Friday, March 23, 2007

Binging on Pop Culture

I really need to get out more. The highlights of my literary and film experiences lately have generally been, well, not mentally challenging.

But they have been highlights, given that I live in a community where the social extravaganza of the month will be a Palm Sunday family get-together that will include a puppet show, seed-planting, nature walk, and potluck lunch. I'm totally looking forward to it, but...it's not connected much to the world at large.

So I'd like to share the few cultural gems I've consumed lately that have nothing whatsoever to do with parenting or Waldorf education. Yes, most of the following items are several years old: like I said, I don't get out much.



Lovely Charlotte shipped me her copy of Julie & Julia recently (along with some yum Lindt chocolate!) and I'm ashamed to say I've already finished it.

Ashamed because this was one of those books that was a cheap thrill: almost completely free of deeper meaning, full of naughty words, rich French food, and that staple of the literary industry, the neurotic protagonist from New York City.

But, I really enjoyed it. I had heard long ago about the blog and the book, but never thought to look further. Then I got my own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (known in J&J as MtAoFC). I started making sauces; I happen to love liver and sweetbreads (drawing the line at brains however). And so I can on some level relate to Julie Powell's experiences.

I thought the parts about her personal life and her friends' personal lives and her housekeeping travails and her work frustrations were all part of the package...the book was more about her than about the food itself. Sometimes I did get tired of the "I live in a crappy little apartment in Queens that shocks and appalls my mother and the subways are atrocious, but I love NYC too much to leave" thing, but it's a tried-and-true spiel I guess.



Last night we watched The Illusionist, with Paul Giamatti, Edward Norton, and Jessica Biel (never thought I'd write a sentence with those names together). I really, really liked this film. I'm a sucker for early 20th century clothes, Viennese culture, and films that try to actually look beautiful instead of simply overwhelmingly action-packed and loud.

Great soundtrack by Philip Glass, stunning cinematography including a lovely sepia-tone effect in the lengthy flashback section, and gorgeous locations in the Czech Republic. Ed Norton was very, very good, intense as usual but more sympathetic than in, say, Fight Club. And I'm a Paul Giamatti fan: if I were going to be a balding, paunchy, self-effacing character actor, I would be him.

I had my doubts going in about Jessica Biel, knowing her only from the TV show 7th Heaven (as a commenter on IMDB said, it's oddly mesmerizing in a campy, syrupy sweet kind of way) and glamour shots in Vanity Fair magazine. I was afraid her mighty biceps would seem out of place, but they managed to hide under her leg-o-mutton sleeves. And her acting was suprisingly decent, though there was nothing 1900's-ish about those huge white teeth.



That was the most recent Netflix item; its predecessor was a disturbing little film called Secretary. I'm not going to go into detail here...this is a family-oriented blog after all. But I did somehow like this film despite its disturbing parts. James Spader was his normal affectless self, but in the context of a control freak/sadist that worked just fine. Maggie Gyllenhaal somehow moved from freakishly frumpy and self-destructive to beautiful and self-confident, and only partly thanks to the gifts of makeup and wardrobe. While the specific structure of their relationship was...hmmm...odd, I felt that the overall theme of the film was uplifting: everyone can find love, and through love deep pain can be healed.



And last but not least, Crash. I had serious doubts about this one going in. After having kids, I have close to zero tolerance for suspense and physical violence in films. And I have some kind of unresolved trauma relating to car accidents, so the big scene with Matt Dillon and Thandie Newton was extremely stressful. So was the scene with the Persian shopkeeper going to find the man he thinks destroyed his shop, gun in hand (I actually went to read Jane Austen in the bathroom during this scene, but hubby said it turned out OK).

Though I would not say I liked this film, in that it was certainly unpleasant in many ways, I appreciated its candor and attempt to treat a very touchy subject with dignity. The film never let anyone off the hook, and never turned anyone into a cardboard cut-out villain. Like in Magnolia, the characters intertwined in a slightly improbable way, but for the purpose of showing the interdependence of society and the interpenetration of human relations, it worked for me.

It's hard for me to believe that racism is as prevalent and ingrained in society as depicted in the film. Maybe I'm just naive, or blind, or trying hard to stay that way. I know that there is a vast "underclass" in L.A. of Latino laborers, Persian shopkeepers, and unemployed and undereducated black men, who all deserve to be treated better by society and each other. And certainly the LAPD and US legal system have major problems with racism. One thing I do know that this film was finely crafted and unflinching in its attempt to explore our preconceptions.

5 comments:

charlotte said...

Glad to hear you liked J&J, especially since you actually own and have cooked from MtAoFC.

I love a bit of pop culture too! Isn't Secretary an oddly sweet film? I love how the oddness of their love was good enough for them. I also really like both actors, and have nursed a small crush on James Spader ever since Sex, Lies and Videotape.

I thought Crash was excellent, but I could hardly say I enjoyed it. It was quite hard going. As a South African, I found the racism acute and hard to bear.

Michael said...

I haven't seen Crash yet but we did enjoy secretary...There's something deeply odd about James Spader all round, somehow. Something depraved but compelling (which I suppose depravity generally is.)

Henitsirk said...

I"ve often wondered what James Spader is like in "real" life. Is he odd, or does he like watching football and eating potato chips? Somehow, I bet there's at least a good dollop of oddness.

Kerryn said...

Very good to hear that you enjoyed J&J. How exciting that the book I picked up in suburban Melbourne is finding its way around the world. Will you be passing it on or has it found a home?

I also found myself liking Secretary. As odd as it was, their relationship made sense in terms of who they are. And it helped that James Spader starred -- he is wonderfully compelling to watch. Like Charlotte, I've had a little crush on him since at least Sex Lies & Videotape.

healingmagichands said...

Sheesh. I don't have time to watch movies right now. The yard is keeping me way too busy!

But I'm like you, Henitsirk. when the movie starts to get violent, I leave the room and let my husband tell me when it is "safe" to come back. I find the older I get the less I can tolerate witnessing violence, even "fake" movie violence.