‘Burning’: From Short Story to Big Screen

Burning is based on the short story “Barn Burning” by the popular Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, the translated English version first published in the November issue of The New Yorker in 1992. Acclaimed Korean director Lee Chang-dong has fleshed out the minimalist narrative of Murakami’s story and created an extended ending, turning Burning from mere rumination into a dramatic suspense thriller, shedding traces of a myriad of literary allusions. That is the appeal of the works by the Korean novelist-turned-filmmaker.

Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize and a nominee for the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, Burning had its North American premiere on September 9 at the Toronto International Film Festival. As well, South Korea has announced that Burning will be its official entry to the Best Foreign Language Film race at the 91st Oscars in 2019. The acclaimed film will be released in November in selective cities.

More than fifty years before Murakami’s short piece appeared in The New Yorker, back in 1939, a short story of the same name, “Barn Burning”, was published in Harper’s Magazine. Its author was William Faulkner. It was a dramatic story of class discrepancy in the American South, the chasm between the rich and the poor and the hateful revenge of a tenant farmer burning down the properties of his land owner. Interesting to note that Murakami made no mention of Faulkner in his story, which can be seen as a modern-day version of the American author’s work.

Director Lee’s adaptation shares similar meaning-imbued elements as his last feature Poetry from eight years ago. While his previous work is a character study of a grandmother trying to seek out a way to renew her life, in Burning, Lee focuses on the young, specifically, the millennials, and contrasting the social chasm between the rich and the poor with two characters.

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Yoo Ah-in as Jongsu in ‘Burning’. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

Jongsu (Yoo Ah-in) graduated from university majoring in creative writing. At present he is doing menial jobs as a living while trying to write a novel. On a delivery one day he comes across an old schoolmate, Haemi—impressive performance by newcomer Jun Jong-seo—working as a raffle promoter on the street. She recognizes Jongsu as according to her, they used to live in the same community when they were children. That brief encounter sparks off a precarious relationship between the two.

Due to some legal entanglement of his father’s, Jongsu has to leave the city to return to his father’s impoverished farm to look after it. He sleeps in a run-down shack, drives a rusty truck and clears the waste of the only cow left. At the same time, Haemi is going on a trip to Africa, and has asked Jongsu to go to her small apartment to feed her cat while she is away. This he gladly obliges.

But when Haemi returns after some time, she brings with her another man, Ben (Steven Yeun of the TV series ‘The Walking Dead’), a third person to the intimate relationship Jongsu had wanted to establish with Haemi.  Ben is more than just a disruptor but an enigma. He lives in a high-end apartment, dresses stylishly, drives a Porsche and exudes sophisticated tastes. He does not hold a job nor seem to mind Jongsu’s presence, but invites him home and brings him into his circle of friends. “The Gatsby in Korea” as Jongsu figures him, Ben is a man with a mysterious past and unsearchable intention.

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Steven Yeun as Ben, ‘The Gatsby in Korea’.

Things become more intriguing and uncomfortable when one night, Ben confides in Jongsu that he burns greenhouses for his own pleasure. He would scout out his target and set fire to it while watching from afar. The next one he has in mind actually is quite close to where Jongsu is staying, near his father’s farm. Here we see Murakami’s interesting flip of Faulkner’s story. Instead of a hateful man from a lower economic class driven by jealousy and bitterness to commit arson, we have the resourceful rich burning down greenhouses, but for what reason?

Unlike Murakami, Lee alludes to Faulkner, but also takes up Murakami’s suggestion that it is not only poverty or revenge that drives one to commit incendiary acts, but ennui, self-indulgence, or mere emptiness can also prod one towards inexplicable behaviour.

Steven Yeun, the Korean-American actor known for the TV series “The Walking Dead”, takes up his first major role in a Korean film. Yeun’s portrayal of an amoral, metrosexual may well be a modern-day parallel of Camus’s L’Etranger, The Stranger.  His often expressionless, but not unpleasant, face could well have conveyed the inner psyche of a rootless and purposeless existence.

One time at a social gathering, Haemi imitates the African ‘hunger dance’ in front of Ben and his friends. First, she acts with small, silent gestures showing the ‘little hunger’ of the literal, physical pang then changing to the ‘great hunger’ with her arms reaching upward and swaying to signify the empty soul reaching out in search of fulfilment. Watching her, Ben’s response is a yawn and a slight smile. Then a quick cut to a loud, electrifying night club scene with Haemi dancing wildly in a smoky, hazy atmosphere. Lee’s cinematic storytelling is stark and to the point.

The director’s rendering of passion and the human psyche is enhanced by Hong Kyung-pyo’s mesmerizing cinematography and the engaging score by Mowg and other incidental music, presenting sequences that are at times dreamlike, and at times, sadly realistic. In a stirring scene, Haemi dances again, this time against the setting sun out in Jongsu’s farm, her silhouette captivating her audience of two subtle rivals, one genuine, the other, unsearchable.

The plot thickens towards the last section when Jongsu tries to connect with Haemi after some time but finds her missing. Her apartment has been vacated, her phone disconnected. The next time he sees Ben, Ben is with another woman and admitted no knowledge of Haemi’s whereabouts. The disappearance of Haemi ignites Jongsu’s suspicion and drives the tension towards an explosive denouement which Lee adds to Murakami’s short story. It is an ending that is a surprise and yet also natural in context. Lee brilliantly brings his viewers full circle back to Faulkner with his layered storytelling.

Just like his previous works Poetry (2010) and Secret Sunshine (2007), Lee has shown once again that he is not only a masterful director but an astute observer of human psyche and behaviour.

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~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Note: My review above was originally published in Asian American Press on Sept. 12, 2018. I thank AAPress for permission to repost here.

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Update Nov. 16: “Burning” just nominated for Best International Film (South Korea) at the Film Independent Spirit Awards.

‘The Rider’ is Poetry on Screen

“The Rider” opens this weekend in selective cities. If it’s screening in your area, don’t miss it.

The Rider

What is a cowboy to do if he cannot live the cowboy life again? Too remote? Substitute ‘cowboy’ with any other activities you love to do, or a role that defines you. Take that away, and what do you have left?

The film focuses on the struggles of a rodeo star and expert horse trainer Brady Blackburn as he rebuilds his life and identity after a severe head injury. Upon the prognosis of his doctor, Brady should never go back to riding and rodeo again, for another injury would be fatal.

“The Rider” is an American feature, unique in its subject matter while its director is an unlikely candidate to share the insight. Chloé Zhao was born in Beijing, had studied in London, then Massachusetts and New York. “The Rider” is her second feature. In her short directorial career, she has gone to Cannes twice, nominated in 2015 for the Caméra d’Or (“Golden Camera”), Cannes’ award for the best first feature film, and winning The CICAE Art Cinema Award in 2017 with “The Rider”. That is, among other international accolades. Zhao is an exemplar of a global citizen in filmmaking.

Chloé Zhao

The actors for “The Rider” exude authenticity, for they are actual cowboys and their family, all playing themselves. Brady Jandreau takes the role of Brady Blackburn, reflecting his real-life persona, a cowboy who is much admired and respected in the rodeo community. His father Tim and sister Lily form the Blackburn family in the film. Zhao’s directorial skills shine forth as she leads the non-actors in front of the camera, capturing them in their natural speech and actions, in particular, offering viewers realistically the dexterity involved in the wrangling work. But the film goes much deeper than the actions.

Recovering from the near-fatal injury pits Brady into a precarious existence and conflicting relationship with his father Wayne (Tim Jandreau). As a tough cowboy himself, Wayne had all along brought Brady up to be resilient and competitive, but now father had to dissuade son from the risky pursuit of bronco riding and rodeo activities. Nursing a wounded body and a tormented mind, Brady has to deal with the painful task of redefining himself. Temporarily working in a supermarket and wearing a store uniform makes Brady a displaced person, a persona out of meaningful context, both to himself and to those who recognize him as they come into the store.

While there are tense undercurrents with his dad, Brady cherishes the intimate bond with his sister Lily (Lily Jandreau), who expresses herself from her own peculiar, internal world. Kudos to Zhao for casting the real-life brother and sister in the film, they need not be experienced actors to conjure up some genuine, moving scenes.

Much of the film’s effectiveness goes to the inspiring cinematography, exposing quietly Brady’s tormented soul. The opening sequence sets the stage right away with riveting close-ups of a horse and its breathing. As the camera turns from beast to man, we see the extent of the injury Brady sustains as he gets out of bed and follows the routine needed to care for his own body, striving to return to a past life and regain some sense of normalcy.

In other sections of the film, the camera pans the vast landscape of the South Dakotan plains with a tiny figure that is Brady walking or riding through. “The Rider” is visual poetry on a subject that is seldom explored, and cinematographer Joshua James Richards is most effective in transposing Brady’s internal quest lyrically on screen: “A horse’s purpose is to run in the prairies; a cowboy’s is to ride.”

Brady’s good friend Lane Scott (Lane Scott) is a painful reminder of the risks a cowboy takes. Paralyzed and brain damaged after a fall in a rodeo event, Scott now communicates barely by spelling out words one letter at a time signing with his fingers. Poignantly, Zhao depicts Brady’s every visit with Lane in the hospital as an encounter of love and hope without sentimentality.

Zhao is nuanced and eloquent in creating impressionistic scenes. And when horse and man are juxtaposed in such intimacy, the parallel is striking. As Brady puts it, when a horse is badly hurt it has to be put down, that is the humane thing to do; when a cowboy is badly hurt, he has to continue to live, for that is what humans are supposed to do. As we come to the turning point of the film towards the end, the presence of family love and support appear to be the key to moving on.

A rare gem of a film. Watch it with a quiet heart.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

 

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How Many Weeks Till Spring?

Who’s counting?

We’re having fun and really, enjoying ourselves.

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Indeed, considering the flooding problems some of you face south of the 49th, I’ve come to appreciate our snow, and the never-ending winter.

Here, makes me think of a Bruegel painting of winter scene, except replace the people with ducks and geese:

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Until then, we persevere.

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Reading the Season: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

For the tenth year, I’m sharing a Christmas read here at the Pond. For the first time, it’s a book written for young readers but is ever so relevant for us grown-ups. Herein lies the ingenuity of writer Madeleine L’Engle. Time to dig out that copy that you might have read when you were a youngster. If you haven’t read it, now’s a good time.

 

A Wrinkle in Time

 

Newbery Medal winner A Wrinkle in Time is the first book in the Time Quintet series of fantasy YA fiction about the Murray family, scientist parents and four children Meg, twins Dennys and Sandy, five year-old genius Charles Wallace, and that special friend of Meg’s, Calvin O’Keefe. The deceptively simple odyssey in time and space is packed with wonder and wisdom.

The book not only exudes insights but shows L’Engle’s remarkable foresights. Take this for an example, dematerializing and materializing  for easy transport. Published in 1962, the book came out four years before Scotty beamed Kirk up using the same method in the first season of Star Trek.

Or this fancy idea, ‘tesseracting’, that is, travelling through space and time via a wrinkle in time. The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, but through a wrinkle when two points are folded. That’s fifty years before Christopher Nolan sends Matthew McConaughey interstellar travelling.

All concepts held in a simple plot. Meg, Charles Wallace, together with friend Calvin, go on an interstellar quest to look for Meg and Charles’ physicist father who had gone missing for almost a year while doing some classified scientific work for the government. This little, unequipped search party is initiated and aided by three celestial beings: Mrs. Whatsit, who’s much wiser than she appears, Mrs. Which, who doesn’t bother materializing but remains as a shimmering beam, and Mrs. Who, who speaks in quotes.

The more a man knows, the less he talks.

Their odyssey brings them finally to the planet Camazotz, where they find Mr. Murray confined by the evil Dark Thing, or IT (Surprise! 24 years before Stephen King’s book and now movie) The smart alecky Charles Wallace is easy prey and quickly influenced by IT. (And for Luddites, what better parallel to address our technology now, the evil IT) Ultimately, it’s Meg, our reluctant and timid heroine, who has to be the one to go fight IT to rescue her little brother.

The foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men… God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.

Meg knows Charles Wallace is not himself but trapped and deceived, and must be snatched from the evil force IT. She has just one weapon as her ammunition, given to her by Mrs. Whatsit, that one thing IT doesn’t have: LOVE. With her single act of bravery, she brings the family together again.

When I was a child, I read like a child, I thought like a child. When I became an adult, I can read like a child and like an adult too. That’s the joy of reading A Wrinkle in Time. One can find pleasure in the adventure and feel the vulnerability of the children, as well delve deeper into its symbolism and parallels, and ponder its layers of meaning.

L’Engle writes to the child and the adult in us. She can convey scientific and spiritual concepts at the same time and in a way that both young and old (and those in between) can enjoy. There’s no conflict between the cerebral and the spiritual; they co-exist comfortably in L’Engle’s work. Not only that, they fuse together and from that alchemy rises a whole new, inexplicable entity: Faith.

That first Christmas day when a baby was born in a lowly manger, the war against IT had started to win. Although the last, painful battle on the hill of Calvary had not been waged, the outcome was cast, just because LOVE came.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

The Movie

‘Tis the Season to read or reread A Wrinkle In Time before the movie adaptation comes out in 2018. Helmed by Selma (2014) director Ava DuVernay, screenplay by Frozen (2013) scriptwriter Jennifer Lee, with some stellar beings including Rees Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine et al.

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Past Reading the Season Selections:

2016:  Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2013: Poetry by Madeleine L’Engle

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle

2010: A Widening Light, Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season 

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Upcoming Books to Movies 2017

Half a year’s gone already. How’s your reading and watching coming along? Here are some movie adaptations I anticipate for the latter half of the year.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

the-glass-castle-bookFinally, the movie adaptation is completed. More than seven years on the NYT Bestseller list, Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir of resilience and delight – yes, the two can co-exist – is high on my TBW list. After receiving her Academy Best Actress Award in another book-to-screen adaptation, Room (2015), Larson is back with her Short Term 12 director Destin Cretton. Interesting cast for the parents, Woody Harrelson as dreamer dad Rex Walls and Naomi Watts as uncouth artist mom Rose Mary. Coming out in August. Should be a good summer movie.

 

 

Tulip Fever by Deborah Moggach

Tulip FeverMoggach’s best known book is probably The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, among her many titles. Tulip Fever is the author’s first historical fiction set in 17th century Holland, evoking the paintings of Vermeer’s. The story begins with a rich merchant in Amsterdam commissioning a painter to paint his young bride. The rest is up to the further imagining of Moggach’s creative mind. From book to screen adaptation written by Tom Stoppard, directed by Justin Chadwick, who helmed the adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) and the excellent TV mini series of Dickens’ Bleak House. Cast includes Alicia Vikander, Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz. Coming out in August. Should be another good summer pick.

 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder Book CoverAnother one high on my TBW list. This is one YA novel that appeals to both young and old, for the theme of acceptance and empathy is so much needed in our time. A look at the trailer shows the film is well cast. Room’s breakout young star Jacob Tremblay as disfigured fifth grader, entering school for the first time in his life; Julia Roberts plays mom and Owen Wilson is dad. Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 2012) directs. To be released November, 2017.

 

 

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Murder on the Orient Express.pngDame Agatha Christie’s famous work has gone through many renditions on the big screen, small screen and even a video game. But the classic has to be the Sidney Lumet directed 1974 production with Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, and a young Sean Connery, just to name a few. This 2017 version is directed by Kenneth Branagh who will, of course, takes up the role of Hercule Poirot. Cast include Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Judi Dench, Derek Jacobi, Willem Dafoe, a modern classic in the making? Coming out November, 2017.

 

EXTRA, EXTRA: Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie

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Talking about Dame Agatha, the latest, yes just hours ago, it has been announced that the prolific writer – whose books have sold only less than The Bible and Shakespeare according to The Hollywood Reporter – will ring in yet another adaptation by BBC in time for the Christmas season. BBC touts a mighty cast with Bill Nighy, Catherine Keener, Matthew Goode, Eleanor Tomlinson among many talents. A jolly good Christmas for the Brits indeed. We’ll have to wait for Masterpiece to act.

 

 

 

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Related Ripple Effects Posts:

The Glass Castle Book Review

Wonder by R. J. Palacio: Required Reading for All

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 

The Second, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

 

Owl Babies’ Day Out

It has been three weeks since I last posted about a first sign of spring: Grizzly bear coming out of hibernation. Now, spring is in full force. Another sure sign in my neck of the woods is Great Horned Owlets out to enjoy the sunshine.

First, let me play a little ‘Where’s Waldo’ with you. Can you find the owls in this photo? How many do you see?

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The obvious ones are on the top branch, mom on the right with her baby, and in the lower, closer to the trunk, another owlet.

Some are just born to be more independent. Take a closer look at this cool, furry owl baby perching on her own branch. Seeing me eagerly snapping her photo, she sits still for me, giving me a big smile even:

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She reminds me of those Ukrainian dolls.

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But don’t think she’s all innocent and vulnerable, look at her claws:

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And to the mother and the other baby in the upper branch, again, they know how to please us nature paparazzi, just by being themselves:

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And here, a little action for us, Mom preening her baby. The term of endearment is instinct:

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I can hear the baby say: “Thanks Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!”

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‘Our Little Sister’: A Respite from Summer Superhero Movies

The following is my review of the film “Our Little Sister” by the acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, published in Asian American Press. I thank aapress.com for allowing me to post it here on my blog.

For those who might think a Japanese film would never make it to your local cinema, check this list of U.S. screenings:

http://sonyclassics.com/ourlittlesister/dates.html

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Premiering last year at Cannes, and later screened at other international film festivals the world over, Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Our Little Sister” finally trickles into the local theatres of North American cities, which is timely. In a world rocked by tumultuous strife and unrests, this latest from Kore-eda makes a quiet solace, offering a taste of the ideal in human relationships and harmony despite brokenness.

“Our Little Sister” is Kore-eda’s most recent work after his 2013 Cannes Jury Prize winning “Like Father Like Son”. Following his usual subject of relationships in various family situations, “Our Little Sister” sees Kore-eda at the helm as director, writer, and editor of this production based on the popular Japanese graphic novel “Umimachi Diary” by Yoshida Akimi.

The three Koda sisters have not seen their estranged father for fifteen years. Sachi (Haruka Ayase), Yoshino (Masami Nagasawa) and Chika (Kaho) are now adults, living in the family’s traditional home his father had long deserted in the seaside town of Kamakura. His recent death sends the sisters to his funeral, awkwardly, meeting the woman who had stolen their father’s heart. But it is an inciting incident that changes all their lives. They meet their half sister, 15 year-old Suzu (Suzu Hirose). Herein lies the turning point for the four sisters. Moved by her little step-sister’s mature and quiet demeanor, or maybe stirred by her own older-sister instinct, Sachi invites Suzu to come away and live with them in Kamakura. Suzu gladly agrees.

The new Koda household now is a haven of happy sisterhood. Living under one roof, we see minimal conflicts and constant congeniality. Viewers from a different culture may find the saccharine relationships unrealistic. Are there not any conflicts at all? Of course there are. Kore-eda deftly leads us to some slow revealing. After three quarters of the 120-minute film, we begin to see inner turmoil rise to the surface.

Suzu had to take care of her father in his illness and seeing him to his last breath due to the incompetence of her mother; here is a young teenager bearing the burden of an adult. Now living with three older sisters, Suzu can finally enjoy the childhood she has missed. She quickly captures the attention of other students in her new school with her soccer skills, congeniality and maturity.

In the Koda household, Suzu is the angel of harmony, stirring up love and life. Kore-eda may have spent too much time on the leisurely-paced, day-to-day living such that viewers might feel the lack of conflicts to move the story along. I credit the style to Kore-eda’s realism and a candid camera focusing on the subtleties of nuanced interplay among the characters. Like his previous films “I Wish” (2011), the yearning for family connections of a young boy is shown by his actions and not so much by words, or in “Like Father Like Son” (2013), wherein conflicts are portrayed by contrasts and parallels. Here, while still nursing a deep resentment towards her father for deserting them years ago, Sachi struggles with the moral parallel now as she carries on a relationship with a married doctor at the hospital where she works.

Moral dilemmas, what to choose, how to live, and the search for identity are the issues Kore-eda’s characters have to deal with, but in a way that is quiet and gentle. He introduces us to other endearing characters in the town, adding numerous episodes to build up a human mosaic of harmony in the presence of brokenness and even death.

The scenic seaside town of Kamakura provides a beautiful backdrop for cinematographer Mikiya Takimoto (“Like Father, Like Son”) to shoot the film, reflective of the idyllic life that can be had, even in an imperfect world. The arching branches of the cherry blossoms, landscapes and seascapes mark the healing power of nature. But also like the petals of the cherry blossoms, which third sister Chika likes to pick up and gather in her palm, life is ephemeral.

Reminiscent of Ozu’s films, the passing train is a visual metaphor for the passage of time, changes, and the transience of life. To enrich the visuals, Yoko Kanno’s original score sweeps us through with warmth and tenderness, as a supporting voice telling the story. “Our Little Sister” is a heartwarming film for the unhurried heart to savor.

 

~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Related Posts on Ripple Effects:

‘Like Father Like Son’: A Parent and Child Reunion

Yasujiro Ozu and the Art of Aloneness

Summer Reading

The remaining summer month isn’t going to be long enough for a slow reader like me to finish all the books I’ve started. There are 7 titles on Goodreads that I’m ‘currently reading’, one of them has been there since the Jurassic Period. Ok, maybe not that long, but I haven’t given up The Guermantes Way just yet, so I won’t delete it. I’m sure Proust understands, for there are more pressing matters.

First off, the horrific terror attack and mass murder in Nice sparked off an urge in me to, somehow, in whatever way, connect with France. It’s a bit late to participate in the blog event ‘Paris in July’. But since Nice, I’d started two France related books. And then there’s Germany, and now a priest inside a church while conducting mass…

Here are two titles I’m reading with European connection:

The Angel of the Left Bank: The Secrets of Delacroix’s Parisian Masterpiece by Jean-Paul Kauffmann

Angel of the Left BankThis enticingly thin paperback has been sitting on the shelf quietly for years. I’ve long wanted to read it although I’d no idea what it was about, one of the hand-me-downs from my son’s college reads. Now that I’ve started it, I know this one’s going to be a slow cook. Even though just 217 pages, I know I can’t rush it. Exactly as the title denotes, the book is about one painting, Eugène Delacroix’s (1798-1863) ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’, a wall mural in the Chapel of the Holy Angels inside The Church of Saint Sulpice in Paris. Why did Kauffmann write about this particular painting? Why did Delacroix choose to paint this enigmatic episode of the Bible? Who is the ‘Angel’? I want to find out the hidden story behind the creation of this masterpiece. Apparently there are secrets to be told.  I’m most curious to see the epiphany that both the painter and the writer must have experienced relating to it. Simply put, for us who feel there are days wrestling means nothing close to a TV pseudo sports program, maybe this book could be an enlightenment.

 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Paris bookshopFirst published in Germany, now an international bestseller, The Little Paris Bookshop is a barge floating on the Seine River in Paris. Monsieur Perdu, the ‘Literary Apothecary’, is the owner. Now this is an interesting concept. M. Perdu prescribes books for any ailment his customers happen to be afflicted with. Bibliotherapy if you will. Not a bad idea. He has a book suggestion for everyone he encounters, so a clever way for German author Nina George to weave in her views on various literary works, her salutation to literature and reading. But of course, George isn’t just leading a book club discussion but telling a story. So she deftly brings us to learn more about M. Perdu’s past. While well-versed in bibliotherapy, M. Perdu has a wound that’s deep and sore, for he’s a victim of a lost love. Can the Apothecary heal himself? All signs point to a heartening, summer read.

 

Here’s one that I think I’ll finish first:

Words Without Music by Philip Glass

words-without-music-a-memoirThis one beats all my current reads in capturing my attention and interest. The contemporary composer Philip Glass (born 1937) is renowned as a ‘minimalist’ in his musical style, a label he frowns upon. Now about a quarter into Glass’s memoir, so mainly about his early life and the start of a career, I find what’s minimal is only the physical materials of life, the lack of money to pursue his dream. As for passion and talents, Glass is endowed with abundance, and the artistic milieu in which he immersed himself is astoundingly rich and fertile. Above all, the Bohemian living during his early days is idyllic. That’s why I’m mesmerized by his story, the pursuit of a dream driven by pure passion and inner drive.

Born in Baltimore to a middle-class, secular Jewish family, Glass left home at just 15 to enter the University of Chicago, majoring in philosophy and mathematics. After that, he knew he wanted a career, no, a life, in music, against the wishes of his mother and uncles, who ran a family building supplies business in his hometown and wanted him to take over some day. But Glass was determined to march to a different drummer. After Chicago, he went to NYC mainly to get into Juilliard, not knowing he wasn’t even qualified. So he started with an extension course to work his way in. Later as a full-fledged Juilliard student, he devoured every learning opportunity. He had earned his living doing all sorts of jobs, laborer, steel mill worker, taxi driver. Later to Paris, India, Glass shows us a life journey full of gratifying struggles and interesting encounters. What more, the memoir is a social history of the Beat Generation. Deeply immersed in the zeitgeist of the time, Glass’s personal connections with other musicians, artists, poets, writers, theatre actors and producers, and filmmakers make a fascinating insider’s story. His contact list a who’s who of the Beat Generation. Lots of ripples stirred up in me and definitely a future post coming.

 

This one patiently waits:

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

The MoviegoerI had listened to the audio book a few years back, and wanted to reread it right away, but didn’t. After that, I forgot about it. By chance I saw it in the Bookstore at Regent College on UBC campus a couple months ago, I quickly took that single copy out from the shelf. There are few books I buy at regular price, this is one of them. I want to revisit it; with my own copy, I can write on the margin, and I know I will with this one. Despite the title, it has nothing to do with the glamour of Hollywood movies, or the pop entertainment culture of the day. Rather, this National Book Award winner (1961) is internal, reminiscent of European writers like Camus or today’s Tom McCarthy.

 

These two will take a while to get to:

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to UsBarrows’ previous book is the wildly popular The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society published eight years ago. I’d enjoyed the lively characters in Guernsey amidst the troublesome setting of WWII, with the island occupied by German soldiers. Just curious to read children’s author Barrows’ first solo publication for adults. The Truth brings Barrows back to the home state of her aunt and primary writer of Guernsey, Mary Ann Shaffer, who died before completing the book. Family saga in small town West Virginia in 1938. If you’ve read this one, how is it compared with Guernsey? Should I even start it?

 

 

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The+Nest+-+book+coverIf I want a breezy summer beach read, maybe I should start with this one. But this too can wait. I got it mainly because of the future film adaptation. Sweeney’s debut work reportedly fetched a 7-figure advance from Ecco; not surprisingly, film rights were snatched up soon after. What should be noted is: by whom? Well, as evidence of the booming book/movie enterprise, Amazon Film it is, and Jill Soloway (Transparent) will direct. Note also, just saying, here’s a book with Amy Poehler’s endorsement on the cover. Have you read it? Are you looking forward to its movie adaptation?

 

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Related Review Posts on Ripple Effects:

Inside Llewyn Davis: A Serious Man in Greenwich Village

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

August: Osage County

 

Saturday Snapshot June 4: Meanwhile at the Pond

The pond has been bursting with life.

The past two weeks were prolific for me, not in writing but in shooting. I’ve been able to capture some new discoveries, first time photographing and identifying them. Here they are.

A pair of Common Terns, not common for me. They dart like speeding bullets onto the water to pick out fish but fly so gracefully in the air:

CT

A flying common tern.jpg

Tern flying

The American Coot, not a duck, but a coot. Whatever is the difference, I need to read more:

American Coot

Here’s a pair of Blue-winged Teals. The white crescent behind the bill is the identifying mark. I’ve learned that they are long distance migrants, flying all the way to South American in the winter:

Blue-winged Teal, Male and Female

There’s also the Green-winged Teal, a beauty. Look at the shiny shades of color at the tail:

Green-winged Teal

And on the shore, perching on cattails from last fall, the Yellow-headed Blackbirds. I see the Red-winged Blackbirds all the time, but this is my first sighting of the brilliant yellow heads:

Yellow-headed Blackbird.jpg

YHB

Some of them have a shade of orange, even more handsome:

Orange yellow

Exciting discoveries for this amateur birder. More coming…

 

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Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

Love and Friendship and Other Prospects

Whit Stillman’s “Love & Friendship” (review coming soon on Ripples) opens up a whole new world of Jane Austen for modern day readers and viewers. All we’ve been familiar with are Austen’s six novels, with 60 plus adaptations of full features and TV series according to IMDb.

Based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan written likely when she was only 18 or 19, “Love & Friendship” is a first time movie adaptation of this lesser-known work. Director Stillman got the name from one of Austen’s short stories with one major alteration: &. The film was a big hit. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival this January to critical acclaims. Everywhere since, “Love & Friendship” has left audience fully entertained for 90 minutes. Surprising, or not, for it’s Whit Stillman’s work that’s a long time coming. A specialist in comedy of manners in our modern time, Stillman wrote the screenplay himself, even has it published as a new novel together with Austen’s original work, 2 in 1. Now that’s a must read. And as Stillman said in an interview :”I vastly prefer the kind of collaboration I had with Jane Austen to those living authors… She has no complaints! I can assure you she has no complaints. I know that for a fact.”

After the world was awakened to this relatively ‘unknown’ Austen work being brought to the big screen, now comes another one: “Sanditon”, Austen’s unfinished novel when she died in 1817. So much the better, with an unfinished novel, a screenwriter and director can have the freedom to use their creative flair to boundless possibilities.  (Note: in 1975, a ‘completed Sanditon’ was published, authored by ‘Another Lady’, a writer who chose to follow Jane’s step of anonymity.) This upcoming film adaptation, however, is written by a known name, British playwright / producer/ director Simon Reade, who has many titles adapted on the British stage. Of note is his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a sell out run at The Regents Park Open Air Theatre. Oscar nominated Charlotte Rampling will play dowager Lady Denham in a production helmed by Jim O’Hanlon, who directed the 2009 BBC TV version of Emma.

If Lady Susan and Sanditon can be adapted to the big screen, lots more can come. A treasure trove of unfilmed works await in Austen’s bibliography. The Watsons, short stories, even letters can be put into good use as movie ideas. Lots of prospects lining up:

Frederic and Elfrida
Jack and Alice
Edgar and Emma
Henry and Eliza
Love and Friendship
A History of England
The Three Sisters
Lesley Castle
Evelyn
Catherine, or the Bower
The Watsons

“Love & Friendship” could be kicking off a Jane Austen revival in the coming years.

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Just posted a new list of Books to Movie Adaptations coming out this year or in development on Shiny New Books Issue #10. CLICK HERE to read.

Saturday Snapshot April 9: Signs of Spring

Previously on Ripple, I’d posted an Easter poem I wrote a few years back. In it there’s this line about the longing for spring: “I’m contented to see a patch of dry and withered brown.”

These photos explain why. There’s still remnant of winter just a couple of weeks ago:

Remnat of winter

The weather today reached 23C (73F), but the ground is still brown, the branches bare, a very different world from most of you, your gardens blooming with colourful roses and first crops.

But from the bare branches I can see buds, a tiny green ready to burst out:

buds on trees

So glad to see the Robins back, see them?

Robins at the pond

 

 

DSC_0665 (1)

For the past few years, the Great Horn Owls are the punctual heralds of spring. Mommy returns to the same nest every March to give birth to her young. By this time, the owlets have been born, but still being kept close in the nest. See the tiny white downy on Mommy’s right?

Mom & baby

 

Daddy Owl is never far away, watching or dozing off from a close distance:

Father Owl.jpg

See him? Brown feathers camouflage with the bare, brown trees. Soon, green will come out and so will the young, fledging owlets, babies’ day out. Arti will sure be there waiting at the bottom of the trees, camera ready, as in the past few years.

Until then, I’m contented with a patch of brown.

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Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. CLICK HERE to see what others have posted.

 

November Wrap: East Meets West at the Pond

November is an eclectic month of reading and viewing for me. I’ve watched films ranging from a Chinese wuxia legend from the Tang Dynasty, to the English suffrage movement, to the scandal in the Catholic Church in Boston… and read books from crime thrillers to Westerns to the Gilded Age to India before and after independence.

Arti is a hybrid after all, constantly navigating between cultures and languages. When it comes to books and films, dashing between genres, periods and styles only adds spice to life.

Here’s the list of my November books and films.

Films

The Assassin

The Assassin

Acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s genre-defying wuxia epic earned him Best Director at Cannes this May. Hailed as the most beautiful film at the Festival, this adaptation of a 9th century Tang Dynasty Chinese legend may not be as easily grasped in terms of its storyline as its visual appeal. The film is recently voted #1 on the reputable Sight and Sound Magazine‘s Best Films of 2015 list, that’s the result of a poll gathering the views of 168 international film critics. It is a rare gem indeed. My full review at Asian American Press.  ~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

(BTW, Hou’s last film? The Musée d’Orsay commissioned French feature on the Museum’s 20th anniversary: Flight of the Red Balloon.)

Room

A highly watchable adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 Booker Prize shortlisted novel. Kudos to the actors Brie Larson as Ma, Jacob Tremblay as 5 yr-old Jack, and yes, to Donoghue herself for writing the screenplay. One of those titles that I’ve enjoyed watching more than the literary source. My review on Ripple Effects.  ~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples
Update Jan. 14, 2016: 4 Oscar Nominations including Best Picture

Suffragette

Carey Mulligan has put forth a nuanced performance as the laundry gal turned suffragette in this Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, 2007) directed historical drama. It’s worthwhile to watch the informative depiction of the actual events woven with fictional personal stories, especially Mulligan’s riveting portrayal of Maud, how her beginning naivety is forged into committed devotion to the suffrage movement. Prolific screenwriter Abi Morgan (Irony Lady, 2011, just to name one of her works) has laid out a fact-based drama with a heart-wrenching climatic scene. The sacrifice these voiceless, working women were willing to lay down is inspiring.
~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

Secret in their Eyes

The Hollywood re-make of Argentine author Eduardo Sacheri’s crime thriller is a tall order, for its previous film adaptation is the Oscar winner of 2009 Best Foreign Language Film. My post on the book, original film, and Hollywood version is here. ~ ~ ~ Ripples

Spotlight

One of the best films I’ve seen this year, detailing the sequences of how the Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ team of investigative journalists uncovered the systemic cover-up of child sexual abuse among Catholic priests. The Pulitzer winning reporting is presented in the film as painstaking procedurals in matter-of-fact dramatizing. For those who may be a bit worried about the subject matter, there is no sensationalized scenes of abuse, and on the part of the reporters, no portrayal of heroism. Such may well be the praise-worthy elements of this production. The cast’s performance is convincing, in particular, Liev Schreiber as the soft-spoken but motivating, no-nonsense editor Marty Baron. Come Awards time, I trust the production, its cast and crew, and director Tom McCarthy (The Visitor, 2007) will be duly recognized.    ~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples
Update Jan. 14, 2016: 6 Oscar Nominations including Best Picture

Fireflies in the Garden

My guess is, you haven’t heard of this 2008 movie. Neither have I until I saw it on TV a few days ago. The story about a father-son’s love-hate relationship from childhood to adulthood is realistically depicted. Caught in between the straining conflicts between the always angry and harsh father and a sensitive, vulnerable son, is the mother, always loving and protecting, something like the family dynamics in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. It also echoes the Oscar winning Ordinary People (1981), the small-scaled, Bergman-esque chamber film of deep entanglement of unresolved parent-child conflicts. Another film just popped into mind and that’s Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent’s When Did You Last See your Father.

Fireflies has a well-selected cast with Ryan Reynolds, Willem Dafoe and Julia Roberts. I’m surprised to see the low rating the film received among critics. Disappointed really that it wasn’t well received. What’s that to me, and why am I  concerned? There’s a half-baked screenplay in my closet that’s something along that line. I know, more rewrites.  ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Books (Click on links to my Goodreads reviews)

It’s all a chain reaction started with …

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly (Audiobook)

I’ve not missed a single one of Connelly’s Detective Bosch novels. This time I listened to the audiobook and was much impressed by the voice of its narrator Titus Welliver.

Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker (Audio MP3)

So I checked about Welliver’s other audio works, and found Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker. I’d seen the 2008 film adaptation with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen and quite enjoyed it. So I jumped right in and found it to be a very well-written book, one of the few Westerns I’ve read.

And from this Robert B. Parker, I went on to explore more about him and learned that he was the ‘Dean of American Crime Fiction’. Here are two of his works crime stories I followed up with:

Promised Land  (Audio MP3)
The Godwulf Manuscript  (Audio MP3)

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
From crime fiction to the Gilded Age. I bought this book at Edith Wharton’s home at The Mount during my New England road trip, during which I learned that Julian Fellowes was much influenced by Wharton and especially this title.

The Secret in their Eyes by Eduardo Sacheri (Audio MP3)

Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar: Understanding Philosophy through Jokes by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein (eBook) – click on link to read my one-line review of this title on Goodreads.

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
Makes me think of Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn which I’m rereading to prep for the upcoming film adaptation.

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Shifting between the English in India before independence and later the 70’s, a clash in cultures and the human toll of unfulfilled marriages. I reread this to prepare for the James Ivory Retrospective this coming weekend right here in my City, with the legendary director (now 87) attending. Yes, really looking forward to this event.

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Currently Reading / Listening

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick (for the upcoming film)

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (reread for the upcoming film)

Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford (Audiobook)

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Related posts you may like:

Flight of the Red Balloon (2007)

The Tree of Life (2011) by Terrence Malick

When Did you Last See your Father?

Appaloosa (2008)