What’s love got to do with it?

Modern Romance ★★★★
by Aziz Ansari
Penguin Press, 2015

modern_romanceI’ve been so behind on my reviewing these days, but I had so much fun with this one I wanted to make sure I didn’t let it fall through the dark cracks into the swirling abyss where my non-reviewed books go.

I’m a huge fan of Ansari. I think he’s cute as a button and funny as goddamn hell. I watched him in Parks & Rec, his most recent Netflix original Master of None (which I highly recommend), and thoroughly enjoy his stand-up concerts. He’s not at the same level as Louis CK or Patton Oswalt, but he’s also a lot younger than these gentlemen who have been honing their dark and brilliant comedy for decades now.

Modern Romance is not your typical “comedian writes a book” fare. It’s not a memoir, or a book filled with ruminations on the life of a comedian. It’s a thinky piece, backed up by real sociological research, with pie charts and everything! Ansari’s approach to breaking down the ins and outs of dating and hooking up and settling down in the 21st century is as intriguing and compelling as it is infectious and informative. I loved every minute of it. The layout is light and breezy, and super accessible without distilling and dumbing down the subject matter too much as to be insulting to its audience. Ansari wants to make you laugh, make no mistake, but he’s also very earnest in his desire to tell you what he’s learned.

And can I just say I find all of it utterly FASCINATING. I’m addicted to “meet cute” stories (even though I would never consider myself a romantic, and have an averse reaction to rom-com movies — that make me break out in hives). But how people meet and when they decide “to put a ring on it” (or not) can always get my attention. I have to check myself from being perpetually nosy all of the time, getting the “deets” on all this stuff from my friends, both of the online and the in real life variety.

For me, this book is too short. With its laudable success my hope is that Ansari will be compelled to pen a follow-up, because if there’s one thesis that comes chiming out loud and clear here, it’s that the 21st century dating world is changing fast, at warp speed, impacting how we communicate with one another, form bonds and friendships, and take that scary running leap into “the big commitment”. A lot of the current research being done is showing that the bonds we form online, platonic or otherwise, can no longer be dismissed so easily as superficial and suffering by comparison to those we forge “IRL” (in real life). I do believe most of us on this site would concur that social media has opened up a “brave new world” that’s not just brighter and more vibrant, but has proven increasingly successful in bringing colorful people into our lives that we otherwise would not have known existed, friendships that we now rely upon and cherish.

And that “modern romance” is blooming out of those virtual connections should really be coming as no surprise to anyone.

Ansari does an excellent job of pointing out the pros and cons of modern romance in the 21st century in all its tech’d out, geeked out splendor. We now have more choice than ever before, all at our fingertips with the click of a button or the swipe of a screen, but that landslide of choices might also be paralyzing some of us into making any choice at all. Our standards and expectations for a lifelong partnership might have been raised to exceptionally high, unreasonable levels too. With all that choice at our fingertips, why would we settle for anything less than AMAZING? That perfect “soul mate” who is going to fulfill every single one of our needs every day for the rest of our days. Pfft, people you know this: that person does not exist.

But it’s not all bad news. Technology has not ruined romance for us living in the 21st century. In fact, for many of us, especially women — things have improved vastly. Not because of the tech component, but because women are no longer expected to settle down as early as possible. We can invest in our careers now, and date more and live life as a single, learning about ourselves and the things that are going to make us happy if we do decide to pair off.

There are many areas (due to space constraints) that this book by necessity leaves unaddressed or goes light on, and Ansari is very good about pointing those out at the beginning. One thing missing for me is a breakdown of dating from an extrovert versus introvert point of view. I think our current technology has been an absolute miracle and felicia_daymarvel to introverts who struggle to put themselves out there in the real world of bars and supermarkets and church basements, but are absolutely charming and brave and socially high functioning on the interwebs. It’s been an essential transition for that half of the human population to discover their “tribe” and connect in meaningful ways to people it would have been extremely unlikely they would have ever met IRL.

(and it’s here I’m going to put a plug in for Felicia Day’s memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet who also describes this “social revolution” for introverts in a way that resonated with me completely).

So in case it isn’t obvious by now, I loved this book and I think everyone should read it, young/old, guy/girl, married/single. While it’s easy to despair of the human race, and we know there are too many assholes and unforgivable idiots and sneaky jerkfaces running around out there, human behaviour and why we do the shit we do is still endlessly fascinating, isn’t it? I think so.

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The horror! The horror!

The Horror of It All: One Moviegoer’s Love Affair with Masked Maniacs, Frightened Virgins, and the Living Dead ★★
Adam Rockoff
Scribner, May 2015

This is an advanced review. Reader copy provided by NetGalley.

horrorofitallI always feel guilty when I snag a book from NetGalley and don’t love it. But hey — impartial reviewing and honest reader response is what we all crave, right? So I get over that guilt pretty quickly.

Adam Rockoff has a great idea here. While my real passion is to watch horror movies (not read about them) every once in a while a book like this sneaks past my defenses with a come hither look I can’t resist. That’s what this book did with its great cover and catchy (if wordy) title.

Essentially what Rockoff is attempting to do here (and largely fails) is what Stephen King accomplished decades ago with flair and brilliance in his nonfiction study of the horror genre Danse Macabre. What did I want this Christmas season? What do I keenly long for every year that passes? A goddamn, updated sequel! Get on that Uncle Stevie, before it’s too late!

dansemacabre

Danse Macabre ©1981

King’s masterpiece covers horror in all its manifestations in print, and on the big and small screens. Rockoff narrows his focus to just the movies, and that would be enough if it had been a wide view of horror on the big screen, but Rockoff’s kink is the slasher / exploitation films (the subtitle for this book should have been my first clue).

Rockoff has already written a book about the rise of the slasher film called Going to Pieces — heh, cute title — and without having read it, I’m left with a sneaking suspicion that this follow-up book treads a lot of the same ground. In The Horror of it All Rockoff has a major rant against Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel for a special edition episode of their show Sneak Previews aired in 1980 in which the film critics lambast these “slasher” flicks as a dangerous and despicable trend in film both demeaning and dangerous to women (these men are so high up on their high horse here I can’t imagine they can still see the ground). Don’t get me wrong — I love Roger Ebert, he remains one of my favorite film critics — but boy, was he mostly a fuss bucket when it came to horror movies in general. It wasn’t his genre of choice and it showed in many of his prejudicial (and often undeserved) negative reviews of some great movies.

Rockoff is justified in tearing a strip off these two men in an instance where they show complete ignorance about a genre and its fans. Neither Siskel or Ebert appear to have actually sat through any of these movies they are so quick to dismiss as sleazy and misogynist. They show no awareness of “the Final Girl” who often survives to slay the “monster” herself, as well as suffering from the common misconception that it’s only women killed in slasher films. Quite the contrary; studies show men are just as likely to die violent deaths on screen in horror movies as their female counterparts.

But I get it. As a fan of the genre since before I could tie my own shoes, I’ve come up against that kind of prejudice many, many times. Horror is a genre where the consumer is attacked as often as the content itself. Understanding the appeal factor of horror is difficult for some people to accept, people who will look at you with a wary expression as they ask “how can you read/watch that stuff”? As if we should be ashamed, as if we are somehow mentally warped or our moral compass dangerously askew. Don’t worry, it isn’t. Horror appeals to many of us for very solid, rational, non-psychopathic reasons, I swear. And it appeals just as equally to men as it does women. And that doesn’t make the men misogynists, or the women failed feminists.

But I digress. Back to Rockoff. His goal here is to really champion for the slasher films and the deranged and disturbing pushing all the boundaries it can possibly think of exploitation films. And I wouldn’t have had a problem with that. But it gets a bit repetitive and tiresome and a lot of the movies he winds up talking about are pretty obscure if you’re not a complete and utter fanatic for everything underground and out of print (I’m not).

Adam Rockoff

Adam Rockoff

In his introduction, Rockoff promises to approach horror in a very personal essay, knitting together his experiences of the genre using memoir as a lens. I love that idea. I love hearing about people’s personal reactions to movies or what was going on in their lives when. One of my favorites of these sorts of anecdotes came from my own mother. She was dating my father at the time of the theatrical release of The Exorcist.

It was a date movie for them (these are my genes). They had to park the car at the very back of the mall parking lot. When the movie let out after 11pm the mall was closed and the parking lot was almost empty. They walked to the dark, abandoned hinterland of the lot to their car. When my mother went to open the passenger door (this was 1970’s Newfoundland – people rarely locked their car doors) a giant looming shadow of a man sat up in the back seat and groaned. My mother screamed. My father cursed (and probably shit himself). Turns out that while they were watching the movie, this guy stumbled out of the bar drunk and crawled into my parents car to pass out mistaking the car as belonging to his friend.

Rockoff has a few personal stories like this, humorous and charming, but not nearly enough of them. He can’t help but slip into the film school analysis voice, reviewing and critiquing. Too much of the book’s contents feel like grad school essays, a little pompous and righteous. In an effort to “legitimize” horror and testify to its importance and validity, Rockoff comes off sounding like a bit of a haughty dick.

Then there’s some sections that just don’t work at all, and their inclusion confounds me. Case in point — in Chapter 5 “Sounds of the Devil” Rockoff talks about the (un)natural marriage of heavy metal music to horror movies. The two go together like PB&J in some ways, in other ways it’s a misfit experiment gone awry.

Tipper Gore 1985

Tipper Gore, 1985

He raises a few interesting points and then inexplicably goes right off the reservation with a blow-by-blow account of the time in 1985 Tipper Gore helped found the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and brought the fight to Washington in the hopes of compelling the music industry to adopt a voluntary rating system warning of the explicit lyrics destined to corrupt and warp innocent children.

Halfway through this chapter I felt like I was reading a completely different book that didn’t have anything to do with horror movies at all. It just seemed really out of context and ultimately onerous. I remember when this bullshit was going on at the time — even at 11 years old I scoffed then, I scoff now. Plus, it’s not nearly as interesting a story as the Comics Code Authority and the war against horror comics of the 1950’s (check out The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America and Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America). And I’m really looking forward to seeing this 2014 documentary Diagram for Delinquents.

If you’ve made it to the end of this lengthy, rambling review I thank you. You are a good sport and too kind. I didn’t hate this book but it failed to really engage me or entertain. I don’t recommend it; instead, pop some popcorn, turn out the lights and cue up your favorite scary movie.

About a boy…

who really just wanted to talk about toys…

vintage lite brite 3Because let’s face it — toys are FUCKING AWESOME and are what make the world go round and life worth living.

When the zombies come, I’ll be saving and hoarding as many goddamn toys that I can.  And maybe, just maybe, if you’re really nice to me, I’ll let you play with them too.

 

woody

 

The beat goes on…as does the Goodreads censorship debacle

The Great Goodreads Censorship Debacle ★★★★★

GR debacle cover**Release Date: TBD**

This is not censorship – this is setting an appropriate tone for a community site. ~Kara, Director, Customer Care Goodreads

I hope you’ll appreciate that if we just start deleting ratings whenever we feel like it, that we’ve gone down a censorship road that doesn’t take us to a good place. ~Otis Chandler, CEO Goodreads

Cherry-picking what is not “appropriate” (a loaded and subjective term at the best of times) for mass consumption and subsequently making it disappear is the very definition of censorship. If Goodreads is hell bent and determined to do it, then they should at least have the balls to stand by that decision and call it what it is.

I don’t need any doublespeak with my evening cocktail thanks very much. It gives me indigestion.

No matter how you slice this pie, and which side of the argument you fall on — reviewers are being censored. Content is being censored. Goodreads has deemed reviews targeting author behavior as “inappropriate” and having no value. Way to make the decision for everybody. Those reviews have value to somebody and they should get to choose for themselves whether or not they want to read them. Ditto shelving.

You claim these reviews are not about the book, that you want all reviews to remain on topic and I quote: “in a way that’s relevant to the book.” So not only is Goodreads prescribing what is “appropriate in tone” but also what is “relevant”.

And what is relevant and “on topic”? a hundred flashing .gifs to make a person go blind or insane? a random personal anecdote? a dirty joke? an expletive-ridden diatribe? I have many favorite reviews that don’t even address the book at all. What I love about this site is that there is a corner on here for just about every taste and kink and every style of review. For Goodreads to take it upon itself to deem what “belongs” here is a slap in the face to the very definition and spirit of community run. It is overruling and denying the very thing that gives this site its relevance and integrity.

And as for AMAZON — I see you hiding back there in the weeds, perched on that grassy knoll. Consider for just a moment why your Goliath site became a toxic wasteland that no self-respecting reader or reviewer would use. Why you had to buy Goodreads in order to get back into the book reviewing community. You thought no one would leave you because you are so big and important and there is nobody else like you. But guess what? They did leave you, in droves and droves, and found a precious home in Goodreads.

Now you believe in the indestructibility of the GR myth in the same way you believed in your own. GR can be killed too, all in the same ways you ruined your own site. CEASE and DESIST with this complete and utter nonsense. You will sell waaaaay more books (a gazillion more) if you just leave the readers the fuck alone and let the GR community manage the site the way they’ve always done.

To the Goodreads family, in particular to Mr. Otis Chandler himself, you can offer up as much reassurance and platitudes as you want, but not one thing about this feels right. And it shouldn’t to you either.

It’s about time somebody wrote a book about this. Hurry up and release it already (though I hear the author is quite a dick)! In the meantime, to find out more about what shit shenanigans have been going on around here while you were reading, check out the following links:

Summary of GR’s New Censorship Policy

Civil Disobedience – 12 easy suggestions (and one bonus)

Giving Offense: Full on Revolt on Goodreads

By the Numbers: An analysis of the reviews deleted in the Goodreads policy change

Banned Books Week and the Goodreads Debacle

Goodreads: Who is the bully?

Censored by Goodreads

Also, don’t forget to check out the original announcement about the changes that have still only to appear in the Feedback group. Voice your opinion by leaving a comment!

Carrie versus The Shining (movie edition)

shining

The Shining (1980)

***Note: the following discussion contains spoilers for the movies Carrie (1976) and The Shining (1980).

I recently reviewed Stephen King’s classic horror novel The Shining and in that discussion I take a closer look at Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic version versus King’s book. I love the movie – always have – but I can also plainly see its flaws and where it becomes an entirely different story than the one King wrote. In many ways, The Shining is a brilliant film, but in many ways it fails as an adaptation.

Carrie_10

Carrie (1976)

Today I want to look a little more closely at another famous King adaptation – Brian De Palma’s Carrie. But rather than compare it to King’s book, I want to see how it stacks up against Kubrick’s acclaimed cinema masterpiece. For a lot of film fanatics, critics and horror fans, Kubrick’s The Shining is the superior movie, a stylistic work of genius that fairly vibrates with terror and suffocates the viewer with its unsettling and provocative atmosphere. I’m here to convince you however, that based on three criteria, Carrie is actually the better film and by far my personal favorite.

1. Acting
Scene for scene Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie deliver brilliant performances that far surpass what the indomitable Jack Nicholson offers and his weird and wacky counterpart Shelley Duvall. Jack is Jack. Jack is always Jack. His performance in The Shining is not all that different from what audiences watched him do just a few years previous in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Enjoyable yes. Memorable certainly. Worth parodying always. Yet, paling in comparison.

Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek | Carrie (1976)

Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek | Carrie (1976)

Spacek and Laurie are practically Method in their approach to their roles — becoming Carrie and her religiously zealous mother. Nicholson on the other hand almost can’t stop himself from hamming it up and goofing around. His performance is so over the top in parts to merit laughter rather than awe or fear. Simply put, Spacek and Laurie become other people — Jack doesn’t ever stop being Jack (Nicholson that is) and in my mind, fails to ever become Jack Torrence.

2. Memorable Scenes
Both films have memorable scenes, or we wouldn’t still be watching them and talking about them this many years later. There’s no doubt that Kubrick was a cinematic genius and that he composed his shots like an artist. Every prop, every angle — everything meant something. Kubrick directs The Shining with an acute hyper-awareness where “the look” of the film is as important, if not more important, than what’s going on in the story and between the characters. It makes for a visually stunning experience, but it’s also a very technical and cold approach to the art of storytelling.

De Palma’s Carrie is the exact opposite. He is telling the story of a young girl who is tormented by bullies, relentlessly abused by her domineering, mentally unstable mother, and terrified of her psychic powers. It is an emotional story, told with great sensitivity. De Palma wants to shock us, and scare the crap out of us, but he also wants us to feel empathy and sorrow at the tragedy of Carrie White’s short life. There is no empathy or sorrow in The Shining — there is no sense of tragedy. While King’s novel is rife with it, Kubrick has other cinematic goals to achieve with his movie that excludes the emotional in favor of the visceral and cerebral.

Memorable scenes The Shining:
1. Danny cycling the Overlook’s maze-like hallways until he encounters the Grady twins.
2. Jack entering Room 237 – the old woman in the bathtub.
3. Wendy finds out that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
4. Heeeere’s Johnny! – axing through the bathroom door

Memorable scenes Carrie:
1. The opening shower scene – Plug it up! Plug it up! Plug it up!
2. Eve was weak!
3. The dropping of the bucket of pig’s blood
4. Carrie crucifies her mother with kitchen utensils.

All of these scenes are memorable, but for me the more memorable and satisfying are the scenes from Carrie because they are so emotionally loaded, not just scenes relying exclusively on primal shock and terror. I wasn’t just scared out of my mind by the end of Carrie, I was overwhelmed with sadness too.

shining frozen

Jack’s frozen corpse after a night  in the hedge maze.

carrie grave

Carrie’s bloody hand reaching up out of the grave.

3. Shock ending
Speaking of shock and terror, as shock endings go Carrie has The Shining beat here as well. Jack running around in the dark in the maze during a blizzard and then the quick shot of him the next morning frozen to death simply can’t compare to Sue Snell’s dreamy walk to Carrie’s graveside and as she places the flowers the bloody hand shooting up out of the ground to grab her by the arm. That’s an ending to make you scream.

According to Stephen King: “When that hand comes out of the grave… Man, I thought I was going to shit in my pants.” Even in his ending, Kubrick can’t resist going for the cerebral, ambiguous final shot of the portrait hanging in the Overlook dated 1921 with Jack smiling in a tux. What the hell? Whatever the itchy questions this raises, what it doesn’t do is stop your heart in stark, cold terror and make you sleep with the light on that night.

In an interview Stephen King goes on to further elaborate about seeing Carrie for the first time and that shock ending:

The first time I saw Carrie with an audience they previewed it about a week and a half before Halloween….The theatre was entirely full of black people. We looked like two little grains of salt in a pepper shaker, and we thought: This audience is just going to rate the hell out of this picture. What are they going to think about a skinny little white girl with her menstrual problems? And that’s the way it started, and then, little by little, they got on her side….These two guys were talking behind us, and we were listening to them, and at the end they’re putting on their coats and getting ready to leave. Suddenly this hand comes up, and these two big guys screamed along with everyone else, and one of them goes, “That’s it! That’s it! She ain’t never gonna be right!” And I knew it was going to be a hit.

Stephen King

Stephen King

He wasn’t wrong. Carrie was a hit and earned both Spacek and Laurie Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Leading and Supporting Role respectively. It’s been almost thirty years, and I can still watch this movie and be profoundly unsettled by it. Even after repeated viewings, it still has the power to scare me and I jump, no matter what, when that bloody hand comes shooting up out of the grave. Even though my mind is expecting it, my body is a slave to the involuntary startle reflex.

The Shining on the other hand, no longer has the power to really scare me. After repeated viewings, Nicholson’s  exaggerated performance doesn’t hold up. Now it’s as if he’s parodying himself. While I still enjoy it, I can no longer sit through The Shining and forget I’m watching a movie. I watch it for technique now, appreciating Kubrick’s rich cinematic canvas. The Shining is a technically perfect film, but it has no heart. I would argue that De Palma’s Carrie is all heart, an emotional experience that is only enhanced by the director’s imagination and empathy for his subject.

Some final thoughts:
Since my feelings for De Palma’s Carrie are so very strong, I have little to no interest in seeing the impending remake starring Julianne Moore as Mrs. White. When the original performances are that vivid and remarkable, any attempt to catch lightning in a bottle twice is bound to fail miserably. The risk of it coming across as a cheap imitation is too great. It may look more modern and slick, but that doesn’t mean it will be a better movie. So why remake it at all if you can’t improve upon the original? I would feel just as strongly if somebody tried to remake Spielberg’s JAWS. I’m not anti-remake, but I do believe there are certain films that need to be exempt, and Carrie is definitely one of those for me.

The Walking Dead – where do we go from here?

walking dead 17As promised, here is a link to the project I just finished working on with fellow Goodreader, Kemper. Entitled This Zombie Apocalypse is Getting Too Depressing, Kemper and I weigh in on the unrelenting darkness of the series and talk about whether or not Kirkman has gone too far with this latest volume – Something To Fear.

***Spoiler-phobes beware*** This is a frank discussion of the comics up to Volume 17 (Issue #102) and spoilers for AMC’s Walking Dead Season 3 finale.

About us:

When not canning food in preparation for the coming zombie apocalypse, Trudi writes the Busty Book Bimbo blog in which she reviewed the latest Walking Dead collection..

The basement of Kemper’s Book Blog is filled with toilet paper and Scotch. That’s not because of zombies. He just likes to keep a lot of both on hand. He also reviewed The Walking Dead Vol. 17..

Renowned film critic fails a cinema classic

The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder ★
David Thomson
Basic Books, 2009

“It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?” ~Norman Bates, Psycho (1960)

***Note: the following review contains spoilers for the films Psycho, Carrie, and Friday the 13th.

Layout 1I’ve had this slim volume by film critic David Thomson on my currently reading shelf for months and it was high time to finish it, or abandon it. I finished it…barely.

Psycho is one of my favorite movies for a thousand reasons, including all of the fascinating stories that surround the mythology of how it was shot, Hitchcock’s battle with Hollywood censors, his genius marketing plan, and the film’s subsequent shell-shocking and titillation of 1960 movie audiences. So when a book like this promises to show me the moment of Psycho and how its director taught America to love murder, I’m there. The only thing that rivals talking about the movie itself for me, is talking about the cultural Zeitgeist in which it was made and received.

Thomson’s thesis in an ambitious and exciting one. His book, on the other hand, is a wishy-washy example of intellectual masturbation that goes nowhere and proves nothing. Dare I say he comes off as an idiot quite frankly, full of sound and fury, in a treatise absent of any real meaning or value. He has added zero new to the debate on Hitchcock’s films, or Psycho in particular.

(more…)

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