The Bad Girl (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Bad Girl, by Mario Vargas Llosa (2006) (translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman). I put this book on my Amazon.com wish list after reading a favorable review a long, long while back, and it finally found its way into my grubby mitts. I had never read any Llosa before, but according to the cover he is a Nobel Prize winner. Anyhoo, I was pretty much spellbound by this novel. The first-person narrator, Ricardo Somocurcio, is a fairly ordinary teenaged boy living in Lima, Peru, in the 1950s. One summer he meets the titular character, a fascinating girl named Lily, and he falls hopelessly in love with her. She really is trouble, though, and she disappears from his life as suddenly as she appeared. Ricardo moves to Paris and becomes a modestly successful translator and interpreter. Like Halley’s Comet, the bad girl keeps coming back into his life, and Ricardito, her “good boy,” seems incapable of turning her away. The side stories about Ricardo’s family, friends, and colleagues are just as interesting as the main story about the bad girl. I really found this novel hard to put down.

Divergent

The Borg Queen fires all phasers at a new release.

Divergent – C+

This movie failed to turn me into a fan of the latest young-adult-book-turned-to-movie craze.  It is yet another teen romance in the context of a post-apocalyptic Earth.  Rather than being divided into 12 (or 13) “districts,” though, the people are divided into 5 “factions” and live within the crumbles of what used to be Chicago (partially rebuilt and partially left in ruin) surrounded by a mysterious large fence.  When the teens reach a certain age, they undergo some kind of testing that is supposed to tell them what “faction” they are predisposed to (selflessness, peacefulness, honesty, bravery, intelligence), and then the next day they have to choose which faction to live in, and cut ties with their family if they are in a different faction.  The purpose of this segregation is supposedly to put people in their “place” in order to prevent another uprising.  The story focuses upon Tris (Shailene Woodley, The Spectacular Now), born in the Abnegation faction.  The Abnegation (selfless) faction apparently is the faction that governs all 5 factions, and Tris’s father is one of the leaders.  When Tris undergoes the testing, it reveals that she is “divergent,” meaning she doesn’t fit squarely within any one particular faction – something that supposedly would make her difficult to “control” and a threat to their “everyone knows their place” society.  So, she must lie about her test results to keep her “divergent” result a secret.  On choosing day, Tris breaks away from her family and chooses a different faction, Dauntless (brave), which provides the “police” of the society.  There, she encounters Four (Theo James, Underworld: Awakening), who is responsible for training the new members/recruits . . . and the typical teen romance develops with Tris.  Kate Winslet (Little Children) plays Jeanine, the leader of the Erudite (intelligent) faction, which tries to overthrow the Abnegation faction.  Overall, the acting in this movie was great, the special effects were great, and the story kept my interest.  But at the same time, the story didn’t make any sense to me.  Dividing people into the 5 factions based on personality traits (as they exist in mid-adolescence) that all people would seem to possess without a significant amount of variance made no sense to me.  And they didn’t explain, at least not well, why Erudite wanted to overthrow Abnegation – especially when Jeanine is portrayed as someone who highly values a lack of uprising, yet is initiating an uprising herself.  This is probably a movie you might enjoy more if you have read the books and already know the story.  I left the movie feeling confused and disappointed.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

A new movie review from The Movie Snob.

The Grand Budapest Hotel  (B).  I hardly know what grade to give the latest movie from writer-director Wes Anderson.  He is known (to me, anyway), as director of whimsical movies, some of which I have liked (Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and some of which I haven’t (The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket).  The Grand Budapest Hotel is a very watchable film, with a madcap story that barely pauses to let you catch your breath.  Although the movie is imaginative and occasionally amusing, it is so suffused with nostalgia and deeply felt loss that I left feeling pretty sad.  The cast is a who’s who of working actors, but Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) is the star and really steals the show.  He plays M. Gustave, a concierge at a fabulous resort hotel somewhere in eastern Europe just before World War II.  He takes a young refugee (from the Middle East, I think?) under his wing as the hotel’s new lobby boy, and the two have quite a series of adventures.  Among the many familiar faces who turn up are the lovely Saoirse Ronan (The Host), F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Jeff Goldblum (Nashville), Jude Law (Side Effects), and Edward Norton (Fight Club).  If you like Wes Anderson, I think you will almost certainly like this movie.  But don’t go expecting a straight comedy.

Changing Places (book review)

The Movie Snob transmits a new book review.

Changing Places, by David Lodge (Penguin 1975).  This is an entertaining little novel by British author David Lodge.  It is set in the spring semester of 1969.  Two English professors are trading places for the semester.  One is an American, Morris Zapp, who is a renowned Austen scholar at fictitious State University of Euphoria on the West coast.  (I’m guessing SUE is a stand-in for Berkeley.)  He’s also a womanizing cad whose second marriage is disintegrating.  The other is a British fellow, Philip Swallow, who is an undistinguished scholar at a very mediocre college called the University of Rummidge.  He’s also a typical family man with a wife and a couple of kids.  Each is a fish out of water, but especially Swallow, as he gets caught up in the general craziness surrounding the student movement at Euphoric State (as the school is affectionately known).  I quite enjoyed it.

Pictures from an Institution (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy, by Randall Jarrell (1952).  I recently bought a Barnes & Noble tablet—I think it is called a Nook HD+ or something like that.  I bought it for its wi-fi/email capability, but I thought I would also try it out as an e-reader and see how I liked it.  (I had previously tried a little old Amazon Kindle and did not care for it.)  So I read this old novel on the Nook and, although I guess it was ok as a reading experience, it’ll be a while before I’m ready to give up dead-tree books entirely.  (I do think I might be willing to try a magazine subscription or two on the Nook though.  Such subscriptions seem to be less expensive, and I tried one issue and didn’t really mind reading it on the gizmo.)  Anyway, I thought this novel was decent but not particularly great.  It’s about a small women’s liberal-arts college back in the day, and a few of the people who populate it—like the vacuous president, the gimlet-eyed guest writing instructor who’s really just collecting observations for her next novel, and the resident composer, a European exile who is one of the most humane people in the bunch.  It’s a short book, and enjoyable enough, I suppose.

Tim’s Vermeer

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Tim’s Vermeer  (B).  This documentary actually came out last year.  It is the story of a Texas inventor named Tim Jenison and his years-long project to (1) figure out how Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer painted such amazing paintings, and (2) see if he could recreate a Vermeer painting himself.  His buddy Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller fame) is both narrator and participant in the film.  (Teller is the director.)  It is an interesting little movie (only 80 minutes long) with lots of amusing moments as Jenison gets sucked deeper and deeper into his hobby or obsession or whatever it ends up being.  Worth seeing, if you have even a modicum of interest in painting and art and that kind of stuff.  Or if you saw and liked Girl With a Pearl Earring, starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson.

Interview

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Interview  (F).  Well, this movie proves yet again that you shouldn’t buy a DVD just because you see it on sale for $3 at Big Lots.  Although, in my defense, it seems like I did read a favorable notice of this 2007 release somewhere, and the DVD cover indicates that someone, possibly an insane person, gave it four stars.  Anyway, it is a remake of a Dutch film by Theo Van Gogh, who was murdered by a Muslim in 2004.  Steve Buscemi (The Big Lebowski) directs and stars as Pierre, a political journalist whose fortunes have ebbed to the point that he has to agree to interview a TV starlet named Katya (Sienna Miller, Stardust).  She’s an hour late, he is unprepared and insufferably rude, but despite the rocky start they spend the whole evening together, gradually revealing more and more of their true selves.  Both Pierre and Katya are quite unpleasant, the revelations are dull, the characters’ moments of connection are unbelievable, and the whole thing is just a waste of time.  The bright side is that it’s only 84 minutes long.  And the behind-the-scenes features were okay, but that’s just in comparison to the movie itself.  I’m going to give the DVD to Goodwill, and I urge you not to buy it.