Are You Not Entertained?

Here continues a monthly account of the music, books, and films that have occupied my time.

MUSIC

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.

BOOKS 

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:

https://cindybruchman.com/2016/05/09/zane-grey/

The Goldfinch

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.

FILMS

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.

28 thoughts on “Are You Not Entertained?

Add yours

  1. All I can relate to in this roundup is ‘Conspiracy Theory’, which I loved. (I am a sucker for conspiracy theories anyway.) I have seen ‘V for Vendetta’, but found it really annoying, and not a patch on the original graphic novel.(Although Portman looked good, especially dressed up…) Other than that, I haven’t read the books, or seen the other films. And what I know about Americana Folk Music, you could write on the back of a stamp. With a marker pen.
    A good read as always, Cindy.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  2. Good to hear you’re a fan of ‘Conspiracy Theory’. Gibson was great in it, and in a story that still relates today. I really need to catch up to ‘Hunger’. Everyone I know who’s seen it come away from it like you. I’m intrigued enough now to read ‘Zane Grey’, too. Thanks, Cindy.

    1. Hi Wendell. An amusing detail I liked in V is V’s use of alliteration for the letter, yep, V. It was an escapist film and it sure had a cult following when it came out. Stallone acted well, didn’t he? Very tender, bringing for the feelings he had for the original cast members into this film. True to Rocky–a perfect performance for him in this legendary role.

  3. I’m a huge fan of Simon & Garfunkel and The Everly Brothers. The Sound of Silence is my all-time favorite song.

    My mom is a big fan of Western novels. I’m almost sure she has read some of Grey’s books.

    V for Vendetta (2005) deserves its cult status. The Danish Girl (2015) disappointed me a bit. The acting is tremendous, though. I didn’t like Conspiracy Theory (1997), but I do need to rewatch it (I don’t remember a thing!). Inside Out (2015) was engaging, but it left me depressed. My problem, I guess. Hunger (2008) sounds very very interesting. I really liked Shame (2011), another McQueen-Fassbender movie. Have you seen it? I need to see the others. Thanks for the report card!

    1. ha ha. Report card. I like that. I hope you will get a chance to listen to the videos–these artists are calming. No I have not seen Shame. Great! I’ll put that one in the Netflix queue to rent this summer. Fassbender is quickly becoming a top actor for me. I mean, I’ll watch anything he’s in now. Speaking of which, I’m about to go watch Macbeth and Cotillard. Honestly, are there two better, equal male and female pairings out there working today?

  4. I hadn’t heard of Sarah Jarosz, funnily enough my crush Sam Riley used to be in a band called 10000 Things 🙂

    Glad to hear you like V For Vendetta! Hugo Weaving was phenomenal in that role, acting behind a mask!

      1. He’s got a major part in Lord of The Rings, Lord Elrond, and also in The Matrix as Agent Smith. I saw him in a tiny Aussie Indie film w/ Cate Blanchett called Little Fish which is also excellent.

        1. Oh, I feel stupid. Of course, that Victor Weaving! I saw a picture of him with a beard and didn’t recognize him. Yes, I know him now. Haven’t seen Little Fish. I should check that out.

          1. Ahah it’s HUGO Weaving Cindy 😀 He can look so different from film to film, a brilliant actor.

            Hey, my blog’s monthly series Five for the Fifth is here, hope you’ll take part!

  5. I love Zane Grey, who I first read as a teen. He is a master of building suspense and empathy for his characters right from the start. Often for the girl, who isn’t always the main character. I haven’t seen all those movies, but I did recently watch V is for Vendetta, and it was very moving. Surreal and twisted, but moving. Natalie Portman just doesn’t sound British no matter how hard she tried, though.

    1. Hi Brenda! Thanks for commenting. Now that I’ve read about Grey, I’m anxious to read some of his novels. I think I’ll start with Riders of the Purple Sage. V for Vendetta was fun; yes, Natalie needs to work on her British accent. She was still beautiful to look at, bald and all.

  6. I’m glad you liked Creed, of course I’m a huge fan. Conspiracy Theory which I didn’t care may require a re-evaluation following your high praise. Mel Gibson was the man when I was growing up along with Harrison Ford. I miss him too, have you seen Get The Gringo? Originally Hugo Weaving was not cast as V. Thank God they made the change as his voice really is something. Speaking of the Wachowskis, what’s your take on Cloud Atlas? I saw Hunger at BIFF years ago and kept on telling people this guy is gonna be a star. I don’t know if McQuuen and Fassbender have ever bettered it, it hit like a sledgehammer on the bug screen in a darkened theatre. Certainly though Shame and 12 Years Are A Slave are worthy follow ups.

    1. Oh, yes, to Fassbender and McQueen. It was a powerful film. I have Get the Gringo on my Netflix list. I missed Cloud Atlas. Do you recommend it? I remember it had a divided opinion from movie buff critics.

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