Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

As I mentioned in my last post, this book was hilarious. Under normal circumstances, maybe even too hilarious, where the jokes keep on coming and you get kind of sick of it and just want the plot to thicken. However, at the time of my reading of Good Omens, I was starved for some funny stuff (again, see previous post).

From the back of the book:

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, (the world's only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner. So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing. Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon--both of whom have lived amongst Earth's mortals from The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle--are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture. And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman

I read The Golden Compass several years ago and enjoyed it but apparently didn't feel compelled to read the rest of the trilogy at that time. With all the emails exhorting Christians to boycott the new movie because of the anti-God agenda of the books, and considering that my 11-year-old has read the trilogy, it seemed like a good idea to found out for myself what the message of the books is.

Verdict: definitely anti-religion. Having said that, as is common to things anti-religion, the big, bad religion described in the books, while it may resemble the Catholic Church of hundreds of years ago, doesn't really reflect any modern Christian religion that I am personally familiar with, though a teenager on the brink of rebellion might think differently. The overall message of the book is that tolerance, the search for knowledge, and the appreciation of beauty are good, while narrow-mindedness, prejudice and killing people because they threaten your goals of world domination are bad. I don't have much of a problem with that, but it's less appealing when equated with religion vs. ... what? Non-religion?

It's also just less appealing in these books because I didn't much like them. The story was complex and somewhat suspenseful, and there are certainly some interesting ideas introduced (though not fully realized), but many of the characters are amoral, not very sympathetic, and oddly motivated, and there's not one shred of humor in any of the books. I didn't notice how much this bothered me until I read Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, while I was in the middle of The Amber Spyglass. Good Omens, while also dealing with an epic battle between good and evil heralding the end of the world, was hilarious, and thereafter I struggled to finish the other.

The third book is particularly cumbersome, with extra (and weird) characters being introduced for unclear purposes, the main characters going on strange and inadequately explained quests, and just lots and lots of stuff to slog through. Like I said, it was a struggle to finish it.

My 11-year-old, when questioned, seemed unaware of the anti-God message in the books, but an older, more analytical teenager might see it. I think it might be interesting to read these books together with my kids and talk through the generalizations and problems, but only if I enjoyed them more.

If you're interested, you can look at one review of this trilogy on Amazon that I thought was particularly good.

Wheat Thins Too Salty!

I don't know why, but some time last year, Wheat Thins started coming with tons of extra salt on them. The first time I encountered it, I thought it was just a bad box. But it's been consistent every time since then, across various varieties (except the low-salt kind).

Nabisco, stop it! It's way too much salt! You're killing us.

You took out the trans fats a few years ago, which was fine. The crackers got harder then, but that's a minor deal.

But seriously, cut back on the salt!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Catching up (November and December movies)

The Sandy Bottom Orchestra (2000): Made-for-TV movie about an educated woman who doesn't fit in, but music brings everybody together. Pretty mediocre.

Premonition (2007): I wish someone would make an interesting movie that plays with time and actually tries to explain it. This was only interesting while we watched it, and then not at all after it was over.

Orange County (2002): Had some funny moments and characters.

Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962): I thought this was delightful. Also interesting to see that the parents-have-no-control-over-what-their-kids-are-doing theme was in movies even back then!

Opal Dream (2005): Australian film about a girl with two imaginary friends and how her brother helps her when they disappear. Pretty good.

Pieces of April (2003): Really good! Great acting and a good story about family and people coming together. I really liked it.

Unaccompanied Minors (2006): A goofy kids' movie. Lewis Black is not an actor, but it was funny to hear him say, while dressed up as Santa, "Shut up and get me a chair."

I'm Reed Fish (2006): I have mixed feelings about this movie. I enjoyed it, but its quirky story-telling tricks kind of undermined the conclusion. Still worth seeing, maybe.

Songcatcher (2000): The story is unlikely and has an unnecessary, implausible and not very hidden agenda, but the music is amazing. Lots of ancient Appalachian ballads mostly sung by locals. Moving, heart-wrenching, and beautiful. I'd heard the Carter family sing "Single Girl" before, but I didn't get it until I saw it in this movie. "Conversation with Death" is also incredible.

Monte Walsh (2003): This was pretty good.

High School Musical (2006): Part of my research into pop culture, I guess. The music was way too boy-band for me, but I liked the basketball team dance scene, using basketballs in the choreography, and I thought the message of the movie was pleasantly positive and didn't emphasize the romance between the main characters too much.

The Pilot's Wife (2002): I had to make a concerted effort just now to remember this movie. Not a good sign.

The Nativity Story (2006): Surprisingly good. I can imagine watching this every year with the kids. It wasn't sentimental or air-brushed. I liked it a lot.

Elf (2003): Probably only Will Ferrell could make this funny for adults, too. My favorite part is when he lists the four food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corn, and syrup.

The Nanny Diaries (2007): I wanted this to be funnier and less depressing, but I'm not sure why, because I've read the book and it's less funny and more depressing. Great acting.

The Witches (1990): Not the best adaptation of a Roald Dahl book and kind of intense for kids. It's okay. Anjelica Houston is delightful.