Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reading Rainbow: The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

Full disclosure: I finished this book two months ago. I'm not sure why it has taken me this long to get around to this post, but it has. Do not take the fact that it has taken me roughly 10 weeks to get around to this as a reflection of how I felt about the book in any way.

In short, I loved this book. This was my first venture into the writings of Richard Ford, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Independence Day (the sequel to The Sportswriter). He had come pretty highly recommended from a few friends whose literary tastes I trust. Their recommendations are going to be more highly regarded going forward.

The novel follows Frank Bascombe, a writer who has abandoned being a novelist for writing about sports, a subject he is largely indifferent to. It is set against Easter weekend, the weekend marking the anniversary of his son's death at the age of nine and the point at which his life was thrown into a tailspin. Frank is essentially detached in every way imaginable. He even seems to be detached from himself. As he visits his son's grave, heads to Michigan with his girlfriend on a work-related weekend getaway, returns to nondescript suburban New Jersey to have an unhinged friend drop in on him, and his relationship with Vicki disintegrates at a family dinner, Frank Bascombe wanders dreamily through these episodes. Luckily, Ford toes a line that keeps Frank from erring into a territory in which he could come across as irritating or frustrating.

To say that I simply loved this book would be doing a disservice to how I really felt. While reading, I became engulfed in the book. His style floored me. I continuously marveled at his ingenuity in turning a phrase, in the unpredictable ways that his sentences would twist and turn. There seems to be nothing tethering him to the standard usage patterns of the English language. Reading his prose was, quite simply, awe-inspiring. For me to actually want to sit back, take some time, and savor the style of a writer is rare, yet that is precisely what I found myself doing while reading The Sportswriter.

To put it another way, I was so taken by The Sportswriter that I went out and bought four other Ford books as soon as I finished it.

But you don't have to take my word for it...

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Queue Continuum: The Cove

If you want to get angry about dolphins, this is your movie.

Seriously though, it's pretty damn good. The footage that they get of the dolphin slaughter is pretty damn shocking, and the work they go to to film it is impressive. Unfortunately, it seems like this film will never see the light of day in Japan. Despite its success in elucidating the horrors being perpetrated against these dolphins, it just doesn't seem like it is likely to affect change.

Regardless, the film works on every level other than the fact that it isn't likely to produce the desired effect in Taiji, and this is coming from someone who doesn't really give a shit about animals.

But you don't have to take--shit, wrong column.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Man on Film: The King's Speech

Well, it's been well over a month since I saw this one. I guess I've been sidetracked.

I'll keep this relatively short (at least for me). At this point, I'd imagine almost all of the readers here at Inconsiderate Prick have seen this film anyway.

The King's Speech was very good--probably even great. Colin Firth was outstanding, as was Geoffrey Rush. Their nominations were completely justified. Firth, clearly growing tired of always being the bridesmaid, decided to heed the advice Kirk Lazarus gives in Tropic Thunder. He is a great actor outside of this and the award is justified even if I would have preferred that James Franco* had won it.

*I don't give a damn about the bombing as host. While Firth had a stellar supporting cast, Franco carried the weight of 127 Hours on his shoulders. He was in every scene, had to convey the complexity of hopelessness, resolve, claustrophobia, joie de vivre, desperation, and humor, and managed to make a movie that largely happens in space confined to three feet wide immensely entertaining. More of 127 Hours' success was owing to Franco.

It feels like the reaction to the film, however, is perhaps a bit overblown. Yes, it was a great film. It managed to rise above the standard British Oscar trash that appeals to the older voters in the Academy. Hell, Tom Hooper & Co. managed to turn a story about a privileged man with a stammer into a compelling movie. For this they deserve all the credit in the world.

It's just that of the seven Best Picture nominees I saw this past year, I liked four of them more than The King's Speech. I liked The Fighter more. I liked True Grit more. I loved 127 Hours and The Social Network and would have been completely happy if either film had won Best Picture. Now I really liked those four movies a lot. This is no strike against The King's Speech. It just felt to me that The King's Speech was a little traditional. I feel like I've seen the overcoming adversity movie a thousand times over. Yes, the talent involved in this film was of an atypically high caliber, but the heartstrings were pulled in the same way that every other film of its ilk have been.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Queue Continuum: The Parking Lot Movie

Maybe it's that I work in the service industry despite the fact that I have a degree and am at the very least smart enough to get into the Jeopardy! contestant pool twice, but this movie resonated with me.

Now I'm not some anthropology graduate student. I don't read Kierkegaard. I can't quote Locke.

I am not comparing myself to these guys, as they seem to be a somewhat exceptional collection of extremely well-educated chaps, but their contempt for much of the idiocy and assholery that they encounter from customers who prefer to treat them as sub-human is something that I can sympathize with. While I am actually relatively happy with all of my jobs and deal with those things much less than most of my comrades in arms, it is something that I encounter from time to time.

The Parking Lot Movie captures some of these moments, but mostly it is an entertaining look at a likely unique parking lot in Charlottesville, VA (I'm sure you parked there all the time, Sara). The crew of employees are smart enough that they are engaging to listen to (if sometimes a little over-intellectual) and that their criticism of the patrons of The Corner Parking Lot are pretty damn funny. Clocking in at a mere 74 minutes, it is definitely entertaining enough to warrant the modest amount of time it asks of you.

And the bassist from Yo La Tengo (James McNew) is interviewed, as he once worked there. Apparently his Sixth Grade Math Teacher was a dick.

Every time John Beers opens his mouth is golden, too.

If you want to watch an funny take on a microcosmic view of capitalism and class struggles, look no further.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Man on Film: Black Swan... Again

All right, look. Black Swan was a fine film. My initial pass at a review was a bit cheeky. Darren Aronofsky is clearly a skilled director, and while his parents were probably oppressive presences looming over his adolescent athletic endeavors, it doesn't seem to have damaged him too much. If anything, their presence and continual yelling at his youth lacrosse games (matches?) probably made him what he is: a dark director. A well-adjusted person probably doesn't make Requiem for a Dream, which is an amazing film but isn't exactly a Saturday in the park.

Aronofsky actually crafted a movie I found mostly compelling about ballet, which I find, well, diametrically opposed to all that is compelling. Weirdly, it really is the companion piece to his last foray into the cinemas, The Wrestler. Each features protagonists who are athletically gifted entertainers who ultimately give their all for their craft. The endings of each film are virtually the same, and both times it works. 

My main issue with the film is that Natalie Portman's performance was uneven. The scene they showed during the Academy Awards was one of the handful of scenes that I found unimpressive, and this one was probably the most glaring example. There are points in every film featuring Portman in which she does something that I find extremely irritating, perhaps irrationally so. I understand why she calls her 'mommy' in the scene, but that doesn't mean I cannot be irked by the way she does it. There is simply something that bothers me about Ms. Portman, the actress.

Maybe I'm weird. Maybe you're weird. I suppose we all have our little peccadilloes.

I did find it odd that at certain points while she was dancing, Portman actually looked like Barbara Hershey. Be afraid, Portman fans; bad plastic surgery may be in her future.

So what we have is a movie that is pretty good sometimes in spite of its lead. Vincent Cassell is outstanding, and Barbara Hershey pulls off the job, but those are the only two above reproach. Mila Kunis is tonally off at times, and Winona Ryder is pretty awful if we're being honest. I suppose this is all a testament to Aronofsky's skills as an auteur.
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