Monthly Archives

August 2010

Book Review: MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

This review of Suzanne Collins’s final book in the Hunger Games trilogy was written by contributing writer Aline Dolinh, 12, who’s been reading since she was 3 and writing short stories since she was 7. The review contains MAJOR SPOILERS.

**************************

I got Mockingjay on a Friday night and devoured it in less than four hours. It was one of those books that even if the quality was trash, I still would have kept reading. It was only after I finished those last few pages that I sat down on the couch and reflected on the whole thing.

I was liking the beginning a lot—there was crackling tension, nice dialogue, and a lot of badassery going on with Katniss Everdeen and Co. One of the most memorable scenes involved Katniss and her friend/love-interest Gale, all in black, shooting down planes with bows and arrows a la the Na’vi in Avatar while everything around them was exploding.

The underground rebel stronghold that is District 13 has finally made its face known—sending out armed squads to attack the Capitol, the center of government itself. Katniss is dispatched to the city as part of a sharpshooter squad with the best of the best. Her comrades include Boggs, a District 13 guard who’s my favorite new character, and of course some old friends: the gorgeous and kick-ass Finnick Odair, freshly engaged and the winner of a previous Hunger Games; and Gale, whose relationship with Katniss at this point is nothing but complicated.

A major subplot includes Peeta, one of Katniss’s significant love interests, rescued from the oppressive government by the rebels, only for people to realize he has been brainwashed by this government to the point of showing homicidal tendencies toward a person he was formerly in love with.

I had always preferred Gale both as a character and love interest for Katnis anyway but I liked this twist—Peeta portrayed in a much more disturbing and ultimately realistic light. Even those most opposed to his personality can’t help noticing the stark contrast between this unstable, potentially murderous Peeta and his former Dr. Jekyll-esque persona and it makes one appreciate the previous character more.

Collins throws a few more characters in the squad to round it out but they feel like cardboard extras, a notion supported when pretty much all of them are later killed off hastily and thrown aside. This is sad because wasted characters are authors’ Satan.

I’d like to say something here and I know some people will disagree: I disliked the last third of the book. When I put down Mockingjay, I just sort of sat there and thought, Well, that’s it?

The scenes where the squad crawls in the tunnels under the city bored me a little—think the parts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when Harry, Ron, and Hermione were on the run and living in their tent. I was saddened when Finnick died; my inner fangirl will probably mourn him forever. I can certainly stomach a main character dying but the fate Collins wrote for him was undeserving. I can take his being eaten up by horrific, mutated lizards, sure, but I don’t like the lack of reflection on it afterward. You wouldn’t have known that Finnick was a major supporting character from the second book Catching Fire onward by Katniss’s reaction to his death. Even Annie Cresta, his widow and implied love of his life, doesn’t seem to be majorly fazed by it when you see her at the end. This is made stranger by the fact that all previous context  has her as mentally unstable. Any normal person would be shaken if someone they love died; I would think someone who has been portrayed as sometimes insane up to this point would be a little less pulled together than how Annie behaves in the end scenes.

But the award for Saddest Death comes later.

Prim, Katniss’s 13-year-old sister, dies. She was sweet, lovable, and basically was what Katniss fought for since the beginning. Prim’s death turned me into a blubbering mess but I understand Collins killing her off—I more or less predicted it—and thought Collins wrote the death well.

The very end was my least favorite part. I had to read it over a few times because it seemed a bit convoluted to me. I even thought it was a dream sequence at one point but no, after the third time, I realized it was just, well, muddled. Everything seemed a little too easily resolved despite all the deaths; the Capitol and its supporters have all been more or less crushed, and a rebel system of government is quickly put in power within a week. It just seems a bit unrealistic.

And Gale, our old friend, gets shipped off to another part of the country, District Two, leaving Katniss with a pretty much mentally restored Peeta. No only did my fangirly self hate this; as a critic and reader I was immensely dissatisfied by the fact there is no explanation given for this. Peeta and Katniss together is not a problem, but suddenly throwing Gale out of the picture is an insult to his character and wipes away every single moment between Gale and Katniss like they never existed. A lot of my favorite characters from the other two books—like Madge, the daughter of the mayor and one of Katniss’s few friends, as well as Cinna, her stylist—were simply erased from Mockingjay’s memory and this seems an insult to their characters as well.

I think I would like the book a lot more if Collins had made it a few dozen pages longer. I suppose I would still recommend it despite the ending because the story as a whole was decent.

If you’ve read Mockingjay, I’d love to hear what you think about it—the more differing opinion, the better. Polite comments are very much appreciated.

Share

Book Review & Giveaway: THE GLAMOUR OF GRAMMAR

How much of a nerd am I? I spent last Saturday night at home reading a book on grammar and considered it a good time. That’s because Roy Peter Clark makes it fun in The Glamour of Grammar, a book of writing guidelines. As introduction, Clark says “this book invites you to embrace grammar in a special way, not as a set of rules but as a box of tools…It doesn’t shout at you, ‘No, no, no,’ but gives you a little push and says, ‘Go, go, go.'”

And that it does. It helps that I’ve always loved grammar and language in general. I don’t like the term “grammar snob” because I don’t think I’m better than anyone. I simply want to put my best foot forward when speaking and writing and avoid sounding like an idiot. If my blog were full of mistakes, I imagine you wouldn’t be reading this.

So yes, I have an interest in this book’s subject matter but wouldn’t have necessarily enjoyed it if it weren’t for Clark’s breezy, witty, friendly voice. There’s no stuffy preachy tone here. Unlike William Strunk and E.B. White’s The Elements of Style, which has great advice but is bare bones in delivery, Clark offers anecdotes along with his tips on how to write more effectively. Even if you never dangle modifiers, split your infinitives or confuse “lie” and “lay,” this book can help you take a more conscious approach to language. Haven’t we all said or written something then later claimed, “That’s not what I meant!”?

I like how Clark encourages us to break rules whenever necessary to avoid “hypergrammar,” syntax that’s correct but calls too much attention to itself, e.g. “for whom are you looking?” instead of the more common “who are you looking for?” I heartily agree when he writes:

As writers, we should never be satisfied with the words we inherit, the ones that already appear in our dictionaries. Learning to use them correctly is the license we need to bend them, stretch them, and blend them with others, as context, meaning, and audience allow.

If you’re thinking, “OK, you’ve convinced me I need a copy of this book even though I’m already brilliant,” you’re in luck. Hachette Book Group is allowing me to give away two copies. To enter:

  • be a subscriber or Twitter follower (tell me which; new subscribers/followers get 1 entry and current ones get 2)
  • leave a comment about what grammatical issues trip you up the most
  • live in U.S. or Canada, no P.O. Box, per HBG’s request

Giveaway ends Tuesday, September 7, 5 p.m. PST. Winners will be chosen via Random.org and only announced here and on Twitter. I will not contact you personally so please check back to see if you win. Winners have 48 hours to claim the prize before alternate names are chosen.

Share

Best & Worst of Emmys 2010

Getty Images

Despite knowing that award shows have a tendency to be long and tedious, I was looking forward to this year’s Emmys because I liked many of the nominees. But after a rousing opening number with Jimmy Fallon leading the Glee kids, Jon Hamm, Tina Fey and others in singing and dancing to Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run (see it here), the energy level dipped considerably.

I was happy about some of the results—Jane Lynch’s win for Glee, Modern Family for best comedy series, Archie Panjabi’s upset victory for best supporting actress in a drama series for The Good Wife—and unhappy about others: Hugh Laurie’s loss for the fifth time. Did voters not see last season’s premiere when he was in the psychiatric hospital, and the finale when he advised the woman to have her leg amputated so she wouldn’t have chronic pain like he does?

For a complete list of winners, click here. Keep reading for my thoughts on the highlights and lowlights of the evening.

Best sport: George Clooney participating in a skit about a clueless network executive trying to improve on Modern Family for next season. Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara both liked the idea of their characters falling in love with Clooney after their TV husbands are killed off. Then Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson revealed they wouldn’t mind having Clooney in a threesome with Mitch and Cam, to which Clooney said, “I’ve got to get a film.”

Classiest act: Clooney again. When he won the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, he gave an eloquent speech that I couldn’t have agreed with more. An excerpt:

We live in such strange times where bad behavior sucks up all the attention in the press and the people who really need the spotlight—the Haitians, the Sudanese, people in the Gulf Coast on the five-year anniversary [of Katrina], people in Pakistan—they can’t get any…

Now the truth is, look, when a disaster happens, everybody wants to help…The hard part is, seven months later, five years later when we’re on to a new story…we fail at that, most of the time. I fail at that.

So here’s hoping that some very bright person, right here in the room or at home watching, can help find a way to keep the spotlight burning on these heartbreaking situations that continue to be heartbreaking long after the cameras go away.

Clooney for president! Then maybe he can ban talentless idiots from getting press for having sex tapes.

Biggest regret: Seeing Kim Kardashian and Kate Gosselin on my TV. I’ve made it a mission in life to not watch/see/read anything that involves these two (see previous rant about people who shouldn’t be famous) and have avoided exposure up until tonight. But they popped up on the red carpet and did intros with Fallon. My brain felt so infected, I wanted an injection of antibiotics.

Best booty shakin’: Jon Hamm. His goofy dancing with Betty White as his coach made me like him more when I thought that wasn’t possible. Tina Fey told Entertainment Weekly‘s Michael Ausiello that Hamm will be back for 30 Rock‘s live episode this fall and I can’t wait to see what his character Drew will do with his hooks for hands.

Funniest reason for rooting for a nominee: Ricky Gervais wanting Bucky Gunts to win for directing the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games opening ceremony simply because “I didn’t know you could say [Bucky Gunts] on television.” Then Gunts actually won! Hilarious.

Winner most in danger of losing job: Erin Levy, co-winner of best drama series writing with Matthew Weiner for Mad Men. Levy said she’d previously been Weiner’s assistant before getting the opportunity to write for the show. Last year’s co-winner with Weiner, Kater Gordon, said the same thing then lost her job two months later.

Most inept fact checker: The person responsible for spelling Julia Ormond’s name Julia OrmAnd when she won the best miniseries supporting actress award for Temple Grandin. It’s Ormond’s first Emmy; it would’ve been nice for her to see her name spelled correctly on screen if she wants to watch that moment later.

Now on to best and worst of the fashion…

You’d think the celebs were attending a funeral based on the predominance of black and midnight blue dresses. Eva Longoria Parker, Julie Bowen, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Edie Falco, Lea Michele and Heidi Klum were just a few wearing this dark hue on a sunny August day, making me sweat just looking at them.

Among this sea of somberness, it was easy for me to pick my favorite dress:

Photo: Jay L. Clendenin/L.A. Times

Keri Russell looks pretty, summery, cool and comfortable. Her dress is vintage Jean Louis Scherrer; extra credit to Russell for having bought it herself from an L.A. vintage shop.

Check out the slide show below for my thoughts on other fashion choices…

[cincopa 10733533]

What did you think of the show? How did you like Fallon as host? Most memorable moments for you?

Share

Book Review: David Rosenfelt’s DOG TAGS

When you hear legal thriller, you probably think John Grisham or Scott Turow or Richard North Patterson and that’s all good. What I can’t figure out is why David Rosenfelt isn’t up there with those guys. His novels about Andy Carpenter, the dog-loving, independently wealthy defense attorney, are just as well-plotted and paced, if not better since those other authors can sometimes go unnecessarily long. Rosenfelt’s books are also funny and always feature amazing dogs.

The eighth installment in the series opens with Andy being asked to represent Milo, a German shepherd police dog re-purposed as a thief by his owner, ex-cop and Iraq war veteran, Billy Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s in jail accused of murder while Milo’s been put in a cage with, oddly enough, a 24-hour armed guard. Andy goes to court to argue for the dog’s release but soon finds himself taking on Zimmerman as a client as well.

Formerly a well respected cop, Zimmerman signed up for Iraq then lost a leg in a bombing. When he couldn’t get his police job back upon his return, Zimmerman became a thief, using Milo as his accomplice. The two get in trouble when their target for a gig ends up shot by an assassin right in front of them and Zimmerman is arrested for his murder. The case is further complicated by the fact the murder victim was Zimmerman’s Army superior. Though the prosecution theorizes that Zimmerman had a grudge against the man partly responsible for the loss of his leg, Andy discovers the real motives behind the killing are more sinister and involves people much more powerful than Zimmerman. Andy then has to decide between doing what’s best for his client and preventing a cataclysmic event from happening on U.S. soil.

Rosenfelt knows how to entertain, delivering thrills, laughs, heart and likable characters. He also knows how to comment on current affairs and the plight of our war veterans without getting on a soapbox. Zimmerman is a thief but also a man who, after defending his country, is failed by its healthcare system, the justice system and the police force on which he served before enlisting in the Army. But Zimmerman doesn’t feel sorry for himself; he turns out to be one of Andy’s best clients ever, making me want something to go right for him.

As in all Rosenfelt novels, the canine characters are as dynamic as the human ones. Milo has a heroic moment near the end that’s breathtaking and Andy’s golden retriever Tara remains cooler than cool. Andy gets an amusing new (human) law partner, Hike, who’s brilliant despite his pessimistic attitude about everything. I, on the other hand, am optimistic that you’ll enjoy this book and the entire Andy Carpenter series.

Nerd verdict: Clever Dog

Buy Dog Tags from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

Share

Craziest FAMILY FEUD Answers

During the dog days of summers, I have a hard time finding interesting shows to watch. When that happens, I find myself drifting to the Game Show Network because they have re-runs of old TV game shows. My favorite is Family Feud, especially the really old episodes with Richard Dawson as host, because it’s not just entertainment, it’s kind of a sociological study. In a 1970s episode, long before political correctness kicked in, Dawson insisted that an entire Japanese family bow to him. (My jaw dropped open and soup almost dribbled out when I saw this.) In another episode, Dawson kept speaking in an exaggerated, Apu-like accent to an Indian family who had lived in the States for 30 years and spoke perfect English.

But Dawson’s ignorance isn’t why I tune in; I do it for the contestants’ wacky answers. Perfectly normal-looking people say the craziest things when the clock is ticking and they’re trying to beat the buzzer. They reveal way more about themselves than they probably intended and sometimes I get the feeling there really will be a feud among family members once the taping is over.

For a few Monday chuckles, I’ve compiled a list of some the funniest answers I’ve heard:

Question: Tell me a man’s name that starts with the letter “K.” Answer: Kentucky Fried Chicken!

Q: Name an expression that contains the word “foot” in it. A: Foot in your behind!

Q: Tell me a birthday men dread the most. A: Their wife’s!

Q: Name something people take with them to the beach. A: Turkey!

Q: Name a type of movie that describes your love life. A: Horror!

Q: Tell me something your neighbor has that you wish you had. A: A beautiful wife!

Q: Name a part of the body that gets bigger as adults get older. A: Penis!

Q: Name something women borrow from each other. A: Husbands!

Q: Name something a woman needs before she gets married. A: Pap smear!

Q: Tell me a beverage you drink out of a can: A: Wine!

Q: Name a yellow fruit. A: Orange!

Q: Tell me a kind of wood used to make furniture. A: Table!

Q: Name something you accidentally leave on all night. A: Your bra!

Q: Tell me what section of the newspaper you turn to first. A: Coupons!

Q: Name something associated with Ping-Pong. A: Asians!

Happy Monday!

Share

PCN’s Weirdest Keyword Searches

My admin panel has a section titled “search engine terms” that displays the keywords people use in their Internet searches to land on my site. Most of them are understandable: “rooney mara” (the new Lisbeth Salander), “colin firth” (I’ve written about him numerous times) or “fall movies 2010.”

Every once in a while, though, a really strange search phrase jumps out at me, making me wonder why in the world Google/bing/Yahoo brought them here. I can say with certainty I’ve never written about any of the following topics:

  • “what to do when you feel stupid”—um, maybe get off the Internet and read something?
  • “harry porret”—same advice.
  • “german men looking for wife contact  @yahoo”—damn, what’s the rest of that e-mail address?
  • “sexy actors receding hairline”—is your next search “sexy actresses with no teeth”?
  • “licking and rubbing teenage girls legs”—you searching from prison?
  • “romanian bondage”—how’s that different from Yemenian bondage?
  • “peeling man sad face”—if my face were being peeled off, I’d be sad, too.
  • “sex furniture”—you looking for a bed? Couch? Magazine rack? Can you be more specific?

So, ah, what keywords did you use to find my site?

Share

Stalking the Author

I was getting impatient sitting around waiting for Robert Crais‘s next book, The Sentry. Yeah, I know it’s coming out January 11 but that’s five lousy months.

So I decided to take matters into my own hands and jumped into my car. Crais lives here in the city of angels, there are only about three million people—how hard can he be to find? They don’t call me the Nerd for nothin’.

After seven hours of driving the neon-dotted streets, begging for scraps of info from hookers and residents of dark alleys, I found him having drinks in a dimly lit bar where you can’t smoke anymore but can still smell it in the bartender’s hair. Someone played blue notes on the sax in the background while someone else danced slowly with himself.

When Crais saw me coming, he gave me weary eyes and simply asked “Why?” without missing a sip. I said, “Because I lose sleep at night and can’t take it anymore.” He nodded as if he’d always known, reached into his pants and handed this over. I ran out of the bar, clutching the manuscript to my bosom, and never looked back.

Share

My Life as a Book 2010

Last year, I did this fun meme in which I described myself by completing sentences using only titles of books I read in 2009. It was based on something I’d seen at Reactions to Reading. I’ve finished more than 50 books this year and thought I might have enough choices to do it again, making up my own sentences this time. (I did it before reviewing my list of books so I wouldn’t tailor them to my titles.) I’d love to see your answers in the comments or on your own blog.

In high school I was: Girl in Translation (Jean Kwok)

People might be surprised I’m: Innocent (Scott Turow)

I will never be: Caught (Harlan Coben)

My fantasy job is: Messenger from Athens (Anne Zouroudi)

At the end of a long day I need: Drink the Tea (Thomas Kaufman)

I hate it when: They’re Watching (Gregg Hurwitz)

Wish I had: The Cleaner (Brett Battles)

My family reunions are: The Survivors Club (Ben Sherwood)

At a party you’d find me with: The Imperfectionists (Tom Rachman)

I’ve never been to: London Boulevard (Ken Bruen)

A happy day includes: 61 Hours (Lee Child)

Motto I live by: My Name is Memory (Ann Brashares)

On my bucket list: Love in Mid-Air (Kim Wright)

In my next life, I want to be: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Stieg Larsson)

OK, your turn!

Share

The Girl Who Will Play Lisbeth Salander Is…

…Rooney Mara.

David Fincher has finally chosen the lead actress for his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Mara, 25, will star opposite Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, Robin Wright as Millenium‘s editor Erika Berger, Stellan Skarsgard as Martin Vanger, with Max von Sydow in talks for Henrik Vanger.

A few weeks ago, Fincher had whittled down his choices to these four actresses, three of whom are foreigners. Fincher went with the sole American, presumably because he worked with her in his upcoming The Social Network. I don’t know anything about Mara’s acting so I won’t judge but will admit I was kinda rooting for one of the others since the filmmakers are apparently still setting it in Sweden. Then again, Mara has as much chance as the others of being believable since they’re not Scandinavian, either.

For more info, click here.

Lisbeth fans, what do you think? (UPDATE: Here are first photos of Mara in character.)

Share

Book Reviews: ONE DAY & HOLLY’S INBOX: SCANDAL IN THE CITY

I read a lot of mysteries so my head is often filled with stories about death and other gruesomeness. Every once in a while, I like to clear the palate by reading something different. Here are a couple non-mysteries I recently finished, though I can’t say they were all lightness and rainbows.

One Day by David Nicholls

Emma and Dexter meet in 1988 on their graduation day from an Edinburgh college and we follow the ups and downs of their friendship by checking in with them on the same day, July 15, every year for the next 19 years. On that first day, Emma, a feminist and academic, expresses her hopes of changing the world while making playful predictions of how Dexter, a privileged playboy, would turn out by the time he’s forty. As anyone who’s ever been an idealistic twentysomething knows, life doesn’t always work out the way you envisioned it. We witness Emma and Dexter’s disillusionment, their difficulties in relationships with other people and attempts to adjust their worldview as they mature. Through it all, their relationship remains a constant, ultimately leading to both happiness and tears.

A blurb in the front of this book likens it to When Harry Met Sally but I think that’s too convenient and lazy a comparison. I really enjoyed that movie but it’s a lark compared to this story. One Day delves much more deeply into the messiness of life and death, unfulfilled potential and unrequited feelings, how there’s a window of time to do certain things and once it closes, sometimes it’s forever. Because the book spans almost two decades, you can probably relate to it no matter where you are in your life journey. And if you’ve ever had romantic feelings for your best friend but feared you’d ruin your friendship, you know where Dexter and Emma are coming from.

I was impressed by how well Nicholls, using the third person omniscient POV, captures Emma’s inner life. I’ve had male writer friends tell me getting inside a woman’s head is one of the biggest challenges for them as a writer, but Nicholls makes Emma believably complex, not a man’s idealized or clueless version of how a woman thinks and behaves. I enjoyed her musing while on a date with a wannabe stand-up comedian who wouldn’t quit making jokes:

He’s laughing me into a stupor, she thought. I could heckle, I suppose, I could throw a bread roll at him but he’s eaten them all. She glanced at the other diners, all of them going into their act, and thought is this what it all boils down to? Romantic love, is this all it is, a talent show? Eat a meal, go to bed, fall in love with me and I promise you years and years of top notch material like this?

Dexter is less likable, with his partying and womanizing, but he recognizes Emma’s beauty long before she does so he’s not completely superficial. He resembles guys I knew in college (I’m about the same age as Dexter and Emma) who later straightened out so I could tolerate Dexter’s shallow phase and believe he’d eventually mature.

The movie version is already in production with Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess (21, Across the Universe) as the leads and I think they’re excellent choices. Nicholls, like he did for the screen adaptation of his novel Starter for 10, wrote the script and An Education‘s Lone Scherfig is directing. Read the book now so you can be a snob when the movie comes out.

Nerd verdict: One Day stayed with me for much longer

Buy One Day from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

Holly’s Inbox: Scandal in the City by Holly Denham

Another male author who has an impressive grasp on the female voice is Bill Surie, who uses the pseudonym Holly Denham to write his two books about, well, Holly Denham. Scandal is the sequel to last year’s Holly’s Inbox and once again, Surie uses only e-mails to tell our heroine’s adventures in her professional and love life but somehow manages to make her a multifaceted character. *Spoiler below if you haven’t read the first one.*

The novel begins with Holly being in a fairly good place: she’s up for a promotion and she and Toby are living together. Well, technically they are but Toby is always at work or out of town. Holly begins to wonder if he’s having an affair, her suspicions strengthened by a bitchy co-worker’s behavior towards Toby. Her new position also doesn’t turn out well and she gets unexpected news when she goes to the doctor. At one point, Holly hits rock bottom but with the support of her friends, she manages to bounce back in time to discover the real reason behind Toby’s absences. *End spoiler*

As with the first book, this one has more emotional impact than you might expect from a book told in a limited format. Nowadays, we probably communicate with our loved ones electronically more than any other way so it’s plausible that e-mails would divulge much about our daily lives. (I just wish there weren’t so many typos, which may resemble real e-mails but I assume this book went through copy edits.) I felt Holly’s pain and frustration in her messages, even when she tries to remain professional in dealing with a mean higher-up or brave in the face of adversity so her family wouldn’t worry too much. The format made it clear that a skilled writer doesn’t need long-winded prose to paint characters with depth. Surie eliminates unnecessary details to cut straight to Holly’s heart.

Nerd verdict: Add Scandal to your inbox

Buy Holly’s Inbox: Scandal in the City from Amazon| B&N| Powell’s| IndieBound

What are you reading this weekend?

Share

Movie Review: EAT PRAY LOVE

I went into a screening of Eat Pray Love on an empty stomach, which was foolish because it growled in protest every time Julia Roberts took a bite of luscious pasta, cheese-oozing pizza or moist-looking turkey. By the time the movie ended, though, I realized it wasn’t just a feast for my eyes but an emotionally fulfilling experience as well.

Since Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir sold a bazillion copies worldwide, I’ll assume you’ve either read or have heard of it. If not, here’s a quick rundown: Gilbert, a thirtysomething writer, realizes she’s unhappy in her marriage, gets divorced and decides to devote a year to finding herself by traveling first to Italy (eating without counting calories), then India (praying and meditating) and Bali (learning to love again). She tells stories about the people she met along the way, her struggles to feel connected to something, and her eventual enlightenment.

The book is funnier than the movie because the former has a lot more of Gilbert’s voice and she often made fun of herself. Director/co-writer (with Jennifer Salt) Ryan Murphy’s adaptation contains some voiceover narration but has a more melancholy feel while retaining Gilbert’s warmth and spirit. The locations are lushly captured by Robert Richardson and the score by Dario Marianelli is evocative of each country Gilbert visits.

Roberts turns in a deeply affecting portrayal of a woman in transition. Her face is luminous and transparent, with every emotion clearly visible even when she tries to suppress them. In a scene when Felipe (Javier Bardem), the man she meets in Bali, confronts her about her feelings for him, Roberts’s eyes reveal pure terror at the realization she might be falling for him, something she wasn’t prepared for. She stands there speechless for a moment, tamping down the panic, but it’s all there and I felt it in my chest. This performance is less flashy but more full-bodied than the one of Erin Brockovich (it seems she does her best work playing real women) and deserves another Oscar nomination.

Bardem, though way too young to play Felipe, has the necessary charisma to break Gilbert out of her self-imposed celibacy. He’s not conventionally handsome, with bulging eyes that can be unsettling as we saw in No Country for Old Men, but he can also make those eyes seductive as he does here. His Felipe is a sweet romantic who doesn’t come on too strong, his breezy banter not quite covering the emotional scars from his own divorce.

Other supporting roles are filled by rock-solid actors like James Franco as Gilbert’s young boyfriend David, Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas (who died earlier this year; he answered a few questions for me last year about the movie and later asked if I knew how he could get a cameo), Viola Davis as Gilbert’s friend Delia, and Hadi Subiyanto, a real find as the Balinese medicine man Ketut. Billy Crudup moved me as Gilbert’s ex-husband, Stephen, a decent man who loves her and doesn’t understand why she no longer reciprocates. Some of the complaints I heard about the book were about how Gilbert seems selfish for giving up a husband for no obvious reasons but that’s one of the things I appreciated about her story. Gilbert refused to paint him as a jerk and Crudup follows her lead. Sometimes two people just aren’t compatible. Leaving a monster is an easy decision; it’s much scarier to walk away from a good person wondering if you did the right thing.

The movie runs about 2:15 but the length is justified, giving Gilbert a chance to absorb each country she visits and allowing us to do the same. I enjoyed the vicarious journey and never once looked at my watch, which means I must’ve learned something from Gilbert: how to stay present.

Nerd verdict: Go See Love

Photos © Columbia Pictures

Share

Winners of Marcus Sakey’s SCAR TISSUE E-Anthology

My three randomly selected winners are:

  • Erin
  • Shell
  • Eddy

I’ve forwarded your e-mail addresses to Marcus’s rep, Dana, who will send you a code for a free download.

Thank you all for entering and sharing tales of your favorite scars. If you didn’t win, I’ll have another giveaway soon!

Share