Thoughts on GO SET A WATCHMAN.

i wish atticus finch could impart some wisdom on coping with the disappointing WATCHMAN

I’ve used this blog exclusively as a requirement to fulfill a weekly writing assignment for my last year’s AP English Language course. So once the school year ended, I felt extremely relieved to end blogging, though I enjoyed it more than many of my peers. So why is it now, that I find myself jotting on a summer night? It just so happens that I stumbled upon something I needed- no wait, NEEDED- to get off my chest.

Okay, stumbled is not the right word. I did not simply “stumble” upon Harper Lee’s unexpected-then-anticipated follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Like many, I hotly anticipated the July 14th release of Go Set a Watchman. Yesterday, I bought the book, and read half of it. Before I even bought the book, I pledged to myself that I would finish the book that night. But I didn’t. By 8:00 PM, on the 14th, I had made it to page 150 or so. And that’s when I knew that Go Set a Watchman was bad.

No, I did not expect the book to be great, like Mockingbird. The most I could ask for was for Harper Lee’s batting average to remain at 1.000. Maybe, I thought, Watchman could enhance Mockingbird. How silly of me to think that.

Now that I have finished Watchman, I could argue that the book could detract from what made Mockingbird so magical. After all, Watchman turns lawyer/father Atticus from a moral compass to a racist. But it’s easy to separate Mockingbird from Watchman, fortunately. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same the other way. Watchman, for the parts when it does work, works because of our (the readers) emotional attachment to the folk of Maycomb County.

I remember Mockingbird fondly. It’s an addictive read, even with its languid first half, which spans many summers. (I don’t actually have a copy of Mockingbird with me at the moment, but if I recall correctly, the Tom Robinson drama is hardly in focus until after the death of Mrs. Dubose, which marks the end of the book’s first half.) The second half, the much more iconic half, is concentrated almost entirely in days, focusing on Tom Robinson’s trial. Regardless, I find little wrong with Mockingbird‘s pace, because even with distinctly different halves, the book remains addictive.

Watchman is dreadful. Its first sin is that it is boring. Scout is no longer a spunky child. She is instead Jean Louise, a New Yorker a little too headstrong for her own good. Her plights feel painfully ordinary. She rides a train, meets her hometown sweetheart, stays with her father and aunt… if her father wasn’t THE Atticus Finch, and if she was not THE Scout from Mockingbird, the book would have no audience what so ever. The book, again, cannot stand alone. Any interest and investment in the characters only comes from a love of Mockingbird.

I’m not mad that Harper Lee left Jem for dead. It’s just disappointing that in his place as Scout’s male companion is Henry Clinton, a replacement son of sorts to Atticus (post-Jem) that seems to be transported from the pages of penny dreadfuls to Maycomb County. It rings false that slick Clinton frequently addresses Scout Jean Louise with “Honey” and/or “Baby”. In fact, much of the book’s dialogue feels unreal, in the worst sense.

I identified most with Jean Louise as the book plodded on, as it searched for a central conflict to latch on to. The book’s best scene in the present is a party that Aunt Alexandra (another character I could have done without) hosts, in which the various women groups of Maycomb come over to the Finch house. In that scene. Jean Louise finds she cannot relate to the women she left behind, and their words to her are only in blocks and chunks. What they are saying is almost non-sensical to the reader, a confusion well captured by Lee. It’s a sense of disillusionment that I agreed with as I read. Since Mockingbird, Maycomb changed a lot, into a place much less welcoming of blacks (often referred to with n-words), having almost none of it’s welcoming pull that made Mockingbird feel lived in.

After an argument with Atticus, in which he explains his negative opinions toward blacks, Jean Louise hastily packs to escape Maycomb County for good. I too, wished for escape from Watchman‘s world. But I had to read on. I couldn’t look away. Reading Watchman was like bearing witness to Harper Lee orchestrating a car crash. And as all fell down, I could not help but watch. The Maycomb County of Watchman was a world I cared very little to spend time in. As I finished the book, I felt like I had gained nothing from it, except maybe anger. That’s not how I felt about Mockingbird, which left me feeling satisfied and wiser than before.

I never wished for Watchman to deliver exactly what Mockingbird did though. I just wanted to be surprised. And I was, in the worst way. Watchman bores, robs Maycomb County of its magic, and turns the daddy of all literary daddies into someone – dare I say it – unlikable. Atticus may be more complex now, but he is also less likable. Let’s face it, the moral compass has lost its magnetic magic. Don’t be surprised if this book touches the untouchable esteem of Atticus Finch.

As talk brews of the suspicious circumstances of the release of Go Set a Watchman, I tune it all out. I assume Lee released the book she intended to release. And now that it’s out, I can only express my disappointment. The book’s not exactly bad – the book’s simple prose more often than not feels rich – but it pales in comparison to an extreme degree besides Mockingbird. Thanks heavens the book feels so ordinary. The sooner I forget it, the sooner I can indulge in the youthful joys that To Kill a Mockingbird will forever offer.

One last ride.

Dear readers of this blog,

The school year has ended, and so has this blog. Hopefully I have succeeded in indulging you, the reader, in explorations through food, music, and movies. Though I wrote various posts for these various goals, I feel that I have yet to fully fulfill them. There are promises that have been broken, such as not resolving my “Alphabetical April” post series, or completing my list of my most anticpated summer movies. Often I shamelessly advertised links to my letterboxd account, and currently, I don’t see a point in stopping (www.letterboxd.com/swu_hoo).

However, I learned a lot from blogging. Blogging three times a week, every week, instilled writing as mandatory, making it more disciplined. So, when it came time to write essays three times this year, I tackled it with more ease than I would have had if I did not blog this year.

(if you’re still reading this, click on this link, and let it play in the background as I conclude my blog’s conclusion)

From blogging, I had a constant and necessary reason to write, making the once daunting task of writing essays much more possible. There’s a discussion that comes through having my writing seen publicly worldwide that I wouldn’t get any other way – it made my writing not only required, but important. Now, THAT is education done right.

Most Anticipated Movies – JUNE

June doesn’t have quite as many blockbusters that I’m angsty to see compared to May – in fact, almost all of my anticipated June films are indies (I don’t have high hopes for Jurassic World). However, June has my most anticpated film of the summer too, so it’s got that going for it.

Love & Mercy (June 5, limited)

I love, love, love The Beach Boys. Pet Sounds is probably my favorite album at the current moment, but I’ve been listening to the reconstruced SMiLE and Surf’s Up a lot too. I’ve heard great things about this movie, and I want to see how the Paul Dano/John Cusack dual performance as Brian Wilson will work. I imagine it will be more conventional than Todd Haynes’ Bob Dylan flick I’m Not There, but hopefully this will be a welcome portrait in the biopic genre.

those Criterons though…

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (June 12)

I actually read the book for this movie after hearing it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this January. It’s a solid book, but I am still excited for this movie because it feels tailor-made for me: a cinephile’s The Fault in Our Stars. Plus, the reviews have been solid.

The Tribe (June 17, limited)

This is Miroslav Slaboshpitsky’s debut film, and I have no idea who he is. I can’t even pronounce his name. Or understand the language his movie, The Tribe, is in. The movie’s foreign, but it’s got no subtitles either. In fact, there’s no dialogue in it, only sign language. Yet, The Tribe still stands as my most anticipated movie of the summer. The reviews are incredible, which is part of the hype, but I also want to see how Slaboshpitsky handles his film, using only sign language to tell his story. It looks fascinating, and if there is to be a masterpiece in this year’s summer crop, it’s gonna be this one (or Mad Max: Fury Road, which I have yet to see).

Dope (June 19)

A$AP Rocky acts. Zero from The Grand Budapest Hotel goes thug. This movie just looks cool. And again, A$AP Rocky acts. That’s all I need to know that it’s gonna be great.

Inside Out (June 19)

Pixar has been off the saddle lately with their movies. Hopefully this is good. Amy Poehler seems like a perfect choice for a character representing the emotion ‘Joy’. I’ll wait for word from the Cannes Film Festival screening to find out if it’s hot or not.

Oh, and though it’s not a movie, I am still extremely hyped for True Detective: Season 2, starring Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch (!), and Vince Vaughn (!!!). June’s still got some good stuff coming my way. I’m ready.

Most Anticipated Movies – MAY

May marks the start of the summer movie season, a time when movie theaters offer popcorn entertainment, entertaining corny pop movies, and air conditioning. And even though my school district assigns June as the start of summer, the theaters say May, and based on how good the May movie lineup looks, I think we’re in for an excellent start to a hopefully excellent summer movie season.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)

The summer is kicking off in a big way with what will most likely be the biggest movie of the summer, and maybe the year. It has already come out in most of the world already, making the next five days leading up to this movie all the more painful. Blockbuster movies like this aren’t my favorite, but I’ve been a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and this entry looks so far so good.

Far from the Madding Crowd (May 1, limited)

Is it wrong for me to say that I am more excited for this movie than Age of Ultron? Regardless, I am a fan of Carey Mulligan and director Thomas Vinterberg, and though reviews are indicating that this isn’t quite a home-run, but at least a triple. Mulligan stars as Bathsheba Everdene, a young woman courted by various suitors, based on the novel by Thomas Hardy. I love the world that Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles occupied (captured brilliantly by Roman Polanski in 1979), and this looks like a visually astonishing and welcome entry into the Hardy Cinematic Universe (but imagine if that became a thing).

Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15)

This one has a different Thomas Hardy, who goes by the name of Tom. Tom Hardy stars as Max in the reboot(?) of the classic Mel Gibson post-apocalyptic franchise. This is directed by George Miller, the man behind the original series. From the trailers, this looks balls-to-the-walls/holy-shit/fuck-fuck-fuck/damn insane. I can only say it looks awesome, and I hope it is.

Slow West (May 15, limited)

This one is a directoral debut by John MacLean, and it won the World Cinema Prize at Sundance this year. It stars Michael Fassbender as a stranger helping a teenage boy find his lost love. From the trailer, the movie looks like stylistic fun from a welcome and original voice in world cinema. Also, it’s rare for me to have a distributor bias, but I’ve put blind faith in A24 before and have yet to be disappointed.

Tomorrowland (May 22)

This one is one of the big question marks of the summer. Does it look awesome? Hell yea. But does anyone know any idea of what it is about? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’m putting my faith into director Brad Bird for this one. Hopefully it is good, because I’m all for original blockbuster filmmaking.

Aloha (May 29)

To be honest, this looks pretty awful. But, there’s a strong cast in Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, and Alec Baldwin. Plus, it’s from Cameron Crowe, who desperately needs to make another great movie. Fingers crossed.

Cinema soundtracks.

Recently I watched Peter Strickland’s artsy lesbian lover drama The Duke of Burgundy. What was notable, besides the content and the imagery, was the soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes. The opening credits to the film provide a pretty good idea of what the movie’s music is like, and if you were wondering, I do think it is quite good.

That got me thinking. Movies have committed composers that work expressly to make music for movies, like Hans Zimmer, James Horner, or Alexandre Desplat, to name a few (I didn’t even mention John Williams or Bernard Herrman, or Ennio Morricone). These guys are all talented people. But why is it that certain films have music from bands that don’t normally work in music?

Here’s an example: a favorite of mine, Blue Valentine, has a soundtrack mostly compromised of Grizzly Bear instrumentals from Yellow House and VeckatimestThe Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby had music from Sun Luxe. Mica Levi did Under the Skin. PT Anderson has a working relationship with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and J.C. Chandor has one with Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes’ Alex Ebert. Even Pink Floyd worked with Antonioni for Zabriskie Point.

What’s the correlation? A lot of bands work with independent film, it seems, and a lot of studio films cycle between many of the same composers (of course there are outliers, like Zabriskie Point and Daft Punk for Tron: Legacy). No one is better than the other; both styles share highs and lows. It also seems to be commonplace for some movies to have an original song made for the picture, like Rihanna’s work for the disposable Home, or John Legend and Common’s work for the important Selma.

Personally, my favorite film soundtracks include Bernard Herrman’s score for Hitchcock’s Vertigo and Psycho, and for Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. There’s also Morriconne for Once Upon a Time in America, and of course John Williams for Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Recently, I loved Grizzly Bear’s work with Cianfrance for Blue Valentine, and Jonny Greenwood’s for Paul Thomas Anderson’s last three efforts.

It seems that all the movies I listed in the paragraph above seem be great movies. That is no coincidence. A great score/soundtrack is vital in the making of a great film. And many of the all-time greats have a great soundtrack that certainly assist in making them so memorable. So next time you watch a movie, keep your eyes and ears open.

Alphabetical April 2015 (Part 3)

“C”: Cool Hand Luke (1967)

I blame a shitty TCM recording, a loud thunderstorm, and a break half-way through to eat dinner for damaging my maximum enjoyment of Stuart Rosenberg’s Paul Newman classic Cool Hand Luke. Newman is an actor I’ve gained mad respect for because only in the past few months, I’ve seen The Hustler and The Verdict. Compared to the other two, Luke is the weakest, in both quality and Newman performance. But it’s certainly his most iconic. In the movie, Newman is Luke, a fighter against in the prison system that he has been introduced to. He’s a broken man, and all comes out in the final thirty minutes. But what about the hour and a half before? Roseneberg depicts Luke’s revolutionary “against-the-system” actions with a balance of fun and dead seriousness, and maybe forty-some years ago Luke’s behavior would have been considered rude, but today it feels mild. George Kennedy is terrific as Luke’s friend, deservedly winning Best Supporting Actor in 1968. (7.7/10)

“K”: Klute (1971)

Often I divide movies by pre-Godfather and post-Godfather, almost as if cinema is a religion and The Godfather is Jesus. The pre-Godfather era is a much tamer one than the post, so I was totally surprised by Klute‘s explicit nature. Think of Klute like Charade, sans playfulness plus seriousness. Donald Sutherland is dead serious like Jesus Christ dude can you stop being so serious sometimes, I’m like 100% sure there has been more evidence of Bigfoot over Donald Sutherland smiling John Klute, an investigator searching for a missing friend. His key? Jane Fonda’s NYC prostitute character. Do they fall in love? Yes. Is the missing friend revealed to have been killed by a friend? Yes. Klute, though mature and stylistically exciting, offers few things that haven’t already been seen before. I guess Jane Fonda was alright in the movie, though. (6.6/10)

“S”: Syriana (2005)

In this year’s Oscar season, Inherent Vice was ridiculed for being nonsensical and impossible. But did those guys even see Syriana, Stephen Gaghan’s exposé into shady oil going-ons? The movie has an all-star cast, with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Jeffrey Wright, Amanda Peet, and William Hurt, to name a few. Though the plot is as tangled as Disney’s 2010 animated Rapunzel movie, maybe that was what Gaghan intended. There’s a lot of stuff happening in Syriana, and more often than not I was confused, but it still proves itself as bold adult filmmaking that the studio system needs a whole heck of a lot more of. (7.6/10)

By this time next month, I will have wrapped up my Alphabetical April challenge. Stay tuned for a final post in the coming weeks ranking all 27 films that I watched for the challenge.

Alphabetical April 2015 (Part 2)

As of 1:34 PM central time on April the 19th, I have watched 19½ movies of the 27 I have prescribed for my ‘Alphabetical April‘ film challenge (the ½ comes from Mark Rydell’s On Golden Pond, which I have paused a little farther than half-way because of hospital volunteering).

It’s hard to say whether or not I enjoy this challenge more or less than the ‘March Around the World‘ one I did last month. The films are more diverse, and my limits are by title alone. Anyway, here’s a few more films I’ve seen, as a part of this challenge, that I’d like to talk about.

“B”: Bulworth (1998)

As you may (or may not) know, I love rap music. Hip-hop is my favorite genre, and has been for the past year and a half. It’s what lead me to watching Time is Illmatic for the project. However, I don’t care much for politics, especially in films, when it can be pushed hard as an overbearing message. However, when the politics are satirized? That can be funny. Warren Beatty’s Bulworth finds a good balance between rap music and satire. As the title Californian senator, Beatty is cringe-inducingly funny as the delusional politician who turns to spittin’ bad rhymes to get his message across. I mean “bad” not as in “good”, but “bad” as in “really really really bad”. The film is messy and frantic, but is amusing for the most part, and shows Beatty’s versatility as a triple threat writer/director/actor. (7.4/10)

“D”: Daisies (1966)

I love art-house movies. The more independent, the better. However, I loathed Vera Chytilova’s frustrating Daisies, a film that’s playful in the sense that a broken crayon is playful. Daisies follows the nonsensical and non-chronological shenanigans of two girls. Whatever message Chytilova tries to get across, just did not work for me. Daisies is grating, and just all-around bad. I fail to see the acclaim for such a picture. (3.1/10)

“#”: 4 Little Girls (1997)

Spike Lee is a hit-and-miss filmmaker. Subtlety is not really his strong suit, with Do the Right Thing being his Exhibit A, and his public statements being Exhibit B. Like Daisies, Lee is also frustrating. So I was totally blind-sided by this documentary, about the church bombing in Civil Rights America that killed four little girls. Lee gets great interviews with the friends and family of the children, Governor of Alabama George Wallace, and even Bill Cosby. This and 25th Hour are perfect examples of Lee, the subtle filmmaker, a Lee the world of cinema needs more of. (8.8/10)