The tentative list:
1. Thelma and Louise
3. Schindler's List
5. Dead Man Walking
6. The English Patient
*Alternates if needed: Leaving Las Vegas, The Usual Suspects
Go ahead and say it: You can't believe I haven't seen any of these movies.
Sadly I reply: That's right. Maybe five minutes here or there, but. . . that's it.
Also in this chapter but not viewed for this project: American Beauty (*shudder*); Girl, Interrupted; Braveheart; Shakespeare in Love; Forrest Gump; The Silence of the Lambs (**double shudder**); The Crying Game; Boys Don't Cry; Dances with Wolves
If you're playing along at home, next Thursday's movie will be Thelma and Louise.
From 2003: Seabiscuit
The unofficial tagline: "You don't throw away a whole life just because it's banged up a little."
Summary: In the 1930s, just about everyone is down on his or her luck. Even Seabiscuit, a horse from a powerful racing lineage, is stuck losing race after race. That is, until he is transformed into a national champion by the collective efforts of inventor-turned-success-story Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges), his second wife Marcela (Elizabeth Banks) who helps him get over the loss of his son, quiet but passionate horse trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper, as a character very unlike the creepy orchid guy in Adaptation), and Johnny "Red" Pollard (Tobey Maguire), a book-loving teen abandoned by his impoverished parents to a horse trainer. Seabiscuit's success seems to buoy the nation's spirits and, on a local level, the spirits of those people around him. (Note: this movie is #50 on the American Film Institute's 100 Most Inspiring American Films.)
What I liked:
- Great cast (even if I kept thinking Elizabeth Banks could be Parker Posey's twin. Maybe it was the costuming).
- The story was told well. I did struggle with the exposition in the beginning, so I wasn't completely into it for the first half hour, but the payoff was a good one.
- It's a genuinely decent story. The characters aren't extraordinary--they all have their flaws--but they are all very relatable.
- All the gorgeous scenery and horses. Seriously, by the end of the movie, I wanted to take riding lessons. (Did I mention I've been on a horse only once in my life? Bareback, too--I was hanging on its mane for dear life and always wondered if that hurt the horse.)
What I didn't like:
- It was a wee bit too long. Maybe that exposition could've been condensed a bit.
- Seven Oscar nominations and no wins! Are you kidding me??? Chris Cooper can win Best Supporting Actor for Adaptation the year before, but in spite of having the best line of the entire film (see unofficial tagline above) there's not even a nomination?
You might be wondering how this movie ended up in the book, then, if it's supposed to be about winners. This movie wound up in a special feature (found in each chapter) titled "What Were They Thinking?" If a movie ends up here, it's because--in the authors' opinion--either a good movie was ignored by the Oscars or an inferior movie garnered a lot of Oscar attention. In this case, Peske and West demand to know, "How could Oscar fawn all over Lord of the Rings and snub this movie about a Depression-era racehorse who served as a metaphor for triumph over adversity?" (p. 17)
I don't know the answer. Maybe it was a matter of degree of difficulty--although I ask you, isn't it pretty hard to work with animals, or stage several horse races?
Maybe Oscar was still mired in 9/11 issues and wanted to reach out to more foreign-produced films and actors. In a similar vein, maybe fantasy served a greater purpose in 2002-2003 than another difficult time period in America did at that time.
That second suggestion makes me recommend this movie all the more for today. I got a paycheck yesterday and sent 88% of it back out the door today for utilities and next month's rent. I've got a senior-age family friend on my mind who wasn't able to attend her older sister's funeral today, nor her middle son's funeral a couple weeks ago, because she is recovering from pneumonia and in the middle of chemo. The lousy weather is driving me stir crazy.
I think I might go back and watch this movie, or at least part of it, again.
Next up: Oscar in the 1990s: We Are the World Movies
So, hang on to your racing forms--the Seabiscuit post is coming tomorrow. Thank you for your understanding!
School was open today--the schools in Philly proper were not--which of course meant every adult in the building was asked by at least one student, "Why are we here?"
I told the student who posed the query to me that I love existential questions.
However, we let the kids out at 11 a.m. It is a wet, heavy snow, but it has been falling steadily. Visibility is lousy and the roads are slick but not icy (yet).
Really, I just want to know if I can stay up to watch the ice skating tonight and have the luxury of sleeping in afterwards.
(Skip this one, fellas) Also, I had cramps to the point of feeling kinda barfy.
Took forever to get to school in the rain.
I was crossing--in the crosswalk, mind you--the drop-off area in front of the school entrance and nearly got flattened by a mom in an SUV who hit the gas before looking up.
Our secretary called in sick.
First period, I caught two students who were trying to play a game illegally loaded on their computer accounts while in class. And they flat-out lied to me about it. By second period, I'd found out that one of those students was using somebody else's account because his was suspended.
I lost half my lunchtime soup in the microwave when it unexpectedly boiled over.
We did our best to cram three large classes in seventh and eighth periods, but one of the teachers didn't like where we put his class. . . and of course he's bringing the class in again tomorrow, so it took me forever to set up tomorrow's schedule so his class was in a different computer area.
We had to close the library early because our secretary was out.
Drove home in the pouring rain.
Thursday's forecasted snow has been looking worse by the hour.
But things started to look up.
I made cranberry-orange muffins and even though I didn't quite have enough sugar on hand, they turned out pretty tasty.
Choir practice went well.
I won a book! Yay! Thanks, CCR!
From 2003: The Hours
Summary: Three women--Virginia Woolf in 1923, Laura Brown in 1951, and Clarissa Vaughn in 2001, go through what seem like parallel episodes in their lives, all bound by Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway (the tale of a despairing woman trying to host the perfect dinner party). Woolf kills herself in 1941 (at the opening of the movie) but the other two women make different choices and we the audience are witnesses to what are pretty much just as awful results.
This film was based on a 1998 book of the same name by Michael Cunningham (reviewed here, and oddly enough also mentioned here when issued in paperback alongside the book underlying the film we discussed two posts ago). I knew the book existed--as the result of working with the American Lit classes on finding criticism for the novels the students had chosen--it was the selection of one student whom I had helped.
Once I had finished watching the film, I went to the Literary Reference Center database that the student and I had perused, looking for reviews and criticism on the book. Why?
I came away from the movie thinking this couldn't possibly have been how the story (stories) unfolded in the book. The perspectives, the characters.
The book, according to a few reviews I read in LRC (Brooke Allen in New Criterion, Jeff Jensen in Magill Book Reviews), comes off more like an homage to Woolf and a literary meditation on how three seemingly disparate women in different times deal with the disappointment of reality in comparison with their hopes and idealized lives.
By contrast, the movie, to me, felt something like "Depressed Women and the Men That Make Them Resentful." Things I suspect were given more attention in the book were either unable to make the transition to film or reengineered for a different end.
Perhaps one reason the screenplay came out so differently was the effect of 9/11. I know nowadays we have moments where we wonder if we'll be around much longer, but how much more dreadfully, urgently so was that feeling in 2002 when this film was made? Even to the point of "Why bother?"
I had to delay my post about the movie because I kept thinking about it, the same way I did after having seen Vanilla Sky*--for weeks I kept thinking about why that movie was so awful. Why the characters made me feel little sympathy for them. (O.K., and also because my sister made a surprise visit and that always takes priority.)
Seriously, though, there is something wrong with the story and the movie. I have seen Laura Brown, the 1950s housewife, called "Sally" in at least one review of the book and "Julie" in the Cinematherapy discussion of the movie. I don't know if that was carelessness, or because her issues don't seem addressed thoroughly enough--was ambivalence about being pregnant a second time, and possible frustration over same-sex attraction to a friend, justification to abandon her young family (including son Richard who turns out to be Clarissa's dying friend/ex-lover, played by Ed Harris who got a much-deserved nomination for Best Supporting Actor)?--or the eerie, spare portrayal of her story in the film by Julianne Moore, nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
I probably could go on for a while, trying to analyze this multi-Oscar-nominated movie the way I tried with Vanilla Sky. I'm not even sure why Kidman had to wear the fake nose (it made her look cross-eyed, and I didn't get the impression Woolf was), or why Kidman won Best Actress. I can't even figure out where Peske and West found reassurance that "while today may be the first day, or the last day[,] of our lives, so long as we are able to invest in the moment, and even throw a. . . party, we can live and die happy" (p. 34). This movie was reassuring? Where? Who died happy? Woolf, at the bottom of the river? Richard, splattered on the pavement? Clarissa, freed from caring for Richard? Laura Brown, who returns from her new life in Canada to bury her son?
Candidly speaking, I found a lot of my reactions to the movie similar to those in the Bishops' Conference review (in moments of both praise and discomfort). Ultimately, though, I come away with that "Why bother?" feeling.
Did you see The Hours and/or read the book? What did you think?
Up next: Seabiscuit (Note: This will be the last film from this decade. . . get ready for the '90s.)DO RENT/ORDER Bright Star. It was just released on video this past week and was wonderful to watch (despite the somewhat sad ending). It probably was very beautiful on the big screen but had a very limited run in few venues.
*Lousy date, bizarre movie, great soundtrack.
This week's movie will be The Hours. I'm about a half-hour or so into it, and I just know this is gonna be a tough one to watch.
The music of Philip Glass always makes me feel a sort of anxious dread. Anybody else know what I mean?
In any event, this week's Oscars Project post will be up late Friday. Get ready to talk about Nicole's prosthetic nose and other fun (in the Gatsby sense) things.
Bookshelves of Doom (a fantastic blog for readers, particularly but not exclusively readers of YA) posted an EW interview with twentysomething quasi-celebrity Lauren Conrad and. . . bless her little heart, she seems like a sweet young woman but I think she hasn't matured enough to think before she speaks. I was stopped in my tracks by her description of The Great Gatsby as "fun." (Uhhhh, wasn't the title character kinda melancholy--not to mention at least one character in the story DIED?)
Nevertheless, her comment is very timely, as I've spotted quite a few students in the library with a copy of Gatsby in their hands, so I had to share the interview with our American Lit teachers. They all found it quite a hoot, and in fact the writing center teacher came to me asking for a forward because one of the AmLit teachers had mentioned it to her. So I sent it over, and she zeroed in on another LC gem, accompanied by the perfect zinger:
"I can stay in my PJ's and write."
I think that is just how Dostoyevsky felt.
Really, it was just AWESOME. And it came from the woman who helps our students improve their class papers and college application essays. Cool, huh?
The one that makes a typical not-married, not-dating person feel as if he or she must have plans for that day, if only to avoid questions and/or pity comments. Some get together with other not-married, not dating people; some hide out. For some people, Amy Spencer's rule #1 for how to spend the day is not practical. I for one have no local single friends. My single sister lives in another state. Even my one teacher friend from my newbie orientation stuff fell hard and fast for a guy in December. Besides, this year the holiday falls on a Sunday--no staying out late or downing bunches of cocktails when I have to be up at 5 for school the next day.
Other than that minor disagreement, I really liked Ms. Spencer's other suggestions. I don't hate this holiday. It's just not very relevant to my life right now.
I did, however, send Valentines to my sister, my twice-widowed grandfather, and my great-aunt who is a nun. Mission accomplished on Operation Valentinus, Seraphic.
And of course I do have plans:
- Get up and go to Mass (also my standing cantoring gig)
- Have brunch with my parents
- Decline their offer to come for dinner (because I know they will ask)
- Bake dessert so it will be ready for after dinner.
- Make dinner for myself. I was inspired by this. We'll see how everything turns out.
- Watch the Olympics and/or some DVDs.
- Just relax.
And be ready for Monday the 15th, when I will be heading back to a school full of students who have had practically an entire week off from school.
Maybe I should throw in some extra prayer time.
So here I am at the end of Day 2 of what has turned into THREE days off from school. That's right, I'll be suffering from cabin fever Friday as well. (Not really--the roads are pretty clear now and my mom offered to pick me up so nobody steals my well-cleared space. In spite of some pointed memos posted around the building by management.)
But that's not what you came to hear about. Let's get down to cinematic business.
From 2001: Murder on a Sunday Morning
Today I watched (with a intermission of shoveling) Murder on a Sunday Morning, the winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary (Feature) that follows the workings of the law from the arrival of the police at the scene of a murder all the way to the aftermath of the trial of the murder suspect. The movie opens in early May 2000, on a Sunday, at a murder scene at a hotel. (Pretty graphic shot of the victim's body on the ground.) An older couple visiting Jacksonville, Florida was accosted by a robber as they were returning to their hotel room after breakfast. The wife gave the robber her purse, but the robber shot her before fleeing.
The only witness is the shellshocked husband, and he has identified as the murderer a local fifteen year old boy, Brenton, who was picked up by the police as he was walking down the street to go fill out an application for a job at the local video store.
Did this kid do it?
The area is heavily dependent on tourism. The victim was white. Brenton is black.
If he didn't do it, does he have a chance of being acquitted?
"Enter defense attorney Patrick McGuinness, a stocky Irishman who loves a good fight and takes it personally when" the police seem to have fallen down on the job (p. 20). As the trial goes forward, we get to know how McGuinness and his colleague Ann Finnell work, how they investigate what happened during the murder and during Brenton's identification and questioning, and how they plan to create reasonable doubt. . . starting with a confession signed but not written by their client, who has welts on his face and abdomen the first time someone from their team meets him post-confession.
This compelling story rolls along in a manner akin to something you'd see on Law & Order or 48 Hours, but it's true. Even though it actually is less dramatic than those highly polished TV shows, its rawness and transparency makes it all the more interesting. There's racism (including a few appearances of the n-word), nepotism (the detective known for extracting confessions happens to be the son of the Sheriff), and possible corner-cutting of investigative process/lying on the witness stand. But there's also a supportive family, an encouraging pastor and congregation, not to mention a very thoughtful defense team--something often not expected from the public defender's office (as Finnell says during an interview included in the extra material).
The point of the documentary is not to show how Brenton is acquitted--as Finnell states, this is an "ordinary case" for the public defenders, although to be fair there's quite a development at the end--but to give a perspective on the legal system in the United States and raise a few questions about all the people involved in the investigation and trial of crimes, be they witnesses, detectives, prosecutors, defenders, suspects, jurors, bystanders.
This the movie I've liked the best so far, and I highly recommend it. You might have seen or heard about it if (unlike me) you had HBO nearly ten years ago--they were involved in its production. I borrowed the copy I watched from my library, so check your local library's catalog.
And now. . . I have written names on small pieces of paper and placed them in a never-used water bottle I received as swag from my old work (hey, it's a nalgene!). A few shakes of the bottle to mix things up, and now I'm going to take the lid off and choose a paper.
The winner is Dave E.!!! Congrats and e-mail me about where to send your prize. Thanks to all the other commenters for playing.
Next up: Seabiscuit
No school today, no school tomorrow, question mark for Friday as the teacher who calls me for the snow chain relayed the perception that the area where my school is got hit hard. Any more snow-related closures and I think they start extending the school year and/or cutting into spring break. But let's not think about that right now.
So what did I do today?
--Slept in. 9 a.m. and it felt awesome.
--Watched some local news coverage of the storm & some episodes of Season 2 of Chuck.
--Enjoyed some pecan pie I made last night. (One small variation: I had only one egg in the fridge and I subbed Kahlua for the other two. So now I'm out of eggs and Kahlua. Don't worry, I'll survive.)
--Got bundled up to do a little snow clearing around the car around 1 p.m.
Oddly enough, none of my neighbors were outside cleaning off their cars. I did meet a neighbor from another building who was walking a cute doggie decked out in a red sweater. She decided to clean off her car, too, so later when I took out the trash and walked around with my camera, I got to talk to her again and dish about the community.
Said busy street needed the snowplow to come around again, too.
Four lanes of mess.
Shortly, I will be on that same sofa, watching the next movie so I can post tomorrow. Don't forget to comment tonight if you want to get in on the giveaway.
This picture isn't from today, but you can bet at some point today The Cat was doing the same thing. Currently she is in her default position by the radiator.
The forecasters are predicting snow for the beginning of next week already. This is some crazy winter.
Even better news: All my "media equipment" is hooked up and working now! Yay!
Special thanks to Cullen for his expert analysis and recommendations. You rock, dude.
So now I'm all set for being snowed in again tomorrow night.*
*But isn't meteorologist Adam Joseph cute??
The first one (the one I'm trying to finish) is Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen. I started it while I was proctoring midterms--nothing I can really do while students are taking a geometry exam--and it is a really rich biography. I mean, some of it I know already from other biographies I've read, but I find a lot of what I know filled out a great deal more, not to mention there were still many new details to learn. This particular title is more or less the written (expanded) form of the recent PBS American Masters episode. I have about 80 pages to go. Good stuff.
The other borrowed title is Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd. I'm a few chapters in because it's on the front seat of my car. I was early for pilates class last week, and it was too cold to wait outside, so I dove in. It recently made YALSA's top ten list, and interestingly enough, both this recognition and its publication occurred after Dowd's untimely death. It's pretty interesting, and for a book set "across the pond" it is actually quite accessible. You know how sometimes the locations and local expressions are too hard to understand sometimes? It's not too bad in here, and Holly (a.k.a. "Solace") is pretty sympathetic. Solace so far seems everything I had expected Before I Die to be but wasn't. I'm eager to see how the rest of the story goes.
Oddly enough, I find the cover of Solace far more appropriate and appealing than that of LMA. It's such a tall book, and they made it brown and faded, the back of some unknown woman with her hair tied in a red ribbon at the top, and then a silhouette of a woman writing at a desk crammed at the bottom. BORING. Alcott was not unattractive, for Pete's sake. It just gives off that tired old "oppressed women of the 1800s" feel to me.
I know, I sound a bit harsh, but I think that such an interesting author--an interesting woman, for that matter--and a really good book deserved better packaging. You know me, I get passionate over stuff that rarely anyone else gets worked up over.
Now I have to go send an outraged note to Glamour magazine for doing an about-face in March's issue, which features in of all places its "love rules for women" article a quote from Chris Rock's book about not cheating just because "you will get caught". . . after February's issue had a feature article about a certain golf pro and how awful it was on his wife and how women need to stop the cycle by not sleeping with married men.
Seriously, did an editor goof? How about a little consistency?
This morning, the headache was back, and I still can't breathe that well, so I stayed home. If I indeed have what my co-librarian had (has), the rumor is that I'll have this for two weeks. Nooooo!!! I am especially bummed out because the snowstorm's arrival will prevent me from getting over the bridge to the chiropractor, and I think that she probably could help knock this stupid cold out.
Sometimes you just have to work with what you've got. I've got cold medicine, orange juice, and lotion tissues. That's going to have to do.
Just wish I could convince The Cat to empty the dishwasher and take out the trash for me.
I know, this post is no fun. If my head feels better tomorrow, I'll post about what I've been reading lately. In the meantime, do make sure you read last night's post and join the discussion.
From 2002: Adaptation
In a nutshell, the central figure, Charlie (Nicolas Cage), tries to work his screenwriting magic on a book (The Orchid Thief) and struggles even harder to make his way in real life. He's unsure of himself, insecure about his looks, awkward with people. At the encouragement of his (rather mirror) twin, Donnie (also played by Cage), he takes a lot of risks with both the screenplay process and his life. . . and both are radically changed as a result.
I'll be honest: Except for the totally committed performances by the cast, which in addition to Cage has Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper--who won Best Supporting Actor--this movie was not enjoyable for me to watch. I didn't really get what was so great about it.
In fact, I almost resent that I'm expected to accept that because profound things come out of characters' mouths from time to time, they redeem the overwhelming number of banal/vulgar/just plain wrong moments surrounding those supposedly profound things.
But don't get me wrong--there was something endearing about Charlie's quirks. His relationship with his brother is touching (bias alert: I had twin dorm-mates in college) and at times hilarious. For example, Charlie is exasperated with Donnie's light-hearted attempt to write a screenplay and his devotion to a screenwriting seminar guru. . . and then Donnie's "guns and car chases" approach (p. 28) sells and Charlie has to take a second look at what his brother is doing. And of course, I can relate to the moments of writer's block, where Charlie's bargaining with himself to write something good in order to earn that "coffee and a muffin."
Overall, though, just not my type of movie. I mean, Susan Orlean (Streep), the author of the Orchid book, just seemed a bit off her rocker, derailed by an extreme solution to her need for more intimacy and purpose in her life (which apparently she wasn't getting from being an acclaimed author and a faithful wife). It ends in disaster, a horrible one at that. There's a lot of graphic stuff in the movie, which I imagine is par for the course with the movie's writers and director.
Interestingly enough, this was the year that Catherine Zeta-Jones, in Chicago, beat Streep for Best Supporting Actress.
Next up: Murder on a Sunday Morning (note: French filmmaker).
GIVEAWAY DETAILS: I'm raffling off an entertainment-themed gift card. Haven't decided which one yet. Comment in this combox about this week's post or the Oscar Project in general to earn a chance to win. One entry per commenter (meaning comment as much as you want but I'll count you once), but feel free to keep the discussion going. Raffle will end Wednesday at midnight, and the winner will be announced in the next Oscars Project film post.
Today was my last "new teacher orientation" seminar--kinda bittersweet, because we newbies won't be getting together like that anymore, although we hope to see each other at the next in-service and the big dinner we have the night of parent-teacher conferences (dinner's hosted at the high school). It was also kind of a drag because by the end of the day yesterday I realized a cold was coming on and spent today sniffling and chilly. It's probably the cold my co-librarian had. . . which was why she had to stay home and I spent a crazy day managing the library by myself. No, I'm not exaggerating: I mean crazy.
- Several last minute requests from teachers who wanted to bring their classes in to the library to use computers. I squeezed them in.
- Two social studies classes starting Webquest/research that day (meaning I had to speak to them and help them out).
- One of the social studies teachers was being observed by a curriculum supervisor! In my crazy library!
- The secretary went into her tunnel vision mode and decided it was more important to work on eliminating weeded materials from the state interlibrary loan database than to help with the students. (Seriously, even when I spell it out, she does not accept direction from me.)
- Finishing up prep on group wikis I set up for an AP social studies course (3 classes with 6 groups--18 wikis + 1 main for the teacher) and trying not to think about what would happen if co-librarian was still too sick to come in Tuesday (while I was at seminar) to get the students started on the project.
- I even got a rash, non-punctuated e-mail from a disgruntled junior that insulted my education and skills!
That probably did not help my immunity. I do not understand how my nose can be stuffed up and runny at the same time, but that's what's going on. I feel gross.
I did start watching "Adaptation" (next in the Oscars Project) and will let you know my thoughts on Thursday. And I'm feeling like spicing things up with a giveaway. More details later.
I have to go figure out how I'm going to sleep without suffocating first.