Archive for the ‘criticism’ Category

The Sadly Beautiful World of Willy Vlautin

April 23, 2008

I picked up Willy Vlautin’s 2006 debut novel, The Motel Life, on a whim in a cool little bookstore in, I think, Northhampton, Mass., for no other reason than I liked the cover. It made me feel something, a mixture of curiousity and sadness. I read it in hotels in strange cold beds, and in stolen moments in cars, which is probably how a book of its kind should be read.

It follows the tragic arc of two hard-luck brothers from Reno, Nevada as they run both from a tragic accident and themselves. There’s not a simile, metaphor, or compound sentence to be found anywhere. The language reflects the desolation of the desert landscapes and the lives of the characters. There’s no artifice whatsoever for the truth to hide behind.

If you like Bukowski, Denis Johnson, Jim Thompson, the films of the Coen Brothers, or the songs of Tom Waits, you will find poetry in the work of Willy Vlautin.

Vlautin is also the songwriter and vocalist for the respected Portland, OR country band Richmond Fontaine.

Here’s a reading, with beautiful video, from his new novel, Northline, which I should say I have not read. Yet. The latter is a video from Richmond Fontaine.

Charlie Wilson’s Book of Secrets

January 6, 2008

For someone who loves movies, I don’t see very many, particularly at the theater. The fact that I’ve seen two movies in two weeks is pretty much shocking. I almost see a lot of movies, but my girl and I always talk ourselves out of it somehow. Either the showtimes are too early or too late, or we just can’t bear the crowds at the suburban multiplex. We tell ourselves, “We’ll just wait until it hits Netflix.” By the time it does, we’re often not as excited over it and don’t bother. As of late, this cycle has, unfortunately, become the rule instead of the exception.

But on the day after Christmas, the stars came into alignment, or misalignment, depending on your point of view, and we found ourselves with some friends at the suburban multiplex to see National Treasure: Book of Secrets. It seemed like the thing to do. You’ve simply got to see at least one holiday schlockbuster; it’s the patriotic duty of all Americans, isn’t it?

There is undeniably a certain innocent charm to the first film in the series. The historical scavenger hunt is a light piece of cheesy fun, but the second film doesn’t quite achieve the same vibe. It apes it’s predecessor in every possible way, with a few tacked on cliches involving the rekindling of romances, the most sickening of which is between Cage’s Ben Gate’s estranged parents. It’s fine to drag John Voight through the shit, he’s already done it to himself, (His journey from Midnight Cowboy to Coming Home to Anaconda is quite the cautionary Hollywood tale.), but let’s leave Helen Mirren out of this, if you don’t mind. I never thought I’d feel embarrassed for her at the movies.

A few of the historical things are interesting and fun, but I’m just not capable of the level of suspension of disbelief required to embrace this film. My more computer-saavy friends laughed hysterically every time the comic relief/tech guy hacked into some security system in seconds with practically no equipment. The movie is good for unintentional laughs. The once genuinely interesting Nick Cage’s hair was the primary topic of conversation as we walked to our respective cars. How much of it is his? What a weird dye job! And who doesn’t hate an adventure movie where the villain is not really a villain. Come on, Ed Harris! Did I mention that it takes fucking forever for the action to actually get started?

On the flip side, the same friends and I took a chance on Charlie Wilson’s War a few days later and were richly rewarded. The film tells the true story of a Texas congressman’s contributions to helping the Afghan Mujahideen turn back the Soviet invasion of their country in the 1980’s, and the impact of this on today’s polictical landscape. I know. It doesn’t sound like fun, but it sure as hell is.

Despite the star power on display both behind, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin and legendary director Mike Nichols, and in-front of the camera, I had somewhat low expectations. I’m not sure why, perhaps a National Treasure hangover. I’m not really big on Julia Roberts, either, never have been.

Tom Hanks is in the dubious position of being so good at what he does that he’s taken for granted. It’s not like Jack Nicholson being Jack and chewing up the scenery. He is the real thing. It’s a blast to see him playing a character who is morally flawed instead of the usual Jimmy Stewart roles he’s given. He plays the title charcter with great charm, style, and surprising sexuality.

As expected, Phillip Seymour Hoffman is savagely funny as the dumpy CIA operative Gust Avrakotos, and Julia Roberts is refreshingly tongue-in-cheek as socialite Joanne Herring. Her aura of Hollywood glamour is put to good use here. It’s probably the most I’ve ever enjoyed her in a film.

Does the movie gloss over some finer political points in it’s effort to entertain? I’m sure. If you’re looking for a documentary, go rent one. If you want a well-written, well-acted, well-paced film brought to you by some of the most talented people in the movie business, go see Charlie Wilson’s War. When one of my friends excitedly commented on the sheer massiveness of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s moustache, he meant it as a compliment.

The Tin Man Leaves Metallic Aftertaste

December 5, 2007

I will not lie to you. I watched not all, but at least 85%, of the SciFi Channel miniseries The Tin Man. I have the all-too-familiar post-masturbation feeling of empty satisfaction. I feel like I ate too much and desperately need to shit.

I’ve no problem whatsoever with tampering with the sacred cow that is The Wizard of Oz. I truly believe everything is fair game. And it is actually a pretty imaginative retelling, though somewhat misguided. If you want to see it, you won’t have any problem, considering that it is on more than the Law and Order franchise.

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Actually, I kind of need some people to watch it so someone can tell me what the fuck is going on with Richard Dreyfuss.