Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby

I wasn't really sure what I thought of this movie, which I saw last night. That said, I also think making a movie version of a book that is as well-loved as The Great Gatsby was potentially an impossible task. No one was going to be completely happy with it no matter how good it was, since everyone has read and is bound to prefer the book.

In any case, the good: Leonardo DiCaprio. I remember when reading the book many years ago in high school not being able to picture what the title character looked like, but I was very dubious prior to seeing this that I would be able to accept he looked like Leonardo. However, it turns out I was able to accept it, more or less. So good on him.

The bad: It's a movie. Show don't tell, y'know? In the book we actually need Nick Carraway to tell us that Gatsby stretched his hand desperately toward the light (or whatever) because we can't see it happening. But in a movie, we don't need Nick to tell us, because we can. If it's adequately portrayed in the movie, that is. Which much of the time, it wasn't.

Also, having Nick narrate (or even worse, actually write) the story from a sanitorium was in my opinion a bit of a mistake. And having actual text appear on the screen? Disaster. (Although I did note that Nick must be a pretty special talent to come up with The Great Gatsby in one draft without revising at all. Incredible.)

More bad: The special effects were completely out of control and not needed to tell the story. I do quite like the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet (you know, the Leonardo DiCaprio one where the characters are all reciting Shakespearean English while wielding handguns), which is a more archaic and from our modern perspective possibly boring story that I think lent itself better to a highly stylized interpretation. Here, under Baz Luhrmann's overly imaginative direction, we have a story set in the 1920s complete with period costumes and hairstyles, combined somewhat haphazardly with rap music and wild computer-generated effects that feel totally out of sync with the setting.

In short, The Great Gatsby is a story that tells itself, and would have perhaps been better suited to a director that actually wants a story to tell itself, not a story to embellish and style up and essentially make his own, when it really just wants to stay the way it is.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Harry Potter

I know I am seven long years behind the times, but I just finished reading HP now, and I'm going to post my really out of date review right here. If you're somehow even more behind the times than I and are still planning to read the things, then please note SPOILER ALERT.

I really quite liked the first six HPs. I've heard people observe that the characters aren't that complex and the writing style isn't that elegant/lyrical/etc., but I think it's a bit dumb to complain about those things as they were clearly never strengths of the series and were probably never intended to be. In my view, the strengths of the series were a) the detail-oriented and well-paced storyline, and b) the atmosphere: JK R did a great job creating a really vivid and compelling magical environment. 

However, these strengths pretty much went to pot in the seventh HP, which is the one that ultimately revealed whether JK had really thought the whole shebang through and knew where it was going, or was simply making shit up as she went along and hoping it would all somehow *magically* come together. And I am sorry to say that the latter appears to be true. Here are a few of the many problems I found with HP 7:

1) The really long camping trip takes up the entire first half of the book yet never goes anywhere.

2) Practically all the key plot points, like finding Hufflepuff's (or Ravenclaw's? I forget) diadem and finding a way to destroy the remaining Horcruxes are introduced and then very quickly resolved right near the end.

3) Ron is suddenly able to imitate Parseltongue well enough to get into the chamber of secrets even though everything in the entire series up to that point suggests that Parseltongue is not a normal language that can be learned or imitated.

4) If HP's invisibility cloak is a completely one of a kind thing the likes of which has never been seen in the magical world before, and if it's so powerful that even Death can't see through it, then how in the hell can Mad-Eye Moody see through it?

5) The whole business with the super-powerful wand and its progressive ownership was sort of poorly explained and didn't entirely make sense to me, and I swear to goodness I'm not a TOTAL moron.

6) A ton of new material was introduced when it probably would have been more effective to resolve things using only what we knew already.

7) The Snape twist wasn't as big of a deal as it seemed like it was going to be, and it didn't actually make him any less creepy which I got the feeling it was supposed to.

8) WHY would anyone want to follow Voldemort? This is neither explained nor explored. I mean, we know from the very first book that Voldy's not going to reward loyalty (Quirrell) and we know at least from the sixth book that no one's family is going to be safe just because they followed him (Draco Malfoy). In fact, it is pretty much completely clear the entire time that following him will result in a faster death than not following him. So why would anyone follow him? I know Voldy's supposed to be based on Hitler and I likewise don't know why anyone followed Hitler, although I think it's because there was an economic crisis, people were looking for a scapegoat, and he gave them one. None of which seems to have occurred in HP.

9) Is all of England seriously being taken over by like 10 people?

10) Snape being a double agent plays no part in bringing down Voldemort, so the all-knowing grand schemer Dumbledore had him commit a murder and ostracize himself from the Order of the Phoenix for no reason.

11) HP and friends losing Gryffindor's sword to the goblin is kind of pointless and plays no role in the plot, since Neville pulls the thing out of the sorting hat at the critical moment anyway and before that they don't really need the thing.

12) The final scene where HP and Voldemort circle each other for like 5 mins while HP gives him a lecture about the meaning of friendship is kinda like wtf.

13) The epilogue? Never should have happened. Or if it had to happen, at least tell us what became of Luna Lovegood, who was at least as important a character as Neville. And I know we don't like them, but probably also shoulda told us what happened to the Dursleys.

13) Xenophilius Lovegood and that weird ass horn he had in his house? I feel like that needed some sort of a follow-up or tie-in that never happened.

14) Um is Hagrid immortal? If he was classmates with Tom Riddle that means he has to be at least in his mid-60s when Harry STARTS Hogwarts. Then 19 years after Harry FINISHES Hogwarts, he's apparently still there.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Asparagus


Asparagus season has arrived in Deutschland - oh boy! And what we are talking about is not just any asparagus but white asparagus. White asparagus is the absolute ultimate in German cuisine. Its appearance marks the only time of year when Germans will genuinely try and fight your assertion that their food sucks. Any other time, you're good. They'll be like "Really hard bread! Bland greasy meat!" and you can feel perfectly confident in shaking your head, knowing they will soon cave and be forced to agree with you, at the absolute latest when you pass by the window of a bakery and they say they just don't exactly feel like any really hard bread at the moment and you then feel perfectly justified in giving them a raised eyebrow and wan smile, which is a move to which no German has yet come up with a satisfactory response.


White asparagus comes in a variety of sizes. Here is the Arnold Schwarzenegger of white asparagus:



During asparagus season, the restaurants will all pull out their extra-special asparagus menu. This asparagus menu typically looks something like the following:

Boiled asparagus                                               EUR 22
Boiled asparagus with a bit of butter                 EUR 32
Boiled asparagus with a bit of hollandaise        EUR 37
Boiled asparagus with a slice of bread              EUR 40

Well, it looks like that except the prices all line up. We are talking about Germany, after all.

Moving on. Not wanting to pay 22 Euros for boiled asparagus, and nursing my personal opinion that boiled asparagus sounds like a decaf coffee short of a wellness breakfast (that's an expression I invented - it'll catch on), I decided to make some asparagus a different way, namely in the oven. And I must say that it came out delightfully well. Here is what you need:

Some white asparagus (or green asparagus, if you are located both a) not in Germany and b) in a country (other than Germany) that does not realize asparagus can be imported or grown in greenhouses)

Some olive oil

A lemon

Some parm

Salt and pepper

Potatoes

White asparagus differs from its green cousin in one key way: you must peel white asparagus with a veg peeler. This is rather hard because the peel of a white asparagus looks veeeeeeery similar to the part under the peel, as follows:

It looked more similar when I was doing it
Once you have have successfully peeled asparagus (or given up and used green asparagus), preheat oven to 250 C (or 480 F). Put asparagus in a bowl with potatoes (washed and quartered) and pour a few glugs of olive oil over. Add generous few pinches each salt and pepper, then grate the lemon rind over everything. I know this sounds like a pain in the ass but I swear it adds a lovely tang. It's also not that big of a pain in the ass, you just need a cheese grater. Oh come on, just get one you effing lazy shit.

Mix well with your hands (at least wash them after if not before), then lay asparagus and potato pieces on a baking sheet so they're not touching each other. Leave in oven for around 30 to 40 mins, depending on whether the asparagus you've got is Arnold Schwarzenegger asparagus or more like Kate Middleton asparagus (pre-pregnancy - although even pregnant she still looks really skinny, whats up with that?). Then sprinkle a bit of grated parm over everything and put it back in the oven just until melted which will be in like 2 seconds. Squeeze the lemon you zested over and enjoy.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I must repeat this was rather a nice meal, and I daresay that save for the peeling, any dumbass could make it. (Last I checked, there was no law that said dumbasses can't own cheese graters.)

I ate the potatoes that should have been in that big space.