Thursday, December 31, 2015

Play It As It Lays - Book Review

Play It As It Lays - Joan Didion C

Published in 1970
In January 2010 critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo released their list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923. Joan Didion's Play It as It Lays was on that list. By all accounts, Didion is a literary legend. However, I was underwhelmed by her critically acclaimed memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking (it won the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005), and I just couldn't digest Play It as It Lays. Stylistically, it is an unflinching and cool novel about a woman's descent into nothingness. Yet, I never felt an emotional connection with the protagonist and the other characters were forgettable. I wonder if I would like the film adaptation starring Tuesday Weld and Anthony Perkins any better?

Here's a clip from the film adaptation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVUiTmMvV9U

Here's The New York Times review circa 1970 http://www.nytimes.com/1970/08/08/books/didion-play.html?_r=0



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sprained Ankle - Album Review

Released Oct 2015
Sprained Ankle - Julien Baker A

Julien Baker is an über talented twenty-year-old singer-songwriter from Memphis, Tennessee. Sprained Ankle is her quietly impressive and addicting debut album. The music here is sans bells, whistles and unnecessary gloss. The album is a natural beauty, warts and all. The songs are confessional and sad. Sometimes, I listen to the album and feel like I am living in slow motion while the songs are my own personal soundtrack. The first song that really hooked me was "Everybody Does," possibly the most accessible song of the album and it totally feeds my self-loathing - "I know myself better than anybody else/and you're gonna run when you find out who I am/I know I'm a pile of filthy wreckage you will wish you'd never touched."

Baker's voice is lovely and vulnerable. Her lyrics are poetically tragic. This is what Sylvia Plath would've sounded like if she was a twenty-year-old singer-songwriter. Kudos to this young artist. I truly hope she never loses her edge. Sprained Ankle might be the start of something very very special. My favorite tracks: Everybody Does, Rejoice, Good News, Go Home, Blacktop.

For more check out -----> http://music.6131records.com/album/sprained-ankle

Monday, December 28, 2015

First Comes The Night - Album Review

Released Nov 2015
First Comes The Night - Chris Isaak C+

I don't know what's harder to believe- that Chris Isaak is 59 years old, or that Chris Isaak is still heartbroken? The dude doesn't look a day over 48 and he can still sing your panties off. But actually, one of the reasons I've liked him all these years is because he's perpetually heartbroken (or pretends to be) and that makes him real to me. On his 13th studio album, First Comes The Night, you're not likely to find anything out of the ordinary if you're familiar with his music. However, that's not to say the album doesn't have its moments. Songs like "Please Don't Call," and "Baby What You Want Me To Do," will be instant fan favorites and recommended tracks for Chris Isaak newbies. I also like the title track a lot; it's a catchy, slow burning track that hurts soooo good. On the album's deluxe edition is a song called "Some Days Are Harder Than The Rest." This songs is grandiose, powerful, and has a badass retro vibe- It's currently my favorite song on the album and perfect for a film soundtrack (I can imagine the song playing as the closing credits roll). First Comes The Night is hit-or-miss. It probably won't win him many new fans, but it should keep his current fans satisfied.

Favorite tracks: "Please Don't Call," "Baby What You Want Me To Do," "First Comes The Night," "Dry Your Eyes," "Some Days Are Harder Than The Rest."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Vulnicura - Album Review


Vulnicura - Bjork A-
Released Jan 2015
So, this is what a break-up sounds like in the heart of Björk Guðmundsdóttir. Vulnicura, widely known as her "heartbreak album," is devastatingly lovely. From the opening lines of the opening track, Stonemilker, "moments of clarity are so rare/I better document this." One can sense that this is something thoughtful and sincere. The following track, Lionsong, also grabs my attention everytime I hear Bjork sing, "maybe he will come out of this loving me." Knowing that I've been the unloving "he" in such scenarios.  This album has a way of making one feel introspective with theatrical hindsight.  The liner notes even include a song/relationship timeline for the first six tracks- the aforementioned Stonemilker is nine months before the end of the relationship, while Lionsong is five months before the end, and so on. The timeline is a nice touch that adds perspective and dramatic effect.

Musically, there are a lot of beautiful string arrangements, electronic beats, and drum-and-bass loops to accompany Bjork's unique vocal style. Vulincura is entrancing. It inspired me to go back and re-listen to Vespertine, Bjork's 2001 album that never clicked with me... until now.

Favorite tracks: Mouth Mantra, Stonemilker, Lionsong, and Quicksand

The video for Lionsong courtesy of Youtube  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWHpoJT3qK4

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Poor Bastard - Book Review

Published: Jan 1997
The Poor Bastard - Joe Matt B

I've known a few poor bastards in my time. Most of them eventually figure it out and/or become better at hiding their misery. Joe Matt's The Poor Bastard, is a graphic novel born from the first six issues of his Peepshow comics. Peepshow, and subsequently this drawn dairy, is reportedly an autobiographical account of the writer's life. A life full of social awkwardness, masturbation, and angst. It's sometimes funny, mostly sad, and often cringe worthy. Underneath the surface of this unlikable protagonist is the sad reality for a lot of dudes. Sad but true.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Modern Romance - Book Review

Published: June 2015
Modern Romance - Aziz Ansari B-

As a guy who has never downloaded a cell phone app, Modern Romance was yet another reminder of how out of touch I am in the digital age. After listening to the book during 14 hour road trip I feel more informed and more enlightened. However, I'm not so sure if the current dating/hook-up technology is a help or a hindrance when seeking (and maintaining) true romance. Check out The New York Times review (below) for more about this book.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/07/books/review-aziz-ansaris-modern-romance-explores-dating-in-the-digital-age.html?_r=0

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl - Book Review

Published: Oct 2015
Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl - Carrie Brownstein A

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl is a subtle rock memoir that totally delivers. A must for SK fans.

Check out The New York Times review by John Williams http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/29/books/review-carrie-brownsteins-hunger-makes-me-a-modern-girl.html

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Girl in a Band - Book Review

Published: Feb 2015
Girl in a Band - Kim Gordon A-

When it comes to Sonic Youth my friends and I are split in two camps- the camp that thinks Kim's songs are always the best songs on any given Sonic Youth album, and the camp that thinks Thurston's songs are the best. However, we all agree that Sonic Youth is one of the best bands of all-time.

I read Girl in a Band as a fan boy. Kim Gordon is the shiznick, a rock goddess, the bees knees (can you tell which camp I'm in?). Usually, when I'm this excited about a book I'm setting myself up for disappointment... not this time.

Girl in a Band begins at that the end. The end of a marriage and the end of Sonic Youth. Then, Gordon recounts her own life and the early days of the band. I always dive into music memoirs with a singular mission to get the inside scoop on the band members, the albums, the songs, and the tours. But, this time I was also captivated by the obligatory born and raised/parents and sibling stuff. Gordon's tone is modest, the chapters are short, and the book is easy to read (nice flow/loved the photographs).  It is also not without its juicy bits and sad realities. What's it like to be a "girl in a band?" Now, I think I really do understand.

Check out the New York Times Review by QuestLove http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/15/books/review/kim-gordons-girl-in-a-band.html

Friday, November 27, 2015

Sideways - Book Review

Published: June 2004
Sideways - Rex Pickett A

Without getting too meta, this book made me laugh, it made me nervous, it made me want to live life to the fullest and drink good wine. But, most of all it made me want to the read the (self-published) sequel, Vertical

I loved Sideways the film, now I love Sideways the novel.

Here is the Sideways film trailer courtesy of YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzYrieVib1U


Friday, November 20, 2015

Brooklyn - Movie Review

Brooklyn  (PG-13) 111 mins B+
Home is Home

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Zegen, Emory Cohen, Mary O’Driscoll and Julie Walters

Isn't it funny how love goes? First, you're lonely... practically invisible. Then you meet someone, and suddenly everybody wants you. Now you're faced with a choice- love the one you're with or love the one you want to be with (the latter is always a gamble). That's the age-old conundrum at the center of Brooklyn, a film adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel (screenplay by Nick Hornby) and directed by John Crowley.

Brooklyn is a straightforward romantic drama that's surprisingly tender and enchanting. It has all the makings of a run-of-the-mill immigrant love story. In the hands of Hornby and Crowley and starring the lovely Saoirse Ronan (Atonement and The Lovely Bones), the film rises above the typical Hollywood period piece/romantic drama. Set in the 1950s, the story follows young Eilis (Ronan) as she journeys from her small Irish town to America. Expectantly, there are challenges during her transition. Eilis is homesick and lonely when she's swept off her feet by Tony (Cohen), a humble but charming Italian plumber. Suddenly, America didn't seem so bad. But, when tragedy strikes in Ireland, Eilis must temporarily leave America. In Ireland, among family, friends and new possibilities, she has to decide if home is really where the heart is.

Yes, this film is soft and sentimental. However, something about it just feels right. Recommended.

Check out the trailer ----> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=15syDwC000k
 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Travel Writing - Book Review

Published: August 2008
Travel Writing - Peter Ferry C+

Pete Ferry is an English teacher and part time travel writer who finds himself obsessed with the death of a beautiful stranger. The obsession consumes him and eventually causes friction between Pete and his live-in girlfriend, Lydia. The dynamic between Lydia and Pete is the most intriguing part of the story. The classroom banter between Pete and his students is also significant and well played. But, the travel writing angle was a bore and I wasn't buying Pete as an amateur sleuth. This isn't a bad debut novel, nor is it a very memorable one.



Thursday, November 12, 2015

Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film - Book Review

Published: Jan 2015 
Silver Screen Fiend: Learning About Life from an Addiction to Film - Patton Oswalt C

Patton Oswalt is witty, smart and likable. He's the proverbial, "guy you would like to have a beer with." That's sort of way I expected so much more from this book. Being a cinephile myself, I was expecting a more in-depth, more insightful exploration into film- i.e. the really geeky stuff. But instead, we get a nice jaunt down memory lane that is enjoyable yet somewhat forgettable.

Check out this NPR piece by Linda Holmes from last January 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Room - Movie Review

Room (R) 118 mins B
Small room, big emotion

Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy and Sean Bridgers

Room is adapted from Emma Donoghue's much ballyhooed, best-selling 2010 novel of the same name. The film is directed by Lenny Abrahamsom and stars one of the most underrated actresses in Hollywood, Brie Larson (Short Term 12 and Train Wreck). I didn't read Donoghue's novel, so I was a little afraid the film would be one-dimensional, i.e., a mother and her son trapped in a tiny room talking to inanimate objects. However, this film has more tension and more heart than I expected. A good portion of the scenes do take place in a 10 x 10 windowless room (a garden shed) where five year-old Jack (Jacob Tremblay) and his Ma (Brie Larson) have been held captive for years. There is also some co-mingling with inanimate objects and critters. But, Abrahamson never lets the story feel contrived despite its "ripped from the headlines" familiarity. The best moments in Room take place outside of the room. (Spoiler Alert) It was interesting to see how Jack and Ma adjusted to freedom once they got it. And it raises the age old question, "Are we ever truly free?"

Check out the trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPZqF_TPTGs


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Jimmy & Rita - Book Review

Jimmy & Rita - Kim Addonizio B+
Published:  Jan 1997

Jimmy & Rita is an edgy and gritty novel-in-verse. Some of my favorite moments include:

December
Dancing
Spin
What Happened
Party
Blackberry
Smaller Each Day

The Publisher's Weekly Review via publishersweekly.com
http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-880238-41-7

 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Legerdemain - Album Review

Released October 2015
Legerdemain - Duncan Sheik C
We get it, you liked the 80s. However...

I've been a Duncan Sheik fan since his debut album in 1996. I've seen him live a few times and I own all of his albums. Legerdemain, his latest effort, is the most underwhelming album he has ever made. Much has been said about his use of technology on this record- It's all over blown. The synths, the keyboards, the drum machines, all sound tired and too familiar. There are a handful of songs I dig, but the rest is surprisingly uninspired. That said, "Warning Light" was the only song I loved right away. It sounds like a 1980s dance floor gem. But, for the most part the strongest tracks are the slow quiet ones near the end of the album. Sheik is a great artist. Legerdemain is not a great album (but I'm still hoping it will grow on me).

Favorite Tracks: Warning LightSo There, Half A Room, No Happy End, and Circling

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Inferno (a poet's novel) - Book Review

Inferno (a poet's novel) - Eileen Myles B+
Published: Nov 2010

“My English professor’s ass was so beautiful. It was perfect and full as she stood at the board writing some important word.” And so began Inferno by Eileen Myles. The aforementioned opening, an instant favorite, grabbed me and never let go. Inferno claims to be a poet’s novel, also known as a Künstlerroman, but it felt more like a dishy memoir. It’s raw, compelling and highly quotable. Myles manages to pull off the ultimate memoir-novel in true, uncompromising, rock star fashion.

For a preview check out this video (you won't regret it!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yk_vryOmXLU


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine - Documentary Review

Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine (NR) 128 mins C-

Starring: Steve Jobs

I learned a few interesting things about Steve Jobs from this documentary, but overall it was a little dull. Clocking in at over two hours, the film felt about 20 - 30 minutes too long. Ultimately, this is the opening act for the other (fictionalized) Steve Jobs film starring Michael Fassbender.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Leaving Las Vegas - Book Review

Published: 1990
Leaving Las Vegas - John O'Brien A

One of my favorite films of all time is now one of my favorite novels. I love the grittiness of the story and the writing. Suddenly, I want to re-watch the film.

For more about John O'Brien check out this Entertainment Weekly piece
http://www.ew.com/article/1995/11/10/john-obriens-bittersweet-departure

and the film trailer circa 1995.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ke6kU0rD8Jg



Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Nine Inches: Stories - Book Review

Published: August 2013
Nine Inches: Stories  - Tom Perrotta A-

Tom Perrotta's brilliant short story collection, Nine Inches, is full of disappointment and despair. But, it's the relatable, entertaining, well-written and heartfelt disappointment and despair... not the depressing kind.

For a more comprehensive review check out The New York Times review of Nine Inches by Alix Ohlin. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/books/review/nine-inches-stories-by-tom-perrotta.html?_r=0

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The End of the Tour - Movie Review

The End of the Tour (R) 106 mins B+
On the edge of panic

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Joan Cusack, Anna Chlumsky, Mamie Gummer, Ron Livingston

David Foster Wallace published Infinite Jest in 1996. The 1,000+ page novel catapulted the intensely private writer into "celebrity author" territory- a label he was never comfortable with. Certain friends and family who were closest to Wallace have protested this film. A film that sensitively portrays DFW as one of those "misunderstood genius" types, and has nothing but the best of intentions. But, from what I read, the whole thing isn't very Wallace-like. Meaning, if he were alive he would hate it. Nevertheless, it's a good writerly film about writerly things.

The End of the Tour details the last days of Wallace's Infinite Jest book tour where he is joined/interviewed by Rolling Stone reporter, David Lipsky. The film is very talky, but the hook for all you non-writer types is the delicate dance of one person wanting what another person has - and what that one person will do to get it. Lipsky's time with Wallace never made it to the pages of Rolling Stone magazine. However, it did become a book called, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, published in April of 2010. The book is Lipsky's account of the five days he spent with Wallace in 1996. It is also the basis of this film.

Jason Segel as DFW is his most seminal work to date. Jesse Eisenberg as David Lipsky is also very well played, but I suspect will be criminally overlooked. The End of the Tour is directed by James Ponsoldt. Ponsoldt also directed one of my favorite films of 2013, The Spectacular Now.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, A Marriage - A Book Review

Published in Jan 2003
Her Husband: Hughes and Plath, A Marriage   - Diane Middlebrook A
Writing- The True Romance

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were a fascinating pair. The red hot couple meet in February 1956 and married four months later. Their love affair started so fast it would prove impossible to sustain such momentum. Her Husband brims with fire, ice and lots of tragedy. I went into the book adoring Plath and knowing little about Hughes. I will admit I had a preconceived notion that Hughes was an a-hole; however, Middlebrook changed all that (I've lifted the moratorium on Hughes' books.) This retelling filled in all the gaps for me- how they meet, the marriage, the affair, the suicide(s) and maybe most important, the art. Plath and Hughes wanted to be full-time writers first and foremost. They sacrificed everything for that end. They loved the art of writing more than they loved themselves- that was the true romance.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ricki and the Flash - Movie Review

Ricki and the Flash (PG-13) 101 mins C
Bourgeois

Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Rick Springfield, Mamie Gummer, Audra McDonald,Nick Westrate, Hailey Gates, Ben Platt, Charlotte Rae, Rick Rosas, Joe Vitale, Sebastian Stan, and Bernie Worrell.

Ricki and the Flash is directed by Jonathan Demme, written by Diablo Cody and stars Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep. I was hoping the film wasn't as trite as the trailer looked, but it sorta is. Streep is one of the best actresses one the planet, she does an admirable job here. Yet, Ricki and the Flash still feels like an artless effort that's panders to the mainstream. Not terrible, but somewhat forgettable. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cop Car - Movie Review

Cop Car (R) 86 minutes B
Kid's Play

Starring: Kevin Bacon, Camryn Manheim, James Freedson-Jackson, Shea Whigham and Hays Wellford

Cop Car is a small indie film with big suspense. A nefarious and slight Kevin Bacon plays a strung out cop who leaves his patrol car unattended while he takes care of some shady business. A pair of 10-year-old runaways stumble upon the abandon car and decide to take it for a joyride (yes, the keys were left in the car). As you can imagine, all hell breaks loose and the naive young boys have no idea of the danger they are in.

I'm not a fan of films that rely so heavily on the narrative of kids (unless of course you're Wes Anderson). But, director Jon Watts does a good job of keeping the hellions interesting and not just playing off their cuteness/innocence. I felt like it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that these kids might die. I wasn't hoping for that, yet it made for a more suspenseful film (when is the last time you saw two 10-year-olds die in a big budget Hollywood film that didn't involve terminal illness?). I'm not saying the film isn't far-fetched, but it has the feel of something desperate and unpredictable.  This film might surprise you.

Cop Car was filmed in Fountain, Colorado

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - Movie Review

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (PG-13) 131 mins B-
Abort the next mission

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, and Alec Baldwin

I know that Rogue Nation is doing well at the box office. Many consider it one of the best of the franchise. But, I wish they would just stop. Stop while the films are still decent and don't run it into the ground. I am almost certain that Mission: Impossible and the ageless Tom Cruise won't sustain this momentum. I enjoyed Rogue Nation. It was a pleasant way to spend an afternoon- IMAX screening, small popcorn and a diet coke. Everyone knows the basic (predictable) plot. Cruise is typical Cruise, Ving Rhames is cool, and Simon Pegg is good comic relief. However, it is the performances of Rebecca Ferguson and Sean Harris that pushes the film over the hump. Those two villainous characters add a little freshness to what feels like a stale repeat of the same old car chases, high tech gadgets and explosions. I've seen all of the MI films. I know what I should expect. But, for the first time after seeing one of these films I questioned whether or not I cared to see another one.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Shelia Levine is Dead and Living In New York - Book Review

Sheila Levine is Dead and Living In New York - Gail Parent B+
Dying to get married

Published in 1972
Facebook, Tinder, Match, JDate, eHarmony, Okcupid, - if only our heroine, Sheila Levine, had those resources in the early 70s... She wouldn't have to kill herself because she's overweight, unmarried, and generally unsatisfied with her unglamorous life. This novel is a little dated (originally published in 1972), but I still found it entertaining, witty, relevant, and a tad edgier than today's mainstream "chick lit." Now, I am curious to see the film adaptation circa 1975.

Here's a (underwhelming) clip from the film adaptation via Youtube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5sOk0I7fg-Q

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Irrational Man - Movie Review

Irrational Man (R) 95 mins B-
When Homicide Makes You Hard and Other Godless Thoughts

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Parker Posey, Jamie Blackley, Betsy Aidem and Ethan Phillips

The latest Woody Allen film will inevitably be compared to two of his best, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. That doesn't bode well for Irrational Man. The film covers familiar existential territory and features a great performance by Parker Posey. Allen fans will be pleased, everyone else should proceed with caution.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Sport and a Pastime - Book Review

Published in 1967
A Sport and a Pastime - James Salter B
The French Connection

A Sport and a Pastime is a great title and one of my all-time favorite book covers. However, immediately after I finished the novel I wasn't sure if I liked it, or if I just liked the sex (which is very poetic if not a little misogynistic). I didn't necessarily feel any connection with the characters, although they were definitely intriguing. The story's narrator, a nameless American living in France, is the omniscient guide to what becomes an erotic journey between Dean, a "coolguy" Yale drop-out and Ann-Marie, a nineteen year-old French sexpot with bad breathe. This novel was a slow burn, yet once it seeped into my head I found it hard to think of anything else. The tone of A Sport and a Pastime is slightly reminiscent of The Great Gatsby (one of my favorites). Furthermore, The way Salter wrote about sex was inspiring and compelling. The way he wrote about race, not so much. Nonetheless, this well-written sexcapade is interesting and highly worthwhile.

For more on this novel check out this great piece by Alexander Chee http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2015/06/24/sex-and-salter-2/#.VbhKtkZssf0.facebook

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Amy - Movie Review

Amy (NR) 128 mins B+
Love and Other Drugs

I've seen the Kurt Cobain (Montage of Heck) and Elliot Smith (Heaven Adores You) documentaries within the last year. Neither left me feeling as sad as Amy, the new Amy Winehouse doc directed by Asif Kapadia.

I was aware of all the hype surrounding Winehouse when she was alive, but I figured it wasn't my thing and I never listened to her music. Turns out, she was more charismatic and more talented then I ever imagined. Gone to soon.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Overnight - Movie Review

The Overnight (R) 80 mins A-
It don't mean a thing if you ain't got that swing 

Starring: Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling, Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godreche

Alex (Adam Scott), Emily (Taylor Schilling), and their five-year-old son, RJ, recently moved from Seattle to Los Angeles. The young parents are excited about their move, excited about their new beginning, but have yet to make new friends. Enter Kurt (Jason Schwartzman), the ultimate LA hipster and all-around nice guy. Kurt befriends Alex and Emily when he spots his kid playing with their kid at a local park. Kurt invites Alex, Emily and RJ over for dinner/play date. But, the real play date begins after the adults put the kids to bed.

I'll admit, The Overnight feels more like a tremendously delicious guilty pleasure rather than a great film. But, I loved it nonetheless. I purposely didn't seek out too much about the plot prior to seeing it, and as a result I was surprised at every turn. The film is a little raunchy, a little ridiculous and slightly awkward. Directed and written by Patrick Brice, The Overnight is the best sex comedy of 2015 so far.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Ex Machina - Movie Review

Ex Machina (R) 108 mins B-
Pretty Little Robot
 
Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Issac, Alicia Vikander and Sonoya Mizuno

Calab (Domhnall Gleeson), is a talented young programmer and dedicated employee. He works at an internet-search company, sort of like Google, and has been selected to spend one week with the company's reclusive CEO, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Issac). Nathan lives and works in a remote mountainous area where he develops new technology- everything is top secret and highly secure. Calab's job for the week is to test/interact with Nathan's latest creation, an artificially intelligent robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander). I don't think I am giving anything thing away by saying Ava is cute and Calab is horny... I mean vulnerable.

Directed by novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland, I found the film more interesting than exciting. The techie stuff is cool and all, but the mind games are the best part. The less you know about this film, the better. Fans of this genre will probably appreciate Ex Machina more than I did; I thought it was a little slow at times. Stephen Hawkings once said, "artificial intelligence could end humanity." Whether you agree or disagree with Hawkings, this film will definitely provide food for thought.

The Newsweek's Article mentioned above
http://www.newsweek.com/stephen-hawking-warns-artificial-intelligence-could-end-humanity-332082

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You're Not Much Use to Anyone - Book Review

Published July 2014
You're Not Much Use to Anyone - David Shapiro A-
A Blogger's Life in New York

David Shapiro's semi-autobiographical novel, You're Not Much Use to Anyone, is like a big screen version of Seinfeld directed by Woody Allen with music by Belle and Sebastian. David Shapiro first gained national attention for starting a blog called "Pitchfork Reviews Reviews." In his novel, the fictional character (also named David) gained national attention for starting a blog called "Pitchfork Reviews Reviews." I like this novel because it's about subjects I'm interested in (blogging and music) and it reminds me of things I love (Seinfeld and Woody Allen). But, the fact that it's based on the author's real life/real events is intriguing. It motivated me to dig deeper after finishing the book. The more I learned about the real David Shapiro, the more I admired the novel. In a Vice interview last year Shapiro admits, "I feel guilty about a lot of stuff because I don't act in a way that's considerate of other people all the time. A friend who a character is based on said I didn't sign up for this, meaning she didn't ask to be the basis for a fictional character who does things she didn't do. And I wonder how I would feel if someone were to write about me in the way that I did about other people."

In the "fictional" story, David is fresh out of college and wondering what to do next. He gets a crappy office job to appease his parents. He meets a girl, he loses a girl, he meets another girl. He starts "Pitchfork Reviews Reviews" via his Blackberry. Not much else happens, but it's the way those things unfolded that made Shapiro's You're Not Much Use to Anyone engrossing. This novel won't blow anyone away. It's a quick and uncomplicated read about a small window of time in a young man's life- a niche novel, or dare I say a guilty pleasure. And I suspect that the David character might drive many readers crazy. He's whiny, self-involved, and annoyingly smart- the kind of guy who could have it all, but he's too blinded by insecurity and lacks enough life experience to embrace the possibilities. 

Recommended to music geeks who read Pitchfork and those who think life/love is a mixtape.

Check out the entire Vice interview by Zach Sokol below
https://www.vice.com/read/david-shapiro-isnt-much-use-to-anyone-256


Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Death of Bunny Munro - Book Review

The Death of Bunny Munro - Nick Cave B
A Menace to Society
Published Sept 2009
Nick Cave is a fascinating man, music icon and literary rock star. His second novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, is deviant, dark and hypersexual. I loved the sinister tone of the writing, carefully mixed with black comedy. The protagonist, Bunny Munro, is a traveling salesman and world class cocksman. He tries to f**k nearly every woman he meets and his indiscretion has driven his wife to suicide. The story takes off when our bewildered anti-hero takes his nine-year-old son on a hellish road trip, while he attempts to sell beauty products. It's all very Twilight Zone/David Lynch-esque. Then there is the Kylie Minogue and Avril Lavigne fetish thing. I had to laugh when I read (via RollingStone.com) Cave explaining the correlation between his novel and Minogue's attention grabbing "Spinning Around" music video, "Kylie's hot pants were all the tabloids could talk about. I think she has to take a certain responsibility for this novel, by wearing those hot pants." Lavigne is also mentioned throughout the novel. In the same Rolling Stone article referenced above, Cave admits, "I'm not sure how Avril Lavigne came about, except that I personally like her very much, and something about her physicality seemed to be the right kind of thing for this character."

What the novel lacks in dramatic structure, it makes up for in pure perverse intrigue. Reportedly, two of Cave's influences for The Death of Bunny Munro were the SCUM Manifesto by the radical feminist Valerie Solanas (she tried to kill Any Warhol in 1968) and the Gospel According to St Mark.  With one screenplay under his belt, 2005's The Proposition, this novel was originally meant to be a screenplay for John Hillcoat (Director of the 2009 film, The Road). However, The Death of Bunny Munro obviously ended up being a novel. It was written on the road while touring with his band, the Bad Seeds.

Lastly, it is worth mentioning that the audio version is read by the author and comes with an original soundtrack and 3D spatial audio designed for listening on headphones- It's a wicked experience. This novel is definitely not for general audiences. But, if you want to take a walk on the wild side I highly recommend it.

The link below is an outstanding (short) interview with Nick Cave courtesy of WIRED via Youtube. Enjoy!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNhBkBdROxk



Sunday, June 7, 2015

Neon Repairman - Album Review

Released Spring/Summer 2015
Neon Repairman - Freedy Johnston B
Darkness is My Friend

In 1992 Freedy Johnston released Can You Fly, a terrific album that sounds as good today as it did 20 years ago. A year later he released Unlucky, a flawless six-song EP that featured a popular cover of Jimmy Webb's "Wichita Lineman." Primed for a breakout commerical hit, This Perfect World (his major-label debut) dropped in 1994 and brought Johnston the attention he so rightly deserved. In 1995 Rolling Stone magazine named him "Songwriter of the Year," and the Kansas native closed out the 90s by releasing two more brilliant albums, Never Home and Blue Days Black Nights. Johnston was surely on his way to becoming one of music's most important artists for years to come.

Fast-Foward to 2014, Neon Repairman, his first new album since 2010's Rain on the City, was successfully crowd funded and set for a late 2014 or early 2015 release. The current musical landscape looks nothing like the 90s, but ultimately this new album is vintage Johnston- albeit, a slow burn. IntialIy, with my hopes and expectations sky high, Neon Repairman didn't blow me away as a whole. But, there were enough hooks to keep me listening. After four or five spins, songs that didn't intially grab me were suddenly becoming my favorites, i.e., "Baby, Baby Come Home," "Summer Clothes," and "A Little Bit of Somethin' Wrong." This album may not break any new ground; however, all the things that make Johnston special are showcased here- great songwriting, interesting characters and a vulnerability that feels truly authentic. His fans won't be disappointed. Fans of the genre (acoustic-based/singer-songwriter/Americana) should check out Neon Repairman and/or one of the albums I mentioned above.

Favorite Tracks: Neon Repairman, TV in My Arms, Summer Clothes, Baby Baby Come Home, A Little Bit of Somethin' Wrong

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Poem She Didn't Write And Other Poems - Book Reiew

The Poem She Didn't Write And Other Poems - Olena Kalytiak Davis B-
Sassy, Sexual & Postconfessional

Published Dec 2014
This is the kind of book I might re-read in five years and think that it's brilliant. But, for now it feels sorta hit-or-miss.
Favorite poems:
Sonnet (seized)
Look at Lesbia Now
Mean, Manly and Meant
Sonnet (stopped)
Summer Fiction
Sonnet (full-court press)
Methow 19:19

For more about Olena Kalytiak Davis and The Poem She Didn't Write and Other Poems, check out this link via The New Yorker from last December http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/08/you-and-me-both

Sunday, May 24, 2015

I'll See You in My Dreams - Movie Review

I'll See You In My Dreams (PG-13) 92 mins A-
Comfortably Numb

Starring: Blythe Danner, Martin Starr, Sam Elliott, Rhea Perlman, June Squibb, Mary Kay Place, Malin Akerman

I'll See You In My Dreams created a lot of buzz at this year's Sundance Film Festival and now I see why. Co-written by Marc Basch and director Brett Haley, this romantic dramady about a gracefully aging widow is quietly one of the best films of 2015 so far.

Carol (Blythe Danner) is a preppy, upper middle class, retired school teacher whose husband died 20 years ago. She has comfortably settled into a drama-free life with an unvaried routine. A routine that mostly consist of golf and hanging with her three besties played by Rhea Perlman, June Squibb, and Mark Kay Place. But, Carol's life is interrupted when her dog becomes ill and has to be euthanized. Consciously or unconsciously she realizes how lonely her life is and befriends her new pool boy, Lloyd (Martin Starr). This relationship is easily the most complex and intriguing to me. However, that friendship is slightly complicated when she is swept off her feet by the most eligible silver fox around, Bill (Sam Elliot).

I'll See You In My Dreams may appear to be tailor-made for the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel set. However, anyone who can appreciate an honest, sensitive, and realistic film about the uncertainty of aging, loving and dying will love this film. Not to mention, this film might be the most memorable of Blythe Danner's career which spans 40+ years.

Lovely and amazing.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Everyman - Book Review

Published May 2006
Everyman - Philip Roth B+
The Life and Death of Everyman

Everyman is my favorite Philip Roth novel to date. It made me squirm in my seat, it entertained me, and it made me reflect on my own mortality. Dark but effective.

The link below is a 2006 NPR interview with Philip Roth. Enjoy! http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5390578

Sunday, May 10, 2015

5 Flights Up - Movie Review

5 Flights Up (PG-13) 91 minutes C+
Love and Real Estate
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Diane Keaton, Cynthia Nixon

Alex (Freeman) and Ruth (Keaton) Carver are an aging couple who have survived racism, 40 years of marriage, and the mean streets of New York. But, can they survive the New York real estate market? What was once their run-down apartment in a crime ridden Brooklyn neighborhood, is now a highly sought after gem in a trendy gentrified neighborhood. Adapted from Jill Ciment's 2009 novel, Heroic Measures. I found 5 Flights Up interesting and timely considering today's real estate frenzy. However, for general audiences this film is nothing more than mild entertainment and gentle fun.

Recommended for Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman fans.

The New York Times
book review of Heroic Measures http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/books/review/Macy-t.html?_r=0

 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Welcome to Me - Movie Review

Welcome to Me (R) 105 mins B-
Breakdown, go ahead and give it to me

Starring Kristen Wiig, Wes Bentley, Linda Cardellini, Joan Cusack, Loretta Devine, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Thomas Mann, James Marsden, Tim Robbins and Alan Tudyk

Alice Klieg (Wiig) has borderline personality disorder.  She hasn't turned off her television in 11 years. Welcome to Me is an awkward dark comedy about the power of mental illness and millions of dollars. Alice, an infomercial and Oprah addict, wins the lottery and goes off her meds. What follows is a funny, but sad train wreck that you can't stop watching.

Directed by Shira Piven (Jeremy Piven's older sister), Welcome to Me is not as dark as last year's Skelton Twins which starred Wiig in a dramatic role. But, it is a little unsettling because I felt like I was laughing at a mentally ill person. That's not to say the film is cruel...it isn't. But, there are moments when sh*t gets real and you realize that you're laughing at someone's pain and tragedy. I liked this film despite it feeling thin and hollow at times. Wiig fans probably won't be disappointed. Everyone else should proceed with caution.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Eating Animals - Book Review

Published Sept 2010
Eating Animals - Jonathan Safran Foer B
The Truth About Meat

Being a vegetarian, I thought it was important to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. Foer, author of the novels Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, was motivated to write this (his first non-fiction) book because of the impending birth of his son. Within the first few pages Foer writes, "Feeding my child is not like feeding myself: it matters more." He also goes on to claim that Eating Animals "is not a straightforward case for vegetarianism." However, if you ever considered vegetarianism this book will provide plenty of ammunition for going veg.

In the book Foer consciously tries not to be preachy or heavy-handed. He includes a variety of opinions and viewpoints. He applauds small family farms who strive to treat their animals humanely in life and in death. But, Foer also reveals a lot about factory farming and it's hard to get past that cringeworthy systematic abuse and torture of animals. Not to mention the destructive effect factory farming is having on the environment. Eating Animals is not a straightforward case for vegetarianism. Foer knows that most people will never give up meat (he's had his own struggles). Not eating animals is a personal choice. Whether you are considering a vegetarian lifestyle or not, this book should make you think twice about the face on your plate.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The First Bad Man - Book Review

 
Published Jan 2015
The First Bad Man - Miranda July A-
Her First Great Novel
 
What can I say about Miranda July? She is truly one of a kind- a visionary artist. The First Bad Man, her first novel, is deliciously odd, surprisingly sexual, devastatingly smart and laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended for those who like their fiction a little weird and a little deviant.

Additionally, check out the link below - a review by

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/18/books/review/the-first-bad-man-by-miranda-july.html?_r=0

Sunday, April 12, 2015

While We're Young - Movie Review

While We're Young  (R) 97 mins B-
Generation Gap

Starring: Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts, Amanda Seyfried, Adam Driver, Brady Corbet, Adam Horowitz, Maria Dizzia and Charles Grodin

Noah Baumbach's latest film, While We're Young, hits close to home. Similar to the Ben Stiller character, I am a childless fortysomething who feels terminally young and increasingly irrelevant. But, unfortunately for this film, it follows a string of films directed by Baumbach that I personally love- Frances Ha, Greenberg, Margot at the Wedding, and The Squid and the Whale. While We're Young is entertaining, occasionally funny, and worth a trip to the theatre. However, it feels like it's missing that proverbial "something" and lacks the emotional connection I had with Baumbach's prior efforts.   

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Carrie & Lowell - Album Review

Released March 2015
Carrie & Lowell - Sufjan Stevens A
We're All Gonna Die
 
I was driving around and listening to Carrie & Lowell, the latest album from Sufjan Stevens. I felt like I was in a cool indie film and the music was my soundtrack-introspective, beautiful and bittersweet. However, the autobiographical narrative of the album is not so whimsical. Titled after his mother and stepfather, Stevens' mother apparently battled mental illness and died of cancer in 2012.

Carrie & Lowell made me think of my mother and her mortality- it affected me, it made me feel less alone - and that's what great art does.

Favorite tracks: Death with Dignity, Should Have Known Better, All of Me Wants All of You, Fourth of July, The Only Thing, and Carrie & Lowell
 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Selma - Movie Review

Selma PG-13 128 mins B+
A different side of MLK

Starring Cuba Gooding Jr., Giovanni Ribisi, Andrew Young, Lorraine Toussaint, Wendell Pierce, Tessa Thompson, Alessandro Nivola, Tom Wilkinson, Tim Roth, David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Martin Sheen, Oprah Winfrey and Common

I wasn't looking forward to watching this film. These black historical dramas tend to get me all tied up in knots. 12 Years a Slave was good, but I don't need to see it again. Selma was better than I expected. The performances are solid, the film is timely, and the political aspect between MLK and President Johnson is highly intriguing.

It was not the best film of 2014, but deserved to be in the conversation.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Single, Carefree, Mellow - Book Review

Published February 2015
Single, Carefree, Mellow: Stories - Katherine Heiny A
The Happiest Unhappy

I listened to the audio version of Katherine Heiny's short story collection, Single, Carefree, Mellow. As soon as I finished I immediately went to the bookstore and bought the hardcover. These stories are whip-smart and scandalous. The characters are intoxicating. Heiny's introspection, wry humor and infinite sadness made this a thought-provoking and titillating read.

For more on Katherine Heiny check out the article below by

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Feast of Love - Book Review

Published April 2000
The Feast of Love - Charles Baxter B
All You Can Eat

Charles Baxter's third novel, The Feast of Love, begins and ends with twenty year-old Chloe. She wasn't my favorite character, (that distinction is a tie between Bradley and Diana) but it's not until Chloe appears that things get good. The beginning of the novel feels a little trite with the whole insomnia driven moonlit walk blah, blah, blah... But, when the story finally started to pull me in (somewhere around chapter five) it was hard to not to be completely engrossed in Baxter's world of longing, heartbreak and passion.

The Feast of Love is told through a series of interwoven vignettes and alternating perspectives. The cast of characters include; Bradley, the nice guy looking for love. Kathryn, Bradley's first wife who leaves him for another woman. Diana, Bradley's second wife and the type of woman nice guys inevitably fall for. David, Diana's married lover. Chloe and her boyfriend Oscar. And finally, Harry and Esther, an older couple (Bradley's neighbor) who didn't interest me much.

Baxter really gets love and disappointment right. He made me long for a time when love was a feast of possibilities and passions. He also reminded me how unoriginal loneliness can be. Other than a few moments when it seemed like the novel was trying too hard to be philosophical and an ending that lasted a few pages too long, The Feast of Love is quite appetizing.

(Film Adaptation) Feast of Love Trailer - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUSMZIgvARM

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Theory of Everything - Movie Review

The Theory of Everything PG-13 123 mins B-
An okay biopic, Redmayne shines

Starring Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox, Emily Watson, David Thewlis

There's no doubt that Stephen and Jane Hawking are extraordinary people who dealt with extraordinary circumstances after Stephen was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, i.e. Lou Gehrig's disease in 1963. But, The Theory of Everything is just a mediocre biopic with above average acting. Directed by James Marsh (Oscar winner for Man on Wire) and based on Jane Hawking’s 2007 memoir, Travelling to Infinity: My Life With Stephen, the overall tone of the film felt too cordial. It focused more on Jane's beautiful struggle rather than Stephen's beautiful mind (maybe that was by design?). With so many dynamic biopics out there; Walk the Line, Ray, Capote, Milk, American Splendor, The Aviator, Frost/Nixon, Malcolm X, etc... The Theory of Everything doesn't bring anything new to the table. I didn't walk out of the theatre wanting to know more. It's simply a nice film with nice performances, and for many moviegoers that'll be enough to make it worth the price of admission.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Still Alice - Movie Review

Still Alice PG-13 101 mins B
Losing it

Starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, Stephen Kunken

Still Alice is a film based on Lisa Genova's best-selling debut novel of the same name. On the surface, this quiet little film about a brilliant woman battling early onset Alzheimer’s has all the makings of a sappy tearjerker. I cried, but overall Still Alice avoids the overly sentimental clichés of the genre. Ironically, the directing and co-writing team of Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland are very familiar with the disease; the two are married and Glatzer has ALS. The humanistic connection the film makes with its audience and Julianne Moore's Oscar-worthy performance makes Still Alice still worth seeing.

Monday, January 26, 2015

All Fall Down - Book Review

All Fall Down - Jennifer Weiner D+
Motherhood Interrupted

Published June 2014
Of the five Jennifer Weiner books I've read, All Fall Down has the most ambition and unfortunately is the most disappointing. I've never been the target audience for Weiner's novels, but I usually find something in her stories that speaks to me. In All Fall Down Allison Weiss is feeling the weight of the world- her marriage is flailing, her kid is annoying, her father has Alzheimer's, and the general stresses of being a middle-aged working mother and wife are piling up. She develops a dependency for prescription pain pills (initially prescribed for a legitimate back injury). The pills, and lots of them, become the only thing that alleviates her physical and mental pain. The pills get her through the hectic days and helps her cope (or not cope) with a deteriorating home life.

In real world, scenarios like these happen all the time... I get it. But here it feels like our protagonist spends the majority of the book whining that she doesn't have a problem. I understand her behavior was that of an addict in denial; yet, I still didn't care. Allison isn't an unlikeable character, but she's not particularly interesting or original. All Fall Down feels like a Lifetime Movie waiting to happen (not that there's anything wrong with that).

For more on All For Down, check out this video courtesy of HLN via youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzjjgOrNFlk


Friday, January 23, 2015

The Year That Changed Everything (Book Review)

My Salinger Year - Joanna Rakoff B

Published June 2014
Truth be told, I didn't really know what My Salinger Year was about prior to  purchasing it. I loved the title,  liked the cover and noticed it was getting good reviews. I thought (or maybe hoped) it was about a tortured writer living a Salinger-like year in seclusion- reading, writing and maybe even shacking up with a young lover. After the first few pages I wasn't sure if I was feelin' it. I liked Rakoff right away, but I was afraid her story was going to be pedestrian and predictable- she gets a job at "The Agency," gets discovered, and meets J.D. Salinger from whom she would learn some big life/writing lesson. However, Rakoff's story proved to be more vital and more heartfelt than I first thought. My Salinger Year is quietly charming and poignant. It is a memoir about life, about books and how each influences the other. It is a slow burn with a lasting effect.

Want to know more? Check out this youtube video about My Salinger Year courtesy of Knopf Doubleday https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOprjlRCZB4   

Monday, January 19, 2015

Whiplash - Movie Review

Whiplash (R) 107 mins A
Getting Greatness Right?

Starring: Miles Teller, J. K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist, Paul Reiser, Austin Stowell, Nate Lang, Max Kasch and Damon Gupton

This film made me want to be great at something... anything. If you don't mind a little cursing, okay a lot of cursing, run don't walk to see this brilliant film directed by Damien Chazelle. Chazelle, who had done nothing I'd ever heard of prior to Whiplash, was apparently inspired by his own miserable band experience during high school. This is undoubtedly one of the best films of 2014.