Monday, May 30, 2005

Long Weekend Pop Culture Binge

I've had at least two conversations in the past month that have started with people asking me, "so, what did you think of Crash?" And I've had to disappoint both people, and tarnish my cinemaphile's reputation, by admitting that I hadn't seen it yet. So I made a point of inaugurating my weekend of moviegoing with it. It's a lovely and thought-provoking piece of work, both topically and formally. Jonathan Rosenbaum's meta-review does a good job of parsing the ways a film's structure (and our awareness of structure as structure) is inextricably bound to its ultimate impact on its audience; I found his methodology especially helpful as I was examining my own reactions to this movie. Like Rosenbaum, though I had some concerns about the script's dependence on coincidence, as well as the questionable emotional manipulation inherent in some scenes involving a saucer-eyed young Mexican girl and a deus ex machina in the form of a red box of bullets, I decided that I was willing to overlook these contrivances as tropes of the "we're all connected" genre (perhaps best, and most familiarly, represented by P. T. Anderson's Magnolia) and because I liked so much of what the movie was trying to do and say. Sure, it can be construed as weepie liberal feel-goodism (as both The Onion A.V. Club and Salon don't hesitate to loudly whine), but with so many wonderful performances and with such an earnest attempt to interrogate racial issues that pretty much no one else in popular entertainment has the balls to touch these days (even though we so sorely need it), I was more than happy to go where the movie was taking me. I'd especially like to single out Michael Peña's exceptional performance--I remember him from a few episodes in the second season of Felicity (you best wipe that smirk off your face right now) and was delighted to see him rise to the challenge of being (for me, at least) the vibrantly beating heart of the film.

Stephen Chow's Kung Fu Hustle made for an enjoyable Saturday afternoon matinee, though I share a lot of Andrew O'Hehir's ambivalence about its relative worth in the grand scheme of Hong Kong things.

I'm a sucker for rough-and-tumble gangster-ridden Brit-noir, so I was eager to see the quietly lauded Layer Cake; however, having already seen the modern apotheosis of that genre in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, there wasn't much left for me to get excited about here. It's clear the script was adapted from a book--it's way too talky, in the sense of "and now we will have ten minutes of spoken exposition." However, based on his performance as the never-named lead character in the film, Daniel Craig is the perfect choice for the next James Bond. And by that I mean he is a solid, competent, unflashy actor who looks stunning in his wardrobe. (Holy hell, can that man wear a suit. I'm not the most fashion-minded person on earth, but, as with Brad Pitt in Soderbergh's Ocean's movies, it's kind of hard not to notice the way even his slightest movements all but purr to the camera "this is how clothes are meant to be worn by a man.") If, as Doug Liman said in his recent interview in Entertainment Weekly, there's a "specific formula for James Bond where they [the producers in charge of the franchise] don't want it to be too original. . . . They want them to be just like the ones that came before," Craig was right to be chosen over Colin Farrell (too naughty), Clive Owen (too darkly smoldering), Hugh Jackman (too Aussie), or whoever else had once been up for the part because he's calmly and blandly appealing while still being enormously attractive and manly. But watch Michael Gambon mop up the floor with him as an actor, and it becomes apparent that he'll be right at home at the center of a splashy but mostly hollow blow-up franchise.

After finishing Denis Johnson's The Name of the World (lovely, spare prose, as ever, until he gets into the scenes where you have to spend time with yet another of his young, earthy, sexy, witchy, eminently desirable enchantress characters), I bowed to the zeitgeist and have just started reading Blink. I hope that I enjoy it as much as I enjoy a) the idea of the book, b) the synopses recounted to me by other folks who've enjoyed the book, and c) the idea of Malcolm Gladwell in general.

I continue to be enamored of Gimme Fiction, and I've begun to realize that a big part of it is that the album sounds to me the way that I always want Wilco to sound. I mean, I love me some Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but even that album just doesn't do it for me the way Spoon is doing it for me right now. (And three . . . two . . . one. . . . A and O, you can start posting your "heresy!" comments now.)


Brendan (the other one) said...

It's certainly possible to sound better than Wilco sounds, but I haven't heard any Spoon so I can't say anything for or against them. However, they are playing here on Wednesday.

O said...

I've been jamming on "Kill the Moonlight" for a few weeks now, and picked up "Gimme Fiction" a few days ago.

I dig the spoon, and I'm willing to withhold judgement for a little bit longer, but I've got my hand right here paused on the "heresy" button. :) As of yet, I love the grooves, I love the sound, and on "Fiction", I'm loving the lyrical development. But I'm not feeling the musical nor the emotional development that I'd expect for someone that "sounds like I want Wilco to sound".

Considering going to the show Wednesday, will depend on how my immune system and general sleep levels and work load are looking.

After all, I may have to save myself for Mr. Leo on Friday. And god dammit, he better play "Since U Been Gone". :)

allison said...

Two things:

* I'm not saying that Spoon sounds better than Wilco. I have enormous respect for Tweedy & co. as musicians; there's no denying their talent. I'm saying they feel better to me, which is related to my second point that...

* Aside from purely personal associations, I've never felt an emotional connection to Wilco. Again, no aspersions being cast here, I'm just saying I they don't hit me that way. And, it's not even that Spoon is taking me to some sort of transcendent place. It's just that I have an immediate, visceral reaction to that album in a way that seems similar to the kind of reaction I've always expected to have to Wilco, but have never quite felt. I mean, shit, yo. When Britt Daniel slips that hoarse little "yes!" in at the beginning of "My Mathematical Mind", I'm a pile of goo. Why? Who can say. It's just one of those things.

allison said...

Bushman, I guarantee you that if you go to the Ted Leo show, his guitar is going to walk up to your immune system and be all "how YOU doin'?" and proceed to make sweaty, pop-punk love to it until you're ready to lift your Bug up over your head with your bare motherfuckin' hands. At which point you will be so inspired with the goodness of man and of music that you'll put the Bug back on the road and hightail it to Washington where you will stage so effective a one-man protest against our current regime that it will crumble to its metaphorical knees to the sound of a nation of maracas and tambourines being shaken, rattled, and rolled. I'm just sayin'.