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We went to see the midnight showing of The Avengers last night. I'm getting a bit old for that sort of thing, so I've been paying for that decision today. I'm not regretting it. Not one little bit. In fact--and I'm almost never able to say this about a book or a movie--I can't find ANYTHING bad to say about it!

So, the good stuff. There's so much...where to begin? The characters, perhaps, which are wonderfully, beautifully, amazingly true to themselves from start to finish. Director/screenwriter Joss Whedon made the comment that these people shouldn't even be in the same room, let alone on the same team. So true! And yet Whedon manages--through the medium of Nick Fury--to get them to work together to save the Earth. Well, not entirely Nick Fury. Tony Stark and Bruce Banner grok science. And along with Black Widow (who is very, very good at making you forget that she never, ever stops being her persona), they don't trust authority. Thor and Captain America (who becomes the de facto leader of the team because he is literally the only one with the qualifications to do so) understand taking responsibility. The Hulk and Thor are both into smashing things. Tony and Thor are about style. And with Hawkeye (who eventually gets out from under Loki's mind control), they all know about GETTING A JOB DONE, no matter what it takes. As do lesser characters...but I won't spoil that. And have I said before that love Loki? (*checks* Yup, I did.) His motivations tear at my heart strings, even as his pathetic cruelty and arrogance provoke in me an earnest hope that he will be smacked a good one (and he is...oh, he is). The real enemies are the aliens, in their creepy (and delightfully Miyazaki-esque) spaceships.

The dialogue, quite naturally, plays an important role in all this character stuff. It is also--as one might expect from Joss Whedon--exceeding funny (without ever going over the top) and infinitely quotable. Here's just one example, a line that ONLY Captain America could get away with: having been warned that Loki (whom he is about to go up against) is a god, he says (Chris Evans' perfect deadpan), "I only know of one God, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that." Even the non-verbose Hulk gets one of the best lines in the film (no, I will NOT spoil it). And Stan Lee's line in his cameo (hint: the news montage near the ending) is as uniquely appropriate to him as it is hilarious.

The pacing of this movie is relentless, and yet it never feels rushed. The primary sensation I experienced as our heroes had one thing after another thrown at them was a half-despairing suspense at how they could possibly handle it all. The stakes are constantly high, and yet Whedon sustains that tension without exhaustion. Nor--even clocking in at over 2 hours--does this movie ever seem long. Speaking of which...stay to the ending of the credits. Don't be fooled by the teaser scene that occurs around the halfway point in the credits. Stick around to the very end. Short scene, no dialogue, quintessentially Joss Whedon.

So...go see it...go on...*waving motions*
Current Mood:
pleased pleased
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I just finished reading my first novel on the Kindle: The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe, a late-18th-century gothic novel that was (very justly) satirized by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey.

The Kindle
Plusses: I can read free e-books without sitting at my computer.
Minuses: Is uncomfortable to hold, and awkward to turn pages. Perhaps I'm just not used to it yet.

The Mysteries of Udolpho
Plusses: Surprisingly accurate observations of human nature. Genuine suspense (although created using appalling bad conventions).
Minuses: A truly helpless heroine. Overwrought emotional wrangling, repeatedly. Unbelievable coincidences, repeatedly. Effusive and lengthy descriptions of scenery, repeatedly. Bad poetry presented as being written by the characters, repeatedly. Horrible storytelling conventions used to create suspense, repeatedly. The best that can be said about all this is that it is silly to the point of being funny.

In lieu of a more substantial review, and to prevent other readers from having to experience the tortures of this novel in order to find out what Jane Austen was making fun of, I now present:


The Mysteries of Udolpho in 15 MinutesCollapse )

Current Location:
warm and muggy
Current Mood:
pensive pensive
Current Music:
teenage daughter on phone
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Those of you who are familiar with what I went through in graduate school as a moderate will recognize that this is subject near and dear to my heart...or more accurately, my spleen.

Current Mood:
rejected rejected
Current Music:
rain and thunder
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This. So very, very this.

Current Mood:
cranky cranky
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After waiting for a painful number of years for Connie Willis to FINALLY write another book, it was distressing to have to wait (for the cheaper paperback version) until Christmas 2010 to buy it...only to discover that it was the first half of a two-part novel, the second half of which I wasn't able to buy until Christmas 2011. It was also distressing to find that Blackout didn't seem to be up to Willis's usual level, leaving me with a mournful hope that the second half of the story in All Clear would resolve everything to my satisfaction.

To a certain extent, it did. And it definitely had me in the requisite tears...which, in hindsight, may have been one of the missing components of Blackout (but naturally missing there--being, as it was, the first half of the story). But it didn't solve everything....

PRO: One of Willis's greatest strengths is her characterization. Her characters and their relationships to each other--often evoked vividly in just a few words--are compelling and realistic (with one notable exception in this story, IMO). People that you see for mere moments in the text feel genuine, with lives and purposes of their own. While I missed some of her usual character types in this story (especially the relentless busybody), I admit that it would have been a little tiresome to see them again. Sir Godfrey, on the other hand, will live forever in my mind.

CON: Mr. Dunworthy (remember that notable exception?). I had hoped desperately that something in this book would explain how Dunworthy had gone from the historian-preparation control freak of Doomsday Book to the troublingly cavalier head of the time travel program that we see in "Fire Watch" and thereafter. I actually hoped that Polly's speculations about his motives (near the middle of the story) would turn out to be true (cementing the symbolic role he played in Doomsday Book). His non-symbolic powerlessness may have been the single most depressing aspect of this story for me. On a related note, the sheer lack of knowledge that the three main characters possess is more than a little disturbing. They are supposed to be history graduate students, yet at times they seem to lack the most basic knowledge about the era they've intentionally traveled to (such as Eileen's complete cluelessness about the future history of the manor she had come to spend six months in!). Next to Kivrin (the main character of Doomsday Book), these three look like ill-prepared dunces, despite the fact that I liked them!

PRO: Willis is also good with dialogue, realistically portraying the myriad ways that people can misunderstand each other, hide things from each other, or communicate vast amounts with a single word. Willis is especially brilliant at handling internal self-dialogue, particularly in capturing the lies we tell ourselves in order to cope with stressful situations.

CON: Unfortunately, in these two books, the internal monologues get a little old. When you've heard the same characters tell themselves the same things so many times, it starts to sound...well...whiny.

PRO: The overall plotline is intriguing, taking the characters through a long series of near-miss adventures and roller-coaster emotions, and leaving the reader wondering for a very long time whether the time-lost historians will ever get home. The theories about WHY they are trapped in the past go around and around, until the mystery is finally solved.

CON: The problem is, when the mystery is finally solved,
[Spoiler (click to open)]
it turns out to be the same solution we ultimately got in To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Do historians never TALK to each other? RECORD their observations for the benefit of others? Also, how many times do the characters have to FAIL to locate what they're looking for in order for the reader to get the idea? Perhaps the intention was to frustrate the reader as thoroughly as the character was frustrated. If so, I think it reached the point of overkill.

PRO/CON: Coyness. Keeping the identity of certain characters obscured for a while was an interesting--if sometimes irritating--way of sustaining the mystery. The irritation level was increased (for me) by the gap between the two books, since the first scenes with identity-obscured characters leave you completely hanging in Blackout. In All Clear, it quickly becomes clear that those scenes have a purpose, but when you have to wait for All Clear.... Then there's the lengths that Willis goes to in order to prevent the characters from knowing things they *ought* to know (see my comments about characterization). Then, of course, there's the final "mystery" of the story, which is kept so utterly coy that it took me a while to figure out what the solution was meant to be, and I'm still not sure I "get it" entirely. Maybe when I read it again, I'll pick up on whatever clues (assuming there are any) that will let me solve it.

That is certainly one thing about this story--the complusion to re-read it is strong. I re-read Blackout before I started on All Clear (part of the reason I haven't read this Christmas present until now is because I knew it would involve the commitment to read both books together), and the perspective of knowing a little of what was going to happen made a difference in how I perceived certain things. With the whole story known, I expect that another reading will reveal still more things I didn't pick up on before. And I will re-read it, I'm sure, because in spite of the annoyances, this story does what a Connie Willis story almost always does--sucks me in and makes me care to the point of copious tears. I like that. A lot. :~)
Current Mood:
tired tired
Current Music:
cats, dogs, and rabbits
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I've been horribly neglecting LJ, especially since I got a full-time job. But this is really the best place to vent my frustrations with Unknown, the Liam Neeson movie I finally got to see last night.

The movie has a fascinating premise: a botanist who has come to Berlin to present a paper at an international conference wakes up after a car accident to find that his entire identity has been stolen by someone else; even his wife refuses to recognize him. Finding out how and why this happened is the core of the plot, which twists and turns in various directions...before finally executing a turn so abrupt and unbelievable that it gave me mental whiplash.

Spoilers follow....Collapse )

The ultimate breakdown of the plot into implausibility is rather depressing, really, because there is so much to LIKE in this movie, in addition to Liam Neeson. There are some wonderful characters: the Bosnian illegal immigrant and the former Stasi agent turned private investigator. Even the bit players give excellent performances. And the unfolding layers of the plot would be a mystery fan's dream...if they didn't require a suspension of disbelief that was simply beyond me. Maybe if we'd gotten more clues--flashback memories that didn't fit, perhaps, or the discovery of unexpected skills--I could have accepted the final plot twist more easily. But those things aren't there, leaving me with only one reaction: what the heck????
Current Mood:
restless restless
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I've been meaning for months to review the various movies I've seen this summer, but I never seemed to have the necessary energy. Now that summer is over, perhaps a long post about all of those movies will have to do. I'll put the comments about each one behind its own cut. There are likely to be spoilers, so be warned.

First up was Thor.

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Next was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2.

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Third was another comic book superhero movie: Captain America.

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Last up is X-Men: First Class, which I only just got to see on Labor Day.

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Current Mood:
tired tired
Current Music:
crickets
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Bold if you've read, italicize the ones you fully intend to read, underline if it's a series you've read part but not all of, strike-through the ones you've tried to read and couldn't get through. Put a * in front of your favorites.

The thing that amazes me is that I didn't italicize more books. Maybe because if I haven't read them by this stage of my life, I really don't care if I ever do?

*1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien

*2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

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100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Tags:
Current Mood:
tired tired
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Gotta share this with my Harry Potter buddies. Too cute!

http://shirt.woot.com/friends.aspx?k=20370

Current Mood:
bouncy bouncy
Current Music:
lawnmower
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I apologize to my regular readers, but this is a test, this is only a test.
Current Mood:
irritated irritated
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