Monday, May 31, 2010

A Single Man

I had no idea what to expect when I started to watch A Single Man. All I knew was that Colin Firth was in it and that it must be an arty film because it didn’t come to Kalamazoo. What I got was a heartbreaking, but wonderful, hour and a half.

A Single Man follows George Falconer (Firth), a gay man whose partner was recently killed in a car crash. Falconer is struggling to get over this loss, and throughout much of the movie, is preparing to kill himself. The movie takes place over one day (though it does show flashbacks) and is set in the early 1960s.

Firth’s stunning performance (and boy was he great) was enhanced by the imagery and music of the film. Dialogue is used to explain little in the movie; instead, the viewer is shown scenes accompanied by classical music and invited to make conclusions from there.

I’m having a hard time putting my thoughts and feelings about this movie into words (which is probably apparent). I can’t say exactly what did it, but I was completely drawn into A Single Man, and it commanded all of my attention when I was watching it. I give it a 5/5.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Colin Firth

Buy the DVD

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tooth Fairy

Tooth Fairy was the first “joke” of my Daily Shill Mission. I’d describe my challenge to someone, they’d say something like “Oh, that’s really cool,” and I’d say, “Yeah, but I have to watch Tooth Fairy,” and then we’d groan. I’d put it off for weeks, but a few days ago, I did what I had to do and watched the movie.

Despite the jokes, I was determined to approach it with an open mind. I was going to give it two ratings: one for my current feelings about it, and one for how I think I would’ve rated it as a kid. But then, as I was watching Tooth Fairy, I realized there were no original ideas in the movie and my open mind was gone.

The most obvious parallel is The Santa Clause. In that movie, a disbeliever (played by Tim Allen) finds himself stuck being Santa Claus—the job that he insisted didn’t exist. After resistance, he embraces the job, and not only believes himself, but helps others to believe. Replace “Tim Allen” with “Dwayne Johnson” and “Santa Claus” with “Tooth Fairy” and you’ve got the plot of Tooth Fairy. However, it doesn’t have the heart or the holiday excitement that The Santa Clause has.

That, of course, is the main parallel but there are also hints of Love Actually (boy close to the protagonist is a good musician, but afraid to perform in the talent show, but with encouragement from the protagonist, wows everyone in the show) and Finding Nemo (main character has fin/shoulder injury that keeps him from doing things, but by the end of the movie, he realizes it’s all in his head and that he can achieve what he tries to do).

Also, Tooth Fairy just wasn’t good. Its redeeming factor was that there weren't any fart jokes. It gets a 1/5. If you feel like some Tooth Fairy related entertainment, though, let me recommend Gregory Maguire’s book What the Dickens. It’s one of those books that can be enjoyed equally by children and adults, and it presents a new point of view about the job of Tooth Fairy. Also, it is one of three non-Daily Show books I have read this year.

Watch Jon Stewart's interview with Julie Andrews. (I just love her. Watch this interview instead of watching the movie).

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Cop Out

Cop Out, starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan, attempts to be both a comedy and an action flick and succeeds at neither. I did not once laugh, nor was I impressed or excited by the chase scenes and fights. Don’t go see it.

The story follows Jimmy (Willis) and Paul (Morgan) a pair of cops with the NYPD with their share of problems. The two have been suspended without pay for a failed drug bust, Paul thinks his wife is cheating on him, and Jimmy needs to sell a baseball card to pay for his daughter’s dream wedding; unfortunately for Jimmy, the card is stolen when he attempts to sell it and gets in the hands of a dangerous gang (which happen to be the same one for the earlier drug bust). Also, there’s another set of partners at NYPD who seem to dislike them, but I couldn’t really understand how those guys fit in.

So Jimmy and Paul set off on a mission to get the card, and end up wrapped up in drama with the gang. That’s the movie. I could give away the ending, but I bet you can figure it out on your own. Hint: All the problems are solved.

Watching Cop Out was a waste of time. I actually had to stop halfway through and watch episodes of 30 Rock to remind myself why I’m a fan of Tracy Morgan. It gets a 1/5.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Tracy Morgan (Morgan is pretty darn funny in his non-sequitor ways, and the clip they show is the funniest part of the movie)

Buy the DVD

And it’s a long weekend filled with movies on the Daily Shill. Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on Tooth Fairy and Monday for a review of A Single Man.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Captain's Duty

A Captain’s Duty is a riveting, exhilarating read that I wholeheartedly recommend. Richard Phillips, the captain whose ship was taken by Somali pirates and who became their captive in exchange for the safety of his crew, tells his story.

I knew a story about pirates would be exciting, but I had no idea just how much I was going to be drawn into the book. Phillips is an unbelievable protagonist; his calm head in the harrowing situations and his ingenuity in misleading the pirates to protect his crew are awe-inspiring. A Captain’s Duty is a thriller, made all the more exciting because it’s true. I cannot wait for the movie that will inevitably be made about this: Hollywood won’t need to change a thing.

Phillips’s voice carries through the entire book; it is clear that he did the writing, rather than relying on a ghostwriter. Phillips is a storyteller, but his voice and his jokes also convey that he’s a normal guy—one you’d want to be your next-door neighbor.

Throughout reading this book, I was debating what to rate it. Though I loved it almost immediately, it was one told simply and will probably not live down as a classic. But when I teared up reading of Phillips’s rescue (despite knowing that it would happen), it sealed it: I’m giving A Captain’s Duty a 5/5. You should read it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Richard Phillips (If I haven’t convinced you to read the book, you should at least watch this.)

Buy the Book

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Courting Disaster

I am not going to be able to review this book fairly. I am a liberal person, and Mark Thiessen’s book Courting Disaster goes against much of what I believe in. I was unable to approach it with an open mind, so I know this post will be biased. But I read the book (except for the appendices—I had to stop somewhere), and here’s my take on in.

Courting Disaster makes three general arguments. 1. Waterboarding (and other types of “enhanced interrogation”) is not torture. 2. Guantanamo Bay is a wonderful prison. 3. Obama is inviting and encouraging terrorists to attack by not allowing the CIA to waterboard and by closing Guantanamo.

Thiessen has a distinct style for proving his points. Here’s my interpretation. “Waterboarding isn’t torture. You want to know why it isn’t torture? Let me tell you about all these other gruesome torture techniques that have been used in the past. Then I dare you to tell me waterboarding is torture.” And then he spends pages describing torture. It’s the same with Guantanamo. (Again, my version of his words), “Life in Guantanamo is just great for all the terrorists there. You want to hear about bad prison life? Let me tell you about some other prisons. Then you’ll see Guantanamo is the Ritz of prisons.”

Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled to be reading about torture and terrible prison life. And then there was Thiessen’s tone. It came across so snotty, almost like he’d be pleased if terrorists attacked during Obama’s administration, just so he could blame Obama for not torturing captured terrorists to gain information that could’ve stopped the attack.

The thing about Courting Disaster, though, is that people who don’t agree with Thiessen (aside from crazy people like me who belong to the Jon Stewart Book Club) are not going to read his book. The people who are going to buy it already agree with what Thiessen is arguing and will believe everything he says. And the few who read it who disagree will believe nothing he says.

This is the problem with books written with a strong political slant. Whether I’m reading one that is heavily liberal or conservative, I question the reliability of what I read. So, rather than reading a book arguing for waterboarding written by Donald Rumsfeld’s former speechwriter, I’d want to read one written by a member of the CIA who actually used these forms of “enhanced interrogation.” Sure, he’d probably have many, if not all, of the arguments that Thiessen has, but it would be a more reliable source.

I give Courting Disaster a 1/5. But, like I said, it’s probably not a fair rating. So if you want to, read the book. Make up your own mind about it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Mark Thiessen (I’m linking to the version that aired, but there is a longer cut on the daily show website)

Buy the Book.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Crazy Like Us

Woah man, I loved Crazy Like Us. Seriously, the whole time I was reading it, I couldn’t help saying, “This is so fascinating,” (sometimes even out loud), and I wouldn’t shut up about it to my family and friends.

The book, written by Ethan Watters, chronicles the globalization of American mental disorders and their treatments. Crazy Like Us is separated into four parts, each of which focuses on a particular disorder and geographic area: Anorexia in Hong Kong, PTSD in Sri Lanka, Schizophrenia in Zanzibar, and Depression in Japan. Each section is broken into smaller parts, where Watters focuses on individual cases, discusses how the American disorder (or mentality about the disorder) came to be in the area at hand, and a brief description about the disorder itself. The organized nature of the text, coupled with Watters’s easy to understand prose, makes the book an easy one to put down and pick up. But, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be so interested, you can’t help but read entire sections at a time.

Though Watters’s opinion and voice carries through the text, making it read easier than articles in Psychology journals, he does not let it overwhelm the content. And it is the content that made me so enthralled by Crazy Like Us. Though I could regurgitate all the knowledge I gained from reading the book, instead, I will tell you to read the book and learn it for yourself. It’ll give you a new insight both on the cultural differences in dealing with disease and disorder and on the mental disorders in the United States. As you may have guessed, I’m giving Crazy Like Us a 5/5.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Ethan Watters

Buy the Book

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Footprint

In his book My Footprint, Jeff Garlin, best known for his role in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, set a goal for himself: to lose weight and get healthier while also becoming more ecologically responsible. In other words, Garlin attempts to lower both his physical footprint and his carbon footprint (Holy double meaning, Batman!). Garlin chronicles his efforts in diary form, stretching from the end of August to the middle of July.

I wouldn’t call My Footprint an intellectual or inspirational read, but boy was it a fun one. I found myself “cheating on” The Quants and picking up My Footprint whenever I needed a break. Garlin is a funny guy, and it carries over into his writing. Even though I don’t have an eating addiction like Garlin, I found him relatable and cheered for him throughout the entire book.

When many famous people write books, it is clear that they allowed someone else to do a majority of the writing. That is not the case with My Footprint. Garlin writes in a natural way, and the book reads like a conversation rather than a lecture.

I give My Footprint a 4/5. It’s an enjoyable, quick read, and I definitely recommend it. If I have one complaint, it’s that I would have liked to hear a little more about the ecological side of Garlin’s goal. Towards the end of the book, the two subjects even out nicely, but the first half focuses almost entirely on the health aspect of the goal.

Watch Jon Stewart's interview with Jeff Garlin (seriously, this interview is one to watch. It's worth it just for Garlin's hilarious laugh).

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Quants

Math and Wall Street: two subjects I know very little about. They also happen to be the subjects of Scott Patterson’s book The Quants. The Quants follows the professional lives (and a tad of the personal sides) of math geniuses that used their knowledge to develop trading strategies on Wall Street. These strategies made the Quants (the collective name for these math whizzes) oodles of money—that is, until they led to the near collapse of the market.

Patterson, a reporter for the Wall Street journal, writes like a journalist (no surprises there), saying what happened without attaching much commentary. His writing is clear and straightforward, which is a good thing because, despite having taken Econ 101 last term, I was confused by a lot of the economic stuff. Patterson did explain various theories and processes, and I probably could have understood The Quants better if I had taken the time to think about his explanations and taken notes to reference when the theories came up again. But I didn’t. So I spent a decent amount of time not really understanding what I was reading.

Another confusing aspect of the book was keeping track of the vast number of Quants that Patterson chronicled. It was easy to mix the different men up, even though a list of “the players” was given at the beginning of the book.

All things considered, I give The Quants a 3/5. It was a well written book, but one that sometimes bored and confused me due to my lack of prior knowledge. However, I would definitely recommend it to my econ major friends (yes, all three of you) or to anyone who wants to have more insight on how the United States got into our current economic state.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Scott Patterson

Buy the Book

And now, I must share two things that don’t really belong in a review, but have to do with The Quants. First, the author shares a name with an actor. On the three days that led up to the Daily Show interview, the Daily Show’s website promoted the interview with a picture of the actor, rather than one of the author (it was fixed the day of the interview). I love to imagine the person in charge of finding a photography thinking, “Who knew that Scott Patterson of Gilmore Girls fame knew so much about the economy?

Secondly, at one point in his book, Patterson was describing the lavish wedding of one of the Quants. He used the sentence “Guests dangled from helium balloons” and did not go on to explain it. How is that possible? Don’t you want to dangle from helium balloons at every wedding you go to?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Staying True

Remember Mark Sanford? He was that governor from South Carolina who gave the phrase “Hiking the Appalachians” a new meaning, when he used it as an excuse to cover up his affair with an Argentinean woman. Well, of course, he had a wife, Jenny Sanford, who decided to write a book about the ordeal.

The book, Staying True, actually covers much more than the affair and its attempted cover-up. Jenny goes through her and Mark’s relationship and political career beginning with their courtship and lasting until the present. Here’s the thing… most of it is boring. As terrible as the affair was, it is the only part of the book that had elements of a good story, and it is a remarkably small fraction of the entire work. The rest of Staying True is filled with way too many details, like what kind of sheets her sons had on their beds and the names that campaign workers gave various areas of the Sanford home. I can’t tell you how many times (probably once every five minutes or so) that I thought, “Why do we care about this?”

After reading Staying True, I’m pretty I’ve figured out Jenny’s goal: to extol Mark’s political career while simultaneously showing the world what an asshole husband he was. Though I didn’t find myself won over by Mark’s political viewpoints, I did finish the book knowing that he was a bastard.

My Staying True experience had an added element, as my library had only the audio version of the story. Jenny Sanford narrated it herself, which I initially thought would be a good thing, but soon proved to be otherwise. Jenny read with overly precise diction, but no expression or emotion whatsoever. I understand that it may be a difficult thing for her to continue to talk about the disarray of her marriage, but if that’s the case, she should have had someone else do the recording. If you do decide to check out Staying True, I’d definitely steer you away from the audio-book.

But, really, I’d steer you away from the book altogether. I’m giving Staying True a 1/5. Any book that leaves me wondering, “Why should I care?” is not a good one.

Sorry it's been awhile since I've posted. This should start off a week full of reviews, though. I should finish Scott Patterson's The Quants and Jeff Garlin's My Footprint before the week is up.