I’ve been slacking a little with this blog thing for the past few weeks. For a while in there I was busy putting together grad school applications, so any time I sat down to write something I was usually tweaking the various essays and statements that go along with that whole process. Now that all that’s done for now, I figure I should get cracking on the blog again. Except I’m not. For at least a week. I’ll be out of town starting tomorrow and I have no desire to busy myself with blogging while I’m gone, much less having to lug my laptop all over the place. So to tide you over I’ve got some quick notes on what I’ve been reading and watching and what I think you should check out, whoever you may be.
Nebraska: I was expecting quite a bit from this movie given the rave reviews and solid, dark comedy style trailers. Nebraska delivers on everything I was expecting and quite a bit more. It’s one of the few movies I’ve seen recently, maybe ever, that doesn’t feel like a movie. It just feels like life. Part of that may stem from the decision to shoot the thing in black and white. I’ve noticed that lately visual style and aesthetics in movies and TV have been based heavily around lighting and tone, evoking and crafting atmospheres through color and texture of light (check Her and classy TV affairs like Sherlock to see what I’m talking about). That’s not a bad thing by any means, but the worlds it creates are very clearly fictional so far as I’m concerned. Beautiful, but fictional. So there’s something refreshing about seeing a film bypass all that and focus only on framing and shape like Nebraska does. The American Midwest may have never looked so remarkable on film, and it certainly hasn’t looked so genuine. Bars and restaurants in Nebraska aren’t the carefully constructed pools of light, shadow, and neon that you normally come across in film. They’re just bars and restaurants. Same with houses and cars and everything else. Even the people look and sound like actual rural Midwesterners. All this feeds into making the story itself, which revolves around a thirty-something man learning about his father and coming to terms with the state and nature of his family, feel natural. It’s not a forced, carefully plotted coming of age story. It’s a family and a life. In short, you should see Nebraska.
Midnight’s Children: In my effort to never stop reading ever, I went ahead and started Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children once I’d finished JR. I had already read The Satanic Verses, which was brilliant and surprisingly fun, so I had some idea what I was in for with Midnight. Sort of. The basic idea of the novel is fairly straightforward: Saleem Sinai is born in Bombay at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, at the moment of India’s independence. From then on out, his life is destined to intertwine with and mirror the development of India. Not having an in-depth knowledge of Indian politics and history, some things went over my head and required some quick Google and Wikipedia references. By and large though, what you come for with Rushdie is the seemingly effortless quality of his storytelling. He spins a yarn like no other, here splicing national history into personal history, constantly reimagining his country through single life. There are far too many good things to say about this novel, and too many intricacies of Rushdie’s grand scheme to get into here, from how national histories are shaped by the same selective and self-oriented mindset that Saleem possesses to the potential and eventual destinies of midnight’s titular children. So instead I’ll just say this: it’s tough to not enjoy how Rushdie writes, and Midnight’s Children is him writing the novel of his own nation. So you can probably guess how much fun you’ll have if you give this a chance.
True Detective: I won’t say much about this, largely because it’s not over yet and I don’t want to discuss the specifics of an ongoing storyline like this one. That being said, I got into HBO’s True Detective as a result of the borderline obnoxious profusion of social media fanfare, with tweets and reviews coming in from magazines, celebrities, and basically the entirety of the internet. Out of curiosity I watched the first episode (the first of an eventual eight in the first season, which will comprise a single storyline. The show as a whole will be an anthology, with each season using different casts and stories). It is addictive. In two days I had caught up with all five of the episodes released thus far, and am none too pleased that I’m going to be out of town and away from my HBO-enabled device this coming Sunday. The storyline follows two detectives investigating a bizarre, ritualistic murder, which quickly expands into the search for a serial killer. Parallel to this early nineties setup run the modern day scenes of each detective recounting the investigation for a renewed investigation seventeen years later. Were it not for the stellar performances from the two leading men Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, a narrative like that could border on cop drama cliché. But the remarkable acting, the tensely strung out plot, and the dialog that oscillates between Nietzsche-style metaphysics and the unflinching grime of homicide investigation all work together to keep True Detective from falling into an overplayed rut. Instead you get a mind-bending thriller that mixes adrenaline, hallucinogens, and straight up fear. If you’ve got HBO and you haven’t watched True Detective, you really should.