Friday, August 27, 2004

No, I haven't succumbed to bloggy boredom! I'm Back!

Apologies for the long silence, but it's August, and I've been in sunny California. Foggy California, too. It was an awesome trip. Red and I flew to San Diego, rented a car and made our way up the coast to San Francisco, flying home to Chicago from there. Though I'd reserved a compact from Alamo, we got a "free upgrade." Translation: all we have left are giant, gas-guzzling monstrosities. I worried that parking would be a nightmare, but surprisingly we had good luck, and, finally, my years of driving the family's various mini-vans paid off. Anyway, friends will be seeing pictures soon. For now, I'll just say highlights were Big Sur, Santa Monica/Venice Beach, San Diego Zoo, Hearst Castle (in all its tacky glory) and pretty much everything we did in San Francisco. Oh, and watching Olympic men's swimming and gymastics at night in the hotel rooms wasn't bad. Anyway, if you're planning a trip out there anytime soon, I've got loads of opinions. And pictures, did I mention the pictures?

My cinema-going self always outpaces my blog-writing self. I'm thinking I may just do a batch of quickies to ease the backlog. (He says, as if this were his job or something. Don't call it a hobby--it's an avocation!) Just as a token offering, though, I'll mention that We Don't Live Here Anymore is mediocre. I usually despise and avoid jealousy plots, those stories that deal with adultery, love in crisis, etc., but I got sucked in because of Mark Ruffalo, whom I'd follow anywhere. God help me, I think I've been talked into seeing the Michael Mann/Tom Cruise flick Collateral (despite loathing both Mann and Cruise) because Ruffalo is said to shine in a supporting role. O Cinema, exacting goddess, how you debase me! At any rate, I was impressed that unlike most jealousy films, We Don't Live Here Anymore has some interesting ideas. In fact, I got the sense that it's driven more by ideas than emotions. For example, it plays with an idea that fascinates me: the relationship between readers and writers, further complicated in the sometimes-antagonistic, sometimes-amicable relationship of two friends who are pursuing each other's wives. (I'm not spoiling anything--this comes out in the first scene.) Also, the film toys with a wonderful subjective pov expressed through editing: something Ruffalo's daughter says triggers a memory of his wife saying the same thing, quickly suggesting the influence of parents on children and, therefore, the powerful connections of family. Unfortunately, that's the problem. The movie only toys with these ideas and techniques. They aren't explored in depth, and, worse, the film has little ultimate sense of purpose. What we're left with is an attractive, highly talented quartet of actors (mostly) nailing their parts in a watered-down Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and what's the point of that? Again to Naomi Watts: Enough with the gloom and fear and tears! Show us something else. A more basic problem I have with the film is that, though it certainly expresses the negative side of monogamous relationships--at its most extreme, a sense of being trapped--it almost completely misses the joy that's possible (duh, even common!) in such relationships. So it feels like it's lying. (Eternal Sunshine, still my favorite film of the year, manages to at least aknowledge both the hell AND heaven of love.) I can't believe I'm about to say this--did I mention that I hate miserablist relationship cinema?--but if you want to see a better, recent example of this genre, rent The Secret Lives of Dentists, which I can't exactly say I enjoyed but which has a much more rewarding plotline and drive. Now that's a strong film. We Don't Live Here Anymore? Let's say 2 stars out of 4.

The water cooler talk since I got back has been about recent remarks by J. K. Rowling. (I work with fellow nerds, what can I say?) Toward the end, Rowling says, "There are two questions that I have never been asked but that I should have been asked, if you know what I mean. If you want to speculate on anything, you should speculate on these two things, which will point you in the right direction." Catnip for eager fans! I was pleased to see that she picks Azkaban (my favorite HP book) as her own favorite. I share her joy at Cuaron's adaptation.



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