Sunday, May 30, 2010

A Word From Mrs. Undies...

My husband's mother Margaret died peacefully in her sleep this morning after a long illness. Yesterday I was at my father's grave and today I'm heading to Virginia to bury my mother-in-law. She loved her flowers and her children and she made the absolute BEST cocoanut pies!!
She was a strong woman who worked beside her husband on their farm her whole life. She will be greatly missed by all. Please think of her along with the many thousands who lost their lives for our freedom on this Memorial Day. God bless and may peace be with you.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bunchie's Scrapbook: Summer Travel Edition - Places I've Been Lost - Part 1

Where: Buffalo, NY

When: July, 1990

Situation: I got off the freeway to fill up with cheap American gas before crossing into Canada. I couldn’t find a gas station, and took a wrong turn and was suddenly in a dilapidated neighborhood where all the signs were in Polish or Russian or something. Gigantic birds were wandering around. It was the weirdest, creepiest place I’d ever been.

I drove along the Lake figuring it would have to run into the Peace Bridge eventually. It did.

Where: Arles, France

When: March, 1994

Situation: Arles is a town of charming, winding streets perfect for strolling. However the streets are not laid out according to any logical format, and before long, we were hopelessly turned around. We wandered for an hour. Then, it started to rain. Hard.

A friendly Gendarme, who at first thought we were trying to report a stolen car, eventually understood we were lost and drew us a map back to our hotel.

Where: Phoenix, Arizona

When: May, 2010

I figured that if I headed west on McDowell Road I would eventually run into the 303. I drove halfway to California until the road turned to dirt and dead-ended at an abandoned ranch, which looked suspiciously like a Meth Lab. It had a hand-lettered sign that said “Theifs Will Be Shot”

I turned around and got the hell out of there.

Where: Jacksonville, Florida

When: Several times during the 1980s

Situation: The interchange of I-10 and I-95 is a doozy, and if you’re not paying attention, you could end up in one of those swampy backwaters Marjorie Rawlings used to write about.

Solution: I stopped going to Florida altogether.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Matter of Taste (2000)***

A Matter of Taste is a well executed film: excellent production, nicely photographed and well acted. But by the time it’s over, like the principle characters, you may find yourself feeling a bit empty. This anti-romance details the growing dependency between a filthy rich CEO (Bernard Giraudeau) and a handsome young waiter (Jean-Pierre Lorit) back during the last days of the 1990’s financial bubble. The two meet during a business dinner and Giraudeau, oddly fascinated by his young server’s demeanor and ability to identify complex culinary seasonings, hires Lorit at an astronomical sum to serve as a personal food taster.

This premise is not as preposterous as it sounds for director Bernard Rapp does a good job of selling us on Giraudeau’s unique superstitions and paranoid fears. The story appears to be headed one direction – a burgeoning gay relationship, despite the character’s protestations - but the bond between the two men slowly develops into something much larger and more mysterious than mere physicality. Giraudeau seeks a mental and physiological oneness with his young employee that can only be achieved by Lorit’s complete and absolute fealty to his employer and, to that purpose, Giraudeau sets out to break the young man’s will and utterly subjugate Lorit’s individuality.

There is really nothing romantic going on here at all. The goal is sheer unvarnished power; the power to own, and the power to remake in one’s image. Yet, Giraudeau’s authoritarian experiment makes him surprisingly vulnerable, for what is a deity without worshippers? So whenever Lorit finds the head games just too much to bear, it is Giraudeau who must come crawling back, laden with abject apologies. If Bernard Rapp is guilty of anything it’s overstating, as he does not seem to know how to end this cycle of abuse and contrition.

The stakes get larger and larger until ultimately the whole story ceases to be a metaphorical fable and becomes an embarrassing self parody. As an audience we feel cheated, for we have dutifully followed this trail down many blind and increasingly far-fetched alleys, only to have the entire construction topple into a heap of melodramatic hokum. A Matter of Taste does many things well, but at its conclusion, the only thing this reviewer felt was a vague sense of relief. Similar to when a neighbor's blaring car alarm finally shuts off.


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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Girl on the Train (2009)*****

The Girl on the Train is a complex and richly observed film all about lies; big ones, small ones, kind ones and dangerous ones. Emilie Dequenne – proving her Palme d’Or winning performance in Rosetta was no fluke – is outstanding as an aimless young woman named Jeanne, who seems to be just marking time and waiting for her life to begin.

She lives with her mother (Catherine Deneuve), who runs a day-care out of their home and scours the internet want ads in search of secretarial work for her unambitious daughter. Concurrently, we meet a Jewish family lead by a successful lawyer (Michel Blanc), his precocious grandson Nathan (Jeremie Quaegebeur) and Nathan’s estranged parents (Matheiu Demy and Ronit Elkabetz). The film is divided into two parts, and the bulk of the first act deals with Jeanne’s burgeoning relationship with a dodgy amateur wrestler (Nicolas Duvachelle), who mysteriously always has plenty of Euros on hand.

The impressionable Jeanne slowly falls under the full sway of her hunky suitor, but an act of violence reveals the shocking true nature of their relationship, and eventually Jeanne realizes that in the most important romance of her life, she has been treated as a virtual nonentity. The sum total of the lies Dequenne has been told throughout the film begin to seriously affect her psyche, blurring her own ability to judge real from imaginary.

She then concocts a fable that casts her as the pitiable victim of a hate crime, and the news media, being what it is, latches onto the story and transforms it into a nationwide spectacle. When Deneuve turns to her old flame Blanc for legal help, eventually Jeanne meets young Nathan, whose unrelenting frankness gets him barred from the dinner table, and two of them spend an innocent night together that shows her the value of sharply defined truth, and ultimately changes her course in life.

Director Techine is operating on many levels of commentary here, and he does a great job of tangling the narrative threads in such a way that they form a strong rope rather than a hopeless jumble. He uses visual design as a subtle way of depicting not only class differences, but mental acuity as well.

Deneuve and Dequenne dress in garishly mismatched colorful patterns, while Blanc and his family are always clad in muted solid colors. Deneuve’s suburban home is decorated in busy floral prints while Blanc’s office is painted in charcoal and off white. Blanc invariably leaves his window open, letting in the clamor of the street, and while his daughter-in-law complains about the noise, Blanc is so mentally focused the din does not bother him.

Blanc is not susceptible to outside influences, be it the rumble of random traffic or the droning of the news media. That trait has been inherited by Nathan, who sees through the clutter of adult lies with wisdom far beyond his years. Or perhaps, like a character from a J.D. Salinger story, it is his lack of years that gives him such moral certainty.

Regardless, Nathan and Jeanne manage to find their way to personal peace, despite the swirling maelstrom of distortions and half-truths that surrounds them. And yes, Nathan’s character does take on religious overtones, as if this young Jewish child has been sent to save the world; and if not the whole world, at least one confused and bewildered soul.


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Saturday, May 22, 2010

Bunchie's Time Machine: 1886

I decided to test my Time Machine

I set the control with just a few clicks
And transported myself back to 1886

I saw my great, great, great grandfather Logan

Living and breathing from head to toe
And heard firsthand his historic tale of woe

He started life as a farmer

But found the grind a terrible bore
So he joined the army, hoping for a war

As his “luck” would have it,

He didn’t have very long to wait
Because soon began The War Between The States

He jumped to the Confederate side

Virginia’s honor he had to save
Although he’d never owned a single slave

They made him an officer

And he looked dashing in dress gray
For him Bull Run was a very successful day

He was promoted to Captain

And the future looked very bright
But there were many bloody battles to fight

As the war raged on

The carnage grew more brutal in kind
He witnessed horrors that boggled his mind

He got lost in the woods near Stone Mountain

Separated from his unit, he wandered for days
In the wilds of Georgia, everything was a haze

Enemy soldiers eventually found him

He surrendered starving and filthy as a pig
Imprisoned for the rest of the war in a Union brig

Back home, his family was very worried

No word from him for over a year
Understandably, they had the worst kind of fear

After Appomattox, he was eventually released

And made his way home to the Virginia farm
Older and wiser, but safe from harm

The family rushed out to greet him

With joyful cheers and cries
They could hardly believe their eyes

So Logan again took up the plow

And he rarely felt bored or sad
Compared to war, farming wasn’t so bad

I returned to 2010, where I often wonder

Do we really know what we are doing?
Because it seems like another Civil War is brewing...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The French Line (1954)****

The French Line is a zany (in all senses of the word) Jane Russell vehicle from 1954, and the legendary star and her prodigious chest are in just about every scene. Originally produced in 3D, one can only imagine what sort of protrusions the filmmakers had in mind. The plot is so over baked and goofily complex it would be hard to explain in less than a thousand words, so we’ll just concern ourselves with the high points, pardon the pun. Russell portrays a Texas oil baroness and one of the world’s richest women, but her fortune can’t buy her a lasting relationship with a man. They're all either intimidated by her money or two-bit chiselers looking for a meal ticket. She embarks incognito on a French ocean liner in hopes of meeting a romantic soul interested not in her bankbook, but her considerable personal charms.

Accompanying Russell is her childhood friend Annie (played with twangy pluck by Mary McCarty) and the two of them have rapid fire conversations that consist entirely of corny, Texas-inspired cowboy metaphors. At sea, Russell gains the affections of a famous French actor (played to the hilt by Gilbert Roland, whose French accent never quite shakes the tonalities of his real-life hometown of Juarez) and the two begin a whirlwind romance that rarely advances beyond a little light necking.

Along the way, there’s plenty of singing and dancing, and even Mr. Roland gets in on the act. And while he’s a credible singer, we understand why he elected to play banditos for the remainder of his lengthy career. Comedic relief, as if such a thing was actually needed, is provided by veteran character actor Arthur Hunnicutt as Russell’s partner in the Awl Bidness: a grizzled wildcatter named “Waco.” Hunnicutt’s baroque homespun monologues are so full of references to polecats, sidewinders and varmints you half-expect Jack Elam to bust in any second with six-shotters ablazin’.

But the big finale takes place at a Paris fashion show, where Russell is pressed into service as a model. Apparently the hot look in haute couture that season was skimpy burlesque bustiers, and Miss Russell shakes her feathers (and other parts) in a rousing production number that brings down the house. To boot, all mysteries are solved, all misunderstandings cleared up and happiness once again reigns on both sides of the Atlantic. And we, like Mr. Roland, are left to marvel at Jane Russell and her “wonderful, great big.... eyes”.

TCM Page


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lakeview Terrace (2008)✭✭✭✭

Lakeview Terrace is a suspenseful entertainment filled with anger, racism, natural disasters, violent gunplay and other choice bits of contemporary Americana. Kerry Washington and the ever-earnest Patrick Wilson portray young marrieds who move into one of those hilly L.A. subdivisions - constructed on rugged terrain any other municipality would consider unbuildable – and discover that fate has dealt them the neighbor from Hell: a mentally unbalanced policeman played with menacing cool by Samuel L. Jackson.

Like the LAPD, Jackson’s character has a baroque backstory, laced with brutality and personal betrayal and it soon becomes apparent that he became a police officer for all the wrong reasons. Jackson’s years of dealing with the worst of society have left his psyche battered and scarred, as manifested by his peculiar sort of reverse-racism. He uses his tortured past to alternate between the righteously angry crusader and the sullen, hapless victim.

Washington and Wilson, a mixed race couple, spark a mixture of disgust and loathing in Jackson that pushes him to the brink of violence and, as a distant wildfire draws ever closer, the relationship between the new neighbors becomes ever more strained and tense. The film builds this tension through skillful writing combined with Jackson’s unique ability to convey deep, churning emotional layers with a minimum of physical effort.

The script at first keeps us a bit off balance and allows us to believe that perhaps this neighborhood feud is all a simple misunderstanding. But this potboiler of a film is not about to let us off that easily. Wilson’s suggestion to Jackson that they "all try to get along” unwittingly reminds the policeman of one of his department’s lowest points, and spurs Jackson on in his efforts to destroy the couple’s happiness.

Neil LaBute directs with a workmanlike efficiency, which is all the material really calls for, and tells the story with simplicity and clarity. Things get a bit frantic and slightly silly in the finale - these types of films usually do – and ultimately the movie uses serious social issues as a pretext for a ripping tale of personal revenge. But those seeking escapist thrills with some decent acting thrown in for good measure will find Lakeview Terrace a satisfying watch.


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Monday, May 17, 2010

Fear of Fear (1975)****

Fear of Fear is an enjoyable Fassbinder Made-for-TV ditty that offers an interesting glimpse into German family life in the 1970s. Margit Carstensen, perennial Fassbinder favorite and a sort of Teutonic Faye Dunaway, stars as Margot: a young hausfrau and mother. For reasons that are never made clear, Margot fears she is going insane. Actually, the dreadful wallpaper in Margot’s apartment is enough to drive anyone loony, but I digress.

Margot’s paranoia begins a downward spiral in her behavior, characterized by drug abuse, alcohol addiction, infidelity, and a complete disinterest in fresh vegetables. The film has a creepy, melodramatic feel, as Margot is constantly bombarded by her meddling mother-in-law (Brigitte Mira) and the icy, distracted affections of her engineer husband Kurt (Ulrich Falhaber). For some reason, these suffering German housewives always seem to have a distracted husband named Kurt. We follow Margot through a life-altering chain of events that starts quite small, and ultimately blooms into life-threatening results.

We experience the horrors of socialized medicine, as Margot has one doctor who makes housecalls in the middle of the night and another who will give her any medication she requires at a moment’s notice...but those meds come at a very high moral price. The production values are no better or worse than American TV of this era - everyone seems to cast three shadows and zoom lenses are used and abused,– but Carstensen’s mysterious textures do a fine job of maintaining our interest for the duration.

Background music is used in ways that are startling, yet strangely appropriate, and reminds us that at the helm of this pulpy potboiler is a director with unique sensibilities. Actually, these little German TV soaps almost qualify as a distinct genre. Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog all made a living from them, and they can justifiably be considered minor-league art films. Like homemade wine, Fear of Fear is unpolished and unrefined, but offers its own array of guilty pleasures.


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