Doodad Kind of Town

The 12 Movie Meme
July 31, 2008, 10:04 pm
Filed under: British Comedy, Elia Kazan, Richard Curtis

I’ve been tagged by Rick at Coosa Creek Mambo for the “12 Movies Meme” originated at Lazy Eye Theatre. The idea is to come up with 12 films you would screen if you had your own movie theatre (or the use of someone else’s)

The rules are:

1) Choose 12 Films to be featured. They could be random selections or part of a greater theme. Whatever you want.

2) Explain why you chose the films.

3) Link back to Lazy Eye Theatre so Piper can have hundreds of links and can take those links and spread them all out on the bed and then roll around in them.

4) The people selected then have to turn around and select 5 more people.

Here are my selections – they’re all over the place, but then that’s part of the fun, right? I have six days’ worth of movies, and every day has a theme:

Sunday – “Triumph of the Underdogs” Sports Movies that take place in my home state (Indiana)
Rudy, Hoosiers, Breaking Away

A triple feature, but it’s Sunday, so you have the time.

Besides once I had the theme, I couldn’t bring myself to leave out any one of these. “Rudy” always gets me choked up. “Hoosiers” is dear to my small-town-Indiana, basketball-loving heart. And “Breaking Away” is special to me because it was filmed on and around the Indiana University campus during my sophomore year. If I look real close, I can see myself and a few friends, kind of out of focus and in the background, during the singing of the national anthem just before the big bike race.

Monday – “Television is Evil” night

“A Face in the Crowd,” “Network”

Two great movies about the manipulative, potentially malevolent, power of television. Elia Kazan’s 1957 film “A Face in the Crowd” is a dark and amazingly prescient drama about the rise and fall of a television demagogue. Andy Griffith is “Lonesome Rhodes,” a TV host whose “aw-shucks” folksiness masks his pathological needs for power, control and mass adoration. Strong stuff, great performances. “Network” was similarly ahead of its time in imagining reality television and the decreased significance of network news. And it’s got great, Oscar-winning performances by Peter Finch and Faye Dunaway.

Tuesday – “Overlooked Musicals” night

“Pennies from Heaven,” “It’s Always Fair Weather”

Two good musicals that aren’t often screened or discussed. “Pennies from Heaven” did poorly at the box office and not much better with critics. Despite all the tap-dancing, it was a deeply dark film in which Steve Martin played a less-than-likable character; those who came expecting “The Jerk: the Musical” were left scratching their heads. But I saw it again recently, and it holds up very well. It deserves to be re-evaluated. “It’s Always Fair Weather” was the final Gene Kelly-Stanley Donen collaboration, and the one everyone forgets about. But this tale of three old Army buddies (Kelly, Dan Dailey and Michael Kidd) who reunite in New York is quite delightful. And it’s got Kelly dancing on roller skates 25 years before he attempted it again in “Xanadu.”

Wednesday – “Communists in Love” night

“Reds,” “Ninotchka”

Who but Warren Beatty could make a three-hour drama about the only American buried in the Kremlin into something, well, sexy? (The Russian Revolution is depicted as a montage of spirited political rallies and equally spirited bedroom interludes between Beatty and Diane Keaton; trust me, it’s way more exciting than his character’s real-life book “Ten Days that Shook the World.” ) But it ends badly, so you’ll need to lighten up afterwards.Which is why I’ve chosen “Ninotchka,” the classic Lubitsch comedy in which Greta Garbo’s dour Comrade succumbs to the decadent charms of Paris, champagne and Melvyn Douglas.

Thursday – “Obscure ’80s British Comedy” night

“Morons from Outer Space,” “The Tall Guy” Just because they’re funny, I haven’t seen them in a long time, and I think they’d be fun to watch with a lot of other people. A friend brought over the video of “Morons” to cheer me up when I was recovering from foot surgery in 1989, and I remember laughing my ass off. “The Tall Guy” was the first film written by Richard Curtis (who went on to bigger and better things like “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill” and so on.) It’s sweet and goofy, and the highlight is a wickedly funny spoof of the “Les Miserables”-style stage musicals popular in the late 80s: “Elephant Man: The Musical.”

Friday – “Lawrence of Arabia” night

“Lawrence of Arabia”

Because I’ve never seen it on the big screen, which means I’ve never really seen it. And it’s too long to be part of a double feature. It can stand all on its own.

I know that I’m supposed to tag 5 more people, but I’m pretty sure the movie blogosphere is all tagged out on this meme. Thanks for letting me play!


My Dinner With… Richard Curtis
January 12, 2008, 3:35 am
Filed under: Richard Curtis, Romantic Comedies

I’ve been invited by Marilyn of Ferdy on Films to participate in a meme called “My Dinner With… “(details here) in which I get to talk about a person in the film industry – past or present – with whom I’d like to dine. And I get to plan the dinner down to the last detail.

I tend to over-analyze my response to questions like this. The natural tendency is to pick a dinner companion from the list of geniuses you’ve always been most in awe of – for me, the list would include Billy Wilder, Frederico Fellini, Elia Kazan, Robert Altman, Martin Scorcese, Milos Forman, Mike Nichols (with or without Elaine May)- but I know I’d be too intimidated by them to even eat in their presence, let alone ask any meaningful questions. Because that’s just the kind of shy girl I am: even in a total fantasy scenario – where I control everything from the china pattern on the table to last bon mot in the conversation – I can’t picture myself anything but red-faced and tongue-tied in the presence of the greats. My celebrity interviews would be not so much “Inside the Actor’s Studio” as “The Chris Farley Show.”

So I’ve decided I would have dinner with Richard Curtis.

Curtis, of course, is the screenwriter responsible for “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill,” and the HBO film, “The Girl in the Cafe.” He also co-wrote the “Bridget Jones” movies, and both wrote and directed “Love, Actually.” (Less known to American audiences, but equally delightful is his first film “The Tall Guy” with Jeff Goldblum and Emma Thompson). His television work includes co-writing “Black Adder” and “Mr. Bean” with Rowan Atikinson, and creating “The Vicar of Dibley.”

Why Richard Curtis? The films he’s made (so far) certainly aren’t destined for the pantheon; they’re charming, but modest in their ambitions. But Curtis – an incurable optimist and a hopeless romantic – makes romantic comedies with genuine heart and wit. In an era when Hollywood cranks out formulaic, lackluster rom-coms every other weekend, Curtis’ work is a cut above. He’s successful and funny enough to be a fascinating dinner companion, but he doesn’t seem intimidating to me. Maybe that’s because so many of his films pivot on that rapturous moment when the stammering, awkward guy scores a date with the really cute girl. Somehow, I just assume that Curtis himself is that shy, yearning guy with a killer wisecrack at the ready behind that bumbling facade. Or sees himself as such, anyway.

I’m assuming I’d meet Mr. Curtis for dinner somewhere in my neck of the woods – that’d be the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I briefly considered taking him north to Wisconsin for dinner, just so he could experience the vast difference between what that state is really like and the fantasy bachelor’s paradise he depicts it to be in “Love, Actually.” But I reconsidered. Wisconsin might be a good after- dinner field trip, but for the main event, I’d take him to my favorite Chicago restaurant, the Atwood Cafe. Here the ambiance is comfortable and unpretentious, and the food is classic American comfort food with a contemporary twist. Curtis’ films have been a sort of cinematic equiavalent of comfort food to me over the years, so offering him the best of my country’s comfort food seems a good response. I’d recommend the house specialty – the chicken pot pie – or possibly the grilled chicken accompanied by wild mushroom bread pudding (the latter doesn’t appear on the menu anymore, but this is a fantasy, so I’m resurrecting my favorite Atwood dishes of the past). I’d have the waiter recommend a wine accompaniment, and if we were inclined to order dessert, I’d have us go for the brown sugar cheesecake with butterscotch sauce.

My questions to Mr. Curtis would be:

1. In American romantic comedies, the characters often find love as a result of transformation; the ugly duckling gets a makeover, the workaholic learns to relax, the doormat stands up for herself at last, and – boom! -their true love shows up and sweeps them away .

In your films, however, characters seem to find love in the midst of their imperfections and foibles. Their attempts at transformation are comically doomed to fail. (I’m thinking of William’s decision to stop looking for the “thunderbolt” and marry Henrietta in “Four Weddings in a Funeral,” or Bridget Jones’ aborted attempts at dieting and giving up smoking, for example).

Does this reflect a cultural difference between America and Britain? Or it is more reflective of your own personal take on love?

2. You’ve done a tremendous amount of charity work and fund-raising for poverty relief – you helped create Live Aid and Comic Relief, you’ve been to Africa on relief missions. What drew you to this charity work, and how has it enriched your own life and your writing?

3. You’ve said that your favorite film is Robert Altman’s “Nashville.” Was “Nashville” a conscious inspiration for you in writing and directing “Love Actually” (a similarly sprawling film with a very large, interconnected cast of characters.) And will we ever see a Director’s cut of “Love, Actually” with all the excised subplots and characters restored?

4. Ok, sorry, but I have to ask: why the dramatic changes between the original book “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” and the film version? Specifically, why is the Rebecca character changed from being hell-bent on stealing Mark Darcy into a beautiful lesbian whose sights are set on Bridget herself?

5. Your upcoming films are “The Number One Ladies Detective Agency” and “The Boat that Rocked” – neither of which looks to be a romantic comedy. Are you heading in a new direction? What kinds of films are you interested in making now?

I’m now supposed to pass this meme on to six other people for their responses. You’ll have to forgive me, but I’m fairly new in the blogosphere, and don’t think I know six bloggers well enough yes to pass this on. Please give me an extra day come up with my list and append it to this post.

Saturday Movie Clip: "Love Actually"
December 15, 2007, 5:44 pm
Filed under: Richard Curtis, Romantic Comedies

Because it’s another busy day at my house, I’m just posting a clip from the movie I’ll be watching while wrapping gifts and addressing cards this afternoon. Richard Curtis’ “Love Actually” is a big, overstuffed Christmas stocking of rom-com bliss,and has become one of my favorite seasonal guilty pleasures. A lot of characters in this film boldly declare their romantic intentions “because you tell the truth at Christmas” – must be a British thing, ’cause I never thought of Christmas as a “coming clean” sort of holiday. Oh, well… Enjoy this scene and enjoy your weekend!

Movies I Watch Over and Over: "Four Weddings and a Funeral"
November 15, 2007, 11:07 pm
Filed under: British Comedy, Richard Curtis, Romantic Comedies

Yikes, has it really been five days since I last posted here? Time is slipping away from me. The days are getting shorter and colder. More blustery wind, more darkness. This is the time of year when it’s good to snuggle under a soft blanket with a cup of hot chocolate and lose yourself in a favorite movie.

There are some movies which, for me, are “comfort flicks” – feel-good movies I watch again and again on days when both the skies and my spirits are bleak and gray. Over the next few days, I’ll be talking about some of those “comfort flicks.”

First off:

Maybe it’s because I’m an Anglophile.

Maybe it’s because it was here I first glimpsed – and developed a lasting, movie-star crush on – Hugh Grant.

Or maybe, it’s because any movie that opens with someone rolling over in bed, looking at the alarm clock, and then suddenly sitting bolt upright and yelling “F-U-U-U-C-K!” is my kind of movie. (This being an epithet I frequently shout at my alarm clock, whether it goes off on time or not.)

I first saw “Four Weddings and a Funeral” as part of an outing with an Indianapolis “Film Appreciation” club. We were the kind of group that normally gathered to see foreign and art films, which was how “Four Weddings” was initially marketed in this country. Many of the actors were new to me, the humor – romantic and ironic all at once – was fresh. I loved it, and it quickly became one of those rare movies I’d actually drag friends to see. I wasted no time obtaining the VHS tape when it became available, and I immediately traded up to the 10th anniversary DVD when it released in 2004.

And now, 13 years after my first viewing, I still pull out “Four Weddings and a Funeral” on gloomy afternoons when I need something to smile about. Like “Annie Hall,” which I wrote about last week, it has many classic, funny moments that are like touchstones for me, guaranteed cheerer-uppers. For starters, everything at that opening wedding is a hoot – from the hippie couple who serenade the congregation with a Barry Manilow tune to the bridal couple’s first dance (to “Crocodile Rock,” no less.) It’s a whole montage of cringe-worthy wedding moments so universal that even Americans can appreciate their awfulness. And yet, there is the toast that Hugh Grant delivers at the reception. It perfectly encapsulates the tone of the entire film: a touching reflection on the elusiveness and wonder of true love, wrapped in bawdy, schoolboy humor.

Grant, of course, is a dreamboat from start to finish – stammering delivery, floppy hair and all. I like that he’s shown wearing spectacles (reminiscent of Cary Grant in “Bringing Up Baby”) at times when his character is particularly vulnerable. Andie MacDowell, on the other hand, is considerably less than you’d want in a romantic comedy heroine; she has a penchant for truly awful line readings (the final scene’s “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.” being the classic example) and no real comedy chops. But there is enough magic in the air -what with the buoyant silliness of the writing, and the delightful performances of Kristin Scott Thomas, Thomas Fleet, Charlotte Coleman, John Hannah and Simon Callow -to keep even MacDowell’s leaden presence from putting a dent in the souffle.

This movie, like many British TV shows and later movies that I also love, was written by Richard Curtis. It was his first big hit, and led to “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually,” among others.

I’ve read that Curtis is not much liked in his native Britain, that his films are derided for the unreality of how his privileged-class characters hobnob companionably with those of humbler origins. I’m not sure when realistic depictions of the social strata became a requirement for romantic comedy, let alone realism of any kind. Personally, I like that the fact that, in “Four Weddings,” Grant’s upper middle class character shares a flat with the cheerfully disheveled, decidedly downmarket Scarlet, and that their friendship is depicted without comment. That the seventh richest man in Britain and his sister (Fleet and Scott Thomas) are close friends with a flamboyantly gay escapee from the grimy working classes (Callow), and no one bats an eye

For that matter, I love Curtis’ films because of the realities they do get right.

First of all, in a Curtis film, every character is shown living in the sort of unremarkable home he or she would actually be able to afford in real life.

(That may seem a strange thing to praise, but I think it’s worth noting. Just try to recall the last time you saw the leads of an American romantic comedy living in houses or apartments that weren’t impeccably grand and decorated to within an inch of their lives. Nothing coming to mind? Join the club! I’ve lost count of how many times the real estate has upstaged the actors in the films of writer/director Nancy Meyers (“The Holiday,” “Something’s Got to Give”). Or Woody Allen, for that matter.)

Furthermore, Curtis’ single characters who live in London tend to have roommates, even characters who seem a bit past the age when one usually has roommates. London is a very expensive city, so it makes perfect sense that its single denizens would need someone to split the living expenses. Who’s out of touch with economic reality now?

Finally, Curtis understands -as few other writers do – how single people form familial bonds within their network of friends. In “Four Weddings,” as well as “Notting Hill,” the single protagonists may be yearning for love, but they’re far from pathetic. They’re part of a reliable, close-knit circle of companions, and they never have to recover from their romantic setbacks in solitude. As a single adult who’s been blessed with a supportive network of friends, I find it cheering to see this depicted as the healthy norm, rather than the exception. (TV shows, like “Friends” and “Sex in the City” have the time to get this right; films seldom do.)

But I’m getting way too serious here – “Four Weddings and a Funeral” is a film I love most when it is silliest. If a benediction is order by way of wrapping this post up, I’ll simply quote Rowan Atkinson’s nervous priest character and say “May God bless us all. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spigot”!