8.8.11

And after a 6 week hiatus, it's a BOOK REVIEW.

Y'all must be so excited.

Bad Things by Michael Marshall.

Michael Marshall has written one great books (The Straw Men) though possibly (In my opinion), two (The Lonely Dead).  Everything else has been the kind of hit/miss smorgasbord that means I'll never actually seek out one of his novels but if I'm hard up for something to read, will check out his newest.

He's really great at starting books; throwing interesting characters at you, setting up horrific dilemmas, creating bizarre and engrossing mysteries that hook you, draw you in and then during the second act reveal the novel to be science fiction.  Or fantasy.  Or supernatural horror.  His recent reliance on this kind of deus ex machina has let me down as it gives him an easy way out from having to follow through with his really amazing set ups and by the third act, his last two books have used this to essentially cop out of something really great.

It was with this expectation that I went into Bad Things and, while it certainly was better at incorporating the sci-fi/supernatural stuff and engaging with the real world, it also felt kind of boring.  The second act just seemed to drag and I think that if 100 pages were shaved off, the book would tell a nasty little story of a man haunted by the sudden death of his son who returns to the quiet village where it happened and discovers the secrets of it's dark past.

The thing is, Michael Marshall has it in him to write really great thrillers I hope that soon he'll find his stride.  Overall, the entire book played like a humourless season of The League of Gentlemen.

3.7.11

A Touch of Bad Taste

On our anniversary, Elisabeth gave me Pablo Neruda's Residence on Earth.  I took it upon myself to read Henry Spain in Our Hearts, which is to me, the centrepiece of the whole book.  It's a beautiful poem, don't get me wrong but for the first time I felt uncomfortable reading something to Henry.  It was beyond the fact that for whatever reason he couldn't settle or get into the rhythm of the voice; it had to do with the horrible images of war, especially those of rivers of dead children's eyes floating in hell, gazing upon their killers face.  Such is war, however and, as many have expressed, anyone who glamorizes it encourages the acts of war.  This poem is a very harsh reminder about the reality of oppression, the resistance it will incur and the fate waiting for those who would put their greed above society's.

I'm more than happy to gently push my politics on my kid, without a context (In his brain), it felt weird reading him this.  If he understood any of it, I'm sure he didn't get the joyous contrast, after all the horror and war, of the Solar Ode to the Army of the People and not the floating eyeballs.

It was also the first time that Henry hasn't connected with a piece of writing.  Next up will be Rimbaud's Season in Hell with, hopefully, better results.

As and aside, I find it impossible to believe that Crass were not intimately with Neruda.  The repetition of phrases and imagery, as well as pentameter of his verse suspiciously mirrors a lot of their music, especially their later work dealing with the Falkland Wars:

2.7.11

Henry: The Official Files:

The newborn years:



Transitioning phase:



Official mugshot:

Counterpoint: Carle

Previously in this Blog That Never Gets Updated In Anyway That Makes Any Sense Whatsoever, I went on a bit of a tyrade that Elisabeth suggested may have scared some people off.   Originally, this was going to be a semblance of an apologia but, since those people are now aparantly scared off, I shall continue my rant:

Eric Carle is inexorably tied to Ms. Boynton in my mind, not just because their books are so often mass gifted but because he's the anti-Boynton.  Were I to ever complete my opus on Beatrix Potter, I would say that, in the world of Ms. Potter, he is the pictures, she is the words.

As I cannot remember all my points against Sandra Boynton and am too lazy to revisit them, I am going to use Eric Carle as a point-by-point refutation of Boynton in three acts, using only my dodgy memory and those books I've read as proof.

Act 1: The Very's:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the first book I read to Henry.  It's great because it's got one great big picture for little eyes to focus on with few enough words per page so those eyes don't get bored.  There's a payoff at the end with a Very Colourful Butterfly to gaze upon.  As Henry has gotten older, he's found the holes in the pages interesting to focus on.

There is an aural, visual, tactile sense going on with the three books in this trilogy.  The Very Busy Spider has a web that the child can feel and encouraging Henry to touch the pages and literally feel the web getting built (As well as seeing it) adds to the story.  The story itself is fairly repetitive but, unlike a certain author whose name rhymes with Sandra Boynton (oops), there is room to play around.  For example, giving each animals who speaks to the spider a different voice.  It helps that the pictures are big and bold and definite.  They are obvious enough so that a young child knows what hey are, yet intricate enough to make you want to keep looking.  They are a far cry from Boynton's stories which are basically made to amuse adults while reading to their child.

Finally, The Very Lonely Firefly works at an age stage higher than the first two.  Here, the pictures are dimmer (in keeping with the story) and have a more complex breakdown as there are speech bubbles added.  Also, the pictures are, in my opinion, scarier.  This all makes sense in the context of a tale about a firefly lost in the night looking for his friends.  I'm particularly partial to the ending and the Christmas light twinkling once (Spoiler!) the Very Lonely Firefly finds his friends.  This last page baffled Henry for a while until one night he finally noticed the firefly's were twinkling and he looked at me, did a triple-take and literally said, I kid you not, "My God, It's full of stars."

What I am poorly articulating is that in these three books, there is a story, art and a moral (Eat right; work hard; don't worry you'll fit in) that is good for kids, re-readable (Hundreds of times) for adults and, above all, interesting.  The story never gets in the way of the art and there is a parental freedom to interpret how you will.

Act 2: The What Do you Sees?

Technically these are not by Eric Carle, he just provided the art.  That said, I believe that somewhere I addressed how Ms. Boynton could have been better served by better writing.  Here, Eric Carle lends his art to an excellent series of books.  The story is straight-forward & repetitive for the kid, the pictures are big & bold, there's a sense that something's going on but you're not quite sure what that something is.

Henry genuinely seems to like these as I'm sure in his world he's hearing & seeing mumble, mumble, PICTURE!  And as the series progresses and the pictures become increasingly detailed, there is more for him to look at.  Honestly, this is what Sandra Boynton should have done a long time, focusing her art on someone else's stories.

(Of course she would then have to do things like draw in detail, make things bold & appealing to children, not the weird adultopods she imagines that the all are, but I digress...)

Act 3: The My Very Firsts:

Henry's not gotten into these yet and, while I have the Very First Book of Words, Shapes, Food & Animal Homes, I also appear to be missing several others including, numbers, colours, motion, animal sounds and bowel movements.  The four I have i got on sale and, while Henry's not old enough to be able to figure them out, they serve two great purposes.

The first is that they're split down the middle which mean that if you're a baby like Henry, there's double the pages to turn!  Carle's bold colours and artwork continue to draw his attention offer him something to do with the book as well as some enjoyment.

The second is that the  bold colours and artwork continue to draw his attention offer him something to do with the book as well as some enjoyment.  Crap.  That's the first one.  I'll come up with points two and maybe even a third once Henry's at the stage where he is able to figure out that a doggie live in a doghouse (The animal homes book is hard.  I've not been able to figure them all out)

The point is that Eric Carle, as opposed to other writers, seems to 'get' kids.  And parents.  When I finish reading Henry one of his books I don't feel like I've made him a target for bullying.

20.6.11

Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Babies

Or, as Elisabeth would have me write, Sandra Boynton Makes Me Hate Parents.

Caveat 1: I admit that sometimes I have no taste.  Case in point, I hate The Big Lebowski.  I find it stupid, unfunny and basically pointless.  I hear other people think it's great.  They're wrong, of course, but that's their opinion.

Caveat 2: I'm about to criticize a bunch of gifts.  No offence is meant to the gift-givers, I know that this was done in good faith.  I want you to know that your gift was a) appreciated for the gesture and b) appreciated for the rant it provided me.  To be honest, I don't much remember who has given us what.

So, with that in mind, I come to Sandra Boynton.  An author I'd never heard of a few months ago and whose name I now curse.  And not just me, Henry recoils like an adder when he sees a cover of one of her books.  I've brought his reaction up with the owner of the local book store for kids who has told me he's too young to get it and will grow into them, but I feel that the way the aging process works, where a person becomes smarter over time (Until thirty and then you become your parents), this runs counter intuitive to logic and if indeed these books are for older kids, then why are they so stupidly, utterly dumb and offensive?

In all fairness, I'm sure there are stupider things.  Like toy poodles, Juggalo's and de-alcoholized beer.  But these aren't marketed to sensitive, developing brains.  People who buy toy poodles are already functionally retarded.  This is the kind of banal humour for people who thought Family Matters was piss-your-pants funny and who can help but go "Aww," whenever a toddler vomits out its catch phrase in Steve Guttenberg's latest attempt at prime-time relevance.

I thank you all who gave us these books as gifts but they are atrocious and poor old Henry hates them.  The literally make him cry.  They are also horribly morally suspect.  Case in point:

Blue Hat, Green Hat.  In which a retarded turkey in unable to dress itself properly.  It puts on clothes in inappropriate ways and is last seen dressed in too many layers, diving into a swimming pool to presumably drown while all the other better dressed animals who know how to put their clothes on properly, watch on in empty stoned silence.

Throughout this book, the animals gaze into nothingness, do not attempt to help the unfortunate who has crossed their paths and through their passivity let him die.

The Turkey is portrayed as a species (As opposed to the elephant, moose or small cute furry whatever) to be imbecilic, lemming-like and disposable.

But Not The Hippopotamus is another exercise in exclusion as it tells the tale of animals having fun with each other while either ignoring or being blatantly racist to the titular hippopotamus.  Page after page it stares at animals doing fun things until finally they invite him to join them.

The punchline is that as soon as the hippopotamus is allowed into the circle, an armadillo it excluded from it.  Any opportunity to turn this book into a message of inclusivity or to contextualize why it's not okay to ostracize someone is lost for a cheap joke that actually makes light of shyness/exclusion/ favouritism/ racism.  I don't want to go so far as to say the book actually encourages racism but Ms. Boynton has, according to Wikipedia, written more than forty book and four thousand fucking greeting cards.  It's not like she's new at this or learning the ropes or this is her difficult second novel, she's literally produced thousands of works.  She either thinks racism is funny or she is the stupidest children's writer since Chuck VonNasty wrote It's Okay to Poke Your Eye Out, It'll Grow Back in Time For Supper Now Smile and Eat Your Plate of Broken Glass.

But I digress...

Horns To Toes And In Between is about three inbred uncles who are also monsters.  They sing about the parts of their bodies, tickle each other and then dance around, celebrating their morbid obesity.

This is a lazy book with a lazy story and lazy pictures.  It commits the cardinal sin of children's books in being utterly forgettable.  I honestly didn't know we had it for at least a month.

It also features Ms. Boynton's most irritating flourish: The weird circular belly button.  I don't know if it's meant to be cute but it draws unnecessary attention to her creatures nether-regions as well as looks like a sadistic cork lodged in the bellies of all her cute kiddy animals; ready to pop at any moment and spill out their guts until the inbred uncles of Horns to Toes are little more that carpets of a middle-class couples basement.

Belly Button Book! (Yes, that's the title.  No "the" and the exclamation point is thrust in there, forcing you to think this is a fun and/or exciting literary trip you're about to embark upon) feels like an aggressive attempt to make your kid cute by calling it's belly button "bee bo."  This is the kind of humour for stunted adults who think that Saturday's Hi and Lois strip is Bill Hicks level cutting-edge satire.

This is a book geared for older kids (You know this because it's slightly larger than all her other books) to force them to act like younger kids.

Here, the hippopotamus (No longer an ostracized freak) acts like a freak that I'd like to ostracize by devoting its time to loving their so-called bee bo's and going to bee bo positive beaches where they sing songs about their bee bo.  There is a level of forced saccharine jokey wholesomeness that is thrust down your throat throughout this book that I'm left feeling hostile towards Ms. Boynton.  The book itself is pointless.  It's just an attempt to push a catch-phrase that is neither witty or clever or makes any sense at all.

Opposites was one of the, if not the, first books that Henry received and I had high hopes for it.  Just page after page of opposite stuff.  You know, hot/ cold.  On/ off.  Anterior/ posterior.  With corresponding pictures.  The thing that makes this book go from good idea to bad (See what I did there?) is that the words and pictures are such a jumble that it's hard for a kid to know what is going on.

It's here that I might think that the lady in the bookstore had a point.  Maybe Ms. Boynton's books are indeed for kids a mite older then Henry.  But if this is so then why is she writing about such simple notions?  Why is she making dumbed down books for dumbed down kids (Who's parents see nothing wrong with a quaint touch of racism)?  It literally baffles me.

The final book I need to address is The Going To Bed Book.  Just to show I'm not a spiteful jerk, I will admit when I enjoy something.  Even The Big Lebowski made me laugh.  Twice.

This book worked for a while.  Henry enjoyed it and we enjoyed reading it to him.  The thing is, unlike Sandra Boynton's other books, this book is a poem with pictures and the thing that he clues in on is the cadence and rhythm of the voice reading to him.  He's too young to grasp the pictures (Hell, he's too young to grasp anything) but he's able to bounce along with the voice saying stuff.  This is absent in all Susan Boynton's other books (That we own) and were they there, then perhaps Henry would like them as well.

Personally, I don't care for her artistic style (Though literally millions would disagree) but it's irritating that she doesn't ever vary it to reflect the age range that she's writing for.  If the words, pictures and layouts changed for a child's capacity to understand, I might feel very differently.  But they're not.  They're too complicated for young kids and too simple for older ones.  They feel like they've been written by someone who's never had, raised or met children but has a kind of vague understanding of what children are and has geared a career towards that misunderstanding.

16.6.11

Stats

I love checking this blog's stats.  More specifically the search keywords that bring people here.  The following, for gratuitous blogging purposes only, are some of my most interesting ones:

  • magical carrot Henry (?)
  • hobo with a shotgun arm stump (???)
  • Falcor dies (?!?!)
  • Godzilla ejaculated (!!!)
And ironically, my rant about Gary Ezzo has prompted the most hits on them all:

  • Ezzo estrangement - 4 hits
  • Ezzo estranged daughters why - 3 hits
  • and a series of permutations of the above on a nearly weekly basis
Who'da known?

13.6.11

In Summary

I'm coming off a fairly successful weekend where I was able to take Henry to his first petting zoo and where we all went on a long trip to the beach yesterday which for the first time, he seems to have really engaged with, playing on swings and waving at pretty much anybody, so I figure that I should re-engage with the blog a little bit.  It also helps that the work on my office is finally finished and the most expensive room in the house is devoted to video games and aurally offensive music.

My analysis of the works or Beatrix Potter is still on hold.  Reading her books to him as he falls asleep continues to be a challenge due to a combination of the sparseness of her writing as well as a lack of rhythm while reading out loud.  Henry has had several colds and flus so I decided that since he was spending so much time in bed, I should start reading him something with a little more substance which lead me to The Thief of Always by Clive Barker.

I got this book during my Stephen King/ Clive Barker phase and remember being disappointed that it was a book for children.  I'd been hoping for the standard scary/ freaky/ violent fare I was gobbling up at the time.  I also devoured the book very quickly and loved it.

Reading this with new eyes, I was surprised to find so much going on in it.  The entire first act serves as a warning to children about how easy it is to fall into the hand of a stranger and be seduced my false promises away from your parents.

The second act traces the shift from the fantasy of how life would be without rules to the horror of discovering you've been kidnapped and cannot escape to return to your old life.  It ends quite darkly where the young protagonist gets to experience the horror his family has has to go through in losing a child.

Of course, this is a kids book so it is in the third act that the young man decides to regain control of his life and make amends, you get the sense that things are going to turn out alright however, as Mr. Barker has already gone down a rather dark route earlier, there is the niggling question as to just how happy the ending is going to be.

This is definitely a book for ten year olds (This point is reenforced several times throughout the story as well as on the flap) and can be quite scary if you're so inclined. The illustrations by Clive Barker add to the overall creepiness (e.g., fat naked lady melting with her eyeballs dangling from their stalks obscuring her breasts).  But with the books theme of illusions and the constant reminder that much of what is happening is not real, it should be a good kind of scary.  The final act is also dedicated to the concept of overcoming you fears so there is a nice little catharsis there as well.

Hollywood has been dithering about making this a movie for years and I find it a pity this has not come to pass.  It's also made me curious about Clive Barker's Abarat series of children's books and, should Henry have any interest in The Thief of Always when he's older, will certainly consider picking these up for him as well.

Next up, I read Henry The Little Prince.  To this day I'm still frustrated that the book really has nothing to do with this:


Which is a shame because then I would like the it.  This was my first time reading it to the  end, nt in spite of doing at least two book reports on it in my school days.  Both times I reached the same point and never finished reading the book (Granted, i was reading it in French) and wrote the book report based on my knowledge of the first thirty or so pages and the cartoon.  It's an interesting reflection of the school system that on both reports I got a fairly good grade, considering that I was a million miles off with regard to what happens in the rest of the book.  Namely that at the end, The little Prince does not go off into space and have further adventures; he gets bitten by a snake and dies.

I suppose a case could be made using the Life of Pi Defence that the book is open ended and you can decide that The Little Prince flies through space through the power of death but I find this is a stretch of the imagination even for a book that gets away with the idea that there is a 20' diameter plant upon which lives a drunk with a never-ending supply of alcohol.  Really, M. de Saint-Exupery, you paint such a wonderful picture of Heaven.

Any cynicism I have for the book is primarily due to an awareness that there is something going on, some kind of message in all The Little Princes adventures, that is entirely lost on me.  Other that the religious ones.  Those hit you over the head like you're in a whack-a-mole.

With that done, I have now moved on to reading Henry Treasure Island.  We're only three chapters in and I doubt we'll get much farther.  He's reached a stage where we need to retrain him to fall asleep on his own and if we're not doing that, he's so zonked out by the time we put him to bed that there's no point reading to him.  Which is unfortunate because I was pleasantly surprised by the first three chapters.  It was not the dry, dated kind of story I was expecting and trucked along nicely with lots of pirate-speak.  I'll keep at it for now for my own entertainment and should Henry go through a pirate phase, I imagine this will sate his interest nicely.

As for me, I've just wrapped up ShadowMarch by Tad Williams.  I don't want to turn this into a Game of Thrones rant but in relation to my thoughts on this book, but it feels inevitable.

This is the third novel of a four part series originally conceived to be a television series.  It was, however, never picked up.  This is unfortunate because George R. R. Martin wrote A Song of Fire and Ice after reading tad William's first fantasy series, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and realizing that you can write epic fantasy while exploring adult themes in mature ways.

It frustrates me that HBO has picked up a still unfinished fantasy series  in which the author take five-plus years to finish a novel, while Tad Williams is a known quantity who, at the very least, has established that he can finish an epic and tie together all the lose ends.

As it stands, the Shadowmarch series is on track to better Memory, Sorrow and Thorn.  This being the third book in what is essentially one very long novel, he continues to pick up immediately where the last one ended and entirely lack an ending or resolution of any single plot point.  It's infuriating yet I love that the book just stops and you have to wait for the next one but, if you're going to write a single massive story, i think this is the way to do it, rather than to shoehorn in needless plot developments which do not serve the plot just to give your readers some satisfaction.  I can think of no greater cliffhanger that to have the story simply stop and have to wait a year to pick up where you left off.

Next time: A gratuitous attempt to post more than one entry in the month of June.

15.5.11

The Tale of Three Bad Parents

Part 8: The Tale of Tom Kitten:

True confession time: I always thought that the story of Tom Kitten was that he over ate and bursts out of his clothes.  (In all fairness, Tom Kitten is described as very fat but he's never portrayed as gluttonous or lazy.)

What its lazy is his mother who is more concerned about putting on a good tea when company comes 'round.  In preparation for said company, she gets her kids ready in their good clothes and leaves them to play outside unsupervised so she can get something to eat.

Kids being kids, they play and Tom Kitten, being dressed inappropriately by his mother, loses his clothes.

Then along comes the frankly, rather creepy, adult Puddle-Ducks who, instead of being helpful, tease the kittens, dress up in and then steal Tom Kitten's clothes, leaving him naked.  Weird.

So the kids go home and, naturally, their mother takes no responsibility in her poor choices (A common trait of abusive parenting) and punishes her kids instead of losing face in front of her friends and be able to keep up the appearance that they are a healthy, functioning family.  The kids act up again and the story ends in an unsatisfying way with the promise of more books about the antics of the kittens.

The interesting thing about this book is the coda at the end where the creepy Puddle-Ducks lose the stolen clothes in the pond and Beatrix Potter attempts a little mythology creation, explaining that the Puddle-Ducks are still looking for them and that's why ducks bob their head under water.

Part 9: The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck

Jemima Puddle-Duck is quite possible the most clueless and unlikeable 'hero' that I've ever encountered in a book.  Her outright stupidity is jaw dropping when you consider her dedication to bring and presumably raise a bunch of children all on her own.

So basically, Jemima really wants to have kids but she's got nowhere to lay her eggs.  One day she comes across fox who is a moustache-twirling caricature of a villain.  Jemima not only fails to grasp that this is a villain she is interacting with, she fails to grasp the he's not just a fox but an animal, assuming instead that he's a friendly gentleman.

With the 'gentleman's' help, Jemima is shown a great place to build her nest: In a shed filled with feathers.  This would be like being pregnant and invited over to someones house for a meal and discovering that their dining room is decorated with human hair and skin.  Jemima thinks it's a great place to lay her eggs.

So she lays them and the 'gentleman' suggests that she should bring some ingredients to make a large feast before the dull process of incubating the eggs begins.  He suggests he will make her a tasty omelet if she gathers the correct ingredients for it.  So just to contextualize this: You're pregnant and sitting in the strangers dining room which is decorated with hair and skin and he tells you he's going to serve up fetus stew.  If you were Jemima Puddle-Duck you'd say "Yum yum!  I'll help you cook it."

(In all fairness page thirty-nine contains what must be one of literature's most understated sentences: "Jemima Puddle-Duck was a simpleton.")

During the process of gathering the ingredients, she mentions to a dog what's going on and he, possessing the keen intelligence of a dog, realizes something's up and gathers some buddies.

As the action comes to a head, the fox gets nasty and impatient towards Jemima and, while she checks in on her eggs, the dog posse shows up, chases off the fox and, in an orgy of bloodlust, eats all of Jemima's eggs.

Jemima's escorted back to the farm where she has learned nothing, lays more and only four of the chicks survive.  And they all live happily ever after.

Part 10: The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies


Benjamin Bunny is all grown up, married his cousin and has had so many children that they are devoid of individual personalities and the couple has to sponge off the work and generosity of their family members in order to get by.

When they're not able to mooch off Peter Rabbit (Who appears to have gotten over his PTSD, become a farmer and married a fat little thing in a pink frock), Benjamin bunny takes his family out to the dump to eat garbage.  Specifically, fermented cabbage which, apparently, has 'soporific' effects.

So after he takes his family out and they all get high after eating garbage, they all pass out and/or laze about in a drugged out stupor.  Benjamin puts a paper bag on his head and has a chat with a mouse, not noticing that the farmer has come along, found his children and popped them in a burlap sack with the intention of skinning them and cutting off their heads and turning them into food and clothes.

Luckily his cousin-wife has not taken part in the orgy of drug-taking and comes along, realizes something is wrong and with the help of the mouse, saves her children, replacing them in the sack with vegetables.

They follow the farmer, who seems rather inbred himself,  to his home where they hear about what his intentions were with the bunnies and their skins.  Then for no reason the youngest bunny is badly hurt by a flying gourd and they go home without learning any lessons.

The helpful mouse is rewarded that Christmas with some rabbit fur outfits.  So I suppose the littlest bunny ended up expiring from his injuries and his parents were thoughtful enough to turn their dead baby into clothes.  The end.

Book Review

Imperial Bedrooms by Bret Easton Ellis

Imperial Bedroom, aka Less Than Zero 2, will likely have two stand out moments for most readers: The first ten pages and the last ten.

In the first ten, The whole narrative of Bret Easton Ellis' universe is given a clever metatextual shake up which acknowledges the veracity and fiction of both Less Than Zero the novel and Less Than Zero the movie and then creates a third (Or fourth, depending on how many fictional Bret Easton Ellis' you think are out there.) 'real' universe in which Imperial Bedrooms takes place.  It's a bit of a stroke of genius where he is able to create both a stand alone novel and a sequel to a book and a movie based on a book that deviated from the plot and main themes of the novel it's based on, wildly.

In the final ten pages there is a sudden return to the kind of sadism and violence that Ellis is well known for and which had been otherwise absent from the rest of the novel.  It's jarring and horrible and proof that, as far as I'm concerned, Bret Easton Ellis should be considered one of the world's leading writers of horror, not just contemporary fiction.

In between these bookends is a nasty little tale of societal paranoia that made me feel like like I was reading a posthumous J.G. Ballard novel.  Clay returns to L.A. to cast a movie he's written and almost immediately strange things start happening: Anonymous texts, threatening cars following his every move, someone breaking into his condo and the sudden appearance of a mysterious would-be actress who really wants a part in his movie.  As Clay tries to hold it together, all the while descending deeper and deeper into alcoholism, cracks start to appear that hint at a much darker past that he has let on

Imperial Bedrooms doesn't quite skewer society as his past novels have done but it follows Lunar Park's lead in telling a nasty little tale of psychological horror while drawing attention to the darkest recesses of Hollywood, the backbone of our culture and what kind of people inhabit it.

Click here for a taste of the mood of the book and assess how much of the devil lives in you.  (I'm 100% evil and already dead inside, according to it.  But then, I didn't need a website to tell me that!)

5.5.11

I'm getting too old for this

Talking about Hobo With a Shotgun the next day made it sound amazing: "There's this bit where they put steel plates on bumper cars and explode old peoples heads with them!" "The girl gets her hand mashed off with a lawn mower and then uses the smashed up arm bone stump to gut the bad guy!" "They have these noose harpoon guns that mean that after they hamstring people, they can shoot them up into the ceiling so that they hang to death!"

But I'm getting ahead on myself.

Hobo With a Shotgun is a Canadian film from the same people who brought the world the trash cinema classics The Red Violin, Last Night and Blindness.  It takes place in Halifax and tells the story of a hobo who comes to town with the dream of setting up his very own lawn mowing company but, after being pushed too far, trades the lawn mower for a shotgun and cinemagic is created!

Pretty much everything sucks in this movie.  From the murder of Ricky from Trailer Park Boys in the first five minutes to the use of garish lighting (Referencing the same colour palate which Dario Argento used in Inferno, Interestingly enough [Get off the stage, nerd boy!]) to cover up bad special effects.  When there's not something incredibly offensive on screen, the movie's fairly sluggish and boring.  There's a scene in which the Hobo talks about the power bears for 15 and a half million years.

That said, it's also pretty great.  It's offensive to just about everything, pushes the limits of bad taste, creates a real sense of dread for the main characters and features Rutger Hauer accidentally showing up playing a tragic Shakespearian lead in a cheap Troma knock off.

Had I have watched this movie 10 years ago, I would have loved it and watched it twenty more times.  But I'm getting old, I guess and was frustrated with it.  First of all, there was too much screaming.  Screaming, screaming, screaming, all the damn time.

Second of all was the swearing.  Sure the fuck-word is awesome but when it's just repeated ad-nauseum without any creativity, it becomes offensively dull and a lame attempt at shock.  Which is more fun?  "Fuck! What the fuck is fucking going on, fuck?" or "Fuckity damn, what in the name of the fuck motel is going the fick fack on, Johnny Wong?"  Hobo opts for the former; I've pulled the latter out of my ass.

And finally there's the lack of politics.  In a good exploitation movie there's got to be some kind of message, however suspect.  Even Street Trash, Hobo's cinematic siamese twin managed a vague message around 'treat Vietnam veterans right of they might encourage hobos to perform criminal acts out of their fear of sex vampires' and had characters you cared a little bit about.  Hobo, other than a lame attempt at 'street people are people too,' doesn't try too hard in the exploitative message that all exploitation films need.  There's not even a politically or socially relevant bad guy; he's just the nerdy loser from Lexx who is playing a live action version of The Raccoon's Cyril Sneer who runs an arcade and forces people at gun point to pretend they're in a reality show whenever he commits a public execution.

See?  It kind of sounds amazing and it pretty much is, however I've outgrown it.  Much to my sadness.  I'll check it out again any maybe I'll change my mind - I want to change my mind - but until I get around to watching FUBAR 2: Balls to the Wall, I'm a little disappointed with the state of Canadian cinema.

Penne all'Arrabbiata

The easiest meal:

  1. Pour 6 TBSP olive oil into a skillet
  2. Add a chopped up chilli or two, seeds and all, and 6 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and poked with a fork a couple of times.
  3. Fry on a medium heat until garlic starts to brown.  Add 1 tin of chopped tomatoes, season & stir over a medium high heat to reduce.
  4. Meanwhile, boil 2 cups of penne lisce until they're about a minute or two away from being al dente and then drain.
  5.  Remove the garlic cloves and add the pasta to the sauce.
  6. Cook the pasta in the sauce for five minutes then serve with lots of parmesan cheese and a bottle of Nero d'Avola.
Serves 3.

29.4.11

Some Thoughts on Being a Bad Parent

I think that it's safe to say that from the moment that Henry was born (If not earlier), Elisabeth and I were hyper-aware that we would be putting him into daycare from a very young age.  This awareness definitely affected our relationship with him, our expectations of him and shaped how we've raised him so far.

It's also fairly safe to say that the transition to daycare (Which Elisabeth covered here and here) was much harder on her than I due largely - and obviously - to the fact that she's spent the last seven months with Henry while I went back to work after three weeks and have long ago adjusted to seeing him first thing in the morning and second to last thing at night.

What I wasn't prepared for was how much Henry would flourish at daycare.  After only a few days he was so much more animated, talkative and genuinely happier.  By being around other kids, most of whom were older than him, he really seemed up to the challenge of Getting On With It and very quickly has started to grow in faster and far more interesting ways, finding much more joy in the world.

It's easy to do so when you go from being an only child to suddenly having nine friends.  It also helps when you've got four adults caring for you and having the energy (read: salary, I'm being honest here) but also drive to work with kids (In keeping with being honest, I sure as hell couldn't hack it) in energetic and creative ways.  It also helps to have a whole school at your disposal along with a wide range of toys which have been collected over years.

There have been the obvious revelations (He loves music) to the less than obvious (He likes to share) that we would never have known had he not have had this kind of interaction.  He has also dealt with the transition really well with the sole exception being his insistence to do a poo just before leaving.

I for one have found that I actually spend more quality time with him (About an hour every morning getting him ready, plus the twenty minute walk to the daycare) and it feels that Elisabeth is still able to connect with him one-on-one between picking him up and by the time I get home.

It's still early days yet but we've started to settle into a routine that feels quite comfortable and has resulted in a much happier child.  One that is suddenly pushing himself to explore new movements and sounds, to be able to deal with change and to socialize with all sorts of people.  I'm happy with the choice we've made and thus far it seems unlikely that he will grow up vote conservative or to torture animals which, as we all know, are one and the same.

28.4.11

Baked Gnocchi

The laziest meal:

  1. Gently fry some chopped garlic in lots of olive oil.
  2. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes and a pack of chopped spinach. Bring to a boil and then simmer to reduce.  Season.
  3. Empty two packs of gnocchi (about a kilo) into a pyrex dish.
  4. Pour the sauce on top then grate mozzarella on top
  5. Bake at 350 until it's done.

26.4.11

Sometimes Wishes DO Come True

Cloverfield is unbridled 9/11 wish fulfillment.   It is eighty-five minutes of terrorist attack ejaculation.

In summary:  A group of American Apparel models (New Yorkers) are suddenly attacked by Godzilla (Al Qaeda)  and the Statue of Liberty (World Trade Centre) is destroyed.

However this time, instead of a fringe group loosely connected to a limited geographic-specific minority based on another continent, led my an extremist among extremists, financed by covert forces of its enemy and with limited power, reach and ability to live; the bad guy in Cloverfield is site-specific, non-philosophical (Other than in its dedication to kill all things New york, ergo, American, ergo lovers of Freedom, ergo, Christians) and tangible.

Cloverfield is everything that America wishes the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were.  It recreates a world where black people are looters (With the occasional sympathetic soldier-man) and the only other minority in Manhattan are honkeys who know more than the people in power.  Whose asinine decisions based on gut instinct, self righteousness and moral crapitude outweigh balanced and rational thought.  It is racist and jingoistic in the worst ways and helps remind and re-enforce the trauma of an event which is a weekly occurrence in other parts of the world.  However, since they're not white, they don't really matter.  Much like the Arabs, Hispanics and other minorities which are killed with glee in Cloverfield while the lives of a few shallow rich white people are given the gravitas of a nation.

Thank God everyones dies in the end.  (Spoiler!)  They all deserve it.  It's just a pity this plays further into the hands of idiots who misunderstand their ethnic and cultural majority to be a minority and believe racists who tell them bullshit.

For such a short movie this feels long and while it has some good special effects it makes believe that the strongest military power in the world in Just Not Good Enough.  While I'm a fan of right-wing movies, I'm not a fan of propaganda and this is the worst kind.

The trailer sums it up: Kinda boring then kinda exciting then kind of even more exciting though if you think about it, kind of dumb and wait a minute, why is the Statue of Liberty's head so small?  And if that doesn't bother you or take you out of the moment or make you think your watching bullshit sold as gold, then bon appetite!

25.4.11

On Gary Ezzo and Babywise

There are a couple of things that have made me want to write about Mr. Gary Ezzo.  The first is is derived from Matt on Survivor: Redemption Island.  Matt will likely go down as the worst player in Survivor history.  He seems to be a likeable enough guy, is certainly intelligent (Pre-med student) but his religious convictions and insistence in putting his fate into the hands of a higher power lead him from stupidity to stupidity.  He is a perfect example of what happens to good people when they abandon logic and common sense in favour of the freedom to not think as encouraged by extremest forms of religion.

The second came as a result of Ken Gallinger's most recent ethics column in The Star.  The relevant section being:

Where the notion of sacrifice goes bad — very, very bad — in Christianity is when people start to believe that Jesus died to mollify an angry God, a deity so vicious “he” would wipe out every sinner on earth unless his anger was sated by the death of an innocent victim. This idea, such as it is, was introduced by the church long after Jesus died. It was then refined until it became a sharp and dangerous instrument for inducing gratitude, then obedience, from the faithful. It’s an idea that would have horrified Jesus, as it should horrify us. Such a god, so hopelessly out of control that he requires the death of one child before he can deal with the wrongdoings of the rest, would be worthy not of worship, but of utter contempt and loathing.
This is not just a matter of obscure religious belief. Its ethical dimensions are obvious. Ordinary people wonder how religious leaders who name themselves “father” could abuse young children. Such abuses are easier to understand against a religious background in which the “Heavenly Father” allows his own son to be abused just to mollify his own raging passions.

And so we come to Gary Ezzo and his Babywise technique.

In a nutshell - and I will keep things to a nutshell, there is plenty of information readily available on him - Mr. Ezzo was complimented on how well behaved his kids were in church.  This led him to create the Babywise publishing empire.  Babywise, as a method to raise your baby is very similar to that of the Baby Whisperer.  The main difference, however, is that instead of getting to know your baby's signals & cues and respond to it's individual needs, you actively avoid learning its signals and cues and make it respond to your own personal needs.  This is generally done through starvation and abandonment.

You see, Gary Ezzo feels that children need to be raised the Christian way.  And by Christian, he means his way.  Looking beyond the fact that such 'fringe' groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics site him as putting babies not just at short term risk of malnutrition, failure to thrive and develop emotionally. Looking beyond the documented long term risks on mental and emotional instability, this is a man who has views so extreme that he has been excommunicated from three extremist evangelical denominations.

In all fairness, I don't know much about the processes involved in excommunication but I'm fairly sure it's quite a difficult feat to accomplish.  People rape babies and don't get excommunicated, yet Gary Ezzo has managed to achieve this three times.

The baffling thing about all this is that when a person is freely (Well, not so free - his parenting starter packs will set you back over a hundred bucks) giving advice (And by advice, I mean abuse), one would look to their own family as an example of how well this persons techniques work.  The Ezzo's personal webpage , which they claim has nothing to do whatsoever with Babywise (In spite of their name being so closely linked with their program.  This is like McDonalds asserting that their webpage has no marketing link whatsoever to the Big Mac.), shows plenty of photos of the Ezzo's posing with lots of people who look like they're family, the only problem is they're not.  Babywises' website, ezzotruth (Hint #1 that someone might be selling snake oil: Their website's domain name is on the defensive from the get-go.) reassures us the Ezzo's are married and there is mention that two of his daughters are married and all together the Ezzos have something like eight grandchildren.  What isn't mentioned is that the Ezzo's have three daughters and are estranged from all of them and their husbands (One of whom embezzled a half million dollars from Babywise).  One is left wondering just how effective a program this is and why the Ezzo's are lying to people.

I'm not going to go on.  This website has loads of resources including a timeline on the controversies surrounding Babywise and an index of articles supporting its stance.  I'll let the Amazon reviews speak for themselves.

I've also realized I've not gotten into the so-called Christian message behind Babywise.  In essence, it is about denying a baby's needs and instincts as these are sinful.  It's an outdated daddy-knows-best mindset filled with nostalgia for an age that never existed.  The theology behind it is totalitarian and it's message and methodology has been closely linked to the grooming practises that cults use to indoctrinate others.  It is what happens when normally good people cease thinking for themselves and allow a perverse and twisted interpretation of love to justify hurting children.

7.4.11

The End of the Trilogy of Terror

This should have been typed up on Saturday following my 3-day marathon of faux-grindhouse features.  After dealing with a fake grindhouse followed by a non-starter, I at last got around to The Real Deal.  I got around to:

The Dead Pit.

This was Tiger Blood:  Something low budget and objectively terrible.  After an epic pre-credit/ credit sequence that somehow took place in the late 60's but looked exactly like a late 80's GWAR video, I was subjected to...

90 minutes of boredom!  This was the perfect grindhouse film: full of great ideas, over the top acting, a plot that made no sense other than to serve the 4 or 5 really cool ideas the filmmakers had while sitting around in their moms basement stoned one night.

In a nutshell, this is about an insane asylum that has, in its basement... The Dead Pit where this crazy psychiatrist (Oxymoron, I know) experiments on people and then throws them into it.  He's killed in the first five minutes.

Flash forward 20 years to a woman with amnesia being admitted to the hospital for no reason what so ever.  She makes friends with a nurse who thinks it's okay to flirt with the patients, a sexy mad bomber who's not really crazy and you know this because he talks in a British accent and buh-buh-buh-Billy from One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest.  After being in the asylum for less than a minute she freaks out, causes an earthquake and brings the mad psychiatrist (Yes, yes, an oxymoron, I know) back to life along with all the bodies in... The Dead Pit.

For the next 45 minutes, nothing makes sense and people talk about stuff until there's been enough filler to make this a feature length movie.  Then the zombies break out, the most obvious of plot twists occurs and the climax happens in supermarionation and then there's another twist that makes the entire film redundant due to it's lack of sense!

This might sound amazing but it's really not.  I can't recommend... The Dead Pit even though I really, really, really want to.  It's that weird kind of so bad it's kinda good but really quite bad kinda movie.  The creator went on to produce the seminal sci-fi extravaganzas Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity so consider yourself warned.

This is the trailer.  Remember that like all true grindhouse films, this looks and sounds much cooler than it really is:

6.4.11

Freedom

The other night Elisabeth and I had a conversation we've had a few time before, centring on how it seems that new parents seem to be under the impression that raising children is something no ones ever done before.  While I think I'm a bit more forgiving than Elisabeth on the subject, I do think that it's interesting that a lot of attention seems to be given to the idea that this is the first generation of kids growing up with unprecedented access to technology and information; less attention is paid to the fact that this is also the first generation of parents raising kids with this kind of access too.

If you compound this with the dichotomous fact - I feel fairly certain I can use the word 'fact' here - that our generation will be the first to have a lower standard of living than our parents (And that more than likely the following generations are going to have, if not increasingly lower standards, radically different realities.), it seems that all this weird arrogance that new parents have may be related to a darker zeitgeist that has yet to be acknowledged.

This sort of ties into my thoughts about finishing Jonathan Franzen's newest novel, Freedom.  In all honesty, I don't mind if he only publishes one novel a decade if those novels are able to weave together such insightful and venomous deconstructions of the spirit of the age (I refuse to use 'zeitgeist' again out of fear of appearing too pretentious) into family dramas which explore the damage that history does to a person.

I'm embarrassed that I let the book sit on my shelf as long as I did before finally giving it a shot.  I'm also not too sure what the sales are like (I suppose we'll have to wait for the paperback to come out to find out) but am fairly sure that they would be tripled had the setting taken place somewhere exotic like India.  People would be able to talk about the culture, how barbaric things are, how his descriptions make you wish you were there, and how foreign yet relatable the characters were.  Instead he writes about the American mid-west with the kind of you-are-there exactitude of Rohinton Mystery that I think would make a lot of readers uncomfortable at how close to home (and below the belt) Franzen comes.  I'm going to totally rip off CBC radio and say "If you're only going to read two books this year, this should be one of them."

29.3.11

Lowering my Standards

So I watched Jonah Hex.  I've never read the comic so I have to assume that the films interpretation of the character is correct: His family was killed and he was scarred and left to die so he gained the power to talk to the dead and then because he didn't like the scar he already had, he double-scarred himself with a red-hot axe.

Jonah Hex stars a bunch of people playing themselves: Josh Brolin plays a guy in a western; John Malkovich an evil version of Falcor and Megan Fox plays a whore.

The film is eighty minutes long and contains at least 8 minutes of flashbacks to remind you what has happened.  So easily ten percent of this movie is repeats of the movie.  This is the power of movies: To make something so dull that you need to be reminded of what you saw right after you saw it.

In a nutshell:  Evil Falcor kills Jonah's family because Jonah realized war is bad and Evil Falcor thinks war is good.  Then Evil Falcor dies.  So Jonah becomes a bounty hunter.  Then Evil Falcor is alive again and planning to ruin Americas centennial.  So Jonah has to stop him and his super weapon.  The super weapon is a boat with a flame thrower on the back and a gatling gun which shoots sci-fi cannonballs in the front.  Over the course of the film we discover that Jonah can torture dead people, has a crow living inside of him (The crow is removed through the power of mud), and that snake people make worthy pit fighters.  Jonah Hex wins (Spoiler!) and invents the tradition of fireworks on the 4th of July.

Jonah Hex smacks of cowardice.  The original writers, Neveldine/ Taylor, are probably the most gifted writers (And exciting directors) working in Hollywood and while you can see the occasional moments of sheer insanity and contempt to humanity and/or logic, their script was re-written & tampered with to the point of weak-minded comprehension (Because I promise you friend that if they had had their way, nothing would have made sense.) and what's left is a PG13 mess.  Thanks to Jonah Hex I've realized PG13 is less a rating and more a warning that what you're about to see has been rendered offensively inoffensively offensive in the hope of losing less money.

Even Mastodon, one of the most exciting post-metal bands of the new century are rendered sterile and impotent in supplying the films so called soundtrack.

This movie is a missed opportunity in every way possible.  Here's the trailer which, if it were a person would be the asshole in high school who beat you up and then became your boss:

28.3.11

Movie Review

I made myself a little stupider today and puttered through Planet Terror.  I've avoided it because it seemed like it touched on too many of my movie fetishes in too knowing (wink, wink, nod, nod.) a way, essentially killing the joke.

Clocking in at just over an hour and a half the film is fairly gruelling and this is not counting that it unapologetically removes twenty minutes from itself just to get to the good stuff.  It's a long running complaint that I have with Robert Rodriguez's films.  There's literally too much.  While this could be considered something positive if you wanted to chill out in front of the TV and say "Holy shit, look at that!" every five minutes but after your thirty-sencond "Holy shit" moment, you can't help but get burned out an somewhat fed up by the third of seven head explosions.

Don't get me wrong, excess to make a point is a strategy/ technique which I enjoy but excess for the sake of it in this way is more indicative of a) someone needing an editor or b) someone needing to save some ideas for a sequel.

The inclusion of a watered down hipster version of The Dead Kennedy's Too Drunk to Fuck, a song about excess, sums up the movie.

Yet I enjoyed the dickens out of the film and would happily watch it 4 more times in ever increasing states of intoxication.  Maybe this has more to do with the day I've had but Mr. Rodriguez and his ability to utterly miss the point of what kind of a movie he was making made something so spectacularly stupid that, like the zombie plague it depicts, is highly contagious.

This is the trailer and yes, the heroine uses yoga to dodge a missile:

27.3.11

Derailed

Totally forgot about the blog for the last fortnight what with two weekends of family and Henry getting his first cold and subsequently giving it to me.  Sick babies are no fun and any schedule he was on has been thrown off completely.  This has not been helped at all by the time change already making things a tad shaky.

In other news, I'm 5 books behind in my Beatrix Potter opus, can now blog my thoughts on Jonathan Franzen's Freedom thanks to Elisabeth finishing it and not having to worry about ruining it for her.  I've also got to get around to fixing that cupboard and do a few other odds & ends that I've been putting off.

And will continue to put off.

In other news, I'm making pizza tonight and I really don't like Arcade Fire.  I've tried and tried but my God they make boring music.  What's the point of being fiercely independent when your sound is a whinier and more anemic version of Coldplay?

8.3.11

The Clothes Make the Manimal

Part 7: The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher

It has taken me long enough but I've just realized what an important role clothing plays in these books.  There's a lot of attention paid to exactly what each animal is wearing to the point of numerous redundancies and non-sequitors.  It has been established thus far that clothes equal personhood and should one of the animals lose their clothes (As seems to happen quite a lot.), they become animal and prey to the dangers of the world.

The animalistic predators are aware of this in Ms. Potters world and seem determined to first disrobe their prey and then eat them.  I now invite all sorts of perverse interpretations of this, considering especially that the victims are young innocents.

Luckily, however, we don't have to go there today as Mr. Jeremy Fisher is your eccentric uncle who lives in the countryside and smells of damp potatoes, has a tendency to drink too much whisky and fires his shotgun at things that irritate him like Mrs. Hiffle's Pomeranian.

Mr. Jeremy Fisher decides to catch some fish as he's having some friends over for dinner, including Sir Isaac Newton (Who just happens to be... a newt!  Comedy thy name in Beatrix.).  As always, things don't go according to plan as Mr. Jeremy Fisher deals with increasingly dangerous situations.

Luckily for him, he's wearing clothes.  Early on a fish tried to nibble a hole in one of his rubbers, a clear indication that the predators lurking behind every bullrush want this old coot naked for their sinister machinations.  When he manages to evade all the attempts to disrobe him, a pike gets fed up and swallows him whole.  Well, not quite.  Thanks to the bad taste of Mr. Jeremy Fisher's mackintosh, he gets spit out and is able to make it home in one pice (Though his clothes slightly less so) to meet his guests for an unsatisfactory dinner.

Like Peter Rabbit before him, clothing has saved Mr. Jeremy Fisher's life from what would have otherwise been a blip in the ecological web that we call life and he is able to go home and be a bad host.

6.3.11

I Dream of Tiggy-Winkle

Part 6: The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.

Say it ain't so, are the Tales winning me over?  Yes and no.  This one was fairly straight forward.  A little girl loses her  handkerchiefs and embarks on a magical quest to find them.  A little bland by today's standards.  Bland by early twentieth century standards too, I imagine.  Throughout the story Lucie is fairly non-plussed about losing them.  After embarking upon a non-journey to find them, she discovers Mammy I mean Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle living in the side of a hill making her living as a maid to all the other animals.

I've noticed that the books are steadily becoming easier to read.  I'm not sure if it's because I've learned the voice to read them in or that Ms. Potter is becoming a more adept writer.  I suspect the latter because there is much less chaff attached to the stories.  The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle does have quite a bit of chaff - do we really need page after page of various animals dirty laundry?  But it works - Yes we do need it because it continues the tales of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny (Shrunken jacket; oniony handkerchief) and makes mention of various other named animals whose names I've noticed have tales attached to them.  It's here I can see Ms. Potter's mythology is starting to take root.

The end however, leaves something to be desired.  As a twist ending (Spoiler: It was all a dream!) it's kind of played out.  It would have been much more interesting if, in fact there really was a four foot tall hedgehog dry cleaner in the side of a hill which, ironically (Double spoiler: It wasn't a dream!) there is.  See?  There's just something not working there.  Why does Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle get to be a giant animal who wears clothes and talks to humans when all the other animals are fairly straight forward and animal-like.  Granted they're anthropomorphized, but when they come into contact with humans all of a sudden they're just animals.  It doesn't make any sense that Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle exists outside that rule.

Otherwise this was a light and fairly harmless tale.  Except for the racism.

TV Made me Stupid... and then Sell Out.

So I kind of love Community.  I've not really wanted to admit that I could possibly enjoy an American sitcom as much as I enjoy Community, but there it is.

There's something that just doesn't work with the American sitcom style of airing 76 episodes a season.  There's no way a steady level of quality can be maintained and, unless it is a rare case (Seinfeld), ends up falling back on repeating jokes & catch phrases to the point of saturation (Big Band [Typo I'm keeping] Theory) or is just the same damn episode over and over and over again (Two and a Half Men [Which could break that cycle if they would start filming yesterday and create one of the most bizarre & innovative TV shows the world has even known.])

But Community seems to work by virtue of embracing the notion of an ensemble cast (Unlike, say, Friends, who would focus on two characters in an A plot, two characters in a B plot and Joey and Phoebe as afterthoughts.), genuinely good writing that eschews beating you over the head with the same dumb catchphrase.  Bazoonga!

 [Aside 1: I wonder how different Seinfeld would have been if it aired today in the age of viral videos and video memes.  One of the odd things is how ahead of its time it appears in terms of coining catch phrases in an age before DVD box sets and YouTube.]

[Aside 2: Am I the only one who now finds Seinfeld uncomfortable to watch in light of the tremendous amount of less than subtle racism that emanates from it, its cast and its legacy?]

Community is the American re-make of Spaced without realizing it.  It's got the same themes (Friendship, an obsessive love of pop culture, a meta-awareness that it's a TV show.) and in spite of what may go on in each episode, a tremendous amount of heart, in which the characters deal realistically with whatever zany adventure that might have.

The characters are also real.  One of the characters has Asperger's and I would compare how the actor plays it verses how another Emmy Award winning actor plays his interpretation and let the difference speak for itself.  Not just in how it's acted but in his interaction with the audience and show as well.

There's an intelligence and an understatement behind the show that American sitcoms lack, avoiding the obvious jokes (Then mocking them when they go there) and a heart that grounds it in reality.  At the end of the day, if you said to your friends and family a third of what characters say to each other on other TV shows, you would be disowned as a social leper.  Community deals with this in a realistic way and as such, makes the antics of the characters a community you actually want to join.  God, how corny is that.

4.3.11

TV Made me Stupid

Oh my God, I love Survivor.  It's been an on again / off again affair (Mainly off) but I have once again fallen in love with it's unique brand of lowest common denominator entertainment.

I was an avid fan of its first few seasons.  I think that a warning flag went up for Elisabeth early in our relationship when I'd insist spending Friday evening at my mom's place watching a recording of Wednesday's episode of Survivor because the TV I had didn't get the channel that it aired on.

Then England happened and Survivor and I drifted apart and I had a passionate but ultimately unrewarding dalliance with Big Brother.  We didn't reconnect until recently, now that I have a lot more time in the evenings and weekends thanks to Henry's presence and online TV.

So a few weeks ago I sank into the morass of Survivor 21: Heroes vs. Villains and re-discovered a lost love.  In the first episode a toe was broken, a shoulder dislocated and a bikini top maliciously ripped off a piece of anorexic eye candy.  It was my grade eleven prom all over again.

There has been a dynamic shift in the mechanics of the game with the contestants hyper-awareness of the history of the game, strategies which have worked, failed, worked then failed, failed then worked and a meta-meta reality/ entertainment/ manipulation through editing and/or competitions and fucks deliciously with the contestants heads and viewers expectations.

Season 22 is gearing up to be a good one.  It feels like the first two episodes were the best first two ever, due to the selection of at least three sociopaths, two personality disorders, one full on nut-nut and and an evangelical Christian who is already food for the lions.

If reality TV is supposed to hold a mirror to ourselves and/or our society (Really, who believes this other than studio execs and the producers of this exploitive dreck.), Survivor continues to outdo itself by putting on display the kind of greedy, capitalistic paranoid over-thinkers with no sense of self awareness or shame that will do anything for money.  These are the people who own businesses, buy up property and run corporations.  For me, it's endless hours of entertainment watching them scheme, screw each other over, be manipulated and, ultimately eat each other alive (Figuratively - though we all know what being 'voted off' really means.) for the sake of an anti-human ideology.

3.3.11

More Beatrix Potting

Part 5: The Tale of Two Bad Mice.

I really liked this tale.  I liked that Beatrix Potter created a story about a real child's dollhouse and her own pet mice.  I liked how they interacted, I liked the imagination.  I loved reading aloud the name Hunca Munca to little Henry.

But what I liked best was the murder at least one of the children of the mice.  The murders are subtle but they're there.  After the mice have vandalized the doll house and taken as much as they could back to their home, the little girl who owns it wanted her parents to buy a policemen doll to protect it.  Instead the parents buy a mouse trap.  And there, bright as day, the accompanying image shows Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca with their four children staring ominously and the wooden box.

Immediately the story switches to the mice engaging in indentured servitude to the doll house and the dolls therein.  The question is, what has caused the sudden shift?  Just the threat of death or something more sinister?  Were this to have been the first and only book written by Beatrix Potter, I would have assumed the threat of death alone would have cowed the little rodents into subservience.  However, based on her established record of placing young animal children in harms way, it's not unlikely that at least one of Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca's children would have paid the Ultimate Price (Which is not $19.99 in four easy payments) for the crimes of their parents.

Bad mice, indeed.

(For those who care, there a big ol' Wikipedia entry about the book.  Naturally, in order to keep by beautiful brain free from the influence of so called web scholars, I've not bothered to read it.)

Next Time: Something that's not Beatrix Potter-related.  I don't like committing so strongly to a theme.

1.3.11

Peter Rabbit 2: Electric Boogaloo

Part 4: The Tale of Benjamin Bunny.

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny picks up right after The Tale of Peter Rabbit.  In it, Peter Rabbit's cousin, the titular Benjamin Bunny, arrives at the Rabbit's sandy hole and we discover something very unpleasant about Ms. Rabbit, Peter's mom: She's a dealer in contraband.

You see, it was established in Peter Rabbit that the father was long dead - caught by the farmer and turned into food - and as such, Ms. Rabbit has had to find different ways to earn money, selling hats and little parcels of rabbit tobacco which Ms. Potter immediately back peddles on, saying that at rabbit tobacco is really lavender.  Ri-i-i-i-ght.

One is led to wonder just how potent this 'lavender' really is, since life seems to be quite normal at the Rabbit's, however Peter is still a gibbering mess: naked, wrapped in a pink handkerchief, and cowering out back while life goes on all tickety-boo for Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail those bitches.

So Benjamin, it turns out, is quite brave (And not just because he wears clogs!) and takes pity on Peter and recommending they get his clothes back, thus restoring his dignity and, one would hope, a place in his home.  As luck would have it, the farmer had gone out for the day and the two rabbits get Peter's  clothes and Benjamin builds his cousin's confidence back up by encouraging him to eat as he now timidly wanders around, a shell of a living creature.

And, since this is Beatrix Potter, we need something to happen to scar the protagonists so up pops the farmers cat (Once again, cat = evil) and chases them.  They hide under a basket which the cat then sits on for five hours causing the rabbits such emotional turmoil that Ms. Potter states explicitly in the text that she can't draw what went on in the darkness of that basket.

As luck would have it, Benjamin Bunny's father (Also named Benjamin Bunny.  The imagination on display when it comes to names is just earth shattering.) shows up - and this, I think, is key - smoking rabbit tobacco and in a bizarre display of violence that would make Charlie Sheen proud, attacks the cat, beats up the cat and then beats his son and nephew and sends them home where Peter is reintegrated back into the family thanks to getting his clothes back and will no longer have to starve to death in the Rabbit family's back yard.

Also, I think there should be a rule that all children's stories should end with a drug crazed family member coming out of nowhere and beating the shit out of everybody.  It would make Goodbye Moon so much more interesting.

The Tail. Or, of Gloucester

Part 3: The Tailor of Gloucester.

While reading this, the third book in Ms. Potter's magnum opus, I couldn't help but be reminded of its shocking similarity two two other great works of art:  Halloween 3: Season of the Witch and A Clockwork Orange.

Like Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, The Tailor of Gloucester takes a series of precedents established in the first two stories and then goes in a completely different direction for the third outing.  In this case, it is a sudden shift from child-like animals living in the woods being traumatized by the realities of the world to the story of a tailor in Gloucester (You've got to hand it to Ms. Potter how she cleverly links the titles of her books to their content) who is tormented to the point of poverty, illness and insanity by the pettiness of his cat because he ruined its meal (Quite a realistic plot, if you ask me.  No sarcasm intended.  Everyone knows cats are evil.).  Whereas in the Halloween series it is a shift from an indestructible William Shatner mask wearing serial killer hunting babysitters to androids harnessing the power of Stonehenge into Halloween masks that will kill children (Also a surprisingly plausible plot, if you ask me.)

Like A Clockwork Orange, Ms. Potter for some reason decided to write The Tailor of Gloucester in a fictional language, not too dissimilar to Nadsat with odd words and terms like 'paduasoy,' 'green worsted chenille,' 'ribbons for mobs' and frequent references to 'tippets.'

So the moral of this story - After freeing a bunch of mice his cat had trapped, the tailor's cat tortures him which means that the tailor won't be able to sew a coat for the soon to be wed mayor of Gloucester.  As such, the freed rodents work together to sew the coat while the tailor is being tortured.  The cat only stops when he realizes that he's not going to get fed.  The tailor is happy to discover that a bunch of house mice are as good or better tailors than he is, puts on the finishing touches on the coat and becomes rich and famous.  His cat doesn't learn any lesson and the tailor employs the mice in his shop in a weird sort of indentured servitude to sew the finishing touches on his coats - is, ah...  That the moral of the story is, um... that cats are evil?

I suspect the true moral, much like the true moral of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, is to go back to what works in part four.  Which she did.