Movie Review: Shaun of the Dead

shaunofthedeadposter.jpgThere will be unintentional spoilers periodically.

I’m the type of person who doesn’t read movie reviews before I watch the film. I don’t seek out trailers online, or read the latest dish on upcoming releases. I prefer to go into a film with a clean slate, knowing as little as possible about the film before I see it. I find the movie going experience more enjoyable when I have less pre-conceived conceptions about the movie I’m about to watch. That being said, I love to read reviews and seek out trivia about movies that I have already seen. I enjoy reading other people’s thoughts and ideas about a movie and compare them to my own.

Since living in France I have completely been out of the entertainment loop. We don’t have a TV and it is rare that we go to a new movie. I do visit a few web sites to keep up with the news and hear bits and pieces of the movies that are coming and out and generating some buzz. Shaun of the Dead is a film that I have been hearing buzz about for several months. I refused to read any reviews or really research any aspect of the movie, but I couldn’t help but hear bits and pieces of good things about. Primarily that it was a funny zombie spoof. Being a fan of the zombie genre, when the chance came up to borrow the dvd, I didn’t hesitate to take it.

The plot is the pretty standard zombie plot. Some type of radiation/virus wreaks havoc on the earth re-animating the dead into brainless, homicidal maniacs. The movie does a good job of spoofing many of the conventions of the genre. The title character, Shaun, is so stuck in his hum drum existence it takes him a couple of days to realize that his city has been attacked by zombies. He has a dead end job, his girlfriend just broke up with him, and his flat mates are constantly fighting. Despite their being several zombies eating human flesh around him and the constant media blitz about them, it literally takes a zombie in his back yard for Sean to notice. There are a number of truly funny scenes that mimic many of the classic zombie cliche’s.

Here, the zombies walk in the classic, slow motion, brain dead way. They are mockingishly slow. In one scene Sean and his friend, Ed, throw a large crate full of junk at two zombies, then have time to run for a crate of records and argue which records are crappy enough to launch. The entire time the zombies are slowly walking towards them to devour Sean and his friend. Other scenes have one zombie being beaten with pool sticks repeatedly to little or no effect. Time and time again there are little digs at the genre conventions while still lovingly following them.

A quick perusal of IMDB’s list of trivia for this film will show plenty of references to nearly every zombie film imaginable. I consider myself a fan of zombie films, but these guys must be nuts about them. They’ve set up multiple scenes that are exact homage to older films. They’ve lifted lines right out of the classics of the genre. I must say that while reading the list I became more impressed with what the filmmakers created with this picture, but while watching it most of the references went over my head. As I said, I like zombie movies. They’re gorey, violent, bloody and often hilarious (intentional or otherwise). I have seen more than my fair share of good and awful zombie flicks. Yet here, most of the references were naught caught by me. I can’t exactly fault a film for referencing so many other films, yet I have to wonder who but the diehard zombie fanatic caught them.

My biggest complaint with the film is that it is too comedic, without being funny enough. What I mean by that is that the production is made like a comedy. The actors play their parts as if they are in a comedy and not the horrible zombie addled situation that is scripted. Sure, there are a few moments of anguished screaming and fear, but those are over acted and far between. The story is truly frightening, the dead of came to life and are devouring the city. This is not a light hearted romp. Though often quite funny, zombie films play the situation straight. I felt let down that everyone was playing the situation for gags and not allowing the comedy to be more organic, or to flow out of the conventions of the genre itself. In the end I didn’t find the movie funny enough for all that. It was played for humor all the way through, yet I wasn’t laughing nearly enough. Some of this comes from not getting all the “in” jokes. Some of this is also, likely enough, because it is a British comedy at heart. There are a number of bits that seem to play better for the British sensibilities than my American in France heart. There were several moments that I could see the joke play out and “get” it, but it wasn’t enough to really make me laugh. This is not to say the movie isn’t funny. Because it is, often hilarious even. It’s just that the tone of the film was of great comedy, and the buzz I had heard matched this. Yet while watching it, I didn’t find it as funny as expected.

While thinking about this review I began to wonder how I would make a zombie spoof better. It wouldn’t be right to go the Zucker brothers way. I got over that type of comedy in junior high, and the genre (well the horror genre which zombie movies are a sub-genre of) has been spoofed in this way enough (see Scary Movie). Slap stick spoofs were perfected by Sam Raimi in the Evil Dead series. In the end I decided that what the filmmakers were trying to do with this film is exactly the way to do it. I just think they missed the mark a little. I think I was partially disappointed because the genre itself has produced enough unintentional humor. Zombie movies are so often insanely bad, they are great fun. It is difficult to spoof a convention when the convention itself is so awful it seems a spoof unto itself. Likewise some of the conventions such as the ineptness and slow walk of the zombies has been revamped by the likes of Danny Boyle. Instead, here, I would have preferred a darker, bloodier movie. I don’t believe this would have hurt the comedy. The references and homages could have stayed in tact and comedy could come out of horrific situations.

Shaun of the Dead is a fine movie. It spoofs a genre of film that is dear to my heart, yet remains firmly a fan of the genre. It references so many of the classics and non classics of the genre that you’ll need encyclopedic knowledge of zombies to catch them all. It is truly funny and makes a great party movie. Where it fails, it fails as a zombie movie. It is made for jokes and not scares, and there it falls a little flat for a good spoof. But certainly worth the price of the rental.

Roma

Leaving on a Jet Plane

The end of the French University semester is at the end of January. Unofficially this is about a two week break for the professors and lecturers. It was a little bit shorter for Amy because she had to finish grading her students presentations. She had recorded them using the video feature of our digital camera. We had the joy of watching third year English students give an oral presentation on such illustrious topics as "American Politics" and "British Immigration. Once she finished grading she had to present some research to her advisor back in Indiana. Basically they wanted her to show that she had been doing some research during her year abroad. Even with all of this work we still managed to have a few days free. We discussed going to London, Dublin, bits of Scotland and even Barcelona before finally settling on Rome.Ryan Air is an ultra cheap airline in Europe. Unfortunately they no longer fly out of Strasbourg, but have an airport about 30 minutes away in Baden Baden, Germany. Even with the added travel time we purchased tickets that were cheaper than taking a train or bus. Daniel agreed to drive us to Baden Baden. Tammy and Fabianne decided to make a trip out of it because there is a Wal-Mart in Baden Baden. If it seems strange to travel to another country for a Wal-Mart let me explain the reasoning. There is no Wal-Mart in Strasbourg. As I have mentioned before shopping in this city is a bit of an adventure. No store carries all the items you will need. It usually takes 2 stores for all of our grocery needs. Buying any household item will generally take a visit to 3 or more stores before we find the items we were looking to purchase. Auschan comes closest. They have a good variety of both groceries and general goods, but even they do not have everything your average Wal-Mart will have. Prices in Germany are generally much cheaper than in France because they have less taxes. Add that to Wal-Marts general low price and you have quite a bargain. Since we were already headed to Baden Baden riding along for convenience and low prices was an easy choice for the ladies.

We planned to meet at the girls at 9:30 Tuesday morning for our ride out to the airport. Daniel and company arrived about half an hour late, but no matter because we still arrived at the airport over an hour early. Ryan Air has a habit of flying out of smaller airports, often taking space in old Air Force bases. Baden Bade was no exception and we got our boarding passes quickly. The flight was quick (about an hour and a half) and smooth going. We flew over some beautiful, snow covered mountains, and then landed in Rome.

The Ryan Air Roman airport is located next to a military base. We were greeted off the plane by camouflaged men with machine guns! Inside the airport proper were roaming guards equipped with uzis. As with most airports it was located outside the city. We went outside where there was a bus waiting and purchased our tickets to the train station. Quite a few other people were doing this as well. Amy and I were the last two people aboard, and it was PACKED. I pushed my way onto the steps of the bus and could go no further. Driving down the road I had to lean against the door of the bus. I prayed the door wouldn't suddenly open and send me flying into the streets. Standing on the steps of a crowded bus, leaning against the door is never the ideal travel circumstance, and in Rome it was a nightmare. There has seemingly never been a good city planner in the city in its 2,000+ years of existence. The roads wind, twist, and curve everywhich way. The bus driver apparently learned his job from a blind man. He drove fast, rarely hit the brakes, choosing rather to take wide curves nearly smashing the parked cars on the side of the road instead. My view was one of panic. The bus took us to the metro station which we took to the train station.

Our hostel was located just a block down from the train station. This is in the middle of the city. My first impression of Rome was that it is dirty. There in downtown Rome, the building are high and allow little sunlight to penetrate the streets. All sorts of people were milling about and the sidewalks were full of merchants selling magazines,sunglasses, purses, pants and just about anything else you can imagine. I got the impression that most of it was bootlegging, but I didn't stick around to ask. Using our printed directions we walked the two blocks to our hostel. It was essentially a flat in a big apartment building. There was no sign outside suggesting there was a hostel inside. Luckily there was a number on the building and someone coming out of it as we approached. Two men left the building and I caught the door to let us in. As I did so one of the men in English said, "Can I help you?" I stood there a moment wondering if he was talking to me, but he continued to walk on so I figured it was part of the conversation with the other man. An odd thing to hear in downtown Rome, when in fact, I needed help. Inside we wandered about looking for some sign that would indicate a hostel. After searching the mailboxes for a sign we noticed a door with a small plaque labeled "Eden." This was the name of the hostel so we knocked. A pleasant young man answered the door and agreed this was the hostel.

He spoke rather good English and began welcoming us with way too much enthusiasm. He brought out maps and began to describe the places we would want to see and the correct paths to see them. He brought out keys and explained where our room was and how everything worked. I kept wishing he would shut up and let us go sit down a moment and rest. Eventually he got to money and I whipped out my credit card. "No" he said, "that won't work. The credit card machine is broken." When I asked when it would be working again he shrugged and mentioned that he had called about it, but that in Italy nothing gets fixed quickly. Having no choice I took out cash and paid the man. This was quite discouraging because we had planned to put a good deal of the trip on our credit card and only pay for a few things in cash. The hostel took nearly 1/3 of the money I had set aside to spend in Rome.

Hostel

As I said the hostel was a converted apartment. The main room had a couple of tables, chairs and a radio. There was a real kitchen with stove, fridge and cabinets. The two bedrooms were fitted with four bunk beds a piece, giving a total of 16 places to sleep. There was a narrow hallway that led to the one toilet. In the hall were two cubicle sized showers. The room we slept in (Amy on the bottom bunk, me on the top) was never completely full. There was always at least two males and two women in the room, with a couple of beds remaining empty. The other room remained mostly full with a group of college aged girls. No privacy was the norm. Showering was quite an experience. Since there was no lock on the hall door to the showers I generally hung my change of clothes over the shower door. Squeezing into the small shower I would undress shower, and then dress while trying to not lean against the wet walls.

I Go Out Walking

After getting settled in our room we decided to go for a walk. We stopped off at a little cafe and had some supper. We, of course, ordered Italian (pizza for me, calizone for Amy). We quickly realized that recognizing the proper sights was going to be a difficult task. Many of the modern buildings are designed to look like the ancient Roman forum. There were columns and marble steps everywhere. However, we managed to see the beautiful ministry of agriculture building and the Trevi fountain.
The Trevi fountain was built in 1735 as a monument to clean water being brought to Rome via the aqueduct. Legend has it that anyone who drinks the water or throw a coin into the fountain will assuredly return to Rome in the future. It was quite beautiful to behold just as the night began to take hold. Unfortunately there were numerous gypsies hounding all the tourists to purchase toys or pay to have their picture taken. One man came to Amy with a rose saying it was hers for free because of her beauty. Now I believe my wife is truly beautiful, but strange men don't offer her roses for no reason. She refused the flower numerous times but he kept shoving it into her hands and expressly claiming he wanted no money for it. Eventually she cracked and took the rose. No sooner was it out of her hands but the man whipped out a camera asking to take her picture for a small fee. Again she repeated no, and I stepped in with a much louder NO! and the man finally accepted the rose back and left us alone. We were there maybe 15 minutes and were approached at least four times by people this way.We returned back to the hostel around 8:30. We found a young lady completely wrapped up in covers and sound asleep. We went to the main room and began playing cards. Soon several other ladies came in saying "hello" to us and then speaking to each other in Italian or Spanish. All of this was very disorienting. We were at the end of a long and exhausting day to find ourselves not in the comfort of our own home, but surrounded by strangers in a peculiar little home. As we prepared for bed two other Italian girls came into the room and spoke to each other quite loudly despite the sleeping girl. As the ladies left, another young man climbed into a top bunk and began preparing for sleep. There was an odd moment of me wondering whether I could turn the light off. After the young man was laying under the covers I decided if I was to sleep at all it was to be lights out. I chose the top bunk and dreamed of falling off.

The Roman Forum and Colosseum

We awoke early the next morning prepared for a full day of sightseeing. I found that someone had occupied shower number 1. The second shower was open but I couldn't seem to make myself enter into it. You see I knew that the occupants of my room were not up yet, and that left only 1 of the girls in the other room to occupy the shower. Though the hostel left little privacy, the actual showers would not permit any indecencies themselves. But still, I felt too awkward to be showing next to some strange woman. I chose instead to sit in the main room. There I was in my pajamas with my towel and a fresh change of clothes. I caught several odd looks from the other residences.Showered and refreshed we headed out for the Colosseum. We quickly found ourselves lost, and not for the last time. Italian streets tend to wind and curve aimlessly. We had a map, but it was for tourists and didn't have the details of every road. Luckily there is plenty to see in Rome and we quickly found ourselves staring at the first of many Egyptian obelisks. Unknown to me Rome carries a good many obelisks. We stared in awe of the ancient wonder, turned a corner and found ourselves in front of St John's church.

Dating from the 17th century St. John in the Lateran is the Cathedral of Rome, mother of all churches in Rome. It is also, quite beautiful. The structure is quite enormous, I had to stand a good 200 yard away to get a good picture.
Inside the church is ornate, intricate and absolutely gorgeous. It is continually amazing to me to see such beauty inside a church. My own faith maintains very simple church buildings. Though I understand the purpose and intent of keeping the buildings simple and the heart beautiful, when I enter into these buildings I can see some truth in the ability of a building to bring you closer to God.

From there we found our bearings and made our way to the Colosseum. Like most people, I suppose, when I think of Rome I think of the Colosseum, and had been looking forward to viewing it since we began planning the trip. I was not disappointed. The Colosseum is located next to several preserved areas of the ancient Roman city. It was quite a feeling to realize that I was walking in pathways that men have walked for over 2,000 years. Some of the first Christians walked those very steps, stayed in those very ruins, and were killed on that very ground. The apostles Paul and Peter walked, talked, and preached where I was walking and talking. You seem to only see the Colosseum photographed from one side, but it is just as unique and interesting the whole way around.

We stopped to eat at a little stand next to the Colosseum. My advice to my readers is that if you ever go to Rome, eat before you visit this structure. One small cheese sandwich, one pastrami sandwich and two Cokes cost us 17 Euros! And for this we had to stand in line for 15 minutes! After walking around the structure a couple of times we debated about whether to actually go inside. Our desire was to go in and see where the fighting occurred, however there was a long line to get in and we knew there was much more to see that day.
After talking it over and deciding not to go in we noticed that the line had actually shrunk a great deal during our debate. We paid our money and ventured inside. Again, you usually only see the inside of the Colosseum photographed from one angle. I had only seen the floor taken from above. That shot doesn't really give a good perspective, because what you see in real life is much more interesting. Underneath what was once the floor are about three levels of pathways. It is amazing how deep the trenches go. But then there is much more to see in terms of the walls and what is left of the stadium seating. To stand where thousands of others stood and watched countless bloodbaths was quite an experience. My tour book states that contrary to popular belief the Colosseum was not a place of martyrdom for thousands of the early Christians. Apparently this rumor started from a permanent cross set up there by Benedict XIV. He did this so the structure would be considered holy and not destroyed any further. However, there is little evidence that Christians were killed in as great a number as popularly believed. My other tour book stated that there probably were Christians killed in the arena, but not in great numbers.

From the Colosseum we ventured to the Roman Forum and then up to Palantino. The Roman forum consists of the ruins of various temples and governmental buildings. Palantino is, according to legend, the site of the first Roman settlements. It also later held the homes of the nobles and emperors. What remains now is ruins of their palaces. It was very interesting to see these ruins.
A few buildings remained pretty much intact, but many were but traces of their former grandeur. While I was there I couldn't compare this section of Rome with our trip to Paris. In Paris all of the old building are in pretty good shape and, of course, date back to the Renaissance and not before Christ, and thus are very beautiful. Rome, through all its history, is not nearly as pretty. The Louvre will never compare to the Colosseum in terms of history, but it wins hands down in terms of beauty and grandeur. Never-the-less the forum and Palantino were quite spectacular in their own way. In the middle of the forum, with little fan fare, lies Julius Ceasar's grave. Apparently he was burned and buried in a little spot that only later received any type of monument. Now there is a bit of rock ruins build over a lump of dirt. Not too impressive for a renowned emperor. Though, I suppose, one could say the entirety of the ruins is a testament to him. Palantino is built on top of a hill and gives a wonderful view of the forum and most of Rome.

From there we headed to the Panthenon. It is pretty much like the pictures you see in guidebooks. It has the big Greek columns and looks about a million years old. Inside, they were working on the dome, cleaning it inch by inch. There are a few graves inside, my favorite being of the famed painter, Raphael. Outside was another Egyptian obelisk. We grabbed a quick sandwich from a couple of nice old Italians and followed a British tour group on to the Piazza Novona. After a brief rest we headed home for the day.

Traffic

On numerous occasions I have complained about the traffic in Strasbourg. Well, I have been to Rome and I take it all back. The roads must have bee laid out by a drunken, blind man. Rome has been sacked, burned and remade on several occasions. The typical way to rebuild the city seems to have been to build right on top of the old city. I don't think they ever had a good city planner working for them. What remains is a series of roads that are overpopulated, not well spaced, and wind all over creation. In America when two roads intersect they normally do so at right angles. At the intersection one places a stop sign or a traffic light and everything runs smoothly. In Strasbourg intersections usually become round-abouts. Each road intersects a circular road in which the driver pulls into, drives around the circle until he meets with the road needed. In Rome, roads just seem to run into each other allowing God and insane drivers to sort it out. I saw 5 or 6 major roads run into each other, twist and turn into and around each other. Creating some sort of massive highway for a brief moment before each road finds its own way, sometimes at very odd angles. The problems for a pedestrian tourist is that there are very few crosswalks with any kind of signal allowing you to safely cross a road. In Strasbourg this is also true, but usually you only have to wait about a minute before a nice driver will stop allowing you to cross. In Rome no such drivers exist. We found out to get across the street you had to just walk out in front of a car and pray it stopped, which they always did. I decided the reason the city is so religious is because everyone is praying not to get ran over.

The Vatican


On our last day we rose very early to reach the Vatican before the other tourist. Our illustrious hostel keeper had noted that if you make it later than 9 am you should plan on spending the day in line. We arrived about 8:30 to a steadily growing crowd. Not knowing which way to go in we wound up in line to climb up the steps to the dome of St Peter's church. The initial steps slowly sloped in circles around the elevator. By the time we reached the top of the first level we were out of breath and knew it was going to be a long climb to the dome. We rested and managed a nice view of the famous plaza. Some more steeper, circular steps took us about midway up the dome. Here we could climb inside and look down into the church. Unfortunately there was a large fence designed to keeper jumpers from leaping to their death. It also kept me from getting a good picture. From there the steps became much steeper. The stairwell was very small, allowing you to climb one at a time and that only if you were relatively thin. Eventually they began to lean to the side as well and became so steep they hung a rope down so that you could keep your balance. We finally escaped to the outside and the top of the dome. After joining the small crowd of out of breath travelers we were rewarded with a truly spectacular view. You can walk around the entire dome getting a panoramic view of Rome and the Vatican city. Unfortunately it was a little cloudy that day and my photographs didn't come out as well as I would have liked.A trip back down the stairs led us into the church itself. Like St John's it is absolutely gorgeous. But unlike the National Cathedral, it is much larger on the inside. There are several side areas. Many of the Popes commissioned a statue to remember them after their death. These became more and more spectacular. I managed to slip into an English tour group for about the last half of the tour, while Amy listened to her own audio guide.

My favorite part of the church was underground. There they have a burial room where many of the Pope's (plus several bishops, a king, two queens, and an emperor)have their final resting place. In this area is where the Apostle Peter's bones are supposed to lie as well.

After lunch we headed out of the city to the catacombs. Just outside the old city walls lie thousands of underground tombs. Many of the 3rd Century Christians are buried there. According to law the Christians and other groups could not be buried within the city limits and were thus buried in several catacombs. We visited the catacombs underneath St. Sylvester's church. It is essentially a series of underground tunnels where thousands of people were buried practically on top of each other. There still remain markings and drawing of the early Christians. We saw the Christian fish symbol etched in a stone as well as some drawings of Jonah and Noah's Ark.

From there we walked past the Colosseum again and visited the other side of Palantino where lies the Circus maximus. This was the sigh of the old chariot races as seen in the movie Ben Hur. We finished up our sight seeing with a stop off at the mouth of truth. Unfortunately, the church had closed by that time so I was unable to stick my hand inside the mouth to see if it would bite off my hand for being a liar.

The Long Road Home

Our flight was scheduled for 10:50 Friday morning. We left the hostel just after 8 am. We were assured Ryan Air had a shuttle bus from the train station to the airport. After searching all over the train station we finally gave up and decided to take the city transportation. With still over 2 hours to reach our destination we figured we were doing fine. We plotted our path and boarded the metro to the end of the line. From there we went top side and looked for a bus. After spending a few minutes trying to determine which bus would take us to the right place, we spotted numerous suitcase holding travelers and decided they were probably going our way. Actually there were quite a few suitcase holding travelers and I found myself once again smashed against the door of a crowded bus. This time there were even more travelers trying to get on. Two British tourist began screaming at a couple of Italian ladies trying to squeeze in. This went back and forth until finally the bus driver said he had to go and made the Italians get out. The bus made a couple of stops and each time there was another argument with passengers trying to board. Finally after more than an hour and a half the bus reached the airport. We rushed inside only to see that our flight had been taken off the board. Being 35 minutes before our departure we were sure that we would be allowed to board. We were wrong. The Ryan Air lady said they had a policy to stop boarding 40 minutes before departure time. Saddened and irritated we were given the option of flying to Baden Baden the next day or Frankfurt at 9 that night. A call to Tammy confirmed that Daniel would not be able to pick us up in Frankfurt and that Baden Baden might be difficult for him. She assured us that there was a bus that ran from Frankfurt to Strasbourg and that we could catch it. We bought our ticket to Frankfurt and decided to spend our time in the airport. It would be a nearly 3 hour trip to and from Rome again and we worried we might miss another flight. Nearly 9 hours we spend sitting in that small, military airport. We read, we ate, we sighed, but we did not sleep. Finally the time came and we boarded the plane to Frankfurt. We reached the airport only to find out it was well outside Frankfurt proper. But they kindly offered to sell us tickets to a shuttle bus. A hour and a half bus ride later and we were in Frankfurt. At 3 am armed guards at the train station informed us that we were not allowed into the station without a ticket. We would not be able to buy a ticket until 6 am. It was cold, it was raining and we were in the seedy part of town. We began walking down the street to get away from the screaming drunks out at that hour. After passing a couple of bars and motel lobbies we finally stopped at an all night kebob shop, right next to all the sex shops. We nursed our one kebob and two glasses of water for 2 1/2 hours. All the while trying to ignore the loud mouthed drunks, bums and drinking games going on around us. Finally at around 5:30 we had had enough and walked back to the station. To our surprise the guards had left and we found ourselves inside. To get to Strasbourg it would take us 2 trains and about 3 hours. I couldn't pay fast enough. After an hour wait to change trains in some other city we were on the train to home. Finally at around 11 AM and 28 odd hours we had made it home.

Meditations on the Grateful Dead circa 10/09/77

1977 is not the greatest year for Grateful Dead concerts. 10/09/77 is not the Deads finest night, it is not even their best from 1977 or their best night from October. The Music Never Stopped is a good song. It is not a Great Song.

But what the band does to it this night is what the Dead could do to just about any song. They make it Great. It begins no better than any number of versions they played throughout the years. All cylinders are popping right on time. Bob sings with his usual gusto.

The verses and chorus sound good, but it is after the last chorus that things really get going. 3.24 the music begins its breakdown. The songs structure is shed. Garcia plays like two snakes intertwined, dancing through each other. Bob follows his trail, throwing loopy, curved rhythms. Lesh hops along on behind on bass like a kid on a pogo stick. The drummers keep their pace. Garcia speeds up the race moving his fingers like a jack rabbit on acid.

The pace quickens, all melody and structure are thrown away, for a moment their is no longer a song, hardly what anyone would call music, but it is magic. An exciting pulsing beast. Garcia's snakes eat each other and explode into something new. Phil thump thump thumps into the highest reaches of atmosphere. Bob is no longer playing anything like rhythm, unless it is the rhythm of some cosmic god. This lasts for two or three minutes, then without warning every musician, as if on cue, bangs back into the beat. I, wearing my headset at full volume, tense up as if a bomb has been dropped.

I begin to open my mouth half expecting to sing a long with the next verse or the chorus. The boys seem to expect this to, playing the melody outright for a moment before realizing there is nothing left to sing. There are no more versus to sing, the chorus has been done. Garcia takes that cue to soar to the heavens again. The rest of the band continues to hammer out what remains of the song. The melody is there in the backbeat. Phil has it in his bass, the drummers pound it out on the skins, even Bob is back into the rhythm. But Garcia, sensing the cosmos around him wants nothing to do with the conventions of song. He skates, dances, weaves through a new song.

Something the audience, as cosmically charged as Dead audiences get, must understand. It is Garcia taking us along for the ride, headed to outer space and salvation, held back only by the melody and rhythm of that song. No longer dancing, Garcia charges ahead to break free. Faster, faster, louder he plays. Like a rocket flaring to break through the atmosphere, but at last the gravity of the song still being played pulls him down. The band senses their victory and as if toying with Garcia break out of the mold of the song and begin the fast beat of the end. A crescendo of noise followed by the crash of a song ended.

No, 1977 was not the greatest year for live Dead. December was not the greatest month in 1977 and October 9 was not the Deads greatest night of October. The Music Never Stopped is not the Dead's finest song. Yet in this year, this night and on this song the Grateful Dead created magic. Just like they did for 30 years over different year, different months and different songs.

The Man Who Knew Too Much Review

I suppose if you were to pick anyone to remake the classic Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much, Hitchock himself would not a bad choice. And that is just what the master of suspense did in 1956. In fact this version feels more like an extended, director's cut than a remake. The story is essentially the same. Ben (James Stewart) and Jo MacKenna(Doris Day)are vacationing in French Morocco with their son (Christopher Olson). They are quickly caught up in international intrigue and must try to stop an unknown diplomats assassination and keep their son from being harmed.

While the original stays mainly indoors keeping its action to a few set pieces. In this new version Hitchcock thrills in taking his characters, and the audience, to wild, colorful places around the world. It begins in Northern Africa and here we see many lovely shots of the country side. The action moves to London where there numerous shots inside enormous, gorgeous buildings like the Royal Albert Halll.

The opening credit sequence is beautifully done. Hitchock shoots a half orchestra playing the opening music. It takes a few moments to realize that the typical orchestrated number you are hearing over the credits is visibly being played by real people on the picture. This inventive bit is promptly ruined by an uninteresting title card played over the cymbalist.

I own the original 1934 version and recently watched it. There are many debates raging over the internet on which version is superior. Frankly, I find both version to be lacking. The original was paced quicker but suffered from several jolts in plot which created some confusion and no sympathy for the protagonists. The newer version tries to help this out by giving us over long and unmoving scenes in which the protagonists try to stretch out their characters. Jimmy Stewart does a marvelous job as usual, but Dorris Day is annoying in nearly every scene. She is pretty and plays the part of a normal, cheerful American girl, but she grits my teeth while she's on the screen. Maybe I'm just not a fan. In a scene towards the end she sings "Que Sera Sera" and to my ears it sounds like she's howling the number. One could argue that she is singing loudly for a plot purpose, but I would say it would serve the movie better if it was pretty and not harsh. In an interesting bit of trivia Ms. Day apparently didn't like the song to the point of nearly refusing to record it. It turned out to be her biggest hit, and won the Oscar that year.

There is an ingenious bit of film making in the latter 3/4ths of the movie filmed in the Royal Albert Hall. There is some 12 minutes when not a word of dialogue is spoken and the only sound heard is the music played by the orchestra. It is a beautifully crafted scene that builds tension like a bullet.

There are several plot elements that make me ill at ease. The Scotland Yard seems terribly inept. We are made to believe that these detectives are willing to allow the MacKenna's to run around the streets of London trying to solve the crime by themselves even though Mr. MacKenna knows important details about the assassination of an important diplomat. Why would an assassin use a small pistol to kill the diplomat from a long distance? After the assassination attempt why is everyone allowed to run free? There are other questions and inaptitude that go unanswered except to allow a movie to tie up loose ends quickly and move the plot along.

Hitchcock was a master at manipulating audiences. He is in fine form throughout this movie quickly moving the viewer through the scenery with a good bit of humor and suspense. This is not a bad movie by any stretch. There is a great deal to enjoy as a carefree audience member and for anyone interested in the craft and art of film. However, it is far from Hitchcock's greatest film, and I find its flaws to be more disappointing considering the masterful hands that created it.

Archeology Redux


A skeleton in the floor of the archeological museum in Strasbourg

We were warned again that our water would be off from 8:30 to 12:30 today. We had already made plans for the morning so we had to wake up early and shower instead of lying around and bathing well after lunch. It is definitely going to be a chore to go back to work in the Fall. My body has completely adjusted to staying up late and sleeping until late in the morning. I don't know if it is my lack of exercise, eating later and later in the evening, or the constant sleeping in, but I find it very difficult to get to sleep before 3 AM anymore. Last night I went to bed about 1 o'clock but could not get to sleep. I laid there, staring at the ceiling for the longest time. About 2:30 I couldn't take it anymore and got up and took a book to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet reading, hoping that this would wear me out so that I could sleep. I finnished a chapter and could feel it working. Then, suddenly, the light went out. We have these little florescent bulbs everywhere and the one in the bath has been fidgety lately. I got up and fidgeted with it a little while to no avail. Not wanting to wake Amy up I cursed my luck and headed back to bed. Luckily the little reading and my disgust with the stupid light wore me out enough that I was able to sleep.

This morning we went to the archeology museum again. We took Pamela, Jason, and Ivica. I managed to take a few pictures this time, since my blog friends yelled at me for not having pictures the last time we went. I will try to post them in a day or so.

It feels like Spring here. That is to say the temperature has been above freezing and the sun has popped its head out of the dreary, gray clouds once or twice. Even with this little glimpse of happier times, I have noticed a change in the local French people. The women have brought their skirts back out and the men are donning less heavy coats and even leaving their jackets unbuttoned. Maybe February will breeze by and March will be full of sun and smiles.

We finally made it to the city library yesterday. Unlike the National Bibliotech, where there are no books to browse, but computer catalogues to search; you can actually pick up a real book and sit down to read it. In France libraries aren't free. There is an anual fee you must pay before you can check out a book. But even with the feel it is still cheaper to go there than to buy books at the store, or rent movies. They had a nice English selection and I spent most of the afternoon making my decision on which books to check out. They say they have a selection of over 900 DVDs but all that were not checked out on this day was a measley 9 or 10 DVDs. Still we managed to pick out the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much, which I will be reviewing shortly.

Some Sort of an Apology

I'm sorry my postings have not been as frequent as they once were. I'm still not feeling 100% these days and it is difficult to write coherently. I have a couple of essays going, but I am still fine tuning them. When my head clears a little I'll polish them up and get them out. Also Amy has been diligently grading her finals and trying to do some research of her own. This is to say she has been hogging the computer. Not that I mind so much. Her work is much more important than my occasional humorous rambles in blogland.

It's been pretty dull here lately anyway. I feel like I should go places and do something exciting, but its just too cold and miserable. I look at the window and see the gray skies, feel the cold air and stay inside. My French lessons are still managing to make me feel miserable, and dumb. I've actually learned a great deal, and find myself able to understand more and more. Yet there is so much that I don't understand and forget it drives me crazy.

As an addition to my shopping story from the other day I have to ask, how hard is it to have your money ready when the cashier is ready for it? Me, I get my wallet out while I'm waiting in line. I make a good guess as to how much it will cost and get the bills out. If I am paying with a card, I get it out. That way when the time comes, BOOM, I'm ready and done quickly. But no, most people stand stupidly when the time comes fumbling through purses and pockets trying to locate their card or correct change. OOOOh that gets me so mad. Correct freaking change! Just use the bill man! I'll give you the extra ten cents if it will get you out of here!

At the local store they have started hoarding their sacks. I guess a lot of people were running off with more than their fair share of plastic bags. Now the cashier hands you 2 or 3 bags when you checkout. They don't know what a bagger is in this country so you have to bag your own groceries. Today I to sack my goods and there is only one sack available for myself. I fill it up but still have several items remaining. My cashier is turned around yacking to the other cashier and paying me no mind. I'm trying to figure out how to ask for a sack (is it "donner moi sac, or donner vous sac?") Finally the cashier turns around, but she starts checking out the next lady. I blurt out "la sac!" and the lady in line is kind enough to say something sensible so the cashier will pony up some bags. She gives me three without an apology or even a sympathetic smile.

Ah, life here isn't that bad. Since I've been feeling ill my attitude has dropped. Really, I like it here. We're actually considering staying another year. But it will take quite a miracle to find the finances to allow us to stay. As time drones on, I realize how lucky I am to be able to take a year off and live abroad. Going back to work begins to hover over the horizon and I cringe. Vivre la France!