We were hosting this holiday, so I’ve not had much time for writing things up. This is some of what I’ve been up to though…
Review: Daniel Deronda (George Eliot)
I’ll try and give this a full review some time, but for now, just some notes. It’s probably not better than Middlemarch, with its grand, masterful vision over a whole community’s lives, but I think I far prefer Daniel Deronda with all its flaws. The Zionist passages drag, and Mordecai could be an interesting character only he’s never really interrogated or challenged by Eliot; like his sister, whose only real hint of personality comes out in her jealousy of Gwendoline. I was disappointed by Mirah, having loved Jodhi May’s performance in the old BBC adaptation, but there’s really very little to her, with Eliot choosing to show little from her point of view up until the time when she realises her feelings for Deronda. Nevertheless, to have such positive depictions of devout Jews and of a suicidal woman in a book of this time was presumably fairly revolutionary, so I can admire it in that sense, even if it never once considers the lives of the people who will have to be evicted from their own lands in order to restore another peoples’ land. In amongst the straining Victorian effort to describe the indescribable processes of thought and emotion, which Eliot for the most part does supremely well, and amongst the rich, localised detail of landscape and architecture and weather and fashion, it’s Eliot’s characterisation that I love. Gwendoline and Deronda are fantastic (except in the moments where Eliot considers the possibility of a romance between them). Supporting characters are also generally handled with love and sympathy, with the author frequently apologising for their behaviour, or pleading with her audience not to judge them harshly. I adore the spoiled, superstitious Gwendoline, trapped by her fear of facing any real challenge, but dreaming of adventure all the same. The lead-up to her marriage with Grandcourt is as compelling as a thriller, all options closing down around a girl who is nowhere near as worldy as others suspect. Like Middlemarch, its beginning is stronger than its ending, and I’ve got reservations about the recurring theme of duty, but the rounded, complex humanity of Gwendoline and Deronda is so beautifully done.
Review: In Bruges (2008)
How have I never got ‘round to watching this for so many years? I think I might have been afraid it wouldn’t be as good as I hoped. Needn’t have worried though – it was funny, appalling, sweet and perfectly cast. I am so glad Colin Farrell stopped trying to be a Hollywood lead, he plays a little shit in this, but one who’s somehow still charming despite all the crassness. And it’s Brendan Gleeson in a movie by one of the McDonagh brothers, so expect tragedy. Unlike Ray, I think Bruges looks lovely in this, and there’s a cracking atmospheric soundtrack through the slow, quiet build of the plot. And Ralph Fiennes is having the time of his life in it, even if the ending was a bit *too* silly for my tastes – it was still the outcome I was rooting for…
Rewatch: Song of the Sea (2014)
This is always going to be in or around my top 10 movies. Cartoon Saloon aim to create a visual style for Irish myth that Studio Ghibli creates for Japanese myth and legend. They’re closer to one another in this than in the studio’s first major film, The Secret of Kells, but despite visual and personal similarities between Macha the owl witch and Yubaba from Spirited Away, there’s no sense of heavy borrowing from Ghibli. I think more comes down to the kind of themes explored by a good children’s movie: big, emotional themes that even adults find hard to articulate, but that affect all of us in different ways. Not that Song of the Sea is just for kids: the grief and inertia of the father who’s lost his wife and now can’t engage with his son is just as painful each time I watch this. Clever internal references and a gorgeous soundtrack add layers to the sumptuous hand-drawn animation.
Rewatch: Rogue One (2016)
Never over it. Nope. After seeing TLJ a couple of times and getting ready to go for a third time with my parents, it was time to make sure Mum finally saw Rogue One. On this viewing I mainly learnt that I probably need new glasses, and I found Bor Gullet more extraneous than ever, but it’s still up there as one of my favourite Star Wars movies. I’ve never felt the need to rail against the ending, but I’ll probably always be disappointed that we’ll never get much more in the way of official stories about these characters. The excuse that ‘they can’t live because we never hear of them in the OT’ is a poor one: when I’m not imagining alternate pasts and futures for them, I’m busy imagining what their actions meant to the survivors in the Rebellion. The mixture of ages and backgrounds, different motivations and experiences, but overall a shared horror of the Empire and refusal to continue standing by makes for such a perfect team.
Review: Inside Llewyn Davis (2012)
Another movie I’ve been putting off watching for a while, not least as recent Coen Brothers offerings have felt a bit lukewarm. But that soundtrack. Oh, I’ve loved that soundtrack for ages. I enjoyed this movie most at the end, with the repeated scenes: leaving the Gorfeins’ flat, and the encounter in the alley. The scenes are slightly different this time around, but not in a meaningful way. Llewyn hasn’t broken any Groundhog Day-style cycle, he’s in just the same place he was at the start, but occasionally the details differ. The details at the end include a nasally-voiced silhouette on stage: the dawn of Bob Dylan’s career. And all I could think was that I’d rather listen to Oscar Isaac’s voice any day. There are motifs in this film, but they’re just as hard to interpret as the repetition at the end: ginger cats that may be two or more animals, a failure to hold down responsibility that dogs Llewyn. Other people drift in and out of his story, their own lives a mystery to both him and the audience. It’s a lonely, melancholy little film about little more than a sense of loss, but it’s beautifully done. Not one to watch often, but one to put in my list of favourite Coen movies all the same.
Rewatch: The Last Jedi (cinema)
Oops, third time. This time I was mainly thinking of Rey, and her journey. I never wanted Rey to be a Skywalker, I don’t want everything in Star Wars to always revolve only about them — I love Luke and Leia but not because they’re Skywalkers. Okay, I’m still curious as to how Rey understands Wookie, but other than that I want what we heard of her family to be essentially true. But TLJ did give me a new perspective on her, and when people say she’s ooc for much of it, I think it’s rather because she’s trying to be something she isn’t. She’s on her best behaviour as Leia’s emissary, and the young girl who was so eager to please in TFA is a bit more cautious around Luke, when gaining his approval isn’t as simple as fixing an electrical problem with the Falcon. Plus we start to see a bit more of her internal conflict and fear of the Force: whilst it was just a fantasy on Jakku, kept within the confines of her old X-wing helmet and life of scavenging, the reality of the power she wields clearly frightens her. She’s constructed a past for herself, where she ‘has a place in all this’, but — assuming her parents really were nobodies, as she herself volunteers — she doesn’t quite believe in her right to a place in the legends she’s heard growing up. Imposter syndrome: not even the Jedi can escape it. So she tries to be like Luke, if she can’t bring Luke back, and aim for Kylo’s redemption (less for Kylo than for herself and Luke and everyone else, to be seen to be doing something at least), but once she realises it’s not happening, and once she’s admitted to her past, she’s able to be herself again.
Review: Woody Guthrie and the Dust Bowl Ballads (Nick Hayes)
Nick Hayes’ art is very stylised, using only four or five different shades of dust bowl brown. His lines reminded me frequently of Craig Thompson’s work, but though he captures the dead-eyed, haunted expressions of crowds of the dispossessed well, he’s not great at the gnarly details. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if his script didn’t mention Charley Guthrie’s arthritic hands so often, but it does, and the drawings never quite match up to the grimy detail in the story. Nonetheless, where the subject turns to music and the long, living legacy of folk song, the book shines: the scenes that are really successful are where the men in a boxcar all compare versions of Gypsy Davey/the Raggle Taggle Gypsies, or Woody sings out in the wilderness, his words chiming with the sounds of nature. It’s also interesting to get a perspective on the internal barriers the USA has always erected against the poor, and on Guthrie’s gradual growth through political awareness as a musician and songwriter. He doesn’t always seem like the nicest of guys — I’ve very little sympathy for rambling men who resent the wife and child that ‘tie them down’ — but his focus and passion for the music and the land come through and keep the story moving. Keeping the tale to this particular period of his life works well too, with a natural arc that culminates in the composition of his most iconic song.