Saturday, December 26, 2015

Klute (1971) (+)



Believe it or not, big, huge Hollywood blockbuster are not really my thing. So Star Wars' posts are not going to be the "thing", as I resurrect this blog.  And just so you, dear reader, do not make false assumptions.  Movies are not going to be the "thing" either.  They will be one of the "things".  Records and books, too.  Books, always.  In fact, I received eight books for Christmas.

But for this post, we have Klute, a crime thriller from the year of my birth.  That I was not even aware of until I went searching for some interesting film noirs that I had not yet seen.  Klute resided on one of those lists.  I wouldn't exactly call it a noir, but it definitely shows its influences.  Noir or not, who really gives a shit.  Is it any good? Am I right?

And yes it is.  In fact, or at least in my opinion (for the purposes of this blog = fact), it is very good.  Klute stars Jane Fonda, in an Oscar-winning turn, as call girl, Bree Daniels, and Donald Sutherland as the titular character John Klute.  I have no idea, who the nominees were in 1971, but let's just get this out of the way -  Fonda's portrayal of a conflicted NY call girl trying to get out of the life is very Oscar worthy.

The plot is simple enough,  PI Klute is hired to find his best friend, who has gone missing, by his friend's wife and employer.  Some obscene letters written to Bree by the friend...lead Klute to her.  And with that, we are pulled into a psychological thriller in the truest sense of the title.  Not only are we drawn in by the voyeuristic creepiness of a killer stalking Bree, but there's also Bree's shrink trips where she tries to work out her reasons for remaining in the trade despite not really needing it,  and also a developing sexual tension between Bree and Klute.  It all works, though I admit to not being pulled into the shrink stuff until Bree turns her attention to her feelings for Klute.

Klute works as a great piece of cinema, despite no real gun play, no car chases, no explosions...in fact, very little "action".  It's a shame crime films like this are seldom made anymore.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays - The Force Awakens (2015)




What the hell is this? You ask.  A blog post? Yep, so I'm going to try to resurrect this.

Yes, but "The Force Awakens".  Yep.  I found myself reading back through my old posts, and it was really enjoyable to read back on some of my thoughts on books I read (and humorous to read all my typos and lack of editing).  Really enjoyable.  So even if I have no readership, it still seems valuable, cathartic, and good for nostalgia a couple of years down the road.  And I'm going to write about all kinds of popular art...so movies, records, and of course books.  No memes, unless I'm drawn to the dark side.

Which brings us to Star Wars.  It's a good, fun movie.  Much like the original.

In fact, it's really a retelling of the original with handfuls of Empire pulled in for extra Star Wars goodies.  Now, I would guess that some cranky "fans" will point this out as a pitfall of the movie.  "It's not original!"  Actually, I don't have to guess, I've already seen it on the world wide internets.

Here's the problem with these types of proclamations...

The original Star Wars isn't "original", either.  It is a retelling of the most popular story in the history of man-kind.  I don't think that's a criticism.  I just point that out to temper any of the finger pointing of this being a rip-off.  The reason the original Star Wars story was compelling was not "originality" it was that it did a good job of telling the Hero's Journey story.  And it ported it to a space opera, which gave it  a modern/cool element.  The"originality" of Star Wars came in the form of the effects, which were masterful.

And where does that leave me?

I liked the movie.  Because I liked Star Wars (and loved Empire Strikes Back), and because I am ok with them grabbing from those movies with huge handfuls to create what amounts to a love letter to them.  And I like the female Luke character.  Good strong female characters are always a nice find IMO.

One complaint...I am in fact done with huge, mass destruction weapons shaped like planets.





Thursday, October 3, 2013

Sophie's Choice - William Styron


The problem with book blogging is...well there are many, at least for me. The key problem, though, is that you really need to post regularly, which can be a problem for me given that I generally like to post when I've finished a book, and share my thoughts.  I don't read all that fast these days.  Often the bulk of my reading is done on my work travels - on travel day.  I read every night, but it seems I start falling asleep after only a couple of pages.  So, yeah, this can be a problem.  And I stopped blogging for quite awhile, because it seemed pointless when I was finishing a book a month...and I've grown tired of all the memes.  But...I did find the gem in blogging that really has nothing to do with keeping a bunch of readers (which obviously I want TOO).  And that is that after ignoring this for a year or so, I enjoyed going back and reading my former posts on books I've read, and the reading life in general. 

So it's been over a month since I've posted, and that brings us to Sophie's Choice by William Styron.  You see?  It took me a month to read.  It's a pretty thick, wordy book, with a some pretty unsavory material to cover.  But I did finish it, so here I am to post about it.

I have NOT seen the movie.  I've heard of it alot, but somehow I didn't even have a clue what is was about.  I also did not know it was was literary based, OR who the hell William Styron was.  Possibly, I lead a sheltered bookie life?

The story follows the exploits and, in the case of the titular character, backstory of three characters.

Stingo is a young, early twentysomething writer from the South, who ventures to New York hoping to find himself as a writer.  He is forced to move from Manhattan to Brooklyn when he loses his supportive employment at a publishing house.  It is at the Pink Palace boarding house of one Mrs. Zimmerman, that Stingo meets the other main characters of the novel -  Nathan and Sophie.

Nathan is a mentally ill, Jewish genius.  Leading a false life as a "research scientist".  His illness goes unrecognized by Stingo, despite MANY disturbing incidents including his initial introduction as Sophie's abusive lover.  Nathan becomes kind of a big brother to Stingo, and a big cheerleader, constructive critic for the novel Stingo is writing.  Save for those times he is caught in one of his spells, in which case Nathan is nearly as abusive of Stingo as he is of Sophie.

Sophie's story is heartwrenching.  She is a Polish immigrant, survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.  The interesting, or perhaps interesting choice Styron made in creation of the character, is that Sophie is not a Jew.  To make her a Jew would be the obvious choice in telling the horrific tale of the concentration camps, but I think Styron's choice made the story more powerful for the many conflicts Sophie's situation introduced. 

The story is narrated in the first person by Stingo.  Yet much of the novel is Stingo's third person recital of Sophie's story from her point of view.  Made even more interesting, or confusing (I liked it) by the fact that Sophie, who is dealing with guilt over many of her choices during her times at Auschwitz, is somewhat of an unreliable narrator.  She is timid of confessing the ways in which the evil of the concentration camps transformed her.

There was much to like in Sophie's Choice.  Not the least being that the reader is left to ponder which of the choices give the novel it's name.  There are several, but two are presented near the book's conclusion.  I understand from my perusal of the worldwide internets that the Choice is much more dwelled on in the movie, but I think it's best to let the reader decide. 

<<somewhat abstract spoiler beyond>>

Is it the horrific choice that Sophie must make in Auschwitz? One no parent should ever be faced with.
This dilemma pulls the veil back on evil like almost no other literary passage I've come across.

Or is it simply the choice Sophie makes regarding the two men of the book, which forms the basis of the book's climax?

The story has a lot to say about racism, living with guilt, evil, the holocaust - including the oft forgotten collateral prisoners, the South, coming of age, etc.  I guess it's no wonder it's such a thick, wordy book.

The book is not without its flaws.  Styron is overly wordy and his prose style leaves much to be desired.  Also, his use of the profane seemed to say more about the writer than his characters.

Ultimately, I liked the book, and feel like it will stay with me for a long time.  Probably moreso, than a lot of books I enjoyed much more.  I can't see me ever re-reading it, but I'm glad I made it through a first reading.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)




To say I am not a Seamus Heaney fan is only true, because I'm no poetry expert, and not overly familiar with his work.  But with the announcement of his death came the memory of a great song, a favorite of mine, by a favorite artist, who claims to have been inspired to write the song by Heaney's poem, "Skylight".  It's been awhile since I've listened to it:


Maybe you will like it.  Maybe Mr. Heaney did, if he ever heard it...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter (+)


There are three contemporary authors that I consider favorites that have all received enormous hype for their recent novels.  Those authors are:  Gillian Flynn, Philipp Meyer, and Jess Walter.  Until now, I have not read any of these books.  I think I have a healthy aversion to hype.  However...

I'm a big fan of these authors, and while I am STILL trying to broaden my reading horizons, there is something to be said for reading what you like.  So, yeah, I picked up Walter's Beautiful Ruins.  The book with the horrendous, Chick-lit like cover.

So is the hype warranted?

That depends, have you read Citizen Vince?  It's the better book in my opinion.  But with Beautiful Ruins, Walter appears to be doing what I'm attempting to do with my reading...broaden his horizons in the form of his readership. 

From the start, I didn't think he was going to pull it off.  The first chapter laid the groundwork for the global hopping, character hopping story that will come, and was mostly scene setting.  As a result, the chapter lacked much of the Walter's fabulous voice that is the primary reason for my adoration.  Fortunately, in the next few chapters Walter's witty magic eased back into play, so that by page 50 or so I was again exalting his talents.

The story follows an unlikely group of characters through many decades and countries, establishing the unlikely ties binding them altogether.  Ultimately the story is ABOUT an Italian villager seeking out they beautiful American actress, who came to stay at his hotel, some 50 years earlier.  Tangentially, it is also about the sleazy Hollywood producer that caused their initial meeting by trying to cover-up the actress' affair and resulting pregnancy with Richard Burton; the Actress'-Burton's illegitimate son's recovery from addiction and artistic failures, a production assistant to the sleazy producer who is hanging on to her dreams of making "good" films in Hollywood and changing her beefcake boyfriend with the porn addiction, and a wannabe screenwriter trying to pitch a movie about cannibals to the sleazy producer.  Of course, there is also Burton who is a victim to the sleazy producer, his own vices of sex and booze, and primarily his narcissism.

The themes seem to be about getting past regret and dealing with artistic failure.  Or possibly redefining artistic success in such a way that maybe, there is no regret.  And then just extend that to love.

It's not Citizen Vince.  But it is pretty damn good.


Friday, July 13, 2012

Lord Foul's Bane - Stephen R. Donaldson (+)

This is book one of The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. I read the all of the First Chronicles in my teen years, and loved them.  I've never read the "Second Chronicles", primarily because I moved away from reading Fantasy fiction.  Alas, I somehow came across the news that Donaldson was writing about Covenant again...and that the "Last Chronicles" were being released.  I became intrigued again, and dusted off my copy of Lord Foul's Bane.  I'm happy to report that I still love the book.

Donaldson often gets accused of ripping off Tolkien...sorta understandable given that both novels focus on a ring as a powerful talisman, but Donaldson also departs from Tolkien quite a bit.  Certainly more than Terry Brooks, whose Shannarra series was a contemporary of the Covenant books.  Donaldson doesn't rely on the races that Tolkien defined the fantasy genre with...his are his own creations.  Also, the main character is unlike ANYTHING you'll find in Tolkien, and mainly why I have to confess to actually preferring the Covenant series to LOTR.  I know, I know...

So who is this Thomas Covenant?  He's a leper in our world, who is summoned to "The Land" (Donaldson's fantasy world).  He refuse to believe the Land is anything but a figment of his Imagination...which really pisses him off because he has made all attempt to cut-off his imagination since his leprosy diagnosis...including giving up his livelihood as an author of fiction.  Covenant's predicament, makes him a bit of an anti-hero...he's a pretty miserable SOB for much of his time in the Land, which makes his stories much more psychological than most of the Fantasy fiction I've read. 

I intend to read through the entire series...all THREE of the "Chronicles"...which I think number 9 books currently with two more to come.  But not back-back.

Currently reading and enjoying them by Joyce Carol Oates.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

New Challenge

So, I have a new challenge.  It came about for a couple of reasons.

1) I obviously have a book fetish that has gotten way out of control...I'm spending way too much money on books.

2) I obviously have a book fetish that has gotten way out of control...my books are taking over my home, and we don't have a big place.

So...new challenge - for the rest of this year I will only read books I already own.  Fortunately or unfortunately this should still result in no re-reads. 

I'll also be taking these books to the used book store (with few exceptions, I'm sure) to trade in for credit which will be used to buy children's books for my son.