Saturday, November 22, 2008

Toil and trouble

Xtina lent me Wicked. She warned me it was completely different from the play, which I've never seen, and that it was also a very dark tale.

It was actually fairly gripping and well-written; but as predicted, it was also really, really depressing. The nature of good and evil, the role of religion, political dissent (yeeaww), animal rights, and complications inherently wrapped up in sex are all at the heart of the "other side" of the story of Wizard of Oz. Wicked is the biography of the Wicked Witch of the West, and Maguire does a brilliant job of painting a portrait of Oz as a land of magic and mystery and barbarism and political intrigue. The reader sees green-skinned, outcast Elphaba the future Witch, born into a missionary family; raised in near isolation, she sees soldiers from the Emerald City pillage and plunder natural resources; off at university, she becomes a radical animal rights activist. It's a disturbing and violent biography.

I didn't expect religion to be so central to the storyline, but one of the main themes is Elphaba's struggle to fit her atheism into her own life's melding of free will and destiny: her minister father's proselytizing; the spiritual devotion of her deformed sister, the Wicked Witch of the East; the vanity of her college friend Glinda the sorceress; the comforting pagan beliefs of the rural folk; the magic she teaches herself; the struggle of animals to make humans understand their sentience.
"A person who doesn't believe in the Unnamed God, or anything else, can't believe in a soul.

If you could take the skewers of religion, those that riddle your frame, make you aware every time you move -- if you could withdraw the scimitars of religion from your mental and moral systems -- could you even stand? ... The history of peoples who have shucked off religion isn't an especially persuasive argument for living without it. Is religion itself -- that tired and ironic phrase -- the necessary evil?"
There's also a conversation in one scene, a discourse on the nature of evil -- is it the absence of morality, or its (therefore structured and explicable) opposite? Is it an act, or an idea? Or is it, as Elphaba says at one point, defined by the fact that it's secret and unknowable?

Theological implications aside, the story of Elphaba (like life, as Maguire probably intended) seemed incomplete. I was left wondering who murdered a few characters, if the revolution ever comes, if there's an afterlife in the land of Oz and magic, if justice prevails.

There's a sequel, but I'm not sure I have the heart to read it in a gray Seattle winter or a cold New England one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The campaign to save the humans

I didn't intend to stay up and read So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish nonstop, but that's what I ended up doing.

Like Book Three, Book Four in the Hitchhiker's Guide series lacked a certain connection to the first two, even if the plot directly addressed the most crucial event from Book One (the destruction of Planet Earth). The series kind of mellowed out. Sure, there are still the spaceships and the existential agonies, but Book Four kind of got all weird. For starters, it wasn't as ADHD; it stuck to only one moment in the space/time continuum. The flying was a little out of place (just like Mary Poppins!), as was the quasi-spiritual sentiment (it's a little more sympathetic in this book, in marked contrast to the first two). But on the other hand, Arthur Dent finally scores with a girl! Woo hoo. The Universe, and all its readers, cheered for him.

In a way, I guess, the series grew up in Book Four?

Taken alone, though, the book was good -- as evidence by the fact that I couldn't put it down.

Also, I found it funny that the character known as the Rain God has the same name as Washington State's Attorney General. Hehe. Still cracks me up.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A truth universally acknowledged

Because the shortest Bollywood movie I borrowed from Ms. Tungsten is just under three hours, I watched the shortest online movie in my Netflix queue.

I was not the biggest fan of The Jane Austen Book Club. I didn't read the book (hahaha!), where the characters are possibly more well-rounded and three-dimensional. But in the movie they really weren't. Sure, some of them were interesting. But none were very exceptional, and since it was also really obvious which couples/characters were supposed to parallel which Austen ones, the contrast was pretty striking. There was a certain lack of depth in the film's people and plots.

The idea is that six people, wit' all they drama, start a book club to discuss Austen's six books. One woman is going through a divorce after her husband of 20 years leaves her, another is a teacher lusting after a student and dealing with her own failed marriage, etc, etc. There wasn't anything new about any of the situations, actually. If I had to choose, the best one was the pair that paralleled Emma, but I'm admittedly more drawn to that particular subplot because it involves books and a newly discovered interest in science fiction.

Other than that, I was bored. Except for the times I was yelling at the screen because there wasn't enough yelling on the screen. Then again, I do have issues....

Anyways, the movie gets automatic brownie points because Hugh Dancy and Jimmy Smits are in it. Even if Jimmy Smits plays the smarmy cheating husband whose wife should've never taken him back. IMHO, that is. I yelled at her, too.

If I had watched the Bollywood movie, there would have been appropriately dramatic emotive reactions ... set to song and dance, of course.

Hi-ho, ho-hum

My pre-Christmas goal is to finish the Douglas Adams volume that Xtina lent me. Another goal for the same time frame is to avoid writing both a research paper and a policy memo....

The third book in the Hitchhiker's Guide series, Life, the Universe, and Everything, wasn't as good as the first two. It was decent, it just didn't have the same. In fact, it seemed disjointed, as if Adams hurried to write it. The characters were left isolated on several planets and at several points in the space/time continuum, so perhaps the desolate feel to the storyline is what makes me think the book as a whole didn't patch together as well as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. The third installment just seemed . . . anticlimactic.

Then, because I neglected my Netflix queue in the pre-election madness, I ended up with The Naked Gun. It ended up being exactly the zany, slapstick goofball fest I needed to avoid doing research. I saw it once, a long time ago, and forgot that I'd already seen it.

The Seattle Mariners in the baseball game where Leslie Nielsen has to thwart an assassination attempt on Queen Elizabeth II is what made me remember... I think we watched this one day in band class in middle school when the instructor didn't feel like teaching. (He did that a lot. We also watched Police Academy and Labrynth and probably a bunch of other movies I won't remember ever having seen until I accidentally watch them again.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Too hot or too cold, too young or too old

Continuing the much-needed escapist trend, I finally finished The Fourth Bear, the second book in Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime series. (Admittedly, I started reading it because I thought I would have to lend it to someone else, but that situation, for various reasons, did not end up materializing.)

I liked it better than the first. Fforde has a knack for making storylines zany and zanier with each page, and he's brilliant once again in this sequel to The Big Over Easy. Detective Jack Spratt and Inspector Mary Mary are back, to try and hunt down an escaped mass murderer (The Gingerbreadman), and figure out why investigative journalist Goldilocks went into the forest if she was writing a story on giant explosive cucumbers. Meanwhile, Punch and Judy move next door to Spratt, and bears and aliens walk the human world and have to have bills in Parliament grant them equal rights.

Good stuff! Full of Fforde's notorious and delightful puns, of course!

Recovery mode

Movies are always a good escape from reality, and I very much needed that my last week at home post-election.

Ms. Tungsten's collection of Bollywood films continues to grow, and I have since absconded to Boston with several. But not before we watched Jab We Met. Karina Kapoor isn't my favorite Indian actress, but I really liked her here; she was just quirky and outgoing, as opposed to ditzy and outgoing. The plot was kind of cute: strangers on a train meet and through a series of slightly funny mishaps keep having to spend more and more time together, and the obvious love triangle appears. It was cute, though. And the color contrasts on the sets were amazing.

Then, a friend from Idaho was in town and wanted to see Bill Maher's Religulous. The friend is an avowed atheist, and I am not (I usually label myself agnostic if asked). The film was funny at times, and Maher the stand-up-comic-turned-talk-show-host cracks a lot of good jokes. But the documentary had problems deciding between advocating for religion as ridiculous (creationist museums, Holy Land theme parks in the American South) and religion as dangerous (the Second Coming brought on deliberately with nuclear war). My biggest problem with the film was that Maher found some of the most bizarre and fringe freaks out there (a rabbi who denies the Holocaust and a man who believes he is Jesus Christ reincarnated, for instance), and held them up as examples of what religious culture and belief can be. There was no middle ground, no moderation, no balance. Just nonstop fundamentalism as the be-all and end-all for people of faith all around the world. Kudos to Maher for travelling all around the world, though, and having the balls to talk to people about potentially volatile topics like suicide bombers and hate crimes. In all, though, I think 100 minutes was way too short a timespan to delve deeper into all the theological issues and geo-political controversies (which Maher rather annoyingly refused to separate from religion). The film is all over the board and only scratches the surface of debates that have been going on for millennia. With humor, admittedly. But also, ironically, with an apocalyptic vision.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The morning after

The day after the 2000 election, I stumbled into the kitchen to make coffee. CNN had called Florida for Gore the previous night, and my roommates and I all went to bed content. The next morning, The Common Man, one of said roomies, was camped out in front of the TV in the living room, but I didn't think anything was amiss until he yelled "B! B, you gotta see this! This is history!" Two months later, I attended my first political protest, on the gray, rainy streets of DC.

The day after the 2004 election, I was extremely hungover. After work, the FG and I parted ways in the downtown shopping area. I acquired a Nordstrom card and bought these shoes, along with many other depression-induced purchases. I don't know why I kept this pair of Ponies all these years, even after holes in the soles made them impossible to wear in the Northwest rain. Now, finally, I'm tossing them in the trash.

Today, I can't wipe the grin off my face as I'm looking at election coverage from around the world. And it just occurred to me that people I've spent Election Nights with in the past decade are all people with whom I'm still in touch.

Stuff that's moved me to tears in the past 18 hours:
  • Trivial Kate's Facebook post, saying she sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" with 4000 other people in the streets of her old neighborhood last night.

  • President-elect Obama's victory speech. Twice, three hours apart.

  • The nonstop car horns, cheers, and impromptu street partying in my hometown last night (as well as across the country).

  • This BBC video.

  • Torgo's wife's Facebook post saying maybe their little boys can be President one day.

  • This photo from The Stranger.

  • Another friend's Facebook status, saying he voted for change, hope, and his son's future.

  • And lastly... the fact that, for the first time ever, everyone in my immediate family voted for the same presidential candidate. La Madre and La Otra Hermana, to my delight and shock, voted the same way as me and Mi Hermana.
Hey Mikey! This is history...