30 June 2012

Second quarter 2012 - Reading and watching

started a lot of stinkers (books and movies) this month. im getting much better at ditching things once i realize there is no hope of enjoyment. here are the good ones:

- "god is not great". 4/5. yeah, the title was meant to turn heads. the book came to be on my reading list when the author (christopher hitchens) died and was written of with much respect and admiration (he was a world-renowned journalist). i then looked up his books on amazon and found this to be the top rated one. the topic is such a touchy one that its not useful to get in to any specifics except to say that i connected with his early comment that "We [atheists] are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot..." and i will say that reading this book added "study philosophy and world religion" to my list of things to do during retirement (along with studying art history and photography).

- "pride and prejudice". hadnt read it in a couple years, re-read it while i was waiting for new stuff from the library. i felt like in this reading i found all kinds of new nuances. i dont know if maybe its just been long enough since the last time i read it that i had forgotten some things, but really it seemed like a nearly new experience to me. how lovely! it really was the first and greatest romance novel of all time. such an idyllic hero and heroine, they are never to be bettered.

- "the spirit catches you and you fall down". 4/5. damn. a story about a hmong family, their sick (epileptic) child, the american doctors who butt heads with them, and the examination of a massive culture collision. fascinating, disturbing, and tense. neither side could be blamed or championed. weird to read a book that simultaneously pushed your buttons and pulled your heart strings and wrenched your stomach. it also irritated me that id never heard of the hmongs bravery and struggles before. i dont want to be obscene when i say that i think their wartime experience was worse than (or at least comparable to) the people in the WWII concentration camps, certainly their post-wartime experience was. this book is definitely an important read, but i cant bare to read the other hmong story on my reading list: the latehomecomer: a hmong family memoir.

- "perilous gard". 4.5/5. how do i love having english teachers as friends, let me count the ways. i had finished "a wrinkle in time" and was bitter that i disliked this "classic" so much. i told amy and she ended up suggesting this book to me. written in the 1970s, i am depressed that i hadnt heard of this before. how delightful my teenage years would have been otherwise. such an intelligent, respectable, intriguing heroine. wimpy bella swan she is not. and the prose did not stoop to the lowest common denominator, yet it can still be a young adult book. a great adventure set in a great time period and land, and i loved the quirks of the hero too. im such a goon that tears even leaked out of my eyes in the final dozen or so pages. i love that stuff. thanks as ever eva!

- "the great swim". 3/5. historical reporting on the first women to swim the english channel. fairly dull swim rivalry writing in the beginning but mixed with an interesting discussion on womens place in society in the early 1900s. the chapter detailing the first successful female swim was pretty gripping and crazy to see what 19 year old gertrude ederle went through (as well as the previous days attempt by clarabelle barrett). the story took another interesting tack with its description of all the unwanted attention the poor, shy, homebody girl (ederle) had to endure post-crossing. her mental fight to beat the channel seemed nothing compared to the emotional fight with the mob crowds and greed grabbers. it gave a new perspective on all the crap celebrities have to endure, let alone someone who never sought the lime light but simply wanted to achieve a physically/mentally challenging goal. she was then tossed aside like trash a few weeks later when a mother of two became the second woman across the channel. the rest of ederles life was such a downer, even after she hauled herself out of her despair and regained her self-respect. ugh, it was quite a ride to read.

- "the sherwood ring". 3.5/5. this was a fun (short) one. the first book from the "perilous gard" author. it is unfortunate to be so partial toward "perilous gard", but i found this one to have many of the same elements, just not the same oompfh. i do love the way she writes her heroines, i just wish the woman had written more books.

- "my lobotomy". 4/5. apparently this started as an NPR story and it really drew people in. this memoir is written by a man whose stepmother got him a lobotomy at the age of 12. he was very lucky he didnt die or turn into a vegetable but his life was shattered after the surgery (it wasnt all that awesome before either). his life is written about in short matter-of-fact sentences and is packed with his honest internal emotions and reactions to all the crap he had to endure. what a childhood, what a life, but he finally got himself on the right path, figured out how to forgive his father, stepmother, and the doctor who did the surgery. im always intrigued about how parents influence the adult a child will become, and this book fit the bill.

- new yorker article about living alone. a book(s) review weaving interesting thoughts/observations about those choosing (or sometimes not choosing) to live solo.
- new yorker article about the titantic. musings on what draws us to the titanics story even 100 years later, a skimming of all the titanic-inspired literature genres, and some titantic lore. the most interesting thing mentioned was a fiction novel eerily describing a titanic-like ship sinking...written 14 years before the titanic set sail. really makes me need to get to the titantic cemeteries in town here.

- "true grit" (original version). 3.5/5. it probably would be a 4/5, but something about john wayne gets under my skin. i like his legendary voice, but other than that i dont get the appeal. the lead girl in this version irritated me a lot in the beginning but all of the characters grew on me as the story unfolded. the panoramic scenery was gorgeous and the plot was steady and strong. i loved the quirk of all the characters language not using contractions (saying "do not" instead of "dont"), it was fun to listen to.

- "winters bone". 4/5. what do i say about this one? the writer must have had one hell of a childhood to paint that picture. i realize all "backwoods" people are not like that, but damn if im not a little more terrified of their power. the set director should win a lifetime achievement award, ive never seen such detailed poverty, even the faces and "costumes" of the cast were grizzly and weather-beaten. above all, jennifer lawrence has a hell of a career ahead of her, if she doesnt let "hunger games" take her down another path.

- "blue valentine". 3.5/5. oh ryan gosling, you never disappoint and michelle williams always brings it. in their sad love story, i definitely sided with ryans character. he was genuine and never pretended to aspire to be more than he was. i liked his line about how men are more romantic, "when they marry its because they damn well wanna be there, stuck to one woman...women (he says) seem to settle, they have a vision of a prince charming but end up choosing whoever works when they cant find anyone else". now, i dont agree with his female assessment (although it works to describe his woman), but i do understand where he is coming from with his male assessment (and this is the point around which his character is wound). the movie was a good character study, i just didnt really care for michelle williams character.

- "true grit" (coen brothers remake). 3.5/5. i can see why the coen brothers wanted to remake this. its right up their alley. it was as visually beautiful as "no country for old men": the lighting, the stark scenes, the grizzly faces of the weathered men, the opportunity for old fashioned blood and gore, and the interplay of characters. i liked matt damons texas ranger better than the original. the girl who played mattie here did a great job, though i do believe i liked the original girl better. and as for "rooster", again, this is where you get in to trouble remaking classic movies. i will say that john waynes portrayal actually grew on me. i love jeff bridges, and he brought his own rooster to the table, but he didnt do the same thing for me as wayne. plus, they seemed to try to make rooster more of a chatty cathy in this one, which he wasnt in the original. and i had to laugh when they put the word "abides" in to jeff bridges mouth in this one (a la "the dude abides" from "big lebowski"). also, i did not like the end of this version nearly as much, though perhaps it followed the book a little more closely? not sure.

- "jane eyre" (2011). 5/5. damn, THAT is a book adaptation. they trimmed away the more tedious parts of the book for me and left only the juicy morsels. the casting was superb. the locations/sets and lighting and costuming were flawless. the dialogue between jane and rochester was captivating, it was like charged, sexy verbal foreplay. the scene before he proposed i had tingles all over and then tears spilled out of my eyes of their own volition. i really dont think ive seen such a movie in a long time. the director knows his shit. i finally have respect for jane eyre, the book. while im always pleased that jane ends up with everything she ever wanted/needed from life (though only after being beaten around way too much for my taste), i still feel that rochester doesnt deserve her, but at least in this adaptation i felt that he totally understands that fact. bravo cast and crew!

- "MASH". 3.5/5. i see why robert altman is always talked about as the master ensemble director. this one was a crazy quilt. it took me half the movie just to tune my ears properly. he overlays so much action, details, jokes, plots in each scene. i loved the men he tapped to play his characters for this one, perfection. donald sutherland and elliot gould were money. the other roles were well filled too. i would love to have more time to watch it again x5, i feel like i missed so much. i can see why it was turned in to a TV series as well. the oldies never cease to impress me.

- "waiting for superman". 4/5. a heart breaker about american education. the disparity between the wealthy school districts and poor districts churns my stomach. those kids are born with just as much potential as everyone else and yet at EVERY single turn they are crapped upon. and to see their parents, as concerned and determined to provide for their kids as anyone else, unable to secure spots for their kids at the few successful schools they have in their area...tears. tears. as the need for intellectual jobs increase in the u.s. we need to be mining talent from all the pools of kids we have. its terrible that we are allowing a large portion of our kids to drown because we cant get our act together.


Mary Ann said...

We recently watched The Thin Red Line, directed by Terrence Malick ( Tree of Life-ugh!-, Badlands). I found it to be powerful and moving and very thought provoking.
I'm snailing through Russka, the history of Russia. I hope our trip is more fun than this book.

Julie Watt said...

Have you ever read His Dark Materials, by Phillip Pullman? It's a trilogy that includes The Golden Compass. It seems like a good combination of awesome heroine and atheism (or more accurately a not-so-subtle criticism of organized religion). It's that kind of young adult book that is even better if you're a grown up. I once skipped a party that I was throwing with my roommates to sit in my room and read it. Amazing!