12.31.2006

Children of Men

Imagine a time in the not-so-distant future when we have lost the ability to conceive children. Blame it on pollution, on science, on God -- some people are beyond pointing fingers, now, and they're simply trying to deal with the imminent demise of the human race. The world has, essentially, erupted in war and violence. England has sealed its borders and, in an effort to cleanse itself, is deporting any and all illegal immigrants that manage to escape the horrors of the outside world. As a result, various underground terrorist organizations fight for immigrant rights. Homeland Security is everywhere and ads flash scenes of the apocalypse around the world before declaring, "Only Britain soldiers on."
This is the world in which Children of Men is set. What makes it frightening is that it doesn't seem all that implausible. True, the air seems thicker with pollution, which makes everything take on a slightly grayer tone and there's the rubble of war, but otherwise, it appears to be a slightly crumbled version of the present.
Clive Owen plays Theo, a beaten-down government employee who was an activist in his past. Now he works and occassionally visits an older friend, Jasper (Michael Caine), who used to be a political cartoonist and now he sells weed to Homeland Security officers. Theo's "day begins with a cup of coffee, an ear-shattering explosion and a screaming woman holding her severed arm." No one makes much of a fuss about it, though, on the news as there's a bigger story: the youngest person on the planet has been killed by a fan after refusing to sign an autograph. When they report how old he was, they speak in terms of years, months, days and minutes.
While everything might seem bleak, this is a story about hope. Theo is kidnapped by the Fishes, a terrorist organization that is run by his ex, Juilan (Julianne Moore). Through Julian, he meets Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), a refugee and the first pregnant woman in 18 years. Theo eventually agrees to help obtain travelling papers and accompany Kee on a journey that will hopefully place her in the protective custody of the Human Project, a mythical organization that is working to reverse the global infertility issue.
Have I mentioned that this is directed by Alfonso Cuarón? I should have mentioned that right off because even people who don't know much about movies should be raving about the fantastic directing. You may remember his dark Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the uplifting A Little Princess, or his incredibly sexy Y Tu Mamá También. This is perhaps his darkest work (that I've seen) and yet at its heart is this story of flickering hope. He slowly focuses on on that hope -- and our hero, Theo -- as the movie progresses and we cling to them both as Cuaron pulls through this world in shots that last over five minutes that are presented without a single visible cut as explosions and gunfire rock the scene.

It's all impressive and I only hope there's recognition for it as the members of the Academy fill in those Oscar ballots.

12.30.2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

There's literally nothing that I can say about this movie that hasn't already been said. I haven't seen a lot of Sacha Baron Cohen's work, though I've heard enough guyfriends (mostly Jews) sing "Throw the Jew Down the Well" that I felt I knew at least something. Normally, I embarass easily on behalf of others, but I didn't get that same feeling here -- though I am glad that they didn't do anything awful to the elderly Jewish couple. It was certainly entertaining and I had braced myself for something more intense. As an idea, one must admit, it's pretty impressive. Here's the NY Times review, like you haven't seen the movie already.

12.29.2006

France v. US

From the International Herald Tribune, "a French author's singular take on America's pluralistic cultural life."

Skating in New York

Strap on the skates and take to the rink with the NY Times.

Children of the Brand

Since it's the holiday season, how about an article on children and consumerism?

It won't help the problem...

It's been ages since I checked toothpastefordinner.com and so forgive me for the fact that this cartoon was posted ages ago and I just came across it now.

The Painted Veil

The Painted Veil jumped up to the top of my list mainly because of the movie's release, but also as a result of the fact that my education thus far has been entirely devoid of W. Somerset Maugham. I shall certainly be reading more of his work after this. My initial response to the book was one of dissatisfaction, but my thoughts frequently drift to particular images or scenes that, given individual consideration were rather lovely. On top of that, I seem to keep telling people about it, which must mean something. I think my ultimate assessment is that I didn't necessarily think that the novel was great, but I loved the story.

Kitty is a beautiful young woman with a rather grand view of herself, despite the fact that she isn't particularly intelligent or witty. She's vain and selfish and has been raised to like games, society, and a certain style of living. She marries not for love or money, but because her younger (less attractive) sister suddenly becomes engaged to a man with a title and Kitty fears that her options are running out. Kitty's uncaring mother (who is constantly striving to mix with better people and push her unambitious husband into higher positions) had high hopes for her beautiful, elder daughter, but as with other things in her life, she ends up disappointed and would rather Kitty marry anyone than remain dependent on her parents. So Kitty chooses Dr. Walter Fane, a bacteriologist who works in Hong Kong. Quiet, reserved, and not terribly handsome, he only speaks when he has something to say. (Kitty reflects at one time "if nobody spoke unless he had something to say ... then the human race would very soon lose the use of speech.") He is, however, polite and worships her: "He would do anything in the world to please her. He was like wax in her hands." When alone with his wife, though, he is incredibly emotional. He uses baby talk and when she playfully chides him, he becomes tense and self-conscious. He doesn't offend or irritate Kitty, "he left her indifferent."
After the honeymoon and upon arrival in Hong Kong, Kitty becomes easy prey for Charles Townsend, the popular Assistant Colonial Secretary, and they soon embark on an affair. Kitty falls madly in love with him and, of course, Walter finds out. He informs her that he has signed up to go into the middle of a cholera epidemic. When Kitty realizes that he means for her to accompany him, she refuses, saying that it would surely kill her. Walter, finally acknowledging that he knows of her affair, tells her that if she does not, he will divorce her on the grounds of adultery and name Charles Townsend as her lover. He then offers her the opportunity to divorce him -- but only if Townsend promises in writing that his wife will agree to divorce him, too, and then Townsend and Kitty will marry. Kitty hurries to Townsend to tell him this but he quietly refuses to bring his wife into things. Kitty realizes only too late that Walter never meant to divorce her -- he meant for her to see what a unworthy coward she has fallen in love with.
Kitty goes with her husband (asking if she needs to pack anything more than a few summer things and a shroud) and the rest of the plot concerns itself with her reaction to losing her lover, ongoing marriage with a suddenly distant husband, discovery that she is pregnant (and unable to identify the father), and isolation in a cholera-infested village. Faced with her own incredible loneliness and the example set by a group of French nuns, Kitty comes to a new awareness of how shallow and selfish she is, but she also recognizes that most people live a similar existence.

The back of my edition says "The Painted Veil is a beautifully written affirmation of the human capacity to grow, to change, and to forgive." I must admit that this wouldn't be my first impression of what this book meant to me. What struck me most was the incredible sadness of the lives people created for themselves, hurting and isolating each other to make everyone miserable. The novel took a very unromantic view of life and yet there's something lovely in Maugham's portrayal of the pain that one endures in life and the choices one makes.

I was also supremely struck by the poetic influences in this novel. There are two poems that play a large role. The first is from an unfinished sonnet by Shelley that is the source of the title:
Lift not the painted veil which those who live
Call Life: though unreal shapes be pictured there,
And it but mimic all we would believe
With colours idly spread, --- behind, lurk Fear
And Hope, twin Destinies; who ever weave
Their shadows, o'er the chasm, sightless and drear.
The second is a poem by Goldsmith that is directly referenced within the novel, "Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog" that you can find here.

As for the movie, I knew that it would provide the romantic resolution that did not come in the book. (Thankfully, I was not foolish enough to expect it of the book, yet I knew Hollywood would not fail me.) Having received the ending that I wanted, though, I was still unsatisfied -- and perhaps more so. With the story taking a decidedly different turn, one removes much of Maugham's purpose in the novel. Does this ruin things? Not necessarily... because really, it isn't the moral that one enjoys here, it's the story. Apparently, it was a similar true story that inspired Maugham and it's the story and characters that captivated me. Rather than focus on Kitty, the movie broadens its scope to present Kitty and Walter on a more equal footing. Edward Norton does a fantastic job as more a likable Walter (certainly one must have expected that from an excellent actor) and while Naomi Watts wasn't quite as spectacular, she certainly holds her own. Apparently Norton has been trying to bring this story to the screen for years and both he and Watts produced this. The tag line for the movie was "Sometimes the greatest journey is the distance between two people." Let that lead you in your assumption of the differences between the book and the movie.

Read the NY Times review here.

12.28.2006

Night at the Museum

The best part of this movie is the concept... history actually comes alive.
Realized in movie-form, it's perhaps a little less dazzling, but it's still an entertaining film. Ben Stiller plays a divorced father who also can't realize any dazzling ideas and, as a result, ends up moving apartments and changing jobs pretty frequently -- much too frequently for his son and his ex-wife. On the plus side she doesn't seem to hate her ex and her new husband (Paul Rudd is wasted here) seems to be a genuinely nice guy that isn't trying to usurp the role of world's best dad. Rather than lose the ability to have his son come and stay with him, Stiller takes a job as a night guard at the American Museum of Natural History. Along with a ring of keys, he's given a battered set of instructions and falls asleep after rapping into the loudspeaker system. When he wakes up, he realizes the giant skeleton of the t-rex is gone... and he finds it at the water fountain. Even though he figures out how to tame the beast, the rest of the museum is in chaos: the wax figures run loose, the stuffed animals prowl the halls, and the miniature figures wage war. Stiller has to figure out how to establish peace... and thwart a plot to steal priceless artifacts that would mean an end to the nighttime life of the museum displays.
My favorite plot in the movie is the miniature epic battle that's waged between the Western settlers (led by Owen Wilson) and the Roman soldiers (led by Steve Coogan). Those two actors have a fantastic chemistry akin to feuding brothers shouting, "He started it!" The movie also features the attractive history student (Carla Gugino) doing her dissertation on Sacagawea, the old guards (Dick Van Dyke, Mickey Rooney & Bill Cobbs), and the wax figure of Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) who helps Stiller navigate the museum.
I'm not a big Ben Stiller fan, but it's an educational kids movie and therefore, the normal things that I associate with Ben Stiller (disgusting bodily humor or sexual gags) were happily missing. Ultimately, it's nice to see anything that attracts attention to the Museum and hopefully people who see the movie will go and check out the Museum, too.

Check out the NY Times review here.
Oh, and on topic... what museum would you want to be locked into for a night? The Guardian blogs ask just this.

Writer asks to be taken off of Amazon UK

In an effort to draw attention to independent booksellers, children's author George Walker has asked to have his book removed from Amazon's UK stock.

Story is a metaphor for life...

The Guardian talks about Robert McKee, Story, and turning every day experiences into cash-generating commodities.

Trivia Books

Did you give or receive a trivia book this holiday season? If so, this article on trivia books and their place in the bookworld might interest you.

Strapless Bras

As you prepare to put on that strapless dress for New Year's Eve parties, the NY Times talks about strapless bras. No joke.

Brain Calisthenics?

From the NY Times:
Is there hope for your hippocampus, a new lease for your temporal lobe?
The article discusses what is certain to be a huge issue as the baby boom generation is in its golden years -- cognitive health and staving off deterioration of one's mental faculties.

New Yorker cartoons

If you bought books for people this Christmas, you may have noticed that The Complete Cartoons of the New Yorker book came out in paperback, a slightly more manageable gift than its bulky hardcover predecessor. You may have also noticed another book... The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in the New Yorker.

If the New Yorker cartoons are of any interest to you, here's an article from the Washington Post about what makes a cartoon worthy of the New Yorker. It discusses the Rejection Collection and the standards for selections.

Freudian Slip

Did Freud repress his desire for his sister-in-law? New evidence says no.

Do you believe, Mr. President?

The Weekly Standard on presidents and political convictions.

Harry Potter

It seems like even the people who haven't read Harry Potter have an opinion on whether or not Harry's going to die in the seventh (and final) book of the series. The Guardian put out a ridiculously short story to say most people expect Harry will die because they think he's the final horcrux. Good job on the non-story, Guardian.

2006 Picks

The Guardian wraps up the year with 2006 lists of hidden delights in the book world and, of course, films. And there's also a quiz on 2006 books...

Detective Stories

A penchant for detective stories and whodunits might reveal more about your character than you think. To satisfy the desire to solve crimes, the Guardian also published this short story.

Edwards Candidacy

John Edwards has declared his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Questions to Ask Before "I Do"

In honor of a friend announcing her engagement, I direct you all to this NY Times article about the questions every couple should ask before saying "I do." Mazel tov, Hannah!

12.27.2006

Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford, the 38th President of the United States, died at the age of 93.

More from the NY Times, Washington Post, Guardian, & Telegraph.

PS -- My mom mentioned that the things she remembered most about Ford's presidency were the Saturday Night Live sketches that came out and how Ford always acknowledged them and laughed. On cue, the NY Times writes about the Klutz in Chief and Chevy Chase.

12.24.2006

What's wrong with being a princess?

What's wrong with being a princess? If you're opposed to monarchies, I imagine you could come up with quite a lot... or if you're a feminist mother trying to teach her daughter that there's no need to rely on Prince Charming or pink merchandise, like this particular writer for the NY Times who examines the "trend" of princesses. Here's a mother wondering if, "to mangle Freud, maybe a princess is sometimes just a princess. And, as my daughter wants to know, what’s wrong with that?"

Here's my issue with Disney princesses. Why do they never have mothers? Why is it always an indulgent father and no mother in sight? The first Disney princess, Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), has a mother, but we dismiss her to the shadows. After that, it's apparently easier to simply do away with her than explain why she's not featured anywhere. Ariel's mother is nowhere to be found and she doesn't seem to have any acceptable feminist role models in her six older sisters. The stories of Cinderella and Snow White feature dead mothers and the introduction of an evil step-mother. No word on Jasmine's mom and ditto for Belle -- we assume death. Then we move on to the heroines who aren't princesses (and, let's also note, not Aryan white girls). Pocahontas's father is the chief of the tribe and Mulan's is a respected, older warrior. Pocahontas appears to have no mother, but Mulan has a mother AND a grandmother (though the majority of consideration is given to her relationship with her father). I will note that both of these heroines don't really lend themselves to pink and fluffy skirts -- Pocahontas has her buckskin and while Mulan does dress in a traditional kimono and make-up during the movie, it is proved to not be reflective of her true self (after all, she goes to the army and brings back a man). Every single one places more importance on the young woman's relationship with her father.
Why don't we see a single Disney heroine have a good relationship with a living mother? (Also, I'm not picky... I'd settle for an aunt or a grandmother if we just can't tear ourselves away from the mold.) Would a strong mother be averse to the coddling that the single fathers seem to bestow? Is the dead mother thing a ploy to make them grow up faster so they can appear to handle themselves (and their father) before they get whisked away by Prince Charming? Or is it that mothers are the ones who have the most issue with this whole princess thing because they're worried that it isn't empowering enough? If there's no mom, there's no one to second guess the pink and the tiaras that the fathers would like to idealize them in.

Anyway, that's my rant. If anyone's still hunting for a gift for their little princess this year, perhaps I could recommend Frances Hodgson Burnett and Sara Crewe over Disney dollars.

"It's true," she said. "Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one."

12.23.2006

Movies of 2006

The NY Times on the movies of 2006...

The Good Shepherd

I read somewhere that someone described this as "the best spy movie ever!" My response was, "Really?" It's not that I didn't think The Good Shepherd was a good movie -- I thought it was quite good, but I certainly wouldn't say "best spy movie ever." It's an intriquing look at secret organizations and the relationships between fathers and sons, but perhaps my definition of "spy movie" just includes more on-screen action.
This is the Yahoo.com summary:
Edward Wilson understands the value of secrecy--discretion and commitment to honor have been embedded in him since childhood. As an eager, optimistic student at Yale, he is recruited to join the secret society Skull and Bones, a brotherhood and breeding ground for future world leaders. Wilson's acute mind, spotless reputation and sincere belief in American values render him a prime candidate for a career in intelligence, and he is soon recruited to work for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during WWII. As one of the covert founders of the CIA, working in the heart of an organization where duplicity is required and nothing is taken at face value, Edward's idealism is steadily eroded by a growing suspicious nature, reflective of a world settling into the long paranoia of the Cold War. As his methods are adopted as standard operating procedure, Wilson develops into one of the Agency's veteran operatives, all the while combating his KGB counterpart. However, his steely dedication to his country comes at an ever-increasing price. Not even his wife Clover or his beloved son can divert Wilson from a path that will force him to sacrifice everything in pursuit of this job.
The Good Shepherd is the second film that Robert De Niro has directed (he also plays a small role) and he does a rather good show of it -- particularly whenever things were visually darker, such as scenes dealing with the Skull & Bones group or World War II. It was more cinematically appealing for a dark subject, perhaps, in my mind. Matt Damon makes a fantastic character who has ulterior motives (there's always some hidden intelligence lurking behind his eyes, it seems, in every one of his movies... except maybe Dogma... and Stuck on You). He gives the appearence of being as emotional as a stone in his work and how this plays out in all aspects of his life is fascinating. Angelina Jolie was rather wasted in this role... her vibrant sexuality at her introduction is great, but then she's relegated to the role of the abandoned wife who "lives with a ghost" and is expected to accept that. When she finally explodes in the middle of a Skull and Bones meeting, she creates a wonderfully horrifying scene but that doesn't seem quite enough for her larger-than-life personality. William Hurt, Alec Baldwin and particularly Michael Gambon are all notable for their performances here.
I ultimately walked away with the feeling that it wasn't quite enough. Here's the final paragraph of the NY Times review which rather summarizes the feeling of dissatisfaction:
Who rules the drones in “The Good Shepherd”? Who is IT? The president, the people, American mining and banana companies, the ghosts of fathers past, the agency itself? It’s hard to know, though now the C.I.A. answers to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. These are hard questions, but they are also too big, too complex and perhaps too painful for even this ambitious (2 hours, 37 minutes) project, which can only elude and insinuate, not enlighten and inform. Although the film seems true in broad outline and scrupulous detail, and the postwar Berlin rubble looks as real as the documentary footage of Fidel Castro slipped between the lightly fictionalized intrigue, there is something ungraspable and unknowable about this world, even if it is also one we ourselves have helped create.
Nevertheless, it was an ambitious movie and Matt Damon gives an excellent performance. It's worth the viewing for that alone.

Eragon

Before Christmas, I read the book. After Christmas, I saw the movie.

Therefore, to begin, here's my assessment of the book.

Eragon, Book One of the Inheritance Trilogy
was written by Christopher Paolini who was born in 1983. Knopf acquired the rights to this book in 2002 after Paolini's family self-published the book. According to his website, Paolini was home-schooled in Montana, he wrote for himself and he started work on this particular trilogy as a teenager. To me, all of that is painfully obvious.
The book is incredibly formulaic and the characters aren't particularly interesting or compelling. Eragon, a destined hero of humble origins, must experience loss, undergo trials, and learn from an older mentor. There are tales from an older golden age whispered of in dark rooms -- most of which the hero is totally unaware of as though his supposedly natural intelligence and curiosity hasn't kicked in until just now. He is sought after by evil powers who want to control him and he must come into his own. In addition to humans, there are dwarfs and elves (he falls for a elven princess, too) and a secret language of magic. None of this is particularly creative anymore. It's written decently but it's clearly written by an author who knows little of life and has read a great deal. Everywhere it a recycled plot or detail from another fantasy novel. The only thing that makes this book different from Lord of the Rings is the addition of dragons -- and even then, it's not telling us anything new about dragons (oooh, they're wise -- go figure). The elven princess that he rescues is unconscious through most of the book but I'm actually kind of grateful as it saves us the trouble of reading a teenager's version of flirtatious dialogue. I did like the emphasis on education and learning as Eragon is taught to read, fight, and perform magic.
The worst thing, however, is the fact that it isn't funny. There's no whimsy to this, which (to me) defines a fantasy novel. Without any quirky sense of humor, what's the point?

The movie, on the other hand, took pains to change a few details that were too reminiscent of Lord of the Rings. The elven princess is no longer dark-haired (too Liv Tyler)... instead, she's a redhead (the redhead always triumphs, I say) and not even an elf. She plays a bigger role than she did in the book (being conscious helps) and instead of shying away from romance in the first book, the movie hints at mutual attraction and appeal. Thus, Eragon is a bit older in the
movie. The older mentor (Brom) is played by Jeremy Irons, who brings a bit of substance to everything. My beloved Rachel Weisz is the voice of Saphira, the dragon, and while she's actually a fitting voice for the personality, they don't give her any really good lines. Everything felt as though it was the minimum amount of effort invested to convey the necessary points. For the movie, the screenplay compresses the action and cuts out a few parts, but the movie is decently faithful to the book. On the whole, it was mildly entertaining and it's better to invest two hours into the movie than the two days it takes to read the book.

Sorry if anyone's disappointed -- I was, too.

The Lady in the Water

So, I know that this wasn't really a great movie but there were times when I was intrigued by the world that M. Night Shyamalan presented. With the ambiguous description of "a bedtime story," he's able to do just about anything without much logical justification.

Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) is the handyman and general building manager for an apartment building. He lives alone in what appears to be a cottage next to the communal pool and one night, after he thinks he sees someone in pool, he knocks himself unconscious and falls into the water. He is rescued by what appears to be a young woman (Bryce Dallas Howard), but she's clearly not quite that. She comes from another world, a world forgotten by most people on Earth. By "chance," Cleveland learns more about Story's origins from a Korean tenant whose mother told her an old bedtime story about "narfs" (water nymphs, essentially) that come to this world in an effort to help ours. Cleveland is forced to piece together information about Story's world (there are wolf-like creatures called scrunts that lie in wait for narfs and attack them) and purpose (Story must find her vessel, a writer, and by meeting him, she will give him the inspiration he needs to finish his book and his thoughts will change the world). As Cleveland helps Story meet her vessel and save her from the scrunt, more people from the apartment building are brought in to serve as predestined players in the drama that unfolds.

I was entertained to some degree, but ultimately I couldn't settle on the purpose of the movie. It was an intriguing idea but it certainly wasn't marketed in a way that explains the tone to any satisfying degree. Of course, simply by virtue of the fact that it's an M. Night Shyamalan movie, viewers should be forewarned that it won't be quite all you prepare for.

Monster House

Seriously? This movie was made? People were paid to produce this? I spent the whole movie wondering why this was created. The storyline isn't compelling, the animation wasn't particularly appealing, and the characters were irritating. The twisted justification for the "monster house" is weird... a little too weird for me to find it even interesting or creative.
I found the kids to be rather bland and the adults were all idiots or just plain mean (with one exception). I don't usually mind kids' movies where the adults belittle children and miss obvious things because they're so convinced of their own authority and control... that's the point in many children's stories. The stupid and cruel adults get some kind of comeuppance and are either brought around to the kids' reality or they continue on their way but the kids exercise a certain amount of control over their own lives as a means of saving themselves. This happens... kind of. A few adults are momentarily inconvenienced (eaten by the house, but it looks like they survive) but even so, the one adult who turns out alright (whose twisted past holds the key to the mystery of the monster house... and should be the one beacon of creativity... which crumbles when you delve into the story and house) isn't much of a consolation for what these kids could model themselves on as they grow up. Not like kids would be looking for any role models in here. They're trying to escape a man-eating house, after all. Meanwhile, you may want to eat your own arm as a means of keeping yourself occupied while you watch Monster House, so I'd recommend taking a pass on this one.

The Holiday

Let me first say that I dislike the idea of sublime Kate Winslet being even fictionally linked romantically with Jack (Nacho Libre) Black in a movie. And I don't like Jude Law as a person (but he is still very pretty) and I've never really liked Cameron Diaz.
So despite the fact that I actually only like one out of four of the main actors in The Holiday, I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. It's certainly not the best movie of the year, but it was an enjoyable romantic comedy that seemed to have some fun with itself.
Iris (Kate Winslet) is still in love with her ex, Jasper (Rufus Sewell), and since they remained "friends" (aka he gets to have her adore him and she remains in constant agony when he says he "needs" her, yet gets engaged to someone else), she's unable to get over him. Amanda (Cameron Diaz) owns and operates an extremely successful business that takes crap movies and creates trailers that make them seem like blockbusters. She has also just kicked out her boyfriend who told her she was bad in bed, criticized her for not being able to cry, and cheated on her. When Amanda decides she needs to leave LA and spend the holidays away from herself, she logs on to HomeExchange.com and sees Iris's quaint cottage. The next day, Iris is off to LA and Amanda is off to England.
Naturally, love comes (literally) knocking on each of their vacation home doors. Miles (Jack Black) works with Amanda's ex and was sent to pick up a laptop. Graham (Jude Law) is Iris's dishy and drunken brother who appears, thinking that he'll crash on his sister's couch and, instead, ends up sleeping with Amanda. Iris's love story takes time to develop (Miles is in a relationship, Iris is getting over Jasper, Miles's girlfriend cheats on him and then wants to talk it out, Jasper shows up and tells Iris he needs her, etc.) and while Amanda and Graham fall into bed, the deeper intricacies turn up later (Amanda thinks Graham has a lot of women calling him and he does... it just turns out that they're his incredibly adorable daughters and he's a single dad).
I note the four main characters, but really, there's another character in this movie that got absolutely no play in the previews, whose storyline was a complete surprise to me, and who really added a delightful element to the movie. Eli Wallach plays Arthur Abbott, an elderly man that Iris befriends and who used to write for Hollywood in its golden age. While Iris (and then Miles) come to delight in his stories, she convinces Arthur to accept the WGA's offer to host a Night with Arthur Abbott so they can honor his brilliant work and contributions to Hollywood.
I probably gave nothing away except maybe the single dad thing and Arthur's presence, but it's a romantic comedy. Let's have a show of hands as to who thinks everything won't turn out okay. They don't explain all the details, but not only do you feel warm and fuzzy at Christmas, you're fairly certain the joy will extend throughout the year and everyone will end up happily ever after. Sure, Miles & Amanda live in LA while Graham and Iris live in England, but everyone in this bunch seems to have a job where they could conceiveably relocate anywhere and still manage okay (trailer editor, film score composer, journalist, book editor). It's rather convenient.
So instead of joining the madness of the malls right now, treat someone to this sweet little bit of Christmas fluff that will leave you with a smile. Merry Christmas.

I'll be home for Christmas...

The New York Times on what being home for the holidays means for many Americans...

There are no Whole Foods here, no Bikram yoga, no concerns about my personal carbon emissions. I lose touch, for once, with my online pals, bloggy buddies, Netflix friends and MySpace chums. Finally I am logged off from the incessant broadband stream of information of my daily life. I don’t have to eat properly, act locally, think globally, sync up, detoxify or Move On.

Gender Gap in Pay

The gender gap in pay that was once narrowing appears to have stalled out.
Throughout the 1980s and early ’90s, women of all economic levels — poor, middle class and rich — were steadily gaining ground on their male counterparts in the work force. By the mid-’90s, women earned more than 75 cents for every dollar in hourly pay that men did, up from 65 cents just 15 years earlier.
Largely without notice, however, one big group of women has stopped making progress: those with a four-year college degree. The gap between their pay and the pay of male college graduates has actually widened slightly since the mid-’90s. For women without a college education, the pay gap with men has narrowed only slightly over the same span.
These trends suggest that all the recent high-profile achievements — the first female secretary of state, the first female lead anchor of a nightly newscast, the first female president of Princeton, and, next month, the first female speaker of the House — do not reflect what is happening to most women, researchers say.

12.22.2006

Religion on College Campuses

NY Times published an op-ed article by Mark Taylor on "The Devoted Student." Mark Taylor teaches at Williams College (the best liberal arts college in the US and my alma mater) and he raises some very interesting points about the ring-wing politics, the religious correctness, and a refusal to critically assess belief.

Rembrandt

The Weekly Standard and a portrait of Rembrandt at 400.

Post-Modernism is the New Black

Check out this article in the Economist on "a curious (and, given their contempt for consumption, somewhat ironic) relationship between today's shops and the ideas of the French post-modernists."

Wrapping Paper Rapture

The Weekly Standard and Joseph Bottom on wrapping paper, colorful decorations and... tinsel.

The Blog Mob

Why blogs will never trump journalists... from the Wall Street Journal.

A Book and Its Marketing Campaign

Boston.com on blockbuster publishing.

'Tis the Season to be Tacky

Fa la la la la, la la la la.

Baudelaire

Visit the Washington Times for a discussion of Baudelaire and the new book by Benjamin.
What's going on here? Why the sudden interest in Charles Baudelaire, a 19th-century French poet? Evidence of this fascination abounds. A 14-year-old kid goes to a reading of Baudelaire translations and starts memorizing them. The bestselling Lemony Snicket novels star "the Baudelaire orphans;" French-milled soaps, chic knitted socks, a record label, a t-shirt line and at least two hotels are also named after the eponymous Frenchman.
And, if you can believe it, Google by a recent count had more items on Baudelaire than on Allen Ginsberg, Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot combined. (Well, who would want Allen Ginsberg soap or a story about the "T. S. Eliot Orphans?")
Now comes "The Writer of Modern Life: Essays on Charles Baudelaire," edited by Princeton University professor Michael Jennings, and based on the writings of Walter Benjamin, a long dead German genius. Benjamin dissects the author of "Les Fleurs du Mal" ("The Flowers of Evil") with a Marxist scalpel, among other unusual literary procedures.
Why is all this happening? Maybe because in a unique way we fearful and confused souls recognize that Baudelaire's mordant and yet often exquisitely beautiful poetry and screwed-up life are a kind of mirror noir of our own teetering times. The same violent deaths, political treacheries, religious confrontations -- and yet brief Roman candle bursts of loveliness are there.
Or maybe Baudelaire, not even included in most American standard literature books, is a stealth fisherman who has hooked more and more of us as he has Mr. Jennings and Benjamin (and me). And watch out! It could happen to you.
For Baudelaire's poems are dark jewels, magical, capable of changing one's life much as psychotherapy can. I challenge you who have read this far to thoughtfully parse "The Voyage" ("Le Voyage") with its profound words about love, death and God. By understanding what you have read, you honor not just Baudelaire's disturbing truths, but your own perceptiveness.
Discover more info about Baudelaire at Poets.org or visit poetry-archive.com to read some of his poems.

12.21.2006

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The title for the seventh Harry Potter book has been released! Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you'd like to feel like you're uncovering it for yourself, visit jkrowling.com and play a little game of hangman.

12.18.2006

Regan Fired

The only surprising thing is that it's taken this long. Judith Regan, the would-be publisher of OJ's "If I Did It" was fired.

Karaoke Troubles

A British study has shown that millions have literacy skills so poor that they cannot even read well enough to keep up with karaoke sing-along screens that display lyrics.

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Prick

As if you were going to read Michael Crichton's trash anyway, here's an amusing tale from the literary world. Critic Michael Crowley dared to write about Crichton's dislike for environmentalists and intellectuals who "[hype] climate science to back their cause, as well as the influence he allegedly wields in the White House."
"In his career," Crowley wrote, "Crichton has relentlessly propagandised on behalf of one big idea: that experts - scientists, intellectuals, reporters, and bureaucrats - are spectacularly corrupt and spectacularly wrong.
"The Bush administration has put this critique into action, trampling the opinions of scientists, exorcising economists, muzzling the press, and stifling State Department wonks.
"Crichton, in other words, primed America for the Bush era," he wrote, going on to note that after the release of State of Fear in 2004, Crichton was invited by a presidential aide to meet George Bush and had expounded his anti-intellectual cant to anyone who would listen on Capitol Hill.
Well, Crichton struck back and went below the belt. In his novel Next, a rather superfluous character appears... a "Mick Crowley" who is not well-endowed and then goes on trial for raping his sister's toddler. He takes no pains to even change which college they attended (Yale). Crowley has responded in The New Republic, where he tackles the "small penis rule" and notes that "If someone offers substantive criticism of an author, and the author responds by hitting below the belt, as it were, then he's conceding that the critic has won."

Chick Lit is Growing Up

For the women who were the first wave of chick lit, if they're writing what they know, they might be writing more about diapers than dirty martinis. It's the grown-up (?) version of chick lit... yummy mummy.

Simon Prosser

Who's Simon Prosser, you ask? I'll give you a hint... he won three British literary prizes this year and didn't write a word of any of them. He's the publisher behind Zadie Smith's On Beauty (Orange), Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss (Booker), and Hilary Spurling's Matisse the Master (Whitbread). Read up on Prosser in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Little Ice Age

The Guardian looks at how we can study the Renaissance's Little Ice Age... in art.

12.17.2006

What We Owe Our Fellow Man

From the NY Times:
What is a human life worth? You may not want to put a price tag on a it. But if we really had to, most of us would agree that the value of a human life would be in the millions. Consistent with the foundations of our democracy and our frequently professed belief in the inherent dignity of human beings, we would also agree that all humans are created equal, at least to the extent of denying that differences of sex, ethnicity, nationality and place of residence change the value of a human life.
With Christmas approaching, and Americans writing checks to their favorite charities, it’s a good time to ask how these two beliefs — that a human life, if it can be priced at all, is worth millions, and that the factors I have mentioned do not alter the value of a human life — square with our actions. Perhaps this year such questions lurk beneath the surface of more family discussions than usual, for it has been an extraordinary year for philanthropy, especially philanthropy to fight global poverty.
Check out the rest of this article that assesses the wealth in the world... and what exactly we owe our fellow man.

Air-Index Impressionism

Is it possible to tell exactly when Monet painted his landscapes? The NY Times Magazine talks about air-index Impressionism.

Yay New Jersey!

The New Jersey legislature has voted to allow same-sex unions! Read all about it here.

Salty Smarts

NY Times: In Raising the World's I.Q., the Secret's in the Salt.

12.15.2006

Breast Cancer Rates Drop

Good news on the fight against breast cancer: "Rates of the most common form of breast cancer dropped a startling 15 percent from August 2002 to December 2003, researchers reported yesterday."

What we'll be reading in 2007...

The New Statesman peers into the future and tells us what we'll be reading in 2007.

The Holiday Gift Book

Williams Grimes writes on the ideal holiday gift book.
I’ve made my list, and I’m checking it twice. It’s a list of the qualities that make the ideal holiday book, and after carefully considering the books of Christmas past, I have come up with some guidelines. A gift book should either be no surprise or a big surprise: the one you always wanted or the one you never knew you wanted. It should either be expensive and large, or cheap and small. It should be high-minded or totally frivolous. And no matter what, it should not require sustained attention, which is impossible during the yuletide season. My gift selections, chosen entirely at random but with exquisite taste, satisfy at least two of these requirements.
So what's on your list?

Prayers and Portraits

If there's any chance that you'll be in DC, check out the National Gallery's new show: "Prayers and Portraits: Unfolding the Netherlandish Diptych."

Statistical Abstract of the US

The Census Bureau released its 2007 Statistical Abstract of the United States. What might that be, you ask? Well, it's a hodgepodge of data that attempts to define Americans by numbers. For instance:
Americans drank more than 23 gallons of bottled water per person in 2004 — about 10 times as much as in 1980. We consumed more than twice as much high fructose corn syrup per person as in 1980 and remained the fattest inhabitants of the planet, although Mexicans, Australians, Greeks, New Zealanders and Britons are not too far behind.
At the same time, Americans spent more of their lives than ever — about eight-and-a-half hours a day — watching television, using computers, listening to the radio, going to the movies or reading.
Get more interesting snippets from this NY Times article.

Tintin

Visit the Guardian for blog discussion on Hergé and Tintin.
If you can, nip over to Paris between December 20 and February 19: the Pompidou Centre is hosting a massive exhibition devoted to the life and work of Georges Rémi, better known as Hergé, creator of Tintin.
Tintin, the journalist who somehow never managed to file a word of copy, is, in some respects, an odd hero: almost characterless in his rectitude, he nevertheless inspires devotion across the world, even among people who are not exactly boy scouts themselves. Hergé was inspired by the boy-scout code of honour and resourcefulness, but, in a flash of genius, gave Tintin the alcoholic, pipe-smoking, imprecation-roaring Captain Haddock as a sidekick.

Alternative Publishing

Looking for a book that isn't at the front of Barnes and Noble's floor display? Your best bet is to go with independent publishers for reads that are out of the mainstream. The New Statesmen discusses some alternative publishers.

12.14.2006

Guardian's Picks for the Best 2006 Films

The Guardian weighs in on the best films from 2006.

Steven Sater

Steven Sater is a Broadway playwright (whose collaboration with Duncan Sheik produced Spring Awakening) and while you might think the NY Times article I'm sharing with you is about his work... you'd be wrong. It's mostly about his really intriguing apartment.

Golden Globe Nominations

The Golden Globes Nominations were announced! Check out the full list here, but just in case you're dying to know a few:

BEST MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA
  • Babel
  • Bobby
  • The Departed
  • Little Children
  • The Queen
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA
  • Penelope Cruz — Volver
  • Judi Dench — Notes on a Scandal
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal — Sherrybaby
  • Helen Mirren — The Queen
  • Kate Winslet — Little Children
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE - DRAMA
  • Leonardo DiCaprio — Blood Diamond
  • Leonardo DiCaprio — The Departed
  • Peter O'Toole — Venus
  • Will Smith — The Pursuit of Happyness
  • Forest Whitaker — The Last King of Scotland
BEST MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICAL
  • Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • The Devil Wears Prada
  • Dreamgirls
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Thank You For Smoking
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICAL
  • Annette Bening — Running with Scissors
  • Toni Collette — Little Miss Sunshine
  • Beyonce Knowles — Dreamgirls
  • Meryl Streep — The Devil Wears Prada
  • Renee Zellweger — Miss Potter
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE - COMEDY OR MUSICAL
  • Sacha Baron Cohen — Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  • Johnny Depp — Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
  • Aaron Eckhart — Thank You for Smoking
  • Chiwetel Ejiofor — Kinky Boots
  • Will Ferrell — Stranger Than Fiction
BEST TELEVISION SERIES - DRAMA
  • 24 (FOX)
  • Big Love (HBO)
  • Grey's Anatomy (ABC)
  • Heroes (NBC)
  • Lost (ABC)
BEST TELEVISION SERIES - COMEDY OR MUSICAL
  • Desperate Housewives (ABC)
  • Entourage (HBO)
  • The Office (NBC)
  • Ugly Betty (ABC)
  • Weeds (Showtime)

Nestle Prize

The Diamond of Drury Lane, written by Julia Golding, is the winner of the Nestle Children's Book prize.

The Prose Path to Political Primacy

Have you purchased your copy of The Audacity of Hope yet?
What do you need to become president of the United States? Many theories have been advanced over the years, ranging from the simple (money) to the more complex (candidate's height). But for the moment one answer is ringing out loud and clear: you need a book. And in anticipation of the 2008 election the political tomes have already started to pile up in bookstores, beginning with the two frontrunners for the Democratic nomination.
The Brits talk about American politicians writing books in the Guardian.

Literary Spam

Have you found literary spam in your inbox?
E-mail security experts say that “literary spam” has been developed by canny marketers to fool spam filters into thinking that illegitimate commercial offers (typically included alongside the literary passages) are legitimate e-mail.

12.13.2006

Most Overrated Books of the Year

Prospect Magazine asked several of its contributors to name what they considered to be the most overrated books of the year.

Best Seller = Blockbuster?

Does a bestseller book indicate a blockbuster movie?

Publishing Confessions

Oh celebrity memoirs... how I loathe thee. Is the celebrity memoir dead for good? Pretty please...?

Peter Boyle

Peter Boyle, an excellent character actor that I will always love for his role in Young Frankenstein, died yesterday at the age of 71. He is well known today for his role as the snarky father on Everybody Loves Raymond. He will be sorely missed.

Carved Crayons

It's Wednesday, which means the Manhattan User's Guide is out to destroy your productivity. Taken from their list is my favorite thing to muse on... carved crayons by Pete Goldlust.

12.12.2006

Bloomsbury's Profits Drop

Without the boy wizard, Bloomsbury's profits have fallen this year.
Instead of the more than £20m profits that analysts had pencilled in for this year, it admitted last night that it will make closer to £5m. In the first six months of the year it made £4m, suggesting the latter half of 2006 has been a disaster.

The British Library

Hooray for the British Library. That's it. Do I need a reason to say hooray? Fine, let the Guardian tell you how awesome it is.

Diana Memorial Concert

If you missed The Queen, you could try to catch the commemorative concert in July that marks 10 years since Diana's death. Seems a little odd, doesn't it? We guess have to accept it because it's being planned by Princes William and Harry and naturally all the procedes are going to benefit Diana's favorite charities. Among the confirmed performers are Sir Elton John, Duran Duran, Andrew Llloyd Webber, The English National Ballet, and Joss Stone.

Happy Feet, Subversive Left Propaganda

Apparently Fox News anchor Neil Cavuto is accusing penguins of spreading left-wing propaganda. It would be a better story if he was pointing to real penguins, but of course the source is Hollywood. Cavuto thinks Happy Feet will evidently destroy our children. The Guardian chose to not even really deal with it, but rather, discuss other animated films to screen them for political messages.

Pick Your Poison

On a personal level, we may all stay away from certain kinds of alcohol because we believe it acts on us in different ways. Scientifically, all alcohol is alcohol and the effects should be the same... and I'm not going to try to attempt to explain. Visit the Guardian to read up and before that fifth shot of tequila at the Christmas party, try to summarize the article to others.

Getty to Return Select Items to Greece

For years now, the Getty (and other museums with ancient artifacts from countries not their own) has dealt with the question of whether or not those objects should be classified as stolen and should, thus, return to the countries of their origin. On Monday, the J. Paul Getty Museum announced that it will return a gold funerary wreath and a marble statue to Greece that were taken by illegal means. It may seem like small pickings when you're standing in front of the Elgin Marbles, but what seems like an itty bitty concession is "hailed here as a major triumph against antiquities smuggling."

Sam Tanenhaus

NY Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus is answering emailed questions -- take a gander or submit your own.

More on Covers...

I've posted a lot of articles about book covers, I know... but it's interesting, right? I think so. If you do, too, then you might be intrigued by this particular blog on the Guardian website where the author worries that with Random House's bid to publish classics with more accessible covers, we'll no longer be able to identify kindred spirits on public transportation if we can't see the familiar black bar that denotes a Penguin Class. Okay, so it's not, like, number one on your list of concerns, fine. Appreciate it if only because it draws our attention to this old Onion article.

Simon Callow

He's more than just the funeral from Four Weddings and a Funeral. You may even remember him as the Master of the Revels in Shakespeare in Love. Hopefully, however, you know Simon Callow from more things than just that. Check out this article, written by Simon Callow, about playing the baddie in an Aladdin pantomime and truly satisfying theater in the Guardian.
What's astonishing is how passionately the kids care about the outcome of events. When Aladdin momentarily considers giving Abanazar the lamp, they scream themselves hoarse, as if his life were at stake. How they hate me. How deeply satisfying.

I am the Manatee?

So The Notorious Bettie Page didn't do it for you... you needed something... racier.
Well, all you weirdos out there can now help promote a very bizarre joke that's is funny despite itself. Thanks to audience participation, Conan O'Brian's show has stumbled upon way to get the audience involved to inject a whole show's worth of humor into what was originally a throw-away line.
At the end of the skit, in a line Mr. O’Brien insists was ad-libbed, he mentioned that the voyeur (actually Mark Pender, a member of the show’s band) was watching www.hornymanatee.com. There was only one problem: as of the taping of that show, which concluded at 6:30 p.m., no such site existed. Which presented an immediate quandary for NBC: If a viewer were somehow to acquire the license to use that Internet domain name, then put something inappropriate on the site, the network could potentially be held liable for appearing to promote it.
In a pre-emptive strike inspired as much by the regulations of the Federal Communications Commission as by the laws of comedy, NBC bought the license to hornymanatee.com, for $159, after the taping of the Dec. 4 show but before it was broadcast.
By yesterday afternoon hornymanatee.com — created by Mr. O’Brien’s staff and featuring images of such supposedly forbidden acts as “Manatee-on-Manatee” sex (again using characters in costumes) — had received approximately 3 million hits, according to NBC. Meanwhile several thousand of Mr. O’Brien’s viewers have also responded to his subsequent on-air pleas that they submit artwork and other material inspired by the aquatic mammals, and the romantic and sexual shenanigans they imagine, to the e-mail address conan@hornymanatee.com.
Oh, and more on real marine life (no joke) can be found here in this NY Times article that chose to discuss turtles in some detail. I'm a dork, I know, but I found it interesting.

12.11.2006

Hannah Arendt

Is Hannah Arendt a philosophical hero deserving of unending praise... or "if her star shines so brightly, it is because the American intellectual firmament is so dim"?

More on South Park

More commentary on the philosophy of South Park... visit LewRockwell.com or Reason.com.

Nativity Plays

Alright, I confess. I played Mary in my kindergarten nativity production. We technically picked our roles from a hat, though my mother likes to suggest that my teacher rigged it so I could get the part... not because my parents were troublesome (as this Telegraph article says) but because I was so perfect for it.

... Wait a second...

An Ode to Syphilis

Did Thomas Hardy kill his wife... by infecting her with syphilis? Evidence seems to suggest that it's quite possible... and some even believe that Hardy hinted at just that in a poem.

Why Women Aren't Funny

About a year ago, I read an article that discussed the different ways that men and women processed humor. When men were told a joke, their levels of pleasure were pretty steady throughout the telling, even before a punchline. Women, however, are usually more skeptical of jokes and so when a joke was funny, their pleasure spiked at the punchline, meaning that they actually enjoyed it more, but in a sudden burst of pleasure. For me, that explains why women can't remember jokes -- we automatically assume it won't be funny, thus there's no need to commit it to memory.
So that's the justification that I give as to why I can't tell anything other than knock-knock jokes or elephant jokes.

Of course, there are fantastic women comedians out there... but the field is dominated by the fellas. Vanity Fair seeks to unravel why women aren't considered to be funny.
Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? Well, for one thing, they had damn well better be. The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men. In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle. An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh.

Peeping Tom

There's a little bit of Pandora in all of us. Curiosity can get us into some sticky situations, so our society has evolved clever ways of presenting someone else's personal life for ravenous eyes and turning a dime on it. The tabloids invade others' lives but people are generally so attention-hungry that they'll forfeit their rights to privacy and throw open their doors to everyone who wishes to look. Neither of those are really appealing to me, thanks, but there's something intriguing about other venues for the publication of secrets or anonymous objects that might have otherwise given a clue to someone's life. Here's a Guardian writer who talks about our deep desire to snoop around in others' garbage or read the epistles we've come across in the gutter.
If there's a peeping Tom on your Christmas list, consider getting them a copy of PostSecret or Found and hope that will tide them over for a little while at least.

Anjelica Huston

The Guardian talks with Angelica Huston.

No LOL Matter

You knew it would happen. Internet lingo is seeping into our everyday lives... and even into some academic papers. Now, I've vetoed boys for using "u" instead of "you" in a text message, so perhaps you might consider my standards somewhat high and unyielding, but come on... if you can't be bothered to spell out complete words, then you deserve that F.

Limited Edition Christmas Books

Looking to buy a very expensive book for Christmas? The Independent discusses the priciest books that will Santa could bring you if you've been very good and someone very rich has noticed.

Top-Earning Authors

We won't know who really triumped until after the Christmas sales, but Forbes discusses who brought in the big bucks... and who cost their publishing houses a pretty penny.

Granta

The Independent discusses Granta and how it has affected our literary world.

Dead Plagarists Society

That's the title of a Slate article that wonders if Google's book search will uncover some literary crimes that have otherwise gone unnoticed.

Truthiness

Werriam Webster has named the "word" of the year to be Stephen Colbert's "truthiness." Colbert defines it as "truth that comes from the gut, not books."
"We're at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people's minds, and truth has become up for grabs," said Merriam-Webster president John Morse. "`Truthiness' is a playful way for us to think about a very important issue."
Other Top 10 finishers included "war,""insurgent,""sectarian" and "corruption." But "truthiness" won 5-to-1, Morse said.
Colbert, who once derided the folks at Springfield-based Merriam-Webster as the "word police" and a bunch of "wordinistas," was pleased.
"Though I'm no fan of reference books and their fact-based agendas, I am a fan of anyone who chooses to honor me," he said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Kristin Chenoweth

I'm finally getting my act together and catching up on some blogs and today, I direct you over to jadis's blog for a great Kristin Chenoweth video. Cheno is great but I did hear that the Apple Tree wasn't all that.

The Notorious Bettie Page

So... what was the tone of this movie? Honest to goodness, I'm asking anyone who can give an answer. The Notorious Bettie Page is a movie about the first pin-up queen who would frequently appear in bondage pictures... yet I was kind of bored. It just didn't register for me and I can't quite put my finger on why. I thought Gretchen Mol did a rather good job as Bettie Page, the rather prim pin-up queen who never seemed naked when she was nude. I suppose that there simply wasn't a feeling of danger (though the movie moves quickly from her time in Tennessee where she was abused by her father, hit by a husband, and gang raped). They often cut to the black and white of senate hearings on pornography that denounced it as damaging our youth, but honestly, these pictures seem darn near tame by today's standards. (Seriously... imagine ANY of these people reading Stephen Elliott's book My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up. They'd pass out.) The "bondage" films were a guy's version of a slumber party. Girls in underwear and heels, playing around, giggling through their restraints and refraining from much actual contact. By today's standards, this simply isn't scandalous and the film made no attempt to really create the feeling that this was, in fact, shocking. So were we to believe that the filmmakers endorse this kind of nudie-cutie porn? Not really. Page was a devout Christian and while she never apologized for her work, she didn't unbutton that blouse once making the decision to devote her life to Jesus. If anything, you were left with the end note of Page saying that Adam and Eve were naked in the garden, but then they put on clothes. It just didn't seem enough for me to have them simply present facts in as unscandalous a way as possible. Not everyone can be Bettie Page whose innocence was maintained despite the pictures - not even the movie about her.
In trying to find words to express why this movie just didn't seem to register for me, I went searching for other reviews to provide so you can have more articulate people talk about it. Here are some clips from a few:

The Boston Globe:
It's a handsome, often funny piece of work with a nearly fatal inability to settle on a tone, and it suggests that what we call ''Bettie Page" was always just a blank screen on which a severely repressed society could project whatever unseemly fantasies it wanted.
Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun:
My friend Russ Meyer described her once as "the nicest girl you'd ever want to meet." Now she is the subject of a curiously moving biopic, "The Notorious Bettie Page," which is not very sexy or scandalous, nor is Bettie Page (Gretchen Mol) very notorious. "Celebrated" might have been a better word.
You might expect such a film would aim for scandal. Not at all. Nor is it an attack on censorship or prudery; it doesn't defend Bettie and the pornographers she worked with, but presents them as mundane laborers in the world of sex, finding a market and supplying it. Most of Bettie's bondage photos were taken by Irving Klaw, an unremarkable New Yorker who worked with his sister Paula. "Boots and shoes, shoes and boots," Paula muses to Bettie. "They can't get enough of them. Why? I guess it takes all kinds to make a world."
...
The tone of the movie is subdued and reflective. It does not defend pornography, but regards it (in its 1950s incarnation) with subdued nostalgia for a more innocent time.
The New York Times:
Ms. Mol takes to this tricky role with the carefree expressivity you tend to see only in young children who have learned the joys of nudity, usually when their parents are throwing a dinner party. When she strips, Bettie soars.
That's to the good of the film because while the pinup was mildly notorious, the fully dressed woman wasn't all that interesting.

12.10.2006

Queuing on Broadway

Lining up not to audition for shows, but simply to see them... even when you already have your ticket. Long lines on Broadway are becoming commonplace.

The (Royal?) National Gallery

James Fenton asks (in a subcategory of the Guardian Arts section which appears to be named "Things that have interested me") why is there no "Royal" in the name of the National Gallery? Does HRH not approve?

The Bibliography and the Novel

I suppose in an age where we're accusing some of our best novelists of plagarism, others flash back to their days at school and cite every single work that could have contributed in some small way to their own and include a bibliography. Still, I tend to believe that even an acknowledgments page is a bit much.

Dragons and Eragon

Can't get enough dragons? Then you're probably already read Eragon and you're ready for the movie to come out. Here's the director talking about animating dragons and where they found their inspiration for the special effects.

Augusto Pinochet

Augusto Pincochet, the man who ruled Chile from 1973 to 1990, died today in Santiago.

12.09.2006

Home Swapping

If the concept of home swapping seems more interesting than the plot of the new movie The Holiday (I'm sorry Kate! I still love you but I just can't stand to see you paired in a romantic comedy with Jack Black.), you're not alone.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

If you haven't picked up any poetry since college, use this Guardian article as inspriation. Since there is, evidently, an exhibition at the Wordsworth Museum on the subject, Lucasta Miller reread "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and includes some wonderfully extensive background on Coleridge in her article. If only I was in the UK, it sounds like a very interesting exhibit.

Babble.com

So, I'm certainly not feeling baby-envy pangs in my uterus, nor do I expect to any time soon, but I still find it amusing that Nerve.com is introducing a site for parents... it's called Babble.com (set to launch on December 12th) and it "aspires to appeal to educated, culturally engaged urban hipsters who are knee-deep in baby gear and seeking not just advice but the humor in it all." See the NY Times article that features a chat with the founders.

Tibet

It's easier to access the Roof of the World... tourism is on the rise in Tibet. In case you're planning a visit any time soon, check out this NY Times article on Tibet today.

NY Times Review for Alain

The NY Times has reviewed Alain de Botton's latest book and they offer the first chapter of his book for your reading pleasure.
Now, I'm delighted that the NY Times has given an overall positive review just in time for busy Christmas shoppers to see, but whenever anyone speaks in less than glowing terms of my favorite living author, then I feel somewhat obliged to rally in defence of even minor points.
I find the critique that "this one contains its quota of piffle dressed up in pompous language," to be a little at odds with a previous admission of eloquence. Perhaps it's necessary to dissuade the rabble? It seems irritating that these days, one can't be too highbrow in one's tastes and the qualifiers must be interjected for fear of seeming elitist... in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. I mean come on. Has this bastion of literary elitism fallen? I suppose some people would say, "yes, years ago, get up to speed," so oh well.
The critic also writes, "Focusing on happiness can be a lovely way to make sense of architectural beauty, but it probably won’t be of much help in resolving conflicts of taste." This kind of observation seems to be the second criticism that a reviewer will cite. To everyone who might agree with it... when you picked this book up, did you think that Mr. de Botton was trying to help you resolve you own conflicting issues with architecture and aesthetic beauty? Did you expect to receive a diffinitive answer on the subject? Do people not understand the value of someone's thoughtful discussion acting as a catalyst for one's own ruminations on the topic? Of course his happiness is not everyone's (though to gush just the once, to be the source of Mr. de Botton's happiness would certainly secure mine) -- but his lovely, meandering approaches to issues of architectural beauty will elicit similar thoughts in the reader. This novel's goal is to raise questions and put forth opinions that readers can then pose to themselves. You are asked to see something commonplace in a new way and decide if its value is greater than you had otherwise realized. It's rather rare to find writers that can allow for the possibilities of other opinions and Mr. de Botton's ouvre seems designed to provide an educated opinion and yet still allow for the cultivation of the reader's.

12.08.2006

A Prairie Home Companion

A Prairie Home Companion was... an interesting little movie. It was Robert Altman's last and it's his usual blend of intriguing stars in an ensemble piece. If you're a radio listener, particularly one who has ever heard the real radio version that this movie is based on, then you might get a little more delight out of it. I'm not sure I'd recommend it with any fervent emotion behind it, really, but I wouldn't actively try to dissuade someone from seeing it, either.
The movie focuses on the last night of a variety radio show that has been on the air for about thirty years, broadcasting from the Fitzgerald theater where a live audience watches the various acts perform. Naturally, our attention is focused on the stage and we pretty much never see the live audience -- we're far more concerned with the backstage action and what could be picked up by the microphones. The story is introduced by a detective who has to work as a security guard (since there's a shortage of grizzly murders or mysterious disappearances in St. Paul), played by Kevin Kline, whose selective attention to details is mildly amusing. Among the big names you'll see are Garrison Keillor (surprise, surprise, he plays the host, GK), Meryl Streep & Lily Tomlin (the singing Johnson Girls, the last of a larger group of singing sisters), Lindsay Lohan (Meryl's morbid daughter), and Woody Harrelson & John C. Reilly (Dusty & Lefty, cowboys who sing somewhat racier songs and tell more off-color jokes than the stage manager would like).
There were some lovely little moments, particularly those that included Virginia Madsen as a woman in a white trench coat who turns out to be an angel that has come for one of the cast members.
It's amusing, but it didn't particularly hit me as wonderful or amazing. I enjoyed it, though, so if you'd like a quiet film with a few lovely moments (and you can forgive some other less perfect parts), then Netflix it, but don't feel obliged to send it to the top of your list.

12.07.2006

Llewellyn Rhys Award

The John Llewellyn Rhys award has selected Beasts of No Nation, the first novel from 23-year old Uzodinma Iweala.

Studying Philanthropy

Here's a NY Times article about a very interesting course being offered at Colgate University on philanthropy. What makes this one particularly intriguing? "...in early May, at the end of the school year, the students will award $10,000 to nonprofit organizations of their choice, after researching worthy recipients."

Random House v. Penguin

... and in this corner... it's a battle of giant publishers fighting over the classics. Ah, a sport I could watch without having to feign my enthusiasm...

Penguin seems to have a big hold on the "classics" market, but Random House is making a bid by publishing a new line next year... but they're redrafting their current Vintage authors (like Amis, Rushdie, Barnes and McEwan) as Vintage Classics.

Do they really count as "classics"? I feel this is a question that I'd hear from my parents, only directed towards music... "What do you mean they're playing Bruce Springsteen on oldies radio??"

More McEwan

More on the plagarism charges aimed at Ian McEwan. Novelists have rallied around him in support, declaring that all he has done is be inspired by another work of art.
“If it is sufficient to point to a simultaneity of events to prove plagiarism, then we are all plagiarists, and Shakespeare is in big trouble from Petrarch, and Tolstoy stole the material for ‘War and Peace,’ ” wrote the Australian writer Thomas Keneally, the author of “Schindler’s List.” “Fiction depends on a certain value-added quality created on top of the raw material, and that McEwan has added value beyond the original will, I believe, be richly demonstrated.” If not, Mr. Keneally added, “God help us all.”
Personally, I think this all stems from one dreadful literary agent's willingness to tarnish a living author simply to promote the name of his dead client. Unsurprisingly, it's worked.