Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving in Nilbog

With family coming over this weekend, I had been thinking for weeks about what I could pick for a perfect Thanksgiving movie. This lead to further pondering about what qualifies as a Thanksgiving movie. Then today, it suddenly struck me: Troll 2. Think about it, here are the main themes of the movie:

1. Family comes before everything.
2. This includes friends.
3. In fact, don't even waste your time making friends, because you shouldn't spend any time with them.
4. Vegetarians are evil, and maybe not even human.
5. Pastries are also evil.
6. Also, fruit.
7. When in doubt (or peril), eat meat.

If you're one of the unlucky ones who hasn't seen Troll 2, be thankful that I'm providing you with these filling screencaps:

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Of late I think of Silverton

Photo: Kim Murphy / LA Times

Like the main character in the Twilight Zone episode this post title refers to, I sometimes think wistfully of my time in a small town. If you come from a small town, you live for the day when you can brag about your hometown to the Big City Folks. Make them spit out their sip of Drambuie with a tale that rocks their concrete jungle to its brittle, cementy core. For me, that day has come. While I consider myself a native of Portland, a good bulk of my childhood (and all my high school years) took place in Silverton, Ore., where the nation's first openly transgender mayor was recently elected.

Yes, the picture you see is of Stu Rasmussen (aka Carla Fung), who will take the reins of a town where "rapid development" is a bad word, but "breasts on a 60-year-old man" is old hats. Since Stu's victory, Silverton has received unprecedented media attention, stretching from Portland to Los Angeles. You might be asking how a man like Stu could be elected mayor in a small, conservative town. I would then remind you that Stu was Silverton's mayor nearly 20 years ago, except back then he wore jeans and flannel shirts, covering up what minimal cleavage he had. Stu's ascent to womanhood began slowly, occasionally adding red high heels to go with those jeans, or suddenly showing off his exquisitely painted red fingernails. So when Stu decided to add "the twins" (as he calls them) to his resume, it was met with nary a shrug to those who know the man. If you think his story sounds like a character from a Tim Burton (Amazing Larry, maybe?) or John Waters movie, you're not alone. Or maybe only a skilled monologuist could do true justice to Stu's tale.

The last time Silverton caught the nation's eye was in 1923, when Bobbie the Wonder Dog became America's favorite four-legged hero. Have you seen the Bruce Willis-Billy Bob Thornton movie Bandits? Much of the filming took place in Silverton, yet Hollywood has never again come calling. And so it has come that the national spotlight is again cast on sleepy Silverton, and as is our small town humble nature, we can only reply with "please, we serve no froie gras here, go on your merry way and let us live our lives in peace. Just because we elected to mayor a man who prefers to wear cocktail dresses that best show off his ample cleavage, does not make us any different from nearby Stayton or Mt. Angel."

Stu will make a good mayor, and I say that as someone who knew him before the breasts and makeup. I know him as the proprietor of as fine a small town movie house you could ask for. Like his father before him, Stu has run The Palace Theater in Silverton. It was once boasted to have the state's largest screen (a claim that was never independently verified), but what cannot be argued is that The Palace was always clean, with many perfectly functional seats, and the best snow cones in town. I have Stu to thank for many of my favorite theatrical experiences. It was at The Palace where I once proclaimed Under Siege to be my favorite movie of 1992, where I laughed my way through Groundhog Day, watched a friend of mine wipe tears from her face at the end of Mrs. Doubtfire and had a riot of a time taking in Event Horizon in a very loud audience.

But the movie-going moment I most have to thank Stu for is the midnight showing of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Yes, it's a terrible movie that's rightly reviled, but there was a moment in time when it seemed the whole world couldn't wait to see it, and people were waiting in line for months to get a ticket. I was resigned to the fact that I would need to make a late-night trek to Salem or Portland and wait in line for a ticket, when one day I drove past The Palace and saw the Star Wars title listed on the large marquee. "Episode 1, in Silverton?" It was true, Stu had secured the movie for opening weekend, at a theater where first-run movies usually took 2-3 weeks to arrive. Better yet, a midnight showing was planned, complete with a costume contest.

I'll never forget the collectible tickets Stu had printed up for the opening: thick blue card stock with sparkly ink (I still have my ticket buried away somewhere). The midnight showing ended up a sellout, and of course Stu was dressed up as Princess Padme. He even had the courtesy to include the trailers for the original three Star Wars before the main feature. And as I trudged out of the theater slightly in a daze over what I had just seen, I couldn't shake the smile off my face from how perfectly the evening played out. Thank you Stu, and good luck as mayor (again).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Something old, something new

I spend a lot of time re-watching movies. Probably more than I should, considering how many titles I need to catch up on. But this practice occasionally leads to great experiences, like catching something in a movie that I hadn't noticed in any of the previous umpteenth viewings. One of these moments happened today, after again putting on Once Upon a Time in the West.

As a visual storyteller, Sergio Leone is one of the best in film history, and in watching his movies you start to notice how every detail of his frame is done deliberately to paint a broader picture of his characters and storylines. Nothing happens by accident in Leone's frames, and I found another example of this skill today. Jill's arrival at the train station in Flagstone has no actual dialog (just background chatter), but in this scene we see a woman who starts to learn that her fairy tale wedding is starting to unravel. We also see that Jill has traveled very far to arrive in Flagstone, where her life will start anew.

It's this last detail that I missed upon all previous viewings. Later in the movie Jill explains she's from New Orleans, where she met Brett McBain, but there's actually a visual clue at the train station about her journey's origin. After wandering in confusion waiting for her promised escort to pick her up at the station, Jill looks for answers, and her gaze finds a clock.

After reading the time on the clock, Jill glances down at her own timepiece.

And this only brings her more frustration.

It seems hard to miss now, but up until this viewing I had never noticed that Leone was showing us how Jill was still on New Orleans time. Before telling us she traveled from New Orleans, it's apparent she traveled a great distance, because her timepiece is over two hours off. It would have been easy to establish her origin with a throwaway line of dialog, but with this visual we see Jill's confusion and frustration through her eyes. "Where am I? And what the hell am I doing here? How will I ever get back to New Orleans?"

Another visual marvel from this sequence is Leone placing Jill next to the train's unloaded cargo. In this shot she appears to be just another piece of merchandise or luggage, an object she no doubt feels like at this very moment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

From Russia with a cello

Note: This post is part of the Blog, James Blog-a-thon at Lazy Eye Theatre.

I had hoped to write an all-Timothy Dalton post for the James Blog-a-thon, but it turns out there's nothing nice I can say about License to Kill, other than its ultra-smooth title cut from Gladys Knight. So all-Timothy Dalton turned in to all-Living Daylights, which is fine by me. I've never hesitated to declare The Living Daylights as one of my favorite Bond movies (same for A View to a Kill), despite having a decidedly lower pedigree than its peers. There's not a single memorable villain in the movie, the plot seems like a lost A-Team episode, and the most critical piece of gadgetry James uses is an exploding key chain. And yet, it's still fun as hell.

What The Living Daylights has going for it is strong source material, a short story by Ian Fleming that was the last of the author's books to be adapted into a big-screen 007 before Casino Royale. Fleming's short story The Living Daylights presents the concept of Bond's conflict of killing a beautiful woman sniper, who he earlier had eyes for. The movie recreates this short story nearly line for line in the opening sequence, even ending with the same words, "I must have scared the living daylights out of her." The short story ends there, and from that scene the movie goes on to a mostly uninteresting series of double-crosses about the KGB and an arms dealer portrayed by Joe Don Baker.

The plot never really comes to life after that opening scene, especially since the worst that can happen is the KGB getting to buy some weapons from Joe Don Baker. But the opening sniper sequence gives us the one element that will hold everything together: the chemistry between Bond and Kara (Maryam d'Abo). Unlike many of the perfunctory 007 relationships, these two seem to really share something, and dammit if they don't look good together. Kara is a good complement to Bond, as we see early on she's a capable sniper and later proves to be a nearly-competent pilot.

The pair figure in to the movie's two best moments: a flawless Aston Martin gadget escape turned cello sled ride, and a still amazing airborn fight on a barely-tethered opium cargo. The latter leads to the movie's best line ("he got the boot!"), and one of the franchise's best-executed stunts, with Bond and Kara escaping the doomed cargo plane in a Jeep on some sort of parachute sled. They make it look easy, but I've always loved Dalton's fearless look when he pulls the parachute and jumps back in the Jeep ("I know a great restaurant in Karachi!").

These charms may not be appear to be in the caliber of Bond's more popular fare, but there's something about the overall film that's kept me coming back. It may be due to the fact that it was made in 1987, and as such its DNA contains elements of 80s action movies (random happenings in Afghanistan, exploding cargo planes, Joe Don Baker, etc.). It's also hard to deny that this is the last of the old school 007 movies -- the last of Fleming's original material, and also the last one to be scored by John Barry. The score and accompanying songs are excellent, with Barry adding some late-80s sensibilities to the traditional 007 score, and a-Ha turning in a surprisingly memorable title song (Barry himself remixed the song for the movie, adding in the snappy strings intro).

And then there's Dalton. While he may never rise above the bottom of the Bond depth chart among fans, he has nothing to be ashamed of in The Living Daylights. Dalton's Bond is closer to Sean Connery than Roger Moore, with little of the former's sarcasm. He plays Bond pretty straight, but always appears capable of doing his part in keeping the Majesty's Crown safe. License to Kill sunk the franchise to unseen depths, and Dalton's legacy was taken down with it, but The Living Daylights has aged well.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Two stupid signs for your enjoyment

If you've followed this blog for long, you know I don't often post about the local business scene here in Boise. In fact, this is the first time. But yesterday I saw two pieces of signage so incomprehensibly stupid, it just had to be shared with everyone.

Let's start with the worst offender first. This new business manages to combine one of the English language's worst adjectives (pasty), with one of the world's greatest treasures (pies), and ties it all up by adding "fresh" to the mix. My first thought was: My God, did they actually mis-spell "pastry"? But that didn't make much sense, because "pastry pie" is so unnaturally redundant (along the lines of "alcohol beer"). I investigated further, and saw that the menu on the wall has only three items: Pasty Pie, Salad and Pop. What, no dessert?

Further research revealed a "pasty pie" to be a staple cuisine of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a meat pie of sorts. Beyond the fact that Boise was never clamoring for the culinary delicacies of Northern Michigan, there's the reality that this restaurant has "pasty" in its name. Outside of certain parts of Michigan, this word does not inspire an appetite, and most people would like to go their whole life without having to associate "pasty" with anything food-related. I will add that the previous tenant of this space was a take-and-bake pizza joint, and if that business didn't last a year I'm only giving Fresh Pasty Pies a couple months.

Most people won't be annoyed by this one, but I'm still shaking my head. I knew Hollywood Video was having its troubles, but Mark's Video? That would be a bland name in 1985, when every other video store was called "Video Mania" or "Video Chest." There's no Wikipedia page for Mark's Video, and no Web site either. All I could find was this article detailing how 20 Hollywood Video stores will be re-branded, as part of a settlement between Movie Gallery and Mark Whattler, Hollywood Video's founder and former owner. Apparently, Whattler was behind in this re-branding effort:

Wattles, who is squabbling with Movie Gallery over the reasonable amount of time it takes to switch branding for the 20 stores, said he had planned to move Hollywood Video and Game Crazy away from movie rental and toward videogame rental before he sold the chains to Movie Gallery, according to the report.
Honestly, how much time does he need to tie a sign over the Hollywood Video logo?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

My ignorance knows no alphabetical bounds

Fletch at Blog Cabins is battling illiteracy with his new meme, The Alphabet Meme. I've heard that for every child that learns to read through this meme, Fletch will receive a golden apple, and I think that's great (the golden apple part, I don't care about the kids). I was roped into this one via Piper, and the rules are fairly simple, go through the alphabet and name a film for every letter. And since I never want to be accused of being simplistic, I've altered the rules for my post a little bit: I've never seen any of the movies listed below. I wanted to have some kind of over-arching theme for my alphabet, and some of the entries here may surprise you as to what I haven't seen:

Altered States (1980)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Can't Stop the Music (1980)
Day of the Dead (1985)
Emmanuelle (1974)
Force 10 from Navarone (1978)
Get Carter (1971)
Hell is a City (1960)
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)
Jezebel (1938)
Kiru (1968)
Le Samourai (1967)
Mikey (1992)
Never So Few (1959)
Oscar (1991)
Patton (1970)
Quo Vadis (1951)
Richard III (1995)
Spellbound (1945)
Twelve O'Clock High (1949)
Under the Volcano (1984)
Viridania (1961)
Warlock (1989)
X: The Man With the X-Ray Eyes (1959)
Yentl (1983)
Zulu Dawn (1979)

Monday, November 03, 2008

As if you needed another reminder to vote

Let's not have a repeat of "One for Martin, two for Martin!"