1) The Spirit has reminded me why I never go to the theater. Ten dollars for that?
Neil Gaiman posits that The Spirit fails because it strays too far from the original comics Will Eisner wrote. But I've never read anything by Eisner, and it failed for me, too. One thing it definitely suffers from is completely misleading advertising (which Gaiman also talked about, but in relation to Coraline, a few days ago). The previews made The Spirit out to be dramatic but serious and at least a little bit epic. The actual film is more like a mediocre surrealist comedy -- something I would never pay theater prices to see.
It was funny in places, but not half as clever as it obviously believed it was. ("The shiny thing to end all shiny things"? Is this, like, a Mel Brooks superhero film, or what? 'Cause, um, you kind of can't do both. The dramatic hero-silhouetted-against-a-blood-red-sky scenes do not mesh well with the LOL HITLER AND DENTISTRY ARE HILARIOUS scenes.) And most of the narration just came off like bad internal-monologue fanfic. (Miller, I know you are a better writer than this. WTF happened?)
I mean, Samuel L. Jackson and the dude who played Spirit both did a pretty damn good job, considering the script they had to work with, but they couldn't save the film. Overkill on special effects, serious overkill on slapstick, and... no plot at all? What can you even do with that?
2) I'm a bit over 300 pages into War and Peace. I was worried that it would be slow reading, and 1400 pages of it, at that -- but it's actually surprisingly fast-paced; more so than a lot of other authors of the period, anyway. My only difficulty with the book so far is in keeping track of its superabundance of characters. Russian authors seem to always bloody do this, introducing dozens of characters at a time, and then happily referring to each one variously by his surname, given name and patronymic, numerous diminutives and nicknames (some French, in this case), and his titles, and expecting the reader to remember to whom they all apply!
So Andrei, for instance, is also "Andrushka," "Andrei Nikolaevich," "the prince," and "Bolkonsky." Pierre is "Pyotr" and "Petya" and "Count Bezuhov" and "the count." And since nearly every character in the book is either a count or a prince (or a countess or a princess), things get a little confusing.
Literally, Tolstoy had introduced fully twenty-three characters within the firsty fifty pages of the book. I think he must be up to forty or fifty by now. And their relationships are all so intertangled, and getting worse by the moment with marriages and inheritances and so forth... I'll be lucky to keep track of half of them by the time the book is over.
Though, then again, I managed all right with One Hundred Years of Solitude, and all Marquez's characters had the same names. So we'll see.
Oddly, War and Peace is also having the unexpected side-effect of making me really excited about Napoleon. For the first few pages, I thought, "How interesting... I think this will be the first book I've ever read to take an unfavorable view of Napoleon." But no, of course not -- half the characters are turning out to be in love with Napoleon! They want to defeat him, sure, but they're still in love with him. Apparently the charms of the Emperor are simply irresistible.
And somehow, in spite of being aware that what I'm reading is 140-year-old fiction about a war that took place fully two centuries ago, I still find myself gripping the pages whenever someone starts talking about Napoleon -- and especially when, for brief moments, he actually appears in the narrative. "OH MY GOD IT'S NAPOLEON LOOK HE'S RIGHT THERE. ON THIS VERY PAGE." Yeah.
It's rather amazing to step back and realize that it's all just words on a page. While I was reading, I stopped for a moment just to look at Napoleon's name: eight letters, each one alone significant of nothing but a syllable of sound -- and yet, together, the shape of them, Napoleon, significant of so many images and events and ideas. It is really wonderful how the brain can connect these symbols so inseparably with their meanings, so that the actual shape of the letters spelled out in that particular order really do seem to represent and even describe the man, and conjure up images of tricolor banners and sashes, blue uniforms with white breeches, tricorns and riding boots, a white hand thrust between the undone buttons of a general's coat. If you look long enough at it, Napoloen in black print, the name dissolves into empty symbols, the disordered pieces of an alphabet. But at a glance, one really does seem to read a whole era in that word.
Either that, or I am just a bit insane and obsessive. Which is... not entirely out of the question.
(ETA: And now we've reached the point where Andrei is realizing the relative pettiness of Napoleon, after all. Which, yes, that also. In fact there are many pettier things about Napoleon than those Andrei knows; he was very, very fallibly human, after all, even if the public did not see much of it. But apparently for Tolstoy's purposes it still takes comparing him against the infinite, against death, against God and eternity and the whole expanse of the heavens, to diminish Napoleon. Interestingly, it works, stylistically... but I'm not sure that, from an objective standpoint, it makes any difference.)
3) I guess this post would be the place to tell me what books I should buy with my gift cards. ;) Of course, I've already got a list; foremost among the books I'm planning to buy are Copenhagen, A Song of Ice and Fire (at least the first book), Stoppard's Jumpers and The Coast of Utopia, The Screwtape Letters... something by Jorge Luis Borges, if I can bloody find anything... possibly The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde... maybe Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell? I've heard mixed reviews of that one... But anyway, I'm shopping at Bookman's, where everything is used and cheap, so if I have any money left over, I'll want to know what I should spend it on. And it's always nice to have options! :)