Friday, January 20, 2017

Diversions: Page, Screen, and Speaker

Brief Reviews:

Consider the Lobster (2005) by David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) has been on my “to read” list since the critical success of Infinite Jest, his 1996 dystopic novel of well over a 1000 pages including 388 endnotes. His reputation is “not easy but worth the effort.” A mere two decades later, I finally decided to get my feet wet with Consider the Lobster, a collection of essays from a few years each side of the millennium formerly published in Harpers, Rolling Stone, Atlantic Monthly, and elsewhere.

In prose that is enjoyably erudite and idiosyncratic (there are odd abbreviations and parentheses, as well as footnotes that take up most of a page), the essay topics are as varied as the Adult Video News Awards, the literary sins of John Updike, the humor of Kafka, 9/11 viewed from Bloomington, and, yes, lobsters. The high point is the essay on American Usage and the role of politics in Standard Written English. The political role is most painfully obvious in contortions over gender pronouns, but it extends throughout the language even to the use of adverbs. English, of course, has no equivalent of L'Académie française which can resolve such issues by fiat. Instead we have multiple factions of academics squabbling with each other, so that any usage is likely to offend a majority of them for multifarious reasons. A large contingent claims that there is no standard at all other than ever-changing common use. Yet they somehow try to write usage textbooks anyway. However, the prescriptive SNOOT (Syntax Nudnik Of Our Time) survives: “somebody who knows what dysphemism means, and doesn't mind letting you know it.” While acknowledging the ways in which the SNOOT is socially objectionable, Wallace proclaims and acclaims his/her/possessive-singular-pronoun-of-choice value: some standards are needed to keep the language coherent.

Maybe I’m now up for an Infinite Jest. A solid Thumbs Up.

**** ****

Siren (2016)

The Hangover meets Species: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that is exactly how the script for this movie was pitched. It didn’t have more than a modest fraction of the budget of either. Nonetheless, it isn’t as bad as you might think. It isn’t as good (or even so-bad-it’s-good) as you might hope either.

The inspiration for the movie was a segment of V/H/S by the same filmmakers in which boorish guys try to pick up girls for amateur porn only to discover that the woman they bring back to their motel room isn’t human. The same actress (Hannah Fierman) reprises her character in Siren. The creature she plays is not a siren of the classic type that sang to Odysseus. This one has (when she chooses to display them) wings and a tail. She also has sharp teeth and an appetite for flesh, but she does sing.

It’s Jonah’s bachelor party. Jonah’s two best friends and his bad boy older brother take him to a strip club that proves to be as lame and unappealing as most such places are. A mesmeric patron, however, tips them off to a very special club inside an isolated mansion. Jonah and his companions, influenced by drugs and alcohol, allow themselves to be persuaded. The special club, run by an occult practitioner named Nyx, is many things but it is not lame. Jonah specifically declines sex when Nyx offers him a special experience, but accepts a viewing through glass of Lily (the siren) who sings to him to hallucinogenic effect. Jonah realizes she is locked in her chamber. Assuming she is the victim of sex trafficking, he lets her out and removes from her leg a shackle that has some power over her. This proves to be a bad move. Much running and screaming and dying ensue – also some kinky sex. None of the sex or violence is terribly graphic.

I have to give this one bifurcated thumbs. By no stretch is this, in a general way, a good movie. It does not rise above its genre even a smidgeon and so gets a general Thumbs Down. However, anyone who rents/buys this flick should know basically what s/he is getting and presumably likes this type of movie. Judged purely within its genre (rather like, say, Decoys) it hits the required notes serviceably enough to get a very mild Thumbs Up.

**** ****

Halestorm – ReAniMate 3.0 (2017)

Halestorm, featuring Lzzy Hale’s formidable vocals (brother Arejay Hale on drums), has been delivering hard rock with reliable competence since 2009. Though best known for original music (often with aggressive angry lyrics), in between studio albums the band has released cover albums to tide over their fans. The third of them, ReAniMate 3.0, was released last week.

Other than Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” which synchs with Lzzy’s usual style seamlessly, the choices were not foreseeable. That’s a good thing. They are from Whitesnake, Sophie B Hawkins, Twenty One Pilots, Soundgarden, and Metallica. While the covers are true enough to the originals to be unmistakable even to someone not paying much attention, Halestorm nonetheless puts its own stamp on each.

The result is good solid rock and roll. Further, the album serves its purpose of giving fans something to hear while the next studio album is generated. Thumbs Up.

Halestorm – Fell on Black Days (Soundgarden cover)


  1. In Sirens, the part where he frees her of her imprisonment reminded me of the old Twilight Zone episode where the guy frees the devil, The Howling Man I think was the title, and I consider it a classic.

    Was not familiar with the blues band, but that's generally not what I listen to these days, unless I just happen to catch it on Austin City Limits. I've been really into jazz, some New Age-type things, synthesizer stuff, and throw some avant-garde or prog in the mix. Pretty good cover of the Soundgarden song though.

    1. There have been more than a few dissertations and studies that attempt to tie music preferences to personality (see I don't know if they have much merit, especially since our tastes tend to vary over time. What can one say other than that a sound just speaks to us?

  2. Lately I've been listening to these podcast hosted by Chris Cutler. He was the drummer for the Brit progressive rock act, Henry Cow. Many find their music repellent I'm sure, but I enjoy the complexity, and due to that allows for many listens.

    But the podcast, Probes, detail and go into a sort of history of music, tonalities, instruments, and cover a lot of topics. I've only heard the first episode, but downloaded a bunch more as I enjoyed it. Here's a link:

    I read about it over at Dangerous Minds:

  3. I think I might check "Siren" out. That was one of the better short films in V/H/S/ if I remember correctly, and most of it was due to the actresses unique performance.

    1. It's not bad when judged by other films of its type. It won't win over anyone normally turned off by the whole genre.