Friday, February 24, 2012

Best Picture Oscar: The Artist vs. The Descendants

It's not been a great year for us to get out and see movies here at Absinthe HQ but we did manage to see the two front-runners for the Best Picture Oscar, The Artist and The Descendants.

We're in agreement here on these two films: we both loved The Artist and would happily see it again tomorrow, and while we acknowledge that The Descendants is well-made, finely acted, and has a good script (though some of it was rather unbelievable--Clooney's character asks his teen daughters' friend, Sid, for parenting advice and then in the next sentence tells him how dumb he is) we left the theater drained.

And in the end that tells me a lot about these films and who should win Best Picture. The Artist is a movie that celebrates cinema and is one you'll want to see again ... I certainly doubt I'll ever have the inclination to sit through The Descendants again.

Which film do you think will win?


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Join us for Wednesday Night Sessions on February 22nd

If you're in the Detroit-area join us tomorrow evening for the next edition of Wednesday Night Sessions, our monthly reading series at the Mentobe Cafe in Farmington.

Benjamin Paloff, Matthew Olzmann, and Amanda Goldblatt will be reading and it kicks off at 7:00 pm.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 17, 2012

The 10 best European Films of all time

Bibi Andersson in "Wild Strawberries"
Ok, so that’s not exactly what this post is about … I’ve been thinking about the best way to introduce our assistant editor, Logan, to the world of foreign film.  These will not necessarily be among the films on the all-time greats lists. Rather, I’m thinking of films that are accessible (or fairly so) and won’t make him vow to never watch a subtitled film again. 

Yes, I know this is a bit early since he’s not even two years old but I don’t want him to think the Chipmunks Squeakquel and later, Mission Impossible 23 are the best film has to offer. Though he won’t view any of these films for awhile here’s my (current) list of the top 10 European films for him to watch before he’s 15 (or maybe 17). These are not in any particular order but I’ll start (as it always does here) with Bergman:
1.       Wild Strawberries by Ingmar Bergman: Perhaps, like his father, he’ll fall in love with Bibi Andersson (or Ingrid Thulin) while watching this movie … one of Bergman’s best and most enjoyable films.
2.       Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders: This can be a slow film (his mother has yet to remain awake through it ... but don't tell her I said that!), it requires concentration but it’s beautifully made and acted.
3.       Amelie by Jean-Pierre Jeunet: Perhaps, like his father, Logan will fall in love with Audrey Tautou while watching this movie … feels like I already wrote that. A fun little love story.
4.       Cinema Paradiso by Giuseppe Tornatore: My little Italian son already reminds me of young Toto and this movie is a great tribute to the magic of the cinematic experience. And it will help him learn to speak Italian.
5.       The Artist by Michel Hazanavicius: No subtitles so maybe this doesn’t count … but another great film about the joys of cinema.
6.       Trois Couleurs by Krzysztof Kieslowski: Ok, I’m cheating a bit here with three films but I really can’t pick just one, though Blue and Red are by far the best of the trilogy.
7.       The 400 Blows by Francois Truffaut: I considered The Man Who Loved Women (see numbers 1 & 3 above) but decided Truffaut’s debut was the best introduction to his work … and I can already see that Logan is a bit of a mischief maker so he’ll enjoy Antoine Doinel (and the subsequent films).
Toto in "Cinema Paradiso"
8.       La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini: A beautiful city, beautiful women, great music, and the ever-cool Marcello Mastroianni. If Logan wants to model himself after an Italian actor he couldn’t do any better than Marcello.
Marcello Mastroianni
9.       Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard: Cool, with Jean-Paul Belmondo and the lovely Jean Seberg--one of the seminal films of the French New Wave and I definitely prefer the Godard of the 60s.
10.  Let the Right One In by Tomas Alfredson: he's gotta love a good vampire flick, no?  
I would have loved to get a Tarkovsky film on this list but if it's true that attention spans have now decreased to 5 seconds, I think it’s probably best to move through some of these films first. Of course, we have a few years before Logan will be ready to watch the films on this list and there just might be some new ones to add by that time.
What films did I miss? What would you recommend?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

On Impermanence, or Jonathan Franzen and e-books

Speaking two weeks ago at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Colombia, Jonathan Franzen created quite a stir with his remarks about e-books and the sense of permanence he experiences with the printed word in opposition to the "impermanence" of digital or electronic publishing.

“I think, for serious readers, a sense of permanence has always been part of the experience. Everything else in your life is fluid, but here is this text that doesn’t change … Maybe nobody will care about printed books 50 years from now, but I do. When I read a book, I’m handling a specific object in a specific time and place. The fact that when I take the book off the shelf it still says the same thing - that’s reassuring.
Someone worked really hard to make the language just right, just the way they wanted it. They were so sure of it that they printed it in ink, on paper. A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around. So for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough.”

Franzen was called reactionary, Victorian, a crank, a Luddite, a whiner, and more.

At the risk of sounding like a reactionary Luddite (full disclosure: I do not yet own an e-reader or a smart phone; nor have I ever read a book by Franzen), the responses came across to me as, well, a bit reactionary, whiny, and cranky.

There may be reasons to lament the proliferation of e-reading devices (and probably the most important relate to the conditions of laborers working long hours to assemble them, and the environmental impact these devices will have as they make their way into landfills) but they are not going anywhere (for many good reasons: convenience, ability to improve reading capabilities for sight-impaired people, reduced dependence on paper, etc) and neither are books. There is definitely room for both.

Unlike Franzen, I fully expect (hope?) to be alive in 50 years (though I’ll be over 90 years old) and I also fully expect to be able to purchase a book (and maybe even a record, and good stationary) … in a physical store (we’ll avoid the Amazon debate for now).

I, too, love books as objects and enjoy the aesthetic experience of holding one. I love to browse books at a store and it’s a much different (and more enjoyable) experience to browsing online. There is a kind of comfort to be found sitting with a book, surrounded by shelves filled with other books that I, for one, do not get from electronic devices. Similarly, holding and re-reading a hand-written letter has more impact than the email that, oops, I just deleted. After spending all day on my laptop working I’d love to put it away in the evening, to be completely device-free, and not have to look at another screen. My evenings are rarely screen free.

Permanence is not a nasty word, as some seem to feel based on many of the comments in response to Franzen’s remarks. It seems that in an age of impermanence, when so much of what we consume is temporary and quickly thrown away that a little permanence would be welcome. Of course, in much of our lives the idea of permanence is valued: we generally respect and admire those couples with the perseverance (stubbornness?) to remain married for a lifetime; a sense of stability and permanence is widely regarding by social scientists and parenting experts as being important to the development of emotionally strong and healthy children; and in our current economic situation who wouldn’t like to know they had the stability of a regular (or permanent) paycheck coming in.

The permanence of the printed word also plays a significant role in my parenting and my 21-month-old son now owns some of the same books I acquired 40 years ago. Perhaps someday he’ll read the same books my parents read to me to his children. Logan loves to “read” along and giggles while turning pages despite Grover’s plea to stop before we discover the “monster at the end of the book.” Can you really replicate that experience on an e-reader?

We’re not Luddites, by the way. He does already own a (Leapfrog) “laptop” (and other electronic devices) but when my son wants to cuddle with us he doesn’t grab one of these. Instead he carefully picks out one of his dozens of books, cultivating a love of reading and an appreciation for the permanence of the printed page and begs us to read just “one more”, all while also experiencing the permanence of his parents’ love for him.

If you think that is “Victorian” or reactionary, so be it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Recommendation: No One is Here Except All of Us

A first novel from Ramona Ausubel, No One is Here Except All of Us takes place in 1939 in a village in Romania. The villagers, at the suggestion of a young girl and a stranger, turn their backs on events happening outside their village and live in an imagined world. Eventually, the outside world encroaches on village life and the young girl who helped set this alternate life in motion, must leave the village to save her family. Ausubel has crafted a work that encompasses not only the power of storytelling but what it means to be a participant in one's own life and in history.