Tag: Movies

Five Things I Loved in November

“It is good people who make good places.”
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

Time to run down the things that brought me joy this month in spite of some pretty crushing political and social disappointment, and not a little anxiety about the state of the world. But there are a lot of small pleasures and a lot of good art and creativity to be had. What got you through the month, kittens, and what’s worth sharing? Let me know in the comments.

Image via IMP Awards.
Image via IMP Awards.

Arrival. I’m not an aficionada but I do love smart science fiction and this film was nothing if not intelligent. So many sci fi films are silly or devolve into smashy smashy slugfests that aren’t actually very interesting to watch–not so this one. Arrival starts with a basic set of assumptions, that most scientists would likely cheer for, that rather than being humanoid, able to live in our atmosphere, and have similar social and communication structures to human beings any alien life we come into contact with is likely to be so fundamentally different from us as to make connection near impossible. So, how do we connect in that case? More I cannot say, since the plot and the theme are one and the same, but if you enjoy really thinking about movies, give this one a shot.


Image via Nars
Image via Nars

NARSissist Amour, Toujour L’Amour palette by Nars. This was a late summer beauty indulgence that I didn’t give a proper trial to until this month but this thing is gorgeous and is going to get some serious use this holiday season.


Image via Netflix.
Image via Netflix.

The Crown. Yep, another Netflix binge happened. The costumes are stunning, the set pieces grand, and the topic one of the most documented and simultaneously private families in the world. I have a few quibbles about some aspects of historicity but have mostly sucked down this gorgeous series in gulps.


Image via Heist Studios.
Image via Heist Studios.

Heist tights. Black tights are de rigeur in London this time of year and I inevitably run through a couple of pairs a season as snags and laddering regularly claims sacrificial victims. However I came across this brand through their (clever and excellent) brand campaign, read some reviews, and decided to give them a try. The options for higher waistbands sold me as there’s nothing more uncomfortable than than a waistband that either digs into your skin or, worse, goes wandering throughout the course of the day… Nope, I’m not being paid to rave about these tights, I just love them. Take advantage of the coupon code I got with my order to get 20% off if you are so inclined! They ship worldwide when last I checked.



Rules for Rulers, by CGP Grey. Another win for this YouTube creator, this video is a nice little primer for anyone thinking about politics right now (and we should all be thinking about it right now). The section around minute 10 is particularly cringe inducing at this moment in history. You want to rule? Are you sure? No man rules alone…

Oscar Review 2014

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
– Oscar Wilde

Ho boy, this is going to be a nicely divisive year, I can feel the comments section rumbling already! All in all, I’m quite pleased, there have been a couple of seasons of this now-annual event where I have found the frocks nice but boring, this year I feel we have something to talk about.

Major trends included statement necklaces (which I approve), lots of pale shades on pale girls (which I generally don’t), navy everywhere (which I’m fine with, it’s my kind of neutral) and pregnancy (which I’m too smart to have an opinion about here). J Law had the good sense to get her tumbling over and done with before the ceremony this year, Anne Hathaway has a comeback for all the haters obsessed with her bosom from last year, and we’re not even going to talk about Pharrell’s shorts.

If there was an overarching theme I noticed, I’d say there were some very definite nods to Old Hollywood glamor that I really loved. There were capes and vintage silhouettes and straight up call backs to iconic films and screen sirens. On the whole, I loved it. Dramatic and interesting are a lot more desirable to me than pretty and safe…usually. Sometimes things can go wrong. And with that, let’s delve deep into opininating.

Friends, minions, countrymen, lend me your thoughts!


Lupita Nyong'o Prada

Lupita Nyong’o in Prada. Gorgeous frock on a gorgeous woman who has been nailing it on the style front all season. She’s an actress who masterfully harnessed the ability to stay in the public eye via her clothing early, professionally smart and stylistically successful. That blue sings on her and the whole thing moved beautifully. And I’m going to catch hell for this but as much as I think this look stuns, I have to admit I preferred the red caped gown she busted out at the Academy Awards.

Anne Hathaway Gucci

Anne Hathaway in Gucci. Speaking of smart! Remember the craziness last year when this woman was campaigning hard for an Oscar (not helped by a rather juvenile, breathy, “It came true!” when she got the thing) and everybody turned on her in the most ridiculous way for it? How her pink dress with unfortunate frontal puckering inspired instant twitter accounts and memes? Yeah, Anne Hathaway kindly invites the haters to eat it. This dress clearly calls back to last year’s in style and shape, but this time she’s literally darkened up and armored herself. Clever, clever stylist behind this one. Though I’m braced for minion pushback on this one, I stand firm that this dress was a deliberate Do Over and I say, go for it!

Cate Blanchett Giorgio Armani

C., you ridiculously contrary creature, I hear you exclaim, you hate pale women in pale shades. Well there’s always an exception, ducklings. Her name is Cate Blanchett, she is wearing Armani and she is stunning so you all will just have to deal with my hypocrisy.

Olivia Wilde Valentino

There were many bumps out and about, Olivia Wilde’s in Valentino was the best. Apart from looking wonderfully classy that gown has pockets. An instant win in my book.

Emma Watson Vera Wang

Emma Watson in Vera Wang. This is where my bias comes out because that 90’s looking t-shirt ballgown hybrid thing she’s got on that actually looks comfortable? I would totally wear that. [Editor’s note, I initially typed the designer in as “Vera Want.” If that isn’t subliminal messaging I don’t know what is.]

Chrissy Teigen Monique Lhuillier

Chrissy Teigen in Monique Lhuillier. …Look, let’s just ignore everything from the neck up, okay? There’s no justifying it so let’s pretend, just put your thumb over the screen for a second. Now look! A bold print on the Oscars Red Carpet!


Oh here we go…this is where the pushback comes.

Amy Adams Gucci

Amy Adams in Gucci. This look was praised to the sky but to me it falls under the boring but safe in a big way. The navy blue is a perfect shade for her but the getup lacked some oomph for my taste. It’s also very similar to Jennifer Lawrence’s gown. Speaking of!

Jennifer Lawrence Dior

Jennifer Lawrence in Dior. She loses some points for the hair and makeup styling, and doing the down-the-back necklace thing (which I liked the first time, admittedly) two years in a row but the red (in a sea of muted blushes, darker but muted tones) won me over. To be fair, the photo is not at all doing the color justice here. On screen that gown was a gorgeous, sizzling red. Minions who can find me that exact shade of it in lipstick form will be promoted to an exalted state in my someday empire.

Viola Davis Escada

Viola Davis in Escada. She’s worn emerald green before (and for good reason!), and I love her hair and makeup, but the dress is a bit too shiny and oddly fitted.

Idina Menzel Vera Wang

Idina Menzel in Vera Wang. The dress is pretty (but safe, for a Broadway diva at least), the diamonds are to die for. But the face is washed out, the hair is bland, and the lips need color pretty badly.

Charlize Theron Dior

WHY? Why must Charlize Theron insist on wearing Dior gowns that do freakish things to her breasts?! This is going for Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X but the unfinishedness of the straps bothers me.

Kristen Bell Roberto Cavalli

Kristen Bell in Roberto Cavalli. Okay, but pale girl in a pale frock syndrome strikes again. She looks utterly washed out to me.

Elsa Pataky Elie Saab

Elsa Pataky in Elie Saab. Look, the woman is heavily pregnant with twins and she still showed up smiling and in heels. All I’m going to say is that I didn’t like it on her.


Sally Hawkins Valentino

Sally Hawkins in Valentino. This is one big helping of Too Much. Perhaps this would have worked better if styled differently or worn by someone else, but as it is it’s a pale shade on a pale girl with messy looking hair and too much detailing.

Alfre Woodard Badgley Mischka

Alfre Woodard in Badgley Mischka. No favors done to anyone’s chest region here.

Julie Delpy Jenny packham

Julie Deply in Jenny Packham. Cleopatra by way of the 1960s. This could have been ranked higher, but I think the hair styling tipped it over into frumpy for me.

Kerry Washington Jason Wu

Holding down the bump category for the Bad is Kerry Washington in Jason Wu. I anticipate pushback here too, but I don’t love this shade on her and think she looks just a bit too rumpled. The overall effect is of us catching her in nothing but a (admittedly luxurious) bedsheet, but not in a good way I find.

Julia Roberts Givenchy

Julia Roberts, no! A dress that looks like those droopy shirtwaists from the turn of the last century combined with a doily in mourning and a peplum too? This Givenchy doesn’t work for me at all.

Gabourey Sidibe Theia

Gabourey Sidibe in Theia. Too much everything.

Anna Kendrick J. Mendel

Anna Kendrick in J. Mendel. I sighed. From the back it looked like it could have been worn by that fabulously vamp fringe character from Singing in the Rain…then she turned around to reveal clunky shoes, awkward pleated layers, unattractive cutouts with unattractive netting, sheer panels, and sideboob. I dislike those elements on their own, put them together and I cringe. Easily my pick for worst of the night (Liza Minnelli is exempted because she is Liza Minnelli).


Karen O Camilla Staerk

Bring me that clutch immediately!


Sari Mercer

Sari Mercer. The hair, the lip color, the complexion, the diamonds, that gown. Do me a favor, everyone, and from now on let’s all mutually agree that I look like this 100% of the time, alright?

Now, it’s your turn. Come to the comments and decry my taste!

Viewing Habits

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.”
― Anaïs Nin

I tend to listen to documentaries while I work. Some people might find this obnoxious or distracting, but I find it both entertaining and relaxing. And informative! I’m a facts sponge, I live to soak up interesting information.

But it strikes me that anyone looking at my documentary history might find me either somewhat lacking in focus or downright schizophrenic in my interests. Recent topics of programs and documentaries I’ve listened to while plugging away include:

The lives of medieval children based on archeological evidence.
The evolution and manifestation of ideas about deity through Western History.
The secret world of Haute Couture and its clientele.
The AIDS epidemic with the US’s African American communities.
Life and teaching of the Buddah.
Child brides within the opium trade and terrorist networks.
Theoretical physics.
The connection between refuse and waste disposal and civic unrest.
A profile on Anna Wintour

I’m either very deep or secretly shallow. Two of my favorite documentaries of all time are Prohibition, by Ken Burns, and The September Issue. Make of that what you will.

But I’m asking you to confuse my tastes even more. I’m putting out another call. You responded magnificently to my plea for book recommendations, so now give me your favorite documentary titles and/or subjects. Tell me what I need to listen to or watch next.


Bump in the Night

“So, was it [the movie ‘The Woman in Black’] good?”
“Well, yes, in that I refuse to go outside to do the laundry now because it’s dark.”
– J. and C. 

I have remembered why I don’t regularly watch scary films. Quite enjoyable, but the reviewers who said it wasn’t creepy are lying.  Also, surely we can all agree on a few basic truths when confronted with the paranormal?  Angel and Margot, with whom I saw the film, and I all came to some suggestions:

If the house is supposed to be empty and someone (or something) is in it, leave.

If there are banging and screaming sounds coming from upstairs, don’t go up.  And certainly don’t keep going up over and over again.  (Idiot.)

You can’t fix crazy, in this world or the next.

Children never, ever do frightening/dangerous things in unison, it’s a bad sign (have you seen ‘The Shining?’).  Avoid such young’ins.

If all the locals warn you not to go somewhere, burst into weeping at the sight of you, cross themselves, etc., listen to their Cassandra-like croakings and don’t go to the creepy house.  Locals know things like that: best restaurants, good inns, places that could lead to a loss of soul or life.  You know.

Dilapidated manor houses where multiple deaths have occurred, surrounded by unwelcoming family graveyards, on virtually unreachable islands with no hope of rescue are bad news.  Pick a different vacation spot.

Harry Potter's work as an Auror depicted.

I Smell an Oscar Nod…

“Cinema is the most beautiful fraud in the world.”
– Jean-Luc Godard

I may have a stress twitch going strong in my left eye, I may not have been able to take my lunch break until 3pm, and I may have spent said lunch break researching immigration laws and rules exhaustively…but then it got all better when I saw this:

Minions, the phrase, “The pearls are absolutely non-negotiable,” will now be added to your daily repertoire per management’s instructions.

Note: I’m ambivalent on Maggie Thatcher herself, but good grief, is there anyone Meryl Streep can’t play?

Note the second: Also, speaking of upcoming films, what exactly happened to Neville Longbottom?  Discuss.

Now Available On – VHS?

“Yes!   I bought it!  And I’m not sorry!”
– C.

There are two Christmas films that were highly important to my childhood that have yet to be made into DVDs, and look likely never to be.  They are too old, too somewhat obscure.  Luckily at this festive time of year, as I scour the internet to find presents I invariably trip over treasures.

Most of the performances I’ve seen of The Nutcracker have been fairly typical: by area companies of mediocre to good skill, highly traditional, etc.  I’d have to throw you over to Scarlett for an in depth critique of the various productions and recommendations (living as she does in New York).  But my family has an old VHS sitting quietly on a shelf, taken down but once a year so it lasts longer.  This VHS is Nutcracker, the Motion Picture, and it is my definitive adaptation.  It gets played from time to time on PBS, but that’s not nearly enough for me.

What’s not to love?  Maurice Sendak provided production design!  Patricia Barker danced the role of Clara!  It’s a stunner of a film and required holiday viewing chez Small Dog.  If and when this is finally moved to DVD format, I’ll be the first in line, but in the meantime I found a killer deal for a nearly new copy on amazon.com and practically sprained my fingers in my frenzy to order it.  Everyone should own it, in my opinion, but in the meantime if you’re feeling festive and cheap, you can watch it on Hulu.

My other, more obscure little guilty pleasure is an old live action version of Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester (which I personally believe is one of best Christmas stories).  It stars Ian Holm as the tailor, with Thora Hird as the Mayor’s housekeeper, and even a young (gangly, awkward, with no hint of his future attractiveness) Jude Law.  This is so rare it will run you up to $80 or more…unless you haunt eBay the way I did!  I scored it for $2, and except for some shelfwear on the box, the tape is fine.

There’s no hope of this ever being made into a DVD, it was a made-for-TV production back in the 80’s.  For lack of another term, it was made cheaply.  It’s for young children.  It’s old.  And it’s completely charming and necessary for my household.

Disclaimer: yes I know magic machines exist that can convert VHS to DVDs and there is a very important reason why I haven’t employed them: I’m lazy.  Plus, recall what happened last time I used one?

For My Future Spawn: A Christmas Carol

– Charles Dickens

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a purist.  If you’re going to take something as good as Shakespeare or Austen or Saturday morning cartoons, don’t mess ’em up!  Tweak it, adapt it, reinterpret it to your heart’s content, but don’t make something good into something unwatchable or unreadable, or just plain bad.  This worldview is doubly stringent around Christmas time when, let’s face it, the world conspires to turn charming tradition into commercialism with fanatical efficiency.

Thus, I have very decided ideas about Christmas entertainment!

You may remember my affinity for puppets at yuletide?  Well, I indulged myself further buy snagging The Muppet Christmas Carol on Amazon.com this year.

Honestly, next to the version with Patrick Stewart, this may be my favorite version of the holiday tale.  Lots of humor with the storyline well preserved, what’s not to like?  (Well, I may get in trouble for this, but I never liked the random song Scrooge’s fiancee uses to break up with him, but other than that, thumbs up).

And speaking of, A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart is fan-bloody-tastic!  Jacob Marley’s haunting is nice and spooky, Patrick Stewart is appropriately grouchy and reformed (there is a hilarious moment when he wakes up, realizes he’s not dead, and tries to laugh – something he hasn’t done in decades and has forgotten how to do).

There are lots of versions, but these are the two that make me the happiest.  I watch them repeatedly during Advent, usually with a cup of hot chocolate with a candy cane to stir it with.

To the Secret Lab!

“Wait, was this woman scary beyond all reason?”
“Oh yeah!”
– The Emperor’s New Groove

Freshman year I had a roommate, Georgie, who was awesome wrapped around a slice of fabulous.  She wrote a show our entire dorm performed, had all sorts of scholarships, and the good fairy had blessed her with a wittiness of the lung-busting-laughing variety.  We’ve kept in touch as best we can, she married now with a little boy and we live nowhere near one another.

She had a theory, one which in my life experience has yet to be disproved, that read thus: any incident may be summed up or perfectly accompanied by a quote from the Emperor’s New Groove.  Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon?
Bad makeup day?  “Llama face!”
Crisis of conscience?  “My shoulder angel.”
Someone invading your personal space?  “No touchy!”
So mad you can’t function?  “I gotta go wash something.”

Invariably handy!

Yesterday Hennessy and I took a break and wandered over to the campus book store on the hunt for calendars (oh the thrilling life of a secretary!).  While making our way back we came across her.

The woman was stretched like taffy, extremely long and freakishly thin.  Her face was almost pentagonal, her cheek bones jutting out sharply on each side.  She’d obviously had “work done” because her skin was stretched taunt over her visage in a way that does not appear in nature, her skull looked a size too small beneath it.  She was dressed in something long, tight, and purple.  She was accompanied by a large hulking man.

Hennessy and I made it past her without comment but when we were safely out of hearing, she turned to me and said one word.  “Yzma.”

I leaked an unflattering snort as I tried to keep from laughing.
“Living proof that dinosaurs roamed the earth,” I gasped.
“What is keeping this woman together?” Hennessy returned immediately.

Georgie’s theory is still holding strong.

If A Equals B, and B Equals C, Then A Equals Muffin

“Fastidious taste makes enjoyment a struggle.”
– Mason Cooley

The science of Recommendations seems, to me, to be very imprecise.

Pandora, set to my station of summery, party, of-no-artistic-value-whatsoever music, was feeding me a lively stream of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Ke$ha, and other culturally reprehensible choices.  And then suddenly, out of no where, an unmistakable disco beat.  And then, “Ah, ah ah, ah, stayin’ alive!  Stayin’ alive!”  Who ordered the Bee Gees?

Then later on Amazon.com, Small Dog’s personal crack, I was casually leafing through their recommendations for me.  They defy logic.  Wondering what had possessed it to recommend Conan the Barbarian I clicked on it to see why.  Answer: because I once ordered  Planet Earth.


For My Future Spawn: Austen

“How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!”
– Jane Austen

However, I will agree, some Austen fans take it WAY too far.

J. and I were talking about Jane Austen a while back (he hates her) and he voiced a common male complaint about Pride and Prejudice, “Women like it just because they want to end up with Mr. Darcy.”
“I don’t think so,” was my response.   “I think smart women like it because they want to be like Elizabeth.”

And I stand by that.   Literary-ily speaking, she was one of the first admirable heroines in the relatively new form known as the novel.  Previously, women generally were getting carried off by brigands/lecherous squires, fainting at every available opportunity, and dealing with ghosts, vampires, and monks who sell themselves to the Devil.  Alternatively, she is intelligent, lively, has a sense of humor, has a strained relationship with her mother but is fiercely loyal to her family, has personality quirks, won’t marry a repulsive man just because he’ll inherit her house someday, and makes mistakes.  In other words, a fairly normal woman.

Suddenly, shoveling through the supernatural and sentimentality, along came Jane Austen who decided to write about the sphere she moved in, the concerns she and her peers dealt with from day to day, and to make the everyday interesting.  Austen is one of my favorite writers, not because of the romance, but because she is historically important.  And because of this skill in skewering the foibles of society and people with wit and sarcasm.

Now, not all Austen adaptations are created equal, and I should know.  Mum, Snickers, and I have spent many a Sunday afternoon enjoying them:

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice (A&E, 1996) is the definitive P&P version.  It’s basically the book in film form, which can hardly be said of most novel adaptations.  It’s certainly the top Austen film, in my opinion.  Lovely score, good costuming, and excellent acting.  J., when his protests against me watching it have been overcome, will grudgingly hunker down with his laptop on the sofa ignoring it, but will invariably make some kind of commentary, “Darcy’s awkward,” or more likely, “Wow.  Her mother needs a sock stuffed in her mouth.”  My only real complaint with this version is that Jane is not attractive in the slightest.  Rosamund Pike of the Keira Knightley Pride & Prejudice is a better beauty, although the only really good thing about that version is the music.  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”


I already know I’m going to catch it from Marie for this but Emma (A&E, 1997) with Kate Beckinsale is my favorite version.  She loves the Emma with Gwyenth Paltrwo, which I don’t at all.  And the latest Emma with Ramola Garai, though it got mixed reviews from the crazed Austenites (with whom I do not see eye to eye), I quite liked too.  In fact, this novel seems to be the most debated because main character is a bit spoiled, a busybody, and stupidly manipulative in only the way young girls who think they are more clever than they actually are can be.  But I like the character of Emma quite a lot.  All of Austen’s characters grow, but this is an instance of one of them growing up.  “Silly things do not cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way.”

Sense and Sensibility

Up until recently, I liked the 1995 Sense & Sensibility with the divine Emma Thompson, but the BBC recently did a version (which aired on my beloved PBS stateside) which I think a lot better.  The ages of the actresses were more appropriate and much of the novel which had been left out of the first adaptation was put back in, making the story a bit more as rich as it should have been.  And as much as I love Alan Rickman’s broodiness (in everything he’s ever done), I thought Col. Brandon seemed much more noble and likable, which he ought to be, instead of lurking in corners and sighing dramatically.  I don’t go much for the Byronic types.  They’re aggravating.  “She was stronger alone; and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as, with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.”


Masterpiece Theatre’s version of Northanger Abbey is really fun.  It’s Austen’s lone almost purely satirical novel, mercilessly lampooning those Gothic monks and ghosts previously mentioned. Both this and this version of Persuasion are really very good so it’s a coin toss there.  And if I had to choose between this verision and this version of Mansfield park, I lean toward the latter, even though neither are very good.  Mostly because Fanny Price is the dullest of dull heroines and does next to nothing throughout the course of the book and the second film tried to make her likable.

And because, as with Shakespeare, the most annoying sorts of people are those who take things too seriously, I’m flat out ordering all of you to hop on over to the bookstore and buy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! Partly because it is uproariously funny, partly because even J. liked it.  Spoiler alert.  Darcy, on the occasion of his first, pompous proposal is rewarded for his pains with a roundhouse kick to the face.  Alas, Mrs. Bennett is little changed: her husband is trying to keep his daughters from the clutches of the undead…but she’s still trying to get them married.

And lest we forget…there is that hilarious “post-modern moment” in Lost in in Austen.