Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bollywood Bio Book Club

So it turns out that celebrity biographies are much the same the world over. Which does not, sadly, explain my obsession with reading them -- even the fluffy ones. The Madhubala biography I was able to get through the Amazon Marketplace (Masti and Magic) is little more than a photo album. Of, admittedly, very lovely photos. The Kishore Kumar (Method and Madness) bio is similar, although it does have more text. (Neither book, by the way, offers much if any insight into their relationship and marriage). There's a longer and potentially more substantial Madhubala biography out there, but it looks like I'm going to have to order it through Interlibrary Loan.

On the one hand, there's the celebrity puff-piece and fan keepsake. On the other, the hilariously self-aggrandizing autobiography. Sorry, Dev Saab: I enjoyed Guide a whole lot, and am really looking forward to Jewel Thief, but nothing in your memoir Romancing With Life is going to dispel that misconception of narcissism that you talk about in the book. Then again, why should it? Your career was built on your handsomeness, so I'd imagine narcissism develops as a survival strategy to keep it going. I'm in no position to judge.

I will, however, chuckle at the world in which raindrops "rolled down the glass like so many naked female forms, writhing their bodies in a quivering dance..." (p. 24).

While Amitabh: The Making of a Superstar is also a good read, my favorite so far has been the misleadingly titled Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb, which is mainly an analysis of her films and dances, with only as much "life and times" needed to accomplish that. Along the way I learned quite a bit about Helen, and acquired a long list of new films to track down on YouTube, if not on DVD.

I've got one more coming in the mail right now, which I discovered through sheer fluke. I was browsing through booksellers with copies of a Dilip Kumar biography, when I noticed that the cover image didn't match the book description. The cover image (which has, sadly, since been fixed) was of a different book by the same author, called ...and Pran: A Biography.

I am, as always, hoping for maximum awesomeness.

Friday, February 20, 2009

One captcha too many

Luddism: this time I mean it!

Well, no, probably not.

However, it does occur to me that when I pick up the phone, or step out to my mailbox, I don't have to stop and prove I'm a human being first. There isn't an ad before every call. (Although I'm sure someone is working on that right now). There isn't a postal representative waiting on my porch, who will force me to listen to a spiel about how my service has been changed and improved, who have to tell to go away several times before I can grab my mail out of the box.

Even if I get junk mail and have to throw it away, the offending postcards are extremely unlikely to render my mailbox unusable.

If something happens to delay my mail delivery, it doesn't also affect my telephone service, or vice versa. (Barring whole electrical grid outages and truly severe weather). Especially now that the annoyances of junk mail and telemarketing have largely moved online, where the money apparently is (although I can't believe anyone clicks on the spam, somebody must), I am becoming more pro-mail delivery and pro-landline.

While we're at it: since I don't live in the land of Harry Potter, nor do I fill up a page of paper with ink only to have everything I've written suddenly disappear. Who hasn't had that happen online?

There are way too many eggs in the internet's basket. And we keep being encouraged to put more in. It certainly has its purposes. Without the internet, there are friends I'd never hear from, and I'd have way fewer sources for Bollywood reviews and camaraderie. It's not like I'm unplugging anytime soon.

Sooner or later, though, I'm going to have to weigh the worth and the annoyance, and possibly be more selective about my time. Unless the whole system collapses and it all disappears overnight. (Imagine! What if Google goes bankrupt? Or Yahoo? What would happen to my mailbox then?) Then I'll really have something annoying to blog about, but will have to stand on the street corner like an old-fashioned crazy person to do it...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I'll never regret wearing black

In the new Harper's Bazaar, Sarah Jessica Parker, "who famously wore black on her wedding day," says she now "would choose white."

The actress' quotes: "I'm not kidding. White it up. I'd wear a beautiful, proper wedding dress, like I should have worn on the day...(My son) said, 'Do you still regret it?' and I said, 'Yes, I still regret it.' " (p. 378)

Here I thought she was supposed to be a fashionista.

For the record, I wore a beautiful, proper wedding dress. It was tulle, for pete's sake. It was also black, black, black, which looked very dramatic with a white veil. She needs to come to North Dakota, where we're stylish and we mean it!
(That's me, in the gown I've actually gotten to wear multiple times. In this case, for a poetry reading).

The Knock of Om!

"That's the punch of Jesus on his face."
"The blow of Allah!"
"And the knock of Om!"

1981's Naseeb has clear links to Amar Akbar Anthony (sharing a director, screenwriter, and musical team), but its theme of inter-religious unity and brotherhood is depicted a little more, shall we say, aggressively?

The three heroes have been given rings with Christian, Muslim, and Hindu religious symbols on them, respectively, and punched the faces of their opponents. (These include henchman du jour Yusuf Khan, as Amrish Puri's hulkish son.When you Google him, you get references to Dilip Kumar, but while this Yusuf Khan had a short career, only 21 movies in 12 years, those films include Amar Akbar Anthony, Don, Karz, the Ramsay Brothers' Hotel, and Disco Dancer. Pretty impressive).

Naseeb (Destiny) tells the story of a group of friends who plan to share a lottery ticket. When it wins, two of them murder the others (although with Pran, they throw him in the river and don't make sure he's dead, which is always a bad idea). All four guys have kids who grow up and get into romantic entanglements, not knowing who the others are; evil deeds can't be hidden forever; revenge is sought, etc.

Oh, yeah, and it has the musical sequence that inspired the "Deewangi Deewangi" number in Om Shanti Om, with lots of stars playing themselves at a Golden Jubilee function where Amitabh is singing and serving drinks.

It's too bad that Naseeb didn't quite come together for me. At 39, Amitabh was sadly already looking a little old for this kind of thing, maybe because of the contrast with 1973's Zanjeer (which I just watched the day before, impressed by his intensity and startled by his hotness). By 1981, he's put on some weight, he doesn't have the same spark, but he's still trying to do the youthful role, and the script doesn't really give him much help. His John is like a maudlin version of Anthony, but it's not really a fun, full-of-life character. Nor is it a solid dramatic one like Zanjeer's Vijay. He's introduced with that lively, Anthony-like "John Jaani Janardhan" number, but then there's the cage-fighting and the self-sacrifice and the angst.

Hey! I just realized, I'm comparing his role to the ones in Amar Akbar Anthony and Zanjeer. The A to Z of Amitabh Bachchan!

Shatrughan Sinha fills in for Vinod Khanna as the sort of middle child hero, and while he was a plausible romantic rival for Dharmendra in Blackmail, here he looks more like a middle-aged businessman than a guy pretty girls would be throwing themselves into wells over.

Which leaves Rishi as the stand-out, managing to be utterly plausible doing blackflips in fight scenes, and getting some good comic moments early on (as does Hema in her role a celebrity pitchperson for cough drops). Well, if your standard for "utterly plausible" is as elastic as mine obviously is.

Speaking of the Dream Girl, with Zanjeer, this made two films in a row I've watched with climactic fight scenes where the heroines suddenly show up to save the day. In Zanjeer, Jaya played a girl with a knife-sharpening stand, and her skill at knife-throwing was established in her first scene. You'd think I'd have seen where that was going, but hey, there was a lot going on, so by the time she turned up when the bad guys seemed to have the upper hand, I'd almost forgotten there was even a romantic subplot to wrap up, much less that she'd be useful in a fight.

In Naseeb, all three heroines arrive, busting glass windows and flying through the air, on daredevil Hema's motorcycle. (She plays a famous pop singer, who had to escape from two separate hoodlum attacks before she even got directly involved with the storyline).

Naseeb has other pluses, including a great restaurant with a revolving floor, where there's a bartender inside a giant model of a whiskey bottle. No complaints there. (I know: it's been brought to my attention that I really need to start screenshotting). Conveniently, a crank can turn the floor up to speeds that will throw anyone standing on it flat to the ground. Well, that might not be so convenient for most restaurants, but it is when complicated factions of gangsters are brawling on it.

Oh, and the part where the bad guys smuggle drugs by lowering coffins into the ground, right down into their underground lair/crematorium, was also pretty awesome.

As for Zanjeer: it's famous for the great and obviously iconic performance by Amitabh as a driven policeman, but the movie is stolen right out from under him by Pran (who played his dad in both Naseeb and Amar Akbar Anthony). Pran is the tough gambling kingpin Sher Khan who, beaten in a fair fight by Amitabh's new cop on the beat, not only goes straight as an auto mechanic, but becomes the cop's best friend and right-hand man. He sports a full head of red hair, which he fluffs back dramatically at key moments, and a glittery vest I'd be expecting to see on qawwali singer.

It's great to see Pran get to play the hero for once, with a noble character, a bunch of fairly convincing fight scenes, and even his own musical number, serenading Amitabh's depressed Vijay with a song about the importance of seeing his friends smile. Awwww.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Film Index (non-filmi)

More movies I've blabbed about; mostly horror, but not all.

The American Nightmare

An American Werewolf in London

Amityville Dollhouse

The Apple

Babylon 5

Battlestar Galactica (new)

Black Sheep

The Brainiac

Cannibal!: The Musical

Christmas Evil

Club Dread


The Dark Knight, and here.

Dark Water (American version)


The Devil Bat

Diva Dolorosa

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze

Dracula: Pages from a Virgin's Diary

Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam

Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer

From Beyond


The Green Slime

Halloween 2 (original)

Halloween II (new)

Halloween: Twenty Years Later (a.k.a. Halloween H20)

Hawk the Slayer

The Incredible Hulk (Edward Norton version)

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Jennifer's Body



Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural

Life on Mars

The Little Ark

The Lost Boys

Lost Boys: The Tribe, and here.

The Man from Earth

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Mardi Gras Massacre

Matango: Attack of the Mushroom People

The Messengers

The Monster Squad

Murder Party

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Night of the Creeps

Night of the Lepus

The Psychic

Red Sonja

The Return of Dracula

Scream 2


Sigaw (The Echo)

Spider Forest

Strange Invaders

Thirty Days of Night


Torchwood: Children of Earth


Turkish Star Wars

TV Party: Halloween Show

The Vampire





Dhund Do Me Like That

(originally published in September 2007. The only other Bollywood movies I had seen at this point were Partner and Fanaa. Kind of a strange and circuitous journey I've been on! Re-reading this now, I have a perverse desire to revisit Dhund, since it's where His Irfanness first caught my eye).

I just saw my first Bollywood film a few weeks ago at the local art deco theater, so I’ve been busy checking out all the others I can find from the public library. When I heard about an Indian horror movie called The Fog (no relation to any of the Hollywood movies with the same name), I rushed to watch it. The consensus: Bollywood song and dance isn’t the most obvious fit with suspense, at least if this movie is any indication.

A young woman refuses to drop out of a beauty pageant, despite the insistence of a psycho who makes Scream-like telephone calls and kills her dog (off-screen, and not believable enough to disturb this animal lover). When she wins, he comes after her and her friends, who have to kill him in self-defense…or did they? They attempt to cover up the crime from her policeman uncle, all the while suspecting that he might be alive and out for revenge.

Irfan Khan, dramatically billed as the one-word "Irffan," is great as the sinister but oddly charismatic Ajit Khurana, in a role that would clearly be played by Benicio Del Toro, if there was going to be an American remake. Which, thank goodness, will never happen. Whenever he tosses back his greasy hair, there's a dramatic musical chord. I totally want that to happen in my everyday life. He also dresses like he's out of the Matrix, and eventually, after “killing” him and hiding his body, so do the wholesome young couples, becoming all dark sunglasses and black glossy jackets.

The musical numbers were a little on the blander side than most of the Bollywood I've seen so far, except in the way they express that very American 80s horror theme: the return of the repressed. After we’ve sat through their interminably cute, "wacky" courtship, the two couples go to a "farmhouse" (actually pretty much an enormous country resort) unchaperoned, on a "wet wet night." The song lyrics and the dance moves get more and more overtly sexy. Then, suddenly, the girls turn all innocence again, and send the boys off to get bring them dinner. After all that heavy breathing, abruptly stopped dead in its tracks, it's only inevitable that Ajit Khurana shows up at that moment to kill the beauty queen.

Later, at a party, there's an even more provocative dance number, all about a young woman who's "come of age," which seems to utilize traditional Indian dress in the same way Brittney Spears used to use the schoolgirl outfits. Again, almost immediately, guess who makes an appearance?

Other than Irrfan, the only really memorable part of this movie is the big tub of blood. Personally, I've never had occasion to move a dead body, but I've seen Blood Simple, so I can understand that the participants might not be operating at their peak efficiency. Still, one would think that if you were removing a dead body from a giant plexiglass bath tub, you'd drain the water before, or at least during, the removal operation. Just seems like that would make it easier for you. Then, if you could leave that tub full of Koolaid-red bloody water for a week without anyone noticing, that's not a resort where I'd want to stay. But at least it provides the set-up for one of the most delightfully ludicrous suspense sequences I've ever seen.

One of the cute young couples sees her uncle, the police inspector, on the road to the resort, at the same time they're en route to belatedly drain the tub. He was there before and he didn't notice anything, so unless he's driving all the way out there to take a bath...Oh, forget it. He spots them, and they get in a weird, slow-driving car chase as they try to beat him there. Then, they rush in and ... pull the plug! They watch anxiously as the water empties, the camera cuts dramatically back and forth, and he marches in just as the last of the red water is bobbling in the drain.

There are at least a half dozen logical problems with this whole scene: why did they stand around in the bathroom instead of trying to distract him when he got there? Why, in that huge house, did he go straight to the bathroom? He had no prior information about it that we ever hear of. Nobody asked, "Gee, why are you barging into the bathroom?" He didn't ask, "Why are you two standing by the bathtub looking so tense?" Wouldn’t it have made more sense to close the bathroom door and have the girl yell, "Just a minute, uncle, I'm not decent" until the water drained? And yet, it all made me laugh really hard, which is more than I Know What You Did Last Summer ever did.

There's a completely out-of-nowhere revelation at the end, which sort of explains what the heck was going on in the beginning with the fire at the waxworks, but raises even more questions. I would NOT recommend this movie, unless you know you have a high tolerance for this sort of thing. Parts of it are an endurance contest, but once the suspense finally kicks in, it has its charms.

For some perverse reason, there’s always more to say about the bad movies than the good ones. Still, I do like some movies that are actually good, so here goes.

Shutter seems to cover I Know What You Did territory too, especially early on, in the scenes that show how a hit-and-run can put a real strain on a romantic relationship. Maybe crossed with the Ringu subplot about how the doomed characters' faces get distorted in photographs.

One night a photographer and his girlfriend hit a young woman with their car and impulsively leave the scene. When they start finding strange shadows in his pictures, and his friends start turning up dead, it eventually becomes clear that it wasn't an accident at all. The woman was an old girlfriend that protagonist Tun wronged at the instigation of his loutish buddies, and she may or may not be a ghost already. He and resourceful new girlfriend Jane track down her hometown, and arrange a proper Buddhist funeral and cremation for her, in the hopes of helping her rest in peace.

Like The Eye, another Thai tale of the supernatural, the storyline isn't wildly original, but it's executed with subtlety and style. The ghost scenes are especially well-done, neither too much nor too little. And certainly the spooky Natre is a much more well-rounded antagonist than one usually sees in movies: still attached to the man she loved in life; understandably seeking revenge; and leaving shadowy messages to lead Jane to the truth about what happened in the past. I appreciated that last part the most. It's not just that her spirit wants revenge. Her spirit wants somebody to know what happened to her, and to judge it wrong.

I also have to mention a delightful detail: at one point Tun, in urban Bangkok, is seen wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the word "Minnesota."

Sadly, unlike Dhund, this is already being remade in English. With, uh, Dawson's Creek's Joshua Jackson and the girl from Transformers in the leads. If you like the quieter, eerier brand of Asian horror films, do me a favor: order the original from Netflix, and let's all put the remake completely out of our minds. Otherwise, someday we're going to be haunted by the ghosts of movie characters who are really annoyed at what Hollywood has done to them. Then it'll make perfect sense when the Ring-like girls come out of the tv sets.

Bhoot to the Head

(Originally published in January 2008, which probably explains a lot).

When I started watching 2003's Bhoot, I described it to my husband as a Bollywood movie with no singing and dancing. His response was, "Is that legal?" Apparently so, since the only music is in the score, some of it quite spooky and Omen-esque.

What Bhoot most resembles is a Hindi version of a Japanese ghost story in the Ringu/Dark Water vein, and a much better one than some of the American knock-offs I've seen. A happily married young couple (likeable Urmila Matondkar and sensitive sexyman Ajay Devgan) move into a high-rise apartment, where the previous tenant lept to her death from the balcony.

Husband Vishal scoffs at the idea that he'd be superstitious about this, but when his wife Swati hears the story, she quickly starts to unravel -- sleepwalking, seeing the woman's ghost everywhere she goes, and developing preternaturally dark circles under her eyes.

I have to pause for a second over a delightful scene in the storyline's early stages: Swati, home alone, is channel-surfing when we overhear the TV announcer trumpet "All new episodes!" (of Dharma and Greg and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, no less). Thus proving that television is in some fundamental ways alike all over the world.

Before long, a bizarre death in the building's lobby leads Vishal to wonder if his wife is capable of violence, and by the time a psychiatrist gets involved, we're in full-on Exorcist territory. A rational modern man, rendered vulnerable by his wife's seeming mental illness ("Just be okay," he pleads with her in a touching scene), he finally comes to believe that she's not really crazy. So despite being "an educated man," he seeks help from a "witch doctor" who can help the ghostly spirit, or bhoot, get its revenge and find peace in the afterlife.

The film's grave and glamorous medium is played by Rekha, the protective grandmother from Krrish, which I just watched last week. (Coincidentally, that movie features a character pretending to be a ghost, which leads Obligatory Comic Relief Guy to cry out "Bhoot! Bhoot!")
The ghost's mother, who helps out in a few scenes that are staged like a women's therapy group for the dead, is played by Tanuja, Devgan's real-life mother -in-law. Kevin Bacon has got nothing on Bollywood in degrees of separation.

The best connection is a brief argument between the couple, in which Vishal wants to go see Spider-Man and Swati wants to watch something called Straight from the Heart. "I'm tired of watching these stupid romantic films," he says, adding, "Come on, they're all the same." I know Straight from the Heart as the English title (on the DVD box) of Hum Dil De Chuke Sonam, a lavish and somewhat melodramatic romance starring Aishwarya Rai, Salman Khan, and ... Ajay Devgan.

Even though I've been hating musicals for decades, the only downside to Bhoot was that I really missed the singing and dancing. My world has turned all topsy-turvy! But overall this would actually be as good an introduction to Asian horror as some of the better-known Japanese films.

Plus, it's just really fun to say the word "Bhoot."

Filmi Index



Bada Din

Barsaat Ki Raat



Chalte Chalte


Dance Dance

Darna Mana Hai




Delhi 6

Devdas (2002 version)

Devdas (the novel)

Dhund: The Fog

Dil Aashna Hai

Disco Dancer


Ghungroo Ki Awaz


Hell's Ground

Jai Daksineshwar Kaali Maa

Jai Santoshi Maa


Kal Ho Naa Ho

Karan Arjun, and here

Kasam Paida Karne Wale Ki

Khabi Khushi Khabie Gham


The Killer

Koyla, and here


Kyun! Ho Gaya Na

Laila Majnu

Love Aaj Kal

Maa Meldi Tari Mer

Main Bhalwan



Nagina (1951)


Nigahen: Nagina, Part Two and here

Phoonk; and here.

Purana Mandir

Purana Mandir 2 (a.k.a. Saamri 3-D); and here. And here. Obviously, I am obsessed with Purana Mandir 2, which is really no surprise.

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Rafoo Chakkar

Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman


Red Rose

Roadside Romeo


Slumdog Millionaire


Tezaab, and here

Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic; and here

A Throw of Dice: a Romance of India



Woh Kaun Thi?

Yun Hota Toh Kiya Hota



Sect-of-the-Month Club

Okay, it's been so long since I had a selection, it's hardly "of the Month." But when you've got a catchy name, you have to run with it.

I have only begun to scratch the surface of my new find, but since they're known for their devotional poetry, there's bound to be more to come. And I was so eager to quote, I'm posting first and doing further researching later. Whilst finishing up Kshiti Mohan Sen's fine introduction Hinduism last night, I came across a brief chapter on the Bauls, who believe in "freedom from all outward compulsions," and "accept no divisions of society, such as caste or class," nor any particular deity. (p. 103)

According to Sen, the Bauls tend to be actually opposed to religious worship and the ephemera of temples and rituals (whereas I enjoy that sort of thing, when a particular point of view isn't being foisted upon me). Despite that difference, aesthetic on my part, I have to greatly admire the nutshell notions presented.

For example, Sen quotes an interview with a member of the Baul movement, whom he had asked about their non-belief in scriptures: "Are we dogs that we should lick up the leavings of others? Brave men rejoice in their own creation. Only the cowards are content with glorifying their forefathers because they do not know how to create for themselves." (p. 105)

Now that's punk rock!

In a less aggressive manner, here's some lines from their songs, voicing very fine sentiments:

"There's no worship in Mosque or Temple or on special holy day.
At every step I have my Mecca and Kasi; sacred is every moment." (p. 105)

"Man-made distinctions have no hold on me now.
I rejoice in the gladness of the love that wells out of my own being." (p. 103)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

No iconophobia for me

I Interlibrary Loaned this book called Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images, which looked promising, but it's turning out to be more of a flipper. I learned that the famous paintings of the Head of Jesus, the Lord is My Shepherd, and Jesus Knocking at the Door were all done by the same guy, which surprised me. And I enjoy the use of the word "iconophobia."

However, the author says things like "I take the notion of 'commemoration' from the Foucauldian critique of such historiography" (p. 213). Really? Must you? I had hoped my days of hearing about the Foucauldian were behind me...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Prophet without honor

Last night I was flipping through a book about the artists of MAD magazine that happened to be sitting on my couch (ah, the usual gang of idiots!) and came across the section on Wallace Wood, famous for the "Superduperman" parody, among other things. And I was startled to discover that he was from Menagha!

A small town just down the road from where I grew up, Menagha, MN, is famous for its lake, its tall pines, and, in more recent years, for its statue of St. Urho, hoisting a grasshopper on a pitchfork.

I remember some of Wood's sixties work in the various MAD paperback anthologies during my small-town youth. He also worked for EC and for Daredevil, the only comic I ever actually read in the seventies. To me, all this stuff came from somewhere impossibly far away, and I had no idea that one of the artists was actually from the area.

Of course, he struggled with alcoholism much of his life, and, after a stroke left him unable to draw, he committed suicide while I was still in high school, so it might not have been the perfect role model situation I might have been looking for. Still, knowing me, I think it would have been inspiring none the less.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Bibliophiles and the City

We watched a few random episodes of Sex and the City last night, which made me feel I should be writing a relationship self-help book (possibly tilted If I Can Do It, Anyone Can), especially in reaction to the question posed: "Is it better to 'fake it' than be alone?" NO! Moving on.

Then there was a whole thing about being single and publicly identified as such. Samantha got caught alone at a swanky restaurant, without even a book or some excuse, and at the end of the episode, Carrie makes a breakthrough and sits at a sidewalk cafe, by herself, without a book, and is proud of herself for doing so.

In the first place, that's why I try never to leave the house without a book, because if you find yourself waiting for five minutes, then that's five minutes of extra reading time you've lost. I've been annoyed to be caught by a train with nothing to read. Thus, in my long tenure as a single girl, I went to bars and restaurants all the time by myself, because I wanted to eat what they had, and I brought books because that's what I do. If I were at home, I'd certainly be reading while eating, and probably while preparing, which, frankly, works better for some things than it does for others.

Perhaps the conventional wisdom is that, in order to create an image of not minding being alone, I should not do what I really want to do. Which would seem to that prove I really do mind.

Now, as Carrie would say, "I can't help but wonder." All my life, have people looked at me sitting in restaurants reading and thought, oh, that poor girl is alone, and she's got a book to pretend she's okay with that? The answer to that rhetorical question is: please, who cares if some idiot thinks that?

And I don't even live in liberated Manhattan.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Werewolf vs. Vampire in Frost/Nixon

It was worth seeing Underworld 3 for the crazy compare/contrast between Michael Sheen as long-haired Gladiator-style werewolf leading all the other wolves to rebellion against the effete vampire nobility, and Michael Sheen as slick 70s talk show host with posh British accent in Frost/Nixon.

Meanwhile, Frank Langella had morphed into such a doppelganger for jowly Richard Nixon, it was halfway into the film before it occurred to me: hey! He was once the sexy young Dracula. Which actually makes this an epic smackdown, werewolf versus vampire style!

If they had CGI'ed into their respective creatures of the night, how much more interesting of a take on the subject it would have been than the Underworld mythos, alas. But it was still pretty interesting, despite their remaining in human form.

Friday, February 6, 2009

When I stopped reading fantasy novels

Yesterday we were down at the alternative comic shop, where they have a back room full of used sf/fantasy paperbacks, and I got to pondering the question of why I stopped reading fantasy novels. Now, I don't believe in privileging certain modes of fiction as more or less "real" than others, or think they're better or worse because of that. "Realistic fiction" is really just as fantastic. But apart from the Harry Potter books and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I haven't read any outright fantasy in years.

To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, some of my big favorites back in my fantasy-reading days were the Darkover series, the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser series, C.L. Moore's "Jirel of Joiry" stories, Robert E. Howard, and early Tanith Lee.

In retrospect, I think may drifting away was clearly a case of "it's not you, it's me." And of course, I don't draw any conclusions about any other fantasy readers based on my particular situation. But I suspect a lot of the attraction of fantasy novels, for me, was rooted in a specific form of escapism: I was at the stage in life where I was desperate to escape the limited confines of my small-town existence. The realm of fantasy allowed me a particularly imaginative metaphorical means to ponder that escape, because it was all about mysterious and interesting things that took place out there, somewhere, in worlds and societies that were very different from my own, but similar too. Within these overtly metaphorical places, fantasy narratives explored the possibilities and also the dangers of life somewhere obviously different from my everyday reality.

Because this context helped nurture my interest, I think my perspective changed when my context changed. I moved away from the small town and left the everyday world I'd always known, and entered an alien reality, in the "real world." There I'd quickly discover that things were hard in ways I never imagined (in addition to the ways I already knew about). Escaping to a different world was, for several years, going to keep me busy enough, and the difficulties I encountered made me look back at my earlier metaphorical notions as silly and childish.

Added hindsight makes me see how unfair that was, but that's the sort of thing many people do when they're young and trying to figure things out.

In addition, by leaving my early environment, I suddenly had more access to all the stuff from the "real world" that I'd been denied. So I could study the British Romantics and the French Surrealists, and Jung's big, weird books on alchemy, all of which took time and mental energy that I'd once lavished on the overtly fanciful. And by now, my standards for fiction have gotten pretty high, and I can't be as tolerant as I once was of things that aren't that well written, just because I like the world in which they're set. (Why I don't have that problem with bad movies is a question for another day).

Sometimes, though, I have to say, I miss the ability to sit down and lose myself in a fantasy novel. There was a sort of -- dare I say -- innocence, in my approach to reading and in fact to life, when I was full of hope about the possibility of a more interesting world. Losing the ability to sit down and enjoy a Marion Zimmer Bradley novel seems like part of the process of becoming jaded.

So I bought a couple of cheap DAW paperbacks, in the hope that I can dejade, at least a little bit. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's all ... part of the plan

One of those alarmist stories on Yahoo today, about the billions meth use costs us in "lost lives and productivity."

Hmm, productivity. Because the people on meth would be making lots of money and helping the economy so much if they weren't on drugs? Isn't it more likely the other way around? It's not generally people with opportunities or in good situations who get on meth in the first place, except for the occasional screwed-up rich kid.

My real interest, however, is in the "costs relating to the 900 people who died from using meth in 2005." Obviously, 900 people is terrible. (As is the fact that the concern is with their dollar value). Nobody should die of anything preventable, and I'm not like, pro-meth. But check out the statistics at:

In 2005 alone, the meth year in question, 43,510 people died in auto accidents, out of which 4,892 were pedestrians. Almost 5,000 people dead for basically crossing the street. And if we're concerned about health care costs: that's not people who were injured or hospitalized but weren't actually killed.

Not only does the automotive culture put meth to shame as a killer, but there were also 32,637 American suicides in 2005. (

Our world could do a lot more to help people with all kinds of problems than it does, but doesn't want to waste any money (or, sometimes, show too much compassion that somebody might take advantage of). Well, if the deaths of 900 people are so economically damaging, then what's the cost of all this? I don't think meth is our biggest worry.

(PS: while walking to work -- and feeling a little nervous at the crosswalks, just because of the power of irony -- it occurred to me that my thoughts today are on the same subject as the Joker's speech in Dark Knight: "Nobody panics when things go according to plan. Even if the plan is horrifying.")

Monday, February 2, 2009

More ways I'm going to hell...or am I?

Ever since I saw Thoda Pyaar, Thoda Magic, I've been joking about Rishi Kapoor being God. I mean, some people have a picture of an old white guy with a long beard; Alan Moore has his sock-puppet; so why not? Thinking of Rishi as God, the whole idea of religion makes much more sense to me than it usually does, especially in his disco pantsuit phase.

My parents had something going on last weekend, so we didn't end up going to church until yesterday. I was thinking to myself, "Hmm, this Rishi thing works surprisingly well," when we hit the confessional "how we screwed up this week" section of the unison Opening Prayer: "We listen to false prophets and worship idols of our own making."


Actually, I wonder how well False Prophet pays in this day and age? Of course, there'd be a lot of missionary work to do in these parts, where most of the heathen are unfamiliar with any of the Kapoors...

To add to the humorously me-themed message, the text was I Corinthians 8:1-13, in which Paul more or less says dude, it doesn't matter if other people sacrifice to their idols or not: it's not really hurting anything, unless you have a "weak conscience." (Verse 5: "For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), 6: yet for us there is but one God..." Which gives some Biblical credence to those Victorians who got the whole "all religions are basically one" ball rolling).

On the one hand, worshipping idols of my own making is frowned upon in the Methodist Church, but on the other, well, as long as I don't lead others astray, it's not a big deal. So actually, I may be okay here. After all, I'm not planning to form a cult -- really, who has the time?