Scannáin na hÉireann

Long before I ever stepped foot in Ireland, I’ve loved Irish literature. When I was a kid, I had an audiobook on cassette tape with a number of classic ghost stories, including Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Canterville Ghost’, which I listened to incessantly. In college, I found a love for Irish plays as well, reading several (including Translations by Brian Friel, which became an all-time favourite) in a historically-focused theatre course. Naturally, this played into my motivations for applying to an MA in Literature & Publishing in Galway, and once I moved over I discovered so many wonderful contemporary Irish authors from Donal Ryan to, of course, Sally Rooney.

Ireland has an outsized cultural influence, with an incredible amount of internationally-acclaimed art in every medium considering the relatively small size of the country. Some of the world’s best poets, musicians, and more hail from the Emerald Isle. And as I’ve lived here I’ve gotten to know a lot of work by artists of different types.

But one medium that I feel has passed me personally by a bit for the most part is Irish cinema. I’ve seen a few of the most well-known Irish films across a number of genres — The Commitments, Once, The Wind that Shakes the Barley, The Quiet Man — but there are far more iconic Irish films that have passed me by. On this list, for example, I’ve only seen six.

Continue reading “Scannáin na hÉireann”

Media and Misc of the Year (aka the obligatory Best of 2014 review post)

Boyhood-DI

Films

  1. Boyhood, dir. Richard Linklater – Filming over 12 years could have turned out gimmicky, but Boyhood was a moving and beautiful story of family and growing up. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so emotional while watching a film.
  2. Calvary, dir. John Michael McDonagh – The preview for this Irish film made it out to be a dark comedy, but despite actors such as Dylan Moran, Chris O’Dowd, and even star Brendan Gleeson (in maybe his best ever work), it’s a heartwrenchingly dark film with moments of humour.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel, dir. Wes Anderson – I’ve loved every film I’ve seen of Anderson’s, but for some reason hadn’t watched one since The Life Aquatic. This was a good place to start back, with his typical aesthetic and great performances.
  4. Gone Girl, dir. David Fincher – I read the book in one frantic weekend before seeing the film, and the twists and turns and madness of it all still shocked me. Though not as much as it shocked the person sitting behind us who couldn’t stop saying “What the fuck” at the end.
  5. Obvious Child, dir. Gillian Robespierre – A sweet, funny little film about a stand-up comedian who gets pregnant and has an abortion. The characters feel like your friends.

The-Antlers-Familiars

Music

  1. The Antlers, Familiars – This album is one of those where the sound just fills the room when you listen to it. There are so many layers combining beautifully with strange, sad lyrics.
  2. Alt-J, This is All Yours – Speaking of strange, among other oddities Alt-J’s second album samples Miley Cyrus, and somehow it really works. They also put on one of the top 3 live shows I saw this year (and in fairness, the top 2 are my favourite bands, The National and Arctic Monkeys).
  3. St. Vincent, St. Vincent – I’m declaring this the year of the excellent self-titled album. And St. Vincent’s is the best of them, with an album that is both strange and wonderful.
  4. Hozier, Hozier – You’ve probably been hearing “Take Me to Church” all the time for the past 6 months, unless you’re in Ireland in which case you’ve been hearing it all year. And it hasn’t gotten old yet.
  5. Taylor Swift, 1989 – Part of me can’t believe that Taylor Swift of all people is bumping my forever girl Shakira off my Best Of list, but most of me thinks that “Blank Space” is such a jam I don’t even care.

Continue reading “Media and Misc of the Year (aka the obligatory Best of 2014 review post)”

April/May Microreviews

January microreviews
February microreviews
March microreviews

Books:

 9780060004873_custom-5fda65e48fa70f76fae8403e43fafaa124259222-s6-c30

IV, Chuck Klosterman: Chuck Klosterman does the kind of journalism I would love to do. Funny, sarcastic pop culture essays with smart commentary on the impact of entertainment on society. I’ll always point to his essay on The Real World as one of the best I’ve read. This collection was decent; the non-fiction was great, the semi-fiction was okay, and the fiction was barely worth reading. I particularly enjoyed the profile of Morrissey’s hispanic fans and the one about tribute bands.

The World’s Wife
, Carol Ann Duffy: I love Carol Ann Duffy’s poems and their clever, feminist slant. The World’s Wife is a perfect example. Duffy writes from the perspective of the wives and lovers of famous historical and literary figures: how does King Midas’ touch affect his marriage? or alters the stories to give women more agency than in their original tellings.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
, Neil Gaiman:  I read this book over the course of two days; whenever I needed a break from wandering around London I would take advantage of the comfortable sofas in the Piccadilly Circus Waterstones and curl up for a few minutes with this book. It’s a beautiful little fairy tale about monsters and magic and growing up.

Salt: A World History
, Mark Kurlansky: I may be sick of Mark Kurlansky by the time I finish writing my thesis as one of his books is a major source I’m using, but in the meantime I loved reading this. He looks at a common material—salt—and through evidence and anecdote, explores its impact on history and contemporary life and food in an interesting and entertaining way.

The Little Friend
, Donna Tartt: Not as good as The Secret History and certainly not as good as The Goldfinch, but a book can still be pretty excellent with both of those things being true. I didn’t find myself caring much for the central mystery, which is good because I also didn’t find much resolution, but it was all the little pieces of southern gothic description and all the side stories about minor figures and all the miscellaneous everything else that I really enjoyed.

Paper Towns, John Green: Paper Towns is known for being a story that points out the ridiculousness of the idea of the so-called “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” I found it to be mostly successful in this regard, but it would’ve been more effective if it had been from the perspective of the girl, rather than about her. Still, a quick and fun read.

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann: I absolutely loved this. Set in 1974, while Philippe Petit crossed the World  Trade Center towers on a tightrope, the novel features characters from all walks of live, and the city of New York itself is as strong a character as any of them. It’s a beautiful book, and one I look forward to reading again in the future.

Live by Night
, Dennis Lehane: I didn’t realise that this was a sequel of sorts to The Given Day until I started reading it, but instead of the sprawling historical novel and social commentary of its predecessor, Live by Night is a fast-paced crime story more in line with Lehane’s other detective works.

Bark: Stories, Lorrie Moore: Whenever you can finish a book in one sitting you have to assume that a) it’s not very long but b) it is very good. The first two stories didn’t entirely hook me, but by the time I got to ‘Paper Losses’ I knew I wasn’t moving until I had gotten to the end. Luckily it was a beautiful day outside. The descriptions were visceral and the relationships devastating.

Werewolves in their Youth, Michael Chabon: I shouldn’t have read this immediately after Bark, I don’t think. Too many  stories about relationships facing harsh realities. Michael Chabon is one of my favourite authors, and this isn’t his best work. There were still moments and sentences that really resonated, but overall I didn’t find the stories or characters as memorable as in most of his books.

Continue reading “April/May Microreviews”

February Microreviews

January Microreviews

February books

BZc8JfJIQAAfNAY

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.

February films

Fruitvale-Station1

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.

Continue reading “February Microreviews”

Actors and their Surprising Career Choices that Actually Worked

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.

09.matthew-mcconaughey-shirtless

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.

hero_DallasBuyersClub-2013-1

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

bruce-almighty-originaleternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind-eternal-sunshine-4401761-1024-576

Like McConaughey, Jim Carrey had done some serious roles before Eternal SunshineThe 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

0000007501_20060920143802 Steve-in-Little-Miss-Sunshine-steve-carell-559323_1600_900

As far as I know, Steve Carell was solely a comedic actor for the better part of his career. AnchormanThe 40-Year-Old VirginThe 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

big3 away_we_go22

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

ketchup-mess-mustard-Bryan-Cranston-faces-Malcolm-In-The-Middle-_555671-12 Breaking-Bad-Heisenberg

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.

Continue reading “Actors and their Surprising Career Choices that Actually Worked”

January Microreviews

One of the goals on my 101 Things in 1001 Days project (2 goals complete and another 5 in progress so far!) is to start a blog dedicated to reviews. Unfortunately, at the moment I’m hardly seeing enough new films or reading enough new books or listening to enough new albums to make it worthwhile—it can be fun to read reviews of older works, but not fun enough to create a whole blog around it unless there’s some sort of theme other than “what I’ve read/seen/listened to.” However, in the meantime I’m going to do a microreview roundup each month of all the books, films, and anything else old or new that I’ve consumed (for the first time). Sure this month is a little late, but there’s still plenty of time before I’ll need to write February’s entry.

If you’re interested in seeing what pop culture I’m looking at as it happens, you can follow me on Goodreads or take a look at my 2014 scrapbook. What have you read, watched, or listened to in the last month? Tell me about it!

January books

51L3ktA41ZL

The Letters by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (2012): A compilation of the correspondence between Kerouac and Ginsberg from 1944 to 1969, this book amazed me with the depth of the relationship between these two icons of the Beat generation. At times it is pretentious, of course, but in other instances there’s a rawness and sincerity that helps to explain the reason their writing still resonates so strongly.

While the Women are Sleeping by Javier Marías (1990): I’ve been wanting to read something by Marías for ages, but judging by the reviews on Goodreads for this collection, it’s not the one to choose as a first look at his work, and maybe that’s why I had trouble fully connecting with it. However, I did like the creepiness of the stories, whether it was due to a paranormal element or simply the weirdness of human nature.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1929): I see why Bradley Cooper’s character threw this novel out the window at the start of Silver Linings Playbook. While I enjoy Hemingway’s style so I liked the writing as much as I have in his other works, the unresolved nature of the plot, particularly the ending, made the book lack closure and feel almost unfinished.

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013): Like a lot of people, I was introduced to Adichie’s work by Beyoncé’s ***Flawless, which samples one of her speeches. Americanah covers race, feminism, cultural and national identity, and does so through the wonderful character of Ifemelu. While some of the characters were somewhat one-dimensional, the protagonist was so compelling that I couldn’t set the book down.

Continue reading “January Microreviews”