actors, authors, books, Film Spotlight, History in Films

Are You Not Entertained? Books and Films

I’ve watched a lot of films and read a lot of books this past month, and many were okay, but I’d rather cut to the chase and share the best book, film, and television I highly recommend.

BOOKS 

The Shadow of the Wind is a 2001 novel by Spanish writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón and a worldwide bestseller. The story begins with 10-year-old Daniel in 1945 in Barcelona. Deep in a library called the “cemetery of lost books”, forgotten, out of print books are shelved and Daniel chooses from a choice of thousands The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. The book contains gothic elements with chilly descriptions of the temporal as well as the temperamental weather. Outlandish and believable characters like sidekick Fermín Romero de Torres whose clownish physical features melt with wise advice and passionate feelings for women contrast the rain clouds that seem to drip blood over haunted mansions. As the novel progresses, Daniel ages and he experiences love and becomes obsessed with the life of Julian Carax. In fact, Carax’s story parallels David’s so that the novel is structurally interesting. Above all, the novel is a mystery. It is beautifully written; most of the characters get their own flashback narrative where obsession becomes a major theme of the novel. It’s a true page-turner, a rare luscious novel that’s florid in style and exciting to read. 4.5/5. 

FILMS 

I watched several, but they were mediocre at best, so I don’t have any to recommend.

TELEVISION

 

Alias Grace was Margaret Atwood‘s 1996 fictionalized account of the notorious Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a servant who was convicted along with stable hand James McDermott (Kerr Logan) of the 1843 murders of employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross) and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin). Grace leaves the prison every day to talk privately with psychiatrist Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft) who falls in love with her. Grace retraces the steps of her life for him while he furiously takes down notes. His job is to determine whether she is insane or deserves to be set free after being in the penitentiary for fifteen years. The committee determined to set her free has paid Dr. Jordan to give a favorable report. This six-part series on Netflix is not to be missed.

Other than Paquin, the cast is refreshingly unrecognizable. Sarad Gadon is breathtaking as Grace and the acting by the ensemble is commendable. Margaret Atwood sits as executive producer while Mary Harron is the director. She did a marvelous job framing the landscape and switching camera angles from far to the minute stitching of the quilts. Favorite detail? The explanation of the quilts and what they represent. Here’s a great article introducing the females behind the series in NOW TORONTO ARTICLE FOUND HERE.

As Grace tells her story, the flashbacks are abundant, and I wondered if this overused device would kill the project for me. But by the conclusion of the series, I understood the purpose was to show the various perspectives from the trial, so that the audience wonders, “Is Grace innocent or guilty?” Grace is so charming and practical, you want her to be innocent. But flashback perspectives are so contrary, one wonders what really did happen?

I won’t ruin the climax of the final installment of the series, but my skin crawled. The dual contradictions and confusions finally made all the sense as the story came to a satisfying ending. Beautifully filmed, expertly acted, an exquisite script including the details of the life of females in the 1800s showcasing their conflicts and impossible oppression without preaching made Alias Grace the best television I’ve seen in years. 4.8/5. 

actors, Are You Not Entertained?, authors, culture, movies, music, Read This

Are You Not Entertained?

Here continues a monthly series featuring the music, the books, and the movies that occupied my time.  

MUSIC

For anyone who likes 60s Rock and Roll music and music history in general, check out the 2008 documentary, The Wrecking Crew.  On Netflix,  it is easy to be absorbed with a unique story about the Los Angeles entourage of approximately fifteen session musicians who made groups and singers like The Mama and the Papas, Elvis, and The Beach Boys sound great. Their names didn’t make it on the album, but for fifteen-odd years, they played on hundreds of albums and created the iconic sounds we take for granted today. 4.5/5.

BOOKS 

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Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride

What does Margaret do best? She creates a cast of characters, rich with dimension, and stages each with a different perspective about the world around them. First published in 1993, Atwood adapts the Brothers Grimm story, “The Robber Bridegroom.” Three friends are connected by Zenia, who rises to monstrous proportions and wreaks havoc on their lives. My favorite character is Tony, a professor of military history who sees the world via tactical advances and retreats. Tony plays word games by spelling them backward and noticing the how the spin transforms the word into a new connotation thus expanding her vocabulary in an atypical way. This is a clever example of how Atwood drapes details around her characters to breathe originality into her creations. If you appreciate character-driven stories, you’d like this one. 4/5.

MOVIES

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After watching director David Mackenzie’s efforts in Hell or High Water (2016), I want to see his British prison film, Starred Up (2013)Taylor Sheridan has an authentic, dialogue-rich script on his hands. As regionalist American writer William Faulkner was famous for revealing the death and disillusionment of the deep south in the early twentieth century, Sheridan and Mackenzie paint a gloomy, desperate rural Texas. Add the outstanding acting by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, brothers who are a believable team, and Jeff Bridges who reprises his guttural mutterings from True Grit to play the smart, irascible Texas Ranger, Marcus. His friendship with his Mestizo partner, Alberto (Gil Birmingham) is endearing. 4.5/5

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Hunt for the Wilderpeople(2016). The first third of the film was great. However, as the plot devolved into the ridiculous, I wondered what I was watching. Was it made for a young adult audience? The over-the-top she-cop (Rima Te Wiatta) made sense then. Was it a dark comedy for adults along the lines of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom? The violence of the animal hacking and skinning and the themes of death and hopelessness made sense then. Sam Neill performed well as the hairy, grieving misanthrope and Ricky (Julian Dennison) was at times annoying to watch with alternating moments of flatness and sincerity. The lush New Zealand landscape was a plus. 3.5/5. 

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Dr. Strange (2016). I’ve read a lot of varying reviews regarding this new addition to the Marvel galaxy. Benedict Cumberbatch, who did his best to sound just like Harrison Ford, becomes the protegee under the marvelous sorceress, Tilda Swinton. I enjoyed the relationship between Stephen and Christine (Rachel McAdams), and appreciated the new spin on Inception/The Matrix borrowings of dimensional shifting and appearance vs. reality. The time-moving-backward scene was brilliant. I was less enamored with the talk and the trap of the golem. I loved the red cape that functioned as a cool suit of armor. Overall, it worked for me. 4/5.

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Congratulations, Viggo Mortensen, on another great performance. Wouldn’t it be cool if your brilliant parents hid you out in the middle of the woods, gave you lots of siblings, and you all grew up in harmony as a cult of the Übermensch? Captain Fantastic is a heartwarming tale that satirizes everything wrong with modern society. In the end, the individual vs. society argument ends with a compromise. The freak must conform to find happiness. The conformist must break free of materialism and live pro-actively. Far-leftists and homeschooling parents will love Captain Fantastic. Survivalists and naturalists will love Captain Fantastic. There is a lot to think about with this dark comedy. Let’s all turn off the television and pick up a book. I’ll start with Chomsky. 4.5/5  

mv5bmtyxmjk0ndg4ml5bml5banbnxkftztgwodcynja5ote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_ Manchester by the Sea (2016)Yes, I agree with everyone that Casey Affleck gave an outstanding performance as the passive-aggressive janitor Lee Chandler. He wasn’t the only one. His ex-wife Randi played by Michelle Williams was outstanding.  Lucas Hedges played the tossed around nephew, Patrick, yet he annoyed the heck out of me. Many people know Matt Damon produced the film and indeed, writer and director Kenneth Lonergan, created a realistic, Bostonian culture with all the profanity that you’d expect. When the reason for Lee Chandler’s despair was exposed, I wept all over my buttered-popcorn stained napkin. I am not suggesting there should have been a happy ending, but I hoped for some type of resolution or redemption. Instead, this is a tale of a man who is lost and finds no solution to his guilt. It’s one of the more depressing films I’ve seen in ages. 4/5.  

The Wrong Man(1956) This American docudrama film directed by Alfred Hitchcock starred Henry Fonda as Manny, a poor musician from New York, who is in love with his wife Rose and his two sons. He is a sincere man, who cooperates with detectives who claim he has held up various stores and an insurance company. His wife, Rose (Vera Miles), cannot handle the scandal and upheaval of her life. Bernard Herrmann‘s score is a chisel to the brain. Hitchcock includes ingenious camera angles like the simulation of Manny’s panic in his cell by shaking the camera in a circle or the appearance of the real thief transposed over Fonda’s face. I expected something more from Fonda who felt wooden to me. Did you think it was suspenseful? 3.5/5.

 

authors, books, Read This

Read This: The Year of the Flood

I like speculative fiction and Margaret Atwood is an author able to create a realistic world of the future that’s too close for comfort. Gene-spliced animals and pandemic contagion–I hope her visionary settings remain fiction. They would be great movies. At the core, the MaddAddam Trilogy is satire, survival, and unlikely friendships.  I recently read the first book and reviewed Oryx and Crake (2003). Did you miss that post? https://cindybruchman.wordpress.com/2013/11/21/read-this-oryx-and-crake-by-margaret-atwood/

I am grateful for permission to show the artwork of California artist, Jason Courtney, whose illustrations are awesome. If you like what you see, check him out at:  http://www.perdador.com/deadspace.html

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I just finished the second installment, The Year of the Flood (2009), and was not disappointed.  Atwood’s prose is straightforward and casual while jumping from the minds of a few principal characters. This limited first person is one of my favorite styles. You get a multiple of reactions to the same scenario.

In this story, the Gardeners are ex-scientists and medical professionals who gave up their allegiance to the Corp and started a commune honoring all that is natural and organic. Principal characters become a Gardener, and as the story of survival unfolds, gene-spliced animals, man is hunted for amusement, and science has run amok, The Year of the Flood reminds me of The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Running Man.  I can’t wait to begin the last book in the trilogy that came out in 2013, MaddAddam: A Novel.  

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Just today, a student of mine brought this to my attention.  Looks like the future is today.  Check out this disturbing article about pigs with human organs.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-25550419