Saturday, November 27, 2010

Player One

This is the first Douglas Coupland novel I've read. I picked it up on a trip to Boston, as it had the appeal of being "A Novel in Five Hours", which, it took me a moment to realize, is the reading time, not the writing time.

So -- I found it fascinating and engaging, but for me, it kind of jumped the shark when the shotgun came out. Why is there always a shotgun? Nonetheless, it was simple, straightforward, and enjoyable -- I particularly liked the business of seeing the same scenes multiple times from the points of view of different characters.

It has a pleasing surprise at the end, as well -- a thirty-page section called "Future Legend", which is a glossary of terms. Some terms were used in the book, but others are just concepts that the book touched on, and still others are not in the book at all. Almost all of them show Coupland's passion for previously unlabeled psychological phenomena.

Some examples:
Drinking Your Own Spit: That's what it feels like to see yourself on TV. 

Fictive Rest: The common inability of many people to be able to sleep until they have read even the tiniest amount of fiction. Although the element of routine is important at sleep time, reading fiction in bed allows another person's inner voice to hijack one's own, thus relaxing and lubricating the brain for sleep cycles. One booby trap, though: Don't finish  your book before you fall asleep. Doing so miraculously keeps your brain whizzing for hours.

Omniscience Fatigue: The burnout that comes with being able to know the answer to almost any question online.
 Anyway, reading this has certainly made me curious to read some other Coupland novels. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tarbell vol. 2

More amazing writing about magic. The highlight for me is "Lesson 20: How to Please Your Audience." It's worth it's weight in gold. There's a great billiard ball routine in here too (Lesson 29), and some very affordable homemade stage illusions (Lesson 33).

It's a Wonderful Life

I think I like all Frank Capra movies, and how can anyone not like this one? Okay, sure, it was overplayed on TV in the eighties. People call it cornball and sentimental, and it is those things, but of course it also has an attempted suicide, a child beaten til he bleeds from the ear, a bar fight, drunk driving, an implied nude scene, and whatever is going on with Violet. Its relentless illustration of the Christian dilemma makes it hard to ignore, and it is just about the only Christmas movie I know that is about Christianity and little else. It's a tough movie for kids to take -- but I'm pretty sure it's good for them. I remember it being good for me.

Now, we all recognize that this is a classic film, and generally, that this is a family film. So, Paramount home video, what is up with you? You proudly call this the "60th Anniversary Edition" DVD, and have some nice extras on it. But... first you make my family sit through a preview of Last Holiday (2006), which gets a 54% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is rated PG-13, and while the trailer claims it is for "All Audiences", it features phrases like "what the hell" and someone grabbing Queen Latifah's ass. And it isn't like this was one of my many previews on here -- it is the ONLY preview on the disc. Really Paramount? This is your move? Does Mr. Potter own you, too?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Keep It Hid

I was kind of hoping I wouldn't like this Dan Auerbach album, so I could ask for my Dam Auerbach. Anyway, I kind of liked it -- it's sort of a white man's blues kind of thing, that varies from Jimi Hendrix style electric numbers to quiet folky stuff.


Yeah, Labyrinth. I don't know what more to say about this -- it was on my mind after I used the ending in my virtual character talk, so I watched it with the family. This movie is a special landmark because it was one of the last fantasy movies made before 3D CG. It really is very special, a special present from Jim Henson. I don't think we can ever see anything like this again. How pleasing that films tend to stay.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

All Things Considered

No, not the radio show -- rather, a book of essays by G. K. Chesterton. These were not anything particularly special -- he is simply reacting to events of his day, seemingly just to get an article written, in most cases. Nonetheless, it is a pleasure to hear him talk, and to hear him think. I rather enjoyed this passage, part of an essay about the purpose of universities: 
It is not only possible to say a great deal in praise of play; it is really possible to say the highest things in praise of it. It might reasonably be maintained that the true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. To be at last in such secure innocence that one can juggle with the universe and the stars, to be so good that one can treat everything as a joke--that may be, perhaps, the real end and final holiday of human souls.
 In all, the text is surely not his finest work, and he admits it. But if you like Chesterton, this is a nice way to spend an afternoon with him. 

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

How could I not like this movie? Just Terry Gilliam + Tom Waits alone was enough to bring me in. And of course, it is, in some sense, a story of Terry Gilliam, on top of that. I wish I understood the marks that Tony had, though -- I feel like I missed something. At first I thought it was some kind of Cain thing, but now I'm sure I don't get it. I surely loved the eerie beauty of this film, and it was nice to see all of Gilliam's favorite things (victorian era theater, little people, magic portals, cutout animation, the devil, rich old ladies, etc.) laid out in such cheerful display. But... what happened to Anton?

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Games We Played

A totally different book than this one, I expected this would be the typical collection of photos of 20th century board games, with a few token pics of earlier games. But, to my surprise, it consists entirely of pictures and stories of 19th century games, and to that end it was very enlightening and educational. It is amazing to see how little the game industry has changed -- games still prey on parents' desires to better educate their children, and they still overhype the nature of the play on the cover of the box, and when one good, new, popular idea appears, dozens of ripoffs and sequels naturally follow. The book is enjoyable and enlightening, and it is surprising to realize what dazzling color artwork was possible for mass produced games two centuries ago.

The Sparrow

This was a SNIB (Schell games Non-Intellectual Book club) reading a few months back. It is definitely one of the most unusual science fiction books I've ever read. It has a distinctly feminine perspective, though most of the characters are male. It is quite interesting to put it side by side with another recent SNIB reading, The Left Hand of Darkness.

Some spoilers below. 

At first, I couldn't relate to this book, or any characters in it. But gradually, they began to grow on me. Soon, it was really a book about characters, and not so much about events. The events are incredibly bizarre, and I found myself grinding my teeth in frustration at the unrealistic actions and reactions the characters were having to events. Like, you spend a year traveling to a distant planet, and when you get there, you don't bother to attempt radio communication with the inhabitants, who you know have radio communication. You just put down and land. But, I understood -- if the characters acted with any common sense, the peculiar story would not have been able to happen, and the point of the story is to question our relationship with God and the universe, I guess.

So, in short, this is, without a doubt, the best book I've ever read about a priest getting sodomized by aliens.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Mysterious Benedict Society

I had been hearing recommendations about this book for ages, but finally got around to reading it. It really did a great job of sweeping me away -- I found myself deeply curious about what would happen. The book really captures what it feels like to be a smart kid, trapped in a situation where powerful people are doing stupid things. When I was a kid, the closest we had was A Wrinkle in Time, which, I'm just gonna say, starts strong, and gets cornier as it progresses. I believe that college kids in the year 2018 will connect over their shared nostalgia for how this book made them feel less alone when they were in the fifth grade.

I imagine there will be a movie, and I imagine that it will be disappointing.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Nanny McPhee Returns

We saw this in the theater, and I was surprised at how classy it was. It was a simple, sweet movie, perfect for kids. Another great example of a film made mostly by women.

Friday, November 5, 2010

9 to 5

When I was a kid, I loved this movie. I think maybe I just love Lily Tomlin. When I happened to see it on, I wondered if it would still hold up for me. I found myself absolutely amazed at how efficiently it was structured -- every moment contributes to multiple meanings and purposes, there is hardly a wasted word in the whole script. I could watch this again and again, just like I did when I was a kid! I had to wonder who wrote this? And who directed it? And the answer is Colin Higgins, with co-writing by Patricia Resnick. So, who is Colin Higgins? Well, he's the director of Foul Play, Silver Streak, as well, and he wrote Harold and Maude -- so, it turns out a lot of seventies movies came from him -- so where did he go? Sadly, he died of AIDS in 1988 when he was only 47. Bummer. But at least we still have his films!