Tag Archives: 2011

“Delirium” by Lauren Oliver: a book review and YA Marketing Rant

REVIEW:
It’s a bit better than the usual 3 stars, but really isn’t quite a four.  This has all the elements of being a very exciting story, but sad to say, it isn’t. The last fifty pages lift it from a two star, barely, but can’t save the entirety of the book. First of all, it’s simply too long for what is in here. The storyline isn’t bad, but it’s far too minutely descriptive and all I can think is, well, this is going to be stretched out to fill three books so, of course, it’s overly descriptive. Something has to fill all those pages. Too bad it isn’t the story, but street by street bicycling and walking or running. And the sights and smells over and over and over. There are some things that are described in almost the same way several times. This is unneccessary. And while we’re on the subject of unneccessary, I know that Lena is five foot, two. I got that the first time I was told and it didn’t need repetition. It was not in need of repetition. Or to put it a little differently while still giving you the same information again: it didn’t need repeating. This whole story could have been tightened up and more than likely the whole proposed three installments would fit within the pages of one book. I get it, I really do. Why write one book when you can hook readers into three? I mean, it’s three sales, three times the money, so kudos to the author on that, but the story really needs to be strong enough to make readers keep coming back for more. And, as usual, it ends on something of a cliff-hanger so, as a reader, I’m left disappointed.

Young Adult Publishing RANT:

The truth is, and I won’t list them all here, but I have 6 YA books behind me on my shelf I have to read and they are all the first installments of series that have begun in the past three years or just came out. Another 4 or 5 I’ve read recently. My concern is that these authors and their little game may be a terrible money making art and nothing more, and while there are good series out there that make sense to be SERIES, some publishers are asking these new, starry eyes, late-twenty-something authors who live in San Francisco or NYC to spread too little butter over too much bread. It’s getting to the point that if you want to buy that new book you’ve heard so much about, you have to find out who the author is, when the series started and play catch up. At the rate first time novelists are releasing now, in five years or less, the shelves will be a mess in libraries and book stores every where trying to finish up sagas and trilogies and people will be scrambling to keep them straight and everyone will be sick of the same forty or so authors digging into our pockets with the same drivel. There will be nothing fresh in a few years because it will be “the decade of series’ completion”.

I just hope some of these authors are worth it and give us good story arcs over a few books and move on. It’s near impossible to find good stand-alone YA novels today, except for John Green, I can’t think of one big name off the top of my head that is not involved in some trilogy or worse. I can only hope I am wrong and that three or more novels I read costing me between 10 and 20 bucks is a story worth finishing, because, you know, we just haaaaaave to know how it ends, right? Fuck.

I won’t even get into the discussion that every other YA novel I read already has a movie deal in the works for 2014. Thanks, Hunger Games. Geesh. Seriously, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Childrenis slated to be directed by Tim Burton, and I’ve also heard Divergent by Veronica Roth could get the Hollywood treatment; and possibly Legend by Marie Lu is going to be a mini-series or an animated TV show. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is also rumored to start production in the coming year. Movies are being based off YA books and adult novels like never before (look at The Help, 127 Hours, Water For Elephants, and Nicholas Sparks novels).

Snazzy titles, slick covers, big margins, 12-point font! Curse You, YA!

3.25/5

MH

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“Legend” by Marie Lu: a book review

Realistic, Urban/Dystopian readers will enjoy this, but not as much as “Divergent” (4/5) or “The Hunger Games” (4/5).

While “Legend” is shorter than both, and more unique, it’s glaring flaws including forced loved sub-plot, 15-year olds who should be 18 or older because they act like it, and contrived “sleuthing” scene knock it down a point (3/5). It is good. Many will enjoy it, but not love it. I really, really, really wanna give it a 4/5, but that’s the entertainment value for the sap I am; writing and overall comparison to what else I’ve read is something different.

Luckily, it was a book that knew how long it was supposed to be. It could have easily been 75 extra pages by some other idiot novelist, so:  for trimming it down properly and having a second act that never sagged, I gave it a 3.5/5. Great action writing, cold murder scenes, biochemical warfare on civilians, and a mid-point and segue into the second half of the book that made you go “aw ,s***, I gotta see how this ends now.”

The sequel book due out late 2012 or early 2013 (?) she is currently writing will either hurt the series or lift it up. Reason: Will we actually get to see whats going on with the rest of the world or the country unlike so many other dystopians that only focus on one “area” or “city” and never expand to bigger philosophical or political ideas? Don’t they think we could handle it. Flesh it out! Dig deep! Give us an epic tale about our country that chills us to the bone! Not some half-baked trilogy to capitalize on the current market, your first time novelist hacks!

But, hey, I can’t read a bunch of gold ever time I pick up a book. Not gonna happen. And this grade is not bad. It’s better than average, one of the top 20 I’d say from last year in YA, but not quiet award worthy or one of my favorites. The movie would be sick and give The Hunger Games a run for it’s money. Yeah, it moves like that. People you love die, and there is something poetic and Shakepearian about the whole story. Marie Lu even admitted she was inspired by “Les Miserables” when writing. Go figure.

Her sequel, “Prodigy”, I can already tell you, is going to get a 3 or a 4.5 from me. There’s a TON of potential with this series. For more info: http://www.marielu.org/books.html

Go, Lu!

MH

3.5/5

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“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”: a response to the film

This is less of a review and analysis and more of a immediate reaction and response to this film.

 

FIRST THOUGHTS:

Based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, I hated Oscar in the first 45-minutes of “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” From taking the picture of Viola Davis crying, which was unsettling, to the flashback showing Oscar keeping his dead father’s voice messages from his mother. I didn’t care that he seems to have some social issues, possibly be obsessive compulsive, and clearly a career intellect. I don’t like “him” as a character. He is incapable of what many consider normal human interaction and watching this movie just made me mad.

The novel and the movie were highly praised, and yet, also controversial and divisive. It was nominated for Best Picture? Really?

It shows that not all novels can or should or deserve to be made into films. Having said all this, the actor who played Oscar was perfectly cast and his acting is superb for being so young. That doesn’t mean I liked the screenplay.

SEPTEMBER 11th PREMISE:

This movie is bloated with its own self-awareness, and if you take out the 9/11 aspects and just look at the film about a screwy kid who lost his father (Tom Hanks) in any sad way, it’s still just a story of a messed up kid searching to keep his father in his life. The 9/11 angle isn’t really important at all to the story, and this story could have been in any city. No themes or ideas of Americanism or Nationalism or terrorism were explored whatsoever, only the randomness and unfairness of tragic death; therefore, it is just an emotional backdrop and a wasted opportunity to say something interesting about this time of American History.

Furthermore, the story of this boy and his father could have been told artfully AND simultaneously with an American narrative. The novelist and the screenwriter were not that talented. Since it does nothing but focus on a boy’s tradegy, the 9/11 angle is purely, purely exploitative to sell tickets and novels and be featured in Entertainment Weekly. Period.

In the movie version at least, the issues of September 11th serve as nothing more than a cheap crutch to make the film “more important” and is a little shameless in that regard. The producers and director shot a beautiful film with too many A-listers and obnoxious voice over by a savant/prodigy child who was lied to by his father for his whole life who the audience cannot empathize with.

THE CHARACTERS:

Only at the 48 minute when Sandra Bullock (the mom) and Oscar get into the huge fight about death not making sense and have the scary and truly emotional screaming match did this film get a second moment of curiosity from me and respect. Finally, a scene without voice-over that meant something, but again, wasn’t exclusive to a 9/11 specific death. The idea of chaos and dying on any given day is universal, and should NOT carry extra weight just because we are American’s and remember 9/11. I find the whole scene right after this emotionally manipulative. I don’t know how I would grade this movie had it been made 8 years ago just after 9/11 or 10 years from now. Would either date of release be better or worse? Who knows?

On another note, just after the one hour point, I could believe I had an hour and some change left. This fuckwhistle drags. Pardon the creative French.

I just didn’t buy that “The Renter” (Max Von S.) would run around with a kid in NYC. It’s too fantastic and dumb. But then at the one hour fifteen minute mark, when Oscar is acting like a psychopath in a warehouse full of lockboxes, I was like, oh, of course the Renter is Oscar’s grandfather. How obvious. Oscar guesses this at the hour twenty mark.  I should have known. Well, now that that’s outta the way, let’s get Oscar some psychological help; something his mom, Bullock, should have done a year ago! But, no, they don’t do this.

And why the hell didn’t “The Renter” reveal his relationship? Why? Why!! What a bunch of asses Oscar has in his life! A mother who lets him run around the city alone and knows about it for weeks, a father who played a deeply deceptive game and should have stopped once he was no longer ten, and a grandfather who literally says nothing to his own grandson which may have been a big help for both of their characters to discuss Tom Hank’s character therapeutically and with family. Nope. That all makes too much sense to fix. It’s contrived, contrived, contrived, contrived.

Then, at the hour and forty-eight minute mark, Sandra Bullock explains to Oscar how she’s known all along what he’s been up to and has somehow found the time to contact and visit all of the people Oscar has been visiting and is due to visit soon. Does she have a job? With what time? Awwww, how sweet. You can tell because of the piano in the soundtrack. Awwww.

WHAT ABOUT THE BOOK VERSION?:

I hope the book is better than this, in fact, I’m sure it is, but if the story and the characters are anything like this I honestly am not going to waste my time. I’m not interested in it enough. It’s not an issue of the medium in which this story is being told—it is the story itself. It capitalizes on 9/11 and would be just as average, if not better, had it not involved “The Worst Day Ever.”

CONCLUSION:

So prepare to be manipulated. “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” is forgettable and worth maybe one viewing. I just didn’t care, and I was paying attention. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, before and during. Rhetorically speaking — Does this film capitalize on American tragedy to sell false emotional excrement or is it a brave, bold American film facing our greatest tragedy. See for yourself. I didn’t cry, and I think “we” were supposed to throughout several scenes. Fail.

I almost didn’t want to finish this one, but it did get better after the unbalanced first act, and I don’t hate Oscar anymore… as much. I feel bad for him, because the people around him don’t seem to know how to make it any better for him and what he’s going through. Terrible parenting.

On a comical note about “Oscar”: I wish Thomas Horn was instead Macaulay Culkin circa 1992. LOL.

Only the acting and the cinematography make this enjoyable. Not the lackluster story (Eric Roth), basic editing, pretentious directing (Stephen Daldry), or sleepy, cliché musical score.

I just don’t care about this film. What a complex bunch of crap his father designed for him to end up looking under a swing. How contrived and just plain old crazy are both father and son.

What a waste of late 2011 hype.

6.0/10

MH

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“Blood Red Road” by Moira Young: a book review

Three or four of the past book reviews have been “Young Adult Fiction” books, and I feel that definition comes with an unfair stigma at times. Like they are lesser books.  I’m not the first to look at it this way, but I feel some people look down on fiction geared toward teens. The truth is a lot of these books are better paced and more visual than many “Adult” books I’ve read and it’s a shame that even some teenagers think that once they’re seventeen or eighteen that the world of “YA” is now for babies and they’re going to focus on “more mature, serious” readings.

Bullshit. “YA” can kicks ass.

Enter “Blood Red Road.” Published in June of 2011, it’s easily the best new YA novel from last year in my opinion. It is book #1 of Moira Young’s “Dustlands” series.

This book takes chances that many contemporary novelists, “Young Adult” or otherwise, would not risk, and I’m mainly talking about the use of slang. Think Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and you’ll get the gist. What’s more, the author really rolled the dice by making it extraordinarily sparse of punctuation. Think Cormac McCarthy’s “No Country for Old Men” or “The Road.” No parentheses and no quotations for spoken dialogue!—only some commas, dashes and periods.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: “That’s gimmicky.” You’re wrong. In this case, it enhances the story, which should always be the crucial consideration when doing things unconventionally. You may also be thinking: “How would you know who is speaking, and doesn’t the slang make it a tough read?” Absolutely not. Somehow, the way that this book was written is clear, flowing, and engaging. Somehow the lack of quotations and the heavy slang and phoentic spelling of words stops being an issue after a few pages in. Some may disagree and find the style far too distracting for them. Their loss.

But if you’re a fairly seasoned reader or are over fifteen, “Blood Red Road” is a literary gem, complete with an original adventure story, full of heart ache, sub-plots, quests, and revenge. The scenery and locations are also well described, and take the reader through the desert, the rivers, the forest, the grasslands, the mountains, etc.—all the big fantasy backdrops you’d expect.

And Saba? Think “Gladiator” meets Katniss Everdeen meets Natalie Portman in “V for Vendetta.” Yeah. I know, right? “Blood Read Road” made me say: ‘Katniss who? What are the Hunger Games?’

BLR’s teenage female protagonist wipes the floor with the personal dramas of Katniss and company. Saba in BLR is memorable and loveable; and her love interest, Jack, is honestly the best charismatic, smoky, arrogant love interest I’ve read ever in YA. Seriously, as far as writing style goes and capturing another world, Young and Collins are neck-and-neck. All motivations and dialogue is believable.

Did I mention this is Moira Young’s first book? Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either. No first book should read so well. I cannot wait to see what else she delivers (this is the beginning of a series).

I really think “Blood Red Road” is a testament that Young Adult fiction can matter, can be powerful, and can be artistically important. This is the fat 450-some page YA novel that kept some YA conventions intact, but also turned a lot on their heads.

I love this book, will recommend it to anybody who likes futuristic, dystopian, fantasy-adventures and I will eagerly be anticipating the film in the next few years which is rumored to be helmed by the great Ridley Scott. Book #2 of the “Dustlands” series — Rebel Heart — is due out around Halloween 2012. (Per Usual, there are different covers for the UK and the US, plus different hardback and paperback, so don’t judge the books by their covers. No pun intended. I just wish the publishers had made it clear that “Dustlands” was the title or even the subtitle for “Blood Red Road”, because it’s just confusing now.)

Click the links to browse the titles on GOODREADS.COM — a site I recently fell in love with. The Facebook of passionate readers.

Just trust me: start reading this thing like I did, knowing little or nothing about it. By page 41, the end of the first part, I was spellbound. Satisfying and book club worthy, get a friend to read “Blood Red Road” with you so you can gush.

4.25/5

MH

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“The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes: a book review

Finally, an award-winner appealing to more than solely the scholarly writers, socialites, and hipsters of the reading community.

Winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2011, I’m surprised this poetic and heavy little book is not being talked about more considering its inclusion on many Must-Read lists of 2011—nationally and internationally. Included on these lists have been the likes of Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding”, Franzen’s “Freedom”, and Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot.” While all of these novels are intelligent and technically sound, which will really stand the test of time? Only “The Sense of An Ending.

The others are uneven from cover to cover, arguably over-written, stumble over their own enigmatic styles, and in some cases are simply unremarkable. Self-aware, post-modern yarns put a particular idea (often abstractly) under a microscope, and if you have the patience to get to the last page and the final words, you might have the energy to comprehend and appreciate what you just read. They are books about “how” the story is told more than “what” the story is telling.

Luckily, Julian Barnes doesn’t do this like other best-sellers. If only they knew: life isn’t crafted to perfection. Too much wit and technical crafting is a death sentence to many readers’ enjoyment of the story. Connecting to those types of characters can be difficult. Many hyped literary books that are so critically-acclaimed are often not what you would call everyday books for everyday people.

“The Sense of An Ending” is that book however, saying huge things with simple sentences.

So what is it exactly about Barnes’ 163-page novel that earns such high praise? It’s about the human condition. Aging. Memory. Mistakes. Life, death, and things everyone can relate to. We all have our imperfect memories play tricks on us, which is exactly what this short novel touches on in a devastating way. Elegant and thought-provoking, we follow Tony Webster in London through his life. Book one, the teen years. Book two, his old age. It is thought-provoking, character-driven, and emotional. I doubt anyone considering themselves an adult could avoid connection with some aspects of this book. It’s one of those haunting books about suicide, philosophy, and relationships, guaranteed to echo in your head for days.

While the first part is better than the second, it is only slightly so, and I think the point of the change in tone is to reflect the now older narrator and his uncertainties. While not a perfect book, it’s darned close. This coming-of-age feels so much like a memoir it is almost doubtably fiction. Metaphorical and superior to many books from last year, it is well worth the time of anyone who grew up in the 60s or 70s, but is also relevant to other generations as well.

4.5/5

(for fans of Ishiguro’s “The Remains of the Day”)

MH

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“The Marriage Plot”: a Review of Jeffery Eugenides’ work (including Middlesex and Virgin Suicides)

Kafka said, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.”

Stories that bore holes, blasting through the ice and earth rather than piling more on top of a parched, idle field, has the capacity to alter the reader, produce a chemical reaction and transgress the space that has already been traversed.


Eugenides’ revolutionary novel THE VIRGIN SUICIDES blew the dust off the languid spines of literature shelves and, although the context wasn’t new (suburbia, Baby Boom generation), his Greek chorus of narrators and laconic treatment of shocking and tragic events allowed the reader a lot of space to interpret and experience the inscrutability of the feminine mystique. He allowed questions to be more meaningful than answers. Although the five blonde virgin girls were archetypal, he bent the very signifier of archetype with great irony and paradox. (Score: 3.75/5)

MIDDLESEX, a Pulitzer winner in 2003, brought intersex issues to the forefront. The acclaim and mainstream success of Eugenides’ novel was unprecedented though the topic had been pioneered by others first. The context of a Greek immigrant family’s history (Eugenides is also Greek) and the polarized male/female social commentary, penetrating prose, and androgynous style of narration. Best work, easily. (Score: 4.25/5)

 

THE MARRIAGE PLOT. Now the meat of this post. Yikes. It is not groundbreaking or unpredictable. It is closer to an exercise in pretentious eloquence that is somehow digestible because that manufactured taste has been so expertly disguised. Eugenides makes familiar, even prosaic pit stops in this largely sex-fueled chick-lit love triangle set in 1982 on the cusp of graduation at Brown University, an academic institution which embraces post-modernism. Over-familiar themes get a boost because of the textual discussion of semiotics and Eugenides’ renegade, rogue prose style and levity, making the scholarly concerns accessible and thought provoking.

The best parts of the book were the academic digressions! And if that’s true, this is bad.
The story explores the thesis of deconstruction, attainment, and illusion, pursuing (that overwrought theme of) romantic love and individuation while coming-of-age within a specific social construct—in this book, the 80’s and on the continuum of feminism. Derrida and Barthes et al flood the pages and add the most exuberant boosts to a long-winded, sometimes stagnant storyline of Cupidity. The narrative and plot reduce romance to the banal, and to Jodi Picoult territory, but from a misogynistic window (however shrewdly disguised).

Perhaps the book was meant to feel the way it does and be self-aware as a statement on to itself, representing themes by the very form and style in which it is written, both good and bad. Maybe the design of how the story is told has a meaning all its own, making the very things I’m complaining about here part of what the book is meant to convey. An abstract element often misunderstood that is as important as the plot. And that is a lot of thinking for your average book reader. And that’s the pretentiousness I mentioned. It’s a book about how books are written for an intended audience of literary buffs and writers who give a shit about that kind of stuff. I held my own drekking through this, but, I digress…
Eugenides taunts the slings and arrows of hearts and broken hearts with such lyrical, fetching effusion that the journey is deceptively captivating, even while it ambushes you to a pre-ordained destination. He also explores the conundrum his female protagonist, Madeleine, faces in trying to reconcile feminism with her taste for Victorian love and literature, and her dependent tethering to a man– her object of desire, Leonard. I was disappointed in the lack of new insight here, even though it was gussied up to parallel a formal construct of the title’s origin–18th and 19th century novels by Austen, Eliot, Henry James, and the Brontë sisters.
Madeleine Hanna, an intelligent and exceptionally beautiful protagonist, is an archetype that doesn’t really stray from the time-honored territory, so as the story progresses, she is more watered down and reduced to making stock choices.

Just about every choice Madeleine makes is in response to men, not guided by anything individual.  That may be realistic, in this story, and in Eugenides’ eyes, but when I think of outstanding literature, Kafka’s statement comes to mind. Eugenides’ latest has been so preliminarily lauded and celebrated that it is already a sacred cow, and risky to criticize.

While written lyrically and rollicking, it is all over-written in the end. Could have been a hundred pages less, and honestly, getting to page 130 and starting the second “part” or “chapter” — at long last — was a challenge, and only day one of the tale. Ugh.

Should get a 2/5, but the quality of writing makes this a generous 2.75/5. Read something else by him or something else all together.

I do not recommend this. It’s just too long with not enough pay off. Read two books in the time you read this one, plus, have more fun doing it. (A novel similiar to The Marriage Plot which gets a 3/5  is “The Art of Feilding” — an equally acclaimed and “too long” novel from 2011 which was just sooooooo good. Sarcasm.)

Score: 2.75/5

 

MH

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HUGO: a response to the film

If you look at what “Hugo” won (5 awards) and what they lost (6 awards), I agree with all 11 choices. And yet, having just seen the film for the first time, I feel utterly unsatisfied and feel bait-and-switched by the trailers and what the film delivered.

Who is this film for? The young? The families? The cineophiles? The Scorcese fans? All four categories will be let down in some small way.

Remember this about me — I’m a sap for good “magic” and I can certainly suspend my disbelief and become an unusually acute empathetic viewer. But this started with great intrigue and 30 minutes in just didn’t deliver, continuing to go where I didn’t see it going, and drifting from being about Hugo. This is about the movies. Change the title, Scorcese. Every character I could describe as well or better than Hugo, including all supporting roles. Alas, I digress…

Nothing is horrible about this film. Everything is good or better, but nothing “dazzled”. It’s a 2 hr 5 min film that is more about George Melies, the french director/writer/actor/producer, than anybody else. Hugo, the boy, existing in the film is merely happenstance. Sure he found a family, but the story line with his father is incomplete. Giving the nominations “Hugo” recieved, I’m stunned with the film I just saw. If any one else directed this thing, or if it wasn’t about George Melies, “Hugo” would have been just another family film with little to no buzz — and while that sounds like a “dis”, it’s really not. It would have been an improvment since it would then not be trying to do so many things and would have recieved a more modest amount of awards, like two. Other films in Hugo’s categories at the 84th Academy Ceremony deserved it just as much if not more. Just for example, Cinematography could have easily gone to “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or “War Horse”, and Sound Editing really should have been a shoe-in for “Drive” or “Dragon Tattoo” again.

(for all winners, go here.)

In closing: over-hyped. See it on the Redbox for $1.27

Went into it dying to love it and recommend it to everyone. I can’t. It’s worth watching once. Nothing more. People giving it more than a 7.5/10 must be doing so on merit of it’s aesthetic pleasure and technical accomplishments, which are, of course, excellent. But still… (7/10)

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“Warrior”: a film review and genre analysis

You will cry and cheer and cry again watching “Warrior” directed by Gavin O’Connor. Why it was not advertised more when it was released in 2011, and why it wasn’t up for more awards, I will never know. This film, as it says on the DVD box cover, is in fact “as powerful and unforgettable as Rocky”. If 2008 got the incredible “The Wrestler” by Darren Aronofsky (with Mickey Rorke) and if 2010 got the emotional “The Fighter” by David O. Russell (with Walhberg and Bale), then 2011 stands proud as completing the trifecta of must-see fighting movies; truly three of the best since Rocky.

What is refreshing about Warrior is that it is not boxing or kung-fu, but UFC fighting—mixed martial arts. Sponsored by TAPOUT, it is one of the better movies ever distributed by the inconsistent Lionsgate Studios; distributing and funding average or worse horror/thrillers directed and staring “nobodys”; or straight to DVD garbage. Funny thing is: Lionsgate also strangely releases a golden piece of art every now and then (i.e. Brothers, The Hunger Games, Hotel Rwanda). Somebody in their head office works miracles, the rest distribute trash. The must flip a coin for their next project.

Back to Warrior: Why these fighting-drama pictures all resurfaced at the same time doesn’t matter, and it could have had something to do with Rocky Balboa’s release in 2006. Alas, maybe it’s just that the UFC, boxing in general, and the WWE have simply become American—if not global—staples for aggressive men. It’s primal.

But these movies are more than that. They show the heart behind it all. The motivation. The heart.

Where action movies of the 1980s and 1990s in general came with a large bucket of popcorn, tons of violence and laughable situations (often with Van Damme or Seagul), they lacked strong plots and characters overall. They were two dimensional at best. Something to watch when bored for a cheap thrill. The movies listed above all fill that missing link to appeal to a wider audience and make us understand that behind these fighters are relationships—both good and bad—with families, fathers, mothers, wives, and brothers. While they are for the most part male driven stories and male dominated films, having that heart pumping deep in the films makes them accessible to women now, more so than before. And they are believable. The most important part.

No matter your sex, you see now see with important films like Cinderella Man, The Wrestler, and Warrior these that sometimes fighting comes with something more than just trying to be the best. It comes with something more than just trying to impress the girl, or beat the bad guy, or win all that dirty, beautiful prize money. These tales show us that they are people, just like us, who happen to fight. Just like Rocky or The Fighter.

Tom Hardy, Joel Edgerton, and Nick Nolte play sad, powerful, and fully realized characters. They make this long film (2 hrs. 20 mins.) easy to sit through. I would go watch any of their next projects in a heartbeat.

A word about the character Tommy, however, played by Tom Hardy (Inception, Wuthering Heights, The Dark Knight Rises). I’ve never felt so bad for an old man (Nick Nolte) in my life. For the entire film, Tom Hardy’s character stonewalls his father Paddy’s advances to patch things up, and you really find it hard to cheer for Tommy. The bias of the story, without question puts you Brendan’s corner (Edgerton). Brendan has a wife, kids, his life is pretty together; he has the support of his classroom where he teaches as a physics professor, and he forgave both Tommy and their father, Paddy, to both of their faces early on in the film. Tommy has none of these and did none of these. Late in the film do we discover Tommy deserted his platoon in Iraq, and by accident came across troops in trouble and got caught on video being a hero and saving lives. Irony. Even with this “save your country” sentiment, and even though he promised to send his prize money to one of the fallen “brothers” he lost from his unit, it’s still near impossible to actually want to see Tommy come out of this thing as the victor.

If the point of this film was to make it difficult for the audience to feel a dilemma between which brother to cheer for—it failed.

The father character, Paddy, picked the wrong son to train. He’s 1000 days sober, and Tommy pushes him over the edge one night, and he starts drinking again. Damn you, Tom Hardy. Paddy should have picked Joel Edgerton’s character, Brendan, because Tommy makes it abundantly clear that he wants nothing to do with his father except as a trainer and treats him like shit. While all the other characters grow in the film, Tommy never does until the end when he has a big breakthrough. We aren’t given his “story” until the third act. Touching as it was, the screenwriter could have allowed Tommy to cave in a little bit somewhere in the middle and realize he was being unreasonable. In this way, the audience may have felt that dilemma mentioned earlier and care about the brother’s equally.

This is a story about brothers and family, yes; but it’s really Brendan’s story. He’s fighting to save his house in the name of his wife and kids. Tommy is a rough son-of-a-bitch, and we are shown more scenes with him being a bastard than scenes giving us reasons to cheer for him.

Then again, people are like this. Some shells are near impossible to crack. Not every person is like a character in a fictitious film that slowly blossoms and grows, and you could easily say that the screenwriter and director did great justice by showing a real character with years of abandonment and trust issues. But the truth is that’s usually not always the most interesting film.

Character issues aside, the plot, direction, and fight scenes alone make “Warrior” one of the best action-fighter dramas of the past 35 years.

Grade: 8/10

My favorite of the genre:

  1.  Rocky (9/10)
  2.  The Fighter (9/10)
  3.  The Wrestler (8.5/10)
  4.  Warrior (8/10)
  5.  Raging Bull (8/10)
  6.  Cinderella Man (8/10)
  7. Million Dollar Baby (7/10)

So sue me for Raging Bull only being number five. You damn film elitists. Have an opinion of your own.

MH

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The Descendants: a Novel Review

The Descendants is wonderfully touching, simple, but also complex in a very human way. Themes explored include love, revenge, trust, people’s impressions of others, and of course family; specifically, how we allow our family blood-line to affect our present day life and choices (those before us, those to come after us).

I’ve been meaning to see the movie with George Clooney that has just hit theaters (Holiday 2011), but when I heard it was a book, and I knew vaguely what it was about, I realized that I should read the book first. I made this decision for very specific reasons. Not all movies would I hold off from seeing just because I discovered they were first novels. I decided to read The Descendants before the movie because, frankly, it reminded me of three other movies about life, love, death, and family, which I watched only but never read. These books were Water For Elephants, The Help, and Up In the Air. Regarding all three of these movies: they are nomination worthy if nothing else, and two of the three books my wife had read and said they were even better. She’s an English teacher so her word is pretty solid. Plus, (and, not to brag) I’ve made her into something of a film buff. Without really forcing her, she’s broadened and strengthened her tastes and understands what to look for and how good story lines should grow and flow.

Even if I read …Elephants, The Help, and Up In the Air, they will not hit me the same way because I am not a “virgin” to their stories. I will have actors and actresses faces in my head; I will constantly compare the versions. What’s been cut out, added, and changed. So, it was with this mindset I decided if I get wind of a particularly enticing tale via movie trailer preview, or if I hear of a movie in the works with a lot of buzz about it being based on a book, I’m reading it first from now on.

Full discolsure: I did have Clooney’s face in my head for the whole book, but that’s the extent of what had been “ruined” for me, if you want to call it that. The book is dry, sad, and real. One of the most B.S.-proof books I’ve read in a while. And I can’t freakin’ believe it is the author’s first novel (K. H. Hemmings), a Hawaiian native. She rocks. Period. This book is visual, sexy, smart, and understated in a beautiful way. Characters actions carry real weight, and while she could dive into any of their heads at any time, which is the easy way out, she mastfully and carefully doles out moments she wants us in Matt King’s head (the main chracter and father of the two daughters). Speaking of them, if you ever saw and enjoyed Little Miss Sunshine or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, parts of this book, while mostly serious, will guarenteed have you laughing out loud. There are some shocking “wow” moments as well, and this is a read for 15-year-olds, as much as 35-year-olds, as much as 70-year-olds. The ten- and eighteen-year olds are charming and three dimensional, and the characters actually change, though some a bit more than others. It’s great to watch Matt King — a father who has never really been there to raise his two daughter — being force to do so now that his wife is in a coma. The twist is that she had a secret lover, and Matt now feels he has to take his kids on a trip through friends, islands, old haunts, and relatives to find out what to do now, including a face to face talk with his wife’s lover — once he find him, of course. Great stuff.

It’s a book that young male adults should not brush off as female-oriented, because it is really not. It’s not about being a particular sex and reading this. It’s about being a person and empathizing. Although this is a drama story at heart, 9/10 people are going to laugh, choke up, and recommend this book to others (like I did with the gem of a film Stupid Crazy Love which got nowhere near the praise it deserved when it came out). I bet The Descendants as a film will also have 9/10 people raving, and I encourage you lazy people who don’t want to read the book or hate reading to really try to see the film. I heard great justice was done by the director who offered great fidelity up to the source material.

One of the top ten books I’ve read in twelve months (Jan 2011 – Jan 2012).

If you see this book in a book store, read the first few pages which are littered with snippets of praise from a dozen magazines and newspapers and know that every one of them is 100% true.

4.5/5

MH

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Most Notable Books of 2011

Notable Fiction and Non-Fiction books that got really hyped up (deserved or not) and were on many Magazine’s “TOP 10” Lists or were National Best Sellers:

  • FICTION:
  • “The Submission” by Amy Waldman
  • “1Q84” by Haruki Murakami
  • “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht
  • “Stone Arabia” by Dana Spiotta
  • “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen
  • “Room” by Emma Donoghue
  • “The Art of Feilding” by Chad Harbach
  • “Close Your Eyes” by Amanda Ward
  • “The Marriage Plot” by Jeffery Eugenides
  • “There But For The” by Ali Smith
  • “Say Her Name” by Francisco Goldman
  • “Volt” by Alan Heathcock
  • “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern
  • “The Story of Beautiful Girl” by Rachel Simon
  • “The Call” by Yannick Murphy
  • NON – FICTION:
  • “Blue Nights” by Joan Didion
  • “Life Itself: A Memoir” by Roger Ebert
  • “Rin Tin Tin” by Susan Orlean
  • “Charles Dickens: A life” by Claire Tomalin
  • Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson
  • “Bossypants” by Tina Fey

Books I conquered in 2011, Old and New (in no particular order):

  1. “The Alchemist” by P. Coelho
  2. “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht
  3. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  4. “Survivor” by Chuck Palahniuk
  5. “Passing” by Nella Larson
  6. “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami
  7. “The Elephant Vanishes” by Haruki Murakami
  8. “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton
  9. “The Time Machine” by H.G. Wells
  10. “The Prince and the Pauper” by Mark Twain
  11. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell
  12. “Cat’s Cradle” by Kurt Vonnegut
  13. “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
  14. “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro
  15. “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac
  16. “The Picture of Doran Gray” by Oscar Wilde
  17. “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess
  18. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
  19. “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher
  20. “The Reader” by Bernhard Schlink
  21. “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
  22. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
  23. “This Side of Paradise” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  24. “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera
  25. “Play It As It Lays” by Joan Didion
  26. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
  27. “Lolita” by Vladmir Nabokov
  28. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling
  29. “Snuff” by Chuck Palahniuk
  30. “Farenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury

Holy Crap. Thirty books. Pretty good for me one year, considering I usually average fifteen. I started reading like a beast in January 2011 for an American Fiction course in my final semester of college and never looked back. I have never read this many books in one year in my life, and truthfully, some of these are the greatest books ever written and belong amoung the Top 100 of All Time.

Of the Above 30, her are my “Magic Seven” I will probably read again in my lifetime:

Lolita, Brave New World, The Alchemist, The Bell Jar, The Reader, Norwegian Wood, and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

 

Finally, a brief list of things on my “to do” list, or, things I’ve already started for 2012:

  • “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami
  • “The Art of Feilding” by Chad Harbach
  • “A Farwell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway
  • “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving
  • “The Descendants” by Kaui H. Hemmings
  • “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Hurston
  • “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens
  • “The Story of Beautiful Girl” by Rachel Simon
  • “Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen

Read and Grow.

MH

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