Tuesday, July 31, 2007

One Week Later

So - Harry Potter thoughts. The most overriding thought is that I wish I had reread the sixth book first. Rowling's universe is really a pretty dense one, and I there were plenty of details and small plot turns I feared I was underappreciating not having refreshed myself in Potter lore prior to reading. That minor caveat out of the way, we will venture into spoiler territory:


OK. What impressed me the most was something I was kind of down on originally - that being the structural change in the series, with Harry and mates no longer at Hogwarts for the year. Initially I thought the change kind of cheap - the symmetrist in me wanted the books final book to share that same overriding structure. But upon reading Book 7, it became clear what Rowling was up to - the change in structure makes it much clearer for the reader exactly how much has changed for the characters themselves; the structural shift serves as a kind of metaphor for the real danger the characters now live in. This worked beautifully. I also liked the rootless, wandering nature of the middle section, with Ron, Harry, and Hermione hiding out all over England. I can understand how some felt it went on too long, but, again, I think it did a lot to add to our empathy towards these characters' fear and the very substantial stakes they faced. I also loved how Rowling, again, in opposition to the structure set up in Books 1-6, started things out so explosively, with the big set piece of Harry's escape from Privet drive, and the taking of casualties right from the start. It set the tone of real consequences and danger right from the start.

As far as the actual plot goes, again, I feel I need to reread to see how the whole Hallows and Horcruxes stuff really plays - it felt needlessly convoluted, but that may have just been my dim memory playing tricks on me. And unlike many, I liked the epilogue, and appreciated that Rowling felt it important to show us that the orphaned Harry, he of the loveless, abused childhood, ended up with a strong, loving happy family and large extended family of relatives and friends. That it painted a picture of quiet suburban domesticity didn't bother me, as A) it was clearly what Harry wanted, and B), we really didn't get a picture of how Harry spends all of his time. That he might still have adventures and lead an exciting life is hardly out of the question. What the epilogue did leave me wanting, though, much to my surprise, was a "next generation" series starring Ron and Hermione's and Harry and Ginny's kids. On paper, such a thing sounds hokey and crass - but in execution, I'm betting it could be a lot of fun.

Until Whenever

Friday, July 27, 2007

Doin' the Friday Shuffle

Because I'm still all a-tingly from the poster below, I present an all-Sweeney shuffle!

1. "Pretty Women" - Stephen Sondheim (Mark Jacoby and Alexander Gemignani) - Sweeney Todd (2005 Broadway Revival Cast)
From the stripped-down version with cast members doubling as the on-stage orchestra. The result is a piano-heavy, spare reduction of the score that somehow (while it will never replace the brilliance of Jonathan Tunick's original orchestrations) works very well on its own terms. This is one of the prettiest songs in the score, a touching, sweet elegy to the wondrousness of women undercut by the fact that it is being sung by a revenge-bent maniac and the youth-defiling judge who stole his wife many years ago.

2. "Prelude and Ballad of Sweeney Todd" - Stephen Sondheim - Sweeney Todd (Original Broadway Cast)
The perfect scene setter. I love the so-gothic pipe organ intro, the shrill factory whistle and the dark, unsettling Ballad of Sweeney Todd that follows. When Sweeney comes in at the end - goosebumps. And listen to the harmonies when the chorus comes in en mass for the first time. Great stuff.

3. "Ladies in their Sensibilities" - Stephen Sondheim (Michael Cerveris and Alexander Gemignani) - Sweeney Todd (2005 Broadway Revival Cast)
Gemignani's good, but he can't get at the ridiculously plummy and officious tone Jack Eric Williams affected in the original.

4. "Epiphany" - Stephen Sondheim (George Hearn) - Sweeney Todd in Concert
From the Lincoln Center concert, with the old-hand Hearn (he was in the original tour with Angela Lansbury back in the seventies) filling in for an injured Byrn Terfel. I love hearing this music performed by the Philharmonic. This is my favorite song in the musical theatre repertoire, with Sweeney losing his mind and deciding to kill the poor fools who come to him for a share. Hearn is just great.

This clip is from the original touring cast, not the concert.

5. "Wait" - Stephen Sondheim (Patti LuPone) - Sweeney Todd (2005 Broadway Revival Cast)
Probably my least-favorite song in the score, although LuPone acquits herself nice here.

6. "By the Sea" - Stephen Sondheim (Angela Lansbury) - Sweeney Todd (Original Broadway Cast)
The demented, cannibalism-suggesting Mrs. Lovett sings of her imagined life of domestic bliss with Todd. I can't wait to see Helena Bonham Carter do this.

7. "Ladies in Their Sensibilities" - Stephen Sondheim (Jack Eric Williams) - Sweeney Todd (Original Broadway Cast)
See number five above - just a great vocal performance here, with some pure and ringing high notes that have to be heard to be believed.

8. "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" - Stephen Sondheim (Ensemble) - Sweeney Todd (Original Broadway Cast)
The finale, a reprise of the opening number. I love the high falsetto verse sung by Pirelli and the Beadle, and how it contrasts with the big wall of sound version in the opening.

9. "The Contest" - Stephen Sondheim (Joaquin Romaquera) - Sweeney Todd (Original Broadway Cast)
I played Pirelli in high school, and sang this. Very, very high.

10. "Act I, Part I" - Stephen Sondheim - Sweeney Todd (Covent Garden)
I recorded this off of a live radio feed - it's the full opera version done by the English Royal Opera Company at Covent Garden a few years back. Hence the "Act I, Part I" - it came through in big chunks. One of the few Broadway shows that holds up when done by an opera company.

Until Whenever

Thursday, July 26, 2007

So Encouraged

Don't know if he can sing, but this is pretty much perfect, no?

Details I like:

The red fabric on the chair in the otherwise colorless room.

The glimpse of Big Ben through the window of what is clearly a top-floor room (the room over the pie shop, in other words)

The wonderful terseness of the tagline, taken right from the show ("he never forgets and he never forgives")

The trunk in the background (which Sweeney fans will recognize as important in the musical)

The portrait of what I'm guessing is Lucy and Johanna in the background

The red peeking through the floorboards under Todd's feet.

I got me some goosebumps.

Until Whenever

One of the perils of watching a film on your commuter train is the risk of unwanted tears. Face it, no manly man worth his salt wants to be seen sniffing away tears by his fellow, anonymous commuters. Which is why I'm kind of bummed that I saw The Iron Giant for the first time on the train. Talk about the hype being worth it - what a beautiful, poetic, moving film. The moment that got to me the most, oddly enough, was when the Iron Giant flies for the first time, and Hogarth tells him to put his arms in front of him, like Superman. When he does? Killed me. I've read in many places of Brad Bird's genius, but having seen only The Incredibles I wasn't really able to grasp what people were talking about. Now I do. I was also surprised by how beautifully animated it is - sad, isn't it, that in such a short time I've kind of forgotten how great traditional animation can be?

Until Whenever

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Random Top Ten

Random Top Ten!!

Top Ten Simpsons Episodes

10. Homer's Phobia
Homer frets that Bart may be gay, with an all-time great guest appearance by John Waters. I love that, in coming up with a gay character, the writers give us John, not a swishy, dramatic, cliched gay man, but a soft-spoken, very non-dramatic gay man who loves kitsch.

9. Rosebud
A Citizen Kane parody that I loved well before I understood that it was a Citizen Kane parody, and well before I ever saw Citizen Kane. Maybe Burns' best episode.

8. And Maggie Makes Three
Maggie's birth - one of the most touching Simpsons episodes ever. And the driving plot point of Homer finally being able to live his life's dream of working at (not owning, working at) a bowling alley is great.

7. You Only Move Twice
A superb episode that features a James Bond parody on the margins - Homer gets a great job, with a great boss who just happens to be a James Bond villain intent on ruling the world. That neither Homer nor any of the main characters ever figure this out is what makes it perfect.

6. Two Bad Neighbors
George W. Bush moves in across the street. That the show was able to pull off such a bizarre plot (and the sly nodding of that plot to the forced "guest star" episodes of sitcom tradition in which the regular characters implausibly interact with famous people; where else but in a cartoon could such a guest star be the ex-President of the United States?) is testimony to its genius.

5. Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie
A great parody of the sitcom trend of adding a character to spice up an aging show - the bits with the Simpsons new boarder Roy are hilarious.

4. Cape Feare
The best of the Sideshow Bob episodes, and the episode featuring the fable rake sequence.

3. Homer's Enemy
Another great meta-referencing episode, with a new employee at the plant reacting to Homer as we would if homer were real - shock, awe, and disgust.

2. A Streetcar Named Marge
The great Jon Lovitz' best showcase on the series, as the dramatic director of the community theater production of the musical version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Also the best musical numbers the show has produced.

1. Bart Sells His Soul
A canny and unbeatable blend of great humor (the b-plot of Moe turning his bar into a Bennigan's clone is great) and real pathos. And the church congregation singing In-A-Gada-Da-Vida. Classic.

Until Whenever
My Hopes Keep Getting Raised

Yes, Virginia, The Simpsons Movie might actually kick some serious ass:

Until Whenever

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The T&C 100 - #s 60-69

As I indicated before, the numbering is going to get a bit wacky here, given that I am adding some films I forgot and am too lazy to go back and renumber stuff. This is why there's a random #72 in here for this edition. It doesn't replace the original #72, it just gets added - call it a tie.

72. The Constant Gardner (2005)
I still mean to go back and read the novel this film was based on; the story and characters impacted me that much. I thought the filmmakers did an excellent job of bringing the audience into this very unfamiliar African world, with a wonderful sense of time and place created. The story is a heartbreaking one, and Rachel Weisz, in her relatively short time on screen, is luminous.
Favorite moment: When Justin is told that his wife is dead. Fiennes does a fine job of delineating the man's shocked grief that's neither under or overstated.

69. Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace (1999)
I'm one of the few who make no bones about loving the prequel trilogy. So there. And while this may be the weakest of the three, it's really not the film's fault - as the first film in a six-film series, it has a lot of setting up to do. I do wish Lucas had done some things differently (I'm not sure why we need to meet Anakin as such a young boy, especially considering the truly dreadful performance Jake Lloyd gives), but what gets lost in the endless criticisms is how much he got right- seeing the Jedi in action, the introduction of R2D2, the parallels to the original film, Darth Maul, that final lightsaber battle.
Favorite moment: Seeing Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon demonstrate their effortless skill in the opening sequence. I still remember the palpable thrill I got in the theater eight years ago when I first saw that scene.

68. Reservoir Dogs (1992)
A taut, bloody, profane, and very close-to-the-bone crime drama, with great performances by Harvey Keitel and Tim Roth. I love how the frame never widens, how we never see the police responding, or the victims, or anyone besides the criminals involved in the heist and anyone who comes into that circle. For the record? Still can't watch Madsen sever that cop's ear.
Favorite moment: When the Tim Roth character reveals himself to be a cop. Didn't see it coming.

67. Crash (2004)
I still think that a lot of the blowback this film got from the critics and on-line film buffs was a matter of good liberals simply not liking the message - that we are all racists in some way, whether we like it or not. But what I love about the movie is how it takes a modern message film told through many viewpoints (a la Traffic) and puts it through a very deliberately Dickensian classic storytelling mode, full of coincidences and last-minute revelations. Genius.
Favorite moment: When the Thandie Newton character realizes who is saving her.

66. Toy Story II (1999)
Few cinematic moments are as sad as Jessie the Cowgirls song and flashback. And that fact - that a moment involving a kids' toy singing about its owner is so profoundly moving - is all that really needs to be said about how good Pixar is.
Favorite moment: Just described it.

65. Moonstruck (1987)
Such a re-watchable movie, so well-written and so well-realized (try to watch it and not get a craving for good Italian gravy). I don't typically care for Cher at all, but here she's just great. I love movies set firmly in the real world that aren't afraid of a little poeticism.
Favorite moment: Loretta meets Ronny.

64. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
I worshipped this movie as a child. I've always thought that a lot of the criticism that gets made against it in comparison to the other two Indy films has a lot to do with the fact that the "magic" here is based in Eastern religion, and not good-ol' Christianity. That sequence in the club in the beginning is a classic set piece, and the last half-hour or so of the film pretty much never lets up.
Favorite moment: When Indy, having snapped out of his trance, winks at Short Round. Awesome.

63. Spider-Man (2002)
OK, so they messed up the Green Goblin a little, and kinda mushed Gwen and Mary Jane together into one character, but Spider-Man himself was perfect, and, more importantly, so was Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. And to actually see Spider-Man webslinging through Manhattan? A geek dream come true.
Favorite moment: When Parker goes after the carjacker, learning to websling on the fly.

62. Notting Hill (1999)
A charming, sweet, and very funny romantic comedy with a pretty unique premise - what happens when the average bloke falls in love with a huge movie star?
Favorite moment: Anna and William's first night together. Played very sweetly.

61. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
I love how this film, more than anything, is a tragedy about two characters, and how little it's about "homosexuality" in any overt way. Ang Lee astonishes me with his range - he's now done a Western, a martial arts film, a Jane Austen period piece, a super-hero film, and a 70s suburban drama. What can't he do?
Favorite moment: Ennis smelling Jacks shirt.

60. Dances with Wolves (1990)
Isn't it kind of funny that seventeen years later so few films have addressed Native Americans as openly and honestly as this one? Grandly epic, beautiful, and inspiring, with an all-time great score.
Favorite moment: Dunbar being rescued from the soldiers near the end. Thrilling.

Until Whenever

Monday, July 23, 2007

Movies I've Recently Seen

Ah, AFI 100 list, you inspire me so!

On the Waterfront
Well, this was pretty much as good as advertised. I know that the film is more or less Kazan's defense of his own "ratting" to the HUAC folks, but to be frank, my knowledge of US History is pathetic enough for me to not really be comfortable making a judgement as to whether or not that testimony was morally justified or not - I simply don't know. But what I think detractors can miss, probably deliberately, is that in the film Terry Malloy's decision to "rat" is not gray or morally complex - it's pretty simple. These people are killing friends and family, after all - his testimony is hardly controversial in theory. So, stripping away all the layers of meta-subtext, we have an extremely compelling, very well-acted film about a man who, eventually, does the right thing. And with a meaty, for-the-ages performance from Brando sitting at the middle of it. And - oh, yes - a Leonard Bernstein score that's gorgeous, rich icing on a very well-made cake.

To Kill A Mockingbird
Just as touching, and gripping, as I remember the book to be. Great casting afoot here - not just with the obvious greatness that is Peck as Finch, but with the kids, who, after all, command a lot of this screentime. The actress who plays Scout really makes the film - she's so disagreeable, so ornery, so loving, and so comfortable in her own skin that we never question this precocious little girl. And the delicate, surprisingly lovely score was a nice surprise as well. Another one of those stories that I remember as being happier than it is, too - after all, Tom Robbins is killed at the end, after being found guilty of a crime he didn't commit.

Stranger than Fiction
A wonderful high concept. A solid central performance from Will Ferrell that shows that he's not a one-trick pony. Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman as good as they always are. A disarmingly sexy performance from Maggie Gylennhal. A tight script. Inventive direction and uses of visuals. All excellent ingredients. But in the end, the lightness in the way that concept is presented - the disbelieving ease with which the characters react to this completely bizarre conceit of a man living a life being written by a novelist, and of him hearing the novelist as she
writes - kind of derails the whole thing. I mean, at the end, when the Dustin Hoffman character tells the Ferrell character that he has to die because if he doesn't the book won't be great . . . well, they lost me. My love for Edward P. Jones' The Known World has been documented often here, but I would never tell a real person that they should die to make the book so good! Who would? I feel kind of guilty - I liked this film! But it's a pretty big hole and one that I really can't get past.

Until Whenever
Question Meme

We're back! And, as Jaq indignantly pointed out in the comments to this post, we have been remiss. The intent of The Questions Meme is to return the favor by asking questions of the questioner as well, and I publicly apologize to Jaq for my tardiness.

So - in the comments to this post are Jaq's questions. And if anyone else would like five questions asked of them, all they need do is ask.

Until Whenever

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Brief Respite

Tosy and Cosh are taking a short holiday; expect radio silence for a good week or so.

Until Whenever

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The T&C 100 - #s70-80

Note: In assembling the T&C 100, I inadvertently left off at least one film. The result is that my numbering is messed up - hence the presence of two #80s. I considered going back and renumbering everything, but decided that if in the end the T&C 100 is 102 or 103 films long, and that some numbers repeat, well, what's the harm?

80. Memento (2000)
I'm actually a little disappointed in myself, in that I have yet to go back and rewatch this. The premise and structure are not only ingenious, but, more importantly, impeccably executed, making for a film that quite simply feels and views differently than any other film I've seen.
Favorite moment: The beginning of the film, as we begin to understand exactly what is happening.

79. Groundhog Day (1993)
A movie that just grows richer and more timeless as time goes by. The very simple concept is executed flawlessly, and Murray is just great at portraying the small degrees by which Phil becomes a better human being again. One thing that's always bothered me is the notion of how many times he relives that day. I haven't seen the film in a long while, but I recollect that if everything we see is taken literally, he must relive that day for the equivalent of decades (I mean, just how many days, for example, would it take someone to learn to lay flawless piano, especially if the teacher couldn't build on anything you'd done with her before?)
Favorite moment: The virtuoso moment in the diner when Phil convinces the Andy McDowell character of the truth of is predicament.

78. The Matrix (1999)
This movie has had an odd little eight-year history - from surprise hit, to immense influence on action movies, to a very rapid and sudden drop in equity caused by two pretty terrible sequels and by the sheer tonnage of the homages and parodies it inspired. Still, strip all that away and you have a very tight, suspenseful, original action film - which is, in and of itself, nothing to sneeze at.
Favorite moment: That moment when you realize the film's overall conceit- that all of existence is really just an elaborate computer-programmed construction that we are dreaming.

77. Toy Story (1995)
The Snow White of our era. What seems so astonishing, in retrospect, is how a film that impresses so much technologically succeeds on the merits of a wonderfully constructed and imagined story. That Pixar had the foresight to realize that the stunning images they were able to create would only work if married to beautifully told stories impresses me greatly.
Favorite moment: When Buzz finally flies. Just beautiful.

76. The Prestige (2006)
A movie that grabbed me and never let go - impeccably acted, shot, designed, and produced, with a twisty, suspenseful script that never lets itself become subservient to the twists. Another one I really would like to revisit.
Favorite moment: When we realize that the Hugh Jackman character has been drowning himself every night. Chilling.

75. Airplane! (1980)
The grandaddy of all spoof comedies, and still the funniest. The sheer laugh-to-minute ratio is simply astounding. Jamie Weinman, over at Something Old, has been posting a bit about how much of the seemingly deliberately overly serious dialogue (and plot) is taken right out of an old film, Zero Hour. Well worth a click over.
Favorite moment: Impossible to pick. I'll name the gag with the guy waiting in the taxi throughout the whole movie at pretty much random.

74. Chicago (2002)
A superbly made film musical, one that gets the tone, look, and sound just about perfectly. Dance aficionados might quibble at the way some of the dances are shot, but to the untrained eye they work great. Does anyone else get the feeling that Catherine Zeta-Jones will never get the chance to do something as good as this again?
Favorite moment: When we first go into Roxie's head at the beginning, for the first (non-diegetic) song. Some have called it a cop-out, that the songs are meant to be part of Roxie's fevered imagination, but in truth the conceit plays brilliantly in the film. That other musical movies seem to have taken that as proof that they can't just play musical numbers straight isn't Chicago's fault.

73. Rocky (1976)
Remember: Rocky loses. That alone makes the film for me. In the popular imagination, Rocky fights the odds and wins, but the film actually tells us that fighting the odds and losing can have power as well. That sometimes fighting is worth it in and of itself. A lesson I wish the next three would have remembered.
Favorite moment: Burgess Meredith screaming at Rocky in the hallway. Burgess Meredith is 101 flavors of awesome.

72. West Side Story (1961)
The decision to film this stylistically, with the washed-out streets, and painted skies, was inspired. To treat this material as "realistic" would have been a huge mistake; by treating it as stylized we are allowed to experience the songs without self-consciousness. And there are precious, precious few musicals that can boast songs as remarkable as these.
Favorite moment: The opening scene, which right off the bat says: "Yes, these are gangs, and yes, they will be dancing. Deal."

71. This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
"These go up to 11" has become a touchstone for me, a way to indicate, very economically, the ludicrousness of those wanting more, more, more always. Just a hilarious film - and that I still have yet to watch the DVD with the actors' in-character commentary track is a source of deep, deep shame.
Favorite moment: The reveal of the miniature Stonehenge.

70. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Julia Roberts' finest moment, and a very well-made "issue" film. Not sure where the backlash against this film has come from.I love that the script and production design refuse to glamorize this woman - for all of her virtues the film celebrates, it's never shy about depicting the cost of her work, or the lesser qualities in her that, alas, make her as effective as she is. It's a more complex character study than it's given credit for.
Favorite moment: When Erin's son asks about the sick kids she is helping, and begins to understand why she's sacrificing so much. Part of what I love about the moment is how, again, Soderbergh doesn't really let her off the hook either - he makes us see the way she is to some degree sacrificing her family for others. And while that may be the right choice, it's not without its consequences.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Questions for Me!

Jaquandor has kindly offered to provide tailored questions for interested bloggers. Always a whore for free content, I happily signed up! Jaq's 5 questions for me:

1. Name your single favorite Rick-and-Lily moment from Once and Again. (Define this as both of them on screen at the same time.)
Small moment category: Second season episode, when Rick and Lily decide to move in together. The way they slyly grab hands in a quiet celebration of victory after deliberately egging the four kids on in a successful attempt to get the mixed brood to bond together as a mutual front against the parents. I love how the moment cements Rick and Lily's ability to work together as parents and to recognize that managing four kids under one roof will take some real strategizing. It's the moment when i believed they could work as parents of four.

Big moment category: Second season episode, when Rick bottoms out after losing his reputation and business in the wake of the Drentell meltdown. The way Lily refuses to let Rick push her away, and the way she insists to him that she loves him, not in spite of his faults, but because of him, because she loves the whole package. When he breaks down in her arms . . . how Campbell never won an Emmy I'll never know.

2. How bad is the Jersey Turnpike, anyway?
Not too. Up North, where it runs into 78, by Jersey City Elizabeth, et al, it's very industrial, with lots of foul-smelling factories surrounding it, and not pleasant at all to drive. But in Central and South Jersey it's just another big highway, with lots of sound barriers, rest stops, and odd bits of scenery. I always get the impression that folks think all of the Turnpike - and by extension all of New Jersey - is like the 20-mile or so stretch of industrial dourness they have in their heads. It's not.

3. You get a paid weekend trip to someplace of your choice, as long as it's within a three-hour drive of your home. Where do you go? (For our purposes, NYC is out!)
Three hours knocks my favorite place to go, the White Mountains region of New Hampshire, out of the running. So I may just turn to Cape May whose gorgeous Victorian bed and breakfasts are typically out of our price range. Great shopping, beautiful streets for walking, a gorgeous, quiet beach, big old-fashioned hotels, and fabulous outside dining. Yes, that would do just fine.

4. If you and your wife have some kind of "renewal of the vows" thing with a "reception" after, what song will be your new "first dance"?
New? Why new? I strongly suspect we'd stick to what got us here in the first place - the lushly romantic and silky Nat King Cole version of Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay."

5. You may have written on this before, but I don't recall, so what's your take on Andrew Lloyd Weber? Great Broadway artist, or peddler of annoying spectacle?
I haven't, and it's a good question. My answer is neither. I adore early Lloyd Weber, and count Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita as landmark scores. The man's remarkable gift for melody is simply undeniable, and I think discounted far too easily and often. That being said, he has a weakness for sloppy lyricists (when that sloppy lyricist is also gifted and imaginative, as is the case with Tim Rice, the sloppiness can be somewhat forgiven; when he's a mushy hack (hi Don Black!), not so much), and going for the big, sweeping sentimental gesture more often than is wise. And his later work (or, at least what I'm familiar with) can be too digestible for its own good. But he has had an indelible impact on musical theater, both good (Les Miserables, Chess) and bad (Lestat, Jekyll and Hyde).

That was fun! Jaq, if you'd care for 5 questions back, just stick a request in the comments!

Until Whenever

Monday, July 09, 2007

I Am Reminded That I Still Need to Get Bookshelves for the New House

A literary meme stolen from Jaquandor:

Recommend 3 books you believe everyone needs to read and say why people should read them.
I object. The truth is that I don't believe there are any books that everyone must read. Books I'd highly recommend, sure, but people are just too different or me to pretend that there are any books that would touch everyone in the world. Now that the hyper-literal pedantry is out of the way, the three books I pimp most vigorously are:

The Known World, by Edward P. Jones. I've waxed rhapsodic about this book, a disarmingly simply-told tale of slavery in the South, many times before; suffice it to say that I strongly suspect it will be the novel I am most moved by, I return to most, I love most deeply, for a long, long time. Do people need to read this? Not sure. I certainly wouldn't feel less of anyone who hasn't read it. But it moves me so much that I do not hesitate to recommend it to anyone who loves the novel.

The Green Mile, by Stephen King. It may be my favorite King novel, and my favorite novel ever, but this is the one I recommend to King neophytes, or readers with no love for the horror genre. There's some horrific stuff within, no doubt, as well as some supernatural mumbo-jumbo, but this is not a genre book in any real way, and is thus appropriate for those scared off by vampires, monsters, or other worlds.

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck. A good book for all (well, most, maybe) Americans to read, anyway - paints a devastating portrait of a particular historical moment and imbues it with complete and total relevance for our lives today.

Name three books you’ve never been able to finish and explain why.

Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. I), The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time Book 2), and Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders. All three share a common thread - they are remarkably dense. Long, detailed, with lots and lots of characters and places to keep track of. And they all defeat me, every time. The fault is mine, not theirs, but I just don't seem built for such beasts.

Name three books you want to read, but haven’t yet.
I'm always seeing books to add to the infinitely growing list of "books I want to read." Three recent additions: Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: A Year of Food Life (a memoir of her and her family's year of living off of the land in the Applachians); Stephen King's Blaze (I will always read King's stuff); and Dave Eggers' What Is the What? (an apparently mostly true story of a refugee from the Sudan).

Are there any books that you’ve loved, but been disappointed by the film/TV adaptation?
I could fill this up several times over with Stephen King adaptations alone. But for variety I'll go with The Shining (a movie that really squandered the potential in the novel), The Neverending Story (which truncated the novel horrifically, ending the story halfway through), and The Black Cauldron, which saw Disney take a very half-hearted step towards doing a more serious, less formulaic adaptation of an epic fantasy tale but in the end back away form any real changes.

Which books (apart from the Potter books) do you re-read the most?
I've already kind-of-answered this: Stephen King's It, Robert R. McCammon's Swan Song, and Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron.

Which books do you remember most from your childhood?
The aforementioned Prydain books by Lloyd Alexander, which I am rereading now. Oddly enough, in that today I read hardly any epic fantasy at all. But I adored these books as a young'un, and seemingly always had one of them out of the library.

Are there any books that you are proud to say you have read?
Not really. There are many, many books I'm immensely grateful to have found, or to have had recommended, but no one book I can point to as being "proud" of reading. In some countries, the act of reading may take the kind of courage one can be proud of, but not here, I'm happy to report.

Are there any books that you are ashamed to admit reading?
No. Bad books I regret having read, but I take no shame in reading fluff - I went through a period as a pre-teen of reading more movie novelizations than I can remember, but I feel no shame. And some were pretty good. (Come to think of it, I should try and track down that Goonies novelization).

Are there any books that have had a big emotional impact on you?
The aforementioned The Known World moved me deeply. But (and I'm cheating here) the piece of writing that moved me most was an article called "Higher Learning" by Gary Smith about a black basketball coach in Amish country. Each time i read it, it moves me to copious tears.

Until Whenever

Friday, July 06, 2007

The T&C 100 - 80-89

Continuing my countdown of my 100 favorite (not the best - my favorite) films.

89. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
As good as Jim Carrey is in this film, it's Kate Winslet who really makes the movie. She's adorable, frustrating, off-putting and real, and she just commands the screen whenever she's on it. Of course, it's the twisty, inventive, Moebius-strip screenplay that's the real star, but it's worth highlighting that all of the inventiveness and formal play with structure is in service to a sweet, tender, and all-too real romance, and that it's the success of that romance - that oh-so-old-fashioned story - that allow the film to work.
Favorite moment--When we see that initial meeting on the bus again at the end, and realize the full import of what we saw in the beginning. A sterling example of the "show the audience something at the beginning and then call it back at the end, changing its meaning through new information.

88. Apollo 13 (1995)
Sometimes the best strategy is no strategy - Apollo 13 works as well as it does because it eschews fancy subtexts, framing devices, or other structural sleight-of-hand to just tell us, in a very straightforward, direct way, what happened, trusting that the suspense inherent in the story (and the audience's awareness of the story's truthfulness) is all that is needed. Add in rock-solid, non-showy performances from Ton Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, and Kathleen Quinlan, and perfectly pitched and economically used filming in real zero-g and you have a great, old-fashioned film.
Favorite moment: The elation in mission control when they get the image of the safely-landed astronauts.

87. Chasing Amy (1997)
The only Kevin Smith film in which his stunning inadequacies as a director are masked enough to let his stylized, original, and funny voice as a screenwriter shine. Ben Affleck may have never been better and Joey Lauren Adams is great in her specificity - she never connected as a real "star" precisely because she's so real. I see-saw on whether or not the whole "I must sleep with my best friend" ending is clever or completely contrived, but the rest of the movie feels organic and whole in a way none of Smith's other films do.
Favorite moment: The ending. I'd imagine there were forces (maybe even from Smith himself) pushing for more closure, but, like The Sopranos ending, ambiguity was absolutely called for.

86. Jerry Maguire (1996)
Another movie I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to hate, but Cruise is very, very good here, as is Zellweger. And Crowe does a very god job of keeping the love story as pretty much b-plot, and making the real plot more about Jerry himself and his struggle to change. And any movie that lets Bonnie Hunt do what she does best is doing something right.
Favorite moment: The clumsy and awkward, very naturalistic, seduction on the front steps after Jerry and Dorothy's date.

85. Boogie Nights (1997)
What I love about this film is how it doesn't moralize or glamorize the porn industry, but just portrays it in a very matter-of-fact way, while not shying away from the effect on the psyche that being a porn actor must have. And the cast is great, especially Julianne Moore (but when is she ever not good?).
Favorite moment: The Wahlberg character's first time on screen, and the way Julianne Moore plays the moment.

84. Superman II (1980)
As much as I might bemoan some of the more regrettable things in this film (the cellophane "S," the indulgence of too much heavy-handed comic relief, the cop out of an ending), the things it gets right (the big brawl in downtown New York, the emotion invested in Clark's decision to give up his powers, Margot Kidder's performance, the too-awesome-for words moment where Superman finally bows to Zod, in total silence, and then we hear a lone trumpet play the Superman theme, and we see Zod begin to grimace in pain as a still-powered Superman crushed his (Zod's) now-mortal hand) totally make up for them.
Favorite moment: I think I described it just now.

83. The Forty-Year Old Virgin (2005)
Sweet, raunchy, hilarious, touching, joy-inducing - this film is everything so many comedies--especially romantic comedies--try to be. And Steve Carrell puts in a performance for the ages, fully inhabiting the awkwardness, shyness, and clumsiness of the character.
Favorite moment: Music is used as a metaphor for orgasmic joy as Andy and the cast erupt into an extended song and dance number.

82. King Kong (2005)
I admit openly that this makes me a philistine - but in what way is the original superior to this remake? Kong is more of an actual character. The action is more intense and suspenseful. The acting is superior. The dialogue is less stilted and more natural. Maybe the score isn't as good. But, seriously, what else isn't? I think there's an odd tendency to lionize earlier special effects as more "authentic" than modern effects, as if a small puppet posed and photographed thousands of times is a more valid, "real" way of creating the illusion of a giant ape than animating a 3D model of an ape on a computer and inserting it into the film. They're both fake. The Kong in the original wasn't real, any more than the CGI version. But the second does a better job of creating the illusion of a real giant ape (as it should - if filmmakers hadn't figured out how to do a better job in 70 years that would be pretty sad, no?)
Favorite moment: Kong falls in love with Naomi Watts. (And all of the reviews that complained about the unspoken oddness of an animal loving a human have never seen a dog and its owner. Love doesn't have to be sexual. The Naomi Watts character loved Kong, and he she, but in much the same way that a human loves a faithful pet. And part of what I love about the film is that it doesn't hesitate to treat this kind of love with respect and awe.)

81. Glory (1989)
I honestly believe that this film would be half of what it is without James Horner's brilliant score. That much-commented on moment when the Denzel Washington character is whipped, and we see a single tear streak down his otherwise stoic face would lose a lot of its power without such wondrous music behind it. This film is one that, for me, really highlights the power music can have in film.
Favorite moment: Just described it.

80. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)
The deliberate contrast drawn between the horrific violence that is a reality in our world and the dark and scary fantasy world of the little girls makes this movie. And del Toro's decision to not tip his hand, and not ever definitively tell us whether or not this fantasy world is real or not - and, by extension, whether or not the ending is triumphant or tragic - is the perfect one.
Favorite moment: The ending, with its juxtaposition of the tragic death of the little girl and her being received as royalty in the magic kingdom, and how neither reality is given favor over the other.

Until Whenever
Doin' the Friday Shuffle

1. "I'm a Man" - The Who - Thirty Years of Maximum R&B
The Who doing some old-school Blues.

2. ""Now that the daylight fills the sky" - Benjamin Britten - Peter Grimes
A sweet and hopeful aria above some chanted, lightly ominous choral background singing.

3. "Goodbye George" - Ann Reed - Eddie Griffin's Law and Order Mix
A bit of 'Nawlins, zydeco-sounding stuff, with some way too on-the-nose political lyrics for my taste.

4. "Broadway Baby" - Sondheim (sung by Elaine Stritch) - Follies in Concert at Lincoln Center (1985)
A deftly comic performance. Stritch gets more laughs with a single syllable than many singers can get with entire scores.

5. "Spread a Little Sunshine" - Stephen Schwartz - Pippin (Original Broadway Cast)
A sweet melody over some insinuatingly cynical and self-serving lyrics. An old trick, but a good one.

6. "Nothing Is Good Enough" - Aimee Mann - Bachelor #2
One of those songs where it's really the accompaniment I love, rather than the melody. That steady, resigned piano vamp just gets its hooks in.

7. "Auto Show" - Sondheim - Stavisky
Old-fashioned, twenties pastiche.

8. "The Playboy Mansion" - U2 - Pop
Not one of my favorite songs. I appreciate the intent, but at the end of the day, U2 is just a bit too earnest to pull off the laid-back air the song luxuriates in.

9. "The Kiss" - Philip Glass - The Hours
A haunting, sweetly sad score.

10. "Farewell, Angelina" - John Mellencamp - Rough Harvest
The highlight of this album of alternate takes and cast offs - a beautifully countrified rendition of a little-known Dylan song.

Until Whenever

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The T&C 100 - 90-100

Inspired by the AFI list and all the dialogue around it, I present the Tosy and Cosh 100 - Tosy and Cosh's 100 favorite movies. Please note carefully - these are not what I consider the "best" films ever. Nor are they the best of the films I've seen. They are my favorites. There are films even within the list that I'd rank differently if going just by quality. But in terms of my favorites, these are them.

100. As Good As It Gets (1997)
I know there's a lot of hate out there for this film, and Helen Hunt's Oscar for it, but I found it charming, funny, and engaging - three qualities I appreciate in a film. I thought Nicholson did a good job of portraying some of what that kind of disorder might entail (if not in the documentary sense pf "realism") and that the love story between him and the Hunt character was handled deftly - that is, never overdramatized. One gets the feeling at the end that these two probably won't really make it as a couple, and that that's OK - an ending not many big Hollywood romantic comedies can countenance.
Favorite moment--The Greg Kinnear character's epiphany, as he sketched the very fetching naked Helen Hunt.

99. Dead Again (1991)
This tightly constructed, very fun, very deliberately old-fashioned thriller starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson seems to be mostly forgotten these days, and that's a shame. It's a nicely twisty, robustly acted thriller whose final twist is as good as many of the more-commented-on twists of more recent vintage.
Favorite moment--The revelation of the twist at the end, which is handled very cleanly.

98. Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971)
Gene Wilder's performance here is one of my all-time favorite performances. He gets the tone, of off-kilter surreality and genuine heart, just right, by very deliberately being very, very stingy with the heart. And Hey! It's a musical! With some wonderfully sticky novelty melodies for the Oompa-Loompas and a great ballad in "Pure Imagination."
Favorite moment--Wilder's play acting at a physical handicap in when we first meet him. When he executed the somersault I always give out a little cheer.

97. Batman (1989)
As much as I love Batman Begins, it hasn't stayed with me enough (yet) to crack the list. And while there are pieces of the 1989 film I'll never love (the Prince stuff, the lack of a coherent plot), it has enough wonderful stuff (the set design, Michael Keaton's and Jack Nicholson's performances) to make up for it.
Favorite moment--It's cliched, but that first appearance of Batman. They nailed it.

96. Tootsie (1982)
Perhaps my favorite talking-head moment of the AFI special was of Dustin Hoffman remembering how much he learned by playing an unattractive woman, and how much it forced him to realize how he, as a man, had dismissed so many potentially wonderful women because they were unattractive. Honesty like that is rarely forthcoming from a Hollywood star. As for the film, it holds up so well because Hoffman's central performance is so committed and lived in, and never treated less-than honestly, and because the supporting cast is so good around the edges. I mean, if you think back - Dabney Coleman, Jessica Lange, Terri Garr, Bil Murray, Charles Durning, Geena Davis - was anyone not excellent in this movie?
Favorite moment--Dorothy's improvised reveal at the end. Hoffman plays the improvised part of it so well--you really believe he is making it all up off the cuff.

95. Parenthood (1989)
I just saw this again the other night, and was reminded of what a great job it did of being very, very funny and emotionally honest about the dynamics of being a parent and being part of a family. Which is not an easy mix to nail. (This relatively real and honest dynamic is with the exception of the dynamic between the Rick Moranis and Harley Kozak characters and their precocious genius daughter, which feels, in relation to the rest of the film, very forced and exaggerated.) And Jason Robards puts in one of my all-time favorite performances as the family's patriarch.
Favorite moment--Jason Robards' short scene with his character's young grandson, whose black sheep father is abandoning him. Watch the way Robards answers the kids questions:
Kid: My Daddy said he is going away.
JR: Yep.
Kid: Is he coming back?
JR: No.
JR: Would you like to stay here with us?
Kid: (Nods enthusiastically)
JR: Good.

94. Ghostbusters (1984)
Still the best sci-fi/comedy, not that that's saying that much. But the chemistry between Murray, Ramis, and Ackroyd is a joy.
Favorite moment: The first confrontation with a ghost in the ballroom. The three comedians really do a good job of playing the absurdity of it all with an appropriately skewed straight face.

93. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
Broderick has really never been better (I say that as someone who did not see The Producers on Broadway, however). The movie's such a canny blend of absurdism and more traditional teen-aged highjinks. It shouldn't work, but it does.
Favorite moment--Ferris' introductions to the audience at the beginning. Establishes the tone and lead right from the top.

92. The Breakfast Club (1985)
Probably not as deep as I thought it was at thirteen, but still a very well-written, well-constructed film. Given the near-unity of scene, this could almost be a play. I like that Hughes didn't feel the need to whitewash his characters too much - they are arrogant, jerky, selfish, immature, and assholes. They are teens.
Favorite moment--The sadistic battle between the principal (vice principal?) and Judd Nelson character. ("I own you.")

91. Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Morgan Freeman is divine, Hilary Swank is wholly convincing, and Clint Eastwood is as steady a center as comes. I know this officially makes me a philistine, but why Raging Bull is "great," and this "melodramatic," I simply do not understand.
Favorite moment--The look on Swank's character's face during her first fight.

90. Philadelphia (1993)
The film that made a world stand up and say "Oh! Tom Hanks can act!"I always liked that the real arc in the film is the Denzel Washington character's. And for all of the film's obviousness in being Hollywood's first big-budget AIDS film, it never shies away from the disease's reality. But it does shy away in showing any real love between the Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas characters, which will always be a serious mark against it.
Favorite moment: The last scene, scored to that gorgeous eulogy of a Neil Young song, "Philadelphia."

Until Whenever
The Cover Game

Haven't done this in a year. The game: What of your favorite artists' songs would you love to hear a certain singer cover? This edition's contestant: Elvis Costello, a true rock singer.

"Stay (Faraway, So Close)" - This almost sounds like an Elvis ballad all by itself.

Bob Dylan
Elvis had done at least one Dylan cover already ("You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"), but I'd love to hear him tackle some late-Dylan. Maybe "Tryin' to Get to Heaven Before They Close the Door."

"National Anthem" - Angry Elvis would have a ball with this.

John Mellencamp
"Minutes to Memories" - Some nice slower passages, a fairly rocking chorus, plenty of pathos.

Fiona Apple
"Shadowboxer" - Elvis would have a good time with that snaky melody.

Aimee Mann
"Driving Sideways" - A sidesliding melody Elvis would dig his teeth into.

The Beatles
"In My Life" - One of my favorite Beatles tunes, but I'm not a huge fan of John or Paul as singers.

The Beach Boys
He's already done God Only Knows," and that's in brutal honesty the only Beach Boys song I really care about.

Bruce Springsteen
He's done "Brilliant Disguise," but I'd love to hear him do the gentler "Valentine's Day."

Dire Straits
"Brothers in Arms" - The cliche choice, but a hard one to deny.

Neil Young
"Rockin' in the Free World" - Elvis really needs to cover this spiritual descendant of "What's So Funny? (About Peace Love, and Understanding)"

Paul Simon
"The Obvious Child" - I can somehow hear Elvis doing this. And it's good.

The Who
"Love, Reign O'er Me" - Give that Costello scream a workout.

"Under Pressure" - As good as he is, Elvis isn't really a fit for much of Queen' he's not inherently theatrical enough.

"I'm So Happy, I can't Stop Crying" - Elvis has shown a sure hand with country stylings before.

Tracy Chapman
"Behind the Wall" - A masculine interpretation of this bare-bones a capella heartbreaker would be tres intriguing.

Until Whenever
The Refuge of the Uninspired

A meme! Courtesy of Jaquandor, who tagged me but good.

INSTRUCTIONS: Remove the blog in the top spot from the following list and bump everyone up one place. Then add your blog to the bottom slot, like so.

1. The Urban Recluse
2. No Smoking in the Skull Cave
3. Electronic Cerebrectomy
4. Byzantium's Shores
5. Tosy and Cosh

Next, select five people to tag.

Anyone I would tag has already done it, I think. But for giggles:

1. What's Alan Watching
2. Swimming in Champagne
3. South Dakota Dark
4. Ramblin' With Roger
5. LeftyBrown's Corner

And, after what felt like unduly preliminaries, the questions:

What were you doing ten years ago?
Dealing with very early wedding planning stuff, as a newly engaged man.

What were you doing one year ago?
Looking forward to what would turn out to be a wonderful vacation to the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Five snacks you enjoy.
1. Good, warm, soft oatmeal raisin cookies
2. Frozen Charleston Chews
3. A bowl of fresh blueberries with a healthy dollop of Reddi-Whip on top
4. A thick and frosty coffee shake
5. Good, fresh pita and hummus

Five songs to which you know all the lyrics.
1. "Where the Streets Have No Name"
2. "Being Alive"
3. "Loving You"
4. "Edelweiss"
5. "Something Good"

Five things you would do if you were a millionaire.
1. Write more.
2. Travel (a lot more)
3. See more theater
4. Take the kids more places
5. buy more toys

Five bad habits.
1. Biting my nails.
2. Procrastination
3. General messiness
4. Rushing through tasks
5. A certain solipsism

Five things you like doing.
1. Swimming in the cool, clear creeks in New Hampshire
2. Going out for ice cream. So much better than eating it at home, no?
3. Going to the library/taking the kids to the library
4. Playing basketball (note to self: get in shape!)
5. Going out to a nice dinner

Five things you would never wear again.
Skipping. I really can't think of things I had to wear that I couldn't/wouldn't wear again.

Until Whenever