Saturday, December 31, 2011


The first sign that it's been too long since I last posted is that I had to reset my password because I couldn't remember how to log into my account. The second sign was the 100+ spam comments on old blog posts, trying to sell Viagra or dating websites or whatever. Then, of course there's my previous post, which is helpfully dated in bold letters as having gone up in March. 9 months ago.

I can't say that it's been an especially busy year, although I have taken on a second job and I did spend a week and a half in California with my family, visiting a good friend and behaving like a tourist. The simple truth is that I was not motivated to write. Occasionally I would try to buckle down and come up with something to say, maybe even getting as far as writing down a page or so of notes. That never went any farther, though, and as the days became weeks became months, it just became easier and easier to stop trying. October was going to be my big comeback. I was going to take part in the Countdown to Halloween again, and I even began to list ideas for Halloween related posts. But then I got that second job, and knew I'd be out of state and mostly offline for much of the time leading up to the big day, and I opted out. And then, well, the momentum had been lost, and I didn't make much of an attempt after that.

Now comes a new year, and although I've never been one for resolutions, I've decided on a couple that I want to make this year. Last year I resolved to read nothing but nonfiction until the new year, and that was a pretty good experience, although now I have a stack of fiction books I can't wait to dive into once I finish Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris' second in his trilogy of Theodore Roosevelt biographies. This year my reading habits go back to normal, but my writing habits will hopefully become a bit more focused.

Resolution #1: Limit Internet usage to one hour a day. I've noticed that many of those studies about the Internet lowering attention span are correct, at least in my case. I've become much more of a multitasker, to the deficit of most of the projects I'm involved in. I spend too much time using stumbleupon to find new websites, and I spend too much time on facebook and flickchart and other websites that provide entertainment and information in bite sized chunks. Not that I'm an ADD-addled hyperactive chipmunk, but I find that spending time on these time-waster sites gives me a false sense of accomplishment when I haven't actually done anything. An hour a day limit is probably higher than I'll end up using, but will at least keep me from wasting the day. The hour limit won't apply to anything work-related, or any time spent posting to this blog.

Resolution #2: Spend at least 30 minutes each day writing. Not all of these writings will show up on this blog, and many of them will probably be stream of consciousness ramblings, or thoughts on the recent movies I've seen. The point isn't to keep the blog active, but to keep me active. Once again the time limit isn't set in stone, but I'm going to set aside at least a half hour every day to do nothing but write. TV off, iPod on, notepad out. Most likely you will see an increase in activity on this blog, but I'm not making it a priority as of now.

There are a few others that I'm leaving open ended. I'd like to learn HTML this year, and become a bit more proficient with the gadgets in my life. My technical proficiency is adequate, but I feel like I know what buttons to push to get things done, but I don't know why or how they work. But generally that's it. I'm keeping it simple, so hopefully I won't become overwhelmed and give up on these resolutions. If you're reading this, thanks for stopping by, and I hope to be here again soon.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

My Movie Diary 3-6-11


The Town(2010) A large part of what made Ben Affleck's directorial debut(Gone Baby Gone) such a pleasant surprise was it's low key tone and local Bostonian flavor. The film was set in a very specific place and community and it benefited from taking the time to explore it's corners. The Town, while still a technically adept and enjoyable film, loses that specificity and suffers for it. The film is well done, with fine performances by all(yes, even Affleck), and Affleck shows a natural talent behind the camera, but it's also incredibly straightforward. Another tale about a criminal with a heart of gold attempting one final job before he can go legit with the girl of his dreams. Pop quiz; how do you think that scenario will unfold? You probably won't be surprised.

The Seven Percent Solution(1976)
The movie starts out a bit rough, with a seemingly miscast Robert Duvall as Watson. Nicol Williamson's performance as a heroin addicted Sherlock Holmes livens up this opening stretch. In the course of a single scene Williamson will run us through one of Sherlock's patented displays of his powers of observation, mounting gradually from a calm demeanor to frenzied, flop-sweat drenched, spittle spewing mania as the effects of heroin withdrawal become more pronounced. The film is essentially split into two halves, with the first devoted to a fairly serious portrayal of Holmes' attempts to kick his addiction with the aid of Watson and Sigmund Freud(Alan Arkin). The latter half morphs into a more swashbuckling detective story complete with sword fights atop speeding trains. Both halves are great, but Duvall tips the films hand too soon with his overacting, and it isn't until the second half that the movie catches up to him.

Road Games(1981)
Stacy Keach plays a truck driver who, in his boredom, speculates on the lives of the random people he sees on the road. Eventually he begins to suspect an ominous van driver is actually a serial killer who's been crisscrossing the country preying on hitchhikers. Soon, the killer notices that he's been noticed, and the cat and mouse game begins. Keach is often hilarious as the truck driver who keeps a running conversation with himself in the tones of a particularly verbose playwright, and Jamie Lee Curtis matches him at every step as a hitchhiker who cheerfully joins in his suspicions. Essentially this film is Rear Window transplanted to the Australian highway system. Jamie Lee Curtis' hitchhiker is even referred to repeatedly as 'Hitch' in a direct nod to the great director.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My Movie Diary 2-26-11 to 3-5-11


Area 51(2009)
After Dark horror productions tend to be slick, low budget attempts at blockbuster genre exercises, and as a result their films are often more competent than your average direct to video horror flick. With that competence, though, comes a lack of willingness to do anything truly outrageous and an often overwhelming blandness. SyFy originals tend to be shiny, slapdash affairs that make no effort to appear professional, only to provide with cheesy entertainment. As a result their films are often looser and more energetic and bizarre, but also too knowingly cheesy. Area 51 combines the output of these two companies into a film that refines the best traits of both without overcoming their faults. The plot, about various aliens held at the famed Area 51 staging an escape, holds potential, but it's mainly developed as an excuse to have units of soldiers picked off by faintly Giger-esque aliens. What really shines, however, are the special effects, which are composed of actual alien costumes and props with CGI augmenting some of the action. This rare occurrence(especially for SyFy) made the film no less forgettable, but refreshingly enjoyable.


Catfish(2010) The best way ot see this movie is with little-to-no idea what it's about. I don't think it would be completely unenjoyable if you knew all the details going in, but the film builds to almost unbearable levels of tension at times, and knowing how everything plays out would most likely diminish that. That being said, what Catfish achieves, almost by accident, is something many documentaries are unable to do; the moving revelation of a distinctly human personality, and the realization that it is far more vast and unknowable than we might like to think. A lot of people have accused the filmmakers of staging the events seen on screen. Having read and seen interviews with the filmmakers and read articles about the claims in the film, I believe it to be mostly genuine. I don't discount the idea that the filmmakers may have manipulated the footage, and may not have been as innocent as they appear on screen, but I think the people and emotions on display are true.


One good thing about the possibility of financial collapse is that reality television is about to get real awesome. This is a movie that defies any attempts at actually reviewing it, so let me just say that shit gets blowed up real good. And sometimes that's enough for a lazy weekend afternoon.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My Movie Diary 2-21 to 2-23-11


Night of the Hunter(1955) A truly delightful film, despite the fact that it's actually quite menacing at times. Robert Mitchum plays a false priest who travels the country marrying widows and killing them. While in jail for stealing a car, he meets a man on death row for killing a guard during a bank robbery. Knowing the money was never found, and rightfully suspecting it was hidden somewhere on the man's property, Mitchum begins to romance his widow(Shelly Winters) and menace her two children. The film is at times comic, at times horrific, and features an odd, stilted, dreamlike quality even before the lengthy sequence where the children drift calmly down a river, watched over by nocturnal animals on the shore and followed always by Mitchum. Character actor Charles Laughton's only directorial effort utilizes archetypes and iconography in a more effective manner than most, from the Love and Hate tattoos on Mitchum's fingers to the exaggerated set design and use of shadows. A wonderfully expressionistic film, full of moments that will stick with me.


Machete(2010) Machete has enough gonzo moments for a dozen films, but also feels strangely lifeless. That's surprising for a movie with so much bloody violence and nudity. Robert Rodgriguez mimics the 70's sleaze and exploitation films he clearly loves, but brings none of the energy present in his earlier films to the table. It gets a lot of the details right - the smash cuts, the aggressive zooms, and of course the violence and nudity - and amplifies them to ridiculous heights, but the film lacks the vibrancy and energy of even some of the worst grindhouse films.


Great Expectations(1956) Commonly cited as the best Dickens adaptation, and for all I know it is. The film is a perfect distillation of the novel, keeping most of the main characters while spending only as much time with them as is necessary to keep the plot moving. The story, for those unfamiliar, concerns Pip, a young blacksmith's apprentice who finds himself the beneficiary of a large sum of money and the promise of property. His benefactor wishes to remain anonymous, but it's fairly likely that the mad Miss Havisham, locked away in her mouldering mansion, is behind it. Casting is fantastic, as Joe Gargery, Miss Havisham, Herbert Pocket and Estella are all exactly as you would imagine from reading the book, although I imagined Pip to be a bit more nebbishy than the film made him. Most of the alterations to the plot are merely omissions, as every full length novel contains too many plot points and characters to adequately squeeze into a 2 hour movie(let alone a book as filled to the brim as Great Expectations), although the film's ending swaps out Dickens' original ambiguously bittersweet finale for a more definite happy ending. Director David Lean does a great job crafting a cohesive film out of moments lifted directly from the novel, but ultimately it serves to remind you the book is still there, ready to be read again.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My Movie Diary


Black Orpheus(1959) Adaptation of the Greek tale of Orpheus and Eurydice set during Carnaval in Rio. New to town, Eurydice stays with her cousin, who lives next to Orfeu, a young man engaged to be married. The two begin a romance, set against the constant festivities of Carnaval. The film follows the myth pretty closely, with Eurydice dying at the hands of a costumed man who follows he through most of the film, and Orfeu following Hermes to a religious service that promises to bring Eurydice back. The finale offers it's own take on the Maenads who tear Orpheus apart. The film gets a lot of mileage out of the locale(the wooden shacks in the hills above the city), the constant bossa nova rhythms, and the incredibly likable leads.

The Mummy(1959)The film is an official remake of the original Universal film, although in this film the mummy is an instrument of revenge for a third party, rather than a resurrected man trying to revive his lost love. There are several scenes in The Mummy that are particularly creepy, like the image of Christopher Lee in fully Mummy garb rising slowly from a moonlit bog, but for most of the film it looks like someone wrapped a wetsuit in brown plaster of paris. Hammer stalwart Terrence Fisher does his usual job of keeping things lively, even when we get to see the same flashback three separate times.


Topper(1937) I've always found Cary Grant to be a little... off. I can't quite put it into words, but he never seems quite right in any of the films I've seen him in. Sure, he has charisma, and he seems perfectly likable, but he never seems to relax into any of his roles. It's fortunate, then, that the heavy lifting in this film are prompted by Constance Bennet as his wife. Grant and Bennet play George and Marion Kerby who, following a fatal car crash, try to perform one good deed and get into heaven by enlivening Roland Young's suppressed banker. A perfectly charming film that spawned a slew of sequels and a television series.

The Producers(1968) Subtlety has never been one of Mel Brooks' strong suits, yet this would almost qualify as such when compared to his other films. Sure, Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel flail and shout constantly, but there are no puns to be found, and there's only one notable moment of breaking the fourth wall.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

My Movie Diary


Thunder Rock(1942) Michael Redgrave is a lighthouse keeper on Thunder Rock in Lake Wisconsin. A former war correspondent who has become fed up with the apathy and entropy of the outside world, he lives alone and doesn't even leave his post to cash his paychecks. For company he spends his evenings among the ghosts of immigrants who drowned on the lake 100 years earlier, although the movie mentions that these are constructs of his active imagination who have taken on their own life. Through the life stories of the (imaginary) ghosts, he comes to the conclusion that he's given up on life prematurely. The ending should feel sappy and treacly, but feels redemptive after the persistent grimness of the rest of the film. James Mason gets second billing despite appearing only briefly in the beginning of the film.

Husk(2011) Convoluted beyond belief, but let me try to sum it up: a loner, outcast farm boy kills his more popular brother and hides his body as a scarecrow. Now, many years later, his spirit possesses whoever wanders into his cornfield and turns them into other scarecrows. He uses these husks to terrorize future travellers, and the cycle continues. The good news? He can only possess one scarecrow at a time. The story's inner logic holds, I guess, but it's never explained WHY any of this is happening, or WHY the rules are there, or WHY one of the victims keeps having flashbacks to the killer's childhood. This last question is a particularly annoying plot point that was obviously put in place by a writer who couldn't come up with any other way to advance the story, and there is absolutely no payoff to it whatsoever.

The Threepenny Opera(1931) Highly entertaining adaptation of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill opera. Cuts out some of the songs, but of course keeps Ballad of Mack The Knife(along with other personal favorites Pirate Jenny and The Cannon Song). It's hard to imagine an American version of this highly cynical and bleakly funny tale. None of the characters are redeemable, least of all Mackie Messer, a pedophile, thief, arsonist, murderer, pimp and rapist. Or Peachum, or rules the many homeless beggars of England by extorting from them large fees for the right to beg. The ending of the film(and opera) give these, and other undeserving characters, a ridiculously happy ending while the true poor and unprivileged shuffle back into the shadows.