Review: Taylor Swift: Miss Americana

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Miss Americana (2020) ★★★
Directed by Lana Wilson

For a few years, my friends teased me because one evening in 2009, after I’d been writing for a few days and hadn’t paid much attention to the news, I asked if anyone could fill me in on whatever it was that had happened between Kanye West and Taylor Swift earlier in the week. Um, yeah. They could fill me in. Pretty much anyone I talked to at the bar could have filled me in at that point. I’d thought I was bringing up a piece of light gossip, but my friends quickly informed me that this was a world historical Internet Event, one so engulfing that even President Obama had weighed in.

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January Movie Diary

I spent most of last month trying to finish up a revision of my novel but as usual was waylaid by winter colds and family issues. (As I write this, my son is home sick for the second day in a row.) In the meantime, I caught up with some movies from 2019 that I missed. Here are some quick reviews:

Wild-RoseWild Rose (2019) ★★★1/2
Directed by Tom Harper
Written by Nicole Taylor

At first I was a little underwhelmed by this movie, but the music and the writing won me over. The story is more complex than it at first seems and I really fell in love with Jessie Buckley’s voice, especially her rendition of “Peace In This House.”

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Review: Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

Ben Burtt and Richard AndersonBen Burtt and Richard Anderson recording the voice of Chewbacca.

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound
Director: Midge Costin
Writer: Bobette Buster

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound is the perfect for someone (like me) who wants to learn more about the process of filmmaking. It’s also for anyone who has ever paused while filling out their Oscar ballot to wonder: what is the difference between “sound editing” and “sound mixing”? (In a nutshell: sound editing is the process of adding or subtracting sound, including voice, music, and effects into a movie after it has been filmed; sound mixing is about synthesizing everything into one soundtrack, sort of like the conductor of an orchestra.)

Producer/Director Midge Costin, a sound editor who is also a professor at USC’s film school, gives this documentary an academic bent. It often felt like a distillation of a semester’s worth of lectures, with special guest appearances from legendary sound editors like Walter Murch and Ben Burtt. Making Waves covers a lot of ground, including the history of film’s transition from the silent era to sound, the studio system approach to sound effects, the use of music in film, the process of making particular sound effects, and technological innovations in sound design such as stereo and surround sound. With behind-the-scenes interviews, photographs, and footage of sound designers at work, Costin makes visible a process that most filmgoers don’t give much thought to, but which must be executed with precision in order for a movie to cast its narrative spell. Even silence must be engineered by sound editors, who subtract ambient noises to create an artificial — but psychologically powerful — sense of quiet.

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Review: SHIRKERS

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Writer & Director: Sandi Tan

In 1992, at age 19, novelist Sandi Tan wrote and starred in Shirkers, a feature-length road movie shot on the streets of SingaporeThe title was inspired by Tan’s idea that in life, there were people who were neither movers nor shakers, but shirkers—those who evade responsibility and duty, escaping the confines of society. It starred Tan as S., a murderer and kidnapper on a mysterious mission to save children. One of Tan’s points of inspiration was J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The plot didn’t matter as much as the mood, which Tan cultivated through carefully chosen locations, props, costumes, and music. Tan hired a friend to compose a soundtrack on his electric guitar, and hand-made many of her props, including a colorful board game that S. uses to plot her kidnappings. S.’s costume was a pink sailor shirt and blue knee-length shorts; she carried an old-fashioned camera on a strap, as well as a leather suitcase. “When I was eighteen,” Tan explains, “I thought you found freedom by building worlds inside your head.”

To read more follow this link to The Common

Review: Far From the Tree

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Several years ago, when I was doing research on depression for my novel Home Field, my sister recommended The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon’s nonfiction book/memoir about depression. It sounds odd to say that I loved a book about depression and yet I did love that book, because it helped me to understand an affliction that I had seen wear down many friends and loved ones. It also gave me new ways of thinking about  the mind-body connection — if the mind and body can even be separated. Finally, it looked deeply into the question of nature versus nurture, and what effects environment and life experience have on health.

The Noonday Demon also introduced me to the voice of Andrew Solomon, which is erudite, peculiar, witty, and confiding. Like the best novelists, he has the ability to synthesize huge bodies of knowledge and research and to put it in the service of whatever story he’s telling. I was eager to read more of his writing after I finished The Noonday Demon and as it happened, his new book, Far From the Tree had just been published. I bought without knowing much about it, except that it was about parent-child relationships and that it was very long, over 900 pages.

What followed was on of the most indelible reading experiences of my life. Continue reading “Review: Far From the Tree”