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Wes Anderson – ok this one is good.

I was a big fan of Wes’ first feature Bottle Rocket and Rushmore wasn’t bad but I found his subsequent features all too twee. This one Grand Budapest Hotel (though still a wonderment of surfaces does resonate somewhat). It reminds me of that intriguing genre of English gentleman adventure stories where the driver is the sensibility (the code of ethics).  At one point Ralph Fiennes has unloaded on his Lobby Boy but the when his “boy” has described his circumstance and Ralph realizes he is in the wrong he without reservation apologizes it seems while right still a bit antiquated. To rather than backtrack and excuse but to simply bow to an accepted code seems strange and yet so desirable in this age of relativism.  He realizes he is wrong and he is admits it.

Though I have little truck with religion I do have an appreciation of higher values – in this case the gentleman’s code of behavior.

Its a very good film – good story (feels so literary and that’s always a good thing)  – great casting except for Edward Norton who has the right face but the wrong voice for the part.

And I welcome feedback on this point – I feel that this was of a genre with the Coen Brothers. Lighter but visually just brought them to mind.

Also I wonder will viewers of the future get the sense of this?

Plus did anyone else shudder at the smashing of what is most likely (certainly looks like) an Egon Schiele? And question 3: why does it bother us  (I am assuming- -it bothers me) when art works are destroyed on film?


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Ok yes it has been ages…

I can offer only as excuses 1. life has been unusually busy 2. who reads these things anyway 3. I have a problem with free content undermining creative work but am caving due to not having enough people around here to discuss these things with.

More time has been spent in front of the screen rather than the page lately due to 1. great stuff on the screen and 2. disappointments on the page.  Dealing with the writing first – I found Bone Clocks a little too scattered for my liking – William Gibson’s latest was interesting line by line but overall uninvolving – last reading highs were Wayne Johnston’s A Certain Woman, David Richard Adams’ Crimes Against My Brother, Jo Nesbo’s Son but the acme was really the Patrick Melrose quintet – I think it raised the bar so that too many alright books seemed sad in comparison.

As to the screen – the guilty pleasure is Hannibal.  Only discounted because I don’t buy Will Grahams’s talent as reasonable but Mads is once again remarkable and the last bit of the first season was quite a bit of Kubrick in look.  And find it amusing not only that in terms of leads we have the confluence of Apocalypse Now, James Bond, XFiles and Kids in the Hall but another Brit (or Brit colonist) doing an American lead (just like Brotherhood, Battlestar Galactica, The Wire, Longmyre, Homeland, Walking Dead, etc..).  But the crazy brilliant show is yet another Scandinavian offering Bron (The Bridge).

Bridge is all over strong but has the best female character yet in Sofia Helen’s Saga Noren the Swedish detective with no social graces opposite the always strong Kim Bodnia as her Danish counterpart.  I have not yet seen the American version but would be amazed if they could really present as strong and unique a lead as in the original.  What I like about this and so much other Scandinavian crime television (such as Beck, and Wallander) is teh economic versimilitude. These people live like normal people – too much American television has people living a little beyond what they would reasonably have access to.

The third season of the Swedish Wallander deserves mention for its treatment of Alzheimers (yes Wallander).  Its a cliche for the detective to have an Achilles heel but this really takes it to the limit.  Watch it – its great and its tragic.

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Three movies: All is Lost – The Counselor – Museum Hours

This week I watched three very different but good movies – all radical in some way.

All is Lost

Redford plays an old man (he’s in his 70s, not sure how old the character is supposed to be) trying to survive a disaster at sea.  It follows the eight days of his waking from sleep to find his sailboat has run into a cargo container floating in midocean.  The boat is badly damaged but he seems to be dealing with it and then a great storm hits.

What is radical about this is the age of the hero, and he certainly is an action hero in every sense of the world but we are used to action heroes being young and fit.  You feel his age in every move he makes.  This is a man versus chance, versus nature, versus mortality, film.  However brilliant his strategy and however unwavering his will and persistence, his body proves an uncertain tool to the task.

Also no music to punch up what does not need punching up. And what a departure from the director’s previous film Margin Call.

The Counselor

This Ridley Scott film was panned by many but I think it is quite good and very unsettling.  In a nutshell, our main character, an attorney, played by Michael Fassbender, decides to play in the proverbial deep end for short financial gain.  His dip into criminal enterprise continues even after every person who already lives in that world, and also the same people who would profit from his foray, counsel him not to do it.

He does and pays a price.  The film’s ambiguities, or to describe more aptly, its lack of a specific and satisfying ending, to me, mirrors its subject matter.  There is a dark world with dark kings where dark things happen and once you visit you are no longer safe.

There is a wonderful and eloquent speech given by a criminal overlord where the consequences of visiting his realm are spelled out to the attorney, which reminds me of Tommy Lee Jones’ speech in No Country for Old Men, also written by Cormac McCarthy and also laying plain the existence of evil in the land.  They come at it from different angles but the idea is the same.

And this film is radical today, though it harkens back to the typical film noir, in that the hero is lost and utterly damaged by the end.  It plays against the innumerable happy heist films out there. Kingpins persist; the most evil do not pay a price but continue to rule precisely because they are merciless and objectively cruel.

Museum Hours

This one is the best of the lot I think but that is my art bias coming in.

Two individuals form a friendship within a Viennese museum.  He, the guard, offers help to a woman from Montreal who is visiting a very sick cousin.  The people in this film are almost too ordinary but that is one of the points of the film I think.

Its an absurdly beautiful film and I don’t think I have ever seen a film that brought home the act of viewing art quite as well.  Not only is the art well photographed but the scenes of the city and the hospital are shot with a painting aesthetic as well.

At one point, a museum art expert explains a Breughel to a group of tourists and then another and another and this takes about 15 or 20 minutes and it brings into question the nature of the film.  Has it just become a documentary?

One point that is eloquently made is that the art of today is made of the mundane materials of yesterday.  They are in a bar at one point and look about and know that this could become a painting which centuries later would be experienced as great and sublime art.  And thus you can make the choice to experience today as art – you can, as with many cameras now, just put your art filter over the world.

This choice to experience the everyday as sacred is brilliantly described in the moving excerpt from the graduation speech by David Foster Wallace (bitter sweet when you contrast its optimism and wisdom with his suicide).

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dvd of the week: Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

Casey Affleck adds another interesting film to his resume – after Gone Baby Gone and Killer Inside Me this is another keeper. Rooney Mara, Ben Foster and Keith Carradine are all good but the real star here is the cinematography (courtesy of Bradford Young). As with so many films not sure where the credit for this lies especially since the directory David Lowery has cinematographer among his past credits as well – he is one of those directors who seems to have done every conceivable job on the film set. This is his first full length film.

As I said it is the look of this film that makes it superlative. You could mistake it for a Terrence Malick film except that there is an actual narrative.

Its an involving story but the star is the light. It speaks to the truth of photography being writing with light.

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Book of the week

OK I am back.

Apart from all the usual rants and diversions I hope to each week do a book of, a cd of, and a dvd of, the week. So let’s start with the book.

I’ve always been an adventurous reader but i am coming more and more to appreciate the non-experimental novel well done. I’m all for pushing the boundaries but when I look back on the novels that have made the most impact on me, the ones that are most re-readable, they might be astonishing in their depth and yet conservative in style.  Case in point: Submergence by J.M.Lefgard.

Crappy cover but one of the best books I have read in the last year (others being Son, Lowlands, Come Barbarians and Constellation of Vital Phenomena). None of those are odd in any way but all are brilliant.

Ledgard’s 2nd novel has its main character, a British agent held in captivity by Al Quada in Somalia who believe him to be a British agent. His method of coping with his privation is to remember his life before which includes his relationship with an oceanographer.  The novel is smart the way Harper’s Magazine is smart – throwing out all sorts of intriguing bits of information about this remarkable world but in particular about life in the deep ocean.  This forms a nice contrast with the desert interment of our spy.

Its one of those small press books with little hoopla but garnering more critical praise than most.

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The sabbatical is over…first a musical interlude

Been going through a lot of new music and some older. Part of the time I have been revisiting jazz. My first jazz record was Keith Jarrett and Gary Burton and at the time I was unaware of Jarrett’s participation in Charles LLoyd‘s group. Just recently I ran across this very swinging tune from LLoyd (Water is Wide) which reminded me a little (why exactly I am not sure) of Jarrett’s De Drums.

De Drums from the Fort Yaweh album is quite something with a not inconsiderable contribution from Charlie Haden on bass.

(ps a little shout out to Rachel Alderman in Swansea for saying hi on my blog after so long a dormancy. Took another look at it and thought I might as well give it another go for a while.)

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Phillip Wollen: Animals should be off the menu

I have some reservations about what he says but he does make some very good points….”when we suffer we suffer as equals”….my major reservation is that the problem with humanity is not so much its actions which any species would do…its not that we are worse but simply that there are so many of us….at any rate any open minded omnivore (and I am one) should be willing to at least listen to this

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One reason I am glad to live in Canada

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Regina Spektor and other new music

I haven’t posted about music in a while but this one caught my ear. The latest Regina Spektor (What We Saw From the Cheap Seats)is very worth the purchase. This song below stuck out because if the voice was stripped out and we had just the structure, the lyrics, the melody and the instrumentation, I would have identified it as a Hawksley Workman song.

Here is Hawksley doing Ice Age from one of his best cds, the end of the world Treeful of Darling.

Other beauties on the plate these days are the latest Walkmen, the Divine Fits (for those who need another Spoon cd), and still enjoying the Fiona Apple.

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My critique of capitalism summed up in a sign