Five Cool Things and Good Friday

This week's cool things include a couple of Criterions, a visit to Narnia, X-Men, and a great new podcast.
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This week I spent a lot of time preparing for both my daughter’s birthday and the arrival of my in-laws for the same.  This means there was a lot of house cleaning, party preparations and attempts at finishing some projects I started the last time they were here (finally got that kitchen mirror hung!)  I still managed to find time to watch some movies, read some books and discover some cool things.

L’Avventura

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Michelangelo Antonioni’s drama from 1960 is the sort of film where very little happens, but it's still enthralling.  A group of rich, bored Italians take a boat trip on the Mediterranean.  They stop on a small, rocky island for a little adventure, but after a couple of hours they realize that one of the women have gone missing.  They search the island to no avail.  They call the police who search the water for a body, but find nothing.  Some of them saw a boat go by earlier.  Did someone kidnap her?  Did she somehow run away?  Drown?

The film is reminiscent of Picnic At Hanging Rock in how it refuses to give a concrete answer. Also, like Peter Weir’s 1975 masterpiece, L’Avventura is slow to even look for them.  It's a moody, beautifully composed and shot, dream of a film.  The action is nearly non existent but it's never boring.

The Horse and His Boy

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We’ve been reading through the Narnia series with my daughter at bedtime.  I did not grow up with these books (I’d only heard of them in college when the dinner theater did a musical version of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe).  I’ve seen the movies, but never got around to reading the books.

Honestly, they are not particularly good.  I really don’t care for C.S. Lewis' writing style (at least not in these children’s books) and his metaphors can be a bit obvious and preachy .  But while the books themselves aren’t my favorite things, getting to lay in a bed with my family while reading them together absolutely is.

Multiple Maniacs

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One of the great things about the Criterion Collection is that while they do tend to lean towards the high-brow, they aren’t afraid to go slumming once in awhile.  Multiple Maniacs is not in any conceivable manner a good film - the story is rambling, the direction non-existent (seriously, John Waters has a hard time just keeping his actors in frame, much less developing any sort of style), and the acting is completely overboard.  But man, is it something to watch.  John Waters loved pushing every conceivable envelope.  His films were designed to offend, but in a world in which "2 Girls, 1 Cup" exists alongside real executions available on YouTube, he can sometimes seem a little dated and tame.

Yet even here, in his second feature film, he creates a scene so utterly obscene I found myself gasping, laughing, and being thrilled by it at the same time.  Only John Waters would juxtapose a lesbian sex scene where Divine has a crucifix plunged into his ass with a theatrical rendition of the Stations of the Cross.  God bless him.

X-Men: Days of Future Past

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Last week, I read God Loves, Man Kills, which was written in 1982, so naturally this week, I read Days of Future Past, which was written in 1981.  I never read the X-Men comics as a kid so now I’m sort-of meandering my way through them outside of any natural order.

Where God Loves, Man Kills was designed as a stand-alone graphic novel, Days of Future Past actually bundles Issues #138-143 of the regular Uncanny X-Men comic.  There are six stories in it, including the Annual story (which basically recollects previous X-Men stories with not much being added to them).  The book works as an elegy of sorts for Jean Grey, who was destroyed in the much beloved Dark Phoenix Saga, which appeared just prior to this.  In it, we meet a new X-Man, Kitty Pryde, who is but a wee 13 years of age and is taken under the wings of her elder teammates.

One of the things I love about these earlier, classic stories is that they were clearly written for youngsters.  There’s none of that dark, brooding maturity that you see so much of these days.  Instead, we get wall-to-wall action, melodrama, and romance (with enough hints of sexuality to make a 15-year-old boy living in the '80s squeal). There is something delightful in its innocence.

S-Town

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The new podcast from the folks who do This American Life and Serial has broken records for being downloaded by more people in shorter amounts of time than any podcast before it.

It begins as a murder mystery but morphs into something completely different, enthralling, and sad. Bath County, Alabama resident John B. McLemore e-mailed Brian Reed several years ago asking him to investigate what he thought was a murder being covered up by the local police.  The two communicated for several months before Reed finally came down to Alabama to look into it.

At the end of the first episode, I thought to myself that McLemore himself was more interesting than the actual murder investigation.  Apparently, the producers thought so as well for the remaining six episodes become something closer to a character study than a true-crime story.

McLemore is a highly intelligent, eccentric liberal with tendencies to go off on long, profanity-laden rants about climate change, world banking, and the general decay of shit-town (his colorful name for the tiny town of Woodstock in which he lives).  He is a highly respected horologist who makes intricate sun dials in his spare time and is a world renowned fixer of antique clocks.

To say more would be to spoil the great pleasure of listening to S-Town unspool in its endlessly fascinating ways.

Good Friday

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All over the world Christians of nearly all stripes are commemorating the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ.  I come from one of the few faith traditions that pays little attention to Good Friday or even Easter which comes this Sunday.  Over the last few years I’ve come to appreciate the holiday in my own manner and especially the many ancient and rich traditions that accompany it.  I especially find great meaning in much of the great art that has been created over the centuries depicting these moments in Christ’s life.  Such as this beautiful painting from Rembrandt.

But this is a pop culture site and I’m not hear to talk Jesus.  Instead, I’ll leave you with the note that I’m taking the day off and spending time with my wife, her parents and my daughter, kicking off her birthday celebrations.

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