Pop Diary: 'Love Lies Bleeding,' 'Zone of Interest,' 'Drive-Away Dolls,' Conan and More

What I've been watching, reading, etc.

"Perfect Days" is a perfectly lovely movie. Directed by Wim Wenders, it's a quiet story about an inauspicious man (Hirayama, played by the wonderful Koji Yakusho) who is perfectly content with his job as a clean of public toilets. Even when his daily routine, which he follows with near-religious constancy, is disrupted by the unexpected visit of a young family member, he peacefully adapts. We learn the beauty of acceptance and the gift of adaptability.

"Drive-Away Dolls," directed by solo Coan Bro think's it's much funnier than it is, which is a pity, because the cast, particularly leads Margaret Qualley and Geraldine Viswanathan, do their best to make the picture work. 

Qualley's free spirited  Jamie and Viswanathan's stressed Marian, both feeling the need for a change get a gig driving a car from Philadelphia to Tallahassee, unlike unaware that there's a suitcase in the trunk that gangsters want to get. 

Nothing unpredictable or even amusing occurs as Coen tropes over his own feet trying and failing to keep us entertained with references to 1950s and 60s lesbian paperback sleaze and hippie exploitation films. Brief appearances by Pedro Pascal and Matt Damon don't help any, although I'll grant that one joke involving Damon's character IS laugh-out-loud funny, but it's a long road trip to get there. Beanie Feldman is utterly wasted in a thankless role as Qualley's ex.

"Love Lies Bleeding," starring Kristin Stewart and Katy O'Brian is the film "Drive-Away Dolls" dreamed of being. The laughs are the grim in this pitch-dark noir and director Rose Glass' references to her inspirations (I'm guessing Jim Thompson's gritty crime novels, for one) are more subtle and much better executed than in Coen's film. 

The always brilliant Stewart plays Lou, attendant at a ratty gym, who falls for body builder Jackie (O'Brian) the moment she struts into the place. Jackie is training for an upcoming body-building in Las Vegas and Lou vows to help her win.

Circumstances conspire against the loving couple, however, namely in the form of Lou's brother-in-law, J.J. (Dave Franco), who Jackie beats up and kills in a fit of near-Hulk-like rage. This doesn't go over well with Lou's dad, played by a menacing and menacingly bewigged Ed Harris, who, it turns out, is a local crime lord. Lou turns against her dad, unleashing a flood of violence. The film can be read as a commentary about women's struggle against the powers of the patriarchy, and/or just a damn good crime thriller, excellently directed with a stellar cast. Either way, it's great, although sometimes tense, viewing. 

"The Zone of Interest" is very tense viewing from beginning to end. Adapted from the Martin Amis novel by director Jonathan Glazer, it is set at the lovely country home of the Höss. All seems tranquil and sweet, but that impression is undermined from the get-go as we realize the Höss home is just on the other side of the fence from Auschwitz, where Rudolph Höss spends his day trying out the most efficient ways to kill the concentration camp's Jewish prisoners.

We never see what's happening on the other side of the fence, but we know it's happening. The film's soundtrack makes us hear it — screams amongst the bird calls and gentle breeze in the Höss' back garden, the hiss of gas and the roar of ovens. Occaionally we see smoke emitted from the camp's chimneys, or see ashes sprinkled in the river where the Höss swim and wade.

The results of this are nearly nauseating as we're made to understand what it means to be complicit to evil, yet ignoring it as we envelop ourselves in home comforts and meaningless household routines. The film doesn't need to outright tell us that this is still happening. We know, even if we pretend we don't.

"Fleishman Is in Trouble."
I went into this limited series on Hulu not knowing what to expect and ended up being greatly impressed by it's storytelling and themes.

Jesse Eisenberg plays Toby Fleishman, a physician recently divorced by his go-getting wife, theatrical agent Rachel, who is played by Claire Danes. Sly comedy ensues as Toby check out dating apps and tests the waters as a newly single dude. 

Less funny is that Rachel seems to have entirely vanished, leaving Toby to single-dad the couple's two young children. His college pals played by Lizzy Caplan and Adam Brody are on hand though, to offer gentle ribbing, sympathy and support. 

Caplan's character, Libby, is the voice-over narrator of each episode, which is interesting and keeps us guessing. Will Libby and Toby get together once he figures himself out?

What happens, though, isn't so predictable. We learn that there's more to these characters than what we're initially told and shown, and that's what makes watching the series and hanging on through the end so surprisingly rewarding.

"The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian." I enjoyed Marvel's black-and-white mag "The Savage Sword of Conan" in high school and read the recent Mavel Epic reprints of "Conan the Barbarian," but I hadn't visited the character's source material since junior high, when I was, frankly, too young to appreciate it. 

I loved the Frank Frazetta covers and winced at Robert E. Howard's graphic descriptions of violence and gore but missed the richness of his writing.

So, picking this book up on a whim during a recent bookstore visit was a good call. Diving into stories such as "The Frost Giant's Daughter," "The Tower of the Elephant" and "Queen of the Black Coast" has been a pleasure. While his plots are often predictable, Howard's ability to set scenes, conjure up supernatural suspense and place us in Conan's ancient world is impressive and unique. Reading these stories, I realized how much George R.R. Martin and the TV series inspired by "A Game of Thrones" owes not so much to Tolkien, as you might expect, but to these dark tales of sword and sorcery.

And, if you're going to revisit Howard, or read his work for the first time, this is the best way to do it: This collection, and two Conan collections that follow, along with compilations of Howard's non-Conan stories all published by Random House Worlds, is definitive. The stories appear in their original form as published in Weird Tales, not as edited in later versions, and they are supplemented by an appendix that includes Howard's drafts, unpublished works, letter and more. As an added bonus, the stories are illustrated by an array of fantastic artists — this first volume by the great Mark Schultz. I'm in for the whole lot of them.

No comments:

Post a Comment