Thursday, December 30, 2010

More Malice

Snoop Dogg’s music is not my ideal form of entertainment (nor am I his ideal audience), but I approached his CD/DVD combo More Malice with an open mind. After all, I was just happy to have the chance to review it; I’ve been trying to get a copy for months, and I finally had it in my hands after traveling to the Livonia Public Library, who kindly let me check it out with my Chelsea Library Card (thanks, LVCC!). And finishing More Malice means I have completed the items promoted in the month of March, but also in the first quarter of the year. Progress! However, despite the open mind, listening/watching More Malice was not a particularly pleasant experience.

I began my review process by watching the DVD, which consisted of a movie (made by Snooop Dogg) that gives the story around the songs on Snoop Dogg’s previous CD, Malice N Wonderland. Before the movie began there was a fifteen minute behind-the-scenes feature of the making of the Malice N Wonderland movie. This was the best part of the entire More Malice package. In it, in addition showing their filming process, Snoop Dogg explained his inspiration behind the creation of the “Malice” story-- he wanted to create a superhero that black people could relate to. I love superhero stories, so I was excited to have something that’s up my alley.

However, when the movie began, I quickly found myself getting frustrated with the low quality of the storyline and writing. I wanted to know the back-story of Malice (How did he get the magic killing light embedded in his right hand? What was his motivation to become the savior of Wonderland? Was his secret identity Snoop Dogg, or was he just played by him). My rational self understands that you can’t have the kind of character development in a 40-minute movie created to highlight four Snoop Dogg songs, but it didn’t keep me from wanting more. Additionally, the DVD was disgustingly violent at times, and some of the songs weren’t well integrated with the story; For instance, “Gangsta Luv,” the song Snoop Dogg sang to rally the troops against Cain (the bad guy), heavily featured the lyrics “I’m kicken’ on these hos, do them like dominoes, I slam them on their back and tell them vamanos”-- not an inspiring call to arms.

After watching the DVD, which ends shortly after Malice turns to Wonderland’s citizens for support, I popped in the CD, thinking that it would continue the story (given the CD’s title). Maybe I didn’t fully understand the second meanings of Snoop Dogg’s songs (entirely possible), but I didn’t see how they related to the Malice storyline.

The CD is short, only 8 songs lasting for about a half hour, and three of the songs are new versions of songs from Malice N Wonderland (“We Want to Rock,” “Pronto,” and “Gangsta Luv”). A song new to the CD, “So Gangsta,” was laughable, as it did not sound “gangsta” in the slightest (not that I’m an expert of the definition). The song I liked best was “Pronto,” which was moderately catchy, but I didn’t like any of the songs enough to import them into my itunes.

I’m giving the More Malice package a 2/5. It wasn’t my thing, but if you’re a Snoop Dogg fan, give it a shot.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Snoop Dogg

Buy the CD/DVD

This is probably my last review of 2010, but come back on Monday, January 3 for my midpoint progress report. I am halfway through the time I've allotted for my mission, and, surprisingly, nearly halfway through the items I need to review, as well.

Have a safe and happy new year, and thank you for reading!

Monday, December 27, 2010

How to Beat up Anybody

Judah Friedlander’s book How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion looked stupid, but in a fun way. I’m a huge fan of 30 Rock, and even though Friedlander is a character in the show, not a writer, I guess I just assumed he would be funny by association. I was wrong. How to Beat Up Anybody was just plain stupid, and a waste of time to read.

The World Champion is an egotistical character that originated in Friedlander’s stand-up comedy. I’ve never seen the stand-up, so maybe The World Champion fares better in that medium. However, in a book that focuses solely on his ridiculous claims of awesomeness, it gets old fast. I think I would find the egomaniac annoying even in small doses, but when the entire book is based on the idea that this guy is funny, and then he isn’t, the entire book seems like a waste.

How to Beat Up Anybody consists mostly of very posed and photoshopped images of Friedlander (in his World Champion getup) beating the crap out of people. There are a few variations (in one chapter he’s dressed as a woman because people think drag is funny, in another he’s teaching strippers self defense because they wanted some boobs in the book), but generally it’s page after page of the same bad joke.

Also, the text in the book was poorly laid out—you are meant to read the text in a specific order, but because of its placement around photos, I was often reading steps out of place. I don’t think the jokes would’ve landed for me had I read them in the correct order, but the jumbled quality didn’t help matters any.

As you might expect, I’m giving How to Beat Up Anybody a 1/5. Seriously, this was almost worse than reading the books that make outlandish political claims that I disagree with; at least with those books, I can learn where others are coming from. I can’t come up with a single silver lining to reading How to Beat Up Anybody (and those of you who know what an optimist I am can really see how I feel about the book).

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Judah Friedlander

Buy the book

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Earth (The Book)

If I were given only one word to describe Earth (The Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race, I would choose delightful. The book, written by Jon Stewart and the Daily Show team, has everything I love about the Daily Show: namely, jokes (both smart and silly). Following the textbook-like format of their previous publication, America (The Book), Earth (The Book) presents itself as a guide to the aliens who will find our planet after human life is eradicated.

I can’t tell you how many times I laughed out loud as I was reading the book – seriously, my family asked me “What’s so funny?” on more than one occasion. The book, which covers basics like Earth, Life, Society, Religion, and Culture (among others), is filled with big pictures and tons of jokey copy. It was the polar opposite of many of the books I’ve read for the Daily Shill.

Though the pages of the book are designed to be read in any order (on someone’s coffee table or in the bathroom, for example), I went through and read every page consecutively. And I loved it all. Even though I read the library’s copy, I am considering buying Earth (The Book) for myself so that it will be on hand whenever I have only a few minutes to read and need a good laugh.

I give Earth (The Book) a 5/5, and recommend it to everyone. It is a delight.

Buy the Book

And, thus ends my week(ish) of daily reviews. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, have a super one this weekend, and for those of you who don’t, still have a super weekend! I’ll be back on Monday with my weekly review.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


It’s been almost a week since I saw Cyrus, and I’m still not sure exactly what I think of it. Like most indie films, this sort-of comedy, sort-of drama starring John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei, and Jonah Hill, presents interesting, funny characters, but also seems to end about 15 minutes before the storyline does (which can be frustrating).

The premise: John (Reilly) is not doing so hot with his life until he meets Molly (Tomei) and really falls for her. She’s crazy about him too, but it’s complicated by Cyrus (Hill), her grown son who she is incredibly (kind of creepily) close to. Cyrus, upset that there’s another man in his mother’s life, pretends to accept John while secretly attempting to undermine him.

Generally, the movie was pretty funny, and Reilly, Tomei, and Hill were all fine actors, but something didn’t make it there for me. Perhaps it was the lack of closure, but, in addition to that, the movie was kind of predictable. I don’t mind a predictable comedy, but since Cyrus was obviously trying to be something more, I wanted a surprise or two.

Don’t get me wrong; Cyrus is still worth watching if the concept intrigues you. I’m giving it a 3/5. It employed a neat technique of putting a sort-of montage of scenes over a single scene’s dialogue, to indicate time passing and relationships changing. And it did a super job of making the relationship between Cyrus and Molly weird, but not too creepy. And, it did make me laugh out loud, more than once. But it definitely remains a 3 movie.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with John C. Reilly

Buy the DVD

Sorry if this review is a little more casual and scattered than usual. Just as I was about to go to bed last night, I remembered that I had yet to write my review for today—and I did not have time to write one in the morning. Tomorrow’s will be better, I swear.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Ricky Gervais: Out of England II

As a present to me, the last week of Daily Show interviews in 2010 featured a movie, a TV show, a book on the economy (okay, that one wasn’t much of a present) and a picture book. That, my friends, I can handle. Especially when the TV show is Ricky Gervais’s comedy special Ricky Gervais: Out of England II.

I will say from the get-go that I am a big fan of Out of England (I)—my family will still quote it from time to time—so I was definitely pre-disposed to be a fan of the second. And Gervais did not let me down. Though, as with any stand-up, every joke didn’t hit for me, I laughed aloud plenty of times.

Gervais is one of those comedians who will push the limits between a hilarious joke and an offensive one. And he doesn’t hold back in this special—grandparents and sensitive folk beware, this is not the show for you.

The highlight of the special for me was a segment Gervais spent riffing on a picture book that he received as a child. The pages of the book, an illustrated retelling of the story of Noah, were projected on a large screen, and Gervais read the book aloud, stopping to make jokes. I just loved it.

In the end, I’m going to give Ricky Gervais: Out of England II, a 4/5. I enjoyed the show as a whole, but I liked the first one even better. If you don’t mind being a little offended, it’s worth the watch.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Ricky Gervais

The special is currently on HBO on Demand

Monday, December 20, 2010

Molto Gusto

How exactly do you review a cookbook? Do you read every word of every recipe? How many of them do you have to try? Those are the questions that went through my head when Mario Batali was on The Daily Show to promote his new cookbook Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking. When I finally got a copy of the book from the library, I decided to read all the text that wasn’t within recipes, skim each recipe (read the title, look at pictures) and make at least one recipe from the book. Hopefully that’s good enough for you all.

Molto Gusto is divided into seven types of recipes: Vegetable Antipasti, Seafood & Meat Antipasti, Bruschetta & Cheese, Insalata, Pasta, Pizza, and Gelato & Sorbet. To be honest, most of the recipes in the book did not appeal to me; I hate cheese, which is a major component in Italian cooking. However, the pictures of the food were almost enough to convince me to try even the cheesiest recipe; they were beautiful. There was a picture for every single recipe, and they were pretty enough to be considered art (in my non-artist opinion).

I opted to make the “Green Beans with Charred Onions,” one of Batali’s simpler recipes. The recipe—which, in addition to green beans and onions, contains a sauce made of balsamic vinegar, orange juice, olive oil, and sea salt—was relatively easy to make and was quite good. This summer, when the family garden gives us more green beans than we know what to do with, I will definitely make it again.

However, though this recipe was easy, much of the supposedly “easy Italian cooking,” appears to be rather complicated. Even without considering the moderately advanced steps, many of the recipes are difficult due to specific, harder-to-find ingredients, which would certainly discourage me from making them. With that in mind, I’m giving Molto Gusto a 4/5. Its pictures are beautiful and the recipe I tried was good, but the potential complications of other recipes make it lose a point.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Mario Batali

Buy the book

Friday, December 17, 2010

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk

I am a big fan of David Sedaris; I even claim he is my favorite author from time to time (though I can’t actually settle on one). So I was thrilled when his latest book Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk was featured on a Daily Show interview. After all, it was one I was going to read regardless.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk is different than most of Sedaris’s books; rather than memoir, it is a collection of short stories centering on animals with human traits. The stories reminded me of fables, except that there were few morals, and it certainly would not be fit for children.

Though the concept is hilarious (as is Sedaris’s original title: Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls), most of the stories did not make it there. As my dad, who read the first four stories in the book before giving up, said, “It’s just not funny enough.” True, there were some stories like “The Cow and the Turkey” and “The Judicious Brown Hen” that made me laugh, but for each of them, there are two “The Migrating Warblers,” that weren’t worth reading.

I think I would have a different opinion had I listened to the audio book rather than reading a physical copy. Sedaris has performed a handful of these stories on the radio show This American Life, and I thought they were amusing there; Sedaris just has a way of making anything sound funny. Of course, had I gone with the audio book, I would have missed the wonderful illustrations done by Ian Falconer (best known for the Olivia series of picture books). And missing those would have been a shame.

As much as it pains me to give a Sedaris book a low rating, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk gets a 2/5. If you’re a fan, it’s worth picking up to see if you agree with me—it’s a short book and shouldn’t take much longer than an hour to read—but otherwise, I wouldn’t steer you towards it.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with David Sedaris (very funny)

Buy the book

Don't forget to come back next Monday-Thursday for a new review each day.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gunn's Golden Rules

I have never watched Project Runway or any other show that Tim Gunn may be on (is he on other shows? I don’t even know). But I’ve seen him on the Daily Show and Colbert Report, and he seems likeable enough, so I approached his book with an open mind. Maybe it was a little too open…

Gunn’s Golden Rules:Life's Little Lessens for Making it Work claims to be an etiquette book. And, as I was reading the introduction, where Gunn says the etiquette he cares about boils down to “just be nicer,” I was completely on board (I may have even said, “Yes, yes, I agree!” aloud). And then came the book. It was a strange amalgamation of manners tips, Project Runway anecdotes, and catty stories of people’s rudeness, peppered with all too many catchphrases (“Make it work,” anyone?). Not what I wanted.

What bothered me most about Gunn’s Golden Rules was how terribly scattered it was; it jumped from one story to another without transition—it seemed like it might be Gunn’s cocktail party conversation. I would’ve cut Gunn some slack—after all, he’s not a writer—but the book was co-written. Yes, there’s a little “with Ada Calhoun” on the cover. If you bring in a writer to help you with the book, the writing had better be decent. Or just neutral, I would’ve been okay with that. I will admit, I sometimes feel a little hypocritical criticizing the writing of these books, as I know my writing on this website is not super. But then I remember that they are writing a book—if I were writing a book (instead of a blog), you can bet I would draft and edit much more thoroughly. So, on with the criticism, I guess.

Every so often, Gunn told an interesting story, and the book was a quick read, but even so, I’m giving Gunn's Golden Rules a 1/5. If it weren’t for the Daily Shill, I would have stopped reading about 80 pages in.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Tim Gunn

Buy the Book

Sad to be at work this week and next? I don’t blame you. But, perhaps I can help? Come back to the Daily Shill every workday between now and Christmas (assuming you don’t work on the weekend or the 24th) and read a new review. That makes it all better, doesn’t it? Wait, you’re telling me it doesn’t? Well, sorry, it’s all I can do.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ratings without Reviews

Well, I’m in the midst of writing multiple final papers (tomorrow, I have 26 single-spaced pages due), so I don’t have time to write my usual Monday review. However, come back later this week to read my review of Tim Gunn’s book Gunn’s Golden Rules. Meanwhile, enjoy this edition of Ratings without Reviews (books, movies, and TV I've recently watched that were not featured on the Daily Show).

Dry by Augusten Burroughs: 4/5
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimon: 5/5
The Learners by Chip Kidd: 3/5

Tangled: 5/5
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part I: 4/5
Rachel Getting Married: 4/5

Six Feet Under, Season 1: 5/5
30 Rock, Season 4: 5/5

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I Know I Am, But What Are You

What with it being the week before finals, it certainly isn’t a good time to sit and read an entire book in a single day. But that didn’t stop me from pretending schoolwork didn’t exist and spending my Sunday reading Samantha Bee’s memoir I Know I Am, But What Are You. I couldn’t put it down.

Bee’s humor smoothly transitioned from the Daily Show stage to the pages of her book. As she told of her unconventional childhood and her strange personality quirks, I couldn’t help laughing out loud, even though the circumstances she described would come across as sad when told by anyone else. And Bee is the queen of one-liners. (I don’t mean to be making an insect-bee pun…really).

But I Know I Am, But What Are You is more than just jokes. The book wouldn’t have been so good if it weren’t for the intriguing subject matter. Bee has had a pretty crazy life. And lucky for us, she’s willing to share. Plus, the book ended shortly after Bee met Jason Jones (her husband and Daily Show co-correspondent), which leads me to believe more of these memoirs are in store. After all, she has to talk about her Daily Show time, right? I mean, I can only hope.

This is a short review, but it’s a bonus one, so hopefully there are no complaints. I give the book a 5/5. If you are going to read it, do know that the book can be rather brash (with language and some sexual stuff).

Monday, December 6, 2010

A New Way of Browsing the Daily Shill

A few days ago, Eric, someone I don't know (I can't tell you how exciting it is that people I don't know read this blog), asked if I could make a categorized list of the books I've reviewed.

Well, I haven't done exactly that, but I think I've done something else that will serve the same purpose. Now, every review will have a tag that has the format of the item (i.e. book, film) followed by a colon and its genre (i.e. science, comedy, health).

You can then look to the list of tags in the right toolbar and click on the classification that interests you (like TV:Comedy). You still will need to sift through the other tags, but since the list is alphabetized, there shouldn't be trouble.

Thanks for the idea, Eric! And if anyone else has thoughts, don't hesitate to share.

Countdown to Lockdown

There are many reasons that I am not the type of person that Mick Foley’s book Countdown to Lockdown: A Hardcore Journal was written for. (Take, for example, the fact that my inner English major died a bit when I ended that sentence with a preposition rather than writing “for whom the book was written). However, the biggest bit of evidence that I am not Foley’s ideal audience is that I am not a fan of professional wrestling. I will admit, I have never seen a wrestling match (Is that even the correct terminology? I don’t even know that!), but I somehow doubt exposure to pro wrestling would make a fan out of me. In his interview with Jon Stewart, though, Mick Foley seemed like a pretty good guy—how smitten he was with Tori Amos was rather endearing. And, surely, reading a memoir of a professional wrestler would be easier than reading yet another book on the economy. I wasn’t dreading the book when I picked it up.

And it didn’t start off so badly, either. Foley was pretty funny, and he understood that his readers might have varying interests regarding wrestling—he began each chapter with a “wrestlemeter,” rating how much the chapter dealt with the sport (is sport the correct classification?) so that fans could skip chapters that didn’t fit their interest. Of course, as someone who was reviewing the book, I didn’t let myself skip any chapters.

As Countdown to Lockdown went on, though, I began to get annoyed with Foley. Even though he acknowledged early on that he’s been accused of being a name-dropper, that didn’t stop his name dropping tendency from irritating me after awhile. Foley seemed to alternate between self-importance and self-deprecation, neither of which I found particularly endearing. I never cared about (or fully understood) the wrestling stories, so the only thing that was going to make this book work for me was a liking for Foley (since the writing, though better than what you might expect from a professional wrestler, was nothing special).

But just as I was mentally lowering my rating for Countdown to Lockdown, Foley brought the book home with a few well-written, intellectually engaging chapters dealing with the premature deaths of wrestlers and substance abuse. I think the chapter on steroid use/abuse particularly deserves to stand alone and engage conversation on the morals and legality of performance enhancing substances.

So, in the end, I’m giving Countdown to Lockdown a 3/5. If you’re a professional wrestling fan, you’ll probably love it, and if, like me, you’re not, I recommend you pick and choose chapters for the best experience.

Watch Jon Stewart’s interview with Mick Foley

Buy the Book

As a bonus, return to the Daily Shill later this week (probably tomorrow, but maybe on Thursday) for a review of the other book Mick Foley promotes in his interview: Samantha Bee’s I Know I Am, But What Are You?