Friday, October 26, 2007

His Dark Material

Books: His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass)
Author: Philip Pullman
Like/Don't Like: I'm going to have to go with Don't Like, even though it really hurts to do it.

I was disappointed. And nothing is more hurtful to me than a book that disappoints. Especially after it promises so much.

I finished the last book on Tuesday night but it's taken me a while to do this review because I was so torn by it. It was an incredibly enthralling series. From the very beginning it sucks you in and all you can think about are what will happen to Lyra and Will, will they be able to escape from all the danger in their way, will they be able to save all those people they need to, will they be reunited with those they love. And all the while they're having one great adventure after another that seriously made me exhausted at the end. And they're good, brave kids with very pure and unselfish motives, who just want to do the right thing. The awful state of my bedroom is a testament to just how little I've been able to do because I've been so into these books.

But the more the story progressed the more disappointed I became. Not because the story started losing steam, but because through it all there was a very anti-religion undercurrent (and not so under near the end) that I found really distasteful. I once wrote about how much it bothers me when authors put too much of themselves into a story. I'm especially bothered when it's so blatantly their own personal agenda. And certainly even more when it's in a children's book. If I'm reading and the thought comes to me, "Boy, this guy really hates Catholics and God," then he's not disguising himself well enough. I guess it bothered me more on a technical level than anything else. It felt like he was taunting rather than writing and it ended up really muddling the story line. At the moment that everything was suppose to start making sense and questions were suppose to be answered these ideas started coming out in big neon signs and it seemed petty to hold onto them at the cost of the story line.

I don't want to come off sounding righteously indignant about this. I'm not. The guy is a great storyteller and he can and should write whatever he wants. I'm also not saying you shouldn't read this book just because I happen to disagree with it. Although you should certainly read it before you let your kids read it, but you should be doing that anyway. I've read plenty of books that I didn't necessarily agree with but still loved, and plenty of books that professed beliefs other than my own that I found inspirational and beautiful. Isn't that the whole point of reading? And if I read only books that did fit inside my beliefs I would be stuck with Mormon fiction - and that is a miserable option. I just wish he hadn't tried to hit me over the head with it. It kind of broke my heart. I don't think I would have been so disappointed if I hadn't loved it so much in the beginning.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Miss Potter

Movie: Miss Potter
Like/Don't Like: Like*

Dear Renee Zellweger,

I wish you would stop making movies. Especially movies that I want to see. Because there's something about you that makes me really uncomfortable. Okay, there are several things about you that make me uncomfortable.

I'll start with the eyes. How can you see through those things? With the exception of Bridget Jones' Diary, where you had to stand agog and googly eyed a lot, your eyes are usually two inky black holes in your head. I'm not kidding, when I picture you in my head all I can see is your face with no eyes. Like a dead doll. It's kind of creepy. But, those were the eyes you were born with and I applaud your resolve to not get them done. Although, if you were ever considering plastic surgery, that should be the top of your list: eye implants.

How about we move on to the things you can work on now. For instance, that habit you have of scrunching up your face and pursing your lips and tucking your chin in. It is not very flattering. And your voice. Why do you always have to whisper? And sometimes you act like you're drunk. There have been several times when I've seen you on Oprah or presenting at the Oscars and you look like you killed the time during your limo ride by playing a drinking game with your publicist where you had to take a drink any time you saw a car that wasn't plaid. I got the impression the last time I saw you on Oprah that maybe it's shyness. Maybe you feel awkward in public. Here's a tip, if you act natural, and not like a lush, and you smile and talk at a normal voice then you give off the impression that you're actually quite comfortable, even if you're not.

It's called acting, Renee.

Which brings me to your movie. I liked Miss Potter the same way I like oatmeal. They're both very wholesome and satisfying and easy to digest. I certainly don't mind oatmeal, and sometimes I even crave it. But even though I like oatmeal, I always wish that it were bacon instead. And while I liked the movie, I was kind of wishing that it were something different. Mostly because, like oatmeal, it was kind of bland. In order to make oatmeal better you have to add butter and brown sugar. And for Miss Potter to be better it would have needed more of a story line, and possibly less of you and your beady little eyes. A British actress would have been a good start. Or at least someone who could do a more convincing accent.

Sincerely, Rachel

*The asterisk has created a new category. It means that I will remember liking the movie but something will hold me back from saying that I really liked it and you should watch it this minute.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Starter for 10

Movie: Starter for 10
Like/Don't Like: Like

Ever since Cynde saw Becoming Jane she's been slightly obsessed with James McAvoy. And rightly so. He's adorable. The type of fellow you want to follow you around and feed you cookies. Because of this she's been recommending Starter for 10 to me for a month now.

As usual, she was right. It was a very charming film.

It fits into that wonderful category of British Cute. You know, along with Dear Frankie, Kinky Boots, Millions (I was mesmerized by that child's freckles. They were so big. I wanted to name them.) British Cute movies usually follow the same pattern: grey sky, dreary town, awkward- cute moment, quirky neighbor/flat-mate/pal, reference to Margaret Thatcher, another awkward-cute moment, fish 'n chips shop, crisis, crisis resolved, awkward-cute ending. (Side note: I've never liked the way awkward was spelled. It's the "wkw" in it. What distinguished this one from the others is the rockin' sound track. The Cure, The Smiths, etc. It made me want to wear Docs and write bad poetry. It would have made me want to listen to Kevin and Bean on KROQ. Except that I still do that every morning. Although now instead of the Cure they play way too much Snow Patrol, which means I no longer listen to the music part of KROQ.

There was a guy in the movie whom I recognized but couldn't remember from where so I went onto IMDb and found out that his name is Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace. That's where I saw him. That movie with Horatio Hornblower about slavery in England.) Could there be any greater British name than Benedict Cumberbatch. I don't think so. It's sounds like he should be a friend of Bertie Wooster's. All "I say!" and "What utter rot!" and "Be a good man and lend me a fiver?"

Oh, right, back to the movie. Yes, I liked it. You should give it a try.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fall for Dance

Event: Fall for Dance
Place: Orange County Performing Artscenter*
Like/Don't Like: Don't Like

I'm always up for a cheap live artsy event so when Katie said that there were $10 good seats for this dance thing at OCPAC I said sure. It was probably around the time when So You Think You Can Dance was on so I'm sure I was feeling like I really got dance at the time. Like I totally know all about movement and emotion and whatever. I'm clearly insane. I know nothing about dance.

I consider myself to be appreciative of the Arts. You all know how much I love to hug books, but I also love art and plays and movies and music. And I feel like I can usually get it. I don't need a whole lot of explanation to understand what makes something worthwhile. This is mostly because I'm fairly simple minded (remember, it's called "like/don't like" for a reason). But apparently I have been deluding myself for years and should probably head home to the backwoods of Chino because most of the dances made me think that I must be some small town rube. I didn't get it at all.

Here's how the night broke down:

That Ball Thingy
The Nudey One
Martha Graham's Statement Against Fascism
The One with the Muscly Man
The Hip-Hop One
The One of the Wall

A brief synopsis in semi-random order:

The One with the Muscly Man was just that. "Wow" is about all I have to say. Okay, "wow" and "huh?" because it didn't make much sense. But it was very beautiful to watch.

The Hip-Hop One was pretty good, mostly straight-forward stuff. Although I was slightly disturbed that one of the dances kept holding onto the crotch of his pants. I wanted to let him know that only 4 year old boys are allowed to get away with that.

The award for weirdest dance went to Martha Graham's Statement Against Fascism. Initially I thought that it was pretty cool that we got to see the Martha Graham dance company perform one of her signature pieces. But that was before it started. That chick was crazy! Which, kind of made it fun to watch. And fun to imitate. The next time we're together you should ask to see some of the moves. I will be happy to show you. Or you can just watch the choreography scene in "White Christmas". It's the same stuff. At least this one had a good synopsis to explain it all to us.

That Ball Thingy is almost impossible to describe without it sounding incredibly dorky, but it was actually kind of mesmerizing. It was basically 60 people passing brightly colored Nerf balls in funky patterns. This was the largest ball-passing thingy ever attempted. Up until this point the most that had been done was 45. Yep, passing balls is for dorks but it looked like they were having a good time.

And now for the Nudey One. It was a duet from some Dutch ballet company and the synopsis said something about how throughout the dance they will reveal their true colors. Well, apparently that true color is flesh. Halfway through the show both dancers took their shirts off and they had shirts on underneath. But near the end the guy took his shirt off with nothing on underneath and then I think our collective thought process went something like this: She's not going to...oh, she is going to take it off...But she wouldn't...okay, she did turn around... But surely they'll...nope, no strategically placed arms. They totally could have charged more than $10 for this.

By the end of the show we were pretty confused but they still had one more performance outside in the courtyard and it redeemed the whole night. A bunch of dancers repelled down the side of the building and danced on the wall. Now that was cool.

*Dear OCPAC, Art Center is two words, not one. Love, Rachel

Monday, October 8, 2007

Empire Falls

Book: Empire Falls
Author: Richard Russo
Like/Don't Like: Like!

I find that I can't stop thinking about this book. I loved it. Kudos to the Pulitzer people for giving it their little prize.

It was a completely satisfying book. The type that reminds you why you spent years of your childhood reading when you could have been not failing geometry. It had the three most important qualities that I look for in a book: pacing, character, and story. I never wanted to put it down. It kept slowly uncovering pieces of the story and giving you just enough to satisfy the edge but keep you wanting more.

And remember how I complained about Love Walked In being chopped up by the perspective switch and asked if anyone had read a book that did this well? Who would have thought that the very next book I read would be the one. There were at least a dozen characters who each got a turn. Because the story dealt with the entire town of Empire Falls it was best told this way, but it flowed beautifully. The minute you wondered what was happening with another character it would switch over to them.

It was an easy book to read in that it was so nicely put together but I struggled with a few parts. Some of the characters were disturbing and I found myself skimming through a lot of their chapters because I couldn't handle the stench of them, and all the swearing (I'm sensitive, alright!). And it had some very tragic scenes. One in particular. I'm welling up thinking about it. When I read I'm usually slow to cry. This is not to say that I don't cry at books. I cry at almost every book. It's just that sometimes it takes a minute or two for things to set in. But not with this. This was a burst of tears that came before the sentence even ended and was so bad that I couldn't see the page to read for about 5 minutes. You have been warned.

I also had issue with how God was handled in it. I love it when characters discuss their belief or lack of belief in God, especially when their ideas differ from each other. But everyone in the book seemed to have the exact same idea of Him, that he was a pretty handy fellow to have around, either to blame for your misfortunes, accuse of unfairness, or to help justify your actions. I suppose that's how most people treat God, but it seemed a little too convenient that everyone, including the priest, felt the same way.

Oh, and I'm giving negative points for overuse of the word intuit.

But really, I can't complain over these things when everything else about the book made me want to hug it. There wasn't a single point in the book where I wanted it to end and I didn't roll my eyes once. High praise.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Sweet Land

Movie: Sweet Land
Like/Don't Like: Like

I usually can't remember how I hear about things. Especially the obscure movies and albums I come across. A good guess would be NPR but that's not always the case. Take for instance Sweet Land. I'm pretty sure it wasn't NPR so maybe it was the newspaper, or the radio. I don't remember seeing a single ad for it when it was out and I really have no idea how it ended up on my Netflix queue (is anyone else thrown by the spelling of queue? It gets me every time.) Regardless, it came months ago, I think during my stint with Maynard, and because I was so busy letting him outside to not pee I didn't have time to watch it then. I also didn't have much time to watch it in between my job with Maynard and my job at the Duke's. And when I left for the Duke's I thought I should probably take it with me, but by that point it was lost somewhere on my desk, which NASA has categorized as a black hole.

Well, I found it last night and decided that it was about time I watched it. And now a list of pros and cons:

1.) Gorgeous! It was beautifully filmed. Long shots of blue skies and corn fields. Is Minnesota really that beautiful? I would be tempted to move there if I didn't know that the entire state is buried under ice for half the year. Don't try and trick me Minnesota, with your pretty landscape!
2.) Sentimental without making me want to gag. Like Sarah Big and Small, I mean Plain and Tall. Same premise too. Strong willed mail order bride comes to a farm and helps out.
3.) Ah, romance. I'm a sucker for romantic movies and this was a good one.
4.) It was a solid story. Very simple and no surprises but it's nice for the soul to see good people working hard and doing the right thing.

1.) Alan Cummings hair. It was the exact same hair that he had in Circle of Friends and Emma. Greasy and floppy.
2.) And this is the big one. If you are a director and you've already made a rather sentimental romantic movie you have to be aware that a kiss between the two leads is the only appropriate ending. If you don't have them kiss at the end then the past two hours filled with longing looks and smoldering gazes and scene wherein the girl teaches the guy to dance just makes you a tease and a flirt. You have to have them kiss!

I'm not raving about it but if you're in the mood for a good love story with no kissing at the end then pick it up.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga

Album: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Artist: Spoon
Like/Don't Like: Like

I had a hard time making it all the way through this album because I couldn't stop listening to track 7, the Underdog. This song is the reason why I got the album in the first place. Catchy, very catchy.

And, as it turns out, so are all the other songs. I finally listened to the whole thing yesterday and liked it all. Kind of a peppy-rock feel, good for bouncing along to while your driving. I bet they would be fun to see live. Mostly because of the back-up clapping. The album is full of it. That's what puts Underdog at the top for me - all that clapping. You'll know what I'm talking about when you hear. It kind of makes it dangerous to drive. I'm a sucker for clapping in songs. There's nothing worse than an over-produced album, and clapping signifies a very low-tech approach that I can appreciate. Okay, and it makes me think of that scene in That Think You Do with Chris Isaak clapping as they record the song in the church. Mmm...Chris Isaak.