BOOK: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (2015)

May 30, 2015

ronsonJon Ronson, a British writer probably best known for his book-turned-Clooney-film The Men Who Stare at Goats, is an expert at examining human behavior ranging from the weird to the downright disturbed. His latest work, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, seems like the perfect Ronson topic: a book looking at the dumb crap people do on the Internet, followed by the mean crap people so often do in response.

Using several very famous social-media-based public shamings as examples, Ronson sets out to explore the psychology and evolution of mankind’s lust for ruining the lives of others over even the slightest of transgressions.  However, while I found the individual examples fascinating, ultimately, this book just didn’t hit the right notes for me. Ronson spends a lot of his time expressing a kind of perpetual shock over the capacity of humans for irrational rage (though I should note here that I think this “perpetual shock” sensation was heightened by the fact I was listening to him read his own words to me in audiobook format; he definitely has a flare for the dramatic as a narrator). What he doesn’t really manage to do is take a goodly-sized step back from his emotional response to really delve into the various forces at work. The ultimate effect of this was, for me, anyway, to feel like I was being relayed a whole bunch of super-juicy gossip, without much in the way of exploration of what was driving each of the relevant parties to act/react the way they were.

The case studies described range from acts of thoughtlessness or carelessness (thoughtless tweet, careless photograph) to acts of outright, intentional deceit (two lying writers).  But while I was, for the most part, happily along for the ride, there was one story where Ronson’s reaction made me realize just how much of what was truly going on he was completely missing.

Specifically, I started to notice how oblivious he was to the role gender so clearly plays in these kinds of social media fueled public shamings, as evidenced by his chapter about Adria Richards, a story I had been following with great interest in the media when it first broke in 2013. That year, Richards overheard two guys at a tech conference making inappropriate jokes  (about computer “dongles,” admittedly a term ripe for offensive jesting).  Upset by their comments, she turned around and snapped a picture of them, which she then posted on social media.

In response to the hue and cry almost instantly evoked by the photo, one of the men was fired; not long after that, so was Adria. The difference?  The man was fired for making sex jokes at a professional conference. Richards was fired because her act incurred the wrath of a huge swath of others in the tech community, who then retaliated by hammering her company’s web site until it crashed. Another difference?  The man fairly quickly got another job (ironically, at a tech organization that employs no women, he admits to Ronson).  Richards, on the other hand, as with the other women profiled in this book (including Justine Sacco of the badly-thought-out tweet and Lindsay Rice of the badly thought-out Facebook photo), was subjected to prolonged, vicious, and violent death and rape threats, and, as of the time her chapter was written, still had not been able to find another job, largely because any potential employer who plopped her name into a Google search very quickly found a mass of hatefulness and degradation and was (understandably) unnerved.

When Adria tried to explain to Ronson that part of what made her take and share the photo was a pervasive concern for her safety at the conference driven by the overall culture of misogyny around her, she cited a line attributed to Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them; women are afraid that men will kill them.”  Ronson’s response, and this is where I realized just how little he actually understood about any of this, was: “People might consider that an overblown thing to say.”

Ronson seemed to be suggesting, in other words, that it was unreasonable for a woman to feel as though her safety might be in danger at a professional tech conference. Richards was clearly overreacting. It was a sort of, “Hey, lady, let’s not get all hysterical here, now.” Which whatever, sure, fine, man. I mean, it’s not like this, this, this, this, or, for the love of god, THIS has ever happened.  Sigh, argh, sigh again. Argh once more.

None of this is to suggest Ronson’s central point isn’t valid (nutshell: we shouldn’t destroy someone’s life when they make a mistake), or to suggest this isn’t a highly readable, very thought-provoking book — all these things are true.  While I confess I don’t feel too badly when people call others out on social media for saying things without thinking about their impact on others — this is still all too common in our society, this belief that what you say on social media doesn’t count, shouldn’t matter, can’t harm, and I disagree with anyone who suggests it’s better to let that stuff go by without mention when it happens — it’s obviously outrageous how far those kinds of interactions can, and often do, end up going.  Hatefulness, life-ruination, shame, outings, worse — it’s vile and inexcusable.  Ronson’s exploration toward the end of the book of the various ways we’re inventing to deal with this issue were fascinating too (examples: the European “Right to be Forgotten” law and PR companies you can hire to help bury negative content deep down in search results, though that kind of thing can certainly backfire too).

Ultimately, however, I felt frustrated Ronson seemed more interested in sharing the gossipy details than he did in truly trying to analyze the harder questions at play here, and, frankly, he just seemed utterly incapable of even recognizing the gender-related ones.  Maybe that’s an unfair criticism — can men truly comprehend the things women are still up against in modern society?  Maybe they can’t. But what they can do — and should do, I would argue — is at least try (say, by asking a follow-up question instead of merely shutting the conversation down with a response that can only have been intended to make the interviewee doubt her own perceptions).

In the face of all this, it was hard for me not to leave this book wondering how much more powerful it could’ve been in the hands of someone a little more “worldly,” shall we say — time spent on astonishment redirected, instead, to more thoughtful analysis.  That said, this is still a very important, very eye-opening book, and well worth a read (or listen) to anyone interested in social media and modern society.

Recommended (with caveats)!

[NON-FICTION]

[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon | Browse more book reviews | Search book reviews]

MOVIE: Maggie (2015)

May 25, 2015

maggieOne of the reasons I like zombie movies as much as I do is because I also really, really like movies about pandemics, and a lot of zombie films are essentially movies about fast-spreading viruses chewing up the globe. I like pandemic movies both because they are scary in an authentic, contemporary way, and also because they are not.

That is, of all the things I worry about in life, and I worry about a lot of things (stop nodding so emphatically, you guys), pandemics are not high on my list — not because I don’t think they’re a legitimate thing to be afraid of, but because I don’t see a lot of point to freaking out over things about which I can do very little.  Aside from kicking up the hand sanitizer use and trying to avoid crowds, when a pandemic comes to town, I’m not going to be able to do much to avoid it, so why waste energy on being chronically afraid? And so, as with horror movies about monsters I don’t really believe in, not to mention freak weather patterns involving sharks and ‘nadoes, I find stories about global epidemics terrifying in an extremely safe sort of way.

Zombie movies typically take the pandemic thing to a whole new level, starting with a massive kicking-up of the timeline of the spread of the disease. In most of the zombie-virus stories I’ve seen, the disease launches and the world is quickly overrun in a matter of days (roughly 28, if Cillian Murphy is to be believed).  While I enjoy that scenario, and have enjoyed many a zombie movie that uses it, I feel like I’ve seen it so many times now, its capacity to engage me on any sort of deeper level has waned.

This is a long-winded way of explaining to you why I was intrigued enough by the description of this movie, which takes the usual zombiebola story in a different direction, to be willing to sit down for two hours to watch a zombie flick starring Arnold Schwarzehoweveryouspellit — something I would’ve been extremely unlikely to do had it just been another World War Z- or Walking Dead-type yarn.

In Maggie, the zombie virus has spread worldwide as usual, but its incubation period has been greatly slowed down, dramatically changing the character of the pandemic.  Instead of infected people turning into the undead in hours or days, people infected with the virus have about 6-8 weeks before their hankering for human flesh becomes a serious problem.  That’s given doctors and governments a vastly expanded ability to control the spread of the disease.  Sick people are typically rounded up and quarantined before they have a chance to infect others (timely parallel to ebola here, by the way), making the virus a lot more containable.

The title character, Maggie (Breslin), is a teenage girl who had left home for the big city only to be bitten by a rogue zombie one dark night in an alley (lesson to all teenage girls: avoid big city alleys after dark, regardless of rampant viral infections). She ends up in the hospital, where a doctor calls her father (Arnold Schwarzewazzup).  Ordinarily, someone with a confirmed bite is immediately sent to quarantine, but Dad has some connections in the medical world, and he calls in all his favors so he can take Maggie home until she “turns.”

What follows is a fairly thoughtful story about a dying girl home with her family with only weeks to live and a fairly horrible future to contemplate.  Just as wrenching as her side of the tale is that of her father, who not only has to watch his daughter die, but will also likely be responsible for taking care of business, so to speak, at the end.  The family doctor gives him a syringe of the drug cocktail used to euthanize the sick in quarantine (a place of expanding, terrifying lore, also in timely parallel to ebola) but tells him the drugs result in a slow, excruciatingly painful death and not-so-subtly suggests that the compassionate thing for a father to do in that moment is to shoot his little girl in the head.

It might be hard to take that quandary seriously when the disease involves turning into a zombie, but if you look at it as a metaphor for something else — say, terminal cancer — you can see a new relevance, and a new layer, to the story being told here. That’s true not just in terms of the anguished family members watching their loved ones suffer, but also for the policies surrounding medical procedures for the terminally ill, where we still typically rely on painful interventions to the bitter end instead of what some might describe as a more humane approach.

As Maggie begins her slow descent to undeath, complete with the terror of seeing her own body parts begin to rot and a sudden, startling, and confusing urge to eat her stepmother, the agony for all involved becomes difficult to watch. Schwarzenegger (I looked it up) is surprisingly effective in this for a guy I don’t typically associate with evocative emotional storytelling, though this movie would’ve been much stronger with somebody else in that role (mostly because I found his surprising effectiveness somewhat distracting, which isn’t fair, I’ll grant you, but it’s still true).  It also could’ve used a little more time in the rewrite room, because there are several moments where the dialogue doesn’t quite work, as well as more than a few scenes I felt were more than a little clumsy.

Still, overall, I enjoyed this film and appreciated very much its approach to the genre.  I’m always a little disappointed when a movie trying to do something a bit unique doesn’t quite nail it, but the attempt was certainly admirable, relevant, and heartfelt.  Definitely recommended, especially to fans of the BBC series In the Flesh, which this movie reminded me of more than once.

[Rent at Amazon | View trailer]

Genre: Zombies, Drama
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Abigail Breslin, Joely Richardson, Mattie Liptak

Exciting Fall TV News!

May 12, 2015

teethTHE MUPPETS ARE COMING (to ABC this fall)!

Could be great, could be terrible. I’m unlikely to care either way as long as Dr. Teeth & the Electric Mayhem get a lot of screen time.

Check out the link to check out the trailer! FLOOOOOOYD!

http://slate.me/1PFknto (from Slate.com)

MOVIE: Grabbers (2012)

April 10, 2015

grabbersThis is the time of year when I’m typically at my most busy, aided this year by the fact I’m about to start pretty intensive training for a new volunteer gig on top of everything else, so please excuse the recent lack of posting. However, I just spent a week at my mom’s prepping for this spring chaos, which also means I have a whole lotta movies to tell you guys about.

Of the batch we watched on my week off, this was easily my favorite. It’s not just funny and clever, it also has a great big disgusting alien monster in it — whee! Recipe for joy in the Wood family! Plus, the solution to staying alive in this crazy yarn ended up being “get real drunk,” and who among us hasn’t wished, at least once, that that would actually help with anything whatsoever? I certainly have. I am, in fact, having a gigantic glass of wine right now, on the off-chance.

As the story opens, Irish cop Ciarán O’Shea, an alcoholic whose knowledge of booze is about to come in handy f’realz, has woken up, hungover, to find himself temporarily partnered with a young, ambitious female officer, Garda Lisa Nolan, there to serve as his temporary boss (to make matters worse) while his real boss is out of town. She’s straight-laced and judgmental — oh, joy — and he’s about to have one heckova day.

Their first case together is the strange beaching of a bunch of sea life. Something has killed a ton of seals really fast, which can’t be good.  Meanwhile, a local (likewise alcoholic) fisherman has some kind of new species stored in his bathtub — coincidence? I think not. (Let’s pretend not to notice that a species that thrives in an ocean of saltwater would not likely also thrive in a bathtub of potable. Don’t think; it can only hurt the ball club.) As the day progresses, the Garda come to discover that that something is, for lack of a better term, “a big huge grody alien octopus thingy.”  It lays many eggs, which hatch into many nasty little creatures, which in turn lead later to a scene in a bar nicely reminiscent of the 80s movie Gremlins, something that never fails to bring me great pleasure.

It doesn’t take long for our intrepid heroes to discover that the big huge alien octopus thingies do not like to eat people who have extremely high levels of alcohol in their systems (aforementioned fishermen is tasted and spat out).  Luckily, they also appear to be readily killed by firepower. The problem is, this little island Irish town doesn’t have much in the way of said firepower (at one point, they attempt to make a flame-thrower out of a Super Soaker water gun filled with gasoline — this goes about as well as expected).  They’ve got a call into the mainland for help, but, of course, a vicious storm is on its way, and the Big Guns won’t arrive until the morrow.

The solution? Get the townsfolk into the bar, and load ’em up.  The twist?  Alcoholic cop O’Shea stays sober to lead the team, whilst teetotaler Nolan gets rip-roarin’ ripped. Cue fireworks! And plenty of good old fashioned alien splatter for the kids in the audience!

It sounds ridiculous, I know, and, generally speaking, as a substance abuse research librarian, I’m not typically a huge fan of movies that make extreme binge drinking look like a good idea. Yet somehow, this movie just works and works and works. The chemistry between O’Shea and Nolan is sparkling, and the writing is sharp, witty, and polished. The monsters look extraordinarily silly, and we loved them all the more for it.

Overall, this is a pretty great installment in the B-movie monster genre, and if you’re looking for an entertaining way to kill a couple of hours, especially if you have a large bottle of booze nearby, you need look no further.

Highly, highly recommended!

[Netflix it | Buy it at Amazon]

Genre: Monsters, Comedy
Cast: Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley, Russell Tovey, Lalor Roddy, David Pearse

BOOK: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)

March 14, 2015

readyplayeroneMan, it has been a long time since I’ve had this much fun reading a novel. For some reason, over the last 6 months or so, I’ve had a hellova time getting into any fiction book I’ve picked up. I’ve started and discarded at least a dozen, even making it about 85% of the way through the new Sarah Waters novel, The Paying Guests, before deciding I just didn’t care enough to want to keep going.

When I picked this one up a week or so ago, however, I was sucked in almost immediately.  Which is funny because it’s not particularly well-written, and if it weren’t for the heavy 80s references, I’d say it’s more a YA novel than a grown-up one (YAs aren’t old enough to get the jokes, I’d wager).  But a book doesn’t have to be a brilliant work of creative writing to be incredibly entertaining.  And that’s what this book is in a nutshell: incredibly entertaining.

It’s set in the year 2044, and the star of the story is high school senior named Wade Watts. The Earth has practically been destroyed — cautionary tale about fossil fuels — and as electrical grid after electrical grid has fallen, people have flocked to the cities, living in stacked towers of mobile homes where they can wire themselves together for limited power and utilities.

The vast majority of mankind has begun to spend most of their hours awake logged into a virtual reality world called The Oasis — sort of like Second Life, only cool (sorry, Second Life).  The creator of The Oasis, a mega-billionnaire with a heart of gold named Halliday, recently died and, in his will, announced to the planet a complex scavenger hunt of sorts he left behind in the code.  Figure out the clues, solve yourself to the end of the puzzle, and you inherit everything he owned, including The Oasis itself. Thing is, in order to fulfill this quest, you have to be an expert in everything Halliday loved — almost all of it 80s computer, gaming, or pop culture-related.

As the novel opens, we’re a couple of years into the challenge and nobody has managed to solve the first clue.  That is, until now.  Wade, who spent most of his earlier teenage years devouring everything from the 80s he could lay his hands on, is the first to unlock the first of three magical “gates,” reigniting the contest.  Meanwhile, a nasty mega-corporation, Innovative Online Industries, is on the scene, stocked with hundreds of employees, each trained into expert-dom on a single 80s-related game, TV show, film, or other element. Using complex computer systems, IOI is able to call on the nerdy superpowers of their entire workforce at any moment through a single avatar, and has announced to the other gamers that if they win, they will take over The Oasis and do whatever with it they damn well please.

Can Wade, and the other individual gamers he ends up befriending, solve the clues and get to the end before IOI?  Or will they be destroyed by the greed of an evil corporation determined to use its powers for evil?

It’s not much of a plot, I suppose, and the game itself is a little on the cheesy side at times.  But the characters are a delight and the 80s references were a total blast.  Lots of stuff I’d forgotten about and was so happy to recall, as well as, I’m sure, a ton of references, especially related to gaming, that went riiiiight over my head.

If you’ve been looking for a light read and you’re on the nerdy side, this is a book you should give a shot.  And if you have any teenagers who like this kind of stuff, I especially highly recommend it to them because, again, it really did seem better suited, writing-wise, to a YA audience (even if they don’t get all the references, they’ll get enough to be able to follow along, and will probably be charmed by some of the old-school tech). Highly, highly recommended!  Can’t wait to see what this author puts out next (I’ve read his next book is due out soon, and also rumors this one is being made into a movie as well, by the way)!

[SCIENCE FICTION]

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New TV This Month!

March 9, 2015

tvsetIn case you missed it, a whole bunch of new shows started up last week.  Instead of posting this before they started, I decided to wait until I’d watched them all so I could actually say something useful.  If you missed any of the ones that sound good, I’ve noticed almost all of the pilots are available for free on Amazon Instant Video (and/or on the TV stations’ web sites).  I’ll update again later this month as more stuff comes out!

Sunday, March 1

battlecreekBattle Creek – CBS – 10pm. This one was developed by Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad and its new, utterly delightful spin-off, Better Call Saul) and David Shore (House), and stars Dean Winters, an actor I’ve loved since I first saw him on the HBO series Oz.  It’s a little uninspired in terms of premise: cynical, grizzled, no-nonsense detective is partnered up with a polite, manscaped, naive FBI agent (Josh Duhamel) — seen that combo more times than I can count.  But it was entertaining and clever enough I’ll definitely be sticking with it for now.

last manThe Last Man on Earth – FOX – 9pm.  I almost didn’t watch this one, because it conflicted with something else I was recording and, as you know, I’m not usually a huge sit-com fan. But, man, am I ever glad I tracked it down, because I was thoroughly charmed almost instantly.  It’s about the last man alive on Earth after a virus has wiped out the entire world, and the first episode was absolutely delightful (it opens with him about to complete a months-long road trip around the U.S. looking for survivors and for cool stuff to decorate his house with, like paintings from the Met, a couple of Academy Awards, Babe Ruth’s bat — that made me laugh so hard, because it is EXACTLY what I would have done too). Episode two got even better, though, when Kristen Schaal (The Daily Show) shows up. Not the “last woman on Earth” he was hoping for, I’m afraid, and boy, is this one gonna be fun, people.

secretsSecrets and Lies – ABC -9pm.  I wanted to like this series, if only because it’s so rare a show featuring a female detective casts a woman actually old enough to be a detective (Juliette Lewis).  The problem is, that same actress is so remarkably awful in this, she’s almost laughable. And by “almost,” I mean, “utterly.”  It’s about a family man, played by Ryan Phillipe, who is out for a run one morning when he comes across the dead body of the little boy who lived across the street from him — the son of a woman he’d had an affair with years ago.  Instantly, he’s a suspect, surprise surprise.  This series is a scene-for-scene remake of an Australian show by the same name; I watched the first episode of that one last night and can already tell it’s going to be ten times better (also: surprise surprise).  Better acting, especially (though it would’ve been hard to be worse in that regard).  Deleted from the DVR and moving over to Netflix for the original instead.

Wednesday, March 4

broadchBroadchurch — BBC America — 10pm.  Back in September when I was talking to you guys about the new show Gracepoint, a few of you hadn’t seen the original BBC series it had been based on, Broadchurch.  I’m hoping you’ve sought it out by now, because it was just worlds above the American version.  Season two starts where we left off in season one, which, to be honest, I was a little disappointed by, because, whew, was that ever a bleak, bleak story. I would’ve been okay with a new crime to solve. Nevertheless, this show is so compelling, it’s worth the suffering. Looks like we’re in for some major courtroom drama this round, as Joe Miller takes the stand at his trial and announces his plea: not guilty.

cyberCSI: Cyber — CBS — 1opm.  I had a feeling this was going to be terrible, and it lived up pretty perfectly to those expectations. Did you guys know that when hackers insert malware, they make that part of the code RED so it’s super-easy for the FBI’s cyber crimes division to spot it?  That seems like kind of a dumb way to go about it to me, but, hey, what do I know? I ain’t no hacker.  Patricia Arquette stars, which is the only reason I’m going to go back for a second episode. Well, her and also two ex-Boyfriends of the Week, of course, Peter “The Biscuit” MacNicol, and James “The Dawson” Van Der Beek. I don’t expect this to make it past season 1, but we’ll see if any of these three talents (and yes, I just called Van Der Beek a “talent;” you be quiet) can do anything about how utterly ridiculous it’s been so far.

Thursday, March 5

amnericancrimeAmerican Crime — ABC — 10pm.  Developed by John Ridley (12 Years a Slave), this series is going to examine the impact of a single crime on multiple residents of a “racially divided” California town. The pilot reminded me a lot of the movie Traffic and so far, so good. Definitely will keep going on this one. Costars Felicity Huffman, Timothy Hutton, Benito Martinez, and Penelope Ann Miller.

digDig — USA — 1opm.  I was really surprised by how much I liked this one.  For a USA series, it’s surprisingly NOT totally goofy. It’s set in Jerusalem and has been described as a murder mystery with a Da Vinci Code-style conspiracy subplot, which sounds pretty fun to me.  Jason Isaacs stars as an FBI agent stationed in Israel whose investigation into the murder of a young female archeologist will reveal a complex conspiracy that goes back thousands of years. Costars Anne Heche and Richard E. Grant, and is actually filmed in Israel, too — apparently it was supposed to start last fall, but war there delayed completion.  Kind of fascinating.  Is USA finally growing up?  Let’s find out.

Friday, March 6

kimmyUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Netflix.  This is the new Tina Fey project we’ve been hearing about for the last few months.  Stars Ellie Kemper as a woman trying to rebuild her life after spending 15 years in a bomb shelter as part of a cult that believed the world had ended.  Utterly charming, and a few truly hilarious moments so far (we’ve only watched the first two, but laughed out loud more than once — Rich Mom throwing the unopened bottle of water in the trash made us laugh so hard we had to pause for a second. So perfect!). It’s not perfect, but it’s fun, and I have a feeling it will improve with time.

More coming soon!

Leonard Simon Nimoy, 1931-2015

February 27, 2015

A moment of silence.

meg live long

MOVIE: Nightcrawler (2014)

February 26, 2015

nightcralwerLos Angeles denizen Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief with a nasty streak looking for his next big score. One night while out punching people and taking their watches, he comes across the scene of an accident, and is fascinated to see a group of freelance “newsmen” there with cameras, filming the carnage.  After a brief conversation with one of them (Bill Paxton), Lou learns just how lucrative the gig can be and quickly arms himself with a camcorder and police scanner.

Almost immediately, he manages to score some footage he’s able to sell to a blood-and-gore-thirsty news director, Nina (Rene Russo), desperate to raise her station’s ratings before she gets fired. She’s impressed enough to hand him a check for a couple of hundred bucks and thus a new career for Louis is born.

As it turns out, his life of not giving a crap about anybody else around him turns out to be a handy asset in his new biz, called “nightcrawling” because, it appears, everyone who does it is a big slithery worm only coming out after dark.  Methodical to the extreme, and a lover of self-help books and TED talk equivalents, Lou soon develops a complex business plan, which he begins to share in motivational poster-style quotables with his new “intern,” the hopeless Rick (Riz Ahmed), a homeless kid desperate and dumb enough to be willing to do just about anything for $30 a night.

Then one night, Lou crosses the line — he moves a body to get a better angle on the shot.  It ends up being so effective, he can’t resist going to greater and greater lengths to catch the perfect grisly footage, finally even breaking into a murder scene right after the killers leave and just before the cops arrive in order to get close-ups on the carnage. Meanwhile, Rick is growing first a set of balls and then a niggling sense of moral unease, just as Nina is starting to make the horrified realization she has joined forces with an absolute sociopath — one who is so outrageously good at what he does she doesn’t dare defy him lest he take his footage and its sky-high ratings somewhere else. Oh, moral complexity: why you gotta be so morally complex?

This was a pretty entertaining, well-crafted film, though it’s not one I’m likely to watch ever again.  Of the players involved, Riz Ahmed is by far the most interesting, both as an actor and in terms of his character in the story.   I have no idea if “nightcrawling” is an actual “thing” in TV news, especially since I thought the FCC had some pretty strict rules about showing real-life shotgun wounds in HD at 6pm. Then again, they don’t say “If it bleeds, it leads” for nuthin’, after all.  Still, I’m not entirely sure what the point of the film was, really, since the idea that American TV news watchers are all sickos who love seeing the suffering of others in technicolor is hardly revelatory.  Plus, there’s always something vaguely dissatisfying (for me, anyway) about a movie in which the yucky people win.

Nevertheless, this one is definitely worth a rental if you like crime thrillers — both my husband and I enjoyed it for what it was.  Solid entertainment on a Saturday night; you could do a lot worse for $3.99.

[Netflix it | Buy/Rent at Amazon]

Genre: Drama, Thriller
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed

BOOK: On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss (2014)

February 21, 2015

onimmunityEula Biss gave birth to her first child right as the H1N1 flu epidemic was freaking out the globe. As many new mothers do, she took to the Internet to try to learn more about the risk of the flu versus the risk of the flu vaccine for her newborn baby.  The information she found there was conflicting, confusing, and ultimately not all that helpful at resolving her myriad questions (welcome to my world as a research librarian, Ms. Biss!).

Ultimately, she erred on what she decided was the side of caution and ended up going along with her doctor’s recommendation to vaccinate her child (for the flu and everything else).  But that sense of overwhelming responsibility, confusion, and fear led her to rethink that choice more than once over the following years, as vaccines after vaccines were pumped into her child’s veins.

This book is what came out of her quest to get to the bottom of the truth about vaccine safety (i.e., that vaccines are vital and everybody who can get them should), and it’s a fascinating journey to take at her side.  Into this well thought-out combination of science and emotion, Biss mixes in a healthy dose of history, analysis of evolving cultural norms (changing notions of “filth” and “purity,” for example), a look at pop culture’s role (vampires, anyone?), and ideas taken from both literature and philosophy as well.

The trip is a wild ride all over the map, and as engrossing as it is, I confess I felt Biss’s writing wasn’t always up to the task.  At times, the book gets a bit bogged down by a tangent that isn’t quite worthy of the boggage, and begins to feel more than a little unfocused.

Overall, however, I greatly enjoyed her perspective on this.  There’s an awful lot of anger on both sides of the vaccine “debate” these days, and one of the things that puzzles me the most about that is the way in which it’s often coming from parents against other parents.  This despite the fact that parents on both sides of the issue are acting out of identical, powerful, and innate motivations — the goal of protecting their children from harm.

This exploration of a real mother’s real fears in trying to figure out the best thing to do for her own child adds a level of humanity, empathy, and understanding to a conversation I have long felt, as a health educator of sorts myself, has been sorely lacking in all those elements. The result is a refreshingly compassionate approach to the subject, and one far more likely to make a difference to parents who are still wary of vaccinating than the insults and rage I so often see thrashing about on social media whenever the topic comes up.  You can’t get someone to change their mind by calling them an “idiot,” especially when their chief motivation is fear. What you can do is try to approach them from a mutual desire to keep their child safe from harm, and to educate them patiently but persistently from that perspective instead.

Highly recommended to people on both sides of the conversation; this is a book I wish more people would read.

[NON-FICTION]

[Buy from an Indie Bookstore | Buy from Amazon | Browse more book reviews | Search book reviews]

MOVIE: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

January 30, 2015

guardiansThis movie was terrible. Terrible!  Terrible. Forced, trite, strangely lacking in any heart whatsoever, and featuring dialogue clearly written by a 13 year old boy (a precocious one, to be sure. Nevertheless).

THAT SAID, if LEGO Baby Groot ever comes to fruition, I will be first in line for purchase.

(p.s. TERRIBLE!)

[Netflix it | Amazon Buy/Rent]

Genre: Sci-fi, Crap
Cast: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, yer mom.

 


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