Saturday, December 25, 2010

Separated at birth: Black Swan

Friday, December 24, 2010 05:37 PM


One look at the poster art for Black Swan  and my 1981 class picture made me realize  what I had long suspected was true;  I do have a twin out there that I was torn from at birth by some bizarre flux in both time and space wherein I was sent backward through time and across space to the middle of Not Quite Nowhere, Ohio. Replace "ballerina" with "couch potato defaulting on his student loans" and the parallels are inescapable.  Even down to a hypothetical romantic interlude with Mila Kunis.

Black Swan was an amazing film to watch; great performances, breathtaking visual effects, and an abundance of cringe worthy creep. All these impressive elements fail to come together to make a whole that is greater than its sum.  

Much of Black Swan details the artist's conflict between the Apollonian and Dionysian aspects of creative expression.  The medium for this discussion is the White and Black Swan roles from the ballet Swan Lake.  Both these roles are traditionally danced by the same ballerina, in this case, perfection obsessed, Nina Auschenbach.   She has the technical (Apollonian) skills to dance the White Swan, but is told repeatedly that she needs to develope the passion and sensuality required for the Black Swan.  Her muse for the Dionysian Black Swan is the untamed, wild beauty of passionate co ballerina, Tadzio (Mila Kunis).

Nina's struggle to encompass both ends of the dichotomy has a dire effect on her and her art. As the Silenus  (the Dionysian "teacher figure," traditionally red headed) like Thomas, played by a very subdued Vincent Cassell, tells her, “the only person standing in your way is you.” This turns out to be true in many ways.

Casell was much more fun to watch as the wildeyed, manically grinning Joseph from Sheitan, (which I first read about here) to this very restrained but just as manipulative figure.

Black Swan also explores psychological thriller terrritory as Nina struggles to cope with her rapidly decaying world and the line between reality and fantasy becomes increasingly blurred.

In the final scene, Black Swan makes its last, and weakest, revelation; once again, the artist who gives so much of themselves to appease the cfritical masses suffers great personal injury at the expense of appeaseing the masses.

Saturday, December 25, 2010 06:33 PM

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Insomniac Theater Presents: Love is strange

Wednesday, December 22, 3:22 am

Another night with out sleep.

Tonight I watched Jean Rollin's Fascination (1979), starring Brigitte Lahaie.  Directing films since 1968, Rollin achieved a reputation for beautiful movies rife with fairy tale imagery, blatant sexuality and eroticism, plus a healthy dose of gore and violence.

As a kid growing up in Smalltown, Ohio, in the 1970's, I loved horror movies.  Denied access to the movies (mostly because I was too young to stay up that late), I did what I could to learn about them. This is in the age before the world wide web and instant global communication, so I spent plenty of time in the local library or book stores at the local mall, pouring over what information I could find.

I loved how unusual the world looked in horror movies;  giant men with flat heads and bolts in their necks struggled for survival, monsters from the bottom of the ocean destroying cities, a human brain kept alive long after the body was gone.  Jean Rollin was a master at creating memorable images in his slow, surreal films.  However, access to such out-of-bounds films made by  Messrs. Rollin and his contemporaries was  restricted to a few tantalizing and confusing stills from books about vampire movies that I bought at Walden's Bookstore in the Sandusky Mall.

  I struggled to make a context for them. What was happening in the picture?  What the hell did they mean? Why were there so many bare breasts?  I wish I still had those books.   There was some good reading in them besides the full page, full color reproductions of  blood splattered, naked women kissing other naked women...

Even though Rollin's movies were considered to be part of the genre of Lesbian Vampire films, they were not pornography.  The content veered closely towards pornography, but was not salacious.  These pictures were not about arousal, they were something else that defied explanation.

Thirty years after I was introduced to those images, I have been able to see of these movies.  I even own a few on DVD.    The Rape of the Vampire (1968), A Shiver of Vampires (1971), and now Fascination (1979).    Each film I've watched unlocked part of the secrets that had eluded me these last three decades.

The content of each film was truly bizarre, the visual style is impressive, not too concerned about plot.  The scenes unfold in a dead pan style, never commenting on the unusual elements presented to the viewer; a vampire emerging from a clock, the vampire queen licking the blood off the blade of a curved dagger, a medieval castle glows green and red in the night.  Fascination also offers its share of eye catching, incongruous moments a group of middle aged women in turn of the century clothing drinking fresh ox blood, dagger bearing women dressed in white, and a mostly nude Brigitte Lahaie wielding a scythe against an opponent.

The story begins with a group of criminals arguing over how to divide the loot from their latest score.  It quickly turns into a gun battle and chase through the woods.  Then  the plot veers to a group of women meeting in a deserted chateau to perform a mysterious ritual to preserve their beauty and youth. Marc, the leader of the gangsters, is the connection between the two divergent plots.  Hunted by the gang for stealing  the money, he seeks protection from the various women he encounters on his way to a very important date he has at midnight.   What decides his fate is the fickle emotions of Elisabeth, torn between her love of Eve and jealousy of Eve's relationship with Marc.  All of these elements come together in a climax that was very surprising.  Love may conquer all, but it is seldom satisfied.

From the little I have read about Rollin in the last few days, he was a frustrated film maker; never enough time, budget or control to truly create his personal vision.  Despite these setbacks, he was able to make original films with a unique style that remained in my head for three decades.

The world will never get to see the movie Rollin wanted to make, he passed away last week after a long illness that slowed him down, but didn't stop him.  

Jean Rollin, 1938-2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thank You for the Music

Wednesday, December 15, 10:05 am

I had another peaceful, perfect moment this morning.  Holding my coffee under my nose, looking out the back window at my snow covered yard, beautiful music on the stereo, the remains of an egg omelet that I had made myself on the table and everything was in place.   The universe had become balanced and I felt contentment at a great level.   It is hard to go to a place like that because they are so fragile.  Once you step out of the moment, they are gone, sending you back to an inferior place.

I think about these those beautiful moments of contentment and tried to make a list of what was so satisfying to me; there is the coffee, being in my own house, and the music.

Music is one of the reasons I enjoy being home alone.  I set my iPod on shuffle and crank op the stereo. Glorious, sensual music pours out of the speakers in a warm, glowing stream filling the air from the floor to the ceiling, with tiny, sparkling bits of sound.  

The Scream
My collection is very diverse, like several different collections combined.  I never know what will catch my ear. Sometimes  something will reach out and transform me, changing my feelings or perspective and it is not so much the genre, or lyrical quality or a specific artist;  sometimes it is just the sound.

The first time that happened was 1983, when I heard Siouxsie and the Banshees' first  album, The Scream (1978).  "Pure," the opening track is a spooky,  instrumental.  The weeping guitars,  baying moans and thunderous, rhythm less percussion caught my attention like nothing I had heard before.  Even now, nearly 30 years after I first heard it, it still makes me grin.

In my head, I saw the musicians recording the song in a dimly lit studio, wearing dark clothes, their movements slow and spare, music spilling out into the darkened corners.  "Jigsaw Feeling," the next track continued in the same way; but this time, the mood was one of barely contained energy; the slashing, squealing guitar mimicked the sound of a psychic jigsaw,  cutting someone's personality to pieces;  "One day I'm feeling total, the next I'm split in two."  A perfect reflection of the fragmentation I was feeling as a freshman in college.  By the time the final chord of the final song played, the universe had gone dark.

I had never heard anything like it before, because, you know, there was very little punk rock in small, mid-western towns like Norwalk, Ohio thirty years ago.

People who know me know I like to inflict my music choices on others-if you haven't received a mix CD from me, let me know and I will make you one today. I have no idea what will be on it or why, other than it sounded good to me.  It will be a learning experience for me.

Feeling the music in this new way gave me a new appreciation for the sounds I was hearing.  So dear Siouxsie, thank you for the music because it made my life so much richer.

Friday, December 17th, 2010 10:08 AM

Monday, December 13, 2010

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

Monday, December 6, 2010 09:43 AM

NB: The film version of the seventh and final Harry Potter book,  Harry Potter and the Something something, part one,  has opened and I feel duty bound to watch  it.   In preparation for the final film chapters of the Harry Potter Saga, I will watch the six previous films and write about the experience.  There will be SPOILERS !

There isn't much to say about Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince except there could have been a bigger parallel what was going on in the wizarding world and what was happening in George W. Bush's America; that is, the Post September 11 debate on safety versus civil rights.

Voldemorte and his minions excellently exploited the wizarding world's fear to further his cause, which is to end the world.

And of course there is quidditch, confrontations with Malfoy, some riddles to be solved, classroom mishaps and the usual growing pains. I am now officially ready for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and Dumbleodre  all face big changes at Hogwarts this year.

Monday, December 13, 2010 05:48 AM

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sometimes you have to take one for the team-Love and Other Drugs

Monday, December 6, 2010 08:02 AM

Sunday I settled my “Meg Ryan” debt. That is, the number of movies made for women that I owed my wife for putting up with my movie selections. We watched Love and Other Drugs instead going to see Deathly Hallows.   Love and Other Drugs is a story of a young man's transition obnoxious jack ass to self important  jack ass and then fulfilling his true destiny by become a doctor jack ass, due to his falling in love with dying woman.  Despite some bright spots, the movie collapsed under the weight of its own inaneness.

Jake Gyllenhaall plays Jamie Randall, a narcissistic pharmaceutical representative and self proclaimed shit head. In the last minute or two, he suddenly transforms from a womanizing, self centered pharmacy rep to caring nurturer and medical student.

Maggie Murdoch, adroitly portrayed by Anne Hathaway, is the crucible that provides the catalytic fire responsible for Randall's 180 degree change. Maggie has early onset Parkinson's Disease. She faces life with a indomitable, yet vulnerable, Hollywood damaged heroine way.  Her character is by far the more interesting character and I was grateful we got to see so much of her (wink wink, nudge nudge). By not concentrating more on her and concentrating too 
much on Gyllenhaal's unfunny and un-interesting character, Love and Other Drugs missed an opportunity to be a much better film.

There is a touching sequence in the middle of the film that resonated with me personally; while attending a sales conference in Chicago with Randall, Maggie finds herself in a survivors group. She leaves the survivors group with a new sense of empowerment only to encounter Jamie, who has become convinced that if they try hard enough, they could find a cure for her Parkinson's. As she tries to flourish, his well intended efforts push her back into the box of being defined by her illness.

For me, it is the difference between a sign that reads “Parking for People with Disabilities,” and one that says “Handicapped Only,” as if there were some sort of apartheid between the TAB (temporarily able bodied) and the handicapped or disabled. Because of my illness, I often need help; sometimes, to accept that help I have to surrender the undisabled part of me. Maggie does not wish to be consumed by her illness and struggles to retain her personality beyond her illness.

Given her willingness to do nude scenes and play a disabled person, excuse me, person with a disability, I am surprised there is no Oscar buzz around Anne Hathaway's performance. Perhaps there would have been if the movie had concentrated more on her character's story and less on the unfunny Viagra jokes.

 In fairness, I should mention that Jake Gyllenhaall looks pretty good naked too.

Feel free to leave your comments here on the blog page.

Friday, December 10, 2010 01:21 PM

Thursday, December 9, 2010

30 Years Ago Today

Wednesday, December 8, 2010 10:41:02 AM

30 years ago, I was a freshman in high school. on Monday morning December 9th, 1980my clock radio clicked on and I heard for the first time, “Our fife together is so precious together, We have grown - we have grown” It was the first lines to “(Just Like) Starting Over,” the first single from Double Fantasy John Lennon first album of new material in five years.

My older brothers and sisters had left a pile of Beatles' 45's as a testament to their appreciation to the lads from Liverpool. There had always been the idea of John, Paul, George and Ringo in our house. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was one of the first albums I bought (along with Joe Walsh's But Seriously Folks). Taking it home and listening to it put flesh and blood to that idea that I had known the Beatles all my life.

At age fifteen, John Lennon was only a former Beatle to me, I knew almost nothing of his work after the Beatles broke up.  On December 9, 1980, my joy at learning that John Lennon was still making music turned to sadness and horror as the details of his murder by a mentally ill young man became known. Stalked, hunted, and shot in the lobby his home, The Dakota, in New York City the previous night, Lennon's murder was irony at its cruelest to the excitement he sang about in that first single.

A nurse and I were talkng yesterday about him; she wondered where he would be if hje hadn't died.  I was thinking that world would be a better, less scary place if he were still with us. I thought of some of the things he had said:  "Imagine there's no countries,   Nothing to kill or die for,"  "Give peace a chance,"  "There's nothing you can make that can't be made, No one you can save that can't be saved, Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time- It's easy..."

All we need is love.

Thursday, December 9, 2010 05:31:32 PM

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Enter the Void

Thursday, December 2, 2010 08:29 PM

Not being able to sleep can make me crazier than I already am.  I used to feel trapped by my  thoughts, imprisoned in my head.  And there be monsters in there.  Watching movies has been helpful at escaping, and writing has been even more effective.    Recently, I found myself thinking, “What better film to view in the predawn morning than Gaspar Noe's latest film, Enter the Void?"  I had been hearing about this movie that seemed to be more of a psychedelic journey than anything else for over a year and had been looking forward to watching it.

To say the movie is visually stunning is an understatement-it is amazingly trippy. Tokyo turns into a neon glowing fantasy world.  The line between what was shot with camera and what was computer generated graphics is so thin that the viewer is constantly off guard, trying to keep up with the sifting and changing scenery.

Oscar's hallucination
The story is told from the point of view of Oscar, a young American living in Tokyo with Linda, his sister. For most of the movie, the camera acts as his eyes, complete with blinking. He spends most of the film under the influence of powerful hallucinogens.  The sequence where he smokes DMT, a powerful hallucinogen,  is beautiful and eerie . The colors, shapes and lights swirl hypnotically, creating a constantly changing womb like galaxy.

Oscar needs to pull himself back when the phone rings, leaving little, dancing sparkles flitting about his periphery. That brought back some memories! After watching something transform into something new, then having to focus, there would often be little remainders of the dancing transformations, tendrils of light rising off the corners of a mouth, concentric lines like the age rings of a tree around their faces, still objects come to life as they breathed, growing and shrinking.  Colors would be brighter and the air would filled with glowing embers. A good computer generated approximation is the Electric Sheep Screensaver.

Oscar goes into the night
The night turns into a
 glowing, fantasy land
As Oscar and his friend, Alex go out later that night, Alex explains what happens to the soul after death, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The dead rise up like ghosts and can see and hear what goes on in this plane of existence, but are unable to interact with it. Then they relive their lives, and can either move on the a higher level, or if they are too attached to move on, they stay here watching until eventually being reincarnated.

Alex's summation is useful for the viewer in understanding what happens in the rest of the movie. Oscar and the viewer go on that journey; we both look down on his memories and the present, stirred together in a confusing mixture. Oscar watches how his friends and sister struggle with the impact of his death from his ceiling vantage point, passing through walls and across the night sky. Occasionally he floats down, closely observing their lives. Sometimes what he witnesses is real, sometimes surreal. At one point, his soul travels through a Love Motel and observes the couples having sex. Phallic shaped glow sticks replace men's penises, and white, ectoplasmic smoke drifts out of the women's genitals.

In a memory, Oscar and Linda walk
through an already psychedelic Tokyo night
Always bewildering and maze like, Enter the Void is occasionally difficult watch. Linda spends so much of the film in hysterics that I found myself rooting for the sleeping pills when she attempted suicide.

Sometimes the best thing to be said about a movie is the illusion of motion, produced by a rapidly projected series of still images and that is certainly true with Enter the Void. I found myself completely immersed by the artistry and beauty as Oscar's night passed.  The last time I experienced anything as stunning was watching a sunset from a mountain top in Vermont; the colors became so intense they made their own sounds, filling the air around with light and music until the sun disappeared below the horizon, leaving me to find my way home in the dark.

Sunday, December 5, 2010 08:33 PM

Saturday, December 4, 2010

HP 5

Thursday, December 2, 2010 12:00 PM

NB: The film version of the seventh and final Harry Potter book,  Harry Potter and the Something something, part one,  has opened and I feel duty bound to watch  it.   In preparation for the final film chapters of the Harry Potter Saga, I will watch the six previous films and write about the experience.  There will beSPOILERS !
The fifth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix doesn't make too many big changes in the wizarding world.  Voldemort's power continues to grow, the students at Hogwarts arre divided between loyalty to Dumbledore and aleigence to Voldemort.  
Bellatrix Lestrange

Female characters are often under=developed in the Hrary Potter films.  Despite being Harry's companion since the beginning, Hermione Granger is a mystery. And aside from casting an occasional spell or helping brew a potion, she mostly rolls her eyes and “harrumph-ing” at her male companions. She was born of two muggle parents and respected for her intelligence, 

Even arch villain, Bellatrix Lestrange is given little to do except kill Sirius in the final battle.

A major exception is Dolores Umbridge, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor From the Ministry of Magic. Her public face is a sweet, elementary school teacher in pink. In private, she twitches and quivers with secret passions and ambitions. Stephan King called her “ greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter....” 

Shortly after arriving at Hogwarts she begins to insinuate herself into it administration, eventually replacing Dumbledore as headmaster and turning the school into a totalitarian state, with her installed as chief despot.

Once installed as headmistress, she rules the staff and students of Hogwarts with an iron fist, using her position with the Ministry of Magic to bully and coerce staff and her powers as a witch to subject the students to painful tortures and illegal drugs for

She is last seen being dragged off into the woods by a herd of angry centaurs. I hope to see more of this conniving, unconscionable villain. Things are much more interesting when she is around.

Insomniac Theater Presents Previews of Coming Attractions

Saturday, December 4, 2010, 6:06 AM

I've been awake for over 24 hours, the longest I've been conscious without special circumstances such as intense pain or intense pleasure. I know my heart is racing without using instruments to check it, my breathing is shallow and my skin is layered in a thin rime of cold perspiration. It is still full dark and I try to convince myself that there is no movement out there beyond the range of the porch lights.

I am at my weakest now, and I clutch my talisman, praying that dawn will come and bring salvation to me for one more day.

In the meantime, I will continue to work on my future posts; the one on Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void is nearly done.  The Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  one has to be finished soon because I watched  Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince  last night so I need to organize my thoughts on that film before I can see the latest HP film.

Then there are the ones from New Orleans,  Salt v. Machete, if I can read my hand written notes, and the personal one about the going through airport security in a wheel chair.

The dogs are barking, something is approaching the perimeter; where is Commander Adams?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Harry Potter and the fall from Grace

Monday, November 29, 2010, 11:16am

NB: The film version of the seventh and final Harry Potter book,  Harry Potter and the Something something, part one,  has opened and I feel duty bound to watch  it.   In preparation for the final film chapters of the Harry Potter Saga, I will watch the six previous films and write about the experience.  There will be SPOILERS !

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, (2005, directed by Mike Newell) , the fourth installment of the Harry Potter franchise, is the darkest so far in the series. Several references to Biblical stories and characters add gravity to the story allowing comparison between events in the wizarding world and mankind's fall and pursuit of grace.

The muggle world doesn't make more than a cameo appearance, beginning with Harry already in the wizarding world. He f irst appears, waking up fr om a troubling dream, in the home of his magical, adoptive family, the Weasleys.

Like his twin from the Bible, Voldemort
brings evil to the wizarding world
Harry's dreams show Voldemort 's efforts to regain his power. Like a messianic figure , Voldemort wants to return to flesh and lead his followers to victory, bringing his apocalypse.Once reborn, his countenance resembles a large snake head.

Lord Voldemort's minions, known as Death Eaters, bear the Dark Mark. The Dark Mark closely resembles the Mark of Cain, placed on Cain by God for murdering Able, his brother. The Mark of Cain served two purposes; to signal Cain's cursed status and as a warning that no one could kill him, he was God's alone.

The senseless killing of Hogwarts student, Cedric Diggery at the film's climax, mirrors the first post-lapsarian sin of murder. By unwittingly helping resurrect Voldemort, Harry has brought about the fall of the peaceful wizarding world. When he brings Cedric's body back to Hogwarts, yelling that Voldemort had fully returned, he is announcing the fall of the wizarding world from its graceful state. The evil he sought to escape in the muggle world and had fought so hard to prevent in the wizarding world has been unleashed.
Ron, Harry, and Hermione ponder their future

Rule 34 picture
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire ends with Harry and his friends preparing themselves mentally for the new, darker world that is being born.

The Child Molester

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 09:35 AM

This is the complete version of a post I sent over to Kindertrauma.  The following story is true.  The names have been changed to protect me from libel suits, but you know who you are!

Something so frightening happened to me as a child that for most of my life I  wondered  it was real or not. I was in a strange school's cafeteria with my mother. Instead of the happy, playful atmosphere that I had associated with places like this, it was grim and foreboding.There were other kids and mothers there, but no one I knew.  Mom kept me close to her side and I felt very alone.

Part of my anxiety came from the fact that I had no idea why we were there. The other part was from the look on Mom's face.  She had her “You're in trouble” look on her face.  Had I done something wrong?  Was I going to be punished in this frightening place?  

I was half right, I hadn't done anything wrong, but what I was about to experience was so frightening that it would seem like punishment. I think  Mom was concerned about what we were both about to go through and it showed on her face.

We were there to see a movie about two little girls who took candy from a stranger and got into his car.   A fat and greasy man kidnapped two little girls while they played by enticing them with candy. He took them to the woods and after satisfying his monstrous desires, killed them. The ending was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen; the girls' bodies lay, sprawled on the ground, looking like lumps of bloody meat wrapped in children's clothing. The tiny actors were dressed like real murder victims, whose bloody crime scene photographs were used.  The bloodied children's corpses drove home the point that THIS WAS NOT JUST A MOVIE, it was real.

This was why our  mothers were there, to calm the hysterical children after the most frightening experience of our young lives.  Although I am certain many of them had nightmares themselves.

I was never sure if this actually happened or was one of the frightening dreams I was prone to, until I found it by accident on the Internet. My recollections were correct, even down to the clothes the children wore. The movie was called The Child Molester, a public service announcement made by the Highway Safety Foundation in 1964, the year I was born. What I attended with Mom was evidently a traveling roadshow, where the film went from town to town to educate parents and children about the dangers of talking to strangers.

Just what every six-year-old needs to see.

The movie had one major flaw, its purpose was to frighten children away from a phantom terror.  Most children are abused by someone known to them, a relative or trusted family friend.  It makes national news when a stranger does it. When it is Mr. Battles on Linwood Avenue, it barely gets a mention on the local news, so great is the community's shame.

The Child Molester did its job well; forty years later, I am still queasy about taking candy from strangers on the street and I seldom allow myself to be driven to isolated places in the woods by them. If any parents are worried about these things happening to their children, they may want to consider showing it to them.

I found the movie at the Internet Archive, where it can be streamed or downloaded for free.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Blogging Harry Potter

Sunday, November 28, 2010, 12:06 PM

I don't consider myself a huge Harry Potter fan. I have found that the books can be over long, over complicated, and tedious to read. But I couldn't wait to get my hands on the next one.  The movie versions, although epic in length, are stripped down to a bare minimum of plot and move along at a fast pace. The film version of the seventh and final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Something something, part one, has opened and I feel duty bound to watch  it.   In preparation for the final film chapters of the Harry Potter Saga, I will watch the six previous films and write about the experience.  There will be SPOILERS!

I downloaded all six movies from a USENET newsgroup and started re-watching the films during our recent vacation in New Orleans. My plan was to write about each film as I saw them, but didn't have the energy after our long trip.  It was easier to watch the next movie. I ended up watching the first three together, and write about them in one post.

Some of the things I wanted to write about are but couldn't fit in are:
  • I do some of my best thinking in the shower.
  • Not a lot happens until the end of the first and second movie. The previous 2/3rds are exposition about the characters and location.  The real mystery doesn't present itself until the end, when Harry fights against his nemesis.
  • The third movie is beautifully made, using many interesting and stylish effects.  A great example is the glorious montages that depict the changing of seasons.  Sometimes the visual style threatens to overwhelm the movie, but it is totally worth it when you can't sleep.
We first meet our protagonist in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001) , directed by Chris Columbus. His further adventures are chronicled 2002's Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, also directed by Chris Columbus. The third installment in the Harry Potter franchise is 2004's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, this time directed by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron.

Harry Potter is an orphaned adolescent whose parents were murdered by evil wizard, Lord Voldemort when he was an infant. He divides his time between the nonmagical world of his aunt and uncle and the magical world of his parents. Each film takes place during a single school year and chronicles Harry's growth, both as a wizard and as an adolescent heading for adulthood. The films have a similar three act structure; Harry's relationship to the nonmagical world of “muggles” (non-wizards or non-witches), his life during the school year, and a final segment that is part climactic battle and part epiphany.

Each movie begins in the muggle world, the non magical world, in the home of his abusive, adoptive family, the Dursleys. Harry struggles to fit in with them, but they treat him with contempt, believing him responsible for the death of his mother, sister of Mr. Dursley. Life with the Dursleys is work and and humiliation.  Their dislike of Harry is so great that they bar the windows and padlock the door to his room.

As Harry's strength and maturity grows in the wizarding world, so does his ability to defend himself in the muggle world.This arc is reflected by how he leaves the house; in the first two films, he needs help to leave the house, but in third, he is able to walk out on his own.  

The middle section of each film takes place at Hogwarts, a school for people with magical abilities.  Hogworts is also where Harry makes his friends and meets his enemies.  His greatest enemy is the mysterious Lord Voldemort, the wizard that killed Harry's parents. Voldemort is known as a “dark” or evil wizard who was unsuccessful in his attempt to kill Harry when he was an infant.  He is without physical body in the first three movies, relying on humans to do his evil bidding.

Draco Malfoy and his toadies
Among Harry's mortal enemies is the Malfoy family, whose son Draco also attends Hogwarts. The Malfoys preach racial superiority, based on how the magical talents were inherited. Like white supremacists, they often refer to them and their kind as “pure bloods.” Lucius, the patriarch of the family, uses his position at The Ministry of Magic, the governing arm of the wizarding world, to foment discriminatiuon against half bloods, wizards and witches with one magical parent, and mud bloods, those with two muggle parents.

Near the end of the school year, also the final section of the film, Harry does battle against his enemies, using the tools he picked up inn the middle section.  As the series progresses, Harry's strength and skill also increases.  

Hermione helps Harry save himself
In the first two films, Harry receives aide off-screen; the first is a spell cast by his mother to save him from Voldemort, the second by two magical items that appear, well, magically.  In the third film, Harry is able to save himself by going back in time to save himself when failed to cast a spell correctly.  Even though his loyal friend, Hermione, provided him with the means to travel back in time, it was his increased confidence that allowed him to succeed where he had failed earlier (or failed at the same time? Time travel can be so confusing.).

Thus far, Harry is well on his way down the path of his own bildungsroman,  his journey from adolescent to adult.  I can't wait (maybe I am that big of a Harry Potter fan after all) to see what happens in the next movie, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Sunday, November 28, 2010, 9:30 pm

Banner courtesy of

Friday, November 26, 2010

Watch this space for further announcements

We returned from our trip to New Orleans late last night and I am glad to be home;  I missed my couch, my pets, my reliable Internet connection, and my coffee maker.

I have some things that I would like to put here, about the city, about some movies I watched, why I want to see a lot more of...  Well, that is neither here nor there.

Hopefully I will be able to read my handwritten scrawl well enough to remind myself of what I found share worthy.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spoiled by living in the land of free Wi-Fi

We left New Orleans on Monday after having a great time. Adrienne and I really enjoyed each other's company while touring around the city. We will be in Mobile, Alabama until Thursday, visiting a childhood friend of hers. I can not wait to see what interesting things I discover about my sweetheart!

The hotel in NOLA (the new, short hand for New Orleans) had no free access to the Internet (or Continental Breakfast!), so I am behind in my correspondence. I had plenty of great experiences and thoughts about traveling as a handicapped that I am sorting through right now and I am sure that writing about them will help.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Carrie (1976)

Monday, November 15, 2010 08:31 PM

In the fourth grade, at my friend Jeff's house, I spotted a book that his older sister had finished reading. The cover showed the face of a lovely girl, half in shadow, the other half in a silhouetted and masculine profile. His sister Judy asked me if I wanted to read it and I, being too scared of her to say no, said yes.

This was the first book written for adults I had read. It also introduced me to an author whose body of work would grow and mature as I did. I am talking about Stephen King's first novel, Carrie.

Years later, sitting in my literature classes at Miami, I hoped that a hundred years from now future students would be reading and deconstructing The Shining or The Stand just like we were doing with novels like The Red and Black or Death in Venice.

Not just an author of scary stories, King has also captured the minds, the thoughts, and the attitudes of Americans in the twentieth century with his writing. More than once during my years in Vermont did I meet someone who could have been one of King's New England characters.

Due to my parents strict "No R rated movies" policy,I wouldn't be able to watch Brian Depalma's 1976 adaption of Carrie until several years after it was released. It was maddening to listen to other kids, whose parents seemed not to care about movie ratings, talk about the movie (and give away the ending.) But at least I had read the book and could do my own compare and contrast exercises in my head.

The transition from book to screen went smoothly; Brian De Palma bought the rights to Carrie at the encouragement of a friend and easily found a studio interested in funding him. The film was a commercial and critical success, with two of its cast members earning Academy Award nominations.

King did not have any thing to do with making of Carrie, although he has reportedly said that it was a good movie. After watching it again recently, I think he is underestimating it. Not only is it a good horror film, but also a well made movie. De Palma brings a well crafted visual style to the movie while Lawrence Cohen's script imbibes the main characters with much broadness and complexity.

Sissy Spacek & Piper Laurie
practice family values at home
The cast's performances raise  Carrie above  most horror films from 1976.  Sissy Spacek gives an amazing performance as the titular character. She takes Carrie White from a shy and immature little girl to a mature young woman and then a vengeful demon sating its blood-lust on her Bates High School class in a short time. I found myself sharing her prom date Tommy's infatuation with her. I would have fallen in love with her too. This ebullience makes her final transformations in the last half of the film all the more frightening. It is subtle and delicate work; Spacek is absent for most of the first half of the film after its horrifying beginning. 

The contrast to her naiveté is the truly malevolent Margret White, Carrie's mother. Piper Laurie exudes her fervent religious insanity with a powerful intensity that casts her as one of the screen's most monstrous mothers. Both Spacek and Laurie earned Oscar nominations for their performances in Carrie.

Nancy Allen

Spacek's other supporting actors give fine, but less powerful performances. Carrie's high school nemesis, Chris Hargensen, played by Nancy Allen (RoboCop's partner!) is mostly a mystery; other than that she has Farah Fawcett hair, is dating hoodlum John Travolta, er, Vinnie Barbarino, er, Billy Nolan, and hates Carrie, nothing more is known about her. King seldom provides explanations or back stories for the evil that visits his characters; it just exists.
John Travolta as Billy Nolan or Vinnie Barbarino

Sue tries to use her boyfriend to redeem herself

Often King's characters cause calamity by acting in misguided or misinformed ways. This is personified by Sue Snell, Carrie's classmate, neighbor and a tormentor in the the film's opening scene played by Amy Irving, It is her attempts to redeem herself for harassing Carrie in the locker room that set the Rube Goldberg type chain of events in motion and results in the doomed dance.

Roger Daltry as Tommy, Sue's boyfriend

Sue's terror in the final scene, where Carrie attempts to drag her to Hell in a dream, might stem less from her fear of Carrie and more from guilt over her role in the demise of most of Bates High School's class of 1976.

The final act of the movie begins with Carrie near the height of her triumph-she stood up to her mother and has made a successful entrance to the prom. Her descent to vengeance seeking, blood spattered, homicidal demon is quick. Carrie ends the film a scared child, seeking comfort in her mother's arms, her transformation complete.
Prom Queen Carrie

Wednesday, November 17, 2010 06:30 PM

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The coffee ritual

Saturday, November 11, 2010, 11:47 PM
Oxford has been unseasonably warm for the past few weeks, temperatures up in the seventies! Since it was too hot to be outside much this summer, I have been trying to take advantage of the warm temperatures by being outside as much as possible. I got to spend this morning drinking coffee with my neighbors while their kids played with Frannie and Eloise.
My coffee ritual is one of my favorite parts of the day. Sharing its mysteries with my neighbors made me feel like an evangelist for Starbucks (or a drug pusher).
Preparing for the ritual doesn't need any special raiments or a pure heart, but clean tools are needed for successful completion. I start by carefully cleaning out my stove top espresso maker. Next I carefully put water in the bottom, being careful not to go over the steam valve. Then I put in the basket and two or three scoops of espresso ground coffee (I only buy beans in stores that have grinders with an “espresso” setting); usually I use a bold, dark roasted bean, like French Roast or Sumatran. On the opposite end of the scoop's handle is flat disk that is used to tamp the coffee down. The final step is to screw on the pot on top put it on the burner, set on high.
Soon the water will boil, turn to steam and push the hot water through the grounds. I can watch the thick, black stream of coffee come out of the spout inside the pot. Soon the coffee covers the bottom of the pot and the crema (layer of foam) starts to build up . This is the best time to stick my nose over the pot and inhale the delicious sweet, almost peanut like aroma of the freshly made coffee. Because of its delicate chemical nature, the smell quickly disappears like the green flash at sunset in the tropics.
Watching the steam rise like the tails of invisible kites, I reverently bring my mug of espresso to my nose and think about all the promise for today that is within. I focus my concentration to the brown black contents of my mug, beckoning me to share its mysteries. Gently inhaling the promise and hope to be discovered today, I softly recite the magic spell, “ Coffee good!”
I can’t believe it is nearly noon and I’m still in my pajamas.
3:13 PM

Friday, November 12, 2010

What I watched last night: Walking Tall (1973)

Thursday, November 11, 2010 12:11 PM

Last night, Olivia and I watched Walking Tall , the semi biographical film about Tennessee's Sheriff Buford Pusser. Even though I had never seen the film, I have vivid memories of it . It played on television on a Sunday night and was all everyone talked about about at school the next day .
Let me clarify, everyone in 4 th grade got to watch it, except me. When I saw it in a newsgroup last night, I thought now is my chance. I could remember the enthusiasm my 9 year old peers brought to the critical discussion at lunch that Monday; they were all impressed by the car chases, fighting, and Joe Don Baker's (as Sheriff Buford Pusser) use of a big stick to mete out justice to the bad guys.
Were I able to travel back in time to the lunchroom of Pleasant Street Elementary School in 1974, I might have pointed out that what was dished out in had more to do with revenge and vigilantism than justice. Wikipedia defines a vigilante as
someone who illegally punishes someone for actual or perceived offenses, or participates in a group which metes out extralegal   punishment   to such a person. Often the victims are criminals in the legal sense, however a vigilante may follow a different definition of criminal than the local law. (italics mine)

And that was how Buford Pusser found solutions to his problems with organized crime and corruption in Mcnairy County, Tennessee. After retiring from his career as a professional wrestler, he returned to his parent's home, and quickly ran afoul of the local crime syndicate. This began an increasingly violent series of confrontations between Pusser and the gang of criminals. When he was arrested and put on trial, he realized that the local law officials were corrupt and he was on his own.

Even after being elected sheriff, Pusser's attempts to end the illegal gambling, moonshining and prostitution failed. He was critically wounded and his wife was killed in a gun battle.  After he funeral, he took the law into his own hands, and crashed his car into the criminal's hangout, killing two men. The towns people arrived and made a bonfire out of the wreckage, pledging their fealty to Sheriff Pusser and his individual code of law.

As Pusser, Joe Don Baker delivers a perfect two-tone performance; either dewy-eyed sentimental or red-faced indignation. There are no gray areas in between the two. This polar opposite, world view can create an ugly frame of mind, where one's personal frustration level dictates right and wrong. If Pusser had continued to seek legal redress, he may have saved his family from harm. At the very least, he would have avoided committing murder himself.

Parents and schools strive to educate children from the harmful effects of acting out while angry, that violence is seldom the solution to problems. But as a nation, when we lapse into bouts of fist pumping jingoism against perceived enemies, we run the risk of doing the same and subverting our established legal system, thereby becoming criminals ourselves.

Friday, November 12, 2010 07:47 PM