"He fills his head with culture/He gives himself an ulcer"
Since it's vital that the world knows what I've been watching, reading, and listening to...
DVDs: The Golden Bowl--I became a Merchant/Ivory fan back in the late 80s and early 90s when they made three gorgeous adaptations of E. M. Forster novels: A Room With a View, Maurice, and Howard's End. But I've been less enthusiastic about the sources they've drawn on since the Forster well ran dry. Here M&I resort to Henry James, whom they treated in 1979 (The Europeans) and 1984 (The Bostonians) . I'm not qualified to criticize a recognized genius like James, I suppose, but I thought this unremarkable tale of adultery was too factitiously* literary, from the opening scene in which one of the characters tells a story about his ancestors which all-too-nicely parallels the plot to come, to the belabored symbolism of the object referred to in the title, to the stiff, writerly dialogue. And as far as eye-candy goes, I'll take Helena Bonham-Carter and Emma Thompson over Kate Beckinsale and Uma Thurman any day.
Time Code--A failed experiment. The screen is divided in four sections so that four different aspects of the story are presented simultaneously. For instance, in the first ten minutes or so (which is all I could get through) we see in the upper right hand corner a woman describing a dream to a therapist; in the upper left, two women argue in a limosine; in the lower left, some sort of business meeting is taking place; and in the lower right, a masseur enters the lobby of the business building to offer his services. The gimmick is pointless because the viewer can't follow more than one stream of action, and the director, Mike Figgis, concedes by only allowing one of the screens at a time to contain any significant action or clearly audible dialogue. Also annoying is the amateurish "Dogma 95" production style, unedited real time action shot with handheld video cameras.
The Woman Next Door--Anna Karenina á la française. Not bad.
Donnie Darko--Sardonic, depressed teen with problems at school and home is befriended by a being, perhaps imaginary, named "Frank" who wears a bunny suit and skull mask. In his quest to discover Frank's identity, Donnie eradicates his problems in a rather drastic manner. Except for a false note struck by the intrusion of a cardboard right-wing character (uptight, fanatical, and ignorant, of course), a enjoyable sci-fi flick.
Books: St. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine--I've found that the patristics are hard to classify as either proto-Protestant or -Catholic, and this work dealing with Biblical interpretation also has something both parties will disagree with. Whereas modern Roman Catholic apologists often point to the many obscurities of scripture as proof that some infallible ecclesiastical interpreter is necessary, Augustine does no such thing, but says that God has good reason for making the Bible difficult, and gives the individual reader methods for coming to a reasonable interpretation. On the other hand, modern evangelicals would be uncomfortable with his assertion that the literal sense of Scripture is not as important as an interpretation that fosters faith, hope, and love, and furthermore that the Christian far advanced in these three virtues no longer needs Scripture. That is a salutary correction to Protestantism's overly propositional approach to religion.
Tunes: Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin--it's great that a band in the cynical 90s could have made an earnest, old-fashioned prog-rock concept album--I hear a few things borrowed from Dark Side of the Moon and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
*Thanks, Robert Christgau.