There Are Places I Remember…

I have to admit that I’ve strayed from the classics lately.  My reviews of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Metamorphosis are on their way but since finishing them, I have derailed a bit.  I’m nearly finished with World War Z (and loving every word!) and have also read the latest from author Neil Gaiman, you know… the reigning king of science fiction.  His work is typically dark and loaded with symbolism, not to mention supremely well-written and somehow, I managed to get my hands on his latest novel, a lovely little read called The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

TOATEOTL coverLike most of his fiction, TOATEOTL is part sci-fi, part fantasy, part fairy tale.  Steeped in myth and mystery, it will transport you to that precocious time in life when you were too smart to be called a child yet too naive and inexperienced to be deemed a young adult.  Told through the eyes of a 7 year-old who is depicted like a real kid, not a tiny adult or an unrealistically innocent dunce, as children are often portrayed in books, Gaiman hooks you on page one with this clever, nostalgic, naive, yet never-too-simple narrator.  Like real children, he’s a kid who at times, shows deep maturity and at others, childish innocence.

It is set in Sussex, England and begins with the narrator as an adult, returning to his hometown to attend a funeral.  While there, he wanders back through his old neighborhood and eventually visits an old farm on which his childhood friend, an extraordinary girl called Lettie Hempstock, lived with her mom and grandmother.  What he remembers is a story so remarkably strange and exciting but also dark and frightening, it’s a wonder how he ever forgot it.  I will say no more because as wonderful as this story is, a very big part of its charm lies in discovering it, page by page.

I breezed through its 180 pages within three days, hardly able to put it down.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a delight to read, making you remember what it felt like when you were old enough to know certain things about the world but still young enough to believe in endless possibilities, when every corner of the earth held more mystery and wonder than your imagination could keep up with.

~Nikki

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The Galaxy Defenders

Men in Black (franchise)

Men in Black (franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you remember the first two films in the Men in Black franchise? Because I sure as hell don’t (Sheesh, it was only 15 years ago). In the new millennium we’re used to our sequels getting green-lit before the first entry is even done filming. Perhaps it’s the large time gap between films, my low expectations, or the fact that I literally cannot remember a single plot point from the first two, but for my money, Men in Black 3 was an enjoyable summer weekend flick. And one that I think will stick with me more than the others.

The film opens in a badass lunar prison where the head Pussycat Doll (Nicole Sherzinger, looking siiick), breaks the head Flight of the Conchord (Jemaine Clement) out of the clink. It’s a killer scene – gross, funny, brash, colorful, and interesting. And a fun way to jump right in to MIB3‘s nifty plot: Clement’s Boris the Animal is a nasty, last-of-his-race killer who Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) put in jail in 1969. But not before Boris loses an arm in the fight leading up to his arrest. Now, Boris wants to go back in time to the day before all this happened, so he can kill K, keep his arm, and never be sent to prison. Oh yeah, and destroy Earth in the process, because of course. So begins Will Smith’s journey back to the summer of ’69 to stop Boris and save his partner.

A huge point in this film’s assets category is the cast. It’s always good to see Jones, as he does disgruntled and grumpy better than almost anybody. Emma Thompson is here, as the department head “O”, and as always, I get gloriously happy when she’s on screen. I’d like to audition her for the real-life role of my mom, or fun aunt, or basically a human I can have an interaction with. She doesn’t have a lot to do here, but it’s a’ight, cause I love her whole being. Jemaine Clement is chewing the shit up as the disgusting and horrifying Boris. He disappears into the role (as he’s under makeup/some CGI stuff, two buttons for his eyes, and is snarling for the entirety of the film), but I kept thinking, “who IS that?”, as his distinctive jaw and voice were still there. Maybe the only guy who didn’t do it for me was Will Smith himself, which wasn’t really even that big of a deal. He’s there to drop some jokes, and guide us through the story, which he does, capably. I just think that we might all be getting too old (including the Fresh Prince himself) for his frenetic, sarcastic shtick.

The real smoking gun here is Josh Brolin, who becomes the human hammer and NAILS IT as the younger K. The inflection, the stillness, the gaze, it’s all there – along with a tad more youth and happiness. It’s a great performance,  and doesn’t deserve to be forgotten about amidst the sea of summer films. Smith’s Agent J kept talking about how much lighter and less burdened young K was, as it’s alluded throughout that something must have happened that made K “the way he was” in the future, i.e., something tragic that changed him. Brolin brings a level of “before” to K that felt organic and true to the character we met in the late 90s.

The rest of the film centers around J going back to stop Boris, and there are certainly some funny moments. Bill Hader has a cameo as Andy Warhol (who of course was an actual alien, as are all models). J and young K’s differences still ring cute, as their chemistry is quite similar to when J is paired with older K, which is to the film’s credit. Some jokes were a tad clunky (the Asian restaurant owner, ehhhhhh), but we genuinely laughed many times.

The time travel aspect of the film seemed mostly sound to me. Things always get a bit tricky when you’re testing the boundaries of what makes sense, and while I admit I haven’t tried to really tax my brain too hard to find a chick in the timeline armor, nothing stood out as a huge gaping wormhole of wrong. The guys pick up a straggler along the way, a Robin Williams look-alike named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), who is an alien that can simultaneously see every possible path to every possible future for any given situation at every single moment. He’s a sweet little character who guides us through the rest of the (more emotional) last third of the film.

I chose to catch this in the third dimension, and I’m so glad I did, as this is one film that’s worth the extra $5. There are enough scenes featuring flying, jumping off of buildings, and speeding through streets to keep it fun and zippy. Plus, you KNOW you want to see the moon launch in 3D!

Free images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ah yes, the moon launch. The film’s climax takes place at Cape Canaveral, and while some of it was a tad eye-rolling (I need to just accept already and move past the fact that in action movies regular humans can jump like they have supernatural powers), it’s also fairly exciting. I knew the day would be saved, but I wasn’t sure how, and there ended up being a twist I didn’t see coming; I’ll be damned if it didn’t bring a tear to my eye.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen (what a name) kept things moving briskly, and this puppy stays below the 2-hour mark, which I appreciate, as I’ve got a life. With a fun, capable cast, a fairly original storyline that actually made sense, and characters you care about, MIB3 was a great way to kick off the summer blockbuster season.

~Annie


You Look Inside My Wild Mind

George RR Martin at the Comicon

George RR Martin at the Comicon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I read something today that filled me with the most wonderful, affirming, goosebumpy, brain-gasm rush of-“YES!! SOMEBODY GETS IT!”-feelings I’d experienced in quite a while. The current issue of Rolling Stone has the terribly interesting and affecting Peter Dinklage on the cover, and features a fantastic interview with the actor, along with a smaller piece on George R.R. Martin – the man who created the character Dinklage has personified, Tyrion Lannister, in the fantastic series of books, A Song of Fire and Ice, upon which the current kick-ass HBO series, A Game of Thrones, is based. I highly recommend picking up the issue and reading both pieces. Basically, everything Martin said was fascinating and rich and struck chords in my soul, but his final paragraph nestled inside my heart like a snuggly baby kitten who had found a bed of warm fleece blankets and a saucer of milk:

“I never saw the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock or the parties on Gatsby’s lawn, but they seemed more vivid than things I actually lived. If we are the sum of our experiences, as I believe we are, then books are a more important part of my life than my actual life. That’s what I try to do with my own fiction: Fill the stories with imaginary people who will become more real to my readers than the people in their lives.”                         George R.R. Martin, Rolling Stone                                  

To this, sir, I say: Thank you for hitting the nail on the head regarding how lots of us feel about things that are not, quote, “real,” and also, your mission has most definitely been accomplished.

~Annie

A Warning to the People, the Good and the Evil…

… This is War.

To quote 30 Seconds To Mars, of course. 😉

Cover of "A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ic...

Cover via Amazon

It most certainly is, in the freaking masterful epic A Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice, #1), by the nerdly (it’s a compliment, people!) George R.R. Martin (I’m gonna assume the R.R. is to make the masses immediately think of Tolkien, which is a cheap trick, and actually made me initially think LESS of the series, but no matter).  This is the first in an ongoing fantasy series that will potentially contain seven volumes, with five already published.  I say potentially because apparently there are a lot of people who think Martin won’t live to finish the series.  Yikes.  To say this series has some passionate fans, is putting it mildly.

I would say I’m a admirer of the fantasy genre, even though I’ve never read the pinnacle – The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I did read The Hobbit as a pre-teen, which I enjoyed, but it was more due to the pictures than the story (I had THIS awesome, fully illustrated version), and when I attempted to read The Fellowship of the Ring, my brain just gave out.  I’d get to the bottom of a page, not remembering what I had just read.  Listen, I ADORE the films. ADORE.  And one day I plan on tackling the series (it’s in my to-read list!), but as of right now, I am giddy with excitement to continue reading this one.  Like, giddy.

Maybe you watched season 1 of the HBO adaptation.  Maybe you’ve never heard of this series at all.  Either way (unless, of course, you HATE fantasy stories), I highly recommend picking this up.  It’s like LOTR, but much easier to digest, and with much more gore, violence, a splash of sex, and layers of treachery unlike anything I’ve ever encountered.  The story revolves around an absolutely ASTRONOMICAL quantity of characters and storylines, in the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.  There are kings, queens, knights, supernatural beings, families, prostitutes, dragons, castles, awesome wolves, and somehow, everything is connected.  I think that’s what sets this series apart from others:  The scope is far larger than I could have even imagined, and it all still ties together.  Until you’re reading it, you won’t get it.

Martin may be a shut-in geek, but he gets human beings really well.  Like, even women. The series boasts some seriously awesome, strong, flat-out inspirational female characters. Two of the more major players are young sisters, and I can’t get over how fully fleshed out each girl is.  They don’t feel like stock girl characters written from an unknowing male brain – they feel like REAL girls.  And Daenerys Targaryan Fire and Blood (Game of Thrones)(obviously, being an “epic fantasy”, everybody’s got whacked out, mostly unpronounceable monikers) is a fan favorite – her story will absolutely blow you away.

With such a massive cast of characters, I don’t know how he keeps everyone straight, let ALONE give them all unique personalities.  Characteristics also line up with whole families: the Starks are loyal, the Lannisters conniving, to name a couple, out of hundreds.  I found a quote online where someone said something to the effect of they know more about the history of this world than our own.  If I had one complaint, I guess the large quantity of characters would be it.  It can get crazy damn confusing keeping all the Aemon’s and Aegeon’s and Arryn’s and about 50 other 5-letter A-names straight.  There are AT LEAST 150 characters in the first book.  And from what I hear, the scope only explodes outward as you go on.  But this is a minor complaint, because I’ve never read anything like this before.

English: George R. R. Martin at the 2011 Time ...

Another unique and one of my favorite aspects of this book is how each chapter is told from the point of view of a different character.  This allows you to keep up with everyone, everywhere.  There is truly no main character, just a huge list of very prominent ones. But knowing from each chapter title (the character’s name) who you’re going to be hanging with for a half hour or so is a nifty way to tell a story, and really aids in keeping you invested in the grand scheme of things.

I kind of can’t say enough good things about this series, so I’ll shut up for now.  I just hope that if you’re interested in any of the above items, even remotely, you’ll pick this up.  I’ll leave you with one of many flippin’ awesome quotes:

“Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?”
“That is the only time a man can be brave.”

~Annie

May Your Guiding Light Be Strong

Let me start by saying: I liked it.  I’m glad I read it.  I do recommend it to others.  I like the premise and the many interesting ideas it invokes.  There, that’s out of the way.

The novel The Postmortal by Drew Magary is told mostly through journal entries and a few news articles.  The main character is a 27 year-old lawyer who goes to a black market doctor to get “the cure.”  That is, the genetic cure for aging that is discovered in 2019.  At first illegal, the cure brings about a sense of promise and, possibly, eternal youth.  Of course, it becomes available illegally for a hefty price until so many have gotten it and hundreds of others angrily protest that the government decides to legalize it.  There are some who oppose the cure, and with good reason.  And this is the book’s saving grace: the short and long term effects of a global society that doesn’t age and, for the most part, doesn’t die.  (People can still die of injury, cancer, heart attack, etc.  Just not old age and its related diseases.)  Divorce rates sky rocket and marriage becomes obsolete since till death do us part now means hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of years.  Many people lose the desire to work for anything, choosing instead to spend decades traveling because, hey, they’ll be able to work and save money later.  Military enrollment hits a record low despite the fact that wars have become a necessity for no other reason than to thin out the population.  In fact, the term population control takes on a much more sinister meaning.

Sounds really interesting, doesn’t it?  Yeah, I thought so, too.  The problem for me is that there is a lack of both character development (something I love above all else, if done well) AND plot.  There’s no real main conflict or, therefore, resolution.  You know, that which drives any good story.  It’s neither character-driven nor plot-driven.  It’s a premise-driven novel.  A very good premise, but still, any story that inspires true passion and/or adoration has a solid plot and well-developed characters.  This book has neither.

Every well-told story has a central plot.  Generally, it’s introduced within the first quarter of the story, it builds and builds, growing more complicated until, finally, it reaches some sort of climax and then, a resolution.  Characters may come and go, other less-important/exciting subplots may be introduced and later resolved, but they all add to or revolve around the One Central Plot.  It is the glue that holds it all together and, hopefully, keeps the reader reading.

The Postmortal has no glue.  It is one subplot after another.  Intriguing, often engrossing, sometimes thought-provoking subplots, but not necessarily connected to each other, which makes for a choppy read.  No main plot appears at any point, so the whole book is driven by this really cool idea, but nothing else.  The idea is great and rife with possibilities but none of those possibilities are realized because the awesome idea remains just an idea, floating in the air without any plot to fully develop it.  And, cool as it is, it still wasn’t enough (for me) to fill 300 pages.

Not that I only read plot-driven books.  On the contrary, some of my most cherished novels are character-driven.  Being the literary nerd that I am, I usually prefer character-driven books.  The Postmortal, unfortunately, is lacking here as well.  The main character never gets personal enough (especially odd since he tells the story mostly through journal entries) for the narrative to feel intimate and what we know of his personality (and that of every character in this book, for that matter), we know because we are told, not shown.  Which, of course, keeps us readers from really connecting to the characters or their lives.

All in all, I do recommend it.  It explores the effects of an ageless society and Magary brings up issues I wouldn’t have thought of.  I guess I just wish he’d have picked one idea to fully develop instead of broadly addressing many.  And maybe given me a little more insight into the substance of his characters.

~Nikki