Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Movie Review: The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring is a fantastic horror film. Director James Wan invests in the characters, develops the ante gradually, and then unleashes scene after terrifying scene at viewers. The cinematography is flawless from the start, especially when combined with the disturbing music. The opening credits establish those two strengths: the score pours out of the speakers as the studio logo scrolls to the side, then downwards toward the title. Immediately after that, moviegoers get introduced to Annabelle, a doll possessed by an “inhuman spirit.” Spoiler: she comes ba-a-ack!

Vera Farmiga’s strong performance stands out in the film. She plays Lorraine Warren, the mildly psychic half of a paranormal investigator duo. Her husband Ed, played by a steely Patrick Wilson, is protective and reassuring. The main plot in the movie has Ed and Lorraine helping a family out in Rhode Island. The mom is Carolyn, played by Lili Taylor (pictured), and the dad is played by Office Space’s Ron Livingston, which explains why I could barely take him seriously. They have five daughters. In the first hour of the film, everyone in the family experiences some sort of haunting, but built up patiently and with loving craftsmanship. More terror for everyone!

Below I’ve listed the parts of the film that had me: (a) sitting bolt upright with both hands clapped against my mouth so as to muffle screams; or (b) scooched back in my seat as far as I could go.

This listicle/review is unabashedly, extremely, mind-bendingly spoiler-ific. If you want to save yourself for the film, which I highly recommend, skip it. If you have no plans to watch it and want to know which parts had us all flailing with terror, read on!

Top Ten Moments in The Conjuring

#10 The possession: Like the rest of the film, this scene is built on the strength of a previous happening. In this particular case, Lorraine is trying to gather sheets as the wind howls, and one white sheet gets away from her. It slams into something unseen, briefly revealing a human shape, and then flies up and slaps against an upstairs window. When it falls, a woman can be seen in the window. The woman turns back into the room. Lorraine realizes that Carolyn is resting in that very room, and rushes into the house. Meanwhile, Carolyn wakes up to an unpleasant sight.

#9 Someone behind the door: Again, an effective scene because of what transpired before. By this point, a couple of scenes have established that someone keeps pulling at Christine’s (the family’s middle daughter) feet in the night. She blames it on her sister Nancy, with whom she shares a room. This time, she realizes that her sister is sound asleep several feet away. She then does what no one in the audience wants her to do: she looks around and under the bed. While she’s upside down, she notices something near their open door. It’s pitch black in that area. She wakes up her sister, who gets up to investigate – as viewers are muttering, “NONONONONO” – and as soon as she says, “There’s no one here,” the door slams shut on its own. And everyone screamed, especially the audience.

#8 The feet: Carolyn pleads with Ed and Lorraine to investigate her house. They agree and meet the family. Afterwards, Lorraine walks out to a large, dead tree near the dock and the lake. Ed comes out to join her. A creaking sound is heard. Clearly frightened, Lorraine turns around slowly, reluctantly, and gives viewers a half-glimpse of a corpse’s feet, hanging off the ground. The creaking sound was the noose on the branch. Note: If you do a Google image search of this movie, you will see a still image of this scene. It is not pretty.

 #7 Lorraine finds the noose: Speaking of the noose, Lorraine investigates a hidden compartment in the wall, and spots a rope leading down. She pulls at it, and at the end comes the noose. All the bonus points go to Vera Farmiga for her expression of sheer horror, which I’m sure we were all wearing at that point.

#6 The music box: When a child tells you that her invisible friend owns an old music box, and you should play the box to the end and look into the mirror to see him standing behind you—would you do it? Of course you wouldn’t. Two characters do this in the movie, one of them twice. Argh.

Interlude: Readers, I am getting creeped out just writing about this, which speaks to the cast and crew’s amazing efforts. This is a really good horror movie. Now onward!

#5 The clapping hands, part one: Carolyn plays hide-and-clap with her youngest. In the game, you have to wear a blindfold, and you can ask for three claps as hints to find the hider. Carolyn eventually ends up in her oldest daughter’s room, the one with a wardrobe that was there when they moved in. She still has the blindfold on, so she doesn’t see the wardrobe doors opening behind her. She does hear them, and, thinking it’s April, asks for a clap. Ghost-white hands emerge from behind the clothes and obey.

#4 The clapping hands, part two: Carolyn hears something in the basement one night, and goes down to investigate. Something spooks her, and the bulb explodes as she runs up the stairs to get away. Her husband left a box of matches on the stairs. She lights one in the pitch blackness and sees nothing. The next time she lights a match, she hears a whisper asking if she wants to play hide-and-clap. The same hands emerge just over her shoulder to clap, right before the match runs out. Cue shrieking from Carolyn and audience.

#3 Annabelle turns to look at Judy: Judy is Ed and Lorraine’s kid. Something wakes her up and prompts her to walk around the house. She ends up in her parents' study. There’s a rocking chair in the corner, facing away from the door. The doll, Anabelle, is being held in someone’s lap (someone with buhaghag hair). The doll slo-o-o-o-o-owly turns its head to stare at Judy, who loses it.

#2 The creature on top of the wardrobe: Yet another scene whose strength lies on its foundation. Little Cindy has been sleepwalking and banging her head against the wardrobe, which is in oldest sister Andrea’s room. Before, dad told Andrea not to wake Cindy. So this time, Andrea gets up and guides a still-sleeping Cindy to her bed. “You can sleep with me,” she whispers. As she tucks in her sister, the wardrobe doors bang again. Alarmed, Andrea turns on a lamp and walks over to fling the doors open. Behind her, Cindy sits straight up and looks at something. Andrea looks over to follow her gaze. ARRRGGGHHHHH!!!

#1 The feet, again: Lorraine ends up in the basement and sees the hanging feet again. They swing…and then start turning toward her. I’m going to stop right there, because now I am getting the visual images again. Wah! Wah! Wah!

Fans of great horror and/or admirers of good movies will love The Conjuring. It’s the best horror movie of the year. I say that with confidence, because I’m not watching another one. I’m done. In the words of everyone who sat through this movie: “Nope. Nope. Nope.” Mission accomplished, The Conjuring. Well done.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013)

The latest Wolverine movie focuses on the character and is anchored by Hugh Jackman's committed performance. Heavy themes come into play: what good soldiers seek, family and honor, genetics and the favored, death and immortality, and salvation and forgiveness. Good writing, good performances, and spectacular sword fighting choreography make this movie enjoyable.

The movie answers two questions: what is the Wolverine? -- a practically indestructible mutant with a near-miraculous healing factor and unbreakable bones -- and who is the Wolverine? -- something that requires more nuance. He's a soldier who fights for justice; a hunter who knows mercy; a scrappy fighter who'll keep going no matter what; but here, most of all, a man in pain. He dreams of Jean Grey every night, tortured by her death at his hands. Dream-Jean wants him to join her. When Yashida, a man Logan saved in Nagasaki decades ago, offers to "end your eternity," he sees a glimpse of the end of his suffering. Still, the Wolverine in him resists, and so what is not given must be taken.

The standout character here, apart from the ever-talented and beefcake Mr. Jackman, is Yukio, played by Rila Fukushima. Sporting dyed red hair, bangs, and a can of whup-ass, Yukio is competent and endearing. Here's a great interview with her on Screen Rant. The movie also notably did a decent job with the character of Mariko, who in the comics is Wolverine's Great Tragic Love Interest®. Played by tall human being Tao Okamoto, Mariko is a strong, independent young woman who is torn between obeying her father and honoring her grandfather.

Speaking of Mariko, a reviewer made the comment that The Wolverine is really about a crazy Japanese family that Logan happened to get involved with, and it's partially true. But it's interesting to see how he reacts to a culture that's so rich and rigid at the same time, with a metric ton of yakuza, bodyguards with machine guns, and ninjas in the mix. In particular, hats off to the ninjas for their handling of the fight with Logan. As my girl Rebel Wilson would say, going up the street and just punching someone--"That is not the ninja way." Nope, they get the job done, and it doesn't have to be flashy.

Speaking of flashy, okay, I get the main villain, and I do wish the film spent a little more time about motivations, but what the heck was up with the doctor who was dressed like a Romanian prostitute under her lab coat? Good lord she was campy. Well, maybe every comic book movie has a quota of at least one over-the-top character.

Folks, if you're going to watch this movie, make sure to stay until halfway through the credits for the Easter Egg. You will vibrate with excitement in your seat if you were or are an X-Men comics fan. And rumor has it a very popular Game of Thrones actor shall be cast... eeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

After this movie, I recommend going for sushi and beer, to honor Japan and Logan, respectively.

Sayonara... bub.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Importance of Rinsing Properly

I used to get in trouble with my host mom and dad in Japan because I didn't rinse dishes properly. "Karada ni wa dame ([Soap] isn't good for the body)," okaasan would say to me firmly. Duh, I would think.

But I never improved. Fragrant Husband has sighed in exasperation at my failures to completely remove soap residues from dishes and pans. "Meh," I would say. It was hardly a high-stakes operation. I blithely remained at the same level of awful when it came to washing out kitchen items. Just last week, my inability to use water properly directly led to gross-tasting tea in my office travel mug. Did I drink it anyway? You bet.

Then, not ten minutes ago, I was washing a mug that previously held hot chocolate when a VIP came over. As we chatted, it became clear that she wanted to use the sink, too. I tried to conscientiously rinse my soapy mug -- it was hard to tell how good a job I did, given the dim lighting -- and plopped it onto the dish rack.

To my horror, the VIP picked up the very mug and gave it a perfunctory wipe with some paper towels. Then she filled it with tea. I felt something shrivel and die inside of me.

If anyone wants me, I'll be praying to Poseidon to drown me in a puddle on my walk home today, if not sooner.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Game Review: Valkyria Chronicles (PS3) and Husband-Wife Warfare

Valkyria Chronicles has it all: addictive gameplay, a sweeping score, tanks, guns, snipers, drama, war, mods, unabashed criticism of nuclear weaponry, and, best of all, a villain that will make the uninitiated void her bowels upon first contact. The game is a 2008 PlayStation 3 release by SEGA. It is critically acclaimed. It has gorgeous cel art and animation. And it caused a mini-fight between me and my husband.

The game takes place in Europa (Europe), where little Gallia (Belgium), is caught between the Federation (western Europe) and the Empire (Germany). This is basically the European theater of World War II missing some crucial elements: no submarines, air strikes, or the US. Instead, players start out with a tank and some scouts, who can spot enemies from a distance and run like hell to duck behind some sandbags. Sandbags are our friends.

The Empire's forces have invaded Gallia with lightning speed (think blitzkrieg without air support), kicking out the game's two main protagonists from their home village in the process. Welkin Gunther and Alicia Melchiott, pictured above, join Gallia's militia and become Squad 7's commander and non-commissioned officer, respectively. Unlike the brooding heroes preferred by the likes of later Final Fantasy games, Welkin lets his geek flag fly: he rhapsodizes about obscure plants and animals and is intent on becoming a teacher. He and Alicia, an aspiring baker, start out as friends. Their romantic relationship grows gradually over the course of the game, possibly because she pointed a gun at him at their first meeting and accused him of being an Imperial spy. Not the best first impression there, Alicia.

Players progress through Valkyria Chronicles via Book Mode, where they watch new "episodes" that move the story forward, check out updated information about personnel or weaponry, train units or select other ones, fight in skirmishes for EXP and money, upgrade weapons and tanks, and receive medals from the princess, at least later on in the game. It's a 1111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111111@@@@@@@@@@oooooool     433333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333333p0-wqqqqqqqqqq1

Sorry, cat on keyboard. As I was saying, it's an efficient little system that keeps the focus on the inevitable battle looming just ahead.

During battle, players begin by choosing which units to deploy. There are scouts (with rifles), shock troopers (machine gunners), lancers (anti-tank units), engineers (tech support), and snipers (killers from above). Each unit takes one command point (CP) to move, except for the tank, which requires two CP. Your team usually has about ten to twelve CP at a time. All campaigns are turn-based, meaning you get to move all your characters to desired spots, take some potshots, and then hurry them back to cover, because when your turn ends (no more CP), it's the enemies who will come barreling down that map to try and eliminate any forces you may have left unprotected. Cover consists of sandbags, buildings, Welkin's tank, and tall grass. The game does a great job of treating the environment realistically -- if an enemy shoots at you through trees, chances are you won't get hit.

Valkyria Chronicles makes battles incredibly fun and interesting because of the command point system and the unique strengths and weaknesses of the units. For instance, a scout can shoot at a shock trooper from beyond the shock trooper's range, but scouts only have five bullets per turn, and shock troopers have good armor. You have to go again if you want to finish the job, eating up another CP in the process. There's also the mechanic of return fire: any soldier (except for snipers and lancers), regardless of which side they're on, will shoot back when fired upon, as long as the target is within range. This feature let me kill enemies even when it wasn't my turn! Wooo! Units also have action points (AP), which is a bar at the bottom of the screen that indicates how much ground each one can cover. Snipers, lancers, and shock troopers can't move very far, while scouts and engineers can run laps around them.

Most campaigns have the same goal: capture the enemies' base. That means starting out from your own base, and then having your team move toward the target. Along the way, there are enemy forces that need to be taken down. Fragrant Husband, being a fan of first-person shooter as well as strategy games, took an interest, and became my military adviser. "Watch her command points," he would say, as I rushed a scout down a destroyed street. "You want her to be able to run back and hide." Or he would make me scroll through the map and help me decide which units to deploy. "Put a sniper in that tower," et cetera. This was necessary, because my campaign tactics consisted entirely of, "Run up there and shoot everyone in the face," whereas he was more patient and favored placing units strategically on the map.

One mission in particular was about stopping a tank, and Fragrant Husband was coaching me and we were doing an okay job when suddenly, this happened:

The game's answer to submarines and aircraft: the Valkyria (nuclear weapons). The Empire has a young lady named Selvaria Bles on its side, and unleashed her on Gallia. I was horrified when I saw her glowing blue ass running across the battlefield toward me, killing every single unit of mine along the way. The woman is a tank. And then, when I roared in rage and tried to stomp her with my tank, she. Did. Not. Budge. Usually, any unit smacked with a tank screams and gets knocked over. Not Selvaria. She's too special. So I had to do the mission again, because she killed all my people! Thank you to Port Forward for their excellent walkthrough.

So I was getting near the end of the game, with only a few more campaigns to go, when I got into a particularly difficult spot: I had shock troopers behind sandbags, but they were surrounded by enemies who ducked every time I shot at them, and it wasn't even my turn. All I could do was watch helplessly as Rosie and Vyse got hit with hails of bullets. When it was my turn, I was seething, especially when I shot at an Imperial shock trooper and the bastard ducked instead of dying like I wanted him to.

"I'm gonna walk Rosie up there and flame thrower him in the face," I announced to Fragrant Husband.

"No, just grenade him," he said. "She'll be exposed if she leaves the sandbags."

I tried. "No, he's too far away," I said. "I have to walk up there with the flame thrower. They keep ducking."

"Nah, look at her HP! She's almost dead! Just shoot 'em!" he said.

So I did. The bastard ducked.

"Are you out of your mind?" I roared at Fragrant Husband. "Look what happened! What did I tell you! WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!?!"

He gave me a hurt look. "I'm going to the bathroom," he muttered, and stomped away. I felt like a monster.

But the show must go on! I managed to get another unit in there to get the job done, and made my contrite apology when my darling came back. He said he understood. Truly, the heat of battle is tempestuous and transforms retiring little flowers such as myself into fierce, shout-y creatures hellbent on victory.

Together once again, we forged on and crushed Maximilian, the Imperial commander, during the obligatory epic battle on top of, what else, a battleship on wheels. It was as ridiculous as it sounds. Maximilian is the type of guy who builds giant things to, shall we say, compensate for something, ehem ehem.

"Selvaria...I have daddy issues. Now go kill yourself. Literally."

In conclusion, Valkyria Chronicles is addictive, ingenious, beautiful, and close to a perfect game. The themes were heavy-handed, and the characters barely sketched out, but if all you want is some awesome strategic fighting fun for the family with spectacular graphics and sound, this game delivers. Valkyria Chronicles for the win!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Train Adventures

The daily commute to and from the office is one of the helljoys™ of being gainfully employed. "Helljoy" is a term I just made up to describe the simultaneously delightful and agonizing experience that is riding the T during rush hour.

Let's start with a general overview of typical rider behavior. Basically, everyone has their eyes glued to something -- their phone, iPad, the Metro newspaper, whatever. We all cram together like sardines of various shapes and sizes. Pregnant ladies or the elderly get seats, as they should. So we riders keep ourselves busy, but often not to a douche level. 

Here's my secret wisdom: there's plenty of space toward the very end of the trains. Why? Because distracted commuters walk through the doors and latch onto the closest handhold. Only trained ninjas like myself duck and weave past everyone, smiling sweetly and saying, "Pray excuse me!" so as not to get punched in the face with someone's handbag before eight in the morning. Then I claim a spacious corner of the train all to myself.

Since I have to go past three of the stations where most people get off at, I get to plump down in a seat halfway through the ride and think about how tired I am. If I have the energy, I will pull out my phone and read BBC. (I reserve my Jezebel reading for after lunch, so that my inevitable rage at something will wake me up from my post-meal stupor.) If all of my brain cells are working, I will remember that I have Final Fantasy II, and I would play that.

My afternoon commute is much easier than the morning one. I slip into a non-crowded train and get a seat. The only problem with that is it gets so full that I can't see which station we're at, and the conductors' accents are usually hard to understand. I usually just use telepathy to determine that I am at the right station.

My train ride back home tonight was different. It was blazing hot today. After I rushed past a fender bender across the street from my office, I somehow got confused about getting in past the gates and onto the platforms. I just walked right through, fully expecting the gates to open for me. It was after the second attempt, with a T worker staring at me, that I realized that one must pay to ride the train. So I sheepishly got out my wallet and made it give the card reader a little kiss. "Pip," it said, and let me in.

I got on the train and sat down next to a dude with a giant tablet. He was playing music so loudly through his earphones that I could hear it. He also smelled pretty funky. Like I said, it was hotter than a sauna today. I really should have mentally prepared for being in an enclosed metal tube with other sweaty humans.

Another dude came and sat down on the other side of me. He also gave off molecules that did not particularly appeal to my olfactory receptors. So there I was, sitting down at least, but stuck between two effluviums. Helljoy.

And then! The guy to my right got up to offer his seat to a middle-aged lady. She smelled nice. And I was like, "Girls smell better than boys!" because at five-thirty in the afternoon, I have the critical thinking skills of a drunk baboon.

A man was making a ruckus by the door when we pulled into the next station. "Take it easy," he kept saying loudly. I assumed he was displeased at being shoved into the train by fellow passengers anxious to get on board, which means he has never been to Japan, where people exist whose job it is to pack people tightly into trains. Nevertheless, he turned out to be a ninja, because he stomped to the end of the car -- where I also was, naturally. The aromatic gentleman who had offered his seat sidled up to him, and they discussed the very thing I shared with you, dear reader -- that people rarely move all the way into the train, thereby creating a pocket of space at the very ends of the car for the enterprising to conquer.

Now you know. May your train adventures be as fruitful and helljoyful as mine.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Movie Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Warning: massive spoilers ahead. Avoid reading if you are planning to watch the movie, or have already watched it. 

143 Fragrant Elephant Drive, Boston, MA 58008 | stacker@fragrantelephantlover.com 

Veteran military professional currently serving as Head of Hong Kong Shatterdome 
and Marshal with Pan Pacific Defence Corps (PPDC).


  • As commander of Jaeger fighting machines, directed campaigns that led to defeat of Category 2, 3, and 4 Kaijū. Picture below shows Russian machine, Cherno Alpha, ironically not nuclear-powered. 
  • Foresaw utter failure of all non-Jaeger war strategies, and assembled all remaining Jaeger in Hong Kong for Humanity's Last Stand.  
  • Re-recruited traumatized main protagonist back into Jaeger program using persuasive language, then overshadowed him for rest of movie via sheer charisma.
  • Loomed impressively over everyone during entire movie.
  • Declined adopted daughter's pleas to co-pilot a Jaeger, then changed mind. Was proven correct in denying her in first place when facility almost blown up during test run. 
  • Rejected overexcited scientist's proposal to mind-link with Kaijū, thereby prompting him to disobey orders and uncover critical intel about enemy.
  • Shouted down protagonist's attempts to connect at emotional level. 
  • Ensured that protagonist and adopted daughter's Jaeger had different power source from other Jaegers, for when the enemy inevitably adapted to the machines. Also made them stay behind during crucial moment so as to unleash them as surprise reserve. (Note: self was the one surprised.) 
  • Gave inspirational speech to crew before personally leading mission to destroy bridge between Earth and vaguely genitalia-like Kaijū dimension.
  • Piloted first-generation Jaeger with name reminiscent of girls dancing on top of bars: Coyote Tango.
  • Fought off Kaijū trying to eat little girl in Tokyo.
  • Personally killed Category 5 Kaijū at cost of own life.
  • See photo at top of CV.
  • After rescuing little Japanese girl from monster, emerged from machine while majestically backlit by sun.
  • Offered mecha world a non-androgynous physique to appreciate:

In conclusion: Pacific Rim is a fun summer movie!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Am I My Mom Yet?

The end of the month marks another year of the imminent, inevitable, and progressive loss of my physiological integrity. On the one hand, I remain quite sprightly despite my tragic telomere attrition. On the other hand, I just discovered that I am supposed to turn into my mother this year.

If last month’s breathless news reports and blogs prove correct, I will shortly transform into the all-knowing carbon-based life form who deposited my chubby little body into an unsuspecting world.

In the interest of science, I have created a checklist to determine the likelihood of this phenomenon affecting me. I have weighted each category in an arbitrary manner, as a shout out to organized religion.

Am I My Mom Yet? - Checklist
Category Weight Score
Cooks with too much oil 10 0
No filter between brain and mouth 20 20
Somehow always correct, or able to hypnotize others into believing so 15 5
Needy 15 15
Likes humans more than pets 10 5
Hilarious 10 10
Disregards personal boundaries 10 5
Voracious eater 10 10

I scored a 70. I believe that makes me more than halfway toward becoming my mother. All I need to complete the metamorphosis is a diagnosis of prediabetes, and an unrelenting terror of new technology.

Time to go to the Cheesecake Factory on a donkey!

PS - Love you Mama!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Movie Review: The Heat (2013)

The Heat is hilarious. Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy do an excellent job of combining their comedic talents for this buddy-cop flick. The writing is a little loose, but this is really about two women who've had to be tough to get ahead, and how they learn to work together. It brings tears to my eyes. Tears of laughter, I mean.

Bullock plays FBI agent Ashburn, a know-it-all unpopular with her colleagues. Still, she's competent enough that her boss assigns her to a case in Boston to see if she's qualified for a promotion. That's where she collides with Mullins, a Boston cop who has strong opinions and unorthodox policing methods. Their journey towards bonding is rough, but eventually they like each other enough to go out for (a ton of) drinks. Then they have a falling-out, make up, and go after the baddies. Everything goes according to buddy-cop formula, and boy, is it fun.

McCarthy stands out with her perfect delivery and what sound like ad-libbed lines, and Bullock is once again in fine comedic form. "Will you shut the door please?" Ashburn asks Mullins in the interrogation room. "I'll shut the door," Mullins replies. "You lay down here and put your head in the door. And I'll slam it about one hundred fifty-seven thousand times." Multiply that exchange by a hundred, and you've got the gist of the script. Plus, neither actress is shy about doing physical comedy -- their butts are in the air, they're flailing, they scrabble across the ground, you name it.

The characters aren't deep, but then again, they're not meant to be incisive portrayals of the human condition. Their personalities are played for gags, like whenever the subject of Ashburn's cat comes up, or when men stop Mullins in the street and ask her why they haven't heard back from her. The second time that happens, McCarthy's character eviscerates the standard guy lines -- "It's not you, it's me;" and "I'm looking for myself. I can't be part of a two until I'm a good one;" plus her self-proclaimed favorite: "You make me want to be a better woman." All delivered with a face that trumpets full awareness of the high bullshit content.

There's a lot going on this film. It's basically a bunch of skits strung together with the search for the drug dealer as scaffolding. Overall, it works. Once it really gets going with the laughs, The Heat is unrelenting. It was originally slated for a late spring release, but the studio liked it so much that they moved it to the summer slot. Sweet move. It's number two at the box office right now, and I hope it keeps selling tickets. That way, we might achieve my dream: a movie starring Melissa McCarthy and Rebel Wilson. Eeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Now, having read this review, go forth and do what you do. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Valis (1981)

Philip K. Dick's Valis is an exploration into the densities of mental imbalance. About two-thirds of the way, I did a head-tilt of confusion as I began to detect hints of author self-insertion. But by then it was too late -- I was invested in the characters and their bizarre story.

The novel plunges readers into the quiet chaos of an unraveling mind. The protagonist, Horselover Fat, tries to prevent a friend from ending her life. His failure eventually sends him to a hospital. There, he begins to write his exegesis, or his analysis of the divine revelations that he apparently received one day in the course of eight hours. He scribbles down wild thoughts about the nature of the universe, information, the "homoplasmate," irrationality, genesis, and more. The novel continues in this vein until even his friends find connections between Horselover Fat's visions and the real world. Together, they set out to discover the meaning of VALIS.

This is the first Philip K. Dick novel I've read. I've seen about half of the movies based on his short stories, like the classic, Blade Runner ("Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"); the original, pretty good Total Recall ("We Can Remember It For You Wholesale"); the brilliant Minority Report ("The Minority Report"); the fascinating A Scanner Darkly ("A Scanner Darkly"); and the eye roll-inducing The Adjustment Bureau ("The Adjustment Bureau"). I would be interested in seeing a film version of Valis, which contains an interesting sci-fi idea: [SPOILERS! SPOILERS!] aliens built our planet but became trapped there and went insane, and Valis, or Vast Active Living Intelligence System, is a sort of satellite that the aliens launched from their home planet to inoculate the ones on earth with information that saves them. Valis reveals that time and space do not actually exist, and immortals walk the world. I mean, cool, right?

Dick incorporates Latin, gnostic Christian tracts, Wagnerian opera, ancient archaeological sites, and the bifurcated man trope into what turns out to be his own story. Wikipedia says he had a breakdown in the seventies, as Horselover Fat does in Valis. And the name Philip means "horse lover," in Greek, and Dick is German for "fat." So this is the author's account of his own breakdown. If that's the case, that makes the novel all the more impressive as a work of science fiction. It speaks to his urge to create and document the strange and otherworldly. Dick died shortly after Valis was published.

The main lesson I learned here is that doing drugs helps artists become prolific and extraordinarily creative. Fragrant Husband refuses to support any habit I may want to form -- you know, for art -- so I guess sensory deprivation is my best shot if I want to write a novel. That, or a ton of discipline, research, dedication, and hard work. Huh. Well then.

Happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Tyranny

Forget the protests in Egypt. Look beyond the continuing saga of Snowden. Ignore US politicians' attempts to control women. The true tyranny is here:

These innocent-seeming shoes, which I snapped up at the new TJ Maxx at the Galeria, gave me blisters. Blisters! Small pockets of fluid caused by friction! Oh the pain! The agony! How can you compare violent national protests and invasions of privacy and cruel patriarchalism to my office dress code-induced pain?

You cannot. Please, readers, learn from my tragedy -- walk, do not run, and certainly not over great distances, in brand new shoes. Then you shall be spared the suffering. 

This post brought to you by Vacation Mode, Fourth of July subcategory.