CONSUMED AT THE END OF FEBRUARY AND BEGINNING OF MARCH: A PARTIAL LIST.
atonement (book). i didn't love atonement nearly as much as paul did when he mentioned it here 11(!) years ago - cecilia's green dress is my favorite part of both the book and the film, it seems - but i do think ian mcewan nailed little briony tallis's sinister preadolescent mind and/or something sinister and preadolescent about a certain kind of writer (was i that awful when i was a tween writer? i like to think i was interested in making things rather than controlling things, but i also like to think that keeping a domino in my purse protects me when i travel). i brought a copy of amsterdam (winner of the '98 booker prize) home a week ago; if it wows me, i reserve the right to gush about mcewan as hungover twentysomething paul did.
beasts of the southern wild (film). little quvenzhané wallis earned her best actress academy award nomination; like katniss in the hunger games, hushpuppy (a girl who lives with her father in a postapocalyptic louisiana bayou) is hermetically sealed and must have been hell to play. happily, she's given the voiceovers katniss needed so badly to explain herself and her situation; unhappily, those voiceovers and the awkward beasts that (should have been a straight metaphor but actually, awkwardly) turn up at the end of the movie are its only sources of momentum. beasts is a beautiful film, but it stagnated in ways that didn't always feel deliberate. joe fell asleep for an hour of it, and when he woke up i...didn't really have to get him up to speed.
dead man down (film). joe and i needed a reason to go to nitehawk cinema in williamsburg on a friday afternoon a few weeks ago, and a new noomi rapace thriller directed by niels arden oplev (he of the original, swedish girl with the dragon tattoo films) worked for us. to our surprise, it also turned out to be the mysterious generic colin farrell thriller that filmed down the street from us last summer, so noomi and colin conduct their convoluted revenge plots and romances (plural, there, in both cases) in our local basketball courts, kosher delis, luncheonettes, and so on. (they do not go to doughnut plant, not even once, so realism this ain't.) it's really, really terrible, so unless you too live in co-op village or have a thing for fireflies in graveyards (there is one extremely cool scene of that sort, shot out near joe's office in queens, weirdly enough), it's probably safe to keep walking.
dersu uzala (film). ian frazier's goddamn fantastic travels in siberia, a nonfictional tale of flamingos and forcible watermelon donations and weddings in the middle of the road (and the book that would've killed the long ships and emerged the champion of THUNDERTOME II, if i'd either finished it before the end of the year or managed to keep up on THUNDERTOME at all), led me to dersu uzala, the first movie kurosawa made after his 1971 suicide attempt. it's a very un-kurosawa kurosawa film, or perhaps his most characteristic film of all: in slow, dreamlike takes, it follows the russian explorer vladimir arseneyev and his yoda-like nanai guide, dersu uzala, as they chart the forests and tundra of eastern russia. it's a buddy movie with almost no dialogue, and it's possible dersu's longest conversation is with a tiger; that said, the relationship between the two men develops solidly enough that the scenes at arseneyev's home back in khabarovsk, when it's clear that dersu can't leave the hills to retire with his friend in the city, are genuinely wrenching. (truth be told, i usually have little patience for kurosawa - but this i liked.) come for the tigers; stay for the tigers, and stay some more for intercultural bromance.
the diviners (book). the television in front of my treadmill at our building's Old Folks' Gym was tuned to urban tarzan a few weeks ago. the episode began with an alligator amok in someone's backyard, then barreled into the tale of a bull that had escaped into a corn maze in encino. what more, i wondered as i zombie-ran the last of my daily miles, could urban tarzan (john brennan, a freelance wild-animal wrangler) possibly face? then he was called to tackle a chimpanzee in overalls who'd downed a few bottles of codeine ("it calms him down," his human 'mother' explained) and was menacing his caretakers with a gun. the diviners is kind of like the harrowing tale of buckaroo the gun-toting sizzurp-addled chimp: set in new york city in the roaring twenties, it's the story of a psychic flapper who has to prevent a demonic doomsday-cult-leadin' ghost-man called naughty john from initiating armageddon with a series of se7en-ish ritualistic murders. she does so with a team of period-appropriate x-men (including a mysteriously violent ziegfeld girl, an immigrant pickpocket who can go unseen, a dapper healer from harlem, and an old-timey cyborg) and catchphrases ("the cat's pajamas," "pos-i-tutely," "the bee's knees," "done-ski"). i wanted to hate the diviners, but just when i thought i'd had too much, the muchness itself became almost sublime. also naughty john was quite scary! i will read the sequel, and the sequel's sequel.
the flick (play). "i'm just trying to accurately portray the people who live in the movie theater inside my head," playwright annie baker says, "and i guess there's a lot of moments of not-talking in that movie theater inside my head." the flick is literally a (single-screen) theater (in western massachusetts); the fourth wall between baker's audience and her characters is the movie screen itself, and the flick takes place mostly in the spaces between films, when popcorn needs sweeping, reels need changing, seats need de-gumming. the silence in those spaces is so substantial that the play became a little notorious for driving people out at intermission, and playwrights horizons's* artistic director actually wrote his subscribers an email defending it. no need from where i was sitting: the play was long, sure, and a bit of a letdown after the impossibly tantalizing piece on baker in the new yorker a few months ago, but it was sweet, and sad, and it reminded me of the marvelous peoplewatching i got to do as a film festival volunteer last year. annie baker...curates...people? "i so much prefer confusion and mystery in both writing and theater-going," she says, but i don't think that's so. her stuff resists reduction, is how i would put it, and i think that's a fine thing.
*playwrights horizons, incidentally, is my new favorite (non-shakespeare-adjacent) theater. joe and i saw the whale there a few months ago (here's to you, MDF) and are settling in for a long-term relationship (are we those new yorkers now?).