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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach

The first 60 pages of The Art of Fielding are very baseball-y, and I thought it might turn out to be one of my all-time favorite books. Then it got way more college-y, and I didn't enjoy it as much. (Your opinion may differ if you don't have a deep nostalgic affection for taking grounders.)

The main character, Henry Skrimshander, is a college shortstop who's never made an error. It doesn't take Guert Affenlight to recognize that metaphor! (Guert Affenlight is another character.) I think fielding lends itself especially well to prose because so much of it is mental. Excerpts from "The Art of Fielding," a fictional book-within-the-book by fictional shortstop and philosopher Aparicio Rodriguez, were some of my favorite parts.

I guess my complaint with the college-y section is that it feels so constrained. The five main characters mostly interact with each other, and some of their relationships are more interesting than others. (As campus novels go, I prefer the underrated and much more expansive I Am Charlotte Simmons.) Still, Henry's quest for perfection remains compelling throughout the book.

Apparently a lot of references were lost on me because I've never read Moby Dick. I blame Herman Melville for writing Billy Budd and my high school English teacher for making me read Billy Budd and Billy Budd for stinking.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Drillbit Taylor, 2008

Not that terrible! Not very good, and almost no jokes, but Owen Wilson charms me. I watched this while I prepared and ate dinner by myself. I think that is probably the way someone should watch it. Don't make a night of it.

Limitless, 2011

A solid entertainment! Didn't love the ending, and it glossed over some potentially interesting plot points, but that seemed like it was for the sake of keeping the story tight and the audience happy. I wouldn't mind seeing this as a TV series actually.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

My mom's taste in entertainment is weirdly great, the best example being her inexplicable love for Flight of the Conchords. She bought Bel Canto for me, and it did not disappoint. The plot is based on a 1996 hostage crisis in Peru, and Patchett manages to convey the monotony of a months-long standoff without ever being boring. The main characters are very likeable and include a Japanese business executive, his translator, and a famous opera singer. Mostly this book is about how the human capacity for violence is no more powerful than our capacity for appreciating art and beauty and shit.

Fun facts about Ann Patchett from Wikipedia:

For nine years, Patchett worked at Seventeen magazine. She mostly wrote non-fiction, and the magazine would publish only one of every five articles she wrote. She said that the magazine was cruel and eventually she stopped taking criticism personally. She ended her relationship with the magazine after getting into a fight with an editor and exclaiming, "I’ll never darken your door again!"

"Don't read Ann Patchett's other books!" my mom warns.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Trip, 2011

There are a few charming/funny parts in this insanely long Steve Coogan movie, but the best part by far was watching Vali's face while he was watching—he looked so confused and angry the whole time.

Midnight in Paris, 2011

I saw Midnight in Paris a month or two ago. I thought it was O.K., but the acting for the most part was horrible (Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard and the guy who plays Hemingway are the exceptions). Most of the jokes were that Owen Wilson would meet someone and he would say, who was that, and Hemingway or someone would say, "That was Salvador Dali" and Owen Wilson's eyes would bug out and he'd go "BWAH! I JUST MET SALVADOR DALI!" "THAT WAS DEGAS???" "F. SCOTT FITZGERALD, THIS CAN'T BE REAL!!!" Anyway, my parents loved this movie, but they are pretty big Francophiles. I think it would be fun to do a version of this movie in the present day to be released in 50 years— the progatonist meets someone and then goes "WHAT?! THAT WAS KYLE BERKMAN???" and then you just hope that in the future Berkman is a huge superstar.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perrotta

A sex-ed teacher in a New England suburb is made to teach an abstinence only class due to the influx of born-again evangelicals in the town. Meanwhile, a born-again soccer coach struggles with his faith and family. I enjoy Perrotta's writing and the book is a quick read. I was sort of hoping for more of a skewering of the abstinence class, but that would have been pretty easy and it's probably a good thing the book doesn't focus on that very much. One thing I had trouble with is imagining ten-year-olds being good at soccer. I referee'd a ten-year-olds' soccer game once and the kids didn't even know where they were. No one was running in the same direction. There might as well not have been a ball.

Chronic City, by Jonathan Lethem

About some oddball characters in a slightly altered version of New York City. There are some interesting parts in this book, but seems a little cutesy if you live in and are familiar with New York. I don't quite know what to make of it, to be honest. I wouldn't recommend it if you are on a beach somewhere, but I wouldn't discourage you from reading it if you are holed up in an air conditioned apartment and feeling sort of out of place in the world. The middle third of the book is pretty aggravating.

However, I would strongly recommend Lethem's graphic novel update of "Omega the Unknown." So there you have it.

Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer

The story of the catastrophic 1996 ascent of Mt. Everest. I love Krakauer. This story is compelling and tragic. I'd read Into The Wild, and after reading this I bought Under the Banner of Heaven and Where Men Win Glory. What I'm trying to say is that I'm making quite a bit of throwing-around money.

Citizens of London, by Lynne Olson

Very interesting book about the Americans who were pushing for the United States to enter WWII while Britain was struggling to survive as the last European holdout against the Nazis. It focuses on Averell Harriman (not a particularly positive portrait of him), Edward R. Murrow, and Gil Winant, who is the most fascinating character in the book. Churchill and Roosevelt, meanwhile, come off as big egotistical babies. Crazily, all three of these American protagonists become so closely involved with the British wartime government that all of them had affairs with members of Churchill's family.

Everything Must Go, and Blue Valentine

These movies are depressing as SHIT.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


This movie was pretty much what I expected: a "good" but not very emotionally compelling depiction of what a pandemic might look like if a bunch of movie stars were involved. I was a little ahead of the game, from having played the board game Pandemic -- and I got a little distracted trying to figure out whether Laurence Fishburne was supposed to be the Operations Manager or the Dispatcher, or why they didn't just set up a research station in Macau from "Day 1". I guess these are the burdens of being an expert!

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Big Nowhere, by James Ellroy

This is without question the darkest book I've ever read. Although it was my first Ellroy novel, I pretty much knew what to expect from "L.A. Confidential" (the movie) and "The Black Dahlia" (the horrible movie) -- two or three cops with nearly polar opposite personalities, thrown together by happenstance or machination, explore the criminal underbelly of mid-century Los Angeles in a dangerous attempt to unravel a potentially explosive conspiracy. What I did not expect was skullfucking.

Ellroy does a fantastic job of personalizing the characters' investigations in a believable way, and there's a lot of great stuff about the extent and nature of Communist influence in Hollywood and the politicians' less than patriotic motives for uncovering it. Howard Hughes is a minor character. Howard Hughes's pimp is a major character. There is a dog called Rape-o.

I think James Ellroy would be good at writing phools' names.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Stripes (1981)

A comedy starring Bill Murray and Harold Ramis with no jokes.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In Pharaoh's Army by Tobias Wolff

This knocked Michael Herr's "Dispatches" out of top place for best book I ever read about Vietnam. The writing had such a quality of honesty that it shined an embarrassing light on most other memoirs, and made me realize how much other memoirists are bogged down with carefully calibrating their self-presentation. Wolff seems to have blown past that to some higher Zen level. Sometimes he seems heroic, sometimes he is selfish, sometimes he is kind, or cruel, or just plain dumb, but in very human ways. He seems to never exaggerate his incompetence for comedy or his dark experiences for tragedy, it all seems presented cleanly and evenly. As if he already thought through everything you could think of him and moved on.

This book is in the form of short chapters, short stories really, which makes for easy reading. I did sometimes think the chapters were completed with a short story-style tidiness, like well-made dumplings. As if he'd been thinking about them so long the reality of the experience became too polished? But he knows better than me what it's like to remember these things.

At one point Wolff befriends a Harvard guy. That was a really interesting chapter.

Fire In Babylon

This documentary is about the West Indes cricket team in the 1970s. You might think, "Wow, what a great example of a thing I don't care about!" BUT: this movie is terrific. Great characters, great drama, twists and turns, great villains, great music, a great part where one of the Wailers shoos away a dog, great footage of Jamaica and Barbados in the '70s.

The Thin Blue Line

This was a deep one on my queue, but with the help of FF BFD I polished it off last night. Very compelling. Both the form of the movie and content of the story kept me engaged. It was so artfully constructed it made me think most other people making documentaries are a whole class below Errol Morris.