Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grosse Point Blank: a romantic comedy in disguise, and thoughts on dry humor

This movie wasn't a romantic comedy, but it was romantic and it was funny. So I guess it is a romantic comedy, after all. A romantic comedy minus those ooey-gooey moments that make you squirm in your seat and feel just a little embarrassed that your watching :)

First off, John Cusack's presence made the film work. What can I say, the man is enigmatic. His expressions are fun to watch and his diffident charm makes him the ideal leading man for a movie of this kind. After watching Scarface (1932) which didn't have any great actors, I appreciated John for his sheer charisma. A few actors have it, the vast majority don't. It's an indescribable something that draws the viewer into the film and captures the imagination.

Also, the script was very good. It didn't quite play to my particular sense of humor, so I didn't laugh very often. But I could sense the script was well-written. The tongue-in-cheek humor gave the movie a smart, off-beat feel. Funny how when humor is tongue-in-cheek or dry or whatever you want to call it, (basically when the jokes aren't set-up with ridiculous facial expressions or slap-stick misshaps), then humor is elevated to the level of an art form and commands respect from all who encounter it.

Tongue in cheek humor almost always elevates the comic to a superior status by putting their audience on the defensive: if the audience fails to "get" it, the joke's on them. Actually, it even goes beyond "getting" the joke. A proper response to tongue in cheek humor is tongue in cheek humor . . . otherwise the receiver of the joke drops the ball, so to speak. Which is quite an easy mistake to make. This helps to explain why, with tongue in cheek humor, it often feels like the comic is laughing at you and not with you. As a decidedly not funny person, I'm often on the outside of jokes and I often feel awkward around people with dry senses of humor.

Tongue in cheek humor is very powerful and, in social situations, can be applied to a dazzling or disastrous effect. It can be very tasteful and delightful if the comic knows when to stop and is willing to laugh with you if you fail to catch on or do not know what to say. Otherwise, it will feel like the dry-witted humorist is abusing their powers by refusing to throw you a life-saver. People like that are downright annoying . . . I hate the types who seem to enjoy putting others on the outside of jokes and watching them squirm . . .

Which leads me to a final point about humor. Interestingly, the most people-centered and friendly folks I know are often funny. They enjoy making light of life and laughing with you. On the flip side, the most arrogant people I know (certainly the most arrogant person I know), are also very funny . . . but they do it in the smart-alecky, refuse-to-throw-you-a-life-saver kind of way.

I guess humor is like most everything else in life. It isn't inherently good or bad, but what counts is the spirit you do it in.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Who first experimented with camera angles?

Something I noticed about Scarface (1932) that made it tiresome is that the camera angles were so tame. It was like watching a play except on film. The camera was almost always 10-20 feet away, putting all of the characters in a predictable "box" and me, the viewer, provided the fourth wall to that box so to speak. Hitchcock's movies break out of that box . . . was he the first?

Scarface (1932) and what makes art timeless

From the title of this post, you're probably expecting me to herald Scarface as a classic. But it's just the opposite. This seminal gangster flick is, in my opinion, now only relevant to film connoisseurs and history buffs. Why is it, then, that Alfred Hitchcock movies from the same era have aged so much better?

If a work of art is valuable only for its technical innovations, then that work of art will captivate the public imagination so long as its technical achievements go unsurpassed. For artists with the technique of Beethoven or Shakespeare, their art will have extraordinary staying power . . . but few are in their league. Scarface was in the category of only being exciting to viewers in 1930. Cinematography has come such a long way that it really doesn't have a fighting chance on technique alone.

Timelessness comes down to content and ideas. The more mind-bending and revolutionary the ideas involved, the longer it will last. Scarface fails yet again. Heck, it was a gangster movie. I know I'm expecting way too much from it. But the truth is that the simplistically good and bad characters in this movie bored me to tears. And sentimentality will doom any work of art to the trash bin.

Up until this point, I've just been stating the obvious. But what makes this line of questioning fascinating is when you compare Scarface to an Alfred Hitchcock move from the same era. And Hitchcock's movies, at a surface level at least, were often no "deeper" then the next who-done-it.

Where do the charisma of Hitchcock movies come from? They give me a lot to think about at a subconscious level; they stick with me and unsettle me long after I click the TV off. This many years later, their power is extraordinary. Vertigo may be my favorite movie of all time. I can watch that movie over and over and never get tired of it. Why? If timelessness is all about ideas, then why is that that most powerful works of art are the ones you walk away from understanding the least?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On a happier note: the magic of Sarah Vaughan

Just listened to "Misty" and "In a Sentimental Mood" as sung by the great Sarah Vaughan. That last tune was so haunting. It creates the most singular mood. It's supposed to be romantic, but the way she sings it, the song sort of lingers after it's finished and leaves one with lots of questions . . . that's the thing that's great about jazz. I'm not a big jazz fan, but I will say that there are certain moods and auras that only jazz can evoke. I think it has a lot to do with the chords used in jazz, the dissonances of those chords give the music it's particular flavor and make jazz good at creating nuances of feelings. If I want straight up happy I turn to pop, if I want straight up romantic I might turn to R&B, if I want straight up rebellion it would be rock or hip hop and straight up beautiful is classical . . . but if I want something that will express something in between, something I can't quite put my finger on, I turn to jazz . . .

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Indie Rock: a shameful chapter in the history of rock 'n roll

I just finished watching Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. The principle thing I learned from it is that a work of art will fail if the characters depicted are unlikable. Nick was boring, Norah was cute . . . but Clarissa was a big, whiny three-year old and Tess (or Tiss, or whoever she was), was a skanky ass hoe. So there you go. I couldn't care less about the characters and therefore could care less about what happened to them. Cut that tie and then the whole movie goes down the drain, along with the soundtrack, and, more to the point, indie rock.

What's wrong with indie rock? Well, to sum it up, it sounds bad. But why? I know you're dying to know just why it sounds so gosh-awful. And you're probably scratching your head, like me, and wondering how we ever went from Led Zeppelin to Modest Mouse, (really, who would name their band that?), from the Stones to Yo-La-Tango. (?)

Well my friends, the answer is that indie rockers misapplied the great, time-honored truth: every great movement is in reaction to something. Rock 'n roll happened in reaction to big-band swing; punk rock happened in reaction to classic rock, alternative rock happened in reaction to the last vestiges of classic rock and the MTV era, indie rock happened in reaction to alternative rock, and well, anything that sounded good. You know the problem with indie rock? They exist in reaction to everything about rock that's great. They tampered with the very ingredients of the formula that make rock sound good, heck that make any kind of music sound good. Let's examine this point by point.

1) Great band names became beyond lame band names. I've already cited a few examples above. When I heard about MuteMath's latest release, I didn't even wince.

2) The blues went down the toilet. 'Nuff said. None of the indie bands know how to play the blues. You take the blues out rock, you take the rock out of rock.

3) Cool lyrics about love, sex, and rebellion became lyrics about autumns sweaters and never-ending math equations. (Thanks Yo-La-Tango and Modest Mouse!)

4) Bass-driven grooves became . . . oops! The bass is either absent or it's playing a drone.

5) Rich, beautifully phrased guitar melodies became short, choppy, staccato ostinatos (repeated melodic fragments inspired by avante-garde classical music a-la Phillip Glass). You kinda have to know that last bit for those tinny sounding ostinatos to have a fighting chance at sounding cool. Don't forget to take your opera glasses with you to the Nothing Rhymes With Orange concert.

6) R&B inspired belting became nerdy whining. Really, I don't know what else to call it. Is it just me, or do lots of indie singers sound like they, well, don't know how to sing? The women often adopt an affected Billie Holiday-ish pout and the guys make a style out of straining for high notes and warping the vowels to suit their English-major poetic recitation fantasies? It's unforgivable.

Alright, I'll cut the ranting but indie rock sets my panties in a twist. I just think it sounds so bad. Does anyone really, really like it? It just isn't cool. Doesn't look cool, doesn't sound cool.


Swingers: favorite lines

Mike approaches a girl at a party and her initial response?

"What car do you drive?"

Vince Vaughan's put down: "She's business class . . . big but, can't fly coach."

What the guys all said, time and time again, about some lonely bar before hopping over to the next lonely bar:
"This place is dead."

Vince Vaughan to Mike: "You're so money and you don't even know it."

Swingers: it was fun to see it from a guy's perspective . . .

The whole single, dating, romance thing . . . sucks, doesn't it? If you're in a great relationship, well, good for you. But for the rest of us, whether you're trying to meet someone, trying to avoid having someone meet you, trying to forget someone . . . it just sucks from every angle. The great thing about Swingers is that it attests to that in a very honest way but wraps up with a happy ending. It's like a chick flick without the sappiness along the way. Oh yeah, did I mention that it examines the whole dating thing from a guy's perspective? That was really fun. Because what I learned is that we're all in the same boat, guys are girls: it's awkward and painful for all of us, in the same ways, and for the same reasons.

The message of the movie, "be yourself," was time-worn, but it was given a refreshingly complex treatment. Mike is hurting over the break-up of a six year relationship and struggles to meet someone new. His friend Trent, a ladies man, tries to teach Mike a thing or two about meeting women. When Mike follows Trent's script, things don't work out, of course. However, the movie isn't so simplistic that Mike hits it off with someone as soon as he lets his guard down. He has to fumble around. And Trent's influence isn't completely bad: thanks to Trent, who drags Mike out of his lonely apartment, Mike meets the Heather Graham character.

The point of it all? You have to be yourself, but being who you are won't work with everyone and a combination of approaches--Mike's down-home honesty and Trent's go get 'em energy--work best. You have to be patient and stick it out. Things will eventually click if you hang in there. And never forget that everyone's in the same, sinking boat. At the end of the day, cocky Trent and shy Mike were haunting the same bars and parties with the same results. (Just because Trent got girls to sleep with him didn't mean he found true love. It is fair to say, however, that Trent minded his loneliness less, free spirit that he was.) It doesn't matter who you are: true love is a matter of luck, timing, and patience.

And, by the way, perhaps the truest part of the movie was this: you won't forget that special someone from your past until you meet someone new. So get to it, don't sit around, and dramatically lower your expectations until finally, to your utter disbelief, Mr. or Mrs. Right appears.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Can't Hardly Wait": just not that good . . .

Can't Hardly Wait . . . I couldn't hardly wait for it to end . . . 'cause it was about as funny as what I just said. So, not funny . . . except for the movie's best line, delivered by a stoned nerd who sagely observed:

"You know what? My retainer kinda looks like a Klingon warship."

Haha! I know exactly what he means. (Except mine was pink).

The romance between Jennifer Love Hewitt and Ethan Embry was heartwarming, though. They were the only intelligent beings depicted in the film. You know, I didn't think Melissa Joan Heart could ever come off as, well, dumb. But if I ever see Vicki the Yearbook Girl hop around on one leg and whip her pig tails 'round in loop-di-loops again to get attention, I will solemnly swear to never ever watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch . . . not even once, for nostalgia's sake!

I will say, however, that this film had a good soundtrack. I forgot how big Smashmouth was back in the day. And there's a pleasing sunniness to '90s pop rock. Whatever happened to pop rock? Those indie people stripped it of the "pop" part and replaced it with indie weirdness. I'm so sick of "quality," "original" music. But that's a topic for another post. There were moments when the lyrics of the song were perfectly timed to whatever was happening the movie . . . there are parallels, I think, between the role of soundtracks in film and the role of songs in musical theater. Sometimes music gets the point across best.

But, like the mindless characters in Can't Hardly Wait, I'm too lazy to flesh things out in any greater detail.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Wackness: A beautiful movie . . .

I'm really glad I stuck this one out. 99% of this movie is very depressing; you really don't get to the golden 1% unless you tough it out through the forced evictions, the divorces, the attempted suicides, the exploitative sex, the loneliness, the drug abuse, the disillusionment . . . but, if you do, you learn that the dirt of the film was there to provide a foil for the spiritual beauty of Josh Peck's character. And, oh yea, you get the bonus of seeing Mary Kate Olsen playing a stoned hippie in Central Park.

Poor Josh Peck's character, Lucas Shapiro, weathers the vagaries of life and comes out of the refiner's fire wearing his depression as a badge of honor. What I mean is that the thing that makes Josh (and his good friend, Dr. Squires), stand out from the rest, is their sensitivity. They feel things poignantly, they care about life, they both are looking for something beautiful and sacred that the other characters could care less about. The most obvious example of this is their failed love affairs . . . they get burned easily by bad women . . . they want to go "deeper" than said women can go.

While the characters never verbalize this, of course, what they come to value in themselves is their vulnerability and honesty. While other characters seem to selfishly bulldoze their way through life or mask their problems by popping meds, these two characters find their humanity in fully experiencing life's highs and lows and just talking things out. They develop an inner confidence that while they may be imperfect, they are essentially good: so when life hurts, they no longer blame themselves for feeling down. Instead, they know their pain is a result of their inner goodness bumping up against a cold, decadent world.

This movie is a bonus for hip-hop lovers. It had an excellent sound track of hip-hop tracks from hip-hop's golden age, 90's east coast stuff. Music was important metaphorically in this movie. When characters wanted to bond with each other, they exchanged mix tapes. Music set an example of honesty and self-expression that Lucas and Dr. Squires aspired to. Makes you wonder how many lives have been saved by music.

I really enjoyed the intimacy of this film. I found Lucas Shapiro to be a very sympathetic character and the movie brought me right into his mind.

I also loved the cinematography. There were quite a few moments when I wanted to freeze the film and take a screen shot.

This movie is a favorite!

P.S. it's not for the kids :)

And a useful moral-of-the-story is to be very, very careful to only fall in love with nice people.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Beowulf: favorite moments . . .

From Beowulf's fight with Grendel, the monster:

"Then out of the night
came the shadow-stalker, stealthy and swift . . .
. . .
In off the moors, down through the mist-bands
God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.
The bane of the race of men roamed forth,
hunting for a prey in the high hall.
Under the cloud-muck he moved toward it
until it shone above him, a sheer keep
of fortified gold. Nor was that the first time
he had scouted the grounds of Hrothgar's dwelling. . .
. . .
Spurned and joyless, he journeyed on ahead
and arrived at the bawn. The iron-braced door
turned on its hinge when his hands touched it.
Then his rage boiled over, he ripped open
the mouth of the building, maddening for blood,
pacing the length of the patterned floor
with his loathsome tread, while a baleful light,
flame more than light, flared from his eyes.
He saw many men in the mansion, sleeping,
a ranked company of kinsmen and warriors
quartered together. And his glee was demonic,
picturing the mayhem: before morning
he would rip life from limb and devour them,
feed on their their flesh; but his fate that night
was due to change, his days of ravening
had come to an end."

Is it just me, or is Beowulf so Eminem's Relapse? I love both . . .

Grendel's wounded retreat:

"His fatal departure
was regreted by no one who witnessed his trail,
the ignominious marks of his flight
where he'd skulked away, exhausted in spirit
and beat in in battle, bloodying the path,
hauling his doom to the demons' mere.
The bloodshot water wallowed and surged,
there were loathsome upthrows and overturnings
of waves and gore and would-slurry.
With his death upon him, he had dived deep
in his marsh-den, drowned out his life
and his heathen sou: hell claimed him there."


Try the King's description of where Grendel's mother dwells:

"A few miles from here
a frost-stiffened wood waits and keeps watch
above a mere; the overhanging bank
is a maze of tree-roots mirrored in its surface.
At night there, something uncanny happens:
the water burns. And the mere bottom
has never been sounded by the sons of men.
On its bank, the heather-stepper halts:
the hart in flight from pursuing hounds
will turn to face them with firm-set horns
and die in the wood rather than dive
beneath its surface. That is no good place.
When wind blows up and stormy weather
makes clouds scud and the skies weep,
out of its depths a dirty surge
is pitched toward the heavens.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Beowulf: a glimpse into a dignified era

Beowulf was one of those reads I picked up to satisfy my desire to start at the very beginning with my study of English literature. To my surprise, I enjoyed reading it more than anything else I can remember reading since E.M. Forster's Room With a View.

The most astonishing thing about Beowulf was the quality of the writing. The poet's deft and innovative way with figurative language took my breath away. Pains were taken in every case to describe things in new terms. In addition, this careful attention to diction was combined with passion for drama and good storytelling. The resulting effect? Flawless. I can't count how many times I paused while reading to marvel at the perfection of it all.

With every work of art I enjoy, I always ask myself why I think it was created. In this case, I believe Beowulf was created for multiple purposes including the preservation of pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon pagan culture and genealogy; an exploration of language in the spirit of art-for-art's sake (the Beowulf poet famously invented words that were never used in any other manuscripts from the period); and sheer entertainment. However, the beating heart of this work, in my opinion, is the poet's desire to explain the divine order of things. Fate determines every outcome and fate is controlled by God. People who live virtuous lives have God and fate at their side; mortality, however, guarantees that everyone's luck will run out at some point . . . in the vast scheme of things, we are all in God's hands and will return to our maker. For the virtuous, death is not be mourned. Beowulf, the virtuous and heroic king, dies a "majestic death."

That phrase really caught my attention. How glorious, to die a "majestic death." And wouldn't it be even more glorious to believe that such a thing existed? The faith of the Beowulf poet intrigued me. His utter trust in the cosmic order of things felt, well, not of this world.

I wish I could meet the Beowulf poet for lots of reasons. I'm impressed by his craftsmanship and touched by his preoccupation with the noble and the good. Last but not least, I admire his imagination. According to the introduction, he worked hard to resurrect the customs and language of an era that was obsolete to him. He wrote in the 10th century about the 5th or 6th centuries . . . what passion!

Beowulf, the sine qua non of poems. Now one of my all-time favorite reads.

Phish died and went to heaven and then recorded their trip!

That's right! Phish's latest, Joy, has a holiness about it. That band is in a very good place emotionally right now. Their latest album is has a "celebrate life" vibe to it that is very infectious.

Interesting thing to me about Phish is that, on the one hand, a lot of their material sounds like it comes straight out of the canon forged by The Grateful Dead and the Band. The guitarist sounds like a perfect fusion of Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. I swear I can't hear anything "new" about their sound, and yet they do not sound like a retro cover band. Their sound is not at all nostalgic. And when I turn on Phish, I don't feel like some old fogie enjoying old music disguised as new music. But when I listen to some of the latest garage rock bands on XM radio, I do. (Those people acid-tripped their way back to the 60s, it's quite remarkable). So what can possibly explain the phenomenon? It really is very, very curious . . .

Sondre Lerche and the problem with the singer-songwriter genre

Just listened to Sondre Lerche's latest, Heartbreak Radio. You know, it's a shame that Sondre can't consistently write catchy Europop hits as adorable as he is. This last album was very lovely, but I got bored. And I'm not even saying it's his fault. Pretty chords, pretty melodies, witty lyrics and stories I had no interest in because they were so darn pretty. But there's more: I finally realized why I have beef with the singer-songwriter genre.

What is the purpose of a beat?

The singer-songwriters use a beat as a means for keeping time, a way to keep everyone playing together and, in general, as a way to structure the music.


Everyone knows a beat's sole reason for existing is to make you wanna dance or headbang or something. If it doesn't make you move, it's time to scrap that beat and make a new one.

Too many singer-songwriters waste their beats. Bad mistake! Bad mistake! I'll bet money on this: every great song has a great beat.

Empire Records . . . a fun flick

I'm working my way through EWU's course on "Coming-of-Age Movies with Killer Soundtracks." Empire Records was the most frivolous pick so far, but it's very entertaining to watch for two reasons. For one, the casting was excellent. For another, you can never go wrong with teenage antics set against a backdrop of feel-good monster hits. It's amazing how one never tires of certain things, like the "be yourself" theme or watching people fall in love or witty repartee. Funny how this movie made me nostalgic about being a teenager even though being a teenager is so not fun . . . at least it wasn't for me, anyway. Anyhoo, the movie let me relive what for me never was; and I enjoyed the music quite a lot.

A few favorite lines:

"This music is the glue of the world, Mark. It holds it all together. Without this, life would be meaningless."

"Always play with their minds."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Best and worst sex scenes in a movie . . .

So, based on my previous posts, we all know what the worst sex scene in movie history is (based on what I've seen so far.) I repeat: Beth and Harold getting it on . . . no love involved, just Sarah sharing her husband with Beth, who wants to get pregnant. Truly beyond weird. I swear, I'm scarred for life. There are certain images I will never get of my head: damn you Harold and Beth! (Who's named Harold, anyway?! . . . Oops! Almost forgot. My grandpa is.)

Best sex scene?

Lucy and George in A Room With a View. It happens at the very end on their honeymoon and it just worked. It was sweet. I'm not one who typically advocates for showing these things on film, but I thought it was tasteful.

I'm watching so many movies now and most do have the characters taking a roll in the hay or two. I used to always look away but I don't anymore (I'm taking notes, if you know what I mean, lol). It's been interesting to compare them and I've discovered that not all sex scenes are made equal. In the English Patient, the lovers were practically mauling each other. It wasn't too good for Brittney Murphy in 8 Mile, either. She was slammed against a wall both times and had some guy's hand's all over her in both cases, no romance, just a good, violent up-and-down tossing. As if she were some worthless rag doll.

I think it all goes to show that sex has a spiritual dimension to it we sometimes overlook. People invest their emotions and personality into it and, when the chemistry is right, it comes out the way it did for Lucy and George. And when it's bad, it comes out like it did for Beth and Harold, or maybe Eminem and Brittany Murphy. Funny how sex can be the best or worst thing in the world, depending on the people involved and the context.

The Big Chill Reconsidered: why it may now be a favorite

The Big Chill has been stuck in my head, for better or for worse. It is a strange, somewhat unsettling film. Here are a few points about it that make it quite excellent in spite of all that.

In a previous post, I criticized the screenplay and thought that the dialogue did not do enough to explain why the characters mattered to each other so much. And then I realized . . . that is the beauty of it. Sometimes you really can't put into words why you love someone, why you have to have certain people in your life. You just do. It's spiritual. You feel comfortable around them. And that's what I noticed about these characters. They felt very comfortable just talking, shooting the crap with each other, being themselves around each other. On a certain level the connection was mundane, but at the same time it was profound.

Second, and I can't take credit for this observation, that last disturbing sex scene between Harold and Beth showed how perverted sex becomes when it's used exclusively for procreation. My family's church is always harping on them about sexuality and this church, along with most others, laments how sex is abused for pleasure and how it's ultimate purpose is procreation. But Harold and Beth's tryst shows how, without passion and love, sex is just a bodily function again. In my mind, there's no difference between a prostitute and her client and Harold and Beth. Know what I mean? Next time I see a steamy sex scene between two characters who are really crazy about each other, I'm gonna holler for joy. That's how it should be.

The Big Chill: I need therapy!

The more I think about that movie, the more depressing I find its characters to be. Their problem was that they got bored with life. Glad I don't have a problem. Someone needed to come along in that film and give them all a good kick in the pants. Go! Do! Have fun! These people need hobbies. That would have been the answer to their problems. No amount of fancy philosophizing or whatever can define happiness or spread it better than a good hobby. So, to lift my spirits, I'm going to remind myself of everything I love to do. Please dear God, may I never turn into one of those depressing characters from The Big Chill.

Okay, here we go. This is the stuff that gets me up in the morning.

Hip-hop, rock, pop, classical, jazz, playing guitar, playing piano, singing, ear-training, writing songs, going to the library, reading Beowulf, watching Rick Steves, making pancakes, walking my dog, ballet, M&Ms, San Francisco, LA, my beautiful white Apple computer, my jewelery (I wearing a gorgeous garnet ring and crystal, white-gold bracelet right now), picnics, going to concerts, BBQs (vegetables only, of course), graffiti (I don't do it, just like lookin' at it!), my autographed Eminem poster, hiking in the Santa Cruz mountains, road trips, laughing at mindless Youtube videos, the four seasons, my doll collection, my guitar collection, late gothic Italian art, illuminated manuscripts, Tchaikovsky, Corot, my daydreams . . .

It isn't that hard to be happy about life if you value having fun and you fill your life with fun stuff. I mean, that's what kids do. They play, they have as much fun as they can get away with. Why is that adults completely forget how to have fun?

Not me. I'm a be a kid forever.

Do coming of age movies abuse their soundtracks?

While watching The Big Chill I noticed that the filmmakers relied heavily on their soundtrack to create a sense of chemistry between the characters. The premise of the film is that all these friends from way back are reuniting, seeking the fun and good times of yore. The scenes were punctuated by one big hit after the next. The characters would say something inane to each other and then a monster, feel-good hit would start blasting. It's like they couldn't communicate the magical feel-good vibe of best-friendship to the audience with dialogue or acting alone. So they turned to music to get the job done.

Sometimes the music felt a bit tacked on. Must one conclude that the dialogue or acting was lacking, or is it just that, in certain cases, only music will do?

Tough call.

The acting was excellent in this movie, but the screenplay could have been better. It could have shown how these characters find love and friendship again without turning things into an orgy. And sometimes the dialogue left me scratching my head. I wondered how the characters could stand each other . . . or why they didn't get bored out of their minds.

That said, as my musical theater instructor once explained: "Sometimes emotions get so big, that all you can do is burst out into song."

The Big Chill: great premise, fails to deliver.

I think I get the point The Big Chill was trying to make: without love and friendship, life feels empty. The premise of the movie is a good one. Several friends reunite 15 years out of college after one of their own commits suicide. Having gone their separate ways, they rekindle some of the fabric and magic of earlier days and learn that what they were "missing" in their lives is each other.

. . . missing certain aspects of each other, that is, they they should not have "rediscovered." My problem with the film is that it honestly portrayed the complexity of adult life and pointed to the right answer: love. But not that kind of love, please. The climax of the film was when Glen Close shares her husband with her close friend who desperately wants to get pregnant. (The husband and this desperate woman are long time, strictly platonic friends.)

I'm quite sure that will be the worst, most unsettling sex scene I will ever see depicted on film. It started out with the two looking at each other in the most awkward way possible and the guy fumbles: "I think I forgot how to do it." Whilst they were 'rounding fourth base, they stared at each other with these calm, completely lucid expressions. So bizarre. I used to feel scandalized by super steamy sex scenes, but now it's like, bring back the steam . . . and please, please, please, make the two lovers. The chumminess of it all and the "It's 4:00pm in the afternoon! Time to make a baby!" pragmatism was so bizarre. No, actually it was the way he started kissing her that made me feel real weirded out in a very deep place in my tummy. I'm scarred.

I'm happy to say that I will never ever watch this movie again. Too odd. However, I'm glad I saw it because, until the last 10 minutes of the movie when everyone started having sex en masse, I found the film thought provoking. It makes you ask yourself questions like, "What really matters in life? What is happiness and how does one find it?" The film's answer: love people. (Hehe.)

The Big Chill: Fav lines

William Hurt:
"You're so analytical. Sometimes you just have to let art flow over you."

Don Galloway:
"Nobody said it was going to be fun. At least nobody said it to me."

Glen Close:
"Sometimes I don't believe what I hear myself saying."

William Hurt:
"I could have, I chose not to. I'm not hung up on this completion thing."

(in regards to floating from job to job)
"What are you getting at? I was evolving. I'm still evolving."

"I wouldn't call it fame exactly. I had a small, deeply disturbed following."

"He went out with a bang, not a whimper."

Mary Kay Place:

All the good men in the world are "married or gay."

Jeff Goldblum:
"That's what's great about the outdoors. It's one big toilet."

Mary Kay Place:
"I did not know him in the biblical sense."

Jeff Goldblum:
"Friendship is the bread of life. Money is the honey."

JoBeth Williams:
"Even fortune cookies are getting cynical."

Jeff Goldblum:
"I must tell you I'm picking up vibrations here at the house and I'm almost certain there's sex going on around here. Sarah, have I ever told you how beautiful your eyes are?"

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The most romantic song of all time . . .

I think it's Nat King Cole singing "I Love You for Sentimental Reasons." Everything about this track is pure romance, from the warmth of Nat's voice to the intimate elegance of the piano solos to the jazzy sweetness of the Spanish-tinged guitar. Love it. This is the perfect "first dance" song for a wedding . . .

Diner: if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up some place else . . .

. . . as the old saying goes . . . the characters in Diner exemplify this.

The first problem faced by the leading men in this film is that what "works" in adolescence doesn't work so well in adulthood. The best example of this is Shrevie's marriage. He half-heartedly jokes about how, before he was married, his relationship with his bride-to-be was all about the sex. The thrill of the taboo of it, the thrill of fitting it in behind the parents' backs, etc. Now that she's always available and sex gets a green light and there's no more wedding to plan . . . why, there's nothing to talk about and nothing exciting to do.

Shrevie's marriage is just one example of how the characters in this movie find themselves taking on new responsibilities and commitments before they are prepared to make wise choices. As the result, they find themselves "trapped" in commitments that leave them without room to grow.

The question is: are responsibilities the problem, or is it more that you have to choose your responsibilities wisely and be careful of what you take on? Pertaining to that question, the movie sent mixed messages . . . my own opinion is that responsibilities are not the problem, it's just that if you, as the saying goes: if you don't know where you're going, you'll end up somewhere else.

The characters in this movie feel trapped because they 1) do not have a vision for a career, or any "passion" they are pursuing 2) they have a base understanding of relationships. They don't know how to connect emotionally with women, everything is just sexual and on the surface so they are doomed to live with superficial marriages.

Is it any wonder that life is failing to "deliver" for this cast?

When you read the movie this way, it seems kinda depressing. But actually, it was a very enjoyable film to watch because it was easy to sympathize with the characters and, sadly, the problems they face are ones that a lot of people go through. This movie felt honest.

Last point would be that the action of the movie revolves around a diner where the boys like to meet up to chit chat about their growing pains. The diner symbolizes fun, relaxation, "good times." When the boys go there, they are trying to reconnect with a freedom they feel they've lost. In a sense, the diner is therapeutic and helps the characters in this film unwind and vent. But the diner is damaging, too, in the sense that it ties the characters back to their old selves. If these characters are going to move forward with their lives, they need to, well, do just that. They need to leave their teenage antics behind . . . it's time for them to grow up big time in terms of how they see women and they need to find their passion/purpose in life.

But the problem of course is that the characters can never ditch the diner because unless they revert to their old selves, they stop having fun. They don't know how to be adults and have fun because they don't know how to take on the right kind of challenges. Challenges and responsibilities make life rewarding: but you have to pick the right ones, otherwise you'll feel "saddled."

My solution? You've got to be really passionate and bursting with love if you're going to take on the right kinds of challenges and responsibilities that will enable you to grow. I'm a musician and even though I don't make a lot of money teaching lessons and recording my own music, I'm so crazy in love with what I do that I know I will always be happy. The responsibilities of my career will only make me happier because I love being challenged musically. While I have next to no experience with relationships, I already know how important it's gonna be that I find someone that I'm best friends with, that I have a lot in common with so that I can enjoy everyday life with that person. What got Shrevie into trouble was that he thought his wife was hot and nice, and that was about it. Remember how he started yelling at her because she didn't know who Charlie Parker was? He just couldn't stand being married to someone who didn't "get" his passion for music. I totally feel him. I have to marry a musician!!!

The closing shot of this movie was excellent. Elyse throws her bridal bouquet out into the crowd and it ultimately lands on a table around which all the leading men in the film are situated. Who will pick up the bouquet? Will they take on the "responsibilities" of life, or shirk away? The ambiguous ending allows the viewer to form their own opinion about what the characters "should do." Like I said earlier, this film is more about depicting a problem (ennui) then proscribing a solution.

Makes you wonder how many adult problems are rooted in people's inability to mature and grow up. I mean, if you're immature, you'll likely marry for the wrong reasons and have a divorce to look forward to. If you're immature, you won't have the vision and guts necessary to follow your passion and do what you love for a career. Life is gonna suck if you don't have a heart and depth.

Diner: fav lines

Boogie: You know I got plans.
Bagel: Always a dreamer, hey, Boog?
Boogie: If you don't have good dreams, Bagel, you got nightmares.


This kinda sums up the whole movie:
Shrevie: when you're dating, everything is talking about sex. Where can we do it? Why can't we do it? Are you parents gonna be out so we can do it? Everything is always talkin about getting sex, and then planning the wedding, all the details. But then, when you get married... it's crazy, i dunno. You can get it whenever you want it. You wake up in the morning and she's there. You come home from work and she's there. So all that sex planning talk is over with. And so is the wedding planning talk cause you're already married. So... ya know I can come down here and we can bullshit the entire night away but I cannot hold a 5 minute conversation with Beth. I mean it's not her fault, I'm not blaming her, she's great... It's just, we got nothing to talk about... But it's good, it's good


One of the boys (not sure who, this is a voice over during the credits):

"We used to think it'd be so cool to be older and hang out here and now . . . we're older and we're cooler and we're still hanging out here."

Cab Calloway: "The Reefer Man"

Random. Silly. Grows on you. Check out the bassist.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The English Patient fav movie line

Juliette Binoche:
"The heart is a fiery organ."

So tacky. So The English Patient.

Pretty Woman: fav movie lines

Richard Gere couldn't manage his friend's stick-shift Porche so he let Julia Roberts take over. Zooming through the Hollywood hills, she cheerily comments:
"This car corners like it's on rails."

Julia Roberts to Richard Gere when questioned about what she really wants:
"I want the fairy tale."

Julia and Richard were, ahem, negotiating:
Julia: I would have stayed for two thousand.
Richard: I would have paid four.

Their first encounter on the street if ya know what I mean:
Richard: What's your name?
Julia: What do you want it to be?

Julia: Can I call you Eddie?
Richard: Not if you expect me to answer.

The English Patient killed me.

Let's put it this way. If, after three hours of watching a movie, you find yourself laughing hysterically while a lover holds his paramour in her death throws, then something went terribly wrong in said movie. Terribly wrong. Yeah, well, this was a terrible movie.

The whole, "I'm randomly attracted to a married person and I have to have them even though it will destroy my life, her life, and her husband's life" thing just doesn't tug at my heart strings. And Juliette Binoch's out-of-nowhere fling with the bomb detonator didn't really work for me, either. One moment, she doesn't give two straws about that guy, and the next thing you know she claims it's her destiny to marry him.

? (blink)

The "thesis" of the movie is a line from a poem, (oh please, let's not abuse poetry!), read by Juliette Binoche with particular relish: "the heart is a fiery organ."

Now, according to the producers of The English Patient, that means that people:

1) have no control over who they marry and thus are stuck in relationships they can never be happy in and therefore they must . . .

2) carry on affairs with others and claim to be perfectly happy with the dual arrangement, there are no complications at all until their spouse finds out, at which point they . . .

3) drive their spouse so insane that he foists them into a plane and they go flying across the desert in the attempt to smash into the offending Romeo so that they can all be dead together, but they . . .

4) fail miserably at this because they fail to smash into Romeo and only the angry husband dies, so the offending Juliette gets left in a cave, her lover runs to get help and fails miserably at this (incompetent moron) so she . . .

5) dies and then the offending Romeo hauls her into a plane and they crash. Ouch.

6) He dies from burn wounds and somehow this is all profoundly moving.

7) The end.

8) The wild eyed look in Colin Firth's eyes before he (almost) smashed into the offending Romeo was actually pretty good.

9) I burst out loud laughing when the offending Romeo finally died from his burn wounds. Looking at his face was like looking at a crazy-eyed, rotting peach.


Okay, fans of The English Patient, defend this piece of sh*t.

And Mike Clark of USA Today steps up to the plate with his one line review:

"An aerobic workout for the tear ducts."

Poor, Mike. Poor, sorry, retarded Mike. Something tells me he wasn't being sarcastic :(

But he made me crack up again!

The English Patient, reviews, et al: so bad it's good.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Do you know your pop culture?

I sure don't . . . but, before long, thanks to a Netflix and Rhapsody membership and the guidance offered by EW Pop Culture University, I'll finally be itk. Check it out:
So excited. Maybe for once I'll have something to say at those darned holiday open houses.
Publish Post

Madonna, Tori Amos, and feminism: Like a Prayer, the missing link

Yep, that's right. I was listening to "Like a Prayer," and Madonna's fervent cooing on the verses sound a whole bunch like Tori Amos. And since Madonna came first, it would be more appropriate to say that Tori has been copying Madonna's style. Honestly, the similarity is striking.

Here's why that similarity is noteworthy.

Madonna is often criticized for being sleazy and sensational in the worst kind of show-biz way. In fact, to my father she is the devil incarnate. No joke. To discover a link between her and the more "principled" 90s feminist singer-songwriters that followed her proves a point about her music that I have always felt: it has a philosophy and it's about self-expression. Don't get me wrong, I'll admit Madonna has pushed buttons in her day just to get attention. But I think there's a lot more to it than that underlying her art.

What Madonna is being sexual, it's not in the Britney Spears-ish "I'm a slave 4 u" way. It's in the feminist-ish "I'm gonna be sexual if I wanna be sexual; sex is a choice I'm making and it's not about me pleasing some guy, it's about me getting some because I want some." Photo shoots like that of her infamous bridal dress pose prove that Madonna has been passionate about turning conventions on their heels and breaking down the cultural assumptions that women should behave and feel a certain way, be sexual in a certain way . . . i.e. in a sweet, chaste, naive sort of way. Now, I have no problem with women and being sweet and naive but where I part ways with those who can't stand Madonna is that I don't believe women should have to be sweet, chaste, and naive. Sleazy is never cool, but I don't necessarily equate sexuality with sleaze and I believe, as a matter of principle, that our concept of "woman" should be a wide umbrella encompassing a variety of personalities and lifestyles. I think that's what Madonna was getting after.

Does Madonna go to extremes that may be distasteful at times? Yes, she does. But that's what artists do. They can't be subtle. If they're subtle, they'll bore you and likely fail to communicate their point. The job of an artist is to shake things up, to take risks that are not allowed in any other forum. Go Madonna!

Now, back to the 90's singer-songwriter Tori Amos connection. Tori put out an autobiography a few years ago and talked about her conflicted relationship with sexuality. Apparently, she was raised Catholic or Southern Baptist or something and, basically, felt guilty about her sexual instincts. She describes herself being torn between the two biblical figures of the Virgin Mary and the prostitute Mary Magdalene. She came up with some new-ageish sounding solution to reconciling the two in her mind which I have since forgotten: I think it was just her fancy way of admitting that she ultimately sided with Mary Magdalene (without admitting it). Anyway, doesn't Madonna's music sound like something that would speak to Tori at, dare I say it, a deep level?

I always felt and liked the feminist agenda in Madonna's music and so does Tori, I know it.

I never wanna hear one more comment equating the mindless pop stars of the '00s with Madonna. I'm warning you, don't push me over the edge this time. Or it will start raining bloody tampons.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

*As Good as It Gets*: the first movie I've ever favorited without knowing why

Wow, am I on a romantic comedy streak. Just finished As Good as it Gets and it's the first movie I've seen in a long time where I genuinely cared about the characters involved and had to put down my guitar to finish the movie and it all leaves me scratching my head wondering why. Jack Nicholson is such a curmudgeon while Helen Hunt sparkles . . . those two should never have ended up together and yet I found myself rooting for Jack in an odd way.

You know, the beauty of this movie is how three characters, Simon, Melvin, and Carol, overcome their differences and "issues" and find love and friendship. I guess that's why I liked it. Who doesn't like chicken-soup like that? Who doesn't love to see the impossible happen? Just makes you feel kinda warm and fuzzy. Check out this line from the end from crusty ol' Jack himself (to Helen):

"I might be the only person on the face of the earth that knows you're the greatest woman on earth. I might be the only one who appreciates how amazing you are in every single thing that you do. And how you are with Spencer. And then every single thought that you have and how you say what you mean and how you almost always mean something that's all about being straight and good. And I think most people miss that about you. And I watch them wondering how they can watch you bring their food and clear their tables and never get that they just met the greatest woman alive."


The thing I liked about this movie is that it was too quirky and unpredictable to be "sappy." I mean that last line might sound kind of sappy if you hear it out of context, but I think most people who have seen the film would agree with me that the people involved and the things that happen to them are just too lop-sided and out-of-the-blue to make this movie pretty and cute. Instead, this movie is about imperfect people with imperfect lives who find the "inner beauty" in each other. I really like that because that is real love, in my opinion. Great relationships, be they romantic ones or friendships, are all about digging beneath the surface of things and appreciating the divinity in another human being. I suppose the message of this movie is that two people, no matter how how dysfunctional they may be or how different from one another they may be . . . two people--no matter what--can bond when they they discover and value the divinity in each other.

And now I know why I liked that movie.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Jay-Z's Blue Print 3: Excellent

I'm loving this album. It sounds classy, sophisticated, and passionate. "Empire State of Mind" and "Thank You" are my favs so far, but I'm enjoying every track. Wow, hip-hop fans are really getting treated this year, what with Eminem's Relapse and now this from jigga man.

Norton Anthology of English Literature: this is my project for 2009!

Okay . . . for what's left of it. I really want to finish the Norton Anthology by the end of this year. Then I will tackle the Everyman's Library. Things must be done in order, good people.

Pretty Woman: the consummate chick flick

I'm a Julia Roberts fan and I decided to give her breakthrough hit a go (er, that's my excuse, anyway). So here's why I am convinced this movie was written for women, by women. And I promise. My next post will not be about romantic comedy or anything romantic-ish. (But maybe the post after that will be.)

  1. Women want to be loved for who they "really" are. A woman sees herself as a "diamond in the rough" and dreams about some guy coming along and appreciating all of her inner beauty and extraordinary qualities, the existence of which she is sure of, though said qualities have yet to make themselves manifest. Mr. Right will help her transform herself into the woman she believes she is, deep down. e.g. Julia Roberts is a crass, unrefined hooker, but Richard Gere believes there is an elegant lady underneath that street smart facade. Of course, he's right.
  2. Women want a guy who is just as interested in conversation as he is in sex. e.g. Julia Roberts is in langerie and climbing all over Richard Gere, who, unresponsive, asks if they can "just talk." Wow.
  3. At the same time, woman want a guy who is crazy about their body. I think Richard Gere and Julia found odd enough places to, um, be overcome by passion, so I think it's fair to conclude that, yes, Richard Gere is very crazy about Julia Robert's body. I might add that women want a guy who is crazy about their body as is. This is represented by Richard complimenting Julia on her red hair (she ditches the blond wig) and her height.
  4. Woman love it when men lavish money on them. For many men, money is the most important thing in their lives since they go to work all day for it. (You are how you spend your time.) Traditionally speaking, and particularly in a conservative social milieu, when a guy spends money on a girl, it's his way of saying, "I value you because I gave up what I prize the most just to please you." Richard Gere giving Julia his credit card and instructing her and the Versace sales clerk to ring up a storm fits the bill nicely.
  5. For some odd reason, women fantasize about influencing the men in their lives and bringing out the softer, kinder side in their men. Thanks to Julia, Richard Gere learns that money isn't always what matters most and he turns his back on a ruthless business deal in favor of a kinder solution. He has a change of heart just for her. Aw, shucks.
  6. Respect and power. Not more power, but equal power. Woman really want it, bad. Julia's know-how, as exhibited by her skill with the stick-shift (Richard could barely drive it) symbolized this. It was also quite nice how Richard would say things like, "Julia, what are you feeling? What do you want out of this relationship?" Oh my gosh.
  7. The test. Every romantic comedy has to have a test. It's where the guy is put through sleet, snow, and fire to prove that, yes, he really, really, really loves and deserves the leading lady. In this case, Richard has to chose between going back to New York and nursing his fears and phobias vis-a-vis relationships and women, or getting hitched to Julia. Can you guess what he chooses? And, oh yeah, there were lots of little "tests" along the way. Times when Richard would goof up and invariably apologize or do whatever it took to get Julia to stay with him.
  8. The fairytale, (the whole my prince is going to marry me thing and rescue me from the tower where I am held captive by the dragon, etc. etc.) I practically died of laughter when Richard asked another one of his "Julia, how are you feeling? What do you want out of this relationship?" questions and Julia recited her "childhood dream" of yes, being a princess trapped in a tower by her "evil step-mother," (when she was grounded by her mom, apparently), and how Mr. Knight rescued her from the tower, and so on and so forth. Verbatim! Julia! Don't you know this is the secret desire of every woman's heart and therefore it is sacred and only to be recited between the covers of a little pink journal clasped and locked closed with a little golden key? Julia!!!!! Wasn't it enough for you to have Richard climb up the fire-escapes of your lousy apartment building to bring you red roses and sweep you up into a glorious, cinematic kiss? What about when Richard came to your rescue and punched out that creepy rapist attorney friend of his? For shame, Julia. Keep it under wraps.
I really could go on and on . . .

So, what can we conclude about women from this? If this truly is the female fantasy, (and I think it is more or less), then I would pose two points. One is that women have serious issues when it comes to self-actualization and self-respect. I think too many women are waiting for some guy to "complete" them and they are also a little too excited about being needed by someone and "loved." It's the whole fairytale thing. The result is that they 1) may procrastinate becoming their best selves by their own independent efforts and 2) they may settle for some guy who isn't really worth them just because they are so darn delighted to be "needed" and "loved."

What can we conclude about men? A woman's desperation for romance and commitment as symbolized by "the fairytale" and "the test," suggest that men are perhaps a bit too stingy when it comes to bonding emotionally with the women in their lives. So guys: if you want to see an end to sappy chick-flicks and ooey-gooey Harlequin romance novels, step up the romance a bit. That way girls won't have to turn to entertainment to find sweethearts who are really sweethearts.

Which begs the question . . .

What would really happen to romantic comedies if girls and guys changed? Would the content and vibe of romantic comedies change or would romantic comedies vanish altogether?

Something tells me romantic comedies will always be with us. Whether we like to admit it or not, I think we all (guys and girls a like), adore watching people fall in love.