Monday, January 16, 2017

The River of No Return

This first time I saw Siddhartha (1972), I was in high school. I saw it with my high-school sweetie, a serious yet artistic young woman who shared with me an interest in Eastern mysticism (and hippie intellectual pretension - can't forget that). I remember it as being beautiful, sensuous, and rather silly. Although the sexy scenes did get our young blood pumping, and we found the cinematography and music lovely, we didn't feel like it was really deep, man. I kind of remember feeling sheepish for having enjoyed it.

I've had it on my Netflix queue for quite awhile, with Very Long Wait status. This week Netflix decided to serve it up, and I found myself actually eager to watch. In the end, I have to agree with my teen-aged self: It is beautiful and silly, and I sheepishly enjoyed it.

Siddhartha stars Shashi Kapoor as in the title role. He is a young Brahman man, living with his father at the time of the Buddha. He is bored with the quiet life, seeing his father go down to bathe in thr River Ganges everyday. He wants excitement, adventure - he wants to renounce all worldly possessions and go live with the wandering sadhus. Now, as a teenager, I guess I had no problem with this, but now it seems like renunciation isn't the obvious dream of most teen boys.

But then we see the sadhus hitting on the old ganja pipe and it all makes sense. (Remember, "ganja" is etymologically related to "Ganges". It's all connected.)

Siddhartha and his friend Govinda meet the Buddha, and Govinda takes the robe to follow him. But Siddhartha wants to follow his own path with no teacher, no master but himself. He decides to move to the town and tarry with a lovely courtesan, Simi Garewal. This big-eyed lovely introduces him to a merchant and gets him started on a life of business success and luxury, with some sweet loving inbetween.

Older and wiser, Siddhartha leaves his wealth behind to become an apprentice ferryman. The river carries everything to him, including the beautiful Simi and the son he never knew about. She has begun to follow the Buddha, and gets to see Siddhartha one last time, dying in his arms from a snakebite. It is a touching and, well, silly scene.

And so, life and the river flow on. A major theme is that the river returns everything to you, which is crazy - rivers are noted for going only one way, except maybe tidal estuaries. But I suppose that comes from the source novel by Hermann Hesse. There's a lot of the novel in this I think - at least I assume that's the reason that such a visual movie is so talky. At one point near the end, ferryman Siddhartha says, "I can love without speaking," and Ms. Spenser and I broke out laughing. You can't do anything without speaking, dude! You are the talkiest monk we've ever heard.

So, the mystic content of this movie is not flawless. The visual content, lensed by the great Sven Nyquist, is. The music, by Hemant Kumar, is also lovely, and I speak as one who does not particularly like the flute. So I am going to recommend this movie, if you don't take it too seriously.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

To Be or What?

Remember how I was kind of complaining that Shakespeare movies abridged the text too much, leaving out everything but the "quotes"? Kenneth Branagh's 4-hour Hamlet (1996) does not have that problem. It doesn't have another problem, common to the more complete filmed Shakespearean plays: It is not stagey, it is cinematically rich. This is pretty much the best movie Shakespeare.

It stars Branagh as the Big Ham, of course. Blenheim (pronounced "bleh") Palace plays Elsinore, and the Duke of Marlborough has a small role as Fortinbras' captain, I suppose as the bribe to get him to let them use the castle. Derek Jacobi is King "I" Claudius, and Julie Christie is Queen Gertrude. Throw in Brian Blessed as the Ghost, and some amazing small parts for Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Judi Dench. Gerard Depardieu, Richard Attenborough, and Jack Lemmon of all people, and you've got quite a cast.

I don't really know what else to talk about - Kate Winslet, perhaps, stands out as Ophelia, pre- and post-madness. Branagh intercuts some of Hamlet and Polonius' discussions with flashbacks to Hamlet and Ophelia naked in bed, so that subtext is made solid text. That might have been the only time he showed something no explicitly in the text.

I feel like this was an almost perfect Shakespearean movie - All that Shakespeare dialog, clear and understandable, filmed like a movie, not a play, looking as good as it sounds. Works for me.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blue Lunch


As part of my never-ending quest to find the elusive "Cosmo for boys", I present the Ice Blue. Sadly, it appears to be more pink than blue, so men will never accept it.

It is based on a nip of blueberry (or "blaberi") liqueur that Ms. Spenser's friend brought back from Iceland. I took a few sips and found it quite sweet, too sweet to drink alone. But not too sweet for a new cocktail.

With gin as my base liquor, I followed the "1 sweet, 1 sour, 2 strong" rule:

Ice Blue

1 jigger Gin
1 oz. lime juice
1 oz. Reykjavik Distillery Blueberry Liqueur

Shake over ice and strain.

Too bad that the color isn't right, but the taste is delicious.

In researching Iceland and the color blue, I did discover the Blue Lagoon, a hot springs near Reykjavik. It's local name is Bláa lónið, which translates as "blue sustenance" or "blue lunch". Not an auspicious name for a drink.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Better Shop Around

As our final bit of holiday cheer, we watched The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Directed by Ernst Lubitsch, it's full of great actors and "that Lubitsch touch".

It's set in backlot Budapest around Christmas, in a little luggage and knick-knack shop, where Jimmy Stewart is a clerk. One day, Margaret Sullavan comes in, looking for a job, and manages to get off on the wrong foot with Stewart. All the while they are quarelling, we know something that they don't - they are anonymous correspondents with each other, pen-pals. And they are falling in love on paper, while fighting when face to face.

If it sounds familiar to you, and you are not a classic movie fan, maybe it is because you saw the remake with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, You've Got Mail (1998). Or maybe the Judy Garland musical version In the Good Old Summertime (1948). But that's preposterous, we've already established that you don't watch old movies. Never mind - let's just say this movie was remade a few times. But this is the real thing.

It's partly Stewart and Sullavan, it's partly the supporting cast. The boss in played by Frank Morgan, the smooth-talking yes-man clerk by Joseph Schildkraut. William Tracy as the hot-shot delivery boy has several great scenes. But best of all is Felix Bressart, a drab little man with a big mustache and pince-nez glasses. He is a friend of Stewart's and a great philosopher, with a lot of the best lines.

In fact, one of our all-time favorite movie scenes is when Stewart is meeting his pen-pal for the first time, and asks to Bressart to look for her through the cafe window. He reports, "She's drinking coffee. She's taking a bit of cake." Then, shocked, "She's dunking!" Partly Bressart, partly the Lubitsch Touch.

That touch involves a sophisticated script that can be gentle and psychologically deep, but always exact and precise. The performances are all spot-on - it's great watching Stewart's face as Sullavan prattles on. I've read that her temper is as bad as her characters, maybe that's what makes her part so much fun.

And it all winds up on Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Movie Quiz!

Movie quiz time over at Dennis Cozzalio's place. It is administered by Professor Moriarty, so you know that it's diabolical. This is one of the harder quizzes, so prepare for some soul-searching.

1) Best movie of 2016
Bringing Up Baby, same as every year.

Just kidding. I'm going to interpret these as "___ movie made in 2016, that I saw in 2016, in my opinion". So my answer is Deadpool, or maybe The Nice Guys.

2) Worst movie of 2016
London has Fallen was loud, stupid, and humorless, but not in a good way. Gods of Egypt was also very stupid, but we liked that.

3) Best actress of 2016
Gal Gadot for 5 minutes of Batman v Superman. No, I guess Mary Elizabeth Winstead, from 10 Cloverfield Lane. Say, how come we didn't see more Scarlett Johansson this year?

4) Best actor of 2016
Might as well go all in: John Goodman, 10 Cloverfield Lane.

5) What movie from 2016 would you prefer not hearing another word about? Why?
Rogue One or Dr. Strange, because I haven't seen them yet and I'm avoiding spoilers.

6) Second-favorite Olivier Assayas movie
Have only ever seen Irma Vep, so Clouds of Sils Maria.

7) Miriam Hopkins or Kay Francis?
Kay Francis has an amazing, aristocratic look, but Hopkins could really play comedy.

8) What’s the story of your first R-rated movie?
I'll tell Ms. Spenser's instead: She went to see French Connection with older friends when she was only 15. When the ticket taker asked her what year she was born, she hadn't done the math, and was stuck saying "1955, uh, 54." The ticket taker looked at a mobbed-up looking guy chewing on a toothpick who was behind her (the manager?) who nodded, and she was let in.

And she laughed because she thought she had fooled them.

9) What movie from any era that you haven’t yet seen would you be willing to resolve to see before this day next year?
I was going to say, any movie on my Netflix queue, but there are some movies that have been on the list forever, and I've never felt like watching them. Mostly "difficult" movies. So, Rogue One or Dr. Strange.

10) Second-favorite Pedro Almodovar movie
Labyrinth of Passion. Number 1 is Women on the Verge.

11) What movie do you think comes closest to summing up or otherwise addressing the qualities of 2016?
Wow, I'm getting bummed out just thinking about this one. Pass.

12) Chris Pine or Chris Pratt?
I say Pratt, Ms. Spenser says Pine. Why argue when you can have both?

13) Your favorite movie theater, presently or from the past
Let me tell you about the movie theaters of old downtown Palo Alto (mid-1980s). First and funkiest, the Festival, which was really just a room in an office building. They played all the classics on a tiny screen, and the front section was floor pillows and beanbag chairs. I think it went back to being an office in 1985.

The Bijou was a small theater next to a great ice cream joint (Uncle Bunny's?). We saw Hammett there. The guy ahead of us asked for a ticket to Hamlet, and was disappointed when he found out what was really playing. It became the first Gordon-Biersch brew pub.

The New Varsity, on the other hand, was a great old picture palace, all Mission Revival, with a spacious courtyard at the entrance. It was a Border's Books for a while, until they folded. We saw a Gumby festival there, with Art Cloakey himself!

Finally, the Stanford. Smaller than the Varsity, it is still a fabulous Art Deco Egyptian temple of film, complete with a mighty Wurlitzer, on which an organist plays "Isn't It Romantic," the Stanford's theme song. It was restored by the David Packard Foundation. It is still operating, and we really should go more often.

14) Favorite movie involving a family celebration
The Addam's Family. Not that the party scene is my favorite part, but that wasn't the question.

15) Second-favorite Paul Schrader movie
Turns out I haven't watched one movie that he directed or wrote. Pass.

16) Ruth Negga or Hayley Atwell?
Since I haven't watched Agent Carter, I will say Ruth Negga, a striking young actor.

17) Last three movies you saw, in any format
Easy: Ms. Spenser wanted our brother-in-law to see Mad Max: Fury Road and Predators, so we watched those early on New Year's Eve.

New Year's Day, we found out that our mail was still on hold from our vacation, so we watched Dune from the DVD we own (sadly "widescreen" = letterboxed on all four sides). It was better than I remembered, especially as an adjunct to the book, not a standalone movie.

18) Your first X-rated, or porn movie?
Let me see - it was July 3, 1976. I was hitch-hiking to Ellsworth ME to celebrate the bicentennial Fourth of July with a friend, and I'd made it to Portland. Since it was getting too dark to hitch, I got ticket for the midnight bus, and had a few hours to kill. So I stopped in a porno theater to watch Sexual Practices in Sweden and some foreign murder mystery (Italian giallo?) with intercut teenage orgy scenes edited clumsily in. Maybe you know the one I mean - someone was murdering swingers, and the detective thinks his wife is the next victim, but he can't get to her because she is with her lover.

The midnight bus to Ellsworth took about six hours to go the 120 miles, hitting every little town, so I arrived after dawn.

However, I also saw a double-bill of Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door in Boston's Combat Zone, and that must have been before 1976, so maybe those were my first.

19) Richard Boone or Charles McGraw?
What the Hec Ramsey? Richard Boone!

20) Second-favorite Chan-wook Park movie
Can I say The Good, the Bad, and the Weird is my favorite Jee-woon Kim movie?

21) Movie that best encompasses or expresses loneliness
2001: A Space Odyssey is the first thing that jumps to mind. The cold, isolated astronauts are never explicitly called lonely, but what else would you call it?

22) What’s your favorite movie to watch with your best friend?
My best friend is, of course, Ms. Spenser, and we watch an old Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode about once a week. Favorites include Pod People or maybe Night of the Blood Beasts.

23) Who’s the current actor you most look forward to seeing in 2017?
We usually wait for movies, or sometimes directors, not actors. But, what the heck, Scarlett Johansson.

24) Your New Year’s wish for the movies
That I'll get to see some of the "Very long wait" movies in my Netflix queue, and maybe even some of the 120 from the "Saved" list.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!

We're back from vacation (and boy are our arms tired!), it's Jan 2, and time for my much-anticipated New Year's blog post.

I was at a New Year's party yesterday where the host introduced me to people as a cocktail blogger, which caused me to blush, and do a little soul-searching: How come I don't blog cocktails any more? Simple - I never go out and always drink margaritas at home. But I will throw in a 2016 liquor recommendation: Dorda double chocolate liqueur. It is very chocolatey and goes great in coffee!

But I'm also a film blogger, although a fairly poor one. I know I have readers, but I suspect they are in the single digits. And I use this fact to excuse the poor writing and shallow analysis that I get away with - who's reading anyway? But, heck, is blogging even still a thing? Several of the film blogs I read have withered away, like the monkey of myth. All the kids have gone to podcasts or vlogs or Snap-o-grams or what have you. But so what? This blog is on its tenth year, and I'm not going to stop now.

Or improve either, I guess.

Even though we've lost the Mythic Monkey, and the Self-Styled Siren hasn't posted since this summer, a few bloggers I read have written books that I bought and read last year. Farran Nehme, the Siren herself, wrote Missing Reels, a story about a lost silent film, but really about being a naive, broke, film-drunk Southern girl living in New York. It is charming and funny - not at all my usual think (SF or mysteries) but I enjoyed it a lot.

Josh Fruhlinger, the Comics Curmudgeon, wrote The Enthusiast, about train enthusiasts, comics enthusiasts, movie stars, and viral marketing. It's a little like a lighter, funnier William Gibson zeitgeist story. I recommend buying both - and get them in hard-cover. The author takes more if the money home.

Speaking of blogs, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule is doing another film quiz, so better get right one that! I might let the answers stand in for my New Year's lists.

OK, I'll mention a few films:
  • Best film of 2016: Bringing Up Baby, like every year.
  • Best Xmas film: The Thin Man. We'll be watching Shop on the Corner whenever the mail that we had stopped is delivered.
  • Fave 2016 films we watching in 2016: Either The Nice Guys or Deadpool. Probably Deadpool
  • Worst 2016 film that we liked anyway: Gods of Egypt.
  • First movie of 2017: Dune. I was surprised by how much I liked it this time. I hadn't seen it for a long while, and I'd forgotten how well Lynch handled the interior monologues and Herbert's dialog. Still not a good movie, in itself, but worthy as an adjunct to the books.
I'll end with a hearty greeting to all (or both) of my readers (or reader). Happy New Year's, have a cocktail and many happy movies!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Merry Christmas!

Even though Xmas is long past, it isn't time for a New Years post yet, so I'll put in a quick plug for our favorite Xmas movie: The Thin Man (1934). This class, udirected by W.S. Van Dyke (not S.S. Van Dine, who wrote the Philo Vance mysteries) stars the incomparable screwball couple William Powell and Myrna Loy. It's based on a story by Dashiell Hammett, but I don't think he put so much wit and sparkle into his version. The drinking might have been his, though.

Nick Charles, New York detective, has been living in San Francisco with his wealthy bride, Nora, but they have returned to New York for the holidays. The only case he wants to work on is a case of scotch. But a missing scientist (Edward Ellis) and his oddball relatives make that impossible. So he solves the case with the help of his dog Asta, without missing a drink.

There are great character actors like Cesar Romero, Ed Brophy, and Nat Pendleton, several wild parties, and great Christmas presents. But the best part is the ideal relationship between Powell and Loy, the greatest marriage in all cinema. "I do believe the little lady cares."

The 3 or 4 sequels are good too, although not as good. This was intended to be a one-off B-movie, made in 11 days on a shoestring. The cinematography showed a bit of flare, with some nice shadows, and background action that pays off in the next shot.

A lot of time, people use "classic" when they mean "black and white", but this is the real thing.

We thought about watching Shop on the Corner, but we'll save that for next week.