Archive for July, 2013

WHEN TO SAY WHEN: ON NOT FINISHING BOOKS

Posted: July 31, 2013 by mwerntz in Book Reviews, Myles

Over text message this weekend, I confessed that–in the face of staggering commendations–I just wasn’t getting into John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars . And so, I quit reading it.
I have no idea how it ends, but I can guess with reasonable certainty (no spoilers here).

It’s nobody’s fault here, and certainly not the author. As far as the characters went, I found them really charming, and as far as YA literature that deals with heavy material like death and dying, it was well done. And it’s not the fault of the other Hands: I trust their literary sensibilities and their artistic tastes. And it’s not my fault: I’ve slogged my way through more unreadable books than I can count, so I can genuinely say that I don’t like to quit a book. So: why quit the book? Why not plow through the last 130 pages and see where the rabbit hole goes? Why doom myself to the fate of the characters of the book and not know what happens to characters who speak well and whose lives are somewhat interesting? DID THE MOTHER MARRY A CON ARTIST????? THE QUESTIONS!!!!!

The short answer is two-fold. First, I didn’t connect with the characters. Yes, the dialogue was well-written, and yes, I felt empathy for the characters, but I genuinely didn’t care about them. It didn’t help that I was reading East of Eden at the same time, and couldn’t stop thinking about the unwritten fates of so many of Steinbeck’s masterpiece. For the record, I’m glad that sequels to books are not the norm–some characters deserve the gift of fading out beyond the reader’s gaze. But the characters in Fault in Our Stars, for me, were like watching a movie that I was marginally invested in, but could go one way or another with when it’s bedtime.

Secondly–and more broadly–I don’t feel guilt anymore about not finishing a book or a movie. There was a time in my life not so long ago that I hated not finishing a work, that not knowing the ending was like a open mosquito bite, burning away at my attention. But then, it dawned on me that the world is full of books and brimming with movies, books that I want to read more than once and movies that I know I’ll love. And it’s okay to spend time with those more than ones I don’t. As a scholar, I’ll submit myself to work that I don’t particularly think useful for the sake of being fair to an argument; it’s my job and, I think, the mark of charity–to be willing to listen to something that you disagree with and see it through under most circumstances. But when it comes to art, I’m okay with stopping halfway.

Does this mean that I think art is somehow worth being uncharitable to, that art doesn’t get the same pass as scholarly material? In a sense, yes, and I can’t yet defend that. But all I know is that while I may think Oliver O’Donovan’s The Ways of Judgment isn’t a good argument (but one I need to read), Rainn Wilson’s The Super was’t particularly good and I shut it off after fifteen minutes. And I’m okay with it, but can’t yet say why.

What are the books/movies you quit? Do you regret them?

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I am a good evangelical boy. I believe in the inspiration, authority, infallibility, and innerancy of Scripture. I believe in a God who is eternal and exists in three persons. I believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin and came to redeem his chosen ones. I believe in four out of five TULIP points. I believe in the Oxford comma.

And yet, sometimes I think that Hollywood believes more (or maybe better) than I do.

I had a fascinating conversation with someone after I saw THE CONJURING. I was talking to someone at work about the film and she told me that she heard a Christian radio caller say that Christians shouldn’t see movies like this because they somehow pierce our defenses and can let the darkness in. Notwithstanding the sketchy theology, this seems like a bunch of hooey to me. Why is it that we, as Bible-believing Christians, can say we believe in the existence of Satan and demons, but eschew any kind of pop-culture reference to them?

When I was a teenager, we all loved Frank Peretti’s books – This Present Darkness, piercing the Darkness, etc. We thought, “There’s this whole other world out there! Battles being fought… Angels and demons… It’s amazing!” So why is it that I’m ok with believing Peretti, but not James Wan?

Is THE CONJURING a great film? No. Is it very good? I think so. But beyond all of that, what I’m really interested in is why Christians refuse to support films like this – films which contain more biblical truth than twenty FIREPROOFs. 

Again, the theology is a little rough. My demonology prof would crack up at some of it. But, this is a movie that uses the word “demon” to talk about what’s going on. It’s a movie that talks at length about the role of the church in this issue. It’s a movie that gives as biblical of a depiction of demons as I have ever seen. And (SPOILER ALERT) God wins.

What say ye, hands? Should Christians be on board with demon movies?

 

“Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires!
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.”  –MacBeth

I’m very late to the party with this, I know, but bear with me anyway.  While I’ve been listening to Mumford & Sons for a while, I haven’t really listened to them until recently.  Not with the same passionate, slightly obsessive vigor with which I treat Kings of Leon.  And that means going in search of the lyrics, reading and learning and memorizing them the way one does poetry.

It was the song, “Roll Away Your Stone” that took me to the internet to search for its words.  Every time I listened to it, my attention would hone in on “Stars, hide your fires.”  I knew it was Shakespeare, but I couldn’t remember which until I was reading a book and saw it quoted from MACBETH.  Excited that Mumford & Sons would quote that infamous, dark and grisly play, I searched for the rest of the words around it, hoping to see what message they were trying to convey.

It was on one of those lyric sites that I found others’ comments; their theories on the meaning and it was there that I found the Christian message woven into the words.  Roll away your stone could be in regards to moving aside the stone that blocked the body of Christ within the cave from which he resurrected.  Then of course there was all of this soul and grace talk and I had a very STEPBROTHERS-type WHAT?! moment.  In talking to friends, it was agreed that much of their music is based in faith.  After I sat there wearing a frown and staring at my computer screen like it had turned green and started oozing pus, I wondered why that should change the feel of the song for me.  Why does knowing a song is “Christian Rock” or sung by a “Christian” singer devalue it in my little atheist mind?  But it does.  Inexplicably.  There are sites I stay away from that have the infamous numbers colon numbers following some italicized text, songs that will peak my interest until I see the capitalized H in He and books that I will flat out not go near, especially if Kirk Cameron has anything to do with them (I don’t think I’m alone in that one, thought.)  And I wonder if I’m missing out by limiting myself this way.

There was a time when this wasn’t so.  In my youth, when I was going through my questioning phase where I asked, “What if?” though it always preceded, “Eh, still don’t buy it” (I sort of started out agnostic, dabbled in belief and then went full-blown atheist) one of my favorite books was the Darkness series by Frank E. Peretti.  I LOVED these books of angels versus demons, light battling dark and the sacrifice of Christ painting it all in his blood.  It never bothered me then, so why does it now?  A few years back a wonderful book series by Robert Liparulo was recommended to me, but it came with the warning, “It gets a little Jesusy, though.”  I enjoyed the books, but it did taint my opinion when the Christian message started to bleed through like Sharpie on rice paper.

As an atheist, I’ve somehow surrounded myself with Christians.  My best friends all proclaim their love of Jesus and it doesn’t affect my opinion of them, so why should it my interests in music and books?  Why limit myself because I don’t believe in the message.  I still read mythology and fairy tales and to me, it’s no different.  I don’t really know the answer.  I guess I’ll just leave it to my friends and Mumford & Sons to change my mind, one song at a time.

Why Disney Still Works

Posted: July 19, 2013 by kmriad in The Girl, Uncategorized

I had an interesting childhood.  Instead of being a child of the early 80s, it seemed as though I grew up in some sort of PleasantvilleLeave It to Beaver throwback time with a rather traditional Italian Catholic father who lorded over what affected and influenced his daughter like the all-encompassing eye of Big Brother.  That included what was and was not allowed on our old cabinet-embedded tube T.V.  Cartoons and musicals were allowed; everything else was not.

But then as I entered my third and fourth year, mastering the human language way too early according to my mother, my parents realized that some of the musicals I watched might not be appropriate.  I would sing “Sodomy” from HAIR not knowing at all what the words meant, but thinking that pretty blonde boy had a nice voice.

What’s Pederasty?

But it was after I walked around in my little pigtails, perfectly annunciating, “Keep your filthy paws off my silky draw’s” that my parents had to then censor the musicals.  All that was left was Disney.

The chicks will what??

 

This engrained in my heart a special place for all things Disney.  I watched The Dumbo Show and Disney music videos while I  swallowed down my Cream of Wheat before school every morning.  Disney’s movies ran on repeat.  I grew up thinking one day I would be like one of those Disney princesses, singing through a magical forest of friendly little woodland creatures and flittering blue birds.

I confess all of this because us Hands were discussing writing about movies we love that everyone hates and that made me think of T.V.’s shows of the same.  Yes, I am a thirty-six year old woman who loves to watch Disney’s Austin & Ally, but here’s why.  This is why Disney has always worked for me: I love that each episode wraps up so easily at the end.  There’s no Lost-esque mystery and wonder at the end.  It’s wholesome and, yes, cheesy, but ultimately it’s a break from the realities that replace our castles and Prince Charmings.  It’s an escape from the dreary world in the most extreme way possible with fun music and dance numbers, outrageous escapades and zany misadventures, complete with requisite Canadian comedian actor (just ignore them after they grow up and leave the Magical Kingdom to “twerk” all over You Tube.)

No songs about Sodomy here!

There’s not much depth and that’s great.  That’s what T.V. is sometimes supposed to be–entertainment; good old-fashion, unapologetic entertainment with a poppy song and a happily ever after.

Non-horror hounds often asked what is the “scariest” horror film I’ve ever seen. It’s a fair question, seeing as how most horror directors do intend to scare their audiences, but the question limits the possibilities of truly good and interesting horror. Although I rarely take the time to explore this issue with inquisitors, instead naming a few horror films that freaked my stuff out (Alien, Rosemary’s Baby, High Tension, the original Night of the Living Dead), my list of favorite horror films would include several titles that wouldn’t be considered “scary”. Often, the best horror does not seek to frighten as much as it seeks to recognize and respond to the grotesque – those unpleasant and unsavory forces in nature and society and spirit most folks prefer to avoid.

american-mary-poster

American Mary is such a film. Nothing about American Mary is “scary” per se, but it is twisted and disturbingly sensual. However, far more important than any of these descriptive effects, American Mary is expertly told and masterfully acted, making it the rare horror film that places more emphasis on storytelling than overused genre tenets.

Broke and bored with med school, Mary (Katherine Isabelle, from Ginger Snaps) follows a Craigslist type ad in search of quick cash, a decision that directly rabbit holes Mary into the body modification subculture. The symbiotic relationship between Mary and her clients is almost too perfect – Mary needs money while certain extremely rich women want questionable cosmetic procedures. The women from the body mod community trust Mary because she’s young and attractive, feeling like she might understand their desire to surgically lock their beauty against the strains of time. Mary admittedly does not understand her clients’ impulses until her beauty inspires the source of her pain. At which point, Mary not only exceeds as a celebrity within the community, she also finds vengeful pleasure in practicing her new surgical interests.

I should mention at this point that American Mary‘s directors are sisters, the “Twisted Twins”, Jen and Sylvian Soska. Usually, a director’s gender would hold little to no relevance regarding their film, but, in this case, I found the storyteller’s voice as captivating as the story itself. In no way could anyone suggest that these female filmmakers shied away from the inevitable gore and brutality of Mary’s story, or even from the sensuality of certain characters. Still, I was fascinated by the directors’ visual restraint in a few key scenes, particularly in an early violent scene pitching a male instructor against Mary, favoring instead the emotional impact of Mary’s own personal and internal modifications. The Soska sisters, who make an appearance as twin clients seeking a bizarre form of physical connection, reveal in their direction a keen eye for exploring a character’s inward shifts and motivations. For instance, after her attack and her departure from med school, Mary’s physical beauty and sexuality becomes most evident in her more monstrous moments. The Soska sisters seem to suggest through Mary that misogynist acts have the potential to restructure the core trajectory of a woman’s life as well as her self-image.

Of course I enjoy a horror film with good scares, but what I love most in films – from any genre – are well-told stories with good characters played by strong actors. With this criteria, I give American Mary 3.5 Betty Boop facials out of 5. The Soska sisters are still young, and the film, not surprisingly, feels a bit sophomoric at times. Regardless, at its heart, American Mary is as pure and honest as a grotesque film be.

I think we can all agree here on two sobering truths:

  1. Jen Kirkman’s “Drunk History” retelling of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln’s friendship is one of the YouTube’s finest moments, as well as one of YouTube’s most solid defenses for existence;
  2. regardless, it’s tough to make a workable show from a premise that involves keeping the main star from puking on a cat, as happens in this first full episode of “Drunk History”.

No matter who the celebrity star or what the poison of the drunk storyteller, every audience will weigh every “Drunk History” skit to Jen Kirkman’s Douglass-Lincoln bit. That moment was just a rare gem amongst literal drunken stupors.

Regardless (again), I watched the first episode of the new “Drunk History” show on Comedy Central and I can only apologize to myself for watching it sober. The joke wore thin even before the opening credits ended. Still (kinda like a third regardless), I got a good laugh out of the first drunk storyteller angrily telling the camera crew they have no ambition because they refuse to eat cookies with him. The final bit – starting at 15:15 – about Elvis Presley (Jack Black) meeting Richard Nixon (Bob Odenkirk) was pretty great – mainly because that final guy was such a smooth drunk. He didn’t seem to be over playing it. The absinthe strapped him a fake baritone voice and he failed miserably at his jive turkey approach to deliver all the wrong details. Job could’ve used a guy like that to sit in the ashes and drink with for week or more.

The second episode of Drunk History airs tonight on Comedy Central. More than likely, just as I do with loads of shows I claim to not like (“Inside Amy Schumer” comes immediately to mind), I’ll still end up watching half a dozen episodes and then hating myself for it immediately. Why didn’t I just watch Metalocalypse instead?! More “Drunk History” to come!

Books 13-18 out of 52 in 2013

Posted: July 16, 2013 by Kiki Malone in Uncategorized

Posted this on my Kiki Mornings site. This is possibly the most self-indulgent thing I’ve inflicted upon the internet since the last time I typed my own name into Google (last week). I’m interested in what you Hands might think of the idea of “watching books” as stated in my inclusion below of House Of Cards to my Books of 2013 list. Also, I glad to know there’s some mad shared love for Roald Dahl between the Hands. Aren’t we all reading loads of YA this summer?

For The Most Kiki In The Morning

(Check the 28 Books of 2013 link above for scores to each title. Sorry I did not include them below. I don’t know what’s lamer: that I’m posting a list of the books I’m reading or that I’m too lazy to retype the scores from one list to the other. Enjoy. Read on.)

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13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – I previously posted a dual review of Fitzgerald’s book and Lurhmann’s new film. The New Yorker will be publishing this review, but most likely in a posthumous fashion, after my brilliance has become more widely evident.

14. Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon – Also mentioned this title in my 13 Books of Summer recommendation list, which I have been lazy to follow myself. Advice is a pill best slipped in peanut butter and fed to the dog beneath the table.

15. Friday the…

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