Saturday, December 24, 2016

La La Land - Movie Review

La La Land (PG-13) 128 mins B+
There will be singing and dancing.

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, Rosemarie DeWitt, J.K. Simmons, Hemky Madera, Jason Fuchs, and Finn Wittrock.

I'll tell you up front, musicals are not my favorite. But, I went into La La Land with an open mind and a certain amount of expectations. Directed by Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), the film has already garnered the most Golden Globe nominations (seven) for next month's award ceremony. Not to mention, it's a critical darling and likely Oscar favorite. The film opens with plenty of beautiful people singing and dancing on the Los Angeles freeway (so much for easing into it). Immediately, I worried that the entire film would be a bright and shiny homage to old school cinema ala Singin' in the Rain. But, once I settled into the magic that is Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the film was enchanting despite the sudden outbursts of song and dance.

The story is familiar - two talented wannabes trying to make it in Hollywood. Mia (Stone), an aspiring actress and Sebastian (Gosling), a jazz musician trying to resurrect jazz. It's easy to see the romance brewing between Mia and Sebastian early in the film. But, without giving too much away, the film won me over because just like real life things got hard, things got complicated, and the film didn't necessarily take the easy way out.

Recommend to those who like romantic musicals and/or Hollywood nostalgia 2016 style.

The trailer (courtesy of YouTube/Lionsgate)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Allied - Movie Review

Allied (R) 124 mins C
We'll always have Casablanca

Allied is the latest film by esteemed director Robert Zemeckis (Flight, Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future). It's high on suspense, fashion and Hollywood beauty. But, unfortunately the rest of the film feels like an imposter. The WWII thriller begins with intelligence officer Max Vatan (Pitt) parachuting into a vast desert before being mysteriously picked up and delivered to Marianne Beauséjour (Cotillard), a French Resistance fighter. The two are undercover as husband and wife. Their mission is to assassinate a specific high ranking Nazi official. Max and Marianne eventually fall in love, and when you think the love birds can't get any happier the unspeakable is suspected (anyone who has seen the film's trailer knows what I'm talking about).

The first half of the film is overreaching- elaborate clothes, Pitt looking debonair, and Cotillard doing her best impression of a 1940s fashion model. The pace is slow and pedantic- and there's that scene where Marianne gives birth outside during an air strike, it's ridiculous. However, the film gains traction during the second half. The acting is dialed up a notch, and the best plot line (the one teased in the trailer) really takes shape. At the film's high point, I was just as puzzled as Max and just as smitten with Marianne. The film plays on a certain sensibility- classic love and war Hollywood style. For some, that alone might make Allied worthwhile. For me, it was a decent escape for two hours and nothing more.

Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, Lizzy Caplan, August Diehl, Camille Cottin, Charlotte Hope, Marion Bailey, Anton Lesser

Check out the trailer courtesy YouTube of

Monday, December 5, 2016

Hungry Heart - Book Review

Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing
Jennifer Weiner B-
Published Oct 2016
Jennifer Weiner changed my life before I ever read her books. During the fall of 2004 I reluctantly attended one of her readings. Subsequently, I was hypnotized by her charm, her wit, and her story of becoming a bestselling novelist. She inspired and motivated me that evening. A few days later I enrolled at a local community college. A few years later I graduated from a local university. All because of that chance encounter.

Since then I have enjoyed several of her novels (Good in Bed and Fly Away Home are my favorites), and the film adaptation of In Her Shoes (very underrated). I've never been Weiner's "target" audience, and that never mattered to me. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, she changed my life. Now, twelve years after that initial encounter I still follow Weiner on social media, TiVo her on GMA (Good Morning America), and remain interested in her writing. Hungry Heart, her first nonfiction book, was especially exciting because it presented an opportunity to learn more about her life and her writing process. Plus, the book boasted that "no subject is off limits."

In this collection of essays, Weiner discusses all the usual suspects - weight, love, parenting, family, writing, etc... Some of which felt familiar (about her mother), some not so familiar (about her father), some I thoroughly enjoyed (the success of Good in Bed/the film adaptation of In Her Shoes), and some I couldn't relate to (motherhood). Hungry Heart is thoughtful and warm, but it only confirmed what I've been feeling lately- we've grown apart. Many times during this book I was struck by how impactful Weiner's experiences might be for young female writers. At times, It felt like I was privy to a conversation that wasn't meant for me, even though I was welcomed to listen.

I appreciate Jennifer Weiner. She's a fabulous role model and a champion for women. But, I'm afraid we don't have much in common, and maybe we never did? I guess this is why I'm not her target audience... and why should I be? There are plenty of books for jaded middle-aged men (like me) to draw inspiration from. Nevertheless, it's always a good idea to read broadly (it's great for the soul!).

Highly recommended for her targeted audience, you know who you are.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Manchester by the Sea - Movie Review

Manchester by the Sea (R) 137 mins A
Uncomfortably Numb

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, C.J. Wilson, Kyle Chandler, Matthew Broderick, Gretchen Mol, Lucas Hedges, Erica McDermott.

Manchester by the Sea is a strong contender for my favorite film of 2016. Casey Affleck has never been better, and in limited screen time Michelle Williams steals every scene in which she appears. With this film writer-director Kenneth Lonegran has created one of the most authentic and honest meditations on sadness, seclusion and grieving you'll see at the theatre this year. But, don't let that scare you... or do.

Manchester by the Sea introduces us to Lee (Affleck), a handy man/janitor who lives a quiet and lonely life in Boston. His life is severely uprooted when he gets a call from Manchester (a 90 minute drive north) that his brother Joe is seriously ill. By the time Lee gets to the hospital, Joe has died. Suddenly, Lee is faced with new responsibilities and a new life. Neither of which he's capable of handling. This is an emotionally dark drama intertwined with moments of humor. I love that Lee is a realistic anti-hero; His desolation feels familiar. Furthermore, he's proof that sometimes you can't go home again.

The trailer courtesy of YouTube

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Moonlight - Movie Review

Moonlight (NR) 111 mins A-
"No more hope of holding your body in the moonlight. Did I fall in love for nothing?"
~ Michael Damian

Moonlight is like no other film I've seen this year. A film so raw and emotionally honest it's almost hard to watch. However, don't let that scare you off. Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, Moonlight is based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin. It is a rare cinematic exploration into African-American masculinity and queer identity. In its own reserved, sad, and elegant way, it's nearly a masterpiece.

Set in Miami during the 1980s, the story follows a young man named Chiron (aka "Little" aka "Black") and told in three vignettes: 1.) His childhood - he's bullied 2.) Teenage years - he's bullied and confused 3.) Early adulthood - well, let's not give it all away :-) This film feels like a game changer. It takes familiar themes (bullying, drug addiction, poverty) and defies stereotypes. The film is melancholy and tender. James Laxton’s cinematography is exquisite. Moonlight is a worthy film sure to cast a different tint on the Academy Awards ceremony come February 26.

The trailer for Moonlight (courtesy of YouTube)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Bad Fame - Book Review

Published June 2015
Bad Fame - Martin McGovern A-

These poems snuck up on me, surprised me, and set up camp in my imagination. McGovern's humble debut collection is carefully plotted, artfully humanistic, and quietly resilient. I also love the book's cover image (courtesy of Joslyn Winters). My favorite poems include:

All Hallows Eve / Anniversary
Tonight Mars is over by the Moon, Look
For Charles and Mary Lamb
Hospital Corner
I Feel Guilty Watch You Sleep

Monday, November 7, 2016

Gone Girl - Book Review

Published June 2012
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn A

So far-fetched; yet, so well-written. At times, Gone Girl felt so real it hurt... the mark of a great novel.

Check out the trailer for the film adaptation starring Ben Affleck & Rosamund Pike courtesy of YouTube (both the book and film are highly recommended).

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Obscenely Yours - Book Review

Published April 2013
Obscenely Yours - Angelo Nikolopoulos B

These poems will seduce you with body, but you will love them for their (filthy) mind. Smart lyrical poems that are more self-conscious than sexy. More Grindr than glam. My favs include;

Take the Body Out
Obscenely Yours: Scene One
Obscenely Yours: Scene Two and Three
Obscenely Yours: Deleted Scene
Self Suck
Obscenely Yours: Scene Eight

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ghostbusters - Movie Review

Ghostbusters (PG-13) 116 mins D

Starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones,

Ghostbusters is back... and it's sorta terrible. Directed by Paul Feig, I was initially optimistic upon hearing about the all-female ghostbusting crew. But, not even this talented and funny quartet of actresses can save this campy, corny and totally forgettable reboot.

The trailer courtesy of YouTube

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Girl on the Train - Book Review

Published January 2015 
The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins A

This novel has plenty of suspenseful misdirection, longing, and compelling characters. There's a lot going on here, but it's all a part of the psychological thrill ride. Buckle up, pay attention and enjoy! 

For more on Paula Hawkins and book take a look at the following link via YouTube

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Someone Please Have Sex With Me - Book Review

Published May 2016
Someone Please Have Sex With Me - Gina Wynbrandt C

The cover and the title alone was enough to make me pick up Gina Wynbrandt's debut, Someone Please Have Sex With Me. Not to mention the good reviews I read beforehand. I wanted to like this book, but I knew It wasn't for me when I realized the heroine's object of desire was Justin Bieber. I appreciate her humor, her style, her softly colored panels that nicely perpetuated the whimsy and lust. However, neither Biebz nor the stories resonated as much as I hoped they might.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Night of the Gun - Book Review

Published August 2008
The Night of the Gun - David Carr  C+

Some addiction memoirs read like fiction. This one, not so much. David Carr's life was certainly tumultuous and slightly blurred. The Night of the Gun unabashedly recounts his life story via his own investigative reporting. Carr interviewed friends, family, colleagues and drug buddies. The book includes photographs, legal documents and police reports, all in an effort to get the story straight. The Night of the Gun is an admirable effort; but, it got old fast. There were interesting and revealing moments (Tom Arnold selling info to the National Enquirer), and moments that made me want to know more (Jayson Blair's plagiarism). But, first and foremost this is a story about addiction. I was hoping for more insight on his journalistic career and journalism in general.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie - Movie Review

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (R) 91 mins D-
Unfortunately Awful

Starring: Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha, Jon Hamm, Kate Moss, Chris Colfer, Jane Horrocks, Joan Collins, Lulu, Emma Bunton

Full disclosure, I never watched Absolutely Fabulous the television show. However, I saw he trailer for the film and thought it looked kooky and fun. Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie was like an inside joke I didn't get. I don't know how much the film differs from the television show, but the film was dreadful. I kept waiting and hoping it would get better. It didn't, and it's too bad because Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley seem like very likable talents. Too silly for me.

For more, check out this trailer via YouTube --->

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Don't Think Twice- Movie Review

Don't Think Twice (R) 92 mins B+
Hope and Change and Comedy

Starring: Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Maggie Kemper, Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Gethard, Tami Sagher, Richard Masur, Seth Barrish and Adam Pally

Don't Think Twice was not as funny as I hoped. But, it is a well-crafted humanistic film that is both entertaining and affecting. The film follows six members of a New York improvisational troupe. A tight knit group of friends honing their skills and striving toward the same goal- to earn a spot on the popular comedy show Weekend Live (a fictional Saturday Night Live). However, when one member gets his lucky break it changes the group dynamic. It motivates the remaining five members in various ways. The triangle of success, jealousy and friendship is well-charted territory in film. Nevertheless, writer-director Mike Birbiglia makes this film stand out because his characters are believable. They are characters you'll care about, laugh with and maybe even shed a tear for.

Watch the trailer via YouTube---->

Monday, August 1, 2016

Cafe Society - Movie Review

Café Society (PG-13) 96 mins B+
You can't always get what you want

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Parker Posey, Steve Carell, Blake Lively, Corey Stoll, Sari Lennick

In his 47th film, Woody Allen proves once again why he is my favorite filmmaker. At the rip old age of 80, Allen is still making films that move me. He is still venturing into new cinematic territory. Café Society is the writer-director's first film using digital cameras, and his first with multiple Oscar winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.

In this nostalgic love story, fresh-faced Bobby Dorfman (Eisenberg) leaves his working class roots of Bronx, New York for the glitz and glamour Tinseltown. Bobby hopes to land a job with his highfalutin uncle (Carell), a name-dropping Hollywood talent agent. Bobby gets the job, meets a girl (Stewart), and cultivates network of friends. Yet, the film is a reminder that you can't always get what you want, even when you seemingly have it all. Café Society is a bittersweet delight, convincingly played by Eisenberg and surprisingly charmed because of Stewart.

Watch the trailer via YouTube--->

Friday, July 22, 2016

Modern Lovers - Book Review

Published May 2016
Modern Lovers - Emma Straub A-

In the 1980s, Andrew, Elizabeth, Zoe and Lydia were in a moderately successful rock band called Kitty's Mustache. Now, over two decades later they are all having a mid-life crisis, except for Lydia. Lydia, the most notable member of Kitty's Mustache, died at age 27 (infamously joining Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin, Morrison, and others as part of the 27 Club) after a short but successful solo career.
Andrew and Elizabeth married and had a son, Harry. They live a normal upper middle class life a few doors down from Zoe, Zoe's wife Jane, and their daughter Ruby. The novel starts off fairly typical, but things quickly heat up when the news of a Hollywood bio-pic (think Ray or Walk the Line) about Lydia's life is destined for the big screen. Revisiting Lydia's past means revisiting past secrets and desires. There's also an entertaining side plot about young love affair. Essentially, Modern Lovers is a cool summer novel about the angst of falling in and out of love. It is better and more serious than the lighthearted book cover would have you believe.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Girls - Book Review

Published June 2016
The Girls - Emma Cline A-

The Girls is a riveting and alluring debut novel. Loosely based on the Manson murders, Cline explores the vulnerability and angst of 14-year-old Evie Boyd (via the narration of her now middle-aged self). The predominant story is about young Evie and her entanglement with a murderous clan of outliers during the late 1960s. That part of the novel is heartbreaking because many of us will recognize the teenage naiveté and desperate longing to belong. The other part of the novel is about middle-aged Evie. She is still drifting, but with a greater sense of responsibility and foresight. The older Evie is lonely and quietly haunted by her past. However, this novel is not about older Evie, it is about her youth. Then again, isn't it always about youth and how we survive (or don't survive) it?

Monday, July 11, 2016

This is How You Lose Her - Book Review

Published September 2012
This is How You Lose Her - Junot Diaz A-

Junot Diaz is the Michael Jordan of literature, he can't miss. This is How You Lose Her is his second story collection and nearly each story is a slam dunk. Only one of the nine narratives, "Otravida, Otravez" is from the perspective of a woman. Coincidently, that was the only story that didn't completely resonate with me. Otherwise, this is a stellar examination of dyslexic hearts. Bravo!

*The book was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 2012.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Slouching Towards Bethlehem - Book Review

Published in 1968
Slouching Towards Bethlehem - Joan Didion C-

I really want to like Joan Didion. I really wanted to like this book. But, despite some intriguing subject matter - a murderous wife, the free love and chaos of Haight-Ashbury circa 1967, Joan Baez, Howard Hughes, etc... these essays simply didn't resonate with me.

For more on this essay collection check out Dan Wakefield's 1968 New York Times review, "Places, People and Personalities."

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Amputee's Guide to Sex - Book Review

Published February 2007
The Amputee's Guide to Sex - Jillian Weise A

I regret not reading this book sooner. The Amputee's Guide to Sex is provocative, powerful and one of the best debut poetry collections I have ever read. Divided into three sections: "Translating the Body," "Help Your Physician Better Understand Your Pain" and "Of Holman" - Weise, an amputee, masterfully details the vulnerability of being fetishized, medicalized and emotionally brutalized. These poems are like catchy songs I can't get out of my head. Engaging and titillating.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Bigger Splash - Movie Review

A Bigger Splash (R) 124 mins C
Sun-soaked and the self-obsessed

Starring: Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Dakota Johnson, Corrado Guzzanti and Matthias Schoenaerts

Luca Guadagnino, the director of A Bigger Splash, and I have at least one thing is common; we both think Tilda Swinton is a sex symbol. I was smitten with Swinton in Guadagnino's 2009 film, I Am Love. In A Bigger Splash Swinton is the sexiest in a film that tries sedulously to be sexy. Set in the beautiful island of Pantelleria, it's hard to deny the film's beauty. But, I also can't help but feel like the film relies too much on aesthetics and not enough on plot. I appreciate the humanistic drama of emotions the film is built upon. However, as a piece of dramatic cinema A Bigger Splash screams "rich people problems" sans any empathic characters with whom moviegoers can make a heartfelt connection.

The plot in a nutshell, Swinton plays a rock star, Marianne Lane (think Chrissie Hynde meets David Bowie) who is in seclusion/on a sexcation with her beau while recovering from throat surgery. Their days are quiet and relaxing until her former manager/lover (Fiennes) abruptly arrives on the island with his Lolita-like daughter (Johnson) in tow. I don't think I am giving anything away when I say that one can see the pairing off of couples from a mile away- two former loves reunite, while two young hotties flaunt their bodies until neither can take it any longer.

A Bigger Splash isn't a bad film. If you need motivation to visit Sicily, this is it. But, if you want to see a better film from this director that also stars Tilda Swinton, seek out I Am Love.

A Bigger Splash trailer via YouTube -

I Am Love trailer via YouTube -

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Animal Farm - Book Review

Publish August 1945
Animal Farm - George Orwell B-

"Cute" might be a strange way to describe George Orwell's Animal Farm. But, when I imagine these pigs, horses, donkeys and goats overthrowing a drunk farmer and starting a revolution, it's hard not to smile. This "Fairy Story," as it was initially subtitled, is heavy stuff once you get past the cute and clever animals. By now I suspect everyone knows that Animal Farm, written during the first half of the 1940s and published in 1945, parallels the Russian Revolution. The animals in the book represent people like Karl Marx, Leon Trotsky, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. People, places and things in the book represent religion, Russia, the media, the working class and more. Animal Farm started strong. I was intrigued. But, eventually my attention waned. Overall, I enjoyed it. However, I probably expected too much since it's considered to be a classic. This one might warrant re-reading down the line.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Eligible - Book Review

Eligible - Curtis Sittenfeld B+

Published April 2016
I never read Jane Austen, so I'm sure there are unique subtleties in Eligible that I'm missing out on. But, one doesn't have to be familiar with Austen to thoroughly enjoy this modernized reimagining of Pride and Prejudice. I became curious about this book when I heard Sittenfeld was updating Austen's 1813 story by injecting a heavy dose of reality television's The Bachelor. Eligible is the kind of novel that drives me crazy, in a good way. The characters are annoying and simultaneously intriguing. Throughout the novel I kept wondering if I would date some like Liz Bennett (the main character) - she's smart, ambitious and sexy; yet, extremely exhausting and gossipy. Liz's sisters- Kitty, Mary, Jane and Lydia, were okay even though I didn't find any of them particularly exciting. The same goes for Liz's mother (she was dreadful) and father. Ultimately, I was taken with Liz, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Chip and Jasper - they stole the show and kept me intrigued. It almost makes me want to read Pride and Prejudice... almost.

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Good Marriage - Book Review

Published in 2010
A Good Marriage - Stephen King B

The Good Marriage was originally published as one of four novellas in Stephen King's 2010 collection, Full Dark No Stars. The story follows an ordinary wife who discovers her ordinary husband is a serial killer. Inspired by Dennis Rader, the BTK Killer, King actually made me question whether or not the wife should leave her psychopathic husband. After finishing the story I can't believe I ever thought the wife had a choice.

This novella was adapted to the big screen, here's the trailer courtesy of YouTube:

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Everybody Wants Some - Movie Review

Everybody Wants Some (R) 117 minutes C

Starring: Zoey Deutch, Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner, Ryan Guzman and J. Quinton Johnson

Everybody Wants Some is the latest film by acclaimed filmmaker Richard Linklater (Dazed and Confused, School of Rock, Boyhood). Linklater has been creating noteworthy cinema since the early 90s. His two previous films, 2014's Boyhood and 2013's Before Sunset, are among the most powerful coming of middle-age films of the last decade. When I heard about Everybody Wants Some during the Sundance Film Festival last January, I was anxious to see how he would follow-up Boyhood, the film ranked as the most acclaimed film of the 21st century (so far).

Everybody Wants Some isn't terrible; but, I was afraid it might be for the first 50 minutes or so. The first half of the film felt aimless and watered down- your run-of-the-mill boys will be boys 1980s comedy. But, the second half of the film rebounded as the characters became slightly more engaging and a meaning male/female relationship developed. One word to describe this effort is "cute," some might find it "nostalgic." I think it's a watered down, carefree b-side release that's mildly entertaining, especially when you consider his last two achievements in film.

Check out the trailer --->

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Post Office - Book Review

Published in 1971
Post Office - Charles Bukowski C+

Post Office wasn't all that I hoped it would be. In this autobiographical first novel, all of Bukowski's signature elements are here - the straight talk, the voice of the underclass, the anti-authoritarian, etc... But, overall it barely holds together (there's no plot whatsoever). The parts about his relationships with Joyce and Betty - characters supposedly based on the love of his life and his first wife - were intriguing and kept me interested. However, the rest of Post Office was hit or miss as it meandered on about job troubles, drinking and gambling. Despite my slight disappointment, the novel is still essential reading for anyone curious about Bukowski.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Not That Kind of Girl - Book Review

Not That Kind of Girl - Lena Dunham B+ 
Published September 2014

I'm the type of guy that reads Not That Kind of Girl. If you like Lena Dunham's HBO series, Girls, you'll like this book. This collection of personal essays made me wish I had documented everything in my life from senior year in high school to age thirty (after that things get weird/depressing). My essay collection could've been titled, I Am That Type of Guy. But, since I'm not famous and nobody wants to see me naked (emotionally or otherwise), I'll just recommend Not That Kind of Girl.

Check out this New York Times review by Michiko Kakutani

PS. If you like this book and/or Girls, I highly recommend Dunham's 2010 film Tiny Furniture. See the trailer here--->

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Demolition - Movie Review

Demolition (R) 100 mins B+
Demolished Thoughts

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, Judah Lewis, CJ Wilson, Polly Draper and Heather Lind. 

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallee (WildDallas Buyer's Club)

Davis Mitchell (Gyllenhaal) is a successful investment banker who is struggling to cope after the sudden death of his wife Julia (Lind). Instead of the "normal" mourning one might expect, Davis starts demolishing sh*t. He also starts writings letters (always cathartic) and hanging out with Karen (Watts)- a single mom, a hotty, and a pot head. Hmmm, maybe his behavior isn't all that unusual... However, his father in-law, who never liked him in the first place, is none to happy with Davis' strange and erratic behavior.

This film is probably not for everyone. It's a little unusual and a little uneven (especially toward the end); yet, I still found it moving and affective. The principle cast is strong and holds the film together even when the script is not at its best.

Highly recommended for Jake Gyllenhaal fans.

Check out the trailer --->

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Dark Sparkler - Book Review

Published April 2015
Dark Sparkler - Amber Tamblyn A

"Not a word of Dark Sparkler is poetic in the foolish and flowery sense." ~ Diane di Prima

I loved this book. It's original, provocative, witty and surprisingly humorous. This is the kind of book I wish I had written. The kind of idea/theme I wish I had thought of. But, as it turned out, Amber Tamblyn nailed it. Dark Sparkler is the third and latest collection of poetry by Tamblyn, which also includes original art work by David Lynch, Sage Vaughn, Marilyn Manson and others. The book explores a dark side of Hollywood glitz via the deaths of numerous young actresses - some famous, some not so famous. Tamblyn, a well-known actress and underrated poet, handles this subject matter with keen insight and distinctive flare. She documents her own struggles and intertwines them with those of the deceased. Based on everything I know about the objectification of women in Hollywood, this book feels fiercely authentic and curiously enlightening. These dark minded poems have universal appeal that even non-poetry readers could appreciate.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Moveable Feast - Book Review

Published 1964
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway A-

I have never been to Paris. But, the Paris that Ernest Hemingway writes about in his memoir, A Moveable Feast, is the Paris I've always imagined. Hemingway vividly chronicles his time in Paris during the early to mid 1920s, when many of his contemporaries wrote and created art there. In this subtle memoir Hemingway writes about his friendships with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. He also writes lovingly about his first wife, Hadley Richardson, their infant son (nicknamed) Bumby, and their cat, F. Puss. His tone is unassuming throughout; yet, by the end of the book I began to notice a more passive aggressive Hemingway.

In retrospect, I'm not sure I had an opinion about Ernest Hemingway prior to this book. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how simple yet effective his writing was. Maybe it's all the nostalgia, but A Moveable Feast has the longing of a great love affair and the intrigue of a lover who will never love you back. It's highly quotable and it filled my head with romantic notions of Paris, writing, and French cafes. Aside from the starving artist part (been there, done that), I think most writers have dreamt of their own version of a moveable feast, I certainly have.

A Moveable Feast still moves us - Check out this link via NPR

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Arranging Time - Album Review

Arranging Time - Pete Yorn
Released March 2016

I use to listen to Musicforthemorningafter after the bars closed. It always seemed like a perfect soundtrack for when you're missing someone or something you wish you had. I own every Pete Yorn (solo) album and Musicforthemorningafter is still his best. But, Arranging Time is a solid outing. It's produced by R.Walt Vincent, the same guy who produced Musicforthemorningafter and Day I Forgot. Arranging Time is poppy, breezy and catchy. Some of the tracks ("Lost Weekend," "Roses" & "Walking Up"), I fell in love with instantly. However, as a whole the album doesn't have the same sting as his 2001 debut. Maybe it's because my bar nights are few and far between... Nevertheless, Arranging Time has potential of being one helluva a summer soundtrack. Turn it up!

Music video for "Lost Weekend"

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Vegetarian - Book Review

Published October 2007
The Vegetarian - Han Kang B

The Vegetarian is an intriguing and unsettling novel about mental illness, dreams, and of course, vegetarianism. Originally published in South Korea in 2007, The Vegetarian was adapted to the big screen in 2009 and screened at Sundance in 2010 (it was nominated for the festival's Grand Jury Prize). As for the novel, it starts very strong, but fades a little near the end. Things get weird and slightly gory during the second half of the story. The plot bogs down and my mind began to wander. Nevertheless, this novel, Han Kang's American debut (translated by Deborah Smith, is worthwhile and completely original. Now, I'm anxious to see the big screen adaptation.

Below is a clip from the film via Youtube. Note, the film version is simply titled Vegetarian and the following scene does not include English subtitles. Viewer discretion is advised.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Drinking at the Movies - Book Review

Published August 2010
Drinking at the Movies - Julia Wertz A

I loved this book! In her first full-length graphic memoir, Julia Wertz makes magic out of the mundane. In completely self-deprecating manner, Wertz gives the reader a glimpse into her life as an artist, daughter, sister and friend. She shows us what it is to be human (and perhaps subhuman) in uncompromising cities like San Francisco and New York. Drinking at the Movies is laugh out loud funny and highly recommended.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Revenent - Movie Review

The Revenant (R) 156 minutes B
Oscar-worthy performance by DiCaprio

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Grace Dove Syme, Forrest Goodluck, Lukas Haas, Dave Burchill, Melaw Nakehk'o, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter.

I saw The Revenant because it's nominated for an Academy Award (Best Picture), and because so many people told me how good was. The film is directed by Oscar winning director Alejandro González Iñárrituone. It stars one of the greatest actors of our time, Leonardo DiCaprio. It's partially based on Michael Punke's 2002 novel, and the film's cinematography is so good it's worth mentioning. However, this grueling, over the top, two and a half hour melodrama didn't stick around in my head after I left the theater. The Revenant is high on action, thin on plot, but worth a look if you're into that kind of thing. Not bad.  Glad I saw it.  Never want to see it again.

The Trailer -->

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Endpoint and Other Poems - Book Review

Published March 2009
Endpoint and Other Poems - John Updike B+

John Updike said that his writing career began in 1954 when the New Yorker accepted one of his poems. However, most of us think of Updike as a novelist. After all, he won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction twice- Rabbit is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1991). He also won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award for fiction. I didn't expect much from Endpoint and Other Poems. But, I was curious how the iconic writer summarized his final days via this posthumous volume of poetry. The "Endpoint" poems were written during the last years of his life. These are the best poems in the collection, they are thoughtful and poignant. One of those poems, "Oblong Ghost 11/6/08," reminded me that the world outside stops for no one regardless of one's own personal crisis.

Oblong Ghost 11/6/08

A wakeup call? It seems that death has found
the portals it will enter by: my lungs,
pathetic oblong ghosts, one paler than
the other on the doctor’s viewing screen.
Looking up “pneumonia,” I learn
it can, like an erratic dog, turn mean
and snap life short for someone under two
or “very old (over 75).”
Meanwhile, our President Obama waits
downstairs to be unwrapped and I, a child
transposed toward Christmas Day in Shillington—
air soft and bright, a touch of snow outside—
pause here, one hand upon the bannister,
and breathe the scent of fresh-cut evergreens.

The "Other" poems in this collection are a mixed bag; yet, the melancholy is constant throughout. I liked this book much more than I thought I would. Endpoint and Other Poems opened me up to another side of Updike. It has motived me to explore more of his fiction, essays and criticism. Updike was more than just a great novelist, and I find it ironic (or maybe it was by design?) that his career began and ended with poetry.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Anomalisa - Movie Review

Anomalisa (R) 90 mins B+
A film so good you'll forget they are puppets 

Starring Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and David Thewlis

The more I think about this film, the more it resonates with me. "What is it be human? To ache? To be alive?" Those questions are at the core of Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson's new stop-animation film, Anomalisa. The film, funded via Kickstarter, follows Michael Stone (voiced by David Thewlis), a depressed forty-something motivational speaker/author traveling from Los Angeles to Cincinnati for a customer service based conference. Stone is caught up in his own head, he is filled with aimlessness and longing.

The film begins with Stone enduring an uncomfortable flight, a chatty cab driver, and the annoyingly courteous hotel employees. He meets up with an ex-girlfriend, he drinks, he smokes, but he's still numb.  That is until he meets Lisa (voiced by Jennifer Jason Leigh), a young fan and conference attendee who drove four hours to hear Stone speak at the conference. Anomalisa might appear mundane to some. However, it magnificently captures the essence of a middle-aged, emotionally desolate, self-obsessed man who seemingly has everything he needs to be happy... but isn't.

The Trailer --->

Monday, February 8, 2016

How it Ended - Book Review

Published April 2009
How It Ended - Jay McInerney A

How it Ended is Jay McInerney's outstanding collection of twenty-six short stories that span from 1982 to 2008. Prior to this expansive short story collection I had never read McInerney, despite the success of Bright Lights, Big City, Story of My Life, and The Good Life. Now that I have finished How it Ended (which contains some stories that tie into the aforementioned works) I seriously regret not reading him sooner. These stories were exactly what I had hoped they would be - smart, edgy, and bittersweet. In a 2009 New York Times article, "Generation of Benders, Some Tabs Paid in Full," journalist Janet Maslin wrote that McInerney had, " A party-guy reputation borne out by the elements (drugs, infidelity, name dropping and social climbing) that loom large in his fiction. And an etiquette that dictates that when a woman is about to snort cocaine, a gentleman helps by holding back her hair." That sentiment, along with a keen sense of relational awareness is what makes these stories so humanistic and entertaining. Recommended.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Trumbo - Movie Review

Trumbo (R) 124 minutes A
Rabble-Rouser with a cause

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, Louis CK, Elle Fanning, John Goodman, and Michael Stuhlbarg 

After seeing this film, I was very surprised to learn that Dalton Trumbo was born in Montrose, Colorado. He attended my old high school, Grand Junction High (Class of 1924) and worked at the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel as a cub reporter. In 1935 Trumbo's first novel, Eclipse, was published. It was set in a fictionalized version of Grand Junction called "Shale City." The novel did not portray the town in a positive light (see the links below). Trumbo also attended CU Boulder for a brief period and contributed to Boulder's Daily Camera before moving to California with his family.

This film is based on Dalton Trumbo's life as a controversial screenwriter, filmmaker, and communist party member. This darkly comic biopic features my favorite male performance of 2015 by a lead actor- Bryan Cranston as Trumbo. I was utterly enthralled by the story and almost brought to tears (this is not a tearjerker, I was just caught up in the moment).

The film begins in the 1940s, during the Red Scare. The House Un-American Activities Committee was fearful and paranoid. They were in full-on anti-communist mode and any progressive thinkers/activists were targeted. Trumbo and his cohorts, the "Hollywood Ten," were jailed for contempt of court and blacklisted by Hollywood studios. Faced with the need to provide for his family, Trumbo kept working under fake names and false fronts. Under these fronts he managed to win two Oscars- one for Roman Holiday and one for The Brave One. Pretty soon Hollywood figured out his scheme.

If you are familiar with Dalton Trumbo, this film may not have the same impact on you as it did on me. Nevertheless, Cranston is sensational and the film is worth a look. I love it when films motivate me to learn more about its subject. Trumbo was a nice little history lesson.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Big Short - Movie Review

The Big Short (R) 130 mins A-
Money, Money, Money

Starring: Christian Bale, Hamish Linklater, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, Melissa Leo, Margot Robbie, Rafe Spall, and John Magaro

Based on Michael Lewis' 2010 best-seller, The Big Short is a fast-paced, highly entertaining film about the financial crisis of 2008. Directed by Adam McKay (Anchorman & Step Brothers), the film feels smart and original. Props to McKay for tackling a seriously important, complicated subject, while simultaneously making it fun and enlightening. It also doesn't hurt that Ryan Gosling narrates the film. Anthony Bourdain, Dr. Richard Thaler, and Selena Gomez directly explain things like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs), and Margot Robbie (if you don't know who she is, Google her) defines something in a bubble bath. Bottom line, you don't need to know a lot about finance (although, it helps) to enjoy The Big Short. Buckle up, it's a wild ride and a sure bet for a Best Picture Academy Award nomination.

Check out the trailer --->