Friday, June 27, 2008

Stop Making Me Cry, Dammit!

First I had a dream that I had a black Labrador retriever and someone was taking him away from me for some reason. They stopped the truck so I could pet him one last time and say goodbye, but somehow that didn't make it any easier. So I woke up this morning in tears (and also feeling manipulated by my subconscious ... I mean, a puppy, really? ).

Then this made me teary-eyed, too.

Of course I'm seeing Wall-E this weekend so I don't expect the flood of tears to end any time soon.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Because you despise me, you're the only one I trust

Ooh! Just found out it's Peter Lorre's birthday! I have a HUGE crush on Peter Lorre.

Yup, that's how I likes 'em: wall-eyed, adorable, and with funny voices.

We Have To Articulate Ourselves, Otherwise We Would Be Cows In The Field

Herzog's ramblings are always good for a chuckle, but I really love the way he phrases this. I always felt that creating art was what separates us from the animals. Except for those chimps and elephants who oil paint, of course.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dear Little Things

The key to decorating a child's room is to put pictures/posters, etc. at their eye level, not yours. Remember to place artwork at about 3.5 - 4 feet off the ground to maximize their enjoyment.

Also, try a whimsical, fairy-tale inspired set like this to stir their imagination.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Monsieur Verdoux

Ah, Charlie -- excuse me, Charles -- Chaplin, you luckless bastard. Everyone apparently hated you when M. Verdoux first came out, and it took years before the world caught up with your cynicism.

Sorry about that. It's really not a bad little film.

Last night's Film Forum audience was appropriately appreciative, and we laughed out loud, often (possibly for the right reasons). Verdoux mixes slapstick and murder a lot better than, some other films that have attempted same (say Colin Higgins' Foul Play, which completely falls apart after the first thirty minutes, though somewhat redeems itself with Dudley Moore's "Beaver Trap" scene, or Arsenic and Old Lace, which is just too manic for its own good and, I just realized, was also a STAGE PLAY!). Laughs were especially plentiful during the scenes with Martha Raye, who I just realized played the Duchess in my beloved TV adaptation of Alice! There's a great scene where she drinks a whole bottle of wine spiked with hydrogen peroxide and doesn't bat an eyelash -- that's my kind of girl!

There's a nice analysis/appreciation of the film on Cinematical, that I more or less agree with. Chaplin's talkies certainly deserve respect but I don't think he really shines as a director in Verdoux. The story lacks momentum, that's my main gripe. Chaplin doesn't tell a tight story here, and the more leaden sequences detract from the overall effect. It's not all bad news though: moral interludes and asides were kept mercifully brief, for the most part, and the sentimental soliloquizing was confined to the last five minutes or so. So thanks for that, CC.

The film's greatest strength is Chaplin himself, of course. You can't fault his performance, which is by turns creepy, sad, cruel, depressing, and hilarious. Still, as one Cinematical commenter pointed out, imagine if the film had been directed by Orson Welles, the originator of the idea. That might have been the best movie ever. Finally, score an extra point for some great one-liners, including this very quotable line:

"What's the matter with you? You seem to have lost your zest for bitterness."

Stenography Hero!

On Tuesday, July 15th, game artist Mark Essen, a.k.a. Messhof, will "install five playable games at Light Industry, including two new titles: Stenography Hero, a competitive text-based stenography simulator in the spirit of Guitar Hero, and Rail War, a western-themed side-scroller projected in a Cinemascope aspect ratio." (!!!! - Ed.)

"Essen will present a short talk about his work during which he will upload Stenography Hero and Rail War live to his website for free distribution. Other titles available for play will include Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist (2008), Punishment: The Punishing (2007) and Flywrench (2007)."


All I have to say is I really, really want to play Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

True Cime in the True North

Canadian police have found a sixth human foot washed ashore in Vancouver.

Update: True crime, my eye!

This is indeed a disturbing universe.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

So long, Legs

All I knew about Cyd Charisse for the longest time was that she had her legs insured for millions of dollars (somehow this still strikes me as the epitome of glamour). Then I saw her in The Band Wagon and was like, Oh, that's why. (The dancing scene in the park is unbelievable. )

I also like this anecdote: She said her husband, the singer Tony Martin, could always tell with whom she was dancing. "If I was black and blue," she said, "it was Gene. And if it was Fred, I didn't have a scratch." (See that boys? Be a better dancing partner and maybe you'll get to dance with someone like Cyd.)

Gorgeous, incredible dancer, class act.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Screw the puzzle house, I want to live in a robot house

I'm very happy these days because of my programmable coffee maker. It's like having a little robot servant making me coffee in the morning. I've named it Ruggles.

But wouldn't my robot servant be even more complete if I had an entire Rube Goldberg breakfast-making machine to go with it? Gizmodo lists its top ten favorite Rube Goldberg machines and I can't help but notice that at least two of them involve breakfast.

May personal favorite, of course, is Doc Brown's machine in Back to the Future. Any day that starts with a BTTF reference can only go well.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Desk Set (1957), or, The Post In Which I Strain For A Pet Theory, Reject It, And Get Cranky

Is anyone else really bored here?

If one looks at the WGA list of the 101 Best Screenplays of All Time, one would find more than a few misfires (American Beauty!). Is this because screen writers aren't a very bright bunch? Possibly. But it may also have something to do with our criteria for what makes a script or a story good. I mention this in conjunction with my review of Desk Set now because the things that bothered me about Desk Set I've found common to a number of films on The List that also irk me.

I've been formulating an unscientific study (in my mind) in which I delineate the various irritants and trace them directly to a certain style and/or era and am thus able to create a sort of taxonomy of screen writing wrongness. I got as far as this:

1. the theatre
2. the 1950s

... before I realized I was talking out of my ass.

See, I had this theory that writing in the 1950s had evolved into an unfortunate art form characterized by stilted adaptations of stage plays -- and stagey acting -- overlong run times, bloated production, unnatural dialogue, and a loss of connection with the cinematic medium. Writing for the movies had become respectable and playwrights were imported with disastrous results? Was that it? But they'd been importing playwrights since the '30s, and novelists as well, often with successful results. That broad-strokes solution didn't work.

But since so many films I dislike were produced circa 1950, I thought there HAD TO BE something specific about the 1950s I could point to as a factor in creating these irksome filmed plays. Maybe it was the source material, the theatre itself, that was the problem.

So far I've found very few successful adaptations from theatre to screen, a problem that rests with the writing and the direction, in equal measures. Directors seem content to rest on the "sparkling" dialogue and writers seem content to shoehorn their theatrics into an entirely different medium. Again, these are over-generalizations, but by now I've begun realize I'm not going to make a thorough -- or even remotely fact-based -- study here. These are just a few observations of my own, backed up with a few isolated examples. I'd love to start a dialogue, though, and hear what others have to say on the subject.

Spencer Tracy will not change his expression ...

Back to Desk Set. I was so excited to watch this because I love Katharine Hepburn, usually. (Though I recently re-watched "The African Queen" and was like, how did I not notice before how damn boring this movie is?") And reference librarians are awesome. How could I go wrong? Well, for one thing, I don't think the Tracy/Hepburn combo really does it for me. I was bored by Adam's Rib, too. I just don't feel the chemistry between them, real life romance or no. And something about the laconic way Tracy played it in Desk Set just struck me as lazy. So there's that. And Katie wasn't given much to do either, other than throw away some one-liners and quote a few poems in her Shakespeare voice.

Joan Blondell will languish

After about forty minutes of talking heads I got that familiar feeling. "I bet this was a play, originally," I harumphed to myself. (This was during the rooftop scene.) Sure enough -- adapted from a play by William Marchant ... by the dreaded Ephrons (spawners of Nora). Well, no wonder, I thought. But possibly the worst offense director Walter Lang commits, other than FILMING A PLAY, is giving the brilliant Joan Blondell nothing -- NOTHING -- to work with. I've seen Joan Blondell with funny scripts and good direction, I've seen her paired with James Cagney. I KNOW WHAT SHE CAN DO. And you gave her nothing. Nothing. That I cannot forgive.
Hepburn explains the joke

As I let Desk Set drag towards its inevitable conclusion, I felt my animosity increase. The scene in Hepburn's apartment seems set up for comedy. Shoes in the oven. Men in bathrobes. Interruptions. The stage is set! Comedy MUST ensue! Something MUST happen! But, nope. Everything's fine. Men go home. Shoes come out of oven unscathed. Hepburn and Blondell have a good laugh. The scene is deflated, an anticlimax. And hey, isn't one of the first rules of comedy "There's nothing less funny than watching two characters laugh"? Or the fourth rule. Whatever.

There's one funny scene near the end of the film where the computer, and the electronics expert, start to freak out. I laughed, briefly. Then Hepburn and Tracy (surprise!) decide to get married and the damn dreary thing ends. And I get to thinking.

Like All About Eve (1950) and Sunset Boulevard (1950), Desk Set suffers from my pet afflictions. What other writers -- our friends at AFI and WGA -- have deemed sophistication, wit, dazzling glamour and performance, I take for long, talky, windy, stuffy productions. All About Eve: too much diva, too much drama, too much talking and for far too long. Sunset Boulevard: too much goddamn voice-over! Desk Set: talking heads, flat, phoned-in performances, dull romance, waste of Joan Blondell. African Queen (1951): two boring people on a stupid boat and Hepburn's worst thrall scenes ever (she tends to do this thing where she's really proud at first and then utterly tamed by love, a faintly sickening display).

These particular films just bore me, they lack a lightness, they rely too much on perfs that are supposed to be iconic but fail to thrill. And I know I've got no case for, say, all screenwriting in the 1950s being horrible, or all play adaptations being wretched (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf floored me, although I envied the theatre audience their intermission -- again, I have a problem with anything over 90 minutes, usually ... my own cross to bear). I'm not going to find a formula here. But I think I can say I've identified a tendency in certain films, a fault of the writing, that leads to diminished enjoyment. And that thing, my friends, seems to be dialogue, of a type anyway.

I'm probably just stuck in my whole Leo McCarey/Preston Sturges 1930s screwball thing. Or stuck in my love of the Hawks/Fuller one-two punch (fast, hard, mean, funny, usually over in 100 minutes or less). I just want movies to effervesce all the time, I suppose.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ironically, I find this romantic

According to, Guillermo Del Toro "hates romance." This headline makes me smile, since I've very little patience with any sort of romance that isn't blended with laughs, and not in a Nora Ephron way, either.

"Sleepless in Seattle can go f**k itself," says my long-time crush, concurring with me.

"Monsters," he continues, "are the most beautiful creatures in the universe. I have no interest in everyday life, except through a twisted mirror."

Me neither! But wait, there's more:

"When you have the intuition that there is something which is there, but out of the reach of your physical world, art and religion are the only means to get to it."

Religion, meh. But definitely: art, fiction, ghosties, dreams ... insects, fauns ... mysteries.

Mystery on Fifth Avenue!

I wish I lived in a puzzle house ...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Saw Hatari! last week, and, as predicted, I liked it. First off, I like any film title that ends with an exclamation point! Secondly, I like any sequence that includes the following in combination:

1. Monkeys
2. Rockets
3. Red Buttons

I was going to stick around for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but was too sleepy -- plus I had to shuffle off to Buffalo the next day. I was sorry to miss it, but the business at hand was rather important. Once Saturday night came and said business had been dispatched, I returned to my hotel room only to find it playing on television (on the CBC, no less). I was just in time for my favorite scene.

An omen? Possibly. I'll take it as one.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A conversation about science ensued ...

Reading this made me happy: A government watchdog says NASA's press office "marginalized, or mischaracterized" studies on global warming between 2004 and 2006. This was in the news years ago, but it's only now the official reports are being released, confirming that government moles did indeed suppress new global warming data (some say it was initially suppressed because they didn't want it released during the 2004 presidential campaign). Anyway, I'm just glad this information was released. And to one colleague I spoke with today who said, "Who cares? We already know about global warming!" I have the following rebuttal for you:

"It’s striking that science is still widely viewed as merely a subject one studies in the classroom or an isolated body of largely esoteric knowledge that sometimes shows up in the “real” world in the form of technological or medical advances. In reality, science is a language of hope and inspiration, providing discoveries that fire the imagination and instill a sense of connection to our lives and our world."

That's from Brian Greene, a scientist a Columbia University. If he's good enough for Stephen Colbert, he's good enough for you. If you need me to spell out the connection, the point is that science enriches our lives and connects us to the rest of the universe. It has implications for the way we live our lives and, in this case, the way we treat our planet. To suppress new data or information for political or financial purposes is criminal. The fact that NASA exposed and fired the political plants working to countermand their institution's duty to the American public is great news to me.

In other news: I really want to attend this NYHS exhibit on the Cholera Plague of 1832.