An Infinite Jest Odyssey [1]

The only things I know about this book are through the YouTube videos of Sailing La Vagabonde (Riley is a massive fan of Foster Wallace) and from the film The End of Tour (which I have wrote about – https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/the-end-of-the-tour-inspiration/).  Cult author David Foster Wallace was an interesting character and so this book is a way into his mind more than anything.  It is a mammoth, clocking in at over 1000 pages and the foreword by Dave Eggers is a warning of how tough it is.  That sounds like the perfect kind of novel to write about, and I’m hoping it works out better than War & Peace did.

Pages 3 – 55

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This book has a unique chapter setup, where they are short, and basically all called the same thing.  Consequently 55 pages may not seem like a lot, but it has felt like a journey already. The text is precise and full of description, making each line incredibly dense with information. However it is still beautifully written, and reminds me of the other great American novels that I have read, such as The Great Gatsby or One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. The narrative is disjointed and confusing, probably purposefully so in a sort of post-modern way.  It appears that Wallace is picking out parts of the story and jumbling them up, and that makes it jarring but enjoyable, in a Pulp Fiction kind of way. From this Wallace presents moments, instead of a series of them, and tells them with an effective comedic tone.  It comes across as him poking fun at the situation whilst also mind-numbing you with exaggerated scientific terms.  I’m pretty much hooked on the book already and I want to read more of it; I’m just not sure if re-telling the plot will ever be possible.  As far as I can tell we are sometime in the near future, and it is a balance of stories between different characters with different problems.  The world is perhaps somewhat breaking and at the centre we have Harold Incandenza, a tennis protege, who is equally conflicted as he is genius.

Wallace is aware of his skill and his use of similes is remarkable.  An example of this would be, on page 5: “My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it”.  Now this is beautifully observant, but shows the uniqueness and oddity of the book.  Wallace constantly drifts off into a bizarre realm, yet keeps his writing poignant and stylistic. The humour and wit is what keeps surprising me, and at the top of page 12 Hal says: “I do things like get in the taxi and say, the libary and step on it”.  I found myself chuckling at this, and this whole chapter is one of the most intriguing.  It is a conversational exchange that is both funny and challenging, leading up to the climax that shows the first themes of loss in the book.  There are some parts of this first 55 pages that I cant’t get my head around, like the technical terms that are completely made up by Wallace.  Despite this, as I’ve said, the characteristics of the writing is brilliant enough to keep me going at this point.

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What I’m loving most about the book is that it is coming together like all my favourite novels, and on top of it has this layer of Wallace individuality.  I would recommend it to anyone who is a lover of fiction, or has studied English Literature, and can understand the intricacies of the storytelling.  Overall I’m thinking about the book a lot, which is exactly what I wanted.

Side-note:  I bought a second hand copy of this book, and when I unwrapped it, a German trivial pursuit card fell out of it.  It is like the start of a great mystery.

A War & Peace Odyssey [3]

Second edition: https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/a-war-peace-odyssey-2/

I have given up

Somewhere in the middle of the second part of the novel I realised I wasn’t enjoying it, and not in a necessarily bad way.  I greatly appreciate the books brilliance and it’s certainly an easy read, I just don’t know what I’m getting out of it.  The mountain feels climbed to me, and I’m sitting at the top anxious to go back down.

The truth is, I have a found a new book to agonise over, Infinite Jest.  It feels closer to me and a more intense experience, so expect an Odyssey on that not long after this has posted.

The Lost City of Z – Film Review

An exploration adventure flick is what I was hoping for, and I got something a lot different. I am aiming to explain why I still enjoyed the film despite some fatal flaws.

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This is the true-life story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a solider and explorer in the early 20th century, tasked with charting parts of South America.  Alongside companion Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), he soon discovers the traces of an Ancient city.  From this we get a tale of an abandoned family back home and a real desire to embark upon something special.

In the film it’s pronounced ‘zed’, though it might as well have not been pronounced at all, because the picture definitely exceeds its grasp.  Telling a true to life tale can always be tentative, but perhaps director James Gray was too careful when approaching this.  The story itself is an interesting one.  It’s a story about great exploration and conflict, one of a broken family and loss.  Yet despite this, it never really comes together like that.  What ends up happening is that we get a competent drama that involves some of those things.  The narrative has this awkward pace that leaves gaps in these stories, and they never connect to one another.  Just as we settle into one scenario we are onto the next in quick succession.  On some level this works, because I wasn’t bored during the film, but the emptiness left me disappointed.

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Unfortunately the film is plagued by an awful Charlie Hunnam performance in the lead and it pretty much scars the entire film as he’s in almost every scene.  He is extremely blank in this role and often just feels present as an actor, rather than the character.  I don’t want to assassinate the guy but in this film he has the charisma of a paper bag.  He spews line after line with such wooden and dull delivery.  The material isn’t great and a lot of the dialogue is incongruous, which doesn’t leave him much to work with.  However the writing can’t be blamed for his ability to literally take all the energy out of a scene.  This film could have easily been boosted to a higher standard with a different actor in the role, and that’s such a shame.

There are some positives to the movie (quite a lot of them actually).  First of, the supporting cast is excellent.  I found myself wanting more Robert Pattinson, because he appeared to have an actual character and moulded into the role far more Hunnam did.  There is a quietness to him, which allow there to be a mystery with his character and this in turn makes him incredibly watchable.  Sienna Miller is the heart of the film as the left behind spouse of Percy, and thankfully takes control of some of the scenes she shares with Hunnam.  She is a complex character; torn between wanting her own adventure and letting her husband have his.  Miller balances it well and I was relieved when ever it cut back to her in England.  The other parts where the film shines is during its moments of action.  Now not all of it is executed perfectly, due to the weird gaps I was talking about, however for the most part these scenes are tense enough.  The conflicts with the native tribes are shot nicely and this adds some much needed excitement into the film.  And overall the film is shot well.  I enjoyed the colour palette of the rich greens and it works effectively as a period piece.  It becomes more vibrant aesthetically, and also narratively in its final third; I think thanks to a solid Tom Holland role as Percy’s son. His character joins up late to the film and is able to give the film a sense of purpose finally.

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To conclude this film is not bad at all, and I definitely settled into it as it went on.  It’s tarnished by a flat central performance and the directors constant habit eradicating intriguing story arcs. My hopes of a colourful adventure were distinguished early on, and the thing that replaced that didn’t make it up to my imaginations high standards.  It’s a watchable movie and is dense enough to be worth your ticket price; I just hope James Gray has more control of his material, and hires a better actor for his protagonist in his next project.

 

Side-note:  I missed the first five minutes of the film as I was hopping from screen to screen trying to find the right one.

A War & Peace Odyssey [2]

First edition: https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/a-war-peace-odyssey/

Part Two: Pages 112 – 200

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This part is definitely the War part of the novel.  Tolstoy is detailing a battle between the Russian and the French army, as well as the diplomacy that comes with it.  At the centre is Prince Andrei, who was introduced in the first part.  He is an interesting character, as Tolstoy in this chapter clearly outlines his faults, but in the first part he was almost shown as a god from the perspective of Pierre.  This part is gripping in its tales of war, however I found some of it quite disorientating.  Not because it is complex in its language, but due to me noticing Tolstoy’s over indulgence.  Many of the chapters in this part seem to be a back and forth between armies and leaders.  It’s fascinating enough, yet it came across as bloated.  Thankfully, in the closing moments of this part, the pace picked up and the building tension was paid off.

What I’m finding is that this book is an easy read, and I think that is diminishing my ability to read between the lines of the narrative.  It presents itself as Tolstoy enjoying himself as he crafts the story together, rather than anything greatly profound.

S/cene [2]: Fight Club

First edition (The Social Network): https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/02/26/scene-1-the-social-network/

(There is a serious David Fincher theme going on here)

The Middle Children of History

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This scene comes around about 70 minutes into the feature.  The club is established and we are past the insomnia and therapy session character introductions.  It is a turning point of the film, as from here the film begins to spiral into the franchise narrative.

It opens with a low angle shot looking up at Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) in the basement of the bar where they hold the club, and immediately we know who the king of this room is. He’s dressed in his usual casual attire and is smoking a cigarette.  The camera pans up.  He turns and says “I see a lot of new faces”.  The other men are revealed in the background out of focus, and they laugh at this.  It then cuts to close-ups of a couple of the guys and it goes silent when Tyler says: “Shut up”.  There is no doubt who is in control here.  The camera stays behind him for a few moments, with only up from his shoulders visible.  Still the men are out focus listening intently.  More cuts to close ups then back to Tyler as he starts pacing the room.  The lighting, like most of the film is dark, yet Tyler is illuminated over the others by his white T-shirt.

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He walks around, the camera following, as he spiels his ‘Middle Children of History’ speech.  Pitt is ferocious in his delivery as he discusses squandered potential and a loss of a male generation.  The camera stays still as he’s still and moves when he moves.  His relationship with the lens is kinetic and extremely intense.  Fincher is forcing you to pay attention.  The quotable lines are endless; “our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression, is our lives” is a personal favourite of mine.  As the last line of rhetoric comes the camera slowly moves into Pitt’s face, to emphasise the climax to the speech.  Fincher is closing on his message, and suddenly the other men are vocal as the camera cuts above Tyler.  He begins to repeat the Fight Club rules when the sound of the basement door is heard.

From here it cuts to a lovely focus pull from Tyler to the Narrator (Edward Norton) as they turn to look at who is entering the basement. We see two large men stumbling down the stairs, both dressed stereo-typically like Italian mobsters.  When they reach the bottom of the stairs one of the men is revealed to have a gun, and on this everyone in the room backs off, except for Tyler.  There is a great bit of dialogue where Lou states him self as a player in the scene by saying “There’s a sign above the bar that says Lou’s tavern, I’m fucking Lou, who the fuck are you?”.  It cuts between Lou and Tyler as they posture their Alpha male status.  Tyler is hanging, with some of his physique on show, and this is just one of many instances where Fincher (quite possible on purpose) sexualises his character.  Lou is speaking heavily but the camera does not move with him like it did with Tyler, simply because this is not his domain.  Tyler has all the respect here.  Lou punches him in the stomach and the Narrator flinches in the background, which if you know the film, is a subtle plot clue.

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Quickly the camera is looking up at Lou and down on Tyler, showing that violence breeds power in the scene.  Our first bit of blood comes as Tyler taunts Lou to hit him more.  Then, another lovely focus pull comes as the men approach in the background after one of the hits. The gun then comes into play in an almost point of view shot pointing at the men. They veer backwards and make the gun the most important object in the scene.  Will it be Checkov’s gun? Will it be fired by the end of the scene?  The tightness and tension of the scene is exaggerated by Fincher’s close ups of the men and the weapon.  No-one moves. Tyler’s cackling laugh is incongruous and echoing as he jesters to the Narrator to trust him.  More taunting from Tyler and more aggression from Lou as he beats Tyler to a pulp. Then the Dust Brother’s soundtrack begins, with the camera cutting erratically from Tyler to Lou.  Tyler joking, Lou beating.  More blood is apparent as Lou steps up to leave Tyler and the music quietens with him.  Then out of nowhere, Tyler leaps on top of Lou spraying blood all over him.  The sounds and visuals are repulsive as Tyler rubs his face in Lou’s repeating “You don’t know where I’ve been Lou!”.  It is both disgusting and humorous, a line that Fincher often stands on.  Men are being sick in the background as the cuts get quicker and quicker, Lou is squirming.  He finally gives in to Tyler’s onslaught and leaves him riling on the floor.

I love this scene because it’s balanced so well.  We go from deep philosophical thought to an all out visceral attack on the senses.  This to and fro and fluttering between genres is one of the many reasons this is one of my favourite films of all time.  Fincher’s attention to detail is unmatched and this scene highlights that.  Everything is perfect from the lighting to the costumes and every shot is just so dense with flavour.  The homework scene follows and that is brilliant in a totally different way.  Fincher really is the master, but also I believe this is Brad Pitt’s finest moment.  He is breathtaking in this scene and shows a real sense of intensity and range.  I encourage anyone to take a closer look at this scene, and the entire film, because there is so much to find.

A War & Peace Odyssey [1]

Odyssey definition: a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune.

I’m not going on an Odyssey, I’m reading a book.  War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy is one of the most celebrated novels of all time.  Being the annoying vacuum of culture that I am, I decided I would give it a go.  I use the term Odyssey because the thought of this book is terrifying.  It is 1200 page long story about Russian nobility during the height of Napoleon Bonoparte’s European dominance.  Thankfully, I caught the BBC version of it last year, and it gave me the courage to buy and now read the mammoth novel.  What I’m going to try and do on here is breakdown the book, for my own benefit and also to hopefully show that this book is not scary at all.

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Part One: Pages 1-112

I am so glad I watched the BBC television version before reading this.  It means that I can put names to faces and remembering characters is much easier.  And remembering the characters is key.  It’s key because Tolstoy bounces around between them and of course they all have long Russian names.  Though each character is carefully designed to be recognised when they appear.  For example, Pierre, the most protagonist like is described as overweight and unattractive, as well as been easily noticed by his bold political views. The princes and princesses each have their own traits and this allows Tolstoy to separate their stories from one another.  With that being said, I was surprised by how interwoven the characters are and how close together the situations are.  It seems to flow from one dinner party to the next, making the narrative tight.  However the universe is clearly expansive in its issues as the dialogue between the players is very complex.  They are mostly discussing Napoleons advancements and this opens up conversations about politics during wartime.  It’s as interesting as it is hard to pick apart and so far I’m really enjoying the book.  The first part is a simple read and I’m starting to fall down the rabbit hole of Russian nobility of the early 19th century.

The Matrix and Becoming a Cinephile

You can take the word cinephile anywhere you want; the definition would be told as a ‘fondness of cinema’, which is not what I really gauge from it.  To be described as a cinephile you have to have a film knowledge that is far vaster than mine.  However I’m certainly over the edge towards being a cinephile and The Matrix is one of the films that gave me a push. I saw it on video when I was about 10 and i’m hopefully going to explain the impact it had on me.  The impact being that now film is basically my centre of gravity and certainly a guide in my life.

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The box that encased the video tape was beautiful, well is beautiful, it still sits under my bed at home. It had that thing where the letters and pictures stuck out from the rest and you could feel them with your fingers. There was no latch but it sort of folded into itself. it was a cool video and has survived, with a few others, the switch to DVD and then the switch to digital. This alone sold me on the idea of film being an important art form. Forget the cynical marketing view and accept the beauty of the case, meaning that it must be protecting something special inside.  I remember the 15 certificate logo vividly and it was probably the second 15 I had seen after Die Hard.  It was the first one that I watched without my parents.

Green is the first thing that comes into my head when I think of watching The Matrix as a kid. That lovely envious tint that the movie has over it. It gives it a sense of uniqueness and it certainly sticks in my memory. Watching it again recently I was surprised by how brilliant the film-making behind it is.  Each scene on a technical level is choreographed with incredible precision and it allows the film to move dynamically.  By this I mean the film transitions from shot to shot with freedom and it breathes as a painting with each motion.  The characters are placed exactly in the right spots and the camera is with them as they run, shoot and fight.  In the quieter moments the mise-en-scene is dense and the characters mould into every scene. This is all just on a technical level, and the Wachowski’s ability to portray threat and create excitement through the moving image.

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Then you mention the contextual parts, and the open-mindedness of the narrative.  The story of reality and imagination weaved amongst a tale of a hero fighting a villain.  A hero realising their potential through a series of  grounding encounters.  Grounding being the key word as it is the films closeness to the Earth that keeps it compelling. You are thrown down the rabbit by a notion of a simulated world but kept afloat by a string of tangible problems.  The Wachowskis effectively never let you lift off to that dream world, and keep you firm on their arc of pure entertainment.

Now, imagine seeing all that at 10 years old.  My impressionable mind was mesmerised by the action, that was not only explicitly violent, but also cool in every aspect.  I wanted to be Neo in the wavy jacket and sunglasses dodging bullets.  Perhaps what I didn’t realise at the time was that I wanted to be thrilled by films of a similar nature.  It had suddenly come to me that there is a world of film out there that replicates this, and The Matrix is a small cog in a big wheel. From there, film became an independent love.  It was about my connection to movies, and their ability to change my perspective on the world. The Matrix is timeless, and watching it recently I took more out of it than ever.  It sits proudly as the catalyst for the coming of age of my film obsession.

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