Monday, March 3, 2014

NOVEL: Songs of Willow Frost

Songs of Willow Frost, a novel by Jamie Ford.   The story takes place in Seattle.  It is 1934 when the story commences.   A twelve year old Chinese-American boy is living in a Catholic orphanage. He has been living in the orphanage for the past five years.  As with his prior novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, this novel addresses the issue of discrimination by sharing a story about the life of a young oriental male and his family.  Hotel focused on a Japanese male living in Seattle and carried the story through the WW II internment camps.  Willow ends in 1935 and backtracks in time to 1921 to tell the story of the boy’s mother and how the son ended up in an orphanage.  The chapters are labeled by the year in which the events occur.  Ford is an excellent storyteller and the 319 page novel will keep you interested to the end.  First you become interested in the orphaned child, William Eng.  You are then told about Liu Song, the boy’s mother, who takes the stage name, Willow Frost.  Willow returns to Seattle in 1934 as an actress and singer.  Her touring cast includes Stepin Fetchit, who, in real life, appeared on stage as well as in cinema.  William’s father is Liu Song’s stepfather.  The rape occurs shortly after Liu Song’s mother dies.  As with Ford’s first novel, this is a story of bitterness and sweetness.  William, who has believed for years that his mother is dead, sees a trailer in a movie theatre and recognizes his mother’s voice.  While the nominal storyline is William’s hunt for his mother, the novel tells a far more complex tale with two very interesting lead characters.  I enjoyed Ford’s first novel and Songs of Willow Frost is an excellent second novel.

Movie: Pompeii

Pompeii: a gladiator disaster film that is my first nomination for worst film of 2014.   Mount Vesuvius is going to erupt, the year is 79 AD, and the question is whether you care if any of the characters survive.   After observing them, you may be routing for the volcano by the time it erupts.   The special effects people did their part.  The problem is a weak script with horrendous acting as to most of the characters.   The lead character is named Milo, played by Kit Harington.   He is miscast as the lone survivor of a Celtic horse tribe.   Never thought I’d miss Steve Reeves.   From the opening sequence when we see Kiefer Sutherland order the massacre of Milo’s family, you know the film is going to be violent.  I don’t know why the movie has a PG-13 rating.  What you don’t know is that Sutherland, as Roman Senator Corvus,  gives a terrible performance: worse I’ve seen from him.   A love story is intertwined with the gladiator and volcano rumbling scenes.   Emily Browning plays the aristocrat daughter Cassia who falls in love with Milo after observing him kill a horse.   Cassia has returned to Pompeii after a year in Rome.  As the story unfolds, we learn that she left Rome to distant herself from Corvus.    Corvus, observing her affection for Milo, sets out to have him killed in the gladiator arena.  Yes, the script is that silly.   The only credible actor is Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje, as gladiator Atticus.  The interplay between him and Milo works.   Of course, you have to ignore the question of whether gladiators became friends before going into the arena to kill each other.  The sword fighting scenes are well done.   The director is Paul W. S. Anderson and as long as he is not doing drama, the movie has entertainment value.  But the 105 minute movie is not limited to sword fighting and the volcano.