Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Book of the Terrifying Kind

There's something scary about the beginning of a good book. It all starts out so innocently - you laugh at the first couple pages, agree with some of the narrative and if you're me, read it to the person sitting next to you.

Words progress, and you become emotionally involved with the character, admiring the witty dialogue, and find yourself reading more than you planned.

Then forty-four pages in, this terrifying realization sinks in: you really like this book. You'd recommend it to other people, but you can't - because you don't know how it ends.

That's the kicker - the better the beginning, the greater the disappointment if the writer screw up. Some examples -

Avoiding Prison, and Other Noble Vacation Goals - flat out hilarious, depressing (sorry, "disquieting") at the end.

Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress - again, the beginning deserved to be framed. Then I wanted to clap my hands over my eyes during the middle, while the end was pretty good. But can you recommend a book when the entire second act inspires a gag reflex?

There was another book I can't remember the title of, but it was a modern take-off of Jane Austen's Persuasion. Loved it, until the author slipped in a scene that I'd rather like out of my head.

I'm also finding the ones with the most disappointment potential are the ones with the best title. The book inspiring this riff is Tolstoy Lied: A Love Story. And it's really, really good so far. As in, I want my own copy. And I'm petrified that author's going to get in the way of my transcendental experience.

Moral of the story: writing a book is hard. One scene can make the difference. The lack of a scene can make the difference. Writing is putting something down, then calling everyone who read it to make sure it's okay and you still qualify as a writer. It's ensuring that you're not cheating your readers. When someone's placed their faith in your prose to read your book instead of mowing the lawn, watching Desperate Housewives on DVD or staring at the ceiling, it's your responsibility to make it worth their time.

Scary stuff.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

"Get Smart" Did

If you check, you'll find this movie hits a 53% on the T-Meter. For reasons unknown to mankind, The Incredible Hulk and Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay ranked higher.


Clearly, the critics of this country are stressed. Clearly, they could use a good muffin.

Muffins play a key role in the movie, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Get Smart is sharp and clever, brilliantly casted, acted, and produced. The action sequences are just as good as any you'd see in a Bond flick; no bad green-screen here.

I've never seen the TV show. I wasn't around when it aired the first time, I didn't grow up with cable to see the reruns. I knew going in that shoe-phones were used, that Maxwell Smart maybe wasn't, well, smart, and that Agent 99 was the token girl. But I've been giggling over the previews since they first appeared - something about the falling beads just kills me. Probably my British heritage, which isn't strong enough to be amused by Mr. Bean but still finds sequences like this to be funny:

Siegfried: How do I know you're not from CONTROL?

Maxwell Smart: If I were from CONTROL, you'd already be dead.

Siegfried: If you were from CONTROL, YOU'D already be dead.

Maxwell Smart: Neither of us is dead, so I'm obviously not from CONTROL.

Shtarker: That actually makes sense.

Very tricky. And that's not even one of the best parts.

So the movie goes like this - Steve Carell is Maxwell Smart, an analyst who aspires to the ranks of agent-hood. As an analyst, he listens to hundreds of hours of Russian wiretaps (there's something so comforting about Russian villains). His superior, Alan Arkin, respects his abilities but won't promote him until there is a sudden, unexplained shortage of agents.

Smart is partnered with Agent 99, recently returned to CONTROL with a new face. The new face looks a lot like Anne Hathaway, which isn't a bad way to go. I've liked Anne Hathaway since the Princess Diaries, although Becoming Jane tested my loyalty. Her Agent 99 is pitch-perfect - smart, sexy, but is also in posession of a soul.

Together, they infiltrate the Russian organization set to nuke L.A. The KAOS tactics are perhaps a little...complicated...involving the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and the President (James Caan, how great is that).

(Side note: After the completion of the Concert Hall, people noticed that perhaps convex mirrors in L.A. was not the best idea. People were blinded by the glare of the reflection, and the residents in the apartment complex across the street found their homes reaching an interior temperature of 120 degrees. Engineers had to go back and put a non-reflective coating on the trouble spots.)

I haven't even mentioned Dwayne Johnson, as Agent 23, or Terrence Stamp as the caluculating Siegfried, or Nate Torrence and Masa Oka as the CONTROL engineers and keepers of the gadgetry. All top-notch.

Steve Carell is quickly shaping into one of Hollywood's top funnymen. Most people know him through The Office, but he demonstrated a surprising range roles such as Dan in Real Life. He brings that range to Maxwell, saving him from being a characature. Sure, he frequently misses it by "that much!", but there are times when he saves the day with style.

(Gilmore Girls note: if Shtarker the sidekick looks familiar to you, it's because he's Jesus, Miss Patty's date from the "Take the Deviled Eggs" episode. Somehow, I don't think Miss Patty would be much deterred by his Russian-terrorist past.)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pitter Patter of Small Army

Seriously, the babies are everywhere. I've been tooling around on facebook (code for procrastinating finishing a chapter rewrite) and commenting on pictures. Mainly baby pictures. Because that's mainly what there are pictures of.

(This particular picture is a snapshot of my husband that I'm rather partial to. Funny thing is, he still gets that look on his face, that "whadya know, that's pretty cool" look, mainly when he's reading his Popular Mechanics or his wife comes up with a fascinating new plot twist while making lasagna).

But I digress. Lots of babies, and more on the way. After two years of pregnancy speculation, Nicole Kidman is slated to deliver "any day now." Angelina's looks ready to pop, but isn't due till August. My cousins are expecting a little girl that same month. Another friend is due in September. I have a pregnancy shoot coming up in November.

At first I wondered if there was something in the water; then I thought about it. Count back nine months ago from August to November, and what do you have?

The Writer's Strike.

Case closed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

And then there were four

They hatched! They've actually been hatched for a while, but there were periods when I didn't see Cecelia (the adult female) or hear any sounds from the nest. I didn't want to say anything, then have to follow up with a "birds are hatched but dead" post - I really don't write avian tragedy.

Thankfully, I don't have to. And it's fun having them out there - the closest thing we have to pets. We see Cecelia less often, but I'm pretty sure she's out finding food.

So now we have four baby birds. Names, anyone?