Tag Archives: DVD

Abandoned Life at Sunset Edge

Sunset Edge is a long-abandoned trailer park somewhere in rural North Carolina. Two stories intersect here when a group of four skateboarding teens explore the remains while another lonesome teen wanders around discovering the grizzly secrets of the park’s past.

With Sunset Edge, director/writer/producer Daniel Peddle, author of Snow Day and the rest of the Four Seasons children’s series and the discoverer of Jennifer Lawrence, has succeeded in crafting a great looking nonlinear film that combines two of my favorite things, one of which is urban exploration. I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a moment to point out that the Library has some great books with fantastic pictures documenting these kinds of abandoned places, specifically Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences. It’s got a section dedicated to the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin.

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© The Secret Gallery Inc. / Cavu Pictures
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Besides urban exploring, I love original movies (I’ve mentioned that before). Sunset Edge is no different.  When was the last time you saw a sexless, drugless, alcohol-less teen horror movie? But calling Sunset Edge a horror movie is too limiting a description. It’s a Southern Gothic thriller. A coming-of-age mystery. From the first scene of an old woman in wraithlike raiments to the final scene that makes you reconsider everything that came before it, Sunset Edge is a film that requires your attention. Granted, it’s not densely plotted, the dialogue is sparse and that last scene could be interpreted as a cheap cheat, but if you prefer slow-builds to jump-scares, then you’ll probably enjoy it. If it had even less plotting and dialogue, I’d say it was like a discount Terrence Malick film; the camera listlessly lingers on the beautiful North Carolinian landscapes in a dreamy, relaxed way.

While there may be no ginormous payoff for the 87 minutes the audience spends in Sunset Edge, I’ve been thinking about all the things that Peddle—who’d only directed two documentaries prior to this—was possibly trying to say with this film. The teens are filled with potential but, being disaffected youths, they haven’t realized it yet. Sunset Edge was once filled with similar potential that was never realized. They’re as alone and abandoned as the park in which they hang out, products of a throwaway culture exploring a culture that has literally been thrown away.  The trailers are empty, save for discarded detritus, and in a lot of ways so are the teens. One of them even waxes poetically (read: nihilistically) about how meaningless life is. That’s an accurate depiction of what teens do, right?  I exiled myself to my room in my teen years after the batteries in my Giga Pet died.

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#NeverForget
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Sometimes, we at Eleventh Stack highlight what’s popular—the book everyone is reading, the album everyone is streaming, the television show everyone is watching, but every so often, we get a chance to highlight a few hidden gems. Sunset Edge is truly an obscure find. How obscure is this film? When I checked it out, only seven people had previously borrowed it. On IMDb, it doesn’t even come up as an auto-complete option when you start typing it into the site’s search bar. When you eventually find it, it says only 40 users have rated the movie. IMDb is a site that allegedly has 65 million registered users. Do you realize how low 40 out of 65 million is? I put the equation into Google and the answer I got was:  “Error 404: Friends not found :(“. At the time of writing this, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page. Yes, the movie only came out last year, but Sunset Edge is about as far off the radar as it gets.

I can only hope that I’ve put it on yours.

Are you one of the 47 people who’ve seen Sunset Edge? Do you like urban exploration? Let me know in the comments below.

—Ross

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Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

After work tomorrow I’ll be nestling into a cushioned seat for almost three hours to watch Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Like all nerds, I’ve been waiting a long time to see these two titans of comic-dom appear together on the big screen in live-action. It’s been an excruciating week, as I’ve tried to remain spoiler-free, but I only have one more day to go! If you can’t get out there to see it this weekend or if you don’t like a numb butt, the Library has plenty of Batman and Superman materials for your enjoyment.

Check out the rest of Zack Snyder’s filmography:
Whether you think he’s a visionary or a slightly-less awful version of Michael Bay, we’ve got all of Zack Snyder’s past films, most of them on glorious Blu-ray. While some of his films have been hit or miss for me (I agree with pretty much everything YouTube user Bored Girlfriend said in her review of 300), there’s no denying that Snyder has an eye for great visuals. Even his first film, Dawn of the Dead, had the bones of his signature stylish flair, and although I’m not as big a fan or Superman as I am of Batman, I didn’t hate Man of Steel as vehemently as some—the Smallville fight is great. After Batman v Superman, Snyder has the two-part Justice League lined up and maybe a remake of The Fountainhead. Seriously.

Check out the other films of the actors portraying these characters:
For a man who waxes philosophically about animal crackers and is the brother of SNL’s Stefon, I can understand why the Internet lost its collective mind when Ben Affleck was cast as Batman. But watching Gone Girl soon after the announcement I realized that, besides having incredible biceps, maybe Affleck was a good actor. As far as Superman, Henry Cavil has only been in about a third as many films as Batfleck, but the Library has most of them. He’s especially charming in last year’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E.  Also appearing in Batman v Superman is Wonder Woman, making her big screen debut. Warner Bros. cast the relative unknown Gal Gadot, most known for the increasingly confusingly titled Fast & Furious franchise

Check out the past iterations of Batman and Superman on film:
With Man of Steel and this film, WB is launching the DC Extended Universe, not unlike the gargantuan Marvel Cinematic Universe. While Richard Donner’s Superman films or Christopher Nolan’s Batman films have no ties to the new DCEU, it’s still interesting to go back and look at the cinematic history of these two iconic characters, like when they appeared together in animation in The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest. Many of the comic stories have been adapted into standalone animated movies, too. And speaking of comics …

Check out the comics and graphic novels:
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Remember comics, the source material for all these superhero movies? We’ve got them in print as well as on Hoopla. While Batman and Superman first met on a cruise ship in 1952 (for real), pay special attention to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns as Snyder has said he’s drawing inspiration from it for his version of Batman. I realize I’m in the minority, but I never really cared for TDKR. I know, heresy! I have, however, always liked the idea of a grizzled, veteran Batman, so I’m looking forward to seeing that interpreted on screen. Regardless of how you feel about Miller’s involvement with the Caped Crusader—from his Batman: Year One to the meme-birthing All-Star Batman and Robin—there’s no denying the impact TDKR had on modern Batman. It’s not out of the question to speculate that without Frank Miller paving the way for a darker Batman in the ’80s, we’d have never gotten Burton’s Batman.

Check out some supplemental materials:
Did you know a huge inspiration of Superman was the John Carter of Mars stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs? Did you know that Batman was inspired by the 1920 film The Mark of Zorro and characters like Sherlock Holmes and Dick Tracy? The Library has materials on all those subjects and more. Want to find out the secret history of Wonder Woman or what Batman’s and Superman’s views on philosophy are? Have you ever wanted to visit Metropolis (Illinois) and check out the Supermuseum? We’ve got you covered.

You could also keep watching the second trailer for Suicide Squad, the next entry in the DCEU, based on the series of the same name. It premiers August 5.

Did I leave anything out? Are you excited about the film? Let me know in the comments below!

–Ross

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In Appreciation of Brie Larson

Last week, Brie Larson won her first Oscar for her performance in Room.

After I saw the movie, I was in such a funk that people actually asked me if I was all right. Like the book upon which it’s based, it compels you to watch, even if it’s uncomfortable at times. Despite the depressing nature of the narrative, I found the film to be more uplifting and, dare I say, more optimistic at its conclusion than the novel. For a great review of Emma Donoghue‘s book, check out Melissa F.’s post.

It would be hard at this point to find new arrangements of words to praise those involved with Room. The score is nuanced and wouldn’t be out of place on a Sigur Rós or an Explosions in the Sky album. I could fill pages about how great Jacob Tremblay is and can only hope he doesn’t go the way of a young Drew Barrymore. I’m super-excited to see him in next month’s Before I Wake. But it’s Larson’s award-winning performance that moors the whole film. As Jack’s Ma, she is both friend and disciplinarian, provider and confider, broken yet brave. She’s tender and tough, often in the span of a few frames. Like if a mountain was a teenage girl who was still a little unsure of herself.

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“I don’t care what you say, mom! Becky said this shade of lipstick draws attention away from my massive butte!”
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It’s always nice when the Academy, despite its myriad problems, deigns to give praise to an actress who isn’t Jennifer Lawrence. Hop on the Brie Larson Appreciation Train that I’ve been riding since late 2010 and check out her range in two of her older films.

Scspvtwott Pilgrim vs. the World
It was here that I first came across Larson. She plays one of Scott’s ex-girlfriends, Envy Adams, lead singer of The Clash at Demonhead. I loved her sexed-up, over-the-top performance, which wouldn’t be out of place in a movie like Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. When she takes the stage and vamps through a pretty fantastic cover of Metric‘s “Black Sheep,” I realized that she might be more than a pretty, funny face. She could have played Envy as a shrill, one-note witch of a woman, but there’s a vulnerability beneath Envy’s rockstar facade that comes through in a surprisingly tender moment. Whatever the film’s problems are, her self-aware performance is never one of them.

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This hidden gem was one of the best films of 2013, elevated by Larson’s performance. Prior to Room, I’d have said that this was her best work. Doing a chameleonic 180-turn from her role in Scott Pilgrim, she gives a poignantly raw performance as Grace, a supervisor at a residential treatment facility for at-risk youths. Grace is the kind of character who deeply feels each of the kids’ problems, not to mention her own stack of issues as well. While she at least has the chance to resolve the tumult of her personal life, there will always be at-risk youths. Grace acknowledges this at the end of the film, flashing an almost Sisyphean grin, her resolve to do the work stronger than ever despite its inherent troubles.

In everything she’s been in, she’s made me care about her characters. She was one of many enjoyable surprises in 21 Jump Street. She was the best part of The Spectacular Now and Digging for Fire. She was delightful every time she cameoed on Community and stole every scene she was in in Don Jon despite hardly speaking. I’ve heard she’s good in United States of Tara and Trainwreck as well.

She’s a great actress that also seems like a genuinely pleasant person. Now, if you’ll excuse me, thinking about Room has made me sad, so I’m gonna go watch that Jenny Lewis music video where Larson sports a red tracksuit and a moustache. That’s my sweet spot.

Have you seen Room? How about any of her earlier films? Is there one I should check out? Sound off in the comments below.

–Ross

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Ryan Reynolds Hears The Voices, Anna Kendrick Is Adorable

I’ve honestly lost track of all the ways I learn about movies that I want to see.

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“My arms are getting tired from all this rowing.”
“Shut up, Kyle. I’m looking for a movie that isn’t a remake, a reboot or a sequel.”

With that said, I won’t bore you with how I came to be interested in The Voices, directed by Marjane Satrapi (of Persepolis and Chicken with Plums fame) and starring Ryan Reynolds, Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick. My thought process was probably started and ended with:  Anna Kendrick is adorable.

Reynolds plays Jerry, a man who hears voices—and not the kind that tell him to build a baseball field. These voices are in his head, but he believes they’re coming from his dog, Bosco, and his cat, Mr. Whiskers. Besides that, though, everything is normal. He works in a bathtub factory and regularly checks in with his court-appointed psychotherapist (his mother died when he was twelve). When things take an accidentally deathly and sinister turn, Jerry has to rely on the advice of Bosco and Mr. Whiskers. Should he do the right thing, as Bosco suggests, or listen to Mr. Whiskers and give in to his killer urges?

It’s not a film for everyone. The film’s tone is all over the place and not always in a bad way. It flips between broad comedy to very dark comedy to something akin to a drama to a crime thriller—often in the span of a few scenes. It’s not surprising that a multi-genre film like this is having trouble finding its audience; such a varied tone can give a viewer whiplash. At one point we go from a savagely grisly flashback where we learn how Jerry’s mother died to a tender implied sex scene and its corresponding morning after. It was a jarring transition, to say the least.

It was at this point that I thought the film was going to end very differently. Jerry isn’t a bad guy; he’s just sick. He clearly needs help and even though I hate the idea that “finding love” can completely heal a person, I was hoping the love of Lisa (Kendrick) would have been enough to help him. It’s even one of the most brightly-lit scenes in the film and there’s even a vague hinting that she’s just as crazy as he is. Maybe their love would be enough to heal each other.

Sadly, the microscopic romantic (micromantic?) in me was let down, but only for a moment.

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Image from Indiewire – all rights reserved to the same – click through for a blurb on the film

There is an interesting subtext of psychopharmacology and how patients with mental disorders are diagnosed and treated that runs throughout the film (I told you it was all over the place). When Jerry is off his meds, everything is brighter—his apartment above an abandoned bowling alley is clean, Bosco runs to greet him when he comes in the door, the forklifts at work perform a synchronized dance.  But when he starts taking the pills again, we finally see reality. Pizza boxes and discarded microwave dinner trays stack up to the ceiling of his dimly-lit apartment, his pets sit morosely in a lump in the corner while their defecation is everywhere. I really liked the distinction Satrapi made between reality and the life inside Jerry’s mind. This might be her best work since Chicken with Plums.

Reynolds has never been a draw for me (anyone who breaks up with Scarlett Johansson deserves to be shunned), but I liked what he did here. Often fidgeting, he imbues Jerry with an easy-going awkward shyness that makes him instantly likable. Some of the film’s laughs come from just how awkward he is (he scarfs down a slice of pizza with a heart-shaped piece of pepperoni on it in one bite, he sings The O’Jays’ “Sing a Happy Song” a little too loudly for his coworker). I liked that Reynolds did the voices for all the animals in the movie; it makes sense seeing as how the voices originate in his mind.

There’s a very good chance that you will hate this movie. I’d say it’s like American Psycho meets 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag meets Undertaking Betty. Or as Brad Wheeler said in his review, “A meeting of Psycho, Dexter and Dr. Doolittle.” If you can make it through to the very end, though, you’re in for a truly head-scratching surprise. I thought I was watching a Bollywood musical for a second. It’s weird, it’s offbeat, it’s quirky and it might be one of my favorites of the year, so far.

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“Huzzah! I’ve found an original movie!”
“Yeah, but my arms are still tired.”
“I wish your mouth would get tired, Kyle.”

Even if you see The Voices and hate it, just pretend it’s the sequel to Kendrick’s The Last Five Years or the prequel to 2016’s Deadpool. That’ll make it fun.

If you’ve seen it, what are your thoughts? Do you talk to your pets? Let us know in the comments below!

–Ross

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Women in World War II: Rosie the Riveter and Beyond

girlsofatomiccityI recently finished reading The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan. It is a fascinating look into a town that never existed on any map but had a HUGE influence on the outcome of World War II. Although not all of the residents were women, of course, the story is told through the lives of several different ladies who found themselves at this historic place. These women varied in the amount of education they had received, their race, marital status and part of the country they were from, but all of them contributed to output that Oak Ridge was designed to create – enriched uranium for use in the first atomic bombs, including the ones dropped on Japan in August of 1945.

As I was reading this book, it reminded me of another I had read a few years ago about the North Platte Canteen in Nebraska, also during World War II. Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen by Bob Greene tells the story of a very small town that was on the major railway line almost all U.S. troops used during their transport from basic training to deployment. Onceonceuponatown the people in the town realized who was passing through their area, they made sure that no matter what time of the day or night, each and every train would be met with smiling faces and food. This town used its rationing coupons, not for themselves, but to help scared soldiers – many away from home for the first time – feel appreciated and loved. Every single train had a birthday celebration, complete with a cake. Many soldiers remembered their stop in North Platte decades later, even though it may only have lasted ten minutes. By the time the war was over, the North Platte Canteen had taken care of over 6 million soldiers. That’s just staggering for a town of about 12,000 people. Once again, not everyone in North Platte who helped at the canteen was female, but we all know who was baking those cakes and making the sandwiches.

This all got me to thinking about the various roles women played in World War II, both in and out of the military. For Women’s History Month 2015, consider finding out more about how the “fairer sex” contributed to the winning of the war, both at home and abroad. Here are a few items that might be of interest…

Books:
bandsofsistersBands of Sisters: U.S. Women’s Military Bands during World War II by Jill M. Sullivan – I bet you knew that there were/are military bands. But did you know that in World War II all of the branches of the military had their own women’s band as well? They were used to support troop morale and to recruit women to the armed services. In some cities they were greeted warmly and given keys to the city. In other places, they were unjustly run out of town. The music biz is never an easy one!

Beyond Rosie the Riveter: Women of World War II in American Popular Graphic Art by Donna B. Knaff – During World War II, women were encouraged to take on jobs that were normally reserved for men. Propaganda posters at the time, such as Rosie the Riveter, certainly reflected this idea. However at the same time, women were being encouraged through the same media to not lose their femininity. This contrast makes for a thought-provoking study.

Bitter Fruit: African American Women in World War II edited by Maureen Honey – This is a collection of poetry, essays and photographs compiling the history and the contributions of African American women in World War II. Although they were largely left out of the propaganda and recruitment posters, these women participated in every aspect of the war and home front that their white counterparts did. These writings, many not seen since their original publication, show the lives of women of color and you can see the roots of the civil rights movement within the stories.

fromcoverallsFrom Coveralls to Zoot Suits: The Lives of Mexican American Women on the World War II Home Front by Elizabeth R. Escobedo – If you thought finding the voices of African American women and their experiences during this time period was difficult, imagine the lack of information about Latino women. This book does a nice job identifying how they contributed to the war effort, while still needing to combat the prejudices of the nation they were serving. I especially liked getting to see some of the bilingual wartime propaganda posters.

Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses during World War II by Meghan K. Winchell – Servicemen relied on the USO to provide them with a recreational outlet and some sense of normalcy during World War II. However, the recruitment process for the hostesses was biased. It served to reinforce stereotypes of the working class, as well as women of color. The military felt that if they exposed soldiers to “good” girls, they wouldn’t feel the need to seek out the “bad” ones. How the women excluded from participating made their inroads to volunteering and what those who were selected for the USO thought about life within its social constraints provides interesting reading.

Our Mother’s War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II by Emily Yellin – This book all began when the author found a journal and letters her mother had written while serving with the Red Cross in the Pacific. It is a good overview of many of the roles women played during World War II – wives and mothers at home, entertainers, WACs and WAVES in the military, spies, politicians, and even those who worked for the enemy.

winningWinning My Wings: A Woman Airforce Service Pilot in World War II by Marion Stegeman Hodgson – Marion was one of the first women trained to fly military aircraft with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).  The WASPs flew airplanes stateside to test their repairs or deliver new aircraft to the airmen who would then fly them into combat. It was a dangerous job, as Marion recounts in her letters to the wounded Marine pilot she eventually marries after the war.

Women Against the Good War: Conscientious Objection and Gender on the American Home Front, 1941-1947 by Rachel Waltner Goossen – For those who objected to the war, there were still opportunities to be of service. Many women, often with religious anti-war beliefs, joined the Civilian Public Service to do forestry work, disaster relief training, or to work in hospitals stateside. This organized pacifist culture had some benefits for those who wanted to contribute something of a humanitarian nature during wartime. But they were more often met with prejudice because of their convictions, and some found it hard to find employment once the war was over as veterans were coming back to the workforce.

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance, and Rescue by Kathryn J. Atwood – This contains stories of women from many countries, but the United States is well represented. I wanted to make sure something that explained the secret side of the war was on this list. Included within, you will find Virginia Hall – once considered the most dangerous Allied agent in France, Muriel Phillips –a Jewish nurse at a tent hospital in France during the Battle of the Bulge and Marlene Dietrich – who entertained the troops as part of the USO, while also involved in an OSS propaganda campaign aimed toward the German troops.

womenwhowroteThe Women Who Wrote the War by Nancy Caldwell Sorel – We know it takes bravery to be a soldier, but imagine the guts needed to be the first person inside a recently freed concentration camp, just BEFORE the rescuing troops enter. Now picture that person as a woman, because for the camp at Dachau in southern Germany, it was. The women journalists and photographers who were sent oversees to cover World War II were amazing and inspiring, as are their stories.

View of women Marines carrying out the repair and reconditioning of fighting airplanes during World War II, 1940s. (Photo by US Marine Corps/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

View of women Marines carrying out the repair and reconditioning of fighting airplanes during World War II, 1940s. (Photo by US Marine Corps/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

DVDs:
topsecretTop Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II produced & directed by LeAnn Erickson; written by Cynthia Baughman – This is the story of six of the women mathematicians originally recruited by the Army to be human computers tabulating ballistics trajectories. Once the first electronic computer was created (ENIAC), they needed people to program it. These six women were those people. They never received recognition for their absolutely vital role in the winning of World War II, nor for their pioneering work in the field of electronic computers. That’s a crime as far as I’m concerned.

Women in World War II: 13 Films Featuring America’s Secret Weapon courtesy of the National Archives of the United States – This is a collection of actual wartime propaganda short films. Their purpose was to encourage women to join the war supporting industries, as well as to convince both sexes that women were actually up to any and all of the tasks formally done exclusively by men. Highlights include “Women of Steel”, the one narrated by Katherine Hepburn, and getting to see Eleanor Roosevelt in living color.

Soon arrving in Hawaii, women Marine Reserves stand to for evening colors at Pearl Harbor, during World War II, 1940s. (Photo by US Marine Corps/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

Soon after arriving in Hawaii, women Marine Reserves stand to for evening colors at Pearl Harbor, during World War II, 1940s. (Photo by US Marine Corps/Interim Archives/Getty Images)

And One Government Document:
Breaking Codes, Breaking Barriers: The WACs of the Signal Security Agency World War II courtesy of Karen Kovach, History Office, Office of the Chief of Staff, US Army Intelligence and Security Command – World War II ushered in an era where women were needed in military service in far greater numbers than ever before in American history and for a wider range of occupations. This slim volume belies the importance of the job of the women contained within. They were tasked with breaking the encryption of the enemies’ messages. By doing so, they saved countless lives.  Especially poignant is the quote about the day of the bomb drop from the WAC assigned to monitor Hiroshima, “I came on to my trick and started tuning to my assigned frequencies. I was copying Hiroshima, it was one of my stations, but I couldn’t find it. I’m saying to myself, ‘what the heck is the matter?’ I’m dialing all around, searching all over the place trying to pick it up, trying to locate the signal. There was nothing there.”

-Melissa M.

P.S. Did you notice the interesting thing about almost all of the authors in this list? They are all female. Huh. Women writing about women’s history. What an idea!

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I can’t believe I’m watching this again.

If I stumble across any of these movies I’ll inevitably end up watching the whole darn thing, whether I want to or not. Day wasted? Check. But somehow I don’t mind.

Andromeda StrainThe Andromeda Strain –  Somehow my parents thought that a Cold War era movie about biological terrors from outer space was suitable viewing for a child under ten – maybe that’s why I don’t trust monkeys or airlocks or lasers. This movie was on a lot when I was a kid, but it’s harder to come by nowadays. Fortunately, it’s available at your local library!

bookcover06Blazing Saddles – It’s my favorite movie, what else can I say? Lots, apparently. Every time I see Blazing Saddles (oooh, Blu-Ray version!) I invariably end up singing “The French Mistake” for the next week and a half. Warning: clip contains saucy language and slapstick violence. (Unfortunately, it ends before you get to see Hitler in a pie fight. I’m not kidding.)

Cradle 2 the GraveCradle 2 the Grave – Jet Li is entered into a convenient MMA tournament by Roseanne’s husband, people disguise themselves as exterminators to break into office buildings, an adorable moppet is kidnapped – and there’s also something about some black diamonds that can be used to power superweapons? And isn’t that the Chairman from Iron Chef America? If you need more reasons to watch (or not to watch), check out this scathing review from the Chicago Tribune.

Crank 2Crank 2: High Voltage – I don’t know the names of any characters that Jason Statham plays. It’s just, “You know that movie where Jason Statham has to keep running around or he’ll die? No, not that one, the other one.” This is the other one. It has a weird-but-memorable Godzilla battle in it, and other things that I probably shouldn’t mention in a library blog. Let’s just say that the TV version is usually heavily edited. (Note: research tells me that the character’s name is Chev Chelios. Huh.)

bookcover07Coming to America – If you need to show anyone what the 80s really looked like, just make them watch this movie (if you’re about my age, you’ll probably see your family’s living room furniture at some point). Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall play eight different characters between them (which is awesome) and James Earl Jones yells at people (which is also awesome).

bookcover08The Shawshank Redemption – Once when I was sick I kept falling asleep and waking up during different parts of a Shawshank Redemption marathon. It was one of the most confusing days of my life. If you want to sound all snooty, you can tell people that it’s based on the Stephen King novella “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” but don’t be surprised if nobody cares. Anyway, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman? Can’t beat that.

bookcover09Transporter 3 – “No, this is the one where Jason Statham drives really fast. There’s a French guy, and there’s a woman who really needs to wash her face. No, not the spiky blond woman. I think that was Transporter 2.” Which leads us to the question: does it matter that all Jason Statham movies are pretty much the same? I say no. Not at all.

– Amy E., backing away from the remote

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Snow White, Master Swordswoman?!

Happy National Library Week 2014! Help us celebrate by visiting any Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh location this week to tell us about the books that changed your life.

Like most any kid, Disney animated films figured hugely into my childhood. My favorite one changed, depending on which villain scared my little brother more at the time. For a while I’d demand we watch The Little Mermaid over and over until, I guess, sheer exposure desensitized him to the terror of Ursula. Then I moved on to torturing him with Beauty and the Beast. When I was feeling magnanimous, we watched The Lion King, which we both enjoyed.

Snow White and the Seven DwarvesOne Disney movie neither of us could get into, either to enjoy or be scared of, was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. We thought it was boring. And that the songs were meh. And maybe that the dwarfs were a little creepy.

Fables vol. 1: Legends in ExileSo in high school, when I discovered Bill Willingham’s comic Fables, the story of basically every fairy tale character you’ve ever heard of living undercover in modern Manhattan, the character of Snow White did not interest me. I wanted to know more about Bigby Wolf, the chain-smoking, trenchcoat-wearing sheriff of Fabletown, who in his previous life went by the Big Bad Wolf and can transform into wolf form any time the situation calls for it.

Willingham’s portrayal of this fairy tale princess drew me in, though. Snow is the deputy mayor of Fabletown, the neighborhood of Manhattan the “Fables” created for themselves when they fled their homelands in front of an invading army led by a tyrant dictator known only as the Adversary. When we meet her, she’s already divorced Prince Charming for being a womanizer and all around terrible husband, and she just might be attracted to Bigby.

And then you find out that those dwarfs were definitely NOT helping Snow when she was lost in the woods, and that she forced Prince Charming to teach her sword fighting shortly after they got married so she could enact her revenge. She does so. Bloodily.

Fables vol. 19: Snow WhiteThe latest trade paperback volume to come out, volume nineteen, is aptly titled Snow White and highlights all of this character’s strengths: She’s intelligent, she’s a fierce mother, she’s a loyal and loving wife, and she keeps those physical fighting skills sharp in order to protect her family.

But most of all, she is willing to make hard choices. In this volume, characters who are physically much stronger than Snow fail, and it is she who must save the day, using not only her master sword fighting skills, but her wit and strength of will.

No meek, pale princess, this, but a modern warrior woman.

Once Upon A Time Season 1Snow White has gotten makeovers in other media as well. In ABC’s Once Upon A Time, the fairy tale characters don’t know who they are because of a curse. In this version, pre-curse Snow White is a wiley woods woman who would do anything for true love. Her cursed alter ego Mary Margaret, though, does start out rather meek.

Mary Margaret doesn’t stay meek for long. Even before she recovers her memories, and therefore her true identity, she begins to stand up for herself and the things she wants. When her daughter Emma breaks the curse and Mary Margaret recovers her memory, her ferocity comes out full force.

Although I can’t help but look at the similarities between Once Upon A Time and Fables and think, a little possessively, “Fables did this first!” (I have been reading this series for ten years, so I’m just a little bit attached), I’m exceedingly glad that Disney’s version of Snow White is no longer the only visible version in our culture.

Excellent, woman-empowering retellings of Snow White and other fairy tales give us role models we can look up to, examples we can hope to follow. Willingham’s Snow and ABC’s Mary Margaret are much closer to real women than their fairy tale princess counterparts; they just have a few extra powers. But they have problems, they make decisions, they take actions, and they deal with the consequences themselves instead of always relying on others to protect them.

And when the situation requires, they pull out their swords and fight.

–Kelly

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