30 April 2012

Timo Descamps

Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (2001)

The Shadow of the Wind is the first book in Carlos Ruiz Zafón loose tetralogy Barcelona Cycle, but is set before the second book, The Angel's Game. It’s a thriller (but not in the real sense of the word) about books and the mysteries that they sometimes create. Daniel Sempere is 10 years-old when he is led by his father into the back streets of Barcelona where  the Cemetery of Lost Books - a mausoleum for out-of-print works, salvaged by the bibliophiles of the city- lies. Sempere discovers a book called The Shadow of the Wind, by Julián Carax, which captures his young imagination. But when he investigates this unknown author, he finds out that his is the last surviving copy, as a mysterious figure called Laín Coubert has dedicated himself to eradicating Carax's work completely. But in Carax's book, Laín Coubert is the name of the Devil..

It’s a slow thriller, but still interesting as we get a detailed history of Spain and its people. Still, while the prose is great, the voice strong, on the whole the book never seems to ably payoff its premise. Ruiz Zafrón creates a book with multiple genres wedged in –vaguely thriller like, with supernatural aspects, a love story, a coming of age tale. Then there is the dues ex machine ending that sort of halts the book completely –so much so, it reminded me of The Girl with Dragon Tattoo’s misbegotten ending that almost made me not want to continue.. 

Still, the novel is moody, appealing and thoroughly readable, but ultimately lacks the magic its early chapters promised.The third book of the series, Prisoner of Heaven, will be released on July 10.

28 April 2012

Quote of the Day

"So I wrote this book about the color blue...any questions?" - Christopher Moore
Moore mentioned he's bringing Pocket back from FOOL next, and after that, he'll be doing a sequel to A DIRTY JOB!!!

19 April 2012

Chicken or the Gays: Make a Choice About Eating Chick-fil-A

 Cord Jefferson is the senior editor at GOOD magazine. He doesn't even eat chicken anymore, perhaps making this all moot.

If they gave a Pulitzer Prize for waffling, this piece from the Washington City Paper last week might have won it. In it, food editor Chris Shott spends several hundred words pondering whether a person who is not a homophobe can in good conscience eat at Chick-fil-A, the Atlanta-based fast-food chain and purveyor of those dumbass cow ads. Chick-fil-A's nonprofit arm, the WinShape Foundation, has for years donated millions to anti-gay Christian groups like Focus on the Family, which once warned Americans, "[T]he homosexual agenda is a beast."
Dan Cathy, Chick-fil-A's CEO, hasn't even made an effort to sooth his many critics. In early 2011, when it was discovered that a Chick-fil-A operator had donated free food to a conference dedicated to marriage under "God's design," Cathy responded by offering this paradox: "[W]e will not champion any political agendas on marriage and family. This decision has been made, and we understand the importance of it. At the same time, we will continue to offer resources to strengthen marriages and families."
Do you have any idea what that means? I don't. Regardless, Shott concludes that a progressive person can indeed eat at Chick-fil-A-they just need to find an elaborate way to support gay rights, too:
I like this approach: A friend of mine, Trey Pollard, offers a clever-albeit slightly more costly-way to offset the karma of his chicken sandwich purchases. He now matches every dollar he spends on food at Chick-fil-A with an equal donation to an organization that supports gay rights, either the national Human Rights Campaign, or an outfit right in Chick-fil-A's backyard, Georgia Equality.
That's not a clever solution, though. Clever would indicate some sense of ingenuity or wit. Giving money to gay groups after giving other money to enemies of gay groups is a plain old guilt management cop-out. If you'd really like to support gays and lesbians in a world lousy with Chick-fil-As, how about this tactic instead: From now on, don't fucking eat at Chick-fil-A if you are a person who believes gays are equal to you and deserving of equal treatment under the law. No equivocating and no buying back karma with pity donations to gay-rights groups. Simply avoid the chain for as long as it upholds its homophobic ties. Full stop.
Is this really that hard to do? Is Chick-fil-A so delicious that people are willing to ignore their most cherished principles in order to eat a couple handfuls of its sodium-drenched chicken wads? I haven't eaten Chick-fil-A in about a decade, but the last time I did, I don't remember it being all that spectacular. The meat was average and the buns were soggy, soaked through with butter and brine from anemic pickle discs. It certainly wasn't good enough food to get me to forsake my belief that gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry. Which is why, when I found out Chick-fil-A's Southern Baptist leaders believed otherwise, I stopped eating there and started eating at the thousands of other places that serve greasy, hastily made, inexpensive sandwiches.
I told a friend that he should boycott Chick-fil-A and he sneered. "Those guys are making billions of dollars," he said. "You think it matters to them if they don't get your and my eight bucks?" It's an interesting mentality many people have begun to adopt: Why bother fighting with the rich and powerful when, ultimately, they're going to remain rich and powerful?
For his part, Dan Cathy continues earning lots of money at Chick-fil-A, where the "Corporate Purpose" is still "to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us." And that purpose continues to partially translate to Cathy and his company putting their support and efforts behind "the Biblical definition of marriage." So important is marriage and the Sabbath to Cathy that he demands that all his restaurants close on Sundays so people can spend time with their families and God. When Cathy bows his head, I wonder if he thanks the Lord for all the liberals who will turn the other cheek and fork over millions for his wares come Monday.
A lot of people are homophobic, but not all of those people use their businesses to directly and outspokenly promote intolerance the way Chick-fil-A has. As much as you can, you should eschew known bigots' establishments if you don't agree with bigotry, even if that means swearing off the convenience of a particular brand of fast-food chicken. If you find that it's impossible to stop eating at Chick-fil-A despite your deeply rooted pro-LGBT values, perhaps those values aren't as deep-seated as you think.

Image by Jim Cooke.

18 April 2012

Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore (2012)

To say that Sacré Bleu is historical fiction would be a disservice to what Christopher Moore has accomplished here. It’s truly more a historical farce with elements of fantasy, science fiction and a lot of sexual innuendo with dashes of debauchery thrown in just to anger the purist. So, another word’s, typical Moore.

Most of the novel is set in the late 19th century -and I note this because he does, at various points in the novel, it travels further back in time. It begins with the death of Vincent van Gogh (who Moore proposes was murdered instead of killing himself. And he has a point; I mean, who shoots themselves in the chest and then walk a mile to the doctors?) and the spins a tale about Lucien Lessard, a young baker/aspiring painter who is friends with Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet. Together, they set out to solve the mystery surrounding van Gogh’s tragic death, the involvement of a wizened old man known only as The Colorman and even mysterious woman who seems capable –with aide of the ultramarine color of blue- to stop time itself. 

As a long-time reader of Moore, his talent to balance farce with a serious subject (like his Jesus Christ novel Lamb) matter is always impressive. While I found his last novel, Fool, to be clever, in some respects his re-telling of King Lear and other various Shakespeare motifs got boring after the one-note joke wore off. Here Moore blends an art history lesson, along with the basic “what if?” element along with a mystery and a love story with his ability to get off some hilarious one-liners. 

It’s compelling, it’s funny and that made me happy.

16 April 2012

The Tale of the Big Why

There is just something completely sexy about this boy.

15 April 2012

Movie: Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Filmed in early 2009 and scheduled for release in May 2010, and then delayed until January 2011 for 3D conversion, Drew Goddard's directorial debut of a Joss Whedon script, The Cabin in the Woods, fell eventually to MGM's financial woes that lead to the companies bankruptcy that put the film in limbo. Then in April of last year, MGM announced a distribution deal with Lionsgate, and there had been hopes the film would be out for Halloween 2011. But eventually, in July of 2011, Lionsgate acquired the film wholly and announced an April 2012 release date.

For me, it was a very clever, very self-aware attempt at parodying the horror genre, without really saying they're parodying the horror genre. Whedon and Goddard borrow every trope of the horror genre, which included a mysterious cabin in the woods, five college kids on break -the jock, the slut, the virgin, the book smart geek and the stoner- a stop over at what appears to be an abandoned gas station, but has a creepy owner who spouts politically incorrect things.Oh, and the Winnebago standing in for Scooby-Doo's Mystery Machine.

Then, as audiences familiar with the genre know, once the Scooby gang arrives at the cabin, all hell is going to break loose. And it does, and it's pretty funny.

For viewers of Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel TV series, you'll see him borrow a lot themes and ideas (along with various cast members of those shows and Whedon's other series, Dollhouse). The cast is wonderful, especially Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins and Fran Kranz as Shaggy. Well, not really, but very close. Then, of course, there is the surprise cameo that even I, Mr. Pop Culture Nerd, did not know about.

As Whedon explains what the film is about: "On another level it's a serious critique of what we love and what we don't about horror movies. I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don't like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. Drew and I both felt that the pendulum had swung a little too far in that direction."

There are plot holes, and very little explanation of how the whole thing really works, but for any Whedon follower, that's not important. So those confused by the film (and I heard a guy say this to his girlfriend as they passed us), expecting a typical horror film like the ones made in the last few years, will be disappointed by it. 

Of course, I still think they should see it, if only because it pokes fun at the genre without insulting the viewing audience. It's fresh, fairly original and fun.

07 April 2012

Books: To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)

As a long time reader, it may surprise some that I never read Harper Lee’s 1960 best-selling novel To Kill A Mockingbird. I offer no excuse, really. I know a lot of people who've read in high school, where even today, it’s still considered mandatory, especially for AP students. But for some reason, the book -and the film version- remained unread, unseen. That changed this past week when PBS aired on their American Masters series, a documentary on the novel. 

Of course, the funny part was, I owned a copy of the novel, bought it a few years ago. Like so many books that I buy, I knew eventually I would get to it. Granted, it was not high on my list, but I was going to get to it. I’ve been reading The Count of Monte Cristo for the last few weeks, and am finding myself struggling through the 19th Century prose. I’ve read where some readers will give up on books that don’t hold their interest, but I feel once I start one, I have to finish it. But Cristo –in this Modern Library version I’m reading is 1426 pages, and I’m only 210 pages in after about three weeks or so of reading. Logically, I guess, with all else I have yet to read –and just got the new Christopher Moore title- I should just abandon the book (like I did Charles Dickens). But I like a challenge, so I will continue to read Dumas, but may take time to read something else, like Moore (and at the end of April bring’s Stephen King’s next Dark Tower book, plus a Star Trek book I do want to read).


So after the PBS special aired, which I thought was fabulous, I got it into my head that I finally needed to read the novel (and a day later, I was in Target and saw the Blu-ray version on sale for $14.95, so I purchased that). Needless to say, I devoured the novel in a day. 

I can’t review a book that has been done so much better by others over the last 50 years, but I will say while the novel is basically an old fashion tale of the happenings in a small town in Alabama, it’s themes of courage, family and the ugliness of racism resonates even today. And by telling the story through the eyes of a child, a brilliant stroke if there was any, it’s able to bring its metaphors sharply into focus without being preachy. 

Jem, Scout, Dill and Atticus launch off the page, and become living, breathing characters. Through those innocent eyes, we see children trying to comprehend a world that is changing around them, but it’s also a town caught-up in the crossroad of history. Lee’s prose drags you in, forcing you (unintentionally, of course) to re-evaluate the perceptions of people. 

As a child, our universe is pretty small. Most of us grew-up where our neighborhood were divided by homes where I parents said this far and no further. And how many of us had a creepy, mysterious how that harbored some person who for reasons we never fully understood then, was a boogeyman? Boo Radley is Jem and Scout’s boogeyman, but we learn that the one we need to be afraid of is not the person we cannot see, but the one that stands in the light of a God’s world.

In 1961, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and on Christmas Day, 1962 the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird was released. As with any adaptation of a novel, there some changes to narrative to fit a films linear nature. And while some subplots and characters are dropped, the adaptation by Horton Foote is close to perfect (he would win a well-deserved Academy Award for it). The performances are perfect, including a brilliant, Oscar winning performance from the legendary Gregory Peck. He acts with the greatest of ease and watching him glide through this movie version is amazing. His ability to teach his children what is right, especially Scout, about the evil of men without condemning them, without sounding preachy, is what makes the difference between a trained actor and someone who reads lines. 

The child actors are also extraordinary, with both Phillip Alford (Jem) and Mary Badham (Scout) showing the true innocence some child actors possess; even the late John Megna (who seemed to have the stereotypical Hollywood story of a bad post-childhood life, dying in 1995 at the age of 42 from complications from AIDS) breaths a life into young Dill, even though his character changed much between the page and the screen. 

Then there was Brock Peters as the stoic Tom Robbins and in his film debut, Robert Duvall as the mysterious Boo Radley. 

So yes, it took a long time for me to read the novel and see the movie. And while I’ve been reading since I was 14, it just sometimes takes me a while to set my mind to something like this (especially since I have a tendency to read more popular fiction than anything else). Yes, PBS’ American Masters finally got me to read the book, and a trip to Target had the movie on sale, but I always knew I would get to them.
I’m happy that I finally did.