I like music, I like movies, I like books. It's why I have a blog in the first place. And I know I should probably post about these things individually, as I consume them, but for now, here's a glut of what's most recently crossed my path.
BOOK: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman
This is a quasi-sequel/spinoff to Gaiman’s American Gods, which I loved a lot, and which, if you’ll recall, I read for a second time on my fated Amtrak trip of death and found it to be a lot funnier the second time around. Anansi Boys is more overtly comical than the stealthy Gods, in the vein of Gaiman’s collaboration with Terry Pratchett on Good Omens. The entire character of Grahame Coats is worth a spinoff of his own. Anyway, the book again delved into mythological characters existing in a modern setting, and Gaiman is rather sly about creeping the Ancient Myths 101 stuff into the story gradually. If I go around randomly saying “In the beginning, all the stories were Tiger stories,” now you’ll know why. Wonderful book.
MOVIE: Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee)
I was a little bit worried that after such an avalanche of advance praise, expectations for the film would have risen far beyond what Ang Lee could live up to. All too gladly, my fears were unfounded. This is a fantastic and essentially note-perfect film. At 134 minutes it doesn’t feel like it’s dragging, and that’s certainly a tendency Lee has shown in the past. I thought the length here was necessary to give a sense of just how far Ennis and Jack’s relationship stretched. Also, I thought the screenwriters did an admirable job of filling in the gaps created when such a short story is expanded like this. The acting is incredible. I’m sometimes astounded at how far Heath Ledger has come in one year. He deserves an Oscar, for sure. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Williams are also great, and don’t come off as too young, which I was worried about. It never stumbles, this movie. So, so, SO good.
MOVIE: Match Point (Woody Allen)
Not as good. I’m so hit-or-miss when it comes to Woody Allen. This one never really grabbed me like, say, Annie Hall or Crimes and Misdemeanors did. The story seems rather worn -- the social climber whose status becomes threatened; the extramarital affair which threatens to be exposed -- and I don’t think Woody brought enough to the script to make the retread worth it, honestly. Scarlett Johansson does a good job with a script that does her absolutely no favors. The movie basically asks her to first be sexy, then be clingy. Neither at the same time, and none of it given much depth on the page. It’s not an awful movie, although you could probably eke out a 50-page thesis on how this movie adds to Woody’s career-long tendency towards misogyny, but the end product really does pale to the expectation of Allen taking on such atypical subject matter.
BOOK: Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs
It’s funny, in the wake of the Oprah/A Million Little Pieces pseudo-scandal, Burroughs's name came up in two separate conversations I had about memoirists and their flexible relationship with the truth. My opinion is that I don’t really care how much of Burroughs's Running with Scissors or Dry is verbatim fact. They were thoroughly entertaining reads and I’m happy to have come across them. But after reading the “true” short stories in Magical Thinking, I’m kind of hoping they are faked up. Mostly because I hope Burroughs isn’t entirely like that. In the long-form, his personality is refreshing in its lack of sentiment. With the short stories all piled up on one another, everything gets laid on a little thick: the vanity, the shallowness, the “I was raised in a cult and thus have no social skills” stuff. At some point his self-awareness becomes knee-jerk and insincere. That being said … dude is a really good writer and the bulk of his stories are great fun to read. My favorite thing about Burroughs is that he has become this maddeningly endearing (though if you hadn’t read his earlier books, I’m not sure how endearing) character of his own making who you really hope is going to pull it together and are willing to forgive his frequent lapses into unnecessary drama. It’s a lot of the same reasons I was so enthralled by Jonathan Couette’s Tarnation, which was also an interesting subject of fakery in a supposedly factual genre.
SONG: “Konstantine” -- Something Corporate
True to my personal history, I just stumbled upon this song recently even though it was released in, like, 2001. Also true to my history, the band is kind of pop-punk in that way that tends to irk me, where you can clearly tell that the lead singer hasn’t passed eleventh-grade chemistry yet. Though my iTunes list is checkered with the many pieces of evidence that contradict that statement. Anyway, this song. First off, it’s nine minutes long. Second, it’s crazy overwrought, in that introspective Lydia Dietz-as-a-boy sense, in which every line has some deep portent. It’s a breakup song, essentially, but the music and lyrics are so dark that it plays like an elegy. It comes from that seventeen-year-old place where breaking up with someone is like having them die, so it makes sense. And it’s almost all piano, this deep, haunting piano, which you know is what hooked me. It’s epic in a really immature way, and I am in no way using “immature” as a negative, because that’s the attitude that makes the song work. And I love the song, so it’s justified. Honestly, though, it’s like a science experiment where you listen to the song and it makes you feel so sad, and then you listen to the lyrics and it’s like “wait, it’s about a high-school break-up? The hell am I so sad for?” It’s awesome, listen to it.