Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Boxer, Kele

Many people complain when they hear a lead singer from a band is releasing a solo album. People start to wonder if the band is breaking up? Or, if the lead singer has such a huge ego they believe the success rests entirely on their own shoulders. I've felt this way about solo releases from time to time. When I heard Kele, lead singer of British indie band Bloc Party, was releasing a solo album I sighed with distress. Bloc Party's last two albums had been fairly disappointing after the success of Silent Alarm. I worried Kele was going to attempt to remove himself from a band name gone sour, but release the same music.

In the case of The Boxer, Kele needed to release the album under his own name. The sound, lyrics, etc. is not quite Bloc Party music. There is a little less rock aggression to Kele's voice. The dance beats are darker. The lyrics much more personal. There is still the sound of Bloc Party, as Kele's voice is such a distinctive aspect of the band. But, on The Boxer, Kele finds this middle ground of indie pop friendly music not for any average radio station. This is to say, The Boxer has some great singles, but none of them would fair well on pop radio. This is not a bad thing.

"Walk Tall," the first song on the album is very catchy. The song comes closest to anything Bloc Party released as a group. One surprise on the album comes at the third track, "Tenderoni." There is a strong (almost) electronic dance beat taking over the song. With a little remix, this song could be a huge hit for the club scene. (It fails slightly when Kele begins to spell Tenderoni a few times as the song closes... only YMCA, respect, and dance should ever be spelled out in song).

"Everything You Ever Wanted" is the most powerful song on the album. A surprising find on an album called The Boxer. One would expect to find hard, aggressive, closed off lyrics. Someone putting on a show. Instead, we find a fragile fellow singing about the possibilities of a love no longer. "Rise" is the albums biggest surprise. Halfway through the track the song explodes into a powerful dance beat. This is dark dance at its finest.

Throughout The Boxer a female voice is present. In at least half the songs the voice sings equal or more than Kele. I am not certain if this is the same female, or a couple of voices. But, I find this to be an interesting addition to the album. Kele is blending the masculine and the feminine in using 'her' voice equal to his own.

I am surprised at how good this album is, but not overly excited by the entirety of the album. There are weaknesses and mediocre attempts. But, when The Boxer is strong, it punches hard.

B-

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

In Treatment: Season One


I've had season one of In Treatment sitting on my movie shelf for a little over a year. When I first tried to watch the series, I only got through Week One (5 episodes). I was intrigued by a couple of the patients, hated two of the patients, and adored Day 5 (Dianne Wiest as the therapist to Paul). The series contained a different dialogue. A short, raw, focused way of talking. The way one could imagine a very healthy therapy session progressing. On the other hand, this wore me out. Five different therapy sessions a week. Spread out over nine weeks. I put the series on hold for a bit. Returning a little over a month ago.

The first five weeks of the series are very strong. The patients grow and back peddle on a pretty realistic level (at least, in my opinion of therapy). And, from time to time, Paul's (Byrne's character) personal life is brought into view. We see glimpses of struggles with his wife, and two of his three children. The patients all remain complicated. And, as I've said, Paul's sessions with Gina (Wiest) are painfully uncomfortable and beautifully acted.

After week five, Paul crosses a line with a patient. Then, Paul does not follow protocol with another patient. I start to wonder if he's a bad therapist? Is he too caring? Or, am I demanding something too rigid and unrealistic from this character? Also, Paul's visits with Gina start to become marriage counseling sessions (Paul's wife joins three of the sessions). While these sessions aren't boring, they show a little crack in the writing. The cliches start to break through the series.

The strength of this series? The slice of life aspect. We are given 22 minute sessions. Five different sessions over the course of nine weeks. And, in the end, no one is really cured. Answers are never really stated. This is a series playing by a different set of rules. It isn't totally caught up in the outline of your typical drama series (although, a couple plot lines do go too far).

I would not compare the series to Mad Men in the sense of style, only in the sense of themes. These shows really explore our purpose, our motives, our needs. In Treatment left me exhausted after each viewing.

B

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Suburbs, Arcade Fire

BEST of 2010

After the disappointment of Neon Bible, I did not have my hopes up for Arcade Fire's follow up album. Something was lost between Funeral and Neon Bible. The personal touch of loss, growth, and youth that were so strong throughout Funeral were nowhere to be found in Neon Bible. Neon Bible seemed like a landscape created out of trying too hard. The album sounds old, worn out, and rusted. Although, my favorite Arcade Fire song does exist on the album, 'My Body is a Cage.'

The Suburbs is sprawling in the quietest manner. There is something epic, grand, tragic about the sounds and lyrics of this album. I imagine the bright, beautiful bubbles of champagne during each and every song. In fact, the entire album reminds me of Sophia Coppola's Marie Antoinette. The Suburbs could play out as a soundtrack for the film. To take it one step further, every track would fit so perfectly in the amazing scene when the party guests all gather in the field to watch the sun rise (a scene with a tip of the hat to the beautiful cinematography of Terrence Malick). These songs capture the most intimate moments in the grandest of ways.

My two favorite tracks on the album, so far, are 'We Used to Wait' and 'Sprawl I (Flatland).' 'Sprawl I' is the saddest track on the album. It comes so close to capturing the pure intensity of lines from Funeral (ie, "sometimes we remember bedrooms, and our parents bedrooms, and the bedrooms of our friends"). In 'Sprawl I' the scene is of a decaying city used to symbolize a decaying world, and quite possibly a decaying relationship ("the emotions are dead, it's no wonder you feel so strange"). 'We Used to Wait' is equally sad. But, the music is faster and doesn't break the heart as quickly as 'Sprawl I.' If I had to pick, 'We Used to Wait' is the albums greatest moment.

The album is sixteen tracks long. There is a lot to take in during one sitting. I've only had a few listens with the album. Perhaps, all these opinions are too soon. But, I can't imagine growing tired or bored with any of the album. I can only imagine it growing richer and deeper. After the disappointment of Arcade Fire's second album, I am rejoicing over the perfection, the depth, and the talent of their latest release. I feel Funeral will always be the album to define Arcade Fire, but The Suburbs will always be the greatest achievement.

A

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chloe


I am a fan of many of Atom Egoyan's films (Adoration, Ararat, Felicia's Journey, and The Sweet Hereafter). In fact, I would say Adoration and The Sweet Hereafter are nearly perfect films. They dig beneath the surface of the emotional terrains of the films' inhabitants. Egoyan's films are tiring, heavy, difficult, and sometimes sloppy because they are working so hard to capture the reality, the strain, of living.

I had hoped Egoyan would capture this pain in Chloe. Julianne Moore (almost always perfect: A Single Man, Short Cuts, Magnolia, Far From Heaven, etc) plays a gynecologist. She is married to Liam Neeson (who looks quite attractive for the first time ever), a professor of music. Moore begins to suspect Neeson of having an affair. A chance encounter with Chloe (Amanada Seyfried), a prostitute, in a restaurant restroom presents Moore with the opportunity to discover if Neeson is capable of cheating.

Chloe is sent to flirt with Neeson. Moore has created the perfect trap. And, this is all very interesting. The inability to trust. The lack of honesty. The lack of dialogue in this marriage. And, then, the sex. The level of sex. The loss of sex. Such perfect themes waiting to be talked about and explored. But, Egoyan never digs. He plays all of these issues up front and shallow.

Moore is eventually turned into a house wife with no life. She stares out windows of her home, her office, and restaurants. She lacks all aspects of an individual. Neeson becomes background. A piece in Moore's game. Only Seyfried really takes on any depth in the film. But, even she falls flat. We're never fully made to understand her actions.

By films end, Seyfried has grown obsessed with Moore. After a bit of jealousy rages through Moore, she has a one night stand with Seyfried (the only slightly interesting scene in the film). From this event, a bisexual Fatal Attraction is born. And, quickly, the film looses all chance of gaining meaning, or depth. Egoyan is only creating a cheap thriller presented a little more classier.

C-

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Inception

I start to wonder when the "gimmick" movie is going to run its course. But, for Christopher Nolan, maybe the gimmick movie is all he can create. Memento is one of the biggest gimmick movies in recent memory. And, what is Batman if not a gimmick? Once again, Nolan presents a film under the guise of something new, unique, and interesting. But, is Inception any of those things?

It is easy to go straight to Eternal Sunshine of the Mind when watching this film. A group of wayward thieves escaping into the minds of those who pay money to be tampered with. And, then there is the love story at the films center. This is the most interesting portion of the film. The way Dom refuses to let Mal out of his memory, of his dreams.

And, Shutter Island. Leonardo Dicaprio washes up on a beach, bloated and out of sorts. He is haunted by the image of his children. Of a wife. Did he kill her? Didn't he? What is the twist?

There are shots, moments which remind me of 2001: A Space Odyssey (Cillian Murphy at his father's death bed in the closing scenes), 2046 (the removed, confused element of relationships), and The Matrix (Joseph Gordon-Levitt's fight scene in the hotel hallway). Was there all that much originality in the film?

I have never been a fan of action films. At the end of the day, Inception is truly an action film. A series of explosions, car chases, and too much gun play. After awhile it becomes too much. My entire being feels assaulted by the lack of reality and purpose in the over the top action. We get it, Mr. Nolan, you had quite a budget.

I would place this film in the same pile I place Sunshine. Decent for a first viewing. Mostly exhausting. But, why return other than to get angry all over again?

C

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Kind Diet, Alicia Silverstone


As a vegan of 5 years and vegetarian of 5 years before that, books like The Kind Diet are a little repetitive. The focus is on reasons why one needs to move away from meat and dairy. The cancer causing bits and pieces of meat, the digestion of milk, etc etc etc. All of these are great facts for beginners. And, I’m pretty sure that is what Alicia Silverstone is setting out to present in this book… a beginner’s guide to a vegan diet/lifestyle.

There were a handful of interesting new facts. Such as, a carnivore’s intestines are 6 feet long, but the human intestine is 20 feet long. Meat takes a total of 3 days to fully digest and empty the body. Also, the protein casein (found in milk and cheese) breaks down in the body into casomorphins (as in morphine). An opiate effect takes place in the body and causes the “addictive” attitude many have for cheese. And, how about these horrifying statistics…90,000 US cows/calves are slaughtered every day and 14,000 chickens are killed in the U.S. every minute. What the what?

The book is written in a very playful manner. In fact, there are times I wondered if maybe Silverstone’s character from Clueless, Cher, was writing the book. The almost ditsy, humorous way in which Silverstone talks about her reasons for becoming a vegan (in her case, mostly a macrobiotic vegan).

The recipes are fairly simple. Nothing out of the ordinary. I made a copy of a few… as a reminder. I’m sure I can find them in one of my handful of cookbooks at home. As I said, this is definitely a beginner’s guide. I respect Silverstone for using her celebrity to draw attention to the vegan diet/lifestyle.

My biggest complaint… Silverstone mentions (on two occasions) cheating on the diet. She states that she has had a piece of fish or a pudding (with real milk) from time to time. She reveals she can get just as a good a flavor from vegan dishes, but she has the “real thing” as a reminder…??? I find this to be very odd. I would never call myself a “superhero” (as Silverstone refers to strict vegans), but I have not cheated since shortly after I first started the vegan lifestyle (when I had a brief breakdown and returned to eggs for a week). But, I use AFTER that egg incident as my starting point for veganism. Seems petty, eh? At least she is enjoying a mostly vegan diet and sharing her information with the public. I shouldn’t complain. But, I did.

C+

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Admiral Fell Promises, Sun Kil Moon

I have been a fan of Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek for many years. Since he performed and released CDs under the moniker Red House Painters. Red House Painters’ self titled (Rollercoaster) album is a beautiful, mellow experience. Under the name Sun Kil Moon, Kozelek releases music very similar to his Red House Painter albums. But, there is a bit of an eerie darkness at play in the lyrics and music. A darker step than Red House Painters.

Sun Kil Moon’s first release, Ghost of the Great Highway, is an album superior to most. Almost every song is a guitar heavy folk exploration down a gritty dirt road. The standout track “Carry Me Ohio” will always bring me close to tears. This album was followed up by a strange experimental release, Tiny Cities. Mark Kozelek stripped down Modest Mouse songs and performed them in his typical style. Many view Modest Mouse as a poppy, mediocre band. But, early Modest Mouse is still a collection of great songs. And, they are brought back to life on Tiny Cities. The next album, April, is a pretty mediocre album in the Sun Kil Moon oeuvre. No single song stands out against the other. And, the album just kind of left my mind.

On the fourth, and most recent release, Sun Kil Moon has shown some growth, improvement, and a need to strip away the layers. On Admiral Fell Promises, Kozelek has entered the world of classical guitar. Many of the songs start and end with a hushed session of guitar strings gone spiritual. I am not a fan of classical guitar. In fact, I am mostly bored with classical guitar. But, what makes the guitar so successful on this album is Kozelek’s voice. He has always sung with a voice wavering on the edge of tears, like a shattered man with no time left to reveal his truths. There is a longing to release every last piece of self that comes from Kozelek’s throat. It is haunting, intense, and strange. His voice is the voice of ghosts. A Neil Young-esque experience. The hushed, classical guitar allows for his voice to really take over the album.

"Half Moon Bay" is the most gorgeous song on the album.

B

Monday, July 19, 2010

Magnificent Obsession


Jane Wyman. Rock Hudson. Douglas Sirk. Ever since I first watched All That Heaven Allows, I have been in love with those three names. All That Heaven Allows is the quintessential technicolored melodrama of the 1950s. It later inspired Far From Heaven (with Julianne Moore in one of her most brilliant rolls).

There is a glowing beauty about Sirk's films. The purple shades of a distant forest, the vibrant pinks of a flower bouquet, the exquisite pop of wallpapered rooms. The gowns. The hair. The polite interactions. There is something surface level about Sirk's films. The shallow level one could perceive the film on a first viewing. So little is explained. High emotion leading to strange, unexpected behavior. These films are pop art soap operas.

Of course, there is always something beneath the surface. And, for Sirk, that one thing is always love. Sirk is concerned with the complications of love. The way love exhausts and energizes. The way love grows from the worst circumstances.

Hudson plays a wealthy brat. Concerned only for himself (and, not even himself most of the time). Always drinking and seducing. Wyman plays a newlywed. A late in life marriage. On the eve of the six month anniversary, Wyman's husband dies from a heart attack because the resuscitator is being used on Hudson (after an accident caused by his own reckless behavior). Hudson is blamed for the husband's death.

Throughout the film Hudson seeks forgiveness. The death of one creates a brand new life in another. And Wyman, in an Oscar nominated role, portrays confusion and acceptance very well. Not only does Hudson cause her husband's death... but, Wyman is eventually blinded in a car accident caused by Hudson (remember, I said melodrama).

Anyone interested in old fashioned, vibrant films filled with over the top romanticism... this is your film.

B

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Wolf Parade: July 16th, 2010: Newport/Southgate House

Wolf Parade set list:

(Not in correct order. Not all songs.)

1. Dear Sons & Daughters of Hungry Ghosts
2. I'll Believe in Anything
3. California Dreamer
4. Kissing the Beehive
5. Oh You, Old Thing
6. Cloud Shadow on the Mountain
7. Palm Road
8. What Did My Lover Say
9. Language City
10. Ghost Pressure
11. Shine A Light

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis, Mark Gluth

BEST OF 2010

Mark Gluth and I have a few things in common. We're both huge fans of the work of Dennis Cooper (Cooper is the editor of The Little House on the Bowery series Gluth's novella was published under). Gluth and I have a similar manner of writing (short sentences, brief details, focused on prose more than plot). And, both Gluth and I had our short stories published in Cooper's short story anthology, Userlands. Gluth's short story was the small seed, a few sections, of what later became this novella.

There is a cyclical nature to Gluth's story. The permanence of death lives throughout the pages. The way death is an effect on the living. The death of Ms. Kroftis dogs leads to her own death, followed by the death of a friend of a screenwriter working on the works of Kroftis, followed by the death of a child, followed by the death of a husband, and then the presence of a dog. And, in the end, Ms. Kroftis is still so much present. Maybe death isn't quite as permanent as I may have suggested? The cyclical nature reminds me of a delightful film, Before the Rain (which begins with a man already dead who ends up dying, again?, by the films end).

As I said, Gluth's writing is precise. His sentences are so brief. The novella is split into three sections. The first section, on Ms. Kroftis, is the most beautiful. Each sentence as if it were peeled from the most precious flower. The second section is tougher. The sentences become choppier and less prose focused. The author finds himself trying to move the story along. In doing so, the short, choppy sentences begin to hurt a bit. Then, Gluth returns us to his prose in the final section. The section that truly pulls the characters together as if they were one. As if no one ever died or lived. Is it all just about experience?

Gluth is less focused on plot. Or, at least it feels that way. If plot is his purpose... then he fell from his path, I think. There is a small plot. I don't mean to suggest Gluth incapable of forming a purpose. There is plenty of purpose. But, there is a roaming nature to the purpose. A wanderer lost. What does it matter if nothing is ever truly found? Maybe, we all want meaning on too much of a regular basis.

The writing is a bit experimental. The characters not fully formed. The prose unlike most. The playful, free form nature of the writing is refreshing. Has Gluth created a whole new form of fiction? Not quite. But, I do wish more people were releasing works filled with this much life.

B

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Curb Your Enthusiasm: Season Seven


If you know anything about Larry David you know what to expect from each season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. After a misfire with Season 5, David has really gone full force with Season 6 and 7. On Season 6, we were witness to what many sitcoms do after things slow down… new characters were introduced. Most sitcoms add a new baby into the mix. But, not Curb Your Enthusiasm. Larry David takes on an entire family of Hurricane Katrina victims into his home. The season works so well because David is best when he is dealing with racial issues (as the family he takes in is an African-American family).

On Season 7, David brings back the entire cast of Seinfeld. The over arching storyline of Season 7 is a Seinfeld reunion episode. This is what the entire series has been moving towards, in my opinion. After seasons filled with Julia Louise-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander… it was nice to finally see a lot of Jerry Seinfeld and a little of Michael Richards. Also, the final episode shows about three 5 minute glimpses of what would be the Seinfeld reunion (were the reunion to be an actual event).

Nothing is off limits for Larry David. He makes fun of Richards’ racist rant caught on video. He continues to make jokes about the dating world. Jokes about road head, the handicapped, and a bit of transvestitism are all at play in Season 7. Every episode is a strong episode with the one exception of Episode 6, “The Bare Midriff.” The episode is slow, over the top, and too out of place to really have any purpose in the season.

Episode 4, “Denise Handicapped,” is the season’s best episode. In fact, I will go so far to say it is the 2nd best episode of the entire series (only falling behind Season 4, Episode 6 “The Carpool Lane” and before Season 6, Episode 10 “The Bat Mitzvah”).

I was surprised to discover Curb Your Enthusiasm was being picked up for an 8th season. After all these seasons, it seemed the best way for Curb to end would be with a Seinfeld reunion. After all, Larry David is synonymous with Seinfeld. So, I will be excited to see what is left up David’s sleeve. But, I’m pretty sure it won’t be disappointing. And, it will be pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

A-

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, Robin Black


Robin Black's debut collection of short stories has drawn comparisons to Alice Munro and Mary Gaitskill. These are two very different sized shoes to try and slip on. And, Black's writing does not come close. Munro writes real fiction. Munro's stories are so perfect and 'neat,' it is impossible to come close to her talent. And, Gaitskill, well... she's in a short story world all her own. A dark, crass, and not always very good short story world. (Mary Gaitskill is far superior as a long fiction writer, ie Veronica).

These comparisons are not the fault of Black. These comparisons are faults of reviewers. Reviewers who know what names to drop to bring attention to a writer. So, I will join this category of reviewer and throw a comparison to Ali Smith. Ali Smith is a beautiful writer. Detailed, talented, and unique. Her fiction (Hotel World and The Accidental) are two of the most interesting pieces of long form fiction published out of Britain in the last ten years. But, Smith's short stories are always a tad bit weak. Filled with beautiful moments of description. Almost poetic sentences from time to time. The narrators are a tad bit kooky. And, the stories range in tone, but are usually female point of view.

Black's debut collection is so much like reading an Ali Smith short story. Entertaining enough. But, not really anything new. There are no surprises within these stories. They are sad. They are stories of loss. Of death. Of distance. But, the voices don't really seem to vary. These stories all appear to be told by the same narrator. There is something sarcastic about many of the female voices. In fact, I would go so far as to say these stories and their voices resemble that of Diablo Cody's writing (Jennifer's Body, Juno, The United States of Tara).

The best story in the collection is the title story, "If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This." The story is written as a stream of consciousness letter to a neighbor putting a fence up between two homes. The sarcasm and humor of this narrator is used in such a perfect way. A form of defense. And, while many of the voices appear to be sarcastic as a means for survival... The sarcasm works best in this story.

B-

Monday, July 12, 2010

The White Ribbon


Michael Haneke has always appeared as a singular director. A creator of brutal and moral films refusing to play nice with the convention of film and the frailty of the human psyche. Prior to watching The White Ribbon, I had never noticed the similar tones of Haneke and Lars von Trier. But, now, the similarities have been spotted.

Haneke's films and stories are so tightly wound it is impossible to escape their web once they've been entered. This black and white film is fairly quiet. Most of the characters barely speak above a polite conversational tone. Most of the film is set during the winter, the hushed tones of the white across the German village landscape. And, a plot that never fully answers the questions being asked. By all accounts, this two and a half hour film should seem slow. Instead, it moves at a fairly quick pace.

Haneke sets a beautifully terrified mood of a small German village in 1913. Something is amiss in this once well mannered town. From the start, the town doctor is put into hospital from a trip wire placed near his home. Later, the Baron's son hung upside down and whipped until bleeding, and then the blinding of the handicapped boy. Is this a tale of innocence lost? Of religious zealots gone too far? Or, something larger?

I would like to argue The White Ribbon is evidence of how the atrocities of the Holocaust could have occurred. Haneke isn't making excuses, or apologizing, or taking away from the horrors of the Holocaust. Mostly, Haneke wants to find a reason why an event so large could take place without anyone putting a stop to it. Throughout the film, the audience is shown one act of violence turn into another and followed by another. The village is shocked at first, and slowly find themselves almost immune to the violence. Asking fewer questions. When the town pastor finds a dead bird with a pair of scissors shoved through its middle, he never questions one of his children (the only possible suspects).

We turn a blind eye to the things we don't want to believe. We hope by ignoring a situation, it will go away... not worsen. This is such a simple view, an almost comical piece of evidence to explain how so much hate could occur without ever being stopped. But, I don't think Haneke is so far off. The way anything can spiral out of control in the shortest time span isn't something void of truth.

A

Friday, July 9, 2010

Eat to Live, Joel Fuhrman


I have never been a fan of the "diet book." Most diets do not recognize a vegan lifestyle. And, in many ways, veganism is diet. After reading Pollen's short manifesto on food I was recommended this diet book, Eat to Live. I was intrigued by the diet's vegetarian perspective.

Most of Fuhrman's method is scare tactic. Much of the book puts a lot of effort into scare tactics. Fuhrman is constantly warning the reader about all the cancer causing effects of eating meat and dairy. I don't disagree with his stance. But, I do disagree with his method. Pollen believes much of America's eating disorder stems from the anxiety and fear nutritionists, doctors, scientists are placing on our food habits.

My biggest complaint with Fuhrman is his fear of oil. He goes so far as to suggest one cook their meal (ie, tofu scramble) in water instead of olive oil or coconut oil. I understand oil isn't the best form of cooking. But, I'm certain oil isn't the worst. Fuhrman goes so far as to suggest oil is the reason we gain the little extra around our waist. By books end, I was ready to ignite a whole new form of eating disorder into my eating habits.

I do appreciate Fuhrman's love of vegetables and fruit. The basic meal plan is to eat as many raw vegetables as you'd like, at least 4 servings of fruit a day, a serving of beans with lunch, a salad with lunch and dinner, 1 tablespoon of flaxseed, and no more than 1 cup of starchy veggies and grains. I admire the specifics of the meal plan without stating 'you must eat exactly this and this.' Fuhrman gives you a basic, easy to follow outline for the day to day meals. I plan to incorporate the beans (as I pretty much follow the other rules).

Had I read Fuhrman's book prior to Pollen's, I imagine I would have felt differently about Fuhrman's method of fear. And, it is strange for me to use Pollen as an example of a perfect tour guide for food practice as I found him a little wishy-washy. But, I guess Pollen stuck with me a little more than I thought.

C

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Single Man, Christopher Isherwood


Many years ago, shortly after college, I thought I would continue my education. I thought of getting a Masters in English Literature. I wanted to focus on Queer Theory & Literature. The reason stemmed from a reading of James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. One of the most beautiful novels about the homosexual experience. I wanted to understand the homosexual experience throughout literature and history. I wanted to take control of the context. It has been a long time since I have felt this way.

After reading Isherwood’s A Single Man, I am reminded all over again about my “once upon a times.” Isherwood has created a masterpiece of literature. A day in the life of one man. A short, 157-page novel told in a stream of consciousness -esque style. George is all we are given of the main character’s name. As if to say this is the everyman. Isherwood brilliantly uses the homosexual male as the everyman throughout this novel.

Much of the novel focuses on the battle between our memory and the present. The struggle to let loose from the pain in our past. Is it possible to rise above our mistakes? To take advantage of the things we trust least about ourselves? These subject matters are nothing new. But, Isherwood refuses to be clich├ęd. George is not an overly sentimental man. He is a realist. An existentialist. A romantic.
George’s thoughts and interactions are revealed with the smallest amount of distance. This distance helps to create a great rhythm and beauty to the novel. Every thought and action is precise. The pained behavior of a man trying to fight age and loneliness… I have not experienced these things much differently than Isherwood describes them throughout the novel.

Our lives are filled with a cast of characters. Those who hang out on the outer lines and those who are very near and by our side. This novel really understands the significance of each relationship we form in our lives. Isherwood respects the characters as if each is as important as the other. In such a compact novel one can’t falter with plot or characters, and Isherwood refuses to loosen his reigns.
There is much I could write about this novel. The exquisite prose. The haunting characters. The reality of every thought. But, to say too much would give away much of the story.

It has been years since a novel has affected me the way Isherwood’s A Single Man has affected me. I do not know why it took me so many years to discover the novel. But, perhaps, it came at the exact right moment in my life.

A+

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson


The Millenium Trilogy, as Steig Larsson called his ‘The Girl…’ series, has been a very popular crime/mystery series for the past few years. I have never been one to jump on the popular bandwagon. I never saw much charm in Harry Potter, wouldn’t step foot near Twilight, and can’t imagine reading a Patterson novel. But, when my book club suggested we read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for July’s book, I thought it might be fun to take part in a quick read. I used to read mysteries all the time (in high school) and had recently showed interested in returning to the genre.

Many readers of the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are shocked by the pure violence and hate throughout the novel. And, I admit, there is something grotesque at work. But, I grew up on the literature of Dennis Cooper. Nothing will ever manage to surpass the downright violent acts at play within Cooper’s novels. With that being said, I find myself surprised so many readers were able to sit through the more violent scenes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Are we as a culture becoming more and more comfortable with violence?

Larsson is not the most literary type. His novel is filled with unnecessary detail and never really does a great job with the description. The novel is filled with a lot of extra information. In fact, throughout the first 120 pages and the last 60 pages, there is a lot I could live without.

Larsson has created two stories within the novel. The story of a corrupt financial man and the disappearance of a wealthy young girl. I was only interested in the disappearance aspect of the story. And, this story only fills the middle 350 pages. This has always been my issues with mysteries. The author wants the novel to be real and spends so much time with exposition. This is how novels should be written. I’m sure I would complain if mysteries were as empty as I just stated I wanted them to be.

Once you get past the first 120 pages the novel speeds along into a very intriguing and dirty world.

B-

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Stagecoach


I have always been a fan of "road films." The type of film revolving around a group of people taking, what seems like, a simple trip from point A to point B. Wild Strawberries, Badlands, Wild at Heart, Pieces of April, Deconstructing Harry, and Y Tu Mama Tambien are all perfect examples of the classic "road film."

I had seen Stagecoach in a high school film studies class. I remember being annoyed to learn I would have to watch a Western for the class. I grew up stuck in my grandfather's living room while he watched Western after Western at every family function. The music was always so painful to the ears. The Mexicans were always made to look like idiots. And, the women were always portrayed as whores or uptight saints. There was something so simple and simple minded about Westerns. Even as a child I saw through this hateful stereotyping.

After watching Stagecoach I was surprised by how John Ford was still committed to these stereotypes, but able to find growth and purposefulness in these characters. I remember enjoying Stagecoach in that high school film course. So, this weekend, I rented the Criterion re-release of this classic film. I was pleasantly surprised to discover I still really enjoy the film.

The film begins with a town ridding itself of the black sheep of the town. An alcoholic doctor and the town whore. The town is shipping them off on a stagecoach with two upper levels of society. Ford has created a tiny chasm inside of a tiny stagecoach. By time the stagecoach is ready to leave town... a banker, a gambler, a whore, a doctor, a US Marshal, an outlaw, an army wife, and a gin distiller.

Ford does an incredible job of building suspense. From the very start one is waiting to discover what is waiting for these travelers. How will their relationships with one another change by the films end? And, will they all survive? As in all Westerns, the battle between cowboy and Indian is always at the films climax. But, in this film, the battle isn't quite the same as other Westerns. There is something more mature about this film and the way the battle is handled.

There are a lot of emotions and motives at play throughout the film. In fact, so many, I feel many of them are overlooked. For instance, the scene when the gambler is going to kill the army wife to save her from possible rape of Indians... how does the gambler love her so much? Is it really love? And, why is the army wife so quick to go mad?

It is rumored Orson Welles watched this film many times before creating Citizen Kane. This is proof to the incredible work of Ford and the film's actors.

B+

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mixtape: 2010: One

Every year I make a 'Best of...' year end CD collecting my favorite songs from my favorite albums. Throughout the year I make CDs containing favorite songs as a way to keep myself reminded of my favorites.

2010, pt. 1 -

1. This Familiar Way, Nina Nastasia
2. Children of the Grounds, Midlake
3. Good Intentions Paving Company, Joanna Newsom
4. Hidden Lakes, Shearwater
5. Heaven Can Wait, Charlotte Gainsbourg
6. Window Seat, Erykah Badu
7. Bohemian Forest, Pantha du Prince
8. Visits, Forest Swords
9. Conversation 16, The National
10. We Don't Want Your Body, The Stars
11. Baptism, Crystal Castles
12. 4th of July, Kelis