Archive | March 2013

Movie Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

One of the more recent cinematic forays into the fantasy realm is “Jack the Giant Slayer.” It is, basically, Jack and the Beanstalk adapted to the big screen. There aren’t any really big names in the cast … the only one I really recognized was Ewan McGregor who plays Elmont, the captain of the King’s Guard. The lead role (Jack) is played by Nicholas Hoult.

 

The backdrop of the story is an ancient war between giants and man. Many years ago, in a foolish attempt to reach God, a group of monks enchanted some regular beans to build a bridge to heaven. They were partially successful, building a bridge via beanstalk to the cloudy realms where the giants dwelled. The giants, however, were hardly benevolent; they descended upon the human world bringing death and destruction until a magical crown allowed the great King Erik to banish them back to their lofty dwellings.

 

Fast forward, many years later. Jack is a poor farm boy who, through happenstance, comes into possession of the magical beans. He doesn’t believe in their power—at least not fully—although he is familiar with the legend of Erik and the giants. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to him, one of the beans falls beneath the floorboards of his house. Meanwhile, Princess Isabelle, upset with her father for forcing her to marry, takes to the countryside and comes upon Jack in his home. It begins to rain. This is not their first meeting—Jack actually stood up for her in a typical gallant-hero-rescues-damsel type of situation. They talk, share a moment, and then, the water from the rain reaches the bean causing it to grow. The end result is that the whole house, with the princess inside, is whisked away up into the clouds, and although Jack tries to save her, he fails and winds up on the ground.

 

The king discovers Jack lying unconscious on the ground and a rescue party for the princess is formed. They ascend the beanstalk into the heights. That’s the genesis of the plot; I’ll leave the rest for the reader to discover when they watch the movie.

 

Strengths: well, I always like a good fantasy, even if it is a well-used yarn like Jack and the Beanstalk. This was an adequate movie; I mean, it wasn’t fantastic by any stretch of the imagination, but that may be because I was familiar with the Jack and the Beanstalk myth going in (as many people are). Still, it was a decent story. I wouldn’t recommend it for the too too young, because the giants are kind of grim and scary looking and there are several deaths, although they are not very graphic. Parents will have to make that determination on their own. Its weaknesses: well, I can’t think of anything specific that really leaps out. Overall, I found the movie entertaining, but lacking some indefinable something that held the movie back. However, that lack, I’m sure, would only be recognized by an adult. Kids would probably eat this up.

 

I’ll give it four stars out of five for a children’s audience (provided they can handle the implied deaths), and probably only three and half out of five for adults.

Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

“Oz the Great and Powerful” is essentially the prequel to “The Wizard of Oz” some, what, seventy? eighty? years after the fact. In no way does it compare to “The Wizard of Oz,” that was a classic movie whose beauty and charm will likely never be recaptured. That said, “Oz the Great and Powerful” had its moments. The lead role of Oscar Diggs (Oz) was played by James Franco. The original wicked witch (of the East–Evanora) was played by Rachel Weisz. Those are the only two actors in the film I really recognized.

 

Oscar Diggs is a small time magician working in a circus in Kansas. One day, due to a dalliance with a certain young woman, he is run out of the circus by the strongman who is intent on busting his skull. Oscar escapes by means of a large hot-air balloon. Unfortunately, just as he makes his getaway, a tornado moves into the area and sucks him and his balloon up and off into the land of Oz. There, he encounters his first witch, Theodora the Good. Theodora believing he is the prophesied wizard destined to rescue the land of Oz from the predations of the wicked witch leads him to the Emerald City where he meets her sister, Evanora who is, unbeknownst to either of them, the aforementioned wicked witch.

 

Oscar, who happens to also go by the name of “Oz,” sets off to destroy the wicked witch, who, he is told, dwells in the dark forest. Once there, he encounters Glinda, who is a good witch, and tells him the truth that Evanora is really the bad witch. They are set upon by the wicked witch’s minions and must flee into a giant mystical bubble that protects them from intruders. There Oz learns he must mount an army to defeat the evil of the realm, but he has as resources only untrained farmers who are not permitted to kill. A difficult task, you say? At first, things seem hopeless. The evil witches have magic and he has none, and an army of basically pacifists. Then, he remembers, he has one tool they do not: science … the hallmark of an Illusionists trade. And so the stage is set for a grand battle of wits.

 

Let’s do weaknesses first: well, the dialogue was somewhat lacking in places. Parts of it seemed overacted or poorly executed. My biggest complaint, however, (spoiler alert) concerns the genesis of the wicked witch of the west. I thought that was a bit too mature of a theme for a children’s movie. Maybe I’m wrong. Basically, Theodora the Good is heartbroken and feels betrayed by Oscar. She turns to her sister, Evanora, to ease her pain, who, of course, gives her a poisoned apple that turns her green and hardens her heart. She started out a sweet, innocent young women, and is then transformed into the wicked witch of the west … I don’t know, maybe I’m over reacting, but that seems to be too … um … just too “mean” for a children’s movie. Going from good to evil. Kind of like Darth Vader. Maybe I’m wrong.

 

Anyway, strengths: the special effects were good. But the best part of the movie (probably because of the special effects) was the showdown between the wizard and the two evil witches. It was great. “I am Oz … the Great and Powerful!”

 

Overall, I’ll give the movie three and a half out of five stars.

Reminder: Drasmyr Available In Print on Lulu.com

Yep, I did it; I took the plunge. My dark fantasy novel, Drasmyr, is now available as a hardcover book on Lulu.com for $24.99. It makes a great gift for yourself or others, particularly for those who want a physical copy of what previously was only available as an ebook. Get your copy today!

Literature: On The Nature Of Writing (Part II)

Last time I wrote, I listed a large number of writing types and a few means of looking at each type. From the large list, I selected the following types: philosophical essays, novels, and short stories (and poems); and I claimed that of the many different ways of looking at a piece of writing, the ones I was interested in included: as a means of self-expression, as a means of communication, and aesthetically. Today, I’m going to combine both thoughts, and evaluate each type of writing in accordance with the ways of looking at it. And maybe add one or two thoughts to top it off.

 

I wrote tons of philosophical essays in college. And I can tell you most emphatically that philosophical writing is all about communication. I guess there is some self-expression involved, and, I suppose, aesthetic writing is always a plus, but the primary duty of the philosopher is to communicate, clearly and cogently, some thought worth telling. That’s why it’s so difficult to read. Seriously. It’s a paradox, but not really. Natural language is so vague, that philosophy involves going through various literary contortions to precisely delineate the exact meaning the writer wants to express and none other. It’s that ‘none other’ bit that is problematic. Oh yes, and there is Logic involved. Lots and lots of logic. Philosophers are basically the inspiration for Star Trek’s Vulcans.

 

At the other extreme, I think, is poetry. That seems to be largely a work of self-expression, greatly concerned with aesthetics almost above all else. It does communicate thoughts, but it is as much emotional thinking as it is analytical. It is something that you either ‘get it’ as it comes across, or you are hopelessly lost. But, like I said, my experience in poetry is limited, so I could be totally wrong.

 

Novels and short stories, though, are kind of a hybrid. They involve both self-expression and communication. Pretty language has a place, dressing the work up as an art form, but it is useless if it does not communicate some thought relatively clearly. Like poetry, the thought need not be purely rational (unlike philosophy—irrational philosophy is like a computer spewing out illegitimate code); it can be emotional, or humorous, or what-have-you. But it must be communicated clearly enough that the average reader will get the point without too much difficulty.

 

Regardless of which type of writing engaged in, many of the best examples involve some kind of social commentary, be it a critique of the current political structures or what-have-you. But that isn’t an absolute necessity. I enjoy stories that are just stories all the time.

 

I do have one final thought concerning the distinction between philosophy and literature (in whatever form). Literature consists largely of opinion (admittedly opinion that is defended or critiqued to varying levels and degrees, but it is, all the same, just opinion). Philosophy is concerned with knowledge. Which is one of the reasons it makes virtually no progress. I took four years of philosophy, and what do I know with absolute 100% certainty beyond a shadow of a doubt? Not much: I know I am not omniscient. That’s one thing. And I know 2+2=4. It’s a small kernel of truth, but it is truth nonetheless.

 

Take that Mr. Relativist! (Yes, I have this horrible fixation on murdering the hideous relativistic beast that is slowly eating our society alive!)

 

Bwu-ha ha ha!

Literature: On The Nature Of Writing (Part I)

Perhaps, this was covered in English 101. If so, I missed the class. I thought I’d take a few minutes (or paragraphs, as the case may be) to ruminate about the various types of writing and the reasons for writing. Both for your edification and my own.

Off the top of my head, I count seven different types of writing: literary essays, philosophical essays, scientific papers, novels, short stories, poems, and other non-fiction. I think that covers the whole gamut (And to think that going into this, I was expecting to get away with just listing three—Wow! How my thoughts run away with me!). For the purposes of this discussion, we will ignore literary essays, scientific papers, and other non-fiction. I’ve helped write and publish only one scientific paper, and I don’t think I’ve ever written a literary essay (unless you count my blog—hey, that’s probably a whole new subsection … so there are eight different types of writing, maybe). My experience in poetry is equally limited; it usually only comes to the fore in the context of my other writing. The battle-hardened warrior must solve an ancient riddle to win the prize, and, of course, the riddle is in the form of a poem. Still, I will have a couple thoughts I want to share regarding poetry. I am more experienced in writing philosophical essays, novels, and short stories: I took four of years of philosophy in college, and I have learned the literary ropes, mostly on my own (a few classes here and there, but not many).

 

Anyway, with respect to these types of writing, I have a couple thoughts. First, there seems to be three ways of looking at any kind of writing. First, one can look at it as a means of self-expression. This is a completely solitary activity. The ultimate goal of the writing need not concern another human being in any way. Such a work can be seen strictly as a piece of art; and what it means is often subject to interpretation. Another way of looking at writing is as a means of communication. The primary purpose here is not as a work made strictly for one’s own enjoyment, but rather, to make a connection with someone else; to bridge that gap between two people and share a thought. Finally, one can look at writing aesthetically, but at this point, I think I’m getting a little out of my depth. Most people claim this last facet is all subjective anyway, except maybe a few philosophers who may not be convinced. I know I can recognize bad writing in a universal sense, and I think most people agree Shakespeare had a way with words. But clearly, it is not cut and dry like a math equation.

 

Perhaps there is a technical name for these three aspects of writing—self-expression, communication, and aesthetics—but regardless I believe they provide a critical lens through which any writing can be examined, at least, superficially.

 

Anyway, I’ve reached my self-imposed word limit for the day; next time, I will examine each type of writing (novels, short stories, poetry, and philosophical essays) through each of these lenses. We’ll see which belongs associated most appropriately with which.

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