Movie Review: Gloomy Sunday

Title:  Gloomy Sunday (German title: Ein Lied von Liebe und Tod) – 1999

Director: Rolf Schübel

Writers: Rolf Schübel (screenplay); Nick Barkow (novel)

This movie has a lot going for it just from the start where I’m concerned: (a) it’s based on an urban legend, and who doesn’t like those, right?  (b) it’s set in Budapest, a city I fell in love with on my short business trip visit and which I plan to visit again someday (c) it’s in German, which I love because it’s not easy to find German language media to bolster mein Deutsch.  All this makes me pre-disposed to like this film (certainly more than if it were not based on a urban legend, set in Cleveland and in French).

The film is adapted from a novel that I think I need to get my hands on.  The story is loosely based on the urban legend surrounding “Gloomy Sunday” a song by a Hungarian composer that allegedly drove multiple people in Europe and America to commit suicide in the 1930s.  It focuses in particular on the love triangle between the composer, a restaurant owner and a beautiful hostess.  And because this is a 1930s period piece in Europe, you can bet your ass that it involves Nazis.

The love triangle is, well, odd.  Not really ménage à trois, but definitely not conventional.  I can’t say the relationship gives me warm and fuzzies, but it’s well done enough that I also don’t feel like bleaching my brain (a common problem when European film romances get weird).  It’s well done for what it is.  And, because this isn’t your typical mainstream Hollywood BS, one of the two male leads is, well, not much to look at.  I appreciate that about a lot of foreign cinema, but in this case, being a German film, you see Mr. Mediocre-Looks’s bare ass which I, personally, could have done without (not so much because of my prudish American tendencies as because, well, it’s not a hot ass, so what’s the point?).  For male viewers, you also get plenty of bare-breasted shots of the female lead (who is good looking).  I was neither offended (meh, I have my own.  Whatever) nor impressed (meh, I have my own. Whatever).

The scenery, is, of course, fantastic.  I really do love Budapest.  Seeing the movie meant I got to spend a lot of time squeeing and going “The Széchenyi  bridge!” and “OMG, I WALKED THERE!”  And it’s not unfounded squeeing because the city is beautiful (except in those places where the hideous Cold War construction crept in….thankfully the eye-sore of a Marriot I stayed in was skillfully avoided by the cameras).  There are plenty of good establishing shots to feast your eyes upon.  On a more interior note, Lazlo’s restaurant in which much of the action takes place is VERY similar to two of the restaurant’s I dined in while there.  And the focus on the Hungarian rouladen, was nice because I had some of that….and a lot of other really friggin’ delicious dishes in that city (it’s entirely possible to gain weight just thinking about the food in Budapest).

Of course, since the movie is named after music, the music in the film is wonderful.  Very classical.  The theme is a truly beautiful piece.  Piano is the primary mode of transmission, but there are some excellent incidences of violin as well (which actually fits more with the music I heard in Budapest).  I’m strongly considering picking up the soundtrack to this one.

One of the downsides to the film is, well, inevitable.  As I mentioned, it’s set in 1930s Europe.  This means you will NOT avoid Nazis and Jews.  It’s that damn elephant in the room you can’t avoid.  But….at this point in time, even though it’s real and it’s true, it’s almost become cliche.  Particularly because the German officer featured in this film is completely stereotypical in terms of his appearance: blonde, fair, etc.  I can’t help rolling my eyes at that visual because the most-recently-off-the-boat Germans in my family are NOT blonde, blue eyed or fair.  In fact, they literally “pass” for Mexicans (the Hungarians and Jews in the film look way more like many of my family than the German characters).  I’m not saying I like the idea of my homies being associated with Nazis, but if we’re going to embrace the reality of Nazis being in every film about that era, we may as well embrace that not all Germans are fair and blue eyed.

Of course, the war and the Nazis are integral to the plot and you see that part coming a mile out.  The relationship complexity adds the real flavor, though the plot still seems to drag a bit at times while you’re watching.  I know this because I make notes.  And because it’s a European film.  I also know that the ending to this one makes me forget the drag every time I watch.  It’s a more awesome ending that you get in a lot of European films, so double bonus on that one.

All told, I’ll give it 3 and ¾ jars of peanut butter.  Deductions for the buttshots, the occasional plot drag and for the cliche German.

 

Stalked By A Bollywood Star

Normally, when you think about celebrity stalking, it’s the crazy fan stalking the celebrity.  In my case, celebrity stalking has turned the tables on me.  I’m the one being stalked.  By a Bollywood star, no less.

And it’s all happening via Netflix.

I had watched a serious  period piece set in India called Water–not like anything you’d normally think of in association with the term “Bollywood” (no songs, no dances, no wackiness).  But it prompted Netflix to suggest a whole slough of Bollywood titles.  At that point, the only name I knew in Bollywood was Aishwarya Rai (from Bride and Prejudice, which I consider “Intro to Bollywood for Stupid Westerners”, and one historic-epic  called Jodhaa Akbar from the local library).  I thought I would start exploring Bollywood in earnest by looking for something else with her in it, just to start out. But the list Netflix had me looking through didn’t seem to have any of her movies.  I was forced to forgo stepping stones of the familiar, and strike out on my own–daunting for a girl who is no fan of change and gets edgy stepping out of her comfort zone….

Deep breath.  Big girl pants?  Check!

I skimmed through the suggestions and narrowed it down a comedy about a female cricket player who dresses as a man to make the team, and a kids movie with a magical nanny.  I chose the kid-type film, Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic.  It was actually good if you’re a kid movie fan (which I am).  The kids were cute. The songs were catchy and I thought the two adult leads were funny–very good with the kind of comedic acting I enjoy.

Since I’d been so successful with that first choice even though I didn’t know any names, I decided to continue being brave and pick at random again.  I chose something that looked like a standard romantic comedy, Hum Tum.  I was relieved when my second choice had both of the same lead actress and actor as the first film (did I mention I like my comfort zone?).  Again, I really enjoyed it.  As with the first, the musical numbers were catchy, and they didn’t completely throw me–something I’d been expecting from Bollywood based on everything I’d heard.  In fact, one of the songs wound up so firmly embedded in my brain I wound up going to Amazon to download it.

So my Bollywood appreciation grew and I thought my random-choice methods were doing me a service.

My next choice was supposed to be an epic romance, Veer-Zaara.  The little image on the screen did not appear to be either of the two leads with whom I was familiar, so I thought I was really breaking out!  Being brave!  Trying something new!  Until the female lead from the previous two movies showed up again.  She was the lead on the B-plot frame story, which it turned out, was really my favorite part of the film (it was about a young attorney, how could I not like that?).
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Sick from Superstition.

While I had planned a completely different post topic for tonight, I found that this, like all my other plans for what was supposed to have been my Friday off, was derailed.

I’m sick.

Fever, achy, snot and cough sick.

While I don’t really consider myself a superstitious person, at times like this I find myself slipping into some non-modern, old-world-thinking and blaming my encounter with this infectious bug on the fact that just last week I was commenting on how I hadn’t been sick in a while.  Clearly I jinxed that one all to Hades.

The part of my brain still being ruled by logic, education and good sense, knows the reality is that numerous people at work have had some form or other of the galloping crud over the past two weeks, and this, along with my lack of sleep the past two weeks, along with statistics and epidemiology result in a perfectly logical explanation for my illness.

But the monkey-brain in the corner is convinced that somehow karma decided to kick my ass.  I’m sick because noting my lack of illness was a kind of pride which could only lead to a downfall.  Snot.  Fever.  Cosmic balance restored and Cammy suitably humbled.

It kinda macht’s nichts right now as I sit here in the recliner huddled under a quilt, cuddling the box of goodies I received today (completely unrelated to my illness, but fortuitously timed…perhaps karma felt bad about my fever being 101?) and drifting in and out of consciousness while watching Bollywood movies*….

And by the time this has cleared out, I’ll be back to reminding myself to use more hand-sanitizer…and I’ll probably forget to avoid talking about how long I’ve been without a bad cold.

*Side note:  Dude.  Watching Bollywood flicks when you’re in and out of reality?    Whole new kinda wacky, lemme just tell you.

Movie Review: Zapata – El sueño del héroe

Title: Zapata – El sueño del héroe (2004)

Writer/Director: Alfonso Arau

Cammy: In my procurement of media to assist in my Spanish practice, I wound up with a copy of the relatively-recent Mexican feature film,  Zapata – El sueño del héroe.  When I bought the DVD a few months ago I watched the first, maybe 5 minutes and was completely lost.  The thing had NO English subtitles and my Spanish clearly wasn’t up to par to tackle this one.  I mean, there were Spanish subtitles in those first minutes, but I was connecting none of what I was hearing to what I was reading.

Months later, after a LOT of telenovela viewing, I felt a little better, but I still thought it would be smart to bring it with me on my visit to Kristy and watch it with her.  For one, her Spanish is vastly better than mine after years of classes, a degree in Latin American studies and two summers in Latin American countries.  For another, that same degree in Latin American studies meant that her over-all knowledge of the history of Emiliano Zapata was likely to be way better than mine.  Just like she helped prop me up through University Spanish, I was going to depend on her again!

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My Own Personal Epic

Going to movie premieres used to be a big thing in my life. No, not real Hollywood premieres with celebrities and shit. Just opening night at the local theater. Along with Cammy and our mutual friend Megan we went to a lot of opening nights. Often in costume. It was generally awesome. These outings used to include Mexican food, until the fateful night when we drank too much iced tea at Don Pablo’s then went to the first Harry Potter film. Several of us suffered from near fatal bladder over-filling. (I hadn’t read the books. It was a kids’ movie. I expected it to be 90 minutes tops. And by the time I realized it wasn’t, things were too exciting for me to leave.)

 

It’s been a long time since those days. I haven’t been to see a movie on opening night in a while. But The Hunger Games was awesome enough I thought it warranted a return to old behavior patterns. So a group of my colleagues and I made plans to attend. (We briefly entertained the idea of a Thursday midnight showing, but several of us had to teach on Friday morning and well… we’re old now). No costumes this time since my colleagues here are a little more straight laced and well, I had no costume ideas anyway (Though in retrospect the Bajoran Dabo Girl outfit would have done well for this. Cammy knows what I’m talking about.) By mostly sheer coincidence we did go to get Mexican food beforehand, and that’s when things started to get a little dicey.

 

Turns out several of my friends have never been to a movie on opening night before. They thought showing up fifteen minutes beforehand would be totally fine. Such innocents. This, and the fact that he had just finished his dissertation the night before and was justifiably brain fried, caused my friend J to be late for dinner. So three of us who had already finished and paid our bills before he arrived, left to get seats while he and our mutual friend K stayed to eat.

 

It had been raining on and off all day. I had actually meant to bring an umbrella but realized I’d left it in my apartment when I got to my car and decided I didn’t care. I was wearing purple so even if the color ran out of my hair (yes, this is a problem) it would be okay since my hair is also purple. At the restaurant I did hear someone say something about a tornado warning, but I didn’t think they meant a current one. After all, we’d been getting the sort of slow, steady rain which typically does not result in such things.

 

But as we made the short drive to the theater we did notice a particularly ominous looking cloud and as we arrived at the strangely empty theater (I got a parking spot right by the door) we heard some soccer moms dropping off their kids talking about a tornado warning. At this point we all checked our phones and simultaneously realized we had all missed the urgent text from the university informing us of said tornado warning. Oops.

 

Well, we were already at the theater, and it seemed as secure a location as any, so we went on in. We had just been allowed into the theater and scored good seats (my current city of residence has no theaters with stadium seating, so you have to work for good seats like in the old days) when an attendant came in and told us that because of imminent tornado threat we had to go to the hallway or bathrooms. I can’t for the life of me figure out why those locations were safer, given the large glass doorways in the hall, but we complied. That’s where we were when J and K finally joined us, with all the valuables from K’s car (including J’s dissertation). They said it was looking fairly insane outside.

 

That’s when the hail started. I thought I had seen it out the doors (lacking a self-preservation instinct I was the one who kept leaning out of the alcove we were positioned in to look) but M went to the ladies’ room and said she could hear it hitting the roof. I could also see that the precipitation, whatever form it was in, was coming down hard at a 45 degree angle. This is when J, a practiced Midwesterner with enough tornado fear for both of us informed him I was making him nervous will all my looking. (This didn’t stop him from continuing to use me as look out mind you.)

 

At some point I looked down the hall and it seemed the ground and all the cars I could see were covered in a white film. Convinced I must be seeing things I walked down the hall for a better look. No, I was seeing correctly—there was at least half an inch of hail accumulation. I have never seen hail like that. It was simultaneously awesome and terrifying (as I considered buying two new windshields.)

 

Through all of this we kept looking at each other and looking at our watches asking, “So… we’re still going to get to see the movie, right?” and “If we don’t get our seats back I’m punching a tween!” Ten minutes after the movie was supposed to start word went around we could go back into the theater. A ten year old girl who had been dragged out in the middle of an earlier showing rushed back into her theater yelling, “I’m coming, Peeta!” Somehow it was adorable. We hurried back and got seats one row behind our previous position. Not bad enough to raise a stink over.

 

We’d gotten all settled when an attendant came in and informed us the watch was not lifted. He wasn’t going to make us move, but it was his job to inform us that we would be safer in the hall. I stayed put.

 

Finally, thirty minutes after show time they came in and announced they would be starting the movie shortly and they were going to skip the previews. The tweens applauded. The geeks lamented the loss of hope at seeing a Hobbit trailer. And then the movie started. And there was much rejoicing.

 

Afterwards we verified that our cars were undamaged (they were), we drank some delicious cocktails, and I was coerced into inviting people to my house to watch last night’s episode of Fringe (which it turns out was largely preempted due to the weather. Grr.) It was a long, exhausting evening. It was nothing like my movie premiere outings of old. And somehow? It was just as epic.

 

Travesty of a Time Vampire

This time vampire is one that I will never repeat (if I can help it).  Truth be told, I knew it was a bad idea.

Once upon a time, a dude named Kevin Sullivan made two fabulous miniseries portraying much of the Anne of Green Gables series.  It was not completely true to the books, but the creative license taken was forgiveable.

Then came a third series.  We try not to talk about this one.  It diverges so far from the actual books as to make it a travesty.  Rather than use the plethora of material in the books and bring to life the characters we knew and loved, this third installment utterly screwed the timeline (moving Anne a full generation later) and had no characters or plot remotely resembling the real thing.  I own the DVD only because I could not obtain the original two mini-series without it being stuck in the box–if I could have handed it back to the clerk, I would have done so.

So, when I found out that Mr. S was making a prequel to Anne, I knew this would be a train wreck.  After all, the pre-Green Gables period in Anne’s life is summed up in a chapter in Anne of Green Gables and a tiny pilgrimage in Anne of the Island.  In order to build a prequel, we would again be subject to completely non-canon material.

I avoided this one like the plague for several years.  But, when I stumbled on it at the library today, it jumped out at me.  After all, I’d gone through the other travesty and survived.  I might as well complete the full cycle, right?

ZOMG.

WRONG.

The scenery is gorgeous (as one would expect–it’s the same parts of Ontario-masquerading-as-PEI as featured in prior productions).  And the cast is quite good (Shirley MacLaine is always awesome, of course, but there’s no weak link in the cast–even the kids do a good job).  But no amount of scenery and acting makes up for the weakness in the material.  The timeline is still screwed up, it’s full of anachronisms and multiple key moments in the show are clearly cribbed from either prior Anne series or Jane Eyre.  Even the relationships themselves are clearly shadows of those in the real Anne series (Mrs. Thomas and Anne is a poorly drawn Marilla and Anne).

If I was able to completely set aside everything I know about Anne and treat this as a true stand alone story, it might not be too horrible (other than the anachronisms, but even those could partly be overlooked).  A family-friendly kind of costume drama.  The trouble is, they throw the Anne part in your face so much with those cribbed moments and copied snippets of dialog (and the care to cast the same Mrs. Hammond from the earlier miniseries).  It’s like Anne is being used as a marketing tool to sell something that someone wasn’t sure would stand up on its own (when, really, without that, it may have done better).

More than two hours Hoover’d outta my life to see one of my favorite literary universes subjected to a Mary Sue prequel.  This is to Anne fans what Star Wars I-III were to those of us who grew up in a world that started with Episode IV.

 

Movie Review: Enchanted

Director: Kevin Lima

Writer: Bill Kelly

Things I liked: It’s a musical. I love musicals. And the songs were fun. Also, pretty costumes. As someone who’s worn a hoopskirt on more than one occasion I loved that they showed the absurd difficulties of getting around in on. Speaking of absurdities, I also enjoyed the way the film points out how irritating charming little moments in fiction would be in real life; making dresses out of curtains, for example. Also, Angela Montenegro sighting at the end!

Things I didn’t like: You cast Idina Menzel in a musical and don’t have her sing? Let me ask that again, you cast Idina Menzel in a musical and don’t have her sing? Tell me there was a song that was cut from this. I actually rather liked her character, and so I guess I’m glad she got a happy ending, but I would have liked to see more of her. Over all, I felt like the film was saying that even modern, independent women are waiting for a prince to come sweep us off our feet. I’m not saying that doesn’t have more truth to it than I’d care to admit, but I’m not sure I cared for it.

Over all: A fun little bit of fluff to watch while cleaning my room, but I’m glad I didn’t spend money on it. Two and a half out of five jars of peanut butter.

Movie Review: The Girl

Title: The Girl (Original Swedish Title: Flickan) (2009)

Director: Fredrik Edfeldt

Writer: Karin Apphenius

Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytrma

I stumbled across this one at my local library.  Having not watched a foreign film in a while, I decided to give it a whirl.  I didn’t really expect much more than a little variety to shake up the string of BBC offerings I’ve been checking out from the library’s DVD section lately.  What I got was a visually beautiful, moving film.

You might notice that I noted the cinematographer above.  That’s because the way this film was beautiful visually.  That’s not to say it was full of sweeping vistas or shiny dance numbers or incredible costumes.  It was the composition of the shots, the way light was captured.  If had a greater experience with visual art, I’d be better at describing it, but the long and short of it is that reading the English subtitles is not the only reason I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen.

The story follows The Girl (never named), whose parents and brother leave for an African aid mission.  She was supposed to travel with them, but a last minute notification of restrictions due to age (she is 9 and a half) results in The Girl being left at home in the care of a somewhat unstable Aunt Anna.  Singularly unimpressed with this woman-child that she barely knows, The Girl is more than happy when Aunt Anna leaves her alone to go off sailing with a boyfriend.  The Girl begins a summer of freedom.

But, before you start to think this is a summery, Swedish version of Home Alone, be assured, it’s not.  The Girl’s freedom devolves into a loneliness and isolation that comes right up to the borders of madness before a meeting with a stranger pulls her back into society and reality.

And The Girl herself is remarkable.  Little Blanca Engström does a very impressive job of conveying the complex emotions involved in The Girl’s isolation.  She has a unique look with her red hair and skinny form–she stands out in every shot she appears in.  And for such a little girl, she can be intense with just one glance, almost to the point of creepiness.  You really don’t need the subtitles to pick up on the emotions and follow the path of this story.  If this young actress doesn’t do any more movies, we are all losing out, I’m telling you.

By the end of this movie, I had the same kind of feeling I have after reading a really excellent book that I know I’ll never forget even if I never manage to read it again.  Usually I withdraw from foreign films that are too “arty” but in this case, it struck the right chord–stable plot, deep emotion and beautiful shots.  I give it 4.5 out of 5 jars of peanut-butter.

 

The Sound of Missing Tracks

I am a big, big, big fan of The Sound of Music.  The kind of fan who has seen the film over 87 times (I stopped counting when I was about 14…).  A fact that, Kristy does not seem to hold against me, to her extreme credit.

To MY credit, I didn’t go out and buy the 45th Anniversary Blu Ray edition with bells, whistles and schniztel with noodles.  I was tempted, but I hear the 50th anniversary will come with the schnitzel, the noodles, the copper kettle, the woolen mittens, and a brown paper mystery package tied up with string (I’m hoping it will contain a kitten with whiskers).  And, since I’ve already had two different VHS versions (wore one out completely, the other partially) and the 40th anniversary DVD release, I thought I could stand to wait for the big 5-0.

What I failed to realize was that they also re-released the album.

The album, that, after nearly half a century, finally has my favorite track included.

For years the album to the 1965 movie didn’t have every song.  In most cases, that’s okay, but in this case, it was my favorite that was missing.  I have long had a love for the version of “Edelweiss” that appears first in the movie–as a simple duet with Captain VonTrapp (voiced by Bill Lee–in case you still didn’t realize that wasn’t Christopher Plumber) and Liesel (who really is Charmian Carr, lest the previous parenthetical had you questioning everything)–but it was never on any of the copies I had of the album (I wore out two cassettes).  The only version there was the reprise at the Festival that has the whole fam-damily, a pit orchestra with a bell player who definitely picked up the hard mallets, and half the population of Austria.  The song’s still good, but it’s not the intimate little take that I love from the earlier scene.

When I first got my DVD of the film several years back, I kept saying I would go in and rip that track to an Mp3 for myself so I could finally over-indulge in the good version.  Of course I never got around to that.

But lo, what should appear in the Amazon $5 offering list today?  Is that a different cover to the album I spy?  And, ZOMG, NEW TRACK LISTING?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  And he likes the good version of “Edelweiss,” too.

But there’s more!  In addition to that, we also get the music to the “Laendler” and the expanded version of the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” reprise–with the opening that I never knew existed until the DVD special features–and the music from the interlude…..

Christmas came early for me this year and the hills are definitely alive with the sound of the tracks I’ve been missing….

In Which I Throw a Hermit Slumber Party

I’ve had to work most of this holiday.  Other than a reprieve on Thanksgiving itself to cook, eat and sort out holiday music, I’ve basically been plugging away on crap for that thing that pays the bills.

I’ve got the proverbial shit-ton of stuff I need to get done this weekend, but I’ve hit the equally proverbial wall.  Since I’ve been at this for more hours in the day than normal (given that I didn’t have to waste time getting up, getting ready and driving to and from work).  I can’t focus and I need a break.

So I’m throwing a hermit slumber party.

“WTF is that?” you ask.

It’s piling in on the sofa/floor/someplace not your usual bed with a stack of movies, blankets, ample snack-age and decked out in your fuzziest, most childish PJs….without the benefit of friends to keep you company.  With friends, this would just be slumber party, but without them….well, I still choose to view this as a celebratory event, but due to the solitary nature, the term “hermit” comes to mind.

On the one hand, yes, this is sad, pathetic…a total commentary on my social existence right now.  On the other hand, it is really, really uplifting to turn this into a mini-event.  Sure, there’s no one to paint my nails for me, or to play truth or dare….but I also don’t have to deal with drama over choosing the movies and no one will mock me when I continually jump a mile in the air while watching Zombieland, despite having seen it 5 times.  And no one will force me to confess (or do) anything embarrassing.

And on that note, I have to end this:  the oven timer just told me my roasted garbanzo beans are ready (seasoned with garlic and cayenne pepper), and the DVD is queued up to help refresh me on the rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse.