Media miscellany

* If you prefer your movies with more conversation and less leaping off tall buildings, do yourself a favor and see Before Midnight, the third in the Ethan Hawke / Julie Delpy trilogy of romantic 20-somethings who meet traveling through Europe in Before Sunrise and then meet up nine years later in Before Sunset. That second one has one of the best endings as movies go. In Before Midnight it’s another nine years later and the couple is married with twin girls. Life interrupts as it does for married couples with kids who can no longer pick up and go to Europe, except that they are in Greece, actually, so life isn’t so bad. The film comprises just a handful of scenes, all long and intimate and believable given the natural dialogue. Find some cool indie theater that’s playing all three. And expect After Midnight in another ten years with that Eric Clapton song playing in the background as the pair meanders down some cobblestone street in Venice.

* I’m re-watching all eight hours of The Thorn Birds, which is exactly the kind of melodrama needed to kick off summer: a hot, windy Australia setting; forbidden love; priest passion. It has it all. Rumor has it there’s also a “Lost Years” episode, which I will be devouring like Richard Chamberlain devours Rachel Ward in the classic scene on the beach. Where else can you get a line like “I never felt such ecstasy in God’s presence as I felt with her”? The Bridges of Madison County, I guess.

The Thorn Birds

* Do you remember Valotte, the album (and I mean album) by Julian Lennon from 19 freakin’ 84? I LOVED that man and his soft brown eyes and flowy hair, sitting on a pebble by the river playing guitar, which only now strikes me as strange. A pebble is very small and uncomfortable. Should have been rock, though I guess that was only one syllable. I see your problem, Julian. “Boulder” could have worked. Call me. But I digress, the Hey Jude dude came out with a new album this summer!! I’ve only been waiting nearly three decades. I sort of gave up on you, man. And that’s saying something because I bought your second album (possibly a tape, by then) called The Secret Value of Daydreaming. And let’s face it, Help Yourself in 1991 didn’t really count. Your new release Everything Changes is so long in coming that you bypassed the entire CD era and will go straight to digital and into my playlist titled “Music no one else buys.” Oh, who am I kidding; all my music is stuff no one else buys–and I  don’t mean that in some hipster way.

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The new man bag

I rarely date, but when the mood strikes, I’ll give it a whirl when the guy sounds nice. Or brilliant. Like this guy I talked to recently on the phone who shared my foodie obsessions.

“So what’s your favorite pizza on the North Shore?” he asked.

“There is no edible pizza on the North Shore,” I said. And yes, I heard the food snob in me. “I go to Regina’s in the North End when I need a fix. What about you?”

“The best pizza place is twenty minutes away,” he said. “It’s rough.”

I sympathized. Ferrying that pizza home would not end well. We have standards.

“So that’s when I discovered a pizza delivery bag on eBay. It’s really increased my pizza radius,” he said. “Wait, does that make me sound weird?”

No, I thought. No, no, no, no no no! That makes you sound like a genius. Here was a man who cared deeply for optimal pizza temperature; this was a man worth getting to know.

“I love it,” I said, emphasizing the it so he wouldn’t misread my enthusiasm as We’re getting married tomorrow. “We should meet for pizza.”

“Oh, God. I’m too nervous to eat on dates,” he said.

That should have been a sign. He suggested we see a movie instead, which always strikes me as lame. To be fair, we both talked about our love of film, but if there’s no possibility of conversation, what’s the point? Still, I wanted to see Argo, so we made a plan. We weren’t a match, but the movie was gripping. I was, no exaggeration, on the edge of my seat chanting, Go, go, go go go! in one scene (if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean), while at the same time thinking if my date thought I was yelling at him, I would be OK with that. In the end, the promise of a man and his pizza delivery bag lost out to a movie about the Iran hostage crisis. And that, my friends, is the story of my life.

Stuff I did on winter vacation that you don’t care about

I baked some double chocolate chip pumpkin cookies for an amazing cookie swap and almost—almost—went home with more cookies than I could handle. I tried some strange and tasty cookies (cardamom, green tea, goat cheese), gave some away, and shared some at our unusual office Christmas swap.

My co-worker and I chair a fun committee at the office (we’re serious about fun) and this year instituted a white elephant Yankee swap. Gifts could be small, preferably lame, and must be derived from one’s office. I wrapped up a CD and a skull and bones eraser and unwrapped a plant that was whisked away in the swap. I ended up with a testy wireless mouse that I had unloaded months earlier on my co-worker. Ah, the circle of office life.

I read more issues of Rachael Ray’s Every Day magazine than I care to admit. She’s chipper that one, but she puts out a good magazine.

Every year I make my sister a calendar with photos I’ve taken, surreptitiously, of her dog, Molly, in various states of ridiculousness. This year’s theme was “What’s on Molly’s head?” What was on Molly’s head, you ask? A colander, apple, myriad stuffed animals, coffee filters, salad bowl, and a hat. Doesn’t it seem like she really, really enjoys it?

On yet another mild January day, I walked through the near-barren orchard and watched a hawk pluck a mouse from the field, the scent of sour apples lingering.

I read some good books over vacation but the best one by far, Salvage the Bones, took me through the last days of the year. More on that in my upcoming book wrap-up.

I pressed my face to the window watching for deer in my sister’s backyard. She and her husband spot deer posses traipsing through the yard, their hoof prints pricking the yard. I’ve yet to see one of these phantom deer.

My sister and her husband took me on a hike through the woods in the backyard where the famed deer live. Sometimes a hike can be a walk.

I Christmas shopped with my mom, a near-70 Energizer bunny, and had to sit, more than once, with the old people on the bench of the outdoor shopping center while she forged on.

I rented a million movies and finally saw The Muppets and appreciated the numerous nods to the 70s and 80s and the fact that there are enough lovers and dreamers who welcome back the Muppets with a big furry hug.

End-of-summer goodness

Goodness: catching a double feature at the drive-in with its vintage refreshment ads and $1 cotton candy.

More goodness: being pleasantly surprised by the quality of Crazy, Stupid, Love. Or was it Ryan Gosling’s abs?

Less goodness: that extraneous comma after “stupid.” That’s just crazy stupid.

Even less goodness: hitting the public restroom after seeing Contagion.

Anticipatory goodness: Dolphin Tale, the adorable new movie based on a true story!

OK, kidding about that one. I feel bad for the dolphin that got roped into that role.

Literary goodness: writers descended on Salem for the literary festival this weekend and tore the place up. What a rowdy bunch.

Actually, they were a sensitive well-behaved flock, passionate about words. Easy to spot, they carried little notebooks and wore berets. They scribbled notes when inspiration struck. They wore black turtlenecks and thought deep thoughts. I went to a panel titled “My Poetry Crush,” and while it was great, I kept waiting for my poetry crush (Billy Collins) to emerge from behind the curtain and declare that crush requited. Caught in traffic, Billy?

More literary goodness: discovering the Improbable Places Poetry Tour that’s based in the Beverly area out of Montserrat College. Poets write on a theme: say, flowers, and the reading takes place in a fitting spot like a flower shop. This month’s theme was ink, so the reading was held in an overflowing tattoo parlor where poets read their work from inside, as if in a fish bowl, while the crowd sat outside looking in, listening. Almost made me want to get a badass tattoo. Like a whisk . . .

Cutest tattoos ever

 

 

Soft Bourne

I’ve been hanging out in a lot of men’s bathrooms after seeing The Adjustment Bureau. I’ll leave it at that in case you haven’t seen it yet. And you should, because if you liked Inception, you’ll like this little puzzle as well. Sorry, Amazon feature kicking in.

Another similarity that struck me: The Adjustment Bureau is not unlike the Bourne trilogy. Bourne-lite, if you will. There’s Matt Damon, tension, chase scenes, a love interest, and a hot scene with said love interest. Mmm, soft Bourne.

Sure, there were a few lame lines (“Are you an angel?” Ugh), but I don’t think it was meant to be a serious, deeply philosophical take on fate. It ponders ideas like, Were you meant to spill your coffee at 7:05 a.m.? What are the consequences of that, and were they predetermined? If things don’t go according to plan (The Plan, not your plan), will a team of guys in Mad Men hats come and adjust you? There’s some winking going on, and I was totally in the mood to wink back.

Inception, a day later than everyone else

You know what’s crazy? That movie Inception. I finally watched it on DVD.

You know what’s crazier? The end, when your brain has just been blown, and you’re not even sure why, and you want to watch the director’s commentary so he can explain everything, and there’s no commentary. Sorry, but that should be required, as should subtitles on all films from Northern Ireland.

Since then, I’ve talked to some film students around here and my head has exploded. I thought I had a handle on the movie. I really did. I dissected the layers and was following along and everything. Mostly. But now my head is swimming with theories: Is it her dream? His dream? The old Japanese guy’s dream? Is that guy even alive? Will the top stop spinning?

My favorite theory is that Inception is a film about filmmaking. The architect represents the set designer, the ringleader the director, the forger the actor, and so on. Clever, right? The director isn’t saying and maybe that’s why he didn’t want to offer any commentary; it’s one of those films with multiple interpretations. But sometimes you just want the answer. It makes me wonder if Christopher Nolan even has the answer. Did he truly plot this intricate web over the past decade or did he just throw a bunch of confusion up in the air knowing that people would read into it and maybe hit on something genius?

A must-have companion piece and apparent substitute for director's commentary

Roll out the red carpet

I’ve been getting ready all day for the Oscars, though shoveling in a gown is cumbersome.

I’ve seen nine of the 10 films nominated this year (I can’t watch a guy cut off his arm), so I’ve got lots of opinions. Like isn’t having 10 films like inviting five people to a party you don’t like? Anyway, no one’s asking me, so I will express my opinions to my TV later like a crazy woman watching her soaps.

Things I’m looking forward to: Jesse Eisenberg’s awkwardness (real or fake?), an always humble and entertaining acceptance speech by Colin Firth (see his colonoscopy-inspired BAFTA speech), Helena Bonham Carter’s wacky ensemble (will she arrive in an egg?), and Natalie Portman birthing a black swan.

I’ve decided the Social Network vs. The King’s Speech dilemma should be solved by awarding the best picture Oscar to The King’s Speech and the best director Oscar to David Fincher. It’ll never happen, but it should.

 

Siberia

The train came barreling through the snow one morning this week and for a minute, I was transported to Siberia, to the cold climes of Doctor Zhivago where men wore fur hats and women warmed their hands in muffs and where the ever-present cold sting makes you wonder, How did people live in such an inhospitable place where even a house in the countryside was glazed in a sheath of ice, glinting beautifully in the sun, but that must have felt like living in a freezer or one of those ice hotels that I will never understand.

And sure, that was a movie, but there’s Alaska and Antarctica where real people actually live—willingly—who will never know the joy of wearing a bikini or going outside without a ski mask. I can’t imagine anyone in cold climates even bothers fixing their hair.

Here, we’ve surpassed the region’s record of snowfall in January by a foot already with two more months of winter to go. Another foot just fell this week, bringing the total to more than 60 inches of snow. And there’s more to come on Wednesday (snow storms are scheduled for Wednesdays, apparently). I can’t get enough of shoveling. I love poking around the driveway with a shovel trying to find my car. I love a day that threatens to take your breath away—and freeze it in midair. My new hobbies are seeing how far I can walk without slipping on ice and wondering if the snowbanks can swallow my knee-high snow boots.

At least here, though, our houses are not ice prisons and we thaw out eventually enough to de-layer, tentatively venturing out without a scarf on that one brilliant spring day, and returning at last to our core body temperature just as November rolls around and it’s time to do it all over again.

 

Losing and winning

I think it was a considerate move by the networks to air the Golden Globes directly following the playoffs so that at the moment when you realize the Patriots’ loss is inevitable, before a funk even sets in, you can switch to the glitz of the red carpet and get swept up in the cattiness: Annette Bening’s hair looks like a porcupine! and Wait, The Tourist was nominated? The one with Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie? Seriously?

And you can almost forget that your team isn’t going to the Super Bowl, and it’s no big deal, right, because there’s Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon lookin’ fine, and so what if they came with other people; you know they would have taken you if they could have, and you would have been a charming date after taking out a loan to buy a dress; and hey, there’s Aaron Sorkin telling girls that’s it’s good to be smart, and Ricky Gervais is ripping people to shreds in a biting but truly hilarious way, and you’re glad you’re not famous because you’re not sure you’d want to hear what he’d say about you, but then it would hardly matter when you’re on the arm of Mr. Damon who’s whispering in your ear: I’ve got this locked up and you have to tell him, gently, Honey, you’re not nominated this year, and when the water works come, you wipe his tears and tell him you’ll make it up to him later when you’re alone.

Loser. Winner.

In this corner: boxing movies

In this corner: country music singer movies. I wouldn’t order the pay-per-view.

It appears there’s only one formula when it comes to making a movie about a country singer: said singer must be down and out (drugs or alcohol will do) but have one last shot at a comeback. See: Walk the Line, Crazy Heart or Country Strong. Well, don’t actually see that last one.

Strangely, boxing movies employ the same formula: down-and-out fighter is on the ropes but has One. Shot. At redemption. See: Rocky V, The Wrestler (what, are wrestling and boxing different?), The Champ, and The Fighter.

I don’t know what this means, aside from lazy movie making, but I do know that if they went at it in the ring, Stallone would take Joaquin, Gwyneth Paltrow would pummel Mickey Rourke, and Jeff Bridges vs. Mark Wahlberg is a fight I’d pay to see.

Fair fight?

End-of-the-season movies

This time of  year brings a glut of fine films released in time for Oscar consideration. Because I’m a certified movie snob, I cannot be seen at The Tourist that garnered an embarrassing 17% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, even though Johnny Depp promises to please me more than 17%. And I couldn’t possibly pay to see that predictable romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon, even though she’s cute as a button and I feel like one day she will find another Walk the Line role that’s more June Carter than ditzy blonde.

So, my friend and I went to see Black Swan. It was creepy but predictable and left me wanting to take ballet lessons. But not the en pointe kind; that’s insanity.

I watched Eat Pray Love on DVD, which was as terrible as I knew it would be, but like the book, it left me wanting to visit Italy. And India. And Bali.

Despite my aversion to the Coen brothers (yes, I realize I’m the only one who doesn’t get them), True Grit was an engrossing Western, well told, that revolves around a sassy young girl determined to avenge her father’s death—the kind of girl you want on your side who can silence foolish men with a cutting word or glance. It’s also stars some guys—Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon, and Josh Brolin—but they’re no competition for this firecracker. It left me talking like a cowboy with a hankering to don spurs and shoot a rifle.

The Extra Man and Cairo Time

The opening night of the Independent Film Festival of Boston is like a mini red carpet rolled out in Somerville, but already, the carpet has been rolled up and the festival has ended. I did catch two great films though. This year’s opener, The Extra Man, stars Kevin Kline as an eccentric gentleman who is an escort—er, companion—to older ladies, grooming the younger Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine) for the same role. Based on the novel by Jonathan Ames, the filmmaker had a lot of fantastic dialogue to mine, and Kline delivered the lines as only he can.

Kline appeared after the screening to receive an achievement award and answered questions from the crowd about his theater background and preparation for his roles. He was charming, funny, and humble—too humble to allow for a film clip compilation in his honor, which is too bad, because one of my favorite movie scenes is when his A Fish Called Wanda character opens a safe that promises to be packed with jewelry or money or something only to find it empty, and he yells in his understated way, “Dis-a-ppointed!”

Cairo Time stars Patricia Clarkson and the compelling Alexander Siddig in a restrained drama with a dose of forbidden romance as the two meander through bright, bustling Cairo. Simple story, strong acting, and a city that’s a character of its own, made for a satisfying experience.

Director Ruba Nadda was on hand for a Q & A following the screening, and while the praise was lavish, there were a couple of film flams who nitpicked about the dialects and shots of the pyramids that to one woman seemed fake, but, according to Nadda, were not. Why would you criticize a director who’s excited to see her film showing at the festival? It’s just not the venue. Not to say you can’t offer criticism, but this screening just didn’t feel like the forum. I thought it was me, but when I saw another filmgoer outside, we both said, What was that? People are crazy, moviegoers especially. And yeah, I’m one of them.

Sweetgrass

When I told my sister that I was going to see a movie about sheep, she rolled her eyes. Well, she was on the phone, but I could sense it. I have a history of recommending documentaries featuring animals that she thinks are ridiculous but that are actually quirky and moving: The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, The Story of the Weeping Camel, Winged Migration, March of the Penguins. And now Sweetgrass that I saw this weekend, which is “a graceful and often moving meditation on a disappearing way of life,” according to Manohla Dargis of The New York Times. Exactly. From a simple scene of sheep shearing to watching a flock of 3,000 woolies traipse to summer pasture, you come to adore the sheep and the cowboy way of life in the disappearing American West. It’s no Avatar, but that’s exactly why you should see it.

Then a friend pulled an Amazon, as in If you like that, you’ll love this:

Mini movie reviews

The Staircase is a riveting 6-hour documentary about a man on trial for allegedly killing his wife. Or did she fall down a staircase? Six hours feels inadequate because you’ll be sure he did it and then sure he didn’t.

The Hurt Locker is gripping, stellar movie making. I mean, no one really wants to watch a movie about the war in Iraq but I feel like the least we can do is to try to understand it from the comfort of our plush couches. The camera work is intimate and every shot is wrought with tension. Five minutes in, I thought, No one should have to do this job. 

Glengarry Glen Ross is classic David Mamet filled with more F bombs than a sailor documentary. The story is simple—salesmen grapple for leads, trying to outsell each other while conversing in that idiosynchratic Mamet speak. The film features a cast of young whippersnappers: Alec Baldwin, Jack Lemmon, Ed Wood, Kevin Spacey, and Al Pacino, all performances worth watching in this testosterone-filled flick.

A Town Called Panic is a charming stop-motion French film that played in a screening room so small I thought I was in somebody’s living room, though it should be playing in wide release. Its quirky plastic toy characters, Cowboy, Indian, and Horse, get into all kinds of trouble and are entertaining to watch in simple scenes like Horse takes a bath. Click on the poster for a preview.

Mini movie reviews

Crazy Heart: Despite the fact that I’ll never understand the appeal of The Big Lebowski, I found Jeff Bridges to be a charming alcoholic in Crazy Heart, a movie I liked more than I expected. Jeff Bridges, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Colin Farrell all gave excellent performances, but Robert Duvall made me want to revisit every movie he’s made. Plus, we saw it in this charming old movie house in Hingham where you can afford to buy a ticket and popcorn.

Bright Star: I’m halfway through this Jane Campion film and need advice from someone who’s seen it. Should I watch the second half? I was drawn to the romance between Keats (the poet) and his love interest, but so far there are no sparks. I suppose things pick up, but right now, no one seems passionate about the poetry or each other.

I Like Killing Flies: an unusual documentary about Shopsin’s, an old restaurant in Greenwich Village churning out an outstanding variety of comfort food. The footage, however, lingers a bit too long on the grimy counters and unrelenting flies, so you’d never actually want to eat there, but the guy who runs the place is a riot, setting up arbitrary rules like, We don’t serve parties of five. You gotta love that.

Mini movie reviews

Revolutionary Road: not revolutionary, but disturbing in that American Beauty kind of way (same director) starring the same Titanic duo of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, except without the ocean liner. Oddly though, there was a steamy love scene with a hand pressed to a foggy window that recalled that scene in Titanic. Unintentional homage? Who knows, but, I liked it enough.

Please Vote for Me: an unusual one-hour documentary on the first Democratic election in China—for the position of class monitor in a third grade classroom. Let me tell you, third graders are cut-throat little suckers. The movie is an interesting reflection on democracy, life in China, and how kids are mean wherever you go.

The Road: it’s as bleak and dark as an end-of-the-world movie should be; and if the world has to end, I would like Viggo guiding me toward salvation. Or toward the grim road where the few surviving people in the world are out to get you—and eat you. Though in an ideal after-world, he would be clean-shaven and scrubbed clean.

An Education: a must- must- must-see. Carey Mulligan is delightful, and Peter Sarsgaard is more than delightful even when he’s not delightful. A charming movie with a message that as a woman, makes you go: right on, sister. Right on.

Four mini movie reviews

Up in the Air is not what you’re expecting. Well, if you’re expecting George Clooney to play George Clooney, then it’s partly what you’re expecting. And while he gets a lot of criticism for playing himself, I think there’s nothing wrong with watching a little pure George Clooney now and again without him being all Syriana-serious. I enjoyed the movie, though not quite as much as the critics who are falling off their movie seats praising the work (it just got a Golden Globe nomination). Up in the Air is a solid slice-of-life film about a guy with an interesting role in the wave of layoffs, with a twist that comes in the form of Vera Farmiga—one of those actresses you never really recognize but fall in love with for her skill. I’m not sure this is a movie I’d want to see if I were laid off, especially around Christmas, but then that would mean a whole lot of people skipping this movie, which seems unlikely when you consider The Clooney Factor.

Now for some recent DVD releases: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is intricate, suspenseful, and well acted by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney (Daddy Warbucks!) and Marisa Tomei. The story—a heist gone wrong—unfolds in a back-and-forth sort of way and is a meaty two hours.

Paper Heart is an indefinable hybrid of feature film and documentary. I stay away from books like this (is it fiction or memoir? Decide please) but this was entertaining nonetheless. Charlene Yi and Michael Cera are charming. Whether or not they are Charlene Yi and Michael Cera or characters playing Charlene Yi and Michael Cera, I have no idea, but the idea is clever and the scenes done with paper cutouts are homemade craft genius.

Frontrunners is the more obscure of the bunch. The documentary was released last year and profiles four student candidates running for council office at the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in NYC where the rhetoric is Obamaesque and the drama is reminiscent of Bush vs. Gore. You almost wish you could vote.

Movies that should just come out already

I’ve been anticipating three movies for eons now. All three are based on books: Where the Wild Things Are, an adaptation of the Maurice Sendak classic, which opens in October ; Disgrace based on the unsunshiney J.M. Coetzee novel, which, according to imdb, opened last year but that has yet to grace a theater (I did, however see a bill posted for this while in NYC this week) and which, frankly, should just come out already as my reward for getting through that book; and The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy’s stellar downer, that was suppose to open last Christmas but that producers must think is too damn depressing for recession-era fare. It’s supposed to open in October too. Sure. I suppose, in retrospect though, none of those screams summer fare.

Summer lovin’ movies

Is it me or does every movie lately star Michael Cera or some other awkward cutie that teens—and maybe a few of us non-teens—love to watch struggling through high school or navigating first love? So, yeah, I kind of want to see Paper Hearts, a sweet-looking movie about a girl who doesn’t believe in love and the boy (Cera) who likes her. And then I saw the ad blitz for (500) Days of Summer, which, lo and behold, is also a movie about a girl who doesn’t believe in love and the boy (the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun) who likes her. Hello drive-in double feature.