Saturday, September 30, 2006

New Books and (Hopefully) Upcoming Music

I picked up the new Marjane Satrapi book Chicken with Plums yesterday at The Strand, and having only read about thirty or so pages so far, it's definitely a new favorite. While this isn't a book about Marjane herself, Chicken with Plums follows the last eight days or so of her great uncle's life. More on this when I'm finished.

Also, I will be interviewing Marjane via phone later in October, so expect to see something on that in the future.

And now for the music...

This is a new Rasputina song entitled "Yellow Cake," which is part of their 9/11-related medley. Sarah Bowman of The Bowmans is an interim member of the band on this clip, so while you're at it you may want to google her band as well.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Two reviews in one!

These are as-yet unedited. If you are lonely enough and have a careful eye, maybe you'll notice some minor changes to these in the coming few days. If you do and you happen to tell me, then you get a cookie.

The Science of Sleep

“Guy’s making me smell the sperm!” Stéphane’s coworker shouts in one of many dream/reality moments in The Science of Sleep.

Michel Gondry’s latest film explores Stéphane’s (ever-gorgeous Gael García Bernal) inability to separate his dreams from reality and his borderline-creepy love for his neighbor Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

At times The Science of Sleep becomes a film about film narrative. It can be quite impossible to separate the dream sequences from the fictional reality, thus adding to the fun of picking apart a Gondry movie.

Visually the film is phenomenal. The animation stands out as possibly some of the best CGI in years. It bears many similarities to the kind seen in some of Jan Svankmajer’s films, only it’s much less grotesque and more integral to the narrative (seriously, has anyone actually seen Lunacy?).

If you are able to hear through the obnoxiously loud hipster guffaws that come up every three seconds in the theater, then pay close attention to Stéphane’s exaltations for Stéphanie—they can reveal a much darker aspect of a bright and superficially self-aware cute indie film.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon

In 2003 a pride of lions escaped from the Baghdad zoo during the American bombing of Iraq. This is the lions’ story.

Vaughan (Y: The Last Man) writes his story from the lions’ perspective as they trample their way through the rubble while, as the birds claim, the sky is falling. While a simple story, Pride manages to comment on a controversial conflict in the spirit of Watership Down and Animal Farm—through talking animals.

At times Vaughan’s agenda can be a little overbearing, like the constant debate over the definition of “freedom.” In one scene, a group of US soldiers stand over several bullet-ridden animals. One asks if they’re wild in Iraq, and another tells him, “No, not wild. They’re free.” Cue the bird flying into the smoke.

Pride may not be worth the $20, but it’s at least worth reading for free in some crevice of the bookstore. It’s quick and it makes you think, but it’s nothing to go fanboy over. But then again, what is?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sherrybaby: A Belated Review

Who would have thought that reconnecting with your estranged three year old wouldn’t be easy? I know Lifetime has.

Laurie Collyer’s film Sherrybaby feels like something Lifetime would churn out on a Monday night, and possibly every other night for the following three months. No, there is no internet porn tearing an innocent family apart (literally speaking), but there is an ex-inmate-trying-to-reconnect-with-her-estranged-daughter plotline, which is of similar caliber.

Sherrybaby opens with a blue NJ Transit bus en route to Newark. On that bus is Sherry Dawson (Gyllenhaal), who was just released from prison. Brown paper bag in hand, she is on her way to Genesis House, a boarding home for women on parole. About ten minutes in, Sherry asks her parole officer if she can spend one night with her brother and his wife, who are caring for her 3-4 year old daughter Alexis. A few indiscretions and scuffles with the housemates later, Sherry’s brother arrives at Genesis House to bring her home.

The rest of the story is fairly predictable. Things are bad, the sister-in-law is uber-territorial, Alexis refers to her mother by her first name, etc.

Despite Collyer’s clichéd writing, Gyllenhaal manages to put on an impressive performance. The scene in which glossy-eyed Sherry drunkenly pushes a shopping cart around a toy store in search of the perfect birthday gift is beyond disturbing as she presses every “Try Me!” button she crosses.

The movie tries to be sad. Very sad. Very, very sad. This is the stuff Lifetime movies are made of, folks, and it doesn’t hold back. Then again, I might just be another douche bag laughing inappropriately at a sad movie. It’s like the time I wanted Susan Sarandon to fucking die already during the first ten minutes of Stepmom.

If you’re in the mood to cry, see Sherrybaby. If you’re just looking for a laugh, seeing Sherrybaby can do that too.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón

Art Spiegelman’s Maus started the quasi-mainstream trend of utilizing the graphic novel as means to retell historical events. In the years that followed, we’ve been graced with such powerful graphic memoirists/biographers such as Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) and Alison Bechdel (Fun Home) to name a few. It was only a matter of time before the 9/11 graphic novels emerged.

Jacobson and Colón’s adaptation is one of these books. However, it does not tell a personal story like the earlier mentioned works. It instead translates the final report of the 9/11 Comission into what hopefully would reach a new audience. As Thomas H. Kean (Comission Chair and Drew University President) writes in the book’s forward, “…we felt strongly that one of the most important and tragic events of our nation’s history needed to be accessible to all.”

Not to say that the adaptation doesn’t do its job, but Jacobson and Colón may have benefited in approaching from a different angle. Upon opening the book, the reader is bombarded by claustrophobic, chaotic panels lacking any hint of chronological flow. Besides the multifarious graphs and charts implemented to outline the events leading up to, during, and after 9/11, it is fairly uncertain which panel flows into which. Should it be read from left to right, up to down, down to left? The implementation of signifiers (simple arrows, perhaps) may have solved the problem before print.

Stan Lee (Marvel Comics) writes, “Never before have I seen a nonfiction book as beautifully and compellingly written and illustrated as The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation.” I questioned Lee’s statement by page 26, in which the president receives a call from Condoleezza Rice. Bush stands intently; arms crossed, phone to his ear, almost as if he were an X-man. Rice’s bust is projected behind him in a gray hue, shouting into her cell phone as if she were Professor X contacting his students telepathically. Other scenes riddled with cheesy dialogue and narration come to mind: multiple narrative exclamations of “And we did nothing!”, Richard Clarke’s “I am obsessed with Bin Ladin.”, and Cheney balking at his television, “How the Hell could a plane—Oh, no! A second one!”

Despite the cheese and otherwise dry language, the adaptation succeeds in translating the report into a new medium. Will it be as memorable as Maus? Probably not. But it will at least become a mainstay coffee-table book, regardless of whether or not it’s actually read.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Labor Day Weekend, 2006

Thus commences a new blog on a new server on the eve (several eves premature) of my last year as an undergrad. So how do I celebrate? Why, by sitting home watching an episode of AIR, where FEMA is under attack.

I happened across a feature/interview in TimeOUT NY with Andrew Bujalski, writer/director of Funny Ha-Ha, regarding his new film that opened today in NYC entitled Mutual Appreciation. From what I've read, Mr. Bujalski is said to be the "Cassavetes for the Myspace generation." Now, I ran a search for this movie on, and it has a rating of 100%, which I haven't seen before. This could be due to the fact that it literally just opened today, but I think I really want to see this tomorrow.

Of the three films I'd be up for seeing this weekend, it's going to be Mutual Appreciation, Half Nelson or 13 Tzameti, all of which are supposed to be wonderful. I really haven't seen too many movies in the theater lately (other than Lunacy and Strangers With Candy), so I really want to make the effort before my income takes a major decrease and I'm rendered a part-time bookseller/student.

Meanwhile, has anyone heard anything/read about the new 9/11 Comission graphic novel? It sounds like an interesting idea, but I see it either A) being really great or B) flopping miserably.