Sunday, April 29, 2012

No woman no cry

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency had long been on my list of books to read. For starters, I like mysteries with female heroines. Plucky female heroines are always a plus. This book definitely had both! I liked the Mma Ramotswe as a character, and I appreciated how the book gave her a great background to round out her personality and struggles.

The book touched lightly on several serious issues - domestic violence, women's economic independence, cheating spouses, witchcraft, child kidnappings, national pride, AIDS, and business corruption.  It was more a series of very short stories, though, with one bigger mystery wrapped around them. The resolutions to each small story weren't very satisfying - they seemed closer to folk tales about the underdog outwitting the enemy rather than the detective solving a mystery.

I liked it well enough, but didn't love it enough to keep reading the series. Maybe if the TV show crosses my path, I'll get into it!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Exits and entrances

 I had "Whatever Lola Wants" stuck in my head on the way to the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of Damn Yankees last week, and I've had "You Gotta Have Heart" stuck in my head ever since. (The harmonies are so mesmerizing.)

I hadn't seen the movie, but I was familiar with the storyline, a take on Faust: a baseball fan makes a pact with the devil in the hopes that his team will beat the Yankees. Baseball and Broadway musicals might not seem to be a natural fit, but it worked perfectly. But the choreography worked seamlessly - the players as dancers mimicked sports plays. The numbers themselves were all fun to watch. During intermission, I overheard some people saying that the song-and-dance routines went on too long, and I almost jumped in to their conversation to voice my disagreement.

Plays are always amazing to me. The magic of the stage still has me wondering how they pulled off some of the stunts (like Joe, the main character, going from being an old man to a young one).

Great production!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ils sont fous ces romains!

Though I didn't really love Kelli Stanley's series set in 1940s San Francisco, I kind of liked her Roman noir mysteries set in Britain in the 1st century A.D.

In Nox Dormienda, the doctor-detective debuts: trying to solve murders committed in a Roman temple. Are the culprits native British insurgents or practitioners of a slaughtered and persecuted ancient religion, sending a message? In The Curse Maker, the doctor and his wife head to a small spa town just in time to figure out who killed a curse maker whose curses mysteriously come true.

I liked the novelty of a noir set in Roman Britain. It actually worked well, and managed to conjure every dark, shadowy image of every movie set in the Roman Empire that I was ever made to watch as a kid.

The first book had enough tidbits of the protagonist's past to make it interesting (seeing his mother killed in a native uprising, being adopted by a Roman and growing up privileged and half-British in a tense outpost of the Roman Empire). But the second book barely touched on any of it, which is a pity. Instead, it focused on the "mystery" melancholy of the doctor's wife - which was disappointingly easy for me to guess within a few pages.

I do hope there's a third book. I won't rush out to read it, but I'll definitely add it to my reading pile.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The costumes, the scenery, the makeup, the props

Singin' in the Rain is one of my favorite movies: it takes place in the 1920s, it's about technology changing culture, and it has catchy tunes. The movie poster adorned my wall for three years in college.

The Artist is an homage to movies: silent films, Singin' in the Rain, A Star is Born, Vertigo, and others. I realize that maybe it only won Best Picture because the industry felt like incestuously patting itself on the back in front of 39 million viewers. But it's still brilliant. It's a silent film itself, shot in black and white, and the few moments of sound in the movie are all symbolic (the dream sequence where movie star George can't talk, and the final scene, where he finally does in a heavy French accent).

If I start waxing philosophical about hiding "difference" and how rapidly-changing communications and media change that, I won't stop. So I'll just say I loved the film for its snapshot of the intersections of culture, technology, and identity.

As for the romance between George and Peppy, the backup dancer who becomes Hollywood's It Girl after he encourages her to follow her dreams (and whose star rises in the "talkies" as his falls with the era of silent movies) ... I waffle between thinking it's sweet and thinking it's a better story if they're merely close friends and colleagues.

Without doubt, The Artist was the most fun I've had watching a movie in a theatre since National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets. My thoughts didn't stray from the storyline at all, except for the moments when I recognized a cultural reference within a cultural reference. That's what's so ingenious about The Artist: it manages to catapult the viewer back in time to an era when movies were so new and fascinating and amazing and magical...

...because they still are!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What's a goon to a goblin?

Following up on my earlier trend of reading Pulitzer Prize-winning novels, I read A Visit From the Goon Squad. The description in the book jacket doesn't do it justice: from the summary, I expected it to be solely about a music company executive and his assistant and how their personal lives revolve around music memories. But it wasn't.

Egan's made-up adage ("Time's a goon") is introduced about halfway through the book, and after that the book made a little more sense. Sure, the music industry is the center of most of the stories (and the book can arguably be independent vignettes, rather than chapters leading into each other). But because I'm partial to stories about time, I enjoyed how each chapter skipped around in time and place: from the 1960s to the future, from LA to New York to Africa to Italy. The characters, like real people, have changed a lot in each time and location, but still echo their old or future selves in recognizable ways. It's a great picture of how people and time change, how fads (music included) change quickly, how technology changes personal connections and culture itself (like music), how the past and youth will always seem more innocent because time hasn't been able to alter them as much ... yet.

As much as I liked the book and appreciated certain parts of it, I didn't completely love it. The skipping around took away from the character development - and all the reader could see were the characters at disjointed periods in their lives, with no context for the change except another character's gossip and surmising. I understand that that might have been the intent - but it made everything and everyone a sort of unsolvable mystery. But maybe that's also an echo of reality.

Saturday, April 07, 2012


Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a portrait of a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Japan.

The restaurant seats 10 customers, serves only sushi, and is located in a Tokyo subway station.

I want to fly to Japan just to eat at this restaurant.

The documentary was pure art: the art of food, the art of family, the art of culture and tradition. It's pointed out in the film that Jiro's sushi is "like a concerto" - and so is the movie. It all fits together gracefully: the dedication of Chef Jiro, his two sons and their future in the family business, the fish market vendors who supply the best catch, the rigorous routines of the apprentices, the customers who make reservations at least a month in advance and pay $300 for 20 pieces of freshly made sushi.

Starting the savings account for the Nihon trip now...

Hot tip: eat sushi before seeing the film.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Dawn, day, life; old, new, brave

I've heard nothing but rave reviews for Tina Fey's Bossypants; so I started it a few weekends ago at Thuters' cabin. It was already in my library queue and set to arrive any day, so I figured I'd get a head start.

I struggled to get through the first half of the book - it was made up mainly of autobiographical vignettes that provide context for a comedienne coming of age. It seemed a bit disjointed, though: the chapters go almost immediately from Fey's scraping together a life in theater in the Midwest to suddenly being the head writer for Saturday Night Live. It didn't flow very smoothly, but once she got the reader to where they recognize her, then I thought it was a better book.

The parts I loved and thought were hysterical in the second half were all about the sudden popularity of Tina Fey's Sarah Palin impersonation. I also appreciated her many insights into sexism in the field of comedy and how women like her are changing the industry and the perception of women in comedy. I loved all of that. I disagreed with her analysis of Photoshopping women's bodies for magazines as completely harmless - but aside from that I cheered for all of her blatantly feminist statements.

But my absolute favorite part was her breakdown of improv comedy, and how it boils down to an attitude about saying "Yes" to the world put in front of you. In order for the magic to happen onstage, improv actors have to be flexible and open to all possibilities; they have to then contribute and create with that same open-mindedness and willingness to embrace any situation as an opportunity to build something new.

What a great philosophy! After reading that, and inspired in part by Thuters' fashion advice à la Queer Eye, I ran out and finally started to update my wardrobe for the first time since ... uh, before grad school. *Cough*

Also, I've made this my new anthem:

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Spiro Agnew, eat your heart out

It was Comicon weekend in Seattle, which reminded me that last weekend I watched a comic-related movie. I've never read the Captain America graphic novels, so I have no way of knowing whether or not Captain America: The First Avenger is very faithful to the comics.

Nor did I realize that the movie is one of several leading up to this summer's expected blockbuster, The Avengers. I have not seen Iron Man nor The Incredible Hulk, but I think the storylines all merging is brilliant. (Yay, marketing. Go Marvel. Ingenius.)

But I thought the movie was good fun. During WWII, a scrawny Brooklyn guy with a big heart is rejected by the Army for duty but then becomes part of a military experiment where they make him all buff; he wears a superhero costume, has a cool, indestructible shield, and fights Nazis. It was straight cheese, but thoroughly enjoyable.

I'm a huge fan of Tommy Lee Jones, who perpetually plays the gruff superior in most movies. And Hugo Weaving is always brilliant as an evil adversary.

I won't rush out to watch the other comic movies that provide the backdrop for Captain America's future teammates, but I will probably see The Avengers when it comes out next month. (Yay, marketing. Go Marvel. Ingenius.)