About what you’d expect

Monster House
Monster House

The Artist
The Artist

I watched Monster House and The Artist on two consecutive evenings, and I have to admit up front that this is one of the harder “double review” pairings I’ve attempted, but I’ll try.  First, brief synopses:

Monster House follows the adventures of three neighborhood children who discover that the house across the street is inhabited by a malevolent spirit that loves capturing (and eating?) wayward toys and people.  Plus, it’s sneaky in that it only makes itself visible to children and adults too close to escape its grasp.  Mwa ha ha. The Artist is the much ballyhooed silent film that garnered nearly a dozen Oscar nominations in 2011.  It tells the story of a silent film actor who frets over the advent of talkies, and finds his life on a downward spiral.  A few thoughts:

  • Each of these films springs from a genre already formed, and tries to make it fresh.  Monster House draws on a long history of menacing house stories, from The Haunting of Hill House to The Amityville Horror to The Beyond.  In each of these, the domestic bliss of the home space is disrupted by a malevolent force only the protagonist can see.  Monster House actually relates most closely, for me, to Home Alone, as it depends a lot on the adventurous spirit of children to move the narrative forward. The Artist reconstructs with nostalgia the silent film era, and builds its story around the shift from silent to sound film.  Its charismatic lead actor reminds me a lot of Gene Kelly, and the talkie-plot makes this a kind of bizarro Singing in the Rain, mirroring the plot of that other film in many ways.
  • Both films also feature many actors in small parts whom you’ll be excited to see.  The Artist boasts James Cromwell, Malcolm McDowell, and John Goodman in key roles.  Monster House features voices of Kevin James, Nick Cannon, Jason Lee, Maggie Gyllenhall, and Steve Buscemi.  All are delightful in both, but given that we can’t hear Malcolm McDowell’s distinctive cadence, Monster House wins.
  • Most importantly, neither film really stands out for me as all that good.  For adventure movies, the children can watch The Goonies or Chicken Little or Jimmy Neutron with a much higher payoff, and once you get past the gimmick of The Artist being a silent film, the story is rather predictable and one-dimensional.  I can’t imagine myself being interested or driven to watch either film again.

While there’s not a lot of pressure, in my mind, to like Monster House, I find myself feeling defensive about the fact that I didn’t really like The Artist very much.  While the film does a good job evoking the silent film era with nostalgia and drama, it doesn’t do much in the way of advancing the genre.  Instead of using the last 80 years of filmmaking experience to craft a silent film that challenges viewers to follow the narrative with the kind of story and meta-story common to today’s films, it tells a story no more complicated or compelling than those being made in films of the mid 20’s already.  For me, this is nostalgia without purpose, and ultimately a failed experiment.

If the other contenders for the Oscar this year are good films without being anything special, The Artist is a special film without being anything all that good.

The Dervish House

The Dervish House
The Dervish House

by Ian McDonald

Set in the nearish future — 2040 or so–Istanbul, McDonald’s book dances around contemporary issues as they may evolve in the old-and-new world of the Middle East.  We follow the adventures of a natural gas trader, his wife who trades in antiquities, his neighbors who work for government think tanks, and a number of other characters.  While the central plot of the novel seems to involve a nanotechnology terrorist conspiracy, there are many threads to pull together.  Some thoughts:

  • I read this book for my SF book club, but I didn’t finish it on time, so I knew much about how the book would end before it did.  I have to say this took a lot of the fire out of the second half of the novel.  McDonald spends a lot of time (too much, which is why I didn’t finish on time) building up the characters and plots, which makes the denouement work well, but the path to get there is a bit bumpy.
  • The characters are intricately drawn and thorough, each distinctive and realistic and understandable.  While it took me a while to get into the novel because of the many characters I had to keep track of, once they were all oriented in my head, it was a pleasure to read.
  • Someone in my book group complained that the ending was a bit too pat, that the threads draw together too nicely, and I can see the validity of this complaint if the characters were not intended to be part of a single narrative, but they’re introduced with that design, so it didn’t bother me.  There’s one narrative confluence that feels a bit too coincidental, but it adds drama to the event, so it works for me.
  • I love idea of nanotech toys, but am pretty creeped out by the brain-chemistry and thought-altering nanotech that McDonald foresees as part of the future world.  Everyone gets hopped up on different nano in order to work, think, trade, or fight just a little faster than the guy before them.  Yikes!
  • I like McDonald’s choice to set the book in Istanbul, which is something many Western SF writers don’t do.  By engaging with another culture and considering how the future technology would affect life there, McDonald adds a new spin to the book that gives it depth and character.

Overall, a pretty good book with solid characters and good writing.  However, the pace is too slow for my taste, and the first haf of the book is harder to get into than I’d like.


2012-01-29 Tweets

  • How to have your day made: a random person asks for your autograph because you wrote a scholarly article. #

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The Horde

Aurore makes a stand
Ouessem makes a stand

I remember seeing this striking image from the French zombie film, the Horde, when it came out in 2009, but it slipped off my radar for a while.  Fortunately, having breakfast with Scott Kenemore last week (NAMEDROP-ADOO!), he mentioned how good he thought the film was, and urged me to check it out.  I am not disappointed.

The Horde
The Horde

The film takes place in a nearly-abandoned tenement building occupied by a couple stalwart residents and some mean/angry Nigerian gangsters.  Several police officers, having found a fellow cop murdered in the area, sneak into the building to take out the gangsters.  And then, wouldn’t you know it, a massive zombie pandemic drops on France.  A few thoughts:

  • The film wastes very little time on the standard tropes of the zombie film — the why questions or the larger look at the way society breaks down.  This is a character piece, tied directly to the pressure being put on these two adversarial groups as they make a tentative truce to tackle the larger, hungrier problem.
  • The zombies themselves are vigorous and exciting, but they show a little too much ingenuity in chasing our heroes.  While I understand the need for the running mass of zombies in the narrative, it just didn’t ring true to me that they would be so clever in how they find the people.
  • The complex currents of power, hatred, fear, and courage that weave between the characters are what make The Horde so interesting–we really don’t know, even in the end, how things are going to turn out, and our allegiance shifts from one character to the next as the film proceeds.
  • One of the characters is an old military man who fought in the French Vietnam war, and seems to have been waiting for chaos to break out so he could go crazy.  He refers to the zombies by derogatory names for North Vietnamese, and he leads the group of sleaziest characters to ogle (and contemplate raping) a female zombie they’d captured.  I find this sort of thing pretty disturbing (as you’re meant to), but also think it feels a little cheap–like having a villain kick a dog.  I find much more likely (and creepy) the men threatening women model we see in 28 Days Later.
  • There are only three female characters in the film: the mother of the murdered cop (one scene), a female zombie mentioned above, and the female police officer, who brings more badass to the screen than pretty much any other character.  Claude Perron brings a solid balance to the character, giving her some real emotion and heart, yet also enough cold-eyed viciousness that we can easily believe she’s part of a police raiding force.
  • NIT BEING PICKED: It bugs me that the zombie disease seems to be contagious/infectious.  The sudden appearance of massive hordes of zombies and the rise of one man killed by gunshots makes it seem as though all the dead are coming back to life, but if that’s the case, why does a bite from one of the zeds infect and/or kill you faster than a normal bite would?  If it is a virus, we wonder how the guy shot by guns got infected, if it’s some sort of radiation, we wonder why the bites seem infectious.
    Warning! Super nerd-out ahead: Perhaps The Horde focuses on a zombie virus like the one in American Zombie, in which living individuals are infected by a virus that remains dormant unless the host is killed in a violent death.  If this were the case, lots of people around France could have been infected before the chaos started.

The Horde is a solid fast-zombie thriller with above-average character development and good production values.  In terms of quality, I would say it’s not quite as good as Dawn of the Dead 2004 or REC, but better than Flight of the Living Dead or Day of the Dead 2008.


The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession
by Allison Hoover Bartlett; read by Judith Brackley

Bartlett chronicles the world of rare and antique book collecting through the eyes of two men deeply embedded in it.  The first, John Gilkey, is an unrepentant con man who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of rare books from dealers all over the country, mostly through credit card fraud. The second, Ken Sanders, was the chief of security for the American Book Dealers’ Association, and the prime mover in the force that caught up with Gilkey.  It’s an interesting story that asks why a man would steal these books not for financial gain, but for the collection itself.

A few thoughts:

  • Bartlett worries throughout the book about the ethics of spending so much time with a thief, of learning some of his secrets that might allow him to be prosecuted, and of the impression she gives to others in hanging out with him.  But she never backs away from the stark depiction of him as an unrepentant thief, and it does her credit.
  • The book spends a lot of time on the culture of book collecting and its attendant addiction, bibliomania.  Apparently, the desire to collect ancient and rare books has been thriving for centuries.  I can completely understand the desire to get more books, and more after that.  As a man with well over 2000 books in my basement, I suffer from the same mania myself, perhaps.  Thank goodness I don’t aspire to have first editions or rare books, at least not much.
  • It’s distressing how easily Gilkey is able to steal from these shops, but often they bring it upon themselves with the relatively lax security they use–often taking phone orders and never asking to see the card, for instance.  At the same time, it seems like the credit card company should bear SOME of the blame if the card comes back as fraudulent when the charge went through the first time around.
  • The tales of Ken Sanders’ efforts to catch Gilkey are pretty darn interesting, though one would like them to be a bit more satisfying in the end–so few of the books Gilkey stole have been recovered, the tale doesn’t end with the justice we’d hope to see.
  • I suppose it’s the similar subject and narrative style, but this book reminded me a lot of This Book is Overdue! by Marilyn Johnson, the book about how librarians and cybrarians are saving us all.  In essence, the only connection between these two books is the fact that they’re about people who love books, but it was enough that I spent my entire reading convinced that Barlett was the author of both books.

Overall, it’s a decent read.  It’s not quite as intense as the subtitle would make it seem, and there’s relatively little in the way of cloak-and-dagger excitement.  But if you collect books or find yourself wishing you had a shelf full of dusty tomes, this might be your kind of tale.


A Quick Lesson in Commodity Fetishism

Lap Tray
Lap Tray

For time or convenience or bad parenting, I let my children watch television while they eat breakfast in the morning.  They do so from the couch, using plastic dinner trays that we purchased after they broke the nice Target ones with wooden legs.  Despite the fact that we ordered two identical lap trays, the ones that arrived have a distinctly different amount of “sparkle.”  Namely, one is very sparkly, one is not.

This causes no end of grief, as the children have decided the sparkly tray is more valuable than the non-sparkly one, and thus have a fight over it every morning.  In trying to rationalize Avery into accepting that there’s no difference in use value of the trays, I had an epiphany that what we’re dealing with is commodity fetishism and sibling rivalry at its core: it matters not whether the thing I have is useful, it matters whether we can both agree that it’s better than the one you have.

Avery reasons that she should get the tray every morning, since Finn eats lunch at home and often uses it then.  I suggested that it doesn’t matter what Finn does at lunch, that she sharing should take into account the chance they each had to use the tray.  After all, she got to eat hot lunch at school and he did not.

“But Daddy,” she moaned, “Finn doesn’t go to school.”

I can see this same conversation happening again when she’s fourteen instead of six, only instead of a lap tray it will be a $200 pair of jeans with lime green stripes and a word across the ass.  Lord help me.

There’s no stopping them now!

In honor of my Zombies in Popular Media course, this month’s featured photos are all from Messiah of Evil, a mediocre zombie film with lovely mise-en-scene.

Zombies through the window

That feeling that you know for certain

One of the callers to Episode 743 of The Atheist Experience last week inquired whether the hosts would endorse belief in God that was not rational, but made sense.  When Martin and Russell dug into the concept a bit, the caller tried to make an analogy with love or music, things people feel but can’t rationalize.  They rightly excluded those analogies on the grounds that God must really exist or not — love and music are opinions, not fact.  At some level, whether or not it can be proved, religion is a question of fact.

"Patterns in Old Stone" by Steve-h
"Patterns in Old Stone" by Steve-h

One of the other callers suggested that the feeling of knowing God is real plays a big part in how people engage with their faith–but as you’ll remember from On Being Certain, the “feeling of knowing” is an emotion that has nothing to do with actual knowledge.  It’s actually really misleading, especially on big complex questions.

In David Cross’ book, I Drink for a Reason, he makes incredulous arguments about religious faith based on the reactions of common sense.  Laying out the tenets of the early Mormon story, for instance, it’s easy to see why people not raised in the faith find them unbelievable.  Cross’ point is that the tenets of all the big world faiths are equally nonsensical — they’re just older and often more firmly rooted in the foundations of our current cultures.

As I was pondering Ken from Popehat’s question about corporate free speech last week, I had to wrestle with the balance between what I feel I know — that excessive corporate speech is unfair BUT the 18January media blackout is fair — and what I can understand ethically.  I think our immediate response to things is an important piece of the puzzle, but we mustn’t confuse gut reaction with ethical knowledge.

As modern people struggling with questions of faith and ethics today, one thing to ask ourselves is how much of what we know comes from rational understanding, and how much comes from the “feeling of knowing” that gives us faith in our source texts?  And if we’ve come to understand that the feeling of knowing is not a reliable judge of reality, how can we proceed in an honest way?


Half Empty
Half Empty

written and narrated by David Rakoff

David Rakoff is one of those writers whose every word makes me wish I were a better writer.  He dashes similes across the page with Raymond Chandler’s gusto, and his reading voice is downright heavenly.  The only thing one can complain about is that the cost of his erudition must be speed, as he publishes far less than the other writers I put in his category: your Sarah Vowells, your David Sedarises, and so on.  That said, Half Empty is another triumph.  Some thoughts:

  • While Rakoff skewers everything from neo-Nazi humor to cancer survivor language with the same dry, self-loathing wit that we’ve come to love, I didn’t find this book as funny as Don’t Get Too Comfortable.  I suppose it’s hard to write a funny book when one is going through one’s second bout with bad-odds cancer.  That said, his cancer essay at the end of the book is stunning.
  • I am also quite enamored of his paean to thoughtful intellectualism written about the U.S. reaction to 9/11.  Rakoff blends an amusing bit of self depreciating humor into the discussion of our country’s anti-intellectual “kill ’em all” mentality in the months following the attack on the World Trade Center.  He makes his way into the discussion via a scientific article that suggested pessimistic people are just as effective at all the key kinds of thinking as optimists are, so we should have listened to the pessimists who said things like “Maybe they won’t greet us as liberators.”  Sarcasm works wonders.
  • The essay “Juicy” focuses on Rakoff’s experience as a short, easily confided-in man who had become more and more depressed at the way gossip so easily became schadenfreude, and how little his own efforts to stem the tide of delight in others’ misery offered.

It’s hard to find much more to say, except that I can’t get enough of his writing style, his quick turn of phrase that reveals the thing we’d been avoiding acknowledging about ourselves.

2012-01-22 Tweets

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One week down

"Reader" by h.koppeldaney
"Reader" by h.koppeldaney

It’s the first week of a new semester here at Columbia College Chicago.  I’ve got a heavier load than usual — three twice-a-week classes, two that meet on Mondays and Wednesdays and one that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays (online).  Here’s a snapshot of the work we’re doing in the classes:

  • Writing for New Media – this is a hybrid course exploring the rhetoric of new media.  We’re reading Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus and some McLuhan, as well as some writing about ARGs.  It’s a course I’ve taught before in several versions, but the challenge this time around is that it’s meeting twice a week, once in an online form.  Our three threads of inquiry:
    – What are the ways new rhetorical forms can help us understand how writing in the digital age changes our perspective?
    – How does the digital landscape change the nature of intellectual property?
    – How can the digital age facilitate new kinds of collaborative large-scale projects, and what challenges do we face in executing same?
  • Writing and Rhetoric 2 – Once again, I’m asking students to do a critical walking piece inspired by Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation and W.G. Sebald’s Rings of Saturn.  We’ll be focusing on Chicago as a space, and looking at the historical nature of the spaces around us.
  • First-Year Seminar – this ethics and art course is meant to get students thinking about the nature of college and art and ethics.  My course is structured around Frankenstein this time around, using the pre-designated divisions of family, community, and world to shape our approach.

I overheard one of our GTAs talking to the faculty advisor, saying she was having trouble bringing confidence to the classroom, and I wanted to remind her that such is my experience every term.  After eight years in this job, I’m certainly able to marshal a lot of material to spin an interesting story for students, but I find that my teaching works best if I’m introducing new material each time.  I’ll leave you with PZ Myers‘ take on new semesters:

All you professors out there know the existential dread associated with the start of a new term — you’ve only just now cleared away most of the accumulated drudgery of the last term, and now here comes a new one, with all of the work associated with that. And you’re sitting there now with your sets of syllabi, each with dates locked in that represent fresh inundations of exams to grade and papers to read. You’re standing on the shore looking out at the maelstrom, bracing yourself to swim into the heart of it, where you will be buffeted and swirled about and at the end of it, spat out onto another shore to face another in the next term. (Pharyngula)

Sounds about right, except the storm that spits me out usually has zombies in it.

In which I may change my mind… perhaps

My early instinct against the Citizens United decision revolves around the idea that corporate influence in politics is frustrating and corrupting.  I think we’re all on the same page there — the fact that lobbyists and campaign contributions play such a huge role in government decision making bothers me to no end.  And the Citizens United decision seemed to make it worse.  My thinking seemed straightforward to me, at the time: unfettered spending puts even more power in the hands of the people with lots of money, and removes “regular people” from the equation even more quickly.

And then came the January 18th media blackout, a protest by numerous internet companies against the SOPA/PIPA bills, which was decried by the MPAA/RIAA as an abuse of power.  Being an advocate of free speech and internet freedom in particular, I am firmly against SOPA/PIPA, so I approved, and saw right through the MPAA whine about abuse of power (as if the ability to turn off websites without judicial oversight wouldn’t ALSO be abuse of power).

But Ken over at Popehat asks the challenging question: should those business entities have had a right to engage in SOPA/PIPA protests like they did? If so, what is the source of that right, and by what mechanism is it vindicated? It’s a great post that you should go read.  I’ll wait.

"Free Speech Zone" by jutta @ Flickr
"Free Speech Zone" by jutta @ Flickr




My initial thought is YES!, of course they should!  But this leads to the bigger question of whether all corporations should have unfettered free speech or not, and demands that I understand the ethics behind my opinion of it.  So I thought I’d meditate on that question bloggily for a bit.

First, a quick summary of the scope of Ken’s question:

  1. If corporations have no First Ammendment rights, why can’t they be punished for the blackout?
  2. Political process hasn’t been good at stopping governmental overreach (see WAR ON DRUGS)
  3. Government won’t been even handed in suppressing corporate speech, if given the opportunity
  4. We use corporations to express our speech, so if gv’t can suppress corporations, they can suppress speec

I’m inclined to study the difference between the SOPA/PIPA protest and other causes toward which I’m favorably inclined — let’s say National Healthcare.  In both cases, I’m inclined to say the corporation CAN spend to make their case.  Imagine some sort of media event where the health care industry intervened in some way (without endangering peoples’ lives) to protest the national health care bill.  I can’t find an ethical ground to say this should be disallowed (nor am I inclined to).

So when would I be inclined to limit corporate spending on speech? Let’s consider direct electioneering.  I’m inclined to limit advertising expenditures from big corporations to influence elections.  But again, I don’t think Google should be prohibited from running truthful ads against MPAA schills running on a “censor the web” platform, as long as the funding of those commercials is clear.

Perhaps two pieces of that last bit is the watershed for me: truth and transparency.  Of course, it should be illegal to run false ads, but cherry-picking quotes allows for any manner of ads that are technically true without being truthful.  But the bigger issue is transparency.  I’m inclined to say that all funding should be directly revealed, that when you watch a Citizens United commercial, you should be able to go on the web (or ideally, freeze the last second of the ad) and see who contributed the money that made the ad.  But that’s also part of the current rules.

So in the end, I can’t find a test case where I can defend the 18 January blackout without also defending unfettered spending for ads by my philosophical enemy, and I must say that I support the Citizens United decision, as odious as its potential results are.  Thus, we continue down the difficult road of finding ethical solutions to complex problems. 


Any Human Heart

Any Human Heart
Any Human Heart

by William Boyd

Logan Mountstuart lived an incredible life, spanning the era from just before the first World War until the middle of the 1980s.  He kept journals off and on throughout his life, chronicling his experiences as a writer, an adventurer, a lover, and a gatabout.  This novel collects those journals and creates a chronicle of his adventures.  (Just in case I’m being too cryptic, he’s fictional.)  A few thoughts:

  • In some ways, the novel reads like Forrest Gump if the protagonist were an upper-class British intellectual instead of an earnest if slightly slow Southerner.  Over the course of the novel Logan, who runs in art and literary circles because of his class and his literary aspirations, meets numerous literary and artistic giants, passing through their lives as a n embodiment of a certain kind of wealth-born ennui.  He meets Virginia Woolf, Jackson Pollock, the Prince of Wales who abdicated the throne, Picasso, Hemingway, and Ian Fleming, to name a few.
  • Yet another novel in which the main character grows into someone better (as we all hope we do, I suppose) but who makes a vicious fool of himself early on.  In this case, infidelity seems built into Logan’s bones, and he practices it all the time, except for his brief marriage to the one woman he truly loved.  This makes him, for me, a pretty dislikable character, and while I come to like him, warts and all, by the end of the book, I wouldn’t have finished it if it hadn’t been a gift.  That said, I’m glad to have read it and thought it was well-done overall.
  • The literature and art in the novel feel well out of my range, I’m afraid.  Boyd tosses around art and literature references with a familiarity and obscurity I couldn’t only match in reference to Star Wars or Titanic lore.  I particularly liked the sequence in New York, when Logan was running an art gallery.
  • I can’t say I understand the title entirely, but I’d say the complexity of the character is what makes the novel work.  Just as with any human heart, Logan finds himself driven by different forces at different moments, taken by temptation of lust or alcohol, and ultimately left only with his thoughts and the fruit born by the seeds he planted for both good and ill.

Any Human Heart is a fine life-spanning novel, one that gives depth of feeling and verve to the human condition.  It’s not the sort of book I usually choose to read, but it has a lot of payoff despite its slow-burn build.


I’ve written about this before, and if I had  more time (beginning of the semester morass), I’d do the whole blackout thing.  Instead, you’ll have to settle for this.

Please, please contact your Congress-person to protest the awful SOPA and PROTECT-IP laws.

Sophisticants, unite! (Mid 90s edition)

Looking for Richard and Cold Comfort Farm

We subscribed to HBO for a few months last year so we could watch Game of Thrones and True Blood.  While we did so, I taped recorded several movies on our TiVO to watch later.  While preparing a Christmas gift for the kids last month, I had occasion to stay up late and finish two of them that I’d been holding on to for some time.

Looking for Richard Cold Comfort Farm

Looking for Richard is a documentary made by Al Pacino, meant to help make Richard III more accessible by documenting the process of learning the play from an actor’s perspective.  Cold Comfort Farm is a comedy about an elite socialite who spends several months living with distant relatives on a grim bit of land in the British boonies.  They have a lot in common.

  • At their heart, both movies are about how high-brow intellectual stuff can be great for “regular” people.  This is the overt story in CCF, in which Flora’s educated, modern ways bring changes to everyone in the farm.  Of course, it helps that Flora is an eminently ethical woman who works to help people but doesn’t seem to have the “I’m right because I’m well-educated” attitude, at least overtly.  Looking for Richard wrestles with that oldest of Lit. Prof questions: why does the average person dislike Shakespeare so much?  It features lots of interviews with people on the streets of New York, rappin with Al Pacino about how much they don’t like Shakespeare, or they like him but have never seen a play.
  • Both films also feature tons of people you know and have seen in other movies.  Richard focuses on Al Pacino, but along the way we see the 1996 incarnations of Alec Baldwin, Kevin Spacey, Kevin Kline, Winona Ryder, Kenneth Branaugh, James Earl Jones (these last two weren’t actually in Pacino’s play, they were just talking about Shakespeare).  Cold Comfort Farm, as with many productions from the British isles, samples from a relatively small pool of actors who would later be recognizable, including Kate Beckinsdale, Joanna Lumley, Stephen Fry, Rufus Sewell, and Ian McKellen.
  • Clothing becomes a distinct marker of sophistication in each film, with both films featuring some people missing teeth or wearing bedraggled clothes.
  • The films deal with pretentiousness in different ways.  Cold Comfort Farm‘s protagonist aspires to be a novelist, and seeks to spend time among her less-fortunate relatives to supply life-experiences for her novel.  As the story proceeds, Emma-like, she comes to realize that interacting with people will help her grow more than observing them will.  Richard III wrestles with two kinds of pretentiousness: first, there’s the inherent problem of trying to get the word out about high literature.  On one hand, it’s a noble endeavor that seeks to share knowledge and delight.  On the other hand, it presumes to tell people the culture they like isn’t good, and that this culture is better, a task always fraught with landmines of arrogance.  The film also focuses on the actor’s craft, which produces an amazing product but often looks pretty self-absorbed to those of us who don’t pursue it.  There’s a scene where Pacino and his director talk through a key sequence of Richard’s death, and Pacino plays out the death scene on the steps of a church (or some other marble-fronted building in New York).  I couldn’t help but think that if I saw them doing that on the street, I’d be pretty turned off.

Finally, the fact that I enjoyed both films reflects my own changing perspective, I think.  I’d heard about Looking for Richard when it came out, but despite the fact that Richard 3 is one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, I never sought it out as I did other films of the plays.  I wasn’t interested in the teaching aspect of the film.  Cold Comfort Farm I went so far as to rent, but turned off after a few minutes, unwilling to engage with the story.  Fifteen years later, however, I’m easily able to engage with and enjoy both.