Monday, November 03, 2014

Book Report: Anna Karenina


It was utter misery to get through this thing, yet I appreciate its role as a driver of feminist thought and the way it challenged social structures of the time.

It's interesting from a historical perspective, and as a sort of time machine, but has no narrative thrust or momentum. Its characters are rich but have to little to do. This story could have been told in 200 pages, and that still might have been too long.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Review: Gone Girl


Of all David Fincher's accomplishments as a director, he may pull off his most impressive feat of all in Gone Girl -- getting Tyler Perry nominated for an Oscar.

Yes, the man who has played Madea more times than Robert De Niro has played mafiosos looks not only like a legit performer in Gone Girl, but one of the elite. Perry plays a cackling scumbag lawyer who takes it upon himself to get a smug sociopath Nick (Ben Affleck) off of charges of falsely impersonating Batman.

That's no easy task, because the internet has already tried and convicted him. That difficulty level is why the movie takes two and a half hours rather than your standard two. In addition to the Bat-crime, Nick has also been fingered for murdering Gone Girl herself -- his wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike).

Nick does himself no favors in the court of public opinion. There's blood all over his house, and he's
hiding dark secrets like he once starred in Gigli. He's also unable to keep dopey smiles off his face whenever the media pokes around.

Fincher plays off the did-he-or-didn't-he suspense for more than half the running time, Nick scrambles to prove his innocence to detectives, shouting cable news magazine hosts and the shouting mobs that surround his home. An underrated actor who had previously only gotten to show what he do when under the direction of Kevin Smith or Affleck himself, Affleck handles the one-man-show assignment with such vicious determination that it's feasible to imagine him being OK taking a super-serious and demanding role such as the Caped Crusader.

Pike is equally searing in flashbacks and cutaways, smoldering with Affleck in their shared scenes. Also winning the day, as always, is Neil Patrick Harris, playing against type in the first serious role I can remember seeing him in. All the acting in this movie is so incredibly good that even as bladder-bustingly long as the movie is, you're left wanting more.

That's Fincher's style. This is the man who delivered Fight Club, The Social Network, Zodiac and Seven. The man is so good at using his cinematic skills to manipulate emotions and minds that he could make a Mentos commercial that would make you cry and give you nightmares. In fact, maybe Gone Girl is really just that -- a Mentos commercial disguised as a crazy-long, crazy-awesome whodunnit. If so, I'm sold.

Gone Girl has me willing to give Perry an Oscar, Affleck Batmobile keys and my mouth some Mentos. As filmmakers go, Fincher is one hell of a freshmaker.

Starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coone and Kim Dickens. Written by Gillian Flynn. Directed by David Fincher. 148 minutes. Rated R. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Me and Psychic Medium James Van Praagh

video


I went on The Morning Blend today for a reading from psychic medium James Van Praagh. Here is how it turned out.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Book Report: Of Mice and Men

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It's just a little pamphlet/napkin scribble compared to East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, but Steinbeck always brings it. Without condescension, he warps you into the mind of people who are mentally limited, devastatingly alone, desperate and self-deceiving.

It's raw and painful, with economical storytelling that cuts away extraneous scene-building and gets right to the meat. It feels a lot like reading a screenplay.



View">https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/688376-phil-villarreal">View all my reviews

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Book Report: The Good Earth


Spare, detached and efficient, this is a powerful and painful story of the meaninglessness of fleeting fancies that life hurls in front of you. You feel Wang Lung's greed, avarice, lust and sloth as he rationalizes them all into neat little boxes that justify one poor, self-destructive decision after another.

This book stings, and does an excellent job of setting you within its place, time and culture without judgment or awkwardness. It deeply attaches you to its characters and applies the hurt when it rips them away. The way the ending floasts off from first-person perspective to a knowing hint of third-person is executed incredibly well. The book is so good at what it does that I don't know if I want to continue on with the trilogy, for fear that the series won't hold up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Report: For Whom The Bell Tolls


This is all description and almost no story and suspense. The writing is urgent, penetrating and beautiful, but it goes around in circles, chasing its tail as you hope it starts to approach some sort of greater truth. Maybe that moment comes for some people, but it didn't for me. I saw it as all buildup with no payoff, and it seemed to me that Hemingway wanted the reader to feel just that, given the way he finishes.

I didn't love the book but never resented it and am thoroughly glad I absorbed it. It's a rich exploration of crushed idealism and everpresent despair. The love story stings badly, and that's a credit to the authenticity with which he built it. This is a dense but rich affair that would probably get better on a second go-round. Having the patience for that is another matter.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Book Report: Mere Christianity



C.S. Lewis is an excellent natural storyteller. This book is even more accessible than his children's literature because it's so conversational. That's because it was adapted from radio talks he gave World War II troops to bolster their faith as they struggled through combat. You'd expect an evangelical homily to be condescending or preachy, but his self-deprecation goes miles toward keeping pompousness out of it.

When he veers out of his depth he admits as much, but still has compelling things to say. He vigorously avoids cliches and non-thinking crutches that so often go hand in hand with proselytizing. He writes with both common sense and passionate intellectualism. That helps some of Lewis's bigotry and nonsense easier to swallow than they would be if it all came from someone less skilled.