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FOTB: Carrie

jean gray
This is not my usual format for a "Film of the Book" review, because there's just one aspect of this story I want to get into today.

One thing you probably know about me by now is I watch a lot of horror movies. So this is a fun time of year for me. Among my more recent traditions is the 31 Days of Halloween Movie Marathon wherein I try to watch a movie a day for a solid month--all horror, all stuff I haven't seen before--and see how far I get before the blessed day itself.

One thing you might also know is that October, in addition to being the month of candy, costumes and creepy things, is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Which makes it the month of pink ribbons. There was a time when this really annoyed me, because when I'm marathoning scary movies, I don't really want to be surrounded by pink everywhere I go. My relationship with the color is . . . complicated. For a long time, I hated it on principle because it was "girly" and therefore "stupid" and "bad." More recently, I started to question why exactly I associated it with those latter two. Why does "girly" equal "stupid" and "bad," I wondered?

(Image property of MGM)

This year, the first movie in my marathon queue was the 2013 version of Carrie directed by Kimberly Pierce and starring Chloe Grace Moretz. Counting the TV movie with Angela Bettis that came out in 2002, it's the third on-screen adaptation I've seen of Stephen King's novel, but also the first I've seen since I actually read the book. All three movies are very similar--nothing marks this one as different except a posting-horrible-things-on-the-internet side plot that I was expecting to go way further than it did. I think this is a good thing since the story is so universal, so timeless, yet so particular to the unique hell that is life as a teenage girl, that it wouldn't be the same if you shifted it too much in another direction.

What jumped out at me this time, however, was the use of color. I'm not talking about the blood-drenched finale or the harrowing shower scene in the beginning--red is an obvious go-to in stories like this. I'm talking about Carrie's prom dress. If you're only superficially familiar with the story, then there are two things you need to know about that dress: 1) Carrie makes it herself. 2) It's pink.

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A Life Worth Remembering: Brandon Lee

eric draven
2014 marks the 20th anniversary of the 1994 adaptation of James O'Barr's The Crow. Which, sadly, makes it also the 20th anniversary of star Brandon Lee's untimely death.

I feel like The Crow is one of those movies like Jacob's Ladder and Silent Hill that I've seen dozens of times, and I talk around it every so often without going into a lot of depth. This week, before realizing thanks to an article in the current issue of Rue Morgue that it has been twenty years now (!), I had already started a mini-marathon focusing on Bruce and Brandon Lee's movies. I'm taking it as a sign. I'm also going to assume you've seen it already, and leave out my usual plot summary partly for the sake of brevity, but mostly because the plot is not really my main talking point here.

Let's talk about The Crow. . .Collapse )

Cross-posted to rhoda_rants.

Pride Music - My Top 5 Queer Artists

jean gray
I'm saying "queer" because it's easier to type than "LGBTQ + a bunch of other letters I can never remember." (Love the people, not the acronym. It's not kind to dyslexics.) Apparently this is the only thing I'm doing for Pride Month this year. Which is still better than previous years, in which I've done absolutely nothing because I'm horrible at keeping track of when things are.

I ran into a lot of unforeseen qualifiers once I started putting this list together. For instance, I wanted to only use artists who are actually out and on the record as not-straight. As opposed to people who've been the subject of speculation but have neither confirmed nor denied anything, or people who use fanservice as a gimmick (particulary the girl-on-girl kind--yeah, don't get me started), or people who appeal to a queer audience for whatever reason but aren't queer themselves (Madonna, Cher, Celine Dion, etc.). And from there I had to narrow it down to music I actually like.

Wasn't easy, let me tell you. I've also, sadly but somehow not surprisingly, wound up with a completely male-dominated list here. It's not that I don't like Tegan & Sarah--I saw them live once, opening for Ben Folds, and they put on a good show. But it's still not really my thing. And much as I've tried to like Lady Gaga, I still feel only "meh" about her music.

That in mind. . .

My Top Five Queer Artists!Collapse )

So who have I left out? Anyone have recommendations? Questions? Hit me--I'm all ears. :)

Is 'A Song of Ice and Fire' YA?

Credit for this blog idea is due to fellow AW member Cyia, who made the following post last week: "Just an observation, but looking at the differences in the ages of the characters in the books [of A Song of Ice and Fire] compared to their portrayals on screen, all of the main favored characters, with the possible exception of Tyrion [. . .] would have made this one of, if not the most popular YA series ever written. The POV would just have to shift a bit. Even the biggest baddie, in the form of a psycho boy king, would have been YA territory."

Have to say, I've never thought of it that way before. But she makes a fascinating point: A Song of Ice and Fire is more densely populated with teen characters--properly defined, developed, plot-driving characters, not just stereotypes and fillers--than most of the actual category YA books I've read. Seriously.

It's hard to remember this if you come to the series through the show, because so many of the characters were aged up; HBO has fewer limitations than network television about what it can and can't show, but there are Rules about minor actors and the sorts of scenes they can legally participate in. In the books, an overwhelming majority of the POV characters--Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Theon Greyjoy, Samwell Tarly, Arya, Bran and Sansa Stark--are all under 18. That's not even counting secondary characters who don't have POV chapters but still play major roles, like Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, Ygritte, the Reeds, and Margaery Tyrell, who are all teenagers. Hell, even Jaime Lannister, who is technically an adult when we meet him, spends a big chunk of his narrations in flashbacks from when he first became a knight, at age fifteen.

As it happens, roughly the same time Cyia brought this up, an article started making the rounds from Slate about how grown-ups who read YA should be ashamed of themselves because: "There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. [. . . ] But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something." (Full article here.)


Back to this again, are we?

So, every few months or so an article like this surfaces to scold the general populace for enjoying things that someone's decided are unworthy of being enjoyed. I still don't know why this is important. Since the Slate article has already been roundly debunked by a number of bloggers much more prolific than me, I don't even have to go there.

What I do want to ask is this: What is YA? The trouble with this question is, when you start trying to work out what YA is, you find it's a lot easier to dig up false assumptions about what YA isn't. There seem to be a lot of rules and expectations that actual YA books pretty much ignore, such as whether or not you can have gruesome violence, detailed sex scenes, foul language, etc., etc., etc. Look, either a given story calls for that kind of thing, or it doesn't, and all you need to do is pick up a handful of real live books in any category to discount any of those elements as qualifiers. Still, there are a few elements some say are required in YA that I find more compelling. But not entirely convincing.

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*Let's leave Battle Royale out of this for now--it's a great piece of work, but reached a much narrower audience, and didn't spark the global phenomenon that The Hunger Games did.

(Cross-posted to rhoda_rants.)

Thoughts On: Sleepy Hollow

clockwork orange
Something occurred to me about midway through my new favorite TV series, "Sleepy Hollow": the representation of other-than-white people in the main cast. Specifically, the way Abbie is portrayed as the main protagonist.

Now, I've been watching with my Mom mainly OnDemand, which means we don't usually get a chance to see them right when they air. We get to it when we get to it. The episodes are formulaic as hell from week to week, but it's fun, action-packed, and endlessly entertaining, even as it plays fast and loose with American history and the mythologies it's drawing from for the supernatural conflict. I love this show.

If you're not familiar, the main plot revolves around Ichabod Crane--here a soldier from the Revolutionary War who woke up hundreds of years after his own supposed death on the battlefield, having been felled by a headless horseman--and Abbie Mills, a police lieutenant who teams up with Ichabod to track the horseman's movements and (hopefully) prevent the coming apocalypse.

What I wanted to point out here is probably not news to anyone, but I felt moved to draw attention to it all the same: our "everyman" character in this scenario is Abbie. She's the character the audience is supposed to relate to and identify with. Ichabod is the out-of-place stranger here to amuse us with his lack of familiarity with the modern world. He's the Other. Just think about that. In Ichabod's point of view especially, Abbie--an intelligent, unmarried, career-driven black woman--is his touchstone for understanding the years he missed when he was asleep. In his eyes, she is the face of modern America.

I'm not sure I'm going anywhere in particular with this observation. But I think it's a very good thing.


Women in Horror Month--A Look Back

Welcome to Women In Horror Month, the 2014 edition! First, the official website is here, should you want to keep track of things coming up this year. As for myself, I decided to take a look back on some of the numbers from last year. What I found out was very interesting. Here are the five top-grossing horror movies of 2013:

1 The Conjuring ($137.4 million)
2 Insidious: Chapter 2 ($83.6 million)
3 Mama ($71.6 million)
4 Evil Dead ($54.2 million)
5 Carrie ($35.3 million)

My personal favorite--Stoker--didn't do quite as well financially; I guess it was a little too twisted to be a blockbuster, but that's fine. Keep in mind that these aren't necessarily the "best" horror films of the past year, but merely the most successful--the movie-going public voted these movies as the most worthy of earning their dollars. Out of the five, four have female protagonists, and at least three pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors. (I say "at least" because I haven't seen them all yet.)

Only one of them is directed by a women--Carrie, helmed by Kimberly Peirce. But when it comes to representation in the media, I'm cautiously encouraged by the turnout here. Not just that these movies came out, but that they did so well in a genre that's been historically perceived as a boys' club. Ladies, last year WE were the majority.

You know what else I notice? Remake, remake, sequel, Based On True Events, and one--count 'em, one--original story.


I'm going to spend most of the month reading and posting capsule reviews as I go, because I'm more familiar with written fiction than film. But I am very curious--and excited--to see what the next year will bring.

Stay tuned!
jean gray
Like every other thirteen-year-old girl in 1996, I was in looooove with Leonardo DiCaprio. He was just so gosh-darn cute, and he had two sweeping, tragic romances out one year after the other, and he had that lovely Italian name--how could we resist? Leo was my generation's Robert Pattinson, and I still have the scrapbook to prove it. The fact that he could actually, y'know, act, was beside the point.

It's hard for me to look at the Baz Luhrmann version of Romeo and Juliet without my nostalgia goggles on. I loved it then, I still love it now, and I honestly have no idea how much of that is my residual fangirl self and how much is my analytical reviewer self who thinks it's a genuinely good movie. So bear with me here--I'm biased, I know that, I can't help it.


What I do know is there's a sizeable contingent of people who can't stand this movie, and I understand why. Usually their reasons come down to one of two things: either the decision to modernize the setting but keep the original text, or Luhrmann's flashy direction. Both are impossible to escape and hit the viewer hard from the get-go. So if either of those things bug you, it's gonna be a hard movie to sit through. Personally, I've always had an affinity for the uncompromisingly weird, so it never bothered me. Plus, if you happened to be studying the play in school at the exact same time (which I was), the modern context made the language a little more accessible--not so daunting and archaic.

The resulting film is one of the stranger interpretations of the classic play out there, but one of the most faithful at the same time. That's pretty impressive if you think about it. Additionally, because it is such a faithful adaptation, it makes a perfect case study for the classic Elizabethan tragedy.

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jean gray
Shakespeare Detour: West Side Story

I'm tackling these in the order I first saw them, although as it so happens West Side Story also has the earliest release date of the films I'm looking at. This 1961 film adaptation of the 1957 musical swept the Oscars and enchanted audiences for decades. The music alone is searingly romantic even without any context to back it up, and I've heard "One Hand, One Heart" in actual weddings in the real world. This retelling takes place in contemporary New York--well, contemporary for the time period in which it was created, meaning late '50s/early '60s--and makes some fairly signficant changes in the relationships between the characters, and the ending.


Our young lovers are here represented by Tony (Richard Beymer), a former member of street gang The Jets, now trying to earn an honest living and waxing poetical about this extremely vague dream he keeps having; and Maria (Natalie Wood), the younger sister of rival gang The Sharks, who at the start of the movie wants nothing more than to go to the big party and hang out with the cool kids. Also, she's supposed to be with this guy Chino, but she just doesn't love him that way.

Now, while the overall structure of the original play gets changed a little every time it's revisited, even in traditional adaptations, there are a few key scenes that I feel need to happen in order for this to still be the "Romeo and Juliet" story:

-The love-at-first-sight meeting between the two lovers

-The balcony scene/mutual declaration of love

-The death of Mercutio

-The death of Tybalt

-The tragic finale with the deaths of the two lovers

West Side Story covers most of it pretty faithfully, hitting a lot of the same beats and unfolding at roughly the same pace. However, in this version, "Juliet" gets to live.

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Welcome to the first of my Shakespeare Detours! This is a sub-category of my Film of the Book series that I didn't foresee, but since every single one of the Bard's timeless plays have been adapted to film multiple times (3 and counting this year alone), I felt it warranted discussion. This is an introduction to my first subject of study, and a personal favorite: Romeo and Juliet.

(Side note: people always seem to think my favorite Shakespeare play is Macbeth. No idea why.) (And yes, this is my sarcastic voice.)

So, there's a new movie adaptation out directed by Carlo Carlei, starring Hailee Steinfield (True Grit) and Douglas Booth as the titular leads. I'm told screenwriter Julian Fellowes has something to do with Downton Abbey, which everyone but me is obsessed with apparently. As of this writing, it's barely cracked a million at the box office (only $500,000 on opening weekend), and reviews have ranged from dismissive to scathing. Rotten Tomatoes tallies opinions at a measely 22% "rotten."

Now, I've occasionally liked movies that critics and audiences alike were fairly unimpressed by, such as Silent Hill: Revelation and John Carter. Personally, I wrote off this movie as "not for me" the second I first saw trailers for it, and the reason is quite simple: they changed the language. >__< No. When you're adapting Shakespeare, the one thing that adamantly does NOT need "fixing" is the language. Not unless you're moving the entire story to a different setting and time period, and sometimes not even then. (This version did neither, by the way.) SO yeah, I was prejudiced from the get-go.

All that aside, cinematic quality is not necessarily a requisite for driving up box office numbers and generating a decent profit. Just looking at the other box office toppers this week, one of them has a Tomatometer rating even lower. Also, as any literary or theater geek will tell you (with rare exceptions), R + J is not highly rated as one of the Bard's best works. But it is easily his most popular--in his day as well as ours--and the fact that it continues to gain followers many centuries after its first performance speaks volumes to its enduring success. Something about this story resonates with people no matter what era we're in. It seems like every new generation gets a fresh revisiting to swoon over.

The 1960s had not one, but two extremely lucrative and popular film adaptations of the play: Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (which is still the highest-rated among critics and movie-goers alike), and West Side Story (a musical transplanting that moved the story to contemporary New York and added a racial prejudice angle to the animosity between the two families). When I came of swooning age in the mid-90s, we had Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, which remains my favorite to this day, and not just for nostalgic reasons. There's even an anime version that turns Juliet into katana-wielding vigilante.

As it happens, Carlei's version is actually the second Romeo and Juliet movie that came out this year. Although I don't know how many filmgoers picked up on the other one being an adaptation because, well, in that case the Montagues were zombies. (Warm Bodies. It also has the best critical reviews since the Zeffirelli version in 1968. I'm not kidding.)

So where's the love for this latest movie? Are today's teens simply not interested in the idea of tragic romance? Do they not care about classic literary tales without something else--like zombies or whiplash editing--to spice things up? Has this story finally worn out its welcome to the point where it's no longer relevent to the current cultural atmosphere?

I don't think so.

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Film of the Book: The Neverending Story

jean gray
Let's get this out of the way first: her name is Moon Child. If you're asking "Who?" right now, then quit reading this review immediately and go watch The Neverending Story because this is going to be one of my main talking points. Okay, everybody on the same page? Good. Moving on!

The Neverending Story was a children's epic fantasy written by Michael Ende in 1979, translated from the German in 1983, and adapted to film by Wolfgang Petersen in 1984. The movie, of course, is what most people remember--and for good reason. It's fantastic, and one of my favorite movies of all time. Here, I'll be focusing on the first movie and how it lines up to the book, because like most fans, I prefer to pretend the two sequels don't exist. (Although the Nostalgia Critic does a pretty good throttling of them here and here, if you're curious--links Not Safe For Work, by the way.)

As I mentioned in the Ring review, this was my first exposure to the breaking of the fourth wall. And it BLEW MY MIND. Imagine you're four years old, creative, and more comfortable around books than people. Suddenly a movie arrives that tells you not only that books are real, but that the characters inside them need you to believe in them to keep them alive. I ran with that hard, and wound up with a vast menagerie of imaginary friends. (These days, I call them "characters" and write them into my own books.) There's a lot that I could gush about in this particular review, but I'll try to confine it to a few major points so this doesn't get too unwieldy.

Warning: We'll be talking about depression and suicide extensively in this review, so if anyone has triggers for that sort of thing, be aware.

In the beginning, it is always dark.Collapse )


jean gray

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