Saturday, February 26, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja

Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
ISBN: 978-193152070-6


From a wartime brothel to the intricate high society of 1870s Brussels, Under the Poppy is a breakout novel of childhood friends, a love triangle, puppet masters and reluctant spies.

Under the Poppy is a brothel owned by Decca and Rupert.  Decca is in love with Rupert but he in turn is in love with her brother, Istvan.  When Istvan comes to town, louche puppet troupe in tow, the lines of their age-old desires intersect against a backdrop of approaching war.

Hearts are broken when old betrayals and new alliances – not just their own – take shape, as the townsmen seek refuge from the onslaught of history by watching the girls of the Poppy cavort onstage with Istvan’s naughty puppets.

With the war growing ever closer, Istvan and Rupert abandon the Poppy.  Embroiled in the intrigues of high society, they try to avoid becoming puppets themselves in the hands of powerful men they have helped before – and who now want to use them again.

Under the Poppy is a vivid, sexy, historical novel as delicious and intoxicating as the best guilty pleasure.


Aside:  Indeed, I have returned from the land of academic pursuits to actually write a review of my own.  Hopefully things have settled down for a bit now so I'll be able to entertain you without the much appreciated help of my lovely friends.

My Thoughts:

Some of you may recognize the name Kathe Koja as it seems likely that you’ve come across her work if you’re reading this review blog.  I particularly enjoyed Skin when I read it some years ago and I’m still trying to track down copies of her earlier novels.  Sadly (for me in my strange anti-YA snobbery), she wrote a whole bunch of YA novels, but now, finally, she has written Under the Poppy a book I can read because it’s  meant for adults.

Of course, now I’m not sure what exactly to say about the novel.  I liked it, yes, although there are a few things that didn’t quite work for me.  

Right, so this might be a bit spoiler-y.  Hence if that bothers you, skip ahead (You're okay to read again after one paragraph!).

The novel is called Under the Poppy and it starts out at the brothel, but it’s only set there for the first part, which, well enough, there was a war on and they had to flee.  Reference is made to both the brothel and the idea of going “under the poppy” to forget the past throughout the latter part of the story.  What really got me is that the back cover blurb makes a big deal about the relationship between Decca, Rupert and Istvan.  Well, Decca stays at the Poppy and we never hear what happens to her after Rupert and Istvan leave.  That really bothered me.  Within the narrative it makes some sense that no one hears what happens to her, but since there are multiple points of view throughout, it would have been possible to get a glimpse of what happens.  All we find out is that the name is changed back to The Rose and Poppy and that Decca is still there, but that’s it.  Somehow there wasn’t enough closure there for me.

Another problem I had with the novel is that at times I was a little bit lost as to the setting.  Mostly this sense of confusion was related to what town or city we were in.  Though, I guess that ultimately it doesn’t matter so much what city we’re in, but I was a little distracted trying to get a sense of place.

Let’s move on to the good things!

Throughout the story there is an undercurrent of darkness.  I can think of no better way than this to describe it and it keeps you reading, pulls you on and on through the narrative.  Tied into this sense of the creeping grotesque is the fact that Koja is skilled at depicting how close to insanity art can come.  I have fond memories of the mad genius of Skin – how far Koja was willing to push her story and her characters for the sake of their art and there is a similar feeling here.  Istvan is driven and he cannot be anything other than what he is – a player, an actor and puppeteer.  At the same time, he is drawn to Rupert and Rupert to him.  Their relationship is painfully real – nothing is perfect or sugar-coated.  They hurt each other, they try to mend their rifts, attempt forgiveness and do their best to accept the other as they are.  It’s superbly done.  Not only are these two main characters developed, but most of the side cast has some dimension to them, too.

Last but not least, I want to comment on the style.  For me, it’s at once sparse and lush, a strange mixture I know, and seemingly contradictory.  Koja doesn’t dwell on scenery that is unimportant so that everything you “see” is relevant to the narrative.  The way she weaves images and sentences is quite pretty.

Overall, then, my opinion is positive.  If you’re looking for a slightly different, slightly darker historical fiction novel, this might just be it.  I know that I’ll be looking for her next non-YA novel in the future (yes, I know it’ll likely be a while since this one was just released a few months ago.  I can be patient when I need to be.).

P.S.: I really like the cover.

P.P.S:  Did I mention that there were puppets?  And that they are a little bit creepy?  Well, there are and they are!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Weeks Too Late: The Bed Sitting Room

The Bed Sitting Room. Directed by Richard Lester & Adapted from Milligan & Antrobus' Play by Charles Wood.

: As pat and uncontroversial as it may sound, I'm a fan of a Hard Day's Night. Lester captured the fun, offhand feeling that I think of when I consider the early Beatles. He's got an excellent sense of weirdness and comedic directing. So when I was digging around and saw words like "Ralph Richardson is a stiff-upper-lip gentleman who mutates into ... a sitting room" I was naturally intrigued.

General Review
: I'm at a loss about where to begin. This movie was Monty Python and the Prisoner thrown into a centrifuge spun around until they're pulped together. It had a
ll the unrepentant strangeness that this suggests. Again, I'm afraid I'm hardly being unique or insightful with these comparisons. The Bed Sitting Room follows the handful of English survivors in a post atomic wasteland (after the post atomic horror, if you will). However, this basic plot description doesn't really cover the oddness. Surreal just about does it. The bulk of the characters attempt to stolidly act as though nothing has changed despite the nuclear clouds, lack of food and rampant mutations.

Sometimes weirdness for its own sake is enough for me and I certainly
enjoyed the weirdness here, but overall I didn't love the Bed Sitting Room. I may come off as a bit of a dullard for this, but it just wasn't as funny as I was expecting. Everything in the film lent itself towards humour. Watching a stuffy lord slowly transforming into a room and a middle class family try to keep living as if things would be back to normal any day should have been hilarious. Admittedly, there were a few giggles, like the singing of God Save Mrs. Ethel Shroake (the next in line for the throne after the bomb) and the fact that people are too polite to say "bomb." Sadly, at the end of a movie that should have had me worrying about suffocation, I only had the few giggles. Thinking about the juxtapositions and absurdities makes me think "oh that's clever" and I dig the mental exercise, but the movie didn't go those extra few inches to make me laugh.

The problems certainly weren't with the cast. Ralph Richardson (as the lord) and Frank Thornton (as the BBC) were particularly good at the deadpan pretense that everything was normal, despite evidence to the contrary. Richardson's request for a medical prescription for breakfast to ward off the illness of starvation was particularly good. There wasn't an actor in this that didn't sell each line and strange scenario to its utmost.

The sets were great and had an awful lot of variety for being a mostly deserted wasteland. Each character we visit has (
or is) a distinct looking hidey-hole. And the policemen's balloon was neat to see in the empty desert of England.

The Bed Sitting Room is fun to think about. It's a study in contrasts, strangeness and absurdities, that is interesting to watch and full of well played characters. I just wasn't able to get over the fact that it wasn't
funny. So many of the situations felt like set ups to jokes that were ultimately not paid off. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the price of admission just to see the oddness, but don't expect to get a whole lot more out of it than that. Oh and a critique of class and middle class morality, I mean this is something I've compared to Python, after all.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Guest Review - RobotMatt Talks "Hack/Slash"

Aside:  I know, I know, two guest reviews in a row, not to mention that there has been very little girl in the girl on book action, lately.  I am a bad little blogger, but I assure you that after this amazing piece by our good friend Matt I will return to writing form.  After all, my big day of academic achievement is over and it'll be a few months before the next one.  Until then, please enjoy this guest review.

A short aside about Matt:  Wondering who Matt is?  Well, wonder no more!  Matt Rowbotham dwells in the jungles of Canada from which he occasionally emerges to record critically acknowledged podcasts Sarcastic Voyage and the Post Atomic Horror. (Available at and respectively.). He also writes the occasional column for Post Atomic Horror's website.


You know what I never get tired of? Girls beating the shit out of monsters. It's a tried and true format. Hot girl + slathering monster = good times for all. It worked for Buffy, it worked decidedly less well for a shit ton of crappy titles from Image back in the 90s and it works for Hack/Slash.

Hack/Slash chronicles the adventures of Cassie Hack, the teenage daughter of the notorious Lunch Lady killer. The Lunch Lady murdered dozens of high school kids before turning them into mystery meat in the cafeteria. When she was discovered, she killed herself. And then came back to start all over again. Cassie kills her (again) and then heads out into the world to rid it of other so-called Slashers. She eventually joins up with an accused serial killer Vlad and the two travel across America killing killers. Hack/Slash is a horror comic, but it's a very specific type of horror comic. It is a very loving riff on the slasher movies that were especially popular in the 80s and 90s. Simple premise: Dude with an interesting gimmick and a knife kills teenagers for an hour and a half. And if you, like me, spent the weekends of your youth watching them by the dozen, they hold a very special and bloody place in your heart. Let's be clear here. The comic is exploitive as hell. The lead protagonist is clearly designed to titillate and the language and violence are gratuitous. Just like the source material.

Hack/Slash has two very specific things going for it.  Firstly, the characters have a lot of heart. Cassie and Vlad are extremely close, without being romantic (something I actually like seeing in books with male and female protaganists) and the supporting cast are also likable. An unconventional family of victims, former serial killers
and sweater banging helldogs form around Cassie and Vlad.  Secondly, the book is extremely funny. Cassie is quippy in a completely unannoying way and Vlad is deadpan with a ridiculous accent and Pooch, the above mentioned helldog never fails to delight me. Tim Seeley is, for the most part an excellent writer. He keeps what could quickly be an extremely boring concept fresh with new and original monsters and is willing to experiment with his characters and settings. One chapter in Book 1 is made up entirely of short 'trailer' style stories, each

telling a story in only a few pages. Another chapter involves an invasion of Lovecraft's Deep Ones of a  Riverdalesque town and the entire issue is drawn in the style of Archie comics.

The only times the story really seems to fail are the crossovers.  Volume 3 features crossovers with two other horror books "The Living Corpse" and "Halloween Man." Neither story is written by Seeley and they both suffer for it. Living Corpse is a rough but largely inoffensive story that covers its shortcomings with some damn fine art. Halloween Man is just bad. The writer, Drew Edwards, seems much too pleased with his own characters. The dialogue is wooden and stinks of comic cliches. The two characters crossing over even have a misunderstanding before uniting to take down a common threat and the whole thing feels lazy. The only one which really seemed to work was the meeting of the H/S crew and Chuckie, the killer from the Child's Play movies. Seeley clearly enjoyed writing Chuckie and having Cassie face an actual well-known horror movie monster felt like a big deal.
Artwise, the books vary.There is no regular artist on the book, although artists do stick around for individual arcs. The art shifts from thick lined Bruce Timmish cartoons to thin lined hyper detailed sketches reminicent of early Image. It varies depending on the mood of the story being told.

In the end, it's an extremely fun comic. If you enjoyed watching Jason Vorhees shove a pitchfork through a camper's eye mid-coitus, even on the eighteenth time, this is probably the horror comic for you. Hack/Slash is very aware of its roots and is more than willing to embrace them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Weeks Too Late: The Facebook Movie (aka The Social Network)

The Social Network. Directed by David Fincher & Written by Aaron Sorkin.

Preconceptions: I enjoy David Fincher and I hardly think I'm alone in this. His Alien movie is my favourite of the franchise and I genuinely liked the Game (and I do think I might be alone in these statements). I forgive him Panic Room (an utterly tedious movie) and spelling seven with a numeral. Aaron Sorkin's painfully clever writing has interested me in more than one topic that I find unbelievably dull (maybe he should have written Panic Room). His idealistic, funny and educational show the West Wing got me substantially more absorbed in American politics than a good Canadian should be. And, lets not forget that Trent Reznor (always a favourite) did the score.

General Review: I was concerned that Fincher and Sorkin might not be a good fit. Watching Sorkin's other shows it felt like he had a pretty high level of control over how they looked and felt. Fincher also has a very distinct (and yellow filtered) style. I was wrong to be worried as the Facebook Movie was a beautiful blend of the strengths of both. It had the snappy writing that I've come to expect of Sorkin, but the sense of humour was darker. This was partly due to Sorkin's writing (and y'know the subject matter) but also partly due to Fincher's sense of black comedy. Few people can direct a scene that's both funny and mean as Fincher. Also as a side note, I'd have had no idea that the Winklevoss twins were played by one guy if I hadn't been told. Kudos to both Fincher and Armie Hammer, it was impressive.

I broke my own rules and read a bit about the response to the Facebook Movie and decided right quickly that I didn't care about the accuracy of the story. I'm sure things didn't happen the way they were depicted in the movie but that didn't especially matter to me. Yes, if it didn't it might be unfair to the people in it, but I think typically fictionalized history is a lot more engaging. I like documentaries just fine, but they don't have much in the way of a plotted through-line (unless they're very disingenuously edited).

I've been thinking of Jesse Eisenberg as that kid you get when you can't get Michael Cera for a while now. But between this and Zombieland, I'm beginning to wonder if Michael Cera is going to turn into the kid you get when you can't get Eisenberg. Yes, he's playing another soft spoken, awkward nerd character in this, but it's a very different type of soft spoken nerd. This new version of the the socially maladjusted nerd doesn't get along with others, not because he's a geek, but because he's unlikable. Zuckerberg's character is a type of person that a lot of us are familiar with, but that hasn't seen much in the way of screen time yet. I wouldn't be surprised to see this character type turn into a cliche` in the next handful of years, but it's still very fresh now. Credit where it's due, the role wouldn't have been nearly so good without Eisenberg's performance. The more I see of this Timberlake fellow, the more I like. He was alright in Black Snake Moan and he was better in this (plus I have a fondness for his brainy specs).

I fear that I've made another one of my gushy reviews where I don't have a ton of cruel...I mean critical things to say. But I just straight out enjoyed this. The Facebook Movie encapsulated a few ideas and character types I haven't seen much of before. It showed the success as an internet business in a way that seems more true to life (even if it isn't) than other movies that disastrously tried to explain the dot com thing. If you're holding off because it sounds boring, trust me it isn't. Sorkin works his usual magic to make the most mundane things alluring.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Girl on Book Action: A Special Guest Post by Ron "AAlgar" Watt on Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight

Aside: That's right, it's another guest spot in the "Doomwench is Busy and Important" series. We've stolen Ron "AAlgar" Watt this week. You've read his stuff here before, but in case you need reminding, he's a writer, comedian, occasional hoster of our podcast and husband. His creative stylings can be found at Now on with the review:

Terry Pratchett is kind of my hero. My glib, one-sentence defense o
f this position runs something like this: “imagine if Douglas Adams wrote fantasy and actually had a work ethic.” And while that’s not bad for getting you in the general ballpark of what Pratchett does, it really sells him short. Because the Discworld books (nearly 40 volumes and counting, with a new one pretty much guaranteed each autumn) have transcended the flimsy, limited trappings of genre parody and have formed a fairly complex (though not inaccessible) tapestry of compelling characters, unique situations and powerful symbols. Pratchett is one of those authors whose work is about stories, but not in some back-pattingly, overly clever post-modern metatextual way. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe those terms do apply to his work, but it still manages to be insightful without being insufferable.

The saga of Tiffany Aching, witch-in-training, has been no exception to this. While technically the four books in this mini-series (The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and the latest, I Shall Wear Midnight) get filed under the “young adult” heading, there’s nothing childish going on here at all. One gets the impression - probably because one read this someplace - that these coming-of-age stories are meant to compete with a certain other series of “young person finds him/herself while learning magic” books from a prominent British author.

But Tiffany Aching is no Harry Potter. Instead of angsty teen drama, Tiffany typically finds herself tossed into the deep end of problems that the adults in her world are ill-equipped to handle. She doesn’t have time for butter beer and quidditch. On the Discworld, a witch is a sort of midwife/general physician/psychologist with only the very occasional dealings in actual magic. So between the birthing of babies, the tending of wounds, preparing the dying for death and - oh yeah, saving the world from evil - there’s not much room for that thing the kids apparently call “emo” nowadays. (We called it “being a whiny jerk” when I was a kid, but I digress.)

Over the course of these books, we’ve watched Tiffany grow and become capable of handling increasingly difficult obstacles. But the nice thing is, comedic though these stories might be, she’s not the standard bumbling non-hero that discovers that the true power was within her all along. We can tell that she’s special from the earliest pages of the first book - not just because people around her tell her that she’s special, but because we see her actively coping with the problems around her. Pratchett tends to favor this kind of hero - intelligent and capable, a bit pushy but always with people’s best interests at heart. Their flaws tend to come in that little bit of darkness they carry with them - and realize that they must carry, to be as good at what they do as they are.

And darkness is where I Shall Wear Midnight really asserts itself as most decidedly not your typical young adult book. There’s sex (implied, but still pretty obvious), there’s a violence-induced miscarriage and there’s a literal witch hunt that shows just how gullible and easily influenced people can be when they allow their confusion to mutate into fear and hatred. Tiffany’s strength in the face of these - and many other - obstacles is a clear indicator that the reason these “coming of age” stories are coming to a close is because our hero has come of age.

This is one of the most sharply defined Discworld books in the series - the lows are a lot lower, and the highs are consequently a hundred times more rewarding. There are laughs, but more surprising are the visceral reactions it provokes in you, seemingly with no effort whatsoever. Pratchett has been working in this toolbox for so long that he’s refined his emotional manipulation to a precise science. He pulls the lever for “sad” and god damn it, you feel sad. Every. Time.

Pratchett’s recent highly publicized fight with Alzheimers has, in a way, crept into his more recent work. There’s a passage in I Shall Wear Midnight that absolutely reduced me to tears, as Tiffany realizes that, in terms of enormous, mind-boggling tragedies, prayer is kind of a waste of time. At the end of the day it’s best to just keep your head down and do the job that’s in front of you. As pragmatic and admirable a sentiment as that might be, it’s hard not to read between the lines a bit there.

Overall, the Discworld books just get better with each installment, and I Shall Wear Midnight is no exception. The other three books in this sub-series are not absolutely mandatory, but you’ll appreciate the journey of a girl into womanhood (not in that way, you sicko) a lot more if you check those out first.

(Inconsequential side note: when I left myself a reminder to review this book on my to-do list app, it informed me that I was scheduled to review I Shall Wear at 12:00am. Seriously, computers - I love that you can be so clever, but don’t second-guess me.)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Bronson & Lennon Naked

Bronson. Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Written by Brock Norman Brock & Nicolas Winding Refn. Lennon Naked. Directed Edmund Coulthard & Written by Robert Jones.

Preconceptions: Strangely enough I watched more than one movie this week, even more odd they were both bio-pics about famous figures in the UK. Typically I'd use this as an opportunity to be lazy and write two reviews, but the movies were such a contrast from each other I figured why not write about them both.

Bronson: In case you hadn't heard of this, Bronson is loosely based around the life of Michael Peterson, a famously violent prisoner. An interesting idea for a flick, but in the end it put me in mind of A Clockwork Orange without a plot. This movie nearly had me fooled. It was so lavishly stylish, well acted and interestingly directed I almost didn't realize that it was barely a movie at all. Yes, yes, it's a scathing critique of the warehousing of criminals that's paired fairly well with satirizing celebrity culture. That's a good compare and contrast if ever I saw one. But what the movie had in clever ideas it lacked in connected scenes and any kind of through-line. It could have easily been a series of unconnected shorts or music videos, or an over-excited child describing its day ("and then this happened and this happened and this happened!").

Don't get me wrong, there were plenty of things I liked about Bronson. Tom Hardy was excellent. He was off putting and intriguing. His skill and charisma kept my attention in what was often a one-hander. I also liked most of the directorial choices. The parts that took place in Bronson's head (that looked a bit like the stage scenes from Chicago) were really cool. But despite all the good, Bronson didn't tell a story. It had a lot of axes to grind and a lot of interesting visuals to show us, but not much to hang them on.

Lennon Naked: Given the difference in subject matter, these are two movies with some similar themes. Another strong celebrity character that dominates the movie and has a sometimes tenuous grip on reality. Lennon Naked focuses on John Lennon's life between 1964 and 1971 (around about the break up of the Beatles and John Lennon's peace movement stunts).

And another amazing performance from the lead. I loved Eccleston as Doctor Who (honestly, who wouldn't?) but even knowing he was a strong actor, seeing him so transformed in this role was surprising. I didn't find myself (as I often do) thinking "ah, and now Christopher Eccleston will do this as John Lennon." Nope, I just thought of him as the character. I can't wait to see how he's going to impress me next.

The directing showed a simply gorgeous use of economy. Coulthard shot things in such a way as to suggest scope, without having to shell out to show it. Lennon Naked took place in a lot of small sets, but it always suggested a larger surrounding world. It also used the time it had (running only 80 minutes) extraordinarily well. We were presented with a full picture of an extremely complicated character in an amazingly brief span.

My only real complaint is that Andrew Scott's Paul McCartney was truly awful. If it'd been a movie about all of the Beatles, that would have posed a real problem. As it was, we only had to deal with his pudgy-faced, mush-mouthed blandness for a few minutes peppered throughout the movie.

The budget (small), run time (short) and filming time (only 18 days!) did nothing to oversimplify the story. The writing was concise but not jarring. Lennon Naked won't take up much of your time and it's well worth what it does use.

Aside: Now, to stop being serious and be more of a 12 year old: titter titter titter, I've seen Eccleston naked. And to swipe a joke, I think he might be the first Doctor to show his, ahem, Who.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Girl on Book Action: Soulless by Gail Carriger

Soulless by Gail Carriger
ISBN: 978-0-316-05663-2


Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations.

First, she has no soul.  Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead.  Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there?  From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire – and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia is responsible.  Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society?  Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing?  Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?


My Thoughts:

I had finally started to read Catherynne Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed but about 15 pages into it I realized that I just don’t have the brain power right now to do justice to that particular novel.  So I turned my energy-depleted noggin to something more easily accessible, only to be sorely disappointed.

You know, I had heard good things about this novel and was looking forward to reading it.  I’m sad to report that I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I had hoped (although Wren’s thoughts on it should have warned me of my impending disappointment).  I think I might have just outgrown the paranormal romance genre.  As much as these kinds of books are easy and quick to read (a real benefit when you’re as busy and mentally drained as I am at times) they just aren’t entertaining me anymore.  The only word that I could think of to describe this book – and it’s one I’m loathe to use when discussing any sort of writing – is overly self-indulgent.  It just felt as though it was a novel of wish-fulfillment with regard to the protagonist and her behavior and adventures.  Having given it some thought, I’m not going to tear this book apart based on the fact that it fulfills the mandates of its genre.  That seems unfair to the author.  I will just tell you my thoughts, as always.

If you enjoy reading paranormal romances, chances are good you will like this novel.  You have a spunky, outspoken heroine; an attractive but difficult werewolf suitor and a very endearing flamboyant vampire.  There is witty dialogue, embarrassing situations and, you know, sexy times.  Added to these standard features you have Victorian society and social norms and quite a bit of discussion of fashion and proper etiquette.  Overall, there are laughs and tense moments and I was entertained, if not satisfied.  It’s all well-imagined and well-executed.  I can’t find fault with the set-ups or the outcomes as they are typical of the genre and yet…Well, I guess my disappointment comes in because I was hoping for more.

I can’t tell you exactly why I thought this novel would be different.  It’s just one of those ideas that gets into my head and doesn’t want to vacate.  For instance, while Alexia is well-read and intelligent, she is not say…a scientist.  Why couldn’t she have been a scientist?  And…in the end she succumbs to society and OMG SPOILER marries Lord Maccon.  I would have preferred her to remain a spinster.  Do you see how the problem here is more with my expectations than with the actual book?  I need to stop reading paranormal romance novels and everything will be better.  I won’t be chomping at the bit for a story that doesn’t exist if I just read a different genre.

I know you were perhaps hoping for a more vigorous dissection of Soulless.  I apologize for not tearing into it with my usual gusto, but it just seemed unfair to take my frustrations with a genre I’ve outgrown out on one poor novel that came along at the wrong time.  I must learn to resist the siren-song of the easy read and forge on as best I can with my limited time and capacity so as to avoid these disappointments in the future.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Daniel Radcliffe - The Boy Who Grew Up

Let's face a tough fact here. It's likely that the first time you saw Daniel Radcliffe, he was TWELVE YEARS OLD.

In 2001, the first Harry Potter film was released. I remember being thrilled with the choice of actor for young Harry, and I vaguely remember that most people were as well (although I'm sure there was a small legion of uber-fans who thought he was terrible for the role, because the internet existed then.) I remember thinking, "Aww, isn't he just adorable!" I don't think any woman above the age of 18 was quite prepared for the disturbing feelings Mr. Radcliffe was going to start inspiring over the next decade.

Because, DAYUM.

Admit it, you now feel like SUCH a dirty old woman (or man). Wrenish, I'm especially talking to you here.

Yes, before our very eyes, Dan grew from an adorable twelve year old to a ridiculously good looking twenty-two year old, with a stop around his 18th birthday to appear nude on stage in a revival of Equus, thus causing my brain to try to explode.

Now Mr. Radcliffe is all set to tackle Broadway with "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying", step one of which is, I imagine, "Look like Daniel Radcliffe."

It would be rather easy to dislike a young man who appears to have had his entire life handed to him on a silver platter, if it weren't for the fact that he has no trouble taking himself down a notch or two on occasion. He appears to be sweet, funny, and a good sport. For example...


So, in conclusion, I look forward to having Daniel Radcliffe make me (and Wrenish) feel like a dirty old woman for decades to come.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Weeks Too Late: Bluebeard (Barbe Bleue)

Bluebeard (Barbe Blue). Directed and Written by Catherine Breiallat.

Preconceptions: I've been meaning to check out Breillat's work for a while now. I've read a bit about the cleverness, sexuality and feminism of her movies and wanted to see if they were up my alley or not. Given my out of proportion love for fantasy movies (and costume dramas), I figured watching Bluebeard would give Breillat a much fairer shake than something harder edged like Romance (which promises to be a dispassionate look at the limits of lust and degradation). Not that I'm a wimp or anything. Ahem.

General Review: Wowee-zowee, it has been a while since I've been able to dribble idiot praise for a director, but I think it's well earned here. Before I get into the deeper reasons for digging Breillat, can I mention that it was damned gorgeous to watch. The colour pallet was vivid, the use of light and shadow was beautiful and over all I haven't enjoyed seeing many movies in HD quite as much as I enjoyed this one.

The plot of the flick is that two young sisters have snuck up to the attic to mess around with the forbidden stuff up there. The younger sister, Catherine, reads her sister Anne the story of Bluebeard and we flash between the sisters in the attic and the sisters in the story. The retelling of the story is fairly true to Perrault's original, with a bit of snappy dialogue added for zest. All of the conversations between the sisters (both in the attic and in the story) hold that edge of love and rivalry that's easy to find in siblings (as well as being pretty funny). A final note on the writing, I might be reading my own particular set of theories and interests into this, but it also seemed like a thoughtful examination of what happens to children who aren't exposed to much in the way of cautionary tales.

But enough about the writing, lets get back to the directing. It was more than just visually appealing and competent-it was also beautifully conceived. Little understated choices like adding furniture from the attic into the castle in the story helped establish a real feeling of imagined setting. Particularly because these choices were understated, I was half way through the movie before I started actively noticing them. Other decisions, like having the girls imagine their story counter-part's appearance to be more like their sister, neatly underscored the sibling rivalry without needing to speak a word. Bluebeard was stuffed with excellent directoral moves like these, but never in a patronizing way. I felt like I was expected to keep up and if I didn't (and I'm sure I missed stuff) I could still enjoy the movie for its simple story and prettiness merits. I never felt like it was jumping up and down on my head telling me how clever it was (though it was extremely clever).

After going on and on about all of the things I liked, this seems like a nit picky thing to say but several characters go on and on about how Bluebeard's beard is....well, blue and that he hides the colour when going out on business. The times where its supposed to be blue, I just didn't see it. It still just looked black.

Oh right, there were actors in this and they have talents that are not just the director's skill. Dominique Thomas was excellent at portraying a character that was a gentle giant and a monster all at the same time. Daphne Baiwir and Marilou Lopes-Benites (the sisters in the attic) sold that they were children at play. Unfortunately, Lola Creton and Lola Giovannetti (the sisters in the story) weren't as natural as their real world counterparts and sometimes came off on the wooden side.

If you're looking for the usual sort of flick that I'm into (y'know with zombies and gunplay) you won't find much of that here (well, maybe just a tad). The action is fairly low key and it's mostly a thoughtful retelling of a fairy tale. It's also masterfully directed and a good test for your fancy new HD TV's.

Aside: One small caveat, Bluebeard is in French, so to be avoided if subtitles give you a headache. Or y'know, you can't read...which brings up the interesting question of how you're managing this site. Alright two small caveats, despite what I said about this being a fairy tale and kids needing more cautionary tales, you probably shouldn't show it to your kids.