Here continues a monthly account of the music, books, and films that have occupied my time.
Americana Folk music has never sounded better. AUSTIN CITY LIMITS features new songwriters and musicians and televises their concerts. If you like the harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel or The Everly Brothers, you would appreciate The Milk Carton Kids, two Californian guitarists and folk singers, Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan.
Another folk singer, who often performs on Austin City Limits, is up-and-coming Sarah Jarosz. Her clear voice is haunting, and I appreciate her back up instrumentalists, especially violinist Nathaniel Smith, whose talents as a musician add depth to her heartfelt songs. In June, she begins a national tour promoting her new album Undercurrent. She will perform throughout the United Kingdom in November. To learn more about Sarah Jarosz, visit her site HERE.
Thomas Pauly‘s biography provided a fair distribution exploring the complicated personality and achievements of Zane Grey. As the title suggests, Pauly exposed Grey’s human side, his career as a writer and inspiration for Western films, and Grey’s fishing exploits. Using the journals and letters between Zane Grey and his wife Dolly, she is an interesting woman who initially financed and then managed his career and wealth. She raised their three children and tolerated his entourage of women who acted as secretaries and provided the emotional and the physical passion he needed to write. Grey explored the Southwest and wrote over 100 Western novels. Depression also accompanied him wherever he went. His favorite pastime was deep-sea fishing and he broke several world records. 4/5
Here’s a recent post about Zane Grey if you missed it:
In this Pulitzer winning book from 2014, Donna Tartt’s strength is her descriptive dialogues. Her teenage protagonist,Theo, begins his tale adoring his perfect mother. Theo is a lonely soul. After catastrophic events like bombings, death, and abandonment, he holds on to the props (the Goldfinch painting, a family ring) that mysteriously play a role in his future. Despite shifts in setting and friendships that come and go, I had a hard time staying with it. I usually enjoy Pulitzer winning novels, but I didn’t empathize with Theo much when the plot-pot was stirred. 3.5/5.
V is for Vendetta (2005) Despite Natalie Portman‘s poor British accent, this Dystopian thriller was a lot of fun to watch. Written by the Wachowski Brothers (The Matrix), who are now transgender sisters, Lana and Lilly, the film felt like a Terry Gilliam dark comedy about a future society where a greedy chancellor rose like a Hitler and attempted to rule Britain by hood-winking its docile citizenry through media propaganda. John Hurt plays the British-Dictator Adam Susan perfectly. After two hours and thirteen minutes looking at Hugo Weaving‘s mask was unnerving and grew steadily annoying. By the time Evey kisses it, it turned weird. 4/5
The Danish Girl (2015) Who could complain about the fine acting by Alicia Vikander and Eddie Redmayne or the cinematography capturing the historical setting of 1930s Copenhagen? Despite the unusual story about the complicated marriage of Einar and Gerda, the overarching story about one of the first sex-change operations was put on the back burner with the last act rushed and the psychological duress of Lili and Einar glossed over. A visual treat more than an emotional journey. 3/5
Joy (2015) One of the better performances by Jennifer Lawrence as Joy Mangano, this epic featured Joy as the plate-juggler of an annoying, quirky family while she chased her dream and became a mop-maker entrepreneur. The voice over by the grandmother was unnecessary; despite the you-go-girl moments, it failed to engage me for the two-hour running time. 3/5
Creed (2015) Watch Sylvester Stallone turn into Micky. He shrinks, loses his hair, and dons the black stocking cap. The best part of the film is the chemistry between Rocky (Stallone) and Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan). The love interest Bianca (Tessa Thompson) is unnecessary to the plot. The back story was unnecessary. The ending scene with the two champs climbing 72 steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum was necessary and satisfyingly predictable. It’s very hard to make a good boxing movie. The tropes and stereotypes drip with convention and make it difficult to dive into the story line. Since psychologists tell us we remember the first and last items in a sequence, it applies here. The original Rocky and now Creed are memorable. Let it be. 3.5/5.
Inside Out (2015) Sure! I love the idea of our brain explained by primary emotions by cartoon characters. I love the idea that the circuitry to the aspects of our identity are floating islands. No one likes a Negative Nancy, right Joy? No one trusts the Pollyanna, either. Silver linings discovered from sorrowful situations define one’s character. Grief, despair, and agony are parts of life; to expect one can avoid these emotions or protect others from them is unhealthy. Through the trials we bond in friendship and family and love. Perseverance is an honorable virtue never gained by hiding or running away. I cried, therefore, I liked the film. See? 4/5
Conspiracy Theory (1997) I revisited this last week and it held up surprisingly well. The plot contained dark humor, details, and twists and remained interesting throughout. Mel Gibson delivered one of his finest performances as New York cabbie, Jerry Fletcher. Julia Roberts plays attorney Alice Sutton. Is Jerry a paranoid, crazy stalker? Or is his devotion to her understandable by the time all the secrets are out? Genuine affection between the two characters was believable. Patrick Stewart delivers as the director of a hush-hush Manchurian-Candidate program. I love this film. 4.5/5.
Hunger (2008) Wow. Director Steve McQueen‘s British/Irish historical drama was his début film and starred Michael Fassbender. McQueen spent much time focusing his shots on the details of life within Maze Prison and the inhumane treatment of IRA prisoners from the 1970s. Boredom is caught with shots of inmates catching flies, snow falling during a smoke, or artwork on walls swirled from shit. Contrasted with the silent scenes are the loud scenes as inmates are treated like animals. Fassbender gives a phenomenal performance as Bobby Sands, fighting for status as political prisoner, and the audience must witness his hunger strike. It has been awhile since Christian Bale starved himself for The Machinist(2004); Michael Fassbender’s physical transformation is just as shocking. It is McQueen’s style to hold that shot; after a seventeen minute dialogue between characters Bobby Sands (Fassbender) and Father Dominic Moran (Liam Cunningham) at a table, the intense rationalizations needed a long transition for their argument to sink in and prepare the audience for the hunger strike. McQueen brilliantly shows us a guard at the end of the prison hall with a push broom. The inmates dump their urine pots from under the doors. Methodically, the prison guard walks toward the audience pushing the urine toward us. The camera is fixed. We can go nowhere. By the time the guard’s broom is close to us, we’ve had time to think. We understand why Bobby Sands wills his life away in the name of principle. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in a while. I highly recommend it. 4.5/5.