Tuesday, February 22, 2011

And the Oscar goes to...

I'm not sure which one of us came up with the idea, but my wife and I have been going through the 2011 Oscar nominated movies. Just before the long weekend we finished the last movie currently available on DVD which brought our total to 6 of the 10 movies nominated. Here's the breakdown:

Inception: I really enjoyed this one, S was a bit more luke warm about it. To me it was pure plot slick. A maze of a movie which captured you as only an intricate, and possibly pointless, machine can. That said, I wish we could get more science fiction movies that were not about virtual reality.
The Kid's are all right: It was a twist on a conventional comedy of a couple at middle age. The twist (lesbians)  gave the plot some novelty and I found myself attached to the characters (well some of them).
Winter's Bone: A very unconventional movie in the sense it follows a thriller from the standpoint of someone pretty detached from the action. The atmosphere was well done (a poverty stricken Ozark community), but the pacing was brutal and a lot of the dialogue was eye rolling. It's beauty gave when to the banal, similar to a walk in the woods, eventually the trees blur together if your course is too long.
The Social Network I really enjoyed the dialogue in this movie, quick and fun (it was written by the West Wing guy; Sorkin), but there were major plot problems for me. The motivation of the main character seemed very contrived (particularly as it is a major distortion of reality, his girlfriend was completely written out). It also feel back a jock vs. nerd dynamic which felt outdated to me. Still, it was enjoyable.
Toy Story 3  A fun movie, but I'm not sure why it got nominated, I mean Toy Story 1 would have made sense as it was something new, but the 3 movie is a children series? Seems odd to me. Still, I enjoyed the movie for what it was; a predictable kids movie with pretty graphic and some winks to the adults in the audience.
True Grit A western, but a well done western. It's a remake and one I prefer to its original. I enjoyed the wordy western dialogue (No "like" or "you go girl" for a hundred years). Similar to some of the other movies about, the plot didn't really throw me for too much of a loop, with dialogue and character carrying the day.

Which one should win? Out of the lot I have seen, I'm leaning towards Inception or The Kids are All Right. Social Network is up there too because despite its many flaws, it was a well made movie (reminded me of Citizen Kane).

We still have four movies to see, which will be difficult as they are only in theatres. Our current plan will allow us to see Black Swan and The King's Speech. So unfortunately the Oscars will happen before we can see The Fighter or 127 Hours. Still, at the end of the day, we got to see 8 well made movies. What more can you really ask for?

Happy viewing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reading Challenges Revisited

Steph recently commented that although I tend to avoid formal reading challenges, preferring to focus on positive metrics of my reading instead (i.e. 50% fiction, more Canadian or women author's), I do setup reading challenges that are annoying in their own fashion when not completed. She had two examples handy.

The first, and one that prompted her comment in the first place, was my bedside table. The small ikea fake pine table is buried under a pile of books that I plan to read shortly. Currently, if success, I will read the following if I actually clear the table this year.

  1. Starship Titanic by Terry Jones
  2. Thieves and Kings volume one by Mark Oakely (reread)
  3. Ratios by Michael Ruhlman
  4. The Golden Mean by annybel Lynn
  5. The Anatomy of Keys by Steven Price
  6. Once by Rebecca Rosenblum (reread)
  7. Road Trips by Rebecca Rosenblum (reread)
  8. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel by Susanna Clarke
  9. The Odyssey by Homer
  10. The Promise by Jonathan Alter
  11. Leviathan by Scott Westerfield
  12. Fifteen Days by Christie Blatchford
  13. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
  14. Typhoon by Charles Cumming
  15. Mage the Ascension

Daunting, but would give me much in the way of domestic karma points to read these and return the borrowed one's to their original owner.

My second unintentional reading challenge is my random library acquisitions. I seem to collect library books at an alarming pace as I find myself suddenly under the gun to get a bunch read in a short period of time. As of right now I have the following:

  1. Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod
  2. Rings of Saturn by W G Sebald
  3. It's a Don's Life by Mary Beard
  4. Norweigan Wood by Haruki Murakami
  5. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
  6. The Story of Art by E H Gromich

I main problem is that I really want to read this books, which is why they are close by, yet I seem to be distracted by other book piles in my home. Although Steph can't do much about the first list, she has threatened to take my library card away (for my own good).

On the upside, there is a lot of good read in these lists. I will update as I get through them. I guess I do conduct reading challenges in my own fashion.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Should famous people be reading my books?

I must confess that I have traditionally been a big fan of Canada Reads. My shelves are lined with the books selected in previous years (most to be read, as is the case with most of my Canadian fiction—I am a horrible patriot), and I have absorbed the podcast radio archives of the biggest Canadian book debate when I'm looking for easy listening. It was corny and light. If one honest you really could just get the reading list and work your way through them without all the drama. Still is scratched that hard to reach Canadian itch.

Today was the first day of the 2011 Canada Reads that was filmed for television. I don't know if this transition was the cause but the show really seems pretty flat so far and the conclusion of the first day of voting was quite disappointing (voting down a graphic novel for some really lame reasons). The panelists are remarkably conservative and didn't hide the fact their minds were already made up prior to appear on television. It doesn't really feel like a serious book discussion with any hope of insight. It felt very rushed. The audience was a bit of a surprise and I'm not convinced that improved the show.

Maybe people are right when they say that more articulate people (in the sense of discussing books) need to be on the show. The cliques were quite thick this time around. I also hate the "kid's don't read". I would argue the old don't read and when they do, it is comfortable reading.

I will wait to see what happens, but I think we are going to end up with a typical older generation Canadian novel this year. No upset. I bit disappointing.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dealings with Logic

    I had mentioned in my earlier quick post (a bloguick? I qblog?) the cause of my lack of writing stemmed from an urgency to complete the Prince by Machiavelli for my book club (the 250 pages or less club, the only club I have been in to last more than two books). This isn't completely true as anyone familiar with the book will recall it isn't very long. As with all things, there were many tasks that needed to be done this week that can't be tossed aside for the consumption of a book; writing time gave way to the Prince.

    It was a good book club pick and I won't go into what discussion it created over Italian food here. I will pick up on one thread as it ties into the movie I watched afterwards. The Prince is a guidebook of questionable morals for rulers. Peeling back the political analysis and morality of the piece, the writing is an exercise in logic. You almost feel you can hear the Machiavelli's mind gearing up to explain his case, a pride in the many examples carefully researched to support the premises discovered in his years of experience. The argument is laid out for the reader to consider and decide. One of the lures of non-fiction for me is the forthrightness of intention. You approach non-fiction ready for an urgent in your face discussion about a particular question; like Jeopardy, you know don't know the details yet but you have been given the categories of answers being given.

This isn't say that logic is only dealt with in non-fiction. Fictional logic is fun for a completely different reason. Oddly enough, when you are allowed to make up things the constraints of logic are greater. You often hear it called "suspension of disbelief", "sound or good writing", but it really boils down to logic—does the story logically hold together? The cool factor for fiction is that you don't have to be upfront about anything. The reader's mental back doors, open windows, and secret passages are available to the fiction writer, whereas the non-fiction writer has to use the front door (I realize that creative non-fiction is a hybrid that can challenge this assumption, my reply would be that the reader is usually presented the central argument on the back of a non-fiction book, regardless of how around the bush the prose turns out to be). A movie about aliens can contain a position against racism, a coming of age story display the alienating condition of modern civilization, etc.

The subtle is possible in fiction (or more malleable perhaps), yet it is weaker in structure and more easily blown over. A non-fiction can shrug its shoulder and say "listen that's what happened, here's the reference" when the reader's expresses doubts—it is what it is. What defense does a novelist have? They can't even say "This happens in real life" as the reader shakes their head and says "but it doesn't make sense here".

This brings me to the second exercise in logic yesterday. After book club, some people remained behind and watched Inception. I had been late to seeing the movie, but loved it. It's an old school "mess with your head" science fiction story. Admittedly, it is another "what is reality sort of story", but unlike the Matrix or Scanner Darkly, it seemed to be more engaged with the argument of "what makes what you experience real? The meeting place of dream logic and reality" and aesthetically, it was just slick. The movie is a maze of dreams with dreams, where the viewer if left wondering what had just happened and the eerie feeling that the movie is a labyrinth with many false exits—you just hope they are multiple real ones. Why go through all this? Sense of accomplishment and the simple fact that many ideas are inherently complex and you must work through them.

The end result was that my head was spinning from all the questions which will challenge my mind for the next couple of weeks (I believe I have to walk Inception again). Fortunately in cases of too much logic, one needs only set up a Victorian lamppost in their back wood lot and all sorts of happy nonsense will occur. The link is explained, if one believes nonsense can be explained, here.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Notes from the Underground

Okay, not exactly, but I need to get through the Prince over the next couple of days, so I won't be at the blog. Don't have a lot of spare time, so I will be using it to get this book done for book club.  Thankfully its a short book.

Blogs to come later in the week.