Saturday, January 29, 2005

Grocery Shopping Blues

Since my wife was busy with end of the semester grading, I volunteered to do a little shopping. I made the mistake of going to Auchan on a Saturday afternoon. This is a store very similar to a super Wal-mart, it's got everything. It was absolutely packed. People everywhere looking for food, drinks, magazines, car parts, and everything else imaginable. Shopping in France is always interesting for me, even on a good day. You try reading the ingredients on the back of a package when you don't understand the language its written in, and see where you get. Luckily, today I had a small list and most of the items were pretty obvious. Although I spent 20 minutes looking at vacuum bags before giving up and moving on. Unlike most Wal-marts I have ever been in, Auchan actually had all of their check out aisles open. But there were still a million people in each aisle with shopping carts loaded full. I took my place in a relatively short line full of people with only 10 or 11 items versus the 50 or 60 items per person in the other aisles.

Quickly another lady joins my line behind me. She puts her bags down behind my basket on the floor and says something. I have learned to basically ignore everyone here versus being pulled into a conversations I can't possibly understand, or respond to, with any sense. Normally this procedure works because I can briskly walk away from whomever, and be on my way without any embarrassment or misunderstanding. But this time I was stuck in a slow moving line and had to attempt comprehension. All I could understand from her smiling lips was "vert," the French word for green. I quickly ran through a list of questions that could possibly contain the word green. I came up with none. Sensing I didn't understand, the lady asked me again; this time kneeling towards her bags on the floor and pointing at my basket. Was she asking me if she could use my basket? What kind of nut ball question is that? And besides my basket is most definitely red and the French word for red (rouge) sounds nothing like green. Finally after failing to understand this poor woman's question three times, I explained in my best French, that I didn't understand what she was asking and spoke very little French. She smiled and proceeded to walk up to the cashier. After a quick conversation that I couldn't hear, the lady leaned under the cashier's counter and picked up a green basket. She smiled to the customer nearest the counter as she lifted the green basket up for him to see. As this was the answer they had all been looking for.

There are generally empty baskets laying under the counters in French markets. You pick a basket up when you walk in, fill it with your goods, and then empty the basket when you check out. Why in the world was this crazy woman asking me about the green basket? Am I the keeper of the baskets? Why does she need a basket now? We're at the checkout counter. Surely she could keep track of her bags for a few more minutes. Presumably, she has lugged them across the store basketless, so why get one now when she's ready to check out? The remainder of the time I waited in line, this woman continued to wander to nearby checkout aisles and browse their goods. She could not stand still. One minute she was on my left looking at candy. The next she was on the right checking out a mirror.

As I finally reached the check out counter I lifted my red basket off the ground so that I could begin placing my items on the conveyer belt. No sooner than I had grabbed my bag of corn chips did I realize there was a snag in my plan. There was a small boy lying half his body across the conveyer belt. One can only assume his mother had been dragging him all day from store to store, while she shopped for goods, and he became exhausted. I thought I would give him a hint and began piling my chips next to his head. Any normal, self-conscience lad, I thought, would understand my need to empty the red basket, and move off the belt designed for groceries, and not little boys heads. But no, the boys head stayed. Now the mother of conveyer belt boy begins leaning over the boy, and my corn chips, to check out some phone cards. Why she could not have perused these cards during the 10 minutes she was standing directly in front of them, nobody knows. But now that I am holding my ,increasingly heavy, red basket, her son is laying his head on the belt, and my chips are resting gently nearby, she has decided that phone cards could definitely be a purchase. Several minutes pass like this until she has decided to actually move around me and give those phone cards a good look-over.

By this point I'm seeing red and don't notice if the lady actually purchases the cards or not. What I do see is the line moving forward. Boy lifts his head off the conveyer belt and I am able to lay my goods down. Suddenly boy becomes frightened. There are several of the divider sticks laying near the cashier. These sticks are designed to maintain dividing points between each customers groceries, lest the cashier get confused and charge my corn chips to someone else. There are several of these sticks laying near the cashier, but they are too far up the line to be grabbed by the boy. Boy is so frightened that my goods and his mothers may mix that he sticks his full right arm in between them. Excitedly, girlishly, he chatters to his mother about this problem. She seems to understand but is helpless to solve the matter. Meanwhile crazy lady behind me begins stacking her grocers right on top of mine. I push my goods closer to the boys arm, but crazy lady keeps piling them right up on me. Feeling the boys pain I point my stare of hatred towards the cashier who is hoarding all the dividing sticks. "Why don't you push those down here?" my mind asks. Can't you see the problems your causing?

Finally, my turn arrives. "Bonjour" I say, as I sack and pay for your goods before leaving with a final "Au revoir." Relieved that it is all over I pack my sacks into my back pack and head for the tram.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Like a Midnight Rambler

Song of the moment: Elvis Presley Blues by Gillian Welch

I've been sick again. Why do I get sick so much. I blame it on travel. My first year in Indiana I got very sick very often. Same thing for Alabama. Tennessee did me good though. This time it was a sinus thing. Very congested. Sinus trouble makes everything very surreal for me. Like it takes a moment for my eyes to focus on anything so I spend my day in a series of brief blurs. I was feverish Wednesday night. Go to bed freezing and piling covers on top. Wake up drenched in sweat and glad of it, for I know it is passing.

After considering London, Dublin, Scottland, and Spain we have finally decided on Rome for our February vacation. Prices all around are cheaper. Our only problem now will be in trying to fit all of the places we want to see into a few days. I'm hoping to head South as well and maybe catch the sea.

My head is too dizzy from bad sinuses and good drugs to write much more. But I wanted to check in to keep the few, the faithful from forgetting about my little piece of cyberspace.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Review: Alien

Each film in the Alien quadrilogy has differed from each other. It has helped that they each had a distinctive and imaginative director. Ridley Scott created a slow, tension filled science fiction epic. James Cameron pumped it full of adrenaline and made an action packed masterpiece. David Fincher cut his teeth on Alien3 by turning the action into a dark, mostly muddled mess. Jean-Pierre Jeunet tried to rescue the franchise, but had no story to work with. Like the Star Wars movies what we're left with is a couple of top notch flicks and a few others that while showing a few moments of visual brilliance leave ultimately leave the series limp.

But my review is not of the series as a whole, but on the movie that started it all. In considering the franchise it is sometimes forgotten that Alien never started out as a quadrilogy. There was only this one movie about a group of average workers sent to capture a monster. Scott does a superb job of creating suspense. It is some 30 minutes into the picture before we actually see an Alien. And even then the action is slow to evolve. For the audience this creates a great amount of tension. Even for those who have never seen an Alien movie, the creature has so penetrated our popular culture that everyone knows it's not an ET kind of alien. So, while watching it we know that the alien is creeping around some corner just waiting to devour the characters. And yet we hardly see the alien. We not only don't get to see any alien through a third of the film, but when the alien does come out and begin its slaughter, we only catch glimpses of the creature itself. It is seen in the dark creeping in a corner, or in a flash as it jumps out of the darkness to attack. Scott, instead, uses shots of the crew to show the fear in their eyes, before their destruction, rather than show the creature in action. There are only one or two moments where the audience sees the alien in full figure, and those last only a short time. Even then the alien does not move, never allowing us to see it kill. This stroke serves to scare the audience even more. For how many times have we seen a movies monster in action only to laugh at its poor design?

The movie oozes with atmosphere. The cinematography is dark and shadowy. The ship's quarters are enclosed and tight, creating claustrophobic spaces in which to encounter the Alien. Then there is HR Giger’s amazing design. His designs of the alien ship and the alien are absolutely perfect. The ship seems to slither and move as if it’s alive. There are curves, ridges and smooth edges as on the alien itself. All of which creates an atmosphere, and mood that stimulates the horror to come.

All of the effects shot were done in without the use of CGI. Generally they still hold their ground. Sure, the glimpses we get of the alien standing look like a man in a rubber suit. But overall the effects look great. This is a testament to the genius of Giger. My main complaint is with MOTHER. Like other science fiction films the crew’s ship, the Nostromo, has its brains in a giant computer. Here, MOTHER is housed in an inner room of the ship and only accessible by the ships captain. We see her captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt) go to visit MOTHER for a "your eyes only" deal. Why a commercial ship needs this type of security is never mentioned. Mother turns out to be a Star Trekesque computer equipped with blinking lights and a faint whirring sound. All of this is so that the Dallas can sit down to a DOS prompt and ask silly questions like "What's the story, Mother?" They should have gone with a more 2001 approach and have the crew be able to actually speak to MOTHER.

All of the characters are very well acted and fleshed out. Each character is given their own personality and is fully realized. There is a nice scene in which the crew is searching for the recently unsucking face sucker has disappeared. Ripley (Signorney Weaver) has left the door open and Ash (Ian Holm) moves to shut it so the alien won't escape. The look Ash gives as he is doing this is incredible. Ash and Ripley have previously had a bit of a fight and you can see the anger and irritation at Ripley perfectly in Ash's face.

Signorney Weaver plays Ripley beautifully. This is a female action star that is sexy, but doesn't pander her sexuality (though they did manage to get her in her underwear.) She is tough as nails and intelligent. And Weaver plays her perfectly.

Alien is arguably the best in one of the most successful series in film history. It is also one of the best science fiction films Hollywood has ever made.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Snow Another Day

Daniel and all of the AIM missionaries went to Belgium for a conference this last weekend. It was decided that I should preach on Sunday. There was a time, many a year ago, when I aspired to be a minister of some sort. I gave up that aspiration for various reasons and haven't done any type of preaching/teaching in a very long time. The last time I did anything like it was in 1999 where my parents were going to church in Grove, OK. At that time I read a few passages from Pascal and asked the audience what they thought about it. Unfortunately I left my Pascal in America and knew I would actually have to lead some sort of sermon. I worked a few things together and padded it with a lot of Scripture. Luckily there were only about 5 of us there. Half the congregation was in Belgium and the weather was poor enough to keep the rest at home. The funny thing was that even with so few Jean Claude was there and he doens't speak English. So Tammy had to translate everything for him.

We went to Laura's home in the evening. A bunch of us ate pizza and watched a movie. The movie was French, but was about a young man traveling to Spain and living with an ecclectic group. It was difficult for me to follow. Most of it was in French, but the group that was living together all spoke English or Spanish. So I got a French soundtract part of the time, then it would switch to Spanish with French subtitles or English with French subtitles. I would concentrate really hard on what was being spoken to understand what little French I could. Then I would have to stop listening and try to understand the French subtitles. Then it would turn to English being spoken but it would take me a minute to realize I could actually understand what was being spoken and stop reading the subtitles.

We went home around 1 in the morning. It was cold and snowing! A beautiful snow too. Big bright, fluffy, flakes coming down all around. It packed rather well as well so we had to throw a few snowballs. Suddenly I became the loud guy on the street who I am normally cursing. It didn't last too long and now there is hardly a remnant left.

We're trying to plan a vacation in February. Originally we thought we'd go to London and then maybe Dublin, but it is looking a little too pricey for the moment. So now the plan is to take a tour of German castles. We'll see if that works out.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Review: A Hard Days Night

I started watching Alien on Monday to follow through with my alphabetical watching, but I have been delayed in completing it. Instead I have a review of the Beatles first film A Hard Day's Night.

Critiquing this film as a piece of cinema, and not as a collection of Beatles tunes is a difficult task. Richard Lester creates some truly beautiful black and white images. Though sometimes the camera can't seem to find its focus. And the images obviously taken on a helicopter as they boys play in the grass outside the television studio shake wildly and distract from the fun being had. The boys, though essentially playing themselves still play it a little stiff as if they are not sure how, exactly, to be themselves. The jokes, for the most part, are still funny, and what little plot there is, still works to give a glimpse into what it was like to be a band on the verge of universal stardom.

To take the movie without the songs is well beyond the point, though. The movie is essentially a market ploy to get the songs heard via a different media. One might not be so forgiving if the songs were not any good, but the music shines throughout. The title song that starts the movie off starts with a struuuum that is instantly recognizable and jumps out and smack you in the face. That is followed by what is arguably the Beatles best tunes. When you add in such songs as: I Should Have Known Better, Tell Me Why, I'm Happy Just to Dance with You, the simple, sweet "If I Fell" and the sing along favorite "Can't Buy Me Love" to the soundtrack then you have a musical that is just shy of remarkable.

The movie was released just before the Beatles came to America and appeared on Ed Sullivan which brought on the madness known as Beatlemania. By this time they were extremely popular as can be seen in the crowds reaction while the boys sings on the television show. It is still shocking to see images of teenage girls screaming, crying and shaking in a manner previously only known to the Pentecostal religion. The soundtrack periodically allow the girls screaming to take over the music allowing us to glimpse what it must have been like to be there. No wonder the boys gave up playing live shortly thereafter.

A Hard Days Night is an excellent glimpse of the Beatles on the cusp of World Stardom. This was before the summer of love, drugs, and the sitar where the Beatles were just trying to be the best band in the world and writing songs that made them so. It is a joy to see them cutting up and being their goofy, hilarious selves. I dare you not to sing and dance along as you watch it.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

A Day Trip

Boats rest serenely in Colmar's "Little Venice"


A few days ago we were given notice that our water was going to be turned off from 8:30 until 5 pm Wednesday. After much discussion, Amy and I decided to make a day trip of it. We got up early Wednesday morning, and showered before the water was turned off. After checking the train schedules and some more debate we decided to go to Colmar. It is a quaint little city about 30 minutes, by train, South of Strasbourg. Colmar is the former home of Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi who created the Statue of Liberty. His home has been converted into a museum. There are several old churches built by the Dominicans in the 13th and 14th Centuries. The city is beautiful, or, I believe it is in the Spring. It had the cold, gray bleakness of winter while we were there. They city has done a good job promoting it's tourism and history. There are plaques giving information in French, English, and German at numerous points of interest throughout.

We bought a tourist map for .80 Euros and walked across the town visiting the various churches, schools and nunneries. We visited the art museum. It is located in a beautiful old church. Most of the artwork is from local artists and is of a religious nature. With our ticket we also received an audio guide. This was very interesting at first but became exhausting after an hour or so. There are only so many times I can listen to someone explaining the significance of yet another painting of the crucifixion scene.

We ate at a little pastry shop. Amy had a coffee and an apple tart. I had a delicious raspberry cream tart and a hot chocolate. We caught the 6:10 train to Strasbourg and returned to an apartment with running water! It's the little things that keep us going.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Born Again French

After my French lesson on Saturday my tutor, Ann, gave me a little lecture about practicing.

"You need to go over your verbs." she said. She then brought out a little address book. The address book had English words with French definitions filling its pages. They were alphabetized in the book in the same manner you would use it for address'. On pages B instead of Bowland and Bales there was banana and beach towel.

"You should get one of these. I've found it very helpful with my English vocabulary." She then asked me if I had any friends that I could speak French with. Upon admitting that, no, I tended to hang out with English speakers Ann told me to start speaking with Amy.

"You've been here five months and hardly speak a word of French," she lectured. Before I could counter that I had really only been here four months and that the first one didn't count as I wasn't taking lessons she expressing her worry over me wasting my time and money on lessons. We agreed to meet on Monday and I promised to do better.

I mentioned Ann's lecture in casual conversation on the phone to my mother.

"Mathew," she said, "you know why you aren't doing well? You aren't studying are you? Are you paying for these lessons?"

Upon hearing that yes, I was in fact paying for them she increased her lecture into a feverish pitch. My mother is a world class nagger and here she was in top form. She urged me to start hitting the books. She added a stern voice while telling me that I was wasting my money if I wasn't practicing the language with Amy. She swore she would have no son if I didn't get things together.

It worked. Amy and I spent an hour the next evening speaking in French. She picked an old LaRedoute catalog and chose interesting pages to talk about. At first she would describe what the models were wearing and ask me to repeat the French words for "skirt, boots, and jacket." Then she would quiz me on the different colors being worn or where the models were located. Soon I was making up little stories to go with the picture.

"That girl is from Lawrence, KS," I'd say, "she came to Paris on a two week vacation. After three days her luggage was stolen and she couldn't afford to stay in the hotel. After 7 days she had to start prostituting herself to live."*

I was remembering word I didn't know I had ever learned. Suddenly I could conjugate the verb "to steal" in the third person past form. The problem with my tutoring sessions is that we are continually learning new and more difficult language use. We rarely review in class and I am supposed to remember at will any past lesson. My mind gets so tied up in unscrambling the new information that it is too scared to remember anything older than a few minutes. But now in a casual setting with nothing new keeping me occupied I was remembering three months worth of verbs, nouns and prepositions. I was far from perfect, and I had a very limited vocabulary but it was enlightening to suddenly be able to make a complete sentence and better yet, have it understood.

Amy and I have been speaking everyday since and I have started using an address book for new vocabulary and grammar. "How is your sandwich?" I'll ask over lunch. "I like the cheese." And Amy, with an encouraging smile will say, "Tres bien."



* In actuality this conversation went more like this: "She is American. She go to Paris. She no have bags and money. She is prostitute."

Monday, January 17, 2005

Blogcritics

My faithful readers will notice a new link in my sidebar. I have joined blogcritics.com as a reviewer. Basically I will be joint posting my reviews here and there.

If you are linking to my blog from blogcritics, welcome! I have been reviewing my dvd collection for the last couple of weeks. Here you will not only get those reviews, but my feelings on spending a year in France with my wife. She is doing a teaching exchange from Indiana University, and I am...well I'm taking some time off and enjoying the French experience.

So for my regular readers go visit blogcritics. It's a cool site full of reviews/discussion on movies, music, books, politics, and just about everything else. Oh, and please visit my little space on their site by clicking here. They do a really cool job of putting pictures up on the various movies I talk about in my reviews.

Army of Darkness Review

Those of you looking closely at my list of DVDs will notice there are a couple of movies before Army of Darkness. But on a Sunday night you watch what your wife wants to watch. Especially when it's part of the Evil Dead series and not a silly romantic comedy.

Army of Darkness is the third (and so far final) movie in the Evil Dead Series. Before director Sam Raimi went legits with a series of critically acclaimed dramas and the Spiderman series, he was a low budget horror genius. Army of Darkness begins right where Evil Dead II ended, with Bruce Campbell trapped in medieval times to battle the deadites once again.

The trilogy started out in Evil Dead as a pretty straight horror movie. A group of people discover a book of the dead and unleash gore filled horror upon themselves in a remote cabin. Evil Dead II basically re-tells the same story with a different cast (except for the ever present Bruce Campbell), bigger budget and plenty of slapstick. The second movie is by far my favorite in the series. It keeps the ghoulish gore while adding hilarious physical comedy and some classic one liners. Army of Darkness furthers this tradition by adding even more slap stick and one lines while removing almost all of the gore.

What little plot there is goes something like this: Stranded in the middle ages Bruce Campbell is at first captured by a small army for being mistaken for a member of a rival army. Bruce quickly uses his "boomstick" to gain clout with his captors and is sent on a quest to recover the Necronomicon which will both send Bruce back to his own time and save the army from evil. Bruce being Bruce he gets the book and unleashes an army of the dead. There are two endings released for this movie. One happier ending was released in US theatres and another sequel set up unhappy ending seen in a theatrical cut in the UK and on many US DVD versions.

Raimi once again does a nice job creating a mix of horror movie cliche's (which range from Jason and the Argonauts to Gulliver's Travels) with the slapstick of the Three Stooges. Unfortunately the comic elements seem to take over this picture leaving the horror end of it as more of a backdrop. It feels more like a Zucker brother's movie more than a horror film. Most of the evil dead are formed as skeletons which only crumble when destroyed rather than burst into a mess of blood and guts as they did in the first two movies. This may seem to be an absurd complaint, but as a fan of gory movies I felt disappointed with that choice.

The cinematography is actually quite well done throughout most of the picture. My DVD copy is actually quite beautiful in scenes. Especially the exterior shots around the windmill. The use of color and lighting is well above par for most horror films. The pre CGI special effects effect the quality of the print in several areas, but still hold up as goofy Raimi effects. I kept thinking the picture was too pretty for what was actually taking place on screen.

Bruce Campbell once again does a nice job of making Ash come to life. He delivers his lines with the comic timing of a comedian while still delivering enough pain to make his albeit over-the-top beatings believable. The rest of the cast is hardly memorable as characters or for their acting.

Army of Darkness still makes a nice end to the trilogy. In a way it makes a nice bookend to Evil Dead's pure gore horror with the single middle book being a mix between bloody gore and slapstick comedy.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Top 5 Things I Miss While Living In France

1. Money: I hate to start of with such a materialistic beginning to this list, but I can't help it. I hate being poor. Amy and I are doing ok here, we've got a good budget and manage to have a nice place to stay and eat good meals everyday. But man, I miss being able to buy movies, music, books and being able to go out to dinner more than once a month. We were far from rich in Indiana, but we were able to splurge a little without having worry about paying the bills.

2. Hamburgers: Once in awhile we buy some red meat and I make my own burgers. Other than that and the occasional overpriced McDonalds/Quick pit stop that's the only time I get a burger. There is nothing like stopping by your favorite greasy joint and tasting a big, fat, juicy burger.

3. My car: I drive a little 1996 Saturn. It's nothing fancy, or fast, but it's a solid car and rides well. I love to drive. If it is not overseas or our honeymoon Amy and I drive to where we're going. I love to have control of a vehicle maneuvering in and out of traffic or taking it fast down a deserted highway. Strasbourg is a nice city to walk around in, and the tram/bus system is top notch. But I miss the whir of sliding my car through traffic.

4. TV: I hate to put this on this list. As a card carrying member of the "blow up your TV" club I'll be dismembered for missing television, but darned if I don't. Most of what's on TV stinks. We had a satellite in Indiana and I generally just watched the news, the History Channel and old movies on TCM>. Even with all the crap I still miss being able to sit mindlessly for a little while and flip. I really like the unexpectedness of it. I never subscribe to any kind of TV guide so it's generally a mystery to me what is on at any given moment. That was a certain joy in flipping channels to find an old favorite movie on, or a great episode of Cheers.

5. Convenience: A car might help this out by making trips to anywhere quicker, but even with faster transportation Strasbourg would still be very inconvenient. There isn't a store with everything in it. If you want aspirin or ant-acid you go to a pharmacie. If you want good bread you go to a boulangerie. Good desserts you go to a patisserie. You need to buy the groceries for the week you have to go to three different supermarches, and that's if you don't want really fresh fruit, otherwise it is another trip to a street market. You want lights? Go to one store. A shade for the light, that's another store altogether. Heaven forbid you should need any of this on a Sunday or Monday or after 8 pm on any day. Nothing is open 24/7 here. Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe we've gone crazy in the US where everything is open all the time and you can get everything you need in one store. But it is extremely annoying to be used to that kind of convenience your whole life only to have it lost in France.

My Movie Collection

This list now includes movies in the VHS format, as well as DVD. DVD movies are in bold.


2 Days in the Valley
12 Monkeys
28 Days Later
2001
Abyss
About Schnmidt
Alien
Amelie
An American Werewolf in London
Army of Darkness
Animal House
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Awakenings
Back to the Future
Basic Instinct
Batman
A Beautiful Mind
Being John Malkovich

Benny and Joon
Better Off Dead
The Big Lebowski
The Big Sleep

Biloxi Blues
The Birth of a Nation
The Blair Witch Project
Blue Velvet
Bonnie and Clyde

Braveheart
Brazil
Breaking Away
Breakfast at Tiffanys
Bride of Frankenstein
The Bridge on the River Kwai

Bridget Jones Diary
The Burbs
Caddyshack
Cape Fear (1961)
Casablanca
Casino
Catch Me if You Can

Cemetary Man
Charlie Chaplin Collection
Cheers Season One
Cheers Season Two
The City of Lost Children
Clockwork Orange
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Conspiracy Theory

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Cyrano de Bergerac
Dead Man Walking
Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid
Dead Poet's Society
The Deep End
Desperado
Die Hard
Do the Right Thing
Dog Day Afternoon

Dolores Claiborne
Donnie Brasco
Dracula
Dracula (Spanish Version)
Dracula's Daughter
Edward Scissorhands
El Mariachi
Erin Brokovich
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Evil Dead
Evil Dead II

E.T.
The Exorcist
Fargo
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
A Few Good Men
Fight Club
Finding Nemo

Fletch
Fox and the Hound
Frankenstein

Gas, Food, Lodging
Ghost of Frankenstein
Ghost World
Ghostbusters
Gladiator
Go
The Godfather
The Godfather Part II
The Godfather Part III
The Good the Bad and the Ugly
Goodfellas

Goodmorning Vietnam
Gosford Park
The Grateful Dead: Anthem to Beauty

The Grateful Dead Movie
The Grateful Dead: Ticket to New Years
The Great Escape

Grosse Pointe Blank
Groundhog Day
A Hard Day's Night

Heat
Heathers
High Fidelity
A Hole in the Head
House of Dracula
House of Frankenstein
The Hudsucker Proxy
I Heart Huckabees
Indiscreet

Interview with the Vampire
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Jaws

Jerry Maguire
Jumanji
The King of Comedy

LA Story
Le Femme Nikita
Lean On Me
Liar Liar
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Life of Brian
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
Looney Tunes Golden Collectin Vol I

Lost Boys
Lost In Translation
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Maltese Falcon
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)
The Man Who Wasn't There
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Master and Commander
Mars Attacks!
The Matrix
Michael

A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999)
Miller's Crossing
Mississippi Burning
Monster's Inc.
Murder (1930)
My Fair Lady
Nightmare on Elm Street
Number 17
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Once Upon a Time in the Old West
Out of Sight
Panic Room

Pee Wee's Big Adventure
Persuasion
Phenomenon
Pi
The Piano
The Pink Panther
The Pink Panther Strikes Again

Platoon
The Princess Bride
The Poseidon Adventure

Pretty In Pink
Punch Drunk Love
Pulp Fiction
Raging Bull
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Raising Arizona
Resevoir Dogs
Revenge of the Pink Panther
Road to Perdition
Roman Holiday
Royal Tenenbaums
Rushmore
Sabotage (1936)

Say Anything
Schindler's List
Secret Agent(1936)

Sense and Sensibility
Seven
Seven Samurai
Sex, Lies and Videotape
The Shining (1980)
Shrek
Silence of the Lambs
Silverado
Simpsons: Season One
Simpsons: Season Two
Simpsons: Season Three
Simpsons: Season Four
Simpsons: Season Six
Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror

Slingblade
Son of Dracula
Son of Frankenstein
Star Wars: Episode Two Attack of the Clones
Star Wars: Episode Four A New Hope
Star Wars: Episode Five The Empire Strikes Back
Star Wars: Episode Six Return of the Jedi
Superman
Swimming Pool
Swingers
Taxi Driver
The Terminator
The Terminator 2
Three Amigos
Three Kings
Time Bandits
To Catch a Thief

To Die For
To Have and to Have Not
To Kill a Mockingbird
Trainspotting
The Usual Suspects
A Very Long Engagement
Vertigo

Les Visiteurs
Wayne's World
What About Bob
When Harry Met Sally
Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Wizard of Oz
X Files Movie
X Files: Season 1
X Files: Season 2
Young Guns
Young Guns II
Young Frankenstein


That's somewhere around 150 movies. As you can see I have a lot of watching/reviewing to do. I think I'll be doing this sometime through 2020!

Blue Velvet Review

Blue Velvet comes from my collection of Chinese bootlegs. My sister Bethany and her husband Brian are teaching English in China. Apparently you can purchase a wide assortment of DVD's there very cheaply. So I supply them with big lists of movies I'd like and when they come home they bring me a big stack. There are never any special features on the DVD's, but the picture is usually good and for $1 a piece, that's all I need.

Blue Velvet is dark, scary, freaky, and really good. Which is how you cold describe most of David Lynch's films. His films are often filled with symbolism and it is easy to finish one of his films and have no real idea of what actually happened. They usually take two or three viewings, and a little research to get a good idea what the movie is actually trying to convey. Blue Velvet has a simpler plot that can generally be understood at a basic level upon first viewing, but there is plenty of symbolism and deeper meaning to make it "enjoyable" for further viewings. I put enjoyable in quotation marks because to many watching it is not an enjoyable experience. It is a movie deep seated in horror, with scenes that make you crawl under the covers and lock the doors. For the cinephile it is a type of pleasure to watch a lurid piece of cinema with enough depth to require multiple viewings. For the weekend movie watcher it is probably too much to stomach.

The film starts with an idyllic, picturesque small town. It's a town where every day has blue skies, manicured lawns, pretty flowers, and quiet simple people. Lynch fills the screen with gorgeous pictures straight out of fifties television shows. But this is a David Lynch movie and the pretty pictures don't last long. Quickly a nice old man who is watering his lawn falls down near death. The camera pans down past the convulsing man and deep into the grass. Digging into the earth until the camera is dark with freshly wet dirt and grotesque bugs. The idyllic town is only pretty on the surface. Underneath the top layer of goodness lies a darker, seedier town hidden from the eyes of most of its citizens.

The plot of the film revolves around Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern delving deeper and deeper into the darker side of the small town. MacLachlan finds a dismembered ear on his walk home from the hospital one afternoon. Finding such a macabre in his hometown sparks a quest to discover who's head the ear could belong to and why it was removed. He involves the good girl Laura Dern in his quest and they sink into darker waters. To tell more of the plot is to give away too much. I'll just say that it is not for the weak of heart.

Dennis Hopper plays one of cinemas creepiest villains to date. His psychosis is even more terrifying in that it is so real. Here is no Freddy Krueger, or even a Hannibal Lector. This is not some crazed psychopath lurking in the corner. Sure he is psychotic, and maniacal, but versions of him can be found almost nightly in any major city newspaper. He is not a homicidal maniac, but a violent, evil man made even more so by his addiction to unnamed drugs.

Isabella Rossellini plays Dorothy Valens with such beauty and sadness it breaks your heart as it squirms your stomach. Her character has taken such horrible abuse over her life she has come to like and enjoy it. Mixed with heavy amounts masochism her performance is remarkable.

There were several times while watching this with my wife, Amy that she said she couldn't keep watching it. After the credits rolled she said she would never watch it again. I suspect this is the sentiments of many viewers after watching Blue Velvet. But if you can stomach the violence, masochism and overall creepiness there is a lot of pure cinema to study.

Friday, January 14, 2005

A Non Movie Review Post

Sorry that it seems all I have been doing is reviewing movies lately. I've gotten into a nice groove of watching/reviewing and my real life hasn't been that exciting.

I've been a bad boy this week. Monday I was supposed to have a French lesson with Ann at 5 pm. The lessons are normally at six and I totally forgot about the time change. At 5 I was making supper (tuna patties, which were surpisingly delicious) and thinking about the supposed lesson at 6. At a quarter after 5 Amy came home and said Elizabeth had invited us to dinner. The selling point was we were going at happy hour when tarte flambee's sold for 2.80! In my excitement I put away the tuna, rushed out the door, and totally forgot about the lesson. It was midway through the second flambee that I suddenly remembered the lesson. I ran out the door and flew to Subway. Alas, no Ann. Which was actually good since I was really late, but she has waited for me a long time before. I felt even worse when I got home and realized that not only was I late for my 6 lesson, but it was actually at 5!

Tuesday we went out to dinner with Daniel and Tammy. We went to a little Italian joint downtown. I had a delicious lasagna, Amy had a pizza. The waiter was very rude. He quickly took our order, delivered our food, and took the check. No smiling, no chatter, no extra stops. We decided it was because were were obviously American and spoke English. Afterwards we headed to the movie theatre, but Amy developed a headache and we decided to go home.

In a few moments I am going to deliver a couch. A friend of Jean Claude's is giving him a couch so Daniel and I are picking it up and then lugging it up 7 floors to Jean Claude's place. Oh what fun I have in France.

Review: A Hole in the Head

I received A Hole in the Head for my birthday in a Frank Sinatra double pack with the original Manchurian Candidate. I had put off watching it because it did not seem like a movie I would particularly enjoy. But in my quest to watch and review all of my movies, I had no choice but to put it in the player. Of course the fact that my wife wanted to watch it prompted me a little further even to the point of watching it out of alphabetical order.

Frank Capra is the great godfather of sentimental movies. Many of these are deservedly hailed by fans and critics. From Mr Smith Goes to Washington to It's a Wonderful Life Capra made movies about the little guys fighting the system and coming out on top. These movies are sentimental enough to be dubbed "Capracorn" by the system, but are handled with masterful hands that rise above the schmaltz created by so many others. Besides little guys he also flooded his movies with eccentric characters standing out in a world full or normal folk. Arsenic and Old Lace and You Can't Take it With You are standouts of this form. Sadly, A Hole in the Head tries to mix both of these Capra types and fails on both accounts.

The film is the second to last picture ever made by Capra and was the beginning of an attempted comeback from a few years break from making Hollywood pictures. But instead of a comeback this film serves only to remind us of what Capra used to be. Frank Sinatra plays a down on his luck big dreamer who is about to be evicted from his hotel business in Miami, Florida. He calls up his brother, Edward G Robinson and sister-in-law Thelma Ritter for help pretending his son is sick. Robinson and wife quickly head down from New York to see what's going on. Hilarity and sentimentality ensue. Swinging Sinatra butts heads with button down Robinson until a quick ending and easy solution are found.

The performances of the stars are fine. At this point in their careers Sinatra and Robinson are essentially playing themselves. Although Sinatra is more up and coming to the declining Robinson. There are some good jokes and the simple story is fair enough as it is. Capra fills Sinatra's hotel with an odd collection of eccentrics that seem to have no other purpose but to fill up some time and tell a few jokes. The ending of the movie seems tied on and creates changes to some characters without any real provocation. The cheese factor is high even for a Capra film and it's not subdued by any superb performances. The drama is not elevated above the schlock you would see in a made for TV movie.

The stand out of the film is Sinatra and son singing the classic High Hopes. Being a fan of Sinatra more as a singer than actor this amusing break in the middle of the picture helped keep my hopes up for a decent picture. Those hopes were not shattered, nor were they completely fulfilled. For beginners of "Capracorn" you should pick out some of his earlier, superior films. But for a lonely night in need of some corny sentiment, this is some fluffy candy that just might fill.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

About Schmidt Review

Alexander Payne's 2002 film, About Schmidt, is just as much the transformation of it's star Jack Nicholson as it is the transformation of the character Jack plays "Warren Schmidt." Here Nicholson is no longer the swaggering, smart alecked, tough guy we have seen throughout his long, illustrious career but a quiet, shell of a nice guy trying to understand his life after retirement. Nicholson does such an amazing job portraying this loser of a character one wonders why he hasn't been playing this type all along.

The movie begins with the retirement of Warren Schmidt. He is a typical Midwestern "good guy" who is retiring as an executive from an insurance company. Schmidt is an everyman schlub. He has worked hard to have a "normal" life. He has a good job, a long standing wife, and a nice daughter. Yet upon retiring, the death of a loved one, and his daughters imminent marriage Schmidt must take a harder look at his life. In doing so he comes to realize there isn't much to it, really. The bulk of the movie centers on Schmidt traveling to Colorado to try to stop his daughter from marrying a redneck boob.

Theerer are numerous perfect spoofs of Midwestern living. From Schmidt's life, to his retirement plans of living in a trailer the details of a typical Midwestern life are just about perfect. While on the road, Schmidt stops at numerous Interstate museums that are so banal it is hilarious. Once he arrives in Colorado the characterizations of the fiancee and his family are both hilarious and frighteningly real. Dermot Mulroney plays the mullett wearing, salesman fiancee and Kathy Bathes plays the still living in the 60's time of free love soon to be mother-in-law. The family dinner before the wedding is reminiscent of real life, mixing hilarity and sadness with the eye of an artist. The actual wedding is so dead on perfect that I believe I have actually attended that very ceremony. From the off key singing of the schmaltzy "Longer" to the self written vows (I will love you every day, and when I say day I mean all 24 hours, and when I say hours I mean...) the ceremony is hilarious in its real life cheezeball hokeyness and yet manages to remain as sweet.

This is what makes the film so memorable. While it pokes fun and satirizes everyday Midwestern life it is full of rich glowing love for that very life. Schmidt is an normal schmuck who has lived his life by the rules. While at the end of his life he begins to regret that simple life, I don't believe the film is suggesting that this type of life is meaningless. Just the opposite in fact, I believe it is showing all of us everyday schmucks that living a normal life can be glorious in its own way when we help those around us.

Movie Reviews

For thos who care, I have started to change things here, but slightly. I'm now trying to give a rating to every movie I watch, even those not reviewed. I'm also very, very slowly going back and rating the movies I have reviewed.

How I Review
DVDs in My Collection

28 Days Later***1/2
2001*****
2010*
Abyss***1/2
About Schmidt***1/2
Across the Pacific**1/2
Alien****1/2
All About My Mother ***
Amelie****
American Beauty***
American History X***
Anatomy of a Murder ****
The Apartment ****
Army of Darkness***1/2
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery***
Around the World in 80 Days (2004) *
Aviator***1/2
Band of Brothers*****
Battle of Algiers ****1/2
To Be and To Have ***1/2
Be Cool with guest reviewer Jamison
The Big Lebowski ***1/2
Coen Brothers comedy that gets funnier every time I see it. Jeff Bridges creates the coolest stoner to hit cinema since Sean Penn.
Big Sleep
Blackboard Jungle
Blue Velvet****
Cape Fear (1961)***1/2
Close Encounters of the Third Kind*****
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Death on the Nile **
Big adaptation of the Agathe Christie novel. Poirot is fat and annoying. The characters are interesting, the acting falls flat. The scenery is more interesting than the murder.
Dirty Pretty Things ***1/2
Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist
The Elephant Man
Father's Little Dividend **
Finding Neverland
Frida
A Hard Days Night
The Harder They Fall
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone guest review by Jamison
Harvey
A Hole in the Head
Khartoum
The Ladykillers (1955)
Land of the Dead **
George Romero's fourth installment of his Dead series is full of gore, but lacks anything else. Sorry, but I like my zombie movies without the half-arsed social commentary.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zisou
The Long Goodbye ****
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
Millions
Mr. 3000
Murder on the Orient Express ***1/2
Nice adaptation of the Christie novel with Albert Finney as Poirot. Lots of great actors hamming it up for a murder mystery that is more fun and atmospheric than suspensefull.
Old Boy ****
Excellent Korean horror. A film of revenge that is reminiscent of Seven, Ichi the Killer and Naked Lunch
One Hour Photo **1/2
Out of Sight
The Passion of Joan of Arc *****
The Poseidon Aventure
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946 ***1/2) (1981 **1/2)
Ride With The Devil
Rififi in Paris
Rope
Saw
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
Shadows and Fog
Shaun of the Dead
Sleuth ***1/2
Suicide Club ***
Supersize Me ***
Spurlock makes an entertaining documentary about the harms that America's love for all things fast food brings. However his gimmick - eating nothing but McDonalds for 30 days - grows tiring fast. It is entertaining and raises some good questions, but all to often feels like Michael Moore for dummies.
Sweet Smell of Success*****
Talk To Her****
Three Lives and Only One Death
To Catch a Thief***
The Village***
The Village (Counter Review by Jamison)
Walk the Line
***1/2

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


January 6 is a European (?) holiday called Fete des Rois. It's mainly for the kids, but Elizabeth had a party for us kids at heart. For the holiday you buy these yummy cakes that have a little toy inside them. Someone cuts the cake into equal pieces. Then the youngest of the group sits under a table. Another person takes a slice of cake and asks the person under the table who gets that slice. This repeats until all the cake is accounted for. The youngest then comes out from under the table and everybody eats their cake (very carefully so as to not swallow or crack a tooth on the toy). Whoever gets the toy is then King or Queen for the day and gets to wear a little crown. This year both Amy and Elizabeth got the toys and became our reigning Queens.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Review: SAW

I knew very little about Saw before I watched it yesterday. It came out during the time I was too busy moving out of my house and preparing to leave for France to pay much attention to upcoming movies. In France I heard a little buzz on the internet about it being a very captivating and scary thriller. I tried not to pay much more attention than that because there is nothing worse than learning too much about a scary movie before you go see it.

Yesterday, while Amy (who doesn't like horror movies)was out all day in class, I took my chance and sat down to watch it. Upon first viewing I thought it was a really top notch piece of horror (well all except that ending.) First time director James Wan does an excellent job creating a dark, creepy mood. The set pieces are continually dirty and slimy looking, which is perfect for the setting. The story is intriguing enough to keep you from paying too much attention to the sub par acting and the numerous plot holes. It's the kind of movie that kept me still for an hour after seeing it thinking it over. And there lies the problem. After putting some thought into what I had just seen the movie crumbled.

But first, a little more on what is right about the film. The opening sequence is one of the more imaginatively openings I have seen in a long time. The movie opens in a rat hole of a bathroom buried deep in some long deserted public building. The two main characters, Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannel are on opposite sides of the room shackled by the ankles with a short chain connected to rusty pipes. They have no recollection of how they got their, or why. Oh, and there is a dead guy with his head blown off laying in the middle of the floor. I won't give any other plot details away than this, but the remainder of the film centers on those two characters trying to find a way to get out of the room while playing a vicious game with a mad serial killer.

The design of the killer is also done quite imaginatively. Throughout the movie, we get brief glimpses into several other victims and the games they had to play. The killer's design and the games he creates are quite frightening and original. Unfortunately they are also quite implausible. There is no conceivable way that the killer could create his deadly games in the places he does without being noticed and eventually caught. I'm all for suspension of disbelief, but I believe a portion of the horror in this film is meant to be that this kind of sick killer could be quite real. He is not Jason, or Freddy, or Mike Myers, but a more realistic psychopath. In as such his killings are so complicated as to make them absurd.

There are several similarities to the superior piece of cinema Seven. Both films are set in the seedier areas of a large city. The cinematography is both is dark and moody. And both feature a moralistic serial killer who creates inventive and complicated murders. Yet where Seven succeeded in making a classic thriller all the way through, Saw fails about 3/4ths of the way in. The easier part of a horror/thriller is devising an original killer. Where the plot gets difficult is finding resolution of why he is killing and how he is caught. Saw tries to be original by first giving the viewer a cliche fake ending, only to give a real surprise ending later. I wasn't amused.

In order to fill out the plot and, I suppose, take up some time. The filmmakers create some characters that have no use. Danny Glovers subplot adds to the 'whodunnit' episodes to a movie that doesn't need to be a 'whodunnit.' Detective mysteries, cop shows, and murder plots create tension by giving various clues to who the villain could be. In a horror/thrill such as Saw there is no need for the audience to figure out who it could be. We only need to be thrilled by the murderer and grasp with the victims for escape.

You never expect the acting to be brilliant in a small budget horror film, and this film won't surprise you in that area. Cary Elwes was a surpise to see in such a film. Though I know he has done similar fare I will always remember him for his role in the Princess Bride. He doesn't add much to the film in acting. He is also almost too pretty for the role. It seems as if the filmakers recognized this because as the movie rolls on his make up got more and more dirty and grotesque.

Overall Saw creates an unusual situation that is thrilling enough in the first viewing. However, after a truly good begining the movie sinks into implausible and isn't smart enough to figure out how to end itself.

Monday, January 10, 2005

A Fine How Do You Do

Seems I've been reviewing a lot of stuff lately, but not giving any details on my life in France. We've had a fine week back from Paris. The weather has been for us at least. It was still 70 percent cloudy and overcast, but it remained rather warm for January. We even had a couple of bright sunny days (like today).

I've been mistreating my French tutor. Last Monday I was playing and a game and forgot about my session. Luckily her previous student had a cell phone and called me. Today I completely forgot about it. Amy came home from school and said we were invited for tarte flambees in a few minutes. My stomach got the best of my memory and out the door we went. It was into our second flambee that I suddenly remembered and flew out the door and ran to Subway, our meeting place. She had already left by that time. I came home to an e-mail wondering where I was. It's amazing that I only have about two things to do a week around here and I still can't remember to do them.

Tomorrow we're going out with Daniel and Tammy. We'll bring laundry over and then go to dinner and a movie. A double date it is.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Reviews: Frida and Seven Brides

We recently borrowed Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Frida from some friends. While completely different movies I don't have enough on either of them for full reviews so I'm bunching them up in the same post.


Seven
Brides for Seven Brothers is a pretty by the books MGM musical. It is based on a book entitled The Sobbin' Women which is in turn based on a Roman story titled The Rape of the Sabine Women. Which, like the title implies is about the kidnapping and rape of several young women who eventually come to 'love' their captors. How someone decided to make a musical out of this one wonders.

The movie is very sexist. The oldest brother, Adam, sets out at the beginning of the movie to find a wife. He doesn't do this because he is lonesome, or loveless, or in need of company. No, he seeks a wife because he lives in the mountains with six brothers and they need someone to cook for them and clean up after them. Even his method of finding a wife is pretty awful. He comes to town on to shop for various goods and reckons to add a wife to that goods list. The remainder of the story focuses on the wife he finds, named Millie, and how she manages to turn the brothers into refined gentlemen. The original story figures in with a kidnapping plot designed to win the hearts of potential brides for the remaining single brothers.

Sexist plot aside Seven Brides really does sparkle as a gem in the musical hat of MGM. This can be mainly attributed to some fine songs by Johnny Mercer (including the hillbilly charm of "Bless Your Beautiful Hide") and some incredible choreography by Michael Kid. The 'Barn Raising' scene is worth the price of the ticket alone. Add to that the subtle beauty of 'Lonesome Polecat' and you have a winner.

I have personal memories of this film being watched in a dormitory lobby in college. Some bubbly friends of mine insisted that we had to watch it immediately after finding I had never seen it. They proceeded to quote most of the lines, sing every song and practically dance along with every scene. They did so with such energy that I was swept along as well, hardly paying attention to the jokes or the plot. Upon viewing it again I couldn't help remember that enthusiasm, but this time I was unable to miss the bothersome plot. In the end one must realize the time and place this movie came from without overlooking what is a pretty disturbing bit of plotting. The songs and the movements will most assuredly win most of the skeptics over though.

When Frida was released into theatres I had absolutely no desire to see it. I'm neither a fan of Salma Hayek, biopics in general, and biopics about artists especially. Add to that my zero knowledge about the artist Frida herself and the movies fate was sealed into never being seen by the likes of me. However, my general lack of new movies here in France and being able to borrow it from a friend for free helped me to reconsider watching it. When I realized it was directed by Julie Taymor who also directed a marvelously beautiful version of Titus then I was actually excited by it (almost).

Like Titus, Frida is an amazingly visual movie. Taymor, who is known mainly for her Broadway adaptation of the Lion King, has an artists eye for visual flair. She has found away to take something as static as a painting and made it alive. Throughout the film she recreates several of Frida's works and makes them a part of the action. It's impossible to explain on paper (or cycberspace) but what she creates is something pure magic.

I can't say how accurately Frida is portrayed in this movie. The picture we get is of a rather flawed woman who lived with a great deal of suffering. Her suffering comes in both physical ways (stemming from an accident early in life) and emotionally (from a cheating husband and her own mistakes). Yet it is this suffering that creates such remarkable art. Taymor manages to create an interesting and moving story within her excellent images.

Both Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina pull out excellent performances. I was especially impressed with Molina portraying the very flawed and yet sympathetic Diega. I had pretty much written this actor after playing Doc Oc in the highly overrated Spiderman 2. But here he shows a real sensitivity to his character. Don't be fooled by the billing of this film. The cover of the DVD would have you believe that Ed Norton, Antonio Banderas, Ashley Judd and Geoffrey Rush all star in it. In fact, with the exception of Geoffrey Rush, all of them have more or less cameos in the picture. Rush is in the movie a bit more, but I wouldn't call even that a starring role.

Though neither Seven Brides and Frida are perfect films. Both of them win you over with sheer energy and charm.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Abyss Review

And the LORD said, "The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know."

Abraham came near and said, "Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?

So the LORD said, "If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account."

Then he said, "Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?"

And He said, "I will not destroy it on account of the ten."
Genesis 18:16-33 (more or less)


THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

James Cameron as a director is a bit of a mixed bag. He has created some of the most phenomenal action showcases cinema has ever seen. His movies make loads of money and create spectacle like no other. He has been part of the Alien quadrilogy, he created the Terminator, and there was that little movie that could about a couple of lovers on a sinking boat. For that little picture he even won an Oscar. However, as a writer he has also given us some patently ridiculous dialogue. It's like he can create some pretty interesting story concepts, generate a great deal of tension between characters and pull of amazing action, but when it gets to finding the heart and soul of a character he pulls out the cheese. It is interesting then that my favorite Cameron movie would be so character driven with only a few moments of grandiose action.

The Abyss came out in 1989 with a trimmed down 146 run time. Later when the movie came to video Cameron released his directors cut adding a significant amount of footage and bringing the time to 171 minutes. Most of this extra footage comes in at the end of the film and stands to clear up some major confusion wrought in the theatrical version. It seems that there are some creates living at the bottom of the ocean and are rather perturbed at humanities prevalence for violence. It seems these creatures (aliens?) can manipulate water and have forced giant tidal waves to start approaching every major port. Humanity is saved when the creatures see the true love between the two main characters. It reminded me of the beginning quote from Genesis where God agrees to save Sodom and Gomorrah if He can find just 10 righteous people. In their case He didn't, and the cities were destroyed by sulfur and fire, but in Cameron's tale it seems that the rekindling of love between Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio does save humanity.

What Cameron does extremely well in this picture is create tension. From the claustrophobic setting of an underwater oil rig to the potential nuclear meltdown each scene slowly tightens the screws of suspense. The cold war plot raging outside of the main action reminded me a lot of 2010. In both pictures the main characters are isolated on vessels (a spaceship on 2010, an underwater oil well in the Abyss) while the USA and Russia bring conflict close to nuclear war back on earth (or above water). In both movies this helps to add tension as it also dates the movies since the cold war is now over.

One of my favorite scenes involves the flooding of parts of the rig. Water comes rushing into the rig and several of the characters scurry to make it to safety and close off the doors to isolate the flooding. Ed Harris is saved by his wedding ring. One of the doors automatically starts to close and Harris sticks his hand in to stop the door, which normally would have crushed his hand, but because he still wears the ring his the door does not fully close. This give him enough time to be saved from the flooding waters. There was an earlier scene in which his wife asks him why he still wears the ring since they have seperated. When I chose my own wedding ring I opted for a titanium band known for its extra strenght. I can't help but think of that scene everytime I look at my own ring.

Much of the dialogue in the Abyss is of the heavy handed, cliched variety that Cameron brings to pretty much all of his movies. Some of the extemporaneous characters bring little to the overall movie and help distract the viewer from the main plot. I think Cameron has done a very good job with the two main characters though. Ed Harris does a remarkable job playing his role as 'boss' on the rig while still hackling with his wife. Mastrantonio also does a fine job of portraying the tough as nails "Lindsay" while still remaining feminine and sympathetic.

The director's cut ending is much debated in the online world. While it serves to clarify what was a rather abrupt and confusing ending in the original it also becomes quite preachy and is at a loss for any type of subtlety. Cameron attacks his anti-war message like Ripley against an Alien.

Even with some awful dialogue and a preachy ending the Abyss has still managed to be one of my favorite sci-fi movies. James Cameron creates a tension like a master auteur and creates two of his best characters to date.

To Catch a Thief (a quick review)

Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 film To Catch a Thief is a light, fluffly picture that differs in content over much of the suspense masters other pictures. Cary Grant stars as a former thief, and patriot of the French Resistence, who is currently suspected of a new series of crimes. Grace Kelly plays the beautiful daughter of a rich American woman who is high on the list of possible victims of the new cat burglar.

The plot is all cotten candy. Shot in the French Riviera, Hitchcock allows his camera to take all of the beauty in. There are simply lovely traveling shots of the location. Hitchcock follows cars driving the streets in high crane shots, simmers through the sea on a boat ride, and stops to take in the view with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly at a picnic overlooking a stunning valley.

Cary Grant is playing Cary Grant at this point, but that's perfectly fine since their are few actors I enjoy more. Grace Kelly is simply gorgeous. Hitchcocks camera is as admiring as a new suitor. Their interply is fun, witty and sensuous. A famous scene between them intercuts their developing romance with fireworks and is pure sizzle.

If you are looking to write a thesis on the genius of suspense then you should look elsewhere. But for a beautifully shot, light hearted romance for a Saturday night it would be difficult to find a better picture.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Rambling About Mysteries

Made a few changes to the site. Added a permanent link in the sidebar to a posting about the books I have read since coming to France. For the last several years I have meant to start keeping track of the books I read in a given year, but never do a good job of it. I believe this blog will help me do the trick. If I get real good I might actually review/rate them as I go along. If people seem to like it I just might add movies and music to the list as well.

My counter (which is now set to produce random numbers on the actual blog site, but give me real numbers by logging in) from bravenet.com has some sort of referral program with it. It says it is supposed to bring a lot of new hits to my site. It is pretty vague about how it does it and I'm thinking it is probably has to do with pop up ads. Since my IP address is disallowed from the program I'm gonna need some help. If you are getting pop ups when you go to my blog please let me know. If that is the method of getting more hits, I'd rather find a better way. Pop ups stink!

Anyway to get along with the subject of this blog. I have been trying to read some of the classics of the mystery genre. Or more literally the detective subgenre of the mystery genre. The three main writers I have been reading in this subgenre is Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Agatha Christie. All three very good writers in their own right, but who bring something different to the genre.

I first started reading Dashiell Hammett because I had heard more about him through the movie versions of the Maltese Falcon and he was purportedly a big influence on the Coen Brothers. I have read all of his novels: The Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest, the Glass Key, the Dain Curse, and the The Thin Man. Each one is original and very different stylistically. It's as if he intentionally wrote each novel as a different sub-sub genre. Red Harvest uses the unnamed Continental Op (that was the main character in many of his short stories as well as The Dain Curse) as a prototypical hard boiled private-eye to tell his story. This character uses allegiances in two rival gangs to clean up a small city while trying not to go "blood simple" (excited to the point of amorality by excessive violence). The Coen Brothers were highly influenced by this book using blood simple as the title of their first movie, and many of it's plot points in their gangster movie, Miller's Crossing. It also influenced other films such as Akira Kurasawa's Yojimbo, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars,and the Bruce Willis action vehicle Last Man Standing.

Hammett's the Dain Curse again uses the Continental Op as his story teller but this time he is entwined in an episodic, melodramatic mystery. It's plot is a convoluted as it gets involving stolen jewels, drugs, a religious cult, and murder to name a few things. It's also my least favorite of Hammett's novels.

In the Maltese Falcon, Hammett turns things right again. Though everyone remembers Sam Spade as being portrayed by Humphrey Bogart in the 1941 John Huston picture. There were actually two other movies based on the novel (1931's Dangerous Female and 1936's Satan Met a Lady) that were lackluster at the box office. Bogarts portrayal of the hardboiled, but sensitive at heart private eye made him a star. That picture is pretty much spot on with the novel. Both are considered classics of the genre. The subgenre for Hammett here is the quest story with a wild assortment of characters. Sam Spade is our detective hero sorting through classic odd balls too find the mysterious, and very valuable bird of the title. For beginners into Hammett's writings (or for detective stories in general) this is an excellent place to begin.

The Glass Key is a political drama without much of a detective in sight. Oh it's still dark and cynical as all get out, but it deals more with corruption of city official than any murder mystery. It also was a great influence on Miller's Crossing and was made into a very good film noir in 1942.

The Thin Man is a more comic tale than any of his other work. Detectives are back this time in the guise of socialite Nick Charles and his wife Nora. Here Hammett plays up the high society couple as snoopers subgenre. When the Charles aren't tossing back martinis and hob nobbing with the rich they are solving murders. Hollywood came calling again with this one and created a whole series of Thin Man pictures starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

***

Agatha Christie is probably the most well known of the classic mystery writers. She wrote some 60 stories in her lifetime, most of which starred the eccentric, genius Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I have only begun reading her novels having just finished Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. These novels are excellent representations of the "whodunit" version of the detective crime novel. She masterly develops a setting, imaginative characters and then deals in a murder or three. Clues are paced throughout in what has become a cliched manner. Though Christie has been imitated by umpteenth followers, nobody has topped her style. I typically do not enjoy mysteries because they follow a pattern Christie seems to have invented. The genre has gone stagnant with so many plots following the same pattern. Odd ball characters gather in a stylish setting. This setting can often not be left once entered, now matter how implausibly. A murder is committed and then the reader is led down a path (often the wrong one) following a series of clues leading to the final scene where everyone is brought together and the mystery is explained. Christie follows this almost to a tea in both the Orient Express and Murder on the Nile. Yet, somehow she makes it all seem fresh. Her characters are inventive and thoroughly interesting. Hercule Poirot is the perfect detective. Smart, sensitive, and eccentric. And the following of clues is never too clever or too dull to drive me crazy. There are films based on both the books I've mentioned here as well as many of her other novels. The BBC has also recently released on DVD the series they did based on many of the Poirot books.


****

Raymond Chandler deserves a genre of his own. All of his novels feature the same main character, Phillip Marlowe. Marlowe is as hardboiled as they come. Dark, cynical, sarcastic, tough and funny in a sick sort of way. There is almost always a murder (sometimes several), and plenty of drinking, smoking and sometimes sex. Yet his stories are not so much about solving a crime as it is an insight into a certain time, in a certain place with certain characters. He dwells in the seedier, darker places of the American cities, and the human soul. His stories are never pretty, but often beautiful. I would hold up any of his novels high in the canon of literature.

My favorite novel of Chandler's that I have read was also made into an excellent Humphrey Bogart picture, The Big Sleep. Other novels of his that I have read include: The High Window, The Lady in the Lake, and Farewell, My Lovely. All of them are well excellent and an excellent introduction into the detective mystery genre.

""Tall, aren't you?" she said.
"I didn't mean to be."
Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her."
---The Big Sleep (Chapter 1)

"I'm an occasional drinker, the kind of guy who goes out for a beer and wakes up in Singapore with a full beard."
--The King in Yellow

Anybody who can write dialogue like that is well worth a read in my book.

Sunday, January 02, 2005




Paris

Day 1
Our train left just after 8 am on Thursday December 23. We had to take an early train so that we could be in Paris to meet Elizabeth and Paco before they left for Spain. I have never rode a train before. Trams and subways, sure, but I've never even set foot on an traveling train. It was much different than the flights I have taken. You can take any amount of luggage you want and their is no waiting to get on the train. I was proud of my wife, who packed a weeks worth of belongings into one suitcase and a backpack. Sure they were stuffed to the gills, but considering we usually take 4 bags for a weekend I thought we were doing quite well. Our seats were next to the window and there were no other seats next to ours. We had a very small table between us as we faced each other. Still their was virtually no leg room and my legs began to cramp after about half an hour. On a plane I eliminate some of this pain by crossing my legs, but that little table kept me from doing this hear. To pass the four hour ride I read Bridget Jones Diary and played Super Mario World on my game boy. It seemed a very long ride.

We arrived in Paris right on time a little after 12 noon. Elizabeth was there waiting for us. Two metro rides later and we were in Pacos snug apartment. It was actually a nice little place. Decent sized living quarters with a little table to the side to make a dining room. Pleasant kitchen and one bedroom. It has a little wash room, with small shower and a separate toilet. The toilet was the one thing I could stand to improve. More like the traditional water closet you hear about, it was literally the smallest toilet I have ever been in. You actually had to stand to shut the door within an inch of your face then somehow maneuver yourself downwards to a sitting position without hitting your legs. You could not ask for a better location though, and no matter I am eternally grateful for the place. It was located about six blocks from the Eiffel Tower and about the same distance from les Invalides where Napoleon is entombed. These are the two structures you see in the picture above.

A little note about Elizabeth and Paco. Elizabeth is a friend from Strasbourg. She is working in the English department with Amy. She is from New York state and is working on her PhD at Penn State. However she has lived off and on in France for some four years. We did not know her in the States at all. Paco is her long term boyfriend. He is an engineer in Paris, though he is originally from Spain. They were kind enough to offer us their apartment while they were visiting Paco's parents.


Day 2
Slept long and hard last night, awaking at 10. Went out for an early lunch and then headed out to the Eiffel Tower. As I said earlier, the flat was not but a few blocks from the Tower, but walking in the streets I had not yet seen it because of the high surrounding buildings. About a block away I finally saw the top of it. My first impression was that it looked like an Oklahoma oil well. All steel and unimpressive. Once in the lawn where I could take a good look I liked it more, but was still not overwhelmed. We decided to take the stairs up since the line was shorter and it didn't seem that high. Woops, it's some 300 plus steps to the top. Their are three "floors" to the tower. We stopped at the first one already exhausted from climbing. Even from this level you can see most of Paris. All around this floor are panoramic photographs labeling and giving a brief history of all of the Parisian sights. From here we could see all of the places we would stop later in the week. It was an excellent place to begin our first day. From the second floor the view is even more spectacular and from the third it is as you are flying.

After the tower we went home to rest. In the early evening we decided to take a walk. We headed to Place de la Concorde and the Egyptian obelisk.
This is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. My American brain thinks of time in terms of hundreds, this thing is thousands of years old. It was absolutely astounding. Place de la Concorde is also the Place de la Revolution, holding in its center the guillotine that executed Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and some 2,000 others. I was so overwhelmed by the spectacular sight of the obelisk that I forgot this for a moment. It was quite a change of feeling to go from the spectacle of Egyptian mystery to sensing the death of thousands at your feet.

From the obelisk you can see the Arc de Triomphe down one of the main streets. It didn't look that far and so we proceeded to walk towards it. Looks were highly deceiving because it took a good hour to walk to it. Knowing very little Parisian history I had always believed the Arc to be some leftover from an Ancient Roman architect. To my surprise I found that it was yet another monument from Napoleon to honor his army. It is much, much larger than I ever imagined it to be. There is a passage way underneath so that you can walk right up to it without having to cross the famous menagerie of Parisian roads that circle the monument. Inside the Arc are dedications to the soldiers of many wars and an eternal flame to the unknown soldiers.

From here we walked to a shopping district. We saw clothes designed by Versace, Gucci and all those classy gay designers I'll never be able to afford. In one window we came across a ladies coat costing over 4,000 Euros. With the conversion rate that is some $5,500! We also walked passed Printemps and Gallerie Lafayette. These two store have a tradition of trying to outdo each other with Christmas windows. Each window was more elaborate and odd. Baby dolls tied to strings flying back and forth across the window. Mannequins dressed in crazy black feathered costumes and so forth. A very interesting sight.

Day 3

Again a very hard and long sleep. All that walking made me get plenty of rest. It was Christmas day. Paco doesn't have a TV, or an internet connection, and we couldn't figure out how to work his radio. So in our downtime we read. I brought Bridget Jones Diary, Murder on the Orient Express, and Nick Hornby's 31 Songs with me and have at this point finished them. Paco has books in Spanish, French and English so I began reading his English section. Amy made a very nice meal out of a full chicken, potatoes and carrots. Due to the travel and our limited budget we had already exchanged gifts before the trip with a promise to do a little shopping in Paris. It was a lazy day. In the evening we decided to walk out to Les Invalides and then out to the Louvre. They say Paris is the city of lights and it show on Christmas in the night. There are lights everywhere, the city just glows. This night is simply gorgeous. Clean crisp air.

Day 4

After some rest and reading we headed to Notre Dame around 11. We swung by the obelisk and cut through the park surrounding the Louvre. Notre Dame is smaller than I imagined. It is hard to imagine Quasimodo hanging from its rafters. They say after the Revolution it fell into great disrepair and it was Victor Hugo's book that sparked interest in its upkeep.
It is truly a beautiful building. Great gothic art preaching, teaching and flying buttresses swinging into infinity. After a quick walkthrough we realized that we would like to no more about its history and decide to rent the audio guides after lunch. We stop at one cafe and enjoy its menu, but decide to continue down the road for something better. A block away we run into a similar restraint with cheaper prices only to discover it is the same restaurant and the prices are cheaper because the food is cooked at the first building and walked down to the second. The food was cheap and very tasty, but the glasses of Cokes cost 5.50 Euros a piece! After lunch we enjoyed the guided tour of Notre Dame. It was a thoroughly fascinating experience. I am continually astounded by the craftsmenship of men hundreds of years ago. So much of the design is meant to inspire the people into worship and teach the illiterate with simple picture stories. I can see how it would work. There was a small museum section housing various artifacts and what claimed to be a sliver of the actual cross. But I am more than suspect.

Day 5

Up at 8:30 hoping to make the Louvre by 10. Made it at 10:30. Full stream of people flowing through the doors, but nothing like there would be in the afternoon. As Amy once said, "Even those who don't like art, go to the Louvre." We first made our way through the underground where we viewed section of the original castle that once stood where the museum now is. We slowly made our way through the Egyptian artifacts. Ancient stuff. Hieroglyphics, carved tombs, everything you think of when you think of Egypt, sans the Pyramids. We spent longer here than expected and after a couple of hours I realized we wouldn't make it to Musee d'Orsay as planned that afternoon. Around 1 we escaped Egypt and shuffled our way through Greece and into Italy. Here we are above ground and the rooms are especially ornate. Paintings on the ceiling, gold inlaid mirrors, sculptures throughout and hung paintings everywhere. We decided to catch the Mona Lisa before lunch.

Mona Lisa: My thoughts about the Mona Lisa consumed me. I thought about the Mona Lisa the night before. Thinking of her as I slipped into sleep and she was my first thought when I awoke. I have seen many pictures of the Mona Lisa. Hung on walls, on t-shirts, post cards, commercials it seems her image is everywhere. Thing is, I have never found the image particularly amazing. There are certainly many more artistic works that I find more moving and even enjoy other DaVinci works more lavish. What is it about that one painting that consumes me (and millions of others)? Through Egypt, Greece and Italy my underlying thought was that with each step I drew close to the Mona Lisa. As we drew near crowds of people formed a moving line. Signs pointed the direction to the Mona Lisa. No video, no flash, no cameras what so ever. We arrive into the Mona Lisa room and follow the group where ushers are shouting at those disobeying the signs and pulling out cameras, then shouting again for them to move on. Finally we are there before her it's kinetic, like lighting flashing enlightening the viewer that they have arrived yet so fast to give anyone a proper going over. Then the ushers rushed us away. Ah the Mona Lisa.

I think she smiled at me.

We lunch at an overpriced deli and continue our trip through the Louvre. There is so much to see it is impossible to take it all in. We stumble across the Winged Victory of Samothrace on our way towards Psyche and Cupid. After getting lost a dozen times we find the winged angel wrestling Psyche. Here I discover that the Code of Hammurabi is not far away. We walk the few rooms to Mesopotamia and are awed by the earliest code of laws still intact. Our last stop is the Venus de Milo before we realize we are too exhausted to go any farther. And thus ended our trip to the Louvre, without even visiting the 2nd floor.


Day 6
We started out for Musee d'Orsay, but the day was too gorgeous to be stuck inside (and the lines were really long). Instead we took the metro to Sacre Coeur. It is a stunning church built on a hill that makes it viewable from just about anywhere in Paris. There are large white steps leading up to the church proper and it was on these that we realized that parts of Amelie were shot here. It's the scene where Amelie draws chalk arrows on various steps leading Nino on a goose chase to find his lost book. The church looks a bit like a Muslim mosque to my untrained eyes. Definitely different than any church I have ever seen. From the top you get a lovely view of the city. The day was so beautiful we spend a good while just standing on those steps basking in the sun with all the other tourist. I dare say the inside of Sacre Couer is more beautiful than Notre Dame, though it has far less presence than that church. Upon entering there was a large guard telling us to put up our cameras. However, I noticed about 15 steps past him everyone was taking their cameras back out and openly taking pictures as they pleased. So, I was able to get some very nice shots.

We bought sandwiches for lunch and ate outside at a spot overlooking the city. Montmartre is a rather artistic community within Paris and we were overrun by faux DaVinci's trying to paint our picture. They were extremely aggressive. Four or five people sticking a canvas our faces begging us to be painted, or more likely caricatured. There was a little square where less pandering artists were painting various models sitting on little stools. After lunch we went looking for the Moulin Rouge. Apparently besides being the name of a quirky film, it is also the dancehall where the can-can was invented. It is also in a very seedy part of town. For several blocks there were peep show booths, lingerie shops, and sellers of sex of every kind in every store. We had some pastries at the Quick (similar to McDonalds) next to the Moulin Rouge and headed towards the Montmartre cemetery.

Parisian cemeteries are different than anything I have ever seen. In the cemetery I have seen in Strasbourg the tombstones are generally larger and more ornate than the ones we have in the States, but pale in comparison to the Parisian ones. Here they have huge sarcophagus' jutting out everywhere. Usually they are like small homes where visitors can actually enter in and light a candle and say a prayer for the dead. Many were familial tombs with several members of the family buried beneath. Upon entering the cemetery we were greeted with a sign directing us to the artists/filmmakers/composer, er famous people buried there. We paid our respects to:

Alexandre Dumas
DeGas
Francois Truffaut

The latter one took me aback. I have rather enjoyed all of the films of Francois Truffaut and thoroughly enjoy his acting performance in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He always seems very young to me, and though I have known he was deceased for some time, seeing his tomb seemed very sad.

From there we walked to an English books store where we finished our Christmas shopping (Death on the Nile, and Playback for me.) Then we headed towards the Louvre again and stopped nearby at the Palais Royale. The gardens here are where the French Revolution essentially started. A few impassioned speeches stirred the crowds enough to storm the bastille and murder a few thousands. We walked home singing
"You say you want a revolution?
Well you know.
We all want to change the world"


Day 7

Went to Les Invalides in the morning. The main building with the golden dome holds Napoleons remains. It is a beautiful, ornate building. There are several other important military men housed their as well, but Napoleon is who everyone comes to see. Apparently he was originally buried elsewhere and a few years after the fact they dug him up and moved him near the Seine river as he wished. He is now entombed in five different caskets all of which are laid snug in this giant wooden monument. The tomb itself is on a subfloor that opens up to the main floor so it can be viewed. The dome is also directly above his tomb which creates this spectacular movement directed straight towards Napoleon. I suppose it would have pleased the emperor very much were he alive. I couldn't help thinking that even with all that grandeur, his bones are still rotting underneath it all.

Next to Napoleon is a museum for various French wars. It concentrates mainly on General DeGaul and World War II. There are some highly moving videos of the Nazis marching under the Arc de Triomphe and the Allies joyous homecoming a few years later beneath that very Arc. There is a room dedicated to the concentration camps which were appropriately heart breaking.

The rest of the day was spent walking the streets of Paris visiting lesser known monuments and churches. We visited St. Germain des Pres which holds Paris oldest bell tower, the observatory, and the cafe where Ernest Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises.

Day 8

We spent the entire day in Musee d'Orsay. This museum was built in an old train station which gives is a very interesting look.
It also houses art from just before the Impressionist era and just after it. We saw some of the worlds most famous, and my own personal favorite paintings. There were art work by Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Renoir, DeGas and others. It is very peculiar to look at the original work of paintings I have on my walls and have seen copies of all over the place. It was interesting to see many of the tourist taking pictures of these paintings. I saw many a man rest his camera on his mates head or shoulder to balance the camera while he zoomed in for the best shot. Rather than try to photograph something I could buy a better copy of in the mall I decided to try to take interesting pictures of people looking at and photographing the famous pantings.

Day 9

We went back to the Eiffel Tower to get some pictures from the other side. There is a very nice elevated place to stand and take pictures from the far side of the Tower. We then to a metro to cemetery Pere Lachaise. This cemetery is much larger than the one in Montmartre and houses many more of Frances artists, though the most visited tomb is that of Jim Morrison. We visited the tombs of:

Chopin
Balzac
Delacroix
Oscar Wilde
Jim Morrison

I got lost looking for Moliere's tomb and we ran out of time to look for any others. It is very peculiar wandering a graveyard looking for the famous along with a horde of others. There was literally a crowd at Jim Morrisons grave. Cemetary as tourist trap. There were maps at various points of entry throughout the cemetery, but I easily got lost. I found that you would generally wind up at a grave of interest, so to speak, if you stopped at a grave with a lot of flowers or that there were several people gathered around. Unfortunately I tromped along to one section with numerous people gathered around it only to realize it was for someone recently deceased and the people were real mourners. Brought it back into prospective for me.

For the evenings festivities (for it was New Years Eve) we decided to go back to the Eiffel Tower. It was absolute madness. We entered from the back of the garden walkway and could only begin to see the chaos that was about to happen. As we got closer we could hear the shouting, laughing, chanting and general noise from the crowd of thousands. Just before the crowd became a mass a large group of hawkers (the annoying sellers of junk you run into at all the landmarks) suddenly began running away from the crowd. This was no normal let's get out of here run, but a fierce we're scared for our lives bolt. Amy and I both stopped cold wondering what the heck is about to happen. Seeing that the rest of the masses were holding to their partrying we decided they had either stolen a purse, or been run off by the cops. We stopped directly under the Tower which was the center of the madness. On the far side of the tower where we had walked earlier in the day we could see the dark wave of an enormous crowd jockeying for position. All around us though were people waiting for the strike of 12. Alcohol flowed, cries of joy and anger pummelled out from all around us. And as if the official fireworks going off above our head were not unnerving enough many of the masses brought their own. Firecrackers were exploding all around our feet, bottle rockets and Roman candles were ejecting about our heads. After an hour or so we decided we were not prepared for the absolute madness that would be midnight and headed back to our home just after 11. We could hear the partying until well after 3 am.

Last Day

Our train left at 4 and we slept in so there wasn't any time to do any sightseeing. We cleaned up Paco's place and went out for lunch. The train ride back was just as miserable as it was coming down. This time Amy and I sat next to each other with two strangers facing us. As the stops led us to Strasbourg it seemed nearly every other seat was emptying except for ours. We sat the entire four and a half hours trying not to bump into each other. Unluckily for the guy in front of me I was not particularly successful at that endeavor. I kicked and kneed him several time.

5 complete novels read. 2 halves of novels read. 8 monuments viewed. Miles after miles walked. 10 days. All in all it was a fabulous week in Paris.

Thanks for reading.