Synopsis: A group of friends from Harvard are facing down their forties. With interwoven and oftentimes complicated relationships with one another. “Friends from College” is a comedic exploration of old friendships, former romantic entanglements and balancing adult life with nostalgia for the past. (From IMDb)
Narrative Structure: Each season consists of eight thirty minute episodes for a total run time of four hours. All the episodes consist of an A plot and a B plot that come together in the C plot. Everyone you see on screen will interact with each other before the end of the episode. For working adults with kids, these people have a lot of free time.
Location: Season 1 occurs in New York City. Season 2 takes place in New York, Connecticut, and the Cayman Islands
Review: First of all, Hollywood seems to think that everyone in America attended Harvard. There are close to 4,000 other institutions of higher learning in the United States. I am still waiting for Hollywood to make a series with students from Stanford or Yale. Somehow I doubt anyone will write a series about college students from Walla-Walla University.
Second, none of the characters possess any redeeming value. Ethan and Sam have participated in a twenty yearlong affair; which makes one wonder why Ethan married Lisa instead of Sam. Lisa reacts to news of the affair by running around and having sex with other men. She goes through Nick, whose been nursing a twenty year long crush, and then poor Charlie. Ethan and Lisa struggle to conceive and go through a painful round of IVF. This strains their marriage and makes Lisa feel even worse about the affair. Finally, the hedge fund Lisa works at is a Human Resources nightmare. Lets just say most of the men in the office like to unzip their pants and rub themselves all over the phone console. It takes her way too long to reconsider her employment. Sam’s husband takes the public humiliation route. Really, neither of these couples have strong relationships, which begs the question, why stay together?
Thirdly, Max and Felix have the strongest relationship. However, Max suffers from low self-esteem and lets his friends walk all over him. Felix objects to Max acting like an insecure child and encourages him to stand up for what he deserves. Sadly, Max allows his friends to come between himself and Felix.
Fourthly, Marianne stars in an uncomfortable gender-switching version of A Streetcar Named Desired. Stanley never looked so feminine.
Fifthly, Nick has one solid relationship going with a strong, intelligent woman who challenges him to do better. Yet when Lisa comes calling, he drops everything, insults his girlfriend, and chases after the college flame. With friends like these, no one needs enemies.
Finally, Seth Rogen and Kate McKinnon both make extended cameo appearances. However, both roles could have easily been played by less famous actors. They added nothing to the series.
Verdict: Growing up, children idolize adults. After all, adults can go wherever they want, eat what they want, and go to bed after 9:00 PM. However, when one becomes an adult, we realize the ridiculousness of our previous idolization. This series showcases all the juvenile behavior some people carry over with them from childhood to adulthood. Despite having a cast of highly likable and talented actors, the screenwriters render everyone’s charm moot. Between stilted lines, bad life decisions, and general nastiness, none of the characters feel like they would actually be friends after college. On the plus side, each season is only four hours long. On the downside, that is four hours you will never get back.
While I am not a fan of Bird Box (I do not enjoy psycho-horror films), I do like Sandra Bullock’s acting. Here is my list of Sandra Bullock’s top 5 films:
Synopsis: Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.
Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Themes Explored: fantasy, young adult, YA Fiction, award-winning fiction, young adult fantasy, magic, fiction, Eastern European fantasy, mythology, dragons, myth, legend, growing up, horticultural gone wrong, kidnapping, politics, petulance, religion, spirituality, enchantments
Review: Have you ever looked at a tree and felt like it wanted to eat you? Turns out, they do.
How do trees get so tall and strong? Lots of human protein. Nothing grows a tree quite like the beating heart of an unwilling sacrifice. Or so goes the premise of Uprooted.
Agnieszka lives in the tiny village of Dvernik in the kingdom of Polnya. Dvernik borders a forest that looms over the populace. Every ten years the local wizard, “the Dragon”, collects one teenage girl as payment for protecting the valley from the forest, “the Wood”. Despite being born in a tribute year, Agnieszka knows she will not be chosen as the Dragon only takes the prettiest and brightest girls. Since Agnieszka is clumsy and homely, the Dragon should have no interest in her. Her friend Kasia, the local beauty, has been groomed to be taken by the Dragon from childhood.
However at the choosing ceremony the Dragon picks Agnieszka and abruptly transports her to the white tower where he lives.
Since all the chosen girls leave town at the conclusion of their ten years with the Dragon, Agnieszka does not know what to expect in this strange new world. However, nothing can quite prepare her for the maze of magic and intrigue that surrounds the Dragon’s life.
Uprooted adds a unique twist to the beauty and the beast and the dragon and the virgin fairy tale motifs. Instead of eating virgins and terrorizing small hamlets, the Dragon takes one woman every decade as payment for protection services and does nothing with her. While the Dragon fights the Wood, the chosen girls lives in luxury in the tower.
Every year the Wood comes closer to eating the village and a dark energy permeates everywhere. The Queen disappeared into the Wood about twenty years beforehand and the Crown Prince is determined to rescue her.
This leads to the main conflict of the book. Since only the Dragon can conquer the Wood, he is forced by the Prince to mount a rescue mission with a dubious success rate. All the while poor Agnieszka finds out that she possess some magical abilities and finds the Dragon to be a distracted teacher at best and a tyrant at worst.
The heart of the narrative is the relationship between the Dragon and Agnieszka. They begin as slightly antagonistic teacher and pupil. By the end they are grudging allies and friends. Actually, I was a little surprised that the relationship did not delve into a sexual manner almost immediately, since most of these types of books normally take that route. I think the narrative works better keeping the relationship platonic for a majority of the time since the two characters are not equals in anyway.
Novik excels at the world building. By the end of the book you will hate trees. A forest never felt so menacing. As Novik is Polish, a lot of the references come from Polish culture and Eastern European folklore. For instance, most of the characters have Polish names, the protagonist’s name refers to the story Agnieszka Skrawek Nieba (Agnieszka Piece of Sky) by Natalia Gałczynska. Baba Jaga is a common monster/boogeyman in Slavic mythology. The rival nation of Polnya, Rosya, is pronounced the same way as the Polish word for Russia, Rosja. I did not intentionally set out to read a slew of Eastern European fantasy fiction, I just stumbled into them.
Overall, Uprooted is an enjoyable, if slightly odd, fantasy novel with a fast moving narrative and a terrifying premise. Nature, on the whole, is a neutral source, neither good nor bad. Whatever/whomever happens to inhabit the space can mold nature into a source for evil or good. If you are looking for something quick and unique to read, I recommend this book.
Uprooted, 2015, Del Rey, ISBN: 9780804179034
Synopsis: Admired and beloved by movie audiences for over sixty years, four-time Academy Award-winner Katharine Hepburn is an American classic. Now Miss Hepburn breaks her long-kept silence about her private life in this absorbing and provocative memoir. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Themes Explored: biography, memoir, nonfiction, Hollywood, Golden Age of Hollywood, Howard Hughes, Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, acting, theater, New York, women’s rights, political activism, glamour, Connecticut.
Review: The Golden Age of Hollywood characterizes American cinema between the 1910s and the early 1960s. During this time period the studio system controlled the film industry with an iron fist. The studio heads propelled American cinema into the most powerful and pervasive style of film-making worldwide. Before film, the only visual type of narrative storytelling was the theater. Around the 1890s, early film-makers sought to capture the emotion of live theatre onto a crude format of cinema screen. Most of these early cinema pioneers started as directors on the late 19th century stage, and a majority of silent film stars started out in vaudeville or theatrical melodramas. If an actor wanted a shot at the silver screen, they needed to begin on stage.
With a career that spanned nearly sixty years, four-time Academy Award winner Katharine Hepburn was an American classic. During her heyday, she was an electrifying presence on the international cultural scene. Despite the media’s best intentions, her private life remained obscured by mystery. Until, basically on a whim, Miss Hepburn decided to write a memoir. It reads more like a loosely connected stream of consciousness than a straight up autobiography. Instead of a linear format, Hepburn chooses to arrange her life based upon themes and people. A lot of chapters time jump in between one another.
Unlike a large majority of women in the early 1900s, Hepburn attended, and graduated, from college. She attended Bryn Mawr College, just like her mother beforehand, and began acting in student productions. Her progressive parents encouraged her to pursue whatever made her happy.
The second of six children, Hepburn was born on May 12, 1907, in Hartford, Connecticut, to Thomas Norval Hepburn, a urologist, and Katharine Martha Houghton, a feminist campaigner. Both of her parents passionately fought for women’s rights and social change in the U.S. Thomas helped establish the New England Social Hygiene Association, one of the first organizations founded to educate the public about venereal disease. The elder Katharine ran the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association.
Unsurprisingly, all the Hepburn children were raised to speak their mind and encouraged to think and debate on any topic they wished. Her parents were criticized by the community for their progressive views, which encouraged Hepburn to fight extra harder against the professional barriers she encountered. Throughout the book Hepburn notes that she was the product of “two very remarkable parents”, and credited them with providing the foundation for her success. She remained close to her parents and siblings throughout her life. Even her ex-husband hanged out at the family home long after their divorce.
Most celebrity autobiographies are rather pretentious and actually quite boring. I am a huge fan of Katharine Hepburn’s movies, The Philadelphia Story and Bringing Up Baby are two of my favorite films. While wandering through the library looking for a different book, I stumbled upon Hepburn’s memoir and decided to see what she had to say. I finished it in a day. Her writing style is very conversational, she actually just spoke the book aloud into a recorder. The book reads more like a long form interview than a traditional memoir.
Over the course of the book, Hepburn reflects on the events, people, and places that shaped her life—her childhood and family, her early career in New York, and her political activism. Other chapters are devoted to the ups and downs of her career, her “friendship” with Spencer Tracy, and the actors, directors, and producers that helped her career along the way. If you are like me and enjoy reading about the culture of Hollywood in the 1930s-1960s, then Hepburn’s memoir is an interesting snapshot of the time.
Me: Stories of My Life, 1996, Ballantine Books, ISBN: 9780345410092
Synopsis: Geralt of Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin. And a cold-blooded killer. His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world. But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good… and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth. A collection of short stories introducing Geralt of Rivia. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Themes Explored: fantasy, assassin, sorcery, magic, monsters, fiction, European Fiction, Polish Fiction, fantasy fiction, short stories, anthologies, wizardry, femme fatale, sorceress, romance, paganism, mysticism, infertility, elves, high fantasy
Review: While published after The Sword of Destiny, The Last Wish comes first chronologically. Most of the short stories were published beforehand, this is just the first time they are released together as a set. The Last Wish clocks in at a tight 359 page collection of six loosely-connected stories. This collection contains six short stories interspersed with a continuing frame story called The Voice of Reason where Geralt of Rivia, after being injured in battle, rests in a temple. During this time he experiences flashbacks to recent events in his life, each of which forms a separate story. The included stories are:
Geralt is a Witcher, an altered human being with enhanced eyesight, quick healing/recovery, and is supposedly immune to most of the normal human emotions. However, some of his interactions with various characters belie this particular mutation. A Witcher’s job is to roam the countryside and off the beaten path towns, looking for and destroying monsters. Witchers rarely work for free and usually are recruited to come and banish monsters for a set price or reward. No monsters, no food. Given the general decline in monsters, Witchers are struggling to earn a decent living.
In this series, a majority of the monsters come from Slavic mythology. While some of the monsters exist in European mythology, most of the creatures described do not have European counterparts. These books could easily fall into the trap of coming off like a bad Dungeons and Dragons parody; however, Sapkowski displays a combination of sly wit and a unique subversive twist of common adventure tropes.
While Geralt makes his living as a trained killer and possess some impressive fighting skills, violence is surprisingly lacking from these stories. Instead, Sapkowski focuses on overcoming first impressions and that some of the scariest monsters might possess a comely appearance and be eloquent of speech. All six stories deal with Geralt confronting different creatures of varying degrees of monstrosity. After he is injured, he goes to recuperate in a temple to receive healing from a priestess friend.
As a fan of mythology, I greatly enjoyed the numerous references to Slavic mythology, though I had to look up some of the references. Having read a lot of fantasy, and I mean A LOT, this collection was a unique experience since the magical system and the monsters codes of behavior varies so greatly from what I normally read. Originally written in Polish, I suspect there several elements in the story that would be funny to a Polish or Eastern European-reading audience but which come across as more literal to readers used to Western European and Southern mythologies. Despite selling over two million copies in certain European countries, Sapkowski had to wait nearly twenty years for the first English-language publication.
Regardless of the mythology tradition you grew up on, Sapkowski borrows plots and devices from all the classic fairy tales and drops them into the story in unexpected places. This collection feels like a more modern version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, only it is told from the perspective of one protagonist. In addition to a rather ingenious Beauty and the Beast riff, Sapkowski introduces tales of girls locked in towers, magical mirrors, seven nasty dwarves, evil stepmothers, poisoned apples, unicorn virgins, and a young woman who loses her slipper while running away from a ball. Finding familiar motifs in such a dark and rather twisted world was delightfully jarring.
If you have never heard of the books that would probably be because the video game adaptations kind of overshadowed the series. Full disclosure, I have never played the video games or seen them played. I picked up the book because Henry Cavill is playing Geralt in the upcoming Netflix series. Keep in mind, neither the books nor the video games are intended for a young audience. I highly doubt the Netflix series is going to tame down the violence, sex, and general magical mischief, if anything, they will probably amplify everything. Anyways, the short story collection is a great introduction to a rather enigmatic character. I have not read anything quiet like The Last Wish in a long time. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series and, of course, seeing the Netflix show.
The Last Wish: Introducing the Witcher, 2008, Orbit, ISBN: 9780316029186
Synopsis: Here is an enthralling journey through Western art’s defining moments, from the ancient Egyptian tomb of Queen Nefertari to George Lucas’s volcano planet duel in Revenge of the Sith. Glittering Images takes us on a tour through more than two dozen seminal images, some famous and some obscure or unknown—paintings, sculptures, architectural styles, performance pieces, and digital art that have defined and transformed our visual world. Camille Paglia combines close analysis with background information that situates each artist and image within its historical context—from the stone idols of the Cyclades to an elegant French rococo interior to Jackson Pollock’s abstract Green Silver to Renée Cox’s daring performance piece Chillin’ with Liberty. In a stunning conclusion, she declares that the avant-garde tradition is dead and that digital pioneer George Lucas is the world’s greatest living artist. (Adapted from Goodreads)
Themes Explored: non-fiction, art history, art, art appreciation, criticism, cultural awareness, culture, avant-garde, history, essays, artistic expression, ancient Egypt, Star Wars, culture appreciation
Review: Art history never fascinated me in college. Probably because all my art class professors stopped caring about 5 decades beforehand and only lectures on the most boring/obscure art work imaginable. I had one professor announce at the beginning of the semester that he was retiring soon and just did not care about this class or our education. Needless to say, I learned so much about art. *insert eye roll*
Anyways, while I do not find art the most fascinating subject, I am looking to expand my cultural horizons. Sadly, most art books I have read over focus one some minutia of a random artist. I tend to prefer books about art heists over ones exploring the history of symbolism. I do not know about you guys, but some non-fiction books read too much like the kind of dry lectures that lulled everyone to sleep in college. Having only read some of Camille Paglia’s newspaper articles, I did not know what to expect from a full length book. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by Glittering Images.
Written with the non-art aficionado in mind, Glittering Images explores approximately 1,000 years of art history. Each of the twenty-nine explored pictures represents a major movement within the art and cultural world at a specific point in time. Paglia begins with ancient Egyptian funerary images of Queen Nefertari and ends with George Lucas’s artistic renderings in Revenge of the Sith. Each picture is followed by a brief paragraph on the historical context and then an exploration of the cultural impact. No segment is longer than six pages, which turned out to be the maximum length of time I can read about art. What I greatly appreciated was Paglia showing how each piece influenced others throughout the ages. Apparently Egyptian styling is still rather common in certain portrait styles.
The book is apolitical. While Paglia discusses how politics influenced certain types of art, she examines these influences through an objective lens. Art represents neither good nor bad, it merely reflects the artists feelings at the time of creation. I think people try to put too much significance into art and try to make it represent something “meaningful”. Sometimes art is just something beautiful to admire or a way for an artist to express a complex emotion that words cannot capture.
With only twenty-nine works to examine, Paglia keeps the book short and concise. This is more an introductory primer to major trends in the art world than an in-depth exploration. Overall, I enjoyed reading the different vignettes and feel slightly more knowledgeable about art history. If you are an art fan or merely looking to expand your cultural knowledge base, Glittering Images is a good place to start.
Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, 2012, Pantheon, ISBN: 9780375424601
I hope your first month of 2019 is progressing well. Apologizes for the lack of posting. Funnily enough, in order to write book and movie reviews, one needs to read said books and watch movies. New postings coming soon!
A quick rundown of all the films I saw this year but never got around to reviewing.
Romantic comedies are enjoyable, feel good narratives that make you happy when done well. When executed poorly, romantic comedies make you want to swig a beer and never talk with a member of the opposite gender ever again. For the sake of brevity, I only included films released in cinemas in the last two decades and ones I could remember without looking up. Otherwise, this list would be endless.
Themes explored: Hollywood, life, dreams, nonfiction, autobiography, memoir, culture, film, film history, pop culture, movie culture, independent film making, humor, cult classic, screenplays
Synopsis: From the actor who lived through the most improbable Hollywood success story, with an award-winning narrative nonfiction writer, comes the inspiring, fascinating and laugh-out-loud story of a mysteriously wealthy outsider who sundered every road block in the Hollywood system to achieve success on his own terms—the making of The Room, “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”.
Readers need not have seen The Room to appreciate its costar Greg Sestero’s account of how Tommy Wiseau defied every law of artistry, business, and interpersonal relationships to achieve the dream only he could love. (From Goodreads).
Review: Everyone dreams of stardom. No one aspires to middle management. What exactly is stardom? Your name in lights? Instagram fame? Multiple magazine covers? These days everyone lives online. Between Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, WordPress (like moi), WhatsApp, YouTube, and so on, everyone can broadcast every moment of their life. Before Social Media, finding fame took slightly more work. Usually this involved moving to New York or Los Angeles, the two entertainment epicenters in America. New York specializes in singing, theater, and comedy. Los Angeles is the home to Hollywood and television. Both cities house stars, wannabes, reality stars, and the people who came for stardom but now serve coffee full-time.
Some people never took a chance on their dreams, majored in something practical, and settled down into a predictable American middle class life. Than there are the people who have tons of tenacity, the willingness to chase a dream, and minimal talent.
Enter Greg and Tommy, two dudes who wanted more out of life. Greg wanted to act. Tommy wanted fame. They met at an acting class and a cult classic emerged. Born into a comfortable middle class family, Greg fell in love with acting and the art of film making. When he was twelve, Greg sent John Hughes, the writer of Home Alone, a screenplay. While Hughes did not buy the screenplay, he encouraged Greg to keep trying and never giving upon his dream of working in the movies.
Greg’s parents did not want their nineteen-year-old son working in entertainment. They wanted him to pick something practical and stable. Greg had other ideas. He enrolled in acting classes and met Tommy, a guy with a shady history and lots of money. Tommy came from an undisclosed country yet swears to be a red-blooded American. He struggles to act, dies his hair black, and refuses to discuss anything personal. After moving to Los Angeles, Tommy and Greg decide to make a movie. Tommy wrote the screenplay and funded the film, to a tune of $6 Million dollars, making this one of the most expensive independent movies ever made.
The Room became a cult hit due to the terrible acting, slapdash directing, the mystery surrounding Tommy, and the inconsistent narrative. I learned about The Room in college. One of the multiple guys who fostered an unrequited crush on my roommate took me to a late night showing. My roommate was unavailable. Anyway, The Room was the weirdest film I have ever watched. Though throwing spoons at the screen was a novelty.
The Disaster Artist, now a feature film starring James and Dave Franco, relates Greg’s experiences with breaking into Hollywood and the circumstances that brought The Room into existence. Tommy certainly seems to suffer from a psychological disorder to some kind. He is extremely obsessive, jealous, and unable to read social cues of any kind. My brother stopped reading this book half way through since he kept getting mad reading about how Tommy treated Greg.
This book is not for everyone Greg holds nothing back. Indeed, it is actually amazing that Tommy was both weird yet oddly normal. He wanted what everyone else wants: recognition, family, success, some form of satisfaction with life, and belonging. The story is both fascinating and a little depressing. Here are two guys trying to make their deepest held dreams come true yet their own lack of talent and connections holds them back.
If you are a fan of The Room, a movie that is almost indescribable, or just a Hollywood nerd, The Disaster Artist is a quick look at the other side of the red carpet. Not everyone who comes to Hollywood leaves with accolades and money. Some leave with creepy billboards, a cult classic and pop culture infamy.
The Disaster Artist, Simon & Schuster, 2013, ISBN: 9781451661194
Musings on Books and movies
Musings on Books and movies