Monthly Archives: March 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

mv5bmtyzodgzmjaym15bml5banbnxkftztcwmti3nzi2mq-_v1_After finishing the first Lucifer volume, I started reading Dzur, which is nice because I haven’t read a Vlad Taltos book in years. Both of these events (the finishing and the starting) occurred while in line to see a sneak preview of a movie coming out next month, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. After getting a couple of chapters into the book, the movie started. And then I left it behind in the theater, not to be discovered in the Lost and Found this morning as I had hoped. None of which would be particularly relevant, except that the last time I lost a book in a theater, it was Brokedown Palace by the same author and set in the same universe. I’m assuming there’s a lesson in that, somewhere. But mostly it means that when I review the new Star Wars book I’m currently reading instead, it will suffer by already not being nearly as good as Dzur was. Dammit.

But anyway, there was also this movie, right? Marshall from How I Met Your Mother is a composer who’s dating actress Veronica Mars (and writing the incidental music for her cop drama TV show), but then after several shots of his cock taking up the majority of the early-movie screen time, they break up because she’s cheating on him with some British rock star. After weeks of misery, he goes to Hawaii for a vacation, only to discover that Veronica and her new rocker boyfriend are staying at the resort. Also, Jackie from the 70’s Show is one of the hotel staff, and she has her eye on Marshall, who I should probably be referring to in some other way to avoid confusion with the film’s title. (Veronica Mars is Sarah Marshall, incidentally.) In any event, hilarity ensues, and there is a pretty great supporting cast to help the hilarity along its way. Also written by Marshall, aka Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is consistently funny across several genres of humor. The writing is a little looser than it could be, with a couple of characters seeming to serve no plot purpose at all, but the laughs make up for a lot.

And what they don’t cover is handled deftly by the film’s soft, gooey center. Three out of the four major characters are achingly human in between the laughs, trying to make their best of a horrible situation that we’ve probably all experienced at some point, a situation in which there is plenty of blame to share around to all parties. But, I mean, don’t go see it because of the romance and drama. Go see it because it’s pretty hilarious, and then just be pleased by the perks.[1]

[1] To sum up, these were a surprisingly realistic and adult portrayal of a rocky break-up, Kristen Bell on constant bikini display, and Marshall-cock.

Lucifer: Devil in the Gateway

So, you know Sandman? Awesome series about life, death, love, dreams, family, and the nature of reality, in comic form and written by Neil Gaiman? Let’s assume you do and move on, because the alternative would take far too much time. (I have reviews of many of the titles, but you should not read them, due to spoilers and really deserving an uninfluenced first look.) Anyhow, there’s a spin-off series of comics about the character of Lucifer, last seen in the Sandman series having abdicated his rule over Hell in favor of running a Los Angeles nightclub-slash-piano bar. And I’ve known about it for a good long time, but I never got around to actually reading any, until now.

The first volume, Devil in the Gateway, picks up with exactly that premise, and then of course proceeds to throw him headlong right back into the politics of the celestial realm. I’m trying to come up with a way to explain it with more detail than that, and I’m failing spectacularly. Every step springs naturally from the one before, and in that sense there’s apparent tight plotting. But every step is highly episodic in nature and difficult to describe without going into verbose minutiae, which I would prefer to avoid. So take my word for it that the stories are individually as well as collectively interesting. If there’s a central theme running through them, I’m missing it; but as with Sandman, it could be the case that the first reading is for enjoyment and the second is for depth.

What I can talk about is our main character, Lucifer Morningstar himself. Although I expect a more detailed and different account to emerge over the course of the series, for now it’s fair to say that it’s the same Lucifer you’re thinking of. Led a failed revolution against the omniscient Lord of Hosts, was cast out of Heaven, and created or was given the realm of Hell to use as the scourging ground for all mankind. That guy. Carey plays him up as antihero in a way that is very appealing to me. His rebellion was about freedom from predestination, he claims, but reading between the lines, it is apparent that he’s only interested in freedom for himself. His deceit is the very best kind, that tells people true things that they want to hear, leaving out only certain inevitable unpleasantries that they could easily have heard if they’d taken the time to listen. Horrifying as he would be to know in person (and of course there are real people like him out in the world to be known; give the devil his due!), as a character he is very entertaining indeed. And it’s quite clear to me that his goal has never changed: he still wants to be free. I look very much forward over the course of the series to finding out whether he can succeed, as he seems to believe.

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine

First off: holy wow, but The Dance of the Dissident Daughter has a long title.

Second off: I know, I know, there are all kinds of reasons why it’s bizarre that I read this book. I’m not so much a woman, nor am I steeped in Christian tradition, nor do I spend very much time with non-fiction, outside of the historical. But I was asked to, and I said I’d give it a try, and here we are. So.

It turns out that once upon a time, the author of The Secret Life of Bees (which is a book about which I know essentially nothing, but I bet you’ve heard of it, too) mostly wrote in the thriving world of inspirational Christian books, a world that was alive and doing very well long before Left Behind burst onto the scene.[1] And then one day, which would far more accurately be portrayed by me as over a series of several months and years, she realized that her religion as it is practiced in her church and by most people she knew, and not incidentally in a way that also matches my experience on the topic, is really not very good for women. They are made to feel inferior by words both spoken and left out, by numerous deeds, and by unavailability of responsibility and influence. And after she realized it, she started taking steps to repair her life. And after she had repaired her life to her satisfaction, she wrote a book in the hopes that other women out there could also get a little bit of the same kind of repair.

Me, then, not so much the target audience. My responses are many and varied and far too extensive for the scope of this review, even were I inclined to try to present them all. But they are certainly colored by the fact of feeling so far outside. That is, so many of the complaints that she had about the church as a monolithic entity (which it is of course not, but in so many ways it acts enough as one to move the discussion forward with and handwave that of course there are exceptions) were highly similar to experiences I’ve had, in which the self is devalued at the expense of the group and of tradition. Some of these complaints were specifically related to being a woman, of course, but many were not. And yet the book is very explicitly and throughout addressed just to women instead of to everyone. But at the same time, it’s really difficult for me to validly complain about being the excluded gender in this book when I’m the included gender in the majority of books out there, especially here noting the Bible in this category. I guess if I were the kind of person who hasn’t internalized the inherent correctness of gender equality, this could have been some kind of important wake-up call?

Anyway, that’s a sample reaction to the book. Feel free to discuss it with me in person, and I’d expect to be able to come up with others. It was, in any event, a very interesting book wherein I got to have a conversation about a lot of things that are typically well outside my experience. The author has some written tics that bothered me from time to time, as I’ve said about previous things I’ve read. In this case[3] as in those, it was rarely an important issue, just something that buzzed around my head from time to time. On the whole, feel free to read it. There could be something there for you. Certainly the moreso if you’re a Christian woman who is open to the idea that chicks are as good as dudes.[5]

[1] You know, I never did finish that series, and I regularly forget I ever read most of them. They were way worse than Narcissus in Chains, but failed to trigger the sin of unmet expectations in my head. So, oops on that?[2]
[2] My hand to, um, God, that statement was not intended as a sop. It’s just on my mind now.
[3] She would be talking about an event, and state that as the event was happening, it occurred to her that it tied in to this other previous event or to this metaphor that she’d recently been considering regarding her spiritual changes.[4] And the thing is, I’m sure that happened sometimes, but she says it so often that I eventually became unwilling to believe it really happened right then, and not far later as she was gathering her thoughts and her notes in order to tell her story. I try to be a fairly thoughtful person about my actions and motivations, but I’m not always on like she would have to have been. (And she certainly might have been anyway, it’s just so far outside my experience that it grew to bug me.)
[4] I feel so petty even complaining about this! But is it genuine pettiness, or is it gender-guilt? You decide! (I think it’s genuine pettiness, for my part.)
[5] I’ve gotten in trouble for saying this before, so I feel obligated to clarify. “as good as” can be taken as loaded language, but I don’t believe it to be so. Our societal problem is that men are perceived as being more valuable (your quantifiable or qualifiable scale of choice here) than women. Changing that perception necessarily, I would claim, requires that the value placed on women rises. The value placed on men could instead fall, but there are all kinds of psychological and sociological reasons why I feel that would be the lesser of the two choices.

Doomsday

Spring is a weird time for movies. I mean, usually not for me, because it’s often full of horror options, but it feels like there are fewer this year than usual, and thusly I join the ranks of people for whom spring is a weird time for movies. Or I could get off my ass and start catching up on the horror movies that are available to me, but I’m getting way the hell off topic here. What I’m actually trying to say is, there are all kinds of movies that I sort of want to see, enough to keep me going twice a week for probably the next month solid. But there are practically no movies that I want to see so badly that I can immediately point at the listing and say, “That’s the one, no question, how are we not already eating popcorn?!” I suppose this also happens a little bit in the fall, but by then I’m so glutted on summer fare that I barely notice.

This is the exact situation that occurred on Monday, after having dismissed the pointlessly bad movies about high school kids using underground mixed martial arts competitions as a metaphor for growing up and the flooded with Spring-Breakers kid flicks. The remaining options were Vantage Point, wherein a lot of people witness and try to unravel a Presidential assassination, and Doomsday, wherein a semi-recognizable actress faces off against post-apocalyptic Scotland. I wanted to see both in a vague sort of way without expecting awesome out of either of them, but we ended up going with Doomsday because it was showing earlier, and also because there’s clearly something about post-apocalyptica that revs my engine.

Apparently, sometime later this year a flesh-ravaging deadly virus breaks out in Edinburgh, say, and England walls off Scotland to contain it. Then thirty years pass. Now the virus has resurfaced in London, and tough-as-nails hot chick Rhona Mitra is sent behind the wall with a small military team on a suicide mission to recover a cure that has only been speculated to exist. What follows is an adrenaline-filled hodge-podge of politics, cannibalism, pole-dancing, gladiatorial combat, piercings, and car chases populated by every single person that’s seen Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and really wished they’d been old enough to be an extra when it came out. And if the Road Warrior motif doesn’t float your boat, things change directions in an equally awesome way about two-thirds of the way in. All this, plus gory sensibilities and a slick, dark sense of humor surprised me out of my former blasé attitude into having genuine fun at every turn. If the summer were not exclusively reserved for sequels these days, Doomsday would have been a perfect July action flick, and you should consider it an early treat for 2008’s season.

The Signal

I’ve been sitting on this review for a goodly while now, and it’s just not getting any easier to proceed with. Some of the delays were valid, some were due to being busy, but still mostly I’ve just been stuck. Somehow or other I caught wind of this indie horror film, The Signal. Very limited release (two theaters in the area), interesting concept reminiscent of Cell by Stephen King, and some of the descriptions implied that it was also very funny. Which sounds like basically everything I’d want out of a movie. I even talked Jessica into going, though she claims to find such movies far too scary. (And yet she watched 28 Days Later. This is a dichotomy that warrants further consideration.)

So, one night in the thematically named city of Terminus, a staticky image appears on all of the televisions (which are turning themselves on), and staticky sounds emerge from all of the cellphones, landlines, and airwaves. And after a very short period of time, some people are affected. The short description is that they’re all going crazy, but from the characters that we got to spend time with, I’d say instead that they are all being amplified. Whatever primary emotion they are feeling, be it resentment, jealousy, fear, concern, most everything is being blown out of all proportions, such that people are wandering the halls and the streets, committing wanton murder. In the midst of this, we are presented with a love triangle between a woman, her husband, and her lover, which is an excellent use of the background space, particularly after the husband seems slightly unhinged even before any serious effects of the signal are being felt. The story is told in three parts, one from the perspective of each member of the triangle, which is potentially interesting. And it is written by three different writers, which is more or less disastrous. The first portion focuses on the fear and claustrophobia of both the external and internal situations, and was extremely well done. The second portion is a black comedy, and also extremely well done, except for how little it fits with the first act. And the finale is a surrealist nightmare which was possibly well done, except that it failed to match the previous two acts in a new and different way, as well as suffering from the modern short story’s flaw of going all confusing right at the end and allowing you to draw your own conclusions about What Really Happened. That choice is so far outside the horror genre that I have no choice but to be offended and rule the movie lame. Which is a pity, as prior to the last ten minutes, flawed or not, it had at least been constantly interesting.

The Walking Dead: The Calm Before

After two volumes in a row with serious action and plot movement, it was almost inevitable that the newest Walking Dead graphic novel would be a rebuilding affair, and naming it The Calm Before both tightens up that promise and simultaneously swears that the next issue (delayed to April, but still probably within range of my not having to wait for it to be released to read it) will have the most plot action yet. Normally this would not do me much good, but for a change I was a bit relieved that Rick Grimes and companions have been given a respite. Not only that, but Kirkman’s writing in the series is improving both in terms of sustained character growth and of maintaining a good action balance even in the quieter stretches.

For a book that I’m painting as mostly quiet, a lot of things happened! Will our heroes grow so focussed on the external threat posed by the next town over that they start taking things for granted and lose track of the more prosaic, daily threat posed by the ravening zombie hordes that always wait just beyond the fences of their self-imposed prison? Will Lori Grimes’ pregnancy end in happiness or heartbreak for herself and Rick? Will the latest supply expedition return with the defensive measures that the survivors need now more than ever before? And one woman’s tenuous grip on sanity is poised at the breaking point…

Also, lots of sex.