Archive for December, 2009

The Kite Runner–Book Review

Khaled Husseini’s uplifting/haunting tale of Afghanistan is not lacking in gloom and doom. Every page is teeming with enough betrayal, depression, guilt, fear, and pain to fill a whole novel. In the midst of so much agony, though, lies a certain inspiring sense of family, commitment, and repentance.

The book begins in pre-soviet Afghanistan where Amir, the son of a well-to-do businessman, and Hassan, a racially persecuted servant boy in the employ of Amir’s father, are growing into their teenage years together. Amir, the awkward young boy coming to terms with the world around him, struggles with his relationship of friend/master with Hassan, altogether heightened by the taunts and insults thrown at Hassan his peers and the seemingly un-fair preference of affection by Amir’s father.

Hassan is, always, the pinnacle of selfless love. Even as his friend mistreats and misuses him in light of his superior social status turns an understanding cheek and continues to devote his every ability to Amir’s happiness.

Ultimately, Amir betrays Hassan and in the ensuing years Amir and his father flee the country ahead of the Soviet invasion only to leave Amir haunted for the rest of his life by his treatment of his boyhood companion and ultimately leading him on a quest of repentance back into his homeland torn asunder by years of war and Taliban control.

Act I of this book, consisting mostly of boys flying kites and playing in the streets of kabul, is effortlessly creates a view of Afghanistan that we are rarely priviliged to see. Instead of the scenes of terrorism and violence that we are accustomed to we are allowed to peer at everyday life of an afrage Afghani family: kites, kabobs, and watching Steve McQueen in perfect dubbed Farsi.

The tone shift quickly to one of sadness and wastes no time shooting the story to the United States where Amir and his father attempt to scratch a living and adjust to a foreign land. This Act II, is the comin-up-for-air as Amir pursues education, love, and a famiy of his own. Althewhile the shadow of his past lurks near as well as new trials to impede in what should be the happiest time of the young man’s life.

Entering Act II the elements combine as Amir is called back to Pakistan to atone for his choices and everything comes together in cataclysmic detail. As if not wanting the reader to feel at ease happiness remains just out of reach again, and again, and again, until the final page remains with hopeful yet cloudy skies.

I appreciated that Huseini did not take the easy way out. It would have been simple to change a few things a throw a smiling happily ever after before the final period but that is not the world we live in and certainly not the state of modern Afghanistan. Sometimes in shudder-inducing detail we see the effects that decades of power disputes have done to a once peaceful country as children are purchased for abuse, men sell prosthetic legs to feed their families, men and women are publicly executed and the sacrifices that good people make to keep their hope alive.

Some of the storytelling elements come off heavy-handed. As the foreshadowed elements reach fruition Husseini stops the story to point at the litterary device he has created as though to say “remember how I mentioned this earlier, here it is again. Do you get it? Do ya?”

That said, I loved this book. It was refreshing to see a different side of the country that we have been at war with for the last 9 years. It doesn’t quite make you appreciate the culture, which includes a stark double-standard for women and a certain roman taste for violence. Even in its darkest hour you have to appreciate the amount of real emotion that the author conveys.

If you don’t have the time to read the book, make sure you see the movie. The two hours does an excellent job of condensing the story and frankly it removes about 7 layers of crippling depression from the character’s lives. Book and movie: A-

Read Full Post »

Avatar–Movie Review

Every year has the “big movie.” The film that a visionary director has spent years of his life and countless millions of dollars to create. James Cameron, director of Avatar, is no stranger to this, having directed some of the biggest movies in American Film (see: Titanic, Aliens, Terminator 2).

In Avatar, an uber-company of Humans have traveled to Pandora, the moon of a distant planet to mine for a lucrative mineral, the not-so-creatively named inobtainatron (get it? in-obtain-atron). There they battle the moon’s hostile elements and even more hostile indigenous inhabitants. A large source of the mineral is located underneath the principal habitat of the Na’vi and in an attempt at diplomacy, artificial Na’vi bodies have been grown through which humans can walk talk and mingle via some sort of cerebral link i.e. Avatars.

It hits the fan when Jake Sully (Terminator Salvation’s Sam Worthington) one of the Avatar “drivers” becomes too attached the the Na’vi way of life and the company loses patience waiting for a peaceful relocation and decides instead to speak softly and carry a big stick.

The years of time and countless millions referred to above manifests itself in the EXTENSIVE computer generated content and motion capture technology. James Cameron has been oot and aboot in Hollywood touting the breakthrough in CGI technology and the “new way of film.” To me frankly, it still looks like a cartoon.

That is not to say that the visuals are not impressive. Pandora’s landscape is vibrant and it’s creatures are imaginative. The Na’vi are the essence of grace and the war scenes are high octane fun.

It is a shame though that Cameron couldn’t have spared a portion of his estimated 300 million dollar budget to write a twisty and engaging storyline. Avatar is a glorified, futuristic Pocahontas story. Every event in the movie follows a logical pace that is both predictable and comfortable. The foreshadowing is blunt, the right people die, the right people live, the right people fall in love, and everything unfolds in the right chronological order that you would expect.

That’s not to say that this was a bad movie. I was entertained, and while I have my moral qualms about green-screen heavy films and its bastard child 3-D I was nonetheless impressed with what they were able to do VISUALLY, I just wish that the storytelling aspect could have had a little more depth. A few surprises and a good plot twist and this would have been a movie to withstand the test of time. As it is, it makes for a good friday night over the christmas break. B

Read Full Post »

Glee–A Clip

After writing my last post I had to put a clip up. Here is Artie singing Dancing With Myself.

Read Full Post »

New Kids On The Block

As 2009 comes to a close we find ourselves in the mid-season television hiatuses (hiatusees? hiatusi? what in the world is the plural of hiatus?) Quite frankly, I have been for the most part, unplugged from TV this semester — my new apartment doesn’t have the ability, as did my old one, to steal free cable — but thanks to the glory that is Hulu I am able to keep up on my old addictions, and find a few new ones.

Here are the new shows that spring can not bring back quickly enough.

1. Modern Family

This show is absolutely fantastic. I hate to even compare anything to Arrested Development (rest in peace) but this show comes as close as anything ever will to filling the dysfunctional family void left by the departure of my other favorite tv family.

From the bits of patrarchal wisdom from Ed O’Neil to the absurdly naive parenting of Ty Burrell and rounded out by the hysterical banterings of homosexual partners Cam and Mitchell (Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Fergusen, who we also refer to as gay Cody of Paper Badge) this show never misses a beat.

Watch This:
“Coal Digger” ep. 5

2. Community

I’ve always been a fan of The Soup’s Joel McHale. In Community he leaves behind his m.o. of making quick work of reality-tv and instead takes on Spanish 101 at Greendale Community College.

This show is far from perfect. The jokes do, on occasion, fall short but even in its off beats Community has a comfortable hilarity. It’s strength comes from it’s array of main characters. McHales study group, pictures above, is a hodge-podge of junior college stereotypes over-caricatured to perfection: the innocent super-nerd who flared out her potential for a real university by popping pills, the letterman-wearing jock, the creepy old guy, the soul mother going back to school for a late education, the synical bra-burning feminist, the foreignor, and of course the better-than-this smoothtalker, in this case a lawyer disbarred for a phony degree and forced to attend school. “I used to say things like objection, and sidebar.”

Community will have to find its footing if it’s going to last, although it is reported to have been picked up for a second season. I’ll be watching.

Watch This: “Social Psychology” ep 4. Sidenote, all episodes are currently availabe on hulu.

3. Glee

It took me way too long to find Glee. I had heard plenty about it, from Entertainment Weekly’s incessant raves to word of mouth, but until christmas break I didn’t have time for any more shows. As a result I’m still scrambling to find the first episodes online, only the last 5 are available through “conventional” means.

Taste it. Love it. Crave it.

In case there is any doubt I want to make it abundantly clear: Glee is NOT High School Musical. Maybe if HSM had been produced by someone other than the touchy-feely misfits at Disney and had actually had some sort of depth in the story line it could have maybe been COMPARED to Glee, as it its: it can’t.

Rolling Stone called the story lines Depressing, Entertainment Weekly preferred the term realistic. There is much more at stake here than the big man on campus getting his head in the game. We have teen pregnancy, broken marriages, paternal uncertainty, and homophobia. In one episode former cheer captain Quinn is thrown out of her house by her parents for being pregnant only to be forced to reveal in the next episode that the baby is not her boyfriend’s, the good-natured Finn, but instead his mohawk wearing, sexually promiscuous best friend Puck all the while backdropped by some killer vocal arrangemtns…and that’s just one character.

Adding flavor to the soup we have the ever-delicious Jane Lynch as the diabolically evil antagonist cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester. I love this show, biting sarcasm, great humor, and music that gives you goosebumps.

Watch This: “Ballad” ep. 10. Especially for the “Endless Love” duet.

4. Better off Ted

Technically speaking, BOT is not a NEW show. I even gave a shout out to it month’s ago on this blog. That said, the sophomore show has been batted around like a rag doll and is just now starting its mid-season second year.

Better off Ted just keeps getting better. Unlike Scrubs where the crazy takes place in cerebral hallucinations, BOT’s madness is front row center in the wide-awake world of corporate science.
“The company need’s you to weaponize a pumpkin.” “We can do that.”

Title character Ted addresses these otherwise inane happenings with a candid dryness. In a recent episode an employee is suspected of leaking information and is chased down the hall’s by security personel, ultimately being tazed off screen while Ted and two executives look on.
“I love it when they run.” says one.
“Tazed flesh smells bacon-y.” Ted obseverd.

Watch This: “Love Blurts,” ep. 1. Bonus points for all the Utah shout-outs.

Honorable Mentions:

V, and Flash Forward

The jury is still out on both of these shows. ABC is desperately trying to finds it’s replacement for Lost in the “blow-your-mind” TV genre. Oddly enough, both shows have Lost alumni: Elizbeth Mitchel “Juliett” for V, and both Sonia Walger “Penny Widmore” and Dominic Monaghan “R.I.P. Charlie” for Flash Forward.

Frankly, V is more likely to succeed. While Flash Forward does seem to get better with every episode the pace remains quite melodramatic and the overarching “see the future” storyline leaves for a number of “wait, what?” moments. If you find a piece of evidence because you already had it in the future, then you never actually found it. The more you think about it your head will hurt. P.s. I don’t know why but Joseph Fiennes bugs me.

V on the other hand is a simpler story. Aliens are here, they play nice but secretly want to kill us. After 5 years of smoke monsters and polar bears, that’s about all the mystery I can handle right now.

Read Full Post »

Pride And Prejudice — Book Review

I can finally say that I have read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and frankly my opinion of it remains unchanged: over-hyped, feminine, drivel.

Here is a prime example of a creative work that has shot itself in the foot by its own success. Every facet, every detail, and every syllable of this book has already been cinematized and recreated in any of a dozen varied incarnations. There is no peril in Mr. Bingley’s return to the city, there is no sting in Elizabeth Bennett’s refusal of the cad Mr. Darcy, there is no gravity in Lydia’s illicit elopement and no surprise when everything is wrapped up ever so nicely with a pretty bow at the end.

Knowing every unfolding event before it occurs leaves the reader to rely solely on the quality of writing which, while witty and descriptive, is not enough to make up for the sheer boredom of knowing a books end before you begin. On the other hand, the book’s chief character Elizabeth is a pretentious, know-it-all giving the book, told mostly through her perspective, an air of pretension.

The few moments of fresh thinking, provided mostly by Charlotte Lucus (the ugly friend who’s “sad” situation is thrust down our throats like a bad meal) and Jane (the gorgeous older sister whose unconditional generosity makes her views “naive” in the eyes of the flawless wisdom of Austen/Elizabeth) only provide a temporary relieve before the writer through the mouthpiece of her character continues on her rampage.

Ultimately, this a flimsy love story. When you peel away the layers of “witty dialogue” and “crisp writing” you find a drawn out story of boy meets girl where by some miraculous set of circumstances an otherwise daft and obstinate female finally allows herself to fall in love.

Pride and Prejudice:
Boy meets girl. Girl hates Boy. Boy hates everything. Girl hates boy. Boy loves girl. Girl hates boy. Boy tries to woo girl. Girl hates boy. Boy goes to ridiculous lengths to prove his love for girl. Girl hates boy. Boy gets fed up with girl and marries someone else. Girl dies poor and is buried in a paupers grave.

That’s how I would end it anyway.

Sidenote: I hate Twilight. In my opinion Stephanie Meyers’ vampire love story (vampires my eye) is the ugly illegitimate child of Jane Austen. It panders to the female masses in the same spoon-fed way, only today’s generation is too diluted by American Idol to read post-colonial vernacular. Ergo, sparkling skin, six-packs and teen angst so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Seriously, what the heck is that? ———————–>

Read Full Post »

The Playbook

On a recent episode of HIMYM, Barney displays “the playbook,” a collection of schemes and shenanigans used to seduce women.

One such ploy was “The Ted Mosby,” named after Barney’s “Best” friend. It unfolds like this
1) Walk up to a woman in a bar holding a ring and looking forlorn
2) Explain that you were left at the alter and wait for the outpouring of sympathy
and then
3) It…is…on! (wink*)

And in case you’re keeping score, the Ted Mosby works.

If dreams came true and Barney Stinson was both real AND my best friend. I wonder what “The Ben Wood” would consist of. The best I could come up with would somehow involve my being a member of the press. For example:

The Journalist
1) Approach a woman at a bar and explain that you’re writing an article about some activity in a metropolitan area.
2) Ask about her demographics, i.e. name, age, neighborhood etc. This will allow you to have an idea of her interests to exploit and you can ascertain her legal adult status.
3) Follow with a series of basic questions regarding the phony activity on which you are “reporting.”
4) Tell her that you will need her phone number in case there are any “follow-up questions” that will need to be answered (common practice among journalists)
5) Thank her for her time and begin to leave, but hesitate and explain that although completely “unprofessional” you would like to buy her a drink/dinner/whatever and
6) It…is…on! (wink*)
*Bonus Points) Tell her your name is Lorenzo Von Matterhorn and create a number of web pages to be found on a simple google search detailing your winning of the Pulitzer price, receiving the key to the city, and your book that is being published next summer

And in case your keeping score, The Ben Wood, a.k.a The Journalist, doesn’t work…at least not yet.

Read Full Post »

Here’s a sampling of my first foray into winter photography. I had to take pictures for an article I’m writing about development in Nibley (a small city in Cache Valley) so there’s a couple of building pictures here. On the way I stopped and got a few shots on the Boulevard in Logan.

The Boulevard Bench, overlooking The Island, Cliffside and Logan Canyon after the first snow.

The Boulevard trail dropping into The Island.

The new Nibley strip mall lies vacant in the cold temperatures of today’s economy.

Spring Creek Townhomes with the Blacksmith Fork Canyon in the background.

Read Full Post »