Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Best of 2008! The Readers Weigh In

January 2, 2009

ribbonWell, the quantity of responses was a little disappointing, I admit. BUT the quality of the responses was anything but.  Each response I got for the “Best of” categories listed warranted either an immediate “Oh, yeah” or an “Ooh, I have to check that out” from me. So kudos to the respondents who were nice enough to participate.

And now, the list:

Best Fiction:

Bestseller by Keith Latch: A horror novel in e-book form, this was an area of unplumbed depths for me. Thanks for eBookguru for the recommendation.

The A Song of Ice and Fire series, by George R.R. Martin: This recommendation for this epic fantasy series also comes from eBookguru.

Best Non-Fiction:

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin: Although technically published in 2006, reader Jill read it in 2008 and loved it. I also read it in 2008 and was utterly blown away by the story, uncomplicatedly told, of Greg Mortenson’s journey from mountain climber to advocate for promoting girls’ education and literacy through his Central Asia Institute organization.

Best Music:

Everything That Happens Will Happen Today – David Byrne and Brian Eno. Reader Pam sums it up when she calls it “some yummy, brainy, infectious popaliciousness!”

Best Movies:

WALL-E (story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon): eBookguru thought this was one of the best films of 2008, and I have to agree. How does a film with so few words qualify as great writing? From the story, which transcended time and genre to transport kids and grown-ups alike.

Rachel Getting Married (screenplay by Jenny Lumet): Reader Jill voted for this film as one of the year’s best, because “I loved the characters who play against type.”

Now, for all you readers who perhaps partook of a little too much eggnog or were busy having family time, and didn’t get the chance to put your two cents worth in, I will still accept your recommendations! It is never too late (unless of course you’re writing about something from 2009, in which case it will have to wait).

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WordHappy Reader “Best of 2008” List: Thinking Caps On

December 24, 2008

j0396070Now, you know and I know that these next few days are going to be a haze of wrapping paper and too much food. And no matter what holiday you celebrate, the fact remains that almost everything will be closed – and if you’re getting hammered with snow like much of the country – you don’t want to go out anyway.

So reflect – ponder, if you will – on your top-of-the-line choices for the best of 2008. What movies did you see that knocked your socks off? What music did you listen to and actually notice the words? What books did you read that made you stay up way past your bedtime? These are the things I want to hear about.

I will be taking your choices in the areas of:

  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Television
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Other

The “Other” category is for anything else that gave you goosebumps that somehow isn’t included in the above. Please post a comment with your recommendations below. I’d love it if you’d forward this post to your friends as well, so we can get even more participation.

I’ll take comments up until December 31st. Then I’ll compile a list of everyone’s choices and make it the first WordHappy post of 2009!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and  Best wishes to you all!

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.

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.

Best Paul Newman Films: Tribute to a Great Man

September 27, 2008

Every once in a while, someone famous dies with whom I had no personal relationship at all. But because of this person’s presence in my life, I still feel like I’ve lost someone. I felt that way when Jim Henson died, and I feel that way today, with the death of Paul Newman.

I have only the most tangential relationship with Newman, as a fellow alumnus of Kenyon College in Ohio. But Newman’s presence was always there; he contributed heavily to the college, making news back in 2007 with the endowment of a $10 million scholarship fund. His quiet philanthropy always impressed me, and maybe even influenced some of my own views of how best we can give back to the world. I also thought his marriage and creative partnership with his wife Joanne Woodward, at least as far as the public was allowed to see, was a role model of what a marriage should be.

But how he was first known to me, and known to most of us, was as an actor. So as a tribute to him, I’d like to give you my personal list of Paul Newman’s best films. How does this pertain to writing? Do you really have to ask? A great actor can make schlock seem palatable, and can make great writing seem like a 7-course feast. These films are the 7-course feasts, my friends.

Cars (2006, story credits by John Lasseter, Joe Ranft and Jorgen Klubian): If you have kids, you probably own this movie. Newman’s portrayal of Doc Hudson took the audience on a moving journey of watching an aging car get the recognition he always deserved.

Nobody’s Fool (1994, novel by Richard Russo and screenplay by Robert Benton): Newman got a chance to display his sense of humor in acting the role of Sully; it’s a wonderful ensemble film.

The Verdict (1982, novel by Barry Reed, screenplay by David Mamet): A carnivore of a film, Newman’s Frank Galvin traveled the road from hell to redemption, all because of a single case. One of the all-time great lawyer films.

The Sting (1973, written by David S. Ward): One of the first movies I ever saw starring Newman, and a completely wild ride as we travel the con with Newman’s Henry Gondorff and Robert Redford’s Johnny Hooker.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969, written by William Goldman): Hello, boys! The respective hotness of Robert Redford and Newman as young ‘uns drew me in; the engaging story and the fun they clearly had working on the film kept me engaged.

What are some of your favorite Paul Newman films?

EW’s New Classics List: Back to the Vault II

July 1, 2008

I’ve looked over Entertainment Weekly‘s New Classics: Movies list now several times, and something strikes me: I’ve seen probably 90% of the films listed, but there were only a handful when I read the title that I had a visceral reaction of a hand-pumping “Yes! I LOVE that movie!” I recall enjoying the vast majority of them, but very few of them were memorable enough that I consider them “repeater-worthy”, i.e. would want to watch them again on several (or even one) repeat viewings.

My showcase film today is a notable exception. It’s one where when I saw the title, I heaved a gigantic contented sigh, and said, “Oh, yes. They got that one right.” (And before you ask, I do talk to myself – all the time, in fact). It is No. 10 on the New Classics movie list: Moulin Rouge! (2001). This film, directed by Baz Luhrmann and written by Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, is pure melodrama injected with absinthe. It’s definitely a love-it-or-hate-it kind of movie, and I can respectfully acknowledge those people who hated it with a deep and abiding passion. But you can’t be indifferent about it, and how many movies can you say that about?

The plot follows a classic romance formula: a naive writer, Christian (Ewan McGregor), gets drawn into the world of the Moulin Rouge and falls in love with its star, Satine (Nicole Kidman). There’s a villain and, of course, a secret deadly illness, and lots of singing and dancing. Despite the fine acting by Kidman and McGregor [random digression: Ewan McGregor singing “Come What May” is perhaps the single most romantic scene in filmdom EVER. Is it warm in here? Pardon me while I fan myself a moment.], where the movie truly excels, and what lifts it into the realm of the “repeater-worthy” movie, is its use of style and tone. From the opening frames until the closing credits, Luhrmann maintains the frenetic, kinetic energy through the saturated colors, the camera angles and fast cuts, even the actors’ pacing of the dialogue. It takes what could have been a bland, formulaic disaster of a musical and makes it utterly brilliant and new.

What movies from the EW Movies list do you consider to be “repeater-worthy?”

List Heaven: EW’s Best of the Last 25 Years

June 23, 2008

Blue RibbonOh, Entertainment Weekly. Have you no shame? Must you toy with me so, publishing your “Best of” lists for movies, television, books, and music over the last twenty-five years? Do you not realize that I must now spend this week doing donuts down Memory Lane, writing about all the books, shows, and movies you’ve made me realize I must – MUST – write about on WordHappy or feel I have forever failed you all?

For today’s post, I will comment on their No. 1 picks. This does not, in my opinion, constitute a “spoiler,” since the lists are readily available for anyone to see on the EW website. But I did think about whether it was, so if anyone feels strongly about not seeing the number one picks, stop reading now.

No. 1 Movie: Pulp Fiction: Seen it. I’m sure there are other movies that I feel equally worthy of the number one title, but I can’t quibble too much. Particularly since the film, written by Quentin Tarantino and Roger Avary, has such a bonanza of quoteworthy dialogue (although strictly in an R-rated sense; trying to find a non-F-bomb quote for you all was rather a challenge):

Fabienne (Maria de Medeiros): I was looking at myself in the mirror.
Butch (Bruce Willis): Uh-huh?
Fabienne: I wish I had a pot.
Butch: You were lookin’ in the mirror and you wish you had some pot?
Fabienne: A pot. A pot belly. Pot bellies are sexy.
Butch: Well you should be happy, ’cause you do.
Fabienne: Shut up, Fatso! I don’t have a pot! I have a bit of a tummy, like Madonna when she did “Lucky Star,” it’s not the same thing.
Butch: I didn’t realize there was a difference between a tummy and a pot belly.
Fabienne: The difference is huge.
Butch: You want me to have a pot?
Fabienne: No. Pot bellies make a man look either oafish, or like a gorilla. But on a woman, a pot belly is very sexy. The rest of you is normal. Normal face, normal legs, normal hips, normal ass, but with a big, perfectly round pot belly. If I had one, I’d wear a tee-shirt two sizes too small to accentuate it.
Butch: You think guys would find that attractive?
Fabienne: I don’t give a damn what men find attractive. It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.

No. 1 Television Show: The Simpsons. Seen it. Now again, I could quibble. My choice would have been The Wire, which EW has down ALL the way at number 11. But, having been a fan of Marge and Homer and the gang for most of the three million years the series has been on, I can’t be too upset at the pick. There is a list of writing credits for the show as long as my arm, but since IMdb reports that James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, and Sam Simon each have 420 episodes to their name, I’ll give them the lion’s share of the credit. From phrases that have entered the American iconography – “Mmmm, donuts” and “D’oh!” to name just two, to longer pieces of dialogue that have left me weeping with laughter, the writing on this show has never been mediocre, and has often been great. It’s not often you can say that about a show.

Bart: [after they watch a foreign film] I was so bored I cut the pony tail off the guy in front of us. [holds pony tail to his head] Look at me, I’m a grad student. I’m 30 years old and I made $600 last year.
Marge: Bart, don’t make fun of grad students. They’ve just made a terrible life choice.

Or. . .

Marge: Careful of that apple pie on the back seat…
Grampa: Uh-oh.
Marge: Grampa, are you sitting on the pie?
Grampa: I sure hope so.

No. 1 Book: The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. As I just reviewed this book a couple months ago, I’m at peace with this choice as well. It’s brilliant and heartbreaking and accessible, and the upcoming movie will star Viggo Mortensen. Mmm, Viggo Mortensen.

Keep watching for further enlightening comments on the EW New Classics List. As I fall even further behind in real work that may pay me real money. Comme si, comme sa.

Tops for Pops: Best Father’s Day Movie, Book, and Song

June 14, 2008

Field of DreamsFather’s Day snuck up on me this year like a cat in the dark. My cards got off late, the children did not draw a “too cute to live” picture in time, gifts only just got ordered. I do hope this is not proof that Father’s Day is the second-class citizen to Mother’s Day, as I’ve heard bandied about in some quarters. I would rather point to its date falling in the same week that school lets out as a possible defense for additional scatter-brained-ness.

Thus, as penance for my Father’s Day shortcomings, let me offer some bodaciously good Father’s Day offerings in multiple media.

My pick for all-time best movie for Father’s Day, guaran-darn-teed to make men of all ages and macho levels reach surreptitiously for the tissues, is Field of Dreams. Frankly, the Kevin Costner/Sports/Western movie genres (note: no Waterworld or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) could make up a Father’s Day movie bonanza all on their own. But Field of Dreams, based on the book by W.P. Kinsella and adapted for the screen by Phil Alden Robinson (who was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar for his efforts, by the way), is one of the very best. It involves baseball, the grown-up tensions between being “responsible” and following a dream, and the bond between fathers and sons. The final scene, where Ray (Costner) has realized the player John is his dad, and that he is about to walk away, is perfect in its simplicity:

John: Well, good night, Ray.
Ray: Good night, John.
[They shake hands and John begins to walk away.]
Ray: Hey. . . Dad?
[John turns.]
Ray [choked up]: You wanna have a catch?
John: I’d like that.

I’m getting verklempt just typing it.

My second Father’s Day pick showcases the paragon of all good dads, Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird. While the movie is one of the best adaptations of a novel that I can think of, and while I can’t read the book without picturing Gregory Peck in those glasses as Atticus, I still contend that if you haven’t ever read the book, you should; and if you have read it, then you should re-read it, for the simple beauty of Lee’s prose. How perfect a character description is it to paint the pint-sized Dill as “a pocket Merlin, whose head teemed with eccentric plans, strange longings, and quaint fancies.” Now, I can see as how Atticus might be an intimidating choice for a dad, because he’s so darn perfect. But most fathers I know have the same depth of love for their children that Lee’s writing depicts Atticus having for his children, so I would say he’s less of a role model than a tribute to fatherhood at its best.

Finally, for a song that is a gorgeous tribute to a father, take a listen to Ricky Skaggs‘ song, “My Father’s Son“, taken off his CD of the same name (1991). Skaggs has been playing bluegrass for more than 36 years, both as a singer and mandolin player, and his songwriting skills are prodigious. In “My Father’s Son,” Skaggs writes in the chorus:

Well a rich man writes the book of laws
a poor man must defend
But the highest laws are written on the
hearts of honest men
When that cup is passed to me to do what
must be done
Or a chunk of coal just carve these words
I was just my father’s son

So happy Father’s Day, guys! Enjoy the day, and know that you’re second to none.