Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gone fishin'

It's a busy day here at SA Headquarters. I'm in the throes of preparing for a weeklong vacation, during which I plan to spend ample amounts of time with my Nana in small-town Ontario. Also, Mister Sweeney and I are celebrating the first anniversary of our elopement, which involves such fun activities as dropping movies off at Kim's, picking up a rental tuxedo (him) and being enveloped in a heavenly cloud of Bond No. 9 perfume (me). (Truly the best anniversary present ever!)

So, no more posts for at least a week. Entertain yourselves, dammit!

Estelle Getty

I need to pay an overdue tribute to Estelle Getty, our beloved Sophia Petrillo. (As most already know, she passed away on Tuesday.) Although I loved Estelle for her role as Sophia, I have to say I didn't know that much about her personal life until a few days ago. What really impresses me is how spirited she was -- she did stand-up before ladies did stand-up, she worked as a secretary most of her life while auditioning on the side, and success didn't come till after 50. She gives hope to all us office girls with a sideline, and I am inspired by her strength and tenacity.

Here are a couple of my favorite Sophia moments.

The Picasso story:

Sonny and Cher:

After being diagnosed with Lewy body dementia in 2006, she issued a statement through her caregiver, telling her fans "that if she has made you laugh, encouraged you to think, and challenged your beliefs, then she has done her job."

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dinner For Ten

If I made a list of the top ten people, living or dead, I'd like to throw a dinner party for, it might look a little something like this:

Guest List:

1. Anna Faris
2. Marie Dressler
3. Katharine Hepburn
4. Isla Fischer/Amy Poehler/Amy Adams (tie)
5. Barbara Stanwyck
6. Amy Sedaris
7. Mabel Normand
8. Betty White
9. Carole Lombard
10. Dolly Parton

Menu: Take out. It's too hot to cook.

I've just realized there are no men on the menu, er, guest list. So I'll also add:

John Barrymore
Peter Lorre
James Cagney
Clive Owen

Friday, July 18, 2008

Friday Fandom

She likes Overboard and forgets to shave her legs ... often.

Girl after my own heart Anna Faris has this endearing video over at the NYT.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chaney, Melodrama and Missing Limbs

I love Lon Chaney. I love The Penalty, The Unknown, He Who Gets Slapped, The Unholy Three. And I'm jealous that I wasn't in San Fransisco for a screening of The Unknown intro'd by Guy Maddin. There's a transcript of Maddin's remarks at The Evening Class, a blog I just discovered (can't wait to read the interview with Doug Jones, once I'm finished scrolling through all the Chaney stuff). Maddin's remarks are interesting -- not only does he wonderfully compare melodrama to dreams -- "it's true life uninhibited, just like our dreams" -- but because I never thought of Chaney movies as melodrama, always as horror. But these two things can intersect, can't they? And that pure, unrestrained impulse, the dark shadows, the fear and the id, all these all cross-pollinate, don't they? "Little repressed fears and anxieties grow into monstrous terrors in our dreams," says Mr. Maddin, "and our true selves become so uninhibited."

The Evening Class offers an interesting summary of the film, pointing out how the the fear of amputation was very real in a post-WWI era, and offers up for speculation the idea that Joan Crawford's characters fear of hands is due to some sexual abuse (very primordial Freudian dream symbolism there). This summation draws upon an analysis from an essay by Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare, " 'Even a Man Who is Pure in Heart': Filmic Horror, Popular Religion and the Spectral Underside of History" which is apparently "a must-read for anyone trying to understand the horror genre, especially within the context of the 1920s."

Hello, that's me!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Craig's Wife (1936)

Ah, to have a big house in Rye, New York, with servants and marble floors and a big ming vase on the mantlepiece -- who wouldn't want that? Dorothy Arzner's 1936 morality fable rakes poor Mrs. Craig over the coals for being a cold, shrewish, conniving, materialistic woman somewhat unfairly. Nowadays she'd be Martha Stewart and have her own line of linens and two eponymous magazines. Seriously people, Mrs. Craig might've been a hardass and all, but, well .... have you seen that house? I'd be mad too if the movers scratched my floor.

Alright, facetiousness aside, for those who haven't seen it, Craig's Wife is a searing indictment of the institution of marriage, that is, of a world in which a woman's financial worth is secured through only one means. More prosaically, it appears to be a morality fable about selfishness, materialism and greed, about putting THINGS before people and human relationships (a tacked-on little post-script at the movie's end says: "Those who live for themselves are generally left to themselves") but any fool can see through that. The film so obviously lambastes the idea that a gal's financial independence must be -- ironically! -- achieved through hitching your wagon to a solvent man (which was very much the only option at the time, as it had been for millennia) it's astonishing anyone bought that little studio-mandated postscript (if indeed they did). Historical oddity, preachy bourgeois morality play and feminist fable, Craig's Wife should be easily dismissable but for Russell's performance and a nagging feeling that what seems simple (patriarchy = bad!) really isn't so simple.

Apparently there was no nuance in the original play upon which it was based. The playwright apparently was content to let the little postscript stand, and introduce no layers of context, motivation or meaning. The audience was supposed to straigh-up hate Mrs. Craig. Arzner's version reveals the complex nature of woman's relationship to marriage and money, and Russell's performance gives life and nuance to those layers. We can't despise Harriet because she's a hard-ass ... there must be some sympathy and understanding with this woman, otherwise there is no understanding at all. Mrs. Craig is only doing what she needs to do to protect Harriet. Her practicality, her "bargain" are not only self-preservation at its most astute, but also philosophically more honest than others' naive theories of love (personified by her silly, self-satisfied niece). Arzner and Russel create sympathy for this apparently unpleasant, hardheaded and shrewish woman, so that, by the film's end, you aren't glad she's been punished, you just feel pity, and somehow a feeling that it maybe isn't all her fault.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Dorothy Arzner movie without some fun lesbian subtext, so there's a maiden aunt traveling round the world with her maid, which is open to interpretation. And in the final scene one can't help but root for a friendship between Harriet and the kindly neighbor lady (Billie Burke!) to take hold, which you can also interpret according to taste. There's an interesting breakdown of female relationships in Senses of Cinema, for further reading. And frankly, her husband does kind of seem like a dipshit, I can't imagined anyone was sad to see him go. (In fact, the more I think about it, the more everyone in this movie seems smug, except for Harriet, even if she does go too far sometimes, as when she fires a maid unjustly). By the end of the movie I was hoping she'd learn a bit of a lesson about life, make friends with the nice neighbor and get to keep her house forever, just the way she likes it. And that's a good thing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Weekend Roundup: The Thin Man, and a Geography Lesson

This Monday finds me saddle-sore yet triumphant, since I rode my bike from Sunset Park to Rockaway Beach and back yesterday in a verrry poorly planned route that ended up taking me four hours and making me realize how hopeless I am with Brooklyn geography when subways are removed from the equation. Half the time I found myself thinking "Where the hell am I?" as little shopping districts gave way to mansions in areas I didn't know existed (though I suspect I may have been in Dyker Heights or the Flatlands at some point). Also, biking along Flatbush Avenue becomes a singularly difficult task circa Cortelyou Road, as the traffic is nightmarish. So I'm now obsessed with finding a better route, since Rockaway Beach is awesome.

After collapsing at home post-bike-ride, I watched The Thin Man and was slightly disappointed. I was all excited to see this husband-and-wife crime solving team but was annoyed by William Powell the whole time. I don't remember being annoyed by him in My Man Godfrey, which I liked, but here I found him irritating as all get out. Also, "husband-and-wife team," my eye. Powell does all the crime solving, such as it is, and Myrna Loy does jack squat except look great in evening gowns (really truly great in really truly lovely gowns) and act like a sassy, quipping game girl throughout. Powell also kind of treats her like an ass, which, while providing comic relief, also makes me go hmmm. And not in a good way. I mean, he treats the dog with more consideration. The mystery isn't really a mystery, more of a set up for Powell and Loy to cavort in like monkeys on a jungle gym. The acting is just average -- seriously, don't tell me Powell's mugging is magical -- and direction workmanlike and uninspired. Actually, most of the supporting cast is atrocious but I guess that's all just part of the charm. My main problem with the movie is that all the whimsy is hammered home so awfully hard that it ceases to be whimsy, if you know what I'm saying. This movie tried so hard to be sparkling, sophisticated entertainment but really, you can't sparkle if the effort shows.
Still, the final dinner party scene really is marvelously amusing, combining all the elements of a drawing room mystery/farce, and providing a nice backdrop for the genteel comedy of manners of our impossibly rich sleuths. (I also liked the cops dressed as waiters.) Evening gowns, again, were gorgeous.

Now I'm off to Google maps to look at satellite images of our fair New York town. I just realized that I was also in Red Hook (Ikea) and Willet's Point (Shea Stadium) at various points this weekend, making this one of my most intrepid outer boroughs weekends in a long time. I might also go up to my old stomping grounds in the next week or so to check out the new Maysles Institute cinema, a prospect that is exciting in and of itself (and also because I can get some roti at my old roti shop) and that makes me feel very well traveled indeed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams

Tilda Swinton is starting a film festival after my own heart. She says it will have:

" red carpets, no ranks of paparazzi and no designer evening dresses. Entry to the films will cost you £3 or a tray of home-baked cakes; and the audience will sit on beanbags."

The fest is called "The Ballerina Ballroom Cinema of Dreams" and will be a mashup of old and new movies, featuring a lot of "what you won't expect ... we will show a Björk video before All About Eve, for example. It's very irrational."

Organizers expect a mountain of fairy cakes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fun With Anagrams

This anagram generator (via Ed) is fun!

I typed in "bourbonandtea" and got "an obdurate nob." I typed in "spinster aunt" and got sanest turnip!

And I typed in my full name and got "I am an inalterable daze healer" (this is minus the Janes, course) though I want to change it to "I am an inalterable haze dealer" which I think is more accurate.

Obdurate nob!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Greatest Canadian Film Ever Made?

Some say this is it. We shall see. I've just queued it up at position 191, followed by Bon Cop Bad Cop (hey, supposedly everyone in Canada loved it) so I'll let you all know what I think in about, oh, two and a half years. I should be getting around to My Winnipeg before then, hopefully. Stay tuned for a more in-depth post.

In the meantime, I welcome comments and suggestions -- if anyone out there has a favorite (or favourite) Canadian film, feel free to discuss. Or if anyone has any adamant opinions on what they consider to be "the greatest" Canadian film ever made, fire away.

A quick update: I want to vote for Le Confessionel though I haven't seen it since I was a very young undergrad, and tastes change, of course. I'd like to add The Saddest Music in the World to that, and finally, in third place, Strange Brew. For old time's sake.

I'm still accepting nominations.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy America Day

Here's an hour long interview with Guillermo del Toro to help you celebrate all that's good in this life: a house overflowing with books, father-daughter videogame/drawing sessions, artistic vision, and having the cojones to wear your heart on your sleeve.

Have a marvelous weekend everyone.

Crime is Common, Comedy is Rare

The old ball and chain really knows how to get me freakin' excited over a movie that won't come out for another three years.

But seriously: Sherlock Holmes + Borat = the perfect movie

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Strawberry Shortcakes

Misleadingly described as a "Japanese Sex and the City" in the NYAFF promotional materials, Strawberry Shortcakes is nothing of the kind -- it is a quiet multi-character narrative about four women living in Tokyo (the number four and the urban setting being the only things that even remotely resemble SATC) that is an achingly sad, funny, sweet, painful and joyful reflection on being female.

Rather than four friends, we have two sets of friends, or rather, two sets of women whose lives bump up against one another in some capacity, forcing them into an acquaintanceship and tentative friendship. They are not confident in their relationships to one another, they don't giggle and shop and talk about boys; they very cautiously interact in ways that demonstrate a desire for deeper friendship but don't coalesce immediately. These women are too complex to form fast alliances -- some are prickly, some secretive, some obtuse, some too absorbed in dramas of their own making, some simply a little too weird. All of them, in fact, are a little of these things.

There are two roommates, an artist, Toko, and an office girl, Chihiro, who form one pair of women. The other set is comprised of a call girl and a receptionist (Akiyo and Satoko) who work in an escort agency (named Heaven's Gate!). I have to admit to liking the roommate story better than the call girl/receptionist story, though the second pair is just as funny and bizarre: the receptionist especially is a wonderful comic actress, and the character of the call girl is extremely intriguing -- she changes completely when not at work, to the point where I didn't recognize her at first -- and I imagined a whole unspoken narrative for her.

But back to my roommates. The character of Toko is amazingly intense. She works night and day, pouring her blood, sweat and tears into her book-cover illustrations; she's was bulimic, and the scenes where she induces vomit made me imagine was the effort of creation that drove her to it -- suddenly I understood the bulimia angle as a metaphor for the creative process, a process so intense it can be literally gut-wrenching, can literally take everything out of you and leave you empty inside. One of her toilet monologues is particularly intense to watch. She's just returned from a meeting with her publisher, whose assistant has lost an original illustration. The publisher tells her she'll need to "whip off" another right quick since the book has to go to press. The look on Toko's face when they tell her this is amazing. She looks steadily at the assistant and says, "I'll do another one, but I want a proper apology." The assistant stammers out something insincere, looking at the ground. Toko leaves the publisher's office and promptly faints (landing on a poster of a beach scene, a great touch). Once home she spills her guts to the john, sobbing, "I would have drawn another one if you'd apologized, if you'd apologized through your tears I would have drawn you a million more."

So yeah, clearly I love this character even though she's kind of mean to her roommate (and commits several egregious acts of privacy invasion like reading her diary and jerking off on her bed) because she's just so damn intense and obsessed with her work and full of energy and anger. And I just love that metaphor.

But then I loved her roommate, too. At first glance, you could dismiss the girl. Eager, even desperate, to get a boyfriend and eventually get married, she obsesses over guys, lets them treat her like a doormat, and feng shuis her room to attract love. She writes silly things in her diary like, "This Lancome eye cream isn't bad, I think I'll buy it again," laments her astrological incompatibility with her beau and goes shoe shopping to when she's sad. Nobody calls her on her birthday, save one booty call that ends up being, shall we say, a rather degrading experience. She puts up with everybody's crap with a smile that makes you wonder just how stupid she is. And then, under it all, is this wonderful stoicism and honesty. She demands her boyfriend utter the words, "Let's break up" when she needs closure, and confronts her roommate when she feels she's being looked down upon: "Do you find my problems boring? Get off your high horse." Hers is the plight of the office girl -- she may feel longing and pain as intensely as her artist friend but she doesn't get to be all wacky self-indulgent and over the top about it. When she finds Toko kissing the porcelain god one day, Chihiro ignores her pleas to be left alone and puts her arms around her. There is depth and strength to this character that you don't immediately suspect, and she made a great counterpoint to Toko.

We don't learn a lot about these women; in fact, the film takes pains to obscure and elide the most critical dramatic moments in their stories -- the showdowns, the conflicts, the confrontations. We glimpse things here and there and the mind fills in the rest. The final scene is a beautiful one, one that hints at the deeper friendships they have finally formed. The two sets of friends have gathered together on the beach under disparate circumstances, and Toko notices her lost illustration, recovered from a lost and found and framed, given as a present from Satoko to Akiyo. You expect a meeting or confrontation, but don't get it. Instead you get a rock thrown into the sea. The rock, by the way, is god, and Akiyo, who throws it into the sea, announces, "I don't need god."

Damn right

Tip #7 from Ten Ways to Become a Better Film Critic:

Invest Yourself in Other Pursuits
"This point expands on the first and second points, broadening their scope. Not only should a film critic seek to expand their cinematic vocabulary (which is a veritable given considering the profession) and develop an appreciation for all the arts, but they should also invest themselves in other pursuits outside of the cinema or the arts. Although this may seem contradictory, the film critic who only watches films to the exclusion of all other pursuits will deliver introverted, myopic reviews. To put it bluntly, a film critic should have a hobby. To put it even more bluntly than that, a film critic should have a life."

Seriously! So often, when entrapped in conversations (usually with dudes, sorry but it's true) wherein the phrase "You've never seen (insert movie title here)?!?!" comes up, even *I* think, "Dude, do you do anything at all besides watch movies?!"

Or, to use another apt Simpsons quote --

Marge: Homer, these boys are very nice, but they're clearly nerds.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Apt Simpsons Line du Jour

Sometimes you turn on the TV and there's a line in an old Simpsons re-run that perfectly describes your state of being, no?

In last night's episode, Homer briefly lives in Grampa's old folk's home where they think he's someone named Cornelius Talmadge. Upon receiving Cornelius' pill cocktail, Grampa winks at him and says,

"The pink ones keep ya from screaming."