J.K. Rowling’s New Adult Novel Won’t Leave You Feeling VACANT

J.K. Rowling’s latest tome isn’t a book about a young wizard but instead about the political machinations of a small British town. Doing her best to channel contemporary British author Zadie Smith (a great choice of a writer to emulate), Rowling’s novel tackles class, race, and ethics in this small community of characters. Despite her efforts to make The Casual Vacancy an adult book (which it certainly is), it is the group of adolescents that provide not only the backbone for the story but also the more compelling characters in the story.

13497818When beloved Barry Fairbrother dies, a casual vacancy is left open on the parish council. As the citizens of Pagford scramble to find a replacement, a malicious campaign for the vacancy ensues. And as The_Ghost_of_Barry_Fairbrother mysteriously begins posting rumors on the council website, some of these characters’ darkest secrets are exposed.

The sheer number of characters in this novel makes starting the story feel almost exhausting. Being in such a small town, they are all linked to each other, which makes it both difficult to grasp at first but also easier to keep track of them all later in the story. Fortunately, unlike other long novels, Rowling starts advancing the story early, making it much easier to get engrossed in this sprawling novel. She has also populated Pagford with engaging characters whose eccentricities build up to a terrific boiling point.

While at times Rowling’s intricately detailed story may feel exhausting, it becomes clear she knows exactly where the story is headed, effortlessly leading you to the climax. She’s able to weave her complex story through various character perspectives that jump not only through each chapter but sometimes within the chapters themselves (sometimes requiring a very close reading as she jumps around a large gathering). All of this works in your favor as you reach the very rewarding ending.

I’m hopeful that Rowling will continue to write these adult-oriented novels as she continues to develop her writing voice (a few of the techniques she uses throughout the novel prove that she has a lot to offer). I’m also hopeful that the upcoming BBC miniseries adaptation will prove to be an equally complex and engaging story, bringing to life these great characters.

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And I Said How About You See “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”

logoHolly Golightly returns to the pop culture consciousness this month in the form of a new Broadway adaptation. This time, Game of Thrones’ very own Mother of Dragons Emilia Clarke plays this iconic character opposite rising star Cory Michael Smith’s Fred. Closely adapted from Truman Capote’s classic novella, this new stage production sparkles with charm and wit (and fabulous costumes).

Starting in 1957, Fred returns to the old bar he used to frequent when his bartender buddy Joe (George Wendt) informs him of a new Holly Golightly spotting. Although apprehensive about the photos (provided by his old neighbor I.Y. Yunioshi—James Yaegashi), this does prompt Fred to regale the audience with the story of his dealings with Holly back in 1943 that led up to her disappearance. As Fred got enmeshed in the zany world of Holly and her friends, he had to face not only his seemingly romantic feelings for her but also his romantic feelings towards men.

With sliding sets and the expositional use of projected images, director Sean Matthias is able to keep the action and story moving at a delightful pace. Smith is a cool narrator, almost effortlessly jumping between speaking to the audience and interacting with the characters. Clarke is equally compelling as she emphasizes the charm and whimsy of Holly along with her darker past. And with the addition of Colleen Atwood’s costume design, this is a visually stunning production. (Also visually stunning are Smith and Clarke when they strip down for a bubble bath.)

The play is full of zany characters whose affectations are perfectly encapsulated by the actors playing them. Writer Richard Greenberg also draws on the darker themes of Capote’s novel to give audiences a different glimpse into this story than they are familiar with from the film. Ultimately, Breakfast at Tiffany’s strikes just enough comedic and dramatic chords to provide a perfect Broadway theatre experience.

Spring Break Forever, Bitches: A Review

spring-breakers-poster-1It’s spring break, y’all! From the writer of that messed-up movie about Kids with AIDS, Harmony Korine wrote and directed this film about one of college’s most important rites of passage. Spring Breakers follows a group of four girls who just wanna have fun but end up getting into deep trouble (not just with the law, either). What starts as their ideal partying vacay quickly turns into their biggest nightmare (at least for some of them).

Naughty party girls Brit (Prettly Little Liars’ Ashley Benson), Candy (High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens), and Cotty (Rachel Korine, wife of Harmony) are so desperate to get to spring break that they throw on ski masks and rob a fast food joint using a mallet and a realistic-looking squirt gun. With money in hand, they convince goody-goody Faith (Wizard of Waverly Place’s Selena Gomez), who wants to get out of their small college town and “see” things, to join them on their debaucherous spring break.

It’s all fun and games on spring break, until the girls get arrested for using drugs at a party. When drug and arms dealer Alien (James Franco—covered in tattoos and wearing a grille) bails them out, they are forced to follow him around like his own playmate entourage. But the dark and seedy underworld of spring break proves to be too much for some of the girls, yet getting out of Alien’s clutches is not very easy.

spring-breakers-posterKorine purposefully cast these young, tween stars to provide a greater contrast between innocence and violence. Just as Stoker involves youth violence, so does this film; but even with the spring break backdrop, the film is still not glorifying violence (although they seem to live in a consequence-free world). The violence in the film seems far more frightening than encouraging, showing just how desensitized our youth culture has become.

The biggest problem with the film lies in Korine’s filmmaking style. The repetitious montages and dialogue make some of the sequences feel exceedingly tedious. Shots of partying or lawlessness are constantly recycled throughout the film. And certain lines are play on a loop (oftentimes you hear conversations before they occur within the stories timeline). Oftentimes it feels like the film is just treading water, frustrating the viewer; but the payoffs at the end make up for most of it. Some of that repetitious dialogue becomes comedic, but it’s hard to tell if it’s intentionally funny or not.

Spring Breakers is a damning portrait of youth in America. At times it feels like a frivolous film of excess, but other times an important message piece. Either way you look at it, the stunning performances by Benson and Gomez and the jarring incorporation of Britney Spears songs used throughout the film make this one vacation you won’t want to miss.