Friday, December 30, 2011

Book review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

In Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, the circus arrives without warning, popping up in fields outside of towns and cities with no advance notice.  The tents are all striped black and white; the ground is painted black and white swirls; a wrought-iron fence encloses the grounds. The circus is only open from sunset to sunrise - no exceptions - and nothing can be seen stirring behind the fence during the daylight hours.  But when dusk comes, the lights come up, making the tents glow and gleam, and the iron gates swing wide.  Le Cirque des Reves - the Circus of Dreams - is open.  It is a wonder, this Circus.  Every tent, every costume, every attraction is dressed only in shades of black and white.  There are contortionists, fortune tellers, carnival food booths, black panthers and snow leopards, aerialists and tumblers, mazes, rides, wondrously constructed clockworks.  The townfolk who come to the Circus are amazed and awestruck, and many come back again and again.

The Circus is not just entertainment, however.  It is also the battleground between two magicians who have been set against each other by their mentors, who themselves are ancient competitors.  Pretty Celia is the Circus's resident illusionist; overflowing with natural talent, her particular skill is manipulating inanimate objects - honed when, as a child, her father sliced open her fingertips over and over again, forcing her to learn to heal herself quickly.  Marco's magic has been studied and learned: his patron plucked him from an orphanage and isolated him with nothing but books for company.  He is strong in compulsion and visual illusion and now helps to manage the day-to-day operations of the Circus.  At first Celia and Marco do not know the other to be their opponent but after a few meetings figure it out.  A few meetings after that, they fall in love with each other, much to their patrons' chagrin - which only complicates things when they learn that this magical duel they have been bound to will result in the death of one of them.  What makes it even worse is that their fates are inextricably linked with the Circus and all its members.

I struggled a little bit at first with The Night Circus.  The novel keeps the reader at a distance, partly because it is set 1873-1903, partly because it is written in the third person/present tense, partly because the chapters skip around in the timeline and it can be difficult to keep track of  what has happened, partly because the author maintains a fair amount of reserve and doesn't delve too deeply into her characters' heads.  But I warmed to it, in large part because the descriptions of the circus are charming and because I wanted to believe in a magical circus - I would love to see Le Cirque des Reves.  In The Night Circus, magic is real.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Bad Haiku about: Superhero Movies (II)

As you can see, I'm trying to work my way through the back catalog before Joss Whedon's The Avengers comes out, whenever that is.  So I watched Thor the other night:

sweet well-muscled oaf
ride the Rainbow Bridge 'cuz I
can do CPR

Am I on a roll or what?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mini movie review: Horrible Bosses

As you know, I am constantly looking for movies that both Mr. Mouse and I enjoy.  And by "constantly" I mean "every now and again when Mr. Mouse demands that I rent something other than horror or fantasy or science fiction."  I know that he likes dumb comedies, like 40 Year Old Virgin, Anchorman and The Hangover; I know he likes 90 minute movies; and I also know that he likes Jennifer Aniston.  So I got us Horrible Bosses, which pretty much hits all three categories.

The plot is not particularly complicated.  Three friends - Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day - are plagued by evil, nasty, horrible bosses at their respective jobs.  After all but promising Bateman a promotion, and subjecting him to terrible head games, Kevin Spacey snatches said promotion away at the last minute, pocketing the money and humiliating him in front of the company.  When the affable owner of the chemical company at which Sudeikis works dies, his idiot cokehead son, Colin Farrell in a prosthetic comb-over, takes over, threatening to run the company into the ground and liquidate all its assets to fund his various vices.  Dental assistant Day is subjected to overt sexual harassment by his hot and horny dentist boss, Jennifer Aniston; his friends don't think he has much of a problem really, because they've seen what she looks like, but her behavior is pretty appalling.  When the guys have had all they can take, they hire ex-con Jamie Foxx to teach them how to kill the bosses.

The best part of this movie is the bosses, each actor chewing the scenery like crazy and clearly enjoying themselves.  Farrell, who gets the least screen time, is pretty funny - ignorant, brash, homely as hell.  Aniston is fun too: talking wicked dirty and cussing up a storm, getting nearly (but not quite) naked.  I think Mr. Mouse enjoyed her scenes.  I found Charlie Day's character extremely funny for some reason, although I don't usually like such shrill performances.  I don't know if it was the lines or his delivery, but he made me laugh out loud quite a lot; I may have to check out Always Sunny in Philadelphia to see if he holds up.

Horrible Bosses is not fantastic cinema, but it's short (97 minutes) and entertaining enough.  You could certainly do worse, if you're in the mood for a dumb R-rated comedy.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Simply having a wonderful Christmastime

I finished up preparing for Christmas last weekend - tree up and lit, presents wrapped and sent, card signed and mailed, cookies baked - and I'm feeling so happy about being done with it all that I cannot be bothered to put together a Christmasy post this year.  What I can do, however, is link to winter holiday-themed past posts and invite you to browse, if you are so inclined.

Christmas Spirits
New Christmas Cookie Recipe
More Cookie Recipes
Dog Cookie Recipes (because I always make homemade dog biscuits for Xmas)

There.  Ho ho ho, y'all!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bad Haiku about: Superhero Movies (I)

Whoa - how'd that week get away from me?  I fully intended to post something sooner and instead I went and neglected this poor little blog.  Sorry!

In any event, it's time to start a new series (or mini-series, depends on how many I manage to do - for example, haven't gotten very far with my Read It Watch It Watch It Again project) called Bad Haiku about: [some subject].  In this case, it's about a superhero movie, Iron Man 2.  I'm doing this because I recently watched IM2 and really should do a post about it, since that's what this blog is all about, but I don't have much to say about it pluswhich everyone in the world has already watched the dang movie and what do I really have to say that's new?  Nothing but bad haiku, that's what.

frantic and busy
not as good as the first one
liked Mickey's whips tho'

That's some good stuff right there.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

In 2044, humans have pretty much murdered the Earth.  Nearly all the fossil fuel has been depleted, leading to a serious energy crisis; the environment is shot to hell what with climate change, people are starving, plants and animals are dying off in record numbers, the seas are rising.  It's a crappy world outside and so most people, if they've got the means, spent most of their time in the OASIS - a massive virtual reality program.  School is taught there, people's jobs (if they have them) are there, and in your free time you can live and game in limitless scenarios.  The guy who created OASIS, James Halliday, was an eccentric genius, obsessed with the 1980s.  When Halliday died without heirs, he launched a game, hiding an Easter egg in a series of complex puzzles located throughout the OASIS.  The person who finds the Easter egg gets all of Halliday's money.

Wade Watts, Ready Player One's narrator, avatar name: Parzival, is one of tens of thousands of gunters ("egg-hunters") who are obsessed with the quest.  He and his online friends - no one ever meets each other in real life, because real life is too depressing - have spent years delving into '80s pop culture trivia: movies, music, arcade games, video games, RPGs.  But when Parzival unexpectedly finds and solves the first puzzle, the game is on like Donkey Kong and it's a race to the finish.  Not everyone will make it, either: a powerful corporation has hired hundreds and hundreds of gunters whose only job is to find the egg, and they will stop at nothing - not even murder - to reach the prize first.

Ready Player One is written by Ernest Cline, screenwriter of Fanboys, the 2009 movie about Star Wars fanatics.  Cline clearly knows his 1980s pop culture as this first novel of his is stuffed to the gills. I grew up in the 80s so I recognized a lot of the references, although since I am not nor have ever been a gamer I missed a lot of those.  At first the 80s overload seems a little forced, like Cline is just listing stuff to prove how much he knows.  But as the novel progresses, the info-dump becomes more organic.  It's a fun little book, nothing too strenuous, a combination quest/coming-of-age tale flavored with just enough science fiction and fantasy.  I did feel like it was written to be made into a movie but I can't imagine trying to secure the rights to all the books, music, movies, games, etc., dropped into the story.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Current state of affairs

Oh, yes, it's the midseason slump here at ol' FMS.  The only current show I'm recapping is on break for the holidays.  I've got two DVDs waiting for me to watch them, but I haven't gotten around to it yet.  I'm reading Ready Player One and am close to finishing, so that'll be a post soon enough.  So, yeah, kinda slow around the  little blog.

In other television thoughts: Mr. Mouse and I are just shaking our heads at the thought of Community going on hiatus - that show is so brilliant, so funny, so spot-on so much (like that fanTASTIC Glee parody tonight) ... I guess it's just too smart for too many people.  (Much like late, lamented Arrested Development and Better Off Ted.)  American Horror Story is definitely NOT too smart for most people; I haven't seen the latest episode yet (altho I got spoiled for the reveal about Violet - thanks, Google entertainment news blurbs) but it is just a hot mess that doesn't know WTF it wants to be.  Both Mr. Mouse and I are watching Hell on Wheels and while it has its occasional moments - when Bohannon woke up to a chicken staring at him, f'rinstance - mostly it reminds me how much it is not Deadwood.  I'm keeping up with Grimm and Once Upon a Time too, because I love fairy tales and I keep hoping that the writers/showrunners for those shows who used to work for Buffy will get their acts together.  And on it goes.

Tell me, what are you watching these days?  (Yes, Joe, I know I have to go back and finish T:TSCC S2, but that seems like more of a summer show to me.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mini movie review: Red State

I would call myself a casual Kevin Smith fan.  I love Clerks and Dogma; I like Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Zack and Miri Make a Porno; I don't much care for Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back or Clerks II, and didn't bother to see Jersey Girl.

Red State, the little horror/thriller that debuted at Sundance last year is a departure for Smith: a new genre for him and a movie that is not super-saturated with self-consciously clever dialogue.  Three teenagers, out looking to raise some hell, run afoul of an extremist fundamentalist Christian preacher and his cult/family.  The preacher is scary as hell: eloquent, charismatic and madder than a hatter.  We are told that a neo-nazi group gave a recent statement clarifying that they have no affiliation with this guy - when the neo-nazis are nervous, you know it's bad news.  The ATF gets involved and the situation quickly (the whole movie is only about 88 minutes long) disintegrates into a friggin' bloodbath, because the crazy religious folk have got themselves a whole bunch of machine guns.

The cast is way impressive:   John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Anna Gunn and Matt L. Jones ("Skylar" and "Badger" from Breaking Bad), Michael Angarano (Sky High), Kyle Gallner (Veronica Mars and Jennifer's Body), Stephen Root (News Radio and True Blood), Kevin Pollack,Kevin Alejandro ("Jesus" from True Blood), Mark Blucas ("Riley" from BtVS), Patrick Fischler (most recently from Grimm).  The preacher is awesomely played by Michael Parks, whom I didn't recognize but who has a fairly long works list on

I'd rank Red State up there in my "like" category.  Part of that is because the subject matter is just not pleasant enough for me to want to watch over and over again, like Clerks and Dogma.  But it's a tight, fast-moving, disturbing, bloody, well-acted little movie that surprised me - good job, Kevin.