Saturday, June 30, 2012

Biblio Babble: My First Murakami

The Book: 1 Q 84

The Writer: Haruki Murakami

The Dealio: Well, I would like to say 'Beats me!' But that would be a cop-out. I received this book-in audiobook format- from  loved ones.  And I can imagine that the thought was, 'I know she is crazy for things Japanese. This is a shoo-in.' Not so fast. This book clocked in at almost 1000 page book, and the audio was on almost 40 CDs- I found out 'round about CD #36 that the last 2 were MP3s. None the less, this was a story very expertly voiced by the three readers. The story kept me company for hundreds and hundreds of miles over 3 months as I drove to and from sites for work. Late night and early morning, this book was a steadfast companion, and I will always have a soft spot for both it and the loving couple who gave this to me for Christmas. However...this was my first Murakami, and is not a particularly easy companion. Sort of like having the mom who taught you to drive a car with you for every trip thereafter...and not a bit inclined to hold back. Murakami has constructed a complex tale involving many, but focused mostly on three main characters: Tengo, a math teacher and would-be writer of fiction, Aomame, a fitness trainer and sometime assassin and Ushikawa, a creepy but savvy PI. Along the way, we pick up a mythology of Little People, two moons-which only certain peeps can see, a charismatic, but ultimately despicable cult leader, a galvanising, best-selling  first book and multiple threats to the sanity and safety of the main characters. And its readers? Perhaps.

The Grading Session: 3.72 pengies out of 5. I should actually rate it a bit higher, because, although this story had a tendency to make me say (repeatedly) 'Oh, come ON, now!' I could not leave it alone. There was an extreme amount of repetition. Not just a Tarentino-esque device of seeing the same scene from other participants' viewpoints. Nope, repeated repetitions of the same sentences, using the same words, and coming from the same peeps, but without any additional insight or clarification. I do believe, (and those who read my movie chat will groan and say, 'Not again!'), this book could have been at least half its published length without losing a scrap of import and tension. I also could have done without the terribly written sex scenes and the fullsome and very repetitive descriptions of Aomame's breasts. I get it: they're small, she hates them. Move along, folks. There's nothing (new) for you here. You might imagine that clocking in at almost 1000 pages would mean every.single.possible. plot thread would be dealt with in the book. But, not so fast: instead of resolving the issue of Tengo's 'older girfriend's ' disappearance, we wind up hearing more about Aomame's breasts. There are about three more dropped plotlines, but are you the one who is going to write to Murakami and tell him to put pen to paper again on the matter of 1 Q 84? Not I, said the little red hen. Not even  for two moons.

Lessons Learned: At a certain point in a successful writer's career, he has reached such stature and status, that even his/her editor is loathe to trim even a solitary word. Murakami has reached just such a point. Unfortunately. Next this: do I regret the book or the time devoted to it? Nope. I just think I needed to either read the abridged version, if such a critter exists, or I need to try an earlier Murakami and watch what happens. Your mileage may vary.

Cinema Babble: Gimme A Head With Hair

The Flick: Rock of Ages

The Peeps: Tom Cruise, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Diego Boneta, Russell Brand, Bryan Cranston, Malin Akerman, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Paul Giamnatti...and a whole slew of slightly, um, vintage rockers.

The Dealio: In 1987, innocent girl from the country (Hough) meets innocent boy from the country (Boneta) in heavy metal LA Club Bourbon. All sorts of complications ensue, set, naturally, to the soundtrack of all manner of heavy metal standards.

The Grading Session: 3.601 pengies out of 5. Much has been made of both the amazing voice and the zero per cent body fat of leading man Cruise. But I did not find the voice to be so splendiferous, and did not care about either the body fat per centage or his omnipresent bare cheeks.  Yes. I get it: daring, out there, you're in great shape. Now put your pants back on, son. While it was great to hear some of the old familiars again, something about the carry-through just didn't charizz me. Maybe it is just me. Probably, it was just me. Also, I felt that there was little or no chem between our two young lovers. Hough did a fab job with the material given, but Boneta, to me, was as appealing as a younger, dark-haired Jay Mohr...whom I can not abide. Every time the camera was on him, he looked as deer-in-the-headlights as a high school lead about to burst into his side  of 'I Am Sixteen Going On Seventeen' with Hough.

Lessons Learned: First, and most importantly, it was great to be reminded of the inextricable bond between heavy metal and mega hair. Every single major player in the place had at least one indelible hair moment. Literally: can. not. look. away. Next: Sometimes it is not enough to stuff a musical about heavy metal with heavy metal songs. You actually have to pick the pairings rather carefully. Lastly this: heavy metal wasn't the downfall of civilisation as we know it that we thought it would be. Like, also, rock and roll was not the  yadda, yadda, yadda.

Notable Quotables (that weren't in the flick but should have been): 'Hey, kids, I know! Let put on a show!' save our, well, you go ahead and  fill-in-the-blanks.

Cinema Babble: Who Knew

The Flick: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

The Peeps: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Anthony Mackie, Rufus Sewell, Maron Csokas, Jimmi Simpson, Erin Wasson, etc.

The Dealio: A.Lincoln (Walker), our 16th prez apparently had quite a backstory. As a young boy, witnessing several NQR (not quite right) events, a turning point came when he realised that he couldn't simply pass his time  felling trees, studying  into the night and desperately searching for a meaningful way to support  and to better himself. A chance meeting- in a bar, of all places- offers him a tempting alternative: get a little bit back on those who 'done him wrong' and, at the same time, cull the apparent herd of vampires currently aprowl amongst unsuspecting non-vamps. Under the tutelege of Henry Sturgess, Lincoln enters  a sort of vampire-slayer bootcamp and, eschewing the more trad anti-vamp weaps, modifies his trusty axe to do the trick. One draw-back to this master plan: Sturgess gets to pick the  targets (in a plot device reminiscent of TV's Person of Interest) and only when Sturgess okays it, may he exact his ultimate revewnge. All the rest is basic-if revisionist-history.

The Grading Session: 4.83 pengies out of 5. Newcomer Walker is remarkably apt in his portrayal of younger and not-so-young Lincoln, who is played as, first, a wide-eyed idealist, and later, as a heavy-hearted, hyper-stressed dignitary. What you also get to see is A. Lincoln's evolution into a bona fide bad ass. But, more on that later.
 As always, I felt  compelled to shave off a few scraps of pengie-points to reflect on the unnecessary length of the film. What is this trend? Is it that film makers are unable to leave a shred of film on the floor? Or is it a consistent lack of confidence in their product? Whichever, it certainly is both universal, and tedious.
Except for Sewell (and a more consistent Bad Hat I have yet to meet cinematically) and Mackie, most of the other players are, to me, at least, recognisable by face, although not necessarily by name and rep. Grand job, though, throughout, in the casting.

Lessons Learned: First: much of what I thought I knew about vampires- and Lincoln!- was vastly over-estimated by yours truly. Next, to cop a phrase from Juno: 'Who knew he had it in him?' ' I know...right?' Lastly this: apparently Lincoln had only one child-Willie. Gee, I guess that means no Presidential Death Mascot, (see Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation for both a great read and the source of this last reference. Lincoln, of course, had three sons. See any history book or biography to source this statement).

Notable Quotables (that should have appeared in this flick, but  didn't) :
A Lincoln: 'I'm gonna need my wallet back, too.'
Bad Guy: 'Okay. Which one is it?'
A. Lincoln: 'It's the one that says Bee Ay Em Eff on it.'

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cinema Babble: When the Baddie Steals The Show

The Flick: Snow White and the Huntsman

The Peeps: Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Stewart, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones, Ray Winstone, etc.

The Dealio: OK, for those unacquainted with the very scary fairy tale, here goes: Snow White (Stewart) is the princess in a very dicey household. First mum gets sick and dies, then dad falls under the spell-literally- of Ravenna, a power- , youth- and beauty-obsessed woman of incredible hatred and vanity. For reasons we are meant to understand, even empathise with (which), she has a deadly, and I do mean deadly, vendetta against all men. Except her very creepy bro. Having gotten the duped king to fall for and marry her, Ravenna assassinates him on their wedding night and then- going strictly against character- allows Snow White to live. True, she does isolate her in a tower, where SW sees no one except her jailers. But she still grows up into, well, a battle-hardened Kristen Stewart. Having figured a way out of her cell and into the enchanted forest- where all fear to tread, save she, SW next rallies a band of eight- not seven- dwarves  and various forces of nature. Object?  To make an end-run on the queen, dispatch her and her like and bring sunshine and birdsong back into the kingdom. Well, Ravenna is having none of that, realising that, in order to remain young and beautiful and in power, she must snatch SW's beating heart from her chest and devour it. With this in mind, she managed to locate the one man who, alone, has no fear of the forest, nor reason to remain among the living. The Hunstman (Hemsworth, again, making the most of hand tools), having lost everything of value, decides that, he will get SW back for Ravenna, upon the condition that the duplicious queen bring his wife back to life. Ravenna agrees, but has no intention of doing so. But I think you must have seen that one coming, no? Alrighty, then. Off to the enchanted woods we hie.

The Grading Session: 4.73 pengies out of 5. Stewart was the short pole in the tent, not convincing as either the fully grown sweetie pie nor as the Joan-of-Arc-esque maid of battle.  That's fine, though, as Hemsworth (with whom Stewart has scant chem) and Theron have charisma and swash to spare. I must say that if the effects and the costumes on this one don't take a prize or two, I will be stunned. The breath-taking scene where Ravenna morphs from a crone to a flock of, well, ravens, to a slough of oily residue, to a silk, satin, feather and velvet gown-wearing virago is in-effin'-credible. And so is her over-the-top performance.

Lessons Learned: Say it with me: if the sitch seems too good to be true....just walk away, Rene. Oh, yeah, and this: if a person has just threatened to kill you, then offers you a great deal (of money, power or promises), please see the above sentence for instructions. Follow them.

Notable Quotables: Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?