I owe you a blow. A media blow, that is.
Synecdoche, New York: Powerful but dense. Like all Charlie Kaufman films, the movie’s less about what it’s about – a depressed hypochondriac who gets a MacArthur grant and stages a play on the scale of an entire city – and more about what you’re supposed to think of while it’s about it. Kaufman films will regularly throw bizarre non sequiturs at you (think Being John Malkovich, think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but they at least adhere to a narrative. The frequent jumps here took me so far out of the movie that I had a hard time getting immersed. And I get immersed in movies really, really easily.
This is a shame, because the film’s conceit – about the difference between watching your life and participating in it, and how the former necessarily brings you to the latter – is deep and powerful. I don’t know that everything Kaufman throws in works in service to that theme, though. Like the cartoon we see a few times in Kaufman’s home in the first third of the movie. Or Hope Davis as a therapist (though she’s excellent in this role). My verdict: distracting, but not quite satisfying after a second chewing.
Button, Button: Richard Matheson wrote some excellent short stories in the horror and magical realism genre. These are not they.
Malcolm X: Probably Spike Lee’s greatest joint. Lee covers the whole of Malcolm Little’s life – being taken from his home, running wild on the streets of Boston and Harlem, finding the Nation of Islam in jail, becoming a controversial minister and then renouncing the Nation – with both candor and passion. He veers toward sententious lecturing at times but never strays there too long, investing the film with energy at its key moments. Who would have expected a film about Malcolm X to include an excellently choreographed swing dance number, for instance?
And, of course, Denzel Washington is perfect in the titular role.
Lee intends us to see the Nation of Islam for what it is: a source of hope for impoverished black men, but a divisive source of bigotry and corruption as well. We learn this about the Nation as Malcolm learns it – first experiencing it as inspiring, then becoming gradually disillusioned. Never having been in prison, in poverty or black, there’s only so much that this movie can say to me. But it’s still powerful. I watched the scene where Gaines and Malcolm sit down in the prison library to look up “black” and “white” in the dictionary:
… and I’m all like “Yeah, Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, WHAT.”
The problem: I’ve never seen this movie all the way through. The first time, it got late and I went to bed. The second time, I watched about as far as Malcolm’s gradual disillusionment with the Nation of Islam. Then I paused the movie, going to sleep to watch more of it in the morning. The problem: I was watching it on Netflix’s online queue, with the Microsoft Silverlight player. I lost it when my computer went to sleep. I couldn’t load it again in the morning, as I’d used up all my online minutes for the month. And even if I hadn’t, I couldn’t fast-forward to the point I’d been watching, as the movie only lets you advance as far as it’s buffered. So Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” function is, for me, less convenient than having the actual DVD in hand.
Strange Itineraries: Some excellent Tim Powers short stories. One thing I’ve noticed is that Powers writes an awful lot about marriages where the wife dies, off-camera, leaving the protagonist to soldier nobly on. The protagonists of The Anubis Gates, Last Call and Three Days to Never are widowers, and though I haven’t read The Stress of Her Regard yet, the back cover suggests that’s the case there, too. This is also the case in several of the short stories in this collection. In most other authors this would be a telling coincidence. Since it’s Tim Powers, where dead people show up as ghosts about half the time, you wonder if it means something deeper.