01/30/2009 § 1 Comment


*Image courtesy of Jer



01/27/2009 § Leave a comment

It is not my intention to review movies on this blog. At all. However, I did just see Coraline and if it is worth anything to anybody I have opinions about it.

Firstly, I like Neil Gaiman. I think he’s an interesting writer and individual. Good Omens comes to mind. I suppose I am glad he exists. Or whatever.

Unfortunately most of this post is going to be complaints about the film. I’ll save the positives for the end and then probably recommend to anyone, if they have an interest, to go see this.

That being said. I don’t think the voice talent was very good. It was a  constant flip between over acting and sounding too self-conscious. Sorry Teri Hatcher and Dakota Fanning….whatever.

Also, the 3D never really works for me. Do I think it’s cool? Of course I do. It is cool. But it is decidedly not cool to get a headache the second I put on the glasses, which is what always happens. My brain is constantly looking for something to focus on but since it is all just trickery on the part of technology there is really nothing to focus on.

The story is okay I guess, but it just seems like a hodgepodge of fantasy ideas taken from random sources. These things often make for good visuals but they are often used to distract from the lack of story. Is it a simple story? Then just let it be simple. It does not need a bunch of crap to dress it up. It’s like putting a blazer on a bull. The bull is interesting enough. Don’t put a blazer on it.

Also, I don’t like when there is weird sexualization in movies that are supposed to be for kids. I guess it is the humor to placate the adult audience that is bringing their, but it detracts from the story. Make a character busty, fine; but don’t make the character wearing just pasties. Maybe it’s just me.

All that being said, it is worth seeing if you can handle the disorienting 3D. The opening titles are actually pretty amazing. And the whole button-eye-thing is one of the few ideas I really liked in the movie. Bravo. Henry Selick’s animation was great, as usual; except for the whole, big head/skinny body thing. That is getting pretty old.

So, whatever. Glad I saw it. Probably never watch it again.

The Minotaur

01/26/2009 § 1 Comment

You’ll be pleased to know that many of the authors whom you love (or at least were forced to read in high school) have written or rewritten fairy tales for contemporary children. (+1) One such writer is Nathaniel Hawthorne. In the 1850’s he wrote A Wonder Book for Boys and Girls, and Tanglewood Tales for Boys and Girls. Contemporary is relative and when I said “contemporary” earlier I meant contemporary for Nathaniel Hawthorne; and it is clear that children of the 1850’s had a much larger vocaulary. +2 for those kids.

Hawthorne is certainly not the first writer to have done this, nor is he alone in his pursuit. Lots of writers do this. Even Steinbeck worked on a retelling of some of the Arthurian legends, later abandoning the project, leaving it unfinished upon his death. I think it’s great when writers do this, but it seldom is mindblowing. And I kind of want it to be mindblowing.

The first story in Tanglewood Tales is a retelling of Theseus and his run-in with the Minotaur. I really love some of the ideas in Greek mythology but since it is usually about the Gods and how they are jerks without much humor, I tend to avoid them. But, the other day I decided to see if Nathaniel Hawthorne could change my mind about these myths.

I think he did change my mind (+1), but since I picked the one story out of the lot that I knew would be the most interesting, I’m reserving judgment.

Actually, I changed my mind. I mostly just like that in this story is something that I completely forgot about. How I forgot I’m still not sure, since this character is featured in one of my favorite movies of all time, Jason and the Argonauts.

When Theseus sails to Crete his ship must pass by Talos, the man of bronze (+8). Talos is a giant made out of bronze who patrols the coast. Like so many other oddities in the Greek world, it is unclear if he was a gift of the gods, or if he is a stop-motion creation of Ray Harryhausen,  or if he was made by the Cyclops, or if he is the offspring of Zeus and some giant brass woman. I favor the fourth but, as I said, it is unclear.

Oh. And also Talos has one giant vein, running from his head to his ankle (+2), which is his one vulnerable spot according to the film Jason and the Argonauts.

So, yes, I liked Nathaniel Hawthornes retelling of The Minotaur, but only because he reminded me why Greek mythology is worthwhile.

The Baron in the Trees

01/18/2009 § Leave a comment

I find it difficult to write about The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calivino. If I use my recently coined system of arbitrary assessment, the number will be nigh infinite. I would be listing hundreds of pluses for each page, and at 217 pages in the edition translated by Archibald Colquhoun, I would end up with the previously mentioned “nigh infinite” number. The rating of  Calvino’s unequaled story would shame all the other stories in this blog, thus rendering this blog frivolous.

Instead of rendering my blog frivolous (and it’s arguably frivolous now), I’ll forgo the system of arbitrary assessment and simply attempt to tame my emotions long enough to wrestle them to the (web)page.

The story is simple. The Baron in the Trees is the life story of Cosimo. Cosimo decides as a boy that he is going to live among the trees. Added to this tree plot is the Enlightenment, a dog, some love, and a brother narrator. Aside from having a special place in my heart for second person narratives, I’m also terribly sappy (-2) and love me some high romance.

I often consider a story of this caliber and think, “my goodness, wouldn’t it be easy to come up with a somewhat unique plot and fill it with a few simple details and then I’d have myself an impossibly amazing story too.” I think that sometimes. I really do. *sigh*

Still, I don’t know what to say about this book other than it is beautiful. Truly beautiful. When broken down it could seem trite. Everything that gets broken down seems trite, and if it doesn’t it is suspect. This book is like your favorite song, not mine because we have different tastes. Well, I guess it’s like my favorite song too, but only for me, you see. It’s like that because the best songs are simple and often full of cliché, making them universal. It is the whole composition that moves one to tears, not its elements.

Song comparison not doing it? Let me try in terms of theater.

My biggest fear when reading a book that I so adore is that when I reach the end it will disappoint. Most often it does. Endings can rarely equal the journey forward. The ending of The Baron in the Trees, like the beginning and middle, was inexplicably lovely and simple, painting an ear to ear smile across my face.

Sure, smiles are common when reading a book, but when the memory of a scene can force that same smile to return it is that that makes this book beautfiul.

Swedish Folktales

01/12/2009 § 2 Comments

The introduction to Swedish Folktales & Legends is quite good. I usually read introductions obligatorily; never really enjoying them. There are a few exceptions of course, when the subject matter is partiularly interesting. Oddly enough, they never seem that well written to me, unless it’s like a Kurt Vonnegut intro or something, in which case it is just the first chapter of the book.

Lone Thygesen Blecher, editor of this edition, does an exceptional job with his introduction and relates the story of his mother, who fits very nicely into any edition of fairy tales. She was daughter to a carpenter (+1), on an island (+1), living next to woods (+1), who worked as a maid on a farm getting harrassed by boys because she was pretty and young (+2), who then escapes hiding among life-boats on an ocean liner (+4), and finds a kind schoolteacher to marry in Copenhagen (+2).

Wow. Quite a story. More than a 10 on my scale of things, in which I award points arbitrarily.

Point is, that is why fairy tales are great. They are found in every day life. Now, my life doesn’t really seem like a fairy tale, but if I reduce it to a few sentences it might….

Grew up in the shadow of the best city on earth (+1). Lived across the street from a cornfield with a mean farmer (+1). Travelled around the midwest getting adventures (+2). Ended up in City (+1).

Clearly not as good as the Swedish maid’s story. Possibly because I had no real antagonists like she had in the farm boys. And no boat…or woods.

Also, another point is that time and perception really alter things. The past is always somewhat fetching because we remember stuff how we want. And for better or worse I think I want to remember my past and everyone else’s past like a fairytale.

Hey Jer, remember when you fought that Troll in our front yard under the magic tree? (+4)

The Cats of Ulthar

01/08/2009 § 1 Comment

“The Cats of Ulthar” is a short story by H.P. Lovecraft about cats. Before I even read the story I naturally thought of Algernon Blackwood’s “Ancient Sorceries,” in which a man wanders into a town where the people are cat people and they end up worshiping the devil in a scene that appeared like the end of Rosemary’s Baby in my minds eye. Thanks movies for ruining my minds eye. I then thought of Sleepwalkers, a story by Stephen King and a bad movie from 1992 in which the mysterious folks are afraid of cats, and they end up being aliens or something to that effect. I don’t really remember.

Then I looked at my cat Hattie. That calculating stare and insatiable tongue that licks as if she were trying to lick your skin clear off your body. I don’t think these “kisses” as Gemma calls them are innocent, but an attempt to subdue and dominate me. Hattie bats me on the head every morning until I let her under the covers. She rests there for a moment and runs out, jumping across my body like a jerk.

The point is. I can understand why one would write a horror story about cats. They are cold, calculating, mysterious, come in all shapes and sizes, unpredictable, and nocturnal. Why do people even own them?

This story is not particularly scary and it seems much more like a fable than is typical of Lovecraft’s brand of “cosmic horror,” which I enjoy. The story is as follows: Some mean, mysterious old folks live way out of the village and purportedly kill any cat that comes by. Whatever works to keep your relationship alive I guess. Then some gypsies camp near and one of their cats goes missing. There is some more plot and good character names and then cats circle the old peoples house in pairs as if in some ancient ritual. Old Folks taken care of. I won’t tell you how. But you can find out here.

Kind of funny really. I guess my point is that I do find cats scary, but I have not really read or seen any scary things with cats. In practice it comes out sort of corny.

Silver Nose

01/03/2009 § Leave a comment

Perhaps the most common character in fairy stories from any country is the Devil. He is not the Devil that one generally thinks of, or at least anyone who grew up with religion. Sure all the other characters are frightened of this Devil, but he can generally be fooled, he is usually amicable, and he is almost always well dressed.

In Italo Calvino’s collection of Italian Folktales, the devil shows up at a home of four wahserwomen after the eldest says that she intends to “leave home, even if she has to go and work for the devil.” Nothing unusual about that. Hundreds of stories begin with unhappy folks thinking that hanging out with and/or working for the Devil would be totally fine.

And wouldn’t you know it? The Devil arrives a few days later. As is typical of the Devil he is well dressed, the height of “courtesy” (however tall that is), and dressed in black. For some reason the Devil in this story has a silver nose, which is what tips off the mother that he might not be trustworthy.

The Devil promptly puts one of the daughters to work in his home. A la Bluebeard, he forbids her from entering one single room in the whole mansion. She promptly enters and has to join the other souls in hell who are locked behind that door. Hell is apparently located in the sundry closet of the Devil’s mansion in Italy!

The second daughter fares the same. Then the third daughter, the most clever one, saves them both with keen eyesight and parlor tricks. The last few sentences  tell the reader that she has been stealing large sums of money from the Devil as well so there can be more of a happy ending than just escaping.

Something nice I’ve noticed in most tales that involve the Devil is that he is portrayed as merely a trickster. He is always trying to get your soul but he can almost always be outfoxed. It seems that the devil is just some kind of immortal uncle who is perpetually playing got-your-nose with all the souls of the country and forest inhabitants.

Whether it be by the clever sister who makes him carry his laundry (her sisters) home in a bag, or by an American who uses invisible ink on their soul contract, thus nullifying said contract, the devil can always be outdone.

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