Gilead (2004)

By Marilynne Robinson

There is a human beauty in it. And I can’t believe that, when we have all been changed and put on incorruptibility we will forget our fantastic condition of morality and impermanence, the great bright dream of procreating and perishing the meant the world to us. In eternity this world will be Troy, I believe and all that has passed here will be the epics of the universe, the ballad they sing in the streets. Because I don’t imagine any reality putting this one in the shade entirely, and I think piety forbids me to try.

Gilead is the story of a dying father, John Ames, wanting to leave something behind for his seven-year-old son. Ames writes a letter, or one could call it a diary, in which he reflects on the nature of life, beauty, theology and religion, growing up, and love.

My attempt at a description doesn’t come even close to doing it justice, I would recommend just picking up the book without any prior knowledge and reading it, slowly. Not the way you would inhale a blockbuster thriller or dystopian future but, gently breathe it in, and savor every breath. You can’t zip through it, you can’t binge read it in one sitting, that takes away from the joy of the experience. In fact I believe the book doesn’t allow you to read it in one sitting. After every section or so it almost forces you to put it down to allow the weight of it to sink into you. The characters and the events are revealed gently and slowly throughout the novel and you don’t feel the need to rush through to get to know anything, if there is an innocent and pure equivalent to a strip tease, that would be an apt description of the way it unfolds. It is stunning and awesome (in the traditional sense of full of awe and not my usual awesome) if you don’t allow yourself to experience that you’d be doing both yourself and the novel a disservice.

It is a phenomenal book and I can’t find the words to translate my feelings. The writing is eloquent, crisp, and beautiful. You feel Ames as he is writing to his son, you feel his thoughts, his feelings, his despair and his love. It’s raw, pure, unfiltered emotions. You could describe it as a stream of consciousness which would be correct, but I feel that by labeling it you take away part of it’s ephemeral and enchanting beauty. It is probably one of the most beautiful and moving books I’ve ever read.

Do you know the feeling when you read a George Herbert poem, or maybe that feeling you get when you watch Amy Adam’s face as she’s playing a sad role, or that tingle you feel in your spine that then becomes like a strange glowing warmth growing in your chest as you listen to a piece by Max Richter? Maybe you don’t, that’s not important, I’ll try to explain it. It’s like a sadness that is also beautiful, a joyful sorrow, or maybe it’s a sorrowful joy. Its transcendent. Even before you finish reading it, even while reading the novel you are constantly left with a mixture of feelings, that of wonder and beauty but also with an irresistible desire to weep but not out of pure sadness. Does this make any sense? The novel was stunning in every way, shape, and form. I keep using the word beautiful because that is exactly what it is, the word may have been watered down and lost it luster because it has been overused, but read Gilead it defines beauty.

Gilead might be considered a defense (that is quite an aggressive word) of religion but instead it’s a call to look at religion not through the actions of fundamentalists or even priests and followers, but at the way it influences an individual’s life, not only spiritually but the individual as a whole. Personally, I am not spiritual but rather religious (something a friend pointed out to me a while ago and it allowed me to put a name to my religious experience), anyway, Gilead is not a call to spirituality and abandoning religion with its rites and rituals as many novels recently do. Nor is it calling to a strictly ritualistic religion. It’s calling for an appreciation of religion in its most beautiful and pure forms, and also calling for the appreciation of thought: Ames quotes Calvin and Feuerbach in the same sentence. And even though some might perceive it as a religious text or a strictly Christian text, it’s not. The discussion can be applied to any of the three Abrahamic religions in one way or another, even as a devout Muslim I was moved and felt much of it could be applied to my own faith.

For my fellow Early Modernist or EM enthusiasts, Gilead does read like the love child of Montaigne, Calvin, and Herbert. And in my opinion that makes Marilynne  Robinson rather divine.

If I’m rating books on a five star scale, this would go way beyond a 5. It’s one of those books that become like a personal bible and you read again and again.

 

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Digging Up Milton (2015)

By Jennifer Wallace

Reach up to that shelf Lizzie and fetch me down the immortal book of Milton. I wish to have what in me is dark illumined once more.

1790s Cripplegate, England. Mr. and Mrs. Grant live nearby St. Giles where presumably Milton is buried. One day as the church is being renovated, Mr. G, Mr. Fountain, Mr. Strong, Mr. Lamming and a bunch of others start digging up beneath the clerk’s desk where it is rumored that Milton’s actual coffin is buried. And they actually uncover the bones of Milton. The guys start touching the body and taking small parts of it: a few locks of his flowing hair, the jaw, and a few ribs. Mr. G and the guys then go to their work and they leave Mrs. G in charge of protecting the body.

Next thing you know Mrs. G is starting a black-market business, charging people 6p for a look at the body and before you know it, nothing is left of Milton and a relics sale flourishes in the city. The rest of the story follows the aftermath of this underground market and the consequences of desecrating the body of Milton.

…I felt the tragedy of Adam and Eve’s banishment with its full force, as the were driven out from Paradise by fiery angels with flaming swords and departed in tears with wandering steps, uncertain where to go, with too much liberty of choice and not enough mercy from God. But Mr Grant said that this was not the correct interpretation and that God was merciful and that he was not deliberately mischievous and calculating when he set a delicious fruit tree in his garden just so that Adam and Eve could be tempted to pick from it. I accepted his words, and my admiration for Satan in the same secret corner of my memory where I still retained the information about Mr Poole’s pamphlet and the argument for free speech.

I picked up this book after a friend tweeted about it, I mean it had Milton on the cover so I was pretty much sold. Literary fan fiction, that should be exciting, right? Well, it wasn’t that great. It was fun to read but not a book that I’d read again. Sure it’s creative in it’s own way but in many other aspects it was very bland.

The best thing about the book I would argue is the attempt at making Miltonic parallels. Wallace divides the book into 12 “books” instead of chapters, just like Paradise Lost, and she has an excerpt of each Book from PL at the beginning of her chapters. Wallace didn’t choose the most famous or obvious sections, and that excerpt would color the events of the upcoming chapter. You have to give it to her, it was a great move; but without it the book would utterly fail because her plot line and narrative were held up by those parallels. I kept reading because I wanted to see how she weaves Paradise Lost into her own narrative and it was a fun exercise. That being said, you obviously need to have read Milton and have a relatively firm grasp of Paradise Lost in order to appreciate what Wallace was doing with her own narrative, and the jokes and digs she snuck in. You’d still understand the story no problem if you’ve never read Milton but then it would be a boring and meaningless story.

So the verdict: if you’re a Milton enthusiast, maybe give it a shot, it’s lighthearted summer reading; if you don’t even know who Milton is or don’t like him then, a) we can’t be friends, and b) you don’t want to waste your time on a mediocre story such as Digging Up Milton because you won’t get all the inside jokes.

Score: 2.5/5

 

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The Handmaid’s Tale (1988)

By Margaret Atwood

They also serve who only stand and wait.

1985, USA: a new regime takes over and everything changes, but the change is insidious. Now women can no longer work, own property, or even retain control over their own bodies. Under the new regime women are divided into several…I guess you could call them “ranks”: there are the Wives, the Marthas, the Aunts, and the Handmaids.

How was it is to invent a humanity, for anyone at all. What an available temptation.

The Handmaids are given to families of high rank who don’t have children; their job is to basically get knocked up and have babies for said family. These Handmaids are trained, more like brainwashed, at the Red Center where they’re taught “modesty” and their duties. One Handmaid, Offred, retells her story as a Handmaid, she remembers life before this regime, had a husband, a daughter, friends, and was happy.  She struggles in this new world order and vacillates between her fear and desire to escape and her unconscious assimilation into and acceptance of her new lifestyle.

Atwood published the story in ’88, Hulu made a tv series recently, and I mean you probably know the story and don’t need my summary.

Don’t let them suffer too much. If they have to die, let it be fast. You might even provide a Heaven for them. Hell we can make for ourselves.

Oh. My. Goodness.

Whatever you’re doing right now, put it down and pick up Handmaid’s Tale and read it because it’s so.darn.good.

The plot is terrifying, the word that keeps coming to me is insidious. And what makes it even more terrifying is that it is, in a twisted way, realistic. There are people out there, men right’s activists, people who year for ye good old days, or misogynistic pigs, who would happily instate a Gileadean society, who see women as mere objects, “two legged wombs” to use Atwood’s phrase. It is utterly terrifying.

But who can remember pain, once it’s over? All that remains of it is a shadow, not in the mind even, in the flesh. Out of sight, out of mind.

And speaking of realistic, you could teach a whole class on rhetoric using this novel. It is phenomenal. Atwood’s prose is and the way she has her narrator speak, she presents this radical, disgusting, scary ideas in a way that makes it seem normal, ordinary run-of-the-mill everyday talk. And Offred herself has moments where she realizes how she began, unconsciously, to believe what the Aunts at the Red Center have been trying to indoctrinate her with. I honestly don’t know how to describe it but the way she presents these radical ideas is terrifying because she takes away from you the safety net of “oh we’re different, that can’t happen to us, we’re not monsters” myth; no this was adopted by people that you might know, by normal people, not monsters. It’s just mind blowing and no matter how many times I say it’s amazing and terrifying I can never do it justice, so just read it.

A friend of mine described Atwood’s writing style and said, “smoke comes off the pages.” It’s electric, eloquent, simple yet ornate. Beautiful. She captures human nature and human thought in an extraordinary way, no psychology book or any of those self-help book can capture it in such a way.

The narration had an enchanting nature about it where it’s not the breathless can’t put it down but more the feeling of being in a trace and unable to put it down because it messes with your head a lot and the narrator herself confesses her unreliability as she reflects on the nature of storytelling.

Oh and Atwood makes several references to Milton’s sonnets, as if you need another reason to read it.

As you can probably tell, I fell in love with the novel and it’s definitely one I’d read again and recommend to family and friends, just maybe not my grandma.

Score: 5/5

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The Last Kingdom (2004)

By Bernard Cornwell

“The preachers tell us that pride is a great sin, but the preachers are wrong. Pride makes a man, it drives him, it is the shield wall around his reputation… Men die, they said, but reputation does not die…Show me a humble warrior and I will see a corpse.”

Uhtred, son of ealdorman Uhtred of Northumbria, witnesses the attack of the Danes on his lands. He is captured by the Danish lord, Ragnar, but is raised as a son by him and not a slave. Ragnar trains Uhtred to be a warrior and treats him as a lord. Throughout the story we follow Uhtred as he recalls his adventures with the Danes who are on a campaign to sack the kingdoms of England and take over.

“And at the foot of Yggdrasil, the tree of life, the three spinners mocked us.”

Eventually, Uhtred is forced to return to the English in a cruel twist of fate and the story ends with King Alfred’s plans to protect the last kingdom of England, Wessex, from the Danes.

“The poets, when they speak of war, talk of the shield wall, they talk of the spears and arrows flying, of the blade beating on the shield, of the heroes who fall and the spoils of the victors, but I was to discover that war was really about food. About feeding men and horses. About finding food. The army that eats wins.”

How on earth have I not read Bernard Cornwell before? This is probably one of the best historical fiction novels I have ever read. It is what I was always looking for in HF, captivating storytelling, realistic events and battles, fully fleshed out characters, it was perfect. I can’t remember the last time I read a HF novel and was enthralled by the narrative in such a way and not rolling my eyes at the endless cliches, the meaningless cliffhangers, or the lame descriptions of battles. This had none of that bull and was able to keep me excited without any of that.

Unlike what I’ve read before, the battles and journeys weren’t boring because they was inundated with over exaggerated  details that read like a Zack Snyder movie or mundane details that don’t add to the events but confuse you. They vibrant and vivid, partially because it is told solely from Uhtred’s perspective. Reading it you almost feel as if you’re in the battle or on the journey, watching it from his own eyes because it’s not just the gleam of the sun dancing on swords and spears but also the cries of men, the fear in their eyes, the sweat and dry air, the anticipation, it is a delicate balance between the grandeur of battles and the mundane humanly experience and I found that beautiful even if my description doesn’t do it any justice because you have to read it to really appreciate the feeling.

 

Speaking of emotions, Cornwell is a master at eliciting them. He weaves the story in a way that forces you to sympathize with certain characters and dislike others, he presents the complicated nature of human relationship and morality and human connections; how convoluted and twisted humans are but are still beautiful.

Character development was phenomenal and the characters themselves were just great. In most of the HF that I’ve read, the women are usually mere sex objects, that’s the only role they play in the story. You would have long blazon like scenes but are more disgusting and lack the elegance and innocence of a blazon. And you would have long sex scenes that are a form of male wish/desire fulfillment. The women are there to satisfy the male gaze and that has always been an issue for me with HF. But that wasn’t the case in The Last Kingdom; the main female character, Brida, though she didn’t have that big of a role and the book barely passes the Bechdel test, was a badass. She wouldn’t take any of the misogynistic BS spewed by King Alfred and the others and was always doing whatever the hell she wanted. Witty and stubborn as hell, she was definitely one of my favorite characters.

Another thing I also loved about the novel was Cornwell’s writing style: plain eloquence. It’s not ornate in any way but that’s the beauty of it. It’s simple and plain and incredibly beautiful. And I think part of the beauty comes from the retrospective pov, the story is told in hindsight as Uhtred is reflecting on his childhood and it genuinely feels like you’re sitting on the carpet listening to an old man recall his tales and getting lost and completely transported. It’s like meta enchantment if that makes any sense.

Now I know I went on raving about how great the novel is for the past 500 words, but I have to say it’s not a book for a historical fiction newbie. If you haven’t read HF before, you might find it too boring and slow paced and might want to start with something…more exciting maybe? I mean I find it exciting enough for me but I know my definition of exciting isn’t the same as everyone’s. You might want to start with Robyn Young’s Brethren trilogy which I also enjoyed, it a bit more fast paced. But nonetheless, it’s a novel worth reading.

Overall score: 4.5/5

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Luke Cage (2016)

Swiss cheese shirt. Car bounces off you. Punching through steel and concrete. Just another day, right?

Luke Cage is an ordinary guy in Harlem. He works random jobs such as wiping floors and washing towels at Pop’s barber shop during the day, and washes dishes at the club, Harlem’s Paradise, at night.

Except Cage isn’t an ordinary guy. He has bulletproof skin and super strength. Through a few flashbacks we learn that Cage got these powers because of an experiment, conducted illegally at Seagate prison where he was wrongfully convicted. However, Cage tries to lay low and doesn’t want to be a vigilante. He moved to Harlem to escape his past.

Harlem is troubled by gangs and mobsters, one of the biggest crime lords is Cornel “Cottonmouth” Stokes. Cottonmouth owns Harlem’s Paradise and uses that as a front for his money laundering and crime business. Cottonmouth’s cousin, councilwoman Mariah Dillard, is also tangled in this criminal business but tries to appear clean.

Cage doesn’t get involved with Cottonmouth’s business, until it gets personal, so he takes it upon himself to bring Cottonmouth down. However Cottonmouth isn’t the only villain, Mariah rises to the occasion with the help of Shades, another sidekick villain, and eventually there’s a new player in town: Diamondback, who has a personal vendetta against Luke Cage.

Luke Cage is framed for murder and crime and he goes on the run trying to clear his name. The only person who believes him is good ol’ Claire Temple. He works with her in trying to stop the big evil masterminds and save Harlem’s soul.

I won’t get into the details as to not spoil it because it’s so damn good.

giphy

Me fangirling over Claire Temple.

Sweet Christmas! What a fantastic show!

First of all, a bulletproof black hero, how awesome and poignant is that? The show tackles racism head on in a clever and nuanced manner. From police brutality and mass incarceration to subtle racism and microaggressions. It brings forth many of the problems in American society and doesn’t do the cheesy magic bullet solution to it but points it out so that we’re more aware of it and then try to solve it.

It also explores black masculinity in a beautiful way through Luke Cage (portrayed skillfully by Mike Colter). He is humanized, not your stereotypical movie thug but a strong, independent, powerful man who has a moral compass and a great sense of humor, and most importantly he isn’t afraid to express his feelings. Cage’s character is amazing and Colter is an amazing actor, there was something very human about him he was fully fleshed out and properly written, I don’t know exactly how to describe it but it was beautiful.

The villain Cottonmouth, played brilliantly by Mahershala Ali, was simple and not as complex as, e.g. Killgrave, but nonetheless, the simplicity of his villainy (classic money embezzler and crime ring leader) allows the true villain of the show to emerge: society. It highlight’s how corrupt, racist, and oppressive society is and how its affect on black folk especially is more detrimental than, say a gang leader. But I loved the villains overall in the show. Speaking of villains, can we talk about Shade and the way he dramatically put his shades before acting? There were these on-the-nose jokes throughout the show that were actually hilarious.

One of my favorite characters in the show was “Pop”, the owner of barbershop where Cage worked and young folk found refuge. And although he served as a classic trope of the elderly figure that serves as a catalyst for the hero’s journey, he was still a lovable and moving character.

The Cage/Temple dynamic was PERFECT. Cage corny as hell and Temple not afraid to point that out. Their banter was light-hearted, sarcastic, witty, and overall entertaining. It’s the type of relationship I’d like to see more of on tv, more talking less sex and PDA.

Music was spectacular, and what made it even better was the use of it as a motif throughout, and I can’t say more because I’d spoil it but there were certain pieces that played a significant part in the plot line.

I loved how they brought in Jessica, Claire, and hinted at Murdock subtly thought the series, it was a great way to set up for the upcoming Defenders series without making it have that annoying sequel-feeling.

The finale was….meh. It could’ve been better, heck the whole show could’ve been better in terms of plot, but it was very creative in terms of world building and character development and creation, and it was witty and funny as hell so that makes up for it.

I have high hopes for season 2 and Defenders.

Score: 4/5

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Sandman: A Game of You Vol. V

“You know what the really scary thing about bad dreams? It’s that something’s going on in your head, and you can’t control it. I mean, It’s like there’s these bad worlds inside you. But it’s just you… it’s like you’re betraying yourself.”

sandman-game-of-you-10

Vol. V: A Game of You, was somewhat of a letdown after Season of Mist. It was more of a Romance than an Epic which was what I was hoping for after Vol. IV. And thought I appreciate a good quest, it was a bit bland in the beginning and seemed to be too mundane (again, Vol. IV set me up for some grand epic). The plot was coherent and flowed well, no doubt, the series does get better as it progresses. The other thing with this volume is that it gives you the false illusion that it will be a realistic story and not the usual delirium of Morpheus’ world but it then takes you down the rabbit hole and the sudden leap makes the suspension of disbelief somewhat hard (maybe that’s just my problem). I guess also the fact that the fantastical element of it wasn’t as dark as usual so I found it ridiculous and wasn’t able to fully engage with the story. It also stars Barbie as the main character which was weird and uncomfortable but it does explore gender roles and norms and transphobia which was great. And the thing that I truly appreciated about this volume is that it had one plot line throughout the whole volume, not a collection of various stories with the main characters which isn’t a bad thing but it’s nice to have a complete story that lasts longer than 8 pages.

Overall: 3.5/5

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Transfer of Power by Vince Flynn

While you were running around on the talk-show circuit criticizing law-enforcement officers who have done more in one week to stop crime than you will do in your entire academic-theory-laden lifetime, I was crawling around in the gutters of every hellhole in the Middle East trying to find Rafique Aziz.

Mitch Rapp is a CIA counterterrorism covert operative who joined the force because of a personal vendetta. He is hunting for a well known Hezbollah terrorist in Iran and manages to capture him and fly off without creating any noise. He takes him to Germany to meet up with a torture-expert psychiatrist who works with the CIA and she starts torturing the terrorist to extract information. They find out that one of his disciples, Rafique Aziz, is planning an attack on the White House and that it’s set to happen within a few hours.

Rapp alerts headquarters and secret services. But it’s too late. Aziz has already entered the White House and was meeting with the president. All hell breaks loose. The White House is besieged and the terrorists take over, but thankfully the secret service manage to snatch the president from the grips of Aziz and take him to the bunker.

However Aziz has hostages and starts stating demands to the Vice President and the FBI. The bureaucrats as usual, mess things up by being incompetent. Fights start to erupt between the politicians, the FBI, the CIA, SEAL Team 6, the army, Secret Service, and every other faction involved. The CIA decides to act on it’s own. They send Rapp in and he skillfully manages to scout the area, secure the hostages, save the president’s life and the day.

Transfer of Power is a page-turner, that’s for sure. It kept me up wanting to know what’s going to happen next. That being said, it wasn’t a good page-turner. The book was very generic and formulaic, I remember reading a comment on Goodreads where the reader said that it could’ve been written by a computer, which is pretty darn true. The characters are static and flat, they have only a semblance of a personality. You could easily confuse them with one another, a few stood out but only because the others were so bland. The characterization of the characters fell flat 98% of the time, at best it was pathetic, something like “he looked at her with his brooding dark eyes and strong black eyebrows, his gaze meant that he was angry”. It was crappy.

In terms of plot, the events were stretched out needlessly, Flynn was just trying to pack as many stupid details as he could in each paragraph. Not to mention the fact that he uses adjectives and adverbs like a college freshman who had recently discovered the thesaurus.

The disturbing thing about the story is how subtle the racism and bigotry is in the story. It is fraught with nationalist motifs, I mean the alt-right would have a field day with this. He paints the whole Middle East as a giant degenerate homogenous block filled with terrorists who hate America. That’s just lazy writing. It’s not as bad as Brad Thor but it’s still bad.

Realizing the propaganda perpetuated in this book made me feel very uncomfortable. I have Flynn’s other book (I had a political thriller phase -not that I’m over it now…- but anyway, on one of our summer trips I bought all of his books and now I’m not sure I want to read them seeing how disturbing this was. I’ll probably end up reading them because sometimes I just want a trashy, mind-numbing, page-turner but I won’t be buying any of his other books that’s for sure.

Score 2.5/5

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Do you ever feel your life has turned into something you never intended?

In Tom Ford’s second venture into the world of the silver screen, Susan Morrow (played by the fabulous Amy Adams) is a art gallery owner in LA. Morrow has a tumultuous marriage but is trudging through nonetheless, we see her living in her lavish mansion and leading a sumptuous lifestyle. Morrow receives a manuscript of a violent thriller set in the West written by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).

The thriller manuscript is titled Nocturnal Animals. It’s about a guy and his family who were on a road trip but got jumped by a bunch of drunkards led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Tyler-Johnson). They, the drunk bandits, kidnap and separate the family: they rape and kill the daughter and wife, get rid of the husband somewhere in the desert, and run away. Edward (the husband) goes crazy. He reports the case to the police and works closely with Bobby Andes (awesomely played by Michael Shannon). Sheffield and Andes try to figure out what happened to Sheffield’s family and on the way encounter legal and bureaucratic hurdles which lead them to act in an unconventional way.

Morrow is terrified by the story and starts seeing metaphoric parallels to her real life and her relationship with Edward. Eventually we sense that the manuscript is an implicit threat or cathartic revenge.

 Susan, enjoy the absurdity of our world. It’s a lot less painful. Believe me, our world is a lot less painful than the real world.

Fabulous film. Absolutely fabulous. So intense and dark. It’s the type of movie that craws under your skin and you never get a cathartic release at the end. I love the way the story is framed and the switching between the events of the manuscript and those of the movie. It was a risky move as you could’ve easily botched it but the movie manages to skillfully move between the movie and the manuscript.

It’s meta on so many levels as it is subtly and beautifully metaphoric. The events intertwine and the symbolism creeps on you and then slaps you in the face. I can’t really describe it, which is a failing on my side but it also highlights the genius of the film because you can’t really pin down how it makes you feel. I was literally on the edge of my seat for long times throughout. The cinematography adds to that evasive intensity, you get dark shots of inside the mansion and then wide shots of the desert. This is juxtaposed to scenes of Morrow reading the manuscript intensely and that mimics the viewers experience but then you get real fear in the face of Sheffield  as he is frantically searching for his family. The way the camera zooms into their faces and then out away, it’s just really great. The camera angles are complemented by the music. It’s not a memorable score, but it’s one that makes your skin crawl and intensifies every single scene.

The acting was fantastic. I might be biased because I absolutely adore Amy Adams, but I think we can all agree that she’s an awesome and incredibly talented. There’s something about her face, she can express a distinct type of sorrow and pain that slams into you like a train. She’s just amazing. Jake Gyllenhaal was pretty good too. I loved the fact that he challenges gender expectations by being emotional, which he does pretty damn well-especially confusion and frantic fear. But one of the biggest stars in this movie was Michael Shannon, his character was eery, and just so real. It was one hell of a performance.

I can’t remember exactly where I read/heard this but this year has been the year of not-saying much in movies where what is left unsaid is greater and more profound than the dialogue. And you can definitely see that in this movie and in Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight as well. At first I didn’t necessarily like this tell_me_loki

But eventually the English major in me prevailed and I started appreciating reading between the lines. There are many instances of complete and utter silence in the movie and just long slow shots of people staring at each other (which, according to my friend, is such a Tom Ford move) but I loved it because not only does it build anticipation but it makes makes the scene more profound.

The only problem with this film is nudity. It starts with a full shot of old overweight naked women…with close-ups. Now I understand that it’s an appreciation of the human body and a type of art and blah blah, and I’m not here to police anyone or anything, I personally felt uncomfortable with that scene. I understand the purpose of it, it reflected the eccentric art and lifestyle of Adams’ character but that didn’t make it any less uncomfortable.

Anyway, it’s a great movie, actually one of the best movies I watched in 2016. Score: 5/5

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Our Kind of Traitor by John LeCarré

Still on our once-in-a-lifetime holiday. Still in Eden, munching on the bloody apple.

A Russian money launderer, Dima, meets an English couple: professor Perry and lawyer Gail in Antigua during their vacation. After becoming friends, Dima approaches Perry and Gail and confides in them. His suspects that gang members are killing off his mates and wants out of the crime business. He is willing to provide names and evidence of corruption in the British government and elsewhere in exchange for his and his family’s safety.

To Gail’s annoyance, Perry takes this as a personal mission. He gets in touch with Luke, Yvonne, and eventually Hector, MI6 people and conveys Dima’s message to them. The story then goes on as they (MI6 with the help of Perry and Gail) try to vet Dima’s story and transfer him to England, all the while nailing the corrupt politicians and other figures.

I don’t read many spy novels, in fact I can’t remember the last time I read one (I prefer murder mysteries and political thrillers). So this was a nice change from my usual reading. The plot is pretty straightforward and easy to follow, which was good since I was reading it during my first semester of grad school and I needed something that wasn’t mentally taxing. There wasn’t much of character development, it was plot-based rather than focused on the characters. Nevertheless, the characters were fascinating and their characterization was realistic-I could see them as real people.

The best thing about the book was the narrative and writing style. The way the story unfolds switching between conversations, flashbacks, current events, and then narrative flashbacks (are those even a thing? I mean when characters recount events). It was really entertaining to read it, a meta type of enjoyment.

Not a page turning but a fun read.

Score: 3.25/5

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Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Patrick: What happened to your hand?

Lee: I cut it.

Patrick: *sarcasm* Oh thanks, For a minute there, I didn’t know what happened.

Directed and written by Kenneth Lonergan exploration of grief stars Casey Affleck, playing a Bostonian janitor Patrick who loses his brother (Joe Chandler) to a heart problem.  He’s forced now to take care of his sixteen-year-old nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedge). The movie explores their developing relationship and more importantly explores the different ways to dealing with grief. Through flashbacks we learn that Patrick has suffered loss previously and that colors his reaction to losing his brother.

I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it…

The movie received high praise so I went in with really high expectations.  At first I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping for more, especially in terms of the ending. However, after mulling over it I realized that it’s the type of movie that you can’t truly appreciate unless you take some time away from it and maybe even watch it again.

Manchester by the Sea , is an emotionally raw. It’s emotionally manipulative and made me feel things: 353b663853023be06617298874b2ff05

There isn’t much in terms of character development or plot, it focuses mostly on the exploration of grief. How different people react to and process grief differently. It was realistic and cleverly taps into the human psyche. I just can’t emphasize enough how emotional it makes you feel.

Throughout the narrative, we get flashbacks of Lee’s previous life and though it was a creative approach to the flashbacks it didn’t always work because it disrupts the narrative in a confusing way.

I don’t want to get into identity politics so I’ll keep this brief and then get back to the movie. The problem with this movie is that it hardly has any women and even less people of color. It’s very white-male centric. And as much as I loved the movie, I think we’re tired of having white men leads, and I’m not saying we should treat diversity as a checklist, no it should be used appropriately. So sure, in context, the movie is set in Manchester a predominately white town so it makes sense, but still I’m pretty sure there are women at least in the town who could’ve played a bigger role in it. I’m not an expert so I can’t say what exactly could’ve been done to improve the movie in terms of diversity. At least it wasn’t the typical white man saving everyone else and it portrayed a rather different take on masculinity in terms of allowing the characters to show their emotions, a little bit at least. As I said, I don’t want to get into politics or say something that’ll spark an argument I just thought I’d point this out. Now back to the movie.

The cinematography was phenomenal, the scenes of human interactions are interspersed with wide shots of the sea or forestry. Or maybe I just love New England scenery.

The one thing I didn’t expect at all in the movie was the humor. It was freaking hilarious in an unexpected way, especially since it is a movie about grief. But the sarcasm, snark, and jokes were fantastic, especially since 98% of the time it was completely unexpected and natural. There were also many New England/Boston jokes and references that I recognized and probably wouldn’t have appreciated before moving to Amherst.

My biggest issue with the movie was the ending: it was abrupt; almost incomplete. In a way I think it was good because it’s unexpected and unconventional but leaving the movie I was disappointed and frustrated because I wanted more. Like I said earlier, it’s a movie that you appreciate afterward rather than during.

Score: 4.5/5

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