Doodad Kind of Town

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder…
October 30, 2008, 1:13 pm
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I’ve missed the heck out of this blog, and I’m dying to get back to writing. But it’s been a crazy week, and I have family in from out of town the next few days, so I won’t be back till early next week;

In the meantime, I’ve managed to reignite my cinematic passions. I’m looking forward to weighing in with my thoughts about Lars Von Trier’s “Dogville” and “Manderlay.”

I’m also looking forward to a Carl Dreyer double-feature in my near future, as I have “Vampyr” in the DVR queue and “Day of Wrath” just freshly arrived from Netflix (both HIGHLY recommended by Rick over at Coosa Creek Mambo!)

So give me a few more days, kids – I’ll be back and bloggin’ again soon.

Checking In: What I Did on my Blogging Vacation
October 21, 2008, 12:45 am
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Two weeks away from the blog have given me a little bit of perspective.

I’ve been thinking a lot about why I blog – in particular, why I chose to blog about film. Truth be told, when I started out, I actually thought I had a lot of interesting things to say about the art form that has most captured my imagination and my passion over the years. But if I had to choose just one word to characterize my first 18 months in the blogosphere, it would be “humbling.” In my interactions with others in the film blogging community, I’ve come face-to-face with just how much I don’t know about cinema, how many great and significant films I’ve yet to see. And it all started to be a bit overwhelming.

But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve spent more time with friends who aren’t particularly cinephiles, I’ve curled up with a good book or two. I’ve spent an autumn afternoon baking a pumpkin praline cake while listening to some old CDs (movie soundtracks, ironically, from “Living out Loud,” “City of Angels,” and “Bandits”; good music if not necessarily from good movies.) And, truth be told, I have made a couple jaunts to the multiplex, despite my earlier pledge to avoid such venues for a good long while. Here are few musings on what I’ve seen:

“The Duchess”

I’m not quite ready to march in the Keira Knightley love parade; I figure when you’ve seen one eye-popping, chin-thrusting Knightley performance, you’ve seen ’em all. But she does bring a certain charm and vivacity to this refreshingly unstuffy historical drama. Knightley plays Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, a noblewoman of great charm and style who’s adored by the masses but privately trapped in a loveless marriage to an unfaithful older man. (Does that remind you of any recent marriage in the British monarchy? You may not be surprised to learn that Georgiana was an ancestor of the late Princess Diana.) Ralph Fiennes has the thankless, one-note role of the cold, emotionally cruel Duke, and he glowers though it fairly predictably.

“The Duchess” has all the trappings of a standard, big-budget costume drama – voluminous gowns, enormous powdered wigs, imposing castles and photogenically woolly sheep scampering on verdant hillsides. But it doesn’t suffocate under the weight of those trappings; it feels almost contemporary in its depiction of a marriage in which both partners suffer, hurt one another, make enormous compromises and eventually reach a sort of resigned truce. It’s even very funny in spots (although not nearly as funny as the woman sitting two seats away from me thought. Next to movie talkers, my least favorite kind of multiplex patron is the one who doesn’t get out much: the one who laughs uproariously at mildly amusing lines, yells out stuff like “Oh, SNAP!!” in response to bitchy, onscreen repartee, and applauds wildly when a character has the slightest bit of good fortune. Can’t these people stay home with their DVD players and their cats?)


I’ve never much cared for Oliver Stone; I like George W. Bush even less. But neither of those facts stopped me from running right out to see Stone’s biopic of the outgoing POTUS.

I found “W” outrageous, funny, disturbing and wildly entertaining all at the same time. It managed to reaffirm all my worst fears about Bush and what goes on in his White House while making him a sympathetic character. As imagined by Stone and portrayed by Josh Brolin, he emerged as the thoroughly mediocre black sheep in a family devoted to exceptional public service, the family scion who longs to prove himself. He has big dreams and noble intentions, but neither the discipline nor the aptitude for analytical thought required to keep those dreams on track. He’s an oversized boy with boyish behaviors and enthusiasms -guzzling Dr. Pepper and tearing into lunch meat sandwiches, purposefully striding across his Texas ranch to the accompaniment of the theme music from ’50s TV show “Robin Hood.” There’s nothing here we didn’t already know, but Stone presents it in a well-shaped and lively package. And there are uneasy pleasures to be had in Richard Dreyfus’ sneering, Dr. Strangelovian portrayal of Dick Cheney.

There were a few distractions.

First, there’s Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush. She looks very much like – and sounds exactly like – Parker Posey’s character in “Waiting for Guffman.” Very disconcerting. If Laura Bush had worked at Dairy Queen, this clip could have been included in “W” and no one would have known the difference:

I couldn’t shake the Libby Mae Brown connection any time Banks was onscreen, and it weakened the film a little for me.

Back on the plus side, it’s to Stone’s credit that he doesn’t milk easy laughs out of Bush’s religious devotion. Religious conversion is one of the hardest things to portray credibly onscreen – it’s such an internal process. Stone and screenwriter Stanley Weiser capture the significance of Bush’s conversion in a perfectly calibrated scene with a kindly evangelical preacher (nicely underplayed by Stacy Keach), cut together with some fleeting images of Jesus and a soundtrack of heavenly-sounding hymns. The religious iconography, however, doesn’t overwhelm the scene; what comes through is Bush’s anguish at being the family fuck-up, and the sense of comfort, purpose and acceptance (not to mention sobriety) that he finds only in his Christian devotion. And in subsequent scenes, he does appear more mature and responsible, if no smarter. You may not share the man’s religious convictions, but you’ll better understand the role they play in his life after that scene.

On a Little Break….
October 6, 2008, 12:08 am
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Back in the days when I had time to read books, I sometimes found that a trip to a good bookstore could be an overwhelming experience.

There I’d be browsing among the stocked-to-overflowing shelves, and I’d have this actual, physical reaction – something like a very mild panic attack – where I’d start breathing rapidly and I’d feel almost dizzy. There were so many good books to choose from, and the choice was so overwhelming, I couldn’t pick just one or two to buy.

I’ve started to have a similar physical reaction whenever I browse my DVR or Netflix queues, spend an extended amount of time reading posts by my fellow bloggers, or even when I peruse the Movie section of my Chicago Tribune. I gave up on seeing a matinee today because I couldn’t choose between “Choke,” “Elegy,” “Religulous,” “The Duchess” or “Miracle at St. Anna.”

So, folks, I am taking a little break. I’m forced to admit that, throughout my entire life, film has been a frequently recurring – but not absolutely continuous – obsession of mine. Every now and then, when I’ve been seeing too many movies in too short a time, I burn out. At such times, the best remedy for me is to kick back, stay out of the multiplexes for a few weeks, and indulge some of my second-tier obsessions (books, music, live theatre, shoe shopping, travel). October seems a good month to take a breather, particularly when: 1) the blogosphere is buzzing about horror films, a genre for which I’m far too squeamish and sensitive a viewer to have much enthusiasm; and 2) I’m starting in a new position at my company this week and need to focus all my daytime energy on learning a new part of the business. I need to give my love of cinema a little rest and breathing space, and I fully expect to come back renewed and enthusiastic in a few weeks. (And it’s not completely dead, anyway; I’m VERY excited that the next disc I’m due to receive from Netflix is Dreyer’s “Day of Wrath.”)

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to read and comment on the fine work of my fellow film bloggers, and will put a few (possibly off-topic) posts up from time to time.

Thanks to all of you who read my blog regularly and I hope you’ll continue to stop by over the coming weeks.