‘Manchester By The Sea’: Review

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Grief and despair are so often chronicled by film and television because it’s an easy way to elicit emotions in characters and thus trigger a reaction in the audience. Nowadays we’re so brainwashed into what we think this means when watching it portrayed in media where everything has to be overdramatized to further stress a point to make sure its intent is 100% coming across. Nine times out of ten, in real life, things aren’t that cut and dry and it isn’t so easy to explain motivations behind actions and reasons behind emotions. Manchester By The Sea knows all of this and infuses it into every scene, making every frame of the film resonate in its real world fidelity.

Manchester By The Sea is a raw nerve of a film led by Case Affleck’s frayed end. Casey Affleck is a mind-blowingly good actor who plays sullen and downtrodden like it’s his life’s work (I guess because it pretty much is). Somehow after all this time and after amazing performance after amazing performance it still feels like Affleck is undervalued, under-appreciated and underrated, but with this latest performance he aims to put all that in the past.

Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a tired of life janitor doing the minimum to get by, who’s forced back into his old life and former town after his brother dies and leaves custody of his son to Lee. As the film unfolds you see exactly why Lee had such a hard break from his former life, a mind-numbing tragedy that leaves Lee barely able to function mentally at times and leaves him in a pseudo state of paralyzed despair. Of course Lee and his nephew Patrick have different ideas on how this guardianship thing will work out, with Lee wanting to cut bait from town as soon as possible and bring Patrick back to Boston, but with Patrick not wanting to leave town. We’ve seen this story thousands of times before, two opposing forces with opposite goals who of course will come together in the end in solid unity, expect that doesn’t happen here, because Manchester By The Sea doesn’t do things how movies typically do. Try as he might, Lee is too crippled by his former life, the memories, his walking tragic reminder of an ex-wife, to competently give Patrick the life and parenting that a teenager needs. Instead, Patrick stays in Manchester-by-the-sea (the town its set in and obviously the film is named after) and Lee goes back to his old life. Even back in Boston with the small tethers of his previous life rattling around in his brain, it’s too much for him to handle and something he can’t, and won’t, let be inflicted on another person.

Nothing wraps up neatly in the film, as most things don’t in real life, there’s no grand reunions, reconciliations, understandings or rekindling of relationships, it’s just a reshuffling of the deck. Kenneth Lonergan directs an open wound of a film that is expertly prodded by the damaged souls of Affleck as Lee, Michelle Williams as his ex-wife and Lucas Hedges as Patrick. It’s a film that isn’t interested in how things have been done, but in how things are done, no matter how sloppy, messy and anticlimactic it might be, because that’s where true raw emotion is found, in the places that people don’t want to look.

WCW Monday Nitro/PPVS: 1996

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 10.44.23 PMWCW Monday Nitro 1996, or how the NWO took over and drove anything that was fun about the program into the ground. I mean, at first glance the idea of the NWO is pretty cool. Two top guys from WWF defecting over to WCW and henceforth really kicking off the battle between the two companies. Unfortunately, right out of the gate, it no longer became a WCW show, but rather NWO Monday Nitro. As I’m sure behind-the-scenes things dictated Scott Hall and Kevin Nash didn’t sign with the company for a couple thousand bucks and a place at the mid-card, oh no, this is WCW, so they paid them an astronomical amount and put them at the top no matter what, with them never relenting the main event status.

Now enter Hulk Hogan, Hulk predictably goes heel, and after all this time it lands with a thud that only Hogan could deliver. Leave it to Hulk Hogan for him to turn heel and somehow be just as cheesy and boring as he is as a babyface. Eric Bischoff would later join, in a hilarious series of moments where he was to be signing Roddy Piper for a match with Hogan, but then just shows up after and revealing, oh yeah by the way, that he’s been an NWO member this whole time. So now the quote-un-quote head of WCW, Bischoff, is a prominent member of the group, although it is pretty hilarious because you can always tell in storyline it always seems like Hogan, Nash and Hall just keep him around to utilize his position as the head of the company to finagle matches and decisions that they want.

One of the chief problems of the group, and something that gets grossly parodied in the years to come, but is actually evident pretty early on is how many members (and tertiary ones, at that) end up in the club. Hogan, Hall and Nash is the perfect sect, but then they add in Bischoff, The Giant, Ted DiBiase, nWo Sting (the dumbest thing ever), Vincent, Buff Bagwell and etc. etc., I’m not going to exert myself and type out all the names. They water this thing down right off the gate and have so many geeks and second-rate guys that it becomes a comedy show of members rather than this tough and intimidating group.

And probably my main problem is the idea that this is group is entirely filled with guys 35+ who can’t work and are getting pushed as THE main thing in the company because of what their image WAS in the wrestling world, while the younger guys toil away in the mid-card. You can literally load up any Nitro and see a match with any combination of Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio etc. and see a fantastic match, yet they continually get shoved down the card because of these nostalgia acts of old men acting like teenagers (but, I mean, it’s also not like DX in WWF was doing anything different, despite being not as old). Related to this they bring in Roddy Piper at the end of the year to face Hogan at their big event of Starccade and I mean it’s fun to see Piper back and it’s a nice jolt to the system to see him go up against Hogan, but less said about any of the actual wrestling the better between these two guys. I mean, nobody can cut a promo like Piper, but that only gets you so far, and only serves the point of WCW’s reliance on past acts and gliding off the popularity of stars made from other companies.

NWO aside, my favourite things from 1995 remained my favourites for 1996, albeit in much smaller doses. The Four Horseman are still great, especially with Ric Flair, who unfortunately was out a lot of the year do to an injury (I think, I never looked up if there was a different reason for this or what). Ric Flair getting interviewed by Mean Gene is something that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of.

Like I mentioned, the cruiserweight matches are far and away the best things on the show, and I guess it shouldn’t be amazing to me how many great matches they had when you saw the talent involved. Conversely, it’s amazing WCW didn’t do anything with them, I mean they eventually kind of did, but nowhere near the heights they would’ve gotten if they actually gave these guys concentrated pushes, but nope, everything must fall to the wayside for NWO to “succeed.”

Lex Luger and Randy Savage remained bores who couldn’t work anymore (or to begin with with Luger), and I thought we finally got rid of Savage, but it looks like he’s coming back again. We finally get Scorpion Sting which I’ve been waiting for, because I could never take the Surfer Sting seriously, but unfortunately nothing really happens and they eventually start booking him like a moody emo teenager where he just hangs out in the rafters looking all sad and gearing up for a year+ build against the NWO that pretty much everybody knows how that turns out…

I’m still entertained by this show, and especially excited now that I’m heading into 1997 where the WWF vs. WCW war really starts cooking and where WCW makes their grand rise as THE wrestling promotion, the one that is unstoppable and is ready to be the king of the wrestling world for years to come, until they do all this WCW stuff that you see dark shades of even now, but eventually gets darkened like a thick sharpie and they go from 100 to 0 real quick.

‘Arrival’: Review

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Dennis Villeneuve has fast become one of my favourite filmmakers and one of those people who I’ll see his name next to a project and know I’ll be seeing it as soon as possible. So much so that I’m now looking forward to his reboot/sequel/whatever of Blade Runner, and I could not have cared less about the original one. Incendies first launched him into the limelight, and with his four year run from 2013-2016 of Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario and now Arrival, Villeneuve has proved that he’s no fluke and has a ton to say through a variety of film genres.

A common thread through all of Villeneuve’s films, and one that becomes abundantly clear watching Arrival if it wasn’t already, is that he’s chiefly interested in the human condition. How people react in increasing times of physical, psychological, and even extraterrestrial avenues of stress and how this informs them as humans. How these feelings are intrinsic to each person around the world whether you’re confronting family strife, emotional instability, high pressure job situations or just some damn aliens.

Arrival works because Villeneuve is so skilled at balancing everything this film needs to be, from sci-fi to a character drama to a philosophical study. Because this is a Villeneuve film he takes something standard (at least in sci-fi fare) like an alien invasion and doesn’t just go the simple route of seeing them lay waste to our society or set everything up for an epic 30-minute space battle, instead the film takes a step back and thinks about what REALLY might happen if aliens descended upon our world tomorrow. Villeneuve makes the reality of this situation shine so bright and dim that it makes the otherworldly aspects that much more starker, and scarier, because of what its implications mean on us everyday humans.

Amy Adams is the perfect vessel for all of this because she, like Villeneuve, is so skilled at portraying a wide variety of person for the job that needs to be done. She is believable as an expert communicator trying to decipher what these aliens are trying to get across, she is believable as a mother with grief, hardship and confusion seemingly informing her every move and she is believable as someone who isn’t just content with seeing things at face value.

The film features a clever twist on the idea of a “twist” where I even hazard to really even call it a twist. We find out that Louise’s visions she’s been having throughout the movie (including of her dead daughter) are flash-forwards and that the presence of these aliens is to reveal that time can be literally viewed as a flat circle, changing the idea of time.

When we first view the film chronologically we interpret what we assume are flashbacks, but only later realize that they are flash-forwards. Just as in the narrative film universe where the characters discover that they can view time as a flat circle, us viewers of the film now unlock that ability and retroactively feel the same experience of the characters and click into this mindset of seeing everything at once, even if we didn’t know it and were confused by it at the time.

I feel like it’s almost too lazy to call this a “thinking man’s” sci-fi film, and I mean it is, but it still feels like too much of an easy brush to paint it with. It works much like Villeneuve’s other films because it puts you in the situation because it feels so real and lived in no matter how fantastical, makes you try and answer the questions being posed to the characters in the film and actually provokes thought and emotion that sticks with you. Arrival isn’t interested in tricking you and making you out to be a fool, but rather taking a roundabout way in showing you how things you might have thought looked so concrete and definitive are often always anything but that.

Chuck Klosterman In Three Sections

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I feel like you can break down Chuck Klosterman’s bibliography into three types of books, so that’s what I’m gonna do. Firstly, you have the “essay” books. These are the books that Klosterman is most famous from and for, including Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto and Eating The Dinosaur, among others. They include essays whether on an overarching topic or not, and just his random thoughts and muses from things on music, sports, sociology and such, drawing on an idea from a piece of pop culture. Secondly, we have his narrative fiction novels with Downtown Owl and The Visible Man. These are his foray into fiction storytelling, but still are just basically a different conduit for him to wax about small town America or frame his theories on human interaction through a different book medium. Lastly, are his essays with an overarching theme that ties each essay and chapter together such as I Wear The Black Hat: Grappling With Villains and But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About The Present As If It Were The Past. These have essays that may vary in topic, but are still about the theme at large and contribute to a corner of that picture, hoping to paint something new with all these ideas tackling it from different directions. I’m not here to say anyone is better, it’s just interesting to see the progression Klosterman has taken in how he intends to approach his ideas, since it’s a clear leap from one idea to the next in how he frames these books.

1. Essays

I think “Fargo Rock City” is his best book, and coincidentally or not it’s his first one, mostly because it doesn’t fall into any boring memoir traps and focuses on the topic at hand rather than shoehorning himself into everything. When I first heard it was a memoir I was a little apprehensive because I could care less about how popular music affected one dude because it’s literally the same case for millions around the world. Klosterman always talks about the minutiae and differences about growing up in a small town in the mid-west, but he always does it with a tone where he seems to think he’s the only with this upbringing and that there aren’t millions of people who have grown up the same way he did and he’s not honouring us with this special look into small town lifestyle. Anyways, “Fargo Rock City” was good because he focused on the music and charted how it progressed and grew in and of itself and didn’t relate back to himself that much.

“Sex, Drugs And Cocoa Puffs” isn’t as good as “Fargo Rock City” mainly because it lacked the throughline that his first one possessed. I never really buy into that thing where people say you either love something or you hate it, but with these certain Klosterman essays I find you’ll either 100% agree with his opinion/theory or will 100% think he’s off base and thus think his whole argument is dumb and pointless. I love dissecting pop culture and I love how Klosterman will take a seemingly random thing like The Real World, Pamela Anderson or Saved By The Bell and explore some tangential themes of societal roles, sexual identity and ideas about perceived time and identity. Like, I said before, though, if you’re on board with the idea or piece of pop culture, you’ll love it, and thus I know this book would be most popular with Gen Xers, but I can easily see someone hating it due to his wild posits and smug attitude.

Killing Yourself To Live: 85% Of A True Story is a lot like “Fargo Rock City” in that it’s a memoir framed around rock music essays, except this time it’s a lot more memoir-based and focused on the various women in Klosterman’s life and how his relationships succeeded and failed with them. Suffice to say I could not have cared less, because there’s nothing more I hate than writers writing about their love life because they always treat it like some life or death thing that seems so important to the person living that life, but to us reading it it always feels so trite and vapid.

While his first two books have some connectivity, they’re largely just an excuse to write about whatever. Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade Of Curious People And Dangerous Ideas and Eating The Dinosaur on the other hand are just truly a collection of random essays, and thus they all average out to be pretty average with some good and some not-so good. Again, I gravitate to the music essays, so “IV” is great in that it features a ton of his profiles on bands that are maybe some of my favourite things of his to read.

2. Novels

I was really interested to see how Klosterman would fare entering the realm of novels and while they were fine in and of themselves, they didn’t really offer anything new. Downtown Owl is right within his wheelhouse where he gets to paint a picture of small town life, that he is very good at, even when he’s being weirdly elitist about it. He’s great at connecting you to these characters and this small-town world in such a short amount of time.

The Visible Man has a cool concept of a guy that can make himself invisible, but Klosterman doesn’t take it on a “fun” route or anything like that, rather it’s more about the terror it brings to the humanity of those in possession of this power that you wouldn’t think about on a surface level. I did like this framing device because it was a smart and easy way for Klosterman to tell a story, but also an easy way to get out all his theories and ideas about human behaviour that he normally would just have in a pop culture essay. He was able to siphon his thoughts through a psuedo Hannibal Lecter type character (ie. someone being pried for info while they pontificate about random stuff to get into the head of the interviewer). Unfortunately, the novel is quite short and doesn’t really go anywhere in its story or ends up at any credible philosophical ending.

3. Connective Theme Essays

Klosterman’s most recent books “I Wear The Black Hat” and “But What If We’re Wrong” tackle his essay approach in a whole other way. Each essay is made to build up the overarching theme of the book, villains in the first book and the idea about how we think about certain things in the past or present in the latter, whether it be through his usual haunts of music, sports and so forth or through more scientific examining. I felt that “I Wear The Black Hat” failed because while its parts were good it didn’t really add up to anything new, it just confirmed whatever everybody always knows/thought about the concept of “villains” in modern culture.

“But What If We’re Wrong” takes Klosterman books to another level because he actually goes to experts about things and interviews them, because they know all about the scientific side of things, while Klosterman then covers the sociological and culture side of things. He outlines the thought and backs it up with the scientific thought and then approaches it with his idea and what he believes it says about a certain thing.

Jonathan Franzen: A Good Writer Except When He’s Not

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I love family dramas. On the surface they’re the most boring things ever, because it’s literally just following what you/your family just literally does every day. You’re supposed to read books and watch movies because it’s a supposed piece of escapism from your current situation and why would you want to watch what you boringly live every day. Now, of course it’s not that simple, these dramas usually always intend to reveal something about relationships, manners of thinking and approaching various themes in everyday life that you would never think to look at in a certain way. I myself gravitate toward realism and seeing things that I can relate to in popular media, whether you’re trying to get through something similar or can relate to how a character is feeling that reflects your current life situation. Those can be some of the most important things that art in any aspect can do for you.

Jonathan Franzen wouldn’t find his bread and butter in direct family drama until The Corrections, but his first two novels are definitely interesting case studies. His first novel The Twenty-Seventh City is a weird mix of family drama with the exploration of governing/policing, race and so on of St. Louis as a living breath city. There’s also a tinge of creepy mysticism that keeps things off kilter and makes you feel like you’re viewing this novel as an alternate dimension that is just 0.1% off of what ours is. I do like Franzen’s writing quite a bit, but often he’s too showy and wordy with his descriptions of simple things that thus seem so forced. It reeks of him trying to show off his writing skills by overcomplicating things to a fault, where his writing gets too much in the way of the story.

His second novel Strong Motion takes awhile to get where it wants to go and achieve what it wants to say, but ends up being marginally worth itself in the end. There’s a lot of good stuff in here, the narrative is fine, but the drawing of his characters is the key element to the novel (something that is the prime key in all of his novels). This novel continues the theme of Franzen being so stuck in trying to SHOW you how good a writer he is by describing simple things in vast over-exaggerated metaphors that it comes off so painfully try-hard. I love the irony that what he thinks makes him such a great writer does the exact opposite and makes him dreadfully trite.

I might as well get into it now, because it’s basically the prime reason I’m writing this thing, Jonathan Franzen’s gotta be one of the creepiest writers of all time. I can’t tell you how many screenshots I took on my phone when reading his first two novels (and then eventually the rest of his bibliography) of some of the weirdest most unnecessary depictions of sex and human body parts/functions. I always gotta shake my head every few pages just because he feels the need to muse about a character “putting semen in the hollow of a pelvis” or comparing breasts to scones or some other weird thing. It’s cringe-inducing for him to be so graphic about describing sexual experiences and activities by insisting they be spelled out with the creepiest metaphors and by either describing things wholly scientific or by the most gross out way possible. I’m the furthest thing from a prude, but literally every novel he writes has to include the most frank descriptions of sex that it’s like it’s in his contract or something. It’s not even like he’s trying to make a point by writing like this, it just comes off as this weird, out of touch (probably literally with these types of descriptions) dude who writes about sex as if he’s never done it before and is relaying this information second-hand from someone he overheard once.

The Corrections is a very bare bones family drama, concerning the mother of the family wanting to get her three kids back to their family household for one last Christmas with their father who is ailing from Parkinson’s and other underlying health conditions. Franzen is largely a very good writer, but it often gets clouded in his incessant need to bang us over the head with his political and economic themes. The Corrections is the first after his first two novels to do well in being able to siphon his ideas through these specific characters where it doesn’t feel like he’s just halting the novel to lecture you about things like he did previously. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece or anything like that, but it’s the first of his novels to actually click on every level in detailing family, sociology and industrialism and so forth and actually ends up saying something meaningful.

Freedom is basically Franzen realizing that The Corrections did so good, so let’s go full out with this family drama thing. Again, for the most part, it works because Franzen’s ever longing need to stuff his books with his thoughts on politics, industrialism, Americana, sociology etc. into these characters makes it seem less forced (not that it isn’t still forced, just less so, but still largely feels like Franzen lecturing you on ideas that even if you agree with just makes everything seem so overbearing) by driving them more through the characters and how they progress and change, or don’t.

Purity on the other hand is an aimless mess that never amounts to what it sets out to be. The attempt is to draw some sort of social commentary (as Franzen ALWAYS has to do) by drawing from modern technology and Edward Snowden and Julian Assange character archetypes that falls flat on its face. This is one where Franzen’s obsession with his own writing swallows what small nuggets of a good story are somewhere in here. It was reasoned to happen that he wouldn’t be able to keep a lid on his social commentary by just having it bubble underneath like he previously did, nope this thing is full out and in your face and thus gives you his worst novel because of this. In a way it’s interesting to explore the new technological edge and how that affects these sorts of societal norms that Franzen has been writing about for twenty years, but that gimmick has been played out for so long already that Franzen just seems even more out of touch than usual.

Harry Potter: Wherein I Finally Read The Entire Series After A 14 Year Break

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Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone kicks off with a bang and it really doesn’t let up until the end. I forgot how much they packed into this short book and how well it moves along, never coming up for air, and just marches to the end full of confidence. It’s funny reading this book now where it’s so short, whereas when I first read it when it first came out I thought it was the longest book ever.

“The Chamber Of Secrets” takes a while to get going, which is unfortunate because one of the biggest positives of the first novel was its quick pace. It ends up being fine and unspectacular and my least favourite of the series along with “Order Of The Phoenix.”

“The Prisoner Of Azkaban” takes a nice step-up from the lacklustre “Chamber Of Secrets,” where this one actually delivers a storyline that makes sense within the Harry Potter world and doesn’t just seem like a one-off story that isn’t informed by the overall arc of the books, as the second novel kind of did. It pushes forth the mythos and the mystery surrounding Potter, his upbringing and parents, as well as setting up interesting things story-wise for the future, things that the second book didn’t seem too concerned with doing.

“The Goblet Of Fire” was my favourite of the series as a kid (and the last one I stopped reading until I decided I should probably finish out the series almost 15 years later). It’s not quite as flawless and perfect as I remembered as a child, but it’s still very good and definitely one of my favourites in the series. I love the Triwizard tournament as a framing device for all the Voldemort stuff and it’s a fun way to continue the overarching story and insert some action and new dimensions to the Hogwarts world. Also, as a weird aside, since I hadn’t read or watched any of the Harry Potter books or movies since this book in 2002 or whatever, I would hear random Harry Potter tidbits and stuff, but largely remained unspoiled. One of the things that I heard, and thought was 100% true, was that Harry ended up with Cho Chang at the end of the series. Now, in this book you could totally see it coming and everything made sense to how they could end up there in a few books. But, the next few books painted a different picture and I kept thinking, “man, how are they gonna get Harry and Cho together, it just doesn’t make sense within the story anymore and it would totally make sense for him to get with Ginny.” So, of course, he ends up with Ginny and Cho is nowhere to be found, which makes all the sense in the world, but it was bizarre for me reading these next couple books and just waiting for the Harry/Cho reconciliation that just would never happen…

“The Order Of The Phoenix” was my first big disappointment because I was expecting big things with these last stretch of books as it drives towards a conclusion. The story momentum from the fourth book was pretty much squandered here. This is the longest book of the series and basically nothing happens for the first 90% of it and then the last 10% they throw everything at you with some tiny revelations, but nothing amazing that makes any of this long trudge worth it. Harry comes out on top over Voldemort once again, learns some more about his past, rinse and repeat.

“The Half-Blood Prince” is a nice step up from the previous book. They finally get Malfoy actually involved in things (i.e. the main plot of the books) but, unfortunately, it kind of fizzles out. This one definitely had a ton towards finally opening up everything about Harry’s past and connections to Voldemort, so even in the less busy first half of the book there was a lot going on that set up for the end, something that “The Order Of The Phoenix” never quite felt like doing. It does a nice job getting its ducks in a row and pushing everything into plain sight for the conclusion.

“The Deathly Hallows” does really well in wrapping up the story by introducing new elements, but most importantly stays true to its world from the first book and gives you all the answers to the questions you were hoping would be answered. It hits some nice emotional beats that the series has always been really good at, especially when everything has been building for so long with these characters.

“The Cursed Child” was a fun enough little story that gives fans what they want by checking in with Harry Potter and co. and also delves into that world a little more through the eyes of his kid to add a new dimension. It works well in going back to the “Goblet Of Fire” plot, since in my eyes that is the best/most fun one. Where this book/play suffers majorly is the cringe-inducing overarching theme of how Harry finds it so tough to be a father and the trials and tribulations of raising a kid. It’s a bit much where they beat over the head this obvious theme of how he’s this great wizard and celebrated person, but even those people have trouble raising kids!!! Also, I have no clue why J.K. Rowling didn’t just write this as a novella or full out novel or something like that instead of making it a play, as it never really seems all that suited for this format.

A quick closing note on the movies, they were all fine! I mean, I was kind of disappointed because I was expecting a lot more and kind of feel weird speaking down on them because in and of themselves they are really good movies, but none of them ever really felt “great.” The las two “Deathly Hallows” movies are definitely the best ones, even though I heard that “Prisoner Of Azkaban” was great, but again that just seemed fine to me, good but not amazing. The special effects were obviously a highlight and it is super cool to track Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint throughout the movies and see how they age and grow, which exponentially increases your connection with the movies and characters as you do the same. Ultimately, I really enjoyed the series, and although the books and movies didn’t quite reach the heights I thought it might, it was a lot of fun and I’m glad I can cross off this pop culture blind spot I’ve had for so many years.

Bret Easton Ellis And The One Idea 30 Year Career

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Less Than Zero, and frankly all of Bret Easton Ellis’s novels, are about how awful self-obsessives are in their privileged lives, whether ironically or not. It’s basically all luxury porn, reading about these people without a care in the world except having sex with whoever, doing drugs, enjoying the perceived “finer” things in life and all the way ignoring any consequences that come along with it. I find the novels of Ellis are most enjoyed as a slice of life type story. The stunted writing and formatting of Less Than Zero helped well in conveying these short blurb-esque thoughts of the main character Clay.

The Rules Of Attraction is basically a spiritual sequel of sorts to Less Than Zero but I didn’t quite connect with it like I did the previous novel. There’s only so much you can read of people doing drugs and cheating on people and them wondering why everyone hates them when they continue to do horrible things to each other. “Why, oh, why, does this person hate me, all I did was sleep with their BF/GF!?!?!?” It does kind of lead into the negative immediately where Ellis tries to recapture the fervor of his first novel by copying the same generic ploy, with less than stellar results compared to the first. Throughout his career, and one of his big drawbacks I’d imagine, is the idea that he really only had one idea that he tried to milk for multiple books over all these years, to varying ends.

American Psycho definitely lives up to its name. Pre-eminently extreme luxury porn mixed with extreme gore porn. Might be a weird thing to say, but I loved just living in this world where everything’s done to excess without fear of the consequences of what comes next. I think this is Ellis’s most coveted and praised novel because it maintains a lot of the same themes and exploration of wealth, relationships, substance abuse, one’s own self and focuses it all through a better narrative than his previous efforts. It actually pins these ideas to a more constructed story and avenue of focused expression rather than just being like his two previous novels and just relatively haphazardly documenting a bunch of young people’s partying and philandering ways with little to hold it together. I think it’s far from being any sort of masterpiece, but Ellis’s writing is so fun (such a weird thing to say about a book about a serial killer who does some insane acts with his victims) and feels so lived in and of this time period. I rarely laugh out loud when reading books, comedy or not, but I did multiple times with this and it was solely because of how great Ellis is at capturing characters and making them all feel so unique and fleshed out even if we were just introduced to them. Here’s a fun drinking game for you if you’re reading American Psycho for the first time or entering the world yet again: Take a drink every time you see the word “hardbody” and be guaranteed to be belligerently drunk by the fifth chapter. If you want to take it to the extreme you can take a drink every time you read something misogynistic, but that’s just an unruly suggestion on my part because I don’t think you’d make it past the first page. And please don’t attempt that misogny thing on his whole bibliography, unless you’re a cat with some extra lives to spare.

I was really looking forward to Glamorama because Ellis seems like the perfect person to satirize celebrities and the idea of celebrity and the life and culture it entails. Unfortunately it wasn’t as good as his previous novels, but there was still a lot to like. What I’ve briefly mentioned before with the work of Ellis is that I like that he always has a defined voice, whether you like it or not, and I happen to enjoy how he strings words together. I wish it hit the celebrity satire a little harder, because that stuff is my kryptonite, but it does enough well in its exploration of the idea. The book kinda goes a bit off the rails in the latter part, but it’s all in service of depicting this wild delusion that is celebrity, so it works for the most part.

Lunar Park works a lot because Bret Easton Ellis seems to be the perfect guy to write a pseudo-memoir about himself. He takes it a bit further and makes it into a twisted type of ghost story that does well in its means and gives off a creepy vibe throughout. Like I mentioned earlier I have a small feeling of dread about how Ellis’s later novels are just retreads or capitalizing off Less Than Zero and American Psycho, his two most famous and successful novels, and how he can’t write anything “new” and has to resort to his past. Although, in this aspect it kind of works well in helping him with the stringing of the idea of him writing American Psycho and it coming back to put him into this serial killer story was really clever and well-done, especially within the memoir part and as a response to the criticism of the novel. Father issues are a prevalent theme in all of his novels and this one provides a good vessel that doesn’t feel too cheap and works organically within the story that doesn’t seem like he’s just using loose strands of a book to just cry about his daddy issues. Ellis seemingly intended to cover a lot of ground within this small concept and I was impressed that he largely pulled it off without seeming too cheap and using his previous novel ideas and criticism to work towards creating something new, rather than just retreading.

Imperial Bedrooms has enough of what made Less Than Zero good, but spins it into a deeper and darker place that doesn’t entirely work in the end. This is the most clear sense of “I have only one idea, so fuck it, let’s just make a sequel to my most celebrated novel.” It seemed like a lot of the novel was going to be about the how a Less Than Zero-esque story would take after this 25 years of difference since he wrote that first novel, but that seemed to fall by the wayside early.

I came off reading Bret Easton Ellis of two minds. I had a lot of fun reading his novels, living in these worlds as an outsider and experiencing excess to its fullest extent. Every criticism rang exceedingly true, though, whether it was him largely writing the same book seven times and his constant misogny. A defence of him would be, yes he’s a satirist, but that excuse only works a few times until every novel features the same things and just feels like an easy conduit for him to say what he feels behind the guise of awful characters. Kind of like how Quentin Tarantino’s last few films have largely fielded characters using the n-word (granted this is his whole career, but most specifically with the last few movies), where he claims it’s intrinsic to the time, but when it’s used so exceedingly in multiple movies it has you questioning the intent behind its machinations. Bret Easton Ellis seems like the exact type of writer whose had one masterpiece and his whole career has been trying to replicate that success or prove he’s up to that standard. I mean, it’s kinda like that, except for the whole “having a masterpiece” thing. Less Than Zero and American Psycho are good and definitely have something to say, but largely they just remain as a cultural piece of zeitgeist, us looking back and seeing how far we’ve come and how so much has changed.