Friday, November 1, 2013

It's What's for Dinner

As Americans, we're used to winning. We're used to being the best, especially when it comes to war. But if we want to hold on to our crown, we're going to have to step up our game this holiday season, because England has completely redefined the war for Christmas. They're relatively secular, so their fight isn't over chopping Jesus up and stuffing him in boxes in a misguided attempt to put Christ in Christmas: they've found another issue to fight over.

ABC has an article up about some animals rights and environmental groups battling to keep reindeer out of Christmas. Specifically, Christmas dinner: a supermarket chain is getting ready to sell the meat to families who want something with a clearer holiday connection than ham.

I don't really have much invested in either side of this debate, beyond being amused there's that much interest in reindeer meat during the holiday season. The stuff isn't cheap, either - about $12/lb. I'm sure the groups fighting against this are interested in larger issues, but this offers them some awfully easy soundbites, as evidenced by the "eating Rudolph" quote in the article.

Regardless, it's nice to see England engaging in the seasonal fights, protests, and insults that, to many of us, have come to represent the holiday season.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book Review: NOS4A2

Joe Hill, 2013

Crossposted from The Blue Fairy’s Bookshelf

Premise: Victoria “Vic” McQueen has a special talent: she can use her bike and a bridge that isn’t there to find lost things. Unfortunately, Charlie Manx has a talent too. Vic is the only child to escape from Manx’s one-way trip to Christmasland, but it takes more than luck to break an evil man, and every power comes with a price.

I thought this book was good, but I’m not sure I actually enjoyed reading it. The tone wasn’t quite my cup of tea, and it needed to be more tightly written.

Some positives: Vic herself is a great protagonist. She’s broken and flawed in completely believable and sympathetic ways. She’s brave when she has to be, even if she has to talk herself into it. The talents are interesting. Broadly and only vaguely defined, they hint at much more out of sight. The writing is quite good: the descriptions of the supernatural and creepy as well as the mundane and everyday were evocative and often poignant.

The use of the Christmas motif as the villains’ theme works, both on a creepy-as-heck level and a thematic level about the horror of childhood without morality. Manx takes the children he abducts to “Christmasland”, which is a lot like an old-fashioned Christmas cartoon on acid, and the use of his powers are accompanied by Christmas music or decorations.

However, there were a few big negatives as well from my perspective. The villain’s henchman talks a lot, graphically, about rape. I found it upsetting, even though a sexual assault is never carried out on “screen”, so to speak. And I know that it’s in the story to emphasize the evil and the wrong-ness of this very broken, indescribably horrible person, but for me it detracted and distracted from the more interesting themes and plots.

Also, the book was just too dang long. The description was all lovely, but it went on for ages. The book takes place over something like fifteen years or more, and way too much of that time is actually described. There’s just too much meandering plot and extra moments. Many of those moments are good, but they do not drive the story forward.

Then after sidetracking for pages and pages, the ending felt incredibly rushed. I had some trouble following the actual events of the climax, and the emotional ending was a bit lacking as well. It comes very, very close, but I just didn’t end feeling satisfied.

I was very amused that Hill (Stephen King’s son, let’s not forget) places his story somewhat nebulously in the same world as both his father’s vast semi-shared universe of tales, and his own very popular Locke & Key series. It doesn’t affect the plot, it’s just a side note, but it made me smile.

In the end, if you like Christmas-related horror and long reads, this is probably just what you’re looking for. It just wasn’t entirely what I wanted.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Halloween is Grinch Night (1977)

Halloween is Grinch Night was made in the late 70's, presumably in an attempt by Dr. Seuss to cash in on the popularity of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It is in no way a great work of art, but it's nowhere near as bad as the last part of the "trilogy", The Grinch Grinches the Cat in the Hat.

There's very little plot to this thing. Mostly, it's a series of Seussical rhymes and jokes (almost all of which are below the expectations we've formed for the good Doctor). The special focuses on a Who named Euchariah who gets lost on Grinch Night and runs into the Grinch. He allows the Grinch to subject him to various horrors in order to buy time until daylight.

When I say horrors, I'm referring to a magic cart apparently full of specters, ghosts, and illusions; sort of a portable haunted house. The sequence is a little unpleasant, actually, not from the content but from the premise of a young child allowing a creepy man to subject him to scary things in the back of his carriage.

Different time.

Other than that unpleasant subtext, the special is fairly mixed. There's some good tone work, at least in the first half. But the second half drags - the elements of horror come off as fairly bland, and the animation is dated.

The music is fine, but nothing special. The strangest song belongs to Max, the Grinch's dog, who laments on how he became the Grinch's slave. It wants to be dark, but really it just comes off as melodramatic and ridiculous.

I've seen it claimed this is a prequel to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but that doesn't quite work. Max leaves the Grinch at the end, which throws a wrench into the larger continuity. I suppose this could actually be a sequel - there's nothing in the original that says the changes to the Grinch were permanent.

The production values also took a hit here. The animation is far less appealing, and there's something seriously off about the color. Boris Karloff died long before this was produced, and the replacement Grinch isn't in the same league.

This really isn't something you have to see, but it's not awful, either. There are a few decent jokes, and the sound's good enough to deliver a bit of all-ages Halloween dread. If you're curious, it's pretty easy to track down on Youtube. Just don't expect too much.