LiC Photo of the Week: City of Angels #1

“They call Los Angeles ‘The City of Angels.’ I didn’t find it to be that exactly, but I’ll allow there are some nice folks there. ‘Course I can’t say I’ve seen London, and I ain’t never been to France, and I ain’t never seen no queen in her damned undies so the feller says, but I’ll tell you what: after seeing Los Angeles and this here story I’m about to unfold, well I guess I seen somethin’ every bit as stupefyin’ as you’d see in any of them other places… and in English, too… so I can die with a smile on my face without feelin’ like the good Lord gypped me.” – The Big Lebowski

Every time I hear Los Angeles referred to as The City of Angels, I think of The Big Lebowski and I laugh. In fact, the movie is forever intertwined with my life here and with my up and down struggles over the last 15 odd years to make it home. I saw the movie opening night at Laemmle’s Sunset 5 about 9 months after moving down here from Seattle. At the time, I was lost and a little bit bewildered in more ways than one. The city was still a stranger to me and in some ways I felt homeless.

L.A. is so spread out, it’s hard to get a handle on it and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, but Lebowski was kind of like a lifeline. Written by outsiders, the movie shared my own befuddlement over the city but it did so from the distance of memory and with a large measure of affection. It’s a far different L.A. than that depicted in Barton Fink. Rather than a heartless, scary and dangerous hell where creativity comes to die. It’s sunnier and more optimistic. Sure you might have a coffee mug bounced off your forehead by a surly local sheriff and you might have your Creedence tapes stolen, but it always seems to wind up ok in the end.

If anything, I grew to love Lebowski more as I finally grew to love the city itself. It captures a slice of the city you don’t always see in movies, cutting from the scruffy, sunbaked courtyard apartments that are ubiquitous in residential parts of the city, to the casual opulence of Malibu, to the more ostentatious excess of Beverly Hills, to a little mid-century bungalow home in The Valley where an old TV western screenwriter might still live. And don’t forget the In-and-Out Burger.

So anyway, this week’s picture just got me to thinking. Though it’s of L.A.’s official “downtown,” that’s not really what identifies the city for me, nor is it the only cluster of skyscrapers bunched together to look like a regular city. Sure, many people work there during the week and it’s the place you go if you’re going to a Laker game or to the opera or the Museum of Modern Art or the philharmonic (unless it’s summer when they’re at The Hollywood Bowl), but most people spend most of their lives in one or more of the dozens of neighborhoods all around they city. That’s my experience anyway and the experience of most of the people I know. L.A. is different for everyone, however, and I suppose and that’s one of its charms.

This actually isn’t quite the photo I’d set out to take, but the spot I’d planned to shoot from was surrounded by “Pedestrians Prohibited” signs. I didn’t feel like having a coffee cup bounced off my head by a surly cop, so I went with plan B instead. Maybe I’ll take a chance at some point in the future.

And on to the weekend’s movies. I actually saw quite a bit this weekend. I’m making up for some of the slacking I’ve been doing lately I guess. First up was Vera Farmiga’s directorial debut Higher Ground (*** 1/2). It’s very well done with great performances by Farmiga and her entire cast, but movies about people in spiritual crises just don’t grab me that much when you get right down to it. Questions of God aren’t the questions that generally occupy my thoughts of a cold dark night.

After that was the documentary Senna (***) about the Brazilian Formula One driver who found unprecedented success before losing his life in a racing accident. It was very well done and not un-entertaining, but it didn’t really feel like it transcended its subject matter.

Don’t be Afraid of the Dark (*** 1/2) meanwhile was nicely creepy and scary as long as I didn’t think about the plot too much. It wasn’t terribly original but it built up a nice old-fashioned creepiness you don’t see everyday anymore. I have a thing about dental trauma and the film opened a particularly unpleasant scene of same, so that pretty much ensured I was sort of on edge for the entire  picture. Your results may vary.

My Idiot Brother (****) was a mild but nice surprise. It was not a laugh riot, but it was amusing and sweet-natured enough to make up for its predictability. Paul Rudd is terrific as the guileless stoner who manages to be lovable and infuriating all at the same time.

John Sayles’ Amigo (*** 1/2) was a nicely done historical drama about the US adventure in the Philippines in 1900 and the familiar difficulties faced by an invading force in dealing with unfriendly locals. It’s not a new story, but it’s apparently one we have yet to learn as a nation. At the same time, this isn’t an anti-American film. It’s a cautionary tale that should have particular resonance to the present day, but it neither makes overt political statements nor passes direct judgment on this country’s present day actions. Garret Dillahunt (The Assassination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford) is great as a US soldier who finds that both brutality and kindness each present their own sets of problems when fighting a war on foreign soil.

I had every intention of finally catching Rise of the Planet of the Apes this weekend, but once again it fell by the wayside.

That’s all from me. Now it’s your turn. Anyone see anything good, bad or ugly in the last week?


12 Responses to “City of Angels”

  1. I attended the Robert Ryan Film Festival this past Monday to see both John Cromwell’s The Racket and the paranoia noir thriller I Married A Communist (a.k.a. The Woman on Pier 13). Both were fair enough, but I’ve give an edge to the latter. Cromwell’s film is actually included in one of the Warner Brothers’ film noir collections. ASlthough I had plans three days later to see the four-hour The Iceman Cometh on Thursday, all the scary hurricane talk kept me home getting the house set. Lucille and I relented on Friday night, going to the local multiplex to see a Del Toro-scriped hooror film with Guy Pearce leading up called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. This sometimes derivative yarn had it’s moments, but it also had that trashy multiplex feel. It’s passable though, as far as genre efforts go. I also saw two truly great pre-coders on DVD: Peach-o-Reno and The Sins of Nora Moran, both which earn four-and-one-half star ratings. The former features the under-appreciated 30?s comedy team Wheeler and Woolsey, who at least with this film match the far more renowned Marx Brothers. Nora Moran is a stark, expressionistic piece that features some exceptional performances and a harrowing story. I rarely if ever include the mention of at-home DVD viewings on the diary, but this week under the circumstances, I’ve relented.

    I saw in theatres:

    The Rachet *** (Monday evening) Robert Ryan at Film Forum

    I Married A Communist *** 1/2 (Monday evening) Robert Ryan at Film Forum

    Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark *** (Friday night) Edgewater multiplex

  2. No movies due to Irene prep. Well, one movie my brother and I snuck in was “The Big Boss.” Bruce Lee in possibly his most violent film. Having said that, it’s still entertaining and always a pleasure to re-visit his works. While watching the opening, I realized that all Bruce Lee Hong Kong movies inevitably start with him arriving somewhere (BB, Chinese Connection, Return of the Dragon). I think “Enter the Dragon” also starts with the three leads arriving on the island, but I’m not sure. I don’t know why I picked up on that or why I hadn’t done so before but thought it was interesting.

  3. Sam of the two I think I’ve only seen I Married a Communist. What a great title! Cracks me up. The first time I ever took note of Robert Ryan was in The Wild Bunch. He’s an interesting actor. He’s got a darkness to him.

    I’m pretty much with you on Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark though I’d rate it a bit higher. Like I said above, I have a thing about dental trauma so I was pretty much putty in the film’s hands from the opening prologue. The little girl was pretty good. Katie Holmes was not bad which seems to be about the best you can say about her.

    Dorothy, the thing I love about Bruce Lee is his charisma. The dude was just oozing personality in a way that most major US action stars never really had for me. Even in his cornier pictures, he’s magnetic. He wasn’t a big guy, but he had such coiled up physical power and of course the martial arts moves to back them up.

  4. It’s true what you say about the ‘dental’ drama inherent in DARK. That added to the horror for sure!

  5. It’s been an issue for me going all the way back to Marathon Man. Violence on screen never causes me to turn away in horror, but I literally covered my eyes and looked away during the opening of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

    Then the rest of the time I was on edge thinking we were going to have to go through it again, so that likely upped the nice sense of unease I felt throughout.

    As I said though, the instant I started thinking about the actual plot, it all fell apart. The idea that this little girl would be curious about scary whispers in a fireplace is ludicrous. Hell, at that age, I probably wouldn’t have even wanted to GO into that creepy basement.

  6. The dental context is indeed reason to look away. I do remember that I did must the same during that sequence, and that even my “tough guy” son danny was shielding his sight lines with his arm. (which he tried to conceal by making believe he was scratching his eye brow!)

    The plot did fall apart, I agree. Someone had suggested to me that in real life the little girl would never have opend the grate after hearing those noises. She would have made a dash for the door. But my wife (who liked the film) rightly countered with the notion that dumb things are always happening in horror films. it’s part of their essence and effectiveness.

    Yeah, THE MARATHON MAN is the ultimate dental horror movie, that’s for sure!

  7. Lucille is right and for that reason I tried not to focus too much about the lack of logic of it all and to just enjoy hte ride.

  8. Fantastic photo, Craig. Looks pro.

    I had big movie plans but some unexpected medical issues kept me in bed. I did watch 6 episodes of Glee, but I don’t think I get credit for that.

    Enjoyed your LA thoughts, too. I’d like to visit there someday.

  9. Did Glee cause the medical issues? I kid. I’ve seen exactly 10 minutes of that show and I think I can see the appeal. Not my cuppa tea, but we all know by now that doesn’t mean much.

  10. Stayed in all weekend since and rode out Hurricane Irene (which fortunately didn’t affect where I lived).

    Saturday was Linda Darnell day on TCM so I watched A Letter to Three Wives. Great stuff.

    Sunday was Carole Lombard day – got to revisit some of her best movies including the original To Be or Not to Be with Jack Benny and one of my favorite movies of all time My Man Godfrey.

  11. Alison – I LOVE A Letter to Three Wives!

  12. Glad you stayed warm and dry Alison.

    My favorite Carol Lombard flick is Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century with John Barrymore.

    Three Wives: ahhh, the 1940s, when the tag “chick flick” wasn’t a bad thing

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