A Media Update

Again, this is mainly for my own interests. If you don’t care, skip down to read about a day we spent with one of my students, or wait a day or two for comments about other recent weekend activities.

After the cut you’ll find reviews of recent books, film, and television that I’ve consumed in the past few weeks.


It’s been a few weeks since I did one of these.

Reading

I finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and quickly followed it up with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I am now eagerly awaiting the arrival of my pre-ordered book 7.

Immediately after finishing book 6 (literally the same night), I began to read Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke. I finished it the next day.

This was the (1,2,3) 4th book of Palahniuk’s that I’ve read, and I’m torn.

On the one hand, I find myself curious about the situations he sets up, how they will turn out and what the big reveal will be. The books have all these interesting little factoids that may or may not be true but which are very interesting. Further, the books are written by a person with a life and paradigm almost completely opposite to my own. This fact means that the views presented in his books are fascinating presentations of worldviews that are unlike anything I know, or am ever likely to know.

On the other hand, the books that I’ve read so far might as well have had the same protagonist in terms of voice. The white-collar corporate Joe (or Jack in the movie) from Fight Club speaks in the same manner as the ex-supermodel from Invisible Monsters who is the same as the screwed over housewife/painter in Diary who ‘writes’ in the same way as the ex-med school student from Choke. They all embody negativity at its most extreme. There’s only so much of that you can handle before you just want to yell at them to shut up, stop being idiots, grow up, accept life, et al.

So, yeah, I may have come to the end of my Palahniuk reading. Not really, though. I still own one more book by him, Haunted, so I will at least read that. After that? Who knows. Maybe I’ll read more, but I’m kind of ambivalent at this point.

After Choke, I began Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Wow. It took me a couple weeks to get through, as it’s quite a tome (and I had fewer afternoons at the schools, which meant I had more time at the office, which meant I read less). Still, once I really got into it, it went pretty quickly.

Let’s see, I would say that the editor could have safely cut at least 50 pages of the book with minimal interference in the book’s effect. Don’t get me wrong. I thought the books was very good, I highly recommend it to anyone, but at the same time I can’t help but feel that if I wanted that much information on heretics and cults in the 13th and 14th centuries, I would have already researched it. I think that there were times when the history bogged down the text and I was mumbling “get on with it already.” I understand that much of it was essential to the text, but much of it was not. It was a first novel, so I can accept that, though I fear it may be an ongoing issue in Eco’s work.

Still, I would rather have a well written summary of some interesting historical events in my reading than another whiny self-absorbed nihilist.

Obviously, The Name of the Rose is one of those books that I will need to read again, as I know that I missed a lot of the underlying symbolism. It was a very cool murder-mystery though.

After Eco, I read Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. It was very good, though the prose could be difficult in its tangents at times. At a skinny 126 pages, I thought it would be a breeze, but Pynchon wouldn’t be one of Bloom’s favorite authors if that was the case.

Initially, I didn’t think that I would enjoy the book, but it ended up as a really interesting work. It’s definitely not a book to read in small chunks, though. The ending is one of those that doesn’t remotely tell you what’s actually been going on, so if you’re interested be warned of that. Again, I know that I missed much of the underlying symbolism, but, at the same time, one finds that Pynchon, despite being a “Harold Bloom Recommends” author, still manages to write an interesting story that doesn’t actually require a complete understanding of any underlying symbolism.

Still, I suspect a large number of readers would be turned off by the fact that the book enumerates four likely possibilities for what the protagonist has been experiencing only to end the book as the main character may actually come to the truth. I will likely read more of his work.

After finishing Pynchon, I moved on to Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. This will be my second reading of that text, so I remember a few major plot points. I last read it before starting a degree in English literature (actually, I think I last read it before I even discovered Vonnegut), so it’s been a while.

Something has recently occurred to me about Gaiman’s writing, but I think I will probably save that for a separate post.

In the meantime, I’ve also read Jamie Delano’s run (the first 40 issues) of Hellblazer. It’s quite good. I had never thought of myself as a fan of horror, but he manages to make it the psychological kind that makes you think. That’s some good stuff right there.

My next book will probably be Will Ferguson’s Happiness™, about which I know nothing.

Watching

In terms of viewing, we’ve watched the entirety of this season’s Doctor Who. I’m still quite liking Tennant’s Doctor, as he is definitely bringing back the classic charm and whackiness that I love so much, but there are also some nice character moments that were generally lacking in the old series.

I would say that Blink was by far the best episode of the season, while I was disappointed with the level of Deus Ex required to conclude the final episode. I’m not so impressed with what Davies has been doing for the character. I think I’d prefer that he just go and play with Torchwood, and leave the Doctor in peace. At this point, I half expect next season to feature a villain that can only be defeated if the new companion taps her shoes together three times and mentions home.

That said, I very much enjoyed John Simms’ portrayal of the Master, and I very much hope that things didn’t end the way they seemed to end. I fear they have. If things go as they seem to be, we may get the Rani next season, though that would really be pushing the whole “I’m the last of the Time Lords” thing into absurdity.

Sometimes I think that the whole Time War thing is just a lame excuse to add depth to the Doctor. “Oh, he’s a nigh-immortal being who wanders around helping people? Let’s make him the last of his kind! The viewer’s will really sympathize with his plight.” Ugh. It probably could have been a good idea if handled correctly, but now it’s starting to come across as the Doctor saying, “I’m alone, whine whine whine, emote emote emote. I can never let anyone get close. If only…”

Then again, maybe the old series didn’t have as much emotional depth. Maybe the Doctor needed to be taken in this new direction for the modern audience.

Regardless of what I may say, I am, overall, quite enjoying the new series of the Doctor and the 6 month wait for the next episode will be interminable, made worse by the knowledge that we have to wait another 3 or four months after that to get regular episodes.

In the meantime, we’re watching the third Doctor and enjoying Jon Pertwee’s cranky yet friendly Doctor quite a bit. (I’ve seen some of these episodes, but not all. I am not as familiar with the third Doctor as I had thought.) We’re starting the second of his seasons, so we’re starting to get into the first Master episodes. Which is fun.

We tried watching the first Doctor, but knowing that over half his stories only partly exist/exist only in audio was a bit of a turnoff. So we’re delaying that.

We’ve also watched three Lilo and Stitch movies, and they’re good fun, interestingly enough. Good fun to the extent that we want to watch the series. I suppose I have no problem with original Disney characters going into masses of sequels, heck, I would have been disappointed if there had just been the one film, but I cringe everytime I see Cinderella 3 at the video store.

We’ve rented some other stuff, but unless someone sees something over on my media page that they’d like my opinion on, most of it will go uncommented.

I will, however, comment on our recent movie going experience.

On the first of this month, we went to see not one, not two, but three movies at our local theater.

First, we watched 300, which was pretty good. Or, at least, it was very pretty for a semi-accurate, simplistic cinematic recreation of a series of battles fought almost 2500 years ago. We enjoyed it for what it was, but I don’t think either of us was awed by the movie. Amanda actually commented that it wasn’t overly gory, so that says something about the stylized violence as it was presented. I am rapidly learning that Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Return, while influential, wasn’t an overly brilliant bit of storytelling (Or, if it was, that it was a seemingly one time deal). Overall, I would suggest that he can create some powerful imagery and that he can write noir like nobody’s business, but that he’s not actually a particularly good storyteller outside that sphere.

Long story short, 300 was interestingly filmed, but it doesn’t necessarily give me any hope for the cinematic adaptation of a truly literary bit of comics history: Watchmen. 300 had no characters that the viewer could really care about. One develops a small bit of empathy for Leonidas, and maybe a little for his wife, but that’s it. Watchmen, on the other hand, is a character driven story.

The reason this all matters, for any potential readers that do not know, is that the same man that directed 300 is directing Watchmen. As a result, I have been shown little to make me believe that Snyder is the man for the job. He made a very pretty picture. Can he make a very pretty picture where the visuals take a backseat to the story and characters?

We’ll see.

Anyways, the next film we went to see was Live Free or Die Hard, though in Japan it has what I feel is a much better title, Die Hard 4.0. While the #.0 formula is a little old, for this film it works better than the title they went with, or so I believe.

So, yeah, this is a Die Hard movie. Ish.

Apart from a couple of CGed scenes, I would suggest that the film was good old-fashioned stunt work fun. It’s nice to see things blowing up right proper, and to see Willis in this role. Overall, I recommend the movie to anyone capable of letting their brain shut down for a couple of hours.

I would, however, like to comment on a couple of things. First, Justin Long as the sidekick, while somewhat whiny, didn’t bother me in the least. The whininess is in character, and as such, is justified. I would suggest that he reacts in a fairly realistic manner to a series of increasingly crazy events. As a result, he is a good sidekick to Willis’ McClane, who takes everything in stride.

Which kind of brings me to the second point.

Why, if the enemy had access to all that information about McClane, did they not once comment on how this guy has been in really crappy terrorist situations on no less than three previous occasions and lived to tell about it? I mean, I know the villain is a cocky git, but c’mon. Any remotely sane person would look at that file and at least have an inkling of what this McClane person can do. At the very least, while he was first taunting McClane he could have taunted him about not making it through this like the other ones or something. But no. Not a peep. I can forgive the normal people, and even the FBI people for not knowing who McClane is, but the villain doesn’t have the excuse of a 14 year gap. You would think there would be commendations aplenty after the events of Die Hard 3 alone.

Finally, Kevin Smith as a Star Wars loving computer nerd? Talk about casting against type.

And, the final film that we went to see was Shrek 3. I don’t think I’ll say too much about it, except I think that I laughed more than I did at the second film. In my mind, using Wings’ “Live and Let Die” as a king’s dirge is comedy gold, and if you disagree, well, that’s your tasteless prerogative.

And that’s a book, film, and television update.

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~ by truth9 on July 12, 2007.

3 Responses to “A Media Update”

  1. ooo. Long and intricate. I shall attempt comment on some of the points you brought up at a later date, but right now… I’ve got a date. Latah!

  2. Now that you’ve read Name of the Rose you can try to imagine Sean Connery and Christian Slater as William and Adso. Ron Perlman is in the movie too! My second reading of this text was pretty quick and I hardly noticed the drone of history at all. And if you thought some parts of the Rose were longish, wait t’ill you read the Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana. Sheesh.

    There’s something indirect about Pynchon’s writing style that makes it difficult for me to get into him. I bogged down a hundred pages into V. and couldn’t continue. Guess I’ll try again sometime in the future.

    I’d say Happiness is in part a not-quite-good parody of Foucault’s Pendulum. It’s enjoyable enough, though.

    The season finale of Doctor Who was just as you said. Everyone claps their hands to bring Tinker-bell to life. Or everyone raises their hands and shouts Hercules to help Goku deliver the Spirit-Bomb. The Captain Jack revelation was kind of neat though.

    Also, good call on the Master turning up some weeks past.

  3. I’m in a similar state with Palahniuk, as I’m currently over halfway through reading Choke, which will make four the fourth novel of his that I’ve read. (First three: Haunted, Fight Club, Lullaby) I have to say that I feel like I’m finally starting to “get” Palahniuk, which has not resulted in greater appreciation so much as a feeling of exhaustion.

    The fact is that he’s only an intermitently interesting writer. When he’s good, his unique voice (the combination of minimalist prose and over-the-top concepts) has a certain lyricism. When he’s bad, he’s shallow, pedantic, and sentimental. Palahniuk likes to throw a lot of stuff at the reader (shock, factoids, etc.). But though he might claim this “confrontational” stuff helps him break through to his jaded audience, I find it just serves to camouflage the weaknesses in his writings.

    I am curious to hear your response to “Haunted,” as it was the first of Chuck’s books I read and probably the one I found most disappointing.

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