Blue Velvet is a shocking, shocking movie

Blue Velvet is a shocking, shocking movie. The desperation, exploitation, voyeurism, and flat out frightening sense of brokenness at times made this movie an uncomfortable one for me.

Matt Lynn Digital has a friend that lives near the airport, referenced once before in the Matt Lynn Digital blog about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Our airport friend ranks Blue Velvet (1986) as his eighth ranked film out of ten.

Blue Velvet Director and screenwriter is talented and distinctive director David Lynch. Oscar Award nominated for best director with Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man (1980), and Mulholland Drive (2001), this movie delivers perhaps the most forthright example of a director quickly hitting you with different deeply felt reactions one upon another upon another still. The powerful scenes of great emotion and, in some cases, significant artistry are meritorious.

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Is Blue Velvet powerful? Sure. Redeeming in a way that resonated with me? I wish that I could say yes. That is to say that I am more of the Roger Ebert camp than of the Gene Siskel camp with regards to their At the Movies review of Blue Velvet (1986).

This siding with the feeling of Roger Ebert is to say that while I recognize the power of hurting the Isabella Rossellini character with full nudity on the sheriff’s front lawn, the pain I felt in her treatment there was intended to hurt and shame her as a character and actress more than it was to make a statement geared at redeeming some larger quality in Dorothy Vallens.

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The larger commentary that Lynch may have been after in stating that everyone has darkness was lost in some way with the campiness that works better for a movie like Pulp Fiction, for example. The scene where Dean Stockwell plays Ben using a prop to daydream into the singing of Roy Orbison‘s “In Dreams” seemed like a throw away scene for me. Even the ritualized rape of Vallens by Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper) seemed to lack a seriousness of treatment that such a thing deserves.

Alternatives to the attempted lighter fare that might have helped me could have included sticking more closely to the voyeurism storylines of Sandy Williams (played by Laura Dern) or Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle MacLachlan). The pain that the treatment accorded to Dorothy Vallens and Sandy Williams in Blue Velvet seemed cruel in a way that lacked nuance of its own accord, or seriousness in tone considering the remainder of the storytelling. The constant assault of jokes around wood with regards to Lumberton did not help.

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I respect the opinion of my airport friend in appreciating the quality of this film. I tend to agree that David Lynch brought forth a thought provoking examination of light versus dark, hope versus those more cynical impulses that dwell under the surface. Offering contrasts of up and down, more comical versus more repugnant, of curiosity versus experience, are quality questions to have raised. Lynch did so in a style that was uniquely his own, and for this I find praise. The bottom line is that I may not be the ideal audience for Blue VelvetBlue Velvet is a shocking, shocking movie.

Matt – Tuesday, February 28, 2017

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Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way

Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way. The full effect was subtly delivered through demonstration, seeing truths the central players in some ways denied to themselves, and the role of place or station in stratifying the professional and personal experiences of dignity. The story culminates in some long overdue self-introspection, the many layers of a faded or lost glory, of yesterday.

The narrative and expressions of the butler James Stevens ostensibly took into account his professional perspective of the butler profession in England as Stevens looks back on his career, and the fate of England, in a past that takes place against the backdrops of fascism, two world wars, and an unrealized love between Stevens and the housekeeper known throughout much of this story as Miss Sarah Kenton.

For an American audience familiar with the novel made movie Forrest Gump, The Remains of the Day follows along with an unreliable narrator that really misses much of the significance of the life around him. Stevens, as Ishiguro’s sad foil in this reality. The questions for Stevens, and Lord Darlington in the service of England, and for England, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent America within the fate of Europe, would include answering questions like these:

What is dignity? What is greatness? How do you define your purpose? What are the proper roles of nobility, compassion, and love in the emerging norms of society? To a certain extent, how do you come to grips with these after realizing that you’ve lost your chance to stake your claim on these? How do you then move on?

The telling of these questions were beautifully taken in The Remains of the Day. I personally felt more heartbreak for Mr. Stevens, Miss Kenton, the house servants separated owing to religious bigotry, and Mr. James Stevens’ father more than I felt these for Lord Darlington, the doctor in the village where the sedan was without gas for an evening, or the colleagues of Lord Darlington that took the butler Stevens to task that day.

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Many would find the story telling slow. Others still would find the unreliable narrator unpleasant,  off-putting, and lacking in self awareness. That there is a redemption, an awakening of sorts, for the narrator at the resolution is the payoff for those with the patience to persevere so worth it.

My overall rating of this novel is 4-stars out of 5. While difficult for an American audience, I ultimately fell for The Remains of the Day. Why? Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way.

Matt – Sunday, February 26, 2017

Winesburg, Ohio achieves so much in being well ahead of its time

Winesburg, Ohio achieves so much in being well ahead of its time. Sherwood Anderson really accomplished something in tone, language, structure, and accessibility with Winesburg, Ohio that really tickled me. The detail and insight into character here are contemporary because they influenced 20th century American literature.

As a reader, you get a collection of short stories with a single main character that perseveres from one story to the next in language that is perfectly suited to the town and people that the short story discusses. The language is unadorned, small town, rural, simple, and full of the internal complexity of the people the stories bring alive.

Each short story is a complete whole that works by itself, yet the whole of the short stories when taken together in a single narrative gives you something more keen, insightful, and new. The structure feels very contemporary for something written in 1915/1916. In fact the influence on Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, and others is part of what makes the telling so compelling for me as a reader of the stories today.

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George Willard is the central character that inhabits the town we know as Winseburg, Ohio. With The Book of the Grotesque serving as the first of 22 short stories, or essays, or cheaply thought of as chapters, you experience an overarching sense that the town, its people, and really George Willard are the story. The moral tone of the stories were a criticism at the time of release.

Some readers might have trouble understanding short stories stitched together as one larger story. Simply, my advice is to expand your notion of narrative structure. The stories are each like a little meaning to the whole about people, how they live (internally and externally), and the interactions they have towards each other.

My sadness in experiencing the intimacy of the larger George Willard story is that George learns “too late” that his vision of himself is wrong. The honest narrative of George in these stories resonated for me. My feeling is that they will work for you too.

I rate this 5-stars out-of 5-stars. Again, Winesburg, Ohio achieves so much in being well ahead of its time.

Matt – Monday, February 20, 2017

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made its’ U.S. network debut on February 19, 1968

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood made its’ U.S. network debut on February 19, 1968. The program made a run on television that lasted more than 30-years. The impact of the show remains today, as we mark the 49th anniversary of the debut.

The focus of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was to teach preschool kids aged 2 to 5 about respect, responsibility, and self-esteem. Common Sense Media adds more regarding the show’s conduct:

The series uses music, make believe, and everyday tasks to illustrate kid-friendly themes like honesty, overcoming fears, and being a good friend. Field trips expose viewers to how common products are made, and the host’s visits with his neighbors demonstrate how their jobs benefit the community. Occasionally the show explores sensitive subjects like divorce or the loss of a loved one, but it’s always done in a responsible manner that’s appropriate for kids.

A close friend of Matt Lynn Digital lives near the airport. Our airport friend came across an airing recently and asked if any friends with kids are in the habit of watching this anymore. In other words, is Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood still relevant? The feedback was interesting:

One parent found the show too slow paced for kids nowadays. Another said no, that kids are too smart for the show nowadays and would be bored to tears. Yet another indicated that her son had watched the show until aging out of the target age for the program, yet he remembered watching Barney & Friends more than Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

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A fourth parent indicated that their kids saw the show “once or twice…it’s amazing to see how they were mesmerized by [Fred Rogers’] voice.” Another indicated that her oldest daughter loved the show. Still another said this:

“I think kids should watch Mr. Rogers. It definitely calms children down. My son thought he wanted to be an opera singer because of the show.”

While new episodes ended in 2001 for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, our sister-in-law mentioned the series remained available on Netflix for awhile. Multiple parents pointed to an animated program that grew from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood beginning in 2012 named Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.

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That a show would air for kids that addresses a responsible, nurturing sensibility themed on manners and demonstrating respect, responsibility, and self-esteem makes me happy for humanity. The calm effect it has tends to foster something that can be lost in models like Batman, Superman, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Wonder Woman, or the rest.

Remember the main show made its debut 49-years ago. Check out its animated offspring if you have kids. Cultural literacy and other factors recommend programming like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which made its’ U.S. network debut on February 19, 1968.

Matt – Sunday, February 19, 2017

Top 20 Movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”

Top 20 Movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) ranks 14th in Matt Lynn Digital’s Top 20 Movies in ranked order listing. As the first fully animated feature film of Walt Disney StudiosSnow White and the Seven Dwarfs “pioneered a new form of family entertainment” (Walt Disney Studios) that we at Matt Lynn Digital recognize with this ranking.

Snow White joins 17th ranked Toy Story (1995) as the two fully animated movies to make the Top 20 movie to make our listing. The movie itself includes the character Snow White being pursued by a jealous and evil queen. By happenstance, Snow stumbles upon the dwelling of the Dwarfs, organizes their home, and ultimately hides in their home. Before long, the queen learns of this arrangement, prepares a poison apple and a plan, and the tale as sourced from Grimm’s Fairy Tales came to life.

There are two remarkable qualities to this movie, beyond the historical reasoning, that prompted me to take a look here for the true reasoning for ranking Snow White as the 14th movie in our Top 20 movie.

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The first, as you can see from the images included with this review, would be the stunning quality of the artistry and animation. The rendering is as beautiful as it is masterful. This by itself changed the landscape for cinema as much as my next point.

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The story of Snow White, as pointed out in the Roger Ebert review, is “not so much about Snow White or Prince Charming as about the Seven Dwarfs and the evil Queen–and the countless creatures of the forest and the skies, from a bluebird that blushes to a turtle who takes forever to climb up a flight of stairs.” There is a fullness of story and an attention to detail that immerses you, as the viewer, in the telling.

The Walt Disney Studios had set out to make quality ther hallmark; that we are calling out the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) movie in our Top 20 Movie rankings 80-years later tells you this movie is worth a review.

Matt – Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review of Kanae Minato’s novel “Confessions”

Kanae Minato is a Japanese fiction writer dealing in the subjects of crime, mystery, and/or thriller. Perhaps formulating my distinction between mystery and thriller is the fodder for a future post at Matt Lynn Digital, though my focus today is on Minato’s first novel, Confessions.

The translator from Japanese to English behind Confessions is Stephen Snyder. The language and presentation of the storytelling was very accessible. As you might have guessed, the story does function largely as a first person mystery through a series of six “confessions,” in the form of extended soliloquies or monologues, from the first-hand perspective of different characters in drama.

I should warn you now, much of what follows lands in the realm of spoiler. If you want to skip the spoilers and go directly to my opinion, proceed to the last two paragraphs.

Yuko Moriguchi is the given the role of first and last confessor. It is Moriguchi as teacher, would-be wife, and mother of the 4-year-old Manami Moriguchi that introduces us to the mystery revealed through confession. Upon returning as confessort much later in the novel, Yuki keeps Confessions in the realm of mystery, though I was tempted to think this was headed to thriller.

It is in the elder Moriguchi’s first confession, a last nonsequitur-filled lecture to her middle school class where we learn that Yuki has resigned, that a famous instructor at another school was sick with HIV, that having HIV forced Yuki to call-off that engagement, that 4-year-old Manami was killed.

This confession lecture reveals more and more, increasing tension to a fever pitch wherein we learn that two of the students to whom Moriguchi was lecturing, per Yuki, had killed Manami.

Mizuki Kitahara, the class president, offers the second major soliloquy. We learn that the class treats Shuya Watanabe badly in the classroom. We also learn that Naoki Shimomura has stopped coming to school with the new term. The new teacher, known as Mr. Terada and more often as Werther, is the temperamentally inexperienced teacher that allows much bullying to occur in the classroom. He represents a hopelessly uncritical  device through the story, as is the opening confession offered by Yuko Moriguchi.

The audience hears from Naoki Shimomura’s sister next. As seems to be true of all the adult males in Confessions, Naoki’s father is strangely absent and unaware of the home life in his own household. The sister feels like she is out-of-the-loop with the happenings at home given her very reasonable life at school away from the home. It wasn’t until the sister discovers the diary of her and Naoki’s mother that we acquire some insight into the desperation that Naoki’s mother bore alone as she was at her wits end in trying to protect an uncommunicative, inexplicably behaving Naoki. We learn of the mother’s death in an incident with Naoki, and some visits from Werther to the Shimomura home, thanks to the journal monologue.

Naoki provides the fourth confession. We learn much of the insight behind Naoki’s fear over having acquired the HIV-virus from Yuki Moriguchi, as well as the craving for emotional bonding from his mother. We get a sense that Naoki wants to confide in his mother, though is working through overcoming the embarrassment of the bullying that accompanies Werther’s visits with bullying students from his class. Naoki hears all the conversations his mother had with the visitors at this time. The absence of the father’s involvement in any of this remains alarming. It is hard to tell if this is more a factor of plot or Japanese culture. Near the end of Naoki’s confession, he reveals to his mother that he believes he has HIV-AIDS, that he killed Monami Moriguchi not from fear but from wanting to articulate his own misguided sense of maturity, and finally loses the ability to own his own actions as he takes his mother’s life.

Shuya Watanabe offers the fifth confession, and arguably has the most prominent voice in the story, outside of Yuko Moriguchi, in the narrative. That we were more than seventy percent into the novel before hearing from Shuya is significant in confirming that Confessions is a mystery. One insight that we gain from Shuya’s confessions includes that he, like Naoki, has an overwhelming craving for emotional connection with his mother. He creaves validation from his biological mother, and it seems that she felt it necessary to beat him regularly for not performing to her expected levels. Shuya continues to crave that connection nonetheless. The Watanabe parents divorce, and Shuya stays with his father, who remarries soon after. The biological mother “agrees to cutoff all contact with the son” as part of the divorce arrangement. As the confession reveals, Shuya acts on the sense of building and invention that he thinks will get him attention from his biological mother, recognizes only later that he has failed in the killing of Monami Moriguchi (outfoxed in that endeavor by Naoki Shimomura), and ends up killing class president Mizuki Kitahara when she, Mizuki, raises the subject of Shuya’s need for validation from his biological mother.

As Shuya’s confession finishes, we learn this his biological mother has married the professor who judged his science project; that professor has fathered a child with Shuya’s mom, which he only learns at this confession wraps up. Shuya posts a confession to all this on his website, and has planned his vengeance on his mother by aiming to blow up his classmates by cellphone bomb.

It was at this point that we again hear from Yuko Moriguchi again. We learn about the manipulations she has taken in getting Werner to act on her behalf with the class to bully Naoki and Shuya. We learn that Yuko has been attempting to mete out her revenge through those manipulations, and that her HIV-infected former fiance has really reentered her life and, without Yuko’s knowledge at the point of the original confession, undid the attempt to infect Naoki and Shuya with HIV. We see the confirmation that Yuko confronted Shuya in the novel’s resolution about the shocked-zipper that Naoki tried to dispose of at the Monami Moriguchi murder; we also learn that Yuko knows about her husband’s subterfuge as well as Shuya’s website confession. Naoki reportedly has undone the school bomb threat, and moved it instead to where Shuya’s mother, unborn half-brother, and Shuya’s biological mother worked. The revenge at this point is complete; Shuya’s attempted phone-detonation of his bomb did not fail to function; instead, his misdirected attempt at revenge has.

In Kanae Minato‘s Wikipedia page description, the one influence that Minato has who I recognize is Agatha Christie, whose novels I have enjoyed. The approach to storytelling by Minato in her first novel here is different, though I see that Minato kept with much of Christie’s sense of mystery, revelation, and determining the resolution. As is true of much of the mystery telling I see in popular American culture today, Minato kept with Christie’s approach for “letting the audience solve the mystery.” Minato took to today’s narrative landscape, at least the one I’ve seen in America, by focusing less on “who did the crime” like Christie and, instead, determining “who actually obtained revenge.”

Changing the question of the mystey genre is interesting. I appreciate the skill with which Minato accomplished that goal. I could be a bigger fan of an approach to mystery that focused on the nature of revenge rather than the motivation for the crime. As a result, my overall grade for this novel is 3.5-stars out of 5.0 stars.

Matt – Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review of Alexandre Dumas’ “The Three Musketeers”

This is a review of Alexandre Dumas‘ book The Three Musketeers, a work of adventure, romance, and intrigue. Linked in that first sentence are the Biography.com telling of playwright and author Alexandre Dumas‘ career and significance as well as the Cliff’s Notes summary of the book, should a more factual version of the opinions to be shared in this post are desired.

As The Three Musketeers is perhaps the most popular of a Swashbuckling Book genre, I found this book enjoyable. Popular books in this genre include The Count of Monte Cristo by DumasThe Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and even the more recent The Princess Bride by William Goldman, the last of which became the Rob Reiner movie The Princess Bride (1987).

While as a piece of literature this book (and the genre it resides in) are not overly philosophical, the adventure of it does includes a solid sense of mystery and subterfuge, love and betrayal, life and death, personal intrigue mixed with political intrigue, and a notably respectable job of setting context that later pays off with the rapid sense of climax and resolution that brought the story home.

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The nugget of truth that resonated with me throughout this book is that Dumas crafts many threads of entangled stories among the characters inhabiting the pages and brings them home well. That is, I enjoyed the romantic intrigue, the adventure, the emotional pitting of partial truths against other partial truths until you get a big reveal. These points have been used well in prime time American television to ratings success in the 2010s, and likely further back.

My rating for this book is 4-stars out of 5.

Matt – Sunday, February 12, 2017