Saturday, January 29, 2011

Writers Respond To Readers @ the Tattered Cover

This is an annual event at the Tattered Cover Book Store, this year's star-studded line-up included Heidi Durrow, Jennifer Egan, Julie Orringer and Jess Walter. Here's what I thought...

Heidi Durrow
Without saying a word or acknowledging the audience she walked to the podium and began to read. She's stunning and quite fashionable. Her novel The Girl Who Fell From the Sky is currently perched at number 18 on the New York Times (Paperback Trade Fiction) Best Sellers List and getting A LOT of praise from fans and critics alike.

Durrow’s journey to to becoming a published novelist is interesting and inspiring. A graduate of Stanford, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and Yale Law School, the successful corporate litigator (who worked with the NBA and NFL) decided to quit her job and write the next great American novel. She wrote her novel and proceeded to be rejected 48 times before receiving the 2008 Barbara Kingsolver Bellwether Prize for literature of social change for The Girl Who Fell From the Sky.

After meeting and listening to her I was sold. She's got a bright literary future ahead and enough charisma to fill an entire bookstore. Look for big things from this budding talent.

Jennifer Egan
I’m currently reading A Visit From the Goon Squad, the highly acclaimed book by Jennifer Egan that Time magazine called "a new classic of American fiction". I was anxious to see, listen and meet her. When I did, the first image to pop into my mind was Cate Blanchett in Notes From A Scandal. Egan is tall, thin and sophisticatedly sultry. Sporting black knee high boots I would've pegged her as a former model rather than bestselling author.

Egan had my favorite quote of the day when she said her latest book was the literary equivalent of a concept album- I love that! She went on to joke about resurrecting her novel of historical fiction and said that her next project will be very different than Goon Squad, which is too bad because I'm really enjoying it so far.

Julie Orringer
Orringer was the third author to speak and unfortunately she had the after lunch time slot. That's usually when the coffee is wearing off and I slip into an after-lunch-coma, especially when I opt for the oversized burrito (it's a weakness). Of all the books talked about today hers is least likely to rest on my shelf. That's not to say she wasn't good because I thoroughly enjoyed her talk.

She discussed the difficult parts of writing a novel and experiencing "holy panic". I love hearing the inspirational stories of being a writer but I think it's equally important to hear about the struggles, Orringer brought the pain. It took 5 years to revise her collection of 9 short stories called How to Breathe Underwater, she methodically revised/trimmed her latest novel from 1300 to 600 pages, and went through 14 different titles before deciding on The Invisible Bridge.

Jess Walter
Last but not least was Jess Walter, initially he was the main draw for me. After seeing, listening and meeting the first three amazing authors I wondered if he would be disappointing? He wasn't, Walter has jokes and he's hilarious! I read his most recent novel and experienced a few laugh out loud moments yet I was pleasantly surprised how well his humor translated off the page.

The other thing that stood out was how different he looked in person compared to the book jacket photo. The photo isn't bad but in the flesh he looked younger and more vibrant. I learned that he came from humble beginnings, he wrote his last novel quickly (at the speed of light compared to the previous authors) and he's a little shy. Walter read from his novel, answered a few questions and hasta la vista baby!

I sort of expected the audience to be a little put off by the pot-oriented humor of his novel, yet the mainly female audience laughed hard and laughed often. A few ladies looked uncomfortable but he had the majority at hello.

Below are the free galleys from the event. The Tattered Cover also provided free eats throughout the day and a wine and cheese reception afterwards. Thank You Tattered Cover!

Friday, January 28, 2011

MGM's Sundance 2011 Wrap-up

Here's what we saw:

The Off Hours (93 minutes) A
Francine has no family, few friends and empty sex. The Off Hours is a powerful and moving film about the mundane life of a small town waitress and other lost souls who would rather exist than live life.

Another Happy Day (115 minutes) B+
A well executed melodrama about a family with LOTS of baggage and self destructive behavior. Stars Ellen Barkin, Demi Moore, Kate Bosworth and Thomas Haden Church. Dysfunction Junction.

Another Earth (92 minutes) A+
Director Mike Cahill brings us a truly original film about love, death, space and isolation. An out of this world experience.

Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (76 minutes) B-
Low budget, fun and campy. I wouldn't be surprised if this one goes on to become a cult classic.

Meek's Cutoff (104 minutes) D-
I didn't get it and didn't care. Stars Michelle Williams, Paul Dano and Shirley Henderson; good actors, bad film.

Little Birds (94 minutes) B+
A gritty look at a couple of small town teenagers who run off to LA and get caught up in a teenage wasteland

The Details (91 minutes) A-
Initially I felt like I'd seen this film before, another clever portrayal of a marriage gone wild. But this sad and funny meditation of domestic dysfunction lingered for days after seeing it.

Short Films (Shorts Program II)

Sexting (8 minutes) A-

Babyland (28 minutes) A

Blokes (15 minutes) B

We're Leaving (13 minutes) B

The Wind is Blowing on My Street (15 minutes) B

Brick Novax, Part 1 (8 minutes) A+

Brick Novax, Part 2 (8 minutes) A+

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Secret Life of Slippers (Book Review)

Jess Walter - The Financial Lives of the Poets B-
Publication Date: September 22, 2009

Matthew Prior quit his job as a business reporter and decided to intertwine his passions for finance and poetry by creating a dotcom that offers financial news, updates & advice in verse. It was called; an original idea, clever name and to no one’s surprise a total dud.

Unemployed, crippled by debt and on the verge of losing his family (he suspects his wife is having an online affair) and home, a late night trip to 7-Eleven changes everything.

The Financial Lives of the Poets is a humorous and sometimes sad story of a desperate man taking desperate measures. I enjoyed this novel but it never hooked me (emotionally) like I hoped it would. Bottom Line: I was hoping for edgier and darker content but Poets is more like network television and less like cable. Yet it's still worth reading if you're looking for something fun with heavier undertones and a sitcom-like feel.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Fighter - Movie Review

The Fighter (R) 114 minutes B+
A Junkie's Promise

Starring Christian Bale, Mark Wahlberg, Amy Adams and Melissa Leo

The Fighter is a familiar film, I hate to say it reminded me of the Rocky Balboa films of the late 70's and 80's but it did. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing, Rocky had his day and The Fighter will as well.

A destructive, meddlesome family he loves, an irresistible midriff baring girlfriend, a gang of sisters with big hair, feathered hairdos and more bleach than a Clorox factory, the shadow of his drug riddled brother and a David vs Goliath shot at the title. The film is equal parts grit, nostalgia, drama and good old fashion beat downs.

In the end it displays a surprising amount of heart and is sure to win over most audiences not opposed to the sure violence of boxing and a little crackhead humor.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Blue Valentine - Movie Review

Blue Valentine (R) 120 minutes A
When love is not enough

Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams

Blue Valentine is an excellent film about a young couple who fall in and out of love. It follows their beautiful beginning and tragic end by toggling between the doldrums of present day couplehood/novelty of their courtship.

This film (along with Helena From the Wedding) feels more authentic than anything I've seen this past year. It was easy to forget you're watching two fictional characters and not someone you know. New York Observer film critic Rex Reed says "movie intimacy reaches groundbreaking new heights in this shocking story", and goes on to add that Blue Valentine left him "racked by feelings of emotional intensity that still linger."

As the credits rolled and people began to slowly come unglued from their seats a quiet contemplation filled the air. I felt speechless, heavy and consumed by it all, usually a good sign that the film has left me with plenty to digest.

Bill Goodykoontz of the Arizona Republic summed it up best when he wrote "There's no blame to assign here. There are just two people in different places in their lives, their differences developing into an open wound in their relationship, until healing seems out of the question." This is a credit to the filmmaker and actors for crafting such a profoundly organic and humanistic study of a phenomena that (unfortunately) most will experience once, twice or more in a lifetime.

Lastly, it's worth noting that the director of Blue Valentine is Derek Cianfrance who grew up in Lakewood, CO and attended CU. I have a feeling we'll be hearing his name a lot more in the near future.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blind Ambition (Book Review)

Joe Pernice - Two Blind Pigeons B-
Publication Date: October 1, 2001

It's hard not to compare Joe Pernice the singer songwriter and Joe Pernice the poet (although some would consider them one and the same). My favorite piece is the opening poem, "Considering Paula", everything else simply flirts with greatness and left me slightly unsatisfied, wanting more and curious.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

To Live & Die in LA (Book Review)

James Frey - Bright Shiny Morning B+
Publication Date: May 13, 2008

When this book came out a few years ago I thought I heard something about Frey doing his book tour dates with a full band...? At the time that seemed cool but awfully presumptuous, especially after the Oprah scandal and such. But it turns out that a grandiose book tour is quite appropriate for what happened to be a very ambitious book.

Bright Shiny Morning is a little bit of a mess and could stand to be shorter, however there's few dull moments and plenty to sink your teeth into. The novel evoked plenty of emotions because much of it is about broken dreams in a city where only the ruthless, rich and lucky survive.
Being a dreamer myself this was very disheartening.

Back in 2008 USA Today critic Deirdre Donahue wrote that Morning reads like something "Oliver Stone wrote and Quentin Tarantino directed". The novel is full of parallel story lines that mainly follow these central characters: a homeless man, an Oscar winning actor, a young Hispanic woman with unusually large thighs and a young couple from Ohio. But there's more, more characters, fun facts, not so fun facts, descriptions, lists, etc... If this was musical album it would be a box set.

In his first official novel Frey shows up and throws up. Once you weed through some of the filler you're left with one hell of a novel/fictional history lesson of Los Angeles.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The King's Speech - Movie Review

The King's Speech (R) 118 minutes C+
Stammer Time

Starring Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter, Michael Bambon, Eve Best and Guy Pearce

Apparently King George VI was a cranky and angry man, but perhaps you would be too if you had such a debilitating vocal handicap. The King's Speech is based on the true story of a rogue speech therapist (Rush) and Albert the Duke of York (Firth). Albert reluctantly becomes King after his brother Edward VIII (Pearce) is forced to resign as a result to his lustful relationship with Wallis Simpson (Best), a twice-divorced sexpot.

The film has positioned itself to be 100% Oscar bait and appears to be winning the hearts of critics and audiences alike. Yet it might be a less enthralling to the historically challenged like myself. I found the acting to be top notch but the film a tad dry. Firth is good (liked him better as a suicidal gay teacher in last year's A Single Man) but in my eyes Rush is the real star. He steals almost every scene inwhich he appears and is easily the most pertinent and likable character.

Recommended for fans of starchy British drama's, Colin Firth and/or Geoffrey Rush.
Bonus DVD Reviews
Good Hair (PG-13) 96 minutes B+
A Hairy Situation

DVD Release Date: February 2010
Starring Chris Rock

Good Hair is a light-hearted documentary that deals with some complex issues. As a person who has used lye relaxers on my hair more times than I care to admit, this exposé doesn't necessarily leave me feeling judgemental but it does make it hard to envision a scenario in which I would use those types of products again.

Ridiculous and highly entertaining.
12th and Delaware (NR) 80 minutes B-

DVD Release Date: Debuted at Sundance January 2010/Debuted on HBO August 2010
Starring Two Clinics and a Yellow Mustang

Pro-life vs Pro-choice- That's what you have going on at the intersection of 12th and Delaware in Fort Pierce, Florida. I think this documentary film tries to portray each side fairly...? But I'll be honest, the pro-lifers in this film seem like kooks. I know this doesn't represent all pro-lifers and I tried to open my mind, but their logic still makes absolutely no sense to me.

From the directors of the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp, this film is not only sad but it also makes me angry. Yet still, I think it's important to see what's really happening around us even if we don't agree. This is a great example of lives being altered forever regardless of where you stand on the issue.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

My Gray Morning's Top 3 Moments of 2010

<---Fathead (me) at Cellar Stories Book Store in Providence, RI

3. Driving From Connecticut to Providence, RI (May) It was a beautiful spring day, just me and the open road. I took the scenic route, put the windows down and turned the music up loud. The next day I drove to Boston, walked around Cambridge and got caught in a rainstorm.

2. Sundance (January) Always fun, always inspiring and as much as I hate to admit it, fun to stargaze. Last year I was a breast length away from Ron Jeremy while walking down main street in Park City, and at the Joan Rivers (documentary) screening we sat only a couple seats away from Morgan Spurlock. Not to mention I attended my first Jazz game in SLC.

1. The AWP Conference (April) AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and this past year it was held in Denver. It was so much fun I thought my head was going to explode. It was an incredible experience and I met, saw and listened to lots of prominent writers (and editors). Without a doubt one of the best times of my life.