Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Disney goes back to what it does best: a fairytale with a plucky princess, a monster/mother, psychosexual undertones, and a score by Alan Menken. What's new in this one is some gorgeous CGI made to look painterly, and I guess 3D (I saw this at home). It's a very decent Disney film. Standouts are Mother Gothel, the villainous mother-figure, voiced by a brilliant Donna Murphy, and Maximus the horse, a charming sidekick character with a deep sense of soldierly justice. I like when the Disney animals are anthropomorphized but don't actually speak, which is the way it goes in Tangled. What's not great in this one is the character design of Rapunzel, whose eyes are quite literally saucer-sized, and while the music of Alan Menken is good it's impossible to not miss the lyrics of the departed Howard Ash. Also, personally, I think that the wrong character performs the hair-ectomy in the final act. You'll know what I mean if you see it.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Deliverance (1970)

James Dickey's first novel--he'd published several volumes of poetry--and it's rightfully famous, although probably more people see the film nowadays than read the book. They're both good, one of those rare occasions when a first-rate film is made from a first-rate book. I particularly loved the first section of this novel, when the four men plan their trip down the river over drinks at a bar. It's a scene that's not in the movie, and one that captures perfectly the American specimen of the weekend warrior. The book, as it goes on, gets a little too heady and metaphysical, especially the hunting scene along the cliff but it all comes back together in the final section. A haunting book.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Poetry Monday

Bath Abbey

By Sarah Giragosian

Outside the birds and angels storm the walls.
Their wings appear to be still usable,
not clipped or chipped away, but heavenly
ascension is slowgoing. Angels robed
in stone and flocks of fattened pigeons climb
a Jacob’s ladder slick from rain, its rungs
arranged to meet a sky that spills over
with vaporous colors of tea and milk.

At times I hear them laughing audibly
beneath the choir vault: beggars, mostly--those
who come to dry off when the rain starts. I
have started coming--not to pray or pry
into their suffering--only to look
around. The city, populated once
by noblemen and lepers, conquerors
and socialites, was England's capital
for getaways, a pamphlet tells me. I
have milled around the shops and manors, roamed
among the tombs, my camera posed to shoot
the scale-like stonework of old cathedrals,
their rambling naves, their bodies fantastic
like chimera or dragons. I have reined
them into rolls of film, subdued their fire
into bunched curls as thin as smoke and ghosts.

Today the city's lights and luster bleed
through stained glass windows, drawing us to Gods
with crowns the shades of goldenrod and plum,
to suns offsetting the electric blues
of angel tunics. Townspeople and guides
converge with travelers and joggers; we're
all drenched and blown away by fan-
vaulted, altitudinous ceilings. We
relax, entombed within the splashy bowels
of chimera as angels rain and thrum
their fingernails against the window panes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


There's a moment in Paul Feig's Bridesmaids when Annie, played by Kristen Wiig, makes an elaborate cupcake and the audience is shown every step. She bakes the cake then cuts leaves out of fondant, makes a colored frosting, sculpts flowers from it, and creates a small work of art. She stares at the cupcake as it sits on her counter then takes a forlorn bite. Annie had opened her own bakery during the recession and now she's lost everything. It's probable that the cupcake she was creating was something she might have made for her best friend Lilliana's bridal shower. We aren't told this but later, after Annie has lost out on Maid of Honor duties to Lilliana's new (and very rich) friend, there is a contrasting scene where Annie freaks out at the over-the-top bridal shower and literally attacks a giant cookie in the shape of a heart, rolling around on the ground with it and ripping it to shreds. Wiig pulls off both moments perfectly in this heartfelt, profane, and very funny comedy. She's a fully-formed character who can also perform broad comic moments. Best comedy of the year so far, and the only wedding comedy I've seen that deals with the class conflicts that bubble up around weddings.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Poetry Monday

A Primer of the Daily Round

by Howard Nemerov

A peels an apple, while B kneels to God,
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E’s knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H’s grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L’s head,
And M takes mustard, N drives to town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead, 
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,
     Who happens, just now to remember A
      Peeling an apple somewhere far away.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Largely forgettable action-comedy that's neither particularly funny nor exciting. Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and Mary Louis Parker are all fine in this but the script is neither real enough to make you care nor ludicrous enough to entertain.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Casino Royale (1966)

So what do you get when you combine an Ian Fleming novel, a James Bond parody, a huge budget, stellar 1960s set and costume design, a topnotch Burt Bacharach score, Woody Allen, Peter Sellers, David Niven, Ursula Andress, John Huston, Orson Welles, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, Charles Boyer, Jean Paul Belmondo, Barbara Bouchet and Jacqueline Bisset? Everyone knows the answer to this, right? You get an awful awful film. I will admit there are parts of the film I'm fond of, and not just "The Look of Love." Sellers has some funny bits and I have never disliked David Niven in anything. I also believe that this film contains the single most stunning, and stunningly filmed, cast of actresses. Name a film that has better. Proof below. My screencaps.
Joanna Pettet

Ursula Andress

Barbara Bouchet

Deborah Kerr, surrounded by extras

Alexandra Bastedo

Jacqueline Bisset

Monday, May 9, 2011

Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino is my favorite living director. Unlike other fans, I like his later films better than his earlier ones. While I liked Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, my favorite film in his ography is Jackie Brown. I loved both Kill Bills, Death Proof, and Inglourious Basterds. So even though I would love to go into all of his films cold, it just never happens because his scripts are usually leaked and I can't help myself. I read them.

Which brings us to Django Unchained, Tarantino's next film, a Spaghetti-style Western set in the old south. This is going to be one interesting film. It's essentially a popcorn flick with a freed slave wreaking revenge on slave-owners while attempting to rescue his wife from an evil plantation owner.

Here are ten thoughts on the script:

1. There has never been a film like this (people who think Tarantino does not make original films are not paying attention). The mixture of an entertaining genre film, mixed in with constant horrendous slave imagery--whippings, rape, castrations, auctions--is going to really put some people off. But I think it will work. Why is this period of history off limits in the movies except for incredibly reverent films?

2. The narrative sequencing of the movie is fairly straightforward, and at times it seems to amble a little bit without big set-pieces. But once all the characters are introduced at about the halfway mark it starts to really cook.

3. If filmed as written this will be Tarantino's most violent film by far. Think about that for a moment.

4. Tarantino writes parts with actors in mind and it's clear that King Schultz, the German bounty hunter who frees then mentors Django, is written for Christoph Waltz. It's a great role, funny and dangerous but with a rock-solid moral base, an interesting character for a Tarantino movie. He's a decent father figure. That's like having a decent mother-figure in a Hitchcock film.

5. The plantation owner Calvin Candie's house slave is a character named Stephen, referred to as a black Basil Rathbone, and it was most likely written with Samuel Jackson in mind. He will knock this out of the park.

6. This is the first Tarantino film that is set in a time before movies were made and I missed some of the out-loud movie referencing that is always part of his character's landscape. However, this is a film very much about the movies. It occurred to me that King Schultz (a German) directs (in a sense) the transformation of Django from slave to hero, from victim to bad-ass, and that the film is another meditation (like Basterds) on the the cathartic nature of film imagery.

7. This film is also a mythological tale, a retelling of the Siegfried and Broomhilde myth (I'm not being pretentious here--this is all part of the script). And like Kill Bill (another mythological revenge tale), the emotional pay-off is huge.

8. There are tons of roles for sniggering ugly gun-toting white guys in this film and it's impossible to think that Tarantino will resist casting himself as one of them. But I wish he would, resist that is. (And please don't cast Eli Roth either).

9. There are rumors that Will Smith might play Django. At first I thought this was a terrible idea, mainly because Will Smith is a little tainted for me these days with the vanity projects, the script tampering and the way he's cutting deals left and right to turn his offspring into mini-stars. But then I think back to Smith's early career and how good he was and I think he could play Django. In fact, I think he might be perfect. His star quality would make an interesting counterpoint to some of the degradations he suffers.

10. Django Unchained is not a sequel to the 1966 Django, except for maybe in attitude. If you haven't seen the Franco Nero (picture below) classic, it's worth checking out. Pay no attention to the horrible dubbing and just enjoy the over-the-top Spaghetti Western violence and the beautiful cinematography. Also, one of the best title songs of all time. Maybe not one of, maybe just the best.

Poetry Monday

Ex-Basketball Player
by John Updike
Pearl Avenue runs past the high-school lot,
Bends with the trolley tracks, and stops, cut off
Before it has a chance to go two blocks,
At Colonel McComsky Plaza. Berth’s Garage
Is on the corner facing west, and there,
Most days, you'll find Flick Webb, who helps Berth out.

Flick stands tall among the idiot pumps—
Five on a side, the old bubble-head style,
Their rubber elbows hanging loose and low.
One’s nostrils are two S’s, and his eyes
An E and O. And one is squat, without
A head at all—more of a football type.

Once Flick played for the high-school team, the Wizards.
He was good: in fact, the best. In ’46
He bucketed three hundred ninety points,
A county record still. The ball loved Flick.
I saw him rack up thirty-eight or forty
In one home game. His hands were like wild birds.

He never learned a trade, he just sells gas,
Checks oil, and changes flats. Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.
His hands are fine and nervous on the lug wrench.
It makes no difference to the lug wrench, though.

Off work, he hangs around Mae’s Luncheonette.
Grease-gray and kind of coiled, he plays pinball,
Smokes those thin cigars, nurses lemon phosphates.
Flick seldom says a word to Mae, just nods
Beyond her face toward bright applauding tiers
Of Necco Wafers, Nibs, and Juju Beads.