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.