Archive for September, 2012

Postcard from The Abyss: Ahhh. That’s Much Better

Posted in Chronicles of chrazy (sic) on September 27, 2012 by tom

Life is weird. Life with mental illness is a couple factors of ten weirder.

If you’re mentally okay, and you break your arm–and I hope you don’t break your arm. For gods’ sakes, I’m using this as a damned example. Stop being so literal-minded! 😉

Anyway, you feel the pain. You can reason out, “Golly. I think that in the process of _______________, I broke my arm.” You can go to your local emergency room. They can shoot x-rays of your bum arm, and a radiologist can show you the film, and say, “Yup! Right there is the fracture, almost all the way through your radius, and half way through your ulna.” Then an orthopĂŚdic surgeon will look at the film, and he’ll immediately start planning the best way to fix your broken arm–either with a cast, inserting wires, maybe surgery–all as he debates what color BMW M6 to order with what he’s fitna bill you. Over time, you can see the swelling go down, have the cast replaced after a few weeks, see the updated X-rays, showing your new bone growth. There’s progress, too, as you get the wires removed. You’ll get a new cast, once the swelling abates. Maybe, if you’re really healing quickly, a soft cast. Bottom line–barring osteoporosis, osteomyelitis, or some other skeletal malady–a broken arm is a broken arm. Some are far worse than others, but they’re broken arms, and fixing them is pretty routine.

When it’s your brain that has been injured–either physically or through some sort of psychic trauma–the treatment options are never quite so straightforward. I’m not talking about garden-variety depression, for which your GP can write you scrips for Prozac (an aside: who the fuck grows depression in his or her garden?? Try squash and pole beans, or maybe tomatoes. Sheesh!)

Part of the problem is that you have to try and see your progress through a broken brain. It’s difficult to analyze and assess how you’re doing if the six-pound goo loaf that analyzes and assesses is operating like a Yugo in need of a tune-up. Sometimes, you feel bad, but you can’t explain the badness. You know you’re sick, but you can’t explain the sickness. With the broken arm, it’s easy to pinpoint: here’s where it hurts; the x-rays bear that out, and treatment is simple.

What leads me circumlocutiously to where I am today. In April, or thereabouts (I have blocks of memory loss), my brain went kablooey. I went from functioning okay to not functioning at all. I was referred to a doctor who was recommended as, “The best psychiatrist in the business.” For once, this wasn’t hyperbole. He is awesome.

So, the first thing he did back in April was throw out the Prozac. “You are broken beyond Prozac. You’ve had the mental trauma equivalent of a major heart attack.”

Gulp.

This doctor–we’ll call him Dr. Borgia–inspires complete trust. In the past, I’ve been to psychiatrists who were complete turds. They wrote prescriptions for whatever the drug reps told them to, whether or not it was appropriate for me, as a patient. These psychiatrists will suffer greatly when my expatriate Vox friends and I take over the world. Oh, boy-howdy, will  they be punished.

Sorry. The Crayzee took over for a moment.

Dr Borgia listens carefully. He explains what he thinks is going on in my fucked-up brain, and when needed, he uses charts and pictures to illustrate his points. He asks questions, and when he sees that he’s asked me something I can’t answer easily–something that requires too much thinking from my broken thinker–he’ll rephrase until he gets the answer.

I’m a very curious patient. When I’m sick, I want to know everything about my illness, and I’ll read pages upon pages about any medications I’m prescribed. When I had the Fournier’s, I was researching every one of the antibiotics they were pumping into me 16 hours a day, and I grilled the Infectious Disease doc about what sorts of bacteria were holding this little orgy in my nardsack. One day, he came in smiling, and said “Peptostreptococcus! The latest cultures I ran found that Peptostreptococcus is your main bacterium. There are still anaerobics in there…” I immediately changed my Vox banner to a stained Peptostreptococcus slide.” (Lauri noticed the change, and commented, “Ooh! Buggies!!” (She has harrowing bacteria stories of her own, although to my knowledge, she’s never had anything eating away at her nardsack. Well, or a nardsack upon which the Peptostreptococcus could engage in dirty dancing and feasting, like a white trash wedding reception dance floor))

Seriously, every med Dr Borgia has put me on–and we’ve been through a bunch–has an excellent track record as a maximum efficacy med with few side-effects. His dosages haven’t always been conventional according to “the literature.” One medication, he started me at 45mg at bedtime each night. The various websites, FDA prescribing guidelines, etc, said that the normal starting dosage should be 15mg. I asked him today, “Isn’t the normal starting dosage 15mg? Why did you start me at 45mg?” I wasn’t questioning his judgment–if he’d started me on 90mg, I’d have trusted him and taken it as ordered–I was just curious.

“Tom, it’s because–as counterintuitive as it may sound–15mg is more sedating than 45mg. The way they researched and marketed this drug (mirtazapine (Remeron)) was wrong. They approached it from the wrong angle. This could have been a huge drug for them, and it never was, simply because they misunderstood how the medication reacted in a sick patient’s mind. 45mg was more therapeutic and had fewer side-effects than 15mg.”

First off, he got bonus points for using “counterintuitive.” His explanation made sense to me–the brain needed more of the chemical to be less sedating, even though that sounds backwards. This drug (mirtazapine) is also described on crazymeds.us (my favorite source for “tell it like it really is” psych-med info (written by a Pharm D and an MD)) as being the psych-med equivalent of  “really good weed,” and that our brain should be “swimming in serotonin,” which is brain juice that makes you feel calm and content. Also, we’d sleep all day, and crave doughnuts by the dozen.

In me, it didn’t work (other than some increased ice cream consumption). I developed very un-Tom-like behavior. Like I’d go from zero to Dennis Hopper in “Blue Velvet” in the snap of a finger. An half empty soda bottle I’d taken out of the fridge fell onto the floor–I hadn’t set it all the way on the counter. I slammed the fridge door so hard that all my magnets fell off, then I threw the bottle completely across my apartment, like young Peyton Manning (I dented the wall, and just missed a lamp). The next day, somebody from my newly merged prescription insurance provider called me. She was reading from a script. Badly.

I work as a supervisor in a call center, where we have sometimes a thousand reps on the phones. I would have slain one of  my reps for being this bad. She explained that there’d been a merger. I informed her I was aware of this, since they’ve sent me about 15 different mailings announcing the merger. She then switched to a script informing me of the benefits in ordering a 90 day supply of my meds via mail-order. “You just got stabbyfeet meds refilled at your store, and your co-pay was $25. Through mail-order, you could have gotten–” I interrupted her. “I am aware that I could have gotten a 90 day supply via mail-order for that same $25, but A) I needed it NOW, and B) this thirty day supply will last me five months.” “But you could still save–” “I’M NOT INTERESTED.” “Okay, Mr. S. I see you just got a prescription for mirtazapine. Your co-pay was $17, but if you got a 90 day supply th–”

*tom goes from zero to pissed in .09 seconds*

(sfx: James Earl Jones/King Mufasa/Evil Boom Voice):  YOU ARE NOT LISTENING TO ME!! I KNOW ABOUT THE 90 DAY MAIL SUPPLY THING. I AM NOT AN IDIOT! I HAVE BEEN ON THIS MIRTAZAPINE FOR FIVE DAYS!! IT’S A BIT PREMATURE TO MENTION A 90 DAY SUPPLY!!! STOP TALKING ABOUT IT, OR I WILL HANG UP THIS CALL.

(pause) “Well, Mr S, I need to tell you about how you can save–”

YOU ARE APPARENTLY INCAPABLE OF LISTENING TO MY ANSWERS!! NEVER EVER EVER EVER FUCKING CALL ME AGAIN!!! I AM BLOCKING THIS FUCKING NUMBER, AND I AM HANGING UP THE PHONE…NOW!!!!!!!!!!

And I did.

Two things occurred to me. First off, hanging up on a cellphone is anticlimactic. I have to take the phone away from my ear, shake it to reactivate the display, then slide the red “end call” icon to the right. Lame.

Payphones were the best, followed by those old 1970’s indestructible Bakelite phones that weighed like 10lbs. THOSE could get your point across with a good receiver slam.

The second thing was this: I don’t get violently angry, bellow Mufasaically at some moronic rep, then hang up on her. Ever. I theater voice-project in an unfriendly tone when I’m speaking to automated answering systems, because they understand this better than my oversedated, slurring Cracker drawl, but I never snap on people that way.

Hand to God, though: that last bellowed sentence to the ignorant twatwaffle was echoing through my apartment for like ten minutes.

Today, I was having new tires put on the USS Nimitz, and I realized I couldn’t wait another week to see Dr. Borgia. What sealed it was this: I was sitting quietly outside, under an umbrella, and this lady was walking quickly in different circuitous routes as she talked on her cellphone. Around the time I wanted to shove the umbrella up her ass, I called Dr. Borgia’s office, asking if there was any way I could get in to see him today. Collette–who’s Mexican, which is counterintuitive for a “Collette”–said Dr. Borgia was completely booked. She heard something in my slurring ramble. “Is this urgent, Tom?”

“Yes, Collette. It really is.”

“Okay. Come in at 330, and we can probably squeeze you in somewhere. You might have to wait, but we’ll get you in.”

“Thank you, Collette.”

I got there at 325. At 335, Dr Borgia was taking me back to his office, which has expensive Salvador DalĂ­ prints on the wall, and a leather sofa that doubtless cost more than my truck. I explained that my problems were twofold. First, this drug we started last week, which was supposed to enhance my sense of well-being had actually turned me into Russell Crowe on PCP, and second, that I otherwise had absolutely no spark inside me. I was all thick, dark gray fog. I wasn’t participating in life. Life was elsewhere. I was just a benign, gray cloud incapable of either a drizzle or a flurry. I explained that I was on four different meds that were supposed to be un-depressing me, but that each one of them had as primary side-effects “drowsiness, dizziness,” etc. “They may be working to heal my brain, but I’m so oblivious that I can’t tell. I HAVE to have some kind of spark, so that I can get out of bed and do things. Like, say, go to work, so that I can make money and not be fired for missing work because I’m too fogged-in to leave my bedroom. I need something that increases alertness, so that I can at least get my brain back to 75 or 80%, which would enable me to both shower AND work on the same day.”

First thing he did was grill me about the mirtazapine. “It really did that to you? And before we gave you that, you hadn’t had the rage issues since the Pristiq, right? When you scared your father?” “Right.”

“Okay. Stop the mirtazapine immediately. Your reaction is very unusual–I’ve used it with dozens of patients with only good effects–but we’ve established a good baseline with drug A three times a day, the rhombus pill once a day, and four 1mg Xanax a day, so it’s clear this drug reacted badly with your system. Let’s stay with drug A, the rhombus, and the Xanax.”

“I agree: I think we have something that’s working on the deep-down depression, but I need something to get me through the day. Four migs of Xanax in a day would knock most people out for a month, and I’m taking that every day.”

“I think you’re right. I would like to try adding a  stimulant, just to see if that can be a beacon through your fog, as you put it. It’s used regularly to assist with depression, and to counterbalance the sedating side-effects of anticonvulsants, which is what drug A is.”

He pulled out his pad. As he wrote the prescription, he gave me instructions on how to take the new med. “Day one, break one in half and take it, then take the other half four hours later. Day two, take a whole one, then another whole one four hours later. Day three, take one and a half first thing, then another one and a half in four hours. If you have any problems or reactions, call my service, and they will get your message to me day or night. Come back in one week, and we’ll see how you’re faring with that. We’ll probably titrate it up to 1.5 tabs three times a day, or maybe even two tabs three times a day. If it’s working–and I think it will help–you should feel some improvement pretty quickly.”

I took one in the Sarasota Walgreen’s parking lot at 727pm. When I hit the Sunshine Skyway around 805pm, I already felt like some of the weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I sat up straighter; my mind felt like it was banging on at least eight of my twelve cylinders again, and I had to be careful to keep the USS Nimitz below 85mph.

During our five month doctor-patient relationship, I’ve left messages, and Dr Borgia has called me back on weekends, in the evenings, between patients–whenever I’ve needed him.

Tomorrow, I will wake up and take my new, little, baby-aspirin-orange-colored buddy, and head off to the therapist. I imagine it will be a more pleasant session than I’ve had in awhile. Next Thursday, I see Dr Borgia at 2pm, and the therapist at 3pm. Normally, this would seem daunting. Now, I feel like I can function. The new med is a pain-in-the-ass to get. It has to be a paper prescription, and there are no refills. They control this med tightly, as if it were an amphetamine. Well, that’s what Adderall really is, so it makes sense.

For so long, I’ve felt like I was caught up in that damned “Wizard of Oz” twister. I may not be over the rainbow, nor may I ever be, but at least I can see the rainbow, know what it is, understand how it’s made, name the colors (ROY G BIV), and most of all, see just how fucking beautiful a rainbow is after the past six months of  sepia-toned dust.

Beats the shit out of the sepia toned Kansas dust.

(And I don’t begrudge Dr Borgia his Metallic Black Sapphire Twin-Turbo V-8 BMW X6 X-Drive 50i one damned bit!)

This is a long and tedious post, and I’m sorry for that. I queried my “Films in 2012” category, and found that I’ve written 51 film reviews this year. There are five or ten films I’ve watched and not reviewed (yet, anyway), but 51 seems like a lot. To me, blogging is supposed to be about life, and how we live it, how we make fun of it, what makes us *snerk* and what makes us tear-up. Maybe I should set up a film review blog, so people who give a crap about my film opinions can go there. Here, in Dispatches from the Tom Zone, I like to blog about the quirky things–like my grocery store having a shelf of discounted Saint candles for just $2 each (vs $6 or $7 for non-saint candles). Discounted saints. I’m not Catholic, but it just seems oddly appropriate that I have discounted saint candles  burning next to my cucumber mint and cinnamon apple candles. To quote Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams,” “Hey, I need all the good karma I can get right now.” (And if I ever form a band, it would be called “Discount Saints.”)

The film reviews were (and are) a way to exercise my brain. I love film, and I like analyzing them. Even when I was at my most mentally depleted, I could still review a movie. It’s what I’ve done so often–in school, for independent papers, blogging, etc–that it’s an automatic.

It was never meant to be a substitute for real bloggery, but it was really all I could write at the time.  Let me put this amphetamine-fueled 2900 word p.o.s. to bed, and we’ll wake up and face tomorrow head-on.

Thanks for being my friend, and for helping me through this effed the effing eff up last six months. It means a lot, and I’m grateful.

Not “BMW Z4 Roadsters for everybody” grateful, of course…but just thanks.

And in the name of काली the Destroyer, do NOT TELL ME HOW MUCH I CAN SAVE BY ORDERING PRESCRIPTIONS BY MAIL!! I’m not fixed enough for that argument again. Not quite yet. And you don’t want to hear the “Evil Boom Voice,” especially first thing in the morning.

Happy Thursday.

Besos,
t

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The Thief of Bagdad (1940)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags , on September 24, 2012 by tom

I don’t care that this 1940 version of  “The Thief of Bagdad” is set in some indeterminate past, nor that it involves Arabian legends, nor does it matter a whit to me who the villain was in the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks version. When you see that the 1940 version has THIS GUY as your evil character?

you just know strange things are afoot at the Circle K.

Actually, “The Thief of Bagdad” is a lot of fun. It bounds from start to finish with a cheerful energy. Even when Ahmad (John Justin) is blind, and Abu (Sabu (hand to Siskel, I’m not making this up)) is his dog, they’re happy. There’s a giant genie, who’s kind of a mean bastard for awhile till Abu tricks him. Even when he’s subject to Abu’s commands, he’s still sort of mocking and bullying, though in a nice enough way.

Jaffar (played by Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt)) is an oily, evil presence, a king-exiling, virgin-craving, double-crossing, son-of-a-bitch. Oddly, when he was shot by the Arrow of Truth, I suddenly felt like it was time to go to sleep. (Apparently, it’s not just Major Strasser: whenever Conrad Veidt dies in any film, I’m ready for sleep)) ((note: The Thief of Bagdad preceded Casablanca by a year or two. Some people might have sat in Casablanca, and said, “Holy SHIT! That Nazi is madre-freakin’ JAFFAR!”)

The special effects…well, they didn’t have Industrial Light & Magic back then, and certainly no CGI. There are some times when the onscreen image is almost laughable. The thing is, I was so sufficiently entertained–and so aware that the movie is 72 years old–that I didn’t care. In fact, “The Thief of Bagdad” won three Oscars, for visual effects, set decoration, and its gorgeous Technicolor cinematography. The film aims to appeal to families, to provide sheer escapism. There aren’t a lot of “Big Ideas” to discuss.

“The Thief of Bagdad” is a wonderful piece of entertainment. It wasn’t the best picture to come out that year–the Oscar nominees include “The Philadelphia Story,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “Rebecca,” and “Foreign Correspondent” (as reviewed yesterday)–but it is a hoot. It’s not too long, definitely not too heavy-handed, and in the end, Major Strasser does NOT get the girl.

What more could you want?

Grade: B

RAWRRR!

I mean…

Grade: B+

The Crying Game (1992)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags , on September 23, 2012 by tom

Nothing bothers me more about films (or music, or whatever, honestly) than hype. That’s one reason I never owned a copy of “Thriller”: I couldn’t stand the hype. I should note that years later, I still think “Thriller” is a hugely overrated glob of mostly mediocre songs, and I was right to avoid it as much as possible.

When it came out in 1992, there were few films as hyped as “The Crying Game.” It wasn’t the great performances by Stephen Rea, Forrest Whitaker, and Jaye Davidson, nor was it the taut, beautiful script. Everyone was talking about “The Crying Game” because of “the twist,” “the surprise,” or whatever you want to call it. For that reason, I went to the film under duress (my then-GF wanted to see it), and I didn’t really enjoy the film.

Two decades later, I rewatched “The Crying Game,” and I was absolutely surprised at how much I liked it. Essentially, we have two films here: one of Fergus the IRA soldier (Stephen Rea) and his friendship with a kidnapped British soldier, Jody (Forrest Whitaker), and the larger film where Fergus–now renamed “Jimmy”–makes good on his promise to Jody, and seeks out his girlfriend, Dil (Jaye Davidson). Dil is…well, she’s a trip. She has this calm, sultry allure, and a coolly self-assured way of talking. She and Jimmy become closer, and Jimmy is convinced he’s in love with Dil. One night, Dil lets her guard down, and they are about to have sex. That’s sorta where the “twist” arises.

Jimmy has some serious doubts, but is working his way back to Dil, when his old IRA friends catch up with him. He’s selected for–in essence–a suicide mission. The underlying threat is, that if he doesn’t do it, the IRA will kill Dil.

The script and the two principal actors–Rea and Davidson–really make this film remarkable. I imagine it’s hard to write a political violence/sexual boundary-pushing  film, but that’s just what director Neil Jordan has done. The pacing is steady and assured, and I couldn’t help but love the main characters, despite their deceits and subterfuges.

The ending goes back to the beginning. When Fergus is holding Jody prisoner, Jody tells the fable of the frog and the scorpion. In their last scene together, Jimmy is telling it to Dil. Considering all that’s happened on screen, it’s a nice parallelism upon which to end.

In this case, I wish I’d set aside my hype hatred and just enjoyed “The Crying Game” for what it is: an interesting, beautifully crafted film.

Grade: A-

Foreign Correspondent (1940)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags , on September 22, 2012 by tom

“Foreign Correspondent” is a lovely example of what I’d call a “rainy afternoon film.” It’s not one of Hitchcock’s best–not like “Rear Window,” “North by Northwest,” “Psycho,” etc–but it’s a neat little thriller set in the waning days of pre-WW2 peace.

Johnny Jones (Joel McCrea) is a bored reporter for the New York Globe, when his editor-in-chief decides to send him to Europe as a foreign correspondent. Beforehand, his editor decides Johnny Jones is too boring, so he renames Jones “Huntley Haverstock.” He’s introduced to the leader of a peace movement, Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), who agrees to introduce him one of the most important diplomats in Europe, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). At a luncheon, Jones meets, and falls in love with, Carol Fisher (Laraine Day). Care to guess who her father is?

Right.

As the story unfolds, there’s an assassination that turned out not to be an assassination, a car that seemingly disappears from a Dutch road, kidnappings, subterfuges, skin-of-the-teeth escapes, and danger lurking around every corner–this during peacetime.

Joel McCrea is a solid lead–handsome, dashing, and resourceful–but my favorite character is named Scott ffolliott (sic). He explains that an ancestor was beheaded by Henry VIII, so his mother removed the capital letter in its honor. ffolliott is played by George Sanders as one of those unflappable Brits we see in WW2 films: he talks quickly and in a lovely accent, and never seems to panic, no matter how many people are shooting at him.

“Foreign Correspondent” has plenty of twists and turns, although it feels overlong to me. Ten different writers worked on the screenplay, which may explain some of the odd segues and tone inconsistencies in the story.

There are some fun images though, including some that would ultimately end up in “North by Northwest.” In one, Johnson spies an airplane flying awfully low near a windmill he’s investigating. I imagined, of course, Cary Grant running from the crop-duster in “NxNW.” Another shot that ends up in “North by Northwest” is when Johnson escapes through the window of  his hotel room, climbing along the ledge. Cary Grant ended up in a strange lady’s room. Johnson ends up in his girlfriend’s powder-room, where a little old lady is powdering her nose. (Nice touch: Johnson climbs along the neon “Hotel Europe” sign. He bumps into it, and the EL cuts out, leaving “HOT EUROPE.”)

If you have a rainy day, and access to it, I highly recommend “Foreign Correspondent.” It’s not what I would call “high-Hitchcock.” It is, however, perfectly entertaining. And who needs to think all the time, right?

Grade: B

Great Damned Timing

Posted in Chronicles of chrazy (sic) on September 19, 2012 by tom

I had another massive, morning-long panic attack from hell, and then I get this in my e-mail.

Colonel E. H. Taylor Rye
Straight Rye Whiskey, 100 proof
Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, KY

– $64.99 –
(Limited Quantities)

An altogether different recipe and profile than Sazerac Rye, this recipe contains just rye and malted barley, no corn. The result is an aroma full of dried fruit, black pepper, and touch of fresh dill. A small sip brings an array of flavors both sweet and savory with a terrific balance of dark spices and subtle caramel overtones. The finish is especially pleasing with an oaky dryness that lingers just long enough.

It’s a good thing they can’t deliver immediately, or I’d order two, screw nipples on the tops, and just curl up in bed for the night. (Just kidding. With all the Xanax, Klonopin, and those gray, rhombus-shaped things I’ve taken, my brain would be a parsnip)

My Life as a Dog (1985)

Posted in Films 2012 with tags , on September 18, 2012 by tom

“My Life as a Dog” follows the life of a young boy going through some rough times, and how he uses his imagination and eccentricity to escape. His name is Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius). He’s eleven or so when the film begins. His mother has tuberculosis, as well as some rage issues, and she needs a break from Ingemar and his dickhead older brother. So Ingemar heads off to stay with his aunt and uncle for the summer.

He has an awesome summer. He makes friends, feels loved by his aunt and uncle, and experiences a stable, safe life, far from what he’s accustomed to at home.

He returns home, only to find his mother deteriorating quickly. When she dies, it’s back to his aunt and uncle.

Ingemar’s key friendship turns out to be with Saga (Melinda Kinnaman), a tomboy who is the best boxer and soccer player in the village. The two develop a deep-seated trust. When Saga starts growing breasts, she fears that her soccer career is over, since she can no longer pass for a boy. Ingemar gently binds her breasts so that she’s flat again. Sorta.

Throughout “My Life as a Dog,” Ingemar gets into one fix after another, but he has a good heart. In voice-over, he keeps talking about such tragic figures as “the guy who walked across the sports field, only to have a javelin go through his chest.” But most of his narration concerns Laika, the dog launched into space by the Soviet space program. Ingemar also keeps lamenting he should have told his mother everything while she was still well. In these moments, we always see the same snippet of Ingemar and his mother sitting lakeside. Ingemar is clowning around, and his mother laughs. That is how he remembers his mother most of the time.

After Ingemar and Saga have a falling out, Ingemar locks himself in his uncle’s “Summer House,” a sort of roofed gazebo in the back yard. There, it all hits Ingemar at once: that his mother was only rarely that laughing figure–she was more often screaming in violent rage, even without the TB; that his beloved dog, Sicka, was not “at a kennel,” but had been euthanized; and that life is messy, and he’s part of it. This venting gives Ingemar catharsis. He goes back outside to a world where Saga is finally dressing like a girl, and all of Sweden is excited about the boxing match between Ingemar Johansson and American Floyd Patterson. As if to seal their reconciliation, Saga invites Ingemar to her house to listen to the radio broadcast. The fight ends with Johansson winning, and the entire village goes joyfully nuts. On Saga’s living room couch, Saga and Ingemar are asleep together, two young best friends who took comfort together.

“My Life as a Dog” is a wonderful mix of humor, drama, and quirkiness, as eccentric as the small village where Ingemar’s big-hearted aunt and uncle live.

There was a minor controversy (no pun intended), because we actually see maybe ten seconds of  young Saga’s budding breasts when she shows them to Ingemar, so they can figure out how best to hide them for soccer. Some people freak out over absolutely nothing. There was nothing lurid or even remotely sexual about the shots. I managed to control myself, and not become a slavering deviant, and I suspect 99.9999999999% of the audience will also survive intact.

(Honestly, I doubt the people who’d be offended by these brief shots would be caught dead watching a subtitled Swedish film anyway, unless they read about it in “Indignation Weekly,” and watched “My Life as a Dog” just to throw a snit over these innocent images)

I love this movie. The pacing, the mix of joy and pain, and the way it shows humans triumphing over being human–it’s amazing that the film’s tone never grew dark and dreary.

Despite certain tragedies, “My Life as a Dog” is a lot of thought-provoking fun.

Grade: A

The best friends: Ingemar (left) and Saga (right). Two amazing young actors.

The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Posted in Films 2012, Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 13, 2012 by tom

“The Philadelphia Story” is your typical girl is ready to marry boy, but girl’s ex shows up, along with two undercover reporters pretending they’re friends of girl’s brother, but girl’s ex tells girl that reporters are reporters (deep breath) screwball romantic comedy.

It’s also hilarious, and beautifully made. The girl is Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn), the product of a tremendously rich, old Mainline Philadelphia society family. She had an early, tempestuous marriage to C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant), whose alcohol abuse caused all manner of fighting and, ultimately, the dissolution of the marriage. Haven works for Spy magazine, a trashy tabloid, and concocts a story to get a Spy writer–Macauley Connor (James Stewart)–and a photographer, Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) into the Lord house for the wedding.

There’s blackmail at work here, then a reverse blackmail, and…oh, hell. What really matters is that this is a wonderful film. Tracy’s fiancee, George Kittredge (John Howard) is a sort of self-made man, who’s worked his way to the top. He’s also boring as hell, and has a giant stick up his ass. He’s everything that Tracy’s ex, Dexter, isn’t. As the film progresses, we find this may not necessarily be a good thing, especially since C.K. Dexter haven has quit drinking.

The script is wonderful, the dialogue sharp, and the acting (mostly) top shelf. I say “mostly,” because I wasn’t impressed with John Howard. He’s a decent actor, but he didn’t fit in with the rest of the cast. Maybe that was director George Cukor’s intent. I rather doubt it, though. All of these actors were giving funny, natural performances, then here’s this guy, sounding like a radio announcer delivering a newscast.

Katherine Hepburn is wonderful in everything, and “The Philadelphia Story” is no exception. Whether she’s being combative, sarcastic, drunk, or happy, she pulls it off with her usual brilliance. The two male leads, Cary Grant and James Stewart, were also brilliant. James Stewart won the Best Actor Oscar for his role. He’s very good, but I felt like Cary Grant overshadowed him, especially in their scenes together. This was a more serious role for Grant, and a lighter role for Stewart. James Stewart himself said he didn’t deserve the Oscar for this film; he felt like he was being rewarded for the previous year’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

I think he’s right, honestly. He’s still very good, but I don’t know about “Oscar” good. It’s not him: it’s just not an Oscar role.

Ruth Hussey was also nominated, for Best Supporting Actress. She was strong and smart, and did a wonderful job.

Of all the actors, my favorite was Virginia Weidler, who played Tracy’s mischievous younger sister, Dinah Lord.

Miss Weidler steals every scene she’s in, with her precocious wit and humor. She isn’t like a talented kid. She’s a talented screwball comedy actress, who just happened to be 13 years old.

In the picture above, she’s doing her part in the subterfuge, wherein the Lord family tries to act far more eccentric and crazy than they really are, so as to lend credence to the reporters’ preconceived notions. While the reporters relax in one of the parlors, she enters the room en pointe, and introduces herself, speaking rapid-fire French. Then she announces she can play piano and “sing at the same time.” She prances into the adjoining music room, and launches into a raucous version of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.”

Seriously, I found her scenes to be the absolute funniest. She had some awesome lines, to be sure (“I can tell things are in the air, since I’m being taken away.”)  She is a ham, but in the best possible way.

Sadly, Virginia Weidler had a limited Hollywood career. She was hired as a sort of counterpart to Shirley Temple, and had some good roles in big films. However, she wasn’t especially pretty, and her career was done before her 18th birthday. Sad.

But Virginia Weidler was a little scene-stealer in this film, something hard to do when you have Cary Grant, James Stewart, and Katherine Hepburn acting alongside you.

The final act drags a wee bit–just in comparison to the rapid-fire rest of the film–but “The Philadelphia Story” is one of my 20 favorite films, and definitely one of the all-time great romantic screwball comedies.

Grade: A

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