Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Review: The Essential Chaplin: Perspectives on the Life and Art of the Great Comedian edited and introduction by Richard Schickel

I don’t normally read essay collections but I decided to take a look at The Essential Chaplin: Perspectives on the Life and Art of the Great Comedian in hopes that it would assist me in my pursuit of all things Charles Chaplin and that it would provide intriguing insight into the silent film comedian.

Schickel gathered a notable series of nearly thirty essays on Chaplin’s work, life, and art from a veritable who’s who of film critics and Chaplin’s contemporaries such as Alistair Cooke, Robert E. Sherwood, Winston Churchill, Graham Greene, and James Agee. The book was also sprinkled with quotes from several other notables, such as Sigmund Freud and Robert Benchley, which I found quite intriguing.

This is a smart book, one profoundly taking an interesting and intellectual view of an actor whose work was based off of the instinctual slapstick comedy of an uncommon man of (and for) the people. Schickel’s introduction was highly intelligent and took an analytical look at Chaplin as both a fan and as a non-partisan critic – something that I am sure is quite challenging to pull off. While he was successful in his attempt to provide an even tone within the book, one could not help but get a whiff of intellectual superiority in Schickel’s tone when describing Chaplin’s attempt at literary and social illumination during his adult years. However, despite that notable blip this does not dampen the obvious affection he does have for the actor nor does it flavor the rest of the book.

For such a proudly intelligent collection, I was disappointed in the amount of misspelled words and typos. The book appeared to have been checked with a spellchecker and at least once in each essay there was a contextually-inappropriate but correctly spelled word. It was an annoying interruption to try to decode what the writer meant only to realize that it was actually just a typo.

The Essential Chaplin is a great source for those who are interested in Chaplin’s work as well as the film industry. Not only does it illustrate the difficulties of how film was received as an art form, but the theoretical challenges of fame facing the first world-famous man. It also provides a revue of the criticisms Chaplin faced not just in his work and art, but in his life and interests. This book is a must-have for Chaplin enthusiasts as well as those looking for an excellent example of the in-depth analysis a collection of essays can provide.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Best

A Thursday meme:
What, in your opinion, is the best book that you haven’t liked? Mind you, I don’t mean your most-hated book–oh, no. I mean the most accomplished, skilled, well-written, impressive book that you just simply didn’t like.

That one was easy, I have two: Dicken's The Tale of Two Cities. I'm not sure if it was how it was presented at school, or the fact that the French Revolution held no interest for me, but I just could not get myself to enjoy it.

The other is Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. I found the narration slow and incredibly dull and while I cannot deny that it is a great book, I just found myself not liking it.

To be fair, I was forced to read these books for school. They are also the only two books where I have tossed it down mid-way and started thinking about alternative ways to get the story. It was not that they were too difficult to read, they weren't...it was that I found they were to boring. It has always been a guilty regret that I've never enjoyed these particular books while I continue to enjoy other classics...even from the same authors. (Loved Great Expectations and David Copperfield...as for Steinbeck, I liked East of Eden...but not much else.)

Really, I should give them another chance now that I'm older. However, my experience in wading through both of these books has left such a lasting aftertaste that it will probably require a concerted effort to pick them up again.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Review: Forgotten Fashion: An Illustrated Faux History of Outrageous Trends and Their Untimely Demise by Kate Hahn

I love humor and while I may not look like my clothes are from the runway and I don’t have a subscription to any of the current fashion magazines, I do have a healthy interest in fashion. If for nothing else, I find that some trends can serve as a way to gauge the social climate by observing clues in the fashion trends. Haven’t you heard the theory that skirt hemlines creep up as consumer confidence increases?

Fun and beautifully illustrated, Forgotten Fashion: An Illustrated Faux History of Outrageous Trends and Their Untimely Demise captures the tone and style of the time periods it describes (from 1903-2005), which helps reinforce the satire but also reflects the author’s understanding and interest in popular culture in modern history.

The story of the ice-beaded dress of the 1920s comes to mind as it is describes both the frivolity and disposable nature of both the dress and the trends followed by the rich and young during the roaring twenties before the depression. The way consumerism and a high value of large-ticket items like cars and washer machines in the late 1950s is illustrated by the story of an artist, his muse, and his dresses inspired by these same applieces, most notably, an Amana fridge. Such parallels run rampant through the book, heightening both its satire on the ever-changing climate of popular culture.

This was an easy book to pick up and flip through. It was created as a series of independent articles and could be read from the beginning or you could skip around. For those searching for a fun book on popular culture that you can pick up and read at your leisure, Forgotten Fashion is a good choice.

Not only were the tales imaginative in their frivolity, they also were plausible, even in the face of (or perhaps because of) absurdity. One would only have to look at the runway to see impractical and absurd fashion statements and you can actually visualize some of the trends in this book. Hell, I think I saw someone wearing the “ponchette” on the train this morning!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Booking through Thursday: Well, that was different!

A Thursday meme:
What was the most unusual (for you) book you ever read? Either because the book itself was completely from out in left field somewhere, or was a genre you never read, or was the only book available on a long flight… whatever? What (not counting school textbooks, though literature read for classes counts) was furthest outside your usual comfort zone/familiar territory?
And, did you like it? Did it stretch your boundaries? Did you shut it with a shudder the instant you were done? Did it make you think? Have nightmares? Kick off a new obsession?

I tend to have broad interests in general but I suppose the book most outside my norm was The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century by Carlo Ginzburg. It was a book that my husband recommended to me (he's a medievalist) because of my interest in social culture and history as well as the Inquisition and the subject of witchcraft during the medieval period. I was hesitant because it was one of his schoolbooks and it was my experience that I had trouble staying awake in previous attempts. However, I was intrigued and interested in some new research for a book I was writing (I'm still in the midst of a second re-write) so I picked it up.

I found that the subject was intriguing! The book was not nearly as dry as some of the other books clunking around the house and I probably put more sticky notes in its pages than my husband did when he read it for class. It's definitely one of my favorite academic history books...of course it's the first one I've made an effort of reading outside of school, I am pretty sure it won't be the last.

I thought that the question would have been easier to answer if I had read the type of paperback romance novel that had a long-haired, tanned man with an open shirt embracing some woman in a corset with a "heaving bosom." That is definitely outside my comfort level.

A few summers ago, I figured I was lacking experience in reading romantic fiction of the paperback kind so I marched myself over to the library. My plan: to find one with a cover that I just described...perhaps with a pirate! Pirates are cool and could somehow negate the uneasiness I felt about reading a book with a lurid cover. (Not that I am at all prude...I think I just would be a little embarrassed to read a, excuse me for saying this, trashy romance novel.)

Of course, when I got there, I couldn't get the nerve to approach the little wire rack with the hot pink fluorescent sign marked "Romance." It was full of books with all sorts of covers...each one something that I felt kinda shamed looking at. I passed the rack each time looking for the elusive trashy pirate romance but each time completely chickening out. I swear it felt like being a teenager trying to buy condoms at the grocery store.

It's silly, because millions of people love these novels. And it's not like I haven't read other mass-market books...I've definitely read a ton of trashy fantasy books. I am awed at those who read them...I am not as courageous! Perhaps though in the future, I will break through the barrier and find a suitable romance novel and work my way up. I just have to accept that I am not ready or prepared for the elusive pirate-romance.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Review: Hal Spacejock by Simon Haynes

I have watched Simon Haynes’ Hal Spacejock series grow for years now as a popular series in Australia. The first book, Hal Spacejock is now undergoing a third printing, according to the website it is available as an import to the US. Now you can experience the first book for free as a downloadable ebook here: http://www.spacejock.com.au/Hal1Download.html

Armed with a sense of humor and imagination, Haynes’ Hal Spacejock has just the right humor to entertain in a colorful sci-fi setting. Those who enjoy sci-fi humor will enjoy this as the irreverent tone and settings are akin to Hitchhiker’s Guide, Red Dwarf, Futurama, Discworld, Planetfall, and Sierra’s SpaceQuest.

Hal Spacejock, a not-too-bright or ambitious pilot of a run-down space freighter is desperate for a job. When faced with a very real threat on his life from loan sharks he embarks on a sketchy pick up and delivery job with only a robot companion, Clunk, to assist him when it all goes from bad to worse.

The story is fun and fast-paced, a great book for a quick read or for a younger reader who can appreciate humor, slight cursing, and poop jokes. While it lacks depth, it makes no qualms that it is there for your amusement and tries to please.

The dialogue was its strong point and the witty repartée between Spacejock and the various characters he encounters smoothes over any of the bumps in pacing. Some of my favorite moments are with the ship computer, Navicom, especially when it finds itself copied onto another ship.

It’s an entertaining read, and I recommend it for anyone who loves deadpan narration and a few hours of frivolous fun in a science fiction world. You may want to download it while still available and check it out for yourself!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Autumn Reading

A Thursday meme:
Autumn is starting (here in the US, anyway), and kids are heading back to school–does the changing season change your reading habits? Less time? More? Are you just in the mood for different kinds of books than you were over the summer?

I don't have kids so school doesn't really affect my reading habits. However, there is something in the crunch of the leaves, the coming chill in the wind, and the explosion of pumpkin-sightings that really gets me in the mood to sit with a good book and sip hot chocolate in a park. Autumn's my favorite time of year and strangely shedding the summer stuff does change my reading habits. I tend to read more history and classic literature and less epic adventure and light and fluffy items. A little Voltaire on a crisp autumn morning on a park bench decked out in an oversize scarf and hand warmers is probably an ideal scene for me. How about you?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

I have a particular weakness for irreverent humor, satire, and surreality, so when I was recommended to read American Gods by Neil Gaiman I was agreeable. I had loved Sandman and his joint-venture with Terry Pratchett in Good Omens. However, I was surprised and found myself eagerly devouring this novel because it was unique, not many books are able incorporate mythology, satire, and humor so successfully.

As always, Gaiman brings together an adventure that matches wit and fantasy with mythological themes and contemporary storytelling. In the heartlands of America, its settlers and immigrants brought with them the beliefs and myths of their homelands. Those gods and other mystical creatures from folklore and mythology are now living amongst us, getting by and dealing with the day-to-day issues all mortals face...mortgages, money, death, and taxes.

It is this world to which an ex-con, Shadow, is slowly introduced as he takes employment with a mysterious man named, Mr. Wednesday. Here he meets a drunk leprechaun, talking animals from old folk stories, and a cacophony of deities as he helps his employer gather up the old gods in a defensive bid against the rise of the new gods of modern America such as the internet, credit cards, and media, Shadow finds himself a pawn in a very dangerous game.

This book was a particularly good fit for me because I have often wondered what the gods would be doing after their worshippers have moved on. Are there laundromats on Mt. Olympus? What about child support and parking tickets? Some situations were exactly what I would have pictured if you were immortal and accustomed to performing particular tasks. For instance, if you were to deal with and judge the dead, like the Ibis and Jackal, what other profession would you turn to but running a funeral home?

On the whole the novel progressed smoothly through the plot. Only a few chapters interrupted the flow. These occasional interruptions were origin tales describing an Old World god’s introduction to America. On their own, they were intelligent and gripping, I would have loved to learn more about Odin, or the woman who brought the Little Folk with her from Ireland. As part of a whole, they simply broke my immersion in Shadow’s story and served no clear narrative purpose. You would be reading along minding your own business and then a new chapter would be come up and it would feel as if was a completely different story tucked in the middle. Perhaps if they were presented in a different way it wouldn’t have felt so out of place.

Gaiman's tale was easily read and pulled you along an engaging adventure. To see these once-great beings acting just like regular people down on their luck gave the book just the right amount of irony and humor without it being preachy, corny, or even religious. I was pleased that American Gods features increasingly odd and surreal moments that made me eagerly turn each page to see what happens next. Ultimately, what won me over was that the characters were created in such a vivid way and with such unique personalities that despite the possibility of being conned, robbed, killed, or blessed, I would love the chance to meet any of them on the street one day. I would just watch my wallet and perhaps how much everyone’s been drinking!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Salon - September 14, 2008

The Sunday Salon.com It's been a rather interesting week. I'm still slogging through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I have two hundred pages to go and it's finally getting interesting. Hopefully I can get them done soon so I can start thinking about the book and writing up a review.

This week, I've written up two reviews so far. A review for Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants was posted last Tuesday and the other, for American Gods will be posted later this week. Let me just say that having an editor for a husband is both a blessing and a curse. He's been really helpful in giving me some direction on improving my writing skills. (I'm sure I've mentioned I'm working on regaining skills left unused for a few years.) Of course, though, he gives me more homework as a result. It's worth it though, I'm already seeing an improvement. Hopefully I can get back to into my old form, and perhaps even surpass it!

I'm also gearing up for this year's NaNoWriMo. 'Tis the season to start the prep work for research and writing exercises so I can join others across the world in the goal to write a 50,000 novel in November. If you haven't heard about it, I suggest you check it out! I think I'm going to hit the library and check out Thud! by Terry Pratchett, it's been recommended that it has the write type of narrative tone I'm looking for this project.

Back to the grindstone, hopefully I'll be getting a review of a few other books ready in the pipeline this week before guests come to the house to visit. After that, I'll probably not have much time to do anything.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Booking through Thursday: Villainy

A Thursday meme:
Terrorists aren’t just movie villains any more. Do real-world catastrophes such as 9/11 (and the bombs in Madrid, and the ones in London, and the war in Darfur, and … really, all the human-driven, mass loss-of-life events) affect what you choose to read? Personally, I used to enjoy reading Tom Clancy, but haven’t been able to stomach his fight-terrorist kinds of books since.

And, does the reality of that kind of heartless, vicious attack–which happen on smaller scales ALL the time–change the way you feel about villains in the books you read? Are they scarier? Or more two-dimensional and cookie-cutter in the face of the things you see on the news?

In some ways, yes, current events, especially horrible ones, does affect what I decide to read. I read for pleasure, mostly so I tend to read in order to cheer myself up, make myself think, for education, or just relax. When a real-world event happens I am usually glued to the newspaper to know more about what is going on with the world. I tend to decide to read something as far away from the subject as possible. I remember 9/11 quite vividly as I was living in Washington D.C. at the time and the subsequent panic for anything potentially terrorist-related even months after will always leave an impression. I believe I turned to humorous and fantasy books just to escape it all.

As for how it changes how I feel about villains...well I've never bought the old black and white villain trope...it has always been the villain in the shade of grey. I have always drifted towards a villain who could justify his actions with the thought that he is doing what is right or what is needed. In this way, terrorists and the villains of my entertainment are similar. However, I'll probably hold off on reading about terrorists and other current events-related novels...I can read all I want in the morning paper.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Review: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

I was excited to read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, it had all the elements I was looking for, the circus setting, the depression era time period, and I'm not ashamed to say it: the handsome cover. I certainly was not expecting to find such a gem in this light summer reading expedition.

"Oh yes. It's an honor indeed. I'm willing to bet no one else in your neighborhood -- heck, probably the whole city -- can say they've had an elephant in their backyard. Our men here will remove her -- naturally, we'll fix up your garden and compensate you for your produce, too. Would you like us to arrange for a photograph of you and Rosie? Something to show your family and friends?"

Gruen's gritty narrative, told as a series of flashbacks, provides a fictionalized glimpse at circus life in 1930s. Penniless and having just walked out on his exams, Jacob Jankowski finds himself hopping onto a train, like so many other drifters, hoping that it will lead him somewhere better than where he left. Instead he is thrust into a world very different than the Ivy-league shelter as he is employed as the resident veterinarian for the menagerie of a circus. The Benzini Brothers Most Amazing Show, like many other circuses of that time period, was not just home to performers and exotic animals, but to numerous taboos, like prostitution, bootlegging, and shady business practices.

The characters were engaging and well-created and Gruen's descriptions of their actions and emotions as told through the eyes of Jacob carefully navigated you through a gauntlet of emotions, from frustration and anger, to bitter embarrassment. I still feel a bit of a blush when thinking about the aftermath of Jacob's horrifyingly uncomfortable encounter with booze, women, and a clown's revenge.

The unique setting of circus life during the Great Depression provides the perfect touch of history, realism, and surrealism to this tale of a young man's search to find himself in an increasingly mad world. It was a gritty, desperate time in America's history and the shady backdrop of a migratory circus fits well. The descriptions are clear and vibrant and instead of leaving you with the feeling you just sat through a history lesson, you are transported. It was this originality and promise of escape that drew me to reading this book and I was not disappointed.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sunday Salon - September 7, 2008

The Sunday Salon.com Well, it's my first Sunday Salon and I figured I should write this one up early since today is going to be busy. It's been a rough week and I've been trying all sorts of new things to shape my blog into what I had in mind.

I've written several reviews to be published in the future, but my hiatus from writing has really had an impact. I guess two years of game forum moderation really can wreak havoc on your skills. (You write what you read!...never before had I thought of that until now.) Either way, I've been brushing up and while a lot of my writing currently is still clumsy, I do know I'm improving. Hopefully I can get those reviews out soon and in better quality than my previous attempts.

One nice thing is that I've been able to read books at my old pace again! I just finished a long series of books focused on Charlie Chaplin and since I was not able to get an early reviewer book from LibraryThing this month, I am now working on my backlog of books. These are books I bought or was given over my two years of non-reading.

Currently, I'm reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I'm through the first 200 pages so far and while the beginning was a bit slow, I'm enjoying it. I definitely love the usage of footnotes! Strange thing though, I was reading some various stories written by Prosper Mérimée this week and his syntax and writing style seemed really similar. So similar, in fact that at one point I was merging his short story, The Double Mistake, with Jonathan Strange, spawning a moment of disorientation.

As for my big day, Spore comes out today! It's a organism/evolution simulation game that starts from the simplest of creatures and can evolve/mutate into societies with religion, science, war, love, and space travel! It's been well-hyped and long-awaited. Of course this means I need to get the house ready for several days of marathon playing...this means clean laundry, dishes, meal lists, etc.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Peer Pressure

A Thursday meme suggested by JM:
I was looking through books yesterday at the shops and saw all the Twilight books, which I know basically nothing about. What I do know is that I’m beginning to feel like I’m the *only* person who knows nothing about them.
Despite being almost broke and trying to save money, I almost bought the expensive book (Australian book prices are often completely nutty) just because I felt the need to be ‘up’ on what everyone else was reading.
Have you ever felt pressured to read something because ‘everyone else’ was reading it? Have you ever given in and read the book(s) in question or do you resist? If you are a reviewer, etc, do you feel it’s your duty to keep up on current trends?

Actually, I have. It was with the Harry Potter series. Several years ago I was getting tired of listening to "Harry Potter" this, and "Harry Potter" that and even claims of it being better than The Lord of the Rings! I had seen the books read by all sorts of people on the train and finally I decided to break down and read the first one. I wasn't very impressed, having grown up with Roald Dahl I didn't think it compared. However, friends and co-workers kept on pushing me to read the others...and I did. I found I liked some. If I didn't succumb to the pressures of reading something insanely popular, I wouldn't have found enjoyment in the latter half of the series. Of course, that may not happen in every case.

I'm just starting out as a reviewer (and I'm certainly not a professional reviewer) but I'm pretty sure it will be helpful to keep up on current trends. And I do find that exploring something just slightly outside my comfort area can be exciting. However, I think that it shouldn't force you to read something, just because the guy next to you is doing so.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Why I'll never be any good in Vegas...

In anticipation for the video game, Fable II, Lionhead has made three pub games set in the Fable environment available. Gold made from these mini-games will have the ability to be transferred to your Fable II character when the game comes out end of October.

Of course, the real challenge is making the gold. Gambling has never been a strong point with me. To illustrate that fact, the first time I ever went to a casino, I left it on a stretcher going to an ambulance because I had dislocated my diaphragm and sprained two ribs from the smoky atmosphere. (I tend to think it was an allergic reaction to Lady Luck's perfume.)

All subsequent casinos have luckily only taken my money. I believe that I have never actually won anything.

Luckily with these pub games, I'm not going to ruin myself (not that the entire 60 dollars I ever used and lost in real life is going to be the cause of my ruination). I'm just going to ruin my character, and if I do particularly awful I could always reset or start anew. (I might keep one with some debt, just to see what might happen. Apparently debt in this game might translate to something particularly unpleasant to my character in the Fable world.)

There are three games: Fortune's Tower, Keystone, and Spinner.

Fortune's Tower is my favorite as it's like a cross between blackjack and chicken. It also seems to be the one where you have the most control over what happens. It also is where I've lost the most money.

Keystone is a cross between craps and roulette. It's rather interesting and I've been finding new and interesting ways of losing money by experimenting with various betting strategies.

Spinner is a slot machine-type game. And like all other slot machine games I'm not a fan. I never could understand the point of feeding a machine money for that very low chance of winning some more money so you can feed it back. It all seems very much like a trial of Sisyphus to me...except in the Tournaments.

I love the tournaments. They are a ton of fun and gives me some kind of motivation for gambling. You play against NPC opponents and try to score more tournament chips to place in the tournament. Placing can reward you with gold (much better to lose later in the other games) or even an in-game item! I think that's a lot of fun and alot more rewarding to this non-gambler.

Now I must go and see what type of damage and monetary trouble I can get in to even before my poor character is born. Well, at least there's no ambulance to haul me away!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Review: Chaplin: His Life and Art

David Robinson's examination of the silent film comedian, Charlie Chaplin, is a must-read if you have an interest in Chaplin's life and extensive experiences at the birth of American Cinema. Chaplin: His Life and Art uses a multitude of sources to help give witness to the actor from many viewpoints and addresses the various inconsistencies found in Chaplin's own autobiography.

For those interested in comparing the two, I recommend reading My Autobiography first. His Life and Art is clearly written and includes many details about Chaplin's life, work habits, and influence on the film industry and the people around him. Other treats are sections of photos from his private and professional life as well as images of childhood photos and publicity flyers.

I found my educational experience was heightened by also watching the films mentioned in detail in both books. Sometimes a written description of how a gag had evolved is not nearly as vibrant until you can see the end result. (That and they are hilarious!) It is a rare opportunity to not only read about a man's life but get to watch his works unfold in front of your eyes in a visual way.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it as essential to any person interested in learning about Charlie Chaplin or the birth of Hollywood and the movie industry.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Going back in time with Google Earth

In my browsing I found a really awesome application of Google Earth. It's BFI's Google Earth Tour. The British Film Institute has created a layer database that allows you to look up locations, filmmakers, and other historical film references by using the free Google Earth application found here. Really, it's an interesting way of seeing things from a different view.

I loaded it up (it wasn't too hard to do, though there could be better instructions on BFI's site) and was able to look up my favorite historical film star, Charlie Chaplin. (No surprise there.) It brought up some of his childhood homes, a school he was sent to as part of the workhouse, his home in Switzerland where he spent his later years, and of course, a few of the very important areas in California, like his studio, the cemetary in which his mother is buried, and others.

While I think it could be more robust, it is in its infancy and they say they will be adding more to their database. I look forward to seeing what BFI has in store.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Wheel of Time keeps turning and turning...

I came across an article saying that Universal pictures have optioned Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series.

Not much other info came from the article, but it would be interesting to see how someone would interpret this seemingly never ending epic tale of fantasy.

I am on the fence for this one. I enjoyed the first half of the series (up to book 8) but as I think about it more, I am not sure if I want to watch a movie, or series of movies, with overbearing women and whining, angst-riddled boys. Of course, it's got some great moments and Jordan created a wonderful world. I'm just not sure if I want to see that movie...but I so do! It's difficult to say.

Of course, it's not like these books haven't been picked up before. There was talks before about a miniseries...but we never saw it see the light of day.

Perhaps I should start thinking at the potential casting. Rabscuttle had such a fun time with her casting picks for the new King of Kong movie...you can check it out here!

Flashback: Mother Nature's vengeance is swift and terrible

Originally published on Machinations of a Wandering Mind - April 22, 2005:

I have recently taken up gardening. The allure was simple: watch things grow, tame nature (to some degree), and make the jungle of my Dad's backyard into something that looks just a bit neater.

I also love plants (a key to gardening, I hear). And for most of my life I have sorrowfully been like death running a scythe through a glass shop. I have killed every plant that ever found its way into my grubby fingers. Even things you didn't think could be killed.

To name a few on my list of plant-murders:

African violets

And some ugly plant that no one knew the name for. My mother got it from some friend who didn't want it any more, my Dad tried killing it by hacking it away. I got it, under the faintly veiled assumption that it would eventually meet its demise under my well-intentioned care.

It grew... just one stalk and one leaf...to about six feet tall. And then, not so suddenly it died. To be honest, I wasn't quite so upset. It really was an ugly plant.

So, back to gardening. With glee in my eyes and a sigh of resignation and wonderful support from my husband, we went to a nursery and bought a bunch of lovely flowers and herbs for my new garden.

I then proceeded to spend the weekend pulling weeds, yanking vines, churning soil and arguing with roots. After much sweat and tiredness, I now have a lovely garden of Alyssum and other things. (I went for simple)

I love it. I take a look at it every day and smile. My hard work seems like it paid off...and I am hoping that fate doesn't go the way it always done and the flowers live for the summer.
However, fate it seems, has a strange sense of humor and the plants have avenged their fallen brethren by giving me...poison ivy.

Yup. Despite the fact that I have lived near a forest almost all of my life, I'm still terrible at identifying the pesky plant. I probably ripped it out with the rest of the anonymous weeds lurking in the back of the house.

I wore gloves, but due to the heat I wore a short-sleeved shirt. It started with a few tiny bumps...now my arms look like the elephant man - tiny replicas of John Merrick attached to my shoulders. It's hideous. I have bumps on top of bumps.

In total frustration I have looked poison ivy up and learned that the stem has enough oils to infect 10,000 people. I bet that's what I touched.

I have learned my lesson though. No more short sleeves for gardening. Plant-killing however, I have no control over.

I have now tried tons of stuff, but presently I'm on a regimen of washing the areas with dishwashing soap, patting dry, dabbing on witch hazel and hydrogen peroxide, and then topping it all off with toothpaste. (It draws out the oils and dries the area quickly...as well as having the added benefit of smelling minty fresh.)

So, as the summer goes by I will take a look at my beautiful garden, knowing that I'm happy that my plants didn't die. My plants will be happy for their revenge against my herbicidal tendencies. I will sip lemonade and smile as I inhale the aroma of flowers and perhaps the minty fresh memory of all this will make me smile.

Or itch...I'm not sure.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Review: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Now that I commute every morning by train, I am able to finally regain my love for devouring books.

I decided that my first book since I came back to the land of the bookworm is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova.

It is an intricate and intriguing tale of a girl uncovering her family's past and their secrets surrounding the late fifteenth century history and legend of Vlad the Impaler (Count Dracula to those who are not aware of the connection). Told in a unique fashion, you follow the various exploits of several historians and scholars as they get entangled with conspiracies and find themselves on a trek across countries in hopes of uncovering the mystery that involves not only vampires but the lingering threat that had been following them.

All in all, it's a book that was in need of an editor. It's an interesting tale hampered by an over-complicated delivery. Told as a woman remembering her search for her father, reading her father's letters telling the tale of his search for his mentor, in which he sites the mentor's letters chronicling his search for Dracula. The epistolary style harkens back to Bram Stoker's Dracula but it complexity reduced its effectiveness as a narration.

The odd thing was that the tone of the letters did not seem to vary from character to character, and I could only hope that if you were to meet them over coffee you'd recognize that they were different people. Also, not too many people write letters that include full dialogue, descriptions of people, and their own mannerisms when they speak...let alone the five or so people who did exactly that in the book. It's awkward and makes you forget that you're writing a letter or a journal entry only to be jarred out of that reality by mention that it was only a letter.

I enjoyed The Historian and thought the story and the characters were interesting, however it felt like a long book. It would have done better if it was told from only a few viewpoints, rather than the layered onion it was.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Virtual Bookworms at LibraryThing.com!

I just discovered a site that has been around for a while...http://www.librarything.com/. It is really neat because it appeals both to my OCD as well as my bookworm side.

Finally I have a little place on the interwebs to house a listing of our huge and eclectic book collection. I have always dreamt of finally listing what I own somewhere but never could find the right medium. (Databases would have been good but I like seeing the book covers, and I didn't even want to think of a card catalogue.)

One thing I really like is that you can assign "tags" to your books that help you label and classify each book in your own fashion. For example, I can classify my book of Milton's Paradise Lost as "high falutin'" if I wish.

And there is even a cute little widget I can add to my blog to show off random books in my collection. What can be better than that?

If you love books as much as I do, you should check this site out!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mob calls for head of a man...they're just missing the torches and pitchforks

In San Francisco protestors rage on, demanding a radio station fire talk radio host, Michael Savage, for his off-color and rude remarks about autism. You can read about it here at the San Francisco Chronicle, amongst others.

Instead of taking several approaches, like boycotting the show's sponsors, or heaven forbid, stop listening to the show, they are calling for his head in something that seems more like an angry mob pounding on the door of a ruined tower for the monster to come out.

Personally, I don't agree with the remarks quoted in the various newspapers. I'm not a citizen of California and have never listened to his show. I only have read what the press has quoted him with. He sounds like a very small-minded shock-jockey making his daily wages by exploiting society's perverse interest in crude and offensive personalities. Hell, the common person would also go see the gladiators in a coliseum if it was available.

The point is that as a people we shouldn't be shouting for people to be gagged for saying something that offends someone. If we continue like this, we will not ever be able to speak our minds, because anything spoken at any time could have the potential for hurting someone. Our voices will be neutered and discourse will be dulled by the fear of political correctness.

There are better recourses.

My personal favorite is to turn it off. Don't listen to it. Someone can scream till they are blue in the face, but if they are not given an ear, the message does not go through. People who doggedly listen to someone because they hate the message only give strength to that person (and in the end dollars - sponsors love a good audience). Stop listening and soon the audience will go down, the sponsors will drop out and the man goes away with a puff of smoke and a whisper.

To call for the man's job only makes him more of an interesting prospect for other competitors. Believe me, where ever he will get hired, his audience is assured because they will want to know what he does next. Sponsors will know he will get a good audience and will in the end provide more funding. Every new protest and new politician grabbing for a bit of the limelight in this screaming mob just feeds the thing they hate.

Frankly I don't care what he's saying. I don't even care if he personally thinks that his remarks were valid or if he said them because he knew he would get a rise. All I know is that he's probably got the highest ratings at this point. Good going mob.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New York Censoring Video Games?

According to an Associated Press article, on Tuesday New York Governor David Paterson signed a law that he claims will lead to restrictions on video game violence and increase parental awareness of video game violence and appropriateness.

It's a two-parter (as most censorship laws are) that will first create a "commission" or "authority" to study the effects of violence in video gaming. In this case, it will be an "Advisory Council." The second part of this law will require parental controls on consoles and prominent age ratings on each game by 2010.

This bit of unconstitutional censorship luckily comes with only a small whimper rather than a loud wail like other similar laws. Experts claim that the law itself is so vague that it will hardly be effective, and will most likely be struck down like the others because of its unconstitutionality.

Either way, though...what brings people to think that they need a body of law to judicate what we can see or do? What state believes that they have the ability to restrict one form of media over others? Why not restrict movies or music the same way as video games?

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stated in his opinion for Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964) that, "I know it when I see it..." What you could take away from the case was that obsenity cannot be determined by a general body of law but as a fluid label that can only be determined by smaller, local principalities who can judge the moral tolerance of their own communities.

So what makes New York think that they can decide what is appropriate in the grand landscape of video games? I believe it is the parent's job to know and be aware of what media their child consumes. It's rather lazy to blame a video game for a child's poor mistakes, especially when a parent has all the chances to govern their own household. If you believe your child cannot determine what is right or wrong, perhaps GTA is not for them. However, just blindly buying a game and not even looking if the rating is appropriate for their age group should put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the parent and the parent alone.

Video games are not made solely for young children. The sooner most people understand that, the sooner the censorship of this industry will go the way of the movie industry. Like the movie industry, video games come with their own rating. This new NY law states that it will make age levels more prominent. How much more prominent do they want the T for Teen rating, or the M for Mature rating? So far, the ESRB already has the game industry make sure they feature the ESRB ratings as much and as prominently as possible.

It all goes back to the parents though. Next time you go to the game store and buy that game for your child, take a look at the rating. Is the content appropriate for your child? Perhaps you know nothing about video games...that's okay. Perhaps you don't care about what one game does over another...that's fine. I'm pretty sure though that you care about your child.

As with anything, do your homework. For the sake of your child, read the back, check out the rating, heck, even ask someone in the aisles. Most gamers would be happy to help out a parent trying to choose wisely for their child.

As for this law, it will be pushed back as all the others have but perhaps those with the power to vote should put down their controllers and take a stand for Free Speech and not elect those who wish to take it from you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fear the Internet's Minions, Doc Horrible!

So, the population of the internet, as vast and voracious as it is, has swarmed upon Dr. Horrible, crushing his servers.

Was it really a surprise? Whedon is a cult-icon and paired with a cast full of internet and nerd-culture celebrities the buzz for this Internet event was amazing! The surprise would have been if the servers didn't melt down and it all went smoothly.

I've worked in the wild world of the web and believe me, ALWAYS plan for everything to crash and burn.

I think it shows that the world is waiting for more from Whedon and his ilk. Millions of anonymous, faceless internet minions can't be wrong!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Paging Dr. Horrible

Today is the big day...the start of the great Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog!

You can watch it here (if available):

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

I was lucky enough today to get a chance to watch it at work before everyone else got in and I have to say...it is awesome!

Joss Whedon does it again by creating a story that is compelling, well-written, and populated with interesting characters. I am always impressed with his ability to create a story and setting and then a script that doesn't just help tell the story but fills out the characters so efficiently.

Neil Patrick Harris plays the low-rent villian and main character, Dr. Horrible. He plays it just how I like my low-rent villians who aspire to find their niche in the realm of evil, by being not-quite evil enough. An average super-hero/villian in an average world.

I kinda feel like he's that slightly nerdy and awkward guy next store who is an accountant by day and dreams of being a super-villian at night. At school, he probably sketched out elaborate rube-goldberg machines of destruction in the margins of his lined loose leaf.

The first act is a great hook and introduces the characters perfectly. Nathan Fillion, one of my favorites from Firefly and Serenity (heck they all are my favorites), makes a grand entrance that just fits the character. He hams it up and shines in this so-far hilarious role of do-gooder, Captain Hammer.

Being a nerd myself I love how this story pits the nerd (semi anti-social, brainy, and on the side of villiany) against what looks like the jock/bully of Captain Hammer (the good looking, athletic guy who has a better time with PR). It's an eternal struggle and I look forward to it being played out here.

All in all, it's similar to the premise of the Tick, with its average-joe villian and superhero population struggling with real-life woes...except it's from the viewpoint of the villian and it's a musical...which can only make it great!

Here are a few of my favorite lines pulled from my first watching:

"The status is not quo!"
"Lacy, gently wafting curtains"

If you haven't taken the time to see the almost 14 minute flick, you should. You won't be sorry!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Image randomness!

A friend of mine IM'd me an image today and I thought I should share:

I don't know why, but this makes the words Battle Hardened Beagle come to mind. Actually, on its cute little armor it looks like there might be room for a rider...but what type of rider would look good on a beagle donning what looks to be plate armor?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

...some people juggle geese!

I never thought I'd be qualified to work in the circus...but wow my juggling skills have now achieved legendary status! I am now purple when people hover their little imaginary mice over my head.

In the past month, I have:
  1. Started a new job in a new industry
  2. Started a blog
  3. Almost finished knitting my Doctor Who scarf. (I have only 16 rows, some clean up, and some fringe left...it should be done tonight!)
  4. Got completely obsessed over a silent film star.
  5. Read two major books on Chaplin
  6. Watched around 20 of Chaplin's movies
  7. Pondered the value of capitalism, optimism, and idealism in today's society.
  8. Decided to learn more about McCarthyism. (Though I'm not sure how my blood pressure will take it...that entire period of time makes me ashamed to be American and incensed as a rabid believer of free-speech and thought.)
  9. Started learning how to tailor and sew.
  10. Started playing WoW
  11. Began the first stages of a new book
  12. And took over the cooking and kitchen for the household.

Sure I had to drop a ball here and there. (Yes, I'm still going with the circus/juggling analogy)But I have to say...who knew I had it in me?

Multi-tasking has its pros and cons. Some say that it is an invaluable skill to have; one that fosters efficiency and ulcers. Others say that trying to split your focus on too many things only allows you to do many things poorly.

Of course, the detractors singing their criticism on their soap boxes aren't heard because the multi-taskers are too busy driving their car, eating breakfast, and applying mascara while listening to newsradio and checking their email on Blackberries.

After this whirlwind month, I think I might take a break...perhaps only do six or seven things at a time. You know, enjoy the slow life.

The circus really isn't my thing...plus clowns are creepy.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Perfect Storm!


My dear friend from Look What I Found just sent me this about Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog:

I can't watch the trailer yet (I'll have to wait till I'm home from work), but come on! It's like it the perfect storm of coolness! A low-rent villian? Whedon? Nathan Fillion? NPH? You can't go wrong!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Flashback: Run Away! The Signs of Aging are upon us!

In celebration of my birthday.

Originally published on Machinations of a Wandering Mind - June 27, 2005:

It was terrible, it was hideous! It was a sign that I'm getting older.

Two weeks ago was my birthday...my 27th birthday, and during this time, my mother and I went shopping. We looked for a lovely summer ensemble that didn't make me look, well, you know...sausage-like. Of course this doesn't preclude Mom from exercising her miss-judgment in recommending pieces of fabric with more ruffles than Scarlet O'Hara's curtains in Gone With the Wind.

Here is a dramatic recreation: Please imagine my mother fawning over this ugly bluish monstrosity on a hanger:

"Oh this will look lovely." Mother said, holding up the frilly blue ruffled skirt up to my body.

"No it won't."

"You're just being picky. Be daring for once."

"It's horrible." I state, no inflection in my tone as I finger a ruffle with obvious disdain.

"Just try it on. You'll be surprised."

"Did I mention it's ugly?"

Of course, it goes into the pile. Let me just share the warm feeling to bask in the glowing light of I-told-you-so when I put on the offending "garment" and I ended up looking like a large blue covered sausage that got caught in a paper shredder. I will always remember the blank look of my mother trying to think of the best way to describe the quite laughable image of me in the mirror.

"Perhaps you should take it off." Her eyes are smiling but she exercises a cool control that is to be commended. I'm sure if given the opportunity she could fool a highly trained interrogator.

"You think?"

"Yes. You were right."

"Let me bask in the moment."

"Enough basking."

"I hope we learned a valuable lesson from this."

"Yes dear. Now take it off."

"You want to try it on?"

"No! Um...no thank you. It's safe to say we'll put it in the 'No' pile."

And this is where I found it...the grey hair, sticking straight up from the top of my head like a short, crinkly flag staking out the victory of middle age.

In a flight of pure panic, I ripped the offending hair out of my scalp (it hurt, by the way) and examined it. Indeed it was bright white and stood out from my naturally brown/black tresses. I showed my mother, holding the hair away from me, as if its loss of pigment was something that could infect the rest of my folicles.

"What did you expect. You're getting older." Were the words mom had for me. Strangely enough they didn't have the desired effect of calming that I wished. Mom was also strangely unsympathetic to the fact that her daughter has a grey hair. My mother, herself, had grey hair at a young age. I was hoping this was not the case for me...though it wouldn't change much since I dye my hair anyway.

"Plus," She sagely added, "It's only one hair." My eyes widened...surely the one strand could not have already convinced the others to go pigment free. I return to the dressing room mirror of Hecht's to inspect the rest of my head, in what must be the most vain moment in my entire life.

I even called up my husband with the news. He laughed. I was not pleased.

Satisfied that there were no more pigment-free hairs, I went on with my shopping.

I dyed my hair again. Though that one hair seemed to be a fluke, I'm not taking any chances. It's a war...a war I may not win...but by the gods I will have dark hair at least until I'm forty.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

On Obsession

There has always been something not quite wired correctly in my head. I would say it was "wrong" but it harms no one and to me, it's rather natural. It's hard to describe, but suffice it to say, I get obsessive about certain things. I need to KNOW.

I remember when I was young, I would sit and sort my cards of the United States Presidents on the brown rug in the living room. They were the sort of cards that had a semi-glossy presidential portrait on one side and on the other a list of facts and stats coupled with a short bio. I'm sure my mother meant for me to learn about the Presidents, but instead I sorted them. I still remember the enigmatic painted faces of Thomas Jefferson or Franklin Pierce looking back at me as I sat for hours with them.

Instead of studying them however, I sorted them by number first, then I would pick a quality (like eye color, political party, home state, left-facing portrait, color necktie, etc.) and sort them, eliminate a pile, and pick a new quality to find the "Best" president in my deck of presidents. Sometimes I enjoyed the irony of picking a "Best" leader of the US from a combination of completely random and superficial categories.

(To me, the "best" was defined by the combination of random characteristics I pulled out of my head. To this day the definition of that word has continued to be fluid in this way. Ultimately, I think I enjoyed changing the basis of what the term, "best," meant just to see what the different outcome would be.)

After one or two cycles of this activity my butt would go numb and I would ask myself, "Why am I doing this? This sorting doesn't mean anything...I'm wasting time. Time I could be putting to better use drawing, or doing something fun." Then I would shuffle the deck and continue on, undeterred by self-doubt.

I feel like I've gotten past the need to sort things, though I occasionally sort all our movies in alphabetical order and I can't seem to do a good spring cleaning without getting sidetracked with alphabetizing or sorting. Generally, it starts with a spark, like an idea or subject, and then it continues as I need to consume all the information available.

In this vein, it seems every few months I get a new obsession. Previously it has been Hunter Thompson, Dorothy Parker, Giacomo Casanova, the health-craze of the early 1900s, and the comparison between Dante's Inferno and Milton's Paradise Lost. One summer when I was young, I read all the books I could find about utopian society and compared them. I also remembered trying to explain to my teachers why I didn't pick my books from the recommended summer reading list and went on my own. That was me...renegade reader.

This month's obsession is Charles Chaplin.

My fascination with Chaplin came about just like many of my interests, from a minor and only semi-related compulsive obsession brought on by an event or happening. It happens all too often and while it's normal for me, it may not be the norm for others.

It usually starts out that I see a movie, hear a song, or read something and either the subject or perhaps an actor/artist impresses me so much that I wish to see the rest of their work. I think it is so that I can get a better understanding of whether if it was role I admired or if they were talented in general. So I start through their career (in no particular order) and go about watching their works. I do appreciate talent. I love seeing how someone can have so much talent and then see how they wield it.

This habit usually fills me with a certain amount of shame actually. I'm not a person who squeals over a handsome actor and puts their poster on the wall. I don't watch those entertainment shows religiously and I certainly don't read the tabloids. Entertainers are people who work in the public eye, not people I would agonize over. However, I feel very paranoid that I might falsely project that quality, so I normally just keep the whole thing quiet.

Let me illustrate what I mean. In one particular case, it all started with Iron Man...I never noticed before but Robert Downey Jr. is a fantastic actor! And because of this whole compulsion, I just had to see what else he did. After a few rather good movies like Fur: The Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, I found an older movie of his called Chaplin that scored him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. The movie was wonderful and got me thinking about those heady days of film class in college and watching the great silent film stars like Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and, of course, Charlie Chaplin.

Coupled with a small bout of a blue mood, I thought, "What would be a better thing to cheer me up than a Chaplin movie?" They were easy enough to find on YouTube or Netflix. I saw a snippet from The Circus on YouTube and I was hooked. As I started to familiarize myself with Chaplin's works I found that each one was a complex series of emotions wrapped up in simplistic vignettes. His movies are the perfect combination of humor, humanism, and sentimentality with a dash of sadness and tragedy. How could I not appreciate them?

What really interested me with these amazing movies is the man behind the mustache and underneath that derby hat. I am currently reading his autobiography, originally titled, My Autobiography, and I found that I admire this man who came from poverty to become one of the most famous men in the world. He was a genius. He acted, directed, and even composed the music to his works. He came at the birth of film and ushered in a quality and creativity that I do think is rare even now.

At times my obsessiveness brings me shame and uneasiness but this time, for having discovered such an interesting subject to study, I am pleased that it brought me to this path. Perhaps I shouldn't say that I am wired incorrectly...just differently. I can't wait to see where it leads me next.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Flashback: An odd experiment...brought to you by baking supplies and matches

Originally published on Machinations of a Wandering Mind - October 18, 2005:

Sit back and let me tell you a story.

The story involves a woman. That woman would be me. I was really bored one day and after watching Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, one question reared its ugly head: How or why did the windmill explode like that?

Windmills don't explode on a fairly normal basis, so there must have been a catalyst, some flammable catalyst. I was going to assume that there was no ammo in there, no TNT, no nitro-glycerin, no other items of explosive goodness. So, what was in that mill that made it explode? There was flour. Bags of flour, barrels of flour.

My mind was reeling...was it flour dust? I remember hearing that flour dust might have been the culprit. My husband only looked at me dubiously.

To support my theory, there was only one thing to do. Set fire to flour.

Being the safety-conscious person I am, I decided to put my cup of white baking flour in the kitchen sink so I could douse it before the impending fire could torch the rest of the house.

My husband was on standby. Not with a fire extinguisher, mind you. He was there for support. And laughing. He was definitely on "flour is not flammable" side of the peanut gallery.

I was determined to prove him wrong. So, with a flourish, I lit my first wooden match. As I carefully touched the warm flame to the small mound of flour in the sink, moving slightly away as not to singe my eyebrows from the inferno I was about to start. However, nothing happened. I actually extinguished the match by sticking it into the hapless flour.

There was a snicker behind me, one that I ignored by lighting another match and another one until there was me, the sink, and the mound of flour with some charred spears of used matches sticking out of it.

Dad decided to come home at that moment and asked what we were doing. I said, "I'm trying to light this pile of flour on fire."

"You're what? This house is made of wood."

"I know, that why we're doing it in the sink."

He then proceeded to tell me that flour is not flammable. As if my experiment was telling me otherwise. This was a year ago or so.

I only thought of this due to the fact that I found out yesterday that flour DUST is flammable and is the cause of many industrial fires. So there!

Flour, however, still remains annoyingly inflammable. I am also still not allowed to set fire to the house in any form, with or without baking supplies.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Don't look Marion, whatever you do, don't open your eyes!

Please note that spoilers are contained within!

With a combination of trepidation and optimism I decided to go with a few friends to see the new Indiana Jones movie. The intrepid Dr. Jones' adventures had always captivated me during my childhood and I'm sure his unique brand of archeology made many a child say to his parents, "I want to be an archeologist when I grow up." Because really, who wouldn't want to learn history by shooting at Nazis and riding in mine carts? Alas, I have yet to meet an archeologist that has ran away from a humongous rolling boulder, or tripped a booby trap in a cobweb-filled ruin. Perhaps I'm not moving in the right social circles.

It's been a while since a good old adventure story has come around and I was looking forward to seeing if Lucas and Spielberg could dust off Indy and bring him back to life again. There is a real chance that Indiana Jones' time has come and gone. I'm not even talking about Harrison Ford's age; it's a steep challenge as the number of adventure movies have dwindled in favor of more action-centered fare. In fact, the only adventure movie I could think of in recent memory was National Treasure and I didn't even see it.

Their answer to entice the younger crowd to go see our aging Indy was to bring in a kid -- and not just any kid, Indy's kid. To me this is warning sign that a series is ending. Name one sit-com or movie series that was saved from the specter of low ratings by introducing a kid. Usually shows or movies opt for an adorable kid with pinchable cheeks and a sassy personality and in this case, Shia LaBouf fits the bill nicely. He's a great actor and I absolutely loved him in A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, but he wasn't enough to save this movie.

(Don't even get me started on the awfulness of the kid's name -- Mutt. If that is not a poor parallel to Indiana being named after his dog, I'll be surprised. Seriously...Mutt?)

It was nice to see Indy back on the big screen. The iconic silhouette of the man in his fedora filled me with the same amount of awe as it did when I was a child. The sounds of the punches and the well-timed Wilhelm screams was like music to my ears. However, even after all these clues and Indy-iconography, the film just didn't feel like Indiana Jones. That dusty feeling you get when you watched him take a punch just wasn't there. It felt too clean, scrubbed, and deliberate.

While Harrison Ford did a lovely job dusting off and bringing Indiana back, the writing just didn't meet the challenge. Instead of witty remarks and charming personality we got long-winded exposition that came across flat. I understand that the movie was trying to show Indiana turning more and more into his father and Ford did a great job of channeling Sean Connery's Henry Jones Sr. However, there were too many of these little moments that mimicked something that happened in the earlier films but instead of making the viewer all warm and fuzzy with reminiscence, it came across as desperately trying to recapture what worked in the past and regurgitating it at a drop of a hat.

(Too many sequels do this, and it drives me nuts. If I wanted to see the same joke over again, I would see the original movie. Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, write something original! Perhaps, the reason a joke works the first time around is because it was original. If that originality is already expended, it's not that funny to see it again.)
Another very telling cue that they were trying too hard to capture a much younger crowd was the repeated appearance of silly groundhogs and swarming monkeys. I just watched the original trilogy and there were no snakes mugging for the camera, no insects popping up for comedic effect. There was actually a moment where I groaned out loud in the theater when Mutt swung from vine to vine like Tarzan with the aforementioned monkeys who then descended on the Russians, aiding his escape. It was cartoonish and ultimately felt superfluous. (And dare I say it, it broke my immersion!)

Overall, I think the movie tried too hard to achieve certain "Indy elements" but not hard enough to ensure quality. (Like mentioning fencing classes off-hand early on in the film to explain the unavoidable and overdone sword fight that turned from interesting to slapstick and too long.) I could go on, but the list is rather extensive. If you really loved Indiana Jones because of its witty dialogue and sweeping adventure, you may not like this movie. I wanted to like it but it lacked what I looked for in this series...that inherent Indiana-ness that charmed and wormed its way through my childhood.

Let's just end with one word, one question: Aliens?

No, really... Aliens?

Review Summary

Overall: 57/100

Writing - 8/15
Cinematography - 10/15
Acting - 12/15
Entertainment value - 12/15
Indiana Jones-ness - 15/30

*Values weighted based off of genre.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

She's alive!

Like back from the dead, my pen rises up (figuratively at least) to rejoin the world of the blogging masses.

It's been around two years since my old blog, "Machinations of a Wandering Mind," was retired due to professional circumstances. Now that the opportunity has dumped itself at my feet, I can't resist its charm, and thus "Contrariwise" was born.

In my mind, a little voice says, "We can build it better, stronger, faster."

Well, I'm not so sure about the faster, but I definitely plan to try my hand at least some regularity and a heck of a lot more focus.

I can only hope that my little mini cooper-esque blog will be enjoyed by those fellow truckers passing their way through the InterTubes...and I think I just murdered that analogy. Oh well, it was a noble try but in the end, its passing probably was for its own good.

Here's to seeing this project through.