Are you not entertained? Films & TV

Here is what I have seen lately. Did you like these, too? 

FILMS     

First Man (2018) I like all director Damien Chazelle’s films and several times I have enjoyed watching Ryan Gosling on the screen. There was a lot to appreciate in First Man, the story behind NASA’s mission to land a man on the moon, focusing on Neil Armstrong and the years 1961-1969. The acting of Claire Foy and the entire ensemble cast including (Kyle Chandler, Pablo Schreiber, Corey Stoll, and Jason Clarke) combined with the launching of Apollo 11, all shots on the moon from the first imprint to the epic “A small step for man; a giant leap for mankind,” the absence of sound, the contrast of heat and ice, the sacrifices of the pilots, and the tragedy of the daughter all took my breath away. The only issue I had with the film was Ryan Gosling’s performance. Yes, Neil Armstrong was a cool cucumber under crazy twisty-turvy situations. Gosling interpreted Armstrong by standing devoid of emotion for two hours. Despite the weeping scene at the beginning, Gosling performance was much like Officer K in Blade Runner 2. Maybe you liked how Ryan played the engineer, the emotionally distant husband and father, Neil Armstrong? Regardless, the movie made feel like I was an astronaut with the shaky camera making me dizzy at times, and I suspect that was Damien Chazelle’s intention. I like visceral films. It was well worth the price of admission.  4.2/5

  Look Who’s Back (2015) is a satirical, black comedy from the best-selling book by Timur Vermes, published in 2012 by Eichborn Verlag. Hitler comes back through some cosmic time hole and wakes up in present-day Berlin. The gag is people around him think he’s an actor in costume. People think it is some type of joke and amuse Adolf (Oliver Masucci) asking at times, “Don’t you ever break character?”  Hitler is introduced on a comedy show and he goes viral. As his confidence grows, his rhetoric turns dark but those around him are enjoying the advance in their careers and tolerate the kinks in his personality because they want to milk the cash cow. There are a couple of obstacles. One lone studio colleague points out the crass, despicable raising of another Hitler to popularity, but he is ignored by ambitious Katja (Katja Riemann) — she is omnipresent in all German or Holocaust movies, doesn’t it seem? Fabian (Fabian Busch), a character who accompanies Hitler throughout the film,  brings him home to visit his girlfriend’s family. The Grandmother recognizes Hitler and screams at him with hatred to leave. Hitler is unperturbed and discounts her behavior as a hag who is a Jew. Fabian realizes, finally, that this befuddled man is really Hitler. Fabian tries to take matters in his own hands with predictable results that still shock. The seductive power of the media is the heart of this satire and serves as a powerful reminder of letting history repeat itself. Who would helm the fourth Reich? That character Christoph, the media mogul, in a scene mimicking Downfall when Hitler closes the door and yells at his minions while everyone in the office listens in shock is suggestive. 4.2/5

Fugitive Pieces (2007) focuses on the imprint from the Holocaust on a boy (Robbie Kay), raised by Athos, (Rade Šerbedžija, Harry Potter, Downton Abbey) a teacher from Greece. He sells his home and moves to Toronto. The boy becomes a man with an excellent acting performance given by Stephen Dillane (The Hours, Stannis in GoT) with lasting issues like the incapability of intimacy with amiable, exciting Alex (Rosamund Pike). Eventually, the serious intellectual Bella (Nina Dobrev) understands the depths of his loss and saves him. The film is beautiful; the passion and poetry of love is the cause of his blossoming. It was rewarding to watch him overcome his personal demons. For some, it might move too slow, but engaged was I from beginning to end. It’s one of the better Holocaust films and stories about love that I have seen in ages. Highly recommended. 4.5/5  

Did there need to be the fourth rendition of A Star is Born? Regardless of how you feel about remakes and the challenge it sets to create a fresh approach which will rise above the nostalgic emotional connection of its predecessor, I’m happy for Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga who expanded their talents to give directing and acting a go. They created a convincing chemistry not seen since Walk the Line (2005). Cooper sounded like Kris Kristofferson and looked like a younger version of Jeff Bridges playing his Oscar-winning role in Crazy Heart. Throw in another cowboy, The Stranger, from The Big Lebowski, actor Sam Elliot, who sure felt like the real-life brother of Bradley Cooper, and it all felt cozy including the usual dysfunctional topics that plague the Rock and Roll family. On Gaga’s side, she was beautiful sans makeup and outlandish costumes. Her on-screen father Andrew Dice Clay surprised me with his portrayal of the NY/NJ blue-collar father. Was Cooper’s direction a tender-footed misstep? The editing spotty at times? What of Lady Gaga’s voice? I don’t think she sits with Barbara Streisand or Judy Garland, but her presence is impossible to discount as she is the diva of today. All in all, it was more entertaining than distracting.  4/5 

TELEVISION 

Benedict Cumberbatch can do no wrong in my eyes. It takes a lot of talent to deliver fast, intellectually difficult monologues and manic-depressive facial expressions like an opera singer’s trill, and that’s what he does. His Shakespearean background combined with sardonic humor–well, no one does it better. I thought he was magnificent in the dark comedy Patrick Melrose, a five-part television series based on the novels by Edward St. Aubyn. Patrick Melrose (Benedict Cumberbatch) is from a privileged but traumatic childhood stemming from abusive parents (Hugo Weaving & Jennifer Jason Leigh). As a boy, the story is set in the South of France. In his 1980s, Patrick is in his twenties and hooked hard on alcohol and drugs with an NYC backdrop. The story ends with his attempt at recovery back home in Britain. If you like your stories dark and sassy with great performances, you shouldn’t miss this. 4.8/5

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

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