Thursday, October 05, 2017

2017 National Book Awards: Five Finalists Announced

Followup: 2017 National Book Awards
Five Finalists Announced for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature

Following up on my article on the 2017 National Book Awards Literary Prize List on September 29, the five finalists have been announced for each category.

National Book Awards Week begins November 14 with a livestreamed Teen Press Conference in the morning and finalists readings in the evening. The National Book Award Ceremony and Benefit Gala will occur and be livestreamed on November 15, when the winners will be announced.

Congratulations to all!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight: Falls Far Short of the Franchise

Movie Review: Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
Version: Library borrow

Sorry to be a party pooper, but Transformers: The Last Knight is a mess of a movie. The fifth in the series of Transformers films misses on so many levels, despite a pretty good cast and some pretty good special effects.

Let's start off with the good aspects of the film. It brings back all the great characters we've come to love. Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, for one. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee as the main Transformers, for others. Then Stanley Tucci makes a memorable cameo appearance early on as Merlin, which fills in some back story for the Transformers mythology. But then the film begins to fall apart.

It introduces two totally dispensable characters: Jimmy, who is the caretaker of the Transformers while Earth is at war with them and they are in hiding out in the desert, and Izabella, who is an orphaned 14 year old in the canyons of ruined Chicago whose only "family" is a barely surviving Transformer. Cade rescues her from attack by the TFN (Transformers Reaction Force), but when she wants tag along, and she still manages to follow him everywhere. And from then on, she serves no purpose other than, perhaps, to attract a younger audience to the film. I'm not sure why Jimmy is there once Cade and cadre escape an attack by the TFN.

And that brings me to the next failure of the film. It jumps from venue to venue in the blink of an eye, without establishing spacial relationships. You go from cityscapes to desert landscapes to cityscapes and on and on. In one setting, Cade and his group run away from the TFN, who appear to be right on their tail, to arrive miles ahead in an isolated small desert town.  They battle it out on the street, in a store, then suddenly in a large cathedral, then all of a sudden they're in a glass-faced skyscraper! When that gets blown to bits, they're suddenly back in the streets of the small town. Ohhhh-kay. Then a shiny British robot shows up to rescue them and take them to a waiting flying wing (propeller-driven) plane and they fly off across the ocean to England, with no intercept.

Here we meet Sir Edmund Burton, played by the amazing Anthony Hopkins, who isn't amazing at all in this film. He's a mantle piece, try though he might. And we meet Vivian Wembley, played by Laura Haddock, who is actually refreshing relief in this film. Burton and Wembley are important as the story evolves. They represent past and present in the Transformers universe and they are key to saving the Earth from destruction by Quintessa, the creator of Cybertron, the Transformers' home world.

A good part of this film is cgi generated, obviously, so a good part of the acting is by voice. But I can't give much credit to this part of the film for making it work. It's just typical animation work. It works off the script. The scale of the work is pretty amazing in parts, but other parts are disappointingly "normal" for this franchise. I can't get into too much detail without revealing spoilers.

To wrap up this review, there really were few redeeming qualities to this film. The story was bland. It lacked a back bone, it lacked an emotional impact, it lacked a professional quality. There were so many times I shook my head while watching it, shouted out, "What the hell is going on?" because I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Honestly, the producers fell far short of protecting this franchise.

Friday, September 29, 2017

National Book Awards 2017 American Literary Prize List Announced

National Book Awards 2017 American Literary Prize Lists

Every mid-September, the list of 10 competing books in each category for the National Book Awards American Literary Prize is announced, with the five finalists announced by mid-October (this year it will be announced October 4). The Award Ceremony for the winners and Benefit Gala will be held November 15.

Here are the ten books selected in each category for the 2017 National Book Awards, just recently announced. The categories are fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and young people's literature.

These books were selected by a panel of judges composed of writers, literary critics, and booksellers from the thousands of books that are published each year. According to the Award's website rule page, "In order to be eligible for the Award, a book must be written by an American citizen and published by an American publisher between December 1 of the previous year and November 30 of the current year. Self-published books are only eligible if the author/publisher publishes the work of other authors in addition to his own." They were submitted by their publishers.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Best Books: Esquire's 35 Best Books of 2017

Best Books: Esquire's 35 Best Books of 2017 (So Far)
Published: Sept 7, 2017

As we head into the last quarter of the year, it's a good time to look back through the list of books that have made reading fun or interesting or even a challenge. I begin with Esquire's "35 Best Books of 2017 (So Far)". As they say in their introduction, "Whether you like your reading sexy and satirical or political and polarizing, these stand-out books are guaranteed to challenge the status quo and spark timely conversation."

Take the link above to their article and see what you think of their list. How many have you read -- or might you read?

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Booksville Just Broke 50,000 Pageviews Threshold!

My personal thank you to all my readers on the Booksville Book Review and Movie Review blog. It just broke the 50,000 pageviews threshold! That was never a goal, even as I approached that number, just an abstract number like watching the miles tick off on the car odometer. But now that I have reached it, I am grateful for each and every person who has taken the time to view my pages. My actual goal was simply to provide objective reviews of every book I have read and every movie I have watched and hoped you have found them useful. If you have returned to view pages multiple times, then thank you again and again.

Please feel welcome to comment on anything I write, and please feel free to share the reviews if you find something useful.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Red Turtle: A Magical Journey for the Soul

Movie Review: The Red Turtle (2016)
Version: Starz on Demand

One of the more curious animated films recently is The Red Turtle, directed and co-scripted with Pascale Ferran by Michael Dudok de Wit. There is virtually no dialogue, only the occasional "Hey! Hey!" It is all action, but the story line is simple enough, every nuance plain enough, no need for dialogue.

Simply, a man struggles for his life on a rolling sea in the middle of a storm, eventually ending up on a deserted beach on a small lonely island. Besides the abundant beach and a prominent rocky outcrop that overlooks everything, there is a deep bamboo forest and a few coconut trees, along with a fresh water pool -- all the things he needs to sustain himself. Despite living on a paradise, the man is lonely and bored all on his own, and unable to do anything about it in his seclusion, he tries building a raft of fallen bamboo to escape, but something unseen from below batters his raft and he must return to his solo habitat. He tries it again, and the same thing happens. And again. And again. Finally, the man catches the culprit, a large red turtle, which he follows back to the beach and bodily turns over, leaving it to die on the dry beach in revenge. Eventually the man feels remorse and tries to revive the red turtle, but it has already died. Falling asleep, he later awakens to find the turtle's shell has split and a woman arises from the red turtle's shell. This changes the man's life, giving him a companion and spouse, with which he father's a son and with whom he can grow old on this prison island. The story goes on to chronicle the wonderful life they live together, the ups and the downs, even the moment the son reaches lonely adulthood and says goodbye, swimming away.

In many ways, this film is magical, saying so much with the expressions on the characters' faces and their gestures, eliciting so much emotion and communicating so much of the story through color and music. You never doubt for a moment what is going on in the story. And living through the lives of the characters so intimately by watching everything unfold, never needing to intrude with dialogue, it is a far more powerful telling of the story. It's almost real-life like.

No one leaves watching The Red Turtle untouched by the story. It's a magical journey for the soul.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Moonlight: An Important Story of Courage and Perseverance

Movie Review: Moonlight (2016)
Version: Library borrow

As complex and riveting a story as I have seen in a long time is Moonlight. It traces the story of a young African American gay man growing up on the rough streets of Miami. We see his difficult life as a bullied quiet "little" boy of around age 9, as an abused teen, and as a recovering adult. It is vague about his sexuality, although there is one explicit scene in his teen years when a close friend introduces him to gay sex on a lonely beach at night. Less vague are the scenes of motherly neglect as he is growing up and the abuse he receives as a weak male by other children when he is a boy and when is a teen, even receiving a beating on the playground, an act forced on his close friend by the other more aggressive teens.

The main character is Chiron, played at various ages by Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders, and Trevante Rhodes. He is mentored as a child by a neighborhood drug dealer named Juan (played by Mahershala Ali) and given shelter by Juan's caring girlfriend Teresa (played by Janelle Monáe) when Chiron's mother Paula (played by Naomie Harris) sends him away so she can do drugs or be instead with her boyfriends. Later as a teen Chiron has no mentors, just the shelter of Teresa's home and the friendship of boyhood friend Kevin, played at various ages by Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, and André Holland. After his beating on the playground, usually weak teen Chiron has finally had enough and returns to class to take a chair to the back of the head of the main bully who brought on his beating, resulting in his arrest. We next find him on the streets of Miami as a drug dealer. It's been years since his beating, since getting out of jail, and Chiron has moved on and changed his life.

Out of the blue, Chiron gets a call from his old friend Kevin, the one who gave him the beating in the playground. He's wondering what he's been up to all these years. What's he up to now? And we find out how their two lives have changed. Kevin was Chiron's close friend, who shored him up when others were picking on him, who stood at his side until he was challenged by the stronger bullies to act out against Chiron. Now there is an implicit invitation for Chiron to visit Kevin in Atlanta and when Chiron drive up to see him out of the blue, there's another implicit invitation. Chiron has driven all the way there to see what it's all about. 

Everywhere in Chiron's life there is danger. There is betrayal (except for Juan and Teresa). There is abuse. We are always wondering where his life will turn. Even at the end, when there is a slight twist of fate, we wonder where Chiron's life will turn. 

Moonlight won the Best Picture Oscar Award. It was promoted as being controversial because it was a daring movie about a Black homosexual. But having seen it, I would say it is less about that than it is about the abuse of the weak and the rise of the abused against horrific odds.

A good film, a daring film, a film exploring new ground in old territory, Moonlight is an important story of courage and perseverance in a difficult world. It's definitely worth seeing.