13 December, 2013

DNF Review: Buttercup by Sienna Mynx

The Kindle Sample for Buttercup consists of the prologue and a few sentences from the first chapter. I wish the sample had been longer,  because I don’t know that the prologue is a fair representation of the novel. If it is, then Buttercup absolutely isn’t for me. Having a weakness for both the 1930′s and sideshow life I expected to enjoy Buttercup. Instead I struggled to complete the sample.

When we meet Silvio and Buttercup she is dancing on stage and he is masturbating. (I somehow missed that this is an erotic romance, and not a romance with erotic elements.) For reasons I didn’t understand they progress to a one on one physical encounter. Through his arousal, Silvio reflects on events, events that apparently separated them. Here I was confused. Silvio has “bedded the whore, the virgin, the widow” but he is angry that Buttercup may not have been faithful to him. He’s had to seek her out, indicating they were not in communication, but here she is dancing (and disrobing) for him with barely a word.

Because Silvio is revealing their story between “slick sheens of sweat” it was hard for me to stay interested. It seems that Buttercup did something six years ago that endangered Silvio’s life. Four years ago he got out of prison. Two years were spent with his gang, searching for Buttercup while also trying to forget her. Buttercup is apparently indebted to, and protected by, the carnival she works with. She is such a fantasy figure in this prologue that I wasn’t sure she was real. At the end of the prologue is seems clear that this is meant to represent an actual encounter, not a dream of Silvio’s. I also wasn’t sure of the timeline of past events.

“Buttercup was different than in the past, but she was a girl of barely seventeen and he was a kid himself. He paid it no mind. They had both changed. His mind was on one thing. Reclaiming what was taken from him prematurely.” – Kindle Location 219, Buttercup by Sienna Mynx

I think this passage means she is twenty-three, but I had to read it twice. My initial pass seemed to indicate that she’d been eleven during their prior sexual encounter. I know Sienna Mynx is very popular and Buttercup was suggested to me by several different fans but I didn’t purchase the book. As a set up for an erotic novel, the world of a 1930′s carnival is fresh and original. If I were looking for an erotic read I probably would have been more interested than I was. I needed a contrast between Silvio’s sexual needs and who Buttercup is as a person. Because she felt like a fantasy, and he a stalker, I DNF’d the book and moved on.

10 December, 2013

Review: Frozen directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee

Oh, hey, Frozen, you sure are super, super white! What's that you say? It's the setting? They're pseudo-Scandinavian? Oh. Ok. Except no. I finally get a female focused Disney film that doesn't end in a wedding and what do I do? I ask for more. Why shouldn't I? This is a film for all of our children set in a fantasy kingdom where dignitaries from far away lands arrive to witness a queen's coronation. Why are only some of our children represented? Whatever. Let's move on.

There's a lot to like about Frozen. While I'm not a fan of the musical interludes, I know Disney makes serious money on their soundtrack hustle. There was nothing objectionable here. The instrumental tracks felt stronger than the vocal ones, although I heard kids singing the vocals as we left the theater. Visually the film is beautiful, with some of their best character conception in decades. A Ghibli influence was noticeable in the troll scenes, but not in an intrusive manner. Anna and her sister Elsa were distinct characters with different goals. Having been overprotected by helicopter parents (quickly dispatched), both are ready to face the world. Elsa greets the end of her invisible guardianship with fearful trepidation. Anna greets it with an overenthusiastic need for love and companionship. Both are logical outcomes of their situation.
Snow White, plus size Princess

It's interesting that in a film about fearing female power the filmmakers seem afraid to fully unleash the sisters. While there are villains to overcome and boys to consider and adorable sidekicks to meet (more Olaf, please) overall there isn't quite enough between them. Anna is perhaps too forgiving and understanding. Elsa is perhaps too self sacrificing. While Anna dominates the screen it's Elsa we want to spend more time with. Anna's conventionally quirky exuberance is familiar. She's a bit manic and a lot pixie. Her self confidence and loyalty are engaging, it's true. Elsa is a less common female lead. A reluctant queen afraid to indulge her own emotions, Elsa is a study in externally imposed self containment. The true message of Frozen is ultimately not of sisterhood, but of society's Good Girl imperative.

Elsa breaks out in Diva
When Elsa breaks free of her kingdom to live in splendid isolation she transforms. Joy lights her face, freedom infuses her body, and suddenly she gets a makeover. A free Elsa is an MTV Music Awards Elsa. She spins about and transforms from a beautiful woman into a white, ass-free Beyonce. As a viewer, I think WTF? Meanwhile, Anna is aged by her familial disappointment, a disappointment only more family interaction can heal. (It's a fantasy piece.) Anna is urged to see that everyone is imperfect and only though accepting our flaws can we stand together. Which is an odd message, considering the characters Anna sees as flawed are simply different than her. Add in a lovely piece about the joys of infidelity and Frozen is rolling toward the finale. Elsa sees that shutting the world out can't stop her from hurting them, but embracing it will. Anna takes her beer goggles off and her intrepid guide Kristoff continues to spend questionable quality time with his beloved reindeer.

Fantasia's Thinspiration Fairies
Frozen is a step in the right direction for Disney animation, but I left the film thinking they still have room for improvement. I definitely recommend seeing Frozen in the theater, but I can't unthinkingly swoon. I'd put Frozen near the top of the Princess films, however. This is better than Beauty & The Beast or The Little Mermaid, even if the stakes are far lower. We needed to spend less time tromping through the snow or eavesdropping on the various villains and more time exploring the women at Frozen's heart. This is the rare Disney film that leaves you wanting more than you had and probably asks for a repeat viewing.

09 December, 2013

Review: Get A Horse directed by Lauren MacMullen

Get A Horse is brilliant. Certainly it's not immune to criticism, but the brilliance part is unquestionable. Lauren MacMullen has not only made history as the first woman to solely direct a Disney short, she's also made an important statement about Disney's past and future. This is a love letter to Walt Disney that includes his imperfections.

As a huge fan of Ub Iwerks, the oft overlooked co-creator of Mickey Mouse, I was torn between trepidation and elation when his distinctive style came on screen. Get A Horse has been criticized for it's violence, it's sexism and it's decision to speak more to the adults in the audience than the children. I say way to miss the point. Early Disney shorts were sexist, violent and often racist. To sanitize those elements out of the narrative is to further whitewash history.

By placing the sexualization of Minnie Mouse so blatantly in the center of Get A Horse MacMullen offers the viewer the opportunity to reject it. Minnie's giggling and helpless compliance in her objectification is character consistent. Highlighting Peg Leg's lack of interest in the less attractive (and therefore less valued) Clarabelle Cow shows the dynamic played out in most of the early shorts. Peg Leg Pete is not the misunderstood suitor, he is the rich date rapist. Clarabelle Cow is not a random neighbor, she is the "old maid" who refuses to be pushed out of the party. Clarabelle wants what the smaller, slender Minnie has - male admiration. Minnie's cries for help indicate her higher status. Minnie expects help to be offered and accepts danger as a cost of her privileges. Clarabelle has to elbow her way into the scene, she is only pushed forward if she can absorb a threat for Minnie.

1928's Gallopin Gaucho 
Mickey is scrubbed of the halo that Walt himself despised and returned to his more complex roots. Where modern Mickey wants to be friends, archival Mickey wants a punishing win. And a punishing win is what he has as Pete is subjected to increasingly violent retributions before being removed from Toontown completely. MacMullen deftly plays the old sight gags against modern equivalents to keep the action between now and then going. From Horace's cell phone to timeless gravity gags, Get A Horse offers enough quick cuts to keep the youngest viewer quiet. You don't need to unpack all the slapstick references to enjoy the cartoon. As a viewer well versed in early Disney and slapstick conventions I was enthralled.

Ultimately Walt's Mickey (and this is truly Walt's Mickey down to archival voicing) resumes his place in a newly colorized Toontown. He has no need to walk completely in the modern world. Having ejected Pete, Mickey and his friends plug the hole to resume their idyllic life. In the corner of the final scenes Oswald The Lucky Rabbit pops up to wave. As a cartoon short, Get A Horse was enjoyable. As a tribute to Ub and Walt, it was magical.

05 December, 2013

Review: How Not to Be a Dick by Meghan Doherty

She had me at the title, I confess. How Not to Be a Dick is a book that begs multiple purchases. How many people in your life need this lesson? Really, it could be a blank book you fill in yourself and still seem value added. 

This book was pulled from my hands and passed around the local middle school within moments of receipt. (How Not to Be A Dick is almost certainly sold at Urban Outfitters. Let me Google that… and… called it!)

So, setting aside the clever title is there any value here? I’d argue yes. Covering situations as basic as overindulgence in (ahem) soda pop and as complex as toxic relationships, Doherty offers useful information with a light hand. The clean layout has an early 1960′s feel deliberately borrowed from school primers. Mixing text with illustration, Doherty’s characters trade off situations in an effort to avoid the gendering the advice. Forget all the Fun & Puberty books pushed on tween and teen readers. Far more important than yet another graphic about tampon insertion is a book that addresses social anxiety, setting boundaries and calling out racist humor. 

How Not to Be A Dick is the book that fits multiple gift giving needs. Hipster teen? Dick at work? You’re good to go. And remember these words:

The first rule of not being a dick to others is: Don’t be a dick to yourself. – Meghan Doherty

*This review was originally posted at Love In the Margins.

03 December, 2013

Review: In Love Again by Megan Mulry

In Love Again is the third book in Megan Mulry’s series, The Unruly Royals. Claire, the aloof and married older sister from the earlier books, is now  on her own. Moving to New York to pursue a fresh start, she finds a man from her past. Ben is at a similar crossroads in his life. His marriage has dissolved into a shared disappointment born of mismatched assumptions. He’s drifting through the days, waiting for something to bring him out of his malaise.

Although I have a soft spot for second chance at love stories In Love Again was an uneven read. On the positive side, despite it’s upper class setting, Mulry’s world isn’t composed solely of caucasians. Characters with different ethnic backgrounds are presented not as underprivileged made good, but as individuals from solid, sometimes affluent, homes. They belong in the world they are inhabiting. Ben is Lebanese, with a large and close family. His heritage is neither ignored nor presented as unique. Ben alludes to the potential racism of Claire’s mother in a scene that leads to one of the few awkward moments in In Love Again. Claire hastens to assure Ben that ethnicity isn’t something that matters to her. Ben never challenges her. Claire, who has been appropriately awkward in her grab for the non-racist ring, isn’t required to acknowledge that declaring it doesn’t matter has it’s own baggage. It’s a moment I wanted them to linger over despite Ben’s easy acceptance.

I loved Claire’s insecurities, her defense of stay at home parenting, her tentative steps toward creating an adult life after years of suspending her personhood. I hated how easy it all was. Claire gets the first job she applies for, because of her connections. She is embraced by all of her coworkers, because of her connections. Later she comments on how she’s trying not to lean on this privilege, yet at the same time she’s openly deploying it. I could forgive Claire for continuing to fall through her life if Ben were someone other than Ben. Ben and I, we didn’t hit it off.

There was a sense throughout In Love Again of missing pieces. (Claire’s mother has remarried? Freddie is a liar?) Most of these are eventually slotted into place but Ben remains a stubborn hold out. When we first meet him he’s unlikeable. For reasons rooted primarily in the past and her own low self esteem, Claire seeks him out again. Suddenly Ben is utterly accepting of anything. Even when it’s revealed he has good reason to resent Claire he doesn’t. When Claire repeats a sin of the past, even more egregious in light of her maturity and their past experience, he shrugs it off. When Ben takes Claire away for a weekend and a family member hijacks the night, it’s fine with Ben. Everything is fine with Ben. He wants Claire because he used to want her. He hasn’t anyone else at the moment and Claire is the heroine so they’re meant to be.

The easiness continues as Ben charms Claire’s troubled daughter, introduces her seamlessly to his family, and establishes himself at the center of her life. (He’s also very rude to a waiter. It’s meant to read as passion but it put me back to disliking Ben intensely.) Ben plays guitar to make himself interesting. He doesn’t convey any sense of musical obsession. He doesn’t practice around Claire. He chose his day job to be lucrative but is bored senseless by it. While Claire is reinventing herself and reinvesting her in family (another road easily cleared) Ben is just acquiring Claire. He has six sisters, one with a family member in crisis, but they’re almost invisible. Ben feels aimless.

Late in the book Claire becomes quite angry with her sister in law. An apology is quickly offered but the advice found objectionable wasn’t wrong. This too was a moment that could have shown the family divide but instead was quickly smoothed.In Love Again’s true conflict is primarily off the page as Claire’s ex complicates her life before being speedily dispatched. If Ben had been less unquestioning in his acceptance, if Claire’s interpersonal conflicts had led to her being called out on her own bullshit, I think I would have loved this book instead of liking it. As it was, everyone was a bit too perfect and isolated for me to fully embrace them. Even with these issues considered, In Love Again is my favorite of the series.