Nymphomaniac Vols 1-2 (Film Review)

Nymphomaniac Vols 1-2 (Film Review)

The Lars Von Trier sexual epic has had its fair share of controversy since the film(s) have been released. And probably rightfully so. Any movie that is a near four-hour epic telling of a woman’s sexual escapades is likely to do so.

And with the graphic nudity and penetrative sex scenes, it is even more likely, for a mostly conservative viewership.

Nudity later, film first.

nymphThe movie itself is about Joe, a woman who is found battered on the streets and taken in by a reclusive scholar, played creepily well by Stellan Skarsgaard. He is an unexperienced man, ready to hear Joe’s long, sexual tale about how she ended up beaten on that street. She recounts the story of how she discovered her sexuality at a young age, and grew up as a nymphomaniac, needing sex as often as she could get it. As a young woman, she balanced her schedule in order to sleep with up to 10 different men per night, and was truly insatiable.

Over the course of the story, which happens primarily in flashbacks, we cut to the present telling of the story, where Joe recovers in a bed in the man’s apartment. Every now and then, he will throw in strange comparisons to her story: the Fibonacci sequence, fly fishing, Roman torture strategies. It is all a bit odd, and during Volume 1 of Nymphomaniac, some of the comparisons are quite laughable, making their exchanges even more odd.

The story of Joe, however, becomes fairly interesting, whether we want it to or not. Certainly, she is a bit of a sexual deviant, and the desire for sex drives her to make choices that we could not see the average person making. But at some point during the films, we start to care about how she ended up on the street, in the state that she was in.

There are some strong acting performances throughout the film, including a small role by Uma Thurman, and a pretty good performance by Shia Leboeuf as Joe’s lover/boss/husband.

As a movie, Nymphomaniac is pretty decent. But comparing it to similar films of sexual self-discovery, such as the incredible Blue is the Warmest Colour, it doesn’t really hold a candle. We get little in the way of explanation why she craves her desires so deeply: we only understand that she does.

In the end, the lesson is taught by Skarsgaard, before a bit of a surprising ending, to say the least. He discusses the role of the genders, and Joe’s place within that, and many of her decisions being questioned because she is a woman, instead of a man. It makes sense, and it finally, after hours, adds some needed thought-provoking depth to the film.

nymph3Of course, the controversial nudity needs to be discussed. Yes, there is a lot of nudity, both male and female. Watching this film, you will see things that you only would typically see in a film of the X variety, such as oral sex, full frontal closeups, and sex that includes penetration (the actors didn’t engage in this sex, adult actors were used as body doubles). I guess it could be considered surprising, but let’s be honest: the majority of people who would be watching this film have definitely seen more graphic acts on their screens. As with most films that garner controversy due to sexuality, it really is much ado about nothing. Yes, you see actress Stacy Martin (who plays young Joe) nude almost as much as you see her clothed. You see her in a variety of sexual positions, and it can be quite explicit. But the scenes are never long, as they are in Blue, and it frequently seemed that they were over, shown in quick vignettes, before you could really become offended.

Overall, Nymphomaniac Volume 1 and 2 are decent films, that happen to have a lot of sex in them. It really is an interesting tale of a woman’s struggle with an addiction, and the depths that it will lead her to. Some aspects of the story are quite ridiculous, but this is a genuinely decent set of films. It can encourage debate between gender roles, and our societal views of sexual behavior, as well as the ever-blurred line of art and pornography.

Don’t worry about the hype and the controversy: check it out for yourself, and formulate your own opinion.

Long Way Down (TV Review)

Long Way Down (TV Review)

Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman are back for another incredible motorcycle trip in Long Way Down, the follow up to their incredibly successful, and amazingly watchable, Long Way Round. In this journey, the two friends decide to bike from the very northern tip of Scotland, all the way to the most southern point of South Africa, seeing as much as they can on the way down.

long3The series’ made by these two are so fun and interesting to watch, that I can only hope there are going to be more on the way. (There are talks that they are going to be making a third version of the series, another monster trip from the south of South America, up to Alaska, called, of course, Long Way Up.)

So many interesting things happen to these guys on their trips, and it is of course surrounded by incredible natural scenery, as they make their way through Europe and then criss-cross the African continent.

  • The friendship between McGregor and Boorman is what makes this show tick. They are very likable people, and they are endlessly watchable.
  • It is always cool to see a famous actor just being a regular person, and this very much is how McGregor is. He doesn’t play on his fame, and really does seem to be just a normal guy. He is funny, and relaxed, but gets worked up over the same things as anybody else would.
  • There is conflict in the series, just as there was on Round. Nothing while traveling is ever perfect, and disagreements happen. They are open to them.
  • They always stop to do charity work along the way. This is great to see, and gives their trip more than just the “rich actors wanting to do cool, crazy stuff” idea.
  • I love the planning episodes. It is like a travelers dream, to be pouring over maps like that.
  • Incredible scenery.
  • The chance to experience so many things. The people they meet along the way, the tiny villages they stay in, the local flavours of Africa. They aren’t just high-tailing it across a continent, they want to be able to experience it as much as humanly possible.
  • The riding itself looks incredible. They go from solid blacktop roads, to brutal deep sand. Even them, being very experienced riders, spend a lot of time falling off their bikes, but still pushing forward in fairly undriveable conditions.
  • Their love of motorbikes is infectious. It would be hard to watch their series without some part of you craving to get your licence, and start learning how to ride a bike, if you don’t know how already. It really does seem like complete freedom. The open road, the views, having your own thoughts all day. Incredible.
  • The human factor: our two main characters get tired, they get grouchy, they want to quit, they need a day off. All of these things happen on any kind of road trip, and they are not immune to it.
  • Respect: they are always respectful of their surroundings, and they don’t just come roaring into town expecting the best of everything because they are making a TV show. They are happy to be treated well, and are content with often meager amenities. Boorman and McGregor do not act like primadonnas, which is great.
  • Excellent camera work. With personal video diaries, helmet cams, and a couple of camera men along on their journey, it is captured and edited very well. Not much is missed, and it is put together in a nice, entertaining way.
  • For those who have also read the book that came out before the series, like Long Way Round, this is another great way to accompany it, with the visuals that go along with the descriptions in the book.

longFor travelogues, Long Way Down is top notch. Although I have never held a particular interest in Africa, seeing their adventures has definitely opened my eyes to how incredible the place can be. This is another fun show from these two guys, and would definitely recommend checking it out on Netflix.

Thirteen Reasons Why (Book Review)

Thirteen Reasons Why (Book Review)

My intentions were to spend a part of Saturday to start this book, perhaps reading the first few chapters, just to get the ball rolling.

By Saturday evening, I was putting the book down, done pouring through the thirteen stories a dead teenager leaves behind in order to explain the reason she committed suicide.

Thirteen Reasons Why is a tremendously addictive Young Adult novel, written by Jay Asher.

13-2The premise is that a girl kills herself, and leaves behind a set of tapes, explaining all of the reasons that she decided to end her life. When the first person is done with the tapes, they are expected to send them along to the next person on the list, so that they can all hear about the part that they played in her life, and her death.

In a way, it is the ultimate revenge for someone who has taken their own life. In another, it is a commentary on how the way we behave, and treat others, can have such a profound effect on the lives of those around us.

The central character of the novel is Clay, a good guy, who receives the tapes on his doorstep one day. He is horrified and haunted by what Hannah has done, considering that he always has a crush on her. Asher creates a great suspense story here, as we, like Clay, are left wondering and dreadfully anticipating his portion of her story: what he did wrong that contributed to the demise of Hannah.

The stories told by Hannah are chilling. Her voice on the recorder, leaving nothing unturned. She exposes the people at her school for being the bad people that they are, and there are thirteen people on the list that are going to hear these stories, as they pass along the tapes. She talks about good people who aren’t actually that good, and bad people who are actually worse than they appear. She goes after everyone, as she takes us through her downward spiral towards her fateful decision to take her own life. It can be painful at times, and one can only imagine what the people hearing the tapes were going through, hearing about their issues in that manner.

What Hannah does to the people she has left behind is cruel punishment for them, essentially blaming them for her being dead. But on the other side, shouldn’t people be aware of how their actions affect others? Or is this something that she has done in order to ruin the lives of others, as they have ruined hers? Is it fighting fire with fire? These are the types of questions that can be discussed at the completion of the novel.

Everything culminates with Hannah making one last attempt to be saved, unfairly going to a teacher, and expecting more than she gets in return, therefore adding him to the list. It is disturbing, and in my opinion, places the blame on someone other than herself for doing what she did.

13-3This novel is truly addictive, and is a very strong read. There is suspense throughout, and it is pretty well written. At times, the dual narrative between Hannah’s tapes and Clay’s thoughts while listening to the tapes can be confusing, or too quick, but once the novel settles in, the reader will get used to it.

There are a lot of unanswered questions with this novel, and endless possible debates about the ethics of what Hannah had done. At the end of the day, however, Asher has created a great, page-turning novel about a very touchy and damaging subject: teen suicide.

In the YA genre, Thirteen Reasons Why is a very good book. In my opinion, it is better than similar books, like Speak, but not quite as strong as something like The Tragedy Paper (despite a very similar story) or Looking for Alaska. If anything, you will be getting a highly entertaining (I know that is the wrong word based on the subject matter) read, that will absolutely fly by. You will be craving to know the rest of Hannah’s story, as does Clay, in the novel.

*Doing a little research on the interwebs, I see that Thirteen Reasons Why is currently being made in to a film, starring Selena Gomez. Not surprising. It could be a very gritty film, if the producers are willing to do it that way. It could end up as serious cheese, as well. 

30 for 30: Bad Boys (Film Review)

30 for 30: Bad Boys (Film Review)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the 30 for 30 documentary about the Detroit Pistons championship teams of the late 80’s and early 90’s, entitled Bad Boys, is the dynasties that they needed to overcome in order to become champions, and legends, themselves.

The Pistons, a scrappy bunch of players that became renowned for their toughness and nearly brutal play, slowly got better over the years, but where faced with overcoming some of the greatest teams in NBA history. To even make it to the Finals, they had to get through the legendary Boston Celtics teams led by Larry Bird. If they did get past them, they were faced with the other dynasty in the league at the time, the Los Angeles Lakers during the height of Magic Johnson. No easy feat.

badboysEven when they managed to overcome these teams, there were other obstacles. Including a little team from Chicago that was led by the most dominant player in the game, Michael Jordan. The route the Pistons had to take to win their back-to-back titles was not an easy one. It was tough from the beginning, just as they were as a team.

Bad Boys takes us on the journey of Detroit starting as a laughingstock in the league, a place where nobody wanted to play. But it was one draft pick, Isiah Thomas, that changed everything. Slowly, the team built themselves up, through a ton of trades, some free agent signings, and more solid draft picks (like Joe Dumars). Eventually, a monster was created, and the Pistons became perhaps the toughest team in the history of the league. People hated them, thought they were dirty, and goons. Which was completely fine with all of the players on the team.

If you were thinking about them and their rough play before taking the court, then they had already won. The game of the Pistons was at times more psychological than physical. But the physical was there. They abused superstars, forced legends to their breaking points, and made teams pay for every point that was scored against them.

And it made them almost unbeatable for a time, cementing their place in history in an era that had been dominated by Bird and Magic, and was soon to be completely owned by Jordan and the Bulls.

30 for 30: Bad Boys provides the background to the team, and it is interesting to see how their relationships all worked. Their personalities did not always mesh, but they always had a common goal: to win, and to be the best.

Talent-wise, these Pistons were not the greatest. There was definitely skill, but it was their hard work that made them the best.

badboys3Hearing the behind-the-scenes clashes and issues that the team had, their true opinions of themselves and their opponents, is another feather in the cap of the ESPN series. They have managed to get good, and honest, interviews from the players that lived that experience, and they reflect back on their time as the champs with glee. They took pride in being hated, of being the bad boys of the league, and of being able to instill fear into the hearts of others. The segments with Bill Laimbeer were truly great.

Had it not been for these Pistons teams, perhaps Jordan would have never learned what it took to be a champion, to understand the physical abuse that had to be taken in order to be the best.

Regardless of their impact on others, the Pistons deserve their own spot in history/infamy, because they did win the title in back to back years, after falling short in their first trip to the Finals. Their struggle was intense, and endeared them to an entire city that needed someone to embrace at the time.

Yet another winner in the 30 for 30 series.

The Goldfinch (Book Review)

The Goldfinch (Book Review)

The Goldfinch is a novel I wish I could have taken a weekend, shut myself inside, and read in a couple of sittings. It is that good.

Instead, it ended up being my Everest, a novel that took me months to read, mainly because I was required to read so many other books since the time I initially picked up what would become the Pulitzer Prize winning work of fiction for the year. I continually, and regrettably, had to put the book down many times, and get something else read in the interim. This caused my reading of The Goldfinch to be fractured, and epic.

But in the end, it did not disappoint.

Obviously, when a book wins the Pulitzer, it is pretty universally loved. And this one should be no exception. I have no complaints about the novel, but will add another great review to the thousands that are already out there.

goldfinch2For a brief synopsis, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, is a novel that spans years in the life of our narrator and protagonist, Theo. As a child, he survived an explosion at a New York art museum, that took the life of his beloved mother. During the following mayhem, he ended up taking a painting from the wall, the famous and mysterious “Goldfinch,” which would become one of the more famous missing paintings in the world as his life developed. Theo was tormented and haunted by the memories of his mother, but always had the painting as a reminder of her, of a better time, before tragedy became the centerpiece to his life.

Being forced to leave New York after the death of his mother and a time spent staying with his best friend and his rich Barbour family, Theo moves to Las Vegas, to stay with his degenerate gambler of a father and his questionable girlfriend Xandra.

It is in Las Vegas where Theo finally seems to find his footing, even though it is in all the wrong ways. Befriending Boris, they delve into a world of alcoholism and drugs that is surprising for kids of such a young age. They both drink to escape, as neither of them wants anything to do with reality. Theo is constantly trying to get away from the pain of his lost mother, and his life becomes more reckless in attempts to do so. He creates a pattern in his life that will lead to heartbreak, and some sort of resolution as to who he is, and where he belongs.

The Goldfinch eventually takes us back to New York, where Theo carves out a life for himself in the antiques business, all the while struggling with the addiction to painkillers, and a secret and occasional love of harder drugs, such as dabbling with heroin. He is a constant mess, but somehow makes his way through the world, all the while hiding the deep secret that he is an art thief, and has in his possession one of the most valuable paintings in the world. But it remains there for his comfort, even if years pass without him even looking at it. Just knowing it is there, stashed away in some storage space, is enough for Theo.

Eventually, Theo is dragged into the criminal underworld, while at the same time becoming more a part of the New York social elite, due to his dealings with rich people and their antiques purchases, and his relations with the Barbour family. He becomes a man split between his real, and not so real life, and Tartt takes us on the incredible journey of his life.

The Goldfinch is a rich, and epic story. It spares no detail, adding to the depth of the 771-pages of large paged hardcover. It is a big book, but one that tells a story that is heartbreaking and suspenseful. Through the whole novel, we are forced to wonder about the painting, and what will eventually happen to it. Will it finally bring Theo peace, or will he die in some tragic way, probably due to his self-destructive ways, leaving the painting unfound forever?

Tartt writes with intricate sentences, and long, sprawling paragraphs. Stylistically, she has created a beautiful and complex story, which spares no detail on anything, truly bringing the reader into the life of Theo, and those around him. The detail really is incredible, and it adds a depth to the story that makes us feel as though it is more than fiction: that his story is something real.

One of the strong suits of this work, is how depressing it truly is. As we truck through the pages, we realize that not all things will end well for our hero; that life really isn’t like that, and that he is going to have to face the music for a laundry list of mistakes he has made in his life.

There are hundreds of more detailed reviews of The Goldfinch out there that can examine the true depth and breadth of this novel, and how it is stylistically and culturally significant. From my end, suffice it to say that this is an exceptional novel, one that truly deserves to be recognized as something masterful at this point in time. It reads like a classic novel of a hundred years ago, yet maintains a modernity that makes it an instant, and modern, classic.

For those willing to undertake the journey of The Goldfinch, to explore the depths in which tragedy can affect all of us, it is absolutely a must-read.

Deep Water (Film Review)

Deep Water (Film Review)

I often go on kicks where I watch a ton of films of similar stories and subject, and become obsessed with that topic for a while. Right now, it is movies about sailing. There are so many fascinating stories out there, about people facing the great oceans of the world, on boats that barely seem like they will be able to keep it together, staring up at the massive swells of some of the most dangerous waters on Earth, trying to things alone.

And through this, I came across Deep Water, a documentary that retells the story about an around-the-world, solo, non-stop sailing race that was held in 1968. At the time, people had become fascinated that it was possible to sail solo around the world. But it was time to kick things up a notch: it was time for someone to do it without stopping on land. At all. A complete circumnavigation without the ability to stop to resupply, or to fix any of the many, many things that could go wrong on a boat trying to accomplish this.

The race was sponsored, and would hand out two prizes: the first person to finish the race (they could leave at their own times, as long as it was before a certain date), and the person who had the fastest time around the world.

A handful of experienced sailors undertook the task. And one who had very little experience at all.

deep2Donald Crowhurst entered the race as the least experienced sailor, a kind of nerd who liked the water, but had never done any sailing of major significance. He was the last one to leave England, still trying to get things together until the last minute before his departure. For those who had never heard the story before, we kind of get the feeling that he is doomed.

But the story gets better.

With so much riding on his successful circumnavigation, Crowhurst knows that he cannot fail. If he does, his family will be in financial ruin, and he will be humiliated. He must succeed. So once things start to go wrong near the start of the journey, in the Atlantic Ocean, he chooses what he must have felt was his only option: cheating.

From here, Deep Water becomes incredibly fascinating. Largely told through archival footage and interviews with the people who were closest to Crowhurst, we see how this man attempted to cheat his way into a respectable finish in the race. He didn’t want to win, for that would be too obvious, and he was never interested in the fame. He just wanted to grab a third or fourth place finish, maintain his respectability as a man, and continue on with life.

In order to do this, he would have to fake months upon months of logs that would track his journey, all the while hanging out in the South Atlantic, close to Brazil, while he waited for the other competitors to round the southern tip of South America and pass him. From there, he would be able to turn north once again, and get home in just enough time that his ailing boat wouldn’t sink on him, and just slow enough that he wouldn’t win either of the prizes.

The next twist, makes a great story even greater, as Crowhurst slowly went insane while waiting for months on his boat, alone at sea. His diary entries became scary, yet fascinating, as he was forced to consider what he was doing, having left his family and small children behind, constantly bent by the weight of trying to get away with his ploy, and maintaining his sanity while all alone in the middle of the ocean.

Deep Water is an absolutely fascinating story of life at sea, and the pressures that it can cause someone. With so many very good documentaries about successful and not-so-successful attempts to circumnavigate the globe, such as the fantastic Maidentrip, or Wild Eyes, this one provides us with something completely different, and the story is nothing short of compelling. It is very suspenseful, and there are plenty of twists and turns to make this true story better than fiction.

This is definitely a winning documentary, and for anyone else who is obsessed with film about sailing, Deep Water is a definite must-see.

30 for 30: Big Shot (Film Review)

30 for 30: Big Shot (Film Review)

John Spano was supposed to save the New York Islanders. A team mired in a ton of poor decisions, from the players on the ice to the management choices at the top, they had quickly turned from legendary dynasty at the start of the 80’s to the laughingstock of the NHL. And rightfully so.

They even messed with tradition, trading out the iconic Islanders logo for the new fisherman jersey in the mid-90’s, leaving fans crying out for changes all the way through the organization.

bigshotSpano, a business man from Dallas, stepped up and was going to buy the team, keep them on Long Island, and return them to the form of their glory days.

But there was a problem.

He had no money.

As always, ESPN manages to tell a really interesting story here in their 30 for 30 series. Big Shot lets us know how a man could possibly buy a professional sports franchise without any capital, and in the meantime, lets us behind the scenes into the minds of the long-suffering Islander fans, and their further dashed hopes of organizational stability.

Directed by Entourage alum and Islander die-hard fan Kevin Connolly, they story in Big Shot is solid. He goes back to tell the tales of the making of the team, and their rapid and sad fall from grace. The buffoonery of the 90’s is brought out with candid interviews with key players, like Mad Mike Millbury, and Spano himself. It weaves an interesting story, of how he actually did manage to gain control of the team, based on lies and promised bank loans, lame excuses, and really, only a $17,000 deposit on the team. It tells us the story about how it really is more important to know rich and important people than it is to be a rich and important person yourself.

This series is so consistent in its level of storytelling. A fan of the New York Islanders myself, the subject area is definitely of interest, even if this is not the best 30 for 30 out there. One of the major flaws is Connolly himself. While he proves adept at putting together a documentary, telling the story, and directing it, his major flaw was using himself as a narrator. Not that he was terrible, and his personal connection to the Isles definitely added to the story, but his voice just doesn’t sound…right for the part. Although this is only a superficial complaint, it really did take a little bit away from the story, hearing him jump in with his stories. It was hard not to picture Eric chiding Vince on screwing up another movie role on Entourage.

30Besides that, you get what you expect here: another great behind-the-scenes look at a strange moment in sports history. The Islanders still have not fully recovered from their disastrous 90’s, and only with their impending move to Brooklyn next year is there a glimmer of hope for the franchise to truly begin turning things around.

For fans of hockey, this one should definitely be high on the list of great stories from the series, if only because there aren’t that many stories about hockey.