Up in the Air, Jason Reitman (2009)

I adored Reitman’s Juno and was ready to feel the same about this, but no dice. Suffice to say that the grownups in this film are far less complex and as a result far more predictable than the kids in Juno, so there’s just not as much here to hold your attention. I didn’t hate it at all, and I enjoyed looking at it, but finally its too formulaic to think about for very long.

You know what would have helped? Casting someone damaged for the lead, instead of George “Rico Suave” Clooney. The whole thing has to turn on this character gaining consciousness that his life is empty, but it’s clear from frame one that his life is awesome, because he’s George Clooney.

A young Jack Lemmon. That would have helped.


Two Originals of Jack Rose, Jack Rose (2004)

I don’t like cracker music. This isn’t. It reminds me a little bit of the solo Jim O’Rourke on his great Drag City releases, but stripped down to pure yearning guitar. I also recently received Luck in the Valley (released by the world’s greatest label) which is also terrific. Sadly, Jack Rose died last year, way too young.

Inglorious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino (2009)

I’ve never gotten Tarantino, and I don’t get this. I note all the tropes from earlier WWII movies acknowledged and remixed. I note some references to specific movies (which of course also causes me to realize that there must be additional references I’m missing). I note the retro fonts of the credits. I note the metaphors, especially the enormous “college sophomores everywhere: please write a paper about me” one where movie bullets turn into real bullets and then back into movie bullets. I note the skillful orchestration of the elaborate set pieces. I note the repeating rhythms of long slow burns concluded with — big surprise — explosive violence. I note the hokey-jokey “hey, you’re watching a movie!” devices. I note the usual Tarantino grotesqueries, catchphrases, and histrionics. I note the urgent, almost childish need on the director’s part to seem to be a maker of serious films; his deep fear that he is not; and his resulting compensatory self-abasing gestures. I note and I note and I note, but I don’t enjoy, I don’t excite, I don’t see.

This often happens to me with poems: I note their characteristics, but can’t find a way to care about them. I always figured that was a busman’s holiday problem, but obviously that’s not the case here. Ach, what do I know. The kids seem to like it, and it seems harmless enough.

Zhang Haiying, Antivice Campaign Series (2008)

I admire these paintings by Zhang Haiying of photographs of prostitutes caught up in anti-corruption sweeps in Chinese cities. I think they quite movingly capture the plight of these women, who are victimized both by criminals and by the law. They remind me of Degas’ ballerinas, noble and strong but also objectified, commodified, used. A large group of them can be seen here. (Note: slow load from China.) I first saw these paintings at Jeff Hamada’s booooooom, which is pretty much my favorite site for discovering new painting, design, and photography.

Massive Attack, Heligoland (2010)

I doubt the trajectory of my personal Massive Attack has been unique: I loved Blue Lines hopelessly, enjoyed Protection but felt nervous about how uneven it was, then actively disliked the noisy ponderousness of Mezzanine and, worse, was made to feel bad about not liking it by all the fans and critics saying that Mezzanine was their best work ever. I felt like it felt to have your best friend dump you for the cool kids and thereafter shun you on the playground. When 100th Window came out I didn’t even buy it.

It’s on order now, though, because if it’s as awesome as Heligoland then I can’t wait to hear it. Heligoland is something like a return to form, in that it’s accessible and features ethereal guest vocalists, but it’s also a new direction, and a really beguiling one at that. I’m not sure how to describe it. Maybe: “What if Radiohead had soul?” Or maybe: “Trip hop raises its gaze from its navel and stares you in the eye.” Or: “What if Cyberdyne Systems had commissioned Schubert’s Lieder?”

Ach, better you just listen. As Hope Sandoval’s future boyfriend (CALL ME!), I’m required to say that “Paradise Circus” is my favorite track, but “Girl I Love You” may be the best place to start if you want to hear how the group manages to integrate the vestiges of their earliest efforts with their newfound orchestral complexity. Every single track on the disc is rich and strange and wonderful. You can see the official videos here. I think the one for “Paradise Circus” is unfortunately and unnecessarily distracting. I think videos in general kind of suck as an art form, but that’s just me.

All the King’s Men, Robert Rossen (1949)

It must be a lot of fun to do the programming at Turner Classic Movies. Someone, clearly, thought that the week of the apotheosis of the Obama health care reform journey called for a showing of this powerful accounting of the costs incurred by the practice of retail politics. Had you forgotten, as I had, that the central plank of Willie Stark’s platform is universal health care? And do you recall how he meets his end? I won’t spoil it for you; let’s just say the medical profession doesn’t exactly rush to his aid in his moment of need.

It’s a politics story, but it’s also a Southern story, in ways which I probably wouldn’t have understood ten years ago, before moving to Alabama. Issues of dilapidated family pride and post-Reconstruction sullenness, which of course also animated Faulkner, Walker Percy, Welty, and Tennessee Williams are central here, too.

It’s a big book, and even a movie more than two hours long can’t begin to get its arms around all the novel’s moving parts, so some passages here feel stunted and lacking context. Still, it’s a lively piece and worth watching. After you call your representative and tell him or her to vote yes on the Senate bill this week.

Bob le Flambeur, Jean-Pierre Melville (1956)

Not an American gangster movie, and not a Godard-like parody of American gangster movies, and not exactly an homage to American gangster movies, either. I guess I’d have to call it a kind of translation of American gangster movies into French, since Bob and his compatriots are so utterly French in the way they conduct their affairs, and make and carry out their plans. Can you imagine an American movie gangster sitting around chatting over coffee this much? No way. Here guns are afterthoughts rather than the stars, your style matters more than your actions, and the talking! These guys love talking so much, it’s a miracle they ever remember they’re supposed to be out doing crime.

Tons of fun, great to look at. Isabelle Corey is a fox.