Writing a paper and watching a movie

So my roommate has Romeo + Juliet (1996), and since I haven't been a big fan in the past, I figured I would put it in as background noise.

Except, it's way too frenetic to ignore. And my goodness, young Leonardo DiCaprio has such a lovely face. (is it a little late to get on the Leo bandwagon? Wait. It's no longer 1997?) I'm doing a terrible job at writing this paper.

Anyway, some film epiphonies: Leonardo DiCaprio does best when he plays an innocent, well-intentioned guy caught up in a tragic situation that's beyond his control. Also, is Mercutio not the best part of every production of Romeo and Juliet? (I love you Harold Perrineau!)

Mercutio and Romeo's face: the best elements of this movie.


100 Favorite Songs: 51-55

I can't come up with a cohesive or funny statement about this section other than all the songs are awesome.

51. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (1967)

Best duet ever? Probably.

Plus, these two were adorable performing together.

52. “Why Georgia” by John Mayer (2003)

I like to associate this song with driving around in a Volvo when I first got my license. I like to disassociate this song with John Mayer in real life.

I also can't stand looking at his face when he sings, so here are some lyrics.

53. “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel (1986)

I love the mood and rhythm of this song; it's incredibly romantic without being saccharine. I think I just love earthy '80s songs.

Here he is performing the song with Youssou N'Dour:

I love everything about this performance. Everything.

54. “Young Lust” by Pink Floyd (1979)

I think I meant to choose a second Pink Floyd song from another album besides The Wall, but too bad. I just love David Gilmour too much.

"Oooo, I need a dirty woman." So fun to sing.

55. “Another Night” by Real McCoy (1993)

Dance parties of my childhood were filled with the sounds of Real McCoy in tape cassette single form.

It just never gets old.



Fandango (1985) was the Garden State of an earlier generation. It has a killer soundtrack, effective if over-earnest acting, a coming-of-age tale, and a mystical woman that everything seems to hang around. Can anyone prove or disprove this theory?

However, I enjoyed Fandango much better, if only because it replaces the slow-paced ennui with film student vigor. It's the story of 5 roommates after college graduation in 1971 going on an epic road trip to have one last hurrah and find some closure. It has some overly long scenes and was never terribly involving, but it's just so sincere you have to like it.

And mostly, it had me at "Badge":

Did I mention Judd Nelson and Kevin Costner?

100 Favorite Songs: 46-50

More evidence that I really did just make this list off the top of my head: a double dose of Journey.

46. “There's a Good Reason These Tables Are Numbered Honey, You Just Haven't Thought of It Yet ” by Panic! At the Disco (2005)

Remember when this band was still happening? And how terrible that title has always been? But then the song is just really fun to sing along to? Also, the phrase "I'm the new cancer"? Awesome.

This was the least ridiculous performance I could find of this song. I'm giving you lower quality and Ryan encouraging jazz hands so you don't have to suffer Brendon dancing with skanky Victorian girls.

47. “You Never Give Me Your Money” by The Beatles (1969)

Such a gorgeous beginning with a weirdly vocalized middle (yeah, that's Paul) and ridiculous nursery rhyme end. And you know I can't resist vocal harmonies.

I'm a bigger fan of the latter portion of the Beatles' career. You?

48. “Wedding Bell Blues” by 5th Dimension (1969)

Originally a Laura Nyro song, the 5th Dimension had a big hit with this catchy song. Mostly, I just love Marilyn McCoo's voice.

Incidentally, the guy Marilyn's singing to is named Billy, and the two married in 1969.

49. “Lights” by Journey (1978)

I discovered my love of this song on a choir trip in high school to San Francisco (coincidence?). One of my roommates on the trip and I had a Journey dance party since the local classic rock radio station was no doubt having a Block Party Weekend. In other words, a great night.

Is Yevgeny Plushenko the reincarnation of Steve Perry? Discuss.

50. “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey (1981)

You'd think you could get sick of a song you've listened to hundreds of times, but "Don't Stop Believin'" never gets less powerful.

They sound great live despite the bassist's molester mustache.


2 more Scorseses, this time reviewed with 5 questions each

Mostly because I'm tracking my Scorsese watching with this blog. Also, Leonardo DiCaprio and SO MUCH BOSTON ACCENTEDNESS.

1. Shutter Island (2010)
  1. Is Martin Scorsese allergic to editing movies to under two hours?
  2. And why didn't he cut down any of the languid middle scenes that were 1) boring, 2) not at all misleading (which was their primary goal), and 3) not furthering the plot?
  3. Speaking of editing, why were there so many editing continuity errors?
  4. Will Jackie Earle Haley ever not play a total creepy creep in a movie?
  5. Should Scorsese stick with realism?
Nice suits, boys.

2. The Departed (2006)
  1. How solidly entertaining was this movie?
  2. Was the reason I liked this movie so much because I liked Infernal Affairs so much?
  3. Does any one miss the anxious masculinity replete in other Scorsese movies, but is skimmed over if present at all in this one?
  4. Why are tightly scripted thrillers like this so rare?
  5. Can you name a more perfectly cast movie?
Gun holsters and rolled-up sleeves.


100 Favorite Songs: 41-45

Poppy rock.

41. “I Want You to Want Me” – Cheap Trick (1977)

Apparently it took a live album recorded in Japan for this song to become a big hit, but its addictiveness finally caught on in the States. And let's be honest, how many of us know it because of 10 Things I Hate About You? The TV show*?

How does the guitarist with the hat's outfit not look dated?

42. “Life in a Northern Town” – The Dream Academy (1985)

Hey! A song from the 80s! What can I say, I'm a sucker for vaguely tribal chant-singing. And apparently the oboe.

Who is the woman that introduces the band?

43. “Celebrate Me Home” – Kenny Loggins (1976)**

It really shouldn't shock anyone that I love cheesy pop music. Especially when it's blue-eyed soul. I must warn you that a lot of this performance is a sax attack of the late 80s/early 90s kind.

OMG scatting.

44. “If Only” – The Kooks (2006)

Much like Boston, The Kooks' songs all sound like variations of the same awesome piece of music. That's not a complaint so much as a nod to beautiful consistently. "If Only" as a 2 minute representation of this glorious trend.

So British.

45. “Killer Queen” – Queen (1974)

This song is so opera and so fun to sing.

To my sister: how do you feel about Freddie in this get-up?

Can you grope a microphone stand?

*Which it actually love, despite first impressions. Give it to episode 3.
**I think American Idol uses this song in their results episodes. I choose to ignore that that show exists, so this choice is totally legit.


100 Favorite Songs: 36-40


36. “Lyin’ Eyes” – Eagles (1975)

If only for the phrase "the cheatin' side of town."

Although I always forget how long this song is...

37. “Comfortably Numb” – Pink Floyd (1979)

Mostly written by David Gilmour, "Comfortably Numb" is definitely one of the less pompous moments of The Wall. Also, David kills his guitar solos.

Would have loved to see this live.

38. “Toxicity” – System of a Down (2002)

System of a Down had some of the hardest core music I can withstand, mostly because they still managed to have melody and avoid a lot of screaming. "Toxicity" is one of their most fun to sing along with.

Speaking of Pink Floyd's The Wall.

39. “Fields of Gold” – Sting (1993)

Probably his least weird song, Sting managed to write a song in the early '90s that sounds timeless.

I also associate it with this so-cheesy-it's-great book called They Loved to Laugh, in which Quakers, orphans, and brothers vying for the heart of one woman all happen in one book.

40. “Plush” – Stone Temple Pilots (1993)

Sounds just as good acoustic as it does electric.

Singing in a throne. Impressive.

Cannonball Read #13: Nightlight

Because the world needed another Twilight spoof, the Harvard Lampoon published its own short novel making fun of the popular series last year, Nightlight. It must be hard for the Harvard Lampoon to keep up in the word of online fan fiction, blogging, and even YouTube videos to be relevant. Can anything really beat "Twilight with Cheeseburgers"?

I mean, the first page of Nightlight after the cover is a description of its first volume being so funny, Ulysses S. Grant was warned against reading it because "he would be too much 'in stitches' to run the government." U.S. Grant, folks. Relevant indeed.

But shockingly, it wasn't just a rehash of everything I've ever heard joked about Twilight (although there was that, too). There are some distinctly literary things that only a novelization could capture, like Meyers' overuse of adverbs to describe every line of dialogue (someone didn't read Stephen King's On Writing). Or the way the first-person narrative can sound braggy and not at all accurate of what's going on. Or the similes and out of place literary allusions that add nothing to the story besides draw attention to poor writing.

In this version of Twilight, Belle Goose is a pretty stupid girl who imagines the school nerd that no one talks to, Edwart Mullen, is actually a super hot vampire who super into her. Of course, since the school nerd has no chance with a girl besides this, he kind of goes along with it. Incorporating events from all four of the novels and even the first Twlight movie, the Harvard Lampoon manages to make an entertaining and brief read that covers all the worst travesties of the series with just enough meta-moments to not be obnoxious. Plus, it was an easy read to slide between Olympic events this afternoon.

And in the end, I was glad I read it, if only to the second to last line that read, "We looked at each other and laughed a little because, hey, relationships take work, and communication" which is something you won't find in any of the Twilight books.


Cannonball Read #12: Homemade Love

I picked up Homemade Love by J. California Cooper at the library on a whim, mostly because it was short (175 pages), so I had no idea what to expect. It took me a while to get into it since it consists of 13 stories that basically tell a different life story. I was a little exhausting to restart a new story each chapter, and especially to get used to the fact that an exclamation point ends every other sentence, despite each story having a different narrator.

But then I got to the third chapter, "Happiness Does Not Come in Colors," and I knew that I would enjoy the rest of the stories. It was about a woman who finds inspiration to start living at the age of 30 when a new woman moves next door and inspires her. She goes to college and learns about herself and what sort of man she wants. And that new woman learns to love the white veterinarian and landlord she hated so much at the beginning. I was finally able to get invested to see what was going to happen in these characters lives, and it was fun. All of a sudden, Cooper's style started to make sense and it was as if I could hear someone telling me these stories.

Only a couple of the stories have a male protagonist or narrator. For the most part the view point of women, either as storytellers of another's life or as tellers of their own. Some of the stories even have ignorant narrators, my favorite of which is "The Watcher." A woman tells the story of all the times she's intervened in other people's lives for their own good. Essentially, it's Mary Worth with real consequences, she's meddling so much in people's lives that they move away. But she's also so sure of her goodness and that of certain members of her family that she's shocked when they leave her, too! (The exclamation points are infectious.)

Anyway, it's a fun read, mostly about women finding love, even if it's from a dorky classmate, a toothless mama's boy, or an old neighbor. And of course, the great message overriding is that it's never too late to begin to live your life to the fullest.


100 Favorite Songs: 31-35

Well this is an interesting bunch.

31. "The Look of Love" by Dusty Springfield (1967)

More Burt Bacharach, but this time from the soundtrack for the spooftastic Casino Royale. Mostly I just love the bridge. At least I think it's the bridge, but since there's no discernible chorus, it's hard to tell. It's the part that's starts with "I can hardly wait to hold you..."

I may or may not start to move like Dusty Springfield whenever I sing.

32. "Old Love" by Eric Clapton and Robert Cray (1989)

2 ways to get me to listen to blues: an interesting chord progression or gorgeous instrumental solos. Luckily this has both--mostly in the form of gorgeous guitar solos from both Eric and Robert in this version.

I love Sting so much.

33. "Sunday Morning" by Maroon 5 (2004)

Their one song that doesn't get obnoxious after about 5 times through. Plus I can never resist some good blue-eyed soul. (Skip to about 1:30)

It's just so catchy.

34. “More Than a Feeling” by Boston (1976)

I love pretty much every song by Boston since they all sound like slightly different versions of the same awesome road trip song, but "More Than a Feeling" is their finest. Not only was this the least obnoxious ring tone I ever had, but it contains some great Brad Delp's voice blending into a wailing guitar moments.


35. "Photograph" by Def Leppard (1983)

Blah blah blah, Def Leppard is pretty lame and WTF was with all those Union Jacks. Whatever. This is pop rock at its finest.

Passion killer? Cage? Marilyn Monroe? This video's creepy.


100 Favorite Songs: 26-30

Love gone wrong in the '60s and '70s

26. "Silver Springs" by Fleetwood Mac (1977)

"Silver Springs" didn't make it into the original cut of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, but it just may be my favorite song on the (rereleased version) album. It's a beautiful piece of music with a cathartic "we would have been awesome together, idiot" message.

Personally, I'm not a fan of knickers, even though I'm a fan of period drama.

27. "Over the Hills and Far Away" by Led Zeppelin (1973)

I only let myself pick 2 songs per artist, so "Over the Hills and Far Away" is the last for Led Zep on this list. What can I say? I can't resist the soft beginning/rockin' chorus combo.

I can never get over how goofy Jimmy Page looks.

28. "Walk on By" by Dionne Warwick (1964)

I love Burt Bacharach.

My mom has some great Dionne Warwick was a total diva stories from 1970s BYU.

29. "Hello Darlin'" by Conway Twitty (1970)

When you're on the losing end of the break-up.

Where can I get that sequin guitar strap, please?

30. "Cecilia" by Simon and Garfunkel (1970)

This song has been stuck in my head since my 5th grade obsession with Bridge Over Troubled Water, and it hasn't gotten less awesome.

Can anyone tell me what painting this is? I just chose this video because it had good audio.


Two Scorsese movies I actually liked

1. Alice Doesn't Live Her Anymore (1974) managed to fly in the face of my auteur-with-a-misogynist-bent idea of Scorsese. Chronicling the life of Alice (Ellen Burstyn) after the death of her husband, we follow her and her son Tommy's (Alfred Lutter) move from New Mexico to Monterey, California, the palce where she was a singer in her youth. In Phoenix, they stop so Alice can earn money as a singer. She gets tangled up with an abusive married man (of course), so they move onto Tuscan where Alice gets work as a waitress. While Tuscan wasn't the end goal, Alice and Tommy find people and things to love there.

This sounds corny and cliche, but the film has a sense of menace that only Scorsese could bring to a woman-coming-into-her-own movie. The abusive relationship with the married man is scary, with the camera capturing long takes of him knocking around furniture and going after both Alice and his wife. Even scenes in the diner that might have been silly and fun in other movies, like diner revolting and throwing food at the one waitress left to serve everyone, are full of real violence. I'm still wondering if I was taking these scenes too sensitively, but I appreciate that he was taking these women's fears seriously enough to make these moments frightening.

Although there were some great light-hearted moments as well, like Tommy making friends with town hooligan Audrey (Jodie Foster) and learning to shoplift. In fact, most things out of Tommy's mouth are golden, capturing the 12-year-old's ability to both be legitimately funny and incredibly obnoxious in equal parts. This is just to say, Alfred Lutter gets Least Annoying Child Actor award for life, wherever he is now.

But the thing that won me over was the camera's focus on Alice. The beginning the film shows our girl Alice's actions with a quick (and usually annoyed) follow-up reaction from her husband, child, or girlfriend as if to indicate that Alice defines herself only by the way other people respond to her. As the movie progresses, I noticed less and less of this camera dwelling on others' reactions as Alice starts to come into her own and discover who she is without a husband, lover, or familiar friends.

Plus, a lot of the reactions were replaced by the rancher who takes interest in Alice. Kris Kristofferson gets to show off his patented Look of Love, especially in a sweet scene where he and Alice are relaxing in the kitchen, half-clothed talking about Alice's childhood and her old dreams. The way Kris (let's be honest, he was probably just playing himself) looks at Alice is full of such sincere interest and affection. It was a nice scene that spoke more of romance than most movies entire.

And while this film indulges a little too much in the histrionic, I found this the most interesting of Scorsese's films that use a meandering plot.

Huge tonal change.

2. Cape Fear (1991). This movie was perfect. You can have your Goodfellas, or Mean Streets, but neither of those two bring it like Cape Fear. First and foremost, the film had a focus: ex-con Max Cady (Robert De Niro) recently released from a 14-year prison sentence wants his lawyer, Sam (Nick Nolte), to suffer because Sam buried a document noting the woman Cady raped was promiscuous which may have lessened Cady's sentence. So with an actual plot, we watch as Cady goes after Sam's dog, his coworker Lori (who Sam spends a lot of time with, although it's not quite an affair), his daughter (Juliette Lewis), and finally his very life. The film gets more and more tense as the movie goes on.

Part of that has to do with giving Sam and family some scenes to show intrafamilial tension as well. Sam and his wife Leigh (Jessica Lange) have had marital problems in the past, so when coworker Lori becomes a victim, it causes the two to argue. So not only is there a psycho messing with them, they're not getting along. And then the daughter is in summer school after being busted from smoking pot, so she's not exactly on good terms with her parents either. But they don't seem to be absolutely shrill to one another either (one of the many reasons American Beauty makes me cringe). They've got some bonds that are keeping them together through this craziness.

I also enjoyed the cinematography in this film. The filmmakers seemed to be having fun as they have objects appear in the foreground of shots or have shot-reverse-shot conversations often defy the 180 degree rule, making everything seem just a little off. And a smattering of Dutch angles add to the disconcerting feel of the movie and also add a sense of old school style. There were also some fun allusions to Scorsese's own work (the opening shot of a shirtless De Niro is reminiscent to his role in Taxi Driver) and other classics (Gregory Peck shows up, and it's awesome).

But the best (er, creepiest) moments where the long scenes where Cady is messing with the family members. Most pronounced is Cady's interaction with Danielle, the 15-year-old daughter. After talking on the phone with her the night before by pretending to be her new drama teacher, Cady has Danielle meet him in the auditorium alone. He treats her like a grown-up and gets her to confess her unhappiness with her parents. He even gets her to confess her interest in sex, talking about literature with notorious sexual descriptions, and even further gets her to allow him to touch her. Juliette Lewis is so good here, being equal parts embarrassed, intrigued, and willing to be rebellious. She's not a completely stupid teenager, but she also craves to be treated like she's older. And Cady's gentle approach is so disturbing because the scene plays out so naturally. (At this point in the movie, I was curled up in a ball saying, "Ew, ew ,ew" over and over again.) De Niro's ability to harness a fine balance between charming and creepy is incredible.

What it comes down to is this: Cape Fear is a perfect thriller, giving enough character development to make the audience care, but also a chipper enough pace to keep the tension high. Recommend.


100 Favorite Songs: 21-25

Most eclectic 5 yet?

21. "Interstate Love Song" by Stone Temple Pilots (1994)

'90s alternative always sounds homey to me, especially this understated break-up song. Here's a 2001 performance:

Love Scott's moves.

22. "Bring It On Home to Me" by Sam Cooke (1961)

Sam Cooke's vocals are perfect in this song when balanced out with Lou Rawls' lower harmonies.


23. "Electric Feel" by MGMT (2008)

MGMT seems to be a decent live band, but nothing beats the studio polished reverb on every "ooo girl" and "baby girl."

Hipster jungle?

24. "Alison" by Elvis Costello (1977)

This is one of the better songs that's on permanent rotation in my head.

Have you ever met an Al(l)i/yson you didn't like?

25. “Mykonos” – Fleet Foxes (2008)

I love vocal harmonies. So much. Also, this song held up to several iterations a day during my crappy summer kiosk job.

Rock sensibly.


Cannonball Read #11: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote gives context to the murder of four members of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959. Gorgeously written with an empathetic eye for murderer and victim alike, the novel succeeds in immersing the reader in the complexity of a crime, from the people involved to the system that solves and prosecutes it.

Using first-hand accounts from many sources, Capote pieces together a story. It begins the day before the murders by introducing the Clutter family, the soon-to-be murderers Perry and Dick, and townspeople who knew and associated with the Clutter family. The first section, The Last to See Them Alive, is an eerie one, quickly fleshing out the quiet lives of a family in Holcomb. It's impressive that by the end of the section when the crime finally happens, that you feel a loss. But the personalities are described so colorfully, their presence is felt beyond the 70 pages they're alive.

The second section, Persons Unknown, sketches out the investigation of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation headed up by Al Dewey. Incredibly, regular viewing of procedural television shows didn't diluted the brilliant and brief rendering of an investigation in this novel. In a few of the interrogation scenes, I could imagine David Boreanaz or Mariska Hargitay leaning over a table staring at the criminal in the eyes, but the character development of the criminals in In Cold Blood was deeper due mostly to the fact that the investigation took more than 42 minutes to solve.

Answer, part III, is a slow build to finally catching Perry and Dick and getting the solution of what really happened the terrible night of the murder since that's left a mystery to even the men investigating the crime until they final get the story out of the men. The fourth part, The Corner, is the most unique touch of the novel. It takes time to follow through with Perry and Dick to the bitter end with their experiences on death row. This includes capturing the personalities of fellow death row inmates, Perry's withdrawal, and Dick's need to appeal the trial several times. In the end, it takes 5 years for the men to finally be hung after conviction.

Certainly, the novel is detailed, but the descriptions are so concise, it never feels meandering or like a textbook. The novel format even allows for some character arcs to take place with vignettes defining weeks or months of time. In this way, the novel felt cinematic, with brief chapters that could easily be scenes in a movie or television show. But the richly described inner life would be missed in a film medium. Capote did his homework on this novel, taking him 6 years to complete, and you can tell from the level of detail and beautifully written descriptions. Most impressive, though, is that In Cold Blood manages to draw out human characteristics out of all the people involved, no matter how minor. A fascinating read.


100 Favorite Songs: 16-20


16. "Peace Like a River" by Paul Simon (1972)

I'm not really sure who's wielding lead guitar in this song, but it's spectacularly earthy.

Fun fact: that's a picture of the Provo River taken by yours truly.

And just in case it gets pulled:

17. "Strong Enough" - Sheryl Crow

While I love the sparer, slower version on the recorded version (I may have had an epic emotional breakdown to this song one time), this live performance from Lilith Fair 1997 gives the lyrics a fun spin. Also, accordion.

Apparently Lilith Fair is back.

18. "You Got the Silver" by Susan Tedeschi (2005)

A cover of The Rolling Stone's 1969 song, I prefer Susan Tedeschi's strong vocals to Keith Richard's Bob Dylanesque approximation of singing*--especially at the end when she takes turns with a slide guitar's melody to create a mixture of awesomeness.

I wish I had this woman's pipes.

19. "Into the Mystic" by Van Morrison (1970)

Right? Plus, references to gypsies.

In case you can't get Groove Shark to work its magic, here's a good cover (in that it gets real hard core at the end) from Canadian songstress Deb Whalen at some random wedding (Van Morrison's people are big on pulling any Van Morrison original stuff):

Because this is the lady portion of the list, apparently.

20. "Delta Lady" by Joe Cocker (1969)

Penned by Leon Russell for Rita "The Delta Lady" Coolidge, I mostly just enjoy the lyrics which are fun, blunt, and a little sexy. Plus, you just can't beat Joe Cocker's gravelly singing style.

Did I mention mutton chops?

*I admit it kind of has its charms, if you're in the mood.