Archive for October, 2008

Happy Birthday to ME!

October 30, 2008

Thought I’d just throw out the factoid that WordHappy is a whopping one year old today! Thanks to everyone who’s tuned in so far. Tell all your friends. I’m still gunning for a gig on EW. Oops. Did I say that out loud?

Seriously, without readers, this wouldn’t be any fun at all. So keep commenting, keep posting, and keep reading. You all are great.

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Creepiest Movies EVER for Halloween

October 30, 2008

I must tell you. Movies don’t scare me. A horror movie may make me jump, but I have yet to see the film that gives me nightmares or makes me afraid to turn off the lights. If any moviemakers see this and want to take it as a personal challenge, bring it on.

This is not to say, however, that I haven’t been creeped out by a good movie. Here’s my definition of the difference between a good horror movie and a good creepy movie. With all due respect to the horror movie genre, horror movies are not known for their writing. The scares tend to come from gore, sudden movements on camera, the lighting, and the music. When a creepy movie is good, however, it is almost always due to the story and the writing. The best creepy movies take the things that scare us the most, especially the things unseen, and fabricate stories that could happen to any one of us.

So if you want to creep yourself out on Halloween with a good movie, here are my picks:

The Vanishing (Spoorloos) (1988): This Dutch film, directed by George Sluizer and written by Tim Krabbe, is super creepy as it follows the path of a couple on a cycling vacation in France. Stopping at a service station for drinks, the woman goes in to the store and never comes back out. The film continuously builds tension throughout and leaves the viewer riveted. Note: Do NOT, under any circumstances, rent the 1993 American remake. You will only regret it. Pony up and live with a few subtitles.

The Shining (1980): Based on the novel by Stephen King and directed by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining takes the most normal of families, complete with dysfunctions like alcoholism, and examines how complete isolation might tweak those dysfunctions into madness. Of course, it doesn’t hurt (or help) that the hotel is EVIL.  REDRUM. REDRUM.

Alien (1979): A most awesome creepy film. Ridley Scott‘s Alien, written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, works as well as it does because of its close confines, relative isolation from any help from the outside world, and a threat that is all the scarier because for so much of the movie, it is unseen. And poor, poor John Hurt.

The Kingdom (Riget) (1994): I watched this Danish miniseries (directed by Lars von Trier and Morten Arnfred, and written by von Trier, Tomas Gislason, and Niels Vorsel)  with my mouth hanging open for most of the scenes. Imagine Grey’s Anatomy in which the hospital is haunted, operations are botched and covered up, and Udo Kier appears. It is impossible to describe adequately, but with equal parts creepiness and black humor, it really should not be missed.

Wait Until Dark (1967): How do you defend yourself in your own home when you can’t see? That’s the premise of this very suspenseful film starring Audrey Hepburn, based on the play by Frederick Knott and directed by Terence Young.

Night of the Hunter (1955): Does anything inspire more tension in a moviewatcher than watching a blind woman try to survive? Perhaps only seeing children with a dangerous secret trying to escape the clutches of a sociopath (Robert Mitchum). This film, based on the novel by Davis Grubb, with a screenplay by James Agee, and directed by Charles Laughton, ratchets up the tension and keeps it at an almost unbearable level. Mitchum is creepiness personified.

What films have creeped you out?

Quietly Powerful: Mira Nair’s THE NAMESAKE

October 23, 2008

One of the things about being the parent of young children is that you get to be terribly discriminating about the movies you tape and then watch. Notice I did not talk about actually seeing a movie on the big screen – that’s just crazy talk. But when we saw Mira Nair‘s movie The Namesake appear on the HBO schedule, the film met our strict criteria – a director with a background of movies that we’ve enjoyed, and good reviews for the film itself.

The Namesake did not disappoint. Adapted from the novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, with a screenplay by Sooni Taraporevala, the film follows the lives of Indian couple Ashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) as they marry in an arranged marriage, move to New York, have children, and raise their family. Ostensibly, the film is about their son Gogol (Kal Penn), who is the namesake of Russian writer Nicolai Gogol, who was very influential in the life of Ashoke.  But as I watched the movie, it became obvious that the story had more to say about discovering your sense of self in the world – either as a foreigner trying to merge one’s culture in a new environment, or a young man coming of age, or a mother suddenly widowed, whose remaining roles no longer fulfill her soul.

As a parent, I was deeply moved by the relationship between Ashoke and Ashima. We watch their relationship grow from shy strangers to a couple who care very deeply for one another in the quietest of ways. They are loving parents, perhaps smothering in their love, but they also remain absolutely attached to one another. At one point in the film, Ashoke asks Ashima a question:

Ashoke: There is something I always wanted to ask you, but never had the courage. All those years ago, why did you say yes to me?
Ashima: You were the best of the lot.
Ashoke: Huh?
Ashima: Better than the widower with four children or the cartoonist with one arm. I also liked your shoes.
Ashoke: Oh. Oh, okay.
Ashima: Hmm, you want me to say “I love you,” like the Americans.

What is clear is that her love is so strong it needs no words.

Having seen the film, I can’t wait to read the book.

Inspirational Banking: Grameen Foundation

October 16, 2008

Today is Blog Action Day 2008, where thousands of bloggers are banding together to write about the issue of poverty. Well, count me in.

Last year, I read a book that threw me for such a loop that one year later, I still think about it. Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of the Grameen Foundation, wrote a book about his work called Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. You cannot read it and emerge thinking the same way about the poor. It’s just impossible.

In 1983, economist Yunus established Grameen, against the advice of bankers, government officials, and pretty much everyone. His vision was that if credit were given to the poor, then they would be able to establish businesses that would allow them to escape poverty, maintain a living wage, and best of all, pay back the loan. Grameen Bank now provides over 2.5 million dollars of micro-loans to over two million families in Bangladesh. Ninety-four percent of the clients are women, and repayment rates are near 100 percent.

The book is amazing, pure and simple. It is written in such common sense terms that it becomes hard to argue against the logic of instituting such programs everywhere, and Yunus provides advice on doing exactly that. And with success rates like Grameen’s, perhaps bankers everywhere should be looking to them for guidance.

Is this the cure for global poverty? Probably not. But boy, it sure seems like a running leap toward the cure.

The Eyre Up There: Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair

October 16, 2008

I mentioned last week feeling like I was in kind of a slump as far as ferreting out the good writing recently. Between that funk, the uplifting news about the economy, and the extraordinarily civilized state of the presidential campaign, times have called for some serious silliness. So I’m here to oblige.

Jasper Fforde‘s The Eyre Affair (2001) is a very silly book. It is a book made for former English majors and fans of Monty Python or Douglas AdamsThe Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now, trying to come up with a succinct, comprehensible synopsis is nigh impossible. Suffice it to say, Fforde’s heroine Thursday Next works in the Literary Detective Division of the Special Operations Network based in London. Nefarious goings-on within literary works themselves prompt Thursday to enter the novels themselves to sort everything out.

The Eyre Affair is the first, and arguably the best, in a series of Thursday Next novels by Fforde. Half the fun of these books is in the details. Fforde peppers his characters with names like Filbert Snood, Jack Schitt, and a vampire hunter named Spike. Clearly, being deep and serious is not on the agenda in these books. And while it certainly helps to have read Dickens or Bronte at some point in your life, it is by no means a requirement to get maximum enjoyment out of the book. Where the genius of the book resides is the level of detail Fforde provides about both of Thursday’s worlds; regardless of whether Thursday is pondering when her father is (and yes, I said “when,” not “where”), or conversing with Jane Eyre’s love Edward Rochester, we don’t question it for a moment.

So if you need a break from the serious, give Fforde a try and lose yourself in Swindon.

Short and Sweet: Tropfest NY 2008 Winner

October 10, 2008

Color me astonished. Thanks to friends with impeccable taste at Twitter (yes, Pam, I’m talking about you), I was led to this short film by Jason van Genderen, called “Mankind is No Island.” This film was shot entirely with a cell phone camera in New York and Sydney, and took the top prize at Tropfest NY 2008, the world’s largest short film festival.

Yet as impressive as the technical achievement of this film, the words and message contained within the film are even more praiseworthy. It is the perfect synthesis of word and art, message and picture.

Slump Days

October 7, 2008

My dear readers, I do apologize for the silence. I have been racking my brain for great writing recently and sadly, coming up empty. The new TV season, while diverting, hasn’t given me anything to shout from the rooftops about. My bedside reading has been a little ho-hum. What’s a maven of good taste to do?

Here’s what. Throw it out to you guys. Someone, somewhere, must be excited about television, film, music, or books. If so, give it up in the Comments section. We need you. I need you.