Archive | September, 2010

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

29 Sep

“Swirl” must be Kim Edward’s favourite word. She uses it to describe the movement of water, snowflakes, voices and even darkness. She really needs a new word. This overuse of “swirl” irritated me, like most of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.

The story starts in 1964 with Dr David Henry and his young, pregnant wife, Norah. Norah’s water breask in the middle of a snow storm (amid so many “swirling” snowflakes) and David is forced to deliver his own child with the help of one nurse – Caroline Gill. Except there isn’t only one child, Norah gives birth to twins – a boy and a girl. David recognises at once that the baby girl is Down syndrome and he hands her over to the nurse to take to an institution. The novel hinges on this moment and its consequences.

Of course, Caroline, who is also in love with David, can’t face leaving the child in an institution and runs away with her as her own child. In the meantime, David has told Norah that their daughter died at birth and tries to make her focus on their son. Heartache, tension and drama result as the novel follows the consequences of David’s decision.

The story isn’t weak as such, and there are some interesting themes. The story deals with the difficulties of Down syndrome in the 60s, 70s and 80s, particularly getting an education for a disabled child. As the novel progresses there are more issues dealt with about the future and possibilities available for a person with Down syndrome. Unfortunately in telling a decent story, Edwards swaps between narrating from David, Norah and Caroline’s perspective. All of them are melodramatic and pretty self-indulgent characters. It is only at the end, when she writes from the far simpler perspective of the son, Paul, that the writing feels at all natural.

The style of the novel also detracts hugely from enjoyment of the story. Edwards’ writing is over the top, overwritten if you will. She seems to have learnt that a good sentence must be long, contain lots of adjectives, and a few phrases following one after the other to repeat the rest of the sentence. This only works for flaky romantics. Anyone who actually appreciates real literature will probably find this sickening. In fact, the only reason I kept reading beyond page 27 is because I had to see if the book improved (and because I secretly relished the idea of writing a bad review!). I mention page 27 because this is where I found the following paragraph:

“He had brown hair with a reddish tinge and his face was lean, his expression attentive, assessing. He was not distinguished, yet there was something in his stance, his manner – some quiet alertness, some quality of listening – that set him apart. Caroline’s heart quickened and she felt a tingling on her skin, both pleasurable and irritating, like the unexpected brush of a moth’s wing [another favourite comparison, used too often.] His eye’s caught hers – and she knew. Before he crossed the room to shake her hand, before he opened his mouth to speak his name, David Henry, in a neutral accent that placed his as an outsider. Before all this, Caroline was sure of a single fact: the person she’d been waiting for had come. “

This paragraph made me gag, ever so slightly. It is typical of Edward’s style and sentimentality which continues throughout the novel. If The Memory Keeper’s Daughter was like dipping my toe in the Chick-lit ocean, I can assure you I’m not going to dive in, especially if the first page contains “swirling”.

Glee season 1

25 Sep

“Jubilant delight” and “joy” are what Glee causes inside me. Singing, dancing and triumphant geeks are three of my favourite things. Glee combines them all with slick choreography, biting wit and some cheesy story lines which make me smile, cringe and at times feel like weeping. Yes, Glee is series gold.

Matthew Morrison heads up the cast of the high school musical comedy series. He is Willaim Schuester, the Spanish teacher who takes over Glee Club (also known as Show Choir) and tries to bring the talent out of the misfit members so that they can be proud of themselves. Jane Lynch, co-stars as Sue Sylvester, coach of the cheerleading squad, the Cheerios. She is committed to the destruction of Glee Club so that her Cheerios can keep their full quota of talent and the budget.

The misfits cast is made up of the incredbily talented Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Kevin McHale, Amber Riley and others. They are the heart and soul of the series. Lea Michelle’s character, Rachel, is the obnoxious ingenue (her word, not mine) and undeniable singing star of the series. When she sings “On My Own” from Les Mis, I get goosebumps!

But of course, to build up Glee Club, Mr Schuester has to try recruit popular kids to join their ranks and so enter Cory Monteith (as the quarterback, Finn), Dianna Argon (his cheerleader girlfriend, Quinn) and Mark Salling. THis is where the politics and twisted plot lines really begin.

Glee has plenty of typical high school drama – bullying, learning to accept others, being proud of who you are, coming out the closet, even teenage pregnancy. But this isn’t just about high school: Mr Schuester’s life is falling apart thanks to his crazy (and I mean LOCO) wife, bizarre jock colleague and school guidance counsellor crush. And if this wasn’t all enough, he is under pressure for the Glee Club to perform at the regional competition so that the programme isn’t cut.

So that’s the storyline, but what’s the catch? How can something that sounds so ordinary attract so much attention? Simply by the fact that it’s not ordinary. The humour is not your average American sitcom humour – some of it is more abrasive, some of it is quirkier and some of it is just plain ridiculous. The humour of King of the Hill and Arrested Development  become mainstream (if somewhat watered down) and I love it in this high school context. Jane Lynch’s character is perfect at mocking the “winner” attitude of so many Americans. Plus her uniform of matching tracksuits is ridiculous!

But of course it’s the singing of Glee that sets it apart. From show tunes, to feel-good classics, to contemporary chart-toppers, Glee has some music for everyone. Who says the sparkle of musicals is only for the silverscreen or stage? The cast of Glee are superb, most of them having been sourced from Broadway, and most viewers won’t be able to resist tapping their feet.

When you are feeling down, there is nothing as uplifting as music, or a good story about underdogs becoming victorious. Rent or buy Glee and smile, because you will have definitely made the right choice. Season 2 has only just started showing on US screens, so unfortunatley we’ll have to wait some time to get it. Until then I’ll be getting my dose of “jubilant delight” by watching season 1 again and again (especially episode 4!)

Beatrice and Virgil

25 Sep

There is a range of familiar emotions I expect to feel from at the end of any book: angry at the characters or the ending; desperate for the story to continue and the characters not to disappear; sad for the outcome of the plot and what it meant for humanity; satisfied that I had read the book; appalled about a weak ending. But Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil made me feel none of these things. When I put the book down I was strangely empty.

Henry is a writer who has been disappointed by the publisher’s response to his latest attempt. He stops writing, but finds many other interests. Luckily, his first novel still sells well enough to provide for him and his wife. He still receives letters from readers and it is one such letter from an old taxidermist living in his city that creates the story.

The taxidermist needs help with his Beckett-style play revolving around Beatrice and Virgil. They are constantly hungry and discussing what to do next, without ever doing anything. To the dramatists among you, this may sound familiar. My favourite conversation between them involves Virgil describing a pear to Beatrice, over the course of seven pages! (It really is quite inspiring, especially to a fruit farmer’s daughter.)

But what starts out as a light-hearted glimpse of two men’s lives intersecting quickly becomes a dark look at the Holocaust and human suffering. Martel’s prose ends abruptly and the transition doesn’t allow the reader time to absorb what is actually taking place.

Martel studied Philosophy before taking to writing and this does lie at the heart of his novels. Life of Pi has won acclaim from all sides, but Beatrice and Virgil falls far short of that beautiful book. Rather read Life of Pi and bask in his stunning style with a plot that can capture you and quietly lead you to your own decisions, rather than Beatrice and Virgil which throws how you are meant to feel at the end in your face. This kind of force is what left me empty.

Kick-Ass

24 Sep

I love a good superhero movie. Superheroes are fascinating. Whether you like the idea of radio-active spider bites or prefer the dark mystery of Bruce Wayne, there is a superhero out there for everyone. Kick-Ass takes this concept one step further – if everyone loves superheroes why haven’t people tried to BE superheroes?

Dave (Aaron Johnson) is a fairly innocuous school boy. He loves comics, struggles with girls and has shaggy hair – a typical film geek. He is inspired by comics books however, and decides to become his own superhero and help people around him. A few missteps down the line and suddenly Kick-Ass (his chosen pseudonym) is an Internet superstar.

Unfortunately there are more competent superheroes (of the Batman ilk) around town and they are causing trouble for Crime Boss, Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong), so he is seeking them out, hoping to destroy them. I’m sure you can see how this will cause trouble for Kick-Ass, no?

What follows is a feast of violence, wire-dependent filming and some really funny scenes. Of course by funny I mean dark and satirical humour, but that’s the best kind really.

Aaron Johnson is the perfect anxious teen, but it is his unknown nemesis, Chris D’Amico, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who really captures high school angst. He’s come a long way from bit parts in Superbad and Year One. Mintz-Plasse is just one more sign that in Hollywood, nerds are becoming really cool.

And what about the real superheroes I mentioned? Nicholas Cage is the disillusioned father bent on

Chloe Moretz as Mindy Macready

revenge, who drags his sweet daughter, Mindy, into the fray. Mindy is played by Chloe Moretz, and if I were her mother I would have washed her mouth out with soap at the end of each day’s shoot! But this girl can act. She carries the weight that Halle Berry lacked when she played Cat Woman, and she’s only 12! Nicholas Cage is matched by his small co-star and she is one to look out for in the future.

 

Mark Strong does what he does best in Kick-Ass: mean. His acting range is not fantastic (he’s been the scary, quiet type  in everything I’ve seen him in – Rock’n’Rolla, Sherlock Holmes, Body of Lies…). While it would be wonderful to see him extend himself, he certainly didn’t need to in order to pull of Frank D’Amico convincingly.

Be prepared for a film that moves from ordinary narration of teen angst to high-gear, Kill Bill-style violent escapade of good vs evil. Awesome. The fact that the most violent character is a 12-year-old girl worried me for a bit, but once she has on her superhero outfit, I could forget her real identity!

Away We Go

18 Sep

Away We Go is an off-beat offering from Sam Mendes which had me in stitches and quietly contemplating the directions we take in life.

Burt and Verona are expecting a baby, (the way they discover this is a strange opening scene!). They lead average lives in an average town and haven’t really got all the details figured out yet. But they know that their love will get through anything. In anticipation of a baby, one would expect parental support, but no, Burt’s eccentric parents decide to up and leave to Amsterdam a month before the baby is due.

Verona realises that they too don’t need to stay in their average little town and so begins their quest for where to settle down. Their travels take them to Phoenix, Montreal, Miami and, hopefully, home.

John Krasinki & Maya Rudolph

John Krasinksi (The Office US) is fabulous. He has the dorky charm of an old teddy bear and the way he portrays husbandly love is sigh-worthy (take tips, gentlemen!) He is bold when he needs to be, but his performance never loses its softness. Opposite him, Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live, Idiocracy) is perfect. She has the nerves of a new mother down, but her natural humour makes her accessible even to people who have no idea about babies (i.e. me). She also carries a sense of sadness in her performance, creating a balance which is stunning.

Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal have hilarious bit parts as various friends the couple visit on their travels. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a mother who doesn’t believe in the three Ss – separation, sugar and strollers. This you need to see!

It’s not surprising that this insightful comedy on relationships and parenting is written by husband-and-wife-and-parents team, Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida. It must take personal experience to write so naturally and also to mock all the kinds of parents there are out there!

Sam Mendes has veered away from his typical serious films with Away We Go, and it might open him up to a whole new audience. Heaven knows this light, quirky film is a far cry from American Beauty and Jarhead, but it has its commentary too, though far more subtle.

Rent Away We Go for a comfortable night on the couch, some good laughs and hopefully you’ll be with someone to give a big kiss to afterwards! (boys, this does not make it a chick flick!)

Having said all this, one of my favourite parts about Away We Go is the soundtrack. I will find it and buy it! It’s mostly made up of Alexi Murdoch, who I didn’t know before this, but the sprinklings of George Harrison, The Stranglers and Bob Dylan makes for a really great music experience.

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Away We Go is an off-beat offering from Sam Mendes which had me in stitches and quietly contemplating the directions we take in life.

Burt and Verona are expecting a baby. They lead average lives in an average town and haven’t really got all the details figured out yet. But they know that their love will get through anything. In anticipation of a baby, one would expect parental support, but no, Burt’s parents decide to up and leave to Amsterdam a month before the baby is due.

Verona realises that they too don’t need to stay in their average little town and so begins their quest for where to settle down. Their travels take them to Phoenix, Montreal, Miami and, hopefully, home.

John Krasinksi (The Office US) is fabulous. He has the dorky charm of an old teddy bear and the way he portrays husbandly love is sigh-worthy (take tips, gentlemen!) He is bold when he needs to be, but his performance never loses its softness. Opposite him, Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live, Idiocracy) is perfect. She has the nerves of a new mother down, but her natural humour makes her accessible even to people who have no idea about babies (i.e. me). She also carries a sense of sadness in her performance, creating a balance which is stunning.

Allison Janney and Maggie Gyllenhaal have hilarious bit parts as various friends the couple visit on their travels. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a mother who doesn’t believe in the three Ss – separation, sugar and strollers. This you need to see!

Sam Mendes has veered away from his typical serious films with Away We Go, and it might open him up to a whole new audience. Heaven knows this light, quirky film is a far cry from American Beauty and Jarhead, but it has its commentary too, though far more subtle.

Rent Away We Go for a comfortable night on the couch, so good laughs and hopefully you’ll be with someone to give a big kiss to afterwards! (boys, this does not make it a chick flick!)

Having said all this, one of my favourite parts about Away We Go is the soundtrack. I will find it and buy it! It’s mostly made up of Alexi Murdoch, who I didn’t know before this, but the sprinklings of George Harrison, The Stranglers and Bob Dylan makes for a really great music experience.

The upside of the flu

17 Sep

So, having the flu and marking Matric Prelim exams is not conducive to writing great reviews… Except when you are stuck in bed and are forced to watch DVDs! So to make up for all the time I’ve lost the next few posts will be dedicated to the awesome DVDs I had the chance to watch. No brand new releases I’m afraid, but some perfect choices for the next time you have to take a sick day (or week in my case!)  Stay tuned…

Please Give

7 Sep

Buying furniture from dead people’s estates sounds wrong. Buying furniture from dead people’s estates for as little as possible and selling it on at a profit seems somewhat despicable. Yet this is how many people, including Kate (Catherine Keener), make their living. Can she still consider herself a good person?

Quirky comedies are my favourite genre of film (if quirky counts as a genre?). And Please Give fulfils the criteria of quirky very well. As in the vein of Garden State, The Squid and the Whale and 500 Days of SummerPlease Give tells a small, personalised story which deals with universal issues, in this case, what does it mean to be a good person?   

Kate and her husband, Alex (Oliver Platt), own a furniture store which they stock with furniture bought from dead people’s estates. Kate struggles with the morals of her job. She is a deeply compassionate person, but only sees the negative around her. Thus she spends her time being upset those less fortunate and handing $20 bills to beggars in an effort to “save the world”. Her daughter, a teenager struggling to deal with her self-esteem and skin problems, does not see the use of her mother’s compassion.

Next door lives Andra, a cranky 91-year-old who is looked after by her granddaughter Rebecca (Rebecca Hall) and ignored as far as possible by her other granddaughter Mary (Amanda Peet). These two families’ lives meet as Kate and Alex have bought Andra’s flat (at least this purchase was before death!).

Catherine Keener gives a wonderful performance as a woman struggling with her image of herself and her choices in life. Rebecca Hall is the iconic self-sacrificing granddaughter, but she

Rebecca Hall

develops throughout the film. Her softness is so welcoming and adds to the empathy the audience feels for her long-suffering character.

The best performance must surely come from Sarah Steele. She plays Abby, Kate and Alex’s self-conscious daughter. She also played Adam Sandler’s chubby daughter in Spanglish. Her frail self-image and despair at her teenage skin is so real and I felt instant sympathy for this poor girl.

Please Give does not come to a great climactic ending. Not even all the issues are resolved – but isn’t that life? Do not go see Please Give if you are an adrenaline junkie or wanting to be a voyeur of the gritty realities of life. Please Give is calm, at times very funny and poignant film about people trying to be better.