Monday, December 29, 2014

Everything you see here happens

When I was still in food service I got people telling me that I had to see Waiting ... pretty much all the time. The really odd thing was that a lot of customers told me I had to see the movie, which is really strange now that I've seen it.

Disclaimer! - I have never put body fluids or hair into someone's food. Buuuuuuuuuut yes I have seen food service workers participate in five-second-rule style shenanigans if a particularly awful customer is involved. What's more likely is that you'll just get shitty service and less/worse food - we know which bagels are the most stale, we know which espresso has been sitting out the longest, we know which milk might be in the process of turning and THAT'S what you get if you treat people like shit. Probably nothing that will actually make you sick, just something bad enough to discourage you from coming back. We'd also overcharge the hell out of people for being assholes. If you were cool and wanted something like a caramel macciato (not a real drink, btw, at least not the way you think it is) we'd just charge you for a latte or maybe a mocha. If you were an asshole you'd get charged for a latte, plus a vanilla shot, plus a caramel shot, plus whipped cream, plus caramel drizzle, plus a charge for an extra shot of espresso if you were particularly heinous so an approximately three dollar drink became a five-dollar-plus drink. Occasionally if you're just a terrible, reprehensible, cruel person who dehumanizes other people you're running the same risks that terrible people always run but now you're doing it with people who are paid to deal with sharp/hot things and things that you put in your body.

I once had a customer who asked me for a drink extra-hot (this lady came into my shop regularly and had a history of calling baristas liars and idiots and letting her horrid grandson run around dropping ice cream on everything then demanding another ice cream because his "fell onto the ground" and speaking to the manager if we wouldn't give him three free ice creams): I steamed the drink until it was literally boiling, which I knew because it boiled over on my hand and gave me a 2nd-degree burn, and without touching the cup (but after watching me burn myself and literally hearing me scream) she told me it wasn't hot enough and she wanted me to re-steam it before I left to ice/apply first aid to my blistering hand. So I "accidentally" knocked the cup over in her direction and it splashed off her nice leather jacket and she screamed at me and I ended up not being able to use my hand for a week and refusing her service ever after. And I had a few people tell me I should have spit in her drink instead of spilling it on her. I couldn't bring myself to do something like that to this horrid customer even after my hand had started to blister, but I know that plenty of the food service workers in that town had no such qualms, so Ryan Reynolds' line about "Rule number one, never fuck with people who handle your food" is a pretty fucking serious rule and one that I would advise everyone to take to heart.

Not every food service worker is going to drop your steak on the floor then dust it with dandruff if you're rude to them (in fact the vast majority won't) but treating servers like shit is a good way to get stale food, cold food, the wrong drink, and a long wait. And don't bring tips into this - servers expect about 15% (and have every right to - if you can't afford to tip you can't afford to eat out) but if you start treating a server like shit they realize that you're not going to tip them anyway so they might as well make sure they never want to get seated in their section or even come back to that restaurant again.

But anyway, back to the movie.

The flick is full of gross-out humor and day-to-day drama that is actually endearing and makes all of the characters look charming and lost as they muddle through their minimum wage jobs. Ryan Reynolds is in a role that's perfect for him - a good-looking asshole with no depth who makes you laugh and feel skeezy in equal measure. Justin Long is also playing a very Justin Long-y type character - they seem to have stopped making movies about affable geeks with hot girlfriends and self-awareness some time in 2011 and I miss those movies - who's likeable enough but not terribly interesting. Dane Cook is in the movie too, which is actually a huge part of why I didn't see it until nine years after its release, but don't hold him against the film - he almost doesn't register.

This is a fun, stupid, cheaply-made but well written and acted little film. It does a great job of showing what a night of food service looks like to someone stuck in that sort of job and floundering, and it reminds us all about the terrible, fun, disgusting minimum wage jobs we had when we were first learning to be grownups. The fact that it's 75% fresh from Rotten Tomatoes Audiences but only 31% from Rotten Tomatoes Critics suggests to me that either most movie critics have never had a real job or that they've never had to grow up - don't let a poor critical reaction keep you from watching this if you're looking for some sympathy for your customer-service job.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happily Hobbit-y

I've been lukewarm on The Hobbit Trilogy. I don't think it needed to be broken out into three movies, there's a lot of awkward stuff that doesn't seem to fit the story because it wasn't in the original story, and the visuals just aren't up to par when compared to LotR. That being said, The Battle of Five Armies is the best film of the bunch and I think it's truest to the source material, with a few pretty important caveats.

I really dislike the Tauriel/Kili plot line because it seems completely gratuitous (much like the Aragorn/Eowyn/Arwen love triangle in LotR) - that's not to say that I don't like Tauriel at all: having an ass-kicking female elf in the series adds some balance, but having most of the discussions surrounding her be about whether or not she will be allowed to marry Legolas or if she is or is not in love with Kili cheapens her character. She's the captain of the guard, has risen to that position in spite of the odd caste system Thranduil has imposed, and she kills a metric fuck-ton of bad guys. And **SPOILER ALERTS** I hate that she's damseled at the end of the battle. She's been kicking ass and killing things left and right and then she can't take down a single orc and has to be saved by both Kili and Legolas, which ends up causing Kili's death. I mean, I knew that Kili dies in the book and that he wasn't going to make it out of the movie alive but I didn't realize that they'd have him make the hero's noble sacrifice to protect this frail lady-elf who got in over her pretty little head. Fuck that. I'd rather not have the character in the series than have her act as a prize to be won and the root source of Legolas's jealousy and dislike of dwarves. But for all of that it's still incredibly moving to watch her mourn Kili.

I'd also like to point out that neither dwarves nor orcs are stupid - having them stage a duel on ice is idiotic. These are supposed to be brilliant warriors, and having a fight on a frozen waterfall is not the sort of thing that brilliant warriors do when there's lots of nice, stable, grippy stone around for them to use as a battlefield.

Other than that the action in the film was pretty damned good and a lot less ridiculous than in either of the two previous films. There was no cartoonish chase through goblin tunnels or flippy-dippy-floaty battle/chase down a river. There was a fairly well-staged (though oddly paced) gigantic battle with five armies. We got what we were promised and that was nice.

Also nice was the proper development of the Thorin/Bilbo relationship - that felt very true to the novel to me and was heartwrenching at the end. I'm not going to lie, I cried when Bilbo tried to tell Thorin that the eagles were coming. Martin Freeman did a great job of getting the audience into that scene and making us feel the character's pain. **END SPOILER ALERTS**

Overall I liked the movie, and I'd be happy to watch the whole series again, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have some problems. It's a fun world to participate in in spite of its imperfections.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Kiss kiss fuck yes

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is one of those movies that I always meant to see and never got around to. Finally last week it was one of the movies on my sister's movie advent calendar and we sat down to watch it on our typical Tuesday family hangout.

The film is an odd combination of perfect polish and shoddy construction - I think at least part of the shoddiness is intentional to help undermine the unreliable narrator but there's something about the production that was nonetheless visually revolting for me. But, fortunately, that was the only thing about the movie that I didn't like.

Val Kilmer was hilarious and stole every scene he was in. Robert Downey Jr. played an affable, hateable, loveable idiot and I thought he was great. The story is tremendously goofy and played for laughs while still having a good heart and some decent drama.

I think it was the over-the-topness that I really appreciated the most. The good lines were SO good, the bad pulp drama was SO bad, LA was SO, SO, SO LA that you can practically smell the car exhaust and hear the pages of unfinished screenplays rattling through every scene.

No wait, my favorite thing was the way that Robert Downey Jr. was getting his ass kicked constantly. That was the best thing about the movie. It was great to see a "hero" character who lost every single physical confrontation and was not above complaining about it. The fact that even RDJ's injuries were over-the-top was just a nice garnish on a nice little story.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Supposed to be somebody


I don't think I waited long enough to re-read this book All the other Gibson novels I've gone through this month have languished on shelves for years since I read them, but The Peripheral is barely two months old and I've already gone through it twice.

It doesn't suffer in the re-reading, it's remarkably clear and the writing is lovely throughout, but the drama is tarnished because I didn't wait long enough to forget what was going to happen.

But I have at least been able to ferret out a better understanding of who the characters are and what they're doing. This immediate rereading really opened me up to liking Wilf a lot more than I did the first time through - his unacknowledged exhaustion with the world he's living in is much more poignant when it's not overwhelmed with concern for the plot. I got to do more detailed study this time around instead of frenzied glossing over to figure out what was happening and, honestly, The Peripheral is full of stunning and haunting details.

I'm also completely fascinated by Gibson's uncanny ability to not only spin whole worlds out of nothing but to also make them immediately identifiable, understandable, and acceptable to the reader. I got a little lost with the language of fab and funny in my first reading of the first few chapters, but they were entrenched in my vocabulary by the second time I went through the story. I was similarly accepting of Ash's doubled pupils and rambling tattoos as prosaic when they'd seemed needlessly fantastic on my first reading. In this way the reader mirrors Flynne's journey - she has trouble finding her feet when she first uses the peripheral but catches up quickly and finds a home in London just as we stumble over unfamiliar language and concepts at first but then begin catching up and then begin adoring the world we've fallen into.

I almost never know what I'm going to write in these blogs until I write them, but writing this now I'm actually pretty surprised by how much I really enjoy The Peripheral, and how much I'm considering re-reading it when I get home tonight. I won't, because I want to wait for the mystery to build, but I'll think about it and the ability of Gibson's to write that kind of repeatability is just phenomenal.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. The Peripheral. Putnam. New York: New York. 2014. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

All future


There's an oddly distorted pattern in these trilogies: they start with a crescendo in the first novel, build to another, and then fizzle out when it comes time to close. The second novel in the series usually seems more like a part one for the third novel than a book that stands on its own, and the third one always has something completely awesome that happens toward the middle instead of at the end. I guess the Bridge Trilogy escapes that pattern because it has the burning of the bridge at the end of the third book, but the Blue Ant Trilogy has this same semi-disappointing pattern.

As usual with Gibson Zero History isn't bad so much as it's unfulfilled. Yes, there's a big cathartic action scene and we're given the wrap-up with all our favorite characters. But it almost feels like we're looking at the wrong characters. By the end of the book I don't care so much about Hollis and Garreth, I'm more interested in finding out everything there is to know about Heidi. She's set up as this frustrating blank character in Spook Country but then usurps the place of main character in Zero History but you still don't know much about her aside from her horrible taste in men and her ability to kick absolute ass.

But probably the most irksome thing about Zero History is that the nothing-happens-but-everything-changes bit at the end doesn't give us the money shot with everything changing. In the Sprawl Trilogy we see that humans and AI are starting to become interchangeable intelligences, in the Bridge Trilogy we get a shot of Rei Toei walking out of Lucky Dragons all over the world, but in the Blue Ant Trilogy all you're left with is the vague sense that Bigend doesn't know what he's doing but controls the world anyway. It's disconcerting as all fuck (probably intentionally) but it doesn't have the same sense of reality or possibility or hope that the other trilogies sign off on.

Maybe that has to do with what Zero History is all about - there is no history, history is dead and it's a fiction anyway, so all we can do is look to the future and the future is (as it ever is) vague and vaguely unsettling.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. Zero History. Putnam. New York: New York. 2010.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Spooks, haunts, and Rivers


*SPOILER ALERT*
I'm like 85% positive that the old man is Win Pollard. The description of him as looking like William S. Burroughs is passing in both novels but the security background and rage that the old man has about the security community reaction to 9/11 fit for me. And I don't think that ruins Pattern Recognition like a lot of online Gibson fans seem to think - why wouldn't Win contact his family after surviving the towers? Because as an old spook he'd know that shit was about to go seriously sideways in a way that would be incredibly unpleasant for his family to be connected with and after it had gone sideways he started committing major, treasonous felonies. Both seem like good reasons to keep his adult daughter out of the loop and let her grieve.

But anyway.

/spoiler alert.

Locative art as it's presented here is a fascinating exploration of just how fast technology changes these days. Look at Ingress now and compare it to this seven-year-old novel and the novel feels disastrously dated. For all of that, it's still fascinating. The things that people would choose to present, the ways that Gibson proposes for the technology to be used, Bigend's ongoing complete misunderstanding of the way the world works (and still being able to wrest money from that misunderstanding) are all captivating.

Hollis is a bit of a blank, though. It's hard for me to connect to her here, it feels like there's not much to see. She's distractingly passive at times and seems to have little to no agency. That sort of thing is understandable with Milgrim and Tito because Milgrim is a captive and Tito had been trained his whole life to function as a cog in a greater machine, but Hollis is supposed to be a rock star (even if that's behind her now). You'd expect a little more get-up-and-go but it really just isn't there.

I know Hollis is the main character here, but in this particular novel it's Milgrim's story that I want to read. His uneasy and coerced relationship with brown is the most cathartic part of the story for me, and he's the character whose head I think we get inside of the most.

As a side note, this book's been out for seven years. Augmented reality is a thing now. Somebody get on this, because The Viper Room is still missing its River.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. Spook Country. Putnam. New York: New York. 2007.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Patterns and mysteries


Since I started rereading Gibson I've been waiting for Cayce to headbutt the living shit out of an Italian in Japan and it's still as cathartic as it ever was.

Pattern Recognition is a difficult book to describe because so much of the texture (and even true content) of the novel seems to be made up by, well, pattern recognition. Making an audience read precisely the random noise that the author wants them to is a peculiar and brilliant gift that Gibson has, and when you've submersed yourself in his writing you start picking up on the phrases you know will be important and following them before he's done more than make a passing reference to an object or a concept.

I'm torn as to whether Pattern Recognition or Neuromancer is my favorite Gibson novel because they're very different books that nonetheless have a lot in common. What Pattern Recognition has that is very different than all of Gibson's other novels is a unified voice. There's one narrative here; the book doesn't go dancing around or bouncing through a cluster of disparate characters, it starts, stays, and finishes in the voice and from the perspective of Cayce Pollard. I don't think this particular narrative technique makes the book better or worse than any of Gibson's other books, but it does make it easier for me to identify with Cayce and to understand her fears and motivations. In particular I don't think Cayce's allergy to advertising would have been nearly as completely explored (and therefore as impressive) if we'd had to look through several sets of eyes to see the story.

The novel feels like a shift on Gibson's writing, a movement to something that hadn't been in his stories since the very early parts of Neuromancer and choice bits of Burning Chrome. Pattern Recognition isn't a far-future romp, it's not really a story about hackers, but it seems to be looking at NOW as a new frontier and is fascinating in a way that makes the whole world novel after you're finished reading.

As a side note, I think the book is also one of the very first (and very few) post-9/11 stories that does a very good job of dealing with the implications of a national tragedy with tact and foresight that allow the book to be perhaps more relevant now than when it was published.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. Pattern Recognition. Berkley Books. New York: New York. 2005. (2003)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Practically perfect in every way

That Thing You Do! is a great movie. It's charming, it's witty, it's sweet. There's drama and music and laughter. It's far more perfect than should be allowed - there's not a single scene I would change or a single song that isn't pitch-perfect.

What I really love about this adorable little film is that it's a happy, cheery movie that is entertaining without being clownish and sweet without being schmaltzy. The clothing is wonderful, the characters are wonderful, the sets are wonderful, and the story is wonderful. Everything about this movie is charming and I'm delighted to be continually charmed by it.

Some of the more brilliant elements are the quieter parts of the story: not the band up on stage performing in front of screaming fans, but a phone call with the drummer's frustrated father; not the witty repartee of a bunch of jet-setters flying to LA but the conversation between two suburbanites walking down the street. Those are the brilliant bits of the flick - the little passing moments between people that we as an audience are able to simultaneously feel are completely realistic and natural but at the same time enjoy the timing and humor created by our distance from the era when the movie takes place. Mr. Patterson's complaint about the competing electronics store staying open on Sunday is funny not only because it's such a prototypical Dad thing to say in a prototypical Mom/Dad interaction but because we live in a world where it's unthinkable that an appliance store would be closed on Sundays. The film's version of Eerie PA is uncannily unfamiliar and dated but also feels like it could be two blocks over from wherever you're sitting right now. The movie does an impeccable job of being modern while still being a good representation of the time it's set in - it tries so hard (and succeeds) to make us want to visit its world while gently reminding us that it wasn't a very nice place to live in, all while never being nasty or overtly dramatic.

That Thing You Do! was the first feature film that Hanks directed (his second and so far last, Larry Crowne, is...let's say less charming) and is a wonderful effort on his part. Everyone in it turns in a great performance, the visuals are lovely and transporting, and the sound track is phenomenally rad.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Creepy crawler

My husband was out of town at the same time my mother and sister went on a quick trip to Vegas, so my dad and I were on our own for a couple of days. We solved this problem by watching a lot of movies, which is an excellent way to solve lots of problems, in my opinion.

I don't know that I'd actually seen a full preview for Nightcrawler before I went in to the theater, which is probably a good thing because it's a fairly nuanced film that would be difficult to communicate in a two minute trailer.

I was a journalism major for a while. Nightcrawler touches on several of the reasons that I stopped majoring in journalism - media intruding on grief and pain, the "if it bleeds it leads" mentality that is especially prevalent in TV news, and the slow degradation of journalistic ethics as amateurs started to participate in the fifth estate. The film also explores isolation, manipulation, and straight-up creepy ass motherfuckers.

Jake Gyllenhaal is fantastic in the movie, but so is literally every other person you see on screen. No one over or underplays anything - they all hit their marks perfectly. The screenplay seems like it would be a lovely thing to read; there are vast stretches of silence where we can't tell what's going on or why it's happening but only have to experience what the characters in those scenes are experiencing: tension, confusion, and a grim determination to move forward. The art direction is stunning as well, set off by jaw-dropping cinematography that manages to delicately capture blue morning light above a shabby neighborhood as well as swerving and streaking neons in a brutally intense chase scene.

I honestly can't think of a single criticism (constructive or not) of this film - it's rare and perfect and sharp and frightening and I'm so glad I got to see it.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hector and the search for Walter Mitty

I really enjoy Simon Pegg. If you were to call me up and invite me over to watch the Cornetto trilogy right now I'd probably say yes because I'm ALWAYS down for SotD and Hot Fuzz. Run, Fatboy, Run is a really sweet and entertaining film that I like an awful lot. I even follow Simon Pegg on twitter (one of the maybe thirty people that's true of). So my dissatisfaction with Hector and the Search for Happiness doesn't have anything to do with an aversion to Pegg or to the delightful Rosamund Pike, and everything to do with the fact that I saw this movie last year, only then it had Ben Stiller in it and was much better made.

I feel like someone edited out a pretty hefty chunk of HatSfH. Something has gone missing that might make this a better movie, or at least would make it a more distinct movie. That something almost certainly has to do with the dog that keeps popping up, unexplained, throughout the film and probably has to do with the numerous sightings of a young Hector.

My dad (who took me to see the film with him this weekend) and I were discussing it and I said that it was like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty without the fantasy scenes while still trying to be a fantasy movie. Dad didn't think it was trying to be a fantasy but I disagree: we're treated to regular hallucinations and a degree of coincidence that is incredible. These things would make sense if we knew the movie was a fantasy, as would the bookending voice-over that is otherwise somewhat disconcerting.

I feel like we're missing the establishing shot of Hector's personality. Yes, we see (and are told) that he's dull and relies on routine and is stuck in a rut; but we're never given any insight into his photographic recollection of Tintin or his fixation on aviation both of which actually make sense if you just introduce the film with a childhood obsession with the comic and let that (instead of only two visual allusions) set the template for the film. Because, you see, if a viewer doesn't know anything about Tintin (which I essentially don't) the movie is jarring and a bit ridiculous. If, however, you know that Tintin is a story about the adventures of a boy and his dog investigating and having adventures, HatSfH starts to make sense as an homage.

I didn't hate this movie, it wasn't absolutely awful, it just wasn't very good. Simon Pegg was tolerable but toned down from the brash, clueless characters who have made up the bulk of his career. Toni Colette's four total minutes of screen time were acted pretty well but ultimately out of place. Rosamund Pike was charming and actually probably one of the better constructed characters. But none of it hung together well, and the story was stretched out over a frame of spiritual tourism that I find more than slightly repellent. Yes, China is a place. Tibet is a place. Africa is a giant, huge, massive, culturally diverse place and you might want to narrow down where in Africa you're talking about because South Africa and Chad are pretty goddamned different, y'know? These are all places where real people live and have their own conflicts at home and touching on human trafficking in China, or holy shit everything in the history of Tibet, or disease, kidnapping, and militarization in some generalized "Africa" as points on a white man's journey to find happiness without taking time to show Chinese or Tibetans or Africans dealing with these issues as characters rather than set-pieces is short-sighted. Hector might find more happiness if he took the time to actually learn about the people he meets instead of taking touristy snapshots and setting up a satellite dish at a monastery (where the head monk's character is known, according to the credits, as Old Monk). There is one notable exception to this pattern: on his flight from somewhere in Africa to LA he ends up assisting a terminally ill woman as she makes her way home to visit her sister; he questions her and gets close to her and most importantly LISTENS to her, and recognizes the vast difference between her life and his. I could have done with some more of that. I don't need abject misery at all times, but recognition that those little human dramas are, in fact, dramatic and that all of those people Hector met have their own story somewhere inside would be nice.

/rant

Cheers,
     - Alli

Onrushing weight


Chevette is one of my top five favorite Gibson characters, with Molly, Cayce, Hollis, and Kumiko generally filling in the other spots. It's really telling that many of Gibson's stories are written from what is primarily a male perspective but the women and girls in the stories become the real heroes and badasses. That's a huge part of why I like him, actually: he gives me actual, real, cool role models to aspire to - I only wish I'd found them when I was younger.

Chevette is probably the most realistic cool badass girl in any of Gibson's universes; she starts as a bridge-dweller and bike messenger in Virtual Light and ends up as a woman who is of and not of the bridge in All Tomorrow's Parties. Berry Rydell has no arc in the Bridge Trilogy, and Colin Laney's arc is from researcher to lunatic. Chevette moves from being an isolated and essentially feral child to a self-possessed and prematurely wise young woman with a kick like a mule during the course of the series. She's the one who grows, so she's the one we should be watching.

The bridge itself also undergoes some changes which the audience would do well to note - the way that squatter's paradise is transformed over the course of the trilogy is the same transformation that our current interstitial/liminal world of the internet is being warped and changed right now. In Virtual Light the bridge is mad and dangerous and hard; in All Tomorrow's Parties it's going the way of Times Square - slowly becoming Disneyland in spite of all its history. There's a lot there that's important, a lot to consider about the need for places uninfected by corporations and the need for freedom from industrialized individuality, and even though All Tomorrow's Parties is a product of 1999 it's got a message that is vital in the discussion of net neutrality.

But what's funny is that the message is secondary to the story and the story is secondary to the scenery. All Tomorrow's Parties has some of my all-time favorite Gibson images lurking in its pages, from an old man painting action figures inside of a cardboard box to flashes of an abandoned and cloudy California coastline to the visceral image of the Golden Gate Bridge swathed in flames while people on it try to survive, All Tomorrow's Parties is brimming with haunting images that rattle around behind your eyes and are hard to detach from. It, and really all of the Bridge Trilogy, is beautiful and full of language that renders stunning visuals of things that are hideous and lovely alike.

As a side note, I finished this book the first time through when I was sitting in a dusty gray Jeep in the California desert on my first trip out of town with my husband, who hadn't proposed to me by then. It was a quiet day, warm but getting cool as the sun set, and he had climbed down into a ravine with a friend while I finished my book and listened to the industrial and electronic music he was only just introducing me to. When he got back in the car and I talked to him about my book he put on another mix of music and we drove out of that little canyon listening to Apoptygma Berzerk's cover of Lou Reed's "All Tomorrow's Parties," a coincidence of timing and style that still makes me feel warm and happy and severely creeped out at exactly the same time. This little story doesn't have any meaning, there isn't any purpose to it. But all the same, you should listen to the song in all its incarnations at some point as you read the Bridge Trilogy: it's a perfect soundtrack to the world that Gibson wrote.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. All Tomorrow's Parties. Berkley Books. New York: New York. 2003. (1999)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Projected desire


I think that I may think Idoru is more hilarious than I'm supposed to. The novel has sadness and suspense in it too, but the delirious absurdity of large parts of the story is too much to be ignored and so I primarily think of it as a funny book. Most of the hilarity has to do with the Lo/Rez fan club and their silly, taken-too-seriously projects, but Laney, Yamazaki, Maryalice, and Keithy have their places in the hierarchy of humor as well.

The book takes place in a Tokyo rebuild by nanotechnology after a tremendously destructive earthquake. Nothing in this book happens on the Bridge, but it shows an alternative response to the same sort of disaster that spawned the Bridge. San Franciscans in this trilogy responded to an earthquake by building a scavenger city, Tokyo responded by rebuilding on a rigid plan but also allowing piss-stained clubs to survive. We're being shown that in spite of the post-global world Gibson is setting up there are still enormous cultural divides that people are unable to cross.

Which may be why Laney has such a rough time of it: not only is he the byproduct of being dosed with a brain-transforming chemical that turns people into psychopathic stalkers, he's moved from LA to Tokyo and can't quite get enough traction to hit the ground running. He's lost unless he's combing through data, and maybe that's what Gibson's trying to say: people are complicated and separated by cultures, but information is above those petty divides.

I guess these novels are supposed to be anti-media, and they largely are, but what they really seem to be is anti-studio: Rei is a media product but she rises above the gross sort of media produced by Slitscan and TV shows like Cops in Trouble. Gibson seems to be advocating for creation over consumption, something that I will never argue against, and I'd love to hear his opinion now on things like TMZ and reality television.

Idoru is a fun, fast read that makes you seriously examine why you believe what you see and how you came to be seeing it in the first place. It's full of people who are fun to read and places that you almost-but-don't-quite want to visit.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. Idoru. Berkley Books. New York. 1997. (1996)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Proj on


I've never read the Bridge trilogy as a trilogy - I got the books out of order and pieced them together in my head. I haven't read the books in at least five years either, so I'm coming in to them fresh.

Virtual Light is messy and slapdash, but relentlessly entertaining. Chevette is badass and awesome and makes me want to be a bike messenger, Rydell is kind and a little stupid and an interesting main character because of it, and watching the two of them cause trouble together is a lot of fun.

The background characters really steal the story here. Sublett and his allergies are a funny diversion and the TV cult he escaped from makes me curious to know more about him. Skinner is noble and pathetic and raises a million questions that we don't get anywhere near enough answers to. JD Shapely is a mystery who we're only given enough information about to desperately want more.

San Francisco and LA are also characters, in their own odd way. The cities are smutty and dark and different from the cities as they currently are, but similar enough in enough ways that you can almost see the haze of smog and fog floating through the pages.

This is a great novel to dig in to, to bite down and expand your imagination. It's not as remote and foreign as the universe of Neuromancer, nor as familiar as the world of Pattern Recognition, so you can build up a base of familiar things (security companies, city layouts, bike couriers) combine them with bizarre ideas (nanotech buildings, an earthquake named Godzilla, the Golden Gate Bridge as a city unto itself) and write the concepts in between those two worlds for yourself, making the story richer than just the words on the page.

Gibson's stories demand participation. They ask effort from the reader to make the words resolve into something meaningful. Virtual Light is a great example of this concept, and a good place to start if you're not familiar with the rest of Gibson's works.

Gibson, William. Virtual Light. Bantam Books. New York: New York. 1993.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Circles through the net


The Sprawl Trilogy seems more circular than linear. This makes sense because so much of it takes place in a world that doesn't exist and is constantly rebirthing itself and the culture that surrounds it.

The push-and-pull of the real world and the net is probably a huge part of why Gibson is hailed as such a prescient author. He published The Sprawl Trilogy right as the real-world internet was starting to become something that people actually interacted with and he's one of the few writers who grasped that the larger society would subsume and then be consumed by online lives.

Mona Lisa Overdrive finishes what Neuromancer started - exploring the hair-fine line dividing the net from the real world and the ways to pass through and between the two. Like Dick, Gibson questions reality and its constraints and pushes the boundaries of what his characters (and readers) understand.

MLO brings together characters from both Neuromancer and Count Zero as well as introducing us to some new faces. There are, somewhat unfortunately, no physical visits to Straylight but there is a fascinating filling-in of the physical world - Cleveland and Florida and London appear on the pages as places that are new and bright and filthy and old and tired as our friends (and you do want to be friends with these characters) pass through them.

The geography of the novel is arresting. Neuromancer happens largely in a haze of drugs and jacking in and out of the net, Count Zero takes place in desolate deserts and the crowded Sprawl, but MLO is all over the place - hiding in constructs and bare wastes and the sprawl and old London townhouses. It fills itself with the world and colors the buildings it passes by.

There are huge parts of the story that I like, particularly the relationship between Kumiko and everyone's favorite razorgirl, but the book as a whole leaves me a little cold. I've already said that nothing is Neuromancer, but I can't help feeling that Mona Lisa Overdrive is just close enough to sting. I wish it was a little more than it is, but what it is just has to be enough.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. Mona Lisa Overdrive. Bantam Books. New York: New York. 1988.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ghosts and gods


I haven't read Gibson's trilogies as trilogies. This is the first time I'm sitting down and reading all of the books in order and in their proper groupings.

That being said, Count Zero could almost be part of a different series: clearly it involves the Sprawl and the third book in the trilogy makes it clearer that Count Zero is strongly connected to Neuromancer, but you can't really tell that if you read it out of context. There are just a couple of points in common between the two books - a meeting with the Finn and the brief mention of a razorgirl in orbit.

I think Count Zero is sort of the inverse of Neuromancer: the plot is much clearer but it doesn't leave very strong impressions. I didn't inhabit the Sprawl and its periphery the same way that I inhabited Chiba and Straylight. I can probably tell you more about the individual characters in Count Zero than I can the ones in Neuromancer, but I don't care about them as much. Count Zero is also lacking the smoky noir feel that penetrates every page of Neuromancer.

That is not to say that Count Zero is a bad book, by any means. I don't think that most books look good when you hold them up next to Neuromancer and when looked at by its own light instead of the bright neon shine of its predecessor Count Zero is pretty damned good. It's full of jive and chatter and filth and action. It does a VERY good job of explaining the zaibatsu power structure that hums along in the background of the Sprawl Trilogy and sets the sage beautifully for Mona Lisa Overdrive.

In fact, I think it's a little unfair to think of Count Zero as a standalone book because (even though Gibson didn't plan on making a sequel to Neuromancer) it isn't. It's the middle book in a trilogy and even if that trilogy is rather informally defined it is all part of the same narrative. A lot of what's missing from Count Zero is found in the other books of the trilogy. The parts that aren't in the other books are, I believe, down to the fact that Count Zero was only Gibson's second full-length book and it happened to follow an exceptional but also very foreign first novel.

Either way, whatever's missing from Count Zero isn't enough to put me off reading it again. So it's not Neuromancer - guess what, nothing is. But it's a good story in its own right and it's interesting to have gentler perspectives of the Sprawl.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. Count Zero. Ace Books. New York: New York. 1986.

Tactile neon


I don't remember much of my first impressions of Neuromancer beyond knowing that I absolutely wanted to see the world it took place in and that William Gibson was some kind of awesome and terrible magician who found a way to look at a twisted future and bring it back for us to read about in the present.

I do know that Neuromancer was the first Gibson I read, though I don't recall if I read it because one of my hackers pointed me in its direction or if I read the book and it turned me toward the hackers. Time is like that. Memory is like that. You're left with impression but missing their sequence which, coincidentally, is a perfect way of describing Gibson's writing.

There's something magical about how he puts a book together. I can sit down and tell you what happened in the story, how things progressed from page to page and how the plot layered in on itself, but that's not what I remember or treasure about this novel. What I hold onto when I'm thinking about Neuromancer is a television colored sky and lenses like mercury looking through a haze of neon at a man holding a weapon he doesn't know how to use. Neuromancer calls up spider-like robots and dub in zero-g. Neuromancer is a piping, inhuman contralto moving through a head of platinum and precious stones, telling stories about biz and beaches tinted silver.

The book isn't long, the plot isn't particularly original, and as much fun as the noir genre is it isn't exactly fresh in our cultural psyche, but in spite of the fact that Neuromancer is a short book that covers common ground it's also a massive book that always has more to look at, more to feel and share with the reader. It is tantalizing and whole and empty and reaching. I want so badly to see its world but know it would be a bad world to live in. I want to reach out and feel these people and their lives and the vastness of the situation they're living through, but I know it would frighten me terribly to do so.

That's probably the best thing about Gibson as a whole and Neuromancer in particular. It's not a book about good people doing good things, and it's not a book about normal people doing things that normal people can do: it's a book about the possibility of being extraordinary and it makes you long to be more than yourself, even if that concept is terrifying.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. Neuromancer. Ace Books. New York: New York. 1984.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Wistful winter

 
Blaze is a Richard Bachman trunk novel - an oddity. Stephen King retired Bachman decades ago so the decision to publish an old Bachman book in a new century seems strange, but it's nice to flesh out the body of work.

Everyone who reads this blog (hi Dad!) knows that I'm a little crazy for King - what a lot of people don't know is that I may actually like Bachman more than King, at least when it comes to the ratio of books by that author that I've gotten completely completely obsessed with. Rage, The Long Walk, and Running Man are totally amazing stories written in a way that is endlessly fascinating and exciting. Roadwork is similarly engaging but a bit too depressing for me to totally dig my teeth into. Thinner is a Stephen King book published by Bachman, and it's a good King novel but it's not a Bachman Book. I know that's a little confusing, but the King readers out there get me.

Blaze clearly belongs to Bachman, dead lo these many years of Cancer of the Pseudonym, Stephen King's more hardboiled half. The story has the same sort of depraved futility of Running Man and Roadwork with the horrifying and misplaced innocence of Rage and The Long Walk. The elements are all there. Blaze is clearly a Bachman book. But, even though I adore Bachman, I can see why this remained a trunk novel for so long.

In the introduction to the novel King admits its faults - and there are many, and they are large - which helps. Knowing that this is a book that languished in a box and was written by a pen-name that died thirty years ago and wasn't revisited because it was remembered as bad gives some perspective on the story. It's not great, but at least you go in knowing that it's not great so it doesn't sting so much.

But there is one aspect of the book that is wonderful. Blaze is a good character: you want him to win, you understand why he can't, and watching him make mistakes that he can't help but pulling for him along the way is painful and sad and BURNS, and that is fantastic.

King-as-Bachman makes you pull for this sad, stupid, small-time crook while still seeing the inevitability of his failure and being helpless to help him.

And that's what's great. Everyone who CAN read this book is more capable than its main character and that means that all of us behind the pages will WANT to help him, want to make his broken life better, and so King-as-Bachman manages to brilliantly reduce his readers to the same incapable state as Blaze.

Well damn done, especially for an imaginary dead man's trunk novel.

Cheers,
     - Alli

King, Stephen. Blaze. Simon & Schuster. New York: New York. 2007.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

I hope you're well, Mr. King


I'm pretty sure that Stephen King has written at least two characters who were novelists with the idea to store up novels like nuts for winter, writing two a year but keeping one back to publish during spells of writers block. I mention this because for the last two years King has had a summer and a fall novel release whereas for the better part of the 2000s he's published maybe one novel a year. I do know that he was publishing as Richard Bachman for a while so he could put out multiple novels each year. But now he's publishing under his own name and this makes me a bit wary.

Here are the possible reasons that I'm able to come up with:
1 - Stephen King is even more terrifyingly productive than the reading public has been giving him credit for and is going through a good spell, publishing whatever he writes.
2 - He's rotating through his trunk novels and updating them before technology changes enough to leave his plots in the dust.
3 - He has taken a look at his pile of nuts and realized that it'll outlast any dry spells he could reasonably anticipate and has decided to go for broke and publish them while he's still around to do the publicity tours.

Stephen King is not an old man, and the sudden glut of publications makes me worry a little because I feel like he's either sitting on a massive pile of unpublished novels or he's worried that he's going to die soon. So, Mr. King, I really hope that you're well and just way more prolific than any of us have given you credit for. Please be well.

Because you're writing kick-ass books and I'd love to see them keep coming.

Revival is another novel that I happened to surprise myself with. I was scanning titles on Amazon, saw a King book I hadn't read, and said "dammit, I hope I'm not too late!" I feel left out if I miss a publication by more than a month or two, so I was pleased to see that it was only a week after the release date. I drove out to the bookstore, grabbed a copy, got an awful cold, and found that I had time to sit down and read.

It's a damn good story. Really good.

The plot follows the patchy life of a guitarist turned drug addict turned producer as he meet up with an electricity-obsessed preacher. Both characters are interesting and have their various ups and downs as you follow them through five decades of their separate but occasionally convergent lives.

One of the things that I missed so much in Mr. Mercedes was the deep character development that's so typical of King's writing, and I certainly didn't miss that in Revival. It's not a very full world that these characters inhabit, because it's mostly our world and doesn't need that much filling-in, but their lives are intricate and lovely and unlovely.

The book opens with King thanking his teachers, notably HP Lovecraft and Mary Shelley, and there's a strong influence from the great horror-writers of yesteryear that can be palpably felt throughout the novel. It's clear that those spooky old books are gone from the charts but not from our hearts as King channels the writers who influenced him and gives modern readers a shocking story about veils that should not be peeked beyond.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Dome for the holidays


I don't really know why I haven't read Under the Dome since it first came out, but here we are. I'm kind of an idiot for skipping it all these years, though. Under the Dome is a pretty fucking good Stephen King novel.

I do feel like I need to add that qualifier, that it's a Stephen King novel, because I'm not sure this is a book that fits neatly into any genres. There's suspension, science fiction, horror, humor, and bedroom drama but all tied together and just a bit downstate from Derry so I guess the only place it really feels at home is in the literary universe of King.

I don't really like adding those kinds of qualifiers, but I'm not sure that anyone whose first experience with King was Under the Dome would feel like they got it. I think they'd kind of sit up and go "what the hell just happened" because there's a fair amount that happens that I'm not sure other authors could get away with: hell, I'm not all that sure that King gets away with it.

At one point in the book King references the journalist's basic "W"s - the who, what, when, where, why, and how that a local (or regional, national, and global, really) newspaper reporter should turn to before all else. I think that, when King was writing this novel, he could have safely abandoned the last two questions of his fictional journalist. Why and How cause problems in Under the Dome. Why and How aren't things that the audience really needs answers to and I think the answers that King gives are the only problematic part of the story.

I'm trying to dance around giving bits of the book away, here, and there's a good reason for that: I'm not worried about spoilers, I'm worried that the why and how of Under the Dome will be enough of a turnoff for some readers that they won't even bother with the book. Why and How feel like a cop out, like the easy answer, and like the things that define UtD as a Stephen King novel instead of a political apocalyptic horror story.

This book is over 1000 pages. It's a great book for 985 of those pages but there are just a couple thousand words that feel really problematic to me. The rest is AWESOME so I don't have that much of a problem ignoring the flaws, but I'm also a fangirl and I don't know that new readers or people who are critical of King will be as happy to overlook the frustrating answers to Why and How.

But they should. The characters in this book are stunningly crafted and the unearthly universe King plops into the middle of central Maine is fascinating. The plot is perky and keeps you going through a few draggy spots. There are plenty of people to love and hate and be incredibly frustrated by as you move through the pages, so if you have a day or two to kill Under the Dome is a good way to take care of that time.

Cheers,
     - Alli

King, Stephen. Under the Dome. Scribner. New York: New York. 2009.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Getting into the season early

As incredibly frustrating as I find it that the Christmas season is starting earlier and earlier each year, I'm not ever going to thumb my nose at an opportunity to see Edward Scissorhands on a big screen. If my parents took my sister and I to see it during its original theatrical release (I would have been four so I doubt it) I don't remember being there, though I do vaguely remember seeing the film on a screen at some point (maybe a drive-in?). So when my sister asked if I wanted to go and my parents decided to come back from vacation early to join us, I was delighted to be all-in with my family to watch the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp masterpiece and get a little ready for Christmas.

I think what I appreciated most seeing Edward Scissorhands on the big screen was the incredible attention to set decoration, costumes, and locations. Edward Scissorhands only works as a story because of how different Edward is from the people of the community - this is reinforced at every level, down to the amount that each character speaks (the spoken words to screen time ratio for speaking characters in this film may actually be a good way to illustrate sympathy to Edward - chatterboxes like Joyce and blowhards like Jim are the most dangerous to Edward, while the relatively quiet Boggs family are the ones who take him in and try to keep him safe) but is perhaps most obvious in the rainbow-sherbert colors of the town and its citizens when contrasted to Edward's dark house on the hill and the dark clothing that he covers up as soon as he arrives. The houses, the cars, the clothes, the decorations - they all do a beautiful job of framing Edward as strange while still appearing disconcerting and strange themselves. We see Marge quietly smoking in a gold room next to an empty playpen, we see Esmeralda in her dim living-room obsessively playing organ and surrounded by candles, we see Joyce's joyless kitchen where she's the only spot of color in yellow and pink and mint green (hilariously Joyce is almost always accompanied by Tom Jones, and she's the only character who gets her own pop music soundtrack), and all of these grotesque caricatures and locations make Edward seem out of place in his universe but more at home in ours. Edward's strangeness in that peach and lavender and periwinkle town is why we identify with him: he looks more like us, wears clothes more like us, and thinks his new home is as strange as we do.

Why does Kim, a senior in high school, have a yellow gingham canopy waterbed covered in hand-made and very creepy stuffed animals? Did Peg make the toys? It seems unlikely (she's the only woman in the city, aside from a teacher who appears in the show-and-tell scene for ten seconds, who appears to have a job) that she'd have had time to make all the creepy toys on Kim's bed. What the hell did Joyce use to turn the ambrosia salad that color? Where are these people's dogs for the rest of the movie - Kisses and Alexis are the only ones we see more than once but it seems like everyone in town has their own doppelganger hound so where are they the rest of the time? Why does everyone have some variety or other of gigantic hedge somewhere on their property? If these aren't questions that Edward has these sure as hell are questions that I have, and his confusion in the face of a scrap-skinned stuffed hippo is all that I need to know he thinks this pastel development is as creepy and yet as giddily inviting as I do.

Seen on the big screen Edward Scissorhands is all textures, the metal and leather of his artificial skin contrasted with shag carpet and chiffon of the little town. The delirious juxtaposition is startling and funny and strangely moving - we don't fit in with these people either, we feel dislocated also, and Edward is our avatar, reaching out to a world he wants to be part of and realizing that he can't hold on.

Ugh, it's hard to believe how much I love this movie. In spite of my general aversion to the Christmas season Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas do a good job of getting me in the holiday spirit, and I'm glad I got to go see it as it was meant to be seen with my family.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Farfuture/Splitfuture coolness


I don't remember exactly why I got into William Gibson. I think I may have read Neuromancer and started getting into cyberpunk before I started hanging out almost exclusively with hackers, but I could be off by a couple of months. Either way I know it was around when I was 18 years old which means that I've been a Gibson for about ten years, which in turn means that I've only been able to anticipate the releases of his most recent three novels. I stumbled across the release date for The Peripheral on Amazon and then basically camped out at the bookstore until October 28th to get my copy. I really love anticipating Gibson books because they're always wonderful and there's always almost-too-much time between novels to lose interest or get frustrated but that never happens because you know the book is going to kick ass when it finally drops.

Now that I've said my bit on anticipation, I'm going to do a little begging: please, please, please, please Mr. Gibson, please let The Peripheral be the start of The Spur Trilogy, or The Haptic Trilogy, or whatever it's going to be called or however many more books there will be in it. Please make more in this universe because it's beautiful and scary and insightful and spooky and I want to spend more time in its spaces and faces.

There is an awful damn lot I want to say about this novel but I'm afraid I can't yet because this is one of those times that I actually do worry about spoilers - the book hasn't even been out for a full month so I don't want to destroy any part of the plot for any readers but I do want to commend Gibson for his continual subversion of typical gender roles and attitude toward people of different races, genders, sizes, ages, and abilities to get a lot done.

Gibson writes some of the creepiest institutions that I've ever read, but he consistently writes the best and most inspiring characters that anyone's seen in SF in the last four decades. Yes, he's got plenty of straight white men in his novels; but Gibson's heroes aren't the Han Solos of the world, his heroes are the everymen, everywomen, and everychildren who people his pages but could also be sitting right next to you. That's what I love so much about Gibson - he doesn't teach his readers to aspire to be a particular character, he teaches his readers that everyone can be a hero but it frequently comes down to making some hard and dangerous choices.

Please go out and buy The Peripheral. It's delightful. And please, Mr. Gibson, please keep writing. You're doing a lot of good for my generation and I don't even think we realize that yet.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gibson, William. The Peripheral. Putnam. New York: New York. 2014.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Memory is an ocean


I consistently enjoy reading Gaiman but holy hell is he capable of throwing me into an existential crisis.

I'll admit that that's probably what he's trying to do with the stories he writes so I guess that means he's just really successful and well versed in his craft.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a lovely little book. It makes you feel removed from yourself and at one with the world it occupies.

There's a lot that I want to say about the book but I'm not sure how much I can tell you without spoiling it, so I guess I'll just say that the language is rich, the pacing is perfect, and as soon as I was done with it I wanted to read it again in a tree by myself, in a warm bed on a stormy morning, in a gently rocking boat on a cold lake, and in all the other places where memory lives and imagination thrives.

If you're a Gaiman fan you'll recognize several elements of the story as touchstones of his writing - little motifs that follow you through his body of work and peek out of the corners, winking at you before moving along.

That may be a part of why I like Gaiman so much, actually; his books make a home for you and the more you read the more you belong.

As a side note, Gaiman has been promoting All Hallows Read on his Tumblr and other social media and I want to pass on and share the idea - let's turn Halloween into a holiday where you share what scares you with others in your life by giving the gift of a book. I didn't do enough planning to really participate this year (but I will happily LOAN scary books out this year), but maybe I'll post a scary story for free to get into the spirit of the thing.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Harper Collins. New York: New York. 2013.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TV editing bad, chicken good.

I will never not love The Fifth Element but Esquire TV sure made it hard on me yesterday.

If you haven't seen the movie, please do. It's delightful and funny and stupid and sweet and cute and grungy. If you have seen the movie and don't like it, I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do for you. If you, as all good people should, have seen the movie and think it's awesome don't watch it edited for TV.

I didn't realize how well I knew the movie until I was watching it on Esquire yesterday and I kept feeling like something was missing. Then I figured out that a lot was missing, most of it sexual innuendo, and the movie was worse for it.

There was, however, one very interesting side effect of TV censorship - it made me realize what a good director Luc Besson is. Admittedly, I should have known that just from watching Leon, but it was a mangled version of The Fifth Element that really hammered this home to me.

In the movie there are several scenes that are cut up and shuffled together in parallel sequences. The one that comes immediately to mind is LeeLoo kicking major ass while the Diva is singing opera onstage - LeeLoo's action parallels and compliments the Diva's music and dancing.

The scene that was cut up and mangled worst of all was the spaceport - Zerg's minion is totally missing, as is the other imposter Corben Dallas, so that's one bit all shot to hell, but the really cool part of the whole thing involves Ruby Rod seducing a stewardess while Cornelius is sneaking into the ventilation system ALSO while the ship's crew is recharging the atomic power of the ship and cleaning parasites off the landing gear, ALSO while the ship is taking off. There giddy juxtapositions and silly visual metaphors and just a lot of really cool stuff that happens in that sequence and pretty much all of it was snipped out of this poorly edited version.

Fuck all that shit.

The really stupid thing about it is that the movie was rated PG-13 and the chopped up version was TV-14 so it wasn't edited for content, it was edited for time. Hey Esquire channel, I'm pretty sure that 1-3pm on Sunday is the least important advertising block that you have, especially since you're a shitty bundled channel in the triple digits. All that you have accomplished is making sure that I saw ONE THING on your station and it wasn't something that you produced and now I know better than to watch your programming again. The Fifth Element has a nearly 90% positive rating from audiences on RottenTomatoes.com - if you're going to make a hash of something do it with a flick like The Expendables 2, or Last Action Hero, or some other not-really-great popcorn movie that doesn't have an apparently rabid fanbase.

Anyway, go watch The Fifth Element. It's fun.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Monday, October 27, 2014

Can we just set rom-coms on fire?

Ugh, you guys, this week I regret watching TV.

I made the terrible mistake of watching My Best Friend's Wedding today. I knew I didn't like this movie but I hadn't seen the whole thing all at once since it came out almost 20 years ago so I wanted to refresh my memory and I regret it.

Let me start by saying that there are two things that I do like about this move. First off, it's atypical for the genre in that it doesn't force feminine stereotypes and it is certainly not a happily-ever-after ending - kudos to Hollywood for messing with the genre. The second thing I like is a short scene between Julia Roberts and a young and unknown Paul Giamatti. Roberts' character is confronting her own misdeeds and the exchange that she has with Giamatti's young bellman is stark and pathetic and precisely the kind of thing that an actress like Julia Roberts never does in a movie like My Best Friend's Wedding and it's awesome. I love the reflection of that scene, an I love that a character in a rom-com is seriously blaming herself and her actions for the miserable situation she's created. It doesn't get foisted off on anyone else, she owns it, and I really admire that.

But seriously this movie is so fucking annoying. Dermont Mulroney is in it playing what I assume is basically himself because I've never seen Dermont Mulroney play anything but a smug, self-satisfied asshole who doesn't realize he's an asshole and is good-looking enough to come off as charming. Unless he's specifically in a role where he's supposed to be an unsympathetic dick I can't take it seriously and want to stab him with a fork. Cameron Diaz is Mulroney's shrill and overly conciliatory fiancee who's willing to drop out of college and follow him along for his objectively shitty job (yes being a print journalist can be fun, but if you were a 28 year old staff writer on a print paper with an uneducated wife in 1997 you would be 45 now and I'd be curious to see what your retirement plan looks like because you probably lost your job some time in 2007 - oh, wait, your uneducated wife is the daughter of a baseball team owner, so you married into your retirement plan and I kind of hate you). There's a musical number in a lobster restaurant that makes zero sense and turns the movie into a fantasy - but whoever is doing the fantasizing must hate themself and that's kind of sad.

Anyway, long story short, the movie is cute and simpering and does actually have a decent message (you make your own bed, you've got to lie in it) but is so sickeningly adorable that it is hard to care about the message when all you care about is getting away from the syrup pouring out of the screen. I don't think I'll be watching this again.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A broken thing to fix broken people


I was a weirdo little punk/goth/hippie kid in high school, which means that I kept my copy of The Crow on the same shelf that I kept my Ramones CDs and my Yellow Submarine DVD. I love The Crow. I love the movie, I love the comic, I love the story, I love how sad it makes me and how broken it seems.

In 2010 James O'Barr released a special edition of The Crow that included a new introduction and several sequences that had been cut from the original book because of space constraints. I was hesitant to pick it up and read it because of how I feel about the original publication, but I'm overall pretty damned happy with the results.

I think people make up their own sacred texts. Everyone goes through some phase or another where they find a piece of art that feels like it defines them - someone reads On the Road and it changes their life, or listens to The Shins (if they're Natalie Portman in Garden State) and finds direction, or watches Garden State and finds hope for their future and a template for the unattainable manic pixie dream girl they'll try to date in Natalie Portman. And when you find something like that, a book or a movie or a painting or a song, something that changes who you are, you don't want to look back at that thing ten years down the line and realize it's a piece of shit.

I'm pretty lucky that I realized I could be an unbelievable idiot at a young age. I think I was 10 when I first reflected back on some of the stupid, stupid shit I'd done two or three years before and resolved to be less stupid. At 15 I thought about how dumb I was as a 13-year-old and decided I could do better. At 20 I looked back at 15. At 25 I looked back at 20. So I'm an idiot! I realize that now and just try to do better in general. The nice thing is that it means I can look at the stuff that I loved as a younger person and appreciate it while still being critical.

That whole rant is, unfortunately, pretty good background for The Crow. The story is SOLID, straight-up gold, and it's hard to get in the way of that, so I can still value the tale of undead revenge. The art is, um, iffy at best. Some pages and panels are stunningly beautiful and well crafted, but from panel to panel James O'Barr had a lot of trouble figuring out what his characters looked like (with some exceptions like T-Bird and Funboy; but Shelly seems to look different in every single panel she's in) - but it was O'Barr's first book and he was young; comparing the art added in for the re-done sections to the original pages it's clear that he was a much less experienced artist and the art is a really impressive achievement for a first book. But then you get to the dialogue.

Don't get me wrong, there are some FANTASTIC lines in The Crow. My favorite is probably "Oh you sewer rats are so faithful, you cause me to blush to my bones ... you never stop dying for me!" or "Pain and hate, but never, ever fear. Fear is for the enemy. Fear and bullets." or "Jesus Christ ... Jesus Christ walks into a hotel, hands the innkeeper three nails and asks 'Can you put me up for the night?'" but there is a LOT of really shitty dialogue and an over-reliance on dropping articles in dialect that makes the gang members in the story seem more childish and pitiable than O'Barr probably wanted them too. I double-checked and my original edition of the book appears to be missing the most egregiously painful spoken line: "The hour for prayers if past, fool! Now it's nap time! Every bullet has a bed ... it just needs to be tucked in." The reason that line hurts me so much is that you could just have it be "Every bullet has a bed" and it would be pretty damned good, but it's poisoned by the words around it, which seems to be pretty par for the course with the written words of the story here. The overall story, the graphic story, these things hang together, but the dialogue and narration are an unsettled jumble of really excellent writing and snippets of poetry commingled with stilted phrasing and an honest but clumsy attempt to express pain.

There are still things that I love about The Crow, but looking at it with a more mature eye I can see that there are certain things I'm more drawn to than I used to be. And the new edition has a lot that I find very attractive and appealing and willing to admit into my interpretation of this text as a part of myself. The book is flawed, but then again so is everyone who will ever read it, and it's not so broken that it can't help to make you whole if you need it.

Cheers,
     - Alli

O'Barr, James. The Crow Special Edition. Gallery Books. New York: New York. 2011. (1981)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fly away

 


My buddy Ren is the first person who introduced me to Flight with Volume One - it seems like it must have been a million years ago but it was realistically more like five years. Flight isn't really supposed to be a themed compilation but it always ends up being mostly about, well, flight. It's full of wonderful interpretations of what flight means to many of the artists and is always made up of really spectacular art. Now that it's over I feel like I need to go out and get all of the volumes because every volume I've seen has been well worth the money.

“Encore” by Kostas Kiriakakis - this piece is done in an absolutely gorgeous painted style and has a touching, tear-jerking, uplifting story. A perfect way to start out the volume.

“Kenneth Shuri & the Wrong Kill” by JP Ahonen - a really adorable story about a ninja who got the wrong end of the stick and should probably consider a new career.

“Riddle” by Kyla Vanderklugt - The real riddle is to ask who the real monster is. This story is very, very cute and made me want to hug pretty much everyone in it.

“The Clockmaker's Daughter” by Corey Godbey - Oh, man, this is a really cool story about how people perpetuate their own problems. It's beautifully illustrated and sweet and sad and wonderful.

“Echoes” by Jason Caffoe - A letter home to Mom is illustrated and tells you much more about the narrator's life than his words do. There's a wistfulness here that is haunting.

“The Hollow Men” by Nicholas Kole - DUUUUUUUUDE. This is AMAZING. It's a fantastic snippet of the mythologies of this foreign world, brimming with magic and horror and acceptance and love.

“The Gift” by Kazu Kibuishi - The art in this one is fairly simple and the story is kind of extremely creepy and I'm sort of freaked out by it and may have nightmares.

“The Black Fountain” by Tony Cliff - This is a delightfully creepy little fairytale about jealousy and redemption.

“The Collector” by Leland Myrick - I love the simple lineart and color here, and this is another story that makes me want to hug everyone (except the totally spoopy ghost). A simple story about morality and family.

“New Year's Day” by Sonny Liew - A nice little robot has to make his way home through a big and terrifying city after his owner accidentally leaves him at a New Year's Party.

“Buttons and Jim in What's Stopping the Gravy Train?” by Katie and Steven Shanahan - I'm not familiar with Buttons and Jim but the characters seem well established and interesting. The little universe that they end up exploring is adorable and also really funny in places.

“Jellaby: Who Needs Friends?” by Kean Soo -Very simple and effective art compliment the almost-too-cute (but still touching) story about friendship.

“Igloo Head and Tree Head in Accomplishments” by Scott Campbell - This was a bizarre and surprisingly long watercolor comic made up of strange characters in a strange land. The story is clear and occasionally very funny but the distracting art was just a bit confusing.

“Rematch!” by Dermot Walshe - a beautifully illustrated story about a rematch between the tortoise and the hare.

“Checkers” by Jake Parker - Awwwwwwww. Awwwwwwww. AAAAaaaaawwwwwwww. So damn cute! A little girl just wants to play checkers and finally finds someone to share a game with.

“Migration” by Der-shing Helmer - I'm a little surprised by how sad this story was; it's about the migration of the dinosaurs before the comet and the theme of home and homeland is touchingly explored here.

“Winged” by Grimaldi and Bannister - The real reason that we don't have hoverboards or flying Delorians is looked at here; it's because people are idiots and the world is unpredictable.

“Periwinkle in Try, Try Again” by Matthew S. Armstrong - I'm a sucker for penguins trying to fly and this short comic touches on all the sweet, silly, funny points that it needs to in order to be a perfect closer for this collection.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Kibushi, Kazu ed. Flight. Volume Eight. Villard. New York: New York. 2011.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Can I get there by candlelight?


I'm somewhat surprised that when I went on my Gaiman mini-binge earlier this year I skipped reading and writing about Stardust because Stardust is one of my favorite books.

I know that I've harped on Gaiman for being kind of a one-trick pony but I still feel like that doesn't matter because it's a REALLY good trick and Stardust is probably the best book in Gaiman's whole collection of "how did I get to this magical place?" stories.

My favorite thing about the book is that it feels like it's cobbled together out of the bits and pieces of fairytales that break off in your brain and start to blend together when you're a grownup.

How many people reading this remember Mother Goose rhymes, or know all the nursery rhymes they learned growing up? None of us, I'm sure. They fade away but leave little touches of memory, like an image of a slide that a teacher showed, or a warm voice reciting from the TV on Saturday morning, or chanting in time with a jump-rope and all your friends. You don't remember they rhymes themselves, or who all the characters in all the stories were, but you remember how they made you feel and you recognize them when you see them. That's what Stardust is to me, that's how it feels to read it.

It's not written out of a real, historical mythology; it's not Faerie or the forest of the Grimms or Atlantis as any scholar would have it, it's Faerie or the forest or Atlantis as it is imagined by people who were once told that such a place was real.

I'm probably not communicating this as well as I want to but I hope you get the gist of what I'm saying, and if you don't it's enough to say that reading Stardust feels like coming home to childhood, and all the magic that I used to live in.

You should read it. You should read as much Gaiman as you can get your hands on because that's basically all he does - he hollers you home to the you you used to be.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Gaiman, Neil. Stardust. Harper Collins. New York: New York.2001. (1999)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Good for Halloween


Over the weekend I judged a book by its cover and was delighted with the results. I was in the bookstore with my cousin and sister when I passed an endcap that had a picture of Daniel Radcliffe growing horns. I shot a look at my sister and said "is that?" and she confirmed - our little Harry is all grown up and starring in an indie flick about a guy with horns. Honestly (and sadly) that was enough for me. If the thesis of your book is "let's explore what happens when a guy grows horns" putting a picture of a guy growing horns on the cover is a great way to communicate that.

Anyway, I picked up the book and it's awesome and I guess I have to start reading Joe Hill now.

Ig and Lee are fun and fiddly characters to read, and sharing space in their heads will leave you excited but wanting a shower. The odd little world of the story and delightfully awful people Hill has filled it with are vastly entertaining to spend time with.

The book is a lovely little adventure with magic and misery and a delightful discussion of how full of life and expectations and dreams even the most prosaic of hairdressers or little old nuns may be.

The story is not particularly layered but the way it's broken up into chunks and rearranged gives it a comfortable depth that requires you to rethink and relive some parts of the book and the history of the characters. There is an interesting and ongoing exploration of theology throughout the story that I found fascinating and well-reasoned but would probably be off-putting to, say, C.S. Lewis but appealing to Rolling Stones fans.

I know that I'm picky as hell about finding and reading new authors. I've had a streak of bad luck with books that I gave a chance and was infuriated by, but it's the books like this that give me hope. Here's a book that I came into completely cold and enjoyed enormously, which has opened up a whole new author to me. The excitement about being excited about a book was almost more appealing and satisfying to me than finding out what would happen each time I turned a page - almost, but not quite. Horns was a quick and charmingly devious read. "The Devil on the Stairs," a short story included at the end of my edition (which tricked me into thinking I had another twenty pages of the novel, damnit) was delightful and an unexpected bonus that provided a contrasting view of everyday devils.

EDIT - Um, I can't believe that I forgot to mention this but the book is charming and entertaining and fun but is ALSO about an unsolved rape and murder. So. You know. Trigger warnings and yeah there's lots of violence that some people probably won't want to read. And if you are opposed to sympathetic demon characters you probably won't want to read it either. Now you know.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Hill, Joe. Horns. William Morrow. New York: New York. 2010.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bone is the best


I had an odd collection of magazine subscriptions as a child. Reader's Digest and Cat Fancy are the two that I remember coming in the mail and that I would read cover to cover, though for the life of me I can't remember why. Mad Magazine, Nickelodeon Kids, and Disney Kids magazines were the ones that I picked up (along with Archie Comics and Betty and Veronica Digest) at the newsstand. Upon reflection I should have immediately cancelled my subscriptions and saved my parents the money so that I could read more newsstand magazines and comics because the stuff that I love as an adult came out of those silly kids magazines much more than the grownup magazines that I was reading as a kid.

Bone is a fantastic example of this. I didn't get to see Bone as a serialized comic book because I hadn't started going to comic book stores by then, instead I got to see an issue at a time of the first book published once a month in a reduced-size format in the back of Disney Kids. Eventually the magazine stopped publishing the issues and I stopped reading Disney Kids right at about the same time I dropped everything but Mad. Looking back I regret that I know so much about purebred cats but probably missed out on a lot of good art and stories on the newsstands at the grocery and drug stores down the street from my parents' house.

Eventually, even though I hadn't seen it in years and this was before it became common for me to search odd word combinations on Google to try to re-discover missing pieces of my youth, I stumbled across the one-volume edition of Bone at a bookstore and frowned at the cover a bit. It looked familiar. So I opened it up and looked inside and freaked right out. It was the exact same comic with the exact same horrifying monsters that I'd lost track of all those years ago.

Unfortunately it wasn't until 2010 that I was able to afford a copy of the one-volume edition and at that point I might as well have waited for the full-color version released in 2011 but I'm happy with my purchase nonetheless: up to now I've told you about my history with this book - now you need to hear about how completely amazing and kick ass it was and how it managed to hold my interest across three decades.

Imagine a valley founded by dragons, peopled by warriors and mystics, and threatened by seven-foot-tall toothbeasts called Rat Creatures. Fill the borders of that world with talking bugs, a robust mythology, and a beautiful landscape. Now drop in three bizarre little cartoon characters called Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone from a town across the desert called Boneville and see what happens to that mix.

Bone is a wonderful combination of an epic adventure and Marx Brothers film. It has lost princesses and brave fighters and people scared of a menace to their way of life all interspersed with sight-gags, silly puns, in-jokes, and one-liners.

I know, I know, a lot of people look at any kind of illustrated book and immediately disregard it as stupid kid's stuff, dumb comics, and nothing more. BULLSHIT on those people. Fuck them. Bone is rife with allusions to literature, a robust in-world mythology, and complex characters driven by diverse but totally understandable motives. It's drawn in black and white but full of shades of gray that make it a joy to read and worthwhile to consider as serious literature.

Right on the cover it's described as one of the best graphic novels of our time, but I don't like that qualifier. It's a damn good novel whether or not it happens to be illustrated, and more people should read it.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Smith, Jeff. Bone. Cartoon Books. Columbus: Ohio. 2004.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Who makes these things?

I have no problem wasting an entire day watching the terrible films that I loved in my youth, except for the vague, greasy feeling of guilt that clings to me for spending two hours on terrible films when I should have been playing with my puppy.

Luckily I avoided that feeling last weekend - the puppy sat on the couch with me and happily chewed on my hands while I spent a twelfth of my day wondering who was behind the idea of Die Hard With Kids and how I could give them money to make more of these wretched movies.

1997's Masterminds is the specific particular specimen of this crap genre that I watched on Saturday morning, but I know that Corey Haim and Sean Astin were in two separate kid-fights-terrorists-who-have-taken-over-the-school movies, and Sky High is basically the same movie with capes. Someone please make lots more of these movies or never make one again because I have an obsession with them that is bordering on creepy. Or at least it seems that way since I'm an adult; when I was a little girl I'm sure I was supposed to swoon over Vincent Kartheiser's bad-boy antics (and I did) but now I just want to yell at him for being a shitty hacker (as in he "hacks" badly, not as in all hacking is bad). I first saw this idiotic flick over the summer with my daycare group and at 10 I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but I was exactly the audience the filmmakers were aiming at. Grownups will get something altogether different out of the experience: the kind of pure comedy that can only be felt by people who lived through the nineties and remember how objectively ludicrous they were.

Probably the most hilarious part of the whole silly mess is Patrick Stewart not giving one single shit as the suave, mustachioed bad guy who takes down a private school while posing as a security expert. He's over-the-top and hammy and clearly just in it for the paycheck - his performance is nearly unwatchable but is saved by the fact that you can tell he's having fun with it. Bradley Whitford is in the movie too and tries to play it straight all while wearing some poor costume designer's idea of a hip millionaire's suit, which translates to lapel-less and beige with a tee shirt underneath (the nineties where so silly you guys, just ridiculous).

Masterminds is a stupid film made for a stupid audience. But for all of that it's still fun - there are plenty of explosions and idiotic one-liners, an ATV chase in some sewer tunnels, and a nonsensical plot that you can safely ignore. I'll probably be happy to watch it again in about ten years but there's no need to revisit it with any frequency.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Rocks yes, Awesome no


Attention to any elementary school students who may be reading this: you shouldn't be reading my blog it's full of cursewords; but also you should know that the children of your teachers TOTALLY read your book order books.

I'm sorry, kids. I couldn't help myself. I've got a problem with rocks. When I cleaned up my childhood bedroom recently I found approximately four pounds of pebbles in there. I pick up river rocks and pretty rocks and put them in jars and never do anything with them. I used to set big smooth rocks next to the burners on the stove and sometimes they'd get dirty so my mom would put them in the dishwasher and then my sister would find them and decide that my mom and I were both crazy.

This book about (and including) rocks has been sitting at my parents' house for the last two weeks and taunting me so last night I broke down and read the damn thing. It was disappointing. There were some good basic facts about rock types and properties, and it did in fact include rocks, but it also had the cheapest, shittiest magnifying glass I've ever seen, a totally superfluous pipette, and one of the rocks wasn't in the book (they talked about the properties of and tricks you can do with talc but included a sample of graphite instead). The printing was also really reprehensible, so smudged and offset in some places that the words were difficult to read.


So boo on you, Scholastic. Someone here made some bad choices. And stop trying to make books like this hip and in-tune with kids these days. Clearly your cool-kid-ese dictionary was printed in the 70's and no one has bothered to make a new once since, which I know because I remember the same cringe-inducing, over-excited language in my own book fair books.

And to the kid who ordered this book: some of the safety measures in this book are good (don't go exploring around mines and try to stay away from poisons) but some of them are bad and I feel like I, as a responsible adult, need to tell you that you do not need an adult to help you bang two chunks of quartz together in a dark room.

Cheers,
     - Alli

Merrill, Robin. Big Box of Awesome Rocks. Scholastic. New York: New York. 2011.