Late Night Malarkey: Musings upon a Counterfeit Coin

February 27, 2008 at 4:24 pm (Movies, Travel, Uncategorized) (, , )

How is it that some movies, no matter how cheesy they are, reduce you to a sniveling wreck?

I mean, the I Love You portrait?? Please!! It doesn’t get any cheesier than that. So, after realizing I may be the only person on the planet to have disliked Sweeney Todd, (and feeling rather self-righteous about it… ready to go out naked with a sandwich board and and a bell if that’s what it takes…WAKE UP!! -ding-dong, ding dong- THE END IS NIGH!!) I found myself feeling rather weepy watching The Counterfeit Coin (H Kalpiki Lira, 1955, Greece).

Four simple stories, a few classic characters (the starving painter, the sweet orphan, the stingy rich landlord, etc.) and ta-da!! I felt guilty for every time that I haven’t given the thousands of beggar children their coin; felt like a total witch, in fact, for every time that I turned on my windshield wipers after firmly saying, “No, no, thank you, NO.”

Sniff. (sip.)

How can I be so cruel? And how can I laugh at Elli Labeti’s fluttering, “Sagapw,” while at the same being incredibly, unreasonably moved? (down.)

Perhaps it’s because the movie is in black and white.

Ah. Nostalgia. Ain’t nothing like it.

You may have had no friends in elementary school, been teased mercilessly about your name and reading habits, but thinking about it now?? Such a lovely, unspoilt childhood I had, you say. So pretty. Wish I could go back. Flutter your eyelids.

Knowing you can’t go back just makes it all the more painfully beautiful.

Even better than the nostalgia you feel for your own memories, is the nostalgia you feel for an era that you never experienced in the first place. Gone with the Wind made a fortune out of that. As did the Swinging Sixties and Roaring Twenties. Were they even close to our “memories” of them? Probably not. But just an inkling that they may have been so, seeing a sign of their existence gives you a gripping physical sensation.

Sitting in Groppi’s Cafe in Cairo made me want to swoon. And for what? A few small tables, ripped chairs, and a general musty decadence (not the fun kind) all around. No famous ice cream in sight. But there I was. Sipping my asir lamoun where countless pashas, dames and People of Importance have sat and plotted. Yet, in the incredibly dirty sand surrounding the Pyramids – arguably, a far more magical and historical place – all I wanted to do was take a pot shot with an AK-47.

All those tourists (as if I wasn’t one of them) just ruined the atmosphere. Let alone the outrageous prices at the Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Let me live out my Agatha Christie fantasy in peace, damn it! (By the way, Abu Simbel?? Much more impressive in the movie, she says, fleeing the stones being wielded by rabid archaeologists, and directed at her curly head. What can I say? The prayer mark on our guide’s forehead fascinated me much more than the umpteenth Ramses statue before me.)

Where was I? (slurp.)

Nostalgia is a personal thing. Too fragile to be placed out in the open. It works best at 2am when you’re all alone on the couch drinking homemade liquer, watching a black and white movie and snuffling like a snufflupagus.

And the Counterfeit Coin? Film it now, and be laughed out of the theater. Try and revamp it? Somehow, the little orphan girl selling pirated CDs just doesn’t do the same thing to me. If it isn’t far removed from your own reality you don’t even notice it. Booooooooring! But a few years down the line, we’ll wistfully recall a time where Africans fresh off the boat peddled CDs (What are seedeez, auntie? Oh, honey, i forget how young you are! In my day….) and DVDs in every cafe in the city. We’ll sigh with the same nostalgia that we do when gazing at the unrecognizable city of 1955, whose inhabitants never gave a second glance. Who can blame them? It was just there. It still is, isn’t it??

Here’s to cheezy old movies! (chug.) And to cherished moments that were never really special until they disappeared!! And to humankind’s ability to mull over lost time for centuries, ignoring the current time that they are currently losing, and losing even more time in the process!!

At this crucial point in my non-existent argument the bottle has been emptied of its contents.

So I must bid you adieu. To you, and you, and you in the back.

Au revoir.

P.S. in 50 years will I be singing along, deep in the throes of nostalgia, I’ll fiiiiiiiiiiind you Jooooooaaaaaaaaaannaaa in a gravelly smoking old lady’s voice?!

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Flip, Flop & Glide: An Excercise in Post-Punk

February 16, 2008 at 4:27 pm (music)

So there I was, driving downtown and sulking big-time.

I wanted to dance. TO DANCE. All damn week. And you ask where I was driving?? To a “post-punk” party. What the fuck is post-punk, anyway? Anything after 1977? I mean, are we talking Madonna here, or Pearl Jam? Considering the venue, I was certain we were in for a night of nasal, Placebo-like navel-gazing.

So I sulked.

My not-so-subtle hints of cruising by a certain funk and soul-loving bar were not appreciated. But we’re going to the post-punk party, I was patiently reminded. My second suggestion was more enthusiastically received, however. A friend was playing old Greek songs with an electro twist nearby, so went to check it out before post-punking.

Naturally, there was a huge queue. Cursing trendy Athenians, we went next door for a drink while the crowd dispersed.

That was when the sun came out. The moon twinkled and spun, the stars started shooting in unison. (And so on.)

DUSTBOWL were playing!! ( http://www.dustbowl.gr )

I had no idea who they were, but it was obvious what they dug. Beautiful, jangly country music, old-style. A love that I had forgotten, spurned for other genres, suddenly reminded me that the best damn music in the world was written in the 1950s.

The guys and gal were absolutely amazing. They were dressed like the Man in Black down to his retro silver mike. Big George was channeling Johnny Cash’s larynx with the utmost success, and I heard live (LIVE!!!! whoda thunk it?? I certainly didn’t) Folsom Prison Blues and Ghost Riders in the Sky, (I happily raised my hand to his query, are there any cowboys in the audience tonight?)

When they played the theme to Rawhide, I started shrieking, jumping up and down in delight, trying to keep up with Big George who sang it a lot faster than Dan Ackroyd. (Kudos to their amazing drummer.) Country music really brings out the child in me, yet its themes are so blue; that’s where its attraction lies. Who doesn’t love to wallow in gorgeous self-pity with a rollicking beat?

And then came the post-punk moment of the night.

A friend of the band’s came up onstage and sang the Stooges’ No Fun as if he were Johnny Rotten. We pogo-ed accordingly, feeling increasingly as if we were in junior high as the concert progressed. I was in bliss. Big George thought for a bit, and then sung the entire song again, completely straight-faced, rockabilly style.

And you know what? It sounded just right.

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Utter Lack of Genius: “Sweeney Todd” Butchered

February 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm (Movies)

Is there a point in fame that, once reached, you can never fall from again?

I watched Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd last night, with the sweet anticipation I have whenever he releases a movie; I have been an avid fan since I was eight and saw Beetlejuice. At the time, I believed it was the best movie ever ever made. It had everything. Love in the Afterlife!! Color!! Deathwishes!! Humor!! Surrealism!! Incredible Music!!

And damn if it still isn’t his best. Ok, it’s in the holy triptych along with Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. (And Batman is the best Hollywood blockbuster ever.)

Well.

Sweeney Todd? His worst movie ever.

No way, you think. She’s probably some bitter actress who screwed up her Burton audition, you’re thinking. It’s gotten rave reviews, right?? Awards n’ stuff, no?? So, it’s got to be great!! Everybody says so, after all.
Not since Big Fish have I been so disappointed with Burton. I nearly left in the middle. Where was the quirkiness?? The seamless mixing of dark humor and childlike fantasy? Most importantly, where was the ART? Was anybody actually looking through the camera?? There seemed to be no direction whatsoever, and all the actors walked through what they know how to do in their sleep. Alan Rickman (who normally I melt into a puddle for) was a complete nonentity; I think he was too bored to even try to make a character for himself. I am certain that more thought went into how he spits out the word “Potter!” than the entirety of his scenes in Sweeney Todd.

And, truth be told, I can’t blame him. He had nothing to do. No one did. The characters were as one-sided as cardboard cut-outs.  Honestly, it was one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, Depp tried to glare as blackly as he could to show his dark desire for vengeance; but for two hours? And he gets accolades for this? The effort of glaring so much stuck to his face, poor boy, and he couldn’t get it unstuck for the ending to show remorse for accidentally killing his wife.

Sadly, Burton’s relationship with Helena Bonham Carter has been an artistic disaster for both. Where’s the mysterious girl that played Ophelia? In Room with a View you can’t take your eyes off her. But in practically every movie they’ve done together she is a study in mediocrity, emptily sneering at the camera. And this time, her emptiness has permeated throughout the entire movie.  When you yawn when when somebody is pushed into a burning furnace, you know there’s something wrong.

In short, it’s a complete hack job. We do what we know how, give ’em Johnny in his Kabuki make-up, and let’s not sweat it too much because we know that know we are now considered geniuses; just you try ‘Enry ‘Iggins, to say anything bad about us!

I feel cheated.  I love Tim Burton movies. I would like more than anything to go for cotton candy and ride the ferris wheel with him on Coney Island. So what the fuck happened??? How on earth could he lose his humor?? Where did it go??

Let’s get one thing straight: I love splatter movies as much as the next person. It’s Pavlovian; the bigger the geyser of blood, the harder I laugh.  But in Sweeney Todd, it was empty laughter.

The simple fact is, this movie is a spoof. But the director didn’t get it. They should have given it to Mel Brooks. The entire theater would have been crying with laughter. The characters are meant to be one-sided nutters.  I see a girl sewing in a window?? OMG, I’m just gonna grab her and live happily ever after!!! But Burton decided to ignore that and make yet another gothic fantasy.

But a gothic fantasy needs a good story with twists and turns and capital D drama. Sweeney Todd has no suspense, no twists and turns; If it was a twenty minute short that would be fine. But it’s a farce!!! Sweet and Benny Hill-simple.

A farce, and with the worst, most repetitive and unimaginative music to ever grace a Tim Burton film. So strange for someone who actually seems to have an ear for catchy tunes, to watch straight-faced the horrendous “I’ll fiiiiiind you, Joooooaaaaaaanaaaaa,” and not leave it on the cutting room floor.

The biggest farce of all?

That this is “Tim Burton at his Best!!” “Johnny’s Best Acting Ever!!!” 5 stars!! 4.7 stars!!

No, it isn’t. By far. So just admit it.

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