Saturday, June 30, 2012

Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

So, I really wanted to like this movie, and I thought I was going to. Perhaps I did, but it didn't meet my high expectations. Not nearly.

I won't tell the premise here because it's a very old story and I'd be wasting my time. However, this movie tried to put a "deep," "dark" spin on it (although if you look at the story itself, it's pretty grim already - "Grimm" pun absolutely intended). It did not work! There were so many things wrong with this film, including the lack of an explanation of how the huntsman's kiss revived Snow White from death. I know it was in the 1937 Disney cartoon, done by Prince Charming instead, but it still was never explained. As MelinaPendulum points out, Snow seems to radiate this "inner goodness" without actually doing anything to earn everyone's following, which annoyed me, and the scene with all the forest creatures and fairies was a direct steal from Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke, which was an excellent piece of work. But this...well. There were many plot flaws, a few of which I have just pointed out, and most of the dialogue felt stiff and sometimes downright forced.

On the good side, the visual effects were absolutely breathtaking and the main actors were quite good, despite the writing. Many people complained about the casting of Kristen Stewart, but just because she was in the mostly-horrid Twilight franchise, that does not make her a bad actress. She did not write Twilight! One of the downsides of acting is people who judge a performer's prowess by what shows said performer is in. For example, Kristen and Twilight and this. A bad movie can certainly have good actors! Kristen, so far, has seemed a pretty good actress to me. She does a great British (or whatever) accent here. And Alex Pettyfer seems another good example, though Id' have to check. And Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, which was enjoyable but heavily flawed.

Which leads me to admit that I did enjoy Snow White and the Huntsman. That does not excuse its numerous faults.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Note on Count Olaf and Other Fictive Scumbags

One thing I like to see in villains is rottenness. It's OK for them to have traumatic back-stories as long as their wickedness is not excused by them. One of the best examples, I think, is Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. He was indeed bullied as a kid, but that's no reason to be a complete monster, i.e. attempting to kill an infant. Cowardice helps, as do dishonesty and vile temperaments. Redwall's Cluny the Scourge is really cool but I don't remember him being especially horrible. Stated in a post from January is my view of being unethical instead of simply opposing the antagonist. Slagar from the same series was pretty horrid, though, but he was not allied to Cluny (the latter tried to have the former executed).

Earlier this evening I finished listening to a short (but shiver-sending) book known as The Bad Beginning, the first of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, of which there are thirteen installments - of course. On the one hand I felt the explanations to what the "big words" meant were not entirely necessary, but that was mostly made up for by the absolute bastard of a villain: Count Olaf. He was so evil that I actually felt my blood boiling whenever I heard his voice or name. At the same time, my spine went cold when he spoke; I think the fact that Tim Curry narrated the book helped this greatly. He was a manipulative, heartless, violent creep who intended to kill three young orphans in order to inherit their parents' vast fortune. Not something most folks would smile upon! He threatened to kill a toddler by having her dropped out of a tower window by an ally, and struck a boy across the face hard enough to bruise. The thing that made it all work, I think, is that while he had a plausible motive, there was no sympathy whatsoever for the man. This might sound dark of me, but I sincerely hope he dies in the end!

Screenwriter and novelist Alexandra Sokoloff has a post somewhere on her magnificent blog which instructs aspiring writers to name their ten favorite villains from books, movies, and the like. In no particular order, here are mine, based on evilness as well as coolness:

  1. Voldemort from Harry Potter
  2. Dracula
  3. Emperor Palpatine / Darth Sidious (Star Wars original trilogy)
  4. Randall Flagg (The Stand, The Dark Tower series, and The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King - among possible others)
  5. Grendel from Beowulf
  6. Gollum from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  7. The Joker from The Dark Knight
  8. Count Olaf
  9. The Beldam from Coraline
  10. Iago from Othello
These will probably change, but they are what came to mind. Stephen King, being a writer of horror, has many great villains, such as Percy Wetmore in The Green Mile and Annie Wilkes in Misery as well as Kurt Barlow ('Salem's Lot) and The Dark Tower's Crimson King and the demon-infested corpses in Pet Sematary, but I don't think that'd be fair to let Steve have all the slots. The nameless monster created by Dr. Frankenstein did a few truly awful things but I felt sympathy for it. Mary Shelley did this so beautifully that that is still my all-time favorite novel.

Currently my mind - and hopefully soon my pen! - is at work on what is hopefully a completely horrible villain. It's hard work, the creation of characters. Wish me luck!

PS. - Unseen villains, namely the Blair Witch, can be incredibly frightening if properly pulled off.

Monday, June 18, 2012

They're Not Old Enough!

Earlier this year, when I was beginning to take Civics & Economics at school, our teacher showed us an episode of a television program titled The West Wing. The show itself was well-written; even if I didn't know it was penned by Aaron Sorkin, I'd recognize his ultra-fast dialogue anywhere, but it was good dialogue.

The problem was that it was the sixth episode or so, and I had no idea what the hell was going on. Later I mentioned this to my maternal grandmother on the phone and she said something about the "themes" being something I'd "come to appreciate more as I gained age and, therefore, maturity." OK, Grandma, I love you, but this is a common mistake. Trust me, plenty of teenagers don't realize the finer side of art, nor do plenty of younger children and a frightening number of adults. But some adults (not all) consistently belittle us. For example, I was unscathed by R-rated movies by age thirteen. I learned most swearwords early on. And I can fully well understand most forms of art without having to wait.

They seem to think us younger than we are. I first saw a PG-13 movie, as I recall, at age eight. It was Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which I remember being pretty cool. Sure, I had forgotten most of it by the time I decided to watch it again at age eleven. But eleven-year-olds are not toddlers. They can understand things perfectly well. One thing I think turns many kids off of the love of reading would be English assignments that suck the life out of the written word, i.e. "What do you think the author meant?" I think the author meant what they said, or if not, then it either wasn't clear enough writing or it will strike us later without it being shoved in our faces. Stephen King compared these things to the golden goose. Once killed and butchered, it won't produce any more golden eggs. Or appeal to youth. We can figure stuff out if properly motivated and if given a fair chance.

Anyhow, I'm much more mature than most people my age. Sillier, sure, but that is actually part of my maturity. I know that it's good to laugh and have fun instead of being dull and doing the bare minimum in life. In addition, I'm beyond stupid things like perversion and bigotry. In some senses I am much more intelligent than most of these herd-sheep. Moreover, I understand people to a further extent than many, despite my mother's frantic claims of my social inadequacy. Generally, I can read faces and know the safest thing to say. And being eloquent doesn't hurt. I can back up most of my arguments and find the weaknesses in those of others. That's why I need to join Debate in the fall, if I can. In the meantime, Ethics sounds interesting, but I need to find out how to get into that.

So basically, youth does not equal stupidity or immaturity, or, of course, lack of ability to appreciate the finer things in life.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

In Which I Cover Coverage

This is not an explicit post. Not in my opinion.

Earlier I believe I gave my views on general censorship, and now I shall focus specifically on something with which many people seem uncomfortable: the human body in its purest form, which would be the nude figure. I consider myself to be one of the least perverse people alive, and I don't see why we ought to be required to wear clothing. That is to say, it can be useful to have a coat for winter or one of those Eastern articles for sandstorm protection, but no law with which I am familiar bans running around the Arctic tundra wearing nothing but a Speedo or bikini. It may be a plea for frostbite but I don't know that it is actually illegal. But if said swimwear comes off within public view, the person is automatically arrested for public nudity.

What I mean to say is not that clothing ought to be banned, for I understand that many people are more comfortable wearing it, but those who do not wish to do so should not be punished for removal. Shielding a child's eyes from a bare human is not protection so much as hiding said child from what's really there. Think about it: what serious harm comes to one from gazing upon another's so-called privates? Staring at the sun is legal and its effects are far more harmful. Also, people don't seem to be able to distinguish between nudity and pornography. A pornographic image in my opinion involves an act of sexuality. A plain nude doing otherwise or naught at all does not denote that. Neither am I saying that images that are actually sexual are wrong; as long as it's consensual and between appropriate parties, I don't see who it harms. STD's are a different topic entirely. Personally I don't see the appeal in watching other people engage in intercourse but I'm not condemning it.

This is indeed a "taboo" topic if I am not mistaken, but I think they need to be addressed. Perhaps I'll cover the death penalty someday.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The City of Oaks and Oddballs

This night, which grows ever later as I write these words, has been a good deal of fun for me. It was Kate's birthday celebration and we went traipsing around Raleigh and shooting witticisms back and forth. I met a new person who seemed like a simply splendid being. We all went to an Irish pub called Tir Na nOg - have I mentioned it before? - where there was not only heavenly food, but a group of Irish dancers from some local dance school. They were quite good, as was my dish of corned beef and cabbage. We went to a place known as ArtSpace, which is usually fun, but it was strangely desolate this time.

There was one artist whose work was on display, and while he was decent at his craft, he seemed to lack social intelligence: Even as I was very complimentary of his work, he eventually dismissed us quite rudely with a remark about "appreciating art from an intellectual level." Mind, we gave him absolutely no provocation whatsoever, nor he any warning. It was very sudden and, you know what? Why would I not want to leave if he was such a presumptuous and self-absorbed curmudgeon who seemed to assume that, by dint of being teenagers, we had no taste in art? As I said, I openly complimented his work and those were his thanks. Perhaps at some point a post is due about old farts who assume that we young people cannot "appreciate" things. And if I haven't already, a post on unfounded assumptions. One mustn't think I am angry with the man; he's not worth anger, but I found that rather ironic and, while I do look down on him, it is as much with pity as it is with amusement at his loss.

Also, there was a religious bloke on the city sidewalk who told us to "walk a straight path or we'd fall off." If that means what I think it does, I think a straight path with not deviations or detours whatsoever would be incredibly dull. Ah, he probably thought he was being helpful.

Anyhow, we managed to entertain each other the whole time and had some awesome discussions involving everything from the night sky to Terry Pratchett to drugs to world languages to the Norse gods to the argument of whether science drains the luster out of beautiful things (it does not). Eventually some of us, including me, had to part ways, but I truly had a blast and hope to have more blasts in the future.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


            When I worked at Silent Forest – one week per year at the end of October in the rural town of Creedmoor – one of the things I appreciated about the region was its lack of bright lights. City life may have its thrills, but in the less crowded areas, where it is not as loud, not as populated, things seem a lot simpler and life itself becomes more beautiful. My residence is in a suburban area, but tonight not many neighbors had left on their home lights and so I turned off ours and walked cautiously onto the raised back deck and descended its steps into the grass of our yard. Within moments my eyes had adjusted and I needed not carry the flashlight I had brought. The stars provided sufficient light for me to maneuver safely – I could not see every detail on each blade of grass, but I knew where I was stepping. Even our young and hyperactive dog, Launa, was subdued, although that may have been something to do with her running about and barking all day long.
            For a long time now I have had an aversion to doing nothing. “Boredom” is the wrong word; I tend not to grow bored in the traditional sense, but rather I get a feeling of time-wasting, that I could be doing something in those empty seconds. It’s a very self-conscious sort of feeling. Recently, however, I discovered that doing nothing can be good for the soul. Even though I was already thinking of considering that ideal, it really struck me tonight as I lay on my back and stared at the heavens. At one point I believe I saw a shooting star, though it could easily have been a comet or some other sort of astronomical phenomenon. As I recently wrote in the first draft of a short story, history on Earth spans what seems like sheer oceans of time, but in all those centuries and millennia, the cosmos have barely changed at all.

Temporary Liberation and Another Eulogy

As of Tuesday morning, I am free! Well, until late August that is. School should be starting again then. But until that day, I am free to read, write, draw, and many other things. Among these other things I might hopefully return to Dead Broke Farm to ride their beautiful horses. Life seems good about now.

It came to my attention that recently Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451 and many other brilliant books, passed away at the age of ninety-one. As saddened as I am, I think he had a very long and productive life. I'm sure he enjoyed his run. Rest in peace, sir; I love you and your work. The weird thing is, I am currently reading his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, and was when he died. Well, he was a great writer, and I look forward to reading more of his life's work.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book Review: The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer

Prior to this I had not read anything by Nancy Farmer, although I do own the multiple-award-winning The House of the Scorpion. I'll probably read that soon enough. I listened to this one as a Recorded Books audio production, read by Gerard Doyle.

The plot: After being captured by berserkers from the north in the late 700's A.D., Jack and his young sister Lucy are forced on a journey to meet the terrible Queen Frith and her husband, King Ivar the Boneless (who was a real person). Jack attempts to sing her an epic song of praise but accidentally curses the queen and makes her hair fall out. In exchange for his life, Jack agrees to embark upon an extremely dangerous journey to Jotunheim, the fabled land of trolls, dragons, enormous spiders, and deadly magic. If he returns within a certain amount of time, Frith will spare his life as well as that of Lucy, whom she intends to sacrifice to the goddess Freya when Jack fails to return.

The book never gets dull for a second, and is filled with mythical things and references to the saga of Beowulf and to that of Sigurd. The writing is very good and it is truly fascinating. I particularly like the scene at Yggdrasil, which I seem to recall from Neil Gaiman's novel American Gods. It had something similar, if not that, but I think it was Yggdrasil. The means of obtaining water from Mimir's Well reminded me a bit of the Fountain of Youth in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides - but this book came out in 2004, I believe, and so before Pirates. I won't spoil why - you'd have to read it! But this book was a hit with me, and I believe it has two sequels. I ought to read them as well.

Great book, but for now I'm not giving letter grades, maybe never again: They remind me of public school, I tend to change my mind a lot, and they are too technical, for lack of a better word. I think I'm done with those, so look to my Shelfari or my Goodreads.