Monday, May 31, 2010

Classic of the Month: The Catcher in the Rye

It appears we have run out of month, and so it is time to return to my fairly new feature on The Writer's Notebook. Classic of the Month is back, just sneaking in at the end of May, and once again I have decided to forego Shakespeare for a more recent work. Today, it is time to look at J. D. Salinger's one and only classic novel, The Catcher in the Rye.

Here's the question: is this a book that everyone should read? Is it really a classic? Is it still, fifty years down the road, worthwhile? Yes, but with a little bit of caution. While this book is about an angsty teenager, this is not the best book to give to the average angsty teenager, as they might be under the wrong impression that Holden is them, and that those phonies really are as terrible as they thought. People misreading The Catcher in the Rye is one of the reasons John Lennon was killed, and it is perhaps the greatest reason Salinger never published anything he wrote again.

No, the real joy of The Catcher in the Rye is how fleshed out and wonderfully unreliable the narrator is. Holden Caufield is not meant to be taken as the light of truth by readers; instead, Salinger is just writing in character superbly. It is the character of Holden that keeps the book from being Just Another Teenage Novel.

Holden Caufield has been kicked out of Pencey, a boarding school, and one would do well to note that this is not the first school where this has happened. Everybody has something they want Holden to do with his life, but Holden himself is unsure. School doesn't really motivate them. It doesn't help that at Pencey there are a lot of people who are "phonies" to themselves, and that is something that Holden simply can't stand.

So he leaves Pencey, but he decides to spend three days in New York City before returning to his parents. During that time, his encounters with memorable characters, such as Maurice, Sunny, and a couple of nuns, add spice to the proceedings. But it is only when he reunites with his sister that he finally begins to accept the things that are going on in his life.

This is one of those books where the narrator's voice provides all the charm the book needs and more to be successful. Holden has an unusual, stream-of-consciousness way of telling things that give you a good idea of who he is by the end of the first sentence or so. His voice allows for some comic moments in the bizarre shrewdness of some of his observations, and some extremely heartfelt and sad moments in the overall hopelessness and confusion that he conveys.

All in all, it is Holden Caufield, played in the literary equivalent of an Oscar-winning performance by J. D. Salinger, that makes this book anything special, and it is for this the book is a classic. Touching, unusual, and one-of-a-kind, The Catcher in the Rye is a real literary treat.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Warded Man (I promise).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

LOST: Season 6

The Final Season. That's what all of the ads made sure you knew. After LOST: Season 6, there would be no more, and you would have to find something else to do with all your spare time. So the writers put it all together for an unimaginable climax, a high note that every show would love to go out on, which ties in with the characters and temes set up from the beginning.

If Season 6 had a title, it would be "Showdown."

Here's the thing: I can't explain any of it to you, because of how interconnected it all is. I can't give any details about the flash sideways, or the Man in Black's plans, or what lies at the heart of the island. Because to tell any details whatsoever will ruin the show. So this one's gonna be short and sweet on the plot synopsis. Let's just say this: Woah.

That pretty much sums it up.

LOST has always been a show that captured your attention with the characters. Back from the start of the Pilot in Season 1, before we heard frightening noises in the jungle or saw a polar bear, or had any inkling of even the existence of the DHARMA Initiative. The first shot of the series is not the plane crashing, or the wreckage afterwards. It's Jack's eye opening. The characters are our windows into the bizarre world of the island, and it's been a joy to watch them transform over six seasons. Season 6 remembers that characters are important, more than the previous season or two did, in fact. In The End, it's all about how the characters turn out.

Are all of your questions going to be answered? Well, no. Are the questions going to be answered that have a direct impact on the characters and story of the final moments? Yes. And it's all done so artistically and beautifully, with an unbelievable score from Oscar winner Michael Giacchino. Watching it through to the end has made me extremely glad I started off on this journey, and I would recommend everyone do the same.

Aloha, LOST. You will be well missed.

Some favorite episodes of mine:

LA X: Out of all the shockers you could see on this show, the one to start off this season is perhaps the most shocking of all-- Oceanic Flight 815 lands in Los Angeles.

The Substitute: Here's a moment we've all been waiting for since Season 1. It's time to figure out the real significance of the Numbers, and it's not purely mathematical.

Ab Aeterno: You know Richard? The guy who doesn't seem to make any sense? This episode explains his past and in doing so sheds a great deal of light on the purpose of the island. Once scene in particular sets up the events in the finale perfectly.

The Candidate: Jack and Co. try to escape the island via submarine, but things don't go as planned. The ending is one of the hardest-hitting moments in LOST's history.

What They Died For: It's the penultimate episode, and everything clicks into place. A Candidate must be selected. An explanation must be given. And a purpose must be found.

The End: This is it, folks. The last LOST. It's one of those moments you approach viewing with dread, and afterward don't know why. The events on the island culminate in a showdown. The flash sideways world is explained. And the series is given a sendoff that is worthy of the rest of the series. It's beautiful, literary, and makes you think. And no, I wasn't crying, I was just chopping onions. Vigorously.

So that's it. A viewing journey that took up two and a half months of all my free time. Was it worth it? If you've gotten this far in the review, I'll bet you know the answer. Once again, a round of applause for Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, the minds behind LOST, and for everyone else who was part of this great show: the Emmy-worthy cast (all of 'em), the brilliant episode directors, the genius sound and music guys, the special effects team, and for everyone else who sat down in a little office in LA and figured out what was going to happen in Oahu.

Thank you.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Warded Man, Classic of the Month, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

LOST: Season 5

I thought I'd get more time to do reviews, but apparently I was wrong. So I'm putting my review of The Warded Man on hold for right now, and moving on to a more timely subject. That would be, of course, the penultimate season of LOST. What? you say. Penultimate? How dare they cancel LOST? Don't worry. The whole thing was planned out three years ago, and the creators know exactly what they want to do. Season 5 shows further proof of this.

If we stick with the book titles metaphor, which I figure would be just peachy, the fifth season would probably be called "Bomb." Yeah, it's big.

The Oceanic Six need to return to the island, three years after they left. But getting all of them together will prove to be a daunting task. And on the island, the events in the Season 4 finale are causing the other survivors to be flung through time and space.

Where will they end up? What was the DHARMA initiative like? How did Ben become the man he is now? What lies in the shadow of the stuatue? Is Jacob real? What happened to Locke? These questions will be answered in Season 5.

It's very clear the end is in sight. The creators have gone full sci-fi on us, and the story moves along at a breakneck pace. Huge, huge things happen, and there are fantastic twists. The finale is incredible in that it opens up a whole new world of possibilities. And that's all I can really say without giving it away. Spoilers will be everywhere.

Some of my favorite episodes this season:

Because You Left: Season 5 opens wth all our characters in various states of weirdness. Some involve insane asylums. Others involve timetravel and bloody noses.

Jughead: One of the biggest pieces of the season is introduced. Time travel's ramifications are talked about. Locke figures something out.

The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham: How Locke got to be where he ended up in the Season 4 finale. It's wonderfully teasing and puzzle pieces get laid out.

LaFleur: Sawyer and Juliet play house in Dharmaville. When they do so... now that's more interesting. And what happens when the Oceanic Six return?

Dead is Dead: Ben-centric episodes are always great, and this one is no different, providing a huge character-shaping moment for him, courtesy of the Smoke Monster. The pieces are being put into place.

The Incident: This one is about the most game-changing episode ever. Old allies come to blows, life-altering decisions are made, and we discover why the Hatch was put where it was. The last few minutes put everything in a new, terrifying light.

The series finale for LOST airs tomorrow, and I'm happy to say that I've caught up to it. You can hopefully expect a Season 6 review soon after. Huge stuff is happening, and the answers are right in front of our faces. I can't wait to see how it ends.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: LOST: Season 6 and The Warded Man.

Monday, May 10, 2010

LOST: Season 4

Once again, I find myself going back to the book title metaphor I used when reviewing LOST: Season 3. This one, could have a couple of titles. It could be "Relocation," perhaps. Maybe "Rescue." However, my strongest impression after seeing LOST: Season 4 would be to title it "Whoa."

LOST: Season 4 is where things really start to churn. There's more action than ever before. Characters are killed-- a lot of characters. The rest are nicely felshed out with the help of a new tool: the flash-forward. The freshness brought to this series with its new format adds a great sense of urgency.

The writers revealed partway through Season 3 that they had plotted the rest of the series out, and that it would all end with Season 6 (still on the air with a few episodes left to tell). Season 4 shows a streamlined format, not because of the writer's strike that shortened it to 13 episodes, but because the writers are working with the end constantly in mind. It was a smart move that keeps the show from ever experiencing the occasional lagging moments of Season 3.

Aside from all that, what more can I say? Everything gets turned up to 11, and every character experiences some earth-shattering stuff. Ben Linus and Charles Widmore butt heads together enjoyably, and when you throw the survivors and a great cast of freighter folk in with them, there's some real magic to be had. Is it weird? Yes. Is it head-scratching? Yes. Is it addictive and incredibly well-produced? Oh yes.

Some favorite episodes of mine:

The Beginning of the End: Well, sort of. More like the end of the beginning. Rescuers arrive on the island, but who sent them? And why does the safety of the survivors not seem to be their greatest concern?

The Constant: Once again, proof of why Desmond is one of my favorite characters on the show. Time travel is utilized here in a different way than before, and it's done so to great effect. It's tense, exciting, illuminating, and emotional. One of the great midseason LOST episodes.

Meet Kevin Johnson: Some of you might know him by a different name. But he's done some terrible things, and he gets hired by some shady Others to do more terrible things. Things the island seems to require of him.

The Shape of Things to Come: Charles Widmore has changed the rules of the game. And Ben isn't happy. Lots of action, the death of a major character, and more puzzling pieces to put together. Heart-stopping.

Cabin Fever: It's almost season finale time, and that means it's time to go chat with Jacob again! Or at least someone who can speak for Jacob. Someone we've seen before. Someone who makes a bizarre and impossible demand.

There's No Place Like Home: The survivors have called the island home for almost 100 days. Now, six of them will get a chance to leave. But it's not going to be easy. Perhaps an even better season finale than the one from Season 3, and there's more action than there's ever been before on this show. Jaw-dropping, and there's a bit of a surprise waiting Jack in a coffin...

Here's the final verdict: LOST: Season 4 is the best season of the show since Season 1, with episodes that move the plot along at a frantic, unstoppable pace. It's a marvel that a show like this manages to get better as it goes along.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The Warded Man.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Iron Man 2

Well, I was going to do a review for Season 4 of LOST, but fate intervened and I ended up seeing Iron Man 2. Seeing as I like to keep movie reviews current, I figured I'd bypass the lineup of future reviews and get right to this one. Keep a weather eye on the horizon, for here, there be spoilers.

Tony Stark (Robery Downey, Jr.), in an unprecedented move, has revealed himself to be the shellhead superhero of musical fame. And everyone in the world has taken notice. This includes a man named Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke), whose father is connected to the Stark family, and who is working on putting the ARC reactor technology to his own use. Here's a hint: it involves awesome-looking whips.

Meanwhile, Stark is going through a midlife crisis of sorts. No, he's not buying a new car. He doesn't need an excuse to do that. In fact, he's dying. Yes, you got that right. The palladium that both powers his suit and keeps him alive is poisoning his blood at a frightening rate, and he is searching desperately to find an alternative element that doesn't exist.

In addition to this, there's a lot of great action, comedy, and plot progression that makes this sequel every bit as good as the original. To tell you the truth, it's the most enjoyable movie so far in 2010.

The movie is crammed full of characters, but this doesn't bog it down as much as it has every right to, thanks to the sleek, stylish script written by Justin Theroux and the skillful, easygoing direction of Jon Favreau. Samuel L. Jackson's Nick Fury and SHIELD play a much larger role in Iron Man 2, but they actually have a part in the story of the movie rather than just being a setup for The Avengers in a couple of years.

Downey Jr.'s Stark is, as always, a treat to watch, and he has just as many wonderful lines as in the original. Rourke's Vanko is a compelling villain, one of the creepiest and most eccentric screen characters since the Joker. Gweneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts is great, and the chemistry she has with RDJ is delightful. Don Cheadle takes over Terrence Howard's role as Rhodey, and he does a better job, giving both a character arc and some awesome moments in the War Machine suit.

The action is both more quantitative and qualitative than the original. The climax is breathtaking and exciting. And somehow, a movie where the hero is in such danger of dying still comes off as a lot of fun. See it as soon as possible, if you haven't already.

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: LOST: Season 4.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Bride Collector

I have to confess, I've been done with this book for quite a while. In fact, I've got five more items to be reviewed soon, with a sixth close on their heels. So whenever I get the chance, I'm going to be writing reviews. Today we have Ted Dekker's latest, The Bride Collector.

One of the reasons I waited so long to review this one is because, since I've read it, I've had the chance to actually see Ted Dekker in person. He was a really nice guy, very humble and appreciative of his readers, and even gave away a copy of Immanuel's Veins, his next book, away in an advance form. Lucky winner there. He also did one of the best jobs of describing the book that I can come up with, so I'll give you the gist of what he said.

"The Bride Collector is a love story at its heart. I know, I know, yes, it's about a serial killer who's looking for the bride of Christ and draining the blood of all those he finds unworthy, but really, it's a love story." He gave a friendly grin. "Paradise, in this book, is one of my favorite characters, and I have to admit I fell in love with her as I wrote the book. She's a delicate girl, and she has some demons plaguing her life, but she's really a beautiful person."

He went on to talk about the collaborative creative process between the writer and the reader, but it was this section that was most important to the review at hand. The Bride Collector is, like Dekker, like Paradise, a unique gem, and it really is both a love story and a thriller rolled into one. The best part is that it is both to a very high degree, making this one of Dekkers very best books.

The real reason it stands head and shoulders above the competition is the characters. Over little more than 400 pages, Dekker creates a world full of characters who are extremely well fleshed-out and memorable, from Roudy to Paradise to the sinister Quinton Gauld. Dekker's approach to writing in the novel is similar to that of Joe Abercrombie, changing the style of writing and the tone to fit the character whose POV he's using. This really gives Bride Collector something special, a strong look into quite a few unstable minds.

With beauty and terror bundled together in a neat little hardcover, The Bride Collector is one of the best books of the year so far. Well done, Dekker, and keep it up.

My rating: Do you have to ask? 10/10.

Coming Soon: LOST: Season 4, The Warded Man, Charlie Bone and the Red Knight, and the Classic of the Month (which is about as recent as one of these reviews will go).