Friday, November 29, 2013

Born Death Proof

Yesterday, after Thanksgiving dinner, it was time to settle in front of the television for the traditional evening movie. This year, movie was time was reserved for Death Proof, the Quentin Tarantino grindhouse flick from 2007. After all, what could be more in the spirit or the holiday than a stylish homage to homicidal B-Movie car flicks?
I avoided this film in theaters, partly because it was a four hour double feature with Planet Terror, and I just can't sit in a theater that long. Plus, I will admit to thinking it was a little foolish to spend $53 million to make a movie that was supposed to feel like a low budget flick. But that was also when I was feeling a little down on Quentin. I've since rediscovered my appreciation for his brand of crazy and finally got around to catching up on this missed film. Needless to say, it was pretty damn cool.
The film featured classic Tarantino character types, slightly off and ultra hip. Kurt Russell was spectacular as Stuntman Mike. His character was reminiscent Quentin characters from his Natural Born Killers script, both charismatic and dangerous. The girls he pursues felt straight out of his 90's cool period. In fact, much of their dialogue would have felt at home in Pulp Fiction or Jackie Brown. There were no dull lines, or even dull moments in the film.
As for the concerns that kept me away from it in the theaters, I couldn't have been more wrong to worry about them. The editing was an art form in its own, creating that B-Movie feel in an exciting and stylish way that never felt haphazard. But naturally the highlight of the film was the muscle car adrenaline. In a lot of ways, this is last of the original Tarantino films, before he went on to tackle more serious subject matter in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. This film definitely doesn't have the same kind of impact as his more celebrated films, but it certainly is a joyride and one I'm glad I finally went on.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Feeling Thankful

This Thanksgiving has taken on a different meaning for me this year. The importance of this day is not always what it seems. It's not about ritual traditions or the family dinners. It's not even really a celebration as much as it's a time for reflection. It's about finding something within you to be thankful for even when, on the outside, it may appear there is little to rejoice. Lately I've come to a new perspective on life, finding joy in unexpected places and allowing it to carry me through whatever darkness may linger. I hope everyone takes the time to find moments to appreciate and let them light the way.


Monday, November 18, 2013

We Will Miss You Barbara Park

One the most remarkable modern voices in children's literature passed away this weekend. Barbara Park was the author of dozens of picture books and middle grade novels, before making the leap to immortality with the creation of Junie B. Jones, everyone's favorite kindergartner. With 28 titles, and over 50 million copies sold, it remains one of the most popular series of all time for elementary school age kids. But at the age of 66, the voice behind this hilarious character has fallen silent.
On my Goodreads author page, I list Junie B. as one of my "influences" and for good reason. I first read Junie back in 1999, and was hooked from the first page. Before that, I had never considered, or even thought about writing chapter books. The series inspired me in a way that few books have. It opened my eyes to the idea of capturing the humor that comes naturally to kids. I owe my ability to find the child's voice within me to Barbara Park.
It's always sad when a storyteller is taken from us, but there's a comfort in knowing their spirit lives on in the stories they've left behind. Barbara will forever be with us, and will forever be entertaining children through one unforgettable character.
I'll leave off by sharing one the funniest things ever written, which can be found in Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl as Junie helps with her class graduation poem:
"Roses are Red, 
Violets are Blue,
Graduation is Here,
And Your Feet Smell Like Stink"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend Music Roundup (Throwback Edition)

I haven't been listening to any new music during the past few weeks for a number of reasons. The main reason is due to feeling a bit overwhelmed trying to digest everything. I also decided to reorganize my CD collection, and while doing so, I discovered a bunch of albums that I hadn't heard in a long time. Recently, I've been pulling some of those out and spending time reconnecting. So this week, I've chosen to share some of those albums with all of you. Enjoy.

The Cure - Standing on a Beach: I bought this CD when I was Sophomore in High School and couldn't afford to purchase the band's entire catalog. I've since acquired most of their work, and thus abandoned this Greatest Hits album. But when looking for something to listen to in the car the other day, I figured this might be perfect, and indeed it was. Chronicling the band's early work, pre-1986, it features some of their best songs. Dreamy post punk at its best.

Queenadreena - Live at the ICA: The only live record from one of my favorite bands of the last decade, born from the ashes of one of my favorite bands of the previous decade (Daisy Chainsaw). Recorded shortly after the release of their masterful The Butcher and the Butterfly album, the performance captures the explosive genius of the songs, and it's exceptionally well recorded for a live record. As always, KatieJane's in your face brilliance shines through.

Rob Zombie -Educated Horses: Recorded around the same time he was making The Devil's Rejects, this was a bit of a comeback album for the Pentagram Peter Pan. This is hillbilly metal that flat out rocks. I loved this record when it came out, but not having listened to it for a few years, I fell in love all over again. There are sinister tracks like "17 Year Locust," "Let it all Bleed Out," mixed with more digestible rock like "Death of it All," Foxy Foxy." There isn't really a bad track on here.

O'Death- Head Home: One of my favorite albums of 2006, this gem has been overshadowed in the past few years due to two spectacular follow-up records since. But this album hasn't lost any of its impact, and I've once again become obsessed. They've referred to their music as "death folk" and while that's an accurate description, there is also a spiritual quality to their songs. From "Down to Rest," to "Only Daughter," and "Jesus Look Down," this album is spectacular through and through.

Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther: The second album from the Texas folk band was another standout from 2006. One of the early bands to embrace the new indie folk movement, their songs show an incredible depth. This album has the feel of something out of time, with an eerie sound of the dark woods. Wonderful stuff and I can't wait to hear their fourth album that was just released.
Okkervil River - The Stage Names: Another Texas folk band, this 2007 album is one of their best and was a breakout album for their career. The songs read like stories, with sadness, humor, and great breadth. The album also includes one of my favorite songs of the all time, "Plus Ones" which never fails to choke me up a little bit.

Cocoon - All My Friends Died in a Plane Crash- The 2007 debut from the French indie folk duo is outright remarkable. As the title suggests, there is a sadness the lingers throughout this record and it's quite beautiful. "Vultures," "Owls," and "On My Way" are among the many outstanding tracks. Definitely one that's not to be missed.

Alamo Race Track - Black Cat Tom Brown: The second album from the Amsterdam based indie band is another favorite of mine from 2006. I bought this during the time I was working on CatKid because the cover was sort of irresistible. The album turned out to be just as irresistible. The title track opens the album with a strikingly simple folk song that hooks you right in. "The Northern Territory" is probably the best song on the album, but every song is pretty darn good.

Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway: The 2003 debut album from the band risen from the ashes of Red House Painters, the influential '90's slowcore band from San Fran. In many ways it feels like a continuation, keeping the same sleeping folk feel of the previous band. This is one of those great morning or evening albums, or anytime for quiet self-reflection. I've been listening to it a lot while painting and it's been quite inspiring.
Murder by Death - Who Will Survive, and What Will be Left of Them?: The 2003 breakthrough from Indiana's gothic country band was long overdue for a fresh listen. Storytelling is at the heart of this record. From "Killbot 2000" about an elementary school massacre, to "Thee Men Hanging," the songs visit these tragic situations with horror and empathy, and the emotion the shows through is what makes this record so wonderful.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Fiction Friday (23)

As I mentioned last weekend, I've been revisiting a story I originally started working on some years ago, and it led me to do some research on dangerous fairies. That research brought me to a book that had been sitting on my to-read shelf for a year. That was about a year too long. Now that I've read it, I can't believe I ever let it linger for so long. It's quite easily one of the best of books I've read this year, which is saying a lot since I feel as though I've only read really good books this year. Enjoy.

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark: Blackwood's Guide to Dangerous Fairies  by Guillermo Del Toro
(Hyperion, 2011)

Conceived as a prequel to the film of the same title, this book follows a naturalist by the name of Emerson Blackwood as he begins studying various fairies from around the world during the turn of the last century in hopes of cataloguing the most dangerous and vile of species as a way of warning others to keep their distance.
His journey begins with a visit to a colleague, and the discovery of a strange skeleton found on his property. The skeleton is that of a Toothbreaker, or Tooth Fairy. As a scientist with a good reputation, Emerson risks everything by exposing the remains to his colleagues and is subsequently shunned. Undeterred, he continues to dig deeper into the origins of the mysterious creature.

His investigation takes him all across the world as he chronicles local accounts and lore for devilish creatures. Between narrative journal entries, the book contains illustrated sections that document the fairies of different regions. The descriptions also include the accounts related to Blackwood during his travels. But through it all, his obsession remains the Toothbreaker, a creature whose documented history reaches far and wide. These creatures, who crave children's teeth above all else, have been terrorizing villages since ancient times, stealing children from their beds. In response, the modern Tooth Fairy customs were created as a way to appease these vicious creatures and protect children from their murderous habits.

After a particularly gruesome discovery in Italy, Blackwood becomes a person of interest to the hidden Toothbreaker tribes who don't appreciate his curiosity. Fearing their retribution, Blackwood retreats to Rhode Island with his wife and settles down, giving up his quest to chronicle fairies. However, like anyone with an obsession, he doesn't abandon it completely, and chooses to build his house on the site of a dormant Toothbreaker hole. It doesn't stay dormant for long. Once the creatures learn who is living there, they begin to torment him worse than ever, until finally their is no appeasing them and eventually it drives him to madness.

The story is incredibly gripping, as is the unique way in which it is told. It reminded me of The Spiderwick Chronicles, only much more sinister and dangerous. The story of a character fueled by curiosity that sets a path for his own misery, the book is hard to put down. Not to mention that it's basically a piece of art, filled with amazing illustrations by Troy Nixey, who also directed the film version.

The film picks up a century after the book, when a new family moves into the house only to find the Toothbreakers have not left.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Who You Are is Who You Are

Over the years I've noticed a troubling trend among reader reviews. There is this habit of claiming the writer has missed the mark when it comes to portraying a certain character and his or her emotions or reactions to situations simply because the character doesn't conform to the reader's assumptions of how that type of person should behave. I have news for them: THAT IS NOT HOW WRITING WORKS!

If the writer's job was just to present characters that fit into stereotypically assumptions than writing would be exceptionally dull, not to mention it wouldn't offer any insight into how varied we all are as individuals. A book shouldn't be judged on whether or not it meets your preconceived ideas of how a character should behave. It should be judged on whether or not that character's thoughts and actions are authentic to the individual presented to you.

I see this a lot especially when an author chooses to write from the opposite gender. You see comments that claim that the author tried to capture how the other gender would feel, but "obviously" doesn't get it. I can't help but wonder if the author had used a pen name of the same gender, would they get the same criticism? Because the fact of the matter is that not every member of a gender, or any other defining feature, reacts to things in the same way in real life. So as long as the character's actions are consistent with their personality, it can be assumed that at least he or she would react that way.

The real problem in all of this is that it seems more and more, readers don't want to be challenged to question their own formulated ideas. When a book does, they usually react negatively. On the hand, books that play into popular notions of how a character should behave are often celebrated. This isn't to say that sometimes writers get it wrong. Of course they do. But when they pay close attention to character details, and are consistent in creating a unique perspective, they shouldn't be attacked for that. So, look beyond your expectations and get to know the person you are reading about.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Oh, Mama

Recently I've been dwelling in a world of dark fairies, utterly fascinated by the tormenting little devils. It started several weeks ago as I decided to return to my long-abandoned novel adaptation of the classic Victorian children's poem Goblin Market. My story is populated with a species of these impish brutal critters and I can't seem to get enough of them.
In order to work my way back into the world, I started reading Guillermo Del Toro's book Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which is a guide to dangerous fairies. The book is fantastic and very informative. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the dark world of fairy tales. And since I was reading the book, I decided to watch Mama, which was produced by Del Toro and also features several of the types of beasts laid out in the book.
I had avoided this film when it came out last winter because I thought previews made it look pretty bland. After hearing some positive reviews from people a few weeks ago, I thought I'd give it a chance, especially considering how it might fit in with my current state of creativity. As it turns out, the movie was much more moving than the previews gave it credit for. It wasn't a typical horror story, in fact, it barely felt like a horror story to me. There were horror elements, but the overwhelming theme of the movie was tragedy.
The plight of the two sisters was quite moving, and felt comparable to what I've been trying to do with the sister characters in my novel. The way they drift apart in their way of seeing things is heartbreaking, especially at the movie's conclusion. I also thought the way it addressed the dark fairy elements was really well done. The way it revealed the past was exceptionally inventive. Ironically, the only places where I felt the movie didn't stand out was in the more traditional horror scenes, which felt indistinguishable from a million other startle fest films. But the sister relationship carried it through those weaknesses. It was definitely the perfect movie for me, coming at the perfect time when I've become absorbed in the wickedness of fairy creatures.