too. Why aren't more horror movies set in Utah? The black and white cinematography makes the most of the sweeping, open landscape, especially around the vacant lakeside pavilion that irresistibly draws Mary: white skies against dark water. This would be great to see on a big screen. The soundtrack, almost entirely organ music, is gorgeous too.
As a fairly spacey person myself, with an often-tenuous grip on reality ("Where are my glasses? What's her name again? Wait, what year is this?"), I could powerfully identify with Mary's terror as her world starts to blur and something else starts to come in. It's a universal fear, this fear of losing one's grip altogether. James Thurber puts it this way in his introduction to "My Life and Hard Times":
It is unfortunate, however, that even a well-ordered life can not lead anybody safely around the inevitable doom that waits in the skies. As F. Hopkinson Smith long ago pointed out, the claw of the sea-puss gets us all in the end.
Brr. Let's turn on some more lights and have some eggnog!
Thursday, December 11, 2008
She took such obvious joy in her body, it still sparkles across all of the years that have passed. Her life was quite troubled for many years. I hope she's found some peace. Good night, Bettie.
NYT obit (for "Ms. Page," don't you love it?)
There's a nice quote in the LAT's obit from artist Olivia de Berardinis:
And that's exactly the key to her charm. You never get the sense, in her photos, that anyone but her is in charge -- she never comes across as exploited, but as someone who's playing a game, wielding her sexuality because it's making her some money and heck, it's kind of fun. She grew bangs to cover what she thought was a weird-looking forehead, but other than that, she never concealed anything. Bettie herself is quoted as saying, in 2006: "I want to be remembered as the woman who changed people's perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form."
It took me years to understand what I was looking at in the old photographs of her. Now I get it. There was a passion play unfolding in her mind. What some see as a bad girl image was in fact a certain sensual freedom and play-acting -- it was part of the fun of being a woman.
As the NYT correctly reports, Bettie was born in Jackson, Tenn. (not Nashville -- Jackson's down toward Memphis). Her pinup years were nicely immortalized in Mary Harron's movie "The Notorious Bettie Page," in which Gretchen Mol captures some of her vivacity (although that girl is awful skinny). She went through a religious conversion, a few unhappy marriages, and a decade in a mental institution, and ended up living out here in L.A. I always sort of hoped I'd run into her somewhere and we'd fall into a discussion about Tennessee, although she probably wouldn't have wanted to talk about Tennessee. Besides, it had been many years since she allowed someone to photograph her face; she wanted to be remembered as she was in her golden era. Which is kind of cool. She could have been any 85-year-old walking around out here.
There's a holiday angle to her story, as the NYT notes: "Her big break was the Playboy centerfold in January 1955, when she winked in a Santa Claus cap as she put a bulb on a Christmas tree." But I'll still be thinking of her this summer when I put on my Bettie swimsuit.
The narrator is celebrating Christmas with his second wife and her grown children; he's enjoying the merriment and the good times when the family starts clamoring for a ghost story, and his mood darkens. He goes for a walk and remembers what happened to him many years ago, when he was a young, happily betrothed solicitor. His firm sends him from London to a northern town, to settle affairs for a client who's just died. No one in the town wants to talk about the client and her creepy old house, and no one comes to the funeral... but a mysterious woman in black appears in the back row during the service. When he mentions her, the reaction is shock and horror. She's a ghost!
This book has everything: a big creepy house on the marsh; ghostly sightings; ghostly sounds; a haunted nursery (yes!); a cute dog; and, most heartbreakingly, a very relate-able narrator who really does his best to pull himself together and do his job. You just deeply feel for the guy as events unfold. What would you do differently? Probably nothing. The pieces of the story fall inexorably into place around him, and there's no way he can escape.
At one point I was reading and gave a tremendous gasp. Mom looked up from the third down (or whatever football has) and I said, "He's alone in the house at night and the lights just went out!"
She said "How can you read those things?"
In 1989 the book was adapted for British TV, and I managed to track down a copy at the excellent Cinefile (and then kept it for an extra week -- sorry, guys). I had been working up this post in my head when I sat down to watch the movie, but afterward, I didn't want to even think about "The Woman in Black." It's taken me about a month to get it together enough to write this. The movie is absolutely terrifying. It nails all the best elements from the book, adds some good twists and some beautiful images, and gives you one scene that made me scream out loud here in the living room. Not a start; not a yelp; nothing that could be followed by embarrassed laughter, but a genuine scream of terror. (I had just taken a mouthful of hot toddy, which was extra tragic.) Oh my God. I've never seen anything like it. Final Girl has, as usual, an excellent review.
I understand the stage play is excellent as well, but haven't talked to anyone who's seen it. Apparently it makes explicit the terrifying subtext -- the reader/audience is as helplessly involved in things as the protagonist, so are we cursed too? Brr! Let's turn on all the lights!
Monday, December 08, 2008
Anyway, I keep forgetting I live in a place where the thing that looks like a Stealth fighter might actually be one, and the nerdy scruffy old guy at the restaurant who looks like Dustin Hoffman might actually be Dustin Hoffman. It's not really ***OMG L.A.*** anymore, it's just where I live. Which is pretty nice.
Friday, December 05, 2008
Fellow Tennessee native and retired pinup goddess Bettie Page is in the hospital this evening after having a heart attack. She's said to be critically ill. Send her your good thoughts, please. I don't think I can handle losing Bettie on top of everything else.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Wow, "Don't Look Now" was -- not at all what I expected. I'd heard of it as a super-scary horror classic and guess I was expecting something on the order of "Rosemary's Baby" or "The Innocents" in Venice. But wow, WOW. It's just like nothing else.
Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, of course, play a married couple whose daughter drowns in a pond on their property. Grieving and racked by guilt, they try to move on with a working vacation in Venice, where Donald restores old churches. There they run into a psychic who claims she can communicate with their daughter, and from there things get weird.
But things were pretty weird from the get-go. The opening sequence introduces the film's fragmented editing, full of quick cuts across space and time: from indoors to out, from the immediate past to the future. "Nothing is as it seems," murmurs Donald as he looks over some slides of churches. (It's so cute to see slides. And it's so funny that it's cute to see slides. While on the subject of cuteness, Donald and Julie have these great identical wavy perms that are almost hypnotic.) I watched the opening and then *immediately* skipped back to watch it again. It's gorgeous how the tension builds, and how you get a sense of Donald and Julie's closeness right off the bat; and how their daughter already looks like an otherworldly harbinger of doom.
What surprised me the most thought is just how unbearably sad this movie was. Not sad because a little girl dies; but because it shows you in the most visceral way that everything you love and believe in is just hopelessly fragile and transient. This movie's sex scene is famous for being graphic, but also for the way it flashes forward throughout to shots of Donald and Julie dressing afterward for dinner. The gimmick's been read as a joke or as an illustration of Donald's second sight, but I took it to mean that everything ends, even the most blissful feeling of connection. One minute one is rolling around in shared ecstasy, the next minute one is sitting on the same bed dressed in an uncomfortable suit, pouring some scotch and staring off into space. In the context of the end of the movie, the contrast becomes absolutely, unutterably heartbreaking.
As for the end -- the big reveal -- what's crazy about it is that you can't possibly prepare for it (I screamed out loud), but somehow, on some level, you *know* what he's going to see. You want to stop him and you can't. You're as helpless as Julie behind the iron gate. One day your story will end too, and your own finale will turn around and look you in the eye; and that's scary as hell.
Final Girl has a fab review, which I was excited to finally read after watching the movie! I also went and looked up the NYT's review and read Pauline Kael's review in one of my books; neither of those two enjoyed it much. (Pauline really hates it when she thinks filmmakers are just trying to be arty.)
Monday, November 10, 2008
Saturday, November 08, 2008
For years I was warned off the old TV movie version of "Salem's Lot" by Betsy: "The vampire is made out of, like, blue Play-Doh, and his mask is so stiff that he can't actually talk, so the other characters have to supply his emotions by saying things like 'The vampire is angry now!'" Still, about eight years after I borrowed the book from her and was rendered sleepless for a week, it was time to check the movie out for myself. And she's right, it is pretty goofy (although to my disappointment, "The vampire is angry now" is not an actual line of dialogue) and the monster really is blue. You know he's coming, in fact, every time you see the color blue. This spells trouble for our hero Ben Mears, who likes to wear lots of denim, most troublingly a close-fitting short-sleeved denim blouse. On the whole, though... it's really not that bad.
OK, it's not great. The pace is slow and it crawls and crawls... you could argue that this is building up a sense of dread, but come on, when you immediately introduce a black-suit-clad weirdo living in a haunted house and driving a big black car, there's really no dread to build. I spent a lot of time thinking about horror movie tropes and wondering how anyone would not immediately suspect the black-suit-clad weirdo when bad things start happening. It's like in the Harry Potter books where they're like "The Death Eaters are back! It's probably Harry Potter's fault! It's certainly not Draco Malfoy's!" and you can't figure out if JKR is being sarcastic.
But then the vampire noshes on a little kid, and things just pick up from there. The movie becomes a series of really fantastic vampire set pieces. The wise old professor reading books labeled "Vampire Lore" in his library, and then hearing a noise upstairs.... the vigil over a sheeted figure at the morgue ... the movie fog outside the window parting to reveal a genuinely creepy floating child. And Barlow's first appearance, in extreme closeup (above), gave me the supreme willies.
It doesn't really go anywhere, and it's nowhere near as scary as the book. Scenes in the book that turned my hair white -- the boys walking alone in the woods, not knowing they're being stalked until it's too late; and everything involving the priest -- are pretty much ignored here.
Still, it's a hell of a lot scarier than the more recent TV movie starring poor Rob Lowe as Ben. My favorite scene in that had poor Samantha Mathis, starring as the vampire-turned Susan, appearing in Rob's window and delivering a crucial bit of exposition, talking like Susan even though she's supposed to be a vampire. "I could love you, Ben Mears," she concludes. Rob replies, reasonably: "Susan, you're a vampire."
Anyway, it was interesting to see Tobe Hooper's other good movie, having become besotted with him last year. I don't guess I will be checking out "Eaten Alive" or any of his other opi. This one doesn't have the sort of gorgeous and uniform look of TCSM.... the lighting is this sort of milky wintry light, and isn't really noticeable anyway since most of the scenes are indoors. Ah well.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
My daily routine has been through a series of changes and should settle into a new normal in a couple of weeks. I should be a bit less helplessly glued at work and more able to blog. Until then, enjoy Art Boy's pictures, Big Country's home-cured bacon, Eileen's musical notes, the adventures of Mark Trail & Mary Worth (not, sadly, together) and the various other delights available via my blogroll at right.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
So a few weeks ago my friend Tricia and I took a whale watching cruise out of Long Beach Harbor. She had seen on the LA Times website that multiple blue whales were being sighted in the area daily due to an unusually high concentration of krill, and indeed, we saw four. It was hard to make out more than is visible in the photo above, but no photo can convey how impressive it is to be within sight of something so huge. They would roll across the water, their bodies just going on and on and on, then dive, then resurface with a spout. Just as our boat was getting to them they'd take a long dive (they were either playing with us or annoyed by us), and the boat would drift over the massive imprint each had left on the water's surface.
We didn't go far out to sea at all; we were right off Palos Verdes the whole time. On the way back the boat was mobbed by a pod of common dolphins. Quite exhilarating.
The real surprise for me was how much fun it was just to be on the water, especially once we left the harbor and hit the open sea with some real waves. I like having my feet on the ground: I don't even like riding a bike, and I definitely do not like flying, and I'm not even all that crazy about driving; I like to walk. So I wasn't sure how the boat would be, but it was fantastic. Tricia said it felt like we were riding on Santa's sleigh, and she was absolutely right. Another boat ride, please.
Monday, September 15, 2008
All's well here. Upcoming posts will include photos from whale watching and my trip to Denver. Work has decided to turn my schedule upside down for a couple of months. It's testing my fortitude. I'm working for a very cheerful gentleman and am snarling at him a lot.
I did however just restore the tissues with my annual viewing of "Last of the Mohicans." I now think the original theatrical release is better. It's not about the Clannad or lack thereof -- it's really the edited-out wisecracks that bug me on the U.S. DVD. When Duncan roars "I'll have you beaten from this fort!" it really doesn't make sense for Nathaniel to just stand there and gaze at him. Still, the sound/image quality are magnificent, and Chingachgook (pronounced "Chicago")'s bonus monologue leaves me completely verklempt every time. "Once we were here." I may watch it again tomorrow. I still can't fucking find Colm Meaney. I'm upping the reward to a beer and a shot of whisky.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Estelle Getty goes and dies on us. She was 84 and had been ill for some time.
The kinds of nostalgic family associations that most people have for old TV shows -- I pretty much only have that for "The Golden Girls." I don't watch much TV but I will always watch that if it's on. And all the actresses have done such noble work elsewhere -- Betty White in "Lake Placid," Rue McClanahan in "Starship Troopers," and of course, Bea Arthur in the Star Wars Holiday Special. As for Ms. Getty, you will of course remember her as the owner of the crucial department store in "Mannequin."
Friday, July 11, 2008
Friday, July 04, 2008
That would be then-child star Mae Whitman's big closing line from Independence Day.
Art Boy and I didn't recognize her while re-watching the film tonight, but I saw her name in the closing credits and blurted "It's Mayonnegg! It's Egg!"
Art Boy said, "Her?"
I tell you, I find something new to love about that movie every July 4.
Thursday, July 03, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
Update: Had a lovely email from Jamie this evening to say she's been drinking the Blogger Kool-Aid. Check out her lovely new site, Spare Candy. Jamie's a fab writer so I'm very glad to have her out from behind the MySpace curtain. Not that there's anything wrong with MySpace... please, kids, don't all come and beat me up. I'm old and tired.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Here's how it looks from far away:
Here is how it looks closer up:
And here is how it looks very close up:
Yes, kiss me, you foolish poppies!!!
Such a gorgeous and needed getaway. The colors were amazing. I should have a decent Flickr set up in the next day or two (Flickr's being bitchy right now).
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Sure gives me pause as I inhale the lovely fragrance of my lilac. Could I have staph bacteria growing in my nose? Thanks, Rex!
Monday, March 24, 2008
UPDATE, ART BOY RESPONSE, 5:15 p.m.:
(I think someone wants a kitten!!!)
I admitted to Art Boy that there were probably plenty of potential homes for these particular kittens. He replied:
"if they get no takers then we should step in. If they have plenty of admirers we can pass and save that spot for a kitty that needs our help. Like the boy! (please God not like the boy!)"
He so so so wants a kitten.
Friday, March 14, 2008
The sea lions, however, seemed comfortable:
By the time we got to the tigers, it was practically evening and they were feeling mildly frisky:
In the meerkat exhibit, only one deigned to come out of the nap pile in the shade; it just sat with its back to everyone. Meerkat divas.
I went through frowning at inappropriate signage. Couldn't they have tailored a "Do not feed" sign for the reptile area? Sigh. Copy editors belong in zoos.
Art Boy has more photos.
Friday, March 07, 2008
Anyway, I walked to Boardners on foot, which took about ten minutes, which was ten minutes along a street I did not want to have to walk alone in a couple of hours; so after making sure of the club's location I walked back. It was pretty fun to walk along Hollywood Blvd. alone late at night, watching the skateboarders and the crowds and the dissipating El Capitan paparazzi (the Hiltons having left). I walked back along the north end and happened to glance down just as I was stepping across Ritchie Valens' star. Hee hee. It felt like a little benediction, a feeling that stuck with me as I retrieved the car and circled the block a couple of times until a street spot opened up around the corner. Unlike the Ruby, this place is very in the middle of things, which in Hollywood can be a little ridiculous. I was very lucky to find a spot. That's unlikely to happen every Thursday; Boardners is the longtime home of Bar Sinister, a Saturday goth night that I've been avoiding on the grounds that it looks way too crowded. It felt pretty damn crowded tonight, and I realize it was nowhere near full.
The club itself is lovely, though. It's a two-story complex, semi-outdoors: you walk in through this sort of alley and the first dance room is in a covered courtyard, with a fountain at the center. There was a bar at one end and a raised dance floor at the other, but the only dancers were writhing on the flagstones next to the fountain; the floor itself was empty. I realized with tremendous regret that this was my usual room at the Ruby, the 80s room. Inside is a longer, narrow space with a bar along one side, running parallel to a very narrow dance floor; this space was full of people dancing. I approached the bar and got a gin and tonic from a female bartender. I hate to perpetuate stereotypes, but the pour was terrible. Grumpily sipping my glass of tonic, I wandered up a flight of stairs and was mildly startled to find myself in an S&M play area. There was a bar up here too, specializing in absinthe drinks, with its own menu (most drinks are $20 apiece, a fact they're kind enough to note on the menu for you). I watched a ringmaster type in striped trousers flog a blonde lady against a wheel-type setup, and watched a couple of bosomy brunettes go at each other with paddles. The vibe in the upstairs room was hard to get a handle on. Some people were blase, some people were total frat boys ("Woo! Turn her around!"), and some people were very participatory and into it; one frat-boy type in camouflage shorts was smiling as a girl in platform shoes bound his wrists with pink tape. I watched for a bit, hoping to see someone cross some sort of line and be asked to leave, but it was difficult to determine where the line was.
Back downstairs, I returned to the 80s area and got a second drink from a male bartender, who poured me an outlandishly generous gin and tonic. I was so pathetically grateful I left him a ridiculous tip. The DJ played Kathy's Song, Destroy Everything You Touch, Wreath of Barbs and (randomly) Carolyn's Fingers, all in a lovely long set. I danced on the stage with a delightful young man who resembled Jesse Eisenberg, then took one more long, slow walk through the club before heading out to my car. Short visit, and I don't know that I'll be back. A nice place to go once, but not really large enough for me to feel really comfortable, and a lot of bubble-dressed tourists wandering in from other clubs. It might be time to find a new place to dance.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
I make a very wet souffle
Don't be so mean, you mean old meanie....
(Come, my dear!)
In honor of National Grammar Day (albeit a few minutes into National Grammar Boxing Day), I am hoisting a nice dry Grammartini, as intelligently suggested by You Don't Say. After tonight's election tedium, it is hitting the spot. I miss drinking with my fellow ink-stained wretches, although martinis taste equally good in front of the computer, I am pleased to note.
Anyway, to grammar! And to our lovely messy always-evolving language -- in my case, the founder of the feast. And, just for the hell of it, to Miss Hannigan.
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
We stopped at a visitors center and chatted with a friendly ranger, who said she drives to Ventura to surf and reminisced about the days of her youth, when it was safe to sleep on the beach. "Now you can't even afford to live anywhere near the water," she said. "It's sad, it really is. But I've got the desert." She directed us to nearby Nightmare Gulch, where "The Mummy" was filmed, and to a nearby spot where, she said happily, "Waterhole 3" was filmed. "You know, James Coburn," she said. We nodded; we knew James Coburn. We were unable to find the exact "Waterhole 3" site but walked around near there, and also near the entrance to Nightmare Gulch, before the howling, chilly wind drove us back to the car.
I was disappointed, upon our return, to find that the film is actually called "Waterhole #3" and is not the third in a sequence of "Waterhole" films. It does, however, apparently feature a joke in which rape is described as "assault with a friendly weapon." Yes, it was an educational day.
Anyway, you can see Art Boy's pictures here. He was gentlemanly enough not to include the photo he took of me in the high wind, in which I appear to have spent three weeks in the desert smoking peyote (or eating it or whatever one does with peyote... we'll learn that on the next trip I guess).
Saturday, February 23, 2008
This morning I dropped by the applicable Republic of Pemberley discussion board to see what people thought and found largely positive responses, although there are some detours to discuss grammatical issues raised by the dialogue and share a link to the somewhat inevitable Very Secret Diary of Henry Tilney. I am torn between being annoyed at the ongoing trendiness of Jane Austen, and charmed at the ongoing geekiness of the Internet.
Sebastian has interrupted me with a series of hideous sounds before I am able to bring this post to any kind of conclusion. Sorry, gang.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Well, it is quite nice. Pretty much all I can say about it is to compare it favorably to LMS: the characters are developed, not overly precious, and the story gives everyone the space to change and be complicated. It's always the characters in charge of the story, not the other way around, so it really works. I don't know that it is the Best Picture of the Year, but really, more people should be making movies like this. And I am in favor of anything that involves a dump truck full of money pulling up to Michael Cera's door. (Imagine him answering the doorbell and being all bashful. Aww!)
Yeah, there is Rainn Wilson at the beginning saying things like "homeskillet," and the hamburger phone gave me a moment of terror that this was going to be Napoleon Dynamite. (Although I remain fond of Napoleon Dynamite.) But it gets better. Kelly is correct that the worst moment is a character saying "Honest to blog?" but it's gotten out of the way quickly. I was reminded of Molly Ringwald getting on the bus in "Sixteen Candles" and going "I loathe the bus": it's just a new generation of largely invented teenspeak. I was going to focus this post on that, but discovered that screenwriter Diablo Cody's phrasings have already been examined and analyzed. It's nice to see the teen movie successfully moving forward. In your face, YouTube!
I can't believe it but I really didn't mind "Diary of the Dead" one bit. After reading a slew of poor-to-middling reviews, I was prepared to hate it. (Final Girl loathed it; there's a surprisingly charitable review on Slate.) It certainly isn't scary, and most of the characters are insufferable, and it hammers its point home to the point of ridiculousness -- but it's never quite boring. A group of film students are making a low-budget mummy movie in the woods, pausing for some "Scream"-esque commentary about horror movie tropes: "How come the girl being chased always falls down?" and "The monster needs to shamble, not run." They hear news broadcasts about the dead returning to life to attack the living, and decide to go check on their friends and families. Eventually, most of them are piled in a Winnebago, heading for the home of heroine Debra, who is apparently the only one interested in making sure her parents are all right.
Along the way they have many zombie-related adventures, all of which are filmed by Debra's boyfriend Jason (or possibly Josh -- I forget), because he's very insistent that everything needs to be captured for posterity: He says some Cloverfieldesque things like "People need to know what's going on." His stubbornness leads to some pretty goofy scenes: Jason won't stop filming to help his friends when they're attacked by zombies, he never expresses a whole lot of surprise at the sight of one, and at one point he risks great physical danger by refusing to move away from the wall plug where his camera is charging. Ostensibly because they're film students, the footage never looks very raw, and that combines with the ridiculousness of Jason's behavior to really, really strain the premise of this film. And it takes some doing to strain the premise of a zombie film. You never quite buy that all this is going on, which is very unfortunate.
Still... there are some good zombie set pieces. I would sit through the whole thing again just for the marvelous Amish sequence. And the zombies look fantastic: we're a long way from Romero's "Dawn of the Dead" with the blue Play-Doh makeup. (We're also a long way from the ridiculously elaborate special effects of "Land of the Dead," with the carefully exposed teeth and the spinal-column removal and all that. These are just good, plain zombies.) I'm on the fence about the zombie-clown sequence, and a fragment toward the end involving an elderly couple is just pointlessly vicious.
Romero breaks up what little action and narrative he has with social commentary, and it's exhausting. I like his point, though: Unlike in "Cloverfield," he refuses to let the cameraman off the hook; if there's a villain in his story, it's Jason (or Josh). He's saying, I think, that the privileged youth of today are so used to absorbing information secondhand that when confronted with something challenging, they can only cope with it secondhand. They're incapable of getting off their asses and dealing with it. The kids in this movie are more doomed than the families in "Night of the Living Dead" or the cops & news crew in "Dawn of the Dead," because at least those people were capable of boarding up windows or flying a helicopter. All these kids can do is film, look for a place with an Internet connection, and upload to YouTube. When the zombies come, please, give me FlyBoy and his helicopter any day.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Friday, February 01, 2008
Here, they live in a 3,700-acre sanctuary that is covered by juniper trees and sagebrush, and surrounded by canyons and red-rock formations. They have food called Canine Caviar, squeaky toys, fluffy beds and four full-time caregivers. The caregiver on the night shift curls up with the dogs for naps.
Because the dogs are still adjusting to their surroundings, it is difficult to predict how many of them will become adoptable. They arrived Jan. 2 from Richmond, Va., on a chartered airplane, stressed after eight months in shelters. In initial evaluations last September, many lay flat and looked frightened. Now, many respond to caregivers by wagging their tails and giving sloppy kisses.
So see, this blog isn't all death and stuff. Fluffy animals saved! Hooray!
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
OK, wow. That was marvelous. Watching "There Will Be Blood" is sort of like sending your brain to camp -- it might not be fun*, or the sort of thing your brain would do of its own accord, but it will have some new experiences and come back enriched. Damn, I am pleased to have seen this movie.
I saw it for two reasons: I haven't seen Daniel Day-Lewis on the big screen in forever, and I feel bad about that, as I fancy him. We all kept hearing how great he was in "Gangs of New York," and that really underwhelmed me when I finally rented it, so I felt like I should give him a shot to impress me on the big screen. Second, I loved "Magnolia." I also loved "Punch Drunk Love," but that was a very lovable movie. This I was able to go into armed with "Magnolia" experience: It's going to be three hours long, it's going to be very slow, there's going to be no discernible point, and you should just kick back and see what happens. So I guess I must also love Paul Thomas Anderson. (Why am I such a sucker for people with three names? Me, Emma Blackwood? Odd.)
Anyway. I feel I should warn you that if you go see this, it's very long, and very sad, and not very much happens. If you're not at least mildly interested by the first 20 minutes, it might be good to just go ahead and leave. There's a sketchy storyline -- something about an oilman buying up some property and clashing with the locals, becoming rich and destroying himself in the process; your basic American Dream-dystopia outline -- but what's important is the character study of Daniel Plainview, the angry greedy arrogant bastard oilman at the center of the movie. What he does is drill for oil, taking occasional breaks to charm people into investing in him, and he's very good at both. He's incredibly driven -- he wants to be successful and wealthy -- but he's not working toward anything external. A classic misanthrope, he's most comfortable being entirely alone in his own mind, and the rugged Western landscapes he works in are the external counterpoint to his gorgeous internal solitude. When he starts to find success, he surrounds himself with more people, and that's where his trouble begins.
He rarely speaks, and almost never his own thoughts -- his first spoken words, quite a few minutes into the movie, are "Ladies and gentlemen" as he addresses a group about the oil he's found -- but late in the film he gives a remarkable monologue (there's someone answering him back, but he's not really listening):
I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people....There are times when I look at people and I see nothing worth liking. I want to earn enough money that I can get away from everyone....I see the worst in people. I don't need to look past seeing them to get all I need. I want to rule and never, ever explain myself. I've built my hatreds up over the years, little by little, Henry... to have you here gives me a second breath. I can't keep doing this on my own with these-- people.
It's remarkable. I've about talked myself out of misanthropy but this speech gave me such a thrill of recognition and empathy. The only person he really loves is his adopted son, who doesn't talk back and quietly adores him, and allows him to both experience unconditional love and love a projection of his own self-image. (Another child he meets seems to arouse similar feelings.) But mainly he loves his work on the oil wells. He feels about oil the way Flaubert did about fiction, or Florence King does about the South: misanthropes do great work.
But he's not a true misanthrope, of course; misanthropes don't bother with the competitive streak he alludes to, and this is why his character is so fascinating. Oh, I just adored this movie. Also, his mustache is fantastic: it sort of turns him into the anti-Vondo, for those readers who may be familiar with Vondo.
*There will be no fun, ever.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
I wasn't particularly thrilled by any of the running/escape sequences. My thinking is that a large monster is probably very easy to escape from if you can stay out of its way. (The best scares come from the parasites that drop off it, but after their initial attack, they mostly stop being an issue. Why?) The scariest part of a monster attack on Manhattan, I would think, would be the crowds and the sense of mass panic. But somehow everyone escapes the island very quickly, leaving our protagonists alone in the city. And they aren't all that fleshed out. I didn't care about them or their little romances or whatever. People who run from monsters for hours in high-heeled shoes are not real people. I wanted this movie to be either really smart or to be a great thrill ride, but it never quite made it to either one.
But the premise: wow. It never stops being great. I love the gimmick and I love the cinema-verite effect. I love entire shots carefully framed around being entirely accidental. I love the shots of crowds holding up their cellphones to take pictures of the Statue of Liberty's head. Basically, I love the trailer for this movie. The movie didn't stand a chance of living up to it.
Oddly, it got me super-excited for Romero's "Diary of the Dead," which is exactly the same premise but with zombies. Is anything not vastly improved by tacking on "with zombies"? No.
*I'm also irked by the tagline for this movie. It's not somehow more horrifying to say "Some thing" than "Something"; either way, it's a "thing," right? Art Boy disagrees, but then he really liked the movie. Also, it's a misleading tagline as it implies more of a mystery than is featured in the movie -- we don't know if it found us or if we woke it up with a foghorn or created it with a atomic tests or what. Anyway, Art Boy won't talk to me about this movie anymore.
Friday, January 18, 2008
(By the way, Vampira finally got an obit.)
In other news, I am completely undecided about this Teeth film. I love horror movies and I am always interested in the subtexts about women's sexuality so this should really be my kind of thing. I'm just not sure I can handle it. Just reading the reviews makes me feel rather faint. Also, it doesn't sound like it's got a whole lot to say; it sounds like the horror version of, say, Enough. Then again, how often do you get to hear a bunch of movie critics talking about the vagina dentata myth? I feel a certain obligation to support this. Hmm. Hmm.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Our story, such as it is, begins when heroine Suzy steps out of an airport, disoriented from her overseas flight to Germany. The doors click behind her and she's plunged straight into a maelstrom: it's pouring rain and no cabs will stop, and the driver who finally pulls over can't understand her. Things only get worse for Suzy from there. She's come all this way to enroll in a prestigious ballet academy, but on the night of her arrival, one of its students is horrifically murdered. Strange goings-on ensue. The three women in charge at the school act creepy. Suzy faints during her first dance and has to spend the rest of the movie in her nightgown. There's lots of crazy lighting, running through corridors and absolutely balletic bloodshed.
It's beautiful, but it's all hung on such a flimsy plot, and nobody acts the way a reasonable person might act. None of the school's boarding students explore outside their rooms at night. (Professor McGonagall would be delighted with this gang.) Suzy is completely at home one minute and completely confused by everything the next. I get that it's deliberately dreamlike and hallucinatory, but it's hard to follow a movie where nobody acts like a human being.
Art Boy found an audio commentary the next day that he says is pretty good. I haven't listened to it yet, but it's here.
Friday, January 11, 2008
Just finished reading Bill Bryson's memoir, "The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid." I had a vague memory of reading bad reviews of this, so I didn't seek it out although I have enjoyed all his other books (particularly the useful "Guide to Troublesome Words"). My parents gave it to me for Christmas, though, and it turns out to be just ducky. His anecdotes about growing up in Iowa in the 1950s are told with the perfect blend of affection and dry detachment; every word is note-perfect. It's very enjoyable.
Art Boy and I might watch "Ratatouille" tonight, so the buckets of blood will have to wait a bit. Sorry.
Maila Nurmi, best known as Vampira, died in her sleep yesterday. She was 86. Thanks to LAist for letting me know, as I have seen nothing about this whatsoever in the mainstream media, which strikes me as inexcusable. If there is any kind of public to-do, I am totally skipping work and going.
Vampira, of course, was Elvira's predecessor as a TV hostess of horror movies; she famously sued Cassandra Peterson, who plays Elvira, for stealing her concept but was unable to pay legal expenses, and the case was dismissed. Vampira can also, of course, be seen in "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Back in her heyday, she was a Hollywood fixture, driving up Sunset in a convertible with a parasol to shade her pallid complexion. She and James Dean somehow got to be good friends and hung out a lot in the early 1950s. While he was in Texas filming "Giant," she had a set of glossy photos taken of herself sitting in an open grave; she sent one to James inscribed "Having a wonderful time, wish you were here." His handlers confiscated it, not knowing they were friends and assuming it was a threat, so he never saw it. A few days later, he was dead.
RIP, Ms. Nurmi. Have a wonderful time.
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
I'm not normally a fan of hers, but I just loved the Maureen Dowd column. Both Clintons are absolutely shameless. They'll do whatever it takes. People don't dislike Hillary because she's a woman; they dislike her because Americans want their leaders to become successful on their own terms, not because of who they're married to. (Sure, Bush was elected because of whose son he was, but I think that's part of why even Republicans are so contemptuous of the guy now.)
Anyway. Art Boy just wrote to say Netflix is sending us "Night of the Comet" and Dario Argento's "Inferno," so I'll be back to posting about zombies and fake blood shortly.
Friday, January 04, 2008
The only real downside is that the computer is very, very quiet. My old one, as visitors to my home will fondly recall, sounded something like an old refrigerator. In recent weeks, it had begun to do a sort of faint high-pitched scream (like Betsy's old screaming TV). This thing just purrs silently away. It's eerie. Eerie, I say.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
I don't want to say too much about this movie. The plot concerns a woman, Laura, who moves back to the now-empty orphanage where she was raised, bringing along her husband and young son; they plan to reopen it as a home for disabled children. But there are strange noises at night, and a mysterious old woman prowling the grounds. Their son, who's always had imaginary friends, starts talking about a creepy-sounding new group of them. Then he disappears.
My instinct was to compare this movie to "The Others," but it's oddly more similar in spirit to the 1963 "The Haunting." The house itself has a secret, a mystery that needs solving before it will leave the inhabitants alone. My favorite element, though, was a subtext about telling children the truth, vs. the white lies we tell to reassure them. (Pulling the burlap over their eyes, as it were.) What happens when those stories go sour? "Is Father Christmas a lie too?" demands a child at one point, reminding me of Art Boy's holiday rant. Seriously, though, if you're a parent, you might find this movie too unsettling. It's pretty grim.
It is also adorably European. I love watching genre movies from other countries for how they violate the U.S. tropes. Bad things happen to kids. Months go by without action. In the climax, Laura swings into full-on ghost-chaser action-heroine mode, stripping down to her tank top and St. Anthony medal like a Spanish Ellen Ripley. Her husband is your classic Spanish male character, sitting back and grunting while his wife runs around solving problems. I just loved all that.
The L.A. Times has a nice review. The NYT has a clip here but I'm alone in the house and absolutely refuse to look at it, so if it's no good, sorry...
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
"Doesn't that look like Stephen King?" I said.
"That is Stephen King," said Art Boy.
And so I was introduced to "Creepshow," the classic horror anthology film, the only collaboration so far between King and George A. Romero, and the perfect thing to watch after midnight with vodka-champagne martinis. This thing is just a blast. We tuned in for the second segment, a "Colour Out of Space"-inspired tale of a rural New England farmer (King) who finds a creepy meteor. The third involves Leslie Nielson burying Ted Danson up to his neck in sand, which somehow manages to be genuinely horrifying.
Art Boy thought the actress who plays Nielson's unfaithful wife might be Veronica Cartwright, which I thought would be the coolest thing ever until I looked it up and found who it really is. "MIKE," I screamed, swilling more champagne. "IT'S GAYLEN ROSS." The "Dawn of the Dead" star was in four movies and this is one of them. I thought that was pretty fabulous until we got to the fourth segment and it turned out to star Adrienne Barbeau.
Sometime before segment 5, which stars E.G. Marshall and features a Tom Savini cameo, I gently passed out on the couch, but Art Boy assures me it is very cool.
Over coffee and aspirin the next morning, Art Boy explained the frame story to me: a mean father (an uncredited Tom Atkins) takes a horror comic away from his son (played by a child who grew up to be horror novelist Joe Hill*). At the end the boy receives the voodoo doll he had ordered from an ad in the comic and uses it on Atkins. Ha!
Art Boy's breakfast conversation included a couple of vague anti-child remarks, and after the second one he said "I don't know what's gotten into me today." I told him he was being haunted by the movie because, being a secret Republican in his heart of hearts, he identifies with the dad. "You think children shouldn't have horror comics," I taunted. "You think they should be all repressed and stuff." He put down his newspaper and said "It's true. Look. One day, little Cindy Lou Who is going to be looking at Japanese tentacle porn, and you'll agree with me." I suppose he's right.
Anyway, the movie was super cool; if you like horror at all, it's heaps of fun. And champagne is great in vodka martinis. Just drink some water before bed.
*Also Stephen King's son.