Monday, June 28, 2010

Easy Virtue (1928)

This silent film by Alfred Hitchcock is an adaptation of a Noel Coward play. Unfortunately, there's not really enough play (without the words) to carry this film. It starts to drag, although there are nice Hitchcock touches throughout and Isabel Jeans is good as Larita Filton, a woman denied happiness because of a scandalous past.

Poetry Monday


by H. D.

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air—
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat—
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The After House (1914)

Mary Roberts Rinehart was a celebrated mystery author ("the American Agatha Christie") in the first half of last century. She's credited with the phrase "the butler did it," although it never appeared in any of her writing (a butler did do it, however, in one her mysteries). In The After House, a young doctor trying to recuperate from Typhoid Fever, takes a job as a deckhand on a yacht. Out at sea, in the course of one evening, three people are murdered with an axe. It's a good premise, both the three murders all at once, then the paranoia and terror of the remaining passengers.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Toy Story 3 (2010)

Not surprisingly, another great entry into the Toy Story franchise, and another perfectly realized Pixar film. The old characters--Woody, Buzz, Jesse, Slinky Dog, etcetera--are all great, plus a whole new bunch of characters are introduced. My favorites: a plastic phone that's straight out of a 1950s police procedural, and a hedgehog (Mr. Prickly Pants) with classical training. There's a great escape sequence, natch, new creepy villains, and, of course, thematic subtext, in this case: death, and what does it mean to lose the ones we love the most.

The Skin Game (1931)

Apparently a film that Hitchcock was obliged to do to finish out his contract with British International Pictures. It shows. It's not terrible exactly but it lacks energy and spark. Edmund Gwenn is good as a nouveau riche landowner in a battle with the local gentry. His daughter-in-law becomes a pawn in their game and it all ends badly. Standard melodrama with a couple of nice Hitchcock touches, including some ingenious match-cuts.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sabotage (1936)

One thing about Hitchcock's movies is that even though they are about murders, criminals, wrongdoings, etcetera, his films are first and foremost about entertainment. They don't tend to be grim affairs, with a few exceptions of course, such as Vertigo. Another exception is Sabotage, a grim little thriller he made when he was with Gaumont Pictures in England. Sylvia Sidney plays a young woman married to an older man (Oscar Homolka), who is secretly part of a group of saboteurs (Nazis presumably, although unnamed) in London. She is devoted to her younger brother, and the central sequence of the film involves the saboteur using the young boy to deliver a bomb to Picadilly station. Things go disastrously wrong, naturally. There is also a romantic figure, a detective from Scotland Yard played by John Loder who has a crush on Sylvia Sidney, but the film maintains its aura of dread and gloom. It's a great movie, perfectly filmed, perfectly acted, and with a genuine sense of suspense and also of place. It really captures the bustling dirty streets of 1936 London.

Poster of the year

so far ...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Poetry Monday

A poem from John Updike for the first day of summer.

Sand Dollar

This disc, stelliferous,
survived the tide
to tell us some small creature
lived and died;
its convex delicacy
defies the void
that crushed a vanished

Stoop down, delighted;
hoard in your hand
this sand-colored coin
redeemed from the sand
and know, my young sudden
that other modes of being
do exist.

Behold the horizon.
Vastness acts
the wastrel with
its artifacts.
The sea holds lives
as a dream holds clues;
what one realm spends
another can use.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Pregnant Widow (2010)

Thing is: he reads. A lot. He reads in the swollen cumulus of his weathered sheets, and in the echoey skull of his office. He even reads outside, in the gaze of those who no longer read. He reads on the subway, thumbing greasy pages in counterpoint with the hum and throb of a hundred muted earslugs and headbuns. He even reads in nature, on the sizzling griddle of beaches and in the shit-strewn parks.

Why does he do it? Escape, of course. We all know about escape because we all know imprisonment. We all know imprisonment because we all know childhood. We might not all be old, but we were all young once, stuck in our sharkcage of wallpaper, our ribcage of plushy toys.

And what does he read? Today, today he reads The Pregnant Widow. What's it like? It's like ... it's like (and where do you go from here? You go to metaphor of course, because metaphor is how we talk when we talk about the things we read. Right?) The Metaphor: Picture yourself at the bar with Slosh, your girl. And picture Slosh. She's painterly in certain light. This light for instance, the bent, brandy-colored light of this bar, The Ruddery Oar. And her parts--yes, she's got the parts--these parts are in the right place. But then--but then, another girl spiders by, you know the type, the type that turn normal blokes like yourself into rubber on legs, into 5'6" of drool. So suddenly, Slosh, who you're with, doesn't look so good. She looks like Slosh, all pocked skin and squidgy features and human frailty. She looks like you.

And that's what it's like, reading The Pregnant Widow by MA, when there are a million plus pages of youth in Italy, youth by the coppery pool, youth in the scooter-torn town, youth in the tangled bed, and Keith, the hero of all this youth, keeps going on about Jane Austen, and what Emma did on Box Hill and what Mr. Bennett said about Elizabeth, and suddenly there's all this comparison. As in: why am I reading this book, and not a better one. For example, why am I not reading a book by Jane Austen.

(I wrote this indulgent parody a few days ago, halfway through the book. I've now finished it, and it ended better than it started. A lot better. The long coda of the book, in which the narrator/hero (clearly an autobiographical stand-in for MA) recounts the progression of years is very good, some of the most interesting, and certainly some of the most emotional writing that Amis has done. I wouldn't recommend this book to others (I don't normally recommend any Martin Amis book to others--he's definitely not for everyone) but it's the most I've enjoyed his fiction writing in years.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday, June 14, 2010

Poetry Monday

Pilgrim's Progress
by David Barber

The fin is the finest thing of its kind.
The wing's a wonder the world over.
The tongue is a form of eternal flame.
The stone's a story that never grows old.

O fin, it's certain you want for nothing.
Yo wing, you're everything we've ever dreamed.
You said it, tongue: of arms and men you sing.
Here's looking at you, stone: a star is born.

Who doesn't burn for a soul on the wing?
Where is the man that can fine-tune the fin?
When shall we learn to read the mind of the stone?
What in the world holds its own like the tongue?

Stone says fin's the one that schooled the wing.
Story goes one singer could charm the stones.
Rock, paper, scissors: worlds without end.
One slip of the tongue makes the whole world kin.

All together now: the many in the one.
Brush fire of fins shirring the fathoms,
Cairns of lost tongues, the chorus in the wings
Riffing on the omens of the heavens.

Soul knows it can't live on breath alone.
When the tongue wags the dog, the fur's gonna fly.
The stone is a kind of recording angel.
The wing's got the beat. The fin makes waves.

Wing it, mother tongue: the world's your whetstone.
We're wired for sound. We're unfinished business.
Let's hear it for the phoenix, all fired up.
Sirens, rock us to sleep with the fishes.

Let's hear it for descent with variations.
Let him without fin go back to the grindstone.
The bat is the manta ray's soul brother.
The dolphin's glossolalia speaks volumes.

Hosannas for sea changes, the wish made flesh.
As the silkworm turns, as the chrysalis
Is my witness, leviathan's no fluke.
Blood from a stone is a thing to behold.

Blow me down with a feather, fishers of men;
Rock of ages, take me under your wing.
Muse, make it new: leave no tongue untuned.
Rock my world, winged gods: begin again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Wolfman (2010)

Back when Universal first announced that it was planning on doing remakes of their great horror films, this was what I had in mind. Not The Mummy
(although I like those films for what they are) with its cheesy humor and kinetic action scenes, but an updated creaky, gothic horror film with slightly better effects. This is what The Wolfman is. It's slow moving at times (in a good way) with tons of storybook atmosphere: ominous moons, creepy moors, gothic mansions, London rooftops, and it's also a pure horror movie with nasty moments and a surprising amount of gooey gore.

It definitely has its problems, notably a very bloated last act, and some questionable CGI effects. Is it not possible to get a real bear for a movie? Or a real stag? I also wasn't nuts about Anthony Hopkins but these days I'm never that nuts about him. Benicio Del Toro was muted but decent, Emily Blunt proves she can act in anything, and Hugo Weaving is fun as a Scotland Yard detective on the case.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Under Capricorn (1949)

I wouldn't call this movie a failure, but it is fairly dull, definitely when you consider it a Hitchcock film. But it's not really a thriller, more of a melodrama that circles around a very strange couple in 19th century Australia. Joseph Cotton plays an ex-convict who has made good but has a sadistic streak, and Ingrid Bergman is his alcoholic wife. Hitchcock films it almost entirely in long shots of about five to eight minutes in length and certain scenes are mesmerizing to watch. The scene where Michael Wilding, who plays the governor's cousin, arrives for a dinner party at Joseph Cotton and Ingrid Bergman's house is complete brilliance. He moves from window to window peering into the house and learning its secrets.

Another thing: any scene with stage actress Margaret Leighton as Milly, the servant in love with her master, is amazing. She steals the show.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Work of Art

A new show that starts tonight on Bravo. It's essentially Project Runway or Top Chef but with visual artists. Could be good. I reviewed it for Slant here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

Poetry Monday

Intimidations of an Autobiography
by James Tate

I am walking a trail
on a friend's farm
about three miles from

town. I arrange the day
for you. I stop and say,
you would not believe how happy

I was as a child,
to some logs. Blustery wind
puts tumbleweed

in my face as I am
pretending to be on my way
home to see you and

the family again,
to touch the orange
fingers of the moon.

That's how I think of it.
The years flipped back last night
and I drank hot rum till

It was a wild success and I wasn't sad when
I woke past noon

and saw the starlings in the sky.
My brain's an old rag anyway,
but I've got a woman and you'd say

she's too good for me. You'd call
her a real doll and me a goof-ball.
I've got my head between my paws

because it's having a damn
birthday party. How old do you think I am?
I bet you think I'm

It doesn't matter. Just between
us, you know what I'm doing

now? I'm calling the cows home.
They're coming, too.
I lower

myself to the ground lazily,
a shower of avuncular kisses
issuing from my hands and lips-

I just wanted to tell you
I remember you even now;
Goodbye, goodbye. Here come the cows.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Condominium (1977)

It's for books like this that you hold back words. Words like awesome, brilliant, perfectly conceived, monumental. The best thing I've read by John D. MacDonald, though not the most entertaining. This is one long, bleak novel. It profiles the residents, mostly retired, of a cheaply constructed condominium on Florida's Gulf coast, as a devastating storm slowly approaches. One day, when I finish all his books, I'll be able to truly rank them, but this will definitely be up there.

Persons Unknown (2010)

A new show starting tomorrow night on NBC. It's written by Christopher McQuarrie, who wrote The Usual Suspects. Should be good, right? It's not really. My review is up at Slant Magazine.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Get Him to the Greek (2010)

For three quarters of its running time, this is a genuinely funny anarchic comedy about bad behavior. It's not frivolous either. Underneath the alcohol and heroin and parties and puking there is an actual undercurrent of psychological perception. The scenes between Russell Brand and his father, played by Colm Meany, are pretty angry and bleak, while at the same time being part of the greatest scene in the movie, the furry wall party. Russell Brand (and I was not sure I could stand an entire movie about him) was great, very funny while never seeming to mug for the camera. But the movie was stolen by Sean "P. Diddy" Combs as Sergio, the president of the record company. He had some serious comedic chops.

The movie turns maudlin toward the end, and it doesn't work at all. The sentimentality seems forced and unreal. I think it was a missed opportunity on the part of the filmmakers who could have done something much much better. I didn't expect brilliance along the lines of Richard Grant's Hamlet soliloquy to the wolves in the zoo at the end of Withnail and I but maybe something that approached that.

The picture is of Elisabeth Moss, who was incredibly natural as Jonah Hill's overworked medical student girlfriend. It wasn't the greatest role (mature girlfriend of immature guy) but she was very good.