Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

17 December 2007

Happy Holidays

Ok, so these are not all holiday movies, but I am in Los Angeles now and in the seasonal spirit. It's colder here (than in Florida; I guess that isn't saying much) and the leaves are all multi-colored and covering the ground. It's quite lovely, actually. The movie-watching has begun. I have been spending time doing things for pleasure instead of work since Tuesday night and only this morning did I pick up a book I'm reading for my thesis. On the plane ride over, in fact, I didn't even look at Violence and Its Causes or Reading Rape or Sweet Violence, all of which I need to be read-up on before I go back to Tally. Instead, I read Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass which is easily the most fun I've had reading a book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows... maybe even a little more fun because I know there are two more books in the series. The Golden Compass is a must-read: fun, imaginative, action-packed, beautifully written and very, very smart.

The first movie I've seen since school got out is Kevin Lima's Enchanted, which I liked but didn't love. It has a lot of very funny moments, but at times it's cloyingly sweet and sometimes the princess played by Amy Adams seemed a little too much like Forrest Gump for my comfort. Enchanted works best when it is committed to being a musical. The central park number "How Does She Know?" is by far the best set piece in the show. James Marsden is absolutely brilliant, too. He should be getting tons and tons of work. He was a hit in Hairspray, too, I thought. The guy obviously has talent to spare.

I also caught Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, and the best way I can describe it is to say how smart it is. Baumbach understands families incredibly well and his portraits of deeply neurotic people and their equally neurotic dependencies on their families are scathingly intelligent. The thing is, I'm not sure that this kind of precise, clever storytelling makes for a very enjoyable moviegoing experience. I felt this way about The Squid and the Whale, too. I respect both of these films enormously and I find them engaging and well-crafted, but I don't really like any of the characters, and so I don't really like the movies as much as I think they are good. I need to mention here, though, that Nicole Kidman is perfect in this role. And she gives a knockout performance. She's a smart actress, so it makes sense that she would flourish in Baumbach's world, but I think this is Kidman's best performance in years. Truly great. I don't think she's picking up much awards traction for this little movie (the writing is really what the movie showcases, and most likely what will grab the Academy's attention), and I think that's rather a shame. She's doing excellent work here.

...and for a little Christmas cheer, my sister and cousin and I watched Holiday Inn (1942) with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. It's a bizarre little film that, I guess, most people have seen before. I hadn't. It's also the movie that gave us the song "White Christmas," but I have to say I like the film White Christmas much, much better than Holiday Inn, which has an inane (and slightly sexist) plot. Most of the songs are forgettable, too. There is one song that is completely unforgettable, though, and that is the song that Bing and Marjorie Reynolds sing for Lincoln's Birthday... in blackface. It's called "Abraham" and aside from being totally catchy, it's also jarringly dated. Watching Reynolds as a pickaninny, that old racist stereotype of black children, is jawdropping. I was aghast. The Independence Day number is also rather jawdropping. It's a blatant piece of war propaganda shoved into the middle of a film that is ostensibly a musical comedy. Bizarre. But every time Fred Astaire hits the dance floor, I forget about the rest of it. Astaire's character is a total heel in the movie, but his dancing is impeccable and at times almost transcendent. There is a fabulous number called "Easy to Dance With" that comes early in the film, but the highlight is easily Fred's drunk number. He performs this with Marjorie Reynolds all the while dancing as though he is almost dead drunk. It's exhilarating to watch.

I'm in Los Angeles, now, so more movie reviews to come.
P.S. I'm here for three weeks, so let's hang out if you're in the city.