Film

Distractions: Roald Dahl and Jet-Lag Recovery

gloop

Mrs. Gloop: Don’t just stand there, do something!
Willy Wonka: [unenthusiastically] Help. Police, Murder.

I’m a wee bit tired after just returning from a week in Berlin. I have some interesting books up my sleeve, but with my eyelids wanting to droop over at any given minute, they will have to wait. Instead, here is a Sunday distraction: How Much Do You Actually Know About Roald Dahl’s Books? I only answered about 50% correctly. It’s been ages since I’ve read a Roald Dahl book, but I’ve always been a fan (I’m sure many of you are, too!). Did you do any better?

This distraction is inspired by the–admittedly, nice–seatmate I had on one flight, but because she was rather large (and German) and intruded on my small space, I couldn’t help but be entirely mean and think of Augustus Gloop.

Harry Houdini!

This past December, I reviewed Harry Houdini’s The Right Way To Do Wrong, which I highly recommend. Like many people, I’m fascinated by escape artists and illusionists of varying kinds with special note to talents of past days (I’m completely keen on the film The Prestige, too).

So, I am super excited for the History Channel’s two part series titled Houdini starring Adrien Brody. The trailer was just released. Have a look-see before the Labor Day release and also, read his book, too. You can find out Houdini’s feelings on “frog swallowing.”

Horns

Oh, dear. I do believe this is the second post in a row with a video, but….

I just watched the theatrical trailer for the new film adaptation of Joe Hill’s Horns. I reviewed the novel back in April and I have to say it is a mighty gripping read. I hope the film is as entertaining.

The Yellow Wallpaper

The PBS Online Film Festival is going on right now and they have 25 short films available on YouTube (only a few days left for viewers to vote for their favorites). One of the contenders is a 3 minute long short experimental animation based on Charlotte Perkins Gillman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper” (you can it read it for free in the public domain). I’m particularly fond of the way the animators put the opaque wallpaper onto the woman’s body.

From PBS: Vote for this film at http://www.pbs.org/filmfestival/video…
The Yellow Wallpaper is an experimental animated adaptation of the eponymous short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The story is about a depressed woman who descends into insanity as she struggles against the patriarchal institution that confines her. Through expressive movements and visual symbols, the animation captures the intersection between gender and mental health.

Birdman & Raymond Carver

birdman

This week saw the release of a short trailer for the upcoming film, Birdman. It looks weird, bizarre, and it’s starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, and Emma Stone (pretty much, right up my alley). There isn’t much information out there on plot beyond what IMDb has in the form of a one sentence rundown,

“A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.”

The Broadway play in the film is an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s collection, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love–a collection filled with much turmoil and difficult relationships.

Take a gander at the trailer.

The Blind Woman Who Sees Rain

I had full intentions of writing about some lovely flash fiction today, but then, last night, I watched this video that accompanied an NPR story about a Scottish woman who became blind at the age of 29 due to a stroke and sometime afterward started to realize she could see movement. She could see rain tumbling down and the swish of her daughter’s ponytail, but faces, they stay in the shadows. The video is a fascinating artistic rendering of what the blind woman can see. To complete this post, after the video, I’ve included a rain themed poem by Shelley.

 

The Fitful Alternations Of The Rain 
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fitful alternations of the rain,
When the chill wind, languid as with pain
Of its own heavy moisture, here and there
Drives through the gray and beamless atmosphere

Can we talk about how I lost 27 minutes of my life watching the new Rosemary’s Baby?

rosemary's baby

So, perhaps the title is a bit overly dramatic, but the newest adaptation of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby is a total bore. I didn’t read any reviews of the mini-series beforehand, because I wanted to go in with a clear palette. I had heard that they relocated the story to Paris from New York, which I didn’t understand, but I gave the filmmaker the benefit of the doubt that she wanted to isolate Rosemary even more by moving her to a foreign country where she knows practically no one nor is fluent in the language (although, she seems to encounter only impeccably bilingual Parisians).

There was no subtly to this adaptation. Back in September, I reviewed the book. Although, I already knew the twists and turns from being a fan of Roman Polanski’s 1968 adaptation, Levin’s book still held a creepiness that made Rosemary and the reader increasingly more uncomfortable. On a small island of so many, Rosemary Woodhouse is still alone. At first, she is trusting of her friendly, elderly neighbors, but slowly the thread grows longer and Rosemary can’t seem to trust anyone, including her own husband. Polanski was immensely loyal to the novel and the movie is an accurate adaptation (he didn’t realize that directors stray from the original source material).

In both the book and the original film, there is a creep to the horror with a dash of the claustrophobic. The doers of evil are not what we all expect and, instead, as I earlier wrote, Ira Levin created a “real world that is so average and filled with evil represented in the most mundane and unsuspecting of people” and Polanski did the same. This new iteration of Rosemary’s Baby was so far away from this whole premise. About twenty-seven minutes into the mini-series, I finally gave up. I am not a fickle viewer and I try to give most things a go. Yet, this was so lukewarm.

There is no mystery to the underlying premise. Right off the bat, we know that Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse’s new benefactors/landlords/make-out buddies? are up to something more sinister. Heavy-handed would be an understatement. Zoe Saldana–the actress portraying Rosemary–keeps awkwardly oscillating between naive ingénue and the gung-ho type of woman who will chase after a purse snatcher in the middle of the Paris streets. She also has minor rumblings of discomfort over her new posh friends who gift her a wardrobe full of couture clothes, a hatbox filled with a wailing black cat, and after a quick massage to help relieve a headache, gives her a lingering kiss on the lips while lying in bed…all in the first 27 minutes! (oh, yeah, and Guy has a meeting with his colleague at a bar that could double for the set of Eyes Wide Shut). I am a fan of the ridiculous, but this falls more toward the dreadful.

There was absolutely no tension, no subtly, no mystery. We know that Satan is lurking right from the beginning. There is no Ruth Gordon to offer a glass of some questionable milky concoction, all the while, reassuring Rosemary that it’s perfectly healthy. When I turned the series off, I eventually made it to the internet where some cursory Googling confirmed by opinion. The only positive review I read was in the New York Times, but once I saw the byline, I immediately knew that the reviewer probably didn’t even watch the mini-series (my favorite article about NYT tv critic Alessandra Stanley is from the Columbia Journalism Review and is titled,“Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong”; she is known for her gratuitous errors and the fact that she sometimes doesn’t even watch the program).

Okay, so I shall stop complaining now. Skip this mini-series and just read the book and watch the 1968 film. Did anyone sit through this in its entirety?

 

Screenshots [1] [2]

Penny Dreadful

penny dreadful

This weekend saw the premiere of Showtime’s new series, Penny Dreadful. The show brings together some classic characters from literature: Dracula, Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein, and his monster. The show is filled with dark creatures, hidden mysteries, and a dark and scrubby London.  The show is richly layered and for fans like myself who like Gothic fiction, the weaving in of these characters and their lore is delightful.

The creators set the show in 1891. Only three years after Jack the Ripper, the city is still on high alert when a gruesome murder has been discovered. Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green, who I’ve loved since The Dreamers) ropes American Wild West Show shooter, Ethan Chandler, in to helping her and Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) find the latter’s daughter, amongst other not yet said endeavors. Chandler is immediately thrown into an underground world with dastardly blood sucking beasts with very sharp teeth and Egyptian hieroglyphs etched into their skin. Oh, yeah, there is also a tortured young doctor who spends his days autopsying bodies along with his more clandestine nighttime behavior of keeping a corpse on ice connected to an electric generator.

Vampires are wicked in the first episode, but we’ve yet to see Dracula himself and I’m quite looking forward to Dorian Gray, as it is a favorite of mine. Something I particularly like about the series thus far is that they return to the more grotesque and sensational beginnings of the novels. Over the past decades and especially more recently, these characters (particularly the creatures) have been rendered so much away from their original iterations, that they lost some of their more frightening composition. Just look at what vampires have become in present day fiction and movies.

The creators of Penny Dreadful have also taken the route of foregoing heavy CGI in favor of makeup and prosthetics, which are stellar and not at all hokey. They give a reality to the fantastical storytelling and too much CGI, well, that can look too crisp and clear. Also, setting the series in 1891 was ideal. I’m sure they will take advantage of the era when modern medicine and science were evolving (but still stuck, no doubt; Doctor Frankenstein was putting his bare hands inside of corpses leaving him soaked in blood and what better way to clean your hands than to wipe them on a dirty rag). Also, this was a time that was the beginning of the end for the British Empire, so I’m sure all sorts of angst will run wild on the show.

Only episode one has aired, but there are eight in the series. For the weak of stomach, don’t fret. The gore is not obscene and fits well so far with the show. If you can watch an episode of [insert title of any banal cop or doctor show], you can easily watch this without succumbing to upchuck. The grotesque is impressive and just enough mystery was withheld to keep the momentum going. Lovers of both sensational literature and intriguing tales will enjoy Penny Dreadful.

The first episode is available for free with or without a subscription on Showtime’s website. For UK and Ireland viewers, Sky Atlantic co-produced, so I am sure it will air on your side of the pond as well.

Image [1]

Short Film Adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery

Last week’s post about the new Shirley Jackson story that was just posthumously published had me thinking about this short film adaptation of her story, “The Lottery.” I couldn’t recall if I had actually ever seen it and with some minimal internet sleuthing I’ve found it. The short film also features an incredibly young Ed Begley Jr. in his first film role (he plays Jack Watson). Enjoy!

Additional Reading … Interesting article from Shirley Jackon’s biographer detailing the hundreds of hate letters she received after this story was published. Also, the biographer touches on the perplexed feelings some readers had. The New Yorker also has a digitized version of the story from the 1948 issue it first appeared in.

[PART 1]

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[PART 2]

An Amateur’s Field Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Has anyone else noticed the newish zombie trend slowly permeating through our books, movies, and television? Perhaps, this is just a backlash from the fatigue we all have from sexy teenage vampires. My interest in zombies has never been particularly high, but I can’t help but notice some of the more recent offerings. These aren’t your run of the mill Romero zombie tales.

I am no expert (hence the amateur status given to this post), but I thought I would share my run-ins that have bucked my previously held opinion of zombie fare.* The creators have tried to upend the standard lore of zombies and produce something new. For me, it all began with The Returned, a recent French television series.

zombies - 1They aren’t mumbling, half-wits motivated solely for brains. No, the revenants of this small French town return as if nothing has happened even though some have been deceased for decades. They want to return to their normal lives, but with every new episode, stranger behavior and occurrences unfold. There are clearly secrets buried within the living, too. The Returned is a television adaptation of a 2004 French film called They Came Back (French: Les Revenants), which seethes with the uncanny and eerie. This slow burning film makes you feel completely off-kilter. The returned are not quite what the living expected and the business of what to do with this sudden inflation of undeceased residents is a perplexing burden. Let’s not mention all of the not sleeping and midnight meetups by the undead who seem to be planning something. Both of these zombie servings offer a different picture, which include complex emotions and simmering questions.

zombies - 2

It’s often noted that the 2002 British thriller, 28 Days Later, was the zombie film that reignited interest in the living dead. It took me ages to finally see it (due to my aforementioned disinterest in zombies), but when I did, I was impressed. It definitely was akin to those 1968 zombies, but it did do something different–the zombies were not slow walking  groaners. They were fast and strong making the post-apocalypse landscape even more terrifying. But we’ve moved on a little from these serious creepfests…

The genre has seen its own comedic interpretations with the fantastic Shaun of the Dead (that bar scene with Queen playing always gets me) or the slapstick horror of the New Zealand zombie flick, Black Sheep, which centers around the genetically mutated sheep that have secretly been created on the outskirts of a family farm by scientists looking to birth savage carnivores instead of docile grazers. Has anyone else seen this? I feel like I’m the only one. Shall I tempt you with the trailer? Also, we cannot forget Zombieland, a film that sees gun-toting Woody Harrelson driven to find a Twinkie in a zombie-filled world.

But this new zombie is flashing its teeth in writing as well. Isaac Marion’s debut novel, Warm Bodies, is narrated by R who isn’t your mamma’s zombie. Marion is writing from a zombie point of view–something which often is not a feature. R spends his days very slowly walking around a former airport with his other zombie cohorts in post-apocalyptic Seattle. He is bored, can’t remember his name, and on a recent hunt for brains, he meets Julie, a member of the living. R has a deep inner monologue and can relive memories of those whose brains he’s devoured. As the book goes on, R starts to become more human-like. He can string more than a couple of syllables together and his body movements are less restricted. Warm Bodies has been labelled a zombie romance, which it is, but it was also enjoyable to read as a new take on the zombie genre. There is also a 2013 film adaptation that is fun to watch as R goes through his zombie existential crisis.

Of course, there is horror maestro Joe Hill’s short story, “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead.” Honestly, I was skeptical at first because the entire story is written in a succession of Tweets by a teenage girl on a road trip with her family, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a real joyride. The 140 character Oulipian constraint makes for some side-splitting moments. The whole time, the girl is tweeting her family’s car ride even when they make a wrong turn leading them to the Circus of the Dead–a circus manned by zombie entertainment. Even when her own brother is turned, she can’t help but be surly and she remains tweeting till the very undead end.

TYME2WASTE He’s not very good at being a zombie. He isn’t even trying to walk slow. He’s really going after the ringmistress. 9:04 PM – 2 Mar from Tweetie

zombies 3

“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”

Zombie stories and resurrections have been around for centuries. The mindless brain-centric menace can trace its roots to West Africa and Haiti where many myths and stories shape our present day zombie. The mainstreaming of the word began in the late 1920s and exploded with the release of the 1932 Bela Lugosi picture, White Zombie, based on William Seabrook’s book (note: his Wikipedia page states, “[W]as an American Lost Generation occultistexplorer, traveller, cannibal, and journalist.” Maybe, one of the best entry openings on the site?).  

I proffer that zombies became more than just the living dead with Richard Matheson’s I am Legend. We can argue that the creatures are really more like vampires, but this is my blog, so I win. They’re zombies. In his 1954 novel, Matheson popularized the notion of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by an unknown contagion. This is really a must-read even outside of the zombie wheelhouse. (Let’s all just agree to forgo the recent film adaptation for the sole reason that the filmmakers totally throw out the idea of what “I am Legend” means in the book). Matheson’s excellent book won’t be the last to elicit a dwindling world where war, disease, and other man-made epidemics will be our downfall.

Newer zombies are regularly shown as staying awake all night long. Their inability to sleep and their weary-eyed restlessness is often highlighted. Even in Karen Russell’s new novella, Sleep Donation, which is not strictly a zombie piece, compares the insomniacs to zombies. They are rendered insane by the sleeplessness and an epidemic is raging through the world. A cause is not given, but it is obviously a metaphor for society’s anxieties (also, commenting on the fact that with every progressing day, we are less likely to pull ourselves away from our various screen devices that have been show to interfere with sleep).

Even in the horror-comedy schlock fest, Jennifer’s Body, a bit of commentary is going on. Although, Jennifer is not explicitly labeled a zombie (more a demon), she comes back to life to wreak havoc on the high school boys who objectified her. It is a ridiculous and absurd film that is pretty great and it tries to tap into the portrayal of women in slasher flicks (the execution can be questioned at times, but still admirable, for lack of a better word). Roger Ebert wrote in his review, “As a movie about a flesh-eating cheerleader, it’s better than it has to be.” It is a suitable addition to a genre that is already highly saturated with male voices.

zombies - 4

Supernatural works are often stand-ins for society’s very real fears and worries. Letting go and grief seem to be apparent themes in The Returned and They Came Back, and we are seeing it again in the new US television series Resurrection (based on the 2012 novel, The Returned, which has nothing to do with the two French works, but also deals with long-dead people returning to a small town. Read the Slate article to clear everything up). Also, in all three, the revenants are unable to sleep, denoting them as the other and keeping from the very human function that visits us every night. I have not read Jason Mott’s novel, but I’m curious if anyone else has an opinion on it.

Our new zombies are often having existential crises. They keep their heads high and ruminate on their fates. Sometimes the world is destroyed by a disease, but many times this is not the case. R doesn’t remember how he lost his sense of self. Did this new, distracted world just think itself into zombieism? Many iterations don’t sleep. They can be found walking aimlessly and unblinking with plenty of time to think. They seem harmless at first, but when more come, the true monster shows its face. They might not always be guttural, fleshy cannibalistic heaps anymore. As readers and watchers of these new zombies, we often become enthralled by this different approach to the genre. The stories are evolving with our own present world, for the good and the bad. Our anxieties are being manifested in post-apocalyptic worlds filled with modern creatures. No matter what, though, zombies are always a human creation. They are mutating and overcoming us until we must send in Brad Pitt to rid of us of our World War Z.

Now, I am off to watch Cockneys vs. Zombies to add to my zombie arsenal. Do you have any to add? They are certainly plenty of zombie films, but are there any more works of fiction that are just begging to be read? Does anyone else notice that many vampire books are written by women, but zombies seem to be the playing field of men?


* Sorry Walking Dead fans. From the one random episode I watched last year, this series solidified my previous held disinterest in Zombies and their ability to bore with me the main focus being on walking back and forth slowly.

Appendix

1. Images [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]
2. Zombies are such a trend now that there are zombie-themed apps, including a jogging “adventure,” called Zombies, Run!
3.  A short list of zombie films starring Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price.
4. Many thanks to Helen for recommending the television series The ReturnedThe TV series airs on Sundance Channel and can also be binge watched (recommended) on Netflix. They Came Back can be watched for free in its entirety on Hulu. Although, I recommend finding the DVD for the extra “making of” documentary.
5. Never utter these words during a zombie apocalypse.

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