Archive for May, 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman – A Review

Snow White and the Huntsman is a solemn affair providing an expansive, dark back-story to the Grimm fairy tale.  With the cinematography out of the Chronicles of Narnia:  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe play book (though Snow White and the Huntsman loves the image of flowing liquid, from the mirror itself to the queen’s baptism bath to visions of fingers melting like wax), every shot is visually inventive and beautifully composed, evocative of a children’s picture book.  Debuting director Rupert Sanders interprets it with a Middle Earth flourish and disturbing imagery.  It’s like a Peter Jackson film by way of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  If only it were that satisfying.

“Is there no end to your power and beauty?” –Mirror

After a convoluted scheme to marry her way to the throne, obviously evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) drives Snow White (Kristen Stewart) into exile (after keeping her around until she comes of age for some reason).  The queen sends a Huntsman Eric (Thor‘s Chris Hemsworth) into the Dark Forest capture her.  And Snow White’s childhood chum, Prince William (Sam Claflin), jumps into the hunt.  The movie counts on a few familiar notes with Snow White still commanding the love of forest animals while the audience waits to see how the movie interprets the seven dwarves.  The movie doesn’t know what to do with them as their inherent humor threatens to intrude on the emo seriousness the movie revels in (although since she first encounters eight, you know one of them might as well have been wearing a red shirt).

Overall, the move is the archetypal story of an exile on a hero’s journey, to reclaim what’s hers, and restore the kingdom.  It brings to mind the movie Lady in the Water in how it is so self-consciously messianic in its structure and story-telling.

“The forest gains its strength from your weakness.” –Huntsman

The kingdom has to endure life after the fall (the death of the king) as the queen of this age gives this wretched world the queen it deserves.”  Her evil has poisoned the land and the people live under a curse.  The Dark Forest, the sphere of her kingdom, is the metaphor for life, as it is hard, dark, full of hardship, mystery and danger.  The queen, full of man-hating crazy, is confronted with a prophecy that haunts her:

“‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.’”  -Genesis 3:15

that “only by the fairest blood can it be undone,” an end to the darkness through blood.  Snow White is “of the blood” and is the source of the queen’s undoing or salvation.

Snow White, the destined/chosen one, is on her journey of messianic consciousness, gradually growing into her knowledge and role as the Messiah of her people.  She gives her people hope to become the people they were meant to be and live the lives they were supposed to lead.

After escaping the prison of the queen, Snow White eventually finds refuge in Eden Sanctuary, idyllic home of the faeries, a foretaste of what her rule could bring once she heals the land.  There she is blessed by the king of the faeries, Aslan the Holy Spirit a great white stag whose side gets pierced as a cost to her mission.

“I would rather die today than live another day with this death.” –Snow White

Eventually the film climaxes with her death and resurrection.  However, she apparently comes back as Joan of Arc and leads the army of the Lord in judgment of Ravenna (with Snow White as sword “the weapon”).  All of which to drive home the movie’s overarching message that love transforms, love redeems, and love conquers.

“The world seems beautiful again.” –Snow White

Snow White and the Huntsman is longer than it needs to be and gets bogged down in over-explaining things.  It juggles too many characters doing justice to few, with only Snow White, the Queen, and the Huntsman getting anything close to a complete portrait.  There is some shrill, over-the-top scene chewing by both the Queen and her brother, Finn (Sam Spruell).  Stewart stays within her Twilight lane, complete with lip-chewing romantic dilemma, summed up with the notion of who’s kiss was going to wake her up (which only brings to mind the disturbing idea that a lot of guys line up to kiss (apparently) dead women).

The entire movie is upstaged by the top notch design, Colleen Atwood’s costume department and Greig Fraser’s cinematography.  Keep in mind that the movie may be darker, scarier, and too disturbing for kids looking for a live action version of the beloved Disney film.

We See a Different Frontier Guest blog by Djibril al-Ayad

Colonization and colonialism are core to science fiction on so many levels. We can’t get away from the language of colonists and imperialists: “The Final Frontier”, “Discovering New Worlds”, “Settling the Stars”, “Terraforming”. It’s almost as if we haven’t learned any of the lessons of the past 400 years of human history, isn’t it?

There is no “Great Frontier” land of opportunity where we can carve a home for ourselves out of the wilderness at no disadvantage to anybody else. The “New World” you think you’ve found has someone or something living there already, and you can’t settle it without displacing or exterminating them. The “Great Adventure”, the exploration of land where “No (white) Man Has Gone Before”, the landscape-razing and resource-pillaging that our intrepid heroes are indulging in are not such romantic images if you come from a country whose resources have been pillaged, ancestors enslaved, women raped, natives massacred, religion, culture and literatures repressed and replaced by brave white heroes just like these.

Science fiction is a very colonial genre, and by the same token it’s a very white genre—I mean most science fiction is written as if the assumption were that all readers will be straight, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle-class, Anglophone males. Even in the geekiest sci-fi club in Middle America, that just can’t be true. It shouldn’t be true. That’s such a tiny subset of humanity (not to mention a uniformity that has never existed): I don’t want to write only for them. I don’t want to read fiction that pretends everyone worth hearing about is a member of this absurdly small élite.

But it’s not easy to diversify speculative fiction overnight. It’s hard to find publishers willing to pay the double cost and risk of commissioning a translation that might or might not sell. The literatures of other—even Anglophone—cultures have different genres and conventions, so it’s not always easy to map terms such as “science fiction”, “fantasy”, “horror”, “magical realism” onto texts written in the traditions of, say, Latin America, South-East Asia or Africa. Readers of genres that generically label themselves “Speculative” or “Weird” ought to be in it for the sense of estrangement, but sometimes even a text that would be mainstream in its country of origin is too weird for a Western SF reader.

Add to this the fact that Anglo writers—especially in the “Weird” genres—have long appropriated the cultures, settings and languages of the colonized world as an exotic or orientalizing feature of their work, and it becomes hard for a writer from a non-western culture to break into the mainstream publishing world as an authentic voice of their culture.

Fábio Fernandes is going to guest edit an anthology of colonialism-themed new stories from outside the first-world perspective later this year, to be published by The Future Fire. As we thought about the importance of this theme, the scale of the problem the anthology is addressing, and the fact that most of the authors are likely to be outsiders to the Anglo-American dominated science fiction publishing world, we realized that we needed to spend more money on this project than was in the budget of a small-press magazine.

We wanted to be able to pay a professional rate for fiction, in order to attract the best stories possible and so as to treat the authors fairly. We wanted to be able to buy more stories than normally fill one issue of a magazine. And so we decided to put out an appeal for crowdfunding. Via the Peerbackers site, we are now a good way towards raising $4,000 toward this cost of this anthology. (Whatever happens, even if we don’t quite make the full target amount, the project will now go ahead, and all pledged money will go toward paying authors and artists. But we’d love your support to help us get all the way!)

We feel strongly that the answer is to read, publish and promote these under-represented authors as much as possible in the traditional halls of science fiction and fantasy. This is what we want to do with We See a Different Frontier: to tell the story of the final frontier from the mouths of those who live on the other side of it, who were not explorers and conquerors, but natives and colonized. To use speculative fiction to tell the story of the voiceless and unheard. To take the romance away from the conquering of space and the discovery of new worlds. To see the richness of the world as it really is, not as it would be after an Aryan genocide. To bring everybody into the conversation. I can’t wait to start reading the stories.

Battleship – A Review

The two hot mines for movie property ideas these days seem to be comic books and the Hasbro toy manufacturer.  Having given us the G.I. Joe and Transformers franchises from their toy line, they now turn to their board games.  Battleship is a 200M dollar commercial for the game where two players bomb each other’s fleet deployment.  The tie in to the CGI extravaganza is that there is a fleet deployment and there is a nod to the combination of luck and deductive reasoning that passes for strategy to track the alien fighters along a grid.  And there’s a battleship, though we spend a good chunk of the movie waiting on the famous line from the commercial, “You sank my battleship” or whatever variation the writers put on it.

Delving into Transformers territory for much of its look, director Peter Berg (Friday Night Lights, Hancock) embraces the premise as best he can, with brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber delivering a script both too long and underwritten.  The movie is both impersonal and generic, feeling every bit as plastic as the game it is based on.

The story, as it were, starts with the fact that NASA has discovered a “Goldilocks planet” (close enough to, and far enough from, the sun in order to sustain life, and therefore just right) in a nearby galaxy.  Dubbing it “Planet G” we decide to beam a signal to it hoping for a response.  The movie then spends a half hour establishing a cast of characters not nearly interesting enough to carry the story.

At Oahu, Hawaii, where ne’er-do-well jobless slacker Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch, John Carter, TV’s Friday Night Lights) has a propensity of making bad choices, being impetuous, and having anger issues.  Luckily his older brother, Stone (True Blood) bails him out and encourages him to join him in the Navy.  Physical therapist, Sam (Brooklyn Decker), who happens to be the daughter of U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Shane (Liam Neeson), finds Alex’s irresponsibility completely charming/sees his potential.  This romance totters ahead despite the fact that Alex finds himself to be tossed out of the Navy on his ear when luckily the aliens show up and distract everyone.

The chess match of first contact ensues, with everyone figuring out what is a threat by testing things with their weapons.  As aliens are prone to do, they cheat, cutting off the island and creating an isolated field of engagement.  Plenty of less than riveting “boom” happens for the rest of the movie.

“Stop messing things up.” –Sam

Taylor Kitsch does a commendable job with Alex’s journey of maturity from potential to living into his gifts.  It’s easy to become mired in our own self-loathing.  The Holy Spirit wants us to dine on truth.  That we’re an image bearer of God, a beautiful creation.  Yes, we’re sinners, but there’s conviction, repentance, and redemption from that.  And freedom.  Freedom from the chains of our addictions, our self-loathing, our self-protection, our “ugliness”.  We need to set aside the lies we’ve come to believe about ourselves (or that have been programmed into us by others):  that we’re a villain, a cancer, toxic to those around us; that we’re unworthy of loving or being loved, that others are better off without us.

It’s a matter of getting our identity straight.  We are known by God.  We are loved by God.  Yet we don’t always believe that and don’t always see how it plays out in our lives.  When our faith can’t get traction in our lives, we become stuck.  We end up not living up to our potential like we should, thus we need to keep being reminded of our true identity:  we’re children of God, known for exactly who we are, and loved anyway!

And while Alex initially attempts to duck the responsibility of leadership, eventually life puts him in a situation where he’s forced to live into his gifts and pursue his true calling and mission.

“Who do I call to teach you humility?” – Stone Hopper

Battleship takes a long time to get going, contents itself with underdrawn characters, and ends up being bogged down with being a love letter to the Navy.  Interestingly enough, the most compelling character was an Army veteran and amputee in physical therapy, played by real-life Army vet and amputee Gregory D. Gadson. And while the nod to the heroic work of veterans who came before is admirable (and got a healthy round of applause by the crowd I saw the movie with), it added to the mixed tone of the movie.  I guess we’ll have to wait for movie makers to put an alien invasion twist on Monopoly or the comedy stylings of Elefun: the movie to get it right.

Living the Writing Dream vs. the Reality Check

My dad and I used to get in an argument about whether or not I was a professional writer.  I said I was because I commanded pro rates to do my work.  His point was that when my work could support my family, then I was a professional.

The dream of many writers is to be able to live solely off income generated from their writing.  As Nick Mamatas pointed out in Starve Better, this can be done by adjusting your lifestyle and taking on non-fiction gigs.  Slapped in the face with that reality, what we really mean with our dream is that “we want to live solely off writing what we want in the comfort of the middle class lifestyle we enjoy.”

As I talk to other freelancers about living the life of a freelancer we have a certain amounts of income banked away until you get to That Time.  You can define “That Time” different ways, but it’s all semantics for “when your spouse tells you it’s time to get a ‘real’ job.”  And by “real” it isn’t that they don’t necessarily support what you’re doing, but they don’t want the constant anxiety of “where’s the next check coming because we got bills to pay.”  They want steady income and little things like health benefits.

We crashed into That Time a few months back.  Thus me doing substitute teaching and tutoring to make ends meet while I searched for a “real” job.  The realities of making a go as a full-time freelancer involved and brief stint on food stamps and enrolling our kids in Medi-Caid (one of the biggest hurdles in the life of a freelancer is health insurance).  One of the things that helped the freelance larder refill, and thus pushing back That Time, was expanding into freelance editing and ghost writing.

You do what you have to do in order to live the dream.  Taking on non-fiction gigs where you can find them is little different than having a “day” job.  It IS my day job.  And it lets me give my creative muscle rest times as I switch between projects.

Outreach Inc: Everyone has a Story

I’ve volunteered off and on for many years with Outreach Inc and have written about a typical day in the life of the ministry and how it impacts how I view the city I live in.  I was recently asked to write about what I felt the first day I went down to volunteer:

There are some mission fields where you end up saying “I’m glad someone’s doing that” because the idea of you doing it seems impossible.  Volunteering to work down at Outreach Inc and working with homeless teenagers can be like that for some people.  I know it was like that for me the first time I found myself down there.

I’m not always the most outgoing of people, so the idea of working with a room full of homeless teenagers was a daunting prospect.  To be perfectly honest, teenagers period were enough to stretch me out of my comfort zone, but in my mind, homeless teenagers were so especially out of the world and people that I dealt with that I was nearly frozen with apprehension from not knowing what to expect.  I certainly didn’t know how I was going to initiate a conversation with anyone “so different than me.”  We build up all of these “differences” in our heads:  they’re so much younger, they come from a different class, I can’t relate to their culture, they look so strange.  Through all of that, we forget what we have in common:  we’re all people.  We all have stories to tell.

I’m a professional writer and I tend to carry around a notepad with me.  As much as I’d love to claim that it’s so I can jot down ideas whenever they come to me, which it is, it also doubles as my security blanket.  Not to different from my own kids who carried their blankets everywhere we went for so long, I’d cling to my notepad whenever I get anxious.  So the first time I sat down with one of the kids from Outreach Inc., they asked me why I had it.  Was I with the government?  Was I taking a survey?  When I told them I was a writer, something wonderful happened:  they began telling me their story.  That’s when that moment of clarity, aka the D’Uh moment, hit me as I recalled the opening words from my own creative writing seminar I give:  “everyone has a story to tell.”

Having the proper heart and intentionality about building relationships is what Outreach Inc is about.  The problems many of the kids face won’t and can’t be fixed by throwing money at them, but having people who love them, support them, and want to walk alongside them certainly goes a long way in getting their lives back on track.  As much as I struggled with what “someone like me” might have to offer to “someone like them”, the simple fact is that we all have gifts to offer.  Everyone has a story to tell, sometimes all it takes to be there for someone is to be a willing listener.

Mo*Con VII Wrap Up

“Conventions aren’t about winning awards or being guest of honor or whatever. It’s experiencing the people that makes events worthwhile.” –John Edward Lawson

How do you sum up the continuing experiment we call Mo*Con?

IT.  WAS.  AWESOME!

We purposefully don’t over program.  We have a single track of “programming” and allow folks plenty of time and space to hang out with one another.  It allows the magic, that strange alchemy of bringing interesting people together around food and drinks, to happen.  And by “magic” I mean things like:

-ending up at a burlesque show the night before Mo*Con (folks come in for Mo*Con early and we *have* to entertain them.  And accidents happen…)

-Mary Robinette Kowal doing a reading from her work in progress in my living room

-what we may have to dub the Tom Piccirilli smoker’s club (ever since his appearance at Mo*Con IV, people have brought ever more expensive cigars to share)

-rain or shine, the conversations that happen in the Broaddus family garage after the main programming

-going to see The Avengers in 3-D on the IMAX, the late night show, post Mo*Con, because, you know, who needs sleep?

As far as Mo*Con itself, we never know what quite to expect.  Our Friday nights have had everything from Open Mic poetry readings to a Celtic rock band performance (Mother Grove!).  Mary Robinette Kowal performing a puppet show this year was absolutely classic.  In Mo*Con tradition, we had conversations on spirituality (with Mary Sangiovanni and Nate Southard holding court) and race (watching John Edward Lawson and Chesya Burke holding it down for real).  In that same tradition, sparks flew, people disagreed, but it was done in a spirit of respect and listening to one another.  Not only was there a community art project spearheaded by Danny Evarts (we can’t wait to see how that turns out), but Michelle Pendergrass and Mike Altman led art demonstrations that revealed the inner artist in folks (I now have several pieces hanging in my home).  And though she was missed, Sara Larson’s presence was felt as we renamed the Mo*Con awards after her.

And then there was the food.  Italian food.  Cajun food.  Indian food.  (The secret to Mo*Con is to pack your big pants for Sunday because you won’t fit into whatever you brought when it began)

I’d like to especially thank our Indiana Horror Writers co-hosts who went above and beyond (Michael West, RJ Sullivan, Kathy Watness, Natalie Philips, Todd Manning, Chris Garrison) in helping out and making everyone feel so welcome.  Bob Freeman for his awesome design work (from the Mo*Con posters to the Mo*Con awards).  Danny Evarts who stepped in to help out in the kitchen and for just generally being awesome.  Young Mr. Rodney Carlstrom and his parents Pam and Gerald who prepped the food and made things run so seamlessly.

And to my wife, Sally Broaddus, who not only puts up with the chaos each year, but welcomes everyone into our home as if they’re family.

People are what it’s all about.  And we have great people that come to Mo*Con.  Thanks so much for being a part of it!

***

OTHER CON REPORTS:

Mary Sangiovanni – Mo*Con Report and GSHW Appearance Reminder

Jason Sizemore – Awarded, Me

Laura Long – Report on Mo*Con VII

Why So Serious? [Synchroblog]

synchroblog is a collection of similar articles or posts made by a diverse group of bloggers who have agreed to blog on the same topic on the same day.

“The Ideal Pastor: is always casual but never underdressed–is warm and friendly but not too familiar–is humorous but not funny–calls on his members but is never out of the office–is an expository preacher but always preaches on the family–is profound but comprehensible– condemns sin but is always positive–has a family of ordinary people who never sin–has two eyes, one brown and the other blue!” –R. Kent Hughes

I still remember when a family at a church we used to go to cornered me and my wife one day between church services.  It had the feel of an alley way deal about to go down:  “Psst,  Buddy.  Over here.  We hear you’re a Christian who likes to have fun.”  The issue at hand was that they were relatively new Christians, new to the church, but found it hard to find folks who liked to let loose (read: laugh and enjoy the occasional adult beverage).  I don’t know what it says about me that they were pointed my way.

But, much like the pastor in the above quote, many Christians struggle with the appropriateness of humor in their walks, much like hiding your glass of wine at dinner in case a member of your congregation might happen to pass by.  It’s as if becoming “dour” is the lifestyle choice many Christians make upon joining the faith.  There are several issues that conflate into the “problem” of humor when it comes to our spirituality:

1)  The pursuit of holiness is serious business. Many confuse a joke or two with irreverence.  For them humor has no place in the discussion of weighty matters, after all, a man died on a cross for you to make whatever bit of silly.  That’ll kill any mood in a room.  Look, we get it:  this world is difficult and fully of suffering; the Christian journey isn’t easy and will often drive you to your knees.  But humor and religion aren’t mutually exclusive.  We don’t need to put religion in the corner segregated with all the serious things in life just like we can’t lose sight that life is to be enjoyed and that laughter is a part of the human experience.

2)  Jokes are risky business. The best stand-up comedians are not only thought-provoking but even prophetic.  Their routines begin with an observational truth, the joke itself shaped with exaggeration.  Already you can see the roots of possible offense.  That which is the object of said observation may not always be amused and there’s a fine line between exaggeration and insult.  In other words, jokes risk offense.

3)  Jokes are a subjective business. This is probably just a corollary to point number two, but I really wanted a third point to seem like I really thought this through.  What’s funny to me might not be funny to you.  Humor is often fickle, subject to personal taste.

I’m probably the last person to offer any commentary when it comes to humor in church circles.  I’ve openly advocated for a tastier savior during Communion (cause I don’t think nasty @$$ stale crackers were how Jesus wanted us to remember Him by).  Left to my own devices, I would probably end sermons by yelling “Sexual Chocolate” and dropping the mic (there are maybe six people out there who may get that reference).  I have traced God’s interesting fascination of boobies through Scripture, reduced the immigration debate to the fact that brown people scare us, and written open letters to white people who seem to have only one black friend in their lives.  Satire is tough to do, just see the entire book of Jonah.

No discussion about humor is funny just as the first all-to-defensive comment will usually run along the lines of “who made you the arbiter of humor?”  I love my brothers and sisters who take themselves too seriously if for no other reason than they make for good targets to lampoon (because, seriously, who else is going to issue a gay warning concerning SpongeBob Squarepants).  However, I will say this:  joy and wonder and excitement and laughter are just as much a part of the human condition as sadness and suffering.  To everything there is a season.  Laughter is a gift and a blessing, and my wife and I both laugh at completely inappropriate things and situations.  It’s how we deal with the difficult and often ridiculous things life brings our way.  Humor helps us keep things in perspective.  So don’t look at me with any expectations of knowing where the funny line is (though if I had to guess, it’s probably in my rear view mirror).

***

SYNCHROBLOGGERS:

  • Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – Lighten Up!
  • Maria Kettleson Anderson at My Real Journey – The Art of Passionately Lightening Up
  • Melody Harrison at Logic and Imagination – {I Don’t Do Joy}
  • Wendy McCaig – Lighten Up: Learning to Let Go From A Man Who Lost It All
  • Carol Kuniholm at Words Half Heart – Resurrection Laughter
  • R. Lee Bayes at Southern Humanist – Loving Light
  • Alan Knox – Be Sarcastic With One Another
  • Patrick Oden at Dueling Ravens – Truth, Beauty, and Yodeling Pickles
  • Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved – A Tricky Little Journey
  • Christine Sine at Godspace – Lighten Up: It Really is the Best Medicine
  • Glenn Hager –  Margaritas, Metallica, and A Serious Case of the Giggles.
  • Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – A Spoonful of Sugar
  • K.W. Leslie at More Christ – When Jesus Made A Funny
  • Maurice Broaddus – Why So Serious?
  • Ellen Haroutunian – A Laughing God