October recap

And you thought September was pathetic. Truly, my visual media time has been more focused on television than movies, due to a desire to keep my DVR from filling up. And I have been reading a ton, just not complete books–articles or individual essays, or sections of books relevant to whatever I’m writing. And unfortunately for my book count, I refuse to count partially-read books. (However, if you’re interested in adaptation theory, Film Adaptation, edited by James Naremore, is an excellent set of essays and I recommend it highly.)

Movies

White Heat
One of Jimmy Cagney’s last great crime films. I was about to say “gangster films,” but it’s not really a gangster film, not in the same sense that The Public Enemy or Scarface are gangster films. He plays Cody Jarrett, the leader of a group of hoods who knock over a government train, killing the conductors in the process. They hide out for a while, but soon it becomes more expedient for Cody to confess to a less serious crime and serve out a short sentence to provide an alibi for the train crime. Suspicious but unable to prove anything, the police assign their top undercover guy to join Cody in jail and try to find out from him where the money is from the train job. Meanwhile, Cody’s second-in-command is making a play both for Cody’s wife and his gang. What starts out as a simple crime caper becomes increasingly complex, no less so by Cody’s own mental instability. As 1940s crime movies go, I’d have to put this near the top. It doesn’t have too much of a noir sensibility, and Virginia Mayo is Cody’s wife is frustratingly flat, but Cagney carries the film with his over-the-top portrayal of a bigger-than-life criminal. The complexity of reactions it evokes is welcome, too–especially since by the end, we both want Cody to win out over his scheming subordinate and also want the undercover cop to catch Cody.
Well Above Average
buy from Amazon | imdb

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Now, this is a film for film buffs. :) Robert Downey Jr. is a petty thief who accidentally stumbles into a casting call/audition as he’s trying to escape from the police. The producers send him to Hollywood to hang out with a detective for a while and study up for the detective part he’s going to be playing. Before long, there’s femme fatales, bodies, murders, corruption, intrigue, etc.–it’s a parody that hits all the film noir angles. It is broadly humorous, though, so there’s never any doubt that it’s a send-up. In fact, the idea “let’s make a film that throws in every single film noir cliche and then make it funny” is the presiding factor in the film; hence, it’s not as coherent as is could be, and it’s a bit uneven in pacing and style. Still, it’s plenty fun. (Aside from the fact that it shares a name with one of Pauline Kael’s books of criticism, which is an unwelcome connection to me, since I heartily dislike her criticism.)
Above Average
buy from Amazon | imdb

The Departed
Scorsese and DiCaprio do it again! That makes three in a row if you liked Gangs of New York (I didn’t, particularly, so I only count it two in a row, with The Aviator and The Departed). I can’t imagine you haven’t heard about The Departed–it monopolized hype for several weeks–but it’s a gangster film, basically, with an Irish mob instead of an Italian one, which confused me at first, since my stereotype for movie-Irish is cop, not gangster. Well, here they’re both. Jack Nicholson is the crime boss, Leonardo diCaprio is the cop working undercover to infiltrate his gang, and Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg are also cops. It’s violent, it’s twisty and turny, it’s intense, and it’s very good. DiCaprio especially turns in another fine performance. Honestly, Nicholson is the only thing that brings it down from a great movie to a very good one. I don’t doubt that the man’s a legend, but by this point in his career, all he’s doing is chewing the scenery and distracting us from the younger, better actors.
Well Above Average
IMDb

Heh–I just realized that all three films I saw in October were crime films! Wonder what that means…

Books

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
My professor suggested that we read this in one sitting if possible. Sounds daunting to read a 250-page novel all at once, but he’s really right. It flows together so well that it’s all but impossible to find a stopping place, even if you wanted to, which you don’t. Mrs. Dalloway and James Joyce’s Ulysses (which I haven’t yet been brave enough to attempt) are THE Modernist novels, and Woolf really solidifies her stream-of-consciousness style here. The most brilliant thing is the way she uses third-person stream of consciousness in order to explore the thoughts and feelings of multiple people in the novel, whereas you’d expect for stream of consciousness to be in first person and stick with one person’s thoughts. But Woolf moves between people so smoothly and so perfectly, and then out again to get a wider picture of the whole thing–it’s really masterful in terms of narrative and point of view. Oh, story. Right. See, it sounds mundane. Clarissa Dalloway is giving a dinner party, and as she’s preparing for it, she reminisces about her youth, especially about one Peter who she nearly married before she chose to marry the steadier but less charismatic Richard Dalloway. Peter is returning from India that very day, and visits her–we also spend some time in his head, and get his reminiscences about their youth. Meanwhile, elsewhere, a lower-class war veteran is struggling against the doctors who want to put him away because of his shell-shock, rather than figure out how to treat him. Very few things actually happen–it all takes place on one day, but by the end, there’s an almost operatic intensity made up of the interweaving motifs from these three people. Virginia Woolf=genius.
Superior
buy at Amazon

Utopia by Sir Thomas More
This was an “additional reading” assignment for Early Modern English…I of course knew of it, but I hadn’t read it. It’s really quite interesting. Basically, it’s the 16th-century work from which the idea of Utopia comes. More presents Utopia as a real place, discovered by travelers to the New World. One of the travelers returns to England, sees the state of affairs (he’s particularly concerned about the laws which hang thieves after, he says, social conditions force them into thievery), laments that England can’t be more like Utopia, and proceeds to explain the narrator (also named Thomas More, but probably a persona) how the governmental and social system works in Utopia. There are too many parts to it to go through them here, but it’s fascinating, because so many of the issues that are brought up are issues that are still hotly debated. More anticipates socialism, communism, fascism, most of the isms of the twentieth century, in fact…Utopia is a combination of them all, oddly enough. There are a lot of good observations in here, but overall, More’s Utopia requires so much governmental control to make sure that everyone stays equal and happy (of course, the people also happen to be perfect, so they don’t mind the governmental control, which is also perfect, since it’s made up of perfect people) that it creeped me out a little. It’s easy to see it turn into 1984 with just a touch of misuse.
Above Average
buy at Amazon | Read or download free etext from Project Gutenberg