Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

We started watching this movie a couple of years ago, back when we were trying to see all the movies that won best movie Academy Awards.  We got about 45 minutes in and then never got back to it, but in all, it is an excellent movie about the transition of servicemen back into civilian life post WWII.
There are three threads, one of which is the effects of war on a family.  Fredric March was a banker before he went to the European theater and he is one when he comes back.  His experiences in war leave him feeling like what he does in his job is fairly trivial, and he has trouble readjusting to civilian life, but is fairly well off with a wife and child who welcome him home.  Hoagie Carmichael is a sailor whose ship went down and he was amongst a few survivors.  He lost both his hands, which he struggles with fitting back in, despite his family and fiance welcoming him whole heartedly.  He finally accepts that he can have the life he left behind and gets married before the end.  Dana Andrews is a guy who was unskilled before he went to war, was a hero there, performing well under pressure and then coming home with PTSD and no job prospects.  His wife has also moved on without him, and to a large extent, his story seems pretty comparable with modern soldiers.  Really, a great film, maybe a tad on the long side, but well worth watching.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I love the voice in this novel, which spans generations of a Korean family in no time, crying out about the inequities in terms of gender, race, and politics.  This was one of the New York Times five best novels of 2018, and I see why.  This is the fourth of the five that I have read and it is my favorite.
The book tells the story of Korean immigrants living in Japan between 1910 and today, a family saga that explores the effects of poverty, abuse, war, suicide, and the accumulation of wealth on multiple generations. When the novel opens, we are introduced to Hoonie enters into an arranged marriage with Yangjin and they are bound together by their shared love for their daughter Sunja.
It is Sunja who is the character in the novel. As a teenager, she is seduced by a yakuza, Hansu, leaving her pregnant and unmarried, but when a sympathetic young missionary asks for her hand, it seems her disgrace will be avoided. She dodges that bullet, and a few more, but rest assured, her life is miserable, none the less.  The almost unimaginable degrees of hardship, disrespect and inhumanity suffered by the Koreans in this story makes for painful reading. They live in impoverished circumstances, are paid less than their Japanese counterparts, are spoken to as if they were dogs and, in one powerful scene, are forced to register time and again as strangers in a land in which many of them have in fact been born.  Hansu returns again and again, and without him, they would have died.  The Koreans tolerate this maltreatment with a stoicism that reflects the fortitude of their character. Surviving is what matters to them, not human rights.  Pachinko is a good metaphor for this book, in that the characters bounce off the edges of life and war in Japan, never knowing where they will be bounced next, and in the end, the game is rigged.  A beautiful read.  Do not miss this.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Night Manager (2017)

This is a min series damatization of a John Le Carre thriller.  It is well written, well acted, and the tension is just right (which means that it was too much for me, but just about right for those who like that sort of thing.  I have more of an approach avoidance relationship with it myself).
The story goes that Jonathan Pine is the night manager at an upscale hotel in Cairo.  He did two tours in Afghanistan and has basically lost his interest in the things that most people love.  So he instead fulfills the wishes of the rich and famous.  Up until he gets involved with a guest who feeds him information about an international arms dealer, who then ends up brutally murdered.
That pisses him off, and when he is recruited by British intelligence he snaps up the undercover bad boy role, and suffice it to say, most of it goes about as well as can be expected, with some unprofessional entanglements aside.  Streaming on Amazon Prime, and well worth watching.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Meditation Park (2017)

There is so much to love about Canada, and one of those things is their movies.  And Sandra Oh.  This is set in British Columbia (I think) in a largely Asian immigrant community where the older generation struggles to speak English and many women still lead very traditional lives that are inherently isolated because they do not work, they do not speak the language, and their husbands would like to keep it that way.
The movie centers on Maria, who discovers a pair of sexy women's underwear in her husband Bing's possession and suddenly understands that it is possible that all the late nights he has been keeping where he is claiming to work are potentially about something else entirely.  She sets a two pronged course of response.  The first is to figure out exactly who this woman is and the other is to start to think about herself as separate from her husband.  How would she survive, what would she do?  She really has isolated herself to her husband and her daughter and that is just not going to be enough if Bing is leaving her.  It is equal parts charming and funny, not your typical romantic comedy but really filling that role in a lot of ways.  Streaming on Netflix to boot!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

This author's first book made quite a splash and yielded her the Pulitzer Prize, but I wasn't such a big fan of it.  This book was on the New York Times notable books list and so I decided to give her a second chance and I am really glad that I did.  If you liked the multimedia in her first book, you are going to be disappointed that there is none of that here.  What is consistent is a feminist narrative that is soft and clear and true throughout.
The center of this story is Anna Kerrigan, the daughter of what appears to be a man who skirted the law for profit and disappeared under inauspicious circumstances.  Anna is left to care for her mother and her  sister with very disabling cerebral palsy.  She is fortunate that it is the height of WWII and women have entered the work force to do decidedly unladylike job of making machine parts at the Navy Yard, for which she is both well compensated and respected by her make peers. She goes on to do an even more specialized job diving, and when her mother leaves Manhattan after her sister dies, she stays.  It would have been unheard of before the war, but the world turned a bit upside down then, and Anna ran with it in an epic way.  The mystery of what happened to her father provides a side bar to the story, but this is a wonderfully well written story of the power of women.

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Incredible Jessica James (2016)

I have managed to escape my fate of last year's March and April, where I felt like everything I saw just did not add up to the quality of the Oscar nominated movies that I had spent the months before watching.  To be sure, one thing I have been doing a little bit of is watching the movies that I didn't quite finish up from last year's nominees (and I am also thinking of going back in time to watch other Best Picture nominees at the very least that I missed along the way, either because I wan't born or because I just never got around to it).
This is one I want to note because it is a romantic comedy streaming on Netflix, and I really liked it.  Jessica Williams is great as a sassy, but not altogether successful budding playwright who has gone through a break up and is not quite ready to get back on the relationship horse.  Along comes Chris O'Dowd, who is his usual likable self, and they manage to make something of their friendship.  Very enjoyable.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Meagan Leavey (2017)

This is a good movie that incorporates two things that are really true for war veterans returning home now.  They have a lot of trauma, and as women, they have had a lonely war.  So when Megan joins the military because she basically has no other viable options, and discovers that the Army is not her friend, she is a bit at sea until she gets a whiff of the canine units.  She inherits a dog, Rex, who is highly skilled at sniffing bombs and also a high maintenance dog who is hard for handlers.  Megan, who is not welcome with open arms into this unit either--women face a lot of battles before they even get to the battlefield--but the fact that Rex trusts her and he doesn't trust anyone wins her a lot of points, and they are basically inseparable. They are both wounded in an event that ends their war, but saves lives, and then Megan goes about finding a soft landing for Rex, against all odds.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Mrs. Osmond by John Banville

In order to read this book you would benefit greatly from having read A Portrait of a Lady recently enough to remember the characters and their motivations well enough to dive right in/. Where the one leaves off, this one begins.
I am not exactly sure how I feel about sequels that are written by another author in another time, but this one is very satisfying.  For one thing, Isabel Archer, now Mrs. Osmond, deserves a better ending than she got in the original.  That is of course the nature of a tragedy that the good inevitably suffer in a way that is understandable but inexorably sad.  This book gives her another path, one that is in keeping with her core character, but also tipping a hat to her intelligence and her potential.
Isabel supports the suffragette movement, manages to exact both her revenge and her freedom in a way that down's reflect badly on her, and one can see a path to happiness for her at the end.  Very satisfying.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Victoria (Season One) (2016)

Women leaders have always faced an uphill battle, and in the noble families of Europe, they got some real opportunities to shine due to an inherited disorder that disproportionately affected men over women.  Men bled to death and women took over for them more often than by chance alone.  Victoria had oodles of children, who were married off around Europe, in what was to be about the end of that practice world wide.
Victoria was a woman who rose to the throne at a very early age, luckily enough at an age of majority so the absolute requirement of a regent was avoided, much to her mother's chagrine.  The other commonality to these stories is that the women take over young and are long lived, so they have literally a lifetime to establish their legacy.  Victoria is lucky because while Albert struggled to find his role in life, he whole heartedly loved her.  Others around the two of them had high hopes that they could control the queen, either through him or through her, but he was having none of it, and largely supported her decision making obligations.  She had great support through him, and the only snafu is that he died young, and it is really tough to be a monarch and a good parent, and likely her children suffered as a result.  I enjoyed this series, but then I am a sucker for these BBC historical series.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Toni Erdmann (2016)

I still have one more movie to watch that was nominated for the 2017 Oscars, but while I wait to be able to see that, I am finishing up the handful of movies that I haven't finished watching from last year's nominees, and this is one of them.
It is a long and somewhat difficult film from Germany. When I say long, I mean three hours, and the gist of it is that after watching this movie, if you thought that you had an embarrassing parent, you will see that it could have been worse.  I remember reading Dave Berry some years ago, threatening his teenager with driving up to his high school in the Oscar Meyer Wiener mobile, shirtless and with a nipple ring.  This goes way way beyond that, and the daughter in this case is in her thirties, and he is showing up not just at family functions but also at her work place and to after hours business engagements.  It is just monstrously painful to watch, and finally the daughter, Ines, cracks, not from her father's antics it seems, but in that she finally sees the beauty of his ways.  I still have one more film in this category to watch, but the equally dark "A Man Called Ove" is still my choice for last year's winner (which is not what the Academy thought).