Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Two Very Different Movies That Both Show a Room Full of Mannequins

Title: The Band Wagon (1953)
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Language: English
Rating: Not rated

The Band Wagon is a musical about people making a musical, and the leads - Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse - are amazing dancers. They aren't strong actors, so when they have to convince the audience their characters are falling in love, they can't do it through dialogue. There's one dance - filmed in the park and called 'Dancing in the Dark' - that does it, because of how they flow together, with Charisse's balletic grace and strength mesmerizing.

Another dance number, 'The Girl Hunt,' is a musical parody of film noir and hard-boiled detective stories. Astaire plays the tough detective (which is funny in and of itself), and Charisse plays both a helpless-seeming blonde and a dangerous brunette. There's some amazing dancing in this number, and a room full of mannequins at one point. 'The Girl Hunt' is both ridiculous and riveting. (If you're a fan of Michael Jackson's music, you might like to know that his music video for "Smooth Criminal" took inspiration from Astaire's suit and the scene at the nightclub from 'The Girl Hunt.')

Another notable musical number - 'The Triplets' - features Astaire, Nanette Fabray, and Jack Buchanan as triplet babies. They wear baby gowns and dance on their knees. (I'm not making this up.) The lyrics are also funny. These are violent babies who rhyme cleverly.

Fabray, who has great presence and sings wonderfully, should have been in more musical scenes. At least she's part of the group singing 'That's Entertainment,' the most famous of the songs from the movie. This isn't a movie that takes itself seriously. It's silly and full of music and dance talent (ballet, jazz dance, a tap routine in top hat and tails). A really enjoyable movie.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Week in Seven Words #368

She's catering the party. The doughy, salty, sweet dishes are spread across the counter.

The park has been carved out of a rocky hill. You think you're heading north, but really, you're climbing to a lookout point. It's a beautiful detour. You head back down, and again attempt to make your way north. Now you're in a garden. Could these stairs take you out of the park? No, you wind up at another lookout point. Best make yourself comfortable. Here's a bench.

He has turned a part of the basement into a sanctuary for snakes. They live in drawers and pails. Many of them are stuffed animals, and the rest are plastic, but he takes the trouble to feed them and set up a program for breeding them.

There's this frustrating thing that happens in conversations. People hear the name of a person or thing they don't like, and their brain blows a fuse. From thoughtful, complete sentences, they go to slogans and taunting names. They begin to raise their voice, and the intelligence leaves their eyes.

As she sleeps, expressions drift across her face - a wrinkle of fussiness, the glow of a passing smile.

With his face mashed into a couch cushion he says, "Why am I watching this garbage when there's other garbage on?"

They have trim beards and pleasant smiles, colorful graphs on PowerPoint slides. And they make economics sound so straightforward.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Week in Seven Words #367

R-rated rap lyrics muttered by a sensitive boy who wants to sound tougher.

The shop displays candies in cartoon colors and chocolates in silver foil. Popcorn erupts in a buttery river from bright red tubs.

What people find acceptable can change quickly. Many seem unfazed by governing practices, speech, and behavior they would have condemned in the recent past. Others begin to criticize things that they've let slide before.

She doesn't know which soup to buy. She wanders up and down the aisle, her fingers tracing the cans and cartons. From the way her hands shake, her difficulty must run deeper than soup.

In the elevator, he tells me that he knows double-digit numbers. He points to 10 and 11 and names them proudly. "But what happened to 13?" I ask. He pauses, staring at the unaccountable gap between 12 and 14. Then he laughs. "They DEMOLISHED it!" he shouts. "Hahahahaha!"

The sign advertises mulled wine and apple cider donuts. The words alone - and the colors and curves of the letters - flood my mouth with their flavors.

His Facebook feed is full of people he dislikes. As long as they're angry, he's satisfied.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Our Little Sister (2015): Exploring Forgiveness and Trust

Title: Our Little Sister
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Language: Japanese
Rating: PG

Our Little Sister is a movie that brings more beauty into the world, not just entertainment. It doesn't show unnecessary drama. Any tension arises from the characters' circumstances; the writers didn't shoehorn arguments into the plot. Much of the movie is grounded in what makes life beautiful, like sharing food and conversation with loved ones. I also like how the movie explores forgiveness and trust.

Three adult sisters who live together learn that their estranged father has passed away. He had abandoned his family for a love affair with a woman who became his second wife. His first wife, the sisters' mother, also wound up abandoning them at some point after. The eldest sister, Sachi (Haruka Ayase), stepped into the role of mother for her younger sisters.

When they attend his funeral, they meet their teenaged half-sister, Suzu (Suzu Hirose), for the first time. Their reaction to her is curiosity and kindness, and they invite her to live with them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Halibut Point State Park is Amazing

In early September, I went on a vacation for a few days to Boston and to some of the towns within commuting distance, including Rockport on the Cape Ann Peninsula. The highlight in Rockport was walking from the center of town to Halibut Point State Park.

It used to be a granite quarry, and the quarry is full of water now. It's stunning.


Along with walking around the quarry, you can look out over the ocean.


And head down to a beach layered in slabs of rock.


Have a picnic here.


The walk to and from town is also wonderful, with beautiful yards and gardens along the way, and openings to the sea that tease the imagination.


I felt lucky to visit these places.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Week in Seven Words #366

A fun evening of Code Names, drinks, and food.

They're helping her learn the distinction between cool weird and uncool weird. Cool weird is when you make silly faces with your friends for Instagram, maybe use a filter or app that gives you puppy ears and big glasses. Uncool weird isn't a sanctioned strangeness. Even if it's creative and doesn't harm anyone, it's suspect.

She folds Trident gum wrappers into birds.

The alarm over the door begins to shriek. A worker approaches it with a grimace, then walks away. A minute later, another worker comes along, grimaces and walks away. Another minute goes by, with another grimace.

The word 'problematic' has started to bug me. People often use it in a way that's lazy and full of insinuation. "That book is problematic." Meaning? A vague unease, a condemnation without a coherent argument.

Hearing about war gives him a thrill. It's the swagger of war he likes, the way deep-voiced media figures growl a threat of reprisal.

An empty plaza framed by ads, shrubs, and an office building that looks like a fort.

Week in Seven Words #365

He tips his hat and wishes me a good afternoon. It's sunny out, and he's serene. It really is a good afternoon.

Fingerprints of sunlight on faded brick and joyful murals.

In the gap between brownstones, there's a fenced off dirt plot, studded with rocks. Two cats inhabit it. One sprawls on a bed of sunlight. The other watches me with menacing alertness.

Kids seize each other in headlocks outside the department store in front of the mannequins and pink placards, as they wait for their mom to finish shopping.

In their community, neighbors, friends, and coworkers will show up with trays of food in the days after childbirth.

She sleeps in a warm crescent against my stomach.

With classes cancelled for the day, the campus is silent. A building with a crenellated tower casts a shadow over the grounds.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Seven Short Stories I Should Have Read with Coffee

It was International Coffee Day recently, and though I don't drink much coffee, maybe it could have helped with the short stories here. These are short stories I liked but wasn't sufficiently alert while reading them. (And I took few notes.) They're also tricky in different ways - they might depend on a slippery narrator or express something frustrating and undefined just out of reach.

Title: The 5:22
Author: George Harrar
Where I Read It: Boston Noir 2

"The simple question 'What if?' could lead to so many disturbing places."
Walter Mason, a researcher at MIT, is solitary and sticks closely to routines. His daily commute doesn't stray from its schedule. Then, on one of his train rides, he notices a woman who's wearing a scarf. When the wind blows it aside, he sees she's missing an ear. In the course of the story, the woman disappears from his commute, and one day the conductor who's always there doesn't show up either. The train also misses his usual stop.

The shake up to his routine is unsettling and creates unease. But it could wind up not affecting his life much. Or maybe it will nudge him towards something better. Moments that appear inconsequential can call for courage and have a profound effect, like taking a chance to talk to someone instead of stare at them.

Week in Seven Words #364

A sunlit, sterile store displays several rows of small devices.

During the subway ride, she asks about each stop and what you could see in the local neighborhood. A proprietary feeling for the city comes over me. It doesn't matter if a subway station is grimy and rundown; I look on it with fondness, because it has become my grimy and rundown station.

The furniture from centuries ago looks doll-like, as if the people then were not only smaller but more delicate and fragile.

A high-speed boat skips like a stone across the river.

The baby wears a striped hat. She squirms from time to time in her sleep. Her sleep seems intent, energetic.

They dab, dance, and toss their hair on the videos they make with a lip-syncing app.

It's a quiet ward, which is surprising. The hospital room has a dim evening glow. For the moment, the baby is being weighed and measured in the nursery. A nurse, who strikes me as sincerely caring, quietly speaks to the mother, both about what to expect in the coming hours and about a maternal health issue that needs to be monitored.