Monday, February 28, 2011

Cottage to Let (1941)

In this war-time mystery from England (it was called Bombsight Stolen in America) a nest of German spies infiltrate a country estate in Scotland. Other guests and inhabitants include a precocious evacuee child who fancies himself Sherlock Holmes, a Scotland Yard detective masquerading as a butler, and a couple of scientists working on an innovative new bombsight. There are a few too many characters in the mix but it's efficient well-acted escapism, just not particularly memorable.

Poetry Monday

Death in Leamington

by John Betjeman

She died in the upstairs bedroom
    By the light of the ev’ning star
That shone through the plate glass window
    From over Leamington Spa.

Beside her the lonely crochet
    Lay patiently and unstirred,
But the fingers that would have work’d it
    Were dead as the spoken word.

And Nurse came in with the tea-things
    Breast high ‘mid the stands and chairs—
But Nurse was alone with her own little soul,
    And the things were alone with theirs.

She bolted the big round window,
    She let the blinds unroll,
She set a match to the mantle,
     She covered the fire with coal.

And “Tea!” she said in a tiny voice
    “Wake up! It’s nearly five.”
Oh! Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness,
    Half dead and half alive!

Do you know that the stucco is peeling?
    Do you know that the heart will stop?
From those yellow Italianate arches
    Do you hear the plaster drop?

Nurse looked at the silent bedstead,
    At the gray, decaying face,
As the calm of a Leamington ev’ning
    Drifted into the place.

She moved the tables of bottles
    Away from the bed to the wall;
And tiptoeing gently over the stairs
    Turned down the gas in the hall.

Sunday, February 27, 2011


The final book in The Hunger Games trilogy. I thought Collins stuck the landing, even though this was probably the least entertaining of the three books. I kept waiting for the books to somehow hedge their bets, become sentimental, become less brutal, but what I thought worked best about this was just how nightmarish and violent the final moments were; this was probably the most disturbing of the three. I also like how the characters that lived were essentially broken human beings; there was hope at the end but it was tempered by all that they had gone through, and the possibility that things were not going to get better. I know some people (I'm looking at you, Kelly) thought Katniss should have emerged more triumphant somehow, but I thought the way this book ended was perfect.

Bring on the terrible movie versions. (They might not be terrible but the chances are ...)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Apropos of Nothing

The red-band trailer for Your Highness does not look funny.

The red-band trailer for Bad Teacher does.

Why do people still get excited for new Radiohead albums?

If the Red Sox stay healthy this year I think they'll win the AL East by ten games.

Now that the Coen Brothers have made a straight-up Western, I think they should make a straight-up horror flick.

I appreciate that Quentin Tarantino takes a long time between projects, and wants to make sure that every one of his film is a labor of love, but I wish he were a teensy bit more prolific.

Speaking of Tarantino, if I controlled the movie-universe, I would make him direct an adaption of John D. MacDonald's The Deep Blue Goodbye, set in 1964, with Timothy Olyphant as Travis McGee.

The new Decemberist's Album The King is Dead is the best album they've ever made.

Community is turning in one of the boldest seasons in sit-com history. Not every episode works but every episode takes huge chances.

I enjoyed The Hangover but I don't even want to watch the trailer for the sequel.

She's only been in two episodes so far but when Margo Martindale doesn't win an Emmy next year for her work in Justified it'll be pure robbery.

The Macallan 12 Year Old Fine Oak scotch is like heaven in a bottle (thank you, Charlene). It's been a long winter but you're helping, Macallan. You too, Charlene.

Film Frames Friday

Hint: We are the champions.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


An adult fairy tale, a little obvious at times, but fairly magical and engrossing. Colin Farrell plays Syracuse, an Irish fisherman who pulls a girl up in his net. Is she a selkie? Even though you can feel the film pulling at your heartstrings (Syracuse has a dying daughter), it works, staying gritty enough to earn its happiness. Colin Farrell is sad and quiet as Syracuse, and Alicja Bachleda is very good as the girl from the sea. Neil Jordan is a director with a spotty record but I've loved at least three of his films, and this one was as good as he's been in years.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Oscar Predictions

I'm not a big fan of Oscar Predictions but I am fond of the pithy little Will Win/Should Win/Was Robbed/Doesn't Belong rubric that a lot of newspapers use. So here are my picks, subject to change at the last minute.

Best Supporting Actress
Will Win: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit
Was Robbed: Olivia Williams, The Ghost Writer
Doesn't Belong: Amy Adams, The Fighter

Best Supporting Actor

Will Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Should Win: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Was Robbed: Matt Damon, True Grit
Doesn't Belong: Mark Ruffalo, The Kids Are All Right

Best Actress
Will Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Should Win: Natalie Portman, Black Swan
Was Robbed: Tilda Swinton, I Am Love
Doesn't Belong: I abstain

Best Actor
Will Win: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Should Win: Colin Firth, The King's Speech
Was Robbed: Ciaran Hinds, The Eclipse
Doesn't Belong: James Franco, 127 Hours

Best Director
Will Win: David Fincher, The Social Network
Should Win: David Fincher, The Social Network
Was Robbed: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Doesn't Belong: Tom Hooper, The King's Speech

Best Picture
Will Win: The King's Speech
Should Win: True Grit
Was Robbed: The Ghost Writer
Doesn't Belong: 127 Hours

Sunday, February 20, 2011


A good Saturday night flick about a runaway train and the men (and women) who try and stop it. Denzel Washington plays Frank Barnes, an aging railway man who decides to go after the runaway train himself. Sounds a little cheesy? Yeah, a little bit, but Denzel is just one of those movie stars that always raises the material that he stars in. He brings a ton of appeal and naturalness to every role he's in. Chris Pine is fine as the young buck who buddies up with Denzel, and Rosario Dawson is very good as a rail station manager.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

127 Hours

About as good a film as could have been made from the source material. Director Danny Boyle makes an energetic movie about the true story of Aaron Rolston, trapped for 127 hours in the canyonlands with a pinned arm. I think most people know what happens to the arm.

Sometimes it's too energetic; it's clear that Boyle knows the limitations of his material and overcompensates with swooping camera angles and fanciful moments. Still, it works for the most part. I enjoyed it but I don't think it was one of the ten best films of the year.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Ordeal by Innocence (1958)

A fairly mediocre Agatha Christie, even though the author herself said it was one of her favorites. It starts well: a convicted murderer is found innocent, a year or so after he has died in prison. His innocence means that another family member is responsible for the death of Mrs. Argyle, a woman who had adopted five children.

The book meanders along without a lot happening; the plot is mainly filled in with dialogue. It does pick up at the very end (a sudden flurry of murder and attempted murder) but it's a little too late. Also toward the end, the very very end, there is a romantic subplot that is introduced that seemed unnecessary and tagged on.

There are a lot of psychological portrayals in this book, especially among the adopted children (all adults when the book takes place), but I don't think Christie quite nails it. She is best, I think, in a more light-hearted mode, or as light-hearted as murder mysteries can get (I guess they can get pretty light-hearted). The sinister tone of this book and the psychological complexity makes me wonder what someone like Ruth Rendell might do with the same plot.

Film Frames Friday

Hint: What are your plans this Monday?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Best British Films

My friend Kevin alerted me to a new list of 100 Best British Films, compiled by Time Out Magazine. I say it's a new list because the British Film Institute has already done a top 100 British films but this list is quite different. For example, The Third Man does not rank number one on the Time Out list; that spot goes to Don't Look Now. Now, I love Don't Look Now as much as the next 1970s horror fan, but it's not better than The Third Man, at least in my game of poker.

The real reason to look at the list is that they compile everyone they polled and give you their individual Top Tens. This, to me, is far more interesting than the big list. Who knew that Thandie Newton's favorite British film is The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner?

So, because I love making lists like my cat loves shoelaces, I thought I'd do my top ten Brit Flicks, not an easy task. Here they are, in order.

10. The Wings of the Dove (1997)
A film I love a lot more than anyone I know. Contains, I believe, one of the greatest screen performances ever by Helena Bonham Carter.

9. Walkabout (1971)
Unpleasant but unshakeable. Australian children lost in the wilderness.

8. Dead of Night (1945)
My choice for greatest British horror film. It has some flawed moments but the final sequence seals the deal.

7. Mona Lisa (1986)
 My favorite British noir and a heartbreaking tragedy.

6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Everything came together for the sixth Bond film--best story, best Bond girl, best music. Well, everything but best Bond. Would Connery have worked in this odd film? We'll never know.

5. The 39 Steps (1935)
The first of many perfectly-realized Hitchcock films.

4. Local Hero (1983)
A love story between a man and a place. Dry wit and and magical realism.

3. I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)
My favorite Powell & Pressburger, also about love and about place.

2. The Third Man (1949)
Not only is this one of the great thrillers it also has some great comedy, zither music, and an unrequited love story.

1. The Lady Vanishes (1938)
I do believe this is the greatest melding of adventure, comedy and romance. It is also the British version of Stagecoach and a call to arms for pre-war Britain.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Poetry Monday


by Paul Engle

Because we do 

All things together

All things improve,

Even weather.

Our daily meat

And bread taste better,

Trees greener,

Rain is wetter.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Night in the City (1950)

A beautiful film noir made by Jules Dassin and starring Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney. It is also an oddity in that it was filmed in London and the plot circles Harry Fabian's (Widmark's) pathetic attempt to re-tool himself as a wrestling promoter by championing pure Greco-Roman style wrestling over a new and more popular flashier style. And, yes, there are wrestling scenes, including a doozy between the great Mike Mazurki and Stanislaus Zbyszko, one of the sweatiest fleshiest fights I've ever seen put on film. Widmark is amazing as Fabian, who never really had a chance, and then there's a parallel storyline with Googie Withers trying to open her own private club in London. She's particularly heartbreaking in a film filled with dead-end losers.