Three things that have been
keeping me from blogging (besides the boy)
1. Michelangelo Antonioni's "The Passenger." I really love Antonioni's totally '60s experimental art-flick "Blow-Up," and have always meant to check out some of his other work. This 1975 film, long unavailable until a recent DVD release, mashes up Antonioni's European detachment and silence with the American allure of a young Jack Nicholson, and it's a pretty mesmerizing work. Nicholson, a jaded journalist, finds himself in a position to assume a dead man's identity, and give up everything in his life. What follows is an existential, bleak quest into one man's head that rarely takes expected paths. Like "Blow-Up," this is a film that loves observation – long patches go by without dialogue, the camera following one figure through the horizons of Morocco, Spain or Germany. There's a willingness to just let the camera linger that you simply don't see in today's films. It might bore the pants off of today's audiences, but I was in the right frame of mind and "The Passenger" cast a hypnotic spell on me as it explored the whole notion of identity. Antonioni asks the viewer to fill in the blank spaces, which makes his movies seem more participatory than passive. It was a real kick to see Nicholson so restrained in the days before he chewed up entire movie sets with his over-acting. Not all of it works – the love interest played by Maria Schneider struck me as blank-faced and unconvincing – but Nicholson is great as a man slowly losing his grip, and there's a sweeping lonely grandeur to it all.
2. "Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby." From art films to the other extreme! Heck, I have a weakness for certain Will Ferrell movies (I can watch "Anchorman" infinitely), and this NASCAR spoof is a suprisingly sly satire of the South and the racin' circuit. In "Talladega Nights," Ferrell plays his typical clueless boob who experiences some glimpse of enlightenment, and he's amusing as always, but this one is beefed up by some stellar supporting work by John C. Reilly, Gary Cole and particularly "Borat" star Sacha Baron Cohen as – I love it – a gay French NASCAR superstar. Cohen's well on his way to being the new Peter Sellers, and nearly steals the movie out from Ferrell, no mean feat. This one might not quite be a timeless classic, but it had me cracking up many a time and was a lot funnier than I'd imagined. Plenty a one-liner to quote until I annoy everyone around me, and for some reason the sight of Will Ferrell freaking out and running around in his underwear never stops being funny to me. "I'm gonna come at you like a spider monkey!"
3. The books of David Mitchell. Mitchell is one of the more interesting writers I've come across lately, a kind of media-fried mix of Haruki Murakami, David Foster Wallace and Jonathan Lethem. Mitchell's sprawling imagination is a treat – he's equally at home in urban Japan as he is in rural England, and his work truly embraces global culture. I just finished reading both his second novel, "number9dream," and his latest, "Black Swan Green." "Dream" is a hugely ambitious tale of an orphan Japanese boy's search for his father, but it's shattered into pieces by the boy's vivid imagination, which frequently breaks into the main narrative so you are constantly asking what's real. "Green" is a more conventionally structured book of a British teen's coming of age in the early 1980s, written in an utterly convincing voice. Mitchell completely evokes what it's like to be 13 and confused, and his young hero's journey over the course of one chaotic year is bittersweet and truthful, reminding me of a bit more literary take on Adrian Mole. Mitchell's writing is inventive and constantly trying to find new perspectives. I'm getting ready to dive into the final novel of Mitchell's I haven't read, "Cloud Atlas," and am bummed to think that means I'll have burned through all of his work to date. Oh well!