Monday, July 25, 2005

A Month of Sundays

In which I hold forth on house concerts, numerous movies, and the decay of language in urban centres.

I haven't updated in a while, but here's what's caught my attention over the last few Sundays:

Be A Friend of Music - Attend or Host a House Concert: As my friend (and constant inspiration) moxywoman will tell you, a house concert is exactly what it sounds like: a concert (usually, lately, of music in the folk/roots/independent songwriter idiom, but I've heard of house concerts here and there of Classical and Baroque chamber music) held in somebody's house. It's a very relaxed, intimate way to hear some new music, support an independent (i.e., potentially underfed) performer and hang out with your friends, all at the same time. Back in mid-June (when room temperature in Ottawa and body temperature were, oh, roughly equivalent) I hosted a house concert for the brilliant and too-little-known songwriter Aengus Finnan (see over to the right side of my page somewhere). Aengus is a Renaissance man for the Third Millennium - storyteller, guitarist, poet, actor, teacher, concert organizer and now, music festival founder. He has a way with words quite unlike anyone else's and he can connect with an audience like nobody's business. He graciously appeared at my door, guitar in hand (he even worked the door, and greeted some of the guests as they came in), and played a wonderful couple of sets of songs - the second set out in the backyard, when it occurred to some sweaty but smart person to suggest taking the music out there, rather than having everyone melt down in my living room - like, hello, Sandman! Just because it says "house" in the name doesn't mean we have to expire inside your house! But Aengus might be as brave as he is talented, and it was all good. Aengus is an artist in the truest sense of the word: his work is honest, compelling and springs from a very deep place. If you get a chance to go down to Shelter Valley, outside of Grafton, Ontario - about 90 minutes east of Toronto - this coming Labour Day weekend, go: don't miss the Shelter Valley Folk Festival - the first one ever last year was a big hit, and this year promises to be brilliant - check out this year's lineup!

If you want to know more about hosting a house concert, or going to one, here's a good place to start: houseconcerts.org.

And now, on to the movies.

The Aviator: I liked the detail with which Scorsese evokes Old Hollywood in this picture, but that's about all. The cameos are thick and fast on the ground, but not always interesting, or even appropriately cast (Kate Beckinsale is almost beautiful enough to play Ava Gardner, though she's a little too sweet-looking, and lacks Gardner's heavy-eyed air of exoticism. Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow? Well, okay, she's very ... blonde. Jude Law as Errol Flynn? As. Freakin'. If.*) Ultimately, the thing collapsed for me because I don't care that much about Howard Hughes, and little Leo Dicaprio ain't the one to make it happen. (Before you ask, no, I haven't seen What's Eating Gilbert Grape yet, though I do plan to.) In most of the parts I've seen him in, Dicaprio looks somehow milky and unfinished; as if he'd just wandered onto the set and somebody gave him the big-boy pants by mistake. Sometimes, as in Catch Me If You Can, this works. Sometimes, as in Gangs of New York, it's a disaster. But there were other disasters, and worse ones, than Dicaprio in that howler. (Hi, Daniel Day-Lewis? That frrrrrbbtttrrzzzzzzzzpppp! sound you just heard? That was your artistic integrity shrivelling up and blowing away.)

The only time Dicaprio really makes Hughes' batty intensity really accessible is in the scene where Howard, living in his screening room on chewed fingernails and milk (and becoming Beverly Hills' first recycler by using the empty milk bottles to pee in) has a face-to-door meeting with an industry rival played by Alec Baldwin. There's Leo, bearded like one of the Prophets, naked as a jaybird, twirling his eyeballs in opposite directions as proof of the crazy, screeching threats through a locked door at Alec Baldwin. I mean, who hasn't done that, right? Cate Blanchett has a lovely time channelling Katherine Hepburn. She's so good it's a little spooky. The fun goes out of the picture along with Katie, though.

(*Apparently I'm the only person alive who cannot see the appeal of Jude Law. He did okay - but no better - in Cold Mountain, but it seems to me that his range is limited to playing sleek upper-class cads of the kind that Hugh Grant used to specialize in, during his pre-Working Title Films phase - before the whole entire world fell in love with Grant's impersonation of a floppy-haired stammering schmoop.) Law lacks even Grant's ability to play against type, and he always looks (on screen, anway) like he takes himself so seriously. Good Lord. His turn as the "bad boy" (yawn!) in Midnight In The Garden of Good & Evil was easily the most cartoonish thing in the movie, which is remarkable considering it co-starred a transsexual demi-mondaine diva, and it allowed Kevin Spacey to gnaw his way through a whole warehouse's worth of scenery as a foppish and epicene antique dealer with a cocaine habit and a worse jones for thinking he's Rhett Butler. (Frankly, my dear, nobody gives a damn.) And Law's work in Road To Perdition was simply embarrassing. But that entire movie was misconceived, so it's hardly a distinction for Mr. Law. I'd say that Law's early appearance as Lord Alfred Douglas (a.k.a. Bosie the Superbrat) in Wilde was a brilliant piece of casting to type, but I'd hate to be thought uncharitable. If they'd only asked me, I could have told the studio that Alfie was gonna be a big flopperoo. Because, feh. Also, come on - he's not that good-looking. I'm sorry: He's just not.)

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason: I enjoyed this one more than I expected to. Yes, it covers too much of the same ground as the first really to be considered a sequel, and Bridget still isn't very grown-up, but she does grow on one. I don't really understand the criticism that the movie faced that the jail scenes were out of step with the rest of the movie. Do movie reviewers think that Jane Austen wrote fluffy little comedies? (Wrong. Austen has teeth, man.) Lydia's near-ruin in Pride And Prejudice is exactly that; it isn't just an embarassing little faux pas - it's just about the worst thing that could possibly happen. Being thrown into jail far from home for drug smuggling seems correspondingly grim to me. (And by the way, Bridg's friends? You lot are all so unbelievably fired.)

Bridget is not very much like Elizabeth Bennet, since she lacks both Lizzy's circumspection and her backbone. Well, maybe that's not quite fair: Bridget is absolutely uncowed by embarrassment; when she decides what she wants, she lets nothing stop her. It's kind of noble, in its way. Say what you want about whether her behaviour is appropriate - she goes after what she wants, once she makes up her mind. And she may not be the cleverest girl, but she has wit. One of my favourite exchanges in the picture goes like this:

Bridget's parents pick her up at the airport, after she returns from Thailand in disgrace. She decides her relationship with Mark Darcy is irretrievable, but she's going to see him anyway. Bridget declares that she's going to lay it all on the line, and no matter what happens, "I'm going to try not to fuck up, Mum." Bridget's mother says, mildly, "Language, dear." Bridget apologizes instantly: "Sorry. I'm going to try not to fuck up, Mother." How can you not love her a little for that?

Before Sunrise: Imagine, a movie that didn't make me want to kick Ethan Hawke in the shins. It's clever and rather sweet-natured, but I think I'm about fifteen years too old to be knocked on my teakettle by it. Oh, and it's very, very talky. Good gravy, these kids can yap! Ethan Hawke is surprisingly appealing as Jesse, the wildly romantic kid who thinks he's very worldly and cynical - the veneer is about as thick as the average human hair. Julie Delpy is a good match for him as CĂ©line, the practical French girl whose cool reserve masks a dreamy, tender and voluble heart. I was interested to see the sequel, Before Sunset, that came out this year. It revisits the same pair after they have about ten years' more life experience under their belts. I expect I'll have more to say once I've watched that one.

And now, for something completely different: I recently discovered this website, and it's giving me fits. It's called Overheard in New York: Here's a favourite entry: I think of it as The Perils of Modern Vocabulary. Heh. I'll never think of the word "biotech" the same way again.

Currently reading: The Englishman's Boy.