Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Thrifty Spinster!

First off, I've been terribly lax lately, mainly because I've just finished a very good book and I wanted to write something that would do it justice instead of just dashing off yet another opinionated ramble.

But I just had to post something about this great Reuters "Oddly Enough" article, because it was too awesome not to share (I love their "Oddly Enough" pieces)!

Apparently, a Spinster in England had stashed away an $8million art collection in her "modest home," unbeknown to her family and friends:

"Jean Preston, a thrifty 77-year-old spinster who rode the bus and ate frozen meals, died in 2006. But art experts and auctioneers have now completed the sale of the exceptional works hoarded in her modest home.

Preston, who worked as a librarian for much of her life, inherited many of the works from her father, a keen collector. Her relatives were stunned by the artworks she had tucked away.

"My aunt bought her clothes from a catalog, ate frozen meals and went everywhere on the bus," the Daily Mail newspaper quoted one of them as saying.

"Who would have thought she had the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket in her spare room all these years?"

And she was a librarian to boot!

I nominate her for Spinster Aunt of the Year.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Doing a Lot of Funny Things Outlandishly

It's amazing that, among last year's spate of unplanned pregnancy movies, no critical space was devoted to a discussion of the greatest unplanned pregnancy movie ever made: The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944).

This gaspingly funny farce found its way into my living room today (via TCM) and just blew me away. The premise is quite shocking, really, for 1944 (or am I just old-fashioned?). A young girl, Trudy Kockenlocker, gets hastily married and knocked up during a night of carousing with soon-to-be-shipping-out soldiers. When she comes to the morning after, she has only the vaguest recollection of the events in question, confirmed by the presence of a curtain ring on her finger. Horrified, she tries to dupe local pencil-neck and Army reject Norval Jones into marrying her, but he's so sweet and sincerely in love with her that she just can't do it. The rest of the film follows their hijinks as they concoct a plan to salvage her honor, but end up foiled several times along the way.

Which got me thinking: How does Miracle of Morgan's Creek stack up to 2007's twinset of baby-comedies? Let us compare:

1. Heroine Comparison

Juno is smart, worldly, and wise beyond her years, Katherine Heigl, dull, bland and cow-eyed, and Trudy Knockenlocker is naive as a newborn, filled with a strong desire to make each and every serviceman's last day on American soil as sweet and memorable as possible, lamenting, "Oh the poor orphans!" Her careful orchestration of the evening suggests she has got a brain under that mop of blonde curls, but her lack of comprehension re: just exactly what a "good time" entails for a soldier means her good heart trumps brains any day.

Verdict: Being smart is no guarantee you won't get yourself up the pole, and, though brains can help you make witty remarks afterward, being a little scatterbrained makes for even better comedy.

2. Decision-making time

Juno can't go through with the abortion because it makes her too sad, so she opts for adoption, Cow-Eyes plods on placidly, and Trudy can't bring herself to con poor Norval, since he's such a sweetheart.

Funniest decision-making scene: Sobbing to her sister, Trudy says, "He said he's been in love with me since I was no bigger than a fire hydrant or something, and that he took all these classes like cooking and sewing just to be with me --" and her sister says, "Perfect! He can do all the housework!"

3. Complications

During a sham wedding ceremony, Norval fails to remember his fake name, Ignatz Ratziwatski, and the jig is up. Hijinks, arrests, and jailbreaks ensue. Meanwhile, Trudy is falling in love with the nerdy Norval due to his selfless, self-sacrificing actions.

In Juno, things get complicated when one half of the loving adoptive family turns out to be a total douchebag. In Knocked Up, things get sour when it turns out boys are eternal men-children who never grow up, but women age with an inexorable swiftness until they're too old and fat to get into hip nightclubs, which leads to depression all around.

Verdict: Comedy is all about upsetting the natural order of things, and nothing is more chaotically disruptive than an unplanned pregnancy, especially an unwanted one. Babies are comedy gold (but, like flattening someone with an anvil dropped from a height, significantly less amusing in real life). Morgan's Creek is head and shoulders above the other two films in terms of poking gaping holes in the fabric of proper society in general, which is what makes it seem much more shocking and hence funnier. The complete bumbling idiocy of everyone involved adds to that as well, probably. Also, Miracle is the only movie that throws a shotgun marriage into the mix, which only adds to the laughs. The hasty marriage ceremony showcases the two unwitting participants as a bundle of nerves on display, about to be lashed together for eternity by an indifferent officiant in a hurried ceremony. This is also comic gold, and Sturges gets plenty of mileage out of shopworn anti-marriage jokes here ("You think you're nervous now? If you know what what the rest of it was like you'd be even more nervous.").

Also, Miracle is the only film to feature funny insults like, "zipperpuss."

That being said, Juno and Knocked Up are not without their moments, but ultimately they tend to treat relationships and childbirth with a sanctity that undercuts the humor. Sturges cuts through the treacle and remains a satirist up to the very end, the moment when that poor sap Norval realizes what he's unwittingly allowed to be thrust upon him.

Remember, Spinsters: "No man is going to jeopardize his present or poison his future with a lot of little brats hollering around the house unless he's forced to. It's up to the woman to knock him down, hogtie him, and drag him in front of two witnesses immediately if not sooner. Anytime after that is too late."

And write down the names of everyone you sleep with, and get their contact information, just in case.

Monday, January 07, 2008


My mama used to say that whatever you do on New Year's Day is what you'll be doing for the rest of the year (so don't fuck it up). Maybe it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, but this year I went to see Juno on New Year's Day, and I've been seeing movies practically every day since. Six movies, six days of the year ... I can't keep this up and wouldn't want to because that would make me one of those movie nerd guys, you know? And they smell.

But for now, here's a list of a bunch of movies I watched.

Smiley Face

"You know who else loves lasagna? Garfield."

Technically I saw this when it was still 2007, but honestly, it was like two days before 2008, so I'm going to let it slide. Plus, I really need to mention how much I love Anna Faris and how great she is. I think she's a spectacularly funny person and a superbly talented comedienne, who wouldn't have been out of place in a 1930s screwball comedy (I could just see her holding her own opposite Cary Grant). Some discerning minds have even cited her performance as one of the year's best.


"I try really hard actually."

Way cuter than I thought it was going to be, this movie made me laugh a lot and cry about, oh, seven times. Quirky clever dialogue means nothing to my ovaries, who only want to look at pictures of cute babies and then make me cry. (My innards have never been discerning critics.) The brainier part of me loved Ellen Page (I forgive you for Hard Candy!) and the feminist in me was glad when when Juno didn't screw Vanessa over (and, admittedly, when stupid aging hipster Mark got his comeuppance). I love Michael Cera even though he was born(ed) in 1988. He has those long legs. I wonder if he's ticklish.


"How singularly innocent I look this morning."

So far, my favorite Preminger movie. I love Waldo Lydecker's quips, I love the way Laura shows up halfway through the investigation of her own murder, and I really love the way Dana Andrews' character becomes obsessed with Laura. Some wonder if her reappearance was only a dream or a wish-fulfillment fantasy conjured up in his mind. Like Vertigo, it's all about projecting your desire onto the object of it; Lydecker does it, McPherson does it, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) does it. Laura inhabits a swirling nexus of projections, looking out from the center, more portrait than person. It's interesting because Daisy Kenyon is kind of a projection, too, where each man loves something of the idea of her, but really has no idea who the person is inside there. Hm, maybe that's why they showed them together on a double bill. Duh.

Also, whenever I say or hear the word "Laura," I get the Scissor Sisters song in my head. It's in there right now.

Daisy Kenyon

"Funny thing is, I like him."

This was an incredibly strange movie, tonally. I am still getting used to Premigner's mix of the dramatic and the comically absurd. For some reason it wasn't all that jarring in Laura, perhaps because Lydecker got all the wisecracks, but in Daisy Kenyon it really stood out. Funny thing was, though, I liked it. I laughed whenever Dana Andrews was on screen, the way he called everyone "Honeybunch," and I liked how insane Henry Fonda was ("Come meet my family in Scarsdale!" he implores, after one date) and I liked Daisy's occasional daffyness, mixing metaphors ("Why did you throw in the sponge?") and crashing her car in the woods and feeling much better afterward. I liked the way the world would interrupt deep conversations on stairwells and in restaurants, creating moments of beautiful awkwardness. Thus I did love the occasional dips into the absurd and bizarre that make Daisy Kenyon so much more than a straight melodrama.

4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days

"Let's never talk about this again."

Otilia hoofs it all around Bucharest trying to help out her silly-goose of a roommate, helping her arrange an illegal abortion. And let me tell you, she goes way above and beyond the call of duty. This girl really takes one for the team. In between post-op ministrations, Otilia endures some incredibly surreal moments (like attending a bourgeois dinner party at her boyfriend's parents' place right after the harrowing procedure) and a terrifying flight through darkness in an attempt to dispose of the expelled fetus. Nightmarish, devastating.

Anatomy of a Murder

"The attorneys will provide the wisecracks. "

The greatest story ever untold. Preminger bobs and weaves his way around the details of the story, letting the viewer's mind fill in the holes like the fertile memory of an unreliable witness. I love the way he never really reveals the truth, just lets you speculate and speculate, dropping hints and suggestions that set the mind racing. Another brilliant thing: the whole defense is bunkum, I'm sure of it. Irresistible impulse, my eye. How brilliant that they got away with it and how wonderfully morally ambiguous it was, in that they were totally aware they were flim-flamming ("I love the small-town lawyer bit!").

The more I think about this movie, the better it gets. I love Preminger's ability to mix comedy and drama; he's a master at it. The courtroom lines really get me, as do the hilariously awkward flirtations between the fantastic Lee Remick and James Stewart. I like this bit, in which the Judge asks the lawyers to think of another word to use in lieu of "panties:"

Claude Dancer: When I was overseas during the war, Your Honor, I learned a French word. I'm afraid that might be slightly suggestive.
Judge Weaver: Most French words are.

Finally, the opening credits are great. I love 1950s-era commercial/graphic design, and these credits tickle me.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Spirit of Hospitality

I'm back after a brief but awesome candy-and-liquor-filled hiatus during which I played with my new presents, the best of which includes: the above-pictured book, The Joy of Cooking, my beloved old Hitchcock anthologies, and many more. (I can now send my clever prose and witty correspondence all over the world on my Nancy Drew postcards!)

My head seems to have cleared somewhat, and I think I'm back now, and ready to follow Amy Sedaris' words of advice in 2008: "Whether you live in a basement with the income of a ten-year-old girl or on a saffron farm in the south of Spain, the spirit of hospitality is the same. It's the giving of yourself, a present of you to them from me for us."