19 July 2008


This is one of those movies with a great cast (unbelievably great--a very young Kevin Spacey, even, in a tiny role) that nonetheless ends up being a dud. Nothing really happens in this movie--at least nothing of much interest. For a while you earnestly wait for something to happen, and then you sort of give up, and just sustain yourself with Meryl Streep occasionally doing something interesting onscreen--Jack Nicholson almost never does--and then the movie ends, and you shake your head and say, "That's it?"

Yes, that's it. Unfortunately.

18 July 2008


It's hard to know what to make of this movie, which takes place entirely underground, in Budapest's subway system. The protagonists are the system's ticket checkers, who have the unenviable job of demanding passengers show their tickets or passes and levying a fine if proof of payment is not forthcoming.

The ticket checkers work in teams, and the film follows a team that is on probation--for newness, presumably, but it may also be for lameness (the team includes a narcoleptic).

The atmosphere underground at times seems disarmingly normal and other times is flatly sinister--there's a killer loose: a self-styled grim reaper who shoves random passengers into the path of oncoming trains and disappears. And manages to do this without being captured by the ubiquitous security cameras.

Our hero is a young man who seems clearly overqualified for his role--and indeed, we find out that he had been a big success in the above-surface world but chucked it all. We watch the movie because we want this directionless fellow to find his direction: when he does, the movie takes off.

14 July 2008

Funk It Up about Nothin'

This hip-hop adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing could have been awful, but instead is so creative and energetic and full of good spirits that it's wonderful instead: As the show opens, Don Pedro and crew are returning from a rapping competition; as his evil plans unfold Don John rubs his hands together and snarls "Gon' funk it UP!"; Borrachio accomplishes his deception with a blow-up doll.

Like I said, could have been awful. Instead: terrific.

11 July 2008


Once in a while, I have an "aha" moment that makes me feel like a total idiot. I've been a tea drinker for a long time, but recently we got a new teapot after a long time without one (previous pots had broken or been lost). This enabled me to use (for the first time in a while) our tea warmer, which is a thick glass almost-cylinder with a hollowed-out space in the middle that fits a tealight candle.

Have you guessed my "aha" moment yet?

Oh, they're called tea-light candles because they fit in tea warmers!

Who knew?

(I know...everybody but me.)

Lake Wobegon Summer 1956

Previously I had not had much success reading Garrison Keillor novels, but somehow when I opened this book this time, it clicked with me, and I read it straight through (it goes quick).

We bought the book back when we lived in Columbus. We'd seen Keillor read from it, but we weren't patient enough to wait in line for his autograph. I still remember the pleasure of listening to Keillor read; not that different from the pleasure of listening to his radio show. And as I read the novel yesterday, I could hear his voice in my head, as if it were reciting a single closing monologue.

The book offers the pleasures of a closing monologue: a homespun voice poking gentle fun at religion and delighting in dirty jokes (the protagonist is a 14-year-old boy). It is by no means a serious book--I can't say I learned anything much--but it is an enjoyable one, and offers a pleasantly nostalgic remembrance of life in a midwestern small town in the 1950s, which includes not only its charms, but also the urgent need to escape those charms.

Let the Trumpet Sound

It took me a while to finish biography of Martin Luther King by Stephen Oates, not because it was boring or even difficult, but just because it was dense with information. Growing up in the 1970s, I thought I knew all about the civil rights movement because it was constantly referenced, and I was able to follow the references. Over time, though, I realized that my knowledge of the period was terribly shallow. This book has been quite a help in fleshing out the outline I'm familiar with with details I was not so familiar with. The MLK who was an enemy of racial injustice is well-remembered; the MLK who was an enemy of economic injustice is nearly forgotten, and the MLK who vehemently opposed the war in Vietnam has utterly disappeared, I think.

The parts of this book that trace the conduct of the war in Vietnam and opposition to it are eerily reminiscent of what's currently going on with the war in Iraq. It is just crazy how history repeats and nothing changes.

Well, not nothing. Barack Obama is another public figure with a remarkable ability to move his audience with oratory, but he is running for president, a path MLK rejected.

07 July 2008

Iron Man

We went to see this movie a few weeks ago, with some trepidation due to mixed reviews, but also eagerness because I'm such a big Robert Downey, Jr., fan. In the end, we were surprised and delighted with it and have been recommending it to hesitant friends and family.


This movie has received some rotten reviews, but we didn't think it was bad at all. Certainly no masterpiece, but highly enjoyable performances from Will Smith, Jason Bateman, and Charlize Theron, some excellent jokes (visual and verbal), and some real surprises. Very much satisfies the desire for a summer action movie.

S is for Silence

I can't remember the last time I read one of Sue Grafton's alphabetical mysteries but I was quite a devotee until around F or G. The novelty was in their smart, tough, frank female protagonist, who was not insusceptible to male attraction, but generally did not let such attraction rule her behavior (in my late teens to early 20s, this was a refreshing attitude to encounter).

Still, after more than a half dozen in a row, I started to get tired of Kinsey Milhone, and moved on to other things. But, finding myself bookless in San Diego a couple weeks ago, I happened on this novel and decided to give her another shot.

Like most respectable mysteries, S is for Silence is hard to put down, but I found myself less than impressed with the writing. Dialogue often seemed stilted, working too hard to convey too much information. I closed the book thinking that, after all, this stuff wasn't very good.

However. Days later I was still thinking about the story, pondering the twists and turns of the plot and the various characters. So while perhaps the writing could be tightened up, you can't really ask too much more of a (fairly lightweight) mystery novel than that its effect lingers significantly after the book's been closed.


This novel by Vladimir Nabokov is beautifully done and reminds me more of Tolstoy than anything else. Certainly it doesn't have that scope; the resemblance is in the construction of characters and their thought. I enjoyed it very much.