Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscars Lowdown 2017

It's Oscars day people! This year, only a handful of the Best Picture nominees were based on true stories throughout history. This has made my job much easier and considerably boring. Let's get to it.

A look at the fictional contenders:
Arrival: This is an alien movie I can get behind. Based on the 1998 short story "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, this film was smart. International cooperation! Linguistics! Physics! Maths! I suppose this is as believable as it gets to an alien invasion. 4/5 stars

Fences: You need to be alert-as-fuck during this movie. The dialogue comes at you fast. Based on the 1983 play of the same name, Fences was my favorite of all the Best Picture nominees. 5/5 stars

Hell or High Water: The story was interesting enough, but overall this came off as a missed opportunity for a good film. 2/5 stars

La la Land: I mean, I liked it. It was pretty to look at. The nostalgic escapism was an Academy member's wet dream. This was a musical with mediocre voices, mediocre-er dancing, blasé choreography, and the glaring issue of a white jazz savior. Without getting too far into it, here's an excellent article from Paste that does. 3/5 stars

Manchester by the Sea: This started off as a darker version of Garden State, but came through in the end. Affleck's performance was fine but I truly do not understand all the accolades he's receiving. The Washington Post published an interesting article on Hollywood's "Boston Problem" and how Manchester by the Sea, although taking place in the vicinity of Boston, isn't defined by it, as most Boston films are. (read: The Town, The Departed, Patriot's Day, Good Will Hunting, Mystic River, and I'm going to go out on a limb and even say Ted). 3/5 stars

Moonlight: Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's 2003 semi-autobiographical play 'In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue', Moonlight went against every preconceived notion I had of the film going into it. I'd like to watch it again for that reason alone. The last segment just seemed off. 3/5 stars

A look at the historical contenders:
Image sources: The National Archives and The Hollywood Reporter
Hacksaw Ridge: This film tells the story of Desmond Doss, a combat medic in World War II who made headlines after his refusal to carry a weapon. Doss went on to receive the Medal of Honor after carrying 75 of his wounded infantry men to safety during the Battle of Okinawa. This movie was fucking garbage. 1/5 stars

Image sources: People and IMDB

Hidden Figures: Adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly's book, Hidden Figures is based on the female African-American mathematicians at NASA who helped calculate rocket trajectories in the 1960s. Sometimes you see a preview of a movie and know that the entire film is going to offer little else besides those two minutes. This film was that. 3/5 stars

Image sources: ABC and Stark Insider

Lion: When Saroo was five years old, he mistakenly boarded a train and was carried hundreds of miles away from his hometown. It was India in the 1980s, and means of communicating were limited. Unable to locate his family, Saroo was put into an orphanage and eventually adopted by a couple in Australia. Decades later, Saroo uses new resources to locate the family he left behind. I really liked this one. 4/5 stars

And my picks:
I watched every single Best Picture, Best Actress/Actor, Best Supporting Actress/Actor movie so I'm basically an expert.

Best Picture: Fences
Best Actor: Denzel Washington in "Fences"
Best Actress: Natalie Portman in "Jackie"
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis in "Fences"
Best Supporting Actor: Mahershala Ali in "Moonlight"

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Book Review: Human Acts: A Novel by Han Kang

Title: Human Acts: A Novel
Author: Han Kang
Pages: 224 pages
Release Date: January 17, 2017
Publisher: Hogarth
Genre: Historical fiction
My Rating: 4/5

Summary
From the internationally bestselling author of The Vegetarian, a “rare and astonishing” (The Observer) portrait of political unrest and the universal struggle for justice.

In the midst of a violent student uprising in South Korea, a young boy named Dong-ho is shockingly killed.

The story of this tragic episode unfolds in a sequence of interconnected chapters as the victims and the bereaved encounter suppression, denial, and the echoing agony of the massacre. From Dong-ho’s best friend who meets his own fateful end; to an editor struggling against censorship; to a prisoner and a factory worker, each suffering from traumatic memories; and to Dong-ho's own grief-stricken mother; and through their collective heartbreak and acts of hope is the tale of a brutalized people in search of a voice.

An award-winning, controversial bestseller, Human Acts is a timeless, pointillist portrait of an historic event with reverberations still being felt today, by turns tracing the harsh reality of oppression and the resounding, extraordinary poetry of humanity.

Review
In May of 1980, Chonnam University students took to the streets to protest strong military rule in their school and city of Gwangju. Exercising martial law, South Korea's leader Chon Doo-hwan sent his troops to immediately shut down the demonstration by any means necessary. Students were gunned down. Appalled local citizens took up arms by raiding local armories and police stations to continue the democratic Gwangju Uprising. Nine days and 600 casualties later, they surrendered to Doo-hwan's troops.

Although the rationale behind the Gwangju Uprising is timely today, the political unrest is secondary to what Han Kang's Human Acts is about. Broken into interconnected chapters, Kang explores what compels people to protest ("Conscience, the most terrifying thing in the world"), survive imprisonment, torture, sexual assault, and to heal.

Don't get me wrong, Human Acts is not about perseverance. Quite the contrary. Kang's characters assert that 'moving on' is often not possible. Putting up emotional barriers is sometimes the only way to survive. This is absolutely worth a read for Kang's writing and imagination, but hot damn, this book was brutal in every sense of the word. 


I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.

Additional links

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Book Review: A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold

Title: A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
Author: Sue Klebold
Pages: 336 pages
Release Date: February 15th 2016
Publisher: Crown
Genre: Nonfiction; Crime
My Rating: 4/5

Summary
On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Over the course of minutes, they would kill twelve students and a teacher and wound twenty-four others before taking their own lives.

For the last sixteen years, Sue Klebold, Dylan’s mother, has lived with the indescribable grief and shame of that day. How could her child, the promising young man she had loved and raised, be responsible for such horror? And how, as his mother, had she not known something was wrong? Were there subtle signs she had missed? What, if anything, could she have done differently?

These are questions that Klebold has grappled with every day since the Columbine tragedy. In A Mother’s Reckoning, she chronicles with unflinching honesty her journey as a mother trying to come to terms with the incomprehensible. In the hope that the insights and understanding she has gained may help other families recognize when a child is in distress, she tells her story in full, drawing upon her personal journals, the videos and writings that Dylan left behind, and on countless interviews with mental health experts.

Filled with hard-won wisdom and compassion, A Mother’s Reckoning is a powerful and haunting book that sheds light on one of the most pressing issues of our time.

All author profits from the book will be donated to research and to charitable organizations focusing on mental health issues.

Review
After finishing Dave Cullen's 2009 Columbine, I soon after stumbled upon Sue Klebold's book about her son's involvement with the Columbine massacre. Released only last year, A Mother's Reckoning was monumental, as the Klebold's have remained rather silent in the seventeen years since the shootings for both legal and sensitivity reasons. 

I loved this. Sue's extensive work with suicide prevention is apparent. She has dedicated her life since Columbine to better understand Dylan's actions. More specifically, to better understand why - in what would become his final act - he committed suicide.

More than once, Sue explains that she solely blames Dylan for his choices but does point her finger elsewhere (namely video games, movies, the school's culture, bullying, and Eric Harris). She goes so far as to include the line, "Eric was a failed Hitler; Dylan was a failed Holden Caulfield." I don't know how I feel about that.

I was surprised to piece together how conservative Sue is despite her claims of being pretty liberal. For example, Sue explains that Littleton, Colorado "wasn't the drug-riddled inner city, or some supposedly godless corridor like New York or Los Angeles." whoa there Donald Trump.

In some instances, Sue was the mother who believed her child could do no wrong. In recounting parts of Dylan's life 17 years later, in some ways I believe she still is. A little of this read as Sue telling her audience what they wanted to hear. Although I was conflicted by a lot of what Sue wrote, I fucking love her. Her thorough attempt to piece together her past in order to move forward is commendable. What a life she has lived.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Book Review: Columbine by Dave Cullen

Title: Columbine
Author: Dave Cullen
Pages: 496 pages
Release Date: March 3, 2010
Publisher: Twelve
Genre: History; Crime
My Rating: 5/5

Summary
"The tragedies keep coming. As we reel from the latest horror . . . " So begins a new epilogue, illustrating how Columbine became the template for nearly two decades of "spectacle murders." It is a false script, seized upon by a generation of new killers. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, the imperative to understand the crime that sparked this plague grows more urgent every year.

What really happened April 20, 1999? The horror left an indelible stamp on the American psyche, but most of what we "know" is wrong. It wasn't about jocks, Goths, or the Trench Coat Mafia. Dave Cullen was one of the first reporters on scene, and spent ten years on this book-widely recognized as the definitive account. With a keen investigative eye and psychological acumen, he draws on mountains of evidence, insight from the world's leading forensic psychologists, and the killers' own words and drawings-several reproduced in a new appendix. Cullen paints raw portraits of two polar opposite killers. They contrast starkly with the flashes of resilience and redemption among the survivors.

Review
I've been wanting to read this one for awhile. It kept popping up in my radar throughout the years. Understandably, the motive behind this tragedy is super interesting. The "dyad phenomenon." Cullen did a fantastic job, I'm not so sure we could ask for anything more.

Book Review: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

Title: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
Author: Erik Larson
Pages: 447 pages
Release Date: February 10, 2004
Publisher: Vintage
Genre: History; Crime
My Rating: 1/5

Summary
Author Erik Larson imbues the incredible events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World's Fair with such drama that readers may find themselves checking the book's categorization to be sure that The Devil in the White City is not, in fact, a highly imaginative novel. Larson tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the fair's construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.

Burnham's challenge was immense. In a short period of time, he was forced to overcome the death of his partner and numerous other obstacles to construct the famous "White City" around which the fair was built. His efforts to complete the project, and the fair's incredible success, are skillfully related along with entertaining appearances by such notables as Buffalo Bill Cody, Susan B. Anthony, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison.

The activities of the sinister Dr. Holmes, who is believed to be responsible for scores of murders around the time of the fair, are equally remarkable. He devised and erected the World's Fair Hotel, complete with crematorium and gas chamber, near the fairgrounds and used the event as well as his own charismatic personality to lure victims.

Review
Architect proverbial dick swinging juxtaposed with a lady killer. I so did not care. This book was the sloggiest of slogs.

I think direct quotes should still be used when writing narrative-style history to avoid confusion. For example, Erik Larson writes at one point (about women), "The city toughened them quickly, however. Best to catch them at the start of their ascent toward freedom, in transit from small places, when they were anonymous, lost, their presence recorded nowhere." Was this an actual quote taken from the killer's personal diary or is this Larson's own douchey, creepy assessment?