Coffee Labor Day

In honor of Labor Day, I’m having a Coffee Labor Day this week, instead of a Coffee Sunday.

I finished reading Friday by Robert A. Heinlein. You might recall that it’s the novel I struggled with all through August. Published in 1982, it had failed to age. It explores the theme of what it means to be an artificial person—an android, a test-tube baby. Friday searches for her place a society that considers APs as undesirable acquaintances. Prejudice is a theme in the novel, but that theme has been explored in far better novels. Friday struck me as episodic. In the course of the story, she encountered several problems, but most of them were solved a chapter or two later. Many of the solutions were handed to her by outside sources rather than solutions she achieved herself. We want literary protagonists to solve their own problems.

During the last week of August, I resumed my habit of watching a movie a day. That’s a more-or-less standard since errands can make watching a movie impossible on this or that day. The movies I saw last week were: Taking Lives (2004, Heathers (1988), The Discovery (2017), and Cabin Fever (2002).

Taking Lives was based on the novel by Michael Pye. It’s directed by D. J. Caruso, and it stars Angelina Jolie and Ethan Hawke. It was a decent thriller, average in quality, with a couple surprises thrown into the mix. It shares the title and some character names with the novel, but not much else. Though it shared the premise of a serial killer who adapts his victims’ identities, the movie only gave lip service to that premise. It lost the beautiful local color in Pye’s novel, which was set in Portugal. In making Illeana Scott (Jolie) an FBI profiler, and having her search dark houses and rooms filled with strange paraphernalia, I think the filmmakers were striving for a The Silence of the Lambs vibe. Aspiring for it, perhaps, but failing to achieve it.

Heathers is a black comedy that focuses on a high school clique composed of three girls named Heather and one girl named Veronica. Veronica (Winona Ryder) wants to cement her place in the Heathers, but she questions the clique’s bullying behavior towards others. When she started dating the new boy in school, J. D. (Christian Slater), her qualms lead to violent outcomes. If done right, black comedy is funny and insightful. If done wrong, it comes across as bad taste. Heathers came across as bad taste. It was filmed before the Columbine High School Massacre and other school shootings. I suspect it wouldn’t have been green-lighted after the shooting. At the very least, they would’ve changed the climatic scene. Despite these complaints, I loved the performances that both Slater and, especially, Ryder gave us.

The Discovery was the best film I saw last week. Charlie McDowell directed the movie, from a screenplay he wrote with Justin Lader. It stars Rooney Mara, Jason Segel, and Robert Redford. I always love seeing Robert Redford on the screen. He plays Dr. Thomas Harbor, a scientist who proves the existence of an afterlife. That makes him the unwilling leader of a cult. Meanwhile, his son (Segel) and a mysterious woman (Mara) search for their own ramifications of this discovery. If I were going to be high-brow, I would say The Discovery is an exploration of existential philosophy. It is that, but it is also well-acted with intriguing characters.

What can I say about Cabin Fever? At times, it felt like a paint-by-the-numbers horror movie. At other times, it felt like it wanted to satire the genre in the same way that The Cabin in the Woods would achieve ten years later. This gave it a mixed tone that didn’t help its copy-and-paste plot. Filmmakers: Stop starting your horror movies with college-age kids driving off to the country. Stop filming that dreaded cell-phone scene of someone wandering around looking for a signal. I’m tired of seeing the first thirty minutes of film over and over again under different titles.

My feature writer for September is Sylvia Plath. I’m looking forward to exploring her life and work with you. I had great fun in August reading Edgar Allan Poe and writing about him. I knew a lot about Poe before I started the project, but I still learned new facts about him and gained a new appreciation for his work. I knew almost nothing about Sylvia Plath before I started researching her. Now I’m learning so much about her. She’s a fascinating person and a great choice as a feature writer.

I decided that I’m not going to have a feature writer in October. I’m going on vacation that month. And the next writer I’ll feature after Plath is Joyce Carol Oates. Oates will require more research and reading time than either Poe or Plath. When I decided on the feature writer format for my blog, I decided on a three-month cycle. During the first month, I will research the writer to learn what’s significant about them, what’s unique, and what contribution they made to literature. During the second month, I would read a sample of their work. The third month will be the month I feature them with blog posts. Unfortunately, the illness I suffered in June derailed that schedule. By skipping a feature writer for October, I hope to get back to the workflow.

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