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May 29, 2009

Too Late For Tears

I have this past week continued to investigate the question of how classic films (or perhaps, just films from before 1960) hold up to time. The other night I watched Too Late for Tears (1949). In this film Jane Palmer (played by Lizabeth Scott) has to decide whether she wants the life she has or the life she could have with a satchel full of ill-gotten gains.

Mrs. Palmer has a serious case of the Keeping-up-with-the-Joneses-itis. Her husband has all he needs because he has her (insert head-cock and "Aww" from the audience.) The two are on their way to a friend's house for dinner when a blackmailer's payoff accidently lands in their car and they are faced with the tough decision of what to do. Should they give it to the police? Should they keep it for themselves? What if the blackmailer should find them? Smooth Jane talks her husband into keeping the money for a week and they put the bag in the baggage claim at the train station to think on it.

And, as per usual, All Hell Breaks Loose.

The blackmailer turns up. Jane's sweet and innocent sister-in-law who happens to live across the hall gets nosy and suspicious. Her husband, after an argument over the money, decides it should be turned into the police. And, a mysterious man claiming to an old army buddy of her husband's appears on the scene. What's a girl to do? Lie, cheat, scheme, and murder, of course!

In the end, this one turned out to be a tale about why avarice is a deadly sin. Or, perhaps why marrying the wrong kind of girl isn't good for your health. The contrast between good girl sister-in-law Kathy and bad apple Jane was pretty obvious, but wasn't at all heavy handed. This was refreshing. Lizabeth Scott plays the house wife/bad apple with style and grace. You want to believe she's the girl Alan Palmer married but you have to believe she's the girl scheming along with Danny Fuller. The plot is entirely character-driven and as such is an interesting investigation of what people will do for money. (Sorry, not just money. Buckets of cash, or as they say in Latin, multas pecunias. )

The print that I saw wasn't the best. Sadly with old movies transferred to DVD, sometimes things jump or the sound cuts out because something happened to the original film. It wasn't too bad but it was noticeable enough to break me out of the story which is always a shame. Also, while it had some of the snappy dialogue common to films from the era:

Jane: What'll I call you besides Stupid?
Danny: Stupid'll do if you don't bruise easily.

it doesn't force it. I got to the twist before the characters did, but that's pretty common in character-driven films. You know what's going to happen because the character's flaws are completely obvious to you but not to them. Still, this film was well done and definitely worth the watch.

May 21, 2009

Some Like it Hot

Its like jello on springs. With a motor.--Jerry (Jack Lemmon) in Some Like it Hot.

There is really only one thing you want to know when you see are about to settle down to watch a classic film, "How has this stood up to time?" I have a number of classic films in my Netflix queue, so I am often in the position to find out how things have fared. Recently, I had a chance to sit down and watch Some Like it Hot. I have seen this film a number of times; Usually I have it on as background noise while I knit or read or cook. But, this time I really sat down and watched it.

I was really worried, to begin with, that some of the humor and the acting would not have aged well. I was worried, in the opening minutes of the film, that I would end up with that feeling of embarrassment that you get when someone has done something and it hasn't turned out just they way they planned, but they worked really hard on it and you really wanted them to pull it off. The film opens with cops chasing after bootleggers in Chicago in 1929. The speakeasy where are heroes are employed as members of the band is raided a few minutes later. We meet Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and we find out that they are roommates and that Joe is a total cad. They later witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre and have to flee the city disguised as women as part of an all female band in order to save their own skins. This is also when our heroes meet Sugar Cane (Marilyn Monroe).

At this point, my feeling of embarrassment on the filmmaker's behalf subsided. Marilyn Monroe is hilarious (and super hot) as Sugar Cane. All of her lines are delivered with this sense of artless innocence, like she doesn't really know what she's got going on. Its wonderful. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis as men pretending to be women are also top shelf. No sense of embarrassment here. (And, why I would have thought that, I shall never know, considering the caliber of those two actors.) Tony Curtis for most of the film goes back and forth between being a man and being a woman. And,some of the timing involved in the switches that go on in the film is spot on and flawless. Plus, the challenges to conventional takes on gender and sexuality that a film like this puts forth still have merit today. Who would have thought that a film set in 1929, made in 1959 would have the potential to make you think about "convention" and "how things are done" today. So, at least with Some Like it Hot, the answer to the question is, "Why, yes. Yes it does."

May 20, 2009


I've been thinking a lot lately about health and finances. These are the perfect things to think about if you'd like to put yourself in a perpetual state of panic. Honestly, and its going to be hard to believe this if you spend any time with me ever at all, but I do not particularly enjoy living in constant panic. And, yet, I find myself contemplating these two, huge scary-ass things.

I have come to the following conclusions:

1. Thank the gods that I have put together some seriously long reading lists for the summer and I can't devote myself entirely to finding solutions to any possible health/financial crisis that may pop up in the next five years.

2. I think I may give myself a bike for my upcoming birthday.

Conclusion number 2, I've decided, is particularly brilliant. Since the only places I seem to actually go are homes of friends (or the drive in), school, the grocery store, and work and I can bike to all of those places but work (and the drive in) I could get a fair amount of exercise into my life. Additionally, all of this biking would cut down on the amount of car usage, which would mean I'd be spending less money on gas. Plus, I'd be forced to stick to the shopping list when riding to the store because whatever I bought I'd have to carry home. I could also use my bike to explore the beautiful countryside. As it turns out, Western New York is pretty sweet. Its not the Amber-waves-of-grain beauty of the high plains, but there is a lot of green and I am pretty close to some large and well known lakes. There is a rub, though. I know nothing about bikes. Yes, there are a number of them listed for sale on Craig's list and they seem to be reasonably priced, but how do I know they aren't priced so because people are looking to unload them on suckers? Also, I don't think I've ridden a bike since I was 16? At least not one that wasn't a stationary bike in a gym. I suppose that cliche is a cliche for a reason, though.

Dim Sum Mismatch

In celebration of the end of the semester, a friend of mine and I undertook an expedition to Emerald House Chinese Restaurant in Mississauga, Ontario where we ate many and varied things. For example, I got to try tripe! It was a wonderful experience and the restaurant probably deserves its own review-type write up. However, this is not that.

You know those sensory driven moments when you smell or see or hear something and it reminds you of something else, but the memory of what it reminds you of gets caught in the machinery of your brain and you can't quite recall it because the ringing of the bell, if you will, in the present isn't quite in tune with the past so you are incapable of perfect recall?

I had that experience whilst eating dim sum. Specifically, while eating this:


Now, it looks like some sort of fried dumpling. Crispy on the outside, filled with goodness on the inside. Great. No problems there. I was exciting about trying this, the only fried thing we ate. And, then I bit into it. It was a pork dumpling, which was great as I enjoy eating pork. Except, there was something off about it. Something that just didn't belong as part of the experience. And, I just couldn't put my finger on it. The pork was in some sort of gravy that was creamy and a little sweet and it was surrounded by some dough that had the consistency of mashed potatoes. I puzzled over this for a really long time and then it hit me: this fried dumpling tasted a little like the Chinese equivalent to biscuits and gravy. Only, instead of the biscuit (made from dough with a consistency similar to mashed potatoes) being smothered in sausage gravy it was surrounding it. And, because everyone interprets the dish a little differently, the gravy was made with chunks of pork and mushroom instead of pork sausage and it was slightly sweet and not at all peppery. This little dumpling was one the oddest food experiences I've had in a good, long while. It even trumped my first experience with tripe.

May 11, 2009

My Overactive Imagination

I recently started a new job. At work yesterday, I went on a little quest to collect to mail. I was told that the hallway I would have to walk down in order to get to the mail room would be creepy. This was an understatement.

I walked through the door marked "Employees Only" and I was stopped dead in my tracks. The hallway was long and narrow. It had high ceilings. It was like being backstage. It was poorly lit by high, florescent bulbs. Worst of all, it smelled like Abercrombie and Fitch. My first thought was, "Oh, no. Horror movies have scenes that start like this."

The punky, anti-social, starved for affection girl (played by me in this reenactment) walks slowly down the hall. "Josh?" She says because the hallway smells like him. "This isn't funny." Of course, for us it is because we know what happened to Josh in this very hallway just moments before.

Josh (played by Jackson Rathbone or Paul Walker) is some pretty, blonde haired kid who was wearing a backwards baseball cap and a flannel over a the Number Twelve Looks Like You t-shirt. He thought it looked cool and no, he doesn't know the band nor the Twilight Zone episode from which the band stole its name. Sadly, Josh is no more. He's hanging from parts undetermined in the mail room (perhaps, the hanging could be connected to some joke incorporating the homophonous "male". Or, maybe this is a PG-13 and that would be taking it too far.) The punk girl opens the door and screams. The homicidal maniac pops out from behind something and...

The punk girl punches him in face, knocking the sucker out cold. Or, she just gets the mail and heads back to work
Either way, I imagine all future trips to collect mail will be super quick because it was a very creepy hallway.

May 06, 2009

The Sweet Smell of Freedom

I am finished with the coursework for this semester (I don't know if any of it was any good, but I'm done with it and that's what matters!) My second semester as a PhD student is done and dusted. Earlier today, I was feeling a little like a Rock Star. I'd finished everything. I'd printed the last of it out and was all ready to go hand it in. I'd showered and my hair was up in a twist with pencils sticking out of it. I put on some makeup. Really, a rock star. Or, at least as close to a Rock Star as a PhD student can get.

So, I pack everything up and head to campus, I go to submit the last of my final papers and as I'm reaching to put them into my Professor's mailbox I have this feeling I've done something terribly, terribly wrong. I stop. I think about it. I look over everything again and it hits me. I'm about it hand something in that doesn't have my name on it anywhere. A title. A date. No name. Great. So, I have to run back down to the library and hop on a computer so that I can print out a new title page so that the work can correctly be identified as mine. That pretty much killed the Rock Star vibe.

In celebration of being done, I'm going to a Lab Party tonight. It should be pretty fun.

But, the best news of all: Now that I'm done with the semester, I can reacquaint myself with Booklist '09. I started The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber in January. I have no good excuse for why I am just now getting back to it. Maybe all that Sookie Stackhouse nonsense I read? Or, maybe it was trying to keep up with the reading in three seminars and two labs? I don't know. What I do know is that it is really cleverly written in the first person and my bookmark indicates I only got about 31 pages into it. I think I'm just going to start over. I'm very excited about it.

Also, Happy Mercury Retrograde!

May 04, 2009

Blue October's Foiled for the Last Time

So, this morning I was writing and listening to Blue October (don't judge me. No one has taste during Finals week.) And, this song called "Calling You" came on.

Now, I got into Blue October in a fit of all things Twilight last year (there are many reasons why I wasn't sleeping so well last April; this is my excuse. Stephenie Meyer put a lot of Blue October and Muse on her "Twilight playlists". Follow the twilight link above; they're probably still up.) They're from Houston, Tx, apparently. Its sort of dirty hippie music. But, not like Phish. Dirty hippie, drunk college kid, if Dave Matthews only ever wrote love songs music. The sort of shit you'd expect Edward to sing/write for Bella the rest of incredibly boring and super-creepyweird, immortally long lives. The sort of music that's filled with hope and naivety, and descriptions of proto-codependent behavior.

And, you're asking me, "Kate? Why would you listen to that? Or, you know, read Twilight?" I don't know. I'm just like that. Sometimes, I want things I don't really like. For example, when I eat cheesecake. I'm not a fan, but every now and then, I think, "Ya, I'll have a piece of that."

I was listening to "Calling You". And its just...God. Its just so creepy. I know its meant to be sweet and romantic and...its...oh. Creepy.

You can find the lyrics here.

I'm sure that its sweet to be told that someone is going to tell you that they love you another thousand times. I'm sure its nice to have someone calling to just see if you're okay and asking you if you love them...and...

Look, scratch the surface of this cynic and I really want to believe in love and puppies and people keeping promises and taking care of each other. Mostly, though, I don't think those things actually correlate all that often with creepy codependent behavior like asking someone if they love you repeatedly (even if you do just love the way it sounds.)

And, seriously? The Chorus? I'm just calling you to see/if you're sleeping, are you dreaming/if you're dreaming, are you dreaming of me. I'm imagining that conversation would go like this:

Caller: Hi! Just calling to see how you are!
Callee: Its 3 o'clock in the morning.
Caller: Were you sleeping?
Callee: Yes.
Caller: Were you dreaming?
Callee: Yup.
Caller: Of me? *sounds hopeful*.
Callee: I'm hanging up now.

(Unless of course the callee is me, and its actually 3 AM. Just to let you know, if you call me then and you're not on fire, dead or in jail, the string of words that will come out of my mouth directed at you will make a sailor blush. It will also probably make you cry.)

Obviously, I'm not the demographic a song like this (or really, a book like Twilight). Still, I don't think this is what you should shoot for. I don't think people should glorify relationships like Bella and Edward have. He's controlling and creepy and she's selfish and constantly in need of "looking after (in his mind and then in her mind because she practically ends up with Stockholm Syndrome)" because her boyfriend is frequently putting her in situations that are dangerous for her. Why is that okay? Your boyfriend puts you in danger and you cleave to him because only he can save you? I don't know a lot about healthy, but I'm pretty sure that doesn't count.

May 03, 2009


You don't ask the right question, every answer feels wrong. --"Hell Yeah" by Ani DiFranco

Let's think of ideas as dominoes. You have a bunch of them. They're not particularly related, or at least, they are not related in a way that is immediately apparent. But, they are all interesting, so you set them up one by one. Once they are all set up, you hit the right one and everything falls into place. You follow each domino in the chain and the picture that you were setting up begins to emerge. And, its pretty wild. Pretty amazing. You think, "Why didn't I see it before?"

I just had that moment. You ask the right question, you get the right answer. I can still only see part of the picture, but the part that I can see is worth looking at. (Its also worth investing in some more dominoes.)