Spreading holiday cheer

Happy Festivus, everyone. Also have a great Saturnelia or however you observe the Winter Solstice. And to our Christian friends and neighbors, a good Christmas too. There are plenty of blogs that are taking a break from politics right now to do some old-fashioned Christmas-time introspection, but I’m not really interested in that. Instead, I’m just going to tell you some of the things that are making me happy right now. Let’s assume that friends and family are a given and I can’t recommend that you purchase those on Amazon. So instead here are some things I’ve experienced that can easily make you happy too:

Ulysses, by James Joyce
When I went to the Jack Kerouac exhibit at the New York Public Library a couple weeks ago, I saw a page from Kerouac’s notebook that had scribbled in bold letters at the top: “ULYSSES IS THE BEST BOOK EVER.” So it was inevitable that as soon as I finished the book I was on at the time (The Sun Also Rises – I’ve been making an effort to go back and read all the classics I should have already read by now) I was going to take a crack at it. It’s probably not advisable without taking a college course on the book simultaneously due to the sheer density of it, but considering how much I loved A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I figured it was worth the slog.

If you haven’t read it yet, you should. I don’t have the literary background or education to try saying anything new or interesting about Ulysses – especially when I’m nowhere near finished with the book – so instead I’ll leave you with the wise words of esteemed literary critic Harold Bloom, who once said, “Ulysses is totally awesome.”

The I’m Not There Soundtrack
For the first time ever, my family’s going for the whole Jewish Christmas ceremony this year, which means Chinese food and a movie later tonight. That means I’m finally going to get to see I’m Not There. In the meantime, let it be known that the soundtrack is amazing – two discs of Bob Dylan covers by some of the few bands that should be trusted with Dylan songs. I haven’t given it a thorough listen, but I think the high mark of the whole album so far is The Hold Steady’s cover of “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?” Maybe it’s because, as regular readers of the blog may know, The Hold Steady is one of my favorite bands and I heard their version of the song first, but it doesn’t sound like a great band covering a Bob Dylan song so much as it sounds like Bob Dylan wrote a Hold Steady song and it was just sitting around waiting for them to show up and play it.

Once and Oldboy
Two great movies I’ve been meaning to see for a while that I’ve finally gotten to see in the past week. I probably wouldn’t recommend both of them to the same people, but I thought they were both fantastic. Once is described as “charming” a lot, but that really does disservice to the movie. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful in a way that will remind you of every stupid, aching, unachievable crush – at least until the music kicks in and the movie suddenly becomes weightless and you remember why music is so great in the first place. If you play an instrument or write your own songs I can pretty much guarantee you’ll want to whip out either and get to work once the credits start rolling.

The weird thing is, I tried listening to the soundtrack and some of the music of The Frames (of which the lead songwriter/actor is the frontman) and I couldn’t enjoy it that much outside of the context of the movie. But when you see the performances that go along with the music and how it ties into the evolving relationship of the two main characters, it becomes a lot better.

Unlike Once, Oldboy is not heartwarming or life affirming in any sense of the word. Oldboy is a brutal, messed up mindfuck of a movie. Three days after I watched it, it was still blowing my mind. The ending sticks with you like a bad taste in your mouth, but in a good way – what I thought was going to be a relatively straightforward if really well-done revenge story took all kinds of crazy twists and turns including one key plot twist that I actually saw coming from miles away but dismissed as way too absurd to actually happen – the fact that it not only did end up happening but was integrated into the movie in a way that not only made sense but seemed inevitable is a real testament to the strength of the writing and direction.

And if you’re a fan of fight scenes that actually look like a fight instead of just a meticulously choreographed martial arts demonstration, check out the now-famous hallway battle:

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