I can’t help but express my disappointment for Margaret Atwood’s latest dystopian novel, The Heart Goes Last. I was so excited when NetGalley sent me an advance Kindle copy as I was a huge fan of the MaddAddam Trilogy. But I’m sad to report that Atwood, the sly mistress of speculative fiction, finally seems to be running on fumes.
The Heart Goes Last begins promisingly enough. In the (not so distant?) future, a young couple, Charmaine and Stan, is living out of their car while the world around them has gone to hell after a financial collapse decimates most of the East Coast of the US turning it into one giant version of Camden, NJ. But then the once hopeless couple sees a way out when they hear about The Positron Project in the planned community of Consilience. Here, well-mannered prisoners mix with the desperate destitute (but otherwise law-abiding) masses who can’t find work. The inhabitants take turns living in a planned community and a low-security prison, swapping time, houses and lives as they carry out tasks for the corporation that runs Consilience.
Atwood creates a golden opportunity to explore the slippery slope of our current privatization of prisons, but sadly the novel glosses over that as things devolve into the absurd and Charmaine and Stan’s tale becomes a silly sex farce (not too far removed from Woody Allen’s cringe worthy Sleeper) jam-packed with CEO’s gone mad, corporate conspiracies, wife swapping, sex bots (who in grand Atwood wordplay are branded Possibilibots), and Neuropimps who erase all of your past hang-ups so they can imprint your sex drive onto anyone (who pays for it) or anything (there is a darkly humorous side bit where one minor character imprints onto a teddy bear). Continue reading →
Seriously, the stars are aligned for Amy Schumer right now and nothing I could write about her Judd Apatow directed movie, Trainwreck, will change anyone’s mind about this thing. So get ready for some free-blogging as I just spew out my thoughts.
1. Amy Schumer is hilarious (although am I the only one who thinks her usually spot-on and delightfully satirical Comedy Central show derailed into absurdist raunchy boredom the last few episodes this season?). As the author of her own star-vehicle, she provides herself material in Trainwreck that proves she can act, too. I just have to wonder, though…what’s next for her? Will she end up getting typecast?
2. The first hour or so of the move is episodic, raunchy, edgy, full of great lines, and riotously awkward moments as we watch Amy stumble through her love life and job at a men’s magazine until she meets a sports doctor (Bill Hader, good at playing the straight man to Schumer’s shtick) who changes her view on everything. And the fact that all that funny, edgy stuff leads into the “we’ve seen this a thousand times” romantic comedy garbage is what makes the film so frustrating. The last 45 minutes are an actual trainwreck of storytelling ping-ponging from comedy to pathos with little sense of making any meaning out of it beyond the “we can see it from a mile away” denoument. Continue reading →
In David Lynch’s seminal classic Blue Velvet (which thematically shares with Amy a tortured dark-haired chanteuse manipulated by her own internal demons as well as the vile men in her life), the line, “And now it’s dark…” is used as a secret password into a nightmarish world lurking underneath white picket fences. Later in Mulholland Drive, Lynch meditated more deeply on the tortured female soul, the flickering white lights after a failed actress’ suicide eerily like the flashes of the paparazzi’s cameras. Asif Kapadia briefly muses on the cameras that blinded Amy Winehouse’s soul as well, but his humanist documentary is so much more than just a portrayal of the archetypal tortured artist. Amy was a tortured soul long before the celebrity-obsessed cameras devoured what little was left of her.
Watching her meteoric rise and subsequent crash and burn play out in the media as it happened, I had this notion of Amy Winehouse as some meta-dramatist (with a killer voice, sassy attitude and old-school jazzy vibe) who was hell-bent on living the stereotypical hard-drinking lifestyle of a musician. I baked in my head a stale soufflé of her as someone who wanted to drink because she thought it brought out the best in her art, because she thought that’s the way a real jazz musician had to behave, and that harder drugs were just a doorway to another level. I couldn’t have been more wrong about poor Amy, who in her own words and rare archival footage, makes it clear she was most brilliant when she was sober and wrestling her demons through music, and that all the drinking and drugs were self-medication for when she couldn’t find her voice, not necessarily her literal voice, but her hard-fought catharsis in pouring out her soul through songs that filled the voids that had existed in her life since childhood (which was not so much Grand Guignol, but ordinarily sad in its universal familial strife). I had no idea her lyrics (always noted for their cunning wordplay that lent itself so beautifully to her signature annunciation, lilt, rises and attitude) were so literally literal. They often deceived a listener into thinking they were metaphors, but they weren’t. She was not one to mince words. Her albums were her autobiographies. And they painted a tragic tale. Continue reading →
It’s been 16 years since I last went to Chicago. I’ve changed a lot since then (and so has the Chicago skyline, most notably with the can’t-miss-it Trump Tower), and it’s certainly interesting to return to a city of good memories to create new ones in an entirely different milieu. Last time there was a boat tour, a comedy show and tons of laughs. This time there was a boat tour, a comedy show and tons of laughs. Good people having good times in good places marked both visits. But this time there were also drinks at the top of the Hancock, a 4th of July Cubs game, fireworks galore (apparently Chicago is intent on trying to recreate the Great Chicago Fire every 4th – never have I seen so many fireworks and we were lucky enough to not only enjoy them at the ballpark but also afterwards when we were treated to a panoramic view from a residential balcony that gave amazing views of the dark city horizon and burbs bursting with bombs), the Art Institute of Chicago, Millenium Park, and the Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House at the University of Chicago. Apparently my 35 year-old self can run circles around my 19 year-old self in terms of sight-seeing (and many many other things – I’m one of those few who loves being an adult and getting older and wiser).
Here are the requisite shots that hallmarked this trip:
Yes, I know we’re already half way through 2015, and I’ve got enough photos from random places I have been this year to create the annual post…but that will have to wait. This is a catch up post where I will share some photography of random places I was in 2014. I don’t know how this post slipped my mind last year, but here it is now, better late than never
2014 was marked by part-time Canadian living in Mississauga in the first half of the year and then big trips to Dublin, Ireland in the spring; San Francisco in the fall; and finally Boston (where we rang in the New Year). But in between all that, there was plenty of day-tripping in the greater tri-state area from where these shots were captured. Most notable, perhaps from a WTF perspective, were the infamous person in a pickle costume in Lancaster, PA (insert your own story here) and the insane doll-parts strewn Gloria Vanderbilt Dream Box art installation at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ.
When I first saw the trailer for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl…I thought, “Great…another cloying oh-so-insightful movie about teen angst…with cancer!” But then the reviews started coming in and I heard how it was an audience favorite at Sundance, and I thought, “Hmmm, okay, maybe this will be more like The Perks of Being a Wallflower which also had a cliché-ridden trailer but turned out to be a surprisingly good movie.” Both films take place in Pittsburgh oddly enough (an unlikely city that plays nicely on film) and both are based on well-regarded young adult novels.
Now having seen Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, I’m here to report it’s actually more like The Savages, you know, that under-appreciated gem of a character drama starring Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as estranged siblings dealing with their father’s descent into dementia (and eventual death). Both films are about the living learning how to live while watching the dying die.
And it’s okay to spend half of my review talking about and comparing Me and Earl and the Dying Girl to other films because it’s a film for film buffs. Continue reading →
For many, childhood is a war: a battle of wills with adults, a rage against growing up, a fight against awakening into the violent world of adulthood. It’s not surprising then that many of the greatest films about childhood and coming of age take place against the backdrop of actual wars. Three of the top five films in my list of the 41 greatest films about childhood involve war and how children and adults learn to deal with it in different ways. Many of the films on this list (including the film at number one) are no doubt sentimental favorites (arguments could easily be made there are grander artistic achievements further down the list). It should come as no surprise that these sentimental favorites were first seen in childhood and that many of the films come from directors delving deep into the wellspring of nostalgia and semi-autobiography; those indelible moments from our shared childhoods crystalized onto the silver screen.
I was about the same age as the protagonist, Billy Rohan, when I first saw John Boorman’s Hope and Glory. I loved every bit of it, and even at that young age I knew there was something unique about its point of view. It painted war as how I imagined I (as a child at the time) would’ve reacted to it: a blast of excitement in an otherwise mundane suburban life previously populated by games and make-believe. Here my soldiers and toys had come to life, dirigibles suspended in air over my streets, German bombers flying overhead, danger and adventure lying in the rubble of my neighbors demolished homes. The juxtaposition of adult horrors and children’s games (a juxtaposition dealt with far more seriously and catastrophically in films like Forbidden Games and Come and See) resulted in a picture of scrappy, working-glass survivors striving for a sense of normalcy and return to innocence in a world gone stark raving mad. Continue reading →
Big budget studio movies like Mad Max: Fury Road don’t come along very often. I can only think of two others that rose to the same echelon and were made in my lifetime: Raiders of the Lost Ark and Inception. Like those films, Mad Max: Fury Road begins in the midst of action, slows down to let the viewer get acclimated to the world that has been created, and then once it reaches a certain point propels its audience full throttle ahead through amazing set piece after amazing set piece and explodes in a dynamite denouement. All three of these films are masterpieces of pacing and editing.
All of the hyperbole swirling around Mad Max: Fury Road is not hyperbole. Those who have heralded it as the best action movie ever made are saying that because it is. The reviewer who said it will melt your face off was almost right…for the record, it will rip your face off, not melt it. Even if you’ve seen the original Mad Max films, you’ve still never seen anything like this. And if you haven’t seen the previous films, it doesn’t matter one lick.
In a post-apocalyptic hellscape where water and gasoline are the holy grails and people pray to a god called V8 (one is to assume named after the engine and not the drink) while spraying their mouths with chrome before dare-devil-ing to spectacular martyr deaths in defense of their tyrannical warlord Immorten Joe (Hugh Keayes-Byrne), a woman haunted by the distant memories of a “green-land” named Imperator Furiosa (an indomitable Charlize Theron) teams up with a man left for dead and haunted by the ghost of his dead child he failed to save and protect (a perfectly cast Tom Hardy, madly stoic) to transport by oil tanker-turned-war caravan the prized breeders/wives of Immorten Joe to a new-found freedom. Continue reading →
The heroine of Thomas Vinterberg’s intoxicating adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s literary classic, Far from the Madding Crowd, Bathsheba Everdene (an effervescent and headstrong Carey Mulligan) reminded me of one of those cocksure entrepreneurs on Shark Tank who comes in, lights the sharks on fire, instantly gets an amazing offer from one of them, but then hesitates to close the deal because they want to hear all of the offers from the other sharks.
The filmmakers want you to think modernly about Bathsheba, a woman ensconced in patriarchal 19th-century British countryside social mores but waaaaay ahead of her time in thoughts and actions, because otherwise this would be another run-of-the-mill period romance where a woman is swept off her feet. Bathsheba is a truly independent woman (she’s inherited a farm from her uncle, runs it herself, and proudly has no need for a husband) and Mulligan plays her with equal parts girlish coyness and womanly confidence, all sly smiles and looks with a twinkle of her nose, her loose impetuous strands of hair filtering the drunken sunlight splashed across the gorgeous Dorset hills. It’s no wonder every man wants her, and she could command any many she wants. Continue reading →
It’s a strange, disturbing thing to read a contemporary Toni Morrison novel – a woman who has been at home for decades exorcising the demons of our collective American past. Yet even in the present day, her characters are hung up on ghosts. God Help the Child is a story, like all Morrisonian tales, woven in different voices, all tied to the cycle of abuse that starts in childhood and seems to never end. There’s Sweetness, a mother who finds it impossible to love her too-dark child, Lula Ann. There’s Bride, the reborn adult version of Lula-Ann, wielding her beauty like a scythe across the scorched western landscape. There’s Booker, a man who refuses to let go of his dead brother who was brutally murdered when they were just boys.
At times, the abuse is overwhelming. No one in this Morrison novel is left untouched. It almost verges on melodramatic parody as each dark secret is revealed. In some ways the novel comes across as a bourgeois version of Precious, where instead of an inner city girl, we have a fashionista – both surrounded by horrors that know no bounds. Oprah and Lee Daniels must be drooling over this.
But Morrison refuses to let the reader get away that easily. The novel can not be dismissed as artsy, exploitative trash. The book is as insular, intimate and twisted as her A Mercy was expansive, remote and mangled (in oh so many beautiful ways). Her handling of the surreal adds an otherworldly gravity to an otherwise modern tract. Continue reading →