Monday, December 07, 2009

"Magic of the melancholy tear in your eye": Happy Birthday, Tom Waits

I walked into the little joint--more like a shed, something out back of a farmhouse, ramshackle leaning, door half-off in a half-smile--and someone was playing an old-timey phonograph--Victrola scratching her soft nails along my back, making me grin and shiver--but no, it was a real person singing--OK, not so much "real" as really imagined, a sight for sore eyes, skinny guy slouched at the piano, little hat on his head, something golden glinting in a glass always nearby--and I've stayed there for decades, and I can't tell you how often that fellow has made my throat catch and my eyes well up--and then he steps right up and I'm happy at last, knowing a little rain never hurt no one--"and the rain it raineth every day"--and he knows it, so he keeps singing, with that big smile and those sad eyes, pursing his lips at the naughty world, but ready to forgive it, down there by the train, blood money in our pockets--but we're innocent when we dream, he insists, and lets us off the hook--just long enough for us to slip out the back, Ruby still asleep, and take the long way home, all the way around the world.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Thanksgiving: Lou Jacobi, 1913-2009

I just read on Roger Ebert's website that Lou Jacobi died. Ebert reminds us of two of Jacobi's great roles: the cross-dresser in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex and the outraged Uncle Gabriel in Avalon--and for me that is the lasting image, the uncle standing there, railing at everyone for carving the turkey without him, the big shots out in the suburbs leaving everything behind--everything, not just him. It is a painful scene for me to watch, familiar from my own childhood--my grandparents in South Philadelphia, the Sicilian block with the water ice stand on the corner, little pieces of lemon rind in the sweet snow, sneakers hanging on the wires, the alley behind, the wine cellar below. But the older I grew, the less frequent the visits, until it was all suburbs, and no more Mifflin St.

Still, even after I was an adult and married, my wife and I would occasionally visit my grandmother, who slowly receded, tinier every month. The row house was the same, sweet-smelling in an old-wine kind of way. I remember going to the little glass-paned doors of her china cabinet, and opening it, just to catch the whiff of some long-gone brandy in the little cut-glass decanter, with a few abandoned Jordan almonds behind the nick-knacks and set of aperitif glasses, dusty pale pink and yellow and white.

So when Lou stands shouting in the suburban lane, tearing his garment over the effrontery of the thing, I hate him for ruining Thanksgiving for everyone--and ruefully thank him for showing us what it's like to fade away. Jacobi does it in style, not gently but with his eyes up, asking God if He can believe such a thing could happen to a family, whether it comes from Minsk or Pinsk or Enna.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Halloween Roundup 2009

[Note: I found the above version of "It's Halloween"--by those ever-lovin' Shaggs--on YouTube. Perhaps a few too many cats-in-costumes, but it has a REALLY scary ending; you've been warned, kiddies. Heh-heh-heh!]

Welcome, you little demons, to our third annual Halloween Roundup, an all-day (and into the wee hours of the night) marathon of cinematic scares. We start at noon with something for the kids, then Monster Mash our way to a hometown-tribute Midnight Special. So bring a Treat or pull a Trick, and join us this Saturday for a movie or two or three or four or ...

12:00 noon
Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)

You might want to bring a cracking good piece of Stilton to this (G-rated) Halloween entry in the stop-action animation film series that single-handedly redeems the expression "cheesy movie."

2:00 pm
Cloverfield (2008)

A movie whose home-video conceit and shaky-cam sensibilities work better on the small screen than in theaters. The plot: Young people just a little too nice for Real World: Brooklyn find themselves in a Godzilla movie.

4:00 pm
Suspiria (1977)

Is this Dario Argento's masterpiece? The epitome of Italian giallo murder-movies? A Technicolor excess-travaganza? Hitchcock for the delirious? Who cares? It looks great, and Jessica Harper is at her stupefying-'70s best.

6:00 pm
Drag Me to Hell (2009)

Every year we show one we haven't seen--not even the trailer. But I hear it's Sam Raimi doing a PG-13 impression of himself, Evil-Dead-style. Don't forget your Necronomicon; there will be a pop quiz--in which something might actually pop.

8:00 pm
Stir of Echoes (1999)

Kevin Bacon gets hypnotized at a party, then starts seeing Things. Nice mid-budget ghost-machine. Besides, afterwards you can go from Pam Grier or John Cleese--or from Peter Boyle or Burt Young--to Kevin with only one degree of separation. "Thank you sir may I have another!"

10:00 pm
Candyman (1992)

It's sexual politics are a bit icky, it's villain maybe verging on the racist, it's taste questionable. In other words, welcome to 1992, when '80s uncertainty met '90s desperation. Besides, it's Virginia Madsen's moment in the sun, and as good a version of a Clive Barker story you could want--sans Pinhead. Call it "A Poison Tree Grows in Cabrini-Green."

12:00 midnight
Strange Behavior (1981)

The companion piece to Strange Invaders, Michael Laughlin's two-movie homage to '50s SF-horror, sort of. Both pictures feature a combination of earnest appreciation and near-spoof--without falling too clumsily into either. And hey, this is the one about the psychological researcher doing terrible things to local college kids in a small town in Illinois called--oh, you guessed it: Galesburg. OK, so it was filmed in New Zealand(!). But it's heart--as well as various other organs--is in the right place: just a little to the left of the Hawthorne Center, and a hoot-n-holler away from Old Main. Midnight Madness, Knox College style.

Costumed Cut-Ups, Atlantic City:

"Hallowe'en" (1896)
Joel Benton

Pixie, kobold, elf, and sprite
All are on their rounds to-night,--
In the wan moon's silver ray
Thrives their helter-skelter play.

Fond of cellar, barn, or stack
True unto the almanac,
They present to credulous eyes
Strange hobgoblin mysteries.

Cabbage-stumps--straws wet with dew--
Apple-skins, and chestnuts too,
And a mirror for some lass
Show what wonders come to pass.

Doors they move, and gates they hide
Mischiefs that on moonbeams ride
Are their deeds,--and, by their spells,
Love records its oracles.

Don't we all, of long ago
By the ruddy fireplace glow,
In the kitchen and the hall,
Those queer, coof-like pranks recall?

Eery shadows were they then--
But to-night they come again;
Were we once more but sixteen
Precious would be Hallowe'en.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Rating Game Redux 47: "Foos-ball? Buncha overgrown monsters man-handlin' each other..." --Mama Boucher

I've been away a long time--trying to get the heck out of the 1920s on my other blog--the darn movie diary book. But I decided to get back into the "Rating Game" in our local paper with "Best Football Movies." And while Sunday is behind us, and it is no longer Bosstime, I figured I'd toss a Hail Mary and see who nabs it.

“Three Little Pigskins” (1934)
Pan-handling Three Stooges are mistaken for the “three horsemen of Boulder Dam” and promptly dismantle college football beyond all recognition. Academic highlight: Larry woos Lucille Ball in Pig Latin.

Bend It Like Beckham (2002)
Football, British-style, as a young Sikh defies her parents to play on a women’s soccer team. Maybe too easy in its mixture of feel-good sports comeback, grrl-power assertion, cross-cultural bonding, and love-won-and-lost subplot, but it’s an enjoyable hodgepodge, with more action in any five-minute stretch than twenty soccer matches.

Friday Night Lights (2004)
With Billy Bob Thornton in complete control of his character, and country star Tim McGraw as a father who peaked not when his son was born but when he received that high school championship ring, this is the Hoosiers of football movies—and that’s saying a lot. As much about the punishing pressure to win as it is about the nobility of playing, Friday Night Lights gives us a coach and team whose “heart is full.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Looking Backward: Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009

Robert Hughes points out that Wyeth's Christina's World is as ubiquitous a piece of Modern American art as Grant Wood's American Gothic--although the latter leans more toward the ironic, and I prefer the profound sentimentality of Wyeth's painting. I have a print of it in my dining room: I had given it away to someone dear, who framed it beautifully, and then dearly re-gifted it. We have not seen Karen for about twenty-five years, but her painting reminds me of her every day--and Christina models Karen a bit--and vice versa, the two of them taking turns in the field.

Christina's World resonates on the screen, as well. Two years ago I noted its influence on Terry Gilliam's Tideland--and every so often we can elsewhere see Christina sliding gently into view:

Ponette (1996)
The little girl's mother has died, and her tears blur her vision, until she finds herself wandering in a dream of grief and longing.

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Harold Crick hears the far-off sound of his own unreality, and stares into the middle distance, giving us the look that must have been on Christina's face.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1968)
Deaf and mute, John reaches out, and touches, but the returning hand brushes his cheek too softly for him to feel he can remain.

The Thin Red Line (1998)
Even Guadalcanal in 1943 provides Christina an opportunity to appear--and it isn't just the wind-swept fields, but Terrence Malick's lowering camera, finding small flowers, insects, the secret world thrumming on, almost inaudible, but thriving.

With Edward Hopper and William DeBernardi, Wyeth is among my most dependable visualizers of American spaces. Only one of them remains--still hale and hearty, Bill, knock wood three times--but so do the pictures, plain and deep and helping me see.

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