Thursday, May 31, 2007

Reading Diary May 2007

Books read online are in green.

  1. Deadly Advice, Roberta Isleib. See post May 3, 2007.
  2. Jamaica Me Dead, Bob Morris. Even with a huge chunk missing from the middle (what is with publishers' QC these days?), it wasn't too hard to figure out what was going on. But the setting was pretty entertaining, and the characters OK to hang out with (although I could have lived without the stereotypical mystic Indian). Seriously, though, who carries around a signed first edition? That's what paperbacks are for.
  3. Sarah Canary, Karen Joy Fowler. Another fragmented, elliptical meditation on race, class, and especially gender. Who or what is Sarah Canary? She is a blank canvas for others to project their ideas of being female onto: thus, to Chinese railroad worker Chin, she's an immortal; to a psychologist, a madwoman; to a naturalist, a feral human; to feminist Adelaide Dixon, a discarded mistress who turned on her betrayer. Interesting and at times funny, but never quite comes together.
  4. Saddled with Trouble, Michele Scott. Subpar writing and an idiot heroine made me abandon this book far, far from home.
  5. Bone of Contention, Roberta Gellis. Much better outing for Magdalene la Batarde than the second book in the series (although the title has no relevance to the story). In the mode of Ellis Peters, Gellis does a pretty good job of interweaving her characters' concerns with people and events on the national stage.
  6. Instrument of Fate, Christie Golden. A glorified D&D adventure disguised as a novel -- and I say that as someone who likes D&D.
  7. Her Smoke Rose Up Forever, James Tiptree, Jr. I remember some of these groundbreaking stories from the early '70s, but it's interesting to see them all collected together. Not all of them are masterpieces, but it's good to be reminded how talented, and how revolutionary, Tiptree was.
  8. The Crimson Petal and the White, Michael Faber. I was going to write a huge rant about this, but I just don't have the energy. Starts off well, but loses momentum as soon as William moves Sugar into her flat, mostly because we don't have any clue what Sugar feels about any of this: is she really in love with William? how and when did that happen? Just when it seems like the story might be kicking into gear again, the oh-so-clever ending comes like a slap in the face to readers who have stuck with the book for almost 900 pages. Gahhh. I've read worse books, but few that have made me so angry at the waste of promising material.
  9. Air, Geoff Ryman. Funny, charming, thoughtful, and altogether enjoyable. Except for the last five pages, which no doubt are supposed to be Deeply Symbolic of something or other, but are just plain disturbing.
  10. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon. How can a book so funny be so amazingly tender and profoundly sad? Devoured the whole thing in one glorious day and only wished it were twice as long.
  11. Quality Street, J. M. Barrie. Play on which one of my favorite Katharine Hepburn movies is based. Just as adorable as the film.
  12. Dead Man's Ransom, Ellis Peters. Ran out of new stuff, so I'm back to Brother Cadfael. This book has one of my favorites scenes in the whole series, where Cadfael questions the cattle-man Anion in Owain Gwynedd's court.
  13. The Pilgrim of Hate, Ellis Peters. Peters has an unfortunate habit of trying to present conversations and situations as if they can only mean one thing, when clearly there are alternate explanations. Doesn't help when she puts the real motive in the title.
  14. An Excellent Mystery, Ellis Peters. Well, not really so much, with Peters doing her ineffectual "look over there" handwaving, but still an enjoyable read.
  15. The Raven in the Foregate, Ellis Peters. One of the more genuinely suspenseful of the late Cadfael oeuvre.
  16. The Hermit of Eyton Forest, Ellis Peters. Some interesting goings-on, with a victim and murderer who for once both deserve their fates. But Rafe of Coventry is a little deus ex machina, and there's more than a little wish-fulfillment in the way Hugh Beringar, himself a holder of villeins, connives at the escape of Hyacinth.
  17. The Heretic's Apprentice, Ellis Peters. Solid detective work by Cadfael and a truly dramatic climax, with a maguffin worthy of the fuss.
  18. Tomb of the Golden Bird, Elizabeth Peters. After a brief return to form in Guardian of the Horizon and The Serpent on the Crown, Peters is back to phoning in the mystery while she dwells on the domestic relations of the vast and quarrelsome Emerson clan. After all, who could possibly be interested in such petty matters as the discovery of King Tut's tomb, political unrest in the post-WWI Middle East, or a tomb robber who somehow blows himself up when we could be discussing the stormy state of Sethos and Margaret's marriage (maybe Amelia, with her vast knowledge of psychology, could teach these two a little about communication skills), the need for Ramses and Nefret to have some independence (it only takes them 3 months to decide to do what Amelia planned for them from the beginning), or whether Bertie and Jumana will finally get together (they do, in one of the most rushed and undramatic romances Peters has ever penned). Even Amelia disappoints, as she fails to deliver her usual blithe outrageousness (she does figure out the baffling cipher, but it's a meaningless clue that leads nowhere). Also, the book is riddled with annoying grammatical errors that should have been cleaned out by a good copy edit.
  19. Killer in High Heels, Gemma Halliday. Reads like the author was writing with a Chick Lit Checklist in hand: "Wacky young single heroine with the libido of a hamster? Check. Offbeat creative job? Check. Ditsy friends, including obligatory gay guy? Check. Tough sexy man of mystery? Check. Obsession with fashion, including rampant product placement? Check." Too bad the checklist didn't include anything like clever dialog, believable situations and motivations, characters readers can care about, or actual clues pointing to the killers.
  20. Ghost of a Chance, Amy Patricia Meade. Another period effort with no sense of history at all. A vast wave of indifference engulfed me as I read this and I tossed it aside halfway through.

Movie Diary May 2007

Movies seen for the first time are in green.

  1. The Break-Up (2006), Peyton Reed. Much better than I thought it would be, with a realistic, potentially optimistic ending. Serendipitous timing; it's set in Chicago, where I happened to be on business.
  2. The Mating Season (1951), Mitchell Leison. Terrific little comedy about young couple from different classes and their mothers. Makes great use of the sassy Thelma Ritter, and even turns Miriam Hopkins' brittle mannerisms to advantage. In fact, only John Lund as the husband drags the operation down.
  3. Stella Dallas (1937), King Vidor. Three-quarters snooze, one-quarter soap. I spent an hour and a half yawning and fidgeting, wondering what all the fuss was about. Then Stella made her big renunciation, and from then on the tears just wouldn't stop. Can't say I enjoyed it, but I understand how it achieved its reputation.
  4. Hamlet (1948), Laurence Olivier. I don't remember this bothering me before, but I had to turn it off when Hamlet was slapping around his mother: too much like spousal abuse, especially since Beatrice seemed much more like Hamlet's age than Ophelia. (According to IMDb, Eileen Herlie was 13 years younger than Olivier; Jean Simmons was 9 years younger than that.) I know this version was considered revolutionary for removing scenes and characters (including my favorites, Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern), but it's still basically a slow-moving, stagey, and overly reverential treatment of the play. And Olivier might be a great actor and stuff, but he looks ridiculous in that blond 'do. What genius director came up with that idea?
  5. Ball of Fire (1941), Howard Hawks. Barbara Stanwyck is a genuine breath of life to Gary Cooper and his encyclopedia-writing pack of "eight squirrely cherubs." Hawks capitalized nicely on both Stanwyck's brassiness and Cooper's stiffness. Also featuring an amazing supporting cast, from Henry Travers and Oscar Homolka to Dana Andrews and Dan Duryea, who specialized in giggling psychopaths.
  6. Guys and Dolls (1955), Joseph L. Mankiewicz. My sister really hates this movie, but I kind of love it, despite the fact that Marlon Brando can't sing, Frank Sinatra is horribly miscast as Nathan Detroit, they cut out one of Adelaide's best songs and some of the best lines . . . where was I going with this? Oh, yeah, the love part. I love the mostly terrific music, the snappy Damon Runyon dialog, the stylish opening sequence, the crap game dance, the comic delights of Vivian Blaine as Adelaide, and most especially Sheldon Leonard as Harry the Horse. I can't help it. I'm a fool for the man.
  7. In Harm's Way (1965), Otto Preminger. Bizarrely retro WWII movie, even filmed in B&W; except for the fairly adult sexual content, might have been made in 1945. John Wayne and Patricia O'Neal essentially reprise their roles from earlier war films as the misunderstood hero and the worldly wise, understanding nurse. This is the sort of movie where a rapist (Kirk Douglas) has to die, but we're supposed to sympathize with what led him to it and find his death gallant and heroic; also, Wayne's callow, wrong-headed son (Brandon de Wilde) learns better but still dies so his dad can be proud of him. Only real surprise is that O'Neal is allowed to be the sexual aggressor and not be punished for it.
  8. Heartbeat (1946), Sam Wood. Like In Harm's Way, this movie seems to come from a much earlier time than it does, since it has the awkward, uneven pacing and lapses in mood most often found in early talkies. Ginger Rogers plays an 18-year-old French reform school girl with a dopey innocence that is about as convincing as . . . her portrayal of the teenage Sarah Bernhardt in The Barkleys of Broadway 3 years later. (I like Rogers, but this is not the kind of material she does well.) Film wastes its assets of Basil Rathbone as the Fagin-like proprietor of a school for pickpockets and Adolphe Menjou as a shady ambassador.
  9. The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton (2007), Masterpiece Theater. Odd, shapeless story of the woman who created the most successful domestic manual in history. Can't quite decide what story it wants to tell or what tone it wants to take. Anna Madeley rather charming in the role of Isabella Beaton. I appreciate Masterpiece Theater's reaching out to find fresher material, but their recent efforts have not been terribly successful.
  10. A Soldier's Story (1984), Norman Jewison. Slow-moving but absorbing account of investigation into the murder of a black sergeant at an Army base during WWII. Intense performance from Denzel Washington in an early role.
  11. Stalag 17 (1951), Billy Wilder. See post May 29, 2007.
  12. Quartet (1948), Various directors. Dated and predictable collection of short films based on stories by W. Somerset Maughm. Can't decide which is the most offensive to women; they're all pretty good candidates.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

As Close As I'll Ever Come to Marcel Proust

Like most Inside the Actors Studio junkies, I've been mentally preparing for my appearance on the show someday when my brilliance has been generally acknowledged. Now that notanillusion (by way of Doppelganger) has posted her own responses to James Lipton's/Bernard Pivot's/Marcel Proust's questionnaire, I feel entitled to do the same:

What is your favorite word?
Brouhaha. Don't you feel better just saying it?

What is your least favorite word?
Panties. *shudder* Is that an item of clothing an adult woman should be wearing?

What is your favorite curse word?
I've never quite understood whether this means the one I like the most or the one I use the most. The one I like the most is "shitload"; it's so, um, evocative. But the one I use the most is "fuck" and its variant "fuck me."

What sound or noise do you love?
The plish-plash of the ocean, the running of a river.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Any sudden loud noise, but especially those earsplitting alarms parking garages use to let people on the street know someone's coming out.

What turns you on or excites you?
Good writing, beautiful music, good food.

What turns you off?

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Chef. Except for that whole getting up early and working hard part.

What profession other than yours would you not like to attempt?
Most of them, but let's go with "toll collector."

And finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
"Elizabeth I, Ben Franklin, Katharine Hepburn, and a few of the gang are waiting for you at the sundae bar."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Free William Holden

Apparently, some people don't like Stalag 17, Billy Wilder's 1953 movie about life in a German POW camp. They're bewildered by its mix of drama and black comedy, or they find the pacing uneven, or they're upset that it doesn't show camp life as one of unrelenting misery. I must disagree: I think it's one of the finest movies about World War II ever made, a taut, crackling, nail-biting thriller.

Stalag 17 stars William Holden as J. J. Sefton, a cynical, opportunistic, less-than-upper-crust Bostonian with a chip on his shoulder the size of Montana. Unlike his fellow prisoners, who view it as their duty to escape, Sefton is an entrepreneur who has made a pretty comfortable life for himself by trading freely with both the Germans and the Americans and is in no hurry to leave. His mercenary attitude makes him extremely unpopular in the camp; when it becomes clear that someone in the barracks is feeding information to the Germans (Sig Ruman as Sgt. Schulz and Otto Preminger as kommandant Col. von Scherbach), he becomes the number one suspect.

Of course, it's not him; so who is it? Hoffy (Richard Erdman), the strangely complacent barracks chief? Duke (Neville Brand), the vigilante braying loudest for Sefton's blood? Cookie (Gil Stratton), Sefton's flunky? Animal (Robert Strauss), the amiable slob with a thing for Betty Grable? Joey (Robinson Stone), the sole survivor of his aircrew who seems to have a serious case of PTSD? No, it's Price (Peter Graves), the big, blond Security man, who's really a German himself. I pride myself on my ability to detect culprits before they're revealed, but I never saw that one coming.

Sefton figures out the clever mechanism by which Schulz and Price communicate, learns the traitor's identity, then exposes him to the other inmates so neatly, so intelligently, it's awesome to behold. And the ending, in which he ruthlessly tosses Price to the German guards as a distraction to even the odds as he smuggles a saboteur (Don Taylor as Lt. Dunbar) out of the camp, is as cold-blooded and poetically just as anything ever put on screen.

It's a shame Holden was such a handsome guy and was forced to play the leading man type, because he was born to play the antihero. Both in Stalag 17 and the earlier Sunset Blvd. (also directed by Wilder), he sizzles, he incandesces, in a way he never did in any of his stalwart hero roles. When he plays a good guy, all stiff with righteousness, it's like he's holding himself in; but when he plays a heel, all sneering wisecracks and arrogant swagger, it's like he's letting himself go free, and that's a beautiful thing.

As always in a Wilder film, the characters have a striking moral complexity. The obvious example is Sefton, who starts out a cheerful collaborator, willing to bribe or barter with his German captors to buy himself an extra comfort or privilege. But Cookie is his eager helper and toady; isn't Cookie just as complicit, just as morally responsible? Yet no one resents or scorns him the way they do Sefton, perhaps because Cookie is obsequious where Sefton is superior. His bunkmates hate Sefton for his success and their need of him; in their desperate desire for the commodities and services he provides, they also become willing to look the other way, to ignore their own complicity. Their rage boils over into mob violence once the accusation of spying gives them the excuse, but it's notable that what the action really frees them to do is plunder Sefton's possessions without guilt.

Sefton, meanwhile, shows that he is not the louse everyone thinks he is; if he were, why would he be so upset by their accusation, or by the realization that the true traitor is still free to work his malice? He could lie back and let events take their course; instead he uses the same devious skills that made him so hated to unmask Price and clear his own name. Then, instead of embracing his sheepish mates' acceptance to resume his black-marketeering ways, he throws it back in their teeth, stepping up to undertake the daring escape with Dunbar under the Germans' very noses. Is it really all because of possible reward money from Dunbar's rich mother? Well, to paraphrase Sam Spade, I'm sure it's one more item on that side of the scale.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wrong Questions Scoreboard

Here's a round-up of the books I bought because they were recommended by Abigail Nussbaum:

Really Loved: Middlesex, Air, Howl's Moving Castle
Liked More than Not: Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
Truly Despised: The Crimson Petal and the White, Cloud Atlas, 1610: A Sundial in a Grave

In other words, Abigail's score was just slightly better than 50/50.

That's deeply disappointing to me, because I love the way she writes and I wanted to associate myself with someone of her obvious thoughtfulness and erudition. Also, it would be handy to have an infallible guide to direct me effortlessly to things I would like and away from things I wouldn't. Instead, I'll just have to treat her like any other critic: hopefully but not blindly, without losing my grip on my native skepticism. At least I get the pleasure of reading her reviews.

Not So Much With the "Boom!"

After last week's intensely awesome episode of Heroes, I was filled with unbearable anticipation for this week's climax. Maybe it was inevitable after the build-up, but I must say I found myself distinctly . . . underwhelmed.

Here, with a big nod of gratitude to the great posters at TWoP, are my Top 10 Unanswered Questions of the Heroes Finale:

  1. What the hell ever happened to the Haitian? And what about Hana Gittleman? And Claude?
  2. Why, after all those hints about Candice's real appearance, did she revert to Candice-shape when Niki knocked her out?
  3. After 87 episodes of Hiro searching for the damn sword, why did he just tamely hand it over to Ando before going off to kill Sylar?
  4. Why, after being clearly and distinctly told that he needed to cut Sylar's head off, did Hiro just stab him? Without stopping time first?
  5. What is Ma Petrelli's power? Or Charles Deveaux's?
  6. Why was Mohinder suddenly under the delusion he's a medical doctor?
  7. Since Peter wasn't, in fact, the only one who could stop Sylar, what was the point of their final confrontation? And why was it so lame? (Seriously.)
  8. If Peter was supposed to conquer Sylar/the bomb through the power of love, why didn't he?
  9. Why did Peter need Nathan to fly away?
  10. What the hell did saving the cheerleader have to do with enabling Nathan and Peter to save the world? Especially since Peter was the one who was threatening it in the first place?

Oh, well. None of this is to say that this season hasn't been one of the most exciting, satisfying TV experiences ever and that I'm not already counting the days until September. Just for the record, you can put me in the camp of people who think that Hiro's dad is Kensei, aka The Lone Samurai. Join me in the fall when the shocking truth is revealed!

Friday, May 18, 2007

With a Bang and a Whimper

Well, my Tuesday nights are free now. The CW has pulled the plug on both Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars, two of the best-written, most interesting, most compelling series ever aired.

The difference is that GG really had reached a natural stopping point with Rory's graduation from Yale; fans, actors, and producers alike were mentally ready for the end; and although it would have been nice to have another season, the show had a chance to make its farewells and tie up the loose ends. Whereas VM is still fully in midstream, with Veronica in college, the Fitzpatricks still on the loose, and corruption in Neptune still begging to be fought. Everybody was still desperately hoping for a network reprieve, which makes the last-minute stab through the heart even more painful.

So, was the GG finale everything I hoped it would be? Well, no, not quite. After all the angst of the past two seasons, I would have liked more resolution to the Lorelai/Luke romance than a kiss we barely saw, a necklace, and a smile. Some I Love Yous, some hints of what's next (let's go out on the boat/let's go ride on the roller coasters/let's run off to Vegas and get married) would have been ideal.

Christiane Amanpour's long-anticipated appearance was kind of a waste. Emily's declaration that she was proud to be the grandmother of the wonderment that is Rory was just embarrassing. And I certainly could have used about 75 percent less Taylor.

But that's just quibbling. They hit all the notes they needed to, and they hit them with grace. Rory landing a job and heading out into the world. Lorelai realizing she needs to let go. A definite thaw in Lorelai's icy relationship with Richard and Emily. Luke stepping up and showing not just his love for Lorelai and Rory, but his natural place of leadership in the town. Acknowledgment of Lane and Rory's enduring friendship. A final bittersweet goodbye to the townies. Lorelai and Rory having one last overly enormous breakfast in Luke's diner. Oh, shut up, I am not crying.

VM's actual finale is next week, so I don't know if I'll be able to say the same kinds of things about it, but I doubt it. Whether Keith wins or loses the sheriff's race, there will still be the questions of the Fitzpatricks' criminal empire, Vinnie's possible collusion, and Dick's dealing with his postponed guilt over Beaver's death, not to mention (and I kind of wish I didn't have to) the romantic entanglements of Veronica/Piz, Logan/Parker, and Max/Mac. (And can I just say right now, re: next week's previews, the idea of a Pizonica sex tape? Makes me shudder.)

VM's demise can't be laid entirely at the network's doorstep. After the brilliant first season, Rob Thomas had definite trouble repeating the magic, struggling with pacing, making good use of characters, and developing relationships. But the basic quality of the scripts, the daring noir nature of the Marsverse, the eerie beauty of the continuity, and the kickass acting might have been enough to allow the show to recover its footing, had it not been for the unforgiveable, ham-fisted interference by the network.

I don't know nothin' 'bout runnin' no network, but it does seem obvious to me that if you're trying to attract viewers to a struggling show, you should NOT:

  • Change the innovative and previously successful format
  • Change the emphasis from story-driven to relationship-driven without giving those characters the things they need to do to make them interesting to watch
  • Force the producers to introduce characters who have no organic place in the overall story
  • Program the commercial breaks with "features" that are mind-blowingly dumb
  • Yank the show in midseason for almost 2 months, incidentally forcing a second, last-minute format change
  • Fill the resultant hiatus with crap that the discerning viewers you're trying to attract wouldn't be caught dead watching

Excuse me while I take a deep breath. OK, I'm better now.

Anyway, it's over. Goodbye, Lorelai, Rory, Luke, Richard, Emily, Sookie, Jackson, Michel, Paris, Doyle, Lane, Zach, Brian, Gil, Babette, Morey, Miss Patty, Kirk, Lulu, and Gypsy (and thank God you're off my screen forever, Taylor, Christopher, and April). And goodbye, Veronica, Keith, Backup, Logan, Wallace (and Alicia and your invisible baby brother), Weevil, Dick, Mac, Max, Madison, Duncan, Vice Principal Clemmons, Vinnie, Cliff, Sacks, Deputy Leo, and Helga, as well as you ghosts of Lilly, Meg, Beaver, Aaron, and Don Lamb. Goodbye, Stars Hollow and Neptune. Goodbye.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Some Tangential Topics

Just got back from a week in Chicago and I feel inspired to spout off on a few subjects not entirely related to the stated purpose of this blog. What? It's free. Sue me.

You know, it seems in Chicago they have this lake. Apparently they call those suckers the Great Lakes for a reason. For us benighted Easterners, "lake" calls up an entirely different picture; Michigan is really more like what you might call an "inland sea." And they have beaches, golden sandy beaches, downtown. Crazy!

Chicago cabbies seem to have an inappropriate fascination with sex lives. One told me WAY more than I wanted to know about his; another asked me about mine. Dude, buy me a drink first.

My last night in town, I went to a performance of Troilus and Cressida by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I can't say I enjoyed it, but it was an experience. I have no problems with people who update Shakespeare to make it more meaningful. My favorite work, filmed or staged, is Ian McKellen's Richard III, which ruthlessly lopped off scenes and characters in presenting the play as a parable of 1930s fascism. But when the director takes out lines that explicate actions and motivations, and adds in "arty" touches (dead soldiers wearing the helmets of all the wars there ever were) designed to beat the audience over the head with "the message," that's just bard abuse. And casting busty blondes with no stage presence or ability to project should also be discouraged (Chaon Cross, I'm talking about you).

Mies van der Rohe said some snappy things I've always believed in, such as "less is more" and "form follows function." Yet somehow I never quite understood that he was the originator and leading proponent of the sterile, repellent International style. Once I learned that, I thought perhaps his own buildings might have been bold, revolutionary, beautiful, and his style degraded by cheap imitators. But now, having seen his IBM Building and twin apartment towers, I can only say: Mies has a lot to answer for.

Recently, I heard Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, interviewed by Terry Gross on her show Fresh Air, followed the next night by Francis S. Collins, author of The Language of God. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and an atheist, who thinks that science and religion are utterly incompatible; Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, thinks that science supports his faith. The funny thing is that, on the belief scale, I'm a lot closer to Dawkins than to Collins. But Dawkins was an obnoxious, pretentious little git that I wanted to backhand across the room, whereas Collins came off as a thoughtful, reasonable guy I would be happy to hang out with. Guess which one represented his point of view better?

Speaking of thoughtful and reasonable evangelical Christians, I just discovered this blog by Fred Clark, in which he is conducting a nearly page-by-page deconstruction of the Left Behind series (he's been doing it since 2003 and he's still not through the first volume). His wonderful posts, which criticize the books for their theology as well as their literary merit, are both devastating and devastatingly funny. I'd like to hang out with Fred, too.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Some Notes on Suicide Notes

There seems to be a new cliche in mysteries: the unsigned, typed suicide note, often not even printed out, just left on a computer screen. I've seen it before, but the only ones I can point to are the one that popped up in a Veronica Mars episode a few months ago, and another in the (so far mediocre) book I'm reading, Deadly Advice by Roberta Isleib.

I'm no expert, and I haven't been able to find any relevant info to back me up in my exhaustive 10-minute search of the net, but surely such a note must raise at least a few suspicions regarding its authenticity. Yet in these stories no law enforcement personnel ever seem to entertain the slightest doubt, leaving only our plucky protagonist to prove that the supposed suicide is *gasp* murder.

Please. Unless somebody can show me statistical proof that a large number of suicides do leave these kind of notes, I am done with this storyline.

I do understand the idea of typing your suicide note. After all, if your handwriting is as bad as mine, you do want your loved ones to understand your last communication. But I promise you that if I ever did kill myself,* I would print out the note, sign it, stick it in an envelope with someone's name on it, and leave it in a prominent spot.

Also, while we're on the subject, if anybody ever tries to say that I killed myself in any way other than a peaceful, painless overdose, call the cops.

*What? Oh, like you've never thought about this.

Edited May 6 to add: OK, I was slightly unfair to Deadly Advice. No, it never got any better, and yes, I correctly predicted that the villain was the heroine's neighbor and that she and the crusty detective would fall for each other. But in fact, the police did suspect the unsigned suicide note and were trying to lull the killer into a false sense of security. So I partly take back my rant.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Movie Diary April 2007

Movies seen for the first time are in green.

  1. Barefoot in the Park (1967), Gene Saks. Typical Neil Simon misogyny masquerading as hijinks. Corie is a spoiled, selfish emotional bully, and I can't believe her husband and mother put up with her for a moment. Hard to believe that a post-consciousness-raising Jane Fonda still thinks fondly of it. That said, Mildred Natwick and Charles Boyer are worth watching.
  2. Double Harness (1933), John Cromwell. Interesting pre-Code picture about a financially ruined socialite who decides to marry a wealthy playboy to help him rebuild his shipping empire. Not exactly a feminist message ("Marriage is a woman's business," we're told explicitly several times), but the heroine has both agency and desire. Ann Harding (previously unknown to me) is lovely and unmannered, and William Powell the definition of suave as always.
  3. Now, Voyager (1942), Irving Rapper. Fabulous sudsy melodrama about the transformation of a sheltered spinster and her love for a married man. Genuinely affecting, with strong underpinning of psychological truth. Bette Davis is at her absolute best, with Gladys Cooper as her soul-destroying mother and a nearly impeccable supporting cast. Paul Henreid makes an unconvincing Californian (?!), but who cares when he's soulfully lighting two cigarettes?
  4. An Awfully Big Adventure (1995), Mike Newell. Was distracted and not really paying attention, but I did note an exceptionally tender and erotic sex scene with Alan Rickman. Yowza.
  5. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), William Wyler. There are criticisms you can make about this movie -- that Dana Andrews and Teresa Wright are too old for their parts, that the script pulls its punches on topics such as Frederic March's incipient alcoholism, that Michael Hall (March's son, Rob) almost single-handedly brings the whole thing to a halt -- but it remains one of the finest movies ever made about the aftermath of war. I defy anyone to make it through the wedding scene without sniffling.
  6. The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Orson Welles. Twisty noir that really provides no clues beyond Rita Hayworth's femme fatale blonde 'do and "nothing good ever comes from Shanghai." Welles's character is almost criminally dumb; he really deserves what happens to him. His Irish accent is iffy, but he brings the sexy in a way he never did even as Rochester.
  7. Cover Girl (1944), Charles Vidor. Stupid musical with virtually no good songs, but Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly are pretty, and Eve Arden gets to look glamorous as well as crack wise.
  8. Stingaree (1934), William Wellman. Irene Dunne was another actress who suffered under the unfortunate delusion that she could sing. Her thin trill is not redeemed by the film's script or the acting. This movie could have stayed lost.
  9. National Treasure (2004), John Turteltaub. National stinker. Was vaguely curious to see it, because I heard Philadelphia looks great, but 5 minutes was more than enough for me.
  10. The Great Dictator (1940), Charlie Chaplin. I always put off seeing this movie for some reason, but I found it pretty funny and the speech at the end genuinely moving.
  11. Moby Dick (1956), John Huston. Mostly boring; relies too heavily on voiceover and Richard Basehart is a nonentity as Ishmael. But some of the visual effects -- the fog, the gulls, St. Elmo's fire -- are stunning, and Ahab's descent into madness and rejection of all right principles in service of his obsession is authentically chilling. Maybe it's time to tackle the book in earnest.
  12. Ray (2004), Taylor Hackford. Can add nothing more to the mountains of praise for Jamie Foxx's uncanny embodiment of Ray Charles. Script is sharply written, except for the gag-inducing treacly ending, but suffers from the usual biopic problem of simplifying the subject's life to provide dramatic direction. Also, never tries to dig very hard beneath the surface; why, like so many artists, did Charles's genius explode as he was sinking deeper into addiction? Also would have appreciated some exploration of how Charles arrived at his ground-breaking soul style, as well as (being somewhat musically illiterate) some explanation of what made his innovations so original.
  13. Oliver Twist (1948), David Lean. Atmospheric, rather brutal version of the Dickens tale. Kay Walsh fabulous as the doomed Nancy. Mixed feelings about Alec Guinness's villainous Fagin: a bravura performance, but monstrously anti-Semitic.
  14. Roman Holiday (1953), William Wyler. Audrey Hepburn at her most gamine and charming, Gregory Peck at his most ornamental and least wooden. Fabulous script and Roman locales.
  15. Princess O'Rourke (1943), Norman Krasna. Slight, overly long tale of American flyer in love with incognito European princess. Horrible fixation on the body of the princess as a vehicle for transmission of succession -- to male heirs, naturally. Did enjoy the idea of FDR playing Cupid. And ah for the days when people handed out the tranquilizers like M&Ms!
  16. State Fair (1945), Walter Lang. See post April 23, 2007.
  17. Fletch (1985), Michael Ritchie. Funny damn movie; also clever, well-crafted mystery, with sharp screenplay by personal favorite Andrew Bergman. Chevy Chase's trademark insouciance is perfect in the role of investigative reporter Irwin Fletcher. Funny to see Geena Davis as the frumpy best friend with an unrequited crush. Badly dated score.
  18. High Sierra (1941), Raoul Walsh. There's no male star I love more than Humphrey Bogart, and here he gives a taut, iconic performance as the aging gangster Roy Earle, adrift in a world that's left him behind. Ida Lupino also shines as the dancehall girl Marie, who turns out to be purer in heart than the supposedly "decent" Joan Leslie. Sharp, sensitive script by John Huston, slightly marred by typical Hollywood '40s racism.
  19. The Hustler (1961), Robert Rossen. This is a movie I thought more highly of when I was younger. Now its atmosphere of cynicism and tawdriness leaves me somewhat cold. George C. Scott gives a standout performance. But if I were Minnesota Fats, I'd be thinking: "Do I really need to be here for this? Can't these guys play out their little psychodrama on their own?"