Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ratings without Reviews

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday yesterday-- sorry there was no new update! Today, I bring back "Ratings without Reviews" where I rate some of the other things I've been reading and watching. Later this week, there will be a new Daily Shill Review.

Ratings without Reviews:

Sleepwalk with Me by Mike Birbiglia: A seriously funny book, completely worth the read. 5/5

The Sandman, Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (and several illustrators): I've read the Sandman series before and loved it, but it starts a little slow. 3/5

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson: The perfect follow up to 13 Little Blue Envelopes; Johnson knows how to write quality YA Fiction. 4/5

Catfish: Engaging, creepy, and engrossing. 5/5

The Hangover Part II: I didn't think a repeat of the same plot could be funny, Part II proves that, with new jokes, it can be. 4/5

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex

Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist’s book The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex is absolutely hilarious, but not for the faint of heart. It’s moderately graphic (though illustrated with cartoons by Michael Kupperman and Lisa Hanawalt), lewd, and in-your-face. But did I mention that it’s hilarious?

Schaal and Blomquist are both writers for The Daily Show (and Schaal will occasionally appear on camera as Senior Women’s Issues Correspondent). The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex certainly has the feel of an uncensored Daily Show, with its short sections, clever titles, and immature (in a good way!) jokes. With chapters titled “The History of Sex,” “For Sexperts Only” and “The Future of Sex” among others, Schaal and Blomquist run the gamut of sex jokes.

The only part of The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex that I didn't care for are the long “stories” at the end of each chapter: “Regular Sex” has one about joining the Mile High Club, “The Gay Chapter” has some satire of slash fiction, “For Sexperts Only” has one about a man who’s in love with the Loch Ness Monster. Though the ideas behind most of these stories were funny, they would have been better as a one-off joke, rather than a five-page story.

Despite my minor complaint, The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex is a good one, and I do recommend it. (Unless, of course, you’re my parent or grandparent, in which case I suggest you read something else). That being said, remember it is a humor book about sex that takes the jokes way beyond “making whoopee.” If that doesn’t sound funny to you, it won’t be. But if it does, read the book! I give it a 4/5.

See Jon Stewart promote the book

Buy the book

And now, here's a short rant about my Daily Shill Project. This was not inspired by The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex. They just both happen to exist in the same post.

There have been times I’ve wanted to give up on The Daily Shill before, but I don’t think any as strong as right now. I’ve lost my motivation to slog through books I don’t want to read—there’s so much good stuff out there, why am I wasting my time on things in which I’m not interested? I’ve made it pretty far, and I’m not a quitter (as I keep telling myself over and over), but man-oh-man, I’m ready to be done.

Part of the problem, I think, is it’s a lot of work for a small amount of feedback. I have no idea how many people read this blog, but when you take away my relatives and close friends, I don’t think that leaves much else. Yeah, I have a decent amount of followers on Facebook (and a few on Blogger and Twitter), but I don’t think most check out the blog. I track my posted links on bit.ly, and each review gets an average of 3-5 clicks. That doesn't seem like very many for the amount of time it takes to read each book (or watch each movie) and write the review.

Also, I’ll admit it, even though I knew from the beginning that it was a long shot, I was secretly hoping for some sort of recognition for this project from the Daily Show. I don’t need a mention on the show or anything, but gosh, I’d love an email saying, “We see what you’re doing, and it’s neat.” (The neat part is optional).

Enough whining, I’ll make it through, I’m over halfway there. But, meanwhile, I’m also letting myself read some other books (and am reacting with overkill). Right now, I’m reading Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Alice Alone (the middle of a series I loved as a kid/teen), PJ O’Rourke’s upcoming travelogue Holidays in Heck, Judy Dutton’s Science Fair Season (also due to be published in the next few months—librarians, reviewers, and teachers, check out Netgalley to get free digital galleys of upcoming publications), and the first trade book of Neil Gaimon’s Sandman series. Oh, and Ian Bremmer’s The End of the Free Market for the Shill.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Town

I watched Ben Affleck’s movie The Town more than a week ago, but I’ve had troubles sitting down to write the review. After finishing the movie, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, and, over time, no more clarity has been found.

The Town takes place in Boston’s Charlestown neighborhood, a location rife with crime, particularly bank and armored truck robberies. Doug (Affleck) and a group of his buddies make their living by performing these robberies, and the movie opens will the group robbing a bank managed by Claire (Rebecca Hall). Though it’s a little rocky, the guys eventually end up pulling off the robbery, but not without killing a guard and taking Claire as an incredibly temporary hostage. However, more problems are to come. This robbery causes FBI Agent Frawley (Jon Hamm) to begin to seek out the guys. Additionally, Claire lives in the same neighborhood as Doug and when the two meet at a Laundromat, they begin to fall in love (Doug recognizes Claire, she does not recognize him).

This relationship was the thing that bothered me about The Town. I couldn’t understand how Doug would allow himself to spend enough time with Claire to fall for her, and I also didn’t get how they fell in love so fast. I know The Town is an action movie, and wasting time on scenes developing a romantic relationship is probably not what the audience wants, but it was this (and, oddly enough, not the robberies and violence) that kept the movie from being believable to me.

The Town is without a doubt an action movie (though one with a bit more depth than the typical action fare, I assume). As this blog has already made clear, action movies are not my favorite. However, The Town was the first action movie I’ve seen for this project where the car-chases and gunfights didn’t seem gratuitous. Though they still aren’t things I particularly enjoy watching, they fit within the story and didn’t distract me.

I appreciated that The Town did not have distinct lines drawn between good and bad characters. Typically, you’d be led to root for either the FBI agent or the robbers, but The Town did no such leading. Sure, the robbers were wrong to steal and kill, but the movie showed the personalities behind their tough-guy characters and explained how they got in that situation. Conversely, it was clear that Agent Frawley was just doing his job—he wasn’t crooked, he wasn’t malicious. I liked that characters weren’t cut and dry and that I was able to choose for myself who to support. However, instead of picking a side, I found myself not cheering for either one; I just didn’t care.

The Town gets a 3/5. It’s worth watching, but not worth buying.

Watch Jon Stewart interview Ben Affleck

Buy the DVD

And I’d like to thank Anna at the Chelsea District Library for taking my new profile picture (finally, it’s Daily Shill relevant) and writing about the Shill in the library’s e-newsletter!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Blueprint

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ve read my rants about how I hate reading political books. I promised myself I wouldn’t rant about how awful all political books are (as I did plenty here and here). But Ken Blackwell and Ken Klukowski’s book The Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency got me riled again. Another rant is forthcoming, and you are warned.

Like I’ve said before, I am on the liberal end of the political spectrum. However, I have plenty of friends and relatives who are conservative, and I like to think that reading books like The Blueprint will give me some insight into these friends and relatives viewpoints. I know that these books won’t change my mind or my political slant, but its always good to be exposed to multiple viewpoints. Unfortunately, political books are really terrible way to get reasonable arguments (and I mean political books written by both conservatives and liberals). In these books, authors will manipulate facts and quotations to serve their argument. These authors will demonize their opponents and discredit any point-of-view that doesn’t match their own. It’s awful. Usually, though, these tactics will ease in: the hatred will build up as the book continues. With The Blueprint, though, it began on page two. And I knew it was going to be a painful read.

In The Blueprint Blackwell and Klukowski (or “The Kens,” as I like to think of them) argue that President Barack Obama is manipulating (and ignoring) the constitution to build more power for his party and himself. Separated into eight chapters—the subjects of which range from the appointment of czars to gun control to the bias of the media—The Kens lay out a string of actions Obama has taken (or will take) to grab as much power as he can.

One of the things that bothered me most about The Blueprint was its hypocrisy. Many of Obama’s actions that Blackwell and Klukowski had problems with were things conservative presidents had done in the past (and will do in the future). Take, for example, their complaint that Obama will have the opportunity to appoint multiple justices to the Supreme Court, and that the justices he appoints will be liberal. Of course they will be liberal. Just as the three justices appointed by President Ronald Reagan, two justices appointed by President George HW Bush, and two justices appointed by President George W Bush were conservative. It’s just how the system works. Would it be better if presidents selected moderate appointees rather than those that match their political party? Probably, but that’s not what happens.

What was the worst, though, were the offensive, borderline-hateful statements the authors occasionally made. Things like the insistence that illegal aliens must always be referred to as such (and never “illegal immigrants,” or “undocumented workers”) or that schools that acknowledge homosexuality are “toxic learning environments.” There were multiple times I found myself wanting to rip the pages of the book, and it was a library book! (Since I am a year away from becoming a librarian, understand the gravity of that statement).

I could go on listing my problems with The Blueprint (like how any book attempting to be serious should never compare the President-- any president-- to Emperor Palpatine), but enough is enough. It gets a 1/5.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Beyond Fundamentalism

Reza Aslan’s, Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting the Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalism is a thought-provoking, worthwhile read. In three, moderately short sections—“The Geography of Identity,” “God is a Man of War,” and “The End of War as We Know It”—Aslan gives a background of group identity, fighting on behalf of a religion (or extreme interpretation of it), and the current state of fundamentalism, focusing especially on the Middle East.

Aslan writes in a clear, yet intelligent, voice. Though I often found myself pausing to fully comprehend ideas he put forth, Beyond Fundamentalism could be read quickly, even in a day or two. However, I would recommend reading the book only a chapter or two at a time to get the most of it. I’ll admit, I wasn’t able to do this for the entire book, but I wish I had. It's worth taking the time to think about what Aslan writes.

Though there were many aspects of Beyond Fundamentalism that made me think, one key issue was the feeling of group identity. Aslan points out that one such form is national identity—however, with the increasing globilization, this nationalism in becoming weaker, for better or worse. Some then turn to religion for the feeling of belonging, and, in the extreme, this religion can take the form of the incredibly fundamental groups that encourage terrorism.

Similar to the issue of group identity is the idea of unity and belonging, and the importance that this unity involves inclusion (which allows for differences), rather than assimilation (which emphasizes sameness). Though the creation of the European Union has increased unity of many European countries, it has also highlighted the “otherness” of those who do not belong. Until I read Beyond Fundamentalism, I was not aware of the struggles Muslims face in many European countries—that some school cafeterias in France won’t serve halal meat to Muslim students, that The Netherlands has legislation attempting to ban the Qur’an, and that “Islam Out of Britain” is a rallying cry of the British National Party. Though terrorism is never the way to fight back against these inequities (and, in itself, engenders more hatred and fear), this persecution of Muslims only feeds the fire of these radical groups.

Much of Beyond Fundamentalism resonates with the speech President Obama gave last night announcing the death of Osama Bin Laden, particularly Obama’s insistence that the War on Terror is in no way a War on Islam, and his call for unity.

Though Beyond Fundamentalism occasionally felt out of date (particularly the final chapter, which focuses on the issue of a potential Egyptian democracy), it is certainly still recommended. I give it a 4/5.

Note: Beyond Fundamentalism was originally published as How to Win a Cosmic War