Mondestrunken

Just watched Moonlight, and, happily, it’s great. Need to watch it again on short order. Don’t know if composer Nicholas Britell truly had Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis in his ear as he wrote the score, but I had to listen to that piece right away on finishing the film. It fit right in.

Hey, they broke my watch!

Spending a lot of time in Chicago these days, as is Ms. Celluloid Pantry. So that’s enough to prompt the semi-annual screening of the Blues Brothers. Just noticed , after watching this movie maybe 50 times already, that right after John Candy’s immortal “This is car 55. We’re in a truck.” line, another cop is heard to utter, “hey, they broke my watch!”, in a recapitulation of the gag from the mall drive-through scene. What other gems will Cinema 59’s recent upgrades reveal?

Celluloid Potty

David Denby had a terrific piece in the New Yorker a couple of weeks back, which made for great reading atop the thunder bucket (“le seau de tonnere” en Francais). The main thrust of the piece is how films that play with chronology, once the domain of arty directors like Resnais, have now become commonplace. Denby writes about Pulp Fiction’s role in bringing this style to the masses, and mentions something I hadn’t really noticed before: Vincent Vega (Travolta) visits the powder room four times in the film and each time marks a critical point in the narrative. This got me thinking, Q. uses the head throughout the movie to bring the action to, uhm, a head. There’s a signal to this, when Mia Wallace returns from the little ladies room: “Don’t you just love it when you come back from the bathroom and find your food waiting for you?” That’s not all that happens during her time away. She gets coked up. When she sits down again, the conversation leaves the safety of chit chat and turns to more dangerous topics. Back at her pad, Vincent goes the the loo and all hell breaks loose.

But before all that-or is it after-the movie’s key events unfold as the Fourth Man bursts out of the WC, where he has been hiding as Jules and Vincent execute “Flock of Seagulls” and big-brained Brett. The Fourth Man unloads his hand cannon, missing with all shots. Thus transpires the miracle that sends Jules on his mission to “walk the Earth.” And while Jules is explaining his Kung Fu intentions, Vincent recuses himself to the facilities, else Honey Bunny and Pumpkin surely would have perished. Later on, reading the same trashy book, Vincent meets his maker while still seated on the throne. This follows-or is it precedes-the Butch and Fabian bathroom scene.

Quentin is a formalist and likes to play games. I’ve noticed quite a few of them in the dozen times I’ve watched this film, but never pieced this one together before. Great stuff, and gives me an idea for my thesis when I go to film school: “Did Something Die in Here: Transformative aspects of the Toity in the early works of Tarantino.”

Bits ‘n pieces

I fly a lot. About 70 segments last year. That being the case, I don’t waste a lot of time at airports. I get there when I need to be there, not any sooner. LGA is part of my extended nervous system. But JFK can still be a bit of a mystery. It’s the damn traffic, you see. Unpredictable. I can swing arriving at the gate at 6:00 pm for a 6:10 flight, like I did on Tuesday. But I don’t recommend you try it.

I love those moments. Those, “here I am in Seattle, eating dinner at the bar at Trader Vic’s, 10:30 local time, 1:30 am my time. Had another funny experience there two nights later. Ducked out of a (non-vegetarian-) catered business event to have some semblance of a proper dinner. This time, I sat in the dining room, which was packed to the rafters with wealthy ladies of a certain age. They were all dressed up, but everywhere I looked, people had their coats over their chairs. Washingtonians look somehow Canadian to me. I ducked back into my event. Later that night, I heard the most interesting story of the visit. Over a nightcap at the Westin, PB told me the story of how, 20 years earlier, he and his girlfriend had been attacked on a beach in the Caribbean. The two young attackers were after their passports, which they got and then started shooting, intending to kill the both of them. PB, shot, with more bullets flying at him, turned on his attackers instead, and probably would have killed them had he caught them. As the two teens were running away, they both emptied on PB, missing him a dozen times between the two of them. PB showed me the scars on his arm where the one bullet entered, then exited.

Some like it hot. And that someone’s a-gonna be me. I got my start with Thai food in Toronto, and back then it was the kiddie version. Pad Thai at the Queen Mother. Or sticky rice with a sauce that honestly could have been one of those President’s Choice “Memories of…”. Bland, bland food at Young Thailand. Canada’s first Thai restaurant (that what’s the food tasted like, too). At the time, Salad King, a little Ryerson hole-in-the-wall was our favourite. They had this spicy squid that really did it. NYC, on the other hand, is very different. An embarrassment of riches–so many smokin’ places to choose from. For a long time, Jaiya was the reigning champ. Naked Shrimp. The Tom-yung-koong is even hot to me. The “special sauce”. Wow. Zero ambiance and questionable service. But, wow. Recently, we found that Holy Basil was a worthy addition to the repertoire. But now, we have a new contender, Pam Real Thai. Two Clinton locations two blocks apart; the original 49th Street location has the decor of a typical IHOP, the 47th Steet Pam Real Thai Encore aims at a hip retro modern style and attracts a younger crowd. Either location could be the best Thai food we’ve ever had. On my first visit, I had a catfish fried in chili sauce. It had the kind of heat that I often plead for, but rarely receive.

Pan’s Labyrinth is excellent.

Professor Downie is coming to town.

PD sent me Mike Watt’s bass-eye-view of a tour with the Stooges. I think I just picked up some new lingo.

Rejoined the Vanderbilt Y today, after a lapse of a few years. In the past, Tina Louise was one of the regulars. Didn’t see her today. No sign of the professor, either.

The Tait Ball Buster is a really nice value in a $20 wine.

Now we’re all caught up.

Greed and Wickedness

Bert‘s travel piece in yesterday’s Globe and Mail on seven deadly sins getaways has a nice resonance with Orson WellesLady from Shanghai. To represent the sin of greed, Bert picks the Chinese city of Macau. This immediately brings to mind the classic exchange between Welles and his real-life estranged wife, Rita Hatworth:

Michael O’Hara: I bet you l´ve been to the place you were born.

Elsa Bannister: Cheefoo.

Michael O’Hara: lt´s on the China coast. It´s the second wickedest city.

Elsa Bannister: What´s the first?

Michael O’Hara: Macao.

Elsa Bannister: I worked there.

Michael O’Hara: You worked in Macao?

Elsa Bannister: Here´s your dollar. How about Shanghai?

Michael O’Hara: I worked there too.

One-upping the Dionnes

A teenaged girl, with the improbable name of Kockenloker, who has a thing for soldiers goes out on the town determined to give the boys shipping out a send-off to remember. She gets loaded, and then gets in trouble (remembering nothing of the fateful night) and spends the rest of the movie trying to get a patsy to marry her.

Not the kind of story that comes to mind when you think of WWII, Hays-era American comedies. And yet Preston Sturges pulled it all off in Miracle at Morgan’s Creek. He did by twisting and tweaking the story with details that are barely believable, in fact, probably not meant to be believed. The girl’s actually been drinking lemonade all night, so she’s not drunk. No, she really just klunked her head on a mirror ball at a club, so her euphoric wheeziness and subsequent blackout are the result of a concussion. And actually, she got married before getting into trouble. The only problem is, she can’t remember whom she married; the last name goes something like Trotsky-rotsky and the first name is a complete blank. And there’s no marriage certificate, and she gave a false name, and she can’t really remember if it even happened anyway.

After a lot of screwball wackiness ensues, the movie caps off with a brilliant jab at familial morality. As the event draws near, the Kockenlockers are determined to keep every quiet. But lo! Trudy gives birth to sextuplets and now, with a genuine revenue-producing phenomenon on their hands, everyone up to the governor get involved to re-write the story, falsify the legal documents and trumpet the tale round the world.

Have artists been subverting repressive codes like Hays forever? Perhaps, and it makes sense because artists are, after all the people trained in the art of layering messages and injecting hidden meaning with enough ambiguity to create plausible deniability. Maybe they would make the best lawyers after all. Like most Sturges pictures, this one comes complete with cringe-inducing racism, this time in the form of William Demarest uttering, “That’s mighty white of you.” Twice. Oh, uncle Charlie!

Borat

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan isn’t coming out until November, but the buzz is building. Borat, the fictional TV reporter from Kazakhstan, is one of the triumvirate of characters portrayed by Sacha Baron Cohen, the master practitioner of the phony interview. Baron Cohen’s genius lies in his ability to sell these ridiculous characters. There’s something disarmingly lovable about Borat, for example, that when he lets loose with insanely virulent anti-Semitic, misogynist, or homophobic comments, strange things happen. People don’t recoil in horror, they’re just as likely to just laugh, or just stop short of agreeing with him. Which is perhaps why this approach isn’t entirely fair, Borat’s behavior is so bizarre, and he’s so desperate for everyone to like him, that people just roll with him, willingly following wherever he leads. This, in turn, reveals another level of bias: his subjects are willing to believe that foreigners with funny accents from places like Kazakhstan have such backwards notions of life and politics, or they’re willing to believe that someone as dumb as Ali G could be have his own TV talk show in Britain, because, after all, aren’t kids that dumb these days?