Before Midnight

One of my reactions to this
was, “They’re 41 and they think that’s
midnight?” But maybe there will be another one, when
they’re really old, like 61, that will be After Midnight.

If you liked Before
and Before
, you’ll like this one, too. It might even be a little
bit better than the others, as the actors and maybe other crew
members have learned things.

They’re all the story of a couple who meet on a train when
they’re in their early twenties in the first movie, meet again in
their thirties in the second movie, and have an emotional day
together as a married couple in their forties. They’re all very
conversational, like some of the Eric Rohmer ones from the 60’s.
(Ma nuit chez Maude was the one I discovered.)

There are three major scenes — one between Ethan Hawkes and
his son by his first marriage, whom he’s putting on a plane to
go back to his mother; one at the dinner table among the writers
and their wives and children who’ve been spending the summer
together in Greece; and a very long one between the couple, who
have been given a night together in a hotel without the
children, and with a bottle of good wine. They’re all really
pretty interesting, and the couple manage to be both very angry
and very attractive in the way we want romantic movies to show us.

The Great Gatsby

I watched
last night — it was more enjoyable than I expected.
Mostly the music and the dancing girls, although the acting was
pretty good, too.

I’ve never read the book — my parents owned Tender is
the Night
, and I tried to read it several times and
always got bored, so I never went in for any other F. Scott
Fitzgerald, either. I did see the
with Robert Redford
in the 70’s, and remembered it visually
but not for the plot. For instance, I remembered the scene with
Gatsby floating dead in the pool, but not the details of how
or why he died.

This version is a much more lavish production — I don’t
remember there being scantily clothed dancing girls doing
production numbers in every drug store in the other version.

It’s definitely a Hollywood production and not a BBC
historically accurate costume drama. I remember hearing an
interview with a famous actor who had worked in both American TV
and British TV, and he said the difference was how much less
important the actors were in the British version. He’d have
these fittings for costumes, and they’d find a jacket that fit
him pretty well and make notes about how to alter it for his
exact shape, but also for the exact year of the scene he was
wearing it in, as in “We’ll take off these buttons — they
weren’t made until the ’20s and this is 1904.” And the
people who knew about the buttons were treated as well (or
badly) as the actors who wore the suits.

They didn’t do that in this movie. I don’t know enough about
buttons to say when the ones in this movie were made, but I did
get startled when a scene very explicitly billed as 1922 was
playing Rhapsody in Blue as a background to the
fireworks. I looked it up, and sure enough, it wasn’t until
1924 that Gershwin wrote it. It did work really well as the
background to the fireworks. Maybe the Boston Pops Fourth of
July concert could use that instead of or in addition to
Tchaikowsky some year.

I also noticed that the English actress Carey
American accent was better than some. It didn’t
sound like any American I’ve ever known, but she did almost
convince me that she might know something I don’t about how a Louisville
debutante born at the turn of the 19th century might have

If none of this sounds like I spent a lot of time caring about
what happened to any of the characters in the movie, I didn’t. But I did enjoy

Going Postal

We had a movie night last week to watch the film of Going
. The
is one of the better of Terry
more recent books. (I like Making
even better, but you should read Going

There were three of us — I’ve been reading everything by
Pratchett that I could get my hands on since about 1998, a friend
who is a big Pratchett fan but also a very busy man, so he’s
probably read about half of the Discworld books, and was only
halfway through Going Postal when we saw the movie, and
another friend who has only vaguely heard of Pratchett. (Also two
dogs — Sammy was sick
and Monte was feeling abandoned by both his mommies (my mother
died and my sister went to Europe), and not yet settling in well
at all.) The food was Taiwanese from the excellent restaurant across
the street.
The big hit was the octopus with mustard greens.
The beer was a selection from the Pratchett fan’s refrigerator,
heavily weighted to the barley wines.

We all (except for Monte) enjoyed the show — it’s quite faithful to
the book, so I wasn’t in any suspense. I also wasn’t so riveted I
insisted on pausing it when Monte demanded to go out and look for
his Mommy. I did leave it in my Netflix streaming queue so that I
could go back and catch up, but haven’t yet felt obligated to do

When you finish a streaming movie on Netflix, you get a chance
to rate it from one to 5 stars. I usually give things that turned
out about as well as I would have expected before I watched them
three stars, but I was feeling good enough about the evening as a
whole to suggest four. The Pratchett fan suggested five, but he
hardly ever sees movies at all, so he deferred to my judgement.
The non-fan said she’d enjoyed it but prefers movies to
not have people hanging by their fingernails off of tall
structures. Having clacks towers that people get pushed off of is
pretty integral to the plot of this book, so the rest of us
declined to downgrade the move on this ground.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

I actually went to see this
in a theater yesterday. Mostly because it’s the first
3D movie I’ve heard of that I really cared about seeing. I did
watch Avatar,
because it was on the Hugo awards ballot, but I
certainly didn’t expect to like it $15 worth.

Since the incremental cost of most of the movies I see is $0,
since I get them on my Netflix subscription, I’m
usually just telling you whether I think the movie is interesting
enough to be worth the
time you spend watching it. In this case, however, I will also address
whether it’s worth the time, money, and trouble to go to the movie
theater and see it in 3-D, instead of just getting it on Netflix
when it comes out.

Well, first, if you’re interested in any of archeology,
anthropology, film-making, or Werner Herzog, you do want to see
the movie. It isn’t as tightly put together as the best of the
Herzog documentaries (e.g., Grizzly
), but you aren’t going to be able to actually see that
cave, and you do want to.

I went with a bunch of friends, and one of the first things we
talked about after the movie was all the topics that could have
been covered in more detail. For instance, one of the friends is an
anthropology professor, and he had been hoping to use the film in
his class about the origins of religion. The people who have been
researching the cave are in fact working on the light these
discoveries shed on that topic, but the movie has only a 5 or 10
minute segment about it. Another friend wanted to know more about
the actual process of making the paintings than we saw.

Of course, there’s only so much you can cover in 90 minutes,
but it surprised me how random the topics covered seemed to be.
Another of the friends, a rock musician who has made movies, said
that he was sure the sequence with the albino crocodiles at the
end only happened because there was this film crew that could only
spend four hours a day in the cave, so they had time to see the
tourist attractions in the area, and they saw the crocodiles and
said, “Wow! We have to put these in the movie.”

That was probably the most gratuitous insertion, but there was
a lot of stuff about German archeologists working on similar
periods that didn’t really relate to this particular cave at all.
It was fun to hear the bone flute played, though.

Now for the 3-D. I’m glad I saw it. There were some
absolutely spectacular shots, which would still be beautiful in
2-D, but not as impressive. On the other hand, when you’re
interviewing a talking head in front of a window onto a scene of
snow-covered trees, it’s a little distracting to be able to see
the trees that well. And although the camera lingered lovingly on
the cave paintings, there were still times when you wanted the
coffee table book so that you could look at what you wanted to see
in the lighting you wanted to use.

On the whole, you can probably get a lot of what I got out of
the movie without the 3-D, but if it’s not a terrible
inconvenience or a major expense, it’s worth seeing.


, about the poem Howl and it’s
connections to the life of its author and the still-ongoing debate
over free speech, was better than I expected. Mostly because the parts I
liked best weren’t discussed in any of the reviews I read or

There are three intertwined threads:

  • James Franco reading a transcript of an interview Ginsberg
    gave during the obscenity trial.
  • An all-star cast performing the transcript of the obscenity
    trial of Lawrence Ferlinghetti for publishing Howl and
    other poems
  • James Franco reading Howl as voiceover to an
    often marvelous animation of the poem.

It’s the last of those I really enjoyed. I also enjoyed the
DVD extra film of Ginsberg himself reading Howl and
a few other poems. He wasn’t a professional actor, and he
couldn’t get through something as long as Howl
without making mistakes. (Franco probably needed retakes, too.)
But he had the rhythms of the poem in his head in a way that
Franco wasn’t even trying to. If you like the poem at all, I
think you’ll want to hear both versions.


Moliere would have liked this

There isn’t really anything nicer than that to say about a
French farce. If you’re thinking that it’s virtuous to watch it
because of what it says about the international arms trade, you
are mistaken. What it says about the international arms trade is
that enough people find it distasteful that you can make the arms
traders the butt of the farce without making the audience
unsympathetic to the “good guys”.

Moliere used old men who are forcing themselves on young women
in that role; in this century we can use arms traders. But you
wouldn’t watch Moliere to learn about sexuality in the elderly,
and you shouldn’t watch this to learn about arms trading.

The Messenger

was the standard Hollywood movie on my Netflix Watch Now
list that I was up to watching after spending the afternoon at the
Pub Carol Sing.
It’s about two officers on the Army’s Casualty Notification Team,
whose job is to tell the next of kin that their loved one has been
killed in action.

One interesting thing about it was watching Woody Harrelson
play the jaded older officer, after all those years of watching
him on Cheers as the dewy-eyed young kid.

Another highlight was an actual explanation of why you might
instead of ringing
: Woody Harrelson is explaining how they go
about doing their job and he says something like, “I always knock — there are a
lot of those doorbells that play some silly tune and if it’s going
‘Yankee Doodle went to town…’ and I start saying ‘The Secretary
of the Army wants me to extend his deepest sympathy…’, it just
doesn’t flow.”

Definitely worth watching if you’re tired, and maybe a bit
better than that.

<iframe src="; style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" fram

The Skin Game

was made in 1931, with a script by John Galsworthy and
directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

It’s historically interesting — the opening screens specify
that it’s a “talkie”, and there isn’t any music in the
background. In other words, it’s a filmed play, since they
didn’t yet have the modus operandi for making movies with
sound that developed later.

There are a few points where you can see flickerings of what
Hitchcock would become, but most of the cinematography is pretty
primitive. The picture quality of the DVD leaves something to
be desired, and the sound quality is really bad in some

The script is the kind of annoyingly simple-minded diatribe
about the class system that the Galsworthy plays I read in high
school were. (The novels are much better.)

So if you’re interested in the history of film, see this movie,
but if you want good drama or great cinematography, look elsewhere.

Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

makes me feel a lot better about the ability of
cinematic costume designers to show us good clothes than the last
about Coco Chanel I saw. The dress he seduces her out
of is just brilliant.

There are two other reasons the movie is worth watching. One is
the piano
lesson he gives her, where he has her play:

[first piano lesson exercise]

and then improvises on it underneath her. If piano lessons
were like that, I’d have stuck with them. But there’s no
evidence that she did.

The other is that the whole first 20 minutes is the original production
of The Rite of Spring that incited the riot. I’ve
never understood before why that music would have incited a riot
— it isn’t that different from what Debussy and other people
were doing at the time. But if you see the costumes and the
dancing, and realize, as Diaghilev remarks in the movie, “They
wanted to see Swan Lake,” the riot makes more sense.

How to find a movie

I’d always thought I’d seen and enjoyed Bertolucci’s 1900.
It was in the late 1970’s, it was a long Italian movie
with gorgeous pictures of the Italian countryside and a marxist
plot, so nothing I read about 1900 disabused
me of the idea that I’d seen it.

As I said, I remembered enjoying it, so when they put out a
special collectors’ edition with restored footage that made it
even longer, I ordered it from Netflix.

I was quite surprised to find that 1900 was
not the movie I had seen. There were scenes I would
certainly have remembered if I’d seen them, and I didn’t, and
there were scenes I remembered vividly from the movie I
had seen that just weren’t there.

I tried searching Amazon,
Netflix, and IMDB for the movie I had seen, to
no avail.

Then I read a mention of Rotten Tomatoes as a
place where movies were reviewed, and up popped Tree
of Wooden Clogs
, which seems to have been the movie.

So I’m putting that on my netflix list, now.

For the record, the scenes I remembered were the grandfather
gleefully implementing his secret process for growing the earliest
tomatoes in town, cutting down a tree to make his grandson a pair
of wooden shoes so he could go to school, and the whole family
being evicted as penalty for having cut down the tree to make the
clogs. So my search term was something like “italian tomatoes
wooden clogs”, and it worked on Rotten Tomatoes but not on the
other places.