In which I try to talk about politics and rhetoric

I'm kind of sick of hearing about Obama's rhetoric as not living up to his message of "hope" and is different than what he campaigned. No kidding. Do we really need to have a lecture on rhetoric being dependent on context and audience? I like President Obama, but I also acknowledge that he has the prerogative (and I think responsibility) to use his powers of rhetoric pragmatically.

Which leads to Obama being the new FDR. I mean, he's already being put on that pedestal so many complain about. FDR was so popular and looked up to during his led to a democratic party reign for years after his presidency. Basically, Roosevelt had the advantage of taking office after an extremely unpopular president during a time of economic concern and then doing as much as possible as soon as he got in office. Sounds pretty familiar.

I'm just not sure what all the complaining is doing. It's healthy to find fault within government so that it's held responsible for its actions. It's good to understand how people are trying to manipulate you with their rhetoric. But it's also lame to complain about things that are vague and confusing and no can even know. I don't know how the stimulus package will work. I just know that economics are complicated and that there are too many factors that go into to really have a vehement stance on it. Who knows what more government spending will do? Just like with FDR, people are looking for a solution, so why knock a nice man who speaks well to get something done?


Medley of the Day: Recent obsessions edition

A combination of actually having to do homework/take tests/doing a grad school interview/being lazy/watching a kind of terrible but not Full House* terrible Korean drama has led me to be a terrible blogger. But lucky for you, I made another one of my sweet medleys.

1) "Peace Like a River" by Paul Simon--I have a love-meh relationship with Mr. Simon. Love him in Simon and Garfunkel, and "You Can Call Me Al" will always be my favorite song to do aerobics to. But at least have the time he's just rambling with nondescript melodies. "Peace Like a River" is one of those rambling melodies, but the guitar work is so earthy and the "aaaaa" that starts every verse is so catchy, I'm just addicted.

2) "Gap" by The Kooks--The more I listen to The Kooks the more I realize they are pop-rock perfection. They have hooky melodies with just enough enough grit to feel cool. Also, singing with British accents and breaking voice. In this song, the first time Luke Pritchard sings "Please don't go!" is an example of those awesome vocals.

3) "Kicking the Heart Out" by Rogue Wave--This is from 4 or 5 years ago, but I just discovered how much I love them. They're mellow without being pansies or boring**. This song is mellowly aggressive (go with it). Favorite part "If music is my lover/then you are just a tease." Go ahead and sing that part out loud. It's fun.

*I don't care if Rain is in it.
*Iron & Wine/Death Cab, I'm looking at you.


The Most Haunting Eyes in Cinema: La Strada vs. M

Federico Fellini's film La Strada (1954) is strangely affecting. It's a fairly simple story of a young woman, Gelsomina, who has some sort of mental limitations. She is bought by a traveling performer, The Great Zampano, and faces an abusive relationship as his assistant. Her relationship with another performer, The Fool, is more good-hearted, although it doesn't give balm for her situation.

I know this film is considered a great one, but I'm still processing it. It's the kind of film Ed from Northern Exposure would idealize. It feels like cinema, but I can't put my finger on what it is about it that stays with you.

One thing I know for sure is Giulietta Masina's eyes are haunting. They're full of innocence, wonder, and eventually hurt. The film would be nothing without these eyes. Gelsomina's character is played out almost entirely through the eyes, but when she does speak, the eyes sell it even more.

Another pair of haunting eyes comes from M (1931). It's the story of a town afraid of a pedophile murderer. Fairly early on we're introduced to the murderer while a voice-over conversation talks about who he could be:

If that's not enough to freak you out, just wait. The rest of the film shows as both cops and criminals are trying to track him down. Some great chase sequences ensue, but again, it's all in the eyes.

Peter Lorre owns this movie through his eyes. They express guilt, fear, and ultimately pleading. I've never seen eyes go this wide (until I saw La Strada). This is the one thing that will stick with me from this film. He's one of the creepiest killers ever in a film, and we don't even see him do anything brutal.

It's all in the eyes.




Sheldon Cooper: My new favorite TV character

I've managed to watch every episode of The Big Bang Theory in a week. Like most sitcoms, the premise seems a little contrived at the beginning, but as the premise and the characters settle, it becomes addictive and fun. The Big Bang Theory's premise is a hot girl moves next door to a pair of physicist roommates. Leonard (the most normal one) falls for Penny instantly. The other, Sheldon, isn't so taken with her, but he wins my heart. He's literal and overly technical and doesn't understand most social situations. Then add two more nerdy friends, and you have the cast. The two friends act as the go-to ethnic joke guys in addition to their inability to interact well with women: Rajesh, the Indian, can't talk in the presence of women without being drunk, and Howard is a horndog Jewish boy who lives with his mother. The nerdy group's interactions with Penny are actually quite funny.

But the best is Sheldon. I'm pretty sure I've known this guy and interacted with him, but like someone states in one of the episodes, it's funnier when it happens to someone else. Let me share some great clips:

Sheldon explains the problem with teleportation. Here demonstrates his awesome choice in conversational topic, and his inability to interpret saracasm:

Sheldon gets fired from his job and this is how he deals with the boredom. Also, you meet his mother (one of the many from Roseanne to be on this show):

Sheldon tries to figure out how to make friends and this is the result: a flow chart.

My absolute favorite Sheldon moments are when he interacts with Penny. Usually Penny is super annoyed with Sheldon, but sometimes they are friendly to each other and it's magical. Here's when Sheldon gets Penny addicted to online gaming:

And here's last Christmas's episode. Sheldon tries to anticipate the value of Penny's gift by buying gift baskets of assorted sizes, but has to improvise when he opens the gift. (There's some Leonard/Penny action in this scene, too, that's based on earlier events).

ADORABLE! Jim Parsons has officially wormed his way into my heart. I love overly literal people--from a distance.


Hold on tight spider monkey.

I've been waiting for Twilight (2008) to hit the dollar theatre before I saw it, and I must say, it's more entertaining than a lot of movies I've paid full price for. Much like the book, it's a decent story with enough tension to keep you entertained. But also like the book, there's a lot of ridiculous you can laugh at.

Random thoughts:

1. Billy Burke as Charlie Swan, the father, was the best part. He acted like a real person, and was awesome enough to have a shot gun ready for Edward. Also, Taylor Lautner, in his 3 scenes as Jacob, already won me over like in the books. Something about personality in a character makes them more likable. Who knew? To be fair, most of the acting was an improvement on the book. In at least half of the scenes, the characters were incredibly likable. And when Robert Pattinson isn't emo-ing it up or trying to convey anguish in the close-ups of his eyes, he's quite a charmer--certainly an improvement on a god-like statue.

2. The scene in the woods is the worst part. It's the part where Bella decides that she trusts and perhaps loves Edward even without him earning it. Apparently being beautiful and saving a girl a couple times = IMMORTAL LOVE. It's also funny with the awkward exposition and the revelation that vampires sparkle in the sun. I don't think I need to go further in explaining how Ms. Meyer probably should have just invented a new creature instead of bastardizing the vampire myth. Whatever. It is a testament to the film that there was only one real clunker scene. Probably because it was staying too true to the book.

3. Jasper with a baseball bat was honestly the most attractive part of the film. Check at about 1:40, Jasper flipping around a baseball bat in a baseball shirt. Yum.

4. I kind of missed the scene in the book where Edward and Bella are watching a movie in biology and there's a ridiculous amount of teenage sexual tension. I'm not sure how they would have conveyed it without doing even more ridiculous close-ups of Edward staring intently at Bella's head. I guess you can't make Edward not creepy. That 's just part of his character.

5. The cinematography was pretty good. I liked the washed-out colors. It almost felt like home*. My only complaint is how dorky the vampires look when they run. But then again, Twilight vampires glitter, so there you go.

6. My friend Alison and I decided to co-write a novel in a week. We finished today before seeing Twilight and can say with complete certainty that our book is at least as good this one. Watch out world! Stephenie Meyer isn't the only BYU graduate who can write entertaining, but cheesy and kind of crappy novels! Also awesome about BYU: this. I didn't see it, but I love the spirit of it.

7. Overall, just a fun movie. It reminded me why I started reading these books in the first place. Hopefully, the subsequent films will be an improvement on the books. If they can cut down on the times Bella tries to have sex with Edward by even 1/2, it would be a drastic improvement.

8. I can't believe how positive I sound about this film. Oh well.

*Shout out to the Pacific Northwest!


Le Corbeau

Le Corbeau (1943) or The Raven* is solid thriller made during the Occupation of France. When a small town is inundated with poison-pen letters sign Le Corbeau, the local Dr. Rémy Germain is especially affected. He's accused of being an abortionist and womanizer. He's not the only one, however, and many of the town's residents are slandered. The rest of the film is spent figuring out who's writing the letters and dealing with whether the accusations are true or not.

More than anything it's an interesting case study in how a town deals with an unknown terror. One of the letters cause a suicide, bringing the town to a mob mentality accuses a woman who is known for her judgmental attitude. Several people are accused throughout, and trust is given and taken away frequently between characters. The doctor's relationship with two of the women in town, a married woman with whom he has a strictly friends-only relationship and a known loose woman who overcompensates a gimp leg with sex, causes more poison-pen letters. Rémy, while only one in the ensemble cast, is the lead in the film and we see him deal with the accusations. It's an interesting performance by Pierre Fresnay because the doctor is kind of distant, but manages to attract attention to himself. The letters finally allow him to explain more about himself, Fresnay gives him depth even before we know about his past.

This is a solid film, interesting for its context. A few of the characters flaunt their diabilities in the face of the eugenics-happy German occupation. It's a subtly subersive film for the time and overall, a good watch.

*No, not that one.


Medley of the Day: Short songs I could listen to over and over

I have a strange addiction to songs that are about 2 minutes long and end way too early. These are songs I end up listen to on repeat about 234 times in a row because I can. Here are some of my favorites.

1. "J’y Suis Jamais Alle" by Yann Tiersen. This is part of the Amelie soundtrack and the only song that uses this theme. It's a sweet melody that sounds and feels like a carousel. Plus, it's hard not to be charmed by the accordion.

2. "Song for the Asking" by Simon & Garfunkel. Paul Simon could always write songs that sound nostalgic. It just sounds like memories. This song is full of such sincere yearning it's heartbreaking.

3. "Golden Slumbers" by The Beatles. There is an inordinate number of Beatles songs that are less than a 2 minutes, but this one I always want to be longer. Wedge between "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" and "Carry that Weight" on Abbey Road, this pseudo-lullaby shows up. The words say sleep, Paul McCartney's vocals scream passion. Nothing is more darling than Paul trying to put soul in his voice.

4. "Aquarium from Le Carnaval des Animaux" by Camille Saint-Saëns. This instrumental piece is nothing but magical. I was first introduced to it in the film Days of Heaven which adds a fairytale air to a sadly realistic film. Early trailers of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button used it, fooling me into thinking the film would be just as magical as the song or as beautiful as Days of Heaven. Turns out, just the song added the magic. Enjoy.

5. "Bookends" by Simon and Garfunkel. Here's Paul Simon again, crafting gorgeous pieces of music into small packages. If only I could harness the poetic melancholy of this song to a full album.


Medley of the Day: Audrey Hepburn edition

I rewatched Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time this week since the epic weekend freshman year that I watched it 3 times. Just a reminder: that movie is crazy! Trying to reconciled Truman Capote's quirky characters with the prudish cinema of the early 60s is a bit humorous, although they still get some naughty stuff in. Anyway, I realized that Breakfast at Tiffany's is not my favorite Hepburn film. She's so much more than just a flighty scared girl with fabulous fashion sense.

Here's a medley of scenes from other great Hepburn films.

This is a scene from The Nun's Story (1959). The film centers around--surprisingly--the story of a nun. It's a straight forward film that never doubt's the nun's sincerity for the work. I appreciate that this is a film without a love story or without malice for religion. It's simply a respectful tale of a nun and how she deals with taking vows, keeping those vows, and following her passion for science without being prideful. Although not as exciting as The Sound of Music, it's still a nun finding her own way in life. The whole thing is on YouTube, but this section perfectly shows what a restrained performance Hepburn gives. You see her struggle with her desire to stay in the Congo and also her sweet relationship with the doctor she assists once she falls ill.

Confession: I don't like My Fair Lady. It so long and Rex Harrison grates on my nerves. And while Audrey Hepburn is fun and humorous, it just gets boring after a while. I guess I should give it another try, but I'm pretty sure Funny Face will always win out for me. It's fluff entertainment, but the combination of Kay Thompson, Fred Astaire, and Audrey Hepburn is just comfortable and charming. Here's Hepburn herself singing the Gershwin classic "How Long Has This Been Going On" in Funny Face:

I've talked about Two for the Road before, but I can't tell you how much I love this film and how much I wish more people would see it. In terms of Hepburn's acting (and Albert Finney), I'll quote myself:

The most impressive thing about the film is how well Hepburn and Finney create a different tone to each segment while maintaining solid chemistry. They have to play young lovers, excited newlyweds, and exhausted cynics. Hepburn shows the change in her character with heartbreaking commitment. Both the actress and the character are fully invested in the role and relationship. Hepburn never looked so natural and spunky; she shows a sincere girl next door quality that she never truly achieves in other films like My Fair Lady or Sabrina. Finney's character is charming throughout, grudgingly revealing sparks of pure emotion between the usual sarcasm and feigned seriousness. These two working together is magical. Few romances are lucky enough to have both leads be so charming and convincing, but Two for the Road has two very charismatic actors excellently playing their parts.
This is the concluding scene of the film. I don't think it really gives anything away, since the film kind of meanders to this point. In case you're confused, all the different cars and outfits connect to a certain road trip that was shown throughout the film. I submit that the conclusion of this film is a big rival for Casablanca as the best ending of a movie ever.


Linda Evangelista!

I was trying to come up with this model's name recently and the only thing I could use to describe was that she rocked an awesome bob and was in that music video "Freedom". Whoever I was talking to didn't get it.

Anyway, Linda Evangelista and the other models of that time seem timeless to me. Fashions change so much (especially female fashions), that it's odd that the early 90s supermodels would exude a classiness that remains today. So, in celebration of the early 90s, here's George Michael's "Freedom."

FYI, this is what Wikipedia says about the video:

As if to prove the song's sentiment, Michael refused to appear in the music video - which was directed by David Fincher - and instead recruited a number of supermodels (including Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, Christy Turlington, Tatjana Patitz, Cindy Crawford, Todo Segalla and Scott Benoit) to mouth the words. It also featured the destruction of various symbols of Michael's past, including the famous guitar, jukebox, and leather jacket of the Faith era.


Actor Appreciation: Jean Gabin

This semester I'm in a French and Italian cinema class since I don't have very many required credits left and I have an unhealthy obsession with film. My favorite thing so far has been the super French, super masculine, yet super subtle Jean Gabin.

I've seen two of his films so far, Daybreak (1939) and
The Grand Illusion (1937). He's got a stoic, yet good-spirited appeal as well as a glorious head of hair.

Daybreak, Gabin (seen center) plays François in one of his classic "casquette" roles where he wears the working man's hat. It begins with him fatally shooting a man and locking himself in his apartment. From there, we see three flashbacks where the story leading up to the murder is told. In the flashbacks, François is pursuing the sweet Françoise. Then things start to get tangled: he starts a relationship with a stage girl named Clara (seen right), but can never excape Valentin (seen left) who not only used to be Clara's boss, but has some sort of relationship with Françoise as well. That tangled mess eventually leads to the murder.

In most of the flashbacks, François is a mellow every man, but a strong character. He's polite to the women in his life and even shows Valentin common courtesy. This is in stark contrast to his morose post-murder self who's on edge and chain smoking. We even see François freak out a few times, but Jean Gabin is never histrionic. Somehow even the most emotionally charged moments are subtle. And while the film itself is simple (despite the form) and fairly commonplace (guy meets and pursues girl), M. Gabin is never dull, but absolutely interesting since every subtle movement tells his character's story.

In The Grand Illusion, Gabin plays Lt. Maréchal (at left), a working man conscripted to the French army in WWI. Maréchal is a prison of war with several other men. They fend off bordom by staging musical numbers, studying obscure languages, or digging a hole to escape depending on their individual talents. The escape angle is where most of the film is focused. We get the idea that they want to escape, not because the conditions are terrible (in fact, the German's in charge of the prison are rather sympathetic), but because they don't have anything else to do. POWs escape because that's what they do.

What makes this such an engaging film is that Gabin is just one of many popular French actors in the film. It feels a little like
The Magnificent Seven* or the Ocean's movies where it's just fun to see all these big name actors interact. I'm not too familiar with French cinema, but all these actors have a strong charisma of their own, making it a delight to see them all together. When ensemble casts work, they're my absolute favorite.

Although Jean Gabin does begin to stand out as the film progresses and the characters thin out. We follow him to a new prison, through a successful escape, and then see him taken in by a kind German woman. For most of the film, he's good-natured, makes jokes about the prison camp and the German officers. But then, just like in
Daybreak, we see him break down a few times: once while he's in solitary confinment and once while having a fight with his fellow escapee. Each of these occasions is quickly followed by a return of his optimistic spirit.

This is in support of the films overall feel that people are inherently good and don't want to fight wars. That nationalism and duty is just a façade (a grand illusion, perhaps) that people follow through without any passion. Jean Gabin's character is respectful of the officers, other prisoners, and of the woman who takes him and his fellow escapee in. It's a lovely vision that could have only been made pre-WWII. The director himself, Jean Renoir, later admitted that his pacifist views might be outdated after Hitler, but the message still rings true for me.

I'll have to investigate more Jean Gabin films in the future. Known as one of the quintessential actors France's golden age, he really is fantastic and a joy to watch.

*Probably The Great Escape is a better comparison, but I haven't seen that one yet.


Shine On You Crazy Diamond: not as exciting as the title would suggest

So I keep thinking I should post a review of a film or even just a mash-up review of a ton of movies, but my brain is tired, I'm tired, and I'm not in the mood to do anything constructive.

Really, I can only space out and listen to Pink Floyd's epic "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." So much synth, yet so much soul. Listen for moments that sound like Radiohead. It's kind of like listen to Dvorak's "New World Symphony" and finding all of the themes John Williams used.

Parts I-III (synthy and Radioheady)

Parts IV-V (sweet guitar solo and some singing!)

Parts VI-VII (more synth and some blusey guitar playing and a return to the singing)

Parts VIII-IX (so smooth and so funky and then it ends on a thoughtfully synth-like note)