I haven't done one of these in a long time, and I really enjoy doing them because it lets me hit a couple of different fields that interest me and then move along before I get to bored writing about it. I'll play to my strengths to start with and wander out from there:
What To See In Theatres: There's a good three dozen movies playing at the multiplexes right now, and this is a fairly unique month for movies - April's become the launching ground for those movies determined to be too smart or too unusual to cut it as a summer movie, which means that these are about as diverse a crop of movies as you can ever expect to get outside of a John Waters film festival. There've been distinct hightlights already this month: the hard-R B-movie double-feature mayhem of Grindhouse, the brilliantly-cast fluffball silliness of Blades of Glory, the acerbic give-and-take in Fracture, and a few other smaller films that might not have got their due: The Lookout, The TV Set, and The Hoax. April's almost over, which means the summer movie season's about to start: Spiderman 3 comes out on May 4th, so we don't have long to wait (I'll do my Summer Movie Preview in a coupla days - before Spiderman comes out, say - but let's focus on right now). There is one movie you simply can't miss this month.
There are good action comedies, and there are bad action comedies, and this movie makes no distinction; it imitates and caricaturizes them both with the kind of spot-on accuracy that can only come from years of loving study. And here's the crazy thing about the film - even while engaging in joking mimicry and wink-wink reference, Hot Fuzz manages to be one hell of an action comedy, in fact, it surpasses the films it came to pantomime.
The movie is British to a tee - chock full of actors of impossible pedigree: Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan, Martin Freeman, Edward Woodward (The Equalizer), Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Billie Whitelaw (The Omen), and incredibly, Timothy Dalton (y'know - James Bond). It's full of that tasteful combination of wild slapstick and subtle understatement unique to that side of the Atlantic, yet glossed over with a decidedly American guns-and-headbutts-and-things-that-go-bang lacquer finish. In fact, it's so spot on that sometimes it's hard to remember that this is all just the Brits poking fun. We're so used to our own nonsense sometimes we forget how silly it all actually looks from the outside. After watching this, you won't forget again. And you'll never think about Keanu Reeves the same way.
What To Play In Your Car: I splurged a couple weeks ago and bought about a dozen albums from GoMusic - but hey, that's only twenty bucks! Nice! I'll come back with more news on some of the other albums as I explore them more closely, but the big winner so far has to be Aqualung's Memory Man.
Pop music gets this good so rarely - the sort of instantly accessible piano songs that stick with you like a sugar rush, that make you hit repeat on your CD player all the way to work, that make you pound away at an imaginary piano with your free hand as you go. This album's heavier and has more of that clean, anthemic modern rock edge to it that's become so popular recently, but sometimes Aqualung (née Matt Hales) never loses sight of his hook, and every few tracks he strips it back down to those simple, beautiful melodies he's got running through is head. Hales bridges the gap between Elton John and Chris Martin. Not a bad place to be.
Download "Cinderella" and see if you don't agree.
What You Shouldn't Buy At Your Christian Bookstore: I've been reading John Eldredge's Epic with a small group I belong to, and I can honestly say that it's just not worth it. Don't bother. At first I hated the book, but now that I've finished I can see the point of it. It's Christian Idealism for the uninitiated. If you've gone to church for more than a year, or have a passing understanding of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell (I'm not just throwing those names out there - I mean, if you know literally anything at all about them), you've got this book down pat.
You might be distracted when you enter a Christian bookstore by the giant yellow display there by the door. What's this tiny Epic book? you ask yourself. Look, it's even got a supplementary study guide that's as long as the book! And there's a giant Bible Study packaged set right here with worksheets and a DVD! This must be an awful useful book - look it's a bestseller! It's easy to get confused. But don't bother.
Eldredge puts every bad Christian writing trick to his use: he name-drops Lewis and Tolkien and wildly over-quotes both, he references everything he says in terms of popular movies, except he seems to have only seem Gladiator, Star Wars, Titanic, and The Last of the Mohicans. He constantly reuses ideas, stories, and quotes from his older, more in-depth books, sometimes lifting paragraphs directly from those books and barely rephrasing them. The whole book reads like a long college English paper about his own books. It's an exercise in literary and spiritual laziness.
I could have read The Sacred Romance once, had a guys-movie marathon, and if you left The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings in a pile on the edge of my desk while I wrote, and I could have churned this book out myself. And I'm not a particular good writer.
Wow, that got vicious. Let's move on.
Quick Netflix Recommendations:
Classics: Ingmar Bergman's 60's classic, Wild Strawberries. It's all in Swedish, if that's a turnoff for you, but it's worth it. And there's, y'know, subtitles. You'll be able to follow it.
Cult Classics: Heavenly Creatures. Peter Jackson's first major film, almost ten years before Lord of the Rings made him a minor deity, is the true story of how... well, I don't want to ruin it for you. It's what happens when imagination runs too wild. It's creepy as hell in a life-is-normal-on-the-outside sort of way. Plus, it's Kate Winslet's first film role, and it's fun to see that she was fantastic from the get-go. One reviewer suggested that she'd probably never be able to break free of the role, since she was so memorable. Twelve years later, she's gotten five Oscar noms. Good call, sport.
TV: News Radio. Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Phil Silvers, Maura Tierney, Joe Rogan, and Andy Dick. Did we realize at the time what kind of quality cast that was? Well, it stuck around for five years, so I guess we did. Still, it's aged beautifully - it looks as old as it is, but it's as funny as it ever was. Probably. I didn't see it the first time around. Maybe it was funnier then.
Controversial: Fine, I know that's not a real category. Still, I didn't know where else to put The Last Temptation of Christ. For a movie that caused so much trauma in the Christian community twenty years ago, it's surprisingly sedate; a study of the eternal struggle between the flesh and the divine. Some of the dialogue is so insightful that it makes you sit straight up in your chair and announce aloud "I bet that's exactly what that verse actually means." Plus, it's the first time any movie has ever given the overturning of the moneylender's tables scene any real passion. Usually it's one of those "what the hell is he doing?" scenes, where a tightlipped Jesus flips over two or three tables and then runs out like a scared puppy. Here, Willem Dafoe screams, wild-eyed , "God is not an Israelite!" as he's dragged roughshod out the door. It's not accurate, but it's thought-provoking, just as guaranteed. That Peter Gabriel drum machine soundtrack sounds more than a little dated, though.
Links You Should Click On:
I've been poking around Slate.com - I linked over from The Onion, its sister site - and I've found a lot of good pop-culture writing. Those guys earn their money over there, as the kids are saying these days, "they know their shit." Verbose, kids these days. I particularly enjoyed this memoriam to Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, which was as perfect a critique of the show as anything I've ever read. "Its core audience might well have been people who actively disliked it," the author, Troy Patterson, notes. He's absolutely right.
I got addicted to a web comic called "Real Life," which has been around for a good eight years now, three of which I've read in the past two days. If you're the sort of person who could potentially get addicted to a web comic about nerds who buy replica swords and fantasize about Ultima Online add-ons, click here. Otherwise, move along. You're not gonna find it funny.
I guess that covers it. Thanks for sticking around. I'll see you next time.