Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Final Reflections on July 2013

It’s the last day of July. It’s been a fairly uneventful month, but holy cats, has it gone fast. I don’t have a whole lot to report. If you’re a friend in real life, you’ll know that the two big news items this month were my birthday & paying off my car.

The car thing was exciting, especially since I paid it off a year early. That means we knocked out three pieces of debt in less than a year. Now we plan to focus on our two credit cards, which will probably take a couple of years. Once that’s done, we’ll be mostly debt-free, except for my student loans, which I anticipate paying on until I die (and, compared to most people, I hardly have any, how sad is that?).

My birthday was basically a non-event. I had a rough time emotionally in the week leading up to it. I was feeling really lonely. Loneliness is something that has plagued me for as long as I can remember. It comes and goes, but it’s definitely been stronger since we moved to Dallas. Since it’s something that’s followed me everywhere I’ve ever gone, it seems obvious that the problem lies somewhere deep with in me. Obviously, I’ve never figured out how to fix it.

There’s this song by fun., “All Alright,” where he sings in the chorus, “Yeah, it’s all alright. I guess it’s all alright. I got nothing left inside of my chest, but it’s all alright.” That’s a pretty accurate description of how I felt for most of July. I guess if you’ve never felt hollow on the inside, then you don’t know how easy it can be to pretend on the outside that everything is fine, but I’ve gotten fairly good at it.

Anyway, it got better, although it’s still a problem that I’m puzzling over. I’m considering writing a blog series on loneliness but haven’t gathered the courage to follow through on it yet. I don’t know that I want to lay my soul bare in public like that.

In world news, I have to admit that I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. There were political scandals. Aren’t there always? That stupid abortion bill passed here in Texas on the second try. And they banned women from bringing tampons into the state capitol during the session? Okay, weirdos. That guy from Glee died, which I thought was sad, because dying young is always sad. And some jackhole train driver in Spain decided that speeding was more important than people’s lives. That was both sad and infuriating.

Huh, I guess maybe I paid better attention than I thought.

Despite how this post may sound, I remain optimistic that things are not only good, but also continuing to get better. I’m looking forward to August. I have a lot of plans & a lot of good things coming up.

It's the end of July 2013 and that's what's been going on in my crazy head. If you're stopping by to read, why don't you tell me what's been going on in yours?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Best Picture: "My Fair Lady," 1964

Movie Stats:
Released 1964 (USA)
American, in English
Director – George Cukor
Stars – Audrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Wilfrid Hyde-White

Plot Summary:
Set in London in the late 1800s/early 1900s (the time frame is never clearly established). When the lives of English diction professor Henry Higgins (Harrison), Indian-dialect-obsessed Colonel Hugh Pickering (Hyde-White), and street vendor Eliza Doolittle (Hepburn) intersect, the two men make a bet that Higgins can turn Doolittle into a lady in six months.

Bad Stuff:
The basic premise of the story itself. See below in my verdict for a clearer explanation.

Hepburn’s fake low-class British accent is atrocious.

It’s very obvious that it’s not Hepburn singing most of her own songs (apparently she sang a few lines here and there). I found that really distracting.

The dance routines were very weak.

Good Stuff:
I absolutely adore Stanley Holloway, who played Eliza’s father, Alfred P. Doolittle. Every time he was on-screen, it was a delight. I loved his character, who in my opinion was the most honest person in the film. He prevents this movie from being utter crap.

Fantastic costumes, especially the women’s dresses!

As misogynist and classist as the character of Higgins is – and it gets very annoying at times – I appreciate that the film poked fun at him for it. For example, it’s pointed out more than once that, although he’s a gentlemen, his manners are ruder than those of people who are lower-class. I liked that his mother, played by Gladys Cooper, was absolutely appalled by him.

The Verdict:
My problem with “transformation” movies – this is not a criticism limited only to this particular one – is that they're meant to redeem the person who has pushed for the transformation and they never do. Higgins has nothing but contempt for Eliza the way she is. It is only after she becomes a lady that he begins to like her. So even though he is “taught a lesson” by the end (and I’m not convinced that Higgins did learn his lesson), the truth is that he never would have fallen for Eliza the way she was. Eliza is “better” by the end of the movie because she now dresses, speaks, and acts “properly.”

To me, that’s messed up. You either like people the way they are or you don’t. People shouldn’t have to change to fit your expectations. On the other hand, I find it hard to respect Eliza because she falls for a man who mostly showed nothing but contempt for her. That’s pretty messed up too. Honestly, it’s not a very nice love story.

For me, the best moment in the whole entire film was when Eliza ran into her father after he too was somewhat inadvertently transformed by his connection to Higgins. “I was happy before,” he tells her. “Now I’m trapped.” I found that refreshingly honest. For me, it saved the film because it showed a tremendous amount of insight. Being transformed doesn’t necessarily make you better; it just makes you different, and different isn’t always good.

Anyway, I guess I’ve gotten a bit too philosophical about a silly old musical. I didn’t hate it. I found a lot of it enjoyable, but I also found a lot of its implications troubling. In the end, I feel kind of neutral about it.

I give the movie 3 stars.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Postcard Project: 1920s

Note: I don't feel like typing "[sic]" a bunch of times, so readers should assume that all spelling/grammatical errors are copied verbatim from the authors of these cards.

Date actually unknown. My guess is early 1920s based on
the sent-to address. Addressed to Grandma. Text below.

"Dear [redacted], I rec. your letter. I will answer it latter. I am just sending this card to wish you a happy Easter and many more. Our teachers name is Miss Bednarck. I am 11 will be 12 on the 4th of April. I am in the 8th grade must close with love Verona."

I don't know who Verona was. My guess is that this card was part of a school pen pal project of some sort, as the girls (my grandma and Verona) seem to be introducing themselves to one another.

March 28, 1921. Address slightly illegible.
Guessing March based on reference to Easter.
Addressed to a family member. Text below.

"Friend [redacted], Rec. your letter am kept quite busy now. As it seems it will warm up at last. Well tomorrow is Easter so we had aught to have good weather. I guess Bill will write to you later. Talk about Xmas presents well I got a whole lot of good ones. We [?] rather dull. Did you think I needed one? Must close now & get busy as ever. Amanda." 

Oddly, I don't know the male family member that this is addressed to. It's not my great-grandpa or one of my grandma's brothers. My assumption is that it was either my great-great-grandpa (unlikely) or one of great-grandpa's brothers. I don't know who Amanda was or what the heck she's talking about.

June 6, 1921
Addressed to Grandma's elder sister. Text below.

Scribbled above the actual greeting: "Please tell Margaret our address. I have not got much time. Hoping she will not be angry. I will write to her next [illegible]."

Then the greeting: "Dear [redacted], We have now moved and are fixed up just a little [illegible]. I will tell you our address. Have not got much time. From Martha Krause [address follows]."

This card was written in pencil, so it's very difficult to read 92 years later. I don't know who Martha Krause was, but assume she was a childhood friend. Same goes for "Margaret," who I know wasn't Grandma's other sister.

I wonder why Martha Krause had so very little time? I actually find it a bit amusing. Was there a bomb that she needed to go diffuse?

October 26, 1921. No text on back.
Addressed to Grandpa.

June 11, 1922.
Addressed to Grandpa. Text below.

"I am planning to go bathing here soon. It is only a short distance from where I am staying. H. Clippinger."

Once again, I don't know who the sender is. A family friend would be my best guess. I wonder what the "H" stood for. I prefer to think it was "Horatio" or something equally unusual.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Best Picture: "Tom Jones," 1963

Movie Stats:
Released 1963 (Italy at the Venice Film Festival)
British, in English
Director – Tony Richardson
Stars – Albert Finney, Susannah York, lots of other people

Plot Summary:
When Squire Allworthy (George Devine) returns home to discover a baby in his bed, he decides to take the boy in and raise him as his own. The boy grows up to be Tom Jones (Finney), a handsome rascal who falls in love with the pure girl next door, Sophie Western (York). In theory, hilarity ensues.

It's based on an 18th century book written by Henry Fielding. I've never read the book, so I have no idea how faithful an adaptation the film is.

Bad Stuff:
Everything. Every last second. But here are the worst parts:

If Tom loves Sophie so much, then why does he bang every other woman with a pulse who’s willing (and they all seem to be willing)? It’s one thing if a couple has an “understanding,” but if the expectation is monogamy, then I think you’re a jerk to go around having sex with everyone else on the planet. I know I was supposed to see Tom as a “lovable rake,” one who couldn’t help himself, but honestly he just seemed like a gross horn dog.

The camerawork. Oh god, the camerawork. If it wasn’t shaky or jerky, it was too dark to see. Serious WTF there. (I think it was supposed to be “edgy.”)

The music. I wish I could have muted the whole soundtrack.

This movie is SO WEIRD.

Good Stuff:
Um…I’ve got nothing.

The Verdict:
I hated this movie. Yep, I even hated it more than The Greatest Show on Earth.

I know it’s supposed to be funny. There is nothing about it that’s intentionally funny. Sitting through this whole thing was painful. In fact, about 40 minutes in, my husband tried to talk me out of watching the rest of it. “Just read the synopsis online,” he said. “You’ve seen enough of it to know it sucks.” I refused on principle. But I kind of wish I had taken his advice.

My guess is that this movie was popular in its day because it was racy. Movie audiences of the early 1960s weren't used to seeing that. It was the dawn of a new era and it must have been very exciting. However, it hasn't held up well over time. It is, quite simply, bad. I can't believe it won any Oscars at all, let alone Best Picture.

I don't believe in giving no stars. Actually, I'd like to give this one negative stars, but I won't do that either. Instead, it gets the lowest score I can possibly give in my rating system: a quarter star.

That's right, I give the film .25 star.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Postcard Project: 1910s, Part 2

Note: I don't feel like typing "[sic]" a bunch of times, so readers should assume that all spelling/grammatical errors are copied verbatim from the authors of these cards.

June 19, 1915. Addressed to Grandpa.
Says: "I wish you a happy birthday
from Aunt Helen"

This card is way snazzier than I can convey with a picture on the internet. The flowers on the front open up so you can write on the card underneath it, although Aunt Helen did not do so.

Date indecipherable (see below). Addressed to Grandpa.
Says: "Best Wishes for a Happy Birthday. Ruth."

The postmark on this card is very difficult to read. I know for certain that it is from 1915. I know that the date is 2something. Since it is a birthday card for Grandpa, whose birthday was June 19, I'm going to assume this was postmarked June 20 or 21.

I don't know who "Ruth" was. My guess is a family friend.

April 6, 1917. Addressed to Grandpa.
Says: "Dear [redacted] Grandma is sending
you an easter chicken from grandma."

 Sweet card, but I think that baby chick looks evil.

December 24, 1919. Addressed to Grandpa.
No text on back although someone pencilled in "Miss Burchhard."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Best Picture: "Lawrence of Arabia," 1962

Movie Stats:
Released 1962 (UK a few days before US)
American & British, in English
Director – David Lean (It was the first movie he’d directed in 5 years, the last one being another Best Picture winner, The Bridge on the River Kwai.)
Stars – Peter O’Toole, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn, Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins, Claude Rains

Plot Summary:
Follows the exploits of British military man (later author) T.E. Lawrence (O’Toole), who helped unite Arab tribes in an uprising against the ruling Ottoman Turks during WWI. Sharif co-stars as Sherif Ali, an Arab leader who becomes Lawrence’s friend; Quinn as Auda Abu Tayi, another Arab leader who Lawrence convinces to join the revolt; Guinness as Prince Feisal, the man tapped to rule the united Arabs; Hawkins as General Allenby, Lawrence’s superior; and Rains as Mr. Dryden, a politician (I think).

Bad Stuff:
O’Toole’s male equivalent of the “breathy little girl voice” was super distracting. Did he always sound like that when he was younger or was that an affectation for the film? The only other movies I’ve seen him in, he was an old man, and I don’t recall him sounding like that. Anyway, it was really annoying.

I always feel uncomfortable when white men play non-whites. At least in this movie, the characterizations weren’t cringe-inducingly racist.

This is another long one, more than 3.5 hours. I didn’t get bored per se, but with about 40 minutes left in the film, I realized I just really wanted it to be over.

Good Stuff:
The cinematography was absolutely breathtaking. I had to look up all the awards the film won to make sure it won for that. It did.

Breathy voice aside, O’Toole was magnificent. With just one expression, he conveyed how deeply Lawrence was changed by war, bloodshed, loss, and the pitfalls of politics. Same goes for Sharif: he didn’t need words to show how saddened he was by the change in his friend’s demeanor. It was both beautiful and heartbreaking.

For what feels like the first time in a long time, I heard some great dialogue.

The Verdict:
Once again, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been dreading the 1960s because I thought all these movies would be awful, but so far they’ve been pretty good. Other than the lengthy run-time (you might want to take a break halfway through), I wouldn’t say that there’s much to dislike about this one. Good story, good dialogue, great acting, gorgeous scenery, and both O’Toole and Sharif were pretty easy on the eyes (although you might want to prepare yourself for the copious amounts of guyliner you’ll see, lol). All in all, one of the most solid picks for Best Picture that I’ve seen.

I give the movie 4.25 stars.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Best Picture, "West Side Story," 1961

Movie Stats:
Released 1961 (USA)
American, in English (very minimal non-translated Spanish)
Directors – Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise
Stars – Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, George Chakiris, Russ Tamblyn

Plot Summary:
Basically, it’s Romeo & Juliet, set circa 1950s NYC, with singing & dancing. Wood and Beymer play star-crossed lovers Maria & Tony. Chakiris plays Bernardo, Maria’s brother & leader of the Sharks (the Puerto Rican gang). Tamblyn plays Riff, Tony’s best friend & leader of the Jets (the Irish/Italian [?] gang).

Bad Stuff:
When a gang spends most of a movie dancing around and singing, I have a really hard time taking them seriously. I just don’t find that particularly intimidating or bad ass.

I felt like there was a lot of “people doing dumb stuff because the plot called for it.” Maybe that’s because I didn’t take either gang seriously. I just didn’t see the motivation for a lot of what most characters did beyond “it was in the script.”

Too long. I make that complaint a lot, don’t I? It’s because a lot of these Oscar winners are too damn long.

Good Stuff:
I think I fell in love with Rita Moreno, who played Bernardo’s girlfriend Anita, during her first song, “America.” She was so sassy! I really liked her character.

All of the women’s costumes were fantastic.

I really enjoyed most of the song & dance routines. I didn’t like the lyrics of “Cool” very much, but the dance routine was great. I loved the dance routine in the gym.

The Verdict:
I’d never seen this before, so I was surprised to learn how many of the songs I knew. I had no idea they were all from this one film.

I liked it significantly more than I was expecting to. I thought the opening sequence, where there was almost no speaking, was really well done. I liked practically everything about the film. I didn’t even mind that it was a rehash of Romeo & Juliet. Up until the point that people started dying, I thought it was pretty fun. It was just too long. I started to doze off by the end.

Regardless of that, I give the movie 4 stars.