Quick notes these: first to the movies. The first two are BBC Dickens adaptations, Bleak House and Martin Chuzzlewit.
The first was astonishingly good in every respect; a great cast and script and quite long which was to my liking. You just did not want this one to end. What I also found quite enthralling about this was the evocation of times without much of a social safety net. Though there were a few good souls about, eviction or the loss of a job could easily result in a precipitous descent into hell and then death. But Bleak House was a dense bit of work with enough subplots and true character depth to match Damages. A hell of a story and a powerful reason to revisit the book. (And it is interesting to see Carey Mulligan before An Education, a little younger, baby fat still fresh but the same glistening eyes.)
Martin Chuzzlewit on the other hand was a bit more of a collection of caricatures but nonetheless very good with Tom Wilkinson oilier than I have ever seen him (and a coif to be seen to be believed). A little more of a feel good ending, just desserts all round but great television.
Finally, a non Dickens, Sam Mendes’ Away We Go. I’ve been surprised by this director in that his films seem to slip right under my radar and then when I see them (like Revolutionary Road) I am quite moved. This was maybe not a great but still a very good film. Essentially a road trip movie. Our couple, who are expecting, decide to visit all their friends around the country (and Montreal too) and find they are, though financially poorer, much better off than any of them. All the people they visit beginning with his parents (Jeff Daniels and Catherine OHara) are great with a standout performance from Maggie Glyllenhaal (is she ever not brilliant) as a insanely pro-mothering mother.
However, the ending of this movie opened my eyes to an all too common Hollywood trope. Perhaps its because people making movies expect financial security but every time you have someone trying to decipher their own life, it typically ends first with some sort of realization, and then is followed by some bit of financial security. In this film, they start in a trailer home, and it would have been quite poignant for them to return to it, and know that in their diminished circumstances that they are still quite happy, content, and now wiser. But no, they stumble upon a vacant family home on a lake, large and sunny, and quite rich really, and it takes the wind right out of the sails of that particular bit of knowledge gained.
As to the books, I started reading the Warhol Gang reviewed as “A brilliant, brutal evocation of contemporary life, less a satire than it is a warning. … It’s an exhilarating, disturbing, occasionally nauseating reading experience. … One of the finest, and most important, Canadian novels in recent memory”. Sounds good doesn’t it but apart from being a poor relation to Coupland’s JPod, this was an example of impoverished writing. Dialogue with very little description, no depth or emotion on the page, and a repetitive monotony which had me flipping after about 30 pages and then finally deciding I did in fact have a life to live.
This insufficiency became even more apparent when I picked up Matterhorn, the new war novel about Vietnam by Karl Marlantes. This is not only one of the finest war novels I have read (and I went through a phase of scouring the stacks for Vietnam (and other country) war novels once) but a great novel. The jacket says this was the product of 30 years work. One or thirty, it is great and this is writing as it should be, an attention to detail (like the aforementioned Dickens) and a story that actually lives in the world instead of scurrying across the surface like some bug.
Finally, the new Arcade Fire cd. I saw the NYC concert of this via the free AmEX broadcast on youtube and felt so damn Canada-proud as I watched it, and kept thinking, only Montreal could have produced such a band. And the cd is great. It grows with repeated listenings. I only have one small comment about this. They are as they stand a very good band, one of the best, but if they could only get Bjork to handle the female vocals, they would be untouchable. Unfortunately, and she may be very integral in other ways to the band, Regine’s voice is too weak to occupy the place it does.