January 2007 Archives

little miss sunshine

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January 29 movie: Little Miss Sunshine. I watch a lot of movies, but not a lot of new movies. And this is the first time I can remember that I've seen a movie nominated for Best Picture in the current year. I have mixed feelings about this movie. It was funny, I enjoyed it, but it was a bit ... mm. I'm having a hard time articulating what it was I didn't like. Too .. heartwarming? Facile? I had the biggest problem with Greg Kinnear's character. He's such a bastard at the beginning that for me he was unredeemable. At least, I didn't buy his redemption.

Maybe I'm being too hard on the movie. I did like Steve Carell and Alan Arkin's performances. And I have to admire a screwball comedy in which every character fails spectacularly, at everything that matters to them, which still manages to be upbeat.

too many husbands

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January 28 movie: Too Many Husbands. This movie is basically the same as My Favorite Wife, except the genders are reversed. Fred MacMurray comes back from having been marooned on a desert island and presumed dead, to discover that his wife Jean Arthur has married his best friend, Melvyn Douglas.

My Favorite Wife clearly chooses sides & treats the second wife as an interloper, but here both husbands are treated sympathetically. For her part, Jean Arthur loves the lavish attention from two men who neglected her before, and is in no hurry to make a decision. [major spoiler] The movie ends with neither man winning Arthur, but rather a menage a trois. The final scene is the three of them dancing together, the two men looking a bit uneasy, and Arthur saying "Isn't this wonderful?" I might have expected that from a pre-code movie but in 1940 it's kind of brazen!

dragnet

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January 28 movie: Dragnet. There was a time, a few years ago, when I watched reruns of the Dragnet tv show every night. It turns out there's a Dragnet movie from that same era, starring Jack Webb. And it turns out that two hours of Dragnet is much like a half hour of Dragnet, only four times more. Which is not necessarily a good thing. I probably would have enjoyed four episodes of the show more. The movie tended to drag, but the biggest problem was the absence of Harry Morgan. I didn't realize how important Bill Gannon was to the show. Like the way he and Friday would nod at each other after the witness said something dramatic.

the americanization of emily

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January 28 movie: The Americanization of Emily. One of the things I love best about Turner Classic Movies is the opportunity to see great movies I'd never heard of. To be precise, it's the combination of TCM and a DVR. Every week I review the info guide for TCM and set the DVR to record everything that sounds vaguely interesting. I probably end up deleting half the movies after ten minutes, but the other half yields some true gems.

Like The Americanization of Emily. I just finished watching it, and I'm sitting here wondering how I could never have heard of a movie so brilliant. It's an anti-war black comedy written by Paddy Chayevsky. [major spoilers follow:] James Garner stars as a self-avowed coward with a cushy job in London procuring cognac and women for a loony admiral (Melvyn Douglas). Garner meets and falls in love with Julie Andrews, an idealist who finds his pragmatism as contemptible as he finds her sentiment.

Douglas' only concern about the war is its PR value for the Navy, and he becomes obsessed with filming a movie of the first American to die on Omaha Beach, who naturally must be a sailor. When Douglas goes off the deep end, Garner's best friend James Coburn takes the movie idea and runs with it. Coburn forces Garner not just to participate in the D-Day invasion, not just to be first on the beach, but to be the first casualty, the star of his own pointless movie.

The movie loses its intestinal fortitude at the very end, wrapping everything up with a happy ending [major, major spoiler: he's not really dead] and way too much speechifying. But if you turn it off after the Omaha Beach scene it's an incredible satiric statement of the insanity of war. I'd rank it with Dr. Strangelove. Scratch that; it would be better than Strangelove. If for no other reason, because of the cast. Peter Sellers annoys me, while I adore Garner, Douglas and especially Coburn.

Georg commented that this 1964 movie was made about as early as it could possibly have been made. By which he meant, before the Kennedy assassination America was just not cynical enough for a movie like this. Some of Garner's speeches are amazing. At one point he even turns his scathing contempt on war widows, for promoting the false idea that death in war is noble and virtuous. This is the hero of the movie -- and he's talking to two war widows at the time! One of the best lines is said by Julie Andrews, when Coburn suggests that Garner is a hero: "Whatever for? All he did was die. Next we'll be putting up monuments to cancer and automobile accidents."

harry in your pocket

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January 27 movie: Harry in Your Pocket. More James Coburn! I had seen the end of this a few weeks ago, and then lucky me, they had it on TCM On Demand. (Georg just discovered TCM On Demand. It's the most amazing thing! It's got a couple dozen movies shown recently on TCM, and it's just like pay per view, only free. Free! Too bad they didn't have My Kingdom for a Cook for that guy doing research.)

Anyway, in Harry in Your Pocket Coburn is a master pickpocket and Walter Pidgeon is his aging partner. They take in two amateurs as apprentices, and we learn about the mechanics of team pickpocketing while the team comes together, strengthens, and eventually unravels. The relationships among the four are complicated, and make for an interesting movie. It was nice to see that Pidgeon still had it. He created dignity in his character, even when the character was an over-the-hill coke-head pickpocket.

dead heat on a merry-go-round

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January 27 movie: Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round. Caper movie starring James Coburn. (I almost typed "Charles Coburn" by accident. That would have been a very different movie!) The pacing was off, kind of draggy, and the character development kind of flat. But I still really enjoyed it. The best thing about the movie was the footage of the Los Angeles Airport. An amazing mid-century structure. Does it still look like that? If so, I need to go book a flight!

[ETA: I forgot to mention, the movie includes a young Harrison Ford in his first movie role. He plays a bellhop with one or two lines.]

the greatest show on earth

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January 27 movie: The Greatest Show on Earth. This was called the most mediocre movie ever to win Best Picture. (That was before Gladiator.) True, the movie is aggressively mediocre -- it's basically a two hour advertisement for the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus -- but I still love it. For one reason: Betty Hutton. I heard that she practiced for months on the trapeze to make her character believeable. I love her melodrama dialogue: "You've got sawdust in your veins, Brad! Keep the circus rolling, and you don't care who it rolls over! Be careful, someday it may roll over you!" The movie also features Jimmy Stewart as a "crying on the inside" clown.

in like flint

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January 26 movie: In Like Flint. I don't like this sequel quite as much as the first one, Our Man Flint, but it still has much to recommend it. First and most importantly, of course, James Coburn. Also Lee J. Cobb as Coburn's sidekick, and Anna Lee as the matriarch of an all-lady villain organization. I could describe the plot, but really, who cares about the plot of a Flint movie?

the prize

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January 26 movie: The Prize. Paul Newman plays a Nobel-prize winning author. I know, bear with me. Newman is in Sweden to receive his Nobel prize, and discovers a plot to kidnap another Nobel prize winner. This was a fair-to-middling thriller. Reminded me of Hitchcock, notably North by Northwest and Foreign Correspondent. Hah, I just looked up The Prize on imdb.com and found out it was based on a book by the same author who wrote the book on which North by Northwest was based. No wonder they had scenes in common.

don

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January 25 movie: Don. How lame am I? We had Santa Salsera over to watch Don and I fell asleep again. So lame! One minute Amitabh was fighting off a dozen bad guys with a bamboo pole; the next thing I knew the movie was over and Georg and Sylvia were trying to wake me up. I missed the big fight scene in the graveyard, and the tightrope scene!

Up until I passed out it was a fun evening anyway. Sylvia shares our love of Amitabh, and we had Indian dinner to go with the movie. We made a lamb curry with potatoes and peas in the crockpot.

lord love a duck

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January 25 movie: Lord Love a Duck. My goodness, this was a strange movie. A black comedy and social satire that's brutally funny, deeply sad, and just plain vicious. Roddy McDowell is a super-genius high school student who goes to any length, even to murder, to realize the dreams of his platonic love, Tuesday Weld. Also stars Ruth Gordon, Harvey Korman, Lola Albright and Martin West.

Tuesday Weld is extraordinary. Her sexpot character is both a send-up and totally earnest. She's ludicrous, selfish, and should be hateful, but somehow Weld makes her sympathetic. The movie reminded me a little bit of Rushmore, especially the sequence of escalating failed murder attempts.

the nightmare shrubs of nightmare

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A really nice day today. We started out this morning with a trip to the big Habitat for Humanity Re-use store in Raleigh. I've heard of folks finding great things there, and now that I've been, I can see why. It's like a ginornimous Goodwill of building supplies. We were looking for something specific (brick pavers for an outdoor path), and saw it immediately, but we still walked around the whole place looking at everything.

The stock gave us lots of ideas for future projects -- moulding for the bedroom, windows for the shed, maybe a new back door, etc. The one thing that I really regret was a 1930's vanity. A bit dinged up, but it was a beautiful piece with a top compartment that slid forward when you opened the lid, and a light fixture inside. Too bad we have no space for something like that. There was also a beautiful dining table in good condition, but we already have a nice dining table. And dozens of sinks! Which got Georg excited about wanting to repair/replace the kitchen countertop and sink. Which is an ambitious project, but what the heck. We've taken on projects beyond our skill level before, and it's always worked out.

So, the brick pavers. They had two pallets, at about $2 a square foot. It was in excellent condition although used, probably for exactly the same purpose (there was sand clinging to the bottoms of the bricks). Alas, we hadn't planned too well, and didn't know a) how much new brick costs, or b) how much we need. I honestly didn't think we were going to find any, so I didn't think I needed to have that info in advance. So we left without buying.

After the Habitat for Humanity store we headed to the farmer's market for firewood. I'm proud to say that I managed to get there by driving through town, rather than going back up to the beltline and circling around the city on the highway, and didn't get lost once. And if you've ever driven with me on unfamiliar roads, you know what an achievement that is.

We got firewood from a nice guy on the opposite end from the people who shorted us last time. He was very talkative, telling us how he was filling in for his dad, who normally sells at the market, but today was at the museum teaching a class on basket-making. I really liked him, until I made some comment about the weather and he replied that the Bible says in the end times, we won't know winter from spring. Umm ... sure, or it could just be an el Niño. (Maybe El Niño is a sign of the end times!)

On the way home we decided to have lunch at Hotpoint, a little sandwich/pizza place we like near Crossroads in Cary. Crossroads is such a big mall, going there is always a major trip, and it's nice to have a place to eat right there which isn't a chain. We were a little early and Hotpoint wasn't open yet, so we went to the big box store at Crossroads to price brick. At Home Depot it was about $3 a square foot. I misremembered the price of the brick at the Habitat store as $1 a square foot, which would be a fantastic deal, so we decided to go back after lunch and get the brick.

Well, we got back and realized that it was actually not a fantastic deal, but still about 1/3 off the new price, so we were going to get it anyway. But the guy at the counter told me that my truck (a Ford Ranger) would only hold about half a pallet. He said we'd have to break open the pallet and hand-load half of it, take it home and come back for the rest. He said they would keep the other half of the brick for us until Wednesday, but he warned me that they had a theft problem with the outdoor stock, and he wouldn't recommend leaving an open pallet of brick over a weekend.

It was early afternoon by then, and there simply wasn't time for us to load a half-ton of brick, drive home to Durham, unload it, drive back to Raleigh and load another half-ton before the store closed at 5. So we took a pass on the brick. We'll call them next week and if they still have it, go early Saturday morning so we have time to make two trips. In the meantime I'm going to check out Craig's List and see if I can find a better deal.

Back home it was so warm that I had to do a little yardwork. Nothing too strenuous after all that driving around. I cut down the dead branches of the die-back perennials, did some light weeding in the iris bed, and pulled up about a hundred privet seedlings around the butterfly bush. They're easy to pull out when they're small, but total bastards once they become established. Georg calls them "the nightmare shrubs of nightmare."

Now I'm relaxing on the couch, watching an odd James Coburn movie. I was going to light a fire tonight but Thirteen is sleeping right in front of the fireplace and I hate to disturb her. Oh well, it will be a better night for it tomorrow.

designing woman

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January 22 movie: Designing Woman. I love this movie. I've seen a lot of old movies about romantic couples who bully and manipulate each other into submission. In this movie Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall believably love each other. And they learn to live with each other by compromising on small things (she goes to the boxing match with him; he goes to her fashion show) and big (he moves into her apartment even though he'd feel more comfortable someplace else; she pretends to believe his ridiculous story about the woman from his past, because she trusts him that it is in the past).

I said before that Peck doesn't expect Bacall to quit her job, but I didn't notice before this viewing that he does ask her about it. It's their first afternoon at her place, and he asks her, "So you like this apartment, and you like your job." She offers to leave the apartment and live wherever he wants, but she doesn't offer up the job. On the contrary, she repeats several times how much she loves her job. They argue about a lot of things (this is a romantic comedy after all) but her career is never an issue again. I really like that.

gold diggers in paris

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January 21 movie: Gold Diggers in Paris. Unmemorable entry in the Gold Diggers series, this one starring Rudy Vallee. I liked him a lot in The Palm Beach Story but I don't think he was up to carrying a movie on his own. He's really a better singer than actor.

bath day

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Tuesday is acupuncture day for Thirteen now, and that means that every other week, Monday is bath day. I always mean to give her a bath over the weekend, but somehow I don't get around to it until Monday.

Thirteen's ability to stink amazes me. Is this some old dog super power? When she was young I used to bathe her a couple-three times a year, and I don't remember her smelling that much. Now she reeks after ten days. I used to think it was due to her itchiness: she likes to chew on herself, and then roll on the ground to scratch her back. Just last week we also discovered that she has a touch of senile incontinence. Which helps to explain why she still stinks so badly even though she hardly goes outside anymore.

But anyway, she stinks, a lot, and the vets see her once a week now, and I like to maintain the illusion that I take good care of her. Which means a bath every couple of weeks. Poor Thirteen hates baths so much. Especially now that it's hard for her to stand up for any length of time. I try to make it easier on her: first, we got her a bathmat so the tub isn't so slippery. And I get into the tub with her and straddle her back end, so she can lean against my leg. And I try to get it over with as fast as possible. She still can't usually stand for the whole bath, so I try to get her back end washed and rinsed first, then finish her front end after she sits down.

It's lucky that dogs tend not to hold grudges. As much as she hates the bath, she always gets over it as soon as it's done. She seems to enjoy drying herself off: first she shakes, then she goes around to all her favorite sleeping spots, licks her feet (which don't usually get dried off as well) and rubs her face on the bed/carpet. RIght after a bath is the liveliest she gets all week.

broadway gondolier

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January 20 movie: Broadway Gondolier. Dick Powell plays a classically trained singer working as a cab driver, who goes to Italy and poses as a gondolier so he can get a job singing for a radio show sponsored by a cheese company. The plot sounds convoluted, but is actually fairly simple as screwball comedies go. Joan Blondell costars, and there are also two songs by the Mills Brothers. Including "Lulu's Back in Town," which is one of my favorite Mel Torme songs. I had no idea it had been around since 1934.

geeking out

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So as I mentioned in the previous post, I had a bit of a geek out this afternoon. I had all kinds of things I wanted to get done this weekend, but it had been a rough week, and Friday was extremely rough (note to self: an ulcer and a migraine are a bad combination). And so I decided that I both needed and deserved a day off.

In the morning I finished watching Don (yes, I fell asleep before it ended last night. Cut me a break, Bollywood movies are 3 hours long!) I spent the afternoon fooling around with my computer, figuring out how to do things I've wanted to do for a long time.

First was to get a new ringtone into my phone. Which ought to be easy, but because Verizon are bastards, they don't let you add any sound as a ringtone. They make you buy the ringtones from them. Which is stupid and annoying, but I would have put up with it if they had had the ringtone I want (the sound of the emergency phone in Our Man Flint).

But Verizon doesn't offer the Flint phone as a ringtone, so I had to find one and figure out how to get into my phone. It was complicated and confusing when I last tried a few years ago, but now it couldn't be easier. Well, it could be easier if Verizon provided instructions in the manual, but as hacks go, it's as easy as it gets.

First of all, it turns out my phone has Bluetooth. I had no idea. And my new computer also has Bluetooth, so hey! No need to buy a data cable. Next, I installed a program called Bitpim. It couldn't auto-detect my phone, but it was easy enough to tell it how to find the phone.

Once it was connected to the phone, all I had to do was grab an audio file of the Flint phone -- found a .wav file somewhere online -- and use Bitpim to convert the file to .mp3 and send it to the phone. That's it! I don't think this program existed last time I tried to do this. It made things so easy. While I was at it, I uploaded a couple of photos I had been using as wallpaper but had accidently deleted a while ago. Now my phone is all set up just the way I want it.

Next I went to work on the Don DVD. The music is so awesome, I really wanted to extract some audio files. And I also wanted to grab a few screen caps of those awesome costumes. The latter turned out to be the easiest. Apple has disabled screen capture for the DVD player, because they are toadies to the movie industry, but I found a free screen capture utility that lets you capture the contents of any window. Problem solved!

Getting the audio clips wasn't hard either, once I found a program called Audio Hijack Pro. Maybe this is old hat to everyone else, but I thought it was the coolest thing. It lets you record audio from any program, or you can record everything coming through the speakers. So you can record the system sound effects, or record from several programs simultaneously, if for some reason you needed to do that. The same people make an audio editing program I used to trim the clips. There's probably a way to do that on one or another of the programs that come with the Mac, but I wasn't sure which, or how, and so it was easier to download a program made for that purpose.

With the tools in hand I captured a bunch of great music clips from Don, and added a couple of the best to yesterday's post on the movie. (Speaking of which, if you like incredible music and you haven't already, go back to the previous post, scroll down and listen to the clips. It's worth it, I promise.)

It would also be great to learn how to capture video clips from a DVD. Does anyone know how to do that on a Mac? I found instructions online, but they seemed overly complicated. Maybe there's an easier way to do it on the PC? I keep forgetting that with the dual core, I have a PC in the house now.

I did eventually do something physical in late afternoon: split some firewood. The wood is a couple of years old and split pretty easily. I wanted to have a nice roaring fire tonight, but Thirteen has been restless all day and finally settled down on her bed, which is right in front of the fireplace. I don't want to disturb her now that she's finally sleeping.

don

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January 19 movie: Don. Oh. My. God. This movie is amazing. 70's Bollywood extravanganza starring Amitabh in dual roles as a bad ass crime lord, and a kind-hearted slacker who has to impersonate the crime lord. The soundtrack is unbelievable. It's wacka-chicka brilliance. The movie is kind like an Indian Superfly. If that sounds the slightest bit appealing to you, you should rent this right now. Dishoom!

[Edited to add:] Georg did some research and discovered that while there is a soundtrack album for Don, it only includes the songs, not the score, i.e. the incidental music. Which is a shame because the score is definitely the best part of the movie. It was written by Kalyanji-Anandji, and the main theme shows up on Bombay the Hard Way, slightly remixed by Dan the Automater. Not that the songs are bad! We liked them too. Especially one near the end, in which Amitabh sings about the joys of mixing drugs, in this case a drink called "opiate" and betel leaf.

There's apparently an "unofficial soundtrack album" which someone made by ripping the incidental tracks off the DVD, which Georg is trying to track down. Meanwhile I had given myself today to goof off, so I spent the afternoon playing around with my Mac and figured out how to do the same. I probably won't have the patience to go through the entire movie and put together an entire unofficial soundtrack of my own, but I did make MP3s of a couple of the best tracks:

First, Roma's theme (approx 30 seconds). Roma is the heroine, played by Zeenat Aman and spends the movie kicking bad guy ass with her mad kung fu skills. I dare you to listen to this without jumping up and boogieing.

Second, the main title theme (approx 2.5 min). I haven't yet figured out how to rip a video clip out of a DVD, which is too bad because this theme plays over psychadelic green and orange images guaranteed to give you a major flashback. If I can figure it out before we return the movie on Monday, I'll post it on Youtube. Otherwise, rent the movie yourself! You know you want to. Be sure to get the original from 1978, starring Amitabh. Not the remake from last year starring Shahrukh Khan.

in praise of the slanket

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The weather has finally gotten me back for complaining about how warm it was. The daffodils that were open did get clobbered as I had feared: the stems froze and bent over right under the blooms, so they hang down as if they were already dead. No big deal though, I picked most of the blooms and brought them inside the night before the storm. And luckily the ones that weren't open yet (which are the vast majority) seem unaffected. I also put fresh straw over the bay leaf, but I forgot the figs and the gerbera daisies. Oh well, I knew it was a longshot for the daisies. If they make it, they make it.

Now that's cold and looks like it will stay that way for the forseeable future, I have to offer a few words of praise for one of the nicest things Georg has given me in recent years: the Slanket. The Slanket is a big fleece blanket with loose sleeves, so I can read a book, type on my computer, change channels, knit, or whatever without my hands and arms getting cold. It's amazing. I get cold so easily, especially my hands. My only criticism is that, being made of fleece, it collects dog hair. And with Jane and Thirteen both shedding so much we could knit another dog, there's an alarming amount of dog hair to collect on it. But as warm as I am right now, I could care less about that.

three little words

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January 17 movie: Three Little Words. What fun! Fred Astaire and Red Skelton star in a biopic about Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the songwriting team who wrote "Who's Sorry Now?" and "I Wanna Be Loved By You" among others. Vera Ellen costars as Astaire's wife, and they do a sublime dance number together called "Thinking Of You." Also features a very young Debbie Reynolds singing "I Wanna Be Loved By You," although she was dubbed by Helen Kane, who originated the "boop-boop-a-doop" thing.

I don't know anything about Kalmar and Ruby, but I read on the Wikipedia page about the movie that the portrayal of their relationship was fairly accurate. I loved how Astaire's character was a magician, and they had him doing magic tricks throughout the movie, even when it wasn't relevant to the scene. That's a nice touch of character development.

My only disappointment with the movie is the arrangements of the songs: lots of schmaltzy string-heavy stuff, not at all the way the songs would actually have sounded in the 20s. But I've long been resigned to the fact that Hollywood in the 50s and 60s just did not value historical authenticity in costume, props, song and dance styles, etc. That's one thing the movies do better now (although it sometimes becomes almost a fetish, with the costumes more important than the script).

if you could only cook

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January 16 movie: If You Could Only Cook. They're doing Jean Arthur movies all month on TCM, and I'm enjoying it immensely. I had only seen a couple of her movies before, and this one was lovely. Arthur plays a down-on-her-luck girl who meets Herbert Marshall on a park bench. He's rich, but he pretends to be unemployed too so he can flirt with her. They end up posing as a married couple so they can get work as the butler and cook for a pair of mobsters. And if you don't know where the movie is going from that premise, you haven't watched many screwball comedies. This was funny, light, and sweet. A romantic comedy snack!

the ex mrs. bradford

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January 16 movie: The Ex Mrs. Bradford. Speaking of movies like Nick and Nora! Apparently there were a bunch of these "screwball mysteries" in the 30s. And apparently Jean Arthur starred in many of them. This one had William Powell as a doctor, and Jean Arthur as his ex-wife, a mystery writer. It was a bit plot-heavy, but still enjoyable. Powell owns this genre, and he and Arthur have good chemistry.

adventure in manhattan

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January 15 movie: Adventure in Manhattan. Robert Osborne described this as Joel McCrea and Jean Arthur doing Nick and Nora. And with that description, the movie should have been a lot better. It wasn't bad; it just didn't sparkle. A movie that's compared to the Thin Man series should be scintillating.

the worst jobs in history

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Georg and I have been very much enjoying the show The Worst Jobs in History on the History Channel. The host, Tony Robinson, tackles a different era from British history in each episode, talks to experts and re-enacts dangerous, filthy, demeaning, and just plain terrible jobs from each era.

The "worst jobs" seem to fall into two categories: first, professions so awful they really could have been the worst jobs from that era. Examples include: "gong scourer" (the people who cleaned sewers and emptied cesspits) in the Tudor era; child mill worker in the Georgian era; mudlark in the Victorian era.

The second type are jobs which strike me as not necessarily the worst job, but simply an indication of how bad life in general could be, especially for the lower classes. That includes some of the "stinky jobs" like dying with woad or tanning. I mean sure, they were gross, nasty jobs. But they were skilled trades that paid well. And not very dangerous either. This category also includes some oddball jobs that didn't really seem that bad. Like artist's model or boy actor. I think he included those just because he thought they were interesting. He kind of pissed me off, I must admit, for suggesting that boy actor was a worst job because on stage they had to wear the same clothes Tudor women wore every day.

Still, quibbles aside I'm really enjoying the show. Sometimes I'm a little squicked out by the extremes he subjects himself to in the name of reenacting the worst jobs (two words: leech collector), but it's all in good fun. And the website has a quiz to find out what horrible job is best for you!

my kingdom for a cook

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January 14 movie: My Kingdom for a Cook. Charles Coburn (in one of his few starring roles) plays a cranky British writer who does a book tour in the US and alienates the ladies who lunch of Concord, Mass. Absolutely hilarious. Coburn's performance reminded us a lot of Monty Wooley in The Man Who Came to Dinner. Nothing wrong with that!

bachelor in paradise

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January 14 movie: Bachelor in Paradise. We recorded this movie because we thought it included the utterly amazing song "Aruba Liberace." Alas, "Aruba Liberace" is on the CD compilation called "Bachelor in Paradise," but it isn't in the movie Bachelor in Paradise. It's actually in the movie When the Boys Meet the Girls.

But since we had Bachelor in Paradise on the DVR, I went ahead and watched it anyway. It was an early 60s sex comedy with Bob Hope as a travel writer whose hugely successful series How the French/Italians/Swedish/etc. Live focuses on the sex lives of various nations. In the movie Hope moves into a planned community in California called Paradise to work on his next book, How the Americans Live. Lana Turner plays the only unmarried woman in the development.

The first half of the movie is hilarious. Hope gives daily seminars to the Paradise housewives on how to improve their sex lives, with generally disastrous results. Unfortunately when the movie changes focus to Hope and Turner it bogs down and becomes much less fun. Still, I liked Turner's character: a divorcee career woman who's built a pretty decent life for herself, and isn't sitting around waiting for a man to step in and take over.

ipod

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I suppose it's just a coincidence that my iPod broke the day the iPhone was announced. The annoying thing is, it wasn't totally broken; I just couldn't add anything new to it. I could listen to the tracks already on it just fine. But I had just finished an audio book, and was trying to add the next one, and every time I tried it went "click - click - click" and then crashed my computer.

At this point I probably should have left well enough alone, but I was following the troubleshooting steps, and after "reset" comes "restore." Which I did, and which left me with an empty iPod to which I can't add anything. Rather less useful than a full iPod to which I can't add anything.

I found a website which sells new hard drives for my iPod (it's a 15 Gb, the kind with round buttons above the scroll wheel. I didn't know until now that the model is called "Third Generation"), but a new drive for mine is $135 plus shipping. Now, a new iPod Nano wouldn't cost much more than that. And the battery on mine is also dead and has been for some time; I can only use it in my car with the charger. Which makes the new hard drive seem totally not worth it.

I had planned to go to the Apple store on Wednesday and get a new one. During the day I happened to mention the problem to someone I work with. Turns out he had a barely used iPod Mini sitting in his desk, which he'd been meaning to sell on Criagslist for $40! A deal was struck and I now have perfectly good iPod. Less memory than my old one, but that loss is more than made up for by the working battery. This is great because I'm somewhat interested in the iPhone, at least interested in finding out how people like it when it comes out in June. And I'd be much less interested if I had just spent $200 on a new iPod.

the more the merrier

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January 11 movie: The More The Merrier. This was delightful! Due to a wartime housing shortage in DC, Jean Arthur rents half her apartment to Charles Coburn. Coburn turns around and rents half of his half to Joel McCrea, and then spends the rest of the movie playing matchmaker between Arthur and McCrea. (If that sounds familiar, you're probably thinking of the remake Walk, Don't Run, starring Cary Grant.)

All three principals were marvelous. I already knew Arthur and Coburn were great together from The Devil and Miss Jones, and here I especially loved the friendship between McCrea and Coburn. They laugh and hoot and read the funnies together in such natural way, they had me believing they must have been friends in real life. Charles Coburn was just fantastic in everything he did. Too bad his age put him into "character actor" territory. I bet he could have been a top comedic star if he'd been thirty years younger when talkies were invented.

And why wasn't Joel McCrea a bigger star in his day? There's a basic decency about him that's immensely likeable. He comes across like a regular guy, but a really good guy. Kind of like Jimmy Stewart. In this movie McCrea does a great job of selling his growing feelings for Arthur. The plot is contrived, but the love story feels totally natural. You can see him falling in love with her. This movie made me feel good.

odds and ends

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The freakish weather continues, and today I noticed that we have two clumps of daffodils in bloom! It's good news for the ones that are already blooming: if we get another cold snap we can pick them and bring them inside. I just hope the rest can hold off until the end of winter. If winter ever starts!

Had to do some work this morning, and while I try not to talk about work if I can avoid it, I have to mention this new project that's sort of a career high for me: a website that sells pirate t-shirts! Aar, mateys! I hope I'll get some swag out of this.

Thirteen reached another ramp-related breakthrough today. For awhile now she's been going up the ramp on her own, without me having to steer or shoo her towards it. But today she not only went up the ramp, she went in through the dog door without us having to open the door for her. This is going to sound really stupid, but in the 9+ years we've been living here, she never before figured out how to get in that dog door. She could go out, but not in. I guess it's because the top step is steep, and then there's a lip of 6 inches or so on the dog door, so between the two it was just too high for her. The ramp eliminates that steep step so all she has to do is step over the bottom of the dog door. I was worried even that would be too much for her bad leg now, but she managed it pretty well. Hooray for Thirteen! I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

While Thirteen was discovering the ease and convenience of the dog door, I did some yard work: weeded a 2-foot border around the raised vegetable beds and started laying down landscape fabric & piling mulch on top. The goal is a clean work area around the beds that won't get weedy or need to be mowed. Last year keeping the lawn around the raised beds neat was a problem. And when it was overgrown and weedy around the beds, I was less likely to work out there. Which led to general neglect, which led to a smaller harvest than the year before. I hope that the mulched border will make it easier to do the day-to-day maintenance this coming year.

While I was out there I noticed that of the seeds I planted two weeks ago, the beets and arugula are sprouting. Nothing yet from the spinach and chard seeds. Also that lone self-seeded cilantro is still kicking. I thought that one cold night last week would have frozen it, but it's a survivor.

left behind

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January 10 movie: Left Behind. Am I a glutton for punishment? Maybe so, because I've had a persistent curiosity about this movie for some time. I found myself checking the program guide for the religious cable stations, hoping it would show up, when I remembered that I have Netflix. Duh!

The Left Behind movie was something of a pleasant surprise after the books. Granted my expectations were extremely low. And okay, the story is ridiculous, the plot is mechanical (what's the word for a movie where people move perfunctorily from Point A to Point B because the script told them to? That's what it is), the acting isn't great, and the special effects are nothing to brag about. It's a B movie; I didn't expect Oscar performances or a scintillating script.

The relief was that many of the stupidities and really hateful elements from the book had been changed. First and most importantly, they dropped the telephone fetish. Also the portrayal of the chaos immediately after the disappearances was much better than in the book. Most people in the book act like they've read the jacket and they know immediately they're in a Rapture story. In the movie people are running around screaming and demanding to know where their children are. Which is more realistic I think. I suspected this might be better in the movie, for the simple reason that the book follows the "Tell, Don't Show" method of storytelling to such an extreme degree, and it's difficult to make a movie without showing something.

Also the Hattie character, while still whiny and clingy at key moments, was much more of an independant person than in the books. My recollection of the first book is that Hattie exists for no reason except to feed the collossal ego of heroic asshole Rayford Steele. (And may I say, the casting was excellent on that score: the guy playing Rayford looked and acted the heroic asshole to a T.) But as the movie begins, she's gotten tired of Rayford's sexual games and is making a career change to get away from him. It's almost like she's a person with her own thoughts and motivations or something.

Another pleasant surprise was Bruce Barnes, the preacher who spends the entire book wearing a metaphorical hair shirt. In the movie he shows a bit of spine and even seems angry at God for a minute there. Don't you think that, if the Rapture really happened, Christians who didn't get chosen might be pissed? I have to think that someone, somewhere would have the reaction "So I'm not good enough for you, God? Well fuck you too!" Bruce Barnes doesn't go that far by any stretch (this is a Christian movie after all) but he does yell in the church and knock down a cross.

Also, the conspiracy theory obsession with the Jews and "international financiers" (whatever those are) is toned way down in the movie. In fact I think they don't ever say the word "Jewish" in connection with that subplot. Which is good because it's kind of ridiculous in the book: Slacktivist describes it as Jews, international bankers, the U.N. and international Jewish bankers at the U.N. In the movie, the character spouting these theories is portrayed as a conspiracy theory nutjob that most people ignore. Which perhaps is an admission on the part of the filmmakers of how ludicrous the antisemitic conspiracy theory subplot is.

Of course, the movie still doesn't reflect my world view to the slightest degree. And it has more than its share of flaws: for one thing, the perfunctory nature of the plot as I mentioned above. There's not much energy wasted on motivation or plot logic.

Also, ace reporter Buck Williams is just as strangely incurious in the movie as in the book. I found it hilarious that the pilot of his chartered plane asks all the questions one might expect an award-winning investigative journalist to be asking. Who did this, what do they want, will there be more disappearances, will the disappeared be back, what do they have in common, etc. Buck can't stop to ask these questions; he's busy traveling across country to meet his good friend the conspiracy nut!

And the conversion scenes fell pretty flat for me. I think that's simply a result of me not being in the target audience. For an onscreen religious epiphany to move me, it would have to be intense. (See Ordet, or even Song of Bernadette.) In Left Behind there's not much emotion conveyed in the conversion scenes. They're just sort of there. Maybe I was supposed to fill in the blanks with my own personal religious experience, which I do not have, and so the scenes were empty for me.

But overall I never wanted to put my foot through the screen, where I often had the fight the urge to throw the books across the room. I would never read those books again. And honestly, I wouldn't seek out this movie again. But I can imagine that if this movie came on TV at some point in the future, I might not change the channel. That's the best endorsement I can give it.

dear asshole

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Dear asshole who was driving a silver Corvette Stingray at 6 pm on Mount Carmel Church Road.

I'm so glad I was able to help you get to your destination faster. When you jumped out in front of me, it must have shaved fifteen whole seconds off your travel time. I had to slam on my brakes and swerve to avoid plowing into you, and my dog was thrown across the car. My sick elderly dog who was on the way home from her acupuncture which is supposed to relieve her pain. I must be a bad person, because at the time, I wanted nothing more than to find you, wait forty years (or maybe a lot less, anyone driving such a flashy car must be in major midlife crisis territory) until you're old and frail and your spine hurts, and then throw you on the ground. And you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you helped me get where I was going fifteen seconds faster. Just like I did today.

gold diggers of 1933

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January 8 movie: Gold Diggers of 1933. Hey kids, let's put on a show! This movie has it all: great fashions, a dash of pre-code raciness, a completely twisted plot, and amazing Busby Berkeley dance numbers. The movie starts with Ginger Rogers wearing a bikini top made of pennies, and a giant penny covering her dainty bits, and singing "We're In the Money" in pig latin. And it just gets better from there.

The "In the Shadows" number must be seen to be believed. When the glowing neon violins come out, Georg was like, "Paging Laurie Anderson, call your office!" Seriously, I wonder if Anderson had seen this. It may be the best Busby Berkeley number I've ever seen. And I found it on Youtube so you can see it too! It's been edited a bit at the beginning, but the Busby Berkeley madness seems to be intact. Instead of the original song by Dick Powell, the Youtube version has the song "Possibly Maybe" by Bjork, which is a strangely good fit.

The last number, "Forgotten Man," isn't as sublime as "In the Shadows," but it was equally amazing for being so novel: a big Hollywood musical number about the Depression, featuring not rows of dancing girls in chiffon, but rows of "forgotten men" (bums) on breadlines. Apparently the dance number references a 1932 incident where WWI veterans demonstrated in DC and were attacked by the National Guard. I swear, I'd never seen anything like it.

Georg and I were talking about the odd fact that within the movie, these Busby Berkeley musical numbers are always supposed to be taking place on Broadway. But the numbers would never work on stage. They're all about overhead views and swooping crane shots that would be impossible for a theater audience to see. Plus the occasional special effects like split screens.

my favorite year

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January 8 movie: My Favorite Year. I wasn't planning to watch this, but it happened to be coming on when I sat down, and it turned out to be great. Peter O'Toole plays a washed-up, alcoholic former movie star who's obviously based on Errol Flynn. In fact, I looked it up and the movie is based on a real-life incident when Flynn showed up drunk for a guest spot on the Sid Ceaser "Show of Shows" TV series. The movie was funny and nostalgic. Also featured lots of good performances including Mark Linn-Baker ("Perfect Strangers"), Jessica Harper, Bill Macy, and the marvelous Selma Diamond. Blink and you'll miss it, but there's even a walk-on part for a very young Cady McClain (Dixie Cooney Chandler Martin Bodine Martin Martin from All My Children). But the movie is carried by Peter O'Toole.

jezebel

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January 7 movie: Jezebel. I love this movie. It's Bette Davis' movie, but Henry Fonda and George Brent are both terrific in it. I should really see more George Brent movies.

bewitched

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January 7 movie: Bewitched. Based on the reviews I was expecting this to be awful, but it was actually kind of funny. Nice to see Stephen Colbert and Amy Sedaris in small roles. I'm not a huge fan of Steve Carrell but based on this, I should give him another chance. And of course, Michael Caine makes any movie better. The movie didn't hang together super well & I found myself trying to figure out things that I really shouldn't have been worrying about. Like, why do Nicole Kidman's relatives have the same names as their counterparts on the show? Was she the basis for the original TV series? But then why was she so unfamiliar with the series? Still, I enjoyed the movie.

the gay falcon

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January 7 movie: The Gay Falcon. I think this maybe was the first Falcon movie? In any case, The Falcon was a series starring George Sanders (and later his brother, Tom Conway) about an amateur detective / ladies man. It seems like there were a lot of movies series around that time about suave amateur detectives. This was a fun bit of fluff, nothing to take too seriously. I enjoyed it, although it suffers the problem of a lot of murder mysteries: the villain seems to be a totally random person. I mean there's nothing leading up to it, the audience doesn't know of any possible motivation until after the reveal. It was nice to see Gladys Cooper playing her actual age, rather than the evil crone she so often portrayed.

One thing I definitely enjoyed better about the sequel I saw a few days ago: The Gay Falcon features a horrible stereotyped Chinese coolie butler, while The Falcon's Brother features a Chinese butler who's intelligent and fluent in English, but pretends to be a horrible coolie stereotype to get rid of annoying people. I guess that's an improvement.

bad year for daffodils

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This morning Georg and I took a stroll around the garden. Something we like to do every day or so during the growing season. To see how things are doing, what needs attention, and just to appreciate the garden as it develops and changes throughout the year.

I've commented on the unseasonable warmth a few times. Though, as Lisa pointed out, taken in isolation it's not unseasonable at all. It's common, maybe even normal, for us to have a few very warm days in early January. What isn't normal is for April-like weather to continue on, and on. With the exception of short cold spells in early November and in December, winter almost hasn't gotten started this year.

And because of this extended warm weather with few frosts, the growing season for 2007 has begun already. Our walk revealed new growth on a bunch of perennials; the self-seeded cilantro thriving; beet seedlings from the seeds I planted a week ago; and daffodils sprouting up everywhere. The perennials can take care of themselves, the beets will be fine unless we have record cold temps coming up, and the cilantro is a freak occurrence that I'm not too concerned about. But the daffodils are bad news.

They're way early, and when it finally gets cold, any new growth above ground is at risk of being frozen. That's fine if it's just the leaves -- they'll look a little ratty with brown ends, that's all -- but if the buds emerge in this warm spell and then freeze, we'll get yucky flowers or maybe even no flowers this year. And that would be a damned shame. I suppose we could protect them by piling up mulch to cover the buds. But with almost 600 daffodils to cover, all of them mixed in with perennials that shouldn't be buried, it's just not practical. Alas, I predict it will not be a good year for daffodils.

foxy brown

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January 6 movie: Foxy Brown. Part 2 of the Pam Grier special on TCM Underground last night. Foxy Brown was pretty much exactly the same as Coffy, except the violence was much uglier and the boobies were much fewer. Honestly, I didn't enjoy Foxy Brown. It reached the "unpleasant to watch" level of violence repeatedly.

I wonder why Foxy Brown is so much more famous than Coffy, which in my opinion was a better movie? I remember that when Jackie Brown came out, every time Pam Grier's name came up in the press, Foxy Brown would be mentioned too. I had never even heard of Coffy before TCM started running those promos. Although I probably would have, if I knew more about movies from the 70s. Georg had heard of it (though he hadn't seen it).

So far I've seen 3 movies from the TCM Underground series. I almost regret Foxy Brown. Not like it will give me nightmares or anything, it was just a bit more extreme than I was expecting. The other two -- Coffy and Electra Glide in Blue, which I saw last year when I wasn't writing up movies -- were both terrific. Movies I'd never heard of but am very glad to have seen. Which I guess is the point of the series.

coffy

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January 6 movie: Coffy. I had never heard of this movie before, but TCM has been running a promo in heavy rotation for the past week, all about what an amazing film it is (along with Foxy Brown) and what an amazing actress Pam Grier is. And since I've been watching a lot of movies lately, I've seen this promo over and over. And though I'd never heard of Coffy nor seen Foxy Brown, I didn't need to be convinced of Pam Grier's awesomeness. So I recorded the movie.

I'm very glad I did. Coffy is indeed extremely awesome. It's a blacksploitation film about Grier hunting down the bad people (mostly drug dealers) who ruined the lives of her sister and her cop ex-boyfriend with heroin and a severe beating, respectively. It's a fairly repetitive plot: Grier works her way into a situation via her amazing charm and even more amazing boobies, identifies the bad guys, and kills them. Rinse and repeat. There's one really difficult scene to watch, where a group of bad guys kill another bad guy by dragging him behind a car. Otherwise the movie doesn't seem to take itself too seriously.

In the TCM promo, the director said he wanted to create a heroine women could identify with because she wins through her cleverness. She also wins through the power of her afro, in which she hides razor blades, and later a bobby pin she has sharpened into a weapon. And did I mention the boobies? The movie is full of them. There's one extended catfight scene which features the "oops, my top fell off!" move on almost a half-dozen women.

Georg didn't watch the movie but I made him watch one scene where they introduce a pimp named "King George," complete with a kick-ass costume (including capelet) and his own theme song, "George, George, George ... he's the king!" The movie also features that guy who played Major Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H as a big bad drug dealer with ridiculous sexual proclivities and an even more ridiculous accent.

crossplot

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January 4 movie: Crossplot. Roger Moore is a mod advertising guy who discovers an assassination plot. It wasn't a very good movie. In fact you could say it was a pretty bad movie. But I loved it. The way that Lisa describes enjoying the Moore Bond movies, that's how I enjoyed this. It was silly, sexy fun, with great fashion. It must have been made right after The Saint because it was very much like that. Costarred Alexis Kanner, who played "The Kid" on the Prisoner.

the great train robbery

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January 4 movie: The Great Train Robbery. They were doing a thing on TCM last night, with actors who had played James Bond, in non-Bond movies. This was great! Very fun caper movie starring Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Ann Down. I read the book a long time ago, in high school maybe.

going hollywood!

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January 3 movie: Going Hollywood! I thought this was a Bing Crosby movie, but it really wasn't. Actually Crosby was the love interest in a Marion Davies movie. I've seen a few Marion Davies movies, and I always try to figure out what makes them so terrible. No, terrible is too strong. Terribly boring is more like it. The best thing was group of three guys called the Three Radio Rogues doing impersonations.

here comes the groom

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January 3 movie: Here Comes the Groom. Bing Crosby and Fronchot Tone fight over Jane Wyman. Who is so unsympathetic that I spent the whole movie thinking Crosby and Tone should have tossed her over and run off together. They really seemed to like each other better than they liked her.

There's one really funny thing early in the movie: Crosby is in France, working as a post-war foreign correspondent, and Wyman sends him a recorded message on LP, to harangue him for not marrying her. When Crosby plays the record, a tiny Wyman appears on top the record and starts talking to him. Just like Princess Leia in Star Wars! Until the record skips, tiny Wyman tries to fix it and falls over on the record. Hi-larious.

phases of bleh

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I've reached the "coughing my lungs out" phase of my cold. It's better than the "head feels like a block of wood filled with snot" phase. I think. If I'm going to be sick, it could at least be cold. Then I could light a fire and snuggle under a blanket.

And if it were cold, I wouldn't feel guilty about not doing any yardwork. It's been obscenely warm. We have the door open right now! The plants don't know what to do with themselves. A bunch of daffodils are up, the parsley never died back, and on Monday I saw a baby cilantro sprouting in the vegetable garden! The ones we planted last year must have seeded. I hope it survives. We did have one cold night this past week, and I was going to cover it with straw, but then I got sick and forgot.

On the bright side, the seed & plant catalogs are starting to arrive. I'm having fun making wish lists. Probably many times longer than what I'll actually buy. For Christmas I got a gift certificate from my favorite seed supplier, JohnnySeeds.com, so I can go crazy if I want. I'm definitely getting Benary's zinnias from them like last year, and lots of sunflowers too. I like to plant them around the daylilies at the top of the bank by the driveway. But I think a little taller this time. Last year I got the tiny sunflowers, only a foot tall, and they were kind of hard to see from the road. Johnny's has one that's about 2 feet tall with reddish flowers. That sounds nice. And I want to put some talls ones in the new bed we're building out front. We don't hang out in that part of the yard, so we need big & colorful flowers that can be appreciated from a distance.

I'm going to try hollyhocks too. I read that they're biennials, which I'm normally not into. Kind of weird that I like annuals, but reject biennials as too much work. What's that about? Anyway, hollyhocks are supposed to reseed readily, which makes them seem more worth it. I'm also thinking about growing yarrow from seed. It wouldn't bloom the first year, which is kind of a bummer, but it's about 50 times cheaper than buying potted plants.

Watched the third disc of "Samurai 7" last night. Now that I've just seen Seven Samurai and it's fresh in my mind, I'm surprised at how similar the anime is to the original. I thought it was going to be "loosely inspired," like the Soderburgh Ocean's 11, but no, it's much closer to the movie. The samurai especially. They're not all exactly the same, but they do serve the same plot functions and many details about their characters are the same. The anime did add a bunch of subplots. A necessary change for converting a 3 hour movie into a 28 episode series. But the samurai are very closely based on their counterparts in the movie. The changes are the kind of things you'd expect in an anime: first of all, the bandits are giant flying robots. Mifune's character is a robot too. Which makes sense in the context of the show. And the peasant's daughter has been split into two characters, one of whose part is so greatly expanded, she's basically the star. And she has a cute toddler sister. Again, no surprise. If I was going to be annoyed by that kind of change to the venerable Seven Samurai, I wouldn't watch an anime remake of it.

Anyway I'm enjoying the series so much that I'm very happy about still having 4 DVDs to go. I'm just bummed that I forgot to put A Scanner Darkly back in the mail until today, so I won't have another disc of Samurai 7 until Monday at the earliest.

dispatches from the crazy

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I've never read anything by Laurell Hamilton, and judging by her rant against readers who have the temerity not to like her recent books, I never will. It's a long rant, but worth reading for the extreme example of what not to do. Not that I will ever be one tenth as famous as Hamilton. But still, anyone who produces work in the public eye (which these days includes blogs, Youtube, etc) has to know how to deal with negative reactions.

I had a few bad reviews of VRT, only one that I can recall thinking they were "wrong" (as opposed to, they had a valid point, or it just wasn't their thing). I had the sense not to respond; you can't possibly win an argument over a negative review. The only exception being to correct a factual error. But that must be done as respectfully as possible, or you risk sounding like Laurell Hamilton. Or Anne Rice.

John Scalzi compared arguing with hostile fans to poking screeching monkeys with a stick. In this case I think Laurell Hamilton is the one who comes across like the crazed monkey. The best part is where she goes on and on, over a full screen's worth on my fairly large monitor, to explain how she loves her characters so much that she sometimes tries to buy presents for them. And she couldn't bear the thought of killing any of them for petty reasons like, you know, writing a good story. And anyone who doesn't understand her deep and abiding love for her characters is a poopy pants. She doesn't just love her characters, she lurrrves them. She sounds like she's writing fanfic of her own series.

thirteen update

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The acupuncture seems to be helping. Thirteen definitely rests easier and falls down less for a couple of days after her appointment. This time we did electrostimulation instead of moxa. Moxa is a little sort of incense cigar that they press against the needle tips to get heat into the pressure points. Electrostimulation uses a machine called the "acupunctoscope" to provide electrical stimulation (thus the name). It's a very low current: I held a couple of the needles while it was running and I couldn't feel a thing. Thirteen looked kind of funny with wires hooked up to her acupuncture needles, but it seemed to have a calming effect. After it was turned on she put her head down and went to sleep.

I also discussed chiropractic with Dr. Pagel. I don't think chiropractic is the panacea some chiropracters claim it to be, but I do think it has a proven benefit with back pain. Which is what Thirteen has, so it's worth a try. Dr. Pagel said it's OK to do chiropractic and acupuncture at the same time so I'm going to call the Durham chiropractor Lisa B. recommended.

She also recommended homeopathy, which I am not going to try. I'm willing to accept the possibility that there may someday be evidence that homeopathy is effective against something. But I don't believe such evidence exists now, and I seriously doubt it will ever be proven effective to treat spinal pressure. I just can't imagine a mechanism by which that would work.

The second strike against homeopathy is that I've already had a consult with the guy she recommended, and it did not go well. It was many years ago, back in the day before Advantage and Frontline had been invented. I didn't want to use flea poisons which also poison the dog, and there weren't many other options. (There was a pill that made fleas sterile, but it didn't do anything about the fleas already on her; it just cut down on future flea populations. Except if she picked up new fleas at the dog walk, then it was totally ineffective.) So, Thirteen had fleas. And she had a terrible allergic reaction to flea bites. She used to chew herself raw and pull out her fur. [grossout alert] At one point it got so bad that she abandoned her bed and started sleeping on the bathroom floor overnight. We knew she was sleeping in the bathroom because of the blood smears on the linoleum. [end grossout] I fed her garlic, spread diatomaceous earth on her bedding and the yard, bathed her every other day, spread goo on her poor bald itchy skin, basically anything and everything that might help.

Which is why I took the advice of my vet (Dr. Koontz at Durham Animal Hospital, he was great, I still kind of miss him) and called the homeopathic vet. I'm not going to mention his name because I'm about to trash him. He lived out in the country so he did consultations over the phone and sent the homeopathic remedies by mail. In other words, in most cases he never sees the animal. He told me that excessive vaccination was the cause of most cancer in dogs, and that I should stop vaccinating Thirteen. She was less than 2 years old at the time.

He also told me that for the homeopathy to work, I would have to stop all flea treatments based on traditional medicine, but it would take a year to see any result from the homeopathy because the traditional medicine had to get out of her system. But I still had to start buying his homeopathic powders right away, a year before even he thought they might do any good.

Did I mention that the powder was expensive? And that I was broke? At that time I couldn't even afford a doctor for myself, much less quackery like that for my dog. Yet I paid for the phone consultation -- not even the initial consult was free -- and I let him talk me into buying the first dose of placebo. Oops, I mean homeopathic remedy. I'm still kind of ticked off about that. More mad at myself than at him. What can I say, it was a long time ago and I wasn't self-assured enough to call a quack a quack.

Yes, in my considered opinion, the guy was a quack. Maybe not all homeopathy is quackery, but he was. Thank god Advantage was invented later that year, and Thirteen's flea reaction never again got so desperate. I told Dr. Pagel about this incident (though I didn't use the word "quack") and she agreed that he hadn't presented a viable solution. She still gave me his name and phone number though. I wish I had remembered to tell her the thing about vaccinations. I don't think she should recommend someone who advises pet owners to stop vaccinating their dogs. Maybe he doesn't say that any more. It has been almost 15 years. I'm still not going to call him.

a scanner darkly

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January 2 movie: A Scanner Darkly. I'm home with a nasty cold. Ugh. But forget that, let's talk about A Scanner Darkly. I was excited about this when it came out, but somehow I forgot to go see it. I'm not really good with the movie theater thing. (I've started adding movies to my Netflix queue while they're still in theaters because that way I'm more likely to see them.)

I had never read A Scanner Darkly and I had heard the movie was a very close adaptation of the book. Which gave me concern that I might have trouble following the movie, but I didn't. In fact, Georg and I commented afterwards that the plot was much more straightforward than we were expecting. I guessed the big plot twist pretty early on, but it wasn't much of a deductive achievement if you've ever noticed how women behave in Phil Dick novels. And knowing didn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie, which was much more about mood and psychological issues than plot or suspense.

Though I can't compare it to the source material, it seemed extremely true to Phil Dick's style. I think the animation technique helped. Not just by allowing them to show things (like the hallucinations and the shape-shifting suits) that would have been hard to do plausibly in live action, but more fundamentally by distancing the actors, making them seem (pardon me for stating the obvious) unreal. I really enjoyed this movie. I think I'm going to go get the novel from the library.

diamonds are forever

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January 1 movie: Diamonds are Forever. This wasn't that great of a movie, but it was fun, and nice to see some classic Vegas. I wonder what that hotel was that they had rebranded as "The Whyte House." I didn't recognize it.

on her majesty's secret service

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January 1 movie: On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I haven't seen all the Bond movies, but of the ones I have seen, this is one of the best. Mostly because of Diana Rigg. Also I like George Lazenby as Bond. It's too bad he didn't do any more Bond movies.

the falcon's brother

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January 1 movie: The Falcon's Brother. I was looking forward to seeing one of the George Sanders Falcon series, but it turns out this was a transitional movie: Sanders is in the first few minutes, and then the Falcon's brother (played by Tom Conway, Sanders' real life brother) takes over as the new Falcon. Still, it was basically what I expected & wanted: a fun, funny mystery with a suave hero. Not just suave, rico suave! Actually the Falcon wasn't all that rico. Mainly just suave.

north by northwest

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December 31 movie: North by Northwest. I could only find one previous write-up of this movie, which is weird because I've seen it eleventy-thousand times. I watched it yesterday while drying my hair before we went out to a New Year's Eve party.

And that is the last movie of 2006. 231 movies in all. I was pretty good about keeping track of the movie list, though I'm pretty sure I missed a few here and there. Unfortunately, I failed miserably at writing them up. My first resolution for 2007 is to get back on track with the movie list. I might go back and write up some particular interesting movies from last year, but first I'm going to try and stay on top of current movies.

moonfleet

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December 31 movie: Moonfleet. Stewart Granger is a jaded 18th century dandy mixed up with smugglers. He's also a cold-hearted son of a bitch, who ends up with an overly cute little boy on his hands. Sounds like it could be remade today, doesn't it? And it would star, let's see. George Clooney as the rakish dandy, and Owen Wilson as the supposedly endearing boy.

That movie would probably be a lot less dark than Moonfleet (though maybe not much funnier). I was expecting more of a comedic swashbuckler like Scaramouche. What the heck, I'll watch anything with Stewart Granger in it. His hair was in fine form, nice tall pompadour.

good times

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December 31 movie: Good Times. 1969 Sonny and Cher vehicle. That ought to say it all, but in case it doesn't: Don't watch this movie.

the last man on earth

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December 31 movie: The Last Man on Earth. This was the first adaptation of the book I Am Legend. The second being The Omega Man, and the third being I Am Legend, starring Will Smith and set to come out later this year. (And let's not forget the Treehouse of Horror episode "The Homega Man." Perhaps that's adaptation number 2.5.)

The Last Man on Earth starred Vincent Price. Who, I firmly believe, is one of America's most underrated actors. The movie kind of fell apart at the end, but for the first half hour I thought it was the best movie I had seen in ages. It's very thoughtful and internal, focusing more on Price's attempts to cope with loneliness and guilt than with his battle against the vampires. The vampires, by the way, kind of act more like zombies. They do show some vampire-like behavior: crave blood, allergic to garlic, can't stand sunlight, and an aversion to crosses is implied but never stated outright. But they move like zombies: shuffle, moan, attack clumsily. Plus there are some novelties: they can see themselves in mirrors but can't stand the sight of their reflection.

I read that besides the direct adaptations, the book I Am Legend was also a major inspiration for the Living Dead zombie movies. I also read an interview with the author of I Am Legend, who comes off like kind of a cranky jerk. He hates all adaptations of his work and wouldn't elaborate except to diss Vincent Price. I suppose I shouldn't fault him for being unhappy with the movie versions of his book. Even in the best of circumstances, a book can never be translated perfectly to film. An author often has a huge emotional investment in his or her work, and may find it hard to accept the compromises that have to be made. And these circumstances are hardly the best. I read an early draft of the upcoming I Am Legend and it was atrocious.

foreign correspondent

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December 30 movie: Foreign Correspondent. This wasn't one of the giants in Hitchcock's catalog, but I enjoyed it a lot. Mainly on the strength of stars Joel McCrea and George Sanders. I love them both. They were doing George Sanders night on TCM, and I'm so bummed because I stupidly failed to record The Saint. I hope they show it again soon.

Foreign Correspondent was suspenseful and hung together pretty well, although its purpose mainly seemed to be pro-war propaganda directed at then-neutral America. Robert Osborne and Molly Haskell said the wartime message of the movie was ahead of its time, but they're wrong: it was absolutely of its time. I'm fascinated by movies made in that narrow window after WWII had begun but before the US got involved. It's a little startling to remember that before Pearl Harbor, there was significant anti-war sentiment in the US. Although I think Hollywood must have been solidly in favor of the war, because I've seen lots of movies designed to encourage pro-war feelings, but never seen one against US involvement. Some movies deal with the issue obliquely, without ever casting aspersions on anti-war people. This one was pretty straightforward: [spoiler alert] the movie is all about Nazi sympathizers who co-opt the peace movement and use it for their own ends. There are genuine pacifics who are duped into helping the Nazis, but by the end of the movie they've seen the error of their ways and joined the war effort.

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