Thursday, February 28, 2008

Leap Day Books and Movies

Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo. [Melancholy American dramatic novel]. Richard Russo writes novels that, for Mrs.5000, are funny books that make her cry, and that for me are wistful books that make me laugh out loud every couple of pages. Bridge of Sighs is his newest and by all appearences (I'm 5/6 of the way in) his best. Working, as in all his novels, in the milieu of a down-at-its-heels small town in the rural Northeast, Russo manages to recreate much of the American experience in this little literary test tube. His characters are as fully rounded, as complex yet as consistent, as any in literature. They are real enough that you care for them and about them despite yourself, in that psychotic break that good fiction so wonderfully invokes. They are real enough to show you something about yourself.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. [Gritty Crime-Ain't-For-Amateurs flick] This movie might have been custom-made to my specifications. It has one of my favorite actors! (Phyllip Seymour Hoffman) It has one of my favorite narrative techniques! (After starting with the central event, the film skitters backward and foreward in time to explore why it happened, and what happened as a result of it.) It has one of my favorite stock movie scenarios! (The heist.) It has one of my favorite movie themes! (The destructive forces that can spin out of control when basic human relationships fail). But somehow, it didn't all add up for me. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead implies a pretty grim social critique, but doesn't offer much in the way of helpful suggestions for improvement. The title is from an Irish saying, "My you be in heaven for a half hour before the Devil know's you're dead," but I haven't figured out how that connects.

Volver. [Spanish genre-defying movie] I hadn't seen a film by the famously quirky Spanish director Almodovar in a million years, so I didn't quite know what to expect from Volver. The beginning of the movie itself doesn't offer many clues. At first, you seem to be watching a conventional drama about family relationships, and then it looks like it's going to be a ghost story, and then, suddenly, we're confronting the classic movie problem: how are we going to get rid of this body? Except, as things turn out, it's still a conventional drama and still a ghost story, more or less. It's funny, sweet, and sassy, and packed with awesome eye candy. Mrs.5000, I'd be willing to watch it again if you want to see it.

Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. [Incredibly action-packed autobiographical novel]. Ripping tale of an Australian man on the run who carves out a life for himself among the slums, expatriates, and criminal princes of Bombay. It's implausibly rich with bizarre and extreme events, and strangely free of dull moments, but apparently quite closely based on the author's own extraordinary life. The first-person hero offers a compelling model of the tough guy with a heart and a brain. Engagingly written and, in the reading I'm listening to on my Ipod, beautifully read by Humphrey Bower, who among the vast catalog of characters is required to mimic just about every possible accent that can be spun on the English language.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the reviews. if you dig 'volver,' i highly recommend 'talk to her' by almodovar.

Michael5000 said...

@Austin: Sounds good. I put a hold on it.

Anonymous said...

i read shantaram last year...all year. in my many breaks from the book, i read another 5 or 6 books too. fascinating story, but quite a slog.

d said...

richard russo: AWESOME. seriously, will go down in history as one of the best american authors ever.

any movie with psh in it is bound to be worth your time.

volver is quite possibly one of the worst movies i've ever put in my dvd player. blech.

don't know shantaram, but jenny doesn't make me want to pick it up.

Michael5000 said...

@d: Almodovar seems to be very much a love-it-or-hate-it sort of guy. I can imagine why you hate it, even though I liked it quite a bit. A lot of critics thought it was the bomb dot com; check this out.

Shantaram is thick, no two ways about it. But notice that jennyj kept coming back to it....

Anonymous said...

yes, i did keep coming back to it. the story, just like the main character, has a strange magnetism. i am glad i finished it. do give it a try. just don't give up.