My review of Steven John’s novel Three A.M. is up on Fantasyliterature.com
Archive for May, 2012
After I walked around the lake at Riverside Park, I drove up to Healdsburg. I forgot that it was the Future Farmers Fair weekend. There was no parking space available within five blocks of the plaza, and the plaza itself was jammed with booths and people. I could hear live music, but I couldn’t see the musicians or even any but the outermost booths because of the hoards of people, many of them clutching their wine glasses from the various tasting rooms. Good news for the town, bad for me. I got back on Old Redwood Highway and went to the Windsor Town Green instead.
I shop at the Windsor Green about twice a year. It doesn’t really have much for me, but there is a bookstore, a candy shop and the KC Grill. There’s also a water feature and some great old oak trees. Using remarkable self-restraint, I bypassed Powell’s Sweet Shop and contented myself with Pages on the Green, buying Horns by Joe Hill. I stopped at the Windsor Arts Council gallery. Two women sat at a table near the back, watercolor painting. A man came in behind me. He had a high-tenor voice and was complaining to the two women about the salon next door. “I went in to get a haircut,” he said, “and she said, ‘I don’t take walk-ins on Sundays or Mondays, appointments only.’ There was no one in there! Can you believe it? ‘Appointment only!’” The two women politely murmured that they’ve never patronized that particular salon.
I bought a piece of art; shades of green with clockfaces and hands, vaguely steam-punk,and some cards from artists who display at the gallery. The space is small but well laid out, with long south facing windows. The art ranges from high-quality and professional to gifted but amateurish, typical for most local art guilds.
Later as I was walking down toward the bookstore he called after me, asking me if I were from England. I said no. He asked me if I had been to Kenwood. I said yes, but not recently. He said, “You seem familiar.” I shrugged and said good-bye and tried to leave gracefully but quickly.
I had a mocha shake at the KC Grill, watching the sparrows outside the window squabble over crumbs. A western bluebird put in a guest appearance.
The Green also has a Himalayan cafe that serves… food from the Himalayas. Not necessarily obvious, I guess.
It also has a TARDIS in case you are running late and need to travel through time to get somewhere.
I had plans to go to Sacramento today. I was in my car, just crossing the laguna heading east when my cell phone rang and the person I had plans with told me she had to reschedule. It was a few minutes after 9:00 am. My one disappointment was that I would miss the farmers’ market, and now it looked like I wouldn’t. I made a U-turn and headed back.
The market was still setting up (it doesn’t open technically until 10:00, but I was practically done shopping by then). Lata was still setting up her booth, as were several others.
Strawberries are big in the market right now! These are from the central valley. I bought 3 pounds last week, from a local farm stand. They didn’t look as pretty as these, and they were varied in size, but they were delicious!
For many years, Kaiser Sand and Gravel excavated in the Russian River, and they had three quarries outside of Windsor, next to a redwood grove. Kaiser Grove, as it was called, was available to employees for picnics and events. Spouse and I went to a wedding there in the early 1980s. When the company closed down, they gave the land, including the grove, to the county, who turned it into a park. The largest of the quarries, now filled with water and stocked with native fish, is open to the public. The other two smaller ponds are not yet.
The weather was perfect for a walk around the lake; clear, sunny, about eighty degrees. The parking lot was full, and I saw lots of groups on my walk, but it was never crowded and I had lots of time for solitary enjoyment. Many people were out fishing.
That’s Mt Saint Helena out there, haloed with clouds.
The name of the park is Riverside, and here is a view of a scrap of the Russian River, which runs alongside the park.
My new digital camera has a special effect called Soft (for soft focus). Here is an example of it. From now on, if anyone takes a photo of me, they must use this feature.
Construction has started on the new Barlow project. The sign says ”Coming Summer of 2012″ but that might be a bit on the optimistic side.
The Barlow will house the local farmers’ market, some galleries, and some other businesses.
In other news, can it be true? A used bookstore? This is small space (formerly office space) and I’m guessing this will be mostly paperbacks, but I won’t care. A used bookstore again!
Bring up the Bodies is Hilary Mantel’s sequel to the Man Booker prize winning Wolf Hall. In it, she charts the fortunes of Thomas Cromwell, which are still rising, and those of the Queen Anne Boleyn, which are plunging.
Thomas Cromwell is Henry VIII’s personal enforcer, his “good right hand,” but still a commoner among the sleek, privileged aristocrats, many of whom take pains to remind Cromwell of that. In Wolf Hall, Cromwell helped the king put aside his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. The king repudiated the Pope in order to do so. Henry pursued Boleyn for seven years. Now, married for fewer than three, he is already dissatisfied with his queen, and his gaze is wandering. As Mantel says in her afterword, in Bringing up the Bodies, she offers an alternative suggestion of the mechanics of Boleyn’s fall from grace.
Mantel uses the same tight third person point-of-view in this book. She is an accomplished writer with a good understanding of what you can and can’t say in first person; observations Cromwell makes about himself in third person seem wry and perceptive; not pompous, as they would in first person. This choice creates the same stylistic awkwardness that riddled the first book. Within a paragraph, Cromwell frequently looks out and describes what he sees, then shifts into his own thoughts and Mantel is forced to telegraph that. It works like this:
“Sir, how are you not burned?” Rafe Sadler demands. A redhead like the king, he has turned a mottled and freckled pink, and even his eyes look sore. He, Thomas Cromwell, shrugs; he hangs his arms around Rafe’s shoulders as they drift indoors.”
Phrases like, “he, Cromwell,” show up a lot. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this in the first book and again here. There is something symbolic and powerful about Cromwell repeating his own name. Mantel also chooses to bury dialogue in the centers of paragraphs rather than leading with it. These are conscious writing choices. I noticed them but they did not distract me.
As Bring up the Bodies opens, Mantel has made one surprising change. At the end of Wolf Hall, Cromwell had developed an infatuation with one of the Queen’s waiting women, a quiet little slip of the thing named Jane Seymour. Now, in the opening of this book, that desire is gone. Cromwell ruminates that seasons change and fancy changes. It seems more likely that Mantel didn’t want to address the complications that would ensue if her character wanted the same woman the king did. Or maybe Cromwell, seeing where the king’s desire has landed, is merely rationalizing away his own desire. It’s not clear. Mantel’s interpretation of Seymour is interesting and baffling. At the beginning of this book, she is so quiet and so literal that she reminds me (and this is embarrassing to admit) of Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series. Someone comments that a person is as mad as a scalded cat and Jane asks Cromwell, “Have you seen a scalded cat?” Cromwell himself never quite knows if Seymour is kind of dim, or, as he suspects, someone who keeps so much to herself that she wishes should go about veiled, so no one could see her face and guess her thoughts. Like Cromwell, I never know this either. Certainly, historically, it’s crystal clear that Jane Seymour was the polar opposite of the clever, sharp, proud, stubborn, enticing and demanding Anne Boleyn. She was also able to do the one thing Boleyn was not able to do; give the king a legitimate male heir.
Cromwell came to power in England as a banker and a lawyer… a “fixer” for the king. His past includes occupation as a soldier and a thug. Cromwell doesn’t speak much of his rough past but he is not embarrassed by it. He sees it as a source of strength. Here is an exchange between Cromwell and his enemy Stephen Gardiner:
“But do you ask yourself why people what to kill you?”
He had laughed. “Why, Stephen—much in this life is a mystery but that is no mystery at all. I was always first up in the morning, I was always the last man standing. I was always in the money. I always got the girl. Show me a heap, and I’m on top of it.”
In Wolf Hall, Mantel successfully contrasted Cromwell against the famous Thomas More, and made Cromwell the more likeable. In Bodies, Cromwell, ever the banker, has five noblemen he feels are owed “payment.” After Cardinal Wolsey, Cromwell’s patron, died, five nobles put on an entertainment for the King, depicting Wolsey as an ape, dragged down to hell by four demons. While the king struggles with his marriage to Boleyn, Cromwell plans what to do to these aristos.
Bring up the Bodies is a juggling act. Cromwell is a complex character, but so is Henry VIII. Probably the only thing more precarious than being the king’s enemy is being his friend. Anne Boleyn and Katherine of Aragon are strong believable royal women. No one is given short shrift and even secondary characters like Gregory, Cromwell’s son, Rafe, Richard and a new character, the jester/servant Anthony, are well-drawn.
Mantel gives Cromwell a yearning for art, a poetic turn of phrase, and a humorous one. We get descriptions like this:
“… The light shivers, then settles against the dark wood like discs pared from a pearl.”
A moment later Cromwell, who is talking to one of his servants, a Welsh boy, thinks, “Why is it always little legs that have to save big legs?” Meditating on age: “He thinks, that’s the bleat of a man of fifty; Welsh, tennis, I used to, I can’t now.”
Later, when he is casually questioning several of Boleyn’s ladies, he does it with a tray of dessert cakes.
He does not mind who comes in to see him, who is noticed as they come and go. Who would not pass the time with a man who has cakes? And Master Secretary is always so pleasant and useful.
Bringing up the Bodies is the opposite of a “guilty pleasure.” It’s a “virtuous romp.” Because it’s historical and literary, I can feel high-minded about it; but in fact, I am simply sucked in by the wild political soap opera, the machinations of an unholy alliance of politics and religion, and the works of a strange, enigmatic and compelling character, blended by a skilled and gifted writer.
Syfy ran multiple showings of a movie from 2006 last weekend; The Wicker Man. After seeing part of it, I am putting out a plea to America. Can we please have a bake sale, or a car-wash, or something, to help Nicholas Cage get out of his tax difficulties? Because, really, he has got to stop doing stuff like this.
(Two warnings: I didn’t watch the entire movie, so there may be some brilliance in the middle. And, spoilers abound.)
A Sticky Wicket
The original Wicker Man, back in 1973, was… well, original. It was true horror. The 1973 version is set in Scotland, and puts a devout Christian believer up against an ancient pagan cult. The effect of a true-believer who isn’t saved by the “true religion” made the seventies version of this movie unsettling, disturbing and scary.
The remake is faithful to the original except for changing the location, changing the gender of the cult leader and eliminating the element of religious belief for the Nick Cage character. Other than that, it’s almost exactly the same.
Our story begins… here
Nick plays Edward Milus, who is some kind of cop or highway patrolman in the desert somewhere. I’m going to saw Arizona, because I don’t know. Early in the movie, Milus fails to save a cute little blond girl and her mother from dying in a fiery car crash. There’s an implication that if it weren’t for the bratty behavior of the little girl, who throws her doll out the window (Milus goes to fetch it) Milus would have been killed in the same crash. That’s never developed though. After the crash, on leave and recovering, popping pills like a fiend, Milus gets a letter from his former fiancé Willow, who says her daughter has disappeared and no one will help her. Willow lives in a place called Summersisle (Summer’s Isle), in Puget Sound.
Summersisle is privately owned and sells honey. Apparently that’s the only source of income to the island, although there are some pretty gorgeous homes for a simple organic farming operation. Milus tries to get to the island, (riding on a ferry that is a type the Washington State Department of Transportation doesn’t use in the Sound) only to discover that you can’t get there from anywhere. He finally bribes an old man with a float plane who delivers supplies –Edward Woodward, in a cameo, since he played the policeman in the original – and barges onto Summersisle. Two mean-teacher old women meet him and are unwelcoming. A parade of pregnant women waddle past him, smiling coyly. The few men seem subservient and kind of dim, but not as dim as Milus. Milus apparently doesn’t quite grasp the concept of “jurisdiction” as he flashes his Arizona badge around right and left claiming that his search for a little girl is “a police matter.”
Milus finds Willow, who is virtually incomprehensible. I mean the character, not the actress. She says Rowan, her daughter, is missing, even though other women say various things; that there never was a Rowan, that Rowan is fine, or that Rowan is dead. An hour in, Willow drops the Reveal – Rowan is Milus’s daughter! What a shocking revelation that none of us saw coming since the point where Milus opened Willow’s letter back in Arizona!
There’s no way off the island. There is no cell reception on the island. (Most of the subservient men hang out at “the tavern,” but since there’s no satellite reception, this is not paradise for them because they can’t watch sports.) Milus peddles around on a stolen bike, jerking and twitching, flashing his useless badge, gulping useless pills, asking useless questions and finding carefully planted clues. The harvest last year was bad. There is a ritual festival that involves a pretty little blond girl. There’s a book called The Ancient Rituals. Lots of things are burned. Milus flashes back to the fiery car. The scenery is pretty.
Who’s In Charge Here?
Eventually he has a conversation with Sister Summerisle, matriarch of the island, played by Ellen Burstyn, looking just great. I know Nick owes about $14 million and therefore will do anything that offers a paycheck. What do they have on Burstyn? Milus rags on her about how men are called “drones” and are subservient and Sister Summerisle smiles faux-sweetly and mouths all the usual platitudes about how they honor and respect their men, but they have their place in the world and it’s a specific place. (Get it? It’s social commentary! How funny!) Milus wanders down to the beehives, gets stung, and now we find out that he’s allergic and carries an epi-pen. Why didn’t we know this? Why didn’t Milus think about this problem before coming to Summersisle? Not that is matters –in the final cut of this movie, any significance this life-threatening allergy had is removed.
Rule of Four
Now, we reach the part of the movie where Cage, as Milus, says everything four times. He’s yelling at Willow about Rowan’s doll, which he found. It’s burned. “How did it get burned?” he yells. “How did it get burned? How did it get burned? How did it get burned?”
Later he hijacks Sister Rose’s bicycle, threatening her impotently with his gun. “Get off the bike! Get off the bike! Get off the bike! Get off the bike!”
Later still he crashes through Sister Summerisle’s beautiful craftsman mansion, hurling open doors and finding strange things, just not the sister. “Sister Summersisle! Sister Summersisle! Sister Summersisle! Sister Summersisle!”
Nick, I speak from the heart when I say this to your character, “Milus, shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”
Having come to the inescapable conclusion that the cult intends to sacrifice his little girl, Milus knocks out a woman and steals her bear costume—yes, that’s right, her bear costume – and, in disguise, joins the parade to the lovely meadow where the sacrifice is held. It’s like a Renn Faire gone wrong; all the woman have pretty floaty dresses and antique-lookin’ masks and nobody thinks anything about the guy in a bear costume galumphing along with them. He finds Rowan tied to a structure. He frees her and they run into the woods. His cell phone rings! He answers it while running and yells, “Tom, Tom, help me!” Tom’s a guy back in Arizona. Spoiler alert: Tom’s not going to help him.
Rowan leads him through the woods… back to the meadow where all the women stand waiting. Because… surprise! Rowan isn’t the sacrifice! Milus is! Rowan and Willow were in on it! The whole time! Sorry to spoil it for you.
Lost in Translation
There is no movie so horrid that Syfy can’t make it worse by bad editing for commercials, and Wicker Man is no exception. Midway through the movie, Milus confronts Sister Rose and a group of students (girls) in the rustic little one room school-house. Outside, Sister Rose tells him that Rowan died. The dialogue goes like this:
Milus: How did she die?
Sister Rose: She burned to death. (Walks past Milus)
Milus: What did you say?
Sister Rose: (Turns at door) What I meant to say.
Okay, so… huh? What’s that about? Well, when you check Wikipedia, you find out that the uncut scene reads more like this:
Milus: How did she die?
Sister Rose: She’ll burn to death.
Sister Rose: She burned to death. (Walks past Milus.)
Milus: What did you say?
Sister Rose: (Turns at door) What I meant to say.
A clue! A threat! Suspense! Syfy can’t leave any of that in place, so the ominous, “She’ll burn to death” line gets cut. I am not good at math, but even I can see that if they shaved one iteration off of each of Cage’s Group of Four incantations, they could have left the scary line in.
Milus dies. They sacrifice him. It’s not all a dream.
The scariest thing about Wicker Man isn’t in Wicker Man. It’s that this director, Neil Labute, adapted one of my favorite books, Possession, into a movie. I will never be able to watch it. I can’t see that story and those wonderful characters tortured in the hands of this director.
Last week I saw two good movies, and one of them, Cabin in the Woods, was horror. In that movie, what characters did mattered. Actions carried through, advanced the plot or revealed character. If someone had popped pills in Cabin, there would have been a reason. Cabin, like Wicker Man, is a movie about the horror of sacrifice. In Cabin, the sacrifice matters. In Wicker Man, it doesn’t. Neil Labute, who directed this monstrosity, should watch Cabin in the Woods. He might learn something.
It was SAVOR Saturday at the farmers’ market. The market has purchased a “Smoothie bike,” or more appropriately, a bike-blender. Dr Wendy made bike-blended strawberry smoothies. She used strawberries from the market, unflavored yogurt, banana, cinnamon, a little bit of honey (from the market), and ice. Various volunteers pedaled to fire up the blender. The gears are set so that you don’t’ have to pedal too hard to create a delicious treat.
Dr. Wendy said it was a busy food week and weekend for the Vista clinic folks. She had already put in fourteen hours overtime and it was only Saturday morning. Alisha was her Vista clinic helper, with Suzanne on hand to chop up strawberries. I set up tables, unloaded books and played gopher.
The market is moving next weekend. It will now be at the Luther Burbank Center, the south parking lot. I’m happy they found a spot. I’m worried that we will lose contact with the low income families in Roseland who are familiar with the farmers and the ways of the market. The new market that is moving into the Veteran’s Building parking lot have said they are interested in accepting CalFresh and once they are certified they will start the process to become vendors.
Nancy of Middletom Farms will be moving to the LBC. Her comment about the rental dispute and the move was, “Fifty thousand a year to rent a prison exercise yard is too much.” The LBC is charging less and offering more amenities – at least that’s what they said in the paper.
We gave away children’s books. The table behind Alisha there, with the red coverings, that’s the book table. I staffed this table and watched kids and parents walk away with three of four books each. Very heartening. I exercised some editorial control and did not put out the Twilight series books, just because there were others that looked more interesting. The second box I opened had a shrink-wrapped set of eight copies of a young adult novel called Cut, about a girl who cuts herself and ends up in a group home. It’s probably great, but geez… and most of the books were for little kids, so I put out one, towards the back, and left the others under the table. Later a woman stopped by who is the children’s librarian in Novato! She was very knowledgeable about the books we had out. She knew about Cut. She said it was good for older readers, but not really right for the ages of kids we were getting.
At the kids’ booth, many children made Mother’s Day cards, but as always, the big favorite was coloring.
Siskiyou County is in extreme northern California, right up against the Oregon border. Recently a group of humans went to the county Board of Supervisors with a petition requesting that the Board forbid wolves to live in Siskiyou County. I’m not making this up. Here’s the article.
My inner bureaucrat had a lot of fun with this idea. Do you post this on the county limit signs? ”Welcome to Siskiyou County– Except for you, Mr. Wolf!” Does the wolf get a citation if it moves into the county? Does it get a first warning? All silliness aside, of course that’s not the intent at all. These people want permission to shoot wolves.
Before we write them off completely as cranks or entitled hunters who can’t stand the competition, let’s analyse the problem. The concern is that wolves are predators. They eat things. The eat elk, which humans hunt for sport, and they also eat sheep, which humans raise for profit. The sheep thing could be pretty serious. And the California gray wolf population is exploding. I mean it. In the last two years the population has grown from zero wolves in the wild to… one. One. And he only lives here part-time. His designation is OR7 and he is a lone wolf — no pun intended –who wanders across the California-Oregon boarder from time to time. One part time wolf. Lock up your daughters.
Of course, he’ll probably bring some friends and family, so those Siskiyou folks are worried. Is OR7 eating a lot of sheep? It seems unlikely, because wolves hunt in packs. OR7 doesn’t have a pack. He may pull down the occasional lamb, but it’s more probably that he is eating mice, voles, rabbits and gophers. In fact, I think the Siskiyou organic farmers should put together a petition to hire wolves as their organic pest control solution. Of course the wolves would have to rent apartments in a neighboring county.
Mini-Spoiler alert: there are two bonus scenes in the credits of The Avengers. The first one is half-way through the credits, and opens the door for a future movie. The second one is at the very end.
(And, by the way, a bonus for me! Last Monday I went to the Sebastopol Cinema to see Cabin in the Woods. Today I went to the same theater to find out — it’s the Rialto! The old Rialto, Ky’s Rialto, the one that closed in Santa Rosa about two years ago. In addition to first run movies, they’ll show indies, classics and international films just like they used to when they were on Summerfield Drive.)
Back to Marvel’s The Avengers. This is a very long movie, running nearly 2 1/2 hours. Lots of things blow up and get crunched. And I have to say that while I have seen Ironman and Thor, I don’t remember reading The Avengers when it was a comic book — although I did read Thor — and I’ve never seen Scarlett Johansson in anything before today. So those are my credentials, or lack thereof.
I whole-heartedly enjoyed this movie. I’m still trying to figure out how writer/director Joss Whedon managed to pack so much story and so many relationships into a movie where everything is also blowing up and people are punching each other. Or, in the case of the Hulk, hurling each other about.
Basically, there are six Avengers plus Nick Fury. And they are:
Ironman — Arrogant, irreverent genius Tony Stark in a suit of his own devising.
Captain America –a WWII science experiment who got frozen in the ice somewhere, but has super strength and a giant metal Frisbee weapon that doubles as a shield.
Thor — an Aesir, or a god from Asgard, with awesome blond hair and a hammer.
Black Widow — Natasha Romanoff. In addition to probably being a descendent of the Czar, she is an accomplished spy and an assassin. That last occupation got downplayed in this movie.
Hawkeye — Clint Barton. He is a solar-system-class archer.
Hulk — David Banner is a scientist almost as smart as Tony Stark, with some major anger management issues.
They are arrayed against Thor’s adopted brother Loki, played by Tom Hiddleston. He is perfectly cast for this role and a superb performer. You will love to hate him.
When Loki breaks into a top secret laboratory in New Mexico and steals SHIELD’s tesseract (a really pretty glowing blue cube), the lab implodes and Nick Fury puts out a call for the six extraordinary individuals he had started to pull together for the Avengers Initiative. A few of these players are reluctant, and one, David Banner/the Hulk, doesn’t even know he’s on the team. Hawkeye is not very interested in working for them for at least the first half of the movie.
When they do get together, there’s quite a bit of tension. Captain America is a soldier, used to following orders, big on duty and sacrifice. Stark is an irreverent loner. Thor knows that Loki is evil, but he still bristles at the thought that mere humans might dare to attack him. He also still has brother issues with Loki. David Banner mistrusts himself, fearing that the Hulk will break out. The beauty of these conflicts is that they happen while the action is happening.
It takes a shocking event to cohere this group of eccentrics into a fighting force and when they do, they have their work cut out for them. New York City is under attack from the mercenary army Loki is bringing through a portal created by the tesseract.
Scarlett Johansson was great as Natasha, even if her accent doesn’t make sense. Is she American? Russian, but raised as a spy from a very young age so that her accent was erased? I don’t know. Her best scene is with Loki. Her second-best scene is with David Banner, but her opening is pretty good too. Robert Downey is almost old-shoe comfortable as Tony Stark, but the surprise here for me was Mark Ruffalo, completely convincing as Banner.
The story melds cataclysmic special effects with powerful characters and convincing dialogue. This is what super-hero movies should be like.
Another mini-spoiler. If you don’t already know what schwarma is, Google it before you see the movie, just for the fun of it.