ARL3: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland By Patton Oswalt (2011)

I have very mixed, split-down-the-middle feelings about Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland. Without going through and counting the pages, I think I liked exactly half of this book. It’s kind of a mixed bag of autobiography, faux greeting card explanations, epic poetry and comic stories all written by actor, comedian and long time book fan Oswalt. I’m a big fan of his stand-up, his ultra geeky character on King of Queens and the movie roles I’ve seen him in like the lead voice in Ratatouille and Young Adult.

When it came to this under-200-page book I got from the library for work purposes (I might be working on a list of Oswalt’s geekier non-stand up moments in the future), it didn’t take a long time to read and I’m not perturbed by the parts that I didn’t like, I just skipped or skimmed them. The parts I was drawn to were the autobiographical sections. Oswalt talks about the movie theater he worked at as a kid, how books and music influenced him, how his opinions on his crazy uncle changed over time, how different comedians dealt with their crafts and one terrible week he spent in Canada. My favorite part of the book was the title section in which Oswalt labels many of his fellow geeks, artists and angry young men as either a Zombie, a Spaceship or a Wasteland and how that relates to music, sci-fi and other artistic endeavors. It’s honestly brilliant, solid, well thought out and the kind of thing that everyone who considers themselves a geek should check out.

I was less interested in the epic poem he wrote about his Dungeons & Dragons character, the multiple pages of notes written regarding the punching up of a comedy screenplay or the explanations of fake greeting card artwork. There were definitely funny moments to these portions, but I didn’t want to read that when I wanted to find out more about Oswalt as a person. It wasn’t really fair of me because I was comparing my expectations to the actual product and down that path leads ruin. Oswalt even points out in the intro that the book is a hodgepodge and it really is.

At the end of the day, it only took me a few days to read this book, so my complaints are miniscule in comparison to the enjoyment I did get out of the book in a fairly short amount of time. If nothing else, it makes me like Oswalt all the more and hope that he takes the time to sit down and write more whether that’s a fictional story or an autobiographical one, I’ll be there to check it out. Essentially, ZSW is like a Patton Oswalt writing appetizer. You get an idea of what he can do in various styles and formats and probably have a good idea of what else you’d like to read of him in those styles and formats.

Ambitious Reading List III

 

Long before I finished Please Kill Me, I was working on creating my next Ambitious Reading List. As I said at the end of that review, I’m a big fan of this much-smaller version of my larger to-read pile. Helps me stay focused while also keeping my interest not only in reading, but in crossing one book off the list and moving on to the next. Most of the books in this pile are newer to that pile, but there are a few that have been sitting around for a while too.

From the top, I picked up Robert Ludlum’s Bourne Identity at a flea market out of sheer interest based on the Matt Damon movies. I can’t keep the straight, but I’m curious to see how this book compares to the movies as well as an audiobook version of The Bourne Legacy that we finished recently and will review soon. I’ve also got an Elmore Leonard book called Riding The Rap in there. I bought this for $2 at a used book store based solely on Leonard’s name. Love that dude’s books. After that is Hunger Games, which my wife read and liked. My last ARL got in the way of me reading this over the summer, so I included it this time. I hope to compare it to the movie somewhere down the line too.

I actually started reading Michael Chabon’s Manhood For Amateurs around the time our daughter was born, or maybe just before. It’s a great book of essays I’m looking forward to finishing. I’ve been living a lie with Wizard of Oz, keeping it on my shelf since high school without every reading the whole thing. I plan on remedying that and also telling a pretty great story about the signature I have in that book. After that it’s Patton Oswalt’s Zombie Spaceship Wasteland which I got from the library for a list I was working on before my pal Rob Bricken moved from Topless Robot to io9. I have no idea where that list will lie, but that’s the first book on the pile I’m reading because I’m lousy at getting books back on time.

From there I’ve got the illustrated version of the unfilmed Harlan Ellison script based on Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot,Marc Eliot’s book about Cary Grant which I got because George Hamilton made him sound really interesting in his book and Peter Ackroyd’s retelling of Geoffry Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. I read parts of the original in college, but could barely get through it, man.

I got Raiders! thanks to a PR email letting me know about this book about the guys that made the 80s Raiders of the Lost Ark fan film. Then I’ve got It Happened In Manhattan, an oral history about the Big Apple by Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer and finally Harvey Pekar’s graphic novel adaptation of Studs Terkel’s classic look at careers, jobs and Americans Working. As you can see, it’s another eclectic mix. I’m pretty jazzed to be adding a few different formats (screenplays, essays, graphic novels) and also think that this one might go a little bit quicker than the previous one, assuming I still have time to read. The next few months are going to be pretty busy/crazy.

Quick Movie Review: Young Adult (2011)

Last week I watched the Diabolo Cody-written, Jason Reitman-directed flick Young Adult. It’s about Mavis (Charlize Theron), a woman who ghost writes a young adult book series aimed at teenage girls deciding she wants to return to the small town she grew up on and get back together with her longtime boyfriend who happens to be married and a new dad. It’s kind of a modern day Madame Bovary with the main character being a woman mostly disconnected from reality and has based her new plans on the kind of fiction she’s absorbed in the modern world. By that I mean Mavis thinks she can win her boyfriend back because that’s what she’s seen in movies and read in books, but this is real life and things don’t work out that way.

The movie is basically one well-orchestrated train wreck with comedian Patton Oswalt acting as the audience’s stand in. He was a fellow classmate of Mavis’ and was beaten almost to death in high school by a bunch of jocks who thought he was gay. He, like any rational person, tells her that her plan is stupid and that she should forget it, but she keeps on going, fueled at times by his homemade liquor. Theirs is a weird friendship, one I didn’t get to see all of because the Netflix DVD I got was messed up and I had to skip the first scene of her in his garage where he was showing her his still.

I don’t think I liked this film, though it was mostly well done. Mavis is not likeable whatsoever and her plan is foolish. I get that she’s supposed to be this tragic figure, just like Madame Bovary, but if you expect sympathy from this guy because you can’t get a handle on reality, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I mostly just didn’t care about anything in the movie. I liked Patton’s character and the object of Mavis’ affection and even his wife, but when the entire movie is framed through her perspective and it’s one I so clearly disagree with/don’t care about, what’s the point? Maybe it’s because I’m a new(ish) dad myself, but the idea of a woman trying to weasel her way between my family and me holds zero interest and was obviously doomed to fail from the beginning begging the question again, what’s the point? Is it to show me that, as the tagline points out, everyone gets old, but not everyone grows up. Yup, no shit.

While I’ve liked some of Reitman’s other movies like Thank You For Smoking, I’ve found I’m not a big fan of his collaborations with Cody (Juno fell flat for me and didn’t live up to the hype whatsoever). It seems to me like when they’re together they’re both trying way to hard to make me feel something without doing the leg work to actually get me there emotionally. Sure, it was awkward when Mavis had her meltdown at the baby party, but it was just because that was a break from social convention and I was seeing a drunk be stupid, it wasn’t because I feel for her and care about her and am sorry she’s feeling so bad (like I often do with Michael Scott or David Brent on the two Offices).  On the other hand, Oswalt does customize action figures, so maybe I do like the film.

Adventures In Freelancing: NYCC Post Mortem

Between my photo diary entries over on The Monkee Diaries (Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday) and a pair of posts over on Pop Poppa about my experiences leaving Lucy for the first extended period of time and her first comic con, I’ve done a lot of writing about the New York Comic Con. And that doesn’t even include all the actual work I did for CBR!

Last year, I wrote a pretty negative post about the NYCC. My main complaints were that people were not very considerate while walking along, the show was too crowded to really look for comics and the press pass line was way too long. And you know what? Those problems still exist. Well, I assume the press line thing was still a problem, I’m not exactly sure because, the main reason I enjoyed the show so much more this year over last was because I not only had a series of solid assignments but also was doing them for a company that really knows how to treat its employees.

I know this might seem like I’m being a company man or what have you, but I don’t do that and never have. I say good things about good people and groups, but if I happen to be aligned with a less reputable group, I’ll keep my mouth shut. So, take that into consideration when I say that Jonah Weiland and CBR are wonderful to work for. They not only had press passes waiting for us so we didn’t have to wade through the line, but also had a nice skybox overlooking the smaller of the show floor sections. The room was done up in a tiki theme, a desk was set up overlooking the floor and a corner was designated for video interviews with comic creators and celebrities. If you’re unfamiliar with the press situation at the NYCC, everyone is crammed into a living room-sized space on the bottom floor with no real ventilation and very little table space.

Being busy with panel coverage (sitting through the hour-or-so talk and then writing it up) kept me away from the show floor for the most part, which was fine by me. Actually, my only real problem this year, aside from huge crowd and a smell of buttered feet in the main area of the floor, was that press had to wait in line to cover a panel. I know this makes me sound like an entitled jerk, but hear me out. If you’re going to bother giving out press passes, the point is, presumably to get the press to cover the event. Whether the organization wants the event covered so news can reach the people or so people can read about how awesome the event is and want to go to it doesn’t really matter to me. What does matter is potentially not getting into a panel to cover it because of a huge line. It bothers me because this is my job, this is how I help feed my family. I’m not demanding front row seats or anything along those lines, but possibly a row or two set aside somewhere for press and the ability to take those seats between panels would not be beyond the realm of normalcy, right? Heck, look how well set-up sports writers are at baseball or football games.

Okay, that’s the end of my press rant. I still think there’s too many people on the floor, lines are impossible to control and there should be a height limit on costume accessories (or an outright ban), but at the end of the day, I had a good time at this show. It was long, hard work, but I liked that too. Last year I didn’t have any work to do, so I felt like I had more of a purpose this year. I also had a great place to do said work alongside great people, which always helps. I got to see some old friends, meet some new ones and even found myself in the same room with Tom Morello (a panel room, but it was still cool), Patton Oswalt, a good deal of the cast of The Walking Dead, Greg Nicotero, Liz Lee from My Life As Liz (got introduced to her and didn’t realize who she was until about 10 minutes later, but she was super nice) and Kenny from The Challenge. Honestly, being in the same room as Patton Oswalt and seeing how free and easy and insanely funny he is just talking to a bunch of people overlooking a comic convention floor was a career highlight. You can see the video interview here, by the way.

So, yes, I think I enjoyed the NYCC more this year than ever before. They shuffled things around yet again, but the set-up seemed to make sense. Most of the big booths were in one area while artists alley and people selling stuff were in another. It will never be a light and easy show to breeze in and out of or walk away with a big stack of cheap comics, but it’s starting to feel familiar and therefor somewhat more normal, which is funny considering I saw a guy dressed in a pretty darn good Voltron costume and an absolute army of girls dressed up as Finn from Adventure Time. Crossing dressing Finn is the new Slave Leia and I kind of like it.