Monthly Archives: January 2016

Book Review: Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

Have I ever mentioned that I love the judicial use of footnotes?  Well, I do.  And David Foster Wallace is the grand master of footnote use.  He uses them both as asides and as deeper knowledge into a subject.  And as asides to deeper knowledge into a subject.  And as deeper knowledge into asides.  Only occasionally does it seem overwrought. A literary gift indeed.

This is my first foray into the mind of David Foster Wallace and I like what I see.  “Consider the Lobster” is a collection of magazine essays Wallace wrote throughout his career.  He has a style that is so unique I am fairly certain that I could pick up an untitled piece of his and immediately recognize his fingerprints.  And it’s not just the footnotes.  His use of self-reference and his use of anagrams also have their own Wallace-y feel that I’ve not experienced elsewhere.

The essays in “Consider the Lobster” can be broken up into three groups: book reviews, acts of journalism, and personal stories.  The two personal stories are a speech he gave and a retelling of his experiences on the day of September 11, 2001.  The speech, I should remark, is titled “Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness from Which Probably Not Enough Has Been Removed”.  It should give you a pretty good hint into Wallace’s sense of humor.  It details his vain attempts to get his students to agree with him on Kafka’s deadpan humor.  Then, in a brilliant act of story sequencing, he follows it with “Authority and American Usage” which is an absolutely deadpan hilarious 62-page review of a book on the correct usage of American English.  I cannot recommend it enough.  It’s this essay that made me fall in love with David Foster Wallace’s style.  It almost makes me want to read “Garner’s Modern American Usage” on which the review is based.  Almost.  The journalism pieces that are worth pointing out are “Big Red Son” which is an in depth look at the Adult Video News Awards, pornography’s answer to the Oscars, and “Up, Simba”, a recounting of his time following John McCain during the 2000 primary election season.  So, two pieces about pornography.  “Up, Simba” reminded me of why, once upon a time, I somewhat admired and respected John McCain before he went all Palin.

Finally, there is “Consider the Lobster” itself which is a piece Wallace did for Gourmet magazine covering the 2003 Maine Lobster Fest, which of course is a thing.  I love that here we have a piece in a foodie magazine about one of the foodiest foods there is and Wallace basically makes it into a screed on why you should not eat lobster.  And he’s persuasive.  Scratch another food off of my list.

If you have never read David Foster Wallace, you should.  You owe it to yourself to do so and “Consider the Lobster” is a great introduction*.  It is full of humor and wit and supremely accurate use of the English language.  “Infinite Jest” has been on my list of “I should read this” books for a long time, but “CTL” cemented its place unto my “I WILL read this” list.

*He said having never read anything else by the author.

Movie Review: The Revenant

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Majestic landscapes interspersed between bouts of brutal violence and hardship.

Apparently, it’s bloody, brutal life and sweeping frontier backdrop season.  First, “The Hateful Eight” and now “The Revenant”.  Not that the two movies are at all similar beyond that.  It’s just odd that two movies with both an unusual location and time period would be released so close together.

“The Revenant” takes place somewhere around the time when the United States was pushing west and soldiers were gently and lovingly maiming and killing as many Native Americans as possible while at the same time raping the land of as many pelts as they could get their hands on.  AKA the American Dream.  One such group of Dreamers was packing up their haul of pelts when an unruly pack of savages descended upon them and tried to take their Dream away just because some Dreamer had kidnapped one of the savage’s daughters.  Why can’t the savages just quietly protest in a corner somewhere where no one can hear them?  The nerve of some people.

Most of the action in “The Revenant” follows Hugh Glass’ (Leonardo DiCaprio) epic trek for revenge after he is left for dead after being brutally mauled by a bear and John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) kills Glass’ son right in front of him when his son attempts to stop Fitzgerald from abandoning Glass.  The bear scene is a little hard to watch.  I have no idea how they filmed it, but it looked pretty darn real.  Glass literally digs himself out of his own grave and proceeds to crawl, scrape, and hobble his way back to civilization and the unfortunate John Fitzgerald.

The movie is sweepingly beautiful and gorgeously shot.  It is full of majestic shots of mountains and rivers and forests and snow and ice.  At 156 minutes run time, I would guess 30 or so are dedicated to such shots.  This is both a compliment and a complaint.  It really is beautiful, but that combined with another 30 minutes of DiCaprio grunting and groaning his way across said landscapes leads me to wish that a bit more creative editing was done to lower the run time some.

There are also two fantastic acting jobs by both DiCaprio and Hardy.  Both have received multiple nominations for their roles, but I believe Hardy is much more worthy.  Watch his eyes.  You can see him processing his surroundings and searching for justification for his actions.  It’s quite beautiful.

2016 is starting off well so far.  Two movies back to back that I would definitely recommend to most people.  As with “The Hateful Eight”, my one warning would be that this movie is pretty brutally violent.  And more realistically so than “The Hateful Eight”.  It could be tough to watch for some viewers.

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line:  A minimalist movie with a maximal punch.  Full of colorful characters and great storytelling.  In other words, your standard Quentin Tarantino fare.

Ah, good storytelling.  You don’t run into it very often these days.  Luckily, Quentin Tarantino is still making movies.  Say what you want about his excessive violence and grotesque use of blood (more on that later), the man knows how to tell a story.

After the success of the magnificent “Django Unchained” which was an expansive journey film, Tarantino has followed it up with what can only be called a minimalist journey film.  I mean, sure, 95% of the movie is set in a run down general store in the middle of the wintry Wyoming plains, but the whole story revolves around how the occupants got there and where they’re going.  As you can probably tell from the title, the occupants are hateful and there’s eight of them.  They’re pretty much exactly what you’d expect to find traveling the post-Civil War Wyoming wasteland; bounty hunters, prisoner, sheriff, hangman, cowpoke, confederate general, and stagecoach driver.  At least I think it was post-Civil War.  I’m pretty sure that Wyoming is still filled with the same characters and stagecoach continues to be the preferred method of transportation.  At least such is my understanding.

Quentin Tarantino has a list of about 20 people that he is allowed to cast in his movies and most of them are in this one.  Samuel Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, James Park, all in this movie and all in at least one other Tarantino film.  I’m pretty sure Tarantino keeps half of them in cold storage and only thaws them out for his movies.  That leaves just one of the eight unaccounted for: Jennifer Jason Leigh as the outlaw Daisy Domergue.  Because there can only be one woman in any Tarantino film.

It’s later.  I don’t get why Tarantino insists on ending his films with violent bloodbaths.  Don’t get me wrong, his stories always evolve in a way where a violent ending is assured, but the bloody splashes and head burstings just don’t do much for his films.  Don’t get me wrong, I like movies featuring fountains of blood and dismemberments with a rusty hacksaw as much as the next guy, but in Tarantino’s films, they always seem more of a stain on the movie than anything else.

I would put “The Hateful Eight” right around the level of “Pulp Fiction”.  So second or third best of Tarantino’s movies.  “Django Unchained” is clearly the best.  If you disagree, you continue to be not very fun at parties.

Book Review: 2015 Revue

Another year, another revue.  Books.  I don’t read enough of them.  16 this year.  Partially, this is because of the size of the books I read (Close to 3,000 pages just for Ken Follett’s trilogy).  Partly, this is because I was uncharacteristically busy and preoccupied.  I never thought I’d long for the 2 hour a day commute, but boy did I get a lot of reading done then.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau – 3/5 stars

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett – 3/5 stars

Winter of the World by Ken Follett – 3/5 stars

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett – 3/5 stars

A Mercy by Toni Morrison – 4/5 stars

Unnatural Creatures by Neil Gaiman – 4/5 stars

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift – 5/5 stars

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – 4/5 stars

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins – 2/5 stars

Mockingjay by Susanne Collins – 1/5 stars

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman – 4/5 stars

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee – 4/5 stars

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates – 5/5 stars

The Martian by Andy Weir – 4/5 stars

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson – 3/5 stars

Constitution by Nick Webb – 2/5 stars

Movie Review: 2015 Revue

Year 3 of movie reviews.  Still haven’t indexed all my reviews.  This was the year of “oh yeah, I did see that movie”.  47 movies in all.  2015 started out poorly but finished strong.  The European Union International Film Festival was a bust with the exception of “Farewell, Herr Schwartz” and “Open Up To Me”.  I think I have more 1 and 2 star reviews this year than in previous years, but I’m too lazy to count.

Into the Woods – 3/5 stars

Taken 3 – 3/5 stars

American Sniper – 3/5 stars

Mordecai – 2/5 stars

The Interview – 3/5 stars

Kingsman: The Secret Service – 5/5 stars

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 – 2/5 stars

Focus – 3/5 stars

Still Alice – 4/5 stars

Amour Fou – 2/5 stars

Run All Night – 3/5 stars

Farewell, Herr Schwartz – 4/5 stars

The Lazarus Effect – 1/5 stars

The Gunman – 1/5 stars

Open Up To Me – 4/5 stars

The Chambermaid – 2/5 stars

Furious 7 – 3/5 stars

Woman in Gold – 4/5 stars

True Story – 4/5 stars

Avengers: Age of Ultron – 3/5 stars

Ex Machina – 4/5 stars

Max Max: Fury Road – 4/5 stars

Tomorrowland – 3/5 stars

San Andreas – 3/5 stars

Jurassic World – 3/5 stars

Terminator Genisys – 2/5 stars

Inside Out – 4/5 stars

Ant-Man – 3/5 stars

Trainwreck – 4/5 stars

Fantastic Four – 1/5 stars

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation – 4/5 stars

Straight Outta Compton – 4/5 stars

Mr. Holmes – 4/5 stars

No Escape – 3/5 stars

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. – 3/5 stars

Everest – 4/5 stars

The Martian – 5/5 stars

The Last Witch Hunter – 3/5 stars

Bridge of Spies – 4/5 stars

Spectre – 3/5 stars

Crimson Peak – 2/5 stars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – 3/5 stars

Krampus – 2/5 stars

The Night Before – 3/5 stars

The Big Short – 4/5 stars

Mockingjay Part 2 – 3/5 stars

Secret In Their Eyes – 3/5 stars

Movie Review: Secret In Their Eyes

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: An effective, if not great, thriller.  Some motivations are unclear.  One of the creepiest workplace romance subplots ever.

I can’t do this review justice as I’m writing this three months after actually seeing the movie so this is going to be short and sweet.  C’est la vie.

“Secret in Their Eyes” is about a tight knit group of investigators/attorneys who fall apart after one of their own, Jess (Julia Roberts) loses a child in a brutal murder.  It is an enjoyable movie and mostly effective.  There are a few somewhat off subplots, one of which is germane to the plot and the other of which is creepy.  The creepy one involves the obsessed investigator, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) (best name ever), and the district attorney, Claire (Nicole Kidman). I would best describe it as an accepted workplace harassment as Ray creeps on Claire.  It is exceedingly weird, all the more so since they eventually pseudo get together.  There’s also some motivation issues with the movie that are hard to suspend reality for.  For one, why does Jess go along with Ray’s plan?  The wrap up also leaves a lot to be desired.

The movie does have a great cast and they do a fine job of making their lives mostly believable.  Also, someone should really get a best makeup award for this movie because they did one hell of a job on aging the characters, especially Julia Roberts.  All this puts “Secret in Their Eyes” solidly in the “worth watching but you’re not missing much if you don’t see it” camp.

Movie Review: Mockingjay Part Two

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A bit empty story-wise.  Good effects but mostly video-gamey.  Pointless as a stand-alone movie but worth it to see the conclusion of the series.

Still catching up on my 2015 movie reviews…

Having finally read the “Hunger Games” books in between Part One and Part Two of “Mockingjay”, I had a fairly good idea of what to expect for this movie and my expectations were low.  “Mockingjay” the book wasn’t terribly good.  That said, this is a series where I can say that the movies were all better than the books.  THAT said, “Mockingjay Part 2” is a mostly pointless movie except for the fact that it ties up the series.  That isn’t to say that the movie is bad.  It’s just more of a money grabbing scheme filled with fluff before tying the story together at its conclusion.

All that said, I did still enjoy the movie.  It is certainly the weakest of the series, but it continues the streak of doing much more with the source material than you’d think possible.  It concludes Katniss’ quest for revenge against President Snow under the backdrop of a civil war against the Capitol.  There are a lot of weird plot points that you kind of have to stretch your mind to make fit, but they’re not so far-fetched to ruin the enjoyment of the movie.  Worse is the “oh, all of us knew you were lying all along” moment.  You’ll know it when you see it if you haven’t already read the books.

A lot of the fluff in the movie comes from the quest to reach Snow’s compound.  It runs like a poorly crafted Dungeons and Dragons session:

DM: You walk into a courtyard surrounded by tall buildings on all sides.  The only visible exits are where you just came from and a series of door which appear to be entrances to the buildings.  In the middle is a decorative archway.  What would you like to do?

Player 1: I’d like to walk through the archway!

Player 2: No, wait!  Let me check for traps. *rolls d20* 18!

DM: You find a machine gun trap.

Player 2: Everyone hide while I trigger it.

DM: The guns spring out of the wall and fire off a salvo of ammo that would have obliterated anyone inside the arch.

Player 2: I just saved all your asses!

DM:  Peeta, roll a sanity check.

A good portion of the movie is crafted like that.  It’s not what I’d call criminally bad, its more of a  “suspend disbelief to be mildly entertained” thing.  It’s the one portion of the movie that I had trouble not rolling my eyes.  But this is how Collins kludges in the pattern of the Games themselves with the Gamemasters thinking up inventive ways to kill even though it’s all completely superfluous in a war setting.

You’ll see this movie because you’ve seen the others.  If you haven’t seen the others, there’s no need to watch this movie at all.  This all should have been one movie, but when there’s money to be made, people will make money.

Movie Review: The Big Short

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Makes collateralized debt obligations fun!  Makes you angry at banks!  Makes you angry at politicians!  But in a sort of feel good way.  It’s weird.

Ah, the good old days of the housing boom!  No money down.  Low teaser interest rates.  You could get the house you always wanted.  Heck, you could get many houses you always wanted.  “Don’t worry, you can afford it”, said every expert to every poor schmuck caught up in the scam.  If it ended there, those schmucks would have been out of a house and some banks and mortgage companies might have suffered.  But the deceptions went on.  All those bad mortgages got bundled together with good mortgages into an instrument called a mortgage backed security.  The ratings agencies gave these instruments their highest rating.  Low risk low reward.  Then those pretty safe instruments got diced up and collected into an instrument called a collateralized debt obligation (CDO), which would have been fine if anyone actually bothered to look what was in them and rate them appropriately.  The ratings agencies gave these instrument their highest ratings.  Then THOSE CDOs were again chopped up and mixed with other CDOs again and again and again and again until one mortgage was in many many different investment instruments and no one had even an iota of a clue as to what was in a specific instrument.  The ratings agencies gave all of these instruments their highest rating.  Then someone decided to look at what was in those instruments.  They found it was a house of cards ready to fall apart.  They were right.  At some point some banks recognized that the house of cards was about to come down and they artificially propped up the house of cards by deception and collusion until their asses were covered.  Then they let the house of cards fall.  Nobody goes to jail.

If you fell asleep reading the previous paragraph, “The Big Short” is just the movie for you!  It takes the above snooze fest and turns it into an entertaining, engaging, and enlightening movie.  How does it do it?  Charm.  Well, that and some of the best actors in Hollywood.  Ryan Gosling, Christian Bale, Steve Carell, and Brad Pitt all sparkle.  And, boy, if there were ever a setup for a Sesame Street “which of these things doesn’t belong” song, it’s the previous sentence, but of the four it’s actually Steve Carell that steals the show.

What’s weird is we basically have a movie about a bunch of people who decided to bet that the entire U.S. economy was going to go into the toilet and we end up rooting for them.  Or if not rooting for, at least empathizing with them.  What they saw was obvious and everyone just laughed at them and took their money thinking it was a fool’s bet.  Writer/Director Adam McKay deserves mad props for making that so.

If you’re old enough to watch this movie, you’re old enough to have lived through the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression and this is the story of how it started.  You owe it to yourself to get edumacated and learn a little bit about who you should really be mad at.