Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Saw the IMAX 3-D version of The Polar Express. Hands down, it's the best 3-D movie I have ever seen. When snowflakes are falling, you can practically smell the snow. A train also lends itself to deep 3-D shots that don't evoke memories of John Candy on SCTV poking things at the camera, going "Oooo! Aaaaah!" The kids look less creepy than they do in the flat version, but they're still...wrong. Especially the little black girl - they simply didn't get the motion of her mouth correct. (I'll leave you to ponder your own theories as to why on that one.) As for the movie itself, I think Ebert is right, it will slowly become a Christmas classic for the ages. Even though the plot is thin, there's a lot to the journey itself that makes up for it. Parents should count on the annual viewing of this, along with the classic (animated) Grinch, Charlie Brown, and (if you're doing it right) National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. ("It's nipply out." - ha!)

Enough spunk has been spilt on how incredible The Incredibles is (are?), so I'll just throw in a hearty "hail yeah!" and leave it at that.

Because the coolest and funniest cartoon currently gracing Nickelodeon, that being "The Fairly Odd Parents," did a clever pop reference to it, we rented The Little Shop of Horrors (the musical) in our continuing effort to introduce our daughter to the classics. I recall not being that impressed by it at the time, but thoroughly enjoyed it this time (even though the flesh eating plant was more foul-mouthed than I remembered, so "alert" to fellow parents). Steve Martin's cameo as a sadistic dentist and Bill Murray's as his masochistic patient brought me perilously close to loss of bladder control, and I've been humming, "You'll be a dentist! You have a talent for causing things PAIN!" since. Cliff Claven trivia moment: Alan Menken and the late, lamented Howard Ashman wrote the songs (Ashman even wrote the book for the play), which launched them into that golden period of Disney musicals which include The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast. You can hear echoes of the songs from "Shop of Horrors" in all the subsequent Disney flicks, especially the "Gaston" song from Beauty. If you've never seen it, or it's been a while, do yourself a favor and hunt this down. I dare you to not get all goosepimply when the squeak-voiced chanteuse belts "Suddenly Seymour."

U2 just kicked out another instant classic, How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb. It does not achieve the heights of Actung Baby, The Joshua Tree, or All That You Can't Leave Behind, but those kinds of highs are hard to achieve. We only have so many endorphins, you know. In these days of the pop music wasteland, though, it's almost shocking to listen to an album that has great song after great song. If you're a fan, this is a must-have. Actually, in his mini-review of How to..., this guy lays down the third most perfect description I've ever heard from a music critic (a species renowned for nearly always getting it wrong, with the exception of Lester Bangs). (The other two are: 1) one critic described Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" as containing a grove so potent that it directly connects with the small evolutionary leftover lizard portion of our brainstem, causing us to move about helplessly to the beat, and 2) a critic who got a mislabeled album and, expecting Al Jarreau, was shocked when the "nasty rock and roll of Los Lobos' How Will the Wolf Survive snorted out of [his] speakers," inspiring him to remark, "'Gee,' I thought, pulling my socks back up, 'who are these guys?'" Priceless.) Skip the version with the DVD, though; the DVD is lame.

Speaking of lame, I read Breathtaker, by Alice Blanchard. This serial killer knows when tornadoes are going to strike a house, so he goes in and kills everyone with stuff that looks like tornado debris. The writing was stylish enough to drag me to the end, but - folks, we have got to stop beating this serial killer thang into the ground or China's gonna ding us with an import tax. Ed Gein and Ted Bundy set the curve, Ed Harris met it with his fictional Hannibal, but with all the CSIs and Profilers and on and on, it's been done to death, har har.

Segued from implausible pedestrian serial snuffing to an entertaining and informative analysis of personality tests that have been foisted upon us by psychologists, housewives, and hobbyists. The Cult of Personality, by Annie Murphy Paul, is as colorful as the song (and the band) from which the title is borrowed. Guess what! The supposition behind most personality tests, like the Myers-Briggs, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, and the Rorschach Inkblot Test - as with most philosophies you'll be assaulted with in any "Philosophy 101" class - were pulled out of a random point in midair. Yes, even though the methodology to produce them was usually thoughtful and careful, the supposed end result, or the information it was supposed to produce about a victim (er, patient) was totally based on what the creator of each test thought best described the human psyche. Short version, they just made it the hell up. And most of these folks were loons themselves. (One guy tried to create a religion based on a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and this religion could only be fulfilled by state enforcement of eugenics on the populace - a view he held until his death in the 80s! Another had a little Marquis de Sade thing going on with his mistress, with his wife's knowledge and coerced blessing, because his hero, Jung, had a mistress and a wife who knew of each other, too. Freaks.) To drive the point home with a poor analogy, they may have done a find job crafting the arrow and the bow, but the freakin' target was whatever the hell their pet theory (or personal quirk) was at the time. Author Annie Paul does a find job of laying out the carcass for all to see, even if her endemic reverence (read: snobbery) for the authority of prestigious eastern colleges occasionally wafts from the page like a beer fart.

And there you have it. Just today I cracked open Jonathan Strange & Mr. Morrell by Susanna Clarke. I mention it only because the jacket blurb starts "The year is 1806." Oy. Period books, like period costume movies, fill me with leaden quarts of inertia (which may be an unintended aftershock of my Lit. degree). But then I read the first page. Dear Lord it's wonderful when an author grabs you by the short ones in the first freakin' sentence! And, when the first page is so good that you immediately flip to the last to see how many await you (782! Yay!), that's a gift, my friends. I'll report back when I'm done, but I plan to savor this one, so it may be a while.

So, have a happy turkey thang! Hope the fun members of the family are joining you! (And not the ones who plant on the couch, drink your booze, and insult your decorating taste because there's not a throw pillow embroidered with a pithy, hopeful yet secular statement.) Cheers! 'Til next time!

Update: Regarding Johnathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, bleh. At first the archaic British English is charming, but then it simply becomes dull. In a bored moment (this book will achieve that state, guaranteed), I went out to Amazon to see what the one and two star reviewers thought (useful if you read past the malcontents). Of those who finished, and there weren't many, all said it was boring all the way through. So, I won't finish this one under the "life's too short" clause.

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