Are You Not Entertained? A Pair of Movies and a Book

Here are a couple of movies and a recent book I can recommend to you.

You go right ahead and dislike Tom Cruise. Even if you sit in that camp, surely you can admire the star for performing his own stunts? What an exhilarating time I had watching the recent franchise installment written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. There a lot of reviews out there about Fallout, so read a good one by blogging buddy, Keith, found  HERE. Why is it good? It’s devoid of CGI, fast cuts, and the action sequences are shot on location. The team feels like a family and the twists and turns keep you predicting. Mentally and visually the audience is engaged. Are you interested in how films are created? I found these two video clips recorded on British television, The Graham Norton Show, with the principal characters, Tom Cruise, Rebecca Furguson, Simon Pegg, and Henry Cavill insightful.The first discussion surrounds the stunts and the second clip focuses on how Tom broke his ankle during production. Fallout is worth the price of admission and is the perfect summer adrenaline rush. 4.5/5.

The Royal Tailor (2014)

Lee Won-suk is a South Korean director whose 2014 film The Royal Tailor is one of the more beautiful films I’ve watched in a while. The story centers around jealousy, friendship, and betrayal during the Joseon dynasty of Korea (1392-1898). In the King’s palace, the Royal attire is run by austere Jo Dol-seok (Han Suk-kyu). For thirty years he has worked his way up from a commoner to the esteemed position as the head tailor. The neglected Queen (Park Shin-hye) needs a dress in a pinch and hires the innovative and charming young tailor, Lee Gong-jin (Ko-Soo). He falls in love with the Queen and becomes an unlikely friend. He introduces vivid colors and new styles which threaten the traditional offerings by Dol-seok, the head tailor. What’s worse, the young designer, Gong-jin, admires and likes Dol-seok, who secretly tries to understand his rival’s magical approach to creating designs. It is impossible to dislike the cheery young man. The story is more than a story about textiles (although one can’t help but be enraptured by the embroidery and see the costumes as art forms); the ache and betrayal felt by the royal tailor whose cerebral, traditional gowns can’t compete with the passionate, progressive creations of Gong-jin are heart-breaking. Highly recommended. 4.8/5

BOOKS 

Author Patrick DeWitt wrote a witty tale that felt like a Mark Twain fable with quirky characters and outrageous scenes the two brothers find themselves in. But the comedy is darker. There’s a sadness one can’t help feel for the narrator Eli who follows his raucous brother. They are assassins and it’s 1851 as they travel from Oregon to California. There is a quiet morality to Eli. He instantly falls in love with a whore and gives her all his money. He cares for a boy they find orphaned and is concerned for him. He saves his horse that most would kill. In the ruthless West, Eli is a lonely, lost soul and Dewitt creates a real voice in Eli. If you like dark comedy, you would appreciate this easy to read and beautifully written period novel. 4.5/5

And so I picked this novel because I saw the trailer in the theater and I liked the looks of the cast and the storyline. I wonder if they can translate the beauty and horror of the plot and the delicate yet ruthless brothers whose last name is Sisters. That’s the hard part about turning books into film. The imagination does a much better job creating an alternate reality that you can suspend your disbelief on. It’s a lot harder capturing the magic of words on a page to the film. I am hopeful.

Are You Not Entertained? Books, Shows, and a Film

I can recommend several books this month as well as an entertaining television series to binge on and one outstanding movie which deserves praise and recommendation.

BOOKS

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (The Aviator’s Wife). The flavor of NYC elite starring Truman Capote and his socialite friends. Benjamin takes real people and imagines their thoughts and feelings. Historical fiction? No. Not a biopic. It claims to be fiction, but I don’t know how. It’s entertaining if you like Truman Capote, and peeking into the culture of the lives of the rich and famous in the 1950s and 60s. It’s not disclosed when, but a cable limited series of the book starring Bryce Dallas Howard as Truman Capote’s best friend, Babe Paley, wife of CBS founder William Paley is on the horizon. 3.5/5.

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom is historical fiction set on a Virginia plantation during the early 1800s. It follows the life of an orphaned Irish girl who is raised by slaves in the kitchen house. When she turns older, she is sent to live with white relatives of the owner of the plantation. It’s a saga that ends like a soap opera, but the historical climate is impeccably created by Grissom. 4/5.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is the best-written book of the lot. As one would expect since it is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize. If the torn fabric between Vietnam and the United States during the war interests you, then you’d be quite satisfied. Its dark humor and dissection of both sides of the government are revealing and damning. 4/5

Thunderstruck by Eric Larson (The Devil in the White City) I found the history surrounding Guglielmo Marconi and his wireless communication very interesting. A second plot surrounds a murder of the (almost) perfect crime where the culprit is arrested due to Marconi’s invention. If you like Edwardian London, the history of the wireless, and the makings of ocean liners, you’d enjoy this well-researched historical novel. 4/5

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is a winner of the Booker Prize and spouts of magnificence but I cannot fathom why. It’s the staccato narrative which inserts ever line or so the source it came from that I find infuriating. The story surrounds Abraham Lincoln and the death of his son Willie in 1862. I’m all for research, but I’m accustomed to seeing the endnotes or the Bibliography after the fact rather than be the narrative. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. Please, tell me why you liked it. Should I pick it up and try again?

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary by Susan Elia Macneal. I was trying to find a mystery. I rarely read them and so I milled around the mystery section at the bookstore and found the first of many by Susan Elia Macneal. I liked the topic–Britain during the Blitz, Winston Churchill, and a young woman who becomes not only his secretary, but solves the mystery of spies. Read this if you are reclining by the pool and your head is muddled from too many Margheritas the night before. You will then find it intellectually satisfying. Her strength was the descriptions of London. Her strength was the rise of her protagonist. She sets the historical climate well. Her varying POV discloses all the mystery, so it seemed self-defeating. Still. When you want easy entertainment, this is your novel. 3/5.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr is the right mix of intelligent writing and engaging plot. Set in 1896 New York, Carr’s best attribute is to create the historical climate of the city and the contrasting worlds of poverty, decadence, science, and technology into a thrilling chase of a serial killer. The tale is the American version of Jack-the-Ripper. You like ghouls and gore? You will like this story. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m anxious to watch the series starring Dakota Fanning, Daniel Brühl, and Luke Evans. 4.5/5.

SHOWS

She’s only my step-sister and mother’s not really crazy, just the result of badgering by greedy white guys.

Taboo (2017) is the BBC television drama series starring the marvelous Tom Hardy as James Delany who returns from Africa to London in the early 1800s with a key bit of property that would secure a trading route to China. It’s something the U.S. and the British would like to have. Delany outwits both governments and side steps death creatively. Its dark, foul plot is its weakness but deviousness was never executed by such a fantastic cast. My favorite character is played by Tom Hollander as the eccentric chemist who turns shit into explosives. If only a little light entered the dismal lives to balance out all the taboos and witchery. Did they all really say “fuck” so much back then? Or is this the sphere of influence of Games of Thrones? 4/5.

THE MOVIE

The Skin of the Wolf (2017) by Samu Fuentes

Blunt? Affected by the reclusive scenery? Grappling with morality? Sickness and Melancholia? Sounds like Chekov, doesn’t it? Well, this Spanish film is outstanding. I haven’t seen such a good movie in ages. Let the abandoned monastery in the Pyrenees and the wolves and breathtaking visuals seep in. Watch how the characters who say so little, say a lot. This is a story of a nineteenth-century mountain man whose loneliness motivates the purchase of two daughters. Unable to show tenderness, only when they are hurt does his sensitivity come through. Its subtlety might bore some. Critics thought it was too long and asked too much from the audience. I thought the haunting score, and the male-female dynamic of marriage fascinating. If you can hang on until the final act, you won’t be disappointed. Mario Casas gave an outstanding performance. 4.5/5

Are You Not Entertained? Four Films

Here are a few recommendations for you. There seemed to be an unconscious theme going on with my viewing when first I watched actor Charlie Plummer in the messy All the Money in the World (The book was better.) and then went to the cinema to find him again in a major role that grabbed my heart and squeezed. British Andrew Haigh directed that tale set in Portland, Oregon and the wilderness landscape of Idaho. Days before by happenstance, I rented his 2015 romantic drama, 45 Years.    

Director Andrew Haigh‘s film adaptation Lean on Pete(2018) from the novel by Willy Vlautin is a heartfelt coming of age story featuring teenager  Charley Thompson (Charlie Plummer). Enduring shaky parenting and the dire need for money, Charley finds a job at a racetrack and is heartbroken when the horse Pete is destined for slaughter. They run away in search of a home and his trek to find a distant relative becomes a tale of survival. Thank God for the satisfying ending because the audience must endure Charley’s misfortunes and it’s heavy. During the trek, Pete walks with his horse instead of rides him, and his monologues with Pete soften the film and balance out the harsher episodes of his life. Soulful and tender, Charlie Plummer gives an outstanding performance with solid performances given by the rest of the cast: Travis Fimmel, Steve Buscemi, and Chloë Sevigny. 4/5

45 Years (2015) It was great to see Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courteney on the screen together as the featured couple. This Andrew Haigh film is utterly different than Lean on Pete. Kate and Geoff Mercer are about to celebrate their 45th anniversary in a week. Geoff receives a mysterious letter regarding an old flame before his marriage to Kate. Vacationing in the Alps in the 1960s, the lover had died. Kate Mercer’s curiosity about their relationship creates a foreboding anticipation as she learns to her dismay that the love of her husband’s life was not her. A long marriage carries with it layers and secrets of the heart and emotional triumphs and pain. As the days creep toward the anniversary party, the fracture in the foundation spreads. Watch how music plays an effective role in the storyline. It’s a quiet film that unfolds gently. 4/5.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story documentary was a captivating revelation of the stunning Hollywood star, Hedy Lamarr. I didn’t know anything about her. A popular theme for me is the concept of beauty and how women respond to that power for better or worse. Place that theme in the 1920-1940s, and I’m a sucker for the story. What was extraordinary about Hedy was her mind. Few knew she was a keen inventor who aided the allies in World War II with her invention. (And she didn’t get paid for it.)  It was the basis of what we take for granted today–WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Learning something new gives my rating for the documentary high marks. I was riveted. 4.5/5.

Dark City (1998) film by Alex Proyas is a science fiction mind bender. A man wakes up with his memory gone but next to a murdered body. The police inspector (William Hurt) and the kooky psychiatrist (Kiefer Sutherland) try their best to capture him (Rufus Sewell). His estranged wife (Jennifer Connelly) can’t decide if she should help him figure out his personal mystery. Meanwhile, menacing bald men in long black coats have special powers and try to kill him. The production design borrows heavily from MetropolisIn the Director’s Cut, Proyas admits he was additionally inspired by the film noir The Maltese Falconand The Twilight Zone. Add to the shadows, buildings that grow and shift (Inception took this and ran with it), a Truman Show-esque punch through reality’s wall, and the Nosferatu baldies, who collectively click their teeth to communicate. I couldn’t help but feel the movie borrowed from so many places there wasn’t anything original about “the masterpiece”. If I had seen it in 1998, I would have loved it. The set pieces, I learned, were sold to the producers and used in The Matrix a year later. Did it wow you back in 1998? 4/5. 

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