Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Movie Song of the Week: “Three Caballeros”

Just in time for Cinco de Mayo weekend, it's the “Three Caballeros” song from the 1944 movie of the same name.

I guess I should be more than a little embarrassed by the fact that I'm more familiar with this tune than I am with “Ay, Jalisco no te rajes,” the Mexican song from which it is adapted.

But then I'm at least aware that there is such a song. And anyway, the tune itself isn't half-bad. Donald Duck and his pals, José Carioca (the parrot) and Panchito Pistoles (the rooster) aren't likely to be mistaken for the Three Wise Men, but they're still fun to watch.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Movie Quote of the Week

I am nobody's fool. Least of all, yours.
--George Sanders, All About Eve (1950)

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Tomorrow Never Knows

Mi Mejor Amiga has a birthday tomorrow, and I should post something about it then, but in case time and circumstances prevent that, I'll post something today.

She just had surgery so she is not having a good time now. But I like to think that she'll recover soon. She's been through better and she's been worse, and without her advice, I would have had a far worse year this year than I actually did.

I'll always be grateful to her for the way she saved my life a few years ago and the way she went out of her way to introduce me to my ex-girlfriend.

My mother once told me that friends are always going to be more special than family because as much as we love our families, we don't necessarily choose them. We do, however, choose our friends, and more importantly, our friends choose us.

I'm not sure what I exactly did to make Mi Mejor Amiga choose me as a best friend but I'm glad she did.

I wish her the best for now and for always.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Pop Song of the Week: “Hands Tied”

I'm starting what I hope will become a regular feature on this blog (time and circumstances permitting). I originally was going to start posting videos like this in the regular “Song of the Week” section, but I chose to reserve that for songs of a more cinematic nature.

Not that this song by Scandal doesn't have its own appeal. This video is one of the videos I most frequently watched during the 1980s, and though it should by all means seem more than a little dated by now, it actually holds up pretty well. Lead singer Patty Smyth is never going to be confused with Barbra Streisand (or even with rock singer Patti Smith) but she is very likable in her own right. And the dress she wears in this video doesn't look half bad.

But then I'm biased.

I'm not sure what it says about me that I've listened to this song so often, but I hope it's something nice.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Movie Song of the Week: “Tradition”

Yes, I know. It's not all that original to post a song from the 1971 movie Fiddler on the Roof during Passover, but it's still a good song.

I still remember the way a Hispanic co-worker kept referencing this song after I lent her my Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack CD a few years ago. So much so that it's tempting to argue that it's really a Hispanic song. And given the number of Hispanics of Jewish descent (and the number of Hispanics who may be of Jewish descent but might never know for sure), that's not as silly an argument as it might seem. And even if such Hispanics didn't exist, it's not as if we Hispanics know nothing of discrimination or persecution.

Anyway, even for those of us who have no Sephardi ancestors (at least none that we know of), it's still a good song. Maybe it's not as famous as “If I Were a Rich Man” or “Matchmaker,” but it's still worth listening to and has a message that all humans -- not just Jews or Hispanics -- can appreciate.


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Thoughts on Anton Chekhov's The Seagull

Konstantin Treplev, c'est moi. At least back in 1987. And I too had a Nina in my life and I used to think about her every day.

The first time I read Anton Chekhov's play The Seagull, I was in my late teens and I had a hard time understanding why all the play's characters chose to live the way they did instead of rearranging their lives in a more logical fashion. Since I had never really dated in high school and had never seriously explored the idea of romantic love, I had difficulty understanding why a person who had been romantically rejected by one person wouldn't just simply go on to another person, especially if said person obviously liked him or her a lot more than his or her original choice. I thought that the protagonist Konstantin Treplev was more than a bit foolish in his pursuit of the young would-be actress Nina -- especially when he ignored another woman named Masha, who had a crush on him -- and that Nina was more than a bit foolish in her attraction to the older man Trigorin, an established author who, within the course of the play, would seduce and abandon her. True, the ending in which Nina went mad and Konstantin killed himself was tragic. But I could not help thinking how easily it could have been avoided.

When I read the play again in my mid-twenties after I had had my own bouts with unrequited love, I understood far better the actions and motives of the play's characters. It didn't hurt that for a brief time I myself had unsuccessfully pursued a Nina of my own -- and had even seen an older, Trigorin-like person as my would-be rival for her affection. Of course, the rivalry proved to be mostly in my imagination. It had become increasingly obvious to everyone save myself that the Nina in question was never going to be romantically interested in me. And like Konstantin Treplev, I seriously considered resolving my dilemma with a self-inflicted gunshot. Fortunately, I eventually changed my mind. But it was not a decision I made lightly. Indeed, I had contemplated suicide for more than a year afterward, only abandoning the notion when it became increasingly clear that I was more likely to hurt my family with my suicide than to accomplish anything else.

Perhaps all young men of a literary inclination like to think that they're Konstantin Treplev, forever in love with a person like Nina, who will eventually reject them for someone else. And we like to cling to that belief, even if we grow up to be more like Trigorin.

In many ways, I see Chekhov's The Seagull as an allegory about the writer's relationship with society. Like Konstantin, the writer likes to believe that his beloved -- i.e., society -- will eventually return his love and cease expending her affections on unworthier targets. Yet time and again, the writer ends up disappointed when his beloved proves to be all too human and chooses to go with the exciting and prosperous older man who will eventually break her heart rather than go with the younger, less experienced man who truly loves her.

Yet if I had won the love of my fair Nina, I would have been a very different person than I am today. And I'm not entirely convinced that I would be a better man. For knowing what it's like to be rejected has given me more sympathy for a lot of people with whom I'd not normally sympathize. And made me more emotionally generous toward the few women in my life who have professed love for me.

I won't pretend that it made me perfect.

But I hope that it did make me better.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Why Good People See Bad Movies

I suspect most good people go to see bad movies for the same reason they do a lot of stuff that's not good for them: they are seeking escape. Escape from their problems. Escape from the world. Escape from the boss from Hell and the co-worker from Hades.

And sometimes... they find it.

For two hours--or at least ninety minutes -- they get to get caught up with or laugh at someone else's problems and shortcomings for a change. Never mind that the acting isn't always brilliant or the writing all that perfect -- it's the escape from reality that matters.

It would be nice to pretend that someday soon people are going to stop doing this and seek only good movies. But that's not likely.

Sturgeon's Law ("Ninety percent of anything is crap") alone dictates that there's always going to be a certain number of bad movies made and that there always will be. Plus it's obvious from even a brief visit to the average movie messageboard that even smart, well-educated people can disagree on what constitutes a good movie -- or at least one worth watching.

In light of all that, the true wonder is not that so many bad movies are so popular but that so many good movies actually get made.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Movie Song of the Week: “America”

Just to show that not all my tastes in movie musicals are strictly -- ahem -- black and white, there's this tune. It's one of the most famous songs from the 1961 movie West Side Story, which incidentally was the first movie musical I ever liked enough to buy its soundtrack album.

Although this song has often been described as a mindless celebration of assimilation, it has always seemed to me to be a lot more complex than that, especially the way it's presented in this movie. I have yet to hear another song that so adeptly sums up the complicated love-hate relationship so many Latinos like myself have with America. True, I myself have never experienced any of the prejudice that Bernardo and his friends complain about in this movie, but I know older relatives who have.

And yet... I love America. If for no other reason than the fact that it gave my late father the opportunity to achieve a success he never could have achieved in his native Mexico...

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Monday, April 14, 2008

The Iceberg Theory of Selfhood

We show the average person about twenty-five percent of our real selves.

If we spend a good deal of time around them, we may show about thirty-five percent of our real selves.

Our friends and family generally see about fifty-five percent of our real selves.

If our friends or relatives are really, really, really close to us, they get to see sixty-five percent of our real selves.

My best friend (Mi Mejor Amiga) knows about seventy-five of the real me.

Someday I may show her the rest.

But then again someday I may not.

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Movie Quote of the Week

A policeman's job is only easy in a police state.
--Charlton Heston, Touch of Evil (1958)

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Movie Song of the Month: “I Won't Dance”

That Fred Astaire always was a tease, wasn't he? After all, what red-blooded male in his right mind wouldn't want to dance with Ginger Rogers?

Of course, one doesn't necessarily need to see Roberta (the 1935 movie this clip was taken from) to know that sooner or later Astaire was going to start dancing anyway. And you'll be pleased to know that eventually he did dance with Ginger in this movie as well. But not in this number, unfortunately.

But, hey, the song is still fun to watch. And not just because of Ginger...

Besides, I felt the need to post something cheery this week in light of recent events that were not so cheery. Enjoy.

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Movie Song of the Week: “Shanghai Lil”

Yes, I know. This tune from 1933's Footlight Parade is not the most politically correct song ever written, but it's still a lot better than much of what passes for music today. Like most Busby Berkeley tunes, the song is so over-the-top that I can't help but love it -- though I could have done without the Pidgin English and the yellowface acting. It's from one of the few movies outside of a certain Oscar-winning musical to showcase Jimmy Cagney's dancing ability -- and quite frankly, he isn't half bad. Plus you get close-order drills, a flip-movie, and a patriotic number that almost comes off as a parody of patriotic numbers.

Add to that the fact that this song includes a routine which could be seen as a salute to interracial relationships and excludes the black stereotypes that would become all so common in movies of the 1930s and I can forgive this song a lot. Yes, it's basically a Sino-American version of Madame Butterfly with a happy ending, but, hey, happy endings aren't a bad thing in this big parade of tears.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

R.I.P. Charlton Heston

And yet another icon of my childhood bites the dust.

I must confess that I knew of Heston more from his work in science fiction films like The Omega Man and Planet of the Apes than in his more mainstream work. He most definitely was the definite Moses in 1956's The Ten Commandments, so much so that he has become identified with that role in the same way Charles Laughton became identified with Henry VIII.

His most famous role, however, the title role of 1959's Ben-Hur, I have yet to see. Nor am I very proud of the fact that his movie El Cid has been on the top of my rainy-day movie list* for weeks.

I do intend to catch up with his work though. Just as Paul Scofield's passing inspired me to finally catch up with The Train (no pun intended), Heston's passing will no doubt make me catch up with his films.

As it stands, I've yet to see a movie that ever made me especially hate Heston's performances. (Earthquake and Airport '75 did come close, but my issues with these films have nothing to do with Mr. Heston.)

As for his politics, well, Heston opposed McCarthyism when such opposition was unfashionable and supported the civil rights movement when such support was not fashionable. And I must admit to admiring the fact that Heston was one of the few politically-oriented celebrities who chose to stick to his guns (no pun intended) without interjecting his politics into his acting career. Nowadays, we could use more people like that.

He will be missed.

* A list of movies to see on rainy days, natch.

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Movie Quote of the Week

I'm a seeker too. But my dreams aren't like yours.
--Charlton Heston, Planet of the Apes (1968)

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “Smith and Jones”

I really really really really liked the Doctor's new assistant Martha Jones.

Whether or not I like her better than Rose Tyler is another question.

But it's nice to see that in the Doctor Who universe, dark-skinned English girls get to have as many adventures as light-skinned English girls.

And yes, the show's writing staff is determined to not let us forget that this latest version of the Doctor Who series was initially inspired by Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Does this mean the Tardis will be travelling to Sunnydale at some point in the near future?

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “Rose”

Narrator: Ladies and gentlemen, it's the Rose Tyler show featuring special guest Christopher Eccleston as Doctor Who. Yaay!

* Cue overture. *

Okay, the first episode of the new Doctor Who series doesn't exactly start like that, but one got the feeling at times that it should have.

And yet I found myself liking the show despite myself. (Of course, this episode wasn't my favorite of the first season, but it was still okay.)

Things I liked:

The way it established Rose Tyler as being a likely candidate for accompanying the Doctor by showing how open she is to new things. She is shown having no fear about crossing lines of either race (though she is white, she has a black boyfriend) or class (though she is from the working class, she has no problems working in a “posh” -- i.e., high-class -- department store).

Things I didn't like:

The way the Doctor was presented as being a supporting character in his own show.

The rather arbitrary way the show's “monster of the week” was first introduced and then destroyed.


Oh, well. The show does get better.

Thank God!

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I Saw a Film Today, Oh Boy

At least I almost did.

I had rented the new movie Across the Universe and I was intending to watch it all the way through. But after I had gotten to the part in which the two couples were saying farewell to each other, the film started dredging up some bad memories for me and I postponed viewing the rest of it until a later date.

It didn't help that the whole movie was about Beatles songs.

And that one of my ex-girlfriend's favorite groups was, of course, the Beatles...

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Pet Peeve of the Week

Okay, I'm very grateful that I'm one of the more fortunate Americans in that I can afford to pay off my charge cards every month instead of just paying a minimum amount.

And I must confess that I dread the thought of a day when circumstances beyond my control make this no longer possible.

Yet when I recently heard a telemarketer leaving a message on my home answering machine that said that it was imperative that I call him about a debt-reconciliation plan I don't currently need, I couldn't help seeing a little red. (No pun intended.)

Shouldn't such people have enough clients nowadays that they shouldn't have to go soliciting business through telemarketing? And isn't such solicitation a bit tasteless?

I realize that everyone needs to make a living but I can't help but think that there has to be a better way.

Or to put it another way, if businesses wanted my business that badly, they might try making it easier for a member of the public to contact them directly instead of giving us the chance to deal with umpteen different options on a voicemail system that rarely produces an immediate response.

The harder it is to reach the average businessman, the less I want to do business with him. And all the telemarketing in the world can't make up for that.

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