Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies, by Hadley Freeman.

Well, thanks a lot, Hadley Freeman. Not only did I spend the time reading your book, but then I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole of "Say Anything" clips. My productivity this week is not high.

But you know what? Sometimes it's not about high productivity. Sometimes it's just about reading and enjoying a book, and if that book is about watching and enjoying eighties movies, well, then, so much the better. I very much enjoyed Freeman's book Life Moves Pretty Fast. Who should read this? Anyone who's ever enjoyed an eighties movie, for one thing, and that includes people who were too young to see eighties movies on their first pass around, and who instead found them on VHS, DVD, or on YouTube or any streaming service in any decade since. But you know who else should read this book? Anyone who would ever like to see a movie again that is NOT about superheroes or big explosions.

The most obvious and enjoyable part of Freeman's essays are her unabashed love for and knowledge of these movies; also very enjoyable are the "lessons" she draws from them. In her chapter on "Pretty in Pink" she suggests that she learned the lesson "awkward girls should never have makeovers." From "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" she learned about social class. From "Baby Boom" she picked up the fact that successful women are "sexy as hell." I loved reliving some of these movies through her eyes (and was completely pleased that she focused a lot of attention on "Baby Boom"--I saw that one with my mom when it first came out and we both enjoyed it, although I was a bit young for it, and now whenever I see it on TV I can't NOT watch it) and came away with a desire to watch them all again.

But the subtitle of the book is "(And Why We Don't Learn Them Anymore)," and that part of Freeman's thesis is not nearly as fun to read. To wit:

"So now studios will only back films that are easy to sell and will work around the world because this then guarantees they will make their money back. This also means that they want movies that appeal to as many demographics as possible, or 'quadrants,' as film marketing staff refer to people: men, women, old people, and young people. This is turn has led to the demise of traditional women's movies, because they wouldn't appeal to enough quadrants (according to a Hollywood theory that has been around only for the past thirty years, women will see movies starring men and women, but men will see only movies starring men). It also means that films become less interesting because whenever anyone says they want to make something appeal to everybody, they inevitably blandify it to such a degree that it is loved by nobody." (p. 13.)

God, we're in a sad state, aren't we?*

Anyway. It's a fun book. Read it. But be aware that after you're done you're going to have to drop everything and go watch a John Hughes movie or some early John Cusack. Don't say I didn't warn you.

*This wouldn't have been SO depressing, except I read almost exactly the same book this month in actor/director Jay Chandrasekhar's memoir Mustache Shenanigans: Making Super Troopers and Other Adventures in Comedy: "The idea factory that was the American film business from the seventies through the late nineties can't function if the expectations on each film are that it make $250 to $400 million or be judged a financial failure. Corporations bought film companies, in part, because they were 'fun investments.' But when corporations took control of the studios, they took all the fun out of them by forcing film presidents to hit incredibly high profit targets...So, my dear corpoations, make your grand-slam profits on some movies, and also on computers, phones, cars, and insurance. But get back to making the $30 to $50 million theatrical film that makes enough of a profit. Do that, and there will be a creative rebirth that will propel a whole new generation of maverick filmmakers." (pp. 282-283.)

Anglophile Trailer Bonanza!

Looking to kill some time at work today? Are you an Anglophile?

If your answer to both of those questions was yes, consider checking out trailers for a couple of forthcoming movies:

The new Bridget Jones film: Bridget Jones's Baby*


Whit Stillman's adaptation of Jane Austen's Lady Susan: Love & Friendship**


*I loved the first Bridget Jones movie and regularly re-watch it every Christmas season. So I'm excited about this one, even though I will miss Hugh Grant as Daniel Cleaver.

**Oh, how I used to love Whit Stillman, director of Metropolitan and Barcelona. Not sure I would love those movies anymore. May have to re-watch them to find out.

Aging with Leonardo DiCaprio.

I've really turned a corner on Leonardo DiCaprio.

Wait a minute: I can relate this to nonfiction, I promise.

I always really enjoyed DiCaprio as an actor, and although his look was not particularly for me, I did always think he was quite the cutie (especially in favorite films of mine, like "Romeo + Juliet"). And then one day, it was like he grew up. All of a sudden. And into this rather broad man with a goatee who I didn't think was cute at all. So for years I was rather meh on him, and I was definitely too lazy to see (and try to figure out) Inception, although Mr. CR liked that movie.

And then I saw The Great Gatsby. Which was no real great shakes as a movie. But I thought DiCaprio really hit his role out of the park. He gave me the same feeling that I get watching Brad Pitt--you're always aware its Brad Pitt, and yet he really manages to disappear into the role he's playing. I was never not aware it wasn't DiCaprio in The Great Gatsby, but he WAS Jay Gatsby.

LeoAnd this week he arrived in my home, on the cover of my New York magazine. And although I still hate his goatee, I must say: he looks good. And I thought, huh, I've come to appreciate Leonardo, all grown up. And then I read that he's just a few months younger than me, and I thought, huh again, Leo and I have grown up together. Funny. And the article was interesting. And here's how I can relate it to nonfiction: this fall he'll be starring in a movie he helped finance, based on a nonfiction memoir titled The Wolf of Wall Street. Don't know that I'll be able to go see it (and it looks almost too depressing, if funny, to stand), but here's the trailer, if you're interested. Seems particularly and ironically appropriate a story to talk about, on Labor Day weekend. Hope you have a good one.

The Great Gatsby: Not suitable for high school?

I am really, really hoping to get the chance to see Baz Luhrmann's new movie adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, when it comes out in May:

I am a sucker for all things Baz Luhrmann. I loved Strictly Ballroom, I saw Romeo + Juliet about seven times in the theater (ah, college, when you still have time and think someday you'll make enough money to make up for such frivolous spending), and Moulin Rouge is the only movie I ever went to by myself because I loved it and frankly, I just wanted to adore Ewan McGregor in solitude. But while casting about for something to read the other night, I saw the novel on Mr. CR's bookshelf and thought, "hey, I haven't read this book since high school. It was okay--maybe I should read it again before I see the movie."

I did, over the course of two nights, and adored it, although perhaps "adored" is the wrong word for a novel that I found just overwhelmingly sad this time around. I can summarize the story pretty briefly: Boy loves girl; girl is married to someone else; boy thinks love can conquer all; love turns out to be more complex than boy realizes. Add the backdrop of 1920s New York and a dollop of class warfare, and there you go (for more detail: Wikipedia --in case you haven't read it, spoilers abound there).

I was thoroughly engaged by this book this time around, in a way that I know I wasn't in high school. In fact, upon finishing it, I said to Mr. CR, "Why are they giving this book to high schoolers?" I know it's a classic. It's beautifully written. But it is also deceptively simple, I think. I know the money/class aspect alone would just have been way beyond me in high school, and I already knew then what a joke it was to try and keep up with the popular crowd by buying the right clothes and owning the right things (there was no way, at least not for me, to keep up, was the joke). But in high school and even college, youth is a great equalizer. You're all young and gutsy and beautiful, even when you don't think you are. To me it only seems like after school that you start to realize, insidiously, that getting ahead (or even just staying afloat, lately) seems to largely be about knowing the right people and simply being in the right place while knowing those people. Only after school, I feel, do you start to realize the genius of the heartbreak when Gatsby starts to realize Daisy is slipping away from him...

"'Her voice is full of money,' he said suddenly.

That was it. I'd never understood before. It was full of money--that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the cymbals' song of it...High in a white palace the king's daughter, the golden girl..." (p. 127).

Or this, from the narrator, later still:

"They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together..." (p. 188).

I just don't think you can appreciate the bleakness, and the truth, of that, in high school. Do you?

Not quite sure I liked it until I finished it.

I've never been a big Truman Capote fan, Audrey Hepburn is a movie actress I can largely take or leave, and I was completely bored throughout all of the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's when I watched it a million years ago. So why exactly did I get Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Womanout of the library? I have no idea.

Fifth What's even weirder is that I read the whole book, and enjoyed it. It delivers exactly what its subtitle promises: an in-depth look at the making of the classic movie, from Capote's writing of the story on which it's based, through its screenplay development, casting, and filming. It didn't hurt that it was only about 200 pages long.

I would think any film buff would enjoy this book; likewise, anyone who's ever had any interest in Truman Capote or Audrey Hepburn might find a lot to like here. It's a nice look at film and social history, and it's very readable, broken up into workable chunks throughout each chapter. (I particularly enjoyed the bits about how Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe to be cast in the lead, and how the screenwriter had to fight the studio/film censors on every teensy little risque item. It must have been a different world. 

A unique picture book.

The other day I read about a book of photographs published by the author Jeff Bridges, titled simply Pictures.* I am a sucker for photography books, and I have always thought Jeff Bridges was a smokin' hottie, so I checked the book out from the library.

Bridges I was not disappointed. Evidently Bridges has a habit of putting together small books of photographs from the films on which he works, and giving them out to fellow cast and crew members as gifts when the production concludes. As a result, many of the photographs in this book offer a real "behind the scenes" look at the magic that is movie-making. Shots of actors and actresses include all the microphones, booms, dollies, ladders, and other pieces of movie detritus along the sides of sets that movie watchers never see. Because Bridges uses something called a Widelux camera (you'll just have to get this book for the explanation of how it works--as is typical with me and technical information, I just skimmed it to get the basic idea of how the camera uses a slower exposure time to capture a broader panoramic view of the subject) his frames include all sorts of wonderful extraneous sights.

It's a big old coffee table book, so you get to enjoy the photographs in oversized glory. I enjoyed it for its broader take on the film world, for Bridges's explanatory notes, and for the reminder that I really, really need to watch The Fabulous Baker Boys one of these days. In all, I haven't been so charmed by a photography book by a movie star since Leonard Nimoy's title The Full Body Project, which featured photography of full-figured women wearing very few clothes.

*Unfortunately, I have forgotten where I first read about this book, because my memory is just laughably bad.

Monday odds and ends.

We had a successful weekend, I think. I enjoyed the Super Bowl, although I didn't watch the whole thing, having to switch over to Emma on Masterpiece Theatre during its last hour. I did make artichoke dip, and it was spectacular (thanks Katharine--great recipe! Marmota, now that I understand canned artichoke hearts, your recipe with spinach is the next one I'm trying). I made a total hog of myself with it. And the conclusion of Emma? I really enjoyed it. Not as much as I would have enjoyed it if PBS wasn't cheap and hadn't deleted scenes that were shown in the British version, but still...Below please find a clip from the ending with a nice extra scene between Knightley and Emma.

In reading news, I started the collection The Best Creative Nonfiction vol. 3, but I really only enjoyed the opening two essays by Sean Rowe and Julianna Baggott (about prison food and the novelization of her great-grandmother's operation of a whorehouse, respectively). I also started Malcolm Gladwell's collection of journalistic pieces titled What the Dog Saw, but was not in the mood. Finally I just gave up and started reading the actual novel of Emma, which I've never read before. (I know: gasp!) I thought maybe I should wait until after the movie isn't so clear in my mind, but what the hell. I'm enjoying it immensely anyway.

Scottish triumvirate of goodness.

Scotland may not be a big country, but it certainly is responsible for a good chunk of my pop culture joy.

Take, for example, the lovely and talented James McAvoy. Let's run down his case:

1. He was in the great little movie Starter for 10, which Mr. CR and I watched this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed.* Man, the Brits know how to make a good, bittersweet, romantic comedy, and they can do it in 90 minutes (unlike most recent American rom coms, which have been clocking in at 100+ lately). Set in 1980s England, McAvoy plays a nerdy university student who actually wants to know things, and tries out for his university's quiz team (to try and get on the quiz program "University Challenge"); along the way, of course, he finds himself torn between two very different girls. In the beginning of the movie he attends the British version of a college house party--and bless him for actually looking as awkward as I always felt at those things.

2. He married a woman several years his senior, and when an idiot radio interviewer asked him if he was sorry he got married in his late twenties, when he could have been using his fame to hook up with lots of women, he nicely pointed out that he was already hooking up with the one woman he really wanted to hook up with.

3. He's 5' 7", and I love short men. Also: Scottish accent. And: asking talk show hosts for permission to say certain words:

When I get more time, I'm going to go on a mini-McAvoy bender, including the miniseries State of Play and the movie The Last King of Scotland.

Number two in the triumvirate: Martin Millar. I've talked about him before, but I have a new book of his waiting for me at the library (Yay!) and Mr. CR is reading his SF novel Thraxas right now. Mr. Millar also struggles with agoraphobia (I relate; I can go outside but I can't say I typically enjoy it) and writes an amusing blog (recent headline: "Modern world continues to disappoint").

And then, of course, let's not forget glorious number three: Ewan McGregor. Although I am smitten with McAvoy right now, McGregor will always have a place in my heart, not only for his acting in such fabo flicks as Shallow Grave and Brassed Off (another great British bittersweet chick flick), but also for his beautiful uncontrolled laugh and interview style. Although I had pledged in the mid-1990s to never again watch a Tom Hanks movie (I hate him) or support Dan Brown (I hate him more) in any way, I may actually have to break down and see Angels and Demons because McGregor is in it.

So, thank you, Scotland. If I didn't already love you for containing Edinburgh, I'd certainly love you for the three reasons above.

*You know it's a watchable chick flick when I can get Mr. CR to sit through it.

What I learned over the weekend.

I had a great Thanksgiving weekend. I very much hope you had the same.

So what did I learn? Well, for one thing: people are crazy. Also, that Mr. CR has the correct attitude toward shopping and problem avoidance: As we watched the news story about the Wal-Mart worker getting trampled, they showed a woman with a tiny little baby in her arms pushing against a store door in a mob of people. Mr. CR opined, "You know, maybe pregnant women and people with tiny babies should stay away from that kind of scene." Should but won't, dear.

Also: When he's not busy being annoying, Colin Farrell can really act. We watched the movie In Bruges last night and really enjoyed it, although "enjoy" is the wrong word for what was, in the end, a really sad movie. But interesting. Very interesting. If you don't mind hit men protagonists and a final ten minutes with quite a bit of violence, you may want to consider this movie.

Frida I picked up the novel Frida's Bed by Slavenka Drakulic over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a novelization of the life of artist Frida Kahlo, about whom I knew nothing. (Well, that's not true; I always thought of her as the "Mustache Lady," which I certainly didn't mean unkindly, as I have my own mustache issues.) But evidently Kahlo suffered from almost constant pain, stemming from her experience with polio as a child, and then from a horrific bus accident when she was eighteen (resulting in numerous surgeries on her leg, foot, and back, just to name a few). Wow. The poor thing. She also married Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican muralist (and he had an affair with her younger sister); and had infidelities of her own (even, notably, with Leon Trotsky). How she managed to do all that, paint, and suffer from constant pain, I can't figure out. I've got to get a biography of her. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Looking for the Book Menage? It starts next Monday, December 8!

Watching, listening, reading, and a bit of Brit trivia.

Do you think you go through different phases in your adult life where your brain needs something different than the usual?  Periods when your usual learning style needs a little break, and you feel like doing something entirely different?

Get SmartI do.  And I think I'm having such a little break right now.  Don't get me wrong: I'm still reading.  It's not even like I don't feel like reading, which I do sometimes after a run of particularly not interesting books.  It's just that I feel like doing something a little different.  I've also been referring to it as the Great Movie-Watching Renaissance of 2008, because I've been more in the mood for movies than I have been for years.

Okay, I know it's a stretch to refer to watching movies (and BBC series on DVD) as "learning."  But I think there's value to be had in watching movies.  (At least that was the story I tried to sell Mom, way back in the day when I was a Communication Arts major, taking classes like "Introduction to Television" and "Introduction to Film.")  Just last weekend I re-watched Bull Durham, and had to appreciate the fantastic writing; the re-watching of Say Anything was a good lesson in character development.  We also saw Get Smart in the theater, and I have to admit, I loved it.  There I learned that Alan Arkin is the finest actor of his generation, and had some good laughs to boot (I also learned that Mr. Citizen Reader has a little crush on Anne Hathaway.  VERY educational.). 

I've also been listening to more books on CD lately; currently I've got Alison Weir's Queen Isabella going, and although it's too detailed, that's okay.  I listen at a leisurely pace, missing some details while I'm busy thinking about others.

All of which is a very circuitous way of saying Ive not been doing much recreational reading.  By the time I've finished watching and listening, I find I am full up for the day, and just don't want to put any more in my head.  Has this happened to you too?

James McAvoyIn apologies for the non-post, I would like to offer (what I consider to be) a fun piece of Brit actor trivia.  Because I am a BBC DVD addict, I spend a lot of time at the Internet Movie Database looking up Brit actors and trying to find out what else they're in.  (I'm learning how to research.  Really!)  While I'm there, I'll admit that I often click on their biographies to see how old they are, where they were born and live, and to whom they're married.  And this is what I've discovered: Brit men, bless 'em, seem to like older women. 

Damian Lewis (from the Forsyte Saga), 37, married to Helen McCrory, 40.  Jack Davenport (of Pirates of the Caribbean and Coupling), 35, married to Michelle Gomez, 37.  James Murray (Under the Greenwood Tree), 33, married to Sarah Parish, 40.  James McAvoy (Wanted and Atonement), 29, married to Anne-Marie Duff, 37.  All I can say is, right on, British men (or, more appropriately, right on, British women!).  And there's your piece of useless trivia for the day.

Still in love with Lloyd Dobler.

Has everyone out there seen the 1989 Cameron Crowe movie Say Anything, starring John Cusack?  I remembered it this weekend when my brother alerted me to Cusack's appearance on Countdown with Keith Olbermann (about his new movie, War, Inc.).


A quick aside: I can now add videos to the blog!  Super cool.

Anyway, the interview's interesting, although I worry about John's voice.  Is he still smoking, I wonder?  It sounds like he may be--which is fine, I like smokers--but I am a bit concerned about his health.  But I digress.  A couple of weeks ago at the library somebody asked for the movie Say Anything, which put me in the mood to watch it again (which I did, in video form, using a video I bought in, and have packed through every move since, high school).

Say Anything and Lloyd Dobler do lead, tangentially at least, back to reading.  Consider Chuck Klosterman's book, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, and his first chapter about how Lloyd Dobler ruined girls of his generation for real boys ("It appears that countless women born between the years of 1965 and 1978 are in love with John Cusack.  I cannot fathom how he isn't the number-one box-office star in America, because every straight girl I know would sell her soul to share a milkshake with that motherfucker"); Hank Stuever also wrote about the Lloyd Dobler Phenomenon for The Washington Post.

So here's to you, Lloyd.  And you too, John.  Even though Chuck Klosterman doesn't think I know the difference, I DO know you're not actually Lloyd (and vice versa), but anyone who can form a sentence like "if the Democrats say impeachment's off the table I think that's very troubling" on a news interview program is worth my continuing devotion.

CitizenWatcher: Movies from Books

This weekend, Mr. Citizen and I had the chance to watch a couple of movies.  And when I say "had the chance," what I mean is, "had other work to do but felt like ignoring it, and also needed a way to drown out the sound of the incessant monsoon-like rain and keep ourselves from running to the basement multiple times an hour to see if any water was getting in."

The movies in question were The Talented Mr. Ripley and The Quiet American, both of which I snagged from the library as someone else returned them, because I'd always vaguely wanted to see them.  Mr. Ripley was a thriller about a poor man stealing other's identities, trying to wiggle his way into the high life, and having to kill people as things increasingly start to go wrong.  The Quiet American is set in 1952 Vietnam, where an older British reporter meets a young American relief worker who is not all he seems, and a love triangle involving them and a young Vietnamese woman takes center stage.

Reviews in a nutshell?  Don't waste your time on Ripley; run right out and get The Quiet American.  Ripley is long and somewhat pointless and the ending annoyed the crap out of me, while The Quiet American was completely engrossing and also passed the patented CitizenReader 90-Minute Test ("if you can't tell your story in 90 minutes, I'm not obligated to watch it"). 

What's really interesting was that before watching the movies, I'd always wanted to read The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith, and was completely bored even by the thought of reading Graham Greene (author of The Quiet American).  Now I'm thinking about checking out the Greene, but have no desire to ever pick up the Highsmith, unless I do it just to see if they completely ruined it when adapting it from book to screenplay.

Yup, another productive weekend for CitizenReader and spouse.