31 March 2012

First quarter 2012 - Reading and watching

i think every three months im going to do this entry on things ive recently read or watched (and enjoyed). consider yourself warned. also, please feel free to give suggestions for future reads/watches and let me know if youve read/watched any of these things and what your thoughts were.

- "mayflower". 4/5. started this a week or so before thanksgiving, to get in the spirit. it took me so long to finish because it was a frustrating history to read. it appears the same prejudice, disrespectful, mind-boggling behavior still active in america today was evident in the very first batch of white people who successfully settled the country. happily, the actual first "thanksgiving" meal was almost as it is portrayed in the rose-colored-glasses story we are told in school as kids. what the white man did with this initial friendship among two very different peoples, is our historical burden to bear. also, why have they never made a movie about benjamin church? the dude was brave and smart, appeared to really love his wife and was (at least compared to the men of his time) able to get past race and make decisions based on peoples character. and, an interesting fact from the book: in 2002, it was estimated that 35 million descendants of the mayflower were in the u.s. (roughly 10% of the total population!).

- "mr darcys bite". 3.5/5. a diverting p&p fan fiction with mr darcy as a werewolf (2 days out of each month). the story picks up before he gives the final marriage proposal and continues on a fairly well-thread story. there were some added superfluous things and a few unnecessary changes to the original p&p that bugged me a bit, but it was a fun read overall.

- "bonk: the curious coupling of science and sex". 4/5. have you ever bought a cosmo (magazine)? do you have (even a mild) interest in science? do you like to laugh about off-beat and/or mildly taboo things? if you answer yes to even 2 of those 3 questions, you will enjoy this book. they should really put it on suggested reading lists for high school seniors/college kids, so that early sexual encounters could get off to an informed start (i know, parents would have an aneurysm though).

- "eiger dreams". 4/5. i really really enjoy jon krakauer books. his ability to put you in the action and keep you tense throughout the whole adventure is really amazing. i also love the way he researches his stories and lets the facts unfold so that you feel like no angle was left out, no fact-finding stone unturned. i have enjoyed all of his books thus far, and now have only to read his most recent two. highly recommend him as an author.

- "diary of frida kahlo: an intimate self-portrait". any fan of fridas would find this book fascinating. its her own diary with her expressions of life noted in prose, poetry, pictures. i was struck by her lifelong motto: "protect oneself from the bastards" and a free-flow entry in her journal: "bitter precocious - beautiful infamies", and her last written words (in her diary): "i hope the leaving is joyful - and i hope never to return." this helped lend yet another level of understanding to fridas long suffered yet beautiful life. she painted things that some people may not have wanted to look at, but she painted the pain and moments of her life, and many of those sentiments resonant with people around the world.

- "jane austen made me do it". 3/5. a collection of short stories inspired by jane austen. some were total crap, others were fun and lovely such as: "jane austens nightmare", "jane austen and the mistletoe kiss", "what would austen do?", "the love letter", and "intolerable stupidity".

- "ariel: the restored edition". sylvia plaths last poems. while reading, and enjoying (im sure thats not the right word to use when one reads suicidally-maddened-by-adultery poetry), i was struck by my apparent draw to seriously damaged women and their artful expression of their lives (sylvia and frida kahlo). i have always been terrible with poetry, and so my strategy for this was to read each poem once, not spending tons of time dwelling, and then go back to only those that really sat with me, to read again and contemplate. this is the only way i can do poetry, at present. the poems that impressed me (aka that i felt i understood and experienced strong emotion/imagery from the words) were: "morning song", "the applicant", "tulips", "the courage of shutting up", "a birthday present", "amnesiac", "the rival", and "daddy".

- "tom jones". 3.5/5. didnt realize this was 700+ pages of small font text! often billed as the first English novel, written in 1749, the book is witty, smart, and extremely observant. just loaded with truisms about human nature. the differing flow of language and (now) obscure words from centuries ago was what took me so long to get through this one. it was quite a commitment, and quite the interwoven and drawn out story. the first 100 pages were slow but sarcastic. the next 150 were just fun. the next 100 were a bit dense but were the groundwork for the rest of the storys movement. and the last 450 pages hurtled onwards toward the finish, going up and down in terms of excitement, humor, and intrigue. i really loved the intro "essay" chapter of each "book" in the history. fieldings observations of human nature were impressive. i love to see how alike people seem to have been over the centuries. im a fan of the book but i must say i dont think ive had to work so hard at a book since ive been out of school. i need a book break. movies...! (however, under NO circumstances should you attempt to watch "tom jones" the movie if you wish to glean any knowledge of the book. blah.)

- short david sedaris piece (comedy) about france and its socialized medicine, particularly focusing on dental care. hilarious and a bit scary. im still glad i didnt see a dentist in france.

- "countdown to zero". 4.5/5. ever since i read "hiroshima" in high school ive been curious and terrified about bombs. this is a documentary about the worlds nuclear weapons arsenal and its threat to humanity. if you dont like doing ab exercises, then watch this one. your gut will be tensed the whole time you are watching. the director gathered an astoundingly large pool of heavy-hitting interviewees (former u.s. president jimmy carter, cold war russian leader gorbachev, u.s. securities advisors, ivy league trained physicists, and other nuclear experts from around the world). the archive footage is also impressive and the message is VERY clear: we need to take the number of nuclear weapons in the world down to zero. it also put the whole "weapons of mass destruction" farce in iraq in a whole new light for me. there are dozens of countries that have nukes, and many are not friendly with the u.s., its really intense but very thought-provoking.

- "l'amour fou". 4/5. a french language (subtitled obviously) documentary about fashion designer yves saint laurent, only it was much more than that. sort of. this documentary had a bit of an unusual organizational style: yves partner, pierre berge, put their entire collection of art (2 or 3 houses worth) up for sale and so the film partly showcased the art and their several homes where said art was exquisitely displayed. exquisite is not the right word though, the whole ambiance from doorstep to backyard was so richly decorated, it was almost overwhelming. interwoven throughout images of their collection and it being boxed up to go to auction, pierre berge told the timeline of yves life. an interesting, shy man...he reminded me a lot of my youngest brother, especially his shy smile.

- "devils double". 4/5. a true story about saddam husseins oldest son and the man forced to live as his body double. i cannot understand how this was not up for some awards, the lead actor did a phenomenal job, and the cinematography was gorgeous. amazing that the "double" actually survived that situation and the satanic son actually got what was coming to him, not without leaving piles of dead women in his wake.

- "the kings speech". 4/5. yes, i am a wee late on this, but i think colin would forgive me. i could watch the man read the phone book, but i heartily approve of his oscar for this one. such a quiet character movie and he really gave us a whole, suffering person to experience. the stuttering plus the unusual accent must have been a challenge to do, but he also had to convey the royal world with his body language, facial expressions, etc. while still showing us what a kind and gentle man he was. and when colin shared a brief scene with jennifer ehle (she was the elizabeth to his darcy in the greatest p&p adaptation, ever!) i thought i would pee myself. bravo colin!

- "its kind of a funny story". 4/5. genuine, sweet, fun. a slice-of-life story about a kid who spends 5 days on a mental ward in the hospital. they dont take the "crazy" patients too far, and the story is easy to swallow. that zach galifianakis guy finally charmed me, and i liked seeing the lead kid again (he plays toni colettes son on "united states of tara"). nothing life changing here, but it was really well done. i was definitely pleasantly surprised. also enjoyed the david bowie song the characters performed, and the movies music in general.

- "arrested development reunion at the new yorker festival". 4/5. for any fan of the show, this is a wonderful appetizer. they have such real chemistry as a family, even off-screen. the genuine love and respect of fellow castmates was very apparent and the humor wasnt in short supply either.

- "buck". 4/5. documentary about the inspiration for the "horse whisperer". impressive man with an abused past with the best attitude about life and horses i could imagine. his compassion for the horses is amazing, and it actually speaks directly to parenting children too. i had a small lump in my throat the whole time i watched the movie, it was pretty moving. beautiful cinematography and horses.

- "midnight in paris". 4/5. paris is melt in your mouth yum here. owen wilson didnt even bug me. i loved the premise of nostalgia. the plot was light and fun and the french actors and actresses (love you marion cotillard) in the film transported me back to france. thank you. and woody allens portrait of the foul, conservative, wealthy american family "making the most of it" in paris while on a business trip made my skin crawl, which was actually an impressive feat since they werent on-screen for much of the film.

- "the last mountain". 4/5. about mountain-top coal mining (in appalachia). really well done documentary. all aspects were well woven together and the shots of the mountains and the current destruction were powerful enough, but the striking thing for me were the local people. amidst real poverty and vividly being the underdogs, they are still bound and determined to save their homes, their natural history, and their lives. i may not agree with them on issues of gun control or abortion, but these people are inspiring and respectable.

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