I had tried to watch George Clooney's The Descendants a few times, but finally found the groove last week, and really enjoyed it. It made me cry (thank God I was alone) when the father leans down and kisses his daughter, who as an adult has had an accident from which she won't recover so they've stopped life support, and says she was a good girl. In context, that scene IS the movie. That scene has meshed in my mind with the school tragedy; losing your babies is the worst thing that can happen in this life.
From there I went to see Life of Pi, though I had originally decided to pass as I had read the book, and at the time thought it to be one of those unfilmable books. I don't like Ang Lee's films in general, as most are tedious. But the reviewers I respect said that it's great, and beyond great in 3-D, and these guys don't like 3-D. So I decided if a window opened up when it was cheap, I'd go.
I have to give Ang Lee credit in that he captured the novel perfectly, and dammit the 3-D was fucking spectacular, so I'm glad I was cajoled into it. See it that way if you can. If you can't, it'll still be awesome on a HDTV. But if you've popped for a 3-D TV, definitely buy it in that format.
The thing about Life of Pi, besides the spectacle, is it's a meditation on God, nature, and the meaning of life, set in the rubric of modern thought and sensibility. The actors that play Pi in the various stages of life couldn't be more perfect. If you need a feel-good movie, take out the financing for some popcorn and see this one.
Kevin Smith once said that Ben Affleck is the smartest man in Hollywood, and would eventually own the place on some level. Argo makes a strong case for that. His direction is gripping, flashy in the good way, and Oscar-worthy. It's always an achievement to make an edge-of-your-seat movie from actual events where most of us know the ending. The only time I was yanked out of the movie was one sequence where the camera dwells too long on Affleck, and then we're treated to a gratuitous shot of him shirtless, ala Galaxy Quest. I suspect his lovely wife advised him to keep that shot in, since he was considered prime beefcake once, and we wouldn't want to disappoint those fans, would we? See this flick. Just put it on your list. I have not heard one bad review from those who've seen it. Stick for the credits to see the real people.
Wreck-it Ralph surprised me because the previews did not give me hope beyond a string of video game references laced with fart jokes. While there's certainly that, there's also a surprisingly touching story that avoids the maudlin pitfalls of Finding Nemo (loathed by my entire family, save for the seagull's "Mine? Mine?" gag).
One thing movie makers seem to be rediscovering is how to maintain a character's identity with their personal dignity intact, making them believable in a context that should betray that. For example, in The Avengers, you believed Captain America was still this wholesome WWII dude who is a believable leader to the smart-ass Iron Man and tragic Hulk. In Wreck-it Ralph, Fix-it Felix is a believable "gee-wiz, gosh darnit" nice guy who suspends disbelief when he falls for and wins a Halo-esque soldier babe who's profanity pushes the edge of a PG rating (adults mentally fill in the real curses).
Skyfall was another Bond movie. If you like them, this'll likely be one of your favs. If you're ambivalent, like me, it's a decent way to waste 2 1/2 hours. The villain in this one is my favorite bond villain so far.When he gropes the tied-up James Bond, all the guys including me visibly squirmed.
Saw Seeking a Friend for the End of the World which had some nice moments, but what really made me laugh is that the girl, who's a vinyl junkie, takes some of her treasured records when they run from a mob, and on top of the stack is Herb Alpert's Beat of the Brass, which is one of my mom's favorite albums that she played daily for years, so it's part of my synapses, and I play it regularly, too. I wonder if the person responsible for choosing her favorite records included that as a joke or if they were sincere.
Speaking of music, some great albums dropped.
The best, to me, is Dwight Yoakam's Three Pears, which is prolly the best post-Pete Anderson (his former lead guitarist and sometime producer) album of his. Dwight has always released albums that are listenable all the way through, but more than most artists I'm aware of (outside of the Beatles and Billy Joel), he often makes albums that are mostly great songs. It'd take less time to list those that had a few average songs than to list the ones that were solid all the way through.
Prince appeared on Jimmy Kimmel a while back and snorted out a fantastic nasty groove rock funk which achieved the proper response from me: hells yeah, I'm buying that! (You can get it here.)
In the meantime, here's that performance (I love how he prefers lady drummers):
Donald Fagan put out Sunken Condos, which is prime Fagen. I personally dig Morph the Cat a bit more, specifically because of the title cut and "Security Joan" which still makes me smile every time I hear it. Fans should get this. Folks looking for some new Steely Dan music should, too.
My daughter loves Green Day, and their recents Uno!, Dos!, Tre! doth rock, yea verily, they doth also have some delicious power pop. However, you may want to preview them on Grooveshark.com, and compile your favorite cuts for one great album.
That reminds me, I read a book that ended up being way more interesting than I thought it would be:
Still the Greatest: The Essential Songs of The Beatles' Solo Careers by Andrew Grant Jackson.
General Jackson spins a delightful book out of "what if the Beatles never broke up" and assembles the likely Beatles albums from the solo work of each Beatle by year since their breakup. Each chapter is that year's album, which starts with the history of what each member did that year, and then he lists the songs and gives a brief history of their creation and context. He even concocts the resulting compilation albums, ala The Red Album and The Blue Album.
This is the precise sort of thing I love, and there is a lot to love here. For example, whether or not Yoko had anything to do with the Beatles breaking up, she certainly stopped them from getting back together. John was going to go join Paul in New Orleans where he was recording at the time (this was shortly after John's time with Harry Nilsson and while he was separated from Yoko), but Yoko got wind of it and demanded John join her in New York for a short time, claiming she had found a hypnotist to help him stop smoking. John recalls the time as blurry and he vomited a lot - and never joined Paul. It would be interesting to know what her fucking motivation was.
Pounded through the wonderful bio of David Foster Wallace by D. T. Max, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. If you're a fan of DFW, you will love this book. One of the more wonderful aspects is that Max is a damn good writer in his own right, which you'd almost have to be to tackle the bio of one of the best writers in a couple generations. Bios typically pull you through because you want the details, which this one has, but I stopped a few times to admire a beautifully honed phrase. I look forward to anything D. T. Max might do in the future.
And that's what I have for you going into the holiday season.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Grand Festivus, and wondrous non-denominational winter solstice.