September Wrap

Here’s a post of lists, movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read or listened to, all in September, a list that hopefully can tide you over till my next post, which will be after a long-planned hiatus. You’re welcome to throw in your thoughts on any title on this list, or ripple out to other shores.

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MOVIES At Theatres:

Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Who are they kidding? Might as well just put in this disclaimer: Title taken at random. This is not the Man from U.N.C.L.E. with David McCallum (yeah) as Illya Kuryakin and Robert Vaughn (boo) as Napoleon Solo during my childhood days. I knew what the acronym stood for even as a grade schooler, and was mesmerized by a world wide net of spies and intrigues, despite watching a B/W TV set. This 2015 U.N.C.L.E. feature movie is just like any other lesser spy flicks, feels like haphazardly done, dated spywares that fail to send any positive nostalgic vibes, and featuring an accidental duo just happen to have the same names as those in the 60’s TV series. The third person, Alicia Vikander, makes it a bit more watchable. ~ ~ Ripples

Mistress America

A bit disappointed considering how much I’d enjoyed Frances Ha and the works of Noah Baumbach. Greta Gerwig is a mystery to me. In all her roles she looks ultra cheerful, even in difficult circumstances, but is that overacting or is that what her character is supposed to convey, optimism as fuel for life? Anyway, I wanted to give Mistress America a second chance. But as I checked the showtimes a couple of weeks later, it wasn’t there anymore.  ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

A Walk in the Woods

A pleasant surprise! Is there life after 50, 60 … 70? Robert Redford and Nick Nolte is an odd pair to answer that from the jagged edge of a cliff. All the cliché shots of two old men hiking the Appalachian Trail are in the movie trailer; the film has more to offer. Emma Thompson is a welcome addition as the forbearing wife hoping for the best. I’ve seen several of this genre in recent years: WildTracksThe Way, to name a few, with A Walk in the Woods being the lightest but still quite relevant. Lesson learned? Forget about your age, and, giving up doesn’t make you a failure. It has been a long while since I read Bill Bryson’s book on which the film is based. Watching the adaptation brings laughs which I remember were absent while reading. An easy 2 hours of relaxation without taking one single step.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Learning to Drive

Just the opposite, I was not enthused about the trailer and my hesitations about the film were confirmed as I watched. Based on a non-fiction piece from Katha Pollitt’s Learning to Drive and other Life Stories, the movie turns political by changing the Filipino driving instructor into a Sikh, played by Ben Kingsley. No matter, he has that poise and dignity no matter what costume he puts on. It’s not surprising to see Patricia Clarkson’s Wendy character – a woman in her fifties learning to drive for the first time in her life – get some bonus lessons on cultural awareness on top of parallel parking.  ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

The End of the Tour

One of the best films I’ve seen this year, and maybe for some time. Nothing looks ‘performed’, yes, even the nervous Jesse Eisenberg as writer David Lipsky is his natural self, unsure of himself and of his subject David Foster Wallace, as he follows his Infinite Jest book tour to write an article for the Rolling Stone Magazine. Based on Lipsky’s book Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, the film belongs to Jason Segel. A surprising cast and Segel has delivered with poignancy as Wallace. Framed in a sympathetic tone, the film is a moving tribute to and a revelation of an author whom some may choose to misread.
~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Pawn Sacrifice

The title says it all. A pawn is sacrificed in the heat of the cold war. Based on the true events that rocked the chess world and quickly inflamed the political landscape, American Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) captured the world championship in 1972, taking the title away from Soviet Grandmaster Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber). While the film in all its earnest intentions effectively brings out the intensity of the rivalry, the main issue I feel is the casting. Liev Schreiber is too famous a face to be Boris Spassky, even speaking in Russian doesn’t make him any more convincing; Maguire is even more famous a face to be Fischer. And may I go into this? They both need to slim down a bit to fit the profile of the cold war chess rivals, especially Schreiber. My choice for Fischer? Nicholas Hoult. Spassky? Andrew Garfield.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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MOVIES on DVD’s:

The Jungle Book

It has been a long, long while since I watched it and now a refresher to prepare for the star-studded voicing in the remake. This 1967 Disney animation just shows how much has changed in animations then and now. Hand-drawn, slower paced, and nuanced facial expressions from the animal characters, albeit a bit flat when compared to the hyperactive animations we see today. The new version of The Jungle Book is coming out in 2016, utilizing ‘up to the minute technology’, and fusing a real life Mowgli with CGI generated animals and jungle environs all in 3D. As for the 1967 version, the music and the songs will stay as original as ever.

This is Where I Leave You

Another August: Osage County, which is influencing which, for these two are so alike? Or, maybe just speaks to the fact that the dysfunctional family is the norm. Under the direction of their mother, five estranged siblings have to come back home to sit shiva as their father passed. Staying under the same roof for seven days is an ordeal with the Altman family, for everyone carries baggage they’d rather bury together with the dead. Not as bad a film as critics say. Jane Fonda is a less overbearing mother as Meryle Streep is in Osage County, so not to overshadow the rest of the cast. Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll may not be the best of siblings, they make one good cast. Don’t you just love the title?

Greenberg

From the dysfunctional family to the dysfunctional individual. Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) comes back to LA from NYC to housesit for his brother as the family takes a vacation. As one who had received treatment in a mental hospital, Roger has many personal issues to deal with, and it’s a little heart-wrenching to see him struggle to relate, albeit at times he comes through more as annoying than deserving kindness; but maybe that’s the point. Greta Gerwig plays Florence, dog walker for the family. Stiller is in his usual mode, lost to himself and others; Gerwig is her usual self too, pleasant despite all. So it’s not hard to predict the outcome but the process makes one interesting take. The first time Gerwig in director Noah Baumbach’s work. Here began a beautiful and rewarding partnership.

Panic Room

Re-watch after learning this is the breakout film for Kristen Stewart, age 12. Didn’t realize she played Jodie Foster’s daughter there when I first saw the movie years back, and now seeing it again I find the two do have some resemblance, in appearance and demeanour. Locked in a panic room in a fancy NYC apartment they just moved in, mother and daughter try to stay safe as a gang of burglars break in. Although not thoroughly plausible, especially how Foster answers the door as two policeman come to check on them, which then leads to some even more implausible outcomes at the end. But, overall, a riveting, edge-of-your-seat kind of viewing. And when you think of it, of course, it’s David Fincher.

Olive Kitteridge

Binge-watched this HBO 4-hour mini-series after it won 7 Prime Time Emmys last Sunday. Writing, acting, editing, camera work, the whole production is captivating, and at times, very funny, no, not the Bill Murray section – he’s actually serious here. Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins are deserving winners. In her acceptance speech for the Best Mini Series, McDormand emphasized that it all came from a book. Yay for books, the wellspring of inspiration. Olive Kitteridge is author Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize winning work; writer Jane Anderson wins her Emmy for the adapted screenplay. However marvelous the visualization, it all started with words on a page.


A Touch of Sin

In preparation for Jia Zhangke’s 2015 festival film Mountains May DepartA Touch of Sin was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes 2013 and won Jia a Best Screenplay award. Jia’s camera frames a perspective that’s bold and true in his home country China, a nation obsessed with modernization, economic growth, and wealth accumulation. The film reveals the human costs for such enterprises. Unfortunately, his countrymen didn’t have a chance to watch this one as it was banned. But with Mountains May Depart, officials had said they would allow it. I’m afraid it just might be much tamer and easier for the palate.

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BOOKS

Summer by Edith Wharton

After The Age of Innocence, I continue to explore the writings of The Gilded Age, to prepare for my New England trip and yes, Julian Fellowes’ new American TV series.

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

Not as chilling as the title sounds, heartwarming memoir of a son chronicling the extraordinary life of his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, albeit she would have likely said, “O, mine is just another life. There are many more deserving ones.” While accompanying his mother at her chemo therapy sessions in the hospital, son and mother share books and reading. The two-persons book club is therapeutic for both.

Circling The Sun by Paula McLain (Audiobook read by Katharine McEwan)

Not sure how much is true in this fact-based fiction about Beryle Markham, the award winning race horse trainer in Kenya and in 1936, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. Markham flew from England to NYC, but crash landed in Nova Scotia after a 21 hour harrowing flight head-on against the prevailing winds. (I later learned that Amelia Earhart’s 1932 flight was from west to east, a much ‘easier’ feat with the tailwind, landed in Ireland after only 15 hours in flight.) McLain’s book tells many more stories, and gossips, than just this monumental event. Beryl had known the Out of Africa author Karen Blixen in the small social circle in Kenya. Why, Beryl is the other woman in Deny’s life, according to McLain. Not too sure about the book, but I was much impressed by the voice of the narrator Katharine McEwan.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

The only 2015 Booker Prize shortlisted book I’ve read, so far, and it’s brilliant. The book presents a most interesting story of a ‘corporate anthropologist’ collecting field data for an ethnographic study of the human society in this digital age. The ‘Great Report’ is needed to be written, same as this book: what have we become at this juncture of human history and civilization? Maybe we do need anthropologists to offer a narrative of our contemporary society, or even better, we should all be trained as anthropologists to see ourselves better.

Remainder by Tom McCarthy

I’ve enjoyed McCarthy’s style of postmodern incisions. Remainder is his debut work and soon to be made into a movie. Walking down the street our unnamed (of course) protagonist was hit by a falling object. After coming out of a coma, he needs to re-enact his past to regain memories, and to reconstruct an authentic existence. Who is he, what is he? With the huge sum of monetary compensations, he steps out to do exactly that. Still reading, a fascinating premise.

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Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

23 thoughts on “September Wrap”

  1. I really liked “This is Where I Leave You”. I missed the first part of Olive Kitteridge, but I read the first part of the book. I admit I never finished it, but enjoyed the miniseries.

    And I am a latecomer to House of Cards – I have been binge watching it in the last week or so with only two episodes to go in season 3. Great stuff.

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    1. Michelle,

      I think I like TIWILY more than August: Osage County. As for TV series, you may be a latecomer to HOC, I admit I haven’t watched one whole episode of it and for some reasons, don’t intend to. But of course I know the praises it has been getting. As the new fall series are kicking off on TV, I’m eagerly awaiting The Blacklist (James Spader, I used to be a Boston Legal fan), and hopefully soon The Americans.

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  2. We saw “A Walk in the Woods,” too — for a far different reason. Our local boy, Ben Schneider, leader of Lord Huron, did the music and it was extra fun for us to both hear the songs and see his name several times in the credits! (And, I might add, it was a perfect soundtrack to the journey!) Rick’s niece recently completed the Applachian trail but she is 22! I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s not great art; just great fun. (Although Emma was much underused!). I could relate to her angst as I thought of Rick’s earlier solo bike trip!

    The others I’m familiar by title, not having seen. I did real a more “serious” bio of Beryl Markham years ago. The title eludes me right now but it was fascinating, especially the Denys Finch Hatton thing. I enjoyed “The Paris Wife” by McLain and am hoping this one is both enjoyable and (it would be awfully nice) that it is on the mark.

    Clouds of Sils Maria this week. Can’t wait!

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    1. Jeanie,

      O that must be such a riot! What fun to see the credits roll and someone you know appear… and to actually hear the music and know who did that. Marvellous. And I think you’re right. Emma Thompson’s screen time is like a cameo. Now I just wonder, are these Brits living in America now? I know Dan Stevens is, so’s Sybil (forgot her name). As for Beryl Markham, did you read her own autobiography West With The Night? I’m trying to locate that but it will be placed on my TBR anyway for some time in the future. And yes, I think she ought to be recognized more, considering the much more difficult flight she piloted. But of course we only hear about Amelia Earhart. As for Sils Maria, prepare for a different sort of viewing. 😉

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  3. Hey Arti, Milton and I saw “A Touch of Sin” at the NYFF in 2013. Jia Zhangke and his wife, Zhao Tao, were both there, so they participated in the post-screening q&a. I recall that he was still hoping that it would play China, but Milton and I could not see that happening. We’re amazed that he got it made, much less that the Western World was able to see it. It took balls the size of cataloupes to highlight the corruption amongst party officials the way he did. We’re thrilled that he’s free to continue to make films. The NYFF is starting again today (on Thursday Milton worked his magic and scored us cheap seat tickets to this evening’s opening night film, “The Walk” – yay!). “Mountains May Depart” is being screened during the festival. We ordered tickets to it the day they went on sale. We’re seeing it on Monday. Last year, several months after 2013’s NYFF had ended, I was loitering in the lobby at the Film Society of Lincoln Center before a screening of Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomania: Volume 1”. I saw a pile of rolled up posters sitting on a bench under a sign saying that anyone could have them. One of the posters was for “A Touch of Sin”. It was in mint condition. I snagged that one for Milton and gave it to him for his birthday that June.

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    1. LA,

      How cool is that! To see the actual screening and hear Jia and his wife in person at the Q&A. Just curious, did they speak directly to the audience in English or through a translator? I just saw Mountains May Depart last night at CIFF, have written a review and sent that out to Asian American Press. It should come out soon. But don’t read it until you’ve seen the film. I don’t want to send vibes your way.

      One thing I miss is the Q&A and sessions with the filmmakers. You know how much I’d enjoyed hearing Juliette Binoche last year at TIFF, and since I’m going on my New England trip, I didn’t attend TIFF this year and I’ll be just a few hours’ drive from NYC but no, can’t stop by there. I’ll miss that Master class with Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao Hsien (one of my all time faves). Yes, he’s one master auteur. I’ve heard the mixed reviews on his Assassin. But sure like to see it on the big screen. And that I know isn’t possible for me any time soon. Enjoy your shows!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. They spoke through a translator. “The Assassin” is playing the NYFF on 10/9. We don’t have tickets to it right now. It opens on 10/16, but sometimes, at the last minute, Milton finds out that we can get them and then we pounce. We love seeing films that screen at Alice Tully Hall (the NYFF’s main slate screening room) so there’s a 50/50 chance we still might catch it there. The one I’m almost homicidal over seeing that we don’t have tickets to yet (it’s sold out right now as I imagine “The Assassin” is, too) is “Miles Ahead”, the bio-pic about Miles Davis directed by and starring Don Cheadle. We burn to see that! The NYFF might add screenings of it. We’ll be all over that should it happen. I feel about the NYFF, the way I felt about Christmas when I was kid, I love this festival so much. It’s also walking distance from my sanctum sanctorum.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Arti,

    Finally get caught up with your latest post, which, as always, is loaded with good “stuff”. Let’s see, after reading your take on A walk in the woods, I might give it a try. I watched Wild, and thought it was just so, so, but then Reese Weatherspoon isn’t Redford. Like you, I will binch-watch Olive Kitteridge as soon as I get my hands on a copy of the series. I’ve liked Frances McDormand since Fargo and Richard Jenkins caught my attention in The Visitor, then I found out he was in so many films playing small unassuming roles, one of which was the detective in Richard Gere’s Shall we dance. I also want to watch A Touch of Sin & Mountains may Depart. I got a chance to watch Assassin by Taiwanese Director Hou Hsiao Hsien, and actually enjoyed it, even though the majority of Chinese movie critics had harsh criticism on Hou and the film. As for books I have only read The end of life Book Club awhile back and liked it a lot.

    That’s my few ripples for what they’re worth, thanks Arti, don’t stay away too long, can’t wait to read your next post!

    Best,

    Yinling

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    1. Yinling,

      Thanks for throwing in your two pebbles. If you’re a Frances McDormand fan then you must watch Olive Kitteridge. However, I must warn you though that this isn’t a character like you see in Fargo. This may not be a character that you’d like, however, it’s the acting and the whole production that’s worth viewing. I’ve been longing to watch The Assassin. Will have to wait for that one to come by here. Glad you’d enjoyed it.

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  5. What a fun post – I really enjoy your take on these films. I actually think I own a copy Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself – met the author, too, I think? at BEA many years ago already. I now MUST go find and read it! I have only read 1/4 of Infinite Jest and wonder if I have what it takes to complete that book. I am fascinated by DFW and yet haven’t read much of his work.
    I saw A Walk in the Woods but it annoyed me that Redford seemed TOO old to play the part. Bryson wasn’t even 50 when he took his Appalachian Trail walk so it really bothered me. Thought the movie OK overall.
    Would love to find Olive Kitteridge! Hoping it is available for me. (I don’t have Netflix)

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    1. Care,

      I love to hear your response to any books or films on this list. So glad you’re candid about your feeling. You’re right, Bryson is way younger than Redford and Nolte. And I read that it’s Redford who had acquired the film rights so naturally he must have had himself in mind. Anyway, I know this is the kind of movies that you either ‘love it or hate it’. As for DFW, I haven’t read any of his books but have listened to his collection of essays about the lobster… Consider the Lobster I think it’s called. Anyway, I like the film adaptation Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself. I think both characters are well cast, surprisingly. I’ve put a hold on that book through my local library.

      As for my New England trip… it’s wonderful. Just came back last night and loads of photos and organization of thoughts to do before I can post. But I just might post a few pics for Sat. Snapshots as an appetizer. 🙂 And no, I didn’t have time to go to RI, but did go north to Maine, and visited Olive Kitteridge’s author Elizabeth Strout’s birth town, Portland. Maine is beautiful.

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  6. My husband (60-something) and I (50-something) have been plagued with health problems this year so when we saw “A Walk in the Woods” we really enjoyed it and had a good laugh at our predicaments. It’s a rare thing when both of us laugh out loud in a movie theater! Good therapy…

    I loved the book “Olive Kitteridge” and the mini-series, too.

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    1. Barbara,

      Yes, I think A Walk in the Woods was a pleasant surprise, at first I didn’t even want to see it. I LOL too several times in the theatre. Thanks for stopping by and reading this post. I wrapped up Sept. before heading out on my road trip. Soon I’ll get back to book and movie reviews, but not until I’ve wrapped that one up by posting about Edith Wharton’s House. Stay tuned. 😉

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