This sticker is dangerous and inconvenient but I do love Fig Newtons

Monday, March 31, 2008

Opening Day!


That is all.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

On this date in Beatles recording history...

Wednesday 29 March, 1967*

The group recorded the animals sounds on "Good Morning Good Morning" on March 28, but they were spun into the four-track tape of the song on this date, the 29th. The order of the sounds, according to a story from Geoff Emerick, was decided because John Lennon wanted "to have the sound of animals escaping" and that each animal should be a capable of eating or frightening the animal that came before it. So the sounds, in order, are: A cock crowing, a cat meowing, dogs barking, horses neighing , sheep bleating (though, it's unclear to me how sheep can frighten horses), lions roaring, elephants making elephant noises, a fox being chased by hounds, horses galloping, a cow mooing, and then a hen clucking, to bring it back full-circle, I guess.

Sound effects were added to the tape track of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!" today, as was the organ music, with was played by producer George Martin.

Up until this point, poor Ringo hadn't recorded a song as lead vocalist, so John and Paul wrote a song just for him: "With a Little Help From My Friends." Of course, at this point, the song was titled "Bad Finger Boogie," for what reason I have no idea. George Martin played organ on the song, Paul played piano, George on lead guitar, Ringo on drums and lead vocals, and John on cowbell. None of my Beatles books, however, mention whether or non George Martin ever made any calls for "more cowbell."

*My source for all this is a wonderfully wonkish book called "The Beatles Recording Sessions: The Official Abbey Road Studio Session Notes, 1962-1970" by Mark Lewisohn

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Everyone who griped about this year's Oscars had it wrong

This is such an old topic for a rant that I almost just said "forget it, move on," but providence, the universe, my nagging rant-muscle, they have all compelled me to comment. Remember when it was all the rage to pile on the Oscar noms for being downers and depressing and out of touch with the American public? Well, it was, even if I can't be bothered to find those old articles from a few months ago. Just go google "Oscar hates America" or something. But it was a punditry trend back in January and February, that much is for sure.

I should have written about it those many months ago when the story was hot, because for once I kinda disagreed with the opinion that the Oscars were out of touch. Well, no, they are still out of touch to a certain degree, but I couldn't jump on the bandwagon against the Best Picture noms, because this year was the first time since 2003 where I had actually seen a majority of the Picture nominations and had actually really liked them (No Country, Atonement, and Juno). I can't help it that more people didn't go see No Country for Old Men, because it's actually an awesome suspense thriller, but whatever. Of all the years to gripe, I just couldn't feel the hate this time around. Last year? Sure. The year before? Definitely. The year Million Dollar Baby won? I just gagged a little thinking about it. But this year's Best Pictures were awesome and I just couldn't get my bristle up about them.

Of course, that doesn't mean I didn't complain. I did. And, of course, I was totally right. Who got an undeserved Best Actress nom? And who didn't get a much deserved nom? Excuse my smugness for a minute, but, *G.O.B.-style*Come On!*G.O.B.-style* The Best Pictures for 2007 were great and not worth picking on. But the acting noms? Yowza. Out-O-Touch. The Oscars were out of touch with regular people on many of these and the way to get in touch is to start considering nominating actors and actresses in movies that people have actually seen. And this doesn't mean nominating sub-par work. This isn't the false choice between No Country for Old Men and Transformers for Best Picture. That's why all those articles earlier this year were so pointless. Sure, more Americans saw Alvin and the Chipmunks than they did There Will Be Blood, but that doesn't mean we should nominate something that doesn't deserve it just to cater to general tastes.

But guess which movie also made a ton of money AND had an Oscar-worthy performance? Yeah, okay, I already mentioned that. But how about some love for "McLovin"? Was that kid not hilarious? Was his movie not popular and critically acclaimed?

And this whole rant got restarted in my brain because last week and over the weekend I was overwhelmed with the comments from family members about the wonderfulness of Enchanted and especially the wonderfulness of Amy Adams's performance. Now, I loved Enchanted when I first saw it back in November, and I loved Adams's performance. But I kinda tossed my "Amy should totally be nominated for Best Actress" zeal up as being a result of my girl-crush. Sure, I might think she's cute as a button and want to be her BFF, but that just calls my objective judgment on the Oscars situation into question. But when other people -- people I had not broached the subject with, or even knew had any interest in the movie or the actress -- started approaching me and saying how totally awesome they thought the movie was and who-was-that-girl-who-played-the-main-girl-she-was-so-amazing, well, my previous, strongly-held opinions resurfaced. If you want to bring the Oscars back into relevancy, it's not about making sure National Treasure II gets a Best Picture nod. It's about saluting quality work that also happens to be popular. It's the choice between a Cate Blanchett role no one cared about and a star-making, lovable, iconic turn by an actress everyone in my familial and social circles is raving about. It's not about sacrificing quality for popularity; it's just a substituting of one type of quality for another. Can you imagine the wonderful publicity, the buzz and excitement, the throngs of viewers who would tune in to the broadcast if this McLovin kid had been nominated, or if Amy Adams had, or if Seth Rogen had. And I don't think it would be a "lowering" of Oscar standards to have nominated any of these three. Or Imelda Staunton for Harry Potter (yeah, I'm just not gonna let that one go).

Anyway, I don't really have a pithy wrap-up that makes a blistering, well-written final point of brilliance, so I'll just say: Oscar, start recognizing comedies and family films and the performances in them. You've ghetto-ized animation, but at least they still get some recognition. Comedy (and to an even lesser extent, family/kids movies) don't even get that. Okay, maybe the occasional screenplay award, but only if the comedy is "indie." That's not a very good way to keep The Public smiling, happy, and invested in what you do. I feel like I should end with the "Comedy's hard. . ." maxim, but I won't. Instead I'll just say, it shouldn't be this hard to get a little Oscar love.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

People are really creative

In looking for the hilarious Shining-as-heartwarming-comedy fake trailer on youtube, my cousin found this gem:

I realize this is probably old news to pretty much all the cool people out there on the interwebs, but it's new to me, so I post it. And it's amazing. I continue to be astounded by the creativity of ordinary people. Watching all these fake trailers is just as much fun as watching the original movies. When I consider the massive success of a cookie cutter retread show like Grey's Anatomy, my faith in humanity is lost. But when I witness the ingenuity and creativity it took to create a murderous Mary Poppins that scares the shit outta people, my faith is restored.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My big Shining day, Part II

This is how cheap I am. I'm so cheap that I go up to Ann Arbor on Monday nights and sneak into the screenings for a film class that my cousin is taking. She tells me the film for that week, I determine whether I want to see it or not, and if I do, the day arrives, I pop a bag of popcorn and grab a bottle of Diet Pepsi, and she and I go to her class's screening. So far, I've seen The Grand Illusion and Bonnie and Clyde, two films I had only seen previously on my TV screen. It's awesome. A big screen, an audience, free. And since I'm not actually taking the class, no homework or lectures. With this scheme, I've taken the act of living vicariously through others to its perfect apex. My cousin tells me all the fun stuff from her lectures with the boring parts left out; I get to criticize and nitpick her GSI's ability to run a discussion without actually having to deal with said GSI; and I go to the film screenings with her but don't have to write papers on them. It's like I'm in college again, only better.

Yesterday was a day I'd been anticipating for a long time. Yesterday was The Shining Day. Probably in my top six favorite horror movies. Effin' creepy. Blood coming out of elevators, rotting old lady flesh, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," attempted ax murder, the 1920s. That's some creepy shit. It was weird watching it with an audience too. They laughed in spots, which was jarring, but the laughs made sense, seeing as Jack Torrance goes so crazy at some points you're not sure whether to laugh at him or cower in fear. I loved the atmosphere as we watched: This is one messed up movie, and we could all feel it, and we fed on each other's fear and revulsion. I loved how people around me were covering their eyes and creeping down in their seats (just like me!) when Jack first walks slowly through room 237. It's why we go to the theater, to share experiences like this.

I recently got into an argument with a friend who hates going to the movie theater. He claims there's no reason to, since the theater is expensive, the seats are uncomfortable, the people in the audience are annoying and eat their popcorn too loudly, and you can't pause the movie if you have to go to the bathroom. My arguments, that the big frakking screen is unbeatable and that you go for the atmosphere, and yes, that includes the munches of the audience, because there's nothing so awesome as sharing that collective emotional experience, whether it be surprise or dread or laughter or sadness or excitement or joy -- you can feel it when you and the audience are both experiencing the same emotions and it's thrilling. Like the shared gasp when Frodo gets stabbed by Shelob. I knew he wouldn't die, having read the book, but I couldn't help being caught up in the very palpable feeling in the air that the shit has just gone down and we, the audience, all just got mindfucked. That's why you go to the theater: Big frakking screen and shared collective experience.

So, that's why I've been going to the "theater" in Angell Hall, even though these are all movies I've seen before. It's a unique experience getting to see a movie on a big screen, with an audience; a movie that you've only seen previously on your couch, alone, at home.

Immediately after viewing it, I became obsessed with the central question (in my mind anyway) of the film: Why the 1920s? Why did Kubrick choose to have Jack's soul be trapped in a picture from July 4, 1921? Why all the 1920s ghosts and the 1920s party in the Gold Room?

I have a confession (which I also touched on, in a way, in this former post): The 1920s kinda freak me out. As do silent films and black and white films from the 30s (especially the early 30s). I explained in the post linked above that I think it has to do with the oldness of the images and the black and white that kinda makes everything look ghostly. But after watching The Shining again for the first time in many, many months, the old question has arisen again. Why do I find the 1920s so creepy? It's a sort of chicken/egg question: Was I always creeped-out by the 1920s (are they just inherently creepy?), or did The Shining create the creepiness? I'm pretty sure I first saw The Shining when I was in middle school (I'm thinking it was about age 13), and the ghosts/visions in that film are all from the 20s, so it could have been early enough in my life that the movie was able to shock my psyche and screw up the 20s for me. Just like those gloriously weird ghosts in the film, this question has haunted me.

After the movie last night, I went back to my cousin's dorm room and proceed to google various combinations of "1920s the shining/the shining 1920s why/the shining 1920s explanation/reason 1920s party the shining" to get some answers. I was obsessed with knowing why Kubrick would show visions of a party at the Overlook from the 20s and have Jack eventually be seen in a photo from a party in 1921. Did Kubrick think the 20s were as creepy as I do? Did he hit on some unconscious understanding we all subconsciously share that the 1920s were one effed-up decade and therefore perfect subject fodder for a horror film? Or was there no explanation at all; was it just one of the many random things Kubrick threw into the film to keep the audience disoriented and off-balance? Probably needless to say, my google search didn't provide me with a succinct, clarifying, all-questions-answered answer. I read a lot of really awesome theories and analyses, though, all about mythology and fairy tales and psychology and Colorado and the Red Room and White America's injustice against the oppressed Peoples of Color. It made for some fun, strange reading. So that was good.

In the end, though, I was able to find out that Stephen King actually wrote quite a bit about the history of the hotel in his original novel, so it wasn't like only the 1920s were particularly evil -- there was evil stuff happening throughout the decades in the Overlook. And through process of elimination, my cousin, her roommate, and I decided that if you're going to have spirits from the past haunt your movie and you've got between the years 1907 and 1980 to choose from, there's really no other decade you can choose that's going to be scary as hell and appropriate for a big ball room party scene except the 1920s.

Think about it. The 70s were too recent for the present-day events of the film (sure, the 70s are scary, but how scary could they be for people in 1980 -- it's practically still the 70s!). The 60s had scary hippies, but they wouldn't work for a high class hotel like the Overlook. The 50s might scare ignorant left-wing hipsters, but no, Donna Reed and men in suits and skinny black ties are just not scary. The 40s had guys in cute sailor outfits and riveting Rosies, no scares there. The 30s can definitely be scary (dig these ghosts!) (Pre-Code talkies -- ahhhh!!! The grainy film, the black and white, men wearing stage lipstick and eye liner, the high falsetto-voiced male singers, the Busby Berkley numbers. Scary. Though I have to admit, in a good way.) But the 30s also had the Depression, and who can afford to stay at some high class joint when half the country ain't got no job!

The 1920s -- they've got all the creepy factor of the early 30s, plus the feathered, beaded, fringed Flappers, gin-soaked parties of lavish wealth and privilege, crazy hedonistic sex orgies (possibly), and a general wantonness that would fit with a ritzy hotel that makes people go psycho killer. You can possibly imagine a bunch of drunk, high class 1920s blue bloods resorting to cannibalism if they got bored enough at a soirée. The 1910s were too occupied with The Great War. Sure the Titanic can certainly conjure up some good ghost images, but there's just not enough hedonism in the 10s to be truly as depraved as the 20s. And then we're getting into the years when the hotel was built and those won't really do.

So, in the end, it has to be the 1920s. Kubrick knew what he was doing. Only the 1920s would do for a horror story about a richie rich hotel. The 1920s, inherently creepy and messed up, or only made so because of Stanley Kubrick's film? I think the answer is, a little bit of both.

My big Shining day, Part I

Before I commit to any thoughts, I first have to post a link to this awesome video: The Shining in 30 seconds with bunnies

This is probably old news to Internet peoples, but I just saw it for the first time yesterday and it delighted me. Favorite shot? (it's right after BunnyJack at the typewriter) A shot of BunnyJack with crazy face and there's a farty-sounding percussion instrument noise on the soundtrack. Totally random. And it captures Kubrick's style from the film perfectly.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Poetry Slam!

The Donkey by G.K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Old School Nick Toons for what ails ya

I've been annoyingly sick these past couple of days, just watching tv and communicating through hand signals and raspy whispers (me=sore throat), and between the Jane Austen miniseries and Red Wings games it's been either Boomerang or the Nick Toons channel. Old school Nick toons, in fact, first Rocko's Modern Life, then Ren and Stimpy. I'm not sure how a show so irredeemably disgusting can be so entertaining. I think back on what I used to watch when I was a kid and I sometimes can't believe the weirdness I was into. It's like the pop culture universe was like, "How can we make that weird girl in Michigan even weirder?" and then they sent me stuff like Big Top Pee-Wee, the episode of Duck Tales where they went to the Bermuda Triangle, and Ren and Stimpy.

Hoekvision presents, I Like Pink:

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why watch old movies?

It'll make this Lord of the Rings parody much funnier.

I love how the credits say: "Gowns by Marie." That's such an old movie thing! I also think the casting of Smeagol was the most brilliant decision Howard Hawks has ever made.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

You Never Give Me Your Money

by the Beatles.

I could listen to this song forever. Of course, it's famous for being the beginning of that delicious pop medley from Abbey Road, the one that introduces the melodic sounds which will come to comprise the second half of the album. But even in isolation, it feels like it's own mini rock-pop epic, every bit as good as Stairway to Heaven or Bohemian Rhapsody or Free Bird. Am I overreaching? Yeah, okay, it's not as grandiose and ambitious as Stairway, and it doesn't have the operatic bigness of Rhapsody. And it certainly doesn't have the full-frontal sonic assault of ROCK that Free Bird's got going for it with it's barrage of dueling guitar licks and rock star lifestyle lyrics. But. You Never Give Me Your Money is the pop music answer to the rock music stadium anthem. It can be performed live, I think (and didn't Paul do it during one of his latest U.S. tours?). But on the album, its album-ness is so completely overwhelming and perfect that the London studio can't help feeling like its natural habitat.

And that's pop music: it's music meant to sound produced, to sound engineered, to be recorded and then pressed into vinyl and sold in shops. It's not the rawness of rock; it's the perfection of pop. You Never Give Me Your Money is on the album titled after the studio it was recorded in, and nothing could feel more appropriate. It's got all the sound of the Abbey Road studios, all the changing melodies and instrumentation that sum up the essence of what made the Beatles' studio recordings so ingenious and groundbreaking.

It's also a lot of nonsense. Supposedly it's about the group's business disputes, but that meaning gets lost after the first few lines, and the rest of the lyrics are so all-over-the-place that the overall effect is one of mood more so than meaning. And that mood is melancholy. The opening piano melody just drips with longing, with a resigned sadness that nevertheless grasps for warm contentment. "You never give me your money,/ you only give me your funny paper." Sure, the business table talk is there, but it seems more like a metaphor, something that can mean anything to anyone who yearns for one thing and ends up with something else. It's also a bit of a silly pun -- for what else is money but "funny paper" -- that gives an illusion of profundity even as it winks at us in jest.

When it switches to the second section, the sound of yearning gives way to a saloon hall riff on the piano and talk of "yellow lorries" and "outta college money spent," and it's all a bit happier, a bit jauntier, though we're not sure why. The speaker in the song is suddenly younger, he's on his way out into the world, there's money to be made, but then suddenly the yellow lorry has "nowhere to go," and meaning escapes us again, even as we can't escape the feeling that we're grasping at something and just missing it, longing for a thing that's never going to come. The lyrics don't "mean" anything in a direct sense, but the overall effect -- the sound of the nonsense words together with the melodies -- imparts a feeling, an emotional state, something beyond pure rationality, and it is that something which draws the human heart to music in the first place. The song has an illusion of substance, and at the same time the sugary emptiness of candy. It's seems powerful but remains pop-y without incongruity.

I'm reminded of my first response to the poetry of Gerard Manely Hopkins: I didn't necessarily understand all the meanings in "Pied Beauty" the first time around, but I understood its sound, its rhythms and sonic qualities, and I immediately loved it. Just to speak those words, those lines, aloud was enough to know the poem's beauty. There's a bit of that going on in the nonsense lyrics of You Never Give Me Your Money, as well. Just the sound of those words as they roll off the tongue and suddenly the mood is conjured. As the song fades out to the repetition of a nursery rhyme ("One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,/ All good children go to heaven"), the nonsense almost lifts up into a prayer, the melody and the words pulling us higher and higher into the clouds until all that's left to do is to fade out and up into who knows where.

The song is endlessly listenable because it's got those five different melodic sections that all flow seamlessly into one another so that when the song ends in a completely different place from where it started, it feels totally organic. It's the beginning of the Abbey Road medley, but the song itself is a medley, and yet it never feels pieced together or random. There's a sense that this is the overture to some Broadway musical, with all the melodies integrated into a complete and satisfying story, preparing its audience for what's to come. That one can listen to the song a hundred times and still feel surprised as each new melody is introduced, is a testament to the magic of the thing. "Oh that magic feeling,/ Nowhere to go." The song is a sonic journey; it uses some kind of magic to weave its nonsense into the listener, and while we're still listening, we're not sure where it has left to go. And then by the end, we're not sure where we've been. Once the song finishes, we realize that what we mistook for meaning has evaporated, and only melodies and a mood remain. But somehow, that is enough.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Movies recently watched

The Ones I Liked (I think I've decided I'm done with grades and ratings, since I'm not a professional critic, and don't much care to be one. Just like to analyze and discuss and act all cinema-crazy, no need for elaborate grades and such. Plus, I'm too soft-hearted and easy-to-please to give out grades that would mean anything to anyone anyway.):

Again, The Ones I Liked:
Ride the High Country
Foreign Correspondent
Miss Austen Regrets (PBS, 2008)
Northanger Abbey (PBS, 2008)
Raisin in the Sun (ABC, 2008)
The Goodbye Girl
Miller's Crossing

The Ones I Didn't Much Care For:
Persuasion (PBS, 2008)
Mansfield Park (PBS, 2008)

Is it needless to say that these are all first-time viewings for me? Well, consider it said. These are first-time viewings. (And that goes for any future "Movies recently watched" as well, which, of course, might not ever get written, as it is my way these days to be reckless and absentminded and totally random about the blog, but just in case, this here is my explanation). And if I ever do mention a movie on one of these posts that I have seen before, I will specify and possibly explain my multiple-viewing reaction in *slight* detail. Such as: "This was my reaction the first time I saw it. This is my reaction now." Etc. etc.

And now I'm laughing because this post, which was intended to be a short and sweet little list of movies to fill some blog space and make it seem like I had something to say about film, has turned into something bigger, and in fact, is less concerned about the actual topic (you know, "Movies recently watched") and more concerned with explanations and minutiae and unfocused ramblings as to the hows and whys and whats of the thing. The previous sentence is a perfect example of what I mean: unrelated to the main intent of the post (the movie list) except in that it makes mention of it by way of complaint. I gotta work on ordering my thoughts a little better. I should re-title this post: "Explanations on grading, aversions to said grading, and the uselessness thereof as it relates to the author, and first-time viewing assumptions that should be made by readers, including a self-referential complaint about content, with a list of movies liked and disliked mentioned briefly but unspectacularly, which can be avoided if wished, you wouldn't be missing anything."

I want to remedy this. So:

I was pleasantly surprised by Ride the High Country and Vacancy. I've always told myself I wasn't a Westerns girl, and yet every Western I've watched recently has been highly enjoyable. I think I might actually like Westerns, and it'll be getting close to love territory if this keeps up. All those horses and American mythmaking and strong, tough, good men. Vacancy was tense and scary and surprisingly touching. Not sure it would work on a second go 'round because the plot is mostly "Will they make it?!" and once you know how it ends, there's nothing to go back for. Except for maybe that surprising tenderness I mentioned, so maybe it would be okay on second viewing. Stay tuned. . .

I can't give a good justification for Semi-Pro to those who consider themselves discerning movie watchers. It's stupid, poorly written, minor league movie making. But Will Ferrell makes me laugh, a lot, in everything he does really, and this movie made me laugh, and when I'm watching a comedy, if it makes me laugh, then I'm gonna like it. That's my formula (see above: my not being equipped to review movies in any intelligent way). I laughed at Semi-Pro. Helluva lot, actually. But I would probably laugh at Will Ferrell reading a blank piece of paper, so that's where my taste level and sense of humor are.

I feel a little better about this post. Got a few limp scraps of meat and rubbery pieces of fat hanging off it now. And with that delightful image, I finish.

Seasons Readings (this post needed a title so it wouldn't get swallowed up by the other post above it)

The snow has kinda put it out of my mind at the moment, but whenever March rolls around, and brings the faint whiff of Spring with it, I have the sudden urge to read The Lord of the Rings. What's funny is that whenever December rolls around, and with it the stark clearness of Winter, I'm instantly taken with the idea of watching the Lord of the Rings movies. Same story, two different seasons.

The Hobbit is an Autumn book. Prince Caspian is a Midsummer book. Which makes the movie's coming out in May interesting. I wonder when the Hobbit movies will come out?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Why watch old movies?

Reason: That unusual, unsettling, rumbling, sinister twinkling of Sydney Greenstreet's voice.

Monday, March 3, 2008

This Weekend's Double Feature!

Across 110th Street

and Planet Terror

I was down all weekend with a sinus infection and what does every sane person do when sick? I watched a shitload of TV. Had Across 110th Street on the tivo; Starz has Grindhouse On Demand. I tried to stay up to watch Death Proof and make it a triple feature, but I fell asleep. I don't think it was the movie's fault, me being sick and all, but the beginning was a little talky and missing a lot of the crazy exploitation-stuff I was expecting from a film like this. I conked-out right after Stunt Man Bill (?) bought Julia and Butterfly (??) a couple of beers. Loved those trailers, though. DON'T! heh