Actually a Very Good Question

Self has been browsing movie reviews, and binge-watching Ripper Street, and tweeting with fans about it, and beginning yet another fan fiction, which she needs like a hole in the head, but this one’s irresistible, this one’s got a Really Really Dark Peeta, a Peeta who just might be a murderer! Like Jack the Ripper! . . . Sorry! Back to the reason for this post.

From Critic After Dark’s review of The Shallows (which self saw aaaaages ago, at the start of the summer — feels like a lifetime!) starring Blake Lively, whose legs are so on point self can’t even:

Then of course death crashes the party in the form of a humpback whale carcass. Clever way to account for the Great White cruising nearby (otherwise it’s a bit of a puzzler why the shark — which habituates the waters of California, Northeast United States, South Africa and Australia — is hanging around a Mexican beach) but also raises a whole other question: why forego this tasty, properly wet-aged all-you-can-eat buffet of rich blubber and tender meat for a bony surfer who would hardly make up a satisfying snack?

In answer to which self wishes she could insert a hundred “shrug” emojis!

And self  has a question of her own for reviewer Noel Vera: How does he know the carcass is that of a humpback whale? Because it literally is half gone. So there is no possible way to determine whether it really does have a humped back. Har, har, har! Sorry, self just couldn’t resist making a lame joke.

Self will close with a list of the summer 2016 movies she most enjoyed:

  • The Shallows
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Our Kind of Traitor
  • Café Society
  • Love & Friendship
  • Ghostbusters
  • Bad Moms

Oh, summer. Self can’t believe it’s almost over.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Café Society: Angst, But No Meltdown

Live every day like it’s your last, and one day you’ll be right.

— a character in Woody Allen’s Café Society

Why do Woody Allen’s recent movies end like that?

Why do they just seem to stop — as if the director realized he was running out of time and it would take at least an hour to untangle the mess he’s thrown his characters into but uh-oh, he doesn’t have the time or the budget so, rather than compromise with a manufactured ending, he just stops.

Sometimes, he can get away with it, but not here. No, no, no. Self refuses to accept that this ending “works.”

About the performances: Jesse Eisenberg, it’s almost a physical transformation. Is the actor really that skinny, that stooped, that — plain?

Kristen Stewart — not nearly as convincing as the California object of men’s desires. J-Law could have done this part, in her sleep. And she would have nailed it, too.

Blake Lively — her part was sooo under-written but she did her best with the little she was given.

Steve Carell — okay, you were good. So good that self hated you. Almost all the way through.

And Corey Stoll — Self knows. Corey who? But, what a performance. Scary and convincing. Watch for it.

Cinematography — aced. The settings were so beautifully framed, in almost every shot.

More later.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Dryness

There is something self is seriously loving about Anjelica Huston, and it’s her sense of humor. It is so tongue-in-cheek. Not that she mugs her way through this book. But there’s a lot of slyness going on there.

She only wishes Huston’s editor had made her restrain all the angst regarding Jack Nicholson, especially in the book’s first 50 or so pages. It does this great actress such a disservice, made self dread reading the rest of the book.

But, anyhoo, here’s Huston on her first movie with Woody Allen (who clearly was not attracted to her at all — self thinks that was why he cast her in Crimes and Misdemeanors. P.S. Another actress who Woody was not in love with was Naomi Watts. And he didn’t give her a good role, either).

There’s a lot of subtext going on here. Huston’s character is named Dolores:

. . .  he had chosen a seriously ugly argyle sweater for Dolores, and although I felt it was a deeply unflattering shape and pattern, I kept my mouth shut. I had heard that Woody had fired a famous actress when she refused to wear a jacket of his choice, so I was determined to love my wardrobe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Alexandra Wolfe, Weekend WSJ: Sarsgaard, “Blue Jasmine”

Mr. Fabulous:  Peter Sarsgaard

Mr. Fabulous: Peter Sarsgaard

One of the biggest things about the current season of “The Killing” (self’s current TV fascination) is Peter Sarsgaard.

Self caught the episode where he sneaks a razor blade out of a bar of soap and into his mouth during a prison shower (He plays a Death Row inmate) and was smitten for the rest of the season.  This weekend’s WSJ has an Alexandra Wolfe interview with the actor.  Most of the best parts aren’t about “The Killing,” though: they’re about Sarsgaard in Woody Allen’s new movie, “Blue Jasmine,” which frankly self wasn’t planning to watch until she read this:

Friday marked the opening of the new Woody Allen movie, “Blue Jasmine,” in which he plays a role new to his repertoire — a pretentious, distracted diplomat who is the love interest of the fallen socialite Jasmine (Cate Blanchett).  He spends most of the film blissfully unaware that she is having a nervous breakdown.

This passage was frankly hilarious:

While filming “Blue Jasmine,” there was no rehearsal and no talking on the set.  Everyone just showed up to work, leading to the sort of existential angst often evoked in Woody Allen movies.  “We’re so used to being led around by directors, producers and everyone else that, if you’re suddenly empowered by someone like this, it can be alarming,” says Mr. Sarsgaard.  The cast would ask, “But who am I?  Where do I come from?”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Nice Things About Today (Third Saturday of October 2011)

The weather was again gorgeous.

The Cl. New Dawn began blooming again, a few days ago.

Self made chicken apritada, and the potatoes were fully cooked this time.  Gosh, she’s forgotten how much she enjoys cooking, even for one!

Her variegated bougainvillea started to throw out bright, magenta blooms —  first time this year!

She found a good movie she wants to see:  “Take Shelter.”  It’s showing at the Menlo Guild.  The Guild featured “Midnight in Paris” all summer, from May until just a few weeks ago, when “Midnight in Paris” moved to the Aquarius, in downtown Palo Alto.

Self took Bella to have her nails filed.  And the groomer threw in a proper ear cleaning.  And an oatmeal bath.  Of course, these additional services were not free, but —  you have no idea how gross it is to clean a beagle’s ears, dear blog readers!  Self thinks it well worth the cost to have the groomer do it!

She purchased a ticket for son, so he can come home for Thanksgiving.  The ticket was about $120 more than it would have cost on any other weekend.  But it was either that or chance him driving his ’92 Civic, which still has a hole in the radiator.  As they used to say in those Mastercard commercials :  Peace of Mind = Priceless.

Self also found time to read Rotten Tomatoes reviews of “50/50.”  She also read Readers’ Comments.  There is just no satisfying some people.  There was a reader who described Gordon-Levitt as “sleepwalking” through all his roles.  Wasn’t his performance supposed to project numbness?  The numbness of shock?  And yet, you got the sense that there was life underneath, a spark.  And it was so nice seeing the flirtation between Anna Kendrick’s character and Gordon-Levitt’s.  It’s not over-played.  Anyhoo, self really did enjoy the movie.

She has begun a new book:  Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City.  She loves the title, it is just so sumptuously ironic.  This is a book about Americans in Iraq —  and how can there be any understanding between such disparate cultures as Iraq and the United States when, as Chandrasekaran writes: “most of the” American “staff had never worked outside the United States.  More than half, according to one estimate, had gotten their first passport in order to travel to Iraq.”

Hubby is going bird-watching in Manila.  Friends are picking him up and taking him to La Mesa Dam.  Self did wonder why hubby was so dressed.  If this were indeed a nature trek of some kind, shouldn’t one wear ratty clothes, not a polo shirt and khakis???  Whatever.  Hubby seemed thrilled, absolutely thrilled, to be going on this expedition.

There has only been one untoward happening during his stay (so far):  yesterday, a cousin called and asked hubby where he was.  Weren’t they supposed to be having dinner together?  And hubby had gone to his sister’s, and was at that moment already partaking of a delicious sinigang she had made especially for him.  Just a minor mis-communication.  She hopes hubby’s cousin did not take it personally.

Cl. New Dawn, a Slightly Closer View (The flowers were at their peak two days ago -- darn, if only self had taken the picture then!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Alas, Poor Naomi!

Naomi Watts doesn’t seem to have any luck at all.

First, no one seemed to recognize how good she was in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and she was not nominated for an Oscar.  Hey, being a “damsel in distress” involves a lot more than just screaming!  (Comparing two performances of the same role —  Jessica Lange’s and Naomi Watts’ —  self never got into Jessica’s because it seemed so mannered; Naomi’s rendition was much, much more natural.)

Last year, self watched her give two great performances:  As an independent woman in Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child (playing the daughter of Annette Bening, who, unlike Naomi, was recognized); and playing the frustrated daughter of a flaky Mom in Woody’s You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger. While her BFF, Nicole Kidman, has only to hiccup and she gets recognized with an Oscar nomination (Kidman was nominated last year for her role in Rabbit Hole which, granted, was a very good movie, but so was Mother and Child.  So was You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger), Naomi Watts has only been nominated once (for 21 Grams, and that was a loooong time ago).

Now that Woody’s new movie, Midnight in Paris, is such a hit, critics invariably preface their reviews with the statement:

Compared to last year’s (disastrous/wan) You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger which was one of the worst movies of 2010 …

Hold on, people!  You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger was definitely NOT the worst movie of 2010.  Self guarantees:  critics who slam YWMATDS have not seen Skyline.  Or that rom-com with Jen that was a) not romantic; and b) not even funny.  Something called The Switch, which not even Jason Bateman could save.

And, too, it is NOT the worst Woody Allen movie, for that goes to —  oh, never mind.

Anyhoo, self would just like to say that she enjoyed You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger.  And she loves Naomi.  This actress has never once given a performance in which she can be accused of “phoning it in.” Her performance in Mother and Child was just shattering.  And as for You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger, self could have clobbered Woody for paying much more attention to the Freida Pinto part than to Naomi’s.

And now that self has gotten THAT off her chest, she would just like to say that “Super 8” is a really good movie (Very Spielberg-ian.  Also, self is just dying to reference a previous movie with Samuel L. Jackson, that has definite echoes in “Super 8,” but that would mean issuing a Spoiler Alert.  And self doesn’t want to do that.  At least not yet.  At least not right now).

Hubby chose to watch “Super 8” over self’s choice, “13 Assassins,” and self is glad she gave in and went along.  For one thing, it’s the first J. J. Abrams movie she’s seen since Star Trek.  And, secondly, Elle Fanning is in it.  And, thirdly, that cute guy who plays the coach in “Friday Night Lights” is in it.  And lastly the star of the movie, a young boy, is first-rate.  Self thinks that boy has a great career ahead of him.

So, “Super 8” brings to three the number of good movies self has watched in a row.  Let’s hope this streak lasts, for as long as possible.

Now, back to the real reason self began this post:

Big Congratulations to Old Dominion University’s Princess Perry, who was a finalist in the Bellingham Review 2010 Literary Contest.  Self did not place, alas, but at least she knows someone who did!

This would also be a good time to announce that a former UCLA Extension writing student, Chris Bloom, received an Honorable Mention in the most recently concluded Glimmer Train contest —  and wow, that is quite an achievement!  Congratulations, Chris!  Her story went up against a multitude of others, and so what if it didn’t win, just getting “Honorable Mention” is in itself an achievement.

And congratulations must also go to Laura Hoopes, yet another of self’s UCLA Extension writing students, who has her own blog, called West Coast Writers, and a story in the recently published anthology Mixed Blessings and Other Stories (Absolutely love that title!).  This was a story that Laura had put up for workshop, a story that self liked exceedingly.  Self is going to do a cut and paste of the comment Laura left on this blog, a few weeks ago.

And, finally, self cannot close without mentioning that a few years ago, Dave Johnson, yet another UCLA Extension writing student, e-mailed to let self know that a story she had liked so much when she first read it, all those years ago, had won a contest, judged by Yann Martel (author of one of self’s favorite novels, Life of Pi).  Dave sent out that story for fully three years before winning the contest.  He was almost on the point of giving up and had even thought:  “That teacher is just full of it!”  Or something to that effect.

You see, self really has a nose for these things.  When she says something is good, 9 times out of 10, she is right.  And the student succeeds in getting it placed.

Perhaps self should become a literary agent?  Bet she’d be good at it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Still Musing About “Midnight In Paris”

Yesterday afternoon, self was determined to get to Hoover Archives  —  garden, sweltering heat, and upcoming Stanford commencement (meaning:  no parking anywhere within one mile) be damned.

But she only got as far as The Café in the Arrillaga Alumni Center, because once she got to thinking about Rick’s Ice Cream . . .

My bad, OK?  My bad!  Self sat on a stool and ate a scoop of Swiss Mocha (which tasted just like chocolate:  where’s the mocha?) and watched as crowds of proud parents strolled through the heat …

Then she went home.

Did self ever impart to dear blog readers how long the lines to “Midnight in Paris” have been?  Self passes the Menlo Guild every day, on her way to Stanford.  Yesterday, Thursday, there were people lining up already at 3 p.m., and the next screening wasn’t until 4 p.m.  In fact, a local restaurant has been making this pitch:  If you see “Midnight in Paris” at the Guild, you are entitled to a free glass of wine at Bistro Vida afterwards.  You just have to walk to Santa Cruz Avenue, where the restaurant is located, and that’s not very far away at all.

Self is determined to see “Midnight in Paris” again, just not right away.  Anyway, she’s sure the movie will be around for at least a couple more weeks.  Congratulations, Woody!

Today, it suddenly occurred to self that “Midnight in Paris” is, almost note for note, a Cinderella story.


With Owen Wilson playing the Cinderella role (much as Edward Norton did in “The Painted Veil,” which is a very different kind of movie —  Self!  There you go again!  Can you not refrain from making these utterly meaningless and rambling digressions?), and the Evil Stepmother and Stepsisters played by troglodytes!  Oh, self didn’t really mean that the Rachel McAdams character and her parents are troglodytes.  Only:  YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING, THROWING OWEN WILSON OVER FOR MICHAEL SHEEN!  SHEEN’S FULL BEARD IS ABSOLUTELY NO MATCH FOR THE BUTTERSCOTCH STALLION’S SHAGGY MANE!

The only thing that self found a wee bit disconcerting about Owen Wilson’s performance is that he sometimes purses his lips.  If it had just been a few seconds, self would let it go.  It occurs in the scene when Wilson is seated on a bench with Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (otherwise known as the First Lady of France) playing The World’s Most Accommodating Tour Guide.  Anyhoo, Owen purses his lips, not in her direction, but in a far-off direction, where presumably Marion Cotillard awaits.  Self suddenly begins to wonder, Why, Owen, why?  Are you perhaps morphing into one of those helpful Filipinos who, when asked for directions, simply put their lips together and pout?  Filipinos can pout in four directions, didn’t you know?  If there was ever a “pursing of the lips” contest, a Filipino would win, no question.  The pursing means you don’t ever have to do anything as tiring as speaking to an absolute stranger.  Tourists have no status unless you’re European, male, and have cash crawling out of your wallet.  Self knows this because she herself has been a tourist in the Philippines, many times.  But that was before she discovered she could hide out in Bacolod.  Where she is not a tourist —  simply an eccentric writer.

Okey dokey, where were we?

Oh yes, the Cinderella parallel.  You see, a stagecoach comes along at midnight —  No, self no!  That is not a stagecoach that picks up forlorn Owen Wilson as he reclines on some steps in the most deserted alley in all of Paris.  That is a certified boxy French car!  With elegant people inside!  Who drink flutes of champagne!  Who take our hero with them to the most fabulous par-tay!

But Wilson can only access this world at midnight.  For in the daytime, it’s back to cinders-and-ash.  Oops, no, what self really means is:  it’s back to shopping on the Faubourg du Saint Honoré, with that pair of troglodytes (McAdams and Sheen), and they are in hell —  Oops no, what self means is:  They are in a museum.  Standing in front of a Picasso.  Which really is like hell when you have someone like the Michael Sheen character playing tour guide.

If self gets any more thoughts about this movie later today, she will impart them.

In the meanwhile, stay tuned.

The Anti-“Midnight in Paris” Paris, Courtesy of Philip Aronson in FENCE Magazine (Not for the Faint of Heart)

There’s so much Paris-love in Woody Allen’s new flick, it’s almost to the point of satiety (Self still loves the movie, though).

So, here’s the perfect antidote:  a writer named Philip Aronson has a story in Fence, Winter 2011, and every line features some scene of gruesome violation, one unspeakable humiliation after another, and all set in Paris  — just the ticket for those who are in need of the antivirus (to the Woody Allen Paris Love Fest).

Self doesn’t know if this marks her as sick or what, but she was hugely entertained (maybe because she’s reading Mark Twain and recognizes that exaggeration and hyperbole are perfect vehicles for satire):

NOTE TO DEAR BLOG READERS:  This is an extremely dark, scatological piece.  If you are an ardent dog lover, you may want to skip Item # 2 of the list below.  And if you are extremely sensitive, also skip Item # 3.  The *** means self is skipping parts of the story.  After the first ***, the piece becomes less dark.  She finished reading with regret.

I got socked in the jaw by a stranger, Place de la République, at twilight.

On the corner of Rue des Martyrs and Boulevard de Rochechouart, I saw a pit bull shake a shrieking Lhasa apso to death.

I walked from Odéon to Saint-Michel to buy cigarettes with my friend William, who was wearing a brown fedora , corduroy pants and shiny brown shoes, and all the people whose paths we crossed pretended not to see the plastic turds William had affixed to the shoulders of his tan raincoat.

*          *          *

I danced in the streets all night long after France won the (soccer) World Cup.  I saw kids running down Rue Saint-Antoine with the French and Algerian flags intertwined, and was among those who believed that this historic victory by a French team which was an authentic salad of racial genes (French, black African, West Indian, Kanak, Algerian), might bring ethnic harmony to France.

*          *          *

I had dinner in Paris with Shelby Foote.  We talked about Mahler and Mozart, and Foote said that no matter how good the latest translation of Proust was said to be, he was sticking with the Moncrieff.

*          *          *

I published poems and translations in a French literary magazine which gave raucous, massively attended launch parties in a Tunisian café in the fifth arrondissement, during which I and others got up on chairs and tables and read pieces from the latest issue.

*          *          *

I threw away the hospital gown from Bordeaux.  That was the end of the nineties.

Many thanks, Monsieur Aronson, for amazing self to such a degree, on a Thursday evening, the second week in June 2011.

(Two of Philip Aronson’s favorite recent books are Terry Castle’s The Professor and Other Writings, and Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule)

Stay tuned.

Memorable Woody Allen Actresses

The following list was inspired by Moviefone’s “15 Most Memorable Actresses From Woody Allen Movies”.

(Self, can you not stop blogging, for even just a moment?  What’s come over you?  Not to worry, dear blog readers.  Self will not be able to post at all tomorrow, for she’s going to spend the entire morning in the Hoover Archives, reading the diary of James Halsema.  And then she’s driving aunt to the doctor, and then she’s having ol’ Bella groomed, and then she’s watering, and then she’s cooking, and that’s it.  KLONK!!)

Owen Wilson Channels Woody Allen — Well

Self’s birthday is July 14 which self knows is Bastille Day in Paris, and from reading The Scarlet Pimpernel (which was her favorite novel for about three years —  she read it for the first time when she was 12, in Bacolod for the summer, nothing to do except read and hang out at Lopues and have merienda at Bob‘s) self learned that the Bastille was a fearsome prison, and that the day the prisoners were released from the Bastille marked the start of the French Revolution.  Which ended in the beheading of the King and Queen of France.

But now, it is an excuse for Frenchmen and anyone in Paris to go around planting kisses on each other.  Last year, Bonnie M who lives in Paris was visiting the Bay Area.  The day she picked to visit Redwood City was (what a coincidence!) July 14.  We ended up having lunch at one of self’s favorite restaurants, New Kapadokia, and Bonnie treated self to the most scrumptious lunch.  (Thanks loads, Bonnie!  Self is thinking of you today!)

This afternoon, self was successful in persuading hubby to forgo watching the fourth installment of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, in favor of watching the unlikely (but totally deserved) rejuvenation of Owen Wilson’s acting career.

Time was (in “Shanghai Noon”) when self thought Owen Wilson was the coolest, funniest guy on the planet.  All he had to say was:  “Hey, hey, hey, we’re men, not piñatas,” and he had self practically rolling on the floor with laughter (That picture is also what self thinks of as Jackie Chan’s last decent movie)

Self still liked him in “Wedding Crashers.”  Actually, she also liked him in his one action role, the one about the American fighter pilot who ends up crash-landing behind enemy lines in Serbia, then has to go scampering hither and thither to avoid capture.

Actually, she also liked him in “The Royal Tenenbaums.”

Wait, he was also good in “The Darjeeling Limited.”  The whole time self was watching “The Darjeeling Limited,” though, she kept remembering his suicide attempt.  And so the movie (though good) ended up being not funny.  At least, not to self.  And not at that point in time.

Today, self persuaded hubby to see “Midnight in Paris.”  The movie is pretty much one long joke, but it’s exquisite.  And you know what?  Owen Wilson turns out to be the perfect guy to channel Woody Allen’s nebbish-y dialogue.  It helps that he is charming and younger than recent Woody Allen prototypes have been:  really, watching him slouch around Paris is not an exercise in frustration, it is cathartic:  After all, who doesn’t wish they could go slouching around Paris like Owen Wilson?  By the way, Allen packs the city with the most gorgeous women:  Marion Cotillard, Carla Bruni (The First Lady of France is so tall!  And she has the most elegant-looking feet!).  Rachel McAdams (though not playing a Parisian) is absolutely HOT in tight jeans!  The young French girl at the very end looks a little like Kate Moss.

And you know what else?  LOKI IS IN THIS MOVIE!  Yes, Tom Hiddleston, the guy with the soulful eyes who played Loki in “Thor,” and who stole all his scenes from Chris Hemsworth, is in this movie, appearing with gorgeous marcelled hair, playing F. Scott Fitzgerald!  And Adrien Brody is in this movie as well, doing a hilarious impression of the painter Salvador Dali (Pretty much all he talks about are rhinoceros — rhinoceri?!)  And Kathy Bates is in it, too, playing Gertrude Stein!  Talk about genius casting!

But anyhoo, what self really wants to say is:  All of Owen Wilson’s comedic gifts are on full display in this movie.  All he has to do is look at the camera with those big blue or grey eyes, and the audience knows exactly what he is thinking.  In fact, some of the movie’s biggest laughs are produced when Wilson stares directly at the camera, not speaking.

Self’s favorite scenes, however, are the ones that show Wilson just walking.  These scenes are mostly full-body shots, to include as much of the city streets as possible.  Wise decision.  Wilson’s character is perfectly communicated by his somewhat stooped shoulders, his clothes, his aimless walk —  that’s Woody 2.0 (meaning:  much improved)

Self sincerely hopes Woody Allen decides to use Owen Wilson again.  In fact, Allen should stop looking around for other actors to play his comedic alter-ego:  every time he decides to direct a romantic comedy, he should just go for Wilson.  Because something about Allen channeling his romantic yearnings through Owen Wilson feels absolutely apt.

*     *     *     *

P.S.  Read somewhere that the next Woody Allen-alter ego, in a film to be set in Rome, is Jesse Eisenberg.  Oh, cool!  Not sure he is up to the comedic challenge, but self likes him as an actor.  For sure, he made “The Social Network” the great film that it is.  Jesse, you have big shoes to fill.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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