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Nine Inches: Stories
Nine Inches: Stories
by Tom Perrotta
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.27
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4.0 out of 5 stars Periphery, December 30, 2013
This review is from: Nine Inches: Stories (Hardcover)
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It's been a while since I've read fiction like this - the kind that doesn't involve the supernatural, or even the extraordinary; just tales of seemingly ordinary people living ordinary lives.

So if one of the main draws of reading fiction is escapism, what's the appeal of reading about ordinary people? For me, it's empathy. Because although a book like "Nine Inches" is a book about the kinds of people that live on the periphery of most of our lives, it allows you to spend some time inside the heads of these people; their feelings, their desires, their failures, their longings, the ways they connect with the people around them and the ways that they don't.

These ten stories all exist in modern American suburbia, with many of the stories involving people involved in the public school system. (Despite its initial dirty innuendo, the title of the book actually refers to a story about teachers chaperoning a middle school dance, where's there's a rule about slow-dancing students needing to have at least nine inches between their bodies.) Perhaps for Tom Perrotta, school is a metaphor for life in general. Or maybe it's just a familiar situation that pretty much anyone can relate to. Some of the characters we meet in "Nine Inches" include a middle-aged teacher who finds herself outraged by a review a student writes of her on the internet, a cocky overachiever whose life takes an unexpected turn when he doesn't get into college, two middle-school teachers pondering the romance they didn't embark on years before, and a mother coerced into chaperoning an all-night graduation party.

Other than school, if there's another theme that permeates the entire book, it's one of people feeling cheating out of the life they thought they were entitled to, and finding themselves feeling like they're relegated to the sidelines of life. Whether it's the pediatrician who loses everything after one ill-advised indiscretion, the football star whose head injury destroys both his football career and identity, or the senior citizen who discovers that his now-deceased friend had been carrying on an affair with his wife, resentment and desperation is a common thread in the characters that inhabit these stories.

Despite the often turbulent emotional landscapes of these characters, there's also plenty of humor, surprises and absurdity in these stories, keeping it all from becoming too bleak and tedious. So there's plenty to digest and enjoy in this book for readers willing to spend some time with these characters, experiencing extraordinary moments in their ordinary lives.

Django Unchained
Django Unchained
DVD ~ Jamie Foxx
Offered by Media Favorites
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11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Control, January 2, 2013
This review is from: Django Unchained (DVD)
When watching a Quentin Tarantino film, there are a lot of familiar elements to be expected: An inventive pastiche of genres (often delivered with tongue firmly in cheek). Excessive, cartoonish violence. The use of iconic actors in often unexpected roles. Scenes full of clever, tense dialog that often end up exploding in brutality. And, if you look carefully, hidden beneath all the flash and stunts and gore, moments of genuine emotional resonance.

By all this criteria, "Django Unchained" is typical Tarantino. What makes the film unique among his cannon, and so controversial, is its subject matter. After all, is there any more subject more taboo in modern America than race? And does anything stir up more complex and unresolved feelings among the races than by bringing up our country's shameful history of slavery?

First and foremost, this film is extremely entertaining. I often get bored or impatient during long films, but not once during it's almost three hour running time did I check the time. It's thrilling, it's funny, it's clever, it's visually interesting and emotionally engaging. The story itself is really fairly straightforward: a bounty hunter (Christopher Waltz) frees a slave, Django (Jamie Foxx), makes him his partner, and then agrees to help him free his slave wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from a plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). It's not the plot, but the characters that make the film so fresh and engaging. Django, although the titular character, is probably the least interesting in the film. He's strong and stoic in the tradition of Clint Eastwood, and it is great fun watching him dole out justice, but he doesn't get any of the good dialogue. Dr. King Schultz, Django's mentor, probably carries the first half of the film. He's charming, verbose, calculating, and equally capable of great compassion and ruthless violence, depending on which he seems to think the situation calls for.

The film's second half belongs to the dual villains of DiCaprio's Calvin Candie, a ruthless psychopath masquerading as a southern gentleman, and his house slave/Svengali Steven (Samuel L Jackson). The juxtaposition of the two despicable characters together drive home a subtle point: that slavery wasn't just about race, but about the dark, ruthless nature of human beings to want to control, dominate and subjugate other human beings. As entitled and evil as Candie is, Steven is just as willing to go to abhorrent lengths to maintain the status quo, because the status quo has afforded him as much power and control over others as he could possibly be allowed in his position.

Take This Waltz
Take This Waltz
DVD ~ Seth Rogen
Price: $9.35
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Familiarity, December 27, 2012
This review is from: Take This Waltz (DVD)
What I like about this film is probably what so many other people don't like about it - its refusal to moralize, and its refusal to offer pat answers to why the characters behave as they do.

Michelle Williams (a fascinating actress who projects both childlike innocence and wisdom beyond her years at the same time) plays Margot, a 28-year-old housewife who falls in love with the aspiring artist who lives across the street. Margot at first tries to resist the obvious attraction between the two of them, but as with so many forbidden romances, their coupling seems almost unavoidable. Many films have been made about infidelity, but "Take This Waltz" comes across as unique and fresh.

Part of this has to do with Margot's relationship with her husband, Lou (Seth Rogan), which doesn't seem like the kind of relationship a woman would want to run from. Margot and Lou have a fairly happy life together, and the two communicate together as real couples do - in a unique, shared language that's been created over years. Lou is sweet natured, has a loving family, and is working hard on publishing his cookbook. It's Margot who seems lost. She mentions a desire for a writing career but seems to have little motivation. Beyond physical chemistry, her attraction to Daniel (Luke Kirby) makes sense - the two share artistic aspirations but lack the motivation to commit to them.

The story of passion, attraction, infidelity and betrayal is softened by the film's tone, which is almost always whimsical and fanciful. Set in Toronto, everything that surrounds the characters - the houses, the decor, the clothing - is saturated with a bright, almost childlike color palate. Only one character in the film seems to stand out from the cuteness of it all - Lou's sister, Geraldine, played by Sarah Silverman. The character, an alcoholic struggling with sobriety, seems to offer the film and its characters their only jolt of harsh reality. When she lashes out at Margot in a drunken rage, it's ironically the most sober moment in the film. She accuses Margot of using a new romance the same way she uses alcohol - as a quick, but ultimately unsatisfying fix to temporarily fill the emptiness that is a natural part of life.

The film asks a difficult question: if all relationships, even happy ones, lose their freshness and excitement over time, how do you know whether it's better to stick it out or part ways? Even the ending of the film offers no clear cut answer as to whether Margot's decisions have worked out for the best.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 8, 2013 8:50 AM PST

DVD ~ Mila Kunis
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3.0 out of 5 stars The archetype of the American man-child, December 20, 2012
This review is from: Ted (DVD)
American Hollywood comedies have for a while been obsessed with the archetype of the American man-child. I'm not sure which film first started the trend, but Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow have certainly championed it. In so many recent Hollywood comedies, the main character has been a grown man, in his twenties or thirties, who seems to be stuck in perpetual adolescence. The characters are usually smart and witty but lazy and underachieving, have a penchant for drinking or smoking weed and a juvenile sense of humor, but yet - underneath it all - a heart of gold. Despite a wild premise, "Ted" is, at its core, another film in the pantheon of comedies featuring the archetype of the American man-child.

John (Mark Wahlberg) starts the film as a lonely little boy who makes a wish that his teddy bear will come to life and be his best friend forever. His wish is granted, and "Ted" not only turns from stuffed animal to sentient being, but also becomes an international celebrity. The film then flashes forward 25 or so years later, when John is now a 35 year old rental car service employee who still lives with his sentient teddy bear, whose novelty fame wore off years ago. Only now, the two both speak in adult Boston accents, and enjoy sitting around getting high, watching "Flash Gordon" and making scatological jokes.

This would all be well and good if not for Lori (Mila Kunis), John's girlfriend. Like most films featuring the American man-child, the man-child has somehow managed to attract a beautiful, smart, poised and successful woman. So although Lori loves John, after several years together she begins growing tired of having to share her boyfriend with his crass, pot-smoking teddy bear, and begins wanting a more mature relationship. And so it begins - will John be able to move on from his adolescent inertia in order to hold onto his girl?

For the record - this film is very funny. I laughed out loud many times. But underneath the original premise, outrageous humor and overall weirdness that the film often employs, the story of the man-child whose too-perfect girlfriend forces him to finally grow up is incredibly played out.

DVD ~ Daniel Craig
Price: $7.99
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15 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resurrection, November 30, 2012
This review is from: Skyfall (DVD)
Until Daniel Craig took over the role with "Casino Royale," I was never a big James Bond fan. I enjoyed some of the films, but I never found him to be a very compelling hero. At times, he even seemed like a parody of male fantasy - an infallible, oversexed, entitled alpha male. Craig brought new life into the character, making him a scrappy, visceral hero, and with his piercing gaze revealed a depth to the character I had never seen before.

Whether it's a response to the tough times we've living in, or strictly a matter of creative direction, James Bond 2012 is no longer living a male fantasy. Sure, he still has the ability to seduce and bed beautiful women, but aside from that, things have gotten tough. In the beginning of "Skyfall", Bond is accidently shot by his own team while on top of a moving train, where he falls hundreds of feet into a body of water. Thought dead, he takes the opportunity to disappear for a while and enjoy the anonymous life. It's only when MI6 is attacked on their own turf and the results are so overwhelming that it makes the international news that Bond decides to reemerge.

Upon his return, Bond is no longer in top form. Craig is far from the oldest actor to play the character, but his superiors and co-workers seem to think he's too old to be continuing as a field agent. His injuries have left him with an unsteady trigger finger, and his heavy drinking and pain medication have made him a liability. M (Judi Dench) only clears him to return to action out of a mix of desperation and loyalty. 2012's James Bond is no longer a superhero. He's tough, stoic, and brave, but he's no longer the alpha male - he's the underdog.

Bond goes about tracking down the man who both blew up MI6's headquarters and is now revealing the identities of covert field agents (guaranteeing their deaths.) When he does come across Silva (Javier Bardem), that's when things get really interesting. In the case of "Skyfall", not only is the hero a much more interesting character, but the villain is fascinating. A disgraced and destroyed former MI6 agent himself, the character seems to want nothing more than to destroy his former boss M by first destroying everything that means anything to her - her reputation, her co-workers, and her country.

In the film's final act, Bond takes M to "Skyfall," the Scottish estate where he was born and raised. The most logistically safe place to do final battle with Silva is also Bond's most emotionally dangerous territory - the place where he lost his parents as a boy. It's here that the three damaged, strong central characters - Bond, M, and Silva - have to face themselves and each other.

"Skyfall" is an example of an elevated action film. When I grew up in the 80's, action films were mostly populated by hack actors, with weak storylines and mediocre directing. Skyfall utilizes a talented filmmaker (Sam Mendes, the man behind "American Beauty"), powerhouse actors (Craig, Bardem, and Judi Dench are all wonderful) a strong script and lush cinematography to prove, once again, that any genre of film can be elevated when the people behind it have the talent and skill required.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 2, 2012 10:17 PM PST

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Further down the rabbit hole, October 16, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Halcyon (Audio CD)
**** 1/2

I've probably listened to this album twenty times, and I'm still trying to figure it out. When I first started listening to it, all I wanted to do was immerse myself in the intoxicating sounds. First and foremost, that ethereal, old-soul soprano. Second, the lush, shimmering production: The sweeping, orchestral touches, the more subdued acoustic moments, and the experimental and occasionally even spastic electronica that comes and goes throughout the album.

But then after listening to many of the tracks over and over again, I finally started listening more closely to the words that Ellie is singing. And I discovered that so many of them were sad tales about broken relationships. "Anything Could Happen" sounds at first like a techno gospel song, with her vocals so soaring and powerful at its peak, when she sings "I know it's gonna be" eight times in a row, each time sounding like she's reaching harder for the divine. But then you realize what follows, when she sings "but I don't think I need you." These surprise lyrics change the tone of the song entirely.

Something similar happens on the next track, "Only You," a throbbing, electronic blues song. The song at first listen seems to suggest lust and longing, until you pay closer attention to the lyrics. "Only you could see/the emptiness I feel/when you're with me." The title track, "Halcyon," immediately wears it's melancholy on its sleeve. "When it's just us/You show me what it feels like to be lonely" she sings soberly. And when she claims "It's going to be better" it's clear she means when the relationship is over.

As much as the juxtaposition of Ellie's folky voice and songwriting with cutting-edge electronica drives much of the album, tracks like "JOY" and "I Know You Care" prove that her music can be just as compelling without bells and whistles. And they also make it impossible to ignore the broken heart that was clearly the creative inspiration for this album.

So, after twenty listens, I'm still not entirely sure what to make of "Halcyon". Is it a groundbreaking pop album? Is it a glorious, shimmering break-up record? I'm still not sure. But there's no doubt about this young woman's talent. "Halcyon" shows impressive growth from "Lights" (which I already really liked). Ellie Goulding is the real deal.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Maturity, October 3, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Sun (Audio CD)
I saw Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) playing in a little club in Detroit many years ago. She stood on stage, hiding behind her hair, looking down, too shy to make eye contact with her audience. The last album of hers I heard was "You are Free", a bare, minimalist, raw and often harrowing record.

Much has changed. The cover of "Sun" shows Chan Marshall with a bold, short-cropped haircut, looking confidently and directly into the camera (and at her audience). And production-wise, the tracks are no longer minimalist or spare - they're fully fleshed out, with a variety of instruments and even occasional touches of electronic beats. If this isn't a pop album, than it's probably the closest thing to a pop album an artist like Cat Power is ever going to make. And - best of all - Chan didn't go to a popular pop music producer to make the record. She did it all on her own.

Thematically, the album seems to be about maturity. "Bury me, marry me to the sky" she sings on the glorious opening track, "Cherokee," showing a hard-won sense of connectedness. "This is the day people like we've been waiting for" she continues on the second song, basking in mindfulness.

However, things don't stay so sunny for long. Because as much as maturity allows you to enjoy life in the moment, it also offers pragmatism and perspective. On "Ruin" she chides people for "bitching/complaining/when some people ain't got sh*t to eat." It's simplistic, yes, but true. "3,6,9" describes the "monkey on your back" of substance abuse. And on "Real Life," she confronts the reality that life is often mundane and in order for it not to be, you have to sacrifice. "Real life is ordinary/sometimes you don't wanna live/Sometimes you gotta do what you don't want to /to get away with an unordinary life," she sings soberly.

With "Nothing but Time" Chan finds herself in the difficult position of having life experience and trying to give advice to a young person struggling. "Your world is just beginning/And I know this life seems never-ending/But you got nothing but time/And it ain't got nothing on you" she sings, sounding like your cool, wise aunt, until, inexplicably and wonderfully, rock legend Iggy Pop chimes in to complete the song.

"Sun" is a sonic portrait of a mature woman on the cusp of middle age, embracing her life experience and hard-won lessons, and looking forward to the future with a mix of pragmatism, melancholy and optimism.

Damages: Season 4
Damages: Season 4
DVD ~ Glenn Close
Price: $14.99
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4.0 out of 5 stars Paradoxes, October 2, 2012
This review is from: Damages: Season 4 (DVD)
By switching from F/X to DirecTV, two things are obvious from the beginning of the 4th season of "Damages". First, the production budget is clearly less substantial. Second, the show is no longer bound by network standards, and mostly this is apparent due to an abundance of f-bombs. These elements give the season more of the feel of an independent film, as opposed to a glossy network drama.

But the show remains compelling. Mostly this is due to the central characters of Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), the complex and twisted relationship these characters share, and the chemistry between the two actresses that play them. Patty and Ellen's relationship is part mentor/protégé, part mother/daughter, part predator/prey and part just full-on catfight. Patty is a brilliant, manipulative and often vicious woman whose heart beats occasionally. Ellen is a brilliant, mostly well-intended woman who often finds herself capable of more manipulation and viciousness than she thought possible. This yin/yang dynamic drives the series.

Almost as important as the two leads are finding compelling actors to play the season's villains, who are usually powerful people caught up in corruption and atrocity and desperately trying to avoid having their secrets come to light. This season offers John Goodman as CEO of a Blackwater-esque private company involved in the war in Afghanistan. After one of their missions goes terribly awry, several of its employees are murdered, and a ruthless mercenary (Dylan Baker, even more terrifying than he was in "Happiness") is at the center of it.

It seems that some people were unhappy with the show's decision to take on the wars in the Middle East, but I don't see why they would be. It's just as topical as last season's "Ponzi-scheme-on-a-massive-scale" case. John Goodman's character is a fascinating study in compartmentalization. The character routinely makes decisions that involve torture, abuse, and murder, but is then able to carry on his roles as father and religious leader without seeming too conflicted. This is believable partly due to John Goodman's performance, but also due to how commonplace such people are.

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4.0 out of 5 stars An abstract self-portrait, September 27, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Beams (Audio CD)
**** 1/2

If you're looking for quick insight into what this album is all about, the cover art says it all ... "Beams" is an abstract sonic portrait of a human being.

If confessional singer-songwriters spill their guts with their voices and lyrics, Matthew Dear instead chooses to express his current state of consciousness with a combination of compelling beats, enticing sonic landscapes and lyrics that are often poetic and sometimes inscrutable. Through these elements you get insight into the man's soul here and there, but you have to look hard to find it ... and you're often too mesmerized by the world he's created to try.

Matthew Dear doesn't really have much of a singing voice per se - his range as a vocalist is extremely limited from a traditional point of view. So instead, he comes across as more of a poet and an actor, using his voice to create different characters that stand in for the different sides to his personality. Throughout the album, he alternately sounds like a robot, a philosophizing stoner, an aged cowboy and a creepy lecher, depending on the song and context.

"It's all right to be someone else sometimes," Dear proposes in the second track, "Earthforms". In his case, it's more of a matter of making an album in order to play a handful of the characters in his clearly populated brain.

The Cabin In The Woods [DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy]
The Cabin In The Woods [DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy]
DVD ~ Chris Hemsworth
Price: $7.99
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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reinvention, September 26, 2012
In the world of filmmaking, genres must occasionally be reinvented; otherwise they become predictable and stale. In the late 90's, West Craven reinvigorated the horror genre with "Scream," by combining sly self-awareness and humor with genuine scares. Not since "Scream" has a mainstream film come along and reinvented the horror genre like "The Cabin in the Woods".

The film begins with two opposing and intertwined storylines. One is the oldest cliché in the world - 5 attractive college students decide to head off to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of fun, sex, and substance abuse. It's a surprise to no one that terror, bloodletting, and death await them. But there's another storyline happening; where a group of corporate drones are watching the youngsters on TV screens, anticipating their actions as if they're producers making a reality show. If that were the case, then the film would hardly be fresh and original. Tying reality TV to horror has been done many times in recent years. So what, exactly, is really going on with the workers watching the kids, and why does their fate alternately amuse, entertain, and terrify them?

To give anything else away would be a crime, because the best thing about this film is its unpredictability. If you think you know what's coming ... you don't. Lots of films and television shows try so hard to shock, titillate, or surprise their audience that the tactics just come across as empty and manipulative, but "The Cabin in the Woods" has genuinely new, fresh ideas that it executes expertly.

I will give one thing away ... the ending of this film offers no possibility for a sequel. So as an added bonus, fans of the film won't have to watch a fresh, original piece of filmmaking turn into a redundant franchise.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 23, 2012 1:47 PM PST

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