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Showing posts with the label movies

A Classic Movie and the News

If you feel that you are wasting time watching too much News, here is something that might make you feel a little better: sometimes the News makes you see a classic movie in a new light. It can renew your interest in the movie. Perhaps movies or books that lend themselves to new interpretations are the very ones that become classics.

It happened to me last night, as I rewatched Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17."  At the end of the movie, William Holden identifies the German spy in the barracks of the prison camp. The spy has been tipping off the Germans, sometimes lethally.

Holden makes a short speech towards the climax of the movie. It fits in perfectly with the news about the FBI's dirty tricks. 

Appreciating Stylishness

There are even mountain bikers who ride with a certain stylishness, although they are not as stylish as horsemen. There is no need to watch a video of myself on a bike -- it can simply be assumed that I ride with no stylishness whatsoever.

This topic interests me perhaps because an appreciation of stylishness has developed so late in life. It snuck up on me.  Blame the horse opera DVDs I watch at night as a sleeping pill. They make everybody and every horse look so glamorous.

A female rider always has long hair streaming behind her, blowing in the wind.  Male riders are prone to high jumping onto the horse, without bothering with the stirrups. Or they ride with their upper body canted at a slight angle, to make them look more jaunty and confident.

The limiting case of this is Gary Clarke ("Steve"), one of the stars of the first couple years of "The Virginian." He would jump up vertically from the ground, and somehow insert his boot into the stirrup on the way up. I wo…

Another Tourist Asking for Trouble

I was becoming inured to tourists drowning their brand new $50,000 motor vehicles in our neighborhood river. So perhaps it was a good thing that the young woman showed up at the campground and asked about how to get to her friend's remote location higher up in the mountains.

There was only an hour of daylight left, the usual time for tourists to get organized enough to do foolish things.  She had a text message, but no map. She was driving a low clearance, passenger car. I didn't quite know the place her message named, but I was suspicious. Back in my trailer, I looked up the place on one of my smartphone apps. It was as I feared. 

Did she have much of a chance to get there? There wouldn't be any car repair places open tomorrow, Sunday. She had already lost cellphone reception. Had her friend made it to that location because they had a high clearance car? 

A tourist can be so foolish and get away with it because  -- and only because -- they have cellphone reception and a cred…

A Dog's Purpose, A Woman's Purpose

On our bicycle ride to town my dog and I have crossed paths several times with an older female jogger. What a tough ol' gal! An ideal observer would let someone like her inspire them, and then write a nice little sermon about her.

But I needed a little more. About 50 yards behind her, ran her even frailer old dawg. There is something about him that produced a lump in my throat. 

What was he thinking about? He looked so frustrated and disappointed, now that he can no longer keep up with his human -- and she is pretty frail herself. Was he thinking about a few years ago, when he was a still spry 10 year old dog, and she was a 70 year old "girl", and they were knocking off the trails one after another?

What kind of life had they had together? And now it was winding down.  

Perhaps the reader has seen that wonderful new movie directed by Lasse Hallström, "A Dog's Purpose." In the movie, a dog lives with his humans for awhile, ages or dies, and is reincarnated into …

The Lone Rider of Chinatown Wash

My dog was giving off an unusual bark at the screen door. Although it wasn't such a great idea, I let her charge out towards whatever or whoever was bothering her. It was a pretty, half-white horse and its human 'operator.' They were moving towards us on a mountain bike single-track trail. (Actually it is for other non-motorized users, too.)

I apologized to the horseman for my dog's barking, but neither he nor his horse seemed concerned. I guess they'd seen a dog or two in their day. They walked up to about one body-length from me, and calmly 'parked' themselves.

I felt an instant affinity for the man and horse, perhaps because I too am a lone rider on the same trails, albeit with a dog and mountain bike, instead of a horse.

I watch DVDs of TV westerns these days; "The Virginian" in particular. Horses always look so big in the show. But here the horse looked smaller. His eyes were even with mine. Of course they were three or four times as large. The …

Moab Is Hopeless, But Is That So Bad?

Is there something cheerful to think about when you are in Moab, UT? Let's be playful and take it as a challenge. (And no, red rock scenery doesn't count.) So far I am drawing blanks...

1.  And yet look at all the people milling around town: they seem pleased to be here. They must be doing something right. Enjoying Moab vicariously seems like the only approach that might pay off.

To fail at this completely is still good news, if it helps me to appreciate novelists and scriptwriters. This could be a big deal to me. Just think how good they must be at putting themselves into other people's 'shoes' in order for their novel or script to be the least bit interesting!

2. Quite separate from the angle of vicarious enjoyment, there is a second approach thatties in with the book I am reading, by Siedentop. Why did early Christians choose Hope as one of their cardinal virtues? I think it is pernicious. It only leads to disappointment and disillusionment.

I came to Moab without …

Classic Television

Chalk up another one for "all things are possible in this ol' world of ours." I am going to praise television in this post. Not all television, of course. Only classic television. I ask the reader not to quibble over what exactly is classic television, and why I should be the judge of it. 

Let it suffice to recall the proverbial supreme court justice, who, when asked to define pornography, could only reply, "Well, maybe I can't define it, exactly. But I can recognize it when I see it." What is true of porn is even more true of "classics."

How did this strange new appreciation even happen? More classic television shows are available on DVDs, these days. I wouldn't watch them with commercials.

Perhaps it was listening to (director) Sidney Lumet's commentary track on the DVD of "Network."  He reminisced about the early days of television, when shows were performed in front of live audiences, on stages in New York City. They had a deep …

John Wayne's "Advice" to Travelers

Some time ago I mentioned that I had little appreciation for John Wayne's performances, other than as Rooster Cogburn in "True Grit". A commenter or two agreed.

Perhaps it was the roles and the writing more than his acting. To me, he merely had some mannerisms, such as the funny walk, and verbal trademarks: "Tryin' don't get it done, Mister!", "Ready? I was born ready", "Sorry don't get it done", etc.

So it came as quite a surprise when I watched his "Hondo", and saw him actually doing something useful. He was working as a ferrier, getting the coals and horseshoes hot, and banging the horseshoes on an anvil. He appeared quite expert at these operation, too, not that I could really tell. But it was gratifying to at least see him pretending to make a living as a cowboy, instead of just looking tall in the saddle, having shoot-outs, and talking macho.

This seemed important. I've been at this full-time RV lifestyle for 19 …

Taking Sensual Pleasures to a Higher Level

The other day, I sat out on the porch of the "Chatterbox" cafe. It was noon on an unseasonably warm day. Already I felt a mild dread about warm weather returning, and on top of that, I was drinking hot coffee.  But the porch was shaded. The gentle breeze felt so cool and reassuring.

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that I would pop my insulated bib overalls on and lie out on the 'patio' (ramp) of my cargo trailer, with it facing the still-valid Arizona sun. Then, I was asking relief from the wintry air. 

These two experiences were as pleasant as they could be. They were mirror images of each other. Today's pleasure was even more piquant because of the contrast with the oh-so-recent mirror image.

But the pleasure didn't stop there. Recently I posted about the visual metaphor from "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," with the ugly Creature swimming upside down while stalking the beautiful girl swimming on top of the water, with the sunlight rippling t…

The Other World Under the Glistening Winter Desert

Just about everybody has had a powerful, subjective experience -- say, an automobile accident or illness -- and then been crushed by the indifference of their listeners. Usually the listener starts squirming away in just a few seconds, even if they know you quite well.

And yet I persist in using odd, and rather subjective, experiences as the starting points of personal essays. It still seems like a good idea, as long as I move briskly away from the anecdote to seek out the more General.

The oddest such experience of recent days was getting a glimpse into the world underneath a Quartzsite RV dump. The winter sun is low in the desert. It almost glistens off the desert pavement. The air is chilly. The desert seems so clean: no bugs or creepie-crawlies. Perhaps that is what made the experience memorable: first, surprise; and thirdly, the contrast with the world above ground. And 'secondly'? Ahh yes...

It took several seconds for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. You think you see so…

Doing Serious Things In an Un-Serious Way

Wasn't there a best-selling book of the 'self help' type, several years ago, with a title like "Everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten?" I never read it. Perhaps it referred to the fact that most people agree with many of the general principles and proverbs that are supposed to guide you in living your life. But the trouble is in the applications...

...or rather, putting the moral platitudes into practice. I don't think the main problem is intellectual; rather, it is the inability of a cliché to engage our imaginations and to motivate us to alter our behavior. That is why I was excited about the consequences of failing at reading Dostoevsky for the umpteenth time: for the first time in my life I became wildly appreciative of the principle of doing serious things in a not-so-serious way.

This is not a new idea of course. Essentially it is equivalent to Walt Disney's "whistle while you work" song in one of his animated classics. But …

The Benefits of Enjoying a Not-So-Great Movie

Last episode I went boldly into the present by buying my first Blu-Ray disc. Disappointed as I was by the technology itself, I at least had the pleasure of seeing a pretty good movie, "Rio Bravo" (1959), directed by Howard Hawks, and starring Dean Martin, John Wayne, Walter Brennan, and Angie Dickinson.

As usual John Wayne did not interest me. The Dmitri Tiomkin score was a disappointment. But Dean Martin's acting was surprisingly good! Then of course, there was the wonderful Walter Brennan. I think he is my role model as a cranky tough old goat. Give me a couple more years.

Male sexist pigs will be able to tolerate Angie Dickinson, then in her twenties. Next to Brennan, she was my favorite character. Here is a photo as she appeared in character, at the end of the movie:

It was so refreshing to see a beautiful female character who doesn't take herself so seriously. She was no fool; she knew the effect she had on men. But she had a nonchalant senseofhumor about it. Norma…

A Retro-Grouch's Bold Leap Forward

Who says there is no drama in the life of a retro-grouch? Every now and then, the retro-grouch finally decides to give in on something that 99% of the population gave in on, years ago. There is a gravitas and honour to this ritual.

How many years has it been (?) since Sony tried suckering the world into more expensive Blu-Ray discs, rather than perfectly adequate DVD discs, which are excellent when played in an up-converting DVD player.

It was probably ye olde "Give 'em the razor -- sell 'em the blades" business model. Oddly enough, many of the customers resisted this trap. Why pay twice as much for a Blu-Ray disc, when up-converting DVD players and HDMI televisions produced excellent results?

But over the last decade, DVD players became cheap throw-aways. They are as noisy as a lawnmower, to the point of distracting the viewer from the movie. Also, Walmart started putting inexpensive Blu-Ray discs in a bin. I reasoned that Blue-Ray players must be built to better toler…

Television's Unrealized Potential

Perhaps it is easy to admire someone with a talent that you yourself have no pretensions to. Envy doesn't intrude. And if they live and work far, far away from your own milieu, then the capacity for romanticizing kicks in.

That must explain some of my admiration for a certain stage actor who stars in one of the episodes of Star Trek that I fall asleep to on many a night. He was John Colicos, a Canadian stage actor who also had a Hollywood career. He plays the first Klingon in Star Trek (the first season episode, "Errand of Mercy.")

It is almost a good thing that the story doesn't interest me that much. Nor does the outdoor scenery --  there were no Trona Rocks in this episode; it was shot almost entirely on stage. Nor is there an alien hottie to be romanced by Captain Kirk, as there usually was. No distractions. Nothing but that remarkably nuanced voice of Mr. Colicos. He could have read the telephone white pages and made it sound interesting.

Although his character did…

The Lure of Incomplete Information

If only I had a nickel for every time somebody said, "Buying a DVD doesn't make much sense, because once I've seen the movie, it isn't interesting anymore." They are correct of course if they are thinking purely in terms of how the story turns out.

But I prefer to ignore that issue and focus on identifying classic lines from classic movies. These become philosophical building blocks, comparable to Aesop's Fables, famous quotes and speeches from Shakespeare and the Bible, and the proverbs of folk wisdom.

The same thing can be said of classic jokes. For example, consider one of Jack Benny's, from the days of Radio: menacing footprints are heard approaching, as he is walking down the sidewalk at night. It  turns out to be a mugger. The mugger tells Benny, "Your money or your life." There is a long pause after that. Benny finally blurts out, "I'm thinking about it!"

There was a joke similar in spirit in Sydney Pollack's mid-1990s rema…

Why is the Anti-Hero So Important in Classic Movies?

The other night I was re-watching Billy Wilder's classic movie from the early 1950s, "Stalag 17." It is a strange mixture of comedy, detective story, and cynicism. William Holden certainly deserved the Oscar he got for Best Actor.

The commentary track kept talking about how good the comedic supporting actors were. I could not agree: the comedy seemed dated and un-funny. But the anti-hero, played by William Holden, did not seem dated. Why?

One of Cinema's Greatest Moments

The local library had a DVD copy of the movie "A Room With a View." Since it had been awhile since last seeing it...

In order to fully appreciate a movie like this, you must look at the overall context of movie-making: the money problems, the tastes of the general public, and the 'Media is the Message' syndrome. There is every reason to expect successes to be rare. But they do happen.

There are hundreds of comments on IMDB or Amazon on this movie. I sighed and then quit, after reading one comment that the Puccini musical score "enhanced the movie." Enhanced, indeed. It stole the show!

Now, long-suffering readers are just going to discount this opinion as that of a Puccini fanboy. But in fact I have seen movies exploit the use of operatic scores to little avail. What I am praising here is not Puccini per se, but rather, the re-combination of his music with the right visual and situational context.

To me, the movie's plot was OK, but I don't go gaga over …

A Movie Recommendation

You may freely admit to giving recommendations of various types to other people, over the course of your life, without feeling too foolish about it. But why does it hardly ever work, whether the recommendations are for movies, books, or blind dates?

That's what pops to mind after watching a movie from the local library, "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman", directed by Ang Lee, who later directed "Sense and Sensibility" and "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."  "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" is what put his career on the map, I suppose.

But the movie isn't too well known or popular. There are reasons. The only audio choice on the DVD is spoken-Chinese with English subtitles. There is a lot of dialogue, so you have to read the subtitles fast.

From time to time I read movie reviews on Amazon/IMDB. Usually they aren't too helpful, and because there are so many of them, I usually give up. Sigh, that's an old problem in the information biz. Some blabber-mout…