Monday, February 26, 2018

Of Mice and Cavemen and Trolls and Unicorns and Other Animated Musings...

Very soon I will be settling into a seat at my nearest theatre to see Aardman Animations' latest film Early Man. No matter how old I get, I believe I will always be drawn to animated movies. Like most of us, I am sure this can be chalked up to Disney's extensive, well made and popular body of work. No one can really deny that they set a standard in storytelling and design that is unmistakable. Also their work in Pixar has certainly bumped them up to another level. 

However if you look past the dominating filmographies of Disney and Dreamworks (who are next in line), you can find some very precious gems. I could never make an exhaustive list of other animated companies and films out there, but when I think about some of the great animated movies out there, several enthralling options come immediately to mind. 

For me there's the eerie and riveting The Secret of NIMH by Sullivan Bluth Studios which has given so many children nightmares. I think anyone who has seen that movie remembers some scene with a mixture of awe and unease.  The same goes for evocative and wistful Watership Down film. One of the most riveting story of rabbits you will ever find. 

There's also the ambitious and haunting works of Rankin/Bass. Their animated Lord of the Rings is not perfect and it's understandably eclipsed by the more recent live action version, but there are still scenes that spring to my mind years later and haunting songs that ring in my memory. Their The Last Unicorn is magical and strikes deep at your heart, a worthy adaptation of the book.  Surely no one who's seen it can forget seeing the Red Bull running in the wake of all the unicorns in the world. 

Aardman Animations rivals Disney in their creativity and consistent quality. Their stop motion claymation work is already hilarious to look at (just think of those signature prominent teeth in everyone from people to chickens!), but they don't even consider getting by on those skills alone. They're committed to producing original stories full of wit, physical comedy and charm. Their first feature film Chicken Run is perfect in my mind, rivaling many live action adventure movies in heart, cleverness and suspense. Of course, I've already chattered at length about how much I like their Shaun the Sheep Movie.

There are also the spectacular movies of Laika studio. Every one of their feature films have been nominated for Academy awards, and I think they are well deserved. There's the chilling adaptation of Neil Gaiman's Coraline and the mixture of supernatural horror and childhood pain of Paranorman. There's the mischievous and charming fun of The Boxtrolls as well as the beautiful breathtaking adventure of Kubo and the Two Strings. (I waxed poetic on the latter on The Silver Petticoat Review in  "Follow the Breathtaking Journey of Kubo and the Two Strings")

There are of course so many other options out there. My limited knowledge of the unlimited world of animated movies is not sufficient to cover the wonders available, but I find that taking a step or two away from the mainstream can yield so many treasures. I haven't touched on anime for instance or many of the foreign film options which fly under my radar. There are many creative people out there experimenting and pushing the limits of what's been done before.  People who are delightfully heedless of the idea that animation is "just for kids". 

I hope to always keep an open mind about animation when I can, and I'm ready and available for the discovery of new wonders.

What's your favourite animated film that you think deserves to be more well known? Let me know so I can add them to my never ending "To Watch" list. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Get to Know this Classic Hero: The Scarlet Pimpernel

Every book lover has experienced pure joyful discovery. This is not only the moment you discover a good book, but the slow dawning realization that you've found a really great book. A great book that will stay with you for years to come. This sensation actually doesn't occur very often, so it is an experience to be treasured.
One of my favourite Pimpernel book covers. 

I don't recall the exact moment I picked up Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel from our school library, but I still remember the sensations of utter delight I felt while reading it. To say the least, I was captivated by Orczy's suspenseful adventure of the mysterious hero rescuing people from the guillotine during the French Revolution. I couldn't understand how I had apparently never heard of this engrossing, unforgettable and dashing hero before. I am still surprised that more people don't love the adventures of this enigmatic man who well preceded Batman as a modern day hero in disguise.

Fortunately enough people loved the character so Orczy's stage play about him was turned into a novel. Her style might seem a bit too dramatic for some, but she handles her characters masterfully and builds wonderful suspense. Her ability to incorporate twists and surprises is spectacular. Just what you need in a beguiling adventure. 

I am so glad the love of the character ensured that there were many more books. The sequels I've read so far have not been as good as the first one, but they are worth it for more adventure and further scenes of the character. 

Anthony Andrews in Pimpernel mode. 
My fascination with the book led me to explore it in my enthusiastic review "Seek Out the Scarlet Pimpernel for Unforgettable Romance and Adventure" on The Silver Petticoat Review.

The character's popularity has also prompted filmmakers to put the Pimpernel in tv series, films and radio plays. (I recently finished listening to an excellent adaptation starring James Purefoy.) 

If you read the book, you should definitely have a look at the tv series starring Anthony Andrews. My review " 'They seek him here, they seek him there' - Find the Best Scarlet Pimpernel Right Here!" details some of the great delights in this one. You should also seek out the film version starring Leslie Howard as I believe I prove in "Experience the Allure of the Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)" It is not often a book you love has not one but two excellent adaptations. It's very difficult to choose between the two productions mostly because the lead actors inhabit the character so well. But this is a wonderful dilemma to have. 

If you're looking for a new hero to root for, new adventure and a story that truly engrosses you. No need to seek further. 

Leslie Howard plays the Pimpernel with style.

“They seek him here, they seek him there
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That demned elusive Pimpernel”

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Northanger Abbey 1986 - My Not-Guilty Pleasure

You might like Northanger Abbey more than you think!

Recently I was engaging in an online discussion about our favourite guilty pleasures. For me the term guilty pleasure can be rather problematic. I'm not the sort who buys in to the "it's so bad it's good" type of entertainment. I'm allergic to cheese. Things that are unintentionally funny can give me secondhand embarrassment. I don't watch horror movies, but if they're not frightening I'm not sure what is the point of watching them.

However I am aware that I enjoy movies that other people think are not very good. Sometimes I can see all the flaws in a film (or book!) yet there's something there that just appeals. It's part of the whole subjective experience of films of course. Of course this then undermines the whole idea of a guilty pleasure. No one should really feel bad about liking some form of entertainment, and we shouldn't look down on those who like the media we don't. We're all guilty of it at some time though. I know for one I do the latter a lot. Don't worry I'm aware of my failing though I am not sure if I'll ever overcome it.

Anyway when I do concede that I have a guilty pleasure one of the first examples that come to mind is the Jane Austen movie Northanger Abbey. In fandom discussions over the years I have often heard people malign this film, but I have adored it since I first came across it by chance in the wee hours of the morning. As you see in my review "A Case for Enjoying Northanger Abbey (1986)",  I really think there's lots to enjoy in this film. Instead of feeling guilty about it, I say be prepared for some oddities and go in with an open mind.

As I mentioned in the review

Expect a quirky, unusual adaptation with some excellent characters and a dreamlike story and sit back and indulge in this offbeat journey.
                                                                ~ "A Case for Enjoying Northanger Abbey (1986)"

What are your favourite "guilty" pleasures whether it be books, TV or film?

Photo credit: BBC

Monday, June 26, 2017

Soul Stirring Scenes and Ladyhawke

The fascinating Rutger Hauer in Ladyhawke
Recently I started an online discussion on Facebook I entitled "The Best Movies No One Has Ever Seen". There are so many movies out there, it's not impossible that you might know movies that no one else has seen. The reasons can vary. Believe it or not some movies are excellent, but they are released at the wrong times, and they get lost in the hype of other movies.  Sometimes they have a limited release or such little fanfare that people don't hear about them. Independent films very often don't have the resources to make enough noise to attract viewers' attention and sometimes foreign films are very popular in their home countries, but almost unknown in others.

Ladyhawke, an 80s fantasy movie I reviewed last June is what I believe is known as a cult classic, so it's certainly not well known, but it seems to lack the massive audience many classic films enjoy.

This movie stars an entrancing Rutger Hauer plus Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Broderick. With such strong stars, I am surprised it has not gotten more attention. This film has some flaws, but it still captivates me with with its medieval setting and myth. It is not at all the rather corny fantasy story you might come across in that decade. When I watched it again to refresh my memory before the review, it drew me in again.

I always thoroughly appreciate rich fantasy which stirs something deep inside of you whether it is fear, or sadness, or awe. Recently I saw Guy Ritchie's King Arthur, which I enjoyed despite the many negative reviews, but I was struck by its huge, over the top final battle which lacked the soul stirring quality of scenes from movies like The Last Unicorn and Ladyhawke. Some of these movies know how to create moments which awe without battering the senses and throwing in every possible special effect until what happens becomes less compelling. Even the Lord of the Rings movies knew how to accomplish quiet but powerful scenes though huge battles were also an important part of the storytelling. I'll explore that a bit more in my upcoming King Arthur review. 

For now read more about my views of the fascinating Ladyhawke at The Silver Petticoat Review, and let me know some of the best movies you've seen that hardly anyone else seems to know about in the comments.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Last Unicorn Continues To Stand As An Essential Classic Fantasy

"When the last eagle flies over the last crumbling mountain
And the last lion roars at the last dusty fountain
In the shadow of the forest though she may be old and worn
They will stare unbelieving at the last unicorn"

                                                              ~ "The Last Unicorn" - America

Last year I wrote about Peter S. Beagle's astonishing classic fantasy novel The Last Unicorn at The Silver Petticoat Review. I describe, Beagle's story as "the typical quest story, but it’s full of the unexpected and of contradictions while at the same time employing well-known fantasy elements". I also described his language as "exquisite". No matter how many years pass, I don't think I'll ever change my mind about that. I suppose that's the true mark of a classic.

Beagle is definitely one of the authors who simultaneously inspires and depresses me when I see the genius of his work. I can't imagine attaining his level though of course it's important to at least reach for it.

The movie adaptation by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass is also very extraordinary. They had a unique style that captured the poignancy and beauty and darkness of the tale. They're not afraid to touch on dark themes, something you won't see in most modern animated movies. I wonder if we'll ever see anything like that again in popular children's films. The soundtrack by America is enough to pull the emotions out of you. I can't think of anything more perfect for the theme. 

There's been talk of a live action version of the book for years now. Occasionally there's murmurs about it, but then they die down again, so it seems less and less likely. I think it could be beautifully done if someone was committed to it. 

Let me know what you think of my review  and your views on this essential classic and its movie in the comments. What other fantasy books do you consider essential?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Local Best Sellers, Social Media, The Three P's and more: My Thoughts on the Bocas Lit Fest Part I

Well, the 2017 edition of the famous Bocas Lit Fest has ended, and I am still crafting a blog post on it several days later, but I am determined as a Jane Austen character might say. VoilĂ  Part I!

I was happy to have a chance to attend this year’s festival. As usual there was an eclectic mix of inspiring me to write more, and for that alone I truly appreciate its existence and hope it keeps up the excellent momentum its generated.
The very interesting Bocas Book Nook
interesting activities - spoken word, live readings, story telling, discussions. There was even a Book Nook where people could take a book as long as they left one in exchange, an idea that delighted me in its simplicity even more so because I actually saw people using it. As usual the festival left me inspired.

I attended two seminars. The first one featured four people involved in publishing and writing giving information for “budding and self-published authors on crucial aspects of the book business”. They each spoke briefly giving advice for a few minutes and then took some questions from the audience.

This was an interesting session, and I’m glad I attended. Each of the presenters seemed just a tad unnerved at the thought that they might have to speak for twenty whole minutes. But I suppose it was because they each were hoping to have an informal talk and were a bit worried that people expected something long, involved and more technical. They all in the end were informal which the audience appreciated. This casual approach worked well.

The True Confessions of a Literary Agent

Malaika Adero’s (of Adero's Literary Tribe) talk was entitled “The True Confessions of a Literary Agent”. She reminded the audience that “You cannot write anticipating a bestseller”. She seemed aware of the unfortunate situation we have locally where authors must fall back on self-publishing if they want their work out there. She talked about knowing why you want to write and why you want to do this particular work.

She emphasized having a manuscript read by people - people with names even if you want to self-publish because you’ll need endorsements. I thought this might be tricky for a beginning writer. There may be authors out there who might be willing to support them, but how do you get to them? How do you avoid bombarding them with requests to read and endorse their work?

Media Relations for Writers

Just before the sessions began
Franka Phillip the features editor of The Trinidad Guardian gave me a lot to think about as she talked about “Media Relations for Writers”. She gave a lot of good information about how authors could get newspapers to review their books for the paper. She suggested -

· Sending a press release
· Sending an excerpt of the book
· Sending an audio of the book being read
· Sending high resolution pictures of the book cover and the author
· NOT sending DVDs and CDs
· Sending everything by flash drive or drop box
· Giving lots of options to contact the author

All this will hopefully encourage the editor to assign a freelancer to read the book and review it.

Franka actually gave me ideas for two possibilities. I proceeded to jump up during the Q&A to ask her a question. After apologizing profusely and crossing in front of several other participants, I excitedly asked if they were interested in getting some more book reviewers. (Ah ha an opportunity for one of my dream jobs.) Alas Franka, quite frankly (ha!) explained that she wasn’t hiring any reviewers right now. The Trinidad Guardian let a lot of people go recently, so they are not in the market for new people.

My other idea involved the options she gave of authors promoting themselves. I think that is something that can tie into the services I already provide. I’ll be posting about that quite soon.

How to Win at Social Media

I’d never heard of Nicole Dennis-Benn’s book Here Comes the Sun before the seminar. She held it up right in front of her as she spoke and drew attention to it as she talked about the importance of promoting your work and not being afraid to do it. She noted that women, especially Caribbean women, aren’t socialized to talk about themselves. It brought back memories of times when I’ve had people try to squelch me if they thought I was being boastful in some way.

The fact that Nicole was born and raised in Jamaica is inspiring though she lives in New York now. The part about living abroad always deflates me. It makes me fear that getting published is almost impossible outside the states, but other information I’ve received suggests that it’s not. More on that later.

Nicole’s topic was “How to Win at Social Media”. She certainly seems to have achieved it with her best selling book “Here Comes the Sun”. Her publisher has provided her with lots of marketing support through publicists  of course, but she's certainly done her part with her own social media. Nicole talked about the fact that she built her platform as a blogger. (Encouraging!) When someone asked about how she dealt with the “darker” side of interacting with folks on social media, she said that she hadn’t really had a negative experience. Maybe she hasn’t had much exposure to it though because she noted that her method of dealing with anyone “trollish” is to block them immediately. I always hear good arguments for and against engaging trolls myself. I suppose I’ll see what I feel like doing if I ever draw any.

5,000 and Counting: How to Make your Book a Best seller

I think everyone was just delighted with Betty Peter who presented on “5,000 and Counting: How to Make your Book a Best seller”. When the MC said that she probably had one of the most best selling book in Trinidad, I think everyone took notice. We surely didn’t expect the cheerful, sunshiny, motherly lady who got up on stage. No wonder when people got up to ask her questions, several of them asked if they could call her “Aunty Betty”. She happily agreed to this.

Of all the presenters, I think she inspired her audience the most with her sunny attitude. She was clearly devoted to her book Brown Sugar and Spice written for children and set during World War II. Her advice consisted of three Ps: personality (including not being afraid of rebuffs); passion (which involves believing in the quality of your book and talking about your book to everyone) and purpose. I was particularly struck by her idea of talking about your book as I tend to not be very vocal about my own writing, but I’m working on improving in that area.

Aunty Betty has been talking about her book in schools across the country, and this apparently has helped with sales. She’s also received requests for her book from people all around the world. On top of that, before she was finished speaking, more than one person had gotten up, stepped up to the microphone and expressed interest in working with her and wanted to talk to her after the forum! You couldn’t really deny that we saw her own advice playing out before her eyes.
Another aspect I found of interest is that Aunty Betty didn’t self publish as so many people have done. Like me, she preferred working with a publisher. She found one that was willing to print her book, and from her description they did the bare minimum as our local printers always seem to do for fiction books. They also didn’t seem too concerned when she chose to take her book to another publisher. Surely they could have capitalized on this emerging local best seller, but I guess not.

My only issue was that this was yet another Caribbean book set in the past. It sounds delightful, and I’d love to read it, but sometimes I wonder if those are the only Caribbean books that are allowed to pass public approval. There are more genres to explore.

Anyway as usual, I found this Bocas Lit seminar pretty inspiring, and I left with the dough of several half formed ideas. It’s time to find the strength to shape them into something really tasty to share with everyone.

In Part II of this blog, I’ll discuss the other workshop I attended.

If you attended this seminar at the Bocas Lit Fest or any other workshops or events etc, please comment and let me know what you thought of your experience!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Literary Expectations - What I'm Looking For at the Bocas Lit Festival

This year is the sixth one for our local Bocas Lit Festival. Though so much time has passed, I still feel the sensation that the world is not such a humdrum place when I remember that we actually have an annual literary festival here. Think of it, this proves that there are writers in Trinidad as well as people who like books. People who enjoy them enough to organize an entire celebration devoted to books. I know that this makes me sound rather pompous, but I maintain that if there is anything I'm allowed to be a bit condescending about it's the number of people who like to read in Trinidad.

I admit that I don't have the numbers to back me up, but all my life I have been struck by the amount of people here who have no interest in reading, who have never picked up a book and who also hint at  scorn when they realize else someone is a reader. The fact that we have a book festival reminds me that there are kindred spirits out there who feel as I do about reading.

The festival organizers have been doing a great job every year to increase the value and diversity of the events and workshops they offer. (They've even been recognized internationally!) There are workshops for people interested in publishing and writing in different genres. There are live readings and appearances by some fairly high profile authors (Nalo Hopkinson was an amazing addition a few years ago.) They actually acknowledge the existence of people interested in writing in the young adult genre and science fiction and fantasy by having workshops on these topics.  I wish they would do more. I have often found that among the limited numbers of Caribbean writers out there, there doesn't seem to be a lot of quality work in those genres. I sense that some writers here still don't think these are "real" genres, and I am happy to hear of initiatives that take genre writers seriously and encourage them.

Despite my joy in the festival, I always know that there will be several events and activities that don't appeal to me. I think my interests are sometimes a bit too specific for that, so I don't blame them. I am just glad that there is a group out there championing reading and taking it seriously when so few people here don't. I want them to keep doing what they're doing and grow bigger every year.

This year I'll be attending Free Seminars on the Book Business. "True Confessions of a Literary Agent" looks interesting for example. Hopefully the seminars will run on time - one of the few complaints I have had when attending sessions in the past. I'm particularly interested in the Writing for Young Adults. Another concern I have is because of the awful situation of our local publishing industry, these kinds of sessions might be based on the budding North American YA market while ours is just stagnant. I hope that the workshop will address how someone from the Caribbean can reach international publishers. I think that's the best chance I have to eventually get out there. Look out for my take on my experiences soon, and check out the schedule of events and activities yourself. 

Are you going to be attending the festival yourself? What do you think of it? What have you enjoyed in the past and what do you think you could change?