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

Daphne Du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock

Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds.  Daphne Du Maurier’s talent combined the dark passions of love and assigned them to characters of dubious morality. Jealousy, unrequited love, and sexual frustrations are the seeds that haunt her characters. Young pretty females with pluck are trapped in the confines of older men who make them birds in cages. The psychological demise of her villains and the extent to which humans struggle with morality thrilled Alfred Hitchcock. Debauched as a romance writer by her critics and not taken seriously, Alfred Hitchcock saw something more in Daphne’s writing; however, the varied success of their collaborations was frayed with complications.

Image result for images of jamaica inn

First, the books are better than the movies. Daphne Du Maurier apparently lived in Jamaica Inn for three years as she wrote her novel. Located in southwestern Cornwall, the Bodwin Moor, every sense was aroused from her storytelling. Her expertise for putting the reader in the dank bogs and treeless fells and moors with grasses, mist, and wind combined with the rocky coastline and 1820 masted ships crashing into the rocks and drownings and murder–and then add in the spooky hauntings of ancient Druids and the imagination conjures up Vikings who swept in and took charge, maybe stealing the silver at Tintagel? Honestly, where else would one need look to find the ideal setting for suspense? In short, Daphne Du Maurier mastered the art of description and created a stellar gothic tale. What is the story about?

Her dying mother requests twenty-year-old Mary Yellan travel to Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. When she gets there she is dismayed to find that Patience is a nothing more than a doormat, a mumbling, frightened woman who cowers from her truculent husband, a giant with a massive frame and booming voice, Joss Meryln.

The inn is muddy and dark and holds secrets. Lots of them. Mary wants to escape with her aunt, but entanglements and midnight meetings envelop her in mystery. She begrudgingly falls in love with uncle’s dashing little brother, Jem Meryln. It’s a fun read with a melodramatic ending. 4/5.  

British actor Charles Laughton purchased the film rights and appointed Alfred Hitchcock as director. Hitchcock’s creative control was thwarted as Laughton took liberties with the story and created scenes to surround his character. Even beautiful Maureen O’Hara couldn’t save the melodramatic mess that made Daphne Du Maurier cringe when she saw it and Hitchcock groan with disappointment. 2.5/5. I just watched the 2014 version on BBC of Jamaica Inn starred Jessica Brown Findley as Mary Yellan and Matthew McNulty as Jem. Overall, it was disappointing. Casting was great for Mary and Jem. But the bullying Uncle Joss who was towering and blustery in the book was not so in the film. Lean, beady-eyed Sean Harris played the role and his personality didn’t carry that necessary Alpha-dog trait that would keep Mary or his weak wife in fear. The script was the main problem. I’m all for admiring the separateness of the visual text and the reading text but when you start tinkering with Mary’s motivation (Uncle Joss’s wife played by Joanne Whalley did not need protection or saving) and start inserting characters (the vicar’s sister played by Shirley Henderson with the witchy voice) you take away from the necessary characterization of others (the vicar couldn’t have been duller) and if the sway away from the classic is too far, you’ll have a mutated miscarriage on your hands. The only thing done right by the BBC, 3-part series was to film most of it in Cornwall. The beauty of the moors, the gray coastline, along with the dreariness of Jamaica Inn was done well. 3/5. 

Rebecca (1941) was another frustrating project for Alfred Hitchcock. Producer David O. Selznick fought with Hitch about script changes and alterations to the ending to abide by Hollywood code laws but ruined the moral demise of the villain that Hitchcock wanted to amplify.  Book: 5/5. Movie: 4/5. Despite the 2 Oscar wins for Best Picture and Cinematography, Hitchcock’s second adaptation with a Du Maurier’s story left a bad taste in his mouth. You can read more about their seven-year relationship, Selznick the egomaniac vs. Hitchcock the persnickety in this 1999 Variety article found here:

Hitchcock, Selznick and the End of Hollywood

The Birds (1963) Selznick was distracted in New York and left Hitchcock alone with arguably his best film. What’s so good about it? The inclusion of a nail-biting soundtrack? The evilness of the birds and the sing-song innocence of children at the schoolyard? The attack of the city, from the birds perspective, from areal shots down to the intimate attack of Melanie in the phone booth? The shocking discovery at the neighbor’s farm? The fantastic cast? Or trying to figure out the theme of jealousy exemplified by the strange love dynamic between Mitch Brenner’s family?

Image result for images of the birds movie tippi and rod

One aspect of The Birds that intrigues me is Hitchcock’s obsession with beauty and what constitutes femininity and masculinity. As Melanie Daniels, Tippi Hedren is the cool, quintessential perfection of beauty. The bird plays a bird. Why, even the name “Melanie” is melodious, bird-like. Her counterpart is Rod Taylor who plays the character Mitch Brenner. Physically perfect as the broad-shouldered, square-chinned, capable, strong idea of masculinity, Mitch (the name sounds like a rock) is surrounded by females who peck at him, crowd around him fluttering, and expect much from him. All the females in the story want intimacy with Mitch. Except for the one woman who is a man in disguise, Mrs. Bundy, the ornithologist. Sounding like the manly professor, sitting in men’s clothes, posing in manly positions at the diner, she is the absence of feminity. She studies the birds but she is not one of them. 5.5 

Daphne Du Maurier’s short story was unlike the film. Her short story was about a farmer named Nat Hocken who protected his family from the flock of birds that attacked and invaded the family’s cottage. Alfred Hitchcock took her story and ran away with it to create a multi-layered psychological thriller that’s unlike any other.

What’s your favorite scene, book or film, of Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds? 

 

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