BAAM Halloween Crossover: Idle Hands

IdleHands1Hi recyclers! Remember me? I’ve been hard at work on A Year With Kate over at The Film Experience (now almost complete!), so I’ve been out of touch these last few months. But I could never pass a holiday without sitting down for a good beer and a bad movie with my good friend Gabe Feinberg. Unfortunately, I’ve been running around like a zombie with its head cut off, so I’m only now writing my review. Everyone please thank Gabe for his unending good humor, and for not cursing me with demonic possession or stabbing me every time I said “I’m almost done!” Truly he is a patient man.

This year, our choice for a bad movie was Idle Hands, a 1999 film that combines two very popular late 90s genres: stoner comedies and slasher comedies. This is a very 90s film. Continuing our pattern of seeing surprisingly famous people in surprisingly bad horror movies, Idle hands features a young Jessica Alba (one year before Dark Angel), Seth Green (probably at the height of his mainstream popularity, but before his animation/geekery second career), Vivica A. Fox (also probably at the height of her mainstream popularity), Fred Willard (underused), and Devon Sawa (overused). It’s a veritable Where Were They Then!

The premise and name of the film are based on the adage “Idle hands are the devil’s plaything,” which I honestly thought was about the sin of masturbation or playing pool. Turns out, at least in the case of this movie, it just means “don’t lie around smoking weed and couch surfing all day, or an unspecified demon will possess your hand and murder everyone you know.” Basically, it’s that amazing scene from Evil Dead 2 where Ash fights his own hand, without Bruce Campbell or Sam Raimi or really anything that would make you want to watch it. There are a lot of jokes about weed and some egregious examples of Genre Necessary Stupidity. (Dear Jessica Alba, if a guy shows up covered in blood and missing a hand, run away. Do not invite him in for sex.) That said, it’s a very colorful movie, which is a strange thing to bring up, but since most horror films now are done in grayscale, it was oddly welcome. Mostly, Idle Hands just made me want to binge-watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and burn my old Offspring cassettes. Ah, 90s nostalgia!

Also there are zombies

Also there are zombies

As for the beer, I’ll leave that up to Gabe. As always, I was grateful for Gabe’s beer and his company. Check out his review of both beer and movie here. Until the next major holiday, have a happy Halloween, and keep your hands busy!

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2014 Emmys LateBlog (‘Cause who gets out of work at 4:30pm??)

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7:33pm

Margaret:  Greetings and salutations to the DVR crowd!

Anne Marie: A Great and Gracious Good Evening to you all!

Margaret:  Since the Emmys (or as I like to think of them, Oscar’s annoying younger cousin) are about as bloated as televised award shows get, and since NBC made the baffling decision to begin the telecast at 4:30pm on a Monday, we come to you with a three hour time-delay courtesy of a DVR

Anne Marie: …and a lot of wine. I hope you haven’t gotten your fill of Emmy coverage yet, because we are gonna be going all night long! 

Margaret:  Or, realistically, an hour and  a half since we’re skipping commercial breaks.

Anne Marie: There are advantages to DVRing live events. Let me attempt to remember how to work the 4 remote controls my roommate has for the TV, and we’ll get under way shortly. Ready, set, GO!

Anne Marie: Seth looks good in a tux. It’s an awards show requirement.

Margaret:  Oh, an MTV music video joke! How cutting-edge!

Anne Marie: “Jokes are like nominees. They can’t all be winners.” Already pulling out the recovery jokes.

Anne Marie: NEVER MIND he won me over with the controversy joke. If there’s something we hate at Team Experience, it’s category fraud.

Anne Marie: HBO has 99 nominations but a situation comedy ain’t one.

Margaret:  I wish Jim Parsons was less adorable. I hate The Big Bang Theory with a virulent passion but Jim Parsons is utterly charming, damn him. Mayim Bialik, behind him, is wearing the most immense gown. She looks like she should be sitting serenely atop a toilet paper roll in my grandma’s bathroom.

Anne Marie: I’m mostly silent because this is a pretty good opening monologue.

Anne Marie: Margaret and I just both yelled “YES” when “Beyonce” was announced. (Love Amy Poehler)

Margaret:  First-time awards show hosts take note: if you want to finish strong with your monologue, hand it off to Amy Poehler.

Margaret:  Now for the first award of the night, for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy. I want Andre Braugher to win for his superlative work on Brooklyn-99 but because the Emmys live to disappoint me I know he won’t.

Margaret:  Modern Family is poop and so are the Emmys. I’m going to go cry into this gif. 

Anne Marie: D’awwwwww *sniffle* This better not be a pattern. This is one of the only times OINTB isn’t against Modern Family, and I’m worried that category fraud is going to work against Jenji Kohan’s little prison dramedy since the Emmys inexplicably love this show.

Margaret: Pray for the Litchfield ladies. Category, ah, confusion aside, OITNB deserves these waaayyyy more than Modern Family does.

Anne Marie: First commercial break! This is why we have a DVR. FAST FORWARD!

Anne Marie: One thing I will say: love the promotion of three lady-driven cop shows in the commercials!

Margaret:  Zooey Deschanel finally picked a new gown silhouette! Somebody call a medic, I think I’m in shock.

Anne Marie: Emmy for Comedy Series Writing goes to Louis CK. I should watch more of it. But also Veep Silicon Valley are really good and deserve more of a shot.

Margaret:  Orange is the New Black‘s pilot was one of the greatest episodes of TV I’ve seen and Louie is great but grump grump grump grump. I knew from the beginning I would need to steel myself for disappointment, but I’m finding it challenging nonetheless.

Anne Marie: I agree with Kimmel. The McConnaissance is over (and hard to spell).

Margaret:  Kate McKinnon will never win. BUT SHE SHOULD.

Anne Marie: Am I the only one weirdly attracted to McKinnon as Bieber on SNL? #LesbiansWhoLookLikeJustinBieber

Margaret:  That said, I can never be mad when Allison Janney wins something. And the Emmys like nothing more than repeating themselves, so since she’s a winner many times over, it makes sense she’s take a statue home again.

Anne Marie: Still don’t love the dress. Looks like a twisted gymnastics leotard. But YAY ALLISON JANNEY who I met in a bar once and definitely did not fangirl out over and develop a sudden speech impediment while attempting to speak to. DEFINITELY.

Anne Marie: We stopped for one commercial because RICKY GERVAIS ON ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK.

Anne Marie: Oh and I forgot to say our friend Drew (my roommate) actually was an editor on the behind-the-scenes footage which I did not watch because 4:30 ON A MONDAY. WHAT THE HELL NBC.

Anne Marie: HOT DAMN UZO!! That is a fucking drop dead gorgeous red dress. A+++

Margaret: Okay, I promise I’m not being mean, but I have never been able to accurately remember Hayden (Google tells me it’s Panettiere?)’s last name, so I always called her Hayden Planetarium. She’s currently enormously pregnant, and now I feel sort of bad about that.

Anne Marie: But now she looks like a Planetarium…

Anne Marie: MODERN FAMILY DOES NOT DESERVE THIS BEST COMEDY DIRECTOR WIN. #JusticeforJodie

Margaret: UGH. SERIOUSLY. If the Oscar-loving Emmys can’t get over their Modern Family boner long enough to reward Jodie Effing Foster, than there may well be no hope in other categories. This is going to be a very frustrating night.

Anne Marie: Cute speech though. I would choose Natasha Lyonne’s eyes to gaze into instead of Matthew McConnaissance, but that’s a personal choice.

Anne Marie: The joke is that nobody in NYC cares about the Emmys, but nobody really cares in LA either. Because. They’re. On. Monday.

Margaret: Nobody has ever been more charming while yelling at people than Billy Eichner.

Anne Marie: Brian Cranston’s mustache though.

Margaret: WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT BRYAN CRANSTON’S STACHE. He’s like a 21st century Errol Flynn!

Anne Marie: I wish The Big Bang Theory would stop winning things. It’s already got a gigantic network audience. We don’t have to pretend it’s original, funny, or as exciting as the rest of the options in the category. Jim Parsons is a charming winner though.

Margaret: Damnit, there Jim Parsons goes again being impossible to hate. STOP IT JIM. YOU ARE TOO GRACIOUS AND CHARMING.

Anne Marie: Commercial!

Anne Marie: Side note: This entire enterprise would be so much easier if I could code well enough to use the WordPress plugin. Anybody want to teach me how to code?

Anne Marie: Lena Dunham looks like a Rainbow Brite reject.

Margaret:  Best Lead Actress in a Comedy – I know JLD will take this again, and that’s fair, but SOMEDAY, Amy Poehler needs an Emmy.

Anne Marie: JLD’s Best Comedy Actress win is the first I’m actually happy to see.

Margaret:  YEP, juuuust like Errol Flynn

Anne Marie: Yeah, Cranston just laid one on her in high heroic style!

Anne Marie: I’mma get a drink while the Reality Show Emmy happens. (Great Race wins).

Margaret: “This is the Show’s 10th win in this category” I feel like we’ll be hearing that plenty tonight. This feels like a strong night for repeats.

Anne Marie: We’re eating ice cream during the Q&A bit because DVR!

Margaret: I’m always here for a break for bits from the Friends of SNL crew.

Anne Marie: Best Writing for a miniseries goes to Stephen Moffat. I have strong feelings about Moffat’s terrible cardboard female characters and general shoddy Shyamalan-style writing on Doctor Who, HOWEVER Sherlock has been pretty good and he needs one of these bloody awards so okay fine, Moffat. You get this. But I still won’t forgive you for Irene Adler.

Margaret: You’re not alone. Methinks it’s going to be a dark night on Tumblr in #stevenmoffat tag

Anne Marie: KATHY BATES IS AMAZING AND DESERVES THIS WIN I love this category. Bates AND Bassett AND Roberts AND Burstein!!!

Margaret:  Great to see someone looking genuinely surprised to win an Emmy, even if it’s perennial prize-winner Kathy Bates.

Anne Marie: When Kathy shook the Emmy I noticed some writing on the bottom of it. Does anyone know what is written on the underside of the award?

Anne Marie: Colbert is committing to this imaginary friend bit the way Clint Eastwood committed to the Imaginary Obama on the stool at the Republican National Convention.

Margaret: I’ve gotta say, it’s a nice jolt of pure weird into a show that’s already more than a little stale. Bless you, Colbert, for at least interrupting the flow.

Anne Marie: Yay Martin Freeman won something! (Best Supporting Actor in a miniseries)

Margaret: Matt Bomer is extolling the virtues of Ryan Murphy’s direction, and y’know, feelings though I have about Ryan Murphy, I feel like I would believe anything that came out of Matt Bomer’s mouth. Such a chronic case of the Handsomes that man has.

Anne Marie: Yay Fargo won another thing! A directing thing!

Margaret: YER DARN TOOTIN’ IT DID.

Anne Marie: Whenever I see Amy Poehler onstage at an awards show I automatically miss Tina Fey.

Margaret:  At least we’re guaranteed an elevated level of funny for the duration of her stage stay.

Anne Marie: THEY’RE WEARING MATCHING TUXES. MCCONNAISSANCE AND HARRELSON ARE WEARING MATCHING TUXES. THE BROMANCE IS REAL AND FABULOUSLY DRESSED.

Margaret: There is an impressive level of bronzer on stage between Harrelson and McConnaissance. They’re so… burnished.

Anne Marie: Otterdict Bendandsnap wins Best Actor in a miniseries! 

Margaret:  Three cheers for Bendyditch Cucumberpatch! This ought to satisfy hordes of clamoring Tumblr users.

Anne Marie: Wait, Helena Bonham Carter played Liz Taylor? How did I miss that??

Anne Marie: I wanted Sarah Paulson to win because I LOVE HER and her dress is absolutely batshit crazy, but Jessica Lange is a great winner for AHS Coven and she won’t be on American Horror Story much longer, so I’m still wicked-ly happy (sorry).

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Margaret:  WEIRD AL IS HERE! AMERICA’S FAVORITE WEIRDLY EMBARRASSING UNCLE IS HERE!!

Margaret: This medley of theme songs is actually stealth brilliant. What better summation of Scandal is there than “Her lip is quivering/Her lip is quivering”

Anne Marie: Everybody and their mother does a Game of Thrones theme parody, but they can all stop now because Andy Samberg and Weird Al have won the theme parody game. (Seriously, please stop. It was old in Season 1.)

Anne Marie: Write them faster / Write them faster / Write them faster / Write them faster

Margaret:  Andy Samberg just announced the impending presence of Lena Headey and Reader, Anne screamed.

Anne Marie: AHHHHHH SHE’S PERFECT LENA HEADEY IS THE QUEEN *Kermit Dance*

Margaret:  The Queen of Hearts, or rather, the Queen of the Hearts in Anne’s eyes right now…

Anne Marie: Fargo wins, proving that good fan fiction WILL lead to a lucrative career.

Anne Marie: The Normal Heart wins and Larry Kramer is actually here, which makes it the first genuine feel good moment of the night.

Margaret:  A moment of genuine feeling and sincerity in the middle of what’s currently feeling like a very pointless awards show. Good on Ryan Murphy for a beautiful, touching, and actually substantive speech.

Margaret:  Ricky Gervais, please cease your bellyaching. Nobody who has won two Emmys gets to complain about being always a bridesmaid.

Anne Marie: Best Writing For A Variety Special goes to Sarah Silverman who miiiiiight be trashed but ran up to the stage barefoot so that was lovely.

Margaret:  HOW, HOW, H O W ARE WE ONLY HALFWAY THROUGH THE SHOW? Who alive has the stamina for this?

Anne Marie: We need more wine and ice cream. Does anybody deliver wine and ice cream in Los Angeles?

Anne Marie: Best Directing in a comedy series goes to The Tonys director who’s also directing the Emmys which is kinda fun. LOOK AT ALL THE SCREENS BEHIND HIM.

Anne Marie: Colbert Report wins which is not surprising but is mostly deserved. I guess that sums up everything but the Comedy wins this year.

Margaret:  Gotta give him those Emmys now, before he defects to network TV and the Colbert Report is no more.

Margaret:  Annnd we’re going to skip right on through the speech by the CEO of the Television Academy, because such is the formidable power of the DVR. Blessed be.

Anne Marie: Aaron Paul wins for Breaking Bad! <Insert “Bitch” joke here>

Margaret:  Aaron Paul has three Emmys and he met his wife at Coachella. These facts are not related but, in proximity, they amuse me.

Anne Marie: The long pause has been Margaret and I processing the In Memorium. Nothing to say except this is hard to watch.

Anne Marie: Couldn’t ask for a better person to memorialize Robin Williams than Billy Crystal. That was beautiful.

Anne Marie: Kary Joji Fukinaga wins for Best Directing and best braids for True Detective.

Margaret:  Cary Fukunaga directed the best of very, very many film adaptations of Jane Eyre, and while I have not watched True Detective I think for those gleaming man-braids alone he deserves an Emmy.

Anne Marie: Anna Gunn and her FABULOUS dress win for Breaking Bad. Hopefully now the Skyler haters SHUT UP.

Margaret:  Anna Gunn is a great actress and a whipsmart, accomplished woman, but also can we talk about how hot she looks holy wow.

Margaret:  YAY JOE MORTON!!!! Not only is he one of the only two actors on Scandal who has any idea how to balance its breakneck veering between tones, he is wearing an insanely sharp tux. He has a beautiful, mellifluous voice. I want him to read me audiobooks.

Anne Marie: Breaking Bad wins and that’s the important part. Which episode? Doesn’t matter.

Anne Marie: Viola Davis walked onscreen and Margaret screamed like I did earlier!

Margaret:  PLEASE WELCOME VIOLA DAVIS?? I’LL WELCOME VIOLA DAVIS!!!!! She’s presenting the category that hopefully she will be WINNING NEXT YEAR! Best Actress in a Drama and Best Face and Best Posture and Best Looking in Royal Blue.

Anne Marie: …while Margaret freaked out over Viola, Julianna Margulies won Best Actress in a drama.

Anne Marie: Margaret and I are getting really snarky and bored as we hit hour 3. This must have been even worse for folks who had to watch with commercial breaks.

Margaret:  JULIA ROBERTS THIS CATEGORY IS NOT ABOUT YOU

Anne Marie: Brian Cranston Errol Flynn wins for Breaking Bad.

Margaret:  “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s my honor to introduce: Jay Leno!” No, it’s not. It is not.

Margaret:  Y’know, as we settled into this night with our bottle of wine and our skepticism, I was looking up Emmys drinking games. The most prescient of their rules was “If Modern Family wins best comedy, throw your bottle at the screen.” Funny (unlike Modern Family), because I am tempted to do just that.

Anne Marie: Modern Family winning ANYTHING over Orange is the New Black  is some bull shit. That is shit to the bull. Never mind category fraud. OINTB is everything Modern Family pretends to be: heartfelt, with well-rounded characters, genuine laughs, and some subversive themes. Emmys, you done us wrong. #JusticeforJenji

Anne Marie: Breaking Bad wins which means next year is definitely Mad Men’s year. I’d have more to say about this, but I’m still livid about the Modern Family win.

Margaret:  This was an instructive experience, at least to the extent of bringing me to a  comprehensive understanding of why I never watch the damn Emmys. Another samey-samey-samey round of awarding, another few hours where isolated laughs were separated by oceans of industry prattle. Can’t wait to do it again next year!

Anne Marie: And with that we’re done! Wait, we’re done? The DVR recorded an extra hour! Whatever, I’m not looking a gift horse awards show in the mouth. It’s over! Until the next live event (which will probably involve girls in green tights flying), good night!

10pm

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HMWYBS: Gone With The Wind (Part 1)

gwtw_1

 

“With God as my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!” It’s a good line for an act one closer. In fact, it’s a good line for a film closer. Gone With The Wind could easily have stopped right at this moment and been considered a beautiful, sentimental film. (Yes, also highly racist.) However, to forego the second act is to lose Scarlett’s successful attempt to claw her way to the top with the carpet baggers and war profiteers in the wake of the Civil War and Reconstruction. We lose Bonnie Blue Butler, Scarlett’s shaming at Mellie’s party, and Rhett’s more famous exit line. (We also lose more Ashley, but does anybody actually care about Ashley?) 

Gone With The Wind is a flawed masterpiece that deserves the critical eyes (and words) cast towards its romanticized view of the Antebellum South and terrible racial politics. Most of those issues arise in the first act, which culminates in the above iconic sunset scene. It’s a scene which does what the entire act does: it takes a moment of extreme suffering, when Scarlett is starving nearly to death, and turns it into a sweeping, Technicolor dream. Vivien Leigh’s playing the scene with Shakespearean gravitas, but it’s difficult to look serious with a swell of Tara’s Theme behind you. This is why it’s my choice for Best Shot: the juxtaposition between real pain and romanticized glory epitomizes the first act of Gone with the Wind.

By the way, my musings on what’s lost if you leave at the intermission are not purely theoretical: my grandparents did exactly that. Though I am a film geek, and my mother is a film geek, my grandparents were not. They saw Scarlett shake her fist at the sky, heard the dramatic swell of music, and mistook it for the end of the film. It’s since become a family legend, but lately I’ve wondered: what did they think of the film without its infamous last act? I can only guess. But here’s one thing for sure: with God as their witnesses, they never left the theater early again!

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HMWYBS: Batman & Bombs

Considering they share source material, Batman (1966) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) couldn’t be more different films. The first(ish) cinematic adventure of the Caped Crusader is a silly satire brimming with ’60s psychedelic colors and the truly weirdest (best?) puns you’ve ever heard. The last(ish) conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy is a colorless, serious allegory about social upheaval, urban decay, and muscled men in jumpsuits beating the crap out of each other. And yet, improbably, there is a single unifying plot point that ties these polar opposites together.

Best Shot(s)

the-dark-knight-rises-2012

As the sun rises over the water and the Dark Knight flies off with the nuclear reactor, ready to sacrifice his life one more time for Gotham City, you know just one thing is going through his mind:

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: GOOOOLDFINGAH!

Margaret: Let’s talk about James Bond. Specifically, the movie that arguably clinched his status as an enduring cultural brand and challenges the discussant to resist overuse of the word ‘iconic’. No, not License to Kill. I’m talking, of course, about Goldfinger. No one ever makes a Top Five Bond movie list without including Goldfinger. Or should we say ‘GOOOOLDFINGAH’? Because when I read the movie’s title, I hear not mere spoken syllables but the glorious belting of Shirley Bassey.

Anne Marie: I can’t move past the opening credits without stating that this is the best song of all the Bond songs and I will fight all Paul McCartney fans TO THE DEATH who say otherwise. GOOOOLDFINGAH is so damn iconic. (BWA BWAAA BWA) Plus it’s tied to a title sequence that’s as uncanny as it is uncomfortable. The title sequence isn’t your choice for Best Shot, but considering how obviously it lays bare (har har) the franchise’s views on femininity, we should address it.

Margaret: It’s a pretty succinct summary woman-as-object paradigm of the Bond universe, and gives us a lot of visual ground on which to rest a denunciation of sexism in the Bond franchise. Maybe that’s too obvious? Yet how do you talk about James Bond, especially GOOOOLDFINGAH, especially its title sequence, without talking about the sexualization of violence and the dehumanization of women? As fun and sassy as this movie is, I can’t avoid that question. This shot in particular, yikes:

Shades of Laura Palmer. This in a sexy title sequence. Ye gads.

Anne Marie: That gives me the heebie jeebies. Really, if you replaced the music (BWA BWAAA BWA), this would look like something out of a horror movie.

Margaret: Rarely outside of horror do you see this abject reduction of women to parts and pieces. I know objectification is common as all hell, but this makes the rest of the Bond catalogue look subtle. (You can probably hear my Sociology degree threatening to rear its ugly head…)

Anne Marie: This article is a safe space. You let that inner sociologist shine!

Margaret: WELL THEN. Yada yada disembodiment yada yada removing personhood yada yada sexualizing violence and passivity and even death. (Relevant: http://youtu.be/_FpyGwP3yzE?t=2m41s ) (Also: http://youtu.be/ufHrVyVgwRg?t=5m16s )

Anne Marie: “Passivity and even death” perfectly describes the position of every Connery-era Bond girl. Especially considering that having boobs drives down a lady’s likelihood of survival. If you have boobs and 5 lines and a bikini, you’re basically asking to die in some very stylishly 60s manner. Besides the obvious dipped-in-gold method, I’m 99% positive there’s one film where a lady gets bitten by a spider in bed. And another where a lady gets poisoned in bed. All of the ladies die in bed.

Margaret:  Sexy, sexy violence.

Anne Marie: I suppose that’s what happens when you bring your work into the bedroom.

Margaret: The Bondverse is all about mixing business with pleasure. Bond is always the picture of action-star competence and power while still managing to seem relaxed– he’s never not on vacation. His name is synonymous with suavity and otherworldly cool, and therefore also mad skills with the ladiezz. There’s lots of James Bond iconography– the Aston Martin, the shaken martini, and the gun held just so, but the most defining visual component of the Bond Brand is its women. Excuse me, girls. Prostrate, heavy-lidded, sun-kissed, nearly naked girls decorating the scenery, poised to be prizes.

My choice for Best Shot is replete with the James-Bondiest of signifiers:

goldfingerBond is doing one of the most “spy” coded actions there is – peering through binoculars, sizing up his opponent from afar. His expression is keen and composed, his posture is firm, in control; he’s on the job and he’s very good at it. But being ‘on the job’ for him also means leaning over the the lounging body of a bikini-clad beauty queen. He may be strategizing a government mission of international importance, but any man who wears a terry-cloth romper when he’s on the clock can’t be all work and no play. Here we have business on the left and pleasure on the right, cozily sharing a frame.

And it’s his pleasure, make no mistake. The gender dynamics of this shot are also quintessentially Bondian. He takes a strong, active position, virtually pinning the glamorous (and at this point nameless) blonde played by Shirley Eaton. Eaton is positioned as passively as can be: reclining decoratively, admiring the confident stranger hovering over her décolletage from under seductively lowered eyes. And sure, she dies five minutes after the end of this scene (guess where? IN BED), but at least not before James Bond gets to bone her. Now that would have been a shame.

In fact, it’s only once she’s dead– the ultimate passivity — that she leaves any mark on the movie at all. She becomes the iconic golden girl, killed by ‘skin suffocation’ after being dipped head-to-toe in gold paint. To the Bond universe she was more memorable, more important, and more sexy dead than alive.

Anne Marie: Well, all I can say is thank goodness we’ve gotten over this trope of ladies as passive accessories in action films. Oh wait.

Margaret: Whatever our criticisms, Bond is a cultural institution and he’s here to stay. Here’s hoping that his next 50 years bring us more Bond Women than Bond Girls. Now, let’s all try not to die in bed.

Anne Marie: BWA BWAAAA BWA! (Sorry.)

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: How Green Was My Valley

Ed. Note: welcome back, everyone! WRM continues to be updated sporadically while Anne Marie furiously blogs her way through a Year With Kate for The Film Experience, but now please enjoy the smart and snarky contribution from WRM contributor Margaret!

Contemporary films aren’t often described as ‘earnest.’ Even the children’s movies in these cynical times wisecrack and eye-roll enough to make [famously earnest person/character] recoil in horror. Watching How Green Was My Valley, the 1941 Best Picture Oscar Winner and one of John Ford’s most lauded films, takes the viewer through a sort of time warp. Everything about the movie is so blessedly earnest it’s almost unnerving to watch. (Can you imagine what the film would look like if its source novel were adapted in 2014?) The film’s story of a hard-working Welsh family who witness the slow destruction of their native mining town and beloved way of life is played with absolute wide-eyed sincerity, beat by nostalgic beat.

But really, how green WAS the valley? I couldn’t tell. (I’ll show myself out.)

And there’s something refreshing about that– being forced to abandon my sense of irony for two hours might have even been spiritually beneficial to me in some way. That said, there’s only so much black-and-white (har har) moralizing I can stand, and Ford really pushes the limits here. (These are a plain, upstanding people! So strong, so simple! They are more pure of heart and spirit than any of us corrupt mortals! Have you got that? Have you got it?) How Green Was My Valley has been much maligned in film history as the undeserving thief of Citizen Kane‘s rightful Best Picture Oscar, much as the similarly earnest Forrest Gump and The King’s Speech would be decades later for their victories over much edgier competitors.

Best Picture debate (and corn factor) aside, How Green Was My Valley is photographed with undeniable beauty and finesse. Director of Photography Arthur C. Miller made smart, potent staging and lighting choices throughout the film, producing some truly breathtaking frames. Particularly striking is the film’s divine depth of field, with nearly every shot giving the viewer something distinct to look at in the background and middle ground as well as the foreground. I didn’t realize just how starved I was for depth in frames until just now. Bring it back!

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There was movement in every part of this frame. So much to look at!

This visual richness is immeasurably aided by the production design team. They made the absolute most of their sound stages, crafting a genuinely credible Welsh countryside on their studio backlot. That is some top-notch set design and scene painting.

The effectiveness of the movie’s emotional arc relies on hammering home the tragedy of the titular valley’s descent into ruin. For that feeling to truly land, the viewer needs to buy the ‘Before’ valley of the film’s beginning as an absolute idyll, and boy, were Ford and Miller working overtime to make that sell. Within the first five minutes you see sufficient proof that the cinematography Oscar was well-earned. Shot after lovingly, painstakingly framed shot shows us perfect rolling countryside neatly bordered by perfect rows of houses. Even the smoke curls beautifully across the sky– pollution never looked so picturesque. Not only is it lovely in the valley, but its lucky residents are so darn happy all the time that they can’t help but lope through the streets singing in joyful unison. (Even though they are coal miners. The film relishing in regaling us with the evils of Too Much Coal Mining, instead of Just Enough Coal Mining, which is I guess what we should all be going for.)

The beauty of the early scenes makes the ravages of time seem all the more cruel. Which brings me to my choice for Best Shot:

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My choice for best shot.

Spring has arrived in the valley, and the tight-knit valley community comes as a body to the Morgan family doorstep. Geometrically, the frame is beautifully staged: I love the converging lines of the paths and the rooftops and the stream of people. Pretty young girls bearing fresh wildflowers trailed by the fraternal mining men and a swell of tender Welsh choral music are about as picture-perfect as it gets. The loveliness of the scene is tinged with something poignant and sad – we know it’s soon to be lost forever.

O, the valley. My, she was yar green.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Letter (1940)

titleThere’s a reason Kim Carnes wrote a song about Bette Davis’s eyes. The song might be lousy, but it pays homage to a simple truth: Bette Davis had the best eyes of any post-silent film era actress. The intensity of her stare is startling, and she could move through the emotional waves of a scene without uttering a word. Not that she ever stayed still long enough in her early career for you to notice. Part of the genius of her partnership with William Wyler was his ability to tame her tics and focus her intensity through her already famous eyes. Wyler was a director for whom the filmmaking rule “Show Don’t Tell” was paramount, and he accomplished it through his camera and his actress in his second film with Davis, The Letter.

If I had any sense at all, I’d choose the first shot of this exotic noir as the Best Shot, but I have no sense (and I don’t like choosing opening scenes). Still, I want to take the time to glide through the opening:

1 2 3 4The camera begins by meandering through the grounds of a moonlit sugarcane plantation. The camera glides lazily by shadowed, sleepy workers, and happens upon the mansion in the background, lit brighter than the dark shapes crowding it.

6 7Suddenly, a shot goes off, startling a bird and the audience. A distant figure stumbles out of the mansion door, followed by a woman who fires again.

8 9We cut closer. The woman is Davis, stonefaced and firing repeatedly from the shadows. The camera pans in to see the murderess, but her eyes betray nothing.

BEST SHOT

EndChaos. Workers, dogs, everyone is awake. Still the woman says nothing. Suddenly, the moon comes out from behind a cloud. The crime and criminal are starkly illuminated, and the audience gets the first flash of who this woman is, without her ever uttering a word. Everything is in her eyes.

The Letter, despite its melodramatic plot, may be one of the subtler performances of Davis’s career. Leslie Crosbe is a woman with secrets to hide – letters and lovers and death. Unfortunately, when William Wyler controls the moonlight, it shines with the all power of a Hollywood spotlight. From this point forward, Leslie will hide from the moon. Her rawest scenes will be exposed by harsh moonlight. Every time she tries to hide, it will slip through cracks in the window and cracks in her facade. Moonlight isn’t for lovers anymore.

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HMWYBS: Can’t Stop The Music

This week for Hit Me With Your Best Shot we’re trying something a little bit different: two bloggers for the price of one! Please welcome back Margaret as we discuss this week’s movie.

title_cantstopmusicAnne Marie: On the April Fool’s Prank scale from “short-sheeting the bed” to “saran wrap over the toilet,” Nathaniel’s assignment of Can’t Stop The Music for Hit Me With Your Best Shot ranks somewhere around “food dye in the shower head:” Messy, colorful, and guaranteed to stick with you for the rest of the day.

Margaret: I may never forgive Nathaniel. This week’s selection features The Village People, Steve Guttenberg on rollerskates, more penis than would ever be allowed in a modern-day PG movie (read: any), and two hours of my life I will never get back. What passes for the movie’s plot cheerfully beats the viewer over the head with so many make-it-big-in-the-city cliches that it’s almost not worth mentioning. (Golly-Gee-Guttenberg just lives for music, and he wants a record deal! His plucky roommate has connections, so all they need is a group of singers! These men off the street sure have decent voices and some serious moves! Phase three: profit! ) Let’s leave plot aside and focus on the gaudy, ludicrous, at times almost motion-sickness-inducing aesthetic of the thing.

Anne Marie: I actually asked my parents if anybody had noticed how very, very gay the Village People were. My mother’s response: “It was the 70’s. And nobody thought the movie was good.”

cantstopMargaret: But Anne! Don’t forget! It’s not the 70s anymore, man. To paraphrase the screenplay, It’s the 80s! It’s the 80s! Welcome to the 80s! We’ve left the 70s behind!

Anne Marie: False. There is way too much shag rug and hedonism for this to be an 80s movie.

Margaret: A fair point. It’s positively smothered in glitter, polyester, and improbable rollerskates. You’d think that would set it apart among films of its time, but apparently this came out the same year as Xanadu so maybe everyone was just doing non-stop disco aerobics in 1980.

Anne Marie: Speaking of athletic musical numbers…

 

Anne Marie: I can’t be the first person to notice that “YMCA” bears a striking resemblance to Jane Russell’s number “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I want to take a closer look at these scenes, not only for their ridiculous camp value, but also for the not-so-subtle censorship flaunting happening front and center. That leads us to…

BEST SHOT

 FirefoxScreenSnapz002Compared to…
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Anne Marie: In “Y.M.C.A.” and “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love,” both Russell and Valerie Perrine are framed center as the supposed focal point of the scene. However, the majority of the athletic, under-dressed action happens around them, not to or with them. The men are the musclebound eyecandy. This makes Russell and Perrine into de-gaying diffusers of displaced voyeurism: It’s okay to stare because surely you’re just staring at the pretty lady, not the hunks behind her. Actually, “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love” may be the only scene in the entirety of Jane Russell’s career where she’s wearing more than her male costars.

6a00d8341bfd9e53ef01348642c6b6970c-450wiFirefoxScreenSnapz003Margaret: That’s certainly true of this movie’s leading lady. Valerie Perrine does the very minimum to beard the musical number (Guys! Wait! This can’t be The Gayest because LOOK AT THIS PRETTY STRAIGHT LADY!) and she does most of it in a tank top and shorts– relatively modest when you consider all the greased-up manflesh on display. In “Ain’t There Anyone Here For Love,” Russell is practically begging for the attention of the men around her, while the “Y.M.C.A.” number sees Perrine cheerfully accepting her position as purely decorative. Progress of a kind?

Anne Marie: Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Can’t Stop The Music share more in common than just over-dressed straight ladies. Both play at brinksmanship with the standards of censorship and good taste of the times.

Margaret: Basically, they were testing just how much synchronized disco-soundtracked homoerotic humping can they could shoehorn into this while still keeping a PG rating. (You know it’s a liberal time when your movie, which features exposed lady-boobs and MORE THAN ONE FREE-DANGLING PENIS, still gets a PG. Was Harvey Weinstein backing them??)

Anne Marie: Both Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Can’t Stop The Music directly or indirectly reference sexual taboos. In the case of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes it’s female promiscuity and (in one number) homosexuality. In Can’t Stop The Music it’s the New York gay subculture. These were ideas that would have most likely shocked morality and good taste at the time. However, both films managed to skirt censors by hiding those references under glittery layers of camp. The more outrageous and ridiculous the tone, the easier it is to dismiss something as a flight of fancy rather than a serious threat to the status quo. This also leaves the back door wide open for double entendre.

Margaret: BACKDOOR WIDE OPEN, EH? FOR DOUBLE ENTENDRE? I see you, Miss Anne. I see you.

Anne Marie: I’m sure I don’t know what you mean…Cant_Stop_the_Music08 copy

Margaret: You have to wonder if producer Alan Carr thought he had a hit on his hands. Following the mega-success of Grease, he probably had his pick of projects. For whatever reason, he picked this glitterbomb, which arrived just after the demise of disco and barely recouped a tenth of its 20 million dollar budget. Apparently he personally directed and casted for the YMCA sequence, so I guess he’ll always have that.

Anne Marie: That and the 61st Academy Awards.

Margaret: Disco is dead. Long live disco.

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HMWYBS: LA Confidential

Note from Anne Marie: Please welcome again the fabulously talented Margaret, who’s covering The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot challenge here while I binge-watch Katharine Hepburn movies for TFE. I leave you in her capable hands.

Boys and girls, don’t make the same mistakes I have. Never watch L.A. Confidential when it plays on your local network affiliate. It’s amazing how much the removal of a few f-bombs can ruin the emotional stakes of a scene, especially when you factor in the world’s laziest dubbing. Imagine Russell Crowe’s furious, rain-soaked face bellowing “You [DID] him..you [DID] him!” to a weeping Kim Basinger. Totally ruins the tone.

The uncensored L.A. Confidential is much easier to take seriously. A riff on the dirty Hollywood noir, it focuses on the venal Los Angeles police force of the early 50s, and the paths of Officers Bud White and Ed Exley as they navigate the questionably moral system of their department and uncover a network of corruption.

Crowe’s Bud White is a simple brute. Sure, they try to humanize and sensitize him with his woman-protecting crusade, but he’s a blunt object. Pearce’s Ed Exley, on the other hand, is as sharp as they come. A little too transparently thirsty for status and acclaim in his police force, he’s savvy, cocky, and almost smug about his categorical unwillingness to engage in the seedy culture of his department in the name of “justice.”

(Pearce is so entirely excellent in this movie, I can’t help but wish that he had been the one to become our big bankable movie star, and that Russell Crowe would be relegated mostly to ensemble pieces and the occasional direct-to-DVD. Because I’m mad at Russell Crowe for having the career Guy Pearce should have had, this write-up will have nothing to do with him.)

We’re introduced to Exley in uniform, looking freshly scrubbed and sporting somber rimless spectacles. Twice in the first 20 minutes we hear higher-ups, noting his ambition, advise him to the lose the glasses if he wants to get anywhere.

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Perhaps the administration doesn’t want him looking too closely or seeing too clearly, hmmm?

It may be a kind of Film-school-101 motif, but Exley’s glasses do a great deal to telegraph his arc over the course of the film. We see him wearing his glasses when he’s looking critically at his department the cases in front of him. Every time he narcs on a fellow cop and every time he puts two and two together on a case, the glasses are on. The glasses also help separate him from his peers, and it could be argued that they symbolize his power to see things as an outsider and look critically at the network of corruption around him.

To wit:

Glasses on, Exley encourages his higher-ups to throw his peers under the bus. Narc.

Glasses on, Exley encourages his higher-ups to throw his peers under the bus. Narc.

He's trying to act cool around the bros in his department with his glasses all off, but they still cold-shoulder him.  Cause he's a narc.

He’s trying to act cool around the bros in his department with his glasses all off, but they still cold-shoulder him.
Cause he’s a narc.

Can't examine a crime scene without his trusty investigatin' glasses.

Can’t examine a crime scene without his trusty investigatin’ glasses.

When Exley tries to blend in with the force, and participates in the (morally questionable) antics of his peers, the glasses are off.

This includes scenes where he carries and uses a gun. For crying out loud, people! What was contact lens technology like in 1953? Shouldn't he at least have to take an eye exam before he goes firing bullets willy-nilly in the name of the law???

What was contact lens technology like in 1953? Shouldn’t he at least have to take an eye exam before he goes firing bullets willy-nilly in the name of the law???

7noglasses2As the main case unravels and Exley starts to piece together that his accolades and status in the force have been built on a foundation of cover-ups and lies, he slaps the glasses back on and waxes self-reflective about how he had ‘lost sight’ of what made him want to be a cop.

At the beginning of the movie, Captain Dudley Smith asks him if he’d be willing to shoot a known perpetrator in the back to ensure that he wouldn’t get away with his crimes in the court of law. Firmly, proudly, he said no. Of course, it turns out that Smith is the high priest of the murderous corruption in his ranks, and the moral climax of the movie sees Exley (glasses on) decide that, after all, he can shoot a perpetrator in the back rather than run the risk of seeing him go free.

BEST SHOT

9noglasses_bestshotAfter all his moralizing, Exley has rolled in the dirt with the people he used to hold in contempt. His prized moral superiority is a thing of the past. The higher-ups want to cover up Smith’s crimes and say he died a hero in the shootout. They size Exley up through the one-way mirror of the interrogation room, suspicious that former ‘Golden Boy’ Ed Exley won’t play ball. Exley, finally warming to the LAPD way of doing things, agrees on the condition that he be named a hero as well. He smirks. He’s shot someone in the back, and he’s taking a hero’s reward for it. His glasses, the main visual cue for his distance from the corruption of his colleagues, are gone for good. He’s given in. He’s one of them: a real L.A. cop.

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Hit Me With Your Best Shot 2014: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Note from Anne Marie: Please give major snaps my frequent collaborator Margaret, who wrote this inaugural post for The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot event, covering my rear while I cover Katharine Hepburn. First time viewers, welcome. Long-time viewers: welcome back!

Though it’s a story about erasing from your mind all memory of love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is both romantic and unforgettable. That’s thanks to the off-kilter genius of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Michel Gondry, whose sensibilities are singularly well-matched here. They take an inventive premise and fully embrace the idiosyncrasy and often pure weirdness that follow.

After a painful breakup, Clementine (Kate Winslet) and then Joel (Jim Carrey) both undergo an experimental procedure to have all traces of their past relationship wiped from their memory. The story is both mind-bendingly original and achingly familiar.

We’re guided through timeline leaps and emotional tangles by a smart visual language, and deceptively simple visual effects and beautiful cinematography elevate the story at every turn. Add also an unimprovable ensemble cast, and you find yourself with a wealth of options for the best shot of the film, scarcely a poor choice to be found.

But when I close my eyes and think ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind‘, there’s really only one thing I see, one thing that’s burrowed deep into my memory, clinging to the folds rather than be forgotten.

What else? It’s Clementine Kruczynski.

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Moody, perceptive, impulsive, compassionate, vividly alive and whole, Kate Winslet’s Clementine Kruczynski (No jokes about her name) is a live-wire presence and the beating heart of the film. As Joel gets his memories of Clementine erased, we’re witness to a flurry of his experiences with her: dinners out, fights, household mundanities, and tender small moments. It’s when these precious happy memories disappear that he begins to regret his decision, and eventually panics as he realizes just how much he loses when the Clementine goes. The emotional crux of the movie requires the audience to find her just as lovable and as maddening as Joel does, and oh how we do.

 BEST SHOT

Clementine being literally pulled from Joel’s memory, just after a rare moment of pure happiness in our melancholy lead, is the visual summary of the heartbreak of the film. (They used real wires to pull her back out of the frame, instead of CGI– one of many elements that make it so visceral and uncanny.) The frame is filled with Clementine’s lovely face before the light turns harsh and she slips suddenly away, leaving only darkness. Winslet’s performance is so beautifully present that her disappearance deflates both Joel and the scene. It’s a brief shot in a visually inventive sequence, but it leaves its mark.

eternal-sunshine-poster-would-you-erase-me

I wouldn’t.

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