Gaffs, Gazoonies, and Geeks

Let’s talk about carnivals, shall we?

I Love Them. Everything about them. The games, the sounds, the feel, the taste, the smells….well- maybe not *all* the smells, but hey- cotton candy fresh outta the machine? Who can resist THAT smell? In any case, I love carnivals.

The reason I bring this up, has to do primarily with my previous entry, which you may recall, about The Neverending Story. See, I read this book. And it was about carnival life, and joining the circus, and…..I just didn’t want it to end.

No, it wasn’t Geek Love, although I have read that book as well. No, it was much, much better.

Many months ago, my mother handed me this book called Water For Elephants, and she insisted I read it, saying (as my mother usually does when she finds something that is off-beat, wacky and just “out there” enough) “This is just your speed.” While this sometimes that makes me feel like I am driving the short bus, I have come to realize that this particular vehicle happens to be chock full of incredibly intelligent, quirky, sometimes misanthropic but always engaging humans, and I don’t really *mind* going that “speed.” So I keep driving.

So I read Water For Elephants. And, as usual, my mother was spot-on. This book was BRILLIANT.  It really isn’t often that I add things to my favorite books list. In fact, I think the last time I did, I got a line from it tattooed on my arm and I was 19 or 20 years old.  I’m adding this to the list.  Maybe someday I’ll post that list here.  Books are one of the only areas I am very confident and have an incredibly limited scale of favorites. When you get into other media….forget it. At any rate, I digress. Back to Water For Elephants.

In my living room, on one of my many bookcases, I have an entire shelf that is overflowing with “carnival content.” From fact to fiction, photography to posters, I have collected books and studies on freakshows, canivals and circus life in general. While I am most certainly no expert, as I have not yet memorized the entirety of carny lingo, I have most certainly tried my best and am still trying to know as much about the midway, ten-in-one’s, and the rest, as I can.

As a fan/lover/carnival aficionado, I can tell you the historicity on this book was…exquisite. There were a few areas where the language was a bit clunky, but the protagonist himself was clunky at those times, so I think that perhaps I was just being a bit too nitpicky at the characters being “overexplanatory” in ways  and things that I already knew. Of course, one must always recognize things like this to be a hazard of the trade, I suppose, when you do school yourself/specialize  in a subject like that. But in any case, unlike Keanu Reeves’ attempt at a British accent in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this little point did not prove to be very distracting or obnoxious.

Gruen did her homework. That much is for sure. Even moreso, she was able to write a believable male character…in several stages of his life. I believe that one of the most striking things about this piece of literature, beyond centering, quite literally, on the more animalistic arenas of circus life, was that it didn’t just cover, didn’t just delve, but it bathed in the muddy process of aging, and what that might entail.

circus-sells1This isn’t an easy book. And it doesn’t have the kitsch or the camp of some of the more popular carnival fare (pun intended), like She-Freak or Freaks. In fact it bares a more consistent thematic to something like Nightmare Alley, and yet even that is an unfair comparison. No, this book is unlike any story I have seen or read before. Thus…I have to read it again. I haven’t said THAT about a book since……well, probably that same one I got the line tattooed on my arm!

If you decide to read any piece of fiction in the near future, might I recommend that you give Water for Elephants a try? It too might be just your speed, too…..

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Top 5 Films of 2008…

All right cats & kittens, here we are- end of the year- and I know that AT LEAST one of you would like to know what my top 5 films of 2008 (that I have SEEN) are.

Well, y’know what?
Not only am I going to tell you, but I’m going to SHOW you.

I will post a trailer for each one of my favorite films of this year, with a brief description of why I adore it and think it rocked my socks more than the, well, um, embarrassingly large amount of other films I have seen within the year. Although, that said, truth be told…the large amount of films wasn’t always recent films so I guess that doesn’t really count. BUT THESE DO!!

And these films are EXCELLENT. Seriously. Really really really good. This is the first year I have gone to see new films multiple times in the theater in a VERY long time (many many years…perhaps since Lost Highway or American Beauty) and it is with great passion and cinematic drive that I urge you to partake in these pieces of celluloid. It’s been a shitty shitty year for me in my personal life, but good GOD it’s been a great year for me with movies!

So here’s the way it’s gonna work. I’m gonna post my top 5, but they will NOT, I repeat NOT be in any kind of qualitative order. In other words, there’s just simply no way that I could like one of these over another over another. They are all so different and so amazing in their own ways, and I cannot put one above the other. So, think of ’em on the same scale of Cinema Love, and enjoy.

Lemme know whatcha think, k?

Celluloid kisses and Reel-y big hugs,

Ariel

I don’t play favorites very often, if at all, but if pressed…this was my very favorite film of 2008. The first 45 seconds left me thrilled, stunned, and shocked. This is not your average film. More than anything, this is absolutely nothing at ALL like Waking Life. Don’t even *think* about comparing the two. This film is brutal, gorgeous, and relentless. I think I probably cried through 70% of the film, half because of the sheer magnificence of the art and splendor of the cinematic story before me and half because of content. The animation and the process (of which Folman has several articles/interviews available) are beyond compare.
I can truly truly truly say that I have never seen anything like it.
This film is out now. You will be doing yourself a complete disservice if you do not SEE THIS FILM. The soundtrack, the visuals, the EVERYTHING…perfection. Waltz With Bashir. AMAZING.

If nothing else gets you, the performances ALONE are enough to warrant the ridiculous amount of money theaters are charging for admission these days. However, it’s not just that. This film virtually *drips* with quality. To me, it was like watching the most sensationally intense boxing match I had ever seen in my life. So much so, that at times, it even seemed to be photographed in slightly that manner. Alongside the obviously interesting historical issues and the simply fascinating discussion on the media (including media figures), this film also focuses on the viewer’s own emotional positionality, toying with it a bit, based on the magnificent performances and incredible story in tandem. I dug that part A LOT. Well played, Mr. Howard, one of the best you’ve done!

OK, so aside from my fascination with (read: massive crush on) Robert Downey Jr.for the last 20 years, my absolute adoration for Jeff Bridges and my newfound interest in Terrance Howard (after Hustle & Flow), this movie rocked me. It is a solid and striking film, and I say that not just because I’m a comic book geek, not just because it was fun and exciting, and not just because it was well-written and structured (although it was all of those things and more). What is truly arresting about Iron Man is Favreau’s choice to lay bare the multitude of issues surrounding war as a business and an economic industry, and what that really means, in such an updated, contemporary fashion. Anyone who says that comic book movies are just fluff pieces with no transitive value, needs to experience Iron Man in all its glory. Seriously.

Yeah, I’ve been raving about this left, right & center. FINE. See, I love wrestling. I do. I wouldn’t have written a 35-pg paper about wrestling (that I eventually presented at a international conference) if I didn’t love it. But that’s not the only reason I love this movie. I love this film because it’s accurate as HELL and grips your heart in a choke-hold, refusing to let go. The balls-out emotional intensity is matched only by the wrestling itself, which, I might add, was great. But you DON’T HAVE TO LOVE WRESTLING TO LOVE THE MOVIE. My only criticism was Evan Rachel Wood. She was not good. At all. But the rest of the film was graphic, brutal, and painful in all the right ways. I cried. A lot. Great performances, great characters, and WOW, um, Marisa Tomei? HOT!
On a more personal level, I *finally* feel like a film has been made that will help dispel the myth that wrestling is easy and “fake,” and without any real consequence, something I appreciated beyond measure.

At first, I was just ecstatic about the choice to replace Mrs. Scientologist herself, Katie Holmes, from the first film with…well, anyone. Little did I know it was only going to skyrocket in OMFG HOW AMAZING CAN THIS BE-ness from there. Suffice to say that 2008 was a damn fine year to be a comic book geek who also happens to spend many of her waking hours ‘neath the silvery screen. It’s incredibly difficult to enunciate (at least in a professional or eloquent sense) my feelings about Chris Nolan’s work on The Batman, other than…IT RULES. I kinda turn into a 14-year-old boy. My academic side would like to tell you, however, that this is probably one of the most (if not THE most) faithful comic-to-film adaptations that has been done thus far, both thematically and content-wise. Not only that, but the performances were startlingly good, and the skillful direction and the only-when-needed use of digital effects was gratefully noted and appreciated.