20 August 2008

Taylor Antrim, The Headmaster Ritual and some movies I've seen recently

I'll start with the movies...

Pineapple Express: Despite some objections I have to the way that Judd Apatow portrays women in relationships, I usually enjoy his movies. I think Superbad is the best comedy of 2007 hands down. Pineapple Express starts out alright with a few good laughs, mostly provided by Seth Rogan. It is the story of a stoner who witnesses a murder and gets caught up in a wild goose chase with his dealer. About halfway through the film transforms into an action film that is not terribly engaging and seems to be at odds with the comedy in the first half. I was freezing in the theater and we caught the late show - which is never a good idea for me - so my enjoyment was affected by the environment as well.
Bottom Line: I would say that this is a renter. It is one of the stoniest movies I've seen since Half Baked, so I think it will garner a following of a certain kind.

Tropic Thunder: This is a movie that I thought would offend me, but I was pleasantly surprised. It is about a group of actors, making a Vietnam movie, who end up lost in the jungle, but still thinking they are merely making a movie. It is really funny. I like Ben Stiller about half the time and when I like him I really like in (in Zoolander, for example). This is a good Ben Stiller movie. I always say that Robert Downey Jr. rarely chooses to be in a bad movie, and this is no exception. In a role that could potentially be completely over the top, he plays it just right.
Bottom Line: This movie is worth seeing for the ridiculous Tom Cruise character alone.

Mongol: This is the story of Ghengis Khan before he became Ghengis Khan. It is a truly epic movie. The scenery is beautiful, and the story is an effective combination of emotional family drama and well-choreographed battle scenes. The movie is long - I thought it was over a few times before it actually ended - and it only captures a relatively small portion of the khan's life.
Bottom Line: Definitely worth seeing on the big screen. It wouldn't have the same effect on DVD.

Okay, so Antrim. I was excited to read the Headmaster Ritual. I read a decent review of it in The New York Times and the blurbs on the cover praising the novel came from writers I respect like Christopher Buckley. I also really enjoy the campus novel or boarding school novel in this case. Buckley claims that this is "the best novel set at a boarding school since A Separate Peace." I actually enjoyed Curtis Sittenfield's Prep substantially more than Antrim's first novel.
I started out enjoying this novel, which is a two part story about a newly hired teacher at an exclusive East Coast boarding school, and the son of the quasi-terrorist headmaster, who is a former left-wing radical, and current North Korean enthusiast. I enjoyed the addition of the teachers into the traditional student-centered picture in the academic novel, and Antrim's language and description are often surprising and effective. However, by the second half of the novel I was lost due to the implausibility of the plot. I also, just didn't really care what happened to the characters. I think that, perhaps, the switching back and forth between the two plots was a distraction. I failed to connect to the characters as a reader, and none of the numerous (sometimes seemingly extraneous) plotlines kept my attention either.
Bottom Line: Unless you are an enthusiast of the genre, this book was kind of a drag for me to read (at least for the last 100 pages), so I would skip it.

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