Sunday, May 18, 2008

2 recommendations

Now that the semester is over, I had the rare opportunity to actually see a movie in a movie theater last night. For the last year, I've been almost entirely reliant on Netflix, and I had forgotten the magic of the big-screen experience. My friend and I went to see The Visitor, a film about which neither of us knew very much, but which turned out to be a serendipitous choice, since The Visitor is among (many) other things about the quietly transformative experience of friendship. I highly recommend this movie.

The Visitor is being advertised as a "post-9/11" film, which it is in a very profound sense-- but what is truly beautiful about this film is the skill with which so many other transhistorical human experiences are situated in that particularly historical mise en scene. There are only a few (four total) primary characters, all of them carefully and completely developed in understated, sensitive but compelling performaces. The protagonist, portrayed by the lifetime character-actor Richard Jenkins, is the picture of quiet desperation... a late-career academic who hides the aimlessness of his life behind false pretenses of being "overworked." (Incidentally, this film is a great answer to Chet's plea for movies about the real life of "smart people.") The other characters, who in this movie really and symbolically are representative of "otherness," each have the talent of seeming immediately familiar, despite the fact that they (Haaz Sleiman, Hiam Abbass, and Daina Gurira) are unknown actors. This is a great film!

I also want to recommend Percy Sledge's 2004 album Shining Through the Rain. I've been on a Percy Sledge kick lately-- but this is a particarly good "summer" album, I think. When this album was reviewed in The Rolling Stone several years ago, the critic remarked that Percy Sledge, even at his advanced age, still "knows how to find the emotional center of a song." That just about says it. This album is proof that old-school R&B is not dead yet!

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