Here we go with the late summer and fall edition of things I’ve seen/read. I’m already at seventy five movies watched, which is well on its way to a personal best. The books though, ahem. I’m only at sixteen. There’s a few half read books I need to go back to clean up, but it seems like I’m going to finish short of the fifty books mark. Wait, no! It’s only November, I can still make a big dent in the final tally and try to cram everything in. I don’t know what number Lilly is at but I anticipate another rushed last week of December with my nose buried in books and her throwing down movies by the handful.
The good news is that all the books I’ve managed to finish so far are gems. Fresh Off the Boat I’ve already gushed about. And I did the same for September Girls. While I was out in San Francisco, I was with Mary digging through Dog Eared Books and stumbled upon Justin Chin’s Mongrel. It’s a book of memoir-ish essays and the back cover says, “Mongrel is an exploration and distillation of the experiences and imagination of a gay Asian-American whose sensibilities were formed by the maelstrom of ‘80s American pop culture.” That description about covers it, and I was happy to discover Chin's work.
“Writing essays and opinion pieces are a strange thing for me…. I was always taught not to seek attention, not to argue, and not to challenge authority openly. So this collection of writings is a bit of a challenge for me…. If anything, this work, for me, is also a political stand. As Asians, and as Asians in America, we are so often not encouraged to claim authority, to claim an opinion…. With this book, I wanted to be able to do just that, cliam authority even knowing full well that I may be wrong. It never seemed to stop anyone else, so why not me?"And for book club, we read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah. We had a meeting earlier this summer but it was postponed. It’s the story of an international romance, set between Nigeria, the United States, and England. Seeing as Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story” was one of the best (and most viewed) TED talks around, it was a revelation to read her book and to see her work in action. Americanah was full of interesting, and hilarious, observations about race and blackness and I need more Adichie in my life right now.
-Justin Chin, Mongrel-
I hadn’t seen any of Steve McQueen’s work until Shame but I think he seems to specialize in plumbing uncomfortable spaces. Hunger was about the 1981 IRA hunger strike. Shame was about sexual addiction. And now 12 Years a Slave. McQueen was a visual artist before and it shows through his movies. They are well composed and sparse, and they are definitely an experience. (I did see Shame a few weeks ago actually, but more on that later.) McQueen’s best move is probably to always have Michael Fassbender star in his films. In that, he only rivals Derek Cianfrance hitching his wagon to Ryan Gosling and Nicole Holofcener ride and dying with Catherine Keener in all of her films.
Speaking of, I’ve seen most of Holofcener’s movies and they are all fantastically great. As Slate Cultural Gabfest put it, they’re hoping the mainstream audience starts to view Holofcener like the female Woody Allen, and just line up for each new film she drops. Similar to (classic) Woody, Holofcener plumbs the same depths time and time again, each time emerging with another treasure. Enough Said is laugh out loud hilarious, as opposed to her usual work that is more a consistent series of chuckles. Starring the late James Gandolfini and an underrated Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I’ve been telling people to watch Enough Said as a Holofcener gateway.
And then there’s Drinking Buddies. I got wrapped up in the mumblecore thing when it was big and am excited whenever one of those directors puts something out. Drinking Buddies is Joe Swanberg’s most accessible movie by far and it’s really good. The theme is exploring the grey areas in a friendship/relationship, and it has likeable stars, a casual pace, and was the movie that’s motivating me to write again. I need to give it a rewatch to determine if it moves up to a personal favorite, to see if it holds up, but post first viewing I thought it was right up my alley.
Watching Prisoners took me down a nostalgic drive down to rewatch Se7en and Zodiac, and it’s filled with the perfect amount of tension. It doesn’t measure up to classic Fincher but it’s quite gripping. And man, I really wanted Spectacular Now to be amazing but it fell too short, without enough emotional density or affect. Too bad though, because the movie had a shot at greatness but ended up at settling in at slightly above average.
And whatever Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to do, I’ll support it. His Don Jon, a film he wrote/directed/starred in, is all sorts of fun. Co-star Scarlett Johansson makes a perfect Jersey Shore copycat. Gordon-Levitt's character is addicted to online porn; she’s enthralled by romantic comedies. And Tony Danza steals the show in his role as Jon’s dad. Movie pairing Don Jon with Shame a few days after was interesting too. Tackling similar topics but from very different perspectives and aesthetics. On first brush, I liked Don Jon better, but now that I’m super in on Steve McQueen, I want to review Shame again. Michael Fassbender is the best. Always. If they could somehow cram Brad Pitt and JGL into X-Men: Days of Future Past, that would be my Mt. Rushmore of actors all in one movie. Oh you saw the eye popping Days of Future Past trailer didn’t you?
Disappointments: I’m sorry, Fruitvale Station was laughably melodramatic. There’s nothing funny about Oscar Grant’s story, or what happened at Fruitvale Station, but the movie was all sorts of overrated. Don’t even get me started on Gravity, which was nice but not worthy of all the acclaim it’s getting. Also, I can’t believe I’m saying this but I walked out of The Grandmaster. Wong Kar Wei doing a kung fu movie should have been amazing but I was so over it an hour and a half in. I’m sorry Mr. Wong, I still love you but The Grandmaster was booooooring.
Alright winter, let’s get ready to read some books. My goal is to get to ten books this month. Anything else would be uncivilized.