Monday, December 19, 2011

The Christmas Blues (And a Time-Traveling Fridge)

1991, the Thursday evening before Christmas vacation is due to begin. Emily sits at the kitchen table for her after school snack while in the other room a piano student bangs out "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" in what she will one day realize is a hilarious reference to that scene in It's a Wonderful Life. But not yet, as she is only nine and won't be seeing it for a few years more. Instead, as she feasts away on a selection of homemade cookies, she does some holiday-themed coloring, wondering if Santa will bring the right American Girl doll (Molly, not Samantha) and if she should maybe check that place Mom always hides the presents to find out. So absorbed in these seasonal concerns is she that she doesn't notice the refrigerator begin to rattle and emit a strange blue glow.

When the rattling and the glow have subsided, the door opens, and an older (though under thirty so not old) version of Emily climbs out.

"David Tennant makes that look so easy," she says, dusting spilled baking soda off her sleeve.

Younger Emily stops coloring and looks up at Older Emily in amazement, while Older Emily takes in the pigtail braids, green leggings, and garish holiday sweatshirt her past self is wearing and cringes.

"I'm not here to give out fashion advice, but next time those," she says and points to the leggings, "come into style, skip it."

Younger Emily just frowns as Older Emily takes a seat at the table and snatches a gingerbread man.

"Anyway, I'm you from the future," Older Emily says.

"No duh," Younger Emily says. "You still haven't fixed your teeth. How did you get here? A Christmas miracle?"

"No, the milk's gone off," Older Emily says, cocking her head at the refrigerator. "I've come back to explain something to you."

"Is this about Santa Claus?" Younger Emily asks. "Because Preston says he's not real, but I--"

"Nah, you'll find that out on your own about two weeks from now," Older Emily says. "Remember that thing you heard on the radio earlier about Christmastime having higher suicide rates than any other time of the year?"

"Yeah," Younger Emily says, rolling her eyes as if to say, of course I remember.

"And it made you wonder how anyone could possibly be unhappy at Christmas," Older Emily continues. Younger Emily nods her head fervently, always eager to learn something.

"Yeah, I mean, how can you not love Christmas?" Younger Emily says. "It's the--"

"Don't say 'most wonderful time of the year,'" Older Emily interrupts.

"I was going to say 'best holiday ever,'" Younger Emily peevishly replies. "So why would you not be happy?"

"Well, what do you think is so great about Christmas?" Older Emily asked, feeling rather pleased at herself for her use of the Socratic method.

"Everything!" Younger Emily exclaims. "The presents and the cookies and the songs and Jesus and family and..."

"A partridge in a pear tree," Older Emily mocks. "You do realize that half the stuff that you think makes Christmas great is all just an idealized version of Christmas no one could possibly meet that's been constructed by the culture industry to get you to buy more crap, all in support of the global capitalist system, don't you?"

Younger Emily blinks.

"And that's bad why?" she asks. Older Emily sighs, remembering that she hasn't heard of Karl Marx yet.

"It just is, okay?" she says. Younger Emily nods.

"Okay, but what about all the non-commercial stuff, like spending time with your family?" she counters.

"And if they're a bunch of assholes?" Older Emily says. Younger Emily gasps.

"You swore!" she says.

"Get used to it," Older Emily says. "Look, family isn't constant. People die, or they get divorced, or they start their own families they'd rather spend time with. And, let's face it, Christmas is catered toward kids. It may be fun now, but at some point, your family's going to decide you're an adult, and then nobody will care whether or not you're having a good holiday."

"Jerks," Younger Emily mumbles with a frown.

"Don't I know it," Older Emily says.

"But there's still Jesus," Younger Emily says. "I mean, He is the reason for the season."

"Er...." Older Emily says, shifting uncomfortably.

"Why do you use 'er' and not 'uh'?" Younger Emily asks.

"Huh? Oh, I guess I picked it up from Harry Potter," Older Emily explains, glad to have dodged the religion question.

"Is he your boyfriend?" Younger Emily asks.

"Yes... Yes he is," Older Emily lies, unwilling to reveal that she has no life.

"Cool," Younger Emily says. "But anyway, people care more about their fellow man--"

"And woman," Older Emily corrects.

"More at Christmas. Isn't that good?" Younger Emily asks.

"Yeah, but people need help all year. Isn't it hypocritical to only give once a year?" Older Emily counters.

"Better than nothing," Younger Emily retorts. Older Emily seems at a loss for words, and so takes a bite of gingerbread man and nearly chips her tooth.

"Ow! Dammit, Mom, learn to bake!" she says.

"So Christmas is good," Younger Emily says, ignoring the second swear. "And people should be happy."

Older Emily looks at her younger self and sighs.

"Look, you won't understand yet," she says. "You can't. One day, because of various life events and changes in perspective, Christmas won't be what it once was. And that will make you sad. But right now, Christmas is what it once was, and that's what makes it so awesome. Does that make any sense?"

"No, not really," Younger Emily answers.

"Oh, well," Older Emily says. "Probably better that way. Wouldn't want to put a damper on that pony you get next year."

Younger Emily's face lights up in amazement.

"Really?" she says.

"No," Older Emily says. Younger Emily's face falls as the refrigerator rattles and begins to emit a blue light again.

"That's my cue to leave," Older Emily says, rising from the table. "I've got to go stop my teenage self from watching Pride and Prejudice. That's one fetish I don't need right now."

And so she enters the fridge without a goodbye, leaving Younger Emily wondering what a fetish is.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Vampire Movie Guide

Some film critics have compared the cinema to a vampire. A series of still images brought to life through the mechanical movement of the projector in an uncanny simulation of life much like... the undead. Maybe that's why there are so many vampire movies.

You may be wondering with so many out there where you should start. Don't worry, I've seen a lot of vampire movies and have ranked them for you. And no, I'm not claiming to have seen every vampire movie ever made, or even all the good ones. If there's one in particular you'd like to recommend, feel free to leave a comment.

Unless you're recommending that certain one (Or five. Seriously, two parts?? Really???) that I absolutely refuse to watch. And I'm not talking about Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr.

1) Nosferatu, 1922, F. W. Murnau
Even though the names were changed to protect the copyright infringed, this silent classic, the first screen adaptation of Dracula is still the best vampire movie I've ever seen. Maybe it's just that silent films really creep me out (Ah! The uncanny!), or maybe it's that the production values don't seem as crappy as most old movies (despite the obvious day for night exterior sequences that are an obvious problem for vampires). Whatever it is, Max Schreck should give anyone nightmares.

2) Interview with the Vampire, 1994, Neil Jordan
Now, some of you might think this a travesty that a rather flashy adaptation of the beloved Anne Rice novel beat out the likes of Werner Herzog, or perhaps some of you can't stomach the idea of Tom Cruise befouling your precious Lestat? But remember, kids, this was when he was just a little crazy, and, to be honest, I thought he was dead-on as everyone's favorite Brat Prince. All in all, I thought this was well-done. Ok, so they did try to distance Brad Pitt's Louis from the book's homoeroticism a bit. Fair point. But Kirsten Dunst is excellent as Claudia. And I love the ending, different though it is from the book, though really, not out of character....

3) Dracula, 1931, Tod Browning
Though Nosferatu came first, Tod Browning's Dracula is the ur-text of all vampire movies, and arguably horror movies in general. In fact, so many other films have copied, parodied, or otherwise referenced it, that, if you haven't actually seen it already, you'll feel like you have anyway. Hugely popular--and controversial--in its day, Dracula remains a classic despite its staginess, its sometimes creaky production, and its out dated use of sound. This version of Dracula is one of the most clever uses of Stoker's novel, for it modernizes the story and allows the Count social interactions with his victims, thus making his threat all the more tangible. And then, of course, there is Bela Lugosi's performance--as the foreign yet intriguingly sophisticated vampire--that made Dracula a household name. Lugosi's Dracula is perhaps the most memorable character in film, if not pop culture in general. Face it, it's not Frank Langella kids impersonate on the playground.

4) Shadow of the Vampire, 2000, E. Elias Merhige
A very dark comedy that imagines Murnau hired a real vampire to play the part of Count Orlock. Probably best appreciated if you have a dry, twisted sense of humor. Wilhem Dafoe's performance really makes the film.

5) Let the Right One In, 2008, Tomas Alfredson
A cute little movie about a depressed Swedish boy who befriends a young, depressed vampire girl. Surprisingly (for a Swedish movie), it's not very depressing at all, and rather sweet and heart-warming. Well, for a Swedish vampire movie, anyway.

6) The Lost Boys, 1987, Joel Schumacher
A classic piece of 80s camp with not one, but two Coreys! Sure, it's not very scary if you're over the age of, say, eight, but it's hilarious. Don't take it too seriously, and you will have yourself a good time.

7) Horror of Dracula, 1958, Terence Fisher
The first of Hammer Studio's Dracula movies. Although there are a lot of major changes from the book (Mina is Arthur's wife? And Jonathan isn't a total pussy??), it does a pretty good job of staying true to the essence of Stoker's work. And there are a lot of little touches that remind one of the novel, the play, and Nosferatu as well. Although the film's low budget Technicolor production might seem a little dated and campy, the story's fairly engaging, and Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing are excellent as the Count and Van Helsing.

8) Nosferatu: Phatom der Nacht, 1979, Werner Herzog
Ok, the credit sequence is probably one of the creepiest things I've every seen on film. And there are some really excellent visuals. Klaus Kinski isn't nearly as disgusting as Max Schreck (though those fingernails some close--bleh!), but this is still a good film, in it's arty German way.

9) Queen of the Damned, 2001, Michael Rymer
Film critics and hard-core Anne Rice fans panned this adaptation, but it really wasn't that bad, even though they did try to squeeze two books together. Ok, sure, I had trouble with a Lestat who wasn't blond, and, yes, I did nearly lose it and throw things at the TV when they had Marius be Lestat's maker (WTF???? NO!!), but, if you're not familiar with The Vampire Chronicles and haven't seen Interview, you'd probably enjoy it, if the film's slick style doesn't bother you.

10) Underworld, 2003, Len Wiseman
Not too bad. It has all your basic action movie stuff. And the concept was interesting. But I felt I was missing something. Was this a comic book that got made into a movie? I wasn't sure, and if it was, I know I shouldn't have felt that way. I mean, I've never read X-Men comics, but I could still figure out the rules. But here, I was lost.

11) Bram Stoker's Dracula, 1992, Francis Ford Coppola
Further proof that somebody needed to retire after Appocalypse Now. First, let's talk about this as an adaptation. I like to say that this is both the best and worst adaptatioon of the novel. For one thing, of all the Dracula movies, this one gets the most details right. However, it also overly romaticizes the Count, which I'm sure would probably give Stoker fits if he knew about it*. Now let's talk about the acting. I thought Anthony Hopkins made a good Van Helsing (unlike #19), and, despite the weird hair thing, Sirius Black--um, I mean, Gary Oldman does a decent impression of Bella Lugosi as Dracula. But I'm not sure how I feel about Winona Ryder's *ahem* "lovely" English accent, and, dude, casting Keanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker was, like, a totally gnarly bummer, dude. (FYI, if you've heard intellectual big-shots like Thomas Elsaesser call this movie "the end of cinema" or something like that, they're not talking about it being crappy.)

12) Dracula Has Risen from the Grave, 1968, Freddie Francis
After being accidentally revived, Dracula decides to get revenge on the Monsignor who exorcized his castle by seducing his niece. It's up to her athiest boyfriend and a drunken priest to find the faith necessary to rescue her. In this film we can see the turn toward making vampire movies more explicitly sexy, and, while no one will ever claim this is a great film (the acting is particularly awful at times), it is one of the stronger entries in Hammer's Dracula franchise.

13) The Hunger, 1983, Tony Scott
Mmm... David Bowie as a vampire. Sexy!... But now he's really, really old? Ew! And Susan Sarandon is having sex with Catherine Deneuve? What the...? Though a long-time favorite of goths (OMG! Bauhaus!), this movie is f-ed up. Let's just say I now understand what all the film critics on my exam list were talking about when they bemoaned postmodernism's emphasis on style over substance.

14) Scars of Dracula, 1970, Roy Ward Baker
Once again, Dracula has been brought back from the dead, this time to terrorize a young couple spending the night at his castle. Notorious for having the worst effects of the whole franchise (seriously, that bat is the epitome of cheesy), it nonetheless has some redeeming qualities, such as giving Christopher Lee more to do with the character than bite necks and hiss at crucifixes (though he does plenty of that, too). It also stars Doctor Who's Patrick Troughton, who turns in an unusually (for Hammer) good performance as Dracula's morally conflicted manservant.

15) Dracula A.D. 1972, 1972, Alan Gibson
Hippies, tired of Alistair Crowley bogarting their joints (or something), resurrect Dracula, who seeks his revenge on Van Helsing via his nubile great-granddaughter. Bad, but not quite as bad as it sounds, thanks to Lee and Cushing providing their standard performances. All in all, a lot of silly fun.

16) Dracula's Daughter, 1936, Lambert Hillyer
Starting immediately where the 1931 Dracula left off, with the Count having just been staked, this sequel follows his daughter, a painter, as she tries so hard to avoid the curse which plagues her family: vampirism. Though nowhere near as overt as theThe Vampire Lovers and other such contemporary vampire films, Dracula's Daughter is notable for its lesbian overtones. And... that's it. Seriously, it's a snooze-fest.

17) Dracula Dead and Loving It, 1995, Mel Brooks
Not exactly classic Mel Brooks. But it's still funny, especially if you hated Coppola's version. It's one redeeming quality is that it openly mocks the sexual repression that is an undercurrent in Stoker's novel.

18) Taste the Blood of Dracula, 1970, Peter Sasdy
Three Victorian gentlemen, bored with prostiutes and opium, turn to black magic for their next thrill, but when they leave Dracula's servant for dead, the count takes his revenge by going after their daughters. Dracula AD 1972 was essentially a modern day remake of this story, but, surprisingly, was much better than this slow-paced entry to the Hammer Dracula franchise. Although I found Dracula's victims acting like groupies hilarious.

19) Van Helsing, 2004, Stephen Sommers
Worst piece of crap I have ever seen in the theater. Seriously, the only way to enjoy this reeking turd is to forget everything you know about Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, werewolf lore, and, I don't know, LOGIC MAYBE?? The only reason to watch this move is to perve on Hugh Jackman and/or Kate Beckinsale.

20) Lesbian Vampire Killers, 2009, Phil Claydon
Supposed to be a spoof of Hammer studio's lusty horror films, it's kind of a cross between the style of the Scary Movie franchise and Shaun of the Dead. I laughed once.

So there you have it. Any comments to the effect of "OMG U HAVN'T SEEN TWILIGHT IT IS TEH BEST MOVIE EVAR!!!!1" will result in instant death. Lestat, David Bowie, and adorably depressed Swedish kids know where you live, and they are hungry.



*Considering Bram Stoker envisioned John Irving, on whom he supposedly had a huge man-crush, playing Dracula, I may have to take that statement back.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Coming to Terms with Slytherin

A few weeks ago, I finally got early access to Pottermore. I was so excited to be able to read exclusive content from JKR, get my wand, and, most importantly, be sorted into my House. Which, of course, would be Ravenclaw. Ever since I first picked up Sorcerer's Stone, I knew I belonged with the blue and bronze. I mean, it is the House for the clever people, and haven't people always been telling me how smart I am? It seemed a rather obvious fit.

So imagine my shock and dismay when I got sorted into Slytherin.

I spent a good portion of the evening telling myself "at least it's not Hufflepuff," but I finally lost my cool and nearly shouted "It's not right! I should be in Ravenclaw, not Slytherin! I'm smart, damn it! And everyone should know that!"

Ah. Hm, maybe the Sorting didn't go as awry as I thought.

Anyway, it's not like there weren't other hints that I might be more inclined toward good ol' Salazar's house. My wand, which, according to Olivander's notes, says that people can expect great things from me, for one thing. Scoring the same as Snape on this fun little Harry Potter-based personality test, for another. And, to be honest, it was kind of my second choice anyway. Gryffindors always seemed just a little too cool in my opinion and Hufflepuffs are too, well, Hufflepuff. So if you can't be the cleverest, you might as well be the evilest*.

And that's another thing. Thanks to Harry, we tend to stigmatize Slytherins as evil power-hungry racist psychos. But that's not a completely accurate picture. Merlin was a Slytherin, after all, although I have trouble understanding how that fits in with when the Arthurian legends should have taken place. (I also suspect that the other three houses also claim this.) We'll get to Snape later, but Professor Slughorn was an okay guy, and Regulus Black turned out to be a good guy in the end. (Plus he was nice to House Elves!) And sure, the Malfoys aren't exactly nice people, but would you really call them evil? Sure, some of the foulest characters in the books--Voldemort, Bellatrix, probably Umbridge--came out of Slytherin. All that proves is that Slytherins are fallible just like any other human beings. If you think the other Houses are perfect I've got two words for you: Peter Pettigrew.

Besides, for us Muggles who had to grow up in the real world, a House Sorting doesn't effect who you are or who you'll become. It just shows you an aspect of yourself. Example: Four Hogwarts students, one from each House, decide for some reason to go to college and get Muggle jobs. (Just go with it.) They all love to read and so they study English, and all graduate with honors. Rob the Ravenclaw becomes a librarian so he can be around books all day and have their knowledge at his fingertips. Hank the Hufflepuff, however, becomes a high school English teacher so he can give others the chance to love books as much as he does. Greta the Gryffindor sets out to write the Great Wizarding Novel. Sally the Slytherin also wants to see her name on a dust jacket but wants something with a little more job security, too, so she becomes a college professor and publishes academically. (And never misses an opportunity to criticize Greta's books. Hey, old rivalries die hard.) All four students have the same interests and abilities, but the differences between them is in their ambitions, attitudes, and approaches to life.

Being in a certain House doesn't suddenly redefine us, nor is it all we are. It's just the most dominant part of our personality when we take the Sorting test. I think we're all a little bit of every House, really. Just look at Snape. We know he's a Slytherin, and yet he could have fit very well into the other Houses. Inventing all those spells as a teenager: Ravenclaw. Spying on Voldemort: Gryffindor. Loving Lily all those years despite her hooking up with the guy who used to pick on him: Hufflepuff. That's why Snape is considered by many to be the most well-written character--he has a fully rounded personality. So, as real people, we're far more complex that just the few traits that define one Hogwarts House.

So, after working through all that, am I now proud to be a Slytherin?

You bet!

Am I going to throw away all my Ravenclaw merchandise or my Hermione costume? (I own nothing Hufflepuff.)

No way!









*It's more fun.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Banned Books Week

The ALA's Banned Books Week is, sadly, here once again. Banning books is an attempt to prevent people from gaining knowledge, and, as such, deeply undercuts some of the core values of a free society.

To raise awareness this year, the American Library Association is hosting a Virtual Read-Out all this week. Particiapants can record and submit a two minute video of themselves reading from a banned book. For more information, check out their website, and to watch videos, you can go to their YouTube channel.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Camp NaNoWriMo

I hit that part of my novel where I just didn't want to go on any more, but, at 50,199 words, I've made it.



I should probably go finish that last chapter now.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

30 Days, 30--No, 40--Horror Movies

Yet another one of those opportunities to clog up one's friends' Facebook feeds with movie trailers is going around. Since this one's about horror movies, I thought it would make a nice warm-up for Camp NaNoWriMo next month. (I'm working on a YA gothic novel.) This was actually kind of fun because I really had to think hard to remember which horror movies I've seen, since it would probably be cheating to list Dracula Has Risen from the Grave 40 times. I never really noticed how much of my experience with horror is vampire-related.

1. Your First Horror Movie
I’m not sure. When I was a kid, my best friend’s mom loved horror movies, so we’d always end up watching scary stuff whenever I went over to her house. One really horrible one I remember was called The People Under the Stairs, I think.

2. The Last Horror Movie You Saw in the Theater
The 40th anniversary print of Alien. I’d seen it on TV, but I was still chewing my nails in terror.

3. Favorite Classic Horror Movie
Actually, my real favorite classics are mentioned elsewhere, so I’ll say the silent version of The Phantom of the Opera, specifically for it’s nightmare-inducing two-strip Technicolor sequence.

4. A Horror Movie You Thought You'd Love and Didn't
The Hunger. Bowie is really good in it, but otherwise, it’s a lot of style over substance.

5. Favorite Horror Remake
Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht, Werner Herzog’s remake of the silent film. Most disgusting fingernails ever.

6. Favorite Vampire Movie
Funnily enough, the original Nosferatu. Doubly scary because it’s also an old silent film.

7. A Horror Movie You Think No One Has Seen
Decasia, which I know other people have seen (because I saw it with them), but which I suspect no one who isn’t a film student has seen.

8. Favorite Foreign Horror
Let the Right One In. It’s one of the very few cases where it’s actually appropriate to have emo vampires. I mean, they are Swedish, after all.

9. Favorite Super Natural [sic] Horror Movie
The Shining. There’s that one disturbing image from near the end of the film I will never, ever get out of my head. If you’ve seen it, you know which one I’m talking about.

10. Horror Movie Every One [sic] Loves But You Don't
Frankenstein, if by everyone you mean “film critics.” You know it’s going to be a bad adaptation when they list the author as “Mrs. Percy B. Shelley” in the opening credits.

11. Favorite Horror/Comedy [You know what, I'm just going to stop pointing out the grammatical errors and correct them.]
Young Frankenstein. That’s “Fronk-en-steen.” Not only is it hilarious, but it is the best of all the hundreds of adaptations of Mary Shelley’s novel.

12. Most Disturbing Horror Film
The original German Funny Games. In fact, if you do not find this film disturbing, you need serious help.

13. Favorite Zombie Movie
Shaun of the Dead. Every time I’ve seen it I get zombie-related nightmares, but I don’t care. It’s hilarious!

14. Favorite Indie Horror Movie
Indie horror? I don’t even know which—Oh! Shadow of the Vampire! That was an independent production, right?

15. Favorite Monster Movie
The original Gojira. I know we like to joke about the bad dubbing and guys in rubber suits, but the Japanese subtitled version is actually pretty good.

16. Horror Film With a Great Soundtrack
Suspiria, because it does exactly what a good horror movie soundtrack should do: make the film even scarier than it would be with just the image alone.

17. Favorite 80s Horror
The Lost Boys for it’s cheesetasticness. And, with both Coreys, it’s quintessentially 80s.

18. Favorite Horror Movie Filmed in Black and White
Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Technically more of a thriller or even a melodrama, but is Mrs. Danvers not the scariest female character ever?

19. Best Use of Gore
Videodrome, which uses gore to actually say something rather than just grossing the audience out.

20. Favorite Horror Character
Count Dracula, or, as he’s sometimes called in a non-copyright infringing* way, Count Orlock.

21. Best Horror Franchise
Forget franchise, how about cycle! I like the Hammer films of the late 50s-early 70s. Sure, they’re kind of camp, but they’re still a lot of fun. The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Mummy are the best, though the second Frankenstein film and many other Dracula ones aren’t too bad either.

22. Best Death Scene
Martin Balsam’s in Psycho. We all know what happens to Janet Leigh, but this death is even scarier because we don’t see it coming.

23. A Great Quote from a Horror Movie
Two from Todd Browing’s Dracula. The first the hilarious “I never drink… wine.” And of course, for the second, the classic, “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.”

24. Horror Movie Character That Describes You
I wouldn’t say “describes,” but I kind of identify with Carrie. I mean, what kid who’s ever been picked on hasn’t cheered just a little bit inside the minute she slams those gym doors closed at the prom?

25. Favorite Christmas/Holiday Horror Movie
The Wicker Man. Happy May Day, everyone! (What?? It’s a holiday!)

26. Horror Movie for a Chicken
The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s actually kind of boring.

27. Your Guilty Pleasure Horror Movie
Dracula A.D. 1972. Hammer camp + hippie exploitation = so bad it’s good? Well, almost.

28. Horror Film You'd Like to See Remade/Rebooted
Van Helsing, and not just because it was really awful. There’s a line in the novel where Van Helsing mentions that he’s been pursuing Dracula his whole life or something like that. I’d like to see movies with more interaction between them, and not like this crap, or the Hammer franchise where they had to keep coming up with more ridiculous ways of resurrecting Dracula. I’m thinking more like Dracula prequels, which would be great, because we need more vampires who aren’t a bunch of emo wusses.

29. Worst Horror Movie
Blair Witch 2, which my friend dragged me to see for her birthday. I don’t like horror movies that are more “Eww!” than “Aahh!”

30. Your Favorite All Time Horror Movie (Or One Of [Emoticon excised. Thank me later, humanity.] )
Most of my favorites are listed elsewhere, but this seems like a good place to mention The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sure, it’s not all that scary (unless you think a guy in fishnets is particularly frightening, but that’s your problem), but it’s got music! And you get to throw things!!

31. Favorite Horror Movie Theme Song
David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” and not the remix on Let’s Dance. Although, to be honest, I’ve never actually seen the remake of Cat People, so I don’t even know if it’s still a horror film.

32. A Movie That Scared You as a Child (Doesn't Have to be Horror)
The Dark Crystal. Creepy!! I’m 28 and still find it a little bit disturbing.

33. Favorite Slasher Movie
Silence of the Lambs. Does that actually count as a slasher movie? Oh, well, it’s a lot better than the average slasher movie anyway.

34. Horror Movie That Was Ruined by the Ending
Kracauer would say The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari because we now question the narrator's sanity and thus the film's anti-authoritarian message. But I don't know. Now, the cheesy overdone special effects at the end of the original version of The Omen--that's how ruining a movie with the ending is really done.

35. The Horror Film That Started Your Love for Horror
Interview with the Vampire. More accurately, it’s the book that got me into horror, but I read the book because my friend and I had been plotting for months to see the movie, so it still counts.

36. Favorite Contemporary Actor in a Horror Movie
Um, I haven’t seen that many contemporary horror movies, so I’ll go with Johnny Depp in Sleepy Hollow.

37. Best Special Effects in a Horror Movie
I don’t think special effects should be all that important to a horror movie. I mean, to be truly frightening, you need more than just convincing monsters or gore. So, even though I think it’s a horrible movie, I’ll say Bram Stoker’s Dracula, because it’s a celebration of cinematic technique. And it’s got some killer under-cranking.

38. Best CGI in a Horror Movie
I don’t even know if I’ve seen a horror movie that uses CGI. What about the little girl in The Ring? Was she CGI?

39. Horror Movie That Should Be Seen on the Big Screen
The Tingler. Unless, of course, they come out with some kind home media delivery system that will also send little shocks to your seat.

40. A Must See Movie for Every Horror Movie Lover
Peeping Tom, because it’s so metafilmic cinephiles will love it.


*Um, apparently the courts feel otherwise.

Friday, July 22, 2011

British Actor of the Month: Wizarding Edition

With the final Harry Potter movie released this month, I thought it appropriate to honor

Alan Rickman

Now, after a pause in which you’ve wiped that coffee or whatever you were drinking off your computer screen, I’m sure you expected me to suggest Daniel Radcliffe or Ralph Fiennes or gender bend to feature Emma Watson, let me explain.

To those outside the Potter fandom, Rickman is perhaps best known for playing bad guys. His first major part as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, which the AFI ranked at #46 on their 100 Heroes & Villains list, defined the role a generation of British actors would play in Hollywood cinema: clever, sophisticated villains. Rickman has continued to play bad guys in films like Sweeney Todd and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, in which he, as the snarky Sheriff of Nottingham, steals the movie from Kevin Costner's rather lame Robin Hood.

Of course, Rickman doesn't always play the bad guy. Thanks to that rich, velvety voice of his, he's played the romantic lead a few times in films like Truly, Madly, Deeply and Sense and Sensibility, for which I must amend the Rule of Austen to say that playing a character who ends up married to a Jane Austen heroine in the film or TV production is British-Actor-of-the-Month-worthy. And let's not leave out a bunch of notable comedy roles such as in Dogma and the Star Trek spoof Galaxy Quest, where he plays a Spock-like character. Lest my geek membership card be taken away, I must mention also that Rickman voices Marvin the Paranoid Android in the film version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

And, lastly, the point of this blog, Rickman’s role in the Harry Potter films as Professor Snape. A thoroughly unlikeable character who is nevertheless not really a bad guy*, Snape would be a difficult character to tackle, and yet Rickman plays him to perfection. We never really know whose side the potions master is really on**, and yet we're always intrigued by him. We have no idea what Snape's motives are, but he always comes across as a believable character. And, without giving away too much (seriously***, is there anyone out there for whom this would be an actual spoiler?), his performance in Deathly Hallows--Part 2, in which we finally find out what does motivate Snape, is heart-breaking. I really do think Rickman's performance in the last film should get an Oscar nomination for supporting actor.






*River Song just hit me over the head with her diary.
**Until page 658 of the American hardback edition. That's where I started jumping up and down shouting "Haha! I knew it!!" And then I cried.
***I so wanted to type "Sirius-ly."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Proper Hot Dog Preparation

I was going to relish (tee-hee) not being obliged to post a blog today, but then I realized, what with the holiday weekend upon us, I'd be doing a public disservice if I didn't address this topic.

Every year, millions of Americans jeopardize their tastebuds by incorrectly preparing and consuming hot dogs. Here is the correct way to eat a hot dog:

1) Steam an all beef hot dog.

2) Place on a poppy seed bun.

3) Top with the following:
Yellow mustard
Chopped white onions
Sweet relish (the more vibrantly green, the better)
Tomato slices
Dill pickle spear
Sport peppers (opt.)
Cucumber slices (opt.)

4) Sprinkle with celery salt.

5) Enjoy.

Some cultures may prefer to top their hot dogs with chili or sauerkraut in combination with other condiments, however

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD KETCHUP EVER BE PUT ON A HOT DOG.


Have fun and eat safe this Fourth of July.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

NaBloPoMo Wrap-Up

Last November, I took part in National Novel Writing Month and managed to write over 50,000 words worth of novel (it's not finished yet) that month. It was a blast. I had fun with the friendly competition going with some of my writing buddies. And, yes, sometimes it was a totally pain-in-the-ass to come up with 1667 word a day when I was tired, out of ideas, or really really wanted to do something else. But it was so worth it. It really felt great to be writing everyday. NaNoWriMo is definitely something I will do again, starting with Camp NaNoWriMo this August (gotta finish my novel somehow), and possibly also this November, despite having schoolwork again.

This past April, I did Script Frenzy and wrote 100 pages of a screenplay (I've got about 10 to go). I have mixed feelings about it. While I did have fun working on the project, I found it kind of counter-intuitive. The three and a third pages as a daily goal wasn't all that challenging--during grad school I churned out far higher page counts than that--but normally when I'm writing a script, I try to keep structure and pacing in mind. The idea behind these writing month challenges, though, is to write as much as possible in a month. It really goes against how I've been taught to write in script format. For example, normally in screenwriting, it's not a good idea to let a scene drag on, but in Script Frenzy, you're kind of encouraged to do that to meet your page count. It's really too tempting to over describe things or to write pages and pages of useless dialogue. And, finally, I didn't quite enjoy myself as much this time because, though my friends showed a lot of support and interest, I wasn't "competing" against anyone this time. At the beginning of May, I wasn't sure whether or not I would participate in Script Frenzy again. And I probably won't make up my mind until around February or March when I get a really great idea for it.

In case you haven't noticed, this month I've been doing National Blog Posting Month, which is held every month, participants choosing which for their convenience. I haven't enjoyed it in the least. Whereas with NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy writing everyday was, for the most part, fun, this has been a chore. When writing a novel or a script, sometimes it can be hard figuring out what to write for the day, but at least I know where I'm ultimately going, and can slog through till I hit some more inspiration. With NaBloPoMo, though, I have to come up with something completely new every single day. I wanted to get myself to post in my blog more often than once ever three months, but every day is too much. Nobody, not even the guy in the Dos Equis commercials, can come up with something truly interesting every single day. Yeah, sure, I could slap together a bunch of lists (which I did--fun though it was, it felt like copping out) or just talk about my life in general. There are a lot of people participating in NaBloPoMo who do so, and, sorry to hurt feelings here, but, unless you know them or have some reason to want to know what they're doing, that's pretty boring. If I remember right, when I started this blog, I swore that I would try to never be boring and also to have certain standards of quality for the writing I display here. That's another thing I don't like about NaBloPoMo. As with the other monthly writing challenges, it's quantity over quality. With NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy, that's no problem because they're first drafts. Anyone would be a fool not to revise a first draft. But blogs are instantly published. That's why I like to take time to really craft something I wouldn't be ashamed to let others read, or, rather, feel like I have that time, whether or not I actually bother to do it. Because speed is of the essence, NaBloPoMo doesn't allow participants to do that. Finally, I find the NaBloPoMo site to be much harder and, frankly, less fun to use. Shouldn't there be some way of cross-posting your actual blog to the site, instead of having to copy and paste to their blog? And it does kind of suck that, unless you participate in November, there are no prizes--not even a winner's certificate or HTML badge for your blog. And as for the social aspect of it, well, the site has a kind of outdated feel to it, especially since the profiles look like their programming was based on MySpace. I don't think I'll be doing NaBloPoMo again.

Anyway, here's a hub for everything I've written this month:

Continuing Features
How to Get Into Doctor Who
How to Get Into The Beatles
British Actor of the Month: Petrolhead Edition
More Advice for the College Bound

New Features
50 Favorite Classic Rock Albums, Part 1
50 Favorite Classic Rock Albums, Part 2
50 Favorite Classic Rock Albums, Part 3
30 Days, 30 Movies in One Day
30 Days, 30 Songs in One Day
30 Days, 30 Books: For Bibliophiles
30 Days, 30 TV Shows

Other Music Topics
Defining the Concept Album
Classical Rock
Notes on Gaga

Movie Guides and Reviews
A Selective Guide to Bowie's Movies
"Well, There Was This Movie I Seen One Time..."
Scottish Cinema
80s Fantasy Round-Up
Review: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy

Other Pop Culture Topics
Alien Invasion Survival Kit
River Song Is--Spoilers!
Graphic Novels and the Tradition of Quality
The Venture Brothers Funniest Moments
Modern Vampires Suck

Writing
NaNoWriMo: An Excerpt
Writing Prompts

Serious
Being Serious for a Minute Here

Stupid
5 Random Things I Like
5 Random Things I Dislike

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy

For those of you not into anime and manga, Lupin III has been, since the late 1960s, one of the most well-loved series in Japanese culture. It follows the exploits of the grandson of the great French gentleman thief Arsène Lupin as he pulls off heists and tries to pick up chicks, all the while accompanied by his friends Jigen, a marksman, and Goemon, a samurai; his on-again off-again lover, the not-exactly-loyal Fujiko; and the intrepid Inspector Zenigata from Interpol, who's always hot on Lupin’s heels. I got into the show the way I got into most of the anime I watch—though the good ol’ days of Adult Swim when it was shown in the wee hours of the morning. I tried to read the original manga, but had trouble getting into it because I wasn’t comfortable with it’s level of sexism. But the anime is no more offensive than the average James Bond movie, and is a very clever action-comedy. I’m glad I had the foresight to set my VCR to record all 26 episodes AS aired, because , unfortunately, all the North American DVD and video* releases seem to have gone out of print.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I found out the only live-action Lupin III movie ever made, 1974’s Lupin III: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy is actually available on Region 1 DVD, and that I could even get it from Netflix.

The film is, essentially, Lupin III’s origin story. Or one of them, I should say, as both the manga and anime have conflicting versions of it as well. Here Lupin first teams up with Jigen, falls in love with and is double-crossed by Fujiko, and comes to the attention of Zenigata. The only one missing is Goemon, who in both canon versions, was a later addition to the Lupin gang. His omission, then, is understandable, though nevertheless disappointing.

Strange Psychokinetic Strategy is a lot different from the manga and first (Green Jacket) anime series, though closer in tone to the second (Red Jacket) series which was broadcast on Adult Swim. However, it tends to focus a bit more on slapstick over action than the series did. It is good slapstick, though, which makes the film something of a Japanese version of the Pink Panther movies Blake Edwards was making at the time. In fact, though a lot of fans complain about the “cartoony” nature of the film, it’s what I liked best about it. Among other things, we see Lupin literally leap out of his pants in his eagerness to see Fujiko, rewind and play back in slow motion the film in order to show a thug how he knocked him out, and get serenaded by a group of girl assassins out to kill him. (Only Lupin would cop a feel while getting his ass kicked.) The film operates by the same logic of cartoons—disregarding the laws of physics and the fourth wall whenever possible, which I found incredibly refreshing. In a world where CGI Garfields, Chipmunks, and Smurfs can star alongside real people and act like live-action characters, it’s a nice change to see live-action characters literally behaving like cartoon characters.

However, a little of the focus on being silly should have been moved to the plot, which was thin and episodic. And while the actors playing Lupin and Fujiko were spot-on and cute in their scenes together, the ones playing Jigen and Zenigata seemed a bit out of character. Jigen seemed a bit more hot-headed than usual, though, to be fair, I base this mainly on the English dubs I’ve seen. I don’t know how the character is portrayed in the original Japanese versions. Zenigata, is, of course, always going to be the comic relief, but here they took it to the extreme. With the addition of his two bumbling assistants, he seems more like the Pink Panther’s Chief Inspector Dreyfuss, cast jokes and all. Finally, the subtitles, while far from awful, translate the dialogue well, but seem to be missing some cultural nuances.





*The feature films and direct-to-video releases still seem to be available. The critically acclaimed The Castle of Cagliostro, in fact, is very accessible; it currently streams on Netflix.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

80s Fantasy Round-up

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Labyrinth’s premier, so to celebrate, here’s a rundown of ten of the more memorable (or, in some cases, the unfortunately unforgettable) fantasy films of the 80s.

Excalibur, 1981
Premise: From the moment young Arthur plucks Excalibur from the stone, his destiny begins…
Based On: Malory's Le Morte d’Arthur.
Magical Kingdom Of: Camelot (It’s only a model.)
Big Star, Early Role: Helen Mirren, Liam Neeson, Gabriel Byrne, and Patrick Steward pre-TNG.
Hot Villain: Morgana, the sexy metal bustier-wearing sorceress.
Beloved Muppet: There is a dragon, briefly.
Soundtrack By: Wagner.
Sparkle Quotient: Shiny, shiny armor.
Head Trip? Sir Percival’s Grail quest gets a little—abstract—at times.
Cult Status: There are films that are cult films, and films that are bad films. This is not the former.
Aged: Other than being an awful movie, it holds up pretty well as far as special effects go.

The Dark Crystal, 1982
Premise: Jen, the last of his kind, has to go fix a crystal so the world can be right again.
Based On: Buddhist philosophy. Or was it Taoist?
Magical Kingdom Of: Thra, a world where everyone is a Muppet.
Big Star, Early Role: Directorial debut of Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
Hot Villain: None. The Skeksis are some of the creepiest figures ever to grace the silver screen.
Beloved Muppet(s): Everyone!
Sparkle Quotient: Well, there’s this big purple crystal…
Head Trip? Whoa, man, it’s, like, deep.
Cult Status: Doubly so, as it has the reputation of being loved by fantasy geeks and stoners alike.
Aged: Considering it was so carefully made at the time, very well.

Return of the Jedi, 1983
Premise: After rescuing Han Solo, Luke Skywalker finally confronts the Dark Side as the Rebels make their final play against the Empire.
Based On: The genius mind of George Lucas... and some stuff he ripped off of Japanese movies.
Magical Kingdom Of: A long time ago in a galaxy far away, specifically the Forest Moon of Endor.
Big Star, Early Role: Warwick Davies as an Ewok.
Hot Villain: Averted when Darth Vader takes off his mask and reveals he's an ugly old white guy.
Beloved Muppet: Master Yoda, puppet he is!
Soundtrack By: John Williams. Yeah!
Sparkle Quotient: None, but it's got light sabers!
Head Trip? Not even if you haven't seen the first two films.
Cult Status: It's frickin' Star Wars!!
Aged: The weakest of the original trilogy, it's still far better than Attack of the Clones.

The Neverending Story, 1984
Premise: A bullied kid finds a magical book that lets him in on Atreyu’s quest to save his world from The Nothing.
Based On: Half of the book by Michael Ende.
Magical Kingdom Of: Fantasia (the book's Fantastica). Oh, and some creepy school attic.
Big Star, Early Role: Where are those kids today?
Hot Villain: The bad guy is an abstract concept, so, no.
Beloved Muppet(s): Falkor!!!
Soundtrack By: Title song from that guy from Kajagoogoo and some chick
Sparkle Quotient: Blindingly high.
Head Trip? Maybe not for everyone, but when you realize that the whole thing is a metafilmic commentary on how viewers identify with the cinema…
Cult Status: And how! The Neverending Story is beloved by a generation who grew up watching it on VHS.
Aged: Not well. The effects look cheap, and those kids really can’t act.

Ladyhawke, 1985
Premise: Two lovers cursed—she’s a hawk by day, he’s a wolf by night—to be always together, eternally apart.
Based On: Fairytales, though none in particular.
Magical Kingdom Of: Medieval Europe.
Big Star, Early Role: Matthew Broderick, pre-Ferris Bueller.
Hot Villain: An aging, lecherous bishop, so not so much.
Soundtrack By: Alan Parsons.
Sparkle Quotient: Going for a more authentic medieval look, so very low.
Head Trip? It takes them a while to explain what’s going on, and Broderick talking to himself is a bit odd, so more confusing than anything.
Cult Status: High. It’s somewhat obscure and not very good: the makings of a perfect cult film.
Aged: Not very well. The fancy dissolves for the changes are really cinematic, but in the era of digital technology, it looks like a cop-out. And the acting is more wooden than a baseball bat.

Legend, 1985
Premise: A feral young man has to get his girlfriend back and help some dwarves save the last unicorn to prevent the Lord of Darkness from ushering in eternal winter.
Based On: Vaguely, fairytales and folklore.
Magical Kingdom Of: Somewhere that has fairies and unicorns and stuff like that.
Big Star, Early Role: Tom Cruise after Risky Business but before Top Gun.
Hot Villain: The Lord of Darkness, a.k.a. Big D, a.k.a. Tim Curry in more makeup than Frank N. Furter.
Beloved Muppet(s): Not as such, but the makeup makes some of the actors look like Muppets.
Soundtrack By: Tangerine Dream, with a video by Bryan Ferry.
Sparkle Quotient: More glitter than a kindergarten art project. And unicorns!
Head Trip? Like all Ridley Scott films, it takes a while to get to the point, but other than that, it’s fairly easy to follow.
Cult Status: Somewhat, though the fan base may be a bit smaller than some films mentioned, especially since the original US release was crap.
Aged: Well, thanks to the director’s cut.

Highlander, 1986
Premise: A bunch of Immortals fight each other to the death because there can be only one.
Based On: Sort-of the Scottish literary tradition of tartantry, but not really.
Magical Kingdom Of: Bonnie Scotland, as well as 1980s New York City.
Big Star, Early Role: No one went on to fame from here, though, of course, Christopher Lambert was in the sequels.
Hot Villain: You'd have to be really kinky to find the Kurgan sexy-evil as opposed to scary-evil.
Beloved Muppet: Pffft, who needs Muppets when you've got Sean Connery... as a Spaniard?
Soundtrack By: Queen.
Sparkle Quotient: Lightning. And lots of it. What else would you expect from the Quickening?
Head Trip? Only if you start thinking about why you're still watching it.
Cult Status: Sequels, a TV show, spin-offs, books... Yup.
Aged: Look, it's a terrible movie, and the effects looked cheesy even in the 80s. And yet, there's something that you just can't help but love about this film.

Labyrinth, 1986
Premise: Teenage girl wishes her baby brother away to the Goblin King and has to make her way through a magical labyrinth to get him back.
Based On: Freud. Um, I mean, Froud. Drawings by Brian Froud. Yeah, that's it....
Magical Kingdom Of: The Labyrinth.
Big Star, Early Role: Future Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly.
Hot Villain: Jareth, the Goblin King.
Beloved Muppet(s): Hoggle, Ludo, Sir Diddymus… pretty much everyone but Connelly and Bowie. Even the baby gets replaced by a puppet at one point.
Soundtrack By: David Bowie.
Sparkle Quotient: Jareth enters in a shower of glitter. It’s Bowie, what did you expect?!
Head Trip? Not very. Unless you really, really want to unpack the Freudian stuff.
Cult Status: Loyal fan base. Many people might think of Labyrinth just as that weird kid’s movie with David Bowie, but there is a whole generation of fans who grew up watching it. Also, has sparked a religion devoted to Bowie’s crotch.
Aged: Pretty well, other than a few special effects fails it holds up as a family/tween film.

The Princess Bride, 1987
Premise: Having lost her beloved, Buttercup is kidnapped on her way to marry an odious prince and gets a surprise from the mysterious man who rescues her.
Based On: The book by William Goldman.
Magical Kingdom Of: Florin.
Big Star, Early Role: Robin Wright, before she added Penn to her name.
Hot Villain: The Dread Pirate Roberts, who wasn’t quite what he seemed…
Beloved Muppet(s): ROUS!
Soundtrack By: Mark Knopfler.
Sparkle Quotient: Surprisingly low for such a staple of 80s fantasy.
Head Trip? Nah. Solid family film.
Cult Status: Low. I know a whole bunch of people quoting "My name is Inigo Montoya..." are about to argue with me, but come on. It's shown on basic cable ALL THE TIME.
Aged: Very well. Like I said, it gets a lot of play on TNT and the like.

Willow, 1988
Premise: A Little Person takes it upon himself to protect the baby prophesied to destroy the evil queen.
Based On: Given that George Lucas wrote and produced, Joseph Campbell’s writings on mythology, probably.
Magical Kingdom Of: Several Kingdoms, actually, made up of people of different sizes.
Big Star, Early Role: Val Kilmer.
Hot Villain: Jean Marsh is the evil queen, so only if you have a thing for aging head house-parlor maids.
Beloved Muppet(s): Sadly, this is one of the first movies to use a new technology called the digital morph.
Sparkle Quotient: Not as much. High Glitter was on the wane by the end of the decade.
Head Trip? Not really. Unless Madmartigan’s drag bit confuses you.
Cult Status: Yes. Though perhaps not as big as some of the other 80s fantasies, it does have it’s loyal followers.
Aged: Once groundbreaking, the special effects look a bit behind the times. And it tends to lag.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Modern Vampires Suck

Allow me to elaborate on a statement I made yesterday about modern vampires being “a bunch of emo pussies.” Now, though I have no doubt my comments made the Jacobites cheer, before those Edwardians get up in arms—which they should—let me fill in a little vampire history.

In the pre- and early-modern world, the vampire was a monster from folklore. Vampires were a reanimated corpse who would rise from the grave, drink its victim’s blood, and, upon their death, that victim would become a vampire. For the most part, they were little more than animals preying on the living to quench their thirst for blood. Though we are most familiar with the Easter European variant, cultures around the world have their own version of an evil undead killer.

Then came the Nineteenth Century, wherein the vampire moved from monster to bad guy. What’s the difference? The vampire was still an evil killer, but now he had a motive. He didn’t just want to kill, he lusted after the heroine. He wanted to infect London and create a modern empire as great as that of his Magyar ancestors. In works of fiction—from penny dreadfuls like Varney the Vampire to novels like Dracula—the vampire became not a creature from folklore, but a character.

Next was the Twentieth Century and cinema. The vampire was still the bad guy, but now, he was sexy. Bella Lugosi and Christopher Lee both played Dracula not as a crusty old count, but as a suave sophisticate. Because girls love their bad boys, the biting=sex metaphor was played up as much as standards of the day would allow.

And then, the 1970s, people were being all post-modern and questioning cultural assumptions. Was the vampire really evil? Did we maybe just misunderstand him? Stuff like Dark Shadows and, most importantly, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire showed the vampire as not evil, not a monster, and not even always a bad guy. The vampire had become an anti-hero.

The alleged turning point: 1997. Buffy the Vampire Slayer hits the airways. We have two male vampires who (sometimes) aren’t the bad guys, both in love with a teenage girl—who incidentally in the beginning of the series is an outsider with divorced parents starting at a new school. (Sound familiar, Stephanie Meyers?) Some people have claimed that the likes of Edward Cullen are the direct descendants of Angel and Spike (mpreg slash shippers rejoice), but I disagree. Spike isn’t always a bad guy, but he’s always a badass. And the one time he was acting like a whiny emo pussy was because something powerfully evil was making him do it. Angel, admittedly, is a bit of a wuss (although at times he can be a bit of a deadpan [pun intended] snarker), but with a pretty good reason. As Angelus, he’s so unimaginably awful that, with a soul, Angel has to be kinda wimpy.

Enter the Twenty-First Century, with its vampires who love, and don’t kill, and are just filled with wonderful sparkly goodness. Ok, I exaggerate based on one text, but the point remains that vampires are now the heroes. How is that different from before? Throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, the vampire was gradually humanized. However, as the new millennium began, vampires were bowdlerized. Lestat, Angel, Spike, and all the other anti-hero vampires had moral conflict. They struggled because being good guys conflicted with their evil natures and the bad things they did. In modern vampires, though, this struggle is lacking. We automatically accept that the vampire protagonist is a creature of good. Yes, there are still bad vampires around, but only to make the good vampire seem more heroic. In short, whereas the anti-hero vampire had an inner monster to fight, the in the modern vampire, there is nothing to fear.

Writing Prompts

I’ve been ignoring blog prompts all month, but today I thought, why not?

The twist: I will be answering them all at once.

And in 140 characters or less.

Purpose: Defeated.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Are you a fan of a sports team? When did you become a fan?
Iowa Hawkeyes, since birth. Thanks, Dad. *sarcasm*

Thursday, June 2, 2011
Tell us about your favourite band/musician.
Isn’t that kind of obvious? What, do I have to re-title this blog “Emily’s Beatles/Bowie/Dylan Shrine” or something?

Friday, June 3, 2011
Which author made you want to be a writer (or blogger)?
Far too many to name, tho I think I started blogging (back in the LJ days) just because my friends were doing it and it looked interesting.

Monday, June 6, 2011
What is the difference between being a fan and being a fanatic?
Mere “fans” don’t get arrested for stalking.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Are you the fan of a certain brand?
No. (This answer brought to you by Diet Mountain Dew. Do the Dew!)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011
What are you not a fan of?
Stupid corporate bookstores that used to have good books but now only sell crap. Among other things.

Thursday, June 9, 2011
Are you a fan of a certain actor or actress? Would you watch anything they're in?
Yes, but I do have limits. Like, I’d never willingly watch a Michael Bay film even it if had both Ewan McGreggor and David Tenannt in it.

Friday, June 10, 2011
Have you ever drastically changed your opinion of an author as you read their book? Become a fan? Lost your fan status?
My opinion of J. K. Rowling changed as I read The Graveyard Book. (Not that I love HP any less, but Gaiman is the better writer.)

Monday, June 13, 2011
Who is your greatest fan?
My cat. Though she is not afraid to offer “constructive” criticism of the claw and fang variety.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Which band have you traveled the farthest or paid the most to see play live?
The most I ever paid was about $65 for Bob Dylan tickets at the BU hockey arena.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
What food are you really not a fan of?
Tomatoes. Blech.

Thursday, June 16, 2011
What is the best way to fan the flames of creativity?
Read, listen to music, go to a gallery, watch a movie, etc. Draw inspiration from others' creativity. Or just get really really drunk.

Friday, June 17, 2011
Is there a book that made you a better person?
No. “Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” --Oscar Wilde.

Monday, June 20, 2011
Would you rather deal with vampires or zombies?
Given that they’ve turned into a bunch of emo pussies, Vampires. Zombies are becoming exponentially badass.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
What is one thing you would never in a million years eat?
Didn’t I just answer this? One thing I would like to try that others probably wouldn’t eat, though, is haggis.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Do you prefer big crowds or small groups?
Small groups. Unless I want to practice my (nonexistent) ninja skills.

Thursday, June 23, 2011
What is the hardest goodbye you've ever had to do?
Saying goodbye to college. I’m still not over it and have had a series of rebound relationships with grad school.

Friday, June 24, 2011
Which author made you want to be a reader?
No particular author, though the American Girls series had a lot to do with it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

If you could live in any other time period, what would it be?
The 70s, because my tastes in music, clothes, politics, and theory are there already.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Scottish Cinema

I’m sure none of you out their reading this have given much thought—if any—to Scottish film. Well, it’s time you discover that there’s more to it than Brigadoon and Braveheart. Here are ten cinematic offerings from this nation-within-a-nation that you simply must see—and are conveniently available in Region 1 formats.

1. Trainspotting, Danny Boyle, 1996
The adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel that brought international attention to Scottish cinema and made stars of Ewan McGreggor and Robert Carlyle. A story of friendship and betrayal, it deals with addiction, alienation, and AIDS along the way with a good helping of dark humor and surrealism and a killer soundtrack.

2. Gregory’s Girl, Bill Forsyth, 1981
A delightful coming-of-age film about Scottish teens desperate for a date. It might not quite give us the closure we want (Forsyth was over a decade late with the sequel) and the accents are thick, but it is very funny.

3. Ratcatcher, Lynne Ramsay, 1999
A boy growing up in Glasgow’s slums longs to escape to a new housing development in the suburbs while a garbage strike rages and rodents overrun the neighborhood. Ramsay made a bit impression at Cannes with the film, so it’s a bit arty, though not incomprehensible. Although you may not want to turn those subtitles off.

4. Red Road, Andrea Arnold, 2006
A woman uses Glasgow’s CCTV system to track and ensnare a criminal who’s recently been released from prison. Her actions might seem a bit confusing at first, but the film is brilliant in the way it slowly reveals her motives.

5. Shallow Grave, Danny Boyle, 1994
Three flatmates and friends take in a fourth lodger, and when he dies mysteriously with a huge amount of cash on him, they decide to cover it up and keep the money. As their friendship dissolves, the film gets darker and darker, making this film a classic modern thriller.

6. Orphans, Peter Mullan, 1998
A dysfunctional family nearly unravels after their mother dies, and during her vigil, each of the four siblings has a wild night that ultimately brings them closer together. I’m not entirely sure if this was overly melodramatic or an extremely dry dark comedy, but it was pretty funny.

7. Rob Roy, Michael Canton-Jones, 1995
The legendary Highlander (no, not The Highlander) has to defend his family and his honor against an evil English aristocrat who’s set him up to take the fall from his own crimes. Though it hardly resembles Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Rob Roy nevertheless has some great action, beautiful scenery, and one of the greatest sword fights of all time.

8. Young Adam, David Mackenzie, 2003
A young man working on a barge on the River Clyde has an affair with his boss’s wife, and through flashbacks we see his relationship with a young woman whose body was pulled out of the water at the beginning of the film. Young Adam is a rewarding viewing experience, though both the temporal shifts and the main character’s sexism can make it difficult to watch at times.

9. Morvern Callar, Lynne Ramsay, 2002
A young woman’s boyfriend commits suicide, leaving her a mix tape and a request to get his novel published. So she does—putting her own name on it instead—and takes the money and her best friend off to Spain. Another art film, it’s a little bit more dense than Ratcatcher, but the great tunes on the mix tape help the viewer get into the main character’s head.

10. The Bill Douglas Trilogy: My Childhood, My Ain Folk, My Way Home; 1972, 1973, 1978
Director Douglas made these three autobiographical films on an extremely low budget provided by the BFI. Cheap looking, barely feature length, and very arty, they won’t be for everyone, but they are very important films in the development of both Scottish national cinema and British art cinema.

Friday, June 24, 2011

British Actor of the Month: Petrolhead Edition

Technically, since this is about TV presenters, I’m cheating, but it’s been so long since I’ve done this feature, but, hey, any excuse to bring it back, right?

Anyway, some say they have the best job in the world, and that they are single-handedly responsible for the hole in the ozone layer. All we know is, they present

Top Gear

l-r: Hammond, Clarkson, May, Stig

I don’t know why I like this show so much. I hate cars. And yet, I can’t seem to get enough of Top Gear. Perhaps it’s their humorous approach to all things automotive or their wacky antics. Or maybe it’s the great chemistry between the three presenters.

Jeremy Clarkson is the show’s opinionated jerk. Clarkson never holds back his great disdain for safety regulations, speed cameras, and “ecomenatlists,” and is probably on the P.C. Police’s most wanted list. He loves fast, powerful cars and has shredded about a small rainforest’s worth of tires on the show. However, Clarkson is also known as the least practical of the three of them and has seemingly no understanding of anything mechanical. Any time he tries to fix or build something is a disaster waiting to happen.

Richard Hammond is the youngest and most decent looking of all the Top Gear presenters. His shiny teeth and short stature have gotten him the nickname “Hamster” and much ribbing from the other two. Hammond always seems to get the dangerous tasks, though not as often after his accident in 2006. Hammond seems to have a soft spot for American muscle cars, and has a strange attachment to the 1963 Opel Kadett he bought for the Botswana Special and named “Oliver.”

James May, a.k.a. Captain Slow. Bizarrely dressed, directionally impaired, and fastidious to the point of O.C.D., May is by far the most eccentric of the Top Gear three. His preferences for luxury cars and classic designs make him seem the most sophisticated of his co-hosts. However, his other shows with wine expert Oz Clarke reveal just how relative this perspective is. May is also Clarkson’s opposite when it comes to mechanical matters: sometimes they have to shut him up when he gets too scientific.

Last but not least is Top Gear’s tame racing driver The Stig. Not much is known about him. Apparently awkward in all situations that do not involve driving, Stig’s voice is only heard by the celebrities he guides around the Top Gear Test Track. No one knows what the face behind the mask looks like—if, indeed, there even is a face behind Stig’s mask.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Well, There Was This Movie I Seen One Time..."

Last month, I had a few ideas for blogs relating to Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. I was only able to write one of them in time, so here is the first of two others I had planned.

Anyway, whether you’re a Dylan fan or just curious, here’s a list of the movies you must see and those you should be glad I saw for you.

Dont Look Back. D. A. Pennebaker’s documentary of Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. One of the classics of the direct cinema movement and a seminal rockumentary, Dont Look Back captures Dylan on the cusp of transitioning from folkie to rocker.

Festival! Dylan is one of many performers in this documentary on the Newport Folk Festival. Here you can see him from his earliest days as a folk singer straight up through his infamous electric set, and there are performances of his songs by the likes of Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, and Peter, Paul and Mary as well.

Eat the Document. Pennebaker shot this film of Dylan’s embattled 1966 world tour which combines documentary footage with some staged scenes. Then Dylan got ahold of it and reedited it himself. It was shown once on a New York television station, and has since existed as a bootleg film.

Concert for Bangladesh. Dylan was the surprise guest at George Harrison’s star-studded benefit concerts for flood and famine relief in Bangladesh. And the best part is, the proceeds of the film—and the DVD release—of this great concert still go to UNICEF.

Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Dylan made his proper acting debut in this Peckinpaw western, and, it’s, uh, well, a good thing he didn’t quit his day job. But, on the other hand, he contributed several songs to the soundtrack, including “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

Renaldo and Clara. The film of the 1975 Rolling Thunder Review tour is part concert film, part art film exploring the nature of identity, and part documentary on wrongfully imprisoned boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter—all directed by Dylan himself. As a part of Dylan’s overall artistic career, it’s interesting. As a movie, it’s… got great concert footage. Panned horribly on it’s initial release, the full four-hour version of the film has only aired a few times on European TV since then, but luckily for us, someone set their VCR to tape it. A few scenes have been officially released as a bonus DVD with The Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Bob Dylan 1975, The Rolling Thunder Review.

The Last Waltz. Around the same time, Dylan played with The Band for their farewell concert which was directed by Martin Scorsese. (Yes, the concert and the film.) An amazing film with great performances all around, but the chemistry between Dylan and The Band is its highlight.

Hearts of Fire. Dylan is one of the many classic rock stars who seemed lost in the 80s. Among his WTF? moments in that decade is taking a role in this truly awful take on A Star Is Born. The only redeeming quality is that everyone is so bad—even Rupert Everette—Dylan's acting doesn’t actually seem as unbelievably awful as it usually does.

Wonder Boys. Dylan doesn’t actually appear in this film about a writing professor failing to finish his second novel, but a lot of his songs are on the sound track. Written specifically for the film, “Things Have Changed” won him an Oscar.

Masked and Anonymous. Dylan once again tried to make a film himself—thankfully, this time, directed by someone else. With so many stars in the cast—John Goodman, Jessica Lang, Luke Wilson, etc.—it was either going to be a colossal failure or a big hit. And it was neither, really. Once again receiving poor reviews because it’s “arty,” Masked is nevertheless more comprehensible than Renaldo and Clara, especially if you’ve been paying attention to certain themes in Dylan’s recent work.

No Direction Home. Martin Scorsese was commissioned to take a whole bunch of footage Dylan had—including exclusive interviews with himself—and make a documentary for PBS’s American Masters Series. However, it is anything but boring. At three and a half hours long, it is a fascinating and insightful look at Dylan’s career up to his 1966 motorcycle accident.

Factory Girl. Dylan makes no appearance in this film about Edie Sedgwick and her relationships with Andy Warhol and an unnamed folk singer who totally isn’t supposed to be Bob Dylan even though he looks like him, sounds like him, and acts like him. What reason could he possibly have had threaten to sue the production? (Maybe it being so horribly inaccurate that Lou Reed refused to license any of his songs has something to do with it?) It’s bad, but not quite as bad as the critical reaction made it seem. I read the original script. It could have been worse.

Bob Dylan 1965 Revisited. Pennebaker opened up his vault to restore Dont Look Back, found hours of great unused material, and edited it into a new documentary. Nowhere near as influential as the original film, but it still provides an interesting glimpse into Dylan's transitional state, as well as providing more musical performances.

The Other Side of the Mirror. All of Murray Lerner’s footage of Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival are in this DVD comprised of outtakes from Festival! Since the footage is just pieced together in chronological order, you get the feeling it would have made a better bonus disc accompanying the original film like Pennebaker’s 1965 Revisited, but it is pretty cool to get a near-complete version of Dylan’s 1965 electric set.

I’m Not There. Todd Haynes's biopic—if you could call it that—of Dylan has him played by six different actors of different ages, races, and genders. A much more successful exploration of identity than Renaldo and Clara, I’m Not There has a great soundtrack full of covers and Dylan originals.