Archive for November, 2012

Review: Fingersmith

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an imaginative work! This book truly immerses the reader in its time and place, and with its changing perspective and unlikely twist, holds interest like the best of masterpieces. The characters are absolutely wonderful, and the pieces of the mystery fall together flawlessly in the end. I was very impressed!

I recommend this book strongly for readers of historical fiction, mystery, and romance. Yes, romance – especially nontraditional romance!

Looper Bends Time and Perspective

There’s that old question that everyone encounters at some point: “If you met Adolf Hitler as a child or young man, but you knew what was coming, would you kill him?”

In part, this film poses such a question. Yet it explores the idea that the future may not be predetermined; what if, after all, you instead did something that would change Hitler’s future forever? The movie further speculates whether a person could off his older, time-traveling self, even if the younger self were a paid assassin to begin with.  If time travel were possible, this kind of thinking could blow your mind, right?

It’s all pretty existential, but Looper poses these and other classic conundrums in a fresh and extremely entertaining manner.  As always, the very idea of time travel and its inherent possibilities of paradoxes and loopholes are mind-boggling enough. But this movie also features plenty of shooting, suspense, chases, mutilation, and stuff blowing up (after all, Bruce Willis is in the film).

I’ve liked this film’s star, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, since his days as the hippy-alien kid on Third Rock from the Sun, and I am thrilled to see what an actor’s actor he has become. In Looper, he plays Joe, an assassin who kills people sent to the past by organized criminals thirty years in the future, where time travel has been invented but immediately outlawed. Thus, the criminals have the few, hidden time machines that exist. Their past-era assassins are called loopers, and when the mob wants to retire them, they find their older selves and send them back, with a final payoff, to be permanently retired by their younger selves. Then the younger self is able to spend his remaining thirty years spending his money. But once in a while, a looper just can’t shoot himself, and in this way, a fellow looper learns (from his older self) and tells Joe that there is a very scary and all-powerful mob boss in the future who is retiring all the loopers rapidly. What other dangers does this big kahuna pose?

On top of all that, some people in this “present” (about thirty years from now) have developed a mutation of being mildly kinetic. This mutation plays into the plot twist that emerges on top of the young-Joe-killing-old-Joe conflict.

In addition to a beautifully understated performance by Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt shines as a mother living with her son (the amazing young actor Pierce Gagnon) on an isolated farm. It is Joe’s involvement with Sara and Cid that leads to the ultimate questions of right, wrong, and all the gray areas between.

The director, Rian Johnson, also directed the inventive films Brick (2005), also starring Gordon-Levitt, and The Brothers Bloom (2008), starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, and Rachel Weisz. Looper also features a terrific performance by Jeff Daniels as the “present day” looper-wranger. It all makes for a thrilling and emotionally fraught tale that’s well worth the price of admission!

What fun! Seven Psychopaths is a topsy-turvy ride through a hysterical—and often bloody—funhouse where nothing seems quite right.  If you love Tatantino-esque dark humor as much as I do, you’ll enjoy this film.

The absolutely best part of this movie is its cast, here presented in the order of how brilliant each is in his role: Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Tom Waits, Colin Farrell, and Woody Harrelson. As I commented elsewhere, I could watch Walken and Rockwell read the phone book—they are absolutely inimitable—and writer/director Martin McDonagh does a magnificent job of sitting back and letting them run with it.

McDonagh, who made his major film debut with the fascinatingly fresh In Bruges, comes off as a lovechild of Guy Ritchie, Todd Phillips, and Wes Anderson. He’s definitely a filmmaker to watch.

The second-best part of this movie is the dialogue (and I wonder how much was ad-libbed, as it seems so spontaneous). Here’s an example of the twisted logic of the characters:

Hans: As Gandhi said…”An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” I believe that whole heartedly.

Bill: No it doesn’t. There’ll be one guy left with one eye. How’s the last blind guy going to take out the eye of the last guy left whose still got one eye left? All that guy has to do is run away and hide behind a bush. Ghandi was wrong. It’s just that nobody’s got the balls to come out and say it.

Final reason to watch: Colin Farrell’s hair is hilarious.

The Devil in Silver
The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

(I received an advance copy of this book.)

Well, what can I say. It took me forever to finish this book. It starts out well enough: a good-hearted thug named Pepper is wrongly committed to a psychiatric hospital, and he encounters an entity that some believe is the Devil. Cool!

But then I got bogged down in the middle of it, where it began to crawl like molasses, as though the author rambles without knowing where the story should go next. Where is the Devil? Instead of seeing more of that story, we get an entire chapter about the life of Van Gogh and several chapters about a unit romance. This might be interesting if it wasn’t so forgettable and meaningless to how the story started. The characters all verge on being quite interesting, but we never quite get to know them well enough to love or hate or miss them if they are suddenly taken away.

I am not sure where this book fits. It’s really NOT horror, though parts of it read that way; it’s not a thriller, as it is painfully slow in some parts and makes no sense in others; it’s a not really a character-driven book and kind of loses track of some of the interesting personae.

In the end, it seems it might not have been the Devil at all. Then, is the book really a commentary on society in general and psychiatric care specifically?

I’m left stumped and rather disappointed. There are glimpses of really terrific observation and writing here, but it’s rather like a first draft, not having been edited for flow and best content. (Yes, I know this was an advance, unedited copy, as evidenced by the typos, missing words, extra words, and so on – but you’d think the STORY would be finished.) There are also disturbing missteps, like the author addressing readers directly many times, jarring them from their story experience.

All in all, this was not one of my favorite reads of the year.

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