Tag Archives: Arts and Entertainment

Blue Velvet – “Disturbed”

Blue Velvet


JOHN: This is what movies could be but choose not to—like a nightmare you wake up from and wonder if it were real.

SPANKY: There are three things that stay with you years after leaving it: 1) the protagonist walking along after his father’s stroke and finding a cut-off ear in the grass, 2) the songs “Blue Velvet” and “In Dreams“ performed with their weird context instead of blaring off of a portable radio, 3) Isabella Rosellini telling her young savior to hit her making love.

JOHN: And he does hit her. At the end, though the plot is resolved, the troubling subtext is free to go on and on and on.

SPANKY: Who would go to such a film? I’m sure that is why others never followed David Lynch. More than a romantic entertainment for date night, more than an action flick for pre-teens. A film that changes who you are and how you see life.

JOHN: Creepy, beyond what we want, beyond what we need. But we can’t look away.

SPANKY: 4 Barks out of 4

JOHN:  4 GOs out of 4




Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Sidney Lumet, 2007 


PITCH: Old director goes Pulp Fiction.


STORY: A robbery is planned by one brother, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who enlists the aid of another, Hank (Ethan Hawke). The dead body on the sidewalk afterwards belongs to a small-time hood Hank recruited for the dirty work and the saleswoman bleeding on the floor is the brother’s mother and the owner, with their father Albert Finney, of the store they decided to hold up. And that’s only act one.


HOOK: Greed, envy, stupidity, corruption, ambition, sex, drugs and hate—and who doesn’t love those in a family flick—lead to murder. 


JOHN: In his book, Making Movies, the 83 year-old director said, “Let the material tell you what it’s about, but the material had better be good.” Well in the case of this film, the material, the actors and the directing are superb. It begins with a segment before the heist and the botched jewelry store heist itself that almost seem as if we are watching them from the perspective of different security cameras. Instead it is showing us the points of view of the two brothers. What I loved about the movie is that anyone else in Hollywood would have been satisfied with that as the plot, but for Lumet this is a jumping off into the dynamics of a dysfunctional family on the road to physical, spiritual and moral destruction. To me, we’re in Arthur Miller country, and the performances ratchet up toofrom the sniveling Ethan Hawke, to the wily Philip Seymour Hoffman, and climaxing with heavy-handed justice of a growling, overwrought Albert Finney. 


 GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four) 


SPANKY: This is exhausting; I’ll give you that. And people are evil. However, those ever-rising plateaus take a dip at the end. Lumet has led us to expect more and more with each part of this film, but he ends it with a nihilism that’s been there all along. There is no catharsis of Greek tragedy here, no matter how much posturing. My guess is that Lumet knows he’s going to die, and thinks its better to leave a world of shit than one in which we can obtain some kind of redemption. PS Am I the only one not sleeping with Marisa Tomei?   


“ONE PAW UP” (2 BARKs out of four) 


KEEPER: “It’s too late to think.”



The Jane Austen Book Club, Robin Swicord, director, 2007


PITCH: PBS has run all six of the Austen novels in dramatic form. Karen Joy Fowler’s book upon which the movie is based is a best seller. Can Hollywood risk making a film for an adult audience about women, for women, based on books by a woman with strong women characters? What next, a woman president”? A female movie reviewer? 


STORY: Five women and one guy start a book club dedicated to the works of Jane Austen. As each struggles with their respective issues–loneliness, divorce, marriage, unhappiness–reality intertwines with fantasy and their lives play out like episodes from various Austen stories. Jimmy Smits is a cheating husband, who, even after he dumps his wife, shows he might be worth redemption. Maria Bello is her best friend more interested in breeding dogs, man’s best friend, than meeting men


HOOK: Show the complexities of modern life that encourage readers to escape into Jane Austen’s world where, ironically, they learn lessons that apply to their situations today.


JOHN: Many movies make you wish you were reading something instead, but this hip, funny, intelligent, full of surprises film actually shows people enriching their lives by enjoying and discussing books. The only (ahem) male member of the book group (a computer geek measuring high on the Hugh Grant scale) is a masterstroke. He not only brings the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the novelshelpful for viewers who aren’t, i.e., husbands trying to be sensitivebut challenges Austen fans as to why they don’t read SF authors, such as Ursula LeGuin. Some of the parallels with the books’ heroines are a bit forced (but thankfully no time is wasted reenacting excerpts), the characters themselves seem aware of the film’s literary construct and the heartwarming ending, like Jane Austen’s works, wraps things up a little too tidily. But Emily Blunt’s hair is absolutely mesmerizing 


 GO GO GO (3 GOs out of four) 


SPANKY: As a member of a book club myself (we only read books about animals, except those featuring cats) I enjoyed the discussion sessions where one person upstages another, revealing more about themselves than about the book. Now make an Austen film with an all dog cast (Pride and Pedigree, Scents and Sensibility, for example) and you’d really have something to howl about. 


“TWO PAWS UP” (3 BARKs out of four) 


KEEPER: “High school is never over!”




Vertigo, Alfred Hitchcock, 1958


PITCH: Woman as embodiment of a hidden, male rescue-fantasy.


STORY: A fat, short, bald director (Hitchcock) has a popular movie star, Jimmy Stewart, rejected by a cool platinum blonde Kim Novak. Stewart gets pissed; Novak falls to her death. His illness is cured. The film was passed over by the Academy for Gigi about a young woman trained to be a courtesan of a wealthy suitor. 

HOOK: This movie is the beginning of the end for Hitchcock (he would only do Marnie, Psycho and The Birds afterwards). The Sixties would reject big studios, big stars, big (fat, short, bald) directors, and here we see Hitch making a pre-emptive strike by starting to reject us. He takes the quintessential learn-from-your-mistakes, It’s a Wonderful Life guy and hangs him between life and death by a bent gutter—literally at the beginning, figuratively at the end. His friend Midge with a career designing brassieres is a maternal figure who desires him to be a more mature “big boy,” which he ultimately rejects. 


JOHN: Three things strike me 50 years later. 1) the shoulder-less Steward delivers real angst in his last scene. 2) With Paris Hilton, Brittney Spears and Lindsay Lohan we have come full circle—can a new Sixties be around the corner? And 3) The real genius of this film is in its pacing: It starts with a chase, but slows to an endless, dialogue-free, stalking of Novak through a San Francisco of meandering streets, a bridge to nowhere and classical facades suggesting eternal themes. The plot unwinds with half-expected surprises, but the ending is abrupt. We don’t have time to process it. We panic. This genuine, metaphysical moment shared by actor, director and audience transcends Hitchcock’s body of otherwise interesting but overly manipulative work. Bernard Herrmann’s music, yes; Saul Bass’s opening titles, no.  


 GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four)  


SPANKY: A revisit to this classic (it is Voyeurism 201; the earlier Rear Windowwas Voyeurism 101) reveals that the James Stewart character has no past and the Kim Novak woman too much of one (Novak is pretending to be Judy pretending to be Madeleine pretending to be Carlotta—too bad none of them can act). Animals have feelings too you know, but we don’t project them on other animals and then get pissed because they are deceiving us. Jimmy “yup,” “yup” Stewart should simply smell Kim’s butt and avoid high places. Laugh if you like but isn’t necrophilia a little creepy? 


“TWO PAWS UP” (3 BARKs out of four) 


KEEPER: “Don’t touch me; I just put on my face.”





Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)


PITCH: In real life Ingmar Bergman lies in a hospital bed dying but the imagination of this court jester of Swedish anxiety/depression has an idea for a movie about an actress suffering a breakdown and the nurse in charge of her as the actress recuperates at an isolated, island cottage. Then comes the weird moment of communion in which the two women physically merge into one.


STORY: The actress—played by Liv Ullman—freezes up in the middle of a theatrical performance of Electra, thereafter refusing to speak. We aren’t told why, but from the context it’s fair to guess that she withdraws because she feels inadequate in the face of the horrors of the modern world as she watches humanity (the nurse, Bibi Andersson, chattering on about her troubled sex life) revel in its petty woes.  


HOOK: Bibi Andersson had been Bergman’s mistress, now Liv Ullman was assuming that role. The plot of the movie makes no sense in itself. Movie critics have been arguing over its meaning for nearly 50 years. But as a symbolic representation of Bergman’s evolving relationship with the two women, it is as sharp and clear as a writer’s image in a mirror. What we in the audience are seeing is not the characters played by Bibi and Liv but the artist’s projection of his own feelings onto them.


JOHN: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” Freud said, but sometimes a movie is not just a movie, a novel is not just a novel, and, yes Spanky, a bone is not just a bone. This movie stopped me in my tracks 40 years ago and has all the same power today. The film deals definitively with two favorite Bergman themes: 1) the difficulty of true communication between human beings, and 2) the essentially egocentric nature of art. Bibi Andersson later stated about the nurse in “Dialogue on Film,” an article in American Film magazine (1977): “She had never used her imagination toward other people; she had never analyzed what was happening to herself either. Suddenly, through the silence of the other woman, she was able to put herself in her place, understanding her world and her thinking and to express that.”  Bergman has made her an artist, and we, in the audience become one as well. Critics may argue over Persona’s meaning, but it will change your life.


  GO GO GO GO (4 GOs out of four)


SPANKY: There’s one great passage: the nurse talks about a day and night of sex on a beach, and as she goes on talking, with memories of summer and nakedness and pleasure in her voice and the emptiness of her present life in her face, you begin to hold their breath in fear that the director won’t be able to sustain this almost intolerably difficult sequence. But he does. It’s one of most erotic sequences in movie history.


 TWO PAWS UP” (4 BARKs out of four)


KEEPER: Bergman—whose death last year was pretty much ignored at the Academy Awards—says of this film: “Persona saved my life. This is no exaggeration.”










Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)   

PITCH: A Masturbatory Fantasy for Nerdy Intellectuals  

STORY: Naomi Watts goes Hollywood, twice. First, as Betty, a sort of Nancy Drew solving the mystery of a beautiful amnesiac she finds in her aunt’s apartment. Second, as Diane (in a parallel reality), the ravaged victim of the other woman. This time she has her murdered and then, in the moments before she commits suicide, reimagines her ruined career and failed relationship as Betty with this woman she loves.   

HOOK: “What the hell! This has to make sense? But it doesn’t make sense. Or does it make sense?” Plus weird characters spouting lines as if they’d escaped from a David Mamet play (and the requisite inch-high David Lynch people scurrying around like mice).       

SPANKY: The girl-on-girl sex is so hot I found myself dry humping John’s leg. Listen, after Blue Velvet no one goes to a Lynch film expecting Bridget Jones Diary. Just call me a nerdy intellectual, but I like a film that finds the dumpster behind a greasy diner interesting.   

 BARK, BARK, BARK  (3 BARKS out of 4)      

JOHN: Part of the year David Lynch lives in Madison (everyone’s favorite alternative to reality). The two things I particularly like about this film are the tension he builds in every scene and the way he keeps us guessing—which gives us something to talk about for the rest of our lives. Naomi Watts is spectacular acting as an actress practicing (badly) for an audition and then auditioning (brilliantly) for the role. A play within a play within a play. Spanky, get off of my leg.      


GO, GO, GO, GO  (4 GOs out of 4)     

KEEPER: “This is all a tape recording. It is an illusion.” (Lynch’s own critique of Hollywood embedded in the story.)