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books, movies, graphic novels, sci-fi stories, vegan cooking… and more!!

April 30, 2011

Just got back from a trip to the library, where I checked out lots of materials, and a grocery store, where I turned in 2 movies at a redbox machine.

Movies returned:

“Black Swan.” I don’t know why I keep watching Aronofsky’s movies. One of the reasons is that he is married to Rachel Wiesz, who is one of my favorite actresses. At least I think they are still married..

Another reason I watch Mr. A’s pictures is I get this obsessive need to try and mess up my head by watching disturbing films. I’d like to avoid doing this, but certain movies I feel I just have to watch.

The third reason I have watched some of his movies is they tend to win Oscars, or at least get nominated for them.

Natalie Portman won best actress for her portrayal of a severely mentally distressed ballerina in “Black Swan.” Her performance was excellent.

Since I saw the French film, “The Professional,” many years ago, I knew that Portman could act. I think this was the first film she performed in, and had a rather strange role. In this film, she was still a kid. I don’t know. She played a girl whose parents are murdered in the same apartment building in which a reclusive but rather effective contract killer happens to live.

The girl (Portman’s character, whose name I forget) is about to be killed herself, but the hitman allows her into his apartment, thereby saving her. She’s from a dysfunctional family, and is now being raised by a murderer for hire. She decides she wants to learn how to “clean” – how to kill people, and the hitman, also called “The Professional” teaches her.

This movie is well done and a cult classic. It’s also a film in which Portman does some of her best acting, sadly.

Most other movies she’s been in, her performances have been..underwhelming.

The only exceptions are two small roles she had while still a kid – in the films “Beautiful Girls,” which is overall an awful film, and “Heat,” which is a fantastic L.A. crime movie – just amazing. Portman plays the very troubled step daughter of an obsessed homicide detective played by Al Pacino – one of Pacino’s best roles.

Besides that, hmm.. Portman was ok in “Garden State,” a mediocre romantic comedy, absolutely terrible in the Star Wars films, and some others..which actually I didn’t decide to watch because the movies looked so bad.

There was one film released some years ago, called “Closer.” It had extreme dialog, QUITE pornographic. But, it was well-acted. Besides Portman, the film starred Julia Robers, Jude Law, and Clive Owen. Everyone acted well, but Portman stole the show..

So.. once in awhile she has done well. I have been waiting years to really see her shine, and she finally did in “Black Swan.”

I liked seeing the underbelly of the dance world – all the competition and nutso coaches and vicious rivalries, but the movie kept getting crazier and crazier. I’ve seen other films in which characters go crazy, so this wasn’t exactly new.. Overall the movie was well-filmed, somewhat original, had a rather graphic lesbian scene and some disturbing images that were right out of horror films. Worth seeing? I suppose.

The other movie I returned was so terrible and boring that even though I forced myself to watch it because I paid to rent it, I still could not get half way through.

The film was called “Hereafter,” and is the most recent movie directed by Clint Eastwood – who is evidently slipping. I don’t know what happened with this one.

It’s supposed to be about a guy who is a rather reluctant medium, but it’s only a little about that.. or rather, the first half is..

I could only force myself to watch half of this hideously boring film.

A lot of it centers around a French woman, and so a lot of the movie is in French. I do watch foreign films sometimes, and don’t tend to mind subtitles, but if I’d wanted to watch a foreign film with lots of subtitles, I would have rented one. All the French language (not my favorite language) and the subtitles was annoying.

Then there was the part of the story with Matt Damon, who played the psychic guy.. dry dry..

And a third subplot, rather tragic, about a little boy with a junkie mom. The boy’s twin brother dies in an accident… and half way through the film he still hasn’t met Damon’s character yet and so I stopped watching the film.

Damn, what a waste.

Right then.. so, here is what I brought home from the library.. DVD’s and books..

DVD’s.. it’s rare that I check out several at a time, and all of them are films I’ve not yet seen before. Such was the case today. Here are the titles and why I chose them..

We’re allowed to check out up to 5 DVD’s at a time. I found four that looked interesting.

“The Odessa File.” Released in 1974, and starring Jon Voight. (father of Angelina Jolie, in case you want to know).

Story is based on a Frederick Forsyth novel, which I started, but wasn’t in the mood for at the time. The film is about a journalist who uncovers a secret Nazi society trying to regain power. Looks like it will be an exciting film. I will watch it tonight, most likely.

“Vegan Cooking for Animal Lovers with The Hardcore Chef.” – I stopped trying to be vegetarian, but this postponement is temporary. It’s a stressful thing to do – change one’s eating habits. I don’t plan on going full vegan but do want to eliminate meat, and eat at least some vegan meals.

I am an animal lover, and feel bad eating meat. I feel bad for the animals that live in horribly cruel conditions before they are slaughtered (See “Food Inc.). Also, it takes tons more resources to produce a pound of meat than it does to produce a pound of vegetables, fruit or grains. Industrial farming is insanely bad for the environment.

Lots of good reasons not to eat meat. By sometime next month, I want to be well on my way to being a vegetarian. It will take awhile because I haven’t been living in this house long, and much of our stuff is still in boxes. I want to devote energy to organizing things (and donating more stuff) first, then work on my vegetarian diet.

This DVD might be good, it might not be. I checked out another vegan DVD some years ago, and the lady didn’t have her nutritional facts straight, and a lot of the vegetarian foods she advocated eating were heavily processed textured soy substitute foods that I call “wannabe meat.” These are not healthy. And they don’t even taste good. A few minutes ago, I ate a buffalo wings flavored imitation chicken patty. Bleah.. not worth the bother, and made of processed ingredients. Probably no more healthy than meat, unless you happen to be a chicken.

I’ll give this vegan DVD a try. Great titles for the entrees, such as “mushroom mosh pit-tatoes,” “Tiamat’s pina colada pie,” (I like this title because “Tiamat” was the name of an incredibly powerful dragon from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon back in the ’80’s, and also the name of a heavy metal band.. one I never got into. Quite original to use this name for a vegan dish, though) and “hail seitan.” (Yes, this is a turn of the phrase “hail satan,” in case you are wondering.) Yeah, I might like this video.

“Slacker” – It’s a cult film released in the early 1990’s, and it’s about a culture of underachievers, probably with bad attitudes. I read the back of the box, and think I probably wont like the film much – I like some art house experimental films, but some I do not. This one focuses on one day in the life of over 100 characters, and uses unorthodox filming techniques, or something like that.

Several people have said they really like this film, so I will give it a try.. 20 minutes at least.

This film is part of something called “The Criterion Collection, ” which is “A continuing series of classic and contemporary films.” If you browse through the DVD section of your local library, you will probably notice a lot of Criterion Collection titles – which tend to be foreign films, independent films, art house classics.. stuff like that.

Just about all the films by my favorite director and scriptwriter, Wes Anderson (the guy who made movies such as “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums”) are part of the Criterion Collection, as are some titles by Japan’s most famous and well-respected director, Akira Kurosawa, who died in 1998.

There are LOTS of Criterion Titles. I don’t have a goal to see all of them, but will watch some more once in awhile.

The forth DVD I checked out is entitled, “Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything.” Stephen Hawking is maybe the world’s smartest man. Could be. He’s likely the most brilliant physicist on the planet. What do I know about physics? Almost nothing. Which is why I checked out this video.

Hawking’s most recent book (I don’t remember the title) is his explanation of how the earth and the universe came to be.. without a creator of any sort. I am wondering if I can find the audiobook. I hope it will be less complex than the book “The Universe in a Single Atom,” which was co-written by the Dalai Lama and many scientists.

I listened to that one for awhile while I was driving. I didn’t understand that one much at all, but perhaps I would have understood a little more if I’d been listening while sitting in my room. I might try that one again someday.. or maybe not, as I am sick of studying (and writing about) Buddhism. Enough.

Books: 2 novels.

I was looking through a writing tutorial book (more on that later) when I came across a short segment by author John Le Carre. I had to return the writing book, because it was overdue, and I could not renew it, so I don’t have Le Carre’s quote for you. I don’t even know how to pronounce this dude’s name. He’s got an accent on the final “e.” I’m surprised his first name is not spelled “Jean.”

Le Carre is a rather famous author – specializing in spy novels, political intrigue.. I’ve only attempted to read one of his books before and quickly got bored. I don’t remember the title of it.

The one I checked out today though.. I’d heard of this one. Seen the movie it was based on. The movie was pretty dull, but perhaps the book would be better. Books are often better than their film adaptations, although not always.

The title of this book is “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.” Published in 1963. A cold war novel, and also one that defined the spy genre of fiction, so it says on the dust jacket.

Maybe I will like this book. I tend to be very picky, and have to be in the mood for a story, if you know what I mean.

The other novel I checked out is one I started while eating my supper this evening.

The book is by veteran sci-fi novelist Alan Dean Foster. He’s been writing for several decades. This is, I believe, his newest book. It is called “The Human Blend.” It is about modified humans who happen upon some sort of astonishing discovery, team up with a renegade doctor, and are on the run from assassins. Something like that. A definite cyber-punk story.

The term “cyberspace,” (and maybe “cyberpunk” was invented by another famous sci-fi author named William Gibson. I’ve tried reading a couple of Gibson’s books, but just didn’t like them.

I have enjoyed other cyberpunk stories though. There is a series called “Shadowrun,” which is based on a role-playing game. Most of the books in this series.. not so good.. but a few have been great! In the Shadowrun series, there are modified humans with enhanced muscles and brains and so forth, like in other cyberpunk books, including the Gibson novels and Foster’s newest book, but there are also all sorts of fantasy elements – wizards and shamans and dragons, dwarves, elves, trolls, all within the gritty cyberpunk-type setting. Quite wild to read about a guy with a machine gun surgically attached to his body trying to shoot a fire breathing dragon out of the sky, and a wizard casting a lightning spell at a helicopter gunship. Interesting.

“The Human Blend” does not have the magical elements in it though. It isn’t a Shadowrun book. More straight sci-fi, and yes, a Gibson knock-off.

I’ve read many of Foster’s books though.. and liked most of them.. so I just might like this one, even though I haven’t read sci fi stories in a long time. Hmmm.. we’ll see.

If you want to read a rather irreverant and violent fantasy series that is sort of a parody of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” you might like Foster’s “Spellsinger” series. I read those back in the ’80’s, along with Foster’s books based on several films, such as “Alien” and “Star Wars.” I quite liked his Star Wars tale. It was released long before any of the Star Wars spin off books (there are probably at least 50 of those on the market now.. I’m not into those). Foster’s book was called “Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.” Luke and Leia go off on some mission to find a jewel before the forces of the empire get it… lots of action, some romance. If I remember right, this novel was published before the movie “Return of the Jedi” came out. So, no one yet knew that Luke and Leia were actually siblings. Apparently Alan Dean Foster didn’t know this, because, as in the films “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” there were some romantic moments between Luke and Leia.

You may not know this, but George Lucas put a LOT of mythical content into his films. From various traditions.. all that stuff Yoda was teaching Luke in “Empire” was from Eastern teachings.. some Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism. The story of Luke is a classic hero’s journey story. These types of myths go back thousands of years. And the incest thing and a son setting off to kill his father.. these are elements of Greek tragedies.

Right then.. enough about Alan Dean Foster and Star Wars and all that..

Next up.. graphic novels.. comic books for adults.. and I do mean for adults.. many, if not most graphic novels have gory violence, foul language, some sex, and worse … I was shocked to find the adult graphic novel section right out where kids can get it. In most libraries I’ve been to, there’s the comics section for kids and young adults, where you can find some of the more tame manga, and titles published by DC comics (the “DC” stands for “Detective Comics.. the full name of this company is ridiculous. “Detective Comics Comics..ok.) The two most famous character from the DC comics fold are Superman and Batman.

I never got into DC comics.. except for one exception.. a brutal Batman story called “The Dark Knight Returns.” It was released in the ’80’s, and was really heavy. It was about Bruce Wayne at age 60 or so. He’d been retired for many years, had thought he’d hung up his cape for good. But, a ruthless, homicidal street gang started to take over Gotham City, and Batman came out of retirement. He even hired a new Robin, who was, in this story, a computer expert, and a girl. WILD graphic novel, this was.

In many libraries, “The Dark Knight Returns” is not shelved with the other Batman titles, but is instead included in the adult graphic novel sections.

The regular graphic novel/comics section will also likely have most Marvel titles (I was always a Marvel fan) like the X-Men, Thor, Spiderman.

These are not very hardcore comics, but the ones for adults often are.. this is why I was so surprised the adult graphic novel section was not tucked away in a remote corner of the library, but was just right out there where kids could see it.

The most graphic series in the adult section that I have read is one entitled “Preacher.” It’s about a fallen southern preacher who gets possessed by an incredibly powerful spirit that is half demon and half angel. It’s a long and incredibly twisted series. It’s so offensive that the large library I frequented several times a week while I was living in California would not even carry this series. I borrowed it from a reference librarian. He lent me copies he owned.

It was another compulsion thing.. messing my head up.. feeling like I had to read this awful, but somewhat original shit, so I read the whole series.

The whole barbaric preacher series was right there on the middle shelves.. right at a 10-year-old kid’s eye level.

Other disturbing titles and series you will find in the adult graphic novel section – some worse than others. “Hellblazer” – featuring demonologist and modern sorcerer John Constantine, who battles demons. The movie “Constantine” (which I thought was rather good) is based on the Hellblazer series, but only loosely based. A LOT was changed, and this probably pissed off diehard Hellblazer fans.. but I am not one of those people, so I didn’t mind.

You will also find some Hellboy titles.. these tend to be much less extreme than many others. The two Hellboy films (which I loved) are based on the comics series.

Another prominent graphic novel series is set in the near future on Manhattan Island, which has been turned into a de-militarized zone. In these stories, the USA is in the midst of another civil war. The main character is a journalist, who not only tries to survive but chronicle life on the war torn Manhattan Island. The series is called “DMZ.” Those three letters stand for “de-militarized zone” – sort of a no-man’s land where neither army is supposed to be. The most famous DMZ on earth is between North and South Korea. It has been in place since the 1950’s.

The last famous graphic novel title I want to mention is, like “Hellboy” and “Hellblazer”, is also steeped in the occult. This one is better than both those series, and deeper and broader. It deals a lot with not only the occult but myths from all over the world. It is written by one of my favorite novelists, Neil Gaiman – author of the (non-graphic.. in other words.. just text on the page, no pictures) novels “American Gods” and “Neverwhere.” Two incomparable works of modern fantasy. The Gaiman-penned series is called “The Sandman.” Most of the Sandman books were present on the shelves too.

The graphic novels from this section that I checked out were by the Hellboy author, Mike Mignola, and are a spinoff of the Hellboy series. This series is called “B.P.R.D.,” which stands for “Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense.” This is the agency Hellboy was affiliated with, but he is not in this spinoff series.. and I don’t know why. I only read a few of the Hellboy graphic novels.. maybe he somehow got killed off or went to another dimension? I don’t know.

But the supporting characters in the Hellboy series are in BPRD, including Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien, and Johann Krauss.

I hope the stories are good. I checked out the first three volumes in the series. What is best about Mignola’s work is the art. I’m pretty sure he does at least some of it. I’m picky about graphic novel art. Some books I won’t check out just because their art looks bad. This is certainly not the case with these books!

The last graphic novel I checked out is one of the all-time classics of the genre: “V for Vendetta,” about a masked man who fights against governmental forces in a totalitarian version of Britain. It’s sort of like “1984” combined with Batman and the Punisher.. well, maybe not.. but anyway.. a classic.

This story was also made into a movie, by the guys who made the Matrix trilogy. I saw a brief interview with the author, Alan Moore (if you want to see a TRIPPY DVD, watch “The Mindscape of Alan Moore), regarding the movie. He said the filmakers got so much wrong didn’t even want his name associated with the film. I saw the film. It had some good parts, some bad, and I am not sure which parts the Waschowski (probably spelled their name wrong.. they deserve it for making a monstrosity out of the 3rd Matrix film, and then came out with a live action version of “Speed Racer,” which I did not see, but which looked like a very colorful but also quite unpleasant acid trip. Since I have never done acid, this is only a guess.) .. as I was saying the Washowski brothers wrong. I’m returning to the source material, the book, to get the full story.

The movie, by the way, starred Hugo Weaving, who played “V,” (and earlier, Agent Smith in the Matrix films), and.. Miss Natalie Portman.

Ok.. wrote about the DVD’s, novels, graphic novels, and now..

Lastly, I checked out two audiobooks. The first one is called “Game Change : Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime.”

I checked out this one because a few days ago on the Yahoo homepage, I saw an article about the Actress (who I generally really do not like) Julianne Moore, who was dressed to look like Palin. Astonishingly like Palin! Even closer than Tina Fey ever got. I read the article. It was about an HBO series that was just starting to be filmed, called “Game Change.” I didn’t know the series was based on a book, so I was surprised to find this audiobook title. I just stared listening to it on the way home.. sounds like it is going to be good!

The final title I checked out from the library was the audio book was another I’d previously never heard of.. a self-help title called “Getting Unstuck : How Dead Ends Become New Paths.”

If you’ve read some of the blog entries I’ve written these past few months, you’ll know I’ve ran into some of these dead ends… dreams I’ve given up, such as being a musician, and becoming Buddhist. I’m not going to get into why these are dead ends.. I’ve written extensively about these topics already..

See the tag cloud to your right… the larger the word, the more I’ve written about it..

But anyway.. yes, reached some dead ends, trying to find and adapt new paths. Maybe this self help audiobook will help.

Libraries should NOT be taken for granted. I borrowed all this material FOR FREE! AMAZING!!

Support your local library! Checking out books and DVD’s and other items regularly means your library

Well, as just about always happens, this entry turned out to be several thousand words longer than I thought it was. My first plan was just to write a short list of what I borrowed from the library today… but considering how much I like books and movies.. the entry of course turned out to be much longer.

Oh well… hope you liked it. And please excuse the typos. For some reason I cannot fathom, I’ve had a far more difficult time than usual typing. Odd.

Why did I check out all this stuff? I love STORIES! Whether they be in books, movies, in illustrated form, audibooks.. and I also love to learn.

Also, I sprained my ankle last week, and need to have my foot propped up at least some of the time, so might as well read books and watch DVD’s.. and learn and enjoy!

Congratulations. You have reached the end of this very long post!

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