Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Abrams Falls & Elijah Oliver Place

Another fairly easy hike for us but one that did involve a bit more climbing than our other recent outings. I always enjoy visiting Cades Cove, especially when the crowds aren't too overwhelming (and, fortunately, they weren't bad at all last weekend) but I'm ready to try a new-to-us trail. Old favorites are fun to revisit so long as we mix in some new adventures, too.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

50 Movies that Matter to Me

This post is inspired by my buddy Jake Mabe, who compiled his own list of movies back in January. Like Jake, I'm in no way suggesting that these are the fifty greatest movies ever made. They aren't even necessarily my fifty favorites, because there are a lot of titles I love and admire that aren't included here. The one common denominator is that each one has resonated with me at one point in my life or another (and I tried to include titles that I loved during as many different stages of my life as possible). I probably should've arranged them by the order in which I saw them but that seemed sort of complicated so I've just listed them chronologically by release date to avoid confusion.

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) The movie that made me fall in love with Joseph Cotten. The dynamic between his wicked Uncle Charlie and Teresa Wright's little Charlie is dynamite.

Portrait of Jennie (1948) Haunting romantic fantasy about art and inspiration. 

The Red Shoes (1948) Powell and Pressburger's tragic fairy tale about the sacrifices an artist must make out of devotion to her craft. Ballerina Moira Shearer is beautiful and heartrending as the movie's doomed protagonist.

The Third Man (1949) Cinematic perfection. Mysterious, romantic, funny, beautifully written, filmed and acted. There's nothing else like it.

East of Eden (1955) James Dean's most feral, tender performance. It also boasts an excellent turn by the lovely Julie Harris. The Ferris wheel scene still leaves me breathless.

Vertigo (1958) My favorite from Hitchcock. I'm obsessive by nature so this one hits me on a personal level. Sexy, nightmarish and utterly spellbinding. Every time I watch it draws me in and won't let go. 

The Innocents (1961) Precocious children, a nanny with an overactive imagination and a large, lonely house in the country with a tragic history. A deeply intelligent, engaging and unsettling adaptation of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) A wonderful, cotton-candy colored French pop opera. Young Catherine Deneuve is blindingly radiant.

Belle de Jour (1967) When Catherine Deneuve and Luis Bunuel get together, great things happen. This one just happens to be especially great. 

The Graduate (1967) When I saw this movie for the first time in high school I thought it was the funniest thing I'd ever seen.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) There are people who describe this movie as a spiritual experience. I'm one of those people.

A Clockwork Orange (1971) My favorite Kubrick. A joyously mean-spirited and irreverent movie with an unrepentant scoundrel at its core. 

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) I currently consider this one to be my very favorite movie of all time. The hold it has over me never weakens no matter how many times I watch it.

Suspiria (1977) The most beautiful horror movie ever made. And the soundtrack kicks ass.

Ordinary People (1980) I have a weakness for domestic dramas where everybody yells at each other. Timothy Hutton's raw, nervy portrait of a damaged teenager is great and his scenes with Judd Hirsch are especially terrific.

The Shining (1980) This one scares me like no other. Filled with unforgettably haunting images. The sense of isolation and quiet dread throughout the movie is palpable and unnerving.

The Dark Crystal (1982) When I was a kid this movie was my everything. Jim Henson gave us so many wondrous creations over the course of his career but the characters and the world of The Dark Crystal will always be the most wondrous of all to me.

The Last Unicorn (1982) Another childhood favorite. It's Rankin and Bass and it features a unicorn as its protagonist. And an unrequited love story! How could I not adore it?

The Big Chill (1983) Makes me nostalgic for my college buddies and vacation day trips to Beaufort, South Carolina. I think the entire ensemble cast is stellar but William Hurt is especially memorable.

The Goonies (1985) I love a good underdog story and this one is perfect. And it features my favorite Cyndi Lauper song. 

The Lost Boys (1987) I can't count the number of times I've seen this movie. It was one of my great junior high era obsessions. To this day I'm not sure there's anything cooler than these sexy, beach-punk vampires.  

Heathers (1988) I love this movie for its smart, acidic screenplay, its arresting visuals and its charismatic hero and heroine. In the teen angst genre this one is definitely a standout.

Life is Sweet (1990) Heartbreaking and hilarious offering from Mike Leigh, one of our finest living directors.

Pump Up the Volume (1990) A favorite from my high school years. Provocative and moving. The soundtrack is killer (and it was my introduction to the great Leonard Cohen).

Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) Always reminds me of my best bud, Sarah. All four of the female leads give outstanding performances. 

Candyman (1992) A thoughtful, sensitive, darkly romantic slasher flick anchored by an intelligent performance by Virginia Madsen and a captivating turn by Tony Todd as Candyman. The score by Philip Glass is heaven. 

Reservoir Dogs (1992) I love all of Tarantino's output but his first remains the one I love most. Crackling dialogue and unflinching brutality make it equal parts hilarious and horrifying. Michael Madsen has never been better as the sadistic but incredibly charismatic Mr. Blonde.

Howards End (1992) I've never met a Merchant Ivory adaptation of an E.M. Forster novel that I didn't like but this one takes the top spot for me. Forster's most ambitious novel becomes Merchant and Ivory's masterpiece. One of the most beautiful movies ever made. 

Dazed and Confused (1993) Completely, ridiculously hilarious from start to finish. Matthew McConaughey's Wooderson is especially inspired.

Heavenly Creatures (1994) An intense friendship between two bright, precocious young women has deadly consequences. Based on true events, Peter Jackson's manic, innovative movie makes two young murderesses compelling and sympathetic without shying away from the gory details of their heinous crime.

Boogie Nights (1997) Paul Thomas Anderson's look into a small, close-knit group of filmmakers and actors in the adult film industry is grim and gritty but also funny and big-hearted. Wonderfully engaging from start to finish, featuring fine filmmaking and stellar performances.

The Big Lebowski (1998) Brilliant bit of absurdity from the Coens. 

The Virgin Suicides (1999) Sofia Coppola's feature debut is a lovely, haunting adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides's beautiful novel. Part fairy tale, part teen romance, part gothic mystery. Coppola creates an atmosphere that is both real and otherworldly, detached but also deeply personal.

Almost Famous (2000) Sometimes I feel like the only thing I'm really good at being is a fan so I really appreciate this sweet, funny, earnest story from Cameron Crowe about mid-level celebrities and the fans who love them.

Memento (2000) Very cool bit of neo-noir brilliance from Christopher Nolan. I like it when characters self-mythologize so it fascinates me to watch Guy Pierce's Leonard Shelby create his own reality throughout the course of this movie. 

Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003) I'm unapologetically geeky about these movies. Jackson's attention to detail brings Middle Earth to vibrant life, creating a cinematic experience that is immersive and incredibly satisfying.

Mulholland Drive (2001) In Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks David Lynch explored the dank, dark underbelly of small-town America. In Mulholland Drive he turns his focus to Hollywood and the result is a brutal but incredibly seductive movie. Naomi Watts is absolutely fearless as the story's protagonist, delivering one of the finest film performances I've ever seen.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Wes Anderson's films have become increasingly stylized and quirky, to the point where it's difficult, at times, for me to connect with his characters (even though I always enjoy his detail-oriented aesthetics). I think this one strikes the perfect balance between crafty artifice and genuine human emotion. The Tenebaum family is fantastical but also real and relatable. 

Moulin Rouge! (2001) The biggest, splashiest, most colorful and unapologetically mushy offering from Baz Luhrman, who has made a career out of creating big, splashy, colorful, mushy movies. Despite all the funhouse constructs the movie is, at its core, earnest and heartfelt. Everybody gives it their all and it's great fun to watch. And Nicole Kidman has never been more beautiful.

Morvern Callar (2002) Quiet, keenly-observed character study from the brilliant Lynne Ramsay. Samantha Morton gives an incredible performance as the titular protagonist. 

May (2002) A quirky, alienated young woman tries and fails to connect with the people around her, with devastating results. Odd, awkward, funny, gruesome and ultimately heartbreaking. Outstanding performance by Angela Bettis, who plays every beat of May's descent into madness to perfection.

Before Sunset (2004) Richard Linklater has, to date, devoted three movies to the saga of Jesse and Celine. I always like spending time with these characters but this bittersweet chapter in their story is easily my favorite. And that final scene is fantastic.

The Aviator (2004) I've been in love with Leonardo DiCaprio for two decades. Any time he makes a movie I consider it a cause for celebration but I love this one the most. His performance as Howard Hughes is a fascinating and compassionate portrait of deeply driven, deeply troubled individual. 

Grizzly Man (2005) Werner Herzog's unsentimental portrait of Timothy Treadwell is infuriating, tragic and fascinating.

Pan's Labyrinth (2006) Guillermo del Toro's dark fable does not shy away from real or imagined horrors but thanks to the resilient nature of its heroines it manages to be hopeful as well as harrowing.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) I love the cold, austere landscapes, the musical score (composed by the brilliant Nick Cave and Warren Ellis), the voiceover narration and the dynamic between Brad Pitt's volatile, world-weary Jesse James and Casey Affleck's pitiful, attention-seeking Robert Ford in this melancholy movie.

Into the Wild (2007) Chris McCandless's story speaks to the dissatisfied part of me that fantasizes, on occasion, about leaving humanity behind and seeking solace in the natural world. It's not something I would ever attempt realistically but I can certainly empathize with the impulse. 

Wall-E (2008) This dystopian love-story between two sentient robots warms my heart. It gets bonus points for the personable cockroach sidekick.

Antichrist (2009) A gorgeous nightmare of a movie. The tone and performances are relentlessly intense, creating a story that's difficult to watch but also undeniably cathartic. The cinematic equivalent of breaking glass to hear it shatter or screaming at the top of your lungs until you're hoarse.

Bright Star (2009) A vibrant, devastating star-crossed romance from Jane Campion. Ben Whishaw is excellent as the ill-fated John Keats but the movie belongs to Abbie Cornish's passionate, fashion-forward, headstrong Fanny Brawne.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Old Sugarlands & Gatlinburg Trails

Made a half-hearted attempt to find the stone cabin ruins off Old Sugarlands Trail this past weekend but since it was a spur of the moment decision and we didn't have a map or directions on hand we came up short. I think we were within about a half-mile's distance, though. Something to aim for on our next visit. Since we didn't complete Old Sugarlands this time we threw in the Gatlinburg Trail for good measure - about eight miles hiked altogether. A nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Little River Trail at Elkmont

I can't believe last weekend was our first visit to the Smokies in almost four months. The minute we entered the park it hit me how much I'd been missing the mountains. The Little River Trail is fairly even and easy, and we just hiked to the intersection with Cucumber Gap and then went back the way we came, but we wanted to start slow since we're so out of practice. The weather was perfect - beautiful, clear and mild - and our outing could not have been more pleasant.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Lather, Rinse, Repeat (A Nick Fallon Update)

It's been over a month since his resurrection and Nick Fallon continues to feature prominently on Days of Our Lives. For the most part it's been fantastic. Nick returned to the land of the living with a slightly altered personality and an oddball sidekick in "Birdman" Percy Ruggles. The change in Nick's demeanor was initially noticeable enough that I entertained the idea that he was an imposter, a pawn in some yet-to-be-revealed revenge or blackmail scheme. At this point that idea seems pretty far-fetched. I think the Nick we're currently seeing is more or less the same guy we were seeing before everything went down at the river. And while I still have no idea what twists and turns lie ahead I will admit to feeling a slight twinge of disappointment at the moment. Did Days really go to all the trouble of killing Nick off and bringing him back only to make him exactly the same scheming, controlling troublemaker as before? Really, Days? <insert incredulous Weekend Update anchor voice> Really?

That's not to say that what got us to this point hasn't been inspired and fantastic. The standout day for me was the one when Nick showed his hand and admitted to Kate, Sami and Gabi that he remembered absolutely everything about that night in the park. I loved that Nick's contempt was focused on Kate and Sami and that he regarded Gabi as more or less a blameless victim. It's no secret that Gabi frustrated and annoyed me terribly during the period of time when Nick was presumed dead. But once he turned up alive again my anger towards her more or less evaporated. I realized the last thing I wanted was to see Nick further torment the woman he tried to rape. I hoped that he would overlook the part that Gabi played in his attempted murder and the ensuing coverup and the two of them could call it even. And at first I thought we might be heading in that direction. Despite the fact that Nick was aloof, smug and disingenuous with everyone else in town he seemed warmer and more real when he interacted with Gabi. If he was playing her he was being frightfully convincing.

Now that Nick has earned Gabi's trust and helped to drive a wedge between her and her fellow co-conspirators the claws are starting to come out again. First there was the offhand remark he made about it being such a shame that Gabi had abandoned her dream of being a model. And last week saw Nick playing dirty in order to put the brakes on Gabi's upcoming date with T. They're little things, really. And on their own they don't amount to much and certainly don't make Nick evil or a psychopath. But they give me enough of a sense of déjà vu to have me worried. 

Nick has every right to be angry with Kate and Sami and he has every right, as far as I'm concerned, to make their lives miserable. I think it's fantastic that he was able to persuade Gabi to second-guess their true motivations for coming to her aid that night in the park. Because even if Kate and Sami only had her safety and her future in mind that night (which they did not) their incompetent meddling took a bad situation and made it far worse for Gabi, who most likely would have called the police had she been left to her own devices. So, I'm definitely not losing sleep over Kate and Sami getting their comeuppance. I do, however, wish Nick would stop playing head games with Gabi. Throughout this story Gabi has been robbed of her agency. I don't want to see her stand up to Kate and Sami only to have her fall for Nick's machinations again. 

As for everyone else involved in the situation I wish Nick would just take the high road and leave them all alone. Not because I care if those characters suffer (I don't) but because I'd rather see Nick's screen time devoted to something different. Nick has been the thorn in Will and Sonny's side for far too long. To me, his involvement in their story is the only thing that makes it remotely interesting. I applaud Days for wanting to present the show's first gay couple as normal, stable and loving but, unfortunately, I think it has made them incredibly boring in the process. I wish they had some kind of adventure story of their own. They're young and head over heels in love so give them something fun and exciting to do! Days suffered from a severe lack of levity for ages. They're better now than they used to be about that but, still, it wouldn't hurt to see one or two light-hearted storylines. 

As for Nick, I've said this before and I'll say it again: I don't want or need him to be a good guy. But I do need to see some layers. I need to see behind the mask. I need at least a few scenes where I know he's being genuine and not just playing head games with people to get what he wants. Days so seldom shows us Nick's softer side but I refuse to believe that it's no longer there. I can't help but remember how earnest and vulnerable he was the first time he told Gabi that he loved her, or how lost and broken he was in the scenes where he admitted that he'd been raped in prison. No other character on Days can pull emotions from me the way Blake Berris does when he's given material like that. The writers do him, and the audience, a great disservice when they paint Nick as little more than the spoiler for other characters. We deserve better.