Starting December 3rd, the ebook editions of the following 11 of my novels will have a new lower, very sweet price just in time for Christmas, New Year’s and into 2014! They’re going from $4.99 to $2.99 in an effort to make them more affordable for a wider audience. I do love these stories and I continue to hear from readers who are discovering them for the first time, as well as from those who go back to them for a re-read whenever they need a smile.
So….on 12/3, look for price reductions at all e-tailers (Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo) on Best Enemies.…
The novels aren’t part of a series and they aren’t the stuff of serious literature, but they’re smart, sassy romantic comedies with an element of suspense (sometimes there’s a murder, sometimes not), and they’re all about relationships, whether between a couple in love, a pair of sisters or a mother and daughter. And they’re all meant to take readers away from their daily grind and offer up some laughs. There’s never been a better time to try one!
Today was a treat: the first “public” showing of the film, which won’t be released until mid-December. It’s full of the same high-octane energy that fueled director David O Russell’s last two movies, “The Fighter” and “Silver Linings Playbook,” and it features many of the same cast members: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert DeNiro. But “American Hustle,” while also about flawed characters you come to care about and root for, is much more ambitious in its canvas. Very loosely based on the ABSCAM investigations of the late ’70s and early ’80s, it’s about a bunch of con artists and FBI officers who work together to bring down corrupt politicians and mob casino bosses, among others.
Brilliant con man Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) is married to his completely unpredictable wife Rosalind (Jennifer Lawrence) and is a loving father to their son in their Long Island home. At the same time, he’s madly in love with and in cahoots with with the equally cunning – and very sexy – Sydney (Amy Adams). They’re forced to work for a wild and crazy FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), who pushes them into a world of Jersey powerbrokers and mafia that’s as dangerous as it is alluring. From the opening scene, in which we meet the fat (you should see that gut!), balding (you should see that combover!) Irving, I kept thinking Is that really Christian Bale???? Talk about throwing himself into a role. He’s almost unrecognizable and so, so good. After watching him last weekend in “Out of the Furnace” and thinking back on his other performances, I’m really thinking he’s one of the greatest actors we have right now. He’s a total shape-shifter in this movie.
As I said above, the energy throughout is high and the cons just keep making your head spin, and it’s not always easy to keep up with who’s conning whom and why. But my biggest problem with the film, which I mostly liked, was its nonstop decibel level. And by that I mean that everybody’s always yelling. Like in almost every scene. About half way into the movie, I had sensory overload and the movie exhausted me. I would have loved a few scenes of quiet, of reflection, of toned down acting.
I still haven’t seen my “Best Movie of the Year.” I’ve seen a lot of good ones but not The One. I’m hoping it’s still out there.
I love the Coen brothers’ movies, so I figured I’d be in for an entertaining, if quirky, couple of hours at today’s Cinema Society screening. “Inside Llewyn Davis” was just that – entertaining and quirky – but also superbly acted and interwoven with the sort of ’60s coffee-house, pre-Dylan folk music that’s long vanished from the music scene.
Set in New York City in 1961, Llewyn (Oscar Isaac) is a failed musician who’s sleeping on friends’ couches and wandering the streets and subways looking hapless in between the occasional gig. One friend (Justin Timberlake) is more successful and is married to a woman (Carey Mulligan) whom Llewyn may or may not have knocked up. Another friend is a professor at Columbia whose cat Llewyn mistakenly allows to escape its Upper West Side apartment. Llewyn is lost, emotionally detached from everything and everyone, except when he plays his guitar and sings and then he comes alive. The trouble is no one wants to hear him/pay him.
There’s a sequence involving a road trip with the always hilarious John Goodman, but this isn’t a particularly funny movie. It’s a character study of a man who strives for authenticity in his music and can’t find acceptance. I can’t say it was one of my favorite Coen Brothers films – it’s about a sad sack, after all, and the song lyrics are all gloom and doom – but the performances were uniformly great. In the Q&A after the screening with star Oscar Isaac and music producer T. Bone Burnett, we learned that all the singing was shot live – we’re talking about entire, three-minute songs, not snippets – and that Isaac had to learn real guitar picking for the role. Carey Mulligan, who seems to be able to pull off any sort of role that’s thrown at her, is utterly believable as a New York folkie (who knew she could sing).
Quite a few of my friends didn’t like the movie at all and while it’s true that the story doesn’t really go anywhere, as T. Bone Burnett pointed out, neither do folk songs. They start and end with the first verse, and so does “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
In all the flurry about seeing movies this pre-Oscar season, I neglected to post about how much I loved – no, revered – Donna Tartt’s new novel, her first in 10 years. The hubbub surrounding “The Goldfinch”‘s publication, combined with its 800+-page length made me wary of diving in, but once I did I was hooked. I can’t even write about the novel because I’m afraid of sounding pedestrian when compared to Tartt’s gift with language; it’s gorgeous.
Suffice it to say, “The Goldfinch” is a mesmerizing, Dickensian, utterly enveloping tale, set over the course of many years, about a Manhattan boy who loses his mother in a violent tragedy, is orphaned, takes up with a cast of exquisitely interesting characters (especially a risk-taking Russian boy with a heart of gold) and nearly dies before deciding not to. The story is about love lost and never quite regained, about survival, about friendship, about art and its power to uplift and transform. I can’t rave about this book enough without sounding like I’m getting paid to do it. I only know I can’t wait for it to settle in my mind a bit more so I can dive back in and read it again.
Talk about taking control of your acting career and going for parts that veer off from your romantic leading man persona. That’s what Matthew McConaughey has done lately as evidenced by his fine work in “Magic Mike,” “Mud” and now “Dallas Buyers Club.” Not that I didn’t love him in all those rom coms, but now he’s Oscar bait.
He steals the show in his latest – a not-great-movie that’s based on the true story of Ron Woodroof, a rodeo-riding, homophobic, drug-and-sex-addicted party boy who’s diagnosed with HIV and given 30 days to live. At first he takes AZT, the only FDA-approved drug for the virus at the time, and it nearly kills him. Then he goes to Mexico for treatment (his doctor there is played by a very good Griffin Dunne) and smuggles back non-approved anti-viral, alternative medications and sells them in partnership with a transvestite played by Jared Leto, whose performance should earn him a Best Supporting Actor nod. Jennifer Garner has the thankless role of a kindly doctor in Dallas who tries to help.
The movie is mostly about Ron’s gradual acceptance of (or at least tolerance for) gays and he does try to make a difference. It’s just hard to tell how much of his supposed altruism is about making money, getting back at the FDA/government or saving lives. Also there’s no real dramatic arc to the story. It sort of goes along in chronological order with each sequence lasting too long and feeling repetitive of the one that went before. We see Ron either having wild, pornographic sex numerous times or traveling to and from various countries in search of the alternative drugs – yet another case of a director who can’t seem to edit or build to any sort of climax.
Still, McConaughey famously lost a ton of weight for the role and his gaunt appearance is not only haunting but makes him disappear entirely into the character. As I watched him for two hours, I completely forgot about the hunk in “The Wedding Planner.” He was Ron Woodroof and made the movie worth seeing.
What a concept! A funny, poignant, honest movie about a 58-year-old divorcee who isn’t try to look and act like she’s 20! She’s lonely and goes looking for love and finds it, loses it, deals with the ups and downs of her grown children, has a bipolar neighbor whose ugly cat is always finding its way into her apartment, suffers the indignities of having a middle-aged body, enjoys the company of her close friends…..in other words, she lives a real life!
It figures that such a movie would have to come from another country (in this case, Chile), since American studios would never make a film like “Gloria,” but thankfully director Sebastian Lelio wanted to tell a story about his mother and her generation of women. And he handpicked the actress he wanted for the role, as he explained last night at our Cinema Society screening. She was Chile’s popular Paulina Garcia, who won the Best Actress award at the Berlin Festival this year and who is one of the most winning screen presences I’ve seen in a long time.
There are too many needlessly slow sequences, longer-than-necessary shots of Garcia driving in the car, sitting and staring into the void, and the director, like many young directors these days, seems to have fallen in love with his own images (where are the editors on these films?), but “Gloria” is a charming film that was a big crowd favorite last night.
Scott Cooper’s first directorial effort was “Crazy Heart,” which won Jeff Bridges an Oscar. His sophomore project is “Out of the Furnace,” which Cinema Society screened for us today and which opens next month. It could have garnered a nomination for Christian Bale if the Best Actor field weren’t so crowded this year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Best Supporting nom for Casey Affleck though.
Set in the depressed (and depressing) steel mill town of Braddock, PA, the story focuses on two brothers. Russell, Bale’s character, works hard at the mill, knowing his days there are numbered since the mill will be closing and the jobs moved to China. Rodney (Affleck) has done numerous tours of duty in Iraq and is floundering. He doesn’t want to work at the mill, doesn’t seem to be able to stay out of trouble either. He gets lured into a truly demonic drugs-and-fighting ring led by Woody Harrelson in one of his crazy-guy roles. Woody’s gang is headquartered over the NJ border in the type of mountain area that’s straight out of “Deliverance” or “Winter’s Bone.” We’re talking about creeps and lowlifes here. The fight scenes are bloody and the violence overall pretty gruesome; some at the screening walked out of the theater. The story is dark and not terribly enlightening and the ending is yet another one of those ambiguous ones that left us scratching our heads, but I loved the acting (Sam Shepard, Zoe Saldana, Forest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe round out the cast) and the sense that I was watching a throwback to films from the ’70s like “The Deer Hunter.”
The movie generated some buzz at the festivals earlier in the year, but I just don’t see it vaulting into the top tier of must-see films. Still, I recommend it for Bale and Affleck. Affleck, who came to the screening for a Q&A along with director Scott Cooper, continues to mature as an actor, and Bale is incapable of giving a bad performance; I couldn’t take my eyes off him.
Our Cinema Society here in Santa Barbara wasn’t showing either of the above, so Michael and I decided to do a double feature and go to the “regular” theaters to see them. If only I could say I came away from those hours in the dark feeling as if it had been time well spent. I was disappointed in both films.
In director Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” Chiwetel Ejofor plays Solomon, a free black man living in Saratoga, NY with his wife and two children in the 1800s, earning what appears to be a very good living as a talented musician. They dress well, live in a lovely house and are treated as respected citizens by the white members of the community – until Solomon is tricked into performing out of town and ends up being kidnapped by slave traders and sold to two plantation owners in Georgia. It’s at the second of the two plantations where he suffers the worst of the unspeakable episodes of brutality and degradation. Michael Fassbender, chewing the scenery but impossible to look away from, plays more than your basic heartless guy; he’s nuts and justifies his actions through the Bible. He’s also got the hots for one of the slave girls, and his wife, a wonderfully chilling Sarah Paulson, has a jealous streak that leads to more unspeakable cruelty. We wait and hope and wait some more for Solomon to be rescued and returned to his family, which he ultimately is. We know this because the real Solomon lived to write the book on which the movie is based and he became a well known activist.
The problem is that Steve McQueen takes his time getting us to the finish line. There are endless closeups of Solomon’s face that made me want to scream, “We get it! Move on!” Ejofor is very good in the role, no doubt about it, but I didn’t need to spend whole minutes on his every twitch and quiver. I guess that was my overall problem with the film: I felt hit over the head with a hammer. Points that could have easily been made in less time were dragged out. The story is such a horrific one on its own that it would have had more impact if it had been treated more subtly. I expected to be sobbing at the end when Solomon is reunited with his family, but I was oddly dry-eyed. “12 Years a Slave” is a noble effort but it missed being a great film.
After a short break – I went across the street from the theater and bought a pair of jeans – it was back to the dark and “All Is Lost,” where Michael was waiting with great excitement. An avid sailor, he couldn’t wait to see Robert Redford alone at sea on a sailboat for two hours with almost no dialogue. Me? Not so much, but the movie did get rapturous reviews and director J.C. Chandor had a hit with “Margin Call” and Redford has been lauded for the “performance of a lifetime.” So I buckled in.
I quickly wanted to unbuckle. “All Is Lost” is like “Gravity” in the Indian Ocean: a survival story. (Well, for that matter, “12 Years a Slave” is a survival story too. It must be the season.) I detested Redford’s character from the get go. We hear his voiceover in what is presumably a goodbye letter to his family – an acknowledgement that he won’t make it. He apologizes for vague mistakes over the years and says, “I’m sorry. I’ll miss you.” No “I love you.” That pissed me off. Then, once we go back eight days in time, we see that his boat has been struck by a container ship and there’s big trouble for him as his cabin fills with water and his electrical systems fail. He seems more irritated than concerned. He sets about trying to keep the boat and himself afloat. He repairs the hole. He climbs the mast. He tries to fix the radio. He keeps himself fed and hydrated (I laughed when he sat down in the middle of all this chaos and ate a meal of pasta with a knife and fork). He even shaves while the boat is being tossed about.
Eventually, he utters the F-word and we can see him becoming a bit untethered. The ending is deliberately obscure – another one of those let’s-leave-it-to-the-audience-to-figure-it-out things. Or maybe Michael just saw it that way. I felt there was no ambiguity at all about what happens to Redford’s character but that’s art for you.
Afterwards, Michael explained to me all the reasons that the movie was preposterous from a sailing point of view, so maybe that colored my opinion of it. As a non-sailor, I had problems of my own with it. I kept wondering what the hell a man in his 70s was doing sailing around the world by himself in a 39-foot sailboat. If he’s so wealthy, why doesn’t he have state-of-the-art electronic equipment on board instead of that cheesy radio? If he’s such an experienced sailor, why does he seem so surprised every time there’s a storm? Blah blah. I didn’t mind the lack of dialogue – it was actually a pleasure to have a quiet movie for a change. What I couldn’t shake off was my inability to care what becomes of our hero. It wasn’t Redford’s fault; he played the character as written. I just didn’t care.
Director Alexander Payne of “Sideways,” “About Schmidt” and “The Descendents” fame, is getting raves for his latest festival darling, “Nebraska,” and particularly for the performance of star Bruce Dern, who’s being talked about as a Best Actor Oscar contender. I’ve always thought Dern was a compelling actor (his role in “Coming Home” still haunts me), so I’m glad he’s getting his due. But after seeing the film at today’s Cinema Society screening, I’m thinking it’s June Squibb, who plays the wife of Dern’s character, who’ll more likely walk off with a statuette for Best Supporting Actress. She’s terrific.
The movie is yet another road trip from Payne, this one about an alcoholic with some level of dementia (Dern) who’s convinced he won a million dollars after getting the standard Publishers Clearing House-type letter in the mail – the sort of letter only meant to make you buy magazines. His younger son, played by former SNL comedian Will Forte in a surprising dramatic role, begrudgingly drives Dad to Lincoln, Nebraska to “claim” his jackpot but really just to humor the guy and possibly have one last chance to bond with him. The film was shot in black and white, and the cinematography of the rural Midwestern landscape is beautiful. Payne used both actors and locals for a combination of some of the great screen faces you’ll ever see – those “lost” people who are living lives of quiet desperation.
There are comical moments along with the more poignant ones and they’re very welcome. I found the pace a bit slow, but I was persuaded by my friends that that’s how things are in the Midwest. Is Dern this year’s Best Actor? Too soon to say since I haven’t seen many of the other big movies yet. He’s very good, if one note, but I did appreciate how easy it would have been for him to overact the part and he didn’t; I was never conscious of his “acting.”
“Nebraska” was definitely worth seeing, and I enjoyed hearing Forte and Squibb discussing their roles during the Q&A. Forte seemed genuinely thrilled and humbled to have found himself in an Alexander Payne movie, and Squibb is just a firecracker. Loved her.
For some reason I avoided Meg Wolitzer’s bestselling novel. I like her writing a lot, and I’d certainly read wonderful reviews of her latest book. I guess it was the idea of the story – that a group of kids at an artsy summer camp in the 1970s would call themselves “The Interestings,” It felt smug and turned me off.
But as my business trip to Arkansas approached, I realized I didn’t have plane reading for my Kindle so I went on Amazon, found the book and hit “Buy.” I was pleasantly surprised and found myself completely immersed in the story, couldn’t stop reading and finished it this weekend. I don’t know how Wolitzer managed to juggle such a large cast of characters over such a sweeping period of time and make each one so multi-layered, but she did.
I loved reading about these people and their lives – from their teenage years through their 20s and into their 50s. Jules is the awkward one who wants to be an actress/comedienne but doesn’t have the talent, settling for a career as a therapist in New York, married to Dennis, an ultrasound technician, envying her more exceptional summer camp friends. Ash is the beautiful, delicate one, raised by parents to excel. Her brother Goodman is the charismatic screw-up, believing he’s exceptional but acting like a pain in the ass and never getting his act together. Jonah, the son of a famous bohemian folk singer, is the sensitive, unknowable one whose musical talent was suppressed during his youth by an unscrupulous father-figure. And Ethan is the genius cartoonist, unattractive physically but so talented and ethical that people are drawn to him and his wealth and power.
This core group moves through many time periods and passages, and Wolitzer gets all the background details just right. She presents their dramas in a way that allows them to take their turns telling the story but she maintains a third person narrative voice. Not easy to do. When I got to the last page, I was sorry the novel was over: the mark of a very good book.
If it’s rolling around in my head, it’ll find its way here – from what I’m writing, reading and watching to what and who makes me laugh. Also look for news of upcoming projects, answers to readers' questions, even recipes from friends!