Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cabin Fever Cure #1

Autumn brings with it the need to start nesting; begin wrapping one's brain around the notion that one may well be stuck inside for a few months. Seeings as I live in a basement apartment, the idea of being six to ten feet underground is daunting. My plan is to make a dent in my "to see" lists of movies and books. However, there is apparently an even more anal method of passing the time: Library Thing. Yes, list-makers and alpha-orderers can revel in this beta version; indeed, I have begun my own database, but due to ISBN snags (likely a user error), I can't seem to list the exact version and cover of the titles in question. Nevertheless, if you care to see what nestles in my bookcases, look up "misscarol." Be aware, LibraryThing is not spouse-safe.

Left Hand, Meet Right Hand

The RIAA is preparing to go back to school with its own "educational video" about copyright. Unfortunately, it can't get its facts straight.

An FAQ-section question asks whether someone who has bought music has the right to ever upload or download music. The RIAA's answer says that it's okay for productive or scholarly works. The video's critics say the response makes no mention of allowable uses for home recordings, even for individual use, which the law allows.

I hear Luba wailing "Break Free" in the background...

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Movie Review: Prairie Home Companion

Prairie Home Companion
Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Garrison Keillor

Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the sepia shadings of Prairie Home Companion, brought to you by the makers of ensemble films, Robert Altman, and homespun tales, Garrison Keillor. This endearing, charming, and disarming film will cure what ails you: loneliness, cynicism, or aching joints.

It is based on the real variety radio show that airs on Minnesota Public Radio, but can also be heard on American Public Media. Reminiscent of a time when radio truly kept people company in rural areas when money was low, the film takes place in the theater that housed the radio show (on WLT) since the beginning. It has been bought by a large corporation that will knock it down for parking. The show that is the movie is the swan song.

Prairie Home Companion waxes nostalgic on days gone by in its old-time format, old-tyme music, and the cast with of Boomers approaching their sixties. Indeed, the singing/acting torch is passed from Meryl Streep to the capable Lindsay Lohan. Another nice touch is the comic relief threaded by the suitably restrained Kevin Kline as Guy Noir.

Altman has comeback from Gosford Park, of which despite two attempts, I could not get through more than half an hour—even with Clive Owen. (Too Upstairs, Downstairs for me.) He structures Prairie Home Companion in this signature style (many stories in a small setting) but Keillor’s down-home feel grounds the film nicely. Pay attention to the details, for everything is not as it seems.

Wartime’s “Greatest Generation” (of which Altman is a member) will get the most from this; I think they will better understand what “theatre of the mind” meant to people, be they city or country dwellers. While Prairie Home Companion is a gentle satire, it reminds us that something is endangered. That we must wake up to homogenization before everything becomes paved corporate.

In the spirit of torch passing, the Internet plays a similar role that radio did: it is a source of information, and way to keep in touch with far-flung family. Echoes a time when grown children left the farm to find work in the cities. Plus ca change.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Book Review: Black Swan Green

Black Swan Green
by David Mitchell
Published by Knopf Canada

Britain’s David Mitchell is a master of structure as he proved with 2004’s Cloud Atlas. His newest novel, Black Swan Green lovingly uses this similar framework to tell the story of young Jason Taylor.

Set in Thatcher’s England, the thirteen-year-old leads us through the episodes of his life: fights, wars, girls, cigarettes, parents, books. There is nothing weird or angst-ridden about them; indeed, they are extraordinarily ordinary. But they are magic. Jaw droppingly so.

No mistake, this isn’t a coming-of-age story. (No doubt someone will dub it so.) Nor is it merely a story. Rather, like Mitchell’s previous Cloud Atlas, and number9dream, Black Swan Green is an intimate spell cast over the seeker who cannot come away unaffected.

I can’t say this enough: David Mitchell is a genius and I have yet to experience a glitch of his wand. Please, read and absorb this book.