Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Bounty (or Long Time Gone)

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

I didn’t slide into the new year so much as crash-land on a series of boulders, some (most?) of which were self-created, as is my way. (When I will learn, friends? When?) At any rate, I’ve finally come around to a schedule open enough to write a catch-up blog entry. So here are my favorite books and movies from the previous few months:

BOOKS I LIKED A LOT

H is for Hawk: Caveat: I was forewarned that the sections on T.H. White featured bad things happening to animals (animal?), so I skimmed those while trying to take in the gist of what Macdonald has to say about him and what he’s meant to her. (I hope I did.) This book is so lusciously, broodingly evocative of a time, place, and mood. It feels historical, natural, British, and hawkish while being personal, too, tracing Macdonald’s psychology while she flees from the pain of her father’s sudden death into the agony and wild glee of raising a goshawk. I tend to prefer psychology to natural history, but Macdonald’s weaving of the two works magnificently to bring us into her grief-stricken (and sometimes ferocious) world. And oh, her vocabulary! Her poetry of description! She can capture the smell of the English cloud cover.

I Wrote This Book Because I Love You: Remember when I read We Learn Nothing and panted with anticipation over the forthcoming release of Kreider’s next book, about his romantic relationships? That book is no longer forthcoming: It’s out, and I inhaled it in a couple of sittings (lyings-down) while we were at Wilbur. Kreider is wickedly intelligent, riotously funny, and surprisingly insightful about why his romantic involvements do and don’t lead where he does and doesn’t want them to. And contrary to my earlier surmising, he manages to get plenty of politics in there, too. So much is quotable. Here’s one of my favorites:

“A couple of days ago I got dumped — first-world problem, I know. It’s not as if it’s a heart attack; it’s just a rejection of your whole self by the person who knew you best.”

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine: I don’t think I’ve ever recommended a book I couldn’t finish, but wow, this novel. It’s a scathing indictment of the emptiness and superficiality and privilege of popular culture’s body and dating obsession, written largely through narrated and recursive references to invented commercials and television shows. (Sounds perfect, right?) The problem for me is that its characters, in the thrall of those superficial obsessions, are gutted; they’re nearly empty of emotions or opinions or will, so I couldn’t stick with them. But I saw the genius.

BOOKS I LOVED

Autumn: This is one of those books which, like J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace (high on my list of literary masterpieces), manages to capture enormous themes in small or single acts, so that you feel as though you’re reading the world in a poem. If that makes it sound precious or boring, it’s a disservice; I whipped through the novel in a day or two over the holidays, stunned by Smith’s fantastic writing, pulled in by her thoughtful characters, and dismayed that I hadn’t heard of her earlier. (Thank you, mothers-in-law!) Not only does Smith evoke the stunned and foreboding feeling of a post-Brexit England in the simple daily actions of her protagonist; she also calls back across the generations to historical resonances and calls across the human experience to encompass universal themes like friendship, love, home, belonging, identity, and more. Incredible to know that there are three more coming in the series! Winter is already out and, of course, on my list.

The Answers: A Novel: One of my favorite books in recent memory. Similar in theme to both You Too (above) and Made for Love (below) but an inch closer to living in the recognizable current world. There’s rabbit-holing here, too, into the consciousness of a young woman who is also unformed, and partly misformed (definitely misinformed) by a home-schooled, off-grid, survivalist childhood with a fundamentalist father in the woods. But in this case, she’s not sitting in front of the television but participating in a couple of fascinating experiments in her pursuit of meaning and a self, and intersecting with those same pursuits in men who have more power, money, entitlement, and defensive internal architecture than she does. Lacey’s writing is impeccable and mesmerizing and surprising in all the best ways.

Made for Love: Is there such a thing as farcical literary near-future fiction? There is now! Although: I don’t want to brand this marvelous, rollicking, bizarro-genius novel with any labels, given how generous and hilarious and expansive it is. It’s the kind of book you didn’t know could exist until you read it, with a way of looking at the world that feels both searingly relevant and jauntily askew. I kept losing my lower jaw to the floor, wonderstruck that we were going where we were going — but Nutting’s writing is so assured that I just shrugged and joined the ride. I kept turning to John and saying, “I can’t — I don’t — There aren’t — You have to read this!”

MOVIES I LIKED A LOT

Isle of Dogs: Simultaneously everything that’s great about Wes Anderson (which: plenty) and everything that isn’t. The great: Gorgeously composed, fanatically art-directed shots jammed with visual wit; winningly quirky characters whose sincerity is stylishly tempered by a wash of ennui; and still, actual emotional stakes. The not-great: A world made up almost entirely of men/male animals, in which women serve either as assistants, love interests, or (usually) both*; and cultural appropriation that (despite apparent attempts at harm reduction) still feels unconscious — especially in the character of the American exchange student, who while being a girl with power (which in small part counters the previous point) is also a White Person Savior. Here’s some great writing about this Anderson problem; here’s more; and here’s a discussion by the good people at Pop Culture Happy Hour, which is what pointed me to same.

*Once in a while there is a mother, if Angelica Houston is available. (In this film, which is animated, she is credited as a Mute Dog.)

Brad’s Status: I’ve been a Mike White fan since Chuck & Buck, and I’ll always be grateful to School of Rock for having been instrumental in my hiring for a movie-reviewer gig at a national syndicate back in the day. But for my tastes, White truly came into his own with his brilliant HBO series Enlightenment, whose cancellation I experienced as a blow. (Laura Dern’s character, gripped between the potentially mutually undermining forces of moral rectitude and psychological instability, had just reached the top of her outrage arc, and it was anything but clear what would happen next.) When I heard White’s excruciating interview about his personal status anxiety on . . . what? Where did I hear that? Oh, the problem of incessant podcast-listening! Anyway it was somewhere, and I heard it and knew I would be first in line for Brad’s Status. Except it flew in and out of the theaters (WHY), so I missed it. And it’s so good! Uncomfortable to watch, yes; there was a moment when John and I got up from the couch to get snacks, and, before we returned, looked at each other in “Here-we-go-again” resignation. But it is such a precise and accurate portrait of a man caught in a toxic value system and batted about by its giant, destructive paws.

Call Me By Your Name: Gorgeous to watch, sublimely sensual, impeccably paced, joyously simple. I stumbled over one (admittedly very large) thing, and that was the character of Oliver. I couldn’t tell whether the problem was in the writing, the directing, or the acting — some of each? Although the writing can’t have set Armie Hammer up for success — but I found Oliver pompous and chilly and boring, almost a caricature of (American) intellectual pretension, and appealing only in his physical beauty, which is not enough to sustain the kind of love Elio feels. Or if it is (Elio is seventeen, an age not known for its discernment), the movie should know that, but it doesn’t; it tells us time and again that Oliver is universally lovable and universally beloved. I wish he were. Meanwhile, Timothee Chalamet.

A MOVIE I LOVED

The Florida Project: Impeccable, gutting storytelling that’s not as painful to watch as I’d feared. (Any movie that puts children or animals in harm’s way is a squint-and-suffer experience for me.) There’s plenty of joy and wonder here, too, and love. Director and co-writer Sean Baker has so much compassion for his characters that even as we watch a young mother make disastrous choices, we root for her, and even as we know we’re spiraling toward irrevocable consequences, we wish mightily for a happy ending we know can’t possibly come. Vivid, memorable, and electrifying, with a final shot that made me gasp.

Convalescence Media

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

I’ve just been through a bit of not-terribly-major surgery, and recovery, after I got through the initial stuff, has been a pleasure. (What is better than a two-week stretch of bed rest? Absolutely nothing.) Here’s what I’ve liked most of the books I’ve read and films I’ve watched:

1) Off Course, by Michelle Huneven. A sharply observed, gorgeously written story of a twenty-eight-year-old woman who gets sidetracked by an obsessive relationship with a married man. What I love about it, in addition to sparkly quality of the sentence-level writing, is the incrementality of the emotional observation, the way we’re taken through every vicissitude of the relationship as the course keeps turning. It makes perfect psychological sense, all of it, and yet I never knew what would happen next. Highly recommended. I wish there were more books in the world like this one.

2) Carol. I think it’s easy to find Todd Haynes’ movies oversaturated, not merely with color but with feeling (they’re melodramas, yo), and there were moments in which I thought a tighter cut would have helped. But his films are also tone poems, mood pieces that you’re supposed to sink into, and this one is as beautifully crafted as they come. Cate Blanchett is insanely taut and wirey and vaguely predatory (though . . . arguable, given her cirucmstances) and wrecked. Loving her isn’t quite possible, but feeling for her, whoo-boy.

3) Afternoon Delight. I remember seeing the preview for this movie and thinking that the premise was too weak and too unreal to withstand any kind of plausible narrative. Then I found out (only recently) that it’s a Jill Soloway movie, so I queued it up. And I liked it! Humane, ecumenical, fair to all of its characters and points of view. It’s uncomfortable to watch (i.e., not the comedy it was marketed to be), and/but it pays off satisfyingly. I even believed in it, ultimately, which came as a surprise. And now . . . only a few more days until Season 4 of Transparent.

Some Good Stuff in a Terrible Time

Monday, August 14th, 2017

This is a wonderful movie. The more Kumail Nanjiani in my life (and, I hope, in yours) the better.

This is a beautiful book. Sometimes I have the sense that Alexie is a stuntman first and a writer second (though this quietly arresting story is 100% stunt-free), and for me, the jury was out for the first 25% or so of his new memoir. But the book won me over and then bowled me over. His voice is so singular, and his willingness to open his wounds is astonishing. Plus, You Don’t Have To is a primer on the power of repetition. Alexie uses it to harrowing effect.

This is a thing you can do, at least theoretically (calendar is currently booked up), that would make your life better.

This is a series of incredibly smart, compassionate videos about how to connect with other humans.

This, this, and this are good places to donate money.

This is a website dedicated to wonder.

This is a place to see something new.

The Gifts of Art: May Edition

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Of all the things I’ve been reading, listening to, and watching, here’s what moved me the most in the past month:

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Is there anyone more charming than W. Kamau Bell? Reading this book feels like sitting down with somebody who is not only smart and hilarious and feeling but kind and forgiving and connected*. I’d listen to what he has to say on any topic at all. Fortunately, there are many ways to do that, including multiple podcasts and one-offs and interviews. For what it’s worth, though, this book is my favorite iteration of Bell yet. It feels so eminently him.

*There’s an asterisk here, because Bell has said on more than one occasion (and he says in the book) that his amicability is in some ways an appeasement/apology for the fact that he’s a tall black guy. He’s trying to connect across race lines, and he’s excellent at that, and/but there’s a calculation in it that’s a response to racism, and that makes me wonder which parts of him we’re missing out on. I am in no way blaming him for using a tool that’s working. I’m sad for him and pissed at the world that he has to.

Manchester By the SeaEver since You Can Count on Me, which remains one of my favorite movies of all time, I’ve been in the tank for Kenneth Lonergan. I’d have been first in line to see Manchester in the theaters if it hadn’t been two hours long (back pain); I’ve been waiting for a streaming option, and it’s here; John and I watched as soon as we could. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. The layering on of the backstory is masterful. The emotional build is earned and real. The payoffs are quiet and delicate and spot-on. It’s all exactly as you would want it to be without having been able to imagine it until you’re seeing it. It was, in short, the best movie I’ve seen in an age—and contrary to what people said about its capacious sadness, I felt uplifted by it. It is undeniably sad, but it’s sad in a way that breaks you open, if you let it. And that, as we know, is when the light streams in.

Master of None, Season 2I know, I know, everybody loves it, but THAT IS BECAUSE IT IS BEAUTIFUL. In particular, the episodes “New York: I Love You” and “Thanksgiving” are ebullient and loving portraits of regular people of color having regular life experiences, with an undercurrent of compassion and Ansarian joy in the world. In fact, the whole season is infused with Ansari’s joy and wonder at living, from his adorable celebratory chants with Arnold (“Eating in Italy is my favorite thing!”) to the gorgeous wide shots of Italian and American exteriors (and interiors: heads up, Brooklyn Museum!), to the deliciously lugubrious music, to his pleasure at simple memes (“Allora”). And while some people seem disappointed or frustrated with the love story, I think Ansari, Yang, and team actually do a remarkable job at portraying a very specific and understandable and relatable kind of excruciation. I wish that the love interest hadn’t been yet another white woman (the season is otherwise solid at presenting women of color in romantic roles), but they were in Italy, so there is some justification for it.

I Am Not Your Negro: From end to end, this film is a scorching fire of righteousness, and it’s smarter and more beautiful and more gutting and decimating and enraging than anything I can possibly say about it, except just go see it and feel it and take it in. And then, perhaps, do some kind of thing that will inch us forward in some kind of way, especially in this era of rekindled white supremacy. They’re shouting things they used to whisper, and we need to step up and SURJ.

Kumbaya Felt Services #6

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Bluey and Orangina name their favorite animals, go on a hunt for a pen, and discuss the meaning of an impressive word.

Kumbaya Felt Services #5

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Bluey and Orangina attempt to figure out where they are, and why.

Kumbaya Felt Services #4

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

In which Bluey and Orangina discuss travel, such as it is (and isn’t) in their lives.

Kumbaya Felt Services #3

Saturday, February 11th, 2017

In which Bluey and Orangina discuss Orangina’s proclivity for jumping up and down.

Kumbaya Felt Services: #2

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Here’s the second. In this one, Bluey and Orangina discuss their favorite colors, the array of orangeness, and where warmth comes from. Then they sing Kumbaya.

We need to work on enunciation and volume, I know. We’ll do so in later installments. For now, just let it wash over you in calming joy.

Kumbaya Felt Services: Video #1

Monday, January 30th, 2017

This is one of the ways I intend to get through the foreseeable future:

Herein, Bluey and Orangina discuss what it’s like to live on a bed and smell food cooking in the other room. Then they sing Kumbaya.

It helped me to make it. I hope it helps you to watch it.