Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hola, el tiempo largo ningún considera!

Wow, nearly a month and no posts. What the hell is wrong with this Y guy, anyway?

Well, I'm beginning to notice that at my current gainful employ, we have a panic cycle about this time every year. I have been so busy, all I've been able to squeak into my few spare minutes in a day is some reading. (Well, and some movies over the long weekend of the 4th when work wasn't sucking me dry.)

I get to read primarily when I'm watching the baby. As long as I sit on the floor, she's content to play with her toys. She circles around and crawls across me about every five minutes, or I have to help color a picture, or admire the doll or car she has clutched in her sweet little hand. However, if I sit on a couch or chair, she's over there like the Wile E. Coyote on the Roadrunner, saying, "Up! Up!" Then I have to make sure she doesn't fall. So, I spend most of my slices of free time on the carpet, reading a couple paragraphs, coloring a hat, reading a couple paragraphs, "What color is that car?" Etc. It's a happy existence.

TLD: Our littlest one this past weekend joined the pantheon of greatness reserved for babies learning the language who pronounce perfectly sweet words in such a way that they sound like the crudest profanity. Our oldest said the word "frog jump" (from one of her books showing that very thing) as "fucked up," clear as a bell. It was good for a few spit takes when we were in public. The little one now says "red shoes" (her favorite) as "asshole," again clear as a bell. We showed this off to our friends and neighbors this weekend, to their lukewarm amusement and uncomfortable looks. Apparently a 17-month-old saying "asshole," albeit innocently, is funny only to my wife and myself.

So, here's the reading I squeezed in:

jPod by Douglas Coupland
Mr. Coupland remains one of my favorite writers. Coupland is a consummate stylist. His words pull you through the narrative.

Not that he doesn't have good stories and characters, he does. But they way he tells the story is his best feature.

jPod is like his Microserfs, but a decade later - much like the movies American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused cover the same territory for different generations. Coupland has an uncanny ability to invoke the mindset of programmers (known as "Developers" in the industry) and the rhythms of their workplace. I've not read better, in that regard.

An interesting touch is Coupland inserts himself as a character in the novel, which seems to be the in thing these days in the lit circles. (Which I find a welcome change from the last meme/trope: rampant adultery.) The poster boy for sociopathic fiction, Bret Easton Ellis, made himself a character in his latest, Lunar Park (which I've just procured, stay tuned*), for instance.

Anyway, the main protagonist hates Coupland, to the extent that when he encounters Coupland the first time, he describes looking into his eyes like looking into wells filled with drowned toddlers. (A hell of an image, that.)

I enjoyed the hell out of it, and it's one of his best.

*Wasn't able to make it out of the first chapter. Basically, Ellis paints himself as a total schmuck. How much of it is fact and how much is fiction is known only by those who know him, I'd guess. However, a sympathetic character he does not make. I can't buy into a novel where I don't like the main character, or at least passionately dislike them enough to want to see how fate handles them.

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
This novel moved Christopher Moore onto my short, exclusive "I will read every book s/he puts out" list. I laughed hard at least once per chapter, and often every other page. This guy is funny.

I liked his The Stupidest Angel (titled accurately), but couldn't make it through Lamb (the story of one of Jesus' childhood friends) because it's a fine line you have to walk when you are irreverent about Jesus Christ.

Let me give you an example: the TV show "Southpark" does Jesus right. I mean, some of what they do is offensive (even very offensive, bless 'em), but the character of Jesus is consistent with what you read in the NT. Another way of putting it is Jesus himself is not mocked. In Lamb, Jesus himself was not dealt with appropriately, so only those who think the whole concept of Jesus is silly would be able to enjoy the novel. Now, to me, if you are going to start off alienating the very audience that might dig your novel, well, perhaps you should've just kept your bullet in your pocket like you were told to. But I digress...

Moore more than makes up for any past faux pau with A Dirty Job. The concept is that common folk are drafted as grim reapers, the same device used in my beloved Dead Like Me, and ( the original debut of the idea) Piers Anthony's On a Pale Horse. The interesting twist is even though his past two novels have used Christian tropes and symbology, this one assumes all mythologies are true, but takes a Buddhist view of the afterlife. And It was a refreshing change for the concept.

My favorite theme was that of the "beta male." We've heard a lot about the "alpha male," but here Moore defines the beta male, and swear to God, half the time it doubles you over in laughter and the other half the time you grimace in acknowledgement.

A great read. If you don't have much time for recreational reading, and only get one or two in in a year, pick this one up.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
Read the "prequel" to The Da Vinci Code (prequel in the sense that the main character from "Da Vinci" is introduced in this novel). And, it was good. There's a reason Brown's been on the bestseller lists for years now.

The premise is that the Illuminati have resurfaced and want to take down the Catholic church, because you see, the Illuminati are on the side of science, and the church has just been so mean to science, so they've got to be given a cosmic wedgie. Hilarity ensues.

Every time I read a review of his books or even the movies, for crissakes, the reviewer slams Brown's writing. (Even Stephen King took a swipe in his "Entertainment Weekly" article and called "Da Vinci" a one trick pony.) Ok, the guy's not Shakespeare, but he knows how to construct a hell of a thriller, and his style pulls you along at a nice clip. That puts him in the very rare category of writers (along with King, Koontz, and the master of all: Robert E. Howard) who can grab you by a nostril hair and pull you along without your permission. So let's give the guy some credit, k?

Now, you can dislike him (or like him, depending upon your particular bent) for his obvious grudge against the Roman Catholic Church; holy cow he hates those guys. What's interesting is he thanks the church and various high-ups for giving him unprecedented access to their buildings and library at the Vatican so he could be accurate in his descriptions. I bet he's been disinvited since, though.

And, he floats the implausible once in a while. But hey, let's just enjoy the shit blowing up, k?

For the record, here's one of the big implausibles in Angels and Demons


A scientist who wants to prove that the Biblical account of creation is plausible inadvertently creates anti-matter - yes, the theoretical stuff that fuels Capt. Kirk's ride - in the process, thus creating something from nothing. (I don't know why we are handed the assumption that the creation of something from nothing would somehow line up with Biblical accounts anymore than evolution somehow balances God out of the equation, but maybe that's just me ...). Well, seems if anti-matter touches matter, you get a big badda boom. So, they create a container that suspends the stuff in a total vacuum so no touchy-touchy occurs. Here's the "you're shitting me" part: for some unexplained reason, this container, which generates magnetic levitation and has a battery that runs out in exactly 24 hrs to the nanosecond when separated from its recharger, is all completely plastic. Therefore, since anti-matter is undetectable with current bomb detection equipment, and since something without metal parts isn't detected by bomb detectors either, this canister is sneaked past the Vatican police. The scientists who created this thing had no reason to make it completely out of plastic other than to help the mechanism of the plot. Usually such things get past me, but this one was so blatant, even I caught it right away.


And, during the long holiday weekend, I actually got to see some movies:

Essentially Cape Fear in a house, with the kidnappers from Die Hard thrown in for good measure. The movie is a serviceable thriller, worth the two hours spent. But hit the Redbox or the library for this one. (I find the less I pay for a movie, the more I'm willing to give it some room to suck.) More interesting is the interview with Ford and the director in the extras, where Ford talks about character motivation and realism. Also interesting is the discussion of the big fight at the end of the film. I found myself wondering if Ford and the director don't realize how anachronistic a basic fist fight as the denouement is anymore.

Not Pixar's best. It's every sports movie you've ever seen, but with cars as the characters. Yes, there are some good jokes, but this is not a classic. Also, there's a segment where the cars lament the creation of the interstate highway system, which cut straight through the deserts of the west rather than wind around every hillock, as route 66 supposedly does. Gosh, trying to romanticize driving slowly through the desert on a winding, bumpy 2-lane highway that forces you to go through every Podunk wide spot in the road so you can feast your eyes on neon light overload rather than blowing through the desert on a flat, straight interstate so you can get where the hell you're going just didn't work for me at all. I snorted out loud at the concept. Still, take the kiddies. This one's fun for the time allotted.

This is Mr. Nancy Wilson's (of Heart) most recent effort. (I'm just trying to be cute. Mr. Wilson is Cameron Crowe in name.) It starts well, but kind of loses momentum when we actually arrive in Elizabethtown. From there, the only interesting thing is the character played by Kirsten Dunst, who sprays charisma on every scene like those temps who spray perfume one every hapless woman who strolls by the beauty counter at Dillard's. She's too good to be real, and is a bit of a mindreader, so even though she's charming, you get pulled out of the movie because she's so angelic. Apparently there's a theory about the movie that she's in fact a guardian angel, which Crowe doesn't deny. (And I can't help but think that with Cameron's vast knowledge and love of music, maybe he's too embarrassed to admit that he essentially wrote a movie inspired by the song "Undercover Angel.")

Walk the Line
Yeah, the performances were good, but this was your typical average joe with talent and a handful of good songs hits the big time, then hits the bottle and does drugs, but is redeemed by a good woman (or man), pulls life back together, tra-la. I think the Buddy Holly Story or even both versions of A Star is Born are superior to this effort.

Melinda Melinda
A lesser Woody Allen. The premise is the story of a messed up woman, the Melinda of the title, told two different ways, a comedy (of sorts) and a tragedy. Meh. Save yourself the two hours.

Blue Collar Comedy Tour - One for the Road
I think you either find this kind of humor funny, or just sad. If you're the prior, this one is as good as the previous two. My wife and I laugh so hard at these, we trade of remote duty to pause whilst we guffaw. Joe Bob would say check it out, if he still had a drive-in to see it at.

Superman Returns
I really liked it. Thought it was as good as, and in some ways surpasses, the original movie. This one is somehow more lyrical. You feel Superman's alienation and loneliness. And not only does the new guy look like Reeves (Christopher, not George), he sounds like him, too. Reeves still takes the cake for adding the amused spin that no one recognizes he's Superman.

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