Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Raising the Roof on Raising Arizona


Directed by:  Joel Coen, Ethan Coen

Written by:
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen

Nicolas Cage
Holly Hunter
Trey Wilson
John Goodman
William Forsythe
Tex Cobb

Synopsis and Review:

I vaguely remember seeing this film ages ago (probably just a few years after its release), but couldn’t remember much about it, other than it was hilarious.  After viewing it again Wednesday evening, my hunch was right.

I’ve always loved Nicolas Cage in everything he’s ever been in, except for his recent string of bad movies.  I used to consider him to be one of the most versatile actors of our day, but sadly, like John Cleese and Katherine Heigl, he’s now become a caricature of himself.

Normally, I’m not a person who goes for baby movies, but this script was just so well-done, that I found myself pulling for the baby.  I guess that speaks to the talent of the Coen Brothers.  I know I adored O Brother, Where Art Thou?

The premise was that Nicolas Cage’s character, Hi, was a repeat offender, and on his first visit to the jail, he meets Holly Hunter, who plays Ed, who is the officer who fingerprints him.  When he finally realises he could have a happy life with her, this is his impetus for staying out of prison, having to listen to the boring stories of his bunkmate.

Once he and Ed are married for a time, she realises that she can’t be happy without a baby, so they begin trying.  And miserably failing.  Once they hear that the local unpainted furniture celebrity and his wife just had quintuplets and they joke in the paper that they have more than they can handle, that’s when Ed and Hi hatch a most ridiculous plan to steal one of the quints, and then deduce that since they had more than they could handle anyway, the parents wouldn’t notice.

This might have worked, if Hi’s former prison buddies, Wilson and Forsythe, Gale and Evelle, hadn’t broken out of prison and decided they would stay with Hi and Ed.  Eventually, Gale notices that the unpainted furniture guy has offered a reward for their missing baby, and that Ed’s baby looks suspiciously like the missing child.

Hilarity ensues when they take the baby to claim the reward for themselves.

My favourite scene is probably the one when Hi is on the run for holding up a convenience store for a package of Huggies, and then drops them while he’s running from the police during the huge chase scene.  Just as we notice Hi running, and the Huggies still in the middle of the road, Ed screeches in to pick up Hi, and before he closes the door, he scoops up the package of Huggies.  I laughed well into the next scene.

Unfortunately, I have nothing to nitpick about this movie.  It was well-acted (and you’d need a huge crowbar to pry Holly Hunter’s technique away from her), and certainly well-written.  Some favourite scenes:

Ed McDonnough: You mean you busted out of jail.

Evelle: No, ma’am. We released ourselves on our own recognisance.

Gale: What Evelle here is trying to say is that we felt that the institution no longer had anything to offer us.


Prison Counselor: Why do you say you feel “trapped” in a man’s body?

“Trapped” Convict: Well, sometimes I get them menstrual cramps real hard.

It was also nice seeing Tex Cobb in this movie, which I believe, if I’m not disremembering, was one of the first films he did just before reaching the height of his popularity in a string of similar character roles.  I’m also partial to his performances, because he’s also from Nashville.  Aside from Reese Witherspoon and Jamie Denton (Desperate Housewives), it’s nice to see Nashville actors make good.

If you haven’t had a chance to see this very awesome movie, then take a trip to Netflix and watch it right now.  No, right NOW.  GO!  Did I give you permission to get a snack??  GO RENT THE MOVIE NOW!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

My Man Gilbert Gottfried. Wait....OH, OKAY!

My Man Godfrey

Another black and white film?  C’MON! There are so many great films from today.

Words that flashed through my mind as I sat there plotting creative ways to kill the class instructor with a butter knife and a shoe, but let’s save that for another talk show and move on.

The opening scene immediately got my attention: it was a dreary city dump.  And while this film came from the same era as the two before it, I noticed that when the leading man spoke, he was completely captivating:  no affected speech and no overacting for the sake of indication; just simple reaction to the other actors.  I’d never heard of Powell before (and we later learned that he never really took off as a leading man), but he was amazing in this role.

After we see the men living at the dump, we see a limousine pull up and two couples of rich people approach the men.  They apparently were on a scavenger hunt, and their task at hand was to find a “forgotten man” and return with him to the hotel where the scavenger hunt is headquartered.  The script handled this very offensive situation with grace and wit, and Powell’s character had quite a few zingers for the snobby and clueless socialites.  I was homeless for two-and-a-half years before getting accepted to Tech, so I did my share of living in my car, in a crack house and on sofas with my two cats.  I know what it’s like to be judged for your unfortunate situation, and I watched some of my so-called friends drop like flies once my social status also dropped.

The first time we see Carole Lombard is when she and her sister are fighting over Powell, but Lombard eventually wins him over when she takes herself out of the hunt.  Her rambling and dizzy-headedness was portrayed to perfection, and she was immediately likable.  Powell agrees to go with Lombard to the hotel, and as he’s being shown off on the table, he lobs a few more zingers to the rich and clueless snobs.  It’s then that Lombard invites him to become their new butler the next morning.  That’s when the real comedy ensues, as pretty much the entire family is bat-shit crazy, and Lombard herself doesn’t remember hiring him.  Of course, later in the movie, we find out Powell’s character really isn’t a street bum, but a Harvard-educated philanthropist who fell on temporary hard times.

I had one major problem with this movie, and that was with the script.  The very day Powell’s character starts working as a butler, he’s given many tasks to do, and he does them without question, as if he’d been a butler his entire life.  We don’t hear if he worked previously as a butler, so how exactly, did he come by the information of social etiquette?  In one scene, Lombard follows him into his butler quarters, and he says directly to her, “The family is not to be in here.”  Who told him the family was bound by propriety to not socialise with the hired help or be seen in their private quarters?

Why does Powell not show any confusion about how to behave around the family?  It seems logical to conclude that if he had never been a butler before, then he would at least show a level of being uncomfortable at certain times, and yet, in every single instance, Powell is cool as a cucumber; he doesn’t drop drinks, he doesn’t scorch pants, he doesn’t screw up at all.  Nor do we ever see him actually beginning to fall in love with Lombard, and yet, we’re supposed to believe that he eventually leaves their employ because she got to him.  Nope.  Not even in an oxygen-deprived atmosphere would I begin to make that leap.  Why the director did not have Powell portray that emotional sky dive is beyond me.

Other than that, I had no problem with this delightful movie.  Probably wouldn’t watch it again, but it was a nice film.

We then watched a short episode of The Three Stooges  (whose information I was unable to locate in the imdb), and finally, the famous Vitameatavegimin episode of I Love Lucy.  I laughed until I gave myself an asthma attack, which in my world, means two lungs up!


Friday, September 6, 2013

Hope springs eternal in "It Happened One Night"

During the first few minutes of this film, I was certain it was going to be no more impressive than Duck Soup, and God help me if I had to sit through that hot mess again.  I wouldn’t have hesitated to shove a fork through my eye; or anyone else’s that happened to be laughing nearby.  Claudette Colbert’s first appearance on screen, with her thirties glamour make-up and affected, over-enunciated Standard American Stage Dialect, reinforced my initial feelings that she was going to be no better an actress than Margaret Dumont in Duck Soup.  Did every single film that came out of this time period produce such indication-driven overacting and barely-believable storylines?

After waiting it out for another ten minutes, I decided: I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Like many others, I was familiar with Clark Gable by reputation as the dashing epitome of the quintessential Hollywood leading man.  I loved his performance in Gone with the Wind, but not enough to become a die-hard fan.  So I wasn’t expecting him to be just so darned good in a romantic comedy.  I think I, along with every other female audience member was in love with him by the end of the movie.

As the film progressed, I’m happy to say that Colbert’s acting seemed to relax—she didn’t force feelings or reactions to situations as she did in the first scenes.  In this regard, I’m guessing that Capra filmed the first few scenes in sequence, which is usually not done in film or episodic television.  (Later, in a scene extra on the DVD, we learn from Frank Capra, Jr., that Colbert had originally considered this film the worst of her career and bitched nearly every day on set about something.  Perhaps in these first few scenes, she wasn’t fully able to keep her private disdain for the project out of her character, but I’m just surmising at this point.)  Perhaps it was that the chemistry between herself and Gable also began to grow, and this relaxed her a bit.  I just know that for me, there was a marked difference between her acting in the first scenes, and her acting in the later scenes in which she and Gable are on the road, running from her father’s henchmen.

So, once her acting improved to the point where it no longer took me out of the story, I began to settle down and enjoy the story and characters.  The idea of a road trip for a story that early in the 1930s was revolutionary, and it was during Capra, Jr.’s interview that we learned why: his father had put this film together from script to editing in just four weeks.  Hotel or Hostel rooms doubled for each other with minor set changes, car rides were nothing more than a half-car on a sound stage with a backdrop, a boat in the beginning, a newspaper room, and a hotel and extravagant yard for the wedding setting at the end.  Even wardrobe was sparse: Colbert had a total of just three costume changes.  I know nothing of movies from the 1930s in general, but even I could tell this was an unusual set-up for a movie at this time.  I knew there had to be a reason why it won five Academy Awards, other than its two major stars.

As I said in my previous review, a strong cast cannot exist apart from an equally-strong ensemble cast, and Capra shined in his casting in that regard.  Each minor character held their own against the film’s two stars, creating believable atmosphere and in some cases, stand-out scenes: I was struck by the scene with Gable on the bus with the ticket agent.  It was the first time I’d ever seen the Rule of Threes used, and to great effect at that.

Another memorable device they used was called the “running gag”.  Gable strung a blanket between beds each time that he and Colbert were in yet another hotel room, and he called it “The walls of Jericho”.  I didn’t expect another device in comedy to be used, referred to as the “call-back”, in which a stand-up comic, who’s usually beat a bit to death by repeating it until the audience slashes his tires in the parking lot, refers back to it one last time at the end of his act, much to the unexpected delight of that same audience (they LOVE it).  In the final scene of the movie, after Colbert and Gable’s characters are finally wed (and they played the constant growing sexual tension to perfection all throughout), they spend their wedding night in one of the run-down hotel rooms similar to the ones already used in the movie.  The aging owner and his wife are standing outside, commenting on why Gable insisted on stringing a blanket between their beds when they were on their Honeymoon, and then the man commented to his wife that he was then instructed to go out and purchase a toy trumpet.  In the final seconds, we see the hotel room from the perspective of the owner and his wife, curtains pulled, but lights on.  Just a second later, the lights go out and we hear a toy trumpet.  Best. gag. ever.

The fact that this whole project was based solely on a short-story surprised me, but also gave me hope.  My own short-stories have been published in national comedy magazines.  And not just for pizza coupons and a cookie: for real money, too.

Perhaps hope does spring eternal, and if one wishes, they, too, can knock down the walls of Jericho.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

It's all just Duck Soup wrapped about The Bellboy


Follow along--you'll figure it out.

Last week I announced that for one of my fun classes this semester, I am enrolled in a class called "The Art of Comedy".  I was hoping there might be some performing, analysing of comedic plays, but alas, it is a horrible, relaxing evening, complete with popcorn and laughter, watching...COMEDIC FILMS.  Yes, I know--I live a rough life.

Below are my reviews of both films as I submitted them.  If you agree, if you don't agree, kindly comment on your thoughts and feelings on these two films.  That way I can learn more. (And to submit a comment, just click on "Snarks" and that will open the comment window.)

And now, sit back, don't spill soda on the floor (or I'll make you lick it up), no sharing of popcorn, and enjoy the show!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Just an Elaborate Hazing Ritual

That's what a friend called it when I asked him what the point was of Tennessee Tech's "shove it up your butt" method of learning.

"Just think of it as an elaborate hazing ritual that you must survive."

HA!  There it is.  The magic word:  SURVIVAL.

The reason I've been so conspicuously absent from this homey place is because I was accepted to Tennessee Tech University and began class on June 6, 2011 (as most of you already know).  That's when life as I knew it disappeared forever.

Since that time, I've been involved in a personal struggle for survival; I lost my financial aid thanks to the wise old owl, Obama, and am now working as a Teaching Assistant in both the Physics and Mathematics departments, since stupidly, that was in which fields I chose to double major.  I work about 30 hours per week, in addition to a full-time schedule of classes.  I've had TWO brand new laptop computers simply demagnetise and die on me within the same year I purchased them (which happens--the factories always ship to the distributor with a few bad sectors, and they have no way of knowing which ones are about to go bad, so it's a crap shoot as to how long it will last when you purchase any computer, really), and am now forced to use a computer donated to me by one of the professors for which I TA; I sweet talk the landlords, begging them for more time and flashing them from time-to-time with my incredibly awesome and powerful boobs; I am now on a first-name/bribery basis with the head supervisor at the electric company (and even know the names of her children); and I've even slept with a professor or three for an A.  It made me nostalgic for the two-and-a-half years I was homeless.

And you thought I was simply memorising formulas and learning how to calculate and integrate the area under the curve on a graph.  Stupid human.

But that's not the kind of survival I'm talking about, cheekily.

In reality and all seriousness (something you will hardly ever see me be on this blog), no one really knows what we go through--those of us who attend a science/tech-intensive school, such as Tennessee Tech, MIT, CalTech and CalSci, Georgia Tech, and I could go on.  They are now calling us the MIT of the South--that, from an MIT professor.  We are now the go-to Engineering school, and not Georgia Tech.  And with that reputation comes a lot of responsibility, preconceptions and, wait for it...PRESSURE.

The stress that we are under is incredible, and if you've never been in such an intensive environment, it would be difficult to grasp.  I wasn't aware, and in a lot of ways, wasn't prepared for it when I began.  Having one degree in music, I thought, well, I aced that, how hard can this be? Naivety:  the last bastion of the ignorant.  It took me about a year-and-a-half to realise just what was happening to me:  how I had to abandon old study techniques that had worked for me in the past and up my game just to keep pace; how suddenly, I needed to attend study groups--something I laughed at before; how I needed to memorise office hours, since I would be in there 1/3 of the time now, begging professors to drop extra gems of knowledge on my head, hoping it would soak in; how my "free time" would now be spent in homework, my house strewn with notebooks and textbooks; how it would be days before I could locate my three cats beneath those notebooks and textbooks.

And forget being sick:  there is no room (or compassion) for those who miss even a day; you are still expected to keep pace with the material and take exams on their scheduled days.  My question was, who the hell reads a textbook in between bouts of horking and fevered-chills??  I finally had to mount a book stand above my toilet. 

And yet, that's what's expected of us.

With this esteemed reputation also comes the preconceived notion that you will perform to national standards with grades.  Do you know the average Calculus student ends up retaking one of the three in the sequence (usually Calculus II--the most difficult) at least three times?  Why?  It's certainly not because we're stupid (a fact that my closest friends have had to remind me of several times when I failed an exam and automatically went to the "I'm too stupid to live" dark place).  I mean, we needed the requisite ACT scores to get accepted, so stupidity isn't it.  One of my professors said once that we should be required to retake it at least twice, since the material moves so quickly and this subject is so packed with information.

But do you know the dark reality of attending one of these schools?  You're expected to be good in math.  When you're accepted, the professors already expect you to know this stuff (isn't that why we're there--to learn it, for crap's sake?).

So why are so many engineering majors dropping out or changing their majors in droves, without a viable reason?  The math.  In the freshman math courses that I am a TA, I will ask the students in the beginning what their major is, and they will invariably say "engineering" of some kind.  And yet, by the end of the semester, their answer has changed to something like "business" or "criminal justice"--something without math.

I think this is sad, because the dark reality is that no one really teaches you how to study math; you're not taught how to study for a math exam (what?  you can study for a math exam??).

This summer I just finished retaking a Calculus course that I failed previously because of the cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve in my neck), and the professor I had was. simply. amazing.  I would worship at her feet for years to come if I could.  She is originally from India, and her father, a FAMOUS Indian physicist, was great in math.  She shared with me that in the 70s, NASA sought him out, due to his reputation, to work on the Saturn rocket programme, but because some of his friends passed on misinformation about NASA, stating it wasn't a reputable agency, he turned down the position--something he regretted until his dying day.  But she shared with the class that he put so much pressure on her to be good at math, too, that it created in her an intense test anxiety that included diarrhea, high fever, chills, and the wonderful vomiting.  I was mesmerised at her story, because I suffer extreme math test anxiety, too--something I was ashamed to admit or even share with anyone. (My high-school algebra teacher was a pimple.  All he wanted to do was be outside, coaching the girls' softball team, since he was their coach and they met during our 7th period class, so needless to say, I barely made it out of there with a D.)

But because of this woman sharing her story at how she had to develop skills to overcome that anxiety if she was to pass any math courses and graduate at all, I now have a clear set of skills and a logical, step-by-step way to approach my math-intensive courses:  physics, math and chemistry, with the confidence that I CAN conquer this anxiety and make great grades.  If I follow this paradigm, then I will be prepared for exams from day one and will never have to study for another math-intensive exam.

Sadly, however, not all professors share this bit of wisdom, or else they simply don't know about it.  A lot of our math professors are former Tech grads themselves, and for most, it simply came easy.  They can't relate to the fear of math or the severe test anxiety that makes me cry through most of my exams.  (Yes, sadly, that's true--my panic overtakes me so badly that I begin to cry, and then waste most of my time calming my ass down just so I can finish.)

And I know what you're thinking:  doesn't that school come equipped with a counseling centre?  Of course we do.  But the sad reality there is that when I sought them out my first summer to conquer my test anxiety, I knew more about it than they did, from simply Googling the subject and reading everything I could about it.  Do these counselors know anything about the intensive pressure we go through?  Nope, because they have counseling or psychology degrees, and those Humanities departments at other schools are nothing even remotely close to the difficulty of Bruner and Foster Halls (Physics/Math and Chemistry buildings) at Tn Tech.  They have not been through the "Elaborate Hazing Ritual" that those of us here must survive.

How do we stop the cycle, then?  I intend to begin by letting these arithmophobic students air those grievances in a support group, called "I 8-A pi"--the first official, "I hate math" support group.  Because, how can we begin to heal something if we don't acknowledge that it's broken first?  It will be a group where students can bitch about their high-school algebra teachers without fear of retribution or judgement, but at the same time, a place where I can then attempt to equip them with the tools I'm learning and developing for conquering test/math anxiety.

And in the wake of such math-intensive courses each semester (since I long-since completed my core curriculum and humanities requirements), next week I begin a course entitled, "The Art of Comedy".  I am going to attempt to blog about that class and my experiences in it each week, if the rest of the crap I'm taking doesn't kill me.  So stay tuned.

And in the meantime, the elaborate hazing ritual continues.

(I would love to hear your thoughts about your own experiences with math in the comments section.  The more data I get on varied experiences, the more it will help me with this new group.  Thank-you for reading!)