Saturday, March 29, 2014

New high score

Sometimes it's okay to judge a book by its cover. I picked up Ready Player One from a discount table at Barnes and Noble because a quote on the cover described the book as "Willy Wonka meets The Matrix" and in my world sometimes that's all you need to worm your way into my heart.

The plot is a little bit predictable, sometimes seems suspiciously convenient, and isn't really what the novel is about. The story is totally secondary not to the universe it takes place in but to the pop culture of that universe, which happens to be the same pop culture that overshadows my universe.

There isn't a single page in the book that doesn't bring up 80s sitcoms, cyberpunk novels, old-school videogames, roleplaying, movies that I adore, or kick-ass music. It's there everywhere, surrounded by a crazed extrapolation of the Internet, an economic dystopia, and scattered with bits and pieces of Arthurian lore for good measure.

Holy shit is Ernest Cline ever crazy, but it sure as hell is my kind of crazy.

The book bounces you along at a manic pace - if you're not already into things like Snow Crash or Blade Runner or D&D along with an entire library of arcade games, be prepared to feel a little lost. If you are into all of those things, be prepared to wish that you lived in Cline's future in spite of all the terrible things it holds because he makes those things awesome in the way we only wish they could be now.

I will say that the book as a whole feels a little more like an homage than a work of its own. It became pretty clear to me pretty quickly that I was familiar enough with enough of the source material that I felt a little like I'd been through the book before and it also felt like Cline is a little critical of the escapist geeks who make up his characters as well as his fan base.

That feeling was actually pretty unpleasant - I sort of felt like I was getting yelled at by the book that I was reading and I couldn't stop reading it because the author knew my tastes well enough to keep me hooked through my talking-to. Cline may be a geek himself but his message of "but none of this competes with the real world, and none of your emotions count unless you're living in the real world" is a bit of a dick move in a book that's so strongly geek-oriented.

But hell, I dunno. Maybe I read too much into it. It was a fun ride, at any rate.

     - Alli

Cline, Ernest. Ready Player One. Broadway Books. New York: New York. 2011

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Drum Solo!

I love the Muppets. Everything about them is usually completely awesome. I wasn't a huge fan of their 2011 Jason Segal outing, but I was very pleased with watching Muppets Most Wanted on Saturday.

I don't actually have too much to say about the movie, though. It was funny and cute and sweet and silly while I was watching it but now, after a remove of only a couple of days, I can't remember too much about the film. I do remember that Ricky Gervais (playing a character with the best shady name and worst super-villain alter-ego ever) was less obnoxious than he usually is. I remember that Tina Fey was wonderful and adorable and the entire Siberian prison was more charming and funny than any depiction of a Siberian prison has a right to be. I remember some great, hilarious, cameos (the best of which are in the same oddly charming prison).

There was maybe a little more emphasis on European stereotypes than I expected, and this was really only funny in respect to Ty Burrell's Jean Pierre Napoleon character - and overall was not as funny as the dick-measuring contest between Jean Pierre and Sam Eagle.

I did enjoy the hell out of the musical numbers, and there were a LOT of them - I actually clapped in delight when the first one started up less than a minute into the film. I'm not usually a fan of musicals because they're so unrealistic and jarring - but when you're in a world of walking and talking Muppets, having them sing and dance doesn't seem odd it seems awesome.

I did NOT, however, like the babies. The babies were creepy as fuck and they were a problem for me and let's please never speak of them again.

Other than the songs, the stereotypes, and the cameos, a lot of time was spent dissecting the dynamics of the motley Muppet crew. We see a lot of Kermit and Miss Piggy and how their relationship looks from the inside, there's a fair amount of exploration into how the Muppet Show manages to function in spite of the sheer insanity that goes into it (the answer, btw, is Kermit - Kermit is the only thing that keeps these fluffy lunatics in any kind of order). We don't see anywhere near enough of The Great Gonzo, though there is much talk of his Indoor Running of the Bulls act throughout the film. There isn't enough of Animal either, but that's made up for by the fact that what we do get of Animal is high quality fuzziness and lots of noise.

     - Alli

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

An enchanting collection

I've found another mystery book in my library - I have no idea where it came from, when I got it, or if the cover was missing when I found it or fell off later. I'm going to go with fell off later because the back cover is falling off too.

Faerie Tales is exactly as advertised - a collection of stories about fairies, but with a modern twist. The stories all take place either in our world or in the future. I won't say that they're uniformly charming tales, but the collection as a whole is very entertaining.

"Sweet Forget-Me-Not" by Charles de Lint
A bullied boy meets a group of gemmin, fey girls who collect memories of a place and then move on. He rapidly falls in love with one of them and lets her go.

"The September People" by Tim Waggoner
An old woman returns to a place that she had found once in her youth, trying to unearth answers about the curious thing there that defined and changed her life.

"Judgment" by Kathryn Rusch
During the Nuremberg Trials one of the Folk who has abandoned the People to live as a human experiences the city as a war photographer, wondering all the while about his People and whether they are still in the ruined woods beyond the city.

"Changeling" by John Helfers
Though he has been loved all of his life by his family, Trent knows he is different and one day he finds out why.

"Yellow Tide Foam" by Sarah A. Hoyt
Children are disappearing from the city and a tough narcotics detective wants to know why. As she investigates she loses an informant to the strange scourge and begins to believe in another world, but is unsure whether that world is cold or kind.

"He said, Sidhe said" by Tanya Huff
Titania is tormented by Puck after bringing a skater home to meet the fairy court. She wonders whether she may just have truly terrible taste in men. This is a delightfully irreverent but somewhat painful-reading update of Shakespeare's fairyland.

"A very special relativity" by Jim Fiscus
If Einstein was right, how is the ship going where it's going? An enslaved crewman finds out and there's a great joke about an ill-advised king in the middle of a cockfight.

"Witches'-broom, apple soon" by Jane Lindskold
A young coyote doesn't really understand what the people and fauns around her are up to, but at least she knows better than to mess with the trees. This was a WONDERFUL story, maybe my favorite in the collection.

"Wyvern" by Wen Spencer
Is racism interdimensional or interpersonal? It doesn't have to be either, at least not when you've got a wyvern to worry about.

"A piece of flesh" by Adam Stemple
This is another changeling story, and a much creepier one to boot. If everyone in it wasn't terrible I might give a shit about it.

"The filial fiddler" by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Two old ladies come to the hospital and one young nurse has trouble chasing off a midnight fiddler who haunts their room.

"The stolen child" by Michelle West
What happens to the people left behind when someone dances in a fairy ring? And can you ever get back home? Not the greatest story here, and not the one I'd have chosen to end this collection, but interesting enough at any rate.

     - Alli

Davis, Russell and Martin H. Greenberg, ed. Faerie Tales. Daw Books, Inc.
     New York: New York. 2004.

Falling in

Hemingway is growing on me like a fungus. I'm not totally happy with it but I know it'll be hard to get rid of so I'm somewhat resigned to my fate.

Immediately after I finished A Farewell to Arms I had some rather unkind thoughts about depressed authors trying to inflict the rest of the population with the fruits of their moods, but then I realized that's exactly what I like about Plath. Now that I've had a day to stew and chew on the novel I find that it's lingering; not the characters so much but the places, the rain, the long summer and the smell of hospitals are drifting through my thoughts and making a home for Hemingway in my head.

I do want to pause and make a note here that I pretty much detest stream-of-consciousness. I'll never be comfortable reading Wolfe or Faulkner or Joyce, but in Farewell there seemed to be just enough of that sort of style mixed in with the straight simplicity of honest sentences to add a realistic delirium to a novel that takes place within and around wars and sickness. So, while those few passages immediately raised my hackles, they weren't overdone and made sense (contextually, not literally) for a couple of hundred words at a time.

The book isn't happy but it has happiness. It is sad but there isn't much sadness. But mostly the book is warm. There's a consideration and regard for the simple comforts that one human can offer to another that is stunning because of how underwhelming it is in the novel - Henry is saved by a man he almost sent tobacco to once. He finds his way back to Cat because one of his soldiers didn't want him to be alone. He is injured because he is sharing a meal with his friends. He is fighting for his war-brothers, not for homeland or glory, because he loves them and they love him (in an incredibly masculine and undemonstrative way). The book abounds with humans - the barber who thinks the American is an Austrian, the American soldier who thinks he can sing, the little priest needled at the mess, the two girls riding in the caravan, the count who plays billiards and wants to live forever, the Swiss couple who rent out their upstairs room, and dozens more - all of these are people who serve no real purpose in the story and could easily have been abandoned for the sake of brevity but who were kept for the sake of texture. You walk with Henry and see the faces he sees and never really touches but whom he remembers and holds as part of the tapestry that make up his world.

It's a beautiful, boring, filthy little war that Hemingway put on his page but it's a lovely place full of passing people and situations that brush by you, like strangers on the subway, and push you into a dream.

Anyway, it seems to be hitting me pretty hard. I think I like it.

     - Alli

Hemingway, Ernest. A Farewell to Arms. Barnes & Noble, Inc. New York: New York. 2007. (1929).

Monday, March 17, 2014

Not horror but just right

It really bugs me that Stephen King gets pigeon-holed as a horror author as frequently as he does - he does so much more than that and it's almost always wonderful.

That being said, there is a strong element of the supernatural in his  Hard Case Crimes story, Joyland, that is perhaps more common to the horror genre than to the pulp mystery traditions.

The novel is a delight. It's easy to sink into, the characters are round and whole and interesting, the setting is whimsical and sad and spooky all at once. It does, however, suffer from the same problem that all mysteries do; now that I know whodunnit I'm not going to get as much out of rereading the story.

That is, of course, not going to stop me from rereading it. Joyland is full of, no surprise, joy. There's a whole world of carney lingo, sick kids, southern beaches, and broken hearts in its pages and I want to go back. I feel like a kid after the calliope music has stopped asking "can I go again?" and I'm pretty sure that's exactly how you're supposed to feel after reading a kickass book.

There is one scene in the story that stands out to me over the rest of the story as the moment that will call me back to this book again and again. It's not a scary moment or a horrifying moment or a moment with a hard-case detective chasing down a lead - it's a moment that involves the hokey pokey and a confused, sweaty college kid making the world magical for a few minutes.

It's things like that, little tidbits of sparkling humanity, that make me really appreciate King and get pissy when people deride him as "just another horror writer" - King isn't a scarejock, he's a fucking magician and his magic is that he can make you feel nervous for a kid in his first day on a new job just as well as he can make the hair stand up on your neck when a cat crawls out of a creepy boneyard.

Augh, it's just amazing. Long live the King.

     - Alli
(And I want to give a shoutout to my cousin, Tara, here - if you, like her, like novels about amusement parks this is a must-read.)

King, Stephen. Joyland. Hard Case Crime. London. 2013.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Could they at least have warned us?

Several years ago I went to the movies with my Dad to see a film that was an ode to abs and implausible fighting. Today I went to see the sequel.

300: Rise of an Empire, isn't a great movie but it can be fun at times. The pacing of it is a little strange, and there's something confusing about the overall timeline but that's not what anyone came to see. We came to see awesome fight choreography and lots of silly gore, and that's exactly what we got.

None of the characters are particularly memorable, none of the acting is spectacular, none of the writing is great, and it's missing the defining "This is SPARTA!" kind of line that a lot of people were probably hoping for. There are, however, lots of boobs; at least one awesome slo-mo kick to the chest; super-cool fight scenes; anachronistic but rad explosions; and in spite of the fact that this movie wasn't directed by Zack Snyder there is at least one patented Snyderistic Uncomfortable Sex Scene.

So if you're into that kind of thing and don't have a problem watching non-consensual sex scenes, it's probably worth a viewing. If you DO have a problem watching non-consensual sex scenes, don't go. Really. It's pretty bad.


There were also a couple INCREDIBLY uncomfortable rape scenes, which I'll admit really bothered me.

I'm pretty pissed about the way that rape is casually bandied about as a narrative device; it normalizes the idea of rape-as-character-development in our society and usually isn't really all that important to the story. Why is Big Baddie pissed at all of Greece? Oh, she watched Greek soldiers murder her entire family, that's why. That's enough of a reason. Oh, she watched Greek soldiers rape and murder her family before being taken away as a child sex slave and raped until she was dead-eyed and had lost the will to live and was then left for dead on the street, and why don't we show that entire process while we're at it? is a little too fucking much.

It's not like the movie's endorsing rape or anything, and actually "rape makes people want to watch your nation burn to the fucking ground" is a pretty good message, but the fact that it came out of left field was pretty upsetting. I came here to watch people messily murder each other, not to watch a soldier thrust into someone trying desperately to escape or a chained thirteen year old girl turn her eyes away blankly as a sweaty, hairy man disrobes over her. That is TOO FUCKING REAL for my silly action movie, thank you very much. And I had no way of anticipating this - none of the advertising brought it up, there were no press releases I saw that said "oh, by the way, if you're prone to flashbacks or suffering from PTSD as the result of a rape or sexual assault you might want to step out of the theater for five minutes starting at X time."

Also, dear filmmakers, please stop making rape look sexy. You incredible fuckwits. The most lovingly lingering tit-shot in the whole damn film takes place in slow motion while a screaming woman is carried off and stripped by enemy soldiers.


So, yeah. There were parts of the movie that I enjoyed, and other parts that really, really bothered me. Overall, I'd probably watch it again only if I had a fast-forward option.

Sorry if I'm a huge bummer, that's just the way I feel.

     - Alli

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Something about bulls?

Confession time: until I finished reading The Sun Also Rises just now, I'd never read any Hemingway other than "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place." I love the short story - the book I'm not so sure about.

I bought my collection of four Hemingway novels because it was just sitting on the shelf, looking pretty, and making me feel guilty about not having read Hemingway. I think I've commented on Literary Canon here before, but in case I haven't I'll let you know that I think it is LARGELY bullshit but has its heart in the right place. No, there aren't a hundred books that will make everyone complete as a person; but there are thousands of books that can inform and instruct your reading. Hemingway is one of Those Authors, one of the Big Names that "everyone should be familiar with" according to some lit snobs. So far I can sort of see why: his style is a knockout. I just can't really bring myself to give a shit about his stories.

This was sort of the same problem that I had the first time I read The Great Gatsby - yes, jazz and yes, booze and yes, party all the time and marvel at the extravagance, but hell, all of these people are terrible and lost and so far removed from me that I can't make them out except as the sketches the author presents and I'm too far removed from the era and the people that I can't tell if it's satire or not and if it is I can't really see what it's satirizing.

It seems pretty clear that one thing Hemingway is not satirizing is anything having to do with bulls. I get the strong sense that he approved of bulls, though maybe he approved slightly less of amateurs allowing themselves to be trampled or gored by them. I think. But I don't know - that's kind of why I'm confused about how I feel here: everything is SO INTENSE that I can't tell if he was actually being serious or writing a stealth comedy.

One thing that I do think was a joke on almost every page of the novel was a sort of implied "Christ, what an asshole" hanging unspoken in the narration. And that was amusing, at least, even if it did make me grind my teeth a bit.

I think it's too soon for me to tell with Hemingway. I've got three more novels to work through in the collection, though I'll take a break with something light before I plunge into A Farewell To Arms. I did enjoy reading the descriptions of the French/Spanish border, the color and fire of the bullfights, the quiet joy of fishing, and the sincere if short-lived friendship with Harris; other than that, Paris left me pissed and Carnival is Carnival, even if it's in Pamplona.

Oddly enough I'm hoping to find more style and less substance the next time around, so here's hoping.

     - Alli

Hemingway, Ernest. The Sun Also Rises. Barnes & Noble, Inc. New York: New York. 2007. (1926).

The cleanest gun I'd ever seen

Oh, Dale.

I have a few carefully cultivated obsessions in my life. Books, obviously, are one of them. Dune is another. Twin Peaks is yet another.

I remember my parents taking my sister and I to their friends' houses to play and hearing the haunting Angelo Badalamenti theme floating through the air. For the longest time I couldn't figure out why I loved the stupid song "take my breath away" until I started watching the series with my parents as an adult - it has the same wrenching base signature that started every episode. I eventually used the theme as the processional at my wedding.

The internet is a wonderful thing. When I first watched the series I was totally transfixed by the story unfolding on the screen. When I watched it a second time, I had to have more and so I took to the internet and started collecting Twin Peaks stuff - I've got four books, three soundtracks, and Fire Walk With Me on DVD but I've held off on buying the show itself because I know that if I own it I'll start watching it and never stop.

My Life, My Tapes is a lot like the other non-show Twin Peaks merchandise - it creates a wonderful texture but doesn't answer any questions. It doesn't tell you what happened to Coop after the series ended, it doesn't tell you if Audrey survived the bank explosion. The charming and strange little book only tells you exactly who and what the charming and strange Agent Cooper was before he rolled into Twin Peaks.

The epistolary nature of the novel is interesting, though unsurprising in the context of the show - everyone who had heard Dale start a random sentence with "Diane," knew that this was a man who had spent a lot of his life speaking into a microphone. It is, however, surprisingly funny. I particularly like the quotes from Dale's friends and associates at the beginning of each chapter, as they provide wonderful sparks of insight into the loveable weirdo's character.

The book falls apart a little bit at the end. In the show the Windom Earle plotline seems like it's shoehorned in, and the dynamic isn't any different when it's written instead of filmed: every interaction with Earle feels more forced and less natural than any other part of the book. Once Earle is institutionalized and Coop is shipped off to San Francisco things seem to perk up again.

I do like the book but it always makes me sad. There's just no walking away from the fact that you're encountering a funny, sweet young character and following his life only to have the story finish just a few weeks before his encounter with the Black Lodge.

I hope you're okay, Dale, and that there's some good coffee wherever you are.

     - Alli

Frost, Scott. The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes. 
     Simon & Schuster. New York: New York. 1991.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

All about boys

The current generation has a lot of male authors trying to explore and understand modern masculinity. On one side of the coin we have stories like Fight Club, where men try to regain some kind of primal prominence; on the other side of the coin we have books like High Fidelity, where men ask questions and make mistakes and try to be less of an asshole in the end. Nick Hornby wrote High Fidelity, and About A Boy, two books I like quite a lot that were adapted into movies that I appreciate even more.

Slam is a later Hornby book but it follows what I know of his pattern pretty well. It focuses on Sam, a highschooler, and the ways in which he doesn't understand the world. Sam is cool but quiet, a skater (skateboarding, not ice-skating, Sam would be sure to let you know) who manages to pull a pretty hot girlfriend and be a bit of an idiot.

The book has an interesting troop of characters, almost all of whom manage to be likeable in spite of their flaws (the hot girlfriend's parents are the only really unlikeable people in the book). Sam is a charming fuckup, as is his mother. Their relationship is by far the most interesting thing going on throughout the story. Every few pages there are some wonderful comedy gems scattered in the narration - Sam's encounter with a grumpy old man that sends him back home after running away stands out as a good example, as does every conversation with Sam's dumber than rocks friend Rabbit.

I'm starting to think that we, as a society, could start to use Hornby's work as didactic instruction for teens and young people the world over. Three hundred years ago the girl-in-trouble genre was tremendously popular and was used to teach young people how absolutely they could fuck their lives up if they didn't follow the rules of their society; Hornby's novels seem to show that all the rules of a society are a bit silly, we all fuck up somehow or another, but it doesn't really matter because most of us are okay in the end. There are no startlingly happy endings in any of Hornby's "male confessional" novels - things just end up ok, not ecstatic. I like that, and I think it's something that we really should teach: yes, you will make mistakes; yes, you will be unforgivably stupid sometimes; no, you're life won't be perfect; no, just because it's not perfect it won't be terrible either; everything will just sort of be okay.

Slam isn't a great book, but it's plenty entertaining. It's about boys and how they deal with life, and a little bit about girls and the expectations that society has for them too. It's funny and sweet and sometimes sad - a good diversion for an afternoon.

     - Alli

Hornby, Nick. Slam. Penguin. New York: New York. 2007.

Monday, March 10, 2014


I'm not much of one for drama. I do okay with the plays of Shakespeare and Williams, but other than that I tend to get frustrated by the medium. I'm not a huge fan of live theater, and I'm really not a huge fan of reading drama, but somehow I keep finding myself in possession of plays and reading them anyway.

I think that I kidnapped my copy of Seven Plays by Bernard Shaw from a coffee shop (again, my abominable habit of stealing unwanted books) where it had been languishing and ignored in favor of Jack Ryan thrillers, romance novels, and coloring books. It apparently used to belong to Patricia Normand, according to the tag on the inside cover. Patricia, I hope you enjoyed this book at some point. I'm glad that I read the plays but I'm probably never going to read or seek them out again, and I'm certainly never going to read the hundreds of pages of commentary included in this edition. I suppose I can recommend Saint Joan and The Devil's Disciple to casual readers, but the rest of the plays were a little maddening.

Mrs. Warren's Profession
Mrs. Warren was a former whore who financed her lifestyle by running brothels in her middle age. This is offensive to her "new woman" daughter, who estranges herself from her mother. I'm pretty sure there's some huge social statement about women being made here, but the contempt for Mrs. Warren from most of the characters and the iciness of her daughter make the only women in the play the subjects of pity rather than of introspection. Vivie may have cut the mustard as a feminist heroine in the Victorian era, but she's a little too one-dimensional to stand up today.

Arms and the Man
The most charming character in all seven of these plays is the Swiss soldier, the Chocolate Cream Soldier, of Arms and the Man. It's too bad that everyone around him is intolerable because otherwise this might be a tolerably entertaining play. As it is, it's a cute little comedy of errors and ends with a couple of weddings (or at least proposals). Not too much of this is terribly offensive, and it's a quick, funny, read so I might be interested in reading it again at some point in the future.

I get that Shaw was primarily talking about Socialism and Art in this play, but the titular character says something pretty nasty about women. The fact that every woman around the Reverend Morell is draw to him by his weaknesses so that they can support him and bask in the outpouring of their own strength is pretty revolting.

The Devil's Disciple
Okay, this play is actually pretty funny. There's some good tension, the characters are compelling and have real arcs and grow and change as people in the course of the narrative. There is some wonderfully cutting commentary throughout about property rights of women and the need for female independence, though all of that is overshadowed by the drive for political independence. Probably the most amusing part of the play is its commentary on puritanism and prudishness - that they should be abandoned as hypocritical and openly laughed at is what I came away with.

Caesar and Cleopatra
Once more there's a problem with the way women are discussed and portrayed. I was continually disturbed by Cleopatra's obsession with "beautiful round arms," though Caesar comes off as sympathetic and properly doomed. But the speech by Ra at the beginning - eesh, did anyone ever actually memorize and perform that? That speech alone was probably longer than the whole of Julius Caesar and significantly less edifying.

Man and Superman
What the actual fuck. People bitch at me about liking Atlas Shrugged because it's slow-moving and has random, long, speeches tossed in here and there (also because Ayn Rand was legitimately crazy and I don't totally disagree with her on a lot of things). As long as John Galt's speech may be (78 pages in my copy) it sure as hell doesn't make up a third of the length of the book. The Don Juan scene is totally unnecessary, way too long, and what isn't nonsense is patently offensive. Which only makes sense because Shaw was writing a play bemoaning the fact that women force men to marry them and are horrible, conniving bitches. Fuck you, George Bernard Shaw. You clearly had a lot to say about women, their place in the world (all about the fucking glory of motherhood in so many of these plays), and their uses and you ended up writing what amounts to the Andrist's Manifesto. And also, fuck you for including that long-ass dream scene AND a 58 page handbook outlining exactly what's wrong in the relations between men and women and getting the problems pretty much completely reversed. And all of this came from someone who was trying to be a progressive feminist at the time.


Fight the patriarchy!


Saint Joan
Here we have a pretty okay little Joan of Arc story that spends most of its screentime as a debate over the rights of the governed versus the rights of those who govern. It is pretty significantly anachronistic in a lot of ways. Joan is not horribly written and none of the other characters makes me want to punch someone in the face for the entire time they're on stage, so this might be the most likeable play of the bunch even considering that someone gets burned to death in it.

Anyway, I think I'm going to be taking a break from drama as a while because of how grumpy this book made me. Maybe I'll break down and read one of my newly-purchased books instead of something from my to-read pile because reading one book after another after another that frustrates me is getting a little exhausting. Happy reading, and fight the patriarchy.

     - Alli

Shaw, George Bernard. Seven Plays by Bernard Shaw with Prefaces and Notes.
     Dodd, Mead & Company. New York: New York. 1951.

Obey the law

I'm a sucker for bad movies. I guess it's just in my blood - my dad raised me on a steady diet of legitimately good films with a healthy side of B-movies and exploitation flicks. Judge Dredd, the 1995 Sylvester Stallone vehicle, is a crappy movie and I love it shamelessly. Dredd, the 2012 Karl Urban re-imagining of the comic book, is straight-up fucking awesome.

I told my husband that he would like it, so he asked me to describe it. This is what I came up with: "Judge Dredd and a psychic rookie judge get locked in a 200-story tower by a drug ring and they have to fight their way out by killing everybody. With explosions." It's a balls-to-the-wall action movie that has a lot more going on under the surface. Like the comic book, the film raises questions about poverty and fascism; unlike the comic book these are somewhat glossed over so that you can have your hefty helping of ultraviolence.

The movie is shockingly well-designed for an action flick; they did a great job of creating a world that feels like the day after tomorrow if time was strung out on heroin and begging for spare change. There are a couple of great, gory sight-gags that would be appalling if they weren't so obviously tongue-in-cheek.

Two performances really stood out to me on this re-watching, enough that I decided to go check out the actors on IMDB. The first was Olivia Thirlby as Anderson - I didn't realize that I was watching Juno's best friend shoot the fuck out of a gang until just now and I'm pretty impressed. Anderson is physically delicate (and completely adorable) but she's got a spitting-nails personality that I really liked when contrasted with the implacable Dredd. The other performance that had me floored was the sad, scared character of the Clan Techie, who doesn't even get a name in the film. Domnhall Gleeson was in the wonderfully sweet movie About Time last year; his star has been rising recently and I must say I'm pleased - so far I've liked him in everything I've seen him in.

I'm also pretty sure that any one of the many slo-mo sequences is more entrancing and enchanting than everything the Kardashians have done in their entire lives. That technique could make a burly dude taking a shit look like a unicorn from Legend. A+, Lionsgate, for realizing that your audience TOTALLY wants to see people get shot at 1/100th speed in this kind of movie. Well done.

I really regret not seeing this in theaters, and I wish I had enough of a tolerance to see Dredd in 3D - it seems to be one of the few movies that REALLY take advantage of 3D for an adult audience, like My Bloody Valentine, Shark Night 3D, and Piranha 3D. Kids movies don't take the right attitude; 3D should give us a reason to gleefully devour bloody headshots and laugh at regurgitated dicks, not make us feel like we're really hanging out with the Croods.

Go watch Dredd. It's a good use for two spare hours you might happen to have.

     - Alli

Friday, March 7, 2014

Skepticism is in order here

The Gift of Fear is a rehashing of a truckload of anecdotes with very little actual evidence. It cites other, similar, books by title but usually only to pull a nifty quote, not to give you any numbers or studies or anything else that you might expect to actually prove that any of these techniques work.
That being said, there is some good advice. It can be broken down into component elements pretty easily:
If you're afraid of something, do something about your fear.
Try to avoid potentially violent situations.

Shit. I have written and crossed out and re-written about a dozen things in this space trying to figure out how the hell to respond to this damn book.

Good stuff from the book:
Listen to your fear, we need classes that teach children "no means no" and " 'No' is a complete sentence", battered women's shelters are a fairly safe way to escape an abuser, no two situations are alike so listen to your instincts if you feel like you're missing something.

Questionable stuff from the book:
A lot of information (particularly as relates to gun violence and rape statistics) is incredibly dated; I believe that guns are safe if people are taught to use them safely - de Becker has a lower opinion of the teachability of people than I do; I also have a much higher opinion of Restraining Orders than de Becker does, but I do recognize that no piece of paper is actually going to protect you from another human being.

Bad stuff from the book:
Oh man, this is some crazy dated shit and it's kind of hard to take any book written about fear and violence seriously when it was written before 9/11; we're living in a vastly different, completely paranoid world and a lot of the advice given is meant more for people who haven't had "see something, say something" violently rammed into their heads since childhood. Also the sexism. Lots and lots of sexism that's prefaced to seem well-intentioned or just blatantly perpetuates stereotypes. Oh! And this is a book that you can use as a time capsule from before the wider acceptance of the LGBT community - there's no mention whatsoever of any kind of domestic abuse except men hurting women and/or children and everything falls into a neat heteronormative binary, including rape. AND almost all discussion of rape is as an act committed by a stranger, the least likely kind of rape.

Overall this isn't a bad book, it's just a dated book, but it also isn't the bible of awareness that a lot of people make it out to be.

De Becker, Gavin. The Gift of Fear. Random House. New York: New York. 1998. (1997).

Literary stereotype A meets literary stereotype B

I've not read an awful lot of Hawthorne, but so far the only piece of his I really like is "Young Goodman Brown." I did read The Scarlet Letter in high school and I remember that it was frustratingly dense - dense enough that my IB Oral exam was a breeze because my excerpt was from Scarlet Letter and so I could BS anything that I wanted to. The House of Seven Gables is similarly dense but is also significantly less interesting, largely because of the characters.

Henry James wrote an essay that was included in as the afterword in my copy of Seven Gables; in it he discusses the characters as portraits, not people, and he was spot-fucking-on. None of these people are complete, none of them are interesting, and all of them are frustratingly predictable.

When you see a wind-up toy, you're never surprised by it. You know what it's going to do from the moment you release it until the moment its power is discharged. It will follow a set pattern of mechanical behaviors and then it will stand or fall over with nothing left to move it. That's precisely how every character in Seven Gables acts, only they're not even wind-up toys of individuals, they're wind-up toys of types. There's a Spinster, a Dreamer, a Good Young Lady, and a Greedy Old Man. The Greedy Old Man is greedy and gets his comeuppance. The Spinster is uptight and needs to learn how to love. The Dreamer walks around with his head in the clouds and doesn't understand mere mortals. The Good Young Lady gets married. The end, you know everything that happens in this book and you didn't need me to tell you - all you had to do was know what Type each character was.

The language in Seven Gables is stunning, beautiful, and infuriating. There's an entire chapter about a dead person that is wholly focused on the things that dead person might do if they were not dead. It's an interminable chapter. I'm sure it was really only a few thousand words long, but it felt like it was a few thousand hours long.

There are some charming illustrations scattered about this Reader's Digest edition. They're tolerable.

The House of Seven Gables wasn't a bad book, and I can see its influence in some books that I actually really like (King and Straub's Bleak House as the most prominent example) but I have essentially no interest in reading it again.

I do, however, think it's time for another look at "Young Goodman Brown," so perhaps some good came of reading Seven Gables after all.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The House of Seven Gables. Reader's Digest. Pleasantville:
     New York. 1985. (1851).