Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Book Report: For Whom The Bell Tolls


This is all description and almost no story and suspense. The writing is urgent, penetrating and beautiful, but it goes around in circles, chasing its tail as you hope it starts to approach some sort of greater truth. Maybe that moment comes for some people, but it didn't for me. I saw it as all buildup with no payoff, and it seemed to me that Hemingway wanted the reader to feel just that, given the way he finishes.

I didn't love the book but never resented it and am thoroughly glad I absorbed it. It's a rich exploration of crushed idealism and everpresent despair. The love story stings badly, and that's a credit to the authenticity with which he built it. This is a dense but rich affair that would probably get better on a second go-round. Having the patience for that is another matter.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Book Report: Mere Christianity



C.S. Lewis is an excellent natural storyteller. This book is even more accessible than his children's literature because it's so conversational. That's because it was adapted from radio talks he gave World War II troops to bolster their faith as they struggled through combat. You'd expect an evangelical homily to be condescending or preachy, but his self-deprecation goes miles toward keeping pompousness out of it.

When he veers out of his depth he admits as much, but still has compelling things to say. He vigorously avoids cliches and non-thinking crutches that so often go hand in hand with proselytizing. He writes with both common sense and passionate intellectualism. That helps some of Lewis's bigotry and nonsense easier to swallow than they would be if it all came from someone less skilled.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Book Report: To Kill A Mockingbird



I've never read a book that was as effective a time machine back into childhood. Harper Lee's ear for the way children think and talk is spellbinding. She respects Scout, Jim and Dill and gives each of them distinct and intelligent voices. She kills it with those characters so well that Atticus comes off as stiff and underdeveloped in comparison. Part of that is because she casts him in the simplified, idealized way Scout views the adult world.

The reason the book is a treasure is the way it addresses heavy social issues with such a light, matter-of-fact touch. Lee provides a master's course in the "show don't tell" school of rhetoric, never going the easy route to spout off convenient essays as monologues to make her points. I'm disappointed in myself that it took me so long to get to one of the greatest of novels.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Book Report: The Idiot



The IdiotThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After The Brothers Karamazov and now this, I am done with Dostoyevsky and convinced he blew his load on Crime and Punishment and had coasted on the reputation of that masterpiece, garnering the accolades because people were so enamored with his accomplishment of shining perfection that they were satisfied with flickering glimpses of it in his later stuff.

This one is more comedic and accessible than the block of granite that is Karamazov. The book is at its best when its characters monologue, giving the author a chance to spout his pithy observations before lumbering back to the convoluted story he's spat out. The real idiot here is not Myshkin, but me for continuing to suffer through the book when it was obvious that it sucked and would keep on sucking.


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Monday, July 14, 2014

$5 Foot Long Gone



Subway broke my heart by rendering its $5 Footlong promotion moot. Since July 1, it has existed as a shadow of its former self, dropping its roster to just three of its most ghetto sandwiches and doing away with the rotating $5 selection of one of its premium subs.

The only $5 footlongs remaining are the sandwiches with no ingredients in them. There's the illiterate Veggie Delite, which is what happens when the Sandwich Artists forget the meat; the Egg and Cheese, a breakfast sandwich for those who disagree with the argument that breakfast is the most important meal of the day; and the BLT, which your mom used to make you as a kid when dad's child support didn't come in time and the grocery store rejected her credit cards.

Stricken from the list are my beloved Cold Cut Combo and Spicy Italian, as well as the shockingly-suddenly-too-good-for-the-Abe-Lincoln-menu Black Forest ham and Meatball Marinara.

Now Jared will be thin as the result of poverty as well as malnutrition.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

What I Won't Miss About The World Cup



Is this commercial, which played repeatedly on the Watch ESPN app. It's the saddest thing ever, featuring a mom with a bunch of kids who talks about how she likes dancing.

The insinuation is that she hates her life now because dancing is no longer a part of it. Her youth has been squandered and her dreams are crushed, as she has become a slave to a house of ungrateful brats and a husband who looks at porn all day and ignores her sexual and emotional needs.

So the family goes out camping, and she brings a disco ball along. It's her desperate howl for self-actualization amid the wreckage that has become of her life. Determined to indulge her whim despite the soul-crushing abyss that surrounds her, she puts up the disco ball at the campground and begins dancing by herself.

And then her oppressors join in, forming a grotesque spectacle that existentially mocks her plight. She pretends to be OK with this result as a replacement for that which her life lacks.

I think it's an ad for toothpaste. Or suicide.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Chick-Fail-A


Today was National Cow Appreciation Day -- the sacred occasion on which Chick-fil-A, defender of 'traditional marriage' and 'inventor of the chicken sandwich' -- hands out free food for those willing to demean themselves by dressing as cows.

Naturally, I partake in the festivities with religious zeal. Being that two of my finest and most practiced qualities are thrift and sloth, I put as little effort as possible into cow-ifying myself. While others take to face paint, iron-ons, laminated signs and felt ears, I simply tape pieces of paper to my shirt, pants and ears. The papers serve as my spots, and although my ghetto costume tends to solicit eye rolls from checkout counter clerks, they always give me my free spicy chicken sandwich, waffle fries and lemonade.

Today, however, I met my match in chicanery. I sauntered up to the counter in my usual getup, placed my order, then was told I would need to pay $3 for my fries and drink, because only my sandwich was free.

Me: I thought you gave out combo meals for people who dressed like cows?

Liar (My name for this checkout clerk): No, just an entree.

Me: Really? This must be the first year you've done that.

Liar: Yeah, I guess they changed it.

Me: OK. (swipes credit card and loses what is left of dignity).

As it turns out, Chick-fil-A has not changed anything, and in fact still does hand out free combos to those dressed head-to-toe in bovine garb. It turns out, I assume, that Liar deigned my costume unworthy of a free combo, and came up with the ruse just to lose me, knowing full well that by the time I figured out the truth I would be unwilling to wait in that long line of free food-seeking people to get my $3 back. Again, sloth.

I use this situation as a learning experience. Not to put more effort into my costume, but to be able to confront lying clerks on their nonsense and no longer be forced to pay $3. Next year, I vow, it will be the cows who appreciate me.

Movie Review: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes



Something happened that I never thought possible as I watched Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. I caught myself wishing I was watching Tim Burton's stupid, boneheaded 2001 Planet of the Apes with Marky Mark. And that was the movie that was so awful that it killed off the franchise for a decade, causing it to be rebooted by Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).

The Burton Planet of the Apes was so devastating that it managed to scare people away from seeing the remake of the remake a decade later. Which was a shame, because Rise was one of the best sci-fi movies ever created, with a heartbreaking father-son, scientist-monkey relationship.

There was so much promise to this movie. So much hope dashed. I tried to ignore the colossal red flag it waved in the first 10 minutes, as mediocrely-animated primates engaged in family drama by exchanging adorable, Monkey's Uncle-style sign language, helpfully subtitled so non ASL (Ape Sign Language)-speaking human viewers could follow along. The verbiage-free opening is so patently ridiculous that if the Scary Movie people were to, well, ape it, they wouldn't need to change a thing. Just cut, paste, and wham, you have the funniest sequence in franchise history.

Things go from bizarrely humorous to boring when the scene shifts to the human camp of this post-apocalyptic earth, a stage for a tournament of global domination between man and monkey. There's a timid leader, a regular joe, his compassionate, monkey-paw-stroking wife and their teenage son played by a guy who looks like he's 30. They want to preserve the human way of life, which according to them is to sit around and whine about having no electricity.

I give the movie credit for not only not encouraging the audience to root for the humans, but to make a compelling case to wholeheartedly cheer for the apes to overthrow these idiots and run the planet correctly. That even goes for when Scar Ape (his name is Koba, but he is really Scar from The Lion King, so I have renamed him Scar Ape) overthrows simian leader with a heart of gold Caesar and runs things like Pacino in Scarface.

The crux of the conflict is a dam that the humans need to get working so they can use their iPads and such. The apes, meanwhile, have set up camp nearby, and would rather the humans not send in their Geek Squad to fix it because of their penchant for busting caps in angry apes. Caesar, who in the first movie fell in love with humans because he was buddies with James Franco, thinks there can be a peaceful resolution, but Scar Ape is like "ARGHH OOOPP IPPPA EEA!" which roughly translates to "'Ell, nah, gov'na. Kill 'em all."

Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, who deserved credit in his calling card for going easy on the CGI, forgets that tack and allows his animators to spray the screen with dubious monkey cartoons and 'splosions. The movie turns into a long, dull slog of slow-witted humans tangling with their furry rivals in zero-sum contest of sadness. There are a few winning moments of intraspecies bonding that echo the 2011 movie, but those seem glib and forced rather than earned. Also, I hate how the apes all start off relying on sign language, only to suddenly all gain the ability so speak English like they are the Asian characters from Lost. As if it wasn't bad enough that we had to listen to the dull, hackneyed dialogue spat out by the human characters, it gets much worse when we have to listen to it spout from the mouths of apes as well.

A movie of half measures, spoiled potential, little suspense and tired writing, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has me Done with the Planet of the Apes. At least until the 2001 version pops up again on SyFy channel or whatever it's called these days.

Starring Ande Serkis, Jason Clarke, Kerri Russell and Toby Kebbell. Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Mark Bomback. Directed by Matt Reeves. Rated PG-13. 120 minutes.