Here's the challenge: commit to reading 50 books and watching 50 movies in the next year! (Find out more...)
- Legend, Marie Lu
- How a Book is Born, Keith Gessen
- The Fault In Our Stars, John Green
- A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan
- A Separation, Asghar Farhadi
- Chronicle, Josh Trank
- Answer This!, Christopher Farah
- The Secret World of Arrietty, Hiromasa Yonebayashi
- Act of Valor, Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh
- The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius
Don't you hate it when something you've been looking forward to doesn't live up to expectations? Like you leave the theater or get to the last word wanting the experience to have been so much better. Either the hype ruined it or the thing in question just wasn't good enough to warrant the excitement in the first place.
I guess what I'm talking about isn't run of the mill experiences but greatness. For example, I wanted A Visit From the Goon Squad to be great. I wanted The Fault in Our Stars to be great. I even (somewhat illogically) wanted Chronicle would be great. But they all disappointed in some aspect. From now on I'm thinking I should start tracking how good I think something is going to be versus they actually end up being.
For example, I had low expectations for Act of Valor. Basically I just wanted to see some firefights and live out Modern Warfare 3 on the big screen. Bang bang, mission accomplished. After the credits rolled, I couldn't gush enough about how good Valor was, how it exactly met my expectations, and by extension I emerged extremely happy. Was Act of Valor a good movie? Not really. Would I recommend it to most of my friends? Probably not. But due to the middling expectations I set beforehand, it was a fantastic experience.
In contrast, Jennifer Egan's 2011 Pultizer Prize winner was the first book I bought on my Kindle awhile ago and I'd been saving it for when I needed something fantastic to end a month on. In baseball terminology, I was preparing the cleanup hitter in my batting order. Egan was my Barry Bonds and I thought she was going to bring February roaring home.
Instead, A Visit From the Goon Squad was a solid effort but no grand slam. The much lauded chapter told in Powerpoint slides was indeed innovative and fun, but everything that came before and afterwards disappointed me. Egan's writing is smooth, her ability to tell twelve different stories with twelve different voices is impressive, but much like with Hyperion last month, the degree of difficulty and technical execution didn't move me in any way. I need great books to move me and make me want to return immediately.
Something that absolutely met my pre-movie expectations was A Separation, the recent Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film. It occurred to me that I'd never seen a movie set in Iran -- unless Persepolis counts -- and that meant I'd likely missed out on a whole bunch of great stuff. I think Lilly and I are going to be drawing up a minor in depressing Iranian movies, so we'll be sure to report back.
A Separation was a slow burn and an intriguing look at a very different judicial system than the one we have here in the United States. Iran uses a form of the inquisitorial system, in which the judge serves as prosecutor, jury, and arbiter. You'll find your allegiances shifting between the various characters as the movie unfolds, and that'll demand an immediate conversation following the film to compare notes. Masterful and affecting.
[Crossposted from www.jonyang.org]
Sometimes you just hit a bump in the road when it comes to reaching your reading goals. So we asked your fellow FiftyFifty.Me’ers what they’d recommend to get your reading off and running again. What books kept them up at night, what books do they love recommending to other people? The discussion took place on our Goodreads page, but for those of you who missed it, here’s that list.
For shorthand, let's just say now that The Hunger Games is the ultimate definition of a lifesaver book; you're likely to go on and devour the trilogy over a span of 48 hours like every other reader out there. So if you haven't read that one, consider starting there.
Want to stay highbrow but still page-turning? Susie G. recommends Cannery Row, Camus’ The Stranger, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, or “anything by JD Salinger or F. Scott Fitzgerald”. Lauren agrees, and added Lord of the Flies to the list. If you somehow managed to skip that one in high school, maybe your time has come. Think of it as the literary LOST.
Jenne, one of our literary experts, recommends these “old school page turners”:
The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye
The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis
The Brothers K by David James Duncan
Replay by Ken Grimwood
Time and Again by Jack Finney
Shogun by James Clavell
Memoirs of an Invisible Man by HF Saint
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin
anything by Peter O'Donnell (the Modesty Blaise series) or his pseudonym Madeleine Brent (incredibly addictive gothic novels)
anything by Nevil Shute or Ira Levin
My (Lilly’s) personal insta-recommendation list:
Special Topics in Calamity Physics (long but super page-turny)
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
The Dirt by Neil Strauss (anything from our Celebrity Trash Book Club, really)
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
Meg Cabot’s “Boy” trilogy (yes, it’s chick lit, and yes, you’ll live)
Mortified (but only if you want to laugh like a maniac in public)
The Thorn Birds
East of Eden (Steinbeck, yes, but it’s juicy!)
Thank you to everyone who participated in the “Lifesavers” conversations on Goodreads, including but not limited to: Jenn, Irene, Angela, Camilla, Roopsi, Jenne, Beth Anne, Selina, and Melanie. A partial list of compiled recommendations from them follows – keep checking back on the website and at our Goodreads group for additions and more comments from your fellow bookworms!
The Book Thief
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Catcher in the Rye
The Diamond as Big as the Ritz
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Never Let Me Go
The Poisonwood Bible
I Am the Messenger
The Great Gatsby
Lord of the Flies
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
About a Boy
Interpreter of Maladies
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
I Capture the Castle
The Green Mile
The Marriage Plot
Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War
Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories
Haroun and the Sea of Stories
Their Eyes Were Watching God
The Buddha of Suburbia
Anita and Me
The Farming of Bones
The Inheritance of Loss
Out Stealing Horses To Siberia
The Summer Book
The True Deceiver
A Winter Book: Selected Stories by Tove Jansson
The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
Bee Season by Myla Goldberg
No One Thinks of Greenland by John Griesemer
Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis
Becoming Alien by Rebecca Ore
Leaps of Faith by Rachel Kranz
The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood
Remainder by Tom McCarthy
The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead
Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey
anything by Francesca Lia Block
Described (by Jenn) as “short but good”:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
The Cement Garden Slaughterhouse-Five
The Member of the Wedding
Cold Comfort Farm
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
Some sci fi under 300 pages from Bill:
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
Essays and short stories
Naked Pictures of Famous People
Who I Was Supposed to Be: Short Stories
Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)
Want some nonfiction?
A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Reexamined as a Grotesque Crippling Disease and Other Cultural Revelations by Cintra Wilson
Word Freaks by Stefan Fatsis
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
Positively 5th Street by James McManus
Role Models by John Waters (yes, that John Waters!)
Needs some pictures? Check out one of these graphic novels:
Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie
Century Girl: 100 Years in the Life of Doris Eaton TravisLast Living Star of the Ziegfeld Follies
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
May the reading be swift and the enjoyment great. Let us know what you think of these selections, and comment if you've got some go-to recommendations of your own!
Courtesy of Resolute Reader | Resolute Reader | Originally posted 2.7.2012
If I was being brutally honest, I'd say that Ready Player One is a vehicle to deliver a particular kind of self-satisfaction to a geeks of a certain age. Or at least those who'd like to think they are. While the story is quite novel, the real satisfaction in his book is spotting and getting the references. As a result the story has a number of plot holes, or deus ex machina which complete the story. But that's not the point. Ready Player One is the sort of read that takes the reader along, rather than trying to deliever a fully rounded plot.
Set in the fairly near future, Earth has become an over-populated, ecological disaster zone. High prices for fossil fuel have meant that the vast majority of the world's population rely utterly on government handouts to survive, or a life of crime. As always a few have made it very rich and corporations run roughshod over people in order to maximise their profits.
As a solution to this misery, a ruclusive video-game designer, obsessed with the culture of the 1980s, creates OASIS, an alternate reality world. This multi-verse has many planets. Players can go to lessons there, move around the planets and, should they earn credits and XP, they can in turn purchase upgrades and expansions, giving them more powers and abilities. OASIS itself is a fully functioning alternate reality. Sex, violence and work exist here. Avatars fight each other for points and prizes, rather than merely points. The creator, James Halliday became the richest man on the planet, and his libetarian, benevolent views have sought to keep OASIS accessible to all.
With his death, Halliday unveils a quest. Those who find the hidden Easter Eggs can inherit his vast fortune. Such a implausible hope inspires millions of people to spend their lives mastering 1980s culture to search out and understand the clues in the hope of freeing themselves from poverty. Of course the corporations too are in on the games, they can afford to pay underlings to learn about obscure computers games, or the lyrics to 1980s songs.
And its here that this bizarre plot actually works. Rather than this becoming some strange work of fiction based on a World Of Warcraft storyline, the internal references to Midnight Oil (The Beds are Burning), the awful sequels to Indiana Jones (post Crystal Skull) and so one are enough to hook those of us who remember the 1980s, or some of it. There is also plenty here for the contemporary geek - who wouldn't vote for Cory Doctorow to be in charge of their online multiverse?
The rag-tag bunch of social misfits to try and solve the clues and win the prize, the vision of the internet / OASIS as some sort of anarchic alternative to reality, and the faceless corporations that kill on a whim are not particularly new, but Ready Player One works, rather surprisingly and make for an amusing Back to the Future type of distraction for a few hours.
For all of you who spent this morning watching Whitney Houston's funeral service on television, or if you're putting together a Whitney filmography, here's a new guest post for you. Courtesy of Maurene Goo. Originally posted 2.15.2012
50/50 Special Post: The BodyguardMy 8th movie was watched on Saturday night after I found out Whitney Houston died. It's a movie I'd been meaning to watch for years (why, I do not know): The Bodyguard.
I don't know where the weird nostalgia came from, because to be honest, I've never been a huge fan of Whitney. She was a little before my time and a lot of her songs struck me as KOST 103.5 snoozefest. Instead, my girlhood was spent lip-synching to Mariah Carey.
But. There is one song that I love. That I will always love.
If I should stay,
I would only be in your way.
So I'll go, but I know
I'll think of you every step of the way.
OMGeez I get shivers every time I hear these few quiet lines, throaty and true. And yes, I am one of those blasphemous people that like this version better than Dolly Parton's original. It's just so full of intensely genuine emotion.
So I expected the film that it goes with to reflect this level of powerful romance. It was pre-Valentine's weekend and Whitney had just died tragically, and I was in the mood for tears and swooning.
I clearly did not know, then, that people make fun of this movie a lot.
The opening alone. What in the world. Abrupt close-up shot of Kevin Costner shooting someone, and then some weird dark, wet alley look...and then...him crouching.
Ok, ok. Interesting. No easing in...I can handle that.
But aside from the intense eye f-ing that Coster and Houston do in their first meeting, the chemistry between these two was so underwhelming that I got uncomfortable like an uptight woman from the 50s who found interracial dating unsavory.
My fiance (a white guy): "WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD SHE LIKE THIS BORING WHITE GUY?"
Me: "Shhhhh, women like Kevin Costner. There MUST be something sexy about him. Maybe because I am 30 now I will understand."
Fast forward 30 minutes.
Me: "KEVIN COSTNER MAKES ME WANT TO KILL MYSELF."
Fiance: "This is a bad movie."
Aside from the famous scene where Costner scoops Houston up during a raucous concert (see movie poster), there were absolutely no romantic moments. And I don't even have a high standard for romantic moments—I love when Julia Roberts says she's "just a girl..." to Hugh Grant, I love when Ryan Gosling kisses my love Rachel McAdams in the rain...I even love many scenes in this bad movie with Minnie Driver and David Duchovny, where Driver has Duchovny's dead wife's heart in her chest, unbeknownst to both of them.
And where the heck was the best song in the world? AT THE VERY END. Which, ok, I liked how she ran into his arms on the tarmac, but I'm pretty sure that had more to do with the first few lines of "I Will Always Love You" playing in the background.
Also, the movie ended on a freeze frame shot of Costner's awkward f-ing face doing this:
What. The. Heck.
Whitney, this movie sucked, but your voice was amazing and I hope you are finding peace wherever you are. I choose to remember you like this:
Obviously you're not on a romantic day out because, well, you're over here with us, surfing ye internets and trying to figure out what to do to stay busy. If you're single or alone tonight, chances are you're avoiding public spaces. Because the only thing worse than waiting for takeout Chinese food is waiting for takeout Chinese food behind a snuggly couple. That's fine- we embrace you. You are in a safe space.
So the question is, what should you watch tonight at home? We have a few ideas for you:
MOVIES FOR THE ANTI-CUPID IN YOU
*Fatal Attraction -- an oldie but a goodie!
*Loveless, by Ramin Serry. This one's brand new. You might be alone and hating today, but you'll be ahead of the film curve.
*Revolutionary Road (ok, at this point we might be going off the deep end)
*500 Days of Summer
What, having a hater filmfest? There's more where that came from!
Love Stinks! - from Rotten Tomatoes
NBC New York's Anti-Romantic Movie List
Now if you really want to take it to the hilt, you might want to check out the 25 Worst Romantic Comedies Ever. Arthur 2: On the Rocks, anyone? No? Well how about The Beautician and the Beast, starring Fran Drescher? Allow me to quote DIRECTLY from the synopsis of that one:
Joy Miller (Fran Drescher) is a beautician who teaches an evening course in hairstyling at a Brooklyn community college. When a cigarette dropped on a wig leads to a fire...
I completely understand if you've made your decision. I know I have.
We wish you a lovely evening full of snarky Facebook posts, indulging in calories no one will see you consume, and the quiet but comforting knowledge that someone else out there totally gets it.
*This post was sponsored in part by the emotions of every Alanis song ever.
[Crossposted from I Have Writer's Blog]
January was a doozy over here in this thing called life. It was a chance to think long and hard about what is important, so before you dive into reading this post, do me a favor and go text someone you love. (I'd say call them, but let's take baby steps)
I'm going to follow the footsteps of my blogging muse and just dive in on this one, My Culture Consumption: Roundup #1 (Jan - early Feb edition).
Although the month of January threw some curve balls, it also had some high points and I remained steadfast in my dedication to fiftyfifty.me.
Since I last wrote, I have read 3 new books:
*The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight (book #4)
*Food Rules: An Eater's Manual (book #5)
*The Tiger's Wife (book #6)
Now, at first glance you might think I read 2 self help books and yet another trashy celeb bio, but this is not the case!
|best. title. ever|
by Jennifer E. Smith
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight is a sweet and simple YA (young adult, ye non-literary friends in the house) novel about a boy and girl who meet at an airport, and what transpires over the course of the next 24 hours. As someone who can be easily sold on concept, I loved where she went with it, and the clever title had me from the get-go. It is not a question of if this movie will be made into a movie, but when.
Of course, it made me wonder what the statistical probability of love at first sight would actually be. Ooh, and would the same thing happen to me on my flight the next week? Not so much. In a very symbolic moment about my life, I ended up on the flight where the dude behind me was eating a tuna sandwich.
The Tiger's Wife
by Tea Obreht
Books that get a gazillion accolades are truly hit or miss. When I started this one, I got worried. Beautiful cover, 1001 quotes from adoring literary superstars... how would it deliver? And for the first 50 pages, I'll be honest, it didn't. I actually described it to others as "literary molasses". But then the pieces started to come together and I settled into the rhythm of the way the story is braided, and it became more enjoyable. What was most impressive to me was she had created a fairytale for adults. It was unlike anything else I had read, and the depths of her imagination, while at first alienating to me, became astounding.
|eat these, for example.|
by Michael Pollan
You'd look at the title and think I could write this one, but it turns out it stumped even me. Apparently food that comes in through the window of your car is not food?? Wish I got the memo before swinging into Jack in the Box yet again. A straightforward compilation of common wisdom regarding eating and health. We've heard some of these items over and again (women's magazines recycle these tips every month, do they not?) And yet the brilliance of the delivery is in the simplicity. I've been cooking at home nonstop since reading it, so it must have worked. Quick, someone take a picture!
Movie-wise I've been slacking. I saw The Muppets (movie #3), the new one with never-lets-me-down Jason Segel and Amy Adams. Then I went on a movie hiatus as I spent hours of my sweet youth watching Downton Abbey (worth 0 pts on fiftyfifty.me, but worth a million to my internal romantic) The Muppets was fantastic because it was delivered in a self-conscious style that allowed it to be self-deprecating and fun; from the start the movie makes you aware that they KNOW it won't live up to traditional Muppet movies, but you're going to have fun with it anyways. And we did.
Yesterday I tried to pick up the pace, and watched Gattaca (movie #4) last night, starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. Then today I went to see A Separation (movie #5), the Iranian film that has been nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar as well as Best Screenplay.
One of these was significantly better than the other, in my opinion. That would be the one where Uma Thurman is not playing the ideal woman. (Seriously, she's cute but how are there not one but TWO movies centered on this theme?)
Set in a future society obsessed with human perfection, I liked the issues that Gattaca raises. It was interesting to watch it so many years after its release; at the time when it came out I'm sure people weren't yet testing to see what gender baby they could conceive, strategizing for a child's best success via selecting the "right" donor at the bank, etc. So I'm sure my experience is different, watching it in a time and place (now) where this testing isn't that much of a wild concept. And perhaps that's what made it even creepier, less of a sci-fi and more of a social warning. So they had concept and the cinematography was beautiful -- but for me the acting fell flat. All I could think of was how happy I was for these two boring people that they found each other. I wanted to do away with the other two and just watch Jude Law, charming as ever. Of course the one interesting one self-incinerates, of course.
A Separation probably deserves a post of its own.
The story, written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, is about a man and woman who are in the process of divorcing- they separate and he is left to raise their daughter and to find care for his father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's. The plot spirals out from there, examining the ripple effects of our actions. The film introduces a cast of absorbing characters through strong acting, heavy but well-delivered themes, and storyline that will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.
A Separation deserves the accolades it has been getting. But here's the thing: it's not a good movie despite its being from Iran, which I fear is what some people think. It is a good movie because it is done with heart and with universal themes and characters you can readily relate to, however wildly different their circumstances might be from your own.
For me, the movie and its social ecosystem it reflects is symbolic of Iran (and the world) as a whole- it's much more complex than you could possibly imagine at first glance.
Nothing is simple. cc: Politicians of the world.
I am way behind on the 50/50 challenge *hangs head in shame.* I’ve seen plenty of new films recently and read two books, but only one of the texts fall into the parameters of the challenge (as I set it up: 50 non-fic books, 50 foreign films). This is not good. What is good, however, is the first film that I watched for the challenge, TrollHunter (2010/2011)
A Norwegian film, TrollHunter, is mocumentary/ lost tapes type of film a la Blairwitch Project and Cloverfield. Usually, I have reserved feelings about the mocumentary genre. The idea itself is intriguing, but the execution usually is only so-so. They’re usually low-budget or filmed as if they were low-budget (to add to the “realness”), which is fine, until you come to the special effects portion of the films. Also, the actors tend not to be that great- though I give them major props; I can only imagine how hard it is to act as if you’re not acting but yet know that you‘re being filmed. And the biggest problem for me: how do we, as the audience, get to see these lost tapes if they‘re supposedly lost and especially if the government has no interest in us seeing them? Can directors and screenwriters give us a plausible explanation for the release of the tapes? Or at least come up with a better intro to the films please? I am more than willing to buy into the “realness” factor, but for me, my belief has to start as soon as the film starts rolling. Anyway back to the film…
I didn’t know much about the film other than it was horror- so I expected to see monsters jumping out at me, but oh, I got so much more. TrollHunter is awesome in how it plays with the audience expectations and biases regarding the mocumentary genre, journalism, fairy tales, and the role and power of government. Like the great sci-fi films, it makes us ask what/who exactly are monsters? Is it the Trolls who roam the Norweigan countryside terrorizing sheep, goats, farmers, tourists, hikers, etc? Or is it us, who in our desire to make our lives more convenient demand that nature conform to our needs? And can I just add here how beautiful Norway is? There are scenes and scenes of Norweigan waterfalls, countryside, mountains, forests, and roads. It’s the ultimate travel ad. I seriously want to go to Norway now, even if/ especially if they do have trolls.
So yes- according to the film Norway has trolls, very much so. But I’m getting ahead of myself, by forgetting to mention plot. The film follows a trio of student journalists who in turn are following Hans, a hunter who is mistrusted by other Norwegian hunters (they believe he might be a poacher).Otto Jespersen is superb as Hans. His acting is critical to making the film really enjoyable and an above grade mocumentary. The other actors are pretty great too: Hans Morten Hansen (Finn Haugen), Tomas Alf Larsen (Kalle), Johanna Mørck (Johanna), Glenn Erland Tosterud (Thomas), Urmila Berg-Domaas (Malica). Hansen as Finn is very good at portraying a government bureaucrat just trying to do his job. Thomas, Johanna, Kalle, and Malica are pretty much like how I imagine they would be. They’re persistent in their quest to follow Hans and The Story, young and a tad foolish, and full of dry humor (I liked the periodic quiet side looks they would give each other).
But really, like Thomas says, Hans is the “hero” of the film. I love the reason he gives as to why he allows them to follow him around: he’s tired of no overtime pay, the lousy hours, the back-breaking labor, etc. So basically like most mere mortals (especially those at the low-end of the payscale) he’s tired of how his employer treat him. And like most superheroes, he does not see himself as a hero. He’s just doing his job, a dirty (literally) and dangerous job that needs doing. And what’s interesting and brilliantly shown is how and why he’s come to sympathize with the trolls even though he still continues to hunt them. I like that the trolls are not portrayed as evil. Yes, they do horrible things; and I would not want to meet one, but they’re just doing what they do.
I think, having a basic knowledge of fairy tales and trolls helps in watching the film. Only because it adds a deeper layer and as I mentioned earlier, the film plays with those beliefs and biases.
So yes- I highly recommend the film. It has plenty of suspenseful and comedic scenes, and lots of traveling scenes (making it a “road movie” in many ways). It’s not very scary in terms of horror, so if you’re looking for a film to give you monster nightmares it won’t. Still it might be good to see the film before the Hollywood remake comes out next year.