Category Archives: review

Review: Gone Girl (2014 film)

Gone Girl (2014)

Screenplay by Gillian Flynn, based on her 2012 novel.
Directed by David Fincher.
Produced by Leslie Dixon, Bruna Papandrea, Reese Witherspoon and Ceán Chaffin.
Cinematography: Jeff Cronenweth.
Edited by Kirk Baxter.
Music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox.
Budget: $61 mn. U.S. (made $368 mn., international)
MPAA Rating: R (language, some bloody violence and strong sexual content/nudity)
Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Carrie Coon, Tyler Perry, and Neil Patrick Harris

Some movies are just damn creepy.  Yet this one was actually pretty mild in my view, relatively speaking.  (It’s a soft-to-moderate ‘R’.)  Flynn’s screen adaptation is very close to the original novel, so you can read my review on that for the synopsis.

The movie starts off much the same as the novel.  It cuts to the chase, and intercuts between the main-character points of view, all the way to the big twist.

Having read the book, I can say that most of the novel is intact here.  This is one of those rare cases that the script matches so closely the intent of the original, that it should go on record how great a writer Gillian Flynn is, as well as David Fincher, in bringing it to life, the way he did.  In an interview with The Kansas City Star, the Kansas-reared Flynn was on the record, stating, he “really liked the book, and didn’t want to turn it into something other than what it already was. … He wanted a faithful screen adaptation, not a whole new thing.”

The acting, I found was grade-A, for the most part.  I wasn’t too enthused with Ben Afleck’s performances, but it was still one his best to date.  Overall, the film elevated its players, especially Rosamund Pike, who plays “Amy Dunne.”  Those that haven’t seen Pike act on screen can see what she’s capable of, and those that have seen her may see a different side of her altogether.  The first shot of her in the movie, as she turns her head, kind of defines the meaning of ‘creepy.’

Unfortunately, like most screen adaptations, a visible amount of the novel’s depth was lost in scriptwriting process.  Whole scenes and characters were cut for time.  Worse, the execution “dialed back” on potential strengths.  Some of the music was redundant of Reznor/Ross.  And some of the editing, with quick fades, made the movie look like a two-hour trailer.  But even then, you could call it a superb two-hour trailer, that the film in whole still manages to stand out so well.

Though the film adaptation is not perfect and can’t really replace the novel, I found myself able to watch it more than once without getting tired.  Who can say that of most films?  Grade: A-.

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Review: Boyhood

Boyhood

©2014 Boyhood Inc. / IFC Productions I, LLC

A Detour FilmProduction

Written and Directed by Richard Linklater

Produced by Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland, Jonathan Sehring, and John Sloss

Edited by Sandra Adair

Cinematography by Lee Daniel and Shane Kelly

Running time: 165 (5 mins. credits)

Budget: $2.4 mn. ($200K/year; made $43.4 mn. at box office)

First released at Sundance, Jan. 2014; domestic, July 2014

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some depictions of teen drug/alcohol use)

Reviewer age rating: 14+ (the language kids will hear anyway)

Stars

Ellar Coltrane; Patricia Arquette; Lorelei Linklater; Ethan Hawke; Andrew Villarreal; Jenni Tooley (Annie); Zoe Graham; Jessi Mechler; Marco Perella (Prof. Bill Welbrock, stepdad); Brad Hawkins (Jim, final stepdad)

Additional Cast (in order of appearance)

Elijah Smith as Tommy

Steven Prince as Ted (Olivia’s boyfriend after Mason Sr.)

Libby Villari as grandmother Catherine

Jamie Howard as Mindy (daughter of Welbrock)

Andrew Villarreal as Randy (son of Welbrock)

Ryan Power as Paul

Charlie Sexton as Jimmy

Evie Thompson as Jill

Nick Krause as Charlie

Roland Ruiz (Machette) as Ernesto

Richard Andrew Jones and Karen Jones as grandpa Cliff and Nana (Annie’s parents)

Sam Dillon as Nick

Jesse Tilton as April

Richard Robichaux as Mason’s boss

Will Harris as Sam’s college BF

Indica Shaw as Hooper

Andrea Chen as Sam’s college roommate

Mona Lee as high school teacher

Bill Wise as Uncle Steve

Alina Linklater as twin cousin #1

Charlotte Linklater as twin cousin #2

Maximillian McNamara as Dalton (dorm roommie)

Taylor Weaver as Barb (dorm roommie)

Review

For one of Richard Linklater’s best films, no scene is polished with visual effects or redubs, too short or treated like a “sound bite.”  Twelve years were spent filming, year-by-year, revealing actual growth of the actors, including his real-life daughter (with Christina Harrison).  Boyhood was difficult to write, piece by piece, direct and produce, on a tight budget, and Linklater does a decent job.  There have been films with multiple filming years, but not quite like this.

It stars Ellar Coltrane as the highly talented but barely disciplined Mason Jr.  In the opening scene, six-year-old Mason watches the sky, and tells his mother, Olivia (Arquette) that, “if you flick water into the air just right, it’ll turn into a wasp.”  His assignments are often incomplete, and his homework would be described by his teacher as “big, crumpled-up chunks at the bottom of his backpack.”

He gets quite a few gutterballs in life.  Mason and his older sister, Samantha , finally get to see their musician of a father, Mason Sr. (Hawke), back from Alaska.  “I wish we could use the bumpers,” the son says, landing the bowling ball in the left gutter.  The father responds, “Bumpers are for kids.  What are you, two years old?  You don’t want the bumpers.  Life doesn’t give you bumpers.”

The film is loaded with metaphors like that, as well as easter eggs.  A few of Linklaters relatives appear in the film.  (See the Cast above.)

The date at any given moment is never explicitly told.  Instead, signatures are used, including the Iraq war, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at a signing event, the kinds of phones used, and the music.  The children and the adults age as they would, and life’s struggles are never off the radar.  It doesn’t shy away from narcissism or domestic abuse.

Thankfully, the film’s politics are marginalized.  The pro-Obama woman had a dream of kissing Obama; and the anti-Obama man tells Mason, “This is private property; get off.  I could shoot you.”  And Dad gets the kids to steal the political yard signs.  His keys jangle as he moves quickly.

Of course, there’s a bit of “Dad-speak.”  Mason Sr. swears on occasion when talking to his kids; in one of the early scenes, Sam tells him, ‘that’s fifty cents for the f-bomb.’  And stepdad #2, Welbrock (Perella), in a string of drinkers that Mom brings home, teaches Mason and Randy (Villarreal) golf, and utters both “goddamn it” and “son of a bitch” when missing a hole.  It’s both funny and sad to see him drive to King Liquor, allegedly on a regular basis.

After pulling up, he says to the kids in the car, “This is just in case we have guests this weekend.”

As soon as the driver’s side door is shut, Randy tells Mason, “He always says that, but we never have guests.”

Randy blows a large gum bubble, and Mason pops it; the bubble deflates slowly.

Back home, Welbrock pours vodka into a plastic cup, with Sprite.  He then hides the bottle behind the detergent.

Linklater’s dialogue-dependent writing often surpasses the performances.  (This goes especially for the kids at their youngest.)  This is some of Linklater’s best writing.  Just the way the story’s cut together is both smooth and sharp, with obscurity for taste.  The scene where Mason gets his ‘kewl’ note from Nicole (Mechler) directly follows the one where Olivia is on the floor, crying, with Welbrock reentering the scene; most of his torso is obscured by the garage door, as he says, “Your mother had a little accident.”  There were warning signs.

But the movie rawness also made the film less visually real.  The actors could’ve been better fine-tuned in their performances to fit the scenes.  It’s a bit of a paradox that you have to extensively rehearse and reshoot to get the results right, while doing that you run the risk of losing emotional rawness.  Linklater wanted sort of a ‘raw balance’ there, but he chose not to push it, ‘playing it safe.’  (Not that he could with the budget he had.)

On what it manages to expose, I found it at times laid-back and self-centered as Mason can be.  (Personality will, however, distort one’s view of the past, so this is not unjustified.)  There’s some drug content and realistic adult dialogue, and a talk on contraception with the daughter, but there’s no catching the parents having sex or anything really embarrassing like that.  And there’s Coldplay’s Yellow, used in the opening scene; that song can ruin anything.  (To be fair, the song was popular.)  The script chooses to ignore some things that can’t be ignored if the goal was to develop a complete picture.  I would call to attention the childhood parts of Louie (FX), but the comparison might not be fair; every life is different.

There’s a unique and heartfelt touch to Boyhood, though.  Theoretically, it nails a few things.  No film has touched the long-exposure of life as this one has, a modern take at something rather old, such as watching the sky.  Linklater manages to put a lot of life into the picture, enough that it’s hard for his shy daughter, who plays Sam in the film, to watch.

Will it answer life’s questions or questions on childhood?  No, not by itself.  The film with its characters actually asks the viewer to think about those questions.  The father certainly can’t give an answer when Mason asks, entering adulthood, the point of life.  The father basically suggests ‘winging it,’ as he did.  And Olivia dives into midlife crisis/disillusionment when the nest empties.  But the film does answer some big questions, however always from the point of view of its characters.  Sheena (Graham) actually has to tell Mason that technology exists really to serve information not life.

The film tries not to force anything down the throat of the viewer, and that’s a plus.  It serves a humorous reminder—as opposed to a dark one—that life doesn’t have a point, but is instead filled with passing moments, sometimes with awkward smiles and laughs, and even some howling and whooping, and swimming, and a cute little girl that screams in joy at the Potter event.

“You know what, I’m going to be Mommy Monk.”

So much of the film is easy to watch for good reason.  Half of its 160 minutes will fly by before you know it.  Just like life.  The tone of the film changes from part to part, from childishness, to being shaken, to ‘being cool,’ to college.  It makes for a nice, poetic view at growing up.  And if you catch the secret at the end, you’ll be going, “Oh, man,” as I did.  The film might actually be deliberately long to hide its easter eggs.  You might as well buy it.  Grade: A.

Anatomy of a Scene

Approximately 52 mins. in, after Welbrock melts down (and yells “I hate squash!”), Mason is watching, on his laptop, The Landlord (2011), a Funny or Die video of Will Farrell dealing with a small toddler of a landlord (Pearl McKay).

“How many times can you watch that, Mason?” asks Samantha.

“It’s funny.”

“You know what, you need to relax,” Farrell says to Pearl in the video.

“I want my money!!!” Pearl screams in the video, with a subtitle.

“Has he ever gotten this bad before?” asks Mason, of Welbrock.

“No,” responds Randy.  “But he’s yelled a lot.”

“Yeah, but he hasn’t thrown and broken stuff,” Mindy adds.

The scene ends with Farrell telling Pearl, “you’re already drunk.”

Review: The End of the Affair


“What on Earth is a novelist?” asks Sarah.
“Research,” replies Maurice.  “On your husband.”

The End of the Affair

©1999 Global Entertainment Productions
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Written, Directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, 1992, Oscar® Winner)
Based on the 1951 novel by Graham Greene
Produced by Neil Jordan and Stephen Woolley
Cinematography: Roger Pratt
Editor: Tony Lawson
Music: Michael Nyman
Running Time: 102 min.
Budget: $23 mn. (made back about half in U.S. domestic gross)
MPAA Rating: R (sexual content, nudity, some violence)
Reviewer Age Rating: 14+ (overall moderate/mild, no adult language)

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Juilianne Moore; Stephen Rae; Ian Hart; James Bolam; Jason Isaacs

Stephen Rae made his acting debut in Neil Jordan’s directorial debut, Angel (1982)

Synopsis

“This is a diary of hate,” Maurice Bendrix (Fiennes) types on his typewriter as the story begins.  But we don’t know who he hates.  We suspect it is the husband he hates, as Bendrix weighs how much he loves Sarah Miles (Moore) based on his measure of jealousy.  Such jealousy to include her buttons, on all day; and her shoes, for walking away.

They’d fallen in lasting love.  There was a time he chased after her, made love to her, but the love affair lasted only as long as War World II remained active.

Henry (Rae), her husband, comes to suspect that his wife has a lover, but Bendrix and Miles never get caught, not even with the ‘bumbling but amiable’ Mr. Parkis (Hart).  As the war settles with a nearby bomb explosion and shattered glass, a promise is made.  The affair may end, but the love never does.  Reading Sarah’s diary, a result of the investigation he uses to his advantage, the mistaken Bendrix would chase her again after so much distance and time passed.

It is eventually disclosed whom he hates and blames in association as everyone loses a part of something.

The Hire

Bendrix does Henry’s bidding of hiring the investigator…reporting only to him.

“Are you intimate?” asks Mr. Savage (Bolam).

“No,” Bendrix lies.  “I’ve only seen her once since 1944,” he adds.

“I don’t understand.  You said this was a ‘watching’ case.”

“Can’t one…love or hate, long as that?”

“There’s nothing discreditable about jealously, Mr. Bendrix.  I always salute it as the mark of true love.”

“I’ve come on behalf of the husband.  He thinks she’s deceiving him.  ‘She has secrets.’”

“Ah, secrets.  Yes.”

“There may be nothing in it, of course.”

“In my experience, Mr. Bendrix…there almost invariably is.”

Take

The performances are good, with its Award winning/nominated cast.  There, I found no considerable flaws.  This is one of Fiennes’ better work that he appears more like a film character than as, well, a Fiennes character.  Moore is also fairly convincing.  The father-son relationship with the detective makes a nice, unexpected and growing touch rather than a distraction.

Jordan’s screenplay and direction, however, is a bit lacking in comparison to the novel.  While much of the film is solid with its dialogue and conveyed emotion, enough is missing that, in action, it comes off easy and simple, at least toward the end.  It charges with moments of passion, but it repeats a few sequences at length, filling time rather than detail.  In concept, it is a classic, with some strong and important points, but as far as watching it again I’m not sure what more I would get out of it.  Grade: B+.

Review: The Double (2013)


“I’d like to think I’m pretty unique.”

The Double (2013)
Story by Avi Korine and Richard Ellef Ayoade
Based on the novella of the same title by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Directed by Richard Ayoade (Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace)
Cinematography: Erik Wilson
Edited by Chris Dickens and Nick Fenton
Music: Andrew Hewitt
Produced by Robin C. Fox and Amina Dasmal
Production: Alcove Entertainment; Film4; British Film Institute
Distributor: StudioCanal UK
DVD (U.S.) ©2014 Magnolia Home Entertainment
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg; Mia Wasikowska; Wallace Shawn (Mr. Papadopolous, boss); Yasmin Paige; Cathy Moriarty (waitress); Noah Taylor (Harris); James Fox (The Colonel); Craig Roberts (Detective #1); Chris O’Dowd (nurse); Lydia Ayoade (Test Invigilator); Paddy Considine (Jack, “PT Kommander”)

Synopsis

Seven years dedicated, Simon (Eisenberg) has worked for his company, and yet it has been as if he was never there.  He is a hard worker, and yet he is meek and un-confident in his image; he feels outside of himself, enough that he uses Pinocchio to describe his existence—unable to be ‘a real boy,’ unable to pull his own strings.  He becomes invisible to the point that security fails to recognize him as an employee, or even that he exists.

Simon’s family isn’t easy on him either.  Much of everything and everyone in his life treads on him in slow, monotonous and quirky ways.  Every time he is alone in an awkward setting, things just malfunction on him.

Suddenly he gains the confidence to try to make contact the beautiful Hannah (Wasikowska), who works in the same department of the company—a copier.  He loses his briefcase in the process—the doors of the subway close on his case, and the handle breaks off as he tries to pull on it.  Still, security does not recognize him.  Simon regularly asks for a single copy—something very uncommon—just to see Hannah.

She dubs Simon “creepy guy,” almost shrugging off the fact that he’s been watching her through the windows via telescope.  But, of course, with her own desire to be less invisible, she attracts shadowy fellows that fail to live the so-called life in the area.  One of these men, as Simon sees through his telescope, decides to stand on a ledge, make contact with binoculars watching back at Simon, and wave before stepping off to his death.  Suicide is common enough in these parts that a local government department exists in dedication to picking up the unfortunate cases… They list Simon among the “maybes.”

Day after day, he slaves away, and finds a way to connect with the girl.  He pieces together fragments of red-on-white pictures she threw away.

The unreal part of the story begins as Simon James’s doppleganger appears.  The new guy’s personality and name are in reverse order: James Simon, confident in image, not meek and not a hard worker.  But now a new employee at the company, quickly moving up in the bureaucracy.

James appears to befriend Simon.  It all seems great, but really all James is doing is taking advantage of Simon, and Simon is too meek to see it.  And by the time he does, James is able to blackmail him with pictures of himself and Melanie (Paige), the boss’s daughter, because James’ face is identical to Simon’s.  And security forgets about Simon’s existence entirely: in a Catch-22 of a scene, he can’t get back into the system because “you’re not in the system.”

Take

The completely hypothetical nature of the setting is done well, with deep uses of color, as opposed to black & white photography (something I probably couldn’t tolerate well in this case).  It makes for one of the stranger films to date, and yet the story manages to convey a reality at the same time, as director Ayoade knows and states in the interview (available on the DVD).  The film surrounds the concept of invisibility: where no one cares what happens to you, if you allow yourself to walk along such remote paths in absence of personal confidence.

It can become Kafkaesque, even dangerous, for someone to allow him/herself to be taken advantage of for so long.  The film is unreal, but it serves as a good reminder not to become or remain a victim.

The acting was good, even though Eisenberg didn’t have much range.  Eisenberg considered his role as James/Simon with esteem, with more originality than that of his role as Mark Zuckerberg, but the execution wasn’t that dynamic.  Some of the understated nature of the script already came of as bland, further affecting the potential of the performances under Ayoade.

It could’ve easily been PG-13 if it wasn’t for the occasional string of f-bombs, but the film was nice enough to show desperation with a side of humor instead of horror.  Still, it should’ve been stronger, regardless of the language.  The film is creative in its minimalist, retro design, but it kind of fell on its back toward the end (literally).  It may have been great directorial work for Ayoade, but I didn’t feel like bothering to ask what was going on by the end as the nonsense wasn’t really compensated, emotionally or otherwise; it had an “open to interpretation” ending.  Simon’s long walk against a striped background did however manage to convey what it needed to.  Grade: B.

Review: Edge of Tomorrow

As the song goes: “I…need to know now…can you love me again?

Edge of Tomorrow

©2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.;
in assoc. with Villiage Roadshow Pictures, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment;
a 3 Arts production
Exec. Producers: Doug Liman, Dave Bartis, Steve Mnuchin, Joby Harold, Hidemi Fukuhara, Bruce Berman
Producers: Erwin Stoff, Tom Lassally, Jeffrey Silver, Gregory Jacobs, Jason Hoffs

Screenplay: Christopher McGurrie, Jez Butterworth & John-Henry Butterworth;
based on the Novel All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Director: Doug Liman
Director of Photography: Dion Beebe (ASC, ACS)
Editors: James Herbert, Laura Jennings
Running Time: 113 minutes (includes some 7½ min. of credits)
Rated “PG-13” for action violence, some language

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton (Master Sgt. Farell), Brendon Gleeson, Noah Taylor (Dr. Carter), Kick Gurry (Griff), Dragomir Mrsic, Charlotte Riley (Nance), Jonas Armstrong (Skinner), Franz Drameh (Ford), Masayoshi Haneda (Takeda), and Tony Way (Kimmel)

Premise

Alien “mimics” invade Earth.

General Brigham (Gleeson) forces Major William Cage (Cruise), for the greater part a media personality, into a combat role; but first, he details the operation.

“Operation Downfall: the entire (world) United Defense Force, invading from France, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, relieving pressure on the eastern front, allowing the Russians and the Chinese to push back.  We all meet in the middle, eliminating this mimic scourge along the way.  A lot of good soldiers are going to die, tomorrow, Major.”

Little does Brigham—or anyone else—know that everyone will die by the way things are going.  But few do know there is a chance, getting to the heart of the matter, using the secret weapon of the mimics against themselves: the ability to reset a whole day of time—with it, gaining the element of surprise over “the enemy.”  Getting the blood of an Alpha mimic into one’s system enters one into their system.

William Cage is one of two known figures to get burned to death with an Alpha’s blood, in combat.  The other, Rita Rose Vrataski (Blunt), celebrated for her efforts at Verdun, little do the public know how she won the battle.  (And she’s yet to learn something else of it.)  Cage dies, and lives the routine repeatedly, starting at the point of being roused in handcuffs to undergo the “On your feet, maggot!” treatment as a Private.  Finally, he finds the few that know about the Omega device that resets the day.  And he begins to see the “visions” that they see, tapped into the system.

But when it comes to pain, the early stages of rewakening he relives is not the half of it.

Sense

The real pain comes when Cage finally finds Rita, and saves her life on the Island beach, that, reworking the day, he can only get so far with her; no matter the turns, the plots, the ways at which he plays this extensive game of Chess, the mimics are everywhere—hidden, buried, submerged.  He gets to know her, only to watch her die, over and over again.  So it’s like Groundhog Day, except war and pain instead of comedy.

Rita had her own morbid repeat with “Hendricks”—someone she knew:

“Is he why you won’t talk to me?” asks Cage, in the car.

“Don’t ever mention his name again,” Rita responds.

“Why?—Are you…in love with him?”

“—He’s dead.  And I watched him die three-hundred times, and I remember…every detail—I remember everything.  So I don’t need to talk about it.”

“I’m sorry,” he eventually apologizes.

“It’s just war,” she punctuates, right before the vehicle runs out of gas.

Eventually, Cage trudges through the agony, alone, before finding just how valid these so-called “visions” are.

Sci./Tech

The writers seem to know what they’re doing here—with the advanced weaponry, the technology both futuristic and plausible, and even the names.  But, unfortunately, the soldiers drop in, and…they never leave alive, and neither does the premise.

The downside to the science behind the premise of time travel, or mental/spiritual “rewind,” doesn’t quite work here, logically.  How can retracing the steps of matter from a future point of time, lead back to an earlier point without?  Beyond that murky argument, how would a blood transfusion ruin it?

Summary

Apart from the holes in the science, the obvious acting in the intro—which sets the actors apart from the newscasters, particularly with Gleeson’s appearance—and the “blow it up” solution for any a final target (as with Armageddon, which would, in fact, make things worse in reality), this has got to be one of the better movies I’ve seen.  It’s PG-13, but it sucks you in without having to demonstrate much.

This isn’t Starship Troopers.  The gun is literally turned on oneself.  Unfortunately, the previews don’t do this film justice.  The story conveys a suffering that tests endurance on another level, a mental demand that reminds its characters that they know little, and reminds the viewer of his/her mortality by the end.  Yes, it is one of those movies that says, learn and live.  And it doesn’t star Nicholas Cage.

I can’t say that this movie has as much depth as the other Cruise movie I’ve mentioned before—Oblivion.  But it does what a movie is supposed to do, following in the footsteps of films like The Matrix and Snowpiercer: immerse the audience in a dream.

The feature’s good enough to get me to want to read the novel, preferably in English.  Too bad the DVD rental doesn’t have feature commentary.  Grade: B+.

Review: Fifty Shades Freed

Fifty Shades Freed (2012)

Author: E L James
Genre: erotic romance/adult fantasy
Reviewer Age Rating: 16+ (adult language, sexual content)
Website: vintagebooks.com
Printing: 2012.04 paperback, Vintage Books first edition; 579 pages

Blurb

When unworldly student Anastasia Steele first encountered the driven and dazzling young entrepreneur Christian Grey it sparked a sensual affair that changed both of their lives irrevocably. Shocked, intrigued, and, ultimately, repelled by Christian’s singular erotic tastes, Ana demands a deeper commitment. Determined to keep her, Christian agrees.

Now, Ana and Christian have it all—love, passion, intimacy, wealth, and a world of possibilities for their future. But Ana knows that loving her Fifty Shades will not be easy, and that being together will pose challenges that neither of them would anticipate. Ana must somehow learn to share Christian’s opulent lifestyle without sacrificing her own identity. And Christian must overcome his compulsion to control as he wrestles with the demons of a tormented past.

Just when it seems that their strength together will eclipse any obstacle, misfortune, malice, and fate conspire to make Ana’s deepest fears turn to reality.

Word of Mouth#1 New York Times Bestseller, 70+ million sold worldwide.

I got into the third book because:
I was compelled to finish the trilogy.
…And perchance I have not much, anything better to do.  Still.

Whatever.  This is truly the better one.

Master of the Universe

There is a brief placement of this original title in the thoughts of one of the characters, describing Christian Grey, in his authority figure, the billionaire CEO of CGE.  Master of the Universe was an online serial publication with different characters; this romance novel is a rework.  For Universe, E L James used the pen name “Snowqueen’s Icedragon.”

Introduction

The setting: weeks later, after part two (Darker).  All of the arrangements and executions toward the couple’s committed relationship finished, they are closer than ever, away on a yacht for a few weeks.

Jack is gone (but not really), and Ana has moved up the chain at SIP.  Ana daydreams on a beach, topless; turning onto her back in her sleep, she is scolded.  A fire breaks out at GEH, and security is tightened once more.  Nevertheless, future plans are underway; the plans for the new house are rendered and are, well, more or less complete already.

Undermined out of his position, someone in the shadows is pissed.  So, of course, things will not move smoothly for Anastasia; but she’s maturing, getting used to her new life.  Little does she know what awaits her, lurking, nuts, and ready to kick her in the ribs.

Cutting to the Chase

This last installment in the trilogy actually gets to the point, and then some.  There are fewer not-so-well rendered moments of awkwardness, and the story enters territory the other appears more familiar with.  In other words, the author knows what she’s doing, where she’s going—we can see it; she’s done a better job.  There are tight sequences, there are action sequences, and there are… sex sequences.

The romance has quelled a bit to make room for what’s to come.  And finally, finally we find some carnal withdrawal.  In other words, the third time was the charm—this third book is more realistic.  With brevity the story worked better, the formula (for lack of better word) had panned out.  And more is offered, past all of the fantastical circumstances.  Giggling, tickling… safe-wording… an epilogue and two chapters from Christian’s POV.

Explanations are given, and the story is tied up.

There’s crime and there are consequences.  More specifically, the downside of sex is rendered—using it for power, with blackmail and denial.  CCTV footage is used against the abused.  Without giving too much away, Ana is hospitalized for days at one point.

Justification

There are numerous excuses as to why this part works: the story is set well ahead, where the characters can be blended (whereas in the first installment they cannot).

“Well, stop being such an arse.”

He chuckles and the captivating sound reverberates through his chest.  He tightens his hold on me.  “Arse?”

“Ass.”

“I prefer arse.”

“You should.  It suits you.”

The fantasy is told with humor and cuteness.  I can’t go into detail, though, on the ‘cuteness’ part, as doing so would spoil the copper-haired ending.

Summary

It’s an adult bed-time story.  Sort of.  Not bad, not great, not Inspector Linley… and Christian continues to tease Ana in public, almost in front of children; it’s a tad perverted.  In all, it’s an entertaining story that draws out a kind of bright, idealized world, conveying its emotions without stressing out the reader with unexplained detail.  All is revealed… except E L James’ secrets.  I give this book a B.
——————————
Since completing this trilogy over a week ago, I’ve read into another “Erotic Romantic” series, and couldn’t continue past the first—namely, the explicit and perhaps rushed Bared To You by Sylvia Day.  Fifty Shades is clean in comparison to that and others.  I could say you might want to take that into consideration if ever your children would ever want to read this stuff.

Review: The Fault In Our Stars (film)

The Fault In Our Stars ©2014 Twentieth Century Fox
Based on the 2012 novel by John Green
Genre: teen romance, mortality; young adult
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screenplay: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber
Director: Josh Boone
Running Time: two hours
Producers: Wyck Godrey p.g.a, Marty Bowen p.g.a
Exec. Producers: Michele Imperato Stabile, Isaac Klausner
Director of Photography: Ben Richardson
Film Editor: Rob Sullivan
Music: Mike Mogis, Nathaniel Wolcott
Stars: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern (Frannie, H.’s mother), Sam Trammell (Michael, H.’s father), Nat Wolff, Wilem Dafoe, Mike Birbiglia (Patrick, group head), and Lotte Verbeek

The producers would like to thank the Anne Franke House, the Pittsburg University Medical Center (UPMC), and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

The Diary of a Young Girl, is courtesy, Random House: Original Material; controlled by The Anne Franke Fonds

Synopsis

Hazel Grace (Woodley), a 16-year-old college student with metastasized cancer, is reluctant to attend cancer support group.  But there, she befriends Augustus Waters (Elgort), a boy two years her senior.  He attempts to bring her out of her terminal illness mentality, while Isaac (Wolff) deals with his breakup with a girlfriend that echoed but failed to promise the “Always,” to Always love each other.  (Aah, kids.)

Hazel still wants to know what happened to the characters for An Imperial Affliction, her favorite book and a work terminated mid-sentence, so Gus tries and manages to contact its author, Peter Van Houten (Dafoe), through his assistant, Lidewij (Verbeek).

Not take her illness well, Hazel considers herself a “grenade”—someone who can ‘only hurt the ones around her’ if she were to open and build relationship(s), but Gus convinces her otherwise.  As result, he shows her a new world, a new love, enough that she eventually cries at his eulogy rehearsal—one he attends.

Take

Neustadter and Weber manage to bring the story to the screen almost word-for-word.  Unfortunately, the screenplay’s rendering (directing), for “accessibility,” made much of the film cute and unconvincing, and unintentionally funny in one scene.  There were critical moments left soft and safe, as opposed to real and consequential.  An episode of House is more convincing than the cancer elements in this film.  And while the screenplay left alone most of the plot and dialogue (the as-is dialogue was in need of improvement), everything else lacked boldness; nothing else stood out.

As far as the acting goes, the whole film, taken from the novel in first-person POV, in its entirety rested on Woodley (who cried rather well).  And for some of the film, Isaac (Wolff) stood out where others probably should have.  Elgort’s acting was one of the worst parts of the film; he brought to life a theatrical reading of lines, fun but understated but unreal.  He appeared, perhaps, cocky when he should’ve appeared something of an ordinary teen.

For time compression (and safety), Van Houten’s scenes were reduced in count and time, and the story toward the end was altered significantly: instead of Hazel searching for a piece of paper that Gus had written, Van Houten gave it directly to her; there was no scene where Lidewij ran out on Van Houten; there was no time for clarification on Van Houten’s part as to why he wrote and failed to finish An Imperial Affliction; reasoning was thrown out somewhere.  And, needless to say, Dafoe wasn’t the fat slob of a drunk described in the book, just a drunk that didn’t even appear drunk in the movie!

Fortunately, the critical “some infinities are larger than other infinities” message was left in, as well as the “virgins with one leg” diagrams, and Van Houten in the side mirror taking a swig from his alcoholic’s canteen, as Hazel drove away.

What I got out of the novel was bittersweet; what I got out of the film was easy—too easy to watch.  While it sufficiently captured the plot, it had nothing else to offer.  Worse, it put too much focus on its often-simplified characters, and as result removed much of the book’s implicit atmosphere; we didn’t even get to see out of the window of the plane!

Everything was pronounced; there was no time to explore.  So many opportunities to make a better movie were overlooked and lost.  There may be a fan base, but I am certainly not a fan of this straight-forward but lackluster adaptation.  Without being too harsh, this movie failed to surpass expectations.  Grade: B+

Review: Fifty Shades Darker

Fifty Shades Darker (2011)

Author: E L James
Genre: erotic romance/adult fantasy
Reviewer Age Rating: 16+ (adult language, sexual content)
Website: vintagebooks.com
Printing: 2012.04 paperback, Vintage Books first edition; 532 pages

Blurb

Daunted by the singular tastes and dark secrets of the beautiful, tormented young entrepreneur Christian Grey, Anastasia Steele has broken off their relationship to start a new career with a Seattle publishing house.

But desire for Christian still dominates her every waking thought, and when he proposes a new arrangement, Ana cannot resist.  The rekindle their searing sensual affair, and Ana learns more about the harrowing past of her damaged, driven, and demanding Fifty Shades.

While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Ana must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her, and make the most important decision of her life.

Word of MouthAnother #1 New York Times Bestseller.

I got into the second book because:
1. I am an idiot.
2. I am an idiot.
3. There is something special about the story…it isn’t mere S&M+fluff.

As with the first, the tears don’t flow until later… including my own.  Yes, I teared up.

Introduction

Darker kicks off with a nightmarish prologue—if only it was constructed better.

The story continues only a few days later from where the previous and first book left us.  Ana is feeling the pain in her chest, and eating less, yes even less than before.  (You’d think she’d be dead by now.)  There is no sweetness, there is no Kate, there is only the example of a common workplace with SIP (publishing).

Ana’s boss, Jack, is a load of infractions—the sexual harassment kind, and Ana doesn’t see it.  She is distracted and… well, there’s that gaping hole again.  That is until Christian reenters the the story line, and things uncomfortably move forward.  Slowly but surely, they are back together, and taking bolder risks.

Friction

And pardon the pun.  Yes there are oft-luxurious, steamy, sensual encounters.  But the dynamic has shifted with Grey.  Ana’s departure had forced him to reconsider everything.  No doubt, Steele’s friends would make him jealous, and his friends Ana.  There’s a lot of frowning and scolding.  And some “Very Angry Fifty.”

The S&M is dropped for the most part, replaced with big turns of events (say, plot devices) that force the “couple” even closer together.  More is revealed about Grey’s past, and he is exasperated as ever.  One of his ex-submissives, dirty and well, in need of psychiatric help…has a gun.

So this is not the same story as before; there are some big consequences.  But, unfortunately, the nature and detail of how the story is told is yet again somewhat weaker than how I’m describing with these reviews.  (Don’t set your expectations too high.)

Bored to Tears…or Tease

The beginning of the story with Fifty Shades of Grey started out okay, fairly detailed.  This second part starts off lacking.  With the purpose of moving the story forward, some things get overlooked.  We are instead given an earful of things that are…how do I say it?—Less romantic.  Nevertheless, Ana calls many of these things romantic anyway.

Yes, the process of sailing a boat—a handful of terms familiar to people with experience on the seas (a marina chapter), but fun for Ana, with a touch of…sex.  Of course.  Everywhere they go, sex.  The “Red Room of Pain” makes its brief return, but most of the “sensual affair” is teased out of the two.

But still, even on that end—the events are never “too strong,” even the lewd behavior.  The examples are too mature (adult) to mention here, but I can mention that Ana is once, yet again, put in a position…without panties.

Intensity“USE YOUR BLACKBERRY.” (p.351)

We find again, it is as if Grey has the ability to make undergarments combust into thin air.
“He gives me his devastating, lopsided, 150 percent panty-busting smile.” (p.347)
“… they disintegrate in his hands.” (p.271)

E L James doles out her sense of humor with lines like those, but maybe in better taste with the second book.  This time are there aren’t a ridiculous count of Oh mys and Holy cows, etc.  Thankfully.

“You are a pervert.”

“I know.”  He raises his eyebrows and his grin broadens.

“My pervert,” I whisper.

“Yes, yours.”

Nevertheless the story arc becomes more stimulating toward the end.

Oh, no you don’t, Grey.  I want you.” (p.389)
It would’ve been funnier if left just the first four words.

Construction

And…once again, the sentence construction, like the first book, could be considered on the High School level.  It can make it hard to call these books a series of novels.  And like the first, there are a few typos overlooked in the editing process.  Hmm . . . too mature to read over?  Missing punctuation on page 153.

You can tell it’s not written by an American when the expression “kinky fuckery” is used as if ordinary to the U.S. citizen.  And “Laters, baby.”  Ugh…

Explaining the obvious to the audience is unappealing.  Ana explains the word “repeat”?
“I choose a song haphazardly and press ‘repeat’ so it will play over and over again.  I need some music to think by.” (p.359)

And the blending of train of thought in the writing process, as if the characters were part of the same brain, with the same vocabulary…  (It’s James’ brain, of course.)

I shake my head at him.  “Whatever happened to delayed gratification?”

“I got over it, and I’m now a firm advocate of instant gratification.  Carpe diem, Ana,” he whispers.

Yeah…with this book you can expect anyone in the story to say “Carpe Diem.”  (Not that more than a few characters do.)  But really, “Laters” is the common word…

Moving

The first part was close with tools (S&M), the second closer to actual romance toward the end, with a touch of sincerity.  It actually got intense in the heartfelt sense, enough so that I would call anyone who reads Darker heartless if he/she felt nothing by it.

More of the sex is abbreviated with this book, though there is…still a lot of non-abbreviated sex, even “sexcapades,” even when it might not be necessary to the story.  But some actual hearts and flowers come into play, and Ana makes a chocolate cake for Christian’s birthday.

There is more than one episode where Christian Grey, the “control-freak,” is at the mercy of the elements around him, not just Ana.

“No . . . no!” he says in desperation and puts both hands on his head.

“Christian . . .”

“No,” he breaths, his eyes wide with panic …

So parts of it are moving, maybe more so than the first book.  But it’s still a fantasy with all the convenient circumstances leading up.  Fortunately, the ending—and what makes the third book possible—was written out of scope, creatively adding more of a crime narrative.  A plot device, of course, but something different for a change.

Summary

Some of it’s good and some of it makes you go, “oh, come on.”  Some of it’s tear-jerking and some it is [expletive]-jerking.

This time, toward the end, I actually wanted to get through it.  It is kind of special.  Still fiction, though.  The story so far with all of its events and constant sex spans at most three weeks time. Friction fiction.  Two weeks of perfect weather in Seattle?  Almost unheard of.  Grade: C+

Review: Gone Girl

Gone Girl (2012)

Author: Gillian Flynn (former writer and critic for Entertainment Weekly)
Genre: fiction—mystery and detective… literal insanity in marriage
Reviewer Age Rating: 15+ (strong language, some sexual content)
Website: crownpublishing.com
Printing: 2012 hardcover, first edition; 419 pages (includes blank pages)

Flynn would like to dedicate the novel…
To Brett: light of my life, senior; and, Flynn: light of my life, junior

Blurb

MARRIAGE CAN BE A REAL KILLER.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy (Elliot) Dunn’s fifth wedding anniversary.  Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River.

Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge.  Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior.  Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

Word of MouthPraise.  #1 New York Times Bestseller, for good reason.

“[F]avorite novel of 2012.  Brilliant.” —Kate Atkinson

“[O]ne of the best and most frightening portraits of psychopathy I’ve ever read.” —Tana French

“[A]mazing.  Read the book and you’ll discover … just how much freight (and fright) that last adjective can bear.” —Scott Smith

“A devastating portrait of a marriage and a timely, cautionary tale about an age in which everyone’s dreams seem to be imploding.” —Laura Lippman

Gone Girl is like Scenes from a Marriage remade by Alfred Htichcock … It’s a love story wrapped in a mystery …” —Adam Ross

Gone Girl manages to be so many stellar things all at once … as well as beautifully plotted an fiercely well written.” —Kate Christensen

Gone Girl reminds me of Patricia Highsmith at the top of her game … [Here, Flynn has] placed herself at the top of the short list …” —Karin Slaughter

“Considering how compulsively I kept coming back for more, I am seriously thinking of going back to page one and doing it all again.” —Arthur Phillips

Yes, addictive.
That’s one accurate word to describe this novel.  I couldn’t put it down!  Answers, answers!…  It deserves that other silly word given—in its extended blurb: unputdownable.

Introduction

Amy has disappeared.  Nick is soon suspect.  The public can and will turn on him at any moment, and the plot unravels even more uncomfortably.

The characters express themselves in a manner raw—the full thought process, at first the way they would in public if you were to give them a stiff drink.  But someone is deceitful to the bone—someone’s taking advantage of everyone around him/her.

Nick Flynn (born Lance) immediately comes off as a “lying dick” in a sort of paranoia—the clock reads exactly 6 a.m., “6-0-0 the clock said—in my face, the first thing I saw,” as if…; the sun shines in, through the window, as if…  Nick is also a bit obsessed with Amy, as the book begins:

When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.  …  The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head … and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it.  Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil.  She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head.  You could imagine the skull quite easily.

I’d know her head anywhere.

And what’s inside it.

…Oh, big mistake on his part, with that last sentence…

Even at the press conference, it’s as if Amy’s eyes—from even the cutout of her head—are following him around.  But there’s a clear and innocent reason for this.

As the plot moves on, at least Nick admits his lies, while Amy’s diary (carefully interspersed in the timeline) admits to no whoppers whatsoever.  Could she be that pure?  It slowly becomes clear what is going on, and what had happened at the house.

And then the carpet is completely yanked from underneath the reader’s feet.

Someone so close is a complete and utter psychopath.  (I won’t tell you who it is, so I don’t spoil the surprise.)

“Surprise!”

The book comes in three parts, each of them a shock.  It takes the whole first two parts to finally get to the real killer—who it is, and how dangerous he/she is.  I may have been able to figure out each big twist before it arrives, but the book is so well written that I did not stop reading.  (Honest; I missed sleep.)

It’s all cute and everything that Amy puts on a Treasure Hunt every year, every anniversary, in her marriage with Nick.  And it’s also painful, not just because she’s a genius, eventually stumping Nick—a college grad like her, but in how it’s twisted and used against him when she’s pissed.

Oh, it’s creepy—the book.  You don’t quite know what the characters are capable of until you keep reading.  The book will keep you guessing on a number things.

To make things even more complicated, Nick—the professor, as his career was ended by the digital age—has been cheating on his wife with one of his college students for a year.

Add the fact that everyone in the immediate family really loves each other—at least in his/her own way, for as long as possible—and you see the brilliance in this novel.  Gillian Flynn manages to capture a darkness that exists in bad relationships, and take it to a whole new level.

Nick, and Margo (or “Go”), his sister, may be close, but the psycho he doesn’t know—and doesn’t reveal when he does—knows him better.  Too well.

Do I really know (my spouse, sibling, relative, etc.)?  How did we get here?  The book serves as a warning when it comes to meeting, befriending and marrying people.
And that cheaters don’t win.

What are you thinking, Amy?  The question I’ve asked most often … if not out loud, if not to the person who could answer.  I suppose these questions stormcloud over every marriage: What are you thinking?  How are you feeling?  Who are you?  What have we done to each other?  What will we do?

It’s a tragic tale in a way, how the life of the family is snuffed out—the full potential—by the actual psycho in the room.  The person you are sleeping with may very well kill you…  Take that fear and run with it.  (And that’s what Gillian Flynn did, in detail.)

Dishonesty Literally Kills Relationships

Nick loses himself and gets fat, and Amy refuses to be genuine.  So the marriage falls apart.  And the blame and hatred and resentment whenever consequence arrives…things become predictably worse—but not predictable in how, with this novel.

The psychopath (I won’t identify) never gets it, attributing all slips of control to a lack of power.  He/she remains a disbeliever of unconditional love, as expressed explicitly in the book.

There’s that psychological aspect to the novel, however expressed a little too eagerly—or explicitly without asking, in my view.  Real life doesn’t reveal it’s underbelly in spoken language; it usually has to be researched and interviewed, as Flynn should know.

“Jumping the gun” there is part of what I didn’t like about the book.  Flynn is a journalist who worked for EW, not a full-blown psychologist.  She tried, but sometimes it’s a little weak.  (For her sake, the psychology isn’t perfect in most fiction novels anyway.)

But Kudos to her for illustrating the nature of the “dick” (of a character, deliberate or not): having either too little or too much control.

Summary

The first part (Boy Loses Girl) is brilliant and well-detailed.  So much work was put into it—beyond expectations.  Almost/perhaps flawless.  But the second part and third kind of drift, as if someone got tired or the writer or editor thought the reader would get tired.  These parts—a little inconsistent with the first—fairly easily reveal the fact that the novel is work of fiction, with tastes and dialogue coming from a limited number of people.

There’s kind of a revelation there: in order to write the perfect work of fiction you very well have to think like a psychopath, fooling everyone, for the entire piece of work.  Much like…ooh, I must not spoil it.

Maybe it was decided in the editing process to abbreviate the third part—don’t want to stress out the reader, with such an addictive novel.  There are numerous single-page chapters (expressed in days “gone” or “returned”; no chapter numbers).

So I can’t quite call Gone Girl a masterpiece, as some have.  (It’s not War and Peace.)  But it is one of the best crime novels ever written.  I’ll give Flynn that.  Grade: A

(Likely Award-Winning) 2014 Film Adaptation

Claudia Puig (USA Today) gave the movie four out of four stars, claiming the theatrical version—only somewhat different from the novel—better than the book.  According to Puig, director David Fincher took the film adaptation to an even higher level.

Ben Affleck does a superb job as Nick, as well as Rosamund Pike as Amy; Carrie Coon plays Margo, and Tyler Perry plays the lawyer—no longer the flashy white expensive attorney that gets off the worst-looking characters you can think of in publicized trials.

Puig, I think, made an error in her review: “Key players include … Nick’s sister (Carrie Coon) and a phalanx of scandal-hungry reporters.”  Phalanx here means ‘fingers’; in other words “a fingers of reporters”?  Should be “the phalanx of…”  Just sayin’.

Review: This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You (2009)

Author: Jonathan Tropper
Genre: domestic fiction
Reviewer Age Rating: 15+ (adult language, some drug and sexual content)
Website: penguin.com
Printing: 2014 paperback; 327 pages
Includes: the first three chapters of One Last Thing Before I Go

Tropper would like to dedicate the novel to…
Mom and Dad

Blurb

The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman clan has congregated in years.  There is, however, one conspicuous absence: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose affair with his radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.  Simultaneously mourning the demise of his father and his marriage, Judd joins his dysfunctional family as they reluctantly sit shiva—and spend seven days and nights under the same roof.  The week quickly spins out of control as longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions are reawakened.  Then Jen arrives with news of her own: she’s pregnant.  This Is Where I Leave You is a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind—whether we like it or not.

Word of Mouth

One of the Best Books of the Year.
Entertainment Weekly, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer, NPR Morning Edition, Library Journal

And may I go a step further—one of the best I’ve ever read.  It’s a smooth work of fiction, made easy to read for an adult, with humor.

Introduction

It starts off bluntly, immediately, humorously telling you where this story is going: the family has a hard time expressing emotions.

“Dad’s dead,” Wendy says, offhandedly, like it’s happened before, like it happens every day.

And it was Dad’s (Mort’s) wish (supposedly) to bring the family—whose members can’t stand each other—together for that seven-day period known as shiva.  (Shiva/shibah, from the original hebrew literally means “seven.”)  An that’s seven days, nonconsecutive; the Jewish Sabbath came into play, and…marijuana.  Anything to help pass the time.
11:06 p.m.: DEATH IS EXHAUSTING.”

No one, including Judd himself, could remember just how many relatives and family friends there are, as it feels as if it could take forever—the process, the shaking of the hands, and the short, “crotch-level” chairs…

With the timeline narrowed in on that seven-plus-day period, the parts come in days, the episodes divvied often using literal times.  (From Wed., Chapter 4 begins: 12:15 p.m.)  And how short some chapters are, in short episodes.  Some of them only describe Judd’s dreams—either disconnected from the current plot, or concentrated on remembering the dog attack, or remembering his father—the point/purpose of this shiva.  Often enough, the elements in said dreams are explained later on.

Intimate Character Study

As result of all the concentration, you get an intimate look at the mind of a character—a male one, with all the vulnerabilities and internal struggles that apply.  Days have passed and Judd has yet to process everything that has happened already—and a one-two punch at that: prior to his father’s death, he had been cuckolded.  He would remain in a sort of shock and perpetual hatred of life for the better part of the timeline.

Oh, the unexpected adult situations that play out—at times coming at you when you least expect it.  (You know you have a great story when you can’t predict what’ll happen.)  Subject A: the nature of the scene where Judd discovers his wife, in the process of intercourse with another man, his boss, the “Man Up!” radio personality he works for, Wade Boulanger.

Wade is the sort of type that gets called an “asshole” the most.  He is thrusting when Judd enters with a birthday cheesecake for Jen.  It was supposed to be a surprise, and the surprise was on Judd.  So much so, he first thought he wasn’t even in the right house.  Not until he saw Jen’s face.  Judd has a discovery, a rush of thoughts—he snaps, and shoves the cake at Wade’s ass.  Worse, the still-lit candles set Wade’s balls on fire.

And that’s the material you can put in an R-rated movie, just barely.  The scene breaks that level.  Judd notes what her fingers were used for—besides the wedding band.  Yes, Jonathan Tropper wrote this scene, another with creative word usage.

Whew.

So right there, only three chapters in, you could tell the book wasn’t going to hold back by much.

Tease

Unfortunately for Judd, the ‘nice’ aspects that came with his disconnect, from his wife, are all out of his “unconfident” control.  One to gain weight, out of shape, he was always…sort of unappealing to the eye.  He was lucky while it lasted—his relationship with Jen, starting all the way back from her “ironic cycling,” making her laugh.  And now, he looks over and fantasizes life stories with women he passes by.  Each one, heartbreak.

Cuckolded and deprived, bereft, post-pot, barely awake, Judd is taken advantage of by Alice, a former lover—now his brother’s wife.  She wants a child.

Then there’s the ice skating Penelope, the former beauty he befriended—certainly a tease; that is, until his marriage fell apart.  And…Penny is Wade’s sister.

Complications arise, but the novel doesn’t mature those complications any more effed up than how things had gotten already.  Even scenes that could have gotten worse are interrupted, such as the one where Cole, one of the children, made a ‘T’ in potty training.  He threw the small potty on the table, shattering the table, and the T-shaped dung comically landed onto one of the plates, resulting: an inedible entrée.

Ay.

So…great pains were taken to maintain the humor.  Otherwise, the story would’ve been…well, a muddy funeral and a shiva, literally sitting for seven-plus days trying to meet and greet and hug strangers and hold things together with your psychobabbling mother who fails to find tact when she accidentally exposes her augmented breasts, your jock brothers and their wives, and a revelation or two—try not to go insane.

“The old guy just copped a feel,” Paul says, joining in.

Tropper tied each scenes with some kind of sweetness, acted or acknowledged.  No one consoled the crying Cole, so Judd held him in his arms…getting sticky.  “I make a T,” the sobbing kid said, in his toddler English.  (Or ‘immigrant English,’ as Judd put it.)  “That’s right, Cole,” Judd responded, looking at Paul’s plate.  “It is a T, and a nice one at that.”

Psychological Fiction

Part of the genre attributed to the novel is something called “psychological fiction”—part of the categorization, for the Library of Congress.  And, oh, the reviews that exist touting Topper’s work as an ‘insight into the male psyche.’  Men and their “lust and rage and sweetness”—The Washington Post.  A psychological comedy?  What?

There are quite the number of rough truths expressed in the book, told from Judd’s perspective.  And that includes the harsh reality that women want a man that make them laugh and a nine-incher, a private jet, etc., etc.

Someone always loses and sulks over his/her loss in a sporting play (one-on-one) between jocks, as depicted in one of the scenes—Paul against the youngest, Phillip.
(I have no personal experience to confirm this sulkiness to be a universal truth though.)

With a first-person POV, there are always dreams to fall back on whenever the real life (fictional) fails to bring out the accumulating emotions—the fears that one has, especially.  Judd continues to have a recurring theme of a false leg—eventually repaired by his father.  Dad?  It’s touching…but I don’t see how dreams could advance as they would in the movies—events and people carefully morphing in a very specific order.  Then again, Judd could have imagined all sorts of things leading up to said dreams… something that wasn’t quite written in the narrative.

I certainly find fault in the mentality of the “shock jock”—a mischaracterization, as if any or all of them are simply “assholes” that would, in the apologetic moment, finally admit to their “assholeness.”  Has Tropper ever met any of these guys?  Of course he doesn’t know the real Rush Limbaugh, a name dropped for the purpose of comedy.  In everything I know, the ‘Wade confession’ was pretty unreal, a realized account with a cost.

The nature of the gathering of many, many people, and the “I need distance” relationships of the immediate family make for quite the study, a “creative license” if you will to write in as many personalities as the author could come up with, the stronger of them written about more, since Judd the character would want to ignore the less interesting ones.

Summary

So there are some great things to say about the book, and also some not-so-great limitations, with Wade’s final scene as example.  The novel, in my opinion, tapers off into a relaxed dribble by the end, punctuated with, besides the passing of Mort, its title as a starter: This Is Where I Leave You.  (Judd leaves.  At least for a while.)

Besides the obvious fiction, the book is well-written.  It may descend into distraction from the reality for flow or entertainment (e.g., pop culture references on Philip’s side, not enough counter-balance), but it’s a pageturner—easy to read.  Grade: A-

2014 Film Adaptation

The Shawn Levy theatrical version, also penned by Tropper, unfortunately, severely alters the story in a weak and clichéd attempt to make the characters “more likable.”  It was given a ‘C’ by Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty.  As the saying goes, “the book is better.”