In the visual arts, I watched three DVDs this week plus two movies in a theater:
I had no interestin Grimm when it was announced, but then I saw someone refer to it as "Law & Order: Special Monsters Unit" and I though, hey, that sounds interesting! And having watched the first five episodes, I'm finding it very entertaining, albeit pretty silly. On the other hand, maybe that's why my stepbrother Sean and his family just left of Portland. And that Colin Meloy book does suggest there are some pretty crazy things living across the Willamette River from the city, so who's to say there aren't werewolves and pig-creatures in the city proper? Anyway, I think the reason the series works is that it gives equal weight to the police procedural and supernatural creatures parts of the story, so in the course of one episode you see the one cop using his werewolf buddie's sense of smell to track down another werewolf in the woods, while the other one looks at forensic evidence and questions suspects. Focusing on either aspect too heavily would throw of the balance and, I think, make it that much less fun.
Speaking of TV shows that many Community fans watch but I don't, I gave Cougar Town a try this week. It's hardly innovative or groundbreaking, but I'll keep going with it because it's pretty funny and because it has both Ian Gomez and Christa Miller in it, both of whom I think are wildly underappreciated.
The first five episodes of The Big C was hardly a laff riot, and that's true of the next four even more so. Plus, I'm getting really irritated with Cathy's refusal to tell her family members about her illness. I do understand he point of view and her desire not to make everything all about her cancer, but it's also tremendously selfish and definitely isn't a favor to her family members.
When the Wisconsin Union Directorate announced their recent screening of Searching for Sugar Man, I recognized the name and remembered it had just won the Best Documentary Feature Academy Award, but otherwise couldn't have told you a thing about it. That was a good thing, because more so than most, it's a film that benefits from knowing as little as possible about the subject going it. I really admired the movie for how elegantly it was structured; the way the story unfolds is just beautiful, and it's no surprise, having just looked it up, that in addition to the Oscar, it also won the WGA Award for Best Documentary Screenplay. Highly recommended
I went to a sneak preview of The Company You Keep, though it wasn't much of one; the preview was on Wednesday, and the movie opened in Madison on Friday.(And it opened ) On Twitter the night of the screening, I wrote, "Robert Redford is a 60s radical hiding from the Feds! So I guess it's Sneakers as a drama?" As it turns out, it's more like Sneakers as a thriller, albeit a rather low-key and sedate one. It's got a great cast; in addition to Redford (who also directed), there's also Shia Labeouf, Julie Christie, Sam Elliott, Brandan Gleeson, Terrence Howard, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Stanley Tucci, Nick Nolte, Chris Cooper, and Susan Sarandon. (I was also excited to see Brit Marling, who isn't as well known as the others but is the only one who's guest-starred on Community. (She played Paige in the season two episode "Early 21st Century Romanticism.") The ending felt a little unearned, though, and the chronology doesn't make much sense; I recall seeing Shia Labeouf's character with a smartphone, yet Redford's character is consistently said to have lived in hiding for 30 years, so unless in this movie's universe the Weather Underground was still active in the late 70s, one of those things has to be anachronistic.
In the literary arts, I finished The Mysteries of Udolpho! The last chapters moved quickly, as Mrs. Radcliffe moved with surprising efficiency to wrap up the plot and revealed the secrets behind what mysteries remained unsolved. Catherine Morland's enthusiasm for it notwithstanding – you may recall I started it because of the role it plays in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey – I did not enjoy this book and I do not recommend it. It was only my stubbornness that led me to complete it. It is perhaps the quintessential example of a particular variety of what Roger Ebert called an idiot plot: "Any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots." In this case, it's only the protagonist, Emily, who's the idiot, but that's quite enough to drive the story. Thinking back on it, I can't think of a single decision she made or conclusion she drew that didn't not turn out to be wrong, often disastrously so. Luckily for her, a wide range of wildly improbably coincidences manage to bail her out of most of them, and all ends well.
In the musical arts, I attended a performance by the UW-Madison Horn Choir. And a very odd one it was too. It was called "Twisted Metal," and was composed entirely of popular songs arranged for horn choir by the musicians themselves. Among the songs performed: Queen's "Somebody to Love;" "Alanis Morissette's "Uninvited;" The XX's "Intro" (with which I was unfamiliar); Rush's "YYZ," which I also was unfamiliar with but couldn't possibly have been anything other than a Rush song; Nena's "99 Luftballons;" and Boston's "More Than a Feeling." Those last two were sung by the arrangers, a nice idea that was diminished in execution due to an inadequate sound system. Also on the program: an original composition called "TM Funk Machine," and a funky arrangement of "Duel of the Fates" from The Phantom Menace that made it sound like so much as theme to a late 60s-early 70s television cop show.