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RTFA

24 May

CABookA week or so ago I was having brunch with a couple friends and we were talking about David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas, which I’d just finished reading and had very much enjoyed.

I asked my co-brunchers what they thought of the book and one of them, a Mr. Tom Bissell, did this Bissellian thing he sometimes does and said, “I had some issues with it, I actually wrote the New York Times review.” Which is like, well, congratulations on having the winning opinion of Cloud Atlas.

It did strike me as funny that he’d written that particular review, since just a few days prior I had been joking about the outrageously lofty praise found on the book’s jacket. I’d even mentioned it in a post on this very blog. I remembered the pullquote from the NYT review in particular, partly because it’s prominantly featured at the top of the paperback edition’s back cover (see photo) but mostly because it’s awfully laudatory:

“[David] Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page.”

At brunch, Tom was quick to point out that he wasn’t nearly so effusive in the rest of his review. When I got home, I read the full review, and of course it’s this very smart, thorough take on the book. And indeed, it’s far from a rave. Tom acknowledges the things Mitchell does well, but for the most part looks askance at Cloud Atlas, straddling as it does the line between triumph of human storytelling and android feat of literary engineering.

I mean, check out the sentence immediately following the book-jacket pullquote:

“But ”Cloud Atlas’ is the sort of book that makes ambition seem slightly suspect.”

So the full paragraph containing the excerpt is as follows:

“It is a devious writer indeed who writes in such a way that the critic who finds himself unresponsive to the writer’s vision feels like a philistine. So let it be said that Mitchell is, clearly, a genius. He writes as though at the helm of some perpetual dream machine, can evidently do anything, and his ambition is written in magma across this novel’s every page. But ”Cloud Atlas” is the sort of book that makes ambition seem slightly suspect.”

Tom then goes on to note, “The novel is frustrating not because it is too smart but because it is not nearly as smart as its author.” I guess that bit isn’t making it onto book jackets anytime soon. It’s a good review, go read it.

Sometimes game publishers will contact me about reviews I’ve written for Kotaku, asking permission to use pullquotes on their marketing materials or game boxes. It’s something my boss and I figure out on a case-by-case basis, though for the most part promotional quotes, even truncated ones, are fine by me. They quoted me in this Journey trailer once, calling the game, “A triumph… astonishing.” Cool by me, given that what I actually wrote, excerpted from my review, was even more over-the-top than that:

ThatGameCompany’s creation is a triumph, a video game that is as remarkable for its discipline as it is for the effortless manner in which it welds its vast reserves of breathtaking beauty.

(Jeez, Kirk. Slow down, have a cigarette.)

I think I’m on the box for Far Cry 3, or maybe just in a trailer? It was something like, “Gorgeous… immersive.” Okay, sure. I liked that game, too.

That said, I’ve never had a quote appear where, in the full text of the review, the very next sentence qualified the quoted praise. And there have certainly been times when I’ve turned down quote requests because they didn’t reflect the spirit of what I wrote.

But I’m not really criticizing Cloud Atlas‘s publisher or the NYT, and I have no idea how this sort of thing is hashed out in the literary world. I don’t even think that using that particular quote out of context is all that misleading. As far as I’m concerned, David Mitchell is clearly a genius, and if someone in a bookstore wants to read a book written by someone who’s clearly a genius, Cloud Atlas will do the trick.

But it was a good reminder that it’s important to, well, read the fucking article. Pullquotes are selected  to help sell stuff. Well-executed criticism usually contains artful ideas both celebratory and critical, whether they’re written in magma or in plain ol’ Times New Roman. Embrace the phrase, not the paraphrase. RTFA.

Things I Read And Watched While On Vacation

6 May

ImageLast week, I took a vacation from the internet. And from work! Which kind of IS “The Internet,” as far as I’m concerned. Where do you work, Kirk? I work at The Internet.

So, I took a week and unplugged from the internet entirely. Kind of like This Guy, who got paid to do the same thing over at The Verge, only he did it a whole year, and it sounds like it was a lot more intense than my week. I walked away from Twitter and Facebook, put up a fairly draconian-sounding gmail out-of-office message, and I was  good to go.

I focused on writing music and read a lot. I didn’t play any video games. It was a successful experiment; I wrote a lot of music and got a lot of reading done. (Remember reading? Reading is amazing. It’s like a party in your brain.) I also cheated and let myself watch some movies, particularly toward the end of the week when I had gotten a lot done and was feeling pretty good about everything. I’d pretty much just plug into the internet, watch the movie, and unplug. Breaking the rules? Sure. But hey, sometimes you want to watch a movie.

I thought I’d write a short post about the stuff I watched and the stuff I read, since a lot of it’s old and even a creative “how is this like video games”-er like myself can’t come up with a way to post all of this stuff on Kotaku.

Here goes:

THINGS I READ

His Dark Materials: A series that I had been stalled out on despite really liking the first two books. I finally went back and restarted the third book, The Amber Spyglass, and read it proper. Damnation, this is some good stuff. Philip Pullman is a hell of a storyteller, and Lyra’s world is the sort of fantasy that I just LOVE. It actually feels fantastical! There are so few tropes here, just genuine unbridled imagination. And my gosh, the scope of the storytelling here! How many kids’ (or teens’?) stories concern themselves with a WAR ON GOD and like, THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ARCHANGEL and THE RETURN OF SIN TO SAVE THE WORLD? No wonder this shit was controversial. I loved each book, and was gutted to have to say goodbye. If you haven’t read these books, I can’t recommend them enough. I’ve never seen the movie, and I never will. Fuck the movie.

Cloud Atlas: I’m about halfway through David Mitchell’s book and… erm, wow, it sure is as good as everyone said. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and it’s the kind of book where you can be like 200 pages in and still be thinking “I’m not really sure what to expect” and then you kind of round a bend and it all starts to slot into place and you think “oh, wow, holy fuck, this guy is kind of a genius!” Not that I’d even mind if it didn’t all come together – Mitchell’s writing is so damned inventive and joyful that I’d read a bunch of wholly unrelated stories, as long as he was writing them. His work reminds me how prosaic 98% of my writing is, and makes me want to be better. I’m not sure about the movie. Should I see it? I think I might watch it once I finish.

Oh, funny thing I noticed about Cloud Atlas comes via the “In praise of Cloud Atlas” bit at the front, where they quote book reviewers as they hyperventilate and work themselves into a tizzy over just how fucking brilliant this book is. I mean, check this shit out, from The Times of London:

“A cornucopia, an elegiac, radiant festival of prescience, meditation, and entertainment. Open up Mitchell’s head and a whole ecstatic symphony of inventiveness and ideas will fly out as if from a benign and felicitous pandora’s box.” 

And people give video game reviewers shit about gilding the lily!

THINGS I DIDN’T READ

Reviews of anything, after finishing. Which was nice! I didn’t go read recaps after watching Game of Thrones, I didn’t read book reviews after finishing Amber Spyglass. I didn’t read any movie reviews. I was surprised at how immediate my impulse to go and read critical discourse after finishing something has become. It was pretty cool to take a week and sort of stew in my own juices a bit, and think about what I really thought of each thing before reading the opinions of others.

Anyway. Moving right along…

THINGS I WATCHED

13 Assassins: Dude, I can’t believe I hadn’t watched this movie yet. Hoo buddy, is it good. Takashi Miike is the man, I’ve seen such an embarrassingly tiny sliver of the man’s oeuvre but I’m consistently impressed by what I see. And how great is Kôji Yakusho? This movie is  grand, and I loved it.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: This movie made me A) want to eat sushi and B) glad I’m not the son of this guy, and that I don’t run a sushi restaurant in Tokyo. A fascinating documentary, and almost entirely different than I was expecting it to be. I wound up getting sushi like a day after watching this, and I bet it wasn’t as good as Jiro’s sushi. But it was still pretty good.

Hugo: A surprisingly good flick. It was almost entirely off my radar, but I decided to watch it because as you may have gathered from my list here, I was going through good movies on Netflix Instant and watching them. It’s a good movie, though kind of a strange one – disjointed, in that it’s this whimsical kids’ film in the first half and a big-hearted tribute to the French pioneers of cinema in the second. I’m not sure kids would like it? But I did. An odd film, but an enjoyable one.

Rango: Hey, another surprise. Who knew that this movie, which by all appearances was a dumb cash-in flick that leaned on Johnny Depp too much, would in fact be a surprisingly soulful, enjoyably weird movie that leaned on Johnny Depp the exact right amount? Not I. Also, it’s basically Chinatown? I’m not really sure who this movie is for, as I can’t imagine most kids getting a good percentage of the jokes, but I sure enjoyed it. And Hans Zimmer did the music, and I… I really liked it! A wonderful soundtrack that was just good music, and didn’t feel like a feat of engineering. The scene when Rango walks across the highway… outstanding. Who would thought that my favorite Hans Zimmer soundtrack in forever would be an Enrico Morricone tribute?

Limitless: I think I was just super bored one night and this was sitting on Netflix so I fired it up. This movie is fucking stupid. I watched it up until he began to have weird side-effects from the mind-rewiring experimental drug, and decided that I didn’t really need to watch the Fall From Glory and the Eventual Redemption or whatever. It felt like watching a music video made into a movie, and it had really bad music. It felt like the guy who made it came up with that camera trick where it zooms over block after block of NYC and was like, “Okay, this is dope, how can I make a movie around this?” It felt like a sad fantasy movie for dudes who have super sad fantasies. It felt like… I don’t know, I don’t even care about coming up with more things it felt like.

Avatar: I re-watched Avatar for the first time since I watched it in IMAX 3D back when it came out. Well. The movie has certainly lost a lot in the transition from theaters to Blu-Ray. I’m not sure if that says more for just how well-suited it was to its original 3D presentation or how lackluster the movie itself is (both!) but there it is. Its many flaws are laid bare on the small screen, in particular the writing. (Could they not just hire someone to make the script better? I don’t even mean the story, I just mean the basic sentence by sentence dialogue. Christ, is it bad.) But it’s still got that enjoyable energy to it, and God help me, I like James Horner’s musical score, if you can call four dramatic chords a score.

How To Train Your Dragon: Hey, this movie is fucking great! I have a now-famous soft spot for Tangled, and How to Train Your Dragon was almost as good. Well, okay, let’s not get carried away, it was about 75% as good as Tangled, and there wasn’t any singing, but I still really liked it.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I think I had already seen this, but I didn’t really remember it. Maybe I was stoned when I watched it the first time? Anyway. It was a lot of fun! I was impressed by how funny Jeremy Renner can be, dude is great. Brad Bird is such a creative director, though I do think that I missed some of the human drama that (weirdly?) made its way into past entries, especially JJ Abrams’ hilariously, wonderfully melodramatic “Alias on Crack” take in M:I 3. I bet this movie was fucking awesome in IMAX 3D, which is an annoying thing to think about a movie that’s no longer in IMAX 3D, but there you go. I was legitimately a bit breathless when Tom Cruise was running along the side of that incredible skyscraper. Most impressively, like 80-85% of the time I was totally distracted from the inexorable gravitational pull of Tom Cruise’s assy onscreen presence. I know I’ve written about how I like Michael Giacchino’s music before, but actually, I think my opinion has changed. Maybe I don’t really like Michael Giacchino’s music all that much anymore. I didn’t care for the music in this movie, anyway.

Silver Linings Playbook: Man, what a strange movie. I did not care for it. It was a mess, right? Half the time it was this painful and honest-feeling movie about the difficulty of living with mental illness. The other half, it was this clichéd romcom that was, more or less, Garden State but with more severe disorders and a more grown-up cast. It just didn’t feel cohesive at all, and the entire finale felt like it was the result of multiple rewrites. What happened in the end there, why did both of them get so much better? Was he on meds? Was she? How were they so healthy and well-adjusted? I didn’t get it. I’m almost shocked that this movie was Oscar bait. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Jennifer Lawrence and whatever, but it just seemed like an odd movie to lavish with so many nominations.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t read any criticism after finishing movies last week, but yesterday I found that amiga Sarah Bunting of Tomato Nation totally nailed it:

A few scenes start to open a window into what that’s like to live with, to have responsibility for, for parents and significant others; when Officer Keogh (Dash Mihok) answers the call during Pat’s freak-out, for instance, the script has managed to stop playing Pat’s obvious manic distress for laughs and let the spinning build to a scarier place. Soon enough, though, it’s back to the very important lesson about how we’re all crazy via Dad’s (Robert De Niro) OCD, ha ha…ha. It’s not necessary to treat the vagaries of Pat’s disease with funereal seriousness, but this is a guy whose untreated illness smashed his life to chips and dust. His decision to stalk his ex-wife via her syllabus may not qualify for the Kooky Kuts-R-Us editing treatment.

The Back Half of Boardwalk Empire, Season 3: I have a complicated relationship with Boardwalk Empire, or I guess it’s not complicated, it’s just that I get so fucking bored by the show that I stop watching. Until last week, I’d stopped watching the show precisely one more time than I’d decided to give it another shot. But watching the final 8 episodes of season 3 back-to-back proved an immensely good idea. Not only does the season go out with a cracking handful of episodes, there’s a terrific degree of continuity to the whole season. It helped to see everything right in a row, and I could really grok how well it all tied together. Also, they seem to have figured out that when it comes right down to it, all any of us really wanted was for Roger the half-masked Angel of Death to become a major character. And now I hear that George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane (of The Wirewill be joining the writing staff for Season 4? Damn. I have now given this show another shot precisely one more time than I’ve given up on it. I’m in, for now. (Though I swear to God George Pelecanos if you kill off Roger, I will never forgive you. You killed half the cast of The Wire and that groovy dude on Treme, please let your thirst for beloved characters be sated.)

Toy Story 3: I had so little memory of this movie, though I’m about 90% sure that I watched it already. It’s good, and really intensely sad at times, in that it’s articulating a sadness that films almost never go after – the way the world looks different to us after we grow up. But something about the film’s main prison break a-plot just kind of didn’t quite land for me. Still a good movie, but it felt at times like it was less inspired than its two predecessors. I think maybe it was a problem with Lotso, the villainous bear. They didn’t quite know what to do with him – his story was a retread of whatsername the cowgirl’s story from Toy Story 2, but with 100% less Sarah McLachlan making me cry all over the place. Still, good movie.

The King’s Speech: Okay so I watched this a little bit before my vacation but it was excellent and I loved it, so. What a film! I love movies about grown men discovering friendship. That’s such a rare thing in real life, and it’s so hopeful to see it happen, particularly when it’s a true story like this. I liked this bit from Ebert’s review:

Director Tom Hooper makes an interesting decision with his sets and visuals. The movie is largely shot in interiors, and most of those spaces are long and narrow. That’s unusual in historical dramas, which emphasize sweep and majesty and so on. Here we have long corridors, a deep and narrow master control room for the BBC, rooms that seem peculiarly oblong. I suspect he may be evoking the narrow, constricting walls of Albert’s throat as he struggles to get words out.

See, that kind of shit is why I like reading good film critics. I certainly didn’t notice that, even though it had a noticeable effect on me the entire time I was watching the film. He really will be missed.

Hemlock Grove: I tried to watch some more Hemlock Grove but man, this show is just pretty fucking bad. I initially said that I’d keep watching it to the end of the season, but it’s wandered to the point were I just Literally Could Not Give Less Of A Shit and don’t want to watch these mopey assholes wander around and smoke cigarettes and have nothing happen. It’s a laughable show, really. On Twitter one time (good story bro) I was like “This show feels like each line was written by a different person, like, they hired thousands of writers to write it.” And that’s about how it feels. Plus the characters are all assholes and it’s so over-filtered and fug. I might be out.

***

Hmm, that’s kind of a bum note to go out on. It was a great week, though, really! I’ll have some music to share here at some point, once I get the demos into shape, but I’m really happy with how it’s all coming along. I’ve finally taught myself to use Logic after a decade on Pro Tools, and I must say, the program is wonderful, and a much better fit for the way I write than Pro Tools ever was. I’ll probably write something about that when I have more time.

I hope you all had a good week, as well. And hey, you don’t have to go a whole year, but if you’re ever able, I recommend unplugging from the internet, even if only for a weekend or something. It’s a good exercise, and your Twitter followers will still be there for you when you get back.

“Middlesex” the TV Show?

7 Jul

middlesexIn an afternoon dominated by a strange funeral and pocked by other, smaller bits of bad/weird news, I almost forgot to mention that I came across a rumor on the pop-culture site Pajiba (whose writer, in turn, heard it from B&C’s website) that Jeffrey Eugenides’ fantastic novel Middlesex is – allegedly – being considered by HBO for adaptation into an hourly TV series.  To which I say, “Hell Yes!”

Assuming that the personnel rumors are true, I don’t know how Rita Wilson will do as an executive producer, though I do know that she produced “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” which is sort of like the lite, romantic comedy version of Middlesex, if that makes sense. So, that could be great!

And despite the rumored presence of Donald Margulies as head writer, I hope that Eugenides himself will be around as a writer or producer, as well.  In the novel, his incredibly well-crafted and personable narrator created a palpable sense of place, particularly during the bits set in 1980’s Detroit, and hopefully they’ll be able to get that transferred to the screen as faithfully as possible. Then again, if anyone other than Eugenides would get it right, seems seems like it’d be someone like Margulies, so… very cool.

With the right cast and timeslot, this could make for a fascinating, epic show.  When The Wire, The Sopranos, and Deadwood all went off the air (and John from Cincinnatti flopped), it felt like everyone was mourning the end of the golden age of HBO, but I dunno… In Treatment, True Blood, Big Love, the long-awaited pacific-themed follow up to Band of Brothers, and now Middlesex?

Sounds like a pretty killer line-up to me.

No Country For Old Jews

9 May
yiddish-policemen-book

Read this book.

Don’t ever let it be said that Hollywood never gets novels right.  Last night, I (finally) finished the last 100 pages of Michael Chabon’s spectacular The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which had laid unopened on my bedside table for several months.  I just didn’t want it to end, and couldn’t quite bring myself to read to that last page.

Though I knew even before finishing that this was a truly special book (I even ranted a bit about it a few months back), now that I’m done, I’m going to go ahead and say that it was one of the most thoroughly enjoyable reading experiences I’ve had, straight through the last page of the story and into the book’s glossary of yiddish terms.

And in contrast to the somewhat meandering conclusions of most of Chabon’s other (wonderful) work, Yiddish Policemen ends with an exhilarating exclamation point – I was expecting to finally reach the last page and feel sad that my journey with these characters had ended, and instead, I found myself pumping my fist with a “Hell yes!”

What’s more, the whole time I was reading, it was clear that this story, this kosher noir set in a fictional land of Rebbes and Black Hats, of Verbovers and Rudashefskeys, where no one’s loyalties are set in stone and everyone’s packing a sholem… that under the proper guidance, this world would transition seamlessly to the silver screen.

So, upon finishing, I looked up who would be making the inevitable film adaptation, wondering who could possibly be up to the task… and really, it should have been obvious.  I mean, what filmmakers could tackle a realist noir set in an alternate version of the present, filled with murder and deceit and shocking violence? A painstakingly created universe populated with wonderfully strange, larger-than-life characters whose language is as twisty as it is brilliant?  Who could pull something like that off?

That’s right.  The flippin’ COEN BROTHERS have been signed on to write and direct the film.  I cannot tell you how freaking pumped this makes me. Really, the only way you can understand is if you go and get this book and read it now.  For real, you’ll thank me.  Not only will you get to read one hell of an amazing book, you’ll also be prepared for what will almost undoubtedly be the best films of 2010.

I can’t imagine a more perfect fit for this story, for these characters, than the Coens, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited for a movie to come out.

Nerd Cred

4 Apr

Ever since the “Which Buffy Character are You?” FB quiz said I was Willow and and the “Harry Potter Sorting Hat” quiz put me in Ravenclaw, I’ve been thinking of parallels between the Buffyverse and the Potterverse. Or should that be the Whedonverse and the  Rowlingverse?  Eh, probably the first one.

So, in an effort to elevate my nerd ranking from Orange (“Switched from D&D to GURPS in order to have more narrative freedom”) to Red (“Wears a brown duster every day until Universal announces a sequel to Serenity”), and also in honor of Buffy season 3 finally being available on Hulu, I sat down and had some fun with Photoshop.

The Scooby Gang = The Houses of Hogwarts

season-3-azkaban

Favorite season, favorite book. Good things come the third time 'round, apparently.

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In the Footsteps of Good Men

6 Mar

watchmen-page-1

…yeah, baby.

The Wolverine Dream

15 Feb

xmen01Last night I had The Wolverine Dream again.

You know the one; you start in a sort of nebulous dream-place, surrounded by nebulous dream-people, when suddenly, things start to take form, there’s an air of urgency, the people with you start to feel familiar, and then – attack!  You’re under attack by unseen forces! You aren’t sure what to do, then you look down at your hands and… snikt!

It was pretty cool. The Wolverine Dream is always cool. After I woke up and established that my skeleton had not, in fact, been fused with Adamantium (I’ll spare you the details on how I determined this), I got to thinking. The students at Charles Xavier’s mansion have, as far back as I can remember, captured my heart and imagination to a degree unmatched by any other fictional characters, comic-book or otherwise. Forget the Planeteers and the Power Rangers – what is it, exactly, about the X-Men?

The teenager factor. I have no doubt that this has been written about all over the place. The most powerful and least subtle appeal of the X-Men comics lies in the comics’ far-reaching metaphor for adolescence. As these teens near adulthood, boys and girls with the mutant gene discover that their bodies are changing in strange ways that they can’t control. They’re developing frightening, uncontrollable, and often dangerous new powers.  They try to hide their new-found differentness and almost always fail. Their physical appearance undergoes radical changes, often for the freakish. They become social outcasts. If any of this sounds eerily familiar to you, well, that’s not an accident.  These stories resonate with us because to one degree or another, we’ve all been there ourselves.

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