Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Full Circle

I thoroughly enjoyed Lena Dunham's Girls on HBO. I knew it was going to be a different type of show when the initial fade-in presented the main character, Hannah, with food in her mouth. It turned out that she was eating (wolfing down) a nice meal paid for by her parents, right before they dropped the bomb on her that she was no longer getting her post-college allowance.

So when the first series ended with Hannah, penniless (her purse stolen) and stuck in Coney Island eating left-over cake from Jessa's ill-advised wedding I instantly saw that the show had come to some sort of full circle. This is what I liked about Girls. It's not just that it was funny but it always felt like it had a plan, a point of view that Dunham wanted to get across.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Poetry Monday

Interview with Doctor Drink

by J. V. Cunningham

I have a fifth of therapy
In the house, and not transference there.
Doctor, there's not much wrong with me,
Only a sick rattlesnake somewhere

In the house, if it be there at all,
But the lithe mouth is coiled. The shapes
Of door and window move. I call.
What is it that pulls down the drapes,

Disheveled and exposed? Your rye
Twists in my throat: intimacy
Is like hard liquor. Who but I
Coil there and squat, and pay your fee?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

British Horror

Saw two very different films this weekend, although both were horror films from the UK: Attack the Block (2011) and The Vampire Lovers (1970). I liked both quite a bit. Attack the Block was a fast-paced alien invasion flick in which a gang of criminal teenagers wind up being the heroes who fend off an alien attack on a South London council house.

It worked, in large part, due to the fact that it wasn't a spoof and took its premise seriously. Not that it wasn't funny but the alien bits were actually scary, and the consequences were real. It also took a real risk in opening up the movie by showing the kids terrorizing and mugging a lone woman on a dark street. The fact that by the end of the movie the gang members were mostly redeemed was a pretty astounding piece of script-writing.

I liked The Vampires Lovers as well, although the script, while not terrible, was certainly not astounding. I probably liked it because of scenes like this:

But there were other reasons. Peter Cushing. Fog machines. A decent vampire story in which the vampires are just the embodiment of pure evil. Plus lesbians. Vampire lesbians.

I got out of the house as well this weekend to enjoy the weather. Took my first swim of the summer at a friend's pool. Might even have gotten some color on my pasty skin.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Not as scary as Alien and not as thrilling as Aliens this is a different type of monster film altogether and a pretty good one. The script gets a little murky at times and there are too many characters but this is one beautifully put-together film. It's gorgeous to look at (pretty much a given with a Ridley Scott movie) and there are some excellent performances. Not surprisingly I was riveted by Michael Fassbender's artificial life-form David but I really enjoyed Idris Elba's laid-back Captain of the ship.

The "operation" that takes place about halfway through the film is a classic gross-out scene and one of the best bits in the film.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Draper, Don Draper

Two James Bond references in Sunday night's season finale of Mad Men. The obvious one, of course, was the Bond theme to You Only Live Twice that played over the final scenes. The song, penned by John Barry and sung by Nancy Sinatra is, for my money, easily the best Bond song ever written (better than the more famous Goldfinger theme by Shirley Bassey). Like most of the music choices chosen by Matthew Weiner it served both the mood of the ending along with providing an ironic counterpunch. The lyrics were the irony, of course. Don Draper has already lived at least twice. Is he hoping for one more life as he sits alone at an elegant bar, drinking an Old Fashioned, and eyeing the clientele?

The other Bond reference came earlier when Don ran into Peggy at the matinee. As they settle into the movie there is a brief snippet of music (Burt Bacharach as played by Herb Alpert) and it's clear that they are about to watch 1967's Casino Royale, a film that spoofs the already spoofable James Bond with, among multiple other actors, Peter Sellers, David Niven, and a young Woody Allen. In a way, that film, a very flawed one, marked the beginning of a sea change with the James Bond archetype already making his way for the exits and Woody Allen, just a few years off from his own romantic comedies, coming in. Sean Connery is about the exit the series and he will be replaced (after a one-off stint by George Lazenby) by Roger Moore's campy 1970s version.

So it Don does return to his old ways, if he becomes the beast to Megan's beauty, will he also become a spoof of himself? I hope the next season gets here a lot sooner than this one did.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Poetry Monday

Late Flowering Lust

by John Betjeman

My head is bald, my breath is bad,
Unshaven is my chin,
I have not now the joys I had
When I was young in sin.
I run my fingers down your dress
With brandy-certain aim
And you respond to my caress
And maybe feel the same.
But I've a picture of my own
On this reunion night,
Wherein two skeletons are shewn
To hold each other tight;
Dark sockets look on emptiness
Which once was loving-eyed,
The mouth that opens for a kiss
Has got no tongue inside.
I cling to you inflamed with fear
As now you cling to me,
I feel how frail you are my dear
And wonder what will be--
A week? or twenty years remain?
And then--what kind of death?
A losing fight with frightful pain
Or a gasping fight for breath?
Too long we let our bodies cling,
We cannot hide disgust
At all the thoughts that in us spring
From this late-flowering lust.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Design for Living (1933)

It seems like some of the hullabaloo about this film stems from the fact that it's an infamous pre-code flick, that it's way ahead of its time with its frankness about sexuality. Well, it still seems ahead of its time to me. I've never quite seen a movie like this. It's about an ad-woman in Paris who falls in love with two men at the same time. The two men, both played beautifully by Gary Cooper and Frederic March, are best friends, a pair of ex-pat artists (one a painter and the other a playwright) living in a garret in the Montmartre. She can't choose so they all agree to a quasi menage a trois, one in which sex is not allowed. It's their Design for Living. It fails, of course, because sex naturally becomes involved. Complications ensue and Gilda (Miriam Hopkins) runs off to marry someone else, not because she feels bad about her split affections but because she feels bad about what she is doing to the two best friends. This is the rare romantic comedy in which everyone has chemistry together.

Design for Living was written by Ben Hecht, adapting Noel Coward's play, and directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It's very funny, but somehow it's tender as well. It's impossible not to like the threesome and what they represent. There's no moralizing (or not much) about Gilda's inability to choose and her desire to have both men. And you understand her choice; it would be hard to choose. Gary Cooper is utterly gorgeous but Frederic March, while not as good looking, is very charming. Here's all three below. It's available on Criterion.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

"No, what kind of bird are you?"
One's appreciation (and/or love) of Wes Anderson's seventh feature film will depend on how nostalgic one is about childhood magic and childhood romance. There's tons to enjoy here--the mostly Benjamin Britten score, the intricate dollhouse sets, the geometric camera work, and lots of very funny slapstick humor--but to truly love this movie, and I did love it, you need to be one of the people who occasionally get haunted by nostalgia, the real and the fictional.

Sam and Suzy's romance is pretty much over before it begins. They run away on an island. They are going to be found. And while Sam has plenty to be sad about (he wears his dead mother's broach on his Khaki Scout uniform) Suzy is a different creature, coming from a stable but unhappy family on the island. Her despair (and rage) seems to be a dread of the future, of having to give up her fantasy books (it's not unintentional that they are all library books), and having to become an adult, with the disappointments that being an adult means. So she runs away and briefly re-names a cove before a storm comes in. A very touching film, and one of Wes Anderson's best.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Poetry Monday

Today's Poetry Monday is in honor of the fictional Lane Pryce, who will be deeply missed. It was not a surprising end for him but tragic nonetheless.

On the Suicide of a Friend
by Reed Whittemore

Some there are who are present at such occasions,
And conduct themselves with appropriate feeling and grace.
But they are the rare ones. Mostly the friends and relations
Are caught playing cards or eating miles from the place.
What happens on that dark river, or road, or mountain
Passes unnoticed as friend trumps loved one's ace.
Perhaps he knew this about them--worse, he did not,
And raged over the brink of that road or mountain
Thinking at least they'd remember before they forgot.
Either way, now he is dead and done with that lot.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

More good than bad. It worked best, I thought, when it was at its most fairy-taleish, and was at its weakest as a rousing Lord of the Rings-style adventure. There are loads of interesting visuals, including a sequence set in faery land that was kept out of all the promotions for this film, probably for fear that the film would appear cutesy and teenage boys would refuse to go. The dwarves, a slew of English character actors shrunk by CGI, are generally excellent. Kristen Stewart is pretty underwhelming, especially when she's required to go all Joan of Arc toward the end. There are some beautiful shots of her, and some shots where she reminded me of that little boy in Panic Room.

Charlize Theron as the Evil Queen is just okay. She was a little too shrill and scream-y for my tastes. Her costume design, on the other hand, was Oscar-worthy.