Reviews

A Feast for the Senses

There seems to have been an influx of amazing books, movies, and music in my life lately – incredible stories, stunning effects, brilliant lyricism, and sheer imagination that just make me want to give humanity a standing ovation. It seems almost unfair not to share the joy with everyone else! If you’re looking for recommendations, I’d highly recommend checking any of these out:
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I’d originally seen The Ghosts of Belfast (“The Twelve” in Europe) last year in one of Chicago’s many wonderful bookshops, and had made a note to order it as soon as I got back home (I’d only taken a rucksack, which was chock-full by the time I had to leave!). Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be released in Canada for another six months, so I pre-ordered it as soon as I could. The premise captivated me immediately: Gerry Fegan, an ex-IRA hit man is haunted by the ghosts of the 12 people he killed, and soon realises the only way they will give him rest is to systematically assassinate the men who gave him his orders. What a brilliant premise!

I’d never ventured into the realm of thrillers or crime fiction before, but when it’s mixed with otherworldly elements (and set in my favourite place on earth), it’s the ideal way to start. It took a bit of getting used to a story comprised primarily of heavy-cursing men and politics I hadn’t studied in as much depth as I would’ve liked, but I was soon fully absorbed in the characters, and literally read with baited breath through chilling scenes of a dozen ghosts miming execution around the men Gerry encountered. Neville’s writing is nothing short of brilliant, and imagery of “bruised” and “scarred” landscapes was a literary feast that added to the ongoing air of trepidation. The story is a haunting rollercoaster of suspense, forbidden romance, politics, survival and the supernatural, and ends with an extraordinary twist that’ll make you want to stand up and give a round of applause.

I don’t often watch movies, but last week we saw two that ended up being a couple of the best I’d seen in a very long time. I knew I was going to like Source Code as soon as I heard the premise: an action, sci-fi thriller revolving around a soldier who wakes up in the body of an unknown man, and discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train. He’s sent back into the last eight minutes of a passenger’s life before the explosion repeatedly until he discovers enough detail to find the bomb, and stop the bomber’s future attacks. Most of you will know that I probably wouldn’t need to even know the synopsis if a movie’s filed under “sci-fi” and “thriller” (Inception and District 9 are some of the best premises I’ve ever seen), and this was just another to add to the list. Great visuals of a city I’d fallen in love with last year combined with great imagination and another excellent twist at the end that left me thinking about it for days. Trekkies will be fans: the story was reminiscent of the Voyager episode Relativity where a character is sent back in time repeatedly to find a bomb and discover the identity of the bomber to stop the destruction of the ship. But this time, “it’s not time travel. It’s time… reassignment.” Epic.

We also watched The Experiment, a remake of a 2001 German movie – a highly intense film about a real-life, controversial psychological study in which 26 men are chosen to participate into the roles of prisoners and guards for 14 days in an environment simulating a state penitentiary that ultimately spirals out of control. I’ve always liked Adrien Brody – he’s had interesting roles in several movies I personally enjoyed thoroughly, but seem to have fallen below the radar of critical acclaim (The Jacket; The Village), but this is probably my favourite performance of his. (Though this may have been slightly affected by his long hair and gorgeous tattoos). When I watched this, I had no idea it was based on a true story, which made the already frightening premise even more disturbing upon discovery, but the psychological aspect made it simultaneously fascinating and thoroughly gripping. Vanessa, this one’s for you!

Lastly, I can’t not mention my favourite album around at the moment. There was a tonne of hype about these guys when their first demo leaked on the Internet, and it started getting national radioplay before a proper recording had even been made! The Vaccines’ album, What Did You Expect from the Vaccines? is a short punch (less than forty minutes total, which each song clocking in around two minutes) of feel-good, infectious good old punk rock. And the first single off it is so catchy it makes me a)  jump around wherever I happen to be, b) air drum my arms off (or c) a frantic, flailing, highly attractive combination of the two) every time I hear it. We played them on the radio a few weeks ago, and even had people write in to ask for the tracklisting because they liked them so much! Crank it up!

What movies, books or bands are rocking your world lately?

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Unwinding has never been so scary

It was one of my New Year’s resolutions last year to read at least one book every month. At the beginning of this year, I was lucky enough to get a week off work during which I finished one book it seemed I’d been reading all of last year – the last Harry Potter novel – as well as one I’d seen countless recommendations for around the blogosphere – The Lovely Bones. [Sidenote: do not, I repeat, do not see the movie – it was the Time Traveller’s Strife all over again!] Since then, with Sweet being on board with rediscovering our mutual love of reading, we’ve found a system that seems to keep us both on track: a Read-Off. We will each read as many books as we can in 2011, and the loser has to buy the winner a gift voucher to Chapters. And possibly ice cream. 🙂 Current status: I am being thoroughly thrashed, having read a measly three books to his seven [!]. But since I’ve always enjoyed sharing absolute corkers when I come across them, whether that’s in song, on screen, or in literature, I thought I’d add a review here and there throughout the year; share the good, the bad, and the ugly, and keep track of my standing along the way. 🙂

I was a bit of a n00b to GoodReads, but once I’d signed up, it rapidly became one of my favourite things on the Internet. I could so easily read reviews, see ratings, and collect favourite quotes from beloved authors – it was like Rotten Tomatoes for books! One that quickly caught my attention was Unwind – though considered a teen novel, I’d heard such great things about stories in similar categories that I thought I’d give this one a go – especially with such an incredibly captivating premise. The book is set in the not too distant future, after the “Second Civil War” over reproductive rights during which America was divided into pro-life and pro-choice armies. The “Bill of Life” that ended the war stated that though traditional abortions were forbidden [the mother of an unwanted child could simply leave her baby on somebody’s doorstep; if she was caught, she would have to keep it, but if not, it was legally the responsibility of the unsuspecting homeowners], parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are harvested for transplant into different donors, so life “doesn’t technically end.” How deliciously sinister!

The story begins with Connor, a 13-year-old, slightly troublesome boy who stumbled across three tickets for a Caribbean vacation in his parents’ study, bearing the names of his mum, dad, and brother. At first, he thinks his has been misplaced, but soon comes across the signed forms for his unwinding. Their holiday is scheduled for the following day. Instead of flipping out, as would be expected of him, he spends the next couple of weeks being the best son and brother he could possibly be, in an attempt to make his parents feel terrible for the decision they had made, before escaping one night while everyone slept. On his journey to get away, he meets a girl named Risa, another Unwind, a talented piano player who wasn’t quite good enough, and a boy named Lev, a tithe, one of 10 children whose parents’ definition of “give 10% of everything to the church” extended to include him, and who thoroughly believes his own unwinding is his life’s purpose, and is quite looking forward to it.

The story follows a roller coaster journey of betrayal, of desperation, of horror, of survival, and of revolution, though including perhaps one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve ever come across in fiction – a chilling description of a living dissection. The plot is ingenious, thoroughly imaginative and clever, however the author really should have invested in a better editor – I can’t stand it when I come across a typo in a published book, let alone a full on plot mistake, and I found the errors so irritating it immediately smashed my suspension of disbelief. The annoyance didn’t last long however – and though I don’t think I ever quite got used to YA-style writing, I found myself thoroughly glued to every page by such a riveting storyline.

I could go on for paragraphs, but there is simply too much action and too many spoilers. I probably would’ve loved this when I was a kid, and I think if it had been written for adults, I would have absolutely no reservation in giving this book 5 stars. It definitely gets 4 though, not for the strength of writing in the slightest, but for strength of imagination, for evoking a reaction in me, for the gripping plot and the brilliant twist at the end. This would make a fantastic movie – with the right director, of course. Steven Moffat, if you have a wee opening in your schedule post-DW:S6, I reckon this one’d be a right corker to add to your repertoire. 🙂



A Cinematic Paradigm Shift?

Last week, I did something I rarely do: I went to the cinema. It’s been months and months – I think the last thing I saw on the big screen was Inception, and before that, Avatar (yep, I get out TONNES). Now, anyone who knows me personally knows that patience is not my forte – and the combination of overspending, restraint, ignorant texters, whisperers and chair kickers usually make it an experience I’d gladly avoid. But getting together with friends at 6:30 on a Wednesday night to see a children’s movie turned out to be just the ticket to avoid all of the above.

With a title like Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, it does leave a bit of an impression that this movie could be, as a certain someone delicately put it, “totally lame.” But when I saw the trailer a few months ago, I made a mental note that I was going to see it because I thought it looked fantastic! After an atrocious dinner out (waiting 1.5 hours to get two salads and some chicken fingers, then having to leave without eating so you can MAKE your movie does not give you the right to still charge us, Moxies), we made it with seconds to spare, donned our 3D glasses and set about eating in the dark (way more challenging than it sounds), settling into the opening sequence of the movie.

I’m going to cut to the chase here: this movie was INTENSE!! At the risk of sounding old, I remember the days (oh God) when a PG rating was given to a Disney movie because Aladdin made a sexual innuendo. Today, movies seem to be getting all the more terrifying, being injected with themes way more mature than 9 year olds should be able to understand, and being rated the same thing! Now, I should probably mention the fact that I’m actually all for this. I’m just wondering if it’s a sort of paradigm shift in the cinema – are movies getting scarier and more adult, or are children getting more and more desensitised?

Within minutes of LotG, the audience witnesses two highly adorable baby owls falling out of their tree, landing on the forest floor, and, unable to fly yet, getting kidnapped and taken off to join masses of other young abductees who are given the choice: join their “new family” of “Pure Ones”, or become blinded and enslaved. Pretty upsetting, no? Let’s not get started on the Holocaust allusions – this movie could basically be set in Nazi Germany, following a young hostage trying to escape an evil “King” hell-bent on worldwide racial purification – in the short 90 minutes, we observe brainwashing, torture, and epic, though incredibly gory battle scenes.  It was more than enough to make me upset – which leaves me with the question, am I just behind the times?

What was scary when I was a kid is laughable by today’s standards. The primitive TNG Borg in all their hooded glory, and Daleks with egg whisks and plungers for hands that were clearly being pushed along from behind. Today, kids’ movies are full of uncomfortable, upsetting, and downright scary themes and images, which make you wonder if the world’s senses to scariness have just been numbed. I remember thinking the same thing last summer at Coraline, a movie adapatation of a book by one of my favourite authors.  It was a treat for the fantasy lover in me, and, visually Burtonesque, was something I came away loving. But again with the PG rating: when I was a kid, a movie filled with grotesque images of a child’s father going crazy and melting in the garden, an insectlike creature, pincers literally pointing out of the screen, and a furiously controlling mother who turns into a monster, stealing away children’s souls by replacing their eyes with buttons… well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have been allowed to watch it. Yes, I was the kid who had to wait until she was 12 before watching The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I say I’m all for these scare tactics in family movies and TV shows. And I am. A couple of months ago I wrote about what can successfully deliver a fright, and what’s pretty much the equivalent of horror porn. I can’t stomach traditional scary movies, but I am genuinely affected by themes, hints, and possibilities of the frightening. These days, I’m seeing more and more of it in what are supposed to be “family friendly” – LotG, at times, was downright disturbing. Racial purification and slavery aren’t the most lighthearted of topics, and though watching a bunch of birds in helmets duelling it out is never going to be quite the same as watching Gerard Butler beating up a bunch of Spartans, Zack Snyder has still instilled fear, shock, and visual effects that are nothing short of epic.  You have to wonder though, what kids 15 years younger than me came away with – were they as simultaneously disturbed and thrilled as I was? Are children these days more immune to scare tactics, and what does that say about the future of cinema? I think giving people food for thought by genuinely creating a reaction is a good thing, but I can’t help but wonder where this trend is leading. Am I going to be more scared to go to a movie, fifteen years down the line, than my child?

Back to the Guardians. It was epic, it was visually stunning. The tiniest of details were captured beautifully, and dazzled through the elements leaving you absolutely exhilarated. It was emotional, and it was jam-packed with action, heroism, and an extensive list of Hollywood voices: Jim Sturgess, Helen Mirren, Geoffrey Rush, Hugo Weaving, and – be still my heart – Sam Neill? Count me in. If you’re in the mood for a Tolkien-esque tale of fantasy, adventure, and triumph over evil, I can’t recommend this movie enough.

Acceptance: A small step towards ‘A New Earth’

I’ve mentioned this book for a little while now, and lately, I’ve been making an extra effort to really live out the teachings.  Well maybe not “teachings”; ideas? Concepts? I must admit I was a bit of a new kid on the Eckhart Tolle block, having heard of his huge association with Oprah (is there something wrong with me if I’ve never seen an episode?), and shrugging it off as “another self-help author”, but A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose was introduced to me early in the summer, and with the path I feel I’m being called to be on lately, it was rather aptly timed indeed.

I cracked open the book one night in the bath. I don’t often take baths because I get terribly bored, and I don’t often read in the bath because everything gets terribly soggy, so this was slightly out of the ordinary. However the experience remains ingrained in memory – I’d put some on pretty music, lit some candles, and had the window half open so a breeze seeped in, refreshing against the steam coming off the bubbles. I’d grabbed a bath pillow and began to read. At first, I was a little hesitant. The first chapter was about the first flower ever to appear on planet Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, opening up to receive sunlight, marking an evolutionary transformation in plantlife. A bit New Age, if you ask me, but I kept reading the analogy, in which he refers to human consciousness – a similar transformation, which has already begun, which, if every human being decided to focus on purpose and awareness, be free of the Ego, and of all the self-imposed limitations and negativity perpetual thinking gives rise to, could bring about a “New Earth”.

Once I passed the first chapter, however, I was hooked. I carried it everywhere and found myself sitting in coffee shops nodding along as I highlighted something on pretty much every other page, wishing there was a way I could steal the words away from the page and install them into my brain where I’d forever be guided and reminded. It’s not a religious book, but the author makes reference to a variety of different religions and spiritual practices, not to add to the reader’s beliefs, but to create food for thought, and hopefully, a shift in consciousness.

One of the main notions of the book is that we, as humans, are trapped in our own minds. Our Ego wants to have an identity, whether good or bad, and we are also conditioned to thinking that if we have more, then we will be happy. Along with thinking and wanting more, comes focusing on lack – lack of money, of friends, of attractiveness, of happiness…  “If the thought of lack – whether it be money, recognition, or love – has become part of who you think you are, you will always experience lack. Rather than acknowledge the good that is already in your life, all you see is lack. No matter what you have or get, you won’t be happy. You will always be looking for something else that promises greater fulfillment, that promises to make your incomplete sense of self complete and fill that sense of lack you feel within.”

The author explains, in a way different from other books I’ve read, that it’s not the Ego itself that is bad, but our identification with it that causes the most suffering. If we identify ourselves by our jobs, our possessions, even on the flipside, by our suffering or hardship – as long as we perpetuate that identification, we are not simply living in the present and accepting things as they are.  The goal is to raise personal awareness of our behaviour, allowing ourselves to simply be in the present moment, rather than getting caught up in in thinking about and reacting to it, or living by the roles we give to ourselves. And aren’t we all guilty of that?

The way we go about the world is shaped, in large part, by our past experiences, by our inner critic, by our fears and by worrying about what other people think of us. We act differently, though maybe only very slightly, around different groups of people. We may act one way around our partner, another around his or her family, another around our boss, and yet another around our closest friends. We ever so subtly fall into different roles shaped by how we want society to see us, or by past hurts or anxieties. Some may have a heightened sense of Ego, going about the world in fancy suits and filling homes with expensive decor, fuelled by the notion that more is better. Some may have latched onto the other end of the spectrum, carrying the weight of their past hardships or present sufferings with a frown on their face and a cloud over their head. The book teaches it doesn’t matter what identification we have with the Ego, as long as it has an identity. And the only way to truly be at peace is to recognise that, detach from those thought patterns, detach from the material things that are ultimately ephemeral, and detach from worry about things over which we have no control.

I took a LOT away from this book, but most of all, I took away the power of awareness and acceptance.  The moment you notice a pattern of behaviour that is no longer working for you, recognise it, change it, and you are on your way to becoming more enlightened and living a more purposeful existence. Instead of allowing reactive emotions to take over in response to unfavourable life events, accept them as they are. Instead of feeling wronged or holding on to grudges, just let them go. And, though painful sometimes, accepting the path a loved one has chosen even though you may believe it’ll end badly. People ultimately only learn from their own mistakes.  There was a great section about peace vs. drama which is something I think we can all identify with, explaining that though we all want peace, there’s something in all of us that also wants drama and conflict. We’re not acknowledged, we have an argument, we feel wronged somehow, and the mind races to defend itself, attack, or blame someone else.

“Can you feel that there is something in you that is at war, something that feels threatened and wants to survive at all cost, that needs the drama in order to assert its identity as the victorious character within that theatrical production? Can you feel there is something in you that would rather be right than at peace?”

The Ego would rather be right than at peace, and the only way to lessen its grip is to become aware of it – the voice in our head that “comments, speculates, judges, compares, dislikes… etc.”  You can catch yourself in these situations, and choose to accept and be happy, rather than insisting at any cost you be right. Since I finished the book I’ve caught myself out slipping into old thought patterns that are ultimately Ego-driven – reacting in arguments, becoming upset over situations I can’t control, worrying about things, and beating myself up. None of this does anyone any good and is never going to pave the way to being at peace, and I think this book should be mandatory reading for everyone who’s concerned at all about finding happiness, and living a good life of intent, peace and purpose. If everyone lived by the teachings of this book, the world would be a very different place indeed. But as with all big movements, they start with a small step. And if I can introduce someone to this reading material and it impacts them the way it did after it was introduced to me… then I’d like to think this was mine.

Time Capsule: A Decade in Review

It’s the end of the first decade of a new millennium.  At the end of the year, bloggers usually write some sort of reflection on the year that was.  But I feel like I’ve kind of been doing that continually all year long, so instead of rehashing 2009, I couldn’t think of a better way to end the year (and indeed, the decade) by reflecting on my world of the last decade.  I’ll try and be brief – but here’s my take on the noughties.

2000: This was a big year for me.  Looking back at old picture-stuffed, handwritten diaries, I see my departure from the country I call home.  I see paperbound notebooks, scrawled with messages between friends wishing me luck with boys, with Canada, and with an entirely new life.  I see wonky teeth gone forever and braces finally removed.  I see nervousness, and excitement as I left my life behind and started fresh on an entirely new continent, initial feelings of anxiety quickly surpassed by those of enthusiasm, as I was thrown into high school, and everybody wanted to know the new kid in town.  It seems a million years ago, but we were all still using Napster, Britney Spears was the freshest thing since sliced bread, and Madonna was getting ready to take over the world all over again.

2001: My first proper year in high school.  I started a rigorous advanced program and made two friends I stuck around with for the rest of my high school years, one of which I’m still good friends with today.  I discovered my love of literature and the English language, and decided I wanted to be a teacher.  My first long-term relationship began, with a dark haired Rodrigo Santoro look-alike recently landed from the Ukraine.  Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were still together, the world was taken by a storm of fantasy as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings hit the screens, and elsewhere in the world, three thousand people lost their lives as planes crashed into the twin towers. The world was in mourning.

2002: I discovered I could sing, met some guys in a punk band and got up in front of the school and sang Offspring and No Use for a Name covers. I had my first proper breakup after a year and a half, and started learning about my relationship behaviour, an unfortunate pattern I’d soon become very hurt by, and wouldn’t truly realise for another six years.  I got my first job as a “Language Services Facilitator”, very scared of the working world and grown-up responsibility, but very grateful to not be working at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart like most of my fellow classmates.  The music world mourned the deaths of TLC’s Lisa Lopes, The Who’s John Entwistle, and the legendary Joe Strummer.  My new city of Winnipeg is put on the map as My Big Fat Greek Wedding becomes the most successful independent film ever.

2003: I finished high school and headed to university with every intention of becoming an English teacher.  I took English literature, medieval history, psychology and the history of art, and it was through friends I met here that I met Sweet for the first time. We dated for a month (before he unceremoniously dumped me right before Christmas!), and I also first met my best friend. Myspace and Facebook were launched, and changed the face of communication forever.

2004: At nineteen years old, I decided I was ready to move out.  I left home against all common sense, moved in with my then-boyfriend, an internationally travelling showman, juggler and contortionist, and realised how rubbish I was at being left behind.  I worked part time at the post office, and went to university part time, ultimately dropping out due to lack of money, lack of time, and our eventual breakup.  This year, I worked as a postal clerk!  X Factor mania began its reign of television supremacy, and a tsunami took the lives of hundreds of thousands.  This was the year I discovered the magic of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival , found my love of theatre, and have been back religiously every summer since.

2005: The BBC relaunched Doctor Who, my favourite and, according to the Guinness Book of Records, “longest-running science fiction television show in the world, and as the most successful science fiction series of all time.”  I was hooked for life.  I temporarily moved back into my parents’ house, living out of boxes on a sofa in the basement for a few weeks until I found my first apartment, into which I moved with my very first flatmate.  I discovered the horrors of joint cohabitation, but couldn’t afford to live alone, and so began my string of exasperating roomies.  2005 was also the year I got fired for the first and only time in my life, and I decided to go off to another province to work in a holiday resort for the entire summer.  I soon realised what a relentless homebody I was, and came back after about three weeks.  I took the first job I could find, and began my brief stint in the world of retail.  Elsewhere in the world, the first video is uploaded to YouTube, and within six months, the site was hitting 100 million views per day.

2006: I quit working in retail, and got my  soul back! I landed a job as a graphic designer (and soon after, office manager) at a print shop and though I stopped feeling bad about never finishing my English degree, I still longed to be learning again.  I pursued graphic design, learning on my own and getting better and better, and stayed there for three years.    This was the year I got my beautiful little cat, too, but it was also the year my parents split up.  An extremely close relationship with my dad began, but my relationship with my mother went in the opposite direction.  In 2006 I really got into British music in a big way, and discovered my love of bands like Muse, Kasabian, Keane and the Arctic Monkeys.  Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy takes the world by storm and becomes quite possibly the biggest song of the decade.  Twitter is launched – and it takes another three years before I eventually hop on the bandwagon.

2007: was the beginning of the worst year ever.  I (stupidly) got engaged to someone who started off great, but ultimately wound up lying, stealing money, doing drugs, and becoming abusive.  I lost a lot of my self-confidence  and started questioning the person I was.  I learned a lot of valuable lessons, and I wish I could go back to my 2007 self and give her a slap in the face and tell her to stop being so naive.  But 2007 had lots of good moments too – I visited England, France,  went to the best concert of my life and saw my favourite band of all time.  I had my tonsils out over Christmas of this year – THE most painful experience of my life, and found myself alone, in pain, and completely detached from the real world.  Luckily I reconnected with Kyla, resurrecting a wonderful friendship after years of absence.

2008: I had my first year of really being single and living without a flatmate.  I learned that I didn’t have to take every offer that came my way and just say no and be by myself for a while, and let my heart heal.  I went out dancing every week and threw myself into the indie music scene, staying up until 2:00 on weeknights.  In late spring, Sweet came back into my life after about 5 years not being in it, shortly before another trip back to the UK.  I visited old friends, fell in love with Ireland, and discovered I missed Sweet more than anything, and came back into his arms, where we officially decided to give it another go.  My best friend got married in a beautifully intimate ceremony, and I experienced my first moments of real, true love.  I had to give up my second cat, Chloe, and wept for days.  Heath Ledger passed away and the world was in shock.  I was encouraged to leave my comfy job at the print shop and go for something more, so I took a chance, quit, and spent the end of the year in California.

And now I’m wrapping up the decade with what’s been, so far, the best year of my life.  I started with a goal of escaping the shell of a person I was, taking risks and ending up exactly where I want to be.  I moved in to my first house, had an amazing year with good friends, growing closer with my dad, got a job I absolutely love, got engaged, developed my faith, and met my all-time favourite author in the flesh, a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.  I enjoyed a bunch of amazing music, programmes and movies.  I’m in the final of a national blogging contest and I’ve just started writing for an online music magazine – I’m doing what I love, and being given more and more opportunities to do it.  2009 has been an incredible, life-changing year, and I’m starting the new decade with a spirit of excitement, determination, and gratitude.  Next year already holds a lot of anticipation.  My first trip to the Caribbean, to the biggest city in Canada, to England and to wrap it all up in December, our winter wedding.  I can’t even imagine what I’ll be writing over the next ten years, but I know I can’t wait to share it all with you. 🙂

Happy New Year!!

The Time Traveller’s Strife

Okay guys, I have to own up to something. I caved.  I went to see The Time Traveller’s Wife.

I’d heard bad things when it first came out and decided to wait until it hit the cheap seats; I’d loved the book so much I re-read it with Sweet immediately after I finished it the first time, and it’s become one of my most loved books ever.  I knew movies based on books had a tendency to be completely disappointing and frustrating – but it was the BEST BOOK EVER – I had to see it on the big screen!

Sweet reluctantly came along, telling me on the way how he knew what was going to happen – I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it because I’d be thinking the whole time how different it was in the book, and I’d leave annoyed and wanting my two hours back.  I hadn’t realised I was engaged to a prophet, but I left annoyed, wanting my two hours back, and angry that those people all around the world who hadn’t read the book never would after watching a puzzling, unexplained tale of two characters who go from first date to marriage with no sense of attachment, intrigue or passion.

Don’t read ahead if you haven’t read the book.  Go and buy it now, while I rant about how much I hated the film.

The movie fails to explain the science that is so expertly and admirably undertaken in the book, in which the author sews the intricacies of time travel seamlessly into a timeless take of star-crossed lovers, desperately living with the curse of a genetic mutation that pulls Henry to moments of time, past and future, of emotional gravity.   In the book, Henry is an intense character, weathered and rough, charismatic, worldly with a turbulent past but an intense passion for the woman he’s loved all her life. You come to know both Henry and Clare intimately, flaws, passions and all, and genuinely empathize to the point of tears by the end.  In the book, Henry is a character.  He’s scrawny, beaten, etched and imposing.  Movie Henry was just a Generally Nice Man – Hollywood handsome, too-short hair, well spoken and well dressed with no sense of character at all.

I’d imagined the Meadow to be so vast – so immeasurable in size, somewhere you’d lay out a blanket in a sea of wild grass and knee-high dandelion clocks and see the landscape extending all the way to the horizon.  In the movie – it was somebody’s back garden.  Moments of intensity in the book are bypassed or treated with disinterest; Henry’s episode of arriving naked in the middle of a harsh winter and struggling to survive the frostbite is unremarkable on screen, with no blizzard, no hypothermia, and no intensity.  The intricately planned concoctions created to get Henry through his wedding day without disappearing are a simple Valium tablet.  Clare’s depression following Henry’s death is practically nonexistent.  A broken-glass ridden body, displaced in time for an instant, is unforgettable in its narrative power, compelling the imagination and evoking feelings of fear, distress and danger, just shows up on screen slightly bruised and disappears again.

Key characters are omitted (including our protagonists’), details are left out and passion is lacking.  I almost cried out at the end of the movie when they left out the best part of the book (the letter I sobbed over for hours? The part when Clare’s an old lady?) and rewrote it to be a Happy Hollywood Ending.  It makes me wonder just how much say an author has when their work is taken to the silver screen.  Is there really any amount of money that could replace your art, your imagination, and allow such butcherings to take your work to the masses? This movie destroyed the very soul of the story, and I hope and pray it doesn’t discourage people from experiencing the real tale.  I can only imagine the pangs of regret seizing Audrey Niffenegger as she sat through the film.

During the credits, I noticed Brad Pitt was listed as Executive Producer.  I suppose that would explain something.  I kind of want to get in on this time travelling thing – even if it is solely for the purpose of going back to the day he came on board, and punching him in the face.

Some days, I’m extra proud to be a sci-fi geek

This weekend, I did something I haven’t done for what feels like at least a year.  And I did it two nights running.  Ladies and gentlemen, this Friday and Saturday, I went to the cinema.  In a world of video piracy and mass filesharing; actually deciding to go out and spend $20 on a film where you may get kicked in the back of your seat multiple times (and may end up hating anyway) hasn’t really been top of my list on a Friday night.  But this weekend, Sweet and I went for a couple of good old fashioned dates.  Friday, I got to pick.  I scanned the Free Press and landed on the one that I knew nothing about other than the fact it got numerous five star reviews from pretty reputable places, and it was written by Nick Hornby.

An Education held a lot of promise – a great cast (including Carey Mulligan of recent Doctor Who fame, the bad guy off of Flightplan, and Emma Thompson, who I’ve always loved dearly.  It was a nice enough story set in ‘60s England, about a girl with a strong academic background who meets a glamourous older chap, who takes her to Paris, proposes marriage and encourages her to give up school.  Relatively low-key, slightly underwhelming (the “bad guy” doesn’t even turn into a psycho stalker, and after dropping out of school she still ends up with a place at Oxford), but nice nonetheless.

But then we decided to do it all over again.  Saturday afternoon, like the old people at heart we truly are, we grabbed a couple of toonies and hit the cheap seats, where we opted for District 9.  I’d read a bit about it when it came out a few months ago; from what I knew, Peter Jackson had gone off to South Africa to film a Halo-based movie, but something had gone wrong with copyrights and that sort of thing, and he’d done a different movie instead.  What resulted was what I can only say was THE single best sci-fi movie I have ever seen in my LIFE, and for the next couple of weeks I request you ALL go and catch this before it leaves the big screens.

District 9

It was incredible.  With sci-fi movies (and television), my general experience is that big blockbusters with lots of special effects and generic good guys vs. bad aliens formulas have always won over mass audiences, while more “intellectual” storylines in Star Trek and X Files episodes are the nerd armies’ best kept secret.  Sci-fi that makes you think is generally thought of as “for the geeks” or turned into a cult classic, never reigning the box office or drawing in a nation on a Saturday night.   District 9 may just change everything.  It’s comparatively low budget ($30 million) to other recent sci-fi movie endeavours (Transformers 2 had $380 million to play with), and cast with a bunch of no-names whose lead actor has never before graced the screen.  There’s no outer-space warfare, or journeys to other planets, and the only things getting blown up leave you questioning your morality with a sense of enormous discomfort.

I’m not going to tell you what happens in the movie.  They cleverly omitted the major plotline from the trailer, which made for enormous surprise, and I think with good reason.  But I’ve never seen anything like this.  This is a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking political commentary, which, unusually, paints us as the bad guys.  It will tug and tear at your emotions as you feel for computer-generated characters who don’t actually exist, don’t render any sort of human facial expressions, and don’t speak.  You’ll fall in love with these characters based on nothing but subtitles, which in my mind, says a hell of a lot about the quality of the script.   This film is stunningly original and can easily put a good number of larger blockbusters to shame with its performance, intelligence, emotion and imagination.  It’s pretty gory, and I was definitely rather uncomfortable at several points, but anything that causes such a reaction based on raising questions of our capability to be so inhumane is fully justified. Plus, I’m a girl. I get squeamish pretty easily.  But I’ve never been so moved by what initially looked like such a boys’ movie.  I’ve never seen anything so action-packed and at the same time so reflective, so soulful, and so emotional.  I’ve never been prouder to be a sci-fi geek.  Bring on District 10.  I’ll be one of the thousands queuing up for advance tickets that’ll sell out faster than any Star Wars movie in box office history.