Sunday, January 13, 2008

Books and Movies

Having a little time on my hands of late, I've been catching up on my "To Be Read" pile and watching a few movies.

A few weeks ago, I started E. Annie Proulx's book, Accordion Crimes. The book is meant to chronicle the history of America through the travels of an accordion originally handcrafted by an Italian immigrant. Are you yawning already? I am. Again. I love Proulx's writing. The Shipping News and Brokeback Mountain are gems, but this book, well, not so much. I tried. Really, I did. I read to about page 128 and then I decided there are too many other books to be read to be wasting time on one that wasn't holding my interest. Out of five stars, a goose egg.

Currently, I'm reading Pat Conroy's The Prince of Tides. Conroy paints his characters beautifully, including Dr. Lowenstein, who is actually the least interesting and flatest character in the book, despite her central role. Conroy writes his protagonist well, but his dialogue for the female characters is stilted and shallow. Perhaps it's meant to be that way? The only problem I'm really encountering with this novel is, I keep picturing Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte in the lead roles they portrayed in the motion picture of the same name. Please note: I've never seen the movie in its entirety. In fact, all I've seen is five minutes at the end. I'm about half way through, so I'll be back with a report. But, so far, it's a decent read.

In the world of motion pictures, I've just finished watching the following:

Snowcake, 2006, Alan Rickman, Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Ann Moss

It's always nice to see Alan Rickman in something other than his usual dark, dour characters. Not that his character--Alex Hughes--isn't dark in this movie. Difference between his character in this movie versus, say, Snape in Harry Potter or the sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood is, this darkness is not because of a character flaw, but because of circumstances. Sigourney Weaver gives a brilliant performance as an autistic woman. And the young actress, Emily Hampshire, who plays her daughter is endearing, even though she's only on screen less than five minutes. Out of five stars, a two and a half.

Portrait of a Marriage, 1990, Janet McTeer, David Haig, Cathryn Harrison

A PBS Masterpiece Theater docudrama about the life of poet Vita Sackville-West and her marriage to foreign service officer and aristocrat Harold Nicolson. More significantly, this four-part series highlights Sackville-West's same-sex affairs with childhood friend and novelist Voilet Keppel, as well as Virginia Woolf. I'm only half way through this one. Out of five stars, a three and a half for being groundbreaking public television in the 1990s (though I doubt this showed in markets outside of San Francisco and larger metro areas.) The sound quality is bad and it doesn't include closed-captioning, which I find unhelpful in my non-stereophonic world. Still, what I have seen rates as it does for no other reason than being ahead of its time for public t.v.

Prime Suspect 7: The Final Act, 2006, Helen Mirren, Richard Hawley

Over the last 15 years, this has been one of the best police/crime dramas in the genre. With this final series, though, Mirren and Company bring it home stunningly. This is, hands down, the best of the seven Prime Suspects and ends in classic Jane Tennison fashion. If you haven't seen this yet, get it. It's worth every single minute. And it proves once again why Helen Mirren is not only in the upper echelons of actors, but why she is unmatched. Out of five stars, a five.

I've watched several other movies and series, including: Der Tunnel, 2001, Heino Ferch, Sebastian Koch, Nicolette Krebitz. About East German Olympian Harry Melchoir and his friends, who dig a tunnel out of West Berlin into East Berlin to rescue family and friends; Touching Evil 3, 1999, Robson Green, Nicola Walker. The final series in a trilogy about a psychopathic police detective who tracks serial killers. Of the three, this is the best of the lot. The cinematography and direction are especially good, making this final chapter edgy and dark; The Times of Harvey Milk, 1984, Harvey Milk, George Moscone, Dan White, Dianne Feinstein. A documentary that shows the political rise of Harvey Milk and his election as the first openly gay member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisor, as well as the circumstances that led to his assassination along with Mayor George Moscone by fellow board member Dan White. White claimed too much junk food pushed him over the edge, hence the origin of the Twinkie Defense; and The Singles Ward, 2000, Will Swenson, Richard Dutcher, Connie Young. A quirky comedy about what it's like to be single and Mormon. A little too maudlin and camp at the end, but a great soundtrack!


Di said...

If you liked Singles Ward, I recommend Sons of Provo -- hilarious, and a fab soundtrack.

Snow Cake only got 2.5 out of 5 for you?? I loved it, I woulda given it four.

Then again, I've hardly seen any films lately.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Di: I think Sons of Provo is next in my queue. Looking forward to it.

Snow Cake was good and I'd probably see it again (I may even add it to my collection despite it's low rating), but it didn't 100% WOW! me. Maybe it's the place I'm in right now. I don't know? There's no rhyme or reason to my rating system, which I should probably drop entirely.

I think I built up my anticipation and expectations a little too high and I was watching too hard for that quote you shared the other day. When it did finally make its appearance, it was sort of anti-climatic and it fell flat. (I think because I thought Alan Rickman would deliver the line and then when it was that stupid cop, I was sort of taken aback.) That said, I may watch it again in six months or so and see if it registers differently for me.

di said...

Yeah, but that's why it was so good for me..."that stupid cop" wasn't just a 2D character. He was some schmucky character who turned out to be far more than that. I like that a lot.

Like I said, I like to be surprised like that. :-)

It's okay if you like it less than I did -- I also didn't see very many movies for a long while.

Jess said...

You know, I felt the same way about the Kite Runner--that the main character was the flattest and most uninteresting of them all, in both the book and the movie. However, I still loved the book, and thought the movie was pretty good too.

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Di: I hear ya! I wanted it to be good for me in that way, too, but I sort of fell flat. I can't explain it, except that, like I said, I built up the expectation too much. Still, I liked it and I'm probably going to order it from Amazon.

And speaking of DVDs, do you and Mr. Swizzies watch the U.S. version of "The Office"? Do you have Season Three yet? If not, let me know. I have an extra copy I'll send you.

Jess: I always wonder about flat characters and whether I'm missing something deeper and more meaningful or if my perception of their flatness is really a reflection of my own banality. I don't know... And, I'm behind the curve. I still need to read The Kite Runner. So many books, so many books.

Di said...

We're watching season three of The Office right now! Good stuff. :-)

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

Di: Damn! I bought a copy as a birthday gift for Bee back in July then promptly forgot I'd done that and ended up buying the same thing for her for her Christmas. Now I have two copies and I can't find the receipt for the one I bought in December...