Tag Archives: Abortion

Book Review: The Life Before Her Eyes by Laura Kasischke

the life before her eyes

Rating: B/ Considering that I had already seen the excellent film adaptation a few years before, this novel held few surprises for me, least of all the twist ending alluded to in it’s lyrical title. So it’s a good thing that Laura Kasischke focuses more in her writing on lyricism and less on plot. With the lovely, vivid writing, I still felt like I was getting something new out of the experience of reading the book even though I pretty much knew the story. The Life Before her Eyes is a good book, not a great one. The writing can be meandering and sentimental while at the same time being lush and gorgeous, starting off the bat with a Sophie’s Choice type situation and gradually touching on aging, sorrow, and regret in a bittersweet manner. Continue reading Book Review: The Life Before Her Eyes by Laura Kasischke

Advertisements

Enter the Void (2009)

enter-the-void

Life after death as the ultimate trip, as envisioned by Gaspar Noe. Epileptics need not apply.

it is safe to say that Enter the Void is unlike any movie I’ve ever seen before, but it’s an experience I have very mixed feelings about. My emotions throughout this movie ranged from excitement and wonder to tedium and at long last, utter boredom and disgust. The first hour or so of this polarizing feature had me at the edge of my seat, it was an experience of startling uniqueness and innovation akin to watching Eraserhead or A Clockwork Orange for the first time.

The next thirty minutes my attention began to wander, but by the last half hour, as we are treated to an interminable scene of people in a sleazy Tokyo hotel getting it on while a strange light emanates from their genitals, my reaction wasn’t quite so charitable. “Please God make it stop,” my inner critic groaned. And at long last, when the constant love-making (although to call what these broken people share ‘love’ would be pushing it big-time) and psychedelic headache inducing-visuals were over, I was all too happy to retire to my bedroom to go to sleep.

To call Enter the Void, despite it’s visual verve, low on plot and lacking direction would be to make epic understatement. One thing’s for sure, I don’t think there’s ever been a motion picture where we saw less of the protagonist’s face. That’s because Oscar (Nathaniel Brown,) an addict and dealer slumming it in Tokyo, is mostly behind the camera as we see his life, and eventually his death, through his own eyes. Oscar is a ne’er-do-well who lives with his seductive younger sister (Paz de la Huerta) in a dive apartment and is in denial about his full indoctrination into the druggie lifestyle. Neither sibling seems like a particularly bright light, each talking in a bland, deadpan drone, and Oscar has less than familial feelings for his sister and late mother (Janice Béliveau-Sicotte.) The girl, Linda, a stripper, also seems eager to get in on in a less-than-sisterly way with Oscar, unless making bedroom eyes at your brother while cooking food for him in your panties is a regular way for siblings to behave.

Enter-The-Void01

After his loving parents’ brutal death in an automobile crash, Oscar has promised unreservedly to look after and protect his vacuous but weirdly sensual sister. Being that he can’t be arsed to get a regular job, Oscar runs drugs for the strangely philosophical Alex (Cyril Roy.) At the beginning of this film Oscar takes a shitload of DMT and goes on an epic high, as we hear his thoughts and witness a storm of swirling shapes and colors. He goes off to a dive club to meet the sniveling Victor (Olly Alexander,) which turns out to be his last hurrah, so to speak, as Oscar is shot by the Tokyo police through the door of a shit-stained urinal and dies shortly thereafter. But, to Oscar’s shock and relief, he discovers death is not the end. For the rest of the movie, he floats around Tokyo and witnesses the people in his life converge in unexpected and disturbing ways.

This is my first Gaspar Noe film, and I think he had an amazing idea and a totally legit way of visualizing it.  But ultimately Enter the Void is too long and has too little to say, with ponderous scenes that go on… and on for seemingly hours. I love the way The Tibetan Book of the Dead is incorporated here, I think it’s really smart and clever. I would have liked to have seen it used more or to better affect. But how many hazy aerial shots of people screwing can you watch before a movie like this begins to feel like an extended music video? We get it, Gaspar Noe, you have some talent maneuvering a videocamera, but please stop showing off and give us a story, a conflict, a set of characters that behave in an interesting or believable way. Enter the Void is probably an unmitigated wonder while you’re blitzed on magic mushrooms or hungrily devouring pot-laced brownies, but in the end it’s about as profound as the average TV quiz show. Oh, it’s pretty to look at. But Ohmygod is it tedious. And it’s a tedium that goes on for 2+ hours.

I’m not a prude. Sex and violence have their place in a story. But none of the characters in this film are remotely likable or sympathetic. They’re simply bad people doing bad things. Enter the Void is like a stoned guy at a cocktail party who momentarily gains your attention. He tells crazy stories without a single ounce of credibility, and for a while you’re sucked in by his colorful, gregarious bullshit. But then after two hours you kind of just want him to come back where he came from and take his gear with him. Nihilism has never looked so gorgeous and yet so empty and shallow. At one point, the stripper sister in this film says she can’t stand another minute being amongst these horrible, horrible people. Funny. The sober viewer can weirdly relate.

Enter the Void

 

Electricity by Ray Robinson

electricity

Lily O’Connor’s neurology is a wild, untamed beast that knocks her on her face time and again. Afflicted with epilepsy, Lily knows the condition is more than the general public believes it be, and she determined to live as normal a life with the condition as possible. Saddled with a rough (and I mean rough) family (her mother is entirely to blame in causing the injury that led to her disorder, in an act too ghastly to mention,) Lily has learned to hide the hurt away, armed with a misanthropic wit. But the death of her beastly mother, grouped with the arrival of her gambler brother and the mystery of another sibling’s disappearance, shakes up Lily’s life in ways she never could have imagined and sends her on a quest for reconciliation on the dirty, chaotic streets of London.

So, apparently this is a movie now. It’s hard to picture how a film adaptation would work, to be honest. Electricity is a otherworldly experience, an journey through the senses shedding light on a condition no one would wish on themselves or their loved ones. How will a movie give us such an unyielding look into this woman’s mind? How will a movie explain how the seizures feel? But the miracle of this novel is that Lily O’Connor is so much more than her disability.

She’s tough, complicated, seriously flawed but fundamentally decent. The strength of Lily’s character ensures that Electricity will not a textbook slog through issues of disability and dignity. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever read so much onomatopoeia in one book. The book has an interesting feminine perspective on sexuality, as well as a heartbreaking take on sexual abuse (what if I didn’t fight back! What if I liked it?)

Lily believed she was in love with her mother’s boyfriend when she was about nine years old, and appreciated the attention in a time when she was all too often ignored and overlooked. But does that make it any better? Of course not. Sexual misconduct with a preteen is abuse whether or not the child thinks they enjoy it or not. In a way, Lily has to move past her own feelings and perceptions about the event just as much as she has to move past the abuse itself.

Lily is often a hard character to like. But you can’t hate her. You just can’t. She’s too vulnerable and damaged and real for that. However, the circumstances of her upbringing seemed a little too dire at times. That coupled with her truly horrific experience with men (only her wig-donning mentor, Al, emerges unscathed) makes Electricity a sometimes disturbing read. Lily is an often sexually ambiguous character; she reports to enjoy sex with men (although she can’t climax,) while her less-than-sisterly affections for her lesbian buddy Mel makes the reader wonder what side of the fence she’s really on.

The only parts of the book I felt were lacking were the sex scenes between Lily and her boyfriend, Dave. Here we are subjected to analogies such as “He licked my breasts like lollipops” that fall short on insight into a woman’s experience of sex. They were a little corny, to be frank. They didn’t quite fit in the otherwise smooth, flawless jigsaw puzzle that was this novel. Mostly, what stands out in Electricity was the close inside view of a misunderstood condition and Lily’s unique, dialect- and profanity-salted voice. Lyrical yet not tweedy, Electricity is a engrossing read.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower-e28094-book-cover3

Witty and intelligent, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt trapped by their own isolation. It also has one of the most genuine teen voices I’ve ever seen. The protagonist. Charlie, is a good student but is never really noticed by his peers, and he lives inside of his head most of the time. Until the epic year that he meets Patrick and Sam, two free-spirited freshmen who encourage him put himself out there. Charlie promptly falls head-over-heels in love with Sam (a girl,) though she initially rebuffs him. The story is told from the point of view of a bunch of letters Charlie sends to a teenager he has never met. Charlie struggles with his psychological difficulties, dates. and comes to terms with a traumatic memory from his childhood he has repressed.

If that sounds boring to you and you would rather read a book with James Bond-style spy gear and car chases, maybe this isn’t the book for you. This is a book about life, teens, dating (but not that superficial teen stuff a lot of young adult books are about.) Charlie is a sensitive vulnerable kid, and doesn’t don the usual jaded teen voice that YA literature is rife with. He really wears his heart on his sleeve, and he is easy to love, although his naivete and immaturity can be troubling at times. The gay subplot between Patrick and a popular football player who won’t acknowledge him in school is sensitive and well-written.

I actually thought Patrick was a more vibrant character in the movie. I guess without Ezra Miller to play him, he falls a little flat. Also, some aspects were a little more fleshed out in the film. But there’s a on of great scenes and side-plots that weren’t in the movie. And actually, I liked and got to know Charlie a lot better in this. This book makes me a little melancholy (not in a bad way) because all the things Charlie is doing- getting out there, taking risks- are things I was told but never really did as a teen. I would have loved to have friends like Patrick and Sam. I would’ve loved to have one of those ‘infinite’ moments in a pick-up truck with the radio playing just the right song.

But overall. Charlie is not a character to envy. He’s just as messed up, confused, conflicted, etc. as any 15-year-old. He’s extremely bright and insightful, but sometimes those two things can be just as much a hindrance as a help, and he spends way too much time in his head. He is a very relatable character for me. Some people might not like the writing style, but I find that the somewhat juvenile way of telling the story helps it remain plausible. You really believe it could be being told by a 15-year-old.

‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is one of the better young adult books I’ve come across the last few years. Maybe this sounds corny, but it really restores my faith in the genre. Also, I added a wonderful sketch by a deviantart user. I’m going to add a link to the picture so you can visit her page.  I recommend both the book and the movie version to book and movie fans everywhere.

Bachelorette (2012)

“Bachelorette” is the worst kind of comedy- tacky, shallow, mean-spirited, and unfunny. The venomously unlikable cast of characters will grate on you after the first five minutes… by the 80 minute mark, they’re Hell. These gal pals will remind you of everything you don’t like in human beings, hardly the tone to set for a romantic comedy.

   Regan (Kirsten Dunst,) Gena (Lizzy Caplan,) and Katie (Ilsa Fisher)- ditzy, cruel, and devoid of charm- prepare for their friend Becky (Rebel Wilson)’s wedding. Infuriated that the ‘fat girl,’ who they always had a demeaning attitude toward, got engaged before them, the clueless three find themselves in big (and well-deserved) trouble when they rip Becky’s wedding dress while playing a cruel joke.

   “Bachelorette” piles joke after unfunny joke about drug addiction, abortion, mental disabilities, cancer, obesity, and Autism onto a weak script. Not only are these jokes not funny (I never let out more than a weak chuckle throughout this Godforsaken film,) they’re also tasteless and offensive. I might sound like a prude, but believe me, I’m no more humorless than this film is.

    This film’s saving grace (besides sole non-mean girl Becky)- Joe (Kyle Bornheimer,) a drug-addicted but kind software designer and friend of the groom, who has an unexplained (and unexplainable) crush on dingy head-case Katie. I would regard a romance with Katie as akin to a shotgun pressed against Joe’s head, but hey, maybe love will win out.

   The inexplicable second second half of the film treats serious and grim issues (one character’s abortion, and another’s suicide attempt) like Friday night at the comedy club, except without the alleged humor. The sitcom-ish handling of the whole thing turns sour almost immediately. There’s a difference between dark comedy and just beating the dead horse with things that are not funny. 

    Something being controversial does not necessarily make it humorous, as this filmmaker has yet to learn. Also, making a character damaged does not automatically make her likable… sometimes you just end up with a damaged bitch, as “Bachelorette”‘s gal’s prove. Hateful humor a good film does not always maketh. Goodbye.

  

Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher

I pulled my paperback copy of this book of my shelf on impulse one day, and I’m very glad I did. ‘Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes’ is a compelling read, which examines a large birth of issues including bullying, obesity, disabilities, child abuse, abortion, and religion. This all sounds very ‘disease-of-the-week,’ but the ‘problem novel’ aspect of the novel is levied by genuine audacity and an unforgettable cast  of characters.

Eric, called ‘Moby’ (as in the whale) for his considerable girth, is an obese seventeen-year-old boy living in a single-parent family. His oldest friend, Sarah Byrnes was horribly disfigured under suspicious circumstances when she was three. For seventeen years she has stood strong, but now she sits, wounded and silent, in a psychiatric ward.

Eric is running out of time. He has to save Sarah Byrnes from insanity… or something worse. Because someone wants to silence Eric. And in this situation, there isn’t a wide berth for error. Subplots involve   proselytization by Eric’s Christian conservative classmate, a classroom discussion group dissecting relevant social issues, and a troubled and dimwitted boy from Eric’s past.

It might be hard to warm up to the characters at first. Eric is a unrepentant smartass who constantly describes his obesity and profuse perspiration at length, while Sarah Byrnes sometimes seems rougher (and meaner) than she needs to be. Likewise Steve Ellerby, Eric’s other friend, seems to be someone who would pick any fight with a Christian. But slowly your views change- Eric is a devoted friend, Sarah is incredibly brave, and Ellerby is a thinker  who refuses to accept someone else’s reality that doesn’t make sense to him  as his own. Even crazy-religious and hypocritical Mark Brittain shows a human side.

This in’t the best written book ever- it contains a lot of cliched language. But the plot and the characters are engrossing. The story is exciting while also being interesting and not insulting the reader’s intelligence. “Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes” was actually banned/challenged at several points by the school systems, and a Wisconsin parents actually called it ‘pornography’ at one point, which is pure ridiculousness. It is actually a pretty mature book, but nothing that older teens can’t handle in my opinion.

This is a lot darker than the last YA book I read (the Trans-friendly “Parrotfish,”) but then this arguably goes deeper into teen issues (not just GLBTQ issues.) I can’t say I liked this one better, but then, they do different things well. For compelling characters and a steady mix of drama and action, look no further than “…Sarah Byrnes.” I think you could get a tech-head  or jock boy who is committed to sports or glued to his video game system to read this book because it is so involving. I think it should be on every high school library shelf .

The book’s intriguing dedication.

Vera Drake (2004)

Mike Leigh’s 2004 effort, Vera Drake, is sure to be controversial, but not for the reasons you might expect. Instead of providing shock value (and the blood and guts of franchises such as Saw and Hostel,) Vera Drake takes a hot-button topic and views it from a much-maligned perspective. It may make you uncomfortable or angry, but the well made status of the film is hard to deny. The eponymous Vera is a jolly 1950’s housewife who lives in post-war Britain and works cleaning other people’s homes. She is the proud mother of two adult children, sarcastic Sid (Daniel Mays) and excruciatingly shy Ethel (Alex Kelly) and wants to find a eligible bachelor for her isolated daughter. She is happily married to mustached mechanic George (Richard Graham).

In secret, Vera is an abortionist, terminating women’s pregnancies for no pay. She uses the same soothing rhetoric for every incident and is never caught. The procedure is relatively clean and safe, and as far as she is concerned she does no wrong. I didn’t always like Vera. She was blind to the implications of her acts and cheery to a fault. Yet she always tried to do the right thing. I think something horrible happened in her past, but it was never fully explained. Yet, life goes on. Vera and George find a possible “eligible bachelor,” Reg (Eddie Marsan), an introvert highly affected by the war. Vera continues her operations with women who have been  put into contact with her friend Lily (Ruth Sheen), who has untrustworthy motives. But when a near tragedy occurs, Vera is put out in the open and ages ten years in a strenuous couple of days.

Possibly more interesting than Vera are her kids Ethel and Sid. Ethel holds herself hunched and quiet, with zero self-esteem. She meets her match with Reg, who seems as unsure of the courtship as she is. I wasn’t quite sure where their relationship would go. Sid and his friend Ronny (Leo Bill) discuss post war issues and try to score a dance at a party, and Sid is the one to reasonably question his mother when the doody hits the fan.

The film has a strong sense of place. A rape scene occurs, and it is handled tastefully (as tastefully as a rape can be). Imelda Staunton gives a great performance, going from a cheery, confident woman to a slumped person who can barely drag her feet across the floor.

Vera is not a liberal Wonder Woman, a superhero who keeps her powers of cheerful strength no matter what. She is vulnerable and fallible, and she can be and will be broken.  But somehow, I wasn’t as involved the second time I watched it as I could have been. I think the director was pushing me too hard with the tragedy of it all and what a great person Vera is. That never helps. You’ve got to hand it to Sid though. With everyone else referring to  the center of the operations as “trouble” and “problems,” Sid is the first to offer the humanizing word “babies.” (Rated R.)