Rec Thursday: Movies

Have I mentioned that I have a goal of watching three movies a week this year? Well, I do. And it’s going rather successfully so far. Here’s what I’ve recently added to the been there, watched that list:

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Oblivion: Y’all remember this sci-fi film starring Tom Cruise that came out last year, right? I never got around to watching it. Even though I know it’s based on a graphic novel. I even forced Jimmy to go on a man-date after I read the horrible reviews. But HBO has the thing On Demand currently so I sat down and got through it. I liked the visuals. I liked Tom Cruise. I liked the premise. But the storytelling was all over the place. A better script could have raised this film to a whole other level.

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Blackfish: This documentary has been all the rage lately. Thankfully, Netflix allowed me to quench my curiosity. The film examines the lives, treatment, and trainers of the SeaWorld whales in light of the most recent killing of animal trainer Dawn Brancheau. Documentaries often bother me because they all have very one-sided agendas, but I liked Blackfish. I got the feeling that the film tried as hard as possible to tell a complete story. Many tears were shed, though, so beware.

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The Spectacular Now: Yet another on-screen adaptation of a book I haven’t read. It was on a recent list of best underrated films of 2013 so I rented it from my local Redbox. It’s a teen romance set against the backdrop of alcoholism. The story is bleak and hopeful, gritty and endearing. I loved the actors – particularly the drunken father played by Kyle Chandler. It was filmed in Athens, GA where I went to college so that was awesome as well. A quiet little movie with a lot to say.

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughn

unnamedGraphic novels and comics are really picking up literary steam and popularity these days. One of the most talked about comic series of the past year has to be Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga. So when I was perusing the shelves of my local Barnes and Noble, I picked up the first volume without thinking twice, went home, and inhaled the entire thing like candy.

On the Bookrageous podcast, I think they like to pitch this series as Romeo + Juliet in outer space. I’ve also heard descriptions such as Firefly meets Quentin Tarantino. All are accurate. The first volume tells the story of Hazel’s birth. Her parents are star-crossed lovers from warring worlds who have gone and done the craziest thing possible – falling in love. Now the whole galaxy is out to kill them and take their newborn. In addition to this main plotline, there are ghosts, trees headlining as rocketships, and whole planets that act as brothels.Wackiness ensues.

What does Saga do so well against this backdrop of absurdity? Humanity. I felt something for the characters immediately. And that emotional connection creates a levity to the story that perfectly balances the fantastical elements that could have easily taken center stage. Caring about this outlaw family also keeps you on the edge of your seat and turning the pages quicker than you have in recent memory. They must save Hazel!!

You can’t talk about a graphic novel without talking about the pretty pictures. And let me just tell you, the artwork in Saga might be my favorite of all literary time. LOVED. Sometimes in illustrated characters, I find a sameness that keeps me from connecting to any one person individually. Not the case here. Each drawn being lives and breathes all on their own. Kudos, creators!

When I was speaking with the Barnes and Noble employee as he rang up my order, he told me how much he loved the series and how the fandom was waiting rather impatiently for the third volume to be released (April 2014!). Gladly, I still have the second volume to look forward to and will hold off for a few weeks to lessen the inevitable torture of joining those eagerly anticipating the newest release.

So go read Saga. Right now.

Southern Lit Month: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

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Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It really doesn’t need more of an introduction than that. I can’t imagine there is a conscious reader who exists without having at least the vaguest idea of this novel or its film adaptation. My book club selected this book to read for January which ties in nicely to Southern Literature Month taking place on my blog this month. We all blew through it and met up yesterday to share our critical thoughts and gossipy opinions. And it was glorious.

John Berendt wrote for Esquire and New York Magazine before churning out this sordid tale of a 1980s murder that occurred in Savannah, Georgia. Berendt weaves the story of Jim Williams’s shooting of Danny Hansford through his wheelings and dealings with Savannah’s people – her upper crust snobs and her dazzling outcasts. Savannah and her cast of characters upstage the main event and that is not a bad thing.

Because Savannah is a saucy minx, a devilious lush. She has secrets – really scandalous secrets. And for whatever reason, her residents let this Yankee journalist in on so many of them. The pages turned quickly and Google was always open on a computer or phone nearby. You just HAVE to see images of these people, the streets, the architecture as you read along. The ladies and I discussed Savannah at length – how haunted she feels, how gorgeous she is, and even how the trees seem to be looking at you and following your every move! It’s such a unique place with a vast history.

Berendt writes almost episodically. Each chapter feels like a short little love story (or horror story, you decide) dedicated to a city he was only beginning to know and understand. So the pacing was superb. We quibbled over whether or not Midnight could really be considered nonfiction because Mr. Berendt took many, many liberties within the pages. Apparently, for this reason he didn’t win the Pulitzer. But I imagine his version makes for better reading. What shocked the hell out of me was how willing Savannah was to open her doors and share all her demons. But I guess she was just too drunk to care.

So we liked it! We really, really liked it and hope you will too. It’s not perfect. Our author protagonist suffers from what I lovingly call ‘white man disorder’ so sometimes his female, gay, and black characters are left unattended or wrongly attended, perhaps. But for everything he gets wrong, he gets something else as equally spot on. As a Southerner and a native Georgian, I’m glad I read this and can’t wait to seek out the movie. Because Jude Law as a young male hooker just rings a lot of my bells.

Hunger by Knut Hamsun

32585Hunger was the January pick of the International Reads Group I participate in over on YouTube. I had never even heard of this book before it was nominated. But apparently it’s a classic of World Literature! Knut Hamsun was a Norwegian author who won the Nobel Prize back in the early 20th Century.

This novel follows a male narrator (often thought of as Hamsun as the story feels semi-autobiographical) as he tries to make a go of being a writer in Kristiania (modern day Oslo). He literally walks around town starving to death, nearly homeless, locked into this self-imposed psychological torture as he tries to muster the motivation and energy to write something down that will earn him at least enough money to survive a few more days. And quite frankly, he gives starving artists a bad name. JUST GET A JOB ALREADY.

As a work trying to pull off a stream-of-consciousness narration, I give Hamsun props. I think meandering around inside the main character’s head as he thinks all his random thoughts and slowly suffers from severe hunger and dehydration is well-done and vaguely intriguing. His internal monologue amounted to an interesting voice and kept me reading. I liked seeing the random townspeople he met and what new ways his pride would intercede in his plight to rise above his struggle.

However, my brain just kept yelling at this kid that he should stop his moaning, his starving, his pursuit of some idealistic creative existence and go get a goddamn job. I don’t see anything noble about wandering around not eating because you believe you should make money simply off your writing talent. Perhaps I would have enjoyed this perspective more as a young college student. As a grown-ass woman expected to pay my own bills, PLEASE GET OVER YOURSELF. Ya know? Hell, even in college I worked and paid my own bills. I just had no sympathy or empathy.

So I don’t know why this has won awards and why people consider it a classic. I suppose I’m not smart enough or existential enough or liberal enough or hipster enough to give a shit. But despite all of my crankiness, I didn’t end up hating Hunger. In fact, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars over on Goodreads. His voice and his shenanigans kept me turning the pages of which there were only like 130 or so. I know I’ll never read it again and could not really recommend this thing to anyone else. Someone should turn it into a mockumentary about the delayed adolescence that is apparently a thing these days.

So big freakin’ BAH HUMBUG to you, Mr. Hamsun.

Southern Anecdotes IV: My Hometown

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This Sunday I thought I’d take y’all on a little stroll along the brick main street of my old stomping grounds and give you a taste of what my childhood was like in Thomasville, Georgia. T-ville covers about 15 square miles in southwest Georgia and is the second largest city of that particular region after Albany. The city was founded in 1826 and named after Jett Thomas, a general in the War of 1812. Thank you, Wikipedia!

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I always thought I can from a small town, but didn’t realize how small it actually was until I just looked at the census data. In 2010, population numbers were around 18K. I swear to y’all my mother always said we had 50K people. She was either lying, dreaming, or including all the neighboring counties. I guess when I was a little girl we probably had somewhere closer to 10-15K because I know there’s been a rather large population migration in the past ten years.

So, yeah, a small town but not the smallest. You feel like you know everyone’s name without actually knowing everyone’s name, ya know? But there’s always the risk that you’re surrounded by townies who can tattle on you. That’s what my dad used as leverage against me when I started driving at 16. He said there was practically nowhere I could go in town where someone he knew wouldn’t see me and report back to him. This was a real threat.

Thomasville is known as the City of Roses, and we host a large Rose Festival every year. We even used to get the day off from school. A town holiday! We’d line up along Broad Street and watch the Rose parade ramble past filled with tractors, beauty queens, and marching bands.

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Broad Street is a bit of a novelty in and of itself in that it’s still paved in its original brick cobblestone. Our downtown is historic and feels like it never left the 19th Century. That’s why every Christmas downtown morphs into the Victorian era for Victorian Christmas. Shop owners dress up in old-timey garb, traditional Victorian crafts and gifts are made and sold, and a great (how ever many greats is required) grandson of Charles Dickens reads A Christmas Carol.

Tourists can also visit a really old tree we affectionately call the ‘Big Oak’ which is a Live Oak older than 320 years. If that’s not enough to entertain you, we have several history museums, open plantations, and some really great little shops and restaurants. Plus, the beach is only a little over an hour away.

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From a local perspective, Thomasville is quaint, quiet, and fairly conservative. Churches are found on most corners which was odd for me since I grew up outside the church. It was a great place to grow up, though. I just started to feel a bit too stifled the older I got. I wouldn’t call T-ville rigid in her beliefs, but she can be a stubborn mule when it comes to progression. All that aside, the community is also filled with lovely, sweet people who will give you the shirt off their backs. When tragedy occurs, you barely have to lift a finger because the whole town takes over. After funerals, you’ll find enough food in your house to feed a small army for months. There’s something special in that.

Rec Thursday: Listening

Here are some song/artist selections you can hear at my house or in my car:

Alabama Shakes is an awesome band. The first line on their album is “Bless my heart.” SOUTHERN AMAZINGNESS. Plus, Brittany Howard has one of the most unique and beautiful voices out there today.

HAIM just sends me back to the 80s and 90s. I just bought tickets to see them in May!! I seriously get my girly groove on to this sister trio.

Bastille can do no wrong with me. I’m posting a live version of one of their songs so that you can hear how amazing they are live. BECAUSE HIS VOICE, MY GOD.

I first heard Ben Howard on The Walking Dead and now I’m obsessed. Perfect to play in the background while reading.

Iceland is killing it on so many levels right now. Of Monsters and Men features something I’ve come to love musically – the combination of male and female vocals.

Blast from the past:

Poe’s 90s album, Hello, was one I played over and over again. I still do, to be honest. I love to sing along. She has a very feminine anger to her music that helps me vent certain frustrations. Particularly, this song.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: My Reading Wishlist

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This week’s TTT asks us, the readers, this question: what do you want to read about? What plots and characters and time periods and genres do you want to get lost in? Here are a few of my wishes:

1. More nostalgia fiction/nonfiction. What I mean is, more stuff set in or about the 1980s and 1990s. I cannot get enough.

2. More genre in literary fiction. Let’s have more well-written, thought provoking books starring vampires and werewolves. More outer space next to Alice Munro. And romance stories that defy my bitter heart much like Me Before You.

3. More Westerns. BECAUSE. Cowboys are sexy.

4. More accountants/lawyers/managers/office workers. I might be biased here.

5. More mixed media novels. Who doesn’t like pictures and other tidbits in their reading experience? We’ve been bringing books to cinema for so long. Time to bring a little cinema to the book.

6. Book soundtracks. That needs to be a thing that happens on the regular.

7. More diversity. Never a bad thing.

8. More time travel. Please, please, please.

9. More horror. Where did all the really great amazing horror go?

10. More Emma Thompson. I just want her to sit down one afternoon and write a book of her thoughts about all the things.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

unnamedGene Luen Yang is probably my favorite graphic novelist. I’m not sure anyone else even comes close. I read American Born Chinese last year and fell in deep, deep love. Recently, he released his follow-up, a companion novel set called Boxers & Saints. I bought the box set for myself for Christmas and read them in one sitting.

Yang’s two book collection tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion in China during the late 19th Century through the characters of Little Bao (Boxers) and Four-Girl (Saints). Little Bao fights on the side of the Chinese rebels while Four-Girl grows up and converts to Christianity, fighting on the side of the foreigners. Their stories interweave to create a surprisingly complete and complex look at this particularly volatile time in Chinese history.

LOVED IT. I didn’t think it could live up to American Born Chinese, but it did – in spades. I seriously think this one beat the pants off of ABC. So, so good. I don’t even have words. Words are failing me. Yang’s ability to break my heart and make me laugh simultaneously is unparalleled in any recent book I’ve read.

Beyond Yang’s amazing storytelling, Boxers & Saints are both beautifully illustrated and colored. The palette is gorgeous and muted – changing over time with the stories. The hues of these two books really reminded me of the coloration in the movie Her that was just released and which I also loved. There are panels in both books that I could stare at happily for hours. Panels I love to print out and put on my wall to look at every day. And that’s what a good graphic novel should do. Its words and its pictures should be able to evoke a strong emotional response. Kudos, Mr. Yang.

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I beseech you to go and pick these two gems up immediately. Go ahead and grab Yang’s entire backlist while you’re at it. You won’t be sorry.

Southern Anecdotes III: The Food!!

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Let’s talk Southern cuisine. It’s really all about the food, right? When you think of Southern American down home cooking, what comes to mind? Grits, cornbread, collard greens, fried okra, and sweet tea are a few that immediately jump out. Fried chicken, butter beans, and banana pudding as well.

Growing up, my mom cooked nearly every meal I ate. We didn’t eat out much and when we did it wasn’t anything remotely fancy. I didn’t realize how much I loved my mom’s cooking until I moved away from home and tried to find a decent Southern substitute. But even now with all the glorious restaurants in Atlanta, nothing comes close to the comfort of my mom’s food. I know the biggest ingredient is probably nostalgia which can never be replicated.

Growing up, my favorite meal was cubed steak smothered in milk gravy, mashed potatoes, and butter beans. My dad used to tell me I’d turn into a butter bean one of these days. Instead of birthday cake, I requested this meal. Whenever I would go home during college, my mom always made sure to make this for me. I’m salivating just thinking about it. I’ve tried on several occasions to replicate the recipe, but my milk gravy never comes out properly. SADFACE.

I remember a trip I went on in high school where we had this huge convention with other kids from all 50 states. The Southern states always spent half the time convincing everyone else that grits grew on trees. And most of them believed us. Oh goodness, now I want some grits – with lots of melted cheese. YUM.

Of course, I don’t like all Southern food. For every black-eyed pea or boiled peanut I’ve inhaled, there’s also a ton of fried okra and sweet tea I’ve left unattended. I just can’t get behind either one. When I was little, greens of any sort weren’t my jam, but now I can’t get enough.

There are so many Southern food variations as well. Food in Louisiana, for instance, is so amazing and so different from the food I grew up with. My last time in New Orleans I had the best gator meatballs and gumbo I’ve ever had the pleasure to consume. I grew up near the coast so seafood was always available. And I’ve eaten my fair share of freshly caught fish – saltwater and freshwater varieties. My brother cooks a mean pork rib and biscuits from scratch. I could now fall down the BBQ rabbit hole, but I’ll spare you.

As far as odd food goes, Southerns like to eat many parts of many animals. One of my favorite snacks growing up was chicken gizzards. My Big Mama (that’s what I called my dad’s mother) used to soak them in this brine and then cook them up. She’d give me a dixie cup full every time I went to her house (which was mostly every day) and I’d gobble those things down like nobody’s business. I have yet to find restaurant gizzards that come close.

What are your favorite regional food memories?

Rec Thursday: Movies

This Thursday I’m recommending some recent movies I’ve watched since the beginning of the year. There have only been three so I’m just going to slap all of them down here. I enjoyed each for different reasons and think that others will appreciate them as well!!

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The Heat – I know, I know. You’ve all seen this before. But I’m just now getting around to it so oh well. Sandra Bullock is my girl from the way back. Throughout the nineties, she was my favorite actress, hands down. Comedy is my least favorite film genre so I’m picky. Loved seeing a buddy cop movie that stars two women!

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Drinking Buddies – I recommend this one with hesitation. People HATE the ending. But it was so realistic. Olivia Wilde and Anna Kendrick played very well here as ordinary girls dating ordinary boys. Neither was overly made up or felt like glamorous movie stars. A great look at what dating after college can be like, and Jake Johnson is a sweetheart. Plus, the actors improvised their dialogue!!

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Her – Go see this now, oh my goodness. If only for the beautiful color palette, cinematography, and music. The story is sweet, haunting, and I felt the writing down to my bones. I’ve literally said some of the lines in this movie out loud in my own real everyday life. But Spike Jonze still left me with so much to ponder and yearn for. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant. Amy Adams, despite having a small role, was utter perfection. I saw a lot of myself in her character. If Drinking Buddies was a look at adult dating, then Her is a lovely and brutal discussion of marriage/love in the 21st Century. Watching Her felt like reading a T.S. Eliot poem.

Have you seen any good films lately?