Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Chronicles: Volume 1

Bob Dylan writes just the way I would imagine he would talk. He uses wild descriptions and his explanations left me more confused than when I started the paragraph. For example, early on in the book Dylan writes about hearing Roy Orbison's music on the radio and how it is the kind of music that would make you drive your car off of a cliff. The kicker here is that this is a compliment. Dylan was raving about how good Orbison is and how Orbison's music makes everything else sound poor in comparison.

But that sort of description is fairly common for Dylan's autobiography. Half the time I had no idea what he was talking about or what he meant. I could tell when he was passionate about something or excited about a certain type of music because he made the emotion clear. I just didn't know what he was saying.

This isn't a traditional autobiography. He jumps around in time quite a bit and doesn't always tell us what he's doing. It's interesting, but while I have a better sense of who Bob Dylan is I have no greater understanding of Bob Dylan than I did before I started the book.

Still, if he writes Volume 2, I'll probably read it.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Left Behind: The Rising

"The Rising" is the latest (thirteenth) volume in the Left Behind series. Rather than attempting to continue the story which supposedly concluded with the return of Jesus in "Glorious Appearing", "The Rising" is a prequel. It tells what happened before the Rapture. This novel focuses on Marilena Carpathia, Rayford Steele, and eventually on Nicolae Carpathia. While there are three primary characaters, there are really only two storylines here: Rayford's, and that of the Antichrist. Marilena is to be the mother of Nicolae and so her story becomes Nicolae's story as the novel progresses.

The section of the novel which focuses on Rayford begins when he was a young boy of four years old and progresses through high school, college, and his marriage to Irene. We follow Rayford as he is precociously bright and athletic and popular, to an awkward phase or two. Following each awkward phase he becomes once again even more athletic and popular in high school. His father would like him to take over the family business (he runs a tool and die shop), but Rayford wants nothing more than to be a pilot. Rayford pursues this goal, and while in college he dates the most beautiful and popular woman on campus, but he isn't happy with himself or with her because he knows that she is too shallow and materialistic. But so is Rayford in his dreams to make a lot of money as a commercial pilot and have the life he couldn't have as a child. Still, he finds in Irene a woman he can be friends with as well as love, much more so than Kitty, the beautiful and popular woman.

Marilena Carpathia is a scholar and a professor in Romania. She has an unhappy marriage to her husband, Sorin, who is also a professor. The only connection they have is an intellectual one. Marilena soon meets Viv Ivins, who helps Marilena realize her dream of having a child. Through a corporation of some sort, Marilena is able to have a child away from her husband, but with the understanding that the child is as much the corporation's as he is hers. The child, of course, is Nicolae Carpathia, the boy who will one day become the Antichrist. After he is born we see just how unusual a boy he is. He has a brilliant mind and can easily manipulate others to do his bidding, but something is simply wrong. He is frightening to his mother (as well he should be) and we see how he grows to be the man he will become.

While the section with Rayford in college and how he met his wife was probably the most interesting in the book, "The Rising" was completely unnecessary. It helped to answer questions of what the characters were like before the Rapture, but it wasn't a question that actually needed answering. There was already a sense from the Left Behind novels of what the characters were like, and the whole section on Rayford's childhood and even on Nicolae's mother felt pointless. It didn't add up to anything meaningful. There was no real plot to "The Rising", and there was no story that needed to be told.

After "Glorious Appearing" was published I read an interview with Jerry Jenkins in which he said that there would be two more Left Behind books: a prequel and a sequel. Well, we have our prequel, but on a page at the end of "The Rising" there was a mention of two more sequels to "The Rising" making it a prequel trilogy. I really liked the Left Behind series, but there was a natural storyline progression that made the series incredibly compelling and gave a reason to read the books. "The Rising" just didn't seem to have a point to it, and since we already know what happens next, there is nothing compelling at all to the novel...and yet there are going to be two more, probably focusing on Buck Williams, Tsion ben Judah, and other characters from the series. The only reason to read this novel is if someone has read all the other Left Behind books and even though the story is finished, still can't get enough of these characters.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Persepolis 2

After reading Persepolis 2 I have come to the conclusion that while it is another excellent book from Marjane Satrapi, it doesn't hold quite the power of Persepolis. I suppose it couldn't. Persepolis focuses on the life of Marjane in Iran when she was 10 to 14 and when the Islamic Revolution was just beginning.

Persepolis 2 begins just after the ending of Persepolis. Marjane has gone abroad to live in Austria. It shows Marjane adapting to a life which is more free but not necessarily any more satisfying. But after four years in Austria, having a freedom that her friends back home could barely imagine, she decides that she has to return to Iran, that the life she has isn't necessarily better than the oppression in Iran.

These are two very good books, but the Return doesn't have quite the power of her childhood in Iran. Both are worth reading.

Persepolis showed me that the graphic novel can be much more than a comic book with super heroes and violence and action. It can tell a much more personal story. I do realize that there have been graphic novels before Persepolis which have done this and that Persepolis is only part of a tradition, but it was my introduction to the tradition.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Ghost World

I read Daniel Clowes' Ghost World this weekend. This is the graphic novel on which the rather good movie was based on. The movie starred Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson.

The comic (easier to write than "Graphic Novel") has the same style and tone as the movie did, though I suppose it is the other way around in that the movie is like the book. It was fairly interesting reading, even being familiar with the film. There were some differences, of course. The Steve Buscemi character is just not there, nor is that crazy redneck at the convenience store.

The book follows Enid (Thora Birch's character) after graduation as she just lives her quirky life and tries to figure out what to do. It's probably not too different than any teenager's life in suburbia (did I just write that?).

It's a pretty decent book (my word of the day) and short. Only 80 pages.

Silver City and The Terminal

All I knew of Silver City is that it was the John Sayles movie where Chris Cooper does a killer impersonation of W. He does. But that's not really what the movie is about. Dickie Pilager (get it?) is running for Governor of Colorado. He's a fairly slow talking, dim-witted, easily confused and easily led caricature of President Bush. While shooting a promotional campaign commercial where Pilager is fishing in a river, Dickie manages to hook a corpse instead. Dickie's Karl Rove like manager Chuck Raven (Richard Dreyfuss) gets to work to protect his candidate and also to find out who did this. He believes that there are forces out to get Dickie and to sabotage his campaign. Raven gets a detective agency to work to find out who is behind it and also to let certain individuals know that "They are being watched."

Danny O'Brien (Danny Huston) is the investigator put on the case and "Silver City" is really seen through his eyes as he investigates. We learn, as he does, about the legacy of the Pilager family, their corruption and ties to some big business, and how the power of this family was built on illegal labor, dishonesty, and a poor record towards the environment.

While sometimes interesting and amusing (in particular, Cooper's Dickie Pilager just kills), "Silver City" isn't that great of a movie overall. It's really an attack on the Bush Dynasty but it feels unfocused at times. This movie isn't nearly as good as Sayles' Lone Star or even Limbo.

Is it bad, though, that I can't see James Gammon as anyone but Lou Brown from Major League? The man is an accomplish actor.

Switching gears.

The Terminal is a vastly underrated Spielberg film. It is about a man named Victor Navorski (Tom Hanks) who finds himself exiles in the JFK airport in New York City. See, Victor is from a country called Krakosia. It's a fictional Eastern European country that while Victor was en route underwent a military coup. Since the United States no longer diplomatically recognizes Krakosia's new leadership, Victor Navorski is a man without a country and can not enter the United States nor be returned to a country which officially doesn't exist in the eyes of the United States Government. So, he is stuck in the International Terminal at JFK (there is the roots of a true story here with an incident which happened in Europe, but that's as far as it goes).

What follows is Navorski winning over everyone but the man in charge of the airport who just wants to get rid of Victor but follow the letter of the law. But the official just starts to get petty, which is disappointing. Victor's basic decency shines through as he adapts to his situation and tries to eke out an existence.

There are no details about the rest of the plot which are very important to note, but maybe it is the combination of Spielberg and Hanks that make "The Terminal" better than it should be. It is a very decent movie, and I mean that in a couple of different ways. Quality wise, it is decent. But this is also very pleasant, enjoyable movie with a heart that is filled with decency. That's not at all a bad thing.

Friday, March 18, 2005

The Kite Runner

Finished The Kite Runner last night. The title refers to an Afghan pasttime where youths will have kite fights where the string of their kites are laced with glass and they try to cut down the kites of their opponents. When a kite is cut down, everyone who doesn't have a kite in the air runs to try to recover the fallen kite. The one who finds it gets to keep it as a prize, the spoils.

The novel is fairly brutal and heartbreaking. It begins just before the Russians invaded Afghanistan in the 70's and ends just after 9/11. It is a story of a friendship, regret, of Afghanistan, of the loss of a friendship and a last chance to find some sort of redemption for that regret. This is a work of fiction, but if Hosseini had said this was a true story I would believe him. It feels realistic, even with some events that are just a little bit absurd. Everything works and the deeper I got into the book the more I liked it and the more I was absorbed into the story.

Good stuff.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Contender

I've been watching episodes of The Contender recently. It's actually quite a bit better than I had expected and is far better than the similar Next Great Champ. There is drama between the contenders, decent boxing (these guys all can actually box and some are even ranked...on what ranking chart, I don't know), this show is decent. I'm strangely drawn to boxing even though I don't want to fight, and don't know much about boxing at all. It's part of what I like about movies like Girlfight and Million Dollar Baby. The show is as much about the boxers as it is about the boxing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Dude, it's fiction...

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Archibishop of Genoa has attacked The Da Vinci Code, saying:

"(It) aims to discredit the Church and its history through gross and absurd manipulations," Bertone, the archbishop of the northern Italian city of Genoa and a close friend of Pope John Paul II told the paper in its Monday edition.

He goes on to say:

"You can find that book everywhere and the risk is that many people who read it believe that those fairy tales are real," he said. "I think I have the responsibility to clear things up to unmask the cheap lies contained in books like that."

And perhaps that is true that some people will believe it is real, but some people seem to believe Star Trek is real and perhaps there is someone who honestly believes that the world of Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World is real.

But, Cardinal, dude. It's fiction. Anything that I buy from the "Fiction and Literature" section of Barnes and Nobles is typically assumed to be a story that the author simply made up.

Movie Review: Running on the Sun (2000)

A film by Mel Stuart

"Running on the Sun" is a documentary dealing with the Badwater 135 Ultra-marathon. While an ultra-marathon is defined as any race with a distance longer than a marathon (26.2 miles), Badwater is a grueling 135 mile race beginning in Death Valley (Badwater, California, elevation 282 feet below sea level) and ascending to 8000 feet by the race's end which includes an 18 mile stretch where the elevation rises over 5000 feet. With temperatures reaching 125 degrees in the middle of the day, the Badwater 135 is perhaps the nastiest race in the world. Only forty runners were invited to run Badwater in 1999.

This documentary focuses on a cross section of some of the competitors to give an accurate portrait of what Badwater is and what Badwater does to a person. From a Marine to a man with a prosthetic leg to a 68 year old man to the current record holder of Badwater to a woman from England who put herself into debt to make it to Badwater, "Running on the Sun" has an interesting cast of characters. But then anyone actually willing to attempt Badwater probably has to be an interesting person. So many of these runners are just ordinary people with an extraordinary drive, passion, and commitment. Very few runners are actually trying to win the race, or break a record, but rather they are seeking the incredible personal accomplishment of finishing (60 hours or less) and perhaps even chase the goal of finishing in under 48 hours and thus earning the symbol of pride: The Badwater Belt Buckle. Only those few who can finish in under 48 hours can earn that belt buckle (and they do "earn" it).

"Running on the Sun" touches upon why someone would run Badwater and what it takes. We see graphic footage of the feet of some of the runners and it isn't pretty. The film shows the joy, the pain, the pride, the disappointment, and the accomplishment of running Badwater. This really is an impressive documentary about an incredible endurance race. I'm impressed all the more because I'm currently training for my first marathon and while 26.2 miles seems like a long way, Badwater is 5 marathons back to back, plus a little bit more. Not to mention the whole Death Valley thing. It's beyond my comprehension as a runner.

There is something in "Running on the Sun" to recommend the movie to anyone. Runners will get to see something that is probably beyond their dreams or even desire, but they will surely appreciate the effort. Other endurance athlete can also appreciate what the competitors of Badwater are attempting. Those who are simply curious will see a film about perseverance and accomplishment through adversity. This is an inspiring and awe inspiring film, though I imagine many people won't get why someone would do this.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Jake Roberts and Tori Amos

I had a little blast from the past last night watching Monday Night Raw. The opening interview segment featured the return, if only for one night, of Jake "The Snake" Roberts. Jake Roberts was one of the biggest wrestling stars of the 1980's in the WWF. Always entertaining in the ring, he was equally good on the microphone. Jake was one of the reasons I watched wrestling as a kid.

I last saw Jake Roberts in the excellent documentary Beyond the Mat. He was struggling to put his life back together after too many years on the road and far too many drugs had taken a toll. Still trying to wrestle, he was a shadow of the wrestler he once was.

He looked even worse last night. Long past his prime, Roberts had lost what he once had. He sounded even worse. The years had caught up with him. But I had a slight smile on my face and the crowd at Raw gave Jake a very nice standing ovation and applause. It's respect and acknowledgement of the years of Jake giving his all to entertain us. That was probably one of Jake's last opportunities to get to shine in the sun and be remembered for what he did in the ring. I'm glad that he got it.

I won't even bother with trying to segue this.

I finished reading Tori Amos: Piece by Piece last night. This is an autobiography written mostly be Tori Amos and more edited than co-written by Ann Powers. This book is quite a bit different from Kalen Rogers' All These Years, the previous Tori bio. In Piece by Piece Tori writes about her life in music, her inspirations and motivations and she does so in such a way that I think we get a much more clear picture of Tori's personality and her perspective. What I found most interesting was the final chapter where Tori is writing about the music industry, her struggle with Atlantic Records and a detailed description of how artists can get paid for their work or get taken advantage of and how it is very possible for a talented, productive, and successful artist to end up with nothing because the artist doesn't own the rights to their own work.

I still enjoy Tori's music and would still consider her one of my two favorite artists, but I don't have the same connection or understanding of her music that I did five to ten years ago. The book itself was interesting, but at times I was confused as to what exactly she was talking about with her influences and her spirtuality. I still enjoyed the book and found some sections very interesting and informative, but I think I'm no longer the fan I once was.

Her single of Hey Jupiter still kills, though.

Monday, March 14, 2005


I think I'm on some strange Iranian/Middle Eastern kick with my reading right now, and it's not intentional. I started and finished Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis this weekend. Persepolis is a graphic novel dealing with Satrapi's experience of growing up in Iran from ages 10 through 14. Often funny and heartbreaking in the same page, it is an excellent work. This would be set in the early 80's, I believe.

This ties in with a book i finished a week or so ago, Reading Lolita in Tehran. While this is also non-fiction, this is completely different from Persepolis. Reading Lolita is a narrative written by Azar Nafisi and it focuses on Nafisi's teaching Western Litature in a time when possessing these materials is enough to be taken to jail and perhaps executed.

I'm on the hold list for Satrapi's Persepolis 2, which, logically, is the sequel to the original.

I'm currently reading Khaled Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner. I'm only 25 pages into it, so I have no idea what it's about. I saw it at Barnes and Nobles on a table with some good books and decided that I should read it. I reserved it at the library and here I am. The spine of the paperback has a blurb from Entertainment Weekly: "A moving portrait of modern Afghanistan". So, I'm still in the region, just a little farther East.

I don't think I have any Middle Eastern books on the way, but you never know.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Alexander Hamilton

Some ten to fifteen years ago there was a "Got Milk" commercial where this guy who had just eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was trying to call in to a radio station to answer the question "Who killed Alexander Hamilton in the famous duel?". The commercial revealed that it was Aaron Burr. I was only ten or fifteen years old at the time, but for years that one commercial had comprised nearly all of my knowledge of Alexander Hamilton. Later, after reading David McCullough's biography of John Adams, I learned that Adams held Hamilton in very low regard. Until I held Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton in my hands, Alexander Hamilton was a complete mystery to me.

In a sense Alexander Hamilton is the quintessential American. He was born out of wedlock in the West Indies and his early childhood is marked by his becoming an orphan at a fairly young age. Hamilton's story is that of a self made man. He displayed brilliance at university and his rise to prominence was assured during the Revolutionary War where he served with skill and bravery before becoming General George Washington's most trusted aide. It was with the rise of Washington that Hamilton's influence reached the top levels of the new government. Hamilton was appointed the first Treasury Secretary and still in his thirties he essentially created the entire economic system of the United States. He was also the primary author of the Federalist Papers (along with John Jay and James Madison), which were a defense of the Constitution and an explanation of what each branch of government should and could do. It was brilliant work.

While Alexander Hamilton should rightly be considered a giant in an age of brilliant accomplished Americans founding this Union, Chernow's biography does not flinch from Hamilton's many imperfections and flaws. Hamilton's greatest scandal was an affair that he had with a married woman while he was also married. But, he was also a man who could not bear any perceived slight on his honor which led him to be very defensive and arrogant and prickly and may be the primary reason why this most brilliant of men and Founding Father never became President.

Ron Chernow's portrayal of Hamilton is undeniably sympathetic, but I feel that Chernow gives a fair picture of who Hamilton was, why he is one of the most important figures in American history, and why he inspired such hatred and dislike during his time and after. Chernow's Hamilton is a talented and brilliant man, yes, but one with just as many flaws and problems as any other man. Here we see as complete of a picture of that fatal duel as any could likely present, and Chernow touches upon several different perspectives on what may have actually happened (see Joseph Ellis's account in "Founding Brothers" for another).

This is an absolutely first rate biography that, while there is a slow start to this book covering Hamilton's early years, is worth the time it takes to read to learn about this Founding Father of this country.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You

I love hearing about what movies are coming out soon. It's probably why I love the previews before the movie so much. Well, except for the recurring previews for Ice Princess. So, I thought I'd flip through the IMDB and take a look at what has me wanting to go to the theatre this year. In order of proposed release date:

1. Sin City. Director Robert Rodriguez quit the Director's Guild because the Guild would not permit Frank Miller (the creator of the comic) to get a director's credit on this movie. I don't know a thing about the comic and barely anything about the movie, but the preview is incredible. It has this noir feel to it and is in black and white excpet for some splashes of color which give it this great edge. I don't know if it'll pay off in the end, but it got my attention.

2. The Interpreter. It feels like it should be good. Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn directed by Sydney Pollack. Something about Kidman overhearing a plot to kill a UN delegate or somebody of import. It is the first film, I believe, to actually have been shot inside the United Nations.

3. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Oh, how I hope they don't screw this up. I don't see how this is actually filmable, but we'll see. I want to know how Marvin the depressed robot turns out.

4. Kingdom of Heaven. If for no other reason than it is directed by Ridley Scott. Otherwise, we've got the Crusades and a potential epic. But Orlando Bloom doesn't strike me as being a man like Russell Crowe.

5. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Because I'm that kind of geek.

6. Cinderella Man. Don't care that it is directed by Ron Howard (even though he makes mostly good movies), but it stars Russell Crowe. Crowe is one our best working actors today, so if he is in the movie I'll be in a seat.

7. Batman Begins. How prosaic. Another Batman movie. Still, directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento) and it is more interesting than it was before.

8. War of the Worlds. A Film by Steven Spielberg.

9. Elizabethtown. A Film by Cameron Crowe.

10. Aeon Flux. Starring Charlize Theron, it is the first film for Karyn Kusama since "Girlfight" (which I loved). Some sort of science fiction movie, but I want to see what Kusama is up to.

11. Serenity. I've never seen Joss Whedon's short lived show Firefly, but Joss Whedon did good work with Buffy and Angel. I'll give it a shot.

That'll take me through September.

Top 10 Movies of 2003

1. The Return of the King
2. The Fog of War
3. Mystic River
4. Cold Mountain
5. Kill Bill: Volume 1
6. House of Sand and Fog
7. Whale Rider
8. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World
9. The Station Agent
10. Thirteen

How bad do I suck? March 2005 and I post my 2003 list. I finally watched The Cooler this weekend and that was the last movie I needed to see from 2003 to finalize my list. It didn't make the list, but it is a pretty good movie.

It's about this guy who has such rotten luck that a Casino uses him as a "Cooler". William H Macy just walks by a table and whatever winning streak is going on just cools off. He exudes poor luck. But when he falls for (and is fallen for) a waitress at the casino (played by Maria Bello), his luck changes. It's an interesting movie with an interesting concept and reminds me in ways of Paul Thomas Anderson's debut Hard Eight (or, as PTA prefers to call it, "Sydney"). "The Cooler", though, is a better movie and has great performances by Macy (as always), Maria Bello, and Alec Baldwin.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Truth Was Out There

Good night, Agent Mulder. Good night, Agent Scully.

I finally finished the ninth and final season of the X-Files this weekend. For months now I've been recording every episode on TNT and trying to keep up with all the recordings. It's like being immersed in the X-Files Universe with daily doses of what I lovingly dub: The Weird Shtuff Show.

While Agents Reyes (Annabeth Gish) and Doggett (Robert Patrick) were interesting characters and were solid actors during the last two seasons, the show lost something of its heart when Mulder and Scully were not there together. For seven years (or three months in my world) they were together, bantering and solving weird shtuff and dealing with the conspiracy and the aliens and Cigarette Smoking Man and building a really solid rapport that when it was gone, the show lost something. It was still good, but whenever Mulder made his rare appearances on the show's final two seasons and interacted again with Scully, it is easy to see how much was missing.