Tag Archives: Loneliness

Book Review: Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

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Rating: B-/ I really don’t know what to say about this book. It was an extremely odd novel, and I haven’t quite sorted my feelings about it out yet. I enjoy stories with taboo subject matter, but what I don’t enjoy is having a narrative suddenly just kind of end in an anti-climax. Lamb is a book where I kept expecting something big to happen, but the conclusion left me puzzled and disappointed. I often found the writing style confusing, but I did think the author did a good job developing her main characters. This book is going to be hard for some people to read because the main character, David Lamb, is basically a pedophile. Continue reading Book Review: Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

Book Review: Imani All Mine by Connie Porter

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Rating: A-/ Wow. This is one heartbreaking story. If you want to read this book but have doubts because the subject matter might be too hard to cope with, be forewarned, it only goes downhill from here. There’s so much pain in Imani All Mine, to the point where the moments of hope and redemption hardly seem worth mentioning. I knew that this was a dark book, but I didn’t see the tearjerker of an ending coming, it blindsided me. I think this book is a work of art. It combines dialect with lyricism to powerful effect, without feeling false or untrue to the character’s voice and education level. Continue reading Book Review: Imani All Mine by Connie Porter

Book Review: Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe

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Rating: B+/ Call me crazy, but I count Patrick McCabe’s 1992 novel The Butcher Boy among my favorite and most influential books of all time. Sure, it’s Bleak with a capital B, but it turned me on to my current fascination with books featuring unreliable narrators. It was made into a 1997 movie by Neil Jordan, and while it was surprisingly good with a convincing performance by Eamonn Owens as the book’s mentally disturbed narrator, Francie, some of the book’s brilliance was lost in translation. Continue reading Book Review: Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe

Book Review: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

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Rating: B+/ I find this to be a somewhat hard book to review, because as a longtime fan of the David Fincher film I found there to be few surprises upon reading the novel. There were a few major changes made in the transition from book to film, especially the ending, but the fact that I had watched the film many times made it impossible to go into this novel blind. Hell, I already knew the twist ending before I even saw the movie for the first time; my dad spoiled it for me (he insists that he didn’t think that it would even be a movie I’d want to watch, so he saw no harm in spilling the beans about the big reveal.) Continue reading Book Review: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Poetry (2010)

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Poetry‘s juxtaposition between the achingly beautiful and the unspeakable is put nakedly on display in it’s opening scene, where a group of children playing on the idyllic shores of a beautiful river spot a schoolgirl’s floating body being swept down it’s currents. We soon meet Mija (Jeong-hie Yun,) the film’s protagonist, although we are initially unsure what ties this elderly lady to the dead girl, or why.

Mija is a cheerful, down-to-earth older woman who seems to be aging with grace, treating the people around her with kindness and a singularly sweet temperament that is hard for many people diving headfirst into their twilight years to maintain.

Mija has a grandson, Jongwook (Da-Wit Lee,) an ungrateful pizza-faced pipsqueak who’s mama can’t be arsed to look after him full-time, and I am not exaggerating when I say I have not felt such dislike for a fictional character in a long time. And don’t say he’s just a kid, because I just may puke. Jongwook is sloppy, piggish, ungrateful, and rude, but that is soon revealed to be the least of his vices when it comes to light he and his friends have been gang-raping the drowned girl, his unpopular classmate, prior to her death. Turns out the poor teenager leapt to her death, presumably to escape Jongwook and his friend’s abuse.

There’s other horrible shit going on here, as if the rape and the suicide weren’t difficult enough. While coping with the realization that her grandson is a monster without an ounce of pity or remorse for what he did, Mija also copes with her disconcerting loss of words and phrases, that slip from her mind like sand through a sieve. Turns out she has Alzheimer’s, and she also loses her job caring for an old stroke-afflicted man (Hira Kim) when he tricks her into giving him Viagra and makes a pass at her, looking piteously for one last bang on his way to the cemetery.

In the wake of tragedy, Mija loses much of her patience and warmth, but she tries to keep the walls from totally closing in on her by taking a poetry-writing class. But how does one find beauty in a world filled with so much pain and ugliness? Mija suffers writer’s block and on top of that, she has to come up with a lot of money quick to help pay the dead girl’s mother not to take her case to the police. Wondering why Mija makes the effort to protect her cretin grandson? I did too, but with her daughter out of the picture, Jongwook is practically her only family, and in her own strange way, she loves him, or at least feels like she ought to make the effort to save him from a regrettable fate.

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Poetry is above all else a character study, although the premise of a struggling grandmother attempting to cope with the unfathomable resonates too. Jonh-Hie Yun is incredible in the main role. It’s a remarkably understated and subtle performance that will make your heart ache with grief as Mija suffers through other agonizing day in a life no one should have to live. Mija dresses smartly and tries to have an upbeat, sunny attitude, but with no support system she begins to crumble.

She smiles for no reason, rather than face the alternative, and laughs needlessly, and sometimes she comes off as a bit vacuous, a silly old woman dealing with things way beyond her capabilities. But she’s not weak. After all, it takes strength to get through every day in your own personal hell and trying your best to appreciate the beauty life has to offer. So event though she seems daffy, Mija understands and observes way more than she lets on.

In the scene where she finds out her son had been sexually assaulting a girl who later committed suicide, there’s no big emotional breakdown where she cries out and sinks to the floor in a sobbing heap. But you can tell by the deadened look on her face she feels it fully, in her heart, and in her gut. The boys’ fathers think she’s a silly old bird, but you can see she is feeling the gravity of the situation more than any of the men are. It honestly shocked me how caviler the fathers were about their sons raping their classmate. Haven’t these guys taught their sons better about how to treat women? But poor Mija is the one who is thought to be a little behind, a little slow perhaps. A confused old lady. There are definitely traces of sexual politics and class differences, as Mija sticks out like a sore thumb among the men for her femininity and her inability to pay her share of the money.

Poetry is beautifully filmed, and that carefully observed attention to Korea’s natural beauty- even the more Urban, gentrified areas- belies the story’s tragic elements. It’s not a Hollywood movie- it’s not glossy or routine, preferring instead to delve into an exhausted older lady’s reasons for doing things, which are not always kind or easy. Mija is capable of cruelty, and she’s the guardian of a truly dreadful grandson, but we root for her all the way. How does one deal with awful circumstances. If you’re Mija, you keep your cool, smile, and try to find beauty- however hard it is to recognize- in a world that can sometimes offer little but cruelty and nastiness.

 

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Roxanne (2014, Short Film)

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In Paul Frankl’s low-key short film, a jaded transgendered prostitute is unwittingly thrown into the motherhood role after saving a homeless little girl from some unsavory types. It sounds like a recipe for melodrama, but Frankl shows remarkable restraint directing real trans woman Miss Cairo and Thea Lamb as the unwanted girl.

First of all, you don’t get a litany of boo-hooing about the direction Roxanne (the man, er… I mean woman of the night)’s life has taken. She’s remarkably self-possessed at best, fully resigned to the life she is leading at worst. But although the living situation between her and Lily, the little girl who’s mother has left her and whose mother’s boyfriend is a grade-A asshole. is less than ideal, it does make Roxanne reconsider her aloneness and the lifestyle she has taken for granted.

“Roxanne” is a very well-shot short film. The scenes at the night club where Roxanne cruises for the willing sex partner are dreamy and virile, while the sequences at her apartment, in the company of the young girl, are more akin to a Ken Loach kitchen-sink realism film. The cinematography (such as the cigarette smoke wisping through the cheap lace curtains ) always seems to articulate the feeling it wants to, and, more importantly needs to under the circumstances.

Miss Cairo has kind of an openness about her even when she’s being cagey, and despite her character’s waffling feelings towards the girl, it’s hard not to get sucked into her story and believe the best in her. I would have liked a more complete ending; the conclusion of “Roxanne” feels more like a ‘to be continued,’ but at least this leaves room for a possible sequel. I guess it’s too much to ask that Roxanne drop her life to assume full-time care of this girl, but I’m not ashamed to say that’s what I hoped for. Instead we got kind of an ambiguous ending, which I guess is better and more realistic, but not as satisfying.

It’s hard to make the viewer care for a duo of characters that exist on screen for a mere fifteen minutes, but directed Paul Frankl has pulled it off. I wanted the two heroines to find happiness in each other, and I would be happy to see a follow-up short or a film adaptation.

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Foxcatcher (2014)

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A grim psychological study of co-dependency and decompensation, “Foxcatcher” features two profoundly against-type performances from Hollywood A-listers.  Steve Carrell, star of light comedies like “Get Smart” and “The Office” and occasionally slightly darker fodder like “The Way, Way Back” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” portrays the real-life millionaire aristocrat John Du Pont, an exorbitantly rich man-child pressed under the thumb of a domineering mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and struggling with his own demons.

When Du Pont offers to endorse up and coming wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, in another unusual performance,) it seems to Schultz, the strong, silent type, like a match made in heaven- at last he will make a name for himself and stop being regarded merely as an extension of his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo,) who also wrestles competitively. To the viewer, it seems weirdly abrupt… Du Pont spirits Schultz off to his mansion to and introduces him to ‘Team Foxcatcher,’ a group of fighters that Du Pont plans to shape into an unbeatable team and send to the nationals.

For a greasy, apparently limited individual, Du Pont sure can be a manipulative sonofabitch, and Carrell plays him with a mix of childish mania and snakelike bile. “Foxcatcher” is arresting in it’s build-up. You watch Carrell, muscles tensed, waiting for him to snap like a brittle branch, but up until the finale you are unsure of why you feel this way. Schultz has serious issues of his own, and anyone who dismissed Channing Tatum as a vacuous pretty boy  up until now will be wowed by his powerhouse performance.

I’ve never seen such duel performances exuding desperation since Olivia Colman and Peter Mullan in Paddy Considine’s “Tyrannosaur.” I couldn’t help see somewhat homoerotic overtones in the relationship between John Du Pont and Mark Schultz. The way Du Pont treats Schultz is reminiscent of an abusive marital relationship, with Du Pont manipulating Schultz with promises of greatness and cutting him off from the only person who loves him, his brother Dave.

The movie is sometimes reminiscent of Haneke in it’s minimalism (without the utter clinical iciness of Haneke’s films,) with a touch of Hitchcock by way of “Psycho,” but the story it tells is all too real. I ended up feeling for all the characters and despairing for their extreme loneliness.

I’m frankly surprised this film played at the theater; it doesn’t have near the mainstream appeal of something like “The Dark Knight Rises” or “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It’s the kind of movie that would probably barely get a release if not for the big names who agreed to play in it. Nonetheless, it is a must-watch for independent film fans and people who like think during a movie rather than just react to the obvious implications of what’s on screen.

Don’t watch “Foxcatcher” for the wrestling; there isn’t as much as a fan of the sport might like to think. Ultimately it’s almost as much about the death of the sport as it is about isolation and desperate circumstances. Watch the cage match at the end of the movie and you’ll see what I mean. “Foxcatcher” is a surprising movie with outstanding performances, and while it’s not a film you would, say, take your kid to, it’s very worthy of praise and deserves all the awards it gets.

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