Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is 30 years old, born and raised in England.  She works in a non-descript office in the accounts receivable department of a graphic design company.  She has no friends, inside or outside work, doesn’t believe in office politics but she does talk to her mother regularly, every Wednesday, like clockwork. Mummy’s been institutionalized. Eleanor has also developed a crush on a local rock singer, Johnny Lomond.  She thinks he is “the one.”

One day, Eleanor’s computer at work gets the dreaded blue screen, so she calls the help desk.  Raymond Gibbons fixes her computer, she asks Raymond if he knows of a good laptop she can buy, but she has an ulterior motive, she wants to do research on her new crush.  She gets the laptop and starts the research right away, she starts learning everything about Johnny through the internet and starts planning where she should meet him.  She tells her mummy about her plan, and mummy encourages it, mummy wants her to meet the right man. Eleanor’s last relationship did not go well.

While leaving work together, Eleanor and Raymond see an old man fall down drunk on the street, and hit his head on the pavement.  Eleanor wants to leave him there with his spilled groceries on the street, to do more research on Johnny, but Raymond encourages her to  keep him talking, which is hard because Eleanor is a social misfit..  She talks to the old drunk, whose name is Sammy, the EMT takes Sammy to the local hospital where he is in a coma, but he comes out of it, and surprise, surprise Eleanor grows fond of Sammy.

The friendship with Sammy also brings her closer to Raymond, who invites Eleanor to meet his mum.  Eleanor and Mrs. Gibbons hit it off too, and she also becomes fast friends with Sammy’s daughter, Laura, who’s a hairdresser and does Eleanor’s hair.  Eleanor’s hair goes from a mousy brown to a trendy blonde.  Eleanor is also dressing better, and giving herself a smoky eye makeover at the Bobbi Brown makeup counter, all with an eye to impressing Johnny, the musician, but the new look also has other benefits, she is suddenly up for a promotion at work and planning the Christmas party.

Does she get up the nerve to meet the musician?

I like this book a lot, some people would derisively call it “chick lit”, that means it’s supposed to be exclusively for women, but that categorization never dissuaded me, one of my favorite books is Jane Eyre, so I plunged right in.  Ms. Honeyman, the author, does a good job of creating a character in Eleanor, who’s an iconoclast, and funny, yet lonely vulnerable and a social neophyte.  If that was the whole book, it would remind me a lot of Bridget Jones.  It does remind me of Bridget Jones for its acerbic humor, but there is much more to this book than an average rom com.

The author does a good job of making Eleanor a sympathetic character, despite the rough edges, so the reader is happy when her social interactions go well, and badly when she stumbles.  Reading this character is like watching a child take its first steps, it’s that visceral a reaction to the character because the author has imbued Eleanor with universal attitudes.  We all feel a bit superior to others at times, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves or others.  We all feel joy when we realize we’ve made a good friend.  We all feel the despair of loneliness.   Eleanor’s mix of confidence and vulnerability make her eminently relatable.

The author sets up three choices for Eleanor, she either doesn’t meet the musician at all, she meets, the musician and it goes well, or she doesn’t meet the musician at all.  It takes Ms. Honeyman a while to get to the more serious issues in this book, but when she gets there, the reader feels the weight of those issues and their effect on Eleanor, it would have been a bit more realistic if those issues were addressed earlier, but it was more dramatic to wait towards the end of the book.

The quibble I have with this book, is that the supporting characters didn’t have enough complexity to them.  While Eleanor had a lot of facets to her personality, Mummy, Raymond, Sammy,  Laura and the musician, are surprisingly one dimensional.  Some of these characters should have had more sides to them.  Humans are complicated beings.

The ending features one more twist, and is surprisingly understated.  I liked the ending.  The book itself a quick read, even when Eleanor’s emotions get complex, the humor makes it an enjoyable read.  Sadly, by the end of her journey, Eleanor loses some of the edge that made her so appealing, and becomes a bit too weepy.

Eleanor Oliphant is Perfectly Fine.  Ignore the Oliphant in the room at your own risk.

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the impossible flight

Two pilots, Andre Borshberg and Bertrand Picard, attempt to fly a solar powered plane around the world.

This is an amazing documentary of an amazing feat.  Engineers built a plane with an enormous wingspan, and they covered the wings in solar panels and connected the solar panels to huge batteries to power this plane.  The viewer looks at this plane and it looks like Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, it’s never going to get off the ground, but it does.  And then the adventure begins, and because it’s so light and aerodynamic , the plane banks like crazy,  so the slightest wind or pilot error can bring it down.  At each stop the solar panels have to be meticulously cleaned and replaced, so the plane gets maximum power generated to each battery, and the weather has to be forecast, not for a few hours but for five days in advance, so the pilots can fly in clear weather, so there’s an immediate sense of adventure, and risk taking that is exhilarating to watch.

Then there are the pilots they argue with the engineers about whether to fly or stay on the ground, and that adds to the suspense.  Picard really wants to fly all the time, he doesn’t seem to value his life or much else, he just wants to fly the plane and get that record.  He’s part PT Barnum, and part pilot, he’s a showman, and promoter, but he also wants to prove that the science works.  He comes off as arrogant, at first, but the more the documentary delves into his background, the more the viewer understands what drives him.  The other pilot, Borshberg is much more laid back, more willing to do the harder flights, like flying over the Pacific, and take the advice of the engineers on the ground, but he also wants to make history with this plane.  The personalities of the pilots especially Picard, adds to the suspense of the documentary.  The result of the flight was well-publicized, but the documentary is still edge of your seat watching.

The visuals were another compelling reason to watch this documentary.  The directors must have used a Go Pro for some of the shots, because the viewers got a look right inside the cockpit.  The aerial shots are also spectacular, the viewers get to see breathtaking aerial views of San Francisco, New York City, and Cairo.

Here’s a fun fact, the character on Star Trek, Jean Luc Picard is patterned after Bertrand Picard’s grandfather.

When all is said and done, this is a documentary about the triumph of the human spirit over all kinds of adversity, pushing the frontiers of science and engineering forward.  In a world filled with bad news this flight, which ended in July 2016, and lasted for 15 months, showed mankind at its imaginative and intuitive best.

The impossible Flight:  Flight the good flight.

 

Kingsman

Eggsy (Taron Edgerton) is firmly ensconced as a member of the Kingsman.  He is being chased by Charlie (Edward Holcroft) who is a disgruntled Kingsman trainee, with a robotic arm.  Charlie fails to take down  Eggsy, but his robotic arm hacks Eggsy’s profile and gains valuable information on the Kingsmen.  Charlie works for an organization called the Golden Circle, a secret organization, headed by Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore) which wants to destroy the  Kingsmen.  With the information Poppy gets from Charlie’s robotic arm, she destroys the Kingmen locations throughout the country.  Only Merlin (Mark Strong) and Eggsy survive, what do the two remaining Kingsmen do with no  headquarters and only two agents?  Who is Poppy Adams, and why is she bent on destruction?

The Golden Circle starts out like many action films often do, with a high octane action sequence.  The movie lags when the exposition begins .  It is shamelessly sentimental, on many fronts, including Harry, Merlin, and   Princess Tilde.  The romance between Tilde and Eggy is so forced and unnatural, that it reminds me of how the two lovers first met, which was the worst part of the first movie.  The movie has a thinly veiled feminist justification for Poppy’s villainy, but it’s poorly thought out and realized. The writing anti-drug-in a passive aggressive way.  There are also more of the stereotypical dumb redneck characters in minor roles and major roles, therefore reinforcing a tired movie trope. Add to that that the movie is too long and way too violent, and the result is a truly boring, often redundant sequel to a passable spy flick.

Taron Edgerton is a good young actor, too good to be trapped in a crap soufflé such as this.  He was excellent in the first Kingsmen movie, as well as Eddie the Eagle, and Sing.  Hopefully he can return to more versatile roles, and can quickly erase this mistake from his resume.  Mark Strong is an established veteran actor, but he is someone who can move from role to role with little damage to his career, so hopefully he too can leave this role in the rearview mirror. I guess Colin Firth ran out of Bridget Jones sequels to make.  Julianne Moore doesn’t exude the kind of joy that is required to play a real evil villain, she seems to be going through the motions.  Channing Tatum cannot act, that doesn’t change by adding a badly executed Southern accent.  Jeff Bridges is misused, and Halle Berry is badly underused. A great cast is badly sabotaged by criminally bad writing.

The director does a good job with the action sequences, but the pacing is really slow in the scenes between, which makes a 2 hour, 20 minute movie into what seems like a never-ending dud.  The overreliance on violence is telling, violence is often a filler in a story when the writers can’t think of actual plot, and this movie is no exception. The choice of music is odd, “Take Me Home Country Roads” is an odd choice for music because it refers to West Virginia, and the American part of the movie is in Kentucky.  There is also another John Denver song in this movie, and a John Denver reference, I don’t really understand the reason for these 1970’s references in a movie almost 50 years later.

Kingsmen:  The Golden Circle.  A royal pain.

Dunkirk

In 1940, thousands of Allied soldiers are pushed back by the Nazis to the city of Dunkirk in France. They are surrounded by German soldiers on all sides, and waiting to be evacuated.  Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) is a British private who survives an ambush attack, he helps get a soldier onto a British hospital ship, which is bombed by the Germans before Tommy gets on and sunk, Tommy saves Alex (Harry Styles) before the hospital ship sinks.  Tommy gets onto a destroyer, which is also sunk by a German U-Boat. A third soldier, Gibson (Aneurin Bernard) saves Tommy and Alex, and they are towed by a rowboat back to shore. Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branaugh ) explains to Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy) that destroyers are too big to aid in the evacuation, and the British Navy has requested civilian vessels to help with the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Gibson, Tommy and Alex make it onboard a trawler and wait for high tide, but when the trawler gets underway questions arise about Gibson.  Is he a spy?

One of the civilian vessels requisitioned by the Navy , Moonshine, is captained by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s friend George (Barry Keoghan) set out for Dunkirk.  On the way, they rescue a shell-shocked solder (James Bloor) from a sunken ship.  When the soldier realizes they are going back to Dunkirk, the soldier objects, does the soldier succeed in turning Moonshine around?

In the air, three Spitfire pilots fly toward France, the squadron leader is shot down soon after their mission begins.  Farrier (Tom Hardy) takes the lead and shoots down several German aircraft, but he realizes that his fuel gauge is broken on his plane, so he has to rely on the third pilot in the squad, Collins (Jack Lowden) to monitor Farrier’s fuel.  Can Farrier adequately protect the requisitioned fleet or any other allied seafaring craft from the Nazi bombing campaign?  Do Farrier and Collins make it back home safely?

Dunkirk is unique in that it is a story told from a perspective before Pearl Harbor Day, most Hollywood movies focus on events after the Americans enter the war, this movie has more of a European perspective to the storytelling.  Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk from three distinct perspectives, the ground, frim the point of view of a private named Tommy, from the sea, from the point of view of a leisure boat captain, named Dawson, and from the air from a Spitfire pilot named Farrier. Christopher Nolan creates a screenplay rife with conflict, one storyline has a man vs. man conflict, another is man vs man and also man vs machine and one storyline is just a commentary about the utility of war. The insight into mankind’s condition when placed in a situation of ultimate stress is what makes this movie interesting, the viewer actually sees how different people react to the threat and reality of a world war..  The endings are realistic, yet satisfying.  Seeing all three subplots play out is what makes the movie so entertaining.

The acting is superb.  Tom Hardy is one of my favorite current actors, he can say a lot without saying, anything, and that’s good because he doesn’t have a heck of a lot of dialogue in this part.  His instruments are failing him, his plane is going to go down, what is he going to do? It’s great acting, when  he can transmit emotion by just letting things happen. James Bloor also does an excellent job in an unlikeable role as the shell-shocked solder.  He conveys the desperation of a man suffering from PTSD well.  Mark Rylance is superb displaying the quiet determination of the captain of a civilian vessel willing to do  his part to aid in the war effort.  Kenneth Branaugh is steady as the man in charge of the docks in Dunkirk. Barry Keoghan is also excellent as George, a teenager who has never done anything noteworthy.  He wants to make his mark in W.W.II.

The direction is electric from the first scene to the last.  The first scene has German propaganda leaflets like rain and sets the mood for the rest of the film.  The audience follows a British private named Tommy, and sees the evacuation from his point of view, that really gets the viewer involved.  Then the viewer sees Mr. Dawson, his son, and George, and then Farrier in the air.  The scenes are intercut so well that no one storyline goes on too long and no other storyline lacks attention.  The dogfight scenes between Farrier and the Germans are exhilarating, and the music by Hans Zimmer made the action pulse forward with incredible urgency. Christopher Nolan as a director, knows how to make his movies visually stimulating, and pace his movies at a breakneck pace. Nolan takes what could have been a dull, dry subject and makes it exciting.

Dunkirk.  Well-done.

lincoln in the bardo

Hans Vollman, Roger Bevins III, and Reverend Everly Thomas are trying to coax Little Willie Lincoln to go with them, away from the Bardo. But Little Willie is waiting for another visit from his father, and feels compelled to stay in the Bardo.  Can Vollman, Bevins, and Reverend Thomas convince Willie to leave the Bardo, even if Reverend Thomas is doubtful about leaving?  What is the Bardo?  And why do Bevins and Vollman want to leave it?

Saunders is trying to create a fictional narrative built around the sickness and eventual death of Willie Lincoln, and intersperses the narrative with historical factoids.  The trouble is, there is not enough history to make this bolter the fictional narrative, and the fictional narrative is incoherent. The historical content actually feels like filler It helps to know what the word bardo means, but only slightly, because the goal of the book is always murky.   Lincoln At The Bardo strives to be the Christmas Carol of historical fiction, but it misses the mark.  Dickens’ characters had a unified purpose; Saunders’ characters seem to be flitting around the ether with no other purpose than to amuse Saunders.

The three men trying to compel Willie to leave the Bardo represent some kind of Greek Chorus, but even  the Greek Chorus does not speak with one voice, and there are other voices which I suppose represent a Vox Popouli, but the voices are so discordant, and there are so many of them, that it’s hard to interpret exactly what the Greek Chorus and the Vox Populi are saying.  Is this a treatise on death?  Is it a treatise on grief?  Is It a treatise on the afterlife?  The narrative is so muddled that it is hard to tell exactly what this book aims to be.  There is a mix of religious philosophies posited in this book and that further muddies the waters.  Tenets of Christianity are mixed with Buddhism and Hinduism, what was Saunders trying to say about religion?  Damned if I know.

Slaves, who played a vital role in gaining their own freedom and ending the Civil War, make a belated appearance in this book, almost as an afterthought, and are characters to be pitied, instead of strong bold characters, fighting for their freedom.   This book, while supposedly trying to be historically accurate, does a historical disservice to black men and women who fought for their freedom during the Civil War and before.  There is some kind of a twist ending, but it shouldn’t really come as a surprise to the reader, if he or se is paying attention.  The book limps to an ending, which adds to the malaise I felt for this book.

Lincoln In The Bardo: Don’t belly up to the Bardo for this book.

wind river

Corey Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is an animal tracker, living near a Native American reservation in Wind River Wyoming.  Corey is divorced from his Native American wife, Wilma (Julia Jones) and planning to spend the day visiting his son, Casey. (Teo  Briones) While tracking a lion, Casey finds a girl who has been raped and murdered. Casey knows the girl, Natalie, (Kelsey Asbille) Natalie was friends with Casey’s daughter, who also died under mysterious circumstances.  An F.B.I. agent named Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) is called in to investigate the crime because it occurs on federal land,, but the coroner, Dr. Whitehurst (Eric Lange) rules the death resulted from hypothermia.   Corey and Jane then have to prove that Natalie was murdered.  They ask Natalie’s parents, and get nowhere.  They proceed to ask Natalie’s brother Chip (Martin Sensmeir) and he gives them the name of Natalie’s boyfriend, Matt. (Jon Barenthal)  Do  Casey and Jane find Matt?   Does that lead to Natalie’s murderer?

Wind River should have been a taut thriller with a murder mystery to resolve, but what it became was a fish out of water story about an FBI agent from Florida trying to solve an apparent murder on an Indian reservation in Wyoming, and because she doesn’t know the culture or customs of the native people, there are a lot of awkward silences between her and the victim’s family and friends.  Casey finds himself manslplaining to Jane what it takes to track down clues in the wilderness of Wyoming. The outsider theme overtakes the movie and subordinates the murder mystery, and the mysteries surrounding Casey.  The murder is resolved to quickly and easily, and the ending falls flat, it is also awash in violence, a lot of which could have been avoided.

Jeremy Renner is actually good in this film, for the first time since The Hurt Locker, I enjoyed seeing Jeremy Renner in a film.  He should stick to these small,  indie type films, he’s not an action star, he’s proven that in his roles in the Mission Impossible, Avengers, and Bourne film, the kind of low-key character he plays here is more his style.  The problem with this film is casting Elizabeth Olsen as Jane the FBI agent, everyone else in this movie is trying to play a character here and she is just playing herself, there is nothing there, no emotion, no energy, just a flat, monotone reading of a script.  There is no chemistry of any kind with Renner, they’re not friends, co-workers, they’re like strangers who don’t like each other, but are forced to work together, and I don’t think that was purposeful.  Graham Greene was great as the tribal policeman Ben, Greene gives Ben an easygoing wit and charm that lesser actors wouldn’t have.

The direction, which has been lauded by many critics is nothing special to me, the pacing is very slow, except when the ominous background music swells, that is a tip off that something suspenseful is about to happen.  There is nothing visually arresting in this film, and first time director Taylor Sheridan should have taken more advantage of those surroundings.  Sheridan wrote Sicario, which I did not like, and Hell or High Water, which I have not seen.

Wind River:  Full of hot air.

the last jedi

General Hux (Domhall Gleeson) launches an attack to wipe out the last of the resistance fleet, but Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) launches a counterattack that disables a dreadnaught, one of the First Order’s most powerful ships.  The counterattack is a costly one and Poe disobeyed Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) orders not to attack the ship, so Leia demotes Poe.  Leia is injured in a subsequent attack and hands power to Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) who proceeds to retreat out of range of the First Order’s ship, but Hux’s ship can track the Resistance ship, even in hyperspace, and the resistance ship is running low on fuel, so time is running out for the resistance.

Finn (John Boyega) wants to escape the ship and find Rey, (Daisy Ridley) but he is stopped by Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) Rose’s sister, Paige, (Veronica Ngo) was killed in an initial attack on the dreadnaught, so Rose takes her resistance role seriously.  Rose and Finn figure out how to disable the tracking device, but Maz Kenata (Lupita N’yongo) suggests that they need a master codebreaker, so they travel to the Canto Bright casino to find the codebreaker.

Meanwhile Rey finds Luke (Mark Hamill) on the island of Ahch To, where he is on self-imposed exile. While on the island, Rey is discovering her powers within the force. Luke is disillusioned with being a Jedi, because of his inability to train Kylo, and does not want to give Rey the training she desires.  She is also using her powers to hear the voice of Kylo Ren (Adam  Driver) Kylo is trying to bring Rey to the dark side, Rey sees  the conflict in Kylo’s heart and tries to pull him over to the side of the resistance.  Who wins the mental tug of war?  Kylo or Rey?  Does Luke train Rey? Do Rose and Finn find the codebreaker?

There’s a lot to like about the new Star Wars movie, the Kylo/Rey/Luke storyline is probably the most interesting.  Luke is probably more interesting as a character than he’s ever been, because he’s conflicted. The Rose/Finn casino storyline falls flat, because it’s just silly, it’s as if Casino Royale breaks out during a Star Wars movie. Admiral Holdo is one of the worst characters ever written, she orders people around, doesn’t explain her plan, and gets things mansplained by Poe.  It’s an insult to women everywhere. DJ, the codebreaker is one of the few new characters that works in this film.  But the movie doesn’t end when it should, and the movie limps to an end, and I never thought I’d say that about any Star Wars movie. Despite all the problems with plot and character, the movie works, primarily because of the intensity of the Kylo/Rey/Luke storyline.

The acting varies greatly.  Daisy Ridley is a great actress, there’s something about her eyes and face, that makes the viewer want to watch her.   Adam Driver is superb as Kylo Ren, he brings an intensity to the role that fits the character to a tee.  John Boyega’s role is a little less central to the movie, but he brings the same enthusiasm to his role.  Oscar Issac has a lot of magnetism to the role of Poe, but the script shoots him down several times, and he’s not allowed to show Poe as the daring flyboy he is. I wish Mark Hamill was a better actor, because this version of Luke Skywalker is almost Shakespearean in its complexity.  Unfortunately, Hamill  is not up to the challenge.  Kelly Marie Tran plays Rose like a lovesick teenager, and has no chemistry with John Boyega.  But Laura Dern gives the worst performance in this movie by far, she plays an unlikeable person with no emotion at all, which makes a boring character even more boring.

Riann Johnson is a good director, I liked Looper, I didn’t especially like The Brothers Bloom.  He keeps the pacing going well, I would have cut the casino scene entirely, and worked on another scene to get Rose and Finn together.  People can differ about the casino scene, but I absolutely blame Riann Johnson for not being able to decide on an ending, he actually wrote the perfect ending, but he didn’t end the movie there, he ended the movie much later than he should have.  Also, as director, he didn’t bring the disparate subplots together in time to tell the story in a cohesive manner.

Star Wars:  The Last Jedi:  A flawed tour-de force.