Thursday, February 24, 2011

Snapshot Book Review: Attachments

AttachmentsAttachments by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's a unique premise, delivered in a unique way: Lincoln spends all day every day reading other people's emails. It's his job. He polices email exchanges at a newspaper office for "unsuitable content," and while perusing "dangerous" emails, he becomes wrapped up in the escapades two coworkers and friends, Beth and Jennifer--but only as they tell it through email.

The book is narrated partially in third person from Lincoln's perspective, and partially as "dialogue," in Beth and Jennifer's email exchanges. The email exchanges are similar to dialogue in a play script, only all of the nuances and intonations must be expressed within the written word, since these two girls are allegedly only interacting via their computers.

The story starts out slowly but builds momentum about a quarter of the way through. Soon the reader is as invested in Beth and Jennifer as Lincoln is, and Lincoln himself develops into a rather sympathetic character.

My harshest criticism of this book is the way that Rowell alternates between showing whether Beth and Jennifer is writing the email. It is very disruptive to try to discern who is writing all the time, and eventually I just ignored the gibberish meant to indicate who was who and just read until I could figure it out from the story arc. In the future, books trying to use this model should make it extremely clear, the way a play script does.

In summary, it's a quick, fun, pre-teen sort of book, and definitely a worthwhile read.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Memorable Valentine's Days

I have had a few memorable Valentine’s Days. Back in my senior year of high school, the guy who would end up being my prom date took me out. He had a crush on me and his best friend had a crush on one of my best friends, so despite her protestations, I dragged her along. Because they hadn’t thought to make reservations in advance, we ended up eating at Panera and then driving to Bruster’s and eating ice cream in the car. At the end of the night, we stopped at my date’s car (his friend had driven the four of us around all night), and he presented me with a pink rose. If I recall correctly, this was my first rose ever.
My next memorable Valentine’s Day came four years later, in my senior year of college. If you want the full story, you can read my account of it here. Otherwise, here is a synopsis: I had developed a crush on one of my suitemates, T___, during the course of the year, and on the evening of February 14th, the two of us and a few of our friends had planned to go bowling. We were allegedly waiting for one of our friends to get off the phone with his girlfriend so we could leave, when suddenly there was a knock at the door, and in burst After Hours, our school’s coed a cappella group. They proceeded to surround me and sing “[When I Think About You] I Touch Myself,” while the lead singer—a thin, pale girl with big eyes and curly blond hair—sashayed closer and closer to me until she was quite literally sitting on my lap with her arms around my neck. At the end of their performance, the group presented me with a red carnation that had an index card tied to it, and after they left, I ignored my laughing roommates just long enough to read the short poem written on card. It was from T___.

This year is the first year I have ever been in a relationship for Valentine’s Day, and it was pretty much everything I could have hoped for. I arrived home from swimming to R___ making me dinner (shrimp, no less, which he doesn’t even like but which is one of my favorite foods). The table was set with a bottle of wine and a beautiful red rose arrangement, and at my place was a wonderful, handmade Valentine from R___, complete with hilarious illustrations. In addition, I received very sweet Valentines from my sister and his sister, a hysterical Valentine from my friend L___, and a Valentines package from my parents (who apparently love me whether I’m in a relationship or not). R___ also bought “us” a 6-month subscription to Netflix, so I finished off my night by starting our “queue” and eating the jellybeans from my parents. All in all, this might have been the best Valentine’s Day ever.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thinking of Summer

In honor of the upcoming 40-degree-Farenheit weekend, I have jotted down a list of things that make me think of summer. I welcome you to add your own items—the more the merrier.

In no particular order:

  • Banana Popsicles
  • The smell of chlorine mixed with sunscreen
  • Crickets
  • Frozen grapes
  • The scent of a campfires
  • The taste of sweat on my upper lip
  • Iced tea with lemon
  • The smell of wet grass
  • Brand new florescent flip flops
  • Plastic lawn chairs
  • Corn on the cob
  • Bumblebees
  • Tie-dyed shirts
  • Funnel cake with powdered sugar

Friday, February 4, 2011

Movie Review: Waiting for Forever

“Things were as bad as they could get. And then they got worse.”

This quote (an actual line in the movie) perfectly describes the experience of watching Waiting for Forever: it was bad as I thought it could be, and then it got worse.

My first indication that this was a Seriously Bad Movie was when, during the first ten minutes, I couldn’t figure out if the main character (who is hitchhiking his way across the country) is actually retarded or if I am simply too critical of his slow, almost stuttering speech pattern. But gradually, as the plot went from being confusingly strange to overwhelmingly cliché, I determined that this was a really bad movie when incessant close-ups began to remind me of the first part of Disney’s Aladdin, where the storytelling character gets squished up against the camera. “Please, please, come closer. Oops! Too close! A little too close.” Then, in Aladdin, the scene ends with the camera falling back and the character sighing, “There!” Unfortunately, no such luck in Waiting for Forever. The audience is left squirming back against their seats as they are assaulted by one close-up shot after another.

Note to both the director and the cinematographer: close-up shots are meant to capture extremely slight, crucial changes of expression on actors’ faces that help to draw out emotional tension in a scene. These shots should be used sparingly, and for emphasis. If you think every moment of your script warrants a close-up, you are wrong. Furthermore, if your actors incapable of expressing small facial expressions, then you probably shouldn’t use close-ups at all.

Back to my review: Essentially, the plot of Waiting for Forever lumps one big cliché on top of another. In fact, when I tried to describe the movie to my sister, she asked, “Are you sure it wasn’t supposed to be a spoof?” It wasn’t.

To imagine this movie (since you hopefully will not waste your money seeing it), start with the classic, overdone chick-flick premise “follow your heart.” Then, make this idea so literal that the main character, Will, ends up following the love of his life (Emma) all over the country. Add to that the fact that Will seems mentally handicapped, but don’t let any other characters confirm or deny this. That way, for the better part of the movie, the audience sit there wondering whether Will is actually supposed to seem retarded, or if he’s just that lovesick and they’re that judgmental.

Next, focus on Emma, a failed actress whose dour and depressed personality inspires men to fall senselessly in love with her as they gradually become stalkers. Then, throw in Emma’s father, who is irritable, sarcastic, and dying of cancer; Emma’s mother, a woman is so intent on things being “just fine” that she comes off as mentally disturbed; and Emma’s boyfriend, who I at first suspected was abusing Emma (but later found out that he merely murdered his best friend because Emma cheated on him with the guy). On Will’s side are best friend and refrigerator-salesman Joey, Joey’s outrageously short wife, and their blond child who looks nothing like either of them, plus Will’s brother, who wants Will to “shape up” but eventually (of course) comes to his rescue when Will is falsely accused of murder.

Oh, and don’t forget that Will’s parents died in a train wreck when he was a kid and he still talks to them (although we only see evidence of this one time throughout the whole movie).

Perhaps the problem is that Waiting for Forever tries to be too many genres and fails at all of them. It could have been a chick flick, but its tone and subplots are too serious to let it just be a simple love story. (And, in fact, the main plot is probably too serious for it to be a chick flick. After all, as sweet as he may be made to seem, Will was technically stalking Emma.) It could have been a family drama (featuring Emma’s family alone!), but we spend so little time observing any family dynamics that the few “emotional” scenes we do see become ridiculous. (Case in point: there is a scene in the movie where Emma’s dying father is laying in a bathtub and her mother walks in. The father makes some sort of snarky comment, and suddenly the mother is hitting him with a towel and screaming that she hates him and wishes he would die. At this point, the audience is supposed to gasp in shock and feel empathy for both characters. Instead, we all laughed.) It could have been a horror flick, between the stalker/murderer boyfriend and the stalker childhood friend. However, the boyfriend never scares us and the friend is styled to evoke our sympathy, so it definitely did not come close to being a horror film.

To finish things off, I will quote the line that best illustrates the audience’s confusion and the script’s ludicrous nature:

Emma: “Are you following me?”

Will: “I just go where you go.”

Other corroborating reviews:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snapshot Book Review: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest BestiarySquirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary by David Sedaris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coming to this book with fond memories of laughing out loud at his writing (particularly essays in Me Talk Pretty One Day and When Engulfed in Flames, I fully expected Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk to be yet another humorous look at life, only this time from the vantage of animals. I was correct about the vantage point, but dead wrong about tone of the book.

Rather than giggly-funny, the stories in Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk are dark, sardonic, grim, and sometimes flat-out shocking. They are funny only in the sense that they are ironic and that they use animals to so fittingly mock human traits, opinions, and ideals. Yet, the book is extremely well-written, with each animal's story told uniquely and with both a distinctive voice and moral or lesson. In this way, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk reminds me of writings by Roald Dahl, particularly darker children's stories such as Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Twits, and Witches, as well as his adult story collections such as Skin and Other Stories.

Ultimately, this is a well-written collection, but Sedaris fans should be forewarned so as not to be disappointed: this is not typical comedic Sedaris fare.

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