The Counterfeiters

On DVD.

I refused to go see The Counterfeiters in theaters (it played at the Angelika for months) because I was annoyed that it had won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film when Persepolis and 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days hadn’t even been nominated. (Yes, I am that petty.) The thing is, I actually was interested in the premise (stories about moral quandaries fascinate me), so once it came out on DVD, I decided to stop being a brat and give it a chance.

As it turns out, The Counterfeiters is pretty much what I expected: not a great film, but a good one with a remarkable lead performance and a provocative story to tell. It’s not half as visionary as Persepolis, nor as raw and taut as 4 Months, but it’s not a cheap Holocaust-exploitation pic either (cough*Life Is Beautiful*cough). It didn’t deserve to beat out two of the best movies of the year, in any language, but neither did it deserve to be the subject of my silly, pointless boycott.

Another installment of fun with music videos

“When I Grow Up,” Pussycat Dolls; “I’m Good, I’m Gone,” Lykke Li; and “So What,” Pink.

Sean is in the last throes of a monstrously time-consuming project for work that has kept him in the office on nights, weekends, and basically every other waking moment. That’s left me with a lot of quality time alone with our cats, Tess and Luna (who have rewarded me for my loving attention by chewing up the venetian blinds), so I figure this is as good a time as any to indulge in music videos. Whee!

Mozart’s Serenade for Winds in C minor, Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 39

The Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra on Wednesday, August 20.

Much of Mozart’s music sounds relatively easy, which is why it can be so difficult. Romantic sturm und drang can hide all manner of sins, but unclouded classicism isn’t so forgiving. Without a lot of distracting flash, Mozart’s music must be played impeccably to really sparkle.

Sadly, the festival orchestra was not impeccable Wednesday evening. Maybe it was because the musicians don’t play together regularly, maybe they just had an off night, but the music never crystallized the way it should, and the winds had tuning issues, which made the Serenade for Winds rather unfortunate. Hearing lackluster Mozart at the Mostly Mozart Festival left me a bit dismayed, but the other composers’ works—and the piano soloists—made up for that disappointment.

Pineapple Express

In theaters.

Part of me wants to just say “I’m not the target audience” and leave it at that. Yes, producer Judd Apatow’s crowd turns out work that can be broadly appealing, witty, even insightful, (though not always, by any stretch), but let’s not kid ourselves: first and foremost, these are movies made by, for, and about overgrown man-boys. Not being an overgrown man-boy myself, maybe I don’t completely get it.

I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with that: comedy, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. What frustrates me about Pineapple Express is that it is to my taste—most of the time. And than along comes a gag or plot turn so discordant and unappealing that I feel as though I’ve been physically pushed out of a circle. After a moment, I swallow my distaste and start laughing again, only to again encounter one of those repellent stink bombs. And each time the movie pushes me away, I become less eager to rejoin it, less certain that I want to keep this company.

Watchmen

Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. Serialized in twelve issues in 1986 and 1987; published as a compilation in 1987.

Like many snooty bibliophiles, I always try to read an acclaimed book before the movie adaption comes out. Reading the branded tie-in edition would wound my pride. Reading the book immediately after the splashy debut of the movie preview pricks my vanity, too, but honestly, I’ve been meaning to read Sean’s copy of Watchmen for years. Truly.

I have to admit, however, that Watchmen was never at the top of my list. As much as I like to say that those who dismiss an entire medium or genre are intellectually lazy fools, I myself have a lingering prejudice against graphic novels. The hypocrisy and snobbery of that embarrasses me, but I do most of my reading on subway cars, and I feel uncomfortable carrying a book-length comic around with me.

The inevitable irony, of course, is that my own self-consciousness just delayed my enjoyment of a great book, for Watchmen really is as good as people say. A few years ago, Time included it on a list of the hundred best English-language novels written since 1923, and although the attempt to impose “objective” rankings on artistic work always makes me uncomfortable, the esteem in which Time’s critics held the book is not misplaced. Watchmen isn’t just “great for a graphic novel” (whatever that means); it’s great, period.

Opening ceremony, 2008 Olympic Games

Held in Beijing on August 8, televised by NBC.

The Olympic Games always pits cynicism against idealism, no matter where the event is being held. When you watch women’s gymnastics, do you think about girls being starved and overworked to prevent the onset (or at least slow the advance) of puberty, or do you just appreciate the artistry and athleticism of the competitors and the apparent joy they take in their routines? When you watch runners, do you think about how many of them might be boosting their performances with some drug cocktail or another, or do you just marvel at their speed and at the precision and teamwork of the relays? When you watch swimmers, do you think about the technical arms race of suit development and the global inequality it reflects, or do you just cheer for your country and beam at every new gold medal?

Every Olympic Games is an ethical tangle—a volatile mess of unchecked commercialism, rampant jingoism, vast financial disparities, questionable judging and refereeing, possible abuse of minors, and untold human suffering—so I don’t quite understand why the Beijing event has provoked so much more hand-wringing than usual, especially in the United States, where we’ve recently ceded the moral high ground when it comes to human rights violations. (By this, I do not mean that the violations are of equal weight, but rather that once you have to start arguing over which are worse, you’ve already lost.) Perhaps holding the Games in China does taint the event in some way, but so, too, do any number of other shameful blemishes on the ideals of the Olympiad. Pretending otherwise is naive.

But pretending there is nothing redeemable about the Games is foolish, too, because there are still beautiful moments, moments that do seem to live up to the ideals of international fellowship, of celebrating participation just as much as victory. I’m a sucker for the pageantry of the opening ceremony, for example, and Beijing’s was undoubtedly the most breathtaking I’ve ever seen.

Transsiberian

In theaters.

At first glance, Transsiberian looks like the typical story of innocents abroad. Jessie (Emily Mortimer) and her husband, Roy (Woody Harrelson), stumble into grave danger as they travel from Beijing to Moscow via train. Jessie is reckless, Roy is naive, and both make several foolish decisions, but interestingly, the culture clash between entitled Americans and world-weary Russians is merely a backdrop to the truly compelling subject: Jessie and Roy’s troubled marriage and, even more specifically, Jessie’s tortured sense of self.

The rest of the movie—with the drugs, false identities, and mobsters—is all pretty generic, but Jessie is a fascinating character, and Mortimer plays her beautifully. She’s not always likable, certainly not that admirable, but she’s wholly real and engagingly human, and she makes the movie worth seeing.