Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Dueling Banjos: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Months ago I emailed my local public library acquisitions department and requested this book. I was batting a thousand in terms of requests, but they turned me down because it hadn't been reviewed yet. Well here are your reviews Acquisitions Department.

The New Yorker: (NAY!)

Entertainment Weekly: (YAY!)

And Sherp.

Monday, April 06, 2009

A 31% Review.

Is it ever OK to review a book after having read 31% of it?  I don't think this falls under the purview of Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, but I couldn't say, because I haven't read it.  Certainly when you've read enough of a book that the will to finish it is vanquished by the desire to no longer be subjected to it, you have made a de facto judgment.  The judgment to stop, in this case was the right one, but what about the decision to start it?

I discovered in February that I had, all on my own, already read 5 of the 16 books that would be participating in the Morning News' 2009 Tournament of Books.  I was excited!  In the past, I'd stumbled upon the tournament in medias res, or after it was ended, or I'd not really been interested in the competitors.  But this year I had several horses in the race, most notably, the best book I've read in years, Netherland by Joseph O'Neill (guess I outed my zombie vote there), and I would actually be able to have informed opinions about many of the results and might even discover a book or two that I'd like to read.  Imagine how pleased I was when The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, mewling usurper of the 2008 Man Booker, pathetic Prince John to Netherland's Richard I, Coeur de Lion, was overtaken in the first round by the hitherto unknown to me Harry, Revised

Rereading the judges' and commentators' views of Harry, Revised in Rounds One and Two again after I've read as much of the book as I'm going to has me wondering what bad judgment call got me to read the book in the first place?  Cautionary comments are abundant:  first round judge Jonah Lehrer bemusedly says, of the eponym Harry Rent, "he doesn’t like the Monte Cristo, even though he orders it every time",  commentator Kevin Guilfoile certainly mentions the prostitutes that the author innovatively and ingeniously has Harry visit, and second round judge David Rees is so torqued off by the book and the unsatisfying end, he presents us with a "transcript" of his talk to his therapist about it.  Now, who in their right mind doesn't like a Monte Cristo?  That's a huge red flag!  It's like Robert Shaw as Red Grant ordering red wine to go with the sole on the train to Zagreb in From Russia With Love.  Connery's Bond was INSTANTLY alerted that something was up, and I should have been too. 

After all of this evidence that this book was to be avoided (and the growing suspicion that knocking White Tiger out in the first round was a cynical contrarian manouver), as Eliza Doolittle says, this is "what done 'er in":

"Despite a few too many allusions to Dumas—Harry models himself on the Count of Monte Cristo—Sarvas does an admirable job of fleshing out a 19th-century narrative skeleton with some pitch-perfect descriptions of 21st-century Los Angeles and its denizens, from the Brentwood podiatrist to the diner waitress."

So, you got me thinking some Flaubert-Dumas hybrid set in current LA is what we're dealing with here, and I am supposed to have the mental wherewithal withstand the power of that suggestion?  I am supposed to know that just because you slap a faux iconic Penguin's Classics cover with a Jacques-Louis Davidesqe portrait (evoking the fevered image of Kleist or Constant) over the protagonist's head on your book cover, that it's marketing and it actually has nothing to do with your book whatsoever?  "Pitch-perfect descriptions of 21st century Los Angeles and it's denizens"...?  Only if that denizen is a benighted Michael Scott type 40 lbs later (who has the stunning originality to think, just like every other middle aged man ever in the history of all time that his salvation lies in sex with someone in their early 20s) who escapes one contrived situation only to fall neatly into an even bigger stew.  Kinda like The Hot Rock.  Michael Scott in The Hot Rock I like (great premise...i just came up with that right now!), but not when you're sold on Adolphe for the 21st century.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

So Very Witty!

Props to RubyG for finding it first.

Extra Sassy

Props to my sis for passing this on to me. It's a freakin' dope B-side, is all!

My First Movie!

This is what it sounds like when Germans cry...

I can remember the date exactly: New Year's Eve 2004. That was the first time I saw Anouk Aimée walking along a beach in southern France IN HEELS with her on-screen race car driving lover Jean-Louis Trintignant in Un Homme et Une Femme. I came away from that movie transformed. This was the life I never knew I wanted. This was how my life was destined to play out, it's apogee of perfection within view. My resolve was so firm, I even wrote it in my journal. One day, I too, would marry a race car driver. But he would be European and elegant like if Gianni Agnelli actually raced in the cars he made. None of this NASCAR business. I would still carry out my duties as co-founder and president of FPAW (Future Professional Athlete's Wives), but I would lobby with all my executive might and gusto to expand the bylaws to include "motor sports" as a viable marital category IN SOME INSTANCES.

It took Truth in 24 (available as a free download at iTunes) coming along to make me realize that I'd all but forgotten my quest. But I have been re-invigorated. I mean, really how could you not be after watching this film? It is much much more than a 90 minute Audi Infomercial. There was real drama as Audi, the top dog at Le Mans in recent years, struggled to maintain the top spot against upstart Peugeot whose diesel engine (a racing concept introduced by Audi) was showing up Audi's 650 HP (!) R10 at all the lead-in races. There was the asymmetry of one of Audi's team of drivers: Tom Kristensen (HEY BABY--Call me--I'm 12.5% Danish!), the Tiger Woods/Roger Federer of racing with 7 Le Mans wins grouped with Rinaldo Capello and Allan McNish, a one-time Le Mans winner (1998), who in the film miraculously evades death, facing one last try at glory before giving it all up. And the man behind the curtain, Howden Haynes, the engineer who makes one critical call that ends up being the deciding factor in 2008's 24 hours of Le Mans (so we can forgive him the so 90's, so passe curved barbell earring). Really engrossing stuff, and you don't have to be a gearhead (or a dude, for that matter) to enjoy it. Oh, and ladies, we have the added bonus of the dulcet East London tones of Jason Statham as Narrator.

The intensity of focus for these professionals was brought home as McNish gives you a second by second narrative of what it's like to drive one lap at Le Mans, as Kristensen takes the shift doing the night time laps at 300mph with minimal visibility to try to overtake Peugeot, and as Dr. Wolfgang Ulrich, head of AudiMotorsport breaks down and weeps, officially the first time I have ever seen a German cry about anything. Although part of you is pretty sure Audi isn't going to underwrite a 90 minute movie about their team losing to Peugeot Total, the conclusion is never assured. It's a great dramatic trick, getting the top dog to appear the underdog with something to prove. The documentarians behind the film would have had a great film with either outcome.

From Le Mans to Gran Prix to Talladega Nights, Hollywood has tried in the past, with what I would judge to be modest to mediocre success, to replicate the spirit of car racing that so captured the imagination of stars like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman. But maybe it was not so much the subject matter as the feature film format that failed. Fictional stories and manufactured characters pale next to the documented truth of life writ large at Le Mans.