Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Strange Weather Isn't It?, !!!

There is only so much I can say about this album. So, this will be a short review. I first discovered !!! (usually pronounced chk-chk-chk) when Myth Takes was released in 2007. The album was fantastic. An amazing dance pop album. Not too dancy, not too poppy. Just a wonderful blend of moves. And, quite silly. The lyrics were fun. There was a sense of complete freedom in their sound. A who-gives-a-fuck attitude.

I saw them on tour twice during the Myth Takes tour. The first concert was a shock to my system. A small room filled with young kids (16 – 18) dancing around with complete abandon. It wasn’t quite the concert I had expected. And, most importantly, it wasn’t the crowd I expected. I am a huge fan of dancing… in fact, nothing makes me happier than dancing. But, that night, the crowd turned me off. It made me wonder if I was missing something about !!!.

On their newest album Strange Weather, Isn’t It? I find myself questioning the entire sound all over again. The band has mellowed. They still want to dance… but, they want it to be a little less sweatier. They want it to be slower. They have matured. And, I’m not sure how this leaves the band. The silliness, the freedom, the fun… kind of doesn’t work for a maturing band.

There are a handful of songs I love on this album. ‘The Most Certain Sure’ and ‘The Hammer’ are classic !!!. And, honestly, it is a good album. But it lacks the energy of Myth Takes. And, when you just want something light and fun… who needs maturity?


Monday, August 30, 2010

Tinkers, Paul Harding

I’m going to be honest. I didn’t “read” the entire novel. After the first sixty pages I started to skim through until the end. How does one find themselves unable to complete a slim 175 page novel? A Pulitzer Prize winning novel to top it all off. It is rare that I skim through a novel. If I don’t enjoy it, I just give up. But, I felt there was a reason to complete. To travel through until the end. And, after keeping myself on track… I’m not really sure why I needed to find the end.

The story is lovely. A dying man. His recollections on life- youth, family, career. At times, there is something surreal at work. The memories of a dying man. A hallucinogenic experience. A lot of the time the novel feels stream of conscious gone overboard. The thoughts connect, but why are they connecting? Are the final days of one all that significant to others?

The novel feels classic for how contemporary it actually is. The story teller comes from a time when life was simple. Technology was an idea, not a reality. Life feels clean. Less clutter. Less chaos. Was it easier to exist with less knowledge so easily gained? These aren’t really the issues, though. Technology just isn’t there. We’re experiencing an America so long forgotten.

The author, Harding, is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop. The school has a long list of famous graduates and equally famous teachers. There was a time I fantasized about attending the university. But, on some level, the authors feel similar. The writing is structured in a way that really removes the originality of many novels. This isn’t the school of experiment. It is the school of the silent, prose heavy literature of our past.

The authors professor, Marilynne Robinson, has been considered an inspiration for Tinkers. And, anyone who has read Robinson, Gilead or Home, would have to agree. The distance of the narrator to our world. The spiritualist. The moralist. These are great aspects of a novel. But, I wasn’t connecting. I wasn’t interested. It all felt beautiful and cold- just like the book cover.

Harding’s prose is fantastic. And, the purpose is painful. But, the experience… a little less than original.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Closer (a play), Patrick Marber

This will be the first play I review for the site. And, I'm not sure how to deal with the review. Do I review the production? Or, the play? The playwright? The actors? Where does one start? As I've never seen a production of Closer before, I feel it is rude to critique too much on the production (which, going in I knew would be less than stellar). I went to the production for the story. I have adored Closer since the film release. Have been wanting to see the play for years. I was just excited to experience the performance as it was meant to exist.

The stripper screams about love being merely a word. It can't be touched, or heard, or seen. What is love beyond a word? In this context, Marber has placed love and religion on the same level - faith. And, what do we do with this faith in love? We just become destroyed? Jealous? Lonely? Is this a self made desire? A lost goal?

And, how can one write about questioning the concept of a word? Is the playwright not using only words to express these ideas and opinions? How does an audience react to the questioning of a word as emotion when the play is emotion as word? Are we meant to distance at this moment? To disconnect and try to study the body language? The behavior as a sociological experiment on our own definitions of words with really no deeper purpose other than sound?

The set needs to be sparse. Cold. The characters are cold. Raw. Brutally honest. At times, overly violent. Is this how people react? Is this how people talk? Of course not. But, isn't that what we admire about drama? The ability for it to say all the things we may have thought, but never had the courage to say. Is a drama no more than a matured fantasy? And this is why I prefer play over film. The play is the interaction. As an audience member we can recognize the fantasy in a way we can forget about in film. In a play, we're reminded this isn't life... but, some lesson. An experience in truth telling. In revelation. How do we respond when we watch the world more as lesson and less as experience?

The film, Closer, is brilliant. The play is brilliant. This particular production, not brilliant. Not even fresh or exciting. But, this is the pleasure of drama... it goes beyond the figures on the stage. It cuts to the word. The purist form of literature. Our own interpretations of words in place of emotions.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Hung: Season One

Is anyone even reading this blog anymore? Did anyone ever read it to begin with? August has been a rough month... the end to a series of rough months. The end of a rough and horrid summer. But, as it comes to an end, I promise to try and pull together my reviews and opinions. I plan to start back on a regular basis next week. Although, school starts next week, too. Who knows...

I have read little of the reviews for Hung. I feel it must not have done too well because there was a bit of delay in the release of the DVD and the filming of season two. It isn't so much that the show is bad, but the show lacks originality. The story: a single father with a run of bad luck goes into illegal business. Think Weeds, the story: a single mother with a run of bad luck goes into illegal business. There is hardly a difference between the central themes of the two shows. Do we need two morality plays along the same vein?

The characterization of the background characters in Hung come pretty close to Weeds, too. The character of Lenore (Hung) is so dead on Perkins' character in Weeds. A smart mouthed, wealthy, insecure hustler. And, the children... too smart for their ages and dealing with an unimaginable amount of trauma and stress. Even Anne Heche as the shallow ex-wife seems to border on the Weeds character Andy, at times. How do people get away with outlining so obviously?

There are two savings graces to the series. The first, Jane Adams. I have been obsessed with Adams since I first saw her in Happiness. Her neurotic, stressed, unappreciated characters have always been pure perfection. Adams pulls you into her dilemmas and unhappiness the moment you see her bugged out eyes, scattered voice, and greasy hair. Adams is an original.

The second saving grace: prostitution. I love a prostitution story. In fact, if I were ever to pursue a masters in English (which I never will), I would love to work a thesis on whores in literature. I believe sex is used as a way to break down boundaries of the body. A way to move beyond static existence. A way to expose our vulnerabilities. And, sex can be a lot of fucking fun. Hung uses all of these aspects of sex to explore the characters.

Of course, this is a TV series. There are a lot of cliches. A lot of shallow conversations. Of half assed attempts at depth. But, there is a heart. There is a message. And, there is a bit of naughty fun. Since Weeds has completely jumped the shark, and I can't stand to sit through a single episode, I feel Hung will make a great replacement.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Remember the first time you saw that one amazing movie? All the emotion you've ever wanted is just all over the screen. The actors are spot on. The story is real, raw, sparse. This is my experience with Faces. I wasn't quite sure what I was headed for when I started the film. But, by the films end I was a wreck. And thrilled.

The film viewer is playing the role of the voyeur. This is in all films. But, this time around, we're basically watching a home movie of a marriage's final stage. The film is shot in black and white with 16mm film. The look is grainy, dark, blurred. The filming seems unsophisticated. But, all of this works wonders for the film. You are drawn in because this doesn't seem like acting.

Cassevetes does use a script for the film. But, he believes film is the actors expression and not the writers. Cassevetes allows the actor to take over the role. He does not allow the actors to discuss their parts with one another. He wants the whole scene to be fresh and new. As if it is happening for the first time. Since it is happening for the first time (or, how ever many takes took place)we are privy to a personal moment. These characters are lived by the actors. There is nothing removed or too staged.

The film is a series of drunken interactions. There are dialogues about gender, age, marriage, sex. And they're all discussed like real people. These aren't overly educated philosophers. These are the average person. Drunk, lost, and grasping for meaning. For connection. For understanding.

Cassevetes is the philosopher of this film. Scene after scene we are presented with the mundane in the most exiting way. A housewife looking for one last great seduction, a beautiful prostitute seeking out love, a husband just needing a little escape, and a woman breaking into a million pieces on the bathroom floor.

The final 20 minutes of this film are overwhelming. They appear out of nowhere. A twist unexpected, only slightly hinted about throughout the film. An intensity. An aggressive reality to the way we can be pushed too far. And how we attempt to save ourselves despite ourselves.

An absolute masterpiece.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender

Almost ten years ago, Maya Goldberg released Bee Season. The novel was celebrated and reviewed quite well. I spent a lot more time reading it than the thin binding should have required. I could not become involved in the main character. Goldberg wrote from the point of view of an adolescent girl. There was something in the voice, something other worldly and older, that didn't quite mesh with realism. The same can be said about Bender's Rose in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake. These characters are too wise, too aware, too comfortable with their awkwardness. I can't relate to these unrecognizable characters.

In the case of Bender's novel, narrator is not the only complaint. In fact, I don't know where to begin. From time to time, Bender writes a beautiful sentence. There were passages I paused to congratulate her on the amazing structure of her prose. But, then I thought to myself... 'Do I do this with other authors? Or, is this so bad I have to find something positive?' And, sadly, the fact that I got so excited whenever Bender rose above mediocrity says way too much about how little is taking place.

Bender is a short story writer. This is not to say some short story writers can not succeed as novelists. But, this is to say Bender can not succeed as a novelist. Bender has taken a very interesting concept (a girl able to taste the emotion of the cook in the food) and stretched it until every piece is left haggard, exhausted, and rotting. I have never experienced a novel where the author so clearly ran out of idea and purpose before the novel was half over.

I pushed myself through the entire novel because I was a little curious about Rose's brother. A young man able to just disappear. What was Bender getting at? Where was this character headed? Then, Rose encounters him turning into a chair. At first, I thought this was a hallucinatory passage. I was confused by this sudden turn of... um, uh... magical realism? Pure fantasy? Over the top circus tricks? But, by the novels end, we are told the brother is able to transform into objects. And, when he goes missing one final time, forever, in the end... he has completed his transformation from this world. He will remain a chair. What the fuck?

I tried to make sense of these characters. Of their powers. Of their control and lack of control. Of the mother, father, grandmother... all three lost souls barely taking up enough space or pages to make them all that interesting.

I hardly ever give away endings in my reviews. But, I want so badly for no one to waste their time on this novel that I had to share more than usual.


Monday, August 16, 2010

True Blood: Season One

Think Northern Exposure for the South. With a twist of Twin Peaks darkness and mystery. Then add cliched dialogue and over the top performances a la Days of Our Lives. In all honesty, True Blood is everything good and bad about television. This series is truly a guilty pleasure if I have ever seen one.

Creator Alan Ball is still finding ways to cope with death among the living. Ball first explored this territory with the amazing Six Feet Under. I would be lying to say I wasn't hoping for something similar. A soap with depth. But, True Blood never really goes beneath the surface (no pun intended). There are attempts, conversations that come close. But, in the end, the show focuses on sex and death as innocence and sin. It's an interesting concept not fully flushed out.

All the actors are beautiful. With the exception of Anna Paquin. She maintains a pretty plain jane appearance throughout the first season. And, I kind of like this about her. Where the rest of the cast walks around in sized too small t-shirts, their abs and breasts hanging about... Paquin keeps her character a little more down to earth. I'd be interested to see if they glam her up throughout the series as she flirts with death and falls further into the sexuality of the vampire world.

The opening credits are a true delight. Images of Southern churches, swamps, and back woods dance halls fill the screen while a quirky dirty county rock song plays through the credits. Ball must really love his opening credits (see the Six Feet Under credits).

I don't find any of the characters really likable. And, that is what makes the show such a guilty pleasure. The bad acting and the silly story lines keep me coming back for more? If it weren't for the mystery running throughout the first season, I'm not sure I would have made it all the way through. Shape shifters, vampires, and other worldly creatures aren't quite my bag. But, somehow, True Blood grabbed my attention through all 12 episodes.


Monday, August 2, 2010

A Happy Marriage, Rafael Yglesias

There are books about love. About relationships. And, then there are books about what it means to love. How it feels. Good. And bad. Yglesias beautifully written memoir-fiction is a perfect example of what it means to love and how difficult a process love is for those taking part.

In simple, honest sentences, Yglesias has created a contemporary Romeo and Juliet, of sorts. The entire novel switches back and forth between the meeting, courtship, and marriage of Enrique and Margaret. The other chapters focus on the final weeks of Margaret's life. I may go so far as to suggest there is a hint of Marqurite Duras at play within the story. The sense of finality and wreckless abandon. Of course, Yglesias' style does not compare to Duras, but the overwhelming sense of desire and honesty are the points of comparison.

When I first started the novel, I asked myself why I would read a novel when I am already fully aware of the novels end (the wife's death). Why would I invest my time, energy, emotion into two characters who will not end up together? Have I become so bitter? But, I realized this is the significance of the novel. How everything we connect to will end in death or by some other means. If I were not to read this book, I would be creating some type of wall between myself and the emotional world. This is what makes this novel so powerful. The overpowering emotional toll.

The truth of the couples love is painful. At times, too raw. From awkward sexual encounters to revealing intimate moments of one another. Margaret, at one point, tells Enrique he can not look at her nude because they do not know each other. This is after some time has passed in their relationship. And, how true and painful this statement. Who do we ever fully know? Even in nudity, sex, and love... what is the body? What is the soul? What are those pieces that makes us complete? And, do we ever share them fully?

The scenes of Margaret's final days remind me of scenes from the film The Barbarian Invasions. The couple, Enrique and Margaret, are intellectuals of literature and art. Much like the couple in The Barbarian Invasions, they represent a certain class of persons. An educated, thoughtful group living a very examined life. And, in Margaret's final days... she is visited by many friends. Enrique is left to give up some of his final hours for others to visit his wife. How selfless. And, painful.

A complex novel of love, death, and art. Painful, raw, and heartbreaking.