Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Books Bought

Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together (NF 2006) - Ron Hall & Denver Moore

A homeless drifter and an upscale art dealer. What would they have in common? How would their paths ever even cross? I've heard a lot about this dual memoir. It seems people either love it or hate it. I thought for the price it was worth the risk.

Hardcover; Price = $3.99

The Man Who Would Be King and Other Stories - Rudyard Kipling

I remember Jeffrey Ford talking favorably about Kipling and his short fiction, particularly the story "The Phantom 'Rickshaw," which is included here. I'm not wild about the small print that the Oxford World's Classics line seems to embrace, but that's why God made reading glasses.

Trade paperback; Price = $1.99

Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys That Should Be (NF 2008)

There's been an awful lot written about the Emergent Church the past few years, some good, some bad. I'll be honest: I don't know that much about the Emergent Church, but I'm eager to read this opinion of two guys who aren't, yet seem to fit the Emergent "mold" pretty well.

Trade paperback; Price = $10.19

Objects of Grace: Conversations on Creativity and Faith (NF 2002) - James Romaine

I was recommended this one by Ned Bustard, editor of It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God. Square Halo Books produces some gorgeous work and it looks like Objects of Grace is no exception. I'll let you know.

Trade paperback; Price = $13.59

Feathers (J-Fic 2007) - Jacqueline Woodson

I actually bought this one yesterday at the Great Books conference. Woodson was the guest speaker and she read from several of her books, including this one, which I thought the most engaging. I also met her and got her to sign my copy. Very nice lady.

Hardcover, signed; Price = $14.00

Total Book Expenditures for March = $43.76

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What Do These Two Films Have in Common?

What do these two films have in common, you ask? Not much, other than the fact that I saw parts of both of them while running on the treadmill yesterday. Gold's Gym has really upgraded their Cardio Cinema (sometimes referred to by me as Cardiac Cinema): the exercise equipment is better, the film sound clearer and the area darker. Yet the film choices continue to defy logic.

I came in during what seemed to be the halfway point of the 2005 version of House of Wax. It was around 9:45 a.m., maybe a slightly weird time to show a horror movie, but I found that my workout (at least the first 20 minutes of it) went really quickly. Not that House of Wax is anything great; from what I saw, it stunk, but at least it kept me moving.

At least until Elisha Cuthbert gets her index finger sliced off at the first knuckle. (If it had been her big toe, that might've been the end of my run right then and there.)

Maybe the employees at Gold's thought, "Okay, maybe this is too much for 10:00 a.m. Let's go in a different direction."

Which they certainly did. Running at a pace between 6.4 and 7.0 while watching Eddie Murphy's Daddy Day Care was pure torture. Maybe if I'd thought about running away from it, the last fifteen minutes of my workout might've been easier. Don't get me wrong, this may be a great family film, but for a sprint-to-the-finish run, give me the mindless slasher/big explosion/car chase/action films. At least they're good for something.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

BSG Goes Big-Time

Apparently it was Battlestar Galactica Night at the UN last night. Yes, that UN, the United Nations. Several of the writers and actors from the show met UN representatives to discuss human rights issues, terrorism and more. (Can anyone say "Frak"?) Read all about it here.

Battlestar Galactica in its 2003-to-the-present incarnation (The original series, for all you young kids, aired in 1978.) on the SciFi Channel has been an excellent show, often spectacular. As an avid follower, I will be sad to see the series end this Friday night. It was a great ride.

And in not-so-great a move, The SciFi Channel will change its name in July to "SyFy." I kid you not.

(Thanks, T, for sending me the article!)

Monday, March 16, 2009

He's Doing It Again

Just ignore the image above; it's not true. But this is exciting: Bob Dylan's new studio album, Together Through Life will be released on April 27. There's a brief interview with Bob here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Let the Right One In (2008)

There are two moments in Let the Right One In that are absolutely perfect both in simplicity and pure horror. Each involves an invitation delivered with innocence, friendship and playfulness, yet the answer to each invitation is shockingly deadly. You'll probably recognize those two moments when you see the film, but because the rest of the film is so stunningly good, it may be hard to isolate them.

Oskar is a twelve-year-old Swedish boy who endures bullies at school and an emotionally absent mother at home. One evening while playing outside he fantasizes about standing up to one of the school's toughest bullies when he meets a girl named Eli (pronounced "Ellie"). Strange that in the middle of winter, she's barefooted and hardly wearing any clothes at all as she sits atop a jungle gym, watching Oskar. As she jumps down (and you wonder for a second if she's jumping down or floating down), she immediately tells Oskar that they cannot be friends. Oskar is confused. He doesn't know she's a vampire, but we do.

Despite Eli's warning, the two do become friends. The problem is that Eli is the only friend Oskar has and he wants to know her better. Not in a sexual way; Oskar isn't there yet. He's as hungry for friendship as Eli is for blood. That yearning for friendship leads to the two moments I mentioned earlier. In an American film, those two moments would be telegraphed, set-up in a way that everyone in the audience would expect. Not so here. Maybe that's one reason they're so powerful.

This is the type of film you must see when you think "Well, everything with vampires that can be done has been done." Nope. It's just not true. Let the Right One In is one of those rare jewels that doesn't come along very often, a film that's beautiful and painful to look at, a film that explores friendship and hatred, suffering and understanding.

There are many touching scenes in the film, but remember, this is a horror movie. Blood, gore and violence are all present, make no mistake. If you think most horror films are simplistic and unintelligent, you owe it to yourself to see Let the Right One In. These two child actors are among the best I've ever seen, especially considering the complex emotions at play.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eden Lake (2008)

I'm not really sure what I can tell you about Eden Lake without some major spoilers, so I'll keep it brief: Eden Lake is an intense, violent, disturbing and mostly well-produced horror film that will stick with you whether you want it to or not. If you haven't seen it and intend to, read no further. Spoilers abound!

Jenny and Steve are a young couple driving through England looking for a nice romantic getaway. We know there's going to be trouble very early on when a radio show discusses child truancy and its consequences. (Why the couple wants to listen to this during a romantic outing, I can't imagine.) Steve knows of a nice, quiet hidden place called Eden Lake and drives there only to find that Eden Lake is soon to become a gated community that will probably force out several of the fairly low-income families already living in the area.

The lake itself is indeed beautiful and Steve and Jenny have it all to themselves until a group of teenagers with a mean dog and a loud radio show up. There's a brief confrontation and the couple decides to leave.

But they come back. Steve is full of indecision, not wanting to stir things up, but also wanting to hang onto the privacy that was his and Jenny's. The kids steal Steve's Jeep, so Steve can't ignore that. He has to get involved. When he discovers the house where the kids hang out, he sneaks in to confront them, but finds himself in way over his head.

This is where both the real drama and the moral dilemmas of Eden Lake really take off. At this point, neither side is in the right; the kids have stolen Steve's car, but Steve has illegally entered someone's home. The stakes are raised even further during a fight between Steve and the kids where the teen leader Brett's dog is killed. Both sides are right and both sides are wrong. Then things begin to go terribly and tragically wrong for both sides.

You could make the case that the kids (apples who don't fall too far from the parents' tree) are simply fighting back against two people who represent the type of people who are ultimately about to remove them from their homes. But it goes far beyond that. Eden Lake shows the lengths that the sadistic Brett will go to, making videos of each of the members torturing Steve, claiming that they're all in this together. Most of the answers come in the last few minutes of the film when we meet the parents, the creators of the true nightmare.

The acting and cinematography are excellent. At first I wanted to know more about the parent/child dynamics, but when the film was over, I realized I probably knew everything I needed to know. I felt manipulated by director James Watkins, especially by some of the implausible deaths, but I must admit Watkins took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a lot to think about.

Eden Lake is filled with graphic violence, much of it inflicted on children. Let me make it clear: children are killed. Horribly. If you've read this far and are looking for a typical horror movie, this isn't it. Don't see this film if you're looking for a happy ending, justice or mercy. You won't find any of it.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

February Books Read (in progress)

Killshot (1989) - Elmore Leonard

February was definitely YA month, thanks to preparations for the Great Books conference at the end of March. (Four of these books are part of that reading list.) But before any of that started, I decided it was time to read some Elmore Leonard, always a treat. Killshot was no exception. Maybe not Leonard's best, but a fast-moving tale with plenty of unsavory characters. The film version (which I did not know about when I started the book) should be out now.

Logged On and Tuned Out: A Non-Techie's Guide to Parenting a Tech-Savvy Generation (NF 2007) - Vicki Courtney

A lady from my church suggested this book to me. I talked about it on my blog having to do with cultural matters of interest to Christians here. If you don't care to visit the link, I do recommend the book, mainly for parents who have little to no clue as to computer/cell phone technology, but I don't feel the book goes far enough. Neither does it address the state of a parent's current relationship to her children enough.

The Final Solution (2004) - Michael Chabon

Chabon is always worth your time and this slim volume, while not his best work, is fun.

Looking for Alaska (YA 2005) - John Green

Thus begins the great YA adventure, although this one isn't part of the Great Books conference. (Think of it as the pre-game show, okay?) 16-year-old Miles Halter decides his life doesn't have enough...well, life, so he leaves his bland Florida existence (How could a 16-year-old have a bland existence in Florida?) and enrolls in an Alabama boarding school, where he discovers, among other people and things, Alaska. (Alaska is a girl. A hot girl.) Far more deep and significant than I'm making it sound.

Deadville (YA 2008) - Ron Koertge

So far my favorite of the Great Books list. For some reason, this quiet little novel really connected with me. Ryan is a high school kid that's basically sleepwalking through life two years after his little sister died of cancer. When a senior girl named Charlotte (who doesn't even know Ryan's alive) has an accident and falls into a coma, Ryan is there by her side everyday. He spends less and less time around his slacker friend Andy (No comparisons, now....) and begins his own awakening. Better than I'm making it sound.

The Hunger Games (YA 2008) - Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games has its faults, but still I couldn't put it down. Children from the 12 districts are chosen by lottery to participate in a fight to the death, a real "Survivor" scenario. Very compelling, although sometimes you must suspend disbelief. If child-on-child violence bothers you, stay away.

The 39 Clues, Book 1: The Maze of Bones (J-Fic 2008) - Rick Riordan

I read this one for a library program that I went to observe. Certainly not great children's literature, but it has a good chance of getting kids interested in reading with its fast-paced, race-against-the-clock plot, cloak-and-dagger danger as a group of kids seek untold treasures and wealth. Again, kids will probably go for it. First in a series of ten planned books.

Bog Child (YA 2008) - Siobhan Dowd

Eighteen-year-old Fergus McCann finds a dead body buried in the mountains of Ireland, a body that may be hundreds of years old. This novel did not go at all where I expected it to, but Dowd's story is hard to put down, touching on friendship, family, responsibility and love. Highly recommended.

Little Brother (YA 2008) - Cory Doctorow

I loved about the first third of the story of Marcus, a high school kid who survives the aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco, only to be suspected of terrorism himself by the powers that be. A little too much tech wore me down, but I still enjoyed it.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Decoy (1946)

Decoy is one of ten films in the Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4 and so far, is the weakest entry in that set. The film starts interestingly enough with a zombie-like man in a suit silently headed for some unknown but crucial meeting. It goes downhill from there as a wicked blonde (Jean Gillie) confesses her life of crime and wickedness to a detective (woodenly acted by Sheldon Leonard). I don't know if Monogram Pictures made much of a business out of ultra-low budget flicks (I'd never heard of them before this), but this one is pretty bottom-of-the-barrel as far as production values go. There are a few interesting scenes, but unfortunately they're overshadowed by clumsy direction and bad pacing. To be avoided unless you are a noir fanatic.

Monday, March 02, 2009

February Books Bought

Ah, the snow.... Ah, the shoveling.... Ah, let's take a break and see what was purchased last month.


It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God (NF 2007) - Ned Bustard, ed.

Okay, this was a book purchased with birthday money, so technically it's not a book bought, but I thought I'd include it anyway. I met Ned Bustard, the book's editor a few weeks ago and was very impressed with him and his ideas about Christianity and art. The book includes some absolutely gorgeous color prints of some really spectacular art. I've just started the book, but so far I highly recommend it.

Trade Paperback; Price = $0

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (NF 2007) - Tim Challies

This book was recommended to me by a couple of people as well as by a couple of websites. I'm about 65 pages in and it's excellent.

Trade Paperback; Price = $11.55

Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South (NF 2005) - Ralph C. Wood

Regular readers of this blog (That would be you, John.) know that I'm goo-goo over all things Flannery O'Connor, so ordering this book was a no-brainer. So what if I haven't even finished Mystery and Manners? I needed something to push me over into the Free Shipping category on my recent Amazon order, so there you have it.

Trade Paperback; Price = $10.88

The Ultimate Teen Book Guide (NF 2007)

For sale on Amazon at half-price a couple of weeks ago, this book is even cheaper now. I looked over a copy before I bought it, but after a brief glance, I knew it would be a great resource for YA and J-Fiction Readers Advisory. If you're into YA literature, I highly recommend it. (Get it now, while it's cheap and Amazon still has copies left.)

Trade Paperback; Price = $7.95 (but you can get it now for $5.99)

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences (NF 2006) - Kitty Burns Florey

I used to love diagramming sentences as a kid. (I'm weird that way, I know.) I saw this one at Daedalus Books, the place where my habit manifests itself most.

Hardcover; Price = $5.95

Baseball Field Guide: An In-Depth Illustrated Guide to the Complete Rules of Baseball (NF 2006) - Dan Formosa and Paul Hamburger

I've only gotten into baseball the past few years and haven't seen nearly all the books on the sport, but if there's a better book on explaining the rules clearly, I'd like to see it. I don't see how you could top this one (although there is a newer 2008 edition out).

Trade Paperback; Price = $5.98

Chambers Film Factfinder (NF 2006)

I was standing in the middle of Daedalus Books, reading almost the entire first section on actors when I decided to just buy the blasted thing.

Trade Paperback; Price = $4.95

How do you like that? Not one work of fiction! Hmmmm.... Might have to dwell on that awhile.

Total Book Expenditures for February = $47.26

Next time: The books I actually read.