25 May 2013

Inferno by Dan Brown (2013)

Dan Brown ups the ante in his latest thriller Inferno. While he remains a pretty horrible novelist, he does love to write about ancient cities, and creates a travelogue of places, buildings and people. To be honest, as a Rick Steves , he’s not bad (and if the city of Florence was smart, they figure out how to boost tourism with this book). But his tales are nutty and while this time we get no attacks on Christianity or the Vatican or the Freemasons that seem to running Washington D.C., we get a premise more or less set in the world of James Bond. 

Harvard symbology professor Robert Langdon is back and this time he (and the reader) are dropped into the middle of Florence, where not only do we get his typical short chapters (which I admit kept me turning the page, because they generally ended on a cliffhanger) but we get a semester’s worth history, art and architecture lectures.

Inferno has Langdon regaining consciousness in a hospital room in Florence. He has no idea how he got there, because as far as he remember, he was in New York. And while a head wound explains his short term memory issues –he was told by a doctor that he was grazed in the head by a bullet- he seems more upset he that his highly collectable Mickey Mouse watch is gone, as well as his expensive British clothes (oh, the world problems of the 1%).

But explanations get abruptly cut off, as a killer (the one who apparently took a pot-shot at Langdon) returns to finish the job, only a Doctor named Sienna Brooks quickly pulls the professor out of that fire and into an adventure across Europe that pits Langdon against a brilliant genetic engineer who, using cryptic messages from Dante’s Inferno, plans to release a plague onto the world –because like any super villain from the pages of James Bond and his imitators- the trap that is set has to be overtly elaborate and silly.

While there is much more here, Brown’s clunky dialogue and ham-fisted set pieces remain. And Langdon and company do many stupid things that would seem to indicate that everyone in Dan Brown’s universe are pretty gullible folks who don’t ask the right and very obvious questions and who has friends who –even as they lie dying- need to leave even more cryptic messages instead of…you know…just saying what the mean.

Man, your dying, what’s with coded words?

While the book should do well, and as I chide myself for reading a fourth book about this Robert Langdon character, I ponder if anyone really actually believes all the malarkey that jumps from the pages –and thus, the demented mind- of Dan Brown’s Inferno

I sure don’t.

16 May 2013

Books: N0S4A2 by Joe Hill (2013)

With N0S4A2 (Nosferatu), author Joe Hill hems even closer to the odd, the weird and the often horrifying universe of his father, Stephen King. 

This is  a  creepy, suspenseful novel of the supernatural, where a man in a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith kidnaps kids and takes them to a place he calls Christmasland.

Of all the holidays, Christmas remains my favorite, even if it’s lost all meaning. I love the decorations, I love the music (which is odd, because it’s so religious and I’m not very religious), I love the sweets and all the other food that goes with those 6 weeks that starts at Thanksgiving. Yeah, presents are great, but for me they pale next to the colorful lights, the sparkling tinsel, and the smell of pumpkin pie and gingerbread cookies (love the odor, but not a huge fan of the taste). 

Here in N0S4A2, Hill gives us a very dark side to the holiday. Charles Manx has a totem, one that enables him to traverse our world to an “mindspace” dimension where Christmas exists all the time (ever since I saw the fourth Indiana Jones movie, the one with the aliens who don’t come from space, but from other dimension, the whole innerspace crutch seems a bit nonsensical to me, mostly because then the writer really does not have to explain too much about the internal logic of how a man and a car, or a girl and bridge can do what can be done in the this book). The Wraith, which could be the cousin to King’s Christine, exists here in our world, but is also able to open a doorway to Christmasland, where Manx drives the kidnapped children down the highways of his mind. It sort of preserves them in their young innocence, but it also sucks the life out of them during the car ride. What’s left of the children –empty husks, really – is stored away like cans of corn in the dark pantry of his demented mind. Thus, these kidnapped children now can live worry free life and never, ever be hurt by the outside world, or (the reason for Manx’s demented idea) by their parents. Much like Neverland, the kids never need to grow up.

For a long time, Manx has been able to do what he thought right, until he met a seventeen year-old girl in 1996, Victoria McQueen. Much like what Manx could do, when Vic was a child in the mid 1980’s, she was able to leave her squabbling parents behind, and with her Triumph bike and a magical bridge, she could go anywhere. First not understanding what it was she could do, Vic used the bridge to find lost things. But like any magical thing, it began to take its toll on her. But a near fatal accident put her trips behind her. 

Until a decade later when a much troubled Vic uses her thoughts and her bridge that brings her into the contact with Manx and his able henchman (or Renfield, if you will), Bing. But Vic is able to escape, saved by a fat young man who will –as time moves on- becomes Vic’s lover that produces a son, Bruce Wayne Carmody.

Now, more than another decade later, Vic remains a troubled woman. She is damaged by her parents, her magical bridge and life in general. Despite this, she still loves her son Wayne and –though she seemed never to admit it out loud for a long time- Lou, the geek that saved her. But the past, much as the theme in many of his dad’s novels, never stays there, and Manx (caught and imprisoned and who died there, but was able to walk out even after his heart was removed) never forgot the one girl who got away.

But as much as Manx wants Vic to pay for what she did to him, his real target is her son Wayne, and an epic battle for control over the soul of a 12 year-old boy is about to begin.

It is clear that Joe Hillstrom King inherited his father’s droll, gothic style humor –that includes the rhyming Bing and stuttering Liberian who possess some version of what Vic and Charles Manx can do. And much like his dad, Hill is able to create wonderful, believable characters. We see Vic go from being a messed up kid, to a messed up parent and it all rings true. And Manx can come across, at times, as a sympathetic vampire. I mean he does horrible things in pursuant of his goals, but he is not evil in every sense of the typical horror novel tropes (this something King has done in his later novels as well, especially in Under the Dome where we meet Big Jim Rennie. He is a horrible person, but evil? And in 11/22/63, King paints Oswald much more human. Yes, he's still a bitter man and a wife-beater, but was he evil enough to kill a president?)

Also, if Joe Hill is to be the next Stephen King, he seems to be fine with the comparison (he decided to use a pen name early in his career in hopes of getting published on his own merits, not his name. The story goes that not even his publishers of his story collection 20th Century Ghosts and his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was aware of his lineage until shortly before they were released), as he drops some "Easter eggs" to his dad’s work, including The Dark Tower and the True Knot, the “vampires” that will take on Danny Torrance in this September’s long awaited sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep.  Then again, this whole book is sort of rift on his dad’s ‘Salem Lot (which borrows heavily from both the classic silent film Nosferatu and Bram Stoker's Dracula) and, as mentioned, Christine. And Hill also names a character after his mother, Tabitha. 

It’s a bit over long, but the characters are strong and the story creepy enough to keep you reading. I’ll admit it kept me turning the pages. Again, the whole “inscapes” aspect leaves me feeling a bit unfilled with what it actually is, or was, but Hill’s abilities as a writer have grown. Heart-Shaped Box was a strong debut, and Horns (which will be a film starring Daniel Radcliff) –though a more conventional Twilight Zone tale- was still wonderfully mean.

14 May 2013

Materialism over what ever love is

A few years ago, I saw a commercial for a car company. If I remember right, it starts with a beautiful, statuesque woman coming out of building -her apartment maybe- dressed to the nines. Followed closely behind is a sort nebbish man. The camera follows the woman who stops at the curb, awaiting her gentleman to open the car door for her. It's nice car, some sort of luxury one. A car, maybe, that this stylish woman belongs in -at least in her mind. 

When nothing happens, the guy does not open the door for her, she looks to her left and notices that he has gone to another car that is parked behind the nicer one. Yes, the car the man is driving is not a luxury one, or a new one or as nice as the one parked in front of him. 

While it was a car commercial, the real gist of the ad was if you don't drive this car, then don't expect to date a stylish, beautiful, statutesque woman. And it bothered me, because while some just saw -perhaps- a funny car ad, what I saw was something else: the continued psychology of advertising that puts material objects first in any persons mind; the idea that if you have the nice phone, the great looking car, the most trendiest of clothes, that you'll be accepted into whatever version of the world you think is important.

Now take this ad

There is something wrong with the narrative of this three and half minute story. 

It seems Marco wants to take the next step in his relationship by giving his girlfriend a key to his loft. No problem there. But as soon as she sees it (btw, is this the first time she's ever been there? How long have they been dating, 6 months, a year, a week?), she seems disappointed. He still stuck, as the story implies, in bachelor mode. And instead of talking about it, she leaves in the middle of the night after the implication they had sex. Again, I ask, how long have they been dating? Because her slipping out before dawn seems to imply they are just still "feeling each other out mode." 

As the door closes, Marco looks around his place and thinks (for the first time), hey maybe I need to spruce up the place because my girlfriends implied silence says I'm a loser. 

So, we're off to the furniture store to buy some high-end stuff. JVB Interiors is their name, and according to the Youtube description, designer Damien Beck says "I believe an environment of beauty and style, from clothes to music to architecture to furnishings all contribute to the experience of a deeper, more rich experience for a couple in love."

Okay, a little too hipster, but I'll give him that. 

The description continues: "The short which highlights the tension between a westside girl, Grace, played by young Hollywood starlet Brianne Davis, (Jarhead, Prom Night), and her latin lover city boy, played by Daniel Gradias (Bunim Murray Productions). In just under three and a half minutes, the film pokes fun at Grace's reaction to the gritty rough and tumble, yet uber hip loft that Marco occupies, and the transformation that a home takes when a relationship moves to the next step, and when it finds the help of JVB designer Simon, played by Anand Desai-Barochia." 

Now one is also to assume that Marco must have money, as he lives in a loft (really, a loft? What is this, 1974?). After a quick trip to JVB, Marco has decked out his loft in thousands of dollars (and I mean a second mortgage on your house to pay for it all) worth of furniture, pictures and other "art." In what appears to be just happen in 24 hours. 

Then we cut to Grace sitting on some stairs -her's or Marco's?- with a glass of white wine and dressed in a black evening gown. If she's at Marco's, where did the wine come from, and where did it go when the next shot has her in an elevator holding the key to Marco's apartment -it's also on a cue ball (how tacky she must be thinking). 

She also carries a frown on her face, like she's wrestling with something -world politics, the rising healthcare costs or why she does not hang with other one percenter's?

She opens the door to Marco's place and see all the expensive stuff and smiles. Yep,  her boy finally got her unspoken message, update you're place or I'm not dating you.  

This whole thing is about materialism and not about love. The unspoken -which seems to the problem with Grace and Marco's relationship- is that these objects, these pieces of furniture, those pictures that glass sculpture that looks like the T 1000 melting, is what makes a couple love each other. 

Marco is attractive -we get a few shirtless scenes- but he could do so much better than the bottle blond who puts that type of materialism over true love. The fact that she blond's her hair speaks volumes of how she values her self-worth. Maybe blond do have more fun, but sometimes it turns them into ugly people. 

Love is not about the exterior of a person, but what beats in the chest -the heart. Grace decided that love was about objects and Marco apparently is willing to spend the next 20 years paying off bill to furnish is loft so some girl with let him, you know, screw her.