Monday, May 10, 2021

In Which Your Author Gets Stoned and Watches Moonstruck


  1. Cher is supposed to be 37 in this movie. That means I am already too old to find myself a Nic-Cage-In-his-prime of my own. This is definitely an appalling realization.                                                                                                                                                                   
  2. In a semi-related note, I never used to understand why Loretta was willing to settle for Johnny, who is a giant man-baby. The older I get, the more sense it makes to me.                                                                                                                                                                
  3. The character of Ronny is hilarious. I always missed it before because I was too busy being wowed by the pretty face and animal sex appeal, but his over-the-top melodrama absolutely kills me. I love it. He’s a filthy mess, with his hair a wreck, missing a tooth, yelling about how he needs THE BIG KNIFE, CHRISSY and yet would I? Oh yes indeed.                                                                                                                                   
  4. In every way Cage is overstated, Olympia Dukakis was understated. She was brilliant here. She nails the exhaustion and frustration. (Though frankly, I don’t see what ANYBODY sees in Cosmo. These two women are busy fighting over a whiny plumber.)                                                                                                                                                                    
  5. Everyone who won an Oscar for this deserved it. No discussion.                                                                                                                                                                                               
  6. That is some very 80s chest hair, Mr. Cage.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
  7. How is that shop assistant who is in love with Ronny going to react when she finds out he CAN in fact love again?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  8. These yuppies that Cosmo sold piping, are we supposed to think he's a good plumber?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  9. Seriously, what do people see in Cosmo? He is the goddamn WORST. Even Frazier’s dad is a better date.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  10. “Why don’t you go stand in front of your record player and listen to La Boheme at ear-shattering volume without even removing your coat, and I will immediately make myself at home in your kitchen and cook you food you did not ask for?” Loretta is also kind of a weirdo, tbh.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  11. Is every man in this movie SUPPOSED to be garbage? I mean, Ronny is hot garbage, but garbage nonetheless.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  12. He IS a wolf. Agreed, Loretta. You’re drunk and babbling, but he is a wolf.                                                                                                                                                                       
  13. “Where are you taking me?!” It’s a one-bedroom apartment, Loretta. There are not a lot of options.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  14. Holy balls...if my math is right, Cher was 41 when this was made, and Nic Cage was 23. You go, girl.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
  15. “Old man, you give those dogs another piece of my food, I’m gonna kick ya till you’re dead” is one of the greatest lines in cinema. I yelled an adapted version at an old man once who accosted me as I walked past the bench he was shitting on. (No. That is not a typo.)                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     
  16. Good Lord, this is an awkward dinner. The food looks great, but I’m guessing Uncle Raymond and Aunt Rita wish they’d gotten take-out instead.                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  17. Oh...the Twin Towers.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  18. I look forward to the day I get old enough to take my half dozen dogs out for a walk to howl at the moon in Italian. Note to self: learn Italian.                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  19. The next time someone says I’ve ruined their life, I can’t wait to respond with “it was ruined when I got here!” Note to self: ruin someone’s life.                                                                                                                                                                                                        
  20. The part where he says “I’m in love with you” like it’s a regrettably forgone conclusion and she slaps him and yells “Snap out of it!” is just *chef’s kiss.*                                                                                                                                                                                       
  21. Uncle Raymond and Aunt Rita are the true #RelationshipGoals of this film.                                                                                                                                                                             
  22. Someday I’m going to go to the Met. Not because I like opera, but because I love this movie.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  23. Cher sure was beautiful.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
  24. Am I supposed to believe that Ronny owns a tuxedo? Is he THAT MUCH of an opera lover that he goes often enough that he owns his own tuxedo? If not, did he go out and buy one that afternoon? Did he rent it?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
  25. The most unrealistic part in this whole film is that Ronny notices that Loretta had her hair done. The fact that he mentions it is how I know this movie is meant to be magical realism or something.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
  26. Cosmo deserves every terrible thing that happens to him. And his goomah is tacky as all hell (I like her style, but let’s be honest, I’m also tacky as hell).                                                                                                                                                                                              
  27. Good on Olympia Dukakis for taking herself out to dinner, but is there only one restaurant in their neighborhood? She’s got the night to herself...does she not long for the exotic? Like burritos?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
  28. And why does Frazier’s dad keep coming back there? Does he have some kink about being watched by a crowd as a much younger woman throws a drink on him and storms out? Could he not do that in other restaurants? If I was part of a scene like that, I’d be too embarrassed to go back to that restaurant again. In fact, I’d probably have to move.                                                                                                                                                 
  29. In the timeframe of the film, he did this exact same thing literally two days ago. Why aren’t the waiters like “Dude. Again?” This is why I think he must do it all the time...and he must tip really well.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
  30. Does the Met really have a man with a cape who plays the xylophone to announce intermission is over? Well, now I not only have to visit, but I also have to see at least half a show.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
  31. You know, I’d forgotten how much of the story is the other members of the family, and not just Ronny and Loretta.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  32. That look...the “Hello there! I have no idea what's going on, I’m just so happy to be here! With Loretta!” look Ronny does when they run into Cosmo SLAYS me.                                                                                                                                                                             
  33. I feel like Olympia Dukakis is going to be glad she turned down Frazier’s dad, because when she sees him doing a scene with an undergrad in the middle of her favorite restaurant the next time she’s in there, she’ll be reassured he’s a giant idiot. Because they both go there all the time. Because it’s the only restaurant in the neighborhood apparently.                                                                                                                             
  34. I understand how it could definitely be argued that Loretta made the wrong choice there...but GODDAMN do I understand why she made it. I’m pretty sure if anyone with those cheekbones ever looked at me like that and said “Get in my bed” I’d move so fast there would be a sonic boom.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
  35. It’s really good that Johnny and Ronny’s mother recovered—otherwise everyone else would seem like very insensitive people.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  36. The look on both Olympia and Cosmo's faces: “Oh God. My daughter is going to marry a moron. This is terrible.” No one is happy to see Johnny when he turns up, poor guy.                                                                                                                                                                    
  37. Wait. Did Ronny put his full tux BACK ON after their night of passion? Because a night of passion is implied, but why would a man put his entire outfit from the night before back on IN HIS OWN HOUSE?! I will never be able to unsee this continuity error. And his neighbors must love the wailing opera record at the crack of dawn.                                                                                                                                                                             
  38. Oh, okay, so maybe he got dressed again with the intention of going after Loretta...but how did he find her house? Did he just go knocking on doors asking “Is Loretta home?” until he found someone who was like “You’re looking for the Castorinis—they live over on the corner of Cherrywood”? Or did he follow her somehow? That’s sorta creepy.                                                                                                                                                                    
  39. MY GOD, THE CHEEKBONES IN THIS FILM                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
  40. Is he trying to be a dick, or does he REALLY want oatmeal? The beautiful thing about Nicolas Cage’s performance here is that it’s so hard to tell.                                                                                                                                                                                                
  41. I love that Uncle Raymond and Aunt Rita show up in the middle of the Awkward Olympics, and instead of taking their bag and going, they’re like “Something exciting is about to happen, we should definitely stay. Ooh, coffee!” Maybe they actually enjoyed the dinner of extreme awkwardness? Maybe this is what they do for entertainment?                                                                                                                                                       
  42. She didn’t make RONNY kneel to propose. Hmmmmmm...                                                                                                                                                                                               
  43. Okay so: conclusions. This movie is still very silly, and no one in it has a clue about informed/enthusiastic consent, but I still adore it.                                                                                                                                                                                                               
  44. Uncle Raymond and Aunt Rita are my favorite Not-Nicolas-Cage characters.                                                                                                                                                                          
  45. Cher is #LifeGoals.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

"Are you there, Satan? It's me, Madison" - CBR13 #3 - Damned by Chuck Palahniuk

 Thirteen-year-old Madison Spencer--the chubby,  precocious, pampered daughter of two of Hollywood's brightest stars--discovers one day that she has died (of a marijuana overdose, of all things!) and is now in Hell. Hell, as it turns out, is just as gross as one would expect but significantly more boring. Determined to make the best of it, Madison finds some equally damned friends and begins her quest for something that perhaps resembles meaning?

As with all Chuck Palahniuk books, I'm not entirely sure whether I liked it. It was super weird, obviously. The premise started out weird and definitely spiraled out from there. However, that's really to be expected with any of his books. There are some sections with sexual content that actively squicked me out, so be warned.

I liked the character of Madison a lot. Her voice was strong, though I sometimes struggled to remember that she's supposed to be 13 (she comments a lot on her own vocabulary use, reminding the reader often that she is THIRTEEN not STUPID). While I enjoyed her pop culture references, there was a certain part of me who found the whole thing a bit unbelievable for someone her age. 

All of Palahniuk's usual quirks were present: repetition, gross-outs, unexpected twists, playing with familiar tropes, an unreliable narrator--and I liked them just as much as I usually do. I'm pretty sure that Chuck Palahniuk is one of those authors whom readers either REALLY LIKE or REALLY DON'T and there's not a whole lot of grey area in between.

While on the whole there was nothing particularly "new" here, there were some sections that really spoke to me, especially a chapter in which Madison deals with the collapse of her own image of herself. Her musings on what to do when it turns out the persona you've built and invested in over the course of years is suddenly shown to be inaccurate were super relevant to me.

I also love The Breakfast Club more than is reasonable, so when she collects a princess, a nerd, an athlete, and a criminal I may have cheered just a little bit.

On the whole, I'd say that this is probably not a book I'd recommend to someone who doesn't know already whether they like Palahniuk (for that, I'd probably point them toward Survivor or perhaps Fight Club) but I definitely would say I'm glad I read it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

CBR13 #2 - A Book of Luminous Things - Edited by Czesław Miłosz

 I don't think I've read a poetry anthology since college -- and even then, I mostly just read the poems we were studying and ignored both the commentary and all the other poems. A Norton Anthology of Poetry can be a very intimidating book, after all.

I didn't actually intend to read one this time, either. However, I happened to come across a poem by Eastern European poet Czesław Miłosz which I liked, and when I googled him I discovered he'd edited this anthology. I figured it might be nice to branch out and experience some new poets, so I picked it up.

When I started reading, I really appreciated what Miłosz had to say about the poems, why he'd included them, and how they related to each section of the anthology. He had some really great stuff to say about how poets over the centuries relate to nature, and why he like and had selected each poem. The selection leaned pretty heavily on Eastern European and ancient Chinese poets, but since I really like EE poetry and don't have a lot of experience with ancient Chinese poetry, I figured that would be a nice broadening experience.

After a while, I began to wonder if maybe Miłosz should have just done an anthology of Chinese poetry instead.

Still, I read on.

Then there came the chapter entitled "Women's Skin" which was ostensibly about women. 

Except only maybe a third of the poems were BY women. And of those that were, Miłosz was...somewhat uncomplimentary? As I read, I began to get a very distinct feeling that Miłosz was not super fond of women, or very interested in their work. His little descriptions and notes about the poems felt almost snide in their dismissiveness. 

After that, while I finished the book, I no longer trusted or appreciated Miłosz's observations.

It's a shame because I really did enjoy some of the poems. I probably would still even enjoy Miłosz's poems, but there are other places to find those. 

I would not recommend this book -- if you're interested in Chinese poetry from the 700s, you could probably find an anthology by a Chinese author that would be better, same with the modern Eastern European poets. 

Sunday, January 31, 2021

CBR13 #1 - Psychedelicate: The Luckiest Guy Alive by John Cooper Clarke

 So it's been a while, but it's never too late to try and get back into the swing of things. Every year is a new opportunity to try and do the Cannonball Read.

I started out with a book by British poet John Cooper Clarke. I've seen Clarke several times as the Dictionary Corner guest on 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, and I always really enjoy him. It took me a while to get one of his books, though, since it seems that his focus is mostly in spoken word performance rather than published work. This turns out to make a lot of sense because his poetry absolutely BEGS to be read aloud. There is something about his word choices and the way he strings them together that I find extremely enticing. 

The poem above, for example--the sound of the line "A rather dissolute but not yet destitute suit" and the way those words work together, combined with the repetition of the "oot" sound throughout is fantastic. Briscoe was not as impressed with my renditions--I will admit that my attempts at Clarke's accent were a massive failure--but I found speaking the words out loud really enhanced my experience.

Not all the poems are as good as this, of course. There are one or two that read as mildly homophobic or transphobic (nothing outright, really, but I noticed regardless) and some that I maybe don't get because they're more specific to Britain. However, for the most part, I enjoyed this little book quite a lot. His sense of humor is biting and slightly dark, which suits me right down to the ground, and his way of playing with language is

On the whole, I'd recommend this to anyone who enjoys modern poetry, though I'd also suggest searching out some recordings of him performing his own work as well, since that's the way it's really meant to be consumed.

I'll end with one of his haikus:

No 1

To freeze the moment

In seventeen syllables

Is very diffic

Sunday, August 16, 2020

In Which Your Author Gets Stoned and Watches "Vera Cruz"

 So today I decided the best use of my time would be to take an edible and then liveblog this 1954 tale of the Mexican Revolution.

Here are the results. 

Cooper’s kind of a stuffed shirt, but Lancaster is 🔥

Ohhhh, Cooper’s not a stuffed shirt, he’s just DRY.

This film continues to improve. Jack Elam is in it!

Ooh, also Ernest Borgnine!

Is that a very young Charles Bronson?

Wow, research suggests Gary Cooper was kind of a dick in real life. Then again, research also suggests he was on so much pain medication when this movie was shooting that his didn’t work, so I guess I can see why he might be crabby.

Did tooth bleach exist in the 50s? WTF was Burt Lancaster doing to make his teeth look like that? They practically glow in the dark. 

Oh noooooo, they brought in one Black guy, just to use him for a racist dance bit?!

I’m starting to think I’m not actually supposed to be rooting for Burt here. Oops. 

Oh, Cooper’s not dry, he’s just an asshole. 

This is like a very, very slow heist movie. It could definitely use more chase scenes. I hope later there will at least be some explosions.

I can’t tell if Lancaster’s supposed to be so, I get that he’s an anti-hero scoundrel type, but the line between “charming jerk” and “dangerous sociopath” is getting a little smudgy here. 

Hooray, there’s another racist dancing bit. 

Okay, so upon investigation it turns out that Archie Savage (who plays the Black Union soldier Ballard here) was a “pioneer of African-American dance.” I guess that sort of explains all the dancing? But, like, why is this character there? I’m obviously not saying they shouldn’t have a Black dude in the movie, but like...they didn’t HAVE to—this was the 50s—so what is the purpose of adding this character? The dancing feels like a weird turn in tone every time it happens. 

Cooper’s character would be a lot more sympathetic if he were a former Union soldier, rather than a former confederate being sad about his lost plantation. 

Seriously, those teeth! Were they using ultraviolet radiation on them?

This is like the anti-slash as far as manly man films go. Unlike Wayne and Mitchum in El Dorado, there is NO sexual energy between these two at all. Well, Lancaster is shooting sexual energy everywhere indiscriminately (but it’s verging on rapey, kind of?) while Cooper is resolutely anti-sexual. If “plexiglass bathtub” were a sexuality, then that’s what Cooper’s got going here. 

This bit where the characters more or less come right out and say “I am double crossing everyone!” directly to the camera before a cut-away is...not subtle. 

I’d kind of like the two women to shoot Cooper and Lancaster and then run away with the money. Doubt that’s going to happen, though. I suspect Cooper will somehow come out on top. His romantic subplot will most likely be pleased to be finished with those terribly awkward, passionless, lip-squishing kisses he keeps planting on her. 

This bit where Lancaster is freshening up in front of the fancy French lady is deeply unsettling. Worse, I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be. I’m not sure whether the original audience of the time would consider it “charming rogue” or “secret serial killer.” I’m still uncertain if I should be rooting for his character, or if the fact that I pick him over Cooper is indicative of a character flaw on my part. 

Oh, well now of course he’s slapping the fancy French lady around, as you do. 

So probably meant to be unsettling, then. Well, but now she's kissing him, so it could still be charming rogue territory? After all, there's a perfectly acceptable Dean Martin/Nat King Cole song from the same year that advocates slapping your wife into submission (in a very swingy way, of course) if she gets annoyed with your gambling or reckless spending. (I really liked "Open Up the Doghouse" until I actually listened to the lyrics.) It was a very different time.

“I don’t trust him. He likes people and you can never count on a man like that.” Fair enough, Burt. But DOES he like people? Because so far, in this film, the main indicators that he likes people are that he 1. Shot a horse 2. Did not think that massacring a group of children or raping a lady in the main square were acceptable behaviors. Apparently, the threshold for "liking people" in Lancaster's world is very low.

This movie is awful. 

I think maybe I’m rooting for the Juaristas?

Nope, Lancaster is definitely the bad guy. I mean, aside from the French. 

At least I'm finally getting the explosions I wanted.

Yay! Macho bullshit seems to have proved fatal. 

Wait, why is Cooper crying? Clearly, I’ve missed something. This ending is both anti-climactic and baffling. 

I can see why the Mexican government got so mad about this film they insisted any movies shot there in the future make the Mexican people look good. They do not come off well here, is what I’m saying. 

The French don’t come off super well either, to be honest. 

In fact, pretty much everyone in this movie is awful, except maybe Gary Cooper, who is both awful AND self-righteous. 

So when it comes down to films about running dangerous errands during the Mexican Revolution, I’m going to declare Two Mules for Sister Sara the undeniable winner. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

"Shut up, Han Solo." Hide and Creep Redux and For A Few Zombies More

Many years ago, while aimlessly surfing through the offerings of dubious quality on OnDemand, I ran across a little movie called Hide and Creep. It's about a little town in Alabama called Thorsby, and how the zombie apocalypse begins there. It's clearly a very VERY indie production--the special effects were...not great, the cinematography was pretty amateur, and it was quite obvious that the majority of the cast were likely friends/family of the filmmakers. However, the script was funny, the main characters were pretty likable, and I admired the clear DIY spirit and enthusiasm. You could say it reminded me very strongly of Clerks, but with zombies, right down to the slacker video store owner and pop culture rants. On the whole, I liked it.

And then, as they say, some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.

It didn't take me two thousand years, but the other day the movie popped into my head for whatever reason. I thought I should look it up and rewatch it, just for old time's sake.

To my great delight, it turned out the movie had a SEQUEL!

Hide and Creep was released in 2004, and in 2015, the same writer and director (and star, and's a very small company) released a sequel called For a Few Zombies More.

For a Few Zombies More takes place ten years after the events of the original film. Video store owner Chuck has adapted the slacker life to zombie times, spending his days roaming the countryside trying to track down movies, as part of a "preservation project." While out one day, he meets a mysterious young woman, who's on a mission to rescue a scientist who might have the secret to creating a zombie vaccine. Soon, they run into other characters with other missions, and eventually wind up returning to Thorsby for a climactic showdown with a shadowy figure called "The Chief." Along the way, they make some allies and some enemies, fight some zombies, and debate the nature of society and what the zombie plague says about humans (a debate Chuck very firmly does NOT wish to engage in.)

I saw some of the twists coming, but that could be because I watched Hide and Creep immediately before. In general, though, I enjoyed it a lot. I still am very fond of Chuck's character (he's like a southern Randal) and also enjoyed The Woman With No Name. The plot moved along, and there was enough tension to keep me on the edge of my seat most of the time. The villains were appropriately unpleasant, though I thought maybe there was a little more gratuitous toplessness than really necessary. They also clearly had a much larger budget for special effects, since the zombies were much more impressive this time around. I did think the tone was darker than the first movie--while there were funny parts, I felt that this had a more cynical attitude. It also had a banging punk soundtrack, which I appreciated.

On the whole, while I'd say these movies are probably not going to push George Romero off his throne as the king of zombies, they were a lot of fun, and obviously a passion project for the cast and crew. Both are currently available free on Amazon Prime, and are a fun way to spend a humid afternoon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Going off the rails on a creepy train: Breakheart Pass

As we've previously established, I like old movies, and old action movies are probably my favorite. Yesterday, I watched Breakheart Pass, which is from 1975, but set out west sometime in the late 1800s. The basic plot is that Charles Bronson is a wanted man who gets picked up by a US Marshal in a small western town. The marshal decides to take him by train to the nearest fort to face justice. The two of them board a train headed to the fort, along with a bunch of other passengers and a group of soldiers.

Then, of course, havoc ensues.

1. Charles Bronson was kind of weird looking. I don't know if it's the haircut or the mustache or what, and it's not helped by the giant, weird fur coat he's rocking here. I mean, the man's a decent actor and a good action star, but man...not attractive.

2. This has some strong Murder on the Orient Express vibes, as well as a little bit of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, in that you've got a group of people trapped on a moving train, almost none of whom are who they claim to be, and they're dropping dead at an alarming rate.

3. It took me quite a while to figure out what was going on, and who was responsible. I was frankly sort of impressed since I'm usually pretty good at ferreting out plot twists.

4. I was glad the romantic subplot remained very very sub. I kind of thought it was downright yikes due to the age difference, but the main actress (aka one of only two women in the entire movie) turned out to be 39 and not 22 so it wouldn't have been SO off. (Bronson was 54 at the time.) Um, further research tells me that she and Bronson were married when this was made. FURTHER sidenote--she was also married to Ducky from NCIS, and he introduced her to Bronson while they were making The Great Escape. Oops. She once famously said that the reason she was in so many Charles Bronson movies is because no other actress would work with him. I hope she was joking.

5. There's a pretty good fight on top of a moving train car. There's also some decent explosions.

6. Because this is a western, there are some Indigenous people. They are on the side of the villains, but they're not particularly terrible. Also, the actor playing the chief was actually Lakota, and not some Greek guy they painted brown, so kudos there, casting department.

7. On the whole, I liked this one. Not enough to watch it again, but enough to say if you enjoy 70s action movies, this one is worth your time.

In Which Your Author Gets Stoned and Watches Moonstruck

  Cher is supposed to be 37 in this movie. That means I am already too old to find myself a Nic-Cage-In-his-prime of my own. This is definit...