Wind/Pinball (Book Review)

Wind/Pinball (Book Review)

One of the more exciting things for me is to walk into a bookstore and see something new by my favorite author, Haruki Murakami. Upon seeing that he had released a new book that contained his first two novels, Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball, 1973, I was ecstatic. This collection would provide his fans to see where his stories, and his style, originated from, as he has taken readers on a wonderful, and strange, journey, over the course of his writing career.

wind3To begin, the set of two novels (more like novellas) starts with an introduction from Murakami himself, called The Birth of My Kitchen-Table Fiction, which provides a fascinating insight into his method as a writer. He speaks about the decision to try and write a novel for the first time, and the process that he went through in order to try and accomplish this goal. It is truly interesting to hear him discuss his methods, and it is very cool to read about his struggles, and how he developed his style. Among the interesting things, he would often try to write the first part of his work in English, before translating it to Japanese himself, in order to try and develop his style.

Murakami’s style, if nothing else, is unique.

The novels themselves are quite short, barely over 100 pages each. Each of them offers a glimpse into the things that were to come for the great author. In Hear the Wind Sing, he creates his world of the lonely Japanese man, this time a college-aged fellow who returns home from Tokyo each summer to drink beers, and hang out with his friend called The Rat, at J’s Bar. It is his journey of understanding things, aided of course by a mysterious woman with nine fingers who comes into his life during a drunken night at J’s.

wind2With Wind, he establishes his writing fascination with the concept of loneliness, even when someone is among friends. The idea of being lost that he explores so thoroughly throughout his entire career begins with this novel, and it provides a very good read. It is very much Murakami, even if it was him just dipping his toes in the waters of becoming an author.

The second novel, Pinball, 1973, takes his style and narrative voice further. Again, we have a man who sort of drifts through life. He lives with a set of twins, not that anybody would believe him, and again we have encounters with J’s bar and with The Rat, who gets a story arc of his own in this version. While Pinball is not the stronger of the two books, in my opinion, it still provides that insight into the author. It also has a focus on a quest for a rare pinball machine that becomes an obsession for the protagonist, which creates a story line that was extremely interesting, and probably could have been explored further.

In Pinball, we get a little more of the surreal that Murakami has incorporated into the majority of his books after these ones. Those moments when the narrator is faced with something unreal, and uses the experience to develop and change who he is. They are endlessly interesting, and have become such a centerpiece to his writing over the years. Think of the well in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle as a similar writing tool.

Each of the novels comes with some of the beautiful descriptions and great lines that have helped me to fall in love with Murakami’s writing. He can provide a wonderfully vivid description of something, and write a line that can make you put down the book and think for a while, considering its merits and questions being posed. There are few authors that can do this for me, and by the end of reading one of his books, I always end up with a few dog-eared pages that contain lines that are truly memorable or thought-provoking.

wind4Wind/Pinball is a must-read for fans of Murakami. For those who are new to his writing, it definitely provides a light entrance into his work, and can absolutely serve as a starting point to get into his writing. The novels, on their own, are good enough to warrant reads, and are strong enough on their own that it could create that love of his work as a starting point to begin devouring the rest of his excellent novels.

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Islanders go Brooklyn

Islanders go Brooklyn

After everybody knowing they were going to do it, the New York Islanders recently revealed their new, Brooklyn-inspired third jerseys.

For a team with a long history of some pretty awful third jerseys and questionable uniform-related decisions all around (the swirly, wave like bottoms of the notorious Fisherman jerseys comes to mind), fans of the team were pretty nervous to see what concoction they would come up with this time. Moving to Brooklyn from Nassau County, it was clear that the team was going to go black and white, to match their arena mates, the Brooklyn Nets.

isle6The results are…pretty good.

The Islanders have come up with something simple yet pleasing to the eye. Looking at these unis, it is clear that they will look pretty good on the ice, contrasting the white of the team the ice, and of the team that they will be playing against.

isle5Here are some of my thoughts on the new third jerseys:

  • The “NY” logo, started last year for their outdoor game, is a nice, simple design that really stands out on the jersey. It is not too radically different from their classic logo, yet works very well as something different.
  • The four orange stripes on the stick portion of the “Y” is a great element. It offers the slightest amount of pop in colour, and of course is a nod to the teams four Stanley Cup wins.
  • I love the thin striping on the sleeves, matched by the same ones on the socks. It looks classy. Again, related to the four Cups.
  • Thankfully, there is a stripe at the waist. Every team that has gone away from the bottom stripe looks awful, and makes their unis looks like pajamas.
  • The name and numbers font is clean, uncluttered, and easy to see. isle2
  • I like the simple white stripe around the wrist, as well. It offers a nice contrast, and again, avoids the PJ look.
  • The new BKLYN wordmark that will be worn on the helmets looks really good. It is dangerous to change things up, but the designers have done a good job in blending the classic with the new. Again, the four orange stripes make an appearance. isle
  • On the pants, there is a pretty large NY on the left thigh. I have a read a couple of reviews that don’t like this element at all, but I don’t mind it. I feel it breaks up the black nicely, providing a nice visual contrast. Of course, we know what team it is, since the jersey logo isn’t too far away, but I think it adds a certain amount of flash to the uniform.
  • The white ring that goes almost all the way around the collar also provides that nice contrast. It is simple, and not gimmicky. It works for me.

isle3Overall, I would say that this is a big jersey win for the Islanders. After so many debatable ones, this black-and-white comes across as a winner. They will wear the new threads a dozen times in the upcoming season, and for the first time in a while, it will not be an eyesore to see them on the ice. They are clean, and have a level of sophistication, which makes them one of the better thirds in the entire league.

Wild (Film Review)

Wild (Film Review)

New to the Netflix Canada’s film lineup is the highly acclaimed Reese Witherspoon film, Wild, which in a way serves as the female counterpart to the excellent Into the Wild.

The story is about a bright, but very troubled young woman, who suffers after the loss of her mother to cancer. Once her mother dies, Cheryl goes off the rails, ruining her marriage through a number of meaningless sexual encounters, and a dark path towards heroin use.

wild3Needing to clear her head, Cheryl decides that she is going to hike the 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the most difficult and lengthy trails in the United States. This gives her the chance to think about her life, about her self-destruction, and about the memories of her mother, that will keep pushing her feet forward on the arduous journey.

Wild is an excellent, and calming, film. It is sedate, allowing the viewer to undertake the harrowing journey with Cheryl. It is extremely well directed, and well edited. I will not often notice the editing in the film, but the way the flashbacks to her life are integrated with her journey is seamless, and manages to add realism and drama to her quest.

Pushed by the strong direction, Witherspoon gives a tremendous performance, which is more about her reactions and facial expressions than it is about the minimal dialogue that she mutters. Wild is a film, after all, where she spends the majority of her time on her own, so her dialogue is infrequent. It’s not about the talking, it’s about the walking, and the journey. She was nominated for an Oscar for this performance, and rightfully so. It is subtle, and introspective.

wild2As for the journey itself, it is filled with beautiful scenery and the fact that Cheryl is not an accomplished hiker. She makes many mistakes, including carrying a pack that she can barely lift, the wrong kind of fuel for her stove, and hiking boots that are the wrong size, causing her feet to appear out of a horror movie. We feel bad for her, at times, knowing that she is making a ton of rookie mistakes, but that is a part of it: to learn as she goes, just as it is with the recovery and acceptance of her mother’s death, and the stopping of her downward spiral.

It is quite the transformation to go from a sophisticated scholar, to a girl having heroin injected into her legs, to having sex with multiple men in alleyways, to taking off, alone, on a dangerous hike that has been able to make many experienced hikers call it quits. Her journey is a tough one, but her goal is simple: make it to the end, so that she can start all over again, even if that is a scary proposition.

Wild is a very good film. It is calm, and quiet, and allows us to see and understand the introspection needed by our main character in order for her to simply be okay. Definitely worth watching.

Narcos (TV Review)

Narcos (TV Review)

Narcos is the TV series that we have all been secretly waiting for ever since Vincent Chase took the risk to make Medellin on Entourage.

Here we are provided with an excellent 10 episodes of historical drama that outlines the life and times of Pablo Escobar, perhaps the richest, and greatest, criminal of his time, if not all time, as told through the view of the DEA agent that helped play a role in his hunt and capture.

narcos4To put it mildly, Narcos is fantastic entertainment.

From the very beginning, the Netflix original show provides grit and drama, taking us from the humble beginnings of the man that would become the greatest, and most feared, man on the planet, the most wanted man on earth. It truly is an incredible story, how one man developed the idea of exporting cocaine, a relatively new drug at the time, to Miami, and how he was- for better or worse- able to change the world.

Escobar went through many changes in his life as a crime lord. He began humbly, but incredible vision allowed him to create the largest drug empire the world has ever seen, where he was making upwards of $60 million per day, actually having more money than he knew what to do with. It got to a point where he literally gave money away to the poor of Columbia, trying to improve their lives with the exorbitant amounts of cash that he knew he would be unable to launder. He even buried money all over the country, creating for himself millions of dollars in an actual treasure map, just trying to hide the endless flow of money that was coming in to him from the cocaine trafficking trade. Eventually, he craved more power, even taking a brief turn in the Colombian house of representatives as an elected official, starting off a time of butting heads with the government that would last for the rest of his life.

NARCOS S01E06 " Eplosivos"

The story of Pablo Escobar speaks for itself, and stories like that manage to just write themselves. Sometimes the truth really is more interesting than any fiction that can be invented. His story is unbelievable, but it is always thrilling to watch. We get to see as he becomes more paranoid, as the law closes in on him, yet we continually see his genius, especially when it comes to creating the deal that would lead to turning himself in. What other criminal in the history of the world got a deal where he could build his own prison for himself, and ensure that government officials weren’t allowed within three miles of the place? Only Escobar.

The story itself provides 10 hours of great entertainment.

Narcos is such a strong show, and not only for the reasons of the story that was already there, ready to be told. It is a show buoyed by strong acting performances throughout, starting with the portrayal of Escobar himself by Wagner Moura. He embodies the man, making him the likable monster that he was in real life. He manages to create a sympathetic character in Pablo, despite the numerous atrocities that he commits over the course of his life of crime. He brings out the man of the people, and the family man, behind the killer who would be willing to sacrifice hundreds of lives in blowing up a plane just to kill one man, or start an all-out civil war on the streets of Bogota, just to ensure his power is maintained, and the fear of him is constantly on the minds of all Colombians.

narcos5A successful element of Narcos is that we get to see the story from both sides. This is not a pro-American show, where the good guys from the States come riding in to save the day in a poor country gripped in the ravages of a drug war from an all-evil man. We see the views of the cops being run out of the US Embassy, the Colombian military, Escobar and his confidantes, his enemies, and his partners. Narcos provides us with many views, which helps us to understand the story that much better. It really does give us insight in to not only the characters of the story, but the story itself, by providing these alternate viewpoints.

This is a very well-written and well-directed series, from start to finish. It is also mostly in Spanish, which helps in not taking away from the dialogue by having actors struggle through a second language, or having American actors put on weak Spanish accents. It contributes to the grittiness, and the reality, of the story. And it never feels cumbersome, having to read a good portion of what is being said over the course of the series.

NARCOS S01E03 "The Men of Always"

I instantly fell in love with Narcos, and can’t wait for there to be a second season in order to conclude the story that they have started here. The story of Pablo Escobar is so unreal, that it warrants more than a fake movie from an HBO series: it warrants its own TV series, where it can take its time in developing all the intricacies of the plot, and the many characters who in reality, brought to life the story of Escobar, and his virtual ruling of the world during the 1980’s. I would say that Narcos goes beyond a strongly recommended series, to one that is basically a must see. One of the best that Netflix has produced.