Persepolis – Gripping Until the End

I am not one for the war genre. I often shy from this genre, as the true stories of the worst humanity has to offer is usually too much for me to stomach. So it came as a surprise to me that when a friend suggested I read Persepolis  I devoured it in a day. Persepolis  is a quick satisfying read, and one of the most unique books I have read as it takes its form in a graphic novel. Reading about Marjane Satrapi’s youth in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution in comic form makes the heady subject easier to digest, and rather, quite entertaining. The format is brilliant, as it relates the reader quickly to the main character – Satrapi herself – and immerses the reader into her world. It makes a very difficult subject and history easily approachable. The comic format also mirrors the juxtaposition of the modern with the ancient: the outdated mores of a religion taking over a very modern society. As the people Satrapi knows – and especially herself – lose more of their freedoms with each passing year, the stark black and white inking of the art reflects this severity of contrasts. Old versus new. Age versus youth. Freedom versus imprisonment. Although the book is entirely from Satrapi’s point of view as a child, I identified with the parents, growing more and more afraid of the forces that were closing in and threatening their way of life. I wanted them to be safe, but also to fight and be revolutionaries, defending freedom and liberty. I was truly wrapped up in the characters, and the war closing in around them. Although the artwork is beautiful in its simplicity – the emotion of the characters is clear and heart wrenching. What makes the story of  Persepolis so unique however, is the levity Sartrapi injects into the dire circumstances she faced as a child. There are jokes sprinkled throughout the book, and this reminded me of the amazing resilience of the human spirit. Even through a life of  fear, control and death, the characters can find some humor, a bit of light. This element gives the story buoyancy without mitigating the graveness of the events. Until the humor becomes a crutch for the characters – proof of their denial in an ever darkening world. The story is quick, the characters fleshed out and so very real in their complexity and in the end, you will find yourself punched in the gut. I closed the book and just sat there, silent, with tears running down my face. I was left feeling sad, touched and hopeful. I heartily recommend.

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Blue Jay – Nostalgia At Its Finest

Everyone wonders about first loves or even first crushes – would it have lasted over the years? Would it still be as fun as it was then? Blue Jay – created by Mark Duplass and directed by Alex Lehmann- is a realistic film that asks these universal questions about love.

With a small cast and a tight budget – Lehmann perfectly directs Duplass and Sarah Paulson. Their chemistry is on point, and the choice of filming in black and white perfectly punctuates and highlights the two characters.  After 24 years – high school sweet hearts Jim (Duplass) and Amanda (Paulson) are reunited by chance in a grocery store. We want to know so much – why did they not end up together? What have their lives been like since they split. We are given nuggets of their life and experiences together, as the plot unfolds.

A story such as this one that centers around a single relationship completely depends on the likability of the characters. Duplass created the story and he and Paulson improvised. Astonishingly there was no script. Duplass and Paulson’s acting chops shines here, as I truly did not get bored with Jim and Amanda, or find them trite or cliche – despite their apparent flaws. They are three dimensional and very painfully human. I found myself rooting for them in the end – to at least be able to find happiness in their own ways. Their nostalgia about bygone days and their naivete as teenagers is both hilarious and heart wrenching. It had me thinking about my own youth  -and the people who have faded from my life. This film is quiet and sweet – and it might awaken in you memories of experiences and people you haven’t had time to think about in awhile. The film paints a picture of life – and its different eras. It is when they are no longer compartmentalized and they bleed into each other that a person is awakened to who they truly are. After hearing a recording from high school, Amanda says incredulously, “I don’t even recognize that person”. Such is life.

A beautiful yet sad story about love, loss, regret and youth. I heartily recommend.

 

 

S.: A Most Unique Novel

When I picked this book up from the library, I thought it was a mistake. It is a worn, old looking (circa 1950’s) library book titled Ship of Theseus, authored by “V.M. Straka”. I was confounded. It wasn’t until I opened the book and peered at the yellowed, occasionally coffee stained pages, and saw the different colors of ink and pencil adorning the margins of the book that I saw that yes, indeed it was S. which I had put on hold a few weeks prior. The graphic design of this book is just that good. The attention to detail is mesmerizing. I love the dates stamped on the back page and the “BOOK FOR LOAN” words stamped in red ink on the very front page. Even my husband asked me at one point what I was reading. “It makes you look cultured,” he said. “I thought you were reading a classic.” Beyond the beautiful presentation S. is quite the tome. Written by J.J. Adams (yes, that one) and Doug Dorst (literature teacher at a University and writer by profession), S. contains three stories. The main one Ship of Thesus (fictionally by V.M. Straka) is really good and I found honestly to be the most compelling. This story centers around an amnesiac who finds himself imprisoned on a ship – yet ends up going back to the ship again and again – docking here and there to “take out” people then ending up back on the ship again. Each time the ship is constructed differently – yet the crew remains the same (although dwindles as the years go on). Yes, this story is basically the Theseus Paradox – if a ship is deconstructed then reintegrated using the same parts is it the same ship? The second story is of Jen and Eric. Eric is a recently expunged grad student studying V.M. Straka and trying to figure out his identity – which still remains a mystery in the world of literature. Jen is an undergrad who is working in the stacks and comes across this well loved, and annotated book when she starts writing in her own comments. Eric writes back and what ensues is the story of Jen and Eric – as they get more engulfed in the mystery of V.M. Straka and the difficulties Eric is having with a professor trying to steal his work. (And Jen’s challenges with school). Their research gets more dangerous, and leads them to places they are not prepared to go. The third story is the story of Straka and the translator who wrote his book – Filomena X. Caldeira. There are many clues and codes in her footnotes sprinkled throughout the book. To say this book is multilayered would be a vast understatement. I had to work pretty hard to unravel it and there are many things I feel I missed and would only gain upon a second or third reading. It truly is up to the reader how she wants to tackle it. I read the main story first then went on to only read the black and blue writing by Jen and Eric. Then went through again and read the rest of the colored inks. I recommend reading all of Jen and Eric’s writing at once after reading the main story. I am glad I read the main story first as it gives the backdrop to the common thread for all the characters, and sets up the mood and metaphors that are influencing the stories. I enjoyed the main story the most – breezing through it. I was fascinated by the character of S. I wanted to find out who he was and why he was doing what he was doing. I enjoyed coming up with my own theories and was in tears in the end when all was revealed. It was a little more difficult for me to get into Jen and Eric’s stories. Not for lack of interest but I think because it is tricky following several threads simultaneously. Their story is more mysterious and less straight forward , and its not always linear. The reader has to do a lot of connecting the dots and thinking for themselves. However, it is absolutely worth it. I stumbled across this book looking for one that is similar to House of Leaves and was not disappointed at all. I only wish I had more time to re read it and try to crack the codes myself. I heartily recommend.

UPDATE: One very important element of this book that I failed to mention is the inserts. Since I originally borrowed the book from the library I didn’t have the additional material to accompany the experience. Today I bought a practically new copy with all the inserts at a used book store. Wow. Let me tell you this impacts the stories and truly makes this an experience. Handling each postcard, handwritten notes scrawled on bits of paper, napkins, even a completely realistic looking university daily newspaper brings a whole new level of realism to these stories. Again, the eye for design and replication is impeccable. The letters truly looked handwritten by ballpoint blue pen, even complete with a little smear here and there. There are even a couple of photographs, one yellowed and the edges scalloped. Holding – tangibly feeling each clue as if they were real – touching the different textures of papers – this book is truly something to behold and the characters feel alive. And I feel like I did find a book in the stacks in a barely used corner of the university and am embarking on a once in a lifetime mystery… Whoops there goes two hours. I have to say this book might reach a “top ten” spot in my list of favorite novels.

Captain Fantastic: All Aboard the Fantasy Train

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously

-Noam Chomsky

Sometimes – okay, more than sometimes – I feel myself wanting to pull away from modern society. Or more specifically, capitalist, consumer, money – driven society. I find myself considering switching out my iPhone to a standard flip phone, trying to completely unplug myself, avoiding shopping of any sort, pining for a weekend trip to the woods or just stay home and drown myself in a sea of books. I fantasize about moving with some of my more adventurous friends to a mountainside and creating a perfect little community where we share everything – money, resources, child care, food. And then reality hits painfully, when I realize despite these imaginings, I am just as entrenched as everyone else. Thinking is not the same thing as doing. And I am just as much as a cog in the wheel as a politician, or an ignorant bystander. Captain Fantastic was a nice little getaway, despite dealing with some heavy issues – specifically grief, and the incredible responsible weight of parenting. Viggo Mortenson places a father who with his wife, brings their six children to a secluded forest in the Pacific Northwest to try to escape the trappings of modern Western society. The cinematography and costume design brings a rich colorful palate of primary colors – complimenting the forest then later juxtaposition against the New Mexico desert and bland background of strip malls and track housing of modern life. In the forest, the children tare trained to be survivalists, train their bodies to be athletic and train their minds to be ravenous of knowledge and skeptical of everything – especially modern capitalist society. When the father is left to care for his children alone he turns up the volume, increasing the training, and truly immerses the family in his vision. When the family needs to travel back to civilization, the children are in awe of many things. “What is wrong with everyone? Are they sick? Why is everyone so fat?” the children wonder aloud. They ogle at video games, TV, grocery stores, diner food and see first hand how their cousins live their “normal lives”. The children know everything – but nothing. Which I believe is the message of this film. Don’t we all feel like this? We think we know so much until we experience a new truth, a new perspective, a new environment. And we realize with maturity comes the grace to acknowledge what we don’t know. Which is exponentially more than what we do. The father is forced to accept the fact that his vision of how he wants to raise his children might not be the best way. But indeed the other extreme isn’t the best either. He is forced to accept the Middle Way – a fantastic message with heart and hope for those of us who are just a cog in a wheel. I heartily recommend.

Mad Max: Black and Chrome – So Shiny! So Chrome!

Currently, Mad Max: Fury Road is in limited release around the country in black and white. I got the privilege of viewing the film at the Cinerama – a fantastic state of the art cinema in Seattle. It was incredible. Fury Road is a fantastic film in color – the super bright orange and greenish hues especially highlighted the explosions, and well chrome against the Namib desert in which it was filmed. However, to view the film in black and white is a whole other exercise completely. Although it was my second time viewing the film I believe taking away the color highlighted some of the details for me. The film is chock full of tiny amazing details – such as the Brannock device used as a gas pedal in the war rig to the intricate arm prosthetic that Charlize Theron wears. Light and dark was also highlighted – both contrasting each other and illuminating the natural light of the desert. Without the usual explosion of color I felt more engaged in the film’s feminist story and able to truly watch the acting despite the near constant action. The film felt grittier and more realistic – and the fact that over 80% of the stunts were done without CGI really shines. The Mad Max franchise is really one of the coolest post apocalyptic worlds in fiction. I heartily recommend seeing this version – whether its the first time seeing this film or the tenth. Mad Max: Black and Chrome truly reveals George Miller’s vision for the fourth installment in the franchise, and brings you in deep to the Wasteland.

 

Kin – Picking Up Where Most Horror Stories End

The premise is intriguing: Kealan Patrick Burke’s novel Kin begins with a tortured, beaten traumatized survivor, fleeing her tormentors. She is left piecing together her life, and trying to move forward – a luxury her three dead friends do not get. The first chapter is harrowing and nauseating, describing the horrors she fled – reminiscent of the family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Deliverance. I actually though a couple times I didn’t want to keep reading. My friend who loaned me the book encouraged me to finish it, and finish it I did in a few days. After the initial start, the story takes a quick left turn giving you a glimpse of the terrible family who lives in the backwoods and loves to torture and kill anyone unfortunate enough to find their way on their property. The best part of this family is one character in particular  – to avoid giving anything away I will just refer to her as the Matriarch of the clan. Then the story jumps again to a war vet and brother of one of the dead victims and suddenly the story becomes a tale of revenge. And let me tell you what – you want revenge. The villains are vile and disgusting and terrifying. And that is where the strength of this book lies – Burke is able to write about the antagonists in a way that he gives them a little humanity. It causes the reader to try to see things from their side – to try to understand how a character can do such horrendous things. And you can’t. Despite the little bit of intimacy you gain from seeing the inter workings of the clan – there is still no excuse, no good reason for what they do. So you root and cheer for their demise. The last part of the book is what I would call action – but let me warn you things don’t go as well as you might want them to. This book is a quick read and a fun one at that. I heartily recommend if you are in the mood for a fun horror story with larger then life characters that will keep you up at night.

Green Room – Hardcore Tension

Indeed, reality is much more frightening then fiction. Although Green Room is fiction, the villain (played by the legendary Patrick Stewart), the setting and the violence that ensues are quiet, believable and unsettling. Ordinary, even.  The quietness is the perfect juxtaposition to the culture and extreme noise of hardcore punk. Anyone who has gone to a crusty punk show in a rusty tin can of a venue is familiar with the gritty, grime covered atmosphere. The Green Room itself is the embodiment of this, a tomb to previous musicians that played in the past, vandalized with stickers and etchings of band names and inside jokes. Truly, it is the perfect setting for something terrible to happen.  To up the ante the venue is a neo-nazi skinhead bar. Enter a few starving musicians, who will play anywhere – anywhere – to make a few bucks. This is one of the most original thrillers I have seen, combining a very believable set of circumstances, and unfortunately a very believable cast of characters. The ordinary, every day nature of the main characters just trying to get by are naturally easy to feel empathy for. After all, we all remember when we were young and desperately needed to make a few bucks to pay rent. It is was easy for me to imagine myself in the same terrible circumstances. Director Jeremy Saulnier creates an atmosphere of quiet dread. The cast and acting are amazing, from Anton Yelchin, Alia shawkat and an unrecognizable Imogen Poots sporting a Chelsea Cut. And of course the amazing Patrick Stewart. The cinematography is completely on point – dark and dingy with a greenish tint. This is a film that is best watched knowing little about it, and instead just be immersed. I heartily recommend.