Sunday, May 17, 2015

Fangirling didn't make this worth it

I'm a pretty focused fan of Faith No More, Mr. Bungle, Imperial Teen, and pretty much anything that any member of FNM has ever worked on. This is a medium-defying interest that I have, and recently crossed over from a fixation with music to a foray into mid '00s indie flicks.

Firecracker is a movie about one spectacularly fucked-up family interacting with a spectacularly fucked-up carnival. Everything is miserable, no one is happy, and pretty much nothing in the film makes sense. Which is SO frustrating because I wanted to adore this film. I wanted it to be good so that I could happily re-watch it on a biannual basis and re-confirm my admiration for Mike Patton, who happens to play two roles in the movie. That's not going to work out, apparently, because the movie sucks and I'm not sure anything could save it.

Well, maybe some pretty heavy editing could save it. The movie has some big goddamned problems but one of the biggest issues is the abruptness that pervades it - we go from seeing a kindly older brother giving his kid brother some cash for the carnival to seeing the same older brother fly off the handle and reduce his younger brother to tears in about ten minutes. There's no illustration of a history of abuse, there's no tension demonstrated, you're just suddenly expected to fear the nice dude who let his brother go to the carnival because he's suddenly supposed to be a believable and intimidating monster with no context. The kid brother falls in love with a carnival performer based on watching her sing one song and talking to her for two minutes - there's no exchange of charged eye-contact or building of attraction or attention, you're just supposed to accept that after five minutes of contact this kid is willing to give up his life to follow a sideshow performer who happens to look exactly like his abuse-enabling mom.

After some very bad and very unbelievable things have happened, a lady shaman who lives under a tree full of bottles comes to town because the earth is screaming in sympathy with a hidden body. The previous sentence may seem like it comes out of fucking nowhere, but the lady shaman who tears at the dirt and knows all that passes on her land was given about that amount of introduction in the actual film. One second you're dealing with a bizarre family and a more-bizarre carnival and that's e-fucking-nough, then BAM! Lady shaman. Why the hell not?

So maybe some editing could have helped things out a bit. Maybe a director who was a bit more restrained, maybe a bigger budget and better actors. Karen Black was actually shockingly fantastic for most of the movie (hamming it right the hell up and appearing to enjoy it) but Jak Kendall and Mike Patton were, unfortunately, just not very good. Patton was okay as David, the abusive older brother, but was terrible and kept hitting sour notes as Frank, the abusive carnival owner. Kendall was just a really inexperienced actor who didn't appear to understand human emotions and had never heard the world "subtlety." In most of his scenes Kendall is reduced to screwing up his face and shaking his shoulders in an unconvincing display of crying. Though, again, I'm not sure how much Kendall should be blamed for it because if a character ends up fake-crying in 4/5ths of their scenes you probably need to fire the writer who wrote the character, not the actor playing the character.

The opening shot of the film is great, though. A long run through a silent, black and white, town textured with a muted worry of shouts and wind ends at the gaping black door of a shed, from which emerges a horror-stricken woman. That's a great way to get started - it's interesting, it's clear, it's intriguing, and it's then unfortunately followed up with two hours of celluloid that are none of those things.

     - Alli

Sex positivity Victorian style

Jude the Obscure is a book about how everything sucks when people can't fuck the people they want to fuck. Now, considering that they're first cousins there may be some issues of biology when it comes to Sue and Jude "knowing" one another, but I can't help but think if they're consenting adults there's no problem with them doing the horizontal bop.

But I'm not someone who was raised during the Victorian era. Apparently everyone who was born and raised under the rule of the great Regina was of the opinion that divorces were just the worst shit ever, and boning when you weren't married to the partner of your pants-games meant that everyone basically expected your children to murder one another.

I'm not going to lie, I didn't get this book. I mean, I understood what was happening and the social/political context of the novel, but it was really hard to relate to people in a culture so constrained that they basically accepted that they could never be happy.

I did appreciate a lot of the commentary about education and its availability, though. Jude's lifelong attempts to define what he wanted to learn and figure out how to go about doing it are difficult to read and easy to understand as a member of a generation that's suffocating under school debt and essentially told that we can't have careers unless we commit to taking a financial hit that could otherwise purchase a home. That Jude's family and relationships get dragged into the mess of his education and thwarted hopes seems to be just a bridge too far to me: Jude is too frustrated, too few things go right in his life, too much stuff gets fucked up, and Hardy becomes as ridiculous as Dickens in the misery that he imposes on his characters.

Jude the Obscure isn't a bad book, it's just a book that's hard to approach from all the angles it offers and is even HARDER to approach after a century of significant social changes. I want to be sympathetic, I want to understand the plights of the characters, but maybe it speaks well of the book that I can't - maybe fiction made an impact on society and society is better precisely because stories like Jude's were written and discussed by the people who had the power to change things.

Fuck if I know, though. I'm not sure I would read this again, but I'd be willing to read more Hardy if I came across it.

     - Alli

Hardy, Thomas. Jude the Obscure. Bantam Classics. New York: New York. 1989. (1896).

It seems a bit stodgy in here

Howards End is a book that is very concerned with the question of What Really Matters - is it Art? Interpersonal Relationships? Productive Ability? History? In a lot of ways the novel is a precursor to The Great Gatsby - it examines the way that flighty socialites in entrenched classes can just absolutely wreck shit for people with less money and free time than they have. And I think that's really how the novel answers the question of What Really Matters - it's not shitting on everyone below you. That's what's important to Forster, not shitting on the poor, the middle class, women who get pregnant out of wedlock, porters, and basically anyone who doesn't own five country houses.

But, for all that it's a very egalitarian novel, the book is stuffy as all get out. It seems like it was written to be read only by the people it was criticizing - which is a good strategy for getting your message out but maybe a bad strategy for readability.

I had trouble liking anyone in the novel except for maybe Tibby, though Helen and Margaret became completely awesome at the very tail end of the novel. The entire Wilcox family is reprehensible, and I know I'm supposed to dislike them, but they seemed to have NO redeeming qualities and Margaret getting entangled with them made me like Margaret less.

Howards End is a fine book but frustrating to read at times and almost incomprehensibly bound up in turn-of-the-century English social ideals. I feel like there's a lot of subtlety that I missed by being a century removed from the story, and maybe I would have gotten more out of it if I had a better knack for picking up social understatement. As it is I'm happy I read it but I'll probably never read it again. Well, maybe just the bits with Tibby in them.

     - Alli

Forster, E.M., Howards End. Signet Publishing. New York: New York. 1992.(1910).

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Funny, freaky, and fast.

I'm a fan of Tom Reimann's articles on Cracked.Com so I decided to pick up a copy of his novel, Stitches. I've found a few authors who I quite like through Cracked and Reimann is no exception - this book was vastly entertaining and an easy, fun read for an afternoon.

It's a story about two people who don't know one of their friends very well, largely because they've got some pretty significant problems of their own. The dynamic between the three broken, damaged people is very interesting and I like the story itself, but I'm not sure how well I like the way it's put together. Stitches is apparently Reimann's first novel (at least it's the only novel listed under his name at Amazon) and it's a bit clumsy. There's nothing really bad about the book (unless you think comically over-the-top violence in books is bad), but the characters are a little unbelievable in their reactions to the world around them.

There is a lot that's funny, sweet, and dark going on in the book. While everything feels a little rushed nothing feels wrong that isn't supposed to feel wrong and it's very easy to get invested in the people and actions presented. I wanted to know more about these people, the town they live in, and the bizarre little history they're experiencing, and I guess that's really all that was missing or felt clunky to me - there was a lot of room for more detail to be filled in that might have made the story feel more natural, but we weren't given a lot to work with beyond the very basic facts of the plot.

Again, I'd hesitate to call this a bad novel, and I'm not really sure that I can call it a good novel, but it was something that I had a lot of fun reading and would recommend to a very particular subset of readers. If you're into Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, you'll probably like this book. If you like the more absurd and hilarious episodes of Dexter, you'll probably like this book. If you like violent, funny, sympathetic psychos, this is a book for you.

AND - most importantly - I wouldn't hesitate for a second to read another Reimann novel; everything that is a little off about this book wasn't enough to put me off of the author and could easily be fixed by a little more experience. 

     - Alli

Reimann, Tom. Stitches. Amazon Publishing. Seattle: Washington. 2012.

I'd like revenge for having read this.

There's a particular kind of lazy and greedy that I find spectacularly disgusting, and it's the kind of lazy and greedy that produced Revenge: The secret origins of Emily Thorne.

When my sister was critical of the art in this Revenge comic last month I wanted to read the book and defend it: "oh no," I wanted to say, "the art is fine, you're just not all that comic-literate, read these books and then we'll talk about cool comic book art!" Well, shame on me for my plotting, scheming, and presuppositions - the art in this comic book is shit.

The story is shit too - as someone who has never seen Revenge on TV this comic makes me think that the show is probably pretty terrible. If the story is this bad all the time I'm not missing anything and maybe some writers should get fired. But then again maybe this book was just a cheap money grab that was made to try to tempt the Revenge viewing audience into becoming comic consumers and making the producers even MORE money, and was put together as quickly, cheaply, and shittily as possible. (Hint: I'm guessing the second scenario there is more likely than a popular TV show being this bad).

I actually don't know what part to attack first - the characters had no personality on either the written or visual side, there's no interesting background given to either the panels or the plot, and everything feels amateurish and predictable.

The art was bad enough that it was hard to tell what was going on because it was largely sketchily-done figures with no distinguishing features against a blank gradient of a background. I think there was one panel in the entire book where the main character (Emily? Or Amanda? Which was the name she took from the friend she killed in prison? Did she kill the friend or just steal the name? I don't know and can't bring myself to care) actually looked like Emily VanCamp - which is startling because VanCamp has a very distinctive face that should be easy to render with practice, so long as you aren't trying to put together a comic book out of the torn-out sketchbook pages of your penciller.

The lettering was acceptable.

And seriously I don't know who to blame for the writing here. It's awful. I don't know anything about the show but now I know that Amandily is a petulant, whining brat who also happens to be an idiot. Knowing that this is the background of the character makes her less interesting and makes the story less plausible.

The comic was reprehensible, and a waste of time. I wish I hadn't read it because it honestly wasn't even decent enough or consistent enough to serve as a good "what not to do" guide. It was pure time wasting with no joy. Fuck this book.


Fuck, I can't even properly cite this piece of shit because too many people are responsible for this festering mess, so here's the information on the title page:

Story: Ted Sullivan
Script: Erica Schultz
Artist/Colorist, Page 1-43 and 85-88: Vincenzo Balzano
Artist, Page 44-84: Felix Ruiz
Inker, Page 79-84: Scott Hanna
Colorist, Page 44-84: Esther Sanz
Letterer: VC's Cory Petit
Editor: Emily Shaw
Cover Art: Dustin Nguyen
Collection Editor: Jennifer Grunwald
Assistant Editor: Sarah Brunstad
Associate Managing Editor: Alex Starbuck
Editor, Special Projects: Mark D. Beazley
Senior Editor, Special Projects: Jeff Youngquist
SVP Print, Sales, & Marketing: David Gabriel
Book Design: Jeff Powell
Editor in Chief: Axel Alonso
Chief Creative Officer: Joe Quesada
Publisher: Dan Buckley
Executive Producer: Alan Fine
^^^^^^^^ That is A LOT of people who could have ameliorated the terribleness of this book.
Revenge: The secret origin of Emily Thorne. Marvel Worldwide Inc. New York: New York. 2014.