Slip Inside The Eye Of Your Mind

Brothers KaramazovThe second novel I’ve read as part of my Classic Literature Challenge is The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s famous last novel.  Russian literature is fairly new to me (I’ve only ever read one other, The Idiot, also by Dostoevsky) but because of its considerable influence on authors around the globe (Christopher Hitchens, Franz Kafka, Albert Einstein, to name a few), I felt I owed it to myself as a lover of literature to give it a try.  And while certainly not quick or altogether easy, it is a thought-provoking and worthwhile read.

The book begins with the scoundrel Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov, a man of loose morals who has four sons between three different women, two of whom he married.  Both wives eventually died, leaving Pavlovitch to raise the boys they gave him, a task he passed off to relatives while he indulged in women and booze.  Little time is spent on their upbringing or on Pavlovitch’s misadventures.  The real story begins when the boys reach adulthood.  Dostoevsky tells every brother’s tale in turns, giving each their fair amount of time in the spotlight.  The oldest, Dmitri, enters into a doomed love triangle with his father and a disreputable woman whom one is never sure if she loves either father or son or is merely manipulating them both.  The middle son, Ivan, is a man of conviction and good sense and happens to fall in love with Dmitri’s ex-fiancee, the woman Dmitri scorned in favor of his father’s mistress.  And the youngest Karamazov, Alexey, is a kind, albeit naïve young man intent on entering the monastery.  Few who know him fail to love him, even Ivan, who is every bit as firm an atheist as Alexey is a true believer.  These two engage in long and interesting philosophical debates about their opposing views and while they add little to the book’s plot, they make for a provocative and entertaining read.  Fyodor Pavlovitch also has one illegitimate son, Smerdyakov, whose sad tale is told in detail and which plays a valuable role in the larger narrative.

With each of these men’s stories and that of a rather large subplot revolving around a young neighborhood boy, the son of a man Dmitri publicly shamed, who suddenly falls ill and seeks redemption in his final days from family and friends through Alexey, Dostoevsky paints a vivid picture of Russian life in the 19th century.  He explores themes and issues ranging from family to religion to social norms, even dipping a toe into political issues of the day.  His prose is easy enough to follow with the one exception being the interchangeable names of characters.  For example, Alexey is as often called Alyosha, Dmitri also goes by Mitya or Mitka, his mistress Agrafena is also called Grushenka or Grusha, and so on.  Almost every character has an alias or two that are used interchangeably and without explanation.  I admit it took some getting used to.  Otherwise, I had no trouble following the narrative.

Typical of 19th century Russian literature, The Brothers Karamazov is long-winded, sometimes exhaustingly so.  But it is also deeply philosophical, with a grand central theme suggesting that even our most minor actions can heavily influence the lives of others, and because of that, we are all responsible for one another.  I gave it 4 stars on goodreads because, though it is unnecessarily long and wordy, it is also extremely thought-provoking, dramatic and stirring.  If you’re looking for something to challenge your ideals and really make you think about what’s in the minds of others as well as your own, I recommend it.

~Nikki

If You’re Tired Of The Same Old Story, Oh, Baby, Turn Some Pages

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Here’s something that’s been weighing on my mind: it shocks me that Cabin In The Woods doesn’t have a much stronger following and I genuinely cannot come up with a reason for its lack of one.  I saw it twice in theaters and have watched it 3 times since it’s been an instant watch on Netflix.  I LOVED it during the first viewing and have found that even after a few more, it totally holds up.  The thing about it is that it’s fun and at times hilarious, while at others, really scary.  It’s a must-see for fans of the horror genre, like myself, while others who could take or leave horror will also enjoy it.

Longtime lovers of scary movies like me can appreciate all of the clever shout-outs to horror flicks of old.  In fact, Cabin In The Woods is kind of a tribute to the whole horror genre.  Writers Josh Whedon and Drew Goddard take every cliche and stereotype we’ve come to associate with scary movies and puts them all together AND supply a fun and interesting explanation for them.  They very smartly and creatively find a way to BOTH strictly follow the formula and make something completely original.  They somehow manage to make a horror flick that is every bit a generic horror flick, that is like every other horror flick ever made, while, simultaneously, taking that seemingly generic premise and using it to disassemble and reconfigure the formula we’ve seen in horror flicks since the spawn of the genre.  This film is so much more than a zombie movie or a slasher flick or even a supernatural story.  It is everything all at once.  And IT WORKS.  It even has some social relevance while still managing to never take itself too seriously.  In all honesty, I think it’s kind of perfect.

The acting is mostly good (I say mostly because there is one actor whose performance is slightly sub par – but hers is the ONLY one), good enough, in fact, to give these stereotypical characters surprising depth.  Like every other aspect of this film, they are two things at once: the cliched caricatures we’re used to seeing in scary movies and very much, well, not.  And in addition to the scary stuff, which is often pretty scary, there’s an abundance of excellent humor that lightens it up.  For this reason alone, it is definitely a crossover film: it appeals to fans of the horror genre and those who usually shy away from it.  There’s eye candy for all (I could make a sandwich with Chris Hemsworth and Jesse Williams) and even one completely awesome cameo by a woman who has become an icon in the sci-fi world.  Like I said, perfect.

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There’s also a big, big, big, big surprise ending that, for me, sets it apart from damn near every other film (horror or otherwise) I’ve seen.  It takes a lot of balls to end a movie in such a way and for that, kudos to Whedon and Goddard.  I’ve read that before the first screening, Whedon told the audience something like, “Enjoy it and then keep it to yourself.”  Because it’s very much like Fight Club in this way; the first, second and third rules about Cabin In The Woods are: You don’t talk about Cabin In The Woods.  To be less vague and disclose any more detail than I already have is to rob you of the sheer joy you’ll feel when you realize that this film is irrevocably and unapologetically going balls-to-the-wall, batshit bonkers.  This moment first shows itself in a scene in the second act that I call “The Purge” which is quite possibly the coolest fucking scene in any scary movie, EVER.  As well as frightening and funny and thrilling and wildly fun in a shit-yourself giddy kind of way all at the same time.  Which is in itself a rarity in any film and even more rare, is that I could use that same sentence to describe the movie itself.

If you’re a fan of horror flicks, you have to watch this.  If you’re not, you still should watch it because whether you care about all the details that pay homage to the genre or not, Cabin In The Woods is one wicked fun ride.

~Nikki

Hey Little Sister, What Have You Done

Your Sister's SisterI’ve always told my husband that among the many ways to be unfaithful, sleeping with my sister is the absolute unforgivable betrayal.  It’s hard to say why, exactly, because all cheating is wrong.  And while I like to think I am an open-minded person capable of forgiveness and grace, I feel entirely confidant that a tryst with my very own sister could not be overcome.  Not by me.  Which is why the premise of the indie flick Your Sister’s Sister initially put me off.  After catching it on HBO one random evening, however, it proved to me that nearly any idea, if executed properly, can make for a delightful movie.

Your Sister’s Sister tells a simple enough story (with one kind of big, unforeseen twist) but the charming performances and chemistry between the actors along with some mighty fine writing and pretty scenery make it exceptional.  In its opening scenes, we see Jack (Mark Duplass) and Iris at a memorial for Jack’s brother, who we learn later was once Iris’s boyfriend.  Jack and Iris have since formed a tight friendship, so when it becomes apparent that Jack isn’t handling the loss of his brother well, Iris convinces him to take a holiday at the cabin her family owns to clear his head and properly grieve.  He arrives at the cabin late at night to find Iris’s sister, Hannah, who’s staying there temporarily to heal from a bad break-up from her long-time girlfriend.  Even though Hannah is a lesbian, she and Jack sleep together after emptying a bottle of wine and sharing their tales of woe.  Iris shows up unexpectedly the next morning, after which Jack asks Hannah to keep their encounter a secret for fear it would make things awkward between he and Iris, a request Hannah readily agrees to.  Until, of course, Iris confides in her that she is in love with Jack.

Like I said, a fairly predictable plot.  Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt as Iris and Hannah have genuine sisterly chemistry, so much so that you barely bother asking yourself why one has an English accent and the other an American one.  It doesn’t matter; they are entirely believable as sisters.  And each has charismatic chemistry with Duplass, who plays his role with such warmth and sincerity, he never falls into the obvious trap of the creepy perv who wants to sleep his way through a family.  Having sex with a man who has also had sex with my sister is such a vile idea to me that I was surprised at my willingness to look past this and root for Jack and Iris to end up together.  It’s truly a testament to the superb performances as well as the fine direction.  Writer/director Lynn Shelton knows how to pace a story.  She takes just enough time with the unfolding of events that it neither feels rushed nor unnecessarily slow.  Instead, it feels natural and organic.  What happens between these three people and their reactions to it are wholly believable.

I did wonder how all three of them were financially able to spend such a lengthy amount of time at a remote cabin and not lose their jobs or get evicted from their homes but this is such a minor discrepancy, I feel silly for even bringing it up.  They never bother to explain it because it isn’t relevant to the plot.  I admit it sounds unrealistic but who knows, maybe they have the kinds of jobs you can do from home.  Or maybe they’re between jobs.  Maybe they had a bunch of vacation time saved up.  It just doesn’t matter.  The flick is so irresistibly charming, it’s more than easy to look past it.

Your Sister’s Sister is not on EW’s “50 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” list, but it should be.

~Nikki

My Head’s Stuck On Repeat

TAAM bookThe Average American Male by Chad Kultgen has been hailed as a brutally honest insight into the typical male mind.  As a woman, of course this caught my attention.  A book written by a man that shows what men are really thinking?  Seemed worth a read to me.  So when I saw it on the bargain rack at my local B&N, I picked it up.  Several hours of reading later, what I gained from Kultgen’s supposedly honest depiction of the average man is an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I happened to be born female because if most men really do think this way, it must be mind-numbingly boring to be a man.

Having been a woman my whole life, there is no way for me to know with any degree of certainty whether this novel truly does do men justice but it seemed to me an exaggeration for shock value.  I know men think about sex A LOT and probably more than most women but according to this book, it’s damn near ALL they think about.  And not just simple thoughts like, “Whoa, she’s hot” or “I’d like to fuck her” but bizarre details like, “I wonder what her asshole looks like.”  Really?  Never in my life have I wondered what someone’s asshole looks like.  Not even my own.  The twenty-something male protagonist of this story directs his perverse thoughts at EVERY. SINGLE. WOMAN. he meets.  During a chance encounter with a mentally handicapped woman, he privately wonders if she even knows how to suck cock.  In fact, he wonders this about every female he comes across, even the mother of his girlfriend.  I didn’t actually count, but I’d bet the phrase “suck my cock” (or a variation of it) probably showed up 375 times in this less than 200 page book.  The same can be said of the term “blow my load.”  These things didn’t offend or repulse me so much as they quickly bored me to death.  If it weren’t for the book’s short length, I doubt I would have been able to finish it.

Because – here’s the other thing about this novel that made it hard to get through – NOTHING happens.  Every chapter begins with the narrator going out somewhere, coming across any number of women and having the same two or three thoughts.  After chapter 3 or 4, reading about this guy’s curiosity over every woman’s ability to suck a dick or willingness to take it in the ass got really old.  By the end of the story, the only thing that had changed was that the unnamed main character had switched out one girlfriend for another.  Though he claimed to have no interest in marriage or parenthood, he proposes to his girlfriend on the book’s last page because he comes to the realization that all women are essentially the same.  They’ll all want a wedding and babies eventually.  They’ll all get fat.  They’ll all stop sucking his cock after a few months or  maybe years.  They’ll all lose interest in sex.  So, why not marry the one he’s with now since he knows he’ll never find a woman capable of fulfilling his sexual needs over the long-term?  And this is the only shred of honesty, of true insight that The Average American Male has to offer.  On its very last page.

Whether it’s a true look into the male psyche or not, I can’t recommend this book to anyone.  Maybe Kultgen’s lead character is a satirical exaggeration.  Maybe it’s meant to be funny.  Maybe I just didn’t get it.  This may very well be the case.  I think this book was a best-seller and has since spawned a sequel, The Average American Marriage.  (Needless to say, I won’t bother with that one.)  The Average American Male even has a youtube video that is quite popular as well, so it seems something here went over my head.  Like, wayyyy over my head because I didn’t find a word of this book entertaining or intriguing in the least.  None of the characters were developed enough to make me feel anything and there was literally no plot.  The vast majority of the time, I was bored and had to force myself to get through it.  So, for now, it’s back to the classics for me.

~Nikki

Imagine All The People Sharing All The World

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One of my co-workers recently visited NYC for the first time.  A born and raised Midwesterner, she remarked that while she enjoyed visiting The Big Apple, she much preferred the slower, more comfortable (and affordable) Midwest pace.  The comment struck a chord with me because I happened to have just read a particular passage from author Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine regarding metropolitan life and its effects on the individual.

Imagine is an excellent read about how creativity works, more particularly, what works and what doesn’t (and why) as far as making people creatively productive and efficient.  (Expect a full review soon.)  This creativity doesn’t refer only to artistic types but to every single person and it can be expressed in painting or writing or creating music or it can lead to innovative ideas, scientific discoveries or useful inventions.  Sometimes it means old ideas applied in new ways, giving rise to new and exciting uses for things we already have.  And according to Lehrer, people who live in densely packed cities tend to have more creatively productive lives than those who live in more sparsely populated communities.

Put simply, urban life produces more creative people.  Cities, as it turns out, are more than just masses of buildings with high rents and tiny spaces.  They are typically populated by people from all walks of life who are forced, because of the lack of open space, to interact with each other pretty much daily.  They are a kind of dance during which any given person will interact with a number of new people everyday.  Apartments and shops and restaurants fill every block which means that different kinds of people are out on the street for different reasons at various times throughout the day.  The end result is that each resident is exposed to a much wider range of people in their day-to-day lives.  This kind of diversity leads to the expansion of each city-dweller’s base of knowledge which promotes new ideas (or old ideas being applied in new ways).

This concept has been studied by physicists and mathematicians who have uncovered a pattern so uniform, they’ve even applied an equation to it.  And it hasn’t failed once.  They’ve measured every socioeconomic variable from per capita income to the productions of patents and each variable scales to an exponent of 1.15.  The exponent is greater than 1, which means that a person living in a city of 1 million should make 15% more money and come up with 15% more patents than someone living in a city of 500,000.  The correlations between the size of the city in which one lives to that individual’s own creative output is linear.  The bigger the city, the more productive its residents.  And because each person is more creatively productive and more and different people are forced to interact with one another almost daily, the city itself becomes an inexhaustible source of ideas.  People challenge and inspire each other and the greater the diversity of the people, the greater the diversity of their ideas and innovations.

Sometimes these forced interactions are unpleasant or uncomfortable.  Anyone who’s been to NYC can tell you that New Yorkers aren’t known for being balls of inspired sunshine.  But even the unpleasant exchanges produce higher rates of productivity because they break up our thought processes.  It’s the same reason behind the notion that if you get stuck on a concept or find yourself in the midst of some kind of mental block, you should get up and go for a walk or do 20 push-ups or just step outside for some fresh air.  The concept being that you need to disrupt your train of thought.  People who live in densely packed cities are constantly disrupted by collisions, pleasant or otherwise, with others.  It’s unavoidable.  And it leads to the disruption of our thoughts which very often leads to new, more creative ones.

Life in the big city certainly comes at a cost, though, and some, like my above-mentioned co-worker, don’t find it worth it.  The cost of everything from your monthly rent to the price of a gallon of milk is significantly higher.  There are more crowds everywhere you go, limited space in restaurants and venues, higher crime rates, more competition for jobs and schools, etc.  And the big city lifestyle simply doesn’t appeal to a great many people.  And yet many people do move to bigger cities everyday and likely for the reasons explained above.  They want to meet new people, make more money and generally create more and new opportunities for themselves.  According to the proven equations outlined in Lehrer’s Imagine, those people will generate more creative output over the course of their lives.

So my question for you, dear reader, is this: which is more important to you, a more creatively productive life or a more comfortable lifestyle?

~Nikki

Tonight Is Just Your Night

I promise I’ll have an actual post for you tomorrow but for now, please feast your eyes on Jimmy Fallon and John Krasinski throwing it down in a lip syncing contest (you read that right) that covers both Katy Perry and RUN-D.M.C. and ends with Krasinski belting out a ballad from one of the best quartets ever to record music.

Seriously, I wish my job included acting like a goofball on national television with hilarious people while getting paid shit tons of $$$.

~Nikki

The Beginning Of The End

For those of you who may not know, Dexter is nearly at its end.  A great many folks out there feel this is overdue but I have enjoyed every season of the show so far.  Some more than others, of course, but I haven’t yet tired of it.  That being said, this is the series’s 8th season and god knows where else they could take our beloved serial killer.  I do NOT want to see him die, but I fear it’s inevitable.  I can’t decide whether I want it to be by Deb’s hands or not.

Here’s a combination trailer for both Dexter and Showtime’s newest series, Ray Donovan:

If you happen to be like me and simply can’t wait, you’re in luck.  Showtime released a 2 minute long sneak peak at the upcoming and final season of Dexter:

Timely or not, I hate goodbyes.

~Nikki