Quondam Dreams

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth: A Review, With Digressions

Pan's Labyrinth was exactly what I thought it would be, and that is not a bad thing.

As I'm sure you've heard, Pan's Labyrinth concerns a girl having an entirely logical reaction to her surroundings. When things suck, you cope. When you're about ten, and you're living in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and your stepfather's a monster worse than anything you've read about, you cope by escaping into fantasy. Hell, I'm a nominal grown-up, and I do it, too. Right now, I am fantasizing that I have a clue what I'm going to be doing a day from now. Fantasy is fun!

I think a lot of people there that day thought that they were going to be seeing a straightforward horror film, and, really, given the ad campaign, I can see where they might get that impression. Thing was, no one seemed disappointed that they were seeing something entirely different than what they expected. I didn't even hear any of the teenage boys kvetching about the subtitles. It's a Guillermo del Toro film. It's beautiful, and it's horrible, and it's horribly beautiful and you can't look away.

Pan's Labyrinth gets right everything that Terry Gilliam's Tideland got wrong. Don't worry if you didn't see the latter. I've tried to forget it. And if I did that with a Terry Gilliam movie -- Terry Gilliam, who's had a hand in so many of my all-time favorites -- you know it can't be good. Freakin' Terry Gilliam. Freakin' Tideland.

...Oh, right. Pan's Labyrinth. We see from the outset that Ofelia likes her fairy tales, and that their reality is much more pleasant than the one everyone else is stuck with. When that first sprite comes along and leads her to a faun who offers her a way out, Ofelia accepts with little fanfare. Ofelia's fantastic reality unfolds itself in a completely understandable fashion, which sure beats the hell out of living under a Fascist captain in 1944.

You know this movie isn't going to end well for the protagonist. The girl is named Ofelia, for heaven's sake. Things never end well for Ophelias. Anyway, they pretty much give it away in the opening shot. But that's not the point. The point -- the point I'm trying to make, anyway -- is that sometimes we choose how we see things. The fact that our perception is absolutely logical doesn't necessarily mean it's accurate. But that doesn't mean it's not valid in its own way. The trick is to know when you're fooling yourself, and to decide whether it matters. (See also: The collected works of Edward Eager, especially Magic or Not? and The Well-Wishers.)

Plus, fauns? Fauns rock.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Media Junk 2006, Part Two: Books and Some Web Stuff

(Please see disclaimer at the top of Part One. I know you don't really care, but humor me.)


Chances are . . . : Adventures in Probability by Michael Kaplan and Ellen Kaplan

I love numbers. You know this about me. I can take or leave math, but I love numbers. That's why I love baseball, and that's why I was so charmed by this book. And I was especially charmed when, in the middle, the authors pull back a little and tell us:

"The problem with life is that we have to live it from the begining, but it makes sense only when seen from the end. As a result, our whole experience is one of coming to provisional conclusions based on insufficient evidence: reading the signs, gauging the odds. . . . We see faces in clouds, hear sermons in stones, find hidden messages in ancient texts. A belief that things reveal meaning through pattern is the gift we brought with us out of Eden."

And that's why I loved this book.

The Pop-Up Book of Celebrity Meltdowns by Melcher Media
I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence by Amy Sedaris
Journal: The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Amy Zoe Mason by Joyce Atkinson & Kristine Atkinson
An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore
Found II : More of the Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World by Davy Rothbart

These were very nice-looking books. That's not a backhanded compliment; they also happen to be good reads.

The Dead Beat by Marilyn Johnson
Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia Of How We Die by Michael Largo

I’m not obsessed with death. I just... happened to read a couple of books...

The Devil Is A Gentleman: Exploring America's Religious Fringe by J.C. Hallman
Who Are You People?: A Personal Journey into the Heart of Fanatical Passion in America by Shari Caudron
American Bee by James Maguire
You Can Get Arrested for That: 2 Guys, 25 Dumb Laws, 1 Absurd American Crime Spree by Rich Smith
A Good War Is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America by David Griffith
Teen Dreams: Reading Teen Film and Television from 'Heathers' to 'Veronica Mars' by Roz Kaveney

"America is hard to see" - Robert Frost

We can't see it all at once, so we examine it from different angles. I doubt that any of these writers were trying to make any sort of great statement about "America" -- for that, you'll want to read Bernard-Henri Levy's American Vertigo. (Or maybe you don't want to read it. Up to you, really.) What we have here is a nice little trip through American obsessions and compulsions, from within and without.

Armed Madhouse by Greg Palast
Hell In A Handbasket by Tom Tomorrow

And then there are those who see America, and hope we'll listen. Judging from the midterm elections, 2006 was the year when a lot more people started.

World War Z by Max Brooks

Studs Turkel does George Romero. Yeah, there's all sorts of implied social commentary, but really? It's all about the zombies. ZOMBIES!!

I Know You're Out There: Private Longings, Public Humiliations, and Other Tales from the Personals by Michael Beaumier
How to Stay Bitter Through the Happiest Times of Your Life by Anita Liberty

I'm not bitter, so much as... bitten. Sometimes it's nice to know I'm not alone. And, who knows? Things could change. Stranger things have happened. There might even be a book in it.

Bitter Is The New Black by Jen Lancaster

Speaking of there being a book in bitterness... The bitterness here comes from the frustration of trying to find a job when you're overqualified for everything for which you're not underqualified, but I've adopted the title anyway.

The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde

I love Jasper Fforde. I fear the Ginga.

Lost and Found by Carolyn Parkhurst

This one didn't make much of an impression on me at first, but it comes back to me whenever I watch The Amazing Race or read about "ex-gay" crusaders. While not quite as profound as it thinks, it's still a good read.

From the Young Adult shelf:

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You by Ally Carter
Never Mind the Goldbergs by Matthue Roth
How It's Done by Christine Kole MacLean

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have To Kill You had me at the title. It was that kind of week. Admittedly, I was hoping for something about a snarky woman in her thirties who's contemplating making one last mistake before giving up on men forever (have I mentioned that it was that kind of week?), but what I got was a downright delightful reworking of those mid-eighties series set at girls' boarding schools in New England. It's like The Girls of Canby Hall or Hearts and Diamonds meets Alias, with Pop-Tarts. First in a promised series.

I stumbled on never Mind The Goldbergs while I was looking for something else, and it turned out to be one of my favorite novels of the year. It's your basic fish-out-of-water story; in this case, the "fish" is a punk teenage girl who's also an Orthodox Jew, the water is New York, and the dry land is Hollywood. Could've been awful; turned out to be insightful, grounded, slyly educational and often funny.

Even with all the reading I do, it's rare for me to identify with a character quite as much as I did with How It's Done's Grace. Reviews tend to highlight how Grace was brought up in a small town with overbearing parents; now that the opportunity has presented itself (himself), it's time to break some rules and face the consequences. And, yes, that's the basic plot, and if you can leave it at that then you're far more secure than some of us. Grace is attracted to Michael because he's attracted to her -- not her sexy, brash best friend, not those cliquey cheerleaders that sneer at her for having hips, but her. Michael may be the first non-related guy in her life that's treated her like an adult, and so what if he's a little older? So what if she has people like me delicately trying to warn her that he seems awfully concerned with keeping up appearances? Because here's the truth of Grace: If people keep telling you how smart you are, but only mention that you're kind of pretty when they're trying to help you feel better aboutg yourself, the first non-related, grown-up guy who tells you you're hot is going to be mighty attractive. And so will the next one. And the next. All you can do is try to go into it with your eyes open a little wider each time, and brace yourself for the consequences.


Passions on nbc.com
One of the most consistently entertaining shows on television, now legally available on your desktop.

Daily stop for good reads.

What, like I'm going to miss a chance to push the Bush Twins Party Hour? Please.

If you live in L.A. or work in entertainment, you're probably reading this already. If you don't fit either of those descriptions, check it out and laugh at us. It's okay. We don't mind. We know it's silly. We just don't care.

And finally, the Channel101 roundup.

You're not wasting time. You're checking out new talent before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon. ("Chad Vader," anyone?) A quick list of some stuff I especially liked in '06:

Your Magic Touched Me/Your Magic Touched Me Nights
Classroom (especially Episode 6, in which we learn about the hidden dangers of Glamour Shots)
McCourt's In Session
Fire Guys
Stripey (I was underwhelmed until the last 30 seconds of Episode 1. Then I thought the whole episode was freakin' brilliant. The second... eh.)
What's In Your Fridge? (Episode 1 was great. Episode 2 was... episode 1, which is probably why it only lasted the 2.)
Fun Rangers (See "What's In Your Fridge?" note)
And, of course, Yacht Rock.

And some shows that didn't make it past their pilots, because no matter how brilliant everything is, only five shows can return each month:
Axl Rose's Paradise City Apartment
Bone Boys
The Ghostevator
Kill Patrick Sullivan
Pool Master

A lot of other people seemed to like Phone Sexxers, Quest, Raptor and Dohar: Lord of Beasts. Who knows? You might, too.

Next screening is scheduled for Sunday, January 28 at CineSpace. If you're in the L.A. area, you should be there.

Now go outside and play.