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Fauxscar Nominee: Cosmopolis

January 6, 2013 in American Authors, Contemporary Literature, Crime Novels, Economy, Fauxscars, Literary Movies, Pop Culture

By Antoinette Weil

When I chose to watch Cosmopolis as part of our Literary “Fauxscars” segment, I went in with a clean slate. That is, I had never read the book it’s based on by Don DeLillo. I didn’t know the story. As such, it could have qualified to be in the running for the sought-after “Best Stand Alone Film” category. But it won’t get my vote.

The film follows Eric Packer, played by Robert Pattinson, a 28 year old billionaire/finance wiz throughout his stretch-limo-capsuled journey across Manhattan to get a haircut. Most of the film, including a sex scene, a doctor’s appointment, a loss of millions (or more) of dollars resulting from a risky financial bet against the Chinese Yuan, takes place inside the comfort of Packer’s over-the-top custom stretch limousine.

What happens inside the car is what matters to Packer. He meets with his finance manager, his physician, his tech guru. The dialogue is intensive, thick, unwelcoming. While watching you’re wondering (at least I was) what the characters are actually saying, what it means, and whether it’s all very interesting or just jibber jabber.

And what happens outside of the car is the world; all of Packer’s encounters with his young wife (played by Sarah Gadon), a traffic jam in the city caused by a visit from the President, a charged anti-capitalism street protest, a massive funeral procession for a fallen rap star, who happens to be beloved by Packer, and eventually a potentially deadly encounter with a disgruntled former employee.

David Cronenberg’s direction on this film was impeccable. There is something to be said for shooting almost an entire movie inside of a car with hardly any action or changes in scenery. And his dark, psychologically introspective style fit perfectly with Don DeLillo’s original novel. Should we have a “Best Director” category, I will vote Cronenberg for Cosmopolis.

Pattinson was believable, vivid, and genuinely good in the role of Eric Packer. He has a certain smoothness and a dark quirkiness that made him well-suited for the part. That said, the character is a dry, jagged, unpleasant pill to swallow. He seems to be a morally damaged, self-centered, downright bad human being. He has sexual encounters with two women in the film, neither of whom are his wife. He tries to persuade his art consultant (played by Juliette Binoche) to bid on not a single painting but on on the entire museum, so that he can lock it up in his apartment and keep it from the public. He calls one of his employees to an emergency meeting in his limo on her day off, and kills another in cold blood. All around a pretty loathsome guy.

And yet, I didn’t hate him. I ended up having so little emotional investment in this movie, and in Eric Packer, that even his most shameless sins didn’t produce the type of dislike one typically has for a “bad guy”. Perhaps this is because none of the other characters were “likable” either. Perhaps the beauty in it is that the audience feels for him exactly what he feels for every human in the film (yes, including himself): nothing.

I found myself looking for the real world political/socioeconomic parallels easily apparent in other movies (V for Vendetta, Avatar, even Hunger Games) but ended up, instead of relating, wondering if those parallels were there to be found, or if this was to be taken at face value: a movie about the fall of one arrogant, brilliant, young billionaire.

Cosmopolis is not for the lazy viewer. Simply processing the dialogue is an intellectual achievement  But it’s not enlightening, or, by any means, a “feel-good” film. Quite the opposite in fact; you may, as a viewer, find yourself feeling low when it’s over, scratching your head and wondering what exactly just happened.

But here’s what it is: smart. So while I didn’t like the film, I couldn’t help but respect it.

The original article is featured in the Books section of Literary Traveler!

Ann Patchett and the Battle for the Bookstores

December 13, 2012 in Bookstores, Contemporary Literature, culture boundaries, Economy, Literary News

As I was driving into work, I heard an unnerving story on the radio. It was about Amazon, the largest corporate book retailer in the world. I listened with trepid curiosity as a caller in support of the company’s expansion went head to head with an owner of a local bookstore. The callers made the age-old arguments that arise when technology challenges the continuance of tradition; one vigorously vying for the convenience of a digital future while the other nostalgically recalled the advantages of our papery past. The latter spoke with some desperation, as if this was her final stand, her last chance to tell her story. She spoke of things beyond the joy of feeling the weight of a book, the smell and feel of paper. ‘The culture is what we’re losing, bookstores have always been what bring readers together.’

I thought about that for a minute. She was absolutely right. Bookstores did bring readers together. Books were not the only casualties of Amazon’s flood into literature; there was a culture at stake. The heart-felt words of the distressed caller made me realize how I had always taken bookstores for granted. I began to mourn the loss of something I had hardly known, and I decided that it was time to visit one before it was too late.

Porter Square Books is one of the most well known independent bookstores in the Boston area, and this is where I began my search for the endangered book culture. The first thing I noticed was the dog bowl at the front door. I had read that dogs were welcome inside the store, and I wished I had brought mine along. Inside, the place was buzzing. Casually dressed employees sorted books and chatted with customers. There was a coffee bar in the corner, and the smell of fresh espresso underscored the vibrant pace of book browsing. Customers filtered into their sections of interest, which were each divided into coves of booked walls. The spaces were so small that people seemed to be bumping into each other all over the place.

Two woman in the Cooking section were discussing recipes they had both found in the same Japenese cook book. In the Travel section, a young man pointed to pictures in a book of ancient ruins and told his mother stories of his experiences abroad. In Classic Literature, an employee was describing Thoreau’s majestic sketches of a New England Fall to a man who seemed to be salivating for such a literary feast.

I wandered around haphazardly, eavesdropping and browsing the shelves. Though it wasn’t quite a library, everybody kept their voices down and smiled at each other, like they were all in on the secret. They seemed very much a small society of booklovers in their place of worship, and I felt like a welcome guest.

I bought a few moleskins and a map of the United States. It wasn’t much, but it felt good to make any contribution. On my way out, I noticed a calendar marked with events. Every week had three or four authors coming in to lead discussions and sign books. I scribbled down a few dates and names and told myself that next time I’d bring my dog.

Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder, has recently opened up her own bookstore and taken advantage of her publicity to uphold the cause. After losing an independent bookstore she had cherished since childhood, Patchett decided to take matters into her own hands and recreate a literary sanctum for her community in Nashville, TN. She recognizes that the value of a bookstore is embodied in the community it creates (and visa versa).

Patchett wrote an article for The Atlantic, in which she tells us just how badly bookstores have suffered, and why there is still hope for them. “Now that we could order a book at any hour without having to leave the screen in front of us, we realized what we had lost: the community center, the human interaction, the recommendation of a smart reader rather than a computer algorithm.”

I agreed heartily before, but did not understand her distress until, like the woman I heard on the radio, Patchett began to wax prophetic. “I promised whoever was listening that from those very ashes, the small independent bookstore would arise.”

My experience in Porter Square was brief, but it was enough to make me understand why bookstores might be worth fighting for. Patchett finishes the interview with a plea to the consumer, and a resounding cry for book people to unite and make their voices heard over the cranking of Amazon’s assembly lines. “Amazon doesn’t get to make all the decisions; the people can make them, by choosing how and where they spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read a book. This is how we change the world: We grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

Travel Agents Vanished? A Pessimist's View of Next 10 Years

January 5, 2011 in announcements, Economy, Pop Culture, Travel Writers

Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.netWhere did all those travel agents go?  Remember those friendly people who would sell you fabulous tours and excursions?  You would sit down, tell them what you want and voila! … a seven-day cruise to Mexico.  However, certain jobs, like travel agents, are dwindling, since we are our own travel agents with websites such as Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline.

This is just one point made by novelist Douglas Coupland.  His series of 45 tips entitled “A Radical Pessimist’s Guide to the Next 10 Years” was recently published in the Toronto Globe & Mail. The list is definitely radical.  Coupland says it’s all going to get worse, extreme weather patterns will take over, expect less, stupid people will be in charge and the middle class isn’t coming back.  Ouch.  That’s a lot of negativity for the next 10 years.

But he does speak some truths.  And in regard to extreme weather, won’t it be nice to travel to places that have consistent weather?  And what about all those long lost travel agents?  They’ll float into the abyss, never seen or heard from again.

Coupland’s list actually brings up a good point.  How do we stay positive for 2011 and beyond?  In a time of negativity, it’s hard to stay positive.  On the news, all we hear is “the recession is getting worse.”  We’re at a 10 percent unemployment rate.  Job creation seems nonexistent.  Where’s our FDR and where’s our change we were promised?

I once read an article about how the real entrepreneurs come out in tough economic times.  Creativity blossoms.  Hard work wins out.  That’s how I approached a tough 2010 and how I’ll approach 2011 and the next 10 years.  I look back to 2010, an arduous year financially, when I enjoyed literary travels to San Francisco and a luxurious cruise on the Queen Mary 2.  I’m in the final draft of my novel.  I interviewed Joanne Harris, international bestselling author of Chocolat.  And I met Bill Bryson.

And I already expect much more for 2011.  My goals are set much higher, including my financial ones.  Coupland may have his points, but for me, it’s all about positivity.

~ Jennifer, Network Editorial Director


The Journey Becomes the Vacation

November 24, 2010 in American literature, budget travel, Classic Writers, Economy, Travel, travel deals

Mississippi River

Everyday the price for flying and additional fees slightly increases. Baggage fees, pet fees, and airline meals are greatly overpriced. As a traveler, I would rather spend my money on exploration and spontaneity. So I choose driving across country instead.

As you explore the depths of the road, the act of traveling becomes part of the vacation and not something to simply endure. Traveling by car allows for the journey and the destination to be the vacation.

I drove across country this past summer, and one of the many reasons why I prefer to travel by car compared to by plane is because of the spontaneous stops.

As I traveled the country, I decided to cross into Missouri from Illinois via the Mississippi River. I stood on the Ste. Genevieve ferry and reminisced about the story of Huck Finn and his adventures along the Mississippi River. As I watched the twigs float by and felt the cool breeze wisp across my face, I pictured Huck Finn on his raft drifting across the river beside me.

Take it from a traveler that often takes the wrong turn, spontaneity is freeing.  It presents a new layer of traveling. As I took unintended turns, I instantly rerouted myself along another path towards my destination. Every unintended turn became a spontaneous new adventure and a shift in a new direction.


Travel Deals to Satisfy your Wandering Mind

October 7, 2010 in budget travel, Economy, Employment Rate, Singapore, travel deals

Forgive me for the brief hiatus in your Travel Deal posts.  Though great bargains are all around us, adventures of my own—traveling across the country and building a new foundation to call home—have prevented me from posting.  But now I am back, situated securely on the West Coast, where I continue to dream about future travel plans and the beautiful wonders that sit under the same moon as I do each night.

One of my close friends has the habit of announcing his ideas for new and strange places to live. Tonight he threw out the idea of Singapore. I contemplated his suggestion for a moment, and finally thought, what do I really know about what Singapore has to offer?

Singapore is an island between Malaysia and Indonesia in Southeastern Asia. Singapore plays an important role in the finance and trade development of the world and relies heavily on their exporting process.  The nation houses a diverse population, with English as most common language. Their unemployment rate is 3%, they predict their economy to grow of 3-5% in 2010. Their climate is generally tropical, all things that Americans highly consider in today’s world.

Expedia is offering an amazing deal to Singapore: with 10 nights in the Orchard Parade-A Far East Hotel and including a flight from the states, you can be exploring the depths of Singapore for just over $2000.

So what does Singapore have to offer the frequent traveler or an every-so-often tourist? Well, first of all you are on an island.  There is something incredibly romantic, and even slightly fantastic, about island-living.  Even the word island calls up an enchanting image in my mind.

In Singapore, you can spend your days on Orchard Road, indulging in the extravagant tastes of Louis Vuitton and Chanel. Or you can take a ride on The Singapore Flyer and pinpoint the locations you want to travel to. Take a walk through the beautiful botanical gardens in the early morning when the dew is just rising or spend your evenings indulging in some of the wide varieties of ethnic food that Singapore has to offer.

Singapore was founded in 1819 and since then has made remarkable improvements towards the betterment of their country. It is a continuously developing territory that holds a promising future of greatness and success.

Happy travels.

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