Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman (2008). Former IDF soldier sets about unrepressing his repressed memories of the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Waking Life plus Johnny Got His Gun, in Lebanon. Interesting to look at. I don’t get why making it a cartoon is a good idea.

Miller’s Crossing, Joel Coen (1990). I didn’t like this bitter little movie the first time or the second.

Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator’s Dark Journey through Iraq, Tony Lagouranis (2007). Useful. Complicated. Many of the ways in which this book is interesting are likely not ones of which the author himself is aware. Lagouranis believes he’s written the story of his coming to consciousness and conscience during his time as an interrogator in Iraq. The book is that, but it’s also — I don’t want to overstate this, because I suspect Lagouranis is an ethical and well-intentioned person, but it’s true nonetheless — an example of the very self-exculpatory style which Lagouranis deplores in his commanding officers. More accurate and more precise to say: Lagouranis’s oscillations between “there’s no excuse for what I’ve done” and “here’s my excuse for what I’ve done” are themselves an important part of the story of the systemic failures of the Bush administration’s strategy and tactics in the GWAT.

The Last Days of Haute Cuisine, Patric Kuh (2001). Poorly written but fascinating account of the rises and falls of the French ethos, California cuisine, and corporatism in the American restaurant business.

Life of Galileo, Bertolt Brecht (1947), directed by Joseph Losey for the American Film Theatre, (1974). Brilliant production starring the great Topol of Fiddler on the Roof fame. Really enjoyable and provocative.

I haven’t yet seen In the Loop, or The Thick of It, upon which In the Loop is based, but I’m having a hard time either of them will surpass Harold Pinter’s Party Time. I just watched a 1992 production of the play as filmed by Pinter himself. (The DVD is from 2004, and was produced by “Films for the Humanities & Sciences.) What an absolutely brilliant piece of writing. The lurches and swerves from naked aggression to high society chitchat to lyric flights of symbolic imagination to stammered disconnections of sign and signifier literally make me gasp. Just a short play — 35 minutes — but I’d set it next to any of Pinter’s best, or anyone else’s.

Septem8er Tapes, Christian Johnston (2004). Weird, irresponsible, self-satisfied, atrociously written mockumentary “about” a filmmaker who goes to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 to “get to the bottom” of the GWAT. Deeply strange. I not only don’t get the point of it, I don’t even get what the filmmakers might imagine the point might be.

The Situation, Philip Haas (2006). Well intentioned ham-fisted Americans-are-bad message movie about an improbably beautiful and beatific female journalist in Iraq.

I could, but won’t, and probably shouldn’t, write a book about representations of the GWAT in film.

Humana Festival 2008: The Complete Plays. Why am I always so surprised that so much contemporary drama is so trite and boring? After all, so much contemporary everything else is trite and boring, why shouldn’t that be true of drama, too? One good play here: Becky Shaw, by Gina Gionfriddo. A queer claustrophobic family drama. Title character is an outsider who comes into the family’s orbit to simultaneously air the dirty laundry and soil a bunch more. Not really my cup of tea — too much psychology, too much talking — but very good at being what it is.

Lars and the Real Girl, Craig Gillespie (2007). Surprisingly sweet and affecting movie about a town that teaches a guy how to love. That sounds horrible, but it’s true! I don’t know how it doesn’t lapse into sentimentality or broad comedy, but it doesn’t.

The Forever War, Dexter Filkins (2008). Dispatches it is not, but the comparison will be made and not for no reason. Filkins was the Times‘ guy in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, and these are the stories that aren’t right for a newspaper but need to be told nonetheless, the ironic ones, personal ones, the ones that unfold over years and the ones that are contained in a single instant. You don’t read this one for policy analysis, political history, or any of that big picture stuff; this is about people trying to stay alive in war zones.

, Michael Mann (1981).
Manhunter, Michael Mann (1986).
I’ve always enjoyed Mann’s glacial style — that’s a reference to both time and attitude — but it sure doesn’t hold up well over time. The interminable Tangerine Dream riffs in Thief and the interminable brooding of William Petersen in Manhunter don’t feel slick and cool, they feel like you just ate a quart of quaaludes. Also, James Caan’s entire torso is covered with hair and Mann makes sure you know it, often. Also, Caan blows up The Green Mill, which is inexcusable.

Elizabeth, Shekhar Kapur (1998). Stylish pseudo-historical romp, great cast.

Network, Sidney Lumet (1976). The M*A*S*H of television. Did anyone make any movies in the 70’s that weren’t completely depressing in both form and content?

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