Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Killing Never Seemed So Cool

#94 -- Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese

As Henny Youngman says, "Take Liotta out of this film...please!"

It took Martin Scorsese five attempts to finally secure an Oscar for best director. Although I liked the film he eventually won with (2007's The Departed -- it's pretty sweet), I'd argue it may be the weakest of the Scorsese films (OK, it was better than The Aviator) and may not have even been the best in contention that year (Blood Diamond and Babel were both very deserving). My point being that Scorsese was rewarded for a lifetime of awesome films. One of which being the next on the AFI list -- Goodfellas.

Just when everyone thought mob movies had been done to death (especially mob movies with Robert DeNiro), Scorsese roared into 1990 and released a overtly honest, cleverly scripted and gruesomely gory flick that soldifies the genre, once again, as bankable and capable of new ideas.

Ray Liotta -- in the only thing I ever could stand him as, ever -- portrays Henry Hill, a half-Irish, half-Italian mobster turned eventually stool pigeon. The film, based on the book Wise Guy, runs throw the glamorous life of Hill and his New York-based croonies. DeNiro and Joe Pesci co-star in masterful roles as his two best goombas and really steal the show from Liotta.

Pesce and DeNiro are everything to this film. Their characters have so much depth and both excel in comedic and dramatic scenes alike. Pesce's portrayal of Tommy DeVito is iconic. His indecisiveness and self-consciousness makes him a frightening character to encounter. The oft-quoted "What do you mean I'm funny?" scene far exceeded my expectations. Duplicators lack the fear Pesce creates with the character; throughout the entire scene -- and film in general -- you feel Pesce has the potential to kill everyone in sight for no reason.

DeNiro is at the height of cool in this movie. Also playing a half-Irishman, Jimmy Conway, DeNiro commands the scene like his character commands a room -- through subtle demands. By snapping his fingers, whispering in a colleague's ear or nodding in the direction of what he wants, DeNiro dominates. Not as outwardly dangerous as Pesce's character, DeNiro does not refrain from inflicting violence or defending his turf. When Conway feels his wishes are not met, the results are startlingly deadly. One thing that I learned from Goodfellas is that if DeNiro tells me not to spend my recently-stolen money for awhile, I sure as hell will listen.

In fact, after talking about how awesome Pesci and DeNiro are, fuck Liotta: he severely detracts from this film. When DeNiro yells, it's purposeful, it's poetic; when Liotta mouthes off, it seems as if that's the only card he has in his deck. The climatic scene detailing a paranoid Liotta running errands on the day of his arrest is a symbolic for his acting in the movie. It's like he is always looking over his shoulder to see how much better Pesce and DeNiro are than he. Sadly, it's as hopeless for Hill as it is for Liotta.

There are other noteworthy elements that I feel at least deserve mention. Like in any good mob movie, food plays an important role. Often humor comes from the inclusion of food. At one point, hot-headed DeVito kills a made man; therefore, Conway and Hill have to aid DeVito in burying the man upstate. Instead of getting things done ASAP, the trio stops at DeVito's mom's house and eats dinner -- some good gravy there. Later in the film, during Hill's paranoid drug-dealing spree, he continually bases his movements on a crucial element -- the making of tomato sauce. Liotta, all coked-up and strung out, stirs the sauce and worries about its consistency mere moments before being ambushed by the feds.

Also great secondary character work throughout the film. Lorrainne Bracco (the future Dr. Melfi on The Sopranos) excels as Hill's battered, cuckolded wife. Paul Sorvino's role as the mob boss exudes a Brando-esque dominance. And, for me, Chuck Low is the film's most unappreciated actor. Playing the annoying, clingy, dependent, oh-god-shut-up!, Jewish Morrie Kessler, Low hangs with the big boys and somehow becomes an endearing character. On top of all that, cool cameos by Samuel L. Jackson, comedian Henny Youngman ("Take my wife...please!), and Michael Imperioli (Christopher from The Sopranos) advances the idea that no character is too small.

So despite having a leading man who takes away from the film, Goodfellas is the most tasteful and artistic mob movie outside of The Godfather series. Although Scorsese should have won for this one, I'm glad he finally got what he deserved (just like so many poor, dead gangsters in this film).


(#93) - The Apartment directed by Billy Wilder

Monday, November 24, 2008

I Think I Get It...

#91 On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Like Alicia Silverstone, I am clueless...regarding Kerouac.

The Beat generation in America paved the way for the Hippies.

That much am I aware.

As depicted in Kerouac's so-called "novel that defined a generation" the Beats were without identity and wandered the country in search of something -- whether it be love, euphoria, or simply joy.

That much I am also aware.

Aside from that I don't know what exactly I got out of On the Road. I'm just not sure if I get it...but I kinda do.

The novel describes narrator Sal Paradise and his gone friend Dean Moriarity's travels across the great American landscape. Divided into five sections, each segment tells a different adventure. Sometimes they go East to West; others West to East. Whether hitchhiking, riding the bus, driving their own cars, stolen cars or being hired to move cars, they always somehow get from Point A to Point B. Eventually the pair finds itself in Mexico for what I guess you would call the novel's climax.

But that's about it...to me anyways.

On the Road is based off of the real life exploits of Kerouac (Sal Paradise) and Neal Cassady (Dean). Thrown in there are also numerous secondary characters, the most notable being Carlo Marx -- the alias of yet another Beat icon, Allen Ginsberg. Marx and Dean spend loads of time together in the early parts of the novel and are described by Kerouac as outcasts:

"They were like the man with the dungeon stone and the gloom, rising from the underground, the sordid hipsters of America, a new beat generation that I was slowly joining."

I would give context for that quote, but there is none. Throughout the whole book there is no context for any description. Kerouac writes long, rambling paragraphs that are heavy on adjectives but light on purpose. He rants and rants and rants about nothing.

Kerouac's pointless, stream-of-conscious diatribes to me are empty. Time and again he writes of massive nights where Dean and Sal go nuts in random American city. It's all the same every time. Denver, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans -- each has its own unique identities, but each is still essentially the same. They don't learn anything knew; the only growth is the further experience of repetitive partying. I dug the admiration for black bop and jazz music, but everything else felt hollow.

But maybe that's the point. Maybe the American experience is one of letdown and disappointment. Dean can never be content in one city, with one woman, living one life. He's restless. Thrilled only by the chase, the road, Dean really isn't a complete person. In a lot of ways Dean is just a symbol for the failure of the American dream. With a drunk for a father and no formal education, Dean floats along doing as he pleases until he is forced to deal with reality. For him, the reality is in the form of the countless bastard children and divorced wives he leaves scattered around the country.

Are Kerouac's experiences a lesson of what not to do? In a lot of ways I feel his recollections are mere documentations of wild nights and nothing more.
I don't think Dean is painted as a sympathetic character, though, despite Kerouac's efforts to make him one. I feel only anger towards Dean, not pity. I think it's because he's such a fuck up; he destroys everything around him and constantly ruins others' lives. If he didn't affect others it would be one thing, but that's not the case. Dean is lost and is bringing everyone down with him in his catastrophe of a life.

What pisses me off the most about this book is the lack of a climax. Like I said before, eventually Dean and Sal stumble down to Mexico, and they love it. The backwards-ness of the impoverished country inspires them...to accomplish exactly the same thing they do in America. Namely, they get drunk, smoke lots of "tea" and pay for sex. This episode concludes with Sal contracting dysentery, Dean abandoning him and eventually Sal returning to America.

The novel's conclusion is essentially Dean won't change and continues to wander and screw people over in the process; Sal settles down with a lady; and the pair -- despite Sal's yearning -- don't rekindle their road wanderings.
By the way, all of that is summed up in about six pages of text. I'm not saying Kerouac had to resolve everything, but I wish he accomplished something.

Yes, Kerouac's wanderings spoke to countless young Americans who felt out of place. The hopeless feeling certainly exists today, and I'm sure On the Road remains an anthem to many. But for those with at least small ambitions, this novel yields nothing.


Like I said before, a mystery guest will discuss Frankenstein. The next novel on my radar is (#90) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I read an abridged version in my junior year of high school.

Also, a film review is in the works.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sicily As It Was

#93 The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

How'd you feel if you were kicked around for eternity?

I am Sicilian, yet I really do no know much about my heritage. Growing up, for whatever reason, I embraced and immersed myself more with the Irish half. I didn’t really have anything against the Italian in me, but it never really appealed as much. Possibly it was the language gap or the infatuation with style that held me back. In fact, until recently I didn’t even know that I was Sicilian (the other 25 percent is Neapolitan -- Naples, from what I hear, is pretty gross).

After graduating from high school, I traveled to Ireland. The love for the Emerald Isle grew, as did the indifference towards my Mediterranean roots. Following my sisters’ subsequent high school completion, they journeyed to Italy. Maybe that’s why they had a closer connection to my other homeland.

The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa made me appreciate my father’s background a lot more. It also gave me a little justification -- and relief -- for not knowing much about the culture: the real Sicilian culture.

Lampedusa’s surprisingly insightful and captivating novel on the demise of Sicilian nobility made me realize that I’ll never be able to know anything about one of homelands without visiting it. The ancient, backwards island has been kicked by the boot of the modern society, in addition to the geographic Italian peninsula, for hundreds of years. The French, Romans, Turks and probably the Mongolians at one point all colonized the island, ravaged it of natural resources and individual sovereignty, and imposed their respective tradition on the Sicilians. Oddly, a main point by The Leopard's protagonist, is that the Sicilians relish their sufferings and hardships.

As I’ve seen in many of the stories on this literary list, the setting is important. This would only be natural with many great works focusing on revolutions (social or otherwise), great trends or social injustices centered in a particular place and time. However, only half of a setting’s characteristics are important: the place, not the time. The Leopard itself occurs the period before, during and after the Red Coats act of uniting Italy under the leadership of Victor Emmanuel. Revolutionary leader Garribaldi’s visage hovers above the novel’s characters as he transforms from liberating demagogue to corrupt demi-goat over a 25-year span. The point Lampedusa makes, though, is that despite revolution, Sicily remains the same. Day-to-day actions of the islanders are not altered. A lethargic, blasé approach to life avoids political affiliation. Resistance to change and adherence to past and tradition rule the Sicilian mindset.

That past tradition is dying away with the Leopard himself, though. I suppose the time does matter, but not as much as one would think. The crux of the story deals with Don Fabrizio Salina's (the leopard is on his family crest) life. It starts during his middle age, the hight of his comfort. He is rich, powerful and will never have to worry about losing any his prestige. Yet, he does; not so much for himself, but about the future. He feels he is the last in a line of great Salina nobility, and he's accurate. Like in many societies, the nobles probably could have survived, but they, through inaction, do not move, do not alter the status quo. And while their loss of power is gradual, it is noticeable. At one point in the novel, it is evident that a character of non-noble has more money than him, making Don Fabrizio only the second richest person in Sicily. But that is symbolic in it of itself. Fifty years prior, it would be impossible for someone to rise up and secure funds. The nobility was the state. For the Leopard, he is now only a part of the state.

Later, Salina is offered a chance to serve in the newly established Sicilian senate. He scoffs at the idea, though. His way of dealing with problems is throwing money at it, not by establishing social programs or making education reform. Why would he demean himself by consorting with the common man? If Salina had wanted his family to prosper in the future, he could have begun a long line of Salina senators. Instead, his resistance ensured their death sentence.

But enough of that silly stuff. Let's talk about the grungy, dirty sex. Well, sort of. A significant portion of the novel dealt with fiery passions and lust. Early on, Don Fabrizio leaves his comfortable home for an evening with a whore. A lengthy discussion ensues detailing his love for his wife, but how their passions has been distinguished. Their sex life is over. So he has a chippy on the side. The author made it seem as this wasn't uncommon in 19th century Italy. Later, his nephew and his fiancée romp around the mansion doing everything but the nasty. They don't want to ruin the supposed marital bliss and feel the deprivation will make their sex life better. He heavily foreshadows that their life during marriage will be anything but happy and even their sex life will suck. Believe want you want about sex before marriage, but I thought it was bold for the time period for Lampedusa to suggest such improprieities against marriage.

Great book, though. Easy read and relatively short. If you have any Italian blood look up this masterpiece centered around the new nation-state of Italy.


(#92) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is next. Possibly by a guest blogger.

Monday, July 7, 2008

To Catch a Salinger...

# 94 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Larry David is Holden Caulfield all grown up.

One’s perspective on a literary work is ever-evolving. To read a novel at 12 is monumentally different than at 15. Rendering an opinion at 21 yields an even fresher outlook that makes your previous readings elementary. However, no matter what age, when one reads a work for a third time, it is quite natural for more in-depth conclusions to be drawn.

This description describes my third stab at J.D. Salinger's novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Recommended to me by my grandfather at an early age, I became enamored with the piece. Re-reading it again in high school, the infatuation continued. Checking Facebook recently, it appeared that I would not be alone in my fondness for the novel.

That reason is exactly why I decided to tread very carefully for my third read through and subsequent review. I feel in a lot of ways that the books in Harry Potter series are the only novels read more by America's youth -- and possibly by the greater population as whole -- than The Catcher in the Rye. People don't like to read criticisms on things they cherish. (Check out Left of the Dial's review and comments for the recent Pattern is Movement album if you don't believe me.)

All that said, I still liked the story of Holden Caulfield's odyssey. A lot. But in many different ways than I did when I was 12.

One aspect the novel excels in is Salinger's masterful characterization of a teenager. Caulfield's language in narration accurately portrays how dumb teenagers really are, drastic their emotions can change in a second and -- despite claims to moral superiority -- hypercritical teenagers can be.

His constant inclusion of the word "ironical" was comical and something I overlooked as a child (possibly because at the time I thought it was a word). Other great words in his vernacular that he overused the shit out of include: "lousy," "terrific," "bastads," "flit," " sexy stuff," "pervy" and, of course, "phony." This really illustrates the limited vocabulary possessed by Caulfield and teens in general. Salinger's ability to capture this verbal immaturity rounds out Caulfield's character and gives insight to his stunted maturity level, as well.

Caulfield emotionally describes things that are important to him in one instant, than insignificant the next. He's the king of the mood swing. And very slight things set him off. Everything rains on his parade. Judgmental to a fault, he lets others personality aspects affect his emotions and stunts his individual growth. While eating lunch with two nuns, he becomes very upset initially because of the presence of a shabby-looking basket for charity collections. Despite the nuns reassurance to him that they are teachers and weren't collecting money, he dwells on this one detail and can't enjoy what would otherwise be a pleasant lunch. This occurs later when Holden runs into his brother's ex-girlfriend in a bar. Her new boy is an Ivy League chap, which instantly makes him a jerk. Holden leaves just because he's a fancy college boy. In a lot of ways, Holden is like Larry David.

Instead of expounding on Caulfield's hypocrisy (and teens in general), I'll just list a few that bugged me:

--Hates movies, but consistently goes.
--Lashes out at Ackley for standing in his light, later ignores Stradlater's request to move out of his light.
--Cringes at Stradlater's motives as always being sexy, then invasively questions Columbia kid's sex life in a bar.

There's more, but those ones stuck in my mind, weeks later.

Children play an important part in the novel and really give credence to my mother's theory that the phrase "the catcher in the rye" is about parenthood. The only people it seems that Holden can tolerate are children. Whether it be a kid playing in the street, two boys "being yellow" at the Museum of Natural History, a little girl asking for help with her skate key or any instance involving his sister Phoebe or deceased brother Allie, Caulfield only has peace of mind when dealing with children. He greatly wants to protect all those young (as seen in helping those boys in the museum, using the girl's skate key or wiping "Fuck" off the school's wall). He wants to be the catcher in rye making sure they don't fall off that cliff.

It is "ironical," though, because Caulfield himself is just a child -- his maturity level is so stunted that he can't tolerate being around people his own age who care about things unrelated to childhood. In no way can he help kids out; he needs to find his own catcher. He tries in vain to search for one, too. The old teacher at Pencey, Jean Gallagher, Stradlater, Ackley, Sally Hayes, his former English teacher now at NYU, a former student at a previous school, D.B., his sister are all potential catchers. Oddly his parents are the only ones he doesn't actively pursue for help. Sure, Holden is a basket-case, but he really is only looking for a little guidance.

Salinger may be a mystery and I hope sometime we find those manuscripts he's hid away since the 1950s, but his gift of Holden Caulfield to all teenagers (and to those lost in general) is enough of a literary contribution that will live on well past his death. Maybe The Catcher in the Rye itself serves as a self-help book for all those souls out there looking for something to relate with. Maybe that's why it's in everyone's Facebook profiles.

In the very least, it establishes proper etiquette on how not to talk to a pimp.

The next book will be (#93) The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa -- an I-Tall-Yan.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Soulja Boy Went to War Riding On a Pony

#96 -- The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

It was lights out for Svejk like it was for Tony...ambigious.

A few novels in and I’ve finally found one I can rip apart. This is not to say that The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek was bad or undeserving of its position on this list. On the contrary really. Hasek’s lone novel masterfully lampoons warfare. In fact, Hasek’s disdainful view on almost everything -- military related or otherwise -- is a blueprint for satire. Priests, government officials, teachers, doctors, Germans, Czechs, Catholics, Jews, whatever, Hasek went to town and made the world look ridiculous.

Additionally, the novel is illustrated with ridiculous caricatures. It was a great way to break up text and conveyed points more effectively. Hasek’s humor -- however dark and crass it was -- benefited from the more than one hundred doodles.

Usually epilogues are unnecessary or corny. Writers try to tie up all loose ends that normally would be relegating to the resolution in a few short pages. Maybe Hasek’s works because it has nothing to do with the story and appears following the novel’s first part (not at the book’s end). All that he accomplishes with this post script (essentially that’s what it is) is to bitch about censorship and lame people. Hasek complains that readers are often too sensitive and how this sensitivity harms literature. As I will elaborate later, it’s a crude book. Hasek argues, well here, that if this is how people really talked, why would he refrain from including it? Honesty and accuracy is most important in comedy. Anyone can make a joke and say that President Bush is a Nazi. But a better joke would include a solid foundation in fact. Hasek’s satire utilizes facts very affectively, so bollix to all those lame-os that can handle the pressure. (Granted what people were offended about in 1920 is tame by today standards, but the point is valid.)

There are a few things I wish I had known before reading Hasek’s masterpiece, though, and they are the basis of the aforementioned “ripping.” It’ll benefit you if a desire ever struck to read this laborious, yet enjoyable novel.

1. Nothing the titled-character ever says is worth reading -- Svejk is a certifiable, self-admitted imbecile. His bumblings are humorous and heart-warming. However, nothing he ever says should be read. Hasek wasn’t including his countless, page-long rambling stories to be critically interpreted. They were intended to illustrate that diarrhea of the mouth is a mortal sin.

A typical dialogue with Svejk went like this:

“Svejk, you idiot, why did you put on that Russian prisoners uniform?” asked Lieutenant Lukas.
Svejk smiled an idiotic grinned and innocently replied. “Well sir, you told us that we should know our enemy, and the best way to know your enemy is by trying on their clothes. At least that’s what this gentleman at the bar The Chalice told me. He said everyday he’d break into another person’s home -- male or female -- and try on their wardrobe for the day. This way, he was able to view life through the eyes of a monk, a butcher, a bullfighter, a whore. He said because of his lifestyle choice everyday he got to be a new person. So when I saw the Russian soldier had run off and left his clothes, what other choice did I have? An order is an order, sir, and the way I see it, I would be committing high treason if I didn’t put them on.” Lieutenant Lukas starred blankly at Svejk before giving him three across the jaw.

If I had known that Svejk’s words were this insignificant before hand, I could have read the novel in afternoon. Hasek must be quite the bull-shitter to keep Svejk full of dialogue.

2. Soldiers in the First World War (at least those fighting for the Central Powers) drank, told crude jokes and engaged in a fare share of lewd acts --
I know that this novel is satire and not too be taken literally, but throughout the entirety of the book, everyone was drunk all the time. From officers to infantrymen to cooks to chaplains, everyone is rightly tossed. Hasek’s point -- I believe -- is that in war, morality is abandoned and vices pile up. Each soldier drinks heavily, constantly is on the prey for females, and smokes anything they can get their hands on. That’s nothing to say for the mindless killing that occurs.

3. There’s a reason the punctuation is all weird --
Quotations are done like this:

Svejk said to Lieutenant Dub in the latrines, ‘I’m shit out of luck. Or, like my mother said, “Take that Franz Joseph.” '

Normal quotation marks only occurred within quotations. I thought maybe this was some Czech style lost in translation. At the end of the novel, though, I find out the reason: it is a dictation. Hasek read the prose and someone wrote it down. So the primary quotation was the entire book.
This leads me to my final point…

4. The novel has no ending --
Seven hundred and fifty-two pages in, and I am greeted by this message:

“This was the point reached by Jaroslav Hasek in dictating
The Good Soldier Svejk and his Fortunes in the World War. He was already ill and death silenced him forever on 3 January 1923. It prevented him from completing one of the most famous and widely-read novels published after the First World War.”

The novel wasn’t finish! There’s no ending! Svejk never even gets to the war itself! It was very disconcerting to have no conclusion, resolution, what have you. I’m not talking about tying up loose ends, just “Svejk got shot and died” would have been better.

I suppose it is fair to say that The Good Soldier Svejk and his Fortunes in the World War ended like The Sopranos. Fortunately, I was sparred from Journey.


Up next, a novel Pat Rush just finished and I’ve read twice, (#95) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Not From Concentrate, Plenty of Pulp

#95 Pulp Fiction - directed by Quentin Tarantino

If you think about it, Pulp Fiction is as hopeful as Bambi.

Upon viewing Pulp Fiction as an early teen, I was blown away by the music, dancing, violence, ass-fucking, drug use...everything. Years later, what strikes me most about the film is the depth and heart is possesses. As a kid all the flash that goes along with it hits you. I feel like as a youngster I was truly taking in by the glamor of the underworld. Upon seeing it now, though, I was all wrong.

Quentin Tarantino utilizes an all-star staff to achieve his finest film to date (Sorry to all those
Jackie Brown fans). I mean Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, John Travolta, Ving Rhames -- big studs, man. However, unlike all his other movies where one central plot exists (robbery, revenge, grindhousin'), Pulp Fiction is about how all these different stories come together.

Like I said before, the dialogue is top-notch. Exchanges are quick, surreal and oh-so poignant. Whether it's the Royale with Cheese, the watch monologue or
Fox Force Five Tarantino earns us chops as a writer. In other films, it wears on me, but Pulp Fiction never gets to the point of being annoying.

Another aspect that's great about this film is the out-of-sync developing. That way you really understand that Jackson's character has witnessed a miracle and will turn over a new leaf (sequel anyone?). However, it's a little confusing at times, so I'll reorder the film in a proper sequence. I'm sure I forgot something.

(But come on, this came out like 15 years ago. Get with it.)

-Butch gets his watch as a little kid.
-Vincent and Jules ride around, go to dude's house, almost get killed, pop caps themselves.
-Marvin dies, Vincent and Jules go to Jimmie's house and the Wolf helps them. They take a taxi to a diner.
-Honey Bunny and Ringo are all cutesy before they decided to rob the diner.
-Vincent goes to the bathroom, Bunny and Ringo try to rob diner, Jules won't give up the brief case. Situation occurs, is resolved. No one dies, everyone goes on their way.
-Butch and Marsellus discuss the fight Butch is to throw.
-Jules (presumably) quits, Vincent gets more info. about his date with Mia.
-Vincent goes to by drugs.
-Date with Mia. She OD's on his drugs, but is okay.
-Butch wins fight, escapes.
-Other fighter dies, Marsellus launches head-hunt for Butch.
-Butch and Fabienne talk, do sex stuff, realize they don't have his father's watch.
-Butch goes back to find watch, kills Vincent, hits Marsellus with car. All hell breaks lose, and Marsellus gets done in the butt. Ouch. Butch frees him and they strike up a truce. Butch escapes.

Honestly, it wouldn't be nearly as good if Tarantino did it this way. So kudos to Quentin.

Also, lots of super-cool cameos, which I painstakingly high-light below.
-Kathie Griffin (of
Suddenly Susan fame) as herself;
-Julia Sweeney (
Saturday Night Live) as girl that owns tow-lot that will look the other way;
-Phil Lamarr (
Mad TV) as poor, poor Marvin;
-Tarantino, as Jimmie Dimmick;
-Steve Buscemi (every Cohen brothers' movie ever) as Buddy Holly...yeah, seriously;
-and of course, Christopher Walken, who never needs an explanation.

While before I thought this was a glamorization of crime, sex, drugs and violence, now I realize it was none of that. If anything, it's a PSA against all of those vices and ailments that plague society. What Pulp Fiction is really about is escape and re-birth. Throughout the movie, people that stayed in the underground were punished. Marcellus gets fucked in the ass; all the dudes that torture him get it given right back to them; his wife OD's; Vincent Vega gets killed.

Although you don't know what happens to any of the characters that escape, Tarantino makes all their exits hopeful. Butch and Fabienne begin a new life in the South Pacific; Honey Bunny and Ringo have some cash in their pockets and incentive to reform; Jules has a new lease on life. For all the mindless lust that is depicted in the film, the real theme is rebirth and second chances.

And I'm glad I took a second chance on
Pulp Fiction.
Up next (#94)
Goodfellas directed by Martin Scorsese

Monday, May 5, 2008

White Washing Memories and Consciences

#95 The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I almost thought Tom Hanks was gonna make an appearance towards the end.

Semester's kill me. On account of all the fancy book-learning and Collegian (and Chevron Says) writing I do, the Lemon Disco blog falls to the wayside. Pretty sad stuff. However, with this post my triumphant return at pretending to be a literary critic is in place. I know that I noted something else as my next piece, but constraints on what the library had available six months ago forced my hand into reviewing The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (a dude).

Much like the previously-reviewed Dracula, TWIW utilized first-person journal entries as the means of telling a thrilling caper with numerous twists and/or turns. Although there are primarily two narrators, several are used. Unlike Dracula, though, Collins only employees first-person journal entries written in a collection for legal purposes -- newspapers, letter or tomb stones don't document this story.

When I picked up the book originally, I (erroneously) judged by its cover that it would be a lame love-story, a romance novel, a chick-flick in prose form. Thankfully, I was wrong and found an intriguing story of deception. The woman in white was not so much a character but instead, a ghost of a person that evildoers used as tool to do their evil. Her name was Anne Catherick, and I feel like she had less than eight pages of dialogue in the lengthy novel. She's more of a catalyst than a character.

We've seen this plot before: artist boy is poor, gets employed by rich English man to teach his niece to draw; boy falls for niece, and vice versa; conflict -- niece is betrothed to prude dude; boy dramatically leaves for America; wedding ensues; turns out prude dude is only in it for the money and, with fat Italian man, arranges a false death with a niece look-a-like; boy comes back from America to find his love is dead; not really, though, so it becomes his mission to clear her name and restore her legacy.

Typical English literature, right?

Many characters, plot turns and strong-armingnesss leads to a interesting read. Not light on the pages, but, unlike Dracula, these pages are more purposeful. Meaningless scene description is not included, and the plot continues to evolve right up until the end. Even after the climax, a solid denouement ties the loose ends together and answers all lingering questions one may have had about the resolution and characters.

There are a few themes and similarities with previous novels written about on this blog that I would like to go into.

I understand women were viewed differently in 17th Century England, but TWIW is not an empowering read. Certain feminist aspects exist, but on the whole, most women are depicted as weak and subservient to men. One of the biggest problems occurs because the niece, Laura, is too frail a figure to testify on the conspiracy regarding her faked death. Collins made the boy, Walter Hartright, jump through very elaborate and convoluted hoops to rectifying the wrong. Fat Italian man's wife is depicted as a viper in one sentence, but a faithful conjugal being in the next. All her actions are laid out by her husband, and she is purposeless without his guidance.

Two strong ladies are here, but they are brow-beaten with insults from the author. The niece's sister, Marian, is the strongest and most dynamic character in the novel. She is a constant source of strength for her sister and Walter, and she is instrumental in the restoration of her sister's legacy. However, Collins describes her, pretty much, as being ugly as sin. No man would ever be interested in someone as man-ish and independent as Marian. Maybe Collins was writing about how the world wasn't ready for the strong woman -- despite her existence -- but I wasn't buying it.

The other empowering figure defamed by Collins was the mother of the girl who's death allowed for Laura to appear dead -- Mrs. Catherick. This woman sold her daughter out, deceived a man into marrying her and in essence, was a cheap floozy that valued money and status more than humanity. But boy was she a tough cookie. Collins makes her out to be a bitch, but a strong bitch that I'd never want to fuck with.

Sure, feminism is a topic that I've delved into a few times before on this blog, but secret societies is an uncharted territory. About seven-eights into the novel, Collins introducing a da Vinci Code-esq group known only to the reader as the "Brotherhood." This group exists for political purposes and forces its members to be called upon at a given moment to achieve political ends -- namely, assassination. Its inclusion in TWIW is a little unnecessary and sort of a cop-out (the Italian man's membership in this group forces his other-wise unsympathetic hand to yield), but it is still interesting as hell. Collins effectively describes that throughout history, groups like the "Brotherhood" cause change, define what the status quo is and run countries without the public ever knowing or wanting to know. It made me a little uncomfortable, though, and cause me to wonder who is the man behind the curtain in our nation.

To tie this in with other books on this list, TWIW describes a hallmark of English literature: cold professionalism. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, Dracula and TWIW lawyers, policemen, doctors and citizens in general are very detached from the subjects they encounter. I've seen this in British literature outside this list in the works of Dickens; a character like Uriah Heep (not the band) goes about his work in a professional manner that is business as usual, no matter what the circumstances are. Maybe it is all about the benjamins, but white-collared workers in the UK are cold bitches.

Although Gone with the Wind has been my favorite thus far, I can say that The Woman in White runs a close second. When the lovers love, the bad dudes meet their reckonings or when people are simply hanging out, I intimately followed the characters in this piece. I'm glad I read this one and am even considering viewing the 1940s movie based on it.
Up next:
Movies - Pulp Fiction (#95)
Novels - The Good Soldier Svjek (#96) by Jaroslav Hasek