Isabel Greenberg – The Hundred Nights of Hero

100 NOH

 

Here’s a brief overview of what reading Isabel Greenberg’s The Hundred Nights of Hero felt like:

OH WOW THIS IS AMAZING!!! I NEVER WANT THIS TO END!!!!!

and now I’ll present the long form reaction.

Those ranty caps were not an exaggeration. This graphic novel really is superb. It contains a lot of things which appeal to me when I read a something:

  • Interconnecting destinies.
  • Mythology
  • Feminism
  • Wit
  • Distinguishable style

The book starts with the creation of the world by birdlike gods. To be more specific the daughter of the birdlike god. Eventually the father does not like her version of the earth and creates a more male-centric one.

This theme runs throughout the whole book. All the heros are females who outsmart ego-centric males and forms part of the main plot.

After the creation story we jump in time and discover two males betting that if one of them leaves for a hundred nights, his wife will be seduced by one of his friends. The bet takes place but they are heard by the maid, who is the lover of one of the person who is leaving. Thus in order to ward of the friend the maid tells him stories for a hundred nights.

I guess you can spot the homage here. Greenberg goes a step further for the stories that the maid tells are all entwined with the prologue in the beginning and her life. Ultimately the destiny of the girls takes a fairy tale twist and the borders between reality and fantasy mesh into a thrilling conclusion.

As this is a brief summary I have left out the complexity of the narratives but the deft way Greenberg handles the fairy tales and yet manages to add on more layers and let the reader discover inter-textual secrets just had me gawping.

The artwork is brilliant. Think of Picasso’s cubist techniques mixed with Daniel Johnson’s early drawings

There are other thins which deserve a lot of praise. There’s the way Greenberg tackles and makes fun of the patriarchal aspect of fairy tales (something Angela Carter managed to flip upside down with her collection of stories) The way the characters are fully formed and sheer vibrancy of the drawings and dialogue. This is a perfect book so everything else will consist of heaps and heaps of praise just read it. Trust me it will do you good.

 

 

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Holidays – Various Directors

Holidays-poster

Anthology films are the cinematic equivalent of short stories: On the the whole they are interesting but the quality varies. Saying that I find anthology films enjoyable due tot he eclectic nature of the segments, one of  my absolute favourites being September 11

Holidays is, as you can guess, an anthology of films based around popular holidays, however unlike films of this ilk, there are some uniting factors. One is that there’s a horror basis in all the films and secondly all these films are insane, whether within the plot or the visuals, or in the case of a couple of these segments, both.

Within the speedy hour and a half running time, I was creeped out, baffled and a couple of times I laughed. Despite the underlying themes, each director’s (the most famous being Kevin Smith) take on a holiday is memorable. Whether the over the top revenge tales (Valentine’s Day, Halloween, New Year’s Eve) the sinister (St. Patrick’s Day) or the Black Mirroresque (Christmas) there will be at least a couple of films which will be imprinted on your memory.  However the standout, or at least, the one that will divide opinions is Easter: A bizarre short in which a child learns the difference between Jesus Christ and the Easter Bunny. All I can say is that you’ll either find it shocking or plain stupid but you’ve NEVER seen anything like it.  As for the stinker, I wasn’t too keen on the Mother’s day short as I felt the idea was explored as deeply and came across as a bit melodramatic.

So should you watch Holidays? The answer is yes. It’s a good way to spend an evening, just don’t have any high expectations.

How to get a gift for a book lover this Christmas

A step-by-step guide (guest post)

Book Lover

I love my boyfriend. He loves books. Christmas should be a piece of cake, right?

WRONG.

If you have a serious book lover in your life, you know the agony of gift-giving. You want to get them something they want – a book. How the hell do you buy a book for a book lover? There are so many traps to fall into:

  • they didn’t want that book
  • they already have the book, and read it
  • they already have the book, and haven’t read it yet
  • they already have the book, and read it, and actually loaned you that same book last year but you forgot to give it back…

Choosing books is like choosing perfume. Not everything suits everyone. Some people like theirs traditional, others like something weird, but nobody likes absolutely everything. Giving a book is like saying “here, I totally know you, and this is you”.

 

Here is my method to get as close to perfect as possible.

 

Step one, find their Goodreads page.

Many book lovers use Goodreads for reviews and recommendations. I made an account, found my boyfriend’s page, and digitally befriended him. Then the phone call “Hey why are you on my Goodreads?” to which you must answer “Oh I was looking for some recommendations, seemed cool” and use a nonchalant tone, like you’re on Goodreads totally casually and there is no ulterior motive.

 

Step two, find their highest rated books.

This should be easy as there is a sort feature.

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Step three, find books that are similar to their highest rated. You can use Amazon or Book Depository for this. For example, Robert rated Underworld by Don DeLillo 5 stars. So, I take that title and plug it into Book Depository’s search engine. Find the book and have a look at the ‘similar’ or ‘other people also bought…’ list.

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These are good but we’re not there yet. You should keep looking through the similar books until you find something that’s not familiar. Like these:

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Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler seems interesting! It’s got 4 stars, something about a totalitarian regime – yep, that’s up Rob’s alley.

 

Take your title and go back to Goodreads. Check if they’ve got it in their collection.

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Score! He hasn’t read it.

This is a strong contender. I’ll do the same thing with 4-5 books until I have a shortlist, and add them to my basket. Then, from your basket you can compare prices.

If they don’t have a Goodreads page, you can still use the same method but you’ll need to look through their physical collection.

If there’s absolutely no way you can get your mitts on their book collection, you can always go for an accessory. No, this won’t get that special glow in their eyes – you, know the one they get when they open a new book, but it’s the next best thing. Here are some accessories any book lover will appreciate:

The above blog post was written by my girlfriend Camille (I guess this also means more bookish gifts in the future! 🙂  

Silent Night, Deadly Night – Charles Sellier (dir)

silent-night-deadly-night-movie-poster-1984

I’m a big fan of ‘so bad, it’s good’ films (and cult ones) as generally I find that there’s a lot of  good intentions behind them, it’s the same reason why I like outsider music and art brut. Although the end product is not great, there’s a certain endearing charm. Silent Night, Deadly Night is a bit different.

The plot is simple. Young Billy’s parents are murdered by a killer dressed as Santa, which gives Billy a Pavlovian fear of Santa, something which affects him throughout the rest of his childhood.

As Billy grows up he finds a job at a toy store and then during the Christmas period he has to dress up as Santa Claus. This triggers all those old feeling and he goes on a killing rampage, only to be killed at the orphanage he spent his childhood years in.

Time has not been kind to this film and there are a lot of flaws.The acting is horrible from all protagonists. One gets the feeling all the actors felt that they couldn’t take their roles seriously and had to do their best to stop from sniggering on set.

The dialogue is weak and borders on the over simplistic, with totally random statements that are uncharacteristic of the way some characters are portrayed. The best example is when the toy store owner, who is presented to be a dour personality, locks the  shop’s door, punches the air and yells ‘lets get shitfaced!!!’

The nudity is totally gratuitous, with an emphasis on breasts. In the beginning when Billy’s mother is being killed,  Santa drags her to the ground and slits her throat but not before opening her shirt and looking at her chest. In another scene a couple are about to have sex on a pool table but then billy knocks on the door, the girl exclaims that she has to answer the door with her clothes on. Naturally she just puts on a pair of daisy dukes and answers the door lady Godiva style. I assume as a punishment Billy impales her on a deer head.

Oh and although I do understand gore is part of every slasher film, I do believe that blood should emerge out of the area that is being hit, so here a person may be bludgeoned on the back of the head a blood will mysteriously gush out of the victim’s nose.  Oh yes soundtracked to very obvious Foley techniques. You can hear stagehands kicking a box when Billy punches people.

All this renders this horror film as a comedy.

However despite all the flaws is the film entertaining? The answer is that for the first forty minutes there is an actual story being told, so yes. Billy’s fear of Santa is explained well and the murder spree in the toy shop is good but when Billy leaves the toy shop for another forty minute of pure killing the film loses its pace and becomes a dull parade of blood and boobs.  Still the film is worth a watch but more for curiosity’s sake.

ho ho ho

Carmen Maria Machado – Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body

 

This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Although I have stated it before, I will state it again: generally I do not like short stories because I find them inconsistent. Thankfully Carmen Maria Machado’s collection kept my attention all throughout, bar one story (more of that later). In many cases I was amazed at all the ideas.

Machado’s stories, as stated in the title, focuses on the body, in particular the female body. Within these stories the body either fades away, develops boils, gets operated on or has some secrets. Despite the fact that there is a universal theme, Machado has wildly creative ways of displaying the importance of the female form. Such examples are The Husband’s Stitch, which is an updated version of a campfire story dealing with a woman who keeps a ribbon around her neck at all times or Real Women Have Bodies, where the body loses its permanence or Inventory where a woman makes a list of all the people she has loved or used her body in different ways and vice versa.

The one story, and my personal favourite, which encapsulates Machado’s main theme is Eight Bites, a fantastic piece about a woman who undergoes an operation to eat less. Maybe my interpretation is not correct, but I saw this story as a commentary on dieting culture. How we are obsessed with body image and the lengths people go to maintain a slim figure. It’s disturbing but it is a fairly realistic look at what is happening today.

There’s also a meta element to some of the stories, with The Resident being the most obvious one: A novelist takes up a residency at a sort of artists commune/hotel in the middle of nowhere, only to discover that the art world is constrictive and dangerous. In order to break free the writer undertakes a decision to give up writing, which is ironic as, obviously all the women breaking free in this collection are doing so in written word.

All these stories contain some type of surreal element which keeps the reader turning pages in order to see how far an idea can go, the post apocalyptic story Mothers is Machado at her most creative. Needless to say that the writing is also first class. Descriptions just flow and despite a lot of the ugliness that permeates these stories, there is a certain undefinable beauty in Machado’s use of similes and metaphors that captivate.

I did mention earlier that there was one story which I did not like which was Especially Heinous, a parody of Law and Order: SVU, a show I’ve never watched so this story was lost on me, this is more of a case of my ignorance but it does pay to have a background knowledge of the show.

For a person who does not like short stories, I was won over by Her Body and Other Parties, so that’s a good thing. Machado tackles topical issues with panache and style plus there’s enough quirky and inventive bits to keep the stories lasting quite a while. A unique voice that cannot be ignored

 

Justice League – Zack Snyder (dir)

justice league

Before I start this review I better include some backstories.

Backstory 1:

My introduction to DC characters did not happen through the comics but there were two events which helped shape my knowledge of the DC Universe. The first happened all throughout my childhood, when the one and only video store that was in the Indian reservation I lived in stocked superhero cartoons. Thus from 1985 – 1988 I watched TONS of DC and Marvel cartoons. Usually these cartoons contained the origin of a character and then a couple of one off adventures. The second event happened in 1987 when I received a encyclopedia of the DCEU. I read that from cover to cover constantly.So my everything I know about comic book adaptations are form secondary sources, rather than primary ones.

Backstory 2:

At first I was sceptical about the DCEU. I thought Man of Steel was a good, solid film, Batman vs Superman was patchy and had tons of potential to be a great film. Suicide Squad was a complete mess. Wonder Woman is definitely the best of lot and the best superhero film I watched this year, which leads us to Justice League.

Brief Summary:

Steppenwolf, a character who wreaked havoc many years ago has returned to in order to collect three boxes, which were taken away from him last time round. When the three boxes are put together they contain enough power to destroy the universe, which Steppenwolf manages to do. Batman finds out about the boxes and seeks out Wonder Woman, The Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg in order to defeat Steppenwolf. Along the way they resurrect Superman, which results in a great big battle. Throughout the film the heroes realise that in order to be powerful they have to work as a team.

My Impressions:

I enjoyed watching this film. It respects canon and is a nice follow up to Batman vs Superman. All the new characters are given space to develop and us viewers get a strong picture of their personalities. I feel that each character in the league represents some sort of value i.e Wonder Woman symbolises compassion and that was brought out excellently. I did also like the part where Superman stops midway through fighting in order to save civilians. There are two main battles and they are fantastic and I mean seat gripping action. I like a villain that you want to punch and Steppenwolf encapsulated all that. Plus all characters have chemistry. Unlike previous DCEU films this one does have some good jokes, which I appreciated.

It’s not a perfect film though. I found the first half just a teensy bit slow and then the second half a bit too rushed but really it’s a small complaint. Once again dark colors dominated Justice League and I felt that Aquaman could have more screentime BUT he’s getting his own film next year, and it will be directed by James Wan.

Ultimately Justice League delivers and finally may trump Marvel regarding emotional depth but I do know that this is a generalisation. I do think though, this is a sign that consistency will now be a staple of the DCEU.

 

Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a difficult book to summarise, not because it is a complicated novel, but rather that it is structured in such a way that any sort of description can spoil the whole book. I will try my best to be as vague as possible.

As the book opens we are presented with thirty year old Eleanor Oliphant. She likes routine. She is out of touch with contemporary culture and she is judgmental. Not only that but her command of the English language is rich and yet it is childlike at the same time. Of course there are reasons but I’d rather you readers discover that.

One day an event takes place which helps Oliphant asses her life and in the process she makes some startling revelations, some which will surprise the reader and some a perceptive reader will find out quite early in the book due to the clues that Oliphant lets slip in her narrative. In a way you could say that she is an unreliable narrator who evolves into becoming a reliable one, the more she discovers what life is all about.

EOICF is not a self help book disguised as a novel. It does have elements of that but the book is concerned with how one person with psychological issues can attempt to face them, especially when they are challenging.

So why five stars? Well all the characters in this book are fully realised, with their good and bad traits. The title character is memorable. I like the way the plot develops and Honeyman manages to make serious matters seem trivial until the reader, and by extension, Oliphant, actually realise how serious the things are.

For a debut novel, EOICF is fully formed and teases the reader but including enough closure to make sure the reader is not frustrated. I am definitely a fan of Honeyman and I cannot wait to see what she’ll do next.