Monday, April 23, 2007


Posted by lea at 2:15 PM 2 comments Links to this post
In Shooter, Mark Wahlberg plays a military sniper for the U.S. army who gets played for a fool, is scapegoated for an attempted presidential assassination and ends up wanted for annihilation by the FBI. On the run, he wants revenge, justice, honour and all the other good words that get your blood going. He’s a skilful military man thrown in the hot seat and now on the run from the government he tried to protect. Throw in a buxom love interest, some powerful bad guys (senators and other Washington heavies), one good guy who believes his story and guns - lots of guns - and what you get is a pretty decent 2 hours of cinematic escapism that doesn’t strain the brain and occupies you with a lot of eye candy.

But don’t expect anything too clever – like a plot with any sort of depth. In this movie, what you see is what you get. There is no subtlety. From the moment that his best buddy shows us a pic of his wife/girlfriend back home in Kentucky (or some other Southern state), you just KNOW he’s gonna be blown apart. And it happens maybe 30 seconds later. The FBI agent that Wahlberg disarms while running away is shown in lingering detail afterwards so you just KNOW he’s going to be important to the plot later. And of course, he is. There are clunky plot reveals and foreshadowing dropped like a granny’s loose drawers throughout the movie, but on the plus-side, it’s never boring. you just have to get through the camera’s Mark Wahlberg-worship without groaning too much. He takes bullets, fights hordes of bad guys single-handedly and undertakes every single clichéd hero-shot ever created since the invention of celluloid: the mountain top conqueror, walking out of explosions with a halo of smoke and fire, tending to bullet wounds while wincing in understated masculine pain… you get my drift.

Ironically, the movie propagates a big-bad-America political view while simultaneously putting the U.S. on its usual Hollywood pedestal. Greedy senators: bad. Patriotic underdog: good. The plot never delves deeply enough to feel for the victims of the government’s tyranny (the good victimised people of Africa, who have provided so much fodder for Hollywood moviemakers of late), and vigilante justice is seen as the only way to stop the baddies, as the government’s hands are always bound by the powerful.

The good thing about Shooter is that it doesn't pretend to be anything other than a good action flick, and on that front it delivers. It’s not particularly clever, not complicated in any way and there are a lot of explosions. Otherwise, I wouldn't recommend it to any but the most hard-core Mark Wahlberg fans who want a bit of a perve.

Rating: 7/10
Bourne Identity does it better.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Latest Grievance, by Elinor Lipman

Posted by lea at 2:57 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Written in first person from the point of view a highly intelligent and cynical 16 year old with two psychologists for parents, this book is so sharp it could cut through ice, while at times being warm enough to melt it. Frederica Hatch has had it up to the eyeballs with her straight-laced, psych-soc PhD parents whose unconventional hippy ways include always treating her as an equal even while she’s screaming for parental normality.

The book is set in a college, where her parents are lecturers, dorm parents and grievance officers who are constantly barracking one cause or another. Feeling somewhat neglected, Frederica majors in dining in the communal hall, learns all the intricate ways of the college and occasionally claims her parent’s attention with semantic psychology with which she’s able to outwit her academic parents.

Enter Laura Lee French, her father’s ditzy, glamorous, wannabe-Rockette ex-wife. Upset at her parents’ omission to inform her of Laura-Lee’s existence and intrigued by the ‘maternal road not taken’ (in which she imagines a life of block parties, exchanged recipes and baking cookies), Frederica attaches herself to Laura Lee, using her parents’ own psychological defences in her favour to insinuate Laura Lee into their lives. The tables turn on Frederica when she discovers that Laura Lee is a self-centred cow who ends up shaking the foundations of Frederica and her parents’ lives (and in fact, the entire college) with her selfish and immature antics.

You can expect a change of heart towards her parents in the end, but this book offers far more than the usual offerings in the coming-of-age genre. It’s sharp, witty (almost painfully so) and often funny.

Rating: 8/10
Excellently written and very intelligent, but sometimes so sharp and so clever that it borders on obnoxiousness.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Becoming Jane

Posted by lea at 11:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
It's ironic that for a woman who wrote stories with such sparkling wit and humour, her own was delivered so flat and devoid of charm. The relationship development between the Jane Austen and Thomas Lefroy was unconvincing, the climax abrupt and the ending dissatisfying. My friend Patricia, who watched it with me, poked me at one point thinking that I was asleep. But I wasn't... exactly. A bit bored but not comatose.

Perhaps I expected more because I am an unabashed and avid Austen fan, and had hoped that her story would be told with her characteristic humour and insightful social commentary. Instead I found it a bit stifling. The characters were one-dimensional, and the sometimes witty conversations weren't carried out throughout the script. The pacing of the story was a bit choppy. There was no actual turning point when you realise the two protagonists, who were continually butting heads, are finally in love. It comes as a rude shock... 'when did that happen?'

The plot was very limited because I understand that they can't change history (no happy ending for our Jane), but the way they interpreted this particular (assumed) event in her life made both her and Lefroy appear weak. As such, it was very difficult to become emotionally involved in their lives. And although I have no objection to Anne Hathaway (who could?), I didn't think she suited the role. Her natural impetuous charm was muted and it seemed that she was trying too hard to play a repressed English woman trying to get free. LeFroy, who apparently was the basis for the Darcy character, was great in the first part, but towards the end you don't know whether to hate him or feel sorry for him.

Overall, I wouldn't recomend the movie to anyone but the most hardcore Austenites, who might, like the woman next to me who (to my amazement) was sniffling and crying throughout the movie, find some point of connection and look more kindly on it than I.

Rating: 5.5/10
Doesn't accomplish what it set out to do, which was to give Jane Austen's life a touch of her own treatment. I guess noone can do it like her.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran-Foer

Posted by lea at 1:32 PM 2 comments Links to this post
It's very easy to get lost in this very unique book. It’s incredibly written with a psuedo (or so I’m guessing) Ukrainian guide character who authors half the book with his garbled English, and outrageous lies.

The first sentence had me wondering, ‘What the heck…?’, the first page had me thinking, ‘This is great,’ and the first chapter had me laughing out loud. The story is about the journey of Jonathan Safran-Foer (the author) as he travels to his motherland to discover the secrets of his ancestry. His narrative chapters are interspersed with commentary from his Ukrainian guide, Sasha, and a fable-like re-telling of the stories of Jonathan’s Jewish predecessors.

Like a swim in the ocean, the book gains increasing depth as the story unfolds, from funny and entertaining to tragic and moving, all the while keeping you captive with its slowly intertwining threads. What I loved about the book was its sense of humour (which softens the tragedy inherent in the story) and its utter honesty. It strips bare the most basic and raw emotions of the characters, revealing their flaws and vulnerability with sharp precision.

Rating: 9/10
Thoroughly involving and enjoyable read.


Posted by lea at 1:31 PM 1 comments Links to this post
Kings and warriors, heroes and villains, demi-gods, hunchbacks, monsters, valour… this movie had the lot. Beautifully filmed in a sepia wash, this movie manages to tell a simple story on a grand scale, engaging viewers with constant action and some emotional depth.

Ordinarily, I hate violence in movies and a reliance on slow motion. 300 utilises both to an abnormally high degree, yet I found it thoroughly enjoyable. The battle scenes were almost poetic, particularly the individual fight scenes within the greater action. It was choreographed so beautifully that you can’t (and don’t want to) avert your eyes from the screen.

The only things more relentless than the action are the six-packs on the Spartan men, who fight in leather-looking underwear and red capes. They look amazing, but I don’t know how practical it is. However, practicality is not the point of this movie – hence pitting 300 warriors against an army of millions.

Finally, I make dishonourable mention of the totally gratuitous sex scene in the beginning and the horribly painted eyebrows of the multiple-facial-pierced demi-god. I thought they made him look like a vain Asian woman.

Rating: 8.5/10
I think I enjoyed this movie mainly because I chose to take it for what it is: a mythical story of battle-heroics that doesn't promise to be a cinematic masterpiece.

A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry

Posted by lea at 1:29 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Argh! How can you pack so much tragedy, injustice and human misery in one book?

A Fine Balance tells the story of two tailors, a widow and a university student in India in the 1970s, battling to overcome their circumstances to find some sort of peace in the world. There’s torture, death, violence, corruption… the list could go on. But I couldn’t. I stopped halfway, traumatised by a torture scene, and simply couldn’t pick up the book again.

This was our book club book for March, and those members who finished reading it said they really enjoyed it, despite its relentless tragedy.

Rating: unrated, because I didn’t finish it.

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