April 26, 2010
A quick side note about taking the 54 bus from St. Paul to the Mall of America (located in nearby Bloomington). Do NOT be embarrassed when you get off at the Minneapolis Airport, thinking you have arrived at the Mall of America. They are both titans of industry easily confused with each other. I am sure even lifelong St. Paulians often stop short in front of the Delta counter, realizing they are nowhere near a Build-A-Bear or J. Crew. "Shucks," they chuckle to themselves as they finger one of the fishing lures dangling off their all-weather anorak, "Looks like I got off a coupla stops early again." Regardless, the busdriver will be very accommodating when you scramble back on the bus and you will NOT be looked at with weary contempt by the rest of the passengers.
"Date Night" itself was delightful. It is pretty much what you expect and funny enough that I just pretended all of the shmucky stuff about relationships ("You never believe in me!" "I have to do everything!") wasn't happening. My biggest takeaway was that Steve Carrell and Tina Fey were generous enough to let the large supporting cast all have their moment in the sun. Mark Wahlberg, James Franco, Mila Kunis and Kristen Wiig all get ample room to strut their stuff, and even the lady from "Gossip Girl" gets to sneak a bit in. This generosity seemed particularly refreshing since the majority of supporting performances in Mike Myers or Adam Sandler movies consist of Maxim models making "You're hilarious" reaction shots as the main character mugs it up. So it was nice to watch a comedy where everyone was allowed to play. All told, it's not a classic, but certainly a pleasant diversion and I hope it makes enough money so Carrell, Fey and friends can make another movie together.
I saw Avatar in 3-D with Martin and his wife. I was swept up in the spectacle for the four and a half hours of its running time, losing myself in the visuals. I don't really remember much else, except that I appreciated watching an action movie where I understood how everything was happening spatially (ahem, last twenty minutes of "Dark Night" or any of Michael Bay's movies). Stephen Lang, who I thought was terrific in "Public Enemies," was heavy on the hambone here but I guess you don't go to an action bonanza expecting nuance. The only other thing I remember is that when the movie ended I looked over at Martin, his eyes clearly moist with tears even through the eight layers of eyewear on his head. Leona Lewis's "I See You" soared through the theater, massaging our ears with its message of compassion and love. "This," Martin whispered, "is the best song I have ever heard in my entire life."
"Crazy Heart" is a bubbly romantic comedy about an endearing single mom lookin' for love in all the wrong places. Maggie Gylenhaal plays a former Anthropologie store manager who, disappointed with her limited career options in retail, decides to hitch her wagon to the exploding industry that is print media arts coverage. She immediately scores an interview with fading country superstar and raging alcoholic, "Bad" Blake. Due to highly reactive skin around her shoulder blades, she is unable to wear a bra to the interview, which takes place in his hotel room. Despite her inexperience, she grills him with hard-hitting questions, uncovering previously hidden truths such as how he got started and who his influences are. They soon have sex. Due to a softball injury sustained in middle school, Maggie has lost her inability to smell, so she is unfazed by Blake's searing morning breath the next day as they go for round two.
Maggie then goes on a paid vacation with him and her three year-old son when her chronic fatigue syndrome recurs. She has to take a rest RIGHT AWAY. She goes to the most logical place to relax, the bench at the local park they visited earlier, and Blake takes her son to a bar in an open-air mall. The son gets lost, Maggie gets called, and after a frantic fourteen seconds they find the son. She realizes "fool me once, shame on you, fool me nine times with clear and undeniable signs that you are a raging alcoholic thirty years my senior, shame on me" and ends the relationship. A year later, when her hard-hitting reporting has earned her a spot on "Rolling Stone's" staff, she reconnects with the newly sober "Bad." He gives her a royalty check for the song he wrote after they broke up. She accepts it, as it is ethically appropriate to do so since she has not interviewed him yet this year. Then she arranges an interview where she definitely WILL NOT sleep with him (okay, maybe just make out a little) and the movie ends.
April 23, 2010
But all told, I was kind of bored throughout. Part of it was I knew what was going to happen, but also, despite all of the terrible things happening to characters (see: second paragraph), no one seemed affected by the life-threatening events taking place around them. Maybe in the necessary streamlining, the filmmakers lost what little psychological depth the characters had. But to its credit, the film contains actors who looked like the characters in the book. I eavesdropped on a (middle-aged) woman standing in front of the film's poster, breathing in Noomi Rapace's hostile stare like it was a fine Beaujolais. "Oh," she groaned to her friend, "She's so perfect, and you just know they're going to cast Dakota Fanning or somebody terrible in the remake." (Various sources say the actress will be at least a little older: either Carey Mulligan or Kristen Stewart; and I have to agree with my fellow-theatergoer, it's hard imagining any winsome starlet portraying someone who has endured the agony that Lisbeth Salander has). And maybe in the end, that's part of the book and movie's appeal: it shows you not only a world you don't often see, but also characters that don't get their share of the limelight. Which probably explains why I have to read the second book before the film version comes out in July.
April 20, 2010
With all these reawakenings in mind, I have some similes for a bunch of springtime music, both new and old; music that feels like love peeking its head out of the cave after a long hibernation.
Dr. Dog - Shame, Shame
If the new Dr. Dog album, Shame, Shame, was a hot Chicago lady, she'd be the kind of cool girl you see at the Metro for a rock & roll concert, who then goes over to the Gingerman after the show. Maybe she has one or two hidden tattoos, and is attractive in that willowy, skinny-jeans-y way. She's well put together, her slightly ragged, distressed style a purposeful statement, not slovenliness. She's got dark eyeliner, high spirits with an energetic laugh and big smile, and drinks beer from a can. She's not quite a Wicker Park hipster, but also wouldn't be caught dead at any Wrigleyville meat-market bars or Lincoln Park Trixie haunts. She's very smart, but more fun than smart, and more hot than fun.
Kings of Leon - Only By The Night
If Only by the Night was a car it would be a sleek, sexy, black convertible sports car. It's not totally impractical or expensive beyond the realm of reality. Maybe you got it used or it's a classic that's been souped-up and looks better than ever; it's accessible while still being amazing to drive -- powerful, responsive, growling. It's got a timeless look, but you don't feel like you're trying too hard when you drive it -- it's effortless and casually magnetic. Needless to say, you make out in this car a LOT.
Fun. - Aim and Ignite
If the stupidly-named-band Fun.'s debut album Aim and Ignite was a baseball team, it would be a rag-tag team from the late '70s when everybody had crazy shaggy hair, big smiles, and were pretty messed up on drugs and stuff. There's probably too many big, wild personalities on the team to really be successful, although everybody gets along really well in the clubhouse and parties together after games. They are nutty, loveable fan-favorites and make a somewhat surprising run at the playoffs but ultimately fall short. Everybody likes them but they just aren't quite good enough to be real contenders. Maybe they need to mature another year, maybe they need to swap one big teddy bear of a strikeout machine for a lean, mean hitting machine, maybe they need to party less and get the recreational drug use under control. All I know is you can't deny their irrepressible charm, but they would probably be impossible to have a real conversation with.
She & Him - Volume Two
If She & Him's latest effort was an actress, it would be a supercute actress you like a lot, but does the same role in the same kind of movie over and over again. She's great, but you really wish she would stretch or do something different with her talent. She's obviously not the second coming of Meryl Streep, but she's a lot more talented than idiots like Kristin Stewart or all the chicks on Gossip Girl. So you like her, and go to see her movies, but are ever so slightly disappointed every time the lights in the theater come back up, feeling like you'd seen that movie and that performance before. She is always "cute" but seemingly uninterested or unwilling or unable to be "great." But hey, at least she's cute!
April 12, 2010
The Girl Who Played with Fire Reviewed by The Man who Reads Furiously, Vol. 3 in Series Anticipated by The Man Who has No Patience (Same Guy)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wondered in my review of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" -- the first book in this Swedish thriller-trilogy (thrillogy?) by Stieg Larsson -- whether that book would serve as a setup for the succeeding volumes, each improving on the last. I'm happy to report that 2/3rds of the way through the series that does, in fact, seem to be the case.
"The Girl Who Played with Fire" picks up fairly shortly after the events of "Dragon Tattoo" and delves further into the characters lives. In this way, the first volume gives us a relatively straightforward thriller, introducing us to many of the characters who then receive some more purposeful time in the spotlight in this sequel, enriching our understanding of each of them as people. The genius lies in Larsson's intertwining the two classic mystery-novel tropes:
1) "the next adventure in the implausibly exciting lives of these two characters introduced in the last mystery novel" and
2) "the excavation of the mysterious back-story of the damaged yet brilliant heroine."
The heroine in this case is Lisbeth Salander, (the titular girl (with the dragon tattoo who played with fire)), who is also one of the characters living the implausibly exciting life. My proposed tagline for the movie-adaptation of this book: "First she cracked the case, now she IS the case!"
There's a lot going on in this book, all of it somewhat complicated by the many and varied diacritics in the Swedish names and places (diacritics, not Germanic umlauts as I, in my cultural and linguistic ignorance, would have called them before my quick survey of wikipedia (all hail!)). But keeping lots of characters with crazy-lookin' names straight is sometimes a struggle, as is navigating the layers of conspiracy that begin to be uncovered in this book.
The layers of conspiracy are dense and shadowy -- not to say opaque -- make no mistake about it. My hope for book #3 (already on pre-order from Amazon in the less-than-preferable hardcover format, so great is my impatience!) is that Larsson separates out some of the threads discovered in this book to make all the connections somewhat more clear. There were a lot of moments like: "Aha! So-and-so was WORKING for so-and-so!" that may have been supposed to be major revelations but for me were mostly just signposts that an important connection had been made between villainous characters I struggled to keep straight as I plowed straight through towards the conclusion.
I have some minor criticisms of the book, which may or may not be seen as contradictory. For one, the middle of the book sagged slightly where it should have started sprinting for the finish line; different characters kept summarizing what they knew, or thought they knew about the mystery -- which I understand from the perspective of keeping us, the reading audience, onboard, but which I didn't like dramatically, or from the standpoint of pacing. (This, of course, as I complain about not understanding or being able to keep up with all the twists and conspiracies! I'm impossible to please.) For another, the dialogue is sometimes surprisingly leaden. I'm willing to hope that what was once crackling dialogue in Swedish is lost in translation, sadly morphed into heavy-handed, tone-deaf English blather.
But overall, I really enjoyed the book, and tore through it at a relentless rate. Delving into Lisbeth Salandar’s history while a murder mystery furiously rages enriches and deepens this book in comparison to “Dragon Tattoo.” I confess that I am excited and impatient for “The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” which looks like it will arrive just in time to be devoured in between quarters at school!
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April 2, 2010
April 1, 2010
I also hate razors. I avoid them if possible, and shave only when decorum insists. But if there's one thing "A Prophet" teaches you, it's that razors are a staple of prison life. They're like Apple products: people fawn over the latest edition and coo over their increased functionality. Early in the movie, Djebena has to learn how to slip a razor blade from the side of his mouth to between his front teeth so that he can sever the carotid of a rival prisoner (I mean, who hasn't, am I right?). Not only would my razorphobia prove an obstacle for such a task, but so would my corrupt orthodontics: my gums bleed easily and my lower jaw is slightly askew because I didn't wear my retainer long enough. But I have never been an easy fit with coordinated facial violence. During an ill-fated attempt at practicing the saxophone in fifth grade, I slipped down a few stairs. The mouthpiece of my saxophone slammed under my nose, ultimately requiring three stitches, and I thought I had survived a war-like experience.
But don't let the grim portrait of violence prevent you from seeing this excellent film. Like "Pan's Labyrinth," "A Prophet" contains a checklist of things I hate seeing portrayed on screen (in this case head violence, naked beatings, razors) yet still remains a vibrant movie from which I couldn't look away. All of the actors give fully lived-in performances (I'm not totally convinced this wasn't a documentary) and I got a glimpse of a subculture I knew nothing about. If you can stomach it (and you totally can; I am the biggest baby out there and I saw it), you will be rewarded with probably the best mob movie of the past fifteen years.