Read This Book: Finnikin of the Rock, one of the best YA Fantasy books out there.

Displacement, loss of space, home, culture, language, religion, and identity is spread across the landscape of human politics, and has become part of the human condition, to make oneself conditioned in understanding the forced Otherness upon their person. In Melina Marchetta’s astounding award winning fantasy debut, Finnikin of the Rock, those abstract and highly complicated terms are threaded in a story that doesn’t rise to archetypal experiences, but sets them.

The story takes place ten years after an ethnic cleansing, and the murder of the royal family. The people of Lumatere are trapped inside by a curse set by one of those ethnically cleansed. The title character sets out to find a new home for his displaced people – now refugees – who suffer famine, fever, and persecution throughout the land. In his journey, he meets a woman from a cloister who claims she can walk the sleep of those stuck inside Lumatere, and communicates with the heir to the kingdom, who was a childhood friend of Finnikin, and that he is alive and stuck within. From there, the story becomes epic in scope, but small in its telling, and it’s world building without the description.

Fantasy literature stems from a need to tell human stories in fantastical ways. It finds itself parallel to the real problems we face on a daily basis. And Finnikin of the Rock is very real in that sense. One character wants to find a new home for his people, and the other is desperate to return home. There is love, but it takes a long time for them to realize it, and that too, is real.

This book is about many things, and a common reading may suggest it’s about hope, but that’s not the case; it’s about loss and the way faith embraces it. These characters have lost everything, and the internal struggle to reclaim faith will leave you questioning the decisions they make, and hopefully: point you outwards to the current climate across the world. People are people, and as one of the characters say, ‘sometimes people forget their human’.

Advertisements

Birth of a Book

You should watch this in full screen. Really beautiful.

The Misunderstood Cersei Baratheon

Image“Cersei lusts for power but does not know how to wield it”

– Littlefinger

Cersei has to be one of my favorite characters in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I know that may make your eyebrow rise, or your face cringe, but it’s the truth. Everyone seems to hate her, from fans I encounter, and from friends and strangers. What is about Cersei that makes people hate her so much? What is so different from her character than any of the other characters? Tyrion is just as lustful for power as she is (as is everyone else in the books).

I find Cersei to be one of the most complex characters in the series. We were introduced to her through other POVs (including Tyrion), but in Feast of Crows, we go into her mind, and see how cutthroat she believes she has to be. Like everyone else in Martin’s world, Cersei believes she is doing the right thing – she is also desperately trying to avoid the prophecy against her. She has been consumed by her own desire, by her own ambition. It is in this suicide for ambition that I admire her, but also feel sad for her. It seems that Cersei’s whole life has been on the offense, she has to fight not to lose everything. It’s an all or nothing situation with her. She’s just the more blunt about it. The Starks, Danearys, Jon Snow, everyone else — they all have an ambition that is outside of their limits, but Cersei knows it is outside of hers, and she admits it. She doesn’t hide behind honor, or legacy, rather, a drive to survive. Survival for her means winning. The game of thrones is not an option for her, it never was. Unlike her two brothers, Cersei carries the burden of her status.

Image

“That’s what ruling is. Lying on a bed of weeds, ripping them out before they strangle you in your sleep.”

― Cersei Lannister

I think people resist her because they find a little of themselves in her. I also feel that distaste for her is a double standard. She’s a woman thriving for power, and at a certain point in the books (rather a large portion), she is the only one with power. Was not Ned Stark’s first scene a beheading? If that had been Cersei, people would have loathed it. But since it was Ned; it was an honorable thing to do. I’m defending Cersei, because Cersei doesn’t believe in honor, she thinks that’s a cloth men use to hide their own limitations and weakness. I’m also defending her because I empathize with her. She’s not likable or pleasant, she’s out there protecting her family, but also fighting for her ambition.

But there is also  love in her. A love of her children, and a guilt that comes with that… it’s always on the backside, the love is secondary, but it’s unconditional. I think her love of Jamie, if anything, was a love of herself, a reflection of her own capacity. She has to be manipulative to show her strength, and Jamie has his sword. I think their relationship (as shown in later books) indicate it was as if one had strengths the other needed. Image

My defense of Cersei is deep. I think people judge her too harshly (in comparison to other characters in the books). She’s not the ‘good’ guy, but she’s not the bad one either. She wants what everyone else wants: to survive. And to survive you must win the game of thrones. Unfortunately, if she’s any indication of the rest of the characters, then we can guess that the Iron Throne is uncomfortable to sit on, and that it too has limitations.

The Year of Consoling. The Best Film of 2011

This was an awkward year for films. Through the films released last year, one could conclude that America is in desperate need of consoling. From sentimental family films like War Horse, Hugo, and The Help to Sleeping Beauty and The Artist. It seemed like whenever you looked at showtimes, a director and actor was intent on making you cry. With that said, 2011 has been one of the best years for female roles: rarely has the most lauded performances been about unsympathetic characters. Overall, it wasn’t the best year for film, but it was far from the worst.

The best movie of 2011 goes to Midnight in Paris,

Woody Allen makes a film a year, and though it’s usually a hit or miss, with Paris, he shows us that he can hit out of the ballpark. Hailed as one of the best films of his career, and his most successful to date, the film is about a man going to Paris with his fiance, once there, he mets literary characters, and is time warped back to different periods of Paris. What I find most pertinent about the message of this film in particular to the Year of Consoling, is the idea that we want to live in a time other than the one we’re living in. There is a general dystopian presentment in the world today, from unemployment increasing, corruption, healthcare, OWP protests, other protests, violence, and uprisings. Change is uncertain, change for the worse is almost anticipated. You probably sat around and wished that you lived in a time other than the one you’re living in, probably a decade or two earlier, where finding a job, and getting healthcare wasn’t that big of a deal.

Paris also shows this sentiment of longing without it being sentimental. Allen is one of those great directors and writers in that he doesn’t give you answers, but he makes the ending satisfying. Check below for the first few minutes of Midnight in Paris.

The City of Your Final Destination

The City of Your Final Destination was probably the last Merchant-Ivory film ever to be made. Ever since the late Ismail Merchant passed away, the iconic trio was believed to have lost its delicate appeal. I have seen my share of Merchant-Ivory films, and there are some that I absolutely loathe, others that defined my childhood (Howard’s End being one of them), and from the crop of anglo-victorian-fragile Fabergé of films, The City of Your Final Destination has to be my favorite.

James Ivory, the director, was in his late 70s when he directed the film, and he knew exactly what he was doing, in fact, his skill improved. The camera floats, the cinematography gorgeous, the acting exquisite. Ivory knows what he wants his actors to do, and they do it; Ivory knows how the landscape should be, and the landscape molds into his desire through his lens.

The film is about a young PhD student who needs authorization to write a biography on the author he has been studying about for years otherwise his whole career will be ruined. He is advised to visit the executors in the home they all share in Uruguay by his maternal and obsessive girlfriend, so he can change their mind. Once there, he sees the eccentric lives of the gay brother of the author, the author’s widow, and his mistress and their daughter.

What is so great about this film is that it takes its time without losing pace. This credit is do to the other half of the trio, the brilliant screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Ruth adapts these characters to the screen in such a complex level that the audience needs to know what happens. There aren’t any cars exploding, or sensational events in the characters lives that are used as plot points.

When Destination came out, it received largely negative reviews, and I believe that’s because people do not know how to handle this type of movie: a movie where the exotic landscape, the aristocratic nostalgia, confused love, and dysfunctional relationships are all revealed not within a ten minute span, but something that grows with each magnificent shot on the South American landscape.

This is a type of movie where one could just escape to, and I don’t mean that it loses its value. You care about the characters and it’s intellectually stimulating. For an hour and a half, you can enter their lives, inhabit their gorgeous house, and mingle with them under the sun. It is sad to know this may be the last movie Ruth and James make, but if it is, it’s one of their best, if not, the best one.

PS, Laura Linney should have definitely been nominated for an Academy Award last year for this role. One of her best performances as the stubborn and vacant widow.

check out the trailer below, it’s streaming on netflix. The trailer doesn’t do it justice at all.

When Sentimental Movies Work

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about female directors, we sat opposite each other in the same coffee shop we both have been going to for years, we talked on how films that are directed by women about women usually get negative reviews. The only time it seems where a female director is vindicated in the big manly world of film is when she directs a film about men (re: Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker). When looking at the crop of movies that are helmed by a female director, the fact that they are a ‘female’ director is highlighted before anything else. Both Angelina Jolie and Madonna’s new film has been met with trepidation before anyone has even seen it. Those are the big names, what about Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty, where Anthony Lane of the New Yorker wrote that “Leigh’s work deconstructs it [sex] as a weapon in the armory of patriarchal oppression, and the voyeurs who prey upon Lucy, with hand, tongue, and eye, are themselves repugnant to observe.” Yet, Sleeping Beauty and all the other films mentioned above received largely negative to mixed reviews. Why? Is it because film – the industry believed to be the most progressive – still has some issues with women in the workplace? It’s no secret that female actors, despite getting paid millions, still make less than their male counterparts. Every Spider Man, Batman, Superman, et al. are all geared towards men, yet, there are instances where female driven movies cash in numbers: Sex and the City and this year’s The Help being the two that come to mine.

But before I move on with The Help, I wanted to observe a trend when it comes to movies about women or directed by women: that there is a sentimental quality, films that end with satisfying conclusions, it answers our (the audiences) questions. This is obviously not the case in all female-driven films, but it is prevalent, which makes me wonder if film critics have something against the melodrama and the sentimental? Steven Spielberg’s films all have a sentimental drive to them, but he is hailed as the ‘greatest’ living director by many. His new film War Horse is no exception. Rotten Tomatoes – a site where critics ratings are collected for a particular film – has a consensus of War Horse, “Technically superb, proudly sentimental, and unabashedly old-fashioned, War Horse is an emotional drama that tugs the heartstrings with Spielberg’s customary flair.” What strikes me as fucked up is that when a man makes a sentimental movie, it is ‘proudly sentimental,’ as if only male directors make the conscience decision of making a sentimental movie. And only they can make it good.

This brings me to The Help. The film is sentimental to every degree, but fails to reach melodrama, and the film lets you know that it is sentimental, but sentimental with a hard slap. The film, directed by Tate Taylor, a man, includes a cast mostly of women, and it deals with women. The film is about African-American maids during the early 60s in Jackson, Mississippi, and their relationship with their female employers. The film has gotten mixed to rave reviews, and the leading actors are deservedly nominated for several accolades. But, what makes this film so different to critics than other female driven movies? Critics love this, and it is something they supposedly hate, but yet, still love. Why?

I do not have a problem with sentimental movies if they are done well, and there is no secret why The Help works; it works because of its strong performances, despite the script failing the talent on screen. Viola Davis redefines the multidimensional character; I am reminded of Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth, when Jessica Chastain (obviously different performances, but the loudness of what she doesn’t say is more than the script deserved) is on screen. However, there are other female driven/ female directed movies with strong performances that verge on the sentimental, yet did not (or do not) receive the same acclaim, Gillian Armstrong’s Death Defying Acts (2007), a film about a female magician and her daughter’s encounter with Houdini, the Rotten Tomatoes consensus is “If you want a period magician movie, seek out The Prestige or The Illusionist instead,” both films about men, directed by men.Metacritic even has an article about the ‘Best Women Film Directors (and their films’, ranking female directors on how good they are.

The Help is one of the year’s best movies, and I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable that it was well-received because it was directed by a man. There is nothing spectacular about the direction, atmosphere, or even, story – as a matter of fact, it brushes racism as a backdrop to the main character’s coming of age. Rarely in the discussion of great filmmakers is the name Maya Deren or Leni Riefenstahl (pre documentary days) brought up in a conversation. People mention Bergman, Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese (whose new film ‘Hugo’ is sentimental and is considered the best film of the year). There is a definite bias against women in the film world, and films like The Help, though are good, make us believe that there isn’t.

Check out the trailer of Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty (which is not sentimental at all)

One of the million reasons why I love ANNE CARSON

“I think that’s what poems are supposed to do, and I think it’s what the ancients mean by imitation. When they talk about poetry, they talk about mimesis as the action that the poem has, in reality, on the reader. Some people think that means the poet takes a snapshot of an event and on the page you have a perfect record. But I don’t think that’s right; I think a poem, when it works, is an action of the mind captured on a page, and the reader, when he engages it, has to enter into that action. And so his mind repeats that action and travels again through the action, but it is a movement of yourself through a thought, through an activity of thinking, so by the time you get to the end you’re different than you were at the beginning and you feel that difference.”

 

From an amazing interview in the Paris Review.

How do you define swoon?

Minneapolis, my dear ladies & gentle men!

SWING DANCING, SWOON

Coffee shop next to my house

Decline (Georg Trakl)

Decline

To Karl Borromaus Heinrich

Over the white pond
The wild birds have travelled on.
In the evening an icy wind blows from our stars.

Over our graves
The broken brow of the night inclines.
Under oak leaves we sway in a silver boat.

Always the town’s white walls resound.
Under arches of thorns,
O my brother, blind minute-hands,
We climb towards midnight.

Georg Trakl 1887-1914.

Trans. Michael Hamburger.
German Poetry, 1910-1975: An anthology in German and English, ed. M.Hamburger, Carcanet 1977.

The Genetics of Art; John Maus


It is difficult for me to remember how I found out about John Maus (pronounced mouse). It was three odd years ago, maybe I was searching myspace, or some music forum, maybe it was an act of God and somehow my ears blossomed into someone else’s car radio.
I am not sure.
I do know that John Maus’ melodic voice has made its way into my creative life. It’s interesting to say something influenced you, because if we knew what influenced us, we would be able to control it. Could I say that John Maus inspired me when writing? I am not sure I want to give him that credit.
I’m talking about the direct relationship between two creative wavelengths. How two things can come together to create something all together new (or recycled).
I am becoming aware of this reality, this outer-shell of ideas and the inward wormhole created as a result. It makes me wonder the possibilities of the genetics of humanity. I know that’s a loaded statement, but let me clarify:
writers write about the human condition (for the most part), in different mediums, and instances, let us say they are inspired by another writer, which that writer was inspired by a painting, and that painter was inspired by a sheet of music, and it crosses each other.
What if the exploration of the human condition is a thread of creativity that is constantly pulled, flossed, and thick that stretches all the way up above and down to our page, sheet music or canvas?

Many people have made the argument that art is the reflection of the soul, and if all our art is borrowed by other art, by those before us, by those with us, what if art in fact isn’t a reflection of the soul, but a struggle to reflect. We are exploring the explored. The undiscovered country is not in the pages we write, or the songs we sing, or the paintings we paint, or the pictures we take, et al, the undiscovered country is the whole thing.

the thread, the genetics of art.

I’m listening to John Maus as i’m writing this, by the way.