Friday, October 31, 2008

Wicked, book review

Posted by lea at 3:18 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Hmm, must say I'm rather disappointed with this book. It's alright in its own way, but certainly not worth all the hype that's followed it. I got bored about two-thirds of the way through and just wanted to race through it to the end.

A lot of the hype surrounding the book has related to its discussion on the question of evil, and whether it's really what we think it is, but rather than touching on the philosophical question of the nature of evil, Wicked actually just re-interprets the story of Oz and turns the widely believed perceptions of the characters upside down. The 'Wicked Witch of the West' is actually just a passionate and idealistic young woman called Elphaba who becomes an Animal-activist and political hermit, often misunderstood because of her unfortunate green skin. She's always the outsider, aligning herself with the disenfranchised and maligned. The 'Wizard of Oz' in Wicked is a power-monger and usurper from another world, while Dorothy is simply a farm girl from Kansas who gets caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There are a lot of characters introduced in the book and a variety of events that don't seem to serve any purpose. The plot wearies on and on... Gregory Maguire builds a lot of expectation and hype around some characters and items like the enchanted shoes, the old witch Yackle, the midget and the time clock that, much like his book, don't actually go anywhere.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

Posted by lea at 12:03 PM 0 comments Links to this post
The title is ironic: the author is attempting to write a heartbreaking work of staggering genius and he is wholly self-conscious about this endeavour. This is a rather mammoth book that describes the vulnerable, aching, egocentric and contradictory thoughts of one Dave Eggers, author extraordinaire.

The story in a nutshell is this: Dave's mother and father both die of cancer in separate incidents within months of each other. The older kids - Bill, Beth and Dave - are all grown up, but Toph, the seven year old, becomes the unofficial ward of Dave, who is 22 when he essentially becomes a single parent.

Eggers' writing is almost painfully self-aware. He deserves to be pitied. He wants to be famous. He wants to write something breathtakingly beautiful. And, in his own way, he has. He's a great storyteller and the introduction alone is worth reading for its whimsy, wit and two-fingers up to convention, including a section on 'Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book'. He's the quintessential Gen X'er - if there is such a thing.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius has been compared to the work of JD Salinger, nominated as a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and received a host of laudatory reviews across America. After reading it, you feel like you really know the guy, and you can imagine him receiving it all with a deep sense of deserving such praise while mocking himself for wanting it so much. This is a book in which the author really bares his soul.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Jane Austen Book Club, book review

Posted by lea at 11:37 AM 0 comments Links to this post
My third read in around a year and a half, and it improves each time. The first time I was a bit offended because it seemed that the plot had very little to do with Austen, but the second time it grew on me, and the third time I really enjoyed the subtleties I didn't pick up the first time (because I was so busy being offended).

The Jane Austen Book Club is about a group of people - mostly female, mostly older - who gather each month to read and discuss a different Jane Austen novel. Karen Joy Fowler, the author, obviously knows and loves her Austen, skillfully weaving the themes and ideas of the novels into each chapter. So subtly, in fact, that I failed to pick up some of it in my first read.

She uses an interesting method of first-person narrative in writing as a member the book club ('us', 'we'), yet the narrator is clearly none of the members themselves. It's as though the narrator is the collective consciousness of the club, and this makes you feel part of the group without intruding on them.

The characters are all very different, but drawn together by their love of Austen... mostly. There's the efficient and brisk Jocelyn who started the club, the I'm-letting-myself-deliberately-go older member Bernadette, Prudie the French teacher who likes to drop un petit peu of Français into each conversation, Jocelyn's best friend and recently-separated Sylvia, her beautiful self-centred lesbian daughter Allegra, and Grigg, the only male member -

She [Jocelyn] introduced us all to Grigg. He had brought the Gramercy edition of the complete novels, which suggested that Austen was merely a recent whim. We really could not approve of someone who showed up with an obviously new book, of someone who had the complete novels on his lap when only Emma was under discussion. Whenever he first spoke, whatever he said, one of us would have to put him in his place.

There's nothing big or loud about The Jane Austen Book Club. Instead, it's very enjoyable for its quiet wit and unobtrusive narrative. Yet, in true Jane Austen style, the characters find love, forgiveness and all the good things that make us human. Big thumbs up from me.

Oh, and the movie's pretty good too.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Eagle Eye, movie review

Posted by lea at 11:43 AM 0 comments Links to this post
The idea around which Eagle Eye centres is not particularly new – at it's core, it's a question of whether artificial intelligence in the form of Big Brother (or in this case Big Sister) justifies the loss of personal privacy. And of course, Big Sis inevitably turns on her creators 'for their own sake'.

The action is carried by two main stars – Shia LaBeouf of Transformers fame plays Jerry, the less-accomplished twin in his family (this is an important fact) and Michelle Monaghan, a single mum who's motivated by the safety of her son. These two are thrown together as fugitives in a string of incidents orchestrated down to the split-second in order to accomplish a mission they're not even aware of. It soon becomes evident why Jerry has been selected for the task, but it's less obvious why 'the female' (as she's called by Big Sis) was selected – especially at the end when she doesn't complete the order she's given and Big Sis simply goes 'well don't worry about it, I'll do it some other way'. One senses that the female is simple there to provide a romantic counterpart for Jerry, but to the movie's credit, this doesn't become evident until right at the very end. The plot of the movie isn't that complicated, but the journey that Big Sis sends the pair on is rather convoluted – you'd think that a computer with super-intelligence could simplify things a little.

What Eagle Eye lacks in originality, it makes up for in action. Cars get smashed, people get blown up, a fighter plane gets involved – this is one $$expensive$$ film. The action is not really taut as much as it is just plain BIG. Lots of cars get smashed. Big explosions occur. Director DJ Caruso (who also directed Disturbia) gives Michael Bay a run for his money in epic collateral damage. But then, I'm sure I saw Steven Spielberg's name as an Executive Producer, so that explains that too.

Billy Bob Thornton surprisingly appears as a Government agent who predictably goes from foe to friend of the fugitives, but this role is too thin for his abilities and one can't help feel that he's been wasted in this film. The release of Eagle Eye was timed for the school holidays, and I think that's where the audience is - high schoolers and pre-teens to whom the concepts might still be relatively new, who will appreciate the explosions and graciously overlook the lack of subtlety.

Personally, I think i-Robot did artificial intelligence better (minus the gratuitous Will Smith-in-the-shower scene).


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