Monday, December 5, 2016

Review: Logan's Run

Logan's Run (Logan, #1)Logan's Run by William F. Nolan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is Logan's Run a good movie? Not particularly. Is Logan's Run a good book? Not particularly. Though it starts out well, it soon turns into, first this happens, then this happens, and then this happens. The end. So it's only exciting and for the first 20 pages or so. Then it dovetails, reaches some heights, and then concludes. a sci-fi masterpiece, it's not, but it didn't have to be. It's short, and that's fine. Mediocre with a hint of greatest. What else do you need?

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Review: The Prince and The Pauper

The Prince and the PauperThe Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This rather short book took me quite awhile to get through. It's not that it's bad. In fact, after struggling through the first 60 pages for a couple of weeks, I read the rest of the book in a single day. This is not because it picks up considerably, but rather because I had the time. It's the kind of book that doesn't grip you because you pretty much already know where it's headed. That's not the book's fault since many familiar tropes come from this famous novel (Any mistaken identity story has this book to thank as its inspiration). The fantastic satiric humor of Twain is of course present, but it doesn't have the same grip or relevancy as Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, or A Confederate Yankee in King Arthur's Court. It's kind of just blah. A fun book, to be sure, but not a great one. You can pass on it.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Call to Democrats: Stay Angry

(Image taken from: Daily News Bin) Registered Democrats are usually supposed to be the “adults.” While Republicans can go about calling us “libtards” on social media and saying that we “just want everything for free,” Democrats are supposed to be the ones who take the higher ground. In many ways, we’re often called out as being elitists since we tend to believe we’re somehow better and smarter than our myth chasing, science disbelieving counterparts. But on November 8th, we lost everything. Republicans will retain the House and Senate and we’ll also have a Republican president. So, in every way, we’re screwed.

But we don’t have to take it lying down. Donald Trump didn’t just dismantle and refigure the Republican Party overnight. The Tea Party was doing it for years before he started his campaign, and we as Liberals need to do the same. I’m not saying that we should mount Bernie Sanders as our patriot and form a leftist version of the Tea Party. The “We are the 99%” movement ran its course and doesn’t need to be revived. But I am saying that we need to be just as divisive and rigid in our beliefs as Republicans have been for years. This might sound counter to our beliefs, but we need to be petty like Republicans. One thing the GOP loved doing was snatching away any of Obama’s achievements. If the economy was doing well, it had nothing to do with Obama. If Obama was taking out members of ISIS in drone strikes, the moment something terrible happened like the Boston bombing or San Bernardino, he wasn’t doing enough to keep us safe from terrorists. Well, you know what? We need to do the same for Trump and his administration, and we need to start right now.

One narrative I am afraid to see unfold is the destruction of the Obama legacy for the birth of the Trump Presidency. There are those who honestly believe that a black man ruined this country and that a white man will make America great again, and we need to make sure that Republicans account for their own failures. There will be many who still blame Obama even though Republicans control all the major seats, but we can’t let them get away with that. We need to hammer them on social media and out in the streets that this country was heading in the right direction during Obama’s two terms, and that all future failures will be on their shoulders and their shoulders alone. Republicans are already saying that we should just accept the course of action now that our democracy has picked Donald Trump as President, but there are those who never accepted Barack Obama as President, and we should do the same with their candidate.

One might say I’m preaching hate and not love, and it’s a fair argument. But we can’t just submit like Republicans think we already do. We have to be strong, we have to be tough, and we can’t give in. In other words, we have to be Republicans at heart. Just not in mind.

Review: The Death of Ivan Ilych

The Death of Ivan IlychThe Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a book of both economy and horror. It doesn't contain zombies or people getting their brains bashed in with spiked bats (too soon?), but its subject matter and frankness toward death are so raw and so bald that it's probably the most horrifying book I've ever read. I mean, seriously, what's scarier than questioning your own mortality? What's scarier than death? Tolstoy, a Christian, presents a rather happy ending amidst all the talk of black holes and falling into nothingness, but the rest of the book is stark and direct. It's a masterpiece, surely, but not the kind of book you want to have on your nightstand when you're lying in your own death bed. Talk about a downer. Yeesh.

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: On Writing

On Writing: A Memoir of the CraftOn Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Pretty much the greatest book on writing you could ever possibly read. If you do read this book-and I highly encourage you to do so-then you never have to go to a single writing seminar in your entire life. I should know since I've been to several, and none of them match the direct simplicity of what makes for good writing as this book does. It doesn't hurt that Uncle Stevie is super humble and is like a friend throughout the entire lesson. This book has reinvigorated my love for writing. It helped me get at least a good 8000 words in my latest novel, which has stalled a bit ever since my wife and I had our first child. In every single way, if you write, then this is a must-read. Like you haven't read it already...I know I'm very late to the party.

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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: The Outsiders

The OutsidersThe Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, here's another book I probably should have read in school. The Outsiders is really well-written for an author who was only about 17 or so when they wrote it. I think I've been spoiled by all the tropes that this book helped to lay out as far as teen gangs and such. The plot was a little soft, but the characters were interesting and well-conceived. It's a tad bit dated (Even though I thought it was written in the 80s rather than the 60s), but it's an interesting and fast enough read to recommend. Not like you haven't already read it. I'm really catching up with some of these books.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Just a staggering work of fiction. Margaret Atwood provides probably the second most harrowing and compelling picture of a dystopian future of all time. The first, of course, is Cormac McCarthy. But nobody is beating The Road. Nobody. What makes this story so unique is the feminist outlook, which shows just how terrible men are to womankind. The best science fiction talks about current issues, and this book, written in the 80s, seems more relevant than ever, what with the fight with Planned Parenthood and a woman's right to choose. The Handmaid's Tale is a futurists outlook on how things were back then, and it resonates loudly since so little has really changed. It's just a phenomenal story. I recommend reading Tess of the D'Urbervilles as a companion piece for a whole other look of female oppression. I'm sure you've already read it since I'm apparently the very last person on Earth who has, but if you haven't, do. Prepare to be amazed and sickened.

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Monday, August 8, 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two (Harry Potter, #8)Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child should be called, Harry Potter and the Search for More Money. This is such a crummy cash-grab that I'm really surprised that J.K. Rowling would read the script and then say, "Yeah. That's cool. Let's make this canon." It's just so poorly written that I can't stand it. It's certainly the worst play I've ever read before in my entire life.

The characters are an annoyance rather than full of life like in the novels, and there is virtually no magic in this play whatsoever, whereas the books were nothing but magic. I don't even think seeing this performed would make it any better what with all of these corny lines, and its stupid plot. Harry Potter's son, Albus, and Draco Malfoy's son, Scorpius, go on an adventure together. But what really annoys me is that it centers on my favorite book in the series, and just makes a mockery of it with this story being so crummy. I cringed throughout most of the script and couldn't believe that it was so bad.

Also, and this is SUPER annoying, but one thing that I loved about all the Harry Potter books is that even though they had these really strange subheaders (i.e. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), you always found out later in the story why it was given that strange title. But even after finishing this book, I couldn't tell you who the "Cursed child" is in question. Why is that? I understand the idea of, "Hey, let's let the reader decide for themselves." But if a function of all the titles for The Harry Potter books was to reveal what this has to do with the wizarding world of Harry Potter, then why stray from that tradition? Honestly, this play makes me question why I fell in love with Harry Potter in the first place. A waste of time, paper, and the actors who fill out these roles. Don't read it.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

What Makes a Book "A Classic"? And Are Critics Wrong?

Just recently, I finished reading Under the Volcano, which the Modern Library calls the 11th best novel out of 100. But here's the thing. When I say "reading," I'm taking huge liberties with the word since I really just finished skimming the book. That's not to say that I didn't give it an earnest effort. I sat and really tried to pick apart the book and take my time for the first 100 pages. But after that, when I realized that not much was going on at all (on the surface) and that the plot could really be summed up in a single sentence--A drunkard drinks a lot, finds a dead body, and then, bad stuff happens--I kind of found myself skimming whole chapters and then looking up on wikipedia to make sure that I got all the key details from each chapter, which I had.

So, why is this a classic? Well, most would say that it's the prose itself that makes the book so noteworthy, or that it has all these crazy references to other classic books that makes it such an enjoyable read (It's like the Paul's Boutique of novels).

But whatever the reason, I just couldn't get into it. There are whole chapters that are just inner monologues that really felt like they were going nowhere, and it just wasn't an enjoyable book in any way. The same goes for Lolita, which is number 4 on their list.

While I made a real effort to finish Under the Volcano, I honestly couldn't get even remotely close to finishing Lolita, which was just too boring for words. (I'm not too big on the Kubrick movie, either, so maybe I just don't dig the story). But that's what makes the list so weird. You have books like those, which are undoubtedly the stick your nose in the air kind of titles, and then you have genuinely interesting, plot-driven books like Slaughterhouse-Five, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and Brave New World (Which is actually quite high at number five). So what's going on here?

One might say, well, duh, books are beloved for different reasons, and I get that. But how do you have such artsy-fartsy books like Under the Volcano and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and then have a book like Slaughterhouse-Five, which has a subplot involving a man's beliefs in a planet called Tralfamadore? More importantly, do the critics really know or have a say in what can even be considered one of the "best books" in modern literature?

And what's really interesting to note is that if you look at what everyday readers consider the best modern novels, they have a whole bunch of wacky L. Ron Hubbard books, as well as that nut, Ayn Rand, and her objectivism. Atlas Shrugged, it should be noted, isn't even ON the top 100 list of the modern library. Neither is anything by sci-fi writers, even though many would consider Foundation by Asimov a classic. Or does genre writing not count at all when considering the "best" modern books?

That's why I believe that it isn't really much to put stock in either the critics or what general readers would consider great literature. Personally, my favorite book is A Confederacy of Dunces. I don't think it's great because of the writing, which I actually thought was kind of so-so. It's because I honestly couldn't stop laughing at certain moments, and I just really loved the characters. Especially Ignatius, who is my favorite character that I've ever read (Oscar Wao is a close second). I like it because I think really fat, obnoxious people are funny, and I can understand if others don't enjoy a story that could follow such a ridiculous human being, but then again, I'm not calling it the "best" book, which I think is too grandiose a word when considering what a book sets out to be in the first place. But then again, people like to point out how intelligent they are, so books like Ulysses, or movies like Citizen Kane, act as the sort of cornerstone for pedantic people. I don't know. Either way, don't read Under the Volcano if you're looking for an enjoyable book. It may be considered one of the best modern novels, but man is it boring. But that's just one ardent reader's opinion.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Introductions: Do they need to spoil the plot to get their points across?

I'm reading Under the Volcano right now (And not liking it so far) and have had a great portion of the book spoiled. Do you want to know why? It's not because somebody told me about the book and recklessly told me key plot points. It's because I read the introduction, which in itself revealed major plot points to discuss overarching themes and to make comparisons to other work. But why? This is not the first time this has happened to me. In fact, it happens all the time. Whenever a scholarly dissertation is made on a famous story, one thing that usually happens is that the scholar will say, this happens because of this, and this represents, yada, yada, yada, but why is this put at the beginning of the book? I could understand if you've already read the book. But if you haven't, you're basically getting an unasked for Cliffnotes version of the story that you were actually excited to read. Why the hell would they do this?!

I mean, if this content was put in the afterword, then that would make a lot more sense. I mean, NOW you could tell me why this character did this or that since I just finished the book. But by putting all that information in the introduction, it totally destroys any reason to even read the book, other than to understand what the introduction is connecting to the overall content. But that seems so backwards! Why do that?

And I already know what you're saying. You're saying, hey, numbnuts, if you know this is a problem, then why do you read the introduction in the first place? Well, first off, don't call me numbnuts, and secondly, not all introductions are like this. I feel that there are many instances that in order to even understand the book, especially if it's old and has details that wouldn't be understood by a modern audience, then the introduction is necessary. The book It Can't Happen Here, by Sinclair Lewis comes to mind.

In that book, Lewis referenced several political and media figures of that time that I would have no idea about if I didn't read the introduction. Did the writer of that piece spoil some of the key details of the story? Yeah, he did. But I feel that the book would have been incomprehensible, at least from an historical viewpoint, without that insight. So for those kinds of introductions, I don't get TOO upset. But when your introduction mostly reveals plot points of MULTIPLE books to compare it to the book you haven't even read yet (as does the intro for Under the Volcano), well, then you've pissed me off on multiple fronts! Don't do that!

But what are your thoughts on the issue? Do you skip introductions altogether, go back to them once you've finished the book, or read them before the content like I do? I'd like to hear your thoughts, fellow readers. Please leave them in the comments below.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender-The Search

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The SearchAvatar: The Last Airbender - The Search by Gene Luen Yang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I seriously love, love, love these graphic novels of Avatar: the Last Airbender (I'll have to check if they have any for the Legend of Korra, which I actually prefer to Avatar). These stories fill in so much and actually seem necessary to fully understand the characters of TLA, which is what all follow-up stories should do. I think of it like DLC, in book form. This story concerns Zuko's mother, which was always a great mystery on the show. All those answers are revealed here in a very satisfying way. My only complaint is that it's so short. I read the entire thing in the span of my daughter's nap time (and I spent $40 on it!). If you're a fan of Avatar, you must read this book!

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Is Listening to An Audiobook Still Considered "Reading"?

I'm a book lover, a bibliophile. So in other words, I'm a nerd. And what do most nerds do? We obsess! The obsession varies from person to person. Some book nerds obsess over knowing the most about a single author, while others obsess by reading the same book or series over and over again until they can practically quote every line from the story. And then, there are the annoying book nerds who pride themselves over being extremely well-read, like that's some kind of great accomplishment. These are the book nerds who often raise their nose to you and say, what do you mean you've never read (Insert obscure, out-of-print book here)? It's a classic. I have a copy. Wait right here.

Unfortunately, I'M this kind of book nerd. :(

(Image taken from:

I'm not saying that all well-read book nerds are like this. In fact, most aren't. If you were to ask, which book do you recommend, these book nerds would be able to pick out a wide assortment that they think fits your taste. These are the cool book nerds., the approachable ones. These are the book nerds who make reading sound fun. But unfortunately, while my favorite part of reading is the actual reading part, another thing I love about reading is seeing just how many books I've read. One website that all book nerds use is Goodreads. The great thing about the site is that you can monitor how many books you've read, as well as join groups with fellow readers (If you're into that sort of thing). At one point, I thought I'd read over a 1000 books. I mean, I'm constantly reading, right, and I've been reading all my life. But when I put in the number of books I could think of, I ended up in the 400 range. That's it! I was stunned.

If you want to see a truly pathetic person, just look at somebody who thinks they've accomplished more than they have and show them the figures. It got to the point that I started putting Goosebumps books on my list of "Read" (I mean, I did read them, right?) just to up my number, but it's still way lower than I would have liked.

So, what's the answer? Well, reading a book takes time, especially with a baby. And reading sometimes hurts my eyes. I get floaters already at the tender age of 32 in my right eye, so if I read for long periods, I start seeing a little dot scrolling along the page back and forth like a fly reading with me. So, again, what's the answer?

That's a good question, and somebody once gave me a legitimate answer--Audiobooks. At first, I was like, listening to an audiobook is not reading, dude, and then he asked me, why not? You're still getting the same story, and it's usually read in a very theatrical manner. Hell, Stephen King does his own book readings, so it's almost like from the lips of God to your ear (Or was it the other way around?). So how is that not reading?

(Image taken from: here: Man listening to The Old Man and The Sea

He has a good point, but, I don't know. It just doesn't feel like reading to me. I teach in a middle-school, and sometimes, I read to the students, but I don't feel like they're actually reading. In fact, if I look on the state standards, I would qualify that in the "listening" category of the skills I'm meeting. Reading, for me anyway, is an entirely different skill that engages other parts of the brain. I can definitely fall into a story listening to it, but it's not the same as when I actually scan the page with my eyes and absorb the text. Like I said before, it just feels different. But what do you think? Is listening to an audiobook the same thing as reading it? If so, I can definitely get to 1000 books before I reach my deathbed since I can listen to books at any time. Please clear this up for me, fellow readers. It would really mean a lot.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

On Raising a Child and Trying to Be a Writer (Exphasis on Trying)

So, I haven't blogged in earnest in probably well over a year. Blame parenting, or don't since plenty of writers are parents and plenty of parents blog. I think the issue may be that I'm not sure what to blog about without sounding like I'm looking for commiseration. So, here's a picture of my kid to show you that I'm perfectly happy with fatherhood, and the year that it has provided me with.

(Note my child's love for Appa from Avatar. Starting her off early)

Usually, when my wife is away at work, I go through spells of looking at the clock to see when to put my daughter to bed for a nap so I can get some reading or writing in. But after seeing Fiddler on the Roof yesterday, I've come to realize, wow, why am I trying to rush this? Sunrise, sunset and all that jazz, right? Am I really trying to make time speed up when time is already so short? Haven't I already learned that life already goes way too fast? To what end am I trying to achieve anything? Am I just screwing myself over?

So I've decided to put writing on the backburner, but still blog when I can. It's gotten to the point that waking up at 4:30 AM to write doesn't work when it manages to wake up my daughter in the process. So I'm taking a more fluid approach to writing, which makes me feel like I've grown as a writer, in a sense. If the endgame isn't just, I have to meet a schedule. I have to meet a schedule, then that will open up my schedule more if I can write when I can. But what do you think? I'd like to hear from fellow writer/parents. Everyone always tells me, there will be a time you will miss them being young, and I'm sure they're right, but I also miss being on a set schedule and being a writer. What do you think?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Review: Tess of the D'Urbervilles

Tess of the D'UrbervillesTess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is often said that Jude the Obscure is Thomas Hardy's crowning achievement, with Tess of the D'Urbervilles being a close second. But I would like to switch the two since I don't think Jude the Obscure can touch the level of depth and complexity depicted in this book. Tess, when compared to Jude, is a much more likeable character, and in that, her tragedy is much more acutely felt than that of Jude's. By the end of this book, I was furious by the chain of events that occurred. I can't say I had the same level of emotion after finishing Jude. It was a well told story with an overall message, but it didn't bridge those messages together the way Tess does. This is probably the deepest and richest book I've ever read. No question.

That said, there are some truly wonky sections in the story where you really have to suspend your sense of belief. But the commentary following the version I read really goes into depth about how even those sections have value and actually expand the ideas of this story, which is ultimately about rape, both of the land, and in a physical sense. It's the kind of novel that could take up an entire semester studying. I don't read books more than once, but I may come back to this one in a later period of my life. It's definitely going on the book shelf.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Review: Jazz

Jazz (Toni Morrison Trilogy, #2)Jazz by Toni Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I didn't really like this book, but I mostly feel it's because it's out of my depth. The spirit of jazz is interwoven throughout the story, as characters hop in and out, viewpoints are spliced together like harmonies, and the overall feeling of this book is style. Still, I didn't really enjoy it. That's probably because the plot is paper thin. There's a love triangle, somebody dies, and that's about it.

But not to take a simple approach, Morrison floats about through black culture and creates a rich story told through a prism of history. It's certainly creative and bold, but the characters just don't do it for me and the poetry, as lovely as it is, doesn't add to the overall narrative. If you prefer style over story, this is the book for you. Otherwise, skip. Beloved is a more worthy tale.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Review: Dubin's Lives

Dubin's LivesDubin's Lives by Bernard Malamud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Malamud was an exceptional writer. So exceptional, it seems, that he was able to craft a novel about marriage and infidelity for an exhausting 386 pages and still keep my interest for the majority of the ride. Though, I must say, this is the fifth book I've read of his (I've also read The Natural, The Fixer, The Assistant, and The Tenants), and also my least favorite, mostly because of its redundancy. No lie, this book could have been trimmed by at least 100 less pages. At least!

And while yes, I know this book is about much more than love and marriage - Dubin is a biographer, so the title is a bit of a play on words -it just didn't do it for me. Something was just missing, and it was pretty glaring. It may have been the protagonist, since I felt no sympathy for him whatsoever. He was a bit of a scumbag.

Besides marriage and cheating, this book also has a heavy focus on masculinity and the idea of aging. But honestly, the concepts in this book are long and drawn out, and even with the beautiful prose that Malamud provides, it's hard to look at the book in its entirety and put it on the same level as, say, The Fixer or The Assistant. It's definitely worth a read, but not if it's the first book you're going to read of Malamud's. That should be The Fixer.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Review: In The Name Of The Father

In the Name of the FatherIn the Name of the Father by A.J. Quinnell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

You know what? I was really set to say, "this book sucks!" but it doesn't. And I realized that toward the end when I was actually on the edge of my seat during a crucial scene. Somehow, the author, A.J. Quinnell, had gotten me engrossed enough to actually care about what was at stake for the protagonist. Up to that point, I thought I couldn't care less, but the author somehow managed to make me. I think that's the sign of a true master writer--he gets you to care without you even realizing it.

That said, the prose was kind of weak sometimes, especially in the sex scenes. Also, the story was a little played out. The plot of a secret envoy out to kill the man who wants to assassinate the Pope is a good idea in theory, but it kind of falls apart since it relies on so many of the tropes in the genre. But again, you know what? I liked it. Would I recommend it? Well, not really. Not unless you like thrillers. But if you do like thrillers, then you'll likely enjoy this. I've certainly read a lot worse.

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Review: Dodsworth

DodsworthDodsworth by Sinclair Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While one of Lewis' most well-known novels, Dodsworth isn't as ambitious or funny as some of his other classics, like Babbitt or Elmer Gantry. Instead, it's a half break-up/ half tour of Europe novel, with only one area being successful (hint: it's the former. For me anyway). Sam Dodsworth is the retired head of a successful auto company and he travels around Europe with his annoying wife, Fran. But here's the thing. While I hate Fran since Lewis made it impossible not to, I find it hard to actually condemn her actions. It's 2016, and Fran represents the modern woman. It's all about "me, me, me" all the time, time, time, and i think Fran fits a lot more into this time period than I'm sure she did back in the 20s. Either way, Dodsworth as a whole was slow at times and much longer than it needed to be. I think I'm done with Sinclair Lewis now. Six books is more than enough.

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Friday, February 5, 2016

Review: Girl With a Pearl Earring

Girl With a Pearl EarringGirl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, wow, wow! Now here's a book I never imagined I would fall in love with. I actually picked up this little gem at an Oktoberfest where they had this small nook for used books. I picked it up on a whim, and man, what a find! I'm not really into historical fiction, but this book hits all the right notes. It's about one of Vermeer's most well-known paintings, the titular Girl With a Pearl Earring. What follows is a hearty group of characters and backgrounds that feel so real you'll think it's the genuine story of the famous painting. I'll be picking up the rest of Ms. Chevalier's books. Man, can she write!

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Review: The Return of the Native

The Return of the Native  The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With this being the third book I've read of Hardy's (the other two being The Mayor of Casterbridge and Jude the Obscure) I'm convinced Thomas Hardy was incapable of writing anything but tragedies. Fortunately, he was very good at it. The Return of the Native is another I - can't - believe - their -luck book where anything that can go wrong, does go wrong. But at least Hardy was a master of plotting, so nothing appeared out of the blue. The "native" in question doesn't return until about 140 pages, but there's enough going on throughout that it's rarely boring. Except somewhere toward the beginning, which is a bit of a slog. Past that point, though, and it really moves. It's because of the characters. They're myriad, but all feel very real and full. When characters are in pain, you understand why, even though it might be a bit petty and because of a misunderstanding. In fact, much of this book's tragedy is because people are being misunderstood, which fits its period of the transitioning between Christianity and Paganism. Overall, Hardy made another exceptional book, and I'm a little confused as to why I've been told by a number of people that it's boring. I mean, yes, if you're forced to read it in school, I can see where you'd be bored. But anybody who reads it for leisure will find a thoroughly well-developed and engaging novel. I loved it.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why Mulholland Dr. is the Scariest Movie Of All Time

What's the scariest movie of all time? Is it The Exorcist? The Shining? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? No, it's David Lynch's, Mulholland Dr, and mostly because nobody would consider it a horror movie at all. Well, besides Vulture, which did an excellent job of detailing just why it's such a terrifying movie.

But yeah, the scares in Mulholland Dr. mostly lie in the fact that it's not billed as a horror movie, even though it's arguably scarier than any demonic child or naked old woman chilling in a bathroom. David Lynch, for those who don't know, operates in nightmares. Eraserhead, which is another "is this horror?" movie, detailed the internal fears of becoming a father and...God knows what else. But every frame of Lynch's first film has an unsettling quality to it that troubles you long after the movie is over. And the same goes for most of Lynch's films that aren't Dune (Though, that's horrifying for its own reasons), or that Disney movie he made about the guy on the lawnmower.

But Mulholland Dr. is something else entirely. While most of his movies are fever dreams put to film, Mulholland Dr. is his clearest nightmare. It's the little things that stick with you , like the infamous Winkie's scene, where a homeless man pops out from behind a dumpster.

What's so unnerving about this scene, and why it still freaks me out even though I know it's coming, is because it shouldn't happen. Horror movies operate on making you either jump in your seat or hide down into it with the fear of what's going to happen next. But this scene does both. Yes, there's that ghastly sharp sound that Lynch loves to employ to freak you out, but it's not a jump scare, not really, since you're told what's going to happen long before it happens. Horror movies, at least the good ones, make you tense because they try to relax you with exposition before they shock you. This is why the greatest horror movies really get under your skin in fear of what's right around the corner. But Mulholland Dr. takes that "what's around the corner" idea literally for this one scene, which begins in a diner with a man telling another man about one of his dreams. This is realistic, as who hasn't had a really creepy dream and just felt the need to pour it out to somebody else? But once we tell somebody about that dream, we usually tend to feel a sense of dread in reliving it, even if it's only through words. It's like telling the dream is conjuring up the possibility that it could be real, and only David Lynch would take that concept and MAKE it real in his story. It makes you question your own nightmares and the power they have over you. And any movie that can make you afraid of your own dreams WHILE YOU'RE AWAKE is freaking terrifying, and Mulholland Dr. does just that.

But what about all the other moments in the movie that just don't feel right? Like the cowboy without eyebrows.

Or even the way the film opens with a bizarre jitterbug scene, which feels both anachronistic and out of place.

But probably the scariest scene in the whole movie is the moment you realize the characters are just as bothered as you are while you watch what looks like a Spanish rendition of the Roy Orbison song, "Crying" only to realize that something else sinister is going on in the scene that your mind has to scramble to understand.

In truth, that might be Mulholland Drive's and most of Lynch's films greatest quality--the fact that your mind is trying to keep up and understand what is going on. But it can't, because your mind doesn't typically dissect nightmares, which is once again why I think Mulholland Dr. is the scariest movie of all time. It asks you to address your subconscious in a way that no other film--especially not a horror film--has done before or since. That's why Mulholland Dr. is officially the scariest. Movie. Ever. No other film comes close.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Top Eight Tarantino Films, Ranked

Tarantino can do no wrong. Until he can. While all of his films have been interesting to say the very least, some have been less interesting than others. Here’s a list of his best and worst films, all ranked. What are your favorite Quentin Tarantino movies?

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8. Death Proof

The second film in the epic Grindhouse double feature (The first being Planet Terror by Robert Rodriquez), Death Proof is a slow grind with an amazing pay-off. Meant to be a homage to 70s slasher flicks, Tarantino went a bit too far with the dialogue in this one. It comes off as being even more annoying than it needs to be, which was sort of the point but it's kind of lost here. And I’m not the only one who’s not a fan of this flick as Tarantino himself said it was his worst movie. Even with that amazing chase scene at the end, it still didn't make much of an impact.

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7. Kill Bill

Kill Bill is, I think, a great demarcation of Tarantino’s career. Prior to this movie, Tarantino made loving homages to his favorite genre pictures, but they played like genuine cinema. But Kill Bill is probably the first real Tarantino movie, in which his personal style overshadowed the story and he started making HIS kind of movies. Yes, the violence set to catchy music was there before. But the striking visuals and more playful nature that was only hinted at in Pulp Fiction takes full effect in Kill Bill. This is most noticeable in part 1, which is more style over substance. In the end, what felt fresh upon the first viewing, felt a little stale upon its second and third viewings, and outright kitschy by the fourth and fifth. Part 2 is much better than Part 1, but as a whole, it’s a very lopsided picture and one that doesn’t hold up over time.

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6. Django Unchained

Django (or, Djangoooooo!) is a movie that should have ended a half an hour earlier than it did. Unlike Inglorious Basterds, which I’ll get to in a second, the style is consistent here. It’s an ultraviolent, silly movie throughout with Jamie Foxx looking cool, and Christoph Waltz playing the perfect, Obi-Wan mentor character. It’s a really fun film, and Leonardo DiCaprio stands out as a cocky plantation owner, but overall, it doesn’t feel entirely complete. It’s an issue of where less would have actually been more, if that makes any sense (After the gunfight in the mansion, I think it should have ended). It’s…an okay picture. And it’s also his most successful movie. But when pitted against his superior films, it’s a little mediocre.

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5. Inglorious Basterds

Inglorious Basterds is a movie that is inconsistency glorious. There are moments in this film, like the tense Christoph Waltz conversation about Jews beneath the floorboards, or the bar scene, that are probably the best work Tarantino has ever done. But then, there are moments where people put explosives on their fists and punch with them that really take away from the grandness of it all. The climax is phenomenal, but the journey there could have used more polishing. This is what I meant by the whole Kill Bill demarcation. If this was made pre-Kill Bill, it probably would have eliminated all the silly moments.

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4. Reservoir Dogs

Within the first ten minutes of Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino cemented himself as a fresh new voice that would forever change cinema. But Reservoir Dogs is not just a movie of scene-stealing moments, though it certainly has those. Beneath that fantastic soundtrack and that icky ear lopping scene, there is a fully-realized, well-paced movie. It's little wonder that it improves with repeated viewings. It’s slower than most of his later work, but it’s satisfying to the very end, even when you know who the rat is. This movie still holds up today!

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3. The Hateful Eight

I know it’s a bit premature to put a film I just saw a couple of days ago so high on this list, but man, I just can’t stop thinking about The Hateful Eight. From the sparseness of the scenery, to the authentic dialogue, to the gritty characters, to the pacing, to the impeccable score, to that ending, everything in The Hateful Eight just works for me. It really feels like a Tarantino who was more interested in telling a story than what he had been doing for the past few years. In other words, the old Tarantino was back. For that reason, I put it so high up on this list. Now, I might watch it again some other time and wonder, what the hell was I thinking? (I really loved Kill Bill when it first came out, too). I might also not be as invested now that I know how the mystery unfolds, but who knows? Maybe it will hold up like Reservoir Dogs. Only time will tell.

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2. Jackie Brown

A lot of people complain that Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s worst movie (Have they not SEEN Death Proof?). But here’s the thing. They’re wrong. If Jackie Brown had come out post-Kill Bill, there’s little doubt that it would have pushed its blaxploitation to the fullest, but this was a calmer Tarantino, a more reserved one. In that way, he created a masterpiece that touched on the spirit of blaxploitation, but felt more like a crime thriller, which is what it was. What I love the most about Jackie Brown is that it isn’t a loud movie, unlike his later films. Instead, it’s more about loud moments, which have the tendency to startle you, which is fantastic. It all unravels to a satisfying conclusion. Jackie Brown is, in every way, Tarantino's hidden masterpiece.

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1. Pulp Fiction

Is Pulp Fiction the easy pick for Tarantino’s best movie? Yes. Is it the correct pick? Also yes. Unfortunately for Tarantino, he will never make a movie better than Pulp Fiction. And it was only his second film! There are just too many moments that have infiltrated pop culture and have shaped the medium as a whole, that none of his later films can touch it. It’s the movie that made him a household name. But it’s not just the relevance that sells it. It’s the whirling story in itself which pulls a great deal from the classic Japanese film, Rashomon, what with its various intertwining stories. Each chapter is captivating to the very end, and it’s most certainly his most audacious and awe-inspiring movie. For that reason, it will always be his best.