Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review: Dubin's Lives

Dubin's LivesDubin's Lives by Bernard Malamud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Malamud was an exceptional writer. So exceptional, it seems, that he was able to craft a novel about marriage and infidelity for an exhausting 386 pages and still keep my interest for the majority of the ride. Though, I must say, this is the fifth book I've read of his (I've also read The Natural, The Fixer, The Assistant, and The Tenants), and also my least favorite, mostly because of its redundancy. No lie, this book could have been trimmed by at least 100 less pages. At least!

And while yes, I know this book is about much more than love and marriage - Dubin is a biographer, so the title is a bit of a play on words -it just didn't do it for me. Something was just missing, and it was pretty glaring. It may have been the protagonist, since I felt no sympathy for him whatsoever. He was a bit of a scumbag.

Besides marriage and cheating, this book also has a heavy focus on masculinity and the idea of aging. But honestly, the concepts in this book are long and drawn out, and even with the beautiful prose that Malamud provides, it's hard to look at the book in its entirety and put it on the same level as, say, The Fixer or The Assistant. It's definitely worth a read, but not if it's the first book you're going to read of Malamud's. That should be The Fixer.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: In The Name Of The Father

In the Name of the FatherIn the Name of the Father by A.J. Quinnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You know what? I was really set to say, "this book sucks!" but it doesn't. And I realized that toward the end when I was actually on the edge of my seat during a crucial scene. Somehow, the author, A.J. Quinnell, had gotten me engrossed enough to actually care about what was at stake for the protagonist. Up to that point, I thought I couldn't care less, but the author somehow managed to make me. I think that's the sign of a true master writer--he gets you to care without you even realizing it.

That said, the prose was kind of weak sometimes, especially in the sex scenes. Also, the story was a little played out. The plot of a secret envoy out to kill the man who wants to assassinate the Pope is a good idea in theory, but it kind of falls apart since it relies on so many of the tropes in the genre. But again, you know what? I liked it. Would I recommend it? Well, not really. Not unless you like thrillers. But if you do like thrillers, then you'll likely enjoy this. I've certainly read a lot worse.

View all my reviews

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Review: Dodsworth

DodsworthDodsworth by Sinclair Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While one of Lewis' most well-known novels, Dodsworth isn't as ambitious or funny as some of his other classics, like Babbitt or Elmer Gantry. Instead, it's a half break-up/ half tour of Europe novel, with only one area being successful (hint: it's the former. For me anyway). Sam Dodsworth is the retired head of a successful auto company and he travels around Europe with his annoying wife, Fran. But here's the thing. While I hate Fran since Lewis made it impossible not to, I find it hard to actually condemn her actions. It's 2016, and Fran represents the modern woman. It's all about "me, me, me" all the time, time, time, and i think Fran fits a lot more into this time period than I'm sure she did back in the 20s. Either way, Dodsworth as a whole was slow at times and much longer than it needed to be. I think I'm done with Sinclair Lewis now. Six books is more than enough.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 5, 2016

Review: Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl EarringGirl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, wow, wow! Now here's a book I never imagined I would fall in love with. I actually picked up this little gem at an Oktoberfest where they had this small nook for used books. I picked it up on a whim, and man, what a find! I'm not really into historical fiction, but this book hits all the right notes. It's about one of Vermeer's most well-known paintings, the titular Girl With a Pearl Earring. What follows is a hearty group of characters and backgrounds that feel so real you'll think it's the genuine story of the famous painting. I'll be picking up the rest of Ms. Chevalier's books. Man, can she write!

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Review: The Return of the Native

The Return of the Native  The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With this being the third book I've read of Hardy's (the other two being The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure) I'm convinced Thomas Hardy was incapable of writing anything but tragedies. Fortunately, he was very good at it. The Return of the Native is another I - can't - believe - their -luck book where anything that can go wrong, does go wrong. But at least Hardy was a master of plotting, so nothing appeared out of the blue. The "native" in question doesn't return until about 140 pages, but there's enough going on throughout that it's rarely boring. Except somewhere toward the beginning, which is a bit of a slog. Past that point, though, and it really moves. It's because of the characters. They're myriad, but all feel very real and full. When characters are in pain, you understand why, even though it might be a bit petty and because of a misunderstanding. In fact, much of this book's tragedy is because people are being misunderstood, which fits its period of the transitioning between Christianity and Paganism. Overall, Hardy made another exceptional book, and I'm a little confused as to why I've been told by a number of people that it's boring. I mean, yes, if you're forced to read it in school, I can see where you'd be bored. But anybody who reads it for leisure will find a thoroughly well-developed and engaging novel. I loved it.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why Mulholland Dr. is the Scariest Movie Of All Time

What's the scariest movie of all time? Is it The Exorcist? The Shining? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? No, it's David Lynch's, Mulholland Dr, and mostly because nobody would consider it a horror movie at all. Well, besides Vulture, which did an excellent job of detailing just why it's such a terrifying movie.

But yeah, the scares in Mulholland Dr. mostly lie in the fact that it's not billed as a horror movie, even though it's arguably scarier than any demonic child or naked old woman chilling in a bathroom. David Lynch, for those who don't know, operates in nightmares. Eraserhead, which is another "is this horror?" movie, detailed the internal fears of becoming a father and...God knows what else. But every frame of Lynch's first film has an unsettling quality to it that troubles you long after the movie is over. And the same goes for most of Lynch's films that aren't Dune (Though, that's horrifying for its own reasons), or that Disney movie he made about the guy on the lawnmower.

But Mulholland Dr. is something else entirely. While most of his movies are fever dreams put to film, Mulholland Dr. is his clearest nightmare. It's the little things that stick with you , like the infamous Winkie's scene, where a homeless man pops out from behind a dumpster.

What's so unnerving about this scene, and why it still freaks me out even though I know it's coming, is because it shouldn't happen. Horror movies operate on making you either jump in your seat or hide down into it with the fear of what's going to happen next. But this scene does both. Yes, there's that ghastly sharp sound that Lynch loves to employ to freak you out, but it's not a jump scare, not really, since you're told what's going to happen long before it happens. Horror movies, at least the good ones, make you tense because they try to relax you with exposition before they shock you. This is why the greatest horror movies really get under your skin in fear of what's right around the corner. But Mulholland Dr. takes that "what's around the corner" idea literally for this one scene, which begins in a diner with a man telling another man about one of his dreams. This is realistic, as who hasn't had a really creepy dream and just felt the need to pour it out to somebody else? But once we tell somebody about that dream, we usually tend to feel a sense of dread in reliving it, even if it's only through words. It's like telling the dream is conjuring up the possibility that it could be real, and only David Lynch would take that concept and MAKE it real in his story. It makes you question your own nightmares and the power they have over you. And any movie that can make you afraid of your own dreams WHILE YOU'RE AWAKE is freaking terrifying, and Mulholland Dr. does just that.

But what about all the other moments in the movie that just don't feel right? Like the cowboy without eyebrows.

Or even the way the film opens with a bizarre jitterbug scene, which feels both anachronistic and out of place.

But probably the scariest scene in the whole movie is the moment you realize the characters are just as bothered as you are while you watch what looks like a Spanish rendition of the Roy Orbison song, "Crying" only to realize that something else sinister is going on in the scene that your mind has to scramble to understand.

In truth, that might be Mulholland Drive's and most of Lynch's films greatest quality--the fact that your mind is trying to keep up and understand what is going on. But it can't, because your mind doesn't typically dissect nightmares, which is once again why I think Mulholland Dr. is the scariest movie of all time. It asks you to address your subconscious in a way that no other film--especially not a horror film--has done before or since. That's why Mulholland Dr. is officially the scariest. Movie. Ever. No other film comes close.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Top Eight Tarantino Films, Ranked

Tarantino can do no wrong. Until he can. While all of his films have been interesting to say the very least, some have been less interesting than others. Here’s a list of his best and worst films, all ranked. What are your favorite Quentin Tarantino movies?

(Image taken from: en.wikipedia.org)

8. Death Proof

The second film in the epic Grindhouse double feature (The first being Planet Terror by Robert Rodriquez), Death Proof is a slow grind with an amazing pay-off. Meant to be a homage to 70s slasher flicks, Tarantino went a bit too far with the dialogue in this one. It comes off as being even more annoying than it needs to be, which was sort of the point but it's kind of lost here. And I’m not the only one who’s not a fan of this flick as Tarantino himself said it was his worst movie. Even with that amazing chase scene at the end, it still didn't make much of an impact.

(Image taken from: 401reviews.com)

7. Kill Bill

Kill Bill is, I think, a great demarcation of Tarantino’s career. Prior to this movie, Tarantino made loving homages to his favorite genre pictures, but they played like genuine cinema. But Kill Bill is probably the first real Tarantino movie, in which his personal style overshadowed the story and he started making HIS kind of movies. Yes, the violence set to catchy music was there before. But the striking visuals and more playful nature that was only hinted at in Pulp Fiction takes full effect in Kill Bill. This is most noticeable in part 1, which is more style over substance. In the end, what felt fresh upon the first viewing, felt a little stale upon its second and third viewings, and outright kitschy by the fourth and fifth. Part 2 is much better than Part 1, but as a whole, it’s a very lopsided picture and one that doesn’t hold up over time.

(Image taken from: www.imdb.com)

6. Django Unchained

Django (or, Djangoooooo!) is a movie that should have ended a half an hour earlier than it did. Unlike Inglorious Basterds, which I’ll get to in a second, the style is consistent here. It’s an ultraviolent, silly movie throughout with Jamie Foxx looking cool, and Christoph Waltz playing the perfect, Obi-Wan mentor character. It’s a really fun film, and Leonardo DiCaprio stands out as a cocky plantation owner, but overall, it doesn’t feel entirely complete. It’s an issue of where less would have actually been more, if that makes any sense (After the gunfight in the mansion, I think it should have ended). It’s…an okay picture. And it’s also his most successful movie. But when pitted against his superior films, it’s a little mediocre.

(Image taken from: www.amazon.com)

5. Inglorious Basterds

Inglorious Basterds is a movie that is inconsistency glorious. There are moments in this film, like the tense Christoph Waltz conversation about Jews beneath the floorboards, or the bar scene, that are probably the best work Tarantino has ever done. But then, there are moments where people put explosives on their fists and punch with them that really take away from the grandness of it all. The climax is phenomenal, but the journey there could have used more polishing. This is what I meant by the whole Kill Bill demarcation. If this was made pre-Kill Bill, it probably would have eliminated all the silly moments.

(Image taken from: www.imdb.com)

4. Reservoir Dogs

Within the first ten minutes of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino cemented himself as a fresh new voice that would forever change cinema. But Reservoir Dogs is not just a movie of scene-stealing moments, though it certainly has those. Beneath that fantastic soundtrack and that icky ear lopping scene, there is a fully-realized, well-paced movie. It's little wonder that it improves with repeated viewings. It’s slower than most of his later work, but it’s satisfying to the very end, even when you know who the rat is. This movie still holds up today!

(Image taken from: collider.com)

3. The Hateful Eight

I know it’s a bit premature to put a film I just saw a couple of days ago so high on this list, but man, I just can’t stop thinking about The Hateful Eight. From the sparseness of the scenery, to the authentic dialogue, to the gritty characters, to the pacing, to the impeccable score, to that ending, everything in The Hateful Eight just works for me. It really feels like a Tarantino who was more interested in telling a story than what he had been doing for the past few years. In other words, the old Tarantino was back. For that reason, I put it so high up on this list. Now, I might watch it again some other time and wonder, what the hell was I thinking? (I really loved Kill Bill when it first came out, too). I might also not be as invested now that I know how the mystery unfolds, but who knows? Maybe it will hold up like Reservoir Dogs. Only time will tell.

(Image taken from: www.imdb.com)

2. Jackie Brown

A lot of people complain that Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s worst movie (Have they not SEEN Death Proof?). But here’s the thing. They’re wrong. If Jackie Brown had come out post-Kill Bill, there’s little doubt that it would have pushed its blaxploitation to the fullest, but this was a calmer Tarantino, a more reserved one. In that way, he created a masterpiece that touched on the spirit of blaxploitation, but felt more like a crime thriller, which is what it was. What I love the most about Jackie Brown is that it isn’t a loud movie, unlike his later films. Instead, it’s more about loud moments, which have the tendency to startle you, which is fantastic. It all unravels to a satisfying conclusion. Jackie Brown is, in every way, Tarantino's hidden masterpiece.

(Image taken from: www.csfd.cz

1. Pulp Fiction

Is Pulp Fiction the easy pick for Tarantino’s best movie? Yes. Is it the correct pick? Also yes. Unfortunately for Tarantino, he will never make a movie better than Pulp Fiction. And it was only his second film! There are just too many moments that have infiltrated pop culture and have shaped the medium as a whole, that none of his later films can touch it. It’s the movie that made him a household name. But it’s not just the relevance that sells it. It’s the whirling story in itself which pulls a great deal from the classic Japanese film, Rashomon, what with its various intertwining stories. Each chapter is captivating to the very end, and it’s most certainly his most audacious and awe-inspiring movie. For that reason, it will always be his best.