Monday, August 31, 2009
Concert films were cranked out quite regularly in the late 60s, 70s, and 80s. The Rolling Stones had at least 5 (!) of them. Various music fests in Monterey and the Isle of Wight were filmed and shown on theater screens. There were a few great ones, like Scorsese's THE LAST WALTZ. Most were unmemorable. The idea seems funny-showing a concert in a movie theater, where one doesn't usually get up and gyrate. If that's true, what a challenge it must have been seeing STOP MAKING SENSE, director Jonathan Demme's landmark record of a few Talking Heads concerts from the 1983 "Speaking in Tongues" tour. This is not passive viewing.
It played for well over a year at midnight on Friday nights at the local art house cinema while I was in high school. Never saw it there, regrettably. Even though I considered myself a Talking Heads fan. I purchased the VHS around that time and watched it obsessively. This film was really where my Heads appreciation started. I knew their hits; "Burning Down the House" was ubiquitous, especially on MTV. I had also enjoyed the video for "Once in a Lifetime" a few years earlier. Both of these songs are rearranged and opened up for live performance in ways that even the most astute studio wizards couldn't have mastered. Usually, live performances sound like crap to me. Throwaway audio. The artists can't recreate the editing and perfection of the record, and they often change the phrasing in ways that undermine the rhythm. Concerts are great fun (sometimes even transcendent) when you're there, but tiresome to listen to or watch back at home. STOP MAKING SENSE completely changes the rule, creating something so artful and unique, it's instead the original recordings that suffer by comparison!
I was not in the audience at these Hollywood, CA shows. I never did see singer David Byrne, guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison, bassist Tina Weymouth, and drummer Chris Frantz do their thing live. It must have been amazing. Director Demme certainly thought so; after seeing the band on their 1981 tour, he and producer Gary Goetzman both realized that the act was just begging to be filmed. What was playing out wasn't merely a collection of songs interrupted by tired lead singer banter. Crazy narratives seem to be there. Each song, building some theme. Plus, Byrne was wildly theatrical. Once Demme and cinematographer Jordan (BLADE RUNNER) Cronenweth began filming, it was evident that the theatrical could also become cinematic.
STOP MAKING SENSE is indeed cinematic. Demme breaks many concert film conventions. For one, he does not give use the usual audience reactions during and between the tunes. They are usually phony anyway-that girl with her eyes closed, flailing the cigarette lighter, how do we know she's reacting to the song we're hearing? I was a camerman at my church several years ago, and was usually the one who got the audience shots. Invariably, when the program was later edited, the audience reaction shots were never in real time. Demme is interested in documenting a start to finish event as honestly as possible, and the director correctly asserts that showing the audience at all (until the very last moments) isn't really necessary. We also don't get backstage or fan interviews, silly fantasy sequences, or warm up acts. Just the stage, song by song being filled with more band members and instruments. Intricate (but rarely gimmicky) light design. Curious slides. Very tall floor lamps. Sum total = movie magic.
That's why it works so beautifully. I love the music-its polyrhythms, its energy, the amusing lyricism. But this is cinema, purely. Byrne has described the sorta narrative we get as we wind from the spareness (man, guitar, boom box) of "Psycho Killer" all the way to the grand (full band, backup singers, complex lighting, buckets of sweat) finale of "Crosseyed and Painless". We see an uptight man gradually shake it loose to the groove. Talking Heads' music draws from a wellspring of influence-Hank Williams to disco to Sunny "King" Ade. By the end, Byrne has flung off the famous big suit of "Girlfriend is Better" and completely surrendered to the joy. All captured brilliantly by the aforementioned filmmakers and Lisa Day's exemplary editing. This film is not merely seen and heard, but experienced.
Friday, August 28, 2009
When you watch GRAN TORINO, you get something far more insightful than just payback fantasy. If the trailer needed to be cut to get the masses in, so be it. For once, I hope it did. I hope people came expecting some vicarious thrills and instead got an elegy that stayed with 'em. I sure did.
Clint this time plays Walt Kowalski, a grizzled, recent widower, Korean War veteran, and retiree. He spent years working on the Ford assembly line in Detroit, and even had a '72 Gran Torino built for him. That classic sits in his garage, lovingly maintained. He's lived in the same neighborhood for decades and in the 21st century finds he's practically the only Caucasian left. There are gangbangers seemingly on every corner or cruising around, looking for their next recruit. Targeted is a young Hmong teen, Thao Vang Lor, who lives next door. Thao's initiation to the gang (whose members include his cousin)-stealing the Gran Torino. The plan fails, but the youth wants no part of the gang life anyway.
The gang doesn't take kindly to this. After trying to wrestle the youth away from his house, they make the mistake of causing a ruckus that edges over onto Kowalski's lawn. Out comes the rifle, and some harsh words. Walt uses lots of harsh words, racial and cultural epithets that are as natural for him as breathing. He thinks nothing of directing his derogatories toward the very group he denigrates. Including the gang. They leave, but of course they will be heard from again.
Meanwhile, Thao's family shows their unending gratitude by placing home cooked dishes and flowers on his porch. It's their culture, about as alien to Kowalski as anything could be. Walt doesn't even appreciate the company of his own family, who he observes as self serving suburbanites who only visit out of obligation. One of his sons, to add insult to injury, sells Japanese cars for cryin' out loud.
Sue, Thao's brother, reaches out to the old cuss by inviting him over for a house party (she has to lure him with the promise of beer). Walt accidentally insults one guest, but otherwise makes the rounds without incident, discovering Hmong traditions, including some rather delicious cuisine. Walt will grow closer to Sue and especially Thao, who attones for his attempted theft by doing odd job's around Walt's house. Slowly, the kid will garner some respect from the old codger, a man wired to understand only a hard work ethic and bravery. Walt and the Lors learn a lot from each other, but then the gang hits back. So does Walt. A terrible cycle of revenge begins, leading to a different conclusion than we might have expected.
GRAN TORINO is a potent Eastwood picture: filled with social commentary, colorful characterizations, and even a suspenseful narrative. This is not some ambiguous art film or screaming polemic. Some scenes are even comical, such as when Walt and his barber trade good natured (though still potentially offensive) slurs. The scenes between them reminded me of my own current barber shop. Part of his culture, part of being a man, at least to Walt. That also includes that sweet ride of his. The pride of ownership, of something me made with his own hands. The film makes several interesting points about how individuals are defined by their stereotypes. Stereotypes, while sometimes unfair, are often very true. I have Italian relatives in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, who've lived in the same brownstone for decades. The stereotypes you've heard-yes, true. I thought of them several times throughout GRAN TORINO. Walt's character was some sort of odd distillation of them.
Just like Eastwood seems to be himself, GRAN TORINO patiently plays its hand, gradually allowing the characters and story to blossom. Along the way, we get some harsh doses of urban reality-people who remain in their cloisters remain close-minded bigots, always suspicious of those of other origin. This goes for many different characters in the movie. No one is spared the commentary, but Walt is the central character, an un-PC relic who at first can't quite take all the changes to his little world. But the most valuable (and unfortunately rare) qualities he possesses (courage, patience, rationality) allow him to make things right at the end, in ways that, while tragic, will hopefully penetrate the craniums of viewers who merely want the trigger to be swift.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
How many revenge fantasies have you watched? Countless films and TV shows revolve around the theme of getting even, giving back what was given. We all relate. It's from the gut, primal. It's fair. Someone screws with you, your family, your culture, you balance the equation. Remember when Ted Bundy got the electric chair? There were celebrations everywhere, parties in front of the institution where it went down. "He's gonna bake like microwave pizza!" exclaimed a parody called "Everyone Knows It's Bundy" done to the tune of "Everyone Knows It's Windy." I laughed at the time, but over time I've thought back on that, my feelings about the death penalty in general. Evil for evil. Hard for those of the flesh to see a problem. What if your child was killed?
I'll park it right there, as I don't intend for this review to seem as long as that of the running time of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, QT's latest. But I couldn't help but feel a bit uncomfortable as I watched this grandiose story of vengeance. A team of Jewish/American soliders, "The Basterds", led by Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt), are recruited to comb occupied France to hunt down Nazis (or, Naaaht-zees) during WW II. Their methodology is brutal. After each Nazi is shot, they are then scalped, per Raine's request. The really unlucky ones get their heads treated like a baseball when the Babe's up to bat. Survivors, few as they are, get a swastika carved into their foreheads, so no one will ever mistake them for anything else. The violence and gore that they mete out, gruesome and swift. Most of QT's films have at least one potentially unwatchable bit of violence; this one has numerous.
The basterds themselves are a rag tag team, very sketchily drawn. We learn that Raine is from Tennessee, a plot point that supplies much humor late in the film when the character attempts to pass off an Italian accent. The aforementioned bat swinger is a rather scarily enthusiastic fellow named Donny Donowitz, or "Bear Jew" (Eli Roth). Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger), in typical Tarantino fluorish, is given a backstory montage complete with 70s-looking font and a Sam Jackson narration. Of the other basterds, we learn next to nothing. We do not follow them from A-B, step by step, like THE DIRTY DOZEN, or the 1978 Italian film upon which BASTERDS is (sort of) based. They are one plot strand, dropped for what seems hours at a time.
There is another Jew hot for retribution. Her name is Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), survivor of the brilliant opening scene, in which she and others hide under the floorboards of a French dairy farmer. The others are massacred cavalierly by SS troops, under the orders of a wily, charismatic officer, Colonel Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz). Shoshanna escapes to Paris, assumes an alias, and opens a cinema that runs films by the likes of P.W. Pabst and Leni Riefenshtal. Much film geekery dialogue commences, much to my delight. How can it be a QT if there wasn't? Fate lends a hand and after meeting a German solidier who was recruited to play himself in a propaganda film triumphing the will of the noble Nazis, Shoshanna finds herself hosting a screening to be attended by high ranking officials, including der fuhrer himself, Adolph Hitler. A plot is hatched that involves combustible celluloid, in both literal and figurative senses. But the basterds have their own plans for the evening.....
There is much more. I didn't mention the Mexican standoff between Nazis and British film critics pretending to be Nazis, for one. BASTERDS, also in typical Tarantino fashion, spends oodles of running time not portraying action scenes, but rather framing the actors as they make plans, talk tough, and even play parlor games. Clocked minute for minute, I'd venture to say there is more talk than bang-bang. We don't get the pop culture zingers (this is the 40s), but still the rapier wit we've come to expect in a QT production. And the style. The energy. Quentin is as exciting as any contemporary American director. INGLORIOUS BASTERDS has a jangly elan that is Quentin's own. He borrows and steals (again) every idea in his script, doubtless born out of untold numbers of hours of watching others' movies, but it is directed with such verve that even scenes with charcters sitting across the table from each other have an unexplainable zest. His use of Bowie's "Putting Out the Fire (with Gasoline)" is also quite deft; for the first time this song is the only ancient pop ditty on a QT soundtrack. The rest of the time we get Ennio Morricone scoring, hilariously played at top volume. A good deal of the time, I was entirely entertained. Also entertaining are the odd misspellings in the film's title, perhaps Quentin's commentary on miscommunication among cultures, a theme that is both a running gag and a more serious theme throughout the film. When asked about the curious spellings, Quentin answered cryptically, something to the effect that any attempt to understand it would do a disservice.
But, as fun as the movie is, the whole thing doesn't hold together as well as earlier efforts. This is a wildly uneven movie. There are several chapters throughout, each of which could be its own film, all of which, on their own, are perfect little shorts. Certainly, every time Landa is onscreen, he owns it. His fluid, unnerving performance is just perfect. Every time we see him, he corners a character, aware that they know that he knows they are lying about something. Cat and mouse, and Landa is in no particular hurry; he enjoys every tense moment before the inevitable. The opening scene with Landa and the farmer is nearly sweat inducing in its portent. Subsequent scenes with the Colonel are equally nerve wracking. But, Quentin, imo, sells out the character in the final reels that seemed a bit of a cop-out, if not entirely dishonest to the character. Again, a bit uneven. In a funhouse such as BASTERDS, more than a few consessions are made in the name of pure cinematic joy.
So I return to my original concerns. I will not explain the climax, but suffice it to say that the bloodlust does get the better of the proceedings. It's satisfying, alright, but troubling just the same. But I got the same vibe I did from DEATH PROOF, that underneath the energy there is a conscience. I don't think Quentin is trying to make any grand statements, and I never expect him to. At the same time, I don't think he is merely playing to the bloodthirsty peanut galleries. It may be buried, but I think that maybe our loquacious auteur just might want us to stop and wonder what we're cheering about. Maybe.
Monday, August 24, 2009
NOTE-sorry about the formatting problems in later paragraphs!
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Hazel, absolutely brilliantly portrayed by Brad Dourif, stands on the hoods and roofs of cars and barks to passersby. Some listen, just like they would to a guy selling an apple peeler. Maybe what Hazel is selling makes sense to some of them, in some humanistic way. WISE BLOOD, director John Huston's adaptation of Flannery O'Connor's beloved novel, is an eccentric, incisive, and often grotesquely funny fable of redeption. Yes, that's right. Before the credits, Hazel will be redeemed in ways that perhaps were unforeseeable. Before we get there, we travel with him on a journey not easily described.
Motes even scores a disciple, a wide-eyed simpleton named Enoch Emery. He's quite the dimbulb, but he's sincere, willing even to commit theft to bring "a new Christ" to Hazel in the form of a shrunken mummy. Emery also has a curious fascination with primates, perhaps some sort of wry commentary on evolution, or maybe not. O'Connor was Catholic, by many accounts a Christian, but her considerable writing gifts were wielded to lampoon both sides of the Belief divide. Her statements on religion here are like razors, painful, giddy, ultimately sobering. Religion is like any other commodity being hawked. Fakes like Asa Hawks (Harry Dean Stanton) and Hoover Shoates (Ned Beatty) use their charisma in the name of Jesus for their own gains, monetarily or otherwise. Disingenuine. Hazel sees it, and his attempts to bring some justice to it ends tragically for more than one character, including himself.
Props also to Amy Wright as Sabbath Lily, Asa's lusty daughter on her own carnal mission. At one point, she cradles the shrunken mummy like Mary. This sort of imagery infuses O'Connor's works, with which I became familiar in college. Seems unfilmable, but Huston perfectly captures the tone (if not all of the commentary). How Huston, an atheist, managed to bring across the author's points so letter perfectly is miracle of such magnitude that it would take some time (and injury) for the preacher of The Church Without Christ to understand.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
You know the theme. Even if you've never caught a second of the 1950s cop show featuring Jack Webb as the unflappable, serious as a heart attack Los Angeles detective Joe Friday, you likely can name that tune in a few notes. It announces something, official. No nonsense, just like Friday himself.
"This is the city", Friday narrates almost mournfully over the opening credits of Dragnet, a briskfully successful television program which ran for almost all of the 50s, then returned in the late 60s, then was given a silly big screen remake with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks in 1987, and a small-screen reimagining in 2003 (the latter 3 all far less successful than the original). There was also a theatrical film thrown together in 1954, which ramped up the show's intensity a few notches. Dragnet certified Webb's character as an American icon. The actor was so convincing as a lawman that local citizens would call the L.A. precinct and ask for him. There were so many such calls that finally the real cops would answer, "Sorry, it's Joe's day off."
I was among the many fans of that show. Casual fan. That is, until about 5 years ago when I bought one of those "Old Time Radio" CDs off a carousel at Cracker Barrel. Dragnet on Radio, Volume I. Two episodes: "Big Escape" and "Big Trunk". As I would learn, all of the episodes from 1950 onward would have the word "big" in the title. I was entertained by the program, but then, I dunno, it became something more. Great radio drama is true Theater of the Mind. Vivid pictures painted in your mind's eye, almost as effective as reading. I had the fortune of hearing CBS Radio Mystery Theater when I was much younger, my first exposure to the possiblities of such a medium. I think it nutured my desire to write creatively. I later heard radio reruns of W.C. Fields, Burns & Allen, "The Whistler", "The Shadow". Now I was enjoying this classic of classics. Friday's aural adventures had taken flight, provided me with new musings each time I listened to these episodes.
The shows were well produced, primarily in the technical sense. Even in mono, one can discern the deft use of sound effects, even that of a yelping dog in the background of a neighborhood scene. Details of forensics sounded authentic, as did discussions of firearm calibers. Webb and the writers took great care in being as realistic as possible. Even if the drama was hokey, the stories, all true with "only the names changed to protect the innocent" were solid. Another ominous narrator would open and close the radio show, summarizing and epiloging the case. In the early ones, real life police departments around the U.S. were recognized for their dedication to civilians as well.
I listened to them mainly in the evenings. Appropriate. Friday describes L.A. as a mysterious, often unforgiving locale (even in the 50s), and night listening seemed to make it more menacing. This, of course, was despite the unavoidable camp and corniness that is so characteristic of the 1950s. Some of the musical cues are disturbingly dissonant, others unintentionally funny. The same could be said of the program itself.
That isn't to say that Dragnet didn't try to be funny. On the contrary, much of the social commentary seems almost satiric at times. We hear caricatures of housewives, floozies, gangsters, drunks, narcs, heroin dealers, yes, but some wry statements shine through. Mainly in the acidicly sharp dialogue. Exchanges between Friday, his partners, and mainly his suspects of the moment are probably my favorite element. Surprisingly sarcastic sometimes. Rat-a-tat. Like music. The actors all nailed it. The rate of delivery is perfect. Friday questions everyone with a laser precision that cuts through the nonsense, daring the other to fib. Joe always knows. One episode found Joe hunting down a former Army chum who had broken out of prison. Friday discovers the criminal's whereabouts after relentlessly questioning the wife. "I'll tell you if you promise to go alone," she finally cries. Friday does indeed promise. As he later approaches a shack where the perp has holed up, another cop warns, "Joe, that guy promised not to shoot it out if cornered, but he has a habit of breaking promises." "I keep mine," Friday retorts. The half hour plotlines were efficient and tight. Crime never paid in the long run.
I acquired more episodes. I was dismayed that more weren't available on CD. Plenty on cassette, strangely enough. Didn't buy those; I haven't listened to a cassette in over 10 years! I DID find some episodes online. I was now a huge buff, finding more to enjoy with this show than its TV counterpart. I absorbed each episode, began listening to them as I fell asleep. Comforting. Hard to explain why it was so soothing to hear. Was it the lawman's confidence? The voices of tough broads? The ads for Chesterfield cigarettes, hawked by Webb himself? A combination of all of the above?
Before I got married, I almost always fell asleep to a variety of things. Inspirational programs, lectures, the news, music. For a while, I loved conking out to Steely Dan demos. I have a collection of tracks Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had recorded in the late 60s before anyone knew who they were. Crude tracks, filled with potential and hunger. Poor sound quality, but some sort of perverse lullaby just the same. Eventually, I would either shut down to jazz or Joe Friday, both of which provided a sort of after hours vibe in which I could get lost. Lot of similarities between the two, the more one thinks on it as they drift off. Friday's authoritative yet resigned narration, much like an extended drum break or trumpet wail....
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Sure, I'd been traumatized by THE SHINING a year earlier, but that was just on the telly. Not the same. You can escape. In the theater, not so easily. It was so forboding, cold, dark, loud. I felt like I was doing something really bad, just watching and listening. PINK FLOYD: THE WALL took these feelings to their absolute zenith. It was a horrific ride that truly pummeled me. The aftertaste lingered for hours and days. Perhaps that was punishment enough?
The feeling is still there. I recently purchased the DVD and upon revisiting, those old feelings reocurred with great nausea. I suppose such a review is a testament to how successful this film really is. One of my guidelines for a film's triumph is if the creative team realized their goals, followed through on their purpose, usually indicated in the opening minutes. This one succeeds all too well. I can still remember the title of a review in the local newspaper, "Get Over 'The Wall', with Aspirin".
That is the problem. THE WALL almost never stops. Never gives the viewer longer than a few seconds to return to a normal heart rate. Even the slower tunes are riddled with pain, as fans of the album already know. Roger Waters, Pink Floyd's lead singer and opus generator by the mid to late 70s, unleashed a bitter tale of alienation that somehow became a monster success. Every kid in my elementary school sang "We don't need no education" at any given moment. It was all over the radio in 1980, sharing airtime with more benign things like "Whip It" and "Rock Lobster".
When I bought the album a little later, I discovered a 90 minute howl of pain that spoke to my already angsty self. I listened to it, r-e-p-e-a-t-e-d-l-y. Definitely no good for my sanity, especially at age 11. When director Alan Parker had his take splashed on screens a few years later, I was done for. I still can't believe my father didn't pull me out of the theater. He sat there with me, for every painful minute of the 99.
OK, so how did the egos of creative tempests such as Waters and Parker ever collaborate? As the DVD docs attest, not easily. Neither was used to collaboration, being told how to express something. Add political cartoonist Gerald Scarfe to the mix and you have almost as much drama behind the scenes as on it. Parker, who had helmed MIDNIGHT EXPRESS and FAME prior, quit the production several times. Somehow, it all eventually came together. Each talent added their unique ideas. Scarfe's animation is striking and devastating, even now. Parker frames what is essentially a collection of vignettes with style and guts. The docs also add some disturbing info about production. One troubling bit revealed that the fascist rallies we see were populated by a lot of real skinheads, who took their "acting" a bit too seriously. Parker had his hands full, reeling them in. Watching the "Run Like Hell" sequence is now that much more uncomfortable, if that was even possible. The source material needed a brash approach, and THE WALL has that with great aplomb.
Waters also had plenty of input, of course, and surprisingly allowed someone else to sing his songs. Bob Geldof, frontman for the Boomtown Rats (and later, organizer of Live Aid), takes the role of Pink and gamely reinterprets the sad tenor. His acting is also pretty good, certainly for someone who'd never done it professionally. As he moves through scene after scene, displaying the disinteration of a rock star that eventually leads to unspeakable madness, you see an embodiment, a proper fitting. I bought it. He certainly got the sullen expression and frozen eyes bit down.
But the real star here (other than the music, natch), is the style. THE WALL has been called "the longest rock video to date" and accordingly we are treated to razor sharp editing. Myriads of hypnotic images flash and disappear to the sonics. Maggots, crashing billy clubs, cracked skulls (real and animated), meat grinders, needles, it's all there, in your face. By the end, you're a mess. As much as I admire this film, perhaps some breathing room might've made things a little easier to take. It's quite impossible to process this until after you've had time to mull it all over afterward. Even then, just thinking about it stresses me out. This is for occasional viewing. At best.
Friday, August 14, 2009
We arrived back in Seattle by nightfall. We found the hotel, had the vehicle valeted, stowed the luggage, and began to comb a surprisingly chilly night downtown in search of grub. The hotel was directly across from yet another of those clusters of upscale retail meccas. Barnes & Noble. White House Black Market. Hugo Boss. You know the places. There were some generic looking eateries there too, but we looked for something a little more adventurous. We walked, and walked. It was well after 9 now and we were getting weak with hunger. Nothing looked unique. We passed a FOX Sports Bar. Hmmm.
Eventually, we found a classy looking place called The Daily Grill, on Pike Street. Green neon gently spilled from the front window. Pretty empty for a Saturday night, but the sea bass was good. Perhaps a bit disappointing after all the astonishing cruise and Alaskan fare, but quite decent. I don't recall my wife's dish.
Back to the hotel. Another disappointment. Its best feature: the sprawling lobby and a baby grand. Our room? About 5 sq. feet. No kidding. And spartan as it gets. Normally, I'm not that fussy about hotels (I try not to think about what ultarviolet light examination would reveal about the bedsheets), but we were still on our honeymoon! And, after the grandeur of our stateroom and the charms of the B & B, well, you sense the theme. As we walked to the Space Needle the next morning, it continued. Seattle is somewhat interesting, but also somewhat blah. There were some entertaining storefronts, including a place with a giant evil clown head over the door. The side of another building featured illustrations of a cell phone, a woman exercising, a pencil sharpener, and what appeared to be half-woman half-horse. I tried and failed to connect these images in a satisfactory fashion.
The Space Needle is a major tourist destination, and worth the trip. You must take the elevator to the top, a 40 odd second journey. Once atop, views of the city are impressive, if familiar. Most distinguishing are the harbors. Seattle is a major port hub, as you may know. Distinguishing, but not especially attractive. Back on the ground, we rejected the photo we had taken in front of a phony backdrop (we both looked intoxicated), but did buy some fudge. Again, one had to traverse a gift shop before leaving.
We left and walked back down Pike, to the waterfront. I neglected to mention that earlier, I had gotten in touch with an audiologist friend who lives in the area. She and her husband met us at the famous Pike Place Market. You've doubtless seen the "Public Market" neon sign that looms above the Farmer's Market, the site at which employees fling fish back and forth somewhat like the way Tom Cruise juggled bottles of Glenlivet in COCKTAIL. Yeah, fun to watch. The Public Market was teeming with people. On the opposite side, blocks of restaurants and shops were waiting to be explored. Many places had long lines, though none as much as the world's first Starbucks. We did not wait for that.
Our friends finally found us in the mass and promptly led us away from it, to a seemingly less traveled area known as Post Alley. It was a narrow, very historic appearing wind of brick. They wanted to take us to The Pink Door, apparently quite the eclectic place, but it wasn't to open until dinnertime. We instead sat outside in front of Kell's, an Irish pubbery. Try any of the sausages if you ever go. To wash it down? A Guinness! What else?
We expected to meet our friends for, at most, a meal. Rather, they also invited us to ride in their convertible Mustang and get outta the city. The weather was mostly sunny (I kid you not) and mild. Leah was driving and began to narrate the outer reaches. We passed Jet City, so named for the Boeing company. They have so much manufacturing space and land that they've co-oped a large area and named it. Not sure if it has its own municipalities. Leah's husband, Frans, informed us that Queensryche's song "Jet City Girl" was named after this place.
Soon we were heading into the farmlands of Renton and beyond. Far from city smoke and industry. Before long, we pulled into a long driveway. A farm appeared. A horse stable. Our friends had recently bought two of them and spend a fair amount of time tending. They talked of how calming it is to own horses, how satisfying it is to be outside with them. It made complete sense to me. When Sonia was an animal wrangler for a local Christmas pageant some years back, I assisted her with a horse, goat, and sheep. We baled hay and scooped dookie. We brushed and fed the animals. It was positively therapeutic. Maybe we should be farmers?
I was excited for Sonia, as she had spent much of her childhood in such an environment; her father had a horse farm west of town. She had ridden. She was natural around our friends' mares this day. We luxuriated in the calm. Frans came over and whispered, "Dude, you're getting a horse soon.."
We toured the stable and met some other animals: chickens, cats, dogs. Frans led me up a ladder in the stable, revealing a space-in-progress. "A man cave this will be," he said. The plan was to erect a retreat with a high def TV and other electronics. I think a bar was also planned.
On the leisurely ride back to town, we stopped at the Green River, which Leah mentioned she had inner tubed down as a child. We were surrounded by oaks and brush. Not a sound. Wonderful. The air was as fresh as anything I had encountered. Somewhat like what we had inhaled in Alaska. Must. Bottle. It.
We also passed through an Indian reservation. Quite surreal to see three youths sitting on the flatbed of a truck in a field, tossing what appeared to be Roman candles and other such things. It was explained to us that fireworks are legal here and it was common to see people "experimenting". I wondered what the accident stats were for this community. All this beta testing must come at the cost of an eye or at least a finger or three.
Back in the hotel garage. We gave our hosts the bottle of champagne we'd been hauling around. Did I mention that? It awaited us in our suite on the Celebrity. We had never opened it. This was the perfect opportunity, a small token of our gratitude. Our friends had made the finale to our honeymoon that much cooler.
After some breath catching, we ventured out again for dinner. I won't mention then name of the beautiful but thoroughly mediocre Italian resturant we chose. Flavorless pasta and sauce, harried yet strangely indifferent wait staff. Unfortunate, but what a gorgeous place! Nice city views, too. Go for that, then leave and eat elsewhere.
Seattle was, well, anticlimatic. Perhaps we should have explored it before taking our cruise and trekking to Canada. I did not fall in love with this city. I'm certain that someone out there could direct us to all the cool indoor and outdoor spots and tell us how we only saw a mere fraction of the offerings. Maybe we'll return.
We flew back the next day, but not before a horrific morning. When I returned the rental car, a "checker" found a small dent on the passenger side near the tailight. I had not noticed it before. Where had it happened? At Stanley Park? Did the whippersnapper of a valet at the hotel take some hairpin turn? Oy. I had to fill out an incident report. Ultimately, I was not charged for the damage. Next, I learned that our second piece of checked luggage cost $140!!! Unheard of. The counter agent stated that it was because we were flying to FL. O-K. No further explanation. NOT happy.
But my wife, the far more rational and even tempered of our duo, calmed me down and we recalled what an amazing honeymoon it was, from A-Z. The cruise, Alaska, Canada, and even Seattle were all part of The Trip You Must Take. There's no debate. You must do it. I expect a report, invisible audience..........
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
So Graham, a subway cop demoted to graveyard detail after fainting moments before the killing spree, sits in the caravan, parked very close to the crime scene. His supervisors, none too fond of him, feel that maybe someone knows something, and will feel compelled to fill in the gaps. A few happen by, including the fiance of one of the victims. He's usually drunk and abusive.
The killer himself also stops in, also abusive, mostly verbally. Weird one, he is. We know he's the killer because NOISE writer/director Matthew Saville makes no attempt to shield his face during the numerous reenactments of the bloodbath. So we know we're not watching a whodunnit. This despite the scenes of police procedurals that ring of Law & Order, Aussie style.
Through the familiar device of the Gradually Expanding Flashback (props to R. Ebert), we learn more and more, seeing what really happened on that train. It illuminates, um, very little. In terms of events or thematic significance.
So what sort of film are we watching anyway? One novelty is that Graham, in addition to the usual trials of a cop, suffers from tinnitus, ringing in his ears. Damned near constant. NOISE provides the viewer with a high-pitched whine on the soundtrack to suffer with just like the protagonist. It gets louder when he's stressed. Yep. I'm an audiologist who deals with tinnitus patients and I can tell you that that is accurate. Peer reviewed lit will back that up, too. all subjective, of course. Some patients are suicidal. I suspect Graham has entertained that idea.
His audiologist suspects he has a tumor. Could be a cause of tinnitus, sure. However, we only see her look in one ear with her scope and make this presumption. Er....was there a consultant on this picture? Maybe it doesn't matter dramatically but c'mon! This oversight was even more amusing than that on a recent episode of "House", a medical drama for cryin' out loud, where discussion of cochlear implants was grossly inaccurate. Do your homework, guys! OK, *ahem*....
I did not select this film based on the tinnitus plot thead, by the way; it just happened that way. After my wife brought it home from the library, I read the back of the DVD case, and I was curious. Maybe she selected it with a motive.
NOISE is an offering from "The Film Movement", a series of international films heralded for their insight and originality. One could subscribe to the organization and receive a different film each month. This is the second from this series that I've seen. While both are certainly brimming with potential, NOISE suffers the same shortcomings as 2003's THE FOREST FOR THE TREES-a muted impact. A jab that lands just short of the gut. Good intentions abound, but the art (and it is that) feels unfinished. You have the raw materials, but perhaps the wrong artist is brushing the canvas. To be fair, maybe these films are the sorts of dry runs the artists need to go on to better things. Not every master director came out of the gate with a classic on the first go round. Check the Roger Corman cheapies Francis Ford Coppola made sometime for evidence.
So how does the tinnitus fit into NOISE? Relevance? Depends on you, dear viewer. It is easily surmised that the perceptions are part of the "noise" that threatens to unravel this cop. A compounding of all the other stressors in his life. His character is sketchily drawn, but he fares better than most of the rest of the cast. Why are we watching anyway? I asked this several times during NOISE. Intriguing elements (and crisp cinematography) do not a great film make. Everything was muddled. Suspense is not the object, and there is none by the climax. At that point, we reach The End, a scene of alleged significance. It comes off as heavy-handed. Had the film been more involving, the scene might've had more resonance.
Still, a handful of sequences are effective. The young artist is confronted by the man (not the killer) she picks in a lineup. One particularly bad morning, Graham not only deals with debilitating tinnitus, but his hearing goes as well. In his attempts to counteract the tinnitus, he turns on every radio, television, fan, and faucet in his flat. He clangs on his piano and drums, anything to mask the annoyance. Then, he realizes that he cannot hear a single thing his girlfriend is trying to tell him. NOTE-he should've gone to the ER in case he had sudden hearing loss, but I digress. It's still a well performed and edited ballet of one man's hell.
I also was fascinated by Graham's theory on the afterlife. He explains that he had read that your brain dies 10 seconds after the rest of your body. In that 10 seconds, depending on the sort of bloke you were, you either focus on what a bad or good person you were, and that 10 seconds is your eternity, or so it seems. You are destined to live there. That monologue came to mind as I watched the climax. Not to give anything away, but one hopes that those 10 seconds didn't sound like screaming crickets or whistling tea kettles.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Things? Surface stuff: our landlord, the weather, the neighbors, our jobs. Kerry's a yacht captain who has had assignments all over the world. Sometimes, he would be gone for as long as six months a stretch. He would fill me in on what to do in Sardinia, should I ever find myself there. He spoke of his shipmates, not all of whom were cooperative. I learned that he and Jen once lived in my apartment, originally much smaller. Our convos never longer than 20 minutes or so. "We need to have a beer, mate," he said more than once. I agreed, continually amused by all the exotic bottles I would see in the recycling bin. Ales of which I had never heard. I don't drink as much liquid bread as I once did, but I do enjoy one here and there (admittedly, more "here" of late).
When we returned from our Alaskan cruise in May, I brought him back a craft brew from the 50th state. The other night, he finally popped it and he and I sat in the driveway and we talked about Big Things. Life, faith (to an extent), as well as neighborhood intrigue. I say better late than...because Kerry and Jen are moving away. They have just closed on a house not far from here, but soon we will no longer hear their footsteps through the ceiling or on the outside staircase. No more motorcycle rumbles. Also, no more of the cries of an infant.
Yes, they had a baby on 7/23. This figured largely in our chat that night, too. Kerry spoke of his new role, this new chapter in his life. His face was calm, his voice even. He looked positively peacful. Questions were asked about a newborn hearing screening. This lead to a discussion of healthcare. It was just getting detailed when the cries of the boy were suddenly quite audible. Within seconds, our laid back chat was done. Dad quickly scooped up the bottles and his dead cigar and bid me a good night. "That's my son," he smiled and hurried up the stairs. I felt very warm and happy at that moment. It was like watching something transform-a caterpillar to a butterfly, perhaps. The overdue bonding session became something more, ended on such a perfect note. Tend to your son, mate. Godspeed.
Monday, August 10, 2009
After a few hours, we noted our famishment and stopped in the impossibly pleasant town of Bellingham, WA. Very quaint, artsy, and as some like to call, "granola." We parked near blocks of funky shops and cafes, settling on a good Mexican place for lunch. Upper deck, kissed by the sun. We listened to college students whine about their trivialities. Some locals spoke of where the best apartments were. We later meandered, strolled a bookstore, and stopped at a place called Katie's Cupcakes. Katie was the second young female entrepreneur we met on our honeymoon. She and her husband converted a downtown place of chipping plaster into a nice bit of shabby chicery, complete with vintage mini-chandeliers. The cupcakes were ornate and delicious. I had the red velevet cake one. I ate it slowly.
Back in our vehicle and onward. We stopped at the border and after some perfunctory Q & A from the guard, the 5 became the British Columbia Hwy 99. We were headed to the mysterious and exotic Vancouver. It did not disappoint, not by any stretch. In fact, even though we spent just about 24 hours there, it has become my new favorite city. Great architecture, that caught my eye. The people shuffling about downtown were diverse and friendly. None of the aversion of eyes you get in New York City or such. We passed so many places of interest I finally had to stop stopping. We ate at a very good Italian joint. Several windows advertised that authentic Cuban Cohibas were available for the smoking. That idea was entertained but eventually deep-sixed. Damn.
The next day was spent at the sprawling Stanley Park. Miles and miles (er, kilometers) of it winds in a circle in northern downtown. Circumscribed are forest trails we would've loved to explore, but we barely had enough daylight to hit the entire outer walk. Some nifty adventures we had, tossing coin into the hat of bagpipe players by the lighthouse, being chased by a (preseumably) momma raccoon, buying art from an ancient gentleman in a thicket of trees, eating what has now become a national ubiquity-poutine (French fries and mozzarella cheese drenched in brown gravy). If we lived in Vancouver, it would be a safe bet that we would spend much of our time at this Park. It has everything: pristine beaches, beautiful, jagged rocks jutting over the sea, cricket games, kilometers of gorgeous trails. Another site that was tough to leave.
While in Vancouver we stayed at the O Canada Bed & Breakfast, highly recommended. Just outside of downtown. One version of the famous national anthem was penned here just over a century ago. It was expectedly quaint, charming. Five or six rooms for lodging, all tastefully decorated. A lovely hostess who made batches of cookies each afternoon. A funny Asian gent who served us parfait and Eggs Benedict for breakfast in the dining room. A decanter of sherry sits in the parlor for evening imbibing. Bookshelves filled with books and DVDs. The house itself was a recently restored landmark. Beats the sterility of corporate hotels, any day.
After a tiring but fabulous day at the Park, we again reluctantly trode on. Back to the U.S. As we headed toward the border, my bride and I again voiced, semi-seriously, that we should move to Canada. British Columbia is a definite contender. I had been to Montreal and Quebec City in 1998, another superb trip. Wonder if I'd have to take another Board exam? And of course we'd apply for dual citizenship. Such a beautiful country.....
Friday, August 7, 2009
Hughes passed away yesterday in NYC at the age of 59. He was another of the Boomers responsible for the dangerous comedy of the National Lampoon gang in the 1970s. We would go on to pen a few Lampoon films, most notably the VACATION series. By 1984, he had begun to write and/or direct and produce the first of a series of what would be classics for a generation of banana clipped, Merry Go Round clad, Frankie Say teens. That film was SIXTEEN CANDLES. It was an unusually perceptive youth film. It was great fun, yes, hilarious, vulgar, but quite the antidote to the gaggle of idiotic teen films that had been spawned in the wake of ANIMAL HOUSE. Hughes allowed his lead characters to comment on themselves in the midst of the gags.
This was especially true of THE BREAKFAST CLUB, a film that dared to take place almost entirely in a school library, where a group of disparate yet familiar types spend a Saturday enduring detention. They talk, argue, learn about each other. It was mesmerizing. People in my high school would re-enact scenes at lunchtime. We quoted it incessantly. Hmm, THAT hasn't changed in 24 years.
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF was another Hughes classic, a wildly enjoyable fantasy detailing the innate urge to skip school. Taken as far as it could go, honestly. Again, the characters break to talk of themselves, their circumstances. Hughes' teen films all dealt with parental relations, socioeconomic statues. popularity, those things. Timeless. The films themselves? A bit dated, but how can they not be with all the 80s props and those wonderful soundtracks? I always feel happy when I revisit a Hughes movie. Yes, even WEIRD SCIENCE.
I could also nitpick these films, how BREAKFAST CLUB is utterly predictable and how some of the characters' dynamics are hard to swallow. I'm a terrible film snob and should I hold these films to the same standards/criteria I usually place, they may not fare so well. But, Hughes did do some good work, even branching out with films like SHE'S HAVING A BABY and PLANES, TRAINS, AND AUTOMOBILES. Then, he wrote things like HOME ALONE and many juvenile pieces that set him back, in my book. The last film he directed was CURLY SUE. For later screenplays, he used the pen name Edmond Dantes, a nod to The Count of Monte Cristo. He withdrew from visibility, never again to create something that spoke in some way to so many. But there is a legacy, one that echoes through high school hallways far beyond the fictional Shermer, Illinois.......