Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Day Miley Couldn't Stop

As always, significant cultural events reveal significant things about our culture. MTV's recent Video Music Awards were no exception.  In the midst of MTV’s glittery ode to itself, Miley Cyrus hijacked twitter for a while, and for good reason: her performance was incredibly inappropriate. In an industry that prides itself on pushing the envelope, she managed to shock almost everyone. 

When I saw the footage the next day, I felt embarrassed for Miley. The desperation and emptiness in her performance was heart-breaking.  On the one hand, I am encouraged that so many people were bothered by what she did. On the other hand, I am puzzled by the duplicity of the uproar, specifically from those in the entertainment industry. After all, she just did what her song said she wanted to do. 

Here is what the VMA’s celebrated and Miley brought to life in "We Can't Stop":

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Joseph Finder's Paranoia: A Review

When I saw previews for the movie version of Paranoia a couple weeks ago, I thought, “I believe I read that book last winter. Something about a self-centered jerk who got caught in the middle of corporate espionage between even bigger self-centered jerks, and I didn't really care what happened to him or anyone else at the end.”

Yep, that was the one. I am apparently an outlier: critics seemed to like the book quite a bit, and audiences lapped it up (it was a NYT best-seller; the hardcover version went through four printings). Though the trailer for the recently released movie looks good, it's getting a 3% from critics and a 39% from the audience at Rotten Tomatoes. I guess the trailer is the best part.

This review will only cover the book, which differs from the movie in both appropriateness (for a YA novel, there was a surprising amount of R-rated material) and plot (the book is far more believable). Speaking of the plot....

Adam is a childish, self-centered slacker who has no idea what to do with his life other than make easy money, get laid, and drink himself into happiness (or forgetfulness). It’s not a roadmap for success.  He works for a Trion, a large corporation that apparently hires anyone. Frustrated by the impersonal nature of the company, he impersonates the VP for Corporate Events and caters a retirement party – to the tune of $78,000 dollars. Once he’s busted, he finds out that his little prank could earn him 30 -50 years in prison and a one million dollar fine. He spins a yarn about the retiree being his dying father.  It doesn't work, but it does highlight his ability to lie egregiously and convincingly.

This would be a downer to his employers, but not when the employers are soulless. Who better to infiltrate their competitors than a low-level con artist who can't cover his tracks? Not to worry. As his corporate espionage coach tells him, “You're a natural, Adam. You’re going to do just fine.” She was right - Adam is really good. But she was wrong about him doing just fine.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Honor, Idealism, and the Monsters Within: A Review of Jonathan Mayberry's Rot and Ruin Series

“When writers tell a story about monsters, we’re usually using them as a vehicle in order to tell a story about our own world.” - Jonathan Mayberry

In an attempt to better understand the entertainment shaping my kids and the rest of today's youth, I submit my latest review of books impacting a YA audience. My goal is not to critique the art form as much as look at how the story reflects and shapes the readers' worldview. 

This review will look at Jonathan Mayberry's Rot and Ruin series. According to Amazon.com,  Rot and Ruin was Booklist's Ten Best Horror Novels for Young Adults and a Bram Stoker and Pennsylvania Keystone to Reading winner. It was also nominated for several state Teen Book Awards, the Cybils Award, the Eva Perry Mock Printz medal, the Dead Letter Best Novel Award, and four Melinda Awards). Dust and Decay was the winner of the 2011 Bram Stoker Award. Rot and Ruin has already been optioned for the big screen.

As part of the ongoing evolution in the horror genre (such as World War Z, Warm Bodies, and The Walking Dead), this series uses the zombie motif to address some surprisingly deep questions. Here's the primary one that lurks in the background: If zombies are basically amoral animals ruled by instinct, and they can feel no pain, why should people treat them with any respect at all? When faced with the dilemma of how we ought to interact with other living things, we usually begin by making several important distinctions.

What argument can be made against people who dismember, torture, and dehumanize a zombie? The argument would most likely be that this type of bestial violence destroys the souls of the perpetrators even as they desecrate their victims. 

And that is exactly the argument that Jonathan Mayberry makes in this surprisingly insightful series.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Elysium: Fighting For Paradise

According to Brittanica Online,
"Elysium, also called Elysian Fields or Elysian Plain, in Greek mythology, originally the paradise to which heroes on whom the gods conferred immortality were sent... In Homer’s writings the Elysian Plain was a land of perfect happiness at the end of the earth.. In the earlier authors, only those specially favored by the gods entered Elysium and were made immortal."

In Neill Blomkamp's latest incarnation of this story, the "specially favored" are not heroes at all; they are, however, extremely wealthy. When the earth went to environmental and political hell in an overcrowded hand basket, the 1% built a bourgeois paradise in space, leaving the 99% on a decrepit earth to gaze longingly at the home of their betters. The rich got everything money could buy: perfect health, longevity, luxury and ease. Those left behind inherited a hard life that creates harder people, and the camera does not look away (see Focus on the Family's review for more detail on the relentless portrayal of very fallen world). 

As far as social, economic and political commentary go, Elysium is intended to be a sci-fi parable of health care and immigration in much the same way Blomkamp's disturbing District 9 dealt with racism. It's caricatured class warfare and naive revolution are a distraction at best and dishonest at worst, but they will certainly generate discussion about the morality of wealth disparity.

I am more interested in Max.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"The Wolverine": Of Dark Roads, Monsters And Men

"The great battle, I always thought with Wolverine, is the battle within himself."  - Hugh Jackman, aka Wolverine


Since the disastrous events at the end of the last X-Men film, Logan (aka Wolverine) has retreated into the woods, living a life of solitude among the another animals. His past haunts him every night as the ghost of the woman he both loved and killed lingers. He's a Ronin, a samuri without a master and thus without a cause. Even worse, he's basically immortal, and the events of the past promise a future full of ruin and despair.

I left The Wolverine with mixed emotions (you'll see why in a moment). I ran an early version of my review past a good friend, Karl Meszaros, who has made appearances on this blog before. He knows the Marvel mythology behind Wolverine far better than I do, and he completely disagreed with my reaction to the film. Rather than rewriting my review, I have decided to post both: my response as a casual fan of the X-Men movies, and his insight as a follower of the Wolverine mythos for quite some time.

Perhaps our opposite reactions are inevitable considering the difference in knowledge about the story; perhaps we simply bring the very disparate circumstances that formed our lives into our analysis. After you have read these two perspectives, I'm interested hearing your response.