Friday, July 31, 2009

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Being a history fan, I enjoyed watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. I didn't know much about Jesse James at all, and it was interesting to see the portrayal of his life as a gang member and robber.

After watching the film, I was happy to read that the film portrayed the lives of Jesse James, his gang, and the Fords accurately. It has been called accurate and realistic by historians, which isn't always the case when Hollywood takes on a big Blockbuster film like this one. I enjoy that the filmmakers stayed true to what actually occurred instead of trying to fabricate lies in order to sell a movie.

Jesse James was a gang member in the late 1800s who became a celebrity-like figure for robbing banks and becoming rich. He did not give his money to the poor, which is Robin Hood-esque, but instead, he pocketed the money like his gang. He was wanted for a large reward which ended up going to Robert Ford for assassinating him.

The movie made me mad at times since I knew the outcome. The title kind of gives it away, but I'm sure if you know history, you would have already known this to be true. It just kills me that such a coward, wuss of a man could take down such a powerful figure. He shot him in the back, which shows that he couldn't even do it to his face. He gained the trust of James and then did what he had to do in order to get fame and riches. I'm sure others might do that today, but that doesn't mean that they have good character. Imagine being known as being a coward for all of history? It hurts.

Ford's character was very interesting to watch, though. Because he had so many flaws and insecurities, it was interesting to see the motivations behind someone who would do an act of this proportions, befriending and murdering for personal profit. Ford was made fun of and mocked his entire life, especially by James and his family. He wanted to be as notorious as James, but no one would give him the time of day to prove it. This built up frustration for him, as the only way he might ever be remembered would be to take down the biggest criminal of his time, James. It's sad how far some people will go for what they want.

It kills me too that James was killed by the gun that Ford gave to him. Now that's irony, but it makes the whole situation even more terrible for anyone trying to side with Ford. How mad would you be if you were James's wife? She seemed to feel off about him from the start, as everyone else did. I wonder if people really did feel a sense of unease about this guy before the assassination or I wonder if it was more played up in the film to build up Ford's character.

James is probably rolling in his grave for what was done to him. Could you imagine being so powerful and being taken down by someone so weak and fragile? It's horrifying for his reputation, but at least everyone realizes the snake Ford was to do such a thing.

What I also found interesting is how Ford idolized James so much; as a kid, he grew up reading his stories and wishing he was him. He thought he was destined to be great like him--he even made connections about their lives which drew them, somehow, together. Even when he told this to James, he was laughed at. Everyone around Ford could see him for who he was: a coward. A cheat. A liar. A weak spine. A nobody. Ford could not accept this, which eventually drove him to his utter fate.

I find it interesting that the film takes a look at something called Celebrity Worship Syndrome, something I didn't know actually had a formal name. Ford was so obsessed with James as a celebrity, and look at how far he would go to try to be like him and be remembered. It makes me think of other famous celebrities who have assassinated celebrities they love, trying to have some sort of connection with them. An assassination is a connection and gives the fan power, which is truly pretty sick. It makes me think of John Lennon: one of his biggest fans murders him. Now he can be a part of his life forever. It's sick, but that's how it is.

Celebrity Worship Syndrome must occur more often than we think, and we probably don't even see it happening that often since most of us are not celebrities. I bet most of it remains under the radar unless something tragic, like an assassination, occurs. I'm sure there are many other cases of attempted murders or real murders that have taken place where CWS was absolutely the case. This situation depicted in the film is just one early case of this, but I'm sure it happens a lot today and will occur as well in the future.

I also found it sick that Robert Ford tried to use his connection and assassination of Jesse James to his advantage after it happened. He opened a play based on his murder and tried to regain fame to others in bars and in other social situations in order to earn him some sort of respect from society. However, no one did give him respect for this since they saw him for who he truly was. He then was tortured the rest of his life until he was finally taken down in a tavern. It was inevitable, anyway.

The film was really well done, especially for still keeping the historical accuracy of the piece as well. It was quite artistic, and the dialogue was very well scripted. Even though the plot was sometimes not that interesting since there wasn't a steady thread of conflict or plot, my attention was still there. There wasn't some big thing that kept us watching except for the assassination, and for only having that, I thought the movie held the watcher's interest for a while, which is pretty good for the filmmakers.

Acting was also very well done. Brad Pitt obviously did an excellent job of portraying a celebrity gangster in the West who was quite fickle. He was well-liked but also had a mean streak and basically acted for his own interests. He scared people around him since he killed anyone that got in his way. Casey Affleck did an incredible job of playing a weak-spined character. He was believable as an antagonist, and it was impressive since he was able to portray someone so greedy and troubled. He acted really young and immature, which must be pretty hard. Affleck made me hate his character which shows signs of a good actor. Well played.

I'm sure others liked this movie as it is on the best movie lists from 2007. I'm not normally into Western films, but this one still interested me, and I'm glad I was able to watch it. For those who love Westerns, I'm told that this is one of the best Westerns that has been made in a while. I know this movie also hooks history buffs too.

What do you think of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford?

Thursday, July 30, 2009


This might be the strangest Chuck Palahniuk book I've read to date. Haunted appealed to me not only because of the author but because of the style in which the novel is written. Palahniuk is so unique that he astounds me every time, but he also astounds me with how gory and grotesque he can be. Just when you think you've read the worst of his mind, it gets even worse than that.

Haunted is a book comprised of short stories, scattered between a plot that continues every other chapter. The premise of the book is that a handful of writers elect to go on a writer's retreat. The person running the retreat, Mr. Whittier, tells his subjects that they cannot leave the abandoned theatre he locks them into until they write a marvelous story. They will have plenty of food, water, and utilities to keep them happy in the meantime.

The residents at the retreat each decide that they want to capitalize on their suffering in this situation and secretly sabotage the food, water, and utilities until there are none remaining. They want to use their suffering as their stories, and to make them famous, so they also take it a few steps too far. People start to die or are murdered--adding more flavor to their stories and adding more royalties per remaining survivor. Instead of looking at it like normal people do, as a tragic loss of life, they look at it in terms of money and fame.

Each character tells his or her story throughout the novel. Each character is dubbed a nickname due to the story that he or she tells. It's a very unique way to have a novel. Continue a story thread throughout and then sprinkle in stories told by the characters themselves, the only look you get into their lives and the way they think. It's a very smart way to structure a novel.

The novel became more farfetched and farfetched as I went along. Some of the stories were interesting, but some of them were really horrifying, perhaps hence the title. Not every story appealed to me because it was too much for me, it was either too sexual or too disgusting--something that made me feel uncomfortable. The things that Palahniuk comes up with in his mind are shocking to me. I can't believe what I read sometimes, but that must be why he's so successful! People are on the edges of their seats and they have no idea what to expect next!

I'm going to go through the list of characters and their stories. In isolation, some of the stories are pretty good. Some of them are boring or just too over-the-top for me.

Brandon Whittier: "Dog Years," "Obsolete"
Known as Mr. Whittier, Brandon is the leader of the retreat. His stories reflect his suffering of progeria which means that he ages much faster than a normal person. In fact, he appears to be a 60 or 70 year old man when in fact he is thirteen. One story reflects his scheme of talking to middle-aged women into sleeping with him and performing other duties that he might not experience before he dies. He then blackmails them with the truth and they give him money to shut up his secret. This is how he becomes wealthy.

Tess Clark: "Post Production," "The Nightmare Box," "Poster Child," "Cassandra"
Known as Mrs. Clark, Tess becomes Mr. Whittier's assistant in order to find out what happened to her daughter at the last writer's retreat. Her daughter went missing, then stumbled through the woods starved and apparently sexually assaulted. The daughter, Cassandra, ends up starving herself to death and will not tell anyone what happened to her even though police interrogate her thoroughly. Tess goes to the writer's retreat to find out what happened to her daughter. Before this, Tess was a housewife turned amateur porn star.

Saint Gut-Free: "Guts"
The most famous story written in the novel, Saint Gut-Free tells of a man who lost his intenstines while masterbating on the bottom of a swimming pool. He had his anus over the whole that sucks in on the bottom, pulling out his intestines and almost killing him. The rest of the story tells of other poor boys who have had fatal accounts with masterbating that have left them as scarred as Saint Gut-Free.

Mother Nature: "Foot Work"
Mother Nature is portrayed as the earthy, hippie-like character. She used to do massages and hardly earned any money for it. Then, she ran into another friend she went to school with for massage therapy, and this woman was making a lot of money. Apparently, there is an underground sexual foot massage business that the friend hooks up Mother Nature into. They make tons of money pleasuring men this way. The story ends when they want to get out of the business but are refused, her friend murders their boss and then the friend is murdered, so Mother Nature runs away to this retreat to save her life from the Russian Mafia who run the foot business.

Miss America: "Green Room"
Not as interesting of a story. She is a pregnant model who wants to become famous by promoting an exercise devise on television. The fate of Miss America and her baby are not very good by the end of the novel...

Lady Baglady: "Slumming"
My favorite story. Lady Baglady is a rich woman who is bored with her high-class lifestyle. She soon finds another rich friend of hers who is slumming like a homeless person on the street in rags. Her friend convinces her that homeless is the new rich, so she tries being homeless and learns how thrilling it is. It becomes a hobby of hers. She reconnects with her husband. But, their fun soon ends when Lady Baglady and her husband are sleeping in an alley when the witness a murder. The murderer tries to kill every homeless person in the city to eliminate the witness, so Lady Baglady is forced to stop slumming.

The Earl of Slander: "Swan Song"
A reporter wants to make it big, so he meets up with a former child star and realizes that he can't sell a good story on a perfect life. So, he frames him for child pornography and other forms of addiction in order to create an article that will win him a Pulitzer and cause his career to take off. The child star kills himself from the horrible exposure and publicity even though none of it is true.

The Duke of Vandals: "Ambition"
He is an artist who wants to make it big. He sneaks his own and other artworks into museums to spark their popularity. He is then confronted with how to make it big: he must kill another artist. He does so and is granted fame, but he is now blackmailed. In order to keep allowing for his success to continue, his schemers keep giving him more artists to kill. They keep making him more famous and famous, but he doesn't like the continuing murder business.

Director Denial: "Exodus"
She is a social worker at a police station who tells the story of a former coworker, Cora Reynolds. (She names her cat after Cora) She works in a department where they work with sexually abused children, so they have dolls that children use to identify where they were taken advantage of. The problem is that the police officers abuse the dolls, staining them with their filth. Cora does everything she can to stop it. She puts pins in the holes and tries to take them home, but her desire to stop them and fail eventually kills her.

Reverend Godless: "Punch Drunk"
He is a former solider who needs to raise money to fund a war on religion. In order to do this, he dresses up in drag and allows people to assault him. He is an atheist and speaks avidly of it.

The Matchmaker: "Ritual"
A cowboy who convinces his wife to marry him after hiring a male prostitute to show him that he really is a man, especially when compared to this one. This story is really disturbing because it talks about a family word passed down from the generations. "Sharook." They tell of being in Nazi POW camps where the officers used to make women perform on the men. Once they climaxed, they would slit their throats which would make this noise. The noise basically means that life sucks and there's nothing you can do so live it up now. The uncles eventually escape when one woman takes revenge before her death and bites it off.

Sister Vigilante: "Civil Twilight"
She is a strange woman who carries around a bowling ball. People are discovered murdered in the town she lives in with heavy objects, similar to a bowling ball. The town bans certain colors of bowling balls so they are visible to see in the nighttime, and they track for a bowling ball killer. Wild.

Chef Assassin: "Product Placement"
This story is written in the form of a letter to the manufacturers of the knife company which he uses. The Chef is a professional chef who is angered by negative reviews of critics. So, when he gets a negative review, he kills the reviewer with his favorite knives. He writes to the company to blackmail them that if they tell on him, he will expose that he used their knives to do the deeds which would wipe out their company. He wants to thank them for such an incredible product and inspiration.

Comrade Snarkey: "Speaking Bitterness"
Crazy story too. This lady goes to a women's support group because he can't trust men anymore since her mother always warned her of her father sexually abusing her, which never happened. When they are at the support group, a transvestite walks in and they try to get him out of there. He tries to plead that he is now a woman. In order to prove this, they interrogate him and then sexually assault him to figure out what he is or is not.

Agent Tattletale: "Crippled"
A man becomes temporarily crippled and tries to get rich from worker's compensation from his job. Because he will be found out soon, he kills the man who is investigating on him. He then takes his job and is almost killed by a woman he was spying on earlier.

The Missing Link: "Dissertation"
The Missing Link writes an intense paper on how certain creatures really do exist, like Big Foot, sasquatches, the Loch Ness Monster, eetc. The Missing Link, apparently, comes from a generation of people who can tranform into sasquatches. Hm.

The Countess Foresight: "Something's Got to Give"
This woman receives psychic visions by touching a jar filled with Marilyn Monroe's unborn child. When the woman at the store will not let her touch it anymore, she murders her. She then has to wear a big bracelet on her wrist as a part of her parole.

The Baroness Frostbite: "Hot Potting"
The Baroness worked at a lodge. She lost her lips to frostbite when she tried to save a swimmer in the frozen lake. She discusses people's features and missing them and the culture's obsession with appearances.

Miss Sneezy: "Evil Spirits"
Miss Sneezy has chronic sinus problems. She claims to have some wacky, incurable disease that she and others had and were locked up in some ward for a while. No one really knows if this is true or not. She claims to have been locked down in a government isolation facility and has now escaped.

Crazy stories, huh? Some of them were shocking while others were pretty interesting. I am impressed with the names that Palahniuk came up with. It seems like he had fun creating them, but they match the stories perfectly. I really liked having a book with all of these nicknames instead of the normal names, Jim, Bob, Rachel, etc. He continues to surprise me and be unqiue.

I wonder how he created this story. Did he come up with the stories first and then the plot or the other way around? How did he structure which story came first, next, or last? Who did he want to kill off and why? So many questions!

Lastly, I did want to add the background behind his most popular story from this book, "Guts." I read that this was also published in Playboy, and it received an intense following. While touring for his books, Palahniuk would read this story, and people would literally faint while hearing him read it. The total racked up to 65 people while on tour. The only place he didn't have someone faint was in New York City. Pretty interesting, but I'm not surprised. It's really graphic and disturbing. Read at your own discretion.

You have to be really prepared if you want to read this book. It's a bit messed up, but other parts of it are enjoyable. If you want to learn how to portray characters of create a strong character, this book is a good look into studying how to do that since he does it so well. I only advise to read this book with precaution!

What do you think of Haunted?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Over the weekend, I watched Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, a movie I have been wanting to see since I saw its initial trailer. A friend of mine recommended that I read the book before the movie, which is true in all cases of book-turned-movie, but I couldn't find the book anywhere and I guess I got lazy.

I was hooked on the movie because it looked a lot like Juno, an independent film about teenagers and music. And, it has Michael Cera starring in it and another no-name female lead. What I discovered: this film is no Juno. Juno is a MUCH better movie than this one. I will remember Juno, but I will long forget Nick and Norah.

Problems for me existed within the plot. The whole plot was a little far-fetched, and the portrayal of teenage love was mediocre. They did a great job with encapsulating how someone can't get over someone else and how hard moving on is. I just think it's unrealistic to paint the picture for teenagers that one can find true love, and establish a solid relationship where they are already "active" in just one night. I was surprised how quick they "got moving" once they were alone. Great message.

I thought it was unbelievable how many open parking spots there were in New York City, where the movie was filmed, on a Friday night. Now, I'm no NYC native, but I would think that parking would be a bit difficult, as would driving. But no, these inexperienced drivers found a parking spot in front of every bar and club they wanted, pulled U-turns in the streets, and moved quickly from one block to the next. Unrealistic.

The premise was kind of cool though: They were moving through NYC to find their favorite band who was playing a surprise show. They kept getting clues all along the way to find where they would play. But here's the thing that bothered me--once they found Fluffy, the band they were looking for, Nick and Norah just take off to go home. What else did they search for? What other teenagers, or anyone for that matter, would spend HOURS looking for a free show of their favorite band, find it, and then just leave??? Who cares if it's three or four in the morning? It's your favorite band AND it's free! That doesn't make sense to me.

It's also quite weird how Nick's love interest had moved on from him to another guy but then she just kept stalking him and trying to get back together with him. Honestly, in real life, I think the girl would just move on. She was like super-stalker. It's hard for me to take these movies seriously when the characters are not authentic and the plot is just too far-fetched.

Perhaps the two things I liked in the movie was the focus on music and the portrayal of the drunk girl--she did an excellent job being that drunk girl. Hilarious. The mix tapes and the focus on music was really cool. They have a pretty good soundtrack to accompany this movie, and music played during the movie was also really good. Very indie. Very good.

It's movies like these that teenagers will watch and have unrealistic hopes! I used to watch movies like these when I was younger and I was filled with these lofty ideas about my future. It just doesn't happen this way. I guess it's good to get lost in a movie, but it was trying to be real and it wasn't. I wasn't even that entertained. I was more annoyed I guess.

I also enjoy movies that take place in the span of one day. I think those scripts are really clever. And I also don't understand the inclusion of Nick's gay friends. I didn't know how necessary that was--it just kind of seemed thrown in there for no apparent reason--and I didn't even buy them as gay characters. I know there's no stereotypical role, but the acting didn't even convince me. It was another odd hindrance to the film. And trust me, I have no problems with gay people or including them in films... It just seemed random for all the commenting they did on it during the movie.

The cameo by Andy Samberg might have been my favorite moment. Then it went downhill.

Is the book better and/or different? I might have higher hopes for the piece of fiction rather than this film.

What do you think of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Last night, Coldplay came to SPAC, two months late but still a great show. They are one of the bands that I enjoy and never have seen, so now I can cross them off my list, but they put on a really good show.

I went with a friend of mine who really didn't know anything more than Coldplay's singles, and for not knowing more than the singles, Coldplay put on a "show." They entertained. They played their music, and played it well, but they also performed in a way that was quite entertaining.

For instance, during "Yellow," giant yellow balls bounced around the audience making their way from inside the venue to the lawn seats. During a later song, towards the end of the show, multicolored butterfly confetti shot out at the audience at every chorus. It looked incredible. And during the show, Coldplay kept moving from one spot to another.

For example, they played on the left side of the audience for one song, at the right side of the audience for one song, and then they came into the lawn seats to play three incredible songs: "Green Eyes," "Death Will Never Conquer," and "Billie Jean." Each band member (except for Chris) had an acoustic guitar and they were playing in really close quarters. It was really, really cool. It brought them closer to us, the cheapettes in the lawn section. Basically when they started playing there, everyone stormed to the stage. I watched comfortably from a close distance.

The night variated from their fast-paced songs to a lot of slower, piano songs. They mixed up singles and non-singles, which was nice. The concert started off with a lot of older singles back to back to back, which is fine, but it might be nicer if they were spread out. I thought they played A LOT of slower stuff, which is part of the band, but for this live show, I thought it was a bit too much. I would have preferred more faster-paced songs to liven up the crowd.

I was really impressed with the talent of the band members. I was really blown away by Will the drummer who is also an excellent singer. He played different kinds of drums, guitar, and vocals during the show. He's incredible! Chris danced around all the time, which was entertaining. He messed up a couple of times, which was kind of awkward, I found. One time, he messed up TWICE and then just asked the audience to make a lot of noise and they called the song a day. Kind of lame.

But Chris tried to work with the audience a lot. He had us finish "Yellow" with them in unison. He had us help him finish songs a few times. He incorporated Saratoga Springs into his lyrics a few times. He spoke to us a few times, apologizing at the end of "Violet Hill," the first song they played. "If you forgive me, won't you let me know..." (for cancelling the show). It was clever. I liked his audience involvement. He really cared about putting on a good show for the balcony and us out on the lawn--even those listening outside the grounds. It was impressive.

Coldplay's attire seems to be that of their Viva La Vida and Death and All His Friends look. They look kind of like Civil War apparell but they are multicolored. They all got into that look. I wonder how they came up with that idea? I think it's unqiue, to say the least.

Below is the set list from last night's show at SPAC:

Life In Technicolor
Violet Hill
In My Place
Glass Of Water
Cemeteries Of London
Fix You
Strawberry Swing
God Put A Smile Upon Your Face (techno version)
Talk (techno version)
The Hardest Part (Chris piano)
Postcards From Far Away (piano instrumental)
Viva La Vida
Green Eyes (acoustic)
Death Will Never Conquer (Acoustic, sung by Will)
Billie Jean
Viva La Vida (remix interlude)
Lovers In Japan
Death And All His Friends
The Scientist
Life in Technicolor ii
The Escapist (outro)

I was a bit upset that they didn't play some of the songs I wanted to hear, not all necessarily singles. They focused a lot on playing their new CD, which is fine, but I hate when bands play the majority of their new album and ignore their other plethora of music that fans really connected with. They did play some older stuff too, but nowhere in comparison to the new stuff.

I missed them playing "Shiver," "Trouble," "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face," "Warning Sign," "Whisper," "Square One," "Speed of Sound," and "A Message." But they played a lot of other good songs I like. These were just ones I wish they'd played!

I just enjoy their sound. It's different than a lot of other bands out there. And Chris is such a different lead singer. I just love their unique energy they bring to music. I really enjoyed myself last night, and it definitely has to do with their talent. Very well done, Coldplay.

So what did you think of Coldplay live?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Harry Potter, Books 1-3

I finally caved in and started to read the Harry Potter series. Friends of mine were always astonished to find out that, being a heavy reader and English teacher, I had never read any book in the series. Almost everyone I knew, readers, recommended the books to me, and finally, this summer, I've decided to just go for it.

I had been told that the series was all-ecompassing, all-consuming. Once you start, you really can't stop. I recall my brother telling me that he would read a book in just one day. He would sit down in the morning, take breaks for food and the bathroom, and read the book until it was dark outside. That kind of connection to a book (and series) drew me to it. And, since the movies will be coming to an end in just a few short years, why not hop on the culture train?

Honestly, I was turned off at first because it was such a fad. Everyone was reading the series. Sometimes when something is just SO popular, it turns me off. It took me a few years (almost ten since the first book came out) to get into it. But now, I am happy that I have finally joined the bandwagon, and it's really not so bad after all.

Perhaps the main problem that I'm having with the series, now that I have just started the fourth book, is that I'm looking at it from such a literary, critical perspective. I keep suggesting minor complaints about the books, as I probably will in just a few short paragraphs, and my friends keep telling me, "It's just a children's book. It wasn't originally intended for a mature, adult audience." Obviously, the later books become more mature in content (as I've heard) but the earlier books sort of astonished me with simplicity and obviousness.

After finishing the second book, I was a little angry with the exact same formula Rowling was using. There still are many similarities with the books even as I read the fourth book, in terms of structure of plot. For instance, at least in the first two books, the book begins with Harry at the Dursley's. There is a conflict to go to Hogwarts. Harry then uses magic, gets in trouble, and needs to be rescued to get to Hogwarts. At Hogwarts, there is a big conflict between Voldemort and Harry, in which they battle in the climax where Harry triumphs with some help. All is well. Harry returns back to the Dursley's. The next book begins.

It is very formulaic. At times, it was very predictable or not very shocking. For a children's book, it's phenomenal. I was interested as an adult reader, but I wouldn't say, for the first three books, that I was at the edge of my seat. They are GOOD books, don't get me wrong, but I'm just trying to work my way through certain areas where I had minor areas of concern.

I also got really frustrated with Rowling's reiteration of prior plot details, even all the way through the fourth book! Every character would be reintroduced. Climaxes and conflicts are reexplained. I got so tired of it--and still am--yet I need to keep telling myself that it's children's literature. Actually, reexplaining the plot, like Rowling does, is good for young readers. It keeps them fresh into the story and connects back to prior knowledge. I guess it was just too much for me though, as a more advanced reader.

I am happy to see that the formulaic structure that was so defining in the first two books is slowly breaking free in the next two books. It does have sort of the same structure, but Rowling tries to break it up a bit more than before. I give her credit for breaking a bit from the mold, since relying on the mold would be easy, for it's a little risky to break from what is expected and familiar. It's more exciting to me when it breaks from the pattern and tries something new. Personally, I'm excited to read about love interests...

The Harry Potter series is definitely an excellent series to get young children and young adults hooked on. It's a complex story that keeps adding different story elements to it. It goes back to the past and adds more layers in the present. It drops clues and makes the reader make inferences. It's a great reading exercise for new readers. And, it's interesting. It's engaging.

I also like the series because it allows young adults to have an imagination. In a time where I feel a lot of children are abandoning memory and relying more on television and games that provide it for you, Harry Potter forces children to think about fanciful things. It allows them to live in this fantasy world and wonder what the world of a wizard is like. It even makes school seem like a fun place to be!

Harry Potter books have also hooked readers, even readers who were reluctant to read in the first place. It helped a dying breed and forced non-readers into the reading world. Twilight had the same effect on readers as well. Anything that engages young adults to read is fine by me, especially if it's fantasy and requires imagination.

And really, can you imagine going to Hogwarts? Could you imagine that magical life? It's really something wild to think about.

I also really enjoy the artwork on the book covers. So much detail is added that it is very insightful to look around and check out what is included on the cover. It might even be a good exercise for an English classroom--either analyze the cover or create your own and explain why you decorated it in this way. Even the chapter pictures are interesting. I like the artwork, I like that chapters have titles, and I like that each book has a subtitle instead of being just Harry Potter 3. It really focuses on each book as a separate entity, as a book itself, not just as number three. It's quite clever.

As I've been reading the books, I've been watching the movies to follow up. The books are so much better than the movies, by far. They have so much detail. If one just watched the movies, they'd be missing so much. So much is left out in the movie. I feel like I'm watching the book in fast forward.

The worst movie that I have seen thus far is the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. So much was left out of the book, and a lot was out of order. It was a VERY abbreviated version of the book, and I didn't feel it did the book justice. I was more angry watching it, correcting some parts and wondering when others were coming (and they never did). They left out or glazed over important parts when I thought they should be added. I know they only have a certain amount of time per movie, but why not extend it an extra half hour? Those watching it are there because they care about the books, so why not please the crowd? The first two movies were fine, but maybe that is because they were significantly shorter. I just hope the other movies are more satisfying!

And what's cool about the series too is that, with friends that also read the series, in depth conversations can take place. When that can happen, you know the text is really well done. I can't talk with people too far at length about it since I'm halfway through the series and everyone else is finished. It's frustrating, but that's why I have my blog.

I'm enjoying the series, and I look forward to reading more. I praise Rowling for her talents and abilities. She has a very clear writing style; what she writes is very easy to picture, and that's writing talent. Thank god that she wrote down her ideas on that napkin one day and pursued this career! I'm sure a lot of other people are thankful as well.

(On a side note: I was SHOCKED to hear that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was knocked from number one at the box office to number two by G-Force, a Disney movie about talking, spy gerbils! I am outraged. What has America come to?!)

So what do you think of the first few books of the Harry Potter series?

Friday, July 24, 2009


I really connected with this poem in The New Yorker. It told a story that really caused me to have a reaction, which is what good poems have. The poem, "Bereavement," is exactly like the title sounds. Enjoy.


by Kevin Young

Behind his house, my father's dogs
sleep in kennels, beautiful,
he built just for them.

They do not bark.
Do they know he is dead?
They wag their tails

& head. They beg
& are fed.
Their grief is colossal

& forgetful.
Each day they wake
seeking his voice,

their names.
By dusk they seem
to unremember everything--

to them even hunger
is a game. For that, I envy.
For that, I cannot bear to watch them

pacing their cage. I try to remember
they love best confined space
to feel safe. Each day

a saint comes to feed the pair
& I draw closer
the shades.

I've begun to think of them
as my father's other sons,
as kin. Brothers-in-paw.

My eyes each day thaw.
One day the water cuts off.
Then back on.

They are outside dogs--
which is to say, healthy
& victorious, purposeful

& one giant muscle
like the heart. Dad taught
them not to bark, to point

out their prey. To stay.
Were they there that day?
They call me

like witnesses & will not stay.
I ask for their care
& their carelessness--

wish them of forgiveness.
I must give them away.
I must find them homes,

sleep restless in his.
All night I expect they pace
as I do, each dog like an eye

roaming with the dead
beneath an unlocked lid.

It's quite a sad little tale, isn't it? A son must deal with his father's death, but what do you do with the two dogs? What do they know of bereavement? Do they understand his passing and miss his presence? Do they know that they will soon be found different homes? Who knows what the dog thinks?

Even though the poet was very brief with his words, he was very concise with his message and the plot. I felt like the reader could create his/her own story with images--I envisioned the whole poem going on--and it was very easy to follow. The poem also had some very thoughtful lines which added to the poem, not being as much of a story but with some slight commentary and thoughtfulness (plays on words, touching similes). For example, "To stay." That might have been my favorite line. Really meaning "stay," like a dog command, but a pun as to mean to stay at the house and remain in the old situation.

I liked the "Brothers-in-paw" idea. That was quite clever. I guess they almost do feel like kin since he had such a relationship with them, like a caretaker, almost like a father. It's eating the poet alive inside as to what to do with them. He can't stand to watch them for that, for seeing how much they might miss him, and for how they are taking this absence of their owner.

"I ask for their care & carelessness," was also a really good line that I enjoyed. He wishes many things of them, that they won't care, that they forgive him. He feels like he has no choice but to give them away, and he can't sleep with that thought. He's already dealing with the death of his father, and the dogs add a little more heartbreak to the mix. I'm sure situations like these occur all the time, but there might be someone in the family who could actually take the dog(s) which could take some pressure away.

The last stanza was quite clever, taking out one of the lines. Normally, the poem continued with three lines, perhaps signaling to the poet and the two dogs. But the last line of the poem leaves out one of those lines. Usually, that signifies the loss of some kind, in this case, it could either be that he is or has gone through with his decision to eliminate the dogs or he has lost a part of himself. It even suggests "dead" in the poem, as if he has a few parts of himself that are "dying," so to speak, by the end of the poem. All in all, it's a clever ending.

I really liked the poem, but it might make someone who really cares for animals a bit sad. They might have something to add on how animals might react to the death of a caretaker. I wouldn't really know, but I've explored all I can thus far on the poem.

So what do you think of "Bereavement?"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Creative Writing

Creative Writing: Can it be taught? A recent article in The New Yorker brought up this very question. Offering creative writing courses are borderline controversial, because people are divided on the issue. Some people truly believe that one can be instructed towards becoming a better writer, and others believe that creative writing is something that is natural and cannot be taught.

A friend of mine asked me yesterday, "How do you teach someone to write who has no idea how to do it?" Being an English teacher, it can be a complicated question, but it is a part of the English teacher's job. How does one teach something to someone that comes so naturally? And, how does someone, with a completely different writing style, help someone else with a completely different writing style write truly on their own using their own voice?

Different writers have signature marks and devices that they use. Teaching these techniques and devices can be really difficult. Perhaps the style that made Hemingway famous could help one person, but another person would simply hate that technique. One person might really identify with Chuck Palahniuk's repetition, but how do we know which technique to show to others? Most people find their own niche, but when it's not so obvious, how do you show that to the person?

Many have skepticism over creative writing programs, Writers Workshops, and various degrees that are now offered for creative writing. Normally, in a creative writing class, students write their own material, share it with others who heavily critique it (people who have not been published), and then the author edits and revises carefully for a finished product. The student reads various authors to help develop the writer's own style and voice in order to develop into his/her own writer.

The best piece of writing advice that I ever received was from a professor at Cortland for an introductory writing class. He told us, "If you want to be a good writer, read better writers." In essence, you will start to see how a good writer presents his plot or argument. You will see how his mind thinks and how he organizes his ideas. You can steal one device from this author and another from this author to make your own style. It's not stealing if you make it your own.

Hunter S. Thompson swears that he became a better writer by re-typing works that he thought were genius: The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald being one. He wanted to get inside the minds of the writers and feel how it felt to type like a good writer. That worked for him, but it might not work for everyone.

I can see how advice and strategies other writers use can help, but can a course really make someone a better writer? That's the question at hand here.

Can a really good writer, a published author, teach others skills and give them sound advice that can lead them to become good writers? I recall reading an essay by David Sedaris (I forget the title of the essay) where he explains teaching a creative writing class. He had no idea what he was doing, and in the end, he admitted that he really didn't make anyone a better writer. Just because he knew how to write doesn't mean he know how to teach it or communicate that skill to others.

Perhaps some teachers can communicate certain aspects of writing to help the writer develop on his/her own: "Writing instructors have techniques for stimulating production, exercises for developing an awareness of how literature works, formulas encapsulating their particular notions of craft." But isn't dissecting writing too much taking the creativity and individuality of it?

Thinking of on the lines of how creative writing can be taught, the article "Show or Tell" notes an author, Mark McGurl, who wrote a book called The Program Era on how to use the creative writing workshop well. If used successfully, it can do three things well.

First, "it interprets works of fiction as what philosophers of language call illocutionary acts. The meaning of one of Raymond Carver's short stories is not only what the story says; it's also the way the story says it."

Second, it "treat[s] the world of creative writing as an ant farm, in which the writer-ants go about busily executing the tasks they have been programmed for. Writing is a technology, after all, and there is a sense in which human beings who write can be thought of as writing machines. They get tooled in certain ways, and creative-writing program is a means of tooling."

Lastly, one of the main ideas is, "How can we make people more productive and creative? These are the philosophy of education and management theory. Creative-writing courses follow naturally from the 'learning-by-doing' theories of progressive education: they add practical, hands-on experience to traditional book learning."

Maybe you agree with these main points--maybe not.

Famous authors who came out of a creative writing program: Margaret Walker, Toni Morrison, Tobias Wolff, John Irving, Ken Kesey, Ernest Gaines, Alice Sebold, and many more.

But think of all the authors who did not attend any formal instruction on creative writing. Maybe it helps some people and works sometimes, but I don't think everyone needs it. Maybe some need help, but not all do.

I don't think it's a straightforward yes or no answer, but I think some people might think that it is, which is fine. I don't know if there can be any evidence to prove either way. I think it's more of an opinion that one might think to be true. One might have strong arguments one way or the other, and I might agree with both sides. If offered, I would try to teach a creative writing course to students, hoping I could get through to them, but like any course, you never know how much effect you really have on students' work until years later.

So, do you think creative writing can be taught?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Frank McCourt

This blog post is to commemorate Frank McCourt, a loving, giving teacher and writer who passed away over the weekend. McCourt is known for writing three famous memoirs, two of which I have read: Angela's Ashes, 'Tis, and Teacher Man.

McCourt had a troubled life early on, as depicted in his first memoir Angela's Ashes, as he faced deaths of his siblings, starvation, and eventually immigration to the United States. His assimilation wasn't the easiest, as described in 'Tis. And then, after he returned from the army and studied at New York University, McCourt became a teacher in New York City schools and taught for thirty years, as documented in his book Teacher Man. In Teacher Man, McCourt describes the hardships of being a new teacher, especially in an urban environment, and I'm sure that his book has acted as a helping guide to new teachers like myself.

McCourt is a true, dedicated English teacher, if one can ever make such a claim. He dedicated his life to teaching and writing--two passions of the English teacher. Once he retired, he started writing his memoirs which earned him small fame and recognition. I give him a lot of credit for working after he retired from teaching, for writing is a lot more work than I think a lot of people understand. I'm glad that he was able to document his life in his books, for he had some great stories to tell, and he's touched a lot of people in the process.

I know that the high school I graduated from teaches Angela's Ashes in an Irish Literature course. So, McCourt's already made his way back into the classroom. And I'm sure that education courses around the country use his book as an introduction to teaching. My grad class used The Water Is Wide, which is now becoming a bit outdated, but I could see any class switching to Teacher Man. It's just as important and relevant.

I was sad to hear McCourt pass over the weekend, but even though he wasn't dealt the best cards in life, he still seemed to try to learn from them, grow from them, and get over them. He taught others, especially using his own life experience, and didn't sulk in the horrors of his life. He is a true, inspiring man to learn from. We don't always have to wallow in what life brings for us. McCourt shows us that good can come from the bad. Just read his memoirs. This common idea will come out.

So, this one is to Frank McCourt. I thank him for his service to students and education and to writing. He was a good man, and I'm sure he will be missed.

What do you think of Frank McCourt?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Gran Torino

Supposedly, this is one of the best movies of the year: Gran Torino. Apparently this is also Clint Eastwood's last film that he will star in. I think it's crazy that he can still find roles at this point in his life. The writers of the movie didn't think this movie would be a success because they didn't know if they could find a popular elderly man to star in the movie to make it sell. Well, it's a good thing they were wrong.

I don't know about other people, but when I watch Clint Eastwood act, sometimes I feel uncomfortable because he's so old. I feel like he struggles to speak sometimes, and watching him walk is hard. I give him credit for still acting; he did a fine job in the movie. At 78, he still has it in him even though he is a bit fragile. The Los Angeles Times wrote, "It is a film that is impossible to imagine without the actor in the title role. The notion of a 78-year-old action hero may sound like a contradiction in terms, but Eastwood brings it off, even if his toughness is as much verbal as physical. Even at 78, Eastwood can make 'Get off my lawn' sound as menacing as 'Make my day,' and when he says 'I blow a hole in your face and sleep like a baby,' he sounds as if he means it." I agree.

Eastwood really was an old action hero. He was fearless against the gang members, which I found astounding. He even put up a decent fight. His snarl was incredible. I really bought his charatcer--the grouchy, racist old man. In terms of acting, he made me buy it that he was so close-minded and racist. That's a sign of good acting.

I couldn't get over how racist the movie was. I know that was the point of the movie, but I found myself saying "oh my god" so many times because of racist comments. It was astounding. I was blown away at how many times the characters could handle being called all of those names or being stereotyped for food, clothing, or behavior, but I guess life could be like that for some of them, and since I don't see it everyday where I live, it comes as a shock to me.

Gran Torino had good messages though. I was surprised that such an old man could turn around in his views for a different race, especially one that he fought against for so long in the war. I liked the movie's central themes. Race doesn't matter. Gang violence is stupid and will only land its members in jail, not in a suitable career. Appreciate and learn from your elders. Culture clashes. Genereational differences and clashes. Why do adolescents show so much disrespect?

I also liked looking at the symbol of the Gran Torino. Once the movie was over, I found myself asking, why would they name the movie after the car? So then I got thinking. The car was from Walt's/Eastwood's past, a wanted, sought-after item. Respect. "Coolness." Image. When his Hmong neighbor Thao/Toad wanted the car at first, the gang made him to try to steal it. Later on, once Thao earns Walt's respect, he is given it to him once Walt dies. In life, you can either go down the wrong path--trying to steal or cheat--or you can be respectful and honest--befriending someone or earning it the right way--so Thao honestly and rightfully earned the car for himself. I think it was a subtle message to be a better person and earn what you want.

The plot development in the movie was very good. I like how it built up to the climax gradually--conflicting with the Hmong gang--while Walt and Thao became friends. Walt really left an impression on that young guy. Their relationship became something valuable, and Walt's comments made me laugh most of the time, even when it was kind of inappropriate.

The ending was a bit obvious, but I think it was a good one. I just wonder if a man really would have made that choice. He sacrificed his life, dying in gun shot wild fire, in order to lock up the gang so that his neighbors could live a better life without violence and corruption. I wonder if a man would really be that giving to give up his life for that. We'd like to say we would, but we never know. I like how Walt lived out his last day though. It was really hard to watch since you knew he was doing it. What would you do on your last day, if you knew?

The depiction of the priest also added some flavor to the film. I like what Walt said about him, something along the lines of, "you're an overeducated twenty-seven-year-old virgin who likes to hold the hands of old women and tell them lies about the afterlife." He told it as it is. I liked the priest's connection and his sermons at the funerals. Seeing the clash between Walt and his family was also pretty interesting. They were too caught up in their own lives to notice him, so Walt developed his own relationship with the family next door. It was touching.

Detroit was also depicted very nicely, slowly deteriorating along with the auto industry. It was symbolic for the setting to be Detroit, as relationships, generations, neighborhoods, and different racial groups were crumbling from how they used to be. Good touch.

Overall, the film was worth watching. I really enjoyed watching it. It had dark humor, in terms of racial commentary, but you could watch it on a deeper level for its overall themes, and that was worth it.

What do you think of Gran Torino?

Monday, July 20, 2009


I don't know what it is about World War II, but it interests people. It sells. Yes, I saw another movie about WWII, Defiance, except it took on a new spin that I haven't seen before in WWII movies. Instead of showing the war from the soldier's perspective or the concentration camp victim's perspective, it took the perspective of Jews who escaped the ghetto and were trying to survive in the woods.

Defiance is about a group of four brothers, the Bielskis, who survived in the woods for years during WWII. They took on hundreds and hundreds of Jewish refugees from ghettos, built communities in the woods, and scraped by in order to survive. What shocked me was how this was a true story. Obviously, some details are fabricated in order to make this movie a selling blockbuster.

Spoiler--what ends up happening is that they eventually do survive and make it out of the war. They save about 1,200 people in the end. They keep moving and making new camps when they are discovered, they fight back only when they have to using their ammunition, and they take and steal goods when they need it in order to survive (food, medicine). They participate in weddings and church services, games and jobs. It was really quite interesting how much they could turn a forest into a liveable community.

No spoiler anymore--As I was watching it, I was wondering how much of it was actually true. They fought a lot of battles against the Nazis that they strangley survived, they had enough supplies from the woods for them to survive for years, and they dodged the Nazis every chance they could get, even escaping air raids.

I couldn't imagine living in such horrible living conditions, when you are hunted out of your house, and then you are hunted out of the woods. Survival is a minimum. You watch your friends and family die. You are hated because of your religion and how you look. If I was them, I couldn't ever imagine the world turning around to how it is today. It's a miracle that we were ever able to overcome such a tragedy as WWII.

I don't know how much is true in terms of the brothers and their commitment over the years. Zus, one of the brothers, eventually is fed up and joins the Soviet Army because he doesn't want to sit around and wait. Since his family is killed, he wants revenge. I liked the duality of him and his older brother, the leader, played by Daniel Craig. Zus represents one rational side of the brain that says, "We can't survive here. These people are using us to survive. We need to fight. We can't support all these people. Rations will eventually run out. Take only those we can support." The other side of the brain, played by Daniel Craig, says, "We can't be animals like the Nazis. We need to take in everyone we can so that the most people that can can survive. We turn no one down. Everybody helps in the community, and we make it prosper in any way we can." If one was faced with this situation, in this leader aspect, I'm sure both arguments would come up in your mind. But, which side do you honestly do in order to secure the survival of those you love?

The movie was mixed with some depressing parts and some happier parts. Death, disease, and fighting were a constant--which is probably pretty accurate. Sometimes the action or plot was a bit dramatic, and I questioned its authenticity. But, no one really knows. They have a book to base it on, from the survivors, but I guess the movie is as close as it can be.

Defiance received mixed reviews, especially since some critics thought that it wasn't accurate. In response, the writer of the screenplay suggested, "The Bielskis weren’t saints. They were flawed heroes, which is what makes them so real and so fascinating. They faced any number of difficult moral dilemmas that the movie seeks to dramatise: Does one have to become a monster to fight monsters? Does one have to sacrifice his humanity to save humanity?" Good questions.

Critics thought that this movie made it look easy to survive in the woods as the Bielskis had. Why hadn't other Jews done this too? Survival must have been difficult, so the difficulty of the whole situation was misrepresented (as argued by critics). We all have our own opinions, but I'm just showing a few others.

It was a bit draining at times, but I would still recommend the movie, especially to those who are interested in WWII and history. It adds another layer to WWII films, so it might be a good movie to consider watching.

What do you think of Defiance?

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I think I'm beginning to cry more during films as I'm getting older. Now, I'm not that old, but I feel that as I understand the world more and its more serious themes, movies start to get to me more. Just the other day, I watched Cast Away for about the third time, and it made me cry this time. I think I'm watching films differently now; you can rewatch movies with new eyes and you'll get more out of it and see more than you did the first time. That's how I feel lately with movies.

In this same respect, I just watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There were several times throughout the film where I teared up, but I wasn't sobbing by any means. The love story was just so touching to me, and it hurt me to see how Benjamin had to go through life: "Nothing ever lasts," as he always would say.

The plot interested me to begin with because of its odd premise. There have been no other movies quite like this, and I like a plot that is different and thought-provoking. What if someone aged backwards? How would that person experience life? How would it be different for that person? How would this person experience love and death of loved ones? It's mind-boggling.

I like how the film was made though. Even though the premise is highly illogical, I bought completely into it while watching the movie. They made it seem like it could happen, that it was completely plausible. Thus, I could get deeply engaged in the movie and enjoy it as a work of fiction. It was really quite touching.

I loved how much of a "curiosity" aspect they added to the character's motivations. Many of them had a thirst for life and liked to pursue their passions. Many of them enjoyed traveling and exploring the world, which I found fascinating. The lives that many of these characters lived are dream lifes. One joined Broadway and pursued a dancing career in New York City. One hopped around the world pursuing any job that would pay. One traveled on a tug boat to explore different countries. It was thrilling to watch, and it was thrilling to explore the different decades that they lived through.

I also like the way the story was portrayed, from Benjamin's point of view from his diary and reread to his love, Daisy, as she was on her death bed. I enjoyed the flashbacks to add more material to the plot, give it some thickness. The postcards broke my heart, along with the fact that Benjamin actually had a daughter, and she realized it through reading the diary to her mother.

The clock that ticks backwards.

Benjamin's character was so strong, and it was quite admirable. He saw what was best for his daughter--to have a father that she could depend on and grow old with--so he gave up a perfect life, family, and love so that they could live well. He even gave them his life savings in order to allow for that to happen. He gave up a lot of things just so that people in his life wouldn't get hurt, which meant that he lived a life of solitude, which is very hard for one to do. He also experienced something that no one else ever has, so he had to go through that experience alone. Alienation is a big theme in this film, and it broke my heart to see him go through it because it's inescapable.

This reminds me of the recent post I wrote about "Survivorman," the Sherman Alexie poem. We all say that we could have done what Benjamin did, but it takes a really strong person to walk away. I really don't know if I could let go like that. He also had to allow his love to take another spouse. That would eat at me like no other! I think his character is trying to show us how strong one can be for the greater good of others. I don't know how often it happens, but it's good to see it occur even in a fictionalized version, even as an example of some sort.

I also really enjoyed how they went through Daisy's car accident. Benjamin narrated all of the tiny details that led up to her accident, and if one of those things HADN'T happened, then she would have kept dancing and pursuing her passion. But, since every little detail fell into place (getting coffee, forgetting the jacket, being stopped by a truck, having a late package, a broken shoelace, etc), she ended up in the hospital. Because she was unable to dance, she met Benjamin. Life is a series of events that happen for a reason, even if it looks horrible at the time. I like how they portrayed that, for her life wouldn't have been the same if this accident didn't happen. It made her stronger, and it brought her to the love of her life.

I think they did a good job, also, with making him look different ages. I'm sure that must have been difficult, but they did a fine job making it look real. It's so interesting to think about an old person that's young at heart (for real) or a young person who is truly wise beyond his years. Good concept, and well explored.

On a different note, I was also interested to see the film because it was adapted from an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, the author of The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise. I read the plot synopsis, and the story seems to be COMPLETELY different from the film. The only connection is how Benjamin keeps aging, and that he falls in love. I mean, I guess they made it so it was more interesting and dramatic, but I would have been angry if I was Fitzgerald because they stole his idea and totally rearranged the plot. Read a plot summary of the story here if you are interested.

What I also really enjoyed about the film was its writing. The dialogue and the narration was very deep and thoughtful. They are worth noting and thinking about. I will put some memorable quotations below to think about.

"Your life is defined by its opportunities...even the ones you miss."

"It's a funny thing about comin' home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You'll realize what's changed is you."

"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

"Benjamin, we're meant to lose the people we love. How else would we know how important they are to us?"

"You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You could swear, curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go."

"Everyone feels different about themselves one way or another, but we all goin' the same way."

"Along the way you bump into people who make a dent on your life. Some people get struck by lightning. Some are born to sit by a river. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim the English Channel. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people can dance."

Terrific acting as well. Very smart writing. Overall, a long film, but a good film. Very well done. I recommend it if you have a lot of time, an open mind, and some time to explore its deeper ideas.

What do you think of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Would You Join a Pop Group?

I've been thinking about this question recently, and I guess I'll take the space here to ponder it. I guess it came about because I recently heard that the Backstreet Boys are making a new CD and might be touring. Also, New Kids on the Block just came to my hometown too, and a surprising amount of fans showed up to see them play.

It blows my mind that there is still an audience for these out-lived, out-dated boy bands that are now getting a bit too old to be dancing around with light shows while singing songs about teenage love. It's just getting a bit perverted and gross, if you ask me.

So, I guess this whole idea spurs a few questions:

If you were a teenager and you were offered to be in a boy band or, if you're a girl, an all-girl pop band, would you join? (Given, you have a pretty decent voice and you aren't too bad looking. Consider the fame and the money, would you do it?)

If you were offered a spot on a Disney television show as a child or teenager, would you take it considering that your image would then be tainted as a goody-two-shoes, innocent, do-no-wrong kid? (Think of the money...)

And, if you were in a successful group that eventually called it quits (like New Kids on the Block or Backstreet Boys) and you split up for a while, would you come back to make some extra cash a few years later when you are older than you should be for that kind of work?

They're kind of complicated questions, but I really think money and fame are huge motivators for Americans. We don't even care what we're doing as long as we receive (or have a chance to receive) a huge sum of money. Some people just want to be on television. It blows my mind what people will do for money or fame, especially when you look at all of these ridiculous game shows--Wipeout, I Survived a Japanese Game Show, American Idol, America's Got Talent--let alone all of these stupid reality shows where people makes asses of themselves. People will go on TV for ANYTHING, which really takes the specialness out of it that everyone is looking for. But, some random reality stars (Jon and Kate Plus 8) hit random fame. That is what people are looking for, I think. Everyone thinks that they are so special and unique that once they get on television, someone will recognize their talent and sign them to some bigger deal, but it just doesn't happen. Or, it doesn't happen as often as people think it will.

I just feel bad for some of these people that come on television, spill some truly dark secrets or show some horrible side of themselves for entertainment value, and then go back to their normal lives, probably humiliated and haunted from how they ruined their reputation on the air. It's a sick way of entertainment, and I just don't buy into it.

What is really depressing is when celebrities go on these horrible game shows and reality shows to try to revive their fame. It's kind of like, "Hey, I'm still alive and need work!" and this reality show is the best they can do. All they can hope is that it triggers the eye of someone willing to cast them in something knew, or they can become notorious for something horrific and stay on talk shows and other bad game shows because they brought a lot of viewers to the screen. It's kind of disgusting, but it's more sad than disgusting. I think the example that hits the all-time low, besides Celebrity Fit Club and The Surreal Life, is I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! Depressing.

Back to the main point: it's hard to say who would take these jobs of fame and fortune at a young age. I don't think children and teenagers can really see what will come from fame and fortune, so they just think it's cool and accept the job. Parents will probably coerce the child/teenager into doing the job so they can share some of the riches, despite the trauma that might follow from failure or being a celebrity. That's sick too.

I also don't see why these old boy bands and other bands that previously bit the dust don't just call it quits. Can't they earn money some other way? Did they not invest well enough? Some bands that come back are cool, but others need to just let it go. Boy bands were a late-90s, early 00s trend that is long over. (Now boy bands mask it by actually holding instruments but playing the same pop-ish tunes, like, ahem, The Jonas Brothers, cough cough)

I couldn't imagine joining a pop group like that though. Have any of them ever ended successfully in a way that doesn't ruin the image of the artist? I think Justin Timberlake might be the only one, but I still think it's kind of cheesy. I don't know if I could sell myself out, even being a naive little actor on a Disney show. I guess it's easy to say now, but I guess certain people have different interests and motivations. It just wouldn't appeal to me though.

Anyway, I've ranted long enough. Maybe this will cause a reaction or a stir, maybe it wouldn't, but I just needed to have my two cents on this fame issue, reliving the past, and boy bands (yuck) that just won't go away!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


No, this blog post is not about the television show. Rather, it's about a poem I found by an INCREDIBLE American author and poet, Sherman Alexie, that appeared in The New Yorker last month. The poem is called "Survivorman," which I find interesting because it is squished into one word.

Check it out below:


by Sherman Alexie

Here's a fact: Some people want to live more
Than others do. Some people can withstand any horror

While others will easily surrender
To thirst, hunger, and extremes of weather.

In Utah, one man carried another
Man on his back like a conjoined brother

And crossed twenty-five miles of desert
To safety. Can you imagine the hurt?

Do you think you could be that good and strong?
Yes, yes, you think, but you're probably wrong.

I love Alexie's poems because they are so blunt and clear to the point. I like the story example he used here, a man carrying another man through the desert despite the circumstances, but I was also thinking of the man who cut off his own arm to suvive. Same kind of logic here.

The main point: Besides his fact painted clearly at the beginning of the poem, people would say that they would be stronger than they really are. No one really knows how they would react until they're in the given situation. And, some people, in these dark, life-or-death situations care only about themselves. I think most people would have left that man to die and would have trekked the desert themselves. It's easy to say that you would do it, but a lot of us wouldn't have the willpower or the stamina to carry that man and stay alive yourself. It's a tricky situation.

How many fictional examples have we seen, where some people cave to pressure (when abandoned on an island or in the woods) and when some thrive under it. Some people fight to survive; others give in. Some people become leaders and want to help others; some people simply fend for themselves only. It's interesting to see true human nature, and true human nature would easily come out in the situation presented above.

In terms of the way the poem is structured, there isn't too much to talk about. Perhaps the two words--Survivor Man--placed together is worth talking about. I guess they were both so in tune that they became one word, one identity? Why else smash the words together?

The poem is quite surface. There isn't TOO much to talk about in terms of layout or structure, but the content could really spark a good debate. I could see this poem being used as an introduction to Lord of the Flies or some other type of survival book/story. This could definitely be used in any kind of classroom; I just think English because that's my focus.

So what do you think of Sherman Alexie or "Survivorman?"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Showtime has really been impressing me lately. On their demand channel, they have featured all three seasons of Dexter before its next season airs. And I have to admit: I'm hooked.

A lot of things drew me to this show initially. First of all, I really love Michael C. Hall. His role in Six Feet Under made me an instant fan. He can portray very odd characters, and its very believable. He goes from a homosexual funeral director to a straight serial killer. He's quite talented.

Next, the plot hooked me. It's just so clever, and it's unlike any other television show out there. Dexter Morgan, the main character of the series, has wanted to be a serial killer ever since he was a young boy, after he saw his parents brutally murdered. He was adopted by the cop who rescued him on the scene, which helped him getting into the line of work he's in: blood work on crime scenes. He works specifically for the police, so he knows how to clean up a crime scene.

Dexter lives his life, trying to be normal, but still killing people who have killed or harmed others. His police father knew who he really was and trained him in order to kill only those who deserve it, how to cover up his tracks, and how to appear normal. Thus, Dexter gets a girlfriend who he can't get too close to and tries to go to social events with the rest of the police force, even though he has difficulty understanding how to socialize. However, one police officer gets a creepy vibe from Dexter and knows he's up to something. Where I'm at in season two, the officer is stalking Dexter to see if he does anything suspicious.

The only person Dexter really cares about is his foster sister, Debra Morgan. He has an odd sexual attraction to her. He even mentions that he is "very fond of her" and cannot bring himself to kill her when the opportunity arrives.

Season one was brilliant, and now I'm on season two. Season one revealed Dexter's true family and the serial killer, the Ice Truck Killer, who we soon learn is Dexter's real-life brother. His brother sends Dexter clues and messages because he knows about Dexter's serial killing. He hooks up with his sister and plots to kill her so that they can be serial killing brothers together. However, Dexter chooses his sister and kills his brother. He struggles with this decision since his brother is the only person he could truly be honest and himself in front of. Anyone else in his life would disown him and turn him in, sending him to jail or to death.

This show definitely hooks you. I couldn't stop watching the season once I started! It is so intricate and intelligent that I became deeply involved with it, even though killing and murdering is something that really freaks me out and scares me. It is still interesting to hear his mind process and see how he thinks and feels on any given day. It can be quite disturbing, but it's still an interesting project to look into a psychotic mind.

When Showtime, the sister station of CBS, tried to play it on their show, they were heavily criticized. Many protested it to go off of the air because of its content. I can see why people would be angry over this show airing, but it's really clever and thrilling. It's different, and that's what I like about it.

What DOES scare me is that some people really connect with Dexter's character. One person even tried to resemble Dexter and live a life like him, which is very scary. I can see how some people might take this the wrong way, but isn't it the same way with other films and television shows that air the same kind of violence? Maybe they're all too much, but it seems that movies and TV shows keep trying to out-do one another, and they keep getting worse and worse (in terms of content). Dexter definitely pushes the envelope on this one then.

What I found really interesting, that I didn't know before, is that Dexter is based on a book series with the same overall premise. I love when books are adapted to TV shows and films. It's so smart. I wonder how the books read and what the overall plots are...

Dexter is quite artistically made as well. The acting is superb, and the way that certain scenes are filmed really impress me. Everything about this show seems very intelligent, and I can tell how much work and thought are put into this series. I can't see how they can keep making seasons without Dexter not getting caught. They keep threatening it in the earlier seasons, and I can't see how it can keep going on, but I guess I'll find out as I keep watching more seasons.

So what do you think of Dexter?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Animals

"The Animals," a poem by Geoffrey Lehmann, caught my attention in a recent publication of The New Yorker. The overall concept of the poem is that we were once animals, so we still have animalistic tendencies and try to abandon some of them. The poem goes through various characteristics and behaviors that we once had when we were animals and then connects how we behave now, now that we are "civilized."

After a little research, I have learned that the poet is Australian, so the choices of animals used in the poem now seem to be quite obvious. I wonder if this helps the reader connect with and understand the poem any better. Here it is.

The Animals

by Geoffrey Lehmann

A "domesticated bearded dragon $400"
is not my idea of an animal companion.
A calf asleep on a double bed, perhaps,
or a hare with long ears
crouched under a mahogany sideboard,
thumping the floor.
Or a koala that climbed up a four-poster bed
surprising a seventeen-year-old in her nightie.

They were here before us--the animals--
and we were once them.
Without understanding we watched the sunrise
and the coming of night,
registered the changing of seasons
and dew on the leaves that brushed our flanks.
We, the animals,
knew feelings, had a memory,
exchanged sounds and visual cues,
but did not know
what came before
or ask what was to come.

A neighbor sleeps with a wombat in her bed,
and her husband sleeps on the veranda.
Kangaroos watch TV through her sitting-room window.
Bottle-fed joeys get osteoporosis
if the composition of the milk isn't right.
The females make better companions.
With shy brown eyes
they hop along beside you
as you collect mail from the gate at dusk.

We were once them,
and now are their custodians.
They know we are different
and their eyes tell us to keep our promise.

Bill came home after a fortnight away.
Potted plants had been kicked off the veranda,
there was an awful smell,
and the front door was ajar.
Inside the house
chairs were overturned,
papers and cushions trampled on floors,
and in the bathroom,
wedged against the washbasin,
her putrid flesh held together by hide,
Twinkle, a pony.
A tractor winched the body out.

I love how the poet parallels the lives of the animals to the lives of humans. At one point, he almost turns humans into the animals saying that they watch TV and are bottle-fed. We are each assigned different animals as we come from a slew of them, as alluded in the poem.

To go stanza by stanza, the first one seems to show that the poet likes playful animals or those with character. This connects with how he associates with humans too. He doesn't want a flashy one that will cost him a lot of money--one who is materialistic. Animals were not materialistic. They just needed basic things in order to survive. The more primitive (playful and rid of materials) seems to be the most fitting for our poet who seems to be looking for the right "companion."

Next, the poet discusses how we once used to possess animalistic traits that we have since abandoned. We were more in tune with nature, for we had to be in order to survive. Now that we are acculturated, we don't have this connection. We don't watch sunrises or the weather since we are preoccupied with more "civilized" tasks. But still, the animals bask in this pleasure as humans have dropped it long before. The last few lines suggest that knowledge has converted animal to man, and now we must know "why" and what comes next and what happened before. Animals do not take these steps--they simply enjoy the present. Humans are not like this.

The next stanza alludes to animals standing in the place of humans. Again, I think the poet is trying to show how we are similar or how we were once animals. It is easier to see this when animals are doing human-like things.

The next short stanza repeats the author's main point that "we were once the animals" but then concludes that we are their custodians, which is a comical point. We do clean up after them, even their feces. We seem to need to control them and clean them and groom them and place them where we think they should live. Apparently, we now control them even though it might not be our place to. Or is it?

Lastly, the final stanza tells a little story that was subtly introduced at the beginning of the poem. It seems that the woman is sleeping with someone else, here introduced as a wombat. He might be given an animal-like identity since he is acting primitively--he is sleeping with another woman. He has acted on impulse and has abandoned logical thought, a characteristic of animals. The woman's husband, thus, sleeps on the veranda, which is another animal trait. Perhaps men resort to animalistic tendencies when experiencing true, raw emotions (like pain or lust).

Further, a scene is depicted where the house has been destroyed by some kind of beast (obviously man), but those in the house seem to be quite animilistic, yet again. It seems more common that one would come home to a house destroyed by a pet, not a person, unless they are too young to know otherwise, like a toddler. It then seems that the wombat (or the woman herself) has resorted to killing (whether murder or suicide). Killing is another animal behavior that humans often do not resort to. In the animal world, it is merely a means of survival. In the human world, it is immoral and shunned upon. We then need human-made things (i.e. a tractor) to help us clean up the mess. Quite an interesting ending.

I thought the poet used clever techniques to subtly point out the changes humans and undergone from animal to human. I also like how he points out how we are still so similar even though we would never want to acknowledge it. The poet is concise with his message while still allowing for a lot of material and discussion. I think the topic is really interesting and people might have a lot to contribute (as to their own opinions) if this was brought up in some kind of discussion circle. Something to think about anyway.

So, what do you think of "The Animals?"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Miracle at St. Anna

When I heard that Spike Lee was coming out with a World War II movie, I was extremely excited. Lee is one of the best filmmakers of our time, and if he can construct a film about WWII, then it must be a sure-watch.

Miracle at St. Anna depicted WWII from the black perspective, which I had never really looked at before. The movie really focused on the devastation at St. Anna, but it also focused on a certain all-black batallion that was not taken very seriously by the US Army.

The movie follows these soldiers as they move through Italy. In the beginning of the movie, there is a striking part where the Germans broadcast a prerecorded message to the black troop. They are trying to psychologically mess with the minds of these black soldeirs. The woman speaking on the system asks them, in English, why they would fight for a country who does not accept them. Switch to the Germans and they will be given food, water, and respect. It really must mess with them, since they know that they really aren't respected, even by the Army because they are especially not accepted by those in the country.

What scene really got me is when the soldiers were still training at an army base in the south. They come into a restaurant, in their full uniforms, to order some ice cream sundaes. When they sit at the counter, they are refused service. Sitting at a nearby booth, a bunch of Germans sit who have been served. It boggles the minds of the soldiers as to why they cannot be served but traitors that Americans fight in war can be served. It really is an interesting question. How unmotivating.

But, the movie starts out with the only survivor from the troop who shoots a man as he is on the job in a bank. We find out later that the man he shot was the man who is responsible for the deaths of his men and the all of the innocent women, children, and others who were slaughtered at St. Anna. (The Germans shot and killed many in front of a church for they would not give up the location of a man who was killing many German soldiers. They simply did not know what he was talking about)

This man flashes back to his days in the service, when the entire story of St. Anna is revealed. Additionally, we discover where the shooter gets this separated head from an Italian statue (which is worth millions of dollars), who the sleeping man is, and why the boy they find is so special. It is a bit confusing at first, but once the plot continues, it starts to make sense.

After the WWII plot plays and questions are answered, the viewer is returned to his court case where he is put out on two million dollars bail. He reunites with the boy from the war who has returned his religious head. It's really a touching ending.

Even though this movie didn't receive great reviews and recognition, and I think it was very well done. Lee is quite artistic, and his talent is apparent when you see his movies. Certain camera angles and shots blew me away. He really has an intelligent vision, and he can cut and piece movies in a way that is brilliant. I was very impressed with how he put this movie together.

Apparently the film is adapted from a novel but is based on the true historical events depicted. The treatment of African Americans during wartime, the expiremental troops, and propoganda used in the film is all true as well. Many who saw the movie said that the depictions of the historical events were inaccurate. As a response, McBride, author of the book, responded with this statement: "As a black American, I understand what it’s like for someone to tell your history...unfortunately, the history of World War Two here in Italy is ours as well, and this was the best I could is, after all, a work of fiction."

Very interesting.

Other parts of the movie were very interesting: the concept of the sleeping man, the religious Italian head, the religious connections, the Butterfly, the chocolate giant. I thought the inclusion of the boy was clutch. His ignorance (calling the solider chocolate giant) and his strange connection with his dead brother and religious affiliation was eerie but essential. Then, in the end, it all ties back to him. It was very well constructed.

The movie was enjoyable, but I wouldn't see it more than once. It was very artistic, and it had a lot of good stars in it. Great acting. I am always impressed with Lee's work, and I am again here. Good film.

What do you think of The Miracle at St. Anna?