Monday, March 07, 2005

I have become Blockbuster's worst nightmare.

I've taken full advantage of the "no late fees" policy; today I'm returning three DVDs that were due well over a week ago. I'm a terrible renter and checker-outer of the vids: I usually get more than I have any tim. I always get a pile -- more than I know I'll find time to watch, although I tell myself I will. I love the idea of being a hard-core viewer who can watch five films straight and then, as Macheath puts it, "stagger home and write it up in ledger." (That's what I always feel like I'm doing, staggering.) But do I? No. Reading takes over. The books are more important than the vids and they are always screaming for attention.

Anyway, I managed to watch three besides The Passion of the Che.

*Collateral. Generally excellent thriller from Michael Mann which goes silly in the final stretch.

Jamie Foxx plays a cabbie named Max: a good guy, and a head full of dreams. Max likes to think he’s going somewhere in life, and his plan, as he tells everyone he meets, is to leave the cab business behind to start his own fancy limo business, a “Club Med on wheels.”

Unfortunately, Max picks up the wrong fare: Vincent (Tom Cruise), a smooth-looking professional who turns out to be a contract killer. Max, being a quick and conscientious driver with a strong work ethic, is just the man he needs on a night when he needs to move from one hit to the next. The Cruise character knows just how to deal with the Max – worming his way into his confidence, flattering his ambitions (“You’re a doer, not a talker,” he tells him) and then forcing him to do as he wants.

While the film gets a good, character-driven groove going between Max, faithful dreamer, and Vincent, hardened, fuck-you cynic, it squanders most of the momentum on an idiotic, implausible resolution that killed my sympathy.

*Story of the Weeping Camel. This documentary follows a Mongolian farm family whose camel has a hard delivery of a new colt. The mother rejects the new foal, and won't allow it to nurse, despite all the efforts of the family to coax her. Their solution is to hold a religious ceremony of sorts, which involves sending the two young sons of the family on a journey to find a violinist.

A beautiful film from first frame to last, it's told without any overlapping narration: the camera simply observes this story as it plays out. It's a film that opens a window on a foreign world largely untouched by modern civilization, although civilization has penetrated it: they have no electricity, but the grandfather listens to a battery-operated radio, and on the trip to the city the youngest of the boys falls under the spell of television.

The film was nominated for an Oscar just this past year for Best Documentary, and I'll have to take their word for it that's what it is -- there are a couple of mysterious credits that raise questions as to how natural the film is: "written and directed by" and "based on an idea by." Whatever it is, it's terrific. Don't miss it.

*Before Sunset. Lots of split opinions on Richard Linklater’s latest in end-of-the-year roundups. I figured I would be captivated from the beginning and I was, mainly because I was so fond of its predecessor, Before Sunrise.

In the former, Jesse (Ethan Hawke) a young American traveling through Europe with a Eurail pass, meets a beautiful French girl named Celine (Julie Delpy). Over the course of the next hour and a half, they stroll the streets of Paris, listen to a record in a music shop, talk about their lives and ultimately toy with the idea of whether they should throw caution to the winds and devote their lives to each other. The movie ends, as it should, somewhat spontaneously, without us having any better of an idea than the couple what will become of them. The last shot is of Celine on a train, closing her eyes, drifting off into a dream – which is what the movie feels like, a very sweet romantic dream.

For the sequel, we fast-forward some nine years. Jesse has written a novel about his affair with a French girl, and he’s in Paris promoting it when he sees Celine. They have not seen or communicated with each other since, but they pick up right where they left off. Jesse has a lousy, sexless marriage, and Celine has devoted her life to doing good with some kind of humanitarian relief group. They are also still very much on each other’s minds, and over 90 “real-time” minutes they unflaggingly reveal themselves to each other in ways they can’t to anyone else, and eventually wander back to Celine’s book-crammed apartment. Will they make it this time? Let’s hope not. This movie is like most love affairs – “getting there” is 90 percent of the fun.

The ending is heaven. Michael Powell once said he loved The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie because he loved watching French women walk. Know what? They also boogie beautifully to Nina Simone.


At the insistence of Liz Penn, I too am getting hooked on Medium. Just started it last week. Very X-Files-y, very spooky, and Patricia Arquette hasn’t lost her milfy appeal.


While Faulkner’s on my mind – and yes, he still is -- here’s another great story about sins of the fathers, the weight of family history, disastrous fate, etc.: the sad tale of Joseph Pulitzer IV, from The Riverfront Times.


Excellent thoughts from one Aaron Matz on the problems with the new Proust translations. I've never read these -- I'm strictly mired in C.K. Scott-Moncrieff, whatever his defects -- but I sometimes toy with the idea of shucking it all and devoting another three or four or six months of life to reading him. Of course, I’ve said this before – once even mounted a blog to chronicle the effort. But there’s still time.


Come on baby, let's go downtown...

--and while you're there, sign this petition to put Neil Young's "Time Fades Away" back into print. OK, so it isn't exactly save the rain forest, but if you're a committed Neil Young junkie, this disc has a value above rubies. This legendary live album has never been on CD; it hit vinyl sometime in the 1970s and vanished. I regularly check the stacks at Papa Jazz looking for it, and I’m regularly disappointed. I'd pay good money even for a scratched-up copy.

Here's more on it from the irreplaceable Thrasher, who has some great links of his own.


Terrence Rafferty on Essential Westerns.


Bill Moyers on the Rapture.


Louis Menand on Hunter S. Thompson.

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