Friday, February 12, 2016

Movie Review: PURPLE NOON (1960)

Purple Noon (Plein Soleil). (1960) Dir: René Clément. Starring Alain Delon, Maurice Ronet and Marie Laforêt.

Concluding Unofficial Ripley Week, I wanted to write in more detail about René Clément's adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, which he called Plein Soleil but comes to us in English as Purple Noon.

 Clément changed a few things- the characterization of Dickie (here called Philippe) and the ending- but for the most part it's a pretty straight-up (no pun intended) adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's 1950 classic crime novel about the man who comes to Europe to bring home the errant son of a shipping magnate but instead becomes obsessed with him and his idle-rich lifestyle. What happens next is murder.

The movie starts full tilt in the middle of the story- when Tom and Philippe/Dickie are having a wild night together in Rome. Little by little the backstory unravels and we learn how little Philippe knows about Tom. Philippe's girlfriend Marge is no fan of Tom, and she and Philippe have issues too, like his skirt-chasing, which Tom tries to use to drive a wedge between them. The homoerotic elements of the novel are touched on just enough. Then the violence, then Tom's time passing himself off as Philippe, then the grisly ending that I for one did not see coming.

Purple Noon is a great movie to watch right now in the Northeast US as we struggle under temps in the teens and frequent snowfalls. Nothing will make you forget winter like Clement's sun-drenched Rome and Amalfi Coast, all that beautiful sunlight. But it's a dark movie despite the sunshine. Tom Ripley is full of spite and envy, beautiful but sinister and evil.

Definitely make some time for Purple Noon this winter. It's available to stream on Hulu, or on DVD from your favorite rental outlet.

Rating: RUSH

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: RIPLEY UNDER GROUND, by Patricia Highsmith

Ripley Under Ground, by Patricia Highsmith. Published 2008 by Norton. Crime fiction. Literary fiction. Crime Fiction.

Settled in the French countryside with his new wife Heloise, Tom Ripley enjoys a quiet life of gardening, painting, and art forgery as he lives off the proceeds of his prior bad acts and commits some new ones in this enjoyable and well-structured sequel to The Talented Mr. Ripley.

In The Talented Mr. Ripley we met Tom, the American who finds his calling in crime when he's sent to retrieve shipping-company scion Dickie Greenleaf from his carefree life in Italy. Now Dickie's dead and Tom, having made himself Dickie's heir, lives quietly but comfortably. But things start to unravel when an American art aficionado suspects (correctly) that one of his pictures is a fake. The man, Mr, Murchison, goes to visit Tom thinking Tom is a fellow collector but when Tom realizes that Murchison's nosing is going to bring down the whole scheme, something has to be done. Luckily there is a blunt object handy, and we're off to the races.

The rest is cat-and-mouse with the police, Mr. Murchison's widow and an unstable painter named Bernard who tries to kill Tom not once but twice. What's going to happen? Is Tom going to come out on top or will he be caught? And what about those lingering suspicions around Dickie Greenleaf's death? When Dickie's cousin comes visiting, what could that imply for our antihero?

You'll have to read to find out. Ripley Under Ground is a fun follow-up but doesn't come close to the first book's genius. Tom is still in control, but maintaining that smooth facade is more difficult than he expects. There's no real doubt as to how it's going to end up (there are two or three more Ripley novels in Patricia Highsmith's canon so he's not going anywhere- yet) and the fun is seeing how he gets there. Tom has some real opponents in this book, and he eludes them again through cunning and luck. I don't think Under Ground is essential reading but it's fun and worth it if you want to follow Tom Ripley's further adventures.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY by Patricia Highsmith

The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith. Originally published 1955. This edition 2008 by Norton. Literary Fiction. Crime Fiction. Required Reading.

An aimless young man heads to Europe to bring home a wealthy prodigal son from the Amalfi coast, only to find his true calling in murder and deception.

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a classic everyone should read. I don't know what took me so long, honestly. Never mind the stupid 1999 film adaptation starring Matt Damon (!) as Ripley; read the book, it will take you just as long because you won't be able to put it down.

It's the late 1950s in New York City, and Tom Ripley is a young man living from one day to the next on the fruits of labor both honest and dishonest when Herbert Greenleaf approaches him a bar and asks him to go to Italy to bring home his layabout son Dickie. Tom knows the Greenleafs slightly through the New York party circuit and he takes the job, figuring he can parlay it into other opportunities once his errand is complete. But he has no idea what lay ahead, either for himself or the Greenleafs.

Tom becomes obsessed with Dickie and Dickie's lifestyle and wants no less than to have it- all of it- for himself. And if can't have Dickie and Dickie's money, then... Tom is a mesmerizing character, not only because he's so evil but because we get to watch his transformation from front-row seats. The signs are there from the beginning if you look for them, the instability and the temper, but also the intelligence and cunning. The best part for me though was the fact that his greatest successes come from his greatest mistakes. His success depends on others' ignorance as much as his own smarts.

This is book is required reading for sure. So much of modern crime fiction depends on Tom Ripley. Even a character like Amy Dunne of Gone Girl is a child of Tom Ripley. By the way the only film adaptation worth bothering with is René Clement's 1960 adapation Purple Noon (Plein Soleil) starring the beautiful Alain Delon as Tom, although that movie wimps out at the end. But you have to read The Talented Mr. Ripley. You just have to.

This was part of the Read My Own Damn Books Challenge.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sigh. Another Monday. I had a great week in reading- I finished Ripley Under Ground and then blew through The Talented Mr. Ripley, the first in Patricia Highsmith's series about the famous sociopath and killer-with-all-the-skills. What a book. Seriously you guys- required reading. I also saw the French movie version of Talented Mr. Ripley, with Alain Delon. Swoon. Seriously, I lived in Cambridge for 10 years and I love Matt Damon like any good Cambridge girl but he can't hold a candle to Alain Delon.

This week I'm reading The Pirate, by Jón Gnarr, a semi-autobiographical novel by the former mayor of Reykjavik, Iceland. It's very chatty and fun. I'm about 30 pages in and I'm reading it for my upcoming book club meeting.
I'm two chapters away from finishing Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story, by Maxim D. Shrayer. I'll do a full review but I think it's an interesting book for anyone interested in reading about the everyday life of a refusenik family in 1970s/1980s Moscow.

And I'm still poking my way through A Man of Good Hope, a really excellent piece of journalism and biography. Whatever I'm reading at the gym I'm reading very slowly.

What I read next depends on what I can find on the TBR pile. I also need to go through my galleys and see what's new that looks interesting. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Sunday Salon

This week in Marie's Life in New York includes bookstores, food, exploring neighborhoods and finding a new place to hang out. In other words, it was pretty typical. 

I went to the Grolier Club to see an exhibit on "blooks," things that look like books but are not.  The proper title of the exhibit is "Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't." The items are taken from the private collection of Mindell Dubansky, a cheerful New Yorker with a passion for books. When I visited she was on hand to guide a large crowd through the exhibit and shared stories of her favorite items. Her collection includes things like exploding books, gag books, and just about anything you can imagine shaped like a book, everything from greeting cards and spice containers to banks and flasks and travel souvenirs, jewelry, clothing and more. It was a lot of fun. It's open until March 12 and free tours are offered on Thursdays at 1. More information can be found at the Grolier Club's website.

Otherwise things were pretty routine but we've got some fun things going on this week, including some birthday stuff and a book club meeting. I'm really frustrated because there are three events this week for Muriel Barbery's new book The Life of Elves and I don't think I can make any of them. It's even more frustrating because she will be at at least one event and I would love to get my books signed, but alas, it's not going to happen. Sigh. :( That's what I get for keeping myself busy sometimes!

Today there is some game on the teevee or so I understand. I have a quilt to finish up and photograph, and a couple of other small sewing projects to work on. And I'm starting my new book club book today too. I hope you have a great Sunday whatever you do!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

What's New On the Shelf, January 2016 Edition

I added several titles to my collection in January. The thing about weeding ten before buying one? Whatever. That lasted all of minutes.

I did sell a bag of books this month though I definitely bought more than one book.

Apart from Ripley Under Ground, I bought two books and received two galleys:

Green Island, by Shawna Yang Ryan, came in the mail from Knopf. It comes out in February. It's historical fiction set in Taiwan.

One of my friends snagged for me the ultimate bookish prize, an ARC of Justin Cronin's highly anticipated The City of Mirrors, volume three of the Passage Trilogy. It comes out in May. I've started- slowly! :-)
Winter, by Christopher Nicholson, is new from Europa Editions and looks like a great read about Thomas Hardy towards the end of his life. I picked it up at Greenlight Books, one of my favorite NYC bookstores.

The Pirate, by Jon Gnarr, is a quasi-autobiographical novel by an Icelandic politician. It's volume 2 of a trilogy and I'll be reading it for my Scandinavia House book club at the end of February. I picked it up at the Strand, with credit I earned selling some books.

That's it! Not so bad, right? Listen, there are some incredible places here to get books very cheaply- you don't know how hard it is for me to fight temptation! So most of the time I don't.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Review: FATES AND FURIES, by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff. Published 2015 by Riverhead Books. Literary Fiction.

Fates and Furies, the latest book from celebrated author Lauren Groff, has been all the rage since its release last fall. It's been likened to Gone Girl with its his-and-hers story of the marriage Lotto, a wealthy bottled-water scion, and Mathilde, a young woman of murky background. They meet at Vassar and go on to live a charmed life, first in genteel West-Village poverty and later as Lotto becomes a lauded playwright and Mathilde his loyal and devoted helpmeet.

Or that's the story you could glean from the first half of the story, told from Lotto's perspective. And even in that first half the reader can see how self-centered he is and how many things might look different from Mathilde's point of view. In the second half some of those gaps get filled in.

I have a lot of thoughts about Fates and Furies. I would join a book club just to talk about it, because I feel like I need to talk about it with someone. There were things I loved about the book, like Groff's insight into Mathilde's character, the writing itself, so descriptive and lush, and the skill with which she both draws and skewers Lotto, a decent if myopic man. But I had some problems with it too, mostly to do with the amount of melodrama larded over situations that don't need it. I think there is a trend in the literary world right now towards overwrought emotional and sexual melodramas (hello A Little Life) and if you loved Hanya Yanagihara's blockbuster you will probably like this one too (although I admit I haven't read Yanagihara's book and probably won't, the talk about it is roughly similar to what Fates has to offer).

I was a big fan of Groff's last book, Arcadia, which also centered around a young woman shaped by abuse; I thought that book was excellent and very insightful, and I admire Fates but I think too often she just went to far in investing her characters with uber-angst. Mathilde's childhood as Groff shapes it is the stuff of nightmares; it's hard to believe she would walk away from that. I think a young woman who's been neglected the way she is, and who has had the lack of parenting she's had, would be drawn to bad relationships and have the attitude towards childrearing she does, but it's all so overwrought. And that's assuming she just physically survived it, which I don't think is a given. I don't know what to say without big spoilers- this is why I need people who've read it.

And the comparisons to Gone Girl are off the mark too. Mathilde isn't evil or a schemer or a murderer, and if anything the revelations about her role in the marriage seem overcooked. Her emotional detachment is both extreme and uneven; Groff tells us Mathilde loves Lotto, is devoted to him, but she lies to him in shocking ways, driven by more than just fear of not being loved for who she is. Again I don't buy that this person would be able to do what she does, given what she's been through. I think toning down or reshaping the melodrama of her childhood and early adulthood would have helped to make her more  believable overall.  I don't know that I'd recommend it to Gone Girl fans just based on the two-sides-of-a-marriage premise. I think that Fates might be a little overwritten for die-hard crime fans too and there is no real element of horror here, telenovela-worthy sexual melodrama aside.

So yeah, ambivalence from me. I get why people like it; I get why they don't. Just before I finished the book I glanced through GoodReads reviews to see what folks were saying, if it fit with how I was feeling about the book and I found that I agreed more or less with the good reviews and the bad. Should you read it? I have no idea. I'm glad I satisfied my curiosity about it though.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Monday, February 1, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


Not much has changed since last week; I'm ahead of the curve on my crime book club and have been lingering over Ripley Under Ground. I'm just really loving it. I have two other Highsmiths in my TBR pile and I want to at least read The Talented Mr. Ripley before next Wednesday.

Still working on Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story, by Maxim D. Shrayer. It's weird reading the memoir of someone I kind-of-know through social media. Like, I've seen this guy's vacation photos and stuff, and now I'm reading his life's story.

I actually never started Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet, though I did mean to. I thought saying I started would help me get started. I do want to read it, but I'm very firmly in Ripleyville right now.

What are you reading, or hoping to read? Have a great week.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Salon

So two busy weeks are behind me, and I've got one quiet one before my birthday week. Hooray! Quiet week! This week I accomplished several things. I basted two quilts, one for hand quilting and one for machine quilting. I attended two book club meetings- one for The Prophets of Eternal Fjord at the Scandinavia House, and one for The Galton Case at the Center for Fiction. People had mixed opinions about Prophets- some folks didn't finish it- but overall it was a great meeting and I really liked the people there. I think I'll continue to attend that one for sure. The discussion of Galton was fuller- that club has more attendees- but it's only an 8 week course/club/group whatever, so it will end in April no matter what.

Two big disappointments came down this week. The first is that I was too late in applying to get into a certification program I wanted to do at NYU so I have to wait till the fall. The second is that I found out the Center for Fiction is moving from its midtown Manhattan location to Brooklyn. This basically means that I will never go there again, because half of the reason I joined was to have a place to rest my feet in Manhattan. Honestly I would not have joined had I known this was going to happen, and nobody told me when I signed up.


But! It's not all gloom. My husband and I went to see Misery on Broadway starring Bruce Willis and Laurie Metcalf, and really enjoyed it. The reviews were not kind to Willis's performance and I can understand why. He kind of looked like he was suppressing smiles throughout and you didn't get a sense of desperation from him, although I had never seen or read it before and didn't know how it would end. Metfcalf was great though and it was a fun night out.

Then we got to see two rounds of Oscar-nominated short films at the IFC Center in the West Village, the animated and live-action nominees. So fun. I love that things like this are available here. I just found out they show these in Boston too-what rock have I been under?  The variety of movies you can see in New York is a real perk of living here and I love going to the movies. As for the shorts, they were mostly good, and some of them were very good. I can't wait to see who wins.

That's it for me. What are you up to today? Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Movie Review: The Treasure (2015)

The Treasure (Comoara) (2015). Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu. Starring Toma Cuzin, Adrian Purcarescu, Corneliu Cozmei. 

The Treasure is one of those low-key foreign films you might watch on a quiet Saturday or a lazy Sunday morning, basically a quiet comedy and feel-good movie about people doing the right thing under very strange circumstances. 

The plot revolves around two friends searching for buried treasure in modern day Romania. Adrian has lost his money and approaches his friend Costi for help; Adrian needs 800 euros to rent a metal detector to search his property for treasure he believes his grandfather buried. Costi, a government worker and father to a troubled son, doesn't have it on him but he agrees and negotiates for someone to come out and search. They find something, and it ends up changing at least one life.

What I loved about this movie is that it's shot through with quiet and consistent suspense, but there's this wonderful moment when you realize you have nothing to worry about. It's also very funny. If this movie ends up in your town I really encourage you to see it, or check it out if it comes to streaming or rental. It's short- barely an hour and a half- and really worth your time.