Saturday, February 28, 2009

a timeless phrase...

...from a national park service "conserve-o-gram" bulletin on "housing archival paper-based materials" put out in 1996:

"Don't begin to rehouse collections until the containers of materials are placed in their original order as organized by their creator."

'cause, y'know, this is easy!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

this is what happens when you have seen way too many movies

okay, so a few weeks ago i wrote a brief entry about a list of romantic movies which i found to be substandard. and anna and i were talking then about how we could come up with our own list that would, of course, be way better.

and then we realised we had implicitly dared ourselves.

1. love, actually
h: duh. also, it has to be one of the top ten handiest movies for playing 'six degrees--' 'cause everybody is in it.
a: beyond "duh," this is also one of the few movies in which the deleted scenes actually contain some really sweet moments. you won't regret making the time to watch them.

2. chocolat
h: there's johnny depp, juliette binoche, and a truly ungodly amount of chocolate. how could this be improved? oh, well, you could add lena olin and peter stormare and alfred molina and--oh. they did. :) it could have been cloying and over-sweet and...really, like a poor chocolate bar (no pun intended) very easily, but it wasn't and it manages to make a believably content, if not outright happy, ending for just about everyone. including the kangaroo.
a: and it has (as, of course does, love actually) a really great soundtrack.

3. out of africa.
h: my mother read the book and i remember she was very excited when the movie came out in the mid-1980s. my father and i didn't go with her to see it because the book -- as you know if you've read it -- is really quite bloody. karen blixen was in africa during some really deeply unpleasant things including world war i and the possibility for the movie just being a bloodbath was quite high. my mom went to see it on her own and, for many years afterwards, she said she regretted that kevin and i didn't come with her. last summer, the coolidge corner theatre ran out of africa as part of its rescreened classics series and i had to go see it. particularly since sydney pollack, the director, had died the previous week, it seemed appropriate somehow. the first long pans of the african grasslands as the train moves across provoked a communal sigh from the audience...
a: it was quite incredible on the big screen. amazing soundtrack too. and although i've never really had a thing for either lead (sorry redford and streep!), i'd forgotten michael kitchen does a sweet and sad turn as redford's pal and fellow colonial who is dying of blackwater fever and refuses to leave kenya and his un-recognized relationship with an african woman.

4. kinky boots.
h: watch this and four brothers back to back and enjoy your head exploding. :) no, seriously, this is an excellent movie. it isn't coy, it isn't saccharine, there isn't a simple happy ending -- although the ending is highly satisfying -- and just remember: the sex is in the heel. oh, and red is not burgundy.
a: you and i have also talked about how this is such an intrinsically british movie in that it manages to tell a story about cross-dressing that isn't a story about cross-dressing. instead it's actually a story about work and creative inspiration and human relationships. and much the better for it.

5. stranger than fiction.
h: cute. odd.
a: there are several layers of love story in this film, all playing with the idea that letting a little chaos into your life might also make room for human connection. while the relationship between will farrell and maggie gyllenhaal is the central romance (love the scene with the guitar), emma thompson's relationship with will farrell as her created character is also worth watching with love (if not necessarily romance) in mind.

6. normal.
h: quiet little under-rated movie with tom wilkinson, jessica lange, clancy brown, hayden panettiere. and the young man who plays the son whose name i never knew but who was really good! somehow i think this should be watched along with transamerica, but i'm not quite sure why since they're very different approaches to the same topic. it's really sweet and a little sad -- all about deciding why it is you love someone.
a: i haven't seen this yet, but now of course it's on "the list."

7. state and main.
h: haven't seen it; can't comment.
a: david mamet's acerbic script and stellar cast lampoons the classic movie trope of big-city sell-outs rediscovering their integrity in an idyllic small town, while simultaneously telling a story about a young screen-writer who re-discovers his integrity while on location in a seemingly-idyllic small town. god, i love rebecca pidgeon. and she's just one in a great ensemble cast including william h. macy, philip seymour hoffman, julia styles, sara jessica parker, and alec baldwin. go you huskies!
h: *ahem* -- julia stiles. 

8. desk set.
h: it's awesome. c'mon!
a: what she said. books. librarians. hepburn and tracy.

9. the crow.
a: hanna gets the stage for this one; haven't seen it yet.
h: okay, so this was my pick, therefore i'm responsible for it and it isn't, technically, a romantic film. i mean -- there aren't hearts -- unless you count the ones being stabbed; there aren't flowers -- except for some dead ones; and there definitely is no candy -- although there is a hotdog, lots of clear liquids, approximately ten ton of cigarettes, cocaine, heroin, and some beer. but the whole point of the movie is the "hero" coming back to avenge something terrible that's been done to his fiancee. (this concept has subsequently been dragged into a whole franchise of crow films and the sequels i have seen are nowhere near as good as the original. stop at number 1 is my advice.)

10. sexy beast.
h: hm. this is... a strange movie. it's rather like lock, stock, and two smoking barrels or layer cake, if you've seen either of those. it's got that kind of 'british rock video/we are guy ritchie's bitches' thing going on, but it goes a few steps beyond that into something very...elegantly filmed and fairly disturbing. a lot of the trailers and a few of the posters made it look like a comedy. it isn't. really, it isn't. there are funny bits -- ("what's that?" "it's a goat, don." "why's it starin' at me?") -- but it is not a funny movie. if you're not hooked by the restaurant scene, then i don't know how to help you.
a: what she said.

11. mostly martha.
h: don't know it; couldn't get into the german misery.
a: well, you don't know it because you turned it off before you got to the romance! you at least have to hang in their for the scene with the soup. while the ending of this film is pretty happily-ever-after, i think it's up in the air whether the central love story in the film is between martha and her fellow chef mario or martha and her neice, lina, whom martha is asked to take in after lina's mother dies in a car accident.

12. brokeback mountain.
h: beautiful. heartbreaking. saw it once. never want to see it again.
a: ditto. another one of those films (see #21) in which the tragedy stems from a chronic failure of the main characters to articulate their needs and desires.

13. the mummy.
h: a model for the good action/fantasy/romance, much like the first indy movie.
a: sexy librarians rock.

14. french kiss.
h: a traditional romantic comedy. excellent soundtrack, good chemistry between the leads, good supporting cast, beautiful scenery.
a: i'm letting hanna take the lead here, 'cause it was her pick and i haven't seen it in so long; all i can truly remember is meg ryan getting sick eating cheese on the train. and the scenery -- i can vouch for the scenery being memorable!

15. corpse bride.
h: it's so sweet. and i really wish he had gotten together with the bride in the end although i realise this probably makes me weird and i don't dislike victoria, i really don't. oh, and i love that the piano he's playing is a 'harryhausen.'
a: anyone who says cartoon characters can't convince us they're in love, and make us care, are idiots.

16. nightmare before christmas.
a: hanna gets to annotate this one because i am a loser and have never seen it.
h: this is a remarkable movie on so many levels that it's kind of hard to pick one and be brief about it. there's good music, amazing visuals, and jack and sally are just so perfectly right to be together that by the time you get to the song redux and the closing scenes it's just entirely satisfying as an ending. plus there's all sorts of good stuff about boogie-men and fear and trusting difference and being yourself in there, too.

17. the station agent.
a: peter dinklage, patricia clarkson, bobby cannavale and michelle williams make this film what it is. and what they make of it is good.
h: never saw it. meant to -- really did,
a: life isn't over yet! and there's even a librarian in it.

18. the full monty.
a: i really can't describe why this is on the list, but i know it has to be here.
h: "but who'd want to watch this dance?" "me, dave. i would." two tissues, right there. and i never cry at movies. there are people in multiple states who will vouch for this fact.
a: there. hanna did it better than i ever could.

19. wall-e.
a: i struggle with whether to classify the love between wall-e and eve in this film as romantic or familial, since wall-e's desperation to please eve often comes across as that of a child longing for adult attention and affection. but i think that sort of longing -- to be noticed and cared for -- is at the heart of adult love relationships as well, and in the end wall-e and eve have developed a true partnership.
h: i bought this and wanted on the same day -- what does that say about me? anyway -- the more i re-watch wall-e the more am completely blown away by the fact that the film is more or less dialogue-less for the first half. in the theatre, when we finally got to humans and there were, y'know, people talking -- i was almost disappointed. it had become so much fun to work out wall-e and eve's idiosyncratic method of communication and to follow a character who had such trust that everything was wonderful if you only looked at it right -- i mean, he saved a spork! and one of those terrifying bobblehead dogs. and, while i'm totally delighted it won best animated feature, it really deserved a best picture nomination.

20. strictly ballroom.
a: okay, this sort of snuck on the list despite fran's textbook transformation from bespectacled wallflower to Hot Latin Dancer, but despite the schmaltzy moments, this remains my favorite baz luhrman film, and the family drama in which the romance plays out has some teeth. not to mention the dancing.
h: this is pretty much "the ugly duckling" with a better soundtrack but it's got that slightly cracked out, late '90s australian thing going on and the dancing is just amazing. and i love fran's grandmother. watching her take down the pretty boy dancer leader -- whose name i totally forget -- and then teach him how to do the dance for real is awesome.
a: his name is -- damn. scott. that was it. scott.
h: no wonder i blocked it out. ;)

21. notes on a scandal.
a: any list of romances worth their salt has to contain at least one romance-that-isn't. judi dench and cate blanchett star in this incredible film about two lonely school teachers and the destructive nature of their passionate, obsessive fantasies.
h: okay, yes, all those fancy things anna says up there and then also watch it to see bill nighy melt down. and judi dench. and about obsession. it's all about obsession, really. and lack of communication. and who gets second chances.

22. the girl in the cafe.
a: anyone who needs convincing that bill nighy can do sweet as well as campy (see #1) should see this quiet story of a relationship that blossoms against the backdrop of a global economic summit.
h: quiet. very calm. very sad. but i'd like to think that the characters end up somewhere better as a result of what happens. (and billy mack isn't that campy. he's very genuine -- he's just...developed a really theatrical way of going about it.)

23. the dresser.
a: have been forbidden from seeing this until i brush up on lear.
h: this is a movie based on a stage play -- like the more recent the history boys (about which there was some debate as to whether or not it should be on the list; i think it ended up at first alternate), most of the stage cast made the transition to film cast, including the two leads, albert finney ("sir") and tom courtenay ("norman"). my father showed me this, as he has so many other excellent movies, and until about half an hour, forty minutes in, i thought it was going to be a comedy. there are some amazingly funny bits -- just wait until they have to make "the storm" or the actors bitching at each other while they make up in the dressing room -- but it isn't a comedy. it's really about devotion and wasted chances and the terrible things we can do to each other without ever really knowing it. having said that, i can't see why anyone would want to watch it now but it's wonderful, i promise.

24. lars and the real girl.
a: i admit i was skeptical when my parents first urged me to watch this quirky romance about a young man who falls in love with an inflatable sex doll he orders online. but somehow it works. due, in no small part, to a great ensemble cast including ryan gosling (lars), emily mortimer, paul schneider, and patricia clarkson. again: i challenge you to decide which romance in the film ends up being the best love story.
h: haven't seen it; another fail!

25. murphy's romance.
h: i can't remember the first time i saw this movie, it's so far back there in the memory. it's really sweet without being saccharine; you don't feel that any character in it is pretending to be anything other than themselves in order to get someone else's attention.
a: there's something really breath-of-fresh-air about early post-"women's lib" romantic comedies in which working women (in this case a working single mom) fall in love because they want to, and not because their character would be either a wibbling mess or an uptight bitch without a man. sally field pulls it off in norma rae (1979) and again here in murphy's romance, with james garner.

26. fire.
a: the first in deepa mehta's elements trilogy (fire, earth, and water), fire is the story of a young woman who enters into an arranged marriage in present-day india and unexpectedly falls in love with her sister-in-law. of course it has its political dimension, and sparked protests in india when it came out in the mid-1990s, but politics aside i was incredibly moved by the way these two women created an intimate, shared world together even within the confines of a fairly omni-present family life.
h: don't know it. see above.

27. 84 charing cross road.
h: it isn't quite a romance. it's more like -- a not-quite-there-romance. but there's anthony hopkins and judi dench and anne bancroft and lots and lots of books. the original book on which the movie is based is good, too.
a: where would a list like this be without at least one epistolary (not quite) romance? and it is also responsible for my purchase of a volume of yeats poetry many years ago (sorry, hanna) because of the scene in which anthony hopkins quotes 'he wishes for the cloths of heaven.': ". . . i have spread my dreams under your feet; tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
h: despite the fact that i am currently in a loathing relationship with yeats because he appears absolutely everywhere in my thesis reading (whether he's relevant or not!) i have to agree.

28. it happened one night.
h: often credited as the original screwball romantic comedy, so if you want to blame someone or something for the genre, you might start here. but why would you want to blame this movie for anything when, after 70+ years, it's still charming and energetic and fresh? clark gable and claudette colbert are just amazing to watch -- just wait for the bit in the roadside camp hotel when they're trying to doubletalk the detectives!
a: haven't seen it. *headhang*

29. saving grace. only last on the list because we nearly forgot (!) it.
a: even sans the influence of grace's 'lovely, lovely tea' (*coughcough*weed*coughcough*) this is the hilarious story of a widow who discovers her husband left her in debt, and manages to save her house through, shall we say, unconventional methods . . . and a little bit of romance with a dodgy, drug-dealing bloke.
h: the dodgy drug-dealer, by the way, is also one of the hunters from the bear, but he's much nicer in this. and worth watching if for no other reason than to admire the cornish landscape. and, i have to say, to watch brenda blethyn and diana quick bounce off each other in their first scene together in grace's kitchen. there's lots of other good stuff, too, of course, but that scene is marvellous.

please note: this list is in no order discernible to the human or non-human eye, other than it being the order in which our collective brain thought of them ;).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


okay, so i liked my college. for the most part, i enjoyed my time there; i thought it was a good and/or nice and/or pleasant place to be and a reasonable way to get my undergraduate degree. every now and then, i think about it and realise that, in my memory, it is beginning to acquire a tiny halo and then i think about two feet of snow in four hours, running out of bagels at brunch again, and the peculiar smell in the science building and that mostly seems to counteract the halo-izing effect.

but i still enjoy seeing pictures of it -- mostly -- and i always flick through my alumni magazine to see if anyone i know shows up and to see what the place looks like now -- which is actually, considering i only graduated in 2002, quite different.

what i have never once in my entire post-marlboro career thought is, "wow. if only there were a webcam so i could go online and watch my undergrad campus 24/7." this would seem to make me different from some sizeable fraction of northeastern university alums who seem to have had precisely that thought.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


so, this is an odd list of movies which the compilers claim are 'romantic movies without the schmaltz.'

sound of music? annie hall (gag me -- woody allen needs to be restrained. why do we keep letting him waste film and actors who could be doing much more interesting things)? say anything? romeo and juliet for god's sake, possibly the most loaded, dribbly, and potentially boring and self-indulgent romantic story ever, even in the zefferilli version with the lingering close-ups of the young juliet who, rumor has it, he was sleeping with himself?

clearly there is something inherent in the definition of 'schmaltz' of which i have been previously unaware. much like arthur dent and definitions of 'safe.'

Friday, February 13, 2009

where's beth when you need her?

i have to say, i'm disappointed in the u.k. this morning. the home office has denied entry into the country to, as the guardian describes him, a "far-right dutch mp" who was coming to london to be present at the house of lords screening of a short film he has made. he came to england before, last fall, but this time the home office feels he will be a threat to "community harmony" (what a phrase) and has banned him. after he touched down in heathrow, no less.

the film is probably horrible; it sounds it. apparently geert feels the koran is a "fascist" book and is responsible for all sorts of nasty things and has made the film to prove his point. 17 minutes of anti-islamic drivel sounds like the kindest description anyone could give of it. but.

bouncing him out of the country -- especially after letting him land -- seems like an awful idea. geert has said that the u.k. government look like cowards for banning him and, while i don't think they look quite that bad, they certainly look slightly orwellian. where was the home office's concern for "community harmony" during the last round of race riots in the north? or when that young brazilian electrian was shot in the tube? i think any sane person would have to be aware that mainland britain -- to say nothing of northern ireland or the republic although i could -- is not one big happy multiracial family. they're better than they were, but this just looks as though they put the appearance of being united before the actuality which is a poor idea. (as a note, the peer responsible for the invitation in the first place said that the screening would go ahead anyway. so, really, this whole thing seems a bit pointless. i don't think even the house of lords are, to a man/woman, daft enough to take this seriously. i mean, mosley's not in the lords, is he?)

there. i'm done now.

and for something far cooler looking, have a flip through michael bosanko's slide show. his light paintings involve the use of a torch and a digital camera set on long exposure (and various bits of wales).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


did you know that benedict anderson (of imagined communities fame) was responsible for the mass suicide at the time of the hale-bopp comet?

me neither.

but, according to tom garvin's mythical thinking in political life: reflections on nationalism and social science, such is the case. apparently anderson -- and some others including, tangentially, eric hobsbawm -- are responsible for the survival and support of a "murderous" (not my word) system of ideas which led to the cultist suicide.


i've been reading through garvin's work because he kept coming up in footnotes of other people i was reading -- i can't remember where the first one i saw was; i just made a note of the title after i saw it for the third or fourth time. i've come across the name before but this is the first time i've had the time/desire/need to read through the stuff. now, in relation to my thesis work, it seemed relevant and who really needs sleep, right? 

i just finished his nationalist revolutionaries in ireland 1823-1928 which was very good except for the fact that it dismissed most of the things i find most interesting at the minute including the 1890s and what arthur griffith did before he founded sinn fein. (some really interesting things, take my word for it -- including, in all fairness, the dissemination of some depressingly anti-semitic rhetoric. *sigh* feet of clay after all.)

anyway, back to garvin: nationalist revolutionaries verged on the angry-sounding at times; mythical thinking is verging on the outright histrionic! garvin seems to be teetering on the edge of calling hobsbawm a closet stalinist and describes anderson's work as "overrated." well. okay, the last bit might be kind of true, but it elides, i think, how important anderson's book seems to have been when it first came out. it seems old hat now but everyone subsequent to him has used his stuff; admittedly, sometimes it gets used to say "there's a hole in his logic" or "gosh, he missed this thing" or "gee, this is really cool but--" garvin has written a preface to mythical thinking mentioning that he wrote it specifically for use in a class he teaches so maybe the point is to get his students arguing. i think it would work very well!

anyway, it struck me as odd at 7.30 this morning when i was drinking my coffee and eating my fig bar before work.

the only other really interesting thing i've got to pass on is my little thumbnail review of coraline.

i was really a little nervous when i first heard about the coraline film adaptation -- it seemed like so many things could go wrong and it's such a marvellous book, i would have hated to see an awful film version. but it's all okay, because henry selick -- not tim burton as several people, including film critics, seem to think -- did a lovely job. even dakota fanning was, i have to say it, really good. 

and it's completely ludicrous, by the way, that even one film critic -- let alone several! -- have credited tim burton with this film. i hope they're apologizing.

i did picture the story differently -- i had a much more british setting in mind: something like a london townhouse with attached garden or backing onto a larger strip of woods...something like the house in torchwood's "small worlds" episode (if you haven't seen it, stop reading this, go join netflix or find the discs at your local library, and watch them). the voices of the characters were all british and coraline particularly so -- sort of like wendy with an attitude. and since my only other connection with dakota fanning was the egregious adaptation of war of the worlds where it seemed like she screamed nonstop for two hours and i had to put up with tom cruise... it seemed like bad things could happen.

that being said, selick's vision of how the world looks is solid enough that i'm willing to go with it and fanning's stock has inched up. keith david as the cat is great and what's not to love about ian mcshane as the strange russian guy training a jumping mouse circus? al swerengen in spangles!

i still like the book better, i have to say -- the "other mother" will always be more terrifying that way although she's pretty damned scary on film, too -- but the movie is really, really good.

Monday, February 2, 2009

two movies

so i was trying to think of something deep and meaningful to write about but, really, this week has seemed to go on for several years and i think i'll shelve the deep and meaningful and go for a couple of minor movie reviews instead.

okay, so we'll start with terminator 3: rise of the machines. personally, i thought doing a third terminator movie was a terrible idea. i avoided it when it came out, ignored reviews, trailers, teasers, posters, etc., and managed to do it so successfully that my prognostication that it had been a bad idea to make it in the first place seemed neatly borne out by how easy it was to avoid. still. now they're making a fourth with christian bale and common and that sounds like it might be quite a fun idea but, just in case, i thought i'd see the third one to fill in the potential gap.

the first faintly startling thing is that the young man playing john connor is nick stahl -- otherwise known as ben hawkins from carnivale and the seriously fucked up senator's kid from sin city, but lets leave city out of it; carnivale is much better and way weirder. it was a little strange to watch because, really, ben and john are the same character approached from two different doors: they're both drifters, deeply disenchanted with and estranged from the society they find themselves in, intelligent, suspicious, disinclined to believe in other people or want to work with anyone else. 

the short version of all this is that mr. stahl is, hands down, the best part of t3. schwarzenegger should've stayed home. it wasn't quite a case of "what used to ripple now wobbles," but what used to ripple no longer ripples as it once did and, really, we didn't need to see it all again 20 years later. claire danes was no linda hamilton although she was a reasonable co-protagonist with stahl and the charisma between them was pretty good. it wasn't her fault she had next to no character development and this relationship with her father we were meant to care deeply about that took up all of, oh, five minutes, say? total screen time. she did have a couple of good one-liners and her ability to roll with the punches was very handy.

the villain of the piece, kristianna loken (i think the double consonants may be misdistributed in that -- there may be more 'k's and fewer 'n's), as the t-x -- presumably to make her powers seem even more potentially exciting and spiffy than the t-1000 from t2 -- was...not great. frankly, the t-1000 was way cooler. no neat little tricks with turning your index finger into some kind of whoopdeneat networking gizmo is going to match the ability to turn yourself into an exact replica of a black-and-white linoleum floor and then ooze up out of it back into human form through this really distressing middle stage where you're human, but you look kind of like you're made out of mercury. and not even a red pleather suit that looks painted on will bridge that gap of essential bad-guy-ness.

it hadn't occurred to me before watching the movie, but, of course, sarah connor (linda hamilton) was nowhere to be seen and that was a serious lack. i hear rumors that she will be present in the next movie, as a voice-over or narrator if nothing else, and i think that might be a good idea. it was very strange to have all the trappings of the terminator canon without the heart of the thing, so to speak.

so the short version is, if you're going to watch it, do so with the full knowledge that nick stahl's the best bit. which is okay with me.

and then inkheart. inkheart -- hm. "i was expecting something...well, more." i read the book over christmas break and i remember thinking, 'gosh, this is going to be a lot of book to cram into a 2 hour movie,' and the basic cuts they made all make sense and i mostly agree with. there were some cute little moments and side things that i think would've looked neat, if nothing else, but that sort of thing goes by the board. okay, fine.

but -- it lacked something and i can't quite figure out what. part of it, i think, was that it lacked a truly convincing bad guy. in the novel, basta and capricorn are terrifying. they're cruel, vicious, callous, and heartless, truly devoted to themselves and what they want. in the movie, they're kind of -- dressed all in black? a bit...thuggy? kind of...bully-like? not so convincing. which is a shame, because andy serkis as capricorn had real potential and he doesn't get nearly enough room to play. 

ditto helen mirren -- i loved eleanor in the book and i was really excited to see mirren in the part; i thought she'd be great and she was but -- there wasn't enough. all of eleanor's best bits got softened and blurred and edited away; she got one good acidic snap in in her first scene and then she was just kind of generic fussy old lady. why bother casting helen mirren and, i imagine, paying for helen mirren if that's all you want?

the only other big thing i can think of that kind of hampered the movie was that it couldn't quite make up its mind who was the main character. it kept darting about between mo and meggie and dustfinger. in the book, that sort of worked -- characters got separate chapters or, at least, it was clear that mo was telling the story and meggie was listening and then eleanor would get to comment and so forth. i suppose that's something that text can just do better than a movie, maybe? or maybe just for this kind of narrative where multiple characters are each telling one strand of a single story.

on the other hand, the movie did have some definite things in its favor: brendan fraser and paul bettany being right at the top of the list. i can see now why i kept seeing bits of publicity for this movie where people were asking paul bettany if he still had his eyebrows; rumour has it that he learned the fire handling tricks himself to do them on camera and, if so, i'm impressed he still has his eyebrows. or any hair at all, really. 

oh, and as the final thought, my advice would be to avoid doomsday. i netflix'd it this week on the principle that i'd have something violent and flashy to watch after preservation and it just turned out to crap. i turned it off after about 45 minutes because the best thing so far had been malcolm mcdowell's voiceover and that's just...pathetic. if you're looking for something post-apocalyptic with an overlay of zombie, go for 28 days later.