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Ari's Art Review 1

American Fiction, Honeyland, Move Like This, Wonka, Restart, Girl Walks Home, Case Histories, Snow Crash, and Star Wars.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
May 18, 2024

American Fiction: I loved this film. The set-up is that a Black man, distressed by what he sees as sell-out literature that "flattens" the lives of Black people into the standard stereotypes, writes a "ghetto"-themed book under a pseudonym intended as a "f-u" to the publishing industry. But, to his surprise, a publisher wants to pick up the book and pay him handsomely for it. Mainly the film is about a man struggling to rediscover his way in the world at a time when his career and his family are having a lot of problems. The funny and poignant film sets up expectations and then demolishes them.

Honeyland: The Macedonian film Honeyland, billed as a documentary, is extraordinary. It's a story of beekeeping, bad neighbors, poverty, unrecognized property rights, regrets, and the trading of long-term well-being for short-term profit. Spoilers: The main woman of the film is an experienced bee keeper who knows how to harvest a limited amount of honey while allowing her hives to thrive. Her new neighbors, though, also beekeepers, against her advice overharvest honey from their hives, resulting in their bees raiding and destroying the woman's hives. Then the neighbors also raid and destroy a hive the woman had set up in the wild. So terrible! The woman also deals with her regrets over never getting married or having children.

Move Like This: In 2011, following the death of band member Benjamin Orr, the Cars released the album Move Like This. This album "was Ric Ocasek's last studio appearance before his death in September 2019," Wiki notes. This late album is extraordinary in part because it follows so long after the band first started making waves ("Just What I Needed" played in demo version in 1977) and because the band had long been broken up."Blue Tip," "Keep On Knocking," "Free," and "Hits Me" are personal favorites. Some lines from "Hits Me" seem perfect for an aging band and for their aging fans: "Then it hits me, yeah, it hits me / I gotta just get through it and I'll be fine / I gotta just get through these changing times."

Wonka: Initially I wasn't sure Timothée Chalamet (also of Dune) would be right for the lead of Wonka, but he was great. (That said, Jeremy Allen White of The Bear looks so much like a young Gene Wilder that I can't help but imagine him in the role.) Surprisingly, Hugh Grant is hilarious as the lone Ooompa Loompa in the film, and I enjoyed all of the performances. Like the classic 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (which features Wilder), the new film is a musical. The main theme concerns the importance of friends and loved ones. The villains of the film are those who use force, political pull, and bogus contracts either to exclude competitors from the market or to bind people into slave-like conditions. Thus, the film, although on the surface a critique of conservative anti-poor sentiments, most straightforwardly is a libertarian critique of the use of force in an economic setting.

Restart: Gordon Korman's tween- or teen-level novel Restart is about a middle-school boy who loses his memory falling off a roof. Before the fall, the boy is an absolute horror of a bully. After the fall, when he can't remember being a bully, he finds he enjoys people and activities he previously avoided, and he feels empathy for people getting picked on. I don't know how plausible this is on physiological grounds, but as a set-up to explore personal identity and the potential to change, it's great. I very much enjoyed it although I am not part of the intended audience, and my eight-year-old also is enjoying it.

Vampires: A Girl Who Walks Home Alone and Night has got to be in the running for best low-budget film. This Persian-language film was shot in California on a shoe-string budget in black-and-white. The film predictably has touches of horror, but mainly it's about the vampire struggling with her conscience and with her romantic feelings toward a good-looking young man. The cinematography and acting give the film a rich texture. The vampire is not the character with the empty soul.

Case Histories: I've really been enjoying the British crime show, Case Histories. It's about an earnest, justice-seeking PI whose personal life is a bit of a mess. The acting is top-notch throughout. The first season consists (in effect) of three two-hour movies split into six episodes. The second season (which I've not yet seen) consists of three, 1.5 hour movies. It's nice to see Jason Isaacs play the good guy for a change, and I absolutely love Amanda Abbington, who plays the lead's police friend.

Snow Crash: Recently I re-read Neal Stephenson's 1992 Snow Crash, and I was surprised by how well it holds up. The "metaverse" that Stephenson envisions in the novel still seems somewhat futuristic, although Mark Zuckerberg and others are working to make something like it a reality. The book is packed with shocking action sequences and interesting characters; I'm amazed no one has turned it into a TV series yet (there's been talk). A lot of the tech of the novel (such as super skateboards) seems not so plausible. Also, the philosophic/religious backstory presented by the novel, with its recasting of the Tower of Babel myth, strikes me as wildly implausible. But there is a grain of truth, in that, obviously, many people are highly prone to picking up mental "viruses." Dawkins coined the term "meme" in 1976. The novel envisions an anarchic America run by rival gangs, something that thankfully still seems unlikely in the foreseeable future, despite our political divisions. But the question "How long will America as we know it last" seems not out of place.

Star Wars: Recently my family rewatched the original Star Wars trilogy, and it holds up very well. Okay, so the Ewoks in the third episode would not pass muster in today's CGI world. Still, a scene featuring an Ewok mourning his dead companion, killed in the uprising against the Empire, is the most poignant of the movie. Harrison Ford is magnificent, and the music is among the best ever written. The prequel, Rogue One, is the only other Star Wars film as good as the original trilogy (the others don't even come close).

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