Victoria Jelinek


Fleabag

imagesFleabag is a darkly humorous sitcom created and written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Having originally appeared at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival as a stage monologue, Amazon financed production of a six-part series, and the BBC picked it up for distribution. It’s about a woman who can’t quite cope with life in London after the recent death of her best friend. To “help” her along her terrible and squalid path, is her father, an ineffectual man who moved in with her awful – though very talented – godmother, just after her mother died. And her sister, a painfully uptight workaholic married to a slime bag.

Each character in Fleabag, including our heroine, is unpleasant, defeated and unhappy. Except for the dead best friend, Boo, whom we meet through regular flashbacks. This doesn’t sound like a good review, and I can only imagine how difficult pitching this idea to a TV exec would be, but Waller-Bridge has created something truly unforgettable here. The script is full of acerbic one-liners that will leave you breathless, and the characters are hypnotic. It’s perfectly cast, with especially stellar performances by Olivia Colman and Bill Paterson. But Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag is magnetic in her savage self-loathing.

The first word that came to my head when I finished watching the series was “Wow.” Note the period, no exclamation mark. If I had to describe Fleabag in four words, I’d choose Harsh. Poignant. Surprising. Funny. Definitely worth watching, but not for the faint of heart.

 



The Lobster

MV5BNDQ1NDE5NzQ1NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzA5OTM2NTE@._V1_UY1200_CR108,0,630,1200_AL_The film takes place in a dystopian world where single people are sent to a hotel and given 45 days to find a romantic match or they will be turned into the animal of their choice. Ostensibly, as an animal, they are given a “second chance” to find love. Our hero, Colin Farrell’s desolate architect David, is dumped by his wife and immediately sent to the hotel in the company of his brother, who is now a border collie, having failed the 45 day time limit to find a match earlier.

There are several elements that make this film worth seeing: the Kafkaesque meditation on modern society’s preoccupation with coupling, as well as its increasing desensitization, is much appreciated, fresh and noble; there is dark humor; our hero’s reasoning behind his choice to be a lobster is interesting; and the ensemble cast is very good, inclusive of Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, and Lea Seydoux. Moreover, a few of the incidents in the film will haunt me for a long time, which is arguably a good thing because the images were vivid enough to sear themselves into my cerebral cortex. However, there is absolutely no relief for the viewer in what is an exhaustingly morose take on humanity in some alternative reality, or in some not-so-distant future world.

 



The Nice Guys
The-Nice-Guys-poster-2

April 21, 2016 – The Nice Guys – Poster and cover for the official soundtrack that will be released by Lakeshore Recors on May 20, 2016

In 1970’s Los Angeles, private eye Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and enforcer-for-hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) team up to investigate the case of a missing girl connected to the death of a porn star. March is a washed up detective who looks smooth, and who stays just on the ‘right’ side of the law due to the wise intelligence of his daughter. Healy is discouraged by modern society and struggles to better himself, even as he can’t seem to maintain a relationship with anybody and prefers to use force rather than words.

I think Shane Black’s movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is absolutely first rate, but The Nice Guys is firmly placed on my list of top 20 films-of-all-time. The script is excellent – smart, fast and witty with an undercurrent of poignancy – paralleling the entire film. While Director Shane Black throws in hard-bitten aspects of film noir (thugs, femme fatales, conspiracies, and fading glamor) for our enjoyment, and the pairing of Crowe and Gosling is hilarious, there is true depth to this film as it meditates on the American psyche through the 1970’s, when the country struggled to find its purpose after the assassination of promising political figures in the 1960’s and the end of the Vietnam War.

A must see film that has left me wishing Shane Black made more movies.



Queen of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell

indexAn English friend of mine loaned me this “must read” book because she had so thoroughly enjoyed it and wanted me to share in the experience. Indeed, Queen of the Desert: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell by Georgina Howell is fascinating because Bell is a strong female character and the Middle East remains relevant.

The book begins with Bell’s birth in 1868 to industrialists in the North of England. Outspoken and quick-witted, she became a historian, a linguist, an “Arabist,” an archaeologist, a mountaineer, an author, and a photographer. After many explorations into the Arabian deserts and a passion for Arabian culture, she became one of the architects for an independent kingdom in Iraq, helping to put its first king, Faisal, safely onto the throne in 1921.

Queen of the Desert is superbly researched and includes Bell’s own writing, both published and unpublished. However, while I admired Bell’s courage and persistence, I was not particularly intrigued by her personal story. Even as she was a woman in a man’s world who achieved things most women wouldn’t dream of, she was the daughter of an extremely privileged family with immense resources at her disposal. Instead, I found the information about the history and politics of the region captivating. The insight into the historical meddling from foreign countries, the social protocols of the desert, the diverse sects that abound throughout the Middle East, and their respective perceptions of the world as well as their feudal wars, are, in my opinion, the most engrossing aspects of this book. The information gained from reading Queen of the Desert also made me realize that the challenges that existed at the turn of the 20th century in the Middle East still exist today.

 



Bottle Shock

bottle_shock_ver3_xlgIn 1976 there was a blind wine taste-testing held in France, where all the judges were French. The result of the contest? The wines of California’s Napa Valley defeated the best wines France had to offer – mon dieu! Bottle Shock is the fictionalized version of this true event, with the added story of the underdog winery deeply in debt, and a problematic relationship between a father and his slacker son who run the winery together.

Even as the outcome of the story is predictable, it is a charming film. The direction is solid, the cinematography picturesque, and the cast is good. Bill Pullman is believable as the tough and angry man who runs Chateau Montelena. Chris Pine is sympathetic as his lazy, long-haired son, Bo. And Alan Rickman as the British wine lover living in Paris who instigates the contest in the first place (thinking the French wines would win!) is quietly and wonderfully comic. “But did you know that it’s the struggling, thirsty vines that make the best wines? They can’t just sit there sipping water.” They must labor to thrive. These lines from the film sum up what makes this movie engaging – it’s about people who love their work and do it well. People who talk about it with passion and with knowledge. And people who are motivated to continue despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

 

 



Finding Dory

A year after Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) helped reunite Nemo (Hayden Rolence) and Marlin (Albert Brooks), she has settled happily into her new life with them. Then Dory suddenly gets flashbacks from her childhood, so she sets out to find her parents at the last place she remembers them being all together – the Monterey Mfinding-dory-movie-poster-nemo-wallpaperarine Life Institute.

Critics of this film have grumbled charges of “sequelitis” against Pixar (Toy Story, Cars). Yes, the set up is similar to Finding Nemo: Dory goes in search of her parents and, returning the faith shown by Dory in the first ocean-spanning escapade, Marlin and Nemo join her. And yes, as characters are repeatedly separated and reunited, the storyline arguably gets a bit tedious. However, despite a familiar formula, there are tragic undercurrents such as loss, confusion, disappointment and fear, which make for a very human story. Meanwhile, these motifs are delivered alongside funny dialogue, vivid imagery, technical prowess, great characters, and fantastic casting (voices).

As is the case with most great family films, there is something here for both adults and children. Finding Dory is an emotionally complex, beautifully constructed, and hopeful piece about friendship, perseverance, and facing your own personal inhibitions.

 

 



Plainsong by Kent Haruf
July 21, 2016, 2:24 pm
Filed under: Book reviews | Tags: , , , , , , ,

PlainsongA small town community in the ‘heartlands’ is the setting for Plainsong and its rendering of the quintessentially American experience. Kent Haruf interweaves the stories of a lonely teacher, a pair of boys abandoned by their mother, a pregnant high school girl, and a couple of brittle old bachelor farmers as they undergo radical changes over the course of a year. With lyrical, eloquent prose that is richly nuanced, Haruf presents the steadfast courage of decent, troubled people getting on with their lives.

Weather and landscape set the quiet, observant mood of the narrative, while descriptions of rural existence are poetic invocations to the natural world. Haruf steers clear of sentimentality and melodrama, however. His beautifully imagined characters and the vivid depictions of their experiences, makes each of them seem non-fiction, which can evoke both heart-warming and heart-wrenching feelings (respectively) in the reader. Emotions that resonate long after one finishes the novel. This is a contemplative and compelling story about grief, loss, loneliness, and frustration, as well as kindness, love, benevolence, beauty, and what it means to be a family.