Always on the lookout for quality foreign TV programming, I recently cast an eye beyond my usual UK fare to mainland Europe. What I ended up finding is the intriguing 2012 French drama Les Revenants (a/k/a The Returned).
In European folklore, a revenant is a corpse that has returned from the grave to terrorize the living, and there have been various books and films about the phenomenon. In this 8-episode show, the focus isn't on terror but instead on mystery. Here's a synopsis from Wikipedia:
In a small mountain town, many dead people reappear, apparently alive and normal: road accident victim teenager Camille; suicidal bridegroom Simon; "Victor", a small boy who was murdered by burglars; and Serge, a serial killer. They try to resume their lives as strange phenomena occur: amongst recurring power outages, the water level of the reservoir mysteriously lowers, revealing the presence of dead animals and a church steeple, and strange marks appear on the bodies of the living and the dead.
Rather than settling for yet another zombie story, Les Revenants is concerned with human relationships: how will the townfolk deal with family members and friends returning after years of going through the grieving process? How will the Returned come to grips with their apparent good fortune at cheating death in some way? Why haven't they aged in the years they were gone? Why is the reservoir water level lowering with no discernible leak in the dam, and what really happened in that old village at the bottom of the water? Who are the mysterious people living in a large group out in the woods?
I'm pleased to see that a second series is in the offing. The first season answers many questions but leaves plenty of mystery yet to be solved. It also ends with an emotional cliffhanger I won't reveal here. I'd like to see the female characters take a little more control of their various situations but thankfully this show isn't anywhere near as misogynist as the frustrating French police drama Engrenages (a/k/a Spiral). That show seems to enjoy showing women murdered, slapped around by their pimps, and ignored by their bosses. Compared with that show's never-ending torment of its female characters, the occasional woman being stabbed in Les Revenants by the town's resident serial killer at least seems justified in service of the story. Still, it's never pleasant seeing someone bleed out on a walking path, so consider this your trigger warning.
The plotting and cinematography are top notch, and special mention must be made of the incredible music score by the band Mogwai. The opening of the series is one of the best I've ever seen, striking a perfect balance of beauty and trepidation:
I think Les Revenants is worthy of your attention and I'm looking forward to seeing more when it returns (no pun intended) next year. Overall, top notch entertainment. Grade: A.
Int. - A Boardroom - Two Weeks Ago
A Corporate Fat Cat sits at the head of a conference table, chomping his cigar. TV executives are seated around the table, waiting expectantly for him to speak.
Corporate Fat Cat
Okay, people. We've got to fill this 9:30 - 11:00 PM
time slot on Thanksgiving. What have we got? GO!
Well sir, people like music and dancing. Maybe
we could so something like that?
Corporate Fat Cat
Not bad, Smith.
I'm Jones, sir. She's Smith.
Corporate Fat Cat
Whatever. But I need some synergy here.
Give me pizzazz, put some keisters in those
seats. Think, you idiots!
Umm. Sir, Lady Gaga has a new album out.
Maybe we could do a thinly-veiled infomercial
that simultaneously gets us some viewer eyeballs
and helps her sell albums?
Corporate Fat Cat
Lady What Now?
Lady Gaga, sir. She's a world-famous
entertainer. People love her music.
Corporate Fat Cat
Huh. Well, I guess Sinatra's gone so we'll have
to make due. You say she's famous? Good.
And we'll get those Muppet things, my grandkids love that shit.
But sir, it's a 9:30 - 11:00 slot, what kids are going
to be awake and watching TV at that time of night?
Corporate Fat Cat
Shut yer face, ya scrawny punk! People will watch
anything we tell them to, even if it's an ill-advised
cash grab. You're the whiz kids, toss those ideas out!
What if we...I dunno, convinced people it was going
to be more about the holidays? Like put that in the title?
Corporate Fat Cat
Ahhh...yes...and by the time they realize we only had
a couple holiday songs and 90% Lady Blah Blah dance floor
jams, it'll be over & we already got 'em! I like it, Jenkins!
Err, I'm Applebaum, sir. He's Jenkins.
Corporate Fat Cat
See this? It's my Shut Your Mouth face.
Sir, who will we get to write this thing? It's in two weeks.
Corporate Fat Cat
Write? What the hell are you talking about?
A script, sir. You know, with jokes and maybe a plot?
Corporate Fat Cat
Horse shit! We don't need a plot, we'll just go with the
usual: Muppets have a big guest and they all need to rally around
and come up with a big showstopper of a finale.
But the dialogue, sir? We can't just can't have the Muppets
and the actors flail around riffing for 90 minutes, it's
bound to be unfunny and extremely noticeable.
Corporate Fat Cat
Poppycock! People watch reality television and that's
the most brainless excrement ever smeared on a TV screen.
Besides, those Muppet guys are renowned for their improv.
But sir, even the Muppets are at their best with a script full
of solid gags to perform. And besides, Steve Whitmire's
Kermit voice is a weird, high-pitched travesty compared to Jim
Henson, and Whitmire stumbles all over himself trying to improv.
Corporate Fat Cat
I said we're doing it and that's final! Now get me some hot,
up-to-the-minute celebrities! Elton John! And that
gorgeous black girl, the one with that big hit "Supermodel".
Corporate Fat Cat
Yeah, that's the ticket right there! And get me a
famous improv comedian to top it all off...
Will Ferrell? Steve Carell? Amy Poehler?
Corporate Fat Cat
That girl from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Good
You mean Kristen Bell, sir?
Corporate Fat Cat
Yeah, there we go. Now get a move on, folks!
We've got a half-assed show to put on!
A website suddenly popped up on my radar today: What Would I Say? You log in using your Facebook account and it goes back in time through your posts, randomly shuffling words and phrases into "new" things you might have said...but never did. Naturally, the random nature of the exercise makes for some incomprehensible crap. But once in awhile you get some hilarious stuff out of it. Here are some favorites that the website gave me:
- yet another Japanese animated drama covers licking your teeth!
- We're not redheads, for heaven's sake.
- I think a nut job with tons of emobaggage might be humming a beautiful orange cat enema
- Furry little freak.
- Good heavens, Baroness Luekhamhan, I refuse to guest star in WWII, the most promiscuous high risk lifestyle.
- All hell breaks loose and sex life completely on pretty boring video to promote it.
- Hollywood just fuller orphanages?
- Imagine if a good theme song by Los Lobos goes off, or Hey, somebody gonna raincheck this
- You are evidently impressed with James Bond film.
- Xanadu the face warmer.
- Dear planet Earth, learned our language, signed mortgages on houses, but gorsh, they seem to love that rapscallion!
- Yeah, I typed up your teenage kids in my miserable financial crap.
- But I've forgotten what they have honestly never experienced: the soul-crushing disappointment the Shakespeare Annotated texts include explanations like an asshole for sustenance*
- A grown bear with some pretty awesome birthday wishes
- Clearly this kid was going to teach him to be a blog again.
- I'd jump from an innocent façade. Hard to audition for that.
- We have to kill again.
- Aww man, hell steals a guinea pig vest
- She forces her snout into an uninhibited motorcycleriding, leatherwearing badass with tattoos. Plus he's in the meantime, I can give a shit! No preference, Saturday or Sunday. 16.95/person.
- There's no points, and may God have just enough eyes to spend weeks looking in his whole life of thirteen guns
- Noooo, not Celine Dion music, it's my chance to love it
- She forces her big thing that stands out
- Man, those tip jars at coffee shops are endless. They do one for ice skating at dawn and working out
- The Snackdown is a gritty & cerebral science fiction tale that asks people if they're the WalMart of German supermarkets.
- You're too much machine for everyday objects! Haw haw! Barf.
- Cool, there's a nonbinding civil ceremony.
- Call me with approximately 65 items.
- Playing with the bar. Me I'm wearing a black, crushed velvet shirt and playing songs on your mouth & airy, friendly staff.
- You are just broke my heart
- I'll take on the darkness.
- Good heavens, Baroness Luekhamhan, I love the perfunctory devil In a box!
- Buddy, I'm holding up two middle fingers, you miserable piece of this.
- There's a quick elope ceremony at a nonprofit, so every dead president counts.
- I think we have to know the fragility that defines the realm of the night.
- A perfect world, this.
- As dressy as denim gets!
- You’re so distasteful to the moon and vegetables.
- Lol, you're my favorite cat video of myself.
- I'm finally going straight people and that’s coming from a brain tumor
- Robin, you'd love my self esteem, then the bottom.
- Sorry I gotta be me.
Cover painting shamelessly pilfered from this talented artist named "czarnystefan".
I got a phone call from my Mom this morning around 9:45 AM, letting me know that my grandmother, Eleene McCann, had died. Grammy had been getting steadily weaker the past couple years, ever since her eyesight really started to fail. Last week she fell and broke her hip and humerus. After that, her health declined very rapidly and we've all been taking turns visiting with her. She couldn't swallow very well and could only take a little liquid. Then she stopped taking in anything a couple of days ago and fell asleep in a painless morphine haze.
Today was warm and the sky was perfect blue as I headed over to the nursing home where she'd been staying this year. I took the elevator up to the third floor and met the family at her room. Grandad and my Aunt were by her side. I went to the other side of the bed, kissed her cooling cheek and said as much of a goodbye as I could manage without breaking down. Then I had to go out in the hallway.
When loved ones die from an illness, it's often best to remember them at their most vibrant rather than the last days, and Gram was extraordinarily vibrant.
For my entire life she was always the undisputed matriarch of our family. She was widely acknowledged to be the best cook and she loved hosting holiday dinners with Grandad at their house. My first decade was spent growing up in New Jersey and they had a farmhouse in Mountainville, a small country town with immense charm. During the summer my brother and I would fish in the creek behind the house, swim in their pool and explore the rest of the property.
Grammy loved antiques and she ran a little shop out of one of the barns. My memories of those summers include visits from all kinds of cousins, aunts, and uncles. It seemed like the center of our family universe. Mom has told me about growing up with Grammy for a mother and I know that despite all the good times, it wasn't always perfect. I won't deny she could be a bit irascible at times but she always showed me and my brother surprising patience and I always felt loved. She took great delight in spoiling her grandchildren.
When I say Grammy was a great cook, I mean it. She would present these grand feasts for the family; dish after delicious dish, from vegetables to meats to desserts. Things I never got anywhere else like spaetzle and saurbraten. She had a passion for potato salad. She made fantastic corned beef and cabbage and soda bread. She made the greatest pies I've ever tasted. I learned a lot about food from her, things like: Never worrying about fattening ingredients, worry about taste. The only worthwhile pie crust is homemade and you need to fold it properly to get it flaky. If I live 1,000 years, I will never forget family holidays spent with my grandparents.
I think I loved her jams and jellies the best. Concord grape, apple jelly, red raspberry, peach, pear cinnamon, and sometimes my favorite, strawberry rhubarb. All you had to do was mention a flavor in passing and Gram would open up her jam cupboard to reveal dozens, if not hundreds, of delicious jars. "Go ahead," she'd urge. "Take some home!" Yes, please.
With my grandfather retired, my grandparents looked around for a new home and found the ideal place here in New Hampshire in the 1980s. It was a very old home in the rural town of Sullivan, just right for all of Gram's antiques and with plenty of room for Grandad to keep busy on the property. My Dad was leaving his previous job and my grandparents happened to find the perfect chemist job in the local newspaper, so we headed up to NH not long after they did. We've been here ever since. Both my Uncle and Aunt ended up here with their own families, and how many parents can say their kids loved them enough to "follow" them hundreds of miles just to live nearby? That tells you how great it was to be around them.
In addition to her passions for antiques and food, Grammy loved travel, especially to Europe. During the year she'd make extra money selling pies, preserves and other delectables at local flea markets and church events. Then she'd head overseas to sail down the Danube, explore Ireland, or find a little cafe in Paris to sit with a croissant, soaking up the atmosphere. I'd go off to Japan or Australia, and we would swap stories from our travels. "You got that from me, you know," she'd say with a smile. "We both have that wanderlust." I believe that's true and I thank you for it, Grammy.
At age 38, I feel extremely lucky that I've had my grandparents around for so long. I wasn't the most patient or thoughtful kid, so throughout the 2000s I had the pleasure of getting to know them both as people instead of a child's view of older relatives. I would go up to the house and mow their lawn, pick blueberries in the summer, or just sit in the kitchen chatting. I'm very interested in history and people's personal stories. They'd tell me tales from their life and inevitably, Grammy would send me home with a bunch of homemade food.
Of all the amazing memories I have of my grandparents -- and Grammy in particular -- I think my favorite one might be from the mid-late 1980s. I recall one December day when my Mom brought me over there for the afternoon and I spent the day in the kitchen with Grammy. There was Christmas music on the radio, Peanuts cartoons on TV, and snow falling outside. I stood next to her in that amazing kitchen, antiques literally hanging from the rafters, and we made cookies together. I couldn't ask for a more perfect Christmastime memory.
A few years back, my grandparents knew they couldn't handle the house on their own anymore. It was time to sell and move to a place in nearby Keene, the small city where most of the rest of us in the family live. They had to downsize drastically to fit into their new apartment. We helped them move and said goodbye to the house in which we'd all spent so many holidays celebrating. It felt like the end of an era.
Depending on my work schedule, I often had time during the week when I could pick them up and drive them around town. We'd stop for a bite at the diner and maybe do some grocery shopping if they needed anything. Sometimes, knowing that Grammy and I share a sweet tooth, I'd take her to some candy shop or bakery she hadn't tried. She was slowing down but she still loved those adventures. Over the course of the next couple years they needed a bit more help and we moved them again, this time to a sort of assisted living apartment building called Bentley Commons. Finally Gram's deteriorating eyesight meant she needed to go into a nursing home for more care. Now Grandad, 90, lives at Bentley in an apartment on his own.
Grammy, you gave me so many great memories that I can't ever fully thank you, even though you probably remember me trying. You always shrugged it off. "That's what grandparents are for!"
After we said goodbye at the nursing home today, I told Grandad how sorry I am and he was wise as always. "I'd take another 60 years with her if I could. But we were lucky to have that time. Nobody ever guaranteed us anything when we were born. You've got to enjoy the happy things while they last and make it through the rest. One thing's for sure: meeting her was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Don't worry Grammy, we're going to watch out for Grandad now and make sure he's not alone. You've more than earned your rest.
Goodbye. I love you.
Over on Facebook (bear with me), a friend of mine just introduced me to a new game meme.
In this one, somebody posts their Top 10 Favorite Films from a particular year. If you "Like" that post, they give you a year of your own to research then you post your own Top 10. Most folks just post a bare list of favorites from that particular year but I always go overboard with these things. Here's mine:
1. Heat: I hope this crime movie needs no introduction. Michael Mann direction plus killer acting from Hollywood heavyweights plus unconventional crime movie script = a dark kind of movie heaven. Worth seeing for the Pacino/De Niro restaurant scene alone, then you have Val Kilmer’s performance (second only to his Tombstone work) and all the rest. Grim, fascinating, firing on all cylinders. Sorry “Se7en” fans, this was THE crime movie of 1995.
2. Twelve Monkeys: Terry Gilliam directing a Bruce Willis movie. Come on, of course I love this. I won’t waste your time with plot. It’s about madness, time travel, animals, a dystopian future, fate, and a bunch of other interesting things. Brad Pitt does a great job and earned an Oscar nom. It’s intricate, smart, funny, and weird. If you don’t know it, watch the trailer. Maybe it’s not for everyone but I love it.
3. Toy Story: Well duh! 99% of everybody likes this animated Pixar movie. It’s awesome. ‘Nuff said.
4. Desperado: Director Robert Rodriguez’s follow-up to the low-budget success El Mariachi is a half-sequel/half-remake and it’s as awesome as action gets. Swiping a little from Peckinpah and a little from John Woo, he weaves a great tale of revenge mixed with terrific characters, memorable dialogue and fun music. The theme song by Los Lobos goes through my head sometimes and it’s always welcome. By far my favorite Antonio Banderas movie. Salma Hayek is sultry, SteveBuscemi is great…it isn’t necessarily ambitious but it’s fifteen tons of preposterous fun. “Bless me, Father, for I have just killed quite a few men.” “No shit!”
5. Sixty Million Dollar Man / Out of the Dark: Are these the greatest Stephen Chow movies? Maybe not quite there, but I love the guy so much I just had to put them in here somewhere. His 1990s Hong Kong comedies are just so crazy and inspired! If you’ve seen Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle you know what to expect. In “60 Million” he’s a guy who got blown up and given a cybernetic body to hilarious effect, and in “Out of the Dark” you get a haunted house movie with a huge nod to Leon the Professional. Chow even plays a guy named Leon who shows up with an absurd bag of tricks to rid a girl’s living space of spirits. If only somebody would put his 90s movies out on disc with competent subtitles! It’s a crime that I still have to watch these while half-laughing, half deciphering what the broken English subs mean. Still, plenty of physical comedy and ingenious gags to merit being in the #5 spot.
6. La Haine (Hate): A black and white, subtitled French hip hop movie named Hate? Yeeaahhh…this didn’t get much play in the USA. This is all about one day in the life of a group of angry, marginalized kids in a harsh Parisian housing project. The tensions between kids and cops, various races, and various gangs all contribute to the powder keg hinted at in the film’s title. Three weeks after the film was released, riots broke out in the Brixton section of London, following the death of a young black man in police custody. I think this is powerful and fascinating. I haven’t always enjoyed Vincent Cassel onscreen but he knocks it out of the park in this one. Your mileage may vary.
7. Se7en: See what I did there? Heh heh. Intricately plotted and unrelentingly grim, this is a really good serial killer film. I think my resistance against it is because the modern Cult Of Fincher (and Cult Of Reznor) has raised into some stratosphere where it doesn’t belong. For me personally, it’s just a bit too unreal and contrived for me to give it the status I reserve for something like Silence of the Lambs. Credit where its due, though, the opening titles and overall art design proved hugely influential, for better or worse. Would there be a Saw without Se7en? And should we thank or blame this picture? It’s been easily ten years since I revisited Se7en and perhaps it’s time to watch and reassess. Maybe divorced from the 1990s it helped define, I can approach it with a less biased eye. I will give an unpopular opinion here and say that as far as David Fincher serial killer movies go, I actually prefer the less flashy Zodiac (2007).
8. Goldeneye: After the Timothy Dalton years, everyone was psyched for Pierce Brosnan to take up the James Bond mantle and Pierce did the series proud in Goldeneye, his first outing. It’s got a pretty good theme song by Tina Turner and it’s the first time the USA noticed that Famke Janssen and Sean Bean are awesome actors. If you can’t get past the fact that a woman named Xenia Onatopp is killing men by squeezing them with her thighs, you may want to keep on walking. But if you’re in the mood for a damned good time and a shaken martini, sit back and hit Play.
9. Get Shorty: I usually find Travolta rather “meh,” so you need to surround him with some pretty awesome music and actors to get me in the theater. This clever, funny crime movie succeeds quite nicely. In my opinion this is one of the best soundtracks of the 1990s (John Lurie, Booker T, Morphine). The late, great Dennis Farina is a revelation. Hackman, Gandolfini, DeVito..the casting clicks and it really moves. Is this the film that started the Elmore Leonard rush in Hollywood? It does a nice job of skewering Hollywood’s bullshit, which is refreshing. One of the best uses of comedic profanity outside the Big Lebowski. “Whatta you got there, a Wop 9? Fuckin' Fiat of guns, always jammin' on you at the wrong time.” [bang bang bang bang]
10. Devil In a Blue Dress : Denzel Washington is fantastic as Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins in this underrated crime movie gem. With its 1940s setting, it recalls the classic film noirs. Don Cheadle and Tom Sizemore lend an extra creep factor to an already tense atmosphere. Great jazz music score. I wish Denzel had made some sequels but I guess the box office didn’t demand it.
FILMS THAT JUST MISSED MY TOP 10:
A Midwinter’s Tale: I owe my love of this film to my parents. Originally titled “In the Bleak Midwinter” in the UK, this b&w film is written & directed by Kenneth Branagh as a love letter to the stage. As the holidays approach, a down-and-out film actor decides to put on an ill-advised production of Hamlet in his old hometown. We watch the hilarious auditions, see the charming misadventures of a low-budget stage production, and we get to spend some time with a bunch of very winning, likeable eccentrics. Everyone is perfectly cast in this, from the bizarre stage designer Fadge to the shallow manager played to the hilt by Joan Collins. Will it all turn out okay or will the show tank? Well hey, it ain’t my parents’ favorite Christmas movie for no reason! “You know the way doctors say that nervous breakdowns can happen very fast and dramatically, sort of a big bang, or there are the other kind which happen very slowly over a period of time. I was thirty-three years old, and this one had started when I was seven months and had just begun to take hold.”
Babe: An adorable talking pig hangs out with James Cromwell for 89 minutes. It’s more than just some kids’ film. The first scene is Babe’s mom getting taken to the slaughterhouse! But there’s comedy, pathos, and every other emotion under the hood. It got nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. See it.
Dead Man: Another Depp sleeper, this b&w film is directed by indie legend Jim Jarmusch and features one of screen legend Robert Mitchum’s final appearances. The plot? “William Blake travels to the extreme western frontiers of America sometime in the 2nd half of the 19th century. Lost and badly wounded, he encounters a very odd, outcast Native American, named "Nobody," who believes Blake is actually the dead English poet of the same name. The story, with Nobody's help, leads William Blake through situations that are in turn comical and violent. Contrary to his nature, circumstances transform Blake into a hunted outlaw, a killer, and a man whose physical existence is slowly slipping away. Thrown into a world that is cruel and chaotic, his eyes are opened to the fragility that defines the realm of the living. It is as though he passes through the surface of a mirror, and emerges into a previously-unknown world that exists on the other side.” Wild, wonderful, weird stuff.
The City Of Lost Children: French directors Jeunet & Caro kicked my ass to the moon and back with this visual tour de force. It’s about a scientist in a surrealist society who kidnaps children to steal their dreams, hoping that they slow his aging process. I think it was the first time I really took notice of Ron Perlman and his awesomeness. It may be too twisted and bizarre for some folks but I really appreciate that it brings us a world we haven’t seen before or since.
Whisper of the Heart: I’m a huge fan of director Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli. This is a delightful story about a girl, a library book, and a violin maker’s son. Beautiful in every sense, this animated drama covers the well-worn territory of first love in a refreshingly different way. I can’t say enough good things about, frankly. If I had more room on the top 10, this would probably have made it.
Ghost In the Shell: Another Japanese animated feature, GITS is a gritty & cerebral science fiction tale that uses a cops/hacker storyline upon which to drape some heavy theorizing about the nature of humanity, souls, and other philosophical musings. Director Mamoru Oshii always takes his time so don’t expect wall-to-wall gun fights, but you’ll get your fair share of action in between beautifully animated city scenes and deep conversations. Sometimes I love anime best when it has something on its mind and this is a great example of that.
Welcome To the Dollhouse: I think the only reason this didn’t make it my top 10 is because I respect it just a little more than I enjoy it. This is a great, unflinching look at how terrible Junior High School can be. If you’re the slightest bit different or exhibit any weakneess at all, just like in prison, Junior High kids WILL destroy you, emotionally and physically. I see a lot of myself in Heather Matarazzo’s Dawn Weiner and she breaks my heart every time. As the film progresses it eases back just a little on the painful truths, which is much appreciated. If you enjoy this one, you should have a decent idea of whether you’ll be able to stand his other darkly humorous movies Happiness and Storytelling. If you lived the life of the unpopular, you’ll get it, but you might want to show your teenage kids something nicer first, like The Breakfast Club or Sixteen Candles.
Rumble In the Bronx: Technically the film that launched Jackie Chan in America was The Protector (1985) but nobody really remembers that one and the US version was totally compromised, so let’s just say Rumble broke Jackie Stateside. Thrill as Jackie takes on street toughs to save the wonderful Anita Mui’s (RIP) shop! Laugh at the beautiful Vancouver mountains behind those “Bronx” buildings! Rewind in disbelief as our hero performs stunts with comedic and action timing that would be physically impossible for any other performer! Doesn’t quite rival Chan’s greatest stuff but it’s fun, fun, fun.
High Risk: This wildly enjoyable Jet Li actioner is a complete ripoff of Die Hard and I love it! Jet’s character is a cop who failed to save his family from a terrorist bomb, now two years later he’s a bodyguard for an action star who can’t really fight. When the bad guy who killed Jet’s family takes over the hotel they’re staying in, all hell breaks loose and Jet flies fast and furious. This may not be considered a Jet Li classic like Fong Sai Yuk or Fist of Legend but it’s well worth your time if you dig action.
Clueless: I haven’t seen this since the 1990s so it may have made the Top 10 if I remembered it better. I know Paul Rudd is awesome, I know I like the soundtrack, and I know Silverstone is physically attractive. Do the jokes hold up? I need to rent this and see if it’s still good.
Billy Madison: Airheads came first but this was really the first Adam Sandler starring vehicle. I won’t pretend it’s high comedy art like Duck Soap or The Blues Brothers, but this has its moments, mostly thanks to Tim Herlihy’s wild script. “Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
Home For the Holidays (Holly Hunter/Robert Downey Jr.): This bittersweet movie is a little gem of a Thanksgiving tale that deserves some attention. It’s definitely one of those love-it-or-hate-it type of things. I appreciate the dynamic between Holly Hunter’s totally messed up Claudia and her brash, openly gay brother Tommy (Robert Downey Jr., stealing scenes like a cat burglar). The believable mania of the family arguments collide with the quiet pathos of aging parents (Charles Durning and Ann Bancroft are both great). Makes me wish Jodie Foster had directed more movies. "Nobody means what they say on Thanksgiving, Mom. That's what the holiday is all about. Torture."
Nick of Time (Johnny Depp): This fun action flick is one of Depp’s lesser known outings but it deserves to be seen. Director John Badham keeps things pretty lean and mean, and the whole thing is presented in close to real time! I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. Good stuff.
Restoration: This won Oscars for Art Direction and Costume Design and it completely deserved them. I love the 1600s presentation here, and Robert Downey Jr. gives a great performance despite this being in the drug addiction period of his career. Its biggest problems are some unfortunate casting (Sam Neill as the king, Meg Ryan as an asylum patient). Still, there’s solid filmmaking as we watch Downey’s character go from womanizing court pawn to disgraced but caring physician. Even when the film lets itself down, it’s never less than visually engrossing.
The American President (Michael Douglas/Annette Bening): You can call this Oval Office love story corny but I say it’s Capra-esque. I dig movies that humanize the President and this succeeds wildly in that regard. In this picture he’s a widower who falls for a lobbyist and they have to worry about public perception vs. their feelings for one another.It’s warm and breezy, and always leaves a smile on my face. And that’s coming from a dude who tends to avoid rom-coms like the plague. Give it a shot sometime, especially if you enjoy writer Aaron Sorkin’s later work on The West Wing.
Tommy Boy (David Spade/Chris Farley): The thing about 1990s SNL star vehicles like this and Billy Madison is that perhaps your appreciation for them may hinge as much on nostalgia for the time they came out as for their actual quality. Still, even if the script isn’t brilliant there’s something infectious (dare I say lightning-in-a-bottle?) about the chemistry between Spade & Farley. If there’s anything I learned from “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” and “Midnight Run,” I am a sucker for road movies involving two dudes who start off hating each other’s guts. Any time you stay in a hotel room with me, there’s a 50/50 chance I will go in the hallway, knock on the door and say “Housekeeping, you want mint for pillow?”
Friday: Speaking of comedies, this is my pick for stoner classic of the decade (no offense, fans of “Half Baked” and “Dazed & Confused.” I mean, there isn’t much more to this than Ice Cube and Chris Tucker hanging out on the porch smoking weed but the ridiculous characters, music, and likeable actors put me in a happy, blissed out mood every time. With all of the grim Hood movies in the 1990s that made South Central look like a terrifying slice of hell, this gives you a look at the other side of that. What else can I say? Chances are, if this is a comedy you’re likely to enjoy, somebody in your life has already shown it to you. God bless John Witherspoon!
The Young Poisoner’s Handbook: This darkly amusing little gem may not be for everyone but I quite liked it and I considered it one of the overlooked British films of the 1990s along with Midwinter’s Tale above. Graham Young is a disturbed young man who is a serial poisoner hiding behind an innocent façade. Hard to believe it’s the directorial debut of Benjamin Ross, I think he exhibits the care and skill of a seasoned pro. Too bad this DVD is out of print in the States.
Die Hard: With a Vengeance: I couldn’t put this in the top 10 in good conscience because if I’m honest, this film has some flaws, even compared to its predecessors. But I still love the interplay between Willis and Sam Jackson, and Shit Blows Up Real Good. It’s lively, it’s fun. I love you, John McClane.
FILMS I ENJOYED AT THE TIME BUT LEFT OFF THE LIST BECAUSE I NEVER FEEL LIKE REVISITING THEM:
Smoke/Blue In the Face (the two Wayne Wang-directed films with Harvey Keitel), Apollo 13, Dead Man Walking, Braveheart, Casino, Usual Suspects, Crimson Tide, The Basketball Diaries, Murder In the First (Kevin Bacon/Christian Slater/Gary Oldman), Strange Days, Nixon, Mighty Aphrodite, Angels & Insects (Kristin Scott Thomas), Clockers (Spike Lee film w/Harvey Keitel), Rob Roy, Othello (Laurence Fishburne), Bad Boys, Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead, Dead Presidents (the Hughes Brothers’ follow-up to the excellent Menace II Society), Jumanji (shoutout to Keene!), Four Rooms, Outbreak, Beyond Rangoon (Patricia Arquette), Party Girl (Parker Posey), Now and Then (Christina Ricci/Demi Moore), Just Cause (features my favorite Sean Connery line OF ALL-TIME, “If that’s a confession, my ass is a banjo!”), Screamers (Peter Weller sci-fi movie), Mulholland Falls (Nick Nolte/Melanie Griffith), Waterworld (Kevin Costner), Lord of Illusions (Clive Barker movie with Scott Bakula), The Brady Bunch Movie, The Hunted (Christopher Lambert ninja movie), Mortal Kombat, Tank Girl, Johnny Mnemonic, Virtuosity (Denzel), To Wong Foo… (Snipes/Swayze/Leguizamo), Grumpier Old Men, Mallrats
BIG FILMS THAT YEAR THAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
Leaving Las Vegas, Dolores Claiborne, Mr. Holland’s Opus, Safe (Julianne Moore), Kicking & Screaming (Eric Stoltz), Kids, To Die For (Nicole Kidman flick based loosely on the Pamela Smart case in NH), Empire Records, While You Were Sleeping (Sandra Bullock/Bill Pullman), The Prophecy (Christopher Walken), Tales From the Crypt: Demon Knight (Billy Zane), The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill & Came Down a Mountain (Hugh Grant), Circle of Friends (Chris O’Donnell/Minnie Driver), Pocahontas, French Kiss (Meg Ryan/Kevin Kline), The Crossing Guard (Jack Nicholson), The Quick and the Dead (Sharon Stone western), Powder (Mary Steenburgen/Sean Patrick Flannery), Higher Learning (even though I love Omar Epps), Assassins (starring Sly Stallone’s ass), Dangerous Minds (Michelle Pfeiffer), Sabrina (Harrison Ford remake), Ace Ventura 2, Kiss of Death (David Caruso/Nic Cage), Wild Bill (Jeff Bridges), Casper (Bill Pullman), Canadian Bacon (John Candy), First Knight (Connery/Gere), Species, Major Payne, The Net (Sandra Bullock), Father of the Bride 2, Houseguest (Sinbad/Phil Hartman), Batman Forever, Showgirls, Judge Dredd, Village of the Damned (John Carpenter remake), Halloween: Curse of Michael Myers, Under Siege 2, Money Train, Copycat (Sigourney Weaver/Holly Hunter), Jade (David Caruso), Congo, Sudden Death (Van Damme), Doom Generation, Waiting To Exhale, Vampire In Brooklyn (Eddie Murphy), Man of the House (Chevy Chase/JTT), The Babysitter (Alicia Silverstone), Hideaway (Alicia Silverstone/Jeff Goldblum), Fair Game (Billy Baldwin/Cindy Crawford), Operation Dumbo Drop (Danny Glover/Ray Liotta), White Man’s Burden (Travolta/Harry Belafonte), Candyman 2, Jury Duty (Pauly Shore), Stuart Saves His Family (Al Franken).
BIG FILMS THAT YEAR THAT I HAVEN’T SEEN:
Living In Oblivion (Steve Buscemi), Bridges of Madison County, Sense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet version), Before Sunrise (Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy), Brothers McMullen (the film that launched Edward Burns’ directing/acting career), Walk In the Clouds (Keanu Reeves), Angus, Boys On the Side (Whoopi/Mary-Louise Parker/Drew Barrymore), Tales From the Hood, The Indian In the Cupboard, Scarlet Letter (Demi Moore/Gary Oldman), Dracula: Dead & Loving It (Leslie Nielsen), Free Willy 2, Nine Months (Hugh Grant), Cutthroat Island (Geena Davis), Forget Paris (Billy Crystal/Debra Winger)
IN A CATEGORY ALL ITS OWN: Hackers.
• 00:48:18 I hope you don't screw like you type.
• 00:48:27 It has a killer refresh rate.
• 00:48:30 P6 chip. Triple the speed of the Pentium.
• 00:48:34 It's not just the chip. It has a PCI bus.
• 00:48:37 But... you knew that.
This is a rather delicate piece of paper with a hand-written poem on it entitled "A Lock of Johnny's Hair". The only version of the poem I could find is in an 1891 edition of a NH publication called White Mountain Apiarist.
That poem was entitled "Our Baby's Hair". However, whoever hand-wrote this version has changed the title and seemingly added verses of their own. It reads thusly:
A Lock of Johnny's Hair
All else of him in death has faded
Except this little lock of hair
Which once his noble forehead shaded
And clustered in bright ringlets there
Its kindred locks are lying too
Cold cold within the grave
And this is all that's left us now
'Tis all that we could save
From off his marble brow we sheared it
When death had placed his signet there
And sacred do we hold this relic
This little lock of Johnny's hair
This little silken shining tress
It bids its thousand memories start
'Tis all that's left of loveliness
And I will bind it to my heart
'Tis a memento of the past
That brings to mind his lovely form
Too sweet too beautiful to last
Too fair to buffet wind and storm
And though no more we see his face
Amid our little circle move
'Tis pleasing still to have a trace
Of one who shared our ardent love
This little silken shining tress
That graceful waved upon his brow
Is like a halcyon halo bright
To cheer our saddened spirits now
It is a precious priceless thing
I treasure it with jealous care
And nought can such feelings bring
As this dear lock of Johnny's hair
Stonewall Farm's "Dancing Of the Ladies" is an annual event here in NH. They finally release the cows into the pasture after a long winter in the barn, and they LOVE it. This video was recorded 2013-05-04.