Thursday, May 26, 2016

Making Things Better

Making Things Better is a 2002 novel by Anita Brookner. Brookner died this past March 10 at the age of 87. I always love her books. I love her writing, her plotting, her characterizations... I always feel like I know her characters, as if they are real people. This book is no exception.

from the dust jacket:
The Booker Prize-winning author of The Bay of Angels and Hotel du Lac, "one of the finest novelists of her generation" (The New York Times), now gives us a masterly new novel about the self-discoveries that come with maturity, and the eternal question confronted by people of all ages: What will I do with the rest of my life?

In this richly written, emotionally revealing novel, Brookner once again "works a spell on the reader" (The Washington Post Book World), as a man finds himself contemplating the difficult life questions: How is it all going to work out? What shall I do before the end? As Herz ponders proposing marriage to an old friend, making a trip to Paris to see a favorite painting, selling his home, moving, starting afrsh, he knows that he must do something with his remaining years. But what?

Brilliant, funny, profound, Making Things Better captures the quanries of aging: the misunderstanding of of an increasingly modern, alien world; awkward conversations with passersby; even more awkward encounters with longtime friends and acquaintances; the anxieties posed by age and uncertainty -and the bizarre, magnificent self-knowledge that perhaps only age, reflection, and experience can bring.
favorite quotes:
All the deaths were natural, yet all had an aura of horror. It was their lives rather than their deaths that were regrettable, and all the frustrated love that had failed to sweeten their end.
Solitude had bred a stoicism which he hoped would see him through.
"Of course I'll be lonely. But there's a loneliness that comes with age anyway. There's nothing I can do about that.
Herz arranged the photographs on his desk, intent on examining what the past had contributed to his strange joyless present. He looked around the room to see if it were ready to welcome in some impossible but unknown, unhoped-for guest, saw that it was, as ever, immaculate, and with a sigh turned to the mute oblongs he habitually kept in a folder, in a suitcase, obscurely, and which he was now resigned to concealing forever. He felt a distaste, but also a curiosity that always accompanied this particular investigation: the photographs, of no conceivable relevance to anyone he currently knew, were to him a painful record of people whose hold on his affections had dwindled to almost nothing.

Yet he was bound to those people, had been formed by them, had now exhausted their legacy, such as it was, and considered himself the recipient of their various discontents, in comparison with which his own seemed somehow lightweight. It was a feeling of unworthiness, as if he had somehow got off scot-free, that contributed towards his ambivalence. Even the photographs served as a reminder of complicated familial unhappiness. He did not intend to look at them again, would put them away forever, to be thrown away after his death with the rest of his belongings, but conceived it as a duty to pass them once more in review before locking them away in the suitcase which would in turn take its place in the basement room he shared with others...
Women aged as best they could, he supposed. He had not given the matter much thought. But age was a grievous business for everyone.
"There comes a time in a woman's life when she no longer wants to make an effort, wants to let her hair go, wear comfortable shoes, stop trying to attract men. And yet there's a sadness in this. You lose a future."

The NYT says,
For days after I finished the novel, I kept thinking about Julius Herz, as if he were someone I knew. Part of the reason he had such an effect was that Brookner never delivers a verdict on him: characteristically, she leaves that up to the reader. ... All she does is tell her stories. With her unfashionable restraint, with the glow of unshowy intelligence on every page she writes, with the brevity and directness of her novels, and with her self-effacing willingness to put her imagination entirely at the service of the story she's telling, Brookner is an artist of an exceptional purity.
Publishers Weekly says,
Brookner's gentle exploration of Julius's emotional dilemma is pursued with exquisite precision and empathy. In her novels, fate is cruel and hope of happiness a chimera, yet her characters are so fully realized that one feels the beat of life in their veins and longs for them to yield to their stifled urge for freedom.
Kirkus Reviews describes it as "Another intelligent, emotionally wounded protagonist muses on a life consumed by others’ expectations".

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

True Grit

True Grit is the 2010 Coen brothers remake of the 1969 John Wayne movie by the same name. This version has Jeff Bridges in the John Wayne role. I was quite prepared not to like this at all and had put it off for years, but it's a good movie. They did a great job of re-making a classic.


The NYT has a positive review. Empire Online concludes: "Terrific: tough, exciting, funny, gorgeous and bewitchingly acted, this is darn close to perfection."

Roger Ebert gives it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and gives high praise to Jeff Bridges. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 96%.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Body of a Girl

Body of a Girl is the debut novel by Leah Stewart. I admit I gave up on this one in some frustration fairly quickly. I picked it up because it takes place in Memphis, and I put it down -in part- because it was supposed to be taking place in Memphis. I wish the author had placed the book in a city with which I was unfamiliar or which she knew better. She mentions a few place names: Tom Lee Park, Midtown, Beale Street, the Peabody Hotel, the Pyramid... but even so, I had trouble placing the action here in Memphis. It's almost as if she'd never been here but had been given a rough geography, a few place names, and some vague generalizations about the city. It reminds me a bit of watching Memphis Beat, but picking out mistakes in that show was fun.

I was frustrated by her focus on the heat. The book takes place in June (or at least begins in June); and the word "heat" appears with undue frequency (every other page, to begin with with), and that doesn't include mentions of sweat, humidity, steam, efforts to deal with the heat, discomfort because of the heat.... It's not presented as an anomaly or a freak heat wave but as almost a character in its own right. I've never known it to be hot enough in June to warrant this kind of dedicated focus in a story that wasn't about the heat. Maybe the reporter is just delicate, sensitive to the heat?

She doesn't name the newspaper, but we only have one daily. I've never known a time where the reporter tasked with covering murders would've been a 25-year-old female "novice crime reporter" with no connections inside the police department. It just didn't ring true. Of course, the book was written 16 years ago, but still...

Some of her descriptions of un-named places didn't sound like places that I generally see here. I found her take on Graceland slightly off somehow. Oh, I don't know... It just didn't feel like Memphis to me.

from the back of the book:
In the Memphis summer, the heat clings heavily like a second skin. Olivia Dayle's job as a novice crime reporter is at once surreal -stepping into and out of strangers' lives with her notebook- and all too real. Partly out of gutsy ambition to get a front-page story and partly to reassure herself that this could not have been a random act, Olivia becomes determined to find out who the murderer of Allison Avery was. As she grows more and more obsessed with Allison, Olivia begins to shuck off her own cautious self and become everything she believes Allison was: charismatic, vivacious, and unafraid. She, too, begins to flirt with living as close to the edge as possible, with nearly tragic consequences. Taut and suspenseful, Body of a Girl is a powerful story of a young woman venturing into the unknown and questioning all her choices.
Now, on to more pleasant considerations.....

It's been over 3 weeks since I got this horrible respiratory virus, and I'm still coughing but am definitely on the mend. It's fun to be back for T Tuesday. The picture I'm sharing today has nothing to do with the book I talked about above but was painted by Russian artist Konstantin Ivanovich Gorbatov who died on this date in 1945:

Coffee by the Window was painted in the year of his death.

Please join the folks enjoying the weekly T Party over at Bleubeard and Elizabeth's blog.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Woman on the Run

Woman on the Run is a 1950 film noir. Ann Sheridan stars as a woman whose husband is on the run, wanted by the police as a witness in a mob hit. If you like noir, you'll like this.

via youtube:

The NYT says it's "melodrama of solid if not spectacular proportions." The Guardian calls it "a sharp, obscure little film".

Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 80%.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Hellbound: Hellraiser II and Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth

Hellbound: Hellraiser II, directed by Tony Randel, stars some of the same cast as the 1st one, is a direct sequel, and includes an origin story of sorts.

The Hellraiser series -9 in all plus a planned reboot film and upcoming TV series- is originally based on a Clive Barker novella The Hellbound Heart. The franchise obviously has a hold on the horror-loving crowd. I've read the novella and seen the first film. I have movies 2-8 and will be watching them all.


Moria says the film "disappoints somewhat but is worthwhile." says, "Hellbound is the perfect horror sequel, hands down. Everything about this movie is fantastic and true to the world that Clive Barker set down in Hellraiser."

DVD Talk says,
Hellbound: Hellraiser II proves that sequels can be done well, with smarts and with style. Pinhead has since become a bit of a cliché but here he and his crew are still intense and frightening characters, nightmarish visions that have taken on humanoid form. It's not often you can call something a modern classic but the movie really is an expertly made and incredibly effective horror film well worth revisiting.
Slant Magazine gives it 2 out of 4 stars and says, "the sequel’s cure proves infinitely bloodier than the original’s disease". Slasher Studios Reviews says, "Hellraiser 2 stays true to the spirit of part 1 and is the only successful companion piece." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 50%.

Roger Ebert gives it 1/2 star and closes his review with this:
an ideal movie for audiences with little taste and atrophied attention spans who want to glance at the screen occasionally and ascertain that something is still happening up there. If you fit that description, you have probably not read this far, but what the heck, we believe in full-service reviews around here.


Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth (1992) is 3rd in the series, and I wondered how that was possible after watching the 2nd one. If Pinhead is integral, how could the franchise continue after the ending of the 2nd film? I found out. This is definitely a step down.


Empire Online says, "This is the sort of picture teenagers in malls in Akron, Ohio might understand — a good horror sequel, and that's all". Moria calls it "a big disappointment." concludes, "Straight up, this is a bad movie. Not “Sweet Jesus make it stop!” bad, but bad in the sense that you gather a group of friends, a case of beer and pizza and you don’t take it too seriously."

EW gives it a C-. DVD Verdict says, "the film has dark charms that should satisfy any fan of acupuncture's worst poster boy." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 17%.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Great Beauty

The Great Beauty is an award-winning 2013 Italian drama directed by Paolo Sorrentino. The main character is a writer who wrote one novel in his 20s and then began writing social columns and interviews. After his 65th birthday, he reflects on his life. This movie is a magical wonder, and I loved every moment.

"The most important thing I discovered a few days after turning 65 
is that I can't waste any more time doing things I don't want to do."

I watched via Hulu.


The NYT calls it "A deliriously alive movie". Senses of Cinema says, "The film is feast for the senses, a synaesthetic experience of visual images, words, and music that cannot shade, but rather highlights, the desolation of the world represented."

Roger Ebert's site gives it a full 4 stars and calls it "a character study that presents contemporary Rome through the eyes of Jep Gambardella (the brilliant Toni Servillo), a simultaneously overstimulated and underwhelmed taste-making intellectual." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 91%.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Road

The Road is a 2009 post-apocalyptic film based on the book by Cormac McCarthy. This is such a sad film! It's one of the saddest I've ever seen. The book itself is a reworking of a well-worn post-apocalyptic trope. I never understood the attention McCarthy received for the book, since it has been done so well and so often so many times before. The film, which stars Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, Charlize Theron, and Guy Pearce, is a faithful adaptation. I'd highly recommend this even to folks new to this sub-genre. But it is sad.


The NYT says, "The most arresting aspect of “The Road” is just how fully the filmmakers have realized this bleak, blighted landscape of a modern society reduced to savagery." The Guardian concludes, "It is an inexpressibly painful subject and Hillcoat has brought it to the screen with great intelligence." Rolling Stone closes with this: "In this haunting portrait of America as no country for old men or young, Hillcoat — through the artistry of Mortensen and Smit-McPhee — carries the fire of our shared humanity and lets it burn bright and true."

Time Out says,
the central purpose is to break your heart and shatter your soul. On which level, Hillcoat’s movie is a resounding triumph. Stunning landscape photography sets the melancholy mood, and Nick Cave’s wrenching score reinforces it. But it is the performances that ultimately hold the film together. We expect this kind of selfless professionalism from Mortensen.

Roger Ebert gives it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars. Rotten Tomatoes has a critics score of 75%.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Django Unchained

Django Unchained is a modern addition to a long-standing string of movies with the word "Django" in the title. Except for having been inspired by the 1966 Sergio Corbucci film, I don't see a connection. But that's ok. Many of these films have nothing to do with each other. This Quentin Tarantino movie has been called an homage. I'm glad I saw it, both because I'm gradually working my way through the Django movies and because Tarantino is worth checking out. I won't see it again. For one thing, I like my Django films to be Spaghetti Westerns, and this is not anything I can classify.


The New Yorker calls it a "crap masterpiece". The NYT says it's "crazily entertaining, brazenly irresponsible and also ethically serious in a way that is entirely consistent with its playfulness."

EW has a B- review. Rolling Stone says, "Welcome to alternative History 101 with Professor Quentin Tarantino" and closes with this: "Wake up, people. Tarantino lives to cross the line. Is Django Unchained too much? Damn straight. It wouldn't be Tarantino otherwise."

Empire Online gives it a good review and says, "Django Unchained isn’t a Western. Tarantino himself has said, if anything, it should be tagged a ‘Southern’" and concludes:
Another strong, sparky and bloody entry in the QT canon. Although, creaking under its running time, it’s not quite as uproariously entertaining as his last pseudo-historical adventure, Inglourious Basterds.
Roger Ebert gave it a full 4 stars and calls Tarantino "a consummate filmmaker." Rotten Tomatoes has a critics rating of 88%.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Picnic at Shelby Forest State Park

Picnics are my favorite things, and one day last month we took a bite to eat to Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park. We ate at a picnic area away from the lake at the edge of the woods.

We just grabbed a little something on the way -nothing elaborate:

After we ate, we drove down to Poplar Lake:

and spent some time observing the owl:

and the hawk:

at the Nature Center. The birds are injured and not releaseable and are used for educational programs at the park.

There are trails, but we didn't do any hiking this time. This park is about a 45-minute drive for us, and we just never go there. We have so many good picnic spots closer. I do want to go back soon to explore the trails.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Stairway 42

Welcome to the stairs leading up to the railroad tracks.