Taking The Wife out to the movies is a rare experience, given the age of our children and our "remote country lifestyle," so when we do make a night of it, we work hard to agree on the movie. We figured we had one shot at a summer movie on the big screen, and threw our lot in with Spidey.
It was a good choice. Thrills, chills, suspense and spectacle - the best of the superhero sequels even managed to bring a tear to my eye during its more poignant moments. Director Sam Raimi devotes the majority of the movie to the travails of Spider-Man's alter-ego, Peter Parker. Thanks to Toby McGuire's comic timing and well-honed moony-eyed shtick, it quickly becomes clear why Spider-Man is the most compelling superhero from an extremely large herd: Parker is a genuinely sympathetic shmuck, whose insecure personality never entirely disappears when he muscles up and puts on the union suit. Contrast this with the Batman/Bruce Wayne split, or Superman/Clark Kent: Batman's utility belt has more personality than Bruce Wayne, while the illegal Alien Kent is more compelling than the invincible Superman. Marvel Comics reconfigured the equation, got it right, and set it out in bold type on the cover of every issue: "Peter Parker Is: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN." Amen to that.
The Station Agent is not to be missed: a poignant reminder that sometimes it's the annoying people in your life who keep you sane. Speaking of which...
The Princess & The Whiskheads: A Fable by Russell Smith. What are we to do with this Smith guy? On the one hand, his day-gig with The Globe & Mail sets him up as the secular fool - delivering stentorian proclamations to his fellow victims of fashion; earnestly treading water in the hip-chic vortexes of Toronto the Good, then toweling off to deliver the temperature of the water to The Nation At Large. On the other hand, this callow knob furrows into the corner booth of an Italian café the rest of us haven't yet discovered, unfolds his iMac and bangs out peerless, spot-on fiction. How Insensitive, Noise, and Young Men are all solid, good reads, which find Russell impressively channeling different muses, from Waugh to Cheever, while adding a soupcon of personality that leaves you wondering if you aren't finally seeing a bit of the Real Smith at last.
But on the other hand again, he writes and publishes a weird and wankerish little book like TP&TW. For the first 50 pages, the set-up is lushly surreal, not unlike Jeffrey Ford's divine Dali-of-the-Pulps, The Physiognomy. Then things quickly get didactic, as The Moral Of The Story is delivered with heavy-handed earnestness and aristocratic good will. Smith can still be forgiven, for three reasons: the hardcover is a cheap find in most remainder bins, the book is mercifully short, and two of the seven woodcuts by Wesley W. Bates have a pleasant, shadowy eroticism. A thoughtless consumer could almost be excused for razoring out and framing these exceptions, but you won't catch me advocating such a barbaric practice.
A House On The River, by Nessa Rapoport. This is a terrific little memoir. Rapoport is a New Yorker, 40, with child, taking a houseboat with other family members to a Canadian locale that triggers vivid childhood memories. She measures the distance between her adolescent yearnings and the adult reality, and cautiously assesses the journey ahead, including mortality - her own, and that of loved ones. A beguiling and poignant read, perfect for the closing days of summer.