Does size matter?

I started collecting books in high school. There were several two-for-a-quarter used bookstores downtown and I’d take the bus down there every weekend and spend a dollar or two. In college, the library would cull the stacks and put withdrawn books out for sale cheap. I bought them using my blackboard-cleaning money. After that, years and years of books sales, garage sales, and flea markets, all to accumulate books that would thenceforward collect dust on shelves around the house. I would  read one from time to time, or at least take it down and handle it, but the books were there mainly to keep me company or perhaps because I had some notion of someday reading them all, in the same way that someday I would travel the globe. For actual reading, I checked out fun books from the library. Finally, in my sixties, I quit buying books (more or less). I quit rearranging the books on the shelves. I quit waiting for visitors to ask me about them. I quit waiting for something magic to happen.

When I started listening to audio books – books on tape – in the early 80s, I kept a list. I was up to 500 when I lost the text file that contained the list. I don’t remember if a disk crashed or I just lost interest or what. There must have been backups for the file somewhere, but I never found them (or looked for them, really). Redoing the list would have been impossible. Too much work and too much memory required. And, I had already been wondering what the point was. What difference did it make how many books I had listened to? Nobody ever asked, just like with the books. (I’m not counting the joker who ran his eyes over the shelves and said, “Read ’em all?”)

Which brings me to movies, and how many I’ve seen. I visited the blog today of a fellow who has seen more than 10,000 movies. That’s a movie a day for 30 years; or a movie every two days for 60 years. The fellow, I think, has ranked the movies in order of preference. There is something in the totality of this feat that appeals to me, but I’ve noticed, for example, that at some point my collection of books began to seem less like a comment upon my elevated taste and more like a burden to whomever gets stuck with it when I drop dead. My list of 500 books on tape, and the act of listening to them,  not only did not change my life, but have mostly fled from my memory. Except Moby Dick. It was about a whale.

Also, what about that guy who watched the 15,000 Movies You Need To See Before You Die, and then killed himself?

However – however! – I did bestir myself one time to watch all but nine of the entries on the IMDB Top 250 list. It’s a wacky list, but maybe that’s a good thing. Now, several years later, I still have a warm feeling about having seen, finally, the classic films on that list, even if I hated them with a passion whilst I was forcing myself to watch them, five minutes at a time.

So I told myself this morning: this week, you can spend one night each with seven movies or you can spend seven nights with one movie and its Criterion extras. Choose well, Grasshopper!

The other thing is, what about TV shows? Why all the love for movies? If I start watching three sitcoms a day, I’ll get to 10,000 by 2020! Today’s selection, to get this started: Leave It To Beaver #213, My Three Sons #43, and Dr. Phil #404 (I’m counting Oprah and Dr. Phil and Glenn Beck as sitcoms).

Better than that, if I listen to 28 podcasts a day, I’ll hit 10,000 in a year, with a week to spare!

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Collected Dailies 8

First experiment with Netflix Instant on the TV instead of the computer: The Red Shoes (1948). Some practice will be required to control the experience as completely as if it were emanating from a DVD player.

***

Finally, after… well, years, and two previous setups that I didn’t use… my son and I found ourselves in the same room with the TV and my laptop and the wireless hub and the something box, that have all been sitting there, with cables, for ages, and he kindly reconstituted it all for my Netflix Instant queue and whatever other online viewing I choose to do, streaming or otherwise. It struck me yesterday how much time I spend at Blockbuster and various libraries and dealing with Netflix movies in the mail… Be interesting to see how quickly and how much I switch over to this new source. Maybe I need all that running around to provide meaning to/for my hamster-like existence, or maybe I’ll be liberated from some of it.

***

Caprica (2009) – Dramatically tough to create an engaging 17-episode first-season series when you know that it’s going to end with the world blowing up (well, not in Season 1, but, in the end…)? Well, disks 1 and 2 have kept the surprises coming. I’m not disappointed… Plus, one sign that a show is working for you is that you want more of whatever it’s giving you. I want more Graystone interaction with his cyborg daughter (so far, none). So I keep watching, waiting for it.

***

Bound (1996) – It’s been 14 years since I last saw this. It holds up. Remember Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity (1944), in the scene where he tells Stanwyck how carefully they’re going to plan the murder, and then they turn around and go out with some half-assed plan that runs right off the rails? Same thing here. Fun-but-violent nonsense, but this Joe Pantoliano, this guy, this Ralph Cifaretto, this f**king guy – pure gold… What a start for the Wachowskis, after which they turned around and made The Matrix.

***

Amazing coincidence department: Watched Episode Two of Extras and then started to rewatch The Devil’s Rejects (2005), and both had the non-PC-correct rhyme “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, what are these?” in them. How can that even happen?… If someone asked me to name the ultimate exploitation film, I might use this one. From start to finish, appeals directly to the most debased and prurient interests. Many try, but few succeed this well.

***

Bored to Death (2009) – Somebody on /Filmcast liked this series. The first episodes are engaging. Strange to say, Jason Schwartzman sort of reminds me of Tom Cruise… I don’t think of myself as a TV-watcher, since my TV isn’t hooked up to anything but a DVD player, but what with Community, Caprica, Extras, Breaking Bad, The Office (English version), Reno 911, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, Big Love, Fringe, True Blood (at least Season 1), Six Feet Under, Lost, BSG, Slings and Arrows (my favorite of all), the one about the pie maker, the one about Eli the lawyer, the one where a piano falls on her and she’s dead, Heroes, Terminator, some Sons of Anarchy, some Jericho, Flight of the Conchords, Deadwood, The Wire, and The Sopranos, I guess I qualify…

***

I was wondering if Ron Perlman and Mickey Rourke ever made a movie together, because if so, I’d want to see it. But IMDB says no.

***

Inception (2010) – Jeez, DiCaprio in the movies – the guy gets a lot of grief. Goes crazy in The Aviator. Bad marriage in Revolutionary Road. Shutter Island, I won’t say. Next movie, he’s J. Edgar. If you’ve read Ellroy, you know all about J. Edgar. Give this guy a break – let him take a Tom Hanks role for a change… I saw Inception at the multiplex whilst surfing for six hours there. If ever there was a big-screen movie, this is it. On the TV screen, the second time around, not so much… Ok, I take that back, after watching the whole thing. I just remembered the gun play and ruckus from the first time around; I forgot how clever the movie is. Why can’t there be more like it?

***

I Am Love (2009) – Tilda Swinton, getting it done. She shows a side, or at least a part, of herself that I haven’t seen before… For the score, I think that John Adams turned up some unused pages from his “Nixon in China.” I was mesmerized (probably not the composer’s intent)… Tilda’s line readings were kept to a minimum; if you’re fluent in Italian, let me know if she sounded like a Russian speaking Italian, like an American  speaking Italian, or like an American speaking Italian like a Russian.

***

Knight and Day (2010) – The movie begins and I get to thinking about Tom Cruise. Is the man a walking metaphor for life itself? He works at his craft from a young age, making movies, making more and more successfuller movies, becomes a mega star, does quality work, has some publicity ups and downs, and now here he is at the age of 48, back in the traces, making a movie that he has to know will not burnish his long career (or can you burnish a career? what can you burnish? your legend?), but which no doubt pays a bunch, and what’s up with his wife and kids and Scientology, so forth? And just as I’m thinking about how futile it all is, there he goes, onscreen, talking about his life’s regrets, right at the start of the movie. Wow. I’m put in mind of Lee J. Cobb at the end of Twelve Angry Men, with his angry monologue about life and how it screws you. Cruise, it’s like carrying that boulder up the mountain and then the buzzard pecks out your liver, on a daily basis. (Sometimes it takes two myths to encompass the mystery of life.)… The Wachowski brothers (well, it’s brother and sister now, I guess) spent a lot of time and money building a freeway section in Oakland and using it to film the action sequence in The Matrix Reloaded (2003). Seven years later, Knight and Day comes along, in this new age of CGI, and casually tosses out a scene on I-93 that makes a mockery of Neo and his ealier doings… I like Cruise and Diaz in this. Cute couple. He’s ten years older than her, which in Hollywood boy-and-girl years is just about right; Cameron won’t be playing this role ten years from now, though Cruise might… Sarsgaard is a cross between Jack Lemon and Keifer Sutherland here. Viola Davis earns a paycheck playing that CIA boss of a thousand movies; I hope they have reunions, those of this role; I’d like to see that; cocktail hour where they mingle, all being the boss; banquet and speeches; and then home, deep in the Valley.

***

So marijuana movies have become a genre? There was Cheech and Chong and there was Easy Rider, and increasingly, movies like Half Baked and the Friday movies. I recall a Canadian Vancouver-based movie with “green” in the title. And the one where the older woman is growing pot. But have we passed the grass tipping point? Perhaps with Weeds and Pineapple Express? When grass is finally legal, will the genre wither or simply transmogrify? To be continued…

***

Leaves of Grass (2009) – I can’t get over how well actors act, especially actors like Edward Norton. The movie begins with him lecturing a class in classical philosophy and he, well, he sounds like a professor giving a lecture that he’s given many times before, with lots and lots of words pouring out of his mouth. Lately I often find myself shaking my head as I watch a scene, thinking, Now that’s acting!…And speaking of words pouring out, I was noticing once again that Kermode is remarkable in that respect, once he gets wound up. He talks about the talent in his book… I like this movie. Feels fresh and is for sure unpredictable. Tim Blake Nelson wrote, directed, and did a good job acting in it. He’s a busy guy. The Grey Zone (2001) was one of his. He’s got six more in post-production or filming… The film’s social conscience, such as it is, makes it a nice sidebar to Red Beard.

***

The Filmspotting Forum’s movie dictation club or group or boards or whatever it is has dictated Red Beard (1965) to me for December. Watch and report. I haven’t done one of these since last February. Must get under way tonight, though last time it took me ten months to wrap it up... Possible beard marathon: Red Beard, Yellowbeard, Blackbeard, Bluebeard, Silver Beard, and Janice Beard.

Or, for those bloggers with the lists: The King’s Beard; Growin’ a Beard; The Lady and the Beard; Spock’s Beard: Don’t Try This at Home; The Man with the White Beard; The Dreaded Beard; Beard Club; Beard & Co; Beard & Moustache Experiments Nos. 1-4; Beard the Lion; Bested by a Beard; Bothered by a Beard; Enter the Beard; Father’s Beard; Isaac Singer’s Nightmare and Mrs. Pupko’s Beard; Sam’s Artistic Beard; Snow Beard; Hello, Fred the Beard; The Beard; The Winter of the Beard; Why Father Grew a Beard; and With Peter Beard in Africa: Last Word from Paradise.

***

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) – Like Connery as Bond, Noomi Rapace defines the role. Rooney Mara may step up, but one thing we know for sure: she won’t be ripped like Rapace is.

***

Going the Distance (2010) – A good movie to study in screenwriting class. What works in it and what doesn’t? Plenty of both to choose from. Exam question: how many different movies are fighting each other to get out, and which of them, if any, amkes it?… It’s also a good movie to rag on for fun…  Has Drew Barrymore had work done? Besides the reduction surgery, I mean. Makeup can make an amazing difference, as anyone who has been to a wedding knows. But still, the woman just looks different here and I wonder whether simple weight loss and cosmetics can explain it… This is director Nanette Burstein’s first foray into fiction. I liked The Kid Stays in the Picture (2002) a lot, and the book even better, skipped American Teen (2008). Barrymore shoulda gave her a hand with this. The we-almost-make-it ending provides a metaphor for the whole movie… Whoa. Just saw Mick LaSalle’s review in the S.F. Chronicle: little man jumping out of his seat. One of the best romcoms of 2010. Gives us a flavor of the economic concerns of young folks. That would be Drew and Justin Long. Well, in the movie Drew gets a job at the Chron, so let’s cut LaSalle some slack. The NYT liked the movie, which is why I watched it. No accounting…

***

The Mystery of Charles Dickens (2000) is Simon Callow’s one man show featuring the great man and Callow is up to the job. I like these things. Watched the Ian McKellen Shakespeare anthology, Acting Shakespeare (1982), the other night. Who knew, watching him emote, that in the fullness of his years he’d find himself transmogrified into Magneto, surrounded by bad mutant henchmen. Callow as Dickens immediately introduces a mystery in his show, by saying something about a “rook’s nest.” I thought that a rook was simply another name for a crow in a flock. Hence, a single bird in a nest couldn’t be a rook. But no, I’ve learned something. A rook is just one type of crow. That’s too bad. I liked the idea of crows ganging up and acting rookishly, but I’ve been disabused. Though I haven’t been rooked.

***

Having watched Powell and Pressburger’s Colonel Blimp and A Matter of Life and Death, I’m having a go at A Canterbury Tale (1944). So far: when you introduce an American character, a G.I., have him start every sentence with “say.” Say, that’s not a bad idea… The American, John Sweet, wasn’t a professional actor; Powell saw him work in a production of Our Town in England (he was a G.I. over there for WW II) and hired him for the movie; he never made another one and now he’s a retired teacher in North Carolina. But anyway, I keep hearing John Wayne in Sweet’s voice, so I checked and the two were born within 280 miles of each other, 9 years apart, so I guess that explains the accent… From the dialog, sounds like the movie was made before Pearl Harbor, during Lend-Lease. An interesting time in American/UK history, which we don’t often see onscreen. (Later: nope, it was made after Pearl Harbor, but to hear the actors say it, there were still a lot of isolationists after the Japanese attack. I should look it up. I’d say Pressburger got that wrong.)… The movie is a fable, a confection, a propaganda film, with four miraculous happy endings for the price of one,  but everyone in it is so damned decent and honorable, with the young men preparing to ship out (the Normandy landings commenced on June 6, 1944), that I couldn’t help feeling moved. The heroic English score didn’t hurt. There is a sequence of bombed out buildings, followed by a quick shot of contrails overhead, that is worth the price of admission for me. The actors are all gone now, save for Sweet and Sheila Sim, and God bless them both. Criterion includes interviews with each… It’s rare to find an actor or actress named Sim (my mother’s maiden name), at least of the English or Scottish variety, Sim also being an Asian name. Alastair Sim playing Scrooge might be the most famous…

***

Iron Man 2 (2010) – You know how sometimes in the credits there is a crawl with a list of stars, diminishing in luster a la Doug Benson’s Leonard Maltin game, but with “and Marlon Brando” or “with Laurence Olivier”  at the end? This one has that, using “with,” and my question is, what’s the difference between “and” and “with”? Is it just whim, or do the two uses signify?

***

There is a line running from revenge to slasher and the dude in The Horseman (2008) is located quite a ways along that line away from Josey Wales and towards Michael Myers – unless we just accept Australians as operating on a trigger more easily pulled than otherwise normal… Scene-not-seen-before: dad receives daughter’s ashes in a pot. Takes pot to the ashes cemetery, I’ve forgotten what that place is called. Later retrieves the ashes and takes them home for later scattering. Discovers daughter was in a porn video. Dumps ashes in kitchen wastebasket. Thinks better of it later and sits on kitchen floor sorting ashes from peelings.

***

Anybody here remember Terence Hill (Mario Girotti)? Back when Eastwood headed back to the States, the blue-eyed, blond Hill helped fill the spagetti-western void in the ’70s with movies like My Name Is Trinity (1970) and My Name is Nobody (1973). I sat watching Doc West (2009) last night, marvelling at this dude. He’s 71 and looks absolutely great. How did he manage that? The movie itself is silly family fare, upon which I won’t rag. The nostalgic, elegiac music cranks up every time a female face or landscape appears onscreen – that was a good thing. Someone complained about a couple of glitches in the sound sync, but I’m guessing that some of the actors spoke their lines in English and others were dubbed from Italian… This is a movie where the hero steps into the saloon and the piano stops and silence falls as he walks to the bar and orders a glass of iced tea… One thing that did make me smile was the scene in which Doc West rides into Santa Fe – a typical cowboy-movie town on the prairie, with an assortment of boxy clapboard houses distributed along a wide main street – whereas Santa Fe was founded in 1608. By the late 1800s, the town had been around for 250 years or so. Adobe and (Pueblo) Native Americans abounded. The funny thing is, this film was shot on location in Santa Fe, at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, south of town. The state has a variety of western-town movie sets and Hill has worked at this one before. More New Mexico scenery, please!

***

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009) – Fine entry in the kidnap genre.

***

The fellows on /Filmcast were saying the other day how much they liked The Rockford Files (1974), so I Netflixed the show and watched an episode. James Garner was the likable actor of his day, sort of like Tom Selleck. Garner had filled out a bit from his Maverick days for Rockford… Funny to watch everyone drive around in those old U.S. clunkers with not a foreign car in sight, other than the odd Mercedes. Course, our Bug was seven years old by then and we had also acquired a little box-on-wheels, aluminum-engine Corolla… James Woods shows up in the episode I chose, very young… I never watched Rockford and I was trying to remember what I did watch in 1974.  The answer: not much. From ’62 to ’70, the only shows I remember are The Man From U.N.C.L.E (1964), Secret Agent (Danger Man) (1964), and for a year at dinner-time, F Troop (1965). Then a spate of Masterpiece Theater shows, but by ’74, we weren’t watching anything. Our TV set only received one station for years and we didn’t get color until ’81. But now, with DVDs, all things are possible.

***

Solitary Man (2009) – Out of respect for what Michael Douglas is going through, I’m not going to rag on this movie. I will say that he plays the same part in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) and I liked him in that.

***

The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) – Pleasant to watch – I’m partway through – with Ricardo Darín radiating some screen charisma. However, if this ends like I think it is going to end, both with respect to the crime and to the romance, I’m going to feel that it was too obvious and too plot-silly to deserve the Oscar respect that it received. I’m always glad to be watching a South American film, though. Reminds me of that PBS (?) series, the name of which I’ve forgotten [see comment below], used in Spanish class, that took place in part in Argentina and had a little romance in it… Later: My problem is, I’ve seen soooo many of these murder-mystery movies that it’s hard to ignore the wheels turning – hard not to spend time trying to guess the twists, which takes one out of the movie. Plus, the romance almost seems like part of another movie to me. I’ve seen a number of them lately with the man and woman reconnecting after twenty years or so… The writer has a bright idea for an ending and builds the story back from there, and then tacks on the romance. I mean, if man and woman are desperately in love for x years, why did nothing happen all that time? Explain please… And there is the matter of the Oscar. I remember when Silence of the Lambs won. It was a moment in my life when I realized that some things were never going to get better and the best that I could hope for was that they not get any worse. Silence of the Lambs, acme of U.S. culture for a year… I just caught a glimpse in the newspaper of a picture of Bening and Moore in The Kids Are All Right. Treasures.

Didn’t see that coming.

At some point in Lost, I realized that one reason I was enjoying the series so much was that every so often, something completely unexpected (to me) would occur. For example, in one episode, a boat full of the show’s regulars circle the island for the first time and up on the shore, slowly swinging into view, sits, or stands, a giant stone foot. Now that’s entertainment… Although, what does a foot do? If it’s on its side, it just lies there. But upright, on its sole, is it standing? Can it crouch? Hunker?

In the same way as Lost, Caprica (2009) has surprised me enough to make me happy to continue watching, even though I started the series just because I liked BSG so much that I thought I’d give Caprica a look, in spite of the fact that it seemed to  me that I’d be unlikely to engage with something the end of which is spelled out by the beginning of the show it spun off from. Should I rephrase that? In particular, the Zoe/Cyborg duality announced, to me at least, that the series would go places that I did not anticipate. Ditto the stuck-in-cyberspace trope.

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2009) drops in its surprises at the beginning of each act, perhaps not as unanticipated as those in Lost, but fun nevertheless. Or are those twists? Twists surprise, but are they a subset of surprises?

Leaves of Grass (2009), in retrospect, goes where it had to go, but step by step I was surprised. It sort of changed genres partway through? Like a twist, a surprise subset?

Watching Inception (2010) again, I see that it features those surprise moments, doled out one by one: yes, you can go into a dream, but there are also levels; yes, you can go down a level but time expands when you do and the level is more unstable; yes, you wake up when killed, except…

When the Chief of Police tells the hero, “I’ll give you 83 hours, but after that I’ll have to take your badge,” we know that the issue will be resolved in 82 hours and 59 minutes, but when the Chief of Police, out of the blue,  says, “I’ll give you 83 hours, but Jack, please try not to turn into an invisible pregnant woman again,” that’s a surprise, cause you know he will.

Pitch the LAMB: Home for the Holidays, Act 1

Mable: Well, here we are… Neo, before we go in and you meet them, there is something you should know about my family…

Neo: Nothing would surprise me anymore, or any more (than I’ve been surprised before). What, your family doesn’t know that we’re “together”? They don’t know that I’m of an ethnic, gender, or species persuasion to which they are not partial?

Mable: No, it’s not that at all. It’s not always about you, Neo. You’re not always the one. The family… We’re… You know… We’re all…

Neo: What? Russian spies? Aliens? Aliens without proper documentation? Cannibals? Does this have anything to do with that gigantic stone foot in the front yard?

Mable: Well, it’s…

Michelle, opening the front door from inside: Hey, Sis, you’re here! Is this the new guy? Hi, new guy!… Hey, Mom! Mable is home! Don’t mind us, new guy. We’re decorating for the holidays, and… Hey, Mom! Why does the tree smell like the sewer?

Mabel: Everybody, this is Neo…

Mom: Hi, Mabel! Hi, Neo! Michelle, Honey, the tree doesn’t smell. I mean, it does smell. It smells like a tree. The sewer thing, that’s just your condition.  Sinus infection can cause it. Or impacted, fungus-riddled boogers. An infected tooth could do it. Or various medications. Brain tumor. Cranial radiation therapy. Or that Oliver Sachs disease with the long name I forget.

Dad: Hi, Mabel! Hi, Neo! Sachs makes that stuff up. He’s on the New Yorker payroll.

Cousin Francis: Hi, Mable. Hi, Neo. Geez, you’re here just in time. I’ve got to go find a plastic Jesus, but it’s nuts out there. These holidays are so screwed up, I’ll be glad when they’re over.

Mom: I got groped by an elf at the mall this morning.

Michelle: I got fondled by a drunk Santa. Accomplished exactly nothing.

Mom: I thought you got the gift for dad. You promised. You’re usually the only one I can trust around here.

Uncle Joe: Hi, Mable. Hi, Neo. Mazie, relax. I got the gift for him.

Mable: Why is Michelle the only one you can trust? You always preferred Michelle over me, Mother! I’m home two minutes…

Mom: Don’t start. I can trust you, too, but like you say, you’ve been home two minutes. In fact, come over here. Quick! Help me… with…(ugh)… this…(grunt)… turkey… Hold on, dammit! Pull it down! Neo, grab it by the wattles!

Michelle: What about gifts for the rest of us? For under the tree? The mall is closing in an hour!

Mom: The mall is always closing in an hour. And it’s always dark out.

Michelle: And Cousin Francis is a lot younger than on her last visit.

Dad: And I think the dog  just ate Mable’s head.

Mom: Oh, no. Are we all dead again and don’t know it?

Dad: I hate that trope.

Michelle: Nah, this is the one where we’re not dead. We’re all just waiting to be born again.

Francis: Eww! I hate that one worse! I hate getting born.

Mable: You hate it! What about me? My last three I had narrow-hipped women.

Uncle Joe: I was a month late and breech. No picnic. Not to mention the circumcision.

Mable: It’s the caul I hate.

Michelle: At least you’ll have your head back.

Dad: Well, the good news is, we won’t have to worry about turkey and the tree next Christmas. We’ll all be on the tit.