diana writes:
Thoughts on Twilight

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this breaking news:

After much kicking and screaming, scoffing and avoiding all things TWILIGHT, I gave in and agreed to watch the first film in the series. A friend had been begging me relentlessly for the past several months to watch it with her and despite my protesting that I detest sci-fi fantasy vampire pictures, she was undeterred. So on Friday I finally relented, conceding that in 20 years of friendship I’d probably made her sit through a few films she wasn’t too crazy about either. Now it was my turn.

This was me: Please, NO! Don’t make me watch it!

Fast forward to me begrudgingly admitting two hours later that despite my original contempt and prejudgment based on the subject matter, I actually enjoyed Twilight AND immediately wanted to watch more. This came as quite a shock to me. I guess I should have given my friend a little credit for knowing my movie tastes by now. I’m all about the relationship dramas.

A forbidden love story laced with sexual tension, teen angst and all that pale sparkly skin. What’s not to like?

Robert Pattinson & Kristen Stewart as Edward Cullen & Bella Swan.

On Saturday morning I watched TWILIGHT: NEW MOON by myself, without any prodding. Then I proceeded to rope my family into a TWILIGHT SAGA marathon, re-watching the first two films with them before my friend came over with TWILIGHT: ECLIPSE on DVD.

I can’t believe I have to wait until November to see the first installment of TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN and another whole year before part two is released! What the hell? But given the subject matter, waiting an eternity to see how the saga wraps up is actually quite fitting.

P.S. - I’m totally for Team Edward.

I always did like ‘em older. Plus, he gets bonus points for having Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” loaded up on the stereo when wooing Bella in his bed-less bedroom. Appropriately, the song’s title means “Moonlight” in French. Love it.

127 Hours, Aron Ralston & James Franco

Aron Ralston photographed himself while trapped in Blue John Canyon, 2003

WWAD? What would Aron do? After 127 hours trapped in a remote canyon in Utah with his right hand lodged under an 800 lb. boulder, Aron Ralston amputated his own arm in order to survive. He made a choice to live. It’s the most extreme example of self-preservation I’ve ever heard of.

I remember seeing Ralston give television interviews back in 2004 when his book, BETWEEN A ROCK AND A HARD PLACE, was published the year following his ordeal. I added the title to the list of books I intended to read, but I wasn’t ready for it at the time. That happens to me occasionally, when I know something will have a profound effect on me, but I need to shelve it until I’m ready for the lesson.

The likelihood of me ever having to amputate my own arm, or anyone else having to do that, is very slim. That’s not really what Aron Ralston’s story is about. That’s just the headline, the attention-grabbing detail that reels you in. When Ralston set out on what he considered a routine canyoneering adventure, he was alone, and he hadn’t told anyone where he was going. At the time he was 27 years old and very independent. I can relate. But he didn’t summon the strength of will it took to get out of there on his own, it was Aron’s connection to his family that made survival so important that he was willing to achieve it by any means necessary, even if it meant cutting off his own arm.

“An arm is not a life.”

James Franco is phenomenal as Aron Ralston in 127 HOURS, the latest filmby Academy Award-Winning Director, Danny Boyle. Franco is alone on screen for most of the 93-minute film and it is INTENSE. Going in, audiences know the outcome of this story, but the way it unfolds is heart pounding and absolutely stunning. Both Boyle and Franco deserve Oscar nods for this project.

James Franco is the biggest risk taker in Hollywood. Not only is he an actor, but a director, producer, author, painter, sculptor, performance artist and he’s well educated.  He dropped out of UCLA after his freshman year to pursue acting, became a huge movie star, and then re enrolled in 2006. He majored in English with a concentration in creative writing, earning his undergraduate degree in 2008 after taking 62 credit hours in one semester. (He petitioned the university to lift the normal cap of 19.) Franco then moved to New York City where he earned his MFA at Columbia University’s writing program (while simultaneously studying filmmaking at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.) He’s currently pursuing his PhD in English at Yale University.

Last year Franco surprised viewers by portraying a sociopathic artist and serial killer named “Franco” on General Hospital, which left people asking, “What is James Franco doing on a soap opera?” Apparently he considers the role performance art. He also recently published a book of short stories and exhibited his own multimedia art installation at a gallery in TriBeCa. The sheer number of projects and post-graduate degrees this guy’s working on is impressive.  

James Franco studying.

I need to study/write/read/live/do more.

Robert Redford

I love Robert Redford. Yes, I said it. I. Love. That. Man. It’s no secret that Redford has long been my favorite actor – I’ve seen nearly every single one of his 40+ films (there are still 2 early ones that I haven’t been able to get my hands on) and I’ve seen everything he’s ever directed. Every time I see him on a screen big or small I’m mesmerized. He is simultaneously charming and mysterious, both serious and a practical joker. Not only is Redford a noted actor, but also a storyteller, an environmental activist, a shrewd businessman, a champion of independent filmmaking, and a cultivator of the creative spirit. I am in awe of him.   

I remember the first time I saw BAREFOOT IN THE PARK, the 1967 romantic comedy penned by playwright Neil Simon in which Redford stars alongside Jane Fonda as a newlywed couple struggling to keep it together after only 6 days of marriage.

I was 12 or 13 years old when my mother suggested that we watch the film, which was a staple on cable television networks like Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and American Movie Classics (AMC.) I’ve seen it at least two dozen times since then and even wrote a college term paper analyzing Simon’s original stage play and the process of adapting it for film. I give Barefoot and Redford’s performance my highest marks.

And then there’s THE WAY WE WERE. Redford and Barbra Streisand are electric in the 1973 romantic drama directed by frequent Redford collaborator, Sydney Pollack.

“Memories, light the corners of my mind / Misty watercolor memories of the way we were…” **Sigh**

Oh, how I love that film. Oh, how I always wish it could end some other way. Every time I watch it I secretly hope that one day Katie and Hubbell will work it out. 

My favorite scene is the one where Hubbell is celebrating with a beer after selling his first story, but he tells Katie he’s celebrating because he got her to cross the street. Then he ties her shoelace. **swoon** 

But the film that propelled Robert Redford into superstardom was the 1969 comedic western, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. With Paul Newman as Butch, the talkative visionary of the train-robbing Hole in the Wall Gang, and Redford as the quiet Sundance Kid, always brooding and quick with a shot, it’s no wonder the film is a classic.

 “Who are those guys?”

When Redford’s last film, LIONS FOR LAMBS premiered at the 2007 AFI Fest, I shelled out $75 for a ticket to the screening, which also included entrance to the after party. (Oh yes I did.) Unfortunately I didn’t bump into Redford that night, but I had a blast getting all dressed up for my first Hollywood film premiere.

His next film is THE CONSPIRATOR, a historical drama about Mary Surratt, the only female co-conspirator charged in the assignation of President Abraham Lincoln. (Theatrical Release Spring 2011)

It’s definitely on my Life List to visit the Sundance Resort, to dine in the Tree Room, swap stories at the Owl Bar, hike through the forest and take horseback riding lessons in the shadow of the Utah mountains. Perhaps I’ll even run into Mr. Redford.  

The Essential Redford Collection:

Don’t Be Tardy for the (Viewing) Party

I have to admit that I was late to the party on the whole Netflix thing. I’d held out for years, arguing that I actually enjoyed physically driving to the nearest Blockbuster video store and scanning the walls lined with new releases. I wasn’t keen on waiting for someone in a warehouse somewhere to ship me a DVD via snail mail, but I was totally ignorant to the beauty of the “Instant Queue.” You mean I can stream hundreds of movies and TV shows directly to my laptop and watch them right now – and I don’t even need to fix my hair, put on makeup, or even pants? Yahtzee! I wish I’d known about this sooner.

My 83-year-old grandmother even uses Netflix now. Her upstairs neighbor has a subscription that several ladies in her complex utilize. They’ve formed a little social club that regularly meets to watch “the Netflix.” I love this.

Since joining Netflix 6 months ago, I’ve spent $49.35 on the service ($8.99/month, $9.87 including tax after my 1-month free trial membership) and in that time I’ve watched 110 films. (For tallying purposes, 1 season of a TV series = 1 film.) That’s an average of $0.45 apiece per stream or disc. I couldn’t rent 2 DVDs a month at Blockbuster for $9.87.

Netflix also has a much wider selection than Blockbuster. I’ve recently watched 10 Foreign Language films (in French, Spanish and Hindi,) 14 Documentaries, 3 TV series, 5 comedy specials, many Indies, classics, and a few action flicks thrown in for good measure.

According to Netflix, the average member has rated about 200 movies on the site. I’ve rated 1233. (Ok, so that’s slightly above the average, but give me a break, I was a film major in college and have been working in the entertainment industry for the past 5 years. When I consume media I get to call it research!)

And all my research has paid off for you my friends. For your viewing pleasure I’ve compiled a list of the best films I’ve Netflixed so far:

My Top 10 Netflix Picks

All You Need Is

Robert Indiana’s LOVE Sculpture in Love Park (JFK Plaza,) Philadelphia

There is only one novel that I’ve ever read more than once, that I’ve returned to again and again. When I was 12 years old, my mother gave me her yellowed copy of LOVE STORY, a novel by Erich Segal published when she was a teenager. Mother was cleaning out the garage and saved the paperback from the yard sale pile, along with her collection of vinyl records including classic albums by Simon & Garfunkel, Carly Simon and Carole King, which she thought I would enjoy. I was in love from the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence:

     What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

     That she was beautiful. And brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me. Once, when she specifically lumped me with those musical types, I asked her what the order was, and she replied, smiling, “Alphabetical.” At the time I smiled too. But now I sit and wonder whether she was listing me by my first name –in which case I would trail Mozart –or by my last name, in which case I would edge in there between Bach and the Beatles. Either way I don’t come first, which for some stupid reason bothers the hell out of me, having grown up with the notion that I always had to be number one.

My well-worn copy of Love Story, published in 1970, is now 40 years old.

I vividly remember running my finger over the text, line by line, mouthing the words silently to myself at my desk in my 6th Grade Language Arts classroom during SSR (Sustained Silent Reading.) We were allowed to read whatever we wanted and I was sure the other kids weren’t reading books with curse words and sex in them.  I was besotted with the language Segal used, the casual tone of his narrator’s voice. Oliver Barrett IV, a Harvard hockey jock (All-Ivy First Team,) career aim: Law, falls for Jennifer Cavilleri a “bespectacled mouse type,” a brain who works at the Radcliffe Library and plays piano with The Bach Society. She calls him Preppie, he calls her a snotty Radcliffe bitch, they flirt by batting intellectual insults and coy remarks back and forth. It’s not long before Oliver’s roommate is crashing on friends’ couches after coming home to find a tie hanging on the doorknob.

I read Love Story every few years. Although I haven’t kept an official count, I know I’ve read it eight or nine times now, including once more today. I’ve also seen the film starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw at least as many times, and I’m always sobbing by the end. I enjoy a good cry while reading books or watching movies. That’s one of the ways I know they’re good, if they can still get me when I already know the ending.

In January I took a creative writing course at UCLA Extension. One week we discussed favorite books. I admitted that I’m partial to non-fiction, I’ve read mostly memoirs and autobiographies, but if I had to single out one book as my favorite, it would be Love Story. One of my classmates, Deborah, laughed before telling me that she not only knew Erich Segal — but that Jenny was actually based on her sister, Janet.

She noted an article which ran in the New York Times in 1997 discussing Jenny’s true identity: “Liberties; Is Janet Jenny?”


And another which appeared in People Magazine in 1998. 


Deborah’s sister, Janet Sussman Gartner, did not die at 25 like Jenny; she’d simply spurned the advances of her old high school classmate, Erich Segal, prompting him years later to write a love story using her as his muse.


Word Junkie meets Cisco Kid on Sunset Boulevard

I first came across the DVD of Candy, a film starring Heath Ledger, on the New Releases shelf at Blockbuster in the spring of 2007. A longtime fan of Ledger’s work, from 10 Things I Hate About You, a guilty pleasure I enjoyed in my teens, to his masterful performance in Brokeback Mountain, I eagerly flipped the DVD to read the film’s synopsis, then promptly put it back on the shelf.

Candy is a love story centered on the destructive relationship a couple has with their addiction to Heroin and each other.

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of drug use, especially its glorification in pop culture. I’ve never so much as smoked a cigarette, a conscious choice I made many years ago. Watching the unraveling of a close family friend who struggled for years with crack addiction, I’ve seen what drugs do to a person, what addicts are capable of. Thankfully, I never needed to go there myself.

Also, I’d read Trainspotting in college in addition to viewing the film for a course I took on Scotland’s national identity. It wasn’t cute when Ewan McGregor shot up in that film, so I wasn’t keen on seeing Heath Ledger do the same in another film about descending into a life fueled by smack. That is, until now.

Last week I attended a literary event at the independent bookstore, Book Soup, located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. Five writers whose pieces were included in the inaugural issue of slake, a Los Angeles-based literary magazine, were there to read their work. When Australian poet, novelist, screenwriter, and essayist Luke Davies began reading from his personal essay, The Cisco Kid, about his childhood obsession with America through its depiction on television and in B-movies, I could relate. I too was seduced by Hollywood. Captivated by his story, I wanted to hear more.

You can read the intro to his piece here:  http://slake.la/features/the-cisco-kid

Luke Davies is also the author of Candy, the novel on which the film is based. The book is a fictional account but it contains certain truths from Davies own experience during his years of heroin addiction. As I listened to his beautifully written story of longing for America – and a life more glamorous than his own experience growing up in Sydney – I wondered what had happened to that boy. What made him turn to drugs? And how did that chapter of his life finally end?

After the reading, I introduced myself to Davies and we spoke briefly about writing, Los Angeles, and Reality TV. He was delightful and engaging and signed my copy of the magazine, “for Diana  best wishes  Luke Davies  Sunset Boulevard  9/8/10.” It tickles me that he noted the location where our lives happened to intersect. It is fitting that we should meet here in Los Angeles, the sprawling metropolis that called out to each of us as children, its beacon stretching East across the wide spans of America, reaching me in Philadelphia, and West across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney on Australia’s East Coast. Of course it would be here, where we’ve each taken up residence, that we should cross paths on the most iconic of streets.

Candy has now moved to the top of my Netflix DVD queue. I’m finally ready to view it with an open mind. I see now that it’s not really about heroin. It’s about life. Choices. Journey.

I’ve also stumbled across Luke’s blog; I found it after the cursory Google search of his name, which yielded first the Wikipedia bio, Amazon book listings, and YouTube clips of readings and interviews he’s given. In one blog entry dated November 2007, Davies describes his first Thanksgiving so brilliantly without giving way to cliché:

“When I got back from the rain trip it was Thanksgiving, my first ever first-hand experience of the ritual. It’s been fertile ground in films about dysfunctional families coming together to collectively sprinkle salt in wounds, but I was fortunate to be invited to a mellow lovefest, complete with Louisiana cooking.”

Yes, I will definitely read Candy. And Totem, his most recent collection of poetry. I am drawn to good writing, it inspires me, fuels me to keep going with my own work.