The Toast | The Dictator

It was movie night this past weekend and I was in the mood for a comedy. The Dictator was just released on Redbox so I decided to give it a whirl. In this film, Sascha Baron Cohen stars as an outlandish dictator of North African republic of

“Wadiya.” When I think of Cohen, my first thoughts immediately go to Borat, or Ali G, the character that jump-started his career and popularity. Unfortunately, this new character of his, and the overall movie, movie failed to perform.

Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a leader who surrounds himself with attractive female guards, refuses to sell Wadiyan oil international (for reasons unknown or I missed the explanation) and is quick to execute anyone who wrongs him in the slightest. Bump into him by accident? As he’s assuring you it’s really no problem, he’s signaling to his guards to get rid of you, which to me, were probably some of the funniest parts of the movie.

His plans to develop nuclear weapons are halted when the UN intervenes and threatens military action unless Aladeen comes to America to address the council. What he doesn’t know is that his Uncle and right hand man, Tamir (Ben Kingsley), has ulterior plans.

When they arrive to New York City, Aladeen is greeted by a slew of protesters as he lavishly parades down the street. Aladeen thinks he’s being warmly welcomed. When he arrives at the hotel, Tamir convinces Aladeen that the extra security is there to protect him during the meetings. The “security” guard, Clayton (John C. Reilly), is actually a hitman Tamir hired to get rid of his nephew. When a torture session goes terribly wrong, Aladeen is left unrecognizable and all alone in a strange city.

When he heads back to the hotel, Aladeen realizes that his uncle has found a lookalike named Efawadh (also played by Cohen) to be a pawn in a greedy game. If Tamir can make Wadiya a democracy, he can open oil market for international trade. Aladeen is disgusted at the idea of democracy and is hysterical over the proposal of it in his beloved Wadiya. Zoey (Anna Farris) mistakes his anguish for passion and decides to help this Wadiyan “refuge” in his fight for “democracy.” Her character is the opposite of his in extremes (she’s vegan, feminist, etc.).

Aladeen eventually recruits the help of a former employee, who he thought he had executed. Aladeen walks into a restaurant that is devoted to hating him and is full of people he thought he had killed.

In the end, the movie was a full of toilet humor and repetitive jokes. You could easily substitute this character with Borat and barely know the difference. I usually enjoy Anna Farris, but she failed to entertain me this round.

There was a lot of talent in this film, but no script to really back it up. For me, it was a miss, but perhaps other people would enjoy it. My suggestion to you would be to just rent Borat instead.

The Toast | In Utero

The first album I ever cared about was Nirvana’s In Utero. Before I ever heard the first taps of the drumsticks on “Serve the Servants,” my entire music collection could have been hit by a meteorite and it wouldn’t have mattered that much. I

liked that it was refined in all of its rawness. Just a couple of years ago, I went through a phase where I rediscovered the album and listened to it so obsessively that I began having horrible dreams; all of which inspired a collection of short stories and vignettes, ranging from birds with crushed in skulls having conversations with each other, to a male cosmetologist dancing around his room with a dolled up severed head. Things got pretty weird.

Growing up, I was never really the type to read music reviews. You may have guessed that already, given the poor job I’m doing here. I’m just saying, I never picked up Rolling Stone, mostly because it wasn’t carried at my local Wal-Mart, and I never had the time or patience to search out reviews online since my family had a dial-up connection until I was nineteen years old. However, I did try to read reviews for In Utero. Unfortunately, most of them just talked about Kurt Cobain’s ethos or speculation as to whether the record hinted at his suicide, since the album was released about seven months prior to his death in 1994. For a preteen in 2002, it was pretty disappointing. All I wanted to do was find someone who felt the exact same way I did when I listened to this album. I understood that Kurt Cobain meant a lot of different things to a lot of people, but to me, he was just a guy who was really good at making music that captured emotion. It was something that I respected—and still do—but I just couldn’t understand why everyone would blow off talking about the thing he had worked so hard to create.

Not only that, I always sort of found it insulting to every single person’s intelligence when a writer would make a case for Cobain’s songs reflecting on his life in some way. Obviously, they did. Anyone who has ever written anything could tell you that he or she was clearly influenced by what was going on in his or her life, even in the most minute of ways. But this album wasn’t about Cobain or his life; those are minor details. It isn’t even about the characters or real people he references in a few of his songs either, like Frances Farmer in “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle,” or the protagonist of Peter Suskind’s novel Purfume in “Scentless Apprentice.” This is an album for all of us, because everyone has experienced the darkest of emotions. Everyone has felt as though they are on the cusp of insanity. Everyone has felt dumb, or worthless or pissed off. In the age of psychoanalyzing and prescription pills, it can be scary or intimidating to have those feelings, and the only thing that is worse than being in a dark place is feeling guilty for being in such a place. In Utero welcomes those emotions better than any other album I’ve ever listened to.

My favorite song is “Milk It.” Every time I listen to it, I can feel this tingling in the center of my core. The dissonant chords, the intelligible screaming, it all works for me. It makes every cell in my body feel aggressive, yet aggressive isn’t even the right emotion. I suppose it’s a mix of fear and exhilaration, both pressed against each other so combatively. Three minutes and 15 seconds in, Cobain stutters when he screams out “Test Meat,” and my heart skips a beat.

I don’t have much to tell you about this album that you don’t already know, but if you’ve never laid in your bed in complete darkness and listened to this album from start to finish, now is a good time to do it.

 

The Hunger Games, Part Two

To follow up with my most recent movie review, and to get into a little more detail about the story itself, I decided to use the book The Hungers Games, by Suzanne Collins, as a way to give more of a background of the story in an attempt to

either convince you to read the book or see the movie. With this entry, I want to give a little more detail behind the games, The Everdeen Family and Katniss’ connection to her opponent and fellow tribute, Peeta Malark.

The story takes place in the near future in a place called Panem. This nation is a dystopian society that was formed in North America after an apocalyptic event destroyed most of the continent. Panem is made up of 12 poverty-stricken districts and a very rich Capitol. As I explained before, the hunger games themselves served two purposes: one, to entertain (the people entertained were mostly residents of the Capitol), and, two, to serve as a constant reminder of the uprising that caused the dire living conditions and complete destruction of the former 13th district. Two volunteers, a boy and girl, between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected from each district to fight to the death in a controlled arena until there is only one survivor. In order to triumph in the games, you must have trained well and have sponsors. These sponsors can provide you with food, water and even medicine if you’ve fallen ill or gotten injured during the competition.

Primerose Everdeen was originally picked as tribute for the games, but her older sister, Katniss, volunteered to take her sister’s place. At 16, Katniss has assumed a matriarchal role in her family. The Everdeens live in District 12, which is a coal-mining district. Katiniss’ father, a coalminer, died in a mine explosion when she was young, an event that was very hard on her mother. She fell into a deep depression and became unable to care for Katniss and Prim.

Katniss decided to go into the wealthier parts of town to gather scraps so the family would not starve to death. This is where she begins her connection with Peeta. The Mallarks own a bakery, and when Katniss was caught picking from the trash, *possible spoiler* Peeta burned two loaves of bread intentionally, knowing they’d be thrown out. After being told to give them to the pigs, he managed to get them to Katniss. Since that day, she has felt indebted to the boy who took a beating to feed her.

It is because of her starving family that she begins to hunt, which is where she acquires her great skill with a bow. Katniss and her friend, Gale Hawthorne, regularly sneak outside city limits to hunt and gather plants to feed both of their families.

The Capitol may be the wealthiest part of Panem, but some of the districts are better off than others. There are also some districts that are proud of the games and train their whole lives to be a part of them. These groomed participants are referred to as “career tributes.” These individuals are in top physical condition, have vast survival and weapon training, and are powerful forces to be reckoned with.

How does Katniss and Peeta compare to these tributes? While she is extremely skilled in archery and he is very strong from handling large, heavy bags of flour, these tributes are still at a disadvantage and come from a poverty-stricken district that, along with the majority of the districts, fear the games, instead of celebrate them. To find out who really overcomes the obstacles and wins, you’ll have to either read or watch the movie. In my opinion, the book was much more enjoyable, but you can be the judge of that.

Book vs. Movie: A Clockwork Orange

You guys couldn’t get enough of me, eh? Just kidding—I’m already annoying myself. Once a week I’ll be bringing you the gnarliest knockdown, drag-out fights between books and their adapted movies. Which director created an EPIC FAIL instead of a film?

Which writer was totally shown-up by his own work? This week, it’s Burgess v. Kubrick, and it’s gonna get ugly! P.S. Spoilers ahead.

Basically, to love me is to love A Clockwork Orange. I consider the 1962 novella and its 1972 adaptation to be both my favorite book and favorite film. The way Anthony Burgess writes, with his strange made-up language Nadsat, a Russian-influenced version of English, is both captivating and perplexing. Even more so, Stanley Kubrick’s translations of the written word into visuals have become iconic, and is revered by film buffs the world over. And that’s not even getting into the music. The synthesized version of the Funeral March of Queen Mary II is playing in my head as I write this. No, really. You should just go listen to the whole soundtrack on YouTube right now. I’ll wait.

Both versions of A Clockwork Orange start at the Korova Milk Bar, where we are introduced to our main character and humble narrator, Alex DeLarge. A teenage delinquent in dystopian London, Alex and his three comrades—referred to as “droogs”—terrorize the city and its inhabitants by beating, raping, stealing, and murdering. While Kubrick’s adaptation closely follows the novella, even using entire chunks of text as Alex’s voiceover in the film, many key points are completely left out. And this, my dear readers, is why I’m bringing you the final smack down. LET’S GET READY TO RUMMMMBLEEEEEEEE.

 

  • In the movie, we see Alex meet two mature teenage girls in a record store. He takes them back to his apartment and the three seemingly have teasing consensual sex with him. However, in the novel, Alex meets two ten year old girls at the record store, takes them home, gets them incredibly drunk on scotch, gives himself an injection of an unnamed drug, and rapes and beats both of them. Though Kubrick surely toned it down to avoid mass disapproval, Burgess describes the scene in his book so well that it neither shows what Alex did nor is it flat-out said. Alex’s actions are hinted at so subtly that they do not jolt the reader, but it does the job of showing us exactly how sociopathic and soulless Alex actually is. Because of this omission and the fact that Alex’s true terribleness is not wholly defined elsewhere, his turn to goodness is not as effective as it could be. +1 Burgess

  • And on the point of goodness, that brings me to a completely different issue: the omitted chapter in the American version of the book. When Burgess’s novella was published in the United States, his New York publisher scraped the last chapter, which obviously changed the ending and tone of the book dramatically. Kubrick chose to follow the American version and also leave out the last chapter, so that the end of the film hints at Alex being incurable and returning to his old ways. In fact, in the book we do see Alex return to his old ways. He begins a new gang, and one night while taking a rest from causing havoc with his new droogs, he realizes that he’s just not into it anymore. He’s grown out of it. He sees himself settling down and starting a family. He runs into one of his old droogs, Georgie, who has also outgrown the mischief and is settling down with a nice young woman. I feel that both endings are strong in their own right. While Kubrick’s is punchier and thought provoking, Burgess crafts a more complete ending that leaves little to be questioned. Either way, the final chapter is worth reading, wherever your loyalties lie. +1 Burgess

  • In both the book and the movie, Alex is sent to prison after he kills an old woman in her house and is caught by the police thanks to his droogs’ betrayal. Burgess portrays the old woman as the typical cat lady living in an old, Victorian-esque home. It’s not incredibly interesting, and Alex kills her by symbolically beating her with a Beethoven bust. In the film, Kubrick’s old lady is a yoga-loving cat lady with multitudes of sexual art decorating her home, and Alex kills her by bashing in her head with a giant penis sculpture. By not following the book in this particular scene, Kubrick added a layer of meaning for the representation of gender within both works. Plus, I love any old lady who has a giant penis sculpture in her house. +1 Kubrick

 

So, there you have it! Burgess is our winner. Though he did once say that he wished the movie had never been made and that he had never written the book. So, I guess out of respect for the winner, no one wins? Stay tuned for next week’s book vs. movie!

The Toast | Scratch My Back

The other day at work, my coworker and I began talking about music and some of the best concerts we’ve been to. I said Springsteen and he said Peter Gabriel. I immediately told him how jealous I was and asked when he thought Gabriel would put out ano

ther record. Apparently, this was a silly question.

In 2010, Peter Gabriel put out a record called Scratch My Back and it slipped past me. My coworker told me to put my headphones on and turn up the volume. I love getting suggestions for music, especially when it’s an artist I really enjoy, so I was really looking forward to listening to this record.

Before I get into it any further, let me give you a little background on this album, because it’s a really cool concept. According to Billboard.com article, Gabriel picked songs to cover by artists that would later cover songs of his on album to be titled I’ll Scratch Yours, but some of the artists choose not to participate. Some of my favorite tracks he covered are originally by David Bowie, Bon Iver, and The Magnetic Fields. The other artists on the album include Regina Spektor, Neil Young, Radiohead, Lou Reed, The Arcade Fire, Paul Simon, Elbow, The Talking Heads and Randy Newman. Did I mention he’s backed The London Scratch Orchestra?

“Heroes” is originally a Bowie song, but even with the theatrics of Ziggy Stardust, it couldn’t compare with Gabriel’s interpretation. The tension you feel throughout the song with a building crescendo can only be described so much with words. The climax of the track comes with violins, big booming drums and Gabriel singing his heart out. It was a great start to this record.

“Flume”, originally by Bon Iver, is one of the newer songs that Gabriel covers. Bon Iver returned the favor by covering “Come Talk to Me” in March of 2010. What was originally an acoustic song morphed into an epic production with Gabriel’s reconstruction. What I liked best was how calm it felt was throughout most of the song, but as soon the chorus comes in, the track gets a lot bigger and dramatic.

Hands down, my favorite track is “The Book of Love,” which you may recognize from the television show “Scrubs.” The Magnetic Fields singer, Stephin Merritt, is also fan of the cover. Merritt said in a 2010 New York Times article, “At first, I thought, ‘How hilarious, he’s got a completely different take on the song . . .but after a few listens, I find it quite sweet. My version of the song focuses on the humor, and his focuses on the pathos. Of course, if I could sing like him, I wouldn’t have to be a humorist.” I couldn’t agree more with Merritt. When I listened to the original, while enjoyable, I feel like it lacked the passion that Gabriel puts in. His rendition moved me so much that I decided to incorporate it into my wedding. The song also includes Melanie Gabriel, his daughter.

While this is by no means a new album, I suggest to you, as my coworker did to me, to put on some headphones, turn up the volume and let the music take over.

The Toast | The Hunger Games

When it comes to popular books and the movies that are made based on them, I always seem late to the party. I read and saw “Twilight” the last week it was in theaters (the sequel was already in the works), I never even tried with “Harry Potter,” and

most recently, “The Hunger Games.” I refused to see the movie until I read the book. I put that off for a while and missed out on the chance to see the movie in theaters.

Now that it has come out on DVD, and I have now read the book, I finally watched it. If you’re also tardy to the party, “The Hunger Games” is a movie based off the popular series by Suzanne Collins. It takes place in the future, where cell phones, Facebook and iPads don’t exist. Panem was formed from a post-war North America and is a mostly poverty stricken nation, with the exception of the Capitol. So, what does a poor nation do for entertainment? Send 24 children to fight to the death for the honor of the districts. The hunger games are part for entertainment (it’s televised) and part for punishment for rebellion against the capital. It is an annual event in Panem and this is its 74th year.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has previously experienced the agony and anxiety of the selection day, better know as The Reaping, and now it’s her sister, Primrose,’s first Reaping. Katniss assures her little sister that her name is only in the lottery drawing once, and she will not be picked. Katniss has assumed the role of the matriarch of the family after the loss of her father. Her mother is around, but she’s more like a zombie than anything.

To the shock of the Everdeen girls, Primrose is selected as tribute for District 12. Katniss wastes no time in volunteering herself in place of her sister. Her competitor, and fellow tribute, is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who shares a history with Katinss.

The two tributes are shipped off to the Capitol, accompanied by Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and their mentor, and past winner of the games, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), who will assist in training for the games.

When the two tributes arrive at he Capitol, they’re put on display for all to see before they enter the arena. Some of the supporting characters were much more enjoyable than the players themselves. Flamboyant host, Caesar Flickerman (Stanely Tucci), was an enjoyable character to watch as he played interviewer to the players prior to the game and commentator as the games were on going. Another favorite of mine was the stylist of Katniss, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). He showed some compassion and humanity to Katniss, and they quickly became friends.

It’s hard to get further into the movie without giving too much away. They enter into the arena and start the games from here. For a movie about murder, it was not very graphic, but the script was well written and the cast was excellent. Donald Sutherland even makes an appearance in the movie.

While the movie followed the plot of the book very closely, there were differences. Some parts of the book were not included, there were some new scenes in the movie and some things were only vaguely explained. Overall, it was an entertaining movie and well worth a watch.

The Toast | The Mechanism

The Mechanism, by Ryan Loukat, tells the story about Leiza Clearwater. After a very long and bad day at work, she comes home to find a man sleeping in a chair her front room. This is not that abnormal, except that she lives alone with her so

n. The mysterious man who has broken into her house turns out to be her ex-husband, Holn.

Holn tells his angry ex that he simply wanted to see their son, Sam. Holn asks if he can wait for their son to wake up. She agrees to let him, but tells him that he has to wait outside. She will soon regret her decision to let him stay. The next day, as she’s getting ready to start her day, she goes to wake up Sam and finds him missing. Immediately assuming her ex has something to do with this, she snaps into action and begins the search for her son.

While searching, she runs into a mysterious stranger who says that he can help her in her quest, for a price. This shady man turns out to be bounty hunter named Red Drem. She is hesitant at first to accept his help, but when he says he knows where Holn and Sam are, she can’t refuse.

Drem leads them to a train station and onto a train of Troads. The two of them do not have money for this train, and Troads are not so fond of stowaways, but the two somehow manage to sneak their way through the cars when suddenly, Leiza and Drem have an unwelcome reunion with Leiza’s Uncle Hector.

Hector is not too high up on Leiza’s list, mostly because she blames him for Holn’s initial abandonment because he offered Holn a job that he could not refuse. She is weary of Hector’s reasoning for being on that train (Holn supposedly abandoned his job with Hector and now he’s looking for his AWOL employee). Little does Leiza know, she’s about to hav an un-welcomed reunion with her ex.

Holn manages to catch up to Drem and Leiza and tells them to stop following him while keeping them at gunpoint. To add fuel to the fire, Hector shows up to the party with a gun of his own. Suddenly, Leiza sees Sam in the background and manages to the maneuver the weapons from the men and gain control. Or so she thinks.

The whole group is startled by a huge krax. What is a krax you ask? It is a rather large and scary crocodile, but this isn’t your ordinary croc. To start, he can walk on two feet. He also has a bomb. This may be the last time Leiza will ever see her son. Or is it?

This story is jam packed with action, fantasy and drama. So what if monsters aren’t real, it’s fun getting wrapped up in a story that’s full of them. This is not typically a genre I would usually read, but I was pleasantly surprised after stepping out of my comfort zone. Looking to step out of yours? Look no further than Ryan Loukat’s fantasy world of The Mechanism.

 

Read it here for yourself!