REVIEW OF STRIPPER LESSONS

Stripper LessonsStripper Lessons by John O’Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Have you ever felt alone?

Stripper Lessons provides a window into the life of a lonely man. Carroll is the guy who watches the world turn from the shadows, the guy you walk past at the mall, never knowing he was ever there. But that guy was there, watching you walk past.

The story is personal and the plot only occurs over a few days. I wondered why O’Brien chose this part of Carroll’s seemingly repetitious life. But then Stevie dances her way into his world. O’Brien describes the breathtaking blond with some of the most vivid prose I’ve ever read. I found myself re-reading some of these passages, mesmerized as if I were beholding an artist’s painting or listening to a classical masterpiece. O’Brien gives us very little backstory on these characters, but I can appreciate the “here and now” with Carroll and Stevie’s interactions. I wanted this guy to find what he was lacking. He tried everything, an infomercial video for “shy men,” flashy clothes with “curlicues,” and even alcohol (Carroll’s naivety with booze is the opposite of Ben’s overindulgence in Leaving Las Vegas). But even though Carroll alienates coworkers, barmaids, and strippers over the course of the book, he gains a deeper understanding of himself and an acceptance of who he is, and who he is not.

You always glean new words from O’Brien’s works, and this fact, in my opinion, adds another layer to his stories. As I read Strippers Lessons, I became emotionally involved with Carroll and feared for him as the end neared. In the few days we spend with him in the story, it seemed his subconscious prompted him to grow, and made him become not the guy watching from the shadows, bottling his emotions up, but the guy shouting, tossing and shattering said bottle onto the ground. And I particularly liked how Carroll ran up to Stevie in the parking lot outside of Indiscretions. He was no longer afraid to be a lonely man.

Read Leaving Las Vegas for a view into a character losing his way; read Stripper Lessons for a view into a character finding his way. -Jonathan Sturak 12/08/2012

View all my reviews

Advertisements

REVIEW OF STRAW DOGS (2011)

Cross-cutting Masterpiece

Straw Dogs is a dark, menacing, can’t-look-away psychological thriller. The characters are what make this film shine. David, our hero, is a hip screenwriter from Los Angeles who just entered a world only explored on paper in his screenplays, and he doesn’t even know it. He is full of flavor and in love with his actress wife, Amy, a former resident of this world who escaped for higher ground. David and Amy are opposites. David is cowardly yet industrious, in love with his wife yet in love with his vocabulary. Amy is strong yet submissive, in love with her husband, yet in love with her arrogance. When a crew of locals win the bid to nail on a new roof on Amy’s old house, a bubble begins to grow. David has to stand up to his wife, to the locals, to his own weakness to survive in this film. There is great contrast between his world, an agnostic, realistic world, and that of the southern locals. The problem for these locals, these “Straw Dogs,” is that their community is finished with them when they stop holding a football and start holding a hammer.

This adaptation to the American South is just as convincing as the 1971 film set in rural England. The film-making is tight and uses some wonderful techniques to externalize the struggle plaguing these characters. Quick cuts of the chaotic high school football game drip with terror, showing us the pain that Amy is feeling.  I particularly like the cross-cutting between the hunting scene and the scene of Amy’s despair.

Many films jump days, months, or even years in time. Straw Dogs does not, which is why I like it. Particularly, the last 30 minutes of the film play out in near real-time as the bubble bursts sending fire into the air. In this 30 minutes, you will experience the destruction of man. As David says “if they get in here, we’re dead.” One of my all-times favorite films (1971 version) remade into a modern classic.