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→
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→
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→
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‘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.
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.
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.
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.
90’s independent films give a different kind of vibe from the small-budget movies of today. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s the feeling of ‘newness,’ of being the first to do something (of course movies were being made outside of big budget studios before 1990, but there seemed to be a big boom in ordinary schmoes who weren’t big name filmmakers picking up a camera and making something). Indies then had less of a feeling of precalculation, less of a sense of ‘hey, we’re working with small actors and a low budget, but put in some well-worn tropes and we’ll have a guaranteed hit.’ Films back then were really out there. And, hey, there’s something I really like about that.
So, while past-trippin to the 90’s (which, admittedly, I don’t remember that well, I turned six in 2000) I rented Tom DiCillo’s very odd buddy comedy “Box of Moonlight,” starring a young (I mean, young young) Sam Rockwell and John Turturro, who pretty much looks the same to me, for better or for worse. Turturro plays Al Fountain, an uptight and lonely electrical engineer whose relationship with his wife (Annie Corley) is low on sizzle.
Al is having the king of all midlife crisis’, in which he actually has visions of things going backward- coffee pouring itself back into the pot, kids riding bikes backwards- in the way he desperately wishes he could. Nevertheless, Al doesn’t magically turn back the clocks and become younger (ain’t that a funny thing?) and can’t seem to get out of his slump. One day Al’s contract gets canceled and he tells his wife he’s still working the job, then bales to a rundown lake and vacation spot from his childhood.
On the way back home, he almost hits a strangers car on the road. This stranger turns out to be Kid (Sam Rockwell,) a gregarious, barely-functioning precursor to the sovereign citizen, living off the grid and running a oddment-selling business in a broken down backwoods trailer. Kid convinces Al to get him home, then finagles him (not by the powers of force, but by persuasion and a little coercion) to spend a few days with him at his decaying pad.
Kid’s home is a man-child recluse’s paradise. Every day Kid gets up whatever time he wants, has a breakfast of cookies dipped in milk, and goes skinny dipping in the lake. He has no responsibilities, no worries except for maybe food sources and the paranoid fear of the government tracking him down. Kid is socially hopeless, outgoing, flirty, and friendly, but his optimism is only matched by peoples’ contempt for him.
By most peoples’ standards, Kid would be delusional, or at least a borderline mental defective. By the movie’s standards, he is a manic free-spirit, living on the land. Despite vandalism, stealing garden gnomes, and a potentially harmful prank on the police, he doesn’t really seem a danger to anybody. Al’s feeling of inertia begins to crack as Kid works his magic on him. Sisters Purlene and Floatie Dupre (Lisa Blount and Catherine Keener) work their own brand of magic on the men.
I like both main protagonists for different reasons. I like the Kid because he is funny and wears his heart on his sleeve. I like Al because I can relate to his loneliness and private pain. The brunt of an abusive father and an uncaring world have turned him cold, and the pain of his isolation is keenly felt in the scene where he overhears his co-workers mocking him. I love the little details in this movie, like the phone sex operators dirty boys shoes and the NRA-centric country music playing on the jukebox in the restaurant.
I did not like how casually Al’s infidelity was treated. His wife really seemed to be trying, which was overlooked in favor of Al’s fling with Floatie, who did not seem to be the brightest light on the menorah, if you catch my drift. I did like the friendship between Al and Kid, which seemed a little on the gay side at times, but they also puzzlingly eagerly sook out rendezvouses with women (?) Maybe somewhat homoerotic male bonding was their man-love limit.
“Box of Moonlight” is funny, sweet, unsentimental, and quirky without being full of self-conscious pop-culture quips. I’m not exactly sure what it was getting at but I certainly enjoyed the ride. It may not be of interest to most people, obscure as it is, but fans of independent films interested in going ‘off the grid’ (as Kid would say) should enjoy this excursion into eccentricity.
Note- I put the poster with the naked Turturro with a clock on my post because f’ing hate the DVD release cover. Dermot Mulroney was in the film for five fucking minutes of screentime total and his mug gets put on the front of the box, Where’s Rockwell’s face? He had ten times the screentime, and where is he? Oh, he’s the tiny little guy dancing on the bottom. Sorry. Pet peeve of mine:)
Actor/director Clint Eastwood stars as Walt Kowalski, a grizzled old bulldog of a man. Truculent and more than a little racially biased, Walt is the recently widowed father of uncaring sons, who would like nothing more than to put him in a rest home and get his house and his things. Old Kowalski laments at the state of his neighborhood, which is getting bought out by racial minorities, and is starting to attract an unsavory gang element.
When shy, bookish Hmong teenager Thao (Bee Vang) is pressured by his thuggish cousin into attempting to steal Walt’s beloved Gran Torino automobile (which is, along with his lab Daisy, the only thing Walt truly loves) as a gang initiation, Walt thinks his relations with his neighbors have hit an all-time low. But an unexpected friendship with the youth may be a reprieve for both of them.
Protecting Thao and his strong-willed, bright sister Sue (Ahney Her) puts Walt at odds with the local gang attempting to indoctrinate Thao and leads to a final, dramatic confrontation. Meanwhile, a well-meaning priest (Christopher Carley) has promised Walt’s deceased wife to get him to come to confession, and habitually visits Walt trying to offer him a Catholic perspective on the events surrounding him.
“Gran Torino” is outwardly a pretty simple movie about a prejudiced man coming to terms with a changing America and learning to value Minorities through the humanity of his neighbors, and all the actors, including the Asian non-professionals, give affecting performances. I noticed that early on there’s a little too much exposition offered by Walt’s family, which is a bit strident but keeps the drama moving at a steady pace, as Eastwood has a lot to cover.
Walt’s family really doesn’t give a crap about him- his bitchy granddaughter (Dreama Walker) tries to convince him to will the car to her when he “like, dies” (she says this right to the old man’s face!) and his grandsons sift through his stuff at his wife’s wake with a marked lack of respect. The kids’ father, Mitch, refuses to hold his children accountable and he and his wife are just as eager to claim Walt’s possessions as their offspring are.
Still, Walt finds a surrogate family, so to speak, with the people he least expected to. Walt is outwardly a pretty typical, ignorant, angry, and surly old man but he does behave in some surprising ways while developing at a believable rate. I’m not completely convinced he had removed the stick from his ass at the end (he still uses a very biased rhetoric, ‘gook,’ ‘slope,’ ‘beaner,’ etc.) but that makes his more believable because if he acted like a Disney character by the conclusion of the movie no one would buy it.
Carley plays one of cinema’s only sympathetic priests and he is appealing, as are Vang and Her. Despite the dark subject matter, there is light and humor allowed into the otherwise bleak story. Clint Eastwood does a good job of bringing Walt to life, and the ending is sad and tender but uplifting and hopeful at the same time.
This is one of those rare cases where the book can not compare artistically with its movie adaptation. Sure, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s “Let the Right One In” has more detail, and even works to a certain extent. But I actually think the movie was improved somewhat by being stripped down to its bare essentials, and eliminating extraneous subplots. The book is a pretty good read, but it hardly seems to be in league with the masterpiece the Swedish film version was.
Twelve-year-old Oskar Eriksson is a bullied misfit kid who wants to get back in a big way at his cruel tormentors. He is a overlooked resident of Blackeberg, whose surrounding areas have been plagued by a series of ritualistic killings. Oskar is fascinated by the sense of unease and the corresponding murders and even keeps a scrapbook containing clips of violent crimes. Neither Oskar’s fragile mother or his alcoholic, divorcee dad seem to notice Oskar is harboring a Antisocial streak. But when you’re afraid to go to school every day, life can do that to you.
Then Oskar meets Eli, a strange, thin, androgynous child who encourages him to fight back against his bullies. Eli’s frail façade hides an insatiable bloodlust, but Oskar finds himself strangely drawn to her. How far will Oskar go to protect Eli’s secret? “Let the RIght One In” is a compelling take on vampire lore, but I think it tries too hard to scientifically explain vampirism. Some things are better left unsaid.
The book also offers descriptions of what it feels like to be bitten by a vampire and to turn into a vampire, which is pretty cool. However, it also contains too many characters and feels unnecessarily long. Some passages better explain things left ambiguous in the film, like the role of Eli’s caretaker, Hakan, or the relationship between Oskar and his dad.
In the film, Oskar had a certain innocence and vulnerability that mad him very compelling, despite the indisputable fact that he was a very troubled little boy. The child actor gave that innocence creditability. In the book, Oskar is mostly creepy, someone you don’t want to meet in a dark alley despite his youth and small stature. In this novel, Oskar harbors a fantasy of seeing someone executed in an electric chair and even sets some desks in his classroom on fire (okay, his bullies’ desks, but still, that’s a big safety hazard!)
Oskar still certainly isn’t a completely unsympathizable character, but maybe you have more of a propensity to feel for him when you aren’t looking into that troubled little mind of his. Eli, however, is as compelling as ever, and you get a better sense of who she is the novel, as well as get a more complex look into the grey areas in between the elements of her ambiguous gender.
There’s is some interesting further development of the side characters, but mostly the wealth of detail on the supporting players seems a little ‘meh.’ Despite my quibbles, this book may be still worth reading if you want a more complete picture of a story that proves the vampire genre is not dead. The murderous, predatory class of vampires, not the sparkling one.
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