Thursday, April 28, 2011

Unfamiliar Fishes

The Book: Unfamiliar Fishes

The Author: Sarah Vowell

The Dealio: Don't know much,personally, about the history of Hawaii- that's for sure. Vowell, though, is another story. Literally. She goes to Hawaii for a short trip and winds up giving the tropical state the Vowell treatment: long on political commentary, humor and irony. Short on swaying palm trees and publicity releases.
She begins the tale describing her plate lunch, and winds up launching from that unique melange of flavors, into an exploration of the hybrid which Hawaii was, is and remains to this day. Along the way, Vowell careens through a variety of topics- all rooted in the wildly varied facets which influenced Hawaii's stellar rise from the much feared and maligned Sandwich Islands (which, as a kid, I always thought sounded like Heaven! I pictured that they met you at the airport with a lei and an actual sandwich. Spam wasn't even in my peripheral vision) to some folks idea of...well, Paradise. Missionaries, explorers, lepers, activists, Obama, music, the arts, incest, educators, royals (of all sorts), sugar developers, charlatans and the hula all create a platform for Vowell's journey through the chain of interlocked personalities and events which molded Hawaii into her present state.

The Grading Session: 4.48 pengies out of 5. Vowell (AKA the evocatively teenager-ish voice of Violet in the Incredibles), is a terrific writer- although this, to me, was not her finest. That would be the spec-tack Assassination Vacation. But she is passionate, and she brings much light to a subject about which- for most of us- there remains an air of impenetrable mystery. In each of her books, I find myself alternately laughing and getting ticked off. Surely this is the hallmark of a talented writer. I still laugh over her referral to people of a certain generation who began espousing and adopting Voltaire as the ultimate in cool. Eventually, according to her, at least, the hipsters of the time were using the name 'Voltaire' much the way surfers/stoners would use the word 'dude'. ('Aw, Voltaire, I am so wasted this morning!' ) How can you not like someone who incorporates that sentence into a treatise on pretentious philosophising?

Lessons Learned: Everything is not quite as it seems on the surface. Look deeper...if you have the nerves for it. Also: I haven't even met her 8 year old nephew, Owen, but I am pretty sure I have a smallish crush on him. The stuff that guy comes out with could break your heart. One such, 'If Hawaii was a person, I would marry her!' Plus: just saying that you are saving someone from their depraved, native ways, does not make your ways any less depraved. Lastly this: Hawaii is so great a mystery that it is beyond the scope of this haole to decipher in this and 85 more lifetimes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Water For Elephants

The Film: Water For Elephants

The Actors: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Hal Holbrook,Christoph Waltz, etc.

The Dealio: When one door closes, and vet student Pattinson (Jacob) is forced to shelve his dreams of a quiet life taking over his father's practise, a number of doors open. Forced from his home, Pattinson's Jacob takes to the road. The RAIL road. Where he- as merest luck would have it- winds up taking refuge on a circus train. Once the manager (ring-master and part-time bully August) cottons to the notion that young Jacob here is two inches away from becoming a veterinarian, Jacob's problem of where to go and what to do next are solved. The whole deal is cemented once Jacob claps eyes on Marlena, the ringmaster's wife and the mistress of all things 2-4 footed. What follows is a series of events that bring Jacob up to current times, where he is an old man, living on memories and some regrets.

The Grading Period: 4.71 pengies out of 5. For those who never read the book- and my spouse is one of them- this is a clear 5.0 pengies rated flick. But, see, here's the prob: I did read the book. This was a galvanising book: people react to it in strong, often inexplicable ways. And, although this movie went over 2 hours, it still managed to snip out some of the guts of the book that gave it 'loft' and had tendrils of emotion reaching out and wrapping themselves around your heart...which, sadly, the movie did not. Now this will sit poorly with those of you who have followed this blog over time. You will say: aren't you the same person who preaches at the pulpit of better editing? Yup, guilty as charged. Emphasis on the word 'better'. Prendie stated- when I remarked that they left out some of the more meaningful pieces from the book- 'Well, I guess they must not have been important.' I must disagree. That, plus...I am so sorry, but I just wasn't feeling the casting of RPatt in the role of Jacob. He did fine, but I could. not. peel my gaze away from his squinchy little eyes. Just didn't work for me. These twin sitches made the flick less satisfying than it might be for those who never read the book.

Lessons Learned: Biggie: There is just no excuse for cruelty, animal or human. It may offer some satisfaction in the now, but, given time, the payback can be brutal. Next this: sometimes, we think we know what the problem is, and use blunt force to solve it. Then, suddenly, we find out that the problem was a simple failure to communicate (as the Man With No Eyes would say). Lastly this: Just because you are growing old doesn't mean you have-or will- stopped growing.

My Korean Deli

  • The Book: My Korean Deli

  • The Author: Ben Ryder Howe

  • The Dealio: Editor for the obscure literary magazine (helmed by George Plimpton) Paris Review, Howe inexplicably finds himself doing something that makes no sense, challenges his physical and mental strength, and threatens to throw him upon the tender mercies of the justice system. He, his wife, Gab, and mother-in-law, Kay, buy a deli in Brooklyn (NOTE: This review is based upon an audio book, narrated by Bronson Pinchot, quite possibly one of the very best readers of books-on-audio, like, ever. I can not recommend this version highly enough). What ensues is a tale that reads like fiction but is not, full of smarty-pants commentary, verbal snapshots of family, denizens of the deli, Plimpton, (who knew he liked to wander around his town home where the PR was located, in his boxers?), staff at the deli-even casual encounters with snotty, upper-crust phone-sales reps and off-beat delivery guys. But there is also poignancy and even terror to be had as the Paks and Howe struggle to come to grips with what it takes to face the world from the other side of the deli counter.

  • The Grading Session: 4.89 pengies out of 5. A little pengie-age was deducted because the final few pages of the books could easily have been editted out and the story would still have felt complete and fulfilling. Editor's choice, I spoze. Again, I reiterate that, while this books would be bound to be entertaining as read from the written page, I doubt it would have the zing and spirit of the read word- hats off to Mr. Pinchot. Otherwise, I have only praise for a wonderful engaging, goofily-enchanting little book.

  • Lessons Learned: Never agree to divy up your payments for the cost of a deli between a cashier's check to a third party you have never met, who recently relocated to an inaccessible island- and the rest in monetary units of a hitherto unknown country- 'someplace in Europe, I think'- to his wife's second cousin who just got out of prison. Also this: if someone tells you the minimum order of something is $1000, for heaven's sake, make sure you take into account who your clientele is. And go light on the Bonne Maman preserves and hot sauces. Lastly this: Kinda wish I had had the opportunity to work for George P. Sounds like the kind of really odd-ball, non-conformist, creative environment which would have been such a great experience. For about 1-2 days. Max. After that, it would probably have me baying at the moon...or opening a deli.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Source Code

  • The Film: Source Code

  • The Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan, Jeffrey Wright, etc

  • The Dealio: Gyllenhaal plays a soldier, whose last memory is of serving in Afghanistan, awakening on a train, sitting opposite a young lady who is calling him by a name not his own. What's-as we say-the dealio? Within a few - OK, eight- minutes, the entire train, with all its contents, is blown to smithereens. He, Captain Colter Stevens, comes to in a capsule of some sort, strapped down and with a voice purring in his ear. It seems that Stevens has been tapped to be part of an experiment. He is being sent back in time to discover who blew up the train. Seems, that action was just an appetizer. The main course, apparently, is the destruction of Chicago, via another bomb. Only Stevens, being continually sent back into the scenario to do some very rapid-paced sleuthing- stands between that horrendous possibility and derailing (you should pardon the pun) the plot before it can be activated. Think of it as a distinctly unfunny Groundhog Day.

  • The Grading Session: 4.63 pengies out of 5. There are some wonderful, heartstrings-tugging parent-child communications which left fingerprints all over my heart. However- why 8 minutes? Why not give the guy a fighting chance? Why not 72 hours? Two weeks? Something someone can do something with (which)? But, I will tell you, straight out, the more time and distance you put between yourself and this movie, the less sense it seems to make. My partner-in-crime at the show kept picking at the loose threads until the story began to unravel. Insanely. That, plus the fact that I was able to suss out the baddie at first sighting. Think you could, too. Still, it was highly enjoyable, fast-paced and filled with interesting, involving characters about whom you learn to care. Hence this grade.

  • Lessons Learned: There is always an opportunity to rise to the occasion and exceed what you thought was the possible. Too- there is need for a lot more security on trains. It will be a while before I am comfortable riding in one; my co-riders will be getting some suspicious eyeballing from me, I'll tell you that for nothing! Lastly: just when you think The Fast and The Furious has reached the outer limits of credibility: whammo, along comes another sequel. I'm sorry: this truly had nothing to do with Source Code, but there was a trailer for Fast Five (AKA: the drive-faster, blow-things-up, make improbable escapes and still be runway-ready franchise) just before SC started and I simply can't hold back. Response from the peeps sitting behind us? 'WHOA! Now that's what I call a FAN-tastic movie! I'm so there!' Alrighty then.

Friday, April 15, 2011


The Flick: Hanna The Actors: Saoirse Ronan, Eric Bana, Cate Blanchett, etc. The Dealio: The movie opens with scenes of an almost gelflinesque, solitary girl, swathed in furs and armed with bow and arrow, slipping through a polar ice scape. Meet Hanna, the central figure in this action-mystery-drama mash-up, and easily the most fascinating of the movie's characters. Turns out, Hanna's father (Bana) is training her- and has been, apparently,from birth. But...for what? Periodically, she states, 'I'm ready.' What follows are even more exercises in sleep-depriving, nerve-jangling survival. Dad sneaks up on Hanna with a gun, flips her over his shoulder, makes her carry a deer miles and miles by herself, etc. Finally, he allows her to make the decision: if she truly feels she is ready for whatever it is she has been training to do, it is up to her to initiate the action. She does, he disappears and we begin a wild, loopy and oft-disconcerting trail through Morocco, Berlin, and the wilds of an unnamed Arctic-area land with few houses. Roads. People. Well, you get the picture. At times reminiscent of Run, Lola, Run, this movie is replete with flashy, jagged camera-action and maze-like pursuits. Will Hanna ever complete her assignment? Will she ever find out what the assignment is? Will she meet her Dad again? Will she get out of the hides-and-skins and orange-jumpsuits which seem to be her only clothing options? Most importantly: will Blanchett ever stop mucking about with her teeth? (Speaking as one who endures a twice-daily dental kabuki, myself, this elevated oral care onto an entirely different, cringe-worth level to which my final response was :Ewwwwww! Just stop it, baby. It's yucky) The Grading Session: 4.71 pengies out of 5. Ronan was riveting and steals every scene in which she appears. Nice supporting actors, too: the jaunty, whistling, lemon-suited assassin, the jaded, ennui-soaked Brit teenager, her happy-hippy family and little bro, utterly under the spell of Hanna- all were remarkably engaging and fun. Lost points on Cate's ever-shifting accents, though. I saw this film in Texas, so the audience judged her attempt to 'do' Texas. And she did succeed...for about 4 minutes. At which time, she seemed to drift off into Mississippi or Alabama, tried on a tight German accent, then hopped aboard an English one. Well. That definitely happened. What next? Lessons Learned: Never let simple geography stand in the way of a compelling story. Plus: sometimes there really can be such a thing as too much dental attentions. Lastly this: never, never, never run into the mouth of a snarling wolf facade in a creepy abandoned Euro amusement park. Not even to save the space program. There is just no percentage for successful outcomes here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The King's Speech

The Book: The King's Speech (How One Man Saved The British Monarchy)

The Writer(s): Mark Logue, Peter Conradi

The Dealio: Inspired, no doubt, by the incoming news that his grandfather's story was to be fashioned into a movie, Mark Logue decided to write- with some help- the background of the story: what led up to the momentous instant when the King, released from the prison of his speech impediment- reached out to his people and spoke without flinching.If The movie TKS was about the British monarch rising above adversity, certainly this telling of the story take a more 'Wizard-of-Ozian' behind-the-curtain view of the relationship between two men of vastly different backgrounds, of hugely disparate personalities and fates, and looks at the events that forged a friendship between 'Logue' and 'Bertie'. [this review is based upon an audio book which begins with the actual broadcast heralding the start of World War II]

The Grading Session: 4.891 pengies out of 5. The merest whisper of pengies were deducted for the hyperbole in the title-I am sure the monarchy would have managed to survive the king's speech difficulties, but it would have been tougher. There is also a bit of repetition, which can be wearing. However, as a whole, I was especially fascinated by the behind-the-scenes glimpse at the mechanics of broadcasting, at the machinations leading up to the abdication of Edward, and the observations of the families- royal and un- about the major personalities of the day. I truly gained great insight- and empathy for- the huge personalities revealed in the telling of a tale everyone thinks they know off by heart. What was stunning to me was the thought that these two men had been working together for almost a dozen years before the need for the king to give the speech around which the movie was based. And, too, that the friendship and admiration-two-sided- thrived for the remainder of each man's life. This was a gentle, humorous and heart-warming story that made the King more human and Everyman, and Logue more noble and generous.

Lessons Learned: Sometimes, modern medicine and sciences don't know it all, and definitely don't know best (example: the king was encouraged to smoke by his doctors who strongly felt it relaxed his vocal cords). And: even a king, ruling in chaotic times, has the time to put pen to paper. Why don't I? Lastly: if you can find it in your heart to make a grand gesture of great charity, you should definitely do this; it may not be a big deal to you, but it can literally mean everything to the recipient.

West of Here

The Book: West Of Here The Author: Jonathan Evison The Dealio: This is a heck of a book. But not in a good way. In fact...I did not finish this book. I figure, as old as I am, I might never make it through this book in my remaining time. That. Plus, I have better ways to spend my time. Like, for example, having root canals done without anesthetic. This story is replete with inaccuracies (people in the 1890's use expressions like 'she has it going on'), cliches (all the Native Americans are either drug- and alcohol-abusers and/or developmentally disabled). Women are either virgins (working towards the liberation of females from objectification. Yup, he does use this term and more than once) or 'whores', as the author invariably states it. Or, incredibly, virgins about to become 'whores', or the other way around. The author seems especially fascinated by his own turn of phrase. So much so that some expressions must have been felt, by him, to be so unique and exciting, that he must use them repeatedly. Example? Glad you asked: 'frisked'. A helluva lot of friskin' going' on: 'He frisked her with his eyes,' then 'he frisked the darkness with his flashlight.' O.K. I do get it. You thought of something to say in a way that enthralls you- if no one else. Now stop it, honey. Now you are just getting on my nerves. The Grading Session: 0 pengies out of 5. Your mileage may vary. I mean, I could not even finish this book- and I was halfway through when I surrendered to inertia. I know I am in deep kimchee when I can not identify with- or care a measly fig about- a single character in the entire story...or, at least, as far as I got with it. Lessons Learned: Great press doth not a great read make. There are so many really terrific reads out there...don't waste your time on a wiffle. Also this, sometimes your blog turns on you and messes up your formatting. Can't do much about it- even called in my best 'puter and formatting guy and no joy. So- for the change in readability of the thaang, I do apologise.