Monthly Archives: September, 2008

The Book Thief

So I finally read The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. A friend had warned me not to read it until I had a lot of time to devote to it, because I wouldn’t want to put it down, and she was right. I used to walk to school reading a book; this book made me want to do that again. When I finished it, I thought about lending it a friend; then I decided that I didn’t want to let it out of my sight quite so quickly. I might have to buy another copy, so that I have one to loan and one to keep at home.

It’s amazing. It’s brilliant. It left me in a daze for a while after (just ask my husband). It’s not at all my normal reading material – it’s set in Germany in WW2 – I tend not to read books like this because you just know there will be sad bits, and I don’t like sad bits. But this… well, I’m struggling to figure out what to write here, frankly. You should just go buy it. Let me try a little though:

The narrator is surprising, and it works. Really works. The perspective, while not entirely unique I think, had an edge to it that made the story seriously compelling. Not that the story wasn’t compelling by itself, of course: Liesel goes to live with foster parents – it’s late 1930s, Munich – and has to deal with a new situation and tragedy and, in the background, Hitler.

One of the really interesting aspects of the story is that Hitler and the Nazis are not in the foreground. For the reader he is (well, for this one, anyway), but not for Liesel. This makes perfect sense, since Liesel is in early adolescence and probably at that age, unless you had extremely political parents (or were Jewish/other persecuted group), you didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in wider Germany at the time. I know most of my students of that age don’t today. So there’s an awareness of Hitler, but it’s the personal ramifications that absorb more of Liesel’s attention.

Zusak’s descriptions are one of the powerful aspects of this story. His metaphors and juxtapositions are frequently startling, but for me it all worked together to create a vivid, compelling picture.

The idea that books and words can be so compelling in a life is a delight to read about, and brings joy to my heart as well as affirmation. Books are pivotal in everything that happens in Liesel’s story, and it all makes sense: there’s nothing forced about the connections. There was no moment where I felt dubious about a reaction, or a progression, or a result.

This is a glorious, wonderful book, and everyone should read it. It’s probably aimed YA, but my mother read it (she doesn’t tend to read YA like me), and she declared it one of the best books she’s ever read. Which I think is a pretty good recommendation.

Moby Dick

Just watched the 1998 TV version, with the delightful Patrick Stewart as Ahab (and a little cameo from Gregory Peck, Ahab of the 1950s). I thought I recognised Ishmael, but it wasn’t until nearly the end when there was a shot of him looking particularly astonished, that I realised who he was. Henry Thomas: better known to those of my generation as Elliot, little boy who finds ETs and helps them go home.

It’s a good movie – heck of a lot more interesting than the book, which manages to have a whole chapter on why a whale is actually a fish. The CGI was a bit average though; either it’s improved a lot in a decade, or Hallmark and Channel 9 couldn’t schill out for the good stuff. Stewart was great; Ted Levine as Starbuck was magic, and Mr Stubbs – whom I recognised from FarScape – was also excellent. It was a bit weird to have a Maori as Queeqeg, though, I thought: surely he’s meant to be Native American? Or is it unclear what sort of ‘savage’ he is, in the book? It’s been a looong time since I read it.

I don’t think I’m mad enough to have a white whale. I’m not quite obsessive enough.

The Last Legion

Well, call me naive, but I did actually think that this movie would be at least partly based on history, which is why I was interested in watching it. Perhaps that indicates how little TV I watch, because clearly I hadn’t watched the theatrical trailer for it. Otherwise, I would have known that while the beginning is based on historical fact – the Goths being nasty buggers on Rome – the rest was a glorious fantasy.

Spoiler Alert! Stop here if you don’t want it a bit spoiled!

Once I saw little Romulus go for the sword, and read the ‘Latin’ inscription there, I realised vaguely in which direction it was heading… hello, Caliburnus! Not for nothing am I an Arthur tragic. Mind you, it did take my fuzzy little mind a while to realise the teacher was Ambrosinus and the captain Aurelius, so maybe it has actually been too long since I thought about it.

Anyway, once I realised that this was an Arthur-fantasy, I switched expectations and really quite enjoyed it. One one level, anyway, it was miles better than poor old Clive Owen’s Arthur, by which I was utterly disappointed (except for Hengist). To be honest I had been enjoying this one even before I realised what was going on: the nice prince/pauper moment at the start; Colin Firth in general; John Hannah… and the sets were quite nice too, except for that utterly CG statue the kid insisted on moping about on top of. (And as kid actors go, he wasn’t too hopeless.)

A couple of things disappointed me. Mira – well, it was cool to have a chick warrior (always is!), and it was obvious why she was included, but I thought the romance was a bit rushed. Vortigern – cool mask, but not enough back story. I was hoping to find out he was Ambrosinus’ evil brother; that would have been cool.

It does fascinate me that so often Rome is equated with either America or Britain… Firth’s not-particularly-rousing speech about Roman warriors and Roman hearts sounded like something that would appear in a patriotic movie today (it could almost be dubbed into Independence Day). Seriously, it makes me wonder whether these writers/directors know anything about that empire. Probably not.

Eragon

Watched the movie today.

meh.

Malkovitch was cool. Hamish Macbeth (Robert Carlisle, is it?) was ok; Rachel Weisz was entirely average as Sapphira’s voice. Jeremy Irons… was Jeremy Irons. The boy who played Eragon was average.

All up, disappointing.

Oh well.

The best villains

ooooh another list!

This one lists the 50 worst villains of literature. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a count down, but I think it does work that way. I haven’t read a lot of the books on the list, so I’m not going to start passing judgment; it is interesting to see what the compilers have to say about each one, though.

Yes, clearly there are names that I would add, and some I don’t think are necessarily that bad. But seriously, this is much more interesting than reading the Top 50 Heroes.

Boycott

I saw a preview today that makes me shudder and call for a boycott.

House Bunny.

Now, with a title like that, it’s hard not to desperately want to see it, yeh? And the lead ‘actress’ looks like a wannabe Goldie Hawn. What could possibly be bad about that?

Old Playboy Bunny goes to be a sorority Mom. Turns nerdy girls into glamour queens.

Because what all of us nerdy girls desperately want is to be liked for our boobs, not our brains. Yup.

Anyway, I say: argh! and Boycott!

/grumble away into my little nerdy hidey-hole…

ETA: someone pointed out to me that I don’t actually want a boycott, as I was never going to see it in first place. I more want a “violently object loudly to the movie at every opportunity” movement.

Next: A Public Service Announcement

That is, it’s next up; and it’s about Next.

Sometimes I’m so clever I amaze myself.

At any rate: Next. Nic Cage, Jessica Biel, Julianne Moore. Las Vegas magician can see 2 minutes into the future but only about himself. How could it possibly not be an awesome B-grade flick??

I spent most of the movie wondering just how much clout you have to have before you get away with having really, really bad hair in a movie. Because in this one, Cage’s hair is distractingly bad. Worse than his acting.

Oh, and the movie? Avoid at all costs. Rarely have I seen worse.

LOTR

Don’t enjoy LOTR (Kate)? Just look away now. I am happy to count myself among the myriad fans of the series.

I re-watched the LOTR movies the other day: my love was out a number of nights, and I wanted to watch something I knew he could take or leave, and they fit the bill. I do like them, a lot. Much of the action etc is, as far as I am concerned, true to Tolkien’s intention. However, I realised again that there are some characters who rather hard done by, in the films.

Saruman: odd choice, perhaps, but I think that to imply that he just stays happily in Orthanc after his plans are ruined sells him short. The white wizard, planning to share Sauron’s glory, stays cooped up in his tower? I think now. Plus, how much more satisfactory is it to know that he goes from magus supremo to hedge wizard, accompanied only by Wormtongue?

Tom Bombadil: utterly, utterly hard done by, due to his complete absence. I can narratively understand why he was left out, but that doesn’t make me any happier about it. Besides, how can a viewer have the appropriate fear of Fangorn Forest if they havne’t first experienced Old Man Willow?

Ghan-buri-Ghan: as for Bombadillo.

Treebeard: why, the movie makes him out to be positively hasty.

The Shire: no chance for the Cottons et al to show their mettle? Very sad. No Scourging of the Shire was one of my greatest disappointmentswith the films.

Aragorn and Arwen: give up on each other?? I don’t think so, sunshine.

I might have to go read the book again.

I love fans

I love the internet, and I love fans.

Because truly, Star Trek as the A-Team? Does it get any better?

Just the titles… but surely this could be the start of something bigger?

Two utterly different movies

1. Aeon Flux. I love this movie. I love the look, I love Theron, I love Csokas… it’s just wonderful. I’ve never seen the animated series and from the stills I don’t want to. For me, this movie exists in glorious isolation. Yes, there are vague resonances with cloning issues today (and it could be interesting to draw parallels between it and Children of Men), but they’re not important for my enjoyment of the film. It’s just cool, and it remains so – this must be the third time I’ve seen it, and I could probably rewatch it every year or so.

2. Dukes of Hazzard. One that, frankly, I thought I would never bother to watch, but it was just sitting there, and J convinced me we should give it a go. So, OK, it’s hilarious in spots. And there’s not quite as much of Jessica Simpson’s boobs as I had expected. The car chases are fun to watch; Luke and Bo are an enjoyable duo, and it’s played well by Scott and Knoxville. Boss Hogg could have been a bit more evil, I thought – he wasn’t quite as hateful as I anticipated. And heck, who doesn’t like a spot of Willie Nelson being a moonshine-swilling, Korean War vet? So it was entirely appropriate fun for a Saturday night.