Sunday, August 16, 2009

Miscellaneous: Whip Round #1

Many projects moving forward at once, so expect more posts like this. Alighting on multiple topics with no diminution of my customary acuity.

The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson (2009). I was not the only one who fell hard for Larsson’s debut, last year’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Which makes this follow-up so disappointing. Larsson’s old-fashioned style suited the first book, essentially a locked-room mystery set on an island. Without that setting, Larsson’s voice simply seems plodding. (Bad news is delivered by the cops. “Berger’s mouth dropped open. Blomkvist looked as if he had been struck by lightning.”) I read all 500 pages, shopping lists and trips to Ikea included, for one reason: Larsson’s beguiling creation Lisbeth Salander, a sort of real-world version of William Gibson’s Molly forged by cruelty and institutional neglect. I’ll tackle the last entry in the series for that reason, too.

The Shimmer, by David Morrell (2009). Morrell uses the mysterious Marfa lights as the basis for a conspiracy thriller. He shrewdly reinvents Marfa as Rostov, Texas, even fictionalizing the filming of Giant in the town. The only thing missing is an alternate reality Donald Judd. But for all Morrell’s skill at creating tension, it’s the human moments that register most strongly. When New Mexico cop Dan Page discovers the reason why his wife fled their home to visit the lights, there’s no supernatural explanation. Just pure heartbreak.

Julie & Julia (2009). Somebody has to admit it, so I will: I enjoyed the Amy Adams scenes. I enjoyed the whole thing.

College Swing (1938)/Back to School (1986). I read an interview with David Letterman years ago in which he cited Bob Hope as an example of someone who, perhaps, stayed too long at the fair. Watching his early film College Swing, I understood what Dave meant. Hope’s hustling coward character still feels unbelievably fresh and modern. The script, an excuse to link together songs and novelty acts, gets some zing from an uncredited Preston Sturges. Gracie Allen has some great moments, and there’s a Jerry Colonna bit that’s priceless. Also with a fully-haired Jackie Coogan cutting a rug with then-wife Betty Grable. A few days later I stumbled onto Back To School, which uses several of the same plot elements. Featuring New Wave Robert Downey, Junior and his future director Keith Gordon. God, I miss Rodney Dangerfield.