"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy

{book} castle juliet

Castle Juliet: A Fantasy

By Brandon Berntson*

Self-published, 2013.

There are a few editions.

Alice and Jacky-boy are ten years old and the best of friends. For a year they embark on fantastic adventures, most born from Jack’s relentless imagination. As each season draws to a close, another one opens, revealing its own timeless magic and mystery – things Jack and Alice could have never imagined.

Castle Juliet is a timeless tale for all ages. It will leave you mystified and enchanted. But most importantly…it will leave you wanting more.—jacket copy

Castle Juliet reads as if Peter Pan and Wendy of Neverland were subjects in Mayberry RFD or on Walton’s mountain, Goodnight Alice dear. Goodnight Jacky-boy. I was expecting the charm in that first chapter to curdle into something either satirical or cloying. It doesn’t.

This is not to say that there are occasions in which one character or another is not over-the-top. Alice and her mother Jane can be a bit too angelic ala Dickensian standards. All the women exude a tantalizing domesticity, even the late appearance of Emily Lila Patrick. The men, too, are prone to being overtaken by sentiment. Threats of swooning and tearful expressions abound. A healthy dose of sincerity and a few hints of the occasional flaw rescue the novel.

Castle Juliet is an unusual experience in how the novel relies heavily (if not solely) on the cycle of four seasons as the means to open and close the story. The story arc: building a castle for Juliet is subtly suggested now and again–and not to our irritation, but pleasant surprise. The structure of time is what moves the characters through digressions and repetitions and elongated contemplations on one thing or another. The structure reminds us of the driving force of time, and how time carves space for life to linger a while over a mouth-watering feast or a contemplation of the magic in uncomplicated emotion and unfettered imagination.

The novel is character-oriented. The heavy use of dialog in this otherwise 3rd person narrative emphasizes the individual voice of the characters. Each child is unmistakably their own. The adults’ sheer goodness is always surprising (call me jaded), but they are the only ones to slip into representational models of one value/ideal or another. Grown-ups are also surprisingly non-threatening considering they are the adulthood of the novel. But neither are the adults the focus. The threats to Jack and Alice’s desire to stay young are in and amongst themselves.

The son of a repairer of shoes and clocks, small-in-stature Jack riles against the restrictions of time. He doesn’t want the Summer of unbridled adventures to end. Academic work fails to compete with the spinning of his imagination. Indeed, most of the numbers Miss (whom Jack calls Mrs.) Appleblom writes on the board prove confrontational.

“How come the five and three look so mean and scary? […] I think they look scary. The eight does too, especially the way you write it, Mrs. Appleblom. You put that little horn on its head. Makes it look like a monster, like a sidekick of the devil’s or something to terrify the minions. Or a fat, nasty snowman. The seven looks kind of mean, too; at least, he could, if he wanted, I guess. I haven’t decided. And look at the two. He looks harmless enough. An easy guy to get along with. But I don’t like thw way the five and the three are just sitting up there on the board. They look like they’re waiting for everyone to turn their heads, so they can take over the classroom” (7).

It goes on before the teacher finally interrupts. I love that Berntson is unafraid of lengthy dialog here.

Luckily, Jack has his Wendy in Alice who begins to tutor him. His only friend, she joins him on his adventures, challenges his decision to disallow pink lasers, and pummels him in a snowball fight. She invites him over for dinner, can’t run fast in her cowgirl boots, and refuses his blushing requests for a kiss.

Alice is the princess, and not by Jack’s design. She is the doted upon only child and only girl and for most of the time the world of the book will revolve around her. But then, the story is constructing a castle for Juliet. Can Jack convince her that lingering this side of childhood is worth the while?

“Her mind reached out. She might be small, but she was far from insignificant. At the moment, she was the eye of the universe, watching it unfold, a girl on a spotted horse loving everything she saw. […] She wanted to savor this perfect day and take it at her leisure. She would still it, freeze it in time. Her goal was to make everything—including now, her memories, and Jack’s fantasies–immortal” (158-9).

Alice’s family anchors them all, but it is Jack who is driven to build, to imagine and create. He inspires the changes that build the stories in Castle Juliet.

“If Alice didn’t know any better, she’d say everyone she knew had had a hand in its construction in some way or another. […] But in every aspect, it could only be Jack who’d come up with the idea, who’d put the entire thing into execution, laid the groundwork, the planning, supervised” (221).

A believable quantity of goodness can be found in community and imagination, such as is expressed with childlike fervor in Castle Juliet; less of any sense of a return to innocence and more of a childhood reign. It is in adulthood that we find the careworn need for domesticity and its middle class stability. Both Jack and Alice (and even Tork) manage to resist slipping into adult-like proportion; Alice being the most vulnerable. Peter Pan couldn’t (and wouldn’t) rescue Wendy from growing-up, but Berntson does in his freckled and red-haired Alice. Perhaps it is because Jack isn’t all that like Peter, even if blood-thirsty tyrant does come to mind… Jack is able to change and grow without compromising that which the novel values of childlikeness: to love without complicating sexual politics, to find time for creative play and invention, to be like themselves and remain somewhat unexpected.

Berntson explores the wholesome visage of childhood, and he builds a castle of found things, pieces oft discarded and half-buried. He revitalizes the notion of what can be enchanting about the fantasy novel. The affect isn’t flawless**. But I’ll go for heart in a novel over cold precision. I’ll take imagination over stricture. And I’ll pick the castle over the picket fence every time.

——————-

Of note: It was odd having a beloved character called Jezebel, but there you go, Berntson was difficult to anticipate.

*Two: Brandon is a friend and co-worker. He told me that he wrote Castle Juliet as a bid for something more wholesome after a stint of writing Horror fiction; he succeeded. It reads like a palette cleanser for the world-weary.

**Thirdly, and to be fair: some of the flaw comes from my desire for extravagance in design, more paragraphing, corrected grammatical errors, and a reigning in of setting. These feel like nits picked compared to such an unusual and refreshing experience.

 

"review" · comics/graphic novels · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{comics} no sleeping beauty

The Rise of Aurora West By Paul Pope; J. T. Petty; David Rubín (Illustrator)

(First Second Books 2014) tradepaper.

Having read Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, naturally I was eager to seek out The Rise of Aurora West. We’d met Aurora West in Battling Boy as the recently orphaned (before our eyes) daughter of Arcopolis’ Science Hero Haggard West. The Rise takes us back to a time where Pope and Petty can flesh out a bit more of the mystery not only behind the up-and-coming hero of Aurora West, but the arrival and rise of the supernatural monsters terrorizing the city. You read with dread their development of a weapon to take down the elder West. The most compelling mystery for Aurora, of course, is the death of her mother and whether her imaginary friend was really all that imaginary–or harmless.

puzzling out the pieces

The ass-kicking adventures are tempered by familial implication and what a violent life-style costs. Haggard had to come to his own decisions about the monsters that haunt them, Aurora must as well. Haggard is driven by the desire to protect his daughter and avenge his wife. How might the ending of Rise and the events of Battling Boy affect the nature of Aurora’s own career as a hero of Arcopolis?

While the characterization in Battling was sound, it was good to learn more about Aurora’s background as well as become more familiar with her own Ms. Grately. Too, Rise sets up intriguing story lines for the next volume and the next issue of Battling Boy adventures. Rise functions successfully as a prequel, but it is a complex novel in its own right–one that would be a shame to miss.

Now for the art. I hadn’t thought nor expected a different illustrator. David Rubín is obviously talented, but I prefer Pope’s rendering of Aurora and company in Battling Boy. The smaller size to the novel was nice. It made me think Archie over epic fantasy superhero, but I was less taken with the aesthetic. The black and white befitting the size. And for a narrative told from Aurora’s POV, a shift in artwork suits the shift in mode.

Rise isn’t the current adventure, but a story of what was going on before Battling Boy arrived on the scene. In a genre that frequents artistic collaborations for design purposes or necessity, I should have better anticipated another hand. Rise sets itself apart from Battling in a good way, and an important way. You’ll want this volume (the first of two) for your collection–just adjust another expectation: that the volumes are not going to fit uniformly on the shelf. Not that Aurora could fit uniformly on a shelf somewhere. Watch out female comic book heroes.

{images belong to Paul Pope; J. T. Petty; David Rubín}

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend

{book} mirrors

Zetta Elliott offered a free copy of her book to interested reviewers. Please do not believe that I proceeded to read and review The Magic Mirror with bias. If you’ve spent any real length of time here on ‘omphaloskepsis’, you know I’m a fair and balanced reviewer, but I felt it should be clarified nonetheless.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000419_00052]The Magic Mirror

By Zetta Elliott, Illustrated by Paul Melecky

Rosetta Press, 2014.

“When a boy at school hurts Kamara’s feelings, she goes home and asks her grandmother if the mean words are really true. Gramma tells Kamara to go upstairs and clean the old mirror in the guest room. But when Kamara starts to rub the glass, she discovers that the mirror is magical! Kamara sees brave women from the past who faced many challenges yet never gave up hope. When the historical journey ends in the twenty-first century, the mirror once again shows Kamara her own reflection. She sheds her self-doubt and instead draws strength from the courage of the women she met in the magic mirror.” publisher’s copy.

It would be tempting to only promote The Magic Mirror as a more-than-suitable accompaniment to a grade-schooler’s studies of African American History.* Elliott captures a great deal in those shifting portraits through time. I can already imagine children choosing a portrait to expound on for the class, or as a personal project to learn more about a time witnessed.

However, more should be said about its personal impact. Elliott lays the groundwork in the opening pages, the timelessness of a soul. Despite the difficulties of aging, “grandma hasn’t changed inside” (2). She has a vitality and Kamara describes her as a safe place. What Kamara comes to see in the mirror is her legacy. She sees in the mirror courageous women exemplifying perseverance, hope and determination.

Not all of the historical reflections are easy to confront. Elliott buoys the text by anchoring the scenes upon the women she wants Kamara (and the reader) to see and know. They lend their courage to face, endure and overcome to Kamara (and reader). After one sequence, Kamara recognizes that “though they are trying to humiliate her, they have not touched her soul” (24). More, Elliott wants Kamara (and the reader) to know that these women live on. Kamara takes strength in what she’s learned in the magic mirror; which for the reader is the book.** “I stare at my reflection and see traces of the brave and beautiful women from my past. I know their pride, courage, and determination are still alive in me” (30).

Elliott’s story escapes the sentimental in its declarative voice. Hers is an extremely powerful use of the first person narrative, “I stare,” “see,” and “I know.” Kamara has heard some “hard words” from a boy at school, but what she’s seen and knows to be true is there to sustain her; like the relationships where her grandma and mother provide safe, empowering, loving homes from which to become.

The Magic Mirror is the first person narrative of Kamara’s struggle, journey and discovery, but I get the feeling hers is one that can be shared. The Magic Mirror, like the most precious of books, can be a safe, empowering, loving home to inspire one to become hopeful and courageous–to know they are beautiful.

I’ve a fond wish for readers to find less academic reasons for The Magic Mirror.* I imagine children (and adults) looking in mirrors and seeking out the stories that make them proud and that speak of a timeless beauty born of courage, hope, and determination—stories not unlike The Magic Mirror.

——————–

A word on the illustrations by Paul Melecky: I feel sure I would have called the scenes captured in the mirror as “portraits,” but the illustrations are framed stills, color shaped by loose lines that grant the images movement (and thus life); too, are those facial expressions. The illustrations hold the story and historical moment as complexly as Elliott describes them, creating a wonderful partnership between author and illustration.

All of the illustrations are of the mirror. It’s of interest that the story begins with an illustration of Kamara looking in the mirror, but does not close with another one her as her legacy dawns on her. Instead we are left with the last image of a young woman in graduation robes embraced by family. “One day I will go to college, too” (30), Kamara knows, confident in the pathway since created for her. What is left for Kamara and the reader to imagine is: what scene will be played out for future generations looking in that magic mirror. It isn’t a question of what legacy she will leave, but what moment in her life might exemplify that which still lives in her.

——————–

*this is not to say I wouldn’t love public, school, and classroom libraries to stock copies of this one–I just want to avoid the party line that this is one that will educate; which it will, but it is also quite moving.

**Rudine Sims Bishop’s essay “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” came to mind as I read The Magic Mirror, “Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation.”

recommendations: obviously this is a powerful book for girls, but I wouldn’t restrict this to gender lines, nor racial either. Both the writing and book length are excellent for younger readers up through the grade school years. It would be cool to have print-outs of the mirror to encourage writing/illustrating our own legacies of courage, or imagine a present/future scene wherein the reader can describe themselves.

 

"review" · cinema · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

{film} a winter’s tale that left me a bit cold

winter-s-tale-image05
Young Willa (Mckayla Twiggs) & Jessica Brown Findlay (Beverly Penn). spinning romantic tales.

The promise of an urban fantasy in director Akiva Goldsman’s Winter’s Tale (2014) was tempting. I have yet to read Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel of the same name, but I do not recall it being panned. Nor had I heard much about the critical reception of the film. I hadn’t sought it out. I figured Winter’s Tale would be an enchanting watch, I didn’t figure it for being so cloying. I spent most of the film digging around in my body for that necessary romantic bone—femur-sized preferably. I think I arrived at this film too many years too late.

The film opens with the riveting vocals of Jessica Brown Findlay (Sibyl of Downton Abbey) telling us about this belief that there is this “world behind the world where we are all connected” and how “time and distance are not what they appear to be.” Her voice is the world-builder where we have come to expect some moving and/or trending song to play over a time collapsing visual narrative (aka dumb show, theatrically speaking). I didn’t think I’d need to time the prologue, but I was thinking I should have long before the title appeared on screen. Maybe it was its lyricism that made the voice-over so lengthy and laden, or was it the necessity to situate the film’s premise.

winter's tale colin farrell
Colin Farrell as Peter Lake. …are you sure we shouldn’t just go now?…

Besides the title bearing the words Winter and Tale, Colin Farrell as the lead, and a white horse figuring in somewhere, this is the only other thing I knew about the film: Internet Movie Database’s proffered synopsis: which you should refrain from reading.

Set in 1916 New York, burglar Peter Lake (Farrell) falls in love with an heiress Beverly Penn (Findlay) during an attempted robbery. Unfortunately for them both, each are imperiled in their own way. He is being hunted by the convincingly evil and also ridiculously named gangster Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe). She is nearly-dead of consumption—a pulmonary disease the orphaned Peter’s immigrant parents were diagnosed with and refused entrance into New York.

It may be that in the truly magical world, Beverly is misdiagnosed with consumption, a prevalent disease at the time, because her symptoms are better suited towards her transitioning into a star—the after-life destination she is anticipating. The stars feature prominently, their lore, their connection to the universe. The film also draws from angel/demon and Native American mythologies.

Winters-Tale-screencaps-11

Winter’s Tale alludes to the interconnected, renaming, and shared history of every mythology in the opening. How it all plays out is the slow-reveal. By the time the tale begins to make real sense, you are near the close and understand why they had to be so mystifying—to compel you with the intrigue.  The other option is to compel you with the romance, which is the predestined sort, which may not be as compelling as the growing dread of unanticipated tragedy it could have supported better. Peter has to save Beverly somehow and how all that is to work out is the most mystifying of all.

The film is one to be patient with and of a certain humor. It has a dated feel already, and I am still in awe of how Colin Farrell can deliver the lines he does with such earnest sincerity. The awkward delivery in the film was in the editing.

A WINTER"S TALE

Winter’s Tale has a wonderful cast, great scenery…I think the offense arrives with understanding its potential to be a truly magical—what, because I think the failure is anticipating an adventure out of a standard memoir. I should check the filmographies for Lifetime network credentials. Winter’s Tale, as I understand it from the film, would make for a more interesting Indie-house attempt. Maybe someone could steampunk it—yes, let’s have a do-over.

The message of “true love gives life meaning” is a message of optimism an otherwise heartlessly harmful cultural landscape might find appealing. Only, you have to believe that the universe will still bend backwards for you, that the significant other hasn’t lost their miracle (or had it crushed) by the “agents of chaos.”

 ———————————————————

winters_tale_640

….SPOILER…[[& of likely relevance to only those who’ve seen the film]] a conversation Sean and I had that is too hilarious not to share.  After we learn that Beverly is “the girl [his] miracle is for,” the word virginity occasionally became interchangeable w/ miracle. His virginity was going to save her, but I phooey the idea because it’s a him, not the other way ‘round. Turns out, Sean was right about the virginity-concept when she dies after losing her virginity which signifies the true love that grants him the power of reincarnation, which is really just resurrection and failure to age.

On a related note, her virginal love saves him, and he in turn saves the female child of a single mother. The world is stabilized once more.…SPOILER DONE ….

—————————————-

Winter's_tale_(film)

Winter’s Tale (2014) Direction & Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, Based on the novel Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, Produced by Goldsman, Marc E. Platt, Michael Tadross & Tony Allard; Music by Hans Zimmer & Rupert Gregson-Williams, Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel, Edited by Wayne Wahman & Tim Squyres. Production companies: Village Roadshow Pictures & Weed Road Pictures, Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures & Village Roadshow.

Starring: Colin Farrell (Peter Lake), Jessica Brown Findlay (Beverly Penn), Jennifer Connelly (Virginia Gamely), William Hurt (Isaac Penn), Maurice Jones (Cecil Mature), Mckayla Twigg (Young Willa), Eva Marie Saint (older Willa), Russell Crowe (Pearly Soames), and Will Smith (Judge).

Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality. Running time 118 minutes.

{images belong to Warner Bros Pictures}

"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · short story · Tales · Uncategorized

{comics} lost islands & found creators

Explorer: The Lost Islands 

edited by Kazu Kibuishi

Amulet Books (Abrams) 2013.

tradepaper, 128 pages, incl “about the creators.” Library Loan

The highly anticipated second volume to the critically acclaimed Explorer series, “The Lost Islands “is a collection of seven all-new stories written and illustrated by an award-winning roster of comics artists, with each story centered around the theme of hidden places. Edited by the “New York Times “bestselling comics creator Kazu Kibuishi, this graphic anthology includes well-written, beautifully illustrated stories by Kazu (the Amulet series), Jason Caffoe (the Flight series), Raina Telgemeier (“Drama “and “Smile”), Dave Roman (the Astronaut Academy series), Jake Parker (the Missile Mouse series), Michel Gagne (“The Saga of Rex”), Katie and Steven Shanahan (the Flight series), and up-and-coming new artist Chrystin Garland. –publisher’s comments

Can I begin a post about a Kazu Kibuishi affiliated anything without confessing what a fan-girl I am of his work? No. It is a goal of mine to not only own a collection of his work, but be able to gift some away. His Amulet series is an easy recommendation for instilling that comic book addiction in your young. But like his Flight anthologies for the older crowd, Explorer curates excellent talent in which to introduce the young to potential fan-girl and -boy obsessions with various industry creators. See my review of Explorer: Mystery Boxes here and lets take a look at this installment’s theme “hidden places.” [click creator name for link to their website. *=a favorite]

*”Rabbit Island” by Jake Parker (Missile Mouse, illus The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man) pp 4-19.

The rabbits have built a nice little utopia when one especially hard-working (and innovative) bunny salvages a robot and puts it to work alongside him.  Soon, it isn’t only the robot who becomes unrecognizable.

I really dig the color palette, it and the staining/wash and lettering bubbles reminds me of my worn out kids comics from well, ages ago when I was a kid. Not only does it work with the tale-quality of the comic, but it affords today’s youth the experience of their parent’s nostalgia with more contemporary sensibilities. In a way, it is like Will Eisner for kids, but with Jake Parker’s singular drawing arm. And may I say that I find the finish refreshingly absent of dramatic lighting–when I say ‘shiny!’ I want to employ the Whedon-esque meaning.

*”The Mask Dance” by Chrystin Garland pp 20-37 (d)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (minus the religious moral) meets one dancing princess in this mysterious and thrilling tale of a young lady’s night out.

The dark is just dark enough and the color dazzling into appropriately garish. The painterly quality helps animate and lend the light that artificial quality that tonally unsettles. An up-and-comer to watch.

“Carapace” by Jason Caffoe (lead production assistant for Amulet series, contributor for FlightExplorer) pp 38-55

You could easily create a moral from surviving and being nurtured by observing nature and finding a spirit guide, but “Carapace” is a story of friendship, of (im)moveable shelters. It is a nice twist on a deserted island story when the boy isn’t left completely abandoned nor is the island deserted.

Caffoe’s work with color is a stock & trade, but he tells a good story. There is a lot of text and a lot of setting, but there is also an eye for detail that draws the reader in. The island becomes less terrifying and more exotically beautiful, mimicking the camaraderie between boy and crab-ghost-from-the-shell.

{w/out text}

*”Desert Island Playlist” by Dave Roman (Astronaut AcademyTeen Boat!) & Raina Telgemeier (SmileDrama), colors by Braden Lamb (Adventure Time) pp 56-73. (d)

Wow, this one was creative with the playlist theme. The baby-toy is a stroke of genius and helps with the time-travel puzzle. I also appreciate that they aren’t willing to underestimate the youth-audience’s ability to get the “memory” pieces in juxtaposition to text and tale. This is a smart and beautiful story, but then it is Roman and Telgemeier.

The creators are good with movement and use the text with economy. They are as explicit with translating important visuals as is necessary, but engage the reader in creating meaning. The art is accessible, full of movement and just enough cartoon to lighten the tone.

“Loah” by Michel Gagne (The Saga of RexZED: A Cosmic Tale) pp 74-91.

Loah is a special creature, but what is even more remarkable is her friendship. She sees a way out of her crumbling world and she dreams for all of the others, and swears that her friendship helps her to do so.

The movement, like the story is sweeping, but the story itself small and deceptively simple. I am enjoying this thread of neither inhabiting nor leaving these hidden places alone. I’ve been impressed with the vibrant colors up to this point, but Gange’s piece is as magical as the tale he tells. 

“Radio Adrift” by Katie Shanahan (Womanthology: Heroic) & Steven Shanahan (sibling co-creators of Silly Kingdom), colors by Eric Kim & Selena Dizazzo pp. 92-109

Alright, so this one is just stinking cute. Mage-in-training, Wiya needs for her pixie egg to hatch and has attempted every sound possible. And then Radio Adrift drifts in for a limited time engagement. The focus turns outward, especially when Wiya recognizes that she has to refocus the conversation.

The style of artwork is fun, and I enjoy the light shift for the storytelling portion of the story told. This will be effortless in its candy colors, spunky characters and magical turn.

*”The Fishermen” by Kazu Kibuishi, colors by Jason Caffoe pp 110-27. (d)

The captain may have lost it (mentally and physically?), to the greed of a catch of a (literal) lifetime. The story uncovers hidden things both base and incredible, and with an old fisherman and his granddaughter at the helm it is a delightful short story.

Kibuishi is marvelous with scale as well as story. The characters are expressive. And the action sequences are fun, the illustrations managing a great deal of movement between steadying frames.

{images belong to respective artists. be sure to check out their sites, and of course, the book to enjoy more of their work!} {d=diversity in lit}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · fiction · mystery · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{comic} questions

ACjacket_smallWho is AC? by Hope Larson, illustrated by Tintin Pantoja.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. hardcover, 176 pages. 12 & up.

borrowed from the Library because you know I am a big fan of Hope Larson’s work.

“Meet Lin, a formerly average teenage girl whose cell phone zaps her with magical powers. But just as superpowers can travel through the ether, so can evil. As Lin starts to get a handle on her new abilities (while still observing her curfew!), she realizes she has to go head-to-head with a nefarious villain who spreads his influence through binary code. And as if that weren’t enough, a teen blogger has dubbed her an “anonymous coward!” Can Lin detect the cyber-criminals vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?

“With ingenious scripting from graphic novel phenom Hope Larson and striking art from manga illustrator Tintin Pantoja, this action-packed story brims with magical realism and girl-power goodness.”—publisher’s comments.

I know I tend to rely on the publisher’s synopsis for its precision in “reviews,” however, I quote it here because I had to use it to orient myself—after I’d read the book. Granted, it was late when I read it, but Larson and Pantoja move quickly and I found myself with questions of identification that I’m not sure the novel intended.

who is ac1_004

The story seemed straightforward enough. Budding writer and zine self-publisher, Lin has created a fictional superhero named Rhea Ironheart, but in her new town, Lin finds herself to have become a superhero of fictional proportion, strikingly similar to Ironheart. But where fantasy was just fine, being a super-heroic figure herself is problematic, and not just because of curfew or angry bystanders. A superhero was not how this author was willing to courageously put herself out there.

who is ac page

Who is AC? features a lot of courageous risk-takers from the awkward boy asking a hot girl out to self-publishing to blogging difficult emotions without regret. The problem of putting yourself out there, in print, in-person or on-line are the trolls and digital shadows, or trying to disappear or change when identity takes on additional technological complexities. And there is also the trouble with reality versus the identity projected onto a person by another. How can someone tell what is really going on if there isn’t a conversation, but a bunch of one-sided speech/documentation. Audience figures in, the need to be seen and heard—really seen and heard. We see a disconnect in reality , too: in the comparison’s between Trace’s family and Lin’s.

Hope Larson is gifted when it comes to characterization and familial and friend interaction; and this is what really anchors the story when everything else seems racing forward and far-flung. Her fluid transitions are beautiful, but end up shoving me into the action, often into another character’s sequence. “Can Lin detect the cyber-criminal’s vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?” Can she? Does she?

who is ac double

I love the multicultural town, the multiracial family, that Lin rides a bike and publishes zines. The illustrations are fantastic! And the reluctant hero is a girl who should hold up to some great storylines where the magically real intersects technology. Her enlisting the talented Pantoja to render an adventure that involves concerns popular to manga. Who is AC? is an intriguing intersection of American- and Japanese-influenced comic storytelling.

According to Booklist, “Fans of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon will find a lot to like here, and the added technological twist adds a freshness to the subgenre.” (Mar. 2013)

Who is AC? is an ambitious comic book to remain only singular volume, because it leaves plenty of strings to fill-out a series. For instance, forget who AC is; Lin’s new and strange alter-ego dubbed by an angry caller. I want to know who is responsible for creating her in the first place. Said cyber-criminal is the true oddity and just what the hell he is up to is confusing—unless confused is what he intends to render his hapless victims. Cue even weirder cyber-girl straight out of Tron. There isn’t time to possibly explain her in the novel either.

who is ac ac

What seems to matter most is Lin coming to grips with the change, to surrender herself to it to some degree and begin to ask and answer the titular question. It really is only a beginning. The question then becomes, was I excited enough to want to follow Lin and company into subsequent stories. Perhaps if I were some years younger, such as the age of the intended audience. As it was, I found myself impatient with what ultimately amounted to gestures.

__________________

a concenter-quality read: the diversity in lit qualification is evident; the protag and portrayal of family life and community yields verisimilitude and well as empowerment.

{images belong to Hope Larson and Tintin Pantoja}

"review" · cinema · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Uncategorized

{film} an imagination realized

walter mittyNatalya was admittedly anxious about seeing the Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013). She adores James Thurber’s 1939 short story as much as the rest of us, and we were all wondering, in our household anyway, what is the story Walter Mitty without his wife in the picture? Yet, a basis is found in the spirit of Thurber’s piece and how Stiller, with screen writer Steve Conrad, beautifully captures it in this contemporary interpretation.

Like Thurber’s Walter Mitty, the film’s hero played by Ben Stiller is prone to imagining an alternate reality in which his monochromatic existence is transformed into an action film or romantic drama sequence. There is a hilariously awesome sequence in the film in which Walter borrows from another highly imaginative short-story-turned-film: The Curious Case of  Benjamin Button, the 2008 film loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1922 short story. The shift into the magically real is sudden, seamless enough to catch the audience off-guard, and aids in a reality that grows more magical as the film progresses.

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{N loved this repetition in particular. Here, Walter is fantasizing, later he will be sporting ice/snow in beard as himself.}

walter mitty zoneWalter’s “zoning out” is socially awkward and becomes the focus of ridicule for the bullies in the film, but more than that, it is a symptom of a life not fully lived. Walter Mitty is 42 (which Douglas Adams fans will note) and negative assets is his job description for Life magazine whose motto is one the film adopts:

To see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to, to draw closer, to see and be amazed.

We are first introduced to Walter in his home where one cannot ignore his music collection; signalling culture, deep feeling, and should be more colorful than he otherwise appears. Engaged in the domestic chore of balancing a checkbook (not on-line) we see that Walter has more than a modest bank account (at least by my somewhat impoverished standards), so money is not holding him back. He is neat, quiet and shy when it comes to risks. He signs up to an on-line dating service and achingly deliberates sending a wink to a woman who has caught his interest, new co-worker Cheryl Melhoff (Kristin Wiig). We are immediately moved by this character who wants more—and is frustrated by system errors. The loveliness in this film is how much it captures the messy, off-interrupted potential and longing of human characters.

The film and the narrative itself is fairly straightforward and predictable. The recently acquired Life is going on-line, and the company announces that the next issue will be its last in print. The cover will belong to legendary photographer Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) and film print #25—a negative lost from the roll sent to Negative Assets. Walter needs to find it or he’ll lose his already tenuous job position as Life is also laying-off. Partially awkward in social execution and narratively neat, Walter incorporates the fan of mysteries Cheryl to help him solve a photographic puzzle in order to hunt down the nomadic photographer.

walter mitty him and herRecent divorcee and mother of a tween-age (?) son, Cheryl seems to genuinely like Walter. And really, most do—the good people of the film anyway. [What is with arch-nemesis Ted Hendricks’ (Adam Scott’s) beard?! is it made to look fake, especially compared to Walter’s later (more manly?) whiskers?] Kristen Wiig, given relatively little screen time of her own to self-define, is a wonderful casting choice. We know she is funny, but like Ben Stiller who is also prone to the goofy and outlandish comedic turns, she tones down into the quietly identifiable troubles of the every-day existence. And bless it, the film allows her her age-lines and a son with whom Walter is awesome (and comfortable).

At one point Sean O’Connell says, “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” Wiig’s character is quietly beautiful, quirkily so, maybe. As is Walter who is modest in his proposals. O’Connell realizes that his renown exists in no small part to Walter who handles his negatives and presents the best of the work a celebrated O’Connell sends. He is able to reach his potential because of Walter, and O’Connell would do the same for Walter—if he can. But at some point, Walter has to want more for himself for his own sake.

[[SPOILER——start]]

True to itself, the film interrupts easy resolutions at two points. Cheryl’s messy relationship with Phil, so Walter is left believing her lost to him. He does not find the print in time and is fired. So the end journey belongs to his character alone. The self-discovery is for him alone, the others provide the catalyst in what is otherwise a progression of daring feats. Those interruptions are of primary success to the film.

I also liked how Walter’s fatherlessness contributes more to a staid life than a daring, risk-taking one filled with mohawks and skateboard culture—thus critiquing popular notions via inversion.

[[SPOILER——finish]]

walter mitty stillerWalter is the real puzzle of the film, the real mystery to be uncovered. His mother Edna (the inimitable Shirley MacLaine) has musical talent and his sister Odessa is trying out for Rizzo (a “tough and tender” “real” character) in an off-Broadway production of Grease, so what happened to the staid figure of Walter? There is a marvelous consistency to the character Walter that allows a fuller realization without mistaking a resolution that comes out of no where. His was a life interrupted. So while I may question his cell coverage, his capabilities aren’t. His imagination that longs to be a part of his reality finds a way to do so and in ways he couldn’t have anticipated near the beginning of the film.

The conversation on beauty. and the one about the obfuscation of those who facilitate and create beauty. And about enjoying beauty as we find it in a quiet and intimate way, unmediated and undocumented by nothing more than the moment—read the criticism of technology here and our inability to live in a moment which leaves us with half-lived lives. I thought immediately of going to concerts where few are enjoying it whilst recording it via a less superior medium.

There is a love for old(er) things; a touch of nostalgia that isn’t so much about the sentimental, but about knowing what things meant (a bit of anti-hipster jab there, which may explain the beard weirdness, too?). There is something to a knowing that differs from current technological dependence; something less ephemeral that feeds into an understanding of identity and humanity within the film. Not that the film is anti-tech—by whatever means connections can be made, but there is certainly a requirement to not leave them to such distances (e.g. the meetings and means of communication between Walter and others). In a world increasingly overtaken by on-line media and meeting (as with Life), the message of the film, of not getting lost in an unlived life, is relevant to a broad audience.

walter mitty pennOther things to look forward to in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty:

Ben Stiller fan or no, he is marvelous in the role. Penn is enigmatic and warm. I mentioned Wiig’s performance, and MacLaine just makes me happy. The quality of color (which is crucial to the film). The editing: The transitions are gorgeous. The incorporation of text, to say nothing of Walter himself, reminds us of Stranger than Fiction (2006) in a very good way. The humor is well-timed. And the sweetness is never cloying. The modest soundtrack is seriously wonderful—and so are the locations. [I really want to go to Iceland, and possibly live there.] The film was satisfying on so many levels. It is deceptively simple. I could say it is just a feel-good film, but there is more to it. I was pleasantly surprised by how unanticipatedly more it actually was (much like Walter himself?).

Natalya says the film is very much a Darnell film (our household name). And she’s right. She was so proud to know the “Major Tom” reference immediately, to know that the first allusion was inappropriate and that the second (Cheryl’s) was true. And she was floating along to David Bowie during the sequence of “A Space Oddity” at play (and when we got home in order to blast her stereo). Anxieties over whether the film was going to be an awkward display of the short story were gone in a raving review of scenes and lines, characterization and thematic developments.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was fantastic on the big screen, to get the scope of the settings, the color and sound. Nevertheless, we look forward to owning this one and enjoying this one on our modest screens at home.

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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013). Directed by Ben Stiller; screenplay by Steve Conrad; inspired by James Thurber’s short story; music by Theodore Shapiro; Cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh; editing by Greg Hayden; produced by Samuel Goldwyn, Jr., John Goldwyn, Stuart Cornfeld & Ben Stiller. Studio: Samuel Goldwyn Films, Red Hour Films, New Line Cinema; Distributed by 20th Century Fox {to which images used belong}. Starring: Ben Stiller (Walter Mitty), Kristen Wiig (Cheryl Melhoff), Shirley MacLaine (Edna Mitty), Adam Scott (Ted Hendricks), Kathryn Hahn (Odessa Mitty), Adrian Martinez (Hernando), and Sean Penn (Sean O’Connell).

Rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence. Running time 114 minutes.