Culture Consumption: May 2018

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.

Books

It’s been a fantastic reading month for me — both in terms of sheer numbers as well as a multitude of books that I loved. Most notably was my delve into the works of manga artist and writer Junji Ito, including Uzumaki, Gyo, and the Shiver collection of short stories. As I mentioned in a previous post, Ito is a master of weird, cosmic, and body horror (sometimes all at once). It’s beautiful, disturbing, wonderful work.

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-GarciaI was also delighted by The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Love, deception, and etiquette are a the center of this story in which a young women travels to the city of Loisail for her first Grand Season. The aim of her trip is to mingle with the Beautiful Ones who make up the wealthy high society in the city in the hopes that she’ll find a suitable husband. Unfortunately, her manner and her telekinetic abilities make her a target for gossip. When she meets telekinetic performer Hector Auvray, she thinks she’s found the kind of love one reads about in books — but learns that no one is what the seem in Loisail.

This is a charming fantasy of manners, full of polite but cruel society and wonderful explorations of the people who live in it. I have so far bought and read three of Moreno-Garcia’s books and I have loved all three of them. The Beautiful Ones was no exception, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

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Culture Consumption: April 2018

Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games.

Books

Orphaned Lewis Barnavelt is sent to live with his oddball, wizard uncle in a strange mansion with a next door neighbor who’s a witch. Everything is cheerfully weird until Lewis learns about the clock in the walls, always ticking away with a subtle, persistent malice. I didn’t know about this book series until I saw the trailer for the forthcoming movie (which looks like it will be quite fun), and I’m so glad I picked it up. The reality of living in a home with a clock ticking down to … something is wonderfully haunting and creepy. And yet, the story maintains a joy for magic and youthful discovery. Also, finding out that the book includes illustrations by Edward Gorey was a bonus delight.

The trailer looks like the movie could be a fun adaptation.

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Culture Consumption: March 2018

Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

Danielle Cain (a “queer punk rock traveller”) is looking for answers regarding her friend’s death, which leads her to Freedom, Iowa — a squatter town that professes to be a utopia. However, something’s wrong in down, and it’s not just the heartless animal life wandering around as though they aren’t really dead. I freaking love The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion — which I grabbed off the shelf because of its amazing title and strange eerie cover. It’s strange and surprising, while offering a variety of interesting, believable characters. I just sort of clutched it to my chest when it was over, wanting so much more of these people and this world.

Another great read over the course of the month was Nalo Hopkinson’s collection of stories, Falling in Love with Hominids. fantastic collection of stories from Hopkinson, showing the depth and range in her skill as a writer. The stories in this collection are strange, beautiful, and often unsettling. The opening story, “The Easthound,” begins with kids playing word games against an apocalyptic backdrop (a sweetspot for me). Beginning with this playful banter, the story grows more and more tense as we learn what the source of the apocalypse is. Meanwhile, “Emily Breakfast,” presents a lovely domestic normalcy, involving picking homegrown spinach, tending to the chickens — although it’s a normalcy that includes cats with wings and other animal deviations. “Blushing” is a completely terrifying Bluebeard retelling. And there are many more tales in this collection that are equally worth exploring.

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Culture Consumption: February 2018

Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

As I already mentioned, I adored Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi, which is a stunning book of gods and bodies and fractured minds. The writing is stunning, and I highly recommend picking up this book. I’m planning to read everything I can from this author from here on out.

The Night Masquerade by Nnedi OkoraforAnother great read was Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor. This is a powerful conclusion to the trilogy, which had me crying in front of strangers on several occasions. The trilogy has been imaginative and moving from start to finish. I love Binti as a character in every way and she grows more and more strong and interesting with each book. I’m sad that the series has ended, because I could always read more Binti.

I also did a reread of Stephen King’s Wizard and Glass, the fourth book in The Dark Tower series — which I already wrote over 2,000 words on, but I’ll just say that it was fun to return to the story of Roland’s youth and I’m excited to pick up the next book in the series (new territory for me).

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Culture Consumption: November & December 2017

Hi, all. Hope you’ve had a good November. Here’s my month in books, movies, and television.

Books

Tipping the VelvetTipping the Velvet presents the life and times of Nancy Astly, an oyster girl, who falls in love with male impersonator Kitty Butler. After forming a friendship with Kitty, she follows her into the theaters of London, where she works as a dresser (helping Kitty with costumes) before becoming a performer herself. This beautifully told story is a sensual exploration of love and the ability of gender roles. Waters is a master of historical fiction and I loved this almost as much as I loved Fingersmith.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: November & December 2017”

Top Ten Movies I Watched in 2017

I already shared my favorite horror movies from the year. Here are my favorite new-to-me movies across all other genres.

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Clouds of Sils Maria is a complicated movie to explain. It’s centered around a film actress (Juliette Binoche) who is starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career and her complicated feelings about now being in the role of the older woman. But the heart of the movie is her relationship with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart), exploring the innate weirdness of this position, in which one is more than an employee and less than a friend, in the attention demanded and intimacies shared. Most of this movie is these two characters alone together, and Binoche and Stewart play off each other beautiful with deep, complicated performances that reveal the layers of their relationship. This movie is also about the nature of art and loneliness and so many other things. It’s a movie that brought me to such a depth of feeling that I could sit in stunned silence afterward. By far, my favorite movie of the year. (My longer review is here.)

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Top Ten Horror Movies I Watched This Year

I watched a lot of horror movies this year — around 34 or so — and though I’ll be posting my favorite movies in general for the year later on, I decided to give horror movies their own list. So, here are the top ten horror movies that I watched for the first time in 2017.

Get Out
Get Out (2017)

Get Out (2017)

Chris, a young black man, goes on a weekend trip with his white girlfriend to meet her parents at their secluded estate in the woods. The weekend starts off awkward and grows increasingly unsettling as it builds into a nightmare. Brilliantly executed by writer and director Jordan Peele, Get Out  is a smart, frightening, and sometimes humorous satirical thriller that unveils the nature of racism as microaggressions give way to violence.

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Culture Consumption: September & October 2017

Fell a whole month behind and still moving slow, but here we go — presenting my last two months in books, movies, and television.

Books

The Stone Sky is a powerful conclusion to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. Essun has grown into immense power and is determined to end the seasons (times in which the world tears itself apart), while her daughter, Nassun, with her own power and burdened by the memories of cruelty enacted on her and other orogenes, sets out to destroy the world for good. The character walk through an apocalyptic landscape of ash and cold, a world coming undone, each marching to their own destiny — and in the end a beautiful conclusion full of heartbreak, forgiveness, and ultimately love. The Broken Earth trilogy is brilliant from start to finish — one of my favorite reading experiences in recent years.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter is a well loved collection, especially the title story “The Bloody Chamber.” People have been telling me about it for years — and now that I’ve read it, I totally understand why so many people love it. The story follows the Bluebeard fairy tale closely: a girl marries a rich man, who gives her the keys to the house telling her that she can open all the doors but one — a test she fails to nearly disastrous results. Carter takes the myth and brings it into the modern world (1970s, when it was first published) and provides more depth to the main character, giving her a history and motivation for the choices she makes. It presents servants that have personalities and her mother, who has fought in revolutions and can advice her over the telephone. The resulting story is at the same time grittily real and subtly magical.

One of my pet peeves about fairy tale retellings is that they often loose the magic when they are modernized. But all of the stories in Carter’s collection present similarly gritty and unsettling takes on old fairy tales, while not loosing that original weirdness and magic. It’s a fantastic collection.

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Culture Consumption: August 2017

Coming in a little late, here is my August in books, movies, and television.

Books

The Girl in the RoadWhen I picked up The Girl in the Road, I thought it was going to be an entirely different book than what it was.* Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the story about two very different women making long journeys, both escaping from danger (perceived or real), both looking for hope at the end of the road. One makes her journey as a young girl by sneaking aboard a truck crossing Africa, the other walks along the snakelike spine of the Trail, an energy generation system spanning from India to Ethiopia. This novel is richly textured, with complex characters and explorations of sex, self, and sanity. A great read (although I really didn’t understand the epilogue and if someone wants to explain it to me that would be awesome).
Continue reading “Culture Consumption: August 2017”

Culture Consumption: March and April 2017

My, my. I have gotten rather behind, haven’t I.

Books

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

I delighted in A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, the audio book of which is read by the author herself, who does a wonderful reading. The novel is told from two points of view — Ruth, a writer on a remote island who finds a mysterious packet in a Hello Kitty lunchbox, containing a journal and letters and other items, and Nao, living in Tokyo, whose story is told through the journal itself.

There are so many layers to my love of this novel. The characters and their stories captivated me. Nao, who has faced such levels of bullying at school and sorrow at home, relates her decision to end her life in a straightforward manner. To her it is the only logical solution to what she’s been through (and she’s been through a lot). In her journal, she presents her life with a sense of self-depreciating humor. After all she’s been through, and despite her resolution, there is an underlying strength to her. It’s an interesting balance between depression, sorrow, and enjoyment of small moments.

Ruth is also fascinating to me. Her life is marked by less overt drama, and her story relates more of the small moments, the routines of her life that both provide her with contentment and feel like traps. As she explore’s Nao’s story through the journal and tries to seek a way to help this girl who lives across the sea, she finds certain threads of her own life loosening, creating their own minor havocs.

This novel is also so meta. One could start with the writer character, Ruth, who shares her name with the author of the book, which suggests the potential of the autobiographical slipping in even if none of it actually is such. Even the title A Tale for the Time Being has double meaning — as in both, a tale for a person who lives in time, and also a tale for right now. I don’t want to get too much into the ways this is a meta narrative, since a lot of it comes at the end, but I will say that it had me thinking about the creation of art and degree to which the reader participates in the creation.

I think this is one of those books I’m going to have to reread many times.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: March and April 2017”

Watching the Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds_of_Sils_Maria1
Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

When I finished watching Clouds of Sils Maria all I could do was sit in stunned silence, letting myself exist in that space a little longer. A few minutes after the credits rolled to a stop, the tears came. I’m not sure how to describe what I was feeling, except that I knew I had seen something beautiful and I wanted to immediately watch it again.

The trailer sucks, by the way. Although it shows clips from the movie, they’re so out of context that it comes off as a completely different movie. And I get it, Clouds of Sils Maria is full of subtleties and is a hard movie to sum up in a simple, marketable way.

On it’s surface it’s about an film actress starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career — now in the role of the older woman. She has to face how time has shifted and she has shifted with it. The more she delves into the role, facing the character’s pain, the more her own insecurities come to the surface.

clouds_of_sils_maria2-juliette-binoche

It’s about the relationship between stars and their personal assistants, that weird line — on the one hand it’s an employer/employee relationship, and on the other hand, the state of constantly being with your employer, answering their phones, and so on creates an intimacy. Sometimes that leads to friendship, sometimes it leads to weirdness. As the central relationship in the movie, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart spend a vast number of scenes alone together. They both provide phenomenal performances, with great chemistry together.

clouds-of-sils-maria-kristin-stewart

The movie is also about art and what it means to different people. Most of the conversations involve discussions about the theatrical play — analysis of who two women in the play are and what they and their literary relationship stands for. These conversations illustration how the meaning of art changes from perspective to perspective, whether from person to person or from one person at different stages of their live. And as these conversations about a fictional play takes place, it brings attention to the question of the two main characters in this movie and what they stand for (will this movie have the same emotional resonance to me ten years in the future as it does now?).

The movie leaves space for quiet moments and some questions unanswered. It’s a movie I feel strangely protective of this film — I want to tell everyone to watch it, but I also am a bit afraid family and friends might not connect with it the way I did. But then, I suppose that’s all apart of different people understanding art through different perspectives.


Oscar Best Picture Showcase 2017

The Academy Awards were presented yesterday. I didn’t watch them — funny, since I spent so much time making sure I saw the Oscar nominated short films and Best Picture nominees over the course of the past two weeks. (I was playing with my toddler niece and nephew instead and don’t feel a bit bad about it at all.) I’ve meant to do the following write ups BEFORE the Oscars happened, but never got around to finishing them, so here they are now, all in one go.

For anyone interested in the Red Carpet fashion from the event, I recommend Genevieve Valentine’s rundown, which is quite charming.

And the winner was…

Moonlight

Received 8 nominations and won for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali).

In Moonlight presents three stages in life of an African-American man, from being a young kid who finds an unexpected father figure, to a teenager experiencing his first love with one of his friends, to becoming an adult. I don’t know if I need to say what almost everyone who has seen it has been saying, since it won the Oscar for Best Picture and all, but I’ll go ahead an reiterate it anyway — Moonlight is a beautiful movie. The cinematography, acting, and story all come together in what feels like an incredibly moving dream of an experience.

I was thrilled to learn that Moonlight won Best Picture, because the title is well deserved. It’s too bad the announcement occurred the way it did, with the Oscar gaff of the lifetime. The initial mistaken announcement of the winning film does not in any way take away from the accomplishment of director Barry Jenkins and his team in creating this phenomenal movie. But it did unfortunately take away from their moment to shine on the Academy Awards stage, their thank you speeches punctuated with confusion. Nevertheless, Moonlight and it’s a wonderful movie and well deserved.

Moonlight.
Moonlight.

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The rest of the noms…

Arrival

Received 8 nominations and won for Sound Editing.

Arrival was probably my favorite movie of 2016. Seeing it a second time around only cemented my love for this beautiful first contact movie, in which a linguist and a scientist work together to decipher the language of an alien race. The cinematography and sound editing are amazing, the editing jumping back and forth through time skillfully draws out the emotional impact of the storyline, and the aliens are truly alien. I love this movie so much.

If you loved the movie as much as I did and are interested in the process behind screenwriting and moviemaking, The Blacklist has a fantastic podcast interview with Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter who adapted Ted Chiang’s story into a script.

Amy Adams in Arrival
Amy Adams in Arrival

Hidden Figures

Received 3 nominations and won for Actress in a Supporting Role (Octavia Spencer).

Hidden Figures is the true story of the black women computers that performed mathematical calculations as part of the space program at NASA. These are incredible women and the movie, which hits all the right notes in terms of humor and perspective, has me wanting to learn more about them and the other women of science who have often been overlooked.

Hidden Figures.
Hidden Figures.

Lion

Received 6 nominations (no wins).

Lion is the true story of a little boy who accidentally ends up lost in Calcutta thousands of kilometers from his home. When authorities are unable to find his mother or brother, he is adopted by an Australian family who raise him. As an adult, memories of his childhood in India come back to him and he begins a search using Google Earth to find his birth mother. It’s an incredible story. So many feels.

Lion.
Lion.

Manchester by the Sea

Received 6 nominations and won for Original Screenplay and Actor in a Leading Role (Casey Afflek).

There were some issues with the theater a couple of Saturdays ago, so I showed up a half hour late to Manchester by the Sea. Nevertheless, it was still a great movie, a moving story of grief and family and trying to overcome the past. It felt anchored in its location, which was almost a character itself.

Manchester by the Sea
Manchester by the Sea

Fences

Received 4 nominations and won for Actress in a Supporting Role (Viola Davis).

In Fences, Troy Maxson, an African-American man working as a sanitation worker in 1950s Pittsburgh, works to raise his family while railing agains the challenges of poverty and racism. It’s clear that this is based on a stage play, from the first scene with its constrained setting and long, eloquent monologues. The writing is beautiful, not so much focused on realism of the moment, but rather evoking a heightened sense of poetry. The writing is backs up with phenomenal performances from the entire cast, who bring these characters to life and handle these lines with amazing power and grace.

Fences
Fences

Hell or High Water

Received 4 nominations (no wins).

Two brothers begin robbing banks after their mother’s deaths in order to preserve their family’s land. They specifically take on the bank chain that holds the loan against the property, a kind of clever revenge. Hell or High Water starts right in the middle of the action and drives through to the end, with just enough breathing room to get to know the brothers and the officers hunting them. The movie is great — not quite on the same caliber as some of the other best picture noms — but still great.

Hell or High Water
Hell or High Water

Hacksaw Ridge

Received 6 nominations and won for Film Editing and Sound Mixing.

Desmond T. Doss was a U.S. Army medic who served during WWII. As a conscientious objector, he refused to carry a gun into battle (something that created significant challenges during his training). The story that unfolds and what Doss does is so unbelievable that it made sense for the movie to end with a mini-documentary, as if to clarify some of the history.

Hacksaw Ridge was good for a war movie, which is not generally my thing. The style of this in terms of cinematography and storytelling felt old, by which I mean it presented the typical look of big budget Hollywood films. I think if I had watched this one first out of the whole set, I would have been fine with it. But since I had already seen a number of the other best picture noms — most of which were more creative or experimental in their style and tone — this felt old fashioned.

Hacksaw Ridge
Hacksaw Ridge.

La La Land

Received 14 nominations and won for Director, Cinematography, Actress in a Leading Role (Emma Stone), Original Score, Original Song (“City Of Stars”), and Production Design.

La La Land is fun and all for a musical about two beautiful young people trying to make it big in Hollywood. The cinematography was pretty for the most part and the music was great — but otherwise it was pretty mediocre. I like both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who are great actors, but not great dancers or singers. The story is a bit light on emotional depth, as well. Nostalgia seems to be the greatest factor driving many people’s love for this (that and maybe how much Hollywood loves its own mythology), although it doesn’t quite live up to the classic musicals it’s meant to be in homage to. Fun enough to entertain, but nothing special.

La La Land
La La Land

* * *

In related news, the Razzies — which I don’t normally pay attention to — announced their “Worst” awards in film, with Hillary’s America garnering Worst Director, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, and Worst Picture. And that’s kind of awesome.

Going to the Movies by Myself

Going to the Best Picture Showcase has become a tradition for me. I love seeing the movies all at once and seeing good storytelling on the screen. But this year has been a strange one, in that circumstances aligned in such a way that I was not able to go with the usual group and no one else seemed to be available. My options were to either skip the showcase this year or to go by myself.

So, I went by myself — both to the first half of the showcase and a double feature of the Oscar nominated short films. It was fun. Although I didn’t have a gathering of friends to chat about the movie afterward, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience.

Plus, I got the chance to meet a little old lady who sat next to me in the theatre. She was all sass and talking about it being one of those days where nothing goes right. White curly hair. Wearing a rain coat exactly like the one I inherited from my grandmother.

She was funny as hell. At one point, she was talking to her sister about her doctor, and the sister said, “Does he have a good bedside manner?”

My little old lady replied, “I bet he has a good bed manner.”

She said she would be showing up for the second part of Best Picture Showcase, so I guess I’ll have one buddy (for at least a movie or two of the marathon anyway). Maybe I’ll make some other buddies, too.

What I’m Reading

I’m still reading Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. It’s fantastic, but I’m plodding along slowly because of all the other distractions going on.

What I’m Writing

The rejections came piling in last week, so a large portion of my time was chocking down disappointment and spinning submissions back out into the world.

Goals for the Week:

  • Get more poems edited
  • Hot potato my submissions to at least two more journals/publishers

The Running Life

I was struggling a bit last week, completing only two runs and the one being more of a long walk than an actual run. Sometimes the mood swoops away from me and it’s a stuggle to get any running in at all. Always feels good to get out and move, though.

Longest Run Walk of the Week: 4.11 miles (
Total Miles for the Week: 6.16 miles

Total Miles for 2017: 35.43 miles

Linky Goodness

Seyward Darby explains how What America Needs Now Is Horror Movies: “Good horror movies reflect immediate social anxieties and abiding fears that humanity, in both the individual and collective senses, is under threat. The great ones go even further: ‘[I]t isn’t just that these traumas trigger these films,’ film historian Tom Gunning once said, ‘but that we understand these traumas through these films.’ My favorite fright-fests adjust the lens one additional time. They pose the provocative question: What if you’re the monster?”

The 16 Most Anticipated Horror Books of 2017

“I’ve never felt bullied or unwanted in Geek spaces. I definitely think that as geeks, we’re in a struggle together,” says Minnesota Playwright and Poet Saymoukda Vongsay in an interview with Twin Cities Geek

Poetry To Pay Attention To: A Preview Of 2017’s Best Verse

Some Thoughts on the 2017 Oscar Nominated Short Films

I love short films and am fascinated with how they are able to tell compelling stories in tiny spaces. I’ve been wanting to watch the Oscar nominated short film showcases that play every year, but haven’t had people to go with or the timing was off. This year, I made it happen, taking time to see both the Animated and Live Action selections, and it was fantastic. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to also see the documentary shorts and I don’t think I’ll be able to this year. But I’m making it a goal for next year.

As a quick note, it was interesting to discover that all of the live action shorts were significantly longer than the animated shorts (with one exception), being 15 minutes to 30 minutes in length. I tend to think of short films as being in the 3-15 minute range, maybe due to the number of shorts I’ve seen through YouTube of Vimeo. I’m sure cost and time is a part of the reason why the live action movies were longer, with animation taking more time to create cell by cell. The differences in length might also have to do with how people connect with animation compared to live action. I’m not sure. But it’s interesting that the animated shorts were often able to provide as complete and moving of stories as the longer pieces in a shorter amount of time.

My thoughts are below, with links to trailers provided.
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The Animated Shorts

Blind Vaysha, directed by Theodore Ushev (8 minutes/Canada) – Blind Vaysha is a strange folk tale about a girl who is born with a strange infliction, in which she can see only the past out of one eye and only the future out of the other, essentially making her blind to the present. It’s a bit more talky than most of the other animated shorts, but the art is beautiful with a heavy-lined graphic style and strong-toned colors. I loved the way some images overlapped, stretched into impossible shapes, or presented sketchy, swirling images. A little more intellectual than emotional, but it’s my favorite of the animated films.

blind-vaysha_f
Blind Vaysha

Pearl, directed by Patrick Osborne (6 minutes/USA) – A girl and her dad tour the country in an old hatchback, busking and making music and facing life. Although the animation is somewhat blocky and not as dynamic or perfect as some of the other offerings, this is a moving story filled with music telling a sweet story with almost no dialog.

Pearl
Pearl

Piper, directed by Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer (6 minutes/USA) – This story of a baby piper bird facing his fear of the ocean is funny and adorable in that predictable Disney/Pixar way. The animation is technically perfect and beautifully rendered, worth watching for that alone.

Piper
Piper

Pear Cider and Cigarettes, directed by Robert Valley and Cara Speller (35 minutes/Canada/UK) – There are parts of Pear Cider and Cigarettes that are gorgeous, the animation slick and stylish with hard angles that reminded me of certain comic book drawings. In the story, which is based on a real human, a man describes the dynamic personality of his friend, Techno, who eventually became a hardcore alcoholic. This is the most adult of the animated films, presenting a complex and straight look at sex, drugs, alcohol, and the fall of a friend. It’s also the longest out of any of the short films I watched. Although the last third of the film was moving, the first two-thirds were a little slow going for me and I think it could have been cut down a bit while still maintaining its powerful effect.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pear Cider and Cigarettes

Borrowed Time, directed by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj (7 minutes/USA) – A sheriff returns to the site of his father’s death. The CGI animation is good, but the story didn’t connect with me, despite a few genuinely surprising moments.

Borrowed Time
Borrowed Time

Highly Commended

Due to the adult nature of Pear Cider and Cigarettes, the screening showed three additional animated films in order to give parents time to bring their kids out of the theater, if need be.

The Head Vanishes, directed by Franck Dion (9 minutes/Canada/France)

Once Upon a Line, directed by Alicja Jasina (8 minutes/Cyprus)

Asteria, directed by Josh Crute (5 minutes/USA)
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The Live Action Shorts

Timecode, directed by Juanjo Giménez (15 minutes/Spain) – One of my favorite shorts of the night, Timecode is the story of two parking lot security officers who begin communicating with each other in an usual way. This utterly delighted me. It’s wonderful and a bit weird. It probably is not going to win, but it’s the one I’d watch again and again without hesitation.

Timecode
Timecode

Sing, directed by Kristof Deák and Anna Udvardy (25 minutes/Hungary) – A girl comes to a new school and is delighted to join the school’s award-winning choir — only to discover that the choir is not what it seems. It’s a wonderful story about friendship and people coming together in quiet revolt against unfair systems.

Sing
Sing

La Femme et le TGV, directed by Timo von Gunten and Giacun Caduff (30 minutes/Switzerland) – A bit of a quirky tale and almost-but-not-quite romance in which an older woman set in her routine. Every day she waves a flag at the passing TGV train, which leads to a mysterious answer from one rider. It’s sweet, even if the ending felt a bit abrupt.

La Femme et le TGV
La Femme et le TGV / The Woman and the TGV

Ennemis Intérieurs, directed by Sélim Azzazi (28 minutes/France) – An educated, Algerian man applying for French citizenship finds himself confronted with a young immigration official whose examinations grow more and more invasive. This is essentially just a movie of two men sitting in a room talking, but the writing and acting are stellar, making this intense and captivating as each man tries to gain control, although the power is clearly skewed in favor of the young immigration official. There’s a lot going on in this, reflecting the current issues surrounding immigration and prejudice against Muslims. I’d like to watch it again and think about the layers some more.

Ennemis Intérieurs
Ennemis Intérieurs / Enemies Within

Silent Nights, directed by Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson (30 minutes/Denmark) – A woman working at a homeless shelter begins a romance with a homeless refugee from Ghana. Although the acting is great and it’s well done, there were aspects of this that annoyed me in terms of how the young woman approached him, more as someone to save instead of as a whole person. I also really didn’t like the ending (which I won’t talk about because of spoiling).

Silent Nights
Silent Nights

New-to-me movies watched in April 2016

1. Frankenstein (1931)

The definitive Frankenstein monster, the monster all other Frankenstein’s are compared to. Although the some of the opening sequences are a bit awkward, this movie comes alive (pun intended) when the monster does. Karloff is wonderful as the monster and I completely understand why his performance was lauded. With great use of shadows and some creative film moments, this is a classic film worth seeing.

2. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Another great film from director James Whale. The movie is a bit stranger than the first Frankenstein, mixing a set of weird characters with humor and fantastic camera work to bring some interesting contemplative moments to the monster. Although the monster is responsible for a number of deaths, some are understandable after the horrors he’s endured, and the sense of his loneliness and longing for kindness are clear.

My main disappointment is that the Bride of the title gets so little screen time. In the few minutes she’s on screen, she presents a fascinating figure, twitching like a bird with fascination at the world. She’s amazing and I wish she had to be and do more.

3. Darling (2015)

Darling was a strange one, an intense story of a young woman taking on a care taking job and slowly going insane. The reasoning for this transition and whether she had mental health problems to begin with is not clear.

The story is set up in chapters with the start of each one featuring the young woman staring ahead like a portrait. I’m not sure these chapter cards are necessary, as the lend a feeling of unreality to the story.

Shot in black and white, the film mixes long shots of beautiful cinematography with jumps of fragments short frames, jarring the seemingly calm sequences with something hidden behind the scenes. This happens fairly consistently throughout the movie, to the point that it almost becomes numbing and looses the effect it’s going for.

Darling is interesting, bloody, strange, and mostly well done.

4. What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

Fun and mostly funny mockumentary about four vampires living as flat mates in New Zealand. Each vampire is from a different era and part of the humor is how each of them sees the modern world. They are also all awkward, failing to have that suave beautiful grace presented in most vampire movies. Not all of the jokes were laugh out loud funny, but there were a few golden moments. Plus, the characters were all likeable enough that I was willing to go on this bizarre little journey with them.

5. Purple Rain (1984)

I watched Purple Rain for the first time and I’m wondering how the hell I’ve never seen this before.

Prince on stage represents the golden moments of this movie. He’s a level of fabulous and HOT that cannot be contained.

Sure, the plot is thin as fishnet tights and the acting is sometimes laughable, but it’s also freaking fantastic for being the ’80s rock movie it is.

New-to-me movies watched in March 2016

March was a GIANT movie month for me, because I participated in the March Around the World challenge, which has a goal of watching thirty movies from thirty different countries in one month.

I did not make that goal, but I did manage to watch 22 movies from around the world. Not too shabby.

March Around the World Challenge (my favorites are in bold):

1. Monsoon Wedding — India (2001)
2. Suspiria — Italy (1977)
3. The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — Australia (1994)
4. Ida — Poland (2013)
5. Blue is the Warmest Color — France (2013)
6. Heavenly Creatures — New Zealand (1994)
7. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night — Iran (2014)
8. Bangkok Love Story — Thailand (2007)
9. Volver — Spain (2006)
10. The Snapper — Ireland (1993)
11. The Assassin — China (2015)
12. Sin Nombre — Mexico (2009)
13. A Better Tomorrow — Hong Kong (1986)
14. Juan of the Dead — Cuba (2011)
15. Stalker — Russia (1979)
16. The Second Mother — Brazil (2015)
17. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance — South Korea (2005)
18. Sisters in Law — Cameroon (documentary, 2005)
19. The Devil’s Miner — Bolivia (documentary, 2005)
20. The Cave of the Yellow Dog — Mongolia (docudrama, 2005)
21. Xenia — Greece (2014)
22. U-Carmen eKhayelitsha — South Africa (2005)

Non-challenge movies:

1. Treehouse (2014)
2. Crimson Peak (2015)

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “New-to-me movies watched in March 2016”

New-to-me movies watched in February 2016

1. Jupiter Ascending (2015)

By all accounts this is a ridiculous movie, but it’s delightfully so. The movie just oozes with scifi geekery, from boots that allow you to fly to human-animal clones to a planet comprised of bureaucratic aliens. The costuming and sets are visually gorgeous with rich detail.

My major complaint is the heroine, Jupiter, spends most of the movie falling off of buildings and being caught by the hero. She’s literally whipped around from place to place without much agency of her own, which doesn’t make me much interested in her as a character.

Nevertheless, this was fun.

2. Deadpool (2016)

Amazeballs. This movie manages to be a superhero movie that breaks the rules of superhero movies. It’s incredibly violent, with tons of blood splatter and severed limbs and other cringeworthy moments, and it has more fourth-wall-breaking humor and asides than a wrecking ball. Plus, it brings in two awesome X-Men characters, who have not been seen (much) before. So much win.

deadpool

 

 

New-to-me movies watched in January 2016

1. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015)

The first film I’ve seen in the new year and a good conclusion to the Hunger Games storyline. They handled some of the stranger aspects of the book with aplomb and Jennifer Lawerence continued to bring depth to the character in situations where it could easily be overshadowed by the action.

2. Pontypool (2008)

A three-person team of a small town radio show become more and more horrified as reports come in of what seems to be rioting and death. With its small cast and single location, this movie manages to provide a growing sense of tension. It’s a fantastic take on the zombie apocalypse story with a unique concept for how the infection spreads. Really enjoyable.

3. Blazing Saddles (1974)

A spoof of the western genre. Not as funny as I thought it was going to be based on my experience with other Mel Brookes flicks. While probably “edgy” for the time period, some of the jokes are somewhat cringeworthy in the present day. However, the scenes with Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder are brilliant.

Top Movies of 2015

Toward the end of the year, I didn’t seem to have much time for watching movies, but nevertheless there were some fabulous feature and short films that I’ve seen for the first time this year. As with my Top Reads, I’m organizing these based on categories.

Best Drama

Pariah (2011) is the story of a  17-year-old African American girl who hangs out at clubs with her openly lesbian friend Laura. Through the course of the film she begins to figure out her own identity. It’s a beautiful story of young love and family friction/love and the many ways a heart can be broken and healed.

Pariah-title-placard

Best Historical Picture

The Academy Award nominated film, Selma (2014), tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr. and several civil rights activists’ peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in the face of violent opposition. The aim of the March was to achieve fair access to voting access for African Americans. It shows the many layers of effort from multiple groups that enabled this march to happen successfully. The directing, cinematography, and performances throughout the film are fantastic.

selma-bridge movie still

Runner-up: Belle (2014) is the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the daughter of a slave and Captain John Lindsay, a British career naval officer. As the captain must travel to earn his living, he leaves his daughter as a free woman in the care of his uncle, a high ranking judge of the U.K. courts. This beautiful movie reveals the conflicting nature of her position in which she is both loved by her family and an outcast in society.

Best Science Fiction Movie

A three way tie between The Martian (2015), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and Ex Machina (2015) — all vastly different films, all great for vastly different reasons.

The Martian, a story about a single astronaut accidentally stranded on the hostile surface of Mars, provides a combination of intense moments with humor. This is combined with beautiful images of the Martian surface, red deserts and plains stretching to the horizon. It’s gorgeous and moving and hilarious and wonderful.

martian-gallery5-gallery-image

What I loved about Star Wars: The Force Awakens was how it was able to capture that elated joy I felt when I was young, watching A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Last Jedi over and over and over again. This new iteration went straight to the heart of what makes Star Wars great with a new cast of young heroes ready to take up the fight.

star-wars-force-awakens-rey-bb8

Ex Machina, meanwhile, is a much quieter movie, centering around only a handful of characters. In it a young engineer is recruited by an genius entrepreneur to perform a Turing test on a humanoid AI robot, named Ava. The movie intelligently explores the nature of humanity and consciousness. Alicia Vikander is amazing as Ava, bringing a subtle alieness to the character, even when she seems to look entirely human.

EX-MACHINA-screenshot

Best Post-Apocalyptic Movie

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) is a gorgeously filmed vision of the post-apocalyptic world. Although, lets be honest, it’s pretty much a single long car chase sequence across the wasteland. It’s a spectacular spectacle with beautifully choreographed stunts and action sequences. Mad Max is just as hard core as he’s ever been, and he gets to fight along side some amazingly bad ass women, not only Imperator Furiosa, but all of despot’s escaping wives. It’s one-note, perhaps, but it’s brilliant. The wasteland never looked so good.

mad max fury road

Best Horror Movie

A tie between The Devil’s Backbone /El espinazo del diablo (2001) and It Follows (2014).

The Devil’s Backbone, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is set during the Spanish Civil War, during which a 12-year-old Carlos is sent to a boy’s orphanage that is full of secrets. The imagery haunts from the start, with the image of a giant unexploded bomb shown standing in the center of the orphanage courtyard. The movie provides a steady eerie feeling that builds into a surprising conclusion.

the devil's backbone unexploded_bomb

It Follows is intensely creepy. The concept of a sexually transmitted monster, which on the surface sounds ridiculous, is handled with brilliant skill. Every bit of lighting combined with camera angles and music builds a growing sense of anxiety about this creature that never stops pursuing its intended target. I loved how the characters used their friendship to positive effect. When the main character’s friends could neither see nor believe in the creature, they didn’t waste their time doubting her. Instead, they recognized that she needed help and did what they could to provide that help. It’s an incredibly well done movie and one that caused me a few anxiety dreams after watching it.

It Follows movie still

Best Animated Film

Le Gouffre (2015) is a beautiful short film in which two young men face a chasm and find an industrious way to try to cross it. Rendered in CGI animation, a beautiful story of friendship and community evolves in just 10 minutes. You can watch it here.

le gouffre

Best Foreign Film

Wadjda (2012) is the first movie to be entirely filmed in Saudi Arabia and is the first film directed by a female Saudi director. It’s the story of a spunky young girl, named Wadjda, who wants her own a bicycle, even though considered indecent for a girl to ride. In order to get the money for the bike she wants, she joins a competition for learning and reciting the Koran. This movie is charming and the little girl Waad Mohammed who plays the main character is wonderful. I hope to see more work by director Haifaa Al-Mansour in the future.

Wadjda still image

Runner-up: In Circumstance (2011), filmed in Iran, two young women the strict rules that circle their lives in Tehran, Iran. Along the way, they fall in love with each other. There’s a sense of danger present even as they feel the most free, the impression that they are always being watched and judged. A beautiful and stylish film.

Best Documentary

Okay, so technically I only watched one documentary in 2015, but it was a really good documentary. In The Red Chapel / Kim Jong-Il’s Comedy Club (2009), two Danish Korean comedians, along with their manager, travel to North Korea in order to perform for the country’s National Theater. The aim of the trip is to discreetly reveal the disturbing nature of this totalitarian dictatorship, while also subtly poking fun at the regime during the comedy sketch routine. However, their plan quickly falters as their routine picked apart and replaced by a performance that suites the party line. The documentary has its flaws, but it fascinating in the way it moves from being, at first, unsettling but slightly humorous to being somewhat terrifying.

the-red-chapel

Honorable Mention: Best Worst Movie

The Barbarians (1987) is awful on so many levels and takes cheesy fantasy to amazing heights. It features beefcake twins with more glossy, well oiled muscles than any one person should rightly have.  Together with a scantily clad thief, they track down a magical ruby and defeat and evil band of barbarians. The villain has a unicorn horn strapped to his head. One of the heroes brays like a donkey when he’s excited. The dragon looks like a giant erect penis with a deranged Alf head (I’m not even kidding). The Barbarians is bad. It’s so, so bad. But it’s glorious in how bad it is.

What movies have you watched and loved in 2015?

 

New-to-me movies watched in November and December

1. NH10 (2015)

A woman and her husband take trip from Delhi to the countryside. Along the way they try to help a young woman being dragged off by some men, which leads them to being hunted by the locals.

Altogether a solid thriller/revenge film and it’s interesting to see a film from India expressing the same city folk fears of hicks as in the U.S. (but not surprising when I think about it).

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

Love, love, love, love, love. It totally gave me the feeling I had when I was young — when I used to watch Episodes 4-6 over and over and over again to the point of annoying the hell out of my family.

New-to-me movies watched in October 2015

(I don’t have the mental capacity for full reviews this week, so here are some short thoughts.)

1. Glengary Glen Ross (1992)

About five minutes into watching this, I thought, This feels like a David Mamet play. That would probably be because it was written by David Mamet. The story is as simple as a day in the life of shady real estate salesmen, but the crisp and snappy dialog and brilliant acting make this incredibly dark and tense.

2. The Martian (2015)

Capturing almost everything I loved about the book, the movie was just as funny and thrilling as I hoped it would be with gorgeous shots of the martian landscape.

3. We Are Still Here (2015)

This fairly standard haunted house movie set in the early ’80s features a family trying to start over, a suspiciously creepy small town, and a violent ghosts. The opening sequences are unsettling with sparse images of a snowed in landscape, which building to a conclusion full of bloodplatter. Just what I wanted to see.

The Power of People Working Together and THE MARTIAN

Note: This post involves minor spoilers. 

A significant portion of Andy Weir’s The Martian centers around a lone astronaut using his wits to survive in impossible circumstances.

During a massive sandstorm and an evacuation of the mars expedition team, astronaut Mark Watney is hit by a radio dish and presumed dead. But he wakes on Mars alone, still alive in a hostile environment. The only way to survive is to use scientific knowledge and engineering skills to make an uninhabitable world inhabitable for four years when the next Mars mission is set to return.

Space and travel to other planets are incredibly dangerous for human being. There are thousands of ways for a person to die, from severe cold to lack of atmosphere to the wrong oxygen/nitrogen/carbon dioxide mixture in a space suit. A small error in judgment, one tiny unconsidered element of physics (like a single flawed bolt or a piece of overstretched fabric) can mean catastrophe and death. This epically fun book makes this danger brutally clear.

Continue reading “The Power of People Working Together and THE MARTIAN”

Dinosaurs and the Apocalypse, or what I watched over the weekend

My weekend was taken up in part by considerable time watching big screen adventures — Jurassic World and Mad Max: Fury Road — both of which were fantastic fun and, as a side note, both using a number of mechanical effects over CGI.

Mad Max-Fury RoadFury Road was my favorite of the two as a long time fan of the Mad Max series. The movie is essentially a single long car chase seen across the apocalyptic wasteland, featuring a spectacular spectacle of mayhem. What hold the movie together are the assortment of badass characters both good and evil, the carefully choreographed stunts and action sequences, and gorgeously haunting cinematography.

Other people have already spoken about how awesome the women are in Fury Road“Mad Max” Is A Feminist Playbook For Surviving Dystopia and Beyond Furiosa: The Unsung Heroines of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ — so, I won’t expand on that.

Instead, I’d like to say that Mad Max is as hard core as he’s ever been. Although he spends the start of the movie as a captive, Tom Hardy portrays a sense of barely contained violence and rage. War Boy (or one of the others) describes him as a feral, and it’s an accurate description. As in previous Mad Max films (Road Warrior and Thunder Dome), Max starts out with a single selfish goal of obtaining only his own survival, perfectly willing to leave others behind to their fate. It’s only after circumstances force him to team up that he eventually begins to fight for a bigger cause.

Jurassic World provided almost the same feeling of wonder and thrill of the first Jurassic Park. The tone and pacing were just what I’d hoped they would be. It didn’t matter that the plot was full of holes or that most of the characters were caricatures. I loved seeing the dinosaurs again (even if they don’t fit the profile according to more modern science) — I loved seeing the ambling brachiosaurus and the stampeding gallimimus and the terrifying intelligence of the velociraptors.

The only thing that really bothered me was was the main chick’s shoes. Her character was already annoying to me anyway, just so clearly arrogant and financially motivated with little time for her nephews, that my friend and I were kind of hoping she’d get chomped on by one of the dinos. On top of that, she decided to go tromping through the jungle and running from giant dinosaurs in ridiculous spiked heels — an act not just impractical but impossible, since the heels would be sinking into the mud the entire time or she would have broken an ankle and died. If she had taken just 30 seconds to switch out for flats, I would have liked her character so much better.

What I’m Reading

Although beautifully written, Atonement by Ian McEwan, is really dragging for me. I suspect that part of my disinterest is due to have seen the movie and having hated the ending. I was told that you have to read the book to understand why it’s a great love story; I’m still skeptical.

I’m also in the process of reading and reviewing Drink, a collection of poems by Laura Madeline Wiseman. In the meantime, you might want to check out this interview with Laura.

What I’m Writing

My social activities took up a lot of my time this week and the rest of my free time was consumed with procrastinating activities (my turn off the screens plan hasn’t quite been implemented yet), so just little fragments of writing happened this week. So, I need to kick into gear this week.

Goal(s) for this week: Write! Edit! Submit!

Submission Bonanza

Nada. I’m still at a grand total of 3/20 for the month’s Submission Bonanza. Can I manage to send out another 17 submissions before the month is over and make my goal? Yes! Sure! Maybe. We’ll see. Eep!

Linky Goodness

I think I’m going to have to set a personal challenge to try to do each of these 8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 A.M.

Also, this lengthy post, Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party, provides an important look at the history and development of how the conservative party works today.

“The enduring Confederate influence on American politics goes far beyond a few rhetorical tropes. The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries. 

That worldview is alive and well. During last fall’s government shutdown and threatened debt-ceiling crisis, historian Garry Wills wrote about our present-day Tea Partiers: “The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.” 

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.”

Saw Avengers: Age of Ultron over the weekend. My little geek girl heart was mostly pleased. The movie had a lot going on with a multitude of new characters in addition to a multitude of old ones, which made things a bit messy. But this in no way took away from the fun for me and it was good to see the characters I love back again. 

I have mixed feeling’s about how Black Widow is portrayed in Age of Ultron. One the one hand I agree with some that it’s nice to see some humanity brought to her character and on the other I agree with others who feel it could have been handled better

At any rate, though it wasn’t my favorite Marvel movie, but I had a good time.

What I’m Reading

I’m a little wary to be starting in on Patrick Ness’ final installment of the Chaos Walking trilogy, Monsters of Men, because I’m not sure I’m ready to have my feels put through a meat grinder, but here I go.

Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone, poetry by Annelyse Gelman get more witty and fun and interesting with every poem I read.

More slow and steady progress on Don Quixote.

What I’m Writing

Ummmmm…. yeah… so…

I need to come up with a new routine that involves me going to a coffee shop or library in order to get actual work done, because as soon as I get home after work I slip into relaxation mode. This week’s plan is to bring my laptop to work on Tuesday and Thursday for just that purpose.

Goal(s) for this week: Submit the chapbook to a few more publishers. Gather together/edit poem drafts and submit to lit journals.

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now

I’m trying to meditate in the evening before I go to bed. Just 5-10 minutes of quiet breathing. I’m finding that after the few times I’ve done it, I sleep better and wake up more refreshed. So, it’s a good thing for me to keep up.

New-to-me movies watched in April 2015

1. Gone Girl (2014)

Fantastic execution of the story line and phenomenal acting. The combination of music and cinematography creates tension even during the flashbacks of the good times. Great twists and turns (even though some had been previously spoiled for me). None of the characters are likable, but that works for the plot. They all deserve each other.

2. The Babadook (2014)

As psychological horror, The Babadook wasn’t scary so much as creepy. The story of mother dealing and her troubled son being plagued by monster in the closet had a fairy tale feel, which I liked.

Although I get why other reviewers have described the kid and other characters in this movie being annoying. Didn’t bother me too much, though, as it fit the storyline.

I liked the music and cinematography, which worked well with slow building of tension that lead to an “interesting” ending. The cutout pop up book style imagery of the monster were cool and creepy and fit with the fairytale feel.

Although I didn’t love the movie, per se, it was a good enough that I’ll be looking out for more from director Jennifer Kent.

3. How to Steal a Million (1966)

Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole are adorable. The story, involving the theft of a million dollar statue from a museum in order to keep an old forger out of prison, was silly and illogical but fun.

New-to-me movies watched in March

March was an interesting movie watching month, since I participated in a challenge on Letterboxd, called March Around the World – 30 Films from 30 Countries. I only made it to ten films because of how packed the month was for me, but it was a great experience stretching the horizons of what I normally watch.

Challenge Movies:
1. Violeta Went to Heaven / Violeta se fue a los cielos (2011, Chile)
2. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec / Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec (2010, France)
3. English Vinglish (2012, India)
4. Circumstance (2011, Iran)
5. Cure (1997, Japan)
6.
Caramel (2007, Lebanon)
7. The Red Chapel / Kim Jong-Il’s Comedy Club (2009, documentary, North Korea/Denmark)
8. Wadjda (2012, Saudi Arabia)
9. Tsotsi (2005, South Africa)
10. The Devil’s Backbone /El espinazo del diablo (2001, Spain)

Non-Challenge Movies:
11. Oculus (2013)

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “New-to-me movies watched in March”

New-to-me movies in February

1. Le Gouffre (short film, 2015)
2. Amer (2009)
3. Pariah (2011)
4. Carrie (2014)
5. Fifty Shades of Grey (2015)
6. Belle (2014)
7. Birdman (2014)
8. Boyhood (2014)
9. The Theory of Everything (2014)
10. The Imitation Game (2014)
11. American Sniper (2014)
12. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
13. Near Dark (1987)
14. Kiss of the Damned (2012)

Being a part of a community on Letterboxed really increased my movie watching this month and will likely do so again in March as I take part in the March Around the World – 30 Movies and 30 Countries challenge (not that I have anywhere close to enough time to watch that many movies this month).

FEBRUARY REVIEWS:

Continue reading “New-to-me movies in February”

Movie Review: Selma

selma movieReleased: 2014

Directed by Ava DuVernay

Description (from Letterboxd):

Martin Luther King, Lyndon Baines Johnson and the civil rights marches that changed America.

“Selma,” as in Alabama, the place where segregation in the South was at its worst, leading to a march that ended in violence, forcing a famous statement by President Lyndon B. Johnson that ultimately led to the signing of the Civil Rights Act.

It astounds me that Selma was not nominated for more than two Oscars. Ava DuVernay has put together an excellent biopic, subtly fitting in many layers of history, including disagreements between different aspects of the civil rights movement (such as the SNCC) and the planning and focus required to steer events to a particular outcome. It was a smart move for the movie to focus on a single issue of the movement — the work to secure voting rights — as it give the audience a clear sense of the conflict at hand and something to rally for. I also liked the decision to overlay events with typewritten messages from the FBI’s monitoring of King and the movement, which was an unsettling and brilliant addition to the film.

David Oyelowo is fantastic as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., revealing his uncertainties in facing the enormity of the task before him. He really embodies the man and brings humanity to the character, even as he gives iconic speeches.

selma movie still

If there is one thing that bothered me, it was that sometimes it was hard to keep track of timelines. I’m not really clear on how much time passed, from when King first appeared in Selma to the final march from Selma to Montgomery. I’m assuming months, or at least weeks, but I’m not sure. It was a minor problem anyway, as I enjoyed and was moved by the movie.

My sister and I had a great conversation following the movie, talking about the history of racism and how it applies to today’s current events. Isn’t generating discussion what a movie like this is for?

selma-bridge movie still

Best Picture Nominees Announced (and some itty bitty initial thoughts)

The Oscar nominees are out. I have only seen one of the movies nominated this year, The Grand Budapest Hotel and I find it interesting that it has been sweeping the awards as much as it has, since I remember enjoying, but not loving the movie.

I’m also surprised to see that Selma isn’t receiving nearly as many accolades, with no nods for Best Actors or Actresses, nor a Best Director Nomination. Hrm. (“2015 Oscar nominations show lack of diversity in a year when films didn’t,” Washington Post.)

Anywho, here are the Best Picture Nominees, along with a few initial and superficial thoughts.

Continue reading “Best Picture Nominees Announced (and some itty bitty initial thoughts)”

Favorite New-to-me Movies of 2014

top movies seen in 2014It’s been a weird year for movies for me, as I didn’t go to the theaters much like I normally do. In fact I’ve only seen a few 2014 movies. This may also be a contributing factor as to why our of the 49 movies I’ve seen this year, I outright hated nine of them (high for me), just wasn’t into a dozen more, and liked but didn’t love many others — so, I had a hard time coming up with a top ten and, in the process, of trying to form my list, I realized there were only five that I really loved this year.

The Top Five

1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – It’s the group of antagonists become friends become chosen family trope that really gets me here. Plus fun action space story and oodles of fantastic music.

2. Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) – I love subtly speculative indie films and this one hit all the right notes of heart and humor.

3. The Host / Gwoemul (2006) – Intense, funny, and hiding tons of social commentary, this was a fantastic movie.

4. Planet of the Apes (1968) – While the special effects and movie makeup don’t hold up to modern standards, the story is still powerful, complex, and compelling.

5. Her (2013) — I thought the concept of this movie was strange when I first heard about it, and I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did and I appreciated it even more after seeing it a second time around.

Continue reading “Favorite New-to-me Movies of 2014”

New-to-me movies in December

Not a great month for movie watching….

1. The Giver (2014)

The Giver is about a young boy who is assigned to work with an older man, who houses all the memories of society. Somehow the humanity’s memories have been stored away, leaving everyone empty of extreme emotions and happy in their assigned roles within a community in which everyone is equal. Or something.

I think what this movie suffers from most is the current trend in YA dystopian stories, such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, in which a young character rebels against the system. It carries too much of that sleek pop-culture flavor and even mimics certain scenes (most clearly the visual aspects of the ceremony at the beginning of Divergent). What might have been unique about the original storyline has been obliterated by the need to fit in with these other popular dystopian stories, which was unfortunate. The result is a boring movie that doesn’t make much sense.

I have not read the book. I’m sure that where movie is obtuse and incomprehensible, the book is logical. Or at least I hope it is. The movie’s ending was so illogical that I was ranting at my family members, who kept telling me I was over thinking it. I guess I just need to read the book.

2. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Technically, I watched this in November while captive on a plane flight. It was a terrible decision really. Zero entertainment. Zero joy. Even the action was snooze worthy. Not even really worth writing a review about. It was just… so, so, so bad.

My Top Five Christmas Movies

There are a zillion lists of favorite/top Christmas movies out there, so creating my own is probably just adding to the chatter (and it’s even possible I’ve done this before). Yet, here I am adding my own personal list, and it is just that — personal. These are movies that I either grew up with or have a connection to, that I get eager to watch every year, and that (along with friends and family and decorations) make it feel as thought the season is really here, as I cuddle up with my sisters in big fluffy blankets to watch.

My list focuses on movies about Christmas, instead of movies about other events that just happen to be set at Christmas time, such as Die Hard, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Home Alone.

So, here are my favorite Christmas movies, in no particular order.

The-Muppet-Christmas-Carol

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Numerous as the “best of” Christmas movie lists are the adaptations of Charles Dickens’ The Christmas Carol, but the muppets version is by far my favorite, gently incorporating the zany antics of the muppets characters, while also holding true to the sentiment of the original story.

Gonzo makes for a surprisingly great Charles Dickens and Michael Cain is fantastic as scrooge. Each of the ghosts hit the perfect notes: The Ghost of Christmas Past is ethereal and wispy, the Ghost of Christmas Present is joyful and solid, and the Ghost of Christmas Future is a kid=friendly level of grim and frightening.

Elf

Elf (2003)

A orphan crawls into Santa’s bag of gifts and ends up being raised by an elf at the North Pole. It’s not until he’s an awkward, ginormous adult that he figures out he’s not really an elf and goes in search of his father, a Scrooge-like character who has been on the naughty list for years. His reunion with his long lost father does not go smoothly.

One of the things that makes this movie fantastic is Will Ferrel’s ability to pull off a level of childlike innocence and glee that reminds me of the shrill, ridiculous joy of being young at Christmas. Just seeing him scream “SANTA!” at the top of his lungs makes me think, Oh, yeah, I remember that feeling.

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story (1983)

All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a a Red Ryder B.B. gun, but all any adult, — from teachers to his parents and even Santa Claus — has to say on the matter is “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

I know people who hate this movie (my sister is one), but I can’t go through the Christmas season without watching it at least once. The dark humor appeals to me. Also, the adventures of this family struggling through Christmas — the kids dealing with bullies, over-sized snow suits, and horrible gifts, the parents trying to offer as much joy as they can while strapped for cash — resonates with me. It reminds me on a small level of the chaos that surrounded my own family around the holidays, my parents doing the best they could with what they had. Somehow it all came together into a fabulous holiday event in the end.

the-santa-clause

The Santa Claus (1994)

When advertising executive Scott Calvin accidentally kills Santa Claus by causing him to fall off the roof, he finds himself whisked off to the North Pole with his son, where he learns he has to take Santa’s place as the deliverer of presents and joy to the children of the world. Though he tries to deny it, his transformation into Santa begins to take place regardless.

I’m not really a fan of Tim Allen, but I love this movie. It’s funny and sweet and magical, and I will sit and watch it anytime it comes on.

the-nightmare-before-christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Feeling depressed and disenchanted with his work as the Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington wanders away from Halloween Town and discovers a doorway into the North Pole with snow and elves and joyful feelings. So enamored is he with the discovery of Christmas that he takes over the holiday, taking on the role of Santa Clause.

While I feel this is almost as much of a Halloween movie as a Christmas movie, I love this animated tale, which puts a creepy spin on the genre. It fills the dark little heart of my goth/horror-loving shadow self.

Honorable Mention: Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

And the rest of the ’60s Christmas cartoons, really. Each of these movies, especially Rudolph holds a special place in my heart. Rudolph as the outcastand, all of the misfit toys, and the abominable snowman — I love them all.

What are your favorite holiday movies?

Book and Movie Completed in November

Does this blog title sound odd to you? Because it sounds odd to me.

I don’t remember the last time I’ve only finished one book over the course of a month, as I tend to average between 6-8 books a month. This is in part because of my busy November schedule and because my time was spent absorbing longer works. In addition to the one book I’ve completed, I spent the month working my way through the third volume of The Arabian Nights (which is 850 pages long, so I’m still not done after reading around 500 pages this month).

It was also a slow month in movie watching, with only one new-to-me movie watched. Though again, I spent time working my way through a longer storyline, binge watching ten episodes of The Walking Dead on my flight back from London, instead of catching up on current movies like I usually do.

All that is to say, here are my thoughts on the one new book and movie for this month.

Movie – Planet of the Apes (1968)

Planet of the ApesAn astronaut journeying through space lands on a strange planet, on which the human-like inhabitants are mute and are ruled by intelligent apes. Captured and unable to speak due to an injury, the astronaut (played by Charlton Heston) is unable to express his intelligence and is treated like a caged wild animal.

While the makeup and special effects are corny by today’s standards, I totally understand why this movie is a classic. The storyline is compelling as it presents an interesting, critical look at what it means to be human, how we treat animals in cages, and the threat of human’s tendency toward violence. There are many layers and much that could provide ample space for critical discussion (I’m sure many essays and analyses exist). An excellent movie, so much more interesting than ANY remake that has come after it (and I’m sure sequels, too, though I haven’t seen all of them yet to be able to judge).

Book – Sleepwalk by John Saul

I’ve had this on my bookshelf for ages and finally picked it up because it was a lightweight paperback to take on the plane. It served its purpose as something to read, but it annoyed me in several ways. The main character was a teacher; I was a substitute and my sister and friend are teachers, and the descriptions of classrooms and schools in the book did not ring true. None of the characters were particularly interesting either and the evil corporation conspiracy storyline was cliche. Plus the story involved around the concept “noble natives” as connected to nature compared to the people in town people who blindly working at an oil refinery, which is destroying nature. It all felt like it was borrowing old ideas, tropes, and stereoypes mixed together into a novel. Not a winner.

Smiling when your heart is breaking

When I was 13ish, my cousin shared the movie My Girl with my younger sister and I. We had no idea what we were in for, the fun and funny coming of age story of a girl coming of age eventually left my sister and I completely destroyed, curled up in a balled weeping mess, hugging each other to hold back the feelings.* I remember it taking some time to calm us down, though my cousin claims innocence and no memory of this incident. Over the years, I’ve watched My Girl dozens of times and I’ve wept every time.

So, when My Girl 2 came out a few years later, I had to see it. It was… okay. Not nearly the amount of heart as I would have hoped.

But that’s not the point.

The point is there was one moment in the sequel I adored — when Veda finally sees a video of her mother and she sings the Charlie Chaplin tribute song “Smile” (the only available version of this scene is this really bad recording). I’m sure I cried, because I’m a big baby at movies. There was something about they way the actress who played Veda’s mom is so casual, singing it acapella, smiling to herself, an slightly embarrassed that captured me.

I loved the words, too. They are simple words, but sweet, speaking of holding to hope through hard times, something I could and still can relate to in the face of struggle. It places this among my favorite songs.

So, after finishing the movie, I immediately rewound the tape so that I could start memorizing it. I still know it by heart to this day.

I’m not a good singer (to be honest, I’m terrible), but if asked, I will sing “Smile,” mimicking the inflections of Veda’s mom. I can almost sound okay singing it, or so I’ve been told by my mom. 😉

The words, as I remember them:

Smile though your heart is aching,
smile even though it’s breaking,
although a tear may be ever so near,
that’s the time, you must keep on trying.
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just light up your face with gladness.
Hide any trace of sadness.
When there are clouds
in the sky, you’ll get by.
Smile through your fear and sorrow,
smile and maybe tomorrow,
you’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
if you just smile.”

And here’s a really sweet cover of the song I found (with what are likely the “correct” lyrics):

*If you’ve have not seenMy Girl, I urge you to go see it. Tell me what you think. If you don’t tear up even a little, even just a little extra moisture going on, I say you have no soul.

New-to-me movies: August to October

Very short reviews from three months worth of movie watching. What have you seen lately?

1. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
3. Divergent (2014)
4. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
5. The Bling Ring (2013)
6. A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)
7. Prom Night (2008)
8. How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)
9. Captain America: The Winder Soldier (2014)
10. The Pact (2012)
11. The Purge: Anarchy (2014)
12. Horns (2014)

REVIEWS:

Continue reading “New-to-me movies: August to October”

An Adorable Monster and other good things

I did not exercise all last week, unless you count my playing with my niece, a.k.a. The Monster — following her as she ran around the park and rolling with her in the grass and spinning in circles and then hauling her over my shoulder to get her back to her parents at the picnic tables — which I totally do.

The Monster had a lovely Easter. She got to paint eggs and then “find” eggs during an Easter egg hunt (which was more us just tossing plastic eggs into the grass and playing pick up with a plastic bucket, because she’s not yet two).

Words Here and There

I haven’t been putting many expectations on myself in terms of writing lately, due to the many, many things going on in other arenas of my life. But I’ve managed to feel a few sparks of inspiration over the past couple of weeks, which is awesome.

Despite my previous protestations that no poetry would be written this month, I’ve added a number of poems to The Poetry Project over on Wattpad. You can read each of the poems at the following links:

I’m planning to close The Poetry Project to new prompts as of April 30th, so if you would like me to write you a poem, then please leave me a prompt in the comments either here or there.

I’ve put together an excel sheet of chapters of the werewolf novel, noting things that need to be added and major problems that need to be solved along the way. It’s not a complicated layout, but it was enough to start getting my thoughts in order and I’m also using the tabs to start trying to keep track of characters and places that are important. I still have NO IDEA to solve the one major problem I have at the moment. The most obvious solution is to cut out the problem entirely, but I’m not sure that’s what I want to do.

I also met with the Writing Gang over the weekend, all of whom continue to be awesome. They gave me some feedback on some of the later chapters, which was valuable as always. I think I need to look at solving the big problems and work my way through edits from the beginning at this point. *le sigh*

Good Movie Watching

The Host (2006)I saw The Host (Gwoemul) for the first time over the weekend and it was SO FREAKING AWESOME. The story involves a large genetically mutated creature that rises up out of Han River in Seoul, South Korea and begins to attach the population. A young school girl is taken by the creature during the initial attack, and amidst a virus scare and government lockdown, her family escapes quarantine to try to rescue her.

It sounds like just your typical monster movie, but the story is intelligent and the family is both charming and silly in their bungling attempts to save their daughter/niece. It offers fantastic action sequences with a spice of humor, alongside an interesting social commentary. The monster turns out to be the least terrifying aspect of the story. Instead it’s the failed efforts of the Korean and U.S. government to solve the contamination problem, as well as the cold calculating treatment toward the patients in quarantine by officials and doctors alike that becomes truly frightening.

This is one of those movies that was so cool, I want to now see everything done by the director, Joon-ho Bong. The director’s most recent movie is Snowpiercer, which I’ve heard is amazing. So, I that may be the next movie I seek out by him. If you want more evidence of Joon-ho Bong’s awesome, you can check out this post.

Things to Do This Week

  • Edit chapter one of werewolf novel and try to solve big plot problem
  • Find a publisher to submit chapbook manuscript to
  • Continue research/do homework on business thing that I can’t talk about yet

New-to-me movies watched in February and March

Since I never got around to posting February’s movies, you get two months of reviews at once! Yay?

February:
1. Sympathy for Mr. Vengence / Boksuneun naui geot (2002)
2. Oldboy / Oldeuboi (2003)
3. Dallas Buyers Club (2013)
4. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

March:
5. Nebraska (2013)
6. Captain Philips (2013)
7. Her (2013)
8. American Hustle (2013)
9. Gravity (2013)
10. The World’s End (2013)
11 13 Sins (2014)
12. Veronica Mars (2014)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “New-to-me movies watched in February and March”

A long time ago, we used to be friends…

Both my sister and I were fans of the show and fell in love with it, even though our introduction was the not-great third season. Still, there was something about the witty, smart-ass, I-will-destroy-you-if-you-cross-me petite blonde that filled us both with glee.

Though the third season did kinda suck, we were still sad when the show was canceled (just as we fell in love with it, too). So, imagine our joy when we learned of the Veronica Mars movie.

Anyone else excited for the Veronica Mars movie?

From IMDB: “Years after walking away from her past as a teenage private eye, Veronica Mars gets pulled back to her hometown — just in time for her high school reunion — in order to help her old flame Logan Echolls, who’s embroiled in a murder mystery.”

A simple analysis: if you loved the TV show, then it’s highly likely you will love the movie. If you hated the TV show, then you’ll hate the movie. If you never knew anything about the show, then the experience will be hit or miss, you may hate it or fall in love with Veronica and find yourself obsessively watching all the episodes.

Kickstarter funded, the movie was clearly made for fans, bringing back well-loved characters to show them how they’ve changed in the past nine years and in some cases how they haven’t changed at all. There were hints and reminders of the show, both overt and subtle. One of my favorite such instances appeared near the beginning, when a street performer in the background played the theme song for the show. It was just subtle enough that my sister didn’t even notice until I pointed it out to her and we both giggled in gleeful joy.

I’d say the most awkward part of the movie was the voice over rehashing of information. It fits with the Veronica Mars style, in which she fills viewers in on what’s going on, but it didn’t really work here. It basically gave a general overview of the show, which was meant, I suppose to fill in those who were new to Veronica Mars as to who she is. However, for Veronica fans this was known information and for non-Veronica fans this information wasn’t pertinent to the storyline of the movie (for example, Lily’s murder, though important in the show has no bearing on the movie). I think it probably caused more confusion instead of helping, and it would have been better if, instead of summarizing the TV show, the narration introduced the plot of the movie and maybe provided some info on the past nine years.

As a fan, the movie gave me exactly what I was looking for — a good, solid murder mystery and a revisiting of favorite characters. Veronica was the same queen of sass that she always is and she and Logan continue to smolder. (Their relationship is funny, because they are always drawn together in states of crisis and then fall apart when the reality of being together on a day to day basis comes into play, though maybe since they’ve both (hoefully) grown up some over the past nine years, they’ll work it out this time.) The story maintained the same dark noir and sharply humorous tone of the show. It could almost be called a two hour episode, especially since the ending made it feel like the pilot for a new TV show — and oh, the SQUEE I would have if that were to happen.

Walking out of the theater, I felt the Veronica Mars’ great big tada. My sister and I were both smiling, feeling as though we’d visited an old friend.

Also, one more gif, because I just can’t resist:

Yes, Veronica, even after a tasering, I would still love you.

Movie Review: The World's End

Being a HUGE fan of Shaun of the Dead (the hilarious spoof of the zombie classic Dawn of the Dead), I was über-excited to learn about Edgar Wright and Simon Peg’s most recent foray in to genre, The World’s End. Reality being reality and life being lifelike, I wasn’t able to see The World’s End in theaters and only managed to finally watch it this past weekend.

Short analysis: I loved it.

Longer analysis: This story of five friends meeting up in their hometown to perform the epic pubcrawl they failed to complete as younger men, only to find the town they knew invaded by replicant-style robots, hit all the right notes for me.

Like with Shaun of the Dead, this movie plays manages to lovingly spoof the genre while offering up characters to care about and just a bit of heart. It maybe didn’t pull off the relationships between the characters as well as Shaun of the Dead did, but it was still a fun movie, with lots of action and humor.

Plus booze — there was lots of beer drinking and drunkenness.*

One of the most impressive things, in terms of acting, was how well each of the characters portrayed being drunk. It’s apparently one of the hardest things to do in acting and each of them pulled it off just about perfectly. Watching the characters do the Slow Blink at about level 7 on the drunkeness scale reminded me of my own knights out drinking. I’ve been there.

For those interested, here’s the video of Simon Peg showing Conan O’Brian the twelve stages of drunkenness:

*Actually, I wasn’t clear on how these drunken, untrained gents managed to fight as skillfully as they do in this movie — at some points it was almost too slick — but that didn’t stop from the entertainment value for one second.

Great movie.

Preliminary thoughts on Oscar nominations

The Academy has announced its nominations for the Oscars. For several years now, I’ve been attending the Best Picture Showcase, presented by the AMC movie theaters, which allows me to catch up on all the nominated movies in a couple of weekends. I’m in the habit at this point of posting the movies and my thoughts on them before the awards.

Since I haven’t seen ANY of the movies nominated, these thoughts are based on synopsis and trailers alone.

Continue reading “Preliminary thoughts on Oscar nominations”

New-to-me Movies in January

My movie watching habits have changed significantly over the past several months. It used to be that I would go to the theaters about 2-4 times a month to see new movies. Now I’m lucky if I go once a month, mostly due to financial reasons. Also, when I get access to Netflix (while housesitting), I tend to not want to watch new-to-me movies and go for TV shows instead.

For example, last month I watched significant amounts of Doctor Who (season three and most of four) and The X-Files (rewatched all of season one). So I’m thinking I might start posting my TV watching thoughts more often, though I’m not how I want to approach that yet. In the meantime…,

January Movies:

1. 2 Guns (2013)
2. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

REVIEWS (behind the cut):

Continue reading “New-to-me Movies in January”

Favorite Movies Watched in 2013

STATS: Total (new-to-me) Movies Watched = 67, of which
27 were General (Drama/Action/Etc.)
17 were Scifi/Fantasy
10 were Horror
5 were Animated
4 were Comedy
4 were Documentaries
5 were Foreign (non-English)
In addition, I watched a total of 9 short films.

Favorites

2013 Favorite Movies

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Pacific Rim (2013)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012)
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
Fast & Furious 6 (2013)
Django Unchained (2012)
Stoker (2013)

Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
I loved The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which is a fantastic adaptation of the book. The political tension in the film had me on edge and is so well done.

Runner Up: Pacific Rim was also fantastically fun with some really great leading characters.

Best Horror Movie
I just loved The Cabin in the Woods for it’s sheer fun, humor, and gore (that ending sequence, OMG).

But for technical, eerie horror Rosemary’s Baby is also at the top of my list.

Best Animated Movie
Wreck-It Ralph — The old video game throw backs (awe, Q-Bert, how I miss you) and the friendship between Ralph and Vaneilope make this a winner for me.

Honorable Mention: Night of the Living Dead Reanimated (2009), which may not be the best, but deserves a mention for creativity, as it brings together artists from all over the world to recreate the visual elements of the classic 1968 zombie flick.

Best Comedy
It may seem odd that I’m choosing an old silent movie for top place, but Buster Keaton charms me every time and Sherlock Jr. had me laughing out loud throughout the story. So creative and inventive for any time.

Best Documentary
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry was a great exploration of the artists life.

Best Foreign Film
I have to give Amour (2012) the honor here, because though it’s terribly sad and hard to watch, it also has the most moving acting performance I’ve seen in a long time. Amazing cinematography and a beautiful film all around.

Runner Up: Blancanieves (2012) is a retelling of the Snow White fairy tale in black and white, silent film format. Plus, bullfighting. The ending is strange and sad, but it’s a fascinating movie.

Best Short Film
Paperman (2012) is an adorable little animation that is practically perfect in every way.

What movies did you see and love this year?

The Girl on Fire

Catching Fire posterLast night, I forgo-ed writing to go to the premiere party for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire at The Tech Museum’s Hackworth IMAX Dome (the dome is amazing in and of itself, eight stories tall and astounding to watch movies on). The party was fun with chocolate fondu fountains and a very creepy looking pig-shaped cake. In honor of the movie, a group presented sword and fighting demonstrations, as well as an archery demonstration. Before the movie, the staff also asked trivia questions and offered tee shirts and posters as prizes. (^_^)

Note: Spoilers from the first movie are likely to show up here.

Catching Fire after the first Hunger Games ending, with Katniss and Peeta both as heroes and in a constant state of threat by the government. The tension is present from the beginning, because we know Katniss defied President Snow with her berries trick and he is very pissed off about it. What follows is a political struggle as Katniss and Peeta decide whether to do as they’re told or to fight back.

Jennifer Lawrence was amazing. She can show so much of Katniss’ inner conflict without saying a single word. In fact, everyone in this movie did an amazing job, each one approaching their roles with respect for their characters. The director allows a few brief moments of quiet from time to time, in which the characters can just be themselves and all the worry and fear comes through.

The tension at the beginning is powerful and the action in the games is exciting (one of the game threats gave me chills). Since this is the second book in an ongoing story, things did fully wrap up, but paused in preparation for the third movie to come in 2014.

Catching Fire was a fantastic adaptation of the book and proves once again why book-to-movie adaptation is so fascinating to me. Books being the wordy things they are, tend to have more dialog, longer speeches, more explanation. As a reader seeing a movie of a favorite book, it’s tempting to want every scene and every bit of dialog included in the movie. But movies are different creative creatures entirely, and it’s often better to simplify, strip away a bulk of the words.

I remember reading Catching Fire and wondering how some of the scenes would be pulled off. In the book, the moments were dramatic and powerful and full of dialog and multiple scenes. Yet, the movie managed to pull out the heart of these scenes, make them powerful and moving, and all while having them be shorter. The scenes rely on trusting the actors to pull it off and the cinematographer to find the right distance. It’s fascinating to see this work.

The third and final book, Mockingjay, will be following the Hollywood trend these days and be split into two movies in order to suck all the money they can out of viewers. I have no idea how this will be pulled off (I never do). It has me a little worries (always does). But based on the first two movies, my hopes are high.

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Me blissfully unaware that Katniss is taking aim at my spine.
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Archery demonstration inside The Tech.

 

New-to-Me Movies Watched in October

Due to a crossing the Atlantic forth and back last month, this list is a bit longer than usual. (^_^)

1. Taxi Driver (1976)
2. White House Down (2013)
3. Blancanieves / Snow White (Spain, 2012)
4. Tteu-Geoun Ann-Yeong / Rockin On Heaven’s Door (South Korea, 2013)
5. Duck Soup (1933)
6. Now You See Me (2013)
7. Stoker (2013)
8. The Monster Squad (1987)
9. The Conjuring (2013)
10. Insidious (2010)

REVIEWS (behind the cut): Continue reading “New-to-Me Movies Watched in October”

Five Halloween Movies (that are kid friendly)

Happy Halloween!

This, my friends is my favorite holiday. I love a good scare, the costume, the creepy decorations, the delight of believing in the ghost in the attic or the monster under the bed even if for just one night.

My sister is less enthused. Anything to scary gives her anxiety. My baby niece is also getting to an age where she’s paying attention and could get frightened of what’s on the screen.

So my family has had to modify our scary movie watching quite a bit (at least during the daylight hours). Here is a list if Halloween-ish movies that we love and can all watch together.

Note: None of these movies are terribly scary, but each kid will react different (I remember being terrified of Labyrinth as a kid). Judge this list based on what you know of your own kids and their readiness level.

1. Hocus Pocus (1993)

“Three hundred years ago the Sanderson sisters bewitched people.” These witches might be silly and rather stupid, but they’re a lot of fun to watch cavorting around the modern era. There’s plenty of corniness, but also some great jokes and a dance number. Bette Midler and her fellow witches are all great.

This is a favorite of my family and one that’s almost always one TV during the Halloween season.

2. The Monster Squad (1987)

A group of kids, obsessed with horror comics, have created their own monster squad to battle evil. Little do they know, Dracula and the other classic monsters are real and are coming to town to find a secret amulet that will allow evil to rule the world.

This one doesn’t translate as well. The humor is cornier and the story is silly, but it’s still a fun movie.

I remember watching it as a kid and not knowing what a virgin was and thinking it was a nationality (because the virgin has to read from a German book to stop evil). Also while it’s never specified, the virgin in case apparently has to be a girl.

Still, gotta love the appearance of all the classic baddies at the same time. It’s ridiculous and absurd and fun.

3. The Witches (1990)

A young boy goes to a retreat by the sea shore with his grandma, and discovers that it is has become host to a gathering of purple eyed witches (with Angelica Huston as the head witch). When the boy gets caught by the witches, he is turned into a mouse and has to convince his grandmother to help him stop their nefarious plans.

The monster makeup when the witches peel off their human skin is fantastic and some scenes are genuinely delightfully gross. Great dark fantasy movie.

4. Young Frankenstein (1974)

Mel Brooks retelling the classic Frankenstein story in the most hilarious way possible. When Dr. Frankenstein’s heir inherits a castle in Transylvania, he can’t help but follow the same experiment and bring the monster to life once again. The black and white filming, fantastic comedic timing, and Brook’s genius all make for a fun homage to a classic movie monster.

5. Beetle Juice (1988)

This is probably belongs at the top of the list in all its weird, hilarious awesomeness. For those who don’t know, the story involves a couple who die suddenly in an accident and are trapped within their house, haunting it. The realm of the dead is twisted and strange with the dead locked in their bodies as they were when they died. When a family moves in and starts restructuring their dream home, they call on Beetlejuice to help them get rid of them and end up with more than they bargained for.

This is probably the best (or at least my favorite) movie on the list.

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I know there are plenty of others that I missed. The Adams Family movies come most immediately to mind and there are many others, I’m sure.

What are your favorite not-so-scary Halloween themed movies?

New-to-me Movies Watched in September

1. Riddick (2013)
Discussed elsewhere.

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2. Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
Meh. It seemed a lot of action and not much substance, so I wasn’t that impressed, even though I love many of the actors. Also, as much as I love Benedict Cumberbatch, I’m annoyed he played Khan (I wish they would have chosen an South Asian actor). Cumberbatch wasn’t that impressive in the role anyway.

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3. Austenland (2013)
This had the potential to be adorable, if they played it straight instead of going all wackadoodle. The humor was sometimes so ridiculous and absurd, the characters so annoying, that there were points I didn’t think I would be able to get through the movie. But Keri Russell was great (she played it straight), and there was some genuine adorableness in the end that made it worth my ten bucks. Not a favorite movie by a long shot, so I recommend waiting to stream it.

Escaping

Spent last weekend hanging out in Pensacola, Florida, chilling on the beach and walking around the board walk with a good friend. Fun to see my old friend and relax in the sun.

Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach

Pensacola Beach

 

I’ve been spending the week trying to make order of my life and catching up on things before heading off for the weekend again.

Tomorrow, I will be flying off to Washington, DC with another group of good friends. We’ll be checking out the Library of Congress, the monuments, and the Smithsonian, where there will be a book fair going on. Needless to say, I am filled with all kinds of SQUEE.

* * *

In entirely different news, there’s this horror movie called Escape from Tomorrow. Apparently a crew made the movie guerrilla-style inside of Disneyland. This is awesome.

What is more awesome is that Disney, in an attempt to avoid giving Escape from Tomorrow more publicity, is ignoring it, thus allowing it be released.

Seriously, though, I love Disneyland. And I love horror movies. Putting them together = ridiculous levels of awesome.

Here’s the trailer:

The Gun-Toting Macho-Babe: A Review of Riddick

Trigger Warning: mention of violence and rape.

Another Fair Warning: This post contains spoilers for a couple of movies, including the Riddick, which released this year.

I loved Pitch Black (2000). The story involves a ship full of passengers that crash lands on an unknown planet. As they are trying to find their way off this world, they discover that something much more sinister lurks beneath the surface.*

In addition to having a cool, fast paced story with awesome and stylish use of lighting, as well as fantastically scary creatures, the movie also had a diverse cast with three awesome women — Shazza Montgomery (played by Claudia Black of Farscape fame), a free-settler who easily pulls her own weight; Jacke/Jackie (played Rhiana Griffith), a kid who becomes digs on Riddick’s bad boy appeal and tries to emulate him; and Carolyn Fry (played by Radha Mitchell), one of the ship’s pilots and the lead in the movie. Carolyn is especially interesting as she’s the most complicated, starting out as a coward by wanting to jettison the passengers at the beginning of the movie to save herself and then growing into the leader of the group, one willing to risk herself to save others.

The movie also introduced the audience to the bad-assery that is Riddick and made Vin Diesel a star.**  Riddick was presented at first as the villain, a criminal and murderer, who later turns out to be less of an evil than Johns, the bounty hunter who tracked and caught him. In the first movie, Riddick is far from perfect, but has some depth with his own sense of morality (he refuses to kill a kid and leave her for dead in order to protect the group from monsters, as Johns wanted to) and his own perception of god.

Following Pitch Black, came two sequels (one of which is animated), each of which was of far lower quality than the first movie, and neither of which I saw. So, I went into the third sequel, Riddick, with very low expectations. We really only went to see it, because both my friend and I love Vin Diesel.

Following right after the events of The Chronicles of Riddick, in which he apparently had become some sort of king, Riddick starts with his being betrayed and left stranded on a desert planet, at which point it eventually becomes a sub-par rehashing of Pitch Black and Vin Diesel grumbling out some of the same lines from the first movie. The bigger threat this time is small, mud creatures with scorpion-like tales that seemed like less-intelligent versions of the creatures from the Alien franchise, once the rain started and released them en-masse. The story itself may have been redundant, but, in and of itself, it was entertaining enough.

But I really, really didn’t like the way the movie treated the women, of which there are two. And, in fact, as I’ve thought about it more over the past couple of days, I’ve come to realize that I’m actually rather pissed off about it.

The first is a nameless black woman (played by Keri Hilson),*** chained inside the bounty hunter Santana’s ship, who has clearly been abused at the hand of the bounty hunter (and based on his later behavior, also raped). Santana decides to let her go on the grounds that he has more important things to deal with, only to shoot her in the back as she is fleeing. She locks eyes with Riddick, who is hidden from the bounty hunters behind a rock, and he stares at her passively as she takes her last breath. It’s just so clear that her only role in the movie is to show viewers that Santana is a bad, bad man. And it’s gross.

The second is Dahl (played by Katee Sackhoff), a gun-toting macho-babe. She saunters in leather-clad, carrying weapons, and sporting an attitude. When some dude, like Santana, says something she doesn’t like, she punches him and makes him bleed. Other than that she doesn’t do much, stand around looking sexy, and taking some choice shots with the sniper riffle.

Now, I don’t inherently have anything against the Gun-Toting Macho-Babe. She can on occasion be awesome, providing there is more to her than being a gun-toting macho-babe. It depends on the level of power she’s actually allowed to have and how the men around her treat her and her response to that treatment.

At one point, the scum that is Santana, propositions her. At which point, she punches him again, and says, “I don’t f*ck guys, but I do occasionally f*ck them up.” (And I thought,” Oh, okay. She’s gay. Cool.”)

In the continuing interplay between Dahl and Santana (she rarely interacts with anyone else), he throws her to the ground and tries to rape her. After she escapes his brutality and is asked why there’s so much blood, she explains with a smirk, “I had to kick his ass again” — because rape is obviously something to laugh about.

Later, Riddick explains to the group that he’s going to go “balls deep” in Dahl. Her response is to roll her eyes and essentially say that that’s never going to happen. (And I, after grimacing at his awful and sexist dialog, prayed that she wouldn’t, all the while knowing better.)

Because what happens at the end when she lowers down on a wire to extract Riddick? She straddles as she straps him into the harness, smiles sweetly, and says, “Let me ask you something sweetly…”

Apparently, his manliness is so manly that Dahl could not help herself and had to f*ck him. It was just so “oh, look, Riddick, you won the impossible prize that none of the other less manly men could win!” that it made me want to gag.

I don’t understand how the same writers and director who did the original managed to work their way into creating this mess of a movie without any layers. I can picture them sitting there, talking about what a strong woman Dahl is, while smugly smiling at how awesome they are.

Which reminds me of Sophie McDougall’s excellent New Statesman article, “I Hate Strong Female Characters,” in which she expertly explains the problem with the concept of Strong Female Charaters. She says, “Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.”

As I think back to Pitch Black, I would describe the women there as intelligent, capable, complicated, brave, cowardly, disciplined, troubled, conscious-stricken, honorable, and/or dishonest, depending on the woman. They are closer to people, closer to being layered.

Not one of them was a gun-toting, macho-babe (which is not to say that the women in Pitch Black never carry or fire weapons, but that they do so out of necessity, not as a matter-of-fact).

Not one of them is a hot sex bot in leather.

Not one of them is a nameless victim, either.

Not one of them is reduced to an one-dimentional object for the men to play off.

Like Sophie McDougal, I want a women to be more than strong, more than the what the writers and director of Riddick reduced both the nameless woman and Dahl into being. I want more, because I know it’s possible for writers and directors and creators to do better. I’ve seen better. And I’m sad and disappointed that more creators don’t seem to even try.

Comments are welcome, but try to be constructive.

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Recommended Reading: “Somone Like Me,” by Cindy Pon is an article about diversity or lack thereof in fiction and movies. She writers, “I play “Spot the Asian” when I watch movies. I remember doing this for The Avengers recently, and feeling disheartened near the end of the film when I had yet to see an Asian American face on the big screen. The movie redeemed itself in a montage of post-conquering-the-bad-guys scenes in New York City, where I saw Asian faces as extras in the background and even a brief cameo of an excited Asian American boy with actual lines to speak. For those who are not people of color (PoC), this might seem an odd ritual. But imagine growing up and rarely seeing someone who looked like you in the media—not even in commercials, much less on television shows, in films, or in magazines. I was a voracious reader as a child, but it was only as an adult, looking back, when I realized that I had never read a book with a character who looked like me.”

Read the whole thing. It’s a great post and includes a list of books at the end that the author recommends.

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*This btw represents one of my favorite horror movie tropes. Put people in an already scary situation (crashed on a plant with no sight of help and no easy way off), then escalate the situation by having something worse crawl out of the woodwork.

**Well, Pitch Black, along with his followup roll in The Fast and the Furious a year later in 2001.

***There is a separate, but equally important discussion to be had about race, and the fact that the nameless victim was a black women, as well as the fact that yet again, the only survivors were white folk.

****It should be noted, by the way, that while Riddick never seems to be bothered by Santana’s continuing attacks on women, he finally gets angry and kills Santana for the crime of killing his dog.

Books Completed in August

1. The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang
2. Horns, by Joe Hill
3. Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff
4. Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
5. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (audio book), by Lisa See
6. A Blackbird Sings: a book of short poems, edited Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita Thompson
7. No Roses for Harry! by Gene Zion
8. Unnatural Creatures, edited by Neil Gaiman
9. Emiko Superstar, written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston
10. Wave (audio book), by Sonali Deraniyagala

Read reviews on my livejournal.

A list of new-to-me movies watched in July and August can be found here.

Holy Exploding Internet, Batman!

Ever since I’ve heard a new Superman vs Batman movie would be coming out in 2015, I’ve been pretty much indifferent. I loved all the Batman movies (from Tim Burton to Christopher Nolan, with the one exception of the crappy Batman & Robin in 1997), but while I’ve enjoyed several Superman movies, I’ve never been a huge fan. Superman is not a comic character I get excited over.

The Avengers franchise has managed to do something incredible in the way it has created a series of loosely interconnected solo movies, which then came together in the amazing team movie. I just don’t see that level of dedication with the Justice League team or with this new Superman vs Batman movie.

So, with this level of indifference, I can’t get too upset about the fact that Ben Affleck has been cast as the new Batman. It doesn’t affect my level of indifference one bit.

I do recognize, however, that it is a bad decision on the part of the filmmakers.

This is not because Ben Affleck is a bad actor. In general, I think he’s a decent actor. He’s been in several movies I loved (Argo, Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love), lots of movies that were just okay, and many movies that were bad. I’d say that’s about average for a lot of actors out there.

And, while, yes, Daredevil was a terrible, terrible movie, that fact can’t be entirely blamed on Ben Affleck. Moviemaking is a collaborative form and how good or bad a movie turns out is dependent on not just the actors, but also (and perhaps even more so) on the producer, writers, and director, as well as all the other crew members that make a movie possible.

So, it’s entirely possible that with the right writers, director, producers, cast, crew, and Ben Affleck as Batman, the new Superman vs. Batman movie could be great. (Though I doubt it.)

No, what makes this casting choice a bad decision is that it clearly shows that the moviemakers have no sense of the geek world and who the fan base is — mostly comic geeks, who are very passionate about their superheroes. If a producer came up to me and suggested Ben Affleck as Batman, I would have responded, “You’ve seen Daredevil, right? So, you know the internet is going to explode, right?”

And indeed, the internet has exploded (check out iO9’s 50 Greatest Tweets about Ben Affleck Casting as Batman, for rather humorous examples).

To me this decision represents the first poor decision (that we know of), which will likely preempt more such decisions. This doesn’t bode well for the final outcome of the movie.

Let me know you’re thoughts in the comments, and I’ll just settle back comfortably into my indifference, while I watch another episode of Fringe.*

*Author may not be actually watching said episodes, as author does actually have to work today.

Friday Five*: Scifi and Fantasy Movies I Can't Wait to See

1. The Philosophers – (view trailer)
The Philosophers

What It’s About: For the final session of his philosophy class, a teacher sets up a thought experiment: If the apocalypse comes and you can only fit so many people in your shelter, who do you let stay and who do you leave to die? (Based on the trailer, I’m guessing they play out the experiment in some sort of simulator.) But what starts as a mere experiment, turns violent and all too real.

Why It Looks Awesome: Gorgeous visuals combined with a complex moral dilemma should make for a captivating story. Also, it plays on the original Greek definition for apocalypse, “a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation,” which is rather refreshing.

2. Pacific Rim – (view trailer)
Pacific Rim

What It’s About: Enormous monsters from beneath the seas have awakened and begin reeking havoc on the world. In response, humanity designs giant mechanical robots to fight back.

Why It Looks Awesome: I have mixed feelings about giant mech stories (though I enjoyed Mobile Suit Gundam Wing), however I like the idea of the mech operators having to share memories. It reminds me of a number of anime stories and Godzilla, and it also includes a number of Asian characters (though I don’t know how sidelined they are). Also, this is directed by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hell Boy), who is simply amazing at creature design. Not all of his movies are great, but they tend to be fun, and when he hits the right note, his work is fantastic.

3. The World’s End – (view trailer)
The World's End

What It’s About: After many years, five friends return to their hometown to complete the epic pub crawl they failed when they were younger, only to find everyone in the village has been replaced by robots.

Why It Looks Awesome: Simon Peg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, and the same crew that did the fantastic and hilarious Sean of the Dead. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be amazing.

4. Europa Report – (view trailer)
Europa Report

What It’s About: An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for extraterrestrial life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa. But following a disastrous technical failure and the death of one of the crew, the remaining crew struggle to regain communication with Earth

Why It Looks Awesome: Stunning visuals and a realistic depiction of space travel, plus what looks like intense action. Should be amazing.

5. Upstream Color – (view trailer)
Upstream Color

What It’s About: The IMDB description reads: “A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.” I’m not sure what that means.

The equally confounding trailer claims notes, “You can force your story’s shape but the color will always bloom upstream.”

Why It Looks Awesome: I don’t know if “awesome” is the right word here, since this is described as an experimental film (and I’m not even sure it’s really science fiction), so “intellectually stimulating” is probably more accurate. It’s directed by Shane Carruth, who created Primer, an extremely low budget time travel movie, which was complex, understated, and presented a realistic view of time travel based on currently known physics (it was also a movie you had to see more than once to really understand). My guess that Upstream Color will be equally understated, intelligent, and complex. Plus I’m quite curious to see if watching the movie is as confounding as reading the description.

Edited to Add: I found out after posting this that Upstream Color is already out on streaming and DVD.

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So that’s my five. I tried to stick to movies that might be lesser known, which is why The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smog, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Carrie didn’t make the list).

For more science fiction and fantasy movies coming out this year, you can also check out IO9’s massive list.

What are the movies that you can’t wait to see in the coming months?

*My plan is to start doing a weekly Friday Five again (on an assortment of random topics), and I’m hoping the ability to schedule posts will help make that happen.

Jane Austen Marathon

My sister, Pilar, was in a mood yesterday — happy, but bored, floating around the house, poking me in the ribs, doing whatever she could to entertain herself.

This boredom led her to throw on Mansfield Park (from 1999), a movie she and I both love. Though the movie follows the plot of the book, one could argue that the additions and subtractions to the movie don’t necessarily follow the spirit of the book. The movie drops some of the propriety, revealing some playfulness, and slips in some commentary on the slave trade, which as I recall doesn’t exist in the book. I can see why these things might bother die hard Austen fans, but I enjoy the choice of actors in the movie and the style of cinematography, so I think the movie stands as a great movie on it’s own, as a story separate from the book.

Next up my sister threw Persuasion (2007) into the DVD player, because it’s her new favorite Austen movie and she insisted that I see it. I haven’t read the book, but I need to. The story is unusual, because the two main characters know each other already, because Anne Elliot was persuaded by family and friends to drop her engagement to Mr. Wentworth, who had little fortune at the time. Eight years later, their paths cross again, and there is a large share of hurt and awkwardness and cruelty between them. I love these kinds of stories, because there’s something so fascinating to me about existing intimacies, as opposed to new flirtations.

The style of the movie is great. Many scenes involve our heroine sitting with her back to a group of people talking. They speak, either not knowing she can hear or not realizing that their words affect her, but the angle of the camera draws us into her space as outsider, and it’s very moving. Also, the ending = love.

Since we were already on a role with the Jane Austen movies, we decided to keep it up. So we put in Sense and Sensibility, the BBC miniseries from 2008. My sister is still very much attached to the Kate Winslet/Emma Thompson version from 1995, which I also enjoy. But despite the shocking (and unnecessary) opening sequence, I ended up falling in love with this new miniseries. The actresses are younger, closer to the ages of the actual characters in the books. It’s kind of a quieter depiction, the acting more subtle, though it’s been ages since I’ve seen the 1995 version. This miniseries actually made me believe that Marianne Dashwood could fall for Colonel Brandon, something other versions couldn’t do. So, yeah, fantastic.

We intended to conclude the night with the 2005 movie version of Pride & Prejudice, with Keira Knightley and Mathew Macfayden (another one I love for being exactly what it is, even if it doesn’t follow the book exactly). However Sense and Sensibility was longer than I thought it would be and by then it had got too late in the evening.

It was a great night of Jane Austen movies, though, and my sister and I had a great time chatting about the books and movies. We have another night planned of watching first Becoming Jane, followed by Miss Austen Regrets. I’d also like to do a marathon of watching several versions of Pride and Prejudice in a row, though that would be an all day event if the miniseries is included.

Battle Royale

Battle RoyaleTHE BOOK: In this blood and gore soaked tale, a class of 40 junior high school students is brought to an island and told by the fascist government that they must kill each other in an all out battle with only one survivor.

This book is definitely comparable to exploitation films and literature, in which violence over storyline is key. It starts with a brief introduction to the kids and its main character Shuye, before launching almost immediately into the slaughter of the kids (unlike its successor Hunger Games, which has a long lead up and gives you time to care about the main character). So, as the first bodies started to fall, I was not fully attached or bothered much by it.

However, this changes as the book goes on and each character is explored more in depth. Takami uses omniscient narration to jump from character to character. So that as the students wander the island, some looking to kill, some trying to just survive, others trying to plot escape, you get to know a little bit more about each one, including what their life was like before and why they are the way they are. (This omniscience also helped me keep the 40+ characters straight and helped to root the main characters in my mind.) So, by the middle of the book, I was definitely invested in seeing what the handful of good guys, who were trying to fight back, would do.

Along with the overriding theme of distrust and betrayal, followed by bloodshed, there was another interesting theme that I’m not sure gets talked about much. Almost all the students had crushes on someone, and who they loved and who loved them was a conversation that was repeated over and over again. Several characters were driven by their need to connect with the person they cared for, but never said anything to, even if its the last thing they do. Even the main character Shuye is focused on saving and protecting Noriko in order to honor his best friend, who had a crush on her. I’m not sure what all this is supposed to mean, but I thought it was very interesting that in a book so filled with death that there would be such a focus on unrequited love. Perhaps it has to do with life and what we really regret when we leave it behind.

I can definitely see why some people would hate this book; it is very bloody and bleak. But as a teenager I spent many of my days avidly reading the horror novels of Stephen King. They, too, were blood-soaked and filled with gore and I read them obsessively. Reading Battle Royale felt like a similar experience, in which I would sit at my desk, eying the book out of the corner of my eye and resenting the fact that I had to get work done instead of read. (Apparently, this comparison to Stephen King is apt, as Takami notes him as a great influence in the afterword.) Neither the works of King, nor Battle Royale are great literature, but they are most certainly readable and, if you’re into horror, very entertaining.

Battle Royale 3D(大逃殺 3D:十周年特別版)-001THE MOVIE: I didn’t quite understand why the director made some of the choices he did. In an interview (which was included in the back of my version of the book), the director talks about making these changes so the story will be more believable. However, I didn’t quite buy that students boycotting school would make adults so afraid of them that they would start a program like the Battle Royale, as they do in the movie. It seemed more likely to me that the book’s version of using the Program as a way to institute fear and control made more sense.

Also, because the book was so fresh in my mind, I had a bit of a hard time with the movie, because there is almost zero chance to get to know and care about any of the characters. The students do die in bloody and entertaining ways — a lot of spinning is involved, actors pirouetting when shot multiple times — but it wasn’t as gory as other movies I’ve seen. Some of the dialog was kind of cheesy, too.

However, I ended up watching the movie twice, and in the second go around, I definitely was able to stop over critiquing it and enjoy it more. In fact, I really liked it the second go around, which makes me think that I probably would have loved it, if I hadn’t hadn’t read the book first.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Being a list of 5 things

1. Kinderbard – Songs for Children Sung by Characters from Shakespeare
Kinderbard is an awesome project to create that uses Shakespeare and music to inspire and educate children.

“We want to bring into the world the first in a planned series of books, music, and interactive apps containing songs for children. Each song is ‘sung by’ a character from Shakespeare, and is true to the quotation spoken by that character, and on which the song is based. Many of our songs address issues with which children can identify, such as anxiety, sibling rivalry, even bullying. Some are just silly or funny. But they are all lovingly created, and professionally performed, produced, and mastered.” — quoted from here

If you watch the video on the kickstarter page, you can see the love that has gone into making all of this. Daeshin Kim is organizing the project, while his wife is creating the art and his young daughter is singing the songs. The project is in fact inspired by the challenges the daughter had to face when the family moved to Paris and how music and Shakespeare helped her adapt to a new language and culture.

The project only has a few days left to gain funding, so I’m trying to signal boost and get others to join in. It certainly helps that in every interaction that I’ve had with Daeshin, he has been generous and kind, so I hope, hope, hope that the funds for this project come together.

2. Rereading The Martian Chronicles
The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories that have been strung together into a novel, which presents earth’s colonization of Mars. The first expeditions meet with challenges from the Martian natives, who are an advanced race in their own right. In one such story, “The Earth Men,” the company lands hoping to receive acknowledgement and fanfare in this first interaction with an alien race, only to find the Martians to be bored and annoyed by their presence.

As the colonization continues and more and more humans come to Mars, we see new kinds of stories, stories of people reshaping a stranger world, of strange people finding peace in solitude away from the red tape of Earth, of people fighting back once Earth tries to bring it’s red tape to Mars. Some stories are better than others of course — and certainly, being written in the ’50s, there’s not much space for women who are little more than background — but on the whole they are stories with interesting characters, stories that analyze humanity and society by situating it on an alien world.

I actually picked up the book to reread just a few days before Ray Bradbury passed away, the coincidence of which added a new level of poignancy to the reading. I remember being immediately smitten with the book when I first read it in school. “There Will Come Soft Rains” remains one of my favorite shorts stories, and in rereading it again now, I’m still amazed by the way he spun the story and how it still both moves me and gives me chills. Really a fantastic book — just one piece of evidence showing how amazing Bradbury was, and I’m already looking forward to reading it again someday.

3. Snow White and the Huntsman and the fabulous witch
I was going to write a post all about how, while Snow White and the Huntsman was a flawed movie in many ways, Charlize Theron was gorgeous and wonderful, bringing a haunted, unhinged depth to Queen Ravena (that pretty much carried the movie), and how I really do love the queen in the Snow White stories in general, because Snow in her purity is rather boring, but Gemma Files (aka [info]handful_ofdust) already wrote about it in her fabulous column and said it so much better than I ever could.

The only thing she didn’t mention is Theron’s fantastic costumes throughout the movie. Her gowns were amazing, like this one with the amazing headpiece and bird’s skulls around the neckline or this one that’s made with dung beetle carapaces or this one that looks like chain mail. Gorgeous.

Photo 184. Speaking of fairy tales…
I was introduced to this story at PANK Magazine by Rachel Rodman, called “Experimental Breeds: Bears, Clothed In Rumpled Hoods, Pipe “Rapunzel” To The Sleeping Pigs,” which fractures multiple fairy tales and mashes them together. It blew my mind. I mean, literally I was left sitting in my chair, slack-jawed, and unable to think properly — mind-blown. Go read it.

5. Pants
Yesterday, I arrived at work, only to immediately rip a hole in the seat of my pants. It was NOT awesome and set a bad precedent for the day. However, that evening I went to the mall to replace the pants that ripped, and … I ended up buying myself a whole new outfit, pants, shirt, sweater.

Considering the fact that shopping can sometimes be a stressful and/or depressing event for me, finding a whole outfit that works perfect, makes me feel good, and that I love is a really great feeling.

Don’t I look cute! For joy. (^_^)

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]

Review: Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

I’m a huge fan of horror movies and I love seeing behind the scenes of how movies are made, so it’s no surprise that I would totally dig Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror, by Jason Zinoman. The book presents a history of how filmmakers, such as Wes Craven, Roman Polanski, George Romero and others, took the old schlocky stories (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc.) to the next level, with stories that push the boundaries of politics and social commentary, as well as gore.

Zinoman didn’t go into deep analysis of the film (I’m sure there are plenty of other books that do), but explored the lives of the directors and writers that became known as auteurs in the industry (whether or not it was truth), revealing how they came to develop the movie that are now classics of horror. Keeping in mind that I did not live in the era and have not seen several of these movies (though I have heard and know about all of them), I can’t judge whether the author’s point of view accurately reflects the movies or the time in which they were made, but I can say that it worked for me. I was thoroughly fascinated and entertained, so much so that I plowed through the book in under two days. It was a great, fun read, and I now need to do a marathon and see all the movies that I have not seen.

The one flaw, for me at least as I have a deep love (read: obsession) of lists, is that the author did note compile of filmography of movies mentioned in the book. How else am I supposed to easily quantify which movies I have and have not seen?

So lacking a proper filmography, I skimmed through the book and made my own list of all the movies discussed or mentioned, and posted it on my blog.