Saturday, November 3, 2012

Random Reviews - November 3, 2012

Young Hearts Crying, Richard Yates, 1984

This was a book recommended to me by my wife who has read all of Yates' work.  Yates is known widely for his book Revolution Road, made recently into a film directed by Sam Mendes.  This is a powerful and gritty book about the marriage and divorce of Michael and Lucy Davenport.  It spans almost forty years, beginning with Lucy and Michael's meeting at Harvard and their marriage in the 1940s, ending somewhere in the late 1970s.  The novel's twist is that Lucy comes from money and has inherited 3 million dollars.  But Michael refuses to live the life of a wealthy couple, and decides they should live by everyday means.  This is because Michael is an aspiring poet and believes that wealth will distract his passion and imagination as a writer.  This is a brilliant move on the part of Yates, because it directly taps into the novel's emotional realism about creativity and the struggle of the everyday, something one would likely find in the works of Charles Bukowski.

 Young Hearts Crying has similarities to the emotional experience of watching a John Cassavetes film.  Yates' minimalist and Hemingway-ish dialogue is pungent and hits you right in the gut, so to speak. The dialogue also indicates the novel's passage of time.  For example, you can hear Michael's dialogue changing as he becomes older.  I also could not help noticing how many moments in the novel are reminiscent of the character Pete Campbell from the show Mad Men.  One wonders how much inspiration Matthew Weiner may have gotten from Yates's work?   

Michael and Lucy have their own separate stories after their divorce, as they each try to pick up the pieces and carry on with their lives.  Part of their struggles stem from the desire to create, whether its Michael hyper-focusing over one line of dialogue in his poem, or Lucy seeking approval for her paintings from her neighbor and artist Nelson.  Like the book itself, its about tapping into those deep emotions and trying to find the right word or image to convey expressions of loneliness, melancholy or frustration.

The Watchmen, 2009, Zak Synder

Watchmen has had a long history in Hollywood.  It was acquired by Hollywood in the late 1980s, and a number of directors have been attached to the project, including Terry Gilliam.  I even purchased a copy of the screenplay in the late 1990s from a nascent eBay.  When I finally heard the film was actually in production, and then saw a trailer in 2008, I was quite eager to see how director Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead, 300, Sucker Punch) would adapt what many have called the "Citizen Kane" of comic books to the screen.

Snyder compacts twelve chapters of Watchmen into roughly a three hour film.  The set design and art direction of the film are magnificent.  The film's use of colors and light, in many ways, reminded me of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange.  I would even go as far as to add that the film has a sort of surrealistic quality.  I also love how Snyder incorporates popular music as part of the score.  Rorschach, played by Jackie Earle Haley, is fantastic and has a Taxi Driver/Travis Bickle-like quality.  As a side note, I highly recommend reading Rorschach's back story in Before The Watchmen, written by Brian Azzarello, writer of 100 Bullets.

Many reviews for Watchmen have not been ethuastic.  Yet, I believe that as time passes,  Watchmen will be considered a significant film in the cannon of the comic book film genre.  Putting that aside, Watchmen, as a graphic novel, is arguably an important work of literature of the twentieth century.  Overall, I think the film is quite entertaining and something of a tour de force for its tone, art, and set design.

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