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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Culture Corner

The Arts Desk’s weekly picks for television, movies, books and music

By JACOB ANDERSON — arts@theaggie.org

 

Movie: “Sexy Beast” dir. Jonathan Glazer (2000)

Jonathan Glazer’s debut feature was a far cry from the film he is most known for nowadays, 2013’s “Under the Skin,” which was a vexing, unpleasant and partially improvised film notorious for its depiction of Scarlett Johansson as a man-murdering alien. While less bewildering than that film, “Sexy Beast” still manages to transform the well-worn heist movie into something almost unrecognizable. It follows a retired safe-cracker, Gal, who is importuned by his old boss into doing one more job. The film has a familiar enough plot, but Ben Kingsley’s performance as said boss elevates the film into something of interest: He’s socially unaware, grating, violent and a proper whirlwind whose impending presence elicits an almost physical despair in Gal and company. The film largely deals with the building antagonism between Gal and his boss — it’s basically a heist movie where the heist is an afterthought, almost irrelevant compared to the complex personalities involved. It’s thrilling and leagues better than “Under the Skin,” in my humble opinion.

 

Book: “The Master of Go” by Yasunari Kawabata (1951)

Definitive representative of the Japanese postwar novel and Nobel-prize winner Yasunari Kawabata called “The Master of Go” his greatest work: a meaningful statement on its own, but magnified by the degree to which the book separates itself from the meticulous, spiritual novels that compose the rest of his best-known works. “The Master of Go” is a semi-fictional account of the final game between Go master Honinbo Shūsai and challenger Minoru Kitani prior to the former’s death — a marathon showdown that lasted almost half a year. Interlaced between diagrams of the board and Kawabata’s discussions of strategy with others in attendance are the histories and thoughts of the players, who are both aware that this will probably be the final, defining game of the master’s career. The game itself is of course fascinating, but it serves mostly as a form through which the master’s stoic, melancholic beauty is demonstrated. At the core of the novel is the sweetness of decline, one life determined and finally ended by a tradition that stretches thousands of years into the past. 

 

Album: “Day Trip” by Pat Metheny (2008)

One of the better entries in his discography, “Day Trip” is Pat Metheny at his most evocative. Here, Metheny’s guitar jazz is bustling and intricate while creating a casual atmosphere suggestive of sprawling cities and warm days. The best tracks, like the opener, “Son of Thirteen,” feel as if lunch hour in San Francisco were rendered in musical form. The sound is lush and ever-changing, and the album is definitely one of several high-water marks in the career of a classic jazz guitarist.

 

TV Show: “Mad Men” (2007)

“Mad Men” deserves recognition for achieving the rare status of “show longer than six seasons that remains good the whole way through.” That’s not an easy feat, especially when you consider that not a single member of the cast gets a lackluster arc over the show’s seven seasons. The show charts the changing mores of 1960s America through the lives of employees at an advertising agency, with pivotal moments in history that the passage of time is felt in every level of the show. “Mad Men” is most famous, though, for its iconic protagonist Don Draper, whose mysterious mien slowly recedes to reveal the self-destructive tendencies engendered by early 20th-century America — a development that mimics the identification and abandonment of failing tradition that the 1960s are known for. Few other shows can claim the quality of writing found in “Mad Men,” with other comparable prestige dramas like “Breaking Bad” and “The Sopranos” floundering for stretches. Most of the credit probably belongs to showrunner Matthew Weiner, whose brilliantly structured pilot sets up much of the show’s arc from its first moments.

 

Written by: Jacob Anderson — arts@theaggie.org

 

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