Sunday, December 25, 2011

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

Posted by Kurt

We Bought a Zoo, the new Cameron Crowe film, is like a deep-tissue massage for my soul.  It is shamelessly heartfelt, with no interest in being edgy or bringing in shocking plot twists.  There are no tricks or nasty villains.  It is just a story about a guy trying to restore his family with a little adventure, and it is dangerously close to perfect.  I've been accused of hating love, happiness, and fun, and I still alternated between happy tears and sad tears for almost two hours.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Mega-Python vs. Gatoroid

Posted by Matt

I love cheesy sci-fi monster movies. I love pop music. And I am prepared to tell you all about a battle royale pitting Debbie Gibson against Tiffany against a few CGI reptiles...Spoiler alert

Friday, December 2, 2011

Explosive Eighteen

Posted by Matt

Janet Evanovich writes a series of mystery novels about a Jersey girl who finds herself a job as a bounty hunter, using her charm to overcome her lack of any real talent at catching bad guys. Each book has a number in the title, and this is the eighteenth. On the one hand, the audience is built in - we've read seventeen of these adventures, the odds are we're still on board, even if she does phone this one in. But the book has its importance a little elevated. For one, this novel follows Evanovich's best cliffhanger yet, and for another, this is the last book published before Katherine Heigl attempts to embody lead character Stephanie Plum on the big screen this spring. I am pleased to report that the book is a success, with the mild annoyance of an abrupt ending. At the close of the last book, Evanovich teased a resolution to the series's love triangle - Stephanie was going on vacation with ONE of her suitors, and we weren't going to learn who until the next book. I was expecting this book to start by telling us who got that other ticket, and I thought we'd read about that couple solving a mystery in Hawaii instead of the usual Trenton haunts. Instead, the book opens with Stephanie sneaking back home, and for a hundred pages, the author drops clues about what happened without yet revealing. It was a great way to hold my attention, with pacing worthy of the best primetime dramas as they return from summer hiatus. The rest of the book was the usual enjoyable action, comedy, and romance. Reading it reminded me of how she described morning sex - satisfying and enjoyable, but not a marathon because everyone has something else to do that day. This woman has learned what works for this series, and I recommend new readers take a look at One For The Money. By the time you get to Explosive Eighteen, you'll be thanking me.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Break the Spell (2 of 2)

Posted by Kurt

I started my review of Daughtry's new album, Break the Spell, here.  This is the rest of the review, starting with the most embarrassing track on the album.

Break the Spell (1 of 2)

Posted by Kurt

I am a semi-secret fan of Daughtry.  I liked his sound on American Idol, I loved his self-titled debut album, and I basically liked his follow-up album, Leave This Town.  I’m aware that I lose any snob street cred by liking his music, but I can’t help myself.  When I noticed an opportunity to pre-order his third album, Break the Spell, on iTunes, I put it on my credit card without a second thought.  And while, at this point, you already know whether or not you like Daughtry and are interested in a predictable third album, so it’s kind of stupid to write a review.. I am that kind of stupid, so here we go.

Friday, November 11, 2011

420 Characters

Posted by Kurt
This beautiful collection of hyper-minimalist stories is simply stunning.  Lou Beach presents himself with a simple challenge - make an impact in a Facebook status update, which means writing 420 characters or fewer - and succeeds in roughly 160 different ways.  Each page of this collection is one status update, each standing independently but some tracing faint connections through the volume in a vaguely Spoon River Anthology kind of way.  Some are complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and some are completely surreal images that don’t have an obvious surface-level connection, but most are single rich images that suggest much larger stories.  I have been madly in love with minimalism since reading a Chuck Palahniuk essay about Amy Hempel (and then devouring each of her collections), and most of Beach’s work compares well with the best of Hempel’s creations.  Beach clearly understands exactly how to cultivate just the most evocative details of a scene, like a cowboy realizing that all of his lover’s letters have taken on the aroma of campfires, a child absorbing the warmth of a small wooden bridge while dropping pebbles into the stream below, or three lines of dialogue that suggest the overall shape of a passionate argument.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Comics roundup 11/2/11

Posted by Matt

Mostly new business with the X-Men as the rest of the comic world shakes off that last crossover...

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Song is You

Posted by Kurt

This fascinating hipster love story isn't quite as charming as (500) Days of Summer, but I was enchanted by it anyway. The main protagonist (Julian) is a director with a self-consciously astounding collection of music on his iPod, and the novel is generally about his love for Cait, a young Irish rock star on the rise. Their courtship is truly unique, as he gives her hard advice to make her a better artist, and she begins writing the next steps of the relationship into her songs. As the love story develops, though, the book gets more complicated in unexpected but strangely inevitable ways. He follows her around like a man in love, and Phillips is a strong author who is able to subtly shift perspectives and introduce enough doubt to make the reader uncomfortably confront the idea that he may also be following her around like an unwanted stalker. What if, for example, an anonymous message was from some other admirer? What if he is creating his love's reciprocal feelings from inside his own head? It is occasionally nauseating and often creepy and kind of exactly how I think hipster love goes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Run For Your Lives! (3 of 3)

Posted by Kurt

He is tall, with very short hair and a generally thoughtful expression.  He wears a tattered suit covered with blood.  She has a beautiful dress, like a glass of champagne, that would be more presentable if not for the occasional bloody stab wound.  Her hair is an enormous frizzy white wig, and it looks like the only part of her costume untouched by blood.  They are ready for prom, and very much in love.  When humans appear, they stand next to each other as they lurch after stragglers, but in their down times, he stands with a hand casually resting on her hip.  In the morning chill, his shredded jacket offers little warmth, but it’s on her shoulders when they don't have to perform.  When her wild hair begins to bother her, he tears a strip of “caution” tape from the end of a barrier so that she can tie it back, and when she wants it to go wild again for a later wave of humans, she ties the tape around her ribs.  In the warmth of the early afternoon sun, they curl up together on the grass, fitting together like pieces of a puzzle.  When a young human woman dashes shrieking through the zombie horde in an.. impractical costume.. the zombie prom date turns to her boyfriend and mutters an observation about the runner’s motivations for her wardrobe choice, then gives him a grin that is made just a bit more charming by the shine of fake blood that covers her jaw, neck, and chest, like she has just aggressively imbibed spiked punch directly from the bowl.  From time to time between waves of runners, the zombies making small talk will glance at the prom couple and confirm to each other that we are all completely in love with them.

Run For Your Lives! (Part 2 of 3)

Posted by Kurt

A young man waits in the staging area before he begins his run.  Jay wears a torn white dress shirt and plaid pants, all stained with fake blood.  He has rubbed mud in his hair and fixed a false laceration along his cheekbone.  As a zombie volunteer in the morning, he perfected a curious pretzel-shaped crouch, with his arms at unnatural and unsettling angles that just happened to be perfect for suddenly snatching at an inattentive runner’s flag, but now his shift is over, and he is ready to experience the other side of the event.  He is an accomplished runner, with experience completing masochistic ultra-marathons and pushing himself for 24 hour races, but this is his first time to dodge zombies on his way through an obstacle course.

Run For Your Lives! (Part 1 of 3)

Posted by Kurt

A strikingly beautiful young woman stands in an open field, with her boots drenched in dew and her arm thrust into the air.  She holds an orange strip of plastic like a macabre trophy for all to see.  She has big pale eyes and bright white teeth, which look even brighter when contrasted with the thick layers of dirt and sticky fake blood all over her face.  She wears an outfit that is the kind of thing a pretty girl wears when she dresses down - boots, but they’re cute Uggs; a jacket and some flannel stained from copious amounts of fake blood, but they fit her very well.  The look, whether she intends it or not, is “sorority girl goes on a wholesome family camping trip and gets infected by the zombie plague,” with the thick bloodstains around her mouth suggesting the fates of her family members.  When she’s in character, stumbling around and groaning, she’s a very scary zombie, hitting you right in the “this could happen to anyone” place in your gut.  Out of character, though, she makes funny jokes about “Lindsey Lohan on a good day” being her favorite zombie, and she drifts through the field of off-duty zombies with a cute friend from home, meeting people and enjoying the excitement of the morning.  
At this moment, though, she has just withstood her first wave of potential human victims, and she has claimed her trophy.  The orange plastic quivers a bit from her excitement, subtly evoking images of a ghoulish Statue of Liberty, and she shouts, “I’m not even a chaser, but that bitch was slow!”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Buddha in the Attic

Posted by Kurt

This lyrical, elegant, potent book is a completely worthy follow-up to Otsuka’s first book, When the Emperor Was Divine, and may be even more emotionally powerful.  It is not exactly a novel in the traditional sense, as there is no plot, simply a montage of images and simple observations about the experience of Japanese women who came to California before World War II as brides for men they had never met  The images flow like a dream that gets quietly more nightmarish until the horrifying and inevitable end at the time of the internment of Japanese Americans in 1942.  The chapters are loosely bound by topic (the journey by sea, shared experiences of childbirth, details from the day that the Japanese Americans leave their homes, etc.) and mostly told in the first person plural.  This narrative decision is beautiful, churning up history out of a collective experience, presenting contradictions without apology (something like, “We came from X background, and it made us like this.  We came from Y background, and it made us like this,” creates delicate tensions that make the story both communal and individual, and I love it).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

Posted by Kurt

I have recently had a hunger for the genre of "smart people writing about stupid things," and this book is my new favorite example.  While Klosterman may not deserve to be considered a subversive genius, he is a very smart person writing very good analysis of very shallow things, and I love it.  This collection of essays includes a comparison of Pamela Anderson and Marilyn Monroe to examine the way our cultural attitudes toward sex have changed (nothing groundbreaking, but the essay is earnest and respectful, even as it touches on the pornographic), a reflection on the way The Real World has altered how young people see their real-life social groupings, a story of the author's time coaching Little League that made me laugh out loud to the point where I had to stop reading for a while, and more.  There is a traditionally journalistic portrait of a Guns 'N Roses cover band, which delves into what the cover band phenomenon says about music and our society, and one of the only respectable analyses of Saved By The Bell that I have ever read (it doesn't pretend that the show was good, or entertaining, or coherent - it just looks at the various pieces and how they fit together in a way that considered what fans wanted/needed).  There is also a haunting little essay about the cultural impact of serial killers, filled with impressive interviews and some soul-baring on the part of Klosterman.  I even liked the essays about sports, although my eyes glazed over while I skimmed through the sections with way too much detail about a topic I loathe.

Songs for Fall 2011

Posted by Matt

The radio in my area has been really disappointing, overplaying autotuned assaults between aggressive commercial breaks, so for the past few months I have gotten my recommendations for new music from podcasts, the iTunes free songs of the week, recommendations of friends, and SoundHounding in public.  In case you're in the same boat, here are some of my top songs for Fall 2011 (all available on iTunes):

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Shot Through Velvet

Posted by Matt

This is the seventh book in a series by Elaine Byerrum where the mysteries get solved based on clues the astute Washington DC fashion reporter picks up. The series has been generally fun, with entertaining supporting characters and cute fashion articles between chapters. But the books have usually dropped in quality when the authors devotes more time to the sleuth's social life than to the mystery, and this book demonstrates that. It starts where Lacey is writing an article about how the economic downturn means that American fabrics like velvet are no longer being produced, and Byerrum builds an intriguing mystery around this dying little factory town, but around a hundred pages in, Lacey goes home to DC to spend a couple hundred pages killing time with her girlfriends, and by the time we get back to the mystery, I had forgotten the suspects and motivations. Overall, I did enjoy this entry, but I hope the writer will focus future books a little better.

Smokin' Seventeen

Posted by Matt

Janet Evanovich's series about a Jersey bounty hunter flourishes best when she focuses on the kooky support staff and the steamy romantic triangle, and with this eighteenth edition, Evanovich proves she knows what she's doing with that balance. The mystery at the heart of the book involves finding a few bodies and wondering if Stephanie Plum is a target or just a trouble magnet. Most of the book, however, has her spending quality time with her hot cop boyfriend and her hot mercenary temptation, justified by saying that her boyfriend's grandmother cursed her with hyperactive libido to try to punish her. It's cute, it's funny, and it's one of my favorites in the series so far.

Last Night at Chateau Marmont

Posted by Matt

I loved Lauren Weisberger's The Devil Wears Prada, hated the follow-up, Everyone Worth Knowing, enjoyed the third book, Chasing Harry Winston, and came to this fourth attempt with some trepidation. Turns out I was right to be on my guard - it wasn't as awful as Everyone Worth Knowing's vapid spoiled popular girl fantasy, but it was close. The book starts with Brooke whining for a hundred pages about having to work two jobs to support her talented but undiscovered musician husband. Then, when he gets discovered, we spend a hundred pages of her calling in sick and being generally unprofessional as she decides to join him for everything despite being unable to contribute anything of value at any of his events. Then, we read about how outraged she gets when her husband dares to suggest that she quit one or two of her jobs and allow him to take his turn as breadwinner. She whines about not being allowed to have it all, like all the rest of us never have to make choices in life about how we spend a finite number of minutes we get each day. Did no one tell her that marrying a person who is not yourself means that you have to choose some things sometimes? The end does manage to redeem some of the whining, but the lead character is rarely less than insufferable. You have sixty minutes each hour - spend them on something better, and stop whining that you can't also use those same minutes to read crap like this.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

Posted by Kurt

I didn't expect much when I impulse bought this book at a used book store.  I recognized Toby Young's name from his appearances as an occasional guest judge on Top Chef, where I didn't like him much but appreciated his shameless bitterness, and I found the book title very clever.  When I finally got around to reading the book, though, I was surprised to love it.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Carillon Restaurant - Austin, TX

Posted by Kurt

I took a quick trip to Austin this month for a family vacation, and I flew in a night before everyone else, so I made plans with a friend to try a restaurant that used a little more molecular gastronomy than my family members would enjoy.  It turns out that I gave my friend the wrong date (by three months, ouch - I originally said I’d be in town in December and didn’t catch the typo and made all the rest of the plans with “We have reservations for the 21st at 8:30!” I am an idiot.), so I waited by myself for a few minutes debating between eating alone or going to bed early after a long day of travel.  I decided to stick around and enjoy the 6-course tasting menu, and I’m so happy that I did.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Bloodrayne 3

Posted by Matt

My affection for Uwe Boll is pretty well-stated on this blog. He is the German director who tilts at windmills, but in this case, those windmills are the film adaptation of violent video games. So more like tilting at cheap motels. I have loved the aggressive mediocrity of Bloodrayne, House of the Dead, and Alone in the Dark. He is the German Ed Wood, and for me, that is a compliment. The original video game of Bloodrayne, according to Wikipedia, pitted a hot girl vampire-human hybrid against some Nazis. Boll interpreted this for the first movie to mean, "Hot blonde girl half-vampire swordfights in the middle ages." For the sequel, he recast her as a brunette on Xanax and had her chasing Billy the Kid through the Wild West. Tonight, I decided to watch Bloodrayne 3: The Third Reich, which will finally pit our half-vampire-full-badass heroine against the spectre of a vampire Hitler. Keeping it classy, German director.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown

Posted by Kurt

Like many people born in 1980 or later, I grew up with a vague notion of Jonestown as a weird town in a jungle where a bunch of people in a cult drank poison Kool-Aid and died.  I use the term “drink the Kool-Aid” when I refer to someone completely buying in to an idea or a cause.  But until I read this book, I never really knew what Jonestown was all about.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Comics roundup for 9/14/11

Posted by Matt

Quick thoughts on Fear Itself 6, Ultimate Spider-Man 1, and some of Marvel's other releases...


Posted by Matt

In honor of finishing my psychiatry exam today, I am celebrating with the most brainless psych movie I could find, Insanitarium, starring Jesse Metcalfe. From the box alone, I am already giggly. The tagline is "Your sanity is the least of your problems," which is either bad grammar and word choice OR implies that sane people will not enjoy this movie. Either way, I'm in. And the back includes the sentence "Trapped inside an inescapable labyrinth, will he and his sister find a way out before the relentless cannibals hunt them down?" So either, A, no, or B, someone is not really using the word "inescapable" well. And if this is the quality control involved in convincing people to pay for this crap, I am pretty stoked about how they'll treat me now that I have committed to watching this movie.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ready Player One

Posted by Kurt

This book is The Da Vinci Code for Swatch Dogs, Diet Coke heads, and guild leaders. For absolutely mindless entertainment, it's just fine, but everything here is about as shallow as a 2-D side-scroller like Super Mario Brothers (and not one of the sequels with a storyline, just the one about jumping and running).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge

Posted by Kurt

I nearly gave up on this book shortly after I started it. I was born in late 1980, so I was only ten years old when Nevermind hit the stores and brought grunge into mainstream America, so during the years that grunge was vital and relevant, I was a little too young to connect with it. My friends’ cool older siblings liked Soundgarden and Nirvana and Pearl Jam (although the fourth big grunge band is consistently listed as Alice in Chains, I have never had a personal relationship with anyone interested in that band), and I had a couple of Pearl Jam CDs on my shelf collecting dust (because my mom had heard somewhere that all the cool kids liked Pearl Jam, and she wasn’t going to tolerate a kid who wouldn’t even try to be cool), but I was never really an active grunge fan. I mean, I liked flannel because it was a style that was kind to fat kids, but I didn’t personally connect to the music. Even today, I generally reference Kurt Cobain when I’m helping people who want clarification on how I spell my name, but I’m certainly not a devoted Nirvana fan. And the first 100-150 pages of this book are largely concerned with the regional roots of grunge. Many vapid observations about bands you’ve probably never heard of: “Man, I went to that U-Men show at that venue, and I was sooooo drunk...” “Yeah, there was a dead cat at that one show, and it was crazy...” “Yeah, I met this member of my new band in my high school, and we smoked pot at his mom’s house, then I met this other member of my new band in my high school and we smoked pot at my mom’s house...” It was a bunch of people telling inane stories about when they used to be cool in their hometown. And with no connection, I was prepared to give up on the book and write a polite review about how it’s only geared toward those who are already intense grunge fans.

And then Courtney Love showed up.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Posted by Matt

Since my part of North Carolina stayed above water, I decided to celebrate with the copy of Sharktopus I impulse-bought for five bucks. It's one of those SyFy original cheesy monster movies in the vein of my beloved Komodo vs. Cobra, only this time their most popular actor is Eric Roberts, whose IMDB entry is too long for my attention span but failed to register a single memorable role for me. But I am excited for CGI cheese, so I watched it anyway.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Posted by Kurt

My dad gave me this book because it is set in Galveston, Texas, an area that is like a home to me. And the book does have plenty of nice local trivia and charming anecdotes about the history and culture of the island (and Bolivar Peninsula, and Houston). Unfortunately, the writing is so bad that this is the literary equivalent of someone filming porn (or a season of MTV's The Real World) in your hometown. 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Start Something That Matters

Posted by Kurt

This quick little book is a guide for socially conscious entrepreneurship for the Twitter generation, and there is no piece of that description that appeals to me as a reader. The Amazon Vine program offered me a free copy, though, and I decided to accept it because (1) I’m a big fan of The Amazing Race, on which Mycoskie appeared, and (2) my dad loves the TOMS shoes movement.

Personally, I haven’t been enthusiastic about the TOMS idea. I don’t really care for the aesthetics of the shoes, and I thought that, except for volunteers who participate in shoe drops, the charitable side of the company lets rich people feel good without actually having to touch poor people, which presents certain problems. Plus, I have been given my share of cheesy business books with vaguely inspirational quotes and a hollow you-can-do-it self-reliance message. So when I selected the book, I expected it to be a vaguely unpleasant experience that I could endure before loaning out my copy to people who fit what I saw as the intended demographic.

My expectations were completely wrong. I loved this book more than anything I’ve read in a long time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Voluntary Madness

Posted by Kurt

I almost never give up on books without finishing, but after suffering through a little over sixty pages of this garbage, I tossed it aside. The basic idea of the book is intriguing - a journalist checks herself into three psychiatric facilities in an effort to get a close look at mental health treatment in the United States today. I bought my bargain-priced copy of this book because Matt is a psychiatrist, because I am a public defender who has many clients who spend significant periods of time in hospitals, and because I love investigative journalism works by talented authors like Barbara Ehrenreich, Ted Conover, Piper Kerman, and A.J. Jacobs.

This book, though, is just vile. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Captain America (2011)

Posted by Kurt

On my way out of the theater around 3:00 this morning, I paused in the lobby to update my Facebook status with this: "Captain America was a fun-free lifeless nightmare, with CGI firmly in the uncanny valley and a barrage of non-jokes and stale ideas delivered in offensively volatile pan-Euro accents. I knew it would be in primary colors, but this was just condescending."  I'd like to take a little more time, now that I've had a couple of hours to sleep and chew on the ideas some more, to be more specific about why this movie is such a colossal failure on nearly every level of filmmaking and basic storytelling.