So Nick? Did you wind up seeing Star Trek? Pretty good, right? Probably, like, a better movie than Wolverine was, huh? Good enough, in fact, that in the box office figures, this past weekends new should-be blockbuster release, Angels & Demons barely beat it out while Wolvie experienced his second straight weekend of precipitous decline. I wasn’t about to run out to see A&D, either.
Beyond just reading novels and generally not working, not doing much of anything at all, really, I’ve decided to keep my internet DVD rental service within my budget, as getting a few movies a week to watch seems to take the edge off of having so many hours a day to be so painfully aware of my own uselessness (a pretty straightfoward reaction to being jobless, I reckon). So I’ve finally gotten around to seeing a bunch of movies that came out sometime in the past:
Once: This wasn’t terrible. As much as I haven’t gone for the whole singer-songwriter thing since the first half of my sophomore year of college, the music in this was okay, and the whole notion of making a small movie about making music is one way to get me to admit that not everything sucks. It’s interesting to me too, ’cause I reckon this movie did well enough last year that people will be trying to repeat the success, and make more “indie-pop” musicals or whatever. But, as generally impressed as I was with this movie, I switch right back to my more usual cynical appraising as soon as I think of the idea that there would be a market for this stuff. Not that I want to dredge up any old issues of hipsters and what they ruin (see early Culturologies for the epic hipster conversation of 2008), but I’d imagine that this, if co-opted by indie-panderers, would become a style of movie which falls ever so neatly into that category of “the new sincerity,” that explicitly post-ironic or anti-ironic aesthetic mush that gives cultural credence to treacle in the process of recanting its own usually heavily ironicized worldview.
Role Models: I realize that he wasn’t directly involved with this movie, but I’m gonna go ahead and make the association: Judd Apatow is ruining American comedies. There’s plenty to like about Role Models (not the least of which is the fact that the above-mentioned comedy-ruiner isn’t actually involved). Actually, I almost went and saw this in the theaters. There are some good jokes, and Seann William Scott is a funny guy. David Wain is a funny guy. The Jesus bit from The Ten was funny enough to make seeing something with Wain and Rudd working together a reasonable thing to do. But I can’t help but feel like this movie would have been funnier if certain other movies hadn’t built a certain set of expectations for character arc and nerd-comfort in comedies. Maybe it’s wrong to blame other movie-makers for the badness of something unrelated, but I feel like the comparison is an obvious one to make. At least we have the eminent release of The State DVDs to look forward to.
My attitude there is also influenced by having finally gotten around to seeing Pineapple Express, which was barely funny at all, and mostly bad. And Knocked Up was unwatchable. Normally, my attitude with this online-based DVD renting is that to get my money’s worth, I must watch fully (not including special features or commentary tracks) everything that I rent, but I sent back Knocked Up after watching maybe its first twenty (if that) miserable minutes. And, for comparison, I did manage to watch all of
Leonard Part 6: This is a terrible movie. The only reason I managed to get through the whole thing was that the villainess was a crazy vegetarian woman who used henchmen dressed like animals, and lots of actual animals to accomplish her nefarious plots. This thing won a ton of Razzies back in ’89, deservedly so. Cosby’s at his worst. But it is made worthwhile because at a crucial point, Cosby defeats the head henchman by getting him to take a bite of a hotdog, which causes the henchman’s head to explode (it appears to have been filled with sawdust, I guess to keep their PG rating).
Pete Can’t Believe He Hasn’t Read This Before! #2: If on a winter’s night a traveler
This book is probably only on your radar if you went to college, and maybe even only if you studied some amount of English literature (though it was originally written in Italian, and translated into English). Why? Because it’s probably one of the better examples of the kind of book which gets labeled as “postmodern” but is actually quite good. The structure is very interesting, with ten sections each being the first few pages of different novels which a character, addressed in the second person, gets involved with in interstitial chapters, in a wild international hunt for an elusive entire book.
Those of you that did study some amount of English probably see this as being indicative of the literary atmosphere in Europe after the ground-breaking critical work of Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, who liberated the text from the author, the reader from the author, the text from meaning, etcetera etcetera. The poor protagonist of If, then, is a kind of atavistic fellow who just wants to read a good old fashioned book, and doesn’t like all this fragmentation and historicizing of the text. There’s an awful lot of heady nonsense to be said/written (of course, if we’re speaking post-Derrida, then everything is “writing”) about If on, which is probably why I never bothered reading it until now.
Last week, I talked a little bit about the notion of the canon, and the fact that there are many different canons of work that all exist simultaneously, as different ways to sort the same set of books (the big set being something like All The Books That Are Readable By Demographic X). If on a, to its detriment, falls into the canon of books That Are Likely To Be Talked About By Annoying Lit Majors That Think They Know Something About Stuff, when, of course, they know very little. It’s a reasonable stance, especially the further one gets from having been in an American college or university, to hate what’s broadly called in this country “postmodernism”.
But it’s a really good book! I don’t often go for books that use “you” like this (see Bright Lights, Big City for another–very different–example), but it works here, as its taken to such ridiculous heights as the poor Reader tries to keep a hold on any of the books he starts to read. In the end, if I were to read some sort of philsophical or theoretical aspect into If on a winter’s, it’d be that it’s pro-old-fashioned reading, rather than against it, and demonstrating that, as much as Barthes and his acolytes might proclaim the author’s death, the reader is never all that empowered either. Language rules (the only theory that I know that actively works with this notion that language-itself yields the power in cultural works is the still-burgeoning “meme theory” which rises out of neo-Darwinism (the word “meme” was coined by heavy-hitting evolutionist Richard Dawkins, though, in anything I’ve read, he hasn’t returned to the concept all that much).
Next Week: Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (this might actually take me more than a week to read, since its pretty thick).
For June 1st: Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly
For July 6th: Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth