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

The Lucky 13 Film Club: The Revenant

CINDY’S THOUGHTS 

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Crazy nonsense with little redeeming value. Made for eighth grade boys and girls who don’t see there is a weak plot, weak subplot, weak dialogue, and ludicrous circus characters. Vestal virgins (breeders) wearing white scarves that hardly get dirty. White chalked natives banging drums following some voodoo leader. I was never so happy to see Max knock off the guitar player.

Okay, I’ll stop.

I went to the cinema because it seemed like EVERYONE loved this movie, and I felt I was missing out on a cultural phenomenon. What was bizarre was the audience who watched alongside me. I thought I entered the wrong theater. Why on earth were 50s, 60s, and 70-year-olds watching this? No evidence they were taking their grands to see it–again. And then I realized. Once, we sat together mesmerized by Star Wars IV, all those years ago.

I was in eighth grade when Star Wars IV came out. I sat the entire summer, it seemed, raving and re-watching the film. I was bamboozled with the technology and the music and the fast paced action scenes. Even though the plot was simple and the dialogue weak, I was transported to another world that seemed foreign yet recognizable. Princess Leia could fight like a man. It was her story, yet she still needed protecting and she begrudgingly fell in love with a brute who grunted and could hardly form a sentence. “I love you.” “I know.”  Wait, that’s coming in the next film. And rest assured there will be more Mad Max films to follow. Probably eight of them.

So what did I like about the film?

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It’s a welcome sight to see kick-ass older women. Hell, I wanted to be one of them, riding my motorcycle in the Outback, camping under the stars. Let me plant some seeds. Who needs men, anyway?

I liked the impending sand storm. The mucky crow world. The salt flats especially at night, glowing under a star-popping, satellite-dropping sky.

Tom Hardy has nice lips.

Charlize Theron has beautiful bone structure. She reminded me of the unfortunate result when a middle school bully gets a hold of his little sister’s Barbie doll and goes to town. If it weren’t for her presence in the film, I might have walked out and caught the last half of Far From the Madding Crowd. I loved Charlize in the film.

There was very little CGI. Thank you. The gritty, revved up camera action was effective and connected it to the original Mad Max.

I liked Max’s haunting daughter who slaps him into action.

The pole swinging warriors. The car on top of the tank.

Like my simple sentences and fragmented thoughts, that’s what I experienced. The energy rush. The assault on the senses. The stunts were cool. Nothing deep.

Sometimes what you need is perfect escapism. I know I felt that way when I watched Star Wars IV. 

All that was missing in Fury Road was a John Williams score.

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