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Pop culture junkie, native of Las Vegas, not really a writer.
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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A handful of reviews: books, movies, music

Recent Books that I have read:

All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison
Here is the review I posted on Amazon.com, "Everyone can relate to this wonderfully quirky debut novel from Jonathan Evison. The story speaks with honesty, wistfulness, humor, and sadness to anyone who ever felt like an outcast even within their own family, anyone who remembers the thrill of finding that one person who "gets" them, anyone who felt the flush of first love and the crushing blow of that love disappearing, and to anyone who spent years of anguish resisting change only to finally realize that change is the only constant in life. Mr. Evison found a unique and satisfying voice with which to tell a story filled with compelling characters that you genuinely miss once the story ends. The most surprising thing of all (to this reader anyway) was how All About Lulu turned out to be a bit of a mystery with perfect little clues sprinkled along the way leading to one hell of a wham bang, emotional finale. I highly recommend it." And I’m not saying all that just because Jonathan is my friend. Oh and you all should by his book CLICK HERE so he can pay his bills.

Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel.
This is an incredible behind the scenes book about the making of the Nicholas Ray directed, James Dean/Natalie Wood starring film. The authors had unprecedented access to Warner Brothers studio archives and interviewed nearly all surviving members of the cast and crew. They put together a truly illuminating, chronological timeline of the film that is part gossipy tabloid journalism, part social commentary on the 50s and part pure Hollywood history. I learned what scenes were improvised and which were scripted. I learned about the love triangle between Nick Ray, Natalie Wood, and Dennis Hopper. I learned about the great lengths Ray went for authenticity, even hiring Frank Mazzola, the leader of L.A. teen gang The Athenians as a cast member. The whole thing was a page turner from start to finish.

Recent films that I have seen:

Iron Man
I freaking loved it! Fun, funny, touching, believable, and Robert Downey Jr. has never been so sexy!

Sex & The City: The Movie
The first time I saw it I loved it, but I think I was just experiencing the afterglow of bonding with my best friend and seeing Carrie, Miranda, Samantha, and Charlotte again! I had really truly missed them! The second time I saw it I realized that it has some major flaws. For one, what has Michael Patrick King reduced the men to??? Seriously, Harry had like five lines and most of them were addressed to his daughter in a sing-song voice! Steve was portrayed as a miserable dog and Smith was relegated to the too busy, super cool TV star which causes Samantha to suffer. Big at least got some actual screen time which just went to show that it was Carrie's movie entirely. Too bad she was as insufferably self absorbed as ever. When she accuses Miranda of "ruining her marriage" I just about lost it!

The Other Boleyn Girl
Oh my, oh my (that is my eyes rolling.) I knew this was going to be soap operatic, but with the cast that it had I didn’t think it could possibly be that bad. I was wrong. It was awful. The dialogue was awful, Natalie Portman was awful, and the pacing was awful. I am surprised I made it through the entire film. Now, I am normally a big Natalie Portman fan but I don’t know what she was trying to go for here. Her portrayal of Anne was so campy it was making me laugh out loud! When the tides turn on her at the end of the film, Natalie's portrayal did nothing to garner any sympathy from me. I was even irritated when her sister Mary tried to help her out. What a disappointment. . .

The Brave One
Um, yeah, that's a big no. I really hated this movie. I'm not even going to go into reasons why.

I love me some Will Ferrell and Andre Benjamin is a hottie. This was funny but not up to par with my all time favorite Will movie, Anchorman. The best thing about it was Will Arnett and whoever that other guy was as the sports commentators.

Recent music that I have purchased:

Vampire Weekend, Self Titled
I’m totally in love with this band. I know that they are kind of the flavor of the month, but I'm hooked on their fun, bouncy sound and ivy-league lyrics. Some of it is very derivative of Paul Simon's world beat sound, but it’s catchy and even refreshing in its own way!

Bach: Goldberg Variations by Simone Dinnerstein
I bought this after hearing an interview with this pianist on NPR. She was very interesting and her take on the Goldberg Variations is very pretty and even lilting at times which are not two words that are usually associated with the Goldberg Variations. I know Glenn Gould's versions are known as the ultimate recordings but I kind of like these better. So sue me.

Keely Smith: The Essential Capitol Collection
Why doesn’t Keely's name come up more often when people speak about the greatest big band vocalists of all time? She is tremendous! Her voice is so commanding yet playful, confident yet sometimes filled with an aching vulnerability. I do love her duets with then husband and bandleader Louis Prima, but it is Keely on her own that really hits me hard. And at 76 she's still singing in clubs in LA! She is totally underrated. I’m telling everyone I know (this means you) to listen to her!

Goodbye Cyd Charisse. . .

All the great ones are leaving us! Cyd Charisse died today at 86. There was no one taller, leggier, or more smoldering than Cyd! She was fabulous!

Watch her dance in this clip from the film Meet Me In Las Vegas:

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Not that it matters. . .

because nobody reads this anyway, but I have been woefully neglecting this blog. Which is why there are a rash of posts today. This blog needed some life breathed into it. Although I realize that I have absolutely no focus whatsoever. It's just a ramble here, a rant there, and lots of movie reviews in between.

I'll try to be better.

Blade Runner

I recently watched Blade Runner for the first time. Being that it is such a cultural touchstone, I admit that it's pretty strange that I'd never seen it before. Indeed my announcement that I was finally watching it elicited responses of excitement from more than one friend who claimed it to be one of their top favorite films of all time! Even though I hadn't seen it I felt like I had because it is so iconic. To paraphrase (badly) a few lines from a Noah Baumbach film (as I am wont to do), "Oh, I've seen Blade Runner. Well, I haven't seen Blade Runner, but I know that thing, that is he a replicant or isn't he, tell me the good things about your mother, Darryl Hannah does gymnastics, now I know how bad all other movies are thing. . ." (If you know this quote in its original context then props to you!)

So now, sadly, after seeing the movie I feel a little bit deflated. It's a classic example of having everyone around you build up something so much that once you finally experience it, it can't help but disappoint you. It is a good, hell a great, movie. The production design and visuals are stunning. The themes remain timely and profound. Rutger Hauer is amazingly good – and damn sexy too! Ten times sexier than Harrison Ford. But all in all, I don't think it's a film that I would watch again. The slow pacing killed me and had me glancing at the clock one too many times. Sean Young just irks me - she always has, doesn't matter what movie she is in, I just don't like her. And I know I am going to catch hell for this one, but the score seemed dated to me. That synthy-saxophony Vangelis score overpowered the film sometimes in the worse way because it took me out of the film completely.

I hope this isn't offending those out there that are Blade Runner fanatics. I understand where you are coming from and I don't begrudge the love at all – it truly is an amazing film. Especially when I look at what Ridley Scott and his team were able to achieve in the era before modern CGI, it's incredible. I cop to all of that and more but to put it simply, it's just not my thing. Do you know what I mean? It's just not for me. A Room With a View need not fear being bumped off the top of my list by Blade Runner.

At least now I won't get that irritating, "You've never seen Blade Runner?!?" reaction ever again.

No Molly Ringwald, no!

Recently I came across Pretty in Pink on cable as I flipped through the channels. I left it on as I did little chores around the house and the thing I was struck by immediately was how much of an asshole Andrew McCarthy’s Blane is! How did I not notice this when I was young? Did I just let it slide then because he was cute? When he picks up Andie from the record store for their first date and asks if she wants to go home and change and she already has, he barely mumbles an apology for the insult. Then when she is resistant to attending a party with his friends, he says, "We can go out with your friends if you want. We could go crawl under a rock." ASSHOLE! And then the final scene at the prom, he goes up to her all apologetic for freaking lying to her about having another date and ditching her, but she has put on a brave face and says, "It’s done, it’s over, I’m fine." And what does asshole Blane say? "Well, if that’s true, then I’m glad." It’s the way he says it too that just irks me! Why did I ever like Andrew McCarthy? It’s all about Duckie man. Loyal, funny, sincere Duckie. Screw Blane.

Sometimes I really hate Andrew Davies. . .

This is one of those times. I know the man wrote the wonderful Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle 1995 Pride & Prejudice so could be forgiven for almost everything, but he wrote a new version of my beloved A Room With a View and it's utter shit so now I have to rave against the old coot.

Yes, yes I know what you're thinking, how could I possibly watch it unbiasedly when the Merchant Ivory A Room With a View is one of my favorite movies of all time? Honestly it was damn difficult!

In order to illuminate my problem with the film, I will dissect two of the mystifying choices made by Mr. Davies in his script.

1. He was compelled to set the film after a WWI tragedy and then have the story revealed as flashbacks to "happier" or "more innocent" times. I found this device completely unnecessary and quite a bit distracting. The novel was published in 1908 so this choice just completely baffled me and I assume that Mr. Davies did it in an attempt to put his own little stamp on the story. It didn't do anything for the Lucy Honeychurch character in my opinion. It did not give her or the story more depth, it just created tragic drama where it wasn't needed and was never intended by E.M. Forster.

2. This is the long one, so bear with me please. In the novel the Emersons are not of a lower class than Lucy or Cecil Vyse, they are merely eccentric "free thinkers" which made them frowned upon by Lucy's regular society. In this new version however Mr. Davies chose to write the Emersons as being of a lower class. This class distinction was partly exhibited by Mr. Davies robbing the character of George Emerson of his more gloriously romantic speeches and then partly by the actor playing George Emerson using a lower class sounding "accent" which made him sound ridiculous and slightly stupid. To really understand what I mean, indulge me please, and compare the scenes where George tries to convince Lucy not to marry Cecil:

First read the scene from the novel here:

"You don't mean," he said, absolutely ignoring Miss Bartlett—"you don't mean that you are going to marry that man?"

The line was unexpected.

She shrugged her shoulders, as if his vulgarity wearied her. "You are merely ridiculous, " she said quietly.

Then his words rose gravely over hers: "You cannot live with Vyse. He's only for an acquaintance. He is for society and cultivated talk. He should know no one intimately, least of all a woman."

It was a new light on Cecil's character.

"Have you ever talked to Vyse without feeling tired?"

"I can scarcely discuss—"

"No, but have you ever? He is the sort who are all right so long as they keep to things—books, pictures—but kill when they come to people. That's why I'll speak out through all this muddle even now. It's shocking enough to lose you in any case, but generally a man must deny himself joy, and I would have held back if your Cecil had been a different person. I would never have let myself go. But I saw him first in the National Gallery, when he winced because my father mispronounced the names of great painters. Then he brings us here, and we find it is to play some silly trick on a kind neighbour. That is the man all over—playing tricks on people, on the most sacred form of life that he can find. Next, I meet you together, and find him protecting and teaching you and your mother to be shocked, when it was for YOU to settle whether you were shocked or no. Cecil all over again. He daren't let a woman decide. He's the type who's kept Europe back for a thousand years. Every moment of his life he's forming you, telling you what's charming or amusing or ladylike, telling you what a man thinks womanly; and you, you of all women, listen to his voice instead of to your own. So it was at the Rectory, when I met you both again; so it has been the whole of this afternoon. Therefore—not 'therefore I kissed you,' because the book made me do that, and I wish to goodness I had more self-control. I'm not ashamed. I don't apologize. But it has frightened you, and you may not have noticed that I love you. Or would you have told me to go, and dealt with a tremendous thing so lightly? But therefore—therefore I settled to fight him."

Lucy thought of a very good remark.

"You say Mr. Vyse wants me to listen to him, Mr. Emerson. Pardon me for suggesting that you have caught the habit."

And he took the shoddy reproof and touched it into immortality. He said:

"Yes, I have," and sank down as if suddenly weary. "I'm the same kind of brute at bottom. This desire to govern a woman—it lies very deep, and men and women must fight it together before they shall enter the garden. But I do love you surely in a better way than he does." He thought. "Yes—really in a better way. I want you to have your own thoughts even when I hold you in my arms," He stretched them towards her. "Lucy, be quick—there's no time for us to talk now—come to me as you came in the spring, and afterwards I will be gentle and explain. I have cared for you since that man died. I cannot live without you, 'No good,' I thought; 'she is marrying some one else'; but I meet you again when all the world is glorious water and sun. As you came through the wood I saw that nothing else mattered. I called. I wanted to live and have my chance of joy."

"And Mr. Vyse?" said Lucy, who kept commendably calm. "Does he not matter? That I love Cecil and shall be his wife shortly? A detail of no importance, I suppose?"

But he stretched his arms over the table towards her.

"May I ask what you intend to gain by this exhibition?"

He said: "It is our last chance. I shall do all that I can." And as if he had done all else, he turned to Miss Bartlett, who sat like some portent against the skies of the evening. "You wouldn't stop us this second time if you understood, " he said. "I have been into the dark, and I am going back into it, unless you will try to understand."

Her long, narrow head drove backwards and forwards, as though demolishing some invisible obstacle. She did not answer.

Ok, still with me? Here is that scene with the free thinking, romantic, eloquent George from the Merchant Ivory version:

And here is that same scene with the new "lower class" George (the scene I want you to watch starts at about 6:20 in):

Do you see what I mean? Do you see how the way Mr. Davies chose to write his script completely changed the character and robbed George of his eloquence? It was maddening to me as I watched it. Worse, it made me not like George and part of the fun and tension of the story is that you are rooting for Lucy to open her eyes and heart to George!

The only thing I liked about the new version was Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley - tee hee) as Mr. Beebe. He was quite delightful, but then Mr. Beebe is such a delightful character that it's kind of hard to get him wrong.

Ok, that's my rant. If any of you actually read this to the end and watched the videos, thank you, thank you, thank you very much.

Rest in Peace Sydney Pollack

Sydney Pollack has died and I'm all broke up about it. I adored Sydney Pollack. There was something about when Sydney acted in a movie or on a television show, no matter how small the part, that made me blissfully happy and would immediately elevate said movie or TV show to something greater then mere mediocrity. As a matter of fact I just found out that he plays Patrick Dempsey's dad in the new film Made of Honor which means I'm going to have to see that cheesefest now! Oh and by the way he was a damn fine director too!

Here's a short list of the things I love about Sydney:

He played Will's dad on Will & Grace. Oh my goodness, he was loveable in this role! It was after seeing his myriad guest appearances here that made me wish that Sydney Pollack was my dad. Or that my dad could at least in part be like Sydney Pollack: kind, warm, accepting, yet open to admitting his flaws. That's what a dad should be! Lucky, lucky Will!

The Way We Were gets me every time! I don't care what anyone says. I love this schmaltzy romance! Robert Redford is so handsome and charming and Barbra Streisand is so goofy and feisty. And of course I love when my pop culture collides and in SATC Season Two when Carrie meets up with Big and says of his bride-to-be Natasha, "Your girl is lovely, Hubble" I screamed with joy!

Out of Africa - the man could direct a romance, let me tell you! Robert Redford again, Meryl Streep as beautiful as she ever was, a hair washing scene to make a girl's toes curl! Oh and it only won seven Academy Awards including two for Pollack!

Not only directed Tootsie but played the agent to perfection!

In Husbands and Wives he even made smarmy somewhat charming. Sydney Pollack plus Woody Allen was a match made in Heaven.

He was the best thing about Eyes Wide Shut. Apparently Harvey Keitel had to drop out so Sydney stepped in and hooray for us because he is awesome.

He directed my beloved Paul Newman to an Oscar nomination. If you want to see a great film about the ethics of journalism, watch Absence of Malice.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is one crazy, f*cked up film! Have you ever seen this??? It's about a bizarro Depression Era dance marathon where people basically kill themselves by dancing for weeks on end to win $1500. This movie still holds the record for most Oscar nominations (nine) without a Best Picture nomination! In another wonderful pop culture reference there is an awesome, pivotal episode of Gilmore Girls called They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They in which Rory and Lorelei compete in the annual Stars Hollow Dance Marathon.

There is more than this, but all this Pollack reminiscing is making me even sadder so I'm going to stop now. Thanks for the memories Sydney! You will be missed behind and in front of the camera!

Now for your viewing pleasure I am including some great youtube stuff:

Final scene of The Way We Were:

Sex & The City episode where the girls talk about the film and then their version of the same scene:

An early scene from They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

A small snippet from They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They?

Sydney in Tootsie: