Friday, December 22, 2006

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

There are novels that shake me up and infuriate me and inspire me all at once. This is one of those.

I've already discussed how the author's somewhat negative view of growing up Mennonite clashed my own; in fact, I barely recognized the faith as my own the way she describes it. You can read all about that here, where I wrote about my feelings in great detail. Right here however, is where I discuss the novel for what it is.

It's brilliant.

Miriam Toews has perfectly captured the voice of a disillusioned, smart and sensitive, bored and hurt teenage girl.

As I finish up my own novel about a couple of similarly inclined teenagers, I feel like I've just been taught how it should be done.

Sixteen year old Nomi Nickel lives with her dad because her sister, then her mother, have run away. Nobody knows where they have gone, and Nomi is haunted by their motives for leaving. There isn't much of a plot, other than Nomi thinking of ways to leave her stifling small village, but as the novel moves along the tension rises steadily and quietly.

That's the genius of this story- you barely notice as the tension builds. Nomi wanders in her own thoughts and in her surroundings, and it seems like nothing is happening, but gradually clues surface about the past and about where her future will take her.

The only way I can do it justice is to show you instead of telling you.

I may be a disappointment to Menno Simons but I would like him to know that I have carved, out of the raw material that he has provided, a new faith. I sitll believe that one day we'll all be togehter, the four of us, in New York City. Lou Reed could live with us too. We would all sleep until nooon, then play Frisbee in Central Park, then watch him play in clubs. We'd be his roadies. People would say hey, is that Lou Reed and his Mennonite family of roadies?

This is amazing- I have said so many prayers that sounded just like this:
I went back into my bedroom and knelt at my bed the way I did when I was a kid. I folded my hands and pressed the top knuckle joints of my thumbs hard into my forehead. Dear God. I don't know what I want or who I am. Apparently you do. Um...that's great. Never mind. You have a terrible reputation here. You should know that. Oh, but I guess you do know that. Save me now. Or when it's convenient. We could run away together. This is stupid. What am I doing? I guess this is a prayer. I feel like an idiot,but I guess you knew that already, too. My sister said that god is music. Goodbye. Amen. I lay in my bed and waited for the thick, sweet feeling to wash over me, for that unreal semi-conscious state where the story begins and takes on a life of its own and all you have to do is close your eyes and give in and let go and give in and let go and go and go and go.

I don't care how you grew up, whether you were from a small town or a farm or the burbs or the big city. If you are or were a teenager, and ever questioned your sanity and that of the people around you, then you should read this book.

Despite my disappointment at the way Mennonites are portrayed, and despite the lack of quotation marks in conversations, I rate "A Complicated Kindness" a FIVE JOHN DEERE TRACTOR rating, even though Nomi Nickel herself would probably be mortified!

THE END by Lemony Snicket

I have been afraid to tell you about this book for about two months. Aside from the obvious-- that stories about orphaned children being chased by villains who want to harm them and steal their money-- THE END is almost impossible to review without spoiling it for you! I promise not to spoil the ending of a book. This book is all about the end.

You didn't expect a happy ending though, did you?

You won't get it.

As for loose ends being tied up, you'll be disappointed again if that's what you're looking for.

Despite that, it's not a letdown. By the end of this book I felt just as perplexed as ever. I'm not sure who the father of Kit Snicket's baby is, or what's in the sugar bowl, or how Carmelita Spats became such a horrible brat.

Yes, we want to know. It's frustrating to not know what's going on. It feels like we've been given all these details only to be left wondering what the mystery is! But you don't get to know. You will never find out.

And that's the way it should be. Life does not turn out the way you expect it to, or even the way you want it to. Even though A Series of Unfortunate Events is one of the dreariest, saddest stories, if you take away the fantastical unlikely details, the sentiment is quite realistic. Somebody, somewhere, has a worse life than you!

Now. If you haven't read this series yet, for cryin out loud, will you just do it? Start at the beginning and read the whole thing, then read it again.

THE END- I'm only giving it 3 tractors out of 5 because I didn't want it to end.

A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS- must be given all five tractors.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

I went to see this movie in a theatre which means I paid full price for it, on the night it opened. (Yes I waited a month and a half to tell you about it. I've been busy.) I went with my kids, my writer friend, and her daughter.

We all loved it.

Being a frustrated novellist I was of course drawn to the concept of a guy whose life is being narrated in his head. I was curious to see how this would all play out. I think it worked although many of the real critics disagree!

Don't go into this movie with an analytical mind, or you will have unanswerable questions. Just accept that one morning while brushing his teeth, IRS agent Harold Crick (Played brilliantly by Will Ferrell) hears an elegant British female voice in his head.

This unwelcome voice is providing a running commentary on his every action and thought. Worse, the voice includes disturbing things like, "Little did Harold know that soon he'd be dead."

The voice belongs to writer Karen Eiffel (the always excellent Emma Thompson) and she's stuck. She's under pressure to get this novel finished but she's struggling to find a way to off her main character, Harold Crick. She has to kill him off; it's what she does. "Death and Taxes" is due but Karen is still creating death scenarios that don't work while her new assistant (Queen Latifah) stands by unrelentingly, under orders from the publisher.

Karen Eiffel is a mess. She is exactly what we want to see when we think of Author Plagued With Writer's Block!

(Again, don't try to pick through the details for any kind of verisimilitude. Just go with it.)

Desperate, Harold visits a Literature professor, seeking help to find out whose voice it is.
Keep your eye on how many cups of coffee Dustin Hoffman's professor goes through.

Harold may think the voice is driving him crazy but that's nothing.... he goes really crazy when he makes an appointment with a bakery owner to discuss the payment of her taxes. She's like nobody Harold's ever met before, and whaddaya know...turns out she's in the novel too. After she's done yelling at him, she seems to like him, much to her dismay.

This whole thing about Harold's impending doom will not make this romance easy. The rebellious punker baker herself (Maggie Gyllenhaal, who made me love her) isn't going to make it easy either.

Meanwhile, watch out for the young woman job hunting and the kid on the bike. Pay attention.

If you're expecting the typical Will Ferrell schtick, you will be disappointed because this isn't it.

I'm going to come right out and say it, okay? WILL FERRELL MOVED ME TO TEARS.

He did not get naked or semi naked other than the -wait for it- love scene. Yes, Will Ferrell love scene, and it didn't make me gag or snicker. I know. Shocking.

He did not take on a silly accent. There is only one burst of physical exertion. He managed to pull off the difficult task of bringing a basically boring guy to life and making us care about him. Yes, Harold Crick is regimented and rather dull. You didn't expect anything else from an IRS agent did you? C'mon...

Scenes to watch out for:

-Ana gives Harold his first taste of homemade cookies. Harold is blissful but of course promptly screws it up.

-The professor interrogates Harold. "Are you the king of anything?"

-You know what? Any scene with Karen Eiffel. She's that good.

-Harold getting ready for work on the day of his doom.

Here's Harold teaching himself how to play guitar. Why the heck not? He's gonna die any day now, he might as well live a little.
This movie made me laugh and cry.

Final note- "How many people have I killed?" I think that's something any aspiring writer needs to keep track of!

I'm giving it Four Tractors and a Snowblower!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Over The Hedge

I can't help but wonder if anybody really got this. I thought it was hilarious. It sure put us in our place, didn't it? I kept guffawing at the pampered townies on the other side of the hedge, thinking that it wasn't me being poked fun at, because I'm a farmer's daughter, dammit....and then realized quickly that I am, at this time, living in...gasp...a subdivision, much like the majority of people who are watching an animated feature film!

How many of this movie's target demographic actually lives like that, consuming junk food, driving gas guzzlers, being irritated with that pesky wildlife. And watching a screen. I'd say pretty much the majority of the kid-movie watching demographic! Many would protest and say, but wait, our suburban house is not that big...we're not that rich. But it's all the same thing, really. Those greedy ignorant humans- that's us!!!

And it is funny. We have got to laugh at ourselves, because man, we're pathetic! The raccoon is right- we live to eat!

Now just in case you're wondering, I too find most forms of wildlife to be pesky. They're a bunch of thieves! But you know, they were kind of here first.

Has anybody noticed that squirrels are the new mice? With this movie's Hammy, and Hoodwinked's Twitchy, squirrels are hot stuff in Hollywood. They're funny, dim, hyper, barely intelligible, and are affected severely by caffeine. They're fuzzy comedians with ADHD. In real life, they're actually not cute, and they are thieves, scoundrels, scallywags- they'd be pirates except they're just not cool enough. But dang, did I ever enjoy Hammy. Funny little guy.

The Persian cat and the playful dog were great too.

The Computer generated images looked very fur-like. It still smacked of obvious CGI that I couldn't not notice but it was well done.

There was music too in this movie but y'know, I can't really remember much of it now. That can't be good.

Check out the voice talent. You can't ever get away from the stellar cast. I'd have to say that at times it became distracting for me because I was too busy marvelling at the voice work to pay attention to what the characters were actually doing.(Click to enlarge. I think they got the photos off of google images.)

And just to wrap up a ridiculously skinny review, I present you with the phrase that should convince you to see it:

William Shatner, as a possum, in a death-faking scene.

Vision....fading. Limbs....growing cold.

Watch it with your kids in your nice rec room while munching on packaged snacks while your gas guzzler shines under the streetlights outside. That's how we did it.

It was your standard kid-comedy with not much innovation besides the CGI but overall it was pretty good. I'll give it THREE JOHN DEERE TRACTORS, and I'll throw in a haywagon too.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas in 3D

I was excited to see this, simply because I never got to see it on the big screen. And really wanted to! There was the apprehension that messing with it would ruin it. I don't understand the technology involved here, but I was willing to try it out.

This is, in my opinion, one of THE BEST MOVIES EVER MADE. It's perfect. It's stunning to look at, it's funny, it's dark and threatening, slightly gruesome, moving, and ultimately, a story of hope with a happy ending! The soundtrack for this musical is incredible. This is a movie that, in the theatre, had the audience applauding at the title, and again at the end. Viewers wore their Jack Skellington T shirts to the show.

So the 3D thing wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It's hard to get used to; the eyes need to adjust to it. In some places, it was difficult to follow the action across the screen; the Pumpking King's long spidery legs often turned into a blur. Often things just looked fuzzy. (Or maybe I'm getting old and my eyes are fading. My 12 year old tells me she had fuzzy eyes too so it can't be my elderly eyeballs.)

At its best, the 3D treatment worked well with scenes which were already layered. The ghosts, clouds, and fog turned out well. The amazing Ogie Bogie sequence looked pretty good.

I don't regret plunking down my hard earned money to see it. It was still awesome to get the big treatment...but I'll be just as happy to watch my disc at home on my 20" TV with my surround sound.

3D treatment: 2 out of 5 Tractors.

the movie itself? FIVE TRACTORS!!!!

What's this? WHAT'S THIS?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


This album dropped months and months ago, but is really just picking up momentum since the summer here in Ontario.

This is the first album from Wolfmother, a trio from Australia. I really like this album. I'm going to take some flack for this, I know. Many rock snobs are spouting off about how derivative it is, how much of a Zeppelin rip off it is, how much of a Jack White rip off it is. Know what? I don't care. Let's just get this straight now- all rock music is a rip off. And it's great. Name any great rock band of the early 70s. They ripped off and are still being ripped off. Rock gets recycled. I love it all. Now, let's do this.

Wolfmother may sound like all your favourite rock bands, but they're no tribute act. It's like the gods of rock gathered all the great forerunners of metal, poured them into a giant mix mill with a Camaro, an eight track, an ipod, some crunchy old guitar cords, that rug in your basement rec room, sprinkled something over it that looked like parsley, and extruded one of my favourite records of the year.

It starts off with a throat shredding wail and goes straight into the march of "Another Dimension." This lead track should convince you that these guys have done their homework. I believe I heard a lyric referring to purple haze.

Not only have they obviously done some faithful listening, they've put their time in at the rehearsal space. This is a very capable trio. Drummer Myles Heskett has hard hitting chops that sound jazz-based (like Bonham, Ward, and Densmore); Andrew Stockdale is a guitar player capable of both big fat chords and skillful picking; he sings in a barely controlled chameleonic squeal appropriate to the genre; bass player Chris Ross is not only heavy but also plays keyboards. Kids, he's rocking the old Hammond B-3 on this record. Plus they've got their LOOK down perfectly. I believe them.

Heidi puts the record through its paces:

The Jethro Jetta test: "I think it sounds great. I wasn't upset when I heard it, which I am quite often when I listen to records."

"It does give me those Led Zeppelin warm fuzzies."
(He's not a big fan of the remasters. He says they took a perfectly good analog recording and ran it throught the ProTools Smash Machine or whatever the hell they do to make everything sound so harsh these days.)

The Dining room test: Yeah! Very appetite stimulating. We actually got this disc in time for the last days of picnic table back yard meals, with the little purple boom box aimed out the sliding screen door. Grilled burgers with the works sound amazingly good with the way Wolfmother tastes!

The Family Room Surround Sound test: I love this; I was rewarded for my listen by little things I didn't hear in the car or on the boombox. Strums, distant drum fills, and a little bit of panning from one side to another. Generally it's mixed with the drums and vocals at the front, and the guitars at the back, surrounding your head. Who doesn't love guitars surrounding your head? I know I love it.

Packaging: If you've been here before you'll know what a sucker I am for a beautiful packaging job. This a dark rock and roll fantasy complete with the mostly naked goddess, the roiling sky, the crashing waves and the sea serpents!!!! It's actually beautifully done. Take a minute to study the artwork; it's reproduced so that the texture of the canvas shows. There are lyrics included too! I would have liked to see the lettering a little larger in the credits, but I'm married to a studio geek so I'm biased that way.

This is the kind of music that can put you into a trance of fuzz, but just before things get hypnotic, (Colossal, Mind's Eye) they change it up (Pyramid). Overall I think the songs are in the right order. Notice that in a nod to vinyl, the listing on the back cover, there is a space where you'd have to get off your butt and go flip the record over.

Lyrically they've written with great rhythm and fairly loose rhyming structure. The content is perfectly Deep and Meaningless (my favourite kind) while not going off into cheesy territory. (Only Zeppelin could do Tolkien references, okay?)

Production wise, it's well done. It sounds great, the instruments are all given enough space, good performances were captured, and just enough grit was left in, like a little bit of amp buzz, to keep it interesting. Good Job, D. Sardy! Yes, there was ProTools involved in the editing, but the engineers didn't abuse it, and the mastering job didn't compress it into a blanket of noise. What a relief.

I like this record so much that I'm going to test out my new rating system on it. It's excellent. I'm tempted to give it a classic but really, how can you tell these things in the present? That's why I aim to invent my own system. Screw all the other systems. It's fun, it's well done, I have no complaints. I can dance to it in my living room and it feels good on the highway. My kids can listen to it uncensored. My husband doesn't cringe when it's on. It makes me feel groovy!

I give it a FIVE JOHN DEERE rating!

Friday, October 06, 2006

AUDIOSLAVE Revelations

With their third album since their 2002 debut, Audioslave are bent on proving that they’re in for the long haul. Revelations shows their evolution from four individuals making a record to a band with their own identity.
I rank these guys as one of my favourite bands, so expect a bias here. The level of talent and musical skill is rarely seen in the modern rock-radio digitally smashed glut of soundalikes. They haven’t ever gotten good reviews though. People can’t seem to figure out what to do with this band. When the first single emerged early this summer, a DJ at the Toronto edge-format station was a little wary. “Original Fire” with its clipped chords and quick groove just seemed way too up-tempo for his liking.

Here’s what’s going on: this is a tailgate-down, good-times-havin, head-bobbin, butt-shakin record.

And sometimes, kids, you just have to rawk.

It starts off with the title track, which features a chorus you’ll find surprisingly easy to sing along with. Immediately after that, you’ll be blasted with the funky and incredibly danceable “One And The Same.” I’m not joking. Just try to listen to that one and not move any part of your body. Good luck.

“Sound Of A Gun” has the big chunking chorus of bass and guitar that Audioslave is becoming known for, contrasting with tuneful verses.

Another highlight is “Until We Fall” which I hesitate to call a ballad because it is completely devoid of the sappiness that most ballads specialize in. Acoustic guitar and a solid bass line anchor this up-tempo song. It has some interesting chord changes and beautiful imagery. I think I heard a tympani in there too. Cool.

The album closes with a one-two-three kick of seriousness. “Wide Awake” is clearly aimed at the aftermath of the Hurricane in the Southern States of 2005. “Nothing Left To Say But Goodbye”, with its loyal dog/grateful man metaphor, takes an Axl Rose-type turn at the end into some ominous sounding chords. This leads into the haunting “Moth,” which sounds like a final word to the seductive hold of addiction. It’s a good choice for last track: it will stick with you afterwards.

The packaging is once again nicely done. They haven’t strayed from the black background and slick photography that graced the previous two albums. In keeping with the theme of elements (fire, water) the cover photo shows what appears to be a satellite shot of earth. (It’s actually planet Audioslave.) The lyrics are easy to read. However, I have to bring up a problem. There are a few typos and grammatical mistakes, which I assume is a verbatim copying from hastily scrawled handwritten notes. Far be it from me to criticize a poet in the heat of his art. As far as I’m concerned Chris Cornell can make as many spelling mistakes as he wants. I just want them to get it right on the liner notes. I’m available, guys. For you, I’ll work cheap. Just leave a comment, I’m there.

I couldn’t really tell you about this album without noting what really makes Audioslave special. It’s musicianship. These guys are good. Cornell with his raspy howl can sing it and scream it; Morello is one of, if not THE most innovative guitarists out there today; Commerford lays down the fattest, squattiest, heaviest bass lines; and Wilk is capable of throwing some serious funk into his rapid fire drumming. I have listened to this album concentrating on one at a time, and they’re each stunning.
I put this record through my usual battery of tests:

The Jethro test: “It’s harsh but not painful. That’s Brendan O’Brien- just punish it to tape, that’s his thing. Oh yeah, it was recorded on analog. Sure it was. For these guys you’d bust open the vault and get out the two-inch. They lay it down. No need to cut it up in ProTools for two months.”

the Jetta test:Damn if this doesn’t feel good zooming down the highway.

the dining roomtest: my kids LOVE this band. The girl loves the vocal melodies. My son is the biggest Audioslave fan I know, as well as the smallest! It’s the perfect length for a meal. Put it on while stirring things and setting the table. Linger over your meal and the Shape Of Things To Come. By the time you’re washing dishes you’ve had a good dose of tunes.

Family Room test- Yeah this is good in surround sound. There’s not much fancy studio trickery but it’s well done. I particularly like the way the bass buzzes around the back of my head.

We’ve been spinning this once since it dropped, which is about a month now. Still not sick of it. With three albums in four years, they’re obviously gelling as a band and are getting a lot of satisfaction out of writing music together. I hope they keep it up.

Revelations isn’t a perfect album, but it is excellent. There’s always room in my world for another solid album’s worth of tailgate down butt shakin head bangin music!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Comments are Welcome!

According to my site meter, people are wandering through here, and I'm pretty sure it's not just me checking to see if anybody's stopped by. Please feel free to leave comments even if you're not in agreement with my opinions.

Coming up, reviews of albums by Audioslave, Wolfmother, and Christina Aguilera. Curious?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ensuring my Reading Habit

Yes, I'm getting lazy. This is the second time in a row that I've glued something here from my other blog. But it's about books and we all love books, don't we?

I should be working on my EQUINE BUSINESS PLAN right now. You see, I am getting my future place of dwelling and career all set up on paper. We're in the Business Plan/Time Management Unit this week. Yes, the two do go together. How can you plan your business if you can't plan your day? Basically this involves two things I struggle with: numbers and organization. I better learn it up real good.

In the meantime, Steve from querencia threw a nice little bit of recognition to me the other day! In the same post he threw to an interesting blog with a meme about books that haven't been read yet. Well. I do that. I cart books home because I am hopelessly addicted to books. I'm fanatical about them. I wash my hands before I pick them up! I'm crazy! I hold them in my hands as if they were made of butterfly wings. I mourn if a page gets bent. I have the most beautiful library and one of these days (when I dust it, haha) I'm going to take a photo of it for you.

I have enough books right now that it'll be years before I run out of reading material.

It's only been in the last two years that I can actually afford books. I used to scour thrift stores looking for that precious hardcover in good shape for a buck. I love books. I love books so much that I am somewhat afraid of bookstores. Except for uppercase books, which I discovered on one of my many travels. It's my favourite store in the world. If I only get there twice a year, it's worth it.

So, before I go log into my correspondence course, let me admit that I'm totally nuts and plan to still pursue a writing career once I get my horse farm happening. I will never have a tidy house. Here's my list of Ten Books That Have Been Brought Home But Not Read Yet.

1) Down Came The Rain by Brooke Shields. I don't usually go in for the famous people written books (although I made an exception for Tommy Lee. I had to.) This book should have come to me ten years ago. I'm looking forward to what she has to say and even though I haven't read it yet, I'm grateful to her for being public about this, and taking away some of the shame.

2) A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. I shouldn't count this because I didn't buy it; it was given to me because it's about a Mennonite girl, and I'm Mennonite. I avoided this one because from what I hear, this lady did not enjoy her upbringing. I did. I have no bitterness about being raised in this denomination. Is it because I'm Swiss Mennonite in Ontario instead of Russian Mennonite in Manitoba? I have to read it to find out. Also it's apparently extremely well written and that's why I am required to read it. I'm working on a masterpiece about, you guessed it, a couple of teenagers who are Mennonite. I need to see what my competition is.

3) East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I'm ashamed that I haven't read this yet. Just ashamed.

4) Dancing With Your Dark Horse by Chris Irwin. This guy may not be a literary heavyweight but he knows horses. I just finished his first book, Horses Don't Lie, and I loved it. I've been into horse psychology for a long time...they don't think like us, kids. And they won't. We have to understand them. I'm really looking forward to diving into Irwin's study on human behaviour as it relates to equine behaviour.

5) Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman. I love Chuck. He used to write for SPIN magazine and I think he's both brilliant and funny. He's a farm boy and he loves to rock. Plus how can you not love a guy with a name like that.

6) Kinfolk by Pearl S Buck. I've heard that this is a classic. I found it in a thrift store. It's a very old hardcover. It's on my "Vintage" shelf. Yes, I have a shelf for Vintage books. I know. Obsessive. I know.

7) The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. Critics rave about this Canadian author. I need to know why.

8) Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart. It's about Lipizzan stallions, and written by the author of The Wicked Day and The Merlin Trilogy. I gotta know. Also picked up in a thrift store, this hardcover looks like it's never even been opened. Weird. Imagine buying a brand new book and then not even opening it. Ummmm.....yeah.

9) Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Again, embarrassed. I just want you all to know that I have read A Tale Of Two Cities. When I was 13. And I got it. So there.

10) Writing Life: Celebrated Canadian and International Authors on Writing and Life, edited by Constance Rooke. This is my latest acquisition. I should probably read this one first.

Then there are the other twenty or so that I haven't gotten to yet, not to mention that I must reread Jonathan Strange.

It's a good feeling, this library of mine. It was one of my dreams as a kid and I've made it come true. Now, on to the next one!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

2006 MTV Video Music Awards (from a hick perspective)

Thursday night, my one fuzzy channel tuned in on my TV...WHA HAPPEN???

Jack Black-whom I love- claimed that this show had been layin down farts for 20 years and he was gonna light the match.

I waited breathlessly for the blue flames. All we got was a lot of methane.

Personally I think the only thing that could save this party would be to hike it up to Toronto, set up the stage on Queen Street, and....oh wait. That's the Muchmusic Video Awards. Maybe MTV should do this thing like we do the Juno Awards and truck it around to a new city every year. A good show is guaranteed; every city will bust a hump to outdo the one before. Like, I avoid cities and I know this.

Right off the bat, this guy, Justin Timberlake announced that he was going to bring Sexy back.
Reeeeally. I had no idea Sexy left.

Being a metal loving hick, I have to admit that I don’t get hip hop. I like 5 seconds of it. Then, bored. This only makes sense. It’s “urban” music. I’m “rural.” We just can’t stay in love.

Generally I didn’t understand most of what went on. For example:


-How does one eat when one’s teeth are encrusted in fake jewels?

-Kanye’s pants didn’t fit right. It looked like he took an old guy’s easy chair and stapled it up into an outfit. I hope I’m not supposed to think it’s sexy.

-Nobody could read the teleprompter! Was it out of focus? Scrolling too slow? Were they already drunk???

-wtf with these Pussycat Dolls? I mean, ten years ago there were Spice Girls, and they may not have all been stellar vocalists, but at least they all held microphones which they expelled noises into.

-Who are all these girls? I can’t tell all those chick singers apart!

-Wha the heh happen to Beyonce??? In that trench coat act, being dramatically hauled around by guys in uniforms, I thought for sure I was watching Lil Kim. (Who by the way, had most of her skin covered.)

Apparently B lost weight. I’m glad she still has her magnificent thighs. But her face looks...the same as every other beautiful brown skinned diva singer. Thank god her amazing voice didn’t lose any weight.

Beyonce looks suspiciously like Lil Kim only taller, prettier, and less incarcerated.

-Shakira. Oh dear. Watch her with the sound off. Dance. No sing.

-Madonna and Christina: three nominations each, no awards. People, Madonna made MTV what it is. Okay? And Christina? She is the now and the future. Duh.

Plus she’s fun-crazy. She is. Look at her.
Thankfully they let her sing.

-Those little moonman things kept falling apart. Did they buy them at the dollar store?

-Why you should buy their record: If they don’t sell records they can’t afford cases and cases of black eyeliner, which would then put the manufacturers of black eyeliner outta business and therefore crash the economy of the cosmetics industry and if that goes, it all goes. See, I may be a hick, but I have a clue about the way things work. (By the way, I don't love them.)

-The Raconteurs. We all know that I love them. Heidi the Hick loves the Raconteurs. They are one of the bands I want to see very badly. They were kind of a house band and while it was great to get a steady dose of them throughout the boring three hour show, I was irritated. I wanted more. More of Jack White’s whiny voice. More of Brendan Benson’s scruffiness. More of Patrick Keelor’s head-down-sticks-up drumming. More of Little Jack’s slightly lost looking bass wrangling. Want more.

They were punching it hard, like in a “this show sucks and we’re irritated” kind of way. Jack is playing some beautiful guitars.

-These guys are chic hicks. Look at those suits.
Little Jack's hair is lovely against his suit, and his tie? Takes guts, young fella.
Jack's tone-on-tone black ensemble is perfect. Goes well with the fresh black dye job in his hair.
Patrick- how cute are you Patrick???-wearing a leather vest. With white buttons. To go with the shirt. Yes.
Brendon, scruffy as ever, is first of all sporting a rather Grand Ole Opryish jacket with white piping. And a plaid tie.

Hey, Raconteurs, if you’re reading this, I want to thank you personally for bringing Plaid to MTV. Not that I ever watch MTV, and from what I hear they hardly even play music videos anymore...but thanks!

By the way their Lou Reed pair up was cool. The Billy Gibbons pair up was heavenly.

-OKGo doing their treadmill routine was pure rich perfection. I could watch that for half an hour and not get bored.

-I love AFI and admit that I have not seen the video for which they won an award. I’ve heard that it’s mind blowing and from what I saw in the clip, it appears to be. However...have you seen the video for Dani California by Red Hot Chili Peppers? It is, simply, one of the Best Videos EVER. Doesn't matter;RHCP weren't there. AFI did a great acceptance speech in which a white clad Davey Havok spoke in a perfect Rock Voice. ( Rock Voice: constrict throat, drawl, drag out all vowels. As in, I'm in a baaaand man.)

-Speaking of which...Davey Havok, Lou Reed. Lou Reed...backing away slowly from guy with sculpted eyebrows and blue eyeshadow. Brilliant awkward unscripted moment.

-DID YOU KNOW that Al Gore, yes, that Al Gore, the guy who Almost Was The President of the USA, is a rock star? He is! He had people cheering ecstatically! Global Warming is HOT!

-SHE is crazy. Pink parodied the ditzy blonde thing perfectly on stage. Honestly she’s nuts. If she ever decides to, she’ll take over. She just doesn’t care.

-speaking of crazy...have I mentioned that I love Jack White? Look at this guy. There are some eyeballs going in two different directions. It bothers me, being an outdoorsy kind of girl, that Jack looks like he hasn’t seen the sun in a year. But I am quite aware that most recording studios have no exterior windows. I know this because Jethro has a similar studio tan to Jack’s.

But I see something else here... oh I feel another Hick Chic Photo Comparison coming on...oh yeah.....
(Yes this is the second time I've done a Photo Comparison with these two guys.)

(Plus I take any opportunity to sneak a Johnny pic in anywhere.)

-This was fun.Panic! At The Disco. We watched it with the sound off.

-When these guys got up to collect their award, the following convo took place in my den:
ME: I would party with those guys.
JETHRO: Um.....I think your idea of partying with those guys is different from their idea of partying with you...

AND FINALLY...Axl Rose introduced the Killers. Now folks, I don’t know what’s goin on with Axl these days. He’s crawled out from under that rock he spent the last decade under. He looks older now. Well he should. He is. However I’m not sure what’s going on with the red face, yellow eyebrows and suspicious cornrows. I thought he was hot in 1987. Yes I did and I freely admit it. Now I’m confused. I will say this though, and if you’re honest, you’ll agree: he’s still got the swagger. He might still have that scream but they bleeped it.

Couldn’t find a photo of the Killers but I will say that I like their new look. All in black and wearing beards, like wild west outlaws, only with keyboards.

Then I went to bed.

MTV, I have ideas for next year.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke

I have just read the most amazing book. I fully intend to read it again.

“Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell” is about magic. Specifically, the two opposing viewpoints on magic presented by a magician and his pupil. Gilbert Norrell wants to ensure that magic is a refined, scholarly art practised only by gentleman, and in a perfect world, only by him. He is convinced that he is the only person qualified to do the job. He has done the reading. He has studied. He owns all the books; he’s collected and hoarded every book on magic that he can find, and this way made sure that only he can do magic. Nobody else can be trusted.

He wants to bring English Magic back to prominence as the repectable occupation that it should be, not the wild unpredictable dangerous magic that others before him have done.

Jonathan Strange enters his life as his protegee and things go very disorderly after that. I refuse to tell you much about young Strange. I would rather have you discover him on your own as you experience the story.

What you do need to know about Jonathan Strange at this point, is that he will turn Mr Norrell’s world upside down.

These two men are surrounded by a rich cast of characters who I can’t even begin to describe. Each one of them (real and fictional) contributes to the story in surprising ways.

It’s so wrapped up in real history that the entire thing is very believable. It’s set in the early 19th century but written from a point in which many of the characters are still alive. Time has not gone past the mid 1800s.

Footnotes regularly appear to help the reader understand events in history that explain details. Often these footnotes lead us to some of the books on magic that Mr Norrell has hidden away.

A great deal is made of class structure and the business of being a gentleman; the relationship of master and servant is a recurring theme. There are a lot of wealthy, handsome, well dressed, educated, completely idle men in this story.

The plot in this exquisitely written book is mind boggling. The writing is beautiful. Open this book to any page and you’ll find something stunning. I’ve copied some for you but this doesn’t even begin to cover it. I don’t have time to type out a third of the book, and I haven’t even gotten into Stephen Black and the gentleman with the thistledown hair, or Arabella, or the old lady with the cats, or Norrell’s resurrection of Miss Wintertowne, and I haven't even told you about the Raven King....oh just read these excerpts!!!

Bleak: A great old church in the dead of winter is a discouraging place at the best of times; the cold of a hundred winters seems to have been preserved in its stones and to seep out of them.

Gruesome: Next he made a long, deep cut in his arm, and when he had got a good strong spurt of blood, he let it splash over the heads of the corpses, taking care to anoint the eyes, tongue and nostrils of each. After a moment the first corpse roused itself. There was a horrible rasping sound as its dried-out lungs filled with air and its limbs shook in a way that was very dreadful to behold. Then one by one the corpses revived and began to speak in a guttural language which contained a much higher proportions of screams than any language known to the onlookers.

...and a passage that made way too much sense to me: The backs of their heads were hollowed out; their faces were nothing but thin masks at the front. Within each hollow a candle was burning. This was so plain to him now, that he wondered he had never noticed it before. He imagined what would happen if he went down into the street and blew some of the candles out. It made him laught to think of it. He laughed so much that he could no longer stand....

Some of it is beautiful, some is chilling, some is tongue in cheek clever, and some is downright horrifying. Always it is presented in a slightly detached, aristocratic tone.

This novel examines class structure, geography, history, mystery, sadness, magic, murder, boredom, temptation, restlessness, loneliness, intelligence, fate, politics, insanity, and the intense need for a person to find someone else who understands.

Susannah Clarke, according to the scant information, lives in Cambridge England, and this is her first novel. I believe the first part but not the second. You don’t come out of the gate with a masterpiece like this. I have read that it took her ten years to write it. I totally believe that.

It is not an easy read. It’s a brick of a book, there are multiple characters to keep track of, many different locations, and old fashioned language to trip over. But read it. Take a month or more to read it if you have to. It’s worth it.

As I write this, it’s been about two weeks since I finished it, and I am having Novel Withdrawal. Seriously. I did not want it to end, despite the length of time it took to read it, which may or may not have been a month. I wasn’t keeping track. As I went through it, I found myself re-reading parts of it. Sometimes this was for clarification, but usually it was to savour it, and relish it, and soak up the words.

Reading this novel almost made me want to give up and never write another word again because nothing I write will be this good. But it also makes me want to write better than I ever have before.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

AFI- Decemberundeground

What does a nice little farm girl like me have to do with a bunch a tattooed punks like them?

When I was 13 years old, sitting in my bedroom overlooking a hay field and crying because without a doubt, nobody, nobody would ever understand me, I could have really used these guys. If they’d been doing their thing in 1984, I’d have been all over them. I’d have wallpapered my room with them, and woken up and gone to sleep with them, and written their memorized lyrics all over my History binder.

Truth is, they kind of were around back then, only they were called Echo and the Rockets Cure, and I did like them, but they weren’t heavy enough. I didn’t know from heavy back then. I hadn’t found the heavy that would satisfy me. Instead, I wrote the lyrics for Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time all over my English binder. Not heavy but undeniably a classic. (Cyndi was somebody who may have understood me, or at least accepted me.)

So, while I come off like just another obnxiously perky pickup truck driving housewife (wha?) I have a pretty serious dark side. I wanted to die when I was twelve and have fought if off ever since. I laugh deeply and love everything ridiculous, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget that my darkness allows my brightness to shine.

My dark streak will always be there.
These guys get that.

Decemberunderground was released on 06/06/06 -- ooh how devilish-- and I bought it in mid July. This means we’ve been spinning the disc regularly since then. I’ve had lots of time to absorb it and it has very efficiently seeped into me.

The Jethro-Jetta Test: Passed! Part of his approval rested on a fun little game that I like to call, “Who Mixed This?” We got into track 3, the first single, “Miss Murder” and within seconds Jethro declared that this sounded like a Lord-Alge mix. This game continued for the duration of the CD and the better part of the highway trip. Yes, half of the songs are mixed by Chris Lord-Alge, the rest by Producer Jerry Finn.

It was a wobbly pass though. Those Lord-Alge mixes are harshly bright- better sounding on the radio, says Jethro- and actually distort the stereo in our little Jetta.

He was willing to overlook this though, because he claims that it is “haaavy” which is good. Other descriptive words included “Interesting” and “unexpected”. He also noted that the vocalist has an overbearing lisp. But he got over it because the guy screams like no other and it’s “really f**kin cool.” He got away with the swear because the tunes were really loud and the kids couldn’t hear.

The dining room test: Not bad. It’s a pass. Not exactly pleasant dining music...but the kids like it.

The BS filter: If the 12 and 10 year old kids dig it, it’s relatively bull free. However, as a parent, I can’t help but be disturbed by the death-suicide-genocide-despair-bit my lip- imagery in the lyrics. But then a former suicidal twelve year old, maybe I can understand it. These guys feel this way too...and they’re still alive.

The downstairs stereo surround sound test: I can’t help but think that most of this would work very well in an extemely slick high budget movie about a superhero who lives in darkness and works in the cover of night and has a tortured soul who can’t be loved.

Also, I would love to hear this band live and see how the recreate what they've recorded. I have a feeling they'd be punishing. The kick drum sounds in some tracks are killer.

This is one sharp sounding record. Really harsh. It will tear your head off. I wouldn’t expect anything else for a record like this.

The whistle while you work test Highly motivating. There may be some pretty damn gloomy subjects to deal with, but if there’s one thing AFI is really good at, it’s the shout along background vocal choruses. Even if you can’t understand the words, there are plenty of opportunities to do the WHOA OH OH!

The packaging is gorgeous. All in black and white photography, it’s elegant and chilly. Lyrics are written out in paragraphs rather than in the usual boring stanzas. Jethro had one complaint: the producer and engineer should have been credited on the back cover of the disc. Okay. I know where he’s coming from.

The songwriting on this record is so solid. I will warn you right now, these songs are infectious. These are earworms. Good luck getting it out of your head. Good luck resisting singing along to this stuff. Just try to hold still and not dance or at the least, do the nod and tap while you listen to this one. The first single, "Miss Murder," is just the beginning. "Kill Caustic" has taken a spot on my Favourite list. "Summer Shudder," "Love Like Winter," and "The Missing Frame" are addictively catchy.

These guys are solid players, and it shows, but the programming and keyboards take more of a role this time around. Die hard punk fans from way back will probably not like this. There are, if I can dare to say this, some touches of synthy new wave in here.

One of the band’s strengths is the unexpected. How can you find yourself jigging along to songs with lyrics like, "So now you'll love these screams, what's left of me. Love these screams like I do." It's insane. There are chord changes that most of us wouldn’t think of, and time changes that leave you feeling rather face smacked. And it’s good.

They're also very dramatic. Just look at the drama. Feel it! Taste it! Hear the drama! "Kiss and Control" features a spoken word tirade including "We'll burn like stars. We'll burn as we fall." I don't get to do that in real life. My favourite song on this album is called "Kill Caustic" and has the refrain, "Love these screams like I do. Don't speak my name!" I laugh maniacally as I scream along.

Vocalist Davey Havok is pretty special. He wears more make up than I do, and I have never waxed my eyebrows. He’s not my type, but I find him fascinating. I once read another critic- a real one- describe his vocals as “Kite in a rainstorm” and I love that. It’s accurate. But he’s not just a singer capable of a yelp as much as a low menacing whisper. He possesses the best throat shredding scream out there. It is bloodcurdling!

He has the most magnificent right arm tattooed with scenes from the Nightmare Before Christmas. The Tim Burton fixation I totally understand. He strikes me as a person who can’t quite live in the world the way it’s been set up, and doesn’t expect to be understood for it. I get that too.

While other rock stars glower and glare- which is essential rock star behaviour- Davey Havok lifts his chin and gazes down at us knowingly. He just knows.

(I must add that when I yanked this photo off of Images, the jpg was titled "Davey Cute." I think that's hilarious. I just do.)

I respect art, and effort, and this guy is a hell of a frontman. He sings in about four different voices, not including his range of hellacious screams. Listening to him do his thing can be a beautifully cathartic experience.

Davey feels my pain so that I don’t have to.
Or, I feel his pain.
Or, we feel the pain together.

After a spin of an AFI record, with all of its colourless imagery and misery and yelping and crashing and screaming...I just feel all good inside.

Decemberunderground is that special album that manages to weld together catchy tunes and heaviness. I would have to say, at the risk of pissing off those music fans for whom “pop” is a bad word, that this is, at its core, a pop album. However, it is the Heaviest Scariest pop album ever made.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Libertine

“My name is John Wilmot, second Earl of Rochester, and I do not want you to like me.”

This is how we meet the title character of this film. He addresses us face to face, dimly lit, wineglass in hand. “You will not like me.”

In an unnervingly direct opening monologue, Johnny Depp makes it perfectly clear what kind of character we’re dealing with here. There isn’t much sentimental romanticism in this movie. It will make you flinch and squirm. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

Seventeenth century England is portrayed in all of its muddy, manure caked, misty glory.

One of the first things that struck me about this film is the lighting. It fools you into thinking that it’s not just set in that time period, but is in this era, with this yellow flickering light. (I stuck around for the special features, and yes, it was shot in England and Wales, and lit predominantly by candles. It’s authentic.)

The film has a grainy look to it that gives a perfectly gritty feeling. When contrasted with all the beautiful elaborate clothes, it forces us to think of the dirty side of the wealthy and priviledged among the nobility. Most of it was shot with cameras balanced on the shoulder instead of on a dolly, which makes us see the whole thing in a slightly drunken viewpoint...very appropriate.

It’s all set off with lots of background noise (often distracting but jarringly realistic) and some very jaunty music.

Based in history, the story tells us that King Charles II has been restored to the throne and ushered in an age of renewed interest in art, culture, and science, along with lots of drunken orgies.

Oh what fun for men in long curly wigs and high boots, and women in boob-boosting bodices!

Unfortunately there have also been plagues and fires and political unrest, making the King worried enough to bring back his old friend John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, whom he had banished only a few months before for writing a naughty poem about him. Rochester is brilliant. Perverted, rude and brilliant. The King wants him to be his Shakespeare and write eloquent speeches for him. He knows damn well that Rochester is compelled to destroy or mock everything he touches. He takes the chance.

But “Johnny” as he is known to his cronies- yes, Johnny plays a guy called Johnny- really only wants to hang around in the theatre. The theatre is his drug. This is the only place where he enjoys life.

He takes on a struggling actress named Lizzy Barry and wagers his friends that he can turn her into the most celebrated actress in London. Oh, and also, he makes a mockery of the King in a play commissioned to glorify him to the French ambassador, gets sent away again, and begins rotting to death of various venereal and alcoholic diseases while masquerading as a healer.

Smashing stuff, isn’t it?

I would like to say that I enjoyed this movie but it isn’t meant to be enjoyed...I was both repulsed and fascinated by it. I think it’s stunning. It’s a dirty movie, from the mud, to the naked writhing bodies in the park, to the four letter words. I may have learned a few new ones.

Rochester's eloquently dirty poetry is featured throughout. I have to tell you that there are so many great lines in this movie that it will make your head spin. Some of the dialogue is witty and sharp and funny. Some of it is downright beautiful. Pay attention.

It wouldn’t be quite so impressive without the actors involved in it.

Now I know what you’re all saying, (Pirate) that I’d love Johnny Depp no matter what and that if he read my grocery list I’d rave about it. Well, yeah. Especially.

If you’ve ever doubted this guy’s ability, this role will convince you.

Right from his prologue he is mesmerizing. Intense, haughty, intelligent, and threatening. His accent is perfect. His voice is a low smooth growl. He’s coiled and unpredictable.

I will warn you right now: if you love Johnny for his looks, either don’t watch the Libertine at all, or shut it off after the lewd performance of his play, because he’s not kidding that you won’t like him. He starts off gorgeous, and I do mean gorgeous. Depp the man is aging well, and Rochester is handsome but well worn. With his bedraggled hair and jaded squint, he’s got that Love Me If You Dare look. He is stunning.

But he does not stay that way! I’ve never seen him uglier and it works. He literally rots in front of us. (Sadly, I couldn't find any pictures of his amazing decrepitude.) Some of the most gutsy, visceral performances I’ve seen from him happen here. He's incredible.

Take his speech in the House of Lords: Nothing like a guy powdering his dripping face and hobbling around on crutches to get a point across. (And I wish so much that I could find a picture of that!)

John Malkovich, another one of my favourites, is perfection as Charles II. He’s got the incredibly uppity drawl of royalty and the easy intensity of power. In an earlier stage production, Malkovich played Rochester, but I think he’s perfect as the King who could be mistaken for careless but has the whole thing under control.

The women hold their own against these two men.

Rosamund Pike is steely and elegant as Rochester’s suffering but devoted wife, the aristocratic heiress Elizabeth Malet. He loves her enough to stay married to her but she represents all that traps him: domestic life, rules, the country. (He hates the country. There are no theatres.) He seems compelled uncontrollably to insult and mentally abuse her. She struggles to maintain her composure and dignity.

Samantha Morton is excellent as Lizzy Barry.
She’s pleasant looking but not cookie-cutter-pretty; she’s interesting to look at and fascinating to watch. Her character is the only one in the story who can be anywhere near a match to the impossible Rochester. I think the only time this film comes close to getting soft is in Rochester's confessions to Lizzy...but she never lets the whole scene dissolve into a horrible tear-jerking romance.

Let’s not forget Kelly Reilly as Jane the bluntly dirty talking whore.

Jack Davenport, who I’m becoming more and more enamoured of, has a small role as an actor who has a hard time stomaching Rochester’s “art” (and who also is a runner up to Alan Rickman in the best voice department.)

Don’t miss out on Richard Coyle as Rochester’s servant, Alcock. Get it? All cock? How appropriate.

A young British beauty by the name of Rupert Friend surfaces too, as the young Billy Downs, who is warned of impending doom by Rochester. Before Billy meets his doom though, there's a little scene with the two men looking lovingly into each other’s eyes.

I've known guys like Rochester who were so bored because of their own unbearable intelligence that they had to be unbelievably rude just to get free of the sameness of life; those whose talent is overshadowed by their own tortured soul.

Laurence Dunmore, after a seven year struggle to get this picture made, has achieved a beautiful and disturbing film. From what I've read, the Real Critics didn't like it much, and it didn't exactly burn up the box office. It’s a shame that so few people went to see it. Especially since there are a few Oscar worthy performances here. (Three have been nominated. Come on already.)

I highly recommend that you shake a tail feather down to the video store and get a look at it because it’s worth it. It deserves it.