Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are **

As the credits on Spike Jonze's newest film, Where the Wild Things Are, began to roll, I sat in my seat in the theatre feeling a little confused and sort of worried. I was as excited as anyone for the screen adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book, but now as Karen O sang the closing tune, I couldn't help but be concerned that my hipster membership was going to be revoked, because I just didn't really care for the movie all that much.

I know, right! What the hell was wrong with me? But I just couldn't get over it. I wanted to like it so much. It was Spike Jonze and David Eggers and even Mark Ruffalo was in it for all of fifteen seconds. I should have adored it. In fact, the story connected with me on an even more personal level because in second grade, my teacher wrote a short play based on Where the Wild Things Are and I played Max in front of the whole school and parents and everything! I love the book, and when I saw the previews start to pop up months ago, I was excited as all hell.

And yet, I just couldn't. It was beautiful, the soundtrack was good (and could have been great, if it hadn't just been Karen O masturbating herself the entire time), and the direction was fantastic. I mean, it's Spike Jonze after all. But as a movie, it just didn't do much for me. A lot of people defended it for having been based on a kid's book, or as a kid's movie on the whole, but is it fair to somehow hold it to a lesser standard because of that? Horton Hears a Who was fantastic, as was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (or at least Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, if you weren't into Tim Burton's version), and both of those films were based on a children's book. To argue that my expectations of Where the Wild Things Are should somehow be lower because of the source material is silly, because after all is said and done, it's still a movie. A major motion picture. And not a kid's movie, I'm sorry. It was directed clearly at twentysomethings in skinny jeans and cardigans.

What it ended up being was somewhat disjointed and wandering, without much emotional weight or consequence or even much tension at all. Max disappears, no one goes looking for him, he hangs out with a giant monster version of the MTV's The Real World for an hour, decides that they're just as bad as his bitchy family and goes the fuck home where his mom feels bad that she yelled even though Max was the one acting out in the first place. Maybe I'm a cold-hearted old man for it, but I have no idea how so many people cried through the entire thing. I even tear up at the end of every single Harry Potter movie, and this did nothing to tug at my heart strings.

Forevermore, movies about escaping into a fantasy world from a shitty reality will inevitably be compared to Pan's Labyrinth in my mind, and there just isn't a whole lot you can do to beat that one. There is weight in that movie. There are consequences and there is a whole fuck-load of tension, both in the real world and in the fantasy one. They play off each other, and the movie feels well-rounded and purposeful. It's not that every movie of the genre now has to live up to Pan's Labyrinth, but they should at least be a fraction of what Guillermo del Toro managed to achieve. Jonze's indie music video starring a bunch of tittybaby monsters and a bratty little kid with ADHD--it didn't even step into the ring.

So rescind my hipster membership if you must. I'll cut up my card and hand in my jaunty beret, and be a hipster no more. You can turn me away at the door of every Urban Outfitters in the United States, but I'll get over it I suppose. I tried, I really did. Maybe it will take a second viewing, or kids of my own, but right now, even as a huge fan of the book (perhaps especially as a huge fan of the book), it just didn't do it for me. Sorry guys. I really, truly am.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Analyze this

Google and I don't always get along too well. It likes to shut me off in the middle of doing things in Gmail, it added so many ads to YouTube videos that you can barely watch them uninterrupted anymore, and worst of all, it keeps setting my Image Safe Search back to Moderate, which just isn't getting me the results that I'm looking for. Like any other company that started off small and grown into a massive enough corporation that it has Microsoft shaking in its boots (Bing? Seriously? I'd say you can do better, but I know you can't), Google has overextended itself. Instead of being satisfied with being the best at one thing, they've managed to be mediocre in a whole slew of things.

There are a few things that they do still do quite well. Their search engine is still the best online, though saying that is like congratulating Chevy for making the best SUV--sure, it's the "best" at what it does, but the whole concept itself could use a major overhaul. Blogger, owned by Google of course, isn't too bad either. I mean, I'm here using it. What it lacks in customization it makes up for in simplicity and user-friendliness. And Google's Chrome browser is also now my go-to browser whenever I work on someone's PC. I still use Opera on my Mac whenever I can (even though Facebook has reached the Glitchiness Event Horizon, forcing me to open Safari whenever I want to do anything more than log half-way in), but despite my original reservations about it, Chrome has turned out pretty alright. Sure, it's mostly just on the laurels of Firefox having gone the way of Internet Explorer--bloated, unsecure and all-around out-dated--but at least someone is picking up the slack there.

But what made me get online tonight and talk all about Google is the site Curtis recently introduced me to, Google Analytics. If you're already familiar with Analytics or another site that does the work it does, you're probably not that amazed, but I haven't gotten over it in the past few weeks since I set it up. Basically, if you run any kind of website, what Analytics does is tracks it for you. It keeps tabs on your visitors: where they're from, how long they stayed on your site, where they looked on it, even what browser and operating system they are running. Pretty freakin' cool. I mean, if you don't have a website, then there's really nothing there for you, but if you do, it's awesome just to browse through. You can even pull up a skin of your website and see where on it people are clicking. How wild is that?

A lot of the things they provide, like what build of Flash your visitors are using, are for more useful for a big company who, say, has a Flash-based website and wants to know just how many of its visitors can actually get all the way through their site. For me, it's just fun. I mostly just like to look at how many hits I'm getting and where those people are from. Many are probably just here accidentally for searching things like book titles that I've reviewed (really, they are, because Analytics tracks how and why they came to the site in the first place), which explains my occasional readership in places like Risskov, Denmark and Khartoum, Sudan. But there are repeated views from a few cities, around the United States mostly, where I don't even know anyone, which I assume means that people there are actually purposely reading my blog. Whoa!

So my question is this: who are you? I mean, I'm totally pumped that you're here, reading all about whatever the hell I give a shit about, but I want to know more about you! When I saw i had nine views from Syracuse, New York, my mind reeled, hoping that somehow, some way, George Saunders had become a fan of my blog before I remembered that Miller just moved up there for grad school. No offense, man--that would have been cool. But who are the rest of you? From Charlottesville, Virginia and Milton, Pennsylvania? And any of the people who are visiting from the Twin Cities out there in Minnesota, or my apparent West Coast friends in Sunnyvale, Claremont and Santa Monica? I made my comments section available for everyone, so say hi! I would love to talk to you! I think that would be pretty much the coolest thing ever, so don't be scared. I'm really not as angry as I seem. Usually. I just wanna be your friend.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Will Lavender - Obedience ****

Being constantly between jobs and assorted other gigs, I have been buying a lot fewer completely random books that call out to me from the shelf when I'm browsing through my local Barnes & Noble. But every once in a while, one of them just finds its way into my hand, and my feet lead me up to the counter, and suddenly my wallet is fifteen dollars lighter.

Will Lavender's debut novel Obedience was one such book. I was without paycheck, but somehow convinced myself I needed it, despite my already enormous library of books that I have yet to read. I don't know if it was the title, so direct but mysterious. Or maybe the cover, or just inside with lots of great reviews. But I'm guessing that it was probably, per usual, the blurb describing it on the back. To me, reading it again, it sounds a little like Tobias Wolff's Old School, plus a little bit of meta-fictional murder mystery. Not a bad combo in my mind.

The story follows three students at Winchester University's Logic and Reasoning 204 with Professor Williams. These students are presented, on the first day of class, with a murder mystery which they will need to use the lessons of the class to figure out. But something doesn't seem quite right. Things are a bit too real, and way too complex just for a class assignment. Add that to the stresses college students already have, like long distance relationships, getting wasted and having sex with the dean's hot young wife.

Yeah, that was all in there. The laurels of the book fall less on the characters (or really, caricatures) that populate it and more on the story itself. The students--Mary, Brian and Dennis--are a means to an end, a vehicle to deliver a quite layered and rather intriguing story. I can't fault him for it. I'm guilty of the same in my writing, and even greats like Jonathan Lethem (Amnesia Moon) and George Orwell (pretty much everything he's ever written) have fallen prey when they're trying to make a grand point. And although in his point-making, Lavender can't help but beat the reader to death with the fact that he's referencing Paul Auster. Seriously now. I got that before you even assigned Mary City of Glass in one of her other classes. We're cool, you can put the hammer down now, Mr. Lavender.

Like the New York Times Book Review said, "If you solve this one without peeking at the last chapter, it's an automatic A." I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult. I like being able to follow along with the clues in my mysteries. But either way, they are right. I didn't see it coming at all. It definitely worked, and it made complete sense just like an ending should, but it wasn't at all what I expected. At first it actually disappointed me, but now looking back, it was exactly what it had to be I suppose. Just the fact that I'm still thinking about it half a year later should tell you enough about the book. Namely that it should be read by you. And probably again by me.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bite the hand that breeds

Let's say your neighbor has really been getting on your nerves. This isn't just letting his leaves fall on your lawn; see, there's a lot of homeless people in town and on the weekends he's been having a little soup kitchen-style picnic in his backyard. Not only that, but he's been knocking on doors up and down your street for the last few weeks to try to collect money for the local hardware store that's going out of business because a Home Depot just built a superstore on the other side of town. I mean, this is just one pain-in-the-ass kind of guy, just a bad dude.

So what do you do? There's only one sensible option: you buy a pack of wild attack dogs and you let them loose in his yard. They'll kill and eat him and shit all over his lawn and then, finally, you might get some piece and quiet. That is, until the dogs get hungry again and head back through the hedge to your place and murder your entire family to feed their ravenous hunger. Wait, you didn't see that coming? You didn't have the foresight to realize that a pack of untrained, rabid attack dogs might turn on you once you let them loose? Welcome to the Republican Party.

When Glenn Beck, Dick Armey, and Michael Steele worked their packs into a frenzy in each their own deliciously devious way ("populist" rhetoric and tear-shedding, an internet-based astroturfing campaign, and the seat at the head of the elephant's table itself), it seems like they didn't bother buying leashes. Now, the infamous Teabaggers have turned on their own with the same furious bark and bite that used on Democratic Senator's town-hall meetings in August.

Their target? Republican Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham. Yes, these bastions of conservatism have disowned the only man in America conservative enough to fill Strom Thurmond's seat in Congress. But why should I ruin all the fun. Watch it yourself, from this clip courtesy of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

A deal with the devil! A liar! When's he going to just own up and switch parties? Oh that Lindsey Graham, with his A rating from the NRA and his iron fist on gay marriage--he's a turncoat if I ever saw one. Not only him, but Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) as well! Those bastards and their attempts to have civil discourse with... Democrats. It's almost like they're trying to get something done.

So now what is the Republican Party to do? They bought these dogs, they injected them full of steroids and gave them the taste of blood, but now they've begun to turn on their makers. Frankenstein's monster. The Party is fracturing before our very eyes, and oh in what a glorious display. The rift is growing right in the middle of it (okay... maybe it's a little waaayyy further right), and I can't even guess what will happen next. I really can't. I've posited theories in the past about the party throwing up someone like Bobby Jindal in 2012 in an attempt to appear more moderate and level-headed, but at this point, their own party would revolt. You can't just put these mutts down.

The only other way to go is to either get ahold of Ron Paul and apologize to him profusely (since these Teabaggers all think they're Libertarians and Constitutionalists), or just own up and get whomever is currently Grand Wizard of the KKK right now, (since these Teabaggers all are racists and homophobes). The Dixiecrats were a party once, after all, and their slogan was--and I'm totally not kidding--"Segregation Forever!". They even won four states in the 1948 Presidential election, running, of all people... oh, you don't know? Not Dewey, that was the Republicans. Who else lost to Harry S. Truman that year?

Strom Thurmond, of course.

Boy, the GOP had best be setting up one of those invisible fences right now, because this is going to get ugly.

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm baaaaaack...

And ready to par-tayyy! So put on your best galoshes and release the doves, because I'm back in my shithole hometown, and ready to get bloggin' like I mean it again! It's the only way to keep myself from jumping headfirst off my roof into the hard, cold asphalt of my driveway below! That and maybe re-watching Freaks and Geeks. But this time I won't even have to run on the elliptical while I do so, because apparently I lost 17 pounds over the course of my travels, eating steak and chocolate mousse every single day.

No lie. But the ridiculously over-processed, terribly unhealthy food that we cram into our gaping maws here in the United States is a subject for a later blog. Before I get back into my screaming matches with the internet, I figured I should share with you some of the photographs I took while I was out and about in Buenos Aires. Like those from New Zealand last year, these are not all of my pictures, but just a smattering of some of the artsy-fartsy ones I fancied.

For a complete collection of my pictures, feel free to visit either my Flickr site, where I've got the majority of these sorts of pictures posted, or my travel blog from the trip, The Hypermagic Tangophase. There you'll find a relatively complete journaling of my month away from my real life. And on that note, if you know anywhere that is hiring around the Lancaster or Reading areas, feel free to drop me a line. Turns out I'm broke and need a job. What a crock.