Saturday, May 23, 2009

Reviews of Many Things

Sorry I haven't been blogging much lately. Here's a pile of mini-reviews of things I've watched or read recently.

AWESOME THINGS

Wicked
-- I saw the musical at the Orpheum Theater. If you're not familiar with it, it's the story of The Wizard of Oz retold from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. It was absolutely wonderful. I have read the book by Gregory Maguire, and the book was good, but not amazing. The musical was a heck of a lot of fun, though. They changed the plot quite a bit, especially toward the end. Because, you know, musicals need happy endings. But it worked. It was a hoot!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay -- This book by Michael Chabon is one of the most engrossing novels I've read in a long time. Young Czech Joe Kavalier escaped from Nazi-occupied Prague and made his way to New York City. There, he and his cousin Sam Clay, created a Nazi-bashing comic book, which lead to fame and fortune . . . and tragedy. The story is so well written, its descriptive passages so rich, that the pictures that formed in my mind were as vivid and clear as if I were looking at the pages of a graphic novel. The book walks the fine line between real life and fantasy. The characters and their relationships feel real, but some of the situations they find themselves in are as wild as the tales they spin in their comics. It's beautifully absurd, and absurdly beautiful. I would recommend this book to . . . well, pretty much anyone.

Star Trek -- Some people don't like the new film because it completely erases the original continuity. But after five or six TV series and ten movies, it was getting hard for Star Trek writers to come up with new plots that didn't contradict something that had already been established. The movie gets around that with time travel, an incident that changes the lives of young Kirk and Spock so that their paths unfold differently. (No ambiguity is left on this count. Uhura even refers directly to "an alternate universe.") So this is a whole new Star Trek, a clean slate. And some of the changes to the universe were HUGE. Certain characters die. A certain planet is destroyed. And certain characters are in a romantic relationship that made me double-take. (Let's just say Uhura kisses someone--not someone I expected--and there was no alien mind control involved.) And it was tremendous fun. It wasn't deep and meaningful, but not everything has to be. It was a thrilling adventure, and I loved every second of it.

Avenue Q -- Another Broadway musical, which I saw at the Orpheum over a month ago. It was a rather raunchy, adult homage to Sesame Street. It was hilarious, but decidedly not for all audiences. I loved the Bad Idea Bears, who always showed up whenever the characters had to a big decision to make, and helped the characters make the worst possible choices. ("I'm broke and unemployed. I don't know how I'm going to pay my rent." "I know what to do! Let's buy beer! Yay!")

LESS-THAN-AWESOME THINGS

The Underneath -- This children's chapter book by Kathi Appelt was a National Book Award finalist, but I wasn't really fond of it. It was an enjoyable melodrama, but the writing style was really irritating, and often rather overblown. Good, but not great.

The Escapist -- This graphic novel is meant to be a representation of the comic written by the characters in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. However, it really didn't do justice to the source material. At all. It was very disappointing, perhaps because the prose descriptions in the novel gave me such vivid images, and this comic didn't measure up to the pictures in my mind.

Strawberry Panic -- I'm familiar with the lesbian-romance-at-an-all-girls-school sub-genre of anime. I enjoyed Maria-sama ga miteru, and I expected Strawberry Panic to be similar. And on the surface it is. However, it is boring--horribly, excruciatingly boring. It ran for five DVDs, with barely enough plot for one, spread very thinly. It had far too many characters; I kept losing track of who was who. And the plot was stupid. Seriously, how does winning what amounts to a popularity contest for best lesbian couple qualify you for student government? Don't bother.

THE JURY IS STILL OUT

The Historian -- I'm about two-thirds of the way through this book by Elizabeth Kostova, but I'm really enjoying it. There are parallel plots in different time periods, as a girl searches for her missing father, and many years ago, her father searches for his missing professor, and many years before that, the professor searches for the real Vlad Tepes, also known as Dracula. Actual vampires stalk the father and the daughter. (It's nice to see sinister Old World vampires as serious villains again.) I can't tell yet how it will end, but it is a very interesting journey, rich and vivid and suspenseful. I'm leaning toward proclaiming it to be awesome, even though I haven't even finished it yet. *

The L Word
-- I've been watching the DVDs with my favorite ex-girlfriend. It's a soap opera, to be sure. At times it borders on porn. Are all those sex scenes really necessary? I don't think so, but it's not bad enough to make me stop watching, because I actually care about some of the characters and want to see what happens to them. But these ladies make some really, really bad life choices at time, and I end up screaming at the TV rather often. I'm at about the middle of season two (out of six). At present, I'm planning to continue buying the DVDs and watching them. Not sure what the final verdict will be. It's witty and interesting, but often very frustrating.

* Addendum 6-4-2009: I finished reading The Historian. It is thoroughly awesome in every respect. It is suspenseful, vivid, and has a nice little twist at the end.

1 comment:

Mom said...

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay is a stunningly well written book. The details are profoundly evocative. (I can see Danny DeVito as Mr. Anapol.) The Czechs are great illustrators and movie makers, and they make a great case for the notion that oppression releases creativity in its most absurd iteration. I'm only about one-fifth of the way into the book, but I am SO enjoying this collision of Czech and American cultures.