Department of Weekend Reading: April 18, 2014

reading1

 

In Memorium: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)

onehundredyearssolitudeThe Nobel Prize-winning novelist, journalist, fabulist, realist, radical, magical Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed away today at his home in Mexico City, at the age of 87.

You will read many books in your life without coming across one with a more perfect beginning than that of Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, fragrant as it was with the promise of the wild and ravishing pages to follow:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Many novelists from Isabel Allende to Mark Helprin worked from a similarly evocative template as Marquez’s, what became known as magic realism. But almost none were able to marry as Marquez did the ravishing heights of imaginative leaps with that bone-deep fatalism born out of his study of Latin American history and politics.

In other words, Marquez proved that in fiction sometimes a flight of fantasy tells the truth better than purported realism. The fact that he wrote like his life depended on it was just a bonus for us readers.

New in Theaters: ‘Transcendence’

transcendence-poster1Remember in the 1982 version of Disney’s Tron, where Jeff Bridges get zapped by a computer’s scanning device and somehow magically translated into bits of data that are reassembled inside the hard drive as a living, functioning being? Cool, but didn’t exactly make sense. The new Johnny Depp artificial-intelligence thriller Transcendence is kind of like that, only without any of those cool light cycles.

Transcendence opens everywhere on Friday. My review is at Film Journal International:

“They say there’s power in Boston,” intones Paul Bettany at the start of the disappointing Transcendence, the camera panning over scenes of post-technological devastation: street lights dead, keyboards being used for doorstops. The film soon jumps back to five years earlier, setting up its conflict between hubristic technophiles and neo-Luddites which the film tries to structure a coherent story out of. But as idea-popping as that fight has the potential to be, it’s hard not to wish that the film had stayed with that opening scene, in a world struggling to adapt to more primitive times. At the very least, it would have been something we hadn’t seen before…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Shakespeare in America

Shakespeare's statue in Central Park (Library of Congress)

Shakespeare’s statue in Central Park (Library of Congress)

Given how many of us have happily or miserably worked through at least a couple Shakespeare plays in school, not to mention the frequency with which those plays are revived on Broadway and in touring companies everywhere, it’s amazing to think that there was a time when Shakespeare was actually more present in American life than today.

James Shapiro’s new book, Shakespeare in America, tells of how in the early nineteenth century, a quarter of all dramatic productions on the East Coast were Shakespeare’s. To be even moderately cultured, one had to know a few of the soliloquies by heart. To get an idea of how deeply rooted the Bard was in American culture, consider this anecdote, related in the New York Times review of Shapiro’s book, which occurred in Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1846:

To distract the troops, a theater was hastily constructed and a production of “Othello” put into motion. James Longstreet, the future Confederate general, was originally cast as Desdemona, but was judged too tall for the part. The shorter Grant took his place. “He really rehearsed the part of Desdemona, but he did not have much sentiment,” Longstreet later recalled. In the end, Grant was replaced by a professional actress at the insistence of the officer playing Othello, who, Longstreet wrote, “could not pump up any sentiment with Grant dressed up as Desdemona.”

It’s a far cry from the classics-averse mood of the present. But, Shapiro notes, that could be in part because of one thing America has now that it didn’t two centuries ago: great home-grown playwrights of our own.

Department of Weekend Reading: April 11, 2014

reading1

New in Theaters: ‘Joe’

Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in 'Joe'

Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’

Once upon a time, Nicolas Cage was an actor of some repute, if not always solid decision-making skills. A few years of Bruckheimer extravaganzas and brooding big-budget misfires, not to mention the occasional Satanic comic-book movie, killed most of that promise. However, in David Gordon Green’s new Southern noir, Joe, Cage makes an honest attempt to get back into that thing they call acting.

Joe-poster1Joe is opening this Friday in a few theaters, and should expand wider soon. My review is at Film Journal International:

A whiskey-slugging melodrama that wears its considerable heart on a tattered sleeve that smells of last night’s cigarettes, Joe is David Gordon Green’s most dramatically assured story to date. An adaptation of the Larry Brown novel, it stars Nicolas Cage in a non-showy comeback role as Joe Ransom, one of those guys who everybody in his small town knows at least a half-dozen good hell-raising stories about…

Here’s the trailer:

New on DVD: ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘August: Osage County’

One of last year’s great but overlooked dramas and one of its better-than-average FX blockbusters are hitting DVD and Blu-ray today.

August: Osage County

John Wells’ star-stocked adaptation of Tracey Letts’ sprawling and brawling Pulitzer Prize-winning play about a dysfunctional Oklahoma clan is perhaps a little too truncated but mostly hits it out of the park. For once, Julia Roberts proves herself to be not only not done with acting but able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Meryl Streep. Full review

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The second of Peter Jackson’s all-too-much trilogy on The Hobbit packs in even more non-Tolkien material to its middle-part travelogue following the intrepid dwarves and hobbit on their way to steal back the stolen riches of Smaug the dragon. Better by far than the first bloated entry, and possessed of a greater sense of rollicking adventure, still in need of a good pruning. Full review