Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Heart Goes Last

I have read so many Margaret Atwood novels over the years (The Handmaid's Tale, The Robber Bride, Surfacing, Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, Cat's Eye...) and have always found them intelligent and engrossing.  Some I enjoyed a lot more than others, but all of them held my attention. The characters were smart and complex, the writing skilled, the plots unique.

I'm afraid to say The Heart Goes Last is TERRIBLE. It is hoaky, goofy, and sloppy. The characters are incredibly underdeveloped, mere sketches, and their one-dimensionality is at times almost infuriating. The plot is so ridiculous and so full of holes that I don't know what to make of it.  In a dystopian near future, a couple impoverished by a national financial crisis agrees to enter heavily closed community where they alternate months in a generic middle class house and a clean well-run prison. In both they have jobs. The project developers are working on nefarious projects that include euthanasia, sex dolls, and operations to make women fall in love and lust with just one man. Although there is a sort of interesting twist at the very end, The Heart Goes Last is the silliest thing I have read in a long time, and Atwood must have written it in one night of insomnia.

Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society from 1989 holds up. It's about a new exuberant non-traditional English teacher at an uptight prep school in the late 1950s, and the group of boys who are inspired by him. They are in an uptight environment and feel anxious about grades and their future success (largely mapped out for them by their parents), and you can feel their yearning for something more. Enter Robin Williams, who breathes life and passion into their dry poetry texts. He has them shout the lines as they sprint across a field. That kind of thing. The contrast between the artistic desires he inspires in some of the boys, and their restrictive social structures leads to a tragedy. And yet the ending is heartwarming.

True, the whole thing is a bit cliche, but it works. Largely because of the warmth of the performances, the fragility of the boys, their good natured friendships, and fundamental kindness that Williams so often conveyed in his acting. It was really touching seeing so many actors -- now middle aged and well known, or in Williams' case, dead -- in their youth, just hatched. Ethan Hawke seemed painfully young. I kinda teared up just looking at him.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

I loved Hedwig and the Angry Inch! I think I loved it even more the second time. The gorgeous spectacle is rousing, but this time around I was more moved by the relationships. The sense of loss and betrayal, the sadness and beauty Hedwig inhabits. I loved how the story was told through song and flashbacks -- the musical numbers and visual energy carried so much emotion and nuance as Hedwig recounts her life in East Germany with her mother, her first boyfriend, what she needed to do leave, and her love affair in the states.... It came together with humor and passion and a robust and ravishing aesthetic.