Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cannonball Read 2 #5: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I was a little daunted by this book at first. The Hitchhiker's Guide is so well known and loved that I was a bit put off--I tend to avoid things that are very popular (that's why it took me 4 years to pick up a Harry Potter book and why it's likely I will NEVER read anything from the Twilight saga...well, the popularity and the fact that they sound fucking stupid...another discussion for another time.) Also, I enjoyed the movie a lot (I think I was one of the few people that did) and thought maybe that would ruin the book for me.

For those who don't know, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is the story of Arthur Dent, an ordinary British man who discovers not only is his house being bull-dozed to make way for an expressway, but the entire EARTH is being destroyed (for an interstellar expressway, of course.) He is, at the very last moment, saved by his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be from another planet--sent to Earth to do research for the Guide. Arthur and Ford have a series of adventures, meeting up Trillian (a lovely girl) and Zaphod Beeblebrox, president of the galaxy and idiot extraordinaire. They fly off in a stolen spaceship, trying to discover the secret to life itself.

The book is highly entertaining, in particular the "explanatory asides" were side-splitting. My problems with it are mostly the same problems I have with the Dark Tower series: The book can't really stand on its own. Nothing is resolved, there is no real ending--it is quite obviously part of a series, and until I get my hands on the next book, it's like reading half a book. There are also some points where the quirkiness borders on annoying, but Adams manages to reign it in just in time.

On the whole, I liked this a lot, and would recommend it. The copy I have was put out in conjunction with the movie, and has some very interesting interviews with the writer, producers, and actors in the film, giving a new perspective on the process of making the movie and how they each saw their individual roles. Quite interesting.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

An Open Letter (#6)

Dear Drew Barrymore and Jodie Foster,

Hi! How are you! Both of you ladies have been looking well lately, and your careers seem to be on track. Congrats Drew on your directing debut--I don't intend to see it, but I'm sure it's going to be great.

I'd really like to ask the two of you a small favor--could you please please take Lindsey Lohan under your collective wing and perhaps rescue her from her ever-twirling downward spiral of drugs and terrible leggings? I know it's a lot to ask, but I feel like of anyone in Hollywood, the two of you are uniquely positioned to get La Lohan back on solid footing. After all, you both have experience in dealing with families who are fucked up in a way only found in show business, and Drew could certainly explain why drinking and doing drugs at a young age will only result in poor decisions like showing your boobs to David Letterman. Both of you seem to have come through the hurricane of childhood stardom into relatively stable, productive lives and decent careers (although Jodie, let's face it, you are just doing it for the paycheck these days but that's okay--we all understand you prefer to have a more private life.) Frankly, I'm starting to get very worried about Lindsey--it's uncomfortable making fun of someone who appears ready to drop dead at any moment. Not to mention that I am very tired of seeing her parents everyplace (maybe you should try to recruit Angelina to your rescue squad; she seems to have experience dealing with a father whose idea of parenting is being a media whore.)

Thank you for considering this--I feel like Lindsey Lohan had some genuine talent, and watching her destroy herself for no apparent reason is extremely unpleasant.

Best wishes to you both!
The Caustic Critic

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cannonball Read 2 #4: Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower 4) by Stephen King

Wizard and Glass continues the story of Roland the Gunslinger and his ka-tet as they travel across Mid-World toward the Dark Tower. After their troubles with Blaine the monorail in the previous book, they are stranded in a version of Kansas where nearly everyone has perished from a plague (King fans will recognize this as the world of The Stand, and will recognize Randall Flagg when he arrives to give our brave wanderers a hard time). While the ka-tet walk across the barren landscape, trying to find their way back to the beam, Roland tells them the story of his past--how he came to be a gunslinger, about the woman he loved, and most importantly, about when the world started "moving on."

This book is more of a classic fantasy story, and has more in common with George R.R. Martin than with Carrie. However, it is still full of King's lush descriptions and lively characters. I was somewhat disappointed to have to leave Eddie, Susannah, and Jake's part of the story, but at the same time it was fascinating to find out why Roland has become the way he has. And the group did leave the past for a time in order to meet with the Walking' Dude/Crimson King, which was pretty spooky.

Once again, I recommend this book to anyone has enjoyed the first three, but it's absolutely incapable of standing alone.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cannonball Read 2 #3: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

So it only took me a week to fall apart on NaBloPoMo--I guess spending 8 hours a day sitting at a computer during the week makes me rather disinclined to do it during the weekend. Humpf.

Life of Pi is the story of Pi Patel, a young Indian boy whose father owns a zoo in India. His parents decide to emigrate to Canada, and set off on a ship with several animals they are selling to zoos in North America. One night during the crossing, the ship sinks, and Pi is dismayed to find himself stranded on a 26-foot lifeboat with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a full-sized Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The story sets up Pi's upbringing in India and his experiences with the various world religions, but the majority of the book concerns his 227 day ordeal on the open sea.

I read this on the recommendation of a friend of ours--this is The Bartender's favorite book, and after he'd be raving about it for weeks, the opportunity came up for me to borrow a copy. First of all, the story starts out VERY slowly. It was a struggle for me to get through the first 70 pages, really. I am not big on philosophy or theology, so I had to force myself to keep reading. Once the shipwreck happened, however, and Pi was left to try and survive while handling Richard Parker the tale picked up speed. Unfortunately, the story comes to a rather abrupt and disappointing end.

On the whole, it was not a bad book--I'd probably give it a 3 out of 5. Many of Martel's descriptions are beautiful, and some of the writing is lovely. However, I was not nearly as impressed as I expected to be.

Friday, November 6, 2009

This American Life

Okay, I do not listen to NPR. I know I should--I know that it's probably full of really important things that would boost my hipster cred, solidify my proud liberal stance, and make me a significantly better person--but I just can't seem to do it. I have tried, I swear, but...I get so bored. When I listen to the radio, I don't really want to be edified. I want to dance around my kitchen and sing "Don't stop believin'!" at the top of my lungs or do a really embarrassing dance to Britney Spears. I am part of the generation about whom Kurt Cobain sang, "Here we are now--entertain us!" I don't know, I guess I feel the same way about NPR as I do about dark chocolate: there are lots of reasons I should like it, on paper it's perfect, lots of people I admire and respect like it...I just happen to hate it.

However, I thought maybe my problem was that I don't like listening to things. I can't listen to books on tape for the same reason: I can't focus. Perhaps if I watched the show it would be better. So the other night I sat down and checked out the first three episodes of "This American Life" via Netflix OnDemand (I have to say, as a side note--that service is pretty cool. Even though not EVERY movie and show Netflix has is available OnDemand, there are enough shows to keep you busy when you are sick of watching frigging sports). I'm still not sure how I feel about it.

The idea of the show is that each episode has some kind of theme. Ira Glass sits at his desk in some random location and explains to us in nasal tones what the theme is going to be and what the stories of the day are. It appears there is usually a short intro story, and then two longer acts to follow. They're like human interest stories wrapped up in philosophical musings and broader contexts. The story of the family with the cloned bull is not just about this one family and this one bull--it's about the ethics of cloning, about the expectations involved, and about how long you should wait before you admit that something you dreamed of is not going to come true the way you thought it would. The story of the elderly assisted-living home residents who wrote and produced a movie is not just about that group, but about the question of when is it too late to start life over? When do you have to give up on your dreams and resign yourself to the downward spiral of age?

On the whole, the show was interesting (if somewhat more depressing than I would have liked). I am not sure I'd say I exactly enjoyed it, but if the conversations I had with The Boyfriend later are indication, it's certainly an informative and socially conscious show. Like peas vs. potato chips, while "This American Life" is never going to beat out "Survivor" on my DVR rankings, I definitely think it'd be good for me to watch again.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cannonball Read 2 #2: The Wastelands (Dark Tower 3) by Stephen King

The third book in Stephen King's Dark Tower saga continues the story of Roland the Gunslinger, Eddie, and Susannah as they work their way through Mid-World, trying to reach the Dark Tower. In this story, they add two more members to their ka-tet (group drawn together by fate). One is Jake Chambers--the young boy that Roland came across and then was forced to sacrifice in book one. They manage to pull Jake through the door again and into Mid-World alive. Also, they are joined by Oy, a "bumbler" (sort of a combination of a puppy, a woodchuck, and a raccoon) who becomes Jake's pet. The group sets off again in the path of the beam. Along the way, they run across a very nasty mechanical bear, come in contact with some of the very unpleasant remains of society, and spend some very very stressful hours on a monorail that has gone insane.

This is much better than the first two books because the finally starts humming along. It seems that the group is together for better or for worse and now they have begun their quest in earnest. I really enjoy the main characters, and some of the side characters were quite entertaining, including Blaine the monorail, the Tick-Tock Man, and "the Walking Dude" whom any King fan will recognize from his role in The Stand. It is in this book where it begins to become clear that all the Stephen King universe is tied together somehow, and the events in The Stand and some of the other books have threads that run through Mid-World, too.

I definitely enjoyed this and would recommend it, though it is absolutely NOT a book that can be read on its own. I'm really enjoying this series and can't wait to get to the next book.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Things I Love on TV

Warning: I watch a lot of TV. Probably significantly more than is healthy. Here are three things that I currently enjoy watching in no particular order.

1. PTI (Pardon The Interruption): This is a sports show that is on ESPN five days a week. The hosts, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon (sports columnists) discuss the sports topics of the day in a timed format. They usually have headlines, a 5-minute interview with a guest, and some "games" (for example "Role Play" where they ask either other questions, and have to answer in the persona of a sports star or celebrity) or viewer mail. Both men are quite knowledgeable and also humorous. It's a great way to catch up on the important sports stories of the day while still being entertained. This is also one of the few shows that The Boyfriend and I both enjoy.

2. America's Next Top Model: Starbucks Queen and I are both obsessed with this terrible reality show brought to us by the largest ego on the planet, Tyra Banks. It has absolutely no redeeming social value, but every season is still hilarious in its formulaic stupidity. Besides, as I say every time this comes up, who doesn't like to see pretty girls cry?

3. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The Boyfriend dragged me to this show kicking and screaming, but I've come to find it increasingly hilarious. The characters (some 30-somethings and Danny DeVito) are some of the most despicable human beings--they are all really terrible people--but watching them do stupid things and be mean to each other and those around them is unbelievably funny. Danny DeVito is the most disgusting person on TV right now, and he's fabulous. It took me a few episodes to really warm to the show, but now I love it. The episode "The Nightman Cometh" (which the cast actually took on tour around the country during the summer) is quite possibly one of the most entertaining things I've seen on TV in ages.

In other news, I am very conflicted, as I do not want the Yankees to win the World Series (YANKEES SUCK!) but I am also very sick of baseball and want the damn thing to be over already. Boo.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cannonball Read 2 #1: Diary by Chuck Palahniuk

Diary is the tale of Misty Wilmot, a middle-aged woman living on a Nantucket-esque island called Waytansea with her pre-teen daughter and strange mother-in-law. Her husband Peter attempted suicide, and lies in a vegetative state. Diary is Misty's way of communicating with Peter, explaining what has happened since he became comatose in case he ever wakes up. As the story goes on, Misty makes several unpleasant discoveries; she finds that before his coma, Peter had developed a very disturbing habit of making rooms in houses he was remodeling disappear, her mother-in-law has some plans for her she may not be able to resist, and the history of Waytansea Island and its native inhabitants is considerably more upsetting than poor Misty would have guessed.

I love Chuck Palahniuk's work, though I understand it's not for everyone. His short, choppy, repetitive style strikes a chord with me--there's something very visceral about it. I like his odd little gimmicks--in Fight Club it was the Jack thing--"I am Jack's smirking revenge" while in Diary it's weather updates: "Just for the record, the weather today is bitter with occasional fits of jealous rage" for example. Some people think that's cheap or lazy. I think it's awfully tough to come up with so many of those. I guess the thing is that I think Palahniuk--though dark, grotesque, and disturbing--is utterly hilarious. Yes, it's like having to dig through one of those ball pits--ball, ball, eegh! Brightly painted dead rat! Ball, ball, twenty-dollar bill! Dead rat! Ball! Pan of lasagna? Dead hooker! 14 carat diamond! You think you know what you're getting, but the further you go, the less sensible things are outside of their context. Inside the context, though, they come together and make a weird kind of sense.

On the whole, I'd recommend this book, but only to people who already like his style. It's not probably not going to change any minds, but for those who know they'll enjoy the ride, it's a pretty great one.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Movies Movies Movies!

It was kind of a big movie weekend, because after the party Friday night, I was sort of blah for the whole weekend. I watched a couple movies, and figured I'd talk about them here for my post of the day.

Kung Fu Panda: I'm a sucker for movies like this, but the darn thing really WAS hilarious. The Boyfriend and I laughed until the tears ran down our faces, then laughed more. The animation was amazing, and Jack Black was really perfect for the role of hapless panda Po. Sometimes Black can overshadow the character he's playing, but here he was just awesome. I was also happy to spot the ever-delicioso Ian McShane as the voice of the villain. (I kind of wish I could get Ian McShane's voice as hold music--I am on hold a lot, and I'd happily sit patiently if I could listen to him talk about whatever. He could read the phonebook and I'd be delighted.) The story of a fat panda becoming a mighty warrior worked well, and the humor was good for kids, but adults will have no problem enjoying it either. Two thumbs up.

This Filthy World: John Waters's one-man show was also hilarious. He talks a lot about the making of his movies, his opinions on the state of the world, and general observations on life. It's probably not for the right-wing crowd (discussions of gay life, drugs, and rampant, deliberate moral corruption would probably give those people immediate aneurysms) but I thought it was funny all the way through.

An Evening With Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder: I have not seen the first Evening With Kevin Smith, though I have heard a lot of good things. I think he probably used his best material there, but this was still very funny if you're a fan. (If you're not a fan, you might as well just skip it.) This nearly two-hour show in Toronto gives Smith a chance to answer more audience questions and generally digress into various funny tangents. Although there were moments where it dragged a bit, or got a little uncomfortable, I mostly enjoyed it. His rambling explanation of watching Dora the Explorer made me laugh until I snorted. Jay Mewes also makes a cameo appearance, which made me squee. I wouldn't pay to watch it, but if it's free OnDemand or Netflix InstantWatch it's a good way to waste some time and have a few laughs.

Constantine: First of all, I have to point out that while The Boyfriend has a VIOLENT dislike of Keanu Reeves and all of his performances, I don't mind the guy. I think Keanu is very pretty, and while he isn't the best actor out there, it's not like he's casting himself in these movies, a la Kevin Costner. If he's miscast, it is NOT his fault. Also, the guy has had a kind of tough life (best friend ODs right in front of him, baby dies, fiance is killed shortly after in a car wreck) and I figure the fact that he mostly keeps to himself and behaves instead of being a giant Hollywood douchebag says a lot for him. That said, while this performance was not the best ever committed to film, and while there are probably several actors who could have done a better job, it was not awful. I liked the premise, and the climactic ending was pretty awesome. Peter Stormare is fantastic as the devil, and any time THE SWINTON appears I am always intrigued. Rachel Weisz was all right (though I am biased because I LOVED her in the Mummy movies) though when I saw Gavin Rossdale I was like "Really? There were no REAL actors available that day? Not a single lowly SAG member could be found to play the part?" On the whole, it's kind of a stupid movie, but no stupider than Max Payne, and at least Keanu Reeves doesn't come off as a tremendous asshole.

Smoke Signals: This is a movie about two young Native American men in the Pacific Northwest who go on a journey together when the father of one of them dies. It's a quiet little story. The acting isn't perfect, although the guy who plays Thomas Builds-the-Fire--the oddball of the pairing-- was excellent. Adam Beach, who played the more socially normal of the two, displayed considerably more range and talent than he did during his brief stint on SVU...which isn't a whole lot, to be honest. (At least he's pretty...) The story and dialogue are interesting, funny, and touching in places. It's the first film I've seen about modern day Native Americans, teenagers in particular. It's apparently based on a story by famed Native American author Sherman Alexie called "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." Although it's not entertaining as much as thought provoking, and the indie-ness of the movie is more obvious than I'd prefer, I'd definitely recommend this one.

Also, the new show on USA--White Collar--is pretty good. I don't know who is running USA, but they seem to have figured out the perfect formula for light, fun, entertaining television. I mean, I love crime shows, but lately SVU seems to be gunning for some kind of "most miserable and depression show on television" award (along with giving Richard Belzer and Ice-T a criminally teensy amount of screen time), CSI is kind of a scattered mess, Bones is constantly being bumped for stupid baseball (it is ridiculous to me that ALL FOUR major sports are in season at the same time), and NCIS (which is a GOOD SHOW, PAJIBA OVERLORDS! HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO DEFEND IT! Well, not the new one with LL Cool J--that one sucks sweaty monkey balls) can't do it all alone. In the same vein as Psych and Burn Notice, USA has managed to make White Collar a pleasant, serviceable, and entertaining hour of TV.

For anyone who was wondering, I ended up going with Miss Piggy for Halloween. Although I wasn't entirely sure when I put it on, the photos are fantastic, and judging from the reactions of others at the party, I think it was a very good choice. :)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaBloPoMo and Milk

So it is November 1, first day of both NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) and the first day of Cannonball Read 2. Unfortunately, I wasn't chosen to participate in the official CR2, but I'm going to do the unofficial version instead. There's a list of the unofficial participants (The Kids Who Stink and Suck at Kickball). I'm also going to try and manage NaBloPoMo, but I can't make any promises.

Friday night, I watched Milk, which I had been meaning to see for quite some time. I'd kind of been putting it off, since it's not really something The Boyfriend or Starbucks Queen would be interested in seeing. However, it was late at night, I was still too drunk from partying to go to bed, and it was on OnDemand. I'm glad I finally got to it.

The story of Harvey Milk and his rise to power in San Francisco in the 70s is an inspiring story. The man was determined to make a difference in his own way to try and help those who at the time didn't have a voice. I don't know as much about him as I feel like I should, but I'm glad I know what I do. The unfortunate thing is that people are STILL fighting for the rights he was trying to win 40 years ago. The gay rights movement today is very important to me, and it's disappointing that no leader has emerged with the kind of charisma and fighting spirit Harvey embodied. Although this week has been a good one for the movement (signing of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes act and the repeal of the travel ban for those living with HIV) the Anita Bryants of the world still seem to have more power than they should.

The film itself was well done, and the director made some strong choices. The use of actual news footage at a lot of points (Anita Bryant, for example) added to the realism for me. I also thought there were a lot of very good performances, including Sean Penn, James Franco, and Josh Brolin. I did feel like some of Harvey's personal character flaws were a little glossed over--his relationships with those around him often felt forced because we didn't really see why these people cared so much for him, nor were his romantic relationships fleshed out (despite the amount of kissing involved, which almost seemed more like a ploy than character development.) Also, the point where the movie started left a lot of questions unanswered and seemed to gloss over Harvey's closeted past. Visually, I was very impressed, but sometimes felt we were getting style over substance. However, I understand that generally a biopic--like a portrait--is going to make the hero look as good as possible.

On the whole, I think it was a great movie that people ought to see, if only for the (admittedly blatant) political message.