March 2005 Archives

orpheus

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March 26 movie: Orpheus. This is another one of those "I can't believe I hadn't seen this yet" movies. I watched it with my dad last weekend in DE. It was arty, poetic, perhaps pretentious, but beautifully made, and I enjoyed it a lot. My dad explained that the messages Orpheus hears over the car radio were much like coded instructions the British government sent to French resistance fighters during the war. Which, in a way, I'm sorry I know. It made the messages seem less surreal and poetic.

dance, fools, dance

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March 24 movie: Dance, Fools, Dance. Joan Crawford plays a socialite whose father loses everything in the stock market crash and then (in)conveniently dies. Crawford cheerfully takes a job as a reporter and plays happy homemaker for her indolent brother, who ends up selling bathtub gin for a gangster (Clark Gable) who forces him to commit murder. I thought from the title this was going to be a fun, sleazy romp like Our Dancing Daughters but it was actually sordid and depressing. No one even says the title during the film!

the women

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March 23 movie: The Women. I was concerned that the realization that Norma Shearer isn't a very good actress would diminish this movie for me. But no worries, I still loved it just as much. Shearer basically plays the same character in every movie, but since this is the first Shearer movie I ever saw, they all seem like Mary Haynes, her character here.

before sunset

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March 22 movie: Before Sunset. What an amazing movie. I think Lisa is right that it's even better than the first one. Maybe because this one happens more or less in real time, which better suits the unstructured nature of the movie. I love the easy rapport of the principals, and the dialogue is pitch perfect. I hate when the people in movies sound like fictional characters: too clever, too dramatic, always talking in quips and grand moments. But these characters sound like real people talking. Getting to know each other again, maybe not liking every single thing but falling head over heels anyway.

duck soup

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March 21 movie: Duck Soup. I think this is the Marx Brothers' greatest work. Others have equally funny moments, for instance the battle in the classroom in Horsefeathers is possibly my favorite individual scene. But Duck Soup is the most consistently brilliant, for my money. The plot and musical interludes don't slow the movie down as much as sometimes happens, and the pace of the jokes is nearly perfect.

royal wedding

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March 20 movie: Royal Wedding. I love this movie! It's a later Fred Astaire movie, in some slight way inspired by real life: Fred plays half of a brother-sister dancing team (with Jane Powell) in London for the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Fred and Adele Astaire did get their start in London, and I think they might have been there for the wedding of Elizabeth's father, George VI (then the Duke of York).

The plot is totally forgettable, but this movie includes some of my all-time favorite Astaire dance numbers, including the one with exercise equipment/coat rack, and the dancing on the ceiling number. I'm also very fond of the songs "You Know You've Been a Liar" and "I Left My Hat in Haiti," although in both cases Powell's weakness as a dance partner holds Astaire back. But the songs are both fantastic.

things that make me happy

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  • borrowing Georg's car and driving around all morning
  • getting my own car back, with the big problem fixed and all kinds of little things too
  • making an easter basket for my sister
  • having the heat off and the doors open
  • fixing the script that posts photos from my phone
  • bees!

car update

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Well they thought it was the spark plug wires, which they replaced and also gave the car a tune up. When all the work was done, the mechanic took UMJ out for another test drive. At which point it died and had to be towed back to the shop. Better him than me is all I can say.

Now they're going to replace the distributor. They had to order one, which will arrive tomorrow mid-day. They expect to have the car ready by end of day tomorrow, but I erred on the side of caution and reserved a rental car anyway. I'd much rather be in my own car, but there isn't time for me to drive it around and make sure the problem really is fixed. If it isn't, I don't want to find that out on an isolated stretch of I-85 out of cell phone range.

Besides the mounting bills (close to $800 at this point, not including the car rental) this will make 4 days without a car. Well, I did have my car on Tuesday but all I did was limp to the office and back, I was afraid to stop anywhere. I have so much to do before I go and I'm stuck at home instead. I so don't need this right now.

the man in the cloak

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March 20 movie: The Man in the Cloak. Joseph Cotten plays Edgar Allen Poe, which is supposed to be a big surprise ending except it's really, really obvious. First of all because he reads some of his own poetry early on, and secondly because most of the movie takes place in a home with a pet raven. Not Poe's home, but still. Poe is an international man of mystery in this film, solving a murder and protecting young French waif Leslie Caron. Barbara Stanwyck plays the villain. She's pretty good at that.

front page woman

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March 17 movie: Front Page Woman. Enough with the comedies about men who hold their women in contempt! Was TCM doing a series on "Women Who Love The Men Who Hate Them" or something? Bette Davis and George Brent play reporters at rival newspapers. They're in love but she won't marry him until he admits that she's as good a reporter as he is. Instead he destroys her career with some truly vicious stunts (like planting false evidence for her to find and put on the front page of her paper). This is like His Girl Friday if Cary Grant hated Rosalind Russell and rejoiced in her downfall. They gave Davis the last laugh, but it was too little, too late. Ugh.

Every few years I watch this movie, find it totally repugnant, then forget I've seen it and watch it again, remembering how much I hate it only after I'm well into a repeat viewing. Well no more. I'm taking my stand right here. Writing this movie up will help me remember next time that I've seen it before and it's vile.

my life with caroline

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March 16 movie: My Life with Caroline. Another movie about a flighty rich woman who fancies herself in love with another man, and the husband who maneuvers her into realizing she really loves him. I knew this was a bad movie going in and only watched it because it starred Anna Lee, who played Lila Quartermaine for decades on General Hospital. (Trivia note: Lila's son on the show is named Alan but he's nothing like the H. Rider Haggard character Allan Quatermain.) Anna Lee was a luminous young woman, but in retrospect, I don't love her enough to watch any crap just because she's in it. That honor is reserved for a select few like Cary Grant, Claudette Colbert and Ricardo Montalban. Next time I'll stick to Lee's good movies, like Flying Tigers or How Green Was My Valley.

tovarich

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March 16 movie: Tovarich. Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer play exiled Russian royalty living in poverty in Paris. Sounds depressing but it's actually a screwball comedy. Go figure! According to the movie "tovarich" means "comrade," and therefore the title refers to the villain, a Soviet party leader played by Basil Rathbone. This doesn't rocket to the top of my list of favorite Colbert movies, but only because she made so many brilliant ones and this is merely very good. I'd definitely watch it again.

weird car trouble

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I'm having a mysterious car problem that started yesterday. At high RPMs the engine just cuts out for a second or two. When it happened yesterday I pulled off the road, checked my oil and discovered that it was almost out. Naturally I assumed that was the problem, walked to a gas station and bought oil, then slowly drove the car to my mechanic. Who didn't find anything wrong with the engine, but did find a damaged CV boot, glad they fixed that.

I had to walk home from the mechanic too, so basically I spent the whole day walking in bad shoes yesterday. Did y'all know that Cole Mill Road is very unfriendly to pedestrians? It's a busy road with a 45 mph speed limit, no sidewalk, not even a shoulder most of the way. There's one stretch where you have to walk in the road itself, around a blind curve, because the ground next to the road slopes up too steeply to walk on. Every time a car came I hopped up onto the slope and stood there until they passed. Not fun. On the bright side, the walk up Cole Mill seemed faster than the previous walk to my car on the highway, even though it was much longer, because I knew the road so every few minutes I'd pass another landmark and feel closer to home.

Anyway, today I headed out for my meeting at HKB and at the exact same place on the highway, it happened again. It's not a problem if I stay under 2000 RPM, but if I go over that the engine gets rough & unsteady (if that makes sense) and then starts cutting out. The RPMs drop down to zero for a second or two, then it comes back. I thought it was only at high speed and have been avoiding highways. But then it happened while I was driving slowly but revving the engine, to get up a hill from a full stop. I have heard alternate theories that it's either the transmission or something electrical. I'm dropping the car off at the mechanic tomorrow morning, here's hoping they figure it out and fix it in time for the road trip I have to take this weekend.

the lord of the rings: the two towers

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March 14 movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It's been a long slog, but I've finally watched all three LOTR directors' commentaries. I had a lot to say about this when I watched it, but a week later it's all faded into a vague memory. (Lucky for y'all.) I do remember that they seemed a bit defensive about the criticism of the movie, and maybe acknowledged some validity in said criticism. You don't spend several minutes explaining why a movie can never live up to a book, if you think you nailed it.

In my opinion, it seemed that most if not all the problems with The Two Towers followed from the decision to move the entire Minus Morgul/Shelob sequence to the third movie. I think that was a good decision; without it, there is almost nothing for Frodo and Sam to do in The Return of the King. But once that decision is made, they're pretty much forced to embellish and invent story for The Two Towers. You may feel that they went too far; I certainly did. But they basically had to. In essence they sacrificed the second movie for the third.

I wanted to reread The Two Towers and see if I could figure out anything they could have used to hang the story on besides Helm's Deep. But dang if we couldn't find the book. The perils of a cluttered life.

March 14 movie: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I popped open the DVD to watch the commentary on this, and what do you know, no commetary! Too bad, I really wanted to hear Alfonso Cuaron's take on the Harry Potter franchise. It was still fun to watch the movie again. I think this is the best of the movies so far. The best of the books too, so that worked out well. I wonder when the fourth movie will come out? I'm actually more looking forward to the fifth.

that uncertain feeling

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March 13 movie: That Uncertain Feeling. This is what happens when I get so far behind in writing up movies: I have no idea what this movie was about. Not a clue. I have to look it up on IMDB. Okay, now I remember. The movie was awful. That's probably why I forgot everything about it. Merle Oberon plays a silly rich woman who convinces herself she's in love with misunderstood genius pianist (and accomplished freeloader) Burgess Meredith. No, he was nothing like the Penguin at that age. Melvyn Douglas plays Oberon's husband, whose affection for her is exceeded only by his contempt. And now I've spent far too long thinking about this movie. Time to forget it again.

two weeks with love

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March 12 movie: Two Weeks with Love. This was a very slight Ricardo Montalban movie. Actually no, it was a very slight Jane Powell movie which had Ricardo Montalban in it. She's a teenager on vacation with her family in the Catskills. He's a Cuban on whom every woman in the place has a terrible crush. The major plot point is whether Powell's parents will let her wear a corset, thus enabling Montalban to see her as a woman rather than a girl. I can't recommend this movie unless you're a major fan of Montalban. Well, Debbie Reynolds (as Powell's younger sister) has a few decent songs.

my best fiend

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March 12 movie: My Best Fiend. My goodness, that Klaus Kinski was a crazy son of a bitch. I hear that Werner Herzog wasn't exactly a paragon of calm rationality himself, but he was the one making the movie so he comes off a little better. The movie was Herzog's elegy to Kinski, and I think he found and interviewed every person in the world who had something nice to say about Kinski's character. Hint: there weren't many. The most telling moment for me was Herzog saying how much he missed laughing with Kinski, with their arms around each other, and then admitting that he wondered if he only thought about it because it was recorded on film. I got the impression from the old footage (largely from Les Blank's documentary about Fitzcarraldo) that there wasn't much laughter between them, on the whole.

more compost

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Another day shoveling compost. I didn't get as much done as last weekend, but I think the remnants of my cold was slowing me down. I unloaded about 12 wheelbarrows, and then Georg did the rest when he got home from work. (Which sucked, his having to work on a Sunday, but what can you do.) I was so tired afterwards that I fell asleep on the couch watching TV.

Now that whole huge bed is ready to plant. And to celebrate I did a little planting: the sweet peas! Really I think I'm supposed to wait until all danger of frost is past, but they were getting so scraggly and overgrown in their little peat pots. They really needed to be in the ground. Besides we're not supposed to have another frost all week. I hope they do well!

Thirteen has been acting a little wiggy on and off all day. I think she's still upset about the bathtub incident yesterday. Everytime I think about it I feel just awful. Who knows how long she was in there. It must have been her worst nightmare: alone, trapped in the dark, in the bathtub. Poor thing.

I had a nice chat with Kelsey, the little girl who lives next door. I have to say, I like her so much more now that she's reached the ripe old age of second grade. When she was a toddler she used to hassle me endlessly about the dogs, just couldn't understand when to leave them alone. But she seems much more sensible now. We can even have a conversation. She said she wanted to plant some flowers around her clubhouse, so I got out my seed packets and let her have one. (She picked the butterfly weed.) I told her about Lina and she seemed genuinely interested, asked me lots of questions. I told her that Thirteen was lonely since she lost her playmate, and Kelsey suggested I should get Thirteen a new playmate. Which I have to admit has occurred to me. But it will have to wait because I'm traveling so much right now.

I found out a little more about the Charlotte auto fair. There is going to be electricity at the site, but no net access. Which is a bummer, I was hoping I could take my laptop and work there. The other bummer is that they are going to keep our cars for the duration, and provide a shuttle to get us to the hotel. On the bright side, the hotel is in walking distance of many restaurants, and has high speed net access. Maybe I could just stay in my room during the days to work! No, I need to be at the show to keep the bubble machine filled. Sigh. I can think of people who would enjoy four days trapped in the largest car show in the southeast, but unfortunately I'm not one of them. I'll have to go to the library beforehand and stock up on books.

bathtub dog

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This afternoon Georg and I went to the wedding of a client of mine. Who was marrying his high school sweetheart, from whom he had been separated for 50 years. They had gone steady for all of high school, then had broken up when they graduated and hadn't seen each other again until their 50th high school reunion. So romantic! After their exchange of rings, he gave her back the "friendship ring" from their high school romance, which he had kept all those years. I was actually surprised to be invited as I don't know him that well. But still, it was a beautiful ceremony, held in a spectacular 70's house in Chapel Hill.

On the way home we stopped at Home Depot. I was looking for this organic herbicide, it's just extra-strong vinegar that you spray on cut branches and it seeps down into the roots and kills the plants. I hear it's effective on those vines that I've had such a hard time digging up. Unfortunately they didn't have it. I'm going to try Barnes Supply next.

We got home to the craziest thing: Thirteen had been agitated while we were gone, and had somehow managed to trap herself inside the bathroom and then get inside the tub! What the? The bathroom door I can understand as it tends to swing shut. She must have gone inside, then pawed at the door when it swung behind her, and accidently pushed it closed. But the tub?? She can barely climb out of the tub on her own when I give her a bath, at which time she desparately wants out. Why on earth did she get in there by herself?

I hope she wasn't trapped in the tub all afternoon. It couldn't have been that long because she also had time to knock over a stack of CDs and a wastepaper basket (which Georg had just emptied, whew) and pee on the kitchen floor. I got her out of the tub and put her outside, and she ran right out into the yard and went to the bathroom again. Jeez, I'm glad we got home when we did.

spring cleaning

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I was at the city dump today getting another truckload of compost, and the guy there told me they'll have free dumping every Saturday in April. Woo hoo! Time to clean out the shed!

omens

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I've left the "snot factory" phase of my cold and entered the "hacking my lungs out" phase. How annoying. Managed to get through my show last night through abundant use of cough drops, but (alas) forgot to take a bottle of water with me. I can really feel it this morning.

When do birds lay eggs? Has that started already? I have a big brush pile that I need to cart off to the dump, but I think there are birds living in it and I don't want to disturb their nests if they've already started with the baby making.

Yesterday afternoon I went to put Thirteen out, and there were three cats in the back yard. Three big black cats. Is this some kind of omen? Two of them were sitting on the steps to the shed, and one was on the logs nearby. I've occasionally seen cats on those steps before and I have no idea what makes it a cat-friendly spot. I had speculated that maybe sunlight reflecting off the shed made it warm, but it was overcast yesterday.

To my amazement, Thirteen not only saw them but tried to chase them. Well, in the particular manner a decrepit old dog chases cats:

  1. Door opens. I see cats; cats see us. Thirteen stares, trying to figure out what's going on.
  2. Cats continue watching us. After staring a while, Thirteen determines that there are indeed smaller mammals in our yard.
  3. Thirteen moseys off back deck. The cats analyze her trajectory and plan a rendezvous.
  4. Thirteen ambles, stopping to pee at the end of the driveway. Two cats head out, leaving the one on the log as a lookout.
  5. Thirteen strolls up steps towards shed. The two cats are long gone.
  6. Finally Thirteen reaches the steps. She tries to follow their path but is blocked by that brush pile. The two cats are in another county being debriefed. The lookout cat takes notes.
  7. Thirteen happily sniffs the ground where the cats were. The lookout cat gets bored and heads out.

All in all it was a highly successful adventure for Thirteen, and hilarious for me to watch. She had this intent expression like she was actually chasing the cats, even when she stopped to pee.

I'm hoping to borrow that truck again this afternoon and get another load of compost. I talked to a friend who used to race cars, who confirmed that the scary bad steering problem was caused by low tire pressure. When I filled them, the two rear tires each read under 15 psi! My racing friend said that with the tires that low and the truck fully loaded, I was practically driving on the sidewalls. There was nothing to grip the road, thus the fishtailing. (He said the same thing happened to him the first time he drove on a race track, because he didn't know you need more air pressure than for street driving.) From now on I'll just stop at a gas station and fill up the tires on my way to the dump.

cold bad

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It's a good thing I got all that yardwork done on the weekend, because I've been slammed by a cold the past couple of days. Monday was the worst, I spent the whole day drinking tea, watching movies and sleeping. Yesterday I felt better enough to go to my weekly meeting, where there were many loose ends to be dealt with. And I also ran a bunch of errands yesterday afternoon. Which maybe was too much, because today I feel like crap again. Not to be gross but I'm in the "snot factory" phase of the cold. Blowing my nose constantly and can't sleep because when I lie down my whole head feels blocked up. Ugh.

At least the weather feels as nasty as I do. It's truly miserable to be sick when it's sunny and beautiful outside. I sure don't have that problem today. I don't have to go anywhere during the day but I have two appointments tonight, one work, one pleasure. I may postpone them both depending on how I feel this afternoon.

One fun thing happened while I was running around yesterday: I met Joe and Terry Graedon from the People's Pharmacy! It was so weird to hear those voices coming out of actual people, not my radio.

I had Thirteen in my car while I ran some errands and wanted to take her for a short walk. But I had the wrong shoes for the rough trails at the park, which is where we usually go. I was driving right past Oval Park, so I thought what the heck, that seems like a nice neighborhood to walk a dog. I parked at my friend David's house but saw that he had company so I didn't knock on the door. Walked Thirteen around the block, which she loved. Lots of doggie smells on the sidewalk, and lots of actual dogs barking as we walked by.

As we were heading back to the car we walked past David's living room window, and he must have seen me because he came running out and invited me and Thirteen in. He was meeting with the Graedons, who had commissioned some artwork. I think it's related to their new book somehow. The new book sounds really interesting. It's all about helping people figure out the right treatment depending on the type and severity of illness, including traditional and alternative therapies. It seems to me that most resources espouse either alternative or traditional medicine, but not both. And whichever approach they're into, they view the other with suspicion at best. So this book of theirs should be really good.

Thirteen did pretty well at being in a strange house full of strange people while we chatted. I could tell that she was really scared, but she didn't misbehave at all, just stood there looking scared. David shut his dog Kate in a bedroom for the duration because she's very territorial and growled at Thirteen when we first came to the door. After the Graedons left I put Thirteen back in my car, then David and I went out into the garden and he showed me a bunch of plants he rooted for me last fall. They're coming up now so I'll be able to take them soon. What a fortuitous visit! Good thing I didn't have the right shoes for the park.

compost yay

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Another day of lots of yardwork. Not as strenuous as yesterday, but I spent the whole day working outside, so again I was kind of tired by the time I quit. Here's what I got done:

  • spread the rest of the compost -- there turned out to be only 2 more wheelbarrows full -- and swept out the truck.
  • returned the truck, stopping to fill the tires on the way. Which seemed to solve the steering problem, yay! The truck is still old, beat up, cranky, easy to stall and hard to brake, but at least it wasn't fishtailing all over the road.
  • went to Whole Foods in my dirty, worn gardening clothes, and did not care. Went in hungry and got a salad so big I couldn't eat it all in one sitting.
  • planted shallots and beets in two of the new beds!
  • covered the new beds with straw, which you're not supposed to do at this time of year because it prevents them from warming up, but I'm concerned about the soil washing away.
  • found a couple packages of daylilies on the porch that I had bought last fall and forgotten about, and planted them with the other daylilies. Apparently daylilies really are indestructable. Those guys sat in plastic bags with a little sawdust all winter, and every single one sprouted.
  • swept up the compost that had fallen out of the truck onto the driveway, and put it on the herb garden.
  • removed the big, ugly, Lina-proof fence from the hydrangea beds. Raked leaves off the beds while the fence was down. Moved a couple of hydrangeas that were too far back under the awning & not getting enough rain. Put up a low, unobtrusive fence that's guaranteed to keep out aging dogs who can barely walk.
  • used the big, ugly fence to make a leaf compost pile behind the house.

I think that's all. A productive day if I do say so myself! And what a beautiful day to be outside. I think it must have been in the 70s. I know we're supposed to have nasty weather again tomorrow, but this afternoon it felt like it could never be cold again. Thirteen hung out with me for much of the day, but by mid-afternoon she was panting and seemed hot. I couldn't get her to move to the shade so I put her inside. After she cooled down I left the door open for her to come back out if she wanted, but she stayed inside.

I realized yesterday that one of reason I've done so little in the yard the past month (besides the weather of course) was Lina. Every time I thought about gardening, I'd think about how she used to follow me around while I worked on the yard, and that would make me too sad to do anything. Yesterday I was taking a break from shoveling, sitting on the steps drinking a glass of water, watching Thirteen and thinking about how much Lina would have loved such a beautiful day and how much I wished she were there with us. It occurred to me that since I was thinking about her, in a way she was there. It's corny and hokey, but it made me feel better.

On a happier note, perennials from last year are starting to sprout! Down by the road the obedient plant, black eyed Susans, sedum, goblet flower, and bronze fennel are all up. Up near the house all the hydrangeas are sprouting, except for the one that Lina killed by chewing up all the branches. All the daylilies from David's dad look great. And the herbs are starting to show signs of life too. There are also a bunch of things that haven't sprouted, but it's early yet.

I know this isn't anything monumental. Perennials come up every year; that's what they do. But still it's a great thrill for me to see the plants that I put in the ground last fall coming back. It's the first sign that I may not be a total failure at this gardening thing.

designing woman

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March 10 movie: Designing Woman. Vincent Minnelli comedy about a sports writer (Gregory Peck) and a fashion designer (Lauren Bacall) who meet on vacation, fall in love and get married without knowing anything about each other. One thing I really like about this movie is that neither Peck nor Bacall ever denigrate each other's careers. Not only does Peck not expect Bacall to quit her job, he doesn't complain about them living in her (larger and nicer) apartment. But the best thing about this movie, the absolute best thing, is that the front door of Bacall's apartment has the doorknob right in the center! I remember seeing this movie years and years ago and thinking that was just wild and sophisticated. The doorknob is in the center of the door!

I could have lived without the comic relief characters: the "punchy" (i.e. brain damaged) former boxer, and the effeminate -- but not gay! he has a wife and three children! -- Broadway choreographer. Though it was a nice touch when said effeminate -- but not gay! -- choreographer beat the crap out of a bunch of mobsters with his crazy dance fu.

March 9 movie: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It took several days but I finally watched it with the director's commentary. Everyone who wants to see this probablty already has, so I'll just mention that I found the explanation of Frodo vs. Sam vs. lembas bread somewhat unsatisfactory. And that the funniest moments were: Peter Jackson admitting if he was too busy to walk all the way to the craft table, he would sometimes eat the lembas bread while no one was looking; and Fran Walsh commenting that she and Philippa Boyens sympathized with Shelob because she's an older woman who has hairy legs, has gained weight and can't get through spaces she used to fit into, and has an insatiable appetite.

death takes a holiday

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March 7 movie: Death Takes a Holiday. As you might guess from the title, this movie features Death (Fredric March) going on vacation in mortal form for a few days. It's a lot less funny than I expected. In fact it's not really funny at all, except for a dry running gag about how no one in the world can die while Death is off the job.

The thing that surprised me was Death's personality. Very imperious, and also a real hothead. Tends to take offense at the tiniest presumed slight, and threatens to come back in his unearthly form and kill everyone at the drop of a hat. Somehow I imagined Death being more calm and detached. Death Takes a Holiday was of course the inspiration for Meet Joe Black. Which I haven't seen, because I'm not crazy about Brad Pitt and I heard it wasn't very good.

to catch a thief

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March 6 movie: The Catch a Thief. Of all the movies Hitchcock made with Cary Grant, this was probably the least spectacular. Which is what my ex used to call "praising with faint damn." It's a good movie, just not as good as Notorious, Suspicion or North by Northwest. I think this is at least partly because Grant doesn't have as much chemistry with Grace Kelly as he did with his costars in those other movies.

all in a day's work

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I got almost all the compost spread! Almost a whole truck full, one shovel at a time. I made four nice big raised beds, about half what I need. I had measured out the beds in advance, and put down newspaper and straw on the paths between them. All I had to do today was load the compost onto the wheelbarrow, dump it onto the beds, and smooth it out.

Is it OK to use pure compost as the soil in a vegetable garden? My original plan was to mix compost and topsoil, but I heard that the topsoil at the dump is bad, lots of clay. And I can't really afford good garden soil from a commercial place like Sands & Soils. Well I could, but I'd much rather use this beautiful, dark, crumbly and very cheap compost -- $7.50 for a whole truckload! I am never buying compost in bags again! -- and save that money for more plants.

I had to take a break to move a bunch of daylilies, which David's dad had given me last fall. I had plopped them into holes left by stumps, just to give them a place while I figured out where their permanent home will be. I did decide on a permanent home (in front of the fence, by the road) but I won't be ready to plant them there until the fall. But their current location is where the raised beds go, so they had to be moved now.

When I took the daylilies out of the ground I found tons of big, fat worms. Which was a big relief since my soil is so bad and typically has very few worms. If they can find a pocket of nice soil in the middle of all that hard clay, then they'll be sure to get into my new beds. I found a place where the daylilies can stay all summer: at the corner of the house, by the hydrangea bed. They'll get nice sun there and (I hope) keep weeds from springing up. By fall when I move the daylilies, I'll have figured out what to put in that corner.

It looks like there may be just enough compost left in the truck for one more bed, and I had thought to finish up this afternoon. But after moving all those daylilies (they filled my whole wheelbarrow, in two layers!) my back started to complain. So I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and quit for the day. This way I'll feel fresh tomorrow and ready to get more done.

Came inside and took a long shower to wash all the grime off myself. Now I'm in my jammies and oh so glad I didn't try to keep working. As soon as I stopped moving I realized how tired I was. I had planned to make myself a batch of Lisa's amazing spinach casserole for dinner, but that's not happening now. Luckily I have lots of good leftovers. Now I'm going to go lie on the couch and watch movies. Georg is away for the night so it's just me and Thirteen.

black gold

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Finally got off my ass today, borrowed my friend David's truck, and went down to the city dump to buy compost. It sounds kind of weird to buy compost from the dump, but they collect yard waste there & convert it to mulch & compost which they sell. Besides, it's not right at the dump, it's up a gravel road, on the other side of a big hill, about a mile back from the dump.

It took me a while to figure out where the heck I was going -- they have free samples of the mulch and compost up front, and I thought that's where I would get my truckload -- but eventually (with the help of a guy who clearly thought I was a total ditz, but at least wasn't rude about it) I found the compost area. It's not as nice of a setup as Sands & Soils, and the guy came at my truck sort of diagonally, so the load fell in at an angle, much of it spilled out on the ground and I had to go back (walking through mucky compost) and shove the pile down into the corners of the truck with my hands, getting dirt all over myself. But at 1/4 the price, I'm not complaining. Besides, the guy saw that he had spilled a bunch of my compost and dumped more in, so I got my full truckload. And I was wearing my gardening clothes and shoes anyway so it didn't really matter that I got all dirty.

David's truck is old and not in the greatest of health, and I thought I was used to its quirks. The drive back from the dump, however, was another matter. It was making this crazy loud noise, and the steering was loose and scary -- I mean fishtailing back and forth so bad that if I got up to 35 mph, it felt like it was going to swerve into the other lane of its own accord. I swear that truck was trying to kill me.

Needless to say, I drove very slowly to keep the steering manageable. Alas, the hazard lights didn't work, so no one behind me knew why I was going so slow. (Well, anyone who gets stuck behind a bashed in old truck that's carrying an open load of dirt and is fishtailing back and forth, and is surprised that the truck is going slow, is an idiot. But then I've observed that many people are idiots on the road.)

Made it home safely, whew! And discovered that the noise and the swerving were probably caused by two unrelated problems: First, a stick caught in the undercarriage. And second, both rear tires are almost totally flat. It must have been okay driving out with an empty bed, but with all that dirt weighing down the back end, no wonder the poor truck was trying to kill me.

So I'm home and have my day's work cut out for me: shoveling compost! fun! But first I feel a little woozy from trying to control the truck. And also probably from the truck leaking exhaust into the cab, now that I think about it. I'm going to rest and eat lunch before I start working.

happy monday

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It's been a beautiful three days, but I haven't gotten a damned thing done in the yard. Instead I went to a party, worked on a couple of projects, and discovered that my hosting account had been hacked. It's an annoyance, to say the least, not to mention a big waste of my time. I haven't found any evidence that they did anything, except plant a script that allowed them to grab my password. I can't help but wonder what they did that I don't know about. But I'm afraid to notify my hosting service because I don't want to make them mad at me. Well I found and closed the security hole that let them in, deleted the nasty script, and changed my password. Here's hoping that's the end of it.

At least I had time to take Thirteen for a quick walk in the park this afternoon. We didn't walk long, maybe 20 minutes, but we took a different, rougher path this time. She's been totally wiped out all evening. Next time we'll take the easy path again. I bought her a travel water dish, but I haven't opened it yet and I think I'm going to return it. It's basically a canteen with a shallow dish that clips onto the side. You pop off the dish and then fill it from the canteen. The other kind is like a bag with a drawstring at the top. You fill the bag with water, then just open it up and fold down the sides for the dog to drink out of. Thirteen being a nervous nelly, I thought she might find the drawstring bag weird, and might be more likely to drink out of the shallow dish. But then it occurred to me that the canteen style might be awkward, because you'd have to toss any water the dog didn't drink. You couldn't very well pour it back into the canteen. And then when you put it back together, you'd have this wet thing hanging from your shoulder. So I think I'm going to try the drawstring bag style and see if she'll drink from it.

In bright news, I had an idea this morning on a code problem that looks like it will save us a bunch of time. Many hours of programming that now don't have to be done. Yay!

In even brighter news, I've been invited to display Undersea Mah Jongg along with a few other art cars at the Charlotte Auto Fair in early April. I'm going to be an attraction! Well, my car anyway. The art cars will be inside the pavilion, behind ropes, with the showy classic cars and custom cars. They're giving me a generous amount of gas money and a free hotel room for the four nights of the show. And they're providing electricity so I can run my bubble machine all day! Alas, no net access. That means I won't be able to run web cams on Thursday or Friday (not enough cell phone minutes), and more importantly, I won't be able to work while I'm at the show. I'm going to be stuck there from 8 am to 6 pm for four days, and of course I can't leave because my car will be on display. I was hoping I could get some work done. Maybe I can find something to do that I won't need to be online for.

shaun of the dead

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March 4 movie: Shaun of the Dead. As I've mentioned before, horror isn't my thing. But I loved this. I think it worked for me because the scary parts of the movie weren't played for laughs: it was sincerely scary when it was trying to be scary. And extremely funny when it was trying to be funny. The first part of the movie, where Shaun stumbles through his day oblivious to the impending zombie attack, were the perfect combination of creepy suspense and comedy.

My only quibble (and it's a very minor one) is that aren't zombies supposed to be able to smell the living? In this version they easily fool the zombies by shuffling and groaning, and it seems like the zombies find them by sound. I'm not really up on zombie movie lore, though I gather there are lots of references to other zombie movies in Shaun of the Dead. I caught a reference to 28 Days Later in the extras, when Shaun explains that despite what you might have heard recently, zombies move very slowly. Georg pointed out another in the movie itself, a newscast dismissing theories that the zombie outbreak was caused by "rage infected monkeys."

There are some good extras on the DVD, notably a "flip book" where the two writers run quickly through an outline of the entire movie. They did the flip book before they started filming the movie, so lots of little stuff has changed. It's hilarious when they refer to some line that they're obviously quite proud of, but which didn't make it into the final movie. I noticed in the flip book [minor spoiler] that the original plan was for the jerky friend to still be a jerk when he dies. In the outline he's supposed to say "Am I the only one around here with any brains?" right before the zombies eat him. Which is a really cheesy gag and I'm glad they dropped it. Then they planned the scene so he apologizes to Shaun, his girlfriend says "That took guts" and then the zombies eat him. Another groaner. It worked much better in the final version where he's about to apologize to Shaun, but the zombies eat him before he gets his redemption.

the bad and the beautiful

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March 2 movie: The Bad and the Beautiful. Wow, this was amazing. The story of a hated Hollywood producer's rise to the top, apparently it's a thinly veiled account of David O. Selznick that hit so close to reality, Selznick threatened to sue (according to Jamie Weinman). Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas, the Selznick character) is a cold manipulator with no compunction about crushing people to get what he wants: he tosses over his early partner when a more famous director becomes available; seduces a downtrodden actress to get a better performance from her, then ditches her as soon as the movie is over; and arranges an affair for the wife of a writer to give the writer time to work, which affair leads to the wife's death.

This was a juicy Hollywood insider story and also a great melodrama. Besides Selznick it also includes fictional depictions of Erich von Stroheim, Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma, and William Faulkner. Plus I'm sure other people who I didn't recognize because I don't know enough about the movie industry. For instance I read that the actress Shields seduces represented Diana Barrymore, daughter of John Barrymore.

persuasion

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February 28 movie: Persuasion. I was flipping channels and came across this on IFC. Problem was, it had started over a half-hour before. I was feeling sad about having missed so many great scenes when I remembered that I have the movie on DVD. Duh! Popped it in and got to watch from the start.

Overall I think this is my favorite Austen adaptation. It's not as exhaustively faithful as the Pride and Prejudice miniseries, but they do a really good job of capturing the spirit of the characters. Also they neatly handled the fact that the book wasn't quite finished and had two endings, by incorporating them both. This may be my favorite Austen book too, if for no other reason than for the marvelously romantic "You pierce my soul" letter. Austen generally seemed a bit uncomfortable with the declaration of love (it's either treated as comic, i.e. Mr. Elton or Mr. Collins, or mostly happens off-camera so to speak) but she nailed it here.

I said before that this movie is much subtler and quieter than some other Austen, and that's basically true. But it does have its share of broad comedy, notably Anne's hypochondriac sister Mary. I've since read that Austen's own mother was a hypochondriac who selfishly insisted on being the center of attention while Austen herself was suffering from an illness that eventually killed her. It's pretty amazing that Austen was able to write comedy on the theme while it was happening so tragically in her own life. The actress who plays Mary also shows up as Miss Bates in the Hollywood version of Emma, and I think she's in another Austen movie but I can't remember off the top of my head.

zatoichi and the doomed man

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Feb 26 movie: Zatoichi and the Doomed Man. This one begins with Zatoichi being beaten as a punishment for gambling. Which was kind of a weird beginning for the movie. While in jail the night before, he meets a condemned man who claims to be innocent and begs Zatoichi to go to his town and tell the people who can exonerate him. On the way Zatoichi meets a sleazy monk who later impersonates him in order to get free booze and women from small-time gangsters hoping to hire the famed Zatoichi. As you can imagine, this really pisses off the real Zatoichi.

Georg and I enjoyed this very much, but we agreed that the ending kind of fell apart. It seemed like they didn't really know how to wrap up the story, so they kept going until they ran out of steam, and then just stopped. Still, it was worth it for the hilarious Zatoichi imitation by the monk.

ivanhoe

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Feb 25 movie: Ivanhoe. Shayne, Lisa and I got together to watch this. What fun! It was a grand epic with lots of sword fighting, conflict between Saxons and Normans, the rescue of Richard the Lionhearted, a jousting tournament, and a great cast (notably Joan Fontaine, George Sanders and Elizabeth Taylor). They were clearly going for the feel of The Adventures of Robin Hood, in fact the two movies tell overlapping stories and Robin of Locksley is a minor character here. Ivanhoe didn't quite reach the heights of the earlier film (perhaps because star Robert Taylor was too serious, he didn't have the sense of humor that made Errol Flynn such a brilliant swashbuckler hero) but it was a good movie in its own right. Now if Ivanhoe had had Alan Hale, then maybe it could have given The Adventures of Robin Hood a run for its money!

the best years of our lives

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Feb 22 movie: The Best Years of Our Lives. This is a long movie and I've seen it recently, so I didn't intend to watch it again. But I couldn't help myself; it's that good.

I've only seen Dana Andrews in a couple of movies but I always really enjoy him. I'm going to have to look for more of his work. As I said last time, Harold Russell is amazing, but he did very little acting besides this. I read that this movie was the first ever to depict intimacy with a disabled person. It's a very touching scene where Russell takes off his artificial hands and shows his girlfriend (Teresa Wright) how helpless he is without them, thinking she'll dump him. But instead she helps him get into bed and kisses him goodnight. The first time I saw this movie, I didn't know Russell really had lost his hands, and I wondered if it was some kind of special effect (like Gary Sinese' legs in Forrest Gump). But when they showed his bare arms it was obviously real.

antm-alicious

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Tonight was the recap show from last season of America's Next Top Model. Kind of boring, honestly. They try to sound upbeat about everyone, but you can tell who isn't doing so well because the only footage of that person is at the wrap party, talking about how they are "definitely" going to pursue modeling. Still I was glad to see Toccara getting work, even if it was for a rather dowdy plus fashion line.

But onward and upward, the new season starts tomorrow! Whee! I can't wait. Better yet, the most marvelous Pinky linked to the the livejournal of Elyse Sewell, my favorite ANTM contestant ever. Have spent most of the evening reading Elyse's back entries. It sounds like her career is thriving. She had a very interesting post in December about reality show interviews and confessionals. Elyse speculated that continuity problems (i.e. distinctive clothing making it clear that an interview that appears in an early episode was filmed late in the series, or vice versa) were more glaring on ANTM because it was a new show with an inexperienced crew, but I'm not so sure about that. I remember Real World Hawaii used clips from the same conversation between two characters in three different episodes, spaced out throughout the show, ostensibly depicting completely different stages of their relationship. I don't watch Real World anymore but I'm assuming they still do that.

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