December 31, 2015

Cinemascope: Home For The Holidays

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 1995.

Plot line: Claudia Larson is a single mom who has just been fired from her job as an art restorer due to budget cuts. She flies from Chicago to spend Thanksgiving at the Baltimore home of her parents, Adele and Henry Larson, while her only child Kitt decides to stay home and spend the holiday with her boyfriend. Kitt informs Claudia that she intends to have sex with her boyfriend for the first time. The family gathering also includes Claudia's resentful, conservative sister, Joanne Larson Wedman, her stuffy banker brother-in-law Walter and their two spoiled children. Also there is Claudia's gay brother Tommy and his new friend Leo Fish, along with their eccentric Aunt Glady. While Claudia greatly enjoys Tommy's company, the rest of her family seems to plague her with familiar tension. Meanwhile, Joanne is straining to keep the festivities ordered and traditional.

Families are all crazy in their own unique ways, and after spending a week with family recently, this was a fun movie to watch again. Wonderful acting by an great cast with superb direction by Jodie Foster, this is one that holds up after all these years, and is one I watch once a year.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

December 28, 2015

Recent Reads

153. The Conference of the Birds
This is essentially a picture book; an illumination of the twelfth-century Persian epic poem that tells the story of a flock of birds in search of the true king, Simorgh, who lives on the mountain of Kaf.

I read someplace that this was a classic poem, but I had not heard of it before, and did not particularly love it. But oh the art. The art is simply stunning. Each and every page would make a wonderful poster or card. This book is worth picking up just to soak up the art. Rating: 3 stars.

154. Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story
This graphic memoir tells the story of how the author, Fred, met Cati at a party. Time passes. They meet again, and this time connect. As their relationship deepens, Cati tells Fred that she and her three year old son are HIV positive. 

Relationships between people are ever so personal, and yet there are universal themes we can all relate to. I really liked the honesty in the telling, and while the black and white brushwork evokes the right mood, I did not love the art. I also think there might be things lost in translation as the language seems clunky in parts. Rating: 3 stars.

155. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
Book blurb: Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. She’s from Atlanta, she’s never kissed a guy, she’s into Backstreet Boys in a really deep way, and her long summer days are full of a pleasant, peaceful nothing . . . until one confounding moment.

This graphic memoir is targeted at a teen audience, and is a sweet and angst filled story of the summer that the author fell in love for the first time - wait for it - with a camp counselor who is a girl.

I liked the story, the honesty of it, but was not particularly enamored with the illustration style, especially those strange round empty eyes.
 Rating: 3 stars.

156. Chew, Vol. 1: Taster's Choice
Book blurb: Tony Chu is a detective with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. This volume collects issues #1-5.

I love the premise of this graphic novel series - how can one not love the idea of a Cibopath? I also love that Tony is not your typical Asian American, and that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is the most bad-ass crime fighting organization in the US - maybe our current FDA will be inspired by this series. 

The story is set in a post apocalyptic world of sorts where a bird flu wiped out large swatches of the human population. Since then chicken is outlawed - but you just know there is a black market for all things chicken.

This is a fun and rather violent story, but it does not quite deliver on the promise of such a great premise. The characters are not well fleshed out, and there is a bit too much wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am to the pacing of the story, and I do hope that the rest of the series (which I have requested) delivers. A word of caution, do not read this while eating. Trust me. Rating: 3 stars.

December 25, 2015

December 21, 2015

Recent Reads

150. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 5: Unnatural Habitats
The fifth installment in this graphic novel series collects issues #26-32.

Unlike the previous books in the series, this one does not start by picking up where we last left our merry band of travelers. Instead, we get an entirely new story line, one set in 1911 Alaska. It's a first contact story - a trope I love, and while I did not love the art in this section as much as the rest of the book, it was interesting to learn some of the mythology behind the mysterious plague.

But what does all this have to do with Gus, and the rest of the gang? Read it and find out. I've got the last book in hand as I type. Rating: 4 stars.

151. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 6: Wild Game 
The sixth and final installment in this graphic novel series collects issues #33-40.

Everyone is in Alaska. The gang is all here, and you just know that an epic showdown is in the cards.

I am often disappointed with how a series ends. So many of them lose their steam along the way, so was braced as this one drew to a close. Imagine my surprise when I found a satisfying ending.

I'd highly recommend this graphic novel series to fans of apocalyptic fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, animal lovers, and environmentalists. So basically anyone with a heart. Zombies need not read this one. Rating: 4 stars.

152. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Book blurb: One hundred thousand years ago, at least six human species inhabited the Earth. Today there is just one. Us. Homo sapiens. How did our species succeed in the battle for dominance? Why did our foraging ancestors come together to create cities and kingdoms? How did we come to believe in gods, nations, and human rights; to trust money, books, and laws; and to be enslaved by bureaucracy, timetables, and consumerism?

Stop for a second and think about the scope of this book. Yes, the author clearly has done immense research, but it is his ability to weave all that research into a narrative that reads like a fast paced thriller that impresses me. This is narrative non-fiction at its best. The book weaves in anthropology, biology, chemistry, sociology, history, philosophy, politics, religion .... no that's not it, I'm just tired of typing.

I was educated, entertained, and had my mind blown by some nugget in almost every chapter. How often can one say that? The audiobook is superbly narrated by Derek Perkins, and I've spent the past month or so immersed in changing my mental maps of the world as I know it.

I am not a re-reader, but I have little doubt that I will read this fantastic book again. Highly recommended.
  Rating: 5 stars.

December 19, 2015

Marina Abramović: An art made of trust, vulnerability and connection (Video)

Here is something that moved me this week. What moved you?

Marina Abramović's art pushes the boundary between audience and artist in pursuit of heightened consciousness and personal change.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 14, 2015

Recent Reads

146. Speak
Book blurb: In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive. 

This book gets pitched to David Mitchell fans, and I think if you go in with that expectation you are going to be disappointed. It's good, but not great. There are five interconnected stories, some told in the form of journal entries, some as letters, some as court transcripts, and as the story unfolds in five parts, we learn more about the characters and how they are connected. 

There are interesting themes explored in this book: what does it mean to be human? Can an AI be considered alive? Classic Turing Test stuff. However, while the writing is really good in parts, the story as a whole did not really work for me. There were characters I found more interesting than others, and I liked that the author seemed to have distinct voices for each character, but I found myself not particularly caring about where the story was headed. 

This is a great idea that falls short on delivery. Still, it's an interesting read, but get the Mitchell comparisons out of your head before you start this one. Rating: 3 stars.

147. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 3: Animal Armies

Book blurb: In this third volume, Jeppard begins to form an army to topple the militia camp so he can rescue Gus and the other hybrid kids. But will he arrive too late to save anyone? This volumes collects issues #12-17.

This is the third installment in a six part graphic novel series. We seem to have reached the middle of the story, when things pivot in a different direction, so there is more setup to be found here. I really loved the art at the start of this one - there are wordless pages telling us one story line, and then panels on the bottom of each page recounting Singh's journal. Very cool technique.

I continue to really enjoy this story, and have the rest of the series in hand, so I predict binge reading on my horizon. Rating: 4 stars.

148. The God of Carnage

I really liked the movie Carnage, which was an adaptation of this play, so decided to go to the source material. This short play is a wonderful read, and works best if read on one or two sittings. 

I'd suggest not reading the blurbs on this one before picking it up. All you really need to know is that the play is about two sets of parents who meet to deal with the behavior of their children. The entire play unfolds during this one meeting. To 
say more would spoil it for you, so I'll stop there. Rating: 4 stars.

149. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 4: Endangered Species

The fourth installment of this graphic novel series collects issues # 18 - 25, and this story just gets better with each installment. How often can one say that? 

I'm not a huge fan of character back stories, as they are often not well done. In this case however, we get glimpses into the previous lives of the women members of our merry band, and the flashbacks are wonderfully illustrated by three guest artists - an inspired idea by the author.

Our travelers are headed North to Alaska, and as you all know, no road trip ever goes as planned. Strangers are met, and deciding whether they are friend or foe will have huge implications going forward. 

I continue to love this series, and cannot wait to see what happens next. Rating: 4 stars.

December 12, 2015

"Strangers Drawing Strangers" at the Airbnb Haus (Video)

This just makes me happy.

Ivan Cash introduces "Strangers Drawing Strangers," an interactive art installation inspired by his Selfless Portraits project, in the Airbnb Haus at Sundance Film Festival 2015.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 10, 2015

Cinemascope: Indian Summers

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2015.

Plot line: Set in a subtropical paradise during the twilight era of the British Empire, Indian Summers explores the collision of the ruling class English with their Indian subjects, and the intricate game of power, politics, and passion that ensues. Told from both the English and Indian perspectives, the drama of Indian Summers unfolds as illicit agreements, romance, and revolution abound. Though the English socialites are having the time of their lives in Simla, the local Indians have started to call for national independence, a path which is quickly rendering the world’s greatest empire helpless. As pressure builds, the two sides alternately clash and merge in a passionate and dangerous game.

There are not many beautifully produced shows that have so many South Asians in the cast, and it is quite fun to watch one that does. Though, fun is not exactly the right word to use I suppose, as this is set in the time of the British Raj, and the casual and ubiquitous racism and sexism is rather breathtaking. I have to keep reminding myself that is a period piece, and let the story unfold as it will. I'd recommend this one for fans of Downton Abbey or PBS/BBC Masterpiece productions.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is TV worth watching.

December 7, 2015

Recent Reads

142. The Encyclopedia of Early Earth
Book blurb: Before our history began, another now forgotten civilization thrived. The people who roamed Early Earth were much like us: curious, emotional, funny, ambitious, and vulnerable.

If you are fan of myths and fairy tales, I'd highly recommend this lovely graphic novel. The stories are fun, and the art wonderfully folk artsy (is that a word? Is now).

This is the story of a storyteller, his creation, his travels and adventures, and his search for a missing part of his soul. And what is a quest without a love story thrown in? He travels to strange lands with strange customs, and like the traveling bards of old, enthralls all he meets with this stories. While all this is happening on Earth, we also get an inside look into the Birdman god and his dilemmas. 

I'm fascinated by creation stories, and while this collection certainly does not cover stories from all the cultures, it is a delightful read. Rating: 4 stars.

143. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 1: Out of the Deep Woods
I've loved Saga and Ms. Marvel so much that I've broken the promise I made to myself to only start a book when a series is completed. And as expected with those aforementioned graphic novels, I'm now all caught up and wondering if the author is sitting down and writing, or wasting time gallivanting about town. So, you know I made dang sure that this was a completed series before I started on this graphic novel.

This series has been labeled as a cross between Bambi and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Well, I loved Bambi (though was traumatized), but did not love McCarthy's The Road, so was not sure how I'd feel about this story.

What's it about? A post-apocalptic world, where a pandemic that occured a decade ago resulted in a new breed of human/hybrid children. This is the story of one such child, Gus, who lives in isolation with his father. He has been warned not to ever, ever leave the woods. Well, we know how often kids listen to their parents about such warnings.

This graphic novel is wonderful. The author does a good job of world building, and the art is really good. I was swept along for the ride, and cannot wait to see what happens next. This is the first of six volumes, and I've already requested the rest of the series. I see some binge reading on my horizon.
  Rating: 4 stars.

144. Sweet Tooth, Vol. 2: In Captivity
This volume collects issues 6-11.

This installment gives us Jeppard's back story, fleshes out his character, and puts some of his actions in the previous volume into perspective. Meanwhile, Gus is not in a good place. I cannot say much more without spoilers, but if you have yet to read this graphic novel series, I'd highly recommend it. It makes for perfect Halloween reading. Rating: 4 stars.

145. Station Eleven
Oy veh! This was my book club selection for the month, and if not for that I would have bailed on it fairly early on.

This is yet another example of a "literary" author writing genre fiction, and this book fails on so many levels, I'm not even sure where to start. How can a book be labeled as Sci-fi when there is absolutely no Sci in it? The character development is so flimsy that you can almost see through them. This is a version of a post apocalyptic world I can only attribute to Canadian sensibilities. Oh, don't throw your rocks at me Canada. All I mean is that you are so nice a people that your version of dystopia is what the rest of us might call utopia.

So the basic premise is that a flu wipes out 99% of the world's population. Sounds good right? Well, seems like those left behind might still be alive but had lobotomies in the process! Come on - not a person left alive knew how to work any machines? If I read how gasoline goes bad one more time I was going to hit something. You do not need to be an engineer to figure things out, all you'd have to do is walk into your local library (remember, only people were affected), and, I don't know, oh maybe read a book. And do not get me started on people living in airports for 20 years. And that's another thing. If the time frame was say 500 years later, maybe things might not work, but 20 years later? Puhlease.

So, clearly based all the rave reviews and awards this book received, I am not the right audience for it. My book club was unanimous with a thumbs down rating. Is there nothing I liked? There is some beautiful writing, and that last chapter or two where Arthur's final day is played back is the best writing in the book, and would make a superb short story. Rating: 1 star.

December 5, 2015

Ann Morgan: My year reading a book from every country in the world (Video)

This TED talk is right up my alley.

Ann Morgan considered herself well read — until she discovered the "massive blindspot" on her bookshelf. Amid a multitude of English and American authors, there were very few books from beyond the English-speaking world. So she set an ambitious goal: to read one book from every country in the world over the course of a year. Now she's urging other Anglophiles to read translated works so that publishers will work harder to bring foreign literary gems back to their shores.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.

December 3, 2015

Cinemascope: American Sniper

Cinemascope is a regular blog post where I will share with you movies and TV shows I think are worth watching.

Released in 2014.

Plot line: U.S. Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) takes his sole mission -- protect his comrades -- to heart and becomes one of the most lethal snipers in American history. His pinpoint accuracy not only saves countless lives but also makes him a prime target of insurgents. Despite grave danger and his struggle to be a good husband and father to his family back in the States, Kyle serves four tours of duty in Iraq. However, when he finally returns home, he finds that he cannot leave the war behind.

When I heard that Clint Eastwood was the director, this movie immediately went on my radar. I've waited several weeks after watching it to see how I felt after all my emotions has dampened down, and I still think this is a movie worth watching. This is an interesting and nuanced exploration of war from one sniper's point of view, and as a country that has engaged in several wars in the past decade or so, I think it is important to look at the themes this movie explores squarely in the eye. And by the way, Bradley Cooper is really great in this one.

You can see the trailer here. If you have yet to see it, this is a movie worth watching.

December 2, 2015

Journal Pages

It's been a while since I've posted any journal pages, and that's because I've been focused on other projects. The start of a new month is the perfect time to recommit, so have decided to get back on the art bandwagon again. My goal is to create something everyday, and I'm interested to see where this takes me.

In the meanwhile here are some pages from earlier this summer.

It's kinda funny how adult coloring books are all the rage these days. Some of us never stopped coloring. The page above was fun and meditative to create. Pen and watercolors.

I tried out a couple of episodes of this show, and honestly the thing I liked best was the face of the main actor. Don't you find that faces that are interesting to draw are often not what Hollywood would classify as beautiful? Watersoluble pen.

If you have not heard of Steve Harpster, go check out his YouTube Channel. He has drawings that work well as warm up sketches and are fun to do with kids as well.

I'm still using the journal and supplies that I started out the summer with, and am determined to complete this sketchbook by the end of the year. You can see a video of my current kit here.

December 1, 2015

Afterglow: Lightsuit Segment (Video)

Now for your moment of zen.

If the embedded video does not work, click here.