Tag: Movies

For My Future Spawn: Conscience

“Oh, confound all this.  I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names!  Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship?”
“And when we die and you are sent to Heaven for doing your conscience and I am sent to Hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?”
– A Man for All Seasons

Truth is that while fairy tales (not of the gruesome original variety, the Disney-fied kind) like to depict people getting rewarded for sticking to their principles, quite often the blessing one gets for standing by one’s standards, ideals, and beliefs is a public flogging, or worse.  And the measure of our character is whether we will endure the blacklisting, loss of status, loss of friends, back-against-the-wall-ness of it all with dignity and come out with our convictions still in place.

And so! A Man for All Seasons is required viewing.  Paul Scofield gives a a subtle but brilliant performance of a man who managed to be both conflicted and steady and who ultimately decides to stand by his faith, but more importantly his conscience.  The movie could easily have been a trite morality play, but it isn’t.  It’s as complex as the idea of conscience and morality itself.

The story is set during one of the most tumultuous centuries for faith and conflict in Western history and England.  Henry VIII has thrown over Katherine of Aragon for Anne Boleyn, and the Catholic Church for one of his own making.  None of which sits right Sir Thomas More (Scofield) who, quietly but firmly, says he cannot change his religious beliefs to suit even a king, cannot change his legal opinion to flout the law, and will not go against his conscience even to save his life.

I do not mistake this film for history.   The historical Thomas More was a Catholic zealot who saw six “heretics” burned to death under his administration as Lord Chancellor, but he was also a humanist who thought women were just as academically capable as men and gave his daughters the same classical education as his sons.  I don’t mind the simplified, or rather focused, view of a certain part of his life, historical accuracy isn’t the point of this film.  A man having his friends, protectors, and even household turn against him, while he sticks to his moral guns is.

Ideals are seldom complex and people never are.  More defends bad laws made by men because the universal concept of Law gives protection, he encourages humility to an ambitious friend while being named Lord Chancellor, he insults another friend to keep him distant in order to protect him from the political fallout of being friends with a “traitor,” and argues for justice at his unfair and mock trial.

Moral of the story: decide what you hold dear, and defend it.  Even if it costs you.

For My Future Spawn: Shakespeare

“The play’s the thing…”
– William Shakespeare,

There are countless versions, interpretations, and the occasional horrifying slaughter of Shakespeare so the choices are vast, but I was raised from a young age with the Bard.  And so will my children be.  Thus I bring you, C.’s Definitive Guide to Obligatory Shakespeare Adaptations:

The Taming of the Shrew

The best version of this is The Taming of the Shrew, Franco Zefferelli’s 1967 version staring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.  Why?  Because however you choose to read the original play (pro wife-beating, proto-feminism, lighthearted, or sinister), Zefferelli’s adaptation turns the tale into a marriage of equals perfectly suited to one another.  Taylor’s Katherine is the less-loved daughter of a man who dotes on her sister (Bianca, a spoiled and manipulative wench).  She’s second best and spends most of her day hearing about it, and can only throw tantrums to get attention or satisfiy a sense of injustice.  Burton’s Petruchio is a loudmouth bore who’s never learned to behave himself and, in trying to turn Kate into a lady, becomes a gentleman.  Fantastic.

My mother watched this movie with me for the first time when I was fairly young and I loved it.  It was my introduction to Shakespeare, and I’ve never looked back.  Years later, when I found it one day on DVD in a bookshop, I snatched it up and mailed it home ten minutes later.  Of course, I also bought one for myself.  “Fear boys with bugs!”

Henry V

Yeah, yeah, Lawrence Olivier, blah blah blah.  Best version in my opinion goes to Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V from 1989.  Did I mention Paul Scofield, Dame Judi Dench, and Emma Thompson are included (along with a not-yet-legal Christian Bale)?  This adaptation is sweeping, epic, gritty,  poetic, occasionally funny, powerful, and gripping.  Again, Mum got me hooked young.  As I recall, I hid my eyes during the gory battle scenes or she fast forwarded through them (remember VHS, darlings?).  I had memorized the St. Crispin Day Speech before I was 10 and in high school, my friend Moll and I had to make a movie for French class, so we acted out the scene where Alice teaches Princess Katherine English.  Honestly, probably one of the best Shakespearean films of all time.  “God for Harry, England, and St. George!”

Julius Caesar

Venice is probably the authority on this play, she teaches it each year and by the end, any Bard holdouts are converted.  She always has the best stories about the day the kids act it out (with stabbing, naturally) and we always go into raptures about the 1953 version of  Julius Caesar directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.  Not that it’s referred to as Makiewicz’s movie, it’s invariably called “The one with Marlon Brando.”  And with good reason.  One of the best scenes of the film is Marc Antony [Brando] orating to the people in Rome’s forum and slowly, subtly rousing the mob to rebellion.  The moment when he turns away from the screaming riot and walks into the senate chamber smirking darkly still makes me feel chills.

Brutus is conflicted, Cassius is sly and evil, the actual assassination is a little off as Caesar just seems to take knife after knife without too much complaint, but still: best version.  Honor, loyalty, friend, patriotism, betrayal and the conflicting tug of each is brilliantly laid out.  “Et tu, Brute?  Then fall Caesar.”

Other Adaptations

So, we’ve covered one of my favorite comedies, histories, and tragedies, but wait, kids, there’s more!

Much Ado About Nothing – Branagh again, this time as the irrepressible Benedict and Emma Thompson as the fiery and fiercely loyal Beatrice.  A classic tale about the vicissitudes of love, the interference of friends (and enemies),  and kicking up a great row about nothing much at all.  Sparkling.  “The world must be peopled!”

William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – a tale of justice, honesty, and deceit, this film is utterly stolen by Al Pacino as Shylock.  Now, Scarface has never been one of my favorite actors, but the levels of emotion he poured into one of the most villainous (or victimized) Shakespearean characters is incredible.  The whole thing is nice and morally ambiguous.  “The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

Twelfth Night – I first saw this version in the 8th grade, under the tutelage of my teacher The Friar, with whom I keep in contact to this day.  It’s never too soon to expose children to gender-bending, right?  “Most wondrous.”

Other Other Adaptations

And because the most odious thing in literature or culture is people who can’t take a joke, I have to recommend Shakespeare Retold, done by the BBC and first introduced to me my Angel two weeks ago.  Shakespeare brought into the modern day and frighteningly funny.  Hero doesn’t marry Claudio (and good on her, because he was an unbelievable ass and I could never believe she forgave him!) and Katherine, a vicious and snarling MP is tamed by Petruchio, a lonely aristocratic exhibitionist who really just wants someone to think the world of him.  “And all we do is set around in front of the telly all day eating chocolates.  I know I do, when I’m not running the country.”

Liberal. Education

“A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.”
– George Santayana

We here at Small Dog Syndrome got some fun  emails from a previous post (the post about things one’s kids ought to know.  Not the post about beating one’s kids.  Very different).  And so, because it’s summer and I need something to do on my lunch breaks and weekends, I think I’ll start up a bit of a series on the subject (again, about what’s one’s children out to be exposed to, not domestic violence.  Just so we’re clear).  Nothing formal, and certainly not organized; that’s just not the way we do things around here.  Let’s think of it as an ongoing project that will intermittently interject into our regularly scheduled reading.

Do you have something to share with the class?

I’m opening this up for discussion as well, be free with your comments, accolades, scathing rebukes towards my taste, etc.  And by all means, add your own suggestions!  I’m looking for books, movies, TV shows, vacation spots, and the like, all I ask is that you keep it culturally-minded.  Meaning while Spongebob Squarepants may have been your favorite drivel growing up, I’m looking for the quality things that you’d truly want your future spawn to know of.  More importantly, why.

Life (…the Universe and Everything! Except Oprah)

“The BBC produced wonderful programmes; it also produces a load of old rubbish.”
– Jonathan Dimbleby

Today is the release of BBC Earth’s Life (narrated by David Attenborough) [Blu-ray]!

J. and I love this series (Planet Earth and The Blue Planet: Seas of Life)  and many a-Sunday is spent oohing and ahhing over schools of fish swirling in the depths or squeals (on my part) of, “Look at the monkeys!”  I especially love the deep seas episodes with vampire squids and creepy glowing fish!

So, as you may imagine, when the Discovery Channel announced that they would be airing the new series, I scheduled my Sunday nights around it for weeks…

…only to be dreadfully disappointed when, instead of the soothing, BBC broadcaster-type voice of David Attenborough, I was greeted by the commanding tones of Oprah Winfrey.  As if she doesn’t already tell enough people what to buy, love, eat, wear, and watch.  After a few episodes, I couldn’t take it anymore and resolved to wait until David and I could be reunited.

Hands up if you agree Attenborough is the only person who should be able to narrate these sorts of things from now on.

The Merry Month of May (or, Geeks Unite!)

“Any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still know where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”
– Douglas Adams,
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This is clearly the month for geeks, nerds, Avatards, etc.  Earlier in the month we were able to enjoy Star Wars Day, otherwise known as “May the Fourth, be with you.”  Now personally I’m a fan of the first three episodes (by which I mean IV-VI) and not so much the second trilogy (by which I mean I-III).

And this mind-warping chronology brings me nicely to today, which is Towel Day, in honor of Douglas Adams’ trilogy-in-five-volumes – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

This is a fan-holiday I can get behind, owning, as I do, the entire “trilogy” as well as (my preferred) Dirk Gently books, and The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of Adams’ speeches, essays, quips, and short stories.  Apart from a wonderful absurdist, he was a fantastically intelligent and clever man who despite his love for technology, was not limited to science fiction.  My personal favorite is the story of Genghis Khan who storms into Europe “so fast he almost forgot to burn down Asia before he left.”  Oh!  And God’s final message to his creation: “We apologize for the inconvenience.”

My parents are also fans.  They own the original radio series on cassette tape (which I may or may not have purloined when I went to university – sorry Mum and Dad!) which I listened to from a young age.  I’ve got them on MP3 now and they still make me laugh.

So yes, I know where my towel is.  Which reminds me.  J. and I need to do laundry rather badly.  So long and thanks for all the fish!

Free the Kraken: Victim of Over-Marketing!

“I’m having a little trouble concentrating.”
“Oh, well I could sell you some of my Adderall if you want.”
“No, thanks, I’m off pills.”
“That’s a wise choice because I knew this girl who like had this crazy freak out because she took too many behavioral meds at once and she like ripped off her clothes, and dove into the fountain at Ridgedale Mall and was like, ‘Blah I am a Kraken from the sea!'”
“I hear that was you.”
“Well, it was good seeing you, Su-Chin.”
– Juno, 2007

I’ve been doing some thinking, and I’ve decided that the stupidest line that could ever possibly be shouted out at any given time is, “Release the Kraken.”

For one very good reason: it’s overused.  Which is too bad really, it’s a potentially great line completely slaughtered by pop culture.

There are the hordes of annoying people trying to celebrate this year’s remake of Clash of the Titans, by trying to make “Release the Kraken” happen.

This phenomena is not new.  One of the oddest utterances of this phrase occurred in 2004, during a pre-season friendly between Liverpool and Celtic held in Connecticut.  Max Bretos on the Fox Sports commentary team shouted the following…

In fact, the only time I’ve ever heard the word “kraken” without its seeming obligatory introductory “release the-” has been in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean series (which is also, incidentally, dying the slow death of cultural over-exposure).

I’m shallow enough to admit that the constant barrage of this phrase, overheard in grocery stores, at malls, on campus, and in parking lots (in the last week alone), is the main reason that I have no interest in seeing this movie.  Also, I remember seeing the original at some point in my childhood and, being something of a wunderkind with mythology (read: nerd), feeling absolutely disgusted with the creative liberties they took.  Mechanical owl?  Medusa spitting scorpions from her decapitated neck?  Acidic blood?  Please!  I’m a purist.

And the Award Goes To…

“That’s a bingo!  …Is that the way you say it?  ‘That’s a bingo?'”
“You just say bingo.”
“Ah!  Bingo!  How fun!  But I digress.  Where were we?”
– Inglorious Basterds

Today has been a lovely Sunday, it’s sunny and gorgeous outside, you can smell Spring in the air in spite of the snow on the mountains, J. and I made a to-die-for mac and cheese recipe that had pretentious enough ingredients to make it seem much more difficult than it actually was, and I’m whipping up cookies (plus snacking on kettlecorn as I dash back and forth between the kitchen and the red-carpet interviews, my dedication is being tested…).

I’ll be doing my annual Oscar dress review tomorrow, but let me just say this now:

If Christoph Waltz doesn’t win best supporting actor, I shall be extremely vexed.  And if Avatar wins Best Picture I will lose all faith in Hollywood.  J. wants The Cove to win best documentary.  I want the fabulous Carey Mulligan or divine Sandra Bullock to win best actress but Helen Miren (aka The Queen), the precious Gabourey Sidibe, and the goddess that is Meryl Streep will give them stiff competition.  I think Mo’nique will win best supporting actress (indeed that seems to be the real story of this Oscar Award Season).  I pick Up for best animated feature, The Young Victoria for costume design (might be wistful thinking, I wouldn’t mind Coco Avant Chanel either again based on personal prejudice for Chanel and Audrey Tautou), I pick Katheryn Bigelow for best director for The Hurt Locker (go women!).  The Hurt Locker seems to be the frontrunner for Best Picture.  And I can’t pick a best actor, I’d love to see Morgan Freeman win in this category after a career of famous supporting rolls, and who doesn’t have a soft spot for Mr. Darcy…er…Colin Firth.  And again, not to harp, but GO CHRISTOPH WALTZ!

Any last minute pics out there?  Raging debate?  Big bets?  Do share!

Remember this scene? Better than that whole "plot" of Avatar's.

Fabulous, Darling

“Fashion is what one wears oneself.  Unfashionable, is what other people wear.”
– An Ideal Husband

I’ve been following both the New York and London Fashion Weeks, and last night I celebrated both by renting The September Issue and drooling over the beautiful spreads.  I’ve been resisting the desire to wear large sunglasses indoors and limit my smiling to almost unseeable bursts of rare approval ever since. 

And for those who love fashion and also have a sense of humor, here’s a website for you to check out.  Enjoy!


“It’s January.  Masterpiece Classic Season!”
“What are you, a fifty year old woman?”
– C. and Brando

I love PBS.  Even with the unexpected gift from the cable gods, still gracing our TV by the way with no end in sight, I flick back to my beloved public broadcasting at almost every commercial break. 

PBS has given me lots of fond memories.  The first time I saw The Marriage of Figaro (my favorite opera) was on a PBS station when I was nine, I’ve watched countless Nature episodes with my parents, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Wishbone when I was younger, and BBC America now that I’m older.  My particularly loves (currently) are Larkrise to Candleford and Sherlock Holmes…and whatever documentary is playing.

Does anyone else miss the Edward Gorey style animation sequence for Mystery! ? No one? Am I really that much of a hopeless nerd? Shutting up...

Some people’s entertainment lives cycle around the sweeps, but not I!  I live and die by PBS’s Masterpiece!  Contemporary I don’t really care for, but during Mystery and Classic season the TV is mine starting 8pm on Sunday evenings.  January is the kickoff for Classic season and I’ve already swallowed Return to Cranford and the first episode of Emma whole.  And!  Not content with just Sundays, I usually develop cravings (staring early January) for costume drama mini-series not currently airing, which means I get on a long waiting list at the local library and torture J. with those on weekdays as well.

J. is tolerant and does homework while I watch, and is occasionally firmly shushed when he commits the cardinal sin of speaking before a commercial break.

For My Next Trick, the Rest of You (Pt 2)

 “There is nothing new under the sun but there are lots of old things we don’t know.”
– Ambrose Bierce

So, Avatar.  I have to give it one big “Meh.” 

Now, before the raging hordes come for blood, I can absolutely appreciate the scientific whammy of creating completely new technology to make something totally innovative.  I can also appreciate the fact that the special effects are indeed pretty special (as long as you’re not in the second row at a 3-D theatre…woof…).

But, and I stand on this, the plot is boring. 

I have seen A) Dances with Wolves, B) Pocahontas, and I have also lived through the Bush administration (subtlety, thy name is not James Cameron.  Might as well have named the planet Iraq and the invading commander Cheny…yes, we get your point.  Thank you).