John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton

This week in the arts

I watched three DVD this week plus one movie in a theater:

My Twitter pal @Caroiam is a big Flight of the Conchords fan, and she did a really excellent Community fanvid set to the FotC song "Carol Brown," so when I saw season 1 disc 1 of the first season of their short-lived HBO series on the shelf at the library, I decided to give it a look. Having watched the first six episodes, I can't say it won me over. I didn't exactly dislike it, but I very rarely found it more than fitfully amusing, and I don't feel any compulsion to get the second disc.

I have now finished watching the entire first season of Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated. I don't really have much more to say about it after yesterday, other than that it's really a very enjoyable show. The bad news is that the second season is still in progress; the first half of the season is out on DVD — and apparently features Wisconsin's own folkloric monster, the Hodag, in one episode — but the second half won't be released until June. Alas and alack!

Missing is a 1982 film written and directed by Costa-Garvas and starring Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek. Set in Chile in the aftermath of the military coup that elevated Augusto Pinochet to power, it's quite a harrowing film, and unlike Argo, which was set in roughly the same time period, not one that will make you feel warm and fuzzy about the US foreign service; the film alleges (not without justification, based on a declassified document released by the State Department in the 90s) that US officials in Chile at the time were, if not exactly complicit in the death of the missing journalist alluded to in the title, negligent in not doing more to convince the Chilean government to release him. Lemmon is wonderful as the father of the missing journalist; he really sells the character's gradual disillusionment. It should be noted that this film won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1983, so I've now seen the last 32 films to have won that award.

I've also now seen the movie I thought would win that award this year: Lincoln, which was shown at UW-Madison this weekend. I liked it, but wasn't blown away by it; had it seen it earlier, I wouldn't have been surprised that it did not win the Best Picture Oscar. I was kind of blown away by Daniel Day-Lewis's performance, especially in light of having seen him in A Room with a View just last week, playing a role that could hardly be more different. As for the other Oscar nominees, Tommy Lee Jones was very entertaining as Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, but the performance was basically Tommy Lee Jones in a wig, if you know what I mean; and Sally Field was very good, except for one moment when she and DDL were arguing about their late son Willie when she looked up with a fierce expression on her face that reminded me so strongly of a similar action in Soapdish that it took me out of the moment. I also really liked the performances by James Spader and David Strathairn.

The screening I attended was cosponsored by the Undergraduate History Association and featured Stephen Kantrowitz, the Civil War specialist among the UW-Madison history faculty, talking about the film and answering questions from the audience about the era and how accurately the film depicted it. His verdict: not bad, could be better. His major problem was that it had nothing to say about the African-American civil rights activists of the time, particularly Frederick Douglass but also Elizabeth Keckley and William Slade, the two black White House servants seen in the movie. I asked how accurately the movie had portrayed Stevens's views on Reconstruction, which I observed to be rather more extreme than Lincoln's; he said that they were exactly that extreme, and pointed out that the last time Stevens had been portrayed on screen, it had been in Birth of a Nation, in which he was portrayed as a villain. He also said, responding to a different question, that in his opinion Reconstruction might well have been more successful under Andrew Johnson than under Lincoln himself. His theory is that Johnson was so hated by Congressional Republicans that they were inspired to push through more radical legislation than they might been willing to under Lincoln. He went so far as to say that the 14th and 15th Amendments might not have been enacted had Congress not been trying so hard to spite Johnson. Interesting!

Wordwise, I have reached Chapter VIII of Part II of The Mysteries of Udolpho. You may be thinking, seven chapters, that's pretty pathetic, but man, there were some really long chapters in there. I can't put it in terms of page numbers because I'm reading it on my Kindle, but according to the progress bar at the bottom of the screen, those seven chapters represent nearly 20% of the whole book! There are 57 chapters total, so you'd expect to be about 35% done after 20 chapters, but in reality I'm already 43% done. The good news is that the action has finally moved to Udolpho, the castle in the Apennine Mountains named in the title, and mysterious things have started to happen. Hallelujah! However, Emily is still a drip.

I was inspired by Roger Ebert's death to download and read Enemies, A Love Story by Josh Schollmeyer , an oral history of the Siskel-and-Ebert partnership published last year in Chicagoan magazine and released soon after as a Kindle Single. I enjoyed it, and there's a lot of good inside information about how they first came to work together, but I think it suffers somewhat from a lack of participation by the critics themselves. It's composed entirely from new interviews, so obviously Siskel wasn't available, and Schollmeyer apparently didn't have the chance or chose not to interview Ebert, so their own views on their partnership appear only in the footnotes, in quotes drawn from earlier interviews and articles. Still, it was easily worth the $1.99 I spent on it.

I also read a pair of Lawrence Block short stories released as Kindle Singles. One was "The Ehrengraf Presumption," which I'd read before. Martin Ehrengraf is a criminal defense lawyer who works on contingency, and may or may not use creative methods for proving his clients innocent. It's a fun story. The other was "Looking for David," featuring Block's PI character, Matthew Scudder. It was fine, but suffers somewhat, as many of Block's stories and novels do, from Block's unusual dialogue style, which has never quite rung true to my ear. I don't know, maybe that's the way New Yorkers talk.

Tags: author: lawrence block, awards: oscars, history, movies, reading: books, tv: other, tv: scooby-doo, uw-madison

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