Lisey’s Story by Stephen King – A Book Review

Stephen King once again offers us a story with a famous author, Scott Landon, as the protagonist, only this time he’s dead.  His wife, Lisey, still struggles to deal with his passing even as she fights to help her troubled sister immersed in a crisis.  To top it all off, a deranged fan stalks Lisey in order to take any unfinished works her husband may have left floating around, and the fan does this as a favor to a misguided scholar hoping to cash in on Landon’s popularity.  Though dead, Scott, sensing trouble for his wife’s future, left behind a series of articles that will help Lisey to save her sister and defeat the fan.  These objects, of course, lead to a supernatural land full of beauties and evils.

I’ve read many, many Stephen King books, and I am a huge fan of much of his work.  However, Lisey’s Story is probably the most self-indulgent and poorly executed novel I’ve ever read by the man.  What I found charming about him in the past, the silly words and the quirky asides, now simply annoy me.  He has often used writers as his main characters, but never has he so blatantly modeled the writer after himself, and never has he so unapologetically set the author up as a saintly demigod.

King once said, and I’m paraphrasing at best, that to include anything in a novel that is not necessary is a grave travesty.  I’m afraid that the first 200 pages of this novel were a travesty indeed.  I truly struggled with every fiber of my being against putting this book down.  The good news is that once we got past the 200 mark, things started picking up and the story really began rolling, but that first half was like walking through mud as it comprised of nothing more than flashback after flashback that served little to no purpose.  King easily could have streamlined this 509 behemoth down to 250.  Easily.

I know there are a great deal of rabid King fans out there, and, hey, like I said, I’m a big fan myself.  But we have to face facts, people-King’s last two novels have been duds.  The man’s written over forty of them!  I think it’s time for him to go out on top rather than continuing to spew out works of mediocrity.

That Old Ace In the Hole by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

Proulx has once again given us a captivating story about the most mundane and unexceptional set of circumstances imaginable. 

In this story we have Bob Dollar, a young man who has lived much of his life without purpose, suddenly hired by Global Pork Rind to scout out possible hog farm locations in the Texas Panhandle.  Though he doesn’t care one iota about the hog farming industry and he personally thinks that hog farms ruin the quality of life wherever they spring up, he is determined to complete his job because so many people in his past have left things unfinished.  Little did he know that in investigating the lands and people he hopes will sell out, he would build relationships with both not easily set aside.

Though Proulx gives us a story devoid of any major action or catastrophe, she nails every aspect of what it means to be a human with inexplicable emotions and passions, and I can only imagine that if I were to visit the Texas Panhandle, the people from this novel would likely be who I would meet.

Her usual aptitude for ingenuous dialogue, wit, and charm exude from the pages of this work.  Her characters, as easy to imagine as your next-door neighbor, grow on you despite all their quirks and shortcomings (perhaps also like your next-door neighbor).  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and suspect that you will as well.

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon – A Book Review

I truly enjoyed Haddon’s novel the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, so I had rather high hopes for his latest release.

While entertaining, A Spot of Bother cannot compare to the originality of Haddon’s previous work.  With a curious incident of the dog in the night-time, Haddon gave me something I’d never seen before with his brilliantly rendered protagonist.  A Spot of Bother, on the other hand, is essentially about a dysfunctional family’s attempts at dealing with a potential wedding. 

While Haddon’s characters are completely flawed, they never become complex, and for me that proved disappointing.  What I mean is, sure, the father is completely neurotic and perhaps even insane, but only in the stereotypical way we would imagine.  From there we’ve got the proper mother who struggles with her illicit acts, a gay son who can’t commit, and a divorced daughter who is raising a child of her own while trying to maintain a relationship with a man she may or may not marry.  Their plights are complex, but they are not.

I don’t want you to misunderstand-this book is totally readable.  It never failed to capture my interest, it moved along quite rapidly, and, at moments, it was utterly hilarious.  But, while my praise above is true, it never broke new ground.  It would probably make a perfect mainstream movie, and that’s my biggest issue with it.

In summation, if you’d like to read about all the events that can go wrong leading up to, during, and after a wedding that may or may not ever actually take place, this is the book for you.  If you’d like to read groundbreaking work with one of the most original characters I’ve ever come across, read Haddon’s other novel entitled the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.

The Illusionist – A Movie Review

Everything about this movie worked, and I am not exaggerating when I say that you should make it a priority to see it as soon as possible.

Ed Norton stars as an illusionist, a man who makes the seemingly impossible possible.  Jessica Biel is a duchess and childhood love interest who currently finds herself locked into an undesirable relationship with a crown prince.  When the two happen across one another during one of Norton’s shows, the real conflict of this story begins.  How can they get away from the murderous crown prince and start a life together? 

The always-superb Paul Giamatti plays the police inspector who is reluctantly the crown prince’s lackey and responsible for bringing down Ed Norton’s character after Norton makes the crown prince look like a fool in a variety of ways.

I believe Ed Norton to be one of the world’s most underrated actors and he truly shines in this film.  He exudes confidence and genius just millimeters below a humble and patient exterior, and even when his story seems to be at an all-time low, in the back of your mind you still have perfect faith that he will win out in the end.

Jessica Biel’s character, sadly, could have been played by anyone and while she is a true beauty, I don’t feel she brought anything original to the table.  Of course, when you’re playing opposite Norton and Giamatti, it’s hard to shine.  I do respect her decision to take part in such a potentially intimating film.  Thank goodness she’s moving way from films like Blade: Trinity and Stealth.

Speaking of Giamatti, he is beyond fantastic.  Like Norton, the audience senses so much of who his character truly is with his subtle facial expressions, sighs, and grunts.  Giamatti does his best acting without uttering a single line, and the scenes with both he and Norton together were a true joy to behold.

Set in Vienna around the time when the nineteenth century gave way to the twentieth, the film’s costumes and cinematography are mesmerizing and inspiring.  Some people feel the story has supernatural elements, but I believe Norton’s character was such a master illusionist that everything he did had a very scientific explanation, though some of you may be bothered by the fact that, like any good magician, his secrets remain largely unrevealed.  For me, the story became a bit predictable in the last third of the film, but I was more than able to cast that aside and simply enjoy a riveting and magical experience.

Next time you rent or buy a DVD, I suggest you put this one on the top of your list.

Hollywoodland – A Movie Review

I’d heard this was a very good movie and, as it turns out, I heard right.

If you’re not familiar with the story of George Reeves, he is the man who played Superman in the old television series.  I mean, the OLD television series from the fifties.  Well, anyway, Reeves supposedly died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head because he was so distraught at the fact he’d been typecast as Superman and couldn’t find any other work once the series ended.  However, there have been theories abound that he did not in fact commit suicide, he had actually been murdered.

Thus, in comes Hollywoodland.  This movie deals with a private investigator, played by Adrien Brody, digging into the life of George Reeves, played by Ben Affleck, in order to find the true cause of the actor’s death.  What he unearths is a longstanding affair with a studio executive’s wife played by Diane Lane.  He also discovers that Reeves eventually left Lane’s character for a younger woman. 

Of course, you’re seeing all the angles on how and why Reeves died.  The only question is, does Brody’s character find the true cause of death? 

At times this film is very difficult to follow because of some disjointed story elements as well as an affinity on the actors’ part for mumbling.  However, overall, the plot is very good and the acting really is superb.  Lane and Brody are always exceptional, but even Affleck, perhaps sensing urgency to prove himself, puts on a heck of a performance.  He more than holds his weight with Lane, but his scenes with Brody, as you can imagine, are few. 

I recommend this film.

The Departed – A Movie Review

My wife and I finally watched The Departed last night and all I can say is that it was an electrifying and outstanding movie.  I initially was hesitant to watch it because I heard it was very violent, but the violence actually was neither terribly gratuitous nor gory.  Still disturbing, mind you, but not in an over the top way. 

The story itself was wrought with tension and very, very engaging.  I literally did not know for sure what was going to happen next, and that was a nice feeling in today’s movie world.  Though the film lasted two and a half hours, it flew by surprisingly fast. 

The acting absolutely was superb and I am not exaggerating.  Jack Nicholson made me laugh, he creeped me out, he made me feel sorry for him, he made me hate him.  Matt Damon more than held his own and, while he still played the emotionally restrained type that is beginning to plague his career, he did a great job.  DiCaprio has left behind his teen heartthrob image once and for all, and he truly shined as he gave us an emotional depth and complexity that made me thank God I wasn’t in his character’s shoes.  Baldwin, while his part was smaller, was hilarious in a totally underplayed manner.  The one who stole the show, though, was Mark Wahlberg.  While his part also was rather small, he stole every, and I mean every, scene he was in.  I will be rooting for him at tonight’s 79th Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor.

I tell you, I hope Scorsese finally wins for Best Director.  I believe this film easily could have been just another cops and robbers movie, but Scorsese made us care about each and every one of these guys, and that’s something special.  I even wouldn’t be too upset if it beat out Little Miss Sunshine for Best Picture.

Stranger Than Fiction – A Movie Review

I love metafiction when done correctly, and Stranger Than Fiction is a prime example of metafiction delivered well. 

Metafiction is when the story has some element that is acutely aware it is a story or else there may be a work of fiction within the work of fiction; in other words, it goes beyond the normal structure and style of traditional fiction into some experimental realm.  When executed soundly, metafiction can be thought provoking and illuminating.  When delivered poorly, it can seem gimmicky and amateurish.

I’m happy to report that Stranger Than Fiction is absolutely a work of art and a success.  In this film, Will Ferrel plays an IRS auditor named Harold Crick who begins to hear someone narrating his very life.  He eventually realizes that he is the character in someone’s story and this someone is planning to kill him off at the end.  Harold soon meets his author and tries to talk her out of killing him, but only after growing into a person he always wanted to be.  I won’t spoil the ending for you, but let me say that I wanted Harold to live so desperately that I couldn’t stand it, yet I also knew that his death would be the death most of us would want (if not by old age, of course).

This all doesn’t sound like a work of art, does it?  Trust me when I say it is.  Unlike Jim Carrey’s many attempts, Will Ferrel skillfully pulls of a sensitive and understated role.  You literally care about this man, and it is purely by Ferrel’s unassuming acting.  I don’t want Ferrel to give up comedy, but it is nice to know can he play a role like this.  There was a depth in his eyes I previously didn’t think existed. 

This movie had me laughing as much as it had me fighting back tears, and I’m not a crier.  I was most pleasantly surprised at how much I loved this movie.  I strongly suggest you check it out.

On a side note, I bought the soundtrack to this film some weeks ago after hearing it was awesome.  I didn’t care for it at the time, but now that I have the actual movie to associate with it, I love it!  Isn’t that strange?

Justice, Volume I – A Graphic Novel Review

Justice: Volume I is a good start to what seems to be an interesting story. The artwork is captivating and the writing is adequate enough to keep me looking forward to the conclusion. This story line is not contingent upon the current DC Universe continuity, so we have a lot of heroes in their Silver Age composition but set in modern times. The villains’ interpretations are more eclectic.

I’ve heard some people compare the general cast of heroes and villains to that of the old cartoon Challenge of the Superfriends. I can certainly see the validity of such a statement in terms of who is being used and the costumes, but otherwise this story is far grittier, mature, and complex.

Again, the story in Justice is not anything groundbreaking, but the art and the interpretations of characters, especially the villains, make it an entertaining read.

JLA: World Without a Justice League – A Graphic Novel Review

I remember reading a few of the single issues of this storyline and was not impressed in the least. In fact, I gave up on them. However, after reading the collected edition, I must admit that it was not as terrible as I remembered. Make no mistake, this arc is set amidst the editorial transitions of Infinite Crisis and is also the last of the JLA run initiated by Grant Morrison, so at times World Without a Justice League strikes the reader as disjointed and irrelevant, but, again, it’s not awful. I only recommend it if you’re compelled to complete the collection.

New Avengers: The Collective – A Graphic Novel Review

Brian Michael Bendis continues to spin out entertaining reads with his take on the Avengers. While characterization is a problem when using cornerstone characters, it is certainly fun to see all of our favorites working as a team.

I’ve been a Bendis fan for a while and I enjoy his interpretation of the Avengers, especially the banter. While it doesn’t go overboard into the realm of flat-out comedy, there are times when I can’t help but laugh at some of the snide remarks. My only complaint is the transition of artwork with the inclusion of Mike Deodato. He’s a fine artist, don’t get me wrong, but I’d gotten so accustomed to the previous beautiful renderings of this series that the drastic change in style with Deodato was a bit of a jolt.

The Collective is a logical follow-up to the House of M series as well as hints at Civil War, and it completely amuses, but again, this arc is not the stuff of character-driven plots. If you’d like to see Bendis at his finest with those sorts of stories, I recommend his masterful run on Daredevil.

I’m really enjoying The New Avengers and recommend the entire series thus far.