So Bad, And Yet So Good – Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters

Tonight I decided that, rather than seeing something legitimate like Zero Dark Thirty or Silver Linings Playbook, I would see Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. And I can’t believe it, but I’m not regretting it.

Let’s set the scene shall we? Just so you understand the state of mind I was in. A friend and I were originally planning to see Les Mis, simply because I hadn’t seen it yet, but it was already gone at the place I wanted to go. So then Django Unchained, which both of us had already seen (holy shit, go see that obvious Oscar winner), but nope, also gone. So. We were down to two serious, but highly acclaimed movies (as stated above), and a number of pieces of obvious crap. And so the answer was the brand new movie with hot actors, guns, and explosions. I was not disappointed in any of those respects.

Before I really begin, let me just say, Hansel & Gretel is a straight-up bad movie. BAD. Terrible plot, pacing, and largely scripting. But there ARE reasons I think you should watch it… just maybe not in theaters.

I mean, I think they're hot.

I mean, I think they’re hot.

So aside from Jeremy Renner being beautiful, and (be still my heart) Gemma Arterton stealing the show, there were no good characters. Neither of them were even particularly good. They were just… entertaining.

There was a bit of steampunk flair to the whole thing, which I thought was amusing, as it was only shown through weapons, as opposed to dress (at least in large part) or affectation. I like guns, I like metal, I like explosions. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if I sit down to watch Breakfast At Tiffany’s, don’t you dare make any loud noises, because I might punch you. Violence begets violence. Don’t do it. (Sorry, maybe I really enjoyed the ridiculousness of this movie because of the yummy stein I filled up with a not entirely yummy beer to last the entirety of the film, if you can call it that).

The witches were silly, very silly. Over the top, and I really enjoy just plain laughing at them because they didn’t scare, they didn’t intimidate, and they certainly only made me feel uncomfortable because of the terrible scripting. It was nice to see them get exploded and squished though…

Yeah this is going to be a short review, simply because this movie is so terrible. Don’t go in expecting something fantastical. The plot sucks, the scripting is contrived, etc. But you will laugh, laugh at the ridiculosity of the whole thing.

And want badly to make out with the badass Gemma Arterton every minute.

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A Refreshing Series of Urban Fantasy

Around the time of midterms this past semester, I started reading a series of books (perfect timing, right?). I blazed through the six released books in a few weeks and found myself spellbound by the wit and (generally) likeable characters, not to mention behind on studying for midterms, then finals as well. I’m talking about the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. Spoilers follow, but not overall plot-related ones.

mooncalled300 bloodbound300 ironkissed300 bonecrossed_big silverBorne_big river+marked

I remember seeing the cover of the first one several years ago, and as drawn to it as I was, I wrote it off as just another lame paranormal romance with nothing special about it. Yes, I realize her tattoos change on each cover, but let’s not sweat the details too much there. I’d been turned off by the Anita Blake series, which started out awesome and then just turned into a meaningless orgy (I’d say up through Narcissus in Chains is all you should bother reading). Ironically, the Anita Blake series was the one that turned me off of werewolves as well… I mean, I’m up for a gratuitous romance every once in a while just like the next girl, but it wasn’t really something I was looking for at the time.

I took another look at the cover of Moon Called and decided it was time to pick it up. Or buy it on my Nook (way more convenient). The whole thought of a coyote shifter was actually pretty interesting to me, given how into Coyote lore I’ve been lately (thank you Gunnerkrigg Court). Mercy has just the right of snark and just the right amount of realism to keep me both entertained and sympathetic. My favorite thing about Mercy is not her quirky career as a mechanic or her ability to shape shift or anything like that. Rather, I admire, respect, and even value the fear Mercy has no problem admitting to. Paranormal shit is scary, guys. Werewolves are not cuddly, fae do eat people, and vampires want nothing more than to use humans as cattle. My appreciation for her fear was really solidified during a scene with one of the vampires (a kid vampire no less) that would have scared the pants off of me as well. I’d have run out of that house as fast I could have too.

I always really like it when authors inject some actual authenticity into their characters. It makes them not only likeable, but also easier to read. I’m not saying Mercy isn’t without her irritating character flaws, but rather that she is a character that has multiple layers of interest that are appealing to me.

Whether or not I like a book is dependent largely on the characters. The plot can be a tad shaky (which is most definitely the case in some of these books), but without decent, solid characters, an author is basically dead to me. I’d say the only character I’m on the verge of disliking is Stefan… which is odd because I generally like vampires more than I do werewolves (and I don’t think there are any werewolves I don’t like as characters). With Stefan, I can’t seem to get a handle on him. If he quirky and loveable? Is he secretive and plotting? Does he have emotions or not? He’s obviously a really conflicted character, but I think the confusion in his portrayal is somewhat over the top. I mean, if I met Stefan, I’d probably like him, he seems like a cool dude, but reading about him can be difficult.

The more I read about the fae, the more I want to learn about them. In Iron Kissed and Silver Borne especially there was quite a bit of fae lore (what with the fairy queen and all), which was really enjoyable. Every time Zee drops his glamour, I get excited and hope that maybe this time, maybe, I’ll get to learn more about his history. But alas. Hopefully that back story is coming.

As a warning, Iron Kissed (#3) is intense, and not exactly in a good way. It’s hard to read about rape in any situation, but in a fantasy novel, it’s surreal and very unsettling. Again, just be warned. Overall, it was a good book, but it was my least favorite so far.

River Marked was really amazing and I can’t wait for the next one! Long story short, I recommend you pick up Moon Called, and see if you like it too.

 

“Far over the Misty Mountains cold…” – An Immediate Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Needless to say, I just got back from the midnight release of The Hobbit, so it’s 3am and I’m about ready to burst with all the things I want to say about it! AH! My immediate reaction: Totally fantastic, I really, really enjoyed myself. There were some annoyances, some of which or over-the-top nerdy, nit-picky things, others just glaringly obnoxious and unnecessary, but I’ll get into that later.

Let’s be real, you know there are going to be spoilers, but if you haven’t read the book, it’s your own damn fault. So let’s get to it!

By far my favorite promotional poster.

By far my favorite promotional poster.

The movie begins the day of Bilbo’s 111th birthday, the same day the The Fellowship of the Ring begins on (complete with “No Admittance Except on Party Business” sign. Frodo is meandering about, being himself (you know, the sweet, carefree Frodo before the Ring fucks him up forever), Bilbo is writing about his adventures – finally. I’m really glad it started out this way, because it sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

The Hobbit was written as a children’s book. It’s a mere 300(ish) pages. People are all in an uproar about how Peter Jackson made a huge mistake by deciding to split the book into three movies. Let’s face facts guys, yes he’s out to make money. BUT, he’s also determined to make fans happy. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. I think this movie captured the tone and essence of The Hobbit as a book almost to a T. It’s not supposed to be serious like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy! It’s a book about a guy who goes on an adventure with a bunch of dwarves and gets into lots of nigh-on slapstick shenanigans. Sure there’s foreshadowing (much more in the movie than in the book), and sure there are some serious moments, but overall, it did a really nice job conveying the whimsical nature of the book.

Before I gush some more, let me talk about what I didn’t like. The White Orc. What? Who the…? He was a complete unnecessary plot device that, yes, added some drama, but in the end, had very little to add to the overall plot of the story. It was a made-up subplot that was shaky, unnecessary, and frankly a bit overbearing. It was like the writer were trying to shove this contrived conflict between Thorin and this dude down our throats. No thank you. I sorely hope that his role is limited in the next film. I can’t say that I’ve read every letter of the appendices and the encyclopedias of Middle Earth history, but I don’t remember anything about this guy. Which is not to say he didn’t exist, maybe he totally did and I missed it, but I don’t remember him having any part in The Hobbit.

The pacing was shit. Utter shit. But if we accept the fact that three movies are inevitable, then we have to learn to live with the sloooow pacing. It’s obnoxious, but nothing’s going to change in the next movies, so let’s just deal. If they’re gonna go slow, at least they’re taking the time to bring each page to life…

Also, why are people upset about the 48fps? I honestly didn’t notice, or rather, did notice anything about the frame rate that took away from the experience. People complain that it doesn’t look real, right? But let’s compare it to popular daytime soap operas. At least in my opinion, it looked nothing like that. I’m actually not a huge fan of Blueray and super HD stuff because it’s distracting, but I didn’t find it to be a problem with this movie. Maybe my eyes are just weird.

My body wasn't ready

The eyes, oh my.

The dwarves made me smile always. Fili and Kili? Super fun eye candy, and the rest each had their own way of standing out while still remaining a cohesive unit. Thorin himself was captured very well. Let’s be real, Thorin is an asshole, and Richard Armitage played that fine line between total dickish princeliness, and noble royalty very well. His face was always captivating and intense, just as it should have been.

Riddles in the Dark. Riddles. In. The. Dark. Andy Serkis has done it again (not that I’m surprised, he’s a god among men as far as actors are concerned). In the original trilogy they did motion capture on his body, but in this film they also motion captured his face, which is fantastic technologically, but also shows how amazing Andy Serkis IS as Gollum. Yeah there’s CG in there, plenty of it, but the character could not come to life as thoroughly without him. The whole Riddles in the Dark scene was awesome, and really reinforced my love for Bilbo. I had been feeling like we were missing him a bit in terms of screen time until that scene. There are great swaths of time when he doesn’t have any lines at all really, which is unfortunate because his delivery is always right on point. But he weaved his riddles just as I pictured Bilbo in the book doing. The writing was great, the staging was great, just really overall a fantastic scene. Maybe a tad short, but…effective all the same.

I’ll finish this up with my love for Martin Freeman. Love him. He makes the perfect Bilbo, absolutely perfect. Goofy, clumsy, self-aware, heroic, compassionate, witty, and vulnerable, all in one. There’s something impressive about the way he’s able to embody each of his characters personality-wise and manage to actually look like them. As John Watson in Sherlock, he plays a similar (in a sarcastic, sassy way) character, but not only do the two characters look precisely as I imagine them to, but they are distinctly different. Bilbo is adequately sassy himself and has a ton of wonderful moments. Like this one:

#NOPE

TLDR? Go see it, but don’t expect it to be anything like The Lord of the Rings. Which is precisely the way it should be.

Skyfall – Done

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I got a chance to see Skyfall this evening. I’m doing my movie reviews a bit out-of-order (haven’t talked about Wreck-It-Ralph yet, even though I really want to), but here goes. (Also, two posts in one day? CRAZY)

Get off the ground, you’re ruining your suit.

I’ve heard some people say Skyfall is a good movie, but a terrible Bond film. I’m not so sure I agree on either point entirely. Yes Skyfall was enjoyable, I’d even go so far as to say I loved it, but it’s kind of like The Avengers. A terrible movie if you look at it from a critical perspective as opposed to a fan’s, or if you judge it based on some deeper meaning you’re trying to find (because you certainly won’t). Skyfall was, as I feel most Bond films are, a glorified action/adventure made attractive by its iconic character(s) and utterly creative stunts and action sequences.

Now, I’m not the best judge of what is and is not a good Bond film by a long-shot. I’ve only seen the Daniel Craig movies (FOR SHAME, I know). I started with Quantum of Solace, which is really not a good place to start at all, and it wasn’t until several years later that I was sat down and made to watch Casino Royale, which ended up being flipping fantastic. Of the three Bond films I’ve seen, I feel like Casino Royale is the one with the deepest meaning and plot (but maybe I’m just partial to a love story. And the name Vesper). But Skyfall also has its meaningful thematic elements.

I guess really the overarching theme here was simply aging. Bond is getting older, unable/unwilling to remain in his position as 007. M is slowly being forced into retirement by what is viewed as lapses in judgement. Silver mentions how old Bond looks, and near the end, comments on how old men should not be running and jumping, as it’s so exhausting. Is it aging versus youth, as demonstrated by Bond’s interaction with Q? Or is it simply about aging with grace and dignity? I found the use of the old-school Aston Martin from Goldfinger (complete with ejector seat) very suited to this possible interpretation – because what can age with more class than a car like that? Or is it something more about overcoming stereotypes of age to meet your goals? There are many ways this aging theme can be taken, and I leave it to you to determine after you’ve seen the movie. I guess the argument about the theme of resurrection being central to the plot, but Craig’s 007 has gone off the grid, only to return to the MI6 fold in all three movies.

Since I mentioned him, let’s talk about Q. The man I would happily have the babies of immediately.

Sexy, sexy nerd-beast.

Yeah that’s all I have to say about Q. I love him. Moving on…

Javier Bardem did a really amazing job portraying another Bond villain that was not only sadistic, but also entirely off-his-rocker. The only other movie I’ve seen him in is No Country for Old Men, in which he plays pretty much a direct opposite of his character in Skyfall (minus the killing errybody party). Obviously he’s a great actor and I should go watch more things he’s been in.

The reason I titled this “Skyfall – Done” is not just because it’s a line from the movie, but also because it was originally supposed to be Daniel Craig’s last Bond film. Currently IMDB says there have been two more films announced, but I’ve also heard the Craig doesn’t want to continue because he’d only ever be remembered as being the iconic 007. I love him as Bond, but I also love him as Mikael Blomkvist. When I see Pierce Brosnan, all I can think is Bond. I don’t want that to happen to Daniel Craig. He’s too good of an actor to suffer the fate of so many in recent years (Daniel Radcliffe anyone?).

So M died. Didn’t really care much by the end of it. I loved her in the beginning, she was still her sassy old British lady self, but by the end she’s just kind of… crumpled. It was like watching the decline of an older woman in her steely prime to a weakened grandmother in fast forward. By the end it was like M had to rely on a man to save her, which I would have thought she’d grown out of. I don’t know… Judi Dench was good, but I just didn’t find myself adoring her character like I have in the past. I suppose it just shows how people age differently, some with more grace than others. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who didn’t see it like I did, but I’m just saying.

Oh I suppose we should take a moment to discuss the Bond girl in this. What was her name? I haven’t a clue. They probably said it, but I was definitely not paying attention.

Yeah, I said it, I don’t know what your name is.

Her real name though is Bérénice Marlohe, and she certainly looks the part of the glamorous and vulnerable Bond girl. Just gaze upon her beauty. Her death was… unfortunate, but honestly she wasn’t adding much to the plot. Her association with Silver was flimsy at best, and confusing at worst (I mean, wasn’t he implying he wasn’t exactly interested in the ladies?). Regardless, she played the role she was meant to play.

I think I’ve addressed all the things that came to mind as I was watching the film. It was really great, and I definitely do recommend fans of Bond, action, or spy movies go see it. Any suggestions on which film to watch next?

The Parasol Protectorate

This is a book review. Please disregard. 😉

Over the summer I bought and read the final book in Gail Carriger‘s Parasol Protectorate series. Overall, I was satisfied with the series as a whole, though it had its ups and downs over the course of the five books. I wanted to take some time to talk about this series that sort of defined my past summer.

Soulless (novel)

Soulless (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Behold Alexia Tarabotti (though she only goes by that name for the majority of the first book), a woman who would find a way to pragmatically fit into our century just as easily as her own. The interesting thing about the Parasol Protectorate is that it takes Victorian England and shifts it just slightly to the left of reality. She’s witty, intelligent, and downright sassy (if one can be truly considered sassy in the Victorian era). Soulless was a really great little book that piqued my interest and held my attention throughout. I hadn’t read something this funny since my last Christopher Moore book. The romance was cute (I’d certainly be interested in Conall Maccon, even with his blustery temper), the sex was decent, and the subsequent marriage relationship was a wonderful dynamic.

I found a sort of kindred spirit in Alexia. A woman who doesn’t fit into her family because of her differences both physically and mentally/socially. A woman who finds men and their ridiculous attempts at romance to be insufferable. Short tempered and yet lovable. She’s one of those heroines that you hope to be if you were traipsing around in this kind of constructed world.

Timeless was fun, though I did find Blameless to be the weakest of all five novels. Finally we learn something more about Alexia’s father, but at the expense of the quality of writing. Everything felt so incredibly rushed that nothing really made coherent sense… The end was, in a word, lamesauce. I hate when characters fight and then make up so quickly! Also, that final sex scene left quite a bit to be desired.

Blameless (novel)

Blameless (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favorite character? Biffy of course (with Professor Lyall a very close second)! Lord Akeldama was just too hard to trust. Biffy really showed his value throughout the books, which added to the overall comedic effect and made me really appreciate the young dandy’s role as a spy. I love when spies come from the least expected places.

I do highly recommend you pick the series up from your local library or bookstore. I don’t regret buying them, though I do recognize that some hardcore paranormal, fantasy, AND steampunk fans may find them lacking. I myself am in a position of ambivalence about all of those genres, except for fantasy and this series was really more on the paranormal and steampunk side of things.

So yeah, try it out. It will certainly make you laugh, if nothing else. Alexia is fun and I look forward to reading more of Carriger’s work — other than her YA novels, which I’m sure are as good, just not my cup of tea…no pun intended.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Gotham

If you were like me and bought tickets a month ago to see The Dark Knight Rises at 12:01 this morning, then I’m willing to bet that the great majority of you were pleased, overwhelmed, and fulfilled in ways that you didn’t even think possible. Not sexually, of course… or perhaps sexually (who knows, I won’t speak for everyone). I know I was having freak outs, bouncing in my seat and smacking The Boy every time something awesome happened. Which was about every second.

As usual, herein lie spoilers. For real though, see the movie first, because this will ruin much of the wonderment for you.

Notice that the promotional poster I’m using is the one of Bane, not Batman. I’ll say frankly, Tom Hardy was 100% the star of this film. Bane had the largest amount of meaningful screen-time, with the most important messages. He plays every single person in the film for a fool, except for of course the lovely character portrayed by the illustrious and gorgeous Marion Cotillard. Everything is a game that Bane fully knows that he will win. And win he does, for such a great portion of the movie.

Over the course of the last few weeks leading up to the opening, I had discussions about the importance of keeping Bane real, visceral, and, ultimately, one of the most intelligent characters we’ve seen in Gotham. The Joker may be Batman’s greatest foe, but Bane is his most damaging. I mean, come on, Knightfall Part One: Broken Bat? What is so amazing about the interaction in the first fight between Bane and Batman is the subtly and lack of melodrama with which Bane destroys the hero. It’s crushing to see him snap his body in half over his knee, as if it is nothing, because truly, to him it IS nothing. No effort was exerted, because at this point in the story, Bane simply has more passion. In the comics, Bane is arguably the only villain to best Batman both physically and psychologically. The Dark Knight Rises captures this mix of the physical and psychological quite well, despite some of Bane’s lines ending up a bit ham-handed (like when he tells Bruce Wayne in The Pit that he has destroyed his body, and now it’s time to destroy his soul).

My biggest complaint for the whole film is some of the scripting, especially that of Batman’s. Yes, there has always been a certain degree of campy scripting inherent in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Campy lines are inherent in every comic movie, but that does seem to be some of their charm. Unless it’s shitty movie. In which case, campiness is never ignored and is constantly a point of ridicule. I’m not going to get into the double standard here, but only mention that it exists.

Many of you may wonder if Anne Hathaway’s performance as Catwoman really was up to snuff. In a word? Abso-fucking-lutely. I consider myself a relatively well-versed Catwoman fan and I found Hathaway’s Selina Kyle realistic and appropriately on the razor-thin edge of sociopathy as I think the modern versions of her are meant to be. I don’t agree with Christopher Nolan’s assessment that she should get her own spin-off movie however. Hathaway’s Cat (she, after all, is never actually referred to as “Catwoman” – at least if she was, I didn’t notice it) was a bright gem in the crown of this film, but not the brightest, and not one that should be stretched past its limits.

I don’t feel like talking about Marion Cotillard or Talia in-depth, but will only say that The Boy called that shit as soon as he saw her on the cast list. Props.

Now let’s talk about Joseph Gordon-Levitt (gorgeous, gorgeous man) instead shall we? A believable, interesting and overall really good addition to the cast as John Blake. As intense fans will know, John Blake was a child who appeared once in a few panels of an old Batman comic book (actually it was a coloring book, but whatever). He was a kid who was bringing home a good report card to his dad, but it gets stolen by the Joker. The child John Blake is morose because now his father will never know

Nut up or shut up, kid.

Other than this tiny reference, John Blake does not exist in the Batman universe. So Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character was created for this film, but with a clever reference to perhaps make devout fans have a chuckle. Also most likely to throw us off the scent of what his character really represented. Someone to take up the cowl of Batman, of course.

We all knew it, some of us dreaded it, but in the end, it was inevitable. The reveal of his true name as Robin was… quaint. The cool part? Him following the coordinates to the Batcave, bursting in and then rising up on the platform as the final frame. Impressive, and a great use of thematic imagery.

Rising out of darkness, out of oppression, out of fear, out of Gotham itself. That’s the point. That’s what “rise” means to me. All directors, actors, writers, and producers have certain ideas that they are trying to convey, some of them obvious, some subtle, and some open to interpretation. Bruce Wayne – the man, not the playboy billionaire he pretends to be, nor the Caped Crusader he embodies, but the man himself – is portrayed most prominently in this film as opposed to the previous two. As Bruce Wayne reminds himself of who he is, and who he wants to be, he is able to both rise away from the darkness of Gotham, while simultaneously saving it for one last epic time.

You don’t have to like Batman, DC Comics, any of Christopher Nolan’s Batman universe, Christian Bale, or any of the other actors or recognize that there is talent, true talent in The Dark Knight Rises. I’m not saying that it’s deserving of Best Picture (though I will be irritated if Tom Hardy isn’t at least considered for nomination of Best Actor). Rather, I’m just pointing out that it’s deserving of respect, even if it’s not a favorite movie.

Honestly, I hope every single person loved it as much as I did.

A DC Girl in a Marvelous World

Ok, so I was definitely waayyy behind on seeing The Avengers. I attempted to see it opening weekend, but both shows I could go to sold out by the time I got there. So I didn’t get to see it until two days ago, likely the last week it’s going to be in theaters around here.

So… This is supposed to be a review, right? But as I’m sure you already know if you spent the money to see it, the movie was TREMENDOUS. Of course, the following is largely personal opinion and is not trying offend anyone. Or at least not too many people.

Not only did it have some of the most attractive men in Hollywood as leading characters, The Avengers had dialogue that was appropriately witty for a comic book movie, but resisted the campy feel of ones from the past few years (Green Lantern anyone? I mean, Ryan Reynolds is beautiful, but come on). The action was over-the-top, as should be expected from a superhero movie, and the interactions between the characters were appropriately tense, goofy, and all-around interesting to watch. I went into the theater dreading watching Scarlett Johannson on-screen, but Black Widow definitely grew on me (not Scarlett Johannson, just the character). Hawkeye could have been ridiculous and totally lame, but he wasn’t, which is definitely appreciated. The movie may have lasted a bit long, but I wasn’t complaining much.

Which brings me Warner Bros. Pictures, the primary production studio for DC Comics movies. In my opinion, they are really lagging behind in terms of breadth and depth into the DC world. Primary characters? Batman and Superman. Of course, these characters are likely to appeal to as many DC fans as possible, as they overlap so much in the DC Universe. In the 2000s Warner Bros. gave us a shitty Catwoman movie, Christopher Nolan‘s Batman films, a relatively well-received Superman, Jonah Hex, Green Lantern (which I’ve already addressed) and Watchmen (which, 1) missed the point of the graphic novel and 2) was subsequently awful, and I’m not really counting it).

Now, first and foremost, I’m a DC girl. My mother and grandmother were Wonder Woman fans and I have an old-school Catwoman beach towel somewhere in storage. But now I’m really a Batman girl. Why? Christopher Nolan. The man is on a completely different planet when it comes to vision. Yes he may reuse themes, tropes, and most notably, actors, but he is (in my opinion) one of the best directors on the scene right now. Nolan’s Batman films made me go out and buy both “Hush” and “The Long Halloween,” the latter of which provided much inspiration for Batman Begins. I have to give some credit to Arkham Asylum for also fostering a great deal of my Batman love. Also, fuck Tim Burton.

So now I have to ask, if I’m a DC girl, why am I so attracted to these new Marvel movies? Long story short, I feel the Marvel Studios has a larger number of talented people pulling together to make great things, whereas Warner Bros. is really not picking up the slack when it comes to things OTHER than Batman.

I think I forgot that this post was supposed to be about the Avengers movie… So I’ll end by simply saying: I’ve GOT to try some shawarma.

A recent post from a friend that is far more eloquent than this one:

http://mthrisho.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/a-plea-to-dc-comics/

To End is to Begin Again: Naamah’s Blessing

 

A little over a month ago, I saw that my favorite author was looking for book bloggers to review the final book in her trilogy. I think it would be a gigantic understatement to say that when I emailed Jacqueline Carey to offer my blog as a place for a review of Naamah’s Blessing and received a response, I was almost bursting with excitement.

I think it goes without saying that herein lie spoilers for the entire book. Naturally. So here it is, my review of the final book in Naamah’s Trilogy. (God I hope she likes it…)

I wish I had a back like that…

As far as endings go, Naamah’s Blessing is one of the best conclusions to an epic adventure that I’ve ever read. As you can see from the title of this post, this ending harkens at something more beautiful and meaningful than usual, but I get ahead of myself.

Naamah’s Blessing picks up right where the previous book, Naamah’s Curse, left off, with Moirin and Bao (married, to my great delight!) on their way back to Terre d’Ange after a book and a half of being halfway across the world in Ch’in, Vralia, and Bhaktipur successively. The Naamah books have done something that the previous Kushiel’s Legacy books did not quite capture. As Carey’s environments evolve, it’s clear that her writing style does as well. She is able to capture a vibrancy of culture that is clear in every paragraph.

I have to give Carey major props for the amount of research she put into this book. Though I’ve only done academic study of the Maya (not the Aztec or Inca, which are the focuses of the book), I can tell that every choice she made regarding ritual, cosmology, and cultural experience was carefully chosen to be as accurate and enriching as possible to the reader. The book made me want to do more of my own research into the other ancient New World civilizations. Raphael de Merliot, as he lords over a Quechua (Inca) city, states that he wishes to bring “true civilization” to Terra Nova. His attitude reflects that of all colonial powers during the age of expansion, and even that of some nations today. The inherent arrogance in his belief that those who are different are primitive and barbaric is exactly what readers must be aware of to better their own perceptions of others.

Blood sacrifice is often a difficult topic to discuss, as so many people these days have a complete lack of cultural relativism. Carey handles the violent death with an understanding of the necessity with which these actions were viewed in the eyes of the participants. Bao’s reaction to killing of the temple-maiden, Cusi, is subtle, understated, and absolutely perfect for someone of his cultural background.

Now I will move on to the differences between “person” and “character” as I understand them. Let’s take Raphael de Merliot. What a terrible, terrible person, but an absolutely fantastic character. I understand that his character development and ultimate demise was the result of multi-faceted stressors (childhood tragedy, spurned love, death of all loved ones). Those stressors turned his character into a narcissist in the truest form of the mental disorder. He fashioned himself as a god, which is pretty much the most intense narcissism you can get. I hated him so much, but loved him regardless because of the way Carey unfolded his character and explored all of its darkest crevices.

The men in Naamah’s Blessing are beautifully written. I fell in love with Temilotzin, the loyal Jaguar Knight (props again the Carey for the use of a real Aztec practice), as well as the tortured Daniel de la Courcel and his son Thierry, who I didn’t have much love for before this book. When it looked like Balthasar Shahrizai might die of malaria, I feared I might cry. When he recovered, I started referring to him in my head as “My Little Baby Shahrizai.” The men are just as colorful, emotional and inspiring as the women in this book.

Unfortunately, this brings me to the ultimate development of Moirin. Overall, I was happy with her character, her personhood, and her conclusion. But there was something missing. I had to continue reminding myself that Moirin was not Phèdre, and did not have the ruthlessness that that made Phèdre’s character balance the knife-thin edge of love and hate. Ultimately, I don’t know exactly what I wanted to see from Moirin. She was a refreshing character, full of love, intensity, and wonder, that isn’t seen much in fantasy these days, so I definitely can’t say I’m disappointed. Maybe what I’m trying to say is that Moirin felt… fuzzy. Whereas Bao and Raphael were in sharp relief, Moirin overall seemed a bit less defined in Naamah’s Blessing, especially in comparison to her strength of will in Naamah’s Curse.

My favorite scene in the book is perhaps a random and unexpected one, but it really speaks to me as both a psychologist and an anthropologist. It even sharpens Moirin’s character quite a bit, which I appreciated. Raphael asks Moirin why she married Bao, and she’s finally is able to tell him in blunt words what his deadly character flaw is.

‘How many times did you see fit to remind me that I was naïve and unsophisticated? I grant you, it was true, but it did not make me less than you. Different, but not less. You never saw me as aught but a useful tool for your hands to wield, the very thing you called me today’ (481).

The tale ends with Moirin accepting her duty as the protector and gatekeeper of her native heritage, which I think is really poignant, given how many times she’s prevented Terre d’Ange from descending into darkness. She’s really the perfect fit for the job, and it really wasn’t much of a surprise. I was thrilled that she and Bao were finally going to have their round-as-dumplings children. I think many readers see having children as a natural rite to solidifying a relationship (e.g. yaoi m-preg fiction, which really ends up missing the point of love in the first place…) but for Bao and Moirin it’s more about continuing their respective cultural backgrounds into the next generation.

And now I think it’s time to go back a re-read Kushiel’s Legacy. I’ve had enough of Naamah and desire pleasure with a sharper edge!

I want to thank everyone for reading, even if you don’t agree with me. But most importantly, thank you Jacqueline Carey for giving me this opportunity. The inspiration you’ve given me will never be forgotten.

 

Laughing Amid Buckets of Blood: Cabin in the Woods

I just got home from watching a wonderful little movie called The Cabin in the Woods. Seeing as it was written by the illustrious (my word, no one else’s) Joss Whedon, I knew that I was in for something surprising and likely refreshing, and that’s exactly what I got, plus a whole lot more. As always, tread carefully, as here be spoilers. Come back and read this AFTER you’ve seen the movie. Seriously, go. Now.

It’s been out for a while, I know, I’m a little behind on the review here, but bear with me. Cabin in the Woods was a delightful twisting of the horror genre in the vein of the Scream franchise (which I love dearly). I jumped, I grimaced, I gasped, but most importantly, I laughed.

Cabin in the Woods is hysterical. And I don’t just mean the goofy quips by the token stoner character (though he does admittedly have some gems), but rather I mean the absolute audacity with which it takes the horror genre and flips it on its head. It doesn’t try to be subtle in its subterfuge, and that’s weirdly refreshing. In reference to the film, Joss Whedon said this:

On another level it’s a serious critique of what we love and what we don’t about horror movies. I love being scared. I love that mixture of thrill, of horror, that objectification/identification thing of wanting definitely for the people to be alright but at the same time hoping they’ll go somewhere dark and face something awful. The things that I don’t like are kids acting like idiots, the devolution of the horror movie into torture porn and into a long series of sadistic comeuppances. – from an interview with Total Film

Whedon hits on some of the most important issues with the horror industry today. Too often the kids in slasher movies are frankly… morons. And maybe that’s part of the draw for some people, being able to tell yourself, “Oh I wouldn’t be that dumb in that situation.” For me, moronic characters make for moronic and gratuitous death scenes that don’t actually mean anything.

I actually liked all five victims in Cabin in the Woods. They were actual, you know, characters. Yeah, they each fit the stereotypes of “whore,” “athlete,” “fool,” “intellect,” and “virgin,” but right off the bat you know that they aren’t your typical five-some taking a weekend road trip likely to end in disaster. They have a certain awareness of their surroundings that finally answers the question: What if actually intelligent people were put in a horror movie situation? Well, they’d still die, but only because there is some higher power fucking with them. I rooted for and hoped for the deaths of every single one of them.

Cabin in the Woods isn’t just a horror movie. It’s a horror movie, within a movie, with a purpose. And for me, that purpose was the epitome of subversive nihilism. In other words, Cabin in the Woods reminded me that life is fucking funny, and also completely meaningless. In a good way.

Likely that made no sense at all, but keep reading anyway.

The larger corporate-like body subjecting these college kids to torture and death is doing so to keep the presumably Lovecraftian-esque Ancients from rising again and annihilating the world. And you know what’s great? THEY FAIL. Everyone dies! The world gets annihilated! I was literally bouncing up and down in my seat, I was so excited. I know it sounds awful, but I really was thankful that finally EVERYONE died.

What really struck me was how Cabin in the Woods was able to tip its hat to horror movies that came before it while bending (but not entirely breaking) the rules governing its genre. I saw gruesome creatures (like the merman), countless zombies, and awesome homages to horror classics (particularly the great Pinhead reference in the man with the puzzle box and blades sticking out of his face). Not to mention the use of Sigourney Weaver as the Director of the operation. I felt like my love of horror film was being recognized and awarded through these homages.

The Stoner and the Virgin are able to subvert the corporate authority by questioning the reality of their situation. Instead of saving the world, as they probably should in the end, they sit and smoke a joint together instead. Moral of the story?

Doubt your reality.

Fuck tha police.

Why Every Girl Should Have a Little Katniss in Her…

Last night I had a dream that I was Katniss Everdeen, à la Skyrim-themed Hunger Games. Needless to say, with all the mixed political intrigue, I had a hell of a headache in the morning, and a boyfriend asking why I’d kept elbowing him in the side all night (Because I was shooting arrows of epic sneak skill, DUH).

Now re-read the title of this post. Now back to me. This is not the post of Hunger Games love that you were looking for. On the contrary, I’m not an avid Hunger Games fan (which I regard as a great position for a grown lady such as myself to be in). There is no reason for adults to hold these young adult novels in such high esteem. And no, I’m not harping on the Hunger Games as a story that’s been told better before, I’m just saying that the quality of writing is meant for teenagers, not adults with the greater range of life experiences to help them better understand and appreciate more sophisticated science- and dystopian-fiction.

What I am here to explain is why I think Katniss could serve as a great role model (in SOME aspects) for young women just starting to think about their grander purpose in life. I think that Katniss is unique in her personality, or at least far more unique than that dreadful Bella Swan whose personality is simply whatever you imagine it to be (I’ll make this comparison several times, so bear with me). Tread carefully, here be spoilers.

Katniss does not ask to become a heroine. In fact, as she muses several times, she ISN’T much of a heroine at all. She’s actually kind of a stone-cold bitch. She knows that she’s not affectionate, or understanding, or feminine, or even particularly nice. A girl after my own heart…

When I first picked up the book, it was several months before the movie was set to release, and I hadn’t a clue what I would be in for, plot or otherwise. I honestly, did not 100% realize Katniss was a girl until she put on her mother’s dress to attending the Reaping. That is true literary gender-equality right there.

Katniss has a certain feminist facet that isn’t even apparent to her. She uses men to her advantage, such as Peeta, because she knows that her own personality is not going to get her far in achieving her goal – survival. She does not expect anyone to protect to her, she independent, strong, and overall a decisive human being. If she was not fictional I’d guess that her independence was a function of the death of her father. I was impressed when she said goodbye to her family in the first book and had the balls to tell her mom that she wasn’t allowed to get depressed again. Katniss took charge, told it how it was, and would not accept failure.

One particular scene which stands out in my mind as a solidifying moment in Katniss’s development is in the third book when she overhears Peeta and Gale talking about her. Throughout the books there’s been this contrived love-triangle between them, and the boys agree that Katniss will choose the one she can’t “survive” without. Instead of crying about what she hears, Katniss gets angry. She can survive without either of them, and how dare they try to demean her like that! I find it highly unfortunate that she ends up with either boy at the end of the book, but in this moment, her independence from others, particularly men, is solidified.

Katniss is talented. She can actually do something practical and physical. She may not have a single romantic bone in her body, but she does have an ability that she honed and improved over years of practice. She may have had a slight talent for the bow as a child, but she worked on the skill diligently. Peeta also has a talent, which originally served as a point of humor, but also saved his life in the end. These serve as reminders that hard work pays off. If you have a skill that you’re proud of, it may just become invaluable to you one day, so don’t you dare give it up.

The entire plot of The Hunger Games hinges on Katniss’s sacrifice of herself to inevitable death to save her sister from the same fate. She didn’t do it to stand up to the unseen political forces bearing down on her, and she obviously didn’t do it because she felt prepared for it. She did it because she didn’t want her little sister to suffer, a point that became sadly in vain later in the series. She volunteered because it was the right thing to do. Often I felt that Katniss was the only character, aside from Peeta, who had any moral compass at all. Yes she killed people, yes she was a practical, desperate, even ruthless participant in the slaughterfest, but she functioned on something I see as a primal moral code.

Katniss has the capacity to challenge young women. As opposed to Bella, who is nothing more than an amorphous shell who lets readers mold themselves to her submissive and co-dependent character, Katniss makes readers compare themselves. What would they do in her situation? Would they pretend to love a boy, just to survive? Would they throw a tracker jackers’ nest at him at the slightest hint of betrayal? Would they question their best friend’s motives and have the courage to call him out when they seemed less-than moral?

What I’m trying to say is not that every girl should act like Katniss, but rather that they should examine themselves and decide what exactly they determine as “moral.” Katniss isn’t always strong. She breaks down, has fits, does stupid shit, and hurts feelings. But she is real. Real in the sense that she is goal-driven, purposeful, and talented. I hope I can teach my daughter to be that way without throwing her into a maliciously political pit of death, but we’ll see.

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