Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

I've never seen this film, so in researching this blurb, I'm trying to avoid spoilers. Therefore, I can really only tell you things I know about the movie (based on a novel by James M. Cain of Mildred Pierce fame, was remade in the 80s starring Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange); and things I don't know (anything about the plot, whether it's film noir, whether there is, in fact, a postman in the story). The same novel was adapted into a French and Italian film as well as an opera (!), so we can assume that the passions are grand and the narrative arc tragic. It has excellent scores on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, so my anticipation is high! Bring on the 40s fashions and seedy characters!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tootsie Chat

Tracy:  Can I borrow that little yellow number?

Natalie:  Hmmmm. Have to think about it :)

Tracy:  So this movie is basically part of my DNA--it was one of my grandmother's favorites, and I can't remember a time before I've seen it. Therefore, I am in now ways objective about it. What did you think?

Natalie:  Ha! Somehow I've never seen it before I watched it Saturday. I knew about it just as a part of cultural knowledge but not the specifics. I liked it a lot and, save the wardrobe and hair choices (that, actually, I guess are back in style thanks to brainless children), it holds up. The issue of type-casting or black-listing actors/actresses is common and in the news now--Hello! Uproar over a black girl being cast in Hunger Games (not to mention the lesser conversations of whosit being too short to be Peeta, Cinna shouldn't be black/Lenny Kravitz, etc). And the hoopla about an able-bodied actor being cast as disabled in Glee or Robert Downey Jr. being "black" in Tropic Thunder. All of these have different implications, of course, but are all rooted in the same sort of issue.
And that doesn't even open the can of worms that is casting a straight person to play gay or vice versa.

Tracy:  You know, I never even thought about it in those terms--but you're exactly right. I tend to think of it more as a movie of how a man becomes feminist. I love all the " there was a woman in me" and "I was a better man with you as a woman than I was with a woman as a man" stuff. But it's just as much a movie about acting and the politics of casting. Which you're right--are just as immediate now. As an aside, I totally want to see "Return to the Love Canal."

Natalie:  Oh, right, how a man becomes feminist--and, larger in scope, how an industry (starts to) becomes feminist. Women were just starting to earn decent salaries in the industry at this point. I did like how the talking to a woman as a woman didn't necessarily get the answer--he completely bombed with the direct "let's just make love" approach that she said would work when she thought she was just talking to a girlfriend.
Ha! All of their faux films seem pretty fabulous

Tracy:  Again--you're blowing me away!  Yes! Totally how an industry was becoming feminist--never thought of that! And I think it makes sense that it starts with soaps (I owe whosit a quarter)--a maligned genre that nonetheless usually is one where boundaries are broken first in terms of representations of marginalized identities and relationships, and one where women are traditionally "allowed" to be more powerful.

Natalie:  Sometimes I can say smart things :)  Oooh, yeah, absolutely soaps are strangely at the forefront of changing the way TV works. It should be interesting to see what happens now with soaps dying off because we definitely haven't broken all of the boundaries that need breaking.

Tracy:  You always say smart things! It's just that I know this movie so well, that I don't know it at all, if you know what I mean. Description: :) I wonder what will take up the vanguard that used to belong to soaps. Cable? Online shows? They don't get the audience that soaps once did. One of my other favorite things about this film is the supporting performances: Murray, Coleman, Garr, Durning. Even Pollack. There's so much talent all the way down the cast list. And I even like the cheesy 80s ballad.

Natalie:  I'm not sure what will pick it up. Cable seems a different sort of thing. And some of cable just takes it too far (looking at you Showtime) to be productive. What was (is still marginally) interesting about soaps was the viewers' complete immersion in the show because it was daily and, because of the frequency, much more has to happen and the viewers "know" the characters better. A once-weekly show that takes at least one hiatus if not multiple can't achieve that sort of time with a character. I was surprised at a super young Gena Davis! I loved the cast and was tickled to find out that all of Bill Murray's dialogue was improvised. I love when an actor can just be let loose on set and be trusted to further the plot. Another interesting tidbit I learned is that Hoffman came up with the idea for this film while filming Kramer v. Kramer. Talk about two completely different films! And! one more thing! Can you believe how freaking fit Hoffman was?! He was 45!

Tracy:  45??? Shut the fuck up!

Natalie: I KNOW!

Tracy:  I didn't know that Murray improvised his dialogue. That means that awesome speech about how he wanted an audience that had just come in out of the rain, and how he wants someone to come up to him and say "I saw your play . . . what happened?" was straight out of his brain. Love. It. I really cannot draw the throughline from K vs. K. Feminism? That would be nice, since I thought KvK was remarkably bad for women . . . though I guess it was also about a man discovering his "feminine side." I think this film does it a lot better. An example of how sometimes comedy can make an argument more successfully than (melo)drama.

Natalie:  And Murray consented to having his name not in the opening credits/poster whatever so that people wouldn't expect Caddyshack. I think what you said is the throughline from K v. K. But, yes, this one does it much better and makes me want to see it again. I don't think I'm ever watching K v. K again; it's so depressing.

Tracy:  I'm SURE KvK is on the list. And yeah. It's just brutal. We have it to thank for Squid and the Whale. So are you on board with this being in the book? I already was, and you convinced me even more!

Natalie:  I'm sure it is too--pretty sure that's why I watched it in the first place. I've not seen S & tW and I don't want to either. I am on board with it being in the book! Speaking of though, the book says some stuff that needs chatting about. First, this: "British critic Judith Williamson once disparaged the ‘Tootsie Syndrome’ in contemporary culture—the device that decrees it only takes a few days in the shoes of your social ‘other’ in order to completely understand and sympathize with their plight." Do you think this is what the film does? I don't so much.

Tracy:  A "few days"? No. He was in it for months. And also, I like the way it highlights that performing a gender (which we all do, according to the one and only Judy Butler) is a way to demystify and expose its underpinnings. By putting on that face and those clothes and that persona, he was able to access not only certain conversations but parts of himself that would otherwise have remained unknowable. And it's not like the point is that he "sympathizes with the plight" of women. He realizes his own misogyny and asshole-ness. It's not about understanding the struggle of women, it's about him learning to be more human and less self-centered and entitled. What do you think?

Natalie:  YES! Way to bring Judith Butler to the fight! I completely agree. I don't think the movie makes him understand or sympathize with women at all beyond the comment about how much money it takes to be a woman. He strikes out trying to pick up whosit even with the inside knowledge. And, what the book says about the critic at least, seems to make it sound like you can't understand or sympathize with the other without a LOT of work. Seems you can just be a human (probably a liberal human but whatever) and sympathize/understand people who are different than you without a single minute in the others' shoes.

Tracy:  Right! Why do you have to embody that person in order to have empathy? Then it's not even empathy!

Natalie:  True. I'd like to see the original article or whatever so I won't completely slam Judith Williamson but she seems wrong. The book also says, "The [plot] complications . . . evoke the days of screwball sex-and-identity farce in the 1930s and 1940s . . . . Tootsie, alongside the work of James L. Brooks, pioneered a new style in mainstream cinema: intensely busy, bristling with subplots, pop allusions (such as, here, a cameo from Andy Warhol), and jazzy montage sequences—raising dramatic complications and hinting at subversive implications while skating gracefully past them to an entertaining, happy ending." Do you think it "skates past" the implications?

Tracy:  I don't even understand what that means. I certainly would NEVER put the words "James L. Brooks" and "subversive" in the same sentence. And were there really a whole lot of subversive subplots? It seems to me the, you know, PLOT was where the subversion was. You have Jessica Lange admitting to lesbian inclinations, a dude-on-dude proposal (that doesn't end in violence or disavowal) and, well, drag. The subplot, as far as I can tell, was about how difficult it is to be an actor in New York.

Natalie:  HA! Good points--I don't know what subplot could be more subversive than, as you point out, the actual plot. I also just thought, the "new style" lists a lot of things that were kinda common in Shakespeare's comedies: intensely busy, bristling with subplots, raising dramatic complications, subversive implications, entertaining happy endings . . . so the "new style" offers Warhol and montages? And, well, Shakespeare couldn't have had either of those.

Tracy:  Hah! Right. Though I'm sure Shakes would have cast Warhol if he could've. Speaking of, can you imagine how that phone call went? We're making a movie about Dustin Hoffman in drag playing a woman in a soap opera, and we'd like you to show up for a faux-photo shoot. Who even makes that call? Pollack?

Natalie:  I take that back. The chorus could have been the montage. They could be "jazzy." HAHA! I would have died to overhear that phone call. Pollack would have been the best at it. I wonder if someone was just friends with Warhol. So, anyway, we're keeping it but for our reasons that are better than the book's, right?

Tracy:  Hah! Yes! The chorus probably was "jazzy"! And yes. As usual. We get why the movie is important for reasons that indicate we have actually watched the movie.

Natalie:  HA! And thought about it. Super! So, next we're back in the 40s with The Postman always Rings Twice!

Tracy:  I'm excited! It's noir, yes?

Natalie:  Um . . . .I'm not sure if it's noir. But I'm excited for it!

Tracy:  Questions that will be answered when we chat next! 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tootsie (1982)

Ah, one of my favorites. This Sydney Pollack-directed comedy makes funny with the gender politics when difficult diva actor Michael Dorsey (still-relevant Dustin Hoffman) makes like a real diva when he decides to try out for a soap opera role . . . a woman's role. Dorothy Michaels becomes a feminist icon, and the movie itself actually has some cool and progressive things to say about what Kaja Silverman calls "heteropathic identification." But trust me--with a supporting cast that includes Bill Murray, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman and Charles Durning, the movie is a lot funnier than that phrase might suggest.

Historia Official Chat

Tracy:  So, kidnapping and Dirty Wars and shocking spousal abuse, oh my! What did you think?
Natalie:  Yes! I liked it in that it seems to bring to light a situation that not too many people were/are aware of. I know about los desaparecidos because one of my many many many Spanish teachers lived in Argentina for a long time--which didn't help my Spanish pronunciation with other Spanish teachers but that's another story. But I know most people don't know about the thousands upon thousands of people who were just disappeared. And, a lot of this is coming to light now, as the NPR article you posted pointed out. The disappeared kids in Argentina were around our age so the idea that you could be in your 30s and not actually know the truth about your life is kind of a thing.
Tracy:  Yeah--that's why I liked it too. It gave the viewer a lot of information, but kept it story-centered and compelling. It didn't feel like a documentary, but they did a good job refracting a huge story through this one woman's coming to consciousness about what had happened in her own country, through realizing what happened, and was continuing to happen, in her own house. I also liked the dynamic between her and her students: "history is written by assassins." Wow.
Natalie:  Yeah, we weren't subjected to a "woe are the disappeared" story that might be effective in one sense but I think the idea that people didn't even know what was happening in their own homes--that a woman could raise a child without knowing the child's parents were murdered, that a woman could be married to a monster who very effectively covers his nastiness, that a woman's best friend could have been taken and tortured and raped without her knowing, that a history teacher knows so little about history. All of that could have been really overdone, seemed absurd, or at the very least made Alicia look like a damned fool. But I believed that it could happen, that part of the country was kept in the pitch black dark while unknowingly enabling these things to happen. That makes this approach much more scary than a documentary that might have shown dead bodies and torture.
Tracy:  I agree. It seems one of the weapons was silence. Making her best friend feel afraid to say what had happened to her, and of course literally silencing the dissidents. That's what makes the grandmothers' protest so moving and powerful to me. They're defying the silence and holding up these huge pictures of people that "should have been" gone. And I've got to say, I was tricked by Roberto at first as well, and was quite shocked at the swiftness and brutality of his attempt to "silence" Alicia.
Natalie:  One of the most powerful weapons was silence. Anyone who said anything was silenced and one of the ways of doing that was disappearing them--and then no one else talked because they didn't want to be disappeared or worsen then chances of family members who were already missing. And everyone else just knew not to talk about it. The dinner party at the beginning where the woman accuses everyone of various disgraces hints at Gaby's parentage but Alicia doesn't know enough to see that's what the woman is not quite saying. It was smart to make her a history teacher and they used it well because the students could be "dissidents" while just seeming like high school kids. I appreciated the way that trope was used. We weren't beaten over the head with it. Yes! The transformation of Roberto was slow, sneaky, and deliberate. I suspected he might have known something but I did not see his attack coming at all.
Tracy:  I didn't catch that with the woman at dinner! Smart. To go back to something you said earlier, what do you think Gaby's future is going to be like? I thought it was pretty chilling, the way the film ended. This was obviously pre the sort of DNA testing that people can choose to do now, so it just adds to the heartbreak that you can guess or assume, but not really know too much about where you came from.
Natalie:  And this was right at the end of the dirty war so no one was supporting these sorts of searches for relatives and the world wasn't aware of anything yet--and, of course, a lot of the country didn't know what was happening. I couldn't quite determine if the woman who might have been Gaby's grandmother wanted to take her away or if she would have let her stay with Alicia but wanted to be involved in her life (especially since Alicia clearly didn't know Gaby's origins before). I can't imagine they would have kept Gaby in the dark but either way would result in serious issues--one way and Gaby loses the only family she's known for five years, another way and Gaby has to deal with the fact that her "father" stole her (and who knows whether he was involved in killing her birth parents) . . . I'm sure it just magnifies and intensifies anything an adopted child might feel. But, I do agree that the open ending adds to the heartbreak and the uncertainty. How long until they can really find out about Gaby? And everyone else? I mean, no one who is going to say anything actually knows if her birth parents are dead. To make a film with that many open endings not feel like a complete waste of time is a feat.
Tracy:  I agree--I'm glad, well, "glad" they didn't make her parentage clear. It really highlights the psychological stakes of this for everyone. And, like that NPR story mentioned, at least now, if we write beyond the ending, there's a chance that her dad could go to jail. I was just really struck by how these murders keep reverberating 30 years later. Though that isn't really germane to the discussion of this movie. Which I think definitely belongs in the 1001, yes?
Natalie:  Right--we sort of know that the father knew she was stolen but how much more he knows is wide open. They have a general over for dinner regularly so he could be pretty involved, especially considering the dissolution of his company. Well, sort of germane in that it's a reason to watch the movie. It highlights an issue that is still in the news and causing heartbreak for people. Yes! Keep it in the 1001!
Revised to add: 1001 includes the film because it was "[m]ade in 1985, just after the collapse of military rule, Luis Puenzo’s film is a brave attempt to face uncomfortable truths. Stylistically conventional, and the ending, in which Alicia’s husband beats her, is fairly melodramatic, but the social anguish in The Official Story is certainly real. It was the film’s political rather than artistic credentials that led the American Academy to award it the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film."
Tracy:  Yay! And next: Tootsie. Which doesn't have murder, institutionalized torture, or anyone getting their hand slammed in a door.
Natalie:  Ha! Yay! Sparkly dresses!
 Tracy:  A cheesy 80s ballad!
 me:  Hooray :)

Friday, March 16, 2012

La Historia Oficial (1985)

This Argentinian film won the Best Foreign Language Oscar, and it sounds like a doozy. I'm trying to avoid spoilers, because it sounds like the resolution of the plot might be a gut punch. The film chronicles the journey of an upper-class Argentinian couple who suspect their adopted daughter might be a victim of the forced disappearances that plagued the country during the 1970s "Dirty War." I know basically nothing about the "Dirty War," or about Argentinian politics as a whole, to be honest--my familiarity literally begins and ends with Evita. I'm looking forward to complicating and developing my understanding of the country and time period beyond "stuff sucked for a long time."

Update! This will be a topical pick! I heard this story on NPR today about a woman, now in her 30s, who was adopted by a media mogul in Argentina and recently underwent DNA testing to see if she was the daughter of one of those "disappeared" during the Dirty War. The mother of the lost woman thought she saw a family resemblance with the young girl, who was on TV all the time living this amazing life of privilege. Seems that the kidnappings and murders are still reverberating through Argentina in a heartbreaking way over thirty years later.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid Chat

Natalie:  Ready to talk lawmen and outlaws?
Tracy:  And troubadour rock stars! Yes ma'am.
Natalie:  Of course! I forget how good looking he used to be--Dylan that is. Kristofferson looks remarkably better NOW.
Tracy:  I know! Seeing him without a beard freaked me out. And I sort of found myself into the tragic and self-loathing Coburn as Garrett.
Natalie:  I liked Coburn as Garrett more than I liked Kristofferson as Billy. Kristofferson was styled much too 70s-tastic. He looked like he was ready to go to a love-in rather than shoot anyone.
Tracy:  There was that love-in aspect--his gang was like a free-boobing commune. But I have to say, I liked this take on the pretty typical "outlaws = nostalgia for the pre-modern = lost freedom" trope. This was the first time I saw them actively cannibalizing themselves. I was quite moved by its elegiac tone.
Which I just realized is a direct quote from The Jane Austen Book Club.
Natalie:  HA! See, watching that movie was useful after all. I like the idea of it too but then I realized that I could get the same thing from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. And then I missed the prettier faces and prettier film. This one just read too cheesy and weepy to me so I wasn't moved. Here's how westerns used to be, weren't they great? Here's Slim Pickens and here's Harry Dean Stanton and here's . . . . and we used to have blood and we used to have guns and we used to have boobs and whore houses filled with hearts of gold and tubs with no plumbing . . . used to . . . used to  . . . used to . . .  All of that instead of adding anything new to the genre (except Bob Dylan who has never done much for me) or moving it forward for me. I understand the Western died but this was just a nail in the coffin for me. If you love Westerns so much, make a damned good Western. Don't bemoan their passing.
 Tracy:  I guess what I liked about it, that I didn't get from Butch Cassidy, is that the lawman himself used to be part of the better world, and he still wants to be. The only way to move forward (and survive) is to betray yourself and everything you believe in. And, as the opening framing scene shows us, that doesn't really work either. You can be Bob Dylan and make it, but you have to be an "alias," having no authenticity at all. I wonder how much of that has to do with Peckinpah himself, and how he was finding it harder to adapt to modern moviemaking without betraying his vision.
Natalie:  I think for that part of the film to work for me, it would have had to focus in on him more and really examine that aspect. That part was overwhelmed by the garish 70s aspects (ketchup colored blood, Kristofferson's hair and wardrobe, etc), the semblance to Butch Cassidy (and, honestly, most other Westerns I've seen) in the rest of the plot, and the over-use of nostalgia. I think for the parade of stars to work, the plot needed to be more traditional or more fun. Having the plot and ideals be so mournful for the past and adding the stars who are likely to lose work and fame is just too much when you consider this is one of Peckinpah's last films--he only directed 5 after this, none of which was a Western. It was just overkill--like the color of the blood, I would have liked a lot more subtlety.
Tracy:  Makes sense. For whatever reason, it worked for me. Maybe I was feeling a little elegiac myself last night. This is the first Peckinpah I've seen (I think), so I also enjoyed seeing his trademarks not in a clip but in a movie. I also made a note that this was perhaps the worst movie for chickens that we've seen since Pink Flamingos.
Natalie:  HA! It was really bad for chickens. And I'm feeling more "move on" in general personal life stuff so I guess we have to consider that too. Just out of curiosity and since you mentioned him in the intro post--does your dad like it? I mentioned to my dad that we were watching it and he had to stop to remember if he'd seen it, remembered that it had Dylan, and then just said "yeah, I think I made it through that one." And he likes a Western a LOT.
Tracy:  Dad hasn't seen it--he was shocked that Kristofferson and Dylan were in it! I think he meant that he just happened to know that Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid, history-wise. I don't know if he's seen any Peckinpahs either, actually. He said he avoided The Wild Bunch because he thought it was about Butch Cassidy and didn't want to see another adaptation of that story. Is that true? Do you know?
Natalie:  I just looked on imdb and Cassidy isn't listed as a character name but I don't know anything about that one except we have to watch it eventually. The plot summary is: "An aging group of outlaws look for one last big score as the ‘traditional’ American West is disappearing around them." THAT just makes me less inclined to like this one because the elegiac part seems part of Peckinpah's general plan since Wild Bunch was 4 years earlier than Pat Garrett. The book hails Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid as “Sam Peckinpah’s final true western,” bemoans that it was “[t]runcated and neglected on its original release,” and cheers that it “has been restored to something like its original version and can be hailed as one of the director’s greatest films.” Four other Peckinpah films are on the list: this one, The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs, and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Basically, the book loves the film because it parades Western actors (“Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, Jack Elam, Richard Jaeckel, L.Q. Jones, Harry Dean Stanton, Chill Wills, Matt Clark, Elisha Cook Jr., Denver Pyle and Barry Sullivan”) arguing that “it would be hard to find a great Western that didn’t include one of these players; collectively they provide a roll call of the form’s greatness, and each cameo adds to the elegiac, melancholy, and wistful tapestry of Western and genre history, shot through with dollops of blood and poetry, plus original music by Bob Dylan.”
Tracy:  I'll tell Dad! He'll be thrilled! I didn't realize he did the original Straw Dogs. I'm increasingly curious about that and the remake. So the book doesn't like the movie for any of the reasons I did. And I didn't get a sense of the "last score" either.
Natalie:  Oh--the "last score" was for Wild Bunch, not PG&BK--sorry for the ambiguous sentence structure. Well, it liked the elegiac part but I'm pretty sure you like the movie for smarter reasons than the book
Tracy:  Oh, I see. I misread it. Well, sounds like Peckinpah is one of their favorites. So a split! The first since Marienbad, perhaps?
Natalie:  I think maybe so . . . I think we've agreed on everything else.
 Tracy:  And two quite different movies! So onto Argentinian political drama!
That streams!
 me:  Hooray! (?)
Definitely hooray for streaming!
Tracy:  I know--yay?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)

To quote my father, "spoiler alert: he kills him." But it looks like the fun of this Sam Peckinpah-directed Western is going to be in how we get there. First of all, we've got some fun performers. James Coburn plays the legendary sheriff, and Kris Kristofferson (!) plays Billy, though he was a good decade-and-a-half older. His band and wife were cast as Billy's gang, and none other than Bob Dylan (!!) has a small role. Dylan wrote "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" for the movie, and cover artists the world over are grateful. The supporting cast is chock-full of Western character actors past and present, and Martin Scorsese called PG&BtK Peckinpah's best movie since The Wild Bunch. It also turns out that the post-production has a Orson Welles-esque saga of drama and studio overreach. The powers that be were furious with Peckinpah's over-budget production (and probably weren't thrilled that the diva director urinated on some dailies) and slashed the film to bits. The director's cut has finally been discovered and restored. I think we're in for a wild ride. All puns intended.

Il gattopardo (The Leopard) Chat

Tracy:  So: The Leopard. A movie where it takes thirty minutes to relate a five-minute long conversation.
Natalie:  Exactly. And when that becomes a 3+hour movie, "it's pretty" doesn't make it any better.
Tracy:  God, it was SO SLOW. It almost felt like the speed was wrong on the DVD. Every shot was held for beats too long. And just when I thought I was going to get involved in the story--ooh, political subversion! ooh, a love triangle!--it turned out not to be that important to the people in the movie.
Natalie:  Right. And then we spend an hour at a ball in which nothing happens. I wouldn't stay at a ball that long in person if nothing were happening.
Tracy:  Hah! I kept expecting Angelica to actually be related to them or something, but no, it was all like listening to someone relate the past few months of their life. This happened. And then this happened. And then we went to a ball. I sort of got a Faulknerian feel from it--that the world was being "Snopesified" and there was this nostalgia for the lost aristocracy, but I think I was just so desperate for something to happen, I might have made that up.
Natalie:  Or for Angelica's mother to actually come into play and cause a problem. Or for something to be wrong with Angelica. For there to be a consequence to any action. Or something. There was definitely a nostalgia for the lost aristocracy but we don't see so much of that; there is an hour long ball at the end where the only disruptions are an uncouth father-in-law-to-be and a braggart army guy. Surely, balls of that size usually have two people who don't fit in--you can read Austen and find that. And, an aristocrat marries slightly below him. But she's not a peasant and, again, that happens. I think more was needed to actually illustrate the point--the way Downton Abbey manages it perhaps in that we see some characters clinging to the past, some characters fully embracing the future, and some stuck in between but we see multiple classes of people and how the rise of the lower classes actually impacts the higher class. With The Leopard, we're only in the drawing room and only see those who are invited in, not those who have pushed their way in via the revolution.
Tracy:  Jesus! I completely forgot about Angelica's crazed nympho mother! How can you mention that and then not have it be significant? It's like breaking Chekhov's gun rule. And that's a good comparison with Downton Abbey--we actually see this kind of social change be a struggle and literally painful in individual lives. It's hard to communicate that kind of existential drama when you have 8 million shots of a road with no dialogue. And I'm sorry, the incredibly intrusive music wasn't doing it for me either. I will say this--Lancaster looked pretty good getting out of the tub, and like we talked about, there was some serious architecture porn going on. But that's not enough to sustain a 3-hour long movie. It's like it wanted to be an epic, and had all the ingredients for an epic, and mixed them all in, but forgot to put it in the oven.
Natalie:  Yes! Yes! Yes! It was completely raw and needed some serious editing of the landscape shots and the ball. But, agreed, I enjoyed Burt Lancaster and I'm sure a lot of people enjoyed Angelica because she looked like she might devour someone at any minute. But, it didn't make it to epic status for me. So, the book . . . . . has two catchphrases it can’t ignore: “Oscar winner” and “cult classic.” Apparently, The Leopard is the latter (it was nominated for costume design but that’s not mentioned). The book makes a few errors in simple plot then proceeds to heap praise on the “brightly directed and photographed” film that includes a bevy of “symbolic connotations” and is declared “one of the best adaptations in the history of cinema” (from Giuseppe Tomasi Di Lampedusa’s novel of the same name). The book continues its praise by applauding Burt Lancaster and, director, Luchino Visconti (“No other filmmaker handled Lancaster the way Visconti did, making him look so aristocratic, so distinguished, but also so human”) as well as the shared supposed obsession with death among author and main character. Intriguingly, the book claims this film “mesmerizes huge audiences and is at the same time highly personal.”
Tracy:  Angelica could have been so much cooler--she peaked when she had that long inappropriate laugh at dinner. A "cult classic"? Really? I don't think the book watched the movie. And though I've never read the book, I seriously doubt the adaptation is that magnificent. Did it try to replicate how long it would take to read the book with the movie? It mesmerizes only in the sense that it lulls you into complacency. Lancaster was good, and maybe a bit death obsessed at the ball, but that ball would make anyone long for death. I would say the only reason to see this is the costumes. For how these elements are actually supposed to work--see The Godfather.
Natalie:  Agreed about Angelica. She didn't do anything else for the rest of the film. If this adaptation is magnificent, I worry about the book and why anyone would adapt it in the first place. I wasn't mesmerized at all; if I were, I wouldn't have stopped it in the middle to watch bad TV. It seemed he was a tad death obsessed but also that maybe he was actively ill--like he ate a bad shrimp or something--so it was hard for me to give the film that. Well, we'll see that one later :)
Tracy:  Hah! I know! I kept expecting him to keel over from a metaphorically resonant heart attack, but  nope. He just wandered around looking vaguely dyspeptic. So do you say keep it in? I can't think of anything it does influence wise that Lawrence of Arabia or something similar doesn't and better.
Natalie:  Ha! That would have worked for me. I don't see a reason to keep it. I can't think of anything it does, even in Italian, that another film doesn't do and I'm pretty sure even if it were only a performance based inclusion (which the book doesn't indicate) we could find another Lancaster, Vicsonti, whomever else, that is better. Well, maybe not Visconti if this is his crowning glory.
And there are 4 other Visconti movies for us to try out that theory.
Tracy:  Oh, great. I want to know what "cult" finds this a "classic." I say, boot it.
Natalie:  HA! Not a cult that we want to be a part of I'm pretty sure. Agreed! On to the wild west
Tracy:  Yippie kay yay, etc.!

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Leopard (1963)

Next up is an Italian film that inexplicably stars Burt Lancaster. Intrigued? It's three hours long. Still in? Roger Ebert dubbed it one of his "Great Films," and this adaptation of a novel by di Lampedusa won the 1963 Palme d'Or at Cannes. The soap operatic tale of the exploits of a prince is a commentary on the Italian aristocracy during the unification of Italy in the 1860s. If that doesn't catch your interest, the film allegedly ends with a 45-minute-long ballroom scene. If THAT doesn't catch your interest, the Italian title is "Il Gattopardo." Doesn't that sound just delicious? Right?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Stand by Me Chat

Natalie:  Ready to chat about 12 year old boys, dead kids, and growing up?
Tracy:  Yes! This one is definitely rated B for Boys.
Natalie:  And G for Gross. And C for super cute teeny tiny itty bitty actors.
Tracy:  I know! A veritable "where are they now." And we can now say with all confidence that Wil Wheaton will NOT grow up into Richard Dreyfuss.
Natalie:  HA! Which brings up the question, why wasn't Dreyfuss credited?
Tracy:  I guess he was the big casting coup? Ah, how times have changed.
Natalie:  Yeah, no one else was known at all. Even Sutherland's first big movie
Tracy:  It's certainly timely with the recent Oscars--I guess it's also rated N for Nostalgia. I was just kind of bullshitting when I wrote about the hero's journey in the blurb, but while watching it, I think it kind of works. You know the cycle better than I do--do you think it's a legit reading? Wouldn't surprise me coming from Stephen "Dark Tower" King.
Natalie:  It's absolutely a hero's journey. There's a call to action ("let's go see the dead guy"), crossing a threshold ("let's just go home"), tests (scary woods, train, etc), the ordeal (seeing the dead kid), seizing the sword (this one is the most literal with the gun being drawn), the road back, and the resurrection (growing up in this case and realizing a writing career).
Tracy:  And they even say "we'll be heroes"! We should write this paper. So, do you think the train(track) is a metaphorical representation of how time is moving along, changing us all and ultimately mowing us down? Even if that's going too far, I thought the scene on the bridge was pretty freaking scary.
Natalie:  Most coming of age stories can be linked to the hero's journey, actually. Which is interesting in that it's not that heroic just to come of age (anymore--years and years ago, sure). I think the train works as that metaphor, especially given the author and his predilection for such metaphors. Not that that is bad; it works especially in terms of how such things themselves change--the boys walk the train track while the older guys just drive a car and get there much more quickly. These kids' lives are about to change a lot. And, in that way, I didn't find the movie particularly dated beyond poor Will Wheaton's REALLY high-waisted pants and Dreyfus's computer.
Tracy:  Hah! Those pants. I agree. It felt incredibly timely to me, because like I said in my little Pinterest thing, this is where 40-y-o virgin and Knocked Up come from. Except now, the boys aren't twelve. They just act like it.  And I suppose we need to talk about the gross, speaking of Apatow.
Natalie:  Exactly. The boys have grown up and are now Apatow, Sandler, Ferrel, Hill, Rudd, et al. And they still have the same gross sense of humor. The most obvious story for a campfire in the middle of the woods would be a scary one--especially considering King is the author--but 12 year old boys (and 30-50 something year old boys) think to tell a story of projectile vomiting instead. I covered my face for the entire interlude.
Tracy:  I know. I remembered that scene, which I actually left the room for, but had for some reason forgotten about the leeches until they stepped into that river. shudder Again, poor Wil Wheaton. At some moments (like his understanding at that scene, and many others) I thought River/Chris was incredibly wise and okay with emotional expression for his age and time. Like a little juvenile delinquent Buddha. But maybe that's the way Wil/Richard was remembering him--sort of making him even better than he was because of his grief.
Natalie:  Ha! "a little juvenile delinquent Buddha"! The leeches didn't bother me--they might if I were actually ever in the presence of a leech though. I agree about River/Chris and the unreliable narrator. The end shows us that Gordie is writing this story because Chris has just died so we have current grief and the remembered grief of his brother's death. And, we also have the fact that Gordie and Chris remained friends for longer than they did with the other two boys. So, Gordie had a longer friendship and probably a deeper fondness for Chris than the other boys, and a deeper understanding because he knew Chris as someone older than twelve. And, of course the nostalgia streak--do you ever have friends like the ones you had when you were twelve?
Tracy:  The famous line! I read The Body years ago, but don't remember if anything major was changed. It certainly has a slew of patented King Bad Dads.
Natalie:  I don't think I ever read that one despite reading a lot of King (when I was about twelve actually). TONS of King Bad Dads and absent mothers. So, the book says a whole lot of not so much: “A tale of friendships . . . set against the beautiful Oregon scenery (standing in for the novel’s [sic] Maine location), Stand by Me expertly depicts the fears, games, catchphrases, debates, . . . and secrets shared by young boys, whereas Kiefer Sutherland’s older, meaner Ace gives a taste of what could be round the next corner in their lives. Beautifully played by the young cast, and lyrically directed by Reiner”
Tracy:  Fair enough. I think it's a pretty simplistic reading of the boys and Ace but whatever. I think it definitely belongs in the 1001.
Natalie:  It's really beyond simplistic because it's just a plot summary--after a bigger plot summary in the book. But, yes, I think it definitely belongs in 1001
Tracy:  Yay! The book got something right!
Natalie:  Hooray! Except for actually talking about why we should watch the movie Description: :)
Tracy:  It would be too much to ask for that to be right on all accounts. I wonder if we'll feel the same way about The Leopard.
Natalie:  At over 3 hours and in Italian . . . . . We can hope?
Tracy:  Yes. A fool's hope, but hope.