(500) Days of Summer

I’m somewhere in between on (500) Days of Summer, a film which deftly shows the more uncomfortable side of dating. Roger Ebert’s review gave the film a top-rating, citing the style and substance of the portrayal:
    We never remember in chronological order, especially when we’re going back over a failed romance. We start near the end, and then hop around between the times that were good and the times that left pain. People always say “start at the beginning,” but we didn’t know at the time it was the beginning. "500 Days of Summer" is a movie that works that way.
Film Freak Central’s review was little more caustic in its appraisal:
    (500) Days of Summer is another entry in a bizarre trend of films expecting a medal and a cookie for recognizing romcom clichés and concluding that relationships are difficult (see also: He's Just Not That Into You, Whatever Works, the upcoming Paper Heart, and the narrative distractions from the raw emotional power of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), respectively, although there is, admittedly, some instinct that makes you want to play along with this one. You'd like nothing more than some assurance that the smug asshole hitting on the protag's girlfriend will get punched in the mouth--but attendant to that is a peculiar desire to see said asshole defy convention by rising up from the floor and slugging the guy right back. Each of these scenarios plays out in (500) Days of Summer: in an admirable attempt to strike at both the base of the spine and the depths of the brain, hopeless romanticism shares time with intellectual cynicism without ever pretending they can be truly reconciled in matters of romance.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a screen presence, and plays the role of Tom to a tee. Tom, you see, is a romantic who sets his sights on Summer, who is not a romantic. Even though Summer warns him she’s not interested in a serious relationship, he allows himself to fall in love during their ‘casual’ relationship. As predicted, there are serious side effects for Tom, but not for Summer.
The harsh truth is that in most relationships that end, by the time they are over, one partner is much less invested than the other. Think about every time that you’ve broken up with someone; that’s how the person who broke up with you felt about you. Ouch. To complicate things, Tom’s desire to be an architect is stalled, possibly by his own unexpected happiness with Summer. In a scene when Tom honestly examines when “the end” of his relationship started, he realizes it was at a viewing of “The Graduate”. He may not be certain why, but we know that Summer crying means that the ending reminded her that they may be happy now, but the future is very uncertain and not exactly favorable. Ironically, her act of pulling away forces him to abandon his crappy job and start doing what he loves. Maybe she knew that he was complacent with her and was trying to motivate him in the only way possible. Maybe she really didn’t think about him all that much. Either way, the cathartic act of crushing his hopes of love enabled him to grow in his career dreams, and perhaps toward healing love with someone he has more in common with in the end. The journey he takes is at times funny, sad, romantic and brutal.

In retrospect, the more I think about it, the more I think “(500) Days of Summer isn’t just a quirky film, but a brave, smart film about growth, potential, and the importance of having relationships, not just the ones that succeed.


The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

By the time I got to the cliffhanger end of The Girl Who Played With Fire, I was too stoked to let something like an sequel’s release date interfere with my reading schedule. Having the resources (I call it “The Internet”) to acquire an advance copy (it was released in England early) using privileged sellers (Amazon.uk), I didn’t have to wait long before The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest was in my possession.

The funny thing is, once I got it, like capricious child who forgets their desired toy once it is acquired, I put off reading it for a few months. At first, it was (I told myself) out of desire to avoid overkill – I don’t read the same genre or series back-to-back to prevent over saturation and to keep my reading versatile. Then it was a matter of practicality – the book itself is 700 pages in hardcover, and not very conducive for reading on planes or traveling.

Finally, as my (future) wife got impatient with me and started reading it for herself, it was wistfulness. One of the reasons I picked up the series in the first place was the story of the author and how it was written. Stieg Larsson wrote the first three manuscripts, submitted them, began working on a fourth and then died suddenly, before the first book became an international phenomenon. He couldn’t have known his character of Lisbeth Salander would become one of the most beloved modern heroines in many years.

I couldn’t have predicted how reluctant I was to read what was very likely to be the last Salander story. It was a mixture of the eagerness of Christmas morning with the hope that you would have some kind of closure, and incidentally not suck. And I wanted to savor having one more book to read for a while before I read.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest met my expectations, using the trial of Lisbeth Salander as the major plot piece. Larsson used the first three books in his series to set up the background of Salander and bring that story arc to a conclusion. Without spoiling any of the content, the feeling at the ‘conclusion’ was that I had just finished reading the origin story of Salander and Blomkvist, and there would be many adventures to come. It was a tale that stands entirely by itself without need of follow-up, yet presents a strong foundation with a blank slate of possibilities to come.

Perhaps someone will finish the fourth book, or gain the rights to write continuing adventures. But for now I’ll be satisfied with the memories of a great story of a remarkable author. (Until the Fincher movie that is!)


Y: The Last Man

With absolute sincerity, but no expectation of fulfillment by anyone, I endorse reading the entire Y: The Last Man comic series.  The run, scripted by Lost genius Brian K. Vaughn, was just over 60 issues.  It takes over 10 trade paperbacks volumes to cover the story of Yorick, the last man on Earth.

How did Yorick become the last man on Earth?  All the other male mammals just one day fell over and died.  Why did they die is the question that Yorick tries to ask while surviving in a literal woman's world.  Using multiple story arcs that intelligently explore the void and the ways women were free to expand or curtail their own behaviors, the plot of figuring out just what happened is always the simmering background to the fascinating situations and interactions presented by Vaughn.  The ending is a compelling, brave, and fitting conclusion to the saga that is worthy of the accolades it has received.

Throughout the tale, Yorick is helped along by mysterious Agent 355, a strong, intelligent, fierce, sexual woman who is a lot more mature, serious and lethal than our remaining man.  Y has imagination and doesn't shy away from nudity, violence, and even the occasional cuss.  It's an empowered saga that is not exploitative, not whimsical, and not easily ignored once started.

Via Wikipedia, "Y: The Last Man, Volume 10: Whys and Wherefores" was nominated for the first Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. In 2008, Y: The Last Man won the Eisner Award for Best Continuing Series.  You can get all the paperbacks on Amazon used.  I started out by getting only the first couple, but I'll save you the time by telling you you'll want to finish the story, and have to share on your own.  And if you're really nice maybe I'll let you borrow them.

Illium / Olympos

I read the outstanding science-fiction duology of Illium and Olympos sometime last year. In case you haven’t noticed of recent, I’ve been ‘cleaning out my closet’ with a slew of blog posts about things I’ve been meaning to get to, but for mysterious other reasons, I haven’t really had the time. Okay, the reasons are quite pedestrian, but they needn’t concern you now. What you must embrace is that I am back for my usual limited-time engagement; to promise any more would be an insult to my incredibly knowledgeable core of readers. Flattery is a much better approach.

In any event, because the delay has dulled my memory to the point where I can’t recall the demarcation point between the two novels, and because it is actually one story broken into two because Dan Simmons can’t write a grocery list that is not 1400 pages (this is not a bad thing as it is with Stephanie Meyer), and because I don’t want to prolong the delay of my ever-so-precious thoughts, and because I don’t want this sentence to ever, ever end, I decided to combine the two into a single mini-review. After all, who would read the cliffhanger after 700 pages and not finish?

The elements of the story are as follows: Shakespearian play “The Tempest”, Greek Gods, biomechanical organisms, Trojan War, quantum theory, Amazons, a lusty reconstructed history professor, teleportation, genocide, far-future evolution and technology, and very very bad villains. Why, you just shake up the pieces and it writes itself! The story begins on a future Earth, populated by benign humans who have become soft and content with a pleasurable existence and being served by strange automatons. A few new humans begin to ask questions, and their safe society begins to unravel. In another part of the solar system, faux-Greek Gods, self-styled superhumans brought about by technological advances, play god, literally, with Achillies and Hector in their version of the Trojan War, reported on by replications of actual historians who zip around with quantum teleportation. Finally, biomechanical organisms, curious about the disruptions caused by both, send representatives to investigate. Sounds like a remake of On Golden Pond.

This duology is Simmons doing his “literary fiction”, applied to the science-fiction level. Smaller in scope (how could it be larger?) than his celebrated Hyperion series, but the themes and scenes resonate with me many months later. As with Hyperion I will keep these books on my re-reading list; Simmons length of story is carried well by the richness of subject matter and inventive mix of themes, characters, and interwoven plot.


Bathroom Remodeling

It worked so well last time we went to Kaua'i that we tried the same strategy this trip: arrange for a remodeling project to take place while we were out of town.  Last time it was the kitchen, this time, the bathroom.

On the list of much needed upgrades, we wanted a new tub, larger tile, more space, heated tile floors, granite countertop, new mirror, an "greener" toilet.  In other words, we had the place gutted.

One of our contractor's (highly recommended, again, his site is My Handy Guy, LLC) first suggestions was to flip the door so that it swings out.  That turned out to be a vast improvement to the space issue.  Especially considering we don't have a lot to work with.

The old toilet...

 And the new toilet.  We also replaced the little toilet paper spooler with a stand.  You see the tile changed a little, too.  Instead of whites and biege (someone thought this was a good idea once), we went with blues, grays, whites and blacks.  Turns out getting a matching shower curtain was the most challenging thing.
The original tub was, well original with the house -- small and showing years of abuse.  As does the white tile.
The window is nice, but cleaning the grout and replacing every six months was a pain.  The grouting was just terrible.

The new tub, with matching tile to the floor:
 With a flash on the camera, this shows the color better, the cubby-hole and some of the glass design above.
 Here's the glass design and shower head:
 For the sink, our handy photographer shows of the old-school accoutrements:
 And a view from the tub:
 Now we have this:
 Natural-light view:

And of course, actual drawers right next to the heater.  Can't say enough about heated tile in the mornings or especially late at night.

And now shower time is happy time.  Which is not to say shower time isn't always happy time, but when I open my eyes after cleaning my face, I don't have to avert my gaze at the rest of the bathroom.

Up In The Air

It’s not a romantic comedy, it’s much more visceral, more real than that. Up in the Air is a movie about how people deal with loss. I don’t know if the marketing strategy was to make it look like a romantic comedy to draw in that audience innocently (for more money) or to do it for mischievous purposes of giving that audience a sucker punch in the gut. In retrospect, it seemed almost evil to market the film during the Valentine’s Day season – I remember saying to people do not go see it if you think it is going to be fun and light.

This is not to say that I didn’t really love the film, because it’s heartbreaking, funny, and littered with well-rounded characters and situations. Clooney is his usual excellent, engaging self, and Anna Kendrick as his protégé in the business of firing people, both garnered Academy Award nods for their work. The most complex and interesting character belongs to a woman, that of Clooney’s love interest, played by Vera Farminga. Although she was also nominated for an Academy Award, the notice was far less high in the media.

Up In the Air, like Jason Reitman’s debut Juno, is a film about something, about the people in the situations, and not necessarily about resolutions or endings.

Michael Clayton

George Clooney not so much stars in the film Michael Clayton as anchors the serious talent of supporting roles that move the action of the picture. Michael is a corporate fixer, a former lawyer who found that his niche, what he is best at, has gotten him into a long rut that he doesn’t have a way out of and is getting deeper by the minute. The excellent Tom Wilkinson, his firm’s ace lawyer, has just stripped down naked, literally, in a three-billion-dollar lawsuit deposition. His unsubtle announcement alerts all the players that the architect of the pharmaceutical giant’s defense might just be having a serious change of heart and might switch sides. Michael is brought in to calm the situation before it explodes.

The film Michael Clayton, like its titular character, has a quiet intensity, intrigue, and charm. There are many moments of silence in the film, where characters convey feelings and attitude with a glance or long look, but the movie never feels slow or burdened by “acting”. That quiet intensity burns in the silences, the pauses, making the beating heart of the film palpably felt. Engaging and excellent from start to finish.


The Informant!

Stephen Soderberg's The Informant tells the bizarre story of corporate whistle-blower Mark Whitacre, in a fascinating, sad, sometimes hard-to-believe-it's-true tale. Ostensibly marketed as a comedy, the film doesn't fit the advertising as billed, only incidentally as outrageous behavior. It is funny, but you get involved with the characters who get in deeper and deeper as the whistle-blowing becomes much much more than the FBI expects.

Matt Damon nails it as Whitacre. Packing on a few pounds and a engagingly offensive moustache, Damon narrates the film honestly, albeit unreliably. His strange observances are occasionally brilliant ("Polar Bears put their hands to their nose when they lean over holes in the ice. That way the seals can't see them because they are all white and think it is okay to come up. Now what I want to know is how the Polar Bears came up with this. Do they think, "If only I could hide this black nose -- then I would be invisible!") and, ultimately revealed to be exactly what he is thinking. During a distressing dress-down in front of the FBI, the narration becomes just a precursor for Whitacre's actual words, until his own narration becomes defeated.

Scott Bakula is the counter to Whitacre, the FBI guy who believes it all, and gets caught up in the web of lies and deception. You feel for the guy, an agent trying to do the right thing, only to discover his witness is the worst choice ever.

Subtle, funny, sad, and great in that truth-is-stranger-than-fiction way, The Informant! is a damn good flick.

The Brethren

Not exciting, not terrible, I'd say that The Brethren is kinda mediocre. But the fact is that I've listened to the audio book three times now since I purchased it back in 2004, and I think that I have to relegate it to a guilty fictional pleasure.

The Brethren is a "thriller" about three federally-incarcerated judges who have set up their own letter-writing entrapment scams, operating out of a Florida jail. The book revolves around their involvement with an up-in-coming congressman who is being set up for a White House run, sponsored by some powerful men.

The topic of 'letter-writing' already dates the book to pre-email, pre-Internet, pre-Facebook or any of the other anonymous social sites. The scams have upgraded with technology, but the book doesn't suffer from it; Grisham moves the pace of the colliding factors along such that it never drags or bores. The characters are well drawn, particularly the paternal CIA mastermind and the most scheming judge. And the book is strangely satisfying in the end, even though it is Grisham's trademark non-whopping end. Good, not great. Assuming this is the feel of a typical trade pulp paperback, good enough to entertain but not a helluva lot to dwell on after. Beach book.


Left Behind

I read the first 70 pages of the Left Behind series and then promptly through it across the room satisfied that whatever story there might have been left to tell (all 11 books’ worth), I couldn’t trust the writers to get me there without brain damage. Little did I know that I would read virtually the entire book and much more later on, only this time with running commentary that was insightful, outrageous, and incredibly entertaining. Yes, this was still Left Behind, but narrated by an Evangelist who has proved by wading through every single page that the book (and series) may be the worst book of all time.

That is not hyperbole. The worst book of all time. The same book that Revelationists by the millions have read, that many Christians everywhere down as good Christian fiction. That book.

This kind of detailed, thorough and entertaining pasting of material is just an expansion of my love of well-written movie reviews. I can’t help but gravitate to the hilarious scathings of Walter Chaw against the likes of Sex and the City 2 (if you haven’t read it, the movie is a plausible reason for the Middle East to hate us). Likewise, when a reviewer articulates a film’s excellence using literature reference or historical insight, it’s a pleasure to read.

I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed a more thorough, serious, and hilarious deconstruction of a fiction ever before. Nor can I say I’ve seen the breadth of it before or since, as the Frank’s deconstruction is much, much longer than the Left Behind book itself.

Why dedicate so much time to this seemingly pointless task? As you get absorbed into his writing, it is quick to see that every page of Left Behind teems with one or more of the following:
  • “heroes” that are uniformly insipid, delusional, self-righteous, cowardly, creepy, fake, and loathsome
  • plot points that are outrageously unbelievable
  • dialogue that alternates between tedious and inadvertently hilarious
  • inaction upon inaction
  • at least one phone call
The point is not (entirely) to deride the writers for their lack of skill, but to illustrate the mistakes so that good writers can avoid their errors. And evil judgments.

Fred Clark’s introduction to the series analysis says bluntly:
    These books are evil, anti-Christian crap.
Not one to take it out of context, or why I found the series so compelling, here’s his original first post:
    The apocalyptic heresies rampant in American evangelicalism are more popular than ever. It's easy to dismiss these loopy ideas as a lunatic fringe, but that would be a mistake. The widespread popularity of this End Times mania has very real and very dangerous consequences, for America and for the church. ("Premillennial dispensationalism" -- the technical terms for what these prophecy freaks teach -- teaches that the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to Christians living today. It also undermines the core of Christianity -- Jesus' death and resurrection, and the hope of that resurrection. These are not tangential matters for Christians.)

    The cultural standard bearer for these Very Bad Ideas is the "Left Behind" series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. These books have become so popular that every pastor in America is now confronted with the task of gently, pastorally explaining to their congregation why the theology of these books is misguided and misguiding.

    I'm not a pastor, so I won't be pastoral here. These books are evil, anti-Christian crap. This weekend, I'm beginning a new series of posts in which I'll go through these books, page by page.

    Millions of your fellow citizens are reading these books. Millions. If you're wondering what that means for you, read the following, from Glenn Scherer in E magazine:
    In his book The Carbon Wars, Greenpeace activist Jeremy Leggett tells how he stumbled upon this otherworldly agenda. During the Kyoto climate change negotiations, Leggett candidly asked Ford Motor Company executive John Schiller how opponents of the pact could believe there is no problem with “a world of a billion cars intent on burning all the oil and gas available on the planet?” The executive asserted first that scientists get it wrong when they say fossil fuels have been sequestered underground for eons. The Earth, he said, is just 10,000, not 4.5 billion years old, the age widely accepted by scientists.

    Then Schiller confidently declared, “You know, the more I look, the more it is just as it says in the Bible.” The Book of Daniel, he told Leggett, predicts that increased earthly devastation will mark the “End Time” and return of Christ. Paradoxically, Leggett notes, many fundamentalists see dying coral reefs, melting ice caps and other environmental destruction not as an urgent call to action, but as God’s will. Within the religious right worldview, the wreck of the Earth can be seen as Good News!

    Some true believers, interpreting biblical prophecy, are sure they will be saved from the horrific destruction brought by ecosystem collapse. They’ll be raptured: rescued from Earth by God, who will then rain down seven ghastly years of misery on unbelieving humanity. Jesus’ return will mark the Millennium, when the Lord restores the Earth to its green pristine condition, and the faithful enjoy a thousand years of peace and prosperity.
This is enjoyable, fun research into religion and how people think. It’s scary that someone wrote this and that millions of people thought it was ‘the truth’. Just read a few and you’ll be laughing and shaking your head. And maybe a little scared.

Although this is the main link, the pages are not indexed in a way conducive to easy reading. An indexed version is actually found on the side bar of this fan site. Yes, a fan site of a Biblical fiction book reviewer. It’s that good.


Coffee and Facebook

I logged one of my "favorite posts" about the lack of respect for the Phantom Menace back in 2003, and I still get the occasional comment about that blog. I happened to glance through my thoughts from seven (!) years ago, and found this passage (emphasis mine):
    Here's a short list of some things that I don't get: The Dave Matthews Band, movie musicals, Terry Gilliam films, Care Bears, divas, country music, lederhosen, coffee, and twizzlers. I'm not a fan of any of those things, and don't care to listen/eat/watch/wear (match appropriately, please) any of them.
Well, everything is consistent in that list, if somewhat irrelevant, except for coffee. I love coffe now, and I drink it just about every day. Not a lot, as is my character -- perhaps a cup a day at most -- but I do enjoy very good coffee. I'd say I'm even a coffee snob (proudly), that I prefer fresh beans, local coffee houses, Fresh Press, and sugar cubes.

One thing that is fun about getting older is that I appreciate different things. Frankly, I'm relieved I still don't like any of the other things on that list. My tastes are still impeccable.

Now, to add to that list: Facebook. I don't get Facebook. It feels like a fake social scene, and it gives me the creeps. I do however enjoy listening to my friends complain about who 'friended' who, dealing with parents on Facebook, getting Facebook stalked, etc. I recently ran into someone I've known for years who assumed I did not 'friend' her (excuse if I don't know the lingo) because we weren't friends anymore. When I explained that I have never* had an account, she admitted that it never occurred to her that could be the explanation. Which I found to be quite hilarious.

Although I have had a public blog for years, I consider my social internet footprint to be very light, and I want it to stay that way. When recruiters say they can't find my Facebook or Twitter or MySpace account or any data on me on the internet, I am overtly pleased. I enjoy technology, but I don't want an iPhone, I don't want to tell people what I'm doing every minute, don't want to be available for a call or talk on the Metro every day, work while I am driving my car, or socialize with people I won't ever see again.

Now, like coffee, maybe I'll change my mind in a few years. If I do, I hope the technology is as delicious.

* - I had a Facebook account for exactly 20 minutes in 2008. In that time, a "friend" messaged me "Ha! Knew you couldn't hold out!" and another posted a picture on my account. That was enough badgering for a lifetime and I killed the account.

The Runaways

Typically these days, I’ll use the slightly ironic phrase “It didn’t suck!” to describe something that was far from sucking, that was actually very, very good. In the case of the film The Runaways, I also find myself saying, “It didn’t suck,” only this time in a flat, uninterested monotone. For a movie about an in-your-face, flash-in-the-pan, kick-ass-girls-band in a time when girls didn’t rock, having a reaction equivalent to that shrug of the shoulders feels like a personal kick in the teeth to the film. So what if it’s true.

The Runaways is sexy in the way that showing two girls making out is sexy, but taking away that, it is your standard sex, drugs, rock-and-roll fare. Plebian at best, I might say in slight derision. I wanted to like this film, I wanted to like the story, but the story itself wasn’t all that interesting. Maybe the true story wasn’t that interesting to begin with, I don’t know.

But believe the hype: What elevates the film above its story and its presentation are the two lead actresses. Fanning is just on the cusp of adulthood… – wait, scratch that. Fanning is 17 years old and about to enter the legal voting age. No one who thinks they are an adult at 21 or 25 thinks they were anymore when they get to 35. Working in the cutthroat Hollywood industry, Fanning may be a veteran and older than her years, but she’s still a kid. So in lieu of being asked to fight a war and grow up a little faster, we’ll say that Fanning is on the cusp of being friends with someone who is of legal drinking age.

I digress, but the awkwardness of Fanning’s body transition to “adulthood” works perfectly with the role of Cheri Currie, the likewise underage “jailbait” lead singer, as quoted from the band’s enthusiastic manager. Fanning’s exploration of her new sexuality in a teeny, adolescent body, feels clumsy, new, awkward to look at, and strange. It’s difficult to know where the acting began and Fanning ended.

Similar in start-and-end, but entirely different in presentation, Kristen Stewart owns the poise, body language, and attitude of Joan Jett. She bears a striking resemblance to the singer, and has an undeniable presence in every scene she’s in.

Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning didn’t suck, but their movie vehicle almost did.


Public Enemies

I didn't see it on the big screen, but I don't regret spending any more than a rental fee on Public Enemies. Although you have the star power of Johnny Depp, Marion Cotillard, and Christian Bale, I couldn't escape the feeling of boredom as I sat through normally-uber-reliable Michael Mann's retelling of John Dillinger's last days.

Yes, the details are impeccably there. Yes, Depp is charismatic as Dillinger. Yes, I was checking my watch. I found the movie to be less interesting than the History channel's hour-long special on Dillinger, and certainly less detailed. The first public enemy number one, the story of the FBI's creation, the real-life story didn't need to be recreated or embellished for dramatic purposes. I suppose this is a case where if you know nothing about the events, you'll actually enjoy the movie. So, either watch the History channel biography or the movie, but not both. Don't end up like me; no one should be bored with Depp.

District 9

Borrowing from my insightful wife's mouth, in a word, District 9 is "gross". To her chagrin, I add, "yet strangely intriguing, exciting, intense, and difficult to turn off." The tale of a racist South African's inadvertent involvement (to say the least) in interspecies intrigue is rife with gut-checking gore, unrepentant violence, villains without remorse, thrilling action and moments of emotional resolve. Quite an achievement for first-time director Neill Blomkamp.

Amongst the slew of incredible sequences in the film, I have to admit my favorite moment is just when the main alien "Chris" utters "Fuck!" in his own langugage. I laugh every time as the subtitle flashes on screen, the alien character eliciting a translated, very recognizable emotion as he and Sharlto Copley's human counterpart attempt to rescue their lives. The film contains many of those little moments, sometimes neat, sometimes gory, sometimes tender, that keep you intrigued and watching. Look away, look closer but tough to ignore, District 9 succeeds as an science-fiction film that feels like a contemporary story of racist struggle.

The Terror

The Terror is a lengthy, engrossing interpretation of what might have happened to two ships that disappeared whilst searching for the Arctic passage over two hundred years ago. This being Dan Simmons, that interpretation naturally includes a supernatural beastie and a lot of cold suspense.

The recollection of reading the book (I read it back in December) conjures up a lot of lasting, favorable impressions. One impression was that it was, in the end, worth getting through. There were several times when I wondered if Dan had written over 700 pages in this tale just because he would be embarrassed to put out a book without at least 700 pages in it. His adherence to detail and the characterizations involved allow me to still feel a chill thinking of the British sailors trying to find the Northwest passage, instead being marooned above the Arctic circle, in incredibly harsh conditions.

The introduction of the monster leant a larger aspect of the story, without entirely interfering with the eventual outcome, and yet providing room for maneuvering in the tale of an expedition that was never found. Simmons' talents lie in introducing strange elements and weaving them into "normal" situations. His ability to do this creates that atmosphere of creepy suspense that has made him a formidable horror novelist, and one of my favorite science-fiction authors.

This lengthy fictionalized interpretation of the fateful expedition, in retrospect, felt like a perfect book to read during a long snowstorm, comfortably huddled under a warm blanket.


Kick-Ass is one of the best movies of the year, and a breath of fresh air to the superhero film. Uncompromising and improving upon its graphic novel source material, director Matthew Vaughn takes the so-real-it-hurts-a-lot tale of real-life superheros without powers and transposes it to the screen with gusto.

Although the titular character dominates the screen, it is Chloe Moretz' performance as Hit Girl that steals every scene and is destined to be an iconic figure. Within the Joseph Campbell universe of heroes, she is the trickster, the ID of the audience, gleefully and innocently dispensing ruthless justice with the glee and occasional comical cuss of a precocious 11-year-old.

In one scene, Hit Girl saves Kick-Ass (from his own foolish endeavor) in a bravura display of wire-fu, spectacular gun-play, with a peppy Japanese rock soundtrack in the background. The scene is punctuated with her father (a totally game and awesome Nicholas Cage) saving her life with a well-timed sniper bullet. Were it not for that head shot, Hit Girl's smile, banter, and self-assuredness would have been splattered on the wall. And that is the careful balance that Vaughn works from beat-to-beat in the movie: funny-to-action-packed-to-intense-to-uncomfortably-dire. For a second you are laughing with Hit Girl and the next embarrassed that you forgot (as she did) that this is real and she is 11 and could die. It's a wild emotional roller coaster that unerringly works.

Bite Me

Bite Me is the third book in Christopher Moore’s vampire series, and far and away the third-best book in that series. This is not to say that Bite Me isn’t a fast, funny, engaging, romantic story – in other words a typically witty Moore entry. This is to say that Bite Me suffers when compared to its predecessors.

You Suck’s (which I reviewed here) addictively charming young punk Abby Normal returns as the caustically hilarious narrator of the story of Jody and Tommy. As if to ensure you don’t have to invest in the previous two parts (the first being the immortal, incomparable, and not-so-much-my-opinion-as-it-is-a-fact-awesome Bloodsucking Fiends), Abby begins the story with a thorough recap of events leading up to the present, complete with a chuckle-worthy quiz at the end of the chapter. She continues her duties as occasional storyteller (her diary entries are inserted now and then in Moore’s third-person prose), providing not so much keen insight as sarcastic perspective on the goings-on.

And the story is engaging, it is good, but it isn’t great. Perhaps it is because Moore never intended his trilogy to be a trilogy. You Suck was a response to fan clamoring for more, and due to its enormous popularity and genius, the thirst for continuing adventures was not abated but stoked. Unfortunately, the story for me because a little predictable, a little tired, and I felt the author growing just a bit weary of this franchise he had created.

And perhaps it is my sadness that I want my beloved series to be over. This story has reached a satisfying ending and does not deserve to be turned into a never-ending serial. It was a good death.



You have the spectacular chases, the bombastic explosions, the zero-gravity fights. You have a visually impactful and entertaining film. You have the romance and emotional tale. What sets Inception apart, what makes it one of the three game-changing films of my lifetime (that list fills out with Star Wars and The Matrix) is that it is complex framework that remains intelligent, busy, and accessible throughout. It is intimidatingly well-written, and the end result of all this together in a film is awe.

Christopher Nolan’s similarly intelligent, complex thriller Mememto, which put him on the map and began his mainstream career, feels like an undergraduate project compared to Inception. With a bigger budget came not only bigger effects, but a bigger, more complex storyline. From conception to fruition, the script Nolan developed took him 10 years, and it is easy to understand that the time spent wasn’t idle.

One of the basic rules of time passage in the film is that 5 minutes dreaming equates to one hour of time in the dream. When master extractor Cobb’s (DiCaprio) team plants a dream-within-a-dream, it means that the 2nd-level dream time is likewise equivalent to 5 minutes of his dream time in the 1st-level dream. And events that happen in the dream must be coordinated precisely with the two levels. Let’s not even added a third just yet and think of the ramifications, but the film does and beyond, and when it delivers in synchronicity, you marvel at the effort to conceive such coordination. And this is just one aspect of the framework of the tale.

The film contains a lot of exposition that is skillfully interwoven into intense, plot-developing action sequences. It never feels overlong or tedious. The information is dispensed in short, packed bursts that teeter on the edge of overload each time, like the main character’s totem spinning wheel, and then the move thrusts forward with spectacle and action to allow the audience to catch up while still contemplating each new layer of complexity added. A couple times, a character will ask a question that the audience will appreciate, as when Ellen Page’s Ariadne asks “We’re going into whose subconscious now?” The audience laughs in both the comic timing of the delivery and appreciation of the moment of clarification. An earlier moment of uncertainty about the rules is also played to higher laughs earlier at Ariadne’s expense – Nolan’s script not forgetting to have fun with the complex world he’s set up.

Although I won’t reveal any of the secrets of the film, I will remark that the end, the resolution of the caper itself was one of the more moving and altruistic methods of corporate espionage. The inextricable mark made on, well, the mark is just as interesting as Cobb’s tale.

Of particular notice to me was Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as Cobb’s right-hand man Arthur, although singling out an average performance would be a more difficult task considering the amazing cast. The actors as a whole bought in to the concept, and probably had to read it several times before getting a handle on it. Inception doesn’t need 3D to dazzle, to amaze, to be the best film of this millennium. But it will need repeated viewings to peel back the layers of this dense, astounding, satisfying journey. And I look forward to it.