Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Break: Day 4 - Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

I decided to get this in before the events of tomorrow, revisiting part of the updated Reagan Library (not the part that requires admission, but I do want to see what the souvenir store has, and also to look out at the view from the replica of the South Lawn) as well as having lunch at the Reagan Cafe, a few errands arround Simi Valley, seeing "Arthur", and then possibly going to Famous Dave's BBQ for dinner.

Yet another day at home and it turns out with good reason. Not that I'm getting restless, but I did get to that point this evening where I would like to see a different part of my immediate world. Not cabin fever. With all the books I have, I can leave through the words and come back whenever I want. The living room couch is my aircraft.

Rather, it's the anticipation of seeing "Arthur." I've seen the trailer so many times, and I liked learning that there's a new version of "Best That You Can Do (Arthur's Theme)" played over the end credits, which means Christopher Cross, who I'm a huge fan of, and the others involved in that song, gets some royalties. As if that wasn't enough, I also found out that Cross has a new album coming out called "Doctor Faith." It's been 13 years since "Walking in Avalon", and I understand, since it takes time for him to write those songs, but I hope he doesn't wait too long the next time. Once that one's released, I'm buying it.

It was a quiet day with Walter Mondale. An honest, well-meaning politician. You don't find that combination of words these days. I'm up to when Jimmy Carter has decided to make him his running mate, which is what I've been waiting for, to see what it was like for him being a rare vice president who worked so closely with his boss. The meeting of the two is particularly fascinating, in Plains, Georgia, the conversations serious and utterly intelligent, and the walk around Plains, with Carter talking about how his religion drives him in his decisions.

There was enough to keep me occupied up until then, with Mondale's admiration for Hubert Humphrey, and his career in the Senate. I've got 196 pages to go, so there's a lot more interesting tidbits to come.

And that's been it. Just me and Mondale's book. And probably tomorrow, too, but with the added feature of a car and my mp3 player while in that car.

Spring Break: Day 3 - Home

We stayed home all day yesterday. I'm used to it because I've got all the books I could ever want and a whole lot more when I'm done with those.

There wasn't much reason to go out yesterday. No great attraction we could think of us to propel us from Santa Clarita to places we haven't already been. But a day like this, any day like this, is never a waste.

For one, besides the books and DVD that came in the morning yesterday, I came upon something equally beneficial to me. I've waited to see "Somewhere" for a year, starting when I learned Sofia Coppola was making a new film. I loved "Lost in Translation," it's in my DVD collection, and I liked "Marie Antoinette," but not as much as "Lost in Translation." When it was time for the release of "Somewhere", I checked the official website every week to see if it would come to one of the two theaters in the Santa Clarita Valley. Never. Oh sure, "Country Strong" got a screen, but apparently, Focus Features didn't think we deserved having "Somewhere" on one of our screens. What, would some of our residents not have wanted to see part of the world they live in? Santa Clarita is stocked with those who work in Hollywood. Many movies and TV shows film here. The most Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) did that was related to movies was press junkets and going to a special effects studio to have a mold made of his head. The rest was just him living as a nothing man, really having nothing, being nothing, while it looked like he had everything.

I went to Amazon to see when "Somewhere" was coming to DVD, and I knew Netflix had made a deal with Universal to delay new releases for 30 days. "Little Fockers" came out Tuesday, but it won't be available through Netflix until May 3. "Somewhere" comes to DVD on the 19th, but I also found that 'Instant Video Rental' was available for $3.99. Since we were still home by mid-afternoon and obviously weren't going anywhere, I knew how I was going to spend the rest of the afternoon. I love that I can find a lot of titles on Netflix Instant, but I'm not keen on spending hours on a computer watching movies or TV shows, not like I used to with my own TV. I know essentially that the computer screen is just another screen, but it's not for me.

And yet, I wasn't going to wait any longer. So Amazon got my $3.99 for a 24-hour rental, which lasts until 3:19 p.m. today. The only reason I'm going to go back into the movie is to see Eliza Coupe's brief role in it again, as the Chateau Marmont tenant across the hall from Johnny Marco. I knew she looked familiar, having played Denise in the final season of "Scrubs" (what possibly came after does not exist to me), but I never knew she could look like THAT. Wow!

"Somewhere" is an interesting turn for Coppola, having been steeped in Hollywood history for a few decades, first having been the baby at the end of "The Godfather" and then as Michael Corleone's daughter in "The Godfather, Part III." She's lived this Hollywood. She knows it so well, and I was amazed at how accurately she portrayed publicists. That's pretty much what they are in that world. I've wondered how they can do that, shepherding the lives and works of others and never really forming their own identity. Ok, maybe they have an identity outside of work, but I mean really doing things for themselves, maybe making their own work. That's why I'm a former film critic, because I wanted to shepherd my own work.

"Lost in Translation" is still my favorite Sofia Coppola film. This one just takes time to know. It doesn't throw anything at you that you can immediately connect to. It's not that type of film. It's observation of this one actor, it's a meditation on what Hollywood is, the effect that it has on its actors. Not a documentary by a long shot, because surely it isn't this way for all its actors, but incisive enough.

Elle Fanning is an interesting presence, but just one part of Marco's life. Yes, she takes up most of the movie alongside Dorff's Marco, as his daughter Cleo, but Cleo is just there, just like Johnny's car is there, just like Johnny's room at the Chateau Marmont is always there. Everything's just always there, and yet there's nothing at all there for him.

There are times when what Coppola may have connected to is hard for us to connect to, scenes where we wonder when the story is going to move along. This didn't happen in "Lost in Translation" because Coppola not only had Bill Murray, but all of Tokyo. Here, she shows that Hollywood really is that barren. It feels like that. I don't know the Chateau Marmont, and I never will, but I know those roads and those freeways. There's one shot where Johnny drives by the Hollywood Bowl sign en route to the freeway. I know that sign. What Coppola captures there is 100% accurate.

Because Coppola likes long takes, there's one remarkable scene, when Johnny is in the Marmont's elevator with Benicio del Toro.

They wait in the elevator for their separate floors, there's some small talk about Johnny's room (del Toro met Bono in that room), and then they part. But looking at del Toro, it's amazing. He was a young henchman in the Bond film "Licence to Kill", and look at him now, older, weathered, with an intensity that seemed like youthful gleefulness when he was young. It serves him well now.

I might not have connected to "Somewhere" as much as I do to "Lost in Translation" because I know this world. I've not lived it, but I know it through the years I wrote movie reviews, through the Hollywood history I still study, though just as a side interest now. That scene in Las Vegas, which was at the Planet Hollywood Casino, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has a gossip columnist named Norm, who keeps track of the celebrities that have come through Vegas through the section of his column called "Sightings." Vegas partly thrives on the celebrity runoff from Los Angeles. But it's not as obsessed with it as Hollywood is. That's not all of what Las Vegas is, and that's what helps it remain its own unique self.

But as mild as I feel toward "Somewhere," it does make me impatient for Coppola's next film. She's got a fertile, creative mind that has given us so much and still has more to give.

It doesn't feel like we'll go anywhere today. Shopping at Ralphs seems more suited for the weekend, and tomorrow we're supposed to go to Simi Valley. I haven't started reading "Bossypants" by Tina Fey (not ready for it yet because when I read it, I want to read it all the way through), but I did start "The Good Fight: A Life in Liberal Politics" by Walter F. Mondale. It's a side effect of the research for my book, but I'm curious to see the Carter Administration from his perspective, being that he and Carter worked together very closely in those four years. And of course I want to know how he came to choose Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate in the 1984 election. Reading of his early life in the opening pages, it's apparent that that decision was already there. He's that much of a good and decent man.

So with this Mondale book, I'm good for the rest of the day. It doesn't take much.