The Clark Gable Show

That's what it's been around my tv the last couple days, and that is not a bad thing at all. Especially not after Cavalcade, which has been my least favorite film in the series since Wings. It's barely worth mentioning, honestly: Men go to war! Women sit around and fret! The world changes! Women sit around and fret some more! All this without Clara Bow to delight me? Awful.

Happily, my reward for sitting through Cavalcade was a double feature starring my boyfriend Clark Gable, who I have loved desired greatly admired for purely artistic, actor-y reasons since I saw Gone With the Wind. And like it or not, I do like Frank Capra -- so sappy, still so good. (Growing up here probably has something to do with that, too.) So It Happened One Night felt like dessert.

And then we came to Mutiny on the Bounty. On one hand, you see a lot less of Clark Gable in favor of characters who are far less attractive interesting. On the other hand, it's still Clark Gable. Seriously, I was born 80 years too late. In actual movie review news, I'm noticing that almost all the films from these early years have trouble ending in a succinct, satisfying manner, at least by today's standards. I didn't need the last half hour of Mutiny -- the details about how the castaways found their way home, the trial and its long monologues.

Were these also examples of scenes in which Clark Gable was noticeably absent? Yes. Yes they were.

Best Picture Death Race: 7 films seen; 75 to go.


Ain't She Grand

Full disclosure: Before Grand Hotel, the only Joan Crawford film I'd ever seen was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  To be perfectly honest, I had to double-check to make sure I was watching the same Joan Crawford in Grand Hotel. She is so perfectly sweet and sarcastic that she steals every scene she's in, and when she's not on screen, I found myself wondering when she'd be back. Not a small feat, considering the other names she's up against (Greta Garbo, John Barrymore).

Plot-wise, I'm happy to report that most of the action was unpredictable, a nice departure from the films I've seen so far. It starts as a kind of lighthearted, romantic romp -- but then there's a twist that brings everything way, way down. I'm not sure if I liked the story, ultimately, but I'm happy to have seen the other side of Joan.

Best Picture Death Race: 4 films seen; 78 to go.


Progress Report

It's now the middle of the year, and I dread that I have not made the progress necessary to meet, um, any of my deadlines. So I decided to take stock and form a plan. And I also decided to live-blog this fascinating process. You're welcome.

Best Picture Death Race: I stalled out on this one when our DVD player stopped sending pictures to our TV. It starts up, shows me the welcome screen, and then my TV tells me it gets no signal. This is frustrating, and does not inspire me to want to watch movies.
Time remaining: 37 and a half weeks. Movies remaining: 79 (if I watch them in order, including those I've seen). New plan: At least two movies per week; sometimes fit in a weekend marathon.

Twice Baked Challenge: This one is going to be tricky for me, because The Fisherman and I just started our own inter-marriage Biggest Loser Challenge. But it'll be great for you, because I'll probably just bake a lot of stuff and give it away. But how much do I actually need to bake?
Time remaining: Six and a half months. Recipes remaining: 52, counting "a trio of truffles" as one. New plan: So basically, I need to bake a new thing every four days? That is crazy-talk, unless one of those new things is a sauce or beverage. New resolution: weekly baking sprees, involving two or more recipes. Watch the Twice Baked blog, because seriously, there's going to be a lot to give away.

Passport to Everywhere: Yeah, I have til 2014. At least I have this one.

Photo by Steel Wool, Flickr

The Queen of Mexico

I'll be writing about my trip to the Riviera Maya at Recommend and probably also a little bit at Jetblogged, but there's one particular attraction in Playa del Carmen you'll only read about here: the Reina Roja.

My itinerary included several hotel site inspections, with this fiesty little place slipped in, as if nobody would notice we were all of a sudden inside a SEX DUNGEON. A hotel spokesperson took us around and explained that the place was inspired by a "love of women." Then he took us to the porn room.

(I did not take photos in the porn room.)

Now I'm just trying to decide: to what publication should I pitch this place?

These freaky mannequins were stationed all over the lobby/bar area, in various stages of (un)dress. It's not the fashion I'm opposed to here, but the mannequins in the first place. Is this sexy to someone? Anyone?

Here we have "The Green Room," which is a room covered entirely -- floor, walls and ceiling -- in astroturf. See above, re: mannequins. Anyone?

Aw, look, guys. It's the honeymoon suite.

And, naturally, a tattoo parlor, inside a cage, inside a bar. This is where great ideas are born.

In all seriousness, my trip to Playa was a wonderful time, and I can't wait to go back to redeem the hotel stay I won in a raffle. And no, you weirdo, it's not at the Pervy Mannequin Palace.

Passport to Everywhere: 36 stamps to go.
1. Bimini
3. Playa del Carmen, Mexico


Tasty Cake, Poor Photo Skills

Yeah, I made an awesome coffee cake and took a few awesome pictures of the awesome coffee cake ... and then I deleted those awesome pictures. But check out ComeUndone's version -- it's prettier than mine, anyway. And then go read about how I fed a group of hungry fishermen with my awesomeness.

Surprise! Old Hollywood had morals and stuff.

I've been consistently amazed at how progressive some of these old films have been. By today's standards, of course, they still have a long way to go. But Cimarron, released in 1931, promotes Native American rights and interracial marriage. I did not see that coming.

When it comes to sexism, on the other hand, we haven't exactly come a long way just yet. Every female character in the movie is either judgmental and bigoted or, in the case of Dixie Lee, a hooker with a heart of gold. (I'm calling "Dixie Lee" as the name of my next pet, by the way.) Yancy Cravat, played by Richard Dix in some truly distracting eyeliner, is the moral compass for the whole town, including his wife Sabra, whose wishes he ignores in order to do the important work of settling the West. (At one point, Yancy argues that white men stole Native Americans' land, which complicates that "noble" goal.) In another unexpected turn, however, Sabra uses her time alone to turn Yancy's newspaper into a thriving business and even wins a seat in the state senate. Still irksome, but a nice change from, say, Clara Bow's She's All That-style transformation and subsequent catfight over her man in Wings.

Perfect, it is not. But it's nice to discover that I'd underestimated us, as a country. And I hope it'll be even more gratifying to keep watching our views evolve.

In the meantime, here's backstage footage of the cast. Richard Dix is the one who can't stop wiping the eyeliner off his face, naturally.


Vacation From Everything

The Fisherman's parents celebrated their birthdays with a month in a Turks and Caicos villa this year, and we joined them for the week of Easter. I meant to take pictures and notes and put together an ode to the wonderful time we had ... and then I spent all week swimming and sunbathing and generally ignoring the fact that I'm a writer who takes photos sometimes. But these photos taken by others pretty much tell the whole story.

(We watched ours at Magnolia)

(No one even referenced "I'm On A Boat," which is weird now that I think of it.)

(This isn't Dawn Beach Villa, where we stayed, but it's close. Just replace that grill with a Jacuzzi tub in your imagination.)

Passport to Everywhere: 37 stamps to go.
2. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos


There Is No End

My Twice Baked cofounder Kimra alerted me to this lovely story at NPR about the difference between exploring the world and checking things off the list. A nice reminder:
If "well-read" means "not missing anything," then nobody has a chance. If "well-read" means "making a genuine effort to explore thoughtfully," then yes, we can all be well-read.
In that spirit, I think I'll watch a silly animated movie this weekend.

Photo by tecfan, Flickr

A Few of My Favorite Things

I like bananas, and chocolate, and coffee. So making these muffins was pretty much a spiritual experience.


"All Quiet": Classic and Devastating

Now this is what I thought the Best Picture Death Race would be like: classic, interesting, thought-inspiring movies. It's not that All Quiet on the Western Front was particularly subtle, or entirely different from anything I'd seen before, or even all that great at telling its story. But it was visually fascinating; you could tell that the director carefully chose the framing of each shot. It was far better acted, with believable and heartwrenching violence. And it just felt like a movie, a good movie, rather than a propaganda piece or a stage show.

For a movie about how dirty and ugly war is, there are plenty of gorgeous scenes here. This one in particular, with its wide view of a crowded landscape, feels like an ancestor to Gone With the Wind.

This simple, artsy shot is the only tranquil scene in the whole movie -- and even this feels sad and sinister. (It's at 9:20.)

And by the end, I was struck by the story's similarities to The Hurt Locker. Soldiers broken by war, dreaming of home until they arrive there and discover they no longer belong.

The scenes themselves are kind of haphazardly strung into a story, but each on its own is genuinely heartbreaking, both because of the way they were crafted, and because we're still telling them -- in film, in books, in the news -- to this day.

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