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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Book, A TV Show, and A Couple Movies

First the book.  I finished reading Mario Puzo's The Godfather yesterday despite never having much interest in reading the book.  It is, of course, impossible to approach that book outside the context of the movie, so when Puzo describes Sonny as having "a heavy Cupid face," you still see James Caan.  But the book wasn't what I expected:  a thin pot-boiler in need of punching up by Hollywood screenwriters.

It was legitimately good.  It had it's pot-boilery aspects, being much more lurid than necessary, as well as misogynistic and racist in a way that just wouldn't fly in this day and age, but it's an excellent story with rich characters and deep themes, and Puzo showed some real narrative chops.

The TV show.  True Detective.  This week's episode confirms it's brilliance.  I was watching the climatic scene on the edge of my seat, thinking "Man, this is intense."  And then I realized I had been tricked. 

Tricked by cinematography and staging.  The whole scene --a drug heist gone majorly wrong-- was shot in one long take, from the forced entry, to the tense confrontation, to the frenzied escape.  There might have been a cut stitched in digitally, but who cares?  The effect is what matters.

And now the movies.

Hate to say this, but on my own volition, being of sound mind and body, I watched a couple of "chick flicks" starring Julianne Moore.  I justified it because they were both literary adaptations of books and neither were very "romance-y." 

The first, The Hours, I had never seen, nor cared to.  It was mildly interesting in that meticulous way you have to be when you write a movie in which not much happens.  Nicole Kidman needed that fake nose to sell her performance, I think.  To the extent that it was constructed to juggle three different story threads, at some points, it might have dropped the ball.  Will I read the book?  Probably not, but I would bet that it's better than the movie.

The second, The Shipping News.  Kevin Spacey in a bad hairpiece being a mope.  Judi Densch being brusk.  Julianne Moore and Scott Glenn with funny Irish accents.  Quirky townsfolk and strange customs abound.  It has this kind of benign magic realism thing that's cute but not really justified by the underlying story.  Will I read the book?  Doubt it.

And finally, a weird documentary called The Act of Killing about some Indonesian gangsters who ran death squads in the 1960s.  They killed communists by the thousands, strangling them with wire, and are now enjoying the good life as semi-retired gangster bosses.  The film has them staging crude recreations of the killings, often with dramatic license.

At one point, it shows the gangsters going through the Chinese market sticking up vendors.  The one thing you never want to hear from a gangster is "Give me more or I won't take it."

The film hints that these unrepentant killers might have some remorse over what they did, but it makes clear that in order to live with themselves, it's not something they spend much time thinking about.