Review: California

Lepucki_California_cover

California by Edan Lepucki

The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they've left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can't reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they've built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she's pregnant.

Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realize this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust.

A gripping and provocative debut novel by a stunning new talent, California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind's dark nature and irrepressible resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love.

In hindsight, the blurb makes me groan and touches upon most of my issues with this novel.

It's hard to talk about this without making some kind of judgement on the author, so I'm not going to beat around the bush. The author of this book has either grown up in the whitest of white suburbia or is writing about a society she thinks exists in that suburbia. The amount of complaining and the horror in which these characters treat problems that are commonplace for a lot of people today is dumbfounding. This is not post apocalypse, this is ''I'm going camping'' level problems. Oh no the water we shower with is cold! Oh no we don't have electricity! Oh no we sleep in a queen sized bed! It's utterly bizarre that the image of post apocalyptic society she managed to paint was ''Sometimes the water is cold.'' I'm not suggesting that vast swathes of the American population live without hot water or electricity, but for anyone who's been even a bit poor, these things should be familiar.

I'd wager that in a post apocalyptic society there'd be problems like not having water to drink (let alone shower) or food. Cold would probably kill you, depending on location. While horrible things happen (suicide, death, murder) in the book and things are definitely grim, the overall vibe I got from the protagonists is that they are hugely spoiled middle class kids. That might actually be on purpose, but since no one else shows up that's any different, I don't think so. You'd expect some kind of contrast between a survivalist who maybe knows how to hunt and skin animals and build a cabin and the couple who struggles to garden and lives in an abandoned shed.

The second biggest flaw in my opinion, was the plot. While there's a lot of meat on it to distract (and some of it is fairly enjoyable), for anyone who has ever consumed any kind of post apocalyptic media, this might be the most generic plot there is. People go looking, find strange community of survivors who appear to be doing really well and welcome them in, but are also secretive. What is their big secret? Read to find out. I mean, up to the point where they decide to go looking, they seem to have a pretty good life, without any major problems. Food, shelter, safety. The reason they leave all that is basically because Frida is bored and wants some cool shit to happen, or something.

What elevates this novel from the bottom of the barrel is the writing. While a bit pretentious at points, once you get used to it, it serves its purpose very well and distracts from the bare bones plot by adding a myriad of subplots and characters. Switching the POV between the couple is a smart move, allowing us a better understanding of their choices and motivations. I personally found Frida to be really unlikable and was forever waiting for Cal or someone else to call her out, but alas, it never happens. I suppose it's fairly realistic, but at the same time not really that enjoyable, which always seems to be the problem with realism.

I admit to being a bit perplex both by the plot and the universe in which it takes place in. It's a sort of ''soft apocalypse'' where society has slowly crumbled, but it sort of doesn't make a lot of sense. On one hand you have private schooling and a very middle class existence and on the other, you have suicide bombers and packs of marauding bandits. I'm not sure how those fit together. I can't talk about the plot without some major spoilers, but there are a few things there that make no sense either. If civilization is mostly gone, who the hell would care about politics? It's such a strange thing to get hanged up on when society has completely collapsed.

The major plot twists keep me from delving too much into the plot, so I'll cut this rambling mess short. I enjoyed part of this novel, but was very irritated by Frida and a couple of other characters. A lot of things stress suspension of disbelief for me so overall I must say I was left disappointed.

2 out of 5 Spoiled White Kids

 

Review: Young Ones

young-ones-posterSet in a near future when water has become the most precious and dwindling resource on the planet, one that dictates everything from the macro of political policy to the detailed micro of interpersonal family and romantic relationships. The land has withered into something wretched. The dust has settled on a lonely, barren planet. The hardened survivors of the loss of Earth's precious resources scrape and struggle. Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon) lives on this harsh frontier with his children, Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Mary (Elle Fanning). He defends his farm from bandits, works the supply routes, and hopes to rejuvenate the soil. But Mary's boyfriend, Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult), has grander designs. He wants Ernest's land for himself, and will go to any length to get it.

From writer/director Jake Paltrow comes a futuristic western, told in three chapters, which inventively layers Greek tragedy over an ethereal narrative that's steeped deeply in the values of the American West.

I enjoyed this a lot. I admit to being a little disappointed that the PR material for it gave me a completely different idea of what the movie would be (I guess I was expecting a new A Boy and his Dog or Mad Max, while this is more or less a sci-fi drama. Still, it's a well made film and the director/screenwriter made some interesting choices that I appreciated it.

Ernest is a poor old farmer that owns land but not water. He has a job delivering supplies to the men working to bring water to the fields, but not his fields; the water is going to industrial farms further away. His attempts at convincing or bribing the boss to throw some water his way are unsuccessful. In the meantime, his daughter is dating this really douchy kid who needs to get smacked a lot. Ernest doesn't trust me and refuses to help him with whatever scheme he's trying to run.

All this comes to a head when Ernest's donkey, which is instrumental for his work breaks a leg and has to be put down. He invests on a robotic donkey. When Ernest refuses to loan it to douchy guy, it gets stolen and used to smuggle contraband across the border. This is where shit goes bad and where I stop lest I spoil ya'll.

There's not a hint of melodrama as I would probably have expected in a movie about a down on his luck farmer trying to provide for his family (crippled wife and all). Things are mentioned (perhaps sometimes bluntly, like when Flem accuses Ernest of crippling his wife in some kind of accident he likely caused because of his drinking) and then never expanded on, but left to shimmer in the background. There's no need for them to be brought up again later on when Ernest's daughter is freaking out and screaming at him. I appreciate the economy.

ty

 

I rarely review good movies, because reviewing the bad ones is much more amusing and let's face it, lazy as hell. It fits my personality, so to speak. After watching this one and checking out some reviews online, I just felt that I had to give my 2 cents as well. In fact, let's look at this review so that I can make fun of it.

Young Ones makes use of brilliant cinematography that is instantly wasted in the hands of a director who is without a shred of talent, an editor who must have been a butcher, mediocre sound editing, and a cast that is almost as misguided and inept as the screenplays author. A story that had true potential was crippled by a lack of character development, and the nonexistence of focus. The directors lack of skill is clearly seen in his failed attempt to (I may be paraphrasing) give the character of the machine, a robotic donkey, a sense of having a soul (not even a glimmer of this is seen in the film), and his somewhat unsuccessful try at implying that there is prosperity outside the boundary of where the characters live. The film is without any sort of outstanding performance by the cast, and lacks even a single character that the audience can empathize with. Personally I believe that this feature was a waste of a perfectly good cinematographer, and I wish I had spent my time at another premier.

-- Cossette-mark

This is the only review they have posted on IMDB, and they joined roughly 2 months before they posted it. A bit suspicious, but whatever, I can't imagine why someone would want to do such a hatchet job on it. Pretty much the whole thing is bullshit, but I'll try and play along.

Young Ones makes use of brilliant cinematography that is instantly wasted in the hands of a director who is without a shred of talent, an editor who must have been a butcher, mediocre sound editing, and a cast that is almost as misguided and inept as the screenplays author.

That's pretty bizarre. I think the director did a pretty good job, managing to avoid any unnecessary melodrama of the kind the reviewer seems to be after. The editing was adequate, it didn't really stick out. The cast includes Eddie Fanning (she was pretty great in this) and Kodi Smit-McPhee who plays the son is an atypical actor and was also great for the role. Then we have Michael fucking Shannon, who is good in everything.

A story that had true potential was crippled by a lack of character development, and the nonexistence of focus.

I'm gonna go ahead and say that Young Ones is very obviously a bit of a fable, a kind of old time western, just updated and moved into the far future. I mean the story is classic: A farm that's dying or dead, the pioneer father trying to take care of his family and the asshole who wants to fuck them all over and steal their land. Hell, it has a lot of overlap with The River (starring a young Mel Gibson), if you just switch out the flood for the drought and the rich banker guy who wants to sleep with Gibson's wife with the kid in Young Ones who is sleeping with Shannon's daughter.

The directors lack of skill is clearly seen in his failed attempt to (I may be paraphrasing) give the character of the machine, a robotic donkey, a sense of having a soul (not even a glimmer of this is seen in the film), and his somewhat unsuccessful try at implying that there is prosperity outside the boundary of where the characters live.

Why the fuck would a robot have a soul? It's not even an A.I, it's literally a donkey robot that walks around. Do you expect cars in films to have a ''sense of soul?'' This is the dumbest thing I've ever heard and shows how far removed the reviewer is from the actual movie and what it set out to achieve.

The film is without any sort of outstanding performance by the cast, and lacks even a single character that the audience can empathize with.

Even the bit roles were interesting and had a little bit of depth, even if they were on screen for a few seconds.

Anyway, fuck you.

4 out of 5 robot donkeys