Monday, April 21, 2008

The Ruins

I always feel a little self-conscious and embarrassed whenever I buy mass-market paperbacks, especially at places like Powell's. As ridiculous as it sounds, I worry that the clerks are secretly judging me by my reading choices, and although there are days when my arms are piled high with Thomas Pynchon, various classics, and nonfiction ranging from historical examinations of Victorian England to the selected writings of artifical intelligence researchers, there are also days when all I sheepishly bring to the counter are fantasy novels and Stephen King paperbacks, maybe a Carl Hiassan book or two. All it takes is a twitch of the cashier's eyebrow and the faintest hint of a smirk to for me to flush and feel suddenly ashamed of my English major, like I should be reading something more intelligent instead of wasting my time on such (gloriously delightful!) trash literature.

Buying hardcore pornography would probably be less embarrassing. That's how big a deal this is.

Today wasn't too bad, though. I suspect buying a Jasper Fforde novel along with Scott Smith's The Ruins was a good idea, if only because it allowed me to preserve a little of my English major cred and save face in front of the clerk. I didn't bother telling her that the whole point of the Powell's expedition in the first place was to secure a copy of The Ruins. Certain things I won't admit to in public.

I wanted to read the book mostly because The Boy and I saw the movie over the weekend, and it was so delightfully silly that I had to see if the book was equally so. We went into the film with the lowest of low expectations -- there wasn't anything else out that we wanted to see and yet the idea of a movie in a movie theater was incredibly attractive -- and as a result, I was pleasantly surprised that there were a few decent thrills. It's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a moderately entertaining little horror film, and I jumped more than a few times, much to The Boy's amusement.

The best part, though? Man-eating plants. That shit's awesome.

What cracks me up most is that The Boy is something of a carnivorous plant aficionado -- he's currently raising a bunch of different North American pitcher plants, and at various times he's also had sundews and miscellaneous fly-traps -- so now he's all gung-ho for me to read the book so I can (a) tell him how it is and (b) perhaps even let him borrow it, so that (c) he can determine whether the author did more research into carnivorous plants than the filmmakers did.

"My guess?" I told him. "Probably not."

"Still, though," he groused. "Green, leafy plants underground? What kind of shit is that? And there's no way vines like that could produce the kind of digestive enzymes you'd need to eat away human flesh so quickly!"

"You're cute when you get your geek on, you know that?"

"Pfft. Nah. Although that's another thing -- why vines? That makes no sense either." And with that, he was off again.

It probably says a lot about me as a person that instead of finding this annoying, I find it charming and the point where I am excited about reading the ridiculous book solely so I can share the good bits with him and -- if I'm lucky -- listen to him rant some more about the digestive properties of the average pitcher plant as compared to those of the plants in the fly-trap family.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Stories of the City

Although I've slowly been cutting my caffeine intake, I'm still more addicted to the stuff than I should be. Unfortunately, I'm also out of coffee filters. In need of a coffee fix, I decided to wander down to Anna Bannanas on 21st, because they do this thing with espresso, dark chocolate syrup, and orange extract that's utterly, sinfully delicious.

Halfway there, I'm stopped by a gangly young man with Flock of Seagulls hair. He's got a painfully earnest expression, the sort I associate with border collies, and he carries a sheaf of photocopies in his hand. He tells me he's a wandering poet. The photocopies are his poems, he says, and in exchange for a small donation to his travel fund, he's giving signed copies of them to people. For when he gets famous.

He looks crestfallen when I tell him I don't have any cash on me. Maybe he could read me one for free? Feeling somewhat sorry for him, I acquiesce, and he shuffles through his photocopies until he comes to one about spring flowers and the smile of a particular girl, and, standing there on the sidewalk with people walking by, that black wing of hair falling into his eyes, he reads the poem aloud with the sort of shaky-voiced sincerity I'm normally a little embarrassed by, although for whatever reason I'm not embarrassed by it now. Maybe being with The Boy has softened my cynical little heart somewhat. It's not a very good poem, but it's clearly heartfelt, and I mean it when I thank him for reading it to me. He smiles happily and wishes me a good day, and we both go our respective ways: me, headed towards my coffee Nirvana; him, up the sidewalk with his photocopied poems.

Only in Portland.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fun with Drugs

I get sick maybe once in a blue moon, so I suppose it's fitting that when I do finally take ill, my body really goes for it. It's nothing more than a cold, but it's a fucking EVIL cold. Eeeeeevil. We're talking "I already ran out of Kleenex and now I'm halfway through a roll of toilet paper" evil.

At least my throat doesn't hurt as much as it did yesterday. I felt like I'd swallowed a nest of fire ants, which is never pleasant.

Anyway, I'm currently home from work and drugged to the gills, viewing the world through a strange, hazy fog of decongestants and lemon tea. We're having the sort of week where I'm probably going to get shit for taking a whole day off,'s not like I would've been that productive anyway:

"Hey, maybe Kathleen can help us!"
"No, she's just sitting in her chair, sneezing miserably and staring off into space."
"Oh. Fuck her, then."
"Yeah, fuck her! Her and her cold. Pffft."

...see, I do this thing where I make up conversations in my head a lot? I guarantee that by tomorrow, I will have convinced myself that this exchange really happened.

An Open Letter

Dear zombie authors and filmmakers:

First of all, I just want you to know that I love you. Okay? I really love you guys, fully and completely, with all of my heart. Not only will I defend your creations to the death, but I will argue for their cultural significance. Zombie fiction is a mirror. It matters. I will never, ever get tired of it.

That said, can we please dispense with the genre blindness already? I think that zombies have enough pop culture clout at this point that, should the dead spontaneously come back to un-life in order to devour the living, everyone has a pretty good idea of what to do. We've all watched the movies, read the books, seen the internet memes. Don't let them bite you. Destroy the brain. Head shots, head shots, head shots. Do you honestly expect us to believe no zombie movies exist anywhere in the fictional universes you create?

It's always the same. People are really, really surprised when the dead start coming back to life, and they spend a rather stupid amount of time trying to figure out how to kill them again. Yes, I have to admit that I'd be more than a little startled if zombies started lurching around Portland, but we should all know how to deal with this problem by now. Go for the brain! THE GODDAMN BRAIN! It takes characters forever to figure this out!

I would also like to take this moment to point out that while I appreciate fresh takes on the genre, like the not-quite-zombies of 28 Days Later or the notion of sentient zombies, I draw the line at zombies that can go invisible (
David Wellington, I'm looking at YOU!). I'm sorry. I just can't deal with that. I like to think I'm a fairly tolerant reader when it comes to suspension of disbelief and whatnot, but even I have my limits.

Seriously, though. Let's have some genre-savvy characters for once, hmm? Think of how much fun that could be! Characters who know exactly what the odds are and what they're up against! Wouldn't that be awesome?

Love always,
A Diehard Zombie Fan

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Review: Monster Island

Monster Island, by David Wellington

I finished David Wellington's Monster Island the other day -- I've been on something of a zombie novel kick, which is unfortunate because there isn't all that much for me to choose from -- and...hmm. I'm a little torn on this one. On one hand, I genuinely enjoyed reading it -- it's a pretty quick, engaging read, and Wellington tweaks the typical zombie apocalypse formula in some interesting ways, but there are character inconsistencies up the wazoo and you could drive semis through some of the plot holes. I'll probably read the other two books in the series, simply because the lure of zombies is too much for me to resist, but I'm kind of disappointed with how the whole thing turned out.

Also, it drives me bonkers when writers switch between first and third person POV. Unless you're a fucking great writer, it's jarring as all get-out. Bad Wellington. -2 points for you.

Warning! Spoilers Follow!

Monster Island follows a UN weapons inspector named Dekalb as he arrives in New York with a group of gun-toting sixteen-year-old girls, themselves members of a Somalian people's army. Their warlord and leader has AIDS, and with the world in the grip of the zombie epidemic, she has no way of getting the drugs she needs. Dekalb, who was in Somalia when the epidemic broke out, is summarily dispatched to New York to get the drugs needed for treatment. Unfortunately, New York is completely overrun with zombies, and there's a very good chance Dekalb and his team won't make it out alive.

As setups go, it's painfully thin, and that's because the meat (HA!) of the story is really in what happens once they get into the city proper. The first-person segments are from Dekalb's POV, and they alternate with third-person segments from the POV of a person who had the potential to be the most interesting of the whole book: Gary, a medical student who deliberately turned himself into a zombie in order to escape from becoming food or one of the mindless dead.

Reasoning that the lack of oxygen to the brain during the initial death creates the mindless eating machines we all know and love, Gary hooks himself up to a dialysis machine before he infects himself. When he wakes up again, he's undead and sharp as a tack...and very, very hungry.

The idea of the sentient undead is one of the many cool concepts that Wellington toys with in the book. Equally as cool is the idea that the undead share a hive mind of sorts, which a zombie of above-average intelligence can exploit as he sees fit. Gary, struggling with his place among the living and undead both, connected to this vast network of undead energy without entirely realizing the potential of it, quickly emerges as one of the most fascinating and sympathetic characters of the whole book. He needs to eat raw flesh, but the idea is abhorrent to him. Fearing for what life among the undead will do to his sanity and humanity both, Gary desperately wants to help Dekalb's group and be among the living...but he also fears his own dark urges, and worries about what might happen if can't control himself.

I was really looking forward to seeing how Gary dealt with this struggle, because -- in my mind, at least -- it brought a lot of horror subtext to the surface as text. We find zombies horrifying for several reasons, but the two that stand out the most are a) the loss of the individual into mindlessness, and b) the taboo consumption of human flesh as food. But what if you have a creature that retains a human sense of individuality and personality, yet must also consume raw, living flesh in order to survive? By confronting the idea of a sentient zombie, you also end up confronting the idea of what it means to be "human" -- not in a biological sense, but in a philosophical one. Where is the line between man and monster?

Unfortunately, Wellington doesn't delve into that at ALL, and the character that started off so promising goes the lame, melodramatic route and embraces his inner monster so quickly and fully that he ends up feeling nothing but disgust for the people he'd been so desperate to help not two chapters before. *sigh* And as annoyingly predictable as this development was, I was disappointed mostly because everything started off so well with Gary's character arc. He goes from "please, I can help you!" to "FUCK YOU, DELICIOUS HUMANS!" so fast that it's like he's two different characters entirely. Lame. If I'm going to be given a descent into monstrosity, I at least want it to feel natural. This was just...contrived.

And then there was this whole business with super-strong zombie mummies and whatnot. Really, the middle portion of the book kind of sucked. The first third or so was all awesome setup and worldbuilding and character development, and the final third had some pretty decent human v. zombie action, but that middle bit? Hoooo boy. Didn't work for me at all. I still have no idea what the hell was going on with the all-powerful Celtic bog mummy (...I know. Don't think about it too hard), but I was definitely glad when Wellington finally moved into the third act and left that nonsense behind.

Final verdict? Decent fun and a fast read, with a few intriguing twists on the genre that make it worth a look if you're a hardcore zombie fan. On the downside, the goofy-ass plot makes no sense and the characterization is all over the place, and the author totally squanders the best characters on lame plot contrivances and predictability.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Easter was fun. I did the family thing with my parents and decorated eggs, which is something I haven't done since I was, I don't know, nine. Apparently, some part of me is still nine, because decorating eggs is fucking awesome.

Me: Woo, check this out! Two colors on this sucker! Yeah!
Parents: old are you again?

In other news, I still love dinosaurs and coloring books, and I can't help but giggle hysterically anytime someone says the word "penis". BECAUSE I'M NINE.

Heh, anyway. I'm mildly bummed out that I don't get to see The Boy tonight, since he had to work last night and tonight, and Sunday was Easter. On the plus side, though, the whole "several days interlude" thing means it's always really awesome when I do get to see him, which is how I imagine my cat Ivan feels every day when I get home from work. Because...nine hours is like three days in cat time? I don't know. I suspect he spends most of the day sleeping anyway, so perhaps the whole thing is just an act so I'll give him belly rubs when I get in.

Sneaky beast.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Doomsday? Is one of the most cracked-out movies I've ever seen. It's INSANE. It's a giant, giddy, sprawling mess of a movie that steals liberally from pretty much every other post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian film already made, but it's so much FUN that I didn't give a damn. It has everything you could ever want in a movie: gun fights, car chases, proper action and shit cannibals, deadly plagues, Mad Max villains, boobs, fist fights, tanks, knights, a dystopian government, bad-ass technology, anarchy and chaos, every British accent imaginable...

At one point -- I'm not sure which, but it might've been when the leader of the cannibalistic Road Warrior ripoffs was dancing spastically across a stage to the tune of the Fine Young Cannibals' "Good Thing" -- I leaned over to The Boy and gleefully whispered, "This is the best movie ever."

He grinned at me, wide-eyed and ecstatic, and said, "IT TOTALLY IS!"

And then the heroine got into a sword fight with a hot tattooed chick, and we both made this face for the rest of the movie: 8D!!!

It's funny -- most of the reviews I've seen have been negative, because critics generally hate giant, silly, cracked-out movies that make no fucking sense and rip off everything else in the genre. I, however, maintain that this is exactly why it's awesome. Doomsday is a movie that exists for the sheer love of the sci-fi dystopia, and I fully expect that it's going to end up as a cult movie once it's gone to DVD and people rediscover it lurking there in the shelves. No, the film doesn't make any sense -- afterward, I was trying to figure out where all the gasoline came from for the cars, and my head started to hurt a little -- but it's not the sort of movie that's supposed to make sense. You see it for the cannibals and the fifteen minute long car chase with a Bentley and motorcycles decked out with skeletons, for Malcolm McDowell as the insane leader of a neo-medieval society, for the dudes with mohawks dressed in fetish gear. You see it because it's gloriously over-the-top and doesn't take itself seriously at all, and there's something wonderful and refreshing about that.

I suspect it's one of those "love it or hate it" movies. I love things like Reign of Fire and Army of Darkness and Mad Max, so it would've taken an act of God for me to hate Doomsday. Hee.

P.S. Happy Easter, everyone!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Good Eats

Food is a big deal where I work. For a while, I thought it was because the partners were incredibly canny, and knew that the best way to win our sheer, unquestioning loyalty was to provide us with an endless supply of free soda, Cheez-its, and goldfish crackers, with birthday cake at the end of each month and sugary breakfast treats on Fridays…but as time has passed, I’ve come to realize that it’s not nearly that complicated. They don’t provide us with delicious goodies because we like it -- they provide it because they like it.

There’s something kind of awesome about that.

Fridays, as I mentioned, are when we get sugary breakfast goodness. Generally, this comes in the form of donuts, although in the past year this has widened to incorporate juice, fruit, chocolate milk, bagels, muffins, coffee cake, and -- on certain glorious days -- hard-boiled eggs. There’s a weird hierarchy to what gets eaten first: eggs, bagels, and the more exotic donuts -- the old-fashioneds, the maple bars, the crullers -- get nabbed first, while it generally takes about half the day for the fruit, the basic donuts, and the coffee cake to go. English muffins last the whole day, usually because someone takes a half-slice at some point and no one wants to eat the other half, and certain donuts never get eaten at all.

These are the strange donuts, the mystery donuts, the ones that always end up in the box even though no one is entirely sure why. These are the sprinkled donuts, the holiday donuts with violently Technicolor frosting, the donuts with odd, unknown filling that everyone is a little afraid to eat. These are the donuts that make everything else look good in comparison: “What, eat the pink one? I...I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just eat this napkin instead. Mmm. Napkin.”

Sometimes, someone actually makes a go of it. They’ll cut one of the reject donuts in half, then in half again, because everyone knows that it doesn’t count if you only eat a quarter. They’ll take a deep breath and bring it to their lips, pop it in, chew, chew some more, and the look on their face will become something out of a Greek tragedy, an expression of unspeakable sadness and regret. The remainder of the reject donut will sit until some poor sugar-deprived soul wanders in and contemplates it -- maybe? maybe? everyone knows it doesn’t count if you only eat a quarter -- and the whole process will begin anew.

No one, however, eats the filled donuts.

Some things are too horrible to contemplate.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Where's Waldo?

You know what? I would pay actual money to see this movie. I'm not sure what that says about me:

Friday, February 29, 2008


Oh, I have such a crush.

It's been a while since I've felt this goofy over someone, and it's been even longer that I've felt this goofy over a boy. I have no idea how it's ultimately going to play out, but I'm enjoying the mystery, the knowledge that even if things don't work -- if he doesn't like me half as much as I like him -- the world isn't suddenly going to upend on its axis or something equally as dramatic.

I mean. It might.

But it probably won't.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Book Review: The Road

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Ever since I read the last word and closed the book, I've been trying to figure out how to properly write about Cormac McCarthy's The Road. It's one of the few books that honestly made me cry, really cry, not the vague teary-eyed thing that happens way more often than I'm willing to admit, but full-out, put-the-book-down, bury-your-face-in-your-hands sobbing. I probably shouldn't admit that, but...damn, you know? If it affected me that much, I kind of need to mention it. And since then, I've been struggling to put that experience into words, because it's rare that I read something that haunts me so completely afterward. A month or so later, it's still not out of my head. How on earth am I supposed to review that?

So. The Road, in one sentence: after I read it, I felt like I'd been punched in the a good way.

Ugh, I'm terrible at this.

The Road takes everything I love about post-apocalyptic fiction, and extends the tropes so far that they're almost unrecognizable. McCarthy's world is one of unending silence and overwhelming dread, all grey snow and falling ash, the dead, twisted crags of blackened trees, the empty shelves of long-looted supermarkets gathering dust in the neverending gloom. We never learn the names of the main character or his son -- they're referred to as "the man" and "the boy" -- and their conversations are odd and stilted, every stark line of dialogue bursting at the seams with the things they aren't saying to each other. The man has a gun, and he has only two bullets. He loves his son. They're always hungry, and they're always scared.

What's horrifying about the world is that humanity as a construct has ceased to exist -- most post-apocalyptic stories take place in dystopias, or something close to it, but here there's no dystopia to speak of, because there's no society to speak of. It's all individuals, surviving as best they can, often in brutal, horrible ways, and in the middle of it all is the narrator and his son, traveling along the ash-covered road with their cart, their gun, their two bullets, making their way towards the ocean because there's nowhere left to go.

This was the first Cormac McCarthy book I ever read, and I went into it not knowing what to expect. I'd heard that his writing style can be off-putting for some people, and now that I've read him I'm inclined to agree. Personally, I love it -- there's something spare and poetic about the way he uses language and eschews punctuation. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would've been a mess, but McCarthy wields words the way a murderer might wield a straight razor. He's excruciatingly precise, and it's not until you're bleeding out than do you even notice the wound.

It's not a book for everyone. There are long stretches where nothing of immediate consequence happens, and while I read through those sequences with held breath and a sense of growing dread, I know other readers would probably find them boring. The lack of quotation marks might
grate on some people, and I suspect the ending won't sit well with everyone. But. It's still worth reading. It's different, and it's powerful. There's a sense of inevitability to what happens, and while the ending made me cry like my heart was breaking, it still felt like the ending the book needed to have. It felt like the right ending.

Ultimate Ninja Battle!

So while I was out to dinner with A Boy this weekend, he and I got into a conversation about the oldest rivalry known to man: ninjas versus pirates. We agreed, sadly, that although pirates are WAY COOLER, they're also kind of drunk most of the time and may have scurvy, while the ninja are elite fighting machines with kickass weapons. Sure, the pirates have guns, but it's not like firearms are going to help much if you're too drunk to shoot properly. It makes me sad to admit it, but the ninja win.

The Boy paused to drink some more sake, which tasted like burning at first and then rapidly became quite delicious as it cooled. "But that's last year," he said. "For 2008, I propose that last year's winners -- the ninja -- go up against werewolves."

"Oooooooooh." Starry-eyed, I completely forgot about my curry. "What are the parameters?"

The parameters, as he outlined them, are thus: during the full moon night, the werewolves are mindless killing machines, basically giant balls of furry, vengeful rage. During the day, however, they're human, with all of the limitations that implies. When it's not the full moon, they can change at will, but only at night, and there's no mad, unstoppable rage.

I'm of the mind that the werewolves are the obvious victors here -- during a full moon, they'd shred the ninja into messy wet ribbons of flesh and probably wouldn't even notice if they were stabbed in the process, and it's nearly impossible to kill a werewolf without silver or wolfsbane. The only way the ninja could take the advantage would be if they tracked down the werewolves during the day, but even that's not guaranteed. They'd have to act damn fast, because once night falls? They're fucked.

Plus, werewolf bites are infectious, so even if the ninja managed to somehow kill all of them, they'd end up changing themselves during the next full moon.

"Ninja werewolves," I said. "Just think about it. They'd be unstoppable."

The Boy smirked at me from across the table. "Whoa, you're moving way too fast. Ninja werewolves are for 2009."

My curiosity piqued, I had to ask: "So...who will they be fighting?"

There was a long pause as he tried and failed not to look pleased with himself. Finally, he grinned. "Vampire. Pirates."

I'm smitten.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Serial Killers

The serial comma (otherwise known as the "Oxford comma") doesn't get nearly the love it deserves. As with most punctuation marks, its duty goes mostly unnoticed, its songs of praise mostly unsung. But although my favorite punctuation mark is by far the semicolon -- oh, the whimsical, so divine! -- I feel that it's important to give credit where credit is due, and to the commas, especially the oft-abandoned and long-insulted serial commas, I humbly tip my cap. To you, sirs. To you.

This message has been brought to you by Strunk and White. Please stay tuned for our regularly scheduled blog entry, which will be commencing shortly.

~ Softly playing elevator music ~

So. I'm finally getting a haircut tomorrow. I can't remember the last time I had it cut, but I know my bangs ended up shorter than usual, and I wanted to give them time to grow out. And boy howdy, did they grow out. I can't seem to get my stupid webcam to work and I don't have a digital camera, so I've included some helpful illustrations to guide you.

Here's how my hair should look:

Aww, check out how happy I am. My short hair fills me with glee!

Now, here's what my hair is currently doing:


This haircut will be a very good thing. The longer my hair gets, the younger and more boyish I appear -- as I write this, I'm really rocking the "gender-confused 15-year-old" look.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Freakin' Valentine's Day!

(image from the gloriously cracktastic Holy Church of Daniel Day-Lewis. Milkshakes FTW!)

Happy Valentine's Day or whatever! I'd originally planned on going to the movies tonight, but yesterday I was sick and I was just lazy. The great horror movie extravaganza (The Orphanage, per Starting Over at 24's recommendation) has been postponed until the weekend, and my evening thus far has consisted mostly of writing, eating pizza, and watching Ladyhawke. It's the best Valentine's Day I've had in ages.

I'd planned to talk about writing for a while, but wonder of wonders, I think I'd rather just write instead. And finish my movie, because it's adorable and eighties-a-rific. Really, this entire entry was just an excuse for me to post a There Will Be Blood valentine. In fact, I think I'll end with one as well:


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Don't Feel Like Dancin'

February is kind of a nutty month for me this year. It's the six-month anniversary of when I broke up with my ex, it would've been our four-year anniversary if we'd stayed together, and it's going to be the first Valentine's Day I've spent single since 2002.

There's some part of me that feels like I should be bothered by this; instead I just keep thinking, "Hey, maybe I should go see The Orphanage or Cloverfield on Thursday to celebrate, because everyone else will be doing romantic shit!" I...guess that's a healthy attitude to have? I honestly don't know anymore. I mean, even if I did have a boyfriend or girlfriend right now, I suspect I'd drag them to see a horror film on Valentine's Day anyway. Not because it would be ironic or something stupid like that, but because I really like horror movies. Valentine's Day is as good an excuse as any to see one.

Speaking of irony, can we please end this trend where people only like things ironically? Please? I keep ending up in embarrassing situations where folks start talking about, I don't know, liking big dumb action movies, and I jump in all excited because I genuinely love big dumb action movies...only it turns out that the people I'm talking to don't like action movies at all -- rather, they like them ironically, because to sincerely love and appreciate something considered the dregs of pop culture makes you deeply uncool, and also possibly a dork.

Seriously, this has happened during conversations on video games, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Stephen King, horror and action movies both, Sam name it. Inevitably, I drop out of the conversation feeling sort of lame and sad, because apparently I'm not allowed to like Sufjan Stevens if I also like Fall Out Boy.

See Also: the Graphic Novel Deathmatch (Alan Moore vs. Everyone Else), and The Great Genre Fiction Debate (Does Michael Chabon Write Genre, and If So, Does This Make Him a Bad Person?). Discuss.

What makes me sad is that it's a total double-standard -- you're considered an ignorant idiot if you only like popular culture, and you're considered a pretentious twit if you only like the high-brow stuff. I'd argue that those generalities are fair to an extent -- if you completely disdain one and avoid it entirely in favor of the other, then you sort of deserve to be mocked. The obvious solution, as I see it, is to find genuine enjoyment in both, because that's the sort of thing that allows movies like Hot Fuzz to happen and we could all do with a bit more of that.

Instead, we somehow ended up with a culture where it's only okay to like pop culture if you're doing it ironically, and after a while it devolves into this horrible M. C. Escher Mobius strip with creepy self-awareness on one side and a total lack thereof on the other. Only it's a Mobius strip, so it's the same damn side.

Look. When you profess to like Starbucks coffee because practically everyone likes Starbucks, and so by liking Starbucks you're somehow making a deeply ironic statement about the people who like Starbucks? THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG. Either you like it, or you don't. Nobody really cares either way, because it's fucking coffee. On the same token, liking My Chemical Romance "ironically" doesn't make you any cooler than someone who genuinely enjoys listening to them -- it just makes you a coward, because you won't own up to it the way the so-called idiotic masses do.

Liking something because it's popular doesn't automatically make you a moron, and liking something obscure doesn't automatically make you smart. My deep, overwhelming hatred for James Joyce's Ulysses doesn't say anything about my worth as a human being. Sincerely loving Die Hard doesn't make me dumb. The fact that I read my mom's old pathophysiology textbooks for fun doesn't make me intelligent. It just means I like doing those things, nothing more.

And since I'm really not sure how my musings on Valentine's Day turned into a plea for the return of sincerity to daily life, I think I'll leave it at that.

Monday, February 11, 2008

List, List, O List

- I seem to have developed a giant girly crush on, um, Yahtzee Croshaw. Yes, this is based solely on his voice and sense of humor. Other people are allowed to crush on actors solely because they're hot, dammit. That means I'm allowed to crush on hilarious, acerbic gamers with sexy accents. (This isn't to say that I don't crush on actors and actresses simply because they're hot, but...I forgot where I was going with that. Moving on.)

- "Breaking Bad" has become my new favorite tv show. A high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal lung cancer decides to start cooking meth so his family will have money once he's dead. I'd watch it based on the concept alone, but the main character, Walter, is played by Bryan Cranston, otherwise known as the dad from "Malcolm in the Middle," and it's astonishing how good he is in this role. Walter is a man whose life is clearly spiraling out of his control, and there's all this helpless rage and anguish simmering just beneath his surface. Cranston was one of the best things about "Malcolm in the Middle," so seeing him here is just...awesome. Sundays, 10:00 PM, AMC. If this ends up getting canceled, I am never forgiving America.

- As wonderful as it is to keep getting kick-ass ideas for novels, I wish my brain would shut the fuck up for a while so I could focus on one of them and, you know, WRITE the stupid thing. First it was the space western with the dinosaurs. Then it was the deconstructionist fantasy novel. Then it was the modern-day Don Quixote thing with the gamers. Now? My goldfish brain seems to have latched onto action movie tropes and there's something all self-aware and Die Hard-ish happening, and I don't even know what the fuck is going on anymore. I keep getting 3-10K words into something, and then get distracted by shiny objects. BAD WRITER. NO COOKIE. On the plus side, though, whenever I get bored with one I always go back to working on one of the others, so maybe I'll get lucky and finish them all at the same time -- then I can have four unpublished novels making the rounds for rejections, instead of just one. Woo!

- Whoever brought Jonathan Lethem's books to my attention deserves a medal. I finished Gun, With Occasional Music a few days ago and now I'm halfway through Motherless Brooklyn, and although Gun was glorious, I think Motherless Brooklyn may go on my list of all-time favorite books ever. I don't think I've ever read such an amazing portrayal of Tourette's Syndrome before. And it's about gangsters in New York, which -- judging by my book and movie choices this month -- is apparently right up my alley.

- I wish I could take a personal day tomorrow. No real reason, other than I want to sleep in and then write all day. But I'm in the middle of several projects, so I can't. Boooooooo(urns).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Stuff and Nonsense

The problem with Saturday is that by the time it arrives, I'm usually so worn out by the rest of the week that all I want to do is hang out in my pajamas, drink coffee, and read until three in the afternoon, at which point I grudgingly get ready and spend the rest of my day...hanging out in my jeans, drinking coffee, and reading.

I live such an exciting life.

The Portland International Film Festival swung into gear this week. Last night was In Bruges, which I loved. LOVED. Tracy Jordan-style "take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant" love (please for to be watching "30 Rock", people). I'm going to try to be more on the ball about posting reviews (I have a folder of half-finished ones on my desktop -- way to be on task, self), but suffice to say, the movie really isn't what the previews imply. It's not an action-fest, and it's not really a black comedy -- it's a dark, sad movie with some wickedly funny sections, and it definitely brings something new to the "British gangster" genre. So much love for In Bruges.

Tonight I'm going to see Jar City, which I've gathered is an Icelandic murder mystery. Iceland! I love Iceland! Iceland has brought us Sigur Ros and Bjork and The Juniper Tree, although the latter was dark and disturbing and possibly scarred me for life. Then again, the fairy tale it's based on is dark and disturbing and definitely scarred me for life, so. Anyway. I'm excited to see it, and plan to check out some of the other festival films throughout the next week or so, athough I can only hope my film-going experience won't be quite as insane or obnoxious as last night's was. Yeesh.

See, they oversold on seats. I'm not sure how they managed to do this, since we all bought tickets in advance, and they kept insisting at the door that they didn't oversell, but that was very clearly what happened. I arrived early, but almost didn't make it in -- they let the people in front of me in, and then stopped the rest of us so they could get things inside the theater figured out. Which was fine and all, because I was there by myself and knew that if a single seat opened up -- almost a guarantee, once they get everyone to scootch in towards the middle -- I would be able to get it since I was next in line.

Then this stupid hipster couple pushed in front of me, ignored my protests, and did their very best to be horrible, conniving little seat-stealers. However. One of the volunteers asked for single folks, I flailed like the dickens ("me! me! PICK ME!") and was promptly led to a seat. The line-cutting hipsters? Got split up. She got a seat, he didn't, and she ended up leaving in disgust when no one was willing to give up their hard-earned seat so they could sit together.

HA! That's what you get for being rude and cutting in line! And being a hipster!

After that, everything went more smoothly, except for the two older women next to me who felt compelled to discuss every fucking aspect of the movie while it was onscreen. Why do people do this? Seriously, WHY? "Oh, he's going into the cathedral now." For crying out loud, WE KNOW! IT'S ONSCREEN RIGHT NOW! And every time something violent happened -- and this is a movie about gangsters, mind, so no matter how genre-bendy it gets, you know violent things are going to happen at some point -- they commented on it.

Every. Fucking. Time.

Ladies: "Oh, how horrible." "Well, I don't see why he had to do that." "Oh my, this is just awful."

Me: *quiet, seething rage*

I...don't understand this. I mean, I really don't. You deliberately go to a movie with gangsters in it...and then complain about the violence? The hell? I don't know. My best guess is that they didn't read anything about it ahead of time, and thought it was about, I don't know, sightseeing. In Bruges. Or something.

To conclude: Ralph Fiennes is hot, Colin Farrell is a surprisingly good actor, Brendan Gleeson just needs to be given a leading role already, because...damn, and line cutters will always get what's coming to them.

Film Review: Maxed Out

Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and the Era of Predatory Lenders

"Consumer lending is grossly profitable. I can't even find the right word to give you here. Consumer lending is...obscenely profitable."

-- Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law professor

You need to see this movie. Yes, you. All of you. If you live in the United States, you need to see it. If you have money in a bank, you need to see it. If you own a credit card, if you're thinking of getting a credit card, if you know people with credit cards, you need to see it.

Maxed Out is a documentary about the wholly unethical -- and borderline illegal -- practices of credit card companies, consumer lending corporations, collections agencies, and banks. And it's brutal. Several of the families interviewed had family members commit suicide over debt they couldn't get out of, several more of the people interviewed had themselves considered suicide as a way out, and the interviewees at a collections agency just laugh and grin and say, "Yeah, sometimes we push a little too hard. But what can you do, right? They owe money!"

As documentaries go, Maxed Out is elegant in its simplicity. It eschews voice-overs for black-and-white silent movie cards, and even that device is used sparingly; for the most part, the filmmakers let the footage speak for itself, cutting back and forth between various interviews in a manner that's utterly devastating at times. When they focus on a quietly outraged family who was being harassed by a collections agent after their mother (who was deep in secret debt) disappeared, and then cut to the owners of such a collections agency as they smugly compare themselves to "pirates" who walk people as close as possible to the plank's edge before they pull them back again in order to "get what they want"'s hard not to feel sick. These kinds of juxtapositions make up the backbone of the film, and I was reduced to tears on several occasions. It's utterly unflinching in its examination of how lives are ruined over debt.

I was particularly impressed by how they couched the debt problem in a social and historical context. It's not just the credit card companies, it's not just the banks, it's not just the government -- it's everything, all of it, and it goes back generations upon generations. They touch on how personal debt affects not only the people involved, but the economy overall, which gives the film a bit more immediacy. After all, while you'd have to be pretty cold-hearted to write off the personal stories as "their problem, they deal with it, nothing to do with me," it's a lot harder to ignore when said personal debt issues contribute directly to a suffering economy and a skyrocketing national debt.

The film was made a few years ago, and they just barely touch on the sub-prime mortgage issue, mainly in a "man, we're all going to be in trouble if/when this falls through" kind of way. Now? The sub-prime lending problem is THE issue when it comes to our economy right now. It's all connected, which is a point the documentary illustrates beautifully again and again.

But they don't spend too much time on the national issues, which was the right call where this film is concerned. The personal stories are what make it hard-hitting, because they span every socio-economic group in the country. Watching it, it's impossible to say, "Well, that won't happen to me," because it CAN. It's a corrupt credit card corporation holding checks (and occasionally shredding) them so that their members rack up the late fees and penalties; it's a family trusting their bank to help them lower their mortgage rate only to discover that they now have to pay more and are going to lose their house; it's a middle-aged woman in a nice neighborhood losing her husband and ending up in foreclosure because she can't make the payments on her own; it's college students on their own for the first time, not understanding the fine print, racking up over $20,000 worth of debt before they turn nineteen; it's a clerical error in a credit reporting agency computer that declares a woman "deceased" and labels her a possible terrorist when she tries to get a loan for a truck; it's collections agencies calling your neighbors and relatives instead of you, because it's "more embarrassing" that way. It's all of it. And it can happen, has happened, will pretty much anyone.

I was talking to my dad after I watched the movie, and I was outraged that credit card companies continued to send applications and offers to the people who had killed themselves over their debt, calling them "valued customers" and insisting that they wanted their business back.

"It's SICK," I said.

"Yes, it is," said my dad. "And unfortunately, it's all automated. It's just a computer, looking at the numbers and sending it all out. They have no idea these people have even died."

And that, ultimately, is the point of the film. We're just numbers. To all of these companies, to the credit cards, the banks (did you know that several of the national banks own those "check to cash" companies that do payday loans?), the credit reporting agencies, the collections agencies...we're just numbers to them. We're not people. And the more debt we're in, the more money they make. They lose money on the people who pay their balance off each month. Those aren't the folks they want, not really. They want the people who can't afford to pay, because no matter how much they bleed them, the debt will still be there.

It's worth watching. Trust me.

"For every dollar they were asking for in principal, they wanted two more dollars in interest and fees that [the credit card companies] said they were owed. Think about that. That means for the average family who can't pay, they'll keep making payments of fifty dollars, of a hundred dollars...but they'll never pay those debts off. They will owe those debts until they die. Death...will be the only form of debt discharge that they will ever see."

-- Elizabeth Warren, Harvard Law professor

Monday, February 4, 2008

Mysteries of the Human Condition

Whenever I read nonfiction about life in the 19th-century underworld, I'm always astonished that people actually managed to survive those days. I suppose future generations will think of the 20th and 21st centuries in much the same way, but...come on, street brawls where it wasn't uncommon for someone to bite your ear and/or nose off? Baby-eating rats? Rookeries where there was at least a murder a night and they usually just buried the bodies under the dirt floor? How we managed to last into the 20th century, much less the 21st, will forever be a mystery to me.

The book in question is Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury. The cover proclaims that the Scorcese movie was based on the book, but I think it's more accurate to say it was "inspired by." This isn't a bad thing in the least -- each chapter focuses on a single group or event, like the pirates that roamed the Hudson river (?!?!) or the murder of Bill "The Butcher" Poole, and it's a surprisingly fast, entertaining read. A few of the footnotes have led me into interesting Google territory (look up the Doctor's Riots of 1788 -- talk about a morbid joke blown way out of proportion), and aside from some uncomfortably jarring language ("'Miscegenation'?! Jesus, when the hell was this written, anyway? 19...2...8. Oh."), it's fairly easy to overlook the fact that it was written about eighty years ago. It holds up well.

Right now, I'm in the section about the police riots -- apparently, the city government and Municipal police were so corrupt by the 1850s that the higher levels of government stepped in, created the Metropolitan police, and declared the Municipals disbanded. Unfortunately, the Municipals didn't like that idea, some political stuff happened wherein the Metropolitans tried to arrest the corrupt mayor and the Municipals fought back, and the whole thing culminated in a huge riot. In City Hall. In which a good fifty officers were injured and one was permanently maimed. After that, the two branches of the city police spent more time fighting each other than the gangsters themselves, to the point where one would actually release a criminal they saw the other arrest, just to be a jerk.

It's funny until you think about it too hard, and then it's just horrifying. And we think jurisdiction arguments now are bad...

I don't know why I find this stuff so fascinating. It's taking sincere effort not to write even more about it than I already have, because a) Asbury does it better, and b) I suspect most people don't care.

BUT I DO! [/dork]

Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Secret Hub of All Evil

I don't like social networking sites. While I do have both Facebook and Myspace profiles, I also have friends who guilt-tripped me into making them, and I suppose being in the system is moderately worthwhile, since it’s allowed one or two awesome people to get in touch with me.

But I still don't like it. My reasons, let me show you them.

Myspace, for all its outward obnoxiousness, is actually the more harmless of the two. You know how in middle school, you had that one friend with the incredibly annoying kid brother or sister? The one who always wanted to play with you guys, and went crying to her mom when you kicked her out? Every so often she would come up with something cool, like when she found a lizard skeleton in the backyard and came to show you, but mostly she just wanted to play dress-up and horn in on your conversations about the boys in class you liked. It's not like she even knew any of them.

That kid? That kid is Myspace. Always trying desperately to win your approval, and shooting over the mark in an embarrassingly transparent attempt to be cool.

Facebook, now. Facebook is different. Where Myspace feels the need to constantly jump up and down on the couch while waving glittery shit around, Facebook is more laid back. That friend you had in middle school? Facebook is that friend's older brother, a high school senior or maybe a freshman at community college. He looks respectable enough, and he's super nice to you, but he's always kind of...there, and you can't help but feel a little weird about it.

Because here’s the thing: when you and your friend strip down to swimsuits so you can goof around in the hot tub, the older brother wants to come. Upon being rebuffed, he hangs out by the sliding glass door, watching you. Somehow, he knows all of your favorite movies and the kind of music you like, and on your sleepovers, when your friend eventually conks out in the living room, the older brother stays up watching "Welcome to the Dollhouse" with you. He keeps trying to get you to taste his beer. And he tells you that you're different from all the other girls he knows, that you're totally mature for your age. He thinks you're awesome.

So, to recap: Myspace is the annoying but harmless younger sibling of your middle-school best friend, and Facebook is her seemingly respectable, but secretly date-rapey older brother.

It's the whole "keeping tabs" thing that skeeves me out. I can guarantee that when GPS tags in clothing become standard issue, Facebook will be right there, announcing your exact latitude and longitude to your friends and, presumably, advertisers who would be interested in that sort of thing. It's not that I object to GPS tracking. To the contrary -- if I'm kidnapped or otherwise indisposed (horrific accidents involving locked brakes and bridges come to mind), I rather like the idea that my jeans could double as a homing device. But the thought of Facebook announcing my location 24/7 gives me pause.

I know, I know -- it hasn't come to that yet. But it will.

Because Facebook tracking is showing up in the weirdest places now! When I signed up with Epicurious about a week ago, a cheery little dialogue box popped up asking if I wanted to add the corresponding application to my Facebook page, which was a bit of a shock considering that I wasn't even aware I was signed into Facebook at the time. I hit NO. The fattening, deliciously unhealthy recipes I add to my recipe box are my goddamn business, not anyone else's, thank you. No, Facebook, I don’t want you to know what movie tickets I’m buying. NO, Facebook, I don’t want you to share my purchases with everyone. I don’t want to be a zombie, or a vampire, or figure out how hot I am compared to my friends. I DON’T WANT TO PLAY SCRABBLE, SO STOP FUCKING BOTHERING ME.

It’s possible I’m overreacting. After all, it’s not like Facebook ran over my dog. It just keeps touching my hair and telling me I’m pretty (“No thanks, Facebook -- I promised my friends I’d be driving, can keep the drink”). Other people seem to like it just fine, so perhaps I’m just an antisocial freak of nature, forever doomed to wander the narrative wilds of Blogger and Livejournal.

Like Bigfoot, in a way.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Navel Gazing R Us

How in the hell do you keep the spacing consistent from entry to entry? Is there a way?

I fail at typing.

I saw There Will Be Blood over the weekend with my folks, and I'm still trying to come up with something coherent and intelligent to say about it. You know. Something that doesn't devolve into awestruck, fangirly glee. Just. My god. The story, the cinematography, the acting, the music -- all incredible. Give me a week to collect my thoughts, and maybe then I'll be able to come up with something.'s been about a month since I've seen No Country For Old Men, and I still can't talk about it without going to the "incoherent and talking with my hands" place. Same thing goes for The Road, which I finished reading about a week and a half ago. Let's face it -- it's a hell of a lot easier to discuss/write about flawed work than stuff that's so goddamn good that it leaves you utterly dumbfounded. I don't know why, but it probably has a good deal to do with the whole "dumbfounded" issue. Plus, I suspect that the sublime operates on kind of a gestalt principle, where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts...which means it's harder to pick out exactly what makes it good, because everything has to work together just right to make it so. When a few things don't quite measure up, it's easier to examine critically.

Anyway. I'd give my right kidney to be able to write something as incredible as any of those three mentioned above (you can tell I'm serious, because my right kidney is my favorite). Unfortunately, no one has come forward with such a Faustian bargain, and I'm stuck going along as I always do. I crank out the words as best I can and -- like that little kid in The Incredibles who hangs around waiting for Mr. Incredible to bench-press his car or something -- I hope that something amazing will happen.

And when they don't? That's what
Kingdom of Loathing is for. You people can keep your fancy MMORPGs -- I like me some clever puns and strange little stick figures, thank you.

Book Review: Dies the Fire

Dies the Fire, by S.M. Stirling

This was yet another "on a whim" book (I'd say about half the books I buy are like this). Book 3 of the trilogy was what actually caught my eye, since it's titled A Meeting in Corvallis and I did a double-take, all, "Whaaaaa?! Surely they can't mean OUR Corvallis!"

As it turns out, surely they do. The books are part of a post-apocalyptic trilogy set in the Pacific Northwest, and with that, I was sold. I'm crazy about post-apocalyptic settings, and the chances that I will buy a book increase tenfold if it takes place in my beloved Northwest. It should come as absolutely no surprise that I walked out of Powell's with the first book of the trilogy.

Unfortunately, I think I raised my expectations too high. Or perhaps I was expecting a different sort of book. Either way, I'm not enjoying it nearly as much as I thought I was going to, and although I'm determined to finish it, the way everything ultimately turns out will determine whether I read the other two books.

Here's where I'm having trouble: for me, part of the draw of the post-apocalyptic setting is seeing how everyday people deal with the end of the world. Ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events -- that's what I love. And in the few cases where you have people who are abnormally well-adapted to the circumstances they find themselves in, they're often handicapped psychologically. Crushing loneliness that drives them to the brink of sanity. An inability to acknowledge the terrible realities of their situation. The post-apocalyptic setting brings out the best and worst of the human condition, and watching characters struggle to survive in that sort of world is one of the things I find so fascinating. That they're usually ill-equipped to deal with the situations they find themselves in is part of the draw, because the reader knows that if he or she were in that same position, they'd probably be struggling in a very similar way.

And this is the problem with Dies the Fire -- Stirling's protagonists are astonishingly prepared to deal with a post-apocalyptic world. One is a Wiccan who owns her own out-of-the-way farm. Her coven? They're almost all craftspeople, folks who know how to make leather, plant gardens, work with wood, etc. Since advanced technology doesn't work anymore, they steal some covered wagons from an Oregon history exhibit that just happened to be there in order to make the trip out to the farm.

The other set of protagonists is just as bad. Their leader is an ex-military guy (with Native-American in his heritage, omg!) who goes backpacking in the rough country for fun. One member of the group is an SCA nerd who can accurately shoot a bow and arrow on horseback, while a few others are folks who raise and train horses. Oh, and they can make weapons. And chain mail. Because they have books on the subject. Argh.

It's this piling-up of skills and coincidences that I find frustrating, because it all feels too damn convenient. And it bugs the shit out of me that the leaders all immediately -- and correctly -- assume the worst about what's gone down, and their groups go along with their plans with virtually no disagreement. It's the sort of thing that makes me want to throw the book at the wall. A group under pressure is a stewing, bubbling vat of conflict, and looking at how and why people disagree with each other is a beautiful way to develop character. But Stirling just blows right past it. Everyone is ridiculously cooperative, and I'm having trouble keeping track of people because they've all blurred into a single crowd of "yes" men.

And women. I have to be equal opportunity about these things.

If there was a clear-cut antagonist, perhaps I'd be a little more forgiving. In post-apocalyptic settings, the world itself is usually the antagonist, with human nature and individual people along for the ride. Unfortunately, nature isn't being nearly as hardcore an antagonist as I'd like, because the main characters keep stumbling upon ridiculous windfalls and all of them are more or less taking the whole "end of the world" thing in stride. There have been a few human antagonists, but they were dispatched fairly quickly, and aside from a brief interlude with some baddies in Portland (which was entirely unconnected from the main storyline, I might add), there's no real sense of danger whatsoever. Come on! It's the end of the fucking world! Where are the stakes?!

I'm not saying that I want him to torture the characters or anything. But the stakes need to be higher, and we need to see what the characters stand to lose. If everything comes easy to them, where the hell is the conflict? I would much rather see a small, starving group of people exult over finally catching a rabbit for their meal, than see a group of people who are actually eating pretty good delight over an elk their 11-year-old brought down with a freakin' bow and arrow.

Seriously, Stirling? An elk? By the time they bring down a bear later, I felt like I was rolling my eyes so hard they were going to fall out of my head.

This could've been such a good book. It breaks my heart that I'm sick of it before I even hit the halfway point.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Film Review: The Darwin Awards

The Darwin Awards - directed by Finn Taylor

Netflix has this "watch online" feature that comes in handy every once in a while. I've never heard of the vast majority of the movies listed, but it's kind of a nifty little device for those lazy Sunday mornings when you want a movie to go along with your coffee and you're not too picky about what you end up with. The Darwin Awards popped up on the front page, I read the description, thought, "Eh, why not?" and went for it. And you know what? It's the perfect sort of movie to watch online -- it's the sort of film where it's not really worth wasting a rental, but it is worth knocking an hour and a half off your instant watch time. Or worth watching on tv, I guess, but the censors would have their work cut out for them when it comes to all the f-bombs.

Basically, it's the story of an incredibly uptight ex-forensic psychologist (Joseph Fiennes) who decides to try working insurance and gets paired with a cynical, world-weary claims investigator (Winona Ryder) as they look into "Darwin Award" claims. There are two major subplots -- a documentarian following Fiennes around for his senior thesis, and a "serial killer that got away" plot that threads through the whole movie -- but mostly it's the story of the Fiennes/Ryder odd couple, and the people they're investigating. Overall, it's a cute movie. There's nothing ground-breaking about it, and I had fun playing "spot the cameo" (there are a LOT!), but ultimately I think it's the forced quirkiness that does it in. It's trying way too hard.

I'm usually good at suspending disbelief. It's probably one of the reasons I love action movies so much -- yes, the chances of a well-timed bullet blowing up an entire car are slim to none, but dammit, it looks cool! And so I cheerfully and willingly suspend all my disbelief so I can settle in and enjoy the hell out of whatever I'm watching, because when you get right down to it, a movie is a movie and sometimes it's more about having a good time than being realistic.

But even I have my limits, and every once in a while something comes up that makes me go, "Oh, come on." For instance...a forensic psychologist who faints at the sight of blood? COME ON. I can buy that the guy would be a consultant, but no way in hell would any sane police force give a man who faints at the sight of blood a fucking gun. If he shoots someone, he'd faint! What the fuck?! Throw in some borderline OCD and a complete inability to relate to people, and you've got yourself a character who's quirky as hell...and totally unbelievable. I know there are people like that in real life, but as with so many things, what works in real life doesn't always work in fiction. It's too much.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing abounds in The Darwin Awards. Unless you really know what you're doing, zaniness works well only in small doses. I feel like the filmmakers here were shooting for Coen-style wackiness, but instead of allowing it to happen organically, it was like they made a list of all the quirky things they could think of and then checked them off as they went, which...doesn't work. At all. The Coens excel at this sort of thing because they respect their characters and play the whole thing totally straight -- as weird as their movies sometimes get, there are realistic consequences for a lot of the action, and for all their quirks and conceits, their characters still feel like real people with realistic, reasonable motives. Once you lose sight of that, though, once you just start piling on the wackiness in the hopes that it will work...fuck it. You've lost the movie.

And the documentary issue...hoo boy. It's always risky introducing a documentarian into the works, because as awesome as it is when it works, it's really fucking obvious when it doesn't. Having the documentarian along pays off eventually, but it takes far too long to get there, and I found it incredibly distracting every time the movie broke from the documentary conceit to show things the camera never would've been able to catch. If the split was half and half, it would've been easier to swallow, but when the vast majority of the movie is being "filmed" by the everpresent guy with the camera, it's really noticeable when the film throws you out of that.

Even with all of its problems, though, there was still something weirdly charming about the whole thing. I'm sure this was partly because Joseph Fiennes looked like a depressed puppy for most of it, and the segments about the people who "Darwined" themselves were fairly entertaining. In fact, there was one about a man who tried to turn his Chevy into a rocket car that was astonishingly poignant, the sad portrait of a man who wanted to do something incredible for once in his life. In all honesty, I would've rather watched an entire movie about him. Perhaps directed by the Coen brothers. They would've done it right.

Single Life 101

One of the things I love most about living alone is that I can watch the same movie three times in a row (with a different commentary track each time), and no one will get irritated by it and/or laugh at me. Doubtless the novelty of this will pall at some point, but then all I'll have to do is find someone with similar sensibilities and I'll be all set. I suspect the "living alone" thing will get old a lot sooner than the "watching one movie five million times over" thing, if only because I've been doing the latter for most of my life and if it hasn't gotten old by now, it probably never will.

I'm not crazy about every aspect of living alone, of course. Killing my own spiders is a bit of a drag -- I'm terrified of them and know that someday, one of them is going to survive, and its hatred and burning desire for revenge is going to consume its soul, making it bigger, stronger, meaner, nastier, and one day I'm going to step outside and an angry spider the size of a Great Dane will be waiting there...and I'll never be seen or heard from again.

Um. I also dislike washing my own dishes, but that's just because I used to have a dishwasher and miss it sorely. The spider thing worries me far more.


If the internet tells me I'm cool, I'm certainly not going to argue:

Your Score: Modern, Cool Nerd

91 % Nerd, 65% Geek, 47% Dork

For The Record:

A Nerd is someone who is passionate about learning/being smart/academia.
A Geek is someone who is passionate about some particular area or subject, often an obscure or difficult one.
A Dork is someone who has difficulty with common social expectations/interactions.
You scored better than half in Nerd and Geek, earning you the title of: Modern, Cool Nerd.

Nerds didn't use to be cool, but in the 90's that all changed. It used to be that, if you were a computer expert, you had to wear plaid or a pocket protector or suspenders or something that announced to the world that you couldn't quite fit in. Not anymore. Now, the intelligent and geeky have eked out for themselves a modicum of respect at the very least, and "geek is chic." The Modern, Cool Nerd is intelligent, knowledgable and always the person to call in a crisis (needing computer advice/an arcane bit of trivia knowledge). They are the one you want as your lifeline in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (or the one up there, winning the million bucks)!



Thursday, January 24, 2008

Film Review: License to Wed

(No picture for this one -- it doesn't deserve it)

License to Wed - directed by Ken Kwapis (who we must never allow near a camera again)

Ohhhh, what to say about this movie. *sigh* I'd like to point out that I didn't chose to watch it -- I was over at someone's house and they wanted to watch it, and who am I to argue? Suffice to say, the movie was utterly abysmal. I don't think I could've enjoyed it more if I had a serious head injury.

It was just...fuck, it was insipid. Everyone involved seemed to be just going through the motions, like "hooray, we're getting a paycheck for this shit, why even bother?", and I'm so fucking SICK of movies that repeat the same tired gender roles over and over again. Shrewish girl who just needs to relax a bit? Check. Adorably scruffy man-child who just needs to grow up a bit? Check. Hen-pecked husband who lives vicariously through his bachelor friend? Check. Bitter, angry woman whose husband cheated on her and now she hates marriage and men? CHECK. For crying out loud, we're eight years into the 21st-century. I think we can afford to mix it up a little.

I'm not even going to go into how fucking stupid the entire premise of the movie is. It's laughably ridiculous. Only without the "laughably," because I think I chuckled half-heartedly maybe once during the whole dumb thing. I tend to like Robin Williams in certain, very specific roles (One Hour Photo comes to mind) but when he plays in movies like this, he's ANNOYING AS FUCK. Ugh. I wanted to kick him in the head. Hard.

And John Krasinski...oh, John Krasinski. I love the guy, but either he's only good at playing one role, or he just wasn't trying. The movie might as well have been subtitled If Jim Halpert Was Engaged to a Shrew and Wacky Shit Happened Before They Could Tie the Knot. Seriously, even his facial expressions were the same. It was like watching Jim in some horrible alternate universe where Robin Williams made him carry creepy robot babies around. It was awful. The whole movie was just...awful. I could feel my brain cells shriveling up and dying the longer it went on.

And you know what? FUCK THOSE FUCKING ROBOT BABIES. GOD DAMMIT. Animatronic things are creepy enough, but the younger they are, the creepier and more wrong they become. Robot babies? God, they're like the spawn of Satan. They haunt my nightmares, with their wide, creepy mouths and their cold, dead eyes. When the robot apocalypse arrives, these little fuckers are going to be leading the charge. I wouldn't lie about something so horrible.

Bottom line? Unless you really have no use for your brain cells anymore, don't bother with this one. SRSLY.

Film Review: Babel

Babel - directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

I think I expected too much from this movie. I'd been wanting to see it for ages, since I remembered all the Oscar buzz about it and I loved 21 Grams, but...I don't know. I think I was hoping for something that would affect me the way 21 Grams did -- I was WRECKED after that movie -- but after the credits rolled I just sort of sat there and went, "Huh," and that was about it.

It was good, don't get me wrong. It was really, really good. The acting was wonderful, and a lot of the cinematography was breathtaking, just absolutely beautiful, but the emotional connection that I was looking for was absent, and I'm not sure why. I felt for all of the characters, and a few of the sequences were quite hard-hitting, but ultimately I think the structure that worked so well in 21 Grams actually failed this particular film, especially with the sequences in Japan. To make that sort of "connected through time and geography" setup work, you need to have strong, clear ties between the separate stories. And while the connection between the Japanese story and the one in Morocco was eventually explained (and fairly interesting, actually), I think we found out about it too late, which took away from the emotional impact of it.

What I usually like about movies like this is the sense of fate involved. One seemingly random choice made by one person sets off a whole chain of events that affects characters in ways they never would've imagined. There's a sense of inevitability involved -- even though no one could've predicted that one event, the way everything eventually turns out feels as though it could've gone no other way. The characters are caught up in a story that's completely out of their control, and whether it's a matter of fate or cruel cosmic chance, watching the characters struggle with their place in the inevitable river of time and circumstance is the stuff tragedy is made of.

There are a few moments like that in Babel. When Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett are on the bus, and the viewer knows what's's excruciating. The scene with Amelia and the children out in the California desert had a similar feel. But there were also a lot of moments where the characters just seemed sort of lost, not in a grand, cosmic way, but more in a "the writer didn't exactly know what to do with this plotline" kind of way, and I think that's ultimately where I was disappointed. I wanted a sense of meaning -- even if that meaning was nothing more than "shit happens and we deal" -- but that meaning was nowhere to be found. It was a good movie, perhaps even a great one, but in the end I think it could've been a lot more amazing than what it was.

Book Review: The Five Fists of Science

The Five Fists of Science, by Matt Fraction (with pretty, pretty pictures by Steven Sanders)

Here's what you need to know about The Five Fists of Science: it doesn't take itself seriously. At all. If you go in knowing that, then you'll be okay. I can't even count how many reviews I've read since I finished the book that said, "Well, it was okay...but Alan Moore does it better."

Dude. Of course Alan Moore does it better. But these guys aren't trying to be Alan Moore.

The book, basically, is a graphic novel about Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla, Baroness Bertha von Suttner, and a totally fictional assistant named Timothy Boone teaming up against the forces of this case, J.P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Andrew Carnegie, with a rather hapless Guglielmo Marconi along for the ride. The forces of evil are building Innsmouth Tower in New York, but they're running into some problems where mysteriously dying workers are concerned.

Think about that a second. Innsmouth Tower? That should be a clue right there that the story is going to veer off into totally giddy insanity.

And it does! There are giant robots! And Tesla's (entirely true!) obsessive-compulsive issues. And Mark Twain yelling, "SCIENCE!" at people a lot. It's awesome.

The story is about real historical figures, and does have some grounding in fact -- Twain and Tesla were apparently very close friends, Tesla did write about some war machine he'd thought of that could potentially bring about peace because no one would be stupid enough to really use it, Mark Twain had gone on record saying that the only real way to achieve world peace would be to equip the four major powers with enough weaponry that they could bully everyone else into being good, Marconi and Edison both were known for stealing other people's ideas (it wasn't until the 1940's that the Supreme Court finally acknowledged that Tesla was technically the person who should've held the patent for the radio), and Edison and Tesla had been at each other's throats for years. Fraction uses those historical facts as a jumping-off point for a story that's completely goofy, over-the-top, and fun, and I think quite a few reviewers were expecing something more along the lines of From Hell, where random (or not so random) historical facts are woven together into something that comments both on society then and now.

But there's no shame in not going that route, which is why I enjoyed the book so much. Sanders' artwork is perfect for the story -- all of the characters are easily recognizable as themselves, and the coloring is vivid and rich and beautiful. There's fun background business in quite a few of the panels, and the timing is glorious -- Sanders and Fraction complement each other, I think, and the neither the writing nor the artwork dominates. Some of the sight gags are utterly hilarious, and there are some moments where it's the juxtaposition of the text with the art that really hits the joke home.

Because that's the thing about this book. You're not supposed to take it seriously, and it's definitely not meant to be an explanation for things that actually happened. In some ways, it feels like a wonderfully written AU-fanfic. For the most part, we're already familiar with the characters involved, and so Fraction doesn't feel like he has to explain every little bit of context for us. Some people don't like that; I didn't mind it. I picked this up because I wanted to see Twain and Tesla fighting crime (WITH SCIENCE!), not because I wanted a serious expose on the nature of scientific discovery and invention at the end of the nineteenth century.

And boy howdy, does it deliver. It makes me sad that there's no sequel, because I'd buy it in a heartbeat.


The 2008 List

I thought it might be interesting to keep track of all the books and movies I go through over the course of a year's time...and write reviews for as many as I can. What can I say? At heart, I'm a critic.

The stuff in italics are the things I've seen/read for the first time.

The 2008 Book List:
- Thief of Time, by Terry Pratchett
- Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
- The Five Fists of Science, by Matt Fraction (art by Steven Sanders)
- Predatory Dinosaurs of the World, by Gregory S. Paul
- Tesla: Man Out of Time, by Margaret Cheney
- The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
- Sourcery, by Terry Pratchett
- Perfect Circle, by Sean Stewart
- From a Buick 8, by Stephen King
- 20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill

- Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett

- The Gangs of New York, by Herbert Asbury
- Gun, With Occasional Music, by Jonathan Lethem
- Skin Hunger, by Kathleen Duey

- Jennifer Government, by Max Barry
- Motherless Brooklyn, by Jonathan Lethem
- Society of the Mind, by Eric L. Harry
- The Areas of My Expertise, by John Hodgman

- How the Mind Works, by Steven Pinker
- The Town That Forgot How To Breathe, by Kenneth J. Harvey
- A Companion to Wolves, by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

- Grimspace, by Ann Aguirre

Temporarily Abandoned (due to suck):
- Dies the Fire, by SM Stirling

The 2008 Movie List:
- The Big White
- Maxed Out
- Fido
- The Call of Cthulhu
- Babel
- License to Wed
- Quiz Show
- Raising Arizona
- South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
- Cars
- The Rescuers Down Under
- Little Miss Sunshine
- Half Nelson
- Rescue Dawn
- Scotland, PA
- Sin City
- The Darwin Awards
- Shortbus

- Sense and Sensibility
- There Will Be Blood

- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
- Pride & Prejudice (BBC version)
- In Bruges
- Jar City
- Ladyhawke
- Day Watch

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

They're Coming to Get You, Barbara

I'd resisted the Blogger siren call for ages, although looking back on it, I'm not sure why. I like airing my id all over the internet. Perhaps it was my misguided loyalty to Livejournal, which has been my teacher mother secret lover boon companion since I was a tender seventeen year-old. But...I have to keep the lj friends-locked for the most part (long, incredibly boring story), and I'm far too lazy to create a new one. Logging in and out of various journals? Pssssh. Lame. Blogger, here I come.

Now I have the best of both worlds! Why oh why didn't I do this sooner?

(What's sad is that I'll probably just end up using this as a place to geek out about things in essay form. Geeky essays soothe my sick, twisted little soul.)