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Double Indemnity (1944)

Only Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler could make life insurance sales so interesting.  Double Indemnity is the classic “Killed Him for the Insurance Money” story.  Unwitting insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) falls hard for Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck).  They are blind with love after only moments together, and decide that nothing–especially not Phyllis’ husband– can keep them apart.  They secretly insure her husband’s life, and then execute the perfect murder.  It looks exactly like a freak accident, that just happens to be covered by a “double indemnity” clause in the policy, causing the policy to pay off double….everything is going perfectly….until…..BAH BUM BUM……

I love everything about film noir– the brooding voiceovers, the longing glances, the clever banter, the climbing suspense in tiny movements, the shadows and secrets.  Double Indemnity plays them all perfectly.

I can’t decide whether its a flaw of the film, but Barbra Stanwyck was so easy to dislike.  In so many other films, the femme fatale grows on you, and you are disappointed when she is revealed as bad.  Her evilness is a betrayal.  Stanwyck, however, seems a little sleazy from the get go.  It’s not surprising when she goes rotten, and it’s not disappointing either.

I feel foolish even writing a review for Double Indemnity, because it’s the quintessential film noir. It’s been reviewed over and over and over, I’m certainly not adding a new voice to the crowd.  Still, I feel like the timeless appeal of film noir is often lost with all the big-ticket explosion films today.  If you have any interest in film, a viewing of Double Indemnity is essential.

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City Lights (1931)

I’ve fallen considerably behind on my quest of watching the AFI top 100 movies.  I got
City Lights from Netflix almost a month ago, and just haven’t been in the mood to watch a silent film.  Watching an old movie is like going to the gym.  I often moan and groan and put it off, but when I finally get around to it, it’s an enjoyable experience.

City Lights is clever and charming, and Charlie Chaplin’s role in this film is by far his most famous.  Chaplin plays the “Little Tramp” who falls for a blind flower girl, and vows to scrounge up the money for a surgery that will restore her eyesight.  The downfall is that once she has the surgery, she’ll be able to see the real him, and learn he’s not really a millionaire.

Most of the film is physical goofs.  They really are funny, I laughed out loud a few times.  Chaplin is, well, Chaplin…but I do think Buster Keaton is funnier.  Chaplin tries harder to be funny, while Keaton played the straight man, who falls into funny situations–which I find to be a whole lot funnier.

I am glad for my AFI goal, because I would have never bothered to watch this film otherwise.  I probably won’t go out of my way to watch many more Chaplin movies (although I will be seeing Modern Times, since it’s on the list) but I’m glad to have seen this one.

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old lady wine!

For my birthday, I asked Mr. Beez to get me wine that is older than I am.  He picked up 2 bottles! A 1973 Bordeaux, and a 1975 Bordeaux.  Afterward, he learned that these were respectively “bad” and “not great” years…so we weren’t sure what we’d have in store…

As a complementary gift, I got him a wine cellar for Hanukkah!

We are by no means wine connoisseurs, but we do like wine, and we need a place to put it that is out of the way of small grabby hands.  This enables us to keep it at the ideal temperature, and also keep it up and out of the way.

Tonight Mr. Beez and I had a grown-up date at Avenue B Bistro.  We had the calamari appetizer, then Mr. Beez had the house salad and steak, and I had the butternut squash soup and meatloaf. It was all delicious!

We also had our 1975 Chateau Gruaud-Larose, and it was very tasty!  The people who rate old fancy wine probably have much sharper palates than we do.  The tannins were a little stronger than the fruit, but not overwhelmingly so.  The wine tasted just fine to these beginners!  Now I feel like a fancy wine drinking lady, since I’ve had wine that is older than I am! Check that one off the 30 before 30 list!

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The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien (1977)

It was SLOW and PAINFUL, but I finally finished The Silmarillion.  I like Tolkien well enough.  I read The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, and saw the LOTR movies, but that’s about it.  My interest in the Silmarillion isn’t attributable so much to my interest in Tolkien, as it is to a class I took in college.  The class was an Anthropology/Linguistics course, and focused on artificial languages.  The professor was a little koo-koo-bananas, but he really knew his stuff, and you could tell he came into class every day super excited to share what he knew.  In the class, we talked about the different languages Tolkien invented, as well as Klingon, Esperanto, and a few other topics I don’t entirely recall.  About 75% of the class was devoted to Quenya and Sindarin– Tolkien’s 2 “big” languages.  The Simarillion, as the Middle Earth creation story, was a constant topic in the class.  The book was recommended reading, but I didn’t get around to it at the time.  Since then, I’ve wanted to get back to it.

The Silmarillion reads a lot like the Bible– the language is awkward, the story is told from a very detached third party, and each of the characters and places have several different names.  If you’re reading it on your own, it’s very hard to keep everything straight.  There is a comprehensive glossary and other resources in the back of the book, but I found flipping back and forth to be tiresome, so I didn’t bother.

I would have gotten a lot more out of the book if I had actually read it back when I was taking that class in college.  If you’re able to find like-minded people interested in doing a “Silmarillion study” and working through it together, you could likewise get a lot more out of the book.  From where I stand, I only really comprehended the last two parts of the book.  One of them was an Atlantis-type story, and the other one was the setup for Lord of the Rings and I probably just recalled it because I remembered seeing it at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring.  Other than those two parts, all I remember is that there were Valar, and Elves, and Men, and Orcs, and good and evil, and lots of characters with lots of children, and lots of battles, and jewels and rings.

All that being said, Tolkien proves his brilliance through this book.  It’s not going to be on Oprah’s book club anytime soon because it’s not a fun read in the traditional sense, but the obvious depth of Tolkien’s imagination and efforts is impressive.  Tolkien created 2 languages, multiple races that span generation after generation, and an entire new world and its history. Not every great work is an easy read.

Reading The Silmarillion is something I’m glad to have done, although I wish I had done a better job of it and come out of it retaining more of the stories, and their characters.  Now I’m proud to cross it off my 30 before 30 list!

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Quill: The Life of a Seeing Eye Dog (2004) and Take Shelter (2011) #3RFF

Even though I picked 4 movies to see at the 3 Rivers Film Festival, it felt like I would just be going to the movies a whole lot, instead of really “going” to a film festival.  I have a shopping trip on sunday that may overlap with seeing Karen Cries on the Bus, so instead I decided to see two movies last night at the Regent Square Theater.

  Quill: The Life of a Seeing Eye Dog is everything you’d expect from a movie all about doggies.  The first part of the movie was about Quill’s puppyhood, and there were plenty of audible “AWWWW’s!” from the crowd.  As Quill gets older, he remains unbelievably cute.  This movie made me want to get up and SQUEEZE the puppies in the screen.

The film follows Quill throughout his entire life, from playful puppyhood, to his dutiful years as a seeing eye dog.  It sweetly depicts Quills devotion to his master, Watanabe.  The relationship starts as a rocky one, as Watanabe is extremely stubborn and reluctant to have a seeing eye dog, but Watanabe’s affection, and that of his family, for Quill, progressively grows until Quill is truly one of the family.  The film depicts Quills entire life, including his passing at 12 years and 25 days.  The final scenes seemed to last forever, and a touch melodramatic, but they were touching and there were plenty of whimpers and sniffles from the crowd.

There were a few kids in the crowd, and I think this movie would be a great movie for animal-loving kids to watch (bonus: lots of cute puppies, but no annoying songs to get stuck in your head).  If I can find it on DVD, I will probably by it.  Baby Beez loves puppies, and I think she’d have a lot of fun watching this film.

The absolute best part of the film is this darling little scene where Quill is told to “stay,” because the trainer has to take a call.  The trainer ends up takign a long time (and actually forgets he left Quill mid-training), and Quill takes a little snooze.  The audience then gets a glimpse into Quill’s dream (of his favorite squeaky toy), and IT IS THE MOST ADORABLE THING EVER.

So yes, two thumbs (or paws?) up.  Quill: The Life of a Seeing Eye Dog is unbelievably, unbelievably cute.  I love puppies and cute things, so of course, I LOVED it.

The second movie I saw, Take Shelter, is a completely different kind of film, but equally excellent.

Michael Shannon plays Curtis, an Ohio father devoted to his wife and six-year-old deaf daughter, and who works hard at his blue collar job.  Jessica Chastain artfully plays Curtis’ wife, Samantha.  She is sweet but stern, and handles her trials with grace.  Curtis begins having terrifying nightmares and delusions of apocalyptic storms.  He discovers a storm shelter in his back yard, and obsessively undertakes the task of building out the shelter.

What sets this tale of mental illness apart from other films is Curtis’ awareness and concern about his condition.  Curtis doesn’t *SNAP* lose it, his illness progresses over time.  His mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in her early 30s, and Curtis painfully remembers the incident leading to her diagnosis.  She has been in treatment and assisted living ever since.

Curtis is aware of his family history, and he has promised himself that he will never put his family in the position that his mother’s illness did.  He researches mental illness, he goes to his doctor, he does counseling, he knows there is something wrong and he desperately wants to have it treated.  There is a fascinating tension between his awareness of the illness, and its horrible effects on him.

The most striking part of the film is its depiction of Curtis’ dreams.  The storms are dark and booming. Even though you’re watching from a safe theater, you feel like you are at the mercy of angry mother nature.

Take Shelter won the Critics Week award at Cannes, as well as many other film accolades.  It is easy to see why.