Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions

I knew Disney's Frozen was loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen". Coupled with the fact that the snow pack in the mountains in Washington State had been crappy until recently, I missed being in the snow and eagerly headed to the theatre to live vicariously through its animated simulacrum.

It was thoroughly enjoyable. The songs aren't amazing, but they are catchy. The images of ice and blizzards and powdery banks did make me miss the snow and the mountains even more, though.  I saw the "twist" at the end coming a mile away; but a princess' (SPOILER ALERT!) life-saving act of "true love" being for a family member rather than for some random contrived romantic interest was a very welcome difference in the cartoon fairy tale world, even if it was predictable.

The film also features a kick-ass female character who stays single throughout the film and isn't defined by her lack of a spouse; in fact, half the movie is her quest to accept herself and her perceived "flaws" (y'know, minor things like turning everything you touch into ice). As my nieces are going through princess stages right now, I hope there will be more messages like this one for them as they keep growing up. Especially since last time I was in Ann Arbor, my 6-year-old niece asked me (with complete innocence, of course), "Tia, why do you not have a husband?"

In the same theme of children with bizarre magical powers...

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children started out as an incredibly dark, kind of scary book about a teenager who witnesses his grandfather's violent death and goes on a journey to come to terms with the truth behind unbelievable family stories that he long assumed were made-up. Until about halfway through, when our teenage protagonist finally finds the abandoned orphanage in Wales where his grandfather lived during World War II, the story is mainly a mystery about family history. But the last half veers off completely into X-Men territory.

The book is peppered with vintage (if anachronistic) photographs, which help tell the mysterious story of people with inhuman powers. But the photos are pretty freaky and creeped me out for the first half the book.

The story itself is great, though. What's not to like about a group of kids with supernatural powers banding together to protect their time-traveling headmistresses and fight evil quasi-demons?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The envy of less happier lands

Despite rave reviews from everyone I know, I resisted the call of The Lego Movie until one day I finally gave in. Movies about toys are not generally my thing -- and it did take me over half the movie to get into it -- but in the end I liked it. Mainly because it's partially geared toward adults, but in a way that's palatable to children. And it emphases creativity over conformity, revolution over resignation. But it managed to bring out the anti-Type A facets of my OCD nature.

I knew nothing about the film going into the theatre, but the general plot actually appealed to me: a seeming nobody in a world of automatons supposedly fulfills a prophecy for rebellion and leads the movement toward a free society where individuals actually have agency and an identity of their own choosing.

The Matrix is, after all, one of my favorite movies.

Also, the Legos had a catchy techno theme song.

In a weird way, it reminded me of The Giver, which I finally read because I've been going in and out of my "read the Newberry- and Pulitzer-winning books" phase.

It's kind of a dreary setting, but the underlying principle is the same as the Legos and Matrix: homogenous lifestyles and identities are imposed on communities in order to control them. Since the main character is a kid and is in the middle of being socialized to obey the rules in a colorless, predetermined order.

When he's twelve, he's given his future job: to receive the memories, good and bad, of all humanity. And -- surprise, surprise-- what he learns about what it meant to be human inspires him to seek out the missing links in an Ethan Frome-meets-Pleasantville-meets-1984 kind of way.

Fallaces sunt rerum species... but here's to hoping hope isn't deceitful.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Wee bit hill and glen

Fourteen years after I first started it (because it was recommended to me before I shipped off to study in Scotland), I finally finished Trainspotting. (I don't think bright-eyed 20-year-old me had the stomach for all the heroin use and abuse.)

While I didn't fall in love with the film, I'm glad I finally watched the whole thing. It's an insightful and darkly comedic look at the cycle of addiction and co-dependencies, set against a backdrop of post- deindustrialization and a coming devolution:
"Some people hate the English. I don't! They're just wankers! We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers!"
Because I've always been a fan of Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting was her debut film) and because I'm midway through the Doctor Who series with David Tennant, I naively took up Netflix's suggested that I watch The Decoy Bride. Let's just say Macdonald and Tennant tried valiantly to save this unforgivably bad rom-com about a movie star's wedding in an isolated village in the Hebrides. I really, really, really wish to forget that I ever saw this movie.

To make up for an incredibly bad B-rate movie about a little village in Scotland, I watched a slightly better B-rate movie about a little village in Scotland. Except The Match had a 100-year-old soccer rivalry as its central plot, so that made it a bit more palatable. It was a cute and predictable story about a rag-taggle group of locals trying to save their favorite pub by beating the town rivals and chasing out the English. I also laughed out loud almost every time David O'Hara's character made an appearance.

And it made me feel a lot better about some bad plays I've made on the soccer field!

Tae think again...

Saturday, March 01, 2014


I finally got around to watching Sherlock, and the minute I started I couldn't stop. My tween self read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories over and over and over again. So I absolutely geeked out watching the BBC show because it does actually adhere to the central details of the books and the core of the characters.... just with clever modern twists.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are wonderful, of course, as Holmes and Watson, and their relationship playing out is half the fun of watching the show. But more fun, to me, is watching the witty bantering between Sherlock and his brother. Mycroft gets much more airtime in the series than he has appearances in Doyle's books, but it's brilliant.

I can't believe I have to wait until 2016 for Season 4!

So I consoled myself by re-re-re-watching The Great Mouse Detective, another brilliant and hilarious homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's timeless character.

Then, perhaps because I was feeling so inspired by archetypal detectives, I read Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. I watched the Humphrey Bogart movie as a teenager, but the only thing I remember is that I found it rather boring. I don't even remember how it ended.

It was an incredibly fast read, maybe because pulp detective novels aren't intended to be literary beacons that draw in readers with their nuanced sentences and deeply complex character portraits. I could go on longer than necessary about the overtly sexist and patronizing tendencies of private dick Sam Spade (pun intended). But I'll rein in those particular reactions because the book was, after all, written in 1930.

I realize that part of the appeal of noir is that the reader/viewer is in the dark as much as the protagonist, but it was really over-the-top in Falcon. After a few chapters, I was only reading to find out what the hell was going on, because every dialogue and plot development was so excessively mysterious, it was ridiculous. But to give it the benefit of the doubt, maybe it only seemed that way because Falcon solidified the "hard-boiled" detective genre, and in the 80-odd years since it's been published it's defined the formula stereotype to the point where the original seems like a parody of itself.