Nov 192011

The cameraman fiddled with his equipment. The wind and the sand kept jamming everything up.

“This going to be long?”

“Just another second. Sorry.”

A new kid. Nervous as hell. “Don’t worry about it. I’m going to take a leak. Be back in a minute.”

He walked off behind the van and stood on the edge of the ravine. The sun hung in a cold sky over bright rocky hills. A slow circling bird–a hawk maybe, or buzzard–called out from the horizon.

He undid his fly, cocked one hand on his hip and sent a thick stream of urine spattering over the Persian soil below. It steamed in the late afternoon air.

He wore a black mock turtleneck.

Nov 182011

He stepped into the elevator, dug the key out of his pocket, turned it in the slot, pressed “P.” The floors ticked by one by one as he rubbed his head and breathed a slow deep sigh. It was late, he was tired.

The door slid open on the soft green glow of the Toronto skyline shining through the bare windows of his living room. It was quiet.

He slipped off his coat, dropped his keys in the bowl by the door, stepped out of his shoes.

Then he saw them. On a table near the window, a glass of wine, a rose and a note. “Wake me up.” On the back of the chair, she had draped his black mock turtleneck.


Nov 082011

Confusion by Stefan ZweigThe Beav read this book in French, liked it and passed it on. It’s a story told by an old professor looking back on the relationship he had as a young man with the teacher who shaped his intellectual life. Mostly it’s a narrative of a feeling. The young student doesn’t know himself at all. He is attracted to his teacher. That is clear. But it’s not clear to what extent that attraction is sexual, friendly, intellectual, competitive or some combination of the four. What becomes clear is that his teacher is attracted to the young man in all of these ways but trying to hide it–for the student’s as well as his own sake. This story can only end badly, and by the end, the relationship is a shambles with bitter feelings–and yes, confusion–on both sides. Yet, the end leaves a clear sense of these two men creating each others’ characters through their suffer, and in this, it cuts across many of the obvious, easy categories we have for thinking about situations like this one.

A friend talked with me the other day about an article he’d read that argued that the variety of our emotions and our capacity to experience them have been slowly worn away in the past decades by publicity and commercial culture. At first glance, it looks like an easy argument. “Easy” meaning cheap. Reading Confusion, however, I struggled to parse my reactions. The subtlety of these characters’ feelings–and the importance of these subtleties–put strain on my own emotional repertoire. And energized it as well. I came away feeling stronger (not strongly….the difference defines the sense). Thinking of the article I was told about, I think its argument is in fact easy because the proof is everywhere. It’s like proving things fall down rather than up.

This book offers a counterweight for Joyce Carol Oates’s Sexy.

Nov 082011

Ides of MarchIdes of March by George Clooney

A well-made movie that is smart enough to know a little goes a long way. The opening scenes introduce characters I have no reason to be interested in, yet the conflicts and stakes are clearly presented and well-acted and so I can accept and buy into them. After the first twenty minutes, I care very much about these people and am caught up in their struggles. In the couple days since I saw the film, I keep finding myself playing over scenes in my head and imagining around the edges of the established characters. I love Marisa Tomei in this movie and kept hoping to see more of her as the movie went along. Clooney too (although he’s weak once he gets off the podium). Gossling, well, I’ve never been a huge fan but the two movies in this post are starting a turn around. Hoffman is great without being annoying. Loved this movie.

Crazy Stupid Love

Crazy Stupid LoveI watched this as part of my on-going mindless, movie fun and because it has Julianne Moore, who I can’t get enough of. Steve Carell is the worst thing here, but thankfully he’s like the focus of an orbit: nothing has to actually exist in the space for it to organize what’s around it. Everyone else was funny and sharp, especially Marisa Tomei playing a teacher. (I never got the praise for Tomei years ago. She just seemed overrated. But she’s aged, settled into her body, and become very very good. I want to see more of her.) I even liked the actor who starred in that horrible horrible horrible movie, The Help. I also really liked how much this movie was a closed world with tightly interlocking pieces. I always think of movies as trying to suggest life beyond their limits, à la Henry James in the preface to The Portrait of a Lady. But this movie is aiming for just the opposite. There are no loose pieces here. This world is complete and completely interconnected. I think this might be an important aspect of a comic sensibility: you can’t escape the farce.

Nov 082011

Christopher and his kindChristopher and His Kind by Geoffrey Sax

I went to the closing day screening of this BBC adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s Weimar memoir at Image + Nation, a festival that must be among the worst advertised in the city and, as a result, one that tends to draw an oddly desperate but self-righteous crowd of anti-clones. The screening was in the Concordia amphitheatre and the sound was brutal: the projectionist clearly works for a film prof already deep down the spiral of deafening volume producing deafness that in turn requires even more deafening volume. I plugged my ears and still the dialogue in this quiet nostalgia piece hurt. The film itself was fine but was caught in a double-bind: the film was gay to the extent it was all about sex and the joys of posing and being beautiful; it was worthwhile to the extent it sobers up and tackls the dangers of an emerging fascism. A strong lead actor might have pulled the movie through this contradiction, but this guy’s Christopher just looks blank and stunned. So no help there. In fact, the only concrete thing about his performance that I can remember is that you can see him remembering to stand up straight in a lot of scenes. No lie. The film’s at its best in its only moment of nostalgic romance. (It has numerous “aren’t we brave for showing it” moments of sex.) That one romantic moment is, thankfully, captured on the poster. So I can enjoy it without having to see the actual movie again.

Unstoppable_Movie_HD_poster_1I also continued my mindless movie watching, although Unstoppable by Tony Scott may not qualify. Scott’s films are almost always better than Ridley’s because they don’t mistake themselves for philosophical works. This movie is just trying to be a perfectly tuned and engaging story. And it is. Now, the Tony Scott camera and editing candy are still there, but the timeline, the clear purpose, the spot-on performances, and everything else work together perfectly. What makes the movie soar though–and it does soar–is that the scale is just right. This is real world danger confronted and dealt with by real world heroics. A guy jumps off a creeping train for just a second and then trips and suddenly lives are in danger. The heroes are just trying to lock a new engine to the train. No crazy stunts, no wire-work, and it’s scary. When Chris Pine has to jump from a truck to the train at the very end, it’s only a few inches but at 70 miles per hour. It looked as dangerous as it was, and I actually said to myself: “I would never do that. Ever.” Same goes for Denzel Washington’s character: he makes a run to the front of the train on the roof but is cut off by a gap and a rail that he can’t jump over without falling off. There is no gritting of the teeth, no setting of the jaw and then jumping, no him just doing it because he has to even though he can’t. There’re no anti-gravity boots. He’s stuck and he’s stuck and that’s that. Makes sense to me.

Captain America The First AvengerCaptain America by Joe Johnston

I don’t need a movie about a skinny guy learning how to be a man by getting muscles from the army. I just don’t. But that said, this is one of the better of The Avenger prequels out there. ….god, I’m tired of The Avengers prequels. But at least they are happening before The Avengers. In today’s Hollywood, I’m willing to give points for proper chronology.