Category Archives: Reviews

When Does A Review Cross The Line?

The basic definition of a reviewer, regardless of whether they are reviewing a book, a film, etc, is to give the audience or the reader an overview of the narrative and tell them if it is worth their time to watch or read it.

But the question is, when does a reviewer cross the line?

Recently, I’ve started listening to the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC in the morning just to get a handle of what is going on in the world. One of the people interviewed yesterday was Vulture writer Kat Rosenfield about her recent article entitled “The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter“.

The book in question is The Black Witch by Laurie Forest. I’ve not read the book, but hearing the response on twitter to the book and the negative reviews brings up a few questions.

One of the things that pointed out during Ms. Rosenfield’s segment was that the writer was basically pandering to her potential readers. I get it, I’m also a writer. If your writing feels false and your only writing to make a buck, the reader will know it. One of the most common quotes associated with writing is “write what you know”. On one level that makes sense. But on another level, if every writer only wrote what they know, the science fiction and fantasy genres would never exist.

The reviewers job is to review the art without hurting the artist(s). The problem is that the line between a review and a personal attack is subjective. The other issue is that social media so pervasive in our daily lives that one review where the reviewer goes too far can potentially damage of the career of the artist.

I welcome your comments on this topic. Listen to the link (the interview with Ms. Rosenfield is the last 20 minutes of the show) and read the article. Where is the line and how far can a reviewer push it before it morphs into a personal attack and ruins careers?

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Juliet, A Rose Who Still Smells Just As Sweet

Romeo and Juliet is familiar tale. Anyone who has sat through High School English has read it at least once. Ask anyone off the street to quote a line from a Shakespeare play, a line from Romeo and Juliet will probably be the first line they quote.

One of my previous posts was a review of Anne Fortier’s new novel, The Lost Sisterhood. Out of curiosity, I decided to read her previous novel, Juliet.

Julie Jacobs lost both of her parents when she was a young girl. She and her sister, Janice were raised by their Aunt Rose.  At the beginning of the novel, her aunt has died. Julie’s inheritance is a key to a safe deposit box in Siena, Italy. She is told that the contents of the safe deposit box will guide her to a centuries old family treasure. Arriving in Siena, Julie discovers that not only is her birth name Guilietta Tolomei, but she is descended from a woman who was the real life inspiration to the title female character in Romeo and Juliet.

I liked this book more than I did the Lost Sisterhood.  It contains the same elements, an ancient mystery and lives centuries apart that are somehow intertwined.  Ms. Fortier repeats the use of flashback and flash forwards to tell the story of medieval and modern Guilietta. I have never been to Siena, but I felt like I was there with the characters.  It’s a bit shorter than her newest novel, which for me made a big difference. I recommend it.

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Noah, The Flood That Did Could Have Been

The story of Noah is familiar one. Noah was told by G-d that he was going to create a flood to rid the world of those who had sinned. But Noah and his family would be saved by building an ark which would hold the world’s animals. After some time floating on the endless ocean, a dove was sent to Noah, a sign that that would waters would recede and land would soon be found.

Biblical epics have been a staple of Hollywood storytelling since it’s early days.   Transferring the story of Noah from the pages of the Bible to big screen would have happened eventually.

Directed by Darren Aronofsky,  co written by Aronosky and Ari Handel, Noah (Russell Crowe) is the descendant of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. He and his wife Naamah (Jennifer Connelly) have three sons. Shem (played as an adult by Douglas Booth), Ham (played by as an adult by Logan Lerman) and Japheth (played by as an adolescent by Leo McHugh Caroll). When Noah is given a message by G-d that the  flood is coming, he seeks out his grandfather, Methusaleh (Anthony Hopkins), for guidance.  During their journey, they find Ila, a orphan (played by as an adult by Emma Watson) who becomes their adopted daughter and the Watchers, fallen angels who become their helpers in building the ark.  But trouble comes in the form of Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a self proclaimed king who wants the ark for himself.

When making a biblical movie, Hollywood will inevitably come up against two barriers: the first being that the movie will never be universally approved, there will always be criticism. The second is that biblical characters, like mythical characters are often larger than life. We, as the audience know their story, but we do not know them as human beings, which allows the filmmakers creative license. That creative license may create controversy when a religious movie goer may disapprove of on screen depiction of the story and the characters.

One of the best elements of the movie was the strong female characters. With a rare exception, most of the women in the Bible referred to as the wife of ______ or the daughter of _______. She is not named, nor are we told anything about her other than she is someone’s wife or daughter. Naamah and Ila are both very strong and capable female characters, they are equal to the men as integral parts of the story.

The movie build up a steady pace up to the flood and then the problems start. The third act of the movie, when they are stuck on the ark, I had problems with. Frankly, that part of the movie could have been shorter, shortening the entire movie. Noah is not a bad movie,  but if I were the screen writer, I would written the third act differently.

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A Dolls House- A Timeless Masterpeice

It is a truth universally acknowledged that certain stories are meant to live forever, re-visited and introduced again and again to audiences.

Such is Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece, A Doll’s House, presently at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music until March 23rd.

Nora and Torvald Helmer (Hattie Morahan and Dominic Rowan, Elinor Dashwood in the 2008 Sense and Sensibility and Mr. Elton in the 1996 Kate Beckinsale Emma, for my fellow Janeites) have been married for nine years.  The play opens just before Christmas, Torvald is waiting for a promotion to bank manager, which will mean a raise. His wife, Nora, appears to be flighty and somewhat dimwitted.

The arrival of Nora’s childhood friend, Kristine Linde (Caroline Martin) reveals that Nora is much more than she appears.  Early into her marriage, Torvald became sick.  Following doctors orders, they traveled to Italy where the warm weather was recommended to improve Torvald’s health. Unbeknownst to her husband, Nora took out a loan which she is secretly paying off and has not told him. One of her husband’s employees, Nils Krogstad (Nick Fletcher) knows that he will be out for a job very soon and tries to use the unpaid loan to get his job back.

This play is amazing. Morahan is perfect for Nora and Rowan is equally as perfect as Torvald.  The tension is there from the moment that it starts. The audience knows Nora’s secret and we all know that it will only be a matter of time before Torvald finds out. The slamming of the door at the final moments of play reverberated throughout the theater.

I’ve heard of this play, but I’ve never seen it.  I hope to see it next time it comes my way.

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Nine To Five- Still Revelant

This past weekend, I saw Nine To Five. It was in movie theaters 34 years ago and I don’t know why I haven’t seen this movie before, I am glad I did.

The movie, for those who have not seen it, is a buddy workplace revenge comedy about three female employees who take revenge on a hated male boss. Judy Bernly (Jane Fonda) is recently divorced and in the workplace for the first time in her adult life. Violet Newstead (Lilly Tomlin) is the veteran, working at the company for 12 years and watching the men rise in professional status while she is kept in the same position. Doralee Rhodes (Dolly Parton) is the personal secretary of the boss, Franklin M Hart Jr (Dabney Coleman). He is constantly hitting on her, admiring her looks and spreading a rumor that she is his mistress.

This movie is so incredibly funny, the satire is right on target.

But there is also a truth in this movie.  34 years later, the issues that these characters are dealing with are still relevant today. Equal pay for equal work, having a flexible work schedule or day care for working parents, creating a positive working environment and giving both male and female employees equal opportunities to rise professionally.

This movie still stands the test of time, even after a generation.

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Monuments Men Review- Monumental, Maybe

History is a surprising thing. Something when you think that all of the details have been shared, a new twist appears.

This is Monuments Men.  The movie is based on a book by Robert Edsel, about a group of art specialists who are dispatched to Europe just after the Invasion of Normandy during WWII. Their mission to find and save precious works of art that are in danger of being destroyed by the Nazis.

They are led by Frank Stokes (George Clooney). The motley band of anti heroes include James Granger (Matt Damon),  Bill Murray (Richard Campbell), Walter Garfield  (John Goodman),  Cate Blanchett (Claire Simone), Preston Savitz (Bob Balaban),  Jean Claude Clermont (Jean Dujardin), Sam Epstein (Dimitri Leonidas) and Donald Jeffries (Hugh Bonneville).

Among World War II movies, this is something new and different. It was little long, but I enjoyed the movie. The movie had a fish out of water quality to it, being that the characters that were part of the Monuments Men were not young men in their teens and early twenties, but men old enough to be their fathers.  Cate Blanchett as the only woman, whose character is critical in assisting our heroes in reaching their goals is in the beginning questionable on where her loyalties lie, but it becomes clear as the movie progresses on what she is looking to get out of this journey.

I enjoyed it, I just wish it was a little shorter.

 

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Labor Day-Tense and Suspenseful

Romantic dramas and coming of age stories usually fall into two categories: Sappy and predictable or suspenseful and unpredictable.

Labor Day, thankfully falls into the second category.

Based on the book of the same name by Joyce Maynard, Labor Day is a love story, but also a coming of age story.

Adele (Kate Winslet) is a divorced single mother who has become anxious and isolated since her husband Gerald (Clark Gregg) left her for another woman. Her son, Henry (Gattlin Griffith) tries to make up for his father’s absence, but is lacking. When a convict, Frank (Josh Brolin) uses them as a means to hide until he can escape from the police, he becomes the father Henry needs and provides the love that Adele needs. 

I enjoyed this movie. It sort of had a Wonder Years type of narrative. Toby Maguire narrates the story as an adult Henry, remembering those fateful 5 days.  It could have been sappy, cliched or predictable. But it wasn’t. I was on the edge of my seat the entire movie. Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin have electric chemistry, Gattlin Griffith plays his character as both a young boy on the edge of growing up, but also taking on the responsibility of being the man of the house.

I may just read the book.

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The Tenth Song- Life’s Twists and Turns

Life is never simple. Our path’s are never straight and narrow. Sometimes the greatest trials we endure lead us to the future we didn’t think of, but when we get to that future, it’s where we were meant to be.

Four years ago, Naomi Ragen broken from her standard storytelling (A young women who rebels from a religious Jewish family) with The Tenth Circle.

She opens the book with  a tell tale line “It happened, like all horrible things happen, at the most inconvenient time”.

Abigail Samuels is living the perfect life. She and her husband, Adam, a successful accountant have three children.  Their youngest daughter, Kayla is in her final year at Harvard Law School, recently engaged to a doctor. When Adam is arrested, accused of funneling money to a terrorist organization, their lives are turned upside down.  Not knowing how to deal with the sudden changes in her life, Kayla drops out of school and flees to Israel.

In the Israeli desert, she meets a mystical religious guru who changes her life. When Abigail is sent to Israel to bring her daughter back to America, she begins to heal from the sudden changes and pain in her life.

I loved this book.  I couldn’t put it down.  Ms. Ragen took a risk, and it was well worth it.  The journey of this family and the changes that they are forced to make felt so real to me.  I could feel their fear, the pain, the agony of not knowing what would happen.

The Tenth Song- A Good Book

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Philomena- Phenominal Film

The only way to start my review is to say that Judi Dench is an international treasure an actress.  Every performance is so nuanced and different, that the audience sometimes forgets that it is one performer playing all of these characters.

Philomena is the true story of woman’s journey to find the son she was forced to give up.

In the 1950’s, Philomena Lee (Sophie Kennedy Clark) has a son outside of wedlock. Her only home is a nunnery where she works in slave labor like conditions and is only allowed to see her son an hour a day. When her son is taken from her, Philomena is heartbroken, but never forgets her first child.

50 years later, her daughter Jane (Anna Maxwell-Martin) meets a disgraced journalist, Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) who takes up the story as a human interest piece. That leads them to Washington DC where they search for her son.

This movie is fantastic. Both Steve Coogan and Judi Dench give nuanced, understated performances. I love the yin and yang of Philomena’s faith in spite of her experiences and Martin’s lack of faith.  The thing I loved most is that despite what the nuns did to her, Philomena still clings to her faith and forgives those who took her child from her.

This film and all involved deserves any and all awards send it’s way.

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The Sisters Weiss Book Review

There is always something about an ultra-religious insular community that always seems to intrigue the less religious, more modern secular world.

Naomi Regan has made a career of writing about women in the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities of Israel and New York. I’ve read Jephte’s Daughter, Sotah, and the Sacrifice of Tamar, but it’s been a few years since I’ve delved into the her novels.

Her latest novel, The Sisters Weiss, tells the story of two sisters and the very different paths their lives take.

Growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the 1950’s, Rose and Pearl Weiss are raised in a loving ultra-orthodox family. At the beginning of the book, Rose is the good girl, favored by her parents over her  younger trouble making sister. When Rose meets Michelle, she is exposed to the outside world and begins to slowly rebel from her parents and her community.  The night before Rose is supposed to marry a boy chosen for her, she runs away, affecting everyone in her family, including her younger sister.

40 years later, Pearl’s youngest daughter, Rivka is eager to experience the world and runs away. Her mysterious and unknown Aunt Rose seems to be the best person to run to. Rose has been exiled from her family. Because of Rivka’s actions, both Rose and Pearl must not only deal with the world they were raised in, but also the consequences of their actions.

Since it’s been a number of years since I’ve read Ms. Ragen’s books, I’ve forgotten what an incredible writer she is.  These characters could be very stereotypical, but they aren’t.  The relationship between the sisters seemed real, no different than any other sibling relationship.  I could understand Rose’s rebellion, but I also understood Pearl’s need to cling to the life and the beliefs that she was raised with.

You don’t have to be religious or Jewish to enjoy this novel. I highly recommend it.

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