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Summer Staycation Movies, Review #1: Legends, Lotteries and Loopholes

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“Winning will put any man into courage.” ~William Shakespeare (Cymbeline, I, iv)

I’m off work for the next several weeks on a staycation summer break.  This time last year I was on a trip-of-a-lifetime in England on a 3-week jaunt around the country, including an amazing experience at the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in Leeds, Harrogate & York.  Since my bank account and credit cards can only handle a big trip like that every other year or so, this summer I’ll be:  watching the Tour in all its French fantasticality on TV, sampling croissants from various bakeries around town to accompany my Tour-watching, fish-mail-plant-and-baby-bird sitting for various family members who are all off on RV trips across America and Canada, and hopefully doing some freelance floral design work along with building aspects of my own business.  (For those of you wondering why I’m obsessed with the Tour de France each year, please refer back to this post from two years ago, still relevant today: Why I’m Still In Love With the Tour de France.)

I also thought I’d get in some quality movie time and pass along my FWIW reviews of the films I watch each week during vacation.  I’ll keep the reviews short and to the point, and maybe they’ll inspire some of you to watch (or avoid) them as well.  I’d like to focus on true old-movie classics (TCM-types) but I can’t promise that an ’80’s big hair gem or a current day blockbuster won’t sneak in there as well.  So without further ado, let’s get to the reviews of the movies I’ve watched since my vacation officially started last Friday:

1) Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967; Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Houghton)

darg.600.1I’ve been a fan of this movie for many years now, but it’s probably been 10 or more years since I last watched it.  Those of you who know me best will understand why this film really hits home for me personally, but I also think it should be a movie that everyone should watch at some point.  I wish I could go back in time to experience the visceral societal reaction that this film elicited back in 1967, as it must’ve been a powerful window with which to peer in on humanity.

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the nutshell (and by the way the movie takes place all in the span of one day): Sidney Poitier plays Dr. John Prentice, a tropical medicine doctor who meets and quickly falls in love with Joey Drayton, a woman much younger than him who also happens to be white.  Joey brings John back to her parents’ home in San Francisco not only to introduce him to her aging parents, Matt & Christina (played by movie legends Tracy & Hepburn), but also to spring upon them that they’ve gotten engaged and plan to move to Switzerland together to be married (all in the span of a week).  The rest of the movie deals with the reactions of all the parents (John’s fly up from Los Angeles to have dinner with the group too) to this bombshell news and to the fact that their children are racing into an interracial marriage.

Despite its civil rights iconic status, the movie’s not without its faults.  The soundtrack consists of only one song, “Glory of Love,” played many different ways all throughout the film, and after about the second playing, you want to strangle the sound guy or producer who made that decision.  The missing lenses in Spencer Tracy’s glasses throughout the entire movie is distracting (why did they do that?).  And why wasn’t the huge age difference (15 years) between John and Joey more of an issue to her parents, she was practically a baby (I guess that wasn’t such a big deal back then but still).  But it more than makes up for those issues with two of the all-time greatest speeches in movie history: Hepburn’s awe-inspiring shakedown of her gallery assistant, and Tracy’s famous 8-minute life-lesson monologue at the end.  There’s also a really groovy dance spot between the house and the butcher’s van, man.

I have a newly found appreciation and soft spot for this movie now, both after my own life experience and after some research I did on it; it was only as of watching it a few days ago that I found out it was Spencer Tracy’s last film (he was in extremely poor health during the movie and died just 17 days after filming the last scene), and that Katharine Hepburn’s tears during his last monologue were real, as she knew they would never act together again, and that she would probably soon lose him.  She’d been his life partner for 26 years but theirs was a behind-the-scenes relationship, literally (he was married to someone else that whole time but he lived with Hepburn); watching her watch him in that last scene, and knowing that she would never watch the film once it came out (“it was too painful,” she said), that she would be the one to be with him to the very end, and that she would not attend his funeral out of respect for his family…it’s all so tragically poetic.  The movie makes you laugh and breaks your heart all at the same time; in my book that’s a good movie.

2) Waking Ned Divine (1998; Ian Bannen, David Kelly, Fionnula Flannagan)

large_5rpJUAq2CTRmYUxiWRlrllBsqsxWhat a great movie!  I also had not seen this movie in probably 8 or 10 years and forgot how funny it was in parts (in that kind of quirky British humor way).  In case you haven’t seen it yet I won’t give away too much of the plot, but it revolves around a small village in Ireland (really small, only 52 people) and what happens after one of them wins the national lottery.  And while the village of Tullymore is supposed to be set in Ireland, the movie was actually filmed on the Isle of Man – and that amazing scenery is definitely one of the stars.  The music is great too and there are plenty of good small Irish pub drinking scenes (yes even in a village of 52 people there is a neighborhood pub – OF COURSE, IT’S IRELAND).  But just a heads-up, I did have to put my closed captioning text on the screen so I could understand some of the thicker accents.

The two main characters of Jackie and Michael (played by Bannen and Kelly) are endearing from the start (those motorcycle goggles!), and the storyline keeps you hanging on through to the very end.  The subplot of Finn and his pigs and will-she-won’t-she Maggie is a little annoying but be sure to pay attention to the end answer of the Maurice question should you choose to watch.  I was sad to find out that Bannen died in a car accident the year after this film came out, what a fantastic smile and laugh he had.  Seeing this film again after now having been to some very tiny towns in England over the past few years made me wonder even more what small village life in those lands must really be like.  Where literally everyone knows everyone else down to the smallest detail and what they had for dinner…how strange that must be.

If you’re looking for a good little across-the-pond movie without violence or demons or foul language, then watch ‘Waking Ned Devine.’ (By the way, the movie is called just ‘Waking Ned’ in every country other than America, they added ‘Devine’ thinking Americans would like a longer title.)

3) Skyfall (2012; Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes)

Skyfall-Daniel-Craig2Ok last one for this week.  You know that sound between a sigh and a frustrated grunt that means ‘what the what,’ how does one spell that out?  Ucchhhuuuggcchh.  That’s how I felt about ‘Skyfall.’  Yes I know I may be the last adult in America (and definitely the last Anglophile) to have seen the latest (and 50th anniversary) 007 movie that came out two and a half years ago already, but truth be told I never could get into Daniel Craig as Bond.  I know I saw ‘Casino Royale’ when it came out, just out of curiosity, and I think I saw ‘Quantum of Solace’ but honestly I can’t be sure.  But when I noticed ‘Skyfall’ was premiering on network TV I decided to give it a go.

It’s pretty bad.  Especially for a Bond film, which has such high expectations.  I’m trying to like Craig, really I am, but he’s just so…dry.  He seems to literally have the same expression on his face through the entire movie.  But he wasn’t the worst part – those were the never-ending loopholes and belief-suspending moments that meant the movie basically made no sense whatsoever.  “Shouldn’t that just be what to expect from a Bond film, and instead just be satisfied with all the explosions and helicopters and inevitable top-of-train fight scenes?” you might ask.  Nope, not even all the special effects could make up for the skipping storyline in this one.

There wasn’t even a good badguy backstory, and those are key to Bond movies working well.  Javier Bardem seems to have been given free rein to make the character of Silva as weird and messed-up-by-mommy as he wanted, but the end effect was just weird and flat.  Every few minutes I found myself having to rewind as I thought I was missing a scene or two telling me how something happened, but no, the writers and/or producers must’ve thought we would just be too idiotic to notice huge storyline gaps.  All these huge moments in the film were never explained, the lack of Bond gadgets was very disappointing, and the end sequence was just too dumb to even go into.  I read that this movie was perhaps the most expensive movie ever made (or is that the next one), and this was the best they could come up with?  They need a real-life Bond to work some MI-6 miracles for the next script please.

What did I like about the 23rd Bond film?  I thought the new younger Q was a surprising-in-a-nice-way add (the actor playing him had good range), and when they brought out the old Bond’s classic Aston Martin to “go back in time,” I admit I cheered a little.  I liked that they ended up in Scotland in what seemed like a nod to Sean Connery.  I liked all the London street and rooftop scenes.  And…that’s about it.  I hear Daniel Craig is already signed up for the next two Bond movies and that the same director is in line for the them as well…which may mean I’ll be waiting awhile before I see my next Bond flick.  I’ll survive.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Treethanasia

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“I have a tree, which grows here in my close, that mine own use invites me to cut down, and shortly must I fell it…” ~William Shakespeare (Timon of Athens, V, i)

A few days ago I had to have a huge shade tree in my backyard cut down.  Not just pruned, but completely cut down.  I still feel pretty bad about it so I thought writing about it might ease my timbering guilt a little.  This is the tale of its treethanasia in pictures.

My house is almost 30 years old; I’m pretty sure the tree, a Bradford Pear, was planted when the house was built or shortly thereafter, because all the arborists who looked at it for me (to assess its health and give me bids on taking it down) told me they estimated its age at 25-30 years.  All of them also said it was at the end of its life span, that Bradfords rarely (and/or safely) make it past that age.  Here’s a picture of it at its full shady glory in my backyard:

IMG_5522It provided a huge canopy of welcome shade for the walkway on the side of my house and a large portion of my backyard ever since I moved in 4 years ago.  It also protected me from some rain when going back and forth to my flower shed.  The tallest part of it was easily twice as tall as my house.  I liked the dark glen it provided to look at outside my windows on that side of the house.IMG_5521As much as I liked the shade, I was equally very frustrated by its continual leaf drop seemingly twelve months out of the year, covering the porch and backyard in leaf litter and clogging my rain gutters, leading to muck and mosquitos.  Branches would rub against the roof and chimney, waking me up during windstorms and allowing creatures such as armadillos and squirrels an easy route to ramble along the roof whenever they wanted.

IMG_5524But then in the fall, it would redeem itself with an explosion of color for a short while, leaving a pool of nature’s confetti to slush through.

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IMG_0304I’ve learned over the past few months that Bradfords are very rapidly-growing trees and because of this, they often grow with many points of instability.  They split into many different joints and trunks and because of this, water and leaves pool in the wells in-between those joints and trunks, causing rot and weakness.  They are often the first trees to fall and/or split during wind or rain storms, especially as they get older like my tree was.  I learned this the hard way a few months ago, when this happened:

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IMG_5193A huge portion of the tree just split at the ground level and fell crashing through the fence into the neighbor’s yard (onto their porch roof).  It was several days before I could get some guys to come remove that part of the tree and repair the fence.  They painted the open-faced wound with “tree scar” tar to try to prevent it from rotting further, but they told me that eventually the whole tree would probably have to come down.

About two months and an arkful of Austin rainstorms later, I noticed a disgusting oozing amber gel-like substance on the other huge tree in my backyard, a pecan tree.  All the arborists who came to look at it said it was a harmless jelly fungus due to all the rain, but they also all pointed out that the Bradford was in imminent danger of now falling again, and that this time it was going to fall onto my roof and house because all the weight was now on that one side.

So, a few weeks later I found a company that would cut the tree down for a reasonable price.  On the morning of its imminent demise, before the worker guys showed up, I went outside to put my hands on its trunk; it was a living thing that had survived several decades, and I felt guilty that I was the one taking away its livingness.  Maybe I should have felt silly saying “I’m sorry, tree,” but instead I just felt sad.  (I knew however that I’d be much sadder if and when it fell on my house and I had to shell out an even bigger sum for my home insurance deductible, so it had to be done.)

The tree guys showed up and didn’t waste any time.  One guy harnessed himself high up in the tree and started cutting branches, which quickly covered the yard and porch; the other two guys would use their own chainsaws to cut the branches down even further and drag them out to the trailer behind their truck.

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Can you see him there in the middle of the tree?

IMG_5528It went pretty quickly after that.  I tried not to watch but I couldn’t look away.  I figured I was the one ending its life…I might as well document it and be there to face it.  The chainsaw whittling continued and the tree got stubbier and thinner.  More and more of the green part of the tree disappeared each few minutes.

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IMG_5533Until finally all the green was gone and only branches were left.

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IMG_5536And then only the bottom of the trunk remained.  When he cut into it horizontally for the very last cut at ground level, part of the huge trunk split in two vertically on its own, that’s how weak it was at its lowest level.  I had made the right decision; it really was on its last legs.

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This part of the trunk sat there for a long time while everything else was cleaned up. I felt a great sense of loss.

30 years of growing into the skies had now been reduced to a large leafy pile in a trailer to be hauled away.

IMG_5541And what was left was a large empty spot, a blank fence, and…sunshine.  So much sun, shining down on my two Mountain Laurel trees and ground jasmine that probably haven’t seen or felt true sunshine like that in decades.  And sun shining through my windows, making my house lighter than it’s ever been.

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IMG_5543I know it was just a tree, and that it didn’t have a brain or nerve endings so it couldn’t feel pain, but did it somehow know that its life was coming to an end?  I don’t know…I also don’t know why I’m worrying about this, I should just be annoyed that this tree has cost me about 40 times what someone probably paid for it back when it was planted.  It had a good life.  And life does go on, from the dark into the light.

IMG_5517And as I sit here writing this, streams of sunlight are shining in my eyes through the window for the first time.  It’s nice.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

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