March 5, 2014
Play it As it Lays by Joan Didion (1970): This is the second work by Didion I’ve read and I understand why everyone whose opinion I trust has been recommending her to me for so long. This novel is smart and bleak and some part of me is glad it was a quick read because I couldn’t put it down.
How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti (2010): At some points, I was annoyed by this book and it’s author. She’s petty, pretentious, probably watches Girls religiously. And yet in some ways I could relate, and it made me feel for her with all her insecurities and all her triumphs.
Between Dog and Wolf by Elske Rahill (2013): After seeing Rahill read at the Dublin Book Festival in the fall, I was intrigued by her novel. And it didn’t disappoint—although I admit I was turned off by the number of graphic sex scenes, the story overall is dark and compelling.
One More Thing by BJ Novak (2014): A funny but also bittersweet collection of short fiction. I wrote a full review HERE.
Fruitvale Station (2013): A harrowing film about the last day of a real-life young man killed by the police in California on New Year’s Day 2009. Michael B. Jordan is excellent as always as the protagonist—although I’m not going to lie, Chad Michael Murray’s appearance as one of the police officers pulled me out of the story somewhat.
Dallas Buyers Club (2014): This biographical film about a AIDS patient in Texas who goes up against the FDA when he starts a business selling unapproved medicines is has received both controversy and acclaim. I thought Matthew McConaughey’s performance was surprisingly excellent but overall I didn’t find the film to be that fantastic.
The Book Thief (2013): I was very disappointed in this film. It wasn’t bad; some of the cinematography was beautiful and the acting was good, particularly from the children playing Liesel and Rudy. However, I found the film lacked a lot of the emotional that made the book such a moving and powerful story.
I haven’t been keeping up with the award show season too much this year, mainly because I’ve only seen eight Oscar-nominated films, three of which were in the Visual Effects category. But I have been paying enough attention to see that there was a lot of hype around Dallas Buyers Club, particularly for star Matthew McConaughey. I read that he lost 30 pounds for his role, a level of dedication usually seen by method actors like Christian Bale and Daniel Day-Lewis. And his work is getting rave reviews, including nominations or wins from the SAG awards, the Golden Globes, and of course the Academy, where he is the frontrunner to win Best Actor at the Oscars tonight.
To an extent, this surprised me. While I know he’s taken serious roles in the past (and is currently getting equally positive attention for True Detective), when I think of Matthew McConaughey, I think of a shirtless, bongo-playing, “I get older and they stay the same age,” How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, stoner-surfer-sort-of-actor, and I’d guess a lot of audiences thought the same. After the reviews I read prior to seeing Dallas Buyers Club, I wasn’t shocked by how good he was, but I still find it a bit hard to reconcile McConaughey’s portrayal of Woodruf with, say, his similarly-named character Wooderson.
Then again, this certainly isn’t the first time an actor has broken out of their trademark style of role and done a remarkable job. Here are nine other actors who managed to surprise me with their roles:
Jim Carrey, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Like McConaughey, Jim Carrey had done some serious roles before Eternal Sunshine. The Truman Show is hardly slapstick, after all. But he was certainly more well known for movies like Ace Ventura and Bruce Almighty. Then he played Joel to Kate Winslet’s Clementine in a film that never fails to make me feel joyful and depressed at the same time.
Steve Carell, Little Miss Sunshine
As far as I know, Steve Carell was solely a comedic actor for the better part of his career. Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Daily Show, and of course The Office: he’s brilliant at all of them, but although he has some touching moments as Michael Scott, and although Little Miss Sunshine is probably, technically a comedy, his role as Olive’s gay, suicidal uncle still came out of left field and blew me away.
Maya Rudolph, Away We Go
I don’t know if actresses are less typecast than actors or if it’s the opposite—that they are typecast but find it harder to break out of their original genre than male actors—but actresses who reinvent themselves are more of the child-star-who-didn’t-become-Lohan-esque variety. But Maya Rudolph (and John Krasinski) in Away We Go proved to be an example of a funny woman who can do serious—and wonderfully bittersweet.
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
For a lot of actors, the role they played in a late-90s/early-00s television show is the role they’ll be known as for good. Sarah Michelle Gellar will always be Buffy, Zach Braff and Donald Faison will always be JD and Turk, and James Van Der Beek will always be crying Dawson Leery. So who would’ve thought that Malcolm (the role Frankie Muniz will always be known for)’s silly dad Hal would end up being known as one of the most intense, terrifying television characters ever.
February 26, 2014
There’s a video on Youtube of BJ Novak telling the story of “Wikipedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Bicycle.” It’s pretty grainy and the sound quality isn’t that great… and I’ve watched it enough times that when I reached the story in Novak’s first story collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, I could hear his voice in my head and could probably have recited the story nearly by heart myself.
Maybe that’s a sign I’ve followed BJ Novak’s career too closely, along with the fact that I recognised a few of the collection’s shorter “stories” as originally being from his Twitter account, but ever since I started watching The Office and Ryan Howard became one of my favourite characters on the show even in his most hate-able moments (that blond hair), I’ve been a big fan. So in fairness, this is a pretty biased review, as I already knew his sense of humour and writing style was in my wheelhouse.
Regardless, I loved this book, and stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to finish reading it. Every time I thought “I’ll stop after this story, save the rest for the next day,” I found myself reading another. Some were longer, while others were only a few lines (for example, “The Literalist’s Love Poem”: Roses are rose. Violets are violet. I love you.). The thing that I found most engaging about the collection was the tone.
February 23, 2014
I just got back to a weekend trip to Connemara with Rosemary and Medb to stay with Rosemary’s family, which was lovely and relaxing and everything I could ask for sandwiched between two very busy weeks (the ROPES editorial staff had a six-hour meeting on Thursday, to name just one of the many things going on last week, and my MA thesis proposal is due at the end of next week, so I’m not the least-stressed-out person around). We spent most of Saturday walking across beach after beach to Omey Island where Rosemary, who studied archaeology, told us all about Teampaill Feichin, the shell middens, and the other items of historical interest. Despite the wind and rain, it was a beautiful trek. Here are some photos—though my iPhone hardly does the landscape justice:
February 19, 2014
When I was younger, there were a couple of career goals I had to give up pretty early in the game. My first dream of being Thomas the Tank Engine when I grew up was hardly practical. Becoming an architect was a more serious aspiration before I realised I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in such a mathematical occupation. Then it, too, fell by the wayside along with critic, teacher, and eventually journalist. All of these jobs occasionally show up in my life as hobbies (with the exception of talking cartoon train). And all of them are pretty normal answers to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” (again, with the exception of Thomas). But there is another job I’ve always dreamed about, and though I’m fine with the fact that it’s a career goal I’ll probably never realise, it’s something I’ve always kept in the back of my mind as something rare about me, something most people don’t aspire to do.
Ever since I was younger—maybe not back in the days of Thomas the Train, but certainly well before I settled on writing and publishing—I’ve loved maps. I used to have a big, rainbow-coloured, terrain-textured globe in my room that I’d spin and examine, looking at the hot pink shape of China or the yellow form of Brazil. A placemat with an outline of the United States, each state and capitol marked off on the diagram, sat in front of me at the kitchen table.
The interest in maps continued throughout my life. Everyone has those weird things that they can be a total nerd and go on for hours about but will never do anything with professionally; for me it’s cartography.