Are You Not Entertained?

Here resumes a monthly recap of better music, books, films, and television that entertained me. 

MUSIC

We’ve had a lot of visiting relatives this past month, and Neil Young seemed to be the background noise for much of it. At one point, I actually got tired of listening to him. But he is a staple in our home, and with healthy intermissions, I enjoy listening to his albums. He’s a fun one to mimic with those notes delivered at the back of the throat. He is a mood-setter. In my world, there’s nothing better than sitting by a fire outdoors or in, with wine and Neil singing in the background. How do you pick a favorite? This love ballad released in 1992 never grows old.

BOOKS 

 

Who was the first woman to obtain a glider pilot’s license? Anne Morrow Lindbergh. That’s understandably overshadowed by her husband’s accolades. The most famous man in the world in 1927, Charles Lindbergh landed his Spirit of St. Louis near Paris and completed the first solo airplane flight across the Atlantic. She was his co-pilot literally and figuratively throughout their 45-year marriage. Author Melanie Benjamin‘s historical fiction account is a refreshing twist showcasing the complicated life of the couple from Anne’s perspective. It is a novel full of intrigue, adventure, and scandal without sounding like a soap opera. Melanie Benjamin keeps the narrative cool enough to avoid melodrama, but close enough for the reader to feel like they’re privy to the introverted couple, and it is easy to care for Anne in her unique position. The Aviator’s Wife is gracefully written, entertaining novel. 4/5.

Edward Rutherford’s books are fun history. New York follows the chronological format as the other novel of his I read, The Princes of Ireland. Rutherford created an epic by placing fictional characters that represented a class or social group and placed them into historical events. My favorite section in New York was the July 1863 New York City draft riots. A husband tried to find his abolitionist wife who faced a mob who wanted to kill the African American orphans at her school. I kept thinking about Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York when I read this part of the novel; not too surprised to realize I liked the book version more. 4/5. 

TELEVISION

I didn’t like it–I loved every episode including the cool intro music and artwork. Why? I’m a fan of 20th Century social history especially of film. Plus, I think it’s peculiar–America’s obsession with movie stars and the interworkings of making a movie. Although Susan Sarandon portrayed Bette Davis and Jessica Lange depicted Joan Crawford with admirable effort, the most convincing performances went to the entire supporting cast notably Stanley Tucci as Jack L. Warner, Alfred Molina as Robert Aldrich, and Jackie Hoffman as Mamasita. The 8 episode series juggled two stories–the actual feud between Davis and Crawford (I love Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? so the drama behind the film attracted me.) The other story was the Hollywood climate surrounding the casting couch and the manipulative power of male movie moguls. By the end of the series, I had an itch to explore director Robert Aldrich’s filmography.

Movies 

I’ve seen a lot of films lately, especially starring Gene Hackman, but for this post, I picked a pair that had me thinking and feeling.

Predestination(2015). This is a mind-bending, science fiction thriller film written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig with screenplay help by Robert A. Heinlein.  Time travel is an easier concept to play out in books than in films because the price asked for the suspension of disbelief is high. In books, your imagination fills in the holes while not so at the movies. In this story, agent (Ethan Hawke) embarks on a final time-traveling assignment to prevent an elusive criminal from launching an attack that kills thousands of people. A fine performance by Hawke, but the show goes to the creative performance by Sarah Snook. It’s one I’d watch again. 4/5.

Wind River (2017).  It’s a mystery, crime thriller that personifies the cold, spring of Wyoming on an American Indian reservation. A daughter is raped and runs six miles in her bare feet across the winter landscape. A pretty FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) arrives to investigate, ill-suited but determined to solve the mystery, and teams up with wildlife officer Lambert (Jeremy Renner). Despite the somber premise, the movie is moving because the theme of loss permeates all the characters and is allowed to surface in a way that is harmonic with the whispering wind and frozen landscape and a satisfying resolution. It is a strangely beautiful film. Plus, if you want to see a pair from Dances with Wolves, Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal were a sight for sore eyes. Actor Gil Birmingham returns from Hell or High Water (2016) to give the best performance of the film as the grieving father. Director and writer Taylor Sheridan is fast becoming a favorite with Sicario (2015), and Hell or High Water (2016) to his credit. He seems to be carrying a freshly-lit torch as writer and director of the post-modern Western. Taylor Sheridan’s ability to make the natural setting an integral part of the plot and his willingness to let an ensemble cast have lines and scenes that foster true characterization are reminiscent of the Coen Brothers. 4.2/5.

42 thoughts on “Are You Not Entertained?

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  1. I like the sound of both these movies, (Elizabeth Olsen and Jeremy Renner are both Avengers in the Marvel movies BTW! šŸ™‚ ) The Aviators Wife is also one that I’d like to read. I can’t cope with much of Neil Young, though I do like Harvest Moon, his voice is just too whiney for me! Cool post Cindy.

    1. Hi Fraggle. I was impressed with Elizabeth Olsen. Who know the infamous twins were her sisters? I didn’t. I also didn’t know about the Avengers, too.
      I bet you will like The Aviator’s Wife. It is interesting and easy.

  2. Neil Young has had such a unique career, going from folk to rock, punk, grunge and country – sometimes one right after the other….Harvest Moon is a great album, a softer set of songs – “Comes A Time” is another example of that type of Neil as well!

  3. Feud starts on BBC TV here on the 16th. I can’t wait!
    I read a few Rutherfurd books some time ago. Russka, Sarum, and London. All very involving.
    As you know, I reviewed Predestination on my blog this year, and loved it. Great to see Hawke acting well, in a lead role. I like the look of the other film too.
    Neil Young? Like FR, only in small doses, due to the ‘whine factor’. Better in CSNY, I thought.
    Thanks for the roundup, Cindy. Always a pleasure.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Welcome back, Pete. Oh, I hope you enjoy Feud as much as I did. Molina stood out to me. Some criticized it was too long, but I did not want it to end. Watch out for Helen Hunt’s directing an episode. There were a lot of actors I enjoyed watching. I think it appeals most to those who have seen WHTBJ and a love for 50s and 60s cinema.

  4. I never caught Predestination but Iā€™m a fan of Wind River. It turned out to be a much different film than I expected. I found myself lost in the setting (And I mean that in a good way).

  5. Nice post Cindy. I listened to rock music during the early 90’s (during my late teens) but very little of Neil Young. i remember his catchy song “keep on rocking in the free world” which he sang with Pearl Jam in a music awards concert.

    As for movies, Predestination was really good and original. Regarding Wind River, the last part was a little bit of a let down i thought, considering how it started . And yes the setting was really an integral part of the plot.

    1. Hi Martin–so you didn’t like the last bit of Wind River. I wonder if it has to do with the “cheating” of the narration? That is, it was first person limited (Renner) then shifted to Olsen, then left them and showed us the rape. I thought that was a mistake. I do understand by doing so, the intimate sweet moment of the lovers made us react more to the moment, but I thought that was heavy-handed. The ending on the precipice in the bright snow, the redemption, I thought was just fine.

      1. I can’t quite remember the details because its been about 5 or 6 weeks since watching it. But i think you are right. It was a mistake to show the rape scene. It didn’t blend in with the quality of the narrative before it, if that makes sense. There was so much unknown and compelling beforehand, and then that flashback came which was heavy-handed, and then a shootout that was too violent.
        That final shot of the Indian and Renner talking was fine like you said.

        In the topic of good mystery thrillers, i find that the endings do not require big shootouts and heavy handed content.
        For example, a few weeks ago, i watched Kiss the Girls starring Morgan Freeman. It ended with a twist, a short confrontation, a few words, a single gunshot, and perfect acting by Freeman. Maybe it was Freeman who elevated the material, but i usually prefer those type of endings in a mystery thriller.

  6. Wind River getting rave reviews and now you join them. Plan to check it out. Sarah Snook is incredible in Predestination, she popped up in the film about Steve Jobs but hopefully we’ll be seeing a lot more of her.

  7. i had never heard of feud. thank you for the alert. i have been loving whatever happened to baby jane since i saw it age age 12 in its first run.. and robert aldrich is an excellent director. lange and sarandon are both exceptional actresses. so i watched the first episode and thoroughly rnjoyed it. looking forward to the rest. thanks again for the alert.

  8. the screopt favored joan, so i found more depth in her character than in bettes. however, alfred molina as robert aldrich was my favorite character. i also loved judy davis as hedda hopper. regrding some of the other movies you mentioned, i also loved predistination, and recommend reading heiliens short story. the movie followed it almost to the letter. the killing of the sacrec deer was an abomination. fit only for fans of m, night . a real pretentious mess. other movies. id recommend It to all fans of stephen king. it was a cross between stand by me and nightmare on elm street. stronger was a big disappointment. boring and unforcused. i liked the characters and some of the direction of the girl who invented kissing, but the script was terrible. one of those trite things following all the rules of screenwriting 101. i wanted to free the characters from the movie and give them back their lives.

    1. I just watched mother!
      That to me was a pretentious abomination.
      I don’t understand why everyone likes it.
      The script was trying to be allegorical but of what precisely, I’m not sure. Nothing connected. It was just random shit like Terrence Malick on a bad acid trip. The last 1/4 was horrifying and the baby scenes offended me, but I wasn’t scared, I just wanted the film to end.
      But you were right, I did enjoy Pfeiffer’s performance.

      1. i just wanted the people to go home. and that is why i think the movie succeeded. why did you find it pretentious? to me, the word pretentious infers thatt he person had ore ambition than ability and failed at something they lacked the capability to accomplish. i thought the director was successful in his manipulations. at least i was responding in the way i think was intended. and why do you compare it to terrence malick, who makes inert films? mother was a fairly kinetic display of boistrous mayhem.

        1. Fair enough to your definition of pretentious. I am thinking the reason behind the chaos was unclear. That the beginning, intimate scenes with Pfeiffer and Harris made no sense in connection with over half of the film as the catastrophe of mankind. As much as I loved Jennifer L.’s beautiful face, her shocking expression and whimpers became annoying after awhile. I know the effect was for claustrophobia, much like ‘Son of Saul’ (which was effective) because there was a point to the story. It was incongruous–the first person narrative switching to Javier’s omnipotent powers and implied allegories.
          It had me scratching my head but not in a good way. So for me, pretentious in the vein of reckless. That’s the word I should have used. Darren Aronofsky’s talent as a director is better than his writing. Or, the manipulations were unconnected to make any real sense. Maybe I’m just mad I didn’t “get” the point of his manipulations.
          Not early Malick, but in the last ten years or so, Malick is experimenting with a string of unrelatable stills, images, snapshots–Malick is a poet, not a filmmaker, that is, his plots are ambiguous at best, but where’s the story? (The Tree of life, Knight of Cups, Song to Song)

          1. i would call malick a photographer, not a cinematographer. as a pet, he is naive and pretentius..but his still images are remarkabl. i never liked aronofsky as a director, and hated the way he ruined my old friend hubert selbys book, but mother was just a stupid horror film, and i liked the way he played around with and ultimately subverted the cliches of the demon baby sub genre. maybe i liked it as much as i did because i was so disappointed with the stunted ending of rosemarys baby, ad he carried on from their to show us what really might have become of the baby..as well as the mother. i only wish pfieffer had stayed in the picture longer. there was a defiite frop in the energy of the film with her withdrawal.

  9. mpw wind rier, that was a pretentious movie, but i ended up liking it, despite my often hostile feelings towards it while watching it. the first half hour, in particular, was like a criminal minds episode without the team. have to admit thought..the screenwriter cme up with a nifty exlanation for only the one investigator.

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