Monday, April 09, 2007

News & Reviews

I moved in with my buddies Ian & Stephanie a few weeks ago, after they graciously offered to put me up rent-free until I can get my staggering credit card debt and jobless (ie temp work only, no perm position) situation all sorted out. Much of my silence has been because of moving logistics, sorting out personal relationships, and interviewing with local temp agencies, and putting back together some sort of writing schedule for the year, since the one I had is pretty much screwed.

And believe me, you wouldn't have wanted to read anything I've had to say the last few weeks, cause most of it has been boo-hoo poor me stuff. Nobody's perfect.

In the meantime, I've done some traveling, read some books, and seen some movies. And been drinking a lot of coffee.

No joke, I've been having a tough time with this transition. There are few things that make you feel more like a loser than having to move in with friends/parents because of a job layoff, sudden chronic illness (and resulting costs), and exploding personal situation, but you know, shit happens, and I've been working really hard at being OK with that whole "shit happens" thing. I mean, I didn't exactly plan on getting a chronic illness and losing my job and etc. I keep thinking I could have handled it all better, but regardless, this is how it's been handled, so I need to stop and breathe for a second and plan and pick myself up again. I'm just lucky that I've got people around who'll help me out and support me while I do that.

I mean, isn't every writer supposed to live in a friends' basement at some point? It'll sound great during the NYT interview. I'm telling you.

In any case:

I read A Long Way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah, after seeing it several times at Starbucks, at the local bookshop, and hearing about Beah's interview on The Daily Show.

This one starts out really strong - Beah was forced into "service" as a child soldier for the government forces in Sierra Leone in the late 90s. He gives a brutal, detailed account of how he lost his family literally overnight, was captured by soldiers and forced to commit atrocities. I've read a lot of books about conflict in Africa, mainly southern Africa, but Sierra Leone was a new one for me, and Beah gave me a really clear, vivid understanding of the surreal chaos of a violent revolution and how they impact the people who live there how one day the war is something far off, something you hear about, something that will never really affect you, and the next day your entire world is torn apart. You can read all sorts of books by foreign journalists - or even local ones - and dispassionate histories, but this one came from somebody who lived there, lived through it, and hearing his voice was.... powerful. Powerful not just because he was there, but because we hear these voices so rarely. Instead, we hear about conflict 2nd and 3rd hand, from foreigners, journalists, which is certainly better than nothing, but it pales in comparison to these missing voices.

There are some great things he does here - he shows you the good with the bad. There are horrific things done here, things he does and things done to him and those around him, but there are pauses in the narrative for the good things, the human things, the small acts of kindness, the dancing, the game-playing, the snide joking among friends, and long passages that show his love of the physical landscape of the country. Yes, people do terrible things, but they are just people, like everyone else. It's one of those things that everyone says when they hear about people committing atrocities - hacking people up, the mass slaughter of millions - how could they do it? How is that possible? And in Beah's book, you see exactly how that becomes possible. You see the steps along the way, the increasing chaos, the breakdown of the communities, and you can put yourself there and say, "Would I really have reacted so differently?"

No, probably not.

The book drags a little in the middle and then wraps up really quickly with Beah's rehabilitation, some time living with his uncle and becoming a spokesperson for children at a UN conference, and then his rapid flight across the border when Sierra Leone's capital is finally overrun. We don't actually get the nitty-gritty of how he managed to get to America after crossing the border, only that one of the friends he met and kept in touch with after the UN conference in New York agreed to give him a home if he could make it across the border. Because of this, the book seems to end abruptly, and there's nothing tying it together. It simply... is.

Not long after reading this one, I watched Blood Diamond, and I recommend reading Beah's story and then watching this movie if you're at all interested in the complexities of war and revolution in Sierra Leone or even Africa in general, as the politics and players are similiar in many other countries. Blood Diamond gives you an idea of the big players in these conflicts - the international corporations, the revolutionaries, the aid workers, the mercenaries/smugglers, the civilians, pretty much everybody gets a nod here. The cast was talented enough to sort of wash over the idea that they were all sort of stand-ins for their respective groups (black local, white American journalist, white African smuggler), but they all bordered on cliche at one time or another.

Still, it was a powerful film, and after reading Beah's books, the sections about the boy soldiers rang utterly and terribly true, and it made me sit up and pay attention. The people who put this one together did a lot of work. It's good.

Some other movies:

I also finally saw the latest Bond movie, Casino Royale. I put off watching this one because, yeah, I wasn't so sure I'd like the new Bond Guy.

I was wrong.

They brought Bond back from cheese and made him cool again, and that was a neat trick. Brosnan wasn't bad, but the scripts and direction he were given were turning the Bond movies into a parody of Bond movies ("I thought Christmas only comes *once* a year" Oh lord). The women are bad and die, of course, because this is a Bond movie (but then, pretty much everyone who isn't Bond is bad and dies), but you don't watch a Bond movie expecting to get a lot of conversations between women. I do like what they're doing with M; keeping Dench as M was a great decision. She's just excellent. There was some danger of her appearing motherly toward Bond, which they could have done, but because it's Dench, I think they've managed to avoid that route. She also doesn't dress like a nun (or dress like she's pretending to be 14), which you don't see much with older women actresses, and that was cool. She has some good sparring matches with Bond, and you get enough icy coolness from her that you do wonder just what she'd do if Bond ever did piss her off enough to off him.

Somehow, this movie even made having an asthmatic, one-eyed, scarred villain something other than Bond-movie-cliche laughable.

To round out my movie watching, I also watched The Holiday, mainly because it had Jude Law and Kate Winslet. This was one of those movies that could have been really great, but as it was, just sort of... well, was. Jude Law ended up playing the best character, suprisingly, but Kate and Cameron hammed it up too much to be really sympathetic, and instead, came across as a couple of silly girls. I wasn't really rooting for either of them to have boyfriends. I wanted them to sort their lives out themselves first. I wanted them to grow up.

Kate was doing this miserable Bridget Jones routine (that can be a fun character, but I didn't believe her gumption in the end because I never saw it the whole way through, whereas when Renee Zellweger played it, I believed Bridget's transformation; I felt like Bridget did a little growing up), and Cameron was just doing LA-parody, which wasn't so much her fault - a lot of that was definately a directorial choice.

And you know, there's nothing more miserable than writers writing about writers or movie people making movies about movie people. It's a real turnoff.

A lot of what didn't work for me was also the fact that none of the pairings in the movie had actual chemistry. Cameron and Jude Law have tons of sex, and though I believed the chemistry on his end (I believed it was *acted* but I believed in the acting), she wasn't really clicking much with him, and Kate and Jack Black were just... weirdly paired. It's like you get two people together who were supposed to play the "best friend" role in other movies and then put them together as a leading copule and they still play "best friend" with each other. Which, yes, I realize was what they were going for, but generally, when two people who've played best friend to others get together and you know, get hot on each other, they do actually get hot around each other and have hot, wild sex. Insead, these two get two kisses, and they're not hot kisses at ALL. I didn't believe their connection in the least.

Jude and Kate, as brother and sister, had way more chemistry than any other pairing in the movie.

I also watched parts of Night at the Museum, but Jumanji was better, even if this movie did have Owen Wilson in it.