Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Twelve Movies Meme (+2)

This one is from Sarah, who got it from a bunch of other people I'm too lazy to link to. The idea is to assemble twelve movies you would most like to exhibit in your own dream film festival.

Since I'm into movies and all, I figured I'd give this one a shot. I'm not going to organize this by day. They are in correct order, but the days would have no theme at all.

And away we go!

1. From Dusk Till Dawn - My favorite Rodriguez movie and still perhaps George Clooney's best role is the film I'm going to use to blow into the festival with. It's cool, it's violent, and it's ceaselessly entertaining. What better way to start off than with Tom Sevini wearing a crotch-gun and Harvey Keitel playing a dorky character?

2. Hedwig & The Angry Inch - I was determined to have only one musical in this list, and since everybody these days with any taste is going to put Once on their list, I'm going to go with something a little more high-energy. The story of a transexual from (then-divided) East Berlin is still one of the best musicals ever.

3. Grave of the Fireflies - I wanted one animated film (as it is I got away with one and a half) and Grave of the Fireflies is it. I was tempted to put in a Miyazaki film, but Grave of the Fireflies continues to be one of the saddest films I've ever seen. A definite must-see and perhaps the best anti-war film ever.

4. A Clockwork Orange - Probably my only 'official' classic on the list, and with good reason--it's hilariously dark. There is something so powerful about McDowell's performance as Alex that I can't help but automatically love the movie, even if it's one of my more recent seen films.

5. Speed Racer - Of all the actiony popcorn fare that I could include I put forth the one that nobody saw. This is still the coolest film of the summer (I'm sorry, Dark Knight, but while you're the better film this one was ceaselessly entertaining). There has never been anything quite like it, and I doubt there will be ever again.
5 (alt theatrer). American Psycho - I couldn't not put this on the list, but there were already twelve on there. This is still Christian Bale's best role. There's nothing better than nerdy violence, and American Psycho has that in spades. Hope you have a dark sense of humor for this one.

6. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - The only asian film on the list (Takashi Miike almost got a film or three on here, maybe next time) comes this third in an unconnected trilogy of 'vengeance' films. The most popular, the middle film Oldboy, doesn't hold a candle to this much more subtle, abstract treatise that closes out the trilogy. A beautiful, beautiful film.

7. The Science of Sleep - Michel Gondry might be a little too big for my film festival, but I love this movie. I'm going to give an alternate theatre to this one, because other people might have seen it (as they should have) but I can't help but show it again. This is probably the sweetest film on the list, and the only one that has anything in the way of romance.
7 (alt theatre) Jackie Brown - I've felt horrible about almost keeping Tarantino off of my list, but his films are pretty high profile. Not so for Jackie Brown, the movie that nobody's seen and everyone should. Also noted for being the only Samuel L Jackson movie on this list (I was tempted to include Black Snake Moan, but didn't). Jackie Brown isn't Tarantino's best film (that goes to Death Proof, which was also very underseen) but it's the one that deserves the most coverage.

8. Day of the Dead - I was only going to put one zombie movie on this list (otherwise it'd be a whole truckload of them) and of course it was going to be a Romero one. Dawn of the Dead was the obvious choice, but everyone with even a novice appreciation of film has seen Dawn of the Dead. Instead, I'm going to go for the lesser known and much better third film of the trilogy (or quadrology, with the so-so Land of the Dead). Also, I was very tempted to put Shawn of the Dead in here, but decided against it for little more than the fact that Romero wins.

9. Brick - A neo-noir set in a contemporary west coast high school. This film is amazingly shot, and beautifully written. There's nothing I could tell you that would explain it, other than this might just be the best teen film I have ever, ever seen. Absolutely stupendous.

10. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Sergio Leone's biggest, best-known film barely beat out his final spaghetti western Once Upon a Time in the West if only because I prefer the dynamics in this one a little better. There is nothing in this film that is bad. There's a reason that much of this film instantly became a part of our culture. Without a doubt, this is a strong contender of the best shot film. Ever. Seeing it on a big screen is on my list of things to do with my life.

11. Hard Candy - Before she starred in Juno, Ellen Page starred in this smaller, much darker film about a teenage girl and a guy who might or might not have less than honorable intentions for her. The less you know the better it is, but I figured having such a small piece (only two major actors) sandwiched in between two massive epics was the way to go.

12. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - My favorite film of all time (except for when it briefly falls to two or three) is Terry Gilliam's bomb about the mad adventurer way past his prime. I could tell you about this film, about the scope and imagination that is mind-blowing considering it's pre-CG. About the comedy typical of Gilliam's films. About the charm and beauty that crops up in surprising places. But instead I will simply let this one, a sadly neglected masterpiece, stand up after all the others and speak for itself.

And that's it. The contenders list, each one hard to cut, included the following: O Brother Where Art Thou, Visitor Q, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Iron Giant, Sin City, Oceans Twelve, Hot Fuzz, Kill Bill, Casablanca, Breakfast at Tiffanys, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (still better than The Dark Knight, sadly), Memento, The Usual Suspects, Spirited Away, and Chaplin.

Notes from the Airplane

I composed the following on the airplane. As much as I would have loved to pull out a laptop and peck away this piece on the plane, Deborah isn't in travelling shape and I wasn't going to saddle myself with a laptop on my flight, so instead I mentally composed this ... essay? Forget that I'm writing it on Tuesday, two days later. That's incidental.

I'm rising over Tucson as I compose this. Takeoff was painless, nothing more than sitting there while someone else does all the work. All our advances have turned taking to the air at great speed to cover even greater distance as easy as parking yourself and making sure your seat belt is securely fastened. The difficult part was back on the ground, when you stepped through the gates and left behind the place you were and the people you were with. Indeed, sometimes taking off is the easiest part of it all.

Below me stretches the city. Coming in, I was taken aback at just how spread out everything is and this impression hasn't left me in the five days I've been here. The city sprawls with a deliberate and controlled pace. Tucson is certainly the furthest West I've gone and the city has that underlying order that comes from being planned in the modern era. Other cities I've flown into and above typically have all the grace of a toddler's enthusiastic scribbles. Even DC, which was initially a planned city, quickly devolves into insanity when you look past the main urban centers.

But Tucson has the orderly grid-based city planning that I will always associate in my head with a properly running Sim City. In all directions stretches the city in an obsessively leisurely pace. The city could probably comfortably cover two thirds of the area it does and contain everything it has, but the space just helps justify its place in the world. And with the city ringed on all side by mountains, I can't really blame it for trying to puff itself up. Against the mountains, the flat southwest architecture feels flat and two-dimensional even from the ground, an impression that doesn't get any better from above.

From above the desert vista isn't nearly as impressive. Below--when you can see roads stretching far into nowhere and nothing, where the saguaro and agave begin to dominate, other plants too exotic and strange for me to identify--it seems as if wilderness is only barely kept at bay. But from above the grid looks like a net cast upon the ground to control and dominate it. From the air, the city is clearly the victor.

We're rising East along Broadway and I can't help but smile. In my time in Tucson I spent the majority of my driving in the city limits on Broadway. Such is a main street. And along it, I see the various places where I've been. From here I could nearly trace my path to every place I've visited. The plane banks slightly to the north before I can see Kristen's apartment, but I fly right over it as we continue rising towards the mountains.

Below me, I see the roads slowly fall away until there's little more than a single insistent highway making its way up into the foothills. As I look at the thin thread beginning to cut into the quickly rising cliff face, I realize that I know this road. Three days before Kris and I had piled into the Avenger I had rented to do a little exploring and ended up making for Mt. Lemmon.

The Catalina Highway goes into the Santa Catalina Mountains (surprise) and the road is like nothing I had ever experienced before. I had driven through the Black Hills some ten years before and the Appalachians a year or two before that, but this was like another world entirely. The desert below fell away and we were left with a two lane highway that snaked its way up the cliff face. Rounding blind corners with the valley right beside you is thrilling in a James Bond kind of way. I could almost imagine what it would be like travelling along the Alps. Those who have visited Europe may laugh, but for someone from the midwest the very idea of mountains are nearly inconceivable.

The plane is cutting straight up the side of the mountain, so from my seat I'm only able to see part of the road, but I spot the biggest vista point roughly six or seven thousand feet up. It was here that on our way down from Summerhaven we stopped to take a look around. There is an area with a sidewalk and rail but past the rail is a ridge of rocks extending out a few hundred feet. There were visitors perched on flat areas, a group of tourists right up front where the going is easy. And far at the end, younger teens scrambling over rocks to the very end, where the rocks drop off again.

It was here that I realized that even if she was wearing heeled sandals, Kris was three times as agile as me. On the way out, unfamiliar with rocky terrain, I had quite a time finding footing and making my way out to the rocks where we stopped and took in the view of the mountain below us and Tucson stretched out over the horizon. At that point the weather was warm (we were far too high for hot) and it was utterly quiet. There was a light breeze, but aside from that, there was nothing. No grasses, no bugs. Just the wind and the silent rocks. It felt as if the world below weren't moving, that up there was a place out of time. Descending as dusk neared did nothing to help that perception of timelessness while we were on the mountain.

My plane rises above the mountain and over the other side, where we fly into the mountains. On the other side of the Catalinas the clouds are heavier and hold the promise of rain. I'm fairly certain that the rain will never see Tucson. Tucson is supposedly in its rainy season, but in five days I saw one brief 45 minute deluge. And it was indeed a deluge, with the kind of rain that in Omaha would be accompanied with lightning and thunder and hail and all sorts of other insane weather.

But it ended before it really got going, and the whole area just as quickly dried out. The rainstorm was little more than a slight spritzing before the desert moved on with its typically arid self. But then, We've gotten more than double the rain to date in 2008 than Arizona is supposed to get all year, so I'm just lacking the appropriate context to appreciate what that rain meant. Seeing people huddled up to windows like the world was ending outside was rather surreal for something as every day as rain.

My flight is uneventful, despite some turbulence as we pass through those clouds that I saw before and the bigger ones after it that seem primed to build into a storm. And as I piece together the idea of this piece in my head (where it seemed much shorter than it's turned out to be so far) the plane passes far enough ahead to outrun the sun.

Afternoon gives way to an uneasy gray dusk in minutes. Which, writing this now, is indicative of returning. Under the Arizona sun, the sky seemed to be a bleached out void that stretched forever. In five days the city looked like five different cities under that sun, under the changing light of various cloud covers. And I can imagine that in the bright clear parts of summer when all the clouds flee and the sun shines the entire city takes on the slightly luminous quality of the unreal.

It's certainly sunny here. We haven't had bad weather. But the air is cooler and I feel it more than I figured I would. I won't even remotely say I was acclimated in five days, but I was certainly growing more comfortable with the climate. And here summer has seemingly lost its biting edge.

When my plane finally descended upon Omaha it was fully dark. We dropped through the cloud cover and spread out before me was Omaha in all its glittering glory. Omaha isn't nearly as big as Tucson, but it's twice as bright. At night, Omaha is a sea of lights, with street lights on every street and oceans of light coming from parking lots and stores and buildings. From above, blocks twinkle like Christmas trees and every major street is easily visible as it makes its way through the city.

I already knew that Omaha had terribe light pollution, but seeing my home city welcoming me back with all of its familiar light drove the point home. Two days before I was driving to dinner with Kristen, and the darkness was absolute. Street lights are reserved for only a few streets and as a whole the city is best described as dark. I drove the same street at night and then the next day and had I not been told I wouldn't have known. The street, only a few blocks from the main street of the city, was swallowed by a darkness so absolute the roadsides on both sides were swallowed up.

That darkness, in my mind, was reserved for only the most remote stretches of wilderness. But there it was, right before me, draped across the sprawling suburban area that I would discover the next day in broad daylight. Again I felt (as I still feel) that while in Tucson, it appears as though the city only barely keeps a wilderness more insistent and wild than any to be found in the midwest at bay. The great plains just cannot stand up to the desert.

Which is about what I expected. What I didn't expect, though, was how I would feel coming out of that landscape, coming out of that city. When I descended back on Omaha and returned to my home, for the first time I truly looked upon the city of my birth with something equalling at the least indifference and at the most ...

Well, I'm not sure what the most is, yet. But I know that some part of my mind is still staring in awe at the vistas I've left behind. And from here, where mountains are rare and moisture is in the air and the days feel cool though I know they aren't I can't help but think, with longing, on what I've left behind.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Stray Essay

[ Sarah and me had something of a challenge going. We each gave the other a prompt and had to write a short piece on it. The prompt I gave her was perfectly reasonable and produced a pretty solid piece found HERE. She told me to write with a child main character, 8 or under, on his first day of school.

Two weeks and many, many headdesk's later, I scrapped idea #7 in favor of the below. I literally cannot write from a child's POV, and won't be doing it ever, ever again if I can help it. This one's really short, but these 500 words have more angst poured into them than anything I've written in ages. ]

About Me
by Anthony O'Toole

My name is Anthony and I am seven years old. This year I'm starting the third grade.

Mom says third grade is when you go from little kid to big kid. But I was a big kid since the first grade when my Nana went to heaven. I know because Mom said to me one night when I woke up with bad dreams that I was a big kid now that I knew about life and death. But I don't know if she is right because I was playing ninjas and soldiers way before that and people were always dying.

So I don't know if I'm a big kid before or gonna become one. I know that third grade looks really hard because it has times and stuff like that. Maybe timesing makes you a big kid.

I grew up with Nana and Mom in Nana's house in Kentucky. We had a swing on the tree. Mom always said it was like Mayberry but I don't really know what that means, because our town was called Sweetwater. I liked it there most times but it was small and I wanted some kids to play with. I asked for a brother or sister a few times before Nana told me to hush up about things like that. Probably because I don't have a Daddy and only kids with Daddies get brothers and sisters.

Its okay though because I really don't want Mom to have a baby because if she did she'd get a big stomach and wouldn't play with me as much any more. Most nights when she gets back from work we'll go to the playground or go roller blading and if she had that stomach I'm pretty sure she wouldn't want to do those things. Nana said that when I was in her stomach all she did was throw up a lot.

Last year Nana went to heaven and we moved here. Now we live in an apartment which is closer to the playground but not as big. But there are interesting people in these apartments, too. One of my neighbors is from New York City. I think New York City sounds like an interesting place to go. Mom says she went there when she was younger and that it was big and noisy. Nana used to say that Mom was a small town girl at heart.

This year I'm hoping to make some new friends. Since we moved here I haven't met any other kids yet to play with. Playing with Mom is okay, but when I'm not with her I'm at the daycare place and its just a bunch of babies there. Mom said once school starts I'll meet somebody and find a good friend.

This school is so much bigger than my old school. I was kind of scared seeing all the kids. My other school only had 75 kids in kindergarten-6 and now there are 75 kids just in my grade. I'm not sure who I should talk to. There are so many people!

Mom says that the bigger school will show me more of the world. I think all schools teach you the same world because otherwise they wouldn't be very good schools, so I'm not sure she's right or not. It is only the first day and I am new here so many this is a bigger world than the one at Sweetcreek.