Friday, May 8, 2009

Three Brief Reviews

Since reading a few of the very short stories by J. Robert Lennon in Michael Chabon's Best American Short Stories, I've been yearning for the full collection, Pieces for the Left Hand, to be published here in America. It finally arrived last month, and the other 92 stories (called 'anecdotes' on the front cover) don't disappoint. Lennon's stories are a bit unsettling for the very reason that they are so entertaining. An escalation in a high school rivalry leads to kidnapping. A woman who used to allow some mice to be killed in traps in order to save others is haunted when as a obstetrician she must advise mothers of multiples to cull a few to let the others live. You see how it is.

While the collection is enjoyable, the short nature of the anecdotes can make sustained reading problematic. Best enjoyed the way they were presented in BASS, my advice would be to only read a handful at a time. Rapid succession of the stories causes them to lose resonance, and somet
imes the best thing to read before going to sleep is something just unsettling enough to make you pray for calm dreams.

I've never kept up with the X-Men on any sort of regular basis, but browsing a few of the recent collections has piqued my interest. Endangered Species takes place after the Scarlet Witch has reduced the number of mutants in the world from tens of millions to a couple of hundred based solely upon her words. Beast is consumed with the desire to preserve his race, going so far as to solicit help from some of the X-Men's staunchest foes. While the story is fairly moving and one cannot help but empathize with Hank McCoy, the inclusion of so many characters out of any broader context was very confusing. This is especially true of Dark Beast, a sort of mirror universe Beast who has dark brown fur and no conscience when it comes to experimentation. As one might expect, the mutant/Jew angle is played up and after so many times down this road it just isn't as powerful as it once was. All this said, I am taking effort to go back and read the tales that preceded this one in order to help make sense of the current Marvel universe. Perhaps this will change my opinion of the collection, but for now I give it a moderate thumbs up.

There is only one reason that I watched Charlie Wilson's War earlier this week: Aaron Sorkin. He writes some of the best dialogue being filmed today, but you wouldn't know it from watching this film. Tom Hanks plays Rep. Charlie Wilson from Texas who pretty much single-handedly arms the freedom fighters in Afghanistan in their battle against their Soviet oppressors. An interesting story, one that seems pretty much accurate to the true events, but just lacks the sort of verve one wants in a movie experience. Julia Roberts plays a completely unbelievable rich Houston woman, while Philip Seymour Hoffman turns in another fantastic performance as CIA agent Gust Avrakotos. If for anything, you should watch this film for his performance.

Maybe it isn't fair that I am against it Sorkin's script just because it didn't dance like The American President or The West Wing even though it's about politics. But what really didn't work for me was the sort of moral stuck to the end. After the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan and the Berlin Wall fell, Americans wouldn't spend even a few million dollars to help the Afghans rebuild their infrastructure: read here schools and hospitals. As a result, Sorkin draws the obvious line between those decisions almost twenty years ago and the state of Afghanistan today. Anyone who has read anything about the Mideast country in the past seven years already knows this, and playing out this little piece of history, despite its entertainment value, didn't serve to drive home the point any more directly for this viewer. Instead, I felt like my intelligence was insulted.

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