Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Sense of an Ending

Julian Barnes' Booker Prize winning novella, The Sense of an Ending, was my reading pleasure from this past weekend. It's been a bit since I read a novel (or novella in this case), and certainly some time since I tore through a book cover-to-cover in a single weekend.

In some ways, a book like this is my favorite type of book. I hardly know how to describe this type of book that I enjoy so much other than to say it's the type of book that somehow manages to be incredibly interesting to read while having hardly any real plot at all. For me my best description here is a book that is so enjoyable, yet you know would make a horrible film.

Books I have enjoyed that have fallen into this category that quickly come to mind are books like Ian McEwan's Atonement, J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Kazou Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.

In the book The Sense of an Ending the author writes in an interesting voice, a voice that wants you to disassociate it from being a novel including lines like: “This was another of our fears: that Life wouldn't turn out to be like Literature."

The narrator Tony Webster tells this story first by telling us about a period of time in his childhood amongst a core group of four friends who's lives diverge as they head off to university. A series of events that occur during that time are then revisited as Tony is in retirement and he revisits his past.

The central thought of this book to me is captured in an early quote that is referenced a few times in the book, which is: “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”

It's interesting to me, because on a personal level this quote and the thoughts presented in this book have stuck with me past my reading. The way we look at our life does have a tendency to be in the form of narrative and certain key messages and tracks that play in our mind about the past, but these memories are imperfect, and the documentaiton behind our own past and the past of others is often limited by our memories and the documentation that get's left behind.

I very much enjoyed this book, it far exceeded my expectations. It's a wonderfully thought provoking and well crafted story.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Wow...Robin Williams...Farewell

I can hardly believe it. You never really expect to hear certain celebrities have died. Robin Williams is definitely not someone who I'd expect to hear was dead.

Robin Williams is like a pop-culture institution.

Beyond shocked, I am truly disappointed to hear that he had died.

I've blogged about Robin Williams before, and strangely enough my last post from almost three years ago was called "Robin Williams - Will You Come Back?" In this post, I lamented his lackluster career in the 21st century, after already declaring him the most disappointing actor of the first decade of the 21st century..

That said, I must say, after writing that post, I did find myself enjoying episodes of The Crazy Ones, and maintained hope for Robin Williams second (or third) life.

In 2007, I posted my Top 5 favorite Robin Williams roles. This post was met with a flurry of comments. Here is that list I posted:

1. John Keating, Dead Poets Society (`1989)
2. Genie, Aladdin (1992)
3. Sean Maguire, Good Will Hunting (1997)
4. Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Euphegenia Doubtfire, Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
5. Parry, The Fisher King (1991)

One of the things that I digested after writing this post is how each of these characters tells the story of a person (or genie, as the case might be) who is interested in inspiring others to change their life through interconnected relationships.

Maybe it's in light of these themes in Robin Williams roles, or perhaps his comic persona, that his death is extra shocking.

In light of the early reports that this might be a suicide, likely the result of his depression it's hard to reconcile how to reflect on Robin Williams' life and death.

There's a message in there somewhere - or maybe it's more of a warning, or even a reminder. A death that says you can have the whole world but still somehow be missing something, to feel incomplete, or at a minimum be battling a very serious disease.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Reel People: Reese Witherspoon is Cheryl Strayed

The film is Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (Dallas Buyer's Club). The film is written by Nick Hornby based on the memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on The Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed was born in Spangler, Pennsylvania on September 17, 1968. At the age of 5 her family moved to Minnesota. Her parents would divorce, and her mother would remarry. She would later move again to a rural community of Minnesota in a house that there family built after they used an injury settlement to buy 40 acres of land. That home for some time did include electricity or indoor plumbing. At 17 she would graduate from high school having been involved with track, cheerleading, and was homecoming queen.

She would go to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota for one year, with her mother also attending classes with her at that time. She would later transfer to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where she would eventually earn her double major in English and Women's Studies. During her college years she got married and for a period of time they traveled in London and Europe before she returned to Minnesota to finish school. In Cheryl's senior year of college (her mother's as well), her mother, Barbara Ann "Bobbi" Lambrecht was diagnosed with lung cancer. Bobbi died of lung cancer at the age of 45 during Cheryl's senior year.

After college, while writing and traveling throughout the United States Cheryl held a variety of jobs (youth advocate, waitress, emergency medical technician). Her step father also disengaged from her at the time and she became isolated and addicted to heroin. During this time she also divorced her husband Paul.

In June of 1995 she began a solo journey along the Pacific Crest Trail with a plan to begin in Mojave, California and end in Ashland, Oregon. While going on her soul seeker journey she occasionally altered her travel plans by talking a bus and hitching a ride for a short portion. She also traveled with companions she met on the trails as well. As she traveled she also adjusted her path to trek the Oregon-Washington boarder as well. She would end her journey of around 1100 miles at the Bridge of the Gods on the boarder of the two states.

took a  In 1999 she married documentary film maker Brian Lindstrom. They would go on to have two children. Cheryl also went on to get her Masters in Fine Arts at Syracuse University.

In 2006 she would publish her first book, Torch, a novel loosely based on her own experiences facing the death of her mother.

In 2012 she would publish her memoir Wild: From Lost to Found On Pacific Crest Trail, which was a best-seller, assisted by being the first book for Oprah Winfrey relaunched book club in 2012.


The film Wild was optioned by Reese Witherspoon for her company Pacific Standard three months before the memoir publication.  Nick Hornby wrote the screenplay. In addition to Reese Witherspoon staring in the lead role, the film will also feature Laura Dern as Bobbi (Cheryl's mother).

Reese Witherspoon, won an Oscar for her first and nomination for her 2005 performance in Walk the Line, and director Jean-Marc Vallée recently brought Oscar success with his stars in Dallas Buyer's Club. Will Reese Witherspoon earn and academy award nomination or perhaps win a second Oscar for her portrayal of this Real (Reel) Person.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Sherlock Season 3 - As Wonderful As Ever

Bennedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock (Season 3, Episode 2: "The Sign of Three")
There is all types of TV shows. While some are wildly entertaining and original, others can be more mindless or unoriginal in a cookie-cutter type of way.

Yet more than original or entertaining, the television show BBC's Sherlock is something even more. It's intelligent and artfully prepared. Artful from it's cinematography, editing, writing, and overall creativity.

My wife and I finished the third season (each season has had three 90 minutes episodes), and it is as enjoyable as ever. This is a true delight.

In season 3 not only does the three episode answer the mysteries the season 2 final let linger, but it also introduces and incredibly entertaining character, Mary Morstan (Dr. John Watson's girl friend/wife played incredibly well by Amanda Abbington).

Of every episode in this entire series, one of my favorite episodes to date was the 2nd episode called "The Sign of Three." This episode is based off of Arthur Conan Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes book The Sign of the Four. The majority of this episode is framed with a very long, funny, and awkward wedding toast by Sherlock Holmes (Bennedict Cumberbatch). This episode has a wonderful complexity to it, mixed with amazing humor, beautifully intriguing filming, and something that I really think is a truly unique television experience.

The fact of that matter is, that the way these episodes are crafted each episode is stand-alone-amazing.

Martin Freeman does a wonderful job playing Dr. Watson, Bennedict Cumberbatch will always be the modern Sherlock Holmes, and I hope this series continues season after season with high caliber writing and filming.

In addition to each episode being a perfectly packaged TV event, each of the three episodes did a great job progressing an overall plot as well with some very exciting surprises and story resolution that unfortunatly I can hardly write about without being spoiler free.

Creator/writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done something wonderful here, that truly deserves recognition and more than that I highly recommend tracking each of these seasons down and watching this wonderful series.