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Posts from the ‘Reading & Movies’ Category


Furious 7

So, I’ve been telling people I know that I went to the movies yesterday — and when they ask what I saw, I answer, “Furious 7, of course.”

A few months ago, I saw the Furious 7 trailer in the theater, and it JUST LOOKED GREAT!  That made me interested, and I remembered that Vin Diesel is the most graceful actor in movies, and though he’s an icon of masculine cool, his macho guy stuff is more complicated and sensitive than lunkhead.  Diesel is no oaf, and the Furious franchise generally has done a good job of doing the fast cars, action sequence thing, good enough that we’re on SEVEN (about which Diesel has gone on record as saying it will win the Best Picture Oscar — probably not, since action movies typically don’t win the Best Picture Oscar).

Vin Diesel & Jordana Brewster

Vin Diesel & Jordana Brewster

Here’s my summary: Never seen a movie (probably never been a movie) with more moving parts than Furious 7.  We’ve got cars and trucks driving out of planes into the sky (parachutes, think parachutes), cars and trucks in the air because of cliffs, parking garages, tall buildings, and explosions.  We have lots of explosions, gun fights, fist fights, and more things in motion on the screen than I would ever have thought possible.

Last week a read a review in The Village Voice (“Good News! Furious 7 Offers More of the Same Craziness!”) in which Stephanie Zacharek confessed that she’d not only seen every one of the Furious movies, but that she’d enjoyed them all. And then she discussed Furious 7 and why it’s so good — just had to see it.  Wasn’t expecting a classy piece of Art Cinema, wasn’t expecting to be enlightened in any way; just wanted to see all the things flying around on the big screen.

Some bonuses: Michelle Rodriguez co-stars.  That’s Michelle Rodriguez from Girl Fight.  Jason Statham, who’s been making a name for himself in action movies, plays the villain, and does so quite well.  The great Kurt Russell (who’s been in just about everything in the past 30 years, including Escape from New York, Executive Decision, and The Thing), saunters into the movie about 30 minutes in — he makes a spectacular entrance, too — watch for it.


Penny Dreadful

The show is called Penny Dreadful, and the name implies that it should be lurid and trashy — “penny dreadfuls” were the little booklets sold on the streets in Victorian England, costing a penny and containing lurid stories of monsters, vampires, adventurers, prostitutes, werewolves, etc.

Or I could just say, EvaGreenisinitiEvaGreenisinitEvaGreenEvaGreen, Dreadfulthe actress about whom film director Bernardo Bertolucci (who directed her in The Dreamers), said “she’s so beautiful it’s obscene.”  Don’t see what’s obscene about it, but she is, indeed, beautiful — enough to be a Bond girl in Casino Royale  and a very good witch named Serefina Pekkala

Eva Green in "The Golden Compass"

Eva Green in “The Golden Compass”

in The Golden Compass.

Green plays Vanessa Ives, who with explorer\adventurer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton, who played James Bond twice, in The Living Daylights and Licence To Kill) and adventurer Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), fights all sorts of supernatural beings in Victorian London.

I Netflixed a DVD with the first 3 episodes, and was introduced to characters & setting.  The second episode brings in both Dorian Gray and Victor Frankenstein — he’s talking to Murray about the only goal of science being to distinguish between life and death, solve its mystery; later in the episode, having manufactured and re-animated The Creature, he introduces himself to his creation, “My name is Victor Frankenstein.” As said Creature, whom Victor names Proteus, there’s a very nice turn by Rory Kinnear, who must be Roy Kinnear’s son (judging by the resemblance), though he has not Internet Movie Database bio to confirm that.

The third episode, “Resurrection,” gives us rather interesting backstory on Victor Frankenstein.  He’s a 10-year-old boy, being put to bed by his mother.  As they’re talking, a dribble of blood comes out of her mouth, and then she coughs blood all over herself and him.  She’s consumptive, the situation quickly gets worse, and there’s a funeral.  Victor plunges into the obsession with re-animating dead flesh that will consume the rest of his life.


Benedict Cumberbatch

So, an awareness of Benedict Cumberbatch was gradually dawning on me.  I’d not seen him in anything, but the new iteration (or “rebooot,” if you must) of Sherlock Holmes was all over the Internet, with praise for his performance.  And soon it turned out that a lot of the women I know uttered long libidinous sighs when speaking of him — which puzzled me, since I saw the pictures in the newspaper and on the Web, and found him perhaps a little plain, a little odd-looking.

Then the Alan Turning movie came out, The Imitation Game (Turing’s title for the article that introduced what we now call the Turing Test, a test to see if someone has made a computer that most people would think was a person).  I’ve long been fascinated with Turing, Turingwho not only broke the Enigma Code, by which the Nazis sent coded message during WWII, but was instrumental in creating the modern computer.  And he was a major social loser, a first-class weirdo (a genius mathematician); I’m quite the computer geek myself, so interest in Turing’s life was a done deal.  And, perhaps most significantly, Turing was gay at a time when homosexuality in England was a crime, and he was harassed and oppressed for that.

The Imitation Game is excellent, and Cumberbatch is beyond great– he gets inside Turing in ways that are hard to believe.  So the guy is a genius with math, with codes, with highbrow intellectual stuff, but he can barely understand how humans interact.  His colleague Joan Clarke, played in the movie by Keira Knightley, takes the opportunity to explain flirting to him in a pub — her friend is flirting with Hugh, one of Turing’s Enigma Project associates, and poor Alan has no idea what’s happening, no idea how body language and facial expressions are a part of human communication, at least as important as (maybe more so) than words.  She explains to Alan how you make other people like you, and he wonders why someone would do that — “I’m a woman in a man’s field,” she explains, ‘So I have to.”

Intrigued, I Netflixed a Sherlock Holmes DVD, and I very much like the episodes I saw.  This version is not a period piece from Victorian London, but instead takes place in the 21st Century.  Holmes uses both cell phone and computer, has John Watson as his friend\associate, and both helps Inspector Lestrade and has a rivalry with his brother Mycroft Holmes (just as in the original Holmes stories, so the big twist is re-setting the story in the present).

Holmes is as arrogant and dismissive as he’s always been, Sherlockthrough the b\w Basil Rathbone films and all the other versions, but he’s arrogant and dismissive in interesting ways.  Watson, whom he always calls “John,” accuses of him of not caring at all about the people he’s working for, helping– Holmes asks, “If I cared for them, would it help them?”  John wants to know if he actually can help them if he doesn’t care about them; the answer is a quick “Yes.”

As you can see from the picture to the left, Cumberbatch is quite stylish as Holmes and has great hair.  He’s quite the thing onscreen, an actor that I pretty much can’t take my eyes off.  And as Holmes, he has much better hair than as Turing.

Martin Freeman, he of many screen and TV credits, including playing Bilbo in the recent Hobbit movies, is also quite good as Dr. Watson.

I might even go see The Imitation Game again.  It’s stuck with me all week, and I’ve taken every opportunity to talk about it with friends.  G.W. and I had a nice conversation about Turing tonight — he’s very knowledgeable about him.

And it’s such a tragic story; Turing was a war hero, to whom England owed rewards and gratitude.  Instead, he’s convicted for homosexuality and given a choice between “chemical castration” and two years in prison.  He chooses the castration, and it leads to very bad results (which I won’t spoil for you her — go see the movie).


Cheryl Strayed a Household Name

And it’s about time, too.  Strayed’s memoir, Wild, is now a movie set to go into wide release and starring Reese Witherspoon, whose presence should guarantee  an audience.  (I saw it yesterday, and it’s an excellent rendering of the book.  Reese Witherspoon is excellent, and Laura Dern, who plays Cheryl’s mother Bobby, is a lock to get an Oscar nomination — she just radiates grace.)

The Internet meme this week was about the contrast between John Kracauer’s Into the Wild and Strayed’s Wild: From Lost To Found On the Pacific Crest Trail, as if they were actually comparable.  In my brain Christoper McCandless of Into the Wild is batshit crazy, not to mention suicidal, whereas Strayed is pretty thoroughly mis-guided but not insane..  Yes, both go into the wild without adequate preparation, but their reasons for doing so are dissimilar — McCandless is unhinged and doesn’t have any idea where he’s going, while Strayed just wants to hike the Pacific Crest trail.

I’m a huge Cheryl Strayed fan — after reading Wild, I read Torch.  As an online reader of The Rumpus (a magazine of literature, interviews, cartoons, etc.), I became part of the Dear Sugar “cult”;  Sugar was the advice columnist at The Rumpus for years, and when her tenure was coming to an end, Sugar was “outed” as being Cheryl Strayed.

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

Tiny Beautiful Things Cover

There’s a collection of Dear Sugar The Rumpus pieces (seems a little dismissive and inaccurate to call them “columns,” as they’re pretty substantial) titled Tiny Beautiful Things, and it’s on my bedstand, where I’m re-reading it just because it’s so damned good.  Strayed often replies to those writing in for advice by telling interesting stories from her own life, which she maneuvers into answers to the life and love questions asked.

Anyway, Strayed is soon to be a household word, and it’s a good thing, too.  In fact, I was listening to NPR the other day, and they were interviewing her and Steve Almond, who’s a Rumpus editor.  They said there is now going to be “Dear Sugar Radio.”


Why I Love “Clueless”

Well, is it because I love Jane Austen, and Clueless (1995) is an insanely-dead-on riff on Jane Austen’s Emma?  Yeah, in part, but mostly because I’m a huge fan of Amy Heckerling’s movies (she directed Fast Times At Ridgemont High and Making Mr. Right), and Clueless is a brilliant addition to the Heckerling oeuvre.

And it’s so funny.  Austen is the patron saint of funny, but Clueless takes it a step further, imagining Austen’s heroine (Emma) as a Beverly Hills teen named Cher, obsessed with clothes, shopping, hanging out at high school, and (especially) re-arranging everyone’s love lifes.

Cher re-negiates her grades, helping teacher after teacher understand how the grade she was originally given wasn’t the actual grade she deserved — and receives plaudits from her father (a lawyer, a litigator, played by the always-solid Dan Hedaya) –“You re-negotiated your grades?  Well done!”  And she successfully match-makes one of her teachers, played by Wallace Shawn.


But finally, as it happens in Emma, Cher is dreadfully wrong in her matchmaking career — she fails to notice how Travis Birkenstock (love that name!) is the perfect match for her friend Tai, played  by Brittany Murphy (now sadly deceased).  They’re party girls, thinks Cher, and will match up best with the glittery boys, the most popular guys in the school.  Cher’s other BFF, Dionne, is played by Stacey Dash.

Truth is, Cher is snobbish and class-conscious, and her politics are less than admirable.  She thinks that Travis, who’s a skater and overall a bit of a hippy, is below her friend Tai, who like Cher is a rich girl, mostly interested in shopping.  And Cher completely overlooks her stepbrother, Josh (played by the admirable Paul Rudd) — after all, he’s a bit of an environmentalist and a supporter of liberal political causes (but he’s also a lawyer and does some work for her father).

Like Emma, though, in the end Cher wises up and actively promotes that Tai\Travis alliance — and hooks up with Josh, whom she has had comfortable conversation after comfortable conversation with throughout the movie without realizing that she’s in love with him.

As the title has it, clueless.





Gone Girl — the Movie

There are a few spoilers here, so be alert (but if you’ve read the book, you already know them).  Went to see Gone Girl this afternoon at its opening performance in my local cineplex, and it did not disappoint the hi expectations I had for it, based on the excellent novel by Gillian Flynn (read it twice!), who also wrote the screenplay. I’m a big fan of Gone Girl director David Fincher, who has Fight Club, Seven, The Panic Room, and Zodiac among his credits.

First off, the movie is visually beautiful, not that such a thing is important, but anyway.  And Flynn\Fincher handle the various stories and different times\places very smoothly.  We start with Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck, very good) talking to his twin sister Margo (Carrie Coon, pretty unknown in movies but excellent) about his 5th wedding anniversary and what do do for his wife.  Nick goes home to find his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike– remember her name) gone and impossible to locate, which leads to a massive search and much police attention on the less-than-suitably-distraught husband, Nick.  (One of my movie favorites, Kim Dickens, expertly plays the detective who’s investigating the Dunne disappearance (or is it homicide?)).

Black Widow

Black Widow

Rosamund Pike gives one of the great Black Widow performances in my recollection, and there have been many, with plans in the works for Scarlett Johanssen to play the Avengers Black Widow character in an upcoming movie.   In the movies, a black widow character is a woman who kills, betrays, or otherwise engages in illegal\immoral\unpalatable behavior to advance her nefarious ends.  Pike essentially has to play two characters, the Amy who is married to Nick and fiendishly plans both her disappearance as well as the appearance that Nick had all sorts of motives to kill her; and she also plays the disguised Amy character who goes on the run the day she becomes “gone girl.”

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

Rosamund Pike & Ben Affleck

A lot has been written about both book and movie, with likely more to come, as we parse whether or not the book\movie are misogynist, misandrist, or other.  My view is that Nick deserves to get his life pretty much ruined by Amy, though the last part of the movie (like the book) leaves in doubt what the new terms of their arrangement will be.  Best comment I’ve read noted that the movies shows just how close “marital detente” is to “homicidal rage.”   I predict Oscar nominations for Pike and Fincher, and it seems to me that Gillian Flynn is a mortal lock for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar- – but who knows what I’ve missed and what will happen in movies by the end of 2014?


Footloose, the (Somewhat Unnecessary) Sequel

So, at times I’m not immune to random channel-surfing, and even worse, watching the stuff  I surf up.  Which is why, this afternoon, I turned up the 2011 version of Footloose, which up ’til today I didn’t know existed.

Tuned in, with severe reservations, in that the Kevin Bacon\Lori Singer\John Lithgow Footloose is damn near perfect and has no apparent need of a sequel.  But I came around as I watched.

Number One: Today’s movie audience of teens and those in their twenties (Millenials) needs a version of Footloose that doesn’t star dinosaurs like Kevin Bacon (though I’d be gratified no end if today’s teens liked and admired the movie, or even more so were Kevin Bacon fans — maybe they’d seen The Following, in which he’s great.

The new Footloose stars Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough.  Yes, we’ll pause while you say, wtf?  Well, Kenny and Julianne are up to the task — turns out he’s a professional dancer (which Bacon wasn’t), toured with Justin Timberlake, etc.  Hough has pretty good professional credits, too, and she’s hot enough and more to play the slutty minister’s-daughter Ariel.


Footlose, 2011

Footlose, 2011

Another thing I liked is that the filmmakers decided not to do a shot-for-shot transcription of the original, though they stay close to it.  Ren’s solo dance sequence in the warehouse is and is not like Bacon’s; there’s a country line-dancing scene in which both Ren and Ariel come off well.  And best of all, there’s a scene in which 8-year-old girls sing “Let’s Hear It For the Boy,” in which Ren teaches his friend Willard to dance, much like and also unlike the original scene with Bacon and Christopher Penn.

Turns out that if I give something a chance and evaluate it fairly, maybe I’ll have an enjoyable experience.  Who knew?  (Well, I knew ever since I read Carl Wilson’s amazing book Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste.  Some people call it the Celine Dionne book, and the whole world loves it.  I blogged about it here on May 5, 2014.)


The White Rose

About a month ago, I read jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel, You Should Have Known — it’s about a New York therapist who writes a book called You Should Have Known, which is about relationships, especially about how women should have known when their husbands have been cheating on them, living double lives, trending toward divorce, etc.  The book gets some traction, media play, and its author, Korelitz’s protagonist, finds out some things about her own life that she should have known.

The novel is just so well written, so intriguing, that immediately when I finished it, I went looking for another Korelitz book — and Book Gallery West, my neighborhood used bookstore, with which I trade books regularly, have done so for years, had The White Rose, which I’m currently reading.  It’s set, like You Should Have Known, in New York City, and it’s so good that I finish chapters and say out loud, “Wow.”

New York City

New York City

The White Rose begins with Marian and Oliver.  She’s a history professor at Columbia, and he owns a flower shop called The White Rose.  Oliver is 26, Marian is 48, and he’s the son of her oldest friend, Caroline.  Marian is married, Oliver is not.  So their situation is, uh, complicated.

And quickly becomes further complicated when he’s at her apartment, they’re post-tristesse, and her cousin calls, says he’ll be right over.  Marian can think of nothing but to rush Oliver into his clothes as she rushes into hers and send him out the service elevator.  Oops — the service elevator is broken, so she asks him to hide.  Which he does, for awhile, but then he sashays out to the living room where she and cousins Barton are having drinks.  Fair enough, accept that Oliver is dressed in Marian’s clothes and is introduced as her assistant, Olivia.

Oh, my.  To say much more would lead me to have to issue a “spoiler alert.”  I will say, however, that the novel proceeds with the lives of Oliver and Marian, Barton Ochstein (Marian’s cousin), and his fiance Sophie Klein, an heiress.   Also, Marion’s oldest friend, Oliver’s mom Caroline, a pesty gossip columnist whose name escapes me.  Oh yeah, and the mysterious Olivia. It’s an amazingly good book–it winds its way to an ending that astonished and exhilarated me.  Great book — 6 or 7 stars out of 5.)

Maybe Book Gallery West has another Korelitz book.  Amazon probably does, though I like to buy from a local store when possible.


Happy Birthday, Will!

Today, April 23rd, is William Shakespeare’s birthday (as best we can determine from the less-than-perfect records of the 16th Century, he was born this day in 1564).  It’s also the day Shakespeare died, 52 years later in 1616.

An Image of Shakespeare, Maybe

An Image of Shakespeare, Maybe

My “Today In Literature” email (you should check it out: told me that today is also the day Miguel de Cervantes died — ya know, the author of Don Quixote.  (If you object that Pierre Menard is the actual author of Don Quixote, then you’re both kidding and know the Borges story, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote“).

Michelangelo died in 1564, the same year that Shakespeare was born (transmigration of souls, anyone?).  And today’s last factoid, Galileo (also born in 1564) died in 1642, the year Isaac Newton was born.


If you’ve never read Borges lovely story, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote,” it’s worth an hour of your time.  The trick of the story is that Pierre Menard, who lives in the 20th Century, decides to so steep himself in Cervantes’ time, 16th Century Spain,

An Edition of Don Quixote

An Edition of Don Quixote

and Cervantes’ language, 16th Century Spanish, that he would be capable of writing Don Quixote.  And then finds himself actually writing Don Quixote.  (Yes, the story’s a bit fanciful.)  So, in that sense, Pierre Menard is the actual author of Don Quixote.  The story insists that he’s not plagiarizing — he’s not copying Don Quixote; he’s writing it.


A Space Odyssey

Went to see Gravity a couple weeks ago at the Reitz Union theater.  Really loved it — believed every minute that I was in space, marveled at being there.  And, yes, it was gratifying to see Alfonso Cuaron win Best Director at the Oscars, and especially Emmanuel Lubeszki win Best Cinematography (his sixth nomination).  Lovely pictures — every shot must have presented a challenge.

So it was time to see 2001: A Space Odyssey again; it’s been years, and I was interested to see how the space special effects held up, coming as they do from a time before CGI and all sorts of technology to aid special effects — they were done the old-fashioned way.

The Heuristic Algorithmic Lifeform (HAL)

The Heuristic Algorithmic Lifeform (HAL)

A sort of disclaimer here:  I have a long history with 2001.  First went to see it as a college freshman, and since it was 1968, drugs were probably involved.  Have seen it multiple times since then, and my major professor\dissertation director in grad school at The University of Florida delineated his Optical Theory of movies using it in a series of articles (executive summary: movies are about vision, about the eye, and pretty much against talk as well as other forms of intellectualism. The intellectual divides; the imaginative creates unity).

Happy to report, after watching the first hour, that it still looks marvelous.  The initial scene with the apes way back in prehistory is fascinating, and the “space ballet” with various rocket ships and Strauss waltzes still deserves all the praise it’s accumulated over the years.

Spacement Observing the Monolith on the Moon

Spacement Observing the Monolith on the Moon

I looked at some old reviews of the movie, including what both Roger Ebert and Renata Adler had to say in 1968 when the movie was new and they’d just seen it, and had to try to make sense of it.  Here’s Adler from the New York Times:

The movie is so completely absorbed in its own problems, its use of color and space, its fanatical

devotion to science-fiction detail, that it is somewhere between hypnotic and immensely

boring. (With intermission, it is three hours long.)  All kinds of minor touches are perfectly done:

there are carnivorous apes that look real; when they throw their first bone weapon into the air,

Kubrick cuts to a spacecraft; the amiable HAL begins most of his sentences with “Well,” and his

answer to “How’s everything?” is, naturally, “Everything’s under control.”

Interests me how 2001 fits into the Kubrick oeuvre: it comes right after Dr. Strangelove and precedes A Clockwork Orange.  Then he directs Barry Lyndon.  To come is Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut.   Could any 7 movies be less alike?