Monday, December 22, 2008

Top "Ten" (UPDATED, with asides)*

1. The House Bunny (They let girls be funneeee!!!!)

2. Happy Go Lucky (Sally Hawkins portrays a character whose manic joy is a conscious choice -- look at that scene with the schizophrenic when he says, "You know?" and she says, "I know." I'm telling you, that girl's been through some shit, you can see it all there under the surface)

3. Wendy and Lucy (I never wanted to take care of a fictional character as badly as I wanted to take care of Wendy)

4. The Flight of the Red Balloon (alchemy -- I don't know how this director made me feel the things I felt watching this movie; it can only be magic)

5. A Christmas Tale (Oh, I just want to live in that big house with Catherine Deneuve!)

6. Wall-E (the first forty minutes are divine)

7. La France (the last scene made me realize that WWI really was the war to end all wars -- nothing was ever the same again, not for nation states, not for this couple, not for anybody ... oh, and I liked the songs)
8. My Winnipeg (hilarious and nostalgic and wonderful -- I'll never forget the interlude about tearing down the hockey stadium and I don't even like hockey ... also, Ledge Man? Awesome)
9. Headless Woman (A disturbing psychological mystery with a specific sense of place, and utter fragmentation)

10. Stepbrothers/Gran Torino (Richard Jenkins and Clint Eastwood duke it out for my favorite male perfs this year -- funny and bitter and who knew Jenkins could improv like that?)

Bonus Round:
11. Sparrow (That umbrella sequence? My stars!)
12. Be Kind Rewind (Made me feel more in love with the cinema, know what I mean? I just left the theatre happy!)
13. The Romance of Astree and Celadon (a visual petit-four)

14. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Honorable Mentions:
13. Still Life
14. Silent Light
15. Ballast
(The last three all gorgeous films, but I tend to go for belly laughs, sweetness, whimsy and froth, so maybe these were a bit austere for me, though they're still undeniably great)

Still Want to See:
Duchess of Langeais
Man On Wire
Rachel Getting Married
You The Living
The Class
Of Time and The City

Overrated, I Think:
Reprise (what am I missing? Maybe I spent too much time ogling the cute blonde boy and not enough time paying attention to the movie)
Dark Knight (good but not that freaking great)
Let The Right One In (not that I didn't like it, but ...)
The Last Mistress (ARGH!)
Synecdoche, NY (blah blah blah ... and visually ugly)
Paranoid Park (meh)

*Please note: all lists are unranked.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I think I know who the dead weight is here

Rob and I are co-authoring our first article ... RIGHT NOW!

It goes a little something like this:

A: What do you mean by this sentence?
R: I mean what it says.


A: Is there another word for "thing"?
R: (silence -- he's checking the fantasy football index)
A: I can't DO THIS!
R: What?
A: When this is over, can we never do this again?
R: Yes.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Time Enough At Last

When I was laid off earlier this month I spent the first few weeks in a state of euphoria. No more data entry! No more purchase orders or FedEx PODs or invoices colored that particularly appalling shade of pink. No longer would I spend forty hours a week staring blankly at my computer, scrolling aimlessly through Excel files and seeing nothing. Imagine not having blurry bloodshot eyes, not being so drained and blank and uniquely and utterly exhausted at the end of the day by a job so mind-numbing you could perform a lobotomy on me and I wouldn't feel it. I was thrilled. I would, at last, do what I've always wanted to do. I would write.

I felt like a horse released from a tiny paddock, overjoyed at last to be stretching my muscles. There would be no more imagining what I could do if I only had the time to really, really work at it. This was it. Time enough to do all the reading and writing and research I needed. Time enough at last! Of course, anyone who's seen the Twilight Zone remembers this episode in which poor Harold Bemis wants nothing more than to be left alone to read and then ends up stranded in front of a library filled with all the books in the world and no reading glasses. Maybe this is the time when, at last, I realize I'm a talentless wench with delusions of grandeur who can't write worth a damn. Perhaps this will be the time when I confirm what I have long suspected: that I am, in fact, silly and ridiculous. Maybe I'm less a caged mustang than a fattened veal calf who, once freed from the stall, will do no more than graze aimlessly and be really boring. (And possibly collapse. Don't veal-calves have muscle-tone issues after all that immobility?)

I left work early today, and found myself on a subway car occupied by at least two people who appeared to be schizophrenic and I thought, "This is it for me now. Riding public transit with crazy people. Is this what the future holds? Is this an omen?" Well, here's what I could figure out from what I could hear (it wasn't easy to write down because schizophrenics talk really, really fast):

Schizo One: The medicine man scares away evil spirits.

Schizo Two: And god created all of us and on the sixth day he rested.

Schizo One: Beyond the infrastructure, beyond the sales tax. 100 million jobs, that's all we got. And then we got taxable deductions. Before 1991 ... sold the nation. Columbus, tribal era, medicine man, after Helen Keller, the Nazis, and electrical wire. You got demon eyes. You male or female? Night and day. Josef Mengele. 1992. People want the truth. Electrical charges. Look at telephones, cell phones, ten years ago and today.

Schizo Two: Are you Catholic?

Schizo One: Stay out of my bedroom, tell me the truth. Criminal record. What's your report card? We're already at one percent violence. A soul receptor like a satellite dish or an antenna. Spinning out like molten lava, a volcano. Control time and manage time. Nutrition and exercise. Also, versatile time, like a roller coaster.

Schizo Two: You better get out of town.

And it continued in that vein. This was certainly a confused and jumbled prophecy. I wasn't sure I should set any store by it until I got off the train and staggered home to find a fairly healthy tax bill in the mail. I'm pretty sure Schizo #1 predicted that.

Merry Christmas everybody. It's been a hell of a year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Contender For Best Film Still of 2008

I love how he throws away the ring and keeps the box.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fan Friday Worth A Thousand Words

Anna Faris, when will you star in my madcap Mabel Normand comedy? When!?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Calling all history buffs

I'm spending a lot of time today researching women's undergarments from 1917, mainly because I need to know:

a) How hard would it be to get dressed in the morning? Would corsetry have been impractical for a woman who lived alone?
b) How common was it for women to live alone anyway?

I doing this because both these things bear on my screenplay (I'm in the throes of revision at the moment). Even though I'm OK with my story being historically anachronistic on some levels, I still like to imagine my characters' daily lives from the moment they get up in the morning to the moment they go to sleep at night. Plus, if one of my gals is wearing the Spirella Corset (above), she's going to have a lot of trouble running for the streetcar. I need to know these things.

Now I can't stop thinking about people in my favorite old-timey books, and wondering how they got dressed in the morning. How did Caroline Ingalls do it? Also, what about the New York City tenement women with five kids and nary a husband in sight? Who laced them up in the early mornings by lamplight as they readied themselves for a long day at the shirtwaist factory?

Anyway, if any of my readers has any insight into either a) corsetry for singles and b) the incidence of single, apartment-dwelling women circe 1917, drop me a line, would you? In the meantime, I go to the Google button on my internet machine.

Update: Speaking of digging through old stuff, The Nitrate Film Interest Group of the Association of Moving Image Archivists has a Flickr photostream of unidentified film stills; if you think you have what it takes, head on over here and help ID them.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Everybody loves ...

Everybody loves Murnau, Borzage and Fox. I'll have to get these discs individually through Netflix (if that's even possible) due to the steep price tag of the box set, but I look forward to catching up on my movie watching in the cold, dark days ahead. (I do *not* look forward to canceling TCM, but as a lady of reduced circumstances, I must bear it cheerfully.) Lots of stills and a very thorough review to whet your appetite here.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Delightful Headline of the Day

"Toothy Sawfish Doomed by Own Design"

via Discovery

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What might have been

Well, I just had my New York City Teaching Fellows interview ... not sure how it went, honestly, but I generally do poorly in interviews (no time to show off my unique brand of irreverent wit, I guess) so I'm a little nervous about the whole venture. Also, they only hire about 10% of applicants so, meh, the odds ain't good anyway. The fact that I have the distinct impression the interviewer was laughing at me? Well, that might be paranoia. But I didn't have an answer for the question about what I did the last time there was a decision made in the workplace I didn't like. I just went blank -- I was like, "Decision? Me? You must be thinking of someone else. I just enter data."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thank you Jebus!

Thanksgiving is a fabulous time for drunks. At no other time of year can we enjoy gin and tonics with a turkey dinner. A propos of nothing, can I just say how awesome this book is?

If you're looking for a little light reading for the plane, please allow me to recommend it. I couldn't put it down; I laughed out loud; I've started calling my boss Giant Chuy. I used to watch the show mainly because I was like, "This is so bad, what the hell is this? Who are these 'panelists'!?" (Ms. Handler is quoted as saying, ""The worse the guests are, the more pathetic they are, the funnier the show is.”) And then I was all, "Wait a minute, this bitch is kind of funny. And, um, she has a Mexican midget sidekick!" And I've been a fan ever since. True story.

Chelsea's the best. She goes to a birthday party for an insane woman no one likes and re-gifts a board-game called "Rehab"; she takes her pants off in a restaurant in London whereat the primary conceit is that you eat in the dark; she spends a night in jail after a routine DUI goes horribly wrong; she takes three kickboxing classes and thinks she's badass, only to get beat up by a group of tweens. A passage about sliding a McNugget through a car window reduced me to tears.

If I ever met her in person I like to think we'd be friends, or at least drinking buddies, but in actuality it would probably be kind of awkward. So I'm content to remain a fan and say hers is definitely the funniest collection of humorous female-penned personal essays I've read this year. Admittedly, the only other collection of humorous female-penned personal essays I've read this year was "I Was Told There'd Be Cake," but Sloane Crosley's tales of getting locked out of her apartment seem kind of tame next to Chels's pantsless adventures. Crosley's about as edgy as a Jane Austen heroine but she kind of knows it, so she goes for an innocent ingenue tone and pulls it off. She turns a good phrase and if she ever starts leading an interesting life, things could really turn up roses for her. But until you've peed your pants in a fake cop uniform and gotten fleeced by a drunken midget, you really can't compare to Chelsea Handler.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Serial Killers: Kind of Silly

When reading "Heartsick" by Chelsea Cain I wonder if it's a metaphor for the way we love people who hurt us, returning to them again and again despite knowing we shouldn't. Possibly. Generally, I have no patience with people like that.

Reviewers seem to agree that it busts the serial killer genre wide open, and I'll have to take their word for it since I'm not seasoned in such things. For some reason the idea of someone who kills compulsively and repeatedly, often for pleasure, was never top of my list of things to learn more about. Like Tom Ripley, I detest murder unless it's absolutely necessary. Expediency, cover-ups, becoming King of Scotland, these are motives I understand. Killing because your dad raped you and made you drink drain cleaner? Meh. I don't know ... Psychological motivations always seem a little weak to me, perhaps because I have so much disdain for it as a field of study and as a literary device (backstory, schmackstory).

Cain relies on a few classic Agatha Christie moves to confuse the reader -- 1. give the villain an alibi so the reader will dismiss him as a possible suspect, 2. provide a parallel mystery for a smokescreen (a young girl who was raped by a senator) -- and relies on heavily psychologized characterization, flashbacks, and many, many clothing descriptions to fill the spaces (we know what the Girl Reporter wears in every scene). The action speeds along with nary a dull moment, but I didn't see anything really earth-shattering or sophisticated going on. Maybe I'm just not familiar enough with the genre, maybe she's playing with themes I can't even begin to understand. The only nudgy-winky reference I got was when Gretchen calls the Girl Reporter "Clarice" when she asks for a profile of their current killer. Silence of the Lambs, right? Got it, self-referential.

It's not a horrible waste of time by any means, but if the only twist on the genre is that the detective and serial killer are in love with each other (kind of) then I guess I'm not easily impressed. In the penulitmate sequence Gretchen asks Archie if he knows what Stockholm Syndrome is. Is this supposed to bea revelation? Why vocalize what every reader figured out in the first few pages? Other clunky sequences get my goat, like the scenes with The Girl Reporter (Susan) in jail with Gretchen. She sums Susan up in about forty seconds and Suze is immediately shattered by this magnetic woman's profound, searing assessment (daddy issues). So ... I guess I'm underwhelmed, is what I'm saying. Wait -- is the twist that she's ... pretty? No, that's not it. Hmmm ... What can't I put my finger on? What is this tweaking of the genre that I'm missing?

And for pure crazy, Gretchen can't hold a candle to this bitch:

The problem is that neither the killer nor the detective is very smart or subtle. As a New York Times review puts it, Archie Sheridan "stops if not exactly outsmarts Gretchen Lowell." And, again, I just can't get over the weak motivations. I mean, this drama teacher kills because a student broke up with him? And the mere mention of her name makes him snap and kill her young dopplegangers? We're meant to believe that Gretchen's wiles implant this idea into his head, but we never see her prowess in action, save for that one pathetic scene with Susan in the visiting room at the State Pen.

Cain's strength lies in her ability to tie all her action to the overarching theme. Power, authority, inappropriate attraction, these themes permeate the narrative throughout and help to unify all the action. And it's a fairly good story, if you can overlook some of the leaps and coincidences that help further the plot, and suspend your disbelief at Gretchen's cartoonish supervillainy. And while we obviously all love deeply flawed protagonists, there's something inherently off-putting about Susan, and something faintly impenetrable about Archie, that left me cold.

But, again, everybody else seemed to get a total boner for this book so clearly I'm in the minority. Or am I? This tepid comment failed to make it to the book-jacket: “'Heartsick' is not as elegantly conceived as its model [Silence of the Lambs] .... Hannibal’s preternatural intellect allows him to penetrate Clarice’s mind, her soul. He opens her without a scalpel; prison bars and shackles can’t protect a person from his kind of plundering. Gretchen, shattering ribs and force-feeding Archie drain cleaner until he vomits blood, is comparably clumsy in her approach."

All I can say is that there was one detail that bothered me intensely throughout the book, a detailthat would make me question a witness' testimony were they giving it to me: in the opening chapters, Cain describes Susan as wearing her hear short, in a flapper-esque bob. And then goes on to describe her repeatedly as tying her hair back, putting it in pigtails, ponytails and what have you. Perhaps if she hadn't emphasized the flapperness of it, and the 1920s aspect to her face, I would have overlooked it (you can tie a long bob back into a stubby ponytail after all). But a "flapper" bob is generally no more than chin length at the front, and simply can't be tied back. That's just silly. In fact, this might be a metaphor for how I feel about this whole book. Heartsick isn't devastating or clever or thrilling or fascinating or sickening. It's just kind of ...silly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Blinded By The Earnestness

This just in: a bunch of nerds at M.I.T. have devoted lots of money, brains and robots to lamenting the state of storytelling in cinema. They're all atwitter over Twitter, Guitar Hero and any other number of recent technological developments that they see as eating away at the fabric of fine, classical dramatic structure (best personified by Homer, Shakespeare and Spielberg). God forbid language and storytelling structure should evolve. (Don't you think it's a wee bit ironic that MIT is on an anti-technology rant?) But it's not just the technology that's the problem, it's also the damn, stupid public. They want what they want, and what they want is convention! Bobby Farrelly bemoans a lack of current movies with complex narratives, like The Graduate. So, what this article is saying is that storytelling that's too avant-garde will turn them off, and yet there's a dearth of classical three-acts out there right now? And it's Guitar Hero's fault? I'm confused.

But don't worry, 'cause the dorks at Sundance think the state of storytelling is just fine. “Storytelling is flourishing in the world at a level I can’t even begin to understand,” said Ken Brecher, the institute’s executive director. So there!

In a related story, Gary Giddens at Slate thinks The General is just grand. But the subtitle under the headline irks me: "Yeah, it's silent. So what? You'll barely notice. It's that good." ARGH!

OK, I have to stop thinking about "storytelling," Sundance, and silent movies or I'll choke on my own rage. The antidote? This quote from Tom Stempel, a response to a student's question on three-act versus five-act structure:

“The three-act structure ... comes from the Broadway theatre of the 1930s and 40s. Almost no stage play written now uses three acts. They are either a long one-act, or two acts. Shakespeare, by the way, used what was then the traditional five acts, so I supposed you could use a film of one of his plays as an example 9of a movies with five-act structure). Is this whole question to settle a bar bet? I can't imagine it has a serious purpose.”

* Not that there's anything wrong with The Graduate, per se. Or Bobby Farrelly, for that matter. My vitriol is not directed at them, let's just be clear on that. I still wish "Honey and the Beaze" was a real TV show.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Josef von Sternberg: Crazypants

I recently finished Fun In A Chinese Laundry, and in lieu of trying to review or make sense of this monumental memoir (which has been called "perversely inaccurate"), I shall instead share some choice quotes from the man who was capable of such insights as, "Even when human beings were thrown to the wild beasts in ancient Rome, the providers of entertainment were, no doubt, faced with the problem of not boring an audience."

On actors:

"How can the sculptor be honest with the piece of clay that considers itself more important than the hands that mold it?"

On Underworld:

"I had fooled neither the audience nor the sales force. Without a moment's hesitation they had detected a sinister artistic purpose and had recognized it for what it was -- an experiment in photographic violence and montage."

On screenplays:

"No manuscript of mine could indicate what was in my mind, as images and sound cannot be put on paper. A script, at best, for a work which I plan, can be no more than a technical instrument for the material that has to be ready in time, and I was always grateful if the players had no preconcieved notions of the task ahead, for they were invariably invalidated."

On directing in Hollywood:

"It is like trying to catch a sardine with a mile-long line that dangles a thousand hooks."

"The essential difference between my deportment and that of other directors is that I don't applaud after every scene ... It is a failing of mine; I can't applaud. If something impresses me I like to think about it, though I never think twice when someone rantipoles across my stage."

"I worked for a sum that was too much for what I did and too little for what I could do."

"To work in films may be degrading, but to seek employment in the film industry is the most degrading of all."

"When I look at films I am like a surgeon watching another operate. If the operation does not succeed and the patient dies, but it is interesting to watch, then I like it."

The function of the director inspires no one with reverence.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Carole Lombard

For you New Yorker's, there's a Lombard retro at Film Forum starting November 21st.

"Something that’s out of proportion, like an inflated ego, should strike you funny, particularly if it’s your own inflated ego. Otherwise you are pathetic and quite hopeless.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Old Timey Movies!

I've also been on a 1930s kick lately, which I can only imagine has been prompted by the worldwide financial collapse I've been convinced was coming most of my adult life (yes, I'm one of those people that has an irrational Depression-phobia and is convinced the next Big One is coming in her lifetime -- perhaps there's a word for that?) and what better to go with a downturn than Jimmy Cagney ... and Al Jolson!

Last week I watched a strange little musical called Hallelujah, I'm A Bum! starring Jolson, Frank Morgan and Harry Langdon as a communist trash-collector who berates all the bums living in Central Park. Frank Morgan plays the mayor of New York who loses his girl to amnesia when, distraught after a lovers' spat, she jumps off a bridge in the park. The girl is promptly saved by Jolson, who fishes her out of the drink (and who happens to be buddies with the surprisingly egalitarian mayor). The girl and Jolson fall in love, but complications, of course, ensue. Aside from its very unusual class consciousness, the film is distinguished by tinny musical numbers and a very sad penultimate scene which every guy who's ever lost a girl to a mayor can understand. It's unremarkable for its casual 1930s racism, which made me feel sorry for poor Edgar Connor who played Jolson's sidekick, Acorn, and the inevtiable facial cramps one must get from all that damn grinning.

My other noteworthy 1930s comedy was Jimmy the Gent, starring James Cagney and Bette Davis, pre-code goodness that's eminently quotable, including such gems as:

"What would you do for $500?"
"I'd do my best!"

One of the film geeks in my shabby little office likes to say that James Cagney is one of the few actors that justified the use of sound in motion pictures, and I'd like to respectfully agree with her.

****** ****** ******

Stay tuned for further posts in which I talk about the unmitigated delight of reading Chelsea Handler's latest opus, "Are You There Vodka? It's Me Chelsea," and Josef von Sternberg's utterly insane memoir, Fun In A Chinese Laundry. Plus pictures!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Recently viewed:

In the past couple of weeks I've been treated to some shivery movies (just now getting their long overdue post-Halloween roundup) one 1934 musical that the other Big October Event put me in a mind to watch (that's the 79th anniversary of the crash, y'all), and a Jimmy Cagney gem at the MoMA.

Interestingly enough, two of the shivery films -- Dead Ringers and Let The Right One In -- made me surprisingly sentimental.

I know Dead Ringers is supposed to be creepy as hell, and admittedly the wonderful credit sequence gave me a frisson, but ultimately I found it to be essentially a tragic tale of two men with one soul. Witty, yes, macabre, yes -- and hell, yes, Jeremy's indeed iron* -- but more than anything just profoundly sad. Maybe gynecological stuff doesn't really creep me out cause I've got all the bits, but whatever the case, I wasn't bothered by it. The imagery was amazing and those freaky instruments were great, and yes it was quite mad. Oh, Chang and Eng, Chang and Eng! And the final shot, a sort of fraternal pieta -- so sad! Well, anyway, I was genuinely touched.

So obviously I'm crazy because Dead Ringers made me sentimental, but Let The Right One In is actually meant to make you weepish, so cue appropriate emotional reaction right there. (Phew!) And while the film had some sweet-ish moments (oh god, I've just made a terrible pun) I don't think it will stay with me, honestly. Visually I didn't find it gave good snow, or anything else for that matter, and the story was just meh. A standard coming of age tale doesn't becomg magic simply by adding a few vampires, though I did like certain little touches, like the Morse code, the Rubick's cube, and when the little vampiress scampers up the wall, Dracula style. Not a masterpiece, and certainly don't go out of your way to see it unless you're a Twilight fan, but it's a sweet film nonetheless. Plus it manages to fit genuine horror-movie moments into its diegesis quite neatly without ever breaking the fragility of the young boy's story. Oh, and I did have one crazy moment -- when you see a shot of the vampette's pudenda, I swear I thought her girly bits were sewn shut. That's hoenstly what I saw -- no one else saw it so I can only conclude it was a hallucination. Interesting.

The last film in my personal fright-fest was José Mojica Marins's At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul. I was prepared to hate it after Mister Spinster referred to it as a "hipster horror movie" but I actually thought it was a pretty good straight-ahead ghost story. No more, no less.

* Here's a Simpsons reference!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Spinster's Folly

Lately I've been dreaming about houses. Country houses with cranberry bogs, airy kitchens, porches ... just the basics, really. There's nothing I'd like better right now than to ride out the winter in a farmhouse somewhere upstate, armed to the teeth with books, DVDs and indexed recipe cards. But apparently they have this thing called money now and if you take the whole winter off, you don't get any.

However, I've been doing a fairly decent job riding my bike around Brooklyn and pretending I live somewhere else, going for rambles in Green-wood Cemetery, and making spiced apple cider to make the kitchen smell more like I imagine my country house, Spinster's Folly, would smell.

Before this devolves into the most wistful post ever, let it be said that I've been doing just fine as far as the barricading/DVD/book thing is going, and that, really, you can do that just about anywhere. Also, in the country you have to drive.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

There's never been a better time for change

I'm talking about screenwriting, of course ...

"If you're a screenwriter, don't be a slave to the three-act structure. And if you're a critic, try to seek out, and evaluate on their own merits, films that don't hew to the three-act structure. The mentality that judges all movies according to the tenets laid out in how-to-write-a-screenplay paperbacks is a big part of the reason why the modern commercial cinema is so boring and predictable. Don't be a part of that mentality."

Found this great quote here and just haddddd to share it.

When read in tandem with the following --

"White elephant art goes in for ravishing technique, viselike consistency, sustained meaningfulness; every detail is pregnant, and enslaved to an overarching scheme that passes for vision ..."

-- it realllllly makes ya think.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Get Back to Work

Sometimes I need a strong dose of obituary to make me sit up and realize I've been neglecting that thing-I've-been-meaning-to-do for far too long now and someday, this will all be gone, vanished into ether or ground into dirt, depending on whether you're talking about the fate of Spinster Aunt or my mortal flesh-prison, and today that thing is reading "Working" by Studs Terkel.

To honor the man's life and and work, I plan to read excerpts of the book online while at the office. I especially look forward to reading the interview with Roberta Victor, hooker.

Though part of my fascination is based on the subject matter, I must also admit that I just really, really like the name Studs Terkel, and that has a lot to do with wanting to read his shit. (Before the year is out, I plan to read at least one book by Booth Tarkington, for the same reason. I just love those names.)

In any case, I think the following quotation should be painted onto the ceiling of the 42nd Street subway underpass, instead of the current bizarre de-motivational scrawl they've got up there (the "late for work/get fired" poem) so that we can contemplate this every morning:

“Work is about a daily search for meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short for a sort of life, rather than a Monday-to-Friday sort of dying.”

Friday, October 31, 2008

Thursday, October 30, 2008

This just in ...

"The National Association of Realtors says that it is not the legal obligation of a real estate agent to tell a prospective buyer about alleged haunting."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My goodness, is it Wednesday already?

I've done it again: been planning a tremendous post and as such have neglected this space since Friday ... which wouldn't normally unnerve me if my last post didn't announce itself quite so boldly as having been created on Friday.

First off, I'm feeling much less Halloween-y (yes, yes, weenie, quite funny, I know) than usual this year and I don't know why. I can't seem to catch up with October and it's already gone (I'm really obsessing over days and dates in this post). This makes me sad since it's my favorite month and I usually like to savor it. Not that I didn't have many perfectly lovely Sundays riding my bike past the yellow leaves of Green-Wood Cemetery in the late afternoon sun. I did ... but in terms of the books and movies I usually enjoy around this time of year, I've been remiss (I'm reading Fun in a Chinese Laundry and it's taking me a long time to get through for some reason ... might be dog-earing all the pages that's slowing me down). In any case, there'll be a somewhat ghosty post coming up, I promise (though it may not feature any actual ghosts, more vampires and ghoulish doctors). For the moment, the phrase "spilt tea on a wool sweater" describes my current mood best -- indoorsy, hobbity, and a bit absentminded, all in the best possible way. Hence the vintage wallpaper images ...

Secondly, I'm pleased to link to the one person more cranky than me when it comes to blockbuster art shows -- for those who remember my tirade against the Turner show at the Met this summer, trust me, I got nothing on this guy. Though I only found fault with Turner, this cat has the temerity to find fault with Picasso himself. Did Picasso have a soul, or not? Discuss.

Finally, this is may current favorite headline: Cool Weather Twisters Strike in the Dark.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy Friday, Dizzy Davis

Since it's Friday, I'll just list a quick roundup of things that merit my roaring, gushing approval.

Sarah Weinman reviews a newly re-discovered work of detective fiction, which has been lost since 1865. The book is called "New York Detective" and features a fictional detective named James Brampton. Incidentally, Brampton is also the name of a smallish town in Ontario, Canada, with which I am most familiar.

A 24-year-old intern at the San Diego Police Department apparently cracked a 36-year old cold murder case. This better not turn out to be some kind of hoax, or I'll be disappointed.

Finally, on the cinematic front, Ceiling Zero is a freaking awesome Howard Hawks movie that I saw at BAM last night and which everyone should see if they get the chance. I'm sure there'll be an intelligent post on it somewhere soon (Rob?), but for now I'd like to say that its mix of comedy, melodrama, adventure, camaraderie and James Cagney really did it for me. (Pat O'Brien's not bad either.) Someone smarter than me once said:

"Howard Hawks's 1936 film is a superlative airport melodrama, comparable with Only Angels Have Wings. All of the lines of Frank "Spig" Wead's stage play are there and the action is confined to a few sketchy sets, yet the film is never theatrical ... [T]he overlapping, speeding dialogue is perfectly launched, as Hawks cuts to the core of the play with his own meditations on personality and responsibility."

I'd also like to note (for you dramatists out there) that it's a perfect example of Lajos Egri's principle of plot growing out of character. James Cagney's daredevil drives the whole story forward, and all actions spring out of his characteristic reactions within the world of the film. It's all about going down in a blaze of glory, and will make you nostalgic for the old, pre-de-icing days of aviation, when delivering the night mail was full of glory.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

'appy Birthday Angela Lansbury!

Before she was sweet yet savvy J.B. Fletcher, she was a hot buttered strumpet in Gaslight and a tragic heroine in The Picture of Dorian Grey, among other illustrious roles. And she's eighty-three today!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"He died cheerfully in a gibbet of his own making"

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie contains one of cinema's most ridiculous spinsters, whose overweening affectation and carefully constructed fantasy world are intended to mark her as unique but only make it all the more painfully obvious that she is one of many of the type who fancies her own brand of whimsy to be special and different when she is, in fact, a dime a dozen. Colorful frocks and vintage bicycles do not a free spirit make. Take note, ladies of Brooklyn.

And yet, Maggie Smith's interpretation of Miss Jean Brodie is terribly entertaining, because it's so ridiculous and because her accent is soooo much fun to imitate. "Little gehls!" "I am in my prrrrime!" Her students imitate her too, and I am sure they were just as delighted with themselves as I was. There's almost nothing as fun as putting on a fake Scottish accent and swaning around uttering fanciful proclamations about Mussolini.

Other than some fairly marvelous dialogue, and some truly great speeches from Maggie Smith, the best thing about this movie is the dynamic between Jean and her cunning, nasty little student, Sandra. Plain, vicious Sandra resents her mentor's affection for pretty Jenny, a fellow student in the Brodie Set. Her jealousy of the hated Jenny drives her to turn on her master and destroy her: she rats her out to the uptight headmistress Miss Mackay. Dimwitted Mary McGregor is a pawn in their game -- when she runs off to Spain to fight for Franco and is promptly exploded on a train, Sandra immediately runs squealing to the schoolboard.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie perfectly captures the psychotic nature of teenage girls, and the final confrontation between master and pupil is a beautiful fireworks display. This scene demonstrates the interplay between manipulator and manipulated, with the change in power dynamics leading us to wonder who is, indeed, the most dangerous one? Narcissist Jean Brodie, who's apparently oblivious to her own bad influence, or the young, angry Lolita who's perfectly capable of killing without compunction? Miss Jean Brodie seems almost vulnerable by the end of it; the viewer osscilates between condemning one or the other, but ultimately you have to feel sorry for both the wretched teacher, stripped of the one duty that gave her life meaning, and the girl who tried to tangle in adult affairs and ended up hardened. Another thought: was Jean Brodie "assassinated" by provincialism? If she'd lived in Paris rather than Edinburgh, would she have gotten in any trouble at all? Would underage students sleeping with art teachers be a big deal, really? She'd still be on the wrong side of the fence politically, though, which might have done her in eventually. The lesson, schoolmarms of the world, is to keep your personal life and your politics out of the classroom no matter where you live.

In the final scene there is a voice over, perhaps one of the few really effective voice overs I can think of, in which Jean Brodie repeats her little speech that she gives to her girls at the beginning of each term: "I am in the business of putting old heads on young shoulders," and it's hard not to be moved by it, especially as tears stream down Sandra's normally composed face.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Celine and Julie Go Boating

If you see a mystery girl in the park

You should borrow her clothes

And find her at the library

And watch her magic act

And play tricks on her cousin

And her magic act

And eat lots of magic sweets

Until you find a magic house

Full of mad rich people and a murder mystery ...

And solve the mystery!

They won't even notice you

They're too busy being in the story

And fighting amongst themselves

But you have to save the little girl

So keep careful watch

They can't even see you!

Or maybe they can ...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

America's Top Young Scientist

In a world of my own, this girl would be Queen, or at least a very high-ranking person ...

Monday, October 06, 2008

Two Girls Named Marie

In a world of my own, film criticism would just be pictures ...

Also, I have just saved you 90 minutes.