February Reading/Watching Recap

This year I’ve been posting short run-downs of what I’ve read and watched each month over at my LJ. Thought I’d post them here, too. Because I can. Mwahahahaha. I suppose I could just link to my LJ entry, but where would be the fun in that?

Without further ado, movies I watched and books I read in February. Oh, disclaimer: These are not reviews, they are reactions.

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MOVIES

Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Interesting. I really didn’t know what to expect from this, my first Herzog film. I knew only that he was a well-known director, almost as well known for his eccentricity as for his films. I was prepared for slow-moving, and that’s a good thing. Herzog really takes his time, from the very opening shots of a caravan of Conquistadors arduously crossing the Andes mountains, exploring Peru under Pizarro. This could either be very boring or indicative of the strain underwent by these early explorers. Or both. Anyway. The movie is really about obsession and megalomania, as Pizarro’s second-in-command takes a smaller force on down the Amazon river once the going gets too rough for the entire crew to continue. Soon a battle of the wills begins, as the nobleman in charge wants to turn back and rejoin Pizarro (this after one raft is destroyed), while the maniacal soldier refuses to listen and mutinies, wanting the gold of El Dorado and possession of the empire of South America. Meanwhile, the natives are picking people off with arrows, sickness runs rampant, and the food is getting scarce. It’s a tour-de-force for Klaus Kinski, as the soldier who ends up king of all he surveys, but is it a victory? Glad I watched it, but not one I’d necessarily come back to, except possibly if studying Herzog.

Good Night and Good Luck
With the combination of B&W photography and a story set in the McCarthy era, this interested me since I first saw the trailer months ago. And I wasn’t really disappointed. It’s very timely politically, of course, and I’m not 100% sure I follow along with all the parallels the creators are clearly trying to make with today’s political situation, but a call for dialogue such as this is not amiss. All the acting is great…I particularly enjoyed the supporting turns by Robert Downey, Jr. and Patricia Clarkson. It’s a talky movie, and not much action. I was actually rather surprised that it was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars…I’m sure it’s because of the current political milieu. The film is very good, but it’s small…very unobtrusive. Not like Oscar’s usual fare.

Caché (Hidden)
Can I first say that this was worth seeing in theatres just to hear people’s reactions at the end? “What the hell?” “I was gypped!” Hee. And really, it’s not difficult to understand such reactions. Caché is very odd little film. The story, such as it is, is that Daniel Autiuel and Juliette Binoche start receiving mysterious videotapes of the exterior of their apartment, taken from across the street. The shot of their apartment from across the street is returned to time and time again, and often for minutes at a time. The pace is often excruciatingly slow, obviously on purpose, as the shot usually turns out to be the video itself as the couple play it over in their apartment, agonizing over who has sent it to them and why. Many other things come into play, as well. From stuff I’ve read since seeing it, it is apparently helpful to have some knowledge of French/Algerian relations (Algeria used to be a French colony, there were some riots in the 1950s or something, I don’t really know much about it myself), but the fact that I still overall enjoyed the film, despite getting rather stiff while sitting through it, merely points out that Caché works on a number of different levels. Postmodern, it is, quite. :)

Pickpocket
I must admit that after seeing Caché earlier in the day, and knowing director Robert Bresson’s reputation for taking his time, I was a little apprehensive at going to see a second slowly-placed French film in the same day. But it was only playing at the local film series this one night, and I’m so glad I went. It’s an early Bresson, and it’s excellent. A Crime and Punishment-esque story, a young man tries picking pockets one day for the hell of it, finds he enjoys it and ends up joining a crew of thieves, learning the techniques, and finally playing cat-and-mouse with a police inspector. He even has Raskolnikov’s ideas about some people being above the law, except he’s not murdering people, only picking their pockets. It’s got a noirish feel, too, in the New Wave tradition of imitating American post-war films…a double feature of this with Godard’s Breathless would be awesome.

Sahara
Okay, Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn and Penelope Cruz and some other people are running around in the desert looking for…something…treasure, or proof that the government is poisoning people, or something. I couldn’t concentrate on it at all. It was some combination of not putting the computer down (which is symptomatic of a crap movie, incidentally), disliking Matthew McConaughey intensely, and a general malaise about recent dumb action/treasure-hunting movies. *shrug*

Body Heat
This has been on my list for a while as an important neo-noir film, and while I’m glad I watched it, it falls so far short of noir, it’s almost funny. It’s basically Double Indemnity but with an eighties-vibe. Of course, I have anti-’80s bias, as everyone who knows me knows, so I might not even be qualified to speak about Body Heat. The beginning was pretty meh, what with the repetitive music (John Barry! Come on, man, you can so do better than this) that threatened to competely overwhelm the dialogue, such as it was, the overexposed lighting (I think they were going for the sort of light/dark contrast that you get in black and white, but it just doesn’t work in color, and it looked terrible), the dialogue that was trying for that Billy Wilder-esque edge that never quite came off. I knew going into it that there were Double Indemnity similarities, but I didn’t realize they were this strong. If you’re going to watch a noirish wife-and-lawyer-plot-to-kill-husband-with-plenty-of-plot-twists-and-turns, just watch the original. Both Kathleen Turner and William Hurt do a really good acting job, and the plot itself is good. The style just didn’t connect with me at all…which, as I’ve said, may reveal more about my anti-80s bias than anything else…I checked out some IMDb reviews after writing the first part of this reaction, and they’re almost overwhemlingly positive, and most think the film hasn’t aged at all. I disagree. The music is very ’80s-pretending-to-be-’40s-by-way-of-the-’60s, the cinematography is dated…I don’t feel it was a waste of time to watch, or anything, and I enjoyed the second half a good deal. But it has dated, and it doesn’t compare to real noir like Double Indemnity, or to the best neo-noir like L.A. Confidential. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Grave of the Fireflies
Every time I watch an anime film, I have to put myself in “anime mindset.” You know, where you accept the overblown facial expressions and exaggerated voice acting as stylistic choices and proceed to enjoy the movie as it is. Every time I want to really like one not just as an anime film, but just as a film. Finally, I found one that is not just a great anime, but is a great film, full stop. For once the animation is understated, as is the voice acting. The story is simple (two Japanese children are orphaned by air raids in WWII and make their own way in the unwelcoming world as best they can, for as long as they can), and truly moving. Swear to God, I cried for the last half. I completely forgot I was watching animation. Everything–animation, voices, music–works together to make this one of the most beautiful, most heartbreaking films I’ve ever seen. It really doesn’t take a stand on the war as such, but merely portrays the effect that war has on innocents, no matter what country they’re from or who the aggressors happen to be.

In a Lonely Place
Last month I caveated my enjoyment of both Night and the City and The Big Heat by recommending that you put yourself in a 1950s mindset before watching them, or run the risk of finding them stylistically dated. No such caveat is needed with In a Lonely Place. This has been on my list literally forEVER. Back since the days my best friend and I were total Humphrey Bogart fangirls. In other words, ten years or so. Why I never watched it before this, I couldn’t say…clearly my life would have been more complete if I had watched it earlier. Okay, veering into hyperbole. But the point is, this film is better than I ever expected it to be, better than most films noires, better than most classic films, and better than most current films. The acting is perfect, and in fact makes the term “acting” seem almost irrelevant. Bogart isn’t “acting” here…he is BEING Dix Steele. And it takes quite an actress to hold her own on the screen with Bogart, but Gloria Grahame does that and more…she becomes the center of the film, almost, the character we care about, the one we identify with. The story, basically, Bogart is the last person seen with a young girl before she is murdered, and thus is a likely suspect. His neighbor Grahame turns out to be his alibi, and soon, she is his inspiration (he is an all-but-washed-up Hollywood screenwriter) and his possible savior from his life of loneliness and despair. And the wonderful thing is that while you’d think that finding out who killed the young girl would be the focus of a film like this, it isn’t…the murder is horribly important, but it’s important because of the effect it has on Bogart, on Grahame, and on them as a couple. The entire thing is raw, it’s visceral, it grabs your attention and won’t let go. It is certainly the best film I’ve seen this year, and probably in a lot longer. And it has not dated one little bit.

BOOKS

The Abolition of Man
Wow, it’s only February and I’ve already resorted to grabbing a short book and reading it quickly in order to come closer to meeting my reading goals. Usually I save that until November. I took it as a sign that I was being over-ambitious and knocked my goal from four books a month to three. Apparently, that’s not very many to some people on my flist, but that’s pretty near the top edge of my average. I don’t know how you people find so much time for reading. Anyway. I had been wanting to read this since I went on a short Lewis kick back while I was trying to write my statement of purpose. I was over that phase by the time I actually read it. *shrug* It’s basically three essays put together that deal with the loss of objective truth in the modern world, specifically the loss of objective morality as revealed in what he calls “The Way.” In his terminology for these essays, this doesn’t mean narrowly Taoism or even Christianity (which was called “The Way” in its early stages), but is meant to indicate any sort of moral standards that have been passed down by some tradition, be it Christianity or Buddhism or Confucianism or Zoroastrianism. Basically, the things that parents traditionally teach their children about right and wrong. It’s an interesting book, and makes some very good points, I think. However, I do think that one is more likely to accept his conclusions if one already agrees with him; others may feel he’s taking a slippery slope argument.

The Time Traveler’s Wife
I’m nuts about anything to do with time travel, so I thought I’d at least enjoy this one; plus it felt so good to hold. Yes, yes…I totally judge books by their covers. :) The story follows a man, Henry, who time-travels without any control of it to different times and places, usually within his own lifespan, but not always. Mostly it concerns Henry’s relationship with his wife Claire, who he first meets when he is 28 and she is 20–but she already knows him, because he has time-traveled back into her childhood many times. They take turns narrating, and the style is really amazing…I found myself taking notes and making timelines to fit in when everything happens and try to figure out what was happening at other points in Henry’s life. Audrey Niffenegger thought the entire thing out extremely well, and it had me turning back and forth constantly, remembering hints in earlier chapters that related to what was happening currently. It sort of ended up being style over substance, but I still enjoyed it, because I’m a style whore. Anyway. A movie version is in the works, and I’m curious to know how they’ll manage the disjointed timeline…but Brad Pitt is playing Henry, and I can’t really see him in the role. We’ll see.