More Stuff I Have Watched (#2)

THE HUNTER’S PRAYER

SPOILER ALERT! (Well, sorta)

A movie about a drug-addicted hit man …. with a happy ending? Now, that’s different (not necessarily believable. But it IS different!)

Hunter

IN TIME

I guess the producers thought pairing up Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried (and throwing in Johnny Galecki from TV’s Big Bang Theory for good measure) would appeal to that coveted 18-25 demographic. Guess again. This wannabe sci-fi was both a critical and commercial bellyflop. However, since I’m not in that demographic I found it a passable timewaster. Even if I was in that demographic, I couldn’t picture spending part of my hard-earned Gap salary on this in a movie theatre. (I signed out the DVD in the local library for nothing.)                                          in time 2   

MAGGIE’S PLAN   

I like Greta Gerwig. I really do. It’s just that I have trouble with most of the movies she has made.  And someone should tell Rebecca Miller (yes, Arthur’s daughter) to get out of NYC more often and stop watching Woody Allen movies. Cuz this rom-com isn’t quite as clever and cute as it thinks it is. Also I started to worry that maybe Ethan Hawke is being typecast as the kinda character he plays in this movie.

Maggie's Plan

Advertisements

Just Some flicks I Have Watched #1 (No Catchy Headline Here)

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

Too much monkey business. Great cast.  though (Sam Jackson, John C. Reilly, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, you get the idea!)

Kong

PATERSON

Another odd, quirky and definitely polarizing film from writer/director Jim Jarmusch. Never thought of myself as a Jarmusch fan but now that I come to study on it, I have seen most of his films – Broken Flowers, Mystery Train, Only Lovers Left Alive and Down By Law (off the top of my pointed head). Trouble is, most of them don’t exactly come to a theatre near me. I saw one at a university cinema, signed another out at the local library, watched a couple of others on a streaming platform.

Paterson
 Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahai and Jim Jarmusch

COLOSSAL

Anne Hathaway said she wanted to do something weird for her next film project and she got her wish (in spades) with this deliberately fantastical and deeply strange sci-fi/monster movie/whatever from Spanish writer/director Nacho Vigalondo. And I thought Jarmusch was sometimes a little off-kilter!

Colossal
What the ….

The New Text: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ’em?

Ever notice how many typos/words missing there are in newspaper or online items in the last couple of years?  Or is it just an ol” English major and unredeemed columnist like me?

I figure that either newspapers and most of the magazines (I never see typos or missing words in The New Yorker,for example) have fired all of their proofreaders, given the troubled economics of the print industry (the online people never had ’em in the first place). Or the new online texting has taken over the populace at large. OR  writers of the various publications (on and off line) are too busy with deadlines trying to scoop each other to read their copy over.

Even the occasional contributions to this blog seem to be written in the “New Text”. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?

 

 

Philip Roth and “American Pastoral” : Trash or Treasure?

This post starts, strangely enough, in the local dump. That’s where I found a copy of the Philip Roth novel American Pastoral in pristine condition. Actually, it was a friend of mine and his wife who make periodic visits to “The Free Store” at the local sanitation station who rescued the copy. My friend read it and passed it on to me.

I had never read a Roth novel before. although I had seen Goodbye Columbus (back in the days when Richard Benjamin was a leading man) and had heard of Portnoy’s Complaint (who hadn’t?) and knew Philip Roth was a major literary figure but I had never cracked one of his novels.

PHILIP ROTH – Author of “American Pastoral” (and many other novels. A major American literary figure.)

Near as I can figure, American Pastoral is about a Jewish man named Seymour Levov (nicknamed “Swede” for his blond hair and blue eyes) who acquires all of the things society indicates are  symbols of status and success (a star jock in high school, marriage to a onetime beauty queen, head of a successful business , which he inherited) and still manages to alienate his wife and daughter. I interpreted the novel as a nasty indictment of the so-called American Dream and/or a grim, almost existential fable about life itself (no matter how carefully we may plan, hope and/or dream about our personal future, stuff happens.) 

roth - book cover

Frankly I didn’t quite know what the author wanted me to take away from the novel – and I may not have been the only one. Atlantic Magazine calls it ” a relentlessly mental book, full of inconclusive rumination on material often left strangely undramatized. And that, along with the book’s mystifyingly haphazard structure, prevents it from becoming a “genuine imaginative event.” On the other hand, the English newspaper,The Guardian labels it a “masterpiece”.  Since the novel won a Pulitzer Prize and was named one of “the 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century” by TIME I may be missing something (if you value what society deems to be symbols of status and success.)

By the way, Mr. Roth based the character of Swede on a real person according to reviewer Ted Gioia (among other folks) writing in something called the newcanon.com. The object of the novelist’s admiration was a star high school athlete, Seymour “Swede” Masin, and although the tragedies which befall the fictional Levov later in life didn’t happen to his real-world counterpart, Mr. Masin (who passed away in 2005) confessed, according to Mr. Gioia, that if those events had befallen him,  “It’s amazing, but almost everything in the book I would have done if I’d been in those situations.”

roth - movie

There is apparently a screen adaptation of the novel as well with Ewan McGregor (miscast as “Swede”, in my opinion), Jennifer Connelly as his wife and Dakota Fanning (giving one of her few misguided performances) as his daughter.  The film rights were actually acquired in 2003 but after a number of directorial and cast changes they finally started filming in 2015. (It takes tenacity to work your way through Mr. Roth’s dense prose.) The producers compounded their error by asking the unfortunate Mr. McGregor to make his feature film directing bow after Phillip Noyce pulled out. (There is probably a reason Mr. McGregor has not helmed a movie since). A box office and critical disaster, American Pastoral (the film) helped to prove why Mr. Roth’s novels are so devilishly hard to successfully adapt for the screen.

Nathan Zuckerman, widely regarded as Mr. Roth’s alter ego, makes a brief appearance here as well but, depending on which reviews you read, he is there in spirit for the majority of the novel.

Currently, I am  reading Zuckerman Unboundone of the only Roth novels available in my local library. It was copyrighted in 1981 and shows a lighter side of the novelist. (But then we were all a little more optimistic in 1981. At least, I was.) In the book, Mr. Zuckerman has attained wealth and success as the author of an erotically charged best-seller called Carnovsky and is uncomfortable with his celebrity and all it brings with it. The novel could be interpreted as the fame Mr. Roth unwittingly earned as the author of the controversial novel Portnoy’s Complaint.  

 

 

Country Music – Before It Was Cool

Call me a cranky old cowboy but most of today’s country music ain’t country. Time was, you could identify a country song by its sound within thirty seconds. Now it’d be a challenge to figure out if a new song was intended for the pop, rock or country charts without first learning who was singing the song. If it was an established so-called country act a person would know it was intended for country airplay (with crossover play in mind ) but otherwise they might not have a clue.

Sure, I know country music has to change and evolve just like any other art form but what happens when it changes so much that it loses the appeal that made it special in the first place? What happens when a working class rooted music becomes subverted by upper class economics? What happens when what one writer called “white man’s blues” becomes “white man’s pop” ?

And let’s keep the “white” in there. In spite of the flood of new talent inundating the country music marketplace, the overwhelming number of acts are white males (so much for diversity and inclusion.)

One country and western veteran who is an avid fan of the music and has been recording her favorites and touring since the “70s says she doesn’t even listen to country radio anymore because she can’t relate to what they are playing. I am damn sure she is not the only one. 

A while back Acoustic Guitar Magazine published a cover story on how “neo-traditionalists” like Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam and Rosanne Cash saved country music back in the mid 80s. Who is going to save country music now?

 

 

 

“Fauda”: No Hollywood Heroics Here

fauda-poster

Fauda (an Israeli TV series streaming in North America on Netflix) is (in my opinion)  “gripping”. “compelling” and all those adjectives lobbed at vehicles that may or may not deserve it  on first viewing – Oslo, August 31st comes to mind. The series is by turns a thriller (a team of undercover Israeli ops in occupied Palestinian territories search for an infamous Arab terrorist), sexy (the team leader is having a fling  while his neglected wife is having an affair with one of his team-mates) and offers an insight into two cultures which may have more in common than they realize. And, although the series doesn’t dwell on it, Fauda shows how unreasoning hatred can be spread from one generation to another.

Filmed on location in Tel Aviv and the Gaza strip, this fearless action-adventure is the real deal. No Hollywood heroics, this 12 episode series was co-created by Lior Raz, who actually served time in an undercover unit. and Avi Issacharoff , a former reporter described by The Times of Israel as a “well-known military and Arab analyst.”

Mr. Raz also stars as Doron, the burly leader of the team. These soldiers must be prepared to pass as Arabs. In other words, they must walk the walk and talk the talk. Unfortunately, Doron is so good at his job that he falls in love (she is a Palestinian doctor and unaware of his Jewish identity).

fauda -laetitia eido
Laetitia Eido as Dr. Shirin El Abed in FAUDA (no, it’s not Anjelica Huston)

Even an event as innocuous as a wedding is not safe from politics  and when one of the members of the wedding party is killed, the revenge cycle starts anew.

The series may be unique in Israeli television history in that both Hebrew and  Arab “sides” get almost equal attention. Despite this the TV show is a hit in its homeland. The only viewer complaint seems to be that the writers have made the Hamas terrorist and his minions too sympathetic.)

There is no need for the actors to research their roles.  Haaretz (one of Israel’s national newspapers) praises Fauda as “everyday  reality that most Israelis prefer not to see up close.”

In fact, I’ll leave the final words to Haaretz contributor Michael Handelsaltz. The show takes its title from the Arabic word for chaos. It is also the code word for the unit to abort a mission. As Mr. Handelsaltz writes “hell keeps breaking loose around us as we watch.

fauda - languages

 

 

 

Straight Out of Norway: OSLO,AUGUST 31st

Oslo

This Norwegian import scored high with critics AND audiences on the ubiquitous Rotten Tomatoes rating scale. With a 98% critical approval (out of 61 critics surveyed) and an 82% audience approval rating, I must be missing something. The only audience posting that matched my reaction to this film was from one David L. who wrote: The main character’s compelling enough that I saw the movie all the way through but really, it was about a day in the life of an addict & the pains he caused others because of his addiction, and that’s about it (and I had to hunt for that).

In my humble opinion Norwegian film-maker Joachim Trier deserves credit for attempting to show the causes that lead Anders (Anders Danielson Lie) into a dark, spiralling drug addiction by showing one day in his bleak, existential. lonely existence. Perhaps if I could relate to his condition or the reasons for it, I might have able to find the film “compelling” , “harrowing”, “engrossing”, “gripping” or any of the other adjectives used to describe it in reviews.

As it is, I was distinctly underwhelmed by the film. My loss?