Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Brad Pitt really does an amazing job in this film. His acting is superb as he captures the nuances of learning about life from a child's perspective, despite his own uncertainty about how old he actually is. The fact that he is raised in an "old folks' home" works beautifully, because although he fits in with the other residents physically and emotionally, as he grows younger and stronger, he is exposed to the reality of death as an omnipresent element in our lives. The childlike spark of romance between him as an old man and Daisy, the visiting young granddaughter of one of the residents, is charming, but becomes the impetus for a love story that penetrates the entire film. As adults, Benjamin and Daisy's love story is everything a romance should be, although the harbinger of storms and dark times always overshadow their romance and are seen in the film as a reminder of this.
Cate Blanchett is magnificent as Daisy, and I feel like she has been robbed by not being nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress. Tilda Swinton puts in another superb turn in her brief role as well (although after throwing away her Oscar for Michael Clayton, I suspect no one in Hollywood will ever nominate her again for an award). Many of the other actors who star in supporting roles are excellent as well, such as Taraji P. Henson who plays his adopted mother Queenie, and Jared Harris who plays Captain Mike.
The movie conveys important lessons about living and dying, about time, experience, and kismet. These are lessons we all need to be reminded about from time to time. Death is what makes us appreciate the ones we love and our own life. Without death, we would never understand the purpose of living. This film is a drama, a fantasy, and a romance, and it works uniquely in all three ways. It unfolds over the course of some 80 years, but unfortunately it feels like it. In other words, it's a long, drawn-out movie. During our showing, one group of people got up and walked out, and we still think my aunt nodded off once or twice (although she denies it). Still, though everyone may have thought it was long and required much attention on the viewers' part, what surprised me was that not another person in the theater moved or got up to go to the bathroom or get a snack. The movie mesmerizes you with its dialogue, its acting, and the aging make-up. It truly is a brilliant film, but one that requires a lot of patience and a very comfortable sofa on which to relax and ponder the messages it seeks to share.
Click here for the official website for the movie, and below is one of the official trailers for the film.
Friday, December 26, 2008
This isn't to say that The Historian is a bad book. On the contrary, Kostova's writing is wonderful. Her descriptions are detailed, which I appreciate, and the book reads like historical fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of Paul and Helen's visit in the 1950s to places like Turkey, Hungary, and Bulgaria, in particular because this is during the days when Eastern Europe was Communist and Americans were not welcome. The unfolding of history as each character uncovers some other piece of the mysterious puzzle about Dracula's burial location makes for an interesting read. I found myself especially interested in the descriptions of the historical Vlad the Impaler and the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. The book involves libraries and archives so much that I almost thought the book should have been called The Librarian, but that might have caused confusion with the trilogy of action movies starring Noah Wyle. Kostova's panoply of characters is not unlike a Charles Dickens novel, where even less important characters are given their fair share of descriptions and contributions to the main storyline. The Bulgarian peasant woman Baba Yanka who sings folk songs and the Turkish professor Turgut Bora are beautifully written characters, but one of my favorites (I'm smirking as I write this) has to be the "evil librarian."
The Historian moves slowly, but that is part of Kostova's intent. Here's a sample from page 100-101 that I think conveys the tone of the book without revealing anything; the narrator is the unnamed daughter who is listening to her father's story:
I uncurled my cold hand from the edge of the bench and made the effort to be lighthearted now, too. When had it become effort? I wondered, but it was too late. I was doing his work for him, distracting him as he had once tried to distract me. I took refuge in a slight petulance--not too much or he would suspect it. "I have to say I'm hungry again, for real food."
This dedication to a slow-paced tale allows the reader to get into the characters and the storyline. Indeed, this ultimately serves a purpose: by slowly telling the tale, Kostova allows the story to unfold in such a way as to make the vampire part of it more believable. This, added to the successful historical component, make for a fascinating read. Still, as far as the plot was concerned, sometimes there were just too many coincidences and there never seemed to be a wrong turn as the story unfolds. Although I looked forward to sitting down to read the book each day, it didn't have me on the edge of my seat like I initially had hoped. So if you're interested in an alternative version of the Dracula story and you enjoy historical fiction, then this book is for you. But if you're looking for suspense and thrills, you may want to hold off on this for now.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Monday, December 15, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Saturday, December 6, 2008
In terms of fiction, my favorite novels were the literary classic Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925) and the psychological mystery A Dark-Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine (1986). Other notable fiction reads for the year were Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster (1905), Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang (1979, translated into English 2007), The Book of Salt by Monique Truong (2003), and Grief by Andrew Holleran (2006). As for non-fiction, the subjects vary and although much from this group was research for conference presentations and coursework, others were for my own pleasure. Two of my favorites were biographies: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman (1998) [see my review on this blog], and Michelangelo by Howard Hibbard (1974). Other notable non-fiction reads include the history books Longitude by Dava Sobel (1995) and The Ottoman Empire, 1700-1922 by Donald Quataert (2000), the art historical text Classical Art: From Greece to Rome by Mary Beard and John Henderson (2001), and of course the memoirs of David Sedaris, When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008) [see my review on this blog]. And if you're wondering about the image reproduced here, that is the cover of the latest novel I am reading, the vampire-themed novel The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (2005), but that will have to go on next year's list.