Friday, September 25, 2015

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a big thick book with excellent character development and quirky plot. There were times when I thought it was wonderful and couldn't stop reading, and other times when I found it annoying and over-done.

The story follows Theo Decker from the age of 13 until his early adulthood. He is dealt a rotten hand when his mother is killed and he is left to his own devices for survival and maturation in New York. Others have noted the resemblance of this work to Dickens' bildungsroman David Copperfield, and indeed, Donna Tartt is masterful at sentence construction, depiction of mood and description of characters, very much like Charles Dickens. Of course she spent 10 years on this opus-- an average of four days per page-- so, I guess it should be crafted well.

Tartt is best when educating the reader, from art history, furniture refurbishing, and even illicit drug use. She is a wealth of information, both useful and not. Tartt is also surprisingly adept at describing the moods and motivations of adolescent males. Odd.

Actually, I found this novel more closely akin to Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage: the pained existentialism, the reckless lifestyles, longing for love, the struggle for meaning.  Maugham, however, wrote a semi-autobiographical work and it seemed more realistic and pertinent where The Goldfinch is fantastical in most plot twists.

Certainly, I can see why The Goldfinch is acclaimed. The writing is smooth as butter and the story is compelling, although it devolved into a Robert Ludlum-esque thriller in the final 150 pages, which I found mildly annoying.

Read the book. Better, read Of Human Bondage.

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Movie Review: Birdman

2 stars out of 5

Michael Keaton played the best Batman way back in the 1989 dark comedy by Tim Burton. Viewers would be better off renting that masterpiece than shelling out $7 for his latest vehicle, Birdman. Themes and acting were great. The filming was distracting and the plot, especially the ending, was annoying.

I wanted this movie to be good. I really did.

There are better reviews written elsewhere (like here), but I am surprised by the sheer number of top ratings --100 out of 100-- at metacritic and a Rotten Tomatoes score of 92%. Am I missing something?

The acting by Michael Keaton, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakis and Emma Stone was top notch.The personal themes were fine: Keaton plays a broken down moviestar trying to reinvent himself as a Broadway actor and director, as well as an absent father feeling like he failed his adult, drug-rehabbed daughter. He is a failure as a husband, questioning his talent and whether his past success was real... yada, yada, yada.

Keaton’s character adapts a short story to Broadway and then goes into debt to produce, direct and act in the play, opening himself up to humiliation and professional and financial ruin.

Ed Norton plays a Broadway pro whose self-confidence wanes when not on the stage. Naomi Watts is a fledgling actress concerned that this play will define her career. Emma Stone is Keaton’s daughter and Zach Galifianakis plays the lawyer and best friend.

It’s billed as a dramedy and the personal dramas are valid, but most of the jokes are inside baseball stuff for the Hollywood and Broadway crowds that those of us living in the Flyover aren’t too concerned with. Who cares if Keaton’s character isn’t respected as a “real” actor?

Many of the reviews remark on the novel way the movie is filmed, with continuous shot-on video making it seem that the whole movie is done in one take. Big whoop. Hitchcock did that in “The Rope” 50 years ago before all the cinematographic tricks. And I noticed the shot-on camera dance about ⅓ of the way through, so if a semi-skilled laborer in a square state can figure it out, it’s not a big deal. Frankly, it became distracting.

The biggest problem is the plot, especially the ending. Keaton struggles, he remembers past glory, he deals with anger, he goes through the dark night of the soul, he anticipates new glory, he resolves issues with his family…. all good stuff.  Then the writer doesn’t have an ending  ….Keaton the Birdman flies away, or some such bullshit.

There’s probably an Oscar in here somewhere because the writer flagellates Hollyweird by portraying a moviestar as a legitimate actor. Kudos for that I suppose.