Tuesday, May 10, 2005

MIDNIGHT, AND THE KITTIES ARE SLEEPING... On Beyond Mother's Day


Well, Patty and I managed to make some time for ourselves this Mother’s Day weekend. Our oldest daughter (she's five) went for her first sleepover— we dropped her off at 2:00 p.m., but she only made it till about 9:30 p.m. before we got the rescue call. But during those seven or so hours we did manage to smuggle some sandwiches in and see The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Patty, the bigger Douglas Adams fan (she’s read all five books), thought the movie did a good job of capturing what she suspected might be largely uncaptureable about the books— she gave director Garth Jennings and company a 65% success rating. I felt it worked even better than that, so the two of us had a very enjoyable afternoon at the movies indeed. Now, if only the sandwiches— Vietnamese roast pork and Filino adobo-- had been a little easier to eat in the dark…

Mother’s Day itself was very low-key. The girls jumped into bed with us around 8:00 a.m., watched Patty open her Mother's Day gift, and then jumped on top of her and tickled and hugged her into submission until she had no choice but to understand just how much they loved her. (Given my size, relative to all the rest of the living beings in my house, I chose a subtler tack and showered her with iTunes gift cards.) Our day culminated with a happy dinner for us all at a very welcoming favorite British steakhouse in Pasadena. I had halibut in a delightful lobster sauce, and I couldn’t help thinking, as we passed the hostess on our way out, “So long, and thanks for all the fish”…

I even managed to catch up on some DVDs that have been lurking around the house for a while, on loan from very generous friends who are easily as lenient with their return policies as Netflix. Sunday night Patty started reacquainting herself with a certain space opera in preparation for this coming Memorial Day, while I sat back and relaxed with Anthony Mann’s The Far Country and Dziga Vertov’s Man With the Movie Camera. The Vertov was every bit as invigorating and exciting as I recall from my college days— the conceit of this silent film is to create a visual symphony of a day in a Russian city in 1929, without use of title cards, based on the observations of a Man with a Movie Camera, who we frequently see ostensibly recording the images we're seeing. I’m amazed at the editing techniques on display in this movie, with not an Avid in sight (not for 60+ years or so), as well as its playful visual imagination-- it's a fascinating 68-minute trip that I recommend to anyone who loves the movies, and the life they can capture, preserve and shape.

But I must admit a slight disappointment in the Mann western. Don’t get me wrong— it was perfectly well-made and compelling, but set against the other psychological westerns he directed with Jimmy Stewart— Winchester ’73, The Man from Laramie and especially The Naked Spur and the flat-out brilliant Bend of the River, I felt a bit of a let-down with this one. I was expecting a further dimension from the characters that I didn’t get-- too many of these men and women seemed delivered direct from the Folksy Stock Department, and the plot was, I felt, a little on the routine side. That said, it still stacks up better than most westerns of its period, and I loved the sexual chemistry between Jimmy Stewart and good/bad girl Ruth Roman, who was almost always better than her roles,Strangers on a Train notwithstanding. It's just next to these other Mann offerings that it pales.

And finally, the friendly folks at Netflix made available to me Vera Drake for my Saturday evening’s entertainment. Let me tell you, that Mike Leigh is a corker! This one was every bit as frothy and feel-good as I expected! Seriously, Imelda Staunton is very, very good in what I felt was a very convincingly lived-in, yet at the same time somewhat frustrating movie. Leigh’s refusal to contextualize Vera’s deeds much beyond a slight hint at her past, and the character’s own refusal to speak up for herself or rail even slightly against the situation in which she ultimately finds herself, makes the movie feel simultaneously alive and constricted. The experience of viewing it is uncomfortable, but not always in the way I suspect the director intended. It is, however, very much worth seeing, as a showcase for some very good actors in a series of sharply observed, non-ostentatious settings and scenes, and as an example of how to make a political film that is, for all intents and purposes, deceptively disguised as an simple period character study.

Okay, so that was the weekend. I left the blog alone because I couldn’t get my picture-sharing program to work and because, frankly, my arms and fingers and back are sore from typing and I wanted a bit of a break. Now that I’ve had it, I’m looking at a potentially big week for posts on this site, and I’m hoping I can stick to my schedule and bring them to you in a timely manner. It’s going to be time to revisit The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou soon (the Criterion DVD comes out today), and I wanted to talk briefly about Oldboy, which I finally saw last weekend, before no one cares to hear anything more about it. But more importantly, this week should see light on an article I’ve been ruminating on for a few weeks now regarding baseball movies, as well as some thoughts and projections about upcoming summer releases. And I did manage to score a ticket to see the last screening of Los Angeles Plays Itself at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood tonight, so I hope to be able to report on that extensively and tie it in with some final comments about the whole Movies About Los Angeles discussion. That’s a pretty full plate, but it’s all stuff I’ve been champing at the bit to get finished for a while now, so I’m hoping that my ambitions don’t overwhelm my stamina and/or the time I have available to write this week. (I’m also hoping that by mentioning my ambitions out loud I might more easily be able to see them through.) I’ve had a few days off, refreshed by family, fun and films, and now I’m ready to go! Let’s see what happens…

1 comment:

blaaagh said...

'Bout damn time you got some down-time, I say! And happy Mom's day to yer Missus. Somehow this gentle portrait of a quiet Mother's Day weekend was just what I wanted to read today...thanks. (I want to see "Man With a Movie Camera" now, too). And it must've been something in the air this past weekend: I actually sat around and relaxed for a good portion of it, too. The rain here probably was a factor.