25 January 2009

Books: Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz


There is a point in A Fraction of the Whole, the debut novel by Australian author Steve Toltz, where I realized had I known the Martin clan, I would’ve tried to escape them. Toltz’z stream of conscious style writing gets odd and disturbing at times, and at well over 500 pages drags here and there.

The novel begins during a prison riot, leading quickly to the declaration, "my father's body will never be found." It then quickly rewinds to describe three generations of Deans, beginning with Jasper Dean's grandparents as recounted in the first person by Jasper's father Martin. The book is at least as much by and about Martin Dean as it is Jasper, though Martin is clearly dead as the book begins.

Set primarily in Australia, the novel does wander through other locations, such as Paris and Thailand. Much like A Confederacy of Dunces, the novel’s characters are outsiders in most sense of the word, coming up with one wild scheme after another (Martin's plan to make every Australian a millionaire, or Martin and Jasper building a house in the middle of a labyrinth, or Martin compiling a Handbook of Crime) while making commentaries about the ills of the world.

The book is wonderfully funny, filled with well realized, if not over-the-top misanthropic characters. There are not many novels that can peel away all of societies complex problems the way Toltz’s has done here, and kind of make them charming.

And there were times when reading the book, I felt like these characters, filled with unbridled desire to shake the world from their stupor of trying to fit in, be a conformist were the true spirit of the any ones world.

And, sometimes I too feel like a “philosopher who’s thought himself into a corner.”

19 January 2009

Movie: Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Slumdog Millionaire is, perhaps, one of the most engaging, and oddly uplifting tales of a horrible life I’ve seen. It is bold, exciting, directed with great flair by Danny Boyle (Trainspottting, The Beach, 28 Days Later).

Written by Simon Beaufoy and based on the novel Q & A by Vikas Swarup it’s a tale about eighteen year old Jamal Malik, who is having an amazing answering streak on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. He's only one correct question away from the big prize. However, some, including those associated with the game show, question how someone like Jamal, a self confessed non-genius who grew up in the slums of Mumbai, can be doing so well on the show when others who are brighter, more educated and wealthier than him have failed. Is Jamal cheating? Is it purely luck that they have asked him the questions to which he knows the answers?

As the film unwinds between now and the past, we see how Jamal can answer all the questions he’s been asked We see his struggle as an orphan with his brother -a guardian/protector and eventually, his antagonist and as he works his way towards what appears to his one, true destiny -winning on the show to be reunited with the one girl he has loved all his life.

Boyle -an English director, so an ultimate outsider - has some how has becomes connected to the world of India, a country increasingly coming into the spot light of the world. With a multi-layered script that never panders to the sordid lives these children live (as a matter of fact, the children seem almost unaware), he’s able to bring heart and joy to the story of Jamal (played by Skins actor Dev Patel in a star making performance).

Certainly, one the best 10 films of 2008.

18 January 2009

Titanic II: Miracle on the Hudson

I don't know, is it just me or does this photo remind you of another ill-fated passenger voyage?

Cue Music.

Anyways, while the "steerage" passengers get to stand on the wings, getting their feet wet in the freezing waters of the Hudson, the "first class" passengers get a comfy boat -and are probably being served cocktails, along with a dry towel.

Priorities to wealthy.

Always.

17 January 2009

Movie: Revoultionary Road (2008)

If there is one in inescapably aspect of Revolutionary Road is that picture feels dated, though its themes of suburban hell ring true even today. And one can’t also escape that Mendes vivisected these same themes in American Beauty.

The script is fine, the acting of both Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio is marvelous and the production design glorious. Director Sam Mendes is also in fine form, though at times the film felt staged, like the theatrical production April Wheeler was in at the beginning of the film. And while Richard Yates novel of 1950's America gone horribly wrong was probably -if you can excuse the phrase - revolutionary when the book came out in 1962, but today its themes have been discussed and dissected over the last 46 years.

When my mom and dad moved to the suburbs after I was born in 1962, life there seemed to be filled with endless hope. And for some, this life worked, while for others that life seemed dull and listless. Ironically, I think, that most kids my age and maybe a decade younger are moving back into the city, realizing that while the suburbs offered open space to build a family, there was -and still is - an undertow, a darkening theme that fitting in is more important than living.

April Wheeler was not crazy, or insane, she felt -like many lost souls who understand that there is more to life than just a husband, a house and kids to a life - the suburban life was really a dead end, much like the 1950s.

And in the back of his head, I think even Frank sees it is also, but he is afraid to be different, to stand up for himself. Life in the suburbs for many is a living hell, while others its divine.

Revolutionary Road is a good picture, with great performances from the entire cast, including the creepy Michael Shannon (who oddly looks like DiCaprio at times) as John Givings. But again, I feel the films themes never come close to really making you feel sorry for either them, and would say that AMC’s Mad Men is a better example of the conformity that Yates novel was after.

15 January 2009

Is this a further sign that complex, character-driven serialized storytelling is on the wane at the broadcast networks?

In an era when scripted TV is being reduced to the lowest common denominator, or being replaced by brainless game and reality shows and the likes of Jay Leno, there is some good, well written shows out there. Unfortunately, some are finding their road on the idiot lantern difficult.

Take, for example, a few shows on Fox. When it comes to genre, the House of Rupert Murdock has had a rocky road. These days, the success of The X Files, and its 9 season run, seems to be shocking in a day where it takes only an episode or two for it to end up on the cancellation bin.

Today, while The Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is still around, despite low ratings and an apathetic audience who seemed to be confused by well written, character based stories, its long range fate is muddled. It will be moved from its Monday slot to Friday soon, teamed up with Joss Whedon’s new show Dollhouse -which has a huge problem on its way to the airwaves.

At the recent winter TCA press tour, Fox Entertainment president Kevin Reilly talked about Dollhouse and other genre shows on the network. "Joss Whedon does a certain kind of show. He’s right in the zone again on that. It's the kind of show that we know has a core passionate audience. In some other scheduling scenarios there could be enormous pressure on it ... we have a very compatible lead in with ‘Sarah Connor’... we’re going to let the show play out for 13 episodes and hopefully it will catch on ... if we can do some business there, that would be a great thing for the future."

Dollhouse has already had its pilot re-shot and re-worked, its concept tweaked for an audience, it appears, might be confused by deeper story.

Ron Moore's Virtuality pilot is being recut, possibly from two hours to one: Reilly said that "It could air as-is and a certain segment of the audience would flip for it. But it's a little dense."

Dense, eh? Still, series co-creator Michael Taylor agrees the show could be a bit dense, “It's dense in the same way Battlestar was/is, in that it introduces a bunch of complex, intriguing characters, along with a compelling sci-fi scenario with several layers to it. In other words, it's dense in the way good science fiction often is. The pilot puts a bunch of balls in the air but I think it does a great job of juggling those balls and setting up the scenario up in a way that makes it easy for the audience to understand without having to be hit over the heads with a lot of heavy-handed exposition. That said, it's definitely challenging material, the kind of story you need and want to pay attention to, especially in the pilot. But to us that's what made it so much fun to create, and what will ultimately pay off in series, by allowing us to tell exciting layered stories in the mold of shows like Lost.”

Meanwhile, Fringe has doing excellent and Reilly assured the press “the show's been a bear creatively because it's been very ambitious. They've really found the storytelling model now ... what you're going to see in the second half in the year, if you follow the serialized story you will not be disappointed, yet the stories really do reset themselves each week. I would not expect it to take off after 'Idol,' but I do think it will tick up another level."

Expectations are the show will be picked up for a second season.

Meanwhile, NBC Entertainment chief Angela Bromstad -who announced that the Peacock Network has picked up my two favorite comedies for the 2009-2010 TV season, The Office and 30 Rock - said that Bryan Fuller’s return to the embattled Heroes has already been helpful, and that the next chapter, Fugitives, is basically going to reset the show. While she said the show is “secure,” its fate has yet to be decided. But the rumor is the show will indeed be picked up for a fourth season.

What is not known is the future of other shows on NBC with the network giving Jay Leno the 10pm spot. What will be the fate of the Law & Order franchise, Life, Chuck, and Medium (which returns for season five on February 2nd). My Own Worst Enemy and Knight Rider are not expected to survive, and the network is developing six dramas and 4 comedies for the fall.

12 January 2009

BeStitched

Get it here

Afraid


I've grown up all of my life afraid to do things, afraid to advance my career because I fear failure. So, to avoid it, I don't do things -like get a better job, or even move up in the one that I have - because that way I can avoid failure. The same can be applied to my social life, which many of my friends have caught on.

So, I guess, in some ways I lead a dull, prosaic life. And its all my fault, that I know. So, I will do (because, according to Yoda, there is no try) better. I will not call it an epiphany in any sort of the way, but I'm determined to be a better person this year, make 2009 the best year for a new job (or advancement in the job I have) and find the right guy for me.

Plus, I'll still use my blog and facebook to complain about things, but I want to be a better, stronger person.

09 January 2009

Earthquake, part 2

Back in July, a 5.4 Earthquake rattled the Inland Empire. I was at work when it happened, but last night when a 4.5 hit, I was at home, peeing. Not because it scared me, but because that's what I was doing at 7:49 pm when it happened.

So, there I was peeing when I heard noise that, oddly, sounded like the neighbors slamming their door. At first, I thought it was just that, then the noise happened again, this time only louder. It was then, I realized I was experiencing another earthquake.

It lasted a mere, maybe 15 seconds, but there you go. With in an hour, there were three aftershakes, none which I felt.

So, I went on with my night.

Today, I took the day off from work -I have enough personal time to take two-weeks off - and went to Disneyland again. Unlike on Sunday, I went on a few rides.

I have problems taking time off of work. It's not that I feel they can't continue without me, it's just that when I was in High School, it was drilled into my head by my teachers that if you take time off, someone has to your job and their job.

But today, and the rest of 2009, I've decided that I will no longer feel horrible that I've earned this time off -I also have an additional 33 hours of vacation time. Long weekends look to be in my future over the next couple of months, and I enjoy going to Disneyland, so there you go.

by the way, looks like spring is coming here for a few days, as warm weather (some predictions have an 80 in the IE by Sunday) is on the way.

Yea!


05 January 2009

NBC drops Coulter. Sound fine to me.

Ann Coulter, one of truly most hateful people in the world, has a new book dropping tomorrow. Apparently, she was to appear on the Today Show promote her next rant at the liberals of the world, but NBC has cancelled her appearance, saying that "We've had Ann Coulter on Today many times, but because of the news in Washington and the Middle East, we decided to cancel her appearance tomorrow."

The Drudge report says something else; mainly that she's been banned.

Maybe, just maybe, NBC has realized that Coulter in nothing but a asshat who has no real desire ever to be anything but an instigator of hate, one who easily wraps herself up in the American flag when someone counters her flawed arguments and disagrees with her views.

She wants to only continue this destructive schism that is turning America into a divided nation of Reds and Blue States. And she appears to need validation, also, as if writing her book was not enough, now she needs to continue her hateful ways by appearing on TV and radio. Sure, the right wing nutjobs of Orange County will embrace her, will applaud her for "standing up" to the liberal media, even while she talks in circular arguments, even while further cutting up an America hurt by such division.

Personally, I consider her a comedian, cause really can't take anything she says serious. But she is funny, quick witted but really not more than an empty dress.

The dread of something after death

Death, as Shakespeare wrote, is the "undiscovered country from who bourn no traveler returns."

Even at 46, I'm still -somewhat - afraid to die. Perhaps, exactly because no one knows what lies beyond this mortal coil. I want to believe that there is something else than darkness, that my soul, life energy or whatever, continues on after my heart gives its last beat. But, I don't know, and that worries me.

While this is a morbid thought, the reason I bring it up is that death is here everyday, things we hear on the news about a murder, a car accident, a tragic confluence of things that kills some child, some mother, or father. The rash, so it would seem, of Hollywood stars dying.

These last few months, death has come close to me. Not in the sense that I've lost family members, but that I've seen the passing of other people's family members. That death has visited my friends, and I'm worried its getting closer to mine.

Back in November, when I had learned my friend and former co-worker Pete had taken his life, I have not gone a day without thinking of him. It was then that I also had heard of the death of Pete and I's old General Manager at the Borders we worked at in Oak Park a few months prior to Pete taking his life. Then, just before Christmas, my stepbrother's wife lost her father after a long battle with cancer. And now, today I learn my friend Marc and his brother Matt have traveled home to St. Louis because their mother's husband is, apparently, losing his battle with cancer.

Both Marc and Matt lost their dad a few years ago (their parents, however, had been divorced for many years), and now they'll lose a step-father.

Its been nearly 3 years since the death of my brother-in-law, yet I know that spectre is haunting my great uncle, who is now 95; my sweet Uncle Joe, my Godfather. And while I'll be sad when he goes, he's had 9 decades on this earth. All of the recent ones closest to me, have left way too soon.

Death is fickle and never fair. I want to be here as long as possible, if only because I an scared of what lies in that undiscovered country. I know there is nothing I can do about it, I know worrying about it is pointless, but like a bad debt, it hangs on the edge of my conscious thoughts, always there, always whispering.

Like dead leaves in a strong wind, it skittles across my days and my nights.

I send my best to Marc and Matt, for I love them both.

04 January 2009

Candy Everybody Wants



Weekend Update

Weekends by definition, are designed to be days when you relax.

However, since I lack anything close to a life (which is my fault, I know), I find the hours between Saturday and Sunday tedious until I can return to work on Monday to interact with my co-workers (and then I mumble about something on the track of, jebus when is Friday going to get here?)

Yes, I'm also a mess of contradictions.

But the one good thing about the weekend (when not filming Odyssey or Helena Chronicles) is that I read more -I spend a few hours at the Starbucks passing time. Then, when I'm bored, I try to go home with all these ambitious ideas of cleaning, even going for a bike ride.

Then I sit in front of the computer and I let the day slip away like George Bush shitting my tax dollars away. Yesterday was such a day. Did nothing, well, beyond the usual stuff...

Anyways, today I went to Disneyland. Unlike When I went in November, I prepared to bring food with me. So, I saved some money, even though I did buy a few things at California Adventure (where I swear I saw Tornwordo from Sticky Crows. I know he's in SoCal now, so this tall guy, walking with three other guys and a girl pushing a baby passes by me in CA. And I thought that the tall guy looked like the avatar of Tornwordo. I've never met Richard, but I swear it was him). Still, somehow I ended up dropping my car keys on the driver seat of my car. I did not realize they were missing until I was waiting for the Tram to get to Disneyland. I knew I didn't drop them, but I was certain I took them out of the ignition. Like I said, once I got back to the car, I saw them on the seat. It took security about 15 minutes or so to get my door open -its nice to know that the Focus is a hard car to shimmy.

Anywho, after that adventure I finally got into the happiest place on Earth. I liked going to Disneyland by myself today, but I realize something: one person can navigate both parks much more quickly. I was done with both Disneyland and California Adventure in a matter of maybe 3 hours.

I didn't go any rides, but I just wanted to roam on my own, do things with out waiting for someone else. And much as a loner, misathropic jackass that I am, going by yourself is also kinda boring.

I'll do again, but now I know.

Next Sunday, production begins on season two of Star Trek: Odyssey. So, now I only haver to fill one day next weekend with something...

03 January 2009

BBC names 11th -and youngest - Doctor Who

Little known British actor Matt Smith, 26, will take over the lead role of the Doctor when the series returns for a 5th season on the BBC in spring of 2010. After numerous rumors that the role would go to an older, more seasoned actor (or potential actress) the announcement of Smith has surprised fans. At 26, he is three years younger than Peter Davison -the 5th Doctor - when he took over the role in 1981. And while Davison had a fan following with his work in All Creatures Great and Small, Smith's work at the BBC began in 2006, with the adaptation of Philip Pullman's The Ruby in the Smoke, which starred former Doctor Who companion Billie Piper. He has also acted opposite Piper in the follow-up, The Shadow in the North, and in ITV2's Secret Diary of a Call Girl. In 2007, he had a leading role in BBC Two's political drama Party Animals, in which he played a parliamentary researcher.

For some fans, their casting of someone so young seems to confirm that the BBC is more concerned with the tween audience -especially girls - than anything else. Of course, like here in Hollywood, the younger you are, the better demographics you get, the better profit you make. In theory anyways.

Still, one hopes that despite his age, the series can be pulled from the doldrums by new showrunner Steven Moffat, who'll have a year to make the fifth series the best since the show was brought back in 2005. He is, perhaps, a better writer than Russell T Davies, in the effect that his scripts are filled with more depth and with better dialogue. Davies was great for bringing huge set pieces to the show, but if you look too close at his scripts, you find its way too fanish and lacks a lot of substance.

There is to be three more specials of Doctor Who featuring outgoing David Tennant, with the next one to be aired around Easter. A third will probably air in late summer, while the fourth, and last of the 10th Doctor, will air Christmas Day of this year.



01 January 2009

Movie: Milk (2008)

After watching Milk, last night and again today after getting home from work, I felt a profound sense of oddness on how the film sort of paralleled the Prop 8 issue here in California. And whether it got made and released before the historic vote here this past November 4 and some how effected its course, one will never know. Thirty years ago, when then Prop 6 was on the ballot -one said to protect the children from homosexual teachers and their supporters - it failed to pass because (with help from Harvey Milk no doubt) even the people who were straight and maybe Republican (such as former Governor Ronald Reagan) felt there was plenty of laws to protect the children already on the books.

When the conservatives toted out the same reason for passing Prop 8 in 2008, it now seems that it’s the only weapon they have, some meaningless talking point about protecting the children.

Anyways, Gus Van Sant’s biographical film on the life of Harvey Milk is exceptional film, and I say that with extreme prejudice, as it effects me personally. While Sean Penn has run hot and cold with since Fast Times at Ridgemont High, his work here will surely grab him an Oscar nod for best actor. But what surprises me more, is how the film treats Dan White (played by an extraordinary Josh Brolin, who deserves a best supporting nod), the man who murdered Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. He could’ve been portrayed as some wild-eyed conservative who believed he was doing God’s work, but his fall from grace is told in a very humanized way.

The location work and the archival footage -much taken from the 1984 Academy Award winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk - add to films message that -as Harvey often said - “you’ve got to give them hope.”

Van Sant’s usual fanciful direction is more linear (as it should, of course) here and the camera work and style almost makes the film look more a real documentary. Dustin Lance Black’s screenplay lights up the screen, and is another part of the film that should score with the Oscar voters.

Beyond Penn and Brolin, there is some more good performances from Emile Hirsch as Milk protégée Cleve Jones and the extraordinary handsome James Franco as Milk’s boyfriend Scott Smith. Equally handsome Diego Luna plays the unstable love interest Jack Lira later in the film, if I want to complain, after he was gone, the film petered a bit -but that’s a small quibble, really. Rounding out the cast is some up and coming actors such as Walt Disney mainstay (the High School Musical franchise) Lucas Grabeel (who perhaps can now finally come out the closet himself?), Running with Scissors actor Joseph Cross and Alison Pill (from the short-lived NBC series The Book of Daniel).

I cannot say this is the film of the year, but it certainly deserves to up there with the top five of 2008. It’s a moving, often thought provoking film that shows that the gay movement of today needs a leader such as Harvey Milk to end this destructive schism between us all so we can give hope to all.