of more or less inappropriate holiday entertainment:
1. On Friday I saw Syriana, which I highly recommend. The first hour and ten minutes or so are fabulously good--I was sitting there (on the edge of a stair, very uncomfortable--they had oversold and the Lincoln Square theater was totally packed) and just thinking "God, this is the perfect movie, why aren't all movies exactly like this?" I grew more ambivalent, though, by about two-thirds of the way through. The pace fails to pick up, and I felt it could have been about 30 minutes shorter or else a LOT longer--something about the proportions seemed off. (I would have cut the Matt Damon story-line: it was the least imaginative and most hackneyed and sentimental and predictable, and cutting it would have solved some structural problems.) And maybe most problematically, there's something really voyeuristic about turning this global geopolitical stuff into glossy Hollywood entertainment. (I think this was more of a problem with Traffic, though.) But seriously, it's a great flick. And NB: Jon Lee Anderson has a cameo, he's the guy sitting on the bench next to Matt Damon who asks him why he's waiting to see the Amir.
2. I found an amazing stash of slightly mildewy paperback crime novels in the cupboard of the house I was staying in on Thursday, and pillaged them. First I read the forgettable Mr. Campion's Farthing--it says Margery Allingham on the cover, but it's really one of those "she had worked out the story and then she died and then her husband and faithful collaborator wrote it in her voice" kinds of thing. I didn't have high hopes, but it was still disappointing: I have a kind of fascination with her books, there is something ridiculously compelling about them although they are very odd and not particularly good crime novels. Much more satisfying was John Wyndham's The Midwich Cuckoos, which was just as good as I remembered it being. (I was reminded of Wyndham recently by these various discussions of the recent top twenty geek novels list at the Guardian.)
The great reading disappointment was on the train down to New Jersey on Thursday morning: for ages I'd been noticing Neil Gaiman singling out Thorne Smith as one of his favorite writers, and especially as an inspiration for Anansi Boys, which I loved. So I finally got a stack of them from the library and opened up Topper on the train and was pretty sad to realize about fifty pages in that it's really not my kind of thing at all. And unfortunately that and the sequel were what I'd brought to read. I will try some of this others, though. And fortunately I had the previous week's New Yorker, which comes so late in the week to my Cambridge mailing address that it painfully rubs in the fact that I'm living in the cultural provinces (joke, joke; sorry...). It was a good issue, and in particular there was a really stunning and incredibly depressing must-read essay by Laura Secor about the collapse of the reform movement in Iran; here's the full essay, and here's a Q&A at the magazine's website with Secor. Just in case you weren't already feeling depressed enough about the state of the world, this one will really make you ready to lay your head down and cry in a mixture of guilt and horror. Read it and go and see Syriana and you will really be getting yourself into the holiday spirit....