Media Inventory: What I Watched and Read in 2006

SHARE
80014058_7106478e48_b

I love the end of the year! I love lists and best-ofs and recaps. So in that spirit, in 2004 I started keeping a daily log of what I watched and read, the better to facilitate a late-December summary of my media-consumption habits.

As I said in 2004 and 2005, it’s entirely possible that all this stuff is of interest only to me. Feel free to skip this article altogether; I will not be offended. Otherwise, join me now as I stumble bleary-eyed down 2006’s memory lane.

MOVIES

I made a goal in 2004 to watch as many movies as there are days in the year. (That’s 365 usually, although 2004 had an extra day thrown in randomly, nobody knows why.) This year I accomplished that goal without even breaking a sweat. The first half of the year was so front-loaded with movies — 222 by the end of June (181 days) — that in the second half I averaged only 26 a month (less than one a day) and still made the goal easily.

I hit the 365 mark on Dec. 13 (“We Are Marshall”). By year’s end, I had 374.

The Sundance Film Festival always fills January with movies (52 for January 2006), and the CineVegas Film Festival loads up June (33 this year). But I added two new festivals to my roster in 2006: the Portland International Film Festival in February, and South By Southwest in March. The latter helped make March my second-busiest month, with 43 movies in 30 days.

I watched the fewest movies in October and November, with 24 apiece, and then December, with just 22. I can’t determine any particular reason for this, other than some visits home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, during which time I didn’t see many movies, what with the family togetherness and all.

I took a few film classes at Portland State University in the early part of the year. One was useless, but two were fascinating, and gave me the opportunity to see films I’d never seen before.

Gangster Movies and Musicals addressed those two seemingly unrelated genres, and the instructor readily admitted they had been lumped together for the sole reason that she likes them both. (They do have something in common, though. Everyone knows the first “talkie” was a musical, Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer.” What most people don’t realize, however, is that it only had a few scenes with sound; the rest were silent. So what was the first all-sound feature film? “Lights of New York” — a gangster movie.)

Strangely, the one movie you’d assume we’d watch — “Guys and Dolls,” which is both a musical AND a gangster movie — was not on the agenda. We did, however, see “Love Me or Leave Me,” a biopic starring Doris Day and James Cagney. It’s a musical (Day plays an up-and-coming young songstress) and a gangster film (Cagney plays her boyfriend, who has shady underworld connections), and while it’s not a great movie, it is interesting for having elements of both genres.

The other good class I took was World Cinema, which overcame its broad-sounding title by focusing specifically on foreign films with political or social overtones. Lots of foreign films are on benign subjects like love affairs and circus clowns; we ignored those and examined films like “The Battle of Algiers” (the French occupation of Algeria), “Hyenas” (a comedy about the Westernization of Senegal), “Joint Security Area” (set on the border between North and South Korea), and “Paradise Now” (a 2005 Oscar nominee told from the point of view of a Muslim terrorist). I had seen plenty of foreign films before, of course, but it was stimulating to watch them and then discuss the context in which they were made, learning more about foreign politics in the process.

Since I’m a fan of numbers, the quantity of movies is important to me, but of course the quality is essential, too. Most of my movie-watching is somewhat rote: I go to a theater, sit in the taped-off section with the other critics, watch the film, write a review. You do that a couple hundred times over the course of a year and while the movies may often be excellent, the movie-going experience is often nothing special. So the unusual or memorable visits to the cinema are especially prized.

Most of my film festival experiences qualify, since they’re in unfamiliar venues and I’m often sitting with friends I only get to see at the festivals. (Film festivals are like summer camp for movie critics.) South By Southwest was an astonishingly fun week for me, seeing old friends, making new ones, and setting a new record for myself: On March 13, I watched six movies in one day.

When the remake of “The Omen” came out in June, my critic pals Dawn Taylor and Mike Russell and I first gathered at Dawn’s house to watch the original, which I had never seen and which they had not seen in some time. (Turns out we weren’t the only ones doing homework before the remake appeared: I had to go to six Blockbusters or Hollywoods before I found it in stock.) The movie wasn’t very good (and neither was the remake), but we had a fine time watching it and eating O-shaped snacks (M&Ms, Oreos, etc.).

Dawn and her husband, Patrick, were on hand a few months later, when “Snakes on a Plane” opened. There were no advance screenings for press, so we attended the first public screening: at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night. I’m not usually a fan of loud, vocal audiences, but “Snakes on a Plane” seemed to warrant the high spirits that were in evidence. The best part was early in the film, when a stewardess tries to calm a nervous little boy, flying alone for the first time, by telling him there’s a famous rapper on board. “You know who’s on the plane?” she said, and fully two-thirds of the audience yelled back: “SNAKES!” Awesome.

The CineVegas Film Festival had a tribute to Sylvester Stallone that included a screening of “Rocky.” I’d seen the film as recently as eight months earlier, but I’d never seen it on the big screen. I was sitting with my pal Erik Childress, of eFilmCritic.com, and we were both in tears at the end. Erik’s two friends, also sitting with us, were unmoved. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE DEAD INSIDE.

Speaking of old movies on the big screen, Portland’s fabulous old arthouse Cinema 21 showed “Mary Poppins” for a week in November. But it wasn’t just any old print of “Mary Poppins”: It was the sing-along edition, with the lyrics subtitled so the audience can join in. My friend Luscious Malone and I attended one night, surrounded by couples and families and children, and we all had a jolly holiday indeed. (“Mary Poppins” is really a great film anyway. Whenever people ask me to name my favorite movies of all time, it’s among the first to come to mind.)

Portland’s Hollywood Theatre, another fine old arthouse, showed Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven” in July. This is significant because it was a newly restored print, and the thing the film is most famous for is its gorgeous cinematography. Nearly every scene was shot at the “magic hour,” the time between dusk and darkness when everything looks ethereal, and this spiffed-up print had it looking as magical as ever. I had never seen the film at all, and I suspect seeing it on DVD would yield a much less splendid experience.

On the small screen, Turner Classic Movies continues to be THE best source for films on all of cable. They show them unedited, uninterrupted, and (where applicable) in their original widescreen formats. Among the fine films I saw for the first time on TCM this year: “The Conversation,” “Miller’s Crossing,” “Hoosiers” (I know! I can’t believe I’d never seen it, either!), “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “Pink Flamingos” and “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” The latter is surely one of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen, both thematically and aesthetically. I would love to see it on the big screen.

(“Pink Flamingos,” on the other hand, earns its reputation for being lewd and repugnant, though most of the grimy stunts they pull — save the legendary scene in which a transvestite eats actual dog poop from an actual dog — have been surpassed by more recent films. What I did not expect, however, was that the film would have so many long, dull stretches where nothing happens. It is not a good movie. It’s not even very good at being a bad movie.)

Here are the 374 movies I watched this year. This is just the list of EVERYTHING; for the best and worst and other review-related details, read “The Best and Worst Movies of 2006.”

2006 releases that I saw and reviewed:
The list is here if you want to see every single film I actually reviewed this year. (Some of them were technically 2005 releases that didn’t open locally until 2006, hence the 2006 release dates.)

2006 releases that I saw but for some reason did not review:
“5 Up 2 Down” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“13 Tzameti” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“Apart from That” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“Danika” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“Full Grown Men” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“Garcon Stupide”
“G.I. Jesus” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael” (SXSW Film Festival)
“Heading South”
“House of Sand”
“Innocence” (Portland International Film Festival)
“The Lost” (SXSW Film Festival)
“Manderlay” (Portland International Film Festival)
“Mary” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“Park” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“Poster Boy”
“Skin City” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“Small Town Gay Bar”
“Thanks to Gravity” (CineVegas Film Festival)
“Wild Tigers I Have Known” (CineVegas Film Festival)

2006 releases that I watched twice:
“Little Miss Sunshine”
“Mountain Patrol: Kekexili”

Pre-2006 releases that I had seen before, and reviewed, that I re-watched this year:
“Breakfast on Pluto”
“Bring It On”
“City of God”
“The Hours”
“The Motorcycle Diaries”
“Road to Perdition”
“Zoolander”

Pre-2006 releases that I had seen before but did not review, that I re-watched this year:
“The Atomic Brain” (on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”)
“Mary Poppins”
“Rocky”

Movies from various years that I saw for the first time and reviewed for DVD Talk:
“Bill’s Gun Shop”
“Bottoms Up”
“Dorian Blues”
“Down to the Bone”
“Fatwa”
“The Miracle Match” (aka “The Game of Their Lives”)
“Mother and Son”
“My Brother’s War”
“The Next Step”
“Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus”
“Sin Destino”
“The Thing Called Love”
“Three Wise Guys”
“Waterborne”
“Who Made the Potatoe Salad?”

Pre-2006 releases that I saw for the first time this year:
“Army of Shadows”
“The Battle of Algiers”
“The Bicycle Thief”
“The Conversation”
“Days of Heaven”
“Dim Sum”
“Double Indemnity”
“Family Plot”
“Hoosiers”
“Hyenas”
“Joint Security Area” (twice)
“Little Caesar”
“Love Me or Leave Me”
“The Magnificent Ambersons”
“Maurice”
“Miller’s Crossing”
“The New World”
“The Omen” (1976)
“Paradise Now”
“Pink Flamingos”
“Scarface” (1931)
“Swing Time”
“Tank Girl”
“That’s Entertainment!”
“Thelma & Louise”
“To Catch a Thief”
“Top Hat”
“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”

TELEVISION

I watched a total of 457 hours of TV in 2006, down from 539 hours last year and 767 hours (!!) in 2004. That’s an average of an hour and 15 minutes a day — which is amazing to me, because I always feel like I’m watching a TON of television, and 1.22 hours a day is way below the national average. (Even when it was 767 hours, that was still only 2.1 hours a day, which is still less than many households.) And considering I watch everything on TiVo and skip the commercials, that means I watched those 457 hours of programming in only 342 hours — or 56 minutes a day.

Boo-ya! My resolution for 2007 is to watch more TV. I want to get back up to those 2004 levels.

The month with the most TV-watching, predictably, was May: 67 hours’ worth, with all those delicious season finales. The lowest month, also predictably, was August, with 20 hours. Almost everything is in reruns, the new movies in theaters usually suck, it’s too hot — except for containing my birthday, August is pretty much worthless.

Shows I watched regularly (more than six episodes):

“24”
“30 Rock”
“Alias” (until its end)
“Arrested Development” (until its untimely demise)
“Campus Ladies”
“Deadwood”
“Family Guy”
“Friday Night Lights”
“Harvey Birdman”
“Help Me Help You”
“Heroes”
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”
“Jeopardy”
“Law & Order”
“Law & Order: SVU”
“The Loop”
“Lost”
“Lovespring International”
“Malcolm in the Middle” (until it ended)
“Meerkat Manor” (first season only; 12 episodes was enough to meet my meerkat needs, apparently)
“My Name Is Earl” (for a while; then I kind of quit watching it)
“The Office”
“Prison Break” (through the third or fourth episode of the new season; then I lost interest)
“Reno 911” (stopped sometime during the most recent season upon realizing every episode was starting to feel the same as every other episode)
“Saturday Night Live”
“Scrubs”
“The Shield”
“The Simpsons”
“The Sopranos”
“South Park”
“Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip”
“Supernatural”
“Veronica Mars”
“Will & Grace” (until its overdue demise)
“Wonder Showzen”

There were another couple dozen shows that I watched once or twice, plus some older series that I perused on DVD while writing DVD reviews. (Despite what you may remember, “The Jeffersons” is NOT funny.) Nothing worth mentioning, though.

My favorite shows in 2006:

1. “Arrested Development” (Fox): I know Fox held onto it as long as they could, and I know the series never got huge ratings. But the fact remains, it’s the funniest, cleverest, most deeply layered comedy series IN THE HISTORY OF TELEVISION. Thank goodness for the DVDs.

2. “The Office” (NBC): With “Arrested Development” sadly gone, “The Office” steps in as the funniest show currently on television. Like everyone who saw the British version, I was skeptical in the beginning, and the first few episodes made me fear it was a one-trick pony that would be hobbled soon. Yet somehow the show has gotten better and better, with the current season topping itself week after week.

3. “Heroes” (NBC): Tantalizing mysteries, satisfying answers that bring new questions, surprise twists, endearing characters, action, humor, romance — I wish I were talking about “Lost,” but no, I’m talking about “Heroes,” the show that realizes the potential that “Lost” once had. I am giddy with delight each week as the everyday superheroes discover their powers, try to understand them, and seek to thwart evil.

4. “24” (Fox): The only reason you are still conscious is that Jack Bauer does not want to carry you.

5. “The Shield” (FX): This year’s series of renegade cop Vic Mackey’s adventures was as good as any since the show began. Forest Whitaker was riveting as a detective investigating Mackey, and the last couple episodes — in which Mackey’s own crew started to turn against itself — were haunting.

6. “Deadwood” (HBO): HBO unceremoniously canceled this brilliant series before this last season even aired — but after it had been filmed, thus preventing mastermind David Milch from concluding the story. (We’re allegedly getting a few two-hour movies to wrap things up, but heaven knows when.) It’s a shame, because the dialogue on this Old West series, vulgarisms and all, is as finely tuned and expertly delivered as you’d find in a Shakespearean troupe. And the episode where Dan beat a guy to death was AWESOME.

7. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (FX): There was no need to add Danny DeVito to the cast as the father of two of the characters — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — but he didn’t hurt things any. The quartet of young, good-looking hedonistic bastards (think “Seinfeld” meets “Friends”) continue to amuse with their nothing-is-sacred shenanigans and bottomless selfishness. Some of this year’s plots: Charlie pretends to be in a wheelchair; Dennis and Dee go on welfare; and Mac sleeps with Dennis’ mom. Caustically hilarious, every time.

8. “Scrubs” (NBC): Still as loopy, random, and funny as ever. Why don’t more people watch this show? Maybe it’s an acquired taste. Never mind how much you want to punch Zach Braff normally. You’ll like him on “Scrubs.”

9. “Veronica Mars” (UPN/CW): Season 3 has been not quite as stellar as its predecessors, but it’s still a solid show. And the first half of 2006 was still Season 2, which was fantastic. It continues to be a smart, “Buffy”-esque drama with gumshoe mysteries and teen angst all rolled into one.

10. “30 Rock” (NBC): Tina Fey has always made me laugh, but the real standout in this sitcom set behind the scenes at a “Saturday Night Live”-type comedy show is Alec Baldwin as the gruff, clueless network executive. Everything that falls out of his mouth is golden.

BOOKS

I read about two books a month on average. I enjoy almost everything I read, simply because if a book isn’t doing it for me within 50 pages, it gets the heave-ho and I try something else. Here’s what I read this year, with books that are particularly recommended asterisked.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

** “Away Laughing on a Fast Camel,” by Louise Rennison. I do not care if this series of books is about a 14-year-old girl and is intended for that audience. Rennison’s style of writing is unbelievably funny and clever, and the Georgia Nicolson books (of which this is the fifth one) are great breezy fun.

“Then He Ate My Boy Entrancers,” by Louise Rennison. Part six in the ongoing tales of British tweener Georgia Nicolson. For real, this stuff makes me LOL.

“Twilight,” by Stephenie Meyer. A young adult vampire novel, thus making two vampire novels for me this year. That is about two more than usual, I think. This one is from the perspective of a teenage girl who falls in love with a boy who turns out to be a bloodsucker. The chapters dwelling on the moony teen romance didn’t do much for me, but the rest of the book — especially the breathless finale — was riveting.

** “King Dork,” by Frank Portman. Tenth grader Tom Henderson is a misfit and an outcast, forever coming up with band names for his would-be rock group (starring him and his one friend) and trying to stay under the bullies’ radar. He finds his dead father’s copy of “Catcher in the Rye” in the basement, and some notes scribbled in it send him on a search for clues about his old man’s life. The novel is hilariously written from Tom’s point of view, with trenchant observations about high school, rock ‘n’ roll and life in general. One of my favorite funny books of the year.

** “Fablehaven,” by Brandon Mull. With J.K. Rowling about to wrap up her Harry Potter series, the world needs a strong new children’s fantasy series, and I believe “Fablehaven” has every right to be it. Set on a Connecticut preserve for “whimsical creatures” (fairies and brownies, as well as less peaceful beasts), the first book in the series has two children, a brother and sister, visiting their grandparents, who are caretakers of this magical land. Naturally, there is trouble. Mull creates an exciting, imaginative new world, and writes with wit and intelligence. (For once the kids actually talk and act like KIDS.) It’s a few pages before the magic kicks in, but once it does, it’s a fantastic and thrilling read.

CONTEMPORARY ADULT FICTION

“The Historian,” by Elizabeth Kostova. This vampire novel was all the rave at the end of last year, and while I found much of it enjoyable, it has an anticlimactic ending, especially considering how many hundreds of pages one must read to get there.

“Long Way Down,” by Nick Hornby. The “About a Boy” author’s latest is about four strangers who meet on New Year’s Eve on the roof of a building known as a popular suicide spot — which is exactly what they were doing up there, only instead they talk each other out of it, sort of, and become this strange confederation of friends. Like all of Hornby’s work, it’s funny and melancholy simultaneously, a real spirit-lifting pleasure.

** “Flicker,” by Theodore Roszak. Here is a big, thick mystery for serious lovers of film, about a man who comes to realize that the works of an obscure B-movie director named Max Castle contain subliminal messages and are part of a larger conspiracy. The fictional Max Castle is folded into real-life film history (he’s said to have assisted Orson Welles on “Citizen Kane,” etc.), and the smartly written, deep-thinking novel demonstrates a genuine passion for the production and viewing of movies.

** “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I hate Jonathan Safran Foer for being a successful novelist who is younger and a handsomer than me, but I sure enjoyed this, his second book, about a pleasantly strange 9-year-old boy in search of clues regarding his father’s death on 9/11. It’s a witty, poignant story about loss and sadness, and Foer does an amazing job conveying the voice of this precocious kid.

“The Brief History of the Dead,” by Kevin Brockmeier. The genius of a good book is in the intangibles, the deft turn of a phrase, the subtle but powerful command of the language. That’s what this intriguing, contemplative novel has going for it, along with a fantastic premise. The chapters alternate between two locations. One is the “city of the dead,” where everyone goes after they die to dwell for a time before finally moving on … to where, no one knows. The other locale is Antarctica, where a woman is on a research expedition and has thus missed out on the virus that has wiped out most of the world’s population. It’s a sweet, sometimes comical book about life and death and important stuff like that.

“Thanksgiving Night,” by Richard Bausch. This is a wonderfully written, marvelously redemptive piece of fiction about several characters in a small Virginia town whose lives intersect in the weeks before Thanksgiving. A married couple find their relationship in trouble; an elderly priest wonders if he’s right for the priesthood; two old ladies argue over the house they share; the man they’ve hired to do some work on it faces his own demons, and his grown-up daughter, a single mom, tentatively embarks on a new relationship. All of these people are looking for love and acceptance, and it’s quite lovely — not to mention sparklingly entertaining — to read.

MORE “CLASSIC” ADULT FICTION

** “A Confederacy of Dunces,” by John Kennedy Toole. Onto the short list of books I love the most jumps this hysterical masterpiece about a pretentious, over-educated, under-employed, lazy, hypocritical, pontificating, obese New Orleans man named Ignatius J. Reilly. He lives with his mother, avoids work at all costs, goes to movies just to be offended by the sleazy they contain, and is forever complaining about fictitious physical ailments. Toole paints a variety of memorable Louisiana characters whose paths cross Ignatius’, but none are as delightfully loathsome as the great fathead himself.

“The Great Gatsby,” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of those classic 20th century novels that everyone is supposed to have read; I finally got around to it this summer. It’s a smoothly written, deeply felt story about wealth and decadence in the 1920s, but rather than add to the pile of things that have been said about it in the 81 years since it was first published, I’ll just say that I agree with them and encourage you to read it.

MURDER MYSTERIES THAT ARE MUCH MORE THAN THAT

** “Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” by Marisha Pessl. The last book I read in 2006 is also just about the best. Part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, every page of “Special Topics” is a delight. Read my recent blog entry on it so I don’t have to reprint it here.

“Don’t I Know You?,” by Karen Shepard. This is an astutely written mystery centered on a woman’s death in New York in 1976. Part 1 has the victim’s young son as its protagonist; part 2 is set a year later, focusing on a schoolteacher whose fiance may have been involved with the victim; part 3 is 10 years later, as an old woman starts to wonder if her simple-minded son knows more about the murder than he said at the time. The mystery is eventually solved, satisfyingly, but more interesting is the way Shepard gets into the heads of her characters.

“The Cameraman,” by Bill Gaston. I’m pretty sure this is the first Canadian novel I’ve ever read. It’s the story of a cameraman who has worked for decades with a peculiar, idiosyncratic director who is now on trial for murder — a murder the cameraman may have filmed. The book isn’t a murder mystery, though; it’s about using film as an artistic expression, and about how people’s natural instincts aren’t that different from those of animals.

** “Slipping into Darkness,” by Peter Blauner. A girl is murdered in exactly the same manner as a girl killed 20 years ago — right after the man locked up for the first murder is released on a technicality. Does the second murder prove he must have done the first one? Or is he innocent altogether? Blauner alternates chapters, one from the point of view of the ex-con, the next inside the mind of the aging police detective who put him away 20 years ago and is pursuing him again now. What’s amazing is how real both characters feel, how thoroughly Blauner gets into their psyches. It’s a completely satisfying mystery that rises above the level of an ordinary whodunit.

NONFICTION

** “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer,” by James L. Swanson. This non-fiction account of Lincoln’s assassination and the subsequent pursuit of John Wilkes Booth is so well-researched and so craftily told that you’d think you were reading a novel. And yet it’s all true, with no speculative fiction involved: If it’s in quotation marks, someone actually said it. (Swanson used contemporary interviews, court transcripts, and so forth.) And if it’s in the book, it really happened (or at least it is the most reasonable and commonly accepted theory of what happened). Swanson tells an extraordinary story in a clear, accessible, exciting manner. I never would have thought a history book would be a page-turner, but this one is.

** “Consider the Lobster,” by David Foster Wallace. A very smart man, a writer’s writer, a lover of words and a lover of footnotes, that is David Foster Wallace. This collection of previously published essays covers a variety of topics, from the porn academy awards to a lobster festival, from a Los Angeles talk show host to a review of a new book on grammar and usage (a review which extends to the ongoing debate among traditionalists and modernists). His writing is always intelligent and very often hilarious. As a lover of words myself, I found this one of the most intellectually exciting books I’ve read in a while.

“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” by David Eggers. This book is nonfiction, Eggers’ memoir of how his parents died and he found himself, at the age of 22, caring for his 8-year-old brother. It’s the mid-90s when this happens, and Eggers is heavily into the ironic hipster culture, trying to start a Gen-X magazine, trying to meet women, trying to raise his little brother at the same time. The book is affectionate, funny, poignant, and perhaps more meaningful to people Eggers’ age (e.g., myself) than others. It’s undeniably well-written, however, even if you have little tolerance for 22-year-old hipsters who fancy themselves brilliant writers.

FICTION WITH A SATIRICAL BENT

** “The Areas of My Expertise,” by John Hodgman. This book is an exercise in absurd erudition, being a faux-intellectual compendium of such “facts” as which presidents had hooks for hands and which colonial jobs involved eels. Hodgman also gives a lot of information about hoboes, including a list of 700 hobo names. The book is extremely funny, though it may be too much of a good thing. Best to read it in small doses, not big chunks.

“The Catastrophist,” by Lawrence Douglas. Darkly amusing satire of academia and midlife crises, following a college professor’s series of personal and professional mistakes. The ending seems to fall off disappointingly, but it’s a solidly entertaining piece of work overall.

“Winkie,” by Clifford Chase. This is the story of a teddy bear who magically comes to life and is soon arrested and charged with multiple counts of terrorism. If that description doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will. The premise is surreal, obviously, but the book — often as heartbreaking as it is funny — satirizes our need for scapegoats and easy answers, and also examines the nature of memory as Winkie recalls the generations he’s spent with the Chase family. Bizarre, but fun.

THEATER

My theater attendance was sadly lacking this year. I only saw four plays and a circus, and I don’t think a circus really counts as theater. (It barely counts as entertainment.) I did see quite a variety in those four shows, though:

Provo Theatre Company’s production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” directed by one good friend and starring a few others, happened to coincide with the Sundance Film Festival, so I got to see it when I was in Utah. It was a riot. If you’re in Utah Valley and notice a show being directed by Christopher Clark, go see it, whatever it is. (He also directed “Footloose: The Musical” this year, so that should give you some idea of his range.) You won’t be sorry.

A great deal less fantastic was “Tales of the Lost Formicans,” produced by the Portland State University theater department. It’s a modern play in which aliens observe American suburban culture through the eyes of a particular family in crisis. Parts are supposed to be funny, I remember that much. I also remember being astonishingly bored by the flat production.

A local Portland company called Third Rail did Martin McDonagh’s “The Lonesome West,” a wonderfully dark and vulgar Irish comedy about two feuding brothers, their village priest, a local tramp, and the “accidental” death of the boys’ father. I saw this on Broadway back in 1999 and was glad to have another chance here in town. The local actors were flawless, and I was thoroughly impressed with Third Rail’s capabilities. Also, the theater is a block from my house, so THAT’S nice.

The national touring company of “Wicked” came through town in September, and a free ticket fell into my hands (score!). I was familiar with the soundtrack, which I love, but I didn’t know the story very well and was delighted to find it so trenchant, absorbing, and magical.

Oh, and I went to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus when it was in Portland. I wrote a column about it here.

* * * * *

Past media inventories:
2005
2004