Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (movie adaptation)

Last night, I watched the movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson's novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and, I must say, it was wonderful.

I read the late Stieg Larsson's book last year, and I had reservations about how a thriller with such a byzantine plot would get translated as a motion picture. But Män som hatar kvinnor (as the movie is entitled in Swedish, adopting Larsson's original title for the series of novels he completed just before untimely death) really delivers, especially in the role of the titular character, Lisbeth Salander, played by Noomi Rapace.

The movie's title translates as "Men Who Hate Women," and there turn out to be plenty of such men in this mystery, which embroils a disgraced journalist with the disappearance of a teenage girl some 40 years ago.

Movies, which seem to operate under a strict time-limit (90 minutes is optimal, while 180 minutes is unmarketable), often do a disservice when their source material is a novel, especially one that clocks over the current norm of  300 pages. (And The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, in its current English translation, is at 609 pages!) But the machinations of Larsson's plot are handled expertly under Niels Arden Oplev's direction, and the necessary compressions & omissions leave no gaping holes in the overall fabric of the story. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is a meaty, entertaining two-and-a-half hours of cinema.

And the revelation here is Noomi Rapace's performance. She manages to inhabit & enliven Lisbeth Salander so that the character transcends her function as an avenging angel and becomes a flesh-and-blood person, tattoos and all. She becomes, like that sublime creation of Patricia Highsmith, Tom Ripley, a sociopath we really care about (though Lisbeth is by no means amoral -- in fact, she deals rather harshly with male transgressors, which makes for a memorably icky scene in the movie).

Lisbeth Salander is the heroine of Stieg Larsson's subsequent 2 novels in this series  -- The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest -- and Noomi Rapace has already played her in adaptations of those works, as well. I'm really looking forward to watching them as soon as they're available.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Meet Buddy

Until today, our ad-hoc household consisted of three: me, my brother-from-another-mother Juanito, and the Princess. There was a fourth, but Shadow, the most faithful dog in the world, left us when his suffering ended last year.

And then today, Juanito visited the NSPCA on Dewey Drive after months of dithering over pictures from their website. The Princess and I were running errands when he messaged us to meet him there, and, long-story-short, Buddy was adopted.

He is an 18 month-old puggle, a mix between a pug and a beagle, and he has a sweet temperament coupled with boundless energy. The Princess, Juanito and I are already head-over-heels.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Point Omega by Don Delillo

So I get an email this morning from a librarian friend who tells me that she is holding a copy of Don Delillo's new novel, Point Omega, for me. She said, since she knew that Delillo is a hero of mine, that I probably already owned it, but she wanted to reserve a copy for me just in case. Bless her hot little heart.

I actually hadn't purchased Point Omega yet, so I rushed down and checked it out. My friend wasn't available for pleasantries when I got to the library, which was just as well, since all I wanted to do was get back home and start reading.

I have just now finished my second read-through of Point Omega, and this slim, oblique little tale has not disappointed. It's amazing.

Delillo opens with one of his trademark set-pieces, this one an art installation that involves the Hitchcock movie, "Psycho". And here Delillo is at his cogitative best, following a nameless character who immerses himself in the exhibit: "But it was impossible to see too much. The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw."

Then the narrative switches switches both location and person, as a filmmaker visits an aging intellectual at his house in California desert, hoping to convince the older man to take part in a documentary. They talk and take in their surroundings, trading aphorisms and riffing on the landscape, when the intellectual's daughter arrives, out of the blue.

As the three of them interact, what follows is a discussion on the pitfalls of abstraction and the limits of consciousness. ("Consciousness is exhausted," says the intellectual at one point.) And I use the term "discussion" rather loosely here. Delillo's dialog has always had a certain stiffness, being more concerned with rhythms and pith. Characters don't so much talk TO each other as AT each other. This is only natural from a writer who sees any form of communication as necessarily incomplete and largely impossible. The desert itself plays a significant role in this conversation, providing tone, perspective, and mute criticism to the syllogisms conjured up by the intellectual, whose professional specialty seems to be the rationalization of war.

The climax of Point Omega comes swiftly but actually occurs offstage, sending its characters reeling away from their sand castles of rationalization. ("It seemed so much dead echo now," says the narrator at this point.) Delillo closes by revisiting his opening set-piece, now made pregnant with possible (and possibly worthless) connotations.

This is a small novel, thin on incident but thick with implication. I wouldn't call it entertaining, but Point Omega is provocative, challenging its readers to question what sense can be made (if any) of what happens between its covers. And that may be Delillo's point, after all. The man can sure turn a sentence, though.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What (and How Much) I'm Reading

I have a bad habit of reading too many books at once, which is distracting. But I've spent years trying to break the habit -- to concentrate on a single book at a time -- and I just can't do it. There's a sense of satisfaction I get when my nightstand has a variety of books on it in order to fit whatever mood I'm in. I recognize that this mixing of readings serves to slow down the rate at which I finish any given book, but this is the price I pay.

Books do rise to the top of the pile, their quality demanding more of my attention than other, less excellent works. And of the current pile I'm working through, two books have risen above the rest.

The first is Tibor Fischer's novel, Good to be God, a farcical wonder, and the second is Denis Dutton's book, The Art Instinct. Both books have earned my enthusiastic recommendation, and I'm on my second pass through each.

That's another thing: following an admonition I got from Nabokov, I don't consider that I've really finished a book until I've read it at least twice. Call me a glutton.

I'll have full reviews of both of these books up soon.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Old Blog Entries

February 6th, 2010, 1:17pm PST:
Last night, the Princess wasn't feeling well, so I got us some takeout from the Lemongrass Cafe, a little Vietnamese place near Eastern & Pebble.

Since discovering the Lemongrass Cafe about 6 months ago, we have become avid fans, visiting about once per week to enjoy some pho.

My experience of Southeast Asian food is that, at its best, it's characterized by fresh, vibrant ingredients and strong, spicy sauces. Each component of a particular dish is recognizable in and of itself, and the success of a given recipe rests on a precise layering of these components so that individual tastes & textures add up to a pleasurable whole without losing a single ingredient's unique flavor. With pho, I'm talking about layers of noodles, broth, fresh & crispy veggies, and thin-sliced meats. Add a few drops of sriracha sauce & some crispy bean sprouts, and you have the perfect meal for those rare cold & rainy Las Vegas nights.

Lemongrass Cafe sticks to this formula of fresh ingredients and precise cooking, and, in the 20 or so visits I've made, I haven't had a single disappointment. Beware: this place can get pretty busy, and they have a small staff, so if you walk in and there's a crowd, be prepared to wait. It's worth it.

February 4th, 2010, 4:17pm PST:
The Princess won a gift card to this place at a recent office party, so today we decided to give it a try.

Now, I've had bad experiences at the California Pizza Kitchen ever since their first Las Vegas location opened in Caesars Palace years ago, but a recent visit here with a relative had softened my opinion of the place. During that visit, we'd had some decent pizza, and the service was actually competent.

Today's visit to the California Pizza Kitchen was a return to form. True, our waitress was polite and she took our order quickly. (Quibble: when we seemed unsure about a beverage, she just smiled & waited instead of offering any suggestions! This is not a big deal, but the Princess is legendarily indecisive about what to drink. Any help from the wait staff is not only appreciated, but also -- I would think -- a sign of professionalism.) But then she disappeared and our drinks were NEVER refilled. Not once. She only thought to ask about refills when she was delivering our check.

About the food: on our previous visit, we were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the pizza we ordered, but, this time, our Margherita pizza was ruined by lifeless, formless, tasteless tomatoes. The crust was only slightly more flavorful than a saltine, and the basil might as well have been slivers of green construction paper. The cheese, supposedly a base of mozzarella topped by a sprinkling of parmesan, was unidentifiable to the tongue. We also ordered an appetizer, but it arrived at the same time as our pizza. Our Thai Chicken Tortilla Spring Rolls had been cooked to the point where the filling had congealed into a glop that tasted vaguely of chicken. Nowhere were the advertised tastes of cilantro, green onions, and bean sprouts.

My suspicion is that everything in this place comes out of a can or the freezer.

February 3rd, 2010, 3:00pm PST:
So, even though I've sworn off caffeine for the foreseeable future, I get talked into visiting a local coffee place by my girlfriend and my housemate. The girlfriend just wants to go because she's seized by a sudden need for a pastry, and my housemate wants to go because he is harboring entrepreneurial aspirations and wants to scout out the local market.

So, okay, I go. Never mind that this is like asking a newly-recovering alcoholic to take a tour of a winery. I go.

Sunrise Coffee Company sits just west of Pecos on Sunset Road and looks like your run-of-the-grinder Starbucks knock-off, except that their selection of snacks is even more limited. (So the Princess had to settle for a muffin!) But there's a BIG DIFFERENCE: they really know how to serve a beverage. They focus on quality ingredients to make drinks that would put the average green-aproned barista to shame.

Because I'm on the caffeine wagon, I order a peppermint tea, which irks me, because I just can't see paying a coffee price for something that's essentially made by dunking a bag of leaves into a cup of hot water. So, while the Princess raves about her mocha and my housemate raves about his latte, I get stuck with aromatic broth.

Then I take a sip....

Wow. The tea is pungent with mint and yet somehow manages to avoid the bitterness that often is the aftertaste of such herbal strength.

Which is to say I'm happy that I went to Sunrise Coffee Company and I hope they have continued success in their uphill battle against both the economy and Big Green. I plan to keep coming back.

February 2nd, 2010, 12:36pm PST:
Last night, I rewatched Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces," which is an amazing movie. Once again, Spanish auteur Almodovar uses the elements of pulp and melodrama to create indelible & vivid characters who idiosyncratically explore the mystery of their lives.

It's an entertaining story, full of incident and hilarious dialogue, and, although not Almodovar's best, "Broken Embraces" manages to stand head-and-shoulders above what passes for serious drama in today's multiplexes. In typical Almodovarian style, it's colorful & funny, earthy & highbrow, and I really enjoyed it. And Penelope Cruz again works her magic as Almodovar's screen muse in a role that both celebrates and pokes fun at her sexiness and range.

I highly recommend it.

February 2nd, 2010, 12:13pm PST:
Yesterday, as I browsed through my local public library, I overheard an older man beseeching the reference librarian thus:

"Excuse me, I need help finding a book!"

I really couldn't help overhearing this. The man was basically yelling.

"Sure," the librarian, a cheerful young woman, replied. "What are you looking for?"

"I need help finding a book on itches! I can't stop itching! I'm old, and all I do is scratch myself! Everything I try doesn't work! Where are the books on itches?"

"Well, uh," the librarian stammered. She rose from her desk, but didn't actually back away. She just kind of shrank a little.

"It won't stop! It's not a rash or anything! I'm just old, and I can't stop scratching myself! Where can I find a book for that?"

Bravely, the librarian came around her desk and gestured for the old man to follow her. Her bright smile was now a kind of disgusted grimace, and all the color had drained from her face.

"Why don't you follow me?" she said to him, and I had to admire her professionalism.

Chuckles were rippling throughout the library as I watched her lead the afflicted man into the stacks.

January 1st, 2009, 11:28am PST:
So I was getting my girlfriend a bagel from Einstein's this morning, and, as I step out of the car, a police siren goes off behind me.

This is when I notice the naked man walking briskly down the sidewalk, with a pair of very polite cops getting out of their cruiser, saying, "Sir! Excuse me, sir!"

The naked man -- caucasian, middle-aged & overweight -- had started to pick up his pace, though he hadn't broken into an actual jog, and he surrendered as soon as one of the officers put their arm on his shoulder.

Amused, I went in to get the girlfriend's bagel.