A Considered, Serious Review of Phantom Thread

It’s been awhile, friends.

A few weeks ago, before I became a world traveler, I finally got see Daniel Day-Lewis’ farewell to acting, Phantom Thread.

I had debated whether to see this film in the theater, yet had been told it was the most boring movie ever from a semi-reliable source, so I joined the public library’s waiting list. That’s why I pay my taxes, man.

So it was finally my turn to take home Phantom Thread for seven days (and if I want to keep it a day late, I only have to pay 15 cents!), and then the longest two hours and ten minutes of my life began.

Here’s a few thoughts that ran through my mind while watching this Oscar-nominated (slim pickings, I guess?) film:

  • How much time has gone by? Only…two minutes?
  • Is Daniel Day-Lewis really going to quit acting? After this? Why? Why did he choose to make this movie? Why is he choosing retirement? Because his ability to choose worthwhile projects has gone out the window?
  • How much longer?
  • Most quotable line? “You have no breasts.” Oooh, romance.
  • Why are these two people attracted to each other?
  • What is the point of this movie?
  • How. Much. LONGERRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Why is that crazy drunk lady who wants DDL to design her wedding dress look and sound familiar? Oh good, an excuse to get on Google, pass some time…
  • Bebe from Frasier! “It’s not like she worships the devil.” “She doesn’t have to, HE worships HER!!!!” Dang, I could watch like 8 episodes of Frasier in the time I will be watching this movie and be infinity times more entertained…
  • Oh my gosh, this is painful.
  • How much longer?!!!
  • Why was this movie critically claimed? Just…why?

Just…what a total waste of time, man. Would not recommend. Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. All the thumbs in the world down.

That is my serious and considered review of Phantom Thread. Sorry if you also wasted two hours and ten minutes of your life watching this film and then actually liked it. You may want to see a doctor about that. (Don’t offended, okay. Just concerned for your health and it’s called HYPERBOLE.)

It was the most disappointing and depressing two hours and ten minutes of my life. (I guess I’m not done yet.) The weight of this disappointment increases tenfold when you realize that a talented actor like Daniel Day Lewis (and yes, his acting is fine in the film) is done acting. This–this sad excuse of a movie–is it. It is like that moment when you’re watching Kiefer Sutherland being interviewed about playing Jack Bauer on 24 and you realize…he’s not really Jack Bauer, he’s just Kiefer Sutherland. I know you’ve all been there. (And if you haven’t, you should let Jack Bauer change your life.) A really sobering and disheartening moment.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Meanwhile, on Dark Shadows

 

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Well, isn’t this cozy? Hallmark should get on this.

Bonsoir!

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Let’s Movie! Part Two

Nearly two years ago (yikes! Who’s minding this store, anyway?), I posted an entry about Tuner Classic Movies’ branding campaign, known simply as “Let’s Movie.” The campaign (which I now assume is defunct) invited audiences to not only watch films on their network as they were meant to be–commercial-free, uncut, and presented in their original format–but also to share their favorite things about the movies. The list should not be a list of favorite movies or the best movies but instead a list of moments, lines, and visuals that have made a lasting impression on you and encapsulate what you love about the wonderful world of film.

When I initially posted my own list, I wrote: “I recently finished reading Furious Love, a book about Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. It tells of how Burton was initially unimpressed with Taylor as an actress. ‘She’s just not doing anything,’ he complained to Joe Mankiewicz, Cleopatra‘s director. Then Mankiewicz showed him Taylor’s impact onscreen and from her, Burton learned how the visual element of film could often trump the spoken element of theater. Some of my very favorite moments are those subtle, visual moments that you have to watch for closely (sometimes these moments prompt explanation in the list that follows, sometimes they don’t), but still many of the items on this list are simply lines that have often crept into my everyday dialogue.” At the time, I only posted 45 items, failing to reach 100. I tried very hard to not repeat multiple lines or moments in the same film (sometimes failing). I don’t know that I am going to try to do that again because there’s often not just one line or moment in a film that makes me love it. So, back by popular demand, here is part two of LET’S MOVIE…

46. Montgomery Clift doing “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” (The Big Lift, 1950) 

Sorry if you thought I’d get through this list without mentioning this dude a time or two dozen…

The Big Lift isn’t a great movie by any stretch, but it is a unique performance by Montgomery Clift in that he is more romantic and comedic in this role than any other. This moment in particular highlights, as the video description states, “an untapped gift for comedy.” So often is Monty remembered for his portrayals of tortured, principled loners–which often murks with his personal life–that it is a pure joy to see him so full of life. That man had a smile that could light up a street full of people. That’s how I like to remember him–he was funny, he was charming, he was even, at times, supremely happy.

I recently read Patricia Bosworth’s biography of Montgomery Clift for the oh, I don’t know, maybe sixth time. (And I recently was perusing reviews on Amazon about the book and was utterly shocked at how many people find it boring, a waste of time, etc. These are probably the same people who say “I never cared for Montgomery Clift.” There’s just no accounting for people who have zero taste.) Recently on CBS Sunday Morning, Sharon Stone noted that her residence (in California, presumably) was the “Montgomery Clift property.” Well, I was 99.9% sure that Montgomery Clift never owned a property in California–he preferred living in New York and only traveled to California when he had to for filming–and darn it, I had to read the biography again to make sure. (Results of my research affirmed my initial reaction: he did not ever own a property in California; he stayed with friends and rented a few properties, notably during the filming of Raintree County and recovering from his car accident.) ANYWAY, reading the biography again was both delightful and heartbreaking: he was so incredibly talented and had so much to give to the world, yet there was such a downward spiral in his life (and it didn’t, as people often assume, simply begin after his devastating car accident) that just breaks my heart. I was so delighted in reading the book again to be reminded of his connections to David Ford (Sam Evans on Dark Shadows, duh) and John Fiedler (voice of Piglet, what more could you possible need?) and Robert Redford — such a tenuous thread of connections to people that seems particularly tailored to me and my interests. Well, I just can’t wait to talk to this guy in the next life.

47. “You know anything about mountain climbing? … You know anything about flying an airplane? … What do you know about deep-sea diving?” (From Here to Eternity, 1953) 

Speaking of Clift’s untapped talent for comedy, how about the scene in From Here to Eternity where he rips into the guy (appropriately named Phil) who has stolen his gal (Donna Reed) from him? Phil is bragging about surfboarding and asks Prewitt (Clift) if he knows anything about surfboarding. “No,” Prewitt abruptly replies, fuming. Then he starts–oh, so passive-aggressively–throwing questions at Phil: “You know anything about mountain climbing? You know anything about flying an airplane? Me either. What do you know about deep-sea diving?” It’s so great. And Prewitt’s little Hawaiian shirt? Just the icing on the cake. Heavens to Betsy, this guy was the best. Unfortunately, no one has uploaded this clip onto YouTube, so–dirty darn!–you’re gonna have to raid your local library and borrow the film, one of the few Clift performance available on Blu-ray (a confusing fact in itself, that man’s face was made for high-definition).

48. “Not the jacket!” (The Family Stone, 2005) 

The Family Stone is a great Christmas movie, a great movie that perfectly captures what family relationships are really like, and a movie that makes you wonder, “Why doesn’t Luke Wilson make more movies (or more movies like this)?”

49. “Michael Francis Rizzi, do you renounce Satan?”
“I do renounce him.” 

“And all his works?”
“I do renounce them.”
“And all his pomps?”
“I do renounce them.”
“Michael Rizzi, will you be baptized?”
“I will.”
(The Godfather, 1972) 

Don’tcha just love how the church organ and the gunshots perfectly complement each other? Divinity, I tell ya.

50. “Hey, what are you gonna do, nice college boy? Didn’t want to get mixed up in the family business and now you wanna gun down a police captain because he slapped you in the face a little bit? Huh? What, do you think this is the army where you shoot ’em a mile away? You gotta get ’em close and–BADABING!–you blow their brains all over your nice Ivy League suit. Come ‘ere! You’re taking this very personal. Tom, this is business, and this man is taking it very, very personal.” (The Godfather, 1972) 

James Caan is amazing as Sonny Corleone. Badabeep! Badabap! Badaboop! This scene shows Sonny’s genuine affection for Michael, who doesn’t quite see the humor in the situation. Ah, Michael. Ah, Sonny. Goddamn FBI don’t respect nothin’!

51. “Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.” (The Godfather, 1972)

52. “I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” (The Godfather II, 1974)

Happy new year, ya filthy animal.

I know what you’re thinking: enough with The Godfather quotes already! But this is what happens when your husband leaves you alone for the night: you end up watching The Godfather and debating which part you like best. One. No, two. No, no, one! Ad infinitum. And you realize how so many of its lines are, like, in your DNA. And you realize the need for therapy…

53. Robert De Niro in The Godfather II. 

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Best supporting actor indeed! I mean, just look at Vito’s concern for poor little Fredo, crying and suffering from pneumonia. Everything Vito did, he did for his family. See, The Godfather is really a film about family, and that’s why it is perfect for every occasion! You can watch it at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, birthdays, weddings…

Ok, I’ll stop now. Maybe.

54. Nick Arden (Cary Grant), in the elevator with his new bride, is shocked to see his first wife (Irene Duane), declared missing at sea and presumed dead after seven years. (My Favorite Wife, 1940) 

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Hats off to Nancy Meyers and co. for paying tribute to this in The Parent Trap (1998).

55. “You were born older, George.” (It’s A Wonderful Life, 1946) 

56. “I did NOT send you to Go Kart camp!” (Heavyweights, 1995) 

I say this, like, all the time.

57. “Let her burn, let her burn, let her burn all night. Bring me out here in the doggone middle of the night to turn off the light. Can’t he ever get anything right? ‘Oh, no, dad, I’ll–I’ll be sure to turn the lights off.’ Well, he couldn’t turn a light off at the house, why would he ever turn one off down here at the store?” (That Thing You Do!, 1996)

I also say this all the time.

56. JIMMY: Sorry I’m buggin’ you. I guess I’m alone in my principles.
[Storms off, leaving the table.]

LENNY: Oh come on. Oh, there he goes–off to his room to write that hit song “Alone in my principles.”
— That Thing You Do!, 1996 

Steve Zahn is a gem.

57. “Shoulda dumped you in Pittsburgh! Which one of you butts said we were engaged?” (That Thing You Do!, 1996)

I also say this all the time. People only started taking it personally once I was actually engaged.

58. “Now that’s better, Johnny. You know, I missed you. Ever since the club split up, I missed you. We all missed you. Did ja miss him? YEAH! The Beetles missed ya, all the Beetles missed ya!” (The Wild One, 1953) 

Thank you to The Beatles Anthology for introducing me, at a young age, to so many things, including Marlon Brando!

59. “When this baby hits 88 miles an hour, you’re gonna see some serious shit.” (Back to the Future, 1985) 

60. Biff’s transformation and green track suit. (Back to the Future, 1955) 

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“Oh, Marty! Marty, here’s your keys. You’re all waxed up, ready for tonight.” Then he puts his hand on his hips. This guy…I tell ya.

61. “Why must we marry at all? Why can’t things just stay as they are?” (Little Women, 1994) 

62. EDIE: I recognized you by your nose.
TERRY: Quite a nose, huh? Some people just have a face that sticks in your mind.
(On the Waterfront, 1954) 

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Well, I’d say.

63. Spencer Tracy’s final speech in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967)

I love Spencer Tracy; he was such a genuine, natural actor. His performance here is touching and brilliant–his final on film (he died seventeen days after the film was completed), but what I think I love even more here is Katharine Hepburn’s reaction to his performance. In watching her films with Tracy, their affection for each other is so natural and obvious, I’m not sure how anyone would have not known they were partners off-screen. I don’t really think she’s acting here; I think she is genuinely reacting to his performance and his words about love and especially his love for her, enduring through the years.

(Side note: My husband and I watched this — his first time seeing the film (which amazingly some people call “preachy” and “irrelevant”, we must live on different planets) or any Spencer Tracy film actually — and after it was over, I think he might have even had a tear or two, he said, “That was a really good movie. It’s one of my favorite movies now!” I feel like such a successful human being.)

64. Mortimer (Cary Grant) discovers a body in the window seat. (Arsenic and Old Lace, 1944) 

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“But there’s a body in the window seat!”
“Yes, dear! We know.”

Or just Cary Grant’s facial expressions in general. Especially in his comedic roles, which are my favorite. Give me funny Cary Grant over goopy, romantic Cary Grant any ol’ day. Chaaaaaarge! “He’s so happy being Teddy Roosevelt!”

So many great lines in this film: “Where’d you get that face? Hollywood?” “Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops!” “Even the cat’s in on it!” “I’m not a cab driver, I’m a coffee pot!”

Don’t wait to watch it for Halloween (a necessity); watch it now!

65. “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” (The Way We Were, 1973) 

Watching The Way We Were is such a commitment–namely, a commitment to feeling emotionally exhausted and drained for several days. I mean, how could Hubbell leave Katie (annnnnd his child)? No one was gonna love him the way Katie did. No one was gonna push him to go to France and write that second novel. No one was gonna brush his hair like Katie! Ughhhh. I don’t think I will ever get over this movie. Someone want to remind me why Redford was not nominated for his acting in this film?

66. “Excuse me. Could you help me? I’m looking for the Russian Tea Room.” “This is the Russian Tea Room. You’re in front of it.” (Tootsie, 1982)

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Sydney Pollack forever!

67. “Happy Thanksgiving. It’s your turn to say Happy Thanksgiving back.”
“Happy thanksgiving back?”
(You’ve Got Mail, 1999) 

68. Montgomery Clift teaching the lost Czech boy English in The Search (1948). 

Most adorable thing in the world, I’m tellin’ ya.

“Now, I ask you, am I genius or am I not?”

“No.”

“Ok, ok. But look lad, the answer should have been yes! Yes! Yes!”

I say, yes, yes, yes!

And I’m not just sayin’ it for the chocolate, which is my number one motivator in life, not gonna lie.

69. I have no words, just… (The Heiress, 1949) 

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So sad. Not a cruel mercenary at all!

70. “Blane? His name is Blaine? That’s a major appliance, that’s not a name!!” (Pretty in Pink, 1986) 

Says the guy named…Duckie.

71. JOHN: ‘Ello, grandfather!
PAUL’S GRANDFATHER: Hello.
JOHN: He can talk, then, can he?
PAUL: Of course, he can talk. He’s a human being, isn’t he?
RINGO: Well if he’s your grandfather, who knows? Hahahaha!
— A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

I just love that someone has put this on YouTube. Hahahaha!

72. Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy) explains the inner workings of a baseball game to Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn) in Woman of the Year

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73. That final moment in Paddington 2

I don’t want to give anything away…I’ll just say, I wasn’t expecting to shed a tear, but you know that Paddington — he’s just the sweetest thing in the world.

Besides an orange marmalade sandwich, of course.

74. “Watch me for the changes and try to keep up, OK?” (Back to the Future, 1985)

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75. “If she can stand it, I can! Play it!” (Casablanca, 1942) 

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Some films that are purported to be the greatest can be underwhelming (for me, that would be Citizen Kane), but Casablanca really is perfect–sharp dialogue, the cinematography, great characters matched by great acting. Every scene is must-watch. Practically every line is quotable. It’s just perfect.

I rue the day I walked out of Goodwill not buying the framed Rick’s Cafe print…but hey, I do have some “pretty fancy shoes” from there.

76. The cameo by original Dark Shadows actors Jonathan Frid (LEGEND!!!!!!!!!), Lara Parker, David Selby (The Original Werewolf Heartthrob™), and Kathryn Leigh Scott in Dark Shadows (2012). 

Original actors' cameo, Dark Shadows 2012

AKA its one redeeming moment. Let’s just leave it at that.

78. Montgomery Clift’s arrogant silence and decidedly cool airiness as Matthew Garth in Red River (1948). 

While Howard Hawks may have worn out his arm teaching Clift how to punch and Clift wasn’t exactly the most convincing physical threat to John Wayne’s Thomas Dunson, he does display such an inner strength that is palpably threatening. Clift conveys this as he always does–the little things, like thoughtfully rubbing his nose, staring off into space (aka the Chisholm Trail) with those eyes of his, and sucking wheat…

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You know, things that you’d only notice if you were really watching closely, which is the only way to watch a Montgomery Clift movie. Love this guy. If that wasn’t obvious.

79. “Edie, you love me!” (On the Waterfront, 1954) 

After seeing The Post and writing about it on this blog, I had to get it out of my system by watching a GOOD movie. So I watched On the Waterfront aka another perfect movie that I could never get tired of watching. Brando is Brando, but Eva Marie Saint is great, too, conveying Edie’s conflicting feelings here so thoroughly and ending with what has to be one the greatest on-screen kisses of all-time.

80. Scarlett O’Hara slapping everyone in Gone with the Wind (1939). 

Prissy, Rhett, Suellen, and even her beloved Ashley (“Oh, Ashley!”) get walloped by Scarlett in the four-hour film. The Yankee deserter who shows up and steals earbobs from Ellen O’Hara’s sewing box? Well, Scarlett did a little more than just slap him.

81. “I want that you tell me was she feeble-minded? My Mother! Was she feeble-minded? Was she?!” (Judgment at Nuremberg, 1961) 

Some actors steal scenes. And some actors steal movies. And one actor steals a three-plus hour movie with a fifteen minute scene. That’s Montgomery Clift, honey!

He took his craft so seriously. Before shooting the scene, he got a (bad) haircut because he believed it was something his character would have done. Clift didn’t take a salary for Judgment at Nuremberg, and when he had finished his scene, he stayed and watched Judy Garland film her courtroom testimony. After it was over, director Stanley Kramer found Clift in tears. “Wasn’t she wonderful?” he asked Clift expectantly. “Awww, Stanley,” Clift replied, wiping his tears. “She did it all wrong!

I just love that story.

I have to say: I think it’s disgusting that Clift made fewer films than the number of times Meryl Streep has been nominated for an Oscar. Just…disgusting.

The list ends here for now. The final nineteen (of which only 12 will be from a Montgomery Clift movie and the other 7 will be from The Godfather, ha ha ha) will have to wait for another time. Until next time…

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Why Paddington 2 is a Better Movie than The Post

During the month of January, I have gone to the movie theater twice. One of the films I saw is a delightful, charming, and heartwarming film about friendship, family, and loyalty; the other is a star-studded, Oscar-nominated “thrilling” drama that puts the audience to sleep in the first ten minutes (if not sooner).

Yep. Paddington 2 is a superior film to The Post in every single way. Fact.

Paddington 2 picks up where the first film left off: Paddington is happily settled with the Brown family and an essential part of the fabric of the community. Aunt Lucy’s 100th birthday is quickly approaching, however, and Paddington has to work hard to buy her the perfect present: an antique pop-up book illustrating all the essential London landmarks. What Paddington doesn’t know, though, is that the pop-up book is actually a hidden treasure map, heavily coveted by washed-up actor Phoenix Buchanan (played to perfection by Hugh Grant). When Buchanan steals the book (in disguise, of course), Paddington is unjustly framed for the crime and sent to jail.

Yes. Paddington goes to jail! Gasp.

Poor Paddington. But Paddington, being Paddington, makes friends and improves jail-life for everyone: the uniforms become pink-tinged, bedtime stories are implemented, and there are orange marmalade sandwiches for everyone, even the hard-edged Mr. Knuckles!

Paddington 2 is better than the first Paddington (which is also charming and adorable), but it is most definitely better than a film that is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Rotten Tomatoes describes The Post as “a thrilling drama about the unlikely partnership between The Washington Post’s Katharine Graham (Streep), the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, and editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks), as they race to catch up with The New York Times to expose a massive cover-up of government secrets that spanned three decades and four U.S. Presidents. The two must overcome their differences as they risk their careers – and their very freedom – to help bring long-buried truths to light.” While that sounds promising, what that actually translates to on-screen is a very, very slow film with a minimal story and lackluster, underwhelming performances–including by the supposedly amazing Meryl Streep aka the most overrated, underwhelming actress ever.

Three-quarters of the film focuses on whether The Washington Post is going to secure The Pentagon Papers and scoop The New York Times. In the last quarter of the film, the papers are secured, and the debate on whether to publish them rages. It’s approximately 1000% less interesting than it sounds. All the President’s Men and Spotlight — two films that really showcase the tough grit, integrity, and relentlessness of journalists — it is not. Nothing is captivating or compelling, least of all the characters and the performers who bring them to “life.” Streep’s Graham is bland and lifeless; a somnambulant Jason Robards has more passion and believability as Ben Bradlee than Hanks can muster in two hours. I felt nothing for these characters or their dilemma. I was not moved to care, as interesting an example of media law The New York Times vs. The United States is. The only emotions I felt during the movie were agonizing boredom and relief when it finally ended. (I guess I also felt elation, early in the movie, when I spotted a movie poster for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — and subsequently I would feel longing for that kind of sophisticated, witty film-making.)

With the current state of affairs, I understand the urgency and importance of The Post, but it really is lacking in acting (supremely disappointing) and storytelling (even more disappointing). The film has no heart, plain and simple. While watching Paddington 2, however, I was drawn into Paddington’s world, full of concern and love for Paddington just as all the other characters are in the film. I laughed, I was on the edge of my seat, cheering for Paddington, and in the film’s final moments, my throat even constricted and I felt a tear or two or a thousand welling up. Heart.

 

IT (Andy Muschietti, 2017)

I’ve been meaning to write about IT for quite awhile…but then I got a little distracted. I saw It the first week it was released, but then I saw Dunkirk the following week and was kind of blown away and had to write about it right way, Tom Petty was dead, then he wasn’t, and then he really was, and I also developed this new hobby of trapping and killing fruit flies (it’s all in the flick of the wrist, honey). With these distractions fading to the background and Halloween (and Stranger Things 2) just around the corner, I think now is the appropriate time to talk about It. 

Let’s get something out of the way: Nothing can compare to the terror of reading the book. Nothing. Now, I’m not one of those snobs who thinks the book is always better than the movie because that’s just not true. Get over it. (I have written about this before.) But the terror and thrill of reading the book is something that is going to be impossible to translate to the screen. I made the mistake of reading It on my Nook Glowlight Plus (RIP my original Nook Glowlight and Barnes & Noble caring about their customers)…I’ll just say that when the back cover states that it should only be read in well-lit rooms, IT MEANS IT!!! If you have any doubts about Stephen King as a writer, read It because not only is It extremely well-written but It is also about much more than a dancing clown named Pennywise.

Now that we have established that is impossible for any screen adaptation to match the novel, we can do what everyone I know has been doing: compare it to the three-hour television mini-series produced in 1990.

As a child, the television adaptation was frightening, but so was the Radio City Hall stage version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. (Actually, that’s still a little scary.) For what It was, this version is a decent translation of the novel, albeit constricted by length and television standards (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). After seeing the film version, however, the mini-series appears tame and dated, not to mention sleep-inducing.

On the big screen, there are changes: the childhood portion of the story (which is the sole setting of this adaptation) is shifted from the 1950s to the 1980s. Initially the change startled and bothered me, but the more I thought about it and continued to watch the film, it just made sense. The 1980s is far more relatable — soundtrack, cultural references, etc. — for a film audience today than the 1950s would be. Reflecting on the novel (and the 1990 miniseries), however, there is one part that the filmmakers chose to leave in (without explanation) that is out of place in the 1980s setting — Bill’s bicycle, Silver. The bicycle plays a key role in the novel, and its name derives from The Lone Rangerwhich is a lost cultural reference point for (I’m guessing) the majority of a film-going audience. In the film, the bicycle is still clearly named Silver, but it is unexplained, and there are no shouts of “Hi ho silver away!”, which is just sad (if only because it brings back memories of Captain Sobel in Band of Brothers). But, I guess that is really nitpicking and would only affect you if you’ve actually read the book.

The biggest change — in my viewing — was the fact that IT takes Beverly down into the sewers, luring the other Losers down there. I don’t remember that happening in the book, and it kind of soured my viewing. The filmmakers did, however, choose to omit that one scene from the book, so maybe this alteration was their way of strengthening the bond between Beverly and the other Losers.

Changes (major and minor) aside, the acting from the child actors is superb and a vast improvement from the miniseries (which, again, was decent). They perfectly convey the terror and trauma of battling IT and the bond of friendship between seven outcasts. Yet, my chief criticism of the film, however, has to do with the portrayal of these children — and whether they are 11 or 14 (or whatever age they are supposed to be in this new version), they are under 18 and so they are CHILDREN.

It is rated R, which doesn’t always mean much. With the graphic violence and horror displayed in It, an R-rating makes sense. Apparently, however, an R-rating gives the filmmakers the freedom to drop the f-bomb in every sentence of dialogue, 90% of which is spoken by these CHILDREN. This kind of vulgarity is not only done in poor taste, it is absolutely unnecessary. Yes, King uses language in his writing. Yes, real people talk like that (…but they don’t exactly sound intelligent or cool doing it, no matter what anyone might make you think). And yes, sadly, there are even some children who know and use this kind of language. But you know what? They don’t come out of the womb talking like that. It is learned behavior, and if they don’t learn it at home (which, sadly, some do), they are going to learn it from media. What an irresponsible and tasteless decision on the part of the filmmakers because the language does nothing to make the film better or more believable.

(I spent months researching and writing a 40-page thesis about the Hays Code and how filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s made BETTER and more INTELLIGENT and more ARTISTIC films by WORKING AROUND CENSORSHIP LAWS AND NOT SACRIFICING THE STORY, so forgive me if I seem like I’m on a soapbox right now BECAUSE I AM. I have zero tolerance and respect for this kind of lazy, vulgar filmmaking, and the more I think about it, the more I dislike this film version because of it.)

I’m really worked up now. I really didn’t plan for this blog post to take that direction. I actually liked the movie when I was watching it…but I’m having a hard time reconciling that positive feeling with the idea of how lazy and tasteless the amount of language in the film is.

So I will returning to the night I first saw the film: IT scared me. I didn’t want to go home alone. I woke up multiple times in the night and was afraid that there was a dancing clown in the corner of my bedroom, or out in the hallway, or in the–heaven forbid–bathroom. I heard mysterious tapping noises in the kitchen. I was really scared. But then I watched the video for Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” for half an hour or more and felt totally fine.

So I guess the point of this blog post turned out to be that Billy Joel actually cures all. Thanks, Billy!  

Survival Isn’t Fair: Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017)

Oh, my dear, dear followers of The Hand of Count Petofi, time has slipped away from us once again! Yet what is six months when you are a vampire or a werewolf or a severed right hand of a powerful warlock damned from here to eternity? Not long at all, I’d imagine. I was a little busy these past few months planning a wedding and getting married, but that is a novel or two thousand in itself. Returning to reality includes re-committing to writing and this blog, so let’s–in the words of the immortal, wonderful George Michael–GET BACK, HANDS OFF, GO FOR IT!

So I finally saw Dunkirk this week and, to be succinct, I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Yet, my movie-going partner, my new husband, had a lukewarm reaction to the film: he would rather watch Wonder Woman a thousand and one times before watching Dunkirk again. (Oh, Wonder Woman is beautiful, he says, but nowhere near as beautiful as you! Oh, yeah, sure.) No worries, my friends, this is not the first fissure in our brief marriage, and his reaction does not mute mine. What is disconcerting, though, is that there are others like him out there that share this opinion. The main criticism of the film is that it is devoid of palpable emotion and strong, developed characters to which the audience can attach themselves. And this, I believe, is missing the point entirely. For Dunkirk is not about that inexplicable bond found only in combat as in Band of Brothers or the journey of self-discovery each man undergoes while Saving Private RyanDunkirk is, quite simply, about survival. The will to survive is your main character, your driving action, your gripping emotion. Toward the end of the film, two evacuated soldiers are thanked for their service. “All we did was survive,” one of them snipes. “That’s enough,” the man replies.

Dunkirk tells the miraculous story of the evacuation of more than 300,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, where the enemy had forced the troops to retreat. Christopher Nolan tells the story from three different perspectives in a non-linear fashion: one week on land, one day at sea, and one hour in the air. (The confusion this method caused was actually my husband’s chief complaint. He’s, like, so linear. Kinda like a Zebra.) In each story, there is little dialogue, yet there is that will to survive (or, in some instances, the determination to help others survive) and the gnawing suspense: will they make it?

Nolan does not give the characters much to say, much less a background fluffed with reasons why they are fighting or what they are longing to return to back home, and I honestly can’t remember any of their names without looking up the cast list on IMDB (and even then, I have to see the photo in the context of the film unless the actor’s name happens to be Tom Hardy, then I just have to see the photo–for research purposes, of course). Yet the miraculous thing is, to me, it did not matter. I was captivated, from Tommy running to escape a German ambush in the opening scene to Farrier setting his plane on fire and raising his hands in the air, resigned to his fate. I was on the edge of my seat (literally, which my husband found equal parts amusing and adorable), anxious about each character’s fate. I wanted these men to survive. And I didn’t need to know anything about them to feel that way.

Because, as I see it, those men–boys, really–all had a similar story, albeit a different history: none of them really wanted to fight. (“Men my age dictate this war. Why should we be allowed to send our children to fight it?”) Of course they wanted to go home. But they were fighting because they had to. Stephen Ambrose has a great line in one of his books about this exceptional generation of men–how they would have rather been at home, holding a baseball bat instead of a Browning Automatic Rifle, dating, and going to college, but they fought the war, not purely by choice, and they did so with dignity and honor. (I would quote him exactly, but getting married also included moving to a space that does not currently have a separate west wing for all my books, so they remain nine minutes away from my current location.) They did it, and how indelibly grateful the world should be for that.

Dunkirk expresses that without saturating the film with sap: there is heroism in the film, there is fear, there is the reality and complexity of war and you are right there with these boys in the thick of it–yet, it should be noted and applauded, the film refrains from an excessively violent and vulgar portrayal of war. I think I could watch this film a thousand and one times and still be stunned by its technical brilliance, its carefully crafted story, the finest acting, and its riveting and, yes, palpable emotion. And I would still want every man to survive. I, too, would stay. For the French.
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“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. And even if this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the Old.”   

Put your life in the hands of this rock ‘n’ roll band…

Oasis: Supersonic has it all: writing a certain song in the amount of time it takes six men to eat Chinese take-out, a speechless Liam Gallagher, ambushing a certain member of the band with a fire extinguisher because of his football preferences,a kiss for the camera, smashing a certain individual in the head with a cricket bat, the story of Abel and Cable, whispers of sausages, and much, much more. But how much do you want it?

The documentary, which played in US theaters for one night only (and that night was this past Wednesday, so sorry if you missed it, but no fear–it’s On Demand and iTunes and My Christmas List), focuses on the rise and early, insane success (covering, roughly, 1991-1996) of rock ‘n’ roll band (remember those?) Oasis, culminating in their historic performances at Knebworth Park. Combining audio interviews (no talking heads here) with Noel and Liam Gallagher as well as other band members, friends, family, and crew with live footage, never-before-been-seen-by-fans’-eyes home footage, and delightful animations, the story of this rock ‘n’ roll band and its two battling brothers is endlessly entertaining,  insightful, and surprisingly moving–just as advertised.

At the heart of Oasis, of course, has always been the combative, true love-hate relationship between Noel and Liam Gallagher. Their tension and explosive dynamic drove the band, while also ultimately killing it. In the film, the brothers offer differing explanations for their difficult relationship. According to Liam, Noel still holds a grudge against Liam for drunkenly urinating all over his new stereo; Noel rebuts that Liam has always resented Noel for his songwriting talent and being naturally assumed as the leader and decision-maker of the band. Noel offers perhaps the best explanation about the differences in their personalities: Noel is a cat, moody and valuing independence, while Liam is a dog, attention-driven and requiring constant attention (“play with me, play with me, play with me, throw this ball for me”).

Home video confirms this: in one of my favorite moments, Noel is intently focused at the mixing board in the studio during the recording of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory, and Liam pokes his head through the door, eventually dancing his way through the room, attracting all the attention. Yet, despite all their differences and jealousy, they each acknowledge the other’s strengths (often telepathically, according to Liam)–Liam praising Noel’s talent as a songwriter, Noel declaring Liam “cooler than me” (“There’s not a day go by that I don’t wish I could rock a parka like that man,” he states) and the greatest singer and frontman of his time. And even amidst all the tension and arguments, you can still see the inexplicable love and affection the two have for one another.

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“If this ever goes on video, I would apologize, but I’m not gonna ’cause he’s a PRICK!” Noel Gallagher

Aside from the basic differences in their personalities, however, the film highlights another dissimilarity between the Gallagher brothers: what exactly constitutes a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Noel believes in the power of the music and its fans, while Liam firmly believes that no rock ‘n’ roll band is truly great without the antics–being arrested (or, even better, deported–while en route via a ferry, no less), tearing up hotel rooms (“that’s a lot of work,” notes Noel), taking loads of drugs, and, of course, sex. (Never mind that The Beatles did just fine without this kind of lewd behavior–at least in excess or in public.)

During the group’s first visit to the United States, they appeared at the famous Whiskey A Go Go. Reeling from the effects of crystal meth (also known as ninja speed in some circles), the performance was a shambles: the group members weren’t always playing the same song (Noel apparently had a different set list from everyone else), and Liam may or may not have thrown a tambourine at his older brother. Disgusted by the band’s performance and behavior, Noel briefly left the band, retreating to San Francisco to meet up with a girl he’d met at an Oasis gig. When Noel told her he was leaving the band, she responded, “Well, what else are you going to do?” Lacking an answer, Noel wrote “Talk Tonight” and returned to the group. The dynamic between Noel and the rest of the band, however, had irrevocably changed: it was no longer a sense of “us,” it was now a sense of “me [Noel] and them.”

This revelation is one of the most moving and honest in the film. The Gallagher brothers have always been unabashedly honest, but their honesty throughout Supersonic is often startling. For example, the band’s first drummer, Tony McCarroll, has repeatedly been portrayed as incompetent and dim-witted in the band’s history. The Gallaghers (and others as well) concede their cruel treatment of McCarroll in Supersonic. “Whatever he [McCaroll] says is probably true,” Noel admits.

Noel similarly crushes the myth that the band suddenly became cohesive, successful, and talented once he became part of the picture. The band struggled to be noticed–until fate stepped in and the band tagged along to play at a gig in Glasglow with the band of Alan McGee’s ex-girlfriend. “There were seven people in the room, and he was two of them,” Noel later explained. McGee fell in love with the group on the spot and asked if they wanted a record deal. Wa-hey!  

Except there was no celebratory mood of “we’ve made it!” on the ride back home that evening, and the band struggled to record their first album (recorded on two separate occasions and finally successfully mixed by Owen Morris as a seemingly last-ditch effort–“Do whatever you want [with the tapes],” Mark Coyle instructed him). Yet, when fans sang along to the nonsensical lyrics of “Supersonic” on the day of its release at a gig, Noel began to realize the power of the band and its fans.

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Witnessing Noel’s haircut during his days as an Inspiral Carpets roadie on the big screen alone was worth the price of admission. More of this, please.

Despite the band’s arrogance, Noel, in one of the film’s most touching moments, attributes the dominance of Oasis to the group’s fans. Just as he did not realize he wanted to be in a band until he heard his songs being played back to him by his bandmates (his aspiration, up until that point, had been to simply keep his job as a roadie for the Inspiral Carpets–and, hopefully, get a new haircut), he similarly did not realize the power of his songwriting until hearing countless fans singing “I know a girl called Elsa/She’s into Alka-Seltzer/She sniffs it through a cane on a supersonic train” (…seriously, what?) along with his cocky younger brother. Oasis played to a record-breaking crowd of 250,000 during their two-night performance at Knebworth Park; however, Noel declares, that was not because of anything the band had ever done. It was because of the 2.6 million people who applied for tickets; it was the fans.

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Oasis, 1994: Tony McCarroll, Bonehead, Noel, Liam, and Guigsy (who is stoned through 98% of the film, suffering from nervous exhaustion the other 2%).

Yet Oasis is a truly unique phenomenon that will likely never be repeated. Cocksure and controversial, the Gallagher brothers were the most forceful rock ‘n’ roll stars the music world had seen for quite some time (maybe ever)–and hasn’t seen since. They were a group of homely (except for Noel and Liam, who was truly beautiful–and knew it), average musicians (no virtuosos ’round here) from a council estate who gained a record deal by fate, destiny, foreordination, whatever you want to call it. They produced the fastest-selling debut album (up to that point) and the second-fastest-selling album in U.K. history back-to-back, and their incredible songs, as Noel predicted, have (thusfar) lived forever.

Yet, the scale of their success is somewhat lost to our culture, partly because we have nothing to compare it to. When is the last time an individual (never mind, two of them) said exactly what s/he thought (even if it was as unfortunate as “Taking drugs is like getting up and having a cup of tea in the morning”)? When is the last time hundreds of thousands of people gathered to hear a single group perform–and they were actually focused on being a part of the experience instead of being apart from the experience by seeing it through their cell phone camera? No, as Noel states in the film, we live in a celebrity-driven, social media-crazed, self-absorbed culture. The internet is our global village, not the park of an English village with a population not even totaling 5,000. We take images of ourselves, not the world around us. And, Noel ponders in the documentary’s final moments,what does that mean for our history?

Supersonic reminds us of how much Oasis meant (and means) to so many people and what a cultural loss we are currently suffering through. Its only downfall is that it concludes with the historic concerts at Knebworth. Oasis should have disappeared into a puff of smoke at that point, Noel affirms, and Bonehead agrees. (The band instead continued, with various lineups, for 13 more years.) Liam disagrees, arguing that just because you’ve reached a peak and are likely to not go any higher doesn’t mean you just stop and give up. I’m not sure who has the stronger argument, but I do know I still miss this group of arrogant, disruptive, not-the-best-looking group where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts, exemplified by thousands of fans, not the lead singer, singing the chorus of one of their best-loved songs. So maybe Liam was right–you shouldn’t just stop and give up. At least not today.

Without Precedent

I often wonder about my love for The Beatles–why it is so inexplicable and embedded in my DNA and how millions of people, different from me in innumerable ways, feel precisely the same. Maybe this ingrained, intense feeling is why fans are so incredibly protective of the band’s legacy and equally critical of anything pertaining to The Fab Four, even if it is a feature-length documentary directed by an Academy Award winner named Ron Howard.

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John Lennon, with son Julian, visits Ron Howard and company on the set of Happy Days in 1974.

The producer of the film, Nigel Sinclair, who also produced Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison Living in the Material World, explained fans’ dual reaction to the announcement of the film: “Ron had people come up to him in the street and [they would] say ‘Mr. Howard, I’m so glad you’re doing the Beatles film.’ Ron said, ‘Of course the subtext is “And don’t screw it up.”’

From me to you (hey, I’m trying my zest here), he does not mess it up.

(My criticisms are few and minute, so let’s get them out of the way. I find the commentary from individuals not part of the Beatles’ circle superfluous, unnecessary, and rarely insightful. Do I care what Sigourney Weaver wore to see The Beatles at Shea Stadium? Not really. Do I care that Jon Savage’s parents wouldn’t let him go to a Beatles concert? Not really. What makes them different from the thousands of other ordinary people who loved The Beatles just as fervently? Oh, right, they are of some renown. Whatever. Get out. Secondly, the film’s tagline boasts that this film is about the band you know but the story you don’t…well, not really. I didn’t really learn anything new, but I did see lots of new photos and footage, and I got to see The Beatles on the big screen, replete with the entire Shea Stadium concert. Horrid snobby portion of this post over.)

Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years tells the story of The Beatles, using their live performances as its focus, which, on the surface, may seem odd, since The Beatles were never exactly synonymous with extraordinary live performances. They didn’t have pigs or light their instruments on fire or create auto-destructive art. Their audiences were not rapt in hearing the words of a lyrical poet, as Dylan’s fans were (a fact he was proud of in his early career, especially when The Beatles’ phenomenon surfaced). For much of their performing career, the music was secondary to the spectacle of seeing The Beatles. By choosing this least-regarded facet of the band, however, Howard is able to more fully reveal how the Beatles progressed and evolved by contrasting it with the circus-like atmosphere of their increasingly stagnant live performances.

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Foreshadowing in Hamburg, 1960: “Their name liveth for evermore.”

The Beatles’ stage performances weren’t always so stagnant, though, and their success was not an accident that happened overnight. Ringo states in the film that playing was the most important thing for the band, and their stints in Hamburg, Germany, allowed them the opportunity to perfect their craft while playing for eight or more hours every night—to unruly, difficult-to-please crowds or to an empty club (empty except for a bearded drummer from another Liverpool group, Ringo Starr). This was their apprenticeship, this is where they learned how to play in front of people–how to mach schau, and when they returned to England, they broke the jazz-only rule at Liverpool’s The Cavern Club, performing a total of nearly 300 times. Having dominated The Cavern Club and garnered a local following, the group was still looking to improve and to move the next step up the ladder.

That next step up the ladder was not what any of The Beatles expected: Beatlemania. Opening with color footage of the band playing in Manchester in November 1963, the film shows the excitement and the burgeoning mania: girls screaming, fainting, and the sheer joy John, Paul, George, and Ringo exude. The film illustrates this joy and excitement perfectly with its abundance of unseen (or, at least, under-seen) concert and interview footage. Fans debate the sexiness of the members (“Ringo’s got a sexy nose.” “George’s eyelashes are sexy.”) and declare their undying love for them: “Paul McCartney, if you’re out there listening, Adrian from Brooklyn loves you.” Fans’ adoration for the Beatles ignites laughter but is genuine—and contagious. Just as contagious and laughter-inducing is The Beatles’ humor—then and now. Just a few favorites: John introduces himself to a reporter as Eric, George uses John’s mop top as an ashtray, George thanks Ringo for his contribution to a fan club record and remarks “We’ll phone you,” and Ringo recalls his inability to hear the band’s music at their concerts, “I couldn’t hear anything. All I could see was Paul’s arse, John’s arse…” Ringo had the best seat, am I right?     

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After conquering Europe, the Beatles arrived in the United States, where the madness escalated to a whole new level. While the Beatles complied with the larger venues (and greater profits) and increasingly manic American crowds, they refused to accommodate the demands of segregated venues. In this regard, they were pioneers, standing for what they believed to be right. As journalist Larry Kane, who accompanied The Beatles on their 1964 North American tour, remarked, he was touched by The Beatles’ kindness, their genuineness, and their intelligence.

After 1964, though, The Beatles’ pioneering in the live arena stalled, except by breaking attendance records by playing in larger venues. The opposite was true of their recording career, where they continued to flourish. With each record, they progressed, wrote better songs, and experimented with new sounds and ideas, culminating with the release of Revolver in May 1966. Tellingly, the Beatles never performed any songs from Revolver live, demonstrating how the sophistication of their recording career had overtaken the circus that was their live show.

By 1966, the group’s rosy relationship with the public was fraying. Not only were their performances inaudible but touring had become a life-threatening situation, which escalated with John Lennon’s remark that The Beatles were, in fact, more popular than Jesus Christ. (Real talk hurts.) Even their relationship with the press, who had adored their wit and cheekiness, was verging on hostile. In a clip, one journalists asks The Beatles why they are so “horrid snobby.” Paul, irrefutably the most diplomatic Beatle, answers that they are not snobby but the journalists and their questions are not particularly nice and get what they deserve. (Again, real talk hurts.) Death threats, Beatle burnings, and exploding firecrackers at concerts became the new norm for The Fab Four. They arrived to their final concert, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park on August 29, 1966, in an armored truck. They decided they’d had enough–of touring, at least. Still, in these tense moments, you can still see their camaraderie and the joy their music brings.

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Paul McCartney and George Harrison at The Beatles’ final concert in 1966.

Despite all the obstacles this band faced — touring was a money-making venture not an artistic one, their concerts lasted no more than thirty minutes and offered little variation in terms of set lists, and oh yeah, the screaming which made it impossible for them to hear one another — the film shows what a good live band The Beatles were. They could have easily not put any effort into their live shows at all, but they were often in tune and played as a cohesive unit. That unity is a testament to their closeness as individuals and their faith in one another, my favorite aspect of the film.

“I was an only child, and I suddenly felt as if I had three brothers,” Ringo states in the film. Paul gets emotional recalling the first moment Ringo played with the group, and George expresses how he was always glad that they had one another to lean on and share the experience, unlike an isolated Elvis or Sinatra, declaring, “We were very, very close to one another.” This is the band that went from staying in a single cramped room in the back of a theater in Hamburg to occupying the entire floor of the New York Plaza Hotel, where they found themselves gathering together in one room to get away from the pressure of being Beatles and just be with each other.

They loved one another and had faith in each other, just as many individuals around them had faith in them — notably George Martin having faith in their artistic vision to not touch the unorthodox structure and sound of “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Brian Epstein sacrificing so much for them and maintaining his faith in them despite no measurable success for so long (John Lennon once said there was a period where the only people who had faith in the band were Brian Epstein and George Harrison). And by having faith in each other, they inspired others to have faith in one another — so that it didn’t matter if you were black or white, weird or popular, young or old; The Beatles were a uniting force, beautifully encapsulated by the chorus of grown men singing “She Loves You” to celebrate their football club’s victory season. And there it is — that inexplicable feeling of love swelling inside me. I love The Beatles like no other. They are, quite simply, without precedent.