Sunday, February 27, 2011

Movie Sunday: Keeping Mum

Image from here

When I was young, there was a large multipurpose room in the basement of our church, where most of the larger scale, non-worship activities happened. With a kitchen at one end and a stage at the other, it was a good place for receptions (at least the tee-totalling kind), banquets, large meetings, and Halloween carnivals. It was also where the church thespians performed their annual play.

Being a church, the plays tended toward the mainstream. But it was a Methodist church during the Vietnam era, and they were not performing the religious dramas that are common these days. For instance, one of the first performances I remember was Arsenic and Old Lace. I think my father played one of the victims.

I love this play, and I'm sure it helped inspire my love of theater in general, and of the black comedy in particular. If you haven't seen it, there is a very good 1959 film adaptation starring Cary Grant. I find the innocence of the characters in the traditional black comedies makes for higher comedy than the moral ambiguity that became fashionable later (think Grosse Point Blank).

Which brings us to Keeping Mum. It's a wonderful little farcical black comedy in the traditional sense. And by little, I mean it is modest in what it attempts to accomplish, and partially because of its modesty, it accomplishes more. It's a delightful way to spend an hour and three-quarters, especially if you're in the mood for light, irreverent entertainment.

The cast is first-rate, mostly familiar but cast somewhat against type. Rowan Atkinson plays the vicar of the village of Little Wallop, and the foil for three generations of women, played by Maggie Smith, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Tamsin Egerton. I'm not really going to say much about the plot, because it unfolds so nicely in the film. Keeping Mum also features Patrick Swayze, playing the role of the archetypal sleazy golf pro almost as a self-parody. Of course, maybe that's the only way he knew how to act.*

Maybe these types of stories are not as edgy as perhaps they once were, given the number of stories -- both fiction and fact -- of people who kill without remorse or regard. But I still find the interplay of wide eyes and cold blood can tickle a spot that few other forms of comedic entertainment can reach. So if you like yours old-fashioned and well crafted, you may want to give Keeping Mum a go.

* Too soon? One of my old girlfriends was crazy about Swayze, and would not be amused.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Now where was I?

Wow, I'm glad that's over. Now, what was I saying? I forget.

It's a strange thing. I've had pretty much nonstop deadlines or other demands on my attention since before Christmas. A big all day seminar I hosted last Friday, combined with simultaneous out-of-town company last weekend, topped off the super-crazy-busy season, at least until next week when we demonstrate some of our research at a campus-wide tech show. But at least I didn't work this past weekend. I barely got out of bed on Saturday, and then mostly only managed to flop in the big chair and fail to find anything interesting to watch on TV. Sunday was pretty much a rerun of Saturday, though I did manage to make pancakes and start on my Lego Mars Exploration Rover.

One thing that I always find interesting in the denouement of these frantic times is how much they separate me from whatever it was that was on my mind before it started. I've actually had time to write a blog post for almost a week, but couldn't really think of what I wanted to write about.  So I finally decided to write about that.

The signs of stress are all over me. I'm not sleeping, easily frustrated, more forgetful even than usual, eating like crap, and drinking a little too much. But my head is empty of much of anything other than the tasks at hand. And I feel more productive than I have in years.

I have a few friends and co-workers that live their lives this way.* It occurred to me a while back that the empty head may explain why. There are no real decisions of import to make. Their priorities are already set. Stay up to your ass in alligators, and you never have to figure out how to drain the swamp. And nothing they do -- or fail to do -- is really their fault. They had to get that proposal out, or finish that report, or get the kids to dance-gymnastics-soccer-drama-art class. And in return, they get that crowning since of achievement, and the little thrill that comes with crashing a deadline with no time, little sleep, and a real possibility of failure.

I consider this a separate disorder from always having to be doing something disease, with which some of the people closest to me are afflicted. My father had a terminal case, and I have my moments. Besides being a serial hobbyist, I have struggled with a self-imposed "one home-improvement project at a time" restriction for several years. But the motivation there is internal, and much of the goal (at least for me) is more to fill my head than empty it.

Perhaps the end result is the same, I don't know. I don't really have time to think about it right now. I have a million things to do. (See what I did there?)

* So do you, I'll bet. If you don't know to whom I'm referring, than you are probably one of them.