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The Importance of Being Earnest,
and a few more films

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

NEVERENDING
FILM FESTIVAL
#238  [archive]
DEC. 17, 2023

Though it seems unlikely, two young women both insist that they can only love a man if he's named Ernest, so two young gents introduce themselves as such. The catch is, there's really nobody named Ernest.

"We live in an age of ideals, and my ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name which inspires absolute confidence."

It's hard to imagine a stupider premise, but what playwright Oscar Wilde did with the idea is a delight of witty wordplay and amusing ridiculousness.

"I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train."

Movie adaptations often try to 'enlarge' a play, but this is filmed as a play, with no attempt to do anything but that. Being a marvelous play, it becomes a marvelous movie, stuffed with British pomposity which is then mocked relentlessly.

Filmed in glorious Technicolor, it's "a trivial comedy for serious people," with laughs all over. If, like me, you've never seen it, you're mistaken and need to repair the error of your ways forthwith.

Odd trivia: The film was adapted and directed by Anthony Asquith, who made the 1938 Pygmalion and the excellent 1951 The Browning Version. His father was H.H. Asquith, the British Home Secretary who ordered Oscar Wilde's arrest for homosexuality. Too bad Daddy was long dead before the movie.

"I am sick to death of cleverness. Everyone is clever nowadays. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we still had a few fools left."

Oh, we still have a few.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Incubus (1966)

William Shatner plays a soldier, injured in an unspecified war, who comes to a small village where a well's water supposedly has magic powers. He's hoping the waters will cure his injuries, but two sister succubi are trying to ply their wicked ways with him.

This was written and directed by Leslie Stevens, creator of The Outer Limits, with Shatner in his last pre-Star Trek role, and cinematography by Conrad Hall, who won the Oscar for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

And it's in Esperanto.

That's a language invented by a linguist, intended as a world-wide 'second language', but it never much caught on. Nobody speaks it as a native language, and like Klingonese, mostly only nerds speak it at all.

But here's an entire movie with Captain Kirk and the cast speaking Esperanto. Reportedly, Stevens had everyone learn their lines phonetically, and he wasn't even an Esperanto speaker himself — he just wanted to make a spooky movie and thought the language sounded spooky, too.

So how's the movie? Weird, but never quite spooky, sorry. It has an arty feel, looks great, and the subtitles are refreshingly large and readable. No goose bumps, though.

The film bombed, presumably because Stevens refused to allow dubbing into English, or any other language. 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Interstellar (2014)

I saw Interstellar on the big screen when it first came out, and remember it as a long, sometimes boring ride to a pretty good finish. Re-watching it now, it seems longer and less interesting.

It's a frustrating movie to watch. Leading man Matthew McConaughey speaks only in mumbles and whispers, while over-hyped director Christopher Nolan loves jump cuts to roaring jets or explosions or a blaring score, so it's inaudibly quiet, then uncomfortably loud, and the entire movie must be watched with a finger on the volume controls. 

That's not accidental. Nolan is an acknowledged master moviemaker, and he's also an outspoken advocate for the cinema experience. He wants you to see his movies at a theater, and if you're watching on video, I think he'd rather you didn't. Certainly, he knows all his fiddling with the sound levels means you'll also have to fiddle with the sound levels, so fuck you, Nolan.

The story is set a few generations in the future, with Earth in a desperate famine caused by pollution and climate change. McConaughey plays just plain Cooper,  a farmer who, despite the aforementioned famine, drives his pickup truck right into and over miles of ripening corn when he gets excited.

What he's excited about is some strange gravitational anomaly in his daughter's bedroom, which leads Cooper to a super-secret NASA facility, where it's revealed that he used to be a hotshot NASA pilot — why, everyone says he's the best pilot anyone's ever seen (a rather tiresome movie trope).

Of course, NASA pulls him out of retirement to command a mission to find a new planet Earthers, can migrate to, having ruined this one, but — but if you're on the crew of a mission to rescue humanity, wouldn't you be chaffed at taking orders from someone who'd been retired and farming corn for eight years? Wouldn't he be kinda rusty at NASA stuff, with eight years of technical briefings and upgrades that he'd be woefully un-informed about? 

The movie's cute robots are basically walking rectangles, very clever and well-engineered, with adjustable settings for humor and frankness. All of Interstellar's science seems to be based on science, and that's refreshing, but since there's so much science, there's a great deal of dialogue explaining it, which is sometimes less than fascinating.

There are numerous movie stars in small roles, which is often a distraction, especially since most of them have little to do and don't do it well. See Michael Caine, delivering every line as if it's the poetry of Dylan Thomas, which in two scenes it is.

The effects are IMAX-worthy, and it's clear that thousands of people gave this movie their best efforts. I was thrilled again at the ending, but jeez, it takes nearly three hours to get there. The movie would be improved if 45 minutes and several characters were chopped away entirely.

Nolan has crafted a pretty good huge-budget sci-fi extravagance for the multiplex, but at home its flaws are more apparent. And he's screwing with the volume all the way, so let me reiterate how frustrating it is, trying to watch this. 

Fuck Christopher Nolan.

Verdict: YES, in a theater. MAYBE, at home.

12/17/2023   

• • • Coming attractions • • • 

The Lawyer (1970)
Not of This Earth (1957)
The Saint in New York (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
The Shooting (1966)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Winter Soldier (1972)

... plus occasional 
schlock and surprises 

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
 
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32 comments:

  1. Mi kutimis paroli Esperanton; Mi eĉ estis en Esperanta teatraĵo ĉe la U de W. Nun mi povas diri nur "La kato estas sur la tablo". Tio okazas multe ĉe mia domo.

    Johano

    ReplyDelete
  2. Se mia kato leviĝas sur la tablon, ŝi senescepte forfrapas ion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Miaj katoj estas sufiĉe fortaj por renversi bankon.

      That was supposed to translate to "knock over", but I like the idea of my cats conducting a hostile takeover.

      Yeah, no shit, I was in an Esperanto play at an international Esperanto conference when I was about 10. Seemed like thousands of people in the audience, but I suppose it was more like 500. Mind you, I'm no Bill Shatner. I didn't count my lines.

      johntheactor

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    2. You spoke it, knew the language? Do you still? (I was speaking it via Google Translate, assumed you were too). The language seems like a great idea, and I'll bet cops eavesdropping couldn't even break the code, wouldn't know what they were hearing. Let's plot a bank heist!

      Was it a special Esperanto play, or a pre-existing play translated?

      Delete
    3. I started taking weekly Esperanto lessons when I was about 6 or 7 and continued for four or five years. I got to know basic, conversational Esperanto -- nothing fancy. My uncle was a U of W prof in the psych department specializing in linguistics and perception. He also traveled around the world lecturing in Esperanto to Esperantists at conferences in Asia, Europe and South America. He claimed to speak six or seven languages, but everybody knew it was more like 15. I'm afraid I've long forgotten the language. I was using Google translate as well. I retain a small vocabulary, but not enough to be useful.

      The play was an Esperanto translation of Beauty and the Beast and the entire cast was under 14. I don't recall why I stopped taking lessons. They were free and my Uncle made them fun while keeping the learning dead serious. He was a serious one-world socialist and had to use an assumed name while engaged in socialist activities.

      I did work for a department store as a Spanish translator, but, again, that was when I was a teenager. I've retained considerably more Spanish than Esperanto, but not enough for a normal adult conversation.

      John

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    4. Normal adult conversations are vastly overrated.

      Everything about your family makes me envious. No wonder you turned out cool.

      Delete
    5. That's very generous and I thank you for the compliment. None of my few younger relatives think I'm the least bit cool. I was fortunate to have terrific parents and a couple of cool uncles, though. My socialist uncle was also a hell of a ballroom dancer. He and my aunt danced to orchestras on three continents and on a couple of steamships to Europe (not cruise ships!). I never came close to his level of education, brilliance or achievements. But I spent plenty of weekends with him from the time I was a few years old until he died at 90. He and his wife didn't have kids, so they sort of weekend-adopted my sister and me. He tried, over the years, to teach me to think clearly. Obviously, he didn't succeed. But he DID teach me to occasionally spot mushy thinking including my own. Other than that I never came close.

      John

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    6. Let's hear it for your socialist uncle, who definitely gave you a head start on the kind of success that matters.

      Maybe I don't know my definitions? Steamships would be, obviously, any ship powered by steam, whether military, commercial, or passenger. A cruise ships would be a subset of steamships, a passenger ship. Presumably military and commercial steamships would lack an orchestra for dancing, so wouldn't a steamship with an orchestra be a cruise ship, sorta by definition?

      Delete
    7. I omitted to mention HMS and its various cousins in the Commonwealth as a prefix for passenger ships. If you owned Australia before the era of airplanes, you needed some long haul ships to check on your holdings (and export more prisoners).

      jtb

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    8. Got it, thanks. Cruise ships are the awful modern imitation, the overpriced incubators my brother sails on twice annually. Real steamships or old-style ocean liners are where Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell fall in love but not with each other.

      Delete
    9. I don't know, bro. With each other might have been worth a best supporting undergarment nomination.

      jtb

      Delete
    10. Yes, you're right. You said it like I was trying to say it but with poetry. Dats why you got de blog.

      John

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    11. Nah, I deserve no compliments until I master the complex technique for scheduling a disabled passenger's ride from Lynnwood to Olympia, which is still over my head.

      Delete
    12. Well it's the first week. Let's start by getting them to the corner store to buy a six of Olympia.

      John

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    13. I'm not a beer guy, most brands taste like piss to me, and that's always included Olympia and Rainier. Still, any mention of either beer is a reminder that they were local companies that were profitable making something locals liked, then sold to the same barbarian beer conglomerate. Fuck I hate American-style corporate capitalism, and Pabst needs to be trust-broken into about a thousand human-scale companies.

      Delete
    14. Spinoffs are rare and conglomerates are ubiquitous, so business mostly goes in one direction like time only sadder, and time is pretty fucking sad. I grew up in the era of mostly local and regional businesses: Milk came from local, family owned dairies and produce came from a local family farm or a consortium of family farms somewhere else. The destruction of local businesses started some time in my 20s or early 30s.

      I still, when at all possible, do business with locally owned businesses. My wife likes burgers and fries, so I make a run to Frisco Freeze for her dinner from time to time. Locally family owned, it has the best burgers in town and doesn't overcharge for them. It's been in the same place for 72 years and is on its second owner, who continued the practice of helping fund the college education of anyone who works there through high school. When I worked at a regional bank, the CEO had grown up in a poor family and worked at Frisco Freeze through high school. Student loans were rare and hard to get in the 60s and 70s when he went to school. He said he got his degree in finance because of the Frisco Freeze education plan and wouldn't have gotten it otherwise. That's the power of locally owned businesses. That power is ebbing quickly and will be entirely absent in a few years. No one will know how important locally owned businesses were until they are entirely gone. Of course, then it will be too late. Fuck, it's already too late.

      John

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    15. Gotta have a Frisco Freeze if I'm ever again in Tacoma. Dick's Drive-In has a similar scholarship program.

      Bartells, RIP.

      I still see Smith Brothers Farms truck tootling around here in the northwest. They delivered milk to our front porch when I was a kid, and they still do. Not to my porch, or anyone I know, but they still do deliveries.

      Ate at Jack-in-the-Box a few days ago, and I hate myself for it.

      Fuck the giant corporations, and fuck the local businesses that sell out.

      Delete
    16. I'm not a milk drinker, nor is my wife, but my brother-in-law swills the stuff. He and my sister get home delivery from a local dairy that has no corporate ties. The dairy is on the Web, so you can adjust your delivery or special order a dairy product easily. Maybe it's not much, but if everybody did everything that was available locally, the economy would be more viable and more local.

      John

      Delete
    17. I checked out Smith Brothers prices a year or so ago. It's like paying 7-Eleven prices, which is reasonable for delivery, but I haven't had milk in years and their non-milk offerings are scant. Bummer. But they seem to be a thriving business.

      Delete
  3. Hope they didn't torture you on your first day. Only four working days left in the week. I think there's also some kind of Pagan holiday coming up.

    John

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    Replies
    1. I wasn't tortured, everyone was nice, and I'm already at the point where I wonder whether I'll ever catch on to all the complicated rules and software, but I get that at the start of every job.

      The walk to my bus home is uphill, just a few blocks, but holy McMoly I am out of shape... Had to stop to catch my breath.

      Delete
    2. It'll get easier including the walking. I frequently use a cane after three back surgeries. They're a pain in the ass and I keep forgetting mine, but they do help on the uphills. The "everyone was nice" sounds promising. Hope that continues.

      John

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    3. Some days you don't need the cane, some days you do, right?

      I have long felt I needed a cane only rarely, so rarely that I've never gotten a cane. That's changed in the past week; I've needed a cane every day. Today was better,, though. I think I'm getting my legs back under me.

      Two days in, everyone's still nice. A few are becoming annoying, though.

      Delete
    4. "Two days in, everyone's still nice. A few are becoming annoying, though."

      Grist for the mill! Let it begin!

      Delete
    5. My back pain comes and goes, so I have three canes in an umbrella holder by the front door, all with my name, address and phone number on them under clear tape because I've lost those three and many others over the last 20 years. I walk into a store, put my cane in a cart, push it around shopping, and leave my cane behind in the cart. Oddly enough, there are no umbrellas in the umbrella holder. I've lost all of those in the same manner. But I need to keep doing the family shopping because it's the only thing I'm better at than my wife, including plumbing and woodworking. The canes give me mobility on the days my back doesn't want to cooperate.

      John

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    6. When there's time to write anything...

      Delete
    7. Do you feel close to toppling sometimes? I haven't yet, but often need a rest.

      You OK on stairs? They're always a challenge for me.

      Delete
    8. One of my canes is currently on vacation at a Rite Aid about 8 miles south of my house. There's currently a nationwide shortage of opioids, and I take some low-end pain meds for my back. Long, boring story, I finally found some meds but accidently left my cane in a shopping cart. I don't get enough meds to fill a shopping cart -- I use it as a walker in stores, including pharmacies, although some days I'm tempted to say, "Fill 'er up."

      jtb

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    9. The shopping cart provides its own stability, so yeah, I can certainly see forgetting the cane in the cart. Forgetting it's good, right? Means you're walking OK without it... for a few blocks.

      Delete
    10. Actually just to my car which is a relic of the previous millennium and is almost Flintstone powered, requiring two canes AND a shopping cart.

      John

      Delete
  4. Stairs and canes don't get along well. I have a washer & dryer in the basement and I try to remember not to use my cane to get to them because it's a pain in the ass using a cane and carrying a big load on stairs. Stairs are tougher for me with a cane than without.

    jtb

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Give me a good rail, at least, but on a bot of stairs the rail is as jittery as me.

      Delete

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