Mystic Pizza in Madaba

For some reason one of my most-read posts was about our visit to Mystic Pizza in Mystic, Connecticut, the inspiration for the movie that launched Julia Roberts on the path to stardom.

Now my expat son sends me evidence that Mystic Pizza is a global phenomenon — at least, it shows up in Madaba, a city in central Jordan:


Um, why?  My son has been to a Dunkin’ Donuts in Beirut, but Mystic Pizza is not a chain bent on global pizza domination.  It’s not a chain at all, as far as I know.  Here’s the original.  Note the different font on the sign.  And everything.  Well, the world is an interesting place.

Mystic Pizza sign

The New York Times proclaims “Love, Actually” a Christmas classic

I guess this is my annual Love, Actually post.  The New York Times  ran an article recently contemplating which recent holiday movies were classics.  And Love, Actually makes the cut:

The director Richard Curtis fills the cast with nearly every great British actor, and they make even ridiculous moments — Mr. Grant’s dancing to the Pointer Sisters’ “Jump (for My Love)” through 10 Downing Street — seem like master classes.

Thanks to the way-back machine that is the Internet, we can see what the Times had to say about the film back in 2003, when it first came out.  You don’t see reviews of major movies much worse than this one:

”Love Actually” is a patchwork of contrived naughtiness and forced pathos, ending as it began, with hugging and kissing at the airport (where returning passengers are perhaps expressing their relief at being delivered from an in-flight movie like this one). The loose ends are neatly tied up, as they are when you seal a bag of garbage — or if you prefer, rubbish.

Yikes. (Rotten Tomatoes gives the movie a 63%, slightly over the line from rottenness. Audiences like it much better, coming in at 73%.)

Speaking of hugging and kissing at the airport, the latest episode of The New Girl features the cast at the airport heading to various places for the holidays. It plays a cover of “God Only Knows” at one point as it cuts from character to character, clearly a reference to the soundtrack of Love, Actually.  Does a movie become a classic when a sitcom pays homage to it?

“The Kiss” and Chekhov’s Gun

The Kiss, from 1929, was the last silent movie for both MGM and Greta Garbo.

There’s no to watch it except for Garbo.  That’s because there’s just not much going on in it.  As the web site Silent Volume says:

I got the feeling that The Kiss, Garbo’s last silent film, was acted on the sly, as though everyone knew the Temptress had run its course and wanted to see how little they could build around the character and still make it work. For The Kiss is short: 62 minutes; without a subplot of any kind, one scant scene of comic relief; a barely resolved second act and no real third act at all.

A commenter on the site suggests that the studio just gave up on the film because it knew that talkies were the future and didn’t want to waste time and money on something no one would watch.

I’m always interested in plots that involve Chekhov’s gun, however, and The Kiss includes a very rudimentary implementation of the technique — every bit as rudimentary as the one in The Two Mrs. Carrolls.  In an early scene we see Garbo’s husband dropping some papers, and then opening the bottom drawer of a file cabinet to insert them into it.  Inside the drawer we and Garbo see — a gun!  Later on (spoiler alert!) Garbo is trying to stop her husband from beating up the callow young man he has seen her chastely kissing (Lew Ayres, appropriately awful). The husband thrusts Garbo aside.  She is on the floor — she suddenly recalls the gun in the file cabinet next to her — she takes it out — she shoots!

I don’t know the state of forensics back in the 20’s, but it seems odd that the jury lets Garbo off on the theory that her husband committed suicide.  The bullet, after all, was fired from a gun at least half a dozen feet away, held at the level of the husband’s kneecap.  Such details aren’t worth worrying about in this movie, however.  Better to just look at Garbo.

Writers in movies: Stuck in Love

Another in a random series.

Stuck in Love is a pleasant indie movie from 2012 starring Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly.  Here’s the IMDB summary:

An acclaimed writer, his ex-wife, and their teenaged children come to terms with the complexities of love in all its forms over the course of one tumultuous year.

What the summary leaves out is that both the kids are writers (or would-be writers) as well — the father (Kinnear) is determined to make them novelists like him.  So we’re given a whole family full of writers, which is a recipe for dysfunction and angst if I ever heard one.

The writer/director, Josh Boone, drops quotes from Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor into the script and clearly has a sympathetic sense of the writing life.  Here’s something he gets right: The movie begins with Kinnear preparing Thanksgiving dinner for his son, who is in high school, and daughter, who home from college.  At dinner the daughter drops the news that her novel has been accepted by a major publisher.  The predictable result is that dinner is ruined.  The father is upset that she abandoned the novel he has helped edit and written an entirely different book over the summer; the brother is so jealous of her success that he can’t be at the same table with her.  Writers are just awful!

Here’s what Boone gets wrong: The daughter writes a novel over the summer, sends it to her agent, who submits it anonymously and gets it accepted by a major publisher, and page proofs are ready by Thanksgiving?  Really?  In what universe?  (I’m into the fifteenth month of working on my current novel, so I may be feeling especially grumpy about this part.)

The father has written two successful literary novels, but has had writer’s block since his wife left him.  The writer’s block is reasonable; I’d be pretty upset if Jennifer Connelly dumped me.  But, with no other apparent income, he still manages to live in a gorgeous ocean-front house and pay his daughter’s tuition to college.  How does that work?

Later in the movie, the son writes an SF short story, which his sister gets hold of.  Then what?  Without telling the brother, the sister sends it to Stephen King, who loves it so much he gets it published in a major SF magazine and calls the kid to let him know.  Of course.  Happens all the time.  (I remember the stories I wrote when I was in high school; just thinking about them makes me cringe.)

In other words, this is a typical movie world, where success comes too easily and is rewarded too much; love is what’s hard.  It makes me appreciate the world of The Wordsin which the writer is talented and hard-working, pours his soul into his novel, and gets exactly nowhere.  That’s a lot more like the real writing life.

Writers in moves: Leave Her to Heaven

This is my second offering in this series.

Leave Her to Heaven was a popular film noir (beautifully filmed in Technicolor, actually) from 1945.  Here is IMDB’s summary:

A writer meets a young socialite on board a train. The two fall in love and are married soon after, but her obsessive love for him threatens to be the undoing of both them and everyone else around them.

Gene Tierney is the psychopathic socialite; Cornel Wilde is the writer.  The premise is fine, and Gene Tierney is great (and gorgeous).  The problem I had with the movie was that the Cornell Wilde character is a complete drip, and Cornell Wilde isn’t enough of an actor to make us care about him.

The fact that the main character is a writer is of little significance to the plot.  It mainly allows Wilde and Tierney to meet cute — he sees her reading his novel on a train.  This lets him quote a line from the novel to her:

When I looked at you, exotic words drifted across the mirror of my mind like clouds across the summer sky.

Oh, dear.  I’m pretty sure it’s always a mistake to quote from a fictional writer’s work in a movie.

(As an aside, on a plane once I sat across from a woman  who was reading something I had written — not one of my novels, alas, but a work-for-hire I had perpetrated for a high-tech company.  When I mentioned the coincidence to her as we deplaned, she was signally uninterested.  At least she wasn’t a psychopath.  I think.)

After the train scene, we just see Wilde occasionally pecking away at an old-fashioned manual typewriter, always wearing a writerly jacket and tie. There is no discussion of the creative process; there is no angst over deadlines; he finishes the book, and one day a copy arrives in the mail.  Writing novels is just what he does, because he comes from Boston, don’t you know, and went to Harvard.

I’ll just add that the trial sequence, featuring Vincent Price as the DA who was also Gene Tierney’s scorned lover, is about as over-the-top ridiculous as anything I’ve seen recently.

Want to see a Shakespeare play in ten minutes?

. . . without all the annoying Shakespearean verbiage that slows down most productions of his plays?

Of course you do.  So you want to see early silent movies of Shakespeare plays.  Here is an 11-minute Tempest from 1908 that features special effects like Ariel disappearing:

And here is a hand-tinted King Lear from Italy in 1910:

It lasts 16 minutes, but King Lear is pretty complicated (even without the Edmund/Edgar subplot).

If you’re like me (and who isn’t?) you love this kind of stuff.  And you probably also love the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which gets Shakespeare done quickly, even if they have to use words.

If “Love Actually” is so bad, why do I have to watch it every year?

My lovely wife was getting nervous as Christmas approached: Love Actually wasn’t available on Netflix streaming or Verizon on-demand. So finally we had to buy the DVD from Amazon (with faster shipping to make sure it arrived before Christmas).  This means we need never worry that we’ll be without Love Actually when we need it.  Phew.

The thing is, every year her complaints about the movie increase.  Every year she notices more implausibilities and other assorted irritants to raise her ire.  Here are a few.  (I left out many more in the interest of brevity.)

  • Why can’t any of the men in this picture close the deal with the woman they want? ? Even Claudia Schiffer can’t make Liam Neeson ask for a playdate, coffee date, anything?  A porn star stand-in can’t ask out a costar?  Mr. Underpants can’t ask out Laura Linney in 2 years, 7 months?  Colin the caterer is the only one who can open his mouth and flirt with a woman.
  • Why don’t most characters wear warm clothing outdoors? 
  • Why would Keira Knightley’s wedding video be ruined?  A pro uses two cameras.
  • Why was the prime minister home alone on Christmas eve?  Why couldn’t he get the address of a recent employee by phone?
  • What’s up with the all the fat jokes?  Natalie, Aurelia’s sister, “my fat manager,” and so on. Is it a feel-good movie or what?

None of these problems keep her from watching, though. Because, you know, Hugh Grant.  And, especially, Bill Nighy.  Here is a writer in Salon making the case that Love Actually is the worst Christmas movie ever.  She calls it “demoralizing, misogynistic holiday twaddle.”  I dunno.  I guess I’ll have to see it a few more times to decide if I agree.