13 October 2011

Young Goethe in Love

My love for seeing movies on the big screen is being sorely tested by this city. I swear, it's like they scour American offerings for the worst garbage available. Is it just that those are cheaper? Easier to subtitle? What's the deal? Why is every theatre in town playing movie about Hugh Jackman training fighting robots? Have you heard of this movie? I hadn't. And the trailer is so bad that I am not even sure if I'll go. It was so bad, in fact, that tonight I went to a movie IN GERMAN, despite the fact that the only subtitles were in Turkish! Now, to be fair: my German is pretty good. So I was fairly confident I'd understand a reasonable amount. And as it turned out, I actually understood the vast majority, which made me feel pretty damn good about myself. Also, to be clear, I didn't just go see a random German movie. I had heard of this film before; it played at the Chicago International Film Fest last year, and I was vaguely curious about it then. The internetz told me it was picked up by Music Box Films, and I am always thrilled to support them. Finally, it turns out that the movie was written and directed by the same guy who made North Face (which apparently I didn't blog about? What? It is well worth watching. One of the better mountain climbing movies I've ever seen, really intensely scary stuff. Melodramatic love story, meh, but if you wanna see some seriously sick frost bite, rent it.),which was an added draw. I figured this was gonna be a fluffy, ridiculous period piece/biopic. Which it kind of was, but you know, it was better than I'd thought.

The plot is is strangely matter-of-fact - I mean, it's a somewhat cheesy love story, struggling artist tale, but it moves at a fairly brisk pace, without really lingering in the drama. Not that it's fast-paced or suspenseful, it just seems to kind of march on pretty efficiently. The acting was much, much better than I expected. Although the characters are pretty straightforward and functional, they're not entirely one-dimensional. Ketzler, for instance, though required to be a dullard (poor Moritz Bleibtreu is gradually becoming typecast) is oddly sympathetic. And the acting is surprisingly good. Maybe I was noticing the subtleties of gesture more than usual because I didn't understand all the language, but I do think there's some real convincing feeling in some of the scenes. The plot is kind of silly and whatever, but Lotte is pretty hot, and it's a reasonably entertaining film, even if you don't live in Turkey.

08 October 2011

Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard, by Isak Dinesen

Isak Dinesen (or Karen Blixen) is becoming one of my favorite writers. Her writing is just incredible. This is a collection of dense, fairy tale-like of stories, and they are absolutely marvelous. Each is intricate and complex, with these incredible twists and turns. None of the stories ever went the way you expected, but by the end you felt like all the pieces had fallen perfectly into place. Really masterful composition. And so beautiful!

I have a few other books of her waiting on the shelf, Out of Africa, Shadows on the Grass, and Winter's Tales - when I was packing my books for the move, I half wondered whether it was really wise to bring so many works by the same author, but now I'm so glad I did. I'm looking forward to slowly working my way through them all.

02 October 2011

The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of his Friend Marilyn Monroe, by Andrew O'Hagan

A lot of research must have gone into this book. That's what I kept thinking as I was reading. So many reference to other pieces of literature or philosophy (especially to moments in philosophy that reference animals), so many scenes with various celebrities of the time... I almost wondered if O'Hagan wasn't a former grad student. The thing is though, aside from a few moments, most of those references always seem like just that - clever references. They don't really bring the characters or the time period to life at all. This is particularly true, unfortunately, of Monroe herself (who was my motive for reading the book). She never becomes an actual person, though there are a few moments that come close.

The idea of having her dog narrate her story is an interesting one, and the dog is an entertaining character, but there's no overarching plot. The book feels like a vignette of scenes, most of which are of cocktail parties. Your interest ebbs and flows as you read; when one party ends, you don't especially want to hear about the next one. To be fair, there are some lovely moments - mostly in the form of clever observations - but overall, the books never really gets off the ground.

01 October 2011

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

I was reading something that mentioned this novel (well, more of a novella really) as a parody of the island adventure novel. I was intrigued by the notion, so I checked it out of the library and pounded through it in an evening. It was, I have to say, a bit disappointing. But still kind of irresistible, in a way.

To begin with, I dunno about that whole parody argument. Seems a bit thin to me. The only part that maybe stands up to that kind of reading is the fact that pirates turn out to be completely incompetent on land. They can't ration effectively, they suck at hunting, and they're drunk most of the time. Come to think of it, they're apparently rather useless on the ship too, at least this bunch is - they suck at navigation, and seem to have no idea what's going on. They're vicious mercenaries who act completely based on their own self-interest, but they're too dumb to recognize what that is half the time.

The writing is somewhat dry, and the story isn't that great. But as the above paragraph hopefully indicates - the pirates are entertaining anyways. The weakest parts of the text are, basically, all the ones the pirates aren't in - Jim, the Doctor, the Squire, who cares. The Doctor gets some funny lines, but their story isn't that compelling. Long John Silver, on the other hand, is a fascinating character, and more complex than everyone else put together. Ruthless and greedy but also capable of planning and saving money, he leads a pirate's life but also purportedly has set aside a nest-egg to retire on with his wife. Tricksy but generally honest, you find yourself rooting for him no matter which side he's on.

One minor thing that intrigued me were a few throw-away lines about blacks - I'm not all that familiar with Stevenson; was he a big supporter of black causes? Because aside from generally being positive, there are a few moments that seem to go out of their way to say nice things about black people. Which I thought was really neat, but you do kind of wonder what the deal is, because they're pretty clearly tangential insertions. For example, "The sight of all those good-natured faces (especially the blacks) (...) made a cheerful contrast to (etc etc)" (p290 in Google Books) - why especially? You know? It just seems like a kind of added emphasis for no apparent reason.

Is Treasure Island a must-read? Definitely not. In fact, your time is probably better spent watching the Muppets movie version (which, by the by, has a different ending, and a rather less satisfying one, if you ask me). Great as the pirates are, if you really want good pirate fiction, read Sabatini.