Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NOISES OFF

Deafness and silent movies converge in lyrical Wonderstruck

Filmmaker Todd Haynes is a master visual stylist. Just look at his swoony period aesthetic in Far From Heaven, or Carol.

He has plenty to visualize and to style for the screen in his new movie, Wonderstruck.

With its parallel storylines set in the 1920s and the 1970s, child protagonists, and kids-eye-view of the world, this rare PG-rated experiment from Haynes may be less filling, plotwise, than his grown-up movies, but it still looks great.

It's adapted from his own novel by Brian Selznick, whose very first book was made into the rapturous movie Hugo.

Selznick's books are a genre unto themselves, combining a certain amount of prose storytelling with extravagantly detailed pencil illustrations that sprawl across the pages.
She loves New York: Millicent Simmonds in Wonderstruck

Presenting his stories in visual terms must come naturally to the author related through his grandfather to Hollywood Golden Age producer David O. Selznick.

So it's no wonder that Selznick's stories so often reference movie lore and history. The life and exuberantly eccentric work of silent movie pioneer Georges Melies was the inspiration for the book that became Hugo.

The silent movie era also figures in this plot: the industry facing the advent of sound film provides a counterpoint to the story of two deaf children on separate quests coping with a hearing world.

Cabinet of Curiosities: Selznick version

Oakes Fegley and the newcomer Millicent Simmonds (a wonderful young deaf actress making her feature debut) play the kids in search of family, love, and tolerance, whose stories finally converge in New York City.

The Museum of Natural History figures prominently in both stories. But the most interesting set, a 19th Century Cabinet of Curiosities preserved at the museum, is underused.

It's gorgeously rendered in an old book that Ben finds (an illustration straight out of Selznick's novel), but the big reveal of how it relates to the modern story lacks, well, a sense of wonder — and then we never see it again.

Still, Haynes rocks the scenes set in 1927, shooting in black-and-white, without dialogue (just as Simmonds' character perceives the world), like a silent movie.

But this movie is far from silent, percolating along with a marvelously inventive, often percussive score by Carter Burwell that informs and reflects the action in every frame.

Cabinet of Curiosities onscreen: Let's spend more time here!
In honor of the non-hearing community that inspires it, Wonderstruck features open-caption subtitles throughout.

It's a thoughtful touch for a lyrical movie whose message of family, friendship, and tolerance strikes a particular chord these days.
(Read more in this week's Good Times)

Monday, November 13, 2017

SUCH A DEAL


Oh, and did I happen to mention that Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge is (finally!) available again at a decent pre-order discount on Amazon?

Take a look!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

PRE-HOLIDAY CHEER

Who's ready for a little pre-holiday spirit?

If your answer was a resounding "Gah!" stop reading right now. Otherwise, stick around.

Okay, full disclosure: I'm kind of a Charles Dickens geek.

His unparalleled view of Victorian-era England (London, especially) — upstairs and downstairs, comic and tragic, darkness and light, good, bad, ugly, and everything in between — is endlessly fascinating to me. I eat it up like a Christmas pudding.

So imagine my delight when this trailer appeared before the feature over at the Nick a couple of days ago. Coming this Thanksgiving weekend: The Man Who Invented Christmas. It stars Dan Stevens as you-know-who, caught in the act of creating one of his most beloved works, A Christmas Carol.

Whenever I'm asked to name my favorite book of all time, this is it. It's astonishing at how polished this simple-seeming tale is: it obeys the so-called "classical unities" of time, place, and action, occurring in the space of a single night, and yet it encompasses one man's entire lifetime, while painting an indelible portrait of an age and culture at its most human, and inhumane extremes.

All wrapped up in an eerie Gothic ghost story.

Really, it's a master class in how to write fiction!

As the screen went dark on the Dickens trailer, Art Boy whispered to me, "I know you're going to want to see that one!" And how. I wanted to stay sitting right there for the next two weeks until the movie itself came onscreen. He practically had to chisel me out of the seat!

This movie might well be silly. It might be trash. But my appetite is inexhaustible! Opening day is November 22, Thanksgiving Eve, at the Nick. We'll see you there!

Monday, November 6, 2017

NORSING AROUND

Gods just wanna have fun in entertaining Thor: Ragnarok

Okay, so it's less about the gods of classical Norse Mythology than the Marvel Comics pantheon, but only a real killjoy would fail to get a kick out of this third installment of the Thor series, Thor: Ragnarok.

As Norse geeks know, Ragnarok is like Armageddon — the long-prophesied doom of Asgard, where the Norse gods live.

Yes, the destruction of the world is serious stuff, but what's most engaging about this episode is the way Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston continue to have way too much fun developing the prickly relationship between heroic Thor, God of Thunder, and sly, acerbic half-brother Loki, the Trickster God.


(Established with such brio in the last installment, Thor: The Dark World, my Guilty Pleasure of 2013.)

Hemsworth, Hiddleston: Wait, who's the straight man here?
 But — surprise! This time Hemsworth gets most of the laughs, beginning with the opening prologue, where, wrapped in chains and caged, he cheerily explains The Story So Far, to clue in both the viewer and the gigantic fire demon that thinks it's about to destroy him.

Who knew Thor could be funny?

It's all directed with a surprisingly droll, light touch by New Zealander Taika Waititi, who give his adroit cast plenty of room to maneuever.

Goldblum: priceless
Jeff Goldblum brings his priceless, eccentric delivery to the role of the Grandmaster, presiding over a gladiatorial combat arena in some distant world or other.

(In the Thor universe, gods and mortals rocket around the galaxies at will.)

That's Cate Blanchett in a black Vampyra wig as Hela, Goddess of Death (a previously undocumented lost daughter of Odin), whose evil schemes to conquer Asgard and unleash Ragnarok set everything off.

New to the series, Tessa Thompson struts around with brio as the last survivor of the Valkyrie sisterhood, nursing a grudge against Hela.

The ever-wonderful Idris Elba has more to do this time as Heimdall, keeper of the portal of Asgard, who becomes a leader of the resistance after Hela takes over.

Thompson: Happy Hulk Day
And Mark Ruffalo proves himself the best screen Hulk ever in the comic timidity he brings to brainy science nerd Bruce Banner before hulking out into his colossal alter-ego.

(He's also extra poignant in his CGI Hulk suit, when he's not bashing people about.) It's also pretty funny when spectators take to the streets in green masks to celebrate Hulk Day, in honor of their favorite combatant.

Benedict Cumberbatch pops up for one pretty cool scene as Dr. Strange. (I told you, these characters jet all over the place.)

And keep your eyes peeled for a cameo by Matt Damon playing an actor playing the part of Loki in a recreation of the last scene of the last Thor movie onstage in Asgard.

But don't worry, fanboys, there's a whole lot of action, too, dire peril, shifty alliances, and ginormous special effects — including gladiatorial combat between Thor and the Hulk.

Of course, there's also another yawner of an aerial dogfight above Asgard. (Don't even ask.)

(And in one disturbing scene, a character goes on a two-fisted rampage, firing two automatic assault rifles into a crowd of Hela's army. Sure, his targets are inhuman demons with green glowing eyes, but it still looks like a serial killer-empowering moment.)

Thor also loses his mighty magic hammer in this one. (Although he mostly retains a tactical advantage, since he is, you know, a god.) More traumatizing to fangirls is the scene when he's shorn of his long blond locks. Loki too gets a new do, less limp and Snape-like, with a little bounce around the edges.

Hulk, Thor, Valkyrie and Loki: Let's get the band back together!
Oh, and that Ragnarok thing? Fear not — the post-credit teaser suggests this franchise, like the gods, is immortal.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

ONE STEP CLOSER!

OMG!

My beloved Beast is in the Candlewick catalogue!

Imagine my delight today to open my mailbox and find the Spring-Summer catalogue 2018 from my new publisher, Candlewick.

Couldn't resist posting my Beast page, in all its gorgeouness!

Here's a screen-shot of the page from the online catalogue, including just enough of the plot outline to give you a little tease. Hope you're intrigued!

At long last, Beast is finally heading toward a bookstore near you! 

(Not right away, of course; pub date is still July 10, 2018.)

But he's on his way!