Stormtrooper Terry

Stormtrooper Terry

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Goodreads Book Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. There is no doubt about that. What is up for debate, though, is whether I loved it because it was well-written, or whether I loved it because I'm a pop culture expert who loves just about everything about the 80's and I'm a gamer who has in the past spent plenty of hours wandering Azeroth and so the book spoke to me because of that regardless of how well-written it might have been. Seriously, I got just about every pop culture reference made in the book... and that's saying something, since there are easily a few thousand. For the most part, the book is really good, and it pulled me along page after page; however, when our hero, Parzival, logs out of the OASIS to deal with things in the real world, the book kind of drags. On the one hand, that isn't a big deal, because it happens pretty rarely. On the other hand, considering one of the main messages of the book is that the real world is the only reality worth living in... well, there's a serious case of burying the lead here. However, the book is still a good read, the characters are all pretty damn lovable, the love story is cute enough, and playing "catch the reference" is a boatload of fun. So, in short, I loved it, and you should read it.

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The twenty-first book in the Recommended Reading Challenge is only the second one that I can honestly say has become a favorite book of mine. I'm about to embark on the twenty-second, The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. It seems to have some heavy religious undertones, so I'm kind of wary about it, but we'll see what happens. In any case, keep those recommendations coming, folks!

Silver Linings Playbook

I'm going to start this off saying something woefully insensitive, but bear with me before you get all offended or whatever (although given the type of people I'm friends with, I doubt any offense will be taken. Ever. About anything.), I'm going somewhere with it.

Insanity is funny. Mental health issues are funny. Everybody loves to laugh at the nutjob character in the movie, going back to Rain Man, and hell, probably even farther back than that. But here's the flip side to that coin: while mental health issues might be funny, seeing people conquer those issues is heart-warming. But to take that one step beyond, seeing people find happiness without conquering those issues but instead learning to live with them? Well, that's even more touching.

And that makes Silver Linings Playbook a pretty much perfect movie.

Here's a really brief synopsis of the movie: Pat, played by Bradley Cooper, comes home after a brief court-mandated stay in a mental hospital because he flew into a rage when he came home one day and found another man going down on his wife in the shower and beat the crap out of the guy. It turns out Pat is bi-polar. Despite there being a restraining order against him, he spends the whole movie thinking everything he does is going to bring him one step closer to getting his wife back. In the course of this, he meets Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence, a young woman with issues of her own; her husband died after only three years of marriage and she snapped a little too and turned into a bit of a nymphomaniac, but she's trying to put that behind her. Long story short, Tiffany tells Pat she can get a letter to his wife for him as long as he agrees to be her partner in a dance contest she entered, and he agrees, and hilarious, heart-warming hijinks ensue.

If this sounds to you like a fairly basic plot for a rom-com, well, you're not entirely wrong. It's a variation of a plot we've seen before... boy in love with one girl he can't have meets another girl, blah blah blah... but with the mental issues twist. But there are two differences that elevate Silver Linings Playbook from being a simple cookie-cutter rom-com to possibly being my favorite movie of the year.

The first is the way the material is written and directed. There's a serious to the whole affair that focuses on the drama, on making you think about the situations and the characters and what they go through internally in more than just a romantic sense. The romance, while central, is almost secondary to everything else. And the comedy never comes from where you'd expect it, and it's never appropriate and it's usually awkward... and that makes it all the funnier. There's also more of a focus on family than on romance most of the time, as Pat's relationship with his father, played by good old Robert De Niro, is central to the plot; Pat Sr. is a little touched in the head himself, with a massive case of OCD, and his obsessive faith in both his son and the Philadelphia Eagles drives the plot in some unexpected ways.

The second, bigger way the movie is elevated is the acting. To start with, the whole supporting cast is fantastic, but Bobby D. definitely gets a shout-out for supporting actor, especially for one tear-inducing scene with his son. Likewise, Chris Tucker steals most of the scenes he's in as a friend Pat made in the mental hospital who keeps showing up unexpectedly and hilariously.

As good as the supporting cast is, though, this movie hinges on its stars, and there is nothing disappointing about their performances. Bradley Cooper is possibly the most watchable, charismatic man in Hollywood right now (sorry, Ryan Reynolds; maybe if you stopped banging Blake Lively long enough to make some movies that wouldn't have happened...), and he shines in a role that I thought would be outside his wheelhouse; he's definitely famous for playing the laid-back, wise-cracking, pretty boy, but he displays a depth and soulfulness and vulnerability here that kind of makes you ache for what he's going through the whole time. As good as he is, though, he's upstaged just a little bit by Jennifer Lawrence. And I'm not just saying that because she's probably the hottest actress around right now, both in terms of talent and looks and and I'm not at all saying it because I might be just a little... smitten... with her.

C'mon, can you blame me? I mean, really.

She plays Tiffany as a character that, while not immediately someone you can relate to, is immediately someone you can root for, and, eventually, someone you wish was yours, baggage and all. She's as vulnerable and sympathetic as Pat is, but with more backbone and intelligence and is more well-rounded, despite the fact that his character is at least a decade older than her, if not more. And it isn't just the level of talent that Cooper and Lawrence bring that makes their performances shine, it's the chemistry between them; whether they're trading barbs over which one of them is crazier than the other, or just looking at each other across a dance floor, the chemistry is palpable, and their performances completely encompass you.

In short (he said ironically, having already blathered on much longer than he intended), Silver Linings Playbook is a pretty damn amazing movie. It'll make you laugh, it'll touch your heart, and it just might make you think about your outlook on life a bit. I can't recommend enough that you see it. Immediately. In fact, I can't wait to see it again. I'll leave you with that, and with one parting word, the word that becomes Pat's catchphrase for his outlook on life when he gets out of the hospital:


Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Thankful Stormtrooper, 2012 Edition

Click to enlarge for the full Stormtrooper Thanksgiving comedy.

Welcome to my annual tradition of the blog version of that tradition some people have of saying what they're thankful for before they start eating. I did this for the first time last year and I'm doing it again this year; I don't know if twice is enough to count as a tradition, but, whatever, it's my blog, shut up.

Just to get this one out of the way, much like last year, I'm still incredibly thankful for John Jameson's wonderful creation.

I'm thankful for finally being able to say it seems like I have a job again (I say "seems like" because this is my life, after all, and I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop, because it inevitably does, and it's always the most ridiculous shoe imaginable). Sure, it's only a temporary job, but it's something while I wait for something better, so I'll take it.

I'm thankful for the summer I had. As I mentioned above, the inevitable other shoe did eventually drop and it didn't end how I would have liked, but it was still a great couple of months, and I had more fun and was happier than I have in a good while now.

I'm thankful to be living in an apartment in a good neighborhood now as opposed to last year, as well as it being an apartment where I'm not the only one here to take care of my grandmother because, as much as I love her with all my heart, I don't know if I could have handled it alone.

Lastly, like last year, I'm thankful for my friends; real friends, I mean, the kind who are always there for you, who don't drop you like a bad habit or who aren't just friends in name and not deed. There are people who I wouldn't be able to make it through without. They know who they are and they know I'm talking about them.

That's it for me, folks. What about you, what are y'all thankful for?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Goodreads Book Review: The Magicians

The MagiciansThe Magicians by Lev Grossman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think the best way to describe this book is that it is chock full of unrealized potential. It sets itself up as a much more adult Harry Potter with a lot of The Chronicles of Narnia and even a little bit of Lord of the Rings mixed in, which, on paper, sounds like a recipe for a whole lot of awesome. The problem is, it ends up being too much for one book. Our main character, Quentin, gets accepted into a college for magicians when the book begins, and he's there for five years... and all five years are covered and done with in the first two-thirds of the book. There are a lot of good bits at the school, and it was a situation that deserved more than the rush job it gets. Likewise, the quest Quentin and his friends en up going on afterwards, a quest that easily could have been a book all it's own, is only given about twenty percent of the story, with a whole other ten percent left over for a rather lengthy ending. The reason for rushing the plot is obvious; there's a whole lot of character development and interpersonal reactions going on... which I'm generally all for, but here's the problem: Quentin and his friends are the single most unlikeable group of people I have ever had the displeasure of reading about. They're a bunch of maladjusted, self-absorbed idiots who find ways to take absolutely no pleasure in anything going on around them because they're too busy trying to find ways to hate everything because they're above it all, and they do this while trying to be ironic about everything. With the right amount of plot and better characters, this could have been a great book, but as it is, I don't recommend it... that is, unless you want to read what is basically a story about douchebag hipster magicians. In that case, knock yourself out.

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As you can see, I didn't much enjoy the twentieth book in the Recommended Reading Challenge, the second book in a row I took from random internet people because the recommendations have been dying down. I have two more of those to go through, but I'd rather read something from a friend, so if you've enjoyed a book recently, let's hear it!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Saga: The Best Comic You Really Should Be Reading

About a year and a half ago, I enrolled in a class on how to write comic books. I stopped going after one session because the class sucked and the "teacher," an actual comic book writer, seemed just horrible, but as prep for the class I had to come up with three ideas for my own comic. One of the ideas I came up with was for a superhero adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. I would have changed the character names to heroic derivatives and given them powers to much, like turning Mercutio into the superspeed hero Mercury, or Benvolio into the electric-powered Volt, etc..., and would have had the Montague side be heroes and the Capulet side be villains. I mention all of this to prelude the fact that there is a comic out there right now telling it's own Romeo and Juliet story way better than I ever could.

Our heroes: Alana, Marko, and Hazel.

Saga, written by Brian K. Vaughan and drawn by Fiona Staples, tells the tale of Alana and Marko, two lovers who are literally star-crossed; their home planets, the Coalition of Landfall for Alana, where people have wings, and Marko's world of Wreath, where they all use magic and have horns and antlers, are at war. You can see the Romeo and Juliet aspect right away, as well as bits of why many people have described the book as being sort of Star Wars meets Game of Thrones. You'll notice, by the way, that everything the book has been compared to is awesome, and the book definitely deserves those comparisons.

Hazel meets The Stalk...

When the story opens, Alana and Marko are on the planet Cleave, and Alana is giving birth to their daughter Hazel. As it happens, Marko was being held as a POW on Cleave, where Alana was a prison guard, and the two fell in love. This, of course, is frowned upon by both of the warring kingdoms. The Coalition of Landfall send Prince Robot IV from their allies the Robot Kingdom after the lovers and their baby. The Robot Kingdom's subjects, by the way, are anatomically correct humans in every way except they have TVs instead of human heads. Wreath, on the other hand, employs bounty hunters: the first is The Will, a bounty-hunter with principles who travels with a Lying Cat, a talking cat who can tell when someone lies. The also send a bounty hunter called The Stalk, who is half-human, half-spider... and also The Will's former lover.

Those of you who know  of my arachnophobia can imagine how little I care for her.

Izabel. I'd still take her over Fran Drescher.

While trying to escape from Cleave, our hunted family finds help in Izabel, a ghost of a girl who died in the war, who helps Alana and Marko find a way off planet in exchange for being allowed to come with them as little Hazel's nanny. And that covers all the main characters, although most recently Marko's parents were introduced, which I can only imagine will end anything but well.

The Will and his Lying Cat.

Getting down to an actual review, well, Brian K. Vaughan has always been a great writer... just look at Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, or Runaways if you don't believe me... and he's brought his A game to this one. The writing is sharp, the characters' voices are all strong and the dialogue all feels natural. There's drama and comedy and some intensely disturbing bits as well. And having the series be narrated by Hazel is, in my opinion, a stroke of genius, because it really is the only way to make a baby a main character and still get to know her.

See? TV heads!

For a book to be truly great, though, great writing needs to be paired with great art. I have to admit to being completely unfamiliar with Fiona Staples' work before reading Saga, my only prior exposure to her being the covers she did for a series a few years ago that I absolutely loved, DV8: Gods and Monsters. Her art here though is pretty much perfect. It's both realistic and fantastical at the same time, while being absolutely gorgeous. But if I have her to thank for the creeps The Stalk gave me, well, maybe I'll take all this nice stuff back... which is, in and of itself, a compliment!

Not gonna spoil what that is, but it's pretty damn cool.

Saga really has it all. It has the political intrigue of Game of Thrones, as well as the weird, graphic sex. It has the space battles and clash between technology and mysticism of Star Wars. It has the romance of Romeo and Juliet, and, I suspect although I hope I'm wrong, a similarly unhappy ending... and ending I am in no hurry to reach. I'm sure Saga is the kind of story with a finite run, with a definite end in place, but I for one hope that end is nowhere near (and I doubt it is, the seventh issue only came out yesterday, after all), because I'm looking forward to reading this book for what I hope will be years.

And so should you.

And there's The Stalk, who pretty much speaks for herself. Shudder.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Goodreads Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the WindThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found that this book featuring a story within a story starts out very, very slow, but with some dedication and perseverance, it picks up and more than makes up for the slow beginning. It's basically the story of a boy who falls in love with a book with a mysterious backstory, and as he tries to unravel that backstory, his own life gets sucked into the life of the book's even more mysterious author. This is a read that requires a lot of attention and focus because of all the names and places and convoluted relationships involved, but again, it's worth it. The author shows a mastery of plot and, even more, a mastery of language. Seriously, some of the metaphors and other uses of language, even something as basic as a description of the weather or a simple turn of phrase are put together beautifully. And there's a bonus to be enjoyed by anyone who truly loves books: there are quite a few descriptions of just how wonderful a good book can be, just how moving and transformative a good read can be. All in all, I can't recommend this book enough, and am very much looking forward to reading the prequel the author penned later.

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As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed the nineteenth book in the Recommended Reading Challenge, a recommendation I received from a random place online. I have one more random online recommendation I can fall back on next, but I'd much rather get one from someone I actually know, so if you know of a good book, that person can be you!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Good Book Should Smell

"Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower, or a-a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Books smell musty and-and-and rich. The knowledge gained from a computer is a - it, uh, it has no-no texture, no-no context. It’s-it’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then-then the getting of knowledge should be, uh, tangible, it should be, um, smelly." - Rupert Giles

I've always been a big reader, and right now, even though I'm in the midst of my Recommended Reading Challenge which is slowing down, that hasn't changed. What has changed lately is that, instead of physical copies of the books people are recommending, I've been reading e-books on my computer.  In fact, 14 out of the 18 books I've read since I started the challenge have been e-books, but I want to make something perfectly clear about this right now:

I hate e-books.

I'm only reading them because I'm broke and don't feel like spending money on books that I might like. So unless they've been able to lend me the book, I've been all about the e-books. And I hate every minute of it.

An actual book in my hands feels so much better than staring at a screen. It's like the quote above says. Books have a smell. You all know what I'm talking about, especially an older book, the pages starting to get yellow... it smells musty and rich. It smells like knowledge. You don't get that with an e-book unless you've been up to some funky things with your reading device.

It's more than just smell, though. It's touch. On an e-reader. You press a button over and over again and the page scrolls down repeatedly, endlessly. What you physically feel doesn't change. With an actual book, you have the heft of it in your hand. You feel how much it weighs. As you turn page after page... a very physical act that pulls you along, drawing you in... you can slowly but surely feel the weight of the book change from "unread" to "read" as you go along. You can stop, look at the chunk of book you've read, and feel like you've made progress. With an e-reader, all you have is a percentage bar... and if you have anything like the mental ridiculousness I have, you can occasionally become more interested in how fast that percentage bar is moving than you are in the book, especially if the book sucks.

One last thing about touch? You can totally clobber someone over the head with a book without worrying about breaking it...

Now, I know the counter-arguments. E-books take up no space at all, you don't need bookshelves everywhere. They don't get damaged the way actual books to. E-books can be cheaper. My response? I don't care. Save your iPad for Star Wars Angry Birds and pick up a book and read it the old-fashioned way. You'll enjoy it, I promise.

And if you don't... well, you got bigger problems than anything I can help you with!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Liberal Arts

I've been a fan of How I Met Your Mother for years now. It's a show that has added a great many things to my pop culture lexicon, like all of Barney Stinson's wonderful catchphrases, and an appreciation of just how talented a cast the show has. Possibly the greatest thing to come out of that cast is Josh Radnor... not because he's a great actor, mind you; he's decent, but he's easily the weakest part of the cast. No, what's so great about that show bringing Josh Radnor to prominence is that it has let him get noticed as a filmmaker, both as a writer and director. His first effort, Happythankyoumoreplease, was pretty awesome. Why I never blogged about it, I have no idea. Maybe I'll revisit it for that purpose one day. But for now, I'm here to talk about his second effort...

Liberal Arts is pretty damn awesome. I more or less fell in love with it in the first twenty-five minutes. It's basically the story of a thirty-five-year-old college admissions advisor who is pretty much lost in life named Jesse (Radnor). He goes back to his alma mater to give a speech at the retirement party of his favorite professor, Peter (Richard Jenkins), and while there he meets Zibby, short for Elizabeth (played by the absolutely brilliant Elizabeth Olsen). The cast is rounded out by Allison Janney, who plays a bitter English professor; a guy I've never heard of named John Magaro, who gives what it in my opinion a star-making performance as Dean, a troubled student Jesse connects with; and Zac Efron, who you'd think would be the weak spot in the cast but his Nat, a complete weirdo who sort of mentors Jesse at a few points, is flat-out hysterical. I never thought I'd say a nice thing about him in my life, but here we are.

Jesse and Zibby connect over their love of classical music and literature... Jesse at one point says he majored in English and minored in history in order to make himself completely unemployable. That's a statement me and my major in English and minor in communications can completely agree with, but I digress. When Jesse returns to NY after a fun day with Zibby, they keep in touch, not by texting or e-mailing, but by writing old-fashioned, honest-to-god letters back and forth.

I can't even begin to tell you how much the romantic in me loved that.

Anyway, eventually Jesse goes to see Zibby again, and... well, I'm not going to spoil it. Nor will I spoil anything about Jesse's interactions with Dean, or Nat. Part of the joy of this movie is seeing where the character relationships go; they don't necessarily go where you want them to go as you watch and get invest, but, in the end, they go where they need to go, which is the sign of something being truly, brilliantly written. The direction is just as brilliant in my opinion, but I'm not nearly qualified to really go into that. The cast rises to the level of the script and direction as well. All in all, it's just a really great, beautiful movie that touched me a lot and is easily one of my favorite movies of the year.

But that should come as no surprise. A movie that produces the line, "the purpose of fiction is to combat loneliness," is pretty much destined to be found, seen, and loved by me. It's easily my favorite movie this year that didn't involve a comic book character, so you should probably check it out. Like, now.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Goodreads Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant FundamentalistThe Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this in the span of one day. That was partly because it was pretty short, and partly because it pulled me along, with its unusual narrative structure and the mystery of what exactly was going on in the framing sequence. However, while I enjoyed those bits and was interested in the fairly bizarre romance that was unfolding, I can't say I see exactly where all the praise  and hubbub for the book comes from. It was good, not great, and in terms of deep meanings or revelations or whatever, the most I got from it was, "love makes people insane," which, at the ripe old age of thirty-one, I really didn't need a book to tell me. I've learned that one multiple times in my life already.

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It's been a long time since I read an entire book in a day, but this eighteenth book in the challenge pulled me along just enough to make that happen. Perhaps not the wisest thing to do, though, as I'm now officially out of books. So, how about a recommendation? Someone? Anyone?

Goodreads Book Review: Prey

PreyPrey by Michael Crichton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've always loved Michael Crichton. He was the first "adult" author I ever read when I picked up Jurassic Park for the first time back in the fifth or sixth grade, and I went on a Crichton tear after that, devouring The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Congo, Sphere, Rising Sun, the Lost World, and Travels within months. Prey is the first book of his I've read in a very long time, and it still has the fun characters (although most of the ones introduced here are redshirts) and gripping narrative I've always remembered his writing to have. The problem with this book is that it very often abandons the narrative, sometimes in the middle of a conversation between two characters, to go on tangents that last for multiple paragraphs to explain the science behind what is going on. I realize that is an unfortunate necessity when dealing with a topic like sentient, evolving, nanotechnology, but it still distracted from the story, especially in the first half. Once most of that is out of the way, with the exception of short asides here and there, the book really picks up in the second half. When I picked it up yesterday I had read the first 39% of the book; once the technical stuff was out of the way, the narrative pulled me along and I finished it it one day. So overall, if you can push through the dry spots, it's a good read.

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Seventeen books in, I'd have to say the Recommended Reading Challenge is definitely a success so far; I'm reading things I wouldn't have read before, enjoying new authors and new styles and genres. Let's keep it going, we've got til the end of April to meet the year-long goal I set. Keep the recommendations coming!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Goodreads Book Review: Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

Breathers: A Zombie's LamentBreathers: A Zombie's Lament by S.G. Browne

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is another instance where I wish I could assign half-stars in this rating system, because this was a 2-and-a-half star book if I ever read one. It isn't bad. It isn't good. It just isn't much of anything. Because of the very limited first person point of view, there's no way to really connect with any of the characters except the main character, Andy, but even he is given only fairly shallow and vacillating characterization, so I had a hard time connecting with or even caring about him either. That said, even without emotional resonance, the book is entertaining enough, with a fun take on the whole flesh-eating aspect of being a zombie. I can't really think of much more to say in terms of a review, because like I said, for me this book was, at best, just... there. The one other thing I'd complain about is the author's overdependence on repeating a certain phrase... but if you never read this book in five days expecting something better and coming away mildly disappointed, you just wouldn't understand.

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This was the sixteenth book in my year-long Recommended Reading Challenge, and I have to say this challenge is taking me weird places; I enjoyed a zombie book a lot less than the chick-lit rom-com I read immediately prior. Now that this book is finished my list is sadly clear, so if you want to get in on the fun, let's see some recommendations!