Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How To Decide What To Read?

Now that I am reading Game of Thrones, that may hinder the challenge I gave myself this year. I am a regular lurker/contributor to a specific comic book message board. It is the board dedicated to one of my favorite writers (Brian Michael Bendis) and although I don’t read many of his monthly books anymore (I can’t afford keeping up), I regularly go to his website mostly because the posters there are funny and well-informed about most-everything.

One thing they did last year was a challenge of reading 52 books in 52 weeks. Last year I kept track for myself, but fell short of their quota and only read about 40. Remember, I only consider books (novels and non-fiction) to be worthy of being counted. I also read a ton of comic books/graphic novels, but those don’t count. In fact, this year alone, I have read about 50 graphic novels along with the below list.

Luckily Game of Thrones does not appear to be as difficult of a read as I was expecting, but sheer page numbers are going to slow up my needed pace of a book a week. Luckily I am about 2 books ahead of schedule wince we are currently in the 29th week of the year and I have already completed 30 books and may be able to keep ahead of schedule so wish me luck.

But that is not the fully intended reason for this blog post. I was thinking the other day of how much I read and how I decide what to read next. I thought this would be a way of updating my list over the last six months as well as give some insight to my reader on my thought process. For those interested, I normally use the Epiphany Library on 23rd (between 2nd & 3rd).

I have a letter grade next to each book in case anyone is interested on what I thought of the books I read, but this is not a review of each book (a more in depth review of each book is available in the previous months blog posts), but more of why I read that book at that particular time. Warning: Lots of name-dropping ahead.

1. Eating The Dinosaur - Chuck Klosterman 270 B

- A Christmas present from Aubrey’s family. A few years ago I went there for Christmas and they got me Klosterman’s then new book IV. They watched me read the entire book the day after Christmas while lounging in the Arizona winter. I did it again this Christmas, and loved every second of it.

2. Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins 391 B+

- Just before the new year I had heard rave reviews of Hunger Games and loved it. I expected to get this series for Christmas, but my requests fell on deaf ears. After I got home from Arizona I picked this up from the library to find out what happened to Katniss next.

3. Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King 368 B

- Stephen King pretty much releases a book every year before Christmas. My brother, Rodge, gets them all. He reads them first, I borrow them. That’s what happened here. I had it for a while, but didn’t want to bring a heavy hardcover to Arizona. Instead, I read this book of four novellas after I got back

4. Endurance: Shakleton's Incredible Voyage - Alfred Lansing 280 A-

- This was a selection by my Mike from my book club that I had to read just in time for the meeting. I put this book off expecting to be bored and loved every page. On top of that, I gave it to my father who not only loved it, but rented every movie ever made of it from Netflix.

5. Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins 290 B-

- After giving back my brother’s book, and doing my duty as a book club member, I could now seek out the conclusion to the Hunger Games trilogy. I found it waiting for me in the library and gobbled it up.

6. The Vintage Caper - Peter Mayle 225 C-

- When the book club was in its infant stages, my friend Sanjay was going to choose this book before deciding on The Art of Racing the Rain. My apartment’s laundry room has a “give-a-book-take-a-book” section and I saw this in there. I grabbed it one day while doing laundry, and read it quickly, the returned it.

7. Brains: A Zombie Memoir - Robin Becker 182 C

- I had nothing on my to-read pile and wanted something short. I found this book that was given to me for free at Comicon back in October. I had never read it, and it met the criteria for what I was looking for at the time.

8. As God Commands - Niccolo Ammaniti 405 A

-Book club selection from Aubrey. This was recommended to her by her good friend Bridget. I was wary of this book, mostly because of the cover. You know what they say about judging a book by its cover… Lesson learned…. Again.

9. Never Let Me Go - Kazou Ishiguro 288 B

- My manager at work mentioned this book to me and she loved it. I also knew I wanted to see the movie. I rarely like reading books of movies after seeing the movie, but don’t mind it the other way. I knew this movie was next on my Netflix queue, saw it in the library and picked it up.

10. Mr. Funny Pants - Michael Showalter 250 B+

- Saw this in the library as well. Being a huge fan of The State from back in the day, I snagged it and devoured it in two days. Hilarious!

11. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak 550 B

- My friend Alyssa has been raving about this book for years. She always told me I should borrow it, and I always forget. I have often seen it in the library and resisted picking it up and when I got Mr. Funny Pants, I decided to offset my comedic book by also getting a Holocaust book. Maybe I should have read them in opposite order so I could have read something funny after something so dire.

12. Cross Fire - James Patterson 350 C

- I read all the Alex Cross books and usually borrow them from my brother. He officially decided to give up since they are all the same (he’s right). I still like reading them even though they are repetitious and when I saw it at the library, I grabbed it.

13. The Big Short - Michael Lewis 266 B+

- Mike from my book club mentioned to me he was reading this on the side. The day he mentioned that to me, I happened to see it at the library and picked it up.

14. South of the Border, West of the Sun - Haruki Murakami 213 A

- I am always on the look-out for another Murakami book. Every time I go to the library I look to see if it’s there and grab it if it is. I lucked out this day by finding a book I never heard of. A hauntingly, beautiful book about one man’s mid-life crisis.

15. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon 225 B+

- Chuck’s Book Club choice. I had read it about four years ago, but needed to refresh my memory before the meeting.

16. On Writing - Stephen King 300 B+

- I’ve been trying to finish up reading every Stephen King book he’s written. I had started this book back when it came out 10 years ago, but didn’t finish it (or so I remembered). I saw it at the library and wanted to read it since it was unfinished before that. Turns out, I just reread a book.

17. Zombie Spaceship Wasteland - Patton Oswalt 191 D+

- I heard Patton Oswalt on a few podcasts around that time. He was on WTF with Marc Maron, and Bill Simmons’ podcast and this book sounded great. I was never a fan of his comedy, but liked the concept of this book. Turns out the concept I liked was about 10 pages of the entire 200 page book and the other 190 pages sucked.

18. Everything Is Going To Kill Everybody - Robert Brockway 260 C-

- My friend Chris enjoyed this book and since he had recently read about 3 books I enjoyed, I decided to read a book he was talking about. It was decent, but I don’t expire any energy worrying about what’s going to kill me or how (anymore—that’s what my teenage years were for) so this book became repetitive hypothetical nonsense to me. That said: I actually enjoyed learning about these crazy things that may happen. I just don’t care how I’m going to die (I’m more curious about what/what won’t happen after.)

19. House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski 710 B

- Jessica from Book Club was going to choose this over a year ago as her book club book, but it got vetoed due to length. I’m very happy she brought this book to my attention, and I’m equally happy we didn’t read it for Book Club. Although, it could have been a great discussion, I think most people would have quit reading the book once it turned into latin (or earlier)

20. 20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill 310 B+

- Back in October, I bought this book because I had just read Horns and wanted to read Joe Hill’s book of short stories. I never found the right time, until I needed a book for my trip to New Orleans. Something spooky was in order and the book was a paperback which is always preferred for flights.

21. Jar City - Arnaldur Indidason 285 D

- Aubrey bought this book after we went to Iceland a few years ago since it was marketed as Iceland’s answer to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She read it and said it wasn’t good. I had to find out for myself that she was correct.

22. The Day I Turned Uncool - Dan Zevin 172 C+

- Last year my friend Jen was giving away some books she didn’t want anymore. This was in the group that Aubrey chose. Since then I have seen it. Once again, I wanted something short and this was sitting on the bookshelf.

23. Flatland - Edwin A. Abbott 118 B+

- About 3 years ago my Economics professor at grad school mentioned this book in passing. I filed it away in the back of my mind to keep my eye on. Then while reading 20th Century Ghosts it was referenced in a short story and my brain made a mental note. I put it on reserve at the library and when it finally came in I read it. A very old, clever satire.

24. Room - Emma Donoghue 322 A-

- Had seen tons of people on the train reading this and heard it was disturbing. Being someone that needs to attempt to be disturbed, and seeing it on the New Release bookshelf meant I had to read it.

25. A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan 342 A

- Another book club book this time from Sanjay. I had to read it, but my favorite part was when I saw him after he chose the book and looked him in the eye and said “You just looked at the titles for every book on the NY Times Best Seller list, saw the word ‘Goon’ and decided that’s the one, didn’t you?” His response: “Almost exactly!”

26. Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart 332 A-

- I spent the night with my friends Dan and Casey a few months ago. In conversation Casey asked me if I ever read this book. I said I never heard of it. She went into the other room, came back with this book and said “Enjoy”. It took me a few months before I got around to it do to its length and my other books, but after Aubrey read it and told me it had a lot of similarities to Goon Squad, I decided to read it.

27. The Red Pyramid - Rick Riordan 516 C+

- My brother woks for Disney publishing. This series is their number one seller. He gave me this book months ago and I forgot about it. He gave me the sequel in June and that reminded me I had the original. I had just read three HEAVY books, I wanted something lighter, and this was there.

28. The Throne of Fire - Rick Riordan 450 C

- Even though I didn’t love the first book, it was a quick read. So I decided to knock out the second one as well. Afterwards I donated them to my laundry room and whoever had kids that might enjoy these fun tales.

29. An Object Of Beauty - Stever Martin 293 A-

- You guessed it. I saw this at the library and knew I liked Steve Martin, but had never read any of his novels. I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

30. Tell-All - Chuck Palahniuk 179 D+

- While at the library I usually do a pass of my favorite authors just to see what might be in. I’ve read most of Palahniuk’s books, but had not even heard of this one. Upon completion, I wish I never checked it out. Only saving grace: It took 2 days to read.

31. The Imperfectionists Tom Rachman 265 A-

- Another book I’ve seen people reading on the train, and the font on the book always jumped out at me while in the library. Also, I confused the author with Tom Perotta and thought this was his newest one. So, this was one of those happy accident books since it was very similar to Goon Squad and quite good.

I know this is probably more information than anyone ever wanted, but it’s a peek into how I think. For anyone that stumbles upon this blog, but more importantly for me in 10 years when I look back.

A Song of Ice and Fire

I just did a bad thing. About 4 weeks ago, I was looking around on amazon and since I the HBO show Game of Thrones was so popular I guess there was a promotion to sell the books the show is based on. I bought for $20 the first 4 books on Amazon. They have been sitting in my apartment for a few weeks while I read books all the while calling to me. Part of me is scared of the undertaking (each of the first 4 books is approximately 1000 pages long) and partially excited. Long story short, I begun the first novel of A Song of Ice and Fire which is titled (you guessed it) Game of Thrones. This first part in a proposed seven-book series is what the first season of the HBO show was named after. I begun the book yesterday and have a few short comments about it.

1) The first episode of the season ended at a certain scene that everyone remembers. I finished reading last night as I got off my train at that scene. Does this mean reading the book will take 10 days and I will follow the episodes of the series? I hope so. That seems like a fun coincidence.

2) Certain parts of the TV show were taken word for word from the novel. This is great.

3) Of course, the novel will be much more detailed, but reading this is helping me to understand certain parts of the TV show I was confused about. The show had so many characters and each character had so much history and keeping track of how each character was related was confusing. Reading it is less so.

4) I will soon come upon my next issue. Do I just bang out this series over the entire summer? Or do I read other books between them? I figure I will have to cleanse my palate from time to time, but I’ve been obsessed before and so far this book is very readable. If the rest flow as well, I may just burn through the first four books in succession.

5) For those that like the picture above, it was done by my friend Corey Breen. Check out the rest of his artwork here: http://cjbpro.blogspot.com/

But that brings me to my other issue…. (See next post)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Best of the Week - Second Week of July

Best Movie I saw: On Wednesday night I popped in the BluRay of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One in anticipation for my Thursday Night Midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. I really enjoyed the first movie and loved how bleak their prospects seemed in carrying out their mission, but Part 2 took the entire series to another level.

Some background: In 1999 I had just started reading “Adult Books” for the first time. I’ve always been a reader, but Stephen King and Dean Koontz are more fun. I graduated college in 1999 and decided to take a line from Kicking and Screaming and put it to use in my life: “I didn’t learn enough in college, so now it’s up to me to educate myself”. I still love this quote and hope to continue living it as I age. So at the time I was reading real “literature” like John Irving, Thomas Pynchon and Ayn Rand. My brother is a publisher of Young Adult fiction and he gave me this book that was very popular and part three was coming out and they were making a movie of it. I remember the best selling point to me was that it was short and only took him 3 days to read it. “It’s fun” was the word he used. I read it and thought it was OK, but nothing special. I quickly read the next 2 books and decided that was it for me.

Book Four was released to much fanfare, but I couldn’t care less. I didn’t read it at first. Finally a time came and there was a lull in books, so I picked it up, read it in a week and absolutely hated it. (I still think book 4 is by far the weakest, followed by 2 but that’s besides the point). I decided I was done with Harry Potter after that.

Fast forward a few years and I didn’t even see book three in the theater, but everyone started saying how good it was and how book 5 turned darker and better. Reluctantly, I saw the third movie and really enjoyed it. Which made me decide to give book 5 a try. I loved that book. JK Rowling had really found her voice and I went back and read the first 5 books over again before book 6 came out. Before book 7, I reread book 6 and finished the final book satisfied at an overall well crafted story.

The movies follow a similar pattern with one exception. The movie version of book 5 and 6 failed to capture a lot of what I loved about those books. They were good, quick movies but the depth of characters (especially beloved side-characters) were lost in the movies.

Now that the 7th book has been released in two movies (over 4.5 hours of run-time) I can safely say this is the movie version that all the Harry Potter movies deserved. Still some side-characters are lost in the shuffle and a lot of the depth and character histories are never shown (all of Voldemort’s childhood from book 6 is lost and Dumbledore’s younger years are skipped over) but the heart of the story was really found in this last film.

After everything that has been written about these stories, I can say they work much better if you are already a fan of the books, and on their own they can be a little confusing and silly. But if you have the background of who the characters are from the books, these movies are almost perfect in their own way. I never find myself not believing the magic they execute is possible while watching these movies. And the acting and special effects have grown as the cast and crew has with this final story really exceeding everything before it.

Best TV Show I saw: TV has finally gotten better for the summer time. I have to say that I absolutely HATED last season of True Blood to the point that I didn’t want to watch it. But this season so far has been quite fun and not the shitfest of last season.

BUT, that’s not the best show I saw this week. That has to go to the series premiere of Curb Your Enthusiasm. Although it was a little bit of a forced way to get Larry to lose his house so he will have to move to New York next episode (I’m assuming) the running joke this week of the Jewish lawyer vs. non-Jewish lawyer killed me. The uncomfortable scene when the girl scout had her period in his house and Larry was explaining how to use the tampon was a perfect explanation of why this show is still the best at uncomfortable humor.

Best Book I read: I read the worst book of the year this week. It was called Tell-All by Chuck Pahlaniuk. I usually like his novels, but either I’m reading better stuff lately and couldn’t get into this, or this was just terrible. (I’m leaning towards the latter).

Luckily, I was able to cleanse my palate by reading a great book in the second half of the week. The book was called The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. This book was similar in structure to a book I read and loved last month called A Visit From the Goon Squad. Both books tell an over-arching story of interlinked characters through short stories that really make up a tapestry of a larger novel. I’m not sure if there is a name for this type of writing, or if it’s just an evolutionary necessity to get my stupid, short-attention span generation to read again. Luckily, I really seem to like this type of story-telling (as I mentioned in my Goon-Squad review it’s probably because of my comic book reading history).

This novel’s cast of inter-linked characters are a bunch of Americans (mostly) working at a fictional newspaper in Rome. The novel is more obsessed with their lives outside of the office than within, although their problems do spill-over into their working lives quite often. Keeping the novel’s structure of telling a story about a specific person that works for the paper followed by a chronological history of the paper itself in each chaper, Rachman somehow lets us understand how them working at this specific newspaper impacted the lives of these people in different ways. After finishing the novel I realized I had absolutely no idea the name of the newspaper, and had to do a quick google search to see if they ever even mentioned it which I was unable to find. This tells me the story isn’t about the paper, but instead about the people that make up the staff that works around the clock to put out a newspaper even though they all know and feel it is a dying art form in today’s day of instant news gratification.

This was a well written debut-novel by someone that I will be sure to keep my eye on in the future. And of course, any book that has a chapter where a person dying of a long illness waxes philosophically about death is going to appeal to me. For the hell of it, here’s a quote I enjoyed: “You know, there’s that silly saying ‘We’re born alone and we die alone’ – it’s nonsense. We’re surrounded at birth and surrounded at death. It is in between that we are alone.”

With that, I will leave you for now to seek out or to ignore this wonderfully sad but touching book.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Are you Maximizing your Neflix account

The entire time I was watching The Killing all I could think was how I was sure my dad would love this movie, which gave me the idea of buying my father probably the best Father's Day gift I've bought in recent memory. My parents are not the best with technology (after all, I've told them about this blog before but they don't read it because a) They don't think I've a very good writer and b) they have no idea how to find this URL even though I've sent it to them numerous times). But, while watching the movie I wished I could talk to my dad about it, but I knew he wouldn't watch it on his computer screen, and it gave me the idea of getting him a Roku so he could stream movies/TV shows himself on Netflix. I went to his house on Father's Day and although he rolled his eyes when he opened the box because he had no idea what it was, I plugged the box it, set up his account and showed him some basic controls on how to use it. He has since watched The Killing, about 8 episodes of the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents..., about 10 old Saturday Night Live episodes from the 1970s and I now have the ability to add movies to his queue for him (I know his password) if there is ever anything I think he may enjoy. dorkTASTIC! is not known for its endorsements, and the Roku is not the only piece that streams Netflix movies, but everyone that has a Netflix subscription must get some sort of streaming box for their TV, otherwise, you are not maximizing Netflix for what its worth and you're missing out.
My favorite part happened when I mentioned to him that there were thousands of movies and TV shows available. He said to "So I could sit here and watch like 10 days of the show 24 for example?" To which I responded, "No, there were only 8 seasons. You could watch it for exactly 8 days".

Looks like I posted this one day too soon. This is the first bad move I've seen Netflix make in their history:

What have I been Streaming on Netflix?

Other movies I have seen recently at home include the following:
The Killing by Stanley Kubrick. This is one of those movies I had never seen, but always wanted to and kept putting it off. Simply a great movie by a great artist finding his voice. This movie is from 1956 and the influence this heist picture had on many of the famous filmmakers today is apparent. I have no proof of this, but a) I'm sure this has to be a movie Tarantino has watched a million times because it has very similar plot points as well as a structure to his movies. Also, the mask the main character wears during the main heist is exactly the same as the one Heath Ledger's Joker wears in the opening scene of The Dark Knight and that can't be a coincidence. If you're ever home alone on a rainy day and are unsure of what to watch - do yourself a favor and stream that on your computer.

I also enjoyed the documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story. For anyone that never had a chance to watch Bill Hicks before his untimely death feel free to stream this to understand what he was all about and then watch any of his stand-up specials that are available. He was more of a preacher than an actual comedian, but the good ones usually are. He never quite received the fame he probably deserved in America, but he always made me laugh. This movie is quite sad because you really see the struggle he had with his own fame (or lack thereof) as well as his health (or lack thereof).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Movie Update - Theater edition

This has been a strange summer for me. So far I have only seen two movies in the theater this year. (Although I am very interested in seeing what all the hype of Tree of Life is all about, I have not had a chance to see it yet, and I am quite excited for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 which I already have tickets for Thursday at midnight).

Being the life-long Marvel Zombie that I am, of course the two movies I have seen were Thor and X-Men: First Class.

Thor was one of the comics that I could never get into. He has that same problem for me that Superman has; No flaws. Both are similar in the sense that they are indestructible "gods", in Thor's case that term is literal. I probably would like Thor much more if I ever really gave it a chance since I am obsessed with all classic mythologies and Marvel did keep very close to the Norse text from what I can tell (except the whole changing Thor from a red-headed kind of ugly idiot into the blond, good-looking hero-type, but we can forgive them for that (for now)). The movie told a very accessible story for the layman, and I was very surprised that it was so mythological and even more shocked that it worked and was almost believable. But really the thing that made the movie was Kenneth Branagh making the story very Shakespearean in nature and casting the insanely likable Chris Hemsworth as the titular character.
While watching the movie, I was thoroughly entertained. I especially loved Tom Hiddleson who personified Loki and gave the trickster god/villain real heart so the audience was almost rooting for him. As well as the comic relief of Kat Dennings and the inner child in me was super excited to see how Marvel is truly growing their universe and connecting all their movies with appearances by SHIELD, Hawkeye and was that Luke Cage that Thor fought?
After a month of hindsight, the movie does have it faults *cough* Natalie Portman *cough* (and that unbelievable love story), but what the entire movie rested on the actor playing Thor, and he really delivered by making the character likable.

The other movie I saw was X-Men: First Class. This movie went very much against the comic books in details, but it had the heart of the books which is why it works very well. I loved how Matthew Vaughn took real-world history and incorporated it into the world of the X-Men. This was a great reboot (and can only hope Spider-Man succeeds even half as well), because we can see how this story ties into the movies that came before it while also being its own story. The story of this X-Men shows Charles Xavier and Magneto as young men. It shows how they met and how/why they developed their similar, yet conflicting philosophies.
The highlights for me are pretty obvious: Michael Fassbender as Magneto played the tortured role in a believable way where we can understand why Magneto could be so angry. I also loved the first-person point of view of Beast's transformation, and the kids having fun with their powers.
I had some issues which are mostly nerdy issues like how certain characters were portrayed but that's only because they were different than the 20+ years of books I've been reading. I can 100% understand why some the writers chose to go in the direction they did. But here's a pretty simple idea when adapting comic books: You have years upon years of material and hundreds of books that are almost perfect storyboards to be used at your discretion. You also have universally accepted "best of" storylines, Hollywood should use what they have and not try to reinvent the wheel. And when you have what is considered one of the worst storylines of all time, and is considered terrible because of one specific character, you shouldn't put that character in your movie: I'm looking at you Azazel!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Update

Once again I must apologize to my reader that I have not been updating my blog. So, I will now do a series of posts about what I have been enjoying since I last posted anything. This post will be about the books/comic books I've been reading:

First I read the novel Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtyngart. This is a difficult book to write about/review. I have a feeling that the author is a huge Vonnegut fan, simply by how this book is a satirical sci-fi book much like many of Vonnegut's were. Super Sad True Love Story tells a story of a man and a woman living in near-future (about 30 years from now) New York City and their relationship life-cycle through their online journals that they are keeping and their emails to friends. This future is a strange, but scarily possibly dystopian society where everyone carries around something called an Aparrat (which is kind of like an iphone) which keeps everyone online at all times and virtually connected, but because of that virtual connection, people have a hard time having any verbal communication. The "love story" of Lenny and Eunice is told against a back-drop of the fall of the American government and financial markets as the dollar keeps falling versus all other currencies. I am not doing this book justice since it is a satire, it is quite funny but dark.

After that I read the two Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan. These are the best selling young adult novels The Red Pyramid followed by The Throne of Fire. The premise behind these books is there are a brother and sister, Carter and Sadie, whose parents were magicians from the House of Life which is passed down since the time of Ancient Egypt. These two kids have been born as the reincarnated human hosts of Horus and Isis. These kids are basically being attacked by the god Set in the first book who is trying to take over the earth and in the second book they attempt to revive the ancient sun god Ra. These are very fun stories which are especially great that young adults/children are reading this book for them to learn about the ancient Egyptian gods, heiroglyphics and Egyptian history in a fun and interesting way. Anyone that has a young kid (ten years old or so) that is interested in this should read up.

Then I read the novel by Steve Martin (yes, THAT Steve Martin) called An Object of Beauty. This is a very serious and kind of sad story so not something you would expect from one of the most famous comedic actors of the last 30+ years. This story follows a woman named Lacey Yaegar as she grows up and succeeds in the art-world of New York from 1990-present day. Over 20 years, we follow this woman's career as well as we see how the art business is run with deals made in the bedroom where she would often sell herself as much as the famous paintings to the rich and powerful. It shows the dark side of a business that is not as famous or as large as the media or banking world, but does have as many shady dealings as any other industry.

I also finished the newest trade paperback of Walking Dead titled No Way Out collecting issues 79-84 of the critical and commercially successful comic book series. In this issue Rick and company have basically taken control of the community that took them in, and when a horde of roamers come upon their walls and how they deal with the threat. This also featured an insanely surprising ending to issue #83 which may become a turning point in the series, but I am unsure where Robert Kirkman and company are going with this. This book continues to be one of the most shocking and fulfilling books around and can't wait to continue reading it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Roger Ebert's Star Wars Review from 1977

It's been a while since I wrote anything, and I hope to remedy that soon. But, it's tough to write anything interesting when you read someone who is so good at it.

Enjoy Ebert's review of Star Wars from 1977, but the man can find the heart of movie pretty and explain it better in words than I will ever be able to.

Star Wars

By Roger Ebert / January 1, 1977

Cast & Credits
Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker), Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia), Harrison Ford (Han Solo), Alec Guinness (Obi-Wan Kenobi), David Prowse (Darth Vader), James Earl Jones (Vader's Voice), Kenny Baker (R2D2), Anthony Daniels (C3PO).

Directed by George Lucas and produced by Gary Kurtz. Screenplay by Lucas.

Every once in a while I have what I think of as an out-of-the-body experience at a movie. When the ESP people use a phrase like that, they're referring to the sensation of the mind actually leaving the body and spiriting itself off to China or Peoria or a galaxy far, far away. When I use the phrase, I simply mean that my imagination has forgotten it is actually present in a movie theater and thinks it's up there on the screen. In a curious sense, the events in the movie seem real, and I seem to be a part of them. "Star Wars" works like that. My list of other out-of-the-body films is a short and odd one, ranging from the artistry of "Bonnie and Clyde" or "Cries and Whispers" to the slick commercialism of "Jaws" and the brutal strength of "Taxi Driver." On whatever level (sometimes I'm not at all sure) they engage me so immediately and powerfully that I lose my detachment, my analytical reserve. The movie's happening, and it's happening to me. What makes the "Star Wars" experience unique, though, is that it happens on such an innocent and often funny level. It's usually violence that draws me so deeply into a movie -- violence ranging from the psychological torment of a Bergman character to the mindless crunch of a shark's jaws. Maybe movies that scare us find the most direct route to our imaginations. But there's hardly any violence at all in "Star Wars" (and even then it's presented as essentially bloodless swashbuckling). Instead, there's entertainment so direct and simple that all of the complications of the modern movie seem to vaporize. "Star Wars" is a fairy tale, a fantasy, a legend, finding its roots in some of our most popular fictions. The golden robot, lion-faced space pilot, and insecure little computer on wheels must have been suggested by the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow in "The Wizard of Oz." The journey from one end of the galaxy to another is out of countless thousands of space operas. The hardware is from "Flash Gordon" out of "2001: A Space Odyssey," the chivalry is from Robin Hood, the heroes are from Westerns and the villains are a cross between Nazis and sorcerers. "Star Wars" taps the pulp fantasies buried in our memories, and because it's done so brilliantly, it reactivates old thrills, fears, and exhilarations we thought we'd abandoned when we read our last copy of Amazing Stories. The movie works so well for several reasons, and they don't all have to do with the spectacular special effects. The effects are good, yes, but great effects have been used in such movies as "Silent Running" and "Logan's Run" without setting all-time box-office records. No, I think the key to "Star Wars" is more basic than that. The movie relies on the strength of pure narrative, in the most basic storytelling form known to man, the Journey. All of the best tales we remember from our childhoods had to do with heroes setting out to travel down roads filled with danger, and hoping to find treasure or heroism at the journey's end. In "Star Wars," George Lucas takes this simple and powerful framework into outer space, and that is an inspired thing to do, because we no longer have maps on Earth that warn, "Here there be dragons." We can't fall off the edge of the map, as Columbus could, and we can't hope to find new continents of prehistoric monsters or lost tribes ruled by immortal goddesses. Not on Earth, anyway, but anything is possible in space, and Lucas goes right ahead and shows us very nearly everything. We get involved quickly, because the characters in "Star Wars" are so strongly and simply drawn and have so many small foibles and large, futile hopes for us to identify with. And then Lucas does an interesting thing. As he sends his heroes off to cross the universe and do battle with the Forces of Darth Vader, the evil Empire, and the awesome Death Star, he gives us lots of special effects, yes -- ships passing into hyperspace, alien planets, an infinity of stars -- but we also get a wealth of strange living creatures, and Lucas correctly guesses that they'll be more interesting for us than all the intergalactic hardware. The most fascinating single scene, for me, was the one set in the bizarre saloon on the planet Tatooine. As that incredible collection of extraterrestrial alcoholics and bug-eyed martini drinkers lined up at the bar, and as Lucas so slyly let them exhibit characteristics that were universally human, I found myself feeling a combination of admiration and delight. "Star Wars" had placed me in the presence of really magical movie invention: Here, all mixed together, were whimsy and fantasy, simple wonderment and quietly sophisticated storytelling. When Stanley Kubrick was making "2001" in the late 1960s, he threw everything he had into the special effects depicting outer space, but he finally decided not to show any aliens at all -- because they were impossible to visualize, he thought. But they weren't at all, as "Star Wars" demonstrates, and the movie's delight in the possibilities of alien life forms is at least as much fun as its conflicts between the space cruisers of the Empire and the Rebels. And perhaps that helps to explain the movie's one weakness, which is that the final assault on the Death Star is allowed to go on too long. Maybe, having invested so much money and sweat in his special effects, Lucas couldn't bear to see them trimmed. But the magic of "Star Wars" is only dramatized by the special effects; the movie's heart is in its endearingly human (and non-human) people.