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Chabon on Anderson

February 3, 2013 Leave a comment

moonrisekingdom

I don’t see all that many movies, so naming my favorite moviemaker is akin to naming my favorite West Indian cricketer. Nonetheless, if pressed to do so, I would say Wes Anderson. Rushmore. The Royal Tenenbaums. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Genius. And last year’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Gail and I watched Moonrise Kingdom at home on Thanksgiving Eve, courtesy of iTunes and live streaming. Not ideal, I should add. There was a problem with the stream, leading to a series of two-to-three minute interruptions while we waited for the buffer to refill. Even so, the film’s brilliance shone through.

My favorite novelist? Well, that’s silly. How does one even compare, say, Lee Child and Michael Chabon, both of whose books I love? I suppose one could observe that the day a Lee Child book appears, I begin reading it. The day a Michael Chabon book appears, I do nothing. That might have significance. But it’s misleading. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is among my favorite novels ever. No Child book is on the list. And I’m going to get to Telegraph Avenue soon. Really.

Let’s just go out on a limb here and call Chabon my favorite novelist. Imagine, then, how cool it is to see that Chabon has a blog post at the New York Review of Books on Wes Anderson!

It doesn’t disappoint. Here’s how it starts:

The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research “childhood.”

There follows a program of renewed inquiry, often involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the researcher learns their histories, and their bitter lessons, by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember, and struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives.

Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do, Bedouin tending their goats in the shade of shattered giants. Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. And some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.

Two difficulties with this latter scheme at once present themselves. First of all, we have only ever glimpsed, as if through half-closed lids, the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box. Second, no matter how diligent we have been about picking up pieces along the way, we will never have anywhere near enough of them to finish the job. The most we can hope to accomplish with our handful of salvaged bits—the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience—is to build a little world of our own. A scale model of that mysterious original, unbroken, half—remembered. Of course the worlds we build out of our store of fragments can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate. As representations of the vanished whole that haunts us, they must be accounted failures. And yet in that very failure, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of this beautiful and broken world. We call these scale models “works of art.”

From Rushmore to Moonrise Kingdom (shamefully neglected by this year’s Academy voters), Wes Anderson’s films readily, even eagerly, concede the “miniature” quality of the worlds he builds, in their set design and camera-work, in their use of stop-motion, maps, and models. And yet these miniatures span continents and decades. They comprise crime, adultery, brutality, suicide, the death of a parent, the drowning of a child, moments of profound joy and transcendence.

Read it all.

Categories: Life, Movies

Jack Reacher

January 22, 2013 Leave a comment

cruisereacher

I’ve devoted many a post to Jack Reacher, the hero of seventeen (so far) Lee Child thrillers. I came to him in June 2008 with #12, Nothing to Lose, a book I found silly but couldn’t put down. A year later I read #13, Gone Tomorrow, and was hooked.

Not wanting to wait another year for a new novel, I decided to explore the backlist. Based on an old review of #9, One Shot, I ordered and read it a few weeks later. It was the best so far. Then I decided my remedial reading should be more systematic. That September, new Kindle in hand, I downloaded and read #1 and #2 in close succession.

For fear of overdoing it, I have slowed down the remedial program, getting to #3 only two years later. Meanwhile, Child keeps writing and I keep reading, taking me through last September’s A Wanted Man, #17. Not his best, but that’s forgivable after the peak of its predecessor, The Affair.

Which brings me to the first ever Reacher movie, still in theaters, the eponymous Jack Reacher. One can’t tell from the title, but it is adapted from One Shot.

Any fan of the books knows that their strength can’t be captured in a movie. Child is a master of plotting and suspense. A movie can duplicate that. But Child has also succeeded in creating a unique character, a mix of brains and brawn whose brains grow on you the more you follow his exploits. Reacher sees more than other people. He reasons better. And it’s a privilege to listen in on his thoughts. Which is the problem with putting him on the screen. He is likely to become just another action hero.

Plus, Tom Cruise? No Reacher lover wants Tom Cruise in the role.

On this basis, I was not going to see the film. But, things happen, and for reasons we need not go into here, I found myself celebrating MLK Day yesterday by heading downtown with Gail to meet and Jessica and Bryan for Jack Reacher‘s lone daytime showing.

It was okay. The less I thought of it as bringing Jack Reacher to life, the more I enjoyed it. I reminded myself that it was just another crime thriller—a violent one at that—but your basic thriller, reasonably acted. Except for Cruise, whom I didn’t find particularly convincing, and I don’t mean as Reacher, just as the hero who needs to hold the story together. He had a few lines that hinted at Reacher’s extraordinary reasoning skills, and enough fights to exhibit Reacher’s formidable physical gifts. But overall the character wasn’t fully formed. A.O. Scott was less kind in his NYT review last month: “The self-confident, supercompetent Reacher is a character Mr. Cruise could play in his sleep, which is pretty much what he does.”

The cast has two treats: Robert Duvall and Werner Herzog. (Yes, that Werner Herzog.) Herzog dominates one particularly gruesome but powerful scene.

The best news is that I’m in no danger of conjuring Tom Cruise when I read more Reacher novels. The world of the movie will remain disjoint from that of the books, whose enjoyment will be unspoiled. And if there’s a movie sequel, I might just pass it up. Unless Bryan and Jessica invite us again.

Categories: Books, Movies

Skyfall: Senior at Last

November 25, 2012 Leave a comment

[Francois Duhamel]

We don’t go out to the movies much. The only sure-fire draw that gets me out of the house to the theater is James Bond. For him, I might even go on opening weekend. I was therefore dismayed on learning in the summer that the latest Bond film would open on November 9. I didn’t think Gail would want to celebrate her birthday on the 10th by seeing Skyfall, and the day after that I would be flying to Chicago. The next weekend, I’d have a visitor to entertain on Friday and we’d be going to the symphony on Saturday. Thus, we’d have to wait two weeks, or until yesterday.

During Thanksgiving dinner, Gail suggested to Jessica that she and Bryan join us. Yesterday morning, I looked into buying tickets online, not that I thought we would need to. I realize the prices shouldn’t have surprised me, but given that we don’t get out to the movies much, the $11.50 ticket price was indeed unexpected. Between that and the $1.50 per ticket fee, I was easily convinced that we could pass on online purchasing.

Usually my eyes pass right over discount rates. Seniors, students, children—I don’t care. But, hey, I’m getting up there in years. This time, I took a closer look. The senior price was $10.50. Not much of a discount. Yet, maybe I qualified. That would be fun! The few times I’ve thought to ask about discounts, like on the Washington State Ferries a few months ago, I learn that I’m too young.

Well, thank you AMC Theatres! I can reap the savings at last, albeit only a dollar. That made my day.

As for Skyfall, having enjoyed the first two Daniel Craig Bond movies, I found this one disappointing. I dare not give too much away, so I won’t say much. My main criticism is that I found the story weak. Its focus on M — the head of British intelligence — provided a welcome opportunity for Judi Dench to have a larger role than usual. But I found the depiction of her relationships with Bond and the villain unconvincing. And with the emphasis on these relationships, there wasn’t much plot development.

However, it seems that I was missing something. Peter Bradshaw’s review in The Guardian a month ago is full of praise:

This is the seventh time Judi Dench has played the enigmatic spy-chief M. But it is only in this storming new Bond movie that her M has really been all that she could be. Under the stylish direction of Sam Mendes, Dench’s M is quite simply the Bond girl to end all Bond girls. Watching this, I thought: of course. How could I have missed it? The real tension isn’t with Moneypenny, but with the boss herself. Now M is an imperious, subtly oedipal intelligence-matriarch with the double-O boys under her thumb. She’s treating them mean. She’s keeping them keen. And she is rewarded with passionate loyalty, varying with smouldering resentment. It’s a combination with its own unspoken eroticism, and it has also created the conditions for one of the most memorable Bond villains in recent times. …

The 50th anniversary of the big-screen Bond was the right time to pull off something big. Skyfall is a hugely enjoyable action spectacular, but more grounded and cogent than the previous and disappointing outing, Quantum of Solace. …

Daniel Craig’s Bond (above) looks older, more careworn, slightly more jug-eared. This is a Bond who has something to prove, and who could be damaged goods, physically and even mentally. Even at his lowest, however, he is still capable of pulling off a very scary drinking trick involving a scorpion. But now he must face one of his tastiest adversaries ever – the chilling Silva, played by Javier Bardem.

I may have to go back to see it again.

Categories: Life, Movies

Reacher at the Movies

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

A week ago in the WSJ, Steve Oney had big news on the first film version of a Jack Reacher thriller. It will be a movie version of One Shot, the ninth of Lee Child’s sixteen Jack Reacher novels. There’s been a limited amount of information at the Lee Child website, which now says the release date is February 8, 2013, and whose FAQ page refers back to the WSJ article for more information.

I read One Shot at the beginning of July 2009. Looking back at the post I wrote at the time, I see that I wasn’t yet ready to give Reacher his due. Child kept me reading until 1:11 AM, but I hesitated to express admiration for the book. In retrospect, it’s one of the best in the series, a great choice for a movie — if a movie must be made.

I am sure many Reacher fans share my view that we’d be better off without Reacher movies. The character is so well conceived. Movies won’t improve him. Indeed, they are sure to mis-represent him. In the WSJ article, Lee Child gives his own take of the problem:

Hollywood storytelling typically relies on character arcs in which the hero faces a number of moral dilemmas so he can change and grow.

Reacher is the opposite of that, Mr. Child says. “His appeal is that he does not change one iota. He’s the same at the end of a novel as he was at the beginning, and he doesn’t learn anything either, because he knew it all to start with.”

Mr. Child cites another book-to-film difficulty—movies have trouble with interior monologues. “Readers like being in Reacher’s head, thinking along with him,” he says, “and my novels have a lot of long, internal passages that depend on Reacher’s thought processes, his own quirkiness, his intuition, his mental capacity. There’s no movie way of showing what an actor is thinking.”

Right. So why make the movie?

Alas, it is being filmed this moment, with the diminutive Tom Cruise playing the oversized Reacher, which is another problem altogether, one the article discusses in detail.

No doubt I’ll see the movie when it comes out. How can I resist? The more exciting news is that Reacher #17, A Wanted Man, will be out on Tuesday, September 25. Not the best timing for me, unfortunately, with the academic year starting the day before and Yom Kippur starting that evening. Can I spend Yom Kippur at home reading Reacher? I may have to wait for the weekend.

Categories: Books, Movies

The King’s Speech

May 15, 2011 1 comment

We don’t see too many movies. Gail would be happy to, but I never seem eager to get to the theater. Unless it’s new Bond or Pixar. Last year was our worst year ever for Oscar-nominated movies. But I realized yesterday that they must all be out on DVD, so off I went to rent The King’s Speech. Best movie. Best director. Best actor. Best screenplay. Must be worth watching. After dinner, we fired up our movie system and entered the world of 1930s Britain.

The audience response hereabouts wasn’t so good. Joel took off halfway through. Gail split her attention between the movie and her iPad. I stayed true to the end, fascinated by the buddy story of King George VI and Lionel Logue. I think the depiction of their relationship was well done. And Geoffrey Rush was superb as Logue. Helena Bonham Carter was pretty good too. (Say, did you know she’s the great-granddaughter of Herbert Henry Asquith, the British prime minister early in the twentieth century?) It could be, though, that the movie is not so easy to take seriously at home, without benefit of the big screen. Can the king’s stuttering really be the major issue facing Britain during the depression, as war approached? In September 1939, in the wake of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, was everyone really so concerned with how the king would handle his speech about the coming war? Maybe so. I don’t know. Yet, much as I enjoyed the story’s narrow focus, it did seem a bit frivolous by the end.

Coincidentally, earlier in the day, I was reading about King George VI’s youth in a book I had just started two days before. Or maybe not coincidentally, now that I think about it. that could be what made me think to see The King’s Speech. More on the book in another post.

Categories: Movies

Haunting the Library

May 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Improv Everywhere posted their latest mission at their website this morning. You can watch the video above. It’s enjoyable enough, but not one of my favorites, perhaps because I was never much of a fan of Ghostbusters.

The video presentation of the mission shouldn’t be watched in isolation. Read also the description of the mission that follows the video at the mission webpage. Of particular interest is the fact that the mission originated through a request by the New York Public Library to host a mission as a means of publicizing their current financial difficulties.

Watching the three ghosts enter the library’s reading room, I found myself thinking of an on-line discussion at Andrew Sullivan’s blog last week regarding the wearing of burqas and niqabs. The discussion’s starting point was a piece by Christopher Hitchens at Slate on the issue of banning the wearing of burqas in France. Hitchens notes, as part of his discussion, that “[o]n the door of my bank in Washington, D.C., is a printed notice politely requesting me to remove any form of facial concealment before I enter the premises. The notice doesn’t bore me or weary me by explaining its reasoning: A person barging through those doors with any sort of mask would incur the right and proper presumption of guilt. This presumption should operate in the rest of society. I would indignantly refuse to have any dealings with a nurse or doctor or teacher who hid his or her face, let alone a tax inspector or customs official.”

Sullivan made reference to Hitchens’ article here, then continued the thread with several more posts sharing reader reactions. Of particular interest in the context of the New York Public Library mission is this reader’s comment:

I work in a public library in a very large American city and have encountered several women in a burqa at the reference desk. Immediately I am struck by how our culture is not set up for a woman to be almost completely covered like that. I am a woman, and have found myself several times by myself at the reference desk trying to converse with another woman, who happens to be veiled. The veil made it difficult to hear these women since it covered their mouths. It occurred to me this burqa is not designed for a free society where women are allowed and actually expected to speak for themselves. Body language communication was impossible to read from these veiled women which is such a huge part of conversing, almost as big as the words actually said.

Watch the video again. See the guard question the first ghost. Notice the reactions of the patrons when ghosts sit next to them. There’s no religious context here, just the oddity of sharing space with someone whose only visible facial features are his, or her, eyes.

Categories: Humor, Movies, Theater

Nasher Sculpture Center

February 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Jonathan Borofsky, Walking to the Sky, 2004

Last week, I promised a post on our visit to Dallas’s Nasher Sculpture Center two weeks ago. The center is named after Raymond Nasher, a Dallas developer responsible for the shopping mall NorthPark Center, which opened in 1964 on a former cotton field about eight miles north of downtown Dallas in the early 1960s. Along with his wife Patsy, Nasher acquired a major sculpture collection. In 1997, he announced his plan to establish a sculpture garden next to the Dallas Museum of Art. Later that year, he met with the architect Renzo Piano and expanded his vision to include a museum with an integrated garden. The center opened in October 2003, and Nasher died in March 2007. (You can read more about center’s history here.)

Two weeks ago yesterday, my old friend Won, who lives just outside Dallas in Irving and whom we hadn’t seen in over fifteen years, picked us up at our hotel and spent the day with us. He had suggested the day before that we might wish to have lunch at the center. I didn’t give it much thought. I had one priority only, to get to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza (about which, more in the next post), and Won assured me that he would take us there. Around noontime, as we were already a bit north of downtown, we headed up to NorthPark Center. Won goes there often, and he assured us it isn’t like other malls. It is, after all, the mall founded by the owner of one of the country’s great sculpture collections. As a result, it is itself home to many great sculptures. I have to say, wandering around a mall and seeing art like the sculpture pictured below is pretty cool.

Corridor Pin, Blue, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

From the mall, we headed down to the Dallas Arts District, adjacent to downtown, and parked across the street from the Nasher Sculpture Center. On entering, we walked straight to the back of the building so we could take a walk in the garden. As we tried to walk through the doorway to the outdoors, we had to squeeze between some older guy leaning against a pillar on the right, just beyond the door, and a photographer on the left. Evidently we had stumbled into the middle of a photo shoot. I didn’t think much of it. I just kept walking. Won, just behind me, mumbled something about the shoot. Only after we took a few more steps did he repeat it, at which point I turned back and, sure enough, that old guy wasn’t just any old guy. It was Robert Duvall! Just another day at the Nasher I suppose. As we wandered around the garden, the photo shoot entourage did as well, adding a little unexpected excitement to our promenade. But let me be clear — the garden itself was excitement enough. Won knew what he was doing in steering us there. And lunch afterwards at the Nasher Cafe was excellent. We could happily have spent another hour or two there. But the Sixth Floor Museum beckoned, and off we went.

Categories: Art, Movies, Travel