book list

Septembers Eve and R.I.P. VI

Happy September’s Eve!

It’s that lovely time of year that is not only about back-to-school, exhaustive heat-waves, and the inundation of DIY Halloween food/craft projects–Oh, Pinterest, you, too?!  It is that lovely time of year when Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting his Reader’s Imbibing Peril Challenge.

As Carl writes,

“it is once again time to revel in things ghostly and ghastly, in stories of things that go bump in the night. It is time to trail our favorite detectives as they relentlessly chase down their prey, to go down that dark path into the woods, to follow flights of fantasy and fairy tale that have a darker heart than their spring time brethren. To confront gothic, creepy, horror stories in all their chilling delight.”

From September 1st through October 31st Readers will indulge in reads of these flavors:

Mystery. Suspense. Thriller. Dark Fantasy. Gothic. Horror. Supernatural.

You can visit participating blog sites to read reviews and to partake in great conversations; no blog required. Enjoy a wonderful community of readers, make some new friends, find some delicious new reads.

There are different reading challenges aka Perils; and even one for Screen. [And I do think Logan (at Rememorandum) makes a brilliant suggestion of perhaps adding a Peril for Picture books/Graphic novels]. The RIP Challenge is fun and easy.

Again, you may participate in one or all of the various Perils. My one demand: enjoy yourself! ~Carl

Last year I read:

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (graphic novel).

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff (ya)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Fragile Things (a collection of Short Stories) by Neil Gaiman.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton.

Half-Minute Horrors edited by Susan Rich.*

and watched:

Monster House (2006) dir. Gil Kenan*

The Corpse Bride (2005) dir. Tim Burton*

Coraline (2009) dir. Henry Selick*

Sleepy Hollow (1999) dir. Tim Burton

Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (The Princess and the Warrior, 2000) dir. Tom Tykwer…It was creepier and more mysterious the first time I watched it; is still odd. w/ subtitles.

El Libertino del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006) dir. Guillermo del Toro. w/ subtitles.

Legion (2010) dir. Scott Charles Stewart.

On the Television: Doctor Who (those weeping angels are terrifying)*,Torchwood (esp. season 3)

Even the daughter participated, the above asterisks being shared, and claiming these two as well:

School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari and 43 Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise (though “its not scary,” she reminds)

What will I read/watch this year?

I think I can manage Peril the First, the 4 book challenge. And I really hope to actually read some Poe this year.

Last year I said I would read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so there is that. I’m sure I’ve littered notes here and there in anticipation–I just have to find them. And then there are those great lists by fellow bloggers of suggestions, past reads, and their own to-be-read. I will post a list soon, will of course take recommendations, and may have a few suggestions of my own that would make for a wonderfully atmospheric RIP read.

I’m ready (nearly) are you?

**************

Melissa Nucera allowed Carl to use her Artwork for this year’s banners. I think they are brilliant. Carl finds the best work to set the tone. I mean, anyone who has seen the “Don’t Blink” episode can never look away from a Weeping Angel the same way again.

Uncategorized

wrapped

It was a great challenge Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings hosted. I thoroughly enjoyed Readers Imbibing Peril V. Looking forward to next year. I already put Shelley’s Frankenstein on the list.

To wrap it up.

“Read four books, any length, that you feel fits my very broad definition of scary.”

I was happy to meet the two big personal goals of House of Leaves and Dracula.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (graphic novel), hadn’t planned this, but it fits.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff (ya)

Coraline by Neil Gaiman. The book is scarier than the film.*

Didn’t read as many as I thought I would. Didn’t read any Poe at all (for shame!):

Fragile Things (a collection of Short Stories) by Neil Gaiman. Contains some good and creepy stories.

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories by Tim Burton.

Half-Minute Horrors edited by Susan Rich.*

“This year I have added an addition Peril, and that is for those who also like to watch suitably scary, eerie, mysterious gothic fare during this time of year. It may be something on the small screen or large.”

Monster House (2006) dir. Gil Kenan*

The Corpse Bride (2005) dir. Tim Burton*

Coraline (2009) dir. Henry Selick*

Sleepy Hollow (1999) dir. Tim Burton

Der Krieger und die Kaiserin (The Princess and the Warrior, 2000) dir. Tom Tykwer…It was creepier and more mysterious the first time I watched it; is still odd. w/ subtitles.

El Libertino del Fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth, 2006) dir. Guillermo del Toro. w/ subtitles.

Legion (2010) dir. Scott Charles Stewart. wasn’t planned but was viewed before Oct 31. response to it?–meh.

On the Television: Doctor Who (those weeping angels are terrifying)*, Torchwood (esp. season 3)

***

(the daughter, as a version of Alice)

N read/watched everything asterisked plus:

School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari

and 43 Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise (though “its not scary,” she reminds)

****

R.I.P. V was a fun challenge.

I found some new blogs, made a few friends, was a good seasonal treat.

Thank you–everyone who participated (read a lot of great reviews) and those who dropped in to chat here (was encouraging).

"review" · fiction · Lit · poet-related · recommend · short story · young adult lit

in a dark vein

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories

written/illustrated by Tim Burton.

HarperEntertainment, 1997.

Hardback, 128 pages.

  • Stick Boy and Match Girl in Love
  • Voodoo Girl
  • Robot Boy
  • Staring Girl
  • The Boy with Nails in His Eyes
  • The Girl with Many Eyes
  • Stain Boy
  • The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy
  • Stain Boy’s Special Christmas
  • The Girl Who Turned into a Bed
  • Roy, the Toxic Boy
  • James
  • Stick Boy’s Festive Season
  • Brie Boy
  • Mummy Boy
  • Junk Girl
  • The Pin Cushion Queen
  • Melonhead
  • Sue
  • Jimmy, the Hideous Penguin Boy
  • Char Boy
  • Anchor Baby
  • Oyster Boy Steps Out

Like Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Sean brought Tim Burton’s The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories to our Home Library. The slim volume is a collection of poems/short stories best described in the vein of dark humor.

Black Humor: noun, in literature and drama, combining the morbid and grotesque with humor and farce to give a disturbing effect and convey the absurdity and cruelty of life. ~Dictionary.com’s 21st Century Lexicon

I like the Absurd. And the collection has an absurdity that I adore; primarily, because it is so effective.While The Gashlycrumb Tinies appeals to the macabre and tickles more than jabs, in The Melancholy Death there is a sharp edge that worries.

Anchor Baby (104-111) is probably the most easily read meaning-wise and least humorous. Just the same, it is lovely. It just tips toward the pitiable.  “There was a beautiful woman who came from the sea.” She loved a man named Walker who was part of a band. She tried everything to “capture” him. And then finally she had an idea–have his baby!

But to give birth to the baby

they needed a crane.

The umbilical cord

was in the form of a chain.

[…]

The baby that was meant

to bring them together,

just shrouded them both

in a cloud of foul weather.

Walker left her, rejoined his band.

And she was alone

with her gray baby anchor,

who got so oppressive

that it eventually sank her.

*

As she went to the bottom,

not fulfilling her wish,

it was her, and her baby…

and a few scattered fish.

 

Sean’s favorite is Stick Boy and Match Girl in Love (0-3). You can sense the impending disaster the title implies, can’t you? But even the story is hard to resist just the same.

Stick Boy liked Match Girl,

he liked her a lot.

He liked her cute figure,

he thought she was hot.

But could a flame ever burn

for a match and a stick?

It did quite literally;

he burned up pretty quick.

 

It is hard to choose a favorite, but Robot Boy (4-9) makes me laugh out loud the most and the most often. The gist: Mr. and Mrs. Smith are a “normal, happy husband and wife.” And then Mrs. Smith becomes pregnant and gives birth to a robot.

Mr. Smith yelled at the doctor,

“What have you done to my boy?

He’s not flesh and blood,

he’s aluminum alloy!”

*

The doctor said gently,

“What I’m going to say

will sound pretty wild.

But you’re not the father of this strange-looking child.

You see, there still is some question

about the child’s gender,

but we think that its father

is a microwave blender.”

*

The Smiths’ lives were now filled

with misery and strife.

Mrs. Smith hated her husband,

and he hated his wife.

He never forgave her unholy alliance:

a sexual encounter

with a kitchen appliance.

 

The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories really appeals to my sense of humor. How it mocks serious topics attracts me as well.

Some more of the Artwork:

Mummy Boy

Voodoo Girl

The Pin Cushion Queen

 

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Gorey is easier for me to recommend, but I think many who enjoy it would enjoy The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories .* I would certainly encourage anyone to check it out…we find it a fun addition to our Library.**

*When I posted "Tis the Season" on Edward Gorey's The Gashlycrumb Tinies Logan of Rememorandom made the connection in the comments section. Thought I would round out the RIP V challenge with Burton's book, as I began with Gorey's.
** This is not a children's book. N (who is 10) still has a few years yet.
wiki link for book.
cinema

threads

Tis the season for spooky movies whether they be horror or suspense. Some directors in particular come to my mind: Alfred Hitchcock, Guillermo del Toro, Hiyao Miyazaki, and Tim Burton. Tim Burton gets the most play by the entire family this time of year. He is ever a favorite in our house, regardless if he is the writer or director. We watch The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) every Christmas Eve. “What’s This?” and “Making Christmas” are a holiday jingles, the first to be played in December .

It’s also that time of year where costumes are on the mind. The above photo is of N when she was 5. This is Cinderella part 1. Parents know that you have to dress up your child more than twice every year. N is going to be Alice this year.  (no. I still do not know what I am going to dress-up as, if at all. yes. I am becoming quite Lame.)

We were watching Burton directed Sleepy Hollow (1999) the other night. I love the humor and the eerie, and the dread.  I love the costumes. Sean and I have conversed on the matter of Burton’s Film’s costumes a few times. There seems to be a definite sensibility that threads many of his films. While each are fitting, I wondered why the designs are fitting and yet still Burton-esque. I finally looked up the designer for Sleepy Hollow. Colleen Atwood is responsible for those magnificent costumes the cast wears.

Do Johnny Depp or Christina Ricci need introduction?

I took a gander at Tim Burton’s Wikipedia page, knowing Film-makers tend to favor certain collaborators. “Colleen Atwood served as costume designer for nine of Burton’s projects, her latest being Alice in Wonderland (2010).” The Alice in Wonderland costumes are Wondermous!

drawings of  two of the Alice costumes.

Remember Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Depp’s black contraption?

What about Sweeny Todd (2007) and Helena Bonham Carter’s gowns? I particularly loved her and Depp’s beach outfits (though I couldn’t find a good crisp picture of them).

I sometimes forget that Big Fish (2003) is a Burton directed film. It is also an Atwood collaboration. Although a different kettle in a way, certainly more brightly lit, the thread still holds–doesn’t it.

Atwood is oft quoted as saying: “Costumes are the first impression that you have of the character before they open their mouth-it really does establish who they are.” When you think about her productions, and other Costume Designers’ efforts, they do work from this understanding. When I look at Sleepy Hollow (as well as the others), there is not just the spectacle, but the meaning behind it as well. The costume is read and consumed subconsciously–and quick; but it is read nevertheless. Something to remember when costuming yourself this year?

*****

Colleen Atwood is a very successful Designer, has worked on several notable projects outside of Burton’s Films, and won Academy Awards for two of those other Films: Chicago in 2002 and Memoirs of a Geisha in 2006. Her Filmography is impressive, do check out her Wiki-page. Atwood has done, and continues to do Fantastic! work.

**

Her Wiki-page, which includes her Filmography and awards/nominations; both of which make for long lists. Her IMDb page. And a nice little article from the Palm Springs Life (Jan 2004) by Keith Bush titled “From Sleepy Hollow to Chicago, Colleen Atwood creates beautiful costumes for beastly characters.” The first five minutes of this edition of ThreadHeads has an interview with Ms. Atwood. But you shouldn’t miss this Wired interview.

"review" · cinema · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales · wondermous

frightfully enchanting…

In 1944 fascist Spain, a girl, fascinated with fairy-tales, is sent along with her pregnant mother to live with her new stepfather, a ruthless captain of the Spanish army. During the night, she meets a fairy who takes her to an old faun in the center of the labyrinth. He tells her she’s a princess, but must prove her royalty by surviving three gruesome tasks. If she fails, she will never prove herself to be the the true princess and will never see her real father, the king, again. ~Tim at Internet Movie Database (IMDb.com)

El laberinto del fauno is an incredibly beautiful film written, directed, and produced by Mexican Film-maker Guillermo del Toro. My husband and I saw it in the theater (with subtitles) when it was released, and we knew we would own it. Despite my immediate love for the film, it also terrified me. My tolerance for things that spin, swing, or scare decreases every year. I give myself a couple years before I will have to paint my room in rainbows and lie still looking at them. I watched El laberinto del fauno once when we were able to own it (I think), but that was a long time ago. The other evening was well past time for another viewing.

El laberinto del fauno is not billed as a horror film. IMDb would categorize it as a Drama, Fantasy, Mystery, and/or War Film. The most simple answer is that the film is a Dark Adult Fairy Tale. The film is Dark, and though the protagonist is 11, this fairytale is not for children. And yet, the brutality of both the real and fairytale are not outside the purview of children—traditionally.

As gruesome and brutal as it is enchanting and spellbinding, “Pan’s Labyrinth” is a movie intended for adults, not children, as its “R” rating indicates. Some kids under 17 will find it fascinating (especially if they know Spanish or don’t mind reading subtitles), but it’s a harsh and uncompromising film. ~Roger Ebert*

I closed my eyes or looked away more than once. And once I needed to cover my ears and hum (the bottle to face scene).

Del Toro is known for his creatures, his fantastical imagination and equally brilliant way of bringing them to life. A partner in crime to this venture is Doug Jones who plays Faun and Pale Man. Faun is rendered with this incredible body that looks carved from wood; better is that is snaps and creaks. His presence is heavy with portent and surfaces in and out of the background. Pale Man is flat out horror. For her second task, Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) ascends through a door into a grand hall and passes a table laden with a sumptuous feast. At the head of the table is this hideous eye-less creature, waiting, unmoving. Behind him and up along the wall are paintings of his consumption of children…

The clicking of his nails. Ofelia’s panted breath. While the music is lovely and atmospheric, it does not seek to dominate the sounds of clicks and skitters of the mantis/fairy, or the often heard breaths of Ofelia in panic, among other effects. The sound crew did marvelous work.

For all the monstrous creatures emerging from the fairytale, the most terrible creature is Capitán Vidal. It takes work to be scarier than Pale Man, but Sergi López succeeds. He is handsome, strong, moderate features, cut jaw. He is rigid and unsmiling. There is a touch of insanity present. And there is really no limit to his evil. He is unrelenting in his mission: to purify Spain, and have a son to carry on his familial legacy/name.

***

El laberinto del fauno is visually stunning. The cast of faces are entrancing. And the setting is equally compelling. The old mill is incredible, blues and grays. The labyrinth suggestively worn and haunted. The woods form their own labyrinthine structure, hiding away the Spanish guerrilla anarchists. The setting is saturated with the mood of Tales, and Ofelia’s tasks explore all three spaces: the wood, the Mill, and the Labyrinth. The narrative alternates between the worlds, even as they evidently overlap.

Whether Ofelia actually sees Faun or not, is not clear (to every viewer). It would be plausible that Ofelia is using the Tale as a means of escape from her violent and hated surroundings; that she would seek a benevolent true Father over the tyrannical Stepfather. However, the Tale is not a thornless bouquet of roses. If it were too easy would that make it untrustworthy?—I don’t know. Just the same, both worlds hold an untoward level of violence.  But only one offers choice; an attractive element for a powerless girl child; an attractive element for anyone made powerless by their government.

What [Faun] actually offers is not good or evil, but the choice between them, and Del Toro says in a commentary that Ofelia is “a girl who needs to disobey anything except her own soul.” The whole movie, he says, is about choices. ~Ebert **

The characters Mercedes (Maribel Verdú)  and the Doctor (Álex Angulo) are, too, offered choices from a world other than that of The Mill’s. And they are burdened with their own tasks—equal to Ofelia’s own. It is that a choice does in fact exist for them that is made important in the film.

Capitán Vidal: You could have obeyed me!
Doctor: But captain, to obey – just like that – for obedience’s sake… without questioning… That’s something only people like you do.

Needless to say, the remark did not go unpunished, and in such a way that made Vidal look the coward. The ability to question is worth fighting for.

***

(left) Maribel Verdú as Mercedes

What I noticed and enjoyed in watching the film this time were the parallels drawn between Mercedes and Ofelia.  Their tasks were similar; have the key, deliver aide, keep clear of the monsters. Both had brothers…[didn’t take notes, was too busy gripping the husband’s hand and arm to bother with a pen.]

What is easily caught in first viewing is that Ofelia’s mother, Carmen, is representative of the women’s role in the new Spain: looking beautiful, remaining silent, and bearing sons. Mercedes is the alternate version offered via resistance, a version that appeals to Ofelia independent-mind. Both Carmen and Mercedes are admittedly afraid—and not completely certain of what they are doing (whether it is right or not). Ofelia weighs them both, as she weighs both worlds (real and Tale) judiciously, though not without desperation. But there is more than just mere Survival to answer to. Ofelia is “a girl who needs to disobey anything except her own soul.”

“Del Toro talks of the “rule of three” in fables (three doors, three rules, three fairies, three thrones)” (Ebert**). There are the three main characters whose point-of-view we are offered throughout: Ofelia, Mercedes, and Vidal. I am unfamiliar with the rule: but the threes are apparent.There is also the echo of objects: keys, time keepers, knives, hidden doors, dens. The story behind each, person or object, is drawn into comparison and contrast.

***

While enchanted with El laberinto del fauno upon first viewing. I couldn’t help but be a bit baffled by the story. In part, this is due to my ignorance of events following the Spanish Civil War. Most of anything I know is from Italo Calvino texts and the University Course I took on him. I had wondered why that place and time. Still wondered this last time. I could get the parallels between the fighters in the woods’ resistance to ceasing to exist, and Faun’s desire avoid oblivion as well.

Faun:  The moon will be full in three days. Your spirit shall forever remain among the humans. You shall age like them, you shall die like them, and all memory of you shall fade in time. And we’ll vanish along with it. You will never see us again.

Mercedes and Ofelia are pivotal to the survival of each. I find it lovely that both represent realms of free-thought, a return to a more Natural, Original State—or at least one that would me more fitting.

I had expected that the film would follow closer to this description (as borrowed from IMDb’s page): “In the fascist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.” The escape it talks about is misleading (though I am sure necessarily). I thought the Tale would be escapist, not tormenting—and certainly without its level of sacrifice. [How easily do I forget the good traditional fairly tale.]

I like Ebert’s reading of the film:

Ofelia’s challenges do not arise like arbitrary plot obstacles; they are organic to her (and the movie’s) development. The girl learns not only to follow instructions, and that there are heavy prices to pay for failing to abide by them, but also to trust her own instincts about right and wrong. In order to find her true self, she must also find the strength to break the rules imposed by authority.

An individual conscience: What could be a more powerful anti-fascist weapon than that?*

What makes Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” so powerful, I think, is that it brings together two kinds of material, obviously not compatible, and insists on playing true to both, right to the end. Because there is no compromise there is no escape route, and the dangers in each world are always present in the other. **

While Ofelia often resembles Alice from Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll), she does not disappear into the other realm for her adventure. The parallels are much more intimate. Indeed, the future for Ofelia (in the Underworld), Vidal (a pure Spain), and Mercedes (a freed Spain) is yet in the offing—are in Limbo, as yet undecided. They are still battling it out in a same place/plane, fighting for their way of life, and there is a race against time. It could go any way.

At the end, Ofelia’s is the path still lingering in indecision, as the viewer has to decide whether Faun’s world existed. Had Ofelia taken her story too far? It seems that a story was indeed plotted—the stone image in the Labyrinth of Faun, Moanna/Ofelia, and the baby; the baby Faun wouldn’t address when asked. What about the Underworld parents’ likeness?

A.O. Scott writes,

That realm, in which Ofelia is thought to be a long-lost princess, may exist only in her imagination. Or maybe not: its ambiguous status is crucial to the film’s coherence. Like the Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, Mr. Del Toro is less interested in debunking or explaining away the existence of magic than in surveying the natural history of enchantment.***

Whether the magical realm was real or not, during the film I didn’t want it to disappear. I felt for Faun’s cause. “We’ll vanish […] You will never see us again.” Carmen and Mercedes were both lost to their childhood and magical places; though Carmen begged for Ofelia to come to the realization much more quickly. Those were painful scenes. Carmen felt abandoned by such realms (you get to feeling by both faeries and God) but she was helped by the strange Mandrake Root. Magic keeps company with nature (the fig tree). Tales comfort the child, Ofelia—at the very least via information; answers to Life Questions.

Fairy tales (and scary movies) are designed to console as well as terrify. What distinguishes “Pan’s Labyrinth,” what makes it art, is that it balances its own magical thinking with the knowledge that not everyone lives happily ever after. ~Scott***

Not everyone lives happily ever after. El laberinto del fauno has a difficult ending.

The story has two endings, two final images that linger in haunting, unresolved tension. Here is a princess, smilingly restored to her throne, bathed in golden subterranean light. And here is a grown woman weeping inconsolably in the hard blue twilight of a world beyond the reach of fantasy. ~Scott

Sean is fairly convinced by the second image. He argues the sequence. As do I. Ofelia’s smile and last breath after the reunion at court. 1- Is she escaping, finally, into a sublime image, into consolation. Purgatory decided? 2- Or is the choice to place the death image after the reunion to complete the framing of the Film? 3- How much does this matter?

That “unresolved tension” is difficult. It is hard to feel the Hope that the reunion scene would offer. It could almost make the viewer even more mournful—as inconsolable as Mercedes.

Ofelia: Mercedes, do you believe in fairies?
Mercedes: No. But when I was a little girl, I did. I believed in a lot of things I don’t believe anymore.
Ofelia: Last night a fairy visited me.

Mercedes does not deny their existence. She is of a similar quandary as many members of El laberinto del fauno’s audience. Things may exist for others, but they no longer exist for me.

***

The ending narration speaks to Legacy and Immortality. It is a reminder as to how Immortality is won through Legacy, and through Story. It reminds me of Vidal’s pocket watch and the story of his father. It reminds me of the story Ofelia tells her unborn sibling:

Many, many years ago in a sad, faraway land, there was an enormous mountain made of rough, black stone. At sunset, on top of that mountain, a magic rose blossomed every night that made whoever plucked it immortal. But no one dared go near it because its thorns were full of poison.

Men talked amongst themselves about their fear of death, and pain, but never about the promise of eternal life. And every day, the rose wilted, unable to bequeath its gift to anyone… forgotten and lost at the top of that cold, dark mountain, forever alone, until the end of time.

Ofelia, Mercedes, and Vidal ruminate on the fear of death, and pain, and about the promise of eternal life—in one fashion or the other. And del Toro would not “forget them, nor lose them;” and neither shall I.

*****

please note: El laberinto del fauno is in Spanish. The use of Subtitles would be best (if you can find dubbed, don’t). Also, del Toro did the translation, wrote the subtitles; so as to avoid the gross errors with a previous film El espinazo del diablo (Devil’s Backbone, 2001); This film is considered a “spiritual sequel” to El espinazo del diablo (per wiki).

****

El laberinto del fauno, “The Faun’s Labyrinth” 

or in U.S. release Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Producers: Guillermo del Toro; Alfonso Cuarón; Bertha Navarro; Frida Torresblanco; Alvaro Augustin

Written by Guillermo del Toro

Narrated by Pablo Adán

Starring: Ivana Baquero (Ofelia), Doug Jones (Faun, Pale Man) Sergi López (vidal), Maribel Verdú (Mercedes), Ariadna Gil (Carmen), Álex Angulo(Doctor)

Music by Javier Navarrete

Cinematography by Guillermo Navarro

Editing by Bernat Vilaplana

Studio: Tequila Gang; Estudios Picasso; Telecinco Cinema

Distributed: Warner Bros. (Spain); Picturehouse (US); New Line Cinema (Home Video)

112 minutes.

*Roger Ebert Dec. 29, 2006 Review; **Roger Ebert Aug. 25, 2007 Review; ***A.O. Scott's NY Times Review
Wiki link "Pan's Labyrinth"; IMDb link "Pan's Labyrinth (2006)
an interview with Charlie Rose featuring Mexican Film-makers and friends: Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men), and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel).
"review" · cinema · recommend

A Monster (Haunted) House

In the spirit of the Halloween Season we have been watching atmospheric films. But when my parents came for a visit, we had to hunt for a Friday Evening Fare the whole family could enjoy. Monster House (2006) was an easy pick.

DJ has been watching the house across the street, keeping a detailed log of its strange behavior. The house and its inmate, Mr. Nebbercracker, seem to be child-hating monsters taking anything that lands on the lawn.

Bones: When I was 10 years old. I had a kite. Awesome kite. I could fly it so high you couldn’t see it. One day, it crashed down, I followed the string, and it landed right over there, across the street right on the edge of his lawn.
Zee: Awww, did he take your kite?
Bones: Yeah, he takes everything that lands on his lawn. But that’s not the point, the point is, I saw him talking to his house.

Halloween has always been a particularly horrible time of year for the Monster House, and as the House’s threatening behavior increases leading up to the big day, DJ becomes fearful for the trick-or-treaters—even once Mr. Nebbercracker is gone.

DJ enlists the help of his best friend (the idiot) Chowder in his surveillance of the House. After rescuing Jenny from the House, she joins the duo in saving the neighborhood.

Monster House uses the same performance capture technology as Polar Express (2004, dir. Robert Zemeckis), but the movement appears smoother, and the animated less doll-ish. The visuals are pleasing, enhanced by great shots and good editing.

The setting and costume makes me think late 1970, early ‘80s (though I am terrible with dates). While I couldn’t find an intended year, I think the childhood of suburbia-past is the targeted year. However, I may be placing the film in the ‘80s is due to the fact that Chowder reminds me of Chunk from Goonies (1985). “Chowder: I paid 28 dollars for that ball! I had to mow ten lawns and ask my mom for a dollar 26 times!” Even the character DJ is not unlike Mikey. Fortunately for current audiences, Jenny, however, is not the simpering girl in the group.

Jenny: Jenny Bennett. Two-term class president at Westbrook Prep.
DJ: That’s a tough school to get into.
Chowder: Yeah, I got in but decided not to go.
Jenny: It’s a girl’s school.
Chowder: [nervous pause] … Which is why I didn’t…
[another nervous pause]
Chowder: … You know there’s a… there’s a great taco stand near there…

Besides the comedic idiocy of Chowder, there is the added humor of Jenny’s presence amidst the two boys. Both have a desire to impress her and their attempts are–clumsy.

DJ mentions more than once that he is “practically a grown-up.” (Love that his room is that charming mixture of childhood and Teen.) He longs to be taken seriously, or at least be less awkward. But who can help it at that age…

Zee: What is your problem?
DJ: Uh… puberty! Yeah, I’m having lots and lots of puberty.

Though said in an effort to distract Zee from going up to the Nebbercracker House, DJ’s claims that puberty is rampant is not untrue. The adolescent awkwardness is surely another nuance to the horrors enjoyed in the film.

The Monster House is scary. It is an intelligent, sly opponent, forcing DJ and gang to face it without aide of the Police or Babysitter (caregiver). It is a hunter, determined, and ultimately enraged. But it isn’t only the House that is terrifying. Steve Buscemi as Nebbercracker is excellent. He warns off anyone who touches the lawn—dismantling tricycles before a child’s eyes if necessary, yelling and hobbling and putting up signs. He makes the viewer squirm with his physical and tormenting presence.

Of course, the exteriors that terrify, the things we don’t understand, have more to their core. With understanding, determination, and TNT that which we fear is not insurmountable.

DJ: I kissed a girl! I kissed a girl on the lips!

Monster House is rated PG for scary images and sequences, thematic elements, some crude humor and brief language. Natalya (albeit sensitive) was genuinely frightened of this film more than a year ago when we first watched it. She is now 10 and her desire to be frightened has kicked in, but I just want to caution prospective audiences. As for the humor, crude or otherwise, is perfect for middle-grade upward.

Monster House is attached to Amblin Entertainment. Those of us who grew up on (or parented during) Amblin Entertainment Films will view Monster House as an easy favorite, a great family pick. Monster House is certainly a Halloween favorite.

*****

Directed by Gil Kenan (who has since gone on to City of Ember (2008)).

Executively Produced by Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg

Editing by Fabienne Rawley

Written by Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, and Pamela Pettler

Starring: Mitchel Musso (DJ), Sam Lerner (Chowder), Spencer Locke (Jenny), Steve Buscemi (Nebbercracker), Nick Cannon (Officer Lister), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Zee), Kevin James (Officer Landers), Jason Lee (Bones), Catherine O’Hara (Mom), Kathleen Turner (Constance), Fred Willard (Dad)

Music by Douglas Pipes

Cinematography Paul C. Babin

Studios: Relativity Media, ImageMovers, and Amblin Entertainment.

Distributed by Columbia Pictures.

Running Time 91 minutes.

IMDb link. Wiki link: Monster House, Amblin Entertainment. A.O. Scott's NY Times Review.

 

"review" · fiction · young adult lit

oh, dear…

May contain a few spoilers, which I felt was unavoidable.

And while I did try to restrain the “harsh” factor in my critique, I didn’t want to not post on it.

***

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

Razorbill (Penguin imprint) 2010.

(hardback) 343 pages.

Mackie Doyle seems like everyone else in the perfect little town of Gentry, but he is living with a fatal secret – he is a Replacement, left in the crib of a human baby sixteen years ago. Now the creatures under the hill want him back, and Mackie must decide where he really belongs and what he really wants.  –goodreads, paragraph 1.

The good news is that my feelings of meh after reading the first half of Brenna Yovanoff’s The Replacement is not to be solely blamed on having just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s brilliant The Handmaid’s Tale. That is also the bad news. That and the fact the meh morphed into a deep <disappointed> sigh by the time I finished the read.

I was immediately attracted to the cover, and then there is the tag line: “Something’s rotten beneath the town of Gentry.”—great creepiness potential. Foremost, however, is the premise. A male protagonist who is a Changeling! Tantalizing.

***

The Replacement starts off strong. And then we hit about page 50 and a hysterical and an “I’m being deliberately vague” Tate Stewart. The pace and particulars of the story get a bit rocky from there.

I can get that Tate would believe that Mackie knows all and is holding out on her. He is different and though everyone seems to know, no one seems to say. His difference is the most obvious link to all the shady goings on in Gentry that Tate can think of. However, her continual aggression with Mackie is not only off-putting, it is somewhat problematic. It makes Tate and Mackie’s budding romance (and motivating force) unconvincing.  Or maybe it is just the plot that makes the romance unconvincing.

Mackie and Tate aren’t even flirting let alone glowing from a first date when Tate’s sister goes missing/dead. In fact, Mackie is eyeing the beautiful Alice Harms, and she begins to notice him back. Mackie notices the tragic Tate and notes some lovely things about her. But when she keeps getting in his face, she keeps his hormones stimulated as well. One minute they argue and she seemingly despises him, and then they are in her room and her shirt is off.

I didn’t read this YA novel for a Romance. And I admit that I am not the target audience. From what limited YA I’ve read, the competition is fierce for a swoon-worthy male and a his romance with a fiery female. If the checklist of ingredients for a viable YA novel involves an emotional yet troubled male, a loyal best friend, a bad-ass female, and a “sorori-whore” type, this novel has met those requirements.

The romance comes out of no where, and fated never comes to mind. Tate is too abrasive and unstable, and Mackie is just a healthy young male kissing available hot mouths. But why is a romance needed anyway? It wouldn’t be except it is Mackie’s desire to please Tate that he overcomes his fear of interfering with Dark Matters. Mackie is confused and indecisive, there is a lot to take in, and he needs the extra motivation to move him along.

I like Mackie. He is a great character, well developed. He is an enjoyable point-of-view, our third-person-limited. He is supported by a great following. He has loyal friends, a fantastic older sister and interesting and somewhat-interested parents. Even with very little historical knowledge of some of the underground characters, they are fun as well.

Admittedly, my knowledge of the Changeling stories are a scratch, but the entrance of Morrigan into the story threw me off. And Morrigan’s sister, while I have heard she has two (that make up a triad of sorts), I can’t place who the sister is supposed to be. The novel is deliberately vague on the details of Mythological/Lore names and histories. I would have rather the author kept known names out of the story and just created her own version completely, at the very least made the names reminiscent/similar.

Yovanoff creates a terrifying character named Cutter. Or he is supposed to be hideously terrifying. But really, he isn’t so much. Despite being ancient and ruthless, he can’t take down a teenaged girl with a crow-bar. Very disappointing. And while I applaud a plucky heroine who can save herself, there was nothing to suggest she should have beat the hell out of a fearsome demon—it wasn’t a cat-fight with a “sorori-whore.” While I appreciate Mackie reasoning things out at the end, a paring knife and a quick collapse of the enemy, really?

And no one dies (except in abstraction). I really thought one of the twins should’ve…not that I didn’t like them. The threat that would build the suspense peters out very quickly after Mackie and friends are caught in the House of Misery. The dark is robbed of any terror. A lesson in : it may seem scary and threatening but it isn’t really : you’re imagination is what is powering it, an empowered view (bravery) diminishes it? While that response would fit with the whole conversation therein of what feeds the gods/monsters, gives them their power, it doesn’t make for a satisfying ending. I think tension was supposed to hold; why else the grotesque and unflinching talk of tearing out small children’s throats and making meticulous torturous cuts on a woman’s face as a matter of revenge?

Maybe the flaw in a lack of tension is in the non-existent transitions. The seams are everywhere in this story. It’s as if portions were crafted here and there and in the piecing process transitions were forced or abandoned. The moments of brilliance after say Chapter Five are those lovely writings that are embroidered without pretty threads, or left gaping. The revelations about the mother and sister and Morrigan’s role were lovely. The discussions about ”us” and “them,” fear and belonging, about scapegoats, about what gives gods/monsters their powers to exist—jewels. The explanation for Roswell’s charmed existence was necessary—though his unquestioning loyalty, drop-everything-at-a-moment’s-notice behavior was boring.

Many can and will read The Replacement and forgive a poorly told story, an unrefined plot, and still laud the Characterization and the Concepts. While I believe Characterization and Concept can carry a great deal of weight, I’m not sure it measures enough against a disappointing delivery of story.

***

I’m going to give this a re-read after I catch up on a few other things. An apology may follow, or there may be a more articulated explanation for where it went wrong for me.

***

A respectable book reviewer Steph Su has a great write-up on the book here.

If you can make a good argument for the plot of The Replacement, please link your review or help me out here, thanks.