Book Review: The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango


The Truth and Other Lies

Nearly every character in The Truth and Other Lies is terrible, and that is precisely why you will love them.

It’s not easy to write a book with the intention of presenting these incredibly flawed personas from the offset; afterall, many readers like a clearly cut protagonist, or one that efficiently shows a moral dilemma. Instead of sticking to the quo, Sascha Arango embraces his anti-hero Henry Hayden, a man whose entire life as a successful author is a complete sham. His wife Martha is the true writer, but Henry has built a career and a life of luxury in a quaint European town on her works while fostering an affair with a woman named Betty. To reveal anymore of this iceberg would be to reveal far too much of the story, but I will say this: unraveling Henry’s enigmatic characterization is deep and intriguing, akin to the second half of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

Undoubtedly, the excitement of that novel comes in Amy’s revelations, the ones that occur after a steady plot and mystery build-up. Arango does not fear diving straight into the psychologicalabyss, because his constructs and plot allow for constant turns and twists, so much so that the thrill is the chase in this novel. While I wouldn’t necessarily call this a fast-paced story (especially due to the numerous narratives and point of views), there is enough in the characterization to make you stand on the edge; you will never quite trust that the truth is in its actual authentic form, and it’s that daring nature that makes The Truth and Other Lies an entertaining read and a strong entry point for Sascha Arango.

Penguin Canada provided me with a copy of The Truth and Other Lies in exchange for an honest review. The book is available in stores now. 





Film Review: Me & Earl & the Dying Girl


Callbacks to last summer’s The Fault In Our Stars or the early 2000s guilty pleasure A Walk to Remember are inevitable upon learning that Me & Earl & the Dying Girl‘s plot surrounds a high school girl suffering from cancer and a boy befriending her as her health worsens. Your assumption probably goes like this: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl dies, boy is profoundly impacted by the relationship.

Some parts of this equation are true (bonus: it is also based on a book by Jesse Andrews); but what separates Me & Earl & the Dying Girl from other films is its ability to wittily and honestly confront the very nature of human connection. This is a challenge for the ‘Me’ in the story – a boy named Greg (Thomas Mann, Project X), who floats in between cliques, always polite and friendly in interactions but never actually befriends anyone. Greg’s closest companion, if any, is  ‘Earl’ (Ronald Cyler II), who he eats lunch with in his teacher’s office and makes home movies with after school.

Save for his father (Nick Offerman, Parks and Rec)’s daily exotic cuisine adventures, Greg’s life is pretty ordinary. Applying to college and preparing to leave the dull but safe haven that is high school, Greg is not interested in pursuing friendships or long-lasting memories other than the ones associated with his home movies. Greg’s mother (Connie Britton, Friday Night LightsNashville) thinks differently; upon hearing that his classmate Rachel (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) is diagnosed with cancer, she pushes Greg to befriend her. To his initial, secret dismay, they actually do bond – and it’s that bond that inspires Greg to create a film with Earl for the Dying Girl.

There is a very enduring tale at the very core of Me & Earl & the Dying Girl that surely transcends its high school setting, but is so effectively communicated because of that setting. High school is, at least for many North American teenagers, the place where we truly begin to forge those connections, some that are life-long, and some that are momentary conveniences. Through Greg (a convincingly nonchalant performance from Mann), we come to realize that the beauty of either is the chance we take for ourselves by opening up the emotional floodgates to learn something and to experience more even if the story stops, the doors close, and we head onto something else. Lessons and bonds are eternal.

The proof is not just in the vote (Me & Earl & the Dying Girl won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.) This film is as charming and deserving as the press in Utah made it out to be, and for several reasons. The images of kids eating popsicles after school, the snarky commentary and the central homage to filmmaking are surprising bursts of nostalgia, wrapped by the comedic fare from Britton, Offerman, Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, The Wolf of Wall Street) and Molly Shannon as Rachel’s mom. Olivia Cooke is wondrous in her ability to balance a good-natured spirit with the physical and emotional pains of her character’s illness. Yet for all of this, the most defining feature of this film, which will surely become a highlight in this generation’s cinematic experience of adolescence, is the love that ties its characters, story and production all together. It feels like a project that that involved people who cared deeply, which all the more communicates the point of this filmB

The takeaway, in actuality, spans generations, and the significance is clear: to one another, we do matter.

Film Review: Spy

via 20th Century Fox

A saving grace for Melissa McCarthy’s career is the fact that people know she is capable of much more than what her recent string of comedy films indicate. We hold on in case we get another airplane seduction scene and tenderly remember, then relive on Netflix, the obsessive perfectionism of Sookie St. James. While we wait for a reboot of a classic ghost-fighting film with some skepticism, we see a shred of light with her attached to the headlining cast. We try to move on from Tammy and Identity Thief.

Spy connects those dots and pushes McCarthy back into the comedic realm that she belongs in. The film follows McCarthy’s Susan Cooper, a CIA analyst who assists top agents, particularly Bradley Fine (Jude Law), in navigating and solving major cases. Fine is assigned to a major arms  case oriented around a crime-lord’s daughter Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne). When he drops off the map, Cooper volunteers to enter the field, determine what happened to Fine and solve the case.

There is a surprising underlying conversation bubbling below the plot of the film on spy movie gender stereotypes and the genre as a whole. Cooper is incredibly intelligent and capable, but she is not the sophisticated, sleek agent that we usually find in these kinds of movies. The fact that she doesn’t fit that mould is ridiculed throughout the course of the film, but her ability to navigate field work speaks significantly louder and helps direct your attention to the ultimately empowering message delivered in this film. Complements to director Paul Feig’s scriptwriting on that note.

Melissa McCarthy is similarly feminist-y in real life; she often directly responds to harsh criticisms in the press over her weight and advocates for body positive mentalities. While her comedic chops have always been up to snuff, that personal connection may be the ticket to her successful work in this film. This particular collaboration between Feig and McCarthy certainly reignites a little hope for their next project together, the Ghostbusters reboot.

Which leads to a big question: what will it take for Rose Byrne to get a lead role in a comedy? The British actress has a growing catalogue of dynamic and entertaining performances that demands a solo outing. Even as a upperclass mafia byproduct in Spy with a masterful eye roll, smooth condescension rolling off the tongue and awfully large hair, Byrne is just so damn cool.

Spy is not always as obviously appealing; moments with Bobby Cannavale’s party Sergio and the debut of Miranda Hart as McCarthy’s best friend Nancy are occasionally awkward and corny, but they never outbalance the randomly gruesome, ridiculously funny elements to the movie. Weird and out of bounds happens within the scope of a pretty typical plot, so when Jason Statham comes completely out of left field as a hyperactive and egotistical agent, it’s an unseen curveball that is so easy to catch. Of course Statham, well-known for his macho action-thrillers, can pull that to comedic heights. How come we didn’t consider this possibility before? How does it just makes so much sense?

Feig drew in enough into his script to play to the talents of his cast; whether it was tweaked and altered to their identified skills is unknown to me, but it feels like a great partnership. Spy doesn’t push the comedic genre to new heights, but it certainly presents the cast in a strong light and channels messages that aren’t typical of this kind of film. I guess that is kind of the point of this movie.