The Birds (1963)

The Birds
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Evan Hunter based on the short story by Daphne du Maurier
(number 350)

I first watched this some time in the early to mid 2000s when I was trying to watch as many Hitchcock films as possible. I’d say it’s in my top 5 of Hitchcocks, but definitely not my favourite. Anna had never seen it before and watched while writing school reports.

It’s a strange, slow burning film. Scenes of weird unexplained bird terror interspersed with quiet introspective relationship scenes. I have the colourised version on DVD and I love the lushness of the greens, especially the ones that Tippi Hedren’s Melanie wears.

Hitchcock’s treatment of Tippi Hedren in this film was famously awful. One has to imagine that the birds acting in this film were also poorly treated, and those things do make the film harder to watch.

It seems almost like blasphemy but watching this I did keep being reminded of the hilariously awful Birdemic: shock and terror – amazing that the film made so much later and with computer special effects is so much less convincing. Well, even with inflation I’m sure Hithcock had more funding. I think one of the strengths of The Birds is in never explaining why the birds are coming after people – it’s speculated about by the ornthilogist but generally everyone is asking ‘why’ more than anything else. It creates a strange, nightmareish mood which I enjoy in a film. Birdemic by contrast is ham fisted with its explanations for why the birds are attacking.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely – Melanie more than anyone, but you definitely feel for Lydia with her emotional hangups and Annie, the lonely possibly gay school teacher. Generally the people in this movie aren’t good or bad, just ordinary people dealing with a strange situation. The characterisations of minor parts is subtle and believable.

Cathy and Melanies quick friendship is also believable. Seeing how cold and formal Lydia is, even self centred, you an imagine that meeting a woman who is kind, open with her emotions, fun loving and stylish would be appealing to an eleven year old.

Bechdel test: Passes all over the place. First up Melanie talks to the pet shop clerk called Mrs Macgruder. Cathy talks to Melanie about the love birds, about her party. Melanie talks to Annie and Lydia several times, and only about half the time about Mitch or other men. It’s lovely – of the main four characters only one of them is a man, then the main secondary character is Annie. Good times.

I really like Mrs Bundy the ornithologist as well. She knows a lot about birds.

Best line:

Melanie Daniels: On Mondays and Wednesdays I work for the Travelers Aid at the airport.
Mitch Brenner: Helping travelers?
Melanie Daniels: No, misdirecting them.

Mother in Diner: [to Melanie] Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from? I think you’re the cause of all of this. I think you’re evil. EVIL!

State of Mind: Still awesome. Anna was particularly pleased with how everything is so clearly explained and wrapped up in the end… no seriously, she enjoyed it well enough. She laughed at the jokes and was generally disturbed by the enthusiasm the birds show in attacking. She agreed with the crazy lady in the diner that it all did seem to be Melanie’s fault.

Watched movie count

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Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Shaun of the Dead
Directed by Edgar Wright
Written by Edgar Wright and Nick Frost
(number 240)

This is especially a fun watch after having seen the original Romero movies. I also watched Hot Fuzz not that long ago so although it’s out of order, it was a fun watch. I remember watching this when it first came out, at the movies, and thinking it was a bit too scary for me during the climax. I was okay with it on this watch, I guess I’ve adjusted in the last 12 years.

Shaun of the Dead is best in the examination of the traditional zombie tropes like, all the news reports are showing info about a crisis but Shaun just keeps clicking through the channels – which hilariously creates a new message of its own. I think his hungover walk to the dairy to get an ice cream is one of my favourite sequences in any movie – just the mundanity of the task with weird horror things happening behind him. The blood stained handprints on the drinks fridge, etc. It’s very nicely filmed.

I also love the bit where Shaun and his crew come across his friend and all the same crew she’s got together including Martin Freeman and Tamsin Grieg. It’s elegantly done.

The zombies are pure Romero – very slow and stuff, minimal make up and easy to fight off. This is classic zombie, where the terror comes from the relentlessness and the strength of numbers. Matches the slow build of the film and the story nicely. I’m sure there’s a bunch of particularly British jokes in there that I don’t follow but it’s still very funny all round.

Does it make me love the people? Yes. Shaun is a no-hoper, but he’s nicely contrasted as being better than Ed who has no job beyond drug dealing and is generally an awful flatmate. I feel for Liz, because generally she has some very good points about wanting more from life and ultimately… she doesn’t really get it. But she has respect for Shaun at the end, and that’s something.

My least favourite bit is when Dylan Moran’s David dies, not the last because it’s disgusting and genuinely horrifying, but also because he looks so much like a grown up Harry Potter and I don’t want him to die for that reason.

Bechdel test: Yes! Liz and Barbara talk a few times. At first just ‘nice to meet you’ and then later on about Barbara’s bite wound she’s been concealing. Dianne also talks to Liz and Barbara at various times. Yay for Edgar Wright!

Best line:

Shaun: As Mr. Sloan always says, there is no “I” in team, but there is an “I” in pie. And there’s an “I” in meat pie. Anagram of meat is team… I don’t know what he’s talking about.

Shaun: If you get cornered… [hits himself on head with cricket bat] …bash ’em in the head, that seems to work. Ow.

State of Mind: I enjoyed this movie, watching it again. I sort of thought it’d be too horror-y for me again but yeah, it’s brilliant. I do enjoy a rom-zom-com… although I guess I can only name three of those but this was the first!

Watched movie count

Things l Love Thursday

Things have been pretty hard lately, mostly for health reasons – it’s causing me a lot of stress and anxiety. So, this is short, but at least it’s done 🙂

Eurovision! We had some friends over and ate lots of snacks and played an excellent drinking game. So much fun.

seriously though the staging on this…

I don’t like the colder weather at all but I am grateful for a house, which has heaters and blankets in it.

I’ve been getting a lot of patchwork quilting and sewing done, and that’s been very satisfying – calming even.

Honourable Mentions: Anna, trading books with friends, library books, people coming to me for advice, emotional roleplaying, dreams, my Robin teddy bear, spotify playlists, laughing with workmates, popcorn, chocolate and Bucky Barnes.

Writing when you’re out of ideas

How do you write when you’re not sure how to start, or if you have the will to write but no ideas?

Or… if you just need to get out of a rut and do some actual writing instead of procrastinating (say, by writing blog posts?)

I have some tips. These are all things that have 100% worked for me at some point. Please add your own in the comments, if you have ’em

– Free writing. This is pure, stream of consciousness word vomit. I like using 750 words but you can do it on paper or just in a word document or whatever. No critics allowed, just write whatever you’re thinking for five, ten minutes. It clears the clutter out of your brain.

– Go somewhere with almost no other stimulus. It could be a study, the library, a cafe … I’ve had the best luck writing in transit, when stuck on a plane or train. I’m guessing you don’t want to just go around buying flights just so you can write but intentionally trapping yourself on a flight without a book or magazine, but with a notebook and two pens can be very motivating. Long train rides are good too, I used to get stuff done in between Wellington and Paraparaumu when I caught the train out there.

– Go somewhere with lots of stimulus. This is for the ideas sparking side of things. I’ve had particular luck with museums. I just wander, follow my nose, try not to plan what I’m doing but go where things look interesting. Sometimes little weird ideas will pop into my head like ‘what if hedgehogs were super intelligent’ or ‘a statue with memory’ or whatever. Note ’em down. If you get struck by one idea in particular, most rooms in museums have a bench you can perch on and scribble away. Art galleries, beaches, forests, anywhere you can people watch are also good.

– Sit in your usual writing space and put on ambient music. This is probably something you’ve read a thousand times before but that’s because it works. My preferred ambient sound generator is noisli but there’s a tonne of other sites and apps that do the same thing. If white noise doesn’t work for you, try a playlist of songs you know very well and that you find comforting. Early Leonard Cohen and Alt -J is my preferred basis for a writing soundtrack.

– Try another form of creation. This works best if you have another hobby; something like painting, sewing, handcrafts etc. I’ve found that if I have trouble writing, spending and hour or so on patchwork can free up my mind. Like the act of making one thing puts my brain in the mood or space for creating words as well.

Some shorter ones to try:

– take a long bath and don’t take a book in with you
– watch an inspiring movie or Ted talk about chasing your dreams
– take a nap (seriously, just after a nap is my best writing time)
– break your routine; get up early and write, or write in your lunch break instead of reading
– brainstorm: mindmap on paper or out loud with a friend
– track down a book or list online of writing/story prompts and go for it

…and that’s all I can think of right now. Have you got any to add?

Do the Right Thing (1989)

Do the Right Thing
Written and directed by Spike Lee
(number 407)

First up, you need to play this song before you read the review, as you read.

Brooklyn, in the middle of a heatwave. The existing racial tensions boiling up with the heat. It’s a slice of life picture about people I cannot try to speak for, only understand what I can from Mr Lee’s seminal work. Movies like this may not be easy to watch, but they’re important for inspiring understanding and love.

To be honest I thought this movie would be a harder watch than it was. It’s very funny, and Lee’s habit of having characters monologue to the camera every now and then gave it a play-like feel I enjoyed.

Almost thirty years before the death of Eric Garner Spike Lee put almost the same exact scene up on the screen. But it’s not because he was prescient, it’s because shit like that has been going on for so long. It’s more in the light today maybe, with social media etc, but… Ouch. That made the scene so much more real, more visceral.

Does it make me love the people? To begin with I couldn’t tell the characters apart there’s just so many to keep track of in this ensemble, but over the course of the movie, yes. When Radio Raheem’s radio got smashed, I gasped, caught my breath. I had come to love him and I knew what his music meant to him. Smiley, and Mother Sister, Jade and everyone.

I really loved, well no, I didn’t love. But the scene between Pino and Mookie is very powerful where Mookie points out that all Pino’s favourite famous people are black, and there’s a horribly real cringe response with Pino being like ‘yeah, but they’re not black, you know?’. There’s so much uncomfortable truth in this film and it’s depressing that the world doesn’t seem to have moved on so much – even with a black president in the States. New Zealand still has crap like this happening too, although thankfully not to the same extent.

Bechdel test: There’s a screaming argument about whether or not someone’s going to babysit between Tina and her mother, but I’m unsure if the mother is named. Later on there’s a nice conversation between Jade and Mother Sister, about how they should catch up more and how Jade’s going to do Mother Sister’s hair, so yes, this passes.

Best line:

Mother Sister: Hey, you old drunk, what did I tell you about drinking in front of my stoop? Move on; you’re blocking my view. You are ugly enough; don’t stare at me. The evil eye doesn’t work on me.
Da Mayor: Mother Sister, you’ve been talkin’ about me for 18 years. What have I ever done to you?
Mother Sister: You a drunk fool.
Da Mayor: Besides that? Da Mayor don’t bother nobody and nobody no bother da Mayor but you. The Man just tends to his own business. I love everybody; I even love you.
Mother Sister: Hold your tongue: you don’t have that much love.

Mister Senor Love Daddy: WE LOVE ROLL CALL, Y’ALL! Boogie Down Productions, Rob Base, Dana Dane, Marley Marl, Olatunji, Chuck D, Ray Charles, EPMD, EU, Alberta Hunter, Run-D.M.C., Stetsasonic, Sugar Bear, John Coltrane, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-n-Pepa, Luther Vandross, McCoy Tyner, Biz Markie, New Edition, Otis Redding, Anita Baker, Thelonious Monk, Marcus Miller, Branford Marsalis, James Brown, Wayne Shorter, Tracy Chapman, Miles Davis, Force MDs, Oliver Nelson, Fred Wesley, Maceo, Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, George Clinton, Count Basie, Mtume, Stevie Wonder, Bobby McFerrin, Dexter Gordon, Sam Cooke, Parliament-Funkadelic, Al Jarreau, Teddy Pendergrass, Joe Williams, Wynton Marsalis, Phyllis Hyman, Sade, Sarah Vaughn, Roland Kirk, Keith Sweat, Kool Moe Dee, Prince, Ella Fitzgerald, Dianne Reeves, Aretha Franklin, Bob Marley, Bessie Smith, Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Steel Pulse, Little Richard, Mahalia Jackson, Jackie Wilson, Cannonball AND Nat Adderley, Quincy Jones Marvin Gaye, Charles Mingus AND Marion Williams. We wanna thank you all for makin’ our lives just a little brighter here on We Love Radio!

State of Mind: Impressed, tense, blown away. New respect for Public Enemy, depressed for humankind, all the good stuff. This, to me, does way more to breed understanding and empathy than Crash did. The different point of view and the lack of guilt-ridden white people made it so much a better movie to me. I don’t need white people present to understand. Very impressed. I will watch this again at some point, I’m sure.

Watched movie count