Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Radar: What I've Been Reading (and Watching)

Tree of Life

In the age of Twitter, it's no great surprise that a film like this will tax the attention span, test patience. But then, without being tested we fail to grow.

For my money, the visually stunning twenty minute prologue is too long (and the dinosaur scene fatally distracting), and I could have done without the 'heavenly' coda...but I would defend to the death director Terence Malick's right to include them. Even without them, the movie is as sumptuously shot as any other film I can call to mind. Malick's passion for the material resonates through every single still. Perhaps it's flawed as a work of art, but it's a remarkable work of art nonetheless.

 Of course critics have a duty to judge a film on its own merits, yet given the shit that we're spoon-fed every day in film and television, I find it dismaying to read some of the vitriol aimed at Malick, and at his film. How many filmmakers today attempt such seriousness in their work?

The centre of this film is just beautiful, and the journey of the father, in particular, so deeply moving.

Blue Valentine

Actors are always talking about 'honesty' in their work, about being 'truthful.' By way of example, here is a film that's both honest and true, powered by brave, generous performances from Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. In many ways, it's as close to a Raymond Carver story as anything I've seen on film - certainly it's a hell of a lot better than Altman's 'Shortcuts,' based on several Carver stories.

Gosling's character - a man devoid of any particular ambition or talent, a man who's imagination stretches only as far as loving his wife and child but no further, and consequently a man who loses the love of his wife through his own inertia - is one I'm not sure I've seen portrayed before in quite this light. It's a very sympathetically written character, in a film that refuses to seek out more palatable romantic truths.

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto

I stumbled upon Dennis Lehane's review of 'Galveston' in the NY Times Book Review. Lehane compared it favourably with the noir work of Denis Johnson and so, wanting an easy read for a weekend away, I made a rare foray into genre fiction: except that like the work of Raymond Chandler (whose books I love) and Dashiell Hammett, Nic Pizzolatto's 'Galveston' defies the easy 'genre' label.

Galveston has the mandatory page-turning plot, but it's also marked by taut, evocative language that instills the novel with a steady, pulsing dread. It's deeply atmospheric - a relatively small portion of the novel actually takes place in Galveston, yet I feel I have a good idea of how the town looks and smells - and a climactic scene of violence reverberated with me all through my sleep the night I put the book to bed.

Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest

Is it a great documentary? No. But for more than two-thirds of the film, it works. And perhaps the film's denouement - the inevitable egotistic squabbles of a great band who once preached 'Unity' - made it difficult to provide a more satisfying ending. More imaginative concert footage wouldn't have hurt, but then, the band's last tour was a sorrowful thing anyway. The vibe had long gone and the only thing left to play for was the loot. What does it amount to? One guy was more ambitious, more 'egotistical' than the other. One wanted it more (and was better equipped for the journey) than the other, this from the very beginning.

The Tribe, truly great album (The Low End Theory). Two or three solid albums. It's enough, isn't it?

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