Thursday, November 26, 2015

Book Report: A Confederacy of Dunces

Very much a Don Quixote for the modern era. Ignatius, the obese, racist, homophobic and entitled moron, also shares a lot with Ash from Army of Darkness. There is nothing to like about the character, but he's irresistible because of his unwarranted audacity. He is a self-parody living in a parody of New Orleans, which itself is a parody of civilization. John Kennedy Toole ratchets up the absurdity and keeps the comedy flowing constantly, to create his one great masterwork before he took his own life. As he might have morbidly assumed, he didn't receive a lick of notoriety until his mom forced his ratty manuscript on a literary professor.

This is one of the funniest books I've read, with humor that's bittersweet not only because of the circumstances of its creation but because of the futility of Ignatius's grandiose plans to conquer the world with his never-finished manuscript and find true love in a stripper he sees on an advertisement and fashions to be a trapped intellectual like himself. Ignatius is an insane moron, but lovably so, and to gaze into his soul is to glimpse uncomfortably at your own incompetence. This is a beautiful book that is also an overworn joke beaten to death and resurrected, only to be killed again chapter after chapter.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Report: The Snow Queen

I'm surprised crack cocaine didn't exist in the days of Hans Christian Andersen, because he seems to have partaken while he was writing this. I have read some freaky old-time children's tales, so it's tough to shake me. But this one managed to do it by getting really weird and disturbing from the outset, then slamming hard on the gas and careening off the bridge and tumbling into a fireball of oblivion.

We're talking magic mirror shards that get lodged in your skin to give you superpowers, talking dolls and -- not joking -- the recurring sidekick character Baby Jesus. This story is said to be the basis of Frozen, but very little of this grease fire besides the snowy setting made it into the movie. That is for the best.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Report: Emma

This is one of the most fascinating, and sickening, character studies I have come across. There are two sides to Emma -- something deep and nasty that doesn't come across in the movie adaptation or the loose, modernized version, Clueless.

On one side, Emma is a conniving sociopath obsessed with manipulating everyone around her to fulfill her whims, as well as the scared child who does everything she can to suspend her childhood and avoid starting her adult life. Much of the latter persona comes from the cruel, needy influence of her dad, who pulls the same manipulative tricks on her that she does on her friends and suitors. Emma's dad maneuvers to imprison her as some sort of nonsexual pseudo-wife/servant, just as she dominates Harriet, possibly in an expression of a repressed longing to capture her as a wife/servant for herself.

While Harriet slowly manages to break free of Emma's grip, Emma wrestles against the unspoken tyranny exerted by her dad, and the high-stakes chess game plays out in a vicious satire that leaves everyone hurting for most of the time. I loved it all except for the ending, which is exuberant and fulfilling in a romantic comedy way, but feels like a cheap cop-out that dismisses some of the harrowing truths Jane Austen was building toward.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Report: The Count of Monte Cristo

It's amazing how filmmakers have been able to magic the drudgery of Alexandre Dumas into really good stories, whether it be The Three Musketeers or this. Dumas is a terrible storyteller because he is incapable of weeding out unnecessary details to move things along. He's the man who invented oversharing. This book, just like the others I've had the misery of reading, was painful to get through, burdened with laborious and pointless exposition and description that bogs down the already limping plot.

His characters all speak as though they're the same, constipated and dull old man who runs around and puts on different costumes, playing every part of the neverending play. At least Dumas makes you feel what it's like to be the main character, unfairly imprisoned and deprived of sensory stimulation, with an obsessive revenge festering inside your soul day by day.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Report: Fight Club

It's a narrative of pure poetry in the manner of Dante, Homer or Milton. Oozing with existentialist angst, it shields its eyes and blindly spelunks the dark, directionless fears of a lost generation in the way Kerouac and Fitzgerald did. I want to learn entire chapters and be able to recite them on demand at parties. Every phrase is a war cry that stings and leaves resounding echoes that bounce around in your head.

The only knock I have on the book is it's not as good as the movie based on it. It's one of the best books I've read, but these are still just the dusty bones into which David Fincher breathed bitter.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Book Report: The Secret Garden

It's a long, slow burn that pays off really well at the end with emotional impact that hits you sideways and ties a bunch of meandering narrative choices together in  a resonant finale.

It's tough to get behind the protagonists, two who are snot-nosed punks who take an alarmingly long time to evolve and show redemptive qualities, and the other who's a paper-thin caricature without any depth.

What the book is best at is capturing the thought and discussion patterns of sheltered kids as they try to make sense of the harsh realities of the world. It reminded me a little of To Kill a Mockingbird in that sense. Overall, the book is a worthwhile, but rocky trip.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Movie Review: Entourage

Coolio should have sung the theme song for the Entourage move.

Been livin' most our lives livin' in a douchebag paradise.

This isn't a complaint against the series' douchebaggery. To like Entrouage is to embrace its solipsistic bubbleworld, in which everyone is rich and fulfilled and their only problems are fleeting worries that they may not be able to be even more rich and fulfilled by the time the movie ends. The worries are unfounded, of course, because the show is as upbeat and giddy as My Little Pony. Friendship is magic, and to dream something is to have it come true, easily and automagically.

And I love it. That's exactly what I wanted from the show, as well as this movie. It's fun, Sex and the City-for-dudes escapism, and the movie frolics in its comfort zone without worry or consequence.

Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), freshly divorced off a weeklong marriage, is ready to fulfill his lifelong goal of becoming Ben Affleck by directing and starring in a tailor-made Oscar contender. Agent/new studio head Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), hooks this up without a problem, and the crew of hangers-on-turned-Vince-made-millionaires E (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) are all along for the nonstop party thrillride they have become accustomed to.

There might have been a little drama had writer/director Doug Ellin decided to make Vince's movie a bomb, but instead it's a surefire Oscar contender that's gone overbudget. Only the deep pockets of a Texas oil baron (Billy Bob Thornton) and his snotty, entitled, Vince-hating son (a puffed-up Haley Joel Osment) can make that happen. So the guys juggle personal problems (i.e. which insanely hot women from their rosters should they bump to the top) while working the political minefield to get Vince the money to finish the movie.

None of this is exciting or consequential, but it's interesting, if only for the flood of self-referential/deprecating celebrity cameos, witty-in-a-frat-house-sorta-way dialogue and Piven's stinging one-liners. The movie works just as the TV show did, and in cramming a season's worth of plot developments, proves that each season of the show could have done the same.

But all the padded-out time with the series was well wasted. If nothing else, the movie proves that the franchise is still viable and belongs back in a weekly slot on HBO. Since that's not happening, this is the next best thing. Are annual sequels too much to ask?

Starring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon and Jeremy Piven. Written and directed by Doug Ellin. 104 minutes. Rated R.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Book Report: Uncle Tom's Cabin

The book is so prophetic in its projections of racial dynamics that it's hard to believe it was written before the Civil War. This book was probably responsible for shaping social thought and consciousness in the minds who would permanently change society for the better. Harriet Beecher Stowe was not only enlightened and forward thinking, but also blessed with the ability to sympathize with those who held a completely opposite worldview.

Strictly going by storytelling, the book is kind of dry and static, but that doesn't take away from the emotional and spiritual strength of the writing.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Good Job, Baltimorons

For burning down CVS. CVS was clearly at fault for Freddie Gray's death. How else will convenience stores learn to stop letting cops kill people if protesters let them remain unburned? Glad you were there to teach CVS a lesson.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Did It!

Disney did its darndest to try to make me lust after the $90 Star Wars digital bundle, but I avoided the siren song and kept my money. My escape involved forcing my children to watch the first two prequels on Blu-ray this weekend. No buffering or choppy streaming. No download space taken up on my PS4 or Xbox One hard drive. Luddicism wins out, although the force was strong with this one.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Near-Death Experience

Sunday night on westbound I-10 at Orange Grove, a car going the wrong way in the far left lane barreled toward me. There was a semi to my right, and I swerved into the middle lane. The semi swerved as well, making just enough room for me, and the wrong-way car just kept on going. I called 911 as I drove and the semi pulled over, probably to do the same. I'm grateful to be alive and unharmed and thankful that guy apparently didn't kill someone else.

I found out the next day that a DPS officer ended up tracking down the guy, who was a drunk, and ramming him off the road. Several other potential victims narrowly skirted death, just like me. I plan to attend his court appearances, volunteer myself as a witness and do whatever I can to make sure he is locked away for as long as possible.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book Report: Inferno

This is the worst Dan Brown book that I've read. He isn't even trying anymore - content to fall back on awful cliches and hackneyed narrative devices. He is obsessed with thought bubbles this time out, with characters thinking obvious observations to themselves. It got to the point where the thought bubbles would cause Pavlovian gags in me whenever I got to them.

Usually, at the very least, you can count on Brown for fascinating historical facts. He provides the minimum required to justify the novel, rather the flood of breathless hidden knowledge he usually cranks out. He wierldy turns Dan Brown and his sidekick into action heroes, dodging bullets, taking down enemies with martial arts moves and making acrobatic escapes. It almost rises to the level of self-parody, if the upshot wasn't so sad. This author has nothing more to say, and he should go away now. But he probably won't and I will be back like a sucker to read his next swirl of word vomit.