Blog Posts by bweiner

Posted by bweiner on 10/17/17
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Agnes, by Swiss writer Peter Stamm, begins with a startling revelation. The narrator tells us, “Agnes is dead. Killed by a story.” I am a sucker for a great opening line, and that one did it for me. In this brilliant short novel, Stamm explores the relationship between reality, and the reality we would like to create with our words.

We are all guilty of telling stories that do not accurately mirror the authenticity of actual events. If a narrative imagines future events, to what extent can these shape the direction of our lives? Agnes and the narrator meet in the Chicago Public Library and begin a curious relationship. She wants to be remembered, so she asks her lover to chronicle their experiences. But the line between fact and fiction begins to blur, and life begins to imitate art.

Stamm ponders an intriguing subject here. Can we control our own destiny, and can we shape it with our words? Can we script life as we would like it? Interesting characters, a suspenseful plot, and perfectly controlled prose make this an excellent addition to your fall reading list.
Posted by bweiner on 07/02/17
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Worlds Apart (2015), a drama from Greece, set in Greece, is a story that surrenders itself to the qualities that bind us as humans instead of succumbing to the ones that divide us. Although the stories reflect the economic difficulties in Greece, the struggles are universal.

The film intersects three stories filled with passion, pain, love and hope; stories of betrayal, emptiness and missed chances. The people in this world are you and I: kind, compassionate, positive and sometimes misguided. Good people making choices that lead to uncomfortable resolutions.

Academy Award winner J.K. Simmons turns in an endearing performance as a retired German professor looking for a second chance in life. Christopher Papakaliatis, who also portrays the troubled husband Giorgos, superbly directs the ensemble and circuitously connects the stories. To say more would be to reveal too much: savor these richly genuine relationships in this small treasure of a film. (In Greek and English, with subtitles)
Posted by bweiner on 04/09/17
The film Uncommon Grace: The Life of Flannery O’Connor is a revealing portrait of one of the most remarkable authors of the 20th century. O’Connor died at age 39, but in her short life, she left behind a series of stories that continue to captivate her readers and draw the attention of scholars and devotees alike.

The reason? A body of short fiction that will knock the wind out of you. A Southern Catholic in a primarily Protestant region, O’Connor‘s questions of faith are always at the root of her stories. Her characters will be familiar to you: mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children. She will lure you in with these characters, and as she reveals their eccentricities, get ready for these stories to take you to some very dark, violent places in their search for faith and redemption.

Before you watch this, you might want to check out one of her short story collections, Everything That Rises Must Converge, or A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. There was also a film made from one of her two novels, John Huston’s Wise Blood, with Brad Dourif in the starring role of Hazel Motes, a crazy character in conflict with his faith.

From the violent encounter between Grandfather Fortune and Granddaughter Mary Fortune Pitts in A View of the Woods, to the bible salesman who steals Joy’s leg in the barn loft in Good Country People, you will be drawn into the peculiar and curious world of Flannery O’Connor. Indulge yourself with these flawless stories. 
Posted by bweiner on 01/06/17
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Lady Gaga’s latest CD, Joanne, is another stunning addition to the artists already complex and varied musical collection. She continues to add new sounds and styles to her repertoire, and reveal fresh sides of her musical nature.

Joanne is scaled back, softer and more acoustically inclined than most of her works. The ballads are soulful, and open a window into a very personal side of Gaga. There is an elemental power in these songs, an earnestness that is in contrast to some of the other more sensational facets of this richly talented woman.

If you are not already a fan, this might be the time to reach deep into your soul and give this dynamic artist a chance.
Posted by bweiner on 12/03/16
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In her 2016 novel Everfair, Nisi Shawl tackles a complex and seldom visited period in world history, the colonization of the Congo by King Leopold II of Belgium. The story of the massive slaughter and dehumanization of the Congolese was repressed for many years, and now Shawl brings it to life in a unique and spectacular way. She avoids bland academic interpretations and passive retrospectives and instead takes us on a journey through the Congo as she rewrites history with a fresh expression, using the steampunk genre as her vehicle.

As with all speculative fiction, you must immerse yourself in the “what if”, and the alternate reality she proposes. What if steam power were available much earlier in the Congo? Would this have given them the power to support and protect their people? Would it be possible to create a safe haven, and would this Utopia be enough to withstand the pressure and exploitation from challenging sources?

But it is in the telling of this story that Shawl really shines. There is no single perspective here; the characters telling the story are male, female, Europeans, Americans, Africans, and Asians, they are kings, servants, politicians, nurses and scientists, and this fascinating blend of voices contributes deeply to the rich tapestry of this tale.

Enough said. I have revealed more than I should.  Check this book out and go on a remarkable journey with a unique voice in speculative fiction.
Posted by bweiner on 10/21/16
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This Census-Taker, by British author China Miéville, will confound you with more questions than answers in this surreal narrative, with its strange imagination and moody quality. Miéville creates a space that erupts and burns with originality.

This small, thought provoking tale takes us on a journey with a boy who thinks he witnesses a murder, but is unable to trust his own memory. This story appears to be a fairy tale, yet it defies the usual conventions of that genre. Miéville keenly lets the story unfold through the unique vantage point of the child. His sparse revelations cautiously satisfy, while leaving us unsettled and unsure.

Captivating, challenging, this is Miéville at his finest. If you are willing to send your imagination to new heights, to indulge in beautifully constructed language and navigate a world of complex, peculiar characters, this is the story for you.
Posted by bweiner on 08/29/16
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The epic tragedy of the Holocaust has been the subject of innumerable books and movies. The sheer scale of death, deprivation and pain caused by the brutal executions of innocent millions will haunt us and future generations forever.
Then along comes Son of Saul by Hungarian director László Nemes, another entry in the canon of Holocaust material. It is challenging to find originality with this subject, difficult to find a way to retell the story of desolation and sorrow.
This, however, is not one of those stories. This very personal story of a man mourning the loss of a son he barely knew is not about a nation or world in sorrow. The exquisite pain, the fuel of loss, the need for one last moment of dignity and propriety, these things propel Saul Auslander, played with steely, rigid agony by Hungarian actor Géza Röhrig, to find a way to bury his son according to the traditions and laws of his Jewish faith. This story belongs to Saul and his son.
Posted by bweiner on 07/24/16
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Music has the ability to transport, entertain, educate and inspire, and if you are really lucky, all of these things will happen at once.

Check out The Color Purple (New Broadway Cast Recording (2016) on CD. This exceptional soundtrack is a fusion of jazz, ragtime, gospel and blues, and the impressive cast includes the spectacular Jennifer Hudson as Shug Avery, and a fearless performance by Cynthia Erivo as Celie.

Erivo was recently awarded the Tony for Best Actress in a Musical, and one listen will tell you why. If you know the story, Celie begins her journey with a small voice, barely able to articulate her needs to anyone but her sister, Nettie. Their voices lift you with the sweetness, spirit and innocence they collectively possess. We hear Celie gather strength as her resolve and determination grow.

Good music is an indulgence for the ears, but this CD takes it a step further by artfully articulating Alice Walker’s story of courage and triumph.
Posted by bweiner on 05/18/16
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Every couple of months I scan the shelves of the Marketplace in search of a great book. I bypass every author I have ever heard of, and search for a book so obscure, yet so extraordinary that it takes my breath away.
I finally found one.
The Vegetarian, by South Korean author, Han Kang, is exactly what I was looking
for. This story about Yeong-hye, her family, and her attempts to become a
vegetarian will shock you. The savage images that lead her to this desperate
resolution are lost on her family and set in motion a chain of events that embroils
the entire family in bitter conflict.
This story is about the fine line between the physical and psychological; it is
strangely fixated in the physical yet bound to the spirit. It is dark and disturbing
and rich and sumptuous in detail. Yeong-hye fights for ownership of her body and
its destiny, as everything about her is exposed and revealed. This story is
alternately frightening and familiar as it rolls in waves between fantasy and reality.
Characters are imprisoned and liberated, and face their lives with exhausted
endurance. Art is vision and reality as it becomes an obsession and a compulsion.
The characters are passionate, yet unemotional, and there is a perseverance of will that is terrifying to see.
All this, wrapped in a package of perfect prose, definitive and direct in purpose, yet
lyrical and evocative in deliverance.
Simply marvelous.
Posted by bweiner on 03/20/16
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Breathe: Respire, the 2014 film by acclaimed actress-director Mélanie Laurent, confronts the issue of bullying in a credible and terrifying way.
Charlie is your average high school student, endearingly sweet and alternately willful. She fights with her family, laughs with her friends and makes tentative steps into adulthood with the opposite sex.

Enter Sarah, the new student with the rebellious attitude and free spirit. Charlie is drawn to her total lack of social constraint and allows Sarah to influence her actions and behavior. The consequences of this shatter the lives of all involved…

No more reveals, for there are some interesting twists and turns in this well-acted, absorbing film. In French with English subtitles.

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