A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

A place for FF's to write and read brief reviews of books and films for the benefit of other FF's.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Labyrinth (1986)

The dialogue during the siege of the goblin castle at the end is a weak point.

Akira (1988)

I became sad to learn that a live-action, Americanized, mostly or entirely white remake of Akira is still under way at Warner Bros., and was moved to watch the original 1988 film adaptation again. Conciseness is not ordinarily one of my hobbies, but in half-assed deference to editorial mandate, I will attempt to gloss over numerous interesting points I would otherwise make on this subject.

In my day, young people weren't stupid like they are now, and Japanese things were the exclusive province of the cultural elite, like myself, who studied roughly implemented samizdat translations of Final Fantasy V. In these peaceful days when gopher servers were giving way to the world wide web, I relied on the CD-ROM database Cinemania '94 to prop up my love of world cinema. Ephraim Katz's Film Encyclopedia, Pauline Kael... happy days. Anyways, Pauline, Ebert, and Maltin agreed a sophisticated sensibility like my own should seek out the film Akira, from the then obscure genre of Japanese animation. Their computerized advice was good. I was only familiar with Akira from Marvel Comics' effort to sell the 2000 page sprawler to American audiences. Imagine! Selling Japanese comic books to Americans!

As to the quality of Akira's original film version in the modern day, it's still awesome. It's very briskly paced despite being over two hours long, but deal with it. If you are interested further in the subject, fucking grow up and watch Akira. I'm not here to tell you how to like things, I'm here to spout off about nothing and complain about a movie that hasn't been made yet for having too many white people.

The strategy of Americanizing characters has previously been deployed in the film The Last Airbender, a martial arts adventure with no interest in Asian people. Akira is about post-nuclear life, which is a rather Japanese hobby. Perhaps in addition to Americanizing the characters, the plot will change the nuclear apocalypse to financial mismanagement. A narrower resentment of Japanese people but not other East Asian cultures resulted in the remake of The Karate Kid, which is not as bad as The Last Airbender but is still pretty bad. Lesson: film quality is strongly correlated to involvement of East Asian cultures.

Damn it, Hollywood. If you insist on being racist against the Japanese, which is lame, can't you at least bring Sung Kang and Justin Lin in on this? Maybe Bobby Lee in a small role? Fuck the haters, Bobby Lee is funny.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The People of Paper, by Salvador Plascencia

This book was recommended to me about a year ago by a waitress at Puck Fair (sometimes I talk about books with strangers). I forgot about it until a few weeks ago, when I saw it on the remainder table at St. Mark's Books (which often has at least one good book for sale). There were blurbs from two of my favorite writers, T.C. Boyle and HS George Saunders, who I think was the author's teacher at Syracuse, so I bought it.

Plascencia relies on some of the riskier elements of modern fiction--writing about writing, magical realism, meta-narrative, and rejection of formal convention, including the use of text running both vertically and horizontally and various drawings and pictograms--but he largely has the stylistic chops to pull it off. What some may find self-indulgent gimmickry struck me as inventive storytelling. Plascencia's writing tends towards the sensual, which generally works in the context of the story. There are a lot of descriptions of women eating limes.

I'd recommend The People of Paper, particularly for readers who appreciate writers experimenting with form and structure enough to look past the occasionally overbearing earnestness of their enterprise.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

I really enjoyed this book and am really happy I read it. Generally I have a hard time finishing non-fiction books, because no matter how interesting I find the topic there is always about 60% more detailed information than I need/want/am able to process, and I am too compulsive to skim, so instead I just get bored and give up. Didn't have that problem with this book.

The author includes a lot of big-picture analysis but focuses on the experiences of three separate people -- two men and one woman -- who moved from the south to the north (or west) during the Great Migration. I got a better sense of the men than the woman, maybe because they had much clearer ambitions and flaws and the woman was just sort of plugging away and being reasonable. (Still, a neat lady.)

A major take-away is how hideously racist the white people in northern (and western, and mid-Atlantic) cities were to the migrants. Definitely made me think twice about my latent sense of northern superiority re: race relations.

The book has some great anecdotes, like how an ambitious black man in the south was put in an insane asylum, basically for being "uppity", and some northern friends helped break him out by pretending he was dead and making him lie in a nailed-up coffin (on a train) for 15+ hours. Also there's a really powerful depiction of this black doctor driving from Texas to LA and not being able to rent a motel room because of his race, and not being able to stop and sleep in his car because he fears being harassed/lynched, so he basically has to drive for 30 hours straight and nearly has a nervous breakdown.

Interesting fact re: "white flight": decline in property values often began BEFORE the first black buyer moved in -- "a by-product of the fear and tension itself." Also, despite popular belief, the Great Migration had little, if anything, to do with the boll weevil. (It was mostly about lynching and behaviors ancillary to lynching.)

So, to sum, a great book for helping to understand why our country is the way it is. Readable. Makes a good companion piece to the recent census results and analysis, such as this:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Social Animal by David Brooks

David Brooks. A lot of his jokes are terrible, and a lot of his science seems like junk. He talks about Davos all the time. But he has an avuncular charm. I got his book The Social Animal right away and read it incredibly fast.

The structure of it is a neat experiment which I'd say doesn't work. It is the story of a fictional couple, but every time they do something there's like a paragraph or two going into the behavioral science, sociology, or just speculative theorizing that explains why they did it. The man in the couple is named Harold and the woman is named Erica.

Some of the decisions Erica and Harold make seemed implausible. David Brooks likes them more than I did. Many of the studies Brooks cites sound like nonsense. The thing about people named "Dennis" becoming dentists, for example, I think has been pretty thoroughly debunked. The sociological descriptions are all over the place. The description of a charter school was exactly like the one charter school I ever saw, but the intellectual development of a teenage boy was pretty ridiculous. There's a perfectly rendered Averellian character in Harold's college roommate 'Mark,' but Brooks also imagines that a lot of guys in college talk into the night about Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman.

But I still enjoyed this book, skimming whenever I got bored. I was bored by the parts about the psycho-biological bonding of moms and babies, right at the beginning, but I bet many WIR readers will be enthralled.

My favorite chapter was about politics (294-311), which struck me as a very insightful view of the insider psychology of politicians and campaigns. The part about aging I found oddly moving.

You can read this book fast and I'll bet you'll be engaged. I'll list the best things I thought about or learned from it. I hope everyone does this for nonfiction.

"The writer Andrea Donderi argues that the world is divided between Askers and Guessers. Askers feel no shame when making requests and are willing to be told no without being hurt...Guessers hate asking for favors and feel guilty when saying no to other people's requests. In Guess culture, Donderi writes, you avoid putting a request into words unless you're sure the answer will be yes." (186-7)

"Adulthood can be defined by four accomplishments: moving away from home, getting married, starting a family, and becoming financially independent. In 1960, 70% of American thirty-year olds had accomplished these things. By 2000, fewer than 40% had done the same." (190)

"Warren Buffett used to say that most of the money he'd earned over his lifetime came from fewer than ten decisions." (260)

"A happy life has its recurring set of rhythms: difficulty to harmony, difficulty to harmony." (208).

Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton

In case the title doesn't give it away, BB&B is pretty much the opposite of J.S.Foer's "Eating Animals." The author eats a lot of animals in this book. She also eats a lot of vegetables and fruits, egg sandwiches from her local bodega, and homemade orecchiette from her mother-in-law's house in Puglia. At the expense of outing myself as a lazy, irresponsible eater: I liked this book a lot better than "Eating Animals."

Actually, it's probably unfair of me to compare the two since BB&B is strictly a memoir, not a book that tells us how we should eat and why. Lucky for the reader, the author's life is just as interesting as the food she eats and cooks. Surprise: she has messed-up relationships with her family and lovers! Anyway, if you like books about food and living in New York, I definitely recommend this book. Hamilton is like a female Bourdain, minus his sometimes-gratuitous vulgarity and bravado (and I love Bourdain).

I tried going to her restaurant (Prune) on Sunday, but there was a two hour wait for a table for two. I had a $6 lamb pie and some roasted brussels sprouts from the Tuck Shop next door instead. It was pretty great.

The Tiger's Wife (short story) by Tea Obreht

I know this recently came out as a novel but I wanted to see what the fuss was about so I read the short story (of the same title) that had been included in last year's "Best American Non-Required Reading".

It's a WWII story about a tiger who escapes from a bombed-out zoo, struggles to survive, and comes to form a relationship with a mute Muslim girl. The story focuses on the local mythology that forms around this strange relationship.

It's clear that Obreht is a talented writer and is great at describing various sensations and feelings but as a whole the story left me pretty cold and did not cohere into anything particularly memorable or moving -- I'd be curious to hear from anyone who's read the whole novel. Also I found it pretty hard to get over the feeling that these story elements are (as SC makes fun of in his book) "go-to" literary-fiction elements that young writers glom on to because they tend to win praise for being deep and beautiful and powerful. Namely WWII and tigers. Enough tigers already.

Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

My neighbor, Jonathan Safran Foer, wrote this book about why he doesn't eat animals. It is very convincing. I was convinced that I would become a vegetarian after I read this book, but that didn't happen, because I like eating meat and don't love vegetables. But that is sort of the point of the book: most of us know how the meat industry breeds hybrid monster animals who bare little relation to the chickens and pigs that we imagine and who are so mistreated and malformed that they can barely stand up and their bodies pretty much implode and it is crazy wasteful and horrific and the whole industry is more destructive to the environment than fossil fuels and that goes for fish also and we are very likely to have many more pandemics in the near future because of the crazy way the meat industry is run and even if that wasn't all the case, maybe we shouldn't kill animals to eat them when we don't totally have to. Most of us know that without reading this whole book, but we are willing to ignore it because:

a) meat tastes good.
b) our food is packaged in a way that you don't have to think about it.

Read this book if you dare, but, as in my case, even if you are completely 100 percent convinced that the taste of meat should not overwhelm all of your moral convictions, it's pretty easy to not think about it.

The Lincoln Lawyer

The Lincoln Lawyer is a good movie because there are courtroom scenes. However, the writing is fairly terrible and the story is surprisingly boring. There is a bunch of noise about the morality of being a defense attorney versus prosecutor, but it is not very thoughtful or interesting. Laurence Mason's character seems somewhat offensive. William H. Macy is the best part of the movie. In short, and despite Marisa Tomei being in the movie, a B at best.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Twilight: Eclipse

Twilight: Eclipse is hilarious. I don't know how I can convey how funny it is ... it was definitely the funniest movie of 2010. It's not funny in a so-bad-it's-hilarious way. But it's also definitely not funny on purpose. Every moment is just very entertaining. I recently caught a clip on cable and thought: I don't understand what this movie is supposed to be doing.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

This is a great novel and one that friends will definitely enjoy. It follows several employees at an English language international newspaper in Italy.
I noticed a friend reading it at a coffee shop - which would make a perfect ad for this book, except then I borrowed it from my friend instead of purchasing it, so maybe not a perfect ad.
I hate spoilers so I don't want to say too much more. Basically if you are a fan of history, travel, sadness, jokes, and sex, then you will probably enjoy this. I read A Visit From the Goon Squad right after The Imperfectionists and the two books are actually very similar. I felt like I was taking a seminar on short story narratives about disintegrating trades. AVFTGS is about the dying music industry and The Imperfectionists is about the dying newspaper industry. Everything we love is ending!

Market Day, by James Sturm

Not a shit-ton happens by way of plot in this graphic novel—it's more like a melancholy short story—but it is beautifully drawn and well paced to showcase the drawings and the mood. Explores the question of what it means to put care into one's craft when no one is willing to compensate the extra effort. An interesting topic for any creative types out there.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney (book)

I read this to see what all the fuss is about. Here's the scoop: it's a kid's book. Sorry, adults.

I still might read the second one though.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Salt, the Movie

Angelina Jolie has blond hair in this movie, which was weird at first, but still pretty sexy. The plot isn't terrible and Jolie is somehow able to make all of her crazy stunts seem totally necessary, rather than something she does just because she gets a kick out of. On the other hand, there are probably 10 lines of dialogue in the whole movie and after the fifth extended action sequence in a row I was like, "I wish she would stop escaping so everyone could sit down and have a conversation and try to figure out what the heck is going on." B+

Scenes From an Impending Marriage, by Adrian Tomine

A tiny little graphic novel that Tomine first gave out as a gift to the guests at his wedding. There are a few funny moments, especially when Tomine and his fiancee are choosing a DJ. Tomine captures the hypocricies and absurdities of the whole process, and he's not as needlessly grouchy here as he sometimes depicts himself (although still pretty grouchy). It's a sparse book, but for $9.95 it's a pleasant half-hour of your life.

Homicide, by David Simon

If you are a fan of the television show, Homicide; Life on the Streets, then you will enjoy this book. It is slightly less enjoyable than watching the first two seasons of Homicide; Life on the Streets, but still more enjoyable than watching the last two seasons of Homicide; Life on the streets. Simon's writing style is not obtrusive and the stories usually pack a punch. A solid read, I'd give it a B+/A-.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Welcome! And F.A.Q.

This is the idea: when you read a book or watch a movie, write a review (no longer than one paragraph) here.

So that we can always have a list of good books to read and movies to watch.

What if I want to write about a book I read a long time ago?
O.K., but keep it brief.

What if I want to write about a movie I saw a long time ago?
You can review it, but only if you saw at least 10 minutes of it again after the start of this blog. You can't review "My Girl" just cause you have a thought about it. But if you catch the scene with the bees on TNT one afternoon, you may reflect.

What if I want to write about TV shows?
Start your own blog, genius. (I'd read that blog. You really are a genius.)

How will these rules be enforced?
I don't know, just don't be dicks, ok?