Another film review from the Penn-Mar Literary Critics! Many thanks to Avellina for joining me on this venture into Arthurian legend.
Be advised that this entry contains spoilers!
I will not pretend that King Arthur: Legend of the Sword was a good movie. It was average at best, mediocre at worst. It managed to be better than Beowulf or Dracula Untold but did not reach the level of Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. And yet, to my surprise, I rather enjoyed it.
King Arthur is a popcorn film, a Pacific Rim in the fantasy genre. It focuses on CGI action and glib character moments rather than the deeper tales of good and evil. It has the look of such epic films in many respects, (the production values are quite good) but lacks something vital that keeps it from true greatness. Well, actually, it lacks a lot of things. It’s filled with internal inconsistencies, plot holes the size of Miami, a magic system with no real rules, an over-emphasis on action that looks good rather than what makes sense, gratuitous CGI, inability to really distinguish between characters (especially the women), and a tragic, almost criminal under-use of Jude Law. Continue reading →
I try not to get excited about new movies and this is why. I love the original animated Disney Beauty & the Beast (which I have mentioned before in my Favored Fairytales entry on the subject). But I also love the idea of a Beauty humanizing a Beast in general. It’s such a compelling story, so I was looking forward to seeing a live action adaptation. I was curious to see how they would play the story, what kind of depth would be imparted to the characters, a new spin on a “tale as old as time.”
What I got was an often inferior carbon copy of the original animated version.
I cannot express how much this disappoints me. Don’t get me wrong; the movie isn’t bad per se. I don’t feel like I should demand my money back or that I wasted my time. It’s competently done. The singing (for the most part) is good, the CGI passable, the sets rich and ornate (albeit over-Baroqued), the costumes were pretty, and I enjoyed the talking furniture. There are some good moments between Belle and her father, both Gaston and LeFou were entertaining, and some of the plot holes from the animated film were explained (like how Gaston knew where the castle was, what happened to Belle’s mother, and why everyone didn’t seem to know that a giant, impossible-to-miss castle was sitting within a day’s ride of the village).
There were so many things they could have done to enrich the characters, to deepen the story, that were missed. What depth the animated version had was mostly lost in the translation to live action, and what backstory there was felt pasted in as an afterthought rather than integrated into the film.
I’m sure many folks are tired of seeing Star Wars-related posts, videos, pictures, sales, and general internet celebrations by now… but I don’t think I’ve ever shared my own formative experience with these films. I’m not old enough to have seen the Original Trilogy in theaters (Episodes IV, V, and VI), but I was one of the young people who went to see the Prequel Trilogy on the big screen (Episodes I, II, and III). Children growing up after the release of the Prequel Trilogy will never experience a time, like I did, when there were only three Star Wars films.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I first watched Star Wars. Probably seven or eight years old at a guess, maybe even six. I don’t remember my very first viewing or my initial reaction to them. I don’t recall ever hearing or seeing anything about Star Wars before this point. (I was shy, home-schooled, and far more interested in My Little Pony and Grand Champions than with space ships.) One of the earliest memories I do have is of holding the VHS tape of The Empire Strikes Back, entranced by the cover. I’m not sure if this took place before I actually watched the movies or after; I was fond of sneaking peeks at films and books that were outside my age range. (I used to slink over to the Adult Fiction section of the library like a little wanna-be ninja. It felt so… illicit; I always expected to be caught and booted back to the children’s area by a librarian.) In any case, I must have liked A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, because I watched them again.
On Halloween, my friend and fellow writer Foxglove and I drove 8 hours to Boston, Massachusetts so we could see a play. For one night only, Jeffrey Combs, of Star Trek and Re-Animator fame, was performing a masterpiece called NEVERMORE: An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe at the Somerville Theater.
I confess that I had no idea what to expect. Plays are not my forte; I’m never sure what is going to happen or how it will be presented. But I enjoyed Mr. Combs’s work on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and always liked Edgar Allan Poe’s tales of the macabre. And, since there was a good chance this would be the last time the play would be performed, Fox and I decided this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
It’s been a while since I was this obsessed about a show. More than a show; an entire universe spread across many different kinds of media. One of the most appealing aspects of Doctor Who is that it exists in so many forms, allowing for a wide array of stories and expression. And one of the most challenging aspects of Doctor Who is that it exists in so many forms, making it very difficult to track them all down.
I’ll say right up front that I haven’t watched any classic Doctor Who. I really hate watching a series out of order, but since there are 100 episodes missing from classic Who, I was reluctant to dive into the franchise at all. However, my friend Storm Elf assured me that I could start with the 2005 series that introduced the 9th Doctor and I would be fine, since there’s a 16-year gap between classic Who and its reincarnation. We watched the first episode together at Katsucon and later she hosted a Doctor Who viewing for the next few episodes. After that, I went through a lull where I didn’t watch any Doctor Who. But in late September 2013, after listening to several Sapphire and Steel radio plays, I felt in the mood for some more weird time-related stories and decided it was the right time to start up Doctor Who again.
This is the fifth and final part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, and Part 4 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
I thought I’d close out this discussion of influential books with a genre that I don’t usually read: nonfiction. It’s only in the last three years or so that I’ve really started delving into nonfiction; before I just passed it by as something that I don’t dealt with for research, not read for fun. However, I started finding interesting books about internet culture, fandom, introverts, and writing. So, here I am to talk about three nonfiction books that helped influence me as a person as well as a writer.
Image via dailyom.com
This book saved my life. I’m only slightly exaggerating when I say that. I was deep in the grip of depression when my onii-sanDavid let me borrow his copy of Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha Beck. I was in pain, confused, and trying desperately to claw my way out of a hole I had only recently realized I was in. I needed to make sense of what was happening to me, why I was so unhappy, and what to do about it. Listening to other people doesn’t help me much because I often find it hard to relate to someone else’s thought processes. But books…a book I can read. A book I can understand and apply to my own life and experiences. And Finding You Own North Star helped me do just that.
This is the fourth part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
The next round of influential books didn’t come until I entered college. Granted, I found lots of books that I loved between the age of 12 and 18, but truly influential books are much rarer. In my freshman year, I discovered anime and manga. Last Exile was the first anime I ever watched (I’m not counting random Pokemon episodes I saw when I was little), and reading manga soon followed. A six-year obsession with all things Japanese had begun. During that time, I read and watched so much anime that I needed a list to keep track of them all. Three series stick out in my mind from that time that remain favorites and powerful influences.
Image via mangahere.com
The first of these was Pet Shop of Horrors by Matsuri Akino. This 10-volume series is a horror manga, not my usual genre of choice. It’s both beautiful and eerie, revolving around a pet shop in Chinatown run by the enigmatic, androgynous, and amoral proprietor known only as “Count D.” Each volume contains about four stories of various people who come into the pet shop and leave with a pet…under certain conditions. Like in Gremlins, disobeying D’s instructions as to the care and feeding of their pets often results in calamity. Sometimes the pets are helpful to their new owners, but most of the time it ends in tragedy. Weaving through these tales alongside D is Leon Orcot, a detective who is sure that D has something to do with the various mysterious deaths throughout the city, but is unable to come up with any proof.
This is the third part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here, Part 1 here, and Part 2 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
Image via mycomicshop.com
While writing these “Influential Books” posts, I’ve noticed that most of these books were read between the ages of 8 and 12. I’m pretty sure I was 11 when I picked up a copy of The Dark Elf Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore.
It was after we’d moved, but we still came back to my hometown in Maryland occasionally. I think we stopped to get Chinese food or maybe we stopped by the hardware store. Either way, we had a little extra time, so Mom and Dad let us go into a nearby bookstore. I had $20 of birthday money in my pocket; a small fortune to me. I prowled through the shelves, not looking for anything in particular, although I always wanted to buy as many books as possible. Then I noticed the lurid cover of the February 2000 paperback Collector’s Edition of The Dark Elf Trilogy, which promised to contain the first three books of the Chronicles of Drizzt: Homeland, Exile, and Sojourn. That got my attention. I love omnibuses, origin stories, and complete sets, plus I’d never heard of a “dark elf” before, so I bought it.
This is the second part of a series of entries discussing various books that deeply influenced my writing and outlook on stories. You can read the Introduction here and Part 1 here. Please note that discussion of these books may contain spoilers.
Image via mysummergirl16.blogspot.com
One of the earliest fairy tale books I remember checking out from the library was East of the Sun & West of the Moon written and illustrated by Mercer Mayer. It’s an old fairy tale and there have been different adaptations of it, most of which involve a polar bear. (One of my favorite alternate movie adaptations is the Norwegian film The Polar Bear King.) I cannot tell you how gorgeous the illustrations are, and they’ve stuck with me my whole life. Even when I forgot the title, I remembered those pictures. The girl sitting by a pond, a unicorn in the forest, the goat with the corkscrew horns, the giant green fish with scales like mirrors, the prince’s icy prison, and the evil troll queen with a wooden arrow in her heart. The beauty of these illustrations transported me into a rich, living fantasy world and have influenced my mental imagery of fantasy works ever since. It also, for a time, made me want to become an illustrator for children’s storybooks. (Each of the illustrations in Mercer Mayer’s books are done in watercolor. Watercolor! His rendition of Beauty and the Beast is equally breath-taking.) I’d searched on and off for this book for years, but my efforts were frustrated by not remembering anything except those illustrations. But recently, I stumbled across it by chance on the internet, found the title, and ordered a copy.