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Showing posts from February, 2016

New Yorker Fiction Review #125: "Fifty-Seven" by Rachel Kushner

Issue: Nov. 30, 2015

Story: "Fifty-Seven" by Rachel Kushner

Rating: $$$

Review: In contrast to what's been appearing in the New Yorker fiction section lately -- mostly well-crafted, if slightly tepid, stories about first world characters having first world problems -- in "Fifty-Seven" we have an absolutely gripping, tragic look inside the mind of a perpetually incarcerated, lifetime felon.

Told in close third-person and with such vividness it could be non-fiction, the story chronicles the re-incarceration of a character simply known as "He" as he, upon release from prison with no money and no prospects, commits another murder and then, while inside his next prison/home, kills a guard, so as to maintain his usefulness to the prison gang system who would otherwise kill him if he didn't carry out their bidding. We stay with him as he is transferred to California's dreaded Pelican Bay State Prison, where he will presumably live out what's left of…

New Yorker Fiction Review #124: "Save a Horse Ride a Cowgirl" by Anne Beattie

Issue: Nov. 23, 2015

Story: "Save a Horse Ride a Cowgirl" by Anne Beattie

Rating: Meh Meh Meh

Review: This saggy, boring, self-indulgent "story" gets the rare and dreaded "triple Meh." I know Anne Beattie's a PEN Award winner and a Guggenheim Fellow and all that crap, but that doesn't mean she's immune from writing limp, uninteresting fiction on occasion.

This is a story about, and clearly aimed-at, upper-middle-class white senior citizens. Hey, don't get me wrong, white U.M.C. senior citizens need stories too. After all, they have dramas that take place in their lives and a need to process them, and mankind has been processing its dramas and desires through story for as long as there's been a "mankind" to speak of. But the stories don't have to be crushingly boring and include so many badly drawn characters that it requires a cheat sheet to keep track of them.

It kind of hurts me to say all this, cause I really liked Beatti…

New Yorker Fiction Review #123: "The Weir" by Mark Haddon

Issue: Nov. 16, 2015

Story: "The Weir" by Mark Haddon

Rating: $$

Review: I am absolutely sure I've heard of Mark Haddon somewhere before but I can't remember where and even after the customary 13.2 seconds of internet research that I painstakingly put into each of my New Yorker short story reviews, I still can't figure it out. Anyway...WHO CARES if I've heard about him before. I believe in analyzing a work based on the words on the page and not whether the author is famous or from England or whatever. In this case, he is actually from England, but I digress.

We've got a good story here in "The Weir." An incident happens to a middle aged man during a rugged period in his life and comes to serve as a framework, a reference point, through which he comes to deal with the fundamental banality and yet sacredness of his own existence. Pretty damned good for just a few pages.

The incident? Middle-aged guy saves a young woman from drowning and takes her to …

Watchlist: "Better Call Saul," Season 1

Never in history has an ambulance-chasing, two-bit, name-on-the-back-of-a-matchbook type lawyer seemed so likable as Jimmy McGill, a.k.a. Saul Goodman (s'all good, man!). But then, Season 1 doesn't get into the real sleaze. Instead, Season 1 is focused on Saul's rise from a petty swindler, to law firm mail boy, to actual, functioning, and not even really that sleazy lawyer.

For those who don't know (and there can't be many of you), Better Call Saul is the prequel/spinoff show following the exploits of Walter White's infamous lawyer from the T.V. show Breaking Bad: Saul Goodman. Saul was such an incredible character that I guess the only logical thing to do was keep him "alive" via a spinoff. Or else Bob Odenkirk (who plays Saul) just pulled the right strings. Somebody probably knows this, but I don't. Why a prequel? Probably because, if you remember, at the end of Breaking Bad Saul has to go into hiding, like everyone else who was involved with W…

Movie Review: "Hail, Caesar!"

I saw this film in the theater but I kinda wish I'd just waited three months and seen it on Netflix or Redbox...or maybe even on cable T.V. five years from now. Not that it wasn't entertaining, but...not worth $12 and 2 hours of my time.
The Bad:

1.) This film didn't have enough of that Coen Brothers "snappiness," the kind of cracking, sassy, intelligent, tightly scripted dialogue that seems so cracking and snappy it could never happen in real life and that's precisely the point. There was a little bit of it, but not nearly enough. It seemed almost like some producer intervened and said, "Hey guys, tone it down this time."
2.) "Hail, Caesar!" was too sprawling and therefore the plot had no real urgency or consequence. There were a lot of great characters in this film...in fact there were too many. So many that, in two hours, there was no way to build any real specific interest in one character or create any palpable tension. I've never…

New Yorker Fiction Review #122: "Honey Bunny" by Julianne Pachico

Issue: Nov. 9, 2015

Story:"Honey Bunny" by Julianne Pachico

Rating: $$

Review: Stories about drug use and drug addiction can be a tricky row to hoe and I'm not particularly a fan. One of my all time favorite writers, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, wrote the Moby Dick of "drug fiction," Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas...and it wasn't even fiction. Anyway, Thompson succeeded in turning heavy drug use into a hilarious act of existential daring, pushing oneself as close to the line of tolerance as possible, and reporting the results. But he's been just about the only writer I've ever known who's succeeded at this.

Trying to turn drug use into some kind of adventurous act of rebellion against the system, of living on the edge, etc. is not something of which I particularly approve and it's a type of writing/fiction that I think worked at one time but generally doesn't (or hasn't) anymore, especially since drug use is now not associated with the "…

Movie Review: The Revenant

I loved this film, but it's not for everyone. Here's a quiz to see if The Revenant is for you:
1.) Do you love Westerns -- you know....cowboys (or in this case trappers), Indians, guns, revenge, etc.?
2.) Do you love brutally realistic Westerns, packed with violence, blood, muck, and absolutely zero romance or artistic liberties added?
3.) Do you like watching a cast of almost entirely men shoot guns, kill animals, ride horses, and basically beat the crap out of each other in every conceivable way for three hours?
4.) Do you want to see Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled, stabbed, frozen shot at, starved, chased, shot at (again), beaten the crap out of -- and a bunch of other things I don't have time to name -- for three hours while he wears a bearskin?
5.) Do you feel like you have to see certain movies solely because everyone will be talking about them and you'll feel left out, or because you're a film buff, or because you're the kind of person who can't resis…