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Posts Tagged ‘film’

Silver Belles

December 19, 2013 | by

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When you think about it, there are not many Christmas-movie heroines. But then, nobody ever put Barbara Stanwyck in a corner—and with Christmas in Connecticut’s Elizabeth Lane, she gave us a character who was tough, smart, and irrepressibly modern. Christmas in Connecticut is not a great movie. I thought I loved it until a few days ago, when I forced a friend to sit through it with me and realized I only really liked the first twenty minutes before it gets farcical, and not the parts on the boat or the hospital, and that I absolutely loathe the smarmy love interest, played by the fatuous Dennis Morgan, and any scene involving his smirking face. Nevertheless, this is my Christmas movie recommendation.

For those who have not seen it, here is the premise: Elizabeth Lane is a 1945 Martha Stewart type, a domestic goddess who writes a regular column in a popular women’s magazine about her idyllic life with her husband and baby on a Connecticut farm. But Elizabeth is a fraud: in fact she’s a tough-minded career woman living in a tiny Manhattan apartment with the proverbial oven full of shoes and a restaurateur downstairs neighbor (the ubiquitous S. Z. Sakall) who provides her recipes. One day her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) decides it would be a swell PR move if Elizabeth were to host a war hero at the farm, and invites himself along for Christmas. Needless to say, hijinks, subterfuge, romance, and a series of different borrowed babies ensue. There’s also a stuffy fiancé who’s obviously not long for this world and a tiresome subplot involving the sailor and a nurse.

All that aside, Elizabeth is a nifty character. Barbara Stanwyck was incapable of playing anything but smart and sexy, and even when Elizabeth is at her most clueless—and she's placed in all kinds of humiliating situations—she’s never ditzy; you just get the impression she has better things to do with her time than make flapjacks. While one would rather not invoke Sex and the City, it cannot be denied: the character is a proto-Bradshaw, except the stakes are higher and the cynicism is naked rather than dressed in designer cupcakes.

We tend to think of the crafts revival as a nostalgic response to the chaos of modern life; clearly, we’ve been idealizing the domestic for a long time. Christmas in Connecticut juxtaposes the “ideal” woman with the pragmatic, wartime reality, and in the end the latter is far more attractive. Casting Stanwyck—the ultimate noir femme fatale—in such a role was counterintuitive, but it’s what gives the movie its pizzazz: you don’t really want her to change, let alone end up with either of the dud suitors with whom she is presented. Yes, the uptight architect is clearly not for her and would try to clip her wings. But at least he knows who she is; the awful war hero has fallen in love with the ideal, and you’re not left feeling good about the situation.

But for all its silliness, the film was saying something real (advertently or otherwise) about changing roles, domesticity, and the dynamic of men and women. It’s a story that, in the right hands, could be reanimated for the Etsy generation in a thoughtful and intelligent way. Unfortunately, in 1992, it was remade starring Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson, and Tony Curtis. It was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

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Hell on Wheels

December 11, 2013 | by

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During one of the most lucrative Thanksgiving weekends in Hollywood history, moviegoers hooked on the Hunger Games franchise once again embraced the vision of a populace preoccupied by blood sports. Millions more Americans stayed home and skirted family small talk while zoning out in the flat-screen glow of football coverage. Before NFL collisions in HD and murderous YA fiction in IMAX colonized our culture, a short story published in Esquire in 1973 anticipated the blitz on both fronts. William Harrison’s “Roller Ball Murder” forecasted a future where corporations have replaced all governments and world armies, and nationalism is exorcised at ultraviolent roller derbies. The games keep the people in line, so long as they’re tuned into what Harrison presciently dubbed “multivision.”

When I came across Harrison’s obituary in the October 30 edition of the New York Times—he passed away in Arkansas, at age seventy-nine—it was printed just below the obituary for the late Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Allan Stanley. Seeing the two notices printed in such proximity, the name that leapt to mind was Ontario’s own Norman Jewison, a lifelong Leafs fan and the Oscar-winning director of In the Heat of the Night and Fiddler on the Roof. In 1975, Jewison adapted Harrison’s story for the screen and encouraged him to write the screenplay. The result was Rollerball, an underappreciated seventies curio that was revived briefly in the wake of a regrettable remake in 2002. The overlooked original still packs a punch. Read More »

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The News You Have Been Waiting For

December 4, 2013 | by

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is being adapted for the screen. No word on who will get the plum role of Jenny in “The Green Ribbon.”

 

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Drinking with Salinger

September 10, 2013 | by

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On Sunday, I saw Salinger. Having seen the trailer, not to mention the posters, my companions and I had reason to expect a certain degree of bombast. As such, we came armed with skepticism and whiskey, hoping to hear some interesting interviews, see some neat archival footage, and learn a little something in the bargain. What we learned is that you cannot go into this movie without a highly organized game plan. 

I will not attempt a review of Salinger; plenty of people much smarter and better qualified than I have done so already. What I can do, by way of a public service, is extend the following warnings to anyone who would attempt to play a drinking game while watching Salinger, because it is a road fraught with peril.

We entered into the experience with a level of naivete that, today, seems laughable. We had only one half-formed rule: whenever anyone on screen says “recluse,” everyone takes a drink. Alas! Within fifteen minutes we had depleted the miniature bottle of whiskey I had recently been given in a gift bag. The documentary clocks in at 129 minutes. On the other hand, sufficient supplies would have left us supine and slack-jawed. In order to help other moviegoers, my companions and I quickly compiled a list of warnings.

If one wishes to play a drinking game while watching Salinger, and wishes to avoid illness, potential alcohol poisoning, or complete inebriation, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES do the following:

  • Drink whenever a random actor inexplicably says something with tremendous authority.
  • Drink whenever a random actor or writer whose career is based in areas completely unrelated to the writing and/or criticism of fiction holds forth with tremendous authority from an empty movie theater, an empty five-star restaurant, or the back of a moving vehicle.
  • Drink whenever one hears the sounds of typewriter keys, presumably hard at work on mysterious manuscript that will eventually be imprisoned in vault.
  • Drink whenever a reenactor who looks nothing like J. D. Salinger sits around being tortured by the world/humanity/horrors of war.
  • Drink whenever horrors of war are indicated with literal battlefield sound effects.
  • Drink whenever a structure commonly referred to as a “house” is described as a “bunker.”
  • Drink whenever you see a covered bridge.
  • Drink whenever someone who harassed J. D. Salinger talks with a total lack of embarrassment about bothering him.
  • Drink when you start to feel exactly the way you did when you first saw Bambi and realized you were Man and evil and you hated yourself and humanity (which is what is really scary about Bambi, not just the shooting). 

You may drink in the following circumstances:

  • When you discover WHAT HAPPENED TO J. D. SALINGER.

Prepared in consultation with Matthew Colvard, Taylor Anne Lane, and Peter Wolfgang.

 

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Don’t Snip My Brakes in Long Beach

September 9, 2013 | by

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In 1977, O. J. Simpson thought he was going to Mars. Instead he was kidnapped and taken to synthetic Mars, staged at a CIA base somewhere in New Mexico. Or Arizona. Wherever. The American public bought it, just as they believed O. J. Simpson could be an astronaut. The transmission from Mars was all a conspiracy, project-managed by Hal Holbrook and NASA in the film Capricorn One. Accompanied by James Brolin and the assistant DA from Law & Order, Simpson escaped this fraudulent Mars in a Lear jet, only to crash-land in the desert. Last time we’d seen James Brolin in the desert, he was gunned down by Yul Brenner in Westworld, astonished that the Russian cowboy-robot was using real bullets. This time Brolin is rescued by Telly Savalas in a crop duster. The assistant DA from Law & Order isn’t so lucky. Nor is O. J. I remember Simpson’s eyebrows being full of sand upon realizing the birds in the sky were really helicopters.  

I may have writer’s block. It’s not all spaceman in the trashcan as one would imagine. (One would imagine nothing, I’d think. And I would think, if I didn’t have writer’s block, or indulge in a hopeless tautology.) But I have been thinking about O. J. on Mars with sand in his eyebrows, rather than, say, geo-acoustic mapping, torpedoes, and swamp outlaws—the real concerns of my unfinished future. Read More »

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Mr. Paradise

August 22, 2013 | by

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Leonard in his home office.

Elmore Leonard died this week. This is terribly sad news. It’s terribly sad when the world loses someone fantastically gifted who also, through some cosmic fluke, is not a dick. Elmore Leonard was not a dick. He was nice. He wrote something like a book a year, and even the crap ones were better than most of what passes for decent fiction these days. And he was one cool motherfucker.

We hung out one afternoon in October 2010 at his house in the suburbs north of Detroit. I was interviewing him for a story just before his ninety-millionth novel, Djibouti, was about to hit. He wore this black sweater with a scraggly beard and smoked cigarette after cigarette in his office, just talking. His daughter was in the other room futzing with this chair that was in the process of getting reupholstered. Gregg Sutter, Elmore’s longtime research man, floated in and out of the room a couple times, and Elmore sat there at his desk doing his third or fourth interview of the day—late in the day now—an eighty-five-year-old guy talking about how he’s got the best job in the world and why would he ever want to stop doing that? Apparently he didn’t. Sutter said recently that Elmore was banging away at his next book up until he had a stroke a couple weeks ago.

Back then, we talked about a bunch of stuff. The usual chaff about his writing process (longhand, then typewriter), his aversion to all that social media junk, what he was writing now. (Stacked uneasily on a chair nearby was a stack of material about mountaintop removal that Gregg had dug up; it would become fodder for his last novel, Raylan.) He’d just unboxed his first cell phone. He smoked and talked dismissively about his atrial fibrillation and how “you can get a stroke easily with it” and so he took a couple pills for it every day and had bloodwork done every week or so. This was a serene, cool man much more like the smiley bemused grandpa pictured in his current official author photo. Previous versions featured a scowly guy rocking lavender-shaded sunglasses and a the-fuck-you-looking-at puss. I can’t imagine meeting that guy, after having met this guy. Read More »

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