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Jon: Culture Consumption #2

  • 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
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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.

Maybe in the future I'll be able to reread Goon Squad with lowered expectations and thus fully appreciate the many wonderful things Egan accomplishes, but until then it'll be relegated to the end of the bench along with the other disappointments.

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]


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