Saturday, March 25, 2006

Playing By Heart/Bel Canto

I watched a movie with a constellation of stars yesterday called "Playing By Heart." It was about a family with three daughters, all of whom were having various dramas with their love lives. Oddly enough, they don't tell you that all these people are related until the end of the film. It's just a series of vignettes, with the couples arguing or fighting or meeting or dating or having an affair. Angelina Jolie, whom the camera adores, falls for a delicious and too-young-for-her Ryan Fillipe, and cynical, witty John Stewart pays court to the equally luminous Gillian Anderson. Madeline Stowe, who is married to Dennis Quaid and is having an affair with Anthony Edwards (proving once again that to women, looks aren't always a big factor in whom they want to bed) is the only one who looks tired, haggard and older than she should. Gena Rowlands and Sean Connery, who will remain sexy and vital until the day he takes his final dirt nap, are the matriarch and patriarch of the family, and Sean reveals his love of another woman to Gena, 25 years after the fact. Seans character has an inoperable brain tumor, so he feels the need to lance the wound, drain it and clear the air. The only unbelievable character is Anthony Edwards as a minister and stud-muffin. Come on, the guy has a receeding hairline and a face longer than a horses! Unless he's packing something dangerous in his shorts, I just can't see why Stowe would consistently risk her marriage and his for a regular roll in the hay. I found most of the relationships to be interesting and believable, though, and heartbreaking in the sense of the last moments of Ellen Bustyns relationship with her AIDS afflicted son. The ending, weaving all the characters lives together, was touching and romantic. I was left longing for more time with this lively family. Bel Canto, by Anne Patchett, is a book I was reading for the Cover to Cover book group a the library. I was not looking forward to it, as I'd read Patchetts dreadful "Magicians Assistant" and found the ending to be a relief, though it was precipitous. Bel Canto was obviously Patchetts magnum opus, and it shows in her desire to describe every tiny molecule of her characters faces, lives, body odor. All that description became boring, tedious and totally without merit. SPOILER ALERT! Then she kills off even the children, in the end. Ruthlessly and without so much as a second thought, they are gone. Ugh. Horrible. The ending marriage between two of the main characters comes off as a sop to the reader, who must still be reeling from the deaths of all the revolutionaries, again, most of them children. Unbelievable. I can't imagine wanting to read anything else Patchett writes, as I feel ripped off by the hasty, 'goody-marries-goody' ending and the careless murder of the other characters, described in such miniscule detail.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Firelight and Talk of Angels

Firelight and Talk of Angels were two movies among many that I've gotten from the library recently. I was looking forward to them because the lead actors in both are ones I admire for their etherial beauty and for their talent at playing dramatic roles. Vincent Perez was the lead male in Talk of Angels, and did a magnificent job, playing the son of a wealthy Spanish merchant and author. He did particularly well considering the female lead wasn't nearly as good, though her Irish accent wasn't as bad as I'd expected it to be. The movie just ended without really concluding the storylines, however. We never know what happened to Perez's character, or to the Irish governess. We never know if they ever met again, or if Perez was killed in the civil war he was so anxious to join. Firelight was a much better movie, crafted with lovely cinematography and enacted by the radient Sophie Marceau, who is much beloved by film cameras everywhere. The gist of the story is that Sophie has to sell herself, due to her fathers debts, to a wealthy married man who wants her to have a baby for him, since his wife is in a coma and unable to have children. She agrees never to have anything to do with either the baby or the father after giving birth. She renegs on that deal, however, because she longs to see her child, and becomes the governess of the very spoiled and willful girl once the girl is 7 years old. Fortunately, Sophie tames the child and helps her learn to read, and the father falls in love with her, and his wife dies, so they can all be together. She believes that by "firelight" all rules are gone, and one can fulfill ones wishes and deepest desires. Indeed, by the end of the film she questions whether or not she has caused things to happen by her strong desires, or if it was fate and chance that created the situation. Interesting film, and a chance to watch the incomparable Sophie Marceau be luminous on screen. I just finished reading a trashy, but interesting novel by the queen of good trash fiction, Judith Krantz. Titled "The Jewels of Tessa Kent" it was a love letter to the ultra wealthy and materialistic women of the world who love gems and jewelry nearly more than people. If, like me, you think that people are always more valuable than things, you will be as amused and disgusted by the lead character, Tessa Kent, as I was. Still, the gem lore and the insight into the world of rare and precious jewels was worth the ridiculous plot.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Freak the Mighty and Simon Birch

I want to be sure to write about two fascinating movies I recently viewed. One was "The Mighty" with Sharon Stone and Kieran Culkin, and the other was Simon Birch with Jim Carey, Oliver Platt and the gorgeous Ashley Judd.
Both films are about children who are in some way deformed who are befriended by another child who learns something about life from the handicapped child before he inevitably dies. However, I adored "The Mighty," which was based on the book "Freak the Mighty" and found Simon Birch to be somewhat contrived, though it was based on the John Irving novel, "A Prayer for Owen Meany."
Perhaps it was because the acting was very high caliber in the Mighty, or perhaps because it obviously had a better screenplay, but the movie's pace and characters moved and thrilled me, and I felt changed, as I always do when in the prescence of art. Simon Birch left me feeling that something was missing, and that the suits behind the movie had contrived, in every way possible, to wring a tear from my eye. I felt pandered to, as a movie-goer, where I had no feelings like that when watching the Mighty. I felt a strong connection to the young actor who plays the young chubby kid who helps Culkin by carrying him on his back and defending him from local bullies and thugs. Culkins absorption in the Knights of the Round table and the mythology of that era also rang a bell with me, as I've loved tales of Arthur and Merlin since childhood. The beauty of the ideal the two young men set up, of doing as much good as possible, was refreshing, as it was presented in a way that made the adults seem tawdry and dull by comparison to the honesty of the children. It also has a tremendous theme song sung by one of my favorite rock stars, Sting. I also recently watched a comedy/farce called "The Crew" with Burt Reynolds, who hasn't aged well, and Richard Dreyfus. It was amusing, but silly, and not something I would ever have paid money to see.
I have mixed emotions about the book "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" by Michael Chabon, because, though it held some lovely moments that I savored, by and large it was too intricate and too detailed about the ins and outs of the comic book business at the time. All that information made the plot drag several times. But the prose was beautifully crafted and the characters believable. Simone De Beauvoirs "Night and Day in America" was a disappointment. All she did was kvetch about how course and loud and obnoxious Americans were in 1947, and how they ruined Jazz and nearly everything else they imported from Europe. She liked the optimism of post-WW2 America, but found the Americans too unrefined for her selfish and snotty taste. Halfway through the book I wanted to slap her. Bleck.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I'm Late To The Party, But I Finally Made It

I just finished watching "Tuesdays with Morrie" starring the late, incomparable Jack Lemmon, God rest his soul. I realize that I am late to the party on the Tuesdays with Morrie phenomenon, but I somehow never managed to be in the right place at the right time to watch the movie or read the book. I am also often disappointed when it comes to bestsellers at the quality of the writing in the book or the story development and the characters in the movie. Tuesdays with Morrie, however, did not disappoint, it was a marvelous movie and a heartrending book, and I loved every minute of both. Great writing, wonderful characters and timeless just can't beat that. As with all great art, I was moved by this work, and made to see life in a different light. Due to a horrendous bout with a cold and upper respiratory infection, I've also had time to read several books. First of all, "The Dare" by Susan Kearney and "A Simple Gift" by Karyn Witmer suffer from the same problem; neither author has ever heard of the writers cliche to "show, don't tell." Particulary in The Dare, Kearney rambled on and on about everything the characters were feeling, their tiniest motivation, their every mental burp, not allowing the reader to learn what kind of characters these are by their actions or inactions. The exposition was so deadly dull that I nearly threw the book across the room in frustration. I believe that it is important for the reader to get to know the character by their conversations, their actions, their memories or adventures so that the plot can move forward and continue the normal story arc of introducing the characters to the problem, investigating the problem or challenge, finding the solution and tying up loose ends. And Kearney compounds her glacial plot problem by redundancy. We hear so many times that the main character wants the main male character, wants to be more human, is having trouble being human, blah, blah, blah. Over the course of the book, it became ridiculous and laughable. I can't imagine Kearney having a decent editor who didn't point this out to her. I would heap scorn on the head of any editor who didn't care enough to ask for a rewrite of a book with so much deadwood in it. A Simple Gift was a romance novel disguised as "chick lit" because I assume the publishers wanted it to sell better than another sappy romance novel would. Witmer sets up the problem nicely, but soon degenerates into sloppy writing and weakens her characters with soggy, overdone melodrama. I knew before the second chapter exactly what was going to happen and how it would all take place, that's how cardboard cut-out the characters and plot became. Transparent characters are boring, and thin plots grow tiresome, fast. How these authors get published in the first place is beyond me. There aren't any real editors left in Publishing, apparently. Fortunately, Cory Doctorow's "Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town" transcended that abhorrent title to become a nicely done dark fantasy. There were some seriously bizarre moments and characters, yet Mimi and Alan manage to survive their freaky friends, relatives and backgrounds to come together at the end. The author never does reveal Alan's actual origin, as in human or some other form of life, but, to be fair, he also doesn't reveal Mimi's origins, so we never know if she is just a freakish winged mutant from a long line of Russian mutants, or an angel. His descrption of her wings, and her flight, are riveting, and the intricate building of the life and surroundings of both characters wins readers attention also, making the place he's created seem real enough for a visit. "The Truth About Medium" by Gary Schwartz, PhD, is one of those random books I pick up to keep up with what is going on in the world of paranormal research. The book illuminated the authors scientific study techniques with several psychic mediums, and the outcome of those tests, which was amazing, but failed to convince the reader completely of the veracity of the powers of mediums, like Allison DuBois, on whom the TV show "Medium" is based. I've watched that show and found it dramatic and interesting, but only mildly so, not enough to go out of my way to TiVo it every week. But I do believe that there are people who can communicate with "ghosts" or the prescense of those who have died and left something of their soul behind. I've worked in hospitals and nursing homes and hospices, so I have been there when a person died, and I felt something leave that person, so the very air in the room seemed to change. I believe the soul exists, I am just not certain of whether there is a real heaven and hell for it to tour when it leaves the body it has inhabited. Perhaps, as some in society claim, we make our own heaven and hell while we live. Or perhaps, as the author of the Doomsday Book, Bellweather and Passages has written, our brain creates a scenario for our selves when we die, because it can no longer make sense of the signals from a body that ceases to function. At any rate, I am glad that February, with its ice, wind and gray frosty days is at an end, and March has come in like a sunny lamb. Thank God!