Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Screwball Spotlight | Edward Everett Horton is Not a Shoeshine.

If Edward Everett Horton has had to find work as a shoeshine, then maybe we were wrong to mock Starbucks today, maybe it is time that we "Come Together" - for the love of Edward, people!

For.  The.  Love.  Of.  Edward.

If you're not familiar with Edward Everett Horton, here's a little refresher:

On-screen, he was a supporting actor in a number of Astaire/Rogers films (THE GAY DIVORCEE, TOP HAT, SHALL WE DANCE), he was in a few Lubitsch films (TROUBLE IN PARADISE, BLUEBEARD'S EIGHTH WIFE), and he featured prominently in one of my all time favorite films - HOLIDAY.

Off-screen, he has a street named after him.  He owned an estate called Belly Acres, and in the late 1930s F. Scott Fitzgerald lived there as Edward's guest.

That's enough for me, but here's a few other things some folks find impressive about Edward:  He narrated Fractured Fairy Tales, he inspired much of C-3PO's personality, and he was called out by name in a Yosemite Sam rant.

Now that I think of it, if things have gone this far - if the man behind all of that has become a common shoeshine - well, then, we're likely beyond the point where any kind of caffeine fueled togetherness has a chance at making a tangible impact on our collective future.

Gawd have mercy on our souls.

(So great).

Read more about Edward Everett Horton:

Edward Everett Horton's Encino Ranch Estate and the 101 Freeway; How A Celebrity Lost His Ranch to Suburbanization (San Fernando Valley Blog, April 4, 2012)

Horton's House Grew With Film Career (Los Angeles Times, April 12,1997)

Edward Everett Horton Biography via The New York Times

Edward Everett Horton via Rotten Tomatoes

Thursday, December 13, 2012


For this DIY Double Feature, first watch HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, then SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.  It won't work if you try to watch the other way around, because there won't be home or holidays after the end of the world.  Duh.

Each of these movies is about moments - the moment here, the moment there, a big moment, a little moment, the possibly inevitable moment, a holy-cats-I-never-thought-this-moment-could-happen moment.  Each is also about how to identify the moments as they happen, how to see them for what they are, and how to cultivate them.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS ends with a sort of first date between Claudia (Holly Hunter) and Leo (Dylan McDermott).  They're sitting on a plane and planning to "just sit, quietly, and think..." and when the plane lands, maybe they'll just go their separate ways.  Or maybe not.  Either way, at least if their world ends abruptly, they'll have had that time, those moments.  And those moments ahead are important and significant - not for where they'll lead, not as a stepping stone to a standard movie "happily ever after" but simply because they happened.

What's the point?

Well, there is no point.  Except, y'know, if we get 
hit by a bus some day, at least we'll know we had those 
two hours together.  And we won't have to wonder...
And no one will be the wiser.

Except us.  

While over in SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, Dodge Petersen (Steve Carell) and Penny Lockhart (Kiera Knightley) are facing a real, imminent, abrupt end.  And while the world is beginning to be destroyed around them, they discover that Claudia and Leo were right - the important thing is that they had the time that they did.

I wish I'd met you a long time 
ago.  When we were kids.

It couldn't have happened any other way, 
it had to happen now.

But it isn't enough time.

It never would have been.

I thought somehow we'd save each other.

We did.

And that's what I get from these two movies, a little reminder that the magical, glimmering moments of life are extremely rare, will always end before I'm ready, and will always occur amidst a whole lot of other really-not-great stuff.  

Which is why I never try to wait out a rain storm here in Portland, OR.  It doesn't work, the rain always gets me, one way or another, without fail.  And, if I did sit inside, what I'd actually risk missing is one of those rare moments, sometimes just a fraction of a moment, when the clouds break and it feels like the sun is shining only on me, and only for me.  As if it had been waiting for me all along.  

Of course, as soon as it happens, it's already over - the Earth has already begun to spin away, and new clouds are forming.  But that's okay.  Actually, that's more than okay.  That is what makes each and every moment, even the rain soaked ones, so truly valuable.

Released: 1995
Writer:  Chris Radant (story), W.D. Richter (screenplay)
Director:  Jodie Foster
Leads: Holly Hunter, Dylan McDermott, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning
Plot summary and reviews of HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS @ Rotten Tomatoes.


Released:  2012
Writer:  Lorene Scafaria
Director:  Lorene Scafaria
Leads:  Steve Carell, Kiera Knightley
Plot summary and reviews of SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD @ Rotten Tomatoes.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT | 1945 | May Every Day Be Like Christmas, and May No Movie Be Worse Than This One.

There's nothing screwball about CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT.  With a few tweaks, it could have been, but as-is, it's just not.  Instead it's a pretty decent holiday movie - easy on the schmaltz.  It's also pure, straight-ahead rom-com.  Not top-shelf rom-com, but solid and respectable.  Very Nancy Meyers.

That sounds like a slam, but it's not meant to be.  Because, actually, viewing CIC solely on its rom-com chops, I'd say that no rom-com should ever be worse than this one.  They frequently are, but there's no reason for it.  If you look really closely, CIC has got some weak spots - the set-up is a bit clunky and the way the ending pulls together isn't super-strong - but despite that, it manages to be entertaining each step of the way.

Which is huge.

But it shouldn't be.  Movies, as entertainment, should be entertaining - at least.  And yet, so many just aren't.  Especially rom-coms.

If I ran the world I'd set up a sort of Olympic trial for rom-coms, and CIC would be the score to beat in order to be allowed into competition.*  That way, a whole mess of movies just wouldn't be made, and those budgets would be funneled into better movies, or job-training for displaced starlets...  or a cure for Alzheimer's.  I dunno, I'll work out the details later.  But my eye would on achieving more consistent quality.  I know it's possible.

Then, maybe this genre wouldn't be quite so maligned.  Or, at the very least it'd be easier to defend.

Until I can get all of that going, watch this film and then accept nothing less from your other entertainments.

Happy Holidays!

*If I actually do end up running the world, this rom-com-thing wouldn't get tackled in the first hundred days or anything, but definitely within the first 500.  For sure.

Released:  1945
Writer:  Lionel Houser, Adele Comandini, Aileen Hamilton (story)
Director:  Peter Godfrey
Leads:  Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, S. Z. Sakall
Genre:  Rom-Com
Plot summary and reviews of CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT @ Rotten Tomatoes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Screwball Spotlight | Laura Dern (and me) on Barbara Stanwyck

Below is a lovely little thing about Barbara Stanwyck by Laura Dern (via Turner Classic Movies).

I wasn't always a fan of Barbara, but writing this blog has made me one.  It's not like I disliked her.  I liked her okay.  I mean, who doesn't love DOUBLE INDEMNITY?  But it's the movie I'll be writing about in my next post that made me a fan - CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT.

Actually, now that I think of it, that's the one that both started and finished the job.  After I watched it, I watched BALL OF FIRE (again), and then THE LADY EVE (again), and then MEET JOHN DOE (again x3) - one right after the other.  And then I made my way back to CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT.  And then...  before the movie was finished, it was all over, I was a fan.

I'll write about all of those films, eventually.  But a post about the holiday film will be up sooner than later.


Yes, I promise all zero of you.

Until then, here's this:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mind your own business. Oh, and Happy Holidays, f***er.

Today, after a long, lazy lunch with a friend, I walked to the grocery store.

On my way, at each corner, I stopped, looked both ways, stepped into the parking lane, and then waited for either the traffic to clear or the signal to change so I could cross.  I do this a lot, if it isn't a corner where a pedestrian might get picked off.  Because I'm a jay-walker.  Always have been, and always will be.  I don't think I could stop, not even if I tried.

Anyway, while standing in the parking lane at one particular intersection, I saw that the car about to enter the intersection had nearly stopped, and so I checked the light to see if it had changed, but it hadn't.  Then I realized that the driver might have thought I was going to continue walking.  Even though I was looking at the car and not really moving very fast.  I figured that since it was Black Friday, that the driver was someone that doesn't get downtown much, someone being extra cautious of foot traffic.

Then, after a few more cars passed, a truck slowed down as it passed me and the driver rolled down his window to say, "Maybe you shouldn't try crossing against the light."

I looked him in the eye and said, "Maybe you should mind your own business." And then I gave him the finger.  And then, as he slipped out of earshot, I underlined the hand gesture with something like, "Happy Holidays, F***er."

Apparently crows-feet and laugh lines can erase the petulant teenager from my face, but nothing will remove her from my mouth.

I seriously don't know where the that came from.  I do know that this is the kind of thing that leads me to sequester myself from people as much as possible.  I do stuff like that.  I like to think everyone does.  But somehow I can forgive the humanity of everyone else much more easily than I can my own.

The poor guy said what he said with gentle concern, and he seemed like he was trying to be helpful.  For all I know, they guy could have been an angel, sent down to give me a little nudge so that I'll be a bit more vigilant and avoid a fatal accident in the next 48 hours.  And what do I do?  I flip him off.

The hand of God could have been reaching out to me, and I spit in his palm.

And that's my only consolation in this whole thing.  The guy in the truck wasn't an angel.  Even if they exist (they don't), there'd be no reason to send someone down to keep me safe.  I'm not that significant.  That's not poor self-esteem, it's just a fact.  I mean, I'm pretty sure I won't be on my way to kill Hitler on Sunday.

Regardless, I want to say:  Happy Holidays, Truck Guy, wherever you are.  I mean it this time.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pros and Cons of Letting Go

There's this woman I know.  I don't come in contact with her much.  More and more, I hear less and less from her.  And when she's out of sight, she's totally out of mind, and yet, whenever we cross paths, she always dings me with some vicious back-handed compliment.  She's a master at the form.  If you overheard her at a party, or read her words as a comment on Twitter or Facebook, you wouldn't give it a second glance.  But you would feel a sudden draft, the chill that tells you that Evil is nearby.

No, not really.  She's not evil.  Really not.  She's a super-capable work-horse kind of a person.  Team-player, community-minded, responsible, and practical.  And it seems as though she's been that way from birth.  And, she's got a beef with me.  My very existence seems to offend her.

I hadn't heard from her in years, and as I was sitting and trying to come up with a post for this week, up she popped with a new message.  It's funny, I see what she's doing, and yet it doesn't register with me on an emotional level.  With her, for some reason, I don't care.  I just take whatever she says at face value, as though all she's serving up is deep-dish positivity, and I respond with nothing but smiles and good humor.

I don't wonder why she does it.  I don't wrack my brain to figure out what crime - small or large, real or imagined - she thinks I did to her.  I don't think up ways to fix it.  The only thing notable about the whole thing is how effortlessly I forget her.  (Except when I'm desperate for something to blog about).

Once upon a time, I wished it were so easy with everyone.  I used to think it would be a certain kind of freedom to not care what people thought.  But now, without much effort, I care less and less, and it's a bit terrifying.  Not in this situation, with this woman, there's nothing scary there.  It's more the larger implications for me and how I will engage with the world.  In the end, caring less about how others see me crept up on me kind of naturally, and so I don't know where it will stop.

It seems a slippery slope.  If I let the opinion of one personally unhappy bitch roll off my back, does that put me on an express route to become like my undergrad screenwriting professor who would spend our weekly meetings talking at me non-stop, while shoveling salad into her mouth, allowing the dressing to dribble down the front of her clearly slept-in sweatsuit?

Time will tell.  For now, I will enjoy not fretting over how others perceive my status, likability, intentions, and sundry traits in the same way one effortlessly exalts over absence of snot after a long and persistent head-cold.  And I will set-up a little face-time with Vanity, maybe Pride too, applaud them on their low-profile, but confirm they're on the job by way of keeping me presentable.  Salad-dressing free, at least.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sexy Corn, Sylvia Plath and a Hastily Written Halloween Promise

This last weekend I cobbled together the same costume I've pulled together many times since 1991, the one that says, "Dear Costume Party Host, please be as gracious as I know you can be, and simply note that I put forth the effort to wear any costume at all, and then let's get on with the evening."

The worst part of the costume is not that I return to it over and over.  And over.  It's that it's wrong.

It's a Sylvia Plath costume.  I go as Sylvia Plath.  I dress like a generic Beat, and then I string a noose around my neck, and then I cover my neck, eye sockets and lips in a blueish, purplish, greenish bruised-up yet drained-of-blood melange.

It's wrong because the "Beat" I use for inspiration is actually Audrey Hepburn in FUNNY FACE.  Maybe that's more sad than wrong.  But it's still wrong.  The costume is also wrong because Sylvia didn't kill herself that way.  In my defense, I usually spend much of the evening explaining what's wrong with the costume.

Because that's a good time for everyone.

But let's put a pin in my social ineptitude, and set it aside.  The real issue is, what message am I sending into the world with this half-assed costume?  That I'm ill-informed?  That I think the people I chum around with are poorly educated dolts?  That cutting a corner or two won't really matter?

Oh, it matters.  It matters deep in my tell-tale heart.  As each new set of eyes takes in the costume, the beating grows louder, louder!  It also matters because, "my playing small doesn't serve the world."  (No, that's not Sylvia Plath, it's Marianne Williamson).

It took until this year, but now I see that this is bigger than me and the way I think a party of drunk people in their own shoddy get-ups are evaluating my intelligence based on my slapdash costume.  Much bigger.  My inaccurate Plath Suicide Costume is like that butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo or wherever, causing a Frankenstorm on the other side of the ocean.  But this storm is one where people think an acceptable Halloween costume is a sexy hamburger, or a sexy ear of corn.  My willingness to let details slide helps to create a general atmosphere of lameness, costume-wise.

I can't have that kind of horror on my conscience, and so I'm going to start doing my part, thinking globally and acting locally.  With that, I promise you, my dear, non-existent readership that I will craft a period accurate gas-oven headpiece in time for next Halloween.  If time does not allow for oven-making, I will cover an overcoat with some toy fish, kelp and what not, fill its pockets with rocks, wear it with some blue stockings, and go as a pretty respectable Virginia Woolf.

You see what happens when you take pride in your work!  I created one good plan, and a solid back-up came along for the ride!  You put top-notch out, get top-notch back.

This little light of mine?  I'm going to let it shine.  Next year, I will stand tall and proud in the historically accurate suicide costume of my choice!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween Repost | ARSENIC AND OLD LACE | 1944 | Spooky Screwball

Halloween. I don't know enough about its history to compare the origins to how we currently observe it, and then explore how the differences reflect how we're evolving as a people.

And you can thank goodness for that.  I know I do.

However, based on what I do know, both then and now Halloween seems to have a strong component of wish fulfillment. Way back when it was about hoping that if you celebrated the dead, perhaps the creeps wouldn't jump you or your livestock during the long, dark, vulnerable winter nights. Now it seems to be about hoping that if you get drunk enough to believe you're making the sexy nurse costume work, then everyone else will too.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE is delightful, suspenseful, takes place on Halloween, and dramatizes one of my greatest wishes: To be sat down and told I'm not related to my family.

That sounds mean, but it's not.  Despite my best efforts, I assure you they have the same wish.

Mortimer (Cary Grant) is a famous New York theater critic who wrote a book called "Marriage: A Fraud and a Failure," and sneers at every display of love." (In other words, me as a teenager and young adult).

When we meet him, Mortimer is in line at the Marriage License Bureau preparing to marry Elaine, the girl next door (literally). After, the newlyweds head back to Brooklyn so he can tell his Aunt Abby and Aunt Martha, and she can tell her minister father, before they head off to Niagara Falls for a honeymoon.

While at his Aunt's home, Mortimer discovers a dead man hidden in the window seat. At first he figures his Uncle Teddy, who believes he's Theodore Roosevelt, has progressed to murder. But Teddy's sisters quickly clarify that they poisoned Mr. Hoskins (the man in the window seat), and that Teddy had nothing to do with it.

Well, except that as part of his delusion, he digs locks for the Panama Canal in the basement (which Abby and Martha then use to bury their victims). Mortimer now feels like he needs to take care of his family by ensuring the murdering stops and that no one ever finds out, not even his new wife, sitting next door, waiting to go on their honeymoon.

His efforts are complicated when his brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) returns home with a plastic surgeon named Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre). The two have a dozen murders in their rear-view mirror, a fresh kill in their car (a "hot stiff on their hands" as Dr. Einstein calls it), and have recently escaped a prison for the "criminally insane". Their immediate plan is to hide-out at the aunts house, and while they're there, have the alcoholic doctor give Jonathan a new face so he can't be identified and hauled back to the big house.

If it were summer, I'd explain why this isn't a screwball comedy, however, because it's October...

The way this study is shaping up, it seems the primary indices of screwball are: something to do with marriage (getting engaged, married, or divorced), some kind of class conflict, adults struggling with what society expects from grown-ups (comic anti-heroes and general dissatisfaction with status-quo), a primarily cosmopolitan setting (though often the adventure of the story occurs in the country), a mixture of high and low comedy, and alcohol.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE doesn't handle all of these traits in the ways most Classic Screwballs do. Most notable is that the alcohol isn't cocktails in a nightclub, a posh hotel room, or on a butler's tray - it's in a glass carafe on a sturdy wood table in a quaint Brooklyn house. And it's poison (not in a "choose your poison" way, but actual poison).

ARSENIC also includes pratfalls and other standard screwball physical comedy, like tension from characters lingering a bit too long in certain rooms then walking out just in time to be found out (or not). And there's a lot of the smart, sharp and witty dialog that defines screwball for a lot of folks. But there's also some more conceptual comedy about sanity, like when Teddy's thinks he might be coming down with a cold until his sister informs him that he didn't sneeze, he just heard a sneeze.

Class and setting are mixed together in that Mortimer's rabbit hole is the trip from Manhattan to Brooklyn. He goes from famous Manhattan theater critic without a shred of domesticity, to crossing the river and finding himself dealing with serial killers, basement graves, escape convicts, a cop aspiring to be a playwright, and more, yet he's unable to walk away because it's his family. So class is not simply rich vs. poor, but sane vs. insane, evil vs. innocent, criminal vs. lawful, nature vs. nurture, culture vs. domesticity, independence vs. interdependence, and cosmopolitan city vs. provincial borough.

Over the course of the film, Mortimer transforms from selfish, immature and romantically petulant, into a selfless family man. Though his family is nuts, he risks his reputation to protect them. And, once he's aware precisely how seriously crazy his family is, he attempts to cut Elaine loose to shield her from the insanity. It's a dramatic change, but it's so seamless that it goes down easy and is totally believable.

And then, and only then - warning, nearly 70 year old spoiler alert ahead! - Mortimer learns he is not actually related to his aunts, his uncle or his brother, and so he can be with Elaine. And after the events of the evening, he now knows what that really means, and it's not anything to do with all the trite cliches that had previously turned him off marriage and the like.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE covers all of the Screwball Comedy bases (at least my working definition), plus it is every bit as strong as the films on my Classic Screwball list, so I'm calling it Screwball.

It's my blog, I can do that.

Happy Halloween!
(originally posted October 2011, lazily reposted October 2012)

Released: 1944 (filmed in 1941)
Writer: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein (based on play by Joseph Kesselring)
Director: Frank Capra
Producer: Frank Capra, Jack L. Warner
Leads: Cary Grant, Josephine Hull, Jean Adair, Peter Lorre, John Alexander, Raymond Massey, Priscilla Lane
Genre: Black Comedy, Screwball Comedy

Monday, October 22, 2012

An SFO Delay, a Tampon, and Embracing Damage

Right.  Well, I didn't post last week because I was travelling and preparing for a new job.  And, I don't know if you know this, but it's simply impossible to find power outlets and Wi-Fi when you're on the road.

Of course it's fucking possible.  I'm not a dumbass.  I have no excuse.  Except that I was busy enjoying myself.  So much so that I completely forgot about documenting it until I was stuck at SFO for hours on end.

While waiting on a delayed flight, I started composing some chirpy little post about Hotel Del, SOME LIKE IT HOT, Regis Philbin, and ghosts, but I couldn't finish it because all I could think was:  Who the fuck cares?!?

Over, and over, and over, and over.  
And over.  

I'm not fishing.  That's not a pity party.  A simple statement of fact.  

I know, I know, if I care enough so will others.
Build it and they will come.

It sounds nice, I just don't know that it's actually, y'know, true.

So, still stuck at the airport, I thought perhaps I could use that blockage as a window.  Then I considered writing about the tension between being social and being social-media social.  

Then I nearly nodded off just thinking about it.

But, why not just drop all the social media and focus on the life living?  I've done it before.  And it was good.  And yet I always return to the updates, the tweets and the bloggy musings.

At that moment in the airport, that moment of blogistential crisis, I saw senior citizens traveling en masse with some young(er) guides corralling them from gate to gate, assisting them in the restroom, etc.  One guy stood out, and he was easy to track through the crowd because he was wearing a light colored, perfectly classic and fantastically broken-in fishing hat.  He had an age appropriate mate/date at his side, and they were chattering away happily.  He also had a tampon up his nose with the string taped to his cheek with medical tape.  My first thought:  What First Aid kit has a tampon and medical tape, but not plain gauze and/or scissors?  My second, and prevailing, thought:  That is pretty much the best any of us could hope to achieve.

The guy was able bodied and moving about with speed and ease, had funds to travel, the ability to pay bright and attractive tour guides to ensure his welfare, a lovely lady by his side, and he really didn't seem to give a fuck that he had a tampon up his nose.

Health, wealth, love (or something like it), and a healthy lack of self-consciousness.

Not bad.  Not bad at all.

Like snowflakes, we are not unique creations.  I've heard it said that there is a limited number of types of people in the world, and I'm beginning to suspect that it's true.  Is that a misquote of a lyric?  It sounds familiar.  Well, if it is, it just helps prove the point.  It's all been done.  It's all been said.  All of humanity is largely hiccuping along on a cycle of lather, rinse, repeat.  It's a delusion to think that each of us is something importantly unique simply because we exist.  However, we are very much like snowflakes in a different way, in that we become unique through our damage.  

Unfortunately, so much of social media isn't about the damage.  Not that anyone really wants to read status updates vomiting misery willy-nilly, tweets denying there's a bright-side to life, or blogs ignoring that joy is indeed possible.  It's just that, very often, our beauty lies within our fucked-up-ness, and yet we treat it like it's something to walk off.  Or maybe that's just me.

One thing I do know:
When possible, include Jack Lemmon.
Broken-in fishing hat is optional.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Glee Kids Sing Celebrity Skin | Tweet Overflow

This is less a blog post, and more just Tweet Overflow.  I tried to cram it into 140 characters, but failed.  

No, that's not true.  I did it, but it wasn't satisfying.  It turns out I really want to elaborate on this subject.  

It's funny to discover the things you really care about, to discover you're far more shallow than you were previously aware and/or willing to admit.

So, this was the tweet:

And that made me think another thing:

a.  That Grunge-y/Gen X-thing, the anger and what not, it's not so easily done, is it?

Even Celebrity Skin, a ripple in the pond far from where the first rock of grunge landed, is really pretty effortlessly detached, self-aware, ironic, and... angry.  Y'know, the hallmarks of grunge.

Something lost on the Glee kids (and the people directing the Glee kids), with their button noses all crinkled up like snarling puppies.

So, I guess it really was a thing.  That grunge thing.  I lived in Olympia, WA in the early 90s.  At the time, all the Grunge-y anger was exhausting to me.  It all felt so insincere.  I was into some of the music - including Hole - but so much of it, especially the accompanying attitude/lifestyle seemed like a prefab sham.  But now I see, at some point, some of it really was a thing.

Or maybe it just seems that way compared to the Glee kids' interpretation.

It doesn't matter much.  Some of the music was a thing for me.  And that's the only thing that matters.

In my last post I said that some posts will be better than others, I think this is one of the others.  Better luck next week!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

THE SMILING LIEUTENANT | 1931 | Challenging to Spell, Challenging to Watch, but Mostly Worth the Effort

I'm a pretty good with the spelling, but the word lieutenant always catches me up.  It doesn't help that the Brits pronounce it leftenant.  It's challenging.  For me.  (Thank goodness the main character of this film isn't named St. John).

THE SMILING LIEUTENANT is also challenging.  Patience-wise, I'm pretty hard-core when it comes to old films, but I barely made it through the opening scene where Chevalier sings directly to the camera.  He's super winky and smirky, and the material isn't that funny.  It never is when you're that sure of it.  Or rather, it reveals how unsure the material is when a performance is pushed to be so...  big.

(Yeah, that's right, the schlump who can't even update her blog regularly is questioning Lubitsch's material.  The material is likely strong, and, empirically, Chevalier is talented, but this opener - it's a hurdle).

The folks over at Turner Classic Movies claim this is "as exemplary as an Ernst Lubitsch opening can be."  I see their point, it is efficient and witty storytelling - the bit with the hallway light tells us at least two scenes worth of information.  Outside of that, I'm not convinced this is even in the Top Five Lubitsch Openers.  But I'll start paying attention now, and start my own ranking.

After the opener, things don't improve too much.  For most of the first act, the actors appear to be close to busting out laughing, incredulous that they're being asked to play any given scene straight. All of that said, in the end the story is charming and the film is worthwhile.

What happens is this:  Manwhore/Soldier Lt. Niki (Chevalier) becomes a one gal guy when he falls for Franzi (Colbert). But, while formally greeting visiting royalty, Niki gives Franzi a wink that gets intercepted by the visiting Princess (Hopkins).  Initially Princess Anna is insulted, but then she falls for Niki.

The soldier is then forced to choose between severe punishment for insulting the Princess, or marriage to...  the princess.  He marries the Princess.  But he also continues to carry on with Franzi.

After some time, Franzi is summoned to the palace, and she shows up because she thinks Niki has invited her.  Instead she is greeted by Princess Anna.  First they fight.  Then they cry.  Then Franzi recognizes that the girl loves Niki, and so she falls on her sword and helps pure, wholesome, clueless Anna out by giving her a sort of make-over.  The princess catches on quickly (see clip below).


(LOVE Miriam Hopkins!)

Niki returns home to hear the palace piano getting a workout.  He cracks open the door to see Anna hammering away at a lively, jazzy number, her hair cut shorter and moving freely, a cigarette hanging from her mouth, her posture no longer prim and reserved.

The next, and final, bit could have been as annoying as the opener, but somehow this one works - Niki runs upstairs and checks his liquor bottle, seeing that he's not likely drunk, he runs back downstairs and sees that Anna is still transformed,  he then runs back upstairs for a belt o' liquor before he returns to her.

 Yeah, I could get down on the fact that learning a new song or two and changing your clothes won't mean a thing for the long-haul of marriage, but I'm not sure this transformation was as superficial as it appears.  (See above re: Lubitsch's efficient visual storytelling, i.e. what happened means more than what happened).  Princess Anna had been sheltered by palace life, but she absorbed the education that Franzi offered so fully that - the kid's gonna be ok. 

Probably more than ok.  I suspect she'll be giving Niki the boot sooner than later.  After all, instead of taking the time to see if he could open Anna's world, he pouted and threw tantrums until his ex-girlfriend did all the work...

Released: 1931
Director: Ernst Lubitsch (Best Picture Nomination)
Leads:  Claudette Colbert, Miriam Hopkins, Maurice Chevalier
Writer:  Hans Muller-Einigen (novel), Leopold Jacobson and Felix Dormann (operetta), Samson Raphaelson, Ernest Vajda and Ernst Lubitsch (screenplay)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Plot Summary and reviews of The Smiling Lieutenant @ Rotten Tomatoes

Sunday, September 30, 2012

DIY Double Feature: KLOWN & THE TRIP | Nothing to Write Home About

Watch KLOWN and THE TRIP, you pick the order - Viewer's Choice!  Each film developed out of a television show, and each focuses on two grown men travelling together.  After, you'll likely be as amused as you are depressed.  Yet hopefully you'll also feel better equipped to engage with the world, because, when viewing the wider spectrum of humanity, maybe you're not so messed up.  Maybe.

Or maybe you are.  And maybe that's ok.

And maybe, that's all there is.  A whole lot of struggle and mess, and no one really knows what to do. and so you best find some way to laugh at it, and yourself, because while you're here, you have to actually be here, you have to show up.  Imperfect and clueless as you might be.  And...  Ugh.

You want to know what's really going on here?  Before I made the decision to post every week, I thought I should come up with a backlog, some fodder for when I didn't really have anything to write about.  But I told myself that was a lame rationalization, an obstacle to productivity, an excuse to keep me from starting.  The perfect getting in the way of the good.  Or whatever that saying is.  Anyway, I figured if I just plowed forward and made a commitment to always have something, I would.  Some posts would be better than others, but there would always be something.

But this week, I got nothin'


This blog post is the equivalent of those days when you wake up late and by cutting corners with your wardrobe, hygiene and breakfast, you still make it to work on time.  You're rough around the edges, bleary eyed, and a bit disheveled, but you're there.

Until next week...

Sunday, September 23, 2012

On being an Autumn, Stand-Up Comedy, and Not Having a Soul

A few weeks ago I went to see Maria Bamford with a friend and some lovely former co-workers.  Sitting at the awkward comedy club table waiting for the show to start, someone asked if anyone knew who was opening.

I said, "I bet it's Conan O'Brien.  A few nights ago, I had a dream I was married to him, maybe it was a premonition."

I knew it wouldn't be Conan opening for Maria Bamford in Portland, OR.  I just say stuff sometimes.  A lot of the time.  Mostly when I'm bored.

I guess the Conan Dream had been weighing on me, on some level.  Until that moment, I had completely forgotten about it, but when I brought it up, I remembered how it had been so vivid, and felt so real, that when I first awoke, my actual waking life felt like the fake.

In the dream, Conan & I were in LA, had just returned from some kind of tropical honeymoon, and we both still smelled of industrial strength sunblock.  The dream was all amped up and happy, that surreal bliss that sometimes happens in real life, and usually lasts about as long as a dream.

But it was weird too.

Weird because between the two, I would have seen myself as more of an Andy Richter kind of a gal.  I guess my subconscious thinks otherwise.  It was also weird because it wasn't Steve Martin.  Since, like, pretty much my entire life, I've had a recurring dream about Steve Martin.  I feel like it started as far back as THE JERK, but it was definitely with me by the ROXANNE / PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES era.  Either way, we're talking about a dream I've had least a few times a month for more than 20 years.  It goes like this:  Steve and I are sitting 3rd row center of a movie theater, and we're watching a movie.  In real time.  Sometimes my feet are up on the seat in front of me, sometimes they are not.

I know it's a trick of my brain, but it seriously feels like the dream lasts the length of a feature.  We never enter the theater or leave the theater, we're just there.

But that isn't where conversation went on the night we were waiting for Maria Bamford.  No, the thing that the table, as a group, decided to jump on is that Conan and I could have a lovely litter of ginger children.  And how we'd be saving redheads from extinction.

This was news to me, that I was part of a dying breed.  Or maybe I did know.  On some level.  That would explain why my subconscious threw me a Conan dream - it was the product of a deep, primal, instinctual desire to continue the species.

Listening to this tableful of folks talk about redhead myths and theories reminded me of how a few weeks earlier, I was visiting a friend and her boyfriend asked me what it was like to not have a soul.  He explained that redheads don't have souls.  Or maybe it was just the gingers.  He seemed quite clear on the distinctions between the two.  It was all new to me.  Apparently, the guy had dated nothing but redheads (prior to being with my blonde friend), and he'd given the hair color more thought than I ever had.  Which is weird.  Because I'm a fairly self-involved.  And also quick to self-identify as redhead.

I am an autumn, that much is not up for debate, but my hair color is apparently open to interpretation.  Technically, it's strawberry-blonde.  But sometimes that takes too long to say, or seems very precious (a little too close to Strawberry Shortcake), and so I just go with red - the all-purpose, stand-by.  Or sometimes orange (that's what my grade-school classmates called it back in the day, not lovingly, but also not inaccurately).  Plus, I always figured that if it could be seen as orange, then my hair was light enough to also qualify for the ginger subset.  At least, ginger-adjacent.  But, it turns out, some folks see ginger as one thing, redhead as another, and neither as human.

I was tempted to do some research, to learn some more about the prejudices that might be impacting my life, but I decided that I don't really care.  I must have known it, on some level, all along.  I mean, my one and only recurring dream takes place indoors, in the dark, with someone who also has hair melanin issues.

No, I can't do that.  I'm not going to force an explanation for my recurring dream just so I can string everything together into a heartwarming, gently profound, reasonably graceful conclusion.  Because that's not really why Steve is there.  If it were, I imagine I'd be watching movies with Danny Kaye, another funny man dear to my heart, but also a ginger.  But that's not who I dream about.  Not that I would mind spending time with Danny, but I love that it's Steve.  Just me and Steve.  And nothing to do with hair color.


Which is a bit of a problem.  Not in life, but for this post.  I really wish I could wrap up this post and "bring it all home" in a proper way, but because I'm pretty sure my recurring dream has nothing to do with hair color, and it definitely has nothing to do with Conan, and probably nothing to do with Maria Bamford, then this post is just a bunch of random stuff I wrote down.

The only thing I can say for sure is this:  Some people dream dreams that are the foundations of transcendant works of art, of significant spiritual and/or religious motifs, of traveling through space and time, of billowing sheets gently obscuring and revealing surreal scenes amalgamated from their youth...  I dream of hanging out with comedians.  In real time.

Probably because I don't have a soul.

"Defects?  What kind of defects?"
"Anything from spina bifida to red hair."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

THE AMAZING ADVENTURE aka The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss | 1936

THE AMAZING ADVENTURE isn't actually Screwball, but it's in the family.  Or near the family.  It'd be invited to the reunion, but might need a name tag.

Or maybe it's more like the cousin to a Great Grandfather of Screwball, like an older, slower, stiffer, less-funny version of SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS.  There's no direct lineage, at least not that I can see - it doesn't seem like THE AMAZING ADVENTURE had to happen before SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS could, but the two are very similar and the earlier one likely influenced the later one.  Somehow.

Cary Grant is Ernest Bliss, and he is depressed.  A well-respected doctor tells him that he's suffering from money, and dares him to go one year without living off his family wealth.  Ernest turns the dare into a bet, claiming that if he fails to go one year without using his money, he'll give 50K to the Doc's medical clinic.  And, I dunno, I guess living a hard knock life and meeting some jerky a-holes, as well as some amazingly big-hearted people, leads him to appreciate that life is best lived in moderation.  He learns that Life's sweet-spot lies to the right of the deprivation he experienced during the bet, to the left of the bad moods created by constant self-indulgence, and right next to his sweetie.  Sweetie marks the spot.

Also, he meets a girl.  Shocked?
Meeting her causes him to lose the bet.  Stunned?
Yeah, I know.  Not a lot of surprises here.

He loses the bet because he chooses to marry his impoverished girlfriend.  He wanted her to take him as he seemed to be (poor), and she would have, but her sister had taken ill, and she made the decision to be practical and marry her former (financially stable) boss so she'd be in a position to help her family...  Learning this, Ernest tells her he's rich.

Making use of his money and reputation in this way causes him to lose the bet.  But, the Doc is so impressed, that he refuses to collect on the bet.  Still, the wealthy - and now wise - Ernest gives the medical clinic the money anyway.

And they all live happily ever after.

This isn't a great film, but it's not bad either.  But, now that I've written about it, I can thread it into posts about other films...  Like SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS!

Released: 1936
Director: Alfred Zeisler
Leads: Cary Grant
Writer: John L. Balderston (screenplay), E. Phillips Openheim (novel)
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Plot Summary and reviews of THE AMAZING ADVENTURE @ Rotten Tomatoes

Saturday, September 15, 2012

On meeting deadlines, defying death at sea, and surviving life as a joke.

I recently set myself a new goal of posting here at least once per week.  Tomorrow another post is due and the one for this last week isn't done yet, and so you're getting this.

It's not like the one that isn't done yet will knock your socks off once it's posted.  So, don't, like, lose sleep waiting for it.  It's still the same sad old blog-style tripe.  It's only something special if you count the fact that it bears the marks of having been worried over, worked on.

So, I've decided to continue to worry and work that other post until it's awkward and lifeless ("The Amanda-Special"), while fulfilling my weekly quota with this hastily written post about one of the things that ate into the time I was going to use for blog writin'...  Here goes...  Enjoy!

For my dumb sushi job, I was driving from Newport to Lincoln City on a winding, two lane stretch of HWY 101 with a fairly sheer rock wall to my right and a tumble down to the Pacific Ocean on my left.  As I was heading downhill into a right hand curve, my truck died.

The lights on the instrument panel lit up, and then went dark.  The weight of the dead vehicle ignored the bend in the road and pulled me straight.  There was no room on the shoulder to pull over.  If I didn't do something fast, I was going to cross oncoming traffic and head into the ocean.

I pressed the button for the hazards, turned off the ignition, threw it in neutral, and restarted.  This gave me enough juice to get around the curve.  Over the next few miles, the thing stalled enough times that I lost count.  I never got above 15 mph.  Cars barreled around the curves behind me, and barely found time to go around.  In my effort to leave enough room for cars to pass on the left, my tires were losing traction on the unpaved dirt and gravel on the right shoulder, which was like the frosting on the don't-crash-and-kill-and/or-die surprise cake.

But I figured it out.  Within moments I had upgraded a situation from "perilously out of control" to "embarrassingly slow".

As soon as I could, I pulled over.  Of course, there was no phone service.  I got out and surveyed the road.  Although some people still hitch that stretch of road, and other folks ride their bikes up and down the coast, it just didn't feel smart to me to start hoofin' it.  I sat on the hood of the truck for a bit, and considered my options.  Eventually I got back into the truck to do the whole "Put It In Neutral, Pull Up Emergency Break, Floor It, Turn Ignition, & Then Release Emergency Break" dance until the truck and I got somewhere.  If I could have I would have done it all the way back to Portland, but each time I pulled that little trick, it was less effective, affording me less and less distance between restarts.

Luckily, before the truck died for good, it made it to the parking lot of an antique mall, and came to rest just in front of a run-down, abandoned, school bus-sized joke shop sitting out front.

After telling you that, I don't mind telling you this:  I am seriously the most capable person you will ever meet.

I don't make a big deal about it, but it's true.
You can take it to the bank.
You can use it to cut glass.

But that's not how I felt at that moment.  My truck had landed nose-to-nose with a place where jokes go to die.  I rested my chin on the steering wheel, took in the rotted wood, busted windows and cracking paint of comic-sans-ish signage on the joke shop that was...  What?  A former streetcar?...  and I ruminated on - what felt like - the appropriateness of it all.  I had come to a stop in front of a misguided business idea, that had been housed in a structure built for something else, and all of it had fallen to shit long, long ago.

That could, in some ways, describe my very existence.

Especially at that moment.
The sad, broken-down company truck was a joke.
The job this truck and I fulfill each day was a joke.
And so, temporarily at least, I was a joke.

As soon as the thought came, I knew I had to shake it off.  That's the kind of thing that can stick.  I got out and walked the parking lot in search of a stronger cell signal.  Then, while talking to the tow truck people, I looked back at the truck and I saw the rest of its life unfolding, and it became clear to me that I was just passing through.

I had just done some serious 007 action.  (You're welcome Blighty).  (OK.  I hadn't done anything to make Her Majesty proud, but I had still just exercised some middle-aged, lady-Oregonian version of James Bond skill).  This truck was doing what it was made to do, delivering stuff until it died, but I wasn't.  I was, as per usual, just passing through.  Someday something will stick with me, but it's not this, and it's not now.  I am seriously too capable.  Seriously.

Of course, I realize everything I wrote here could be a full-on delusion.  A collection of the little lies I tell myself in order to make it through each day.  But it doesn't matter.  Not really.  As long as I know I can do more, as long as I know I'm as capable as a middle-aged, out-of-shape, female James Bond, I have hope.  And that hope keeps me doing stuff.  And doing stuff just creates more evidence of my all-around, British Secret Service-style aptitude.  Eventually all of that skill will meet the right situation and it will stick.

So, that's one of the things that kept me from finishing the post I had planned on sharing with y'all this week.  Because after I waited for roadside assistance and rode back to Portland in the tow truck, I picked up another truck and finished my route...  And that wasn't even the most dramatic time-suck of the week.  Whatever.  At least now I can say...  Done.  The post for the week is complete.

It's not pretty.  It's definitely not my favorite.  It started a bit boring and then kind of limped over the finish line, but it's done.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bumper Sticker Politics vs. Things Learned in Grade School | Roseburg, Oregon

The other day, in a Safeway parking lot in Roseburg, Oregon, I saw a bumper sticker that read:  Socialism is a Obama Nation.

Gosh, where to start?

Well, how about here:  Hey Bumper Sticker, ummm, don't you mean, "Socialism is AN Obama Nation"?

It was a white sticker with red font, and I had a red Sharpie with me.  Man, oh man, did I want to do a little redline edit on that sucker.   I scanned the parking lot for witnesses, and I dropped my keys on the ground so I'd have an excuse for loitering near the car.  But, in addition to learning in grade school that "a" comes before words beginning with consonants and "an" comes before words beginning with (or sounding like they begin with) vowel sounds, I also learned it's not cool to mess up someone else's property.

Golden Rule and all that.

So, I got on with my job and went into the store.  But I kept thinking about that bumper sticker.

Sure, cut school funding, I thought, you've clearly learned all you need to know.  And I'm so confident in the water-tight presentation of your thoughts, that I agree with you and will vote accordingly, Dumbass.

But thinking like that, even for an instant, felt a little bit too smug and judgmental for comfort.  Like I was placing myself on the side of the the snotty elite that some folks complain about.  And, as much as I strive to regularly and steadily improve myself, and as much as I would love to be associated with something elite (physical prowess, musical skill, or some kind of brainy something or other), I know that I make grammar mistakes all the time.  There's likely a ton in this post.  So, I dropped that line of thought.

Glass houses and all that.

Plus, it's a slippery slope when you start dismissing different thoughts and opinions based on how they look on paper.  Like, I remember learning about the Reconstruction Era in school, and how there were literacy and character tests established as a means of segregating the voting process.  Was my mocking this bumper sticker really hugely different?  In power and efficacy, yes.  In spirit?  I dunno.  It definitely felt Asshole Adjacent.  Which isn't any kind of ideal.  I don't really want the highpoint of my funeral to be, "One thing I can say about her is this:  She went right up to, but didn't quite cross over into actually being an asshole."

Not that I fear being an asshole, it's just I'd rather be an actual bona fide asshole, but for the right reasons, than a sort of "also ran" asshole for the wrong reasons.

On my way back out to the parking lot, I began to walk with more purpose.  The bumper sticker had got to me.  It just felt so confident in its righteousness, and yet was so wrong in so many ways.  It wasn't just an opinion I didn't agree with, it was wrong.  And not just grammatically.  Additionally, perhaps worse, the humor was so weak that it couldn't justify the flaws - and, THAT simply could not stand.

There comes a time when you have to engage with the world.  A laissez-faire attitude towards ignorance won't help anyone.  There has to be some kind of standard we reach for, and we need to help lift each other up.  And so, when you look at it that way, I had no choice, it was my duty as a citizen, my responsibility to society, to deface the personal property of my fellow man!

I mean, c'mon!  This was a printed sticker - someone thought it, wrote it down, typed it out, kerned the font, picked the red on white color scheme, print up a batch, and sold a few to someone who then sold it to other people.  It's staggering to me that no one in the process knew better.  Best case scenario is that there was a mole in the operation that wanted the other "side" to look bad.

And that's just gross.  The whole, I'm going to sit back and watch you hang yourself because I don't agree with you.  If there was a mole, that person missed an opportunity to share some information and make things better.  Even if it was just a bumper sticker, better is better.  Because, really, when you get down to it, we're all on the same side.  Or should be working toward that, at least.

At that point, though, none of it mattered to me any more.  I was going to take a stand.  I got my pen out, and quick-as-a-bunny, pretty-as-you-please, I was going to change the "a" to an "an" and be on my way.

But the car was gone.


Although I was disappointed, I almost immediately saw that it was better this way.  Nothing good could have come from my writing on that bumper sticker.  Not really.  A bit lame to do a guerrilla attack on the sticker.  It's very likely the rain would wash off my work before the driver ever even noticed.  No, I'm no Banksy.  Compared to what he does, my little Sharpie'd "n" would have been so low rent.  And that's never what I'm aiming for...  It may be inevitable, that might be my level, but I have to at least aim a bit higher.

And that goes for engaging with people who think differently than I do.  I can't just dismiss them.  Well, I can, but I don't want to.  I've held really ill-informed, poorly reasoned opinions in my day, and other people have helped me to see things differently, a bit more clearly.  I'm sure I'm still holding some.  And just because I'm not in full agreement with a person, someone doesn't mean I won't find some value in knowing them.  For example:  Anthony Bourdain.  He's not someone I know, but I enjoy him.  But I have a problem regular assertion that if something is slower and dumber than him, it's ok to eat it.  By that logic we can be grilling up human toddlers.  Each time he says it, I feel my blood boil just a bit.  Still, I really enjoy, like, 90+% of him.  He's a Grade A person to me.  And so, I need to work that into my real life.  I need to be doing the less-awkward, more socially acceptable version of loitering near that car until the driver returns and asking, "So...  That bumper sticker, what's up with that?"  Without getting up on a soap-box, high-horse, or grand-stand, I want to step into the fray.  I can no longer just let things lay.

Lie?  Lay?
Lie.  I'm pretty sure that's a lie.
Well, not a lie, but a situation where lie is the correct word to use.
Yep.  Yep.
Definitely lie.

Related Reading:
"Obama the Socialist?  Not Even Close" by Milos Forman, July 10, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

There'll be days like this. | July 21, 2012

I wrote this on July 21, 2012, but saved it as a draft and forgot about it.  It's kind of suitable for the end of summer wind-down currently going on, so...  enjoy!

Yes, the title to this post is a reference to the Van Morrison song.  Yep.  That just happened.

Here's why:

Today my job took me through Canby, Molalla, Silverton, Stayton, Lebanon, and Sweet Home.  I was on the road well before dawn, and with each bend in the road I observed something that made me fall in love with the world all over again.

For just a moment, I'm going to pretend that there are regular readers of this blog, and that you might be wondering why a department store sent me across the Willamette Valley.  It didn't.  I have a new job.  I drive a refrigerated truck all over Oregon and SW Washington, ensuring there is sushi on every table.  Like Johnny Appleseed.  Only with imitation crab meat ("krab").

It's an okay job.  It keeps the lights on and the cats in school clothes.  And I've been getting a lot of writing done.  Well, dictating.  Which is leading to writing.  (I'm finally writing a gawd-damned mother f'n book).

Anyway, much of the time, this job is all about crappy Japanese-style food products, road kill, and mile after mile of the New American Ghetto (the Target, Starbucks, Petco, Claim Jumper combo alternating with the Walmart, Dutch Brothers, Petsmart, Ruby Tuesday combo).  All of the consumption, the waste, the expertly crafted sheen that implies each of these communities is distinctly different from any all the others - it gets to me.  I try to live in the moment, I try to wave at the cows as I drive past ("Hello, Cows!")...  but, like them, I sense what the future holds.  Like them, I aim to keep moving forward with dignity by keeping my focus on the fact that right now the sun is shining and the grass is green...  I try, and I'm pretty good at it, but sometimes it's hard to not see stacks of packaged, processed meats in the fields instead of living, breathing creatures.

But today, July 21, 2012, was different.

I'm not big on snapping photos to remember shit, it seems to take you out of where you are and puts you in the future, as in, "Someday I'll want to look back on this moment, when I was thinking about my future self looking at this picture."  But sometimes, stopping to frame up a shot sears every detail of that moment in my brain, and the photo becomes a trigger for a Proustian Moment.

So I did it.  I stopped to take a picture.  Now, when I look at it, I hear the gravel on the parking lot and feel the heft of the refrigerated truck jerking and sliding to a stop; I see the small dogs behind the fence barking at me - curious, friendly, just trying to get my attention ("Hello, Lady!"); I hear wind chimes; I see the fawn from a few miles back - not yet road-kill, eating leaves off a front yard tree while cars slow to watch; I see the the topiary shaped like a giant steer, perched in front of a Les Schwab Tire Center and looking more gorgeous than you ever thought any auto supply center landscaping could be; I see the marquee in front of The Farmstead advertising that one of my favorite musicians will be appearing there that night, and I remember how I debated driving back that eve, but since it was Tim Ellis without Jim Walker, I let go of the thinking and planning so I could sink back into the morning around me; there was the farm dog walking across a porch with a calm and commanding presence; the puppy getting trained with the assistance of a fanny pack full of treats, sitting, wagging, bright-eyed and hopeful; llamas sitting next to each other like old friends, watching the sun come up; flocks of birds flying in formation, swooping around crops that had been tilled under, looking like a Van Gogh painting; the old man leaning on the bumper of his truck, drinking coffee out of a metal thermos, reading the Owner's Guide, or maybe - as I like to think - a chapbook of poetry, a smile leaping to his face as a car driven by a young guy pulls up; fields of flowers seemingly dropped from above in a crisp color-block manner; and, of course, cows - milling around with each other as though they were at a vegetarian brunch buffet and had all the time in the world, their coats shining in the sun - auburn, black, white, brown.

There was so much more, but this is all starting to sound like one of those Morning in America campaign ads.  I already dared the fates by taking a photo, and so I'm not going to push my luck by sharing each detail of the drive.  Suffice to say:  There will indeed be days like this.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Nora Ephron | 1941 - 2012

You would think someone writing a blog about Screwball Comedies, Rom-Coms and Comedies would have been all over the passing of Nora Ephron.  And you're right.  A good blogger would have.

But this blog has me.  Poor thing.

The thing is, I hesitated because I've always been somewhat conflicted about Nora Ephron's work.  It's not that I'm ashamed to admit I enjoy her films.  I write this blog, I have no shame.  After thinking it all over, I determined my problem with her is that when she's good, she's very good, but...  y'know.  Once I realized that, I knew I had to write this post ASAP, because when you like someone, you have to accept them good and bad.

But then I read Nora Ephron's Potato-Chip Legacy by Matt Weinstock (The Paris Review Daily, June 28, 2012), and it kind of nailed much of what I'd been thinking.  And so I hesitated again.  I took some time to kick it all around for a few weeks, hoping that I could come up with something to add to what Mr. Weinstock wrote...

To date, I got nothin'.

If/when I do, I'll be sure and write it all down here for your reading amusement.

Until then, here's to Nora Ephron!  Because, really, there's nothing wrong with silly love songs, and there's nothing wrong with silly movies about love.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Gates, Rural Oregon Style

A lame joke nearly a decade in the making!

(It may not seem like much to us, but to the field mice who commissioned it, it. is. transcendent).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Princess Amanda

A few weeks ago, my supervisor's son drew a picture of me.
Well, of "an Amanda" who happens to have orange hair.

He was hanging out at the office, and still working on the drawing, when his Mom told me what it was.  When she did, he sort of froze up and wouldn't show it to me.  But he made clear that it was "just an Amanda".  I found the picture in my in-box the next day.  (And now it's on my refrigerator at home).

I bumped into them again yesterday, and she told me he's started writing stories about Princess Amanda.  Again, not me.

I think that's right.  It's not me.  Apparently he wants a pet cat more than anything in the world, and I live with two cats.

There is so much about this that I love.  Not least of which is the reminder that no matter where you are in life, and no matter what you think about your current situation, if you've done anything good, or right, or worthwhile with your time (even something as small as being cool to two cats), then someone, somewhere, somehow, will think you have it going on.

Monday, July 16, 2012

UGLY BETTY | 2006 - 2010 | Long Form Screwball

UGLY BETTY is screwball comedy told Pickwick-Papers-style.

Charles Dickens' first novel was written and distributed as a serial before it was assembled into one volume.  Similarly, when the individual episodes that make up the saga of Ms. Betty Suarez are taken as a whole, it creates one giant, super long, epic screwball comedy.

Well, Wes D. Gehring's definition of screwball.  Which, unfortunately, I have not been able to improve upon.  I wish Mr. Gehring were not so insightful, it would have made this blog so much more interesting - to read and to do.  The thing is, in his book "Screwball Study:  A Genre of Madcap Romance," the guy pretty much nailed the definition of Screwball.  I've searched for weaknesses in his thesis, or something to fresh to add, and yet all I can do is agree.  The really good screwball comedies have the very elements he identified (a male anti-hero, the leisure class, pursuit of the "right" romantic partner, an urban setting, a world where a kind of child-like perspective is valued and rewarded, little interest in politics but keen attention to moral standards, and a baseline dissatisfaction with the status-quo).    

Change the male anti-hero to a female anti-hero, and you've got UGLY BETTY.

More on this soon.  I have the whole post in my head, but I continue to be crazy short on free time (which is why I haven't posted since May); at this point, it feels like a partial post is better than nothing.  Er, I mean...  In the spirit of the topic, it'll be published over multiple posts, as a sort of installment plan.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012



I can't think of a thematic or other significantly impactful reason for watching either one before the other, so watch the one with subtitles first, while your eyes are fresh.

This isn't my most inventive linking, it's pretty obvious (middle-age dorks finding love in awkward and adorable ways).

They pair together nicely.  That's the only argument I have as to why you should take this couple of films on as a DIY Double Feature.  So just watch 'em.

But not alone.
It makes me sad to even think of that.

Released:  2011
Director: Jean-Pierre Ameris
Leads:  Isabelle Carre,  Benoit Poelvoorde
Writer:  Jean-Pierre Ameris
Plot Summary and reviews of ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS @ Rotten Tomatoes

Released:  2005
Director:  Judd Apatow
Leads:  Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen,
Writer: Judd Apatow, Steve Carell
Plot Summary and reviews of THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN @ Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mini DIY Double Feature: Commencement Address from Aaron Sorkin and Adam Savage

I am such a sucker for these things. They're a bit like an annual check-up, a chance to realign your actual self with your better self.  A reminder that it's not over.  It being this life thing we're fortunate enough to have going on.  It changes, it is always changing.  Best to embrace the good while it lasts, and weather the bad with grace.  It's all temporary.  And, no matter what, if you're still breathing, it's not over.

Quite a few gems from Mr. Savage:
"Be kind."
"Don't work for fools."
"Finally.  Finally."
"There are not only second acts, there are third acts, fourth acts, finales, curtain calls...  Don't be afraid to be a late bloomer, repeatedly."

My favorites from Mr. Sorkin:
"More and more, we've come to expect less and less of each other, and that's got to change."
"The world doesn't care how many times you fall down, as long as it's one fewer than the number of times you get back up."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

DESIGNING WOMAN | 1957 | Good Pedigree, Lame Progeny

DESIGNING WOMAN is a heartbreaking movie.  Not because it expertly relays a tale of tragedy, but because it's so close to being good, but is actually pretty bad. Like WITHOUT LOVE, it has so many things going for it and yet it fails at most everything.

As a matter of principle, I'm not big on remakes, but when I see films like this, I want to remake them.  Watching so much time, energy and talent wasted on something that came so close, but fell so short is so painful, that I feel compelled to do something, anything, to make it stop.  I can't remove this blemish from the filmographies of Peck, Bacall, Minnelli et. al., and so I start daydreaming, wondering if what should have been then, could actually be now, or ever.

Initially, I thought it was my fondness for Atticus Finch that made me think that DESIGNING WOMAN had the potential to be anything more than it ended up being. But then I saw that this film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. I could be wrong, but that makes me feel like even the Academy was saying that this film had started with something really worthwhile. It could have been so much better.  So easily. And it wouldn't have meant more time, more money, or anything of the sort.  Just a few nudges in different directions, here and there.

I frequently see this film listed as a Screwball Comedy, and according to my current working definition of screwball (which is pretty much just a simplified version of Wes D. Gehring's definition of screwball), it does kind of fit the bill.  There's a comic anti-hero, a bit of class conflict (sort of), it takes place in an urban setting, and there's a mixture of high and low brow comedy.

Gregory Peck's character is definitely not a classically heroic character, and yet given who he is, he does some heroic things to keep Lauren Bacall.  However, the film doesn't establish a solid case that these two need to be together, and it relies too much on the genre and the assumption that audience will root for them because they're supposed to...  because they're the leads.  I'm pretty sure that's not what Lubitsch was talking about when he said the audience should be allowed to add up "two plus two".

Their pairing isn't about upper crust meets Forgotten Man.  These two are class adjacent, with similar incomes and careers that aren't too different - she's a fashion designer and he's a journalist.  Yet, there's still plenty of room for class conflict, because the values and priorities of these two worlds are so different that they could keep these two apart.  But not enough is made of it.  The conflict between their two worlds is not actually tethered to anything tangible.  It's all done with shallow gestures.  The characters appear so superficial that you wonder why they don't just call it a day and let their social differences separate them.

Comedy-wise, there's actually some worthwhile material in here, both high- and low-brow, but the execution ruins it. Each joke is given so much space that it feels like there are giant arrows on the screen saying, "Look at us being so smart & funny!" and/or "Look at us being so everyman & funny!" - Laugh stupid audience, laugh!  
Although DESIGNING WOMAN utilizes many of the elements found in Classic Screwball, and even though it seems to be trying to tell the story in that sharp and witty tradition, it is less like a solid descendant of that line, and more like a Grandparent of generic rom-coms to come (see:  SOMETHING BORROWED, 27 DRESSES, and the like).  It's like a Barrymore married a Hilton and produced a Heigl.

All of that said, even the most disappointing experiences have something of value.  Sometimes its best to search for the good things and let go of everything else.  I'm pretty sure I won't think of this film again, but if our paths cross in the future, I'll be nothing but gracious and friendly, because all I'll remember is this...

Released: 1957
Director:  Vincente Minnelli

Leads: Gregory Peck, Lauren Bacall, Dolores Gray
Writer: George Wells (Oscar Win, Best Original Screenplay)
Genre: Romantic Comedy (of the worst sort)

Plot summary and reviews of DESIGNING WOMAN @ Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, May 7, 2012

Junot Diaz | The Importance of Being an Artist, and Fucking Taking the Fucking Cake | Portland State University, April 30, 2012

When Junot Diaz spoke at Portland State University last week, he was greeted by a small group from the Dominican Republic and by a smaller pack of Garden Staters.  After a quick chat with each, he said, “Portland, you take the fucking cake."

Walking home from this reading, I found myself wishing there were some way I could exchange my entire education for hanging out with Mr. Diaz 24/7 until I get "it".  Of course, if it weren't for all of my education, I probably wouldn’t want "it".  And, of course, I am fully aware that I can’t get "it" by attaching myself to someone else and absorbing their "it".

Still, I'm sure I'd benefit as a human being if I could just listen to Mr. Diaz talk about...  whatever...  whenever.  More specifically though, I want to hang around this guy because I just might learn how to be an artist.  Not in a formal training, learning craft, or apprentice-y sort of a way, but simply, what it is to be an artist.

Even just being a fly on the wall might give me a shot at getting it into my head, once and for all, that being an artist is important.  That it's a valid thing to do, even if you don't get paid or become relevant to anything, or anyone, ever.  That artists are essential to a functional society, even (especially?) beyond the folks of the creative class that flock to hip cities to work for media companies, and keep trendy eateries afloat with non-stop client meetings.  Those folks are crucial to the economics of our society, but artists do something equally (more?) valuable.

Those things in parenthesis, that's what I actually believe, but it feels like I'm betraying my past if I come right out and say it.  The creative class was a good place to be...  for a time.  And, for a time, I actually even convinced myself that there wasn't a difference.  That being creative, is being creative, is being creative.  But there is a difference.  Of course there's a difference.

Not that I was doing anything especially creative.  I was just supporting people being creative - Managing.  Facilitating.  Identifying.  Connecting.  Coordinating.  So, as far as being an artist goes, I've spent years as a copy of a copy of a copy.  Of a copy.

And, in the end, it could be that I should have fought harder to continue being a copy of a copy of a copy.  Of a copy.  It is possible that a copy is the best I'll ever be.  But I think I'd rather try to make my way as an artist and fail, than die/retire wondering "What if?"

I just hate that I'll have to sacrifice my teeth.  From where I am, looking out to where I might be going, I just don't see a good dental plan.

If you get a chance to see Junot Diaz, take it.  To get a taste of what it might be like, go here (Junot Diaz at Boston College on February 15, 2012).  Watch it.  You'll be better for it.

Then, read his books.  You'll be better for it.

He really does take the fucking cake.