Bläeckfisk is the Swedish translation for the word octopus. I am not Swedish, but I do own a lot of furniture from Sweden and I like octopuses while admiring their multi-tasking ability. I would like to travel to Sweden at some point, plus I think it is a pretty cool looking word. Anyhow, speaking of words, I guess you could say that is why we are here. Words are the foundation for way we try to wrap our thoughts around everything in the galaxy. The tendrils that lead to emotions and curiosity. I am not here to solve the mysteries of the universe, just to discuss words in general. Specifically words written by other people and have been printed off and slapped between two slices of thin card stock. Many of these sandwiches go on to bigger and better things, some bigger and better than others. So, I guess we will be talking about those as well. If you share an interest in words or enjoi seeing what they can look like in action....välkommen! (Swedish for welcome.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

F11: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo-Directed by David Fincher

"You need to be more......sociable."

I do not have any tattoos. Nor do I sport any piercings, although in high school I did rock an earring. I do not own a leather jacket or zip around town on a motorcycle, but I do own a laptop and like to consider myself quite savvy when it comes to googling something. David Fincher's adaptation of the first book from the best selling Girl With the Dragon Tattoo series hit movies screens this week, and hit is an understatement. An elbow to the ribcage or a reverse thrusting kick to the shins might be a little more appropriate analogy. These Girl With...books by Stieg Larsson are loved around the world and by all means do I think that David Fincher nabs the crux of why these books are so popular. The film follows journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and his mission of piecing together the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger, last seen 40 years ago. After being fired from his newspaper, Mikael is hired on by the scrupulous Henrik Vanger to help unravel the family's dark past. As Blomkvist begins to connect the dots, an incessantly gothic young lady crosses his path and aides Mikael in his "research". Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) is an ultra aggressive, profusely pierced digital whiz who just so happens to have a dragon tattoo. Charming, intelligent and irrevocably precarious, Lisbeth is not someone to mess with.

This film was vintage Fincher (Fight Club, Social Network) and highly enjoyable. His gritty style of story telling is staggering and despite his use of dull, dreary lighting this film jumps off the screen. Coupled with a chilling score by Trent Reznor, and a ridiculously visual intro, some could say that this is Fincher's best work to date. Larsson's story is complex and hard to follow, but I think Fincher was indeed up to the task of conceptually bringing to life one of literature's most infamous characters. While the story is about solving an old family mystery, the first installment in the Millineum Trilogy is really about developing Lisbeth's wrecking ball of a character.  And developed she is. Just ask her ex-parole officer, and what he thinks of her after pushing his luck with the young Ms. Salander.

Overall, I think this movie was good but not great. A few years ago, an independent version of this film was released, one that in my humble opinion was much more authentic. Maybe is was due to the fact that the people in Sweden were actually speaking Swedish or that the actors were all unknown commodities. I guess it comes down to your own personal preference of moving going. Big name, Hollywood renditions vs. low budget, indy interpretations. See both and decide for yourself. Hopefully, Fincher has signed on to direct the next two sequels. I will be eagerly awaiting to see how Lisbeth Salander is further developed and how her path of destruction continues. In the meantime, I think I will be changing all my passwords and online banking information. Boom.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

B8: Swamplandia! By Karen Russell

"Where had all the families gone? The families were gone. All at once, it felt like. Families had been our keystone species of tourists on Swamplandia and now they were rarer than panthers."

Feelings of ennui starting to claw at your gloomy winter afternoons? Try injecting a little swamp water into your reading diet. This latest novel by Karen Russell spotlights the exceptionally odd Bigtree clan and their family run alligator amusement park. For years the Bigtree's alligator wrestling act has lured mainland Floridians out to their snatch of swamp, but with the unexpected death of the Hilola (the mother), the entire operation is suddenly at stake. Ava, big sister Osceola, brother Kiwi and Chief all have different ideas on how best to save Swamplandia from financial ruin. A dubious plan dubbed Carnival Darwinism is hatched and set in motion, while the Bigtree's must now find away to pry visitors away from new amusement-kid-on-the-block World of Darkness. Outlandish enough? Chuck in a shifty character named Birdman, a backwood romance with the ghost of Louis Thanksgiving and an unexpectedly crimson gator hatchling for good measure and let the fun begin.

This book reminds me of something that I came across a few years ago, Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (which I also highly recommend). Another nutty family filled with outlandishly tantalizing characters, but I digress. Back to the swamp. I really enjoyed this book and think that Russell has a bright career ahead of her. Her attention to every quirky detail of this story is commendable as well as the years of research she spent learning the indigenous plants and animals of the Florida swamplands. This book really comes to life with her talent for character development and her penchant for creating a world around these characters that will stay will the reader long after you are finished reading. I appreciate her timorous prose and will start exploring tickets to an alligator wrestling show in Florida where my wife and I will be spending part of our upcoming holiday. If you and your loved one can't make it to the Sunshine State in the foreseeable future, try checking out this book. After all, the gift giving season is upon us and what better gift to give the one you love, than the gift of swamp.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

B7: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

"I wanted to make sure someone heard what I had to say."

Imperious. Idiosyncratic. Eccentric. Visionary. Revolutionary. Just a few words that float to mind when attempting to describe the portrait of Apple's founder. Steve Jobs was many things and this smartly written book about his legacy examines the moving parts that make up the man responsible for transforming the computer/movie/music/communications industries throughout his career. I was skeptical at first to read this book since it came out so quickly after Job's passing, but I am glad that I did. Built upon several years’ worth of personal interviews, Isaacson masterly composes the symphony of Steve's life, bringing new insight into his successes and the bridges that were torched in order to achieve them.

With the backdrop being the surrounding towns of where I grew up, it was extremely compelling hearing Job's life story. From his love of calligraphy to why he wore black turtlenecks, Steve Job was truly one of a kind. His chilly temperament and fiery passion for creating a legacy propelled projects he was involved with to unthinkable heights. He was the true embodiment of the yin and yang. Sensitive yet apathetic. Bohemian yet futuristic. He loved creative design, and at the same time was obsessed with the color white. The type of walking contradiction that carried the scorn of being put up for adoption his whole life, only to spurn the birth of his first child.

Steve Jobs was many things. Genius. Artist. Unscrupulous. Beloved. Maybe most importantly, iconic. This exceptional biography is one that you do not want to miss. You will probably see it this holiday season all over bookshops and cafes and for good reason. It's that good. So engrossing and authentic that Jobs himself did not read a word that Isaacson wrote, instead trusting that he would indeed capture what he had to say. Did he ever. Well done Mr. Isaacson.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

F10: My Week With Marilyn-Directed by Simon Curtis

"Have faith in your talent."

While this may not be a terribly wonderful film, the acting in it simply is. Michelle Williams' portrayal of the legendary yet mercurial Marilyn Monroe is captivating and will surely garnish a Best Actress nomination. She has the innocently dense routine down and her imitation of Marilyn's voice convinces you that you are watching the famed starlet on screen. However great her role, she is almost upstaged by the performance of Kenneth Branagh, playing the iconic Sir Lawrence Olivier. Just like Williams, he dives into this role and delivers a wonderful performance, touching on many of Olivier's temperamental and quirky traits. Look for him to bag an award or two in the coming year.

The film retraces the adventure of directing Marilyn Monroe during the film The Prince and The Showgirl and her connection with one of the assistant directors, Colin, played by Eddie Redmayne. While Colin is a first time on set problem solver, the relationship between Ms. Monroe and Olivier sets the table for a brief romance between Colin and Marilyn. We get a glance into the kaleidoscope of what it would have been like to know Marilyn Monroe and how tormented she seemed to be off camera. I did enjoy this film and think that it is unmistakably worth viewing, as the acting alone will keep you captivated. Time period films are always enjoyable and this one with make you smile.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

F9: Like Crazy-Directed by Drake Doremus

"I'll be there in 30 minutes."

For such a simple story, this film was immensely enjoyable. The premise follows the predictable trajection of girl and boy. Girl meets boy. Boy takes girl out. Girl and boy connect on a profoundly unique plane. Boy loves girl and wants nothing more than to be with girl. Only this time, girl did not follow the laws of immigration and violates the terms of her student visa and must return back to the UK.  What follows next is a tumultuous jaunt of ups and downs following the couple's budding romance.

I love the rawness of this film and the director's style lends to the authenticity of the story he is trying to tell. Both characters are portrayed in a light that makes you feel like you actually know them, or have come across them at some point in your own life. You find yourself really pulling for this couple and hoping that it works out for them, despite the physical and growing emotional distance that plagues their relationship. Weave in a killer soundtrack and some fresh camera tricks and this is not one you want to miss. See it.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

F8: Anonymous-Directed by Roland Emmerich

"Of course you have a voice, you are an artist."

To write or not to write, that is the question in question in this recent release by Roland Emmerich. Did William Shakespeare really pen all of his sonnets, poems and plays? Or was he simply an eccentric, spurious individual that was driven solely by fame and glamour? I had heard of several theories on the authenticity of Shakespeare over the years, and the theory revolving around the Earl of Oxford being the main author is explored in this movie. Details such as Shakespeare being illiterate, and how nothing of his work was mentioned in his will, provide the groundwork for this theory.

While it is a truly complicated story and really hard to follow, I enjoyed this film based on sheer content. It is fascinating to be thrown back to a time where writing and acting was seen as such threatening devices and how scrupulous the leaders within the kingdom of England could be towards each other. Mistresses and scandal. Beheadings and whispers of arcane pregnancies. All of which add up to be a dramatic theatrical performance in itself. The acting was grand, the costumes magnificent and the scope of England during the Essex Revolution was brilliant. If anything, the editor of this movie could have done a better job helping the viewer connect the characters with the events.  The story jumps back and forth over different stages in Queen Elizabeth's life, sometimes muddling the flow of the events. Overall though, I would recommend this picture as the idea that greatest play write the world has ever seen, is not in fact who he claims to be. Decide for it better to be a witty fool or someone with a foolish wit?

Monday, October 24, 2011

F7: Ides of March-Directed by George Clooney

"Integrity! Honesty! It is what this country is based on!"

This film will not blow your doors off within the first 30 minutes. There are not a lot of fancy camera tricks or adrenaline charged scenes. There is not even a savvy soundtrack to compliment the story being told. All this considered, I loved this film. Ryan Gosling is one of my favorite actors and he surely should be up for an Academy Award with this performance.

We get an inside glimpse of his life as a Campaign Manager for the dashing Mike Morris, played by George Clooney. Morris is everything a presidential candidate should be and at first glance someone who refuses to succumb to the moral indiscretions that perpetually plague most people in the political forum. Gosling's character, Stephen Myers, is up and coming on the political scene and has caught the eye of the opponent's party, led by Tom Duffy (Paul Giamatti). After a brief meeting with Duffy and an unlikely encounter with an intern, the inklings of implosion start to form and Myers is suddenly transformed from golden boy to political pariah.

You will get your money's worth alone from the acting in this movie. The tale is one we all know all to well; that of corruption and broken promises from those who hold public office. I strongly suggest watching this movie and see for yourself if you can see the train coming before it arrives. Good political movies are hard to find and I assure you this one will be talked about for a long time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

F6: Circumstance-Directed by Maryam Keshavarz

"I remember when you used to sing to me."
This provocative film is set in present day Iran and follows the bubbling sexual chemistry between two best friends, Shireen and Atafeh. In a place where a viperous "Morality Police" is lurking around every corner and a punctilious theocracy controls most aspects of everyday life, their rebellious love for each other is perilous to say the least. Enter Atafeh's brother, Mehran, home from a stint in rehab. He has returned bent on atoning for his personal mistakes by joining the Morality Police and attempting to unveil the mistakes of all those around him. As Mehran starts to decode the seductive bond between Shireen and Atafeh, his resolve to purify those around him threatens the blossoming love of the two girls.
I really enjoyed the way this film drops you off in the middle of a culture so vastly different from ours. Freedom of speech and expression are often taken for granted and I love the way this movie makes you stop and think about the liberties we enjoy everyday. Director Maryam Keshavarz uses low lighting and macro lensing to tell this story in a way that seems all too real. Underground partying, hidden agendas and despicable policing create an edgy tone that will give you something to think about. Movies that take on a life of their on own and become something that you can actually fathom, to me, are definitely worth watching. It probably isn't playing at many theaters, but I can understand why it won the Audience Award at Sundance this past year. See for yourself.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

F5: The Debt-Directed by John Madden

"Truth is a luxury."

Talk about entertaining. This movie is seriously coiled tight and will keep you on the edge of your seat for the duration. Being a big fan of Helen Mirren and her presence on screen, her role as the aged Mossad agent is worth watching in itself. The action was riveting, the acting gripping and the fluid transition between scenes from the 60's and present were remarkable to watch.

This film follows the roller coaster relationship of three Israeli Intelligence agents tabbed for capturing Dieter Vogel, aka The Surgeon of Birkenau. Their mission is to capture Vogel and return with him alive to Israel, where a trail for him awaits. Madden flits between present day time and actual time of the mission under the cover of the release of a new book detailing the account, written by Helen Mirren's daughter. Madden's gritty style of storytelling unfolds naturally and leaves you awaiting what is around the next corner. While this film shoulders the weight of the Holocaust, the repercussions of not being honest lie at its core. All three members of the team are forced to finally deal with their actions and all go about it in divergent ways. I strongly recommend seeing this film as it will be sure to keep you engaged, right up to its thrilling climax. You will not be disappointed.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

B6: Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco (301 pages)

The Ilustrados- (Spanish for erudite, learned, or enlightened ones) constituted the Filipino educated class during the Spanish Colonial period in the late 19th century.

This sharply written debut novel by Miguel Syjuco has more layers than kindergartener’s outfit, fit for braving a crisp winter morning in the heart of New England. The combination of historical fiction and who duunit, makes for a truly enjoyable read. His command of the English language is nothing short of commendable, and the ambitious construction this story is impressive. Miguel blends several stories that he has written from the perspective of the character in question, with realistic blog posts and ultimately the ongoing biography written by the protagonist about this particular character in question. The voice of this book is not only refreshingly original, but also filters in a historical sense about the Spanish occupation of the Philippians that I really enjoyed.

The story begins with body. Crispin Salvador, Filipino champion for all things revolutionary, has been found floating in a river.  The polarizing Salvador has spent his life challenging the political and agrarian system in his native country, only be run out of town by those in power. He reconstructs a life for himself in New York and takes on a researcher, Miguel, to help him prepare for the release of a book that has been in the works for 10 years. This new book will “set the record straight” and promises to peel back a snap of corruption within the current Filipino government.  After his body is discovered, and the manuscript vanishes, it is Miguel who sets out on the trail to the missing novel with hopes of unwrapping the mystery of why Crispin died.

“In its efflorescence, Salvador’s life projected genius and intellectual brazenness, a penchant for iconoclasm and an aspiration to unsparing honesty during obfuscated times.”

I loved the rare mix of politics, history and philosophy and humor in this book and believe that it is a remarkable read for something in dire need of something different. Viva la revolucion!

Friday, August 12, 2011

B5: Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace (265 pages)

"I did not understand at the time to what extent the way one dies can color people's memories of the way one lived."

This book was given to me by someone very dear to me, and is the subject of someone very dear to me. When I was a kid I used to stare for hours (in kid time, but minutes in real time) at Van Gogh's paintings and be captivated by the vivid splashes of color smeared across the canvas. Most paintings left little to the imagination, but the shear beauty that Vincent brought to simple, humble objects always did, and always will make me smile. You could see the genius in his brushstrokes and if you looked deep enough, you could make out the acute touches of madness harboured within those strokes. I knew back then very little of his calamitous personal story and under appreciated the raw genius that envelopes his work.

Reading this book was like sitting down with an old friend at a sleepy little brick cafe tucked smartly in between a consignment shop and old movie rental store struggling to stay afloat. The comforting essence of Carol Wallace's writing is a real breath of fresh air. She brings a graceful sense of storytelling to the last year or so of Vincent's life and a new approach to one of Van Gogh's most famous paintings: The Portrait of Dr. Gachet (which in 1980 sold for a then record of 82.5 million).

The novel is told through the eyes of Dr. Gachet and teases out the relationship between Gachet and Van Gogh and the tragic events that ultimately led to Vincent's death. Although this book is historical fiction, there is some foundation to this approach as Dr. Gachet was a very enduring advocate for the arts and a mental illness physician. Van Gogh did know Gachet and did live with him for some time, giving the story the historical threads needed to become plausible.

"He was able to create haunting images that reached the heart of the viewer. That was his astounding gift to the world."

I highly recommend not just this book, but also Van Gogh's Women: Vincent's Love Affairs and Journey into Madness by Derek Fell. The story of dear Vincent is one worth learning about and will undoubtedly unlock a new dimension of brilliance for you. Just fair warning though, it is the type of story that will make you want to sneak onto a plane and jet across the pond to Amsterdam, home of the remarkably brilliant Van Gogh Museum. Nothing wrong with a little madness from time to time. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

F4: Another Earth-Directed by Mike Cahill

If you just so happened to bump into yourself, what would you say? 

With this puppet string of a question looming over this eccentric indy film, we peer into the life and thought process of Rhoda (Brit Marling), a character who has committed a grave mistake. Her life as a promising MIT student quickly blinks out while driving home from a raucous party with her graduating high school classmates. A freshly discovered planet is being talked about on the radio and as she steals a glance towards the ink black sky, she plows into John Burroughs and his family. John's son and pregnant wife are killed instantly and John, a renowned music teacher at Yale, is left in a coma.

This movie is less about the science fictional notion that there could be mirror Earth out there somewhere and more about how wonderfully delicate life can be. The trajectory of life can change in an instant and as fallible creatures, do we ultimately deserve to be forgiven for mistakes we make? Now the town pariah, Rhoda sets out to make amends for what she has taken from John, and the two are able to briefly find comfort in each other.

I adored this film and the lens director Mike Cahill told this story through. His turning of simplistic shots of ordinary actions into works of art and his herky jerky camera style provide the grit necessary to almost make this story believable. The marriage of plausible and unbelievable is seamless, and this beautiful, intricately layered movie will give you something to think about. Even more impressive is the fact that Brit Marling co-wrote the film with Cahill.

I highly recommend seeing won't have to forgive me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

B4: The Murder of Jim Fisk by H.W. Brands (206 pages)

"A gray blanket cloaks the trees of Montparnasse on a late autumn morning. Smoke from the coal fires that heat homes and shop along the narrow streets swirls upward to join the fog that congeals intermittently into drizzle. This part of Paris hides the sign of the Great Depression better than the blighted districts and tattered storefronts....."

Looking for a dash of tightly written tragic history from the Gilded Age? Check out this short read by H.W. Brands. Being a passionate paramour of history, I really admire Brands for this work and his conception of bringing little known American history tales to light. The first in a continuous series called The American Portraits, Brands tells the yarn of the notoriously haughty James "Diamond Jim" Fisk. As so eloquently put by the title, Jim meets an untimely, abrupt ending resulting from years of rowdy behind the scenes behavior regulating the Eerie Railroad Company. Set in the mid 1800's during a time when life in NYC was far from opulent, Jim Fisk was financially thriving. Gregariously bumbling around the town, Jim was both well know and well liked. Enter Josie Mansfield, showgirl extraordinaire. Commence downfall.

This book is worth mentioning due to the astute angle with which Brands writes from. While most historical books are verbose accounts, the author gets to point and recaps the little known story of Jim Fisk within the confides of 206 pages. Wealth, exuberance, scandal, moustaches and murder all grace the pages of this historical account. His documentation is both colorful and absorbing; I will be anxiously awaiting the next portrait in the series to be released.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

F3: Beginners-Directed by Mike Mills

We saw this flick last night and both my fiance and I loved it. For all the blow em up, high speed chase-animated-sequel based films that roll out of production studios for the summer, this film showcases all that is missing from movies today. While lacking exotic locations and CGI, this movie more than makes up for it in good old fashioned in depth storytelling. Less effects and better acting. Smaller budget and raw emotion. By stripping away all the bells and whistles that are so commonplace in movies today, Mills creates a beautiful, touching film that ambitiously takes on more than its share of historical and modern issues.

We follow the life of Oliver; a dry humored, quirky graphic design artist of sorts (most likely a reflection of director Mike Mills) and his spiderweb of relationships. His father Hal, played by the legendary Christopher Plummer, has revealed to him that after 44 years of being married that he in fact has always been gay. Just as Hal (75 years old now) begins to pursue this uncharted aspect of life, he get diagnosed with cancer. The outlook for Hal is grim and Oliver moves in with his father to help him pen his final chapter with the help of Hal's new boyfriend, Andy. With this backdrop, the rest of the film follows Oliver's new found struggles to connect to the rest of world following Hal's transition into the next plane of existence.

Flashing ahead to at a Halloween party that he has been dragged to, Oliver meets the equally idiosyncratic Anna-someone he is able to find comfort with along with that spark of passion that his life has been missing since his father's death. This movie is about relationships big and small, but along the way reminds us of how delicate life can be while at the same time lending focus to how prodigious life on the planet Earth really is. Mills masterly combines love, attachment, sadness, vandalization, reinvention and history in his best work to date. A marvelously vintage soundtrack rounds out what will probably be the best movie you will see all summer. The dry humor will make you laugh, the tender portrayal of Olivier's relationships might make you cry, but all in all this movie is not one that you should miss.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

B3: A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (334 pages)

I am not quite certain how books win the Pulitzer, or how a panel could possibly decide upon one winner each year, but I do know Josef Pulitzer was Hungarian. And a supporter of the Democratic party. And was someone who hated monstrously corrupt corporations. I know this because my father is from Hungary and we Hungarians tend to stick together. Or better yet, because a few years back I wanted to learn all about him and read as many Pulitzer Prize winners in one year that I could, only to feel like the books that had won the prestigious title were selected the same big, bad corrupt organizations that Josef so fiercely despised. Talk about irony.

"So acutely had he been dreading this encounter that he felt no real surprise at the staggering coincidence of its actually taking place."

Anyhow, the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is pretty quick read, great for short attention span summer reading. We follow a handful of characters that all have some tie to the music industry. With each chapter, we follow a different character's perspective. Each of the characters are linked in some capacity (my streak of this genre marches on) and we follow them throughout their respective careers. Some are producers like the neurotic Bennie Salazar; who sprinkles flakes of pure gold into his coffee in an attempt to find reprieve from an ongoing battle of impotentic proportions. Others are musicians, spouses and sidekicks all searching for a way to stay on top of the peruvial ladder of success and prestige.

I did find this read to be enjoyable as Egan is a talented author. The structure of the book makes following the lives of each character easy and she does a nice job of helping the reader connect the dots along the way. One of the final chapters is laid out almost in the form of a PowerPoint presentation, detailing the connections within the life of dear Alison Blake. One of my favorite aspects of this book is meaning behind the title. I dig the metaphor of time being a "Goon Squad", as the idea of time catching up with all of our characters is really is essentially what this entire book is about. I have heard that HBO is converting the novel into a series, which should be interesting to check out. Maybe they should also consider a mini series on Josef Pulitzer.......I would be all over that.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

F2: The Tree of Life-Directed by Terrence Malick

To be honest, I wasn't sure if I was going to post a write up about this film, but after thinking about it for a few days decided to. Let's start by saying this film is long, really long. 2 hours and 20 minutes long. While I think that there should have been some better editing, this was a film worth mentioning. I am not quite sold on saying that I fully enjoyed it, but it is an extremely unique picture unlike just about anything you will see this summer.

It is a story of a family living in the 50's in Texas. Brad Pitt plays role of a rigidly stern father of three. Most of the film is dedicated to the effects of his relationship with his eldest son Jack, and how Jack more or less loses his innocence due to this relationship. We then leave the 50's and jump ahead 15 years to find out that one of the brothers has lost his life while serving the military, devastating the family. After this chapter, the film goes off on a 20 minute sidetrack of non-dialogue, nature based scenes that are truly stunning. Volcanoes. Jellyfish. Bees. Waterfalls. DNA. Basically, a short visual history of life itself. While the director lost me when the injection of dinosaurs into this montage, the shots are incredible.

Sean Penn plays the role of Jack in modern times, reflecting back on his childhood and the loss of his brother. Religious undertones aside, this movie does get you thinking family dynamics and the rippling effects that parents have on their kids. Working with my sixth graders, I know all to well how they aim to please at this age and how sensitive they are to harsh criticism. The young Jack is no different and suffers greatly over how he is treated. His father does berate him, but also has a tender side and without fail is quick to wrap and arm around of his boys after a blowup.

Just like the Pitt's character, I felt this polarizing movie didn't really have an idea of what it wanted to be. It flops back and forth between all the above mentioned aspects without really driving home a central theme. The ticket bellhop told us he loved it, but I would say that I am leaning towards the other end of the spectrum. It will give you something to talk about though, so see for yourself and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

B2: Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (320 pages)

"Eadem mutata resurgo: Although changed, I shall arise the same."

I loved this book. Not just because I tend to have an affinity for books that have a penchant for using Latin quotes (See Meaning of Night by Michael Cox), but for the sheer magnetism of how this story is comprised.   For some reason I have stumbled upon many books as of late in the multi-tale-but-justwaitfortheconnection genre, and this exceptional book by Dan Chaon might just be my favorite thing I have read all year.

 The book and title center around a common junk email scam that I am sure many of us have at one point or another have seen float across our electronic mail boxes. The email is from an unknown author from a African country that has been bequeathed a large sum of money that if only you can secure a bank account, will lead to a fat slice of this sum magically appearing in the account you have created. I have had an email like this sent to me, making the outline of this story all the more believable.

The story unfolds with three simultaneous plots that in no way can seem to be possibly perpendicular, up until the very end. I commend the author for the sheer genius of being able to find a way to do this without convoluting his novel with many unnecessary pages of plodding details or unimportant characters throughout the story. Hayden and Miles are twins, and while Hayden has been missing for years, cryptic letters keep showing up at Mile’s house, taunting him into continuing his search for his missing brother.  Lucy, age 19, has just fled her home podunk town somewhere in the middle of Ohio in search of a more exciting existence.  Her chosen partner in crime on this journey, is non other than her high school Math teacher, George Orson. Finally, we have Ryan. Ryan is on the run due to his numerous involvements with credit card scams set up by his father, Jay. 

All three of these subplots share the notion of self reinvention, which to me is really fascinating. How people can one day live as someone, then completely step into another character, as if it were as easy as pulling on a new sweater, is amazing. I highly recommend checking this book out, and wish you good luck in putting all the pieces together. You will not be disappointed.

“The more he thought about it, the more everything began to feel like a sham.  It wasn’t just his own faux family, it was the “family structure” in general.  It was the social fabric itself, which was like a stage play everyone was engaged in. And maybe it was as that moment that he brook loose from is life. His “life”: it felt suddenly so abstract and tenuous.”

Saturday, June 4, 2011

F1: Midnight in Paris-Directed by Woody Allen

This latest release by Woody Allen is worth checking out. Owen Wilson plays a struggling writer visiting his soon to be in-laws in Paris with his fiance. While it becomes quite clear that both he and his fiance are leaning towards different needs and desires in life, Owen’s character settles into the routine of walking around at midnight in hopes of finding not only his muse, but also a way to connect to some of his personal literary and artistic heroes from days past.  Conversations with Hemingway and Picasso and Fitzgerald, along with a savvy dialogue with Salvador Dali help him rediscover who he is as a person.

While I normally associate most Woody Allen films of recent release with tragedy, this quirky little film has some naturally pretty funny moments, with Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Kurt Fuller leading the way. In true Woody Allen fashion, dramatic music plays a huge role in the movie and the star of this film is Cole Porter.  Flappy tunes and swanky garb really set a great mood, all within the beautiful confides of Paris. Sure does look like the knew how to have a good time back then. 

B1: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (529p)

"I watched clouds awobbly from the floor o'that kayak. Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies skies, an’tho’ a cloud’s shape nor hue nor size don’t stay the same it’s still a cloud an’ so is a soul.”

Thus begins the Blaeckfisk blog. 

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas is an epic tale that interweaves several stories that take place over several genres of time. Starting back in 1850 and ranging all the way to an ubur post apocalyptic future with just about everything in between, this sprawling book covers a lot.  Taking on this book is a little bit like strapping on your hardly used sneakers and running to the adjacent town 18 miles away. There is a lot to see, your patience will be tested and your brain will definitely be fatigued by book’s end. With that said, the framework for this novel is truly amazing. Each story is interlocked with the next sequential installment and each gets cut off roughly in the middle. The staircase leads you all the way into the far off future, then back down again, completing each of the stories all the way. A current of predatory human nature runs throughout the book along with the notion of reincarnation. Slavery, love triangles, corruption, attempted murder, the Mob, futuristic Korea, post apocalyptic Hawaii all have a hand in the construction of this story.

“I smelt lethe, a soporifix added to Soap. The usual dosage for a fabricant server is three drops, but Rhee had drunk a half liter bottle. If I had called a Medic immediately, maybe his life could have been saved. But how to xplain my intervention?”

Anyone passionate about literature would surely appreciate this massive undertaking by Mr. Mitchell. Trying to wrap your brain around each component of the story is a bit like trying to hold hold water in your cupped hands, but all in all it is worth the effort. While paying homage to Herman Melville and Mark Twain, Mitchell writes in a tone that is ingenious and heartfelt. While I cannot say that I loved this book, I can say that you will be glad you put on your shoes and took a jaunt through the mind of David Mitchell.  I would have loved to have had the Lego pieces connecting each story to be a little more prevalent, but that is just me. Plans are in the works for a big screen adaptation, directed by the Wachowski brothers.
Should be epic.