20 August 2007

Mars Attacks

I want the people to know that they still have 2 out of 3 branches of the government working for them, and that ain't bad.

Can you imagine what would happen if Martians incinerated our congress and presidential family? I'll let you think that one over…

Tim Burton is a genius (ok, Planet of the Apes was embarrassingly horrible, but everyone is entitled to a mistake) and the casting of Mars Attacks couldn’t be more perfect. Adam Short channels George Stephanopoulos with super smarmy perfection, Glenn Close and Jack Nicholson make a nice Ron and Nancy Reagan, and the Martians have something vaguely familiar about them – could it be Beavis and Butthead?

Bring on the Martians!

18 August 2007

Melinda and Melinda

Greg: What do you do for exercise?
Hobie: Tiddly winks. And an occasional anxiety attack.

If you’re a die-hard fan Woody Allen fan, Melinda and Melinda probably rates somewhere in the middle of his filmography in term of captivating storyline and interesting characters. While I typically prefer Allen’s films which feature his acting, Will Ferrell does a pretty funny impersonation of the master of neuroticism and he’s a bit more believable as a romantic partner to Amanda Peet’s character. Radha Mitchell does nice work playing the two Melindas – dysfunctionally depressed and positively perky. The Melinda tragedy brings to mind Purple Rose of Cairo in its sharp pain and betrayal and the Melinda comedy is reminiscent of Allen’s other films featuring husband and wives in various stages of decline and rebuilding. A glance at IMDB shows that Woody is now 72, hopefully he’ll continue working his silver screen genius for several years to come. La-di-da, la-di-da, la la.

10 August 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

by J. K. Rowling and Mary GrandPré

Yes, I dare. I know things that you don't know...I know lots of important things that you don't. Want to hear some before you make another big mistake?

Oh good lord, what can I even say about this final Harry Potter book that hasn’t already been said a hundred times already? If you haven’t read the books, chances are you don’t really care, and if you have read the books, then chances are that you do care and you’re going to read this regardless of what anyone says. I will admit that Deathly Hallows did make me a bit sad, a bit wistful –this has nothing to do with the plot itself, just the fact that these characters, which we have grown to know so well, are now departing. Just as high school graduation is a terminus for many friendships in the real world, so it is to in the world of Hogwarts. The only difference is that in Rowling’s world (or in this case, Harry’s) all secrets are revealed and the questions that have plagued readers for the last 10+ years are finally answered. I just wish I could get my hands on some of that magic…

Of course it is happening inside your head… but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

06 August 2007

Rang De Basanti: A Generation Awakens

Rang De Basanti is my first foray into the world of Bollywood films. I’ll admit that I was unwillingly dragged into this as singing and dancing in films gives me the heebee-geebees (terrifying flashbacks of Oklahoma! Brigadoon! Fiddler on the Roof! ) but this film has changed my mind – somewhat.

The musical numbers are less like Broadway and more like MTV – albeit in a slightly cheesy, 1980s way. Surprisingly, I really liked the music – a nice blend of Asian-Euro pop and dance – so I suffered through the dancing and affiliated theatrics.

However, the plot of this movie has left me questioning the intent of the director. The story centers on a young Brit (Alice Patten) who travels to India to shoot a film about a group of young Indian revolutionaries from the 1920s. The young students who are brought on to play the parts are a fairly apathetic lot – looking only for fun, fast cars, and drinking beer. However, as they begin to internalize the lives and motives of their assigned characters, their attitudes and beliefs are affected, and when a close friend in the Indian Air Force is killed due to government negligence and corruption, the group makes some very violent and irrevocable decisions.

My hope is that director Rakesh Omprakash Mehra wanted this film to spark a discussion about violent versus non-violent approaches when faced with oppressive and immoral governments. However, a more literal interpretation of Rang De Basanti could result in the glamorization of violent means to wake the population from its lethargy. While some would argue that drastic measures are the only method that captures attention, I’m of the opinion that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves us all blind and toothless. Regardless of where your revolutionary tendencies lie, this is certainly a thought-provoking film and with a cast of capable and authentic actors.

29 July 2007

The Departed

Who the fuck are you?
I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy.

Wow! This has got to be one of the best films I’ve seen in awhile – superb acting, nail-biting tension, complex characters, super sharp dialog, and south Boston accents so thick the rest of the country needs subtitles. Every character in The Departed is thoroughly steeped in the world of lies and deception, but Matt Damon's Colin Sullivan and Leonardo DiCaprio's Billy Costigan perfectly illuminate the psychological damage and behaviors associated with living a dual, and deathly secret, life. DiCaprio creates empathy for Costigan as the young man whose schizophrenic upbringing shuttling between housing projects and elite boarding schools allows him to authentically navigate the Southie underworld whereas Damon creates disdain for Sullivan as the duplicitous cop whose has risen through the ranks as a result of his mob connections. Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg have some of the best, obscenity-infused lines this side of The Sopranos. Only drawback to The Departed – the freakin' bagpipe music – enough of that already….

27 July 2007


I was looking for a quick, fluffy read to devour before Harry Potter arrived and Admissions by Nancy Lieberman fit the bill quite nicely. I guess this is considered part of the "mommy-lit" (as opposed to "chick-lit") genre as the majority of characters are late-30s well-heeled Manhattan-ites frantically negotiating the roller coaster ride of private high school admissions. In this world anticipation isn't about being seen in the right places with the beautiful people, but instead about receiving a phone call or an email from an aloof and/or toad-like admissions officer. Yeah, it sounds about as enjoyable as visiting the Whole Foods in White Plains on a Saturday morning, but it's actually rather entertaining and realistic without being overblown.

Headmistress Pamela Rothschild isn't quite as evil as Miranda Priestly (the Queen B from The Devil Wears Prada) but more than a bit buffoonish and unbelievable. The children in the story are well drawn – particularly Julian , the budding fashion designer whose father wants to send him to "Manover Academy" to "straighten him out," and Zoe, who grapples with issues of race and economic advantage as she tries to decide which type of school she most belongs in. Ideal for the beach, the morning commute, or while waiting for your delayed flight to wherever.

24 July 2007

Rock and Roll High School + 24 Hour Party People

Did they have tickets for the Sermon on the Mount? Of course they didn't, people just turned up because they knew it would be a great gig.

Featuring some of the best songs by the legendary US punk bank, The Ramones, Rock and Roll High School is a cult classical for all the obvious reasons – the acting is generally bad, the dialog horribly clichéd, the gags juvenile, and the wardrobes downright horrific (P.J. Soles as Riff Randell looks like an escapee from a Jane Fonda exercise video)…but Rock and Roll High School is really all about The Ramones, and with half the film devotes to “live” performances (with terrible tracking) you’ll get to hear all your favorites. And is there anyone else who thinks that Parker Posey resembles Mary Woronov (and is it intentional?)

For those of us who also remember the “Manchester sound” of the late 80s and early 90s, 24 Hour Party People transports us back to 1976, reminds us of the Sex Pistols, and then introduces us to the band that would be known as Joy Division. It’s a heady start to a film that centers on the larger and crazier than real life world of Brit TV personality, music promoter, and Factory Records founder Tony Wilson. Sean Harris is chillingly accurate as the late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis and Steve Coogan is simultaneously funny, annoying, intellectually deep, and socially shallow as the effervescent Tony Wilson. The film becomes slightly derailed as the dawn of rave culture begins and IMHO a bit too much significance is granted to the highly dysfunctional drug addicted Happy Mondays (does anyone care any more?). But, if you like Joy Division and New Order, 24 Hour Party People will have digging out that old 12 inch of "Blue Monday" and remembering the days of auld lang syne...

23 July 2007

Unbreakable + Signs

I loved Lady in the Water and The Sixth Sense, but had been warned by IMDB about the spotty “in between” offerings by M. Night Shyamalan. After viewing both I agree that Unbreakable is a waste of time. A more appropriate title would have been Unbelievable as that’s how the characters and plot develop. Bruce Willis is…well…a typical Bruce Willis character – a gruff and ruff guy who takes on a somewhat unbelievable task. Samuel Jackson’s character starts out interesting and slightly freaky but gradually degenerates into something…unbelievable (unbelievably stupid is more like it).

Signs, on the other hand, is somewhat suspenseful and even though I’m not a big Mel Gibson fan, he gives a decent performance as a reverend whose lost faith is returned as his community (nay, the world in total) is attacked by aliens from outer space. There are a few super cheesy LOL moments involving the aliens – let’s just say it might have been better for M. Night to refrain from using full body shots. Listen to the professional reviewers and stick with the better films.

20 July 2007

Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq

Baghdad Burning: Girl Blog from Iraq 8/2003 – 9/2004
By Riverbend

I’m kicking myself for being behind the curve on Riverbend as I wish I had been able to read the Baghdad Burning blog “live” as events were unfolding in 2003 as opposed to years after the fact. So, for the other folks who have been living under the rock with me, go out and get this book now – and while you’re at it, check out http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/.

Riverbend provides a moving, thoughtful, and at times mundane accounting of everyday existence in Baghdad. This includes losing her computer programming job (because she is a woman), surviving with sporadic electricity and phone connection (yes, she was blogging with a dial-up), and living with the constant fear of assassination, abduction, and/or imprisonment of herself, her family, and her friends. One of the most emotionally tragic entries describes, in simple, loving details, the importance and beauty of date trees in Iraq – and the results, both emotional and psychological, of the seemingly trivial destruction of thousands of these revered trees by coalition forces.

What would you do if a foreign soldier came onto your property without just cause and cut down the ancient oak/pine/maple/birch tree in your yard? Offer sincere thanks and a cold drink?

07 July 2007

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell’s second book is a relatively quick read with lots of food for thought. Some of my favorite highlights include:

1) We’ve all been here before, haven’t we?
“The Four Horsemen of Ruinous Relationships: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. With contempt being the true death knell. If you can measure the contempt level in a relationship you don’t need to know other details – you’re pretty much done.” (agreed)

2) Because snooping (a-hem, “research”) is a necessary evil.
“You can learn as much – or more – from one glance at a private space as you can from hours of exposure to the public space.” Damn! If only job interviews involved private time in your future boss’s office and/or home – you’d know exactly what you were getting yourself before you accepted that “fantastic” opportunity.

3) You mean I like furniture better than beer?
Visit www.implicit.harvard.edu for the home of the IAT. Participate in research which shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values.

4) Easier said than done, Malcolm…
“When we talk about analytic versus intuitive decision making, neither is good or bad. What is bad is if you use either of them in an inappropriate circumstance.” This is why those Myers-Briggs consultants are in demand. You trying telling those NTs that their analytic, rational decision making process is inappropriate. See what that gets you…

28 June 2007

Raising Helen

“I'm a sexy man of God, and I know it.”*

Raising Helen is a cute, fluffy kind of New York City movie featuring lots of great clothes and pretty, skinny women in high heels - and three kids from New Jersey whose parents have just died and are shipped off to the big city to live with their young, hipster Aunt (Kate Hudson). The end result is a combination of heart-wrenching drama with plaintive cries of "I miss my Mommy!" (sniff sniff) with slap-dash comedy as Auntie transitions from fashion model agent to used car saleswoman - and meets up with an exceptionally randy Pastor Dan* (played by John Corbett with a rather un-sexy resemblance to Three’s Company-era John Ritter).

Despite the fact that 95% of the film is totally unbelievable (and unremarkable) there are a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments provided by Joan Cusack as the hilariously frightening, mini-van driving, potpourri-loving, "Super Mom" middle sister.

Best thing about Raising Helen: no sign of Meg Ryan.

27 June 2007

The Poe Shadow

I really enjoyed Matthew Pearle’s The Dante Club so I eagerly approached his sophomore offering, The Poe Shadow. Whereas Dante focused on Longfellow and the other Harvard scholars who were involved in translating Dante’s Inferno, The Poe Shadow delves into the mystery of Edgar Allen Poe’s death in Baltimore. The protagonist, Quentin Clark, is a young, slightly excitable lawyer who rejects his previous life of comfort and social standing to embark upon a multi-year quest to unearth the secrets surrounding Poe’s final days.

Matthew Pearl uses his literary research skills to infuse his work of fiction with historical authenticity and continuity. It was this ability to seamlessly blend fiction and non-fiction that made me such an admirer of The Dante Club. However, The Poe Shadow never succeeds in capturing the excitement and intrigue that marked Dante. Clark is a bit too naïve and impressionable a character and while his commitment to solving the mystery of Poe’s demise is clear, he comes off as a bit of an anguished dilettante. It isn’t any great shocker when in the end he realizes that his years of work have yielded few answers, many additional questions, and fueled the coffers of several charlatans and carpet-baggers looking to make a name for themselves. Gee - it sounds like academia...

“…to guess is one of the most elevated and indestructible powers of the human mind, a far more interesting art than reasoning or demonstration because it comes to us directly from imagination.”

06 June 2007

Perry Farrell’s Satellite Party

Ack! I’m totally traumatized. What on earth happened to Perry Farrell? OK, I realize he’s almost 50 but this Ray Davies-meets-Bryan Ferry-meets-the wardrobe assistant from Purple Rain-look is just too much. Maybe he’s been morphing into this for some time and I didn’t notice… It would be less embarrassing if he was still sporting the braids and SoCal surfer thing (like Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks – who’s older but still manages to keep it real). The personal styling is bad and the music on Ultra Payloaded isn’t much better. "Insanity Rains" sounds like a band trying to sound like Jane’s Addiction (and reviewers are heralding this song??!!) and the version of "The Solutionists" is vastly inferior to the identical "Revolution Solution" on Thievery Corporations’ Cosmic Game (which is not the best T.C. offering, but certainly better than anything Satellite Party is cooking up…) . Despite all the negatives, I do like "Wish Upon a DogStar" which leads off the album – but a penchant for slick production and heavy bass lines has been a character fault for a long time now…

04 June 2007

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

A great title, but the jury’s out on this one. Clive Owen is very good as Will Graham – brooding, dark, and sexy as all hell (before and after the hair cut and shave). But this “film noir” leaves too many unanswered questions. We get the dark alleys, the twists and the turns, but not enough insight into the back-story or future directions. Even the relationships between characters is left vague – is Charlotte Rampling’s Helen the wife, sister, mother, or friend to Will and his recently deceased brother, Davey? A bit more definition would have made this considerably more enjoyable.

03 June 2007

Dead Boys: Live at CBGB 1977

It’s been awhile since I’ve splashed in the fountain of 70s punk rock, but thanks to Netflix, I had an opportunity to sample the legendary Dead Boys – Live at CBGBs! 1977! I’ll admit that I never made to CBGBs – ever - and in 1977 I was 9. By the time I discovered the Dead Boys, Stiv Bators was in Paris (but not yet dead) and Cheetah Chrome was living in Boston trying to get gigs at the Rat in Kenmore Square (drug addicted loser). Regardless, this DVD is a great piece of musical history. The footage and sound are amazing and at 28 minutes it’s just one song after another with all the between-song tuning and whatnot edited out. Stiv is so great – clearly paying homage to Iggy and the Stooges but with some nice, personal touches (like blowing his nose into a piece of sandwich meat and eating it). Sonic Reducer and Search & Destroy are two of the best songs to come out of US punk scene and they’re done with rip-roaring intensity here (except that no one goes for the high notes on Sonic Reducer, no surprise there though).

The extras on the DVD include a very interesting performance by Steel Tips – kind of a punk/atonal noise/performance art ensemble. Worth investigating.

I wonder what all those kids at the show are doing now. Probably a bunch of soccer moms and lawn-moving dads renting punk rock documentaries through Netflix…

29 May 2007

Mean Creek

Closing off my recent bout of violence voyeurism is Mean Creek and it is clearly the superior choice to the previous two reviews.

Do you remember your lurid school-age fantasies about the cruel and embarrassing come-uppance of the classroom bully (boy and/or girl)? Mean Creek takes a very realistic approach to a topic that everyone, regardless of generation or location, can relate to and remember (except perhaps, if you spent your childhood being home-schooled on a deserted island). The acting and script is spot on – the kids behave like real kids, the dialog is realistic, and it seems like the writer actually knew something about adolescent psychology.

George, played by Josh Peck, is truly screwed up and obnoxious. He’s a big fat kid with a big fat mouth and attitude to match. It’s also pretty clear that he has some major psychological issues but he never exhibits a minimum level of humanity to anyone that would lead to empathizing with his condition. Simply put: it’s easy not to like him. Rory Culkin is Sam, the small skinny kid who gets the piss beat out of him by George. Sam’s revenge fantasy is taken up by his older brother’s group of friends and a plan is hatched is teach George a lesson. True to Robert Burns, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry” and everyone involved starts to make some very foolish choices. Definitely worth a watch.

21 May 2007

The United States of Leland

I think there are two ways you can see the world. You either see the sadness that's behind everything or you choose to keep it all out.

I unwittingly followed the reading of The Taste of a Man with watching The United States of Leland. What a great combination for inducing mild depression… Like Man, Matthew Ryan Hoge’s Leland illustrates the everyday grim lives of five reasonably well off teenagers and their normally abnormal families. Absent fathers, controlling mothers, alcoholism, drug addiction, and various forms of escapism and passive aggression ripple beneath every scene. The violent behavior that each character engages in is all so unsettlingly familiar and commonplace – which makes you realize how dysfunctional we’ve become as a society. In some ways Leland’s form of destruction is the most humane and empathetic, while the exploitation (under the guise of therapeutic counseling) by Pearl, rivals the black hole of apathy exhibited by Leland’s father for most loathsome character. Ryan Gosling is haunting in the role of Leland – his slow and dreamy cadence initially comes across as disengaged but later reveals a depth of thought and emotion that is heartbreaking.

16 May 2007

The Taste of a Man

By Slavenka Drakulic

“…before leaving I had to decide what to do with two black-and-white enlarged photographs of Jose. I hesitated to destroy them, because they were all I had left of my lover.”

In 212 pages Drakulic takes us on a three month odyssey through the most intimate thoughts of Tereza, a foreign graduate student on a fellowship in New York City, about her relationship with her married lover, and fellow foreign student, Jose. Together the two create a bond of almost inescapable psychological proportions - cemented in food, drink, sex, and their respective limitations with the English language. This detailed portrait of obsession and isolation is painted in such a way that the reader can almost empathize with Tereza’s quest to possess Jose. Tereza justifies her actions so calmly and logically that you never doubt her sanity – even when she brings Jose’s decomposing, frozen head to the airport and kisses his rotting lips before dumping it in a trash can. Sorry for the mini-spoiler, but this is insanity at its finest.

09 May 2007

Dying Young

Dying Young is a prime example of late 80s/early 90s drama.

Every scene is emotionally charged, every character is fraught with underlying, but far from hidden, pain and confusion, and every musical selection sounds like Kenny G. It’s not a bad film, far from it, but it does require a bit of suspended reality (as when Campbell Scott’s hair grown back almost immediately after his chemotherapy treatments). Julia Roberts looks lovely – so natural and feminine – unlike her current overly trimmed and narrow physique. Considering the high drama of the script, the acting is quite good and there are even a few scenes that are quite sad – but in true fairy tale fashion, they aren’t the final one.

06 May 2007

The Geographer's Library

by Jon Fasman

I really wanted to love this book - but after finishing it I'm left with the comparison of going on a date with a person who you believe is going to be truly amazing but in the end, doesn’t quite make the grade.

To start with the positives, the short vignettes about alchemical instruments and their histories were super entertaining and left me wanting to know more. The characters, main and supporting, were generally very well defined - stereotypically or not. The central character, Paul Tomm, is an earnest, 23 year old Ivy League grad who is more than occasionally irritating in that 23 year old earnest Ivy League graduate way.

Half way through my "date" in the Geographer's Library, the plot lost steam and both author and reader find themselves rushing to get everything over and done with as quickly as possible. That such promise should be so unsatisfying was a great disappointment.

Much of the story's action is centered in Providence, RI at Brown University. But instead of referring to places as they truly exist, the author engaged in the highly disconcerting practice of "lightly" swapping names (e.g., Brown is referred to as Wickenden - which in the real world is a well known street right near Brown; Federal Hill became Carroll Hill) This wouldn't pose a problem to readers unfamiliar with the area, but for those of us who know it, mixing familiar with familiar to create something *new* (like we're not going to be able to figure it out?) is just plain irritating.

02 May 2007

Coal Miner's Daughter

I'm not a big fan of country music, but I must admit that country musicians have some pretty interesting biographies. This is certainly true with Coal Miner's Daughter. Sissy Spacek is sassy, "ignorant" (as she refers to herself), and nervously determined as Loretta Lynn - the hillbilly child bride who became the reigning queen of the Grand Ole Opry following the death of Patsy Cline.

The film shows it's age (1980) and it's reverence for Lynn in that it's an overwhelmingly positive, uplifting story. This is decades removed from true-to-life exposes like Walk the Line. The issues of abuse (drug, alcohol, physical, emotional) are minimized - although the viewer is left with the impression that what little is shown is just the tip of the iceberg.

Regardless of how sanitized the story is, you can't help but be drawn to Spacek's portrayal of a seemly simple, yet psychologically complex, woman.

01 May 2007

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

I really enjoyed the first PoC but was sorely disappointed with this follow-up. Sure, the film won all sorts of awards for special effects and whatnot, but I just didn't find them that amazingly spectacular. The characters of Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann have become so stereotypical and one dimensional that they border on annoying and a captivating plot line, IMHO, requires more than jungle chases and sea monsters. However, the third installment is in the works, so it's clear that some people think this qualifies as excellent entertainment...

19 April 2007

The Day After Tomorrow

Oh boy, was this a terrible movie! Dennis Quaid is utterly ridiculous. Just thinking about his constipated-looking facial expressions makes me laugh. The only redeeming quality of losing two hours of your life (and contributing to global warming by consuming electricity) is that the special effects of Los Angeles’ destruction by tornadoes and Manhattan’s tidal wave and super-deep freeze are pretty excellent.

The real bummer about movies like this is that by being so over the top ridiculous it allows people to discount the actual dangers associated with climate change and environmental destruction. Contribute to a safer earth and avoid this one.

16 April 2007

V for Vendetta

“Is it meaningless to apologize?”

After an inconsistent effort with the three Matrix films, Andy and Larry Wachowski have returned to top form with V for Vendetta – a film that has frightening allusions to the world we live in today (government controlled media, religious fundamentalism masked as democracy, secret detainment centers…you get the point).

This film offers significantly less of the highly stylized, computerized fight and battles scenes that permeated the Matrix – and the focus is less on the “wow!” factor and more on plot and character development. If you’re looking for non-stop action adventure you’ll need to go elsewhere. The cast is excellent with strong performances by Stephen Rea and Natalie Portman. Hugo Weaving is a compelling V, but the creepy mask and hair (which I found reminiscent of Michael Jackson) was a bit distracting at times. Looking forward to V II.

14 April 2007

Fabulous Nobodies

Fabulous Nobodies: A Novel About a Girl Who’s in Love with Her Clothes
by Lee Tulloch

Are you curious about the life of Carrie Bradshaw before she became the successful columnist with a penchant for designer clothes and $450 shoes? If you answered “Yes!” then you need to read this book. The story of Reality Nirvana Tuttle is, without a doubt, an unintended pre-quel to Sex and the City.

Fabulous Nobodies is funny, earnest, so very New York City in the late 1980s, and, for those of us who were in our 20s during that time, a wonderful fun trip down memory lane. If you can remember when in was possible to rent an apartment in alphabet city for $350 month and have a tub in your kitchen then you’ll appreciate this story. If you can remember scouring Goodwill, Sal’s Boutique, and vintage clothing shops with your meager earnings from a club, record store, or underground publication then you’ll appreciate this story. If you can remember life before the internet and came of age at a time when local fanzines and arts newspapers were the ruling social arbiters then you’ll appreciate this story.

Lee Tulloch’s book is a completely captivating snapshot of a place, time, and people who no longer exist except in our scrapbooks and collected memorabilia.

09 April 2007

To The Nines

To The Nines
by Janet Evanovich

Just like your favorite sweet or crunchy snack, it’s impossible to sample just one Stephanie Plum mystery. After finishing Hard Eight last week I immediately rummaged through my bookshelves in hope that I had the follow-up stashed somewhere. *phew* To the Nines was successfully located and promptly devoured.

This title has Stephanie chasing after a South Asian technology worker who has skipped his work visa bond. Of course there are all sorts of twists and mishaps along the way and the requisite amount of one-liners (Lulu starts the Atkins’ diet and takes to carrying meat around in her handbag) but this story is less slapstick than previous ones. Ranger and Joe Morelli figure prominently as they attempt to protect Stephanie from the psychopath who is behind the worker’s disappearance and the closing chapters are reminiscent of one of the more horrifying scenes from Silence of the Lambs. The major downside to this story was my lack of surprise when the identity of the criminal was revealed – I thought it was pretty obvious right from the start. Time to put the Stephanie Plum snack away and move on to another book.

06 April 2007

Hard Eight

Hard Eight
By Janet Evanovich

Janet E’s Stephanie Plum series is one of my guilty reading pleasures. I brought Hard Eight with me on a six hour flight and it entertained me the entire way (wish I could same the same for the airline…). This particular offering doesn’t really break any new ground – Stephanie is still the bad luck bounty hunter with an attraction for blown up cars and dangerous men. The regular cast of characters is out in full force – Lula, Grandma Mazur, Joe Morelli, Ranger, and Cousin Vinnie - as Stephanie tries to find a missing woman and child on the run from a mobster and capture a few bond hearing deadbeats (always amusing). The dialog is sarcastic and snappy, but in a few scenes it felt a bit overdone and contrived – no matter though, it’s still an entertaining and fun read. I always wondered why they haven’t turned any of these stories into a film or TV series – it could really be a great combination of comedy and action/adventure.

03 April 2007

Please Understand Me II: Temperament, Character, and Intelligence

Please Understand II: Temperament, Character, and Intelligence
By David Keirsey

A friend who works in human resources recommended this book as I was interested in learning about how to effectively communicate with the variety of personalities found in my workplace. This book is grounded in Myers-Briggs theory and explains how intelligence manifests itself in each of the different personality types. A Myers-Briggs assessment is located at the start of the book so you can determine your profile if you don’t already know it and subsequent chapters provide detailed analysis of the four types (called Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, and Rationals by Keirsey). Background info about the Myers-Briggs method and the historical/scientific perspectives of temperament and character development are also explained. Keirsey concludes with sections about Mating, Parenting, and Leading and how the individual types typically approach these tasks.

The book is written for an educated audience (preferable with a little bit of psychology background) but it really keeps the jargon to a minimum and isn’t overly clinical. Very informative and very interesting. Definitely recommended.

25 March 2007

The Devil Wears Prada

I thought the book, The Devil Wears Prada, was decidedly uneven and, at time, cliché, but I did look forward to renting the film because I thought Meryl Streep would be an amazing Miranda Priestly. And yes, Streep was chillingly perfect as the “devil” with her sotto voce delivery and expressionless facile features. The movie maintained some of the naiveté and youthful ignorance of the Andrea (Andy) character but removed most of the pseudo-intellectual, self-righteous snobbery that peppered the book (e.g., the boyfriend, Nate, is making his way up the culinary ladder whereas in the book he worked with disadvantaged children).

The designer clothes are amazing, everyone is thin and beautiful, and you can’t help but feel a bit of empathy for Andy as the fashionistas outwardly make fun of her clothing, “Do you have something better to do? Maybe going to an ugly skirt convention?” Anne Hathaway is very endearing and resistant as Andy, but some of the character’s mannerisms were a bit too reminiscent of Sex and the City’s Charlotte character.

Rent the move, skip the book.

Little Miss Sunshine

"Everyone just pretend to be normal!"

I went into this movie thinking that it was a comedy – friends who had seen it earlier described it as “hysterical” – so I felt a bit disjointed when the first 30 minutes presented nothing but dysfunctional family dynamics of the un-funny kind. The initial family dinner scene with parents Richard and Cheryl, Grandpa, Uncle Frank, and children Olive and Dwayne was almost too uncomfortable to get through but once the “wheels hit the road” so to speak, (the family piles into their VW Bus for the drive from Albuquerque to Redondo Beach, CA) we get to see each character in a more complete light.

While this isn’t a laugh-a-minute film, the comedic scenes are expertly done and extremely humorous – the best of these being the beauty pageant talent competition which was surprising, shockingly hilarious, and socially insightful all at the same time. Along with Alan Arkin as Grandpa, Abigail Breslin steals the show as the adorably quirky and innocent Olive.

20 March 2007

The Village

I few months back I watched the Lady in the Water and thought Bryce Dallas Howard was great – so I was curious to see this earlier picture. Much like in Lady, she has aura of purity about her that is simply luminescent – and it’s all the more captivating as her character is a strong and confident one. Adrien Brody and Joaquin Phoenix offer solid performances and portrait interesting characters, but Howard is the real focal point in any scene. In true M. Night Shyamalan form, there are complex psychological and social tensions rippling above, below, and at the surface. If you liked the first season of Lost, you’ll totally enjoy this film.

This film received plenty of bad reviews from professional critics – Robert Ebert said “…a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn." I’ll admit that I’m an extremely gullible audience member so perhaps other folks saw the “twist” coming from miles away but I was totally and pleasantly surprised. I’ve watched plenty of bad movies and this wasn’t one of them.