August 26, 2015

Movie Review: The End of the Tour *****

Beautifully done film about David Foster Wallace who, when he died in 2008, Los Angeles Times book editor David Ulin called, "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years."
How is it possible that I never heard of this guy?
Have you read his best-seller, Infinite Jest? I hadn't, until after I saw the film. Whatever is ground-breaking about his style, and this work, is beyond my understanding - I got nowhere with the book.
No matter, The End of the Tour is a really good film.
It's based on the book by David Lipsky, who interviewed Wallace for Rolling Stone, and who spent several days with Wallace as he toured to promote Infinite Jest.
Jason Segel and Jesse Eisenberg give great performances as the two writers, and it's a fascinating study of how their relationship developed and then deteriorated along with trust. Lipsky really liked Wallace, and wanted to be his friend, but he was a journalist after all, and so he wanted to write the truth. Where do you draw the line?
Five stars out of five for The End of The Tour.

August 25, 2015

Movie Review: A Walk in the Woods **

A better name for this movie would be A Snooze in the Woods.
I'm sure someone could write a script that would be a unique twist on two old guys having an adventure in the woods, but it's not the guys who wrote this one. There's nothing new here but there's a lot of borrowing from other films.
This is Wild meets Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid meets Sideways meets Dumb and Dumber.
I give it two stars; one for the scenery and one for Redford's hair.
Two stars out of five for A Walk in the Woods.

August 24, 2015

Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton ****1/2

One thing I've learned, maybe the most valuable thing, is how easy it is to judge something or someone, and dismiss it/them for reasons you think are valid based on your experience. Or even based on nothing.
Don't feel bad. I've done it too.
I have very eclectic taste in music. I have always said I like everything, except rap music. The term, I always said, is an oxymoron.
Well, I've changed my mind. I'm adding rap music to my list.
Straight Outta Compton is a great film that gave me an understanding of what rap is all about. And even though I probably won't be purchasing any CDs or downloading any rap, I appreciate what it stands for. It comes from people unlike you and me (I know this because you're my friends) who live very different lives from ours.
But I digress. On to the movie review: Straight Outta Compton is 2-1/2 hours and I never looked at my watch. It's an engrossing account of the road to stardom for an unlikely group of kids who were by no means angels (and I'm sure the film downplays all the trouble they got into), and who caused a shift in the music industry and created a new genre of music. Their lyrics are from their life experience.
I would have liked a little more depth about how their music came to the attention of the public - the movie makes it seem that they just made their record and voila! it went viral. Well, not viral in those days, but you know where I'm going with this.
Regardless, I cared about each one of them and their relationship with each other; I was sad when they split up; scared when they got direction from a person they trusted who turned out to be crazy; tearful when Eazy-E died of AIDS before they have a chance for a reunion.
I was involved. I loved it.
I have one nit to pick. Eazy-E died in 1995, yet there's a scene of him in his house with a big flat-screen TV. They may have been around, but they didn't look like what we know today.
Minor point.
BTW, O'Shea Jackson, Jr. is fantastic in the part of Ice Cube, his dad.
4-1/2 out of 5 stars for Straight Outta Compton.

August 12, 2015

Movie Review: Ricki and the Flash **

I know it's sacrilege to say anything negative about Meryl Streep. But I'm going to, anyway.
I couldn't wait to see her new film, Ricki and the Flash, because I saw the trailer and thought it had to be so much fun. But if you've seen the trailer you've seen the best of this film, and you haven't had to sit through at least an hour of Meryl Streep singing.
I love that Streep sings, even though she's not that good. I love that she learned to play the guitar for this film (what can't she do?). I love that she and her daughter Mamie get to play mother and daughter.
That's all good.
What's not good is that everything else is too much in this film, beginning with a big, distracting rat's nest on the back of Mamie's head, just in case the sallow makeup didn't make it clear to us that she'd been so depressed that she hadn't showered or washed her hair. Too much. Wouldn't her mother comb that out before they left the house? And because we probably still didn't get the depth of her depression, she goes out to dinner in her pajamas and slippers.
See? Too much.
And then there's the singing, which is waaaaaay too much; this fictional band does at least six numbers. That'd be great if it were Paul McCartney or Taylor Swift (or even if we could hear more of Rick Springfield), but it's Meryl Streep. And while she's fine in this singing role (maybe 'passable' is a better word), she's not a great singer so one or two numbers would have gotten the point across, and would have been plenty. Instead of wasting so much time on mediocre singing, tell the damn story. Get into the characters so we can feel invested in them. Give us some history. Flesh them out. Give them some dimension. Don't put me to sleep.
And then there's Streep's performance, which is too much, which means the directing is too much. The usually subtle Meryl plays this role too big. It's so unlike her.
Oh, and those braids are too much.
On the plus side, Rick Springfield is great fun to look at, as is Kevin Kline, and both their performances are really good.

Two stars out of five for Ricki and the Flash.

August 3, 2015

What I Learned at the Writers Digest Annual Conference

Writer's Digest Annual Conference July 31-Aug. 2, 2015
Writer Unboxed panel
I've been to a gazillion writers conferences - all very different - and I love them. Even the bad ones are good (I've never really been to a bad one).
I love being in the company of so many writers all in one place; it's energizing and motivating, and writers are mostly really nice people.
Not every presentation I went to was worthwhile but I can usually get at least one thing out of each one (but sometimes not).
Here are some things I learned at the Writer's Digest Annual Conference:
  • All presentations are not created equal, and content is second to the personality of the presenter
  • You may have written 31 books and won every award known to man (except a Pulitzer), and still, half of the people in the audience will not have ever heard of you.                               ~Jacqueline Woodson  "Just keeping it real," she said.
  • Sometimes you can hear things you've heard a million times before but this time you hear it in a new way and it turns into an "Ah-hah!" moment.
  • Nothing sells your last book like your next book - keep writing!
  • Every author bio contains the phrase "best-selling, award-winning" (except mine)
  • The word "pantser" is inelegant and annoying, and someone needs to come up with a better term. Come on, people, we're writers...
  • Tim Johnston, closing keynote speaker, seemed to be winging his presentation, but he was fun and clever (a fine example of presentation trumping content), and he is, in fact, a New York Times bestselling author.
  • Carpet should not be used as baseboard (The Roosevelt Hotel, NYC)