Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dorothy Malone

I was lucky enough to see The Big Sleep at The Brattle last week. I've seen it many times but it never fails to entertain. I love Bogart's Marlowe; he moves with such coolness and wit ("She tried to sit in my lap while I was standing up") throughout the corruption of the plot, and I love that he's willing to show fear and vulnerability at the end of the film. Lauren Bacall is equally cool as his love interest but she's not the only female who makes an impression in the film. Martha Vickers is frighteningly good as Bacall's drug-addict nymphomaniac sister, and I've always enjoyed Dorothy Malone's single scene as the free-thinking proprietress of the Acme Bookshop, willing to close early and enjoy some mid-afternoon rye with Mr. Marlowe.

I looked Ms. Malone up on the IMDB when I got home, and was surprised to discover that she had roles in two other films I love, and that I'd never made the connection. She plays Marylee Hadley, the out-of-control daughter of an oil tycoon in Sirk's Written on the Wind (for which she won an oscar). It's an unbelievable performance, even without the mambo dancing.

Less celebrated is her role as aging murderess Hazel Dobkins in Basic Instinct. It was her final role, however. She hasn't acted since but is still alive. Here's to you, Ms. Malone.

Monday, November 28, 2011

An Unsuitable Job For a Woman (1972)

I wouldn't say that this book, focusing on private detective Cordelia Gray, was better than the Dalgliesh mysteries but I liked it a lot more. I don't know why exactly but maybe something about Cordelia's youth and inexperience (and quirkiness) freed James from the normally rigid Dalgliesh formula. This was a highly entertaining novel about a man who hires Gray to discover why his son committed suicide. There were a number of satisfying twists, all fairly ludicrous, and the writing by James was superlative. I'm looking forward to reading her latest novel: a murder mystery that also happens to be sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

Poetry Monday

Lime Pickle

by James Lasdun

Your father, not yet divorced,
Rosy-cheeked from the Garrick,
In his Savile Row pin-striped suit
Presided over the feast.

He spread the menu like a general’s map,
Plotting his debauch
On the virginal palates
Of his teenage daughter and her first “chap.”

In our singular innocence
We had tasted nothing stronger
Or stranger than each other’s lips,
But your father’s extravagance

(It broke him later)
Shoaling in salvers on the table
Under the tabla’s gulp and throb
And the moan of a sitar

Made our mouths water.
Unlidded, the dishes sizzled;
Spiced, cream-rich, sprinkled with edible gold;
A taste of our imminent future,

Though what I recall
Most clearly twenty years on
As I read his obit in The Times,
Is the spoonful of lime pickle

He tricked me into eating;
His harsh laughter
As it burned like a living coal
On my astounded tongue

Which however has learned
His own preference for mixed blessings,
Having grown sharper since then,
And somewhat thicker-skinned.

Thursday, November 24, 2011


This was always going to be a film that was essentially critic-proof. It's a movie-geek's dream, a story about the early years of cinema, and a quasi-biopic of early practitioner Georges Melies. So it's no surprise that Hugo is getting some of Scorsese's best reviews in years. But the good reviews are deserved, in me humble opinion. It's a beautifully filmed tale of an orphan who surreptitiously lives in a Paris train station. There are multiple storylines but they all somehow relate to the early advent of cinema, and the movie itself, with its myriad of cinematic tricks, is all about the magic of cinema. There were lots of standouts in this film but in particular, Sacha Baron Cohen as an orphan-hating gendarme with a doberman, and Chloe Grace Moretz as an intrepid girl adventurer, were my particular favorites. If I had to nitpick (and Charlene really put this idea in my head) Ben Kingsley is too earnest and self-important as Melies. He telegraphs his importance from the very beginning of the film. It's small potatoes in a really lovely film.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Woody Allen: a Documentary

Robert Weide's documentary on Woody Allen is pretty spectacular. It runs over three hours and was aired in two parts (Sunday and Monday of this week) on American Masters on PBS. It's light on Allen's personal life (although it doesn't ignore it) and heavy on his creative process, and, of course, heavy on his films, showing great clips and getting insightful commentary from film critics and collaborators.

Woody is a pretty remarkable man, a cultural figure who has been in the public eye since the early 1960s, and a man who has written and directed over forty films. There are obviously quite a few duds in that number but there are also, in my opinion, 3 or 4 great movies, and many, many good ones. The fact that one of my favorite films of his--the beautiful Midnight in Paris--came out this year is remarkable. You can never count him out.

One thing I took away from the documentary is the way in which he seems to never look back. The day he finishes final edits on his current project is the day he begins writing his next film. He doesn't read any reviews, and seems to have only a passing notion of which of his films are revered and which are not. He simply gets to work on his next project, trying to make the best film he can.

Allen directing his next film, Nero Fiddled

Monday, November 21, 2011

Poetry Monday


by T. E. Hulme

Old houses were scaffolding once
                                    and workmen whistling.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Blue Afternoon (1997)

Felt a little forced for a William Boyd novel. The plot, involving a female architect in Los Angeles in the 1930s, and flashbacks to the Philipino-American war at the turn of the century, is fairly convoluted. The two strands don't really come together. Even the beautiful writing in this feels planned out in advance, as though Boyd set out to write a book with a large dramatic sweep. I'm making this sound like an utter failure and it wasn't really: just not his best.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Pretty mediocre, especially considering Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's previous collaborations. Still, while it wasn't funny (that's really the biggest problem with the film) it was sort of likable, and the alien design with the Seth Rogen voice actually worked, and I really liked Kristen Wiig's character, and the aped Spielberg shots were fun. That's all I have to say.

(Fun fact: Because of complications with shooting this film, Simon Pegg was unable to play the Archie Hickox character in Inglourious Basterds, the part that went, instead, to the relatively unknown Michael Fassbender. Did Paul turn Fassbender into a star?)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Poetry Monday

It's a Larkin kind of day today (i.e. every day).

Sad Steps
by Philip Larkin

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness.

Four o'clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There's something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate -
Lozenge of love! Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements! No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Sick Report

I've had a bad cold and been watching some crappy television. So here's the recap.

How To Make It in America
Watched pretty much the full season. It's a likable show, while not being particularly interesting. HBO had had some pretty bland comedies in the last few years.

The Barefoot Contessa
Well-written, witty drama by Joseph L. Mankiewicz that outstays its welcome. Just too long, or I was just too sick.

The Roommate
Sorry Friday Night Lights fans, but Minka Kelly really cannot act.

Heard this was decent (unlike its spawn) and it was. Fast, twisty and gruesome, and with a spectacularly bad performance by Cary Elwes (intentional?).

Monday, November 7, 2011

Poetry Monday

I Started Early - Took My Dog

by Emily Dickinson

I started Early - Took my Dog -
And visited the Sea -
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me -

And Frigates - in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands -
Presuming Me to be a Mouse -
Aground - upon the Sands -

But no Man moved Me - till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe -
And past my Apron - and my Belt
And past my Bodice - too -

And made as He would eat me up -
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve -
And then - I started - too -

And He - He followed - close behind -
I felt His Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle - Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl -

Until We met the Solid Town -
No One He seemed to know
And bowing - with a Mighty look -
At me - The Sea withdrew -

Sunday, November 6, 2011


A series of scenes that repeat themselves and go nowhere. Maybe that's why it's called "Beginners," but it's frustrating to watch. Ewan MacGregor plays an LA-based graphic designer coming to grips with his father's death while starting a new relationship with Melanie Laurent, a French actress. The actors (and the film, at times) are attractive to look at but that's about it. You know a film is in trouble when MacGregor, Laurent and Christopher Plummer are all upstaged by a Jack Russell Terrier.