Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

So I watched Pleasantville all the way through, from beginning to end, for the first time this weekend. For those three of you who haven’t seen it, the story goes like this: Through a freak accident and a magical TV repairman (played by Don Knotts) a teenage twins David and Jennifer find themselves transported from their wild and cray cray 90’s life into the world of a 50’s sitcom about the Parker family–Pleasantville.

In Pleasantville everything is, well, pleasant. People speak politely to each other. Gender and social roles are clear, and the citizens stay within the boundaries imposed. Children–even teenagers–are respectful. Streets are swept. Beds are twin. There is no sex. And everything is black and white. Literally. In keeping with the simplistic world created in the show, and the times, Pleasantville is shot in black and white.

At least until David and Jennifer hit town, taking on the lives and roles of the Parkers’ two children. David works at the local soda fountain, where he discovers that his boss, Mr. Johnson, is actually a frustrated artist. And that’s when things start to fall apart in Pleasantville. One night Mr. Johnson paints his shop windows. With nudes. In color. Jennifer introduces the captain of the basketball team to the joys of sex–and suddenly the team, who “always wins,” is throwing up bricks instead of baskets, and Lovers Lane is crowded with rocking cars in which only feet are visible. Mrs. Parker, David and Jennifer’s Pleasantville mother, and Mr. Johnson fall in love, and suddenly the nudes in the windows of the soda fountain are not only in color, but they wear Mrs. Parker’s face.

Mr. Parker comes home one day to discover that–horrors–his dinner is not on the table. A wife in town says she’d like to get a double bed, and get rid of the twin beds. Mrs. Parker has an orgasm, a tree in her front yard catches fire, and David must show the fire department that their truck and equipment is good for more than just getting cats out of trees. And at each of these crisis points, people change not only internally, but externally–they switch from black and white to color. It’s not always an easy transformation. Mrs. Parker is delighted to experience her first orgasm–and horrified to discover that she is no longer her black and white self. David helps her apply gray make-up. We see Pleasantville’s monochromatic society devolving into a world where “coloreds” are distinctly second-class citizens, where thought is banned and books are burned. The library is closed.

Pleasantville is no longer pleasant. And somewhere along the way, Jennifer, 90’s skank, discovers that she loves to read even more than she loved popularity back in the 90’s.

This is a movie about the tension between stasis and creativity, between order and disorder. It’s about the joy–and the discomfort–of truly engaging with life. It’s about the tension between Neoclassicism and Romanticism, to put it in artistic and literary terms. It’s about expression and repression, in social terms.

It would have been easy to craft this movie as a triumph for expression, for Romanticism, for art, but it’s not that simple. Jennifer, the wild and crazy 90’s teenager, opts to stay in the 50’s world of Pleasantville not for its restrictive qualities, but because she has discovered the world of thought. At the end of the movie David goes back to the 90’s. Jennifer goes off to college, in the 50’s.

This isn’t a tidy “Pleasantville” ending. It’s a paradox. The movie’s resolution comes not in choosing “black and white” over “color,” but in making room for both. Mrs. Parker leaves her husband and sends David back to his own time–but she does it with meat loaf and sack lunches. And we love her for it. When she acquires color she mourns the loss of her simple black and white beauty–and she is beautiful, both in shades of gray and in color. In the end this isn’t a movie about then and now, or good and bad. It’s a movie about values in the truest sense of the word, and how we balance them when they conflict.

Read Full Post »

If I hadn’t read Terry Pratchett’s book Going Postal way back when it was first published in 2005 I would have sworn the DVD I watched tonight was satirizing the actions of Big Business over the last few years. The DVD was also called Going Postal, which might have counted as copyright infringement had it not been based on Mr. Pratchett’s fine book, introduced by Mr. Pratchett himself, and–a special treat for all us groupies–graced with a lovely little cameo appearance by the author.

I’ve been reading the Disc World books since The Boy was The Baby, and I was pushing him down the street in Eagle Point, Oregon, to borrow Pratchett books from the tiny library. The first one I read was Hogfather, and from the moment Mr. Teatime (pronounced Tay-a-tim-ay) lisps his first sinister lines I was hooked.

By the time Going Postal came out I had graduated to buying the Pratchett books, in hard cover, because I knew then, and I know now, that these are books I will keep until I die, and then I want them buried with me. So–long-time fan of the books here, but the movies are a comparatively new guilty pleasure.

Chaulk it up to us not having cable until we moved to Milton-Freewater, but somehow the fact that Mr. Pratchett’s books were migrating to the small screen had escaped me. When I discovered Hogfather for sale on Amazon (and surely that was Kismet at work, that my first Pratchett DVD would also have been my first Pratchett book) I nearly swooned. And then I found The Color of Magic. And this afternoon the nice Fed Ex lady knocked on my door I answered it she placed the precious package in my hands–my very own DVD of Going Postal: The Movie.

When we popped it into the PS3 (and how cool is that, that we no longer have to have two machines in order to both play games and watch movies?) The Boy and I planned for a long, lazy evening in Ankh Morpork. And that’s exactly what we got. One of the things I love about the Pratchett movies is that they look exactly the way they should. Part of this might be that Pratchett is involved in the production. Part of this surely is that since some of the novels have been made into graphic novels the set designers and wardrobe people have resources from which to draw.

But this movie has Something More, and it gets it from the context in which it will inevitably be watched. As I said, I read the book back in 2005, and enjoyed it. But as I watched the movie tonight I was struck by the eerie parallels with our time. Mr. Pratchett is not only a damned fine writer–he is apparently a prophet as well.

I won’t spoil the movie for you because you truly need to get it and watch it for yourself, but I will say that in writing this book Mr. Pratchett juggles things like bankrupt post offices, robber barons who operate within the letter of the law while systematically robbing the people they profess to serve, the role of marketing in shaping public opinion, and a multitude of other issues that apparently plague Ankh-Morpork as well as us–and he never once drops the ball.

I know I just make this sound like a “thinky” movie, the kind of thing you want to be seen renting, but fails to grip once you’ve gotten your bathrobe on and the popcorn popped, but Pratchett’s genius lies in being able to take an idea that seems bizarre on the face of it and make it seem not only logical but inevitable–and to do in in the midst of a teeming, roiling, bawdy city that’s like no city anywhere on earth–or The Disc, for that matter.

I love Going Postal for the same reason that I love Terry Pratchett’s books–because first of all they’re such fun (how can you not like a book that contains a mystery meat pie man named “Cut Me Own Throat Dibbler,” and a bum named “Foul Ol’ Ron,” and a thriving community of dwarves–dwarf women are also bearded, and gender is a carefully guarded secret  until Just The Right Moment). Now take all those characters, place them into a situation that seems all too familiar, add a little magic, a terrifyingly pragmatic ruler (and a former Assassin, from the Assassin’s Guild), a policewoman who is a werewolf,  a magical college (Unseen University) whose stated function is to keep people from doing magic, a–I could go on–shake them until they’re all thoroughly irritated, and then pour them out onto a plate that rests on the back of four elephants who are in turn standing on the back of a giant turtle who is swimming through space, and you have a simulacrum of the world in which Pratchett’s books live and move. And in which the movies are apparently shot.

So–get the books. Get them all. Get all the movies, too. Order a case of M&M’s and another of barbecue potato chips. Stock up on the beverage of your choice. Then close the curtains, bar the door, call in sick for a month and just read, read, read. Then watch movies. And when you emerge, pale, shaky, pink-eyed, and myopic, you will only regret that, for the moment, there are no more Pratchett books to buy. But take heart–Terry Pratchett appears hale and hearty, and doesn’t look to be running out of material any time soon. There will be more.

Now go. Buy. Watch. Be happy.

Read Full Post »

As The Boy frequently points out to me, I am no musician. I do, however, know what I like. And I really, really like Weird Al Yankovic’s “Alpocalypse” album (I bought it through my iTunes store). Weird Al and I go back a long way–clear back to those winter afternoons when I listened to “Dr. Demento’ on a scratchy little transistor radio.

Weird Al got a lot of play time on Dr. Demento. I grew used to thinking of him as a the polka king, and a pretty darned good parodist. Which he was. But that was then. I moved to LA and couldn’t find a station that played Dr. Demento and Weird Al and I became Estranged. We probably still would be, if I hadn’t given birth to a son whose sense of humor is Warped, to put it mildly. Because I am a good and loving mother I introduced him to Weird Al at a tender age. We wore out a couple CD’s, and that was that. Or so I thought.

Then last year he discovered YouTube, and in his browsing he happened upon Weird Al again. And suddenly it was, “Mom, you gotta hear this,” and, “Mom, come listen…” and, “Mom, can we get…?”

And so it happened that I downloaded Weird Al Yankovic’s “Alpocalypse” album. And because I am now Middle Aged, and sadly out of touch with music these days, I found myself listening to Weird Al not as parody, but as music. And you know what? Weird Al’s come a long way, baby. Of course there are still the evergreen accordion polka numbers, but there is also much, much more.  I’ve included a couple clips here.

So now we’re in a “Weird Al-rea,” so to speak. Take, for instance, “Skipper Dan.” (I’ve included a link for it below.) A hefty percentage of the songs on the “Alpocalypse” album are not parodies of songs, but of styles. In other words, Weird Al has picked a few characteristic riffs, chord changes, and sounds and woven them into otherwise original songs.  The result is some pretty amazing, definitely ear-pleasing music that seems to move out of the realm of parody and into the realm of “influenced by.”

Music aside, though, Weird Al’s lyrics bear consideration. Take, again “Skipper Dan.” In an interview, Weird Al explains what inspired the song–a trip to Disneyland, a spin on the “Jungle Cruise” ride, and an aside by the “skipper” referencing his failed acting career. Yes, Weird Al’s songs are in many cases just plain fun (try getting social relevance out of “Yoda”–go ahead; I’ll wait), in some cases he uses humor to showcase social issues. Skipper Dan’s a guy who went to college, got an advanced degree (in Fine Art, no less), graduated–and now can’t find a job except for skippering tourists through the Disney jungle, performing the same “schtick” (Al’s word) 34 times a day. Sound like anybody you know?  The difference is that Weird Al leaves us smiling ruefully, rather than reaching for the razor blades. If “Skipper Dan” started out as a parody, it moves so far beyond it as to demand judgment as music–and as social commentary–in its own right. This is a musician who has only gotten better as the years have passed.

I recommend you immediately browse to your favorite music purveyor and download the album. But buy it first. Meanwhile, here’s “Skipper Dan.” Enjoy.

Read Full Post »

Susan Wittig Albert

NYT Bestselling Author

Linda C. Wisniewski

WRITER, memoir teacher, knitter, quilter, happy trail walker...

the BrainChancery

Or, "I Flew to Hong Kong And All I Got Was This Lousy Brain Tumor"

The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Red Tash

Teller of Tales


through the darkness there is light

Sunny Sleevez

Sun Protection & Green Info

Fabulous Realms

Worlds of Fantasy, Folklore, Myth and Legend

Someone To Talk To

Just another WordPress.com site

Heidi M. Thomas

Author, Editor, Writing Teacher

Marian Allen's WEBLAHG

This, that, and a whole lot of the other

Beneath your Covers

Paranormal books & media review blog

Pat Bean's blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Speak! Good Dog!

What's new--and news--at Magic Dog Press

Notes from Main Street

Just another WordPress.com weblog

%d bloggers like this: