Tag Archives: Grief

Book Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

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Rating: B/ Reading A Mother’s Reckoning, I was reminded of a line in the novel Little Children by Tom Perrotta where May, the mother of a middle-aged child molester, knows on some level that her son is a monster, but she finds that she cannot flip the switch in her mind and stop loving him. Books don’t get more ripped from the headlines than this memoir by Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the shooters at Columbine. As everybody who doesn’t live under a rock knows already, Columbine was one of the first large scale and highly publicized school shootings in the U.S. Continue reading Book Review: A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

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Book Review: Behold the Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

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Rating: B/  Behold the Many is kind of a strange book, and one that is hard to summarize and describe, but I’ll try my best to put my feelings about this novel into words. I had never heard of it when I picked it up but I was immediately sucked in by the beautiful cover art, featuring an a black-and-white picture of an innocent-looking Asian girl overlaid with colorful flowers. The image, much like many examples of cover art on the front of novels, has very little to do with the actual story, seeming in this case to have been randomly picked out with little correlation with the plot itself. Continue reading Book Review: Behold the Many by Lois-Ann Yamanaka

Book Review: The Life Before Her Eyes by Laura Kasischke

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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

Movie Review: October Gale (2014)

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Rating: C+/ If a strange man shows up in your house with a gunshot wound and a half-baked story, trust him unreservedly. He couldn’t possibly be a serial killer or a rapist, could he?

I don’t care what anybody says, Tim Roth makes any movie about 100% times better. His loquacious villain makes this movie, well, watchable. Patricia Clarkson is a wonderful actress, but even she can’t save October Gale from the gutter. Here she plays Helen, a recent widow who goes to her summer home for the first time after the death of her husband (played in flashbacks by Callum Keith Rennie.) Continue reading Movie Review: October Gale (2014)

Movie Review: Reservation Road (2007)

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Rating: B-/ I’ll begin my review by saying this; people who rent this movie probably know what they’re getting. The acting is terrific all around, but the movie itself is overwrought, filled with shrieking and heated accusations. It gained my sympathies and tugged on my heartstrings, but I feel like it did it kind of dishonestly, if that makes sense; instead of being extraordinarily well-written or featuring interesting characters it jack-hammered it’s way into my heart by presenting me with lots and lots of showy displays of grief. The excellent actors are compensating for the fact that there isn’t much below the surface here. Continue reading Movie Review: Reservation Road (2007)

The Changeling (1980)

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Old houses are evil. But if I owned a mansion as nice as the one George C. Scott has in this movie, I’d take a chance on the vengeful child spirit. Scott plays John Russell, an unflappable musical composer coping with the unexpected death of his daughter (Michelle Martin) and wife (Jean Marsh.) Russell moves into a gorgeous old house intent on doing some work on his music and attempting to move on from his loss, but before you can say “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts” strange and eerie things start happening in the mansion. Largely unperturbed, and aided by lady friend and love interest Claire Norman (Scott’s real-life wife, Trish Van Devere,) John decides to investigate.

I won’t go into who haunts the house or why, because it would cheat you out of the experience of seeing the movie and finding out for yourself, but I will say The Changeling is an eerie (a bit too dated to be truly frightening) horror classic with a great deal of mystery. The best part was when John Russell finds a secret passage behind a wooden shelf in his closet that leads to a hidden room. That meant a great deal to me, because when I was a youngster I used to spend vast expanses of time searching for hidden panels and doors in my a hundred-year-old but strangely unexceptional home (I might have also been looking for a wormhole to Narnia, but let’s not focus on my childhood obsessions.)

The characters were a bit underdeveloped (John being weirdly nonreactive to the supernatural mayhem around him while Claire plays the role of the typical classic heroine, shrieking and fretting constantly until you want to tell her if she can’t deal with a little ghostly hi jinks, she needn’t get involved at all.) John’s motivations actually make a lot of sense; as a recently bereaved husband and father a suggestion of life after death should be a relief to him. He’s already experienced so much grief, more than he lets on, why should the spooky antics of a spirit not at rest break him? However, although George C. Scott does an amazing job balancing stoicism and unfathomable grief, his character left me a little cold. And I had no use for Van Devere’s shrieking woman in peril, who falls in little flat from the perspective of someone who has seen so many bad-ass women portrayed in movies, or at least women with something to do in the script except wail and tremble in abject terror.

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That said, I really do like The Changeling. It’s a classical ghost story with a lot of atmosphere; no gore or lurid shocks to be seen. If you like movies like The Others with Nicole Kidman (one of my favorites, and superior in many ways to the much-hyped The Sixth Sense,) you’ll like this.  I love that The Others in all likelihood borrowed the character idea of a elderly caretaker named Mr. Tuttle, a homage that none but the most perceptive horror fans will probably  catch. Although I feel sorry in a way for the wronged spirit, just a boy at the time of his death, I thought he acted a little harshly in punishing the senator (Melvyn Douglas,) indirectly related to his murder but still the only remaining opportunity to get revenge on a living person.

I really felt for Melvyn Douglas’ character, who discovers something no one should have to learn about their much-loved father. While Douglas is the ‘changeling’ of the title, he’s not as much a perpetrator as a fellow unfortunate who was nevertheless lucky enough to live to a ripe old age and achieve success, while the spirit languished and limbo and allowed his hate to grow.

  The Changeling isn’t really a horror movie of a keep-you-up-all-night variety, it’s low-key and dated and in  all actuality not terribly scary. On the other hand, if you like murder mysteries that will keep you guessing and that incorporate a creepy supernatural element, this movie is for you. It takes a somewhat old soul or fan of older horror to appreciate this; it isn’t for those that crave instant gratification or get impatient easily. It’s a mood piece, graced by the formidable presence of George C. Scott. But it will survive when the majority of modern fright flicks are forgotten in junkyards somewhere.

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Beasts of No Nation (2015)

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Poor Agu (Abraham Attah.) A young African boy caught up in a war on his own soil that American youngsters can neither understand nor comprehend, he is forced to commit unconscionable acts in order to survive. Fighting as a child soldier against a faceless enemy he has no real understanding of, Agu has little time to mourn the senseless slaughter of his family as he must prove himself to the charming and predatory Commandant (Idris Elba.) As he learns to be a fighter and a murderer, Agu must face the death of everything human in him, and his realization that being reunited with his remaining relatives is becoming increasingly distant and unlikely with each passing second.

Beasts of No Nation is based on a novel by the same title, which I bought on Amazon about a year prior but just couldn’t get into. People talk about ‘first world problems’ so much that it becomes kind of a cliche, but there is still a grain of truth to it. Growing up in America can be hard, unbelievably hard- drugs, mental illness, family strife, gang warfare, bullies, and poverty are just a few of the hurdles many American kids face every day, but there’s a marked difference between us and a kid like Agu. We know with some degree of clarity that we aren’t going to be invaded or have our homes destroyed in all-out war.  We don’t have to worry we will come home and find a crater where are house was, and piles of ash where the people we called ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ once stood.

The film adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s slim novel takes us into a world where safety is excruciatingly uncertain and the only thing between a relatively comfortable childhood and the wreckage of innocence is a group of soldiers keeping up a barrier between ‘home’ and ‘out there.’ This is done with somber immediacy, and held up to scrutiny by Attah’s haunting performance as a boy for whom tragedy becomes a long-standing part of himself. Attah’s astonishing dramatic turn makes his transformation from ordinary goofball preteen to psychologically broken casualty of war completely believable.

The violence in this movie doesn’t have a whole lot of stylized varnish or frills, the difference between this and a Quentin Tarantino movie is daunting, though both are worthy cinematic excursions in their own way. Pedophilia, carnage, wartime rape, and the mass killing of innocents are on naked display, and we see how thin a line there is between a normal person and a person who commits horrific acts is.

Sometimes, all it takes is a push for a everyday citizen, even a child, to act in self-interest and slaughter another human being. We are all just slightly advanced animals. Anyone who thinks we’re morally superior to wild creatures is either a fool or simply mistaken. Agu is not a monster, he does what he needs to to survive and we wonder how many of the men- boys, really- in Commandant’s troupe (many of which are participating in rape, child killing and other wartime atrocities) were just scared little kids unable to hold a gun at the beginning of this long, bloody war.

The script of this movie is incisive and well-written in that like Agu, we are never quite sure what is going on or who is fighting who. This deliberate vagueness gives the film a kind of disorienting feeling that was a good choice on the part of the filmmaker. The only connection to the white journalists and outsiders to this war is the people with cameras who snap pictures of Agu as he walks down a dirt road with an assault weapon. Agu returns their gaze with an appropriately uncomprehending look.

We see the brainwashing process- the pleading man Agu is forced to kill with a machete is obviously responsible for slaughtering his family, because why not? Agu is given drugs and groomed with smarmy words and bullshit political speeches. He is beaten senseless and molested by the Commendant. His only friend, the silent Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye) feels for him but is in exactly the same position he is. We also see how the wealthy profit from a boy’s war, though exactly when and how we are unsure- like Agu, we are cast into an unfathomable situation with very little background information.

Beasts of No Nation is a disturbing movie, but it succeeds in making a conflict we hear about secondhand in the papers feel a little bit closer. Appropriately confusing, erratic, and sometimes downright unwatchable (in a good way,) the film will make you think and, cliched as it is, appreciate what we have in this country compared to what those in war-torn regions only dream of. Safety is relative (especially with the number of shootings in this country spiking) but Agu lives in a reality that, God willing, none of us will have to experience first hand.

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