Monday, September 30, 2013

Samuel Johnson Prize 2013 Shortlist

We are well into Award Season now, so yet another shortlist of books nominated for a prize has just been announced; the one for the 2013 Samuel Johnson Prize, which is very special in a way, since it doesn't include any fiction titles among the contenders. The winner will be revealed on November the 4th. You can see the shortlisted books below:

David Crane - Empires of the Dead
William Dalrymple - Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan
Dave Goulson - A Sting in the Tale
Charlotte Higgins - Under Another Sky
Lucy Hughes-Hallett - The Pike
Charles Moore - Margaret Thatcher

Monday, September 23, 2013

10 Favorite Movies

This is in no way a definitive list. I’ve watched too many good movies over the years and as you can very well understand it’s next to impossible to include them all in a list. I could include them in many lists though and that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Movies have changed a lot in the last few years, especially the ones made in the US. We live in a technology and effects driven universe, where the magical word is an acronym, CGI. But, we also live in a world in which some of the best story-telling takes place on TV. So, it would be a mistake not to create a list consisting of favorite TV shows as well; a mistake I do not intend to make. But, for the time being, that will have to wait.

Here’s my list of ten favorite movies, part 1:

1.    The Lord of the Rings trilogy (extended version). When I think about these movies only one word comes to mind: outstanding. Peter Jackson did an amazing job with the material, while some of the actors gave some of their best performances on the big screen. The sets, the music and the cinematography were simply brilliant and they really did the book justice. Perhaps I’ll write a separate article about these films in the near future.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

2.    Face/Off. The greatest action film ever made, at least according to me. From the scenario to the directing, from the acting to the action sequences this was truly an amazing piece of work. Both John Travolta and Nicolas Cage where amazing, their Mexican standoff carried the term to a new level, and the scene with the boy listening to “Wonderful World”, with bullets flying all around is one that sticks to mind. John Woo has brought action magic to the west.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

3.    Old Boy. It took me a long time to watch this movie and when I finally did (while waiting for my connecting flight at an airport) I came to realize why everyone I’ve ever met said good things about it. In this movie there’s a little bit of everything: great drama, a few laughs, lots of action, some sex and truly damaged characters. If this was written by someone in the west a happy ending would be hard to avoid. But, I’m afraid that, despite the Forrest Gump wisdom, life is not a box of chocolates.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

4.    Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen is one of my favorite cinematographers. He’s clever and funny and when he was younger he could really act well. In this movie he doesn’t act, he just writes and directs and he does a great job. Part nostalgic and part romantic this story is all about Paris. But it’s also about authors and literature, and about someone following his dreams in life. Owen Wilson gives a quiet, convincing performance that’s miles away from his other roles. He seems to feel very comfortable in his Woody Allen shoes, and that’s good for him.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

5.    Shinjuku Incident. I know that the selection of this movie will come as a surprise to many, but the truth is that in my eyes Jackie Chan is one of the best actors that ever walked the face of earth. He’s good at action, great at comedy and simply incredible when it comes to drama. He can act with his whole body, and as someone who doesn’t need the help of stuntmen to pull off a trick or take part in an action scene, he’s way better than any actor in the west. The movie at hand is a drama, but his performance is a wonder.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

6.    All About My Mother. Pedro Almodóvar is one of those directors that are more interested in telling a story than impressing the viewer. Some of these stories are hilarious, and some are bound to make you cry. But, stories they are; with a beginning, a middle and an ending. This is a tender tale that’s even managed to impress the members of the Academy and thus became an Oscar winner. Watch and feel.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

7.    Ghost in the Shell. An animated movie from Japan that will take your breath away. If you liked watching the Matrix probably you’ll love this predecessor. The Wachowskis’ definitely borrowed things from this amazing movie, that’s full of action and philosophy, and which when it comes to sci-fi is one of its greatest gems. I am certain that once you watch this film, your perception about action films and animation in the western world will change, though not in a good way. And what’s even better is that there is a sequel to feed your hunger; Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, as well as some episodes from an animated TV series.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

8.    Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Vampires have gone mainstream these days. They are everywhere; on TV, in lots and lots of books and of course on the big screen. Vampires sell, but today’s versions of them are somewhat mellowed, or the actors that are playing them are not up to the task. In Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola gave us one of his best movies. In here there’s the perfect mix of drama, action, humor, sound and cinematography, while the performances are absolutely brilliant.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

9.    Benny & Joon. Now, this a movie that not many people would expect to see in this list, and yet here it is. Johnny Depp gives one of the best performances of his career in a movie that’s quiet and deeply human. Here the world’s favorite pirate acts with his whole body, as a Buster Keaton of the modern age, and his character gives the heroine an invaluable gift; the gift of love.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

10.    Avatar. I have to be one of the few people in the world that think that the Titanic is a mediocre movie. However, when it comes to Avatar I think it’s one of the best I have ever seen. And it’s not only the animation that excites me; it’s the whole concept. This is one of those movies that make you dream; that take away all your troubles and for a little while let you inhabit a different, magical world. Great images, amazing story, a movie for the ages and for all ages.

Links: IMDB, Wikipedia

Friday, September 20, 2013

The 2013 National Book Award Longlists

The 2013 National Book Award Longlists were announced yesterday. Below you'll find the selected titles in the fiction category. If you want to view the full lists you can visit the official site. The shortlist is expected to be revealed by October 16 and the winners on November 20.

Tom Drury - Pacific
Elizabeth Graver - The End of the Point
Rachel Kushner - The Flamethrowers
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Anthony Marra - A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
James McBride - The Good Lord Bird
Alice McDermott - Someone
Thomas Pynchon - Bleeding Edge
George Saunders - Tenth of December
Joan Silber - Fools

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Man Booker Shortlist 2013

The shortlist for the Man Booker Prize has been announced today. According to the bookies the favorite book to win is Jim Crace's Harvest. One way or another the winner, who will receive £50,000, will be announced on the 15th of October. Here's the shortlist:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Harvest by Jim Crace

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (read my review here)

Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review: The Ostracism of Ophelia by Claire Fitzpatrick

The Ostracism of Ophelia by Claire Fitzpatrick is one of those novels that can make the reader feel more than simple sympathy for its heroes. It’s a story about pain and sorrow, hope and despair, love and forgiveness. And it’s also a story about crime and punishment.

Ophelia, William, Wren and Casper, the main protagonists, are damaged souls. They are young, they seem to have a bright future ahead of them, yet their everyday lives are bleak, bathed in despair, haunted by a past that just won’t let them make their dreams come true and fulfill their potential.

Good and evil seem to walk hand in hand in this story; no one is a really good person or a completely bad one. However, they are not ordinary in any way — they may do ordinary things every now and then, but that’s about it. What are they? They are young people who are trying hard to escape their demons, to travel like lucky Alice to Wonderland. Will they ever make it there? And if they do, how, and what will they find?

I wish that I could say that their story resembled a fairy tale, but it doesn’t. The heros live in a cruel world, and try to survive by taking difficult decisions and making hard choices. They read a bit, they play music, they take drugs, they hide in their secret garden and they create an unimaginable plot in order to escape their reality and also save one of them from her own self.

Sometimes their actions are cruel, and sometimes they are very kind; most of the times their bond seems unbreakable though every now and then they somehow drift apart. They look and act as if they belong together, but at the same time it seems that their meeting was not planned by some gods but rather by the devil. As the reader follows the paths of their lives, he finds himself in their shoes; he empathizes with them; he can feel their pain and he has no choice but to feel sorry for them.

If it wasn’t for the light touches of humour and the special moments of magic that can be found throughout the text this would be a bleak novel indeed. But instead this book is simply a great read. However, it’s not only the aforementioned elements that make it a good novel; it’s also the intricate plot and the well-crafted timeline, and finally the writing itself. Going through these pages one can find pure reading joy, and bathe himself in emotions; happy and sad. This is not a story for the fainthearted, but it is a story for those who have a big heart.