Monday, May 09, 2005

Cahiers du cinéma

This weekend's theme was "movies."

"The answer is forty-two."

C and I did something uncharacteristic and went to a first-run, mainstream film: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

I wanted to go because I'd laughed myself sick over the first two books years and years ago. They're the only works of science fiction I've ever liked, probably because they're not pure science fiction, but more descendants of the relentlessly logical British nonsense (Alice, Lucia, E. M. Delafield, Gilbert & Sullivan) that I love so much.

Hitchhiker's Guide is running in Chicago at a mega-multi-giganti-plex, ugly as sin but conveniently located near Michigan Avenue shopping. By the time we got there, I'd acquired three plain-front baseball caps in different colors (zowie!), two printer ink refills, the two newest French & Saunders DVDs (on sale!) and a copy of Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitter's Almanac.

(Mrs Zimmerman will be getting her own entry. I'd not read her books before, and she's now on the short list of authors I wish I could have met.)

Going to the movies with C is quite wonderful. He's cut from the same neurotic cloth as I - for example, he doesn't mind getting to a performance or a screening an hour early, if it means getting the pick of seats. He also likes to plan ahead and buy tickets online. (A guy who doesn't make me wait in line or miss the previews is a guy I could marry.)

When you're used to going to quiet little arty theaters to watch short-run independent stuff, it can be disorienting suddenly to plunge into a universe of 1000 screens, mile-long ticket lines, itinerant marketers hawking preview passes, and 50-foot murals of Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Wesley Snipes and other red carpet fodder whose movies I never quite get around to seeing.

There were swarms of kids, which you don't get at theaters showing Capturing the Friedmans on screens one and two. (And they do swarm, don't they? Getting underfoot and wriggling into the damnedest places.)

We were the first people to show up in the theater but not by much. Three fellows who almost certainly do something for a living that involves beta-testing and database development were quick on our heels.

The film was fun. I'd read the reviews and they've been mixed. Fans of the book who apparently expected a line-by-line rendering are miffed that it's not all there. Maybe it's because I haven't read the books in ten years, but I felt that the giddy wit was largely intact in spite of the things that are inevitably lost in translation to the screen.

The performances are spot-on, too, every one of them. Even the fellow with the funny name who plays Ford Prefect. Stephen Fry, to whom I considered offering my body as a plaything after watching him in Jeeves and Wooster back in college* is the voice of the Guide and is particularly pitch-perfect.

I suppose the highest compliment I can give is that mid-way through the movie, I thought, "Gee, I hope they're already working on the next book." I was so shocked at myself I nearly dropped my king-sized bag of peanut M & Ms.

"I want to kiss you, but you're so far away."

The other movie was a complete surprise, unplanned in every way. In fact, we didn't even know what the heck it was called until C looked it up on the Web this morning.

Turns out it was Madame X with Lana Turner, and it's a doozy. We missed the first 20 minutes or so, but wound up being drawn into it in spite of ourselves. And all we were doing was turning on the television to play a DVD.

I'll give you the short list of why you really need to watch this film:
  • Lana Turner changes her clothes in every single scene. I'm not exaggerating. Even when she hits bottom, she's still got one of those magical bottomless wardrobes like the one Ginger Grant had on "Gilligan's Island." The one time you think she's going to wear the same dress twice, when she's down-and-out in Mexico, she cheats by coming out of the shower in a towel.

  • The dialogue is priceless. Lana doesn't actually scream "Yes! I'm guilty! Guilty of love in the first degree!" from the witness stand, but she comes mighty close. "I want to kiss you," says John Forsythe to Lana, "but you're so far away." Well, yeah, she is. She's all the way over on the other side of the bedroom. Whatsa matter, John? You got a broken leg?

  • Nurse Reebok. During this one part where Lana gets sick and disoriented from grief and hears her child's voice calling to her and collapses and is plucked out of a snowbank by a canal by a Swiss concert pianist who happens to be driving by in his fancy car, he takes her home and she's attended by Nurse Reebok. Yes, Reebok.

  • Montage moments. Lana's downward mobility is communicated by swelling violins playing under shots of trains whooshing back and forth, intercut with shots of her sneaking whisky into glasses of water. As she sinks lower into perdition, we shift to a montage of blinking neon nightclub signs accompanied by raucous jazz. And you all know what that means. (No!?) (Yes!!)

  • Ricardo Montalban as a naughty Latin playboy named "Phil." She should have known this guy was trouble. Or maybe she was just attracted to bad boys. Phil chases her around the swimming pool, and takes her a loud nightclub where they dance the rhumba. And you all know what that means, yes? (No!)

  • Enough improbable coincidences, traumas, humiliations, innuendos, reverses of fate, and acts of violence to keep "Days of Our Lives" stocked for 20 years. I won't say more. It would deprive you of the supremely precious surprise ending. Have tissues handy. Oh, it just slayed me.
All I will say, girlfriends, is that the Lifetime network could pile Nancy McKeon, Lindsay Wagner, Valerie Bertinelli, and special guest star Celeste Holm into one film with a screenplay by Sidney Sheldon based on a novel by Judith Krantz, and it still would not approach the universe of tragedy served up by Madame X.

*Stephen, if you're reading this, you have my e-mail. And it's okay, I have a special dispensation where you're concerned just like C does with Jake Gyllenhaal.

9 comments:

Felicia said...

Madame X-- one of the best movies ever done! Lana Turner is the bomb, and she's quite the clotheshorse. I can't think of any movie she's been in that I didn't like. The Postman Always Rings Twice has to be my favorite Lana movie. Actresses just aren't cut from that type of cloth anymore. I especially like the fact the woman has a figure, instead of looking like a survivor from a death camp!

I've been on the fence about going to see Hitchhiker's Guide. . . I also loved the book to death, though it has been about 19 years since I last read it. I believe I will have to go see the movie. And, I'm with you and C-- I'd rather wait an hour and get the perfect seat!

TrickyTricot said...

You and I are definitely cut from the same cloth - I always like hearing that there are other people are as neurotic as I am. It makes me feel like I shouldn't feel bad about getting there an hour before to get the best seats, or the non-burnt popcorn.

Jon said...

I've never read that book. I do want to see the movie. I hate waiting in line for movies and hate even more coming late to them. That's why one plans ahead and brings a book or knitting or both in case one is there for a long time.

Rachel said...

And speaking of Ricardo Montalban the naughty Latin playboy, you haven't lived until you have seen him as Jose O'Rourke in Neptune's Daughter -- playing opposite the divine Esther Williams no less! And who isn't a sucker for old movies with sexy latin men and sychronized swimming? It's been ages since I've seen it, but I assure you, the two of them singing "Baby It's Cold Outside" together is worth it all on it's own...

markknitz said...

LOVE MADAME X! Haven't seen it in a long time. I should check it out again. Ever see BACK STREET w/ Susan Hayward. That's another personal fave. Hayward at her most selfless and dramatic, Vera Miles as ooberbitch, delicious John Gavin and cinematography that'll make your eyes bleed.

Buzz said...

Now I would have to disagree here...I maintain that the uber-Lana film is "Imitation of Life" Lana goes from poverty to movie star, Sandra Dee is her kid, plus we get all the surm und dram you can handle including someone throwing themsleves on a coffin while Mahalia Jackson cries and sings... Doug Sirk was the king of the "womens picture" and this is him at his apex...and Lana at her own wooden, 2 dimentional heaving-cleavage best.

Patrick said...

I rarely watch TV or films anymore but your mention of French & Saunders made me laugh. This has to be one of my favourite sketch comedy shows of all time! They've got it all those two do! Got it all! Off to buy DVD's...

Kenny said...

Your blog is so entertaining. I love your sense of humor.

BTW, thanks for checking mine out.

goblinbox said...

Special dispensation! Hah!