Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas

Tallgrass is the name of a fictional internment camp in Colorado, loosely based on the real Japanese-American internment camp, Amache. The novel is a mildly interesting way to introduce someone to the fact that thousands of Japanese Americans were sent to these places after Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered World War II. It has a compelling story with interesting twists and sympathetic characters, but I felt like something was missing. There should be some great stuff to read about the Japanese American internment camps, but I haven't come across any yet.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sky Blue Sky by Wilco

It took me a while to like this, but now I love it. The last song is beautiful and moving, and I have been known to play it over and over again while driving.

Dan in Real Life (2007)

Dan in Real Life is great. I laughed really hard at least once, and it wasn't even Steve Carell who was funny. I think it might be the feel-good movie of the year.

Disturbia (2007)

I'm not into scary movies, but Disturbia is fun and scary. I liked it.

The Semi-Attached Couple by Emily Eden

It's a strange title, yes, especially considering it was published in 1860 (though written much earlier, I believe). Along the lines of Jane Austen, it's more complex than her novels, and involves a married couple as well as other couples becoming engaged. I was surprised and delighted by it. Almost all of the characters change and learn over the course of the story. I loved it.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road is about a father and son traveling through a post-apocalytpic America. It's pretty intense and also very good. Jon read it first and I think he ought to comment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Now I've finally read all of Jane Austen's completed novels. I thought Northanger Abbey was delightful. And I just discovered that there's a BBC production. Yay!

Year of the Dog (2007)

I wanted to like this. The acting is superb, sometimes the writing also. Laura Dern is brilliant as an overprotective mother, whispering suspected wrongs committed by the nanny and carefully avoiding the topic of death around the kids. Other characters are interesting and well-developed. And I want to like a movie that shows the main character's journey to veganism and supporting animal rights. But the journey seems shallow and insufficient compared to the progress she should have made with human relationships.

Blades of Glory (2007)

I don't need to see this kind of movie very often, but Blades of Glory definitely has its moments. My favorite line, delivered by Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Farrell): "Hey. They laughed at Louis Armstrong when he said he was gonna go to the moon. Now he's up there, laughing at them."

Wives and Daughters (1999)

This BBC production of Elizabeth Gaskell's Wives and Daughters is wonderful! I enjoyed the book, and this miniseries took it to a whole new level. I loved it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

My Grandfather's Son by Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas was raised by his grandfather, hence the title. His story of his rise from poverty to the Supreme Court is fascinating and inspiring. I was surprised by how much I liked it.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer

It took a while to get into this one, but I did finally. I don't know if I'll be excited about the next installment or not.

Bundle of Joy? by Ariella Papa

This was pretty mediocre.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Benny and Omar by Eoin Colfer

Entertaining and surprisingly serious young adult fiction about an Irish boy whose family moves to Tunisia. The Irish slang is pretty heavy and sometimes had me reading things twice (I had to look up hurling on wikipedia; it's an Irish sport featuring a ball called a sliotar, pronounced “slither.”) But I liked it. Also, it have some heavy subject matter for young kids (Omar is an orphaned Tunisian whose family history is pretty crazy, among other things).

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Oh, I loved this. It made me laugh out loud several times, and then I told a lot of friends about it. It's a lovely, funny romance with clever allusions to various Jane Austen novels and the films based thereon. Seems like I've read and seen plenty of stuff that alludes to Jane Austen, but not necessarily successfully, but Austenland is great! It's not profound or anything, but I loved it. And it's very clean!

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

I still remember when I was a young teenager (or maybe even preteen), and I read all of Judy Blume's young adult novels, and then my mom banned them all for the rest of the kids. I think she had already written her first “adult” novel, Wifey, by then, which I happened upon the other day. I read through the first few pages, and that was enough to confirm the rumors I heard long ago that it was a truly trashy book. Anyway, Summer Sisters is entertaining and well-written and has some good insights into relationships between friends and mothers and daughters. Sometimes it's quite poignant and moving. It also made me think I should never allow my children out of my sight, or more specifically, I shouldn't allow them to hang out at other people's houses for extended periods.

The Jane Austen Book Club (2007)

I read this book a few years ago and liked it pretty well, but the movie was just okay. It was fun to listen to passionate discussion about Jane Austen's novels and see how the characters' opinions had so much to do with their own lives, but ultimately, it just seemed like an excessively “chicky” chick flick.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

New Moon by Stephenie Meyer

And here's the second one. Strangely enough, there seem to be even longer stretches where nothing happens, some of it actually represented by nearly blank pages, which was a nice touch, especially compared to the many pages where nothing much happened but there were lots of words to get through anyway. Still, though, extremely realistic descriptions of teenage love, etc., and I enjoyed the book and felt pretty frustrated that I am third on the hold list at the library for the next book. I think if I were more teenagish, I'd have bought it already. But I'm older now and realize that I can wait. (If I can wait almost a year to watch Season 4 of The Office, I can wait for this!)

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

Until now I've been sheltered from the recently successful LDS-authors-who-don't-write-for-an-LDS-audience. Twilight, and its sequels, are wildly popular, apparently, and I can see why. It's all about forbidden love with the high school bad boy, but amped up about 100 times, because not only is this boy bad-but-really-good-underneath-all-the-badness, he's a vampire! So he's not just acting bad! And he's still actually a good guy! There's enough crazy sexual tension here (but still clean) to keep the girls glued, even through the long spells where nothing much seems to happen in the book. I really liked it and immediately started the next in the series.

The Office, Season 3

What can I say? It's still great. Now Jon and I are watching every last piece of whatever they've put on the DVDs. We might be able to make it last a couple more weeks. In the meantime, Season 4 is well underway, and we know nothing about it, so don't tell us!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

As you can see, I didn't have time to read. I was busy watching these important films.

The Karate Kid (1984)

It's still a great movie, though the music is definitely dated. (I had to roll my eyes when my 11-year-old said, “This music is cool!”) Mr. Miyagi was even deeper than I remembered.

Benny and Joon (1993)

I have no idea if Joon is really an accurate and believable crazy person, but it's a good show. And there's Johnny Depp doing great mime stuff.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

I enjoyed this much more after my recent Harry Potter immersion exercise.

The Simpsons Movie (2007)

Had its moments, but what I'd really like is a custom-made DVD with my favorite Simpsons episodes, like the Vegetarian episode and the Halloween one where Bob Dole and Bill Clinton are kidnapped by aliens right before the election, and nobody will vote for a third party, even when the replacement candidates are revealed to be aliens!

Stardust (2007)

Some have compared this to The Princess Bride, but they are wrong to do so. It was pretty good.

Mickey Blue Eyes (1999)

One scene made me laugh out loud, but this was fairly mediocre.

The Last Mimzy (2007)

I thought this was an okay kids' film, but there was a lot that went unexplained that might have been interesting. However, it's also very possible that if more had been explained, it would have turned into a truly awful movie like A.I.. So I will take it as it is.

Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken (1991)

In spite of the retarded title and the fact that it's about diving horses, it turns out that this is a really great movie! Really! It's based on a true story, it's clean, and it's entirely enjoyable. Has some good morals, too.

Mansfield Park (1999)

There are some major departures from, or maybe I should say some very loose interpretations of certain aspects of, Jane Austen's novel, but this is a very good movie just on its own. It's a great chick flick and contains one of the best almost-kiss scenes ever.

Pride and Prejudice (1996 and 2005)

I had a brief fling with the newest Pride and Prejudice, but after watching A&E's again, there's just no comparison. I still love the new one—it looks beautiful and I love the music—but A&E's five-hour film is so true to the book. Someday I plan to write a really long post on all things Pride and Prejudice, but this will have to do for now. Unless someone would like to start a discussion?

I guess I only read three books in September! How is that possible?

Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg

A memoir about growing up on a dude ranch in western Wyoming. It's well-written and he's got some fascinating stories to tell.

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire

Wicked, the book that precedes this one, is one of my all-time favorite books, so maybe it shouldn't surprise me that it was somewhat disappointing. Still pretty good, but not nearly as complex or surprising as Wicked.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

This is what people used to do instead of becoming obsessed with The Office! It was originally serialized in a periodical, and it's quite long, with teasing sentences at the ends of many of the chapters. I thought it was delightful. Elizabeth Gaskell seems like a kinder but still witty Jane Austen.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This is short and delightful. It made me want to write letters, and some of it reminded me of blogging.

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

I loved this until the last ten pages or so, which seemed to undermine the entire message of the story. But it was excellent until then. Apparently it’s somewhat autobiographical, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff about South Africa during and after World War II.

The other movies I saw in August. (Yes, I know it's pretty much October now. I'm a little behind!)

Breach (2004)

This is about Robert Hansson, the FBI agent who was recently convicted for selling government secrets to the Russians, and it is excellent. Excellent acting by Chris Cooper, Ryan Phillipe, Laura Linney, and others. From what I can tell, it’s fairly accurate, too.

Miss Potter (2006)

Also very good and not just a feel-good movie like I thought it might be, this is about Beatrix Potter, the author of the Peter Rabbit books.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Watched this before reading the fifth book and enjoyed it, but now that I’ve read the books (okay, some books), I think the movies are much more fun. As demonstrated by ...

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

The first Harry Potter movie I’ve seen in a theater, and I loved it. Even though it glosses over and leaves out much in the book, I thought it added something, too. Like the speakers blaring Professor Umbridge’s shrill voice after she’s finally completed her takeover of Hogwarts. Perfect!

Because I Said So (2007)

I liked that this was not just about young love, but also about middle-aged love. Also loved the daughter educating the mother about certain aspects of ... um ... relationships.

About a Boy (2002)

I think this is wonderful: quirky and funny, but also serious. (The language is potentially more offensive than in most other PG-13 movies.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Price by Karl-Heinz Schnibbe

What an excellent little book this is. It's the story of sixteen-year-old Helmuth Huebener and his friends, Karl-Heinz Schnibbe (the author) and Rudi Wobbe, German LDS teenagers who listened to BBC radio broadcasts in Germany during World War II, then distributed anti-Nazi pamphlets (written by Helmuth) in mailboxes and phone booths. It's really an incredible story. Helmuth was beheaded as a traitor by the Nazis, and the other two went to prison. It's tragic but so important to know about those who were brave enough to stand up to an evil tyrant and the thousands (millions?) who supported him, whether enthusiastically or by doing nothing.

Different Places by Plastic Operator

The kids and I are listening to this right now. I haven't listened to a new album this much since Kate Bush's Aerial, and before that, it was years.

I'm calling it Fake 80s music. There are robot voices and other synthesizer sounds and a truly cheesy electric guitar solo. And I love it. It's fun to clean to.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I'll get around to the others someday.

Until several weeks ago, I had only read the first Harry Potter book and wasn't that impressed with it. Then, while I was standing in line at midnight at our local Harry Potter release party for the seventh book, surrounded by people who'd read the entire series, I realized that I was spending nearly $30 on a book only one of my kids was going to read in the near future. I also realized how silly it was that I hadn't read them, when I read so much. So I asked around: would it be okay to see movies 2 through 4, and then start with book 5? It's totally against my book-reading protocol to do that, but I couldn't face that many pages when I had seen movies 1-4 and didn't feel like I had the time. So anyway, my friends reluctantly replied that I could probably get away with it.

So I read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and then Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, all within a couple of weeks, finishing the seventh one at 2:30 am on a Wednesday morning. I guess you could say I got happily sucked into the story, maybe even a little obsessed. They're really quite good! I know there are lots of people who've been saying that for a long time, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well Rowling keeps up the suspense. Now I'm making my oldest write an essay about similarities between Voldemort and the Death Eaters and Hitler and the Nazis. Fun!

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (2004)

Kind of a sweet romantic comedy. And no sex! Very unusual these days.

Elektra (2005)

I watched this expecting to roll my eyes a lot, but it was actually pretty fun. Not necessarily good, but fun.

Evan Almighty (2007)

Surprisingly sincere. I really liked this, and it was great for the kids, too.

Ratatouille (2007)

We saw this in the theater with my in-laws. The kids loved it and I thought it was more enjoyable than most kid movies.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

So Be It by Sarah Weeks

Heidi is 12 years old, has a mentally disabled mother who can't say more than 23 words, and knows almost nothing about her mother or her background. Where did she come from? What is her mom's name?

We get to follow the determined Heidi as she travels to find out who she is. It's a great little novel, mysterious, endearing, insightful. Juvenile Fiction, very quick read.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I love this novel. I think this was my third reading. We read this one for book club too. Or at least a couple of us did. I don't get why the others didn't try a little harder, since they all claimed to want to read an Austen novel. They did watch the movie (Emma Thompson's)so our discussion revolved around that.

I did go a little crazy after finishing the book and watched the movie, then watched it with Emma Thompson's voice over commentary which was really fun. Then read her journal she wrote while filming the movie. Tried to watch a BBC version but hated it, couldn't get through it. Loved all of it.

This is not a very intelligent review so I'll invite Erin to do that for me. Erin?

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

We read this for our book club (which we haven't had yet). It's a gothic mystery about the secret, tragic past of a world famous author, Vida Winter. There are some pretty ugly skeletons in this woman's closet, and it gets a little weird for my taste, but overall it was a pretty entertaining book. I couldn't guess the ending, which ties up most of the loose ends pretty nicely and surprisingly. Illegitimate children, insane woman in the attic, devastating fire, twins... lots of juicy stuff to keep you guessing until the very end.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Books from this summer

The Wedding by Nicholas Sparks

Manipulative and sappy.

The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle

Well-written but I had to force myself to finish this, because of the subject, I guess. It’s about Alfred Kinsey, the sex researcher. I think the book is ultimately pretty moral, but it was still difficult to read.

Out of the Blue by Sally Mandel

I think this is classified as a romance, and apparently it didn’t do very well. But maybe that’s because it has more substance than your typical romance—the main character has MS, and her struggles are eye-opening and touching. I enjoyed the story very much.

The Southwest Corner by Mildred Walker

I don’t even know where we got this little book published by some university press. It’s about an elderly lady who decides that she can’t live in her huge house alone anymore during Vermont winters and how she remedies the situation. I liked it.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

I read this a long time ago, but it was good the second time, too.

Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid by Lemony Snicket

This was so mediocre that I didn’t finish it. Just an attempt at money-making, I guess.

The Parker Grey Show by Kristen Buckley

This didn’t have a lot to it and was kind of like watching a movie, but I enjoyed it immensely for some reason.

Confessions of a Slacker Mom and Confessions of a Slacker Wife by Muffy Mead-Ferro

Both of these are funny, quick reads. I especially enjoyed Slacker Mom and agreed with almost everything in it. The author came to our book club, and that was cool but also somehow disappointing. She didn’t seem to really believe the ideas that she’d written about, or something like that. But anyway, the books are both enjoyable.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic's Edge by Jill Fredston

The author and her husband have rowed something like 20,000 miles of coastline way the heck up in Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Svalbard (yeah, I didn’t know where it was, either; it’s north of Scandinavia. Honestly, I didn’t know there was anything north of Scandinavia, except for the North Pole.) This book is fun to read—while it seems that she was groomed from a young age to do this kind of thing, it’s still pretty amazing, and she has great stories about run-ins with bears and whales.

My complaints: she says that the earth would be better off without people, which is a ridiculous statement in my opinion. She’s pretty critical of native people who leave trash around and doesn’t like the southern part of Norway, which has oil refineries next to nature preserves, but she doesn’t seem to consider how much damage she herself might be doing to the planet by flying all over it in jet planes and shipping a huge rowboat everywhere she goes, not to mention the materials required for the construction of that boat and her fancy outdoor gear. Staying put in Labrador and leaving trash around probably defiles our planet less than her traveling and other consumption, and Norway is apparently willing to live with the reality of their consumption, rather than hiding it away somewhere undesirable and unseen like the rest of us. But I’ve already gotten riled up enough about that. I really did enjoy the book.

Death in Gaza (2004)

Now this, in contrast to almost everything else I’ve seen lately, is an important film. The filmmaker intended to do two films—one about the Israeli/Palestine conflict from the point of view of Palestinian children (this film) and one from the point of view of Israeli children. I wish he could have made that second film, but he was shot by Israeli soldiers just as he was finishing the filming for this movie. His death is not kept a secret in the film—you know from the very beginning that it ends with his death—but that’s not the only reason I was nervous about watching it. I’m not very brave about watching violent stuff. But it was fascinating, though disturbing, and not as violent as I had imagined it would be.

The filmmaker and those who edited and finished the film later tried pretty hard to be unbiased. What you get seems to be, as close as it can be, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as Palestinian kids see it—many of them have lost relatives to Israeli soldier fire; all Palestinians killed are made into martyrs, the body carried through the streets and kissed by everyone while a man yells stuff through a loudspeaker; kids are recruited as scouts for militant groups (and if they happen to be killed, there’s thousands more to replace them); all Israelis are Jewish pigs; they spend their spare time throwing rocks at Israeli tanks, because they’re everywhere. I can't quite imagine what it would be like to grow up with tanks driving through the streets. It’s particularly interesting that the Palestinian kids think that all the soldiers are Jews, since the Israeli soldiers who killed the filmmaker were most likely Bedouin Arabs. But it’s what they’re taught by parents and teachers and everyone else.

I don’t know that the movie gives any hope for reconciliation between Israel and Palestine, but it’s a way to better understand one side. Definitely worth watching.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Other Unimportant Movies I Watched Recently

Superman Returns (2006)

Not bad, especially for a sequel of sorts. Kind of long. The kids thought they were pretty lucky when we deemed this PG-13 movie appropriate for their viewing. Kevin Spacey was a pretty good Lex Luthor.

You, Me and Dupree (2006)

Pretty funny at times, though also vulgar. A positive message about marriage. I like the Wilson brothers. Luke is my favorite, but Owen can be pretty funny.

Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) (TV edit)

Silly but enjoyable. I really like Hugh Grant in the bad boy roles, and he was hot in this one. Colin Firth is also nice to look at. If only I liked Bridget better. The movie was very different from the book.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

This was supposed to be great, but I thought it was boring and not very cohesive, I guess. The animation looked intriguing and quite wonderful sometimes, and there were some mildly interesting and amusing moments (like the aged triplets’ diet of frogs—frog sandwiches, frog soup, frogsicles, etc.), but in general, I just didn’t care that much. Maybe I didn’t get it.

Never Been Kissed (1999)

Some very funny characters, like Drew Barrymore’s male secretary and her friend played by Molly Shannon, make this more interesting than your average romantic comedy. Jon was still not thrilled to have to watch this a second time. But I think it’s cute.

The Holiday (2006)

I enjoyed this, but after I finished watching it, I realized that Cameron Diaz and Jude Law were supposed to be the sexy, happenin’ couple, while Kate Winslet and Jack Black were the slightly overweight, awkward couple, and that bothered me. I admit that my only evidence that they were supposed to be slightly overweight was a cute comment that they said to each other at two different windy parts of the movie: “Don’t blow away,” and the little black dress Kate wore later in the movie, in which one of her arms briefly looked slightly fat (by Hollywood standards). In any case, there is the overall impression that they are supposed to be kind of geeky and desperate or something, certainly not hip or cool, like the other two. And excuse me, but while Kate Winslet is a great actress, she just didn’t pull off the desperate, not-so-attractive person they were maybe going for.

Yes, it’s possible that my over-critical brain is seeing something that isn’t there to see. But here’s more evidence:

Cameron (I know her character had a name, but apparently it was forgettable, because I have forgotten it, and all other names from the movie) is rich, has a huge, beautiful L.A. house, works a glamorous job and has just dramatically dumped her cheating boyfriend. She’s skinny and gorgeous (some think) and tough. When she meets Jude, who is also beautiful, there is instant drunken attraction, followed very quickly by drunken kissing and drunken sex. There’s lots more kissing and sex between them throughout the movie. They are sexy and glamorous.

On the other hand, in the very first scene, Kate is pining for an obvious jerk, who cheated on her and is now getting married but still playing her for the thrill of having a hanger-on. She looks slightly dowdy, works during an office party, lives in a cozy, cluttered cottage and drinks tea. There may have been cats. Jack Black is ... well ... Jack Black. We have the impression that his beautiful girlfriend does not properly return his affection. He’s goofy, funny, short. You know, Jack Black. Between Kate and Jack, there are mostly conversations, maybe a slightly romantic peck on the cheek at the end. (Or did they really kiss? I can’t remember.) Anyway, they’re not super sexy, but I liked their characters so much better than Cameron and Jude.

Or maybe they’re just supposed to be different couples, and I am reading way too much into this. Anyone?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Beyond Fear by Bruce Schneier

The full title of this book is Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World, and the book delivers on the promise of that title. I started it a couple of months ago, and enjoyed taking my time reading just a few chapters at each sitting.

Bruce Schneier is a well-known cryptographer -- he was a major participant in the AES cipher contest a few years back -- but this is a nontechnical book. He does an excellent job of demonstrating that security is all about tradeoffs: cost vs. benefit in terms of money, attention, convenience, freedom, etc. There's no perfect security, and all security decisions need to be re-evaluated from time to time. Based on what? Bruce outlines a five-step process to evalute security decisions:

  1. What are you trying to protect? ... "So much of the bad security surrounding us is a result of not understanding exactly what is being protected and of implementing countermeasures that move the risk around but don't actually mitigate it."
  2. What are the risks against those assets?
  3. How well does the security solution mitigate the risks? ... "A countermeasure can fail both passively, by allowing an attack, and actively, by blocking legitimate access to the assets being defended."
  4. What other risks does the security solution cause?
  5. What trade-offs does the security solution require? ... "All countermeasures have a cost: not necessarily financial, but in terms of convenience, usability, freedoms, and so on. These trade-offs may have nothing to do with security, but often they are more important than security."

He talks about security systems (assets, people, technology, procedures, auditing), attackers, the weakest-link problem, detection, response, identification, authentication, and authorization.

And in each chapter, he uses small case studies to investigate concretely what he's been discussing: ATMs, credit card fraud, voting electronically vs. on paper, terrorist attacks, ID cards, etc.

A book about "security" may not seem like it could be a page-turner, but this one is. I recommend it to everyone because of its value in helping us make sense of the threats and risks in the world, at work, home, and in government, without being hysterical or submitting witlessly to bad security agendas.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

And Now a Couple of LDS Movies ...

...not to say that these are official productions of the church, but made by LDS people.

Money or Mission (2006)

I was distracted by how much the lead character, an almost 19-year-old boy getting ready to go on a mission, looked like Meg Ryan. Otherwise, it was short and okay. But here’s a general complaint: I find almost every female character in these movies made by LDS people annoying—way too perky and cheerful and smiley. With the exception of Napoleon Dynamite, of course.

Money or Mission is more like a church production than others I've seen, but that's not surprising. It was made from an article that appeared in the Ensign.

Take A Chance (2006)

This one was mildly amusing at times, but otherwise similar in quality to The R.M. and The Singles Ward. The religious family in this movie is generically religious, but they’re not the focus of the intended hilarity. Maybe that’s why the hilarity isn’t all that hilarious.

The more I think of it, the more I realize that this movie, and no doubt others like it, really didn't need to be made. They’re the Catch and Release of LDS films. Maybe The R.M. and the The Singles Ward are enough.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Foray into LDS Fiction

I've had a couple of LDS fiction phases, but neither lasted very long. As a teenager, I read several Jack Weyland novels, and later when I worked at the BYU Bookstore I read a few novels published by Orson Scott Card's publishing company, Hatrack River (more about that later). But recently, a good friend surprised me with the revelation that she is working on an LDS romance novel. I'm not a fan of that genre, but I was so impressed that she'd written 100+ pages of an actual novel that I begged her to let me read it. She finally relented, but she suggested that I read some examples of the already-published stuff, so I’d know what she was going for. So this is like research, I guess.

Beyond Perfection by Juli Caldwell and Erin McBride

This was the one that started it. I read it before I found out about my friend's work-in-progress. I ran across it at our local library—it’s a retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and I’m a sucker for those, and some mind candy sounded good right then. Unfortunately, I was in the mood for peanut M&Ms, something with at least the hint of substance, and this was Pixie sticks or Jolly Ranchers. I get annoyed when the main character is referred to as “the sad brunette” well after her identity has been established.

It was while telling my friend about this book that she revealed her secret.

Soul Searching by Shannon Guymon

The cover of this was decidedly less embarrassing than the typical LDS romance novel, which often features lace and curly letters. The story was okay, though the characters were a little flat.

Love Lights the Way by Michele Ashman Bell

In spite of the cover (flowery and pastel) and cheesy title, this one was pretty good. It took place on the Oregon coast, about which it is nice to dream. The characters were again a little flat but likable.

The Heart Has Its Reasons by Kerry Blair

I liked this title even less than Love Lights the Way, but it was my favorite one. There were relatively few cliches and moments of bad writing to annoy me—those few were references to the love interest’s rippling muscles, but since he was a professional baseball player and thus presumably well endowed with muscles, perhaps that can be forgiven. Also, I liked the characters and the conversion story of the main guy—it seemed more natural and believable than the spiritual crises of characters in the other books.

On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion that the more of these one reads, the more one wants to read. It’s kind of like watching TV—easy and pleasant and not very challenging.

Paradise Vue and Return to Paradise by Kathryn H. Kidd

I read both of these many years ago when I worked at the BYU Bookstore. They are (were) published by Orson Scott Card’s publishing company, Hatrack River, which probably doesn't exist anymore, but OSC has plenty of online presence, and you can still get the books he published. They’re not romances, but more like LDS comedy with some serious elements. They are pretty funny.

I meant to read something by Anita Stansfield, too, since she's kind of the queen of LDS romances, very prolific and widely read. But I couldn't bring myself to get excited about any of her titles. Maybe later.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Arrested Development, Seasons 2 and 3

Arrested Development is some of the best television from the last few years. I love the Segway-riding Gob and the son named George Michael (and they only mention the singer/songwriter George Michael once in the whole series!) and the manipulative, drinking mother. It’s all smart and hilarious. Many thanks to Chris and Camille for loaning us their DVDs. We’ll send them back soon, but probably not before reviewing some episodes.

Music and Lyrics (2007)

This was funny and cute, but not sickeningly so. The fake ‘80s video is a masterpiece—mostly Wham!, but also elements of Duran Duran and other ‘80s New Wave bands. Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore learned to sing for these roles, which is pretty cool.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Star Wars: Episode III—Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Jon and I are mean parents. We don’t let the kids watch movies that are rated PG-13. Of course, they love the Star Wars movies, so we’ve been meaning to preview Star Wars: Episode III for a long time, so we could approve it (or not) for them. They’ve been waiting for a long time, mostly because I hated Episodes I and II and I was dreading having to sit through another too-long Star Wars movie that sucked. But we finally did it. The first 45 minutes or more were agonizing—boring and flashy and stupid; it got slighty better later, but nothing can make up for the terrible dialog and bad acting (by actors who are otherwise decent) and Anakin’s extreme pouting.

Anyway, we let the kids watch it the next day, but since it’s pretty dark, we told them it’s a one-time thing, not for repeated viewing. I mean, Anakin gets various body parts cut off and catches on fire. And then there’s the pouting. Yuck.

Good Faith by Jane Smiley

I think Jane Smiley is a very good writer, but this was just okay.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)

I loved this. I wanted to see it again right after I finished watching it.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

At First Sight (1999)

A surprisingly good movie based on a true story about a guy who’s been blind since he was a toddler. His new city girlfriend convinces him to try a revolutionary surgery, he recovers his sight for a while and has to completely relearn how to process visual stimuli, and then he loses his sight again.

Val Kilmer looks almost exactly like my brother-in-law, Matt, which was kind of freaky, since I used to think Val Kilmer was so hot (and smart in Real Genius!).

Catch and Release (2006)

Ivy was right—this was a lame movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember what Ivy had written about it when I was at the video rental place that night, only that she had seen it. It was a complete waste of time. Not that I mind wasting my time occasionally, but I’d like to enjoy whatever it is that’s wasting my time. This I did not enjoy.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Lake House (2006)

I expected this to be mediocre, just a time-filler, but I quite enjoyed it. Yes, Keanu Reeves is about as wooden as they come (but I’ll always love him in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure), and Sandra Bullock isn’t my favorite, but I thought this movie was refreshingly different. Also refreshingly clean, since they’re separated by time throughout the movie. It’s a remake of a Korean film, and that would be interesting to see sometime.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

I found this book fascinating. It’s about Eustace Conway, a guy who started living off the land, with a knife and a lot of know-how, at the age of 17. He built a teepee, hunted for meat, made his own buckskin clothes from deerskin, and was otherwise completely self-sufficient. He lived there while he went to college and for many years beyond. That part of his story is amazing and well worth reading, but the book is also about his complicated relationships with family members and friends, his vision of changing America and how he’s going about it, and his relentless pursuit of knowledge and skills that he’s passing on to anyone who’s willing to work their tails off. He's got a place in North Carolina called Turtle Island Preserve. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man by Fannie Flagg

Ivy has been bugging me to read this forever. As she promised, I did laugh out loud a few times. Daisy Fay narrates her story with gumption and a childlike innocence, in spite of the dubious moral character of those around her, and rises above her surroundings.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures by Louise Rafkin

Louise Rafkin likes to clean, so after getting her degree in Comparative Literature, she decided to become a professional house cleaner. In this book, she tells of her own experiences cleaning and interviews others who clean. It’s entertaining and short, which in this case is a good thing, because while it’s a fun read, there’s just enough material for a slightly shorter book.

The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle

This is a novel about John Harvey Kellogg, the inventor of cornflakes. The story’s fictional, but there’s a lot of interesting history about the sometimes weird health crazes of the early 1900s, from which came the entire idea of breakfast cereal. Kellogg owned a health spa in Battle Creek, Michigan, where people came to eat vegetarian diets and do bizarre exercises, including “laughing exercises,” where everyone stood around and laughed without anything being funny. He was uncompromising, fanatical, and dictatorial, and Boyle's writing is funny and clever and, as usual, a little disconcerting (or a lot). Definitely an interesting read.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Widow's Peak (1994)

This is entertaining and enjoyable, but not overly important. It’s about a bunch of upper-class Irish widows and a young, English widow who moves into the neighborhood, bringing rumors of scandal and such. Except she’s actually American, but because her husband was English, they call her English. Just a bit of trivia.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Ella Enchanted (2004)

I found this enjoyable. Enjoyed the erstwhile Wesley of The Princess Bride as the evil king, who looked and acted just like Prince John in Disney’s Robin Hood, complete with a slithering snake side-kick. Thought the singing was a little over the top, but apparently Anne Hathaway did her own singing, so her voice really is that high.

Supposition Error by Alan Manning

One of Jon’s linguistics professors at BYU wrote this book. It was pretty good, though the end dragged a bit. I don't know of any other books that include time-travel, parallel universes, a Star Trek-like TV show, and futuristic scenarios that include the Mormons escaping to unknown reaches of space with all of their food storage, which I quite enjoyed.

Straight Man by Richard Russo

I loved Straight Man. This might be partly (or largely) because its irreverent and sometimes hilarious portrayal of insecure, feuding university professors put to rest my long-held romantic visions of academia.

We used to live next-door to a BYU English professor in Provo. He and his wife had a beautiful brick house; we lived in a nondescript two-bedroom apartment. From our kitchen window, we looked out on their perfectly landscaped backyard, and sometimes I saw him or his wife relaxing on the back porch with a book. My oldest children were very young at the time, and as I washed dishes, gazing at their flowers and lawn and trees, I pretended that the professor’s backyard was my own, imagined myself sitting peacefully on the back porch, sipping herbal tea, reading, thinking intelligent thoughts. Sure, sometimes I saw Herr Professor or his wife out there flinging dog crap over the fence, but mostly their lives looked ideal—quiet, thoughtful, mentally stimulating, ordered. At a time when I was feeling kind of stuck at home with small, non-speaking humans, our scholarly neighbors solidified my vision of academia, and I’ve held onto that vision in spite of friends’ accounts of graduate school and my own experience with a manipulative professor, which didn’t happen until a few months before I got my degree.

Straight Man provided a convincing portrait of university professors that included all the elements of my romanticized vision but completed it with more realistic stuff, like inter-departmental conflict and politics, marriage and health problems, etc. And like I said, it’s pretty hilarious sometimes.

Empire Falls is probably Richard Russo’s most well-known novel, and I read that several years ago, but I thought Straight Man was much more fun.

The Office, Seasons 1 and 2 (U.S.)

Oh, I love The Office. It seems ridiculously exaggerated at first, but it’s actually pretty realistic. I knew a guy just like Michael when I was in college. And I think it’s brilliant that even the most normal characters, Jim and Pam, are frustrating as well as a relief. I’m looking forward to the third season—I know it’s already over, and there are ways I could see it now, but I want to wait for the DVDs. (No spoiler comments, please!)

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

I wanted this to have a more Douglas Coupland-like ending, i.e., uplifting and hopeful, with a little of the supernatural thrown in for good measure. As it is, the ending was just barely hopeful. I guess if I want a Douglas Coupland ending, I should read Douglas Coupland.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Good Year (2006)

I liked this movie a lot, but in retrospect, it reminds me of Under the Tuscan Sun, and I hated that. I guess I could try to figure out how they’re different, but I feel lazy, and also I suspect it might just be that I like Russell Crowe and I don’t really like Diane Lane. Also, I read Under the Tuscan Sun and loved it, and the movie hardly resembled it. Anyway, this is supposed to be about A Good Year. I enjoyed it.

By the way, the DVD has videos by Russell Crowe's band The Ordinary Fear of God (which apparently used to be called Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts; same initials). They were somewhat amusing.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bride and Prejudice (2004)

When we lived in Virginia, we loved this little Indian restaurant not far from us, where we often waited for our food while staring up at a wall-mounted TV showing what seemed to be very long Indian music videos. They always seemed to be about a couple trying to get together, but the couple were always accompanied by many other people, all dancing and sometimes singing in that wailing Indian way that I’m never sure if I like or not. The women and their vividly colored clothes were beautiful, and I usually couldn’t stop watching the videos.

Bride and Prejudice is kind of a Hollywood version of this stuff, and it's delightful. The Pride and Prejudice themes translate well, the songs are fun and sometimes silly, the costumes amazing. And Sayid from Lost is in it--he's the Bingley character. Definitely enjoyable, and it helped me understand those videos we used to see at Café India.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Skulls (2000)

I found this a little hokey, but Jon enjoyed it. The idea of the secret society in the movie is loosely based on one that Bush, Sr., and Bush, Jr., belong to.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

This is a pretty amazing first novel; the author was 25 years old when she wrote it. It's kind of a crazy ride, but I loved it--Bangladeshi and Jamaican immigrants to England; Jehovah's Witnesses; a genetically altered mouse called FutureMouse, among other things. Beautifully written. I thought it was great.

Here's the disclaimer: there's a lot of swearing in this book, as well as some drug use and other things that some of y'all might find offensive. So you've been warned.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Transporter (2002)

We had low expectations for this movie, like it might be another XXX. (That is the kind of movie that I would not ordinarily watch voluntarily, but my brother-in-law made me. He said it was the worst movie ever and so we must see it. I think there are probably worse movies, but I haven't been able to name any yet.) The Transporter turned out to be entertaining and had great Jackie Chan-style fight scenes. It's also generally a good thing when the French inspector is played by an actual French person, from France.

Night at the Museum (2006)

Jon and I took the kids to the drive-in to see this, and I thought it was delightful. The kids loved it, too, though they have not reached the age of discerning film-viewing yet and love pretty much everything that appears on a screen with moving characters.

I think my favorite line was when Owen Wilson, the tiny cowboy, says to the tiny Roman soldier/leader guy, "I ain't quittin' you!" Although, after taking a look at the quotes page on imdb.com, there are a lot of funny lines. That was just one that made me laugh out loud. (The kids didn't get it, of course, but that's as it should be.)

A Cinderella Story (2004)

I felt compelled to watch this (I was at Ivy's and I'd already watched all of their episodes of The Office and it was on TV) because I know Hillary Duff is famous and I don't know why she's famous. I still don't. She was pretty boring. So was the movie. Although I think Daniel liked it a lot. (Hee hee!)

However, I did enjoy Jennifer Coolidge, who plays the wicked stepmother.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I didn’t particularly enjoy reading this book, but it did give me a lot to think about: how secrets affect relationships (badly); how you can’t protect your loved ones from tragedy and sadness; how things are always changing, and as much as you’d like to capture moments in time with family or friends, it just doesn’t work; how easily people misunderstand each other; how difficult it is to really know someone. I think it would have affected me differently at another time in my life, but right now, when my oldest kids are on the verge of their teen years (sort of) and I’m starting to almost think of myself as middle-aged (yikes), it was a difficult story. It made me appreciate so much what I have, though, and that’s a good thing.

About halfway through the book, I found myself just wanting to get it over with—to see if the ending was as depressing as the rest of it, or if maybe the characters would get wiser. They did seem to learn something and become better people, so it was worth it to finish. There was a hopeful feeling at the end, and one of the characters especially showed everyone else how to take things in stride and be happy for the good things, mourn with your friends and family when needed, and move on. So I guess I liked it, in the end. Not a ringing endorsement, but I think it was a good book.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Illusionist (2006)

I'm not really crazy about the main actor, Norton,(he looks like a little weasel and he played a bad, weasel-like guy in "The Italian Job") but I did really like this movie. It was entertaining and had a fun plot. I sort of guessed a lot of the movie's plot twists, but not all so it was still surprising. Jessica Biel is so beautiful in this movie that I wasn't even sure it was her. I had to look it up on the internet to make sure it was the same girl that is on that show "7th Heaven" that I can't stand. It was! But I really liked her in this movie. Great ending (of course or I probably wouldn't have liked it). :)

Eragon (2006)

I didn't like this movie. Hopefully the book is better. But I don't really have any desire to read it. That's okay though since I'm not really the intended audience. Everyone else I've asked (my kids and their friends) seemed to like it fine. The actor playing Eragon is really cute, though.

Catch and Release (2006)

I like Jennifer Gardner, but hated that yucky guy (Fitch) she gets together with. Ew! I never did start to like him, though I'm sure I was supposed to. I thought he was creepy and disgusting (thanks to his gross sex scene in the very beginning of the movie AT A FUNERAL!!). I don't like that she gets together with him, when she totally should have fallen for the really great friend, Dennis. He was so nice, and truly in love with her. Instead, the stupid girl chooses Mr. Sleaze-bag, seemingly based on pure lust, and sticks with him. So disappointing. Did I enjoy watching it? Yes, mostly because my friend took me to the movies in the middle of the day and that is fun no matter what. The movie also kept me guessing because I couldn't believe the direction it was going would be the one it ended with. (Weird sentence, but you know what I mean.) The movie should have developed some great sympathetic background story for Fitch (great name to go with the great(NOT)guy) if they wanted me to like him.

Deja Vu (2006)

I went to see this movie with a friend at the late showing. It sure kept me awake! I thought it was really a fun one to watch with a lot to keep you guessing. It had some good twists and turns in the plot. I think it's better to know nothing about a movie before watching it. I didn't know anything about this and so it was all surprising. Very unrealistic and had a lot of little things you say, "But wait..." to, but getting past all the geeky science stuff, and accepting it as a sci-fi...it was pretty cool. Some gross dead body stuff. But otherwise, a fairly clean movie. Go see it.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Trust me. With cable and a remote I'd be wasting even more time.

  • Anger Management (2003)—pretty crude but also funny. Jack Nicholson is delightfully annoying.
  • The Laws of Attraction (2004)—I liked Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele, and that's about it.
  • Bringing Down the House (2003)—it made me laugh.
  • Must Love Dogs (2006)—I like John Cusack. Diane Lane was good in it. But it didn’t do much for me.
  • The First Wives Club (1996)—kinda funny.
  • How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (2003)—I don’t like Matthew McWhatever (I believe I’ve mentioned that a time or two) and Kate Hudson is also sometimes annoying. But some of her antics while trying to lose him were hilarious (using the paws of a stuffed animal to hug him and pat his face, for example).
  • Tristan & Isolde (2006)—better than I thought it was going to be. That James Franco is cute but not much of an actor. I think he has two facial expressions—neutral and anguished. But it was a decent movie (apparently with a lot of historical inaccuracy, according to imdb.com). Entertaining.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

I loved this book. It’s different from anything else I’ve read—three stories in different time periods and genres involving similar characters. It’s weird, especially the science fiction part, but the writing is great and I got sucked into every one of the stories.

A little warning: if you don’t like bad language, you might not like it. It's not excessive, but it's hard to ignore.

The Legend of Zorro (2005)

Definitely a kids’ movie. They hated all the kissing, but they loved the unrealistic sword-fighting.

The Prince & Me (2004)

Of course this targets teen girls, and they probably like it fine (I think Julia Stiles and Luke Mably have great chemistry in the movie), but it wasn’t one of the classic teen flicks, like 10 Things I Hate About You or Clueless, that appeal to a broader audience. Some of it was okay, but I really could have done without the computer-generated butterflies during the “romantic” moments.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Marie Antoinette (2006)

I thought this would be more eye candy, less story, but it was actually very good. Wonderful costumes, of course, as everyone knows. But it’s also insightful into 18th century royal life and the challenges Marie Antoinette faced when she entered France as the Dauphine at age 14. It made me do a little research, since I knew next to nothing about Marie Antoinette, and what I did know was about half wrong. And when I say a little research, I mean the least possible amount of research, performed on the internet. Here’s the wikipedia link, so you don’t have to repeat my grueling internet research work.

I’d like to read the biography on which the film is based: Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

New York Doll (2005)

Occasionally I find a film that is absolutely riveting and delightful, and New York Doll is one of them. It’s the story of Arthur “Killer” Kane, bass player for a glam-rock band in the early 1970s called The New York Dolls. Directed by an LDS friend and told by Arthur and various friends, the film recounts Arthur’s glory days in the band, the subsequent years of drug and alcohol addiction and near poverty, his conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his dream of playing with the band again. His dream is realized when he and the two other surviving members are invited by Morrissey to reunite for the London Meltdown Festival in 2004.

While the New York Dolls weren’t commercially successful back in their heyday, they were apparently enormously influential, and there are some big names interviewed in the movie, such as Morrissey, Bob Geldof, Chrissie Hynde and Iggy Pop. Also interviewed are delightful old ladies who work with Arthur at the Family History Library in L.A. and his home teacher and bishop. Arthur himself is gentle, quirky and unassuming.

One scene was particularly delightful: just before going on stage, fellow band member David Johansen (aka Buster Poindexter) teases Arthur about giving his share of the money from t-shirt sales to the church. There follows a conversation about the “rules” of Mormonism that will be familiar to any LDS people who’ve had to explain themselves to someone not of the faith. It’s just fun to watch that conversation between two rock stars.

We couldn't find this to rent where we live, so we ended up buying it. I’m glad we did.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Inside the Kingdom: My Life in Saudi Arabia by Carmen Bin Ladin

Carmen Bin Ladin was married to one of Osama Bin Laden’s half-brothers, Yeslam. (The difference in spelling is intentional; Carmen explains it in the book.) She lived among the Bin Laden women in Saudi Arabia for nine years. This is the story of her courtship with Yeslam and married life in Saudi Arabia, which is a strange mixture of money, luxury, and excessive restrictions on women and individuality. Before I read this, I didn’t know how extreme Saudi Arabia is, even compared to other Islamic countries: women are not only required to be fully veiled, they are almost completely secluded and confined to their homes. At one point, Carmen talks her husband into allowing her to go to a store herself, instead of having servants bring suitcases full of stuff home for her perusal. She shows up at the store, fully veiled, of course, and the store has been closed and completely emptied of employees, owner, etc. They are standing outside with their backs turned so as not to see her as she enters. It’s interesting, to say the least.

Before this book, I had assumed that Osama Bin Laden was a power-hungry, manipulative guy just using the excuse of religion to maintain control of the truly religious. But according to Carmen, he is religious, extremely so. Carmen doubts reports by Western journalists that he has been a sort of playboy in Western Europe: while many of his half-brothers have enjoyed the Western lifestyle at various times, to her knowledge Osama has not. Apparently there is a photo of several Bin Laden brothers in Europe somewhere, wearing popular Western clothing, but the one who was identified as Osama in Western publications was actually one of his half-brothers.

It’s also very interesting to read about the Saudi government. Some people think that the ruling family, the al-Sauds, number up to 25,000 people today.

I should mention that Carmen was born and raised in Switzerland—her mother is Iranian, her father Swiss—and she’s definitely a modern, Western woman. When she lived in Saudi Arabia, she tried to get along with her sisters-in-law, mother-in-law, etc., and respected their religious convictions. She tried to fit in and was not looking for ways to criticize them. In fact, she seems fairly restrained in her description of her in-laws, though she aims for accuracy. But because she was not Saudi and only half “Muslim” (as they saw it), she was always looked down on by her new relatives. Their perception is that Islam is the correct way, and, further, that Saudis (and Saudi Arabia) are the purest and best, even among other Islamic peoples and cultures.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

I love well-written cookbooks and books about food and travel. This novel combines recipes with a story of romance, family betrayal and forbidden love in turn-of-the-century Mexico. It uses magical realism that reminds me of Gabriel García Marquéz and Isabel Allende. I just barely learned that term, which is why I’m linking to its Wikipedia article. I’m glad it has a name. (You’d never know that I was a Comparative Literature major!)

I know I read this several years ago, but apparently it was forgettable at that time, since I could only vaguely remember one scene from it. This time I really enjoyed it, though. It also reminded of Candide, in the slightly humorous, matter-of-fact way tragedy is described. We’ll be discussing it at the other book club I go to, and I’m looking forward to it.

Maximum Ride: The Angle Experiment by James Patterson

This young adult novel has a dumb name, an even worse cover, and it’s by James Patterson, who wrote Suzanne’s Letters to Nicholas, which I read a few years ago and hated. You’d think I’d steer clear of his stuff, and I normally would, but my oldest son wanted to read it, and while I couldn’t possibly read everything he reads, I thought this looked like something I ought to check out. It was surprisingly enjoyable. Not a great or important book, but entertaining. It’s kind of an X-Men story, about kids who’ve been genetically engineered to have wings. I know, it sounds stupid! But like I said, I enjoyed it. It's a little violent, and since there's a barely-begun romance in this one, I'll have to read the sequels, too, before my son does. But I kind of want to! I'm still surprised.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Paradise by Larry McMurtry

I read Paradise by Larry McMurtry while trying to recover from bronchitis a week ago. The recovery has been slow going.

The book was a short meandering travelogue of Larry's trip to Tahiti and the Marquesa Islands. He begins by recounting his parents' marriage falling apart some years ago, comparing (and contrasting -- one word: water!) the isolation of Texas to that of islands he's visiting, observing his fellow travelers on the ship, considering the effect of the extreme isolation of the Marquesas, and commenting on famous people's visits to the area, especially the painter Gauguin.

Several of the reviewers featured on Amazon.com didn't like the book at all because of its disorganization and slow pace, but I enjoyed it, and liked the eclectic content. It is a short book, and that helps -- many hundreds of pages of this style would become tedious. But this was nice.

I haven't read anything else by McMurtry, but Erin's read Lonesome Dove and a few of his other books, and I'm more interested in reading more of his writing now.

The Story of the Weeping Camel

The Story of the Weeping Camel is a documentary-style film about a nomadic family in Mongolia. One of their camels has a very difficult delivery of her baby camel, which is a rare white camel. But the mother rejects the baby, which would die if not fed by hand. The two young boys go on a long journey alone to the nearest town, to find a musician to help the mother camel accept her baby.

The desert is harsh but beautiful, the family life is simple, and the family has a not surprising confrontation with modernity.

It was an enjoyable film. Our whole family watched it together.

Friday, February 9, 2007

My Date with Drew (2004)

This was delightful. A financially strapped, aspiring filmmaker in L.A. uses the winnings from a game show ($1100) and a video camera purchased from Circuit City on a friend's credit card (with the intention of taking it back in thirty days to take advantage of Circuit City’s return policy) and tries to get a date with Drew Barrymore. A couple of his friends help him document his attempts. It’s funny and kind of amazing and inspiring. I loved it!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom by Isabella Leitner

This is a beautifully written account of the author’s experiences in Auschwitz and other German concentration camps towards the end of World War II. Her mother and youngest sister were killed when they arrived (at a time when the Nazis were burning 24,000 people a day at Auschwitz), but she and two sisters and a brother managed to survive. Surprisingly, it’s hopeful and not depressing. My only beef with her is that she portrays Germans as inhuman or a different species, which seems a dangerous attitude—if we imagine that the Nazis killed the Jews because they’re somehow fundamentally different from the rest of humanity, instead of asking what choices they made to get to that point, then we’ve learned nothing. There have been many, many groups of people who have tortured and murdered other groups, for whatever reason. Most notably, her saviors, the Russians, killed hundreds of thousands more people than the Nazis did. Certainly they had more time for the killing, but there are several specific and short incidents in history when the Russians matched or exceeded the Nazis’ numbers. The question is, what makes people think they can deprive others of life? What leads to that, and are we sure we’re not on a similar path? Would I have risked my own life to save others if I had lived in Germany during World War II? What if my “job” were processing Jews on their way to death camps? I hope I would have been more like the ten Booms in Holland or like Helmut Hübener in Germany, but I don’t know.

Having said that, though, I have no idea how I would react if I were ever in the same situation that Isabella found herself in when she was so young (about 20 years old). I can’t imagine the horror. So I don’t wish to criticize her. I think every first-person account of the Holocaust is valuable and necessary, and I’m grateful there are those brave enough to write about their experiences.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Hours (2002)

I’ve been avoiding this movie for a long time now, because of course it was going to be sad, and therefore depressing, I suspected. I finally rented it, and then I still waited to watch it until the last night before I had to take it back. Turns out, I found it thought-provoking and sort of inspiring, although it does deal with some pretty serious issues, a couple of suicides the most weighty. Since watching it, I have been thinking about how we misjudge others’ situations, problems, moods, etc. It’s so easy to look at the people around us and assume that they’re handling their lives much better than we’re handling ours. There were a couple of times in this film where one character says to another, “You’re so lucky,” but because we’ve seen more of that character’s life, we know how untrue that is. It reminds me of something Henry Eyring, one of the Apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said recently:

When I was a young man, I served as counselor to a wise district president in the Church. He tried to teach me. One of the things I remember wondering about was this advice he gave: “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.”

I thought then that he was pessimistic. Now, more than 40 years later, I can see how well he understood the world and life.

The Hours has a lot of hidden misery in it. It made me think that it’s probably a good idea to treat everyone I meet as if they’re in serious trouble. Who knows who’s contemplating suicide? And even if it hasn’t come to that, there are a lot of people who need help or friendship or someone to listen to them or love them. Also, I don’t want to make assumptions about someone else’s life; I don’t want to say to anyone, “You’re so lucky,” when they’re actually unhappy, depressed, struggling with problems of which I’m unaware.

I really ought to read something by Virginia Woolf besides A Room of One’s Own. The acting in this is astounding, by the way. Nicole Kidman is not herself. She’s really amazing.

A disclaimer for some family members and friends: I liked this movie very much, but there's stuff in it that will be controversial or frowned on by some. I'm not necessarily recommending it to everyone I know! That is all.

The River Midnight by Lilian Nattel

This is a very good book, especially for a first novel. The narrative technique is interesting: the same nine-month period is covered from different perspectives. Each character gets the full nine months before the next character reveals more information about the same time period, so there’s repetition, but the voices are different enough that it never gets boring. It’s probably one of the best historical fiction books I’ve read. It also has a great-looking bibliography at the end (I haven’t had time to read any of the books listed, but they all look interesting), with titles about Jews in Poland and Russia, the general history of Poland, Gypsies, and the labor movement in the United States and Poland, among other things.

There are some wonderful, strong female characters, a little of the supernatural, and everybody changes for the better, which makes it a hopeful book. I really liked it.

Monday, January 29, 2007

American Dreamz (2006)

I've never watched American Idol, except for one special episode where they showed a bunch of people who didn't make it onto the show. (I kind of forced Ivy to watch that one with me; it was spectacularly horrible.) American Dreamz is a satire of the show, but also of so much more. For the first few minutes of the movie, as the scenes switched from the expected American Idol satire to a befuddled president of the United States to a middle-eastern terrorist training camp making a “training video,” complete with a terrorist director yelling, “Cut!”, I was afraid I’d found something too Saturday Night Live-esque, but it turned out to be fairly good. (I like Saturday Night Live, but their sketches should really never last longer than a few minutes.)

I liked Dennis Quaid’s portrayal of the president (with a Southern accent and creative words like “Iraqiites”, he's a gentle satire of our present commander-in-chief), who decides to start reading the newspaper, suspecting that he’s been a puppet of his vice-president (Willem Dafoe with a paunch and mostly bald head). Marcia Gay Harden is the first lady, genuinely interested in her husband’s health and happiness. Both are simple-minded but sincere and actually change and grow in the course of the movie. There’s an Arab-American family that’s hilarious—teen son and daughter do nothing but shop and otherwise indulge themselves. When their cousin shows up straight out of the terrorist training camp, awaiting his orders, the beautiful daughter says to him, “We are going to party like (singing) rock stars!” Terrorists watch American Dreamz from their tents and vote with their satellite phones. I did not like the Jew who appears on the show singing suggestive rap songs, though I did like Hugh Grant’s line when they’re looking for contestants: “Get me an Arab! Get me an Arab and a Jew!” And one of his minions responds, “How about an Arab-Jew?”

It’s not exactly light-hearted comedy, but it was funny.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

All the King's Men (2006)

I haven't read the book by Robert Penn Warren, and I haven't seen the 1949 film, which is supposed to be great. I found this movie interesting and well-acted, although the only actor to keep up his Southern accent was Sean Penn.

But what's really interesting is the Louisiana politician the book and movies are based on, Huey Long. I didn't know anything about him before--he sounds like a pretty fascinating guy, probably more so than Willie Stark, the fictional character inspired by him.

Also of interest was the Louisiana State Capitol, where the movie was filmed. Huey Long had the capitol built from 1930–1932; it's the tallest capitol building in the United States, and it's pretty weird-looking.

Eating Chocolates and Dancing in the Kitchen by Tom Plummer

Jon and I both had classes from Tom Plummer at BYU. I had a couple of German literature classes from him, and Jon took a memoir class taught by him and his wife Louise Plummer, who is a writer and professor of English at BYU. They are both delightful people. This book is a little gem, full of funny stories about their life together. This time through (I read it a few years ago), I was slightly disturbed by the impression that Louise was always having to school Tom in the “right” way—I’m not a fan of the popular portrayal of the wife as smarter than the husband (Everybody Loves Raymond, for example)—but it may just be the best way to write about marriage when your spouse is still living. Maybe Louise would write what she’s learned from Tom. Anyway, it’s worth reading and very quick.

Duplex (2003)

Not amazing but also not completely insulting, this was mildly entertaining.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Arrested Development, Season One (2003)

I really enjoyed this and even started to feel a little addicted to it by the end. I like watching TV shows on DVD—it’s great to have no commercials and to be able to watch as many episodes as you want. Although this can also be detrimental if you watch six or eight episodes and find it’s 1:00 am when you finally force yourself to stop. Anyway, “Arrested Development” is very funny. All of the characters are hilarious and well-acted, and one of them rides a Segue! Shouldn’t more people be making fun of Segues?

I’m looking forward to seeing the second season, but I don’t know if we can bring ourselves to buy it. We like to leach off of other people for our DVD needs, especially when it comes to TV shows.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I'll Do Anything (1994)

The best part of this movie is when Nick Nolte's character is ranting at some movie executives and he accuses them of "posing for pictures nobody is snapping." That's a great line.

But there was also a hilariously honest secondary character named Nan, who says things like, "I couldn't help overhearing you because I was intentionally eavesdropping."

Oh, and the ex-wife, who only appears briefly, is also hilarious, though perhaps more subtly so.

I guess it was a pretty good movie.

Church Ball (2006)

This was different than I thought it would be, for which I am grateful. I enjoyed The RM and The Singles Ward for their silliness, but I don't need to watch many more like them in my lifetime. Church Ball was a little less overt and obnoxious. I think it helped that the main character was pretty laid-back and low-key, unlike Kirby Heyborne, for example. (Kirby's funny, but I don't want to see him in every LDS comedy.)

Speaking of the main character, throughout the movie, I kept saying to Jon, "That guy sounds exactly like Owen and Luke Wilson." I'm sure I said it too many times, but I want to make sure I'm heard. Then we watched a "Making of" thing (like it's really difficult to make a movie like Church Ball and they're eager to show us all the secrets behind the special efffects; these Making-of things have become ubiquitous in our DVD world, and many of them are completely unnecessary, but we still can't resist watching them. And this one did have some interesting details. Like this one that I'm about to reveal!) and there he was with his name under him: Andrew Wilson. Turns out he's the oldest of the Wilson brothers. Who knew? Well, I'm sure someone did, but I didn't.

Also, it was kind of weird/entertaining to see Gary Coleman in something. I think it's the first time I've seen him in anything since the days of "Diff'rent Strokes." Although there is a newspaper ad for a restaurant in our vicinity called Thai Me Up that features a photo of David Hasselhoff, Gary Coleman, and Kit. Yes, Kit, the car from "Knight Rider." It's a really good restaurant.

Update: Jon has informed me that Michael Knight's car is named K.I.T.T., which stands for Knight Industries Two Thousand. He wanted me to change it, but I thought it would be false advertising to pretend that I knew that. Because I certainly did not, even though I did watch the show.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Look at Me

I picked this up in the comedy section at the library. I don't really know why it was in the comedy section. And I had no idea it was going to be in French. In fact, I got it to watch while I was folding about 6 loads of laundry and ended up not being able fold at all because I had to stare at the screen to read the subtitles! :) (No, I didn't choose to do the laundry instead of watching the movie like a responsible homemaker.)

I enjoyed watching it, but like a lot of foreign films (French, especially) it sort of went on and on with all these detailed, complex relationships and then it just ends. American movies resolve things. There's usually some sort of ending that makes everyone live happily ever after. This one just ended. Oh, well. Not a reason to not like it. It's just different, that's all. I liked the characters, the relationships, the complexity of their lives. I liked the fat, unappreciated daughter who is trying to win her father's affection, but never really does. I liked that she ends up with pretty cool boyfriend (sort of happily-ever-afterish).

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

What a fun book to read. We read this for book club and then watched the movie (which wasn't necessary since we've all seen it so many times we were quoting the whole thing). It is better to know from the beginning that Goldman wrote it all, there is no S. Morgenstern. You feel less duped. I thought it was really obvious that Goldman is the true author (his humor is the same throughout, there's no way the language is from the era Goldman claims it is from), but, I do remember thinking it really was an abridgment when I read it in high school or junior high. And a lot of the ladies at book club didn't know the whole thing is fake either. Some decided they didn't like the book just because they felt deceived by the author.

It is so funny though. And you get all this background information about Inigo, Fezzik and Buttercup. I love the way he tries to place the book in time... "This was before Europe," then later he talks about Paris. Also, when he describes the great kisses since the first kiss was discovered and then says "Before then couples hooked thumbs." The whole thing is funny.

At the end of the newer edition, there's a chapter of the supposed sequel "Buttercup's Baby," along with a bunch of explanations about it. It went on and on... I couldn't even finish it. It was too irritating. Should never have been added, in my opinion.

5 Children and It

I got this movie for my kids from the library. It looked like it was going to be pretty dumb. There's a picture of a boy (the actor who plays Charlie in the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie) and then this weird alien or monster thing. It looked like it would be about as good as The Neverending Story or Flight of the Navigator. In other words, cheesy and lame special effects.

Well, it ended up being a lot better than I expected. It reminded me and the kids a lot of the new Narnia movie. Same setting: kids evacuated from London during the war, go to big mysterious house, find a secret door which takes them to a different land...

Anyway, it was pretty good. The kids and I enjoyed watching it. Having pretty low expectations is probably key to me liking it.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Emmanuel's Gift

It's estimated that 10% of the population of Ghana is disabled; those who reach adulthood (mothers of disabled infants are encouraged to let them die or even to kill them) end up begging on the streets to support themselves. This is a documentary about a Ghanaian man with one leg who is trying to change his country's perception and treatment of the disabled.

Emmanuel was born with a severely deformed right leg but overcame all expectations and learned to walk, run, climb coconut trees, and play soccer using crutches. (The other kids wouldn't let him play with them until he earned some money, bought his own soccer ball, and proved to them that he could really play.) Emmanuel's father abandoned him and his mother when Emmanuel was born, but his mother raised him to do everything he could to fit in and taught him that he should never beg. He could have made $10 a day begging, but instead he shined shoes in Accra and made $2 a day, with which he supported his mother and other family members.

In an effort to raise awareness in Ghana and change the widely held view that disabled people are cursed, Emmanuel rode a bike across Ghana. Since then, he's become a kind of hero there. He was also brought to the United States by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), where he rode in a publicity ride, met other disabled athletes (including an amazing 14-year-old boy with no legs who does triathlons with prosthetics), and had surgery that allowed him to have a prosthetic leg. He is still working to bring opportunities to disabled people in Ghana.

Emmanuel's Gift isn't the most well-executed film ever, but it's fascinating because of its subject. Well worth seeing.