Friday, December 29, 2017

On the Beach at Night Alone - Movie Review

In Theatres Now
On the Beach at Night Alone (NR) 104 mins C+

Starring: Kim Min-hee, Seo Young-hwa, Jung Jae-young, Moon Sung-keun, Kwon Hae-hyo, Song Seon-mi

On the Beach at Night Alone is the critically acclaimed film by Sang-Soo Hong. It stars Kim Min-hee, winner of the Best Actress award at this year's Berlin International Film Festival for her role in this film. Min-hee plays Young-hee, an actress who is attempting to put her life back together after a torrid affair with a married filmmaker.

The film opens with Young-hee visiting Jee-young (Seo Young-hwa), a divorced girlfriend who lives in Germany. Young-hee is in a state transition, wondering if she should stay in Germany and if she should end a relationship with her married lover. This, and the entirety of the film, is sparse. The mood is pensive. But, the emotions percolating underneath the surface are complicated. The first "act" of the film is quietly intriguing. The two women spend a lot of time talking and walking around Hamburg. They visit a bookstore. They have an awkward dinner with Jee-young's ex-husband and new wife. The four of them end up on a beach at night, before the film fades to black and moves into the second "act."

The second act of the film finds Young-hee back in Korea, post-affair. Her life is still in limbo. Her thoughts are plunging into despair. During the second act we began to understand the protagonist a little better. The second act also turns up the emotional intensity a notch; however, I found this part of the film less intriguing than the shorter first act. I kept waiting for something more dramatic to happen, it never did. That said, I still liked On the Beach at Night Alone because of its honesty and introspection. For those unaware, this film is reportedly based on a real-life affair between Hong and Min-hee.

On the Beach at Night Alone is definitely not for everyone. But, it was enough to motivate me to explore Hong's previous works.

Check out this trailer courtesy of YouTube

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Movie Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (R) 115 minutes B
In Theatres Now

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges and John Hawkes

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is relentless.  Months after her daughter is brutally raped and murdered, Hayes (McDormand) rents ad space on three run-down billboards just outside of her town. In an attempt to shame the local sheriff (Harrelson), the billboards raises the question: "Why no arrests/no progress?" The billboards immediately strike controversy and anger throughout the small town, especially with the "dumb as a rock" racist and homophobic deputy sheriff (Rockwell).

This film is flawed. Some of the dialogue is campy and contrived. But, despite occasionally missing the mark, Three Billboards is charmingly dark and McDormand delivers an Oscar-worthy performance.  It's fun, in a sad sorta way. 

Check out this trailer courtesy of YouTube --->

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Sweetbitter - Book Review

Published: April 2016
Sweetbitter - Stephanie Danler C-

The hype machine for Stephanie Danler's debut, Sweetbitter, was in full effect during the spring of 2016. It was often mentioned in the same breath as Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, while one New York Times headline deemed it "Bright Lights, Big City for the Restaurant Set." I was intrigued. I assumed I was buying a gritty autobiographical restaurant novel about a small town girl in the big city (sex, drugs and food!). Instead, Sweetbitter was a sluggish coming-of-maturity romp that reminded me of my drunken work hard/play hard twenties and the eventual rock bottom epiphanies that demanded I grow up and get my shit together. The novel had its moments. It hinted at the potential its hype suggested. But, overall I found it slow, frustrating, and less about food, more about a tiresome love triangle.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History - Book Review

Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History - Katy Tur A-

In the spring of 2015, Katy Tur was a London-based NBC correspondent and campaign trail novice when she landed the assignment to cover Donald Trump's presidential campaign. Her boss said it would be, “six months tops.” But, what she (and most everyone) didn’t know at the time was that her trip on the crazy train was a one-way ticket.

For some, the wound is still too fresh to relive 500 days of Trump - that’s how long Tur was on the Trump beat. However, "Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History" is a fascinating and accessible behind-the-scenes look at the weirdest and most heartbreaking political campaign of my lifetime. And dare I say this is a lite read. Tur masterfully delivers her account of the Trump crusade in a way that’s both entertaining and enlightening, if not ultimately depressing.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Hate U Give - Book Review

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas C+

Published: Feb 2017
My expectations were high. I wanted to love this book. The characters felt authentic. The subject matter is important. However, none of the characters resonated with me and it all felt too familiar. The Hate U Give is smart YA, but I was a little bored.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Restaurant Man - Book Review

Published: May 2012
Restaurant Man - Joe Bastianich A- 

This book almost felt like a guilty pleasure because it's so self-righteous. Joe Bastianich, winemaker and restaurateur extraordinaire, schools his readers with everyman charisma, a father's intellect and caviar dreams. If you have ever wondered what it takes to run a restaurant, or just curious (like me), this is a must read. Thoroughly entertaining.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Paris Wife - Book Review

Published: Feb 2011
The Paris Wife - Paula McLain A-

I can't get enough Hadley and Hemingway since I finished The Paris Wife. This fictionalized account of their 1920s romance and marriage was surprisingly captivating. Now, I'm desperate to separate fact from fiction.

Hadley Richardson was the first of Hemingway's four wives. She was an innocent girl from the Midwest, eight years his senior. Reluctant to fall in love with a younger man, Hadley eventually gave in to Hemingway's charm and youthful ambition. The couple moved to Paris shortly after getting married. In Paris, they fraternized with the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. This period of their relationship was alive, filled with writing, friendship, and exuberant drinking. Adventures ensued, lines were crossed, and books were written.

The Paris Wife felt authentic. McClain did extensive research that included reading and rereading multiple biographies, memoirs, letters, novels, and stories written by and about Hadley and Hemingway. McClain's writing was simple yet intriguing, which is exactly how I felt about Hadley. Hadley was never the biggest personality in the room, especially among Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Duff Twysden, and Pauline Pfeiffer. But, in retrospect she might have been the best woman in the room. Even Hemingway might have agreed with that when it was all said and done.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare - Book Review

Published May 2017
This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare - Gabourey Sidibe B+

I know Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for an Academy Award. I know she's been on various television shows. But, I've never been more impressed by her talents than I am now. This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare is entertaining, surprising, and one of the best books of 2017 so far. Her fortuitous rise to fame, her engrossing (but not overbearing) family drama, and her witty sense of humor made this book hard to put down. Inspiring and sensible.

For more, check out Sidibe's Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross via the NPR link below.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Lovers - Movie Review

In Theaters Now
The Lovers (R) 94 mins B+

Starring: Debra Winger, Tracy Letts, Melora Walters, Aidan Gillen, Tyler Ross and Jessica Sula

I was drawn to Azazel Jacobs' latest film, The Lovers, because of the premise- a mature, zany bedroom farce with a Woody Allen-ish vibe. The film's trailer was also intriguing, but I feared it might be giving too much away (see the link to the trailer below). Despite what I thought I knew about the film, The Lovers was full of subtle surprises. An unhappy couple, played by Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, are on the brink. The film spares us the typical kicking and screaming that usually accompanies a cheating spouse comedy. Instead, it focuses on the doldrums of their unhappy marriage, the grind of their daily lives and the weight of their unsatisfied lovers. The tone of the film is light yet pensive- Jacobs really gets it right. In lesser hands this film would've been a throwaway bittersweet romantic comedy with a predictable outcome. Jacobs manages an outcome that's both satisfying and unnerving. If you're in the mood for a lite bedroom farce, The Lovers is a perfect matinee on a lazy spring afternoon.
Check out the trailer via YouTube --->

Monday, May 22, 2017

Milk and Honey - Book Review

Published: Nov 2014
Milk and Honey - Rupi Kaur C

Milk and Honey had its moments. I loved the black and white line drawings. However, the majority of these poems felt like appetizers and desserts without a main course. Milk and Honey is artistic and clever, but ultimately unsatisfying. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

So Sad Today - Book Review

Published March 2016
So Sad Today - Melissa Broder B-

Melissa Broder is an essayist, poet and Twitter sensation. I stumbled upon So Sad Today because it was one of those "if you like that, you'll like this" recommendations. I was unfamiliar with Broder, but So Sad Today was a curious title so I kept browsing. I googled the author and found a sample of the book- an essay about her open relationship with her husband and his mystery illness. I was immediately intrigued. Despite the book's title, I was still surprised by the depth of Broder's sadness. Her struggles with anxiety, addiction and depression were on vivid display. Some of her views and experiences resonated with me, some felt adolescent. Nevertheless, there was rarely a dull moment.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spirit - Album Review

Released March 2017
Spirit - Depeche Mode B+

Spirit is Depeche Mode's 14th studio album. Produced by James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco, Spirit sonically finds the synth icons returning to their roots. Lyrically, it's the most socially aware album of their career. As a long time fan, even I was surprised by how much Spirit resonated after one listen. Depeche Mode has always been great at setting the mood - gloomy, soul-searching, sadomasochistic romanticism. This late-career album successfully marries that nostalgic sound/mood with current affairs. "Where's the Revolution," the album's first single is timely and sets the tone. However, it's just the appetizer to the main course. On "The Worst Crimes,"Gahan croons "/Blame misinformation/Misguided leaders/Apathetic hesitation/Uneducated readers." On the opening track, "Going Backwards," a poignant slow burner, the lyrics are direct and on target -"We are still in debt/To our insanities/We're going backwards/Turning back our history." But, my favorite album cut is all about the politics of dancing, the sultry "You Move." After listening to this album It's hard to believe it's been 36 years since Depeche Mode's debut, Speak and Spell. Spirit is an album that sounds more and more vital with each listen. My favorite tracks: You Move, The Worst Crime, Fail, and Scum

My Top Five D-Mode albums

1. Violator (1990)
2. Ultra (1997)
3. Music For the Masses (1987)
4. Some Great Reward (1984)
5. (tie) Spirit (2017)
5. (tie) Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Nix - Book Review

Published: Aug 2016
The Nix - Nathan Hill B

The Nix is a sprawling novel that has all the makings of a classic. It's witty, funny and surprising; a multilayered epic about family dysfunction, thwarted love and political unrest (among other things). This is one helluva debut. But, ultimately the novel is too ambitious for its own good. It's lengthy and I learned more about online gaming than I care to know. Otherwise, The Nix is sort of brilliant.

Check out the NPR review by Jason Sheehan below

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Lion - Movie Review

Lion (PG-13) 118 mins C
A fascinating story that fails to roar

Starring: Dev Patel, Sunny Pawaer, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara, David Wenham, Abhishek Bharate, Divian Ladwa, Priyanka Bose, Deepti Naval, and Tannishtha Chatterjee.

Saroo (Pawaer) is a five-year old Indian boy. He falls asleep on a train and wakes up thousands of miles from home. Suddenly, he's a stranger in a strange land lost and alone. Based on a true story, Lion is the kind of drama that should tug at your heart strings. However, the film had no such effect on me. Young Saroo was the best thing about the film, he was truly a lion. But, young Saroo eventually grows up and the film skips ahead twenty years or so. Adopted by a nice Australian couple (Kidman & Wenham), a mature Saroo (Patel) is now attending college, has a hot new girlfriend (Mara) and a bright future ahead of him. Yet, his past begins to haunt him more and more. He becomes sullen and emotionally divided between his past and present. Enter Google Earth. Saroo becomes obsessed with Google and finding his birth family.

This is an intriguing and remarkable true story. There's nothing inherently bad about the film; however, it felt flat and it didn't resonate with me at all. Although, judging by all the sniffling in the dark theatre, it resonated with a lot of my fellow moviegoers. If you're in the mood for a sentimental true life tearjerker with an adorable child act- this one is for you. Me, not so much.

See the trailer via YouTube

A Long Way Home via NPR

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Loving - Movie Review

Loving (PG-13) 123 minutes D
Love Crimes

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Marton Csokas, and Michael Shannon

I can't express how significant Loving v. Virginia (1967) is to me. I do not take Richard and Mildred Loving for granted. They were the interracial couple whose love was deemed unlawful in Virginia when they married in 1958. But, I'm sorry to say that this film (directed by Jeff Nichols) did nothing for me. Ho-Hum.

See it for yourself and let me know what you think.

Check out the trailer via YouTube

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Curb Service: A Memior - Book Review

Published July 2013

Curb Service: A Memoir - Scot Sothern C+

Scot Sothern has made a career of photographing prostitutes. His passion for photography and affinity for streetwalkers led to his first book in 2011, Lowlife (published in the UK), and subsequent photography exhibits around the world. In 2013, Curb Service: A Memoir was published by Soft Skull Press. It's an unapologetic narrative that centers around Sothern prowling for and photographing prostitutes, while trying to maintain a "normal" life that includes an ex-wife, a son he adores, and a steady job. The book is gritty and bleak. Sothern does not glamorize or attempt to rationalize his nasty habit. The women he documents are often homeless, drug addicted, and forgotten. Curb Service is part junkie memoir, part exposé. Sometimes it's flat, sometimes it's redundant, but mostly it's too perverse to ignore.

For more info about the book, see the link below via (NSFW!)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Elle - Movie Review

Elle (R) 130 mins B-
Oh! So Twisted.

Starring: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Lafitte, Charles Berling, Judith Magre, Christian Berkel, Virginie Efira, Authur Mazet, Jonas Bloquet, Alice Isaaz, and Anne Consigny

Elle is a rape-revenge drama directed by Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Robocop). Verhoeven has been quoted as saying, "No American actress would ever take on such an amoral movie." Hence, his first French-language feature, critically his best work, and a provocative mind f**k. It stars an ageless Isabelle Huppert who delivers a captivating performance that hasn't gone unnoticed. At last count, Huppert has been nominated "Best Actress" for at least a dozen awards- most notably (to general audiences) for this year's Golden Globe.

Michelle (Huppert) is unbreakable. She's the head of a sexually charged/violent video game company, she's sleeping with her best friend's husband, her son is a money sucking underachiever with a pregnant girlfriend in tow, and her mother is shacking up with a young gigolo... none of which comes close to the most dramatic event happening in her life. I went into his film with a vague notion of what it was about, and if you plan to see this film (she'll likely be nominated for an Academy Award) I suggest the same approach. The film, a thriller, kept me guessing- I thought I knew what I was getting into, then I didn't, then I did. The film goes on too long and it felt messy. Nevertheless, Huppert's performance is worthy of viewing and worth the price of admission. Elle is a challenging piece of art, not for everyone. However, it's been lingering in my mind since I left the theatre.

Based on Philippe Djian's novel "Oh..."

Check out the trailer courtesy of YouTube & Sony Pictures Classics

Saturday, January 7, 2017


Jackie (R) 100 mins B
A biopic that looks and feels a little different

Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig, Billy Crudup and John Hurt

Jackie is Pablo Larrain's latest film and first English-language feature. The Chilean filmmaker provides a unique look at an iconic life that has spent most of its historical relevance in the shadows. Natalie Portman plays an emotionally distraught Jackie Kennedy during the aftermath of her husband's assassination. The film is sullen, abrasive, and slightly awkward; however, those qualities only magnify Portman's Oscar-worthy performance and Larrain's fresh perspective.

Check out the Fox Searchlight Trailer via YouTube

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo - Book Review

Published: Aug 2016
The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer A-

Amy Schumer's first book, The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, is undeniably charming. This collection of personal/funny essays is yet another indication that she is (love her or hate her) a talent to be reckoned with. Considering the recent popularity of similar books (Boosypants, Yes Please, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me and Not That Kind of Girl) I was pleasantly surprised how this book transcended celebrity and resonated with me as "down-to-earth" and utterly entertaining. It's good times, bad times and why sometimes we have to laugh at it all. Highly recommend.