Recent movies: Bird & Magic, Redford and Dunaway, etc.

Our t.v. died a month or so ago — just stopped working.  Sarah’s dad had bought it for us at Best Buy for $500 in 2002 or so.  It was a 27″ and/but seemed huge — very bulky and room-dominating.  After some research on the Consumer Reports site I bought this 32″ flatscreen for $380 — it showed up in the mail, a lithe rectangle weighing maybe 20% of what our last one did, and basically just needed to be plugged in.

See?  Things may seem pretty messed up in the world, but at least t.v.s have improved.  We can watch the oil plume in brilliantly H.D. flat-screen detail.

Some of the movies we’ve watched recently:

Three Days of the Condor.  We’ve been using Netflix on-demand a bit lately.  Sarah wanted to see some sort of fun/ not too challenging thriller (no subtitles) and this is what we came up with.  She’d seen it years ago but it turned out literally only remembered the romance scenes between Redford and Faye Dunaway in her apartment — which have a somewhat creepy Stockholm Syndrome enjoying-your-abduction element, by the way.  (Redford carjacks Dunaway and makes her take him to her Brooklyn apartment, ties her up, and they sleep together shortly thereafter).  As the plot developed it started feeling more predictable, but I really enjoyed the first half, especially the depiction of 1975 NYC.  The movie has a funny Bovaryism theme with Redford as a C.I.A operative analyzing mystery novels, in a phony publishing-house front, for clues of international espionage.

The movie ends in front of the New York Times building with Redford telling the baddie that he’s given the whole story to the Times and so it should be in the next day’s paper.  The basic faith in the power of the mainstream press as a force for transparency and reform felt very foreign.

Mulholland Drive. I watched this a while ago but just had to mention how much it blew me away.  I’d seen it back when it came out but did not altogether remember how strange, scary, and amazing it is.  It topped some best of the decade lists — somewhat telling, maybe, that the most critically acclaimed film of the 21st century started out as a rejected t.v. network pilot.  (After the pilot was turned down, Lynch went back and added a second hour, which turns the movie into a kind of Mobius strip, folding back on itself.)

The Borrowers.  Am reading the Borrowers series to the girls (we’re into The Borrowers Afield now).  I’m trying to work out an argument that it’s an allegory of the mid-20th-century British welfare state.  Fascinating on class, with this miniature family of working-class Cockney types living in the floorboards of the grand house.  Anyway, I picked up the 1973 American t.v. version, a Hallmark Hall of Fame t.v. special, at the library.  I just watched a bit of this with the girls while reading the paper, but it seemed kind of creepy/spooky to me — the music reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby.

Very excited to learn, btw, that a Studio Ghibli anime version of the Borrowers is due out later this year!!

Step-Brothers.  Part of the Judd Apatow empire (he produced), with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly as the 40 year old children of newlyweds Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen (both excellent).  This movie is surprisingly funny, possibly underrated.  It’s kind of one-joke but a good joke: Ferrell and Reilly both act exactly like 4th grade boys; you get the feeling they did some real research for these roles.  A sequel to the 40-Year-old Virgin in spirit — more male arrested development.  (Btw, I just checked and Steenburgen is 56 years old, which makes her kind of a stretch as a 40 y.o. Will Ferrell’s mother.)

Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals (HBO).  Loved this!  I was an avid Celtics fan in the 80s — went to a couple games every year in the years when the Celtics never, ever lost at home.  Bird was a poor working-class kid living next to the railroad tracks in a small nowhere town in Southern Indiana.  I’d forgotten that he actually enrolled at I.U. — left after a month or two, alienated and freaked out — went back home to French Lick to work in a grocery store.  His dad committed suicide soon after.  Larry obviously was/is a pretty weird individual.  Very private, prickly and socially awkward, the Hick from French Lick for real, unbelievably gifted and competitive.  Magic grew up in Lansing MI — incredible smile and charisma, a star from a young age.  He radiates happiness & pleasure in life whereas Bird seems to be trying to hold everything at arms’ length away from him.  When they met for the NCAA finals, Magic tried to seek him out to say hello and Bird totally snubbed him, refused to shake his hand.  “I probably did snub him,” Bird says now.  “I’m not into that lovey-dovey stuff.  I was there to win” (something like that).

The movie makes a good case that they became doppelgangers, rivals and enemies and eventually friends.   Bird says that the day he heard about Magic’ H.I.V. diagnosis was the worst day since his father’s suicide.  There’s an eerie shot of Bird playing the next day — he does a behind-the-back pass that the movie suggests was a secret homage to Magic.

The racial politics of the rivalry are complex and sad.  Bird does seem genuinely race-blind.  But as a Celtics player in racist Boston and the Great White Hope of the NBA trying to attract white fans, he’s enlisted in a racial drama not of his own making.  Cedric Maxwell comments of black basketball fans in Boston who’d root for L.A. — it was very hard to be a black Celtics fan in those days.

Bird mowed his own suburban Boston lawn every weekend: fans showed up to watch (he ignores them).  He eventually messes up his back installing his mother’s driveway in Indiana and suffers through in the final years of his career in agony.  Now he’s President of Basketball Operations for the Indiana Pacers and an NBA elder statesmen; I kind of enjoyed the recent ad in which he steals LeBron and Dwight Howard’s hamburgers and they have no idea who he is (extending the longtime meme of Bird as a white star in a black man’s game).  [*btw how can professional athletes live with themselves for promoting McDonalds???]

It’s been nice to see Magic’s halftime commentary during the NBA playoffs this month — good to see his enormous smile and that he seems to be doing well.

We Live in Public. Interesting documentary about a semi-forgotten internet pioneer of the 1990s, Josh Harris, who became a symbol of the excesses of the tech bubble of the era.  His hubris culminated in a couple of different Truman Show-esque experiments in living under total surveillance — first with dozens of volunteers in a giant loft in NYC, then just with his girlfriend.  He eventually loses everything and more or less disappears.  I found him to be a very creepy guy and was somewhat under-impressed by his supposed prescient innovations (as Sarah commented, what’s here that Philip K. Dick didn’t come up with years ago?) but it’s an compelling movie.

Food Inc. Finally got around to watching this last night (again, Netflix on demand).  Excellent doc.  Very well done, turns the rise of industrial food into a kind of thriller/horror movie with scary music.  Most infuriating part involves Monsanto’s copyrighted soybeans.  The beans are copyrighted intellectual property of Monsanto; our corrupt government, entirely in the pocket of Big Food, allows the transnational behemoth to behave like Disney with Mickey Mouse — no farmer is too small to be sued for doing what farmers have done for thousands of years with their crops.  If you are still in the habit of eating industrial meat regularly, watch this movie (although it does not rely much on total gross-out images of slaughterhouses and the like; it’s more about building a sustained argument).  [Btw this 2009 NYT article about “pink slime” in hamburger meat is what convinced me to never, ever eat another McDonald’s burger.]

5 thoughts on “Recent movies: Bird & Magic, Redford and Dunaway, etc.”

  1. 1. But “McRibbies” are ok? Why do celebrity bloggers endorse them??

    2. Interesting discussion of Three Days of the Condor & films of its ilk in Jameson’s “The Geopolitical Aesthetic” (published by IU Press), iirc

    3. Have you submitted yet to INLAND EMPIRE? I think it may be as good as Mulholland Drive … it is certainly way scarier fwiw

  2. I am honestly afraid to watch any documentaries about food, or read any of those books charting the disgusting realities of the various industries, for fear of never being able to enjoy anything again. I could barely read about the top 10 best and worst foods for pesticides, and honestly, how can a person really escape them? I know I am a giant explosive chemical compound even now, even with the semi-organic lifestyle I lead. Ugh.

    I will, however, check out some of these! Mulholland is the only one I’ve seen.

  3. I believe we enjoyed a late show screening of Eraserhead, together, 23 years or so ago. Mulholland Drive is not far from my favorite movie of all time.

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