Speaking in tongues.

Rented “Babel” this weekend, an event remarkable only in that it whittles the unseen-Oscar-best-picture-nominees down to two (“The Queen,” “Letters from Iwo Jima”), which is pretty good for post-parenthood Nance. I liked it a lot, but I’ve liked Alejandro González Iñárritu ever since “Amores Perros,” which blew my doors off. “The Mexican Quentin Tarantino,” he’s called, but he’s much better than that. More serious, anyway.

The theme of “Babel” and “Amores Perros” is one that I’m always a sucker for — the way our lives all connect, stranger to stranger, even across continents. The Butterfly Theory in human form, maybe. But here’s what I have to ask someone who saw it in the theater:

Were there subtitles?

Because there were none for the DVD, a pretty cheeky directorial decision for a film where characters speak in seven-count-’em-seven languages, according to IMDB: Japanese Sign Language, French, English, Spanish, Japanese, Berber and Arabic. When I realized none were forthcoming, I decided to just settle in and groove with it — dialogue is just words, and acting is a lot more — and found that I understood it pretty much perfectly, with the exception of the Japanese girl’s backstory, which was superfluous anyway. I know her backstory because I looked it up online; helpful souls at Wikipedia, who apparently speak all these tongues, figured it out and posted a complete synopsis. The movie is called “Babel,” after all. And making people do supplemental reading is totally, whoa, postmodern.

Before I took the DVD back to Blockbuster, I went through the menu until I found a setup screen. I selected “English subtitles” and hit “play.” No subtitles. So who the hell knows? I enjoyed the movie. Brad Pitt may be a handsome devil, but now he’s a handsome devil with serious eye-crinkle. Like his friend George Clooney, he’s striving to age in an interesting manner. I heard Alec Baldwin talk in an interview about the morning-afterness of being last year’s hunk, how it’s not as difficult for men as it is for women, but it is difficult, breaking through into something resembling serious work, especially when women fan themselves at the thought of your butt. (Or at least how it looked in “Thelma and Louise.”)

Through the magic of the Google, I looked up my old Prof. Terry’s take on “Babel.” He frequently surprises me, and this was one of them: Two lousy stars, and a flip of the hand:

Though “Babel” would seem to be a plea for more cross-cultural empathy and understanding … it fails to provide dramatic evidence that any of the bad things that happen to the generally good people here could have been avoided if we all spoke the same language.

Hmm, I didn’t get that that was its aim, but then, I watch a movie in my living room very differently than I do in a theater. At home, I’m a much easier lay. The other day I found myself whiling away an early Friday evening with “Imagine Me & You,” which I objectively recognized as a total piece of crap but still failed to turn off. I think it was because all the characters dressed so well. I just wanted to see what the next scene’s sweater would look like. (There were also a lot of knit hats in that one. I have never been able to wear a knit hat without looking like a person who sells newspapers out of a van on a busy corner.)

“300” — there’s another one I won’t be catching until it hits cable, even if it shaping up to be the “Billy Jack” of the Bush-boosters. Even if it is, like, the gayest movie since “Top Gun” and maybe gayer. Even the previews make that obvious, but this blogger puts the cherry on it:

Any movie that features this many half naked, really good looking guys running around thrusting long shafts into each other over and over and over again, in which so many men spend so much time demanding that other men kneel before them, and in which so many truly butch guys dressed only in panties and leather straps manage to get so constantly and thoroughly spattered with the body fluids of other men… I don’t know. I’m thinking that pointing out that the Greek culture which the Spartans were part of and which they were fighting, killing, and dying to defend was homosexual by choice is, well, appropriate, and merited.

Yeah, me too.

(By the way, those who have seen “300” — does Leonidas have any scene where he’s not yelling at the top of his lungs? The whole trailer, he’s bellowing. “This…is…SPAH-TA! Then we will fight…IN THE SHADE!!!” That would get old fast.)

I’m retooling my blog bookmarks again. My rule: The drop-down menu must not extend beyond the depth of the screen. Every few weeks I add and drop to make it fit. I added Bats left, throws right for the sheer novelty of a Hoosier liberal. Found Kim Morgan, who writes better about movies than I do, via Wolcott. Kept the increasingly disappointing DetNews politics blog because they provide my health insurance. Laura Lippman’s blogging her book tour, but she’s so nice she can’t say anything mean about anybody; her life is an exercise in gratitude. Also, discretion:

Just this morning, I tried on some outfits in anticipation of an engagement later this week. The outfit I ended up choosing is, according to the one outside opinion I sought, “classy and becoming.” It also is a) twelve years old and b) from Banana Republic. But no one will know that unless I wear it inside out. My hunch is that the context of the engagement — not to mention the killer shoes — will lead people to think the outfit is nicer than it is. Unless you read this blog, in which case, if you catch this particular gig, you’ll probably be thinking: “I can’t believe that Laura is such a dork that she’s wearing a 12-year-old Banana Republic outfit.”

From further analysis, I suspect the engagement was an appearance on CBS’ morning show, whatever they’re calling it these days. I missed it, and too bad, because I would have liked to fire off an e-mail to the producer chastising her guest for wearing a 12-year-old Banana Republic outfit.

And then there’s Ken Levine, whose St. Patrick’s Day post I didn’t see until after I’d done St. Patrick’s Day. It’s from a “Cheers” episode that he wrote, so he’s allowed to quote it:



(singing) “They broke into our Dublin home, the dirty English dogs. They took away my sister and they beat my dad with logs.”


(singing) “Along the ring of Kerry you can hear the bleat of gulls, I’ll sip the blood of the English from their bleached and hollowed skulls.” (TO THE BAR) Everybody!!

Everybody! Happy week to all.

Posted at 1:06 am in Movies, Popculch |

18 responses to “Speaking in tongues.”

  1. John said on March 19, 2007 at 8:02 am

    “Billy Jack”…Don’t forget the original “Walking Tall”, another one (of that ilk) of that era. I watched “Bonnie and Clyde” Sunday (Netflix) and enjoyed it immensely. It’s not often seen on TV this days. I had forgot that Gene Wilder had his screen debut in this film.

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  2. john c. said on March 19, 2007 at 9:07 am

    I think I remember that Cheers episode. I’ll cop to being an Irish music fan. And my collection includes a great parody song by Dennis Leary. Imagine that serious aran-sweater-folkie style and lyrics something like …
    “They came over here and they took all our land
    they cut off our heads and they bolied them in oil
    Our children are leavin’ and we have no heads.
    We’ll fight and we’ll drink and we’ll fight and we’ll die
    (now the soaring, fist in the air chorus)


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  3. MichaelG said on March 19, 2007 at 9:52 am

    I also discovered Kim Morgan the other day through Wolcott. She’s terrific. After several weeks without TV, I have the satellite people coming tomorrow. I hope. This will be the third try and I would like to watch the coming NCAA rounds. Nance, I heard your pal Laura on PBS yesterday AM. I liked her. A lot. I also found out she’s married to the guy who does “The Wire”. I forgot his name. Maybe blocked it out. Also on PBS’ Latina something-or-other show they featured Viki Carr. I had forgotten all about her. She’s a very good singer. And I still can’t stand Garrison Keillor. He seems to be on all PBS stations at the same time for about six hours on Sunday. It’s like when the local begging channel latched on to that horrid Riverdance stuff and aired it hour after hour, day after day. This being single stuff is taking some getting used to.

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  4. nancy said on March 19, 2007 at 10:02 am

    John, there’s a funnier passage later in the same scene:

    (finishing a dirge) “…And everywhere I looked was death, death, death.”


    And now for a sad song. (STRUMS A CHORD, SINGS) “Twas a baby’s crib…”

    I only heard Laura on NPR yesterday after the fact, but that’s why they invented the internet, right? Her voice is so soft and feminine, it cracks me up that she writes such bloody prose. I’m waiting to buy her new book until I see her next month in Ann Arbor, on the tail end of the tour. I actually asked her: Buy on publication date, or at the reading? She thought buying a copy at the reading would properly reward the bookstore doing the hosting, although pub-date sales give a title “velocity.” Sometimes it sounds as though publishing is as screwy a business as newspapers. (John, you’ll feel right at home.)

    And yeah, she’s Mrs. David Simon now. Unless he’s Mr. Laura Lippman.

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  5. Dwight the Troubled Teen said on March 19, 2007 at 10:22 am

    I’m not kidding: My rented DVD of Babel had subtitles.

    Seriously. You had some kind of malfunction with your DVD, Ms. D.

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  6. nancy said on March 19, 2007 at 10:31 am

    You’re kidding. Maybe it’s an experiment, like those magazines that put out different covers for different parts of the country. Now I guess I was robbed.

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  7. vince said on March 19, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Yes, there were subtitles in “Babel” in the theatre Nance.

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  8. nancy said on March 19, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Checking around the web, it seems the no-subs problem is legion. Half the people are like me, saying, “I thought no subtitles was the point” and the rest are replying, “Are you kidding?”

    I wonder if it’s a bad batch of DVDs, or some kwazy director’s-vision edition.

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  9. Joe Kobiela said on March 19, 2007 at 11:01 am

    I did see Letters from Iwo, it was a fantastic movie, better than Flags of our fathers, I actually was pulling for the three main characters to make it out safely. Waiting for the Bob Seager review from Brother Dave, he called me from Cobo twice on Sat, he was in the 11th row. I do know he had to be back in Detroit today on some Union Bussiness, we both work at Dana in Fwa,so it may be a little later before he post’s.

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  10. MaryO said on March 19, 2007 at 11:19 am

    You’re way ahead of me on the Oscars list. I only saw Pan’s Labryrinth. Oh, and of course, since I have kids, I saw all the animation nominees.

    “Imagine Me & You” was something I watched last week during a bout of insomnia and something kept my fingers from the remot. I guess it was my amazement that Piper Perabo could do an English accent. I kept hoping I’d be able to catch her falling off it. And I could not take my eyes off Lena Headey. Though I guess I’d have to see “300” to see her again. Ugh. We should all be so beautiful and poor. I want to be a florist.

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  11. Adrianne said on March 19, 2007 at 11:27 am

    Nance – you forgot the rousing chorus to that song in Cheers!

    “Everybody now…Limey scum! Limey scum!”

    Still my favorite pub song to sing on St. Patrick’s Day.

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  12. cce said on March 19, 2007 at 11:29 am

    You all are so progressive. I’m still working on Oscar nominees from ’05 and ’04. Really enjoyed Running with Scissors
    this weekend and watched the whole thing with subtitles, as I do every movie. So much is lost without subtitles. Check out the link, I’ve done my own review. That movie really struck a chord with me.

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  13. cce said on March 19, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Sorry, don’t think my links working but my synopsis of Running with Scissors can be caught at http://www.madmarriage.com

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  14. Highlander said on March 19, 2007 at 3:52 pm

    Thanks for the link. How’d you find the blog? I seem to be well hidden. 😉

    There are quite a few scenes where Leonidas isn’t screaming his head off. In fact, I have no real problems with the acting in the film at all. I don’t even have a problem with the astonishingly obvious homosexual subtext. I simply wanted to point said subtext out, to all the conservatives who identify so much with the beleaguered Spartans in this film, that if this is a microcosm of their imaginary war on liberalism, and the 400 are their fantasy projection figures, well, all us liberals may be wearing too much rouge and eye make up and gold jewelry, but, on the other hand, all dem conservatives are as queer at three dollar bills.

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just like to watch conservatives do spit takes.

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  15. brian stouder said on March 19, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    I read an enthusiastic report that a 1959 movie called The Giant Behemoth is being released on dvd –

    and you just have to love a movie with a title like that, eh?


    (I’m thinking a good sequel might be The Smaller Than Average Behemoth)

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  16. jcburns said on March 19, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    We had subtitles, Nance.

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  17. LA mary said on March 19, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    I think nancy was the only person without subtitles. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure if I did, I’d have subtitles.

    I remember the giant behemoth. I saw it with my brothers in a drive in. I was six, so the details are sketchy, but there was water involved, and a big giant behemothy thing.

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  18. ashley said on March 20, 2007 at 7:56 pm

    Once again, thank you Nance, for Amores Perros, and that rockin’ song, Si Senor.

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