“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?
Filed under: The Watercooler