Month: September 2016

Book Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell

Overview:  I love graphic novels, especially graphic novel memoirs.  I miss teaching that class back when I taught English to undergrads instead of the grads I have now – not that I won’t put it into the curriculum in the future.  All that to say, when I saw ‘El Deafo’ in the local independent bookstore, I immediately snatched it up.

El Deafo is the memoir of Cece Bell, a woman who lost her hearing when about 4 years old from what appears to be a meningeal infection.  This chronicles her first few years of limited hearing.  She’s not fully deaf, and uses a contraption strapped to her chest, with earbuds, and then a microphone she gives to her teachers to hear what’s being said.  She learns to lip read, but it’s all frustrating because the world isn’t made for those with limited hearing.  To help her adjust to her new identity, and synthesize what’s going on with her friends around her (like her best friend who becomes scared of hurting her) she invents El Deafo!  The superhero version of herself, and those comics of her internal identity are interwoven with the text about her interactions with the world around her.

The Good:  There is so much good here.  First, I loved that while the memoir is about her learning to adjust to the world around her when her hearing changes, it is, like every good memoir, about so much more.  It’s about forming friendships and finding that great friend to stand by your side.  That’s a pretty much universal theme.  There’s the changing of schools, and the fear there.  There’s also the greatest fear – telling people who you see yourself as internally, and how they will respond to that.  And the story is told with such honesty.

The graphics are bright and vivid and, in the great tradition of graphic novel memoirs, the people are represented by animals with Cece as a rabbit.

The book is a good mix of story and emotion, and shows the range of ways people respond to someone who is hard of hearing.  There’s the person who speaks loudly and slowly, even after Cece says that doesn’t help her.  There are those who want to sign to her, even though she tells them she doesn’t know sign language.  Then there are those who just don’t care that she’s different and think she’s cool hearing aids or no, but there’s still a fear to let them in.  This is portrayed really well.

I also really like the integration of the inner hero she’s creating, ‘El Deafo’, with the super power being her real power – if the teacher leaves the microphone on, she can hear her wherever she may be, even in the bathroom!  Those moments provide great levity and mirth.

The Bad:  Not much that I can think of.  I read it twice in a row because I wanted it to be longer and not end.  It won the Newberry Honor for children’s books, but I think it’s great for readers of all ages.

The Female:  This is where it’s great.  Cece is a young girl going through her life as it changes, not just because of her hearing but puberty and schools and moving and all the dramas of being young.  While she does crush on a neighbor boy, the books is not about him.  She has a sister, parents, friends who are all female.  More of the book is about her wanting her best friend/side kick and how friendships form with other girls than the boy, even if he is the first one she tells about her ‘secret superpower.’  I think it’s a great view of girlhood.

I definitely recommend this book, and now have it on my list of narratives to include in future classes.


Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

Overview:  We start in Amytiville where are intrepid heroes, those ghost hunters sanctioned by the church, meet pure evil and, as Lorainne Warren says, it was the closest to hell she wanted to be.

Then we jump to England where a single mother has moved into a new home.  I think it’s government subsidized housing, and her daughter quickly becomes possessed. The children are screaming and being flung around and there’s a stuttering child who sees someone in his play tent and a hell of a lot of screaming.  Cue the Warrens, who come to help out despite Lorainne having a premonition that a demon greater than the one haunting this family wants Ed dead.  The rhyme is intentional.

They fight the demon, they doubt, they leave and then dramatically return.  It rains.  I wonder when Sam and Dean will come to end this quicker.

The Good:  Scares for sure.  The actors, too.  I love Vera Farmiga.  She’s just gorgeousness and has a presence on screen.  Very understated acting, gorgeous eyes which the director picks up on because there is a shot of just her eyes at one point.  Patrick Wilson is equally sweet and nice as her husband, Ed Warren, and sings an Elvis song making us all love him, and in case we don’t get that that’s the point of the scene we see Vera standing in a door way adoring him with those eyes of hers, and the camera flips back and forth enough so we feel it, too.

Now, back to scares.  There are special effects scares, a nun that’s evil scares, crosses that turn over scares, kids falling through rooms, levitating, speaking in growly voices scares as well.  I feel I could go all Dr. Seuss with the types of scares – but I’ll restrain myself.

There’s a bit of a story in here too about how the media sets up these events as real and can distort reality, also how people play for a camera.  There’s a slight bit about people thinking the mother of these kids is faking it to get a better house/apartment.  The main theme is that the Warren’s are awesome and stuff, though.

The Bad:  There’s a lot of screaming.  Like- a lot.  It got to the point where I felt it was music and screaming and I wasn’t sure what was going on.  This came to a head at the end when a son ,Johnny, had something happen to him, and I was wondering where a second son came from.  There was the stuttering son, the girl Janet who was the possessed one and her sister.  I swear, I don’t recall a fourth kid until the end when *bam* he appeared.

Which goes into a pacing issue I had.  I gauge movies now by how apt I am to do other things while they’re on and if I want to pause the film or just walk away.  I walked away a bit.  I brushed my teeth, got laundry together, played with the cat, came back and it was ‘yup, still haunted, yup, still screaming’ and didn’t feel I missed much amping of tension, intensifying beats, anything like that.  It’s a movie where there’s a ghost which turns out to be a demon and people come to get rid of it and there are issues and flooding and worry or what not and it’s over.  And have I mentioned the screaming?  Because there was a lot of that.  And a lot of not just leaving the damn house.  At least no animals died that I recall.

The Female:  There are women in this film!  Maybe more females than males, actually.  We have the mother and her two daughters, Lorainne Warren, a female cop, female neighbors.  It’s like, like, like this film recognizes that females ACTUALLY make up approximately 49.6% of the world’s population.  Oh, and the women talk to each other about things other than men.  And they have names!  It’s like, omg, novel and new and stuff only not because it’s what happens in that thing called life.  Oh yeah, and a demon nun.

Now, to talk about a few of the women in this here film:

Lorainne Warren:  The most prominent of the women, here played by Vera Farmiga.  She’s the psychic of the Warren duo who go out to hunt down ghosts, the one with ‘the gift.’  Yes, she loves her husband and that’s a focal point of some of her actions, but I loved a scene where her husband and another man were talking. . .about her!  omg, and positively, with Ed Warren saying if there’s a demon she can’t handle, it’s a first and reason to be scared.  He shows her as an authority!  As a human worth mentioning.  I mean, men talking about woman.  What do I do with the Bechdel on that one?  She’s the one who ultimately figures out how to get rid of the big baddie.

Peggy Hodgson:  She’s the mom.  She screams a lot.  She gets bit.  She stands up for her kids and is the single mother of three (and possibly four, still fuzzy on where that last boy came from) kids.  She has feelings and stuff, protects her kids but is frustrated while doing it, and is overall kinda human.

Janet Hodgson:  There’s definitely a thing in the film about little girls getting possessed, isn’t there?  The Exorcist is the prime example, but there’s also The Last Exorcism (I and II, hahaha with that name), Exorcism of Emily Rose, Poltergeist, etc.  There’s something cultural too it, I think, almost sexual – especially when the possessers are male ghosts. Like, the stripping of innocence and thrill of making prepubescent girls do ‘bad’ things and say ‘bad things’ and the like.  I think as a societal look on things it’s creepier than the actual movie portrayal.  They have her laugh, wreck a kitchen, talk about killing people, threaten others.  Thinking about it now, it is a weird fetishization linked to virginity and ‘purity’ of sexuality in little girls, it seems.  huh.

As I mentioned before, there are other females as well – neighbors and a cop and the like.  So that was cool.

Overall, not a bad ‘I’m too tired to move’ movie or, if you like the sound of screaming, background movie to catch snippets of.  Nothing earth shattering, but entertaining.


Movie Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Overview:  There is a narration that tells us a bit about the first movie, and how Snow White killed Ravenna with the help of the Huntsman, then we go into backstory for the new film.  So, double backstory!

Ravenna and her sister, Freya, live in a castle together but Freya hasn’t come into her powers.  Ravenna thinks it’s because love is in the way, you can be powerful or you can be loved in this world.  She kills Freya’s child, blames it on someone else, and BAM, Freya is suddenly Elsa from Frozen.  She freezes everything and runs off to build her ice castle.  Once there, she starts stealing children to become her army (the awful narration says, “If she can’t have a child she’ll give birth to an army,” or something equally trite.)  They are called her Huntsman and taught ‘the greatest gift, to not love.’  There is one black child among the throngs of others because – diversity.  He is important, part of the triangle between loyalties.  Are you loyal to the queen or the lovers Eric (Hemsworth “The Huntsman” this movie is really about) and Sara (Merida from Brave, basically).

Stuff happens and the lovers are separated, then reunited years later while on a quest to find the magic mirror and destroy it so the Ice Queen doesn’t get it’s power.  They, of course, are mad at each other so there can be angry banter melting into sex.

There’s other stuff, too.  Ravenna comes back, Freya learns of her trickery, blah blah The Huntsman show’s how good he is, destroys the mirror, he gets everything a hero wins in these things.

The Good:  The reason why I watched this wasn’t the story.  I saw the first one and it was pretty damn bad, but it was pretty.  I like pretty, sometimes.  Some movies are made for plot or story and some for special effects, some to show things blowing up, etc.  This one had lush scenery and even more lush outfits for the two queens.  The special effects, in the beginning, were also beautiful.  A lot of ice stuff and the sound of crystallization that goes with it, a sound I find oddly soothing.  There was a lot of oozing cloth like stuff that was beautiful and first, then just became a vision of Nickelodeon Slime getting its own movie.  Seriously, they could have pulled back on that.

The music was also top notch.  I listened all the way through the credits.  In fact, half the time I was away from the screen (Getting bored) but loving the music as I cleaned or read or made my bed or many other things.

Oh, and Hemsworth (Chris) was his charismatic self here, winking and half grinning his way into all our hearts.

The Bad:  Pretty much everything else.  The story is . . .all over.  It starts by rehashing the first movie, then goes into the two queen’s fighting and the ice queen building her army, then to the Huntsman hunting the mirror, then the love story.  It reminded me of when I first taught my fiction students modular stories.  They loved it, and tried it, but there was no specific weight given to a story line to let us follow through – not in the early drafts.  This was a story in its early drafts.

The dialects- like, really?  I had no idea what was going with those.  If you’re going to have an international cast and a fairy tale setting, at this point just let them all speak naturally and blame it on ferries.  There wasn’t a rhyme or reason.

The oozing became so overdone.  I get it, women ooze.  How many times does that fetish/horror need to be played out on screen?  Poor Charlize Theron/Ravenna, her main power was to have her dress ooze some oily stuff that then became phallic.

The other bad thing is in the next section – everything female.

The Female:  There are a few women in here, who either get killed or paired off because in THIS world you either love a man or become a power crazed b– and die.  Simple mechanics.

And the film is a tease.  I remember the ads and stuff saying it’s about the sisters and it starts with them, but they’re just a frame for Hemsworth’s Huntsman and they’re pretty much not important except to set the quest in motion.  Tease tease tease.  Then they try to bring it back at the end with Freya finding out what her sister did but too late, man.  Way too late.  It’s not a story about sister’s, it’s a love story with Hemsworth at the Helm.

Freya:  She is the sister of Ravenna and longs for love.  She has love but then her baby is killed so she does what all women do when their children die- kidnaps everyone else’s and kills them if they so dare as love.  She’s pensive at parts, when she sees dwarves and realizes they are like children.  Poor Emily Blunt is trying to make this character more than an Elsa prototype, or Elsa fan fiction with no sex (if there’s such a thing).  Of course, since she still loves and yearns for a child she can help and redeem herself.  Go you, woman.

Ravenna:  She has some line about wanting to find love too, have a child, but- eh.  She’s in it to be the bad guy who gets the ball rolling but that’s about it.

Sara:  “Look women, we gave you a tough chick!  She goes toe to toe in combat with the others” – uh-huh, right.  Her role is to fall for Hemsworth, pretend to not love him until he grabs her and kisses her because women have wills only until they’re kissed then they’re owned, if not before.  So, there’s Sara.

The Dwarf Women:  There are two, they also pair up.  One also plays the ‘I don’t like you game’ with the guy, then goes for him.  The other’s are the simpleton’s, so they don’t have to pretend to hate each other and can just tell each other they like them and kiss and have babies.

The other thing here, every woman except for the dwarves has their waists cinched to within an inch of their lives.  Even the ‘strong warrior woman’ has to go around looking like she she has a waist that can snap in two with a strong breeze.  Breathing is for men, anyway.  No one wants to marry a woman with full lung capacity.

Overall – beautiful if not engaging and becoming tedious by the end and ultimately formulaic in story.  At least the chemistry between Chastain and Hemsworth was way better than when The Huntsman was supposed to fall for Snow White.

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Overview:  I did not see Cloverfield.  I cannot medically see Cloverfield as shaky cam makes me nauseous beyond belief.  I found out that movie theaters refund your money thanks to Blair Witch Project and things have been limited since then, with even Where the Wild Things Are making me run into the hallway to hyperventilate in an effort to not vomit.

So I was happy that this movie was not the ‘found footage to create immediacy and detract from production values’ style like so many recent ones.  I was also happy that John Goodman was in it.  I love him.  He’s amazing in so much that he does.  He’s awesome and an actor who acts, who very quickly is no longer John Goodman but the character he’s portraying.

And thanks to Brain Dead (an awesome show everyone should be watching) I love Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  Two actors I like in a movie? Score.

The basic premise is that a woman, Michelle (played by Winstead) is in a car crash.  She wakes up chained to a wall in the basement of a man named Howard (John Goodman).  She tries to escape and he tells her the world has basically ended.  The air is contaminated and the end is nigh, she is in his bunker.  It turns out he has opened his doors to another survivor, a man named Emmett.  Is he telling the truth or is there something more sinister at play?

The Good:  The tension.  How it plays off the fear of a man kidnapping a woman because- how many movies are like that?  How many news stories?  It’s got shades of the Lovely Bones with the woman trapped in the basement, chained.  You never know if Howard is fully good or bad.

The pacing is actually good, as well.  The tension gets amped up as we go along.  As do the questions.  There are beats to keep the story from being stagnant.  You meet the other survivor.  Michelle attempts to escape and sees part of Howard’s story is true- an infected woman slams up against the window.  She begins to relax, we relax for a bit, then Michelle finds an SOS message scratched in blood into the surface facing window.  And it keeps ramping out.

And it doesn’t end there.  The escape montage, like so many movies, the finding out.  The final struggle.  The escape to learn – some truths can’t be escape.  This has you question a heck of a lot of what happened in that bunker.

The Bad:  There are questions that we’ll never get an answer to.  To some degree, I like that.  To others – I can’t help but wonder what happened to certain characters.  We don’t really learn much about the characters to see character growth.  Howard, we learn he gets creepier but as a character he is the same from beginning to end.  The other guy in the bunker is. . .the other guy in the bunker  I don’t quite remember his name.  He’s there as final motivation, to show us Howard’s temperament in black and white.  And at the end Michelle has to make a decision.  The clenched jaw tells us it’s a turning point for her, that she’s developed as a person, changed.  But it came across a bit over the top for me.

The Female:  This won’t pass the Bechdel test (two women, talking to each other, not about a man) because besides the woman who is infected and tries to get inside the bunker, Michelle is it.  She is the main character.  I do like that the tension is based on the fact that men. hurt. women.   A woman picked up by a man, in Disney it’s for saving, in the real world it’s for hurting and that is given room to breathe here.  Michelle is allowed to be her own woman in the film, make decisions, and figure the rules out.

Granted, part of the premise IS around the woman in peril and the ending can make some think differently of Howard and the motives.  I was thinking of Misery for a bit, because in that a man is kidnapped by a woman, and that’s part of the shock, that a man could do that to a woman.  It’s not really shocking in cinema for the opposite to happen.

Overall though, I enjoyed watching it and it kept my attention.  AND, I didn’t get motion sickness.