Category Archives: Movies

Life on the Mississippi

Nobody dreams about air travel anymore. Nobody talks about the romance and adventure of flight. Travel by air has become almost indistinguishable from travel by bus, except, of course, that busses have more comfortable seats, more legroom, fewer restrictions on passenger movement, and no extra baggage charges. You don’t have to remove your belt and shoes before you’re allowed on a bus. I’ve heard you can even bring a bottle of Cherry Diet Pepsi onboard without being stopped by security.

But boats and ships! That’s where the magic lives. Talk about romance and adventure and intrigue! Just think about the many and varied classic films that have been set on boats:  Death on the Nile, Titanic, Lifeboat, The Poseidon Adventure, Mutiny on the Bounty, White Squall (ahem), and all those World War II Navy movies.

And riverboats—forever linked to the legacy of Mark Twain and to the ghosts of riverboat card sharks and mountebanks and lost souls like Spider John—might be the most captivating of them all.

So after lunch at Galatoire’s, I walked down to the Mississippi River to watch the boats go by.


Willis Alan Ramsey — “The Ballad of Spider John”

“There Are Only 10 Types of Movies”

And Lee Steffen has figured out what they are. Here are the first two types on his list. You can find the rest on his Twitter feed.

1. Orange and Blue Action


2. Sexy Legs


The responses to Mr Steffen’s list are also worth a look. One commenter, for instance, pointed out that Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t allowed to face the camera on movie posters.

Another found this interesting case of twinning.

Much more at the site.

La Dolce Vita — A Classic Remastered

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Federico Fellini, one of the truly great filmmakers of the 20th century. To commemorate the occasion, the British Film Institute is sponsoring a major two-month retrospective at BFI Southbank and the release of a restored version of the director’s 1960 masterpiece, La Dolce Vita.


The film opens with a scene in which a helicopter transports a statue of Christ over Rome to St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican was not amused by the Flying Jesus, and condemned the movie, which probably contributed to La Dolce Vita’s record-breaking box office success.


In one of the most memorable sequences from the film, the disillusioned journalist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) and the Swedish movie star Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) make a late-night visit to the Trevi Fountain.


Anouk Aimée, magnificent and breathtakingly beautiful, played the heiress Maddalena.


This remastered version of La Dolce Vita will eventually make it to the US, but a date for its arrival has not yet been announced.

High Fidelity — The Book

“The term ‘paradigm shift’ has found uses in other contexts, representing the notion of a major change in a certain thought pattern—a radical change in personal beliefs, complex systems or organizations, replacing the former way of thinking or organizing with a radically different way of thinking or organizing.”

I haven’t heard the phrase “paradigm shift” in ages. Has it fallen out of use, or am I just hanging out with the wrong people? Or…wait a minute!…has the paradigm shifted again while I was so distracted by my addiction to watching “Sovereign Citizen” videos on YouTube that I just didn’t notice?

Anyhow. There are some books that, if read at just the right time of your life, will shift your personal paradigm all the hell all over the place. If you’re a sensitive young white male, reading The Catcher in the Rye in your early teens will change you forever.  Reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas a few years later will open your mind to possibilities you’d never imagined.

For me, High Fidelity is one of those life-changing books. You probably have to be over 30 to fully appreciate Nick Hornby’s hilarious male confessional novel about loss, fear of commitment, and the obsessive creation of “top-five” music lists.

Spoiler-free, abbreviated plot summary: Rob Fleming, 30-something owner of a failing record shop, has just broken up with his most recent girlfriend. (Her choice, and a totally justified one.) He decides to track down five former girlfriends in an attempt to find what went wrong with each of the relationships. Meanwhile, music, and the unhappiness that it creates in the people who love it. Here’s the key passage from the book:

“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery, and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”


Selected Passages

It’s tempting to just cut and paste the entire text of High Fidelity, but this small sample should be enough to let you know whether the book is something that speaks to you.

“Is it wrong, wanting to be at home with your record collection? It’s not like collecting records is like collecting stamps, or beermats, or antique thimbles. There’s a whole world in here, a nicer, dirtier, more violent, more peaceful, more colorful, sleazier, more dangerous, more loving world than the world I live in; there is history, and geography, and poetry, and countless other things I should have studied at school, including music.”


“Over the last couple of years, the photos of me when I was a kid… well, they’ve started to give me a little pang or something – not unhappiness, exactly, but some kind of quiet, deep regret… I keep wanting to apologize to the little guy: ‘I’m sorry, I’ve let you down. I was the person who was supposed to look after you, but I blew it: I made wrong decisions at bad times, and I turned you into me.’”


“I lost the plot for a while then. And I lost the subplot, the script, the soundtrack, the intermission, my popcorn, the credits, and the exit sign.”


“I get by because of the people who make a special effort to shop here – mostly young men – who spend all their time looking for deleted Smith singles and original, not rereleased – underlined – Frank Zappa albums. Fetish properties are not unlike porn. I’d feel guilty taking their money, if I wasn’t… well… kinda one of them.”

Gretel & Hansel — Trailer and Featurette

Gretel & Hansel — A Grim Fairy Tale”

This looks like good scary fun. From the film’s description: “A long time ago in a distant fairytale countryside, a young girl leads her little brother into a dark wood in desperate search of food and work, only to stumble upon a nexus of terrifying evil.” Sometimes the old stories are the best stories, although I don’t remember the Brothers Grimm ever using the phrase “a nexus of terrifying evil”. Maybe it was in the original German.

Alice Krige, who’s been in everything from Deadwood to Beverly Hills, 90210, plays the Witch.

Here’s a featurette about the movie.

Gretel & Hansel opens on 31 January 2020.

Little Women — Official Trailer

The 8th? 15th? 147th? film version of Little Women is headed right at us on Christmas Day, and can there be any doubt that this will be a hugely successful movie? From the trailer, it sounds as if Greta Gerwig has brought this staging of Louisa May Alcott’s mid-19th century novel into the 21st century, for better or worse. Probably for better.

Like (almost) all the previous film versions of Little Women, this one benefits from the talents of its superlative female cast, including Florence Pugh (English) as Amy, Saoirse Ronan (Irish) as Jo,  Eliza Scanlen (Australian) as Beth and Emma Watson (English, but born in Paris) as Meg. Laura Dern plays and Marmee and Meryl Streep plays Aunt March, because of course she does.

The male cast is equally impressive, with James Norton (English) as John Brooke,  and Louis Garrel (French) as Professor Bhaer, and Timothée Chalamet  (USA! USA!) as Laurie. It will be interesting to see what Bob Odenkirk, Saul Goodman himself, does with the role of Mr. March.


Out of the Past  —  Some Earlier Versions


Many people consider the 1933 version of Little Women the best.

The Little Women

Joan Bennett as Amy
Katharine Hepburn as Jo
Jean Parker as Beth
Frances Dee as Meg

Notes

Aunt March was played by the great Edna May Oliver who steals every scene she’s in, as she inevitably did in all her movies.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Paul Lukas, who was Hungarian.
Joan Bennet was 23 and pregnant when she signed on to play 12-year-old Amy.


The next version came out in 1949, 16 years and one World War later.

The Little Women

Elizabeth Taylor (in a blonde wig) as Amy
June Allyson as Jo
Margaret O’Brien as Beth
Janet Leigh as Meg

Notes

Peter Lawford was Laurie.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Rossano Brazzi, who was Italian.
Mary Astor played Marmee, but she’ll always be Brigid O’Shaughnessy to me.
June Allyson, 31 and pregnant, played 15-year-old Jo.


The 1978 miniseries was bad beyond belief. Oh, was it awful!

The Little Women

Ann Dusenberry as Amy
Susan Dey as Jo
Eve Plumb as Beth
Meredith Baxter as Meg

Notes

The senior roles were played by movie stars from the 1940s: Dorothy McGuire as Marmee, Greer Garson as “Aunt Kathryn March”, and Robert Young as “Grandpa James Laurence”.
None of the actresses playing the March girls was known to be pregnant while production was underway.
The sisters were played by television actresses who were TV-famous at the time, but are now largely forgotten. Their line readings were pure 1978 California-contemporary and their acting would have been just fine in a community theatre production, if the community was home to fewer than 500 people.
It’s impossible to ignore the cast’s ridiculous wigs.
The whole miniseries looked cheap. The sets, the costumes, and the mediocre performances all but shouted out “Low Budget”.

But there’s really only one thing you need to know to comprehend what a disaster this production was:
The German Professor Bhaer was played by—wait for it—William Shatner.
He’s Canadian, I think.


With its first-rate cast, the 1994 remake is right up there with the version made 61 years earlier, in 1933.


The Little Women

Kirsten Dunst as Younger Amy
Samantha Mathis as Older Amy
Winona Ryder as Jo
Claire Danes as Beth
Trini Alvarado as Meg

Notes

Susan Sarandon played Mrs. March and Christian Bale played Laurie.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Gabriel Byrne, who is Irish.

New, Improved Version of Titanic

And it didn’t cost nearly as much as the original!

This is from Studio 188. From the I’ve found on the Net, I think they’re Russian, but beyond that I can’t find much information. They’re supported, in part, by Patreon contributions.

I’ll be posting more of their very clever “Low Cost Videos” soon.