Friday, June 25, 2010


Quiet week around here, for a specific reason: Heat.

I had a real Michael Douglas-in-Falling Down day yesterday. This happens to me every so often, but hadn't for a while. The air-conditioner in my apartment was broken. Only the fan was working, which meant it was very effectively blowing more hot air into the apartment. Wednesday night was extremely humid, and I barely slept. So yesterday morning, I walked in the heat to P. C. Richards to get a new machine, then waited 45 minutes for a bus to go see a friend, then went back home at 3:45, since I had set up an appointment with the a/c delivery and installation guys for sometime between 4 and 6. They showed up promptly at 8.

Basically, New York for 85% of the year (three seasons, plus about 10% of the summer) has a climate to my liking. For the other 15%, it's one step above hellfire.

More soon.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Headline of the Day

Found on Twitter. Don't even know where to start on this one:

Pagan Psychic Viking Died After Heart Attack Led to Car Setting Fire to Grass Bank

Image of the Day

Lightning hits two skyscrapers in Chicago during a storm on Wednesday. Photo by Tom Cruze of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Movie List: 40-36

40. “You broke my heart.”

The Godfather II (1974)

Plenty of people prefer this sequel to the original. I don’t, though I obviously like it quite a bit. Among other things, it has maybe the best moment in the two movies. (I say two movies, because even though I haven’t seen the third, I’ve come to accept the conventional wisdom that it was a total disaster and should be kept apart from the first two. I still remember my parents and older sister going to see it in Dallas. When the three of them got back, I could hear them in the garage, still laughing.) I suppose I could save what follows for my analysis of the first movie, but here goes: There are so many obvious strengths to both installments, but the one thing that always bothers me is the transition of Michael from innocent son to Godfather. Pacino is tremendous in both movies, don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming him. But there’s a tendon missing—for me, at least. And while you might think this is more damning of the original movie than the sequel, since the original is when the transition happens, there’s something about Michael being at the top for the whole running time that bugs me in a way the first didn’t. Even I’m not sure if that makes any sense. Let’s revisit it when the time comes, shall we?

39. “It is so difficult to make a neat job of killing people with whom one is not on friendly terms.”

Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

Adapted from my post about this movie back when I first saw it, in September 2008:

The most often repeated fact about Kind Hearts and Coronets is that Alec Guinness plays eight parts, and he's amazing. But that gimmick is not what makes the movie so great. In this black comedy from Britain’s legendary Ealing Studios, Dennis Price plays Louis Mazzini, who is in line to be a duke. But it's a long line. In front of him stand eight members of the D'Ascoyne family (all played by Guinness), including Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne. Louis narrates the story of how he methodically picks off family members in order to inherit the dukedom. It's beautifully written, and funny in ways both morbid and goofy. I'm a big critic of voiceover narration in movies, but this is mostly when it's done in the third person—Little Children and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, to name two fairly recent examples. First person can be more successful (see also: recently listed Badlands). In any event, the level of writing here makes the narration more like a novel than a movie. On the commentary for another DVD, Guinness said of Kind Hearts, “I read [the screenplay] on a beach in France, collapsed with laughter on the first page, and didn't even bother to get to the end of the script. I went straight back to the hotel and sent a telegram saying, ‘Why four parts? Why not eight!?’ ”

38. “Ghosts don’t cry.”
“Nothing is simple.”

Volver (2006)
Talk to Her (2002)

I put these two movies by Pedro Almodóvar together because I can remember Volver well and Talk to Her less well, but I loved them both. My cloudy memory of Talk to Her makes it impossible to decide which of these is my favorite of his, but I think they would be the two finalists. They both feature Almodóvar’s typically beautiful compositions and saturated colors and strong ensemble acting. In Talk to Her, two women, one a dancer and one a matador, are comatose in a hospital. The movie follows the men who love them. In Volver, three sisters deal with the death of their mother, one of them believing that her ghost is living with her. The entire cast is terrific, but Penelope Cruz carries the most weight, and as always in Almodóvar’s movies, she’s brilliant and seems even more gorgeous than usual.

37. “We'll be listening to you.”

The Conversation (1974)

Given that this movie and The Godfather Part II both came out in 1974, I’d say it was a pretty impressive year for Francis Ford Coppola. (And for me; I was born.) The Godfather sequel won Best Picture, but I think you could make a case that this is the better movie. Less epic, for sure, but that might be the very reason this tightly crafted story wins out. It’s got a great 1970s flavor and a wonderful ensemble cast, starting with the leading man. Gene Hackman plays Harry Caul, who specializes in audio surveillance. He becomes obsessed with accurately transcribing one conversation that he taped between a couple in a San Francisco park, and concerned about the couple’s possible fate. In the last scene, one of my favorites in any movie, Harry’s paranoia is turned on himself as he searches/destroys his apartment looking for possible bugs. According to Wikipedia: “On the DVD commentary, Coppola says he was shocked to learn that the film utilized the very same surveillance and wire-tapping equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used to spy on political opponents prior to the Watergate scandal. Coppola has said this is the reason the film gained part of the recognition it has received, but that this is entirely coincidental. Not only was the script for The Conversation completed in the mid-1960s (before the Nixon Administration came to power), but the spying equipment used in the film was discovered through research and the use of technical advisers and not, as many believed, by revelatory newspaper stories about the Watergate break-in.”

36. “Nothing that happens is ever forgotten, even if you can't remember it.”

Spirited Away (2001)

Roger Ebert called this movie “a visual feast,” and that’s an understatement. Another critic, Scott Tobias, very accurately and concisely said, “much of what is great about Spirited Away defies description and simply must be experienced.” The story, by renowned Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, revolves around Chihiro, a young girl whose family is moving. On the way to their new home, they take a wrong turn, go through a tunnel, and end up in a strange, fantastical world. The movie gets compared to Alice in Wonderland for obvious reasons, but aside from that broad similarity Spirited Away is unique. Separated from her parents, Chihiro gets a job working at a bathhouse for spirits. Miyazaki introduces a dizzying progression of wildly imaginative creatures and characters. To try and summarize them (or the movie’s more subtle themes) in a post this size would be ridiculous. If you haven’t seen it, you should.


Wednesday, June 09, 2010

"It was a fine idea at the time."

Sometimes I get stuck on a letter in my iTunes for a few days, and that letter this week has been E: So, some Elton John, some Elvis Presley, and some Elvis Costello. (I guess I'm stuck in "El-," to be more specific.) For Wednesday, this is Costello doing "Brilliant Mistake" in Tokyo in 1987. Enjoy:


Tuesday, June 08, 2010

14 K, 0 BB

God, I love baseball. They said they wouldn't let him go past the sixth inning, but he went seven: Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg, in his big-league debut, struck out 14 and walked none. He left the game with a 4-2 lead. I don't care that it's the Pirates; the build-up to this was ridiculous, and for him to pitch this way is really impressive. Must have been a great, great night to be at the game.

Before the game, people on Twitter were mocking the hype:
Stephen Strasburg has finished his pre-game supper, informing his infield, "One of you will betray me tonight."
Now they're expressing their own comic hype:
Stephen Strasburg's curveball just punched physics in the eye and stole its girlfriend.

Stephen Strasburg's fastball just beat Apollo Creed and Rocky on the beach. It then tenderly hugged his curveball in slow motion.
And some are saying things that even a Yankees fan like me finds disgusting:
I don't want to wait until 20teens to see him in a Yankees uniform, I want him NOW! Come to NY, Stephen! Come to us!

Hey Nats, don't wear out Strasburg's arm. Up here in the Bronx we play through October.

Actions and Reputations

In an excerpt from his new memoir, Christopher Hitchens writes about drink, a subject that tends to follow him around:
I once paid a visit to the grotesque holding-pen that the United States government maintains at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. There wasn't an unsupervised moment on the whole trip, and the main meal we ate—​a heavily calorific affair that was supposed to demonstrate how well-nourished the detainees were—​was made even more inedible by the way that water (with the option of a can of Sprite) flowed like wine. Yet a few days later I ran into a friend at the White House who told me half-admiringly: "Way to go at Guantánamo: they say you managed to get your own bottle and open it down on the beach and have a party." This would have been utterly unfeasible in that bizarre Cuban enclave, half-madrassa and half-stockade, but it was still completely and willingly believed. Publicity means that actions are judged by reputations and not the other way about: I never wonder how it happens that mythical figures in religious history come to have fantastic rumors credited to their names.

Oh Mercy Mercy Me

The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico continues to boggle the mind, for various reasons. First, from a site called FlowingData, some statistics about BP's track record of safety expressed in a striking chart. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has several levels of violation, the worst of which is labeled egregious willful:
Between June 2007 and February 2010, BP received 760 egregious citations across six refineries. The 145 other refineries in the U.S., combined, received only one.
Most of those citations to BP "reflect alleged violations of a rule designed to prevent catastrophic events at refineries."

But while BP's culture (and clear lack of a reasonably effective back-up plan when the risks were so high) is maddening, what's really stunning is the perspective this all grants to levels of oil consumption. My friend Miles sums it up (italics mine):
Based on most estimates, the BP well is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico about 12,000 to 19,000 barrels of oil a day, roughly 504,000 or 798,000 gallons every 24 hours. If the leak continues unabated until August, as many experts expect, the total amount of oil leaked will end up somewhere between 1.08 million and 1.7 million total barrels, roughly 45 million to 71 million gallons. That's a hell of a lot of oil. Enough oil, for instance, to threaten the Gulf Coast's fragile ecosystem, while simultaneously kneecapping the region's economy. Not enough oil, though, to meet or exceed even 8.5 percent of our daily consumption of oil, which stands, with or without the Deepwater Horizon explosion, at a shocking 21 million barrels a day.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Movie Mini-List #2: Euro-Horror

When I first started counting down my 100 favorite movies, in October 1972, the plan was to have occasional posts by guests writing about their favorite movies in particular categories. Alas, I’ve only featured one to date, my friend Dez’s look at De Niro’s best movies not directed by Scorsese. Now, another writer with a pen name, Ranylt Richildis, has been kind enough to contribute. The five movies below are some of her favorite “Euro-horror” flicks, taken from a series she has at her own terrific blog, Roughen.
And Soon the Darkness (1970, dir. Robert Fuest)

Hands down one of Fuest’s best pictures (and an unsung gem of a ’70s chiller), And Soon the Darkness relies on evocative minimalism and clean, uncluttered shots to make both daylight and the wide-open French countryside sinister. When two female tourists get separated near a menacing little town, the breathing space generated by Fuest and director of photography Ian Wilson is cloying rather than comforting — almost agoraphobic by design. There’s too much open field and too much dead air between Jane (Pamela Franklin) and her missing friend (Michele Dotrice), and the only hiding places to shelter in are bushes that probably conceal perverts or ramshackle cafes that attract brutes. The situation is complicated by a too-eager-to-help hep cat (Sandor Elès) who trails the girls on his moped, then force-teams himself with Jane when she finds herself alone on the deserted route. The way Jane is ordered around by men or bossy elders is part of the day’s horror — And Soon the Darkness is a meditation on the dangers of being young and female in an objectifying world, and the tension mounts with every leer or warning, as does Jane’s exasperation. The movie benefits from capable performances and realistic dialogue, but the real star is the production design and how well it lends itself — even and especially in broad daylight — to our growing sense of dread.

The Grapes of Death (1978, dir. Jean Rollin)

If horror movies are merely the kitschy manifestations of humanity’s greatest fears, then a tale about a toxic wine harvest might point to an anxiety particular to the French. Regarded by some as Jean Rollin’s best film, and generally considered a fine entry in the Walking Dead genre, The Grapes of Death plays off French oenophilia and the importance of the industry to the nation. When an experimental pesticide used on a grape harvest winds up poisoning the brains and bodies of all who imbibe this year’s vintage, zombie-like maniacs wander the countryside lusting for the blood of the living. Our unsuspecting heroine (Marie-Georges Pascal) hurtles straight into Romero country by train and must fend for herself in a region where pretty much everyone enjoys their vino (with grave consequences; alcoholics metaphorized into zombies?). The film has a distinctive look with its mossy, misty, stony countryscapes, and the acting is above average for both Rollin and Euro-horror. The pace is rambling, like the ruins that dot many of the film’s exterior shots. Watch for French porn star Brigitte Lahaie and a surprisingly convincing severed head dummy (in a film with both very good and very weak make-up effects). Grapes is a nice eco-horror piece in the vein of Jorge Grau’s Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and others from the 1960s and 1970s.

To the Devil a Daughter (1976, dir. Peter Sykes)

Many Hammer fans prefer the studio’s earlier films and cold-shoulder the later ones produced as it struggled to keep in step with the times. But some of us appreciate this final entry in the original Hammer pantheon. (I add the word original because Hammer Studios climbed out of its coffin in 2008.) To the Devil a Daughter has naturalistic acting, a bit of edge, and the need for audience deconstruction — all unexpected positives. But it can’t match Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and other popular occult films Sykes was emulating, tasked as he was with making Hammer Studios a guaranteed pound sterling. Dependable Christopher Lee is an excommunicated priest who points his faith in a more sinister direction, towards a satanic god. His church raises Nastassja Kinski, who grows up to become a nun marked to bear the seed of the devil. High jinx ensue when the nun’s father (Denholm Elliott) and an occult writer (Richard Widmark) try to protect her from that destiny. Enjoy some nicely claustrophobic framing shots from very low and very high angles, and a disturbing birth scene wherein a mother’s legs are bound together, sealing off the birth canal. Women will squirm, and some viewers will get a chuckle out of the clerical costumes the Satanists sport, identical to Catholic uniforms.

[Ed. Note: I couldn’t move on to the next movie without sharing this still from To the Devil a Daughter, which Ranylt featured on her blog.]

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971, dir. Robert Fuest)

Fuest’s talent for art direction helps to make this the best of the Phibes movies. He’s crafted a series of dreamlike tableaux and suffused them with sumptuous color, art deco tucks and corners, and the generally peculiar. The story: a grieving theologian/organist (Vincent Price) exacts revenge on the medical team that let his wife die on the operating table. He designs executions around the mythic ten plagues of the Pharaoh and secures the collaboration of one Vulnavia (Virginia North), the Audrey Hepburn of psychedelic assassination. Joseph Cotten rounds out a skilled cast as the corny inspector. There’s no need to argue that this one’s deliberately campy — what with Price in the lead role — but it’s camp with an engaging, unique difference that’s hard to define. Among the unforgettable images: death by frog-mask at a masquerade ball, and Phibes’ surreal operating theatre.

The Virgin Spring (1960, dir. Ingmar Bergman)

Some might consider it a stretch to classify a Bergman film as “Euro-Horror,” but The Virgin Spring is by now so tied to the exploitation flicks it inspired that I can’t help but watch it in this light. The movie’s plot has grown into a lasting horror trope: a daughter is raped and murdered by drifters who make the mistake of sheltering in her family’s house and pay dearly. In Bergman’s version (based on lore, like so much of our horror literature and film), the daughter (Birgitta Pettersson) is attacked by three men as she makes her way to a Sunday sermon. The killers find themselves in her parents’ home later that afternoon, and father Max von Sydow takes his revenge with anguished, oh-so-Scandinavian precision. Sink into Bergman’s pristine medieval aesthetic tinged — like the scene with Max and the tree — with remarkable expressionism. The Virgin Spring is nearly too quiet, too stately, and too pretty for the revenge horror genre, but that revengeploitation seepage can’t be contained by Bergman’s socio-religious frame, nor has it ever been handled so masterfully. Knockoffs include Craven’s The Last House on the Left, Deodato’s The House on the Edge of the Park, Lado’s Night Train Murders, and Hayer’s Revenge. Make a day of them.


I was thinking about writing a post with various thoughts to mark the one-third point of the baseball season, but I'd rather focus on two recent events: Armando Galarraga’s “perfect game” and the retirement of Ken Griffey Jr. (Post about Griffey to appear sometime in the coming days.)

Unless you’re entirely indifferent to both baseball and all mainstream news organizations, you know that Galarraga got the first 26 Cleveland Indians out last Wednesday night. The 27th batter, Jason Donald, grounded to first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who fielded the ball and tossed it to Galarraga at the bag. Replays showed that Galarraga was there a half-step before Donald, but umpire Jim “I just cost that kid a perfect game” Joyce called the runner safe. Joyce, checking the replay, admitted he blew the call almost as soon as the game was over.

Three things to cover here: What to do about the call, how the participants reacted, and the weirdly amazing pitching so far this baseball season.

The day after the game, on the New York Times’ baseball blog, Tyler Kepner wrote:
[T]he notion that Galarraga should be retroactively awarded a perfect game is misguided. It was not a perfect game. The game continued after Joyce awarded Jason Donald first base. A perfect game is defined as a full game in which nobody on a team reaches base. It’s simple. And it didn’t happen.
The first three comments below Kepner’s post all strongly disagreed with him. I was the sixth reader to leave feedback on the post, and this is the relevant part of what I said:
To the other commenters so far, would this mean going back to other games throughout history and making sure that an umpiring error never resulted in other perfect games being lost? Because this happened on the last play of the game, it stands out, but it seems reasonable to think it's happened before, in the middle of games. Changing it retroactively seems supremely silly.
So, that’s how I feel about the idea, since discarded, that baseball might award the perfect game after the fact.

Another commenter on the post (228 comments followed mine) made an interesting point: “From now on, in any perfect game situation, there will be enormous pressure on umpires on close calls in the final inning to err on the side of the perfect game and avoid a Joyce-like backlash.” Of course, you could say that this pressure has always been there. But this person’s idea of what to do about it, which involves some kind of 24-hour rule change that would allow this result to be altered while keeping most (but not all) future results from such alteration, is ridiculous.

But even more compelling than the incident itself was the way the participants handled it. Are you sitting down? They handled it with dignity. I know! Not only did Joyce immediately accept accountability (which wouldn’t be newsworthy in a perfect, or even much less imperfect world), but Galarraga, who had been unfairly denied a career-defining accomplishment, accepted the outcome with what appeared to be a genuine combination of levelheadedness and good humor. As another Times commenter put it: “I think we got something better than a perfect game -- an example of perfect sportsmanship and stoicism in the face of great disappointment. To me, that's more stunning than a perfect game would have been.” It’s 2010, and I have to agree.

(As for what this all means about instant replay in baseball, etc., I remain a staunch traditionalist. Bruce Weber recently wrote, “Umpires have been ingrained in major-league baseball since the inception of the National League in 1876, somewhere approaching 200,000 games ago, and it’s likely that the umps have botched a call or two in every one of them since then,” and that the sport has survived just fine despite this. I reviewed Weber’s book about umpires here.)

What Joyce’s call kept from happening, astonishingly enough, was the third perfect game in less than a month. There have only been 20 such games in the history of the sport, and two of those came in the 19th century. There has been a trend toward more of them, with seven thrown between 1881 and 1981, and 11 since then. But still: three in a month? This is in addition to several other pitching achievements so far this year. I won’t bore you with all of them, but here’s the most exciting: The Rockies’ 26-year-old Ubaldo Jimenez is 10-1 with an ERA of 0.78. He’s given up one home run in 80+ innings. He’s on pace for 30 wins, which almost certainly won’t happen (if it does, watch out), but he doesn’t have to get that many to hold everyone’s attention through the summer. Of the 552 times a pitcher has won 23 or more games in a season, only six of those have occurred since 1990.

Getting back to perfect games: Who was the worst pitcher to throw one? Charlie Robertson was pretty undistinguished. So was Don Larsen, except for his World Series perfect game, still the only one in postseason history. They’re challenged by Len Barker, but I’d say it comes down to those three.

The most efficient perfect game? The one thrown by Addie Joss, who needed just 74 pitches to finish off the White Sox, 1-0, on October 2, 1908. His opponent in that game, Ed Walsh, wasn’t too shabby either -- nine innings pitched, one run (unearned), one walk, and 15 strikeouts. That’s a pretty great story, throwing 15 K’s and losing that way. Not as great as Galarraga’s story, though -- which will be recounted among fans for far longer, and with more affection, than most perfect games.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

"He kinda shoulda sorta woulda loved her if he could have."

For this Wednesday-Thursday, the Lemonheads doing "Confetti" at a 1997 show in Germany. Enjoy:


The Movie List: 45-41

45. "And it's love which is awakened."

Toto the Hero (1991)

This one should either be here, five to 10 slots higher, or 40 slots lower. Or maybe 140 slots lower. I really have no idea, not having seen it for a while. But I obviously remember liking it a great deal. It tells the story of Thomas, who nicknamed himself Toto during a wildly imaginative childhood that has given way to a wildly imaginative adulthood and old age. Even as he nears the end of his life, Thomas retains his faith in a paranoid fantasy that he was switched at birth, during a hospital fire, with a man named Alfred, a rich man whom Thomas both envies and loathes. Part of the reason for this is that Thomas is in love with his sister from an early age, and not being officially related to her would be a help. The movie hops around a lot in time, and there are many flights of fancy, including tulips that sway back and forth while someone sings Charles Trenet's jaunty "Boum." Still, despite the sweet nature of some of the material, as one fan on imdb put it, “This is a tight, mean, well-constructed tale about the feeling that dogs us all -- is this all life is? Could I have been happier as someone else? Are they happier than me? Am I lucky or unlucky? And most importantly, this: Why, when life seems so hard at times, can we find so much joy in small things . . . ?” If memory serves, I agree.

44. “Sure, I lie from time to time.”

The 400 Blows (1959)

Among other things, one of the best full-length directorial debuts in movie history. Truffaut modeled the story of troubled adolescent Antoine Doinel (brilliantly played by Jean-Pierre Léaud) on his own life. In her essay about the movie for the Criterion Collection, Annette Insdorf writes:
Born in Paris in 1932, [Truffaut] spent his first years with a wet nurse and then his grandmother, as his parents had little to do with him. When his grandmother died, he returned home at the age of eight. An only child whose mother insisted that he make himself silent and invisible, he took refuge in reading and later in the cinema.

Like Antoine, Truffaut found a substitute home in the movie theater: He would either sneak in through the exit doors and lavatory windows, or steal money to pay for a seat. In The 400 Blows, Antoine and René reenact the delinquency and cinemania of the young Truffaut and Robert Lachenay (who was an assistant on The 400 Blows). Their touching friendship is captured in René’s unsuccessful attempt to visit Antoine at reform school.
Insdorf also relates the casting of Léaud, and Truffaut’s instructions to him, “not to depict adolescence from the usual viewpoint of sentimental nostalgia, but . . . to show it as the painful experience that it is.” This clip of Léaud (and other kids) auditioning for the movie is one of my favorite things. Truffaut went on to make four more movies starring the character, none of which I’ve seen. I need to remedy that. Also, I just discovered that The Simpsons recreated the movie’s famous last shot, this time with Nelson. Hilarious.

43. “A person doesn't change just because you find out more.”

The Third Man (1949)

Rarely have I seen a movie stolen as brazenly as this one is by Orson Welles once he finally appears as Harry Lime, closer to the end of the picture than the beginning. The theft is especially impressive because the rest of the cast is also terrific. Joseph Cotten plays Holly Martins, an American pulp writer who goes to Vienna in the wake of World War II because his friend Harry has promised him work. Instead, he arrives to learn that Harry has died in a car accident. Or has he? Well, no, he hasn’t. And when he’s first seen, it’s suddenly, lit in a shadowed alcove in one of the great moments in movie history. At one point, Lime, trying to rationalize his crimes, says to Holly:
You know what the fellow said – in Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.
That line got parsed by a lot of people. Welles later said, “When the picture came out, the Swiss very nicely pointed out to me that they've never made any cuckoo clocks.” And writer John McPhee said that at the time of the Borgias in Italy, Switzerland was “the most powerful and feared military force in Europe,” not the Switzerland we know as a punchline to jokes about neutrality.

42. “My years are not advancing as fast as you might think.”

Groundhog Day (1993)

Groundhog Day is very funny. The scenes with Ned Ryerson alone make for a comic gem. But there is also a great deal of philosophical depth to the movie, and not just for a Hollywood comedy. As Phil Connors (Bill Murray) relives the same day over and over again (director Harold Ramis has estimated he does this for 30 or 40 years’ worth of days), he perfects both himself and his relationships with other people. His move from frustration (Why is this happening?) to narcissistic fun (I’m gonna sleep with everybody! I’m gonna drive drunk!) to despair (I’m gonna kill myself!) to self-improvement and enlightenment make the movie a natural fit for religious groups of all stripes. Ramis said:
At first I would get mail saying, “Oh, you must be a Christian, because the movie so beautifully expresses Christian belief.” Then rabbis started calling from all over, saying they were preaching the film as their next sermon. And the Buddhists! Well, I knew they loved it, because my mother-in-law has lived in a Buddhist meditation center for 30 years and my wife lived there for 5 years.
Whatever your spiritual persuasion, Groundhog Day has something to make you think about, and it will make you laugh while it does it.

41. “Suppose I shot you. How’d that be?”

Badlands (1973)

The second post in this blog's long, illustrious history was actually about this movie. Here is that post, in slightly altered form:

Terrence Malick wrote and directed Badlands, and released it in 1973, shortly before pulling a Salinger-like disappearing act. He released Days of Heaven in 1978 and then fell off the map for 20 years.

Just like Malick’s The Thin Red Line (1998), Badlands depends heavily on a slowly gathered sense of dread and a liberal use of voice-over narration by one of its main characters. It's a much smaller, more modest story, though, and it's the better movie because of it. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek play Kit (25) and Holly (15), a pair of disaffected South Dakotan youths (is there any other kind?) in the late 1950s. It's not giving anything away to reveal that someone gets killed and the pair hits the road to outrun the fuzz and then several other people get killed and no one gets any less disaffected. It’s sort of what Natural Born Killers might have looked like if Raymond Carver had written it -- What We Talk About When We Talk About Going on a Killing Spree.

Sheen is extraordinary, and though I've never been a big fan of Spacek, she does a terrific job with the voice-overs, which are often spare but poetic:
He needed me now more than ever, but something had come between us. I'd stopped even paying attention to him. Instead, I sat in the car and read a map and spelled out entire sentences with my tongue on the roof of my mouth, where nobody could read them.
Despite its brilliance, the movie does have quite a silly tagline, according to imdb: “In 1959 a lot of people were killing time. Kit and Holly were killing people.” This is nothing, though, compared to my favorite tagline of all time, which is from The Lift, a Dutch horror movie about a demented elevator: “Take the stairs! Take the stairs! For God's sake, take the stairs!”