Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon – A Book Review

With Await Your Reply, Dan Chaon has created a mesmerizing novel that keeps the reader guessing from one page to the next.

I’d always considered Chaon a “literary” author, but with Await You Reply, he expertly delves into “genre,” delivering a suspenseful mystery that endlessly satisfies.  Chaon raises intriguing questions about identity, and also provides a psychological thriller that still has me scratching my head.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact nature of Await Your Reply, and I think that’s a good thing.  When all is said and done, all you need to know is that this is a well-crafted, skillfully written novel with engaging, identifiable characters and a plot that simply won’t be ignored.

For those of you already familiar with Chaon, Await Your Reply is thematically similar to previous works, but it’s supercharged in a way the others aren’t.  If you haven’t had the privilege of reading Chaon before now, Await Your Reply is the perfect book for which to begin.

G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra – A Move Review

If you’ll remember my review of the first Transformers, then you’ll know how I feel about movies based on toys.  They are not to be taken too seriously and should be enjoyed as nothing more than escapism.

With that in mind, G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra was a rousing success.  Pure, nonstop action coupled with cool special effects made for a amusing, mindless experience.  Some have said that this movie is basically like watching the toys come to life, and there’s a lot of truth to that, so long as you’re not a G.I. JOE fundamentalist.  If you’re looking for an exact translation of the cartoon from the early Eighties, you may be disappointed.  If you want a ball-park interpretation, I think you’ll be quite pleased.

There were, however, some problems.  First of all, Channing Tatum played Duke, and I can’t imagine someone looking more bored or awkward.  Every time he came onto the screen, the movie screeched to a halt.  I don’t know if he’s a bad actor or just couldn’t get into the role, but he definitely slowed things down.  Also, Rachel Nichols’ Scarlett was just … off.  No part of me believed that she was a top-tier soldier, and they really did the character a disservice with this film version.  Frankly, most of the JOES were either not the best of actors or they were guilty of overacting (I’m talking to you Dennis Quaid).  If you’re going to cast largely unknown actors to play the JOES, why not make a point to hire athletic ones who appear as though they actually are the best of the best?

And while Ray Park (he of Darth Maul fame) brought the athleticism and swagger that Snake-Eyes needed, his suit just didn’t look right.  Why the molded muscles on the top half of his body?  Ray Park is a world-class martial artist; he didn’t need a plastic-looking muscle suit.  The rest of the JOES wore armor that looked like, well, armor.  Why did he have a rubberized six-pack?

Most tragically, other than Snake-Eyes, the JOES were boring.  Isn’t that terrible?  As a kid, I loved Duke and Scarlett, and in this movie, they were the least interesting of a pretty uninteresting group.

But, enough of the bad, let’s talk about the entertaining stuff.  Again, Ray Park as Snake-Eyes was perfect.  Byung-hun Lee’s Storm Shadow rocked and I would have been happy watching a whole movie of just Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow fighting.  Christopher Eccleston’s McCullen kept my attention and was interesting to watch and brought the appropriate blend of seriousness and villainy.  Again, the special effects were a blast and they mixed enough realistic artillery in with the “experimental” weapons to keep me happy.  Finally, I’ve never seen an underwater battle done quite so well and the crew deserves special appreciation for that.

It goes without saying, though, that Sienna Miller saved this movie.  (There’s something I never thought I’d type.)  For most of the film, her Baroness was absolutely awesome.  Miller gave just the right inflection with her lines and delivered them exactly as they were meant to be read – one misstep could have resulted in some very clunky dialogue.  She was ruthless, engaging, evil, and just plain fun … again, for most of the film.  I never particularly cared for the Baroness in either the cartoon or the comic books, but Miller brought a charisma to her that made her the star character.

Remembering that I’m treating this as a film devoid of any real artistry in terms of acting or story, G.I. JOE: The Rise of Cobra was an action-packed movie with some great fight scenes, cool special effects, and gave me almost exactly what I wanted from a film based on a toy line that I loved as a child.  It will not teach you anything about the human condition, but it will give you an exciting hour and a half from start to finish.