Thursday, July 26, 2007

Media Recommendations

I've seen some great movies and read some great books recently. Just thought I'd report here. Movies first:

Transformers: surprisingly good! I expected a lot of rubbish with some familiar old characters, and I was hardly prepared for this delightful adventure. The writing was incredible! Of special note was the main character's mother, whom I found to be hilarious. Evan and I went to see this one twice.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: This movie was much better than the bloated, depressing book from which its script was adapted. I don't know why, but I got very excited at the end with the battle between the forces of light and dark, and also by the editing in the final battle between Harry and Voldemort that takes place in Harry's mind.

Hairspray: The music in this movie was inspiring. The entire cast displayed an enormous talent, the message was timely and important, and it avoided slipping into the dubious Hollywood morality. It has a fluffy exterior, but underneath it is an important movie that everyone should see.

Ok, I know all three of those movies aren't supposed to be very deep, and they won't win a Best Picture Oscar, but they all were very well done. Much better than your average summer blockbuster fare. I wouldn't be mentioning them here had I not been so favorably impressed. Books next:

The Poisonwood Bible: Sadly, I don't have many people left to whom I can recommend this book, since I seem to be the last one to discover it. I was very impressed with Kingsolver's daring experimentation with voice. The book was shocking, heart wrenching, and didactic. It tells the story of a preacher and his wife and four daughters who travel to the Congo in the 50's as missionaries, and each chapter is told by either the wife or one of the four daughters. Each has a very distinct perspective and voice. Eldest daughter Rachel is skeptical and aloof, and inadvertently uses humorous malapropisms, all the while providing a metaphor for the average American's refusal to see what the United States was doing to the Congo. The twins are next, with Rachel speaking in lofty and idealistic tones, and we follow her down a path of disillusionment that ends in a harsh but crucial place. The other twin, Adah, has suffered brain damage and is literal and belligerent, writing in palindromes and wordplays and making deep, resounding metaphorical connections between the family and the African nation. Youngest daughter Ruth May is optimistic and naive, her imaginative and uneducated voice being used to illustrate otherwise hidden dangers in a tone heavy with dramatic irony. The mother speaks from many years later, with a deep melancholy and richly wise hindsight, all proffered in a dizzyingly poetic style. It's an absolute joy to read this novel, which begins as a story about the one family, but by the end has drawn all of the Congo under its scope.

Cloud Atlas: I don't know what inspired me to pick this up, but I was looking for something that was as much fun and experimentation as The Poisonwood Bible, and I found that in Cloud Atlas. Cloud Atlas opens with a man named Adam Ewing presenting us with his 1849 journal, using an old-fashioned English where words are spelled however they sound. Right in the middle of one of his adventures, indeed, in the middle of one of his sentences, his story comes to an abrupt end and we are introduced to Robert Frobisher, a gifted musician with an uninhibited sex life and a knack for getting himself into and talking his way out of trouble, all told through a series of letters to a former lover, which employ shorthand, often leaving out the subjects of sentences and abbreviating important words and names. Before reaching any resolution there, we begin "Half-lives: The First Luisa Rey Novel," which is a story corporate intrigue set in the 1970's. In the middle of that story, we begin to read a hilarious memoir of a publisher named Timothy Cavendish, whose misadventures are told in Cockney slang. Then we're on to the science-fiction story of Onmi 451 clone designed to feed people in a restaurant in Korea in the near future. This is presented in interview form, and the language of the future has been truncated and streamlined, so we end up with words like "xpect" and "fritened." This character's confused perspective matches ours, and as the world becomes clearer to her, so the story does to us. Finally, we begin the story of a post-apocalyptic people whose language is only in spoken form, and who long for relics of the once-civilized world. The language in this section is the most bizarre of all, representing an English corrupted by hundreds of years of benighted thinking. At this point in the novel, the story turns around, and goes back through all of the stories we've already read, finishing them off and answering our questions. What is strange is that each main character seems to be in possession of the previous sections of the book (an idea I've long considered for a book idea I've been working on), and each main character seems to be the same soul, reincarnated over and over throughout time. It builds to a neat climax several times, and astonishingly, only when you reach the end of the book do you realize the overarching themes that were surely present the whole time. Full of self-allusion and tricky, sparkling wordplay, this novel also punches out an important moral about power and greed and living as a part of a society, and how an individual's downfall will be the same as a civilization’s downfall if the citizens don't keep their pride in check. It's really astonishing, and I recommend this enjoyable read to anyone who loves language.

Finally, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Yes, this is the end of the Harry Potter series, and J.K. Rowling did it exactly right. I don't want to post any spoilers here, and I don't feel I need to explain what the book is about (who doesn't know at this point, right?), but I do want to say that this was very much the most moral and important book in the series, with lessons about sacrifice and loss and friendship and forgiveness. It was also more honest than the other books, with well-established "good" characters coming under new scrutiny (Dumbledore, Sirius, Lupin, etc.) and "bad characters finally getting a chance to bask in a more positive light (Snape, the Dursleys, the Malfoys, Wormtail, etc.). The characters all became much more detailed and richer. The questions were all answered in a very appropriate and sometimes unexpected way. And I felt the action sequences were more enjoyable than ever, primarily because so much happens, and secondarily because more is at stake. No fewer than seven good characters from previous books die in this one, which is hard to take, but makes Harry's struggle all the more important. If you haven't read the Harry Potter books, I strongly recommend them. They are very life-affirming and humorous and warm, and above all, remarkably well plotted. I know everybody has probably already told you, but they are not just kids' books. They are human books

Well, kids, that's it for today. I just learned about Google Feed Reader, which might change the way I do things on the Internet, and I recommend you check it out. Especially because I update this blog so unreliably, and this will automatically inform you whenever I do. Okay bye.


bawb said...

Dang, man. Sorry I didn't tell you about Google Reader, like, a year ago.

And yes, the main character's mother in Transformers was absolutely brilliant.

Toasteroven said...

I haven't seen or read anything that is really new in a long time, and I don't care. I'm just still excited about this whole LARP thing. Watching LARPing always makes me happy.

Vero Awesome said...

I love you, I love your taste in movies and books, and can I just say that HP would have been SO much funnier with you there. As it was, we made lots of hilarious jokes. Still, can't wait to go on a trip with you, this is going to be EPIC.