Monthly Archives: September 2011

Warrior (2011)

The title is a little off-putting. When Marck first invited me to the Aquila Legis premiere, I thought the movie would be about samurai. I expected it to involve a traditional warrior story set in Japan, complete with flying arrows and long-haired women. Instead I found myself watching a mixed martial arts film, a subgenre I am far less familiar with. Characteristically, Daryl, Tim, Eandra, Sarah, Jes, and I all arrived late, but from what I gather we didn’t miss all that much. Warrior pieces together the story of two brothers, Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), who meet again several years after an emotionally violent separation. Sons of Paddy (Nick Nolte), a former alcoholic, the two struggle with deep resentments toward their father and toward each other. Amid this tension, they find themselves pitted against each other in a $5,000,000 winner-take-all tournament, both fighting for reasons they consider worth their lives.

I grew up liking action movies, but rarely do I encounter one nowadays that runs on more than just adrenaline. True, Warrior is not action-packed in the sense that it has no guns or car chases, but it offers viewers enough excitement from inside the ring. Plus the action here feels warranted, as a physical manifestation of inner turmoil. What I like most about the movie is that it exhibits an economy of words and background information. We are given very few details about the characters (although this may be because I missed the first part), fed to us in snippets of conversation. The delivery of information is deftly handled: the film reveals character histories without resorting to flashbacks or a lengthy exposition. As for the video montages, they were not anything new, nor were they particularly spectacular, but the sequences did serve as a smooth technique to move along the story.

The makers of Warrior obviously know how to build suspense. Although some parts of the ending are already evident from the beginning, this does not prevent the movie from creating mounting tension within the ring. The close-up shots make you feel as if they’re showing a real fight and you are there with them, holding your breath. Emotions swirl around heavily during the last few minutes, but Warrior handles drama well. Some parts actually got me teary-eyed, and I left the AFP theater satiated, knowing that I had just watched a good movie.

‘I don’t need you now. It’s too late now. Everything’s already happened.’

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Anansi Boys

Some readerships are born out of accident. Or, as in my case with Neil Gaiman, a whole series of them. It began with Stardust. Pau lent me her copy in high school and, like most readers, I fell in love with it; it sparked an early interest. Almost all subsequent “accidents” link to Eandra. Over the years, she has lent me: Fragile Things, Smoke and Mirrors, Good Omens (co-authored with Terry Pratchett), American Gods, Coraline, The Wolves in the Walls, The Graveyard Book. (Neverwhere I bought for myself, because I felt bad for not owning a single Gaiman novel.) Eandra practically insisted on me borrowing her books—she’s obviously a fan, and she’s generous that way. Visiting me in the hospital some weeks ago, she brought Anansi Boys and wordlessly handed it to me, along with a small bouquet of flowers.

Thick paperback novels almost always prove entertaining, and Anansi Boys is no exception. Not since The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao have I read a novel with such urgency. I wanted to know what would happen next. But mostly it felt like an action movie, where it’s all really just movement—a few emotional moments here and there, yes, but generally the focus is on the plot rather than on the characters. Although Gaiman manages to impress an unmistakable distinctness to his characters, I found the emotional transitions unwarranted, sometimes occurring in just one sentence. (Fat Charlie falling out of love with Rosie: “Fat Charlie thought about Rosie. He found it particularly hard to remember her face.”) In essence, that’s my problem with the novel, really: it was too easy! All along I believed it would conclude with a happy ending, but still I wanted that to be earned.

Anansi Boys leaves you with many unanswered questions, but it does end in a manner that makes your heart feel a bit lighter, the world just a bit brighter. It’s an easygoing book for anyone looking to have a bit of spook and fun, for the kind of reader who doesn’t take himself or his books too seriously. But otherwise, it feels unsatisfying. The author shows no careful deliberation on sentences, paragraphs—the focus remains on the overarching story, and while that is okay, in this case it leads to plot shifts that often feel undeserved, and a story that is overall lacking.

Impossible things happen. When they do happen, most people just deal with it. Today, like every day, roughly five thousand people on the face of the planet will experience one-chance-in-a-million things, and not one of them will refuse to believe their senses. Most of them will say the equivalent, in their own language, of ‘Funny old world, isn’t it?’ and just keep going.

The Art of Possibility

Self-help books have never interested me. Along with architecture hardcovers and inspirational booklets, they constitute a part of the bookstore I very rarely wander in, and only then in passing. So what am I doing, reviewing The Art of Possibility? Amazon.com lists this book under Business & Investing and Health, Mind & Body. In the first sentence, the authors declare, “This is a how-to book of an unusual kind.” And it is. The book invites readers to take a leap into possibility. It teaches us how to approach reality through a different set of frameworks from those that life has hammered into us. It proposes a kind of thinking that allows us to broaden our horizons far beyond what we had first imagined possible.

Knowing me, I would have never considered reading this book. But then Albert suggested it to me, after seeing it on our former philosophy professor’s blog and reading it himself. Anton Sevilla’s required readings in 2006 included The Art of Possibility. So I said, mostly out of respect for him, Fine, let’s give it a try.

The world’s scarcity sets our limits, says the pragmatist. It’s a box we can never get out of. To this the book responds, Draw a bigger shape. Essentially, this is what the two Zanders do in this book: show us different shapes. The human mind is a marvelous thing. With it, we can reconstruct our view of the world and live in a multitude of ways. The Art of Possibility, in particular, espouses a life philosophy of a positive, humanist kind.

At its best, this book inspires. With my allergy to self-help, I was surprised to find myself repeating the book’s catchphrases in times of difficulty. I would say, “It’s All Invented” or remind myself about “Giving an A.” It was a happy experience, actually applying what I had read to my life. Which is why it’s ironic how, at its worst, the book strikes me as too abstract. Sometimes I would find its words passing over my head without me having ingested anything, and feel too lazy to go over the chapter again. Mostly I just plowed through the book, although there were times when I felt like my mind was truly being opened. I appreciate everything I picked up from this book, but my recommendation ends there. It hasn’t convinced me to browse the self-help section anytime soon.

Indeed, all of life comes to us in narrative form; it’s a story we tell.

‘I’m so sorry for you; your lives have been so easy. You can’t play great music unless your heart’s been broken.’

‘Things change when you care enough to grab whatever you love, and give it everything.’

…while our willingness to distinguish good and evil may be one of our most enhancing attributes, it is important to realize that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are categories we impose on the world—they are not of the world itself.

We don’t have to restrict ourselves, and we don’t have to compromise. With our inventive powers, we can be passionately for each other and for the whole living world around us. We need never name a human being as the enemy.