December 2005 Archives

okay, this isn't fun anymore


We still don't have heat.

If Mr. Griles is telling the truth, it's completely not his fault. The motor arrived yesterday, a day late and missing a component. He spent all day calling around trying to find the missing component, but almost everyone was closed. Finally found one today and came over this afternoon. Only to find that it was slightly too big.

He said he'd keep trying, but he doesn't expect to get through to anyone until next week. I'm not expecting our furnace to be fixed before Tuesday at the earliest. At least we've still got plenty of kerosene, and tomorrow morning we're going to the farmer's market to buy firewood because we're lazy bastards and don't feel like splitting wood.

porco rosso

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December 26 movie: Porco Rosso. I think now we've seen all Miyazki's movies except Howl's Moving Castle. This was really fun, very much a "ripping yarn" boys' adventure. The title character is an ace biplane pilot who's been magically turned into a pig and now works as a freelance rescuer who fights off air pirates. (I don't think there really were air pirates in Italy in the 1920s, were there?) The best character is a girl airplane engineer who I totally loved. She was kind of like Kaylee from Firefly, now that I think about it. Except not obsessed with sex.

holiday inn

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December 25 movie: Holiday Inn. As previously reported, TCM sorely disappointed us this year. Not only did they show no Christmas movies on Christmas day, but they didn't show Holiday Inn at all this year. So we rented it from Netflix. I know I already said that The Man Who Came to DInner was my favorite Christmas movie, but this is too. How can you not love a movie with Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby? Plus all those goofy songs for the minor holidays. You can just see Irving Berlin pulling out his hair saying "Washington's Birthday?!? I have to write a song about Washington's Birthday?"

quo vadis?

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December 25 movie: Quo Vadis? I am very disappointed with TCM. Robert Osbourne, listen to me: A movie about the persecution of early Christians, featuring multiple crucifictions, is not a Christmas movie. It is an Easter movie! Do not show it on Christmas day. Where were the Christmas movies? Seriously, don't let me down like this again.

man alive

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December 24 movie: Man Alive. This movie was creepy. It's about a guy (Pay O'Brien) who has an argument with his wife, gets drunk and trades coats with a wino. The two are in a car accident and the wino dies, but everyone thinks it's O'Brien who died. Adolphe Menjou finds O'Brien and takes him home, only to discover that another man (Rudy Vallee) has already moved in on his wife. Menjou convinces O'Brien that he'll have a better chance of driving Vallee off and winning his wife back if he stays dead and pretends to be a ghost haunting her.

Because O'Brien is both an idiot and a bastard, he goes for this idea and spends the rest of the movie tormenting his poor wife. Then he dresses up as his own Uncle Barney from Killarney. In other words, wacky hijinks all over the place.

The worst part is when Menjou's family track down the wino's long lost son and bring him to meet O'Brien, who they think is the wino. O'Brien and Menjou pretend O'Brien is the kid's father and lock him in a room. The poor guy's search for his father -- who by the way, is dead -- is treated as just more wacky hijinks. That kid is the only sympathetic character in the movie. All he wants is to forgive his father and spend time with him.

the tarnished angels

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December 24 movie: The Tarnished Angels. I have no idea what this movie was about. I have to look it up in IMDB. Oh yes! A Douglas Sirk melodrama with Rock Hudson, Robert Stack and Dorothy Malone. Stack is an ace WWI pilot who makes ends meet after the war in flying races at county fairs. Malone is Stack's miserable, mistreated wife. Hudson is a small town journalist who falls for Malone. The airplane scenes were exciting but the melodrama was depressing and sluggish.

since you went away


December 24 movie: Since You Went Away. This is one of my favorite war movies, as I've said before several times. But I'm feeling cranky because our heat is still off, so I'm going to gripe about my one problem with this movie: the family maid played by Hattie McDaniel. Claudette Colbert can't afford to pay her while the husband is at war, and she takes a job with an "uptown family." But McDaniel misses Colbert and the girls. So she comes back to stay in her old room. They welcome her with open arms, but they still treat her like the maid. So now poor McDaniel has to get up early every morning and take a bus across town to her job, then come back and work her other job for free every night. I think McDaniel had it worse than any of the rest of the family (except Jennifer Jones), but her hardships are only briefly addressed & always as comic relief.

Okay, now let me balance that out by saying something nice. I've developed an appreciation for Robert Walker. I heard that he and Jennifer Jones were really married, but while they were filming their scenes about falling in love, in real life their marriage was disintegrating. It makes the longing in their eyes all the more heartbreaking. There's something sad and vulnerable about him in every performance. I always want to give him a hug and make him feel better. I wish he had made more movies. I heard that he suffered from depression and came to a bad end. I ought to find a biography of him.

boo frickin hoo


I should have known better than to read Slate's cover article this morning on the horrors of running a coffee shop. But fifteen years ago I was managing a bakery/coffee shop and it nearly ruined my life, too. So I read it, hoping it would yield some amusing stories from the trenches.

Instead it was the annoying whine of some annoying yuppies who bought a coffee shop without realizing that they might have to, you know, work at a coffee shop. As soon as the author started waxing poetic about his fantasy of owning a cafe, and how it would be like "throwing a perpetual dinner party," I knew this was someone who had never before set foot behind the counter of a cafe or restaurant. I'm sure there are food service workers who fantasize about owning their own food service business, but the ones I knew (including myself) fantasized about having a job where they weren't on their feet all day.

What really honked me off about the article was the author's shock and resentment when he and his wife found themselves working the cafe full time to save money on labor. What the hell did they think they would be doing all day? Sitting out front receiving compliments on their cappuccino? Sitting in back counting their money?

Running a food service business is grueling. I remember a particularly bad time at the bakery when I was having trouble staffing weekends: I had to be there at 6 am to open on Saturday morning, work until 2, go home and take a nap, come back at 7, then stay until we closed around 11:30. Go home and fall into bed, then be back at 7 Sunday morning to start all over. Granted, the fact that this happened more than once says a lot about my poor management skills. (In fact after the bakery I decided that I just wasn't cut out for management jobs and should avoid them at all costs, a decision which has worked out pretty well for me.) But the point is that every cafe manager has stories like that. Running a restaurant or cafe means working very hard for very little money. Anyone who's ever worked in a place like that knows it, and anyone who doesn't has no business buying one.

And while I have no sympathy for someone who buys a cafe thinking it will be a perpetual dinner party, I have nothing but contempt for someone who thinks it beneath them to work in a business they own:

"The psychological gap between working in a cafe because it's fun and romantic and doing the exact same thing because you have to is enormous.... Two highly educated professionals with artistic aspirations have just put themselves--or, as we saw it, each other--on $8-per-hour jobs slinging coffee."

Oh my god, they had to wait on customers! Ask them if they want regular or grande! Make change! Smile when they didn't feel like it! The horror! No highly educated professional should ever suffer so!

These people had to buy a cafe to find out that working in one is hard. And now they get paid to write witty articles about it. Oh, boo frickin hoo. Maybe next they should open a sweatshop staffed with illegal immigrants. That way they'll never have to do the work themselves. They're already well practiced at feeling superior to the people who do.

ps: my story from the trenches: how about the time a customer -- a regular, but not one we knew particularly well -- found a rusty bolt in her home fries. Actually she found it in her mouth, but it got there from the home fries. When confronted with said rusty bolt, the grill cook said only, "So that's where that went! We couldn't find it when we put the grill back together!" The customer demanded money, but when we countered that we would pay for any medical or dental bills but no more, she backed off. I can't remember whether she ever even came in again. I wouldn't have, if I were her.

withnail & i

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December 21 movie: Withnail & I. I think I saw this movie at the wrong age. I really enjoyed it, it was funny and all, but it didn't change my life or anything. Maybe if I had been in my mid-twenties, broke, and really into getting wasted I would have had the emotional response so many people describe.

I do give them major credit for depicting poverty that actually looks like poverty. Not the shiny, quaint fake poverty you see in movies so often. (The most egregious example I can think of off the top of my head is Where The Heart Is. Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd are supposed to be working poor, single mothers barely surviving, but they both have expensive haircuts, perfect makeup, impeccable clothes and homes I would be lucky to live in.) The house Withnail & I lived in reminded me a lot of an infamous flophouse that belonged to some friends of mine back in college. I don't think my friends' kitchen was as gross as the one in the movie, but that may have been just because my friends didn't have enough dishes to create that mess.

The one thing I really did not like about Withnail & I was the lonely uncle attempting sexual assault on the narrator. The DVD sleeve described him as "hitting on" the narrator but I'm sorry, if you have to physically fight someone off then it's not "hitting on." Call me humorless but I don't find attempted rape funny regardless of the genders involved.

So anyway, I did really like this movie, it cemented my Richard E. Grant love (like that needed any encouragement), but I'm not going to watch it a zillion times or start quoting lines all the time or anything.

the best years of our lives

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December 18 movie: The Best Years of Our Lives. I don't have much to say about this movie beyond what I said on previous viewings. Except that for once Dana Andrews comes off as subtle and restrained rather than wooden. I guess William Wyler knew how to draw it out of him.

the man who came to dinner

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December 18 movie: The Man Who Came to Dinner. I've seen this a bunch of times and I think it's my favorite Christmas movie. Even though it drives me batshit crazy when a movie has a love triangle in which the point of the triangle is a totally passive object. Bette Davis and Anne Sheridan spend the whole movie fighting over this guy, but it never seems to occur to anyone that he might have a say in the matter. But that's the only part I don't love about this movie.

pulp fiction

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December 17 movie: Pulp Fiction. This had such an impact on moviemaking for years afterward that it's hard to judge it on its own merits. It tends to blur together in my mind with all those late 90s movies with odd temporal structures about hip young people who talk fast and do crime. it is a great movie though. I thought it would end up being the best movie Tarantino ever made. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that he had Kill Bill in him.

pope joan

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Tonight at 10pm ABC is doing a show about Pope Joan. The promo featured the Papess card from either the Visconti-Sforza or Cary-Yale deck, it went by too fast for me to be sure which one. The show will probably be stupid, but it looks like Diane Sawyer goes to Rome so it might yield some interesting scenery.

patience is a virtue

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The motor, which was suppose to come in yesterday, has not yet arrived. I guess paying extra for next day shipping does not in fact mean your shipment will arrive the next day. So it's looking like it will be tomorrow at the earliest that our heat is back on. And if it doesn't arrive today, then I don't know what. Do furnace guys work on weekends? I hope so.

It's annoying that this is dragging on so, but it's not nearly the problem it could be, due to the weather. Heck, I'm thinking about opening the doors because it's warmer outside than in right now. If our furnace had to go out this winter, I have to say we're pretty lucky about the timing.

The only really annoying thing, besides the dry-eye, is that I'm sitting on the living room couch all day and I have no decent movies to watch. Damn you TCM! I'm sorely tempted to crack open the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy DVD that I was planning to return.

the adventures of robin hood


December 17 movie: The Adventures of Robin Hood. I've seen this movie so many times that I don't really have anything to say about it. Except that I can't believe it took me this long to realize that was Eugene Pallette as Friar Tuck.

willy wonka and the chocolate factory

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December 16 movie: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Georg heard that Johnny Depp had deliberately not watched this movie because he didn't want his Willy Wonka to be an impersonation of Gene Wilder's. And I have to agree, the two performances have very little in common except things that must have been in the book (like Wonka pretending he can't understand Mike TV). One thing I liked about this version is that Charlie wins the grand prize by a generous act (refusing to help the corporate spy), rather than just by default. In the remake it comes across like Charlie wins simply because he's the only kid left. Also, I didn't think it possible, but the kids in this version were even more annoying than the ones in the remake.


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December 14 movie: Ran. I had been thinking about buying this because I heard the new Criterion Collection DVD was so good, and then our friend Pru sent it to us for Christmas! I sat down and watched it the day we received it. It's not the kind of movie I'd watch too often; I wouldn't want to weaken its emotional power. I remember the first time I saw it, I had never read King Lear, and though I knew it was a tragedy I didn't know just how tragic. By the time the end credits rolled I was totally overwhelmed. I wasn't crying or anything; I just felt numb. I think I was kind of in shock. This movie, like Ordet, made me feel like .. well it's hard to articulate without falling into cliches. It made me feel like for two hours I got to see a tiny bit of how a genius sees the world. It's beautiful and horrible and magnificent. There, I hope that wasn't too cliched.

This was my third viewing and it's still an intense experience. Although this time I watched it with the commentary, which definitely provided some distance. The commentary was excellent, by the way. I haven't had a chance to watch any of the other extras yet, but there are a bunch.



December 13 movie: Elizabeth. There have been so many horrid historical movies out of Hollywood in recent years (Kingdom of Heaven, anyone?) that I approached this with some trepidation. But I have to admit, I enjoyed it a lot. Sure, things didn't really happen like that, but I never held it against Young Bess, which was more ahistorical than this one.

This movie reminded me a lot of The Godfather actually. I don't buy the idea of Elizabeth as an innocent and naive young queen. I think she had to learn how to survive the politics of court long before she made it to the throne. So I didn't agree with the premise, but the pageantry was still fun.

Speaking of Kingdom of Heaven, I saw on IMDB that Ridley Scott is coming out with a movie about Mary Queen of Scots next year. Ay caramba.

the tender trap

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December 12 movie: The Tender Trap. I find the gender attitudes of this movie fairly appalling: first of all, Frank Sinatra plays a bachelor who uses dozens of women, I mean it, his pathetic girlfriends are legion. Then Debbie Reynolds shows up, goes on like 2 dates with Sinatra, and then indignantly demands that he completely change his life to be more like the man she wants to marry. Debbie hon, did you ever consider dating someone who already was the kind of man you want to settle down with? Just a thought!

Much as I hate the message of this movie, I still enjoy the movie. It's Sinatra in fine form, from his koo koo swinging cat era, which is worth two hours of my time any day. Even though he doesn't sing except for the end credits.

take me out to the ball game

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December 12 movie: Take Me Out to the Ballgame. This is Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly's third movie together, in importance if not chronologically. They play vaudeville performers and baseball players in the 1910's. Did that decade have a name? Post-Edwardian but pre-roaring twenties. Anyway, they're players on a baseball team owned by Esther Williams. It's not a great movie, but it's interesting to see Sinatra as a gangly young kid in a nauseatingly wholesome part -- for instance one of the big musical numbers is about the joys of a clambake. William Demerest plays the team coach, if I recall correctly his character is Irish and actually has to dance a jig at one point. The indignity!

There's a cute dance number at the end where Kelly, Sinatra, and the two female leads (Esther Williams and Betty Garrett) razz each other about their real-life professional rivals: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Ann Southern and .. I forget who they threw in Williams' face. It was funny though.

ball of fire

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December 11 movie: Ball of Fire. I think it must have been Barbara Stanwyck day on TCM. I don't know, it's hard to remember after so long. This is a fun movie starring Stanwyck as a nightclub singer on the lam, who holes up with a bunch of absentminded professors led by Gary Cooper. It's kind of riffing on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Cooper is weird casting for a stuffy intellectual, but he's perfect for the emotionally stunted man who needs Stanwyck's free spirit to help him discover his feelings. The other professors are played by a venerable gang of character actors from lots of other movies. Their scenes are like a room full of mayors, patriarchs and CEOs. Dana Andrews is also in it as the villain.

One of the highlights of the movie happens at the very beginning, when Stanwyck sings "Drum Boogie" with the Gene Krupa orchestra. The best part is when the audience comes in real close and Stanwyck whispers the song, while Krupa plays the beat on matchsticks. It's super cool.

cabin fever

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The thermostat read 56° this morning. Not that bad considering the furnace had been off for 40 hours by that point. We fired up the space heaters & kerosene and within a couple of hours the living room was at its normal 64°. Of course the bedrooms and bathroom are still freezing, but we aren't going in those rooms except when necessary.

I'm so glad it's been warm the past couple of days. Not only is it easier to keep the house warm, but the dogs can spend the day outside & away from the kerosene fumes. Thirteen gave me a scare yesterday: when I got back from Stoneline she wasn't at the door to greet me, and I had trouble waking her up. I try not to be a freaked-out constant worrier about Thirteen, but I confess to a few moments of fear that she had asphixiated. A couple of years ago I used the kerosene heater every day, but Thirteen was younger & her lungs worked better then.

So my plan to get all caught up on everything this week isn't working out quite as well as I had hoped. I have my computer in the living room but it's not as easy to work out here as at my desk. Also I'm feeling a little sluggish from the cold, and a little tired from not sleeping so well (again because of the cold). But at least I am getting work done.


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They do have to order the part, but for $20 extra we got overnight shipping. When it arrives they have to do some machine work to attach the motor to the housing that came out of our furnace. Then we get our heat back on Thursday.

That's not so bad. I can live with this until Thursday. So far the worst problem for me has been dry-eye. The humidifier is a big help but it can't overcome the dryness of space heaters, kerosene and a fireplace.

Now I have to get dressed and go to work. At least it's only for a short while.

intake exhaust motor

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It's the intake exhaust motor. It's cracked, and when it spins the edges bend out and scrape against the housing. Which causes the noise.

The furnace man said it would cost about $400 to repair, which is a huge relief when compared to a new furnace. The furnace turns out to be a 1992 model, good to know, I had no idea. He said we should expect another 2-4 years out of it. Considering this is the first repair we've ever needed on the furnace, I think we're doing pretty well.

He went back to get a new motor. If they have the part in stock, our heat will be back on this afternoon. If they have to order the part, it will be 5 business days. I'm crossing my fingers!

Luckily it's a fairly warm day today. With just the kerosene heater, the humidifier and one space heater, the living room is fairly comfortable. Although I am wearing many many layers.

almost warm


Our first night without heat wasn't so great. Actually last night was fine: the fireplace kept the living room so warm that we didn't even plug in the space heaters. That was a mistake. I woke up around 3 am, freezing cold. The house isn't even that bad -- about 58 -- but I forgot how cold the air mattress is. You know how in winter, when you first get into bed it's really cold? But then it warms up as it absorbs your body heat? Well an air mattress never does that. It just draws heat away from you all night. I would have thought that air would be a good insulator, after all that's the whole point of storm windows. But I guess it isn't as good as a bed.

Okay, enough whining. I got up around 6, plugged in the space heaters and let the dogs out. Jane didn't want to come back in because she's spooked by everything being moved around. I couldn't put away the air mattress without waking Georg (he's on the couch) so I pushed it into the hall. That was enough for Jane to come back in. It's funny how dogs hate change. I remember Thirteen always used to be terrified of furniture being moved -- not just the moving, which of course was scary, but finding things in new places really upset her. But she's much more calm about it now; now Jane is the freaked out one.

Now I'm curled up on the comfy chair, wrapped in a blanket, and I feel almost warm. When Georg wakes up I'll light the fire again, and then at 8 I have to call the HVAC guy to find out when they're coming over. In the meantime I think I'm going to make oatmeal. This is not a morning for my usual cold yogurt breakfast.

baby it's cold outside

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So our furnace decided today was the day to remind us that old furnaces don't last forever. Around 4:30 it started making a really loud noise. Not a banging or knocking, but a steady noise just like it was running, only about 25 times louder. The noise stopped when we turned it off, and then started again immediately when we turned it back on. Needless to say, we left it turned off.

Due to the magic of blogs I found the name of the guy Lisa and Christa used to replace their furnaces, called him and scheduled an appointment for tomorrow. I'm crossing my fingers that he'll be able to repair it. He advised us not to use the furnace in the meantime.

I'm not thrilled about this, but it could be a lot worse. It's supposed to be a bit warmer for the rest of the week. We have firewood and a kerosene heater, and Lisa brought us several space heaters and an air humidifier. It won't be like the ice storm a few years ago, when we didn't have power & therefore no stove or hot water.

christmas in connecticut

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December 11 movie: Christmas in Connecticut. I can't believe I never saw this movie before. It's Barbara Stanwyck as a self-proclaimed domestic goddess with a hugely successful magazine about the joys of country living with her family. Sound familiar? The main difference between Stanwyck and Martha Stewart, besides jail, is that Stanwyck is a fraud, a single woman who can't cook & lives in a tiny NY apartment. The movie follows her attempt to convince her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) and a war hero (Dennis Morgan) that she really is a domestic goddess. The wonderful character actor S.Z. Sakall plays the restaurant chef who pretends to be Stanwyck's "Uncle Felix" and helps her with the cooking.

the scarlet pimpernel


December 11 movie: The Scarlet Pimpernel. Now this was fun. _ The Scarlet Pimpernel (played by Leslie Howard) is a British aristocrat rescuing French aristocrats from execution during the French Revolution. It was indeed very much like Zorro, except that unlike loner Zorro, the Pimpernel has a bunch of good guy lackeys helping him. They do act like dandies to conceal their heroic daring-do, just like Zorro. Howard's foppish routine is a blast: prancing around saying "Sink me!" and critiquing everyone's neckwear. Howard even makes up a poem about himself:

They seek him here, they seek him there
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven, or is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel!

good news

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December 11 movie: Good News. Has it really been that long since I wrote up a movie? Yikes.

Good News starred June Allyson as a college library student and Peter Lawford as the college football star who woos her. Neither Allyson nor Lawford is the least bit convincing as a college student. And I've always found Allyson's sexless woman-child a little creepy. The only good thing about this movie was Mel Torme as another student. He doesn't look like a college student either, but at he gets to sing.

xmas cheer

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Last night we went out for dinner at Second Empire in Raleigh. Everything was wonderful. We started with a wild mushroom appetizer thingie, and then I had grilled lamb. And I must say, that was the finest lamb I have ever eaten. Georg had veal, which I tasted, and it was excellent too. Then I finished up with an apple crumb cake that seemed to be an upside-down cake, although the menu didn't describe it as such. Georg had pumpkin cheesecake topped with ginger rosemary ice cream. Yum!

The service was leisurely, but not so slow as to be annoying. The only possible criticism I can offer is that "almond lace" cookie which came with my cake. I think it was basically sugar and crushed almonds, and it stuck to my teeth. However, the vanilla ice cream on top of the cookie was very nice.

I fell asleep watching Christmas in Connecticut and then we both went to bed early. Unfortunately my plan to get up early and fill Georg's stocking was thwarted when he got up early too. (I know, it's dorky to not just hang stockings but fill them too. It's still fun.) This morning we had a breakfast of oatmeal with dried fruit, a recipe we got from Alton Brown. Breakfast is normally a utilitarian business for me, but it's nice to do something special once in a while.

We spent the morning in our Christmas pajamas, watching the yule log on TV and reading the books we bought each other (Julie & Julia for me, Skipping Towards Gomorrah for Georg). Then Georg did a radio show while I made tonight's dinner, a ragu bolognese. Now Georg is making pumpkin ice cream for dessert. I'm watching a truly awful movie, Quo Vadis, and we have Holiday Inn (which is not at all awful) for tonight. What a great way to spend Christmas. The only way it would be better is if we didn't have to work tomorrow!



I will be on the air tonight from 6-8 pm, playing the finest, the cheesiest and the kookiest classic Christmas songs I can find. 88.7 fm if you're local, if you're not. There will be a live playlist too.

breathtaking inanity

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The news hasn't given me cause to celebrate in a long time. Until yesterday:

Judge Rules Against Intelligent Design

It was the lead story on NPR yesterday evening. I did the happy dance in my car the whole way home.

(The judge's decision is online and well worth reading.)

the four feathers


December 11 movie: The Four Feathers. I think they were doing a special on Alexander Korda last night. Besides this and The Third Man, they also showed The Scarlet Pimpernel (which I also watched) and The Thief of Baghdad (which I didn't).

Anyway, The Four Feathers is an epic adventure about a British soldier who chickens out and resigns his commission just before being sent to the Sudan. His three friends and fiance each give him a white feather, which they say is a symbol of cowardice in Britain. Can anyone confirm that? I never heard it before. The erstwhile soldier spends years "repaying his debt" by saving everyone's life in the midst of great danger and personal suffering.

At first I found this movie simply appalling. We're supposed to agree with the friends and condemn the unwilling soldier, but I was totally on his side. Everyone makes the war in the Sudan sound like suicide, and yet the poor guy -- who never wanted to be a soldier in the first place -- is supposed to cheerfully march off to his death just because his father expects him to. Strangely, I'm just not in the mood for an exciting story about a futile war in the Middle East. I can't imagine why.

But then Georg and I realized that the movie was released in 1939, when Britain was about to head into WWII. The movie makes a lot more sense in that context. Especially one speech by the fiancee after the hero has resigned his commission. She tells him that they aren't free to pursue their dreams because they both have an obligation to tradition and duty, which they have to honor even if they don't believe in it because of what they owe to their families.

Eventually they got into the "ripping yarn" phase of the movie, at which point I enjoyed it much more. It really is a good adventure story if you can get past the hawkishness.

the third man

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December 10 movie: The Third Man. What a great movie this is. The story, the pacing, the characters, the music, the visuals -- it all comes together beautifully. If you haven't seen it yet, see it. Right now. I mean it.

I don't think I've ever seen a movie starring Joseph Cotten that I didn't love, and this is no exception. The plot is Cotten in postwar Vienna, investigating the death of his friend Harry Lime. The mystery is exciting and well-paced, but the movie is really about Cotten's American naivete clashing with the world-weary cynicism of the Europeans. This was my second viewing, which is almost sad in a way. You can't have that moment of discovering who the third man is twice. And they handle the moment so perfectly. On the other hand, this time I got to look for clues that didn't make so much sense to me the first time around.

Visually the movie is superb. There are a few shots -- a man reaching through a sewer grate, another of a looming shadow, plus of course the big reveal and the final shot -- that make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck just thinking about them. The use of locations in the actual post-war Vienna makes the movie so vivid and real. And the music is just perfect. It's one theme played on the zither, with various tones and moods to match the action. And the iTunes music store has a bunch of versions of it! I bought the original and one by the Skatalites.

while the city sleeps

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December 10 movie: While the City Sleeps. I recorded this because of the cast: Dana Andrews, Vincent Price, Rhonda Fleming, Ida Lupino, and George Sanders. And with a cast like that, it should have been a much better movie than it was. It's a Fritz Lang movie about reporters trying to find a serial killer, but the real focus, and what should have been most interesting, is the infighting among divisions of a media empire. There are some good visuals, notably a chase in a subway tunnel and a woman doing exercises behind a screen. But wooden acting and a draggy plot sunk this movie. Plus the attitudes towards women are appalling: and appalling attitudes about women Andrews uses his fiance as bait for the serial killer without even asking her, Sanders prostitutes his girlfriend to try and get ahead at his job, and it doesn't get any better from there. I can't recommend this unless you're a Fritz Lang completist. Likewise Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, which was so much worse on all counts (wooden, draggy and hostile to women) that I couldn't stand more than a half an hour.

time bandits

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December 9 movie: Time Bandits. I read something recently that made me want to see this movie again, but I can't remember where I read it. Whatever it was, I thank them! I last saw it when it was new, but the movie is just as funny as I remembered. How often does that happen?

The movie's ending is shockingly pessimistic, but I realized on this viewing that it isn't quite as bad as I originally thought. [Major spoilers:] At the end the boy's parents are dead and his rescuer has driven off, abandoning him. It seems horrible, but he still has the Polaroid photo of the map! And an earlier scene establishes that he knows how to read it. So he can go back to Agamemnon.

The scene where Satan blasts his minion for suggesting that God can't be all bad because he created evil provoked an interesting conversation between Georg and me about Satan and evil. For instance, where do various sects and philosophies believe evil came from. Is it a byproduct of man's failure to live up to God's plan, in which case would there be no evil if there was no man? Or is evil an independant force like the White Witch in Narnia, in which case is God not omnipotent after all? Also, Georg told me that most mainstream Protestants believe Satan is a metaphor, not an actual being. Is that true? In Catholic school they didn't talk much about Lucifer, but I think they believed he was as real as the other angels. And the evangelical types depicted in Left Behind are obsessed with demons and Satan. (Which, by the way, I think that kind of fixation on Satan is itself a form of satanism, but that's another topic.) Anyway, I appreciate any movie which makes us think about interesting topics like that,

young bess

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December 7 movie: Young Bess. Okay, so its portrayal of Tom Seymour is totally ahistorical. I can't help but love Jean Simmons' headstrong young princess. She's a force of nature, much as I imagine the real Elizabeth. And Charles Laughton is fantastic as Henry VIII. After watching this again I put Elizabeth R back on my Netflix queue. Which is funny because that's exactly what happened last time. I think this movie made me fall in love with Elizabeth.

ocean's eleven

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December 6 movie: Ocean's Eleven. I think we're going to be watching a lot of movies about Vegas over the next few months. This is the original Rat Pack version, and I've seen it a dozen times, although I have to admit it isn't a very good movie. I just love the music, the shots of old Vegas and that koo-koo Rat Pack vibe. Of the five casinos they rob in the movie, Georg and I have been in 3: the Sahara (which is where we saw the Rat Pack is Back re-enactor show), the Desert Inn (which was torn down soon after our first visit to Vegas) and the Flamingo (which is where I took a photo of a giant hot dog sign for Charo). And we were thrilled to see footage of that old statue of the people and the camel, which is still standing outside the Sahara!

adam's rib

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December 4 movie: Adam's Rib. I've never really gotten the appeal of the Hepburn/Tracy movies. They always seem to end up with Hepburn debasing herself for Tracy, and what's so romantic about that? But then again, I'd only ever seen the lesser ones, like Desk Set. So I decided, what the heck, I'd try one of their best and see how I like it. Well I did enjoy it a lot. The humor is fairly hostile, but no more so than any romantic comedy of the era. And at least Hepburn holds her own.

imitation of life

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December 4 movie: Imitation of Life. I wrote a lot about this movie last time I watched it, so I'm going to take a pass this time and just say that it's too bad Juanita Moore didn't have any other memorable parts. She was in The Singing Nun, but that doesn't exactly count as memorable. Also she had a bit part in The Opposite Sex but I don't remember seeing her at all. According to IMDB she's still alive and her last acting job was in 2000.

truck time


Georg and I are thinking about buying a truck. I feel uncomfortable about a two person household owning three vehicles, but we kind of need one. In temperate weather we could use a truck every weekend, sometimes more often, for landscaping and also some renovation projects I've been wanting to do. In the past I've always borrowed David's truck, but I'm feeling kind of uncomfortable about that in the future, for three reasons. First and most importantly, because of the problems last time. Second, it's now his only car, so he's stranded whenever I've got it. (For some bizarre reason he won't drive my car.) Third, it really doesn't feel safe, even when I haven't stripped teeth off the transmission.

So all of this has been running through my head, and I've been wondering what I was going to do next time it warmed up and I needed to get mulch or soil. When I happened to overhear M. at Stoneline talking about his 1992 Ford Ranger to another guy here, a former auto mechanic who has worked on the truck. The Ranger needs repair and M. was thinking about selling it anyway and he said he might as well get rid of it now.

I thought at first that the truck had blown a head gasket, which made me nervous, but I just found out today that it actually blew a freeze plug. I never even heard of freeze plugs before. (I hope the car-literate reading this will correct anything inaccurate that I say next.) Apparently freeze plugs are tiny parts that are located very inconveniently. It's an expensive repair because the entire head has to be removed to get to them. B., the mechanic, recommended remilling the heads while they were off anyway, due to the car's age. It seems prudent to do that now, rather than waiting until it blows a head gasket. B. thinks this will cost about $1,000, except in the unlikely event of a cracked head, which would cost about $500 more. He thinks that's not likely but he wanted to warn me that it was a possibility.

M. wants to sell the truck for $1000 but B. advised me to offer him $800. $2k seems fairly reasonable to me for the truck we would have after the repair, but B. seems to feel that on principle you should never pay $1000 for something that isn't currently running. B. also seemed to feel that what I really need is an F150, but it's hard to get one that hasn't been run into the ground. The nice thing about the Ranger is that I know the owner, I know its history and I know the mechanic who's been working on it.

What I really want is a truck that will be reliable for weekend use. And then either sell it in a couple of years when we've finished our landscaping projects, or keep it for years and years. I'm going to compare prices on and see what the going rate is for Rangers.

[ETA: I told M. I was interested and he offered it to me for $800 if he didn't have to clean it! woo hoo! So what are we going to call this new truck? I vote Phantom 309.]

arithmetic of smell

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Wearing BPAL Midway + someone leaving a banana in the office = freshly baked banana bread, that only I can smell.

Mmm, banana bread.

don't know my own strength


As I mentioned recently, last time I borrowed David's truck it was nearly impossible to shift gears. Well, he called me to let me know that I did it, but it wasn't my fault.

David had recently had some work done on the transmission, and had unknowingly gotten a rebuilt part, which had had all the teeth knocked off and glued back on. When I got in the truck, I couldn't get the seat to move forward. So I couldn't reach the clutch that well with my foot. I pushed it in as far as I could, jammed the stick into gear, and stripped all those glued-on teeth right off. Whoops! No wonder I had trouble shifting gears.

Fortunately the mechanic is replacing the part for free. Apparently he had ordered a new part, but his supplier sent him the rebuilt part anyway. In other words, they ripped him off. I'm glad David has a mechanic he can rely on to be honest. He could easily have passed it off as something I did. Neither David nor I know enough about cars to have known any better. And I would have felt obligated to pay for the repair.

the joker is wild

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December 4 movie: The Joker is Wild. Frank Sinatra stars in a biopic of comedian Joe E. Lewis. Apparently Lewis was a singer who ran afoul of the Chicago mafia, and was the victim of a botched hit which left him alive but unable to sing. So he became a comic. Unfortunately I missed the first half hour, so by the time I came in Sinatra wasn't singing, and when he did he pretended his voice was ruined. He did sing "All the Way" near the end.

According to this movie, Joe E. Lewis's comedy was exactly like Frank Sinatra's comedy, except in the absence of Dean Martin, Sinatra had to do all the drunk jokes himself. Most of the movie, in fact, is about Lewis drinking himself to death and doing stand-up comedy. At the very end he has an epiphany and decides to clean up his act. IMDB says that the real Lewis lived 15 years after the movie was made, so I guess he did cut back on the drinking in real life.

I must say, I don't normally think that much of Sinatra's acting -- I mean I love his movies, but the acting isn't why you watch a Sinatra movie -- but he nailed it here. It's all about Sinatra, but there's also great supporting work by Mitzi Gaynor, Eddie Albert, Jeanne Crain and Jackie Coogan. Yes, that Jackie Coogan.

harry potter and the goblet of fire


December 3 movie: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Last night we saw this with Shayne, and sat in decent seats this time. And now that I've had a chance to really appreciate it, for my money this is the best movie of the four. Don't read further if you haven't seen the movie yet.

I feel very conflicted about the Goblet of Fire book. Structurally I agree with Georg that it's the weakest. It's sprawling and needlessly complicated, and by the time you get to the end you're like "Huh? what? who?" Like a bad mystery novel. But there are so many great scenes in this book, so many details to love. Like the way the relationships develop among all the kids, and the house elfs, and all the stuff about the joke shop. Of course I was sad to see so many of those details dropped, but I knew going in that they would have to do it. And it made the movie so much more focused that the plot hangs together better. So I have to acknowledge that the revisions improved the movie.

I did miss some of the elements that were dropped. For instance Winky, the joke shop, the conflict between Hermione and Rita Skeeter. And some of those omissions may cause problems in future books. I guess they can pick up the joke shop without missing a beat next time, but how will they get Rita to do the story on Harry if Hermione isn't holding anything over her? And since we lost everything about Percy's officiousness about his job working for Mr. Crouch, Percy's split with the Weasley family will seem kind of out of left field. On the other hand, there were a few scenes that worked better in the movie. For instance when Harry comes back from the cemetary with Cedric's body, before anyone realizes what happened, and he's lying there crying while everyone cheers and the band plays. That was deeply affecting, while I found the book a bit, I don't know, flat in that scene. I guess because it was strictly from Harry's point of view, and he was in shock at that point.

I don't know if I would recommend this movie for kids though. It's dark, both literally -- lit very grey, only a few tiny patches of sunlight in the entire film -- and figuratively. By the end it's more or less a horror movie. Which, of course, is very true to the book.

I only have a couple of quarrels with the movie. First, I didn't like that they had Voldemort give that speech about the magical power of love. I believe that speech was originally Dumbledore's, and the whole point is that Voldemort is so emotionally crippled that he doesn't understand how love could have power. That's supposed to be Harry's one advantage over Voldemort. To have Voldemort give that speech seemed like a big mistake to me. I would think that Voldemort would have no idea how Harry survived the attack. But maybe I'm remembering things wrong. I'll have to reread Voldemorts scenes in the fourth & fifth books.

Second, I was crushed that Mad-eye Moody never said "Constant vigilance!" I had been looking forward to that one line for months. I guess I'll have to do it myself. CONSTANT VIGILANCE! You couldn't see me banging the table, but it scared the dog.


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December 3 movie: Saboteur. My dad was right: this wasn't a remake of Sabotage at all. They don't really have anything in common except the name. Sabotage is much more similar to North by Northwest. Both of which I enjoyed quite a bit, although I think North by Northwest is a better movie. There is a funny running bit in Saboteur where the hero keeps seeing billboards that relate uncannily to his situation: "You're Being Followed," "A Beautiful Funeral," etc.

ong bak: the thai warrior


December 2 movie: Ong Bak: The Thai Warrior. Contrary to what you might think, Ong Bak is not the name of the Thai Warrior. His name is Ting. Ong Bak is the Buddha statue in Ting's village, whose head is stolen by a bad, bad man from Bangkok. Ting goes on a rescue mission for Ong Bak's head, leaving a path of mayhem and desctruction behind him.

The movie stars Tony Jaa, an expert in the Muay Thai school of martial arts. I never heard of Muay Thai before this movie, but it seems to be very violent. It's not about finesse and defense; it's about knocking people senseless with one blow. And doing amazing acrobatics at the same time. There was one move he did, slamming his elbow down on the top of the other guy's head, which looked pretty harsh. But you'd have to be tall to do it. I don't think I could even reach the top of most people's heads with my elbow! I also never heard of a "rope fist fight" before. They wrap rope around their fists and forearms. I guess it allows them to do more damage. I wonder if people really do that, or if it was just for the movie.

Georg told me after the movie that Jaa did all his own stunts, with no wires. At first I didn't believe it. The stunts were just too impressive. But the DVD extras included a demonstration he did in France which included some of the best moves -- like jumping up and running along the shoulders of a bunch of other guys -- with nary a wire. Unbelievable.

bram stoker's dracula

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December 1 movie: Bram Stoker's Dracula. I just wanted to kick back and watch a bad movie, and boy howdy did this fit the bill. It stank! I'm really not down with this reimagining of the Dracula story. Although I confess, it's been so long since I read the original that I can't say definitively it wasn't like the movie. I found the text of the novel online, so I guess I'll read it again and find out.

I'm sure I'm not the first one to notice that movies which include the original author's name in the title always suck. Does anyone have a counter-example?

captain blood

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November 28 movie, Captain Blood. I don't have much to say about this movie that I didn't already say last time. Except that this is a marvelous swashbuckler and exactly what I was in the mood for.

monty python and the holy grail

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November 26 movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Georg and I watched some of the DVD extras, and the movie with commentary by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones. It was interesting, although not as much as I expected. Part of the problem was that Gilliam and Jones obviously weren't together when they recorded it. We could tell because they never interact with each other, and they spoke of each other in the third person, the same way they spoke of everyone else in the cast. One problem this caused was that most of the commentary was very generic, in other words usually not related to the scene that's on screen at the time. I guess they had to do it that way, because if both of them talked about one moment of one scene they could only use one or the other.

On the bright side, both Georg and I know the movie so well that the commentary didn't make us miss anything. There's also a commentary by Eric Idle, Michael Palin and John Cleese. I'm mildly interested in it, but not so much if they do the same thing where the actors aren't together.

the world is not enough

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November 26 movie: The World is Not Enough. I've seen two Pierce Brosnan Bond movies now, and my reaction is pretty much "meh." Not awful like the Roger Moore movies; not great like the Connery movies. I'm trying to think if this one had anything memorable in it. No, not really. Well, it had that chick from Wild Things and Starship Troopers as a Bond girl. I hear they're called Bond women now. Because those parts are so empowering, god knows we wouldn't want to demean them by calling them "girls."

girl shy

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November 23 movie: Girl Shy. I'm not a huge fan of Harold Lloyd, and I'm particularly not fond of stuttering played for laughs, although it was less objectionable because you couldn't actually hear Lloyd stutter. Kind of interesting also, to see such a verbal joke in a silent movie. It may have been a coincidence but the ending of The Graduate seemed to draw a lot from this movie.

it happened one night

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November 23 movie: It Happened One Night. I don't know if the story is true that this movie decimated the undershirt industry, but I do know that it's a nearly perfect romantic comedy. Colbert and Gable are both in top form, and they needed to be to sustain a movie in which they spend so much time alone together on screen. There are a lot of famous scenes in this movie: Colbert running away in her wedding dress, Gable teaching Colbert how to hitch-hike, Gable and Colbert undressing behind "the wall of Jericho." But my favorite scene is the magnificent Alan Hale singing his goofy songs: "Young people in LOOOVE are very seldom HUUUNGRY!"

sleepy hollow

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November 21 movie: Sleepy Hollow. I really enjoyed this. Especially since it went in a totally different direction from what I was expecting. It was also gorier than I had expected, although I should have expected it after seeing clips of the image Burton ripped off from Mario Bava's Black Sunday. I wish we had watched it before Halloween.

ship ahoy

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November 21 movie: Ship Ahoy. This was a wacky comedy about Nazi spies starring Eleanor Powell and Red Skelton. Normally I would go to great lengths to avoid a movie one could describe with the words "wacky," "Red Skelton" and "Nazis." But Eleanor Powell plays a singer with the Tommy Dorsey orchestra, which meant that Dorsey, his band, and Frank Sinatra are in it. Sinatra gets two songs and no lines, but they were great songs. I hadn't heard one of the songs before ("Poor You") but I'm going to look for it.

Also the plot, while stupid, was fun. Powell gets to tap dance a message in morse code; that was cool. Bert Lahr as Skelton's sidekick plays basically the same character as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Minus the tail of course. And Dorsey gets a few lines, in which he overwhelms the room with his utter coolness, daddy-o.

broadway melody of 1940

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November 21 movie: Broadway Melody of 1940. Now here's a good Fred Astaire movie. Astaire plays the ultimate mentch: due to mistaken identity his dancing partner George Murphy gets the big break that was intended for him. Instead of fighting for his own career, Astaire coaches and helps Murphy, encourages him to date Eleanor Powell, Astaire's secret crush., and even stands in for him when Murphy gets too drunk to go on. How anyone could confuse Fred Astaire with George Murphy is beyond me, but the movie is too much fun to worry about details like that.

With her big toothy grin Eleanor Powell didn't look much like a movie star, but her dancing was spectacular. I think she's the only dancing partner besides Ginger Rogers to truly hold her own with Astaire. With great dance numbers, great songs and a great plot, this is one not to miss.

a damsel in distress

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November 20 movie: A Damsel in Distress. A lesser Fred Astaire movie, and I do mean lesser. Whose idea was it to pair him with Joan Fontaine? She can't dance at all. Astaire has a few decent dance numbers without her (like "A Foggy Day") but the plot is unwatchable.

The costars are George Burns and Gracie Allen, which is great if you like Burns and Allen, but I confess I'm not crazy about them. Their schtick seems to boil down to Allen saying something stupid and Burns rolling his eyes in contempt. Ha ha. On the other hand, if you don't share my opinion of Burns and Allen you'll probably enjoy this movie.

the lady eve

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November 20 movie: The Lady Eve. Am I lame for watching the same movie two days in a row? If it's a movie as good as this, then I don't think so. I love the scene at the beginning where all the ladies in the dining room are trying in vain to attract Henry Ford's attention, while Barbara Stanwyck watches in a hand mirror and does a hilarious play-by-play. Last time I mentioned Charles Coburn, Eugene Pallette and Eric Blore, but I forgot William Demerest. He plays Ford's crochety but devoted bodyguard. That idiot Peter Bogdonovich introduced the movie and said that Demerest was one of Preston Sturges' favorite actors, and appeared in all Sturges' movies. But I don't remember him in The Palm Beach Story. Oh! I just looked it up and he was in that, as a member of the Ale and Quail Club. Bang bang!

sense and sensibility

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November 20 movie: Sense and Sensibility. What the heck was this movie doing on TCM? Whatever the reason, I enjoyed watching it again. They did a pretty good job of adapting a lengthy Austen book, although the movie was in some ways very different from the book. For instance, Elinor was 18 when the book began, prime marriage age. But Emma Thompson was 37 when she made this movie, so they had to make Elinor an old maid in the movie. Which is why the Dashwoods sneer that Marianne will lose her looks and end up a spinster like Elinor, when she wasn't really a spinster at all. I suppose if you were a pedantic Austen fan that would annoy you, but if would have annoyed me more if Thompson had tried to play an 18 year old.

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